Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Amy Laura Schlitz

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Amy Laura Schlitz. 74 p. Candlewick Press, March, 2017 9780763648220. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Princess Cora is born to her overjoyed parents who marvel at her perfection. However, it isn't long before they begin to fret that she isn't perfect enough. After all, if she will one day be queen, she must be strong and smart! So, they set about making that happen. The queen chains her to boring books most day, the king makes her do calisthenics for the rest of day and the nanny throws her into the bath at least three times a day in between. 

Princess Cora is frustrated. She also wants a pet. But dogs shed and a pet is forbidden so Princess Cora does what any self-respecting princess would do - she turns to her fairy godmother for help. She writes her a letter and lo and behold, the next day Princess Cora awakens to find a box by her bedside! Imagine her surprise though, when she opens the box and it is not a dog. It is a crocodile. The crocodile is willing to trade places with her so that Princess Cora can gad about for a day with "no baths, no books, no skipping rope. Just a day to do what I like."

Crocodile has to promise not to eat anyone and gamely dons one of Princess Cora's dresses. Princess Cora hilariously solves the problem of Croc's baldness with a wig made of, what else, a mop head. Once the disguise in in place, Princess Cora happily trots out of the palace for a day outside.

Action alternates between Cora and the crocodile. First the crocodile deals with Nanny, mindful that his promise not to eat anyone did not preclude biting them! Cora discovers that it is hard to climb a tree but once she does, it is blissful! As she explores, she gets dirty and scraped and loses her shoes and steps in poop. She has a spectacular day!

Brian Floca's watercolor and ink illustrations are traditional but exude humor and perfectly complement the text, which is perfect for reading aloud. Thoroughly modern, over-scheduled kids will relate to Princess Cora's predicament. This is a must-read for all helicopter tiger parents out there. Kids need to be kids. They need to get outdoors and explore. They need to get dirty. They need to make mistakes and know they are loved. All Cora wants is a pet and some down time. Children will cheer for Cora as she makes her break for freedom and laugh out loud at the crocodile's antics.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile is a first-purchase!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

My mailbox has been a bit quiet lately and that's good because I am so-o-o behind! However, I bopped into BN to buy a gift certificate and could not resist a quick pass through the YA and children's departments before heading to the cafe to grab a caramel frap (you won't find me trying that unicorn crap). So yeah, I couldn't resist picking this one up. First, the cover grabbed me, then the clever title. I was pretty much sold before reading the jacket flap. And, it's a debut!

Zenn Diagram by Wendy Brant.  315 p. Kids Can Press, Limited, April, 2017. 9781771387927.

Publisher synopsis: Eva Walker is a seventeen-year-old math genius. And if that doesn't do wonders for her popularity, there's another thing that makes it even worse: when she touches another person or anything that belongs to them --- from clothes to textbooks to cell phones --- she sees a vision of their emotions. She can read a person's fears and anxieties, their secrets and loves ... and what they have yet to learn about calculus. This is helpful for her work as a math tutor, but it means she can never get close to people. Eva avoids touching anyone and everyone. People think it's because she's a clean freak --- with the emphasis on freak --- but it's all she can do to protect herself from other people's issues. 

Then one day a new student walks into Eva's life. His jacket gives off so much emotional trauma that she falls to the floor. Eva is instantly drawn to Zenn, a handsome and soulful artist who also has a troubled home life, and her feelings only grow when she realizes that she can touch Zenn's skin without having visions. But when she discovers the history that links them, the truth threatens to tear the two apart. 

Zenn Diagram, Wendy Brant's sparkling debut novel, offers an irresistible combination of math and romance, with just a hint of the paranormal. Readers will swoon over Zenn and connect instantly with Eva, the most fully drawn prodigy in teen fiction today.
That's what's new with me. What's new with you?

Arc Review: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya. 239 p. Viking/ Penguin Young Readers Group, May 16, 2017. 9781101997239.

Thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora lives and works with his large extended family. They own and run a Cuban American restaurant, La Cocina de la Isla, walking distance from the apartment complex where they all live. Arturo's grandmother, and founder of the restaurant, is the glue that holds the family together. She founded the restaurant with her now deceased husband and has recently passed the reins of running the restaurant to Arturo's mother. Arturo's family gathers at the restaurant each Sunday for dinner where they engage in spirited conversation and bicker good-naturedly. The clan is hosting a new addition for the summer. Carmen and her father have moved into the complex. Arturo views her as family and is confused by the sudden rush of feelings for her. Arturo has two best friends, who will be off to separate camps for the summer soon while Arturo begins work at the restaurant as a junior dishwasher. 

Arturo is an endearing narrator and clearly adores his family, especially his Abuela. He's also charmingly awkward with Carmen. When Wilfredo Pipo invades the restaurant to introduce himself one day, everyone takes an instant dislike to him and his oily ways, even Abuela, who likes everyone.

Turns out, they have good reason to suspect Pipo, he plans on gentrifying the neighbor and La Cocina de la Isla is not on the blueprints. He's pushing them out. What's more, the rest of the neighborhood seems charmed by the idea. Arturo's aunt wants to do something and Arturo's mother has a more wait and see attitude. Arturo's scared and he and Carmen team up to get to the bottom of things. 

There's a lot to like about this debut. It's a gentle story of family, connection and growing up. Reading it was like being enfolded into Abuela's warm hug. It was like meeting a family for the first time but feeling like I've know them forever. Arturo's voice is earnest and awkward and at times, hilarious but always genuine. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Memes: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. 380 p. Simon Pulse, May 30, 2017. 9781481478687.

Publisher synopsis: A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

First line: Dimple couldn't stop smiling.

Page 56: Dimple hadn't met Celia until after she'd already put in an application (well before Papa and Mamma had actually said yes-she had to save her spot, just in case), so they hadn't requested each other. She wondered whom she be paired with. Hopefully, not that frosty blond girl who looked like she ate little kids for dessert, though Celia probably wouldn't mind, judging from the way she was still darting glances over at that group.

I picked this arc up at Midwinter just on the cover alone. Isn't it adorable? 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Swing It Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm

Swing It Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm. Illustrated by Matt Holm. 224 p. Scholastic Inc. September 12, 2017. 9780545741729.

Publisher synopsis: Summer's over and it's time for Sunny Lewin to enter the strange and unfriendly hallways of . . . middle school. When her Gramps calls her from Florida to ask how she's doing, she always tells him she's fine. But the truth? Sunny is NOT having the best time.

Not only is the whole middle school thing confusing . . . but life at home is confusing, too. Sunny misses her brother Dale, who's been sent to boarding school. But when Dale comes back, she STILL misses him . . . because he's changed.

Luckily Sunny's got her best friend and a mysterious new neighbor on her side . . . because she is NOT going let all this confusion get her down. Instead, she's going to remain Sunny-side up!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Non-Fiction Monday: SI Kids: My First Book of Soccer

SI Kids: My First Book of Soccer. By Beth Bugler and Mark Bechtel. Illustrated by Bill Hinds. A Rookie Book. 48 p. Liberty Street/ Time Inc. Books, May 16, 2017. 9781683300021. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

This colorful fourth entry in the Rookie Book series joins older siblings, My First Book of Football, My First Book of Hockey and My First Book of Baseball. It's attractively designed featuring a cartoon girl and boy providing commentary and humorous asides. Hilariously, the boy runs onto the title page in a football uniform despite the fact that the hip girl explains on the front end-pages, the fact that  soccer is called football all over the world except the U.S. A. The basic rules are explained using real men's and women's soccer teams and players in posed and action shots to illustrate the concepts. 

The background pages are brightly colored, the fonts are varied, fairly large and prone to exuberance. The layout is the same as the other books framing the sections by soccer halves and counting the time down as explanations range from field layout through positions and skills like dribbling, tackling, passing, etc. 

This is another fabulous, kid-friendly introduction to a sport. Perfect for newbies, oldbies, gym teachers, coaches and parents alike. Collect all these for any school or public library collection.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Arc Review: Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker. 286 p. Viking/ Penguin Young Readers Group, June 6, 2017. 9781524775254. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)

This book is Felix Yz's (pronounced "iz") blog. He's counting down the days to Zero Day when he will undergo "the Procedure" where he will be separated from Zyx (rhymes with six). Zyx is an alien from the fourth dimension who was accidentally fused with Felix when he was three-year-old in a science experiment gone horribly wrong. His scientist father was killed in the accident and Felix was in a coma for quite a while. He lives with his mother, sister and Grandy, a grandparent who is gender fluid. Grandy spends three days a week identifying as female and goes by the name Vera. Then she spends three days a week identifying as male and answers to the name Vern. On the seventh day, "vo stays in veir room and doesn't eat and doesn't talk and doesn't wear any clothes and meditates all day." (p. 19)

Felix is understandably, very worried about the Procedure. If he does not have it, he and Zyx will die. If he does, there's a good chance one or both of them will die. He types in his blog, which is secret, to sort out his feelings about all this. He likes Zyx (mostly) despite the fact that their fusion results in Felix's inability to communicate normally as well as some fine and gross motor difficulties. All of which make him a target for bullying at school.

Felix is an endearing character and his voice is at once wholly unique and so like a twelve-year-old. He pours his heart out, then dances around painful topics only to circle back again. Interspersed in his musings and reveries are Zyx's comments. Zyx learned English, more or less, thanks to Grandy's running commentary as she sat vigil beside Felix while he was in a coma. 

There is so much grief here. Felix and his family are close and loving and as fragile as they are strong. Were I to enumerate all the "issues" this wondrous tale covers, you'd be rolling your eyes. Yet, somehow, it works. There's a first crush, mom's boyfriend, Grandy, a sister's loss, chess, webcomics, a comic con, and more, packed into the 29 days before Felix's separation from Zyx. 

And then there's Zyx - a being trapped in an alien dimension struggling to understand his human and humanity. He? She? Felix settles on the pronoun "vo" becaue Zyx cannot be fully described. He is incapable of understanding sarcasm and loves Felix unconditionally. 

There will be tears folks. Many, many tears. Not ugly crying but a steady stream of tears to blink away while trying to read towards the end. It's achingly beautiful. Thoughtful readers will come away changed by Felix, Zyx and all the possibilities. Please don't miss this unique and utterly compelling debut.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Arc Review: Yvain: the knight of the lion by M.T. Anderson

Yvain: the knight of the lion by M.T. Anderson. Illustrated by Andrea Offerman. 144 p. Candlewick Press, March 14, 2017. 9780763659394. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)

Master storyteller M.T. Anderson makes his graphic novel debut with the story of Yvain, one of King Arthur's Knights. The story was originally a poem by Chrétien de Troyes as the author explains in his note at the end of the graphic novel.

A prelude introduces an unseen narrator, we see just hands, one gloved with a hooded hawk perched on it. The other unhoods the hawk, which then soars overhead. From this bird's eye view, we see a bloody trail following a horse carrying a knight slumped in a saddle. He is severely injured and returning to a castle seen in the distance.

The saga is told in three action-packed parts. Yvain leaves a feast at King Arthur's palace to avenge his cousin's beating at the hands of Sir Esclados. He mortally wounds the lord and follows his retreating horse to the castle where a maid, Lunette,  finds Yvain and hides him using magic to make him invisible. When Yvain sees the lord's widow, Laudine, he falls instantly in love with her and begs Lunette to find a way for him to meet her. The wily Lunette manages to convince her lady to meet Yvain and they quickly wed. He for love, she for the safety of her people. Unfortunately, when King Arthur and Sir Gawain come for a visit, Gawain goads Yvain into traipsing about the countryside jousting and competing in tournaments. When Yvain does not return within the prescribed time, Laudine renounces him. This repudiation sends Yvain spiraling into self-destructive despair.

In part two, after some time living as a wild man, Yvain happens upon a bloody battlefield where he sees a lion doing fierce battle with a deadly serpent. Yvain plucks a sword and shield from a corpse and joins the battle, eventually cleaving the serpent in half. The lion bows before him. He collects clothing and armaments from the dead and sets off on foot with his new best friend. Eventually, he rests by a stone hut and finds that Lunette is imprisoned in it and is to be executed the next morning. He vows to be her champion.

Phew! And there's still part three to come! The writing is spare yet compelling. The Medieval setting is vividly drawn by Andrea Offerman, who explains the details of her research and some of the symbolism she incorporated into some of the art. 

We've got something to please many types of readers here - knights, battles, magic, a little chivalry, quite a lot of bloodshed, a touch of romance, a number of quests, misunderstandings and a shrewd Machiavelian maid. Oh! And much magnificent art. The muted palette is evocative of Medieval manuscripts and tapestry. Give this to fans of graphic novels, fantasy, and King Arthur legends. 

I first read this book back in..., hold on, let me check. Whoa! Back in December! I set up a post for a review but each time I sat down to try and write about it, I found myself rereading and getting lost once again. I found something new on each reread and also found the storytelling compelling each time, if not more so. But I got stuck trying to synopsize the circuitous tale first getting bogged down in too much detail, then not enough. I'm still not sure I've got this review right but here it is. Read it. It's magnificent!

Friday Memes: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya. 239 p. Viking/ Penguin Young Readers Group, May 16, 2017. 9781101997239.

Publisher synopsis: Save the restaurant. Save the town. Get the girl. Make Abuela proud. Can thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora do it all or is he in for a BIG, EPIC FAIL? 
For Arturo, summertime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela’s restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo’s apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn’t notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of José Martí.

Funny and poignant, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is the vibrant story of a family, a striking portrait of a town, and one boy's quest to save both, perfect for fans of Rita Williams-Garcia.

 First line: "note to self"

I'm officially resigning from love. Time is a cell will do that to a kid. For the record: I didn't do it.

Page 56: Abuela walked over to her bookshelf and took out a large wooden cigar box. Inside the box was a stack of letters neatly tied together with string, a few pens, a watch that didn't work, and a folded envelope.
     "Aqui esta la historia de tu abuelo y yo," she said, and handed me the dark-brown box that smelled like earth. When I looked at it more closely, I realized it wasn't just a stack of letters-there were also photographs, an old CD, and blank stationery. Abuela looked at me She pulled the llose strands of her thin gray hair back into a bun. Then she sat down in her recliner and told me to take the box. The box, she said, was the story of how poetry had helped bring her and Abuelo together.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Review: Animal Planet Adventures

Animal Planet Adventures is a new chapter book series that incorporates non-fiction into a novel that revolves around a pair of children and animals. Two titles kick the series off. I received these courtesy of the publisher and read them aloud to a fifth grade class.

Dolphin Rescue by Catherine Nichols. Illustrated by Bryan Langdo. 112 p. Liberty Street/ Time Inc. Books, February, 2017. 9781618931696.

Siblings Mattie and Atticus live with their fisherman father near the ocean. Their cousin Zach and his dog, Norville are visiting for the summer. Maddie volunteers at the local aquarium and she and her brother are upset about the recent rashes of garbage dumping around their small, close-knit community. One day, the two spy a pod of dolphins that seemed to be in distress. They were circling a young dolphin who was in trouble. It had become entangled in some netting that had been dumped along with other trash. After they free the dolphin, Maddie and Atticus are determined to find the culprit.

Farm Friends Escape! by Gail Herman. Illustrated by Bryan Langdo. 112 p. Liberty Street/ Time Inc. Books, February, 2017. 9781618931680.

Eleven-year-old cousins, Luke and Sarah look forward to spending a good part of each summer at their grandparents' farm in Maine. They get along pretty well despite the fact that Sarah veers toward seriousness and Luke's a joker. This year, they arrive to find that they are responsible for running the petting zoo this year. It's a big responsibility that Luke doesn't take as seriously as Sarah. The two notice a boy lurking about but they are unable to find out who he is and why he's always watching. When the animals escape, the children put their heads together to find them and the boy becomes the prime suspect.

Both books feature relatable, likable boys and girls who love animals and care for the environment. The books are attractively designed, feature a nice font size and generous white space. Drawn illustrations depict the story and full-color photographs are inserted sporadically to provide information related to sea life in Dolphin Rescue and farm animals in Farm Friends Escape. The mysteries in each are engaging and mildly suspenseful with fun twists as the solutions are revealed. My only dilemma as the person reading these aloud was when to interrupt the story to share the information. 

My students listened eagerly and gave each thumbs up. They are interested in reading more in the series. The next two installments are due out in September. These are Puppy Riddle Rescue and Zoo Camp Puzzle. Recommended for readers between grades 2/3 - 5. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Picture Book Review: Rain by Sam Usher

Rain by Sam Usher. Unpgd. Templar Books/ Candlewick Press, March, 2017. 9780763692964. (Finished copy courtesy of publisher for review.)

When I received an email asking me if I'd be interested in reviewing this title, I took one look at that gorgeous cover and immediately clicked the reply button. It's gorgeous! It's even more gorgeous in person, what with the embossed title and all. The rain drops are even embossed. I got a kind of Peter Spier-ish* vibe from the cover art.

A small boy wakes up one morning to discover a rainy day outside and tells the reader that he can't wait to get outside. Only, granddad says it's a good day to stay indoors. The boy wants to do all the things one cannot do on a sunny day like, catching raindrops in one's mouth, splashing in puddles and looking at the world upside down reflected in a puddle. But granddad insists they wait till the rain stops so the boy totes an armful of books to a window seat and waits. He waits and reads while granddad sorts the mail and reads a letter. The rain doesn't stop. Intermittent double-page spreads show the street outside the boy's home as the water slowly rises and granddad writes a letter. The moment granddad finishes, he announces that they need to mail a letter and at the same time, the rain has ceased. The world outside their door is a watery wonder. It's a good thing they brought umbrellas because it started to rain again; but no worries! They catch raindrops and things the boy saw in his books join in the fun. He even gets to mail granddad's letter in one of the coolest post boxes I've ever seen. Back in a warm and cozy kitchen, sipping hot chocolate with granddad, the boy agrees that "The very best things are always worth waiting for."

Love at first sight only grew through the pages to the satisfying ending and has held up through multiple re-readings. This one's a keeper. The watercolor and ink illustrations feature a lively yet thoughtful red-headed boy who is not only totally at home with his granddad but totally fine with amusing himself. The palette is bright and cheerful. The illustrations range in size from spot art through single and double-page spreads and depict a comfortable home filled with all sorts of interesting details, such as a faithful stuffed monkey who waits on the window seat or the forgotten striped yo-yo under an end-table, and understated humor, such as granddad considering a letter that contains hearts on the envelop followed by a distinct blush rising as he reads the very long letter. 

Each scene invites the reader to linger. Observant young readers or listeners will note how the boy's imagination comes alive. I work with a small group of students daily. I read aloud a chapter from a chapter book as well as a picture book or two each day. They loved this one and immediately asked what else the author wrote. That's when we learned that this is a companion to an earlier book called Snow. Guess what I had to order through interlibrary loan? 

Rain is highly recommended for all sorts of library collections - for its lovely art; for its sweet depiction of love and trust between a grandparent and grandchild; for its celebration of the power of imagination and play.

*Peter Spier was a favorite of my own sons when they were young. We own a number of his books so I found them to revisit. I had totally forgotten that Spier has a title called Rain as well. I jotted a note on the inside of the book in 1989 (the original copyright is 1982 and my copy was in the eleventh printing) saying that #2 son had borrowed it from his nursery school library and was so taken by the art, I had to buy a copy for our home library. This title is a wordless book featuring a brother and sister who spend a rainy day exploring their backyard and neighborhood. The palette veers more toward pastel hues, but there's a similar attention to detail and the sheer joy of childlike curiosity and discovery. 

Waiting on Wednesday: The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. 400 p. Penguin Young Readers Group, October 3, 2017. 9780525429203.

Publisher synopsis: When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—damaged, deranged, crippled mentally as well as physically. She’s not a daughter anymore, either. What is she? 

World War II continues, and Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their loving legal guardian, Susan, in a borrowed cottage on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton—along with Lady Thorton herself and her daughter, Maggie. Life in the crowded cottage is tense enough, and then, quite suddenly, Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? The occupants of the house are horrified. But other impacts of the war become far more frightening. As death creeps closer to their door, life and morality during wartime grow more complex. Who is Ada now? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?
I adored The War That Saved My Life and am very psyched about this. The author had a cover reveal on The Nerdy Book Club last week and shared a bit about the story.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Non-Fiction Monday: The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler

The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler. 48 p. Charlesbridge, March, 2017. 9781580897389. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

A conversational text featuring short sentences that neatly incorporates scientific terminology, follows the life cycle of a toad through three years - from embryo floating in spagetti-like gel through maturation and the fertilization and laying of her own eggs. The book is attractively designed with a colorful blue background, easily read font and size and full-color photographs spread over one and a half pages that beautifully illustrate each phase from embryo onward. The photos are all super-up-close and absolutely fascinating. Sometimes, scale can be lost in up-close photos and the author indicates the relative size in the text and in a photo at the end of the book. It boggles the mind that the embryos one is staring at are actually smaller than the space inside the letter o. Then one wonders how the author/ photographer actually got these shots. (See next sentence)

The backmatter is plentiful. It includes an illustrated glossary, an explanation of the differences between a frog and a toad, more toad facts, information about saving toads, a page explaining how the author obtained the photos and three books and three websites, including the author's own, for further reading. Perfect for your budding naturalists, fact-hounds and report writing!

This is a first-purchase for school and classroom libraries for any age. The students I read this to were absolutely fascinated from beginning to end. Then, they asked for the book and pored over it again.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Memes: Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker. 286 p. Viking/ Penguin Young Readers Group, June 6, 2017. 9781524775254. 

Publisher synopsis: “If it wasn’t for the fused-with-Zyx thing, I suppose I would just be normal—whatever that means.”
When Felix Yz was three years old, a hyperintelligent fourth-dimensional being became fused inside him after one of his father’s science experiments went terribly wrong. The creature is friendly, but Felix—now thirteen—won’t be able to grow to adulthood while they’re still melded together. So a risky Procedure is planned to separate them . . . but it may end up killing them both instead. 
This book is Felix’s secret blog, a chronicle of the days leading up to the Procedure. Some days it’s business as usual—time with his close-knit family, run-ins with a bully at school, anxiety about his crush. But life becomes more out of the ordinary with the arrival of an Estonian chess Grandmaster, the revelation of family secrets, and a train-hopping journey. When it all might be over in a few days, what matters most?
Told in an unforgettable voice full of heart and humor, Felix Yz is a groundbreaking story about how we are all separate, but all connected too.

First line: I almost talked to Hector today.

Page 56: I don't know what to say, so I just nod.

"So anyway, I just want to thank you," he says, '''Cause you're one of the only people at this school who ever really talks to me." Then he get up and leaves, giving me one last look back as he goes.

What? I'M the only one who ever talks to HIM? What? What? I said, What?

I featured this in a Waiting on Wednesday post as soon as I heard about it and was so excited when it came in my preview box! 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

So, this link came across a listserv last week. I sort of slumped and sighed and grumbled about yet another perfectly perfect children's picture book getting turned into a glitzy-zitzy full-length feature film. I didn't click on it until I decided to feature The Story of Ferdinand on my library pages at school as last week's #tbt entry. In fact, let me find it on my shelf and reread it right now.

Ah, as I said, perfectly perfect.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Illustrated by Robert Lawson. 72 p. Viking/ Penguin Young Readers Group, 1936. 9780670674244. (Own copy)

We first meet Ferdinand as a very young bull among many in a field in Spain. All the other young bulls run and snort and butt their heads about. Already they hope to be chosen for the bullfights in Madrid. Not Ferdinand. He want's to sit under his favorite cork tree "just quietly" and smell the flowers. 

Ironically, Ferdinand grew and grew and grew to magnificent proportions despite not running and snorting and butting his head about. When five men in funny hats came to look over the bulls for those bullfights in Madrid, all the other bulls ran about snorting and butting their heads about. Not Ferdinand. He moseyed over to his favorite spot under the cork tree and sat - on a bee! Ouch! Did that hurt! Ferdinand ran. Ferdinand snorted! Ferdinand butted his head about! He was the perfect bull to fight in Madrid!

And so they took Ferdinand away in a cart.

The illustrations are black and white, uncluttered and cartoonish, with little bits of humor planted here and there, such as wine corks growing as fruit in the cork tree under which Ferdinand likes to sit. My sons enjoyed many readings of the story.

It is indeed, a picture book for all ages. I read somewhere that while it did modestly well the first year of publication, its sales soon tripled and then sold over 3,000 copies per week with most of the sales attributed to adults buying the book for themselves. According to the Penguin website, the book was banned in Nazi Germany and in Spain. The Spanish Civil War broke out shortly after publication. 

Shortly after then-President Bush declared the war on terror in 2001, I read a reference to the book somewhere as a good book to read during those anxious times and decided to read the book to all my students K - 8 without commentary. While all the students listened with rapt attention, and seemed to enjoy the book, only one astute sixth grader actually made the connection. His classmates all kind of stared for a second, then animated discussion ensued. 

Disney animated Ferdinand and earned an Academy Award in 1938 in the animated short film category. They decided to add color, but the illustrations are basically Lawson's. The words are the same. Spanish music plays in the background, adding atmosphere, but the story is untouched. Here's a link. I don't know if this was the first picture book ever to be turned into a movie but I guess it was an early step on a slippery slope. Dr. Seuss had a couple of picture books turned movie in the early days that stayed true to the book. How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Horten Hatches the Egg come to mind. But all of them were short and stayed true to the words and length of the book.

Full-length motion picture? It took me years to get over the horror of The Polar Express being turned into a movie to watch it. It wasn't a bad movie. Same for The Lorax. I never did watch the Jim Carrey abominations of Seuss nor do I ever want to watch Where the Wild Things Are. I guess I'm a picture book purist. There's magic in a well-told story within a 32 page framework. It's quiet and intimate and perfect.

Now back to the new Ferdinand movie. So, yeah, it's cute. It's humorous. But it's not Ferdinand! It's frenetic. It's slick and glitzy. It's too bad.

Waiting on Wednesday: She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton

She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton. Illustrated by Alexandra Boisger. Philomel/ Penguin Young Readers Group, May 30, 2017. 9781524741723.

Publisher synopsis: Throughout American history, there have always been women who have spoken out for what's right, even when they have to fight to be heard. In early 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren's refusal to be silenced in the Senate inspired a spontaneous celebration of women who persevered in the face of adversity. In this book, Chelsea Clinton celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity, sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience. They all certainly persisted. 
She Persisted is for everyone who has ever wanted to speak up but has been told to quiet down, for everyone who has ever tried to reach for the stars but was told to sit down, and for everyone who has ever been made to feel unworthy or unimportant or small. 
With vivid, compelling art by Alexandra Boiger, this book shows readers that no matter what obstacles may be in their paths, they shouldn't give up on their dreams. Persistence is power.
This book features: Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Clara Lemlich, Nellie Bly, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin, Ruby Bridges, Margaret Chase Smith, Sally Ride, Florence Griffith Joyner, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor--and one special cameo.

Wow, this was fast! Idea to book in three months!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Taking Stock - March

Total posts this month: 12
Total books read this month: 37
Total books read this year: 120

Audio: 7/19
Debut: 1/3
Picture Book: 19/60

The Good: 37 books! Would've been more but I lost three days to the virus from hell. And I managed to review four books!

The Bad: Wish I'd reviewed more! So behind on both reading and reviewing!

The Books: * = favorite
84. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (3/1)
85. Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss (3/1)
86. Penguin Day: a family story by Nic Bishop (3/1)*
87. Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis (3/1)
88. Life on Mars by Jon Agee (3/1)
89. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (3/1)*
90. Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss (3/2)
91. Hello, Mr. Dodo by Nicholas John Frith (3/3)
92. Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan (3/4)
93. Dog Man Unleashed by Dav Pilkey (3/5)
94. I am (Not) Scared by Anna Kang (3/6)
95. The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry (3/6)*
96. You are (Not) Small by Anna Kang (3/7)
97. That's (Not) Mine by Anna Kang (3/7)
98. This & That by Mem Fox (3/8)
99. Are We Still Friends by Ruth Horowitz (3/8)
100. How do Dinosaurs Choose Their Pets? by Jane Yolen (3/9)
101. Clifford's Good Deeds by Norman Bridwell (3/10)
102. Farm Friends Escape! by Gail Herman (3/10)
103. The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey (3/13)*
104. Press Start! #1: Game Over, Super Rabbit Boy! by Thomas Flintham (3/13)
105. The Haters by Jesse Andrews (3/14)
106. The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle (3/14)*
107. The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli (3/15)
108. Bunny vs. Monkey Book Two by Jamie Smart (3/16)
109. Rain by Sam Usher (3/17)
110. A Greyhound, A Ground Hog by Emily Jenkins (3/18)
111. Triangle by Mac Barnett (3/18)
112. Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli (3/19)*
113. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (3/21)*
114. The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler (3/22)
115. The Bad Guys in Mission Unpluckable by Aaron Blabey (3/22)
116. I will Love You by Alyssa Satin Capucilli (3/24)
117. Old Turtle Questions of the Heart by Douglas Wood (3/24)
118. Bunny vs. Monkey #2 by Jamie Smart (3/25)
119. How Rude! 10 real bugs who won't mind their manners by Heather L. Montgomery (3/27)
120. Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal (3/30)*

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Revenge of the Happy Campers by Jennifer Ziegler

Revenge of the Happy Campers A Brewster Triplets Novel by Jennifer Ziegler. 208 p. Scholastic Inc., April 25, 2017. 9781338091199.

Publisher synopsis: The Brewster triplets, Dawn, Darby, and Delaney, would usually be thrilled to spend a week with their beloved Aunt Jane. She's fun and fearless and fascinating, and she loves to hang out with them. But Aunt Jane is taking the girls somewhere they've never been before . . . camping!
It's one disaster after another, whether they're sinking canoes in the lake at the run-down campground, being attacked by fire ants, or failing to pitch a tent that stays upright. Worst of all, they meet a group of boys who think that their oldest brother is going to be president one day - when clearly, that's Dawn's destiny. Before they know it, the Brewster triplets are caught up in the girls-versus-boys Great Camping Challenge . . