Monday, March 30, 2020

Catherine's War

Catherine's War: Julia Billet, Claire Fauvel, Ivanka Hahnenberger ...Catherine's War
Julia Billet & Claire Fauvel
HarperCollins, 2020 154 pages
Grades 4-Up
Graphic Novel

Rachel was sent to a progressive French school outside of Paris to wait out WWII. Here she makes friends and discovers a love of photography. A teacher gives her a camera and she begins to see the world through the lens of a view finder. When the Nazis suspect that Jewish children are staying at the school, Rachel must changer her name to Catherine in order to blend. Things become too dangerous and Rachel, now Catherine, is sent to a strict convent school with another younger student now named Alice. After making a new friend at the local camera store, the new hiding place also becomes compromised and Catherine and Alice are moved to a rural farm and then to another school, and finally they are separated as Catherine moves in with a couple who are working for the resistance. Along the way Catherine makes new friends, and even a potential romance, yet worries about her parents. At last the war ends and Catherine rushes to Paris to try to find them. She reconnects with some folks that she walked the journey with throughout the war, yet some are lost. Through it all, Catherine has documented the terrible war with photos of her experiences and the people she has met, offering a fresh perspective of the world events.

Originally published in France, Billet and Fauvel add a biographical memoir to the current trend that will demonstrate to young readers what life was like for a hidden child during WWII. Based on the experiences of her mother, the book ends with actual photos of the narrator and the original school which she called home. France is a world leader in creating graphic novels and this book lends an air of sophistication compared to the American titles that are considerably more cartoon-like. Printed in full color, American readers will have no trouble being drawn to the book and the compelling action will keep them turning pages. Rachel/Catherine's is a likable character and her courage and resourcefulness proves inspirational. Weaving the many stops along the war journey are Rachel/Catherine's photos. They may inspire readers to also capture the events in their lives in whichever muse speaks to them. Besides the actual photos, the author also includes a map of Rachel/Catherine's journey and historical background to help readers understand the real-life events our narrator is experiencing. I fell into graphic novels after reading Spiegelman's Maus in college. Through this book I realized that storylines of truth and substance can be told through the art of comics. Throughout the years this has continued and it’s wonderful to see this path leading to graphic novels for children. Give to fans of Palacio's White Bird for another graphic hidden-child story.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Echo Mountain

Echo Mountain by [Wolk, Lauren]Echo Mountain
Lauren Wolk
Dutton, April, 2020 356 pages
Grades 5-8
Historical Fiction

Since the Great Depression hit and both of her parents lost their jobs, Ellie and her family had to move from town to first a tent and then a cabin on a mountain in rural Maine. A terrible accident occurred a few months before, landing Dad in a coma and Ellie has taken the blame to protect her siblings. Now nothing is right and it has fallen on Ellie to take over many of Dad's responsibilities. Beautiful little carved figures have appeared in strange places and Ellie thinks she sees a face watching her from the woods. A stay dog leads her up mountain to a cabin where the old Hag lives. Upon entering the cabin Ellie discovers the Hag with an injured and infected leg and a high fever. She springs into action and works to save the old woman's life only to make a new friend. Cate, the Hag, teachers Ellie about healing and introduces her to another mountain resident, whom Ellie's family has previously never met, yet with whom have much in common. Ellie is trying so many different and crazy things to try to wake Dad out of his coma. Will Cate actually be able to help her-assuming she lives through the injury? The mystery behind what actually happened during Dad's accident and the identity of the secret carver are all revealed as Ellie and her family find healing and peace during troubled times.

Wolf Hollow, Lauren Wolk's debut, was my favorite book of 2016. So far, though it is still early days, this is my favorite book of 2020. Wolk offers a beautifully written account of a mountain family during the Great Depression that transforms the reader directly to that place and time. The writing is careful and intentional and the plot is revealed in such a way to encourage the reader to keep turning pages. All of the characters experience growth and are developed to be both heroes and flawed individuals. The reader will certainly sympathize with Ellie, the first-person main character, yet we come to understand the motivations behind each of the supporting cast as well. Somehow, even though life is rough for these folks, the story feels like being wrapped in a warm blanket, much like watching an episode of The Walton’s. During the hard times America is currently facing it is inspirational to see previous generations rise to the occasion and I found it hopeful that they are able to conquer their tragic circumstances. The ending turns out well for Ellie and her family and new friends. They do not magically acquire money and a higher lifestyle, but find peace of mind and healing, which is much more important. Pass onto fans of the author's other work or that of Kimberly Brubaker Bradley or Jennifer Holm.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business

Image result for mindy kim seaweed coverMindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business
Lyla Lee
Dung Ho, Illustrator
Aladin, 2020 77 pages
Grades 2-4
Realistic Fiction
Mindy Kim series #1

Mindy is starting a new school after she and her father have relocated from California to Florida for a fresh start after the death of her mother. She is scared to be the "new kid" and is not sure how to make a friend, especially being the only Asian student in her class. After kids make snarky comments about the Korean seaweed snacks that her father sends in with her lunch, a classmate Sally volunteers to try them, extending a tentative arm of friendship. Other kids become curious and Sally suggests Mindy start trading and, eventually, selling snacks. After a lunchroom ruckus the enterprise is discovered and Mindy is sent to the Principal's office, along with Sally, who she pinned the blame on. Now Mindy is in trouble, gave her sad dad more to worry about, and may have lost her first Florida friend. How can she fix this situation? First in a new series, The Lunar New Year Parade has been released simultaneously with installment #3 to be published in May and #4 coming in September.

The author dedicates this book to "all of the new kids out there" and it really is meant for anyone who feels as if they are having a hard time fitting in and making friends. The author, originally from Korea, know what it feels like to be the new kid and can speak from experience. Many readers will relate to Mindy's struggles, both in finding a friend and feeling different. Asian children will appreciate chapter book representation and enjoy seeing familiar snacks brought to the limelight. Mindy solves her problems with honesty and humility and, though her supportive Dad is sad, we know that the healing will come. The new series is at a comfortable reading level for the chapter book crowd with short chapters, large print, and generous margins. cartoon-style illustrations fill every chapter and help flesh out the plot. With new series entries already to roll, readers will have a place to turn once they finish this first installment. Mindy is a likable character in whom children will relate. Pass onto fans of ClementineRuby Lu, and Ivy & Bean.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Sal & Gabi Break the Universe

Image result for sal gabi universe coverSal & Gabi Break the Universe
Carlos Hernandez
Hyperion/Disney, 2019 382 pages
Grades 5-8
Science Fiction
A Sal & Gabi Novel #1

Sal has recently moved to Florida and is beginning his new school year at a Miami's Culeco Academy of the Arts. Right off the bat Sal finds himself in a run-in with the school bully that lands him in the principal's office—for the third time in as many days! Here he meets the bully's lawyer and student council president, Gabi. After a rocky start the two see similarities in personality, sense of humor and intelligence and become fast friends. Sal, a budding magician, has a secret: he can cause a tear in the universe and bring things in from other dimensions, including his mother who passed away several years ago. This skill often yields unexpected results. Gabi has troubles of her own. Her baby brother has a life-threatening illness and may not make it. She and her non-traditional family gather at the hospital daily, where Sal, a diabetic, accidentally meets up with them and is drawn into their lives. Sal and Gabi work together to try to put things right with the school bully, who actually has serious troubles, the dead Mami who keeps coming through, and the baby who is barely holding onto life. Will they be able to fix everything before it’s too late?

I have had this series launcher in the "Rick Riordan Presents" line of books by my bed for about a year. I keep picking it up and then putting it down because it seems so looong. After so many years in the business I read like a kid and struggle with long-ish books. Okay, so this book IS long, maybe longer than it needs to be, but it is never boring. The action moves consistently along and the plot contains crazy surprises. Debut middle grade author, Hernandez, crams a lot of stuff within the 382 pages of this book, but it is like no other story I have ever read. Sal is a likable boy, smart, loving, yet flawed, with mad magic skills. Beyond this he has the inconceivable ability to pull things from other dimensions, which is so cool. This is fantasy with a physics premise, turning it solidly into science fiction. Scientific kids will enjoy the facts behind what it actually happening, and fantasy kids will love the magic. As the book moves forward a penny drops with an awesome twist that I cannot reveal but was worth the time spent reading all 382 pages. Both boys and girls will enjoy this book and kids who generally don't think they like science fiction or fantasy will find the story palatable. The story features a Cuban American community and Spanish words are sprinkled throughout and defined through context clues. Sal and Gabi's next adventure is set for release in May and sure to be as popular as the first.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

Image result for scary stories young foxes coverScary Stories for Young Foxes
Christian McKay Heidicker
Holt/Macmillian, 2019 314 pagesGrades 4-7

Seven fox kits venture out of their home one fateful evening to visit the old storyteller in Bog Cavern. They are bored and in need of creepy entertainment. The old storyteller obliges and what follows is two stories within the overall story that eventually come together and link up with the umbrella tale by the book's end. The first story the teller shares features Mia, who's brothers and sisters are attacked by their beloved teacher-who is somehow altered in a disturbing way. Mia escapes, finds her mother, and the two run away together, only to encounter the most dangerous enemy of all: humans. The second tale features Uly, a male kit with a lame leg, who is constantly tortured by his sisters. After the evil Mr. Scratch appears, Uly must flee for his life. How can a young fox survive in the woods with only three legs and no way to hunt for food, especially with the dreaded Mr. Scratch not far behind?

A 2020 Newbery honor winner, this spooky title, by a debut middle grade author, is worth a look. The book's design is interesting. The umbrella story is white type on black paper, keeping readers straight as to the timeline. Dark and sinister illustrations, contributed by Junyi Wu, add to the overall mood and atmosphere. I love books where different storylines come together, and this book offers a huge payout at the end. The little listening foxes are not privy to the true ending, yet the reader is, allowing both an unsettling realistic ending, yet happy and satisfying at the same time. Kids who love scary tales will enjoy this book. It has the feel of an old-fashioned ghost story once told in front of a fire and has truly frightening and violent bits. Since the scary stuff happens to foxes and not humans, kids can allow themselves to be scared without lasting nightmares. The heroes of all of the tales face their fears and find inner courage and strength that they didn't know possessed. Readers will root for the main characters and grow and mature right along beside them. A great selection for readers who are not afraid of the dark

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Image result for bloom oppel coverBloom
Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins, 2020 320 pages
Grades 5-9Science Fiction
The Bloom Trilogy #1

Three points of view tell the tale of what happens when noxious plants take over the world. Anaya and Petra are former friends who both suffer from terrible allergies. In fact, Petra is allergic to water, an extremely rare and dangerous condition. Seth is a new boy to town. He has bounced around foster homes and finally feels as if he has found his place in this small Canadian town. One day a heavy rain hits, and Petra realizes that she is able to tolerate it. The rain is different in more ways than one: it brings with it tiny seeds that rapidly become giant black plants that wrap themselves around everything. People are being strangled by the plants in their sleep and are being poisoned by the toxic discharge that they emit. For some unknown reason Petra, Anaya and Seth are immune. As the world scrambles to figure out what is going on and how to stop it, more weird developments happen to the three heroes. Through it all, Anaya and Petra work out their friendship kinks and the three teens become a tight friend-group. It seems that it is up to them to save the world from these vicious plants, yet once they figure out how to do this, the game changes--leading readers to the next installment, yet to be released.

Kenneth Oppel is an amazing writer. His books are all so different, yet always awesome both in interest and quality. This trilogy seems to be his most commercial to date and is sure to find a huge readership. What a weird book to read during this time in my life. When I started to read the book, I took my daughter to see Little Shop of Horrors off-Broadway. (The production was excellent, and I would highly recommend it--if and when Broadway is up and running again). It was a crazy coincidence to read a book about a plant taking over the world while seeing the show. By the time I finished the book the world was in the middle of the Corona crisis and, again, I felt the parallels. Global emergency is something that young readers will now, unfortunately, relate to and they need reading materials while staying home from school. Will plants causing a public pandemic bring escapism or further fear, I am not sure, but it definitely places the book in the category of current relevance. Themes include environmentalism, friendship, being different, and stepping up during a crisis. Oppel adds many plot twists and surprises. Some mysteries behind the existence and motivations of the plants are revealed, while other questions are left unanswered to encourage readers to pick up the next installment. Recommend to fans of Margaret Peterson Haddix or to any middle reader who appreciates fast-moving conceivable sci-fi.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Clean Getaway

Image result for clean getaway stone coverClean Getaway
Nic Stone
Crown, 2020 240 pages
Grades 3-6
Realistic Fiction

Eleven-year-old Scoob is experiencing the worst spring break ever. Grounded for getting into trouble at school, single parent Dad cancelled their planned trip and he is stuck at home. G'ma to the rescue! When Scoob's grandmother shows up in a new-to-her RV, he leaves his phone at home, so Dad can't trace him, and hops aboard. What follows is a crazy road trip across the American south. G'ma, a white woman, made this same trip in the 1960's with her black husband and is recreating the trip in order to get to the destination to which the travelers never originally arrived. Along the way Scoob learns what it was like during the segregated south of the past and the discrimination and animosity experienced by his grandparents because of their inter-racial relationship. As the trip wears on, Scoob realizes that something is not quite right about G'ma. She won't let him call home, keeps mixing up his name, and seems increasingly confused and reckless. He begins to learn secrets from his beloved grandmother's past as she reveals her biggest mistakes and unloads the guilt that she has carried for much of her life. Being G'ma's wingman is not as much fun as it seemed at the beginning. What can Scoob do to get out of this uncomfortable and less-than-safe situation?

Nic Stone, critically acclaimed teen author, makes her debut middle grade novel with Clean Getaway. What starts out as a potentially zany multi-generational road trip becomes a lesson in Civil Rights, and ends on a serious and dangerous note. Kids will not only see first-hand what life was like in the segregated south of the past, but pick up fun facts about these states along the way. G'ma is clearly hiding some secrets and as the novel progresses they are revealed. She is not the perfect grandmother Scoob has always placed on a pedestal, but a real person who has made mistakes in life and is still making them now. Scoob's own nuclear family is complicated and now that he has learned that the world is not only black and white he can, maybe, learn to forgive the mother who has abandoned him. He finds healing through this experience in the relationship with his father and has gained maturity and some understanding behind Dad’s seemingly harsh and unfair ways. A novel of redemption, forgiveness, trust and doing the right thing, all with a history and civics lesson and a dash of humor. Scoob and G'ma may not completely achieve their "Clean Getaway", but the target task is mission accomplished.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Amelia Lost

Image result for amelia lost fleming coverAmelia Lost: the Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade, 2011 118 pages
Grades 3-7

Fleming offers a well-researched and written biography, the subject of whom has fascinated the American public for years. Two separate narratives deliver Earhart's story. Traditional white pages describe Earhart's life from birth through to death, as well as the legacy she has left behind. Darker grey pages tell the story of the day of her disappearance from various first-person sources, as well as fleshing out the main narrative with side notes. Through the pages of this book readers will learn about the life of this heroic figure, as well as a brief background in early aeronautics and the significant historic and culture events relevant to the subject. The volume is made suitable for reports by containing a bibliography, extensive source notes, picture credits (for the many photos contained within the book), and an index.

From the eye-catching cover to the fascinating subject matter, this book has been an easy sell to readers needing a book for the dreaded biography assignment. When displayed for Women's History Month it is among the first snatched. Yes, readers will pick it up, but it is the writing of prolific author Denise Fleming that keeps the pages turning. A true narrative biography, the book reads almost like fiction. Fleming manages to scoop out the most interesting bits of Earhart's life and present them in a kid-friendly manner. The two narratives add a layer of interest and the smart use of different color pages will help eliminate reader's confusion. Photos and maps are included on almost every spread, further increasing interest. Earhart is certainly presented as a hero, but Fleming manages to include some negative aspects of her personality and questionable choices to provide balance and portray this “bigger than life” figure as a real person. Great for reports, as well as recreation, this title is a real winner! With the hundredth anniversary of the 19th amendment, American Women's History is currently trending and will be showcased in libraries across the nation. This finally crafted volume will be leading the charge!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

A Heart in the Body of the World

Image result for heart body world coverA Heart in the Body of the World
Deb Caletti
Simon & Schuster, 2018 355 pages
Grades 9-Up
Realistic Fiction

Our story begins with high school senior Annabelle having a panic attack at a fast food restaurant and running until she can calm down. This inspires her to go on a cross-country run in order to process a traumatic incident in the past from which she is trying to heal. Mom is against the trip, but Grandpa is supportive, even traveling with Annabelle in his RV. Brother Malcolm and some high school friends help raise money and awareness of the journey, bringing Annabelle and the cause she is running for to the public eye. What follows next is alternating time periods recounting Annabelle's current journey cross-country and the past, slowly revealing the incident that has left her so broken. The full cause of the tragedy is not disclosed to the reader until the end of the book and readers will finally have the full story as Annabelle slowly starts to heal.

This 2019 Printz honor book is not what I expected. The books I have previously read by this author have been good-yet a little frothy. This title is heavy and meaningful. The writing is exquisite and the reader will be brought emotionally along Annabelle's journey. I cried in a couple of different places and even had to put the book down for a bit, finding it too powerful to read. I love that Caletti does not reveal the actual incident setting Annabelle on her course until the end and for most of the book I thought it was something different. Through the pages we see a character go from innocent to broken to full maturity. Annabelle has been changed by what she has gone through, yet the reader is assured that she is stronger, whole, and will be okay and make a difference in the world. Several timely hot-button issues are explored in this book and many young people will gain understanding in handling unsafe social situations from reading it. Other weighty topics include handling misplaced guilt, broken families, and perseverance in the face of adversity. Not an easy read emotionally and not for everyone, but certainly a valuable addition to the teen library and time well spent.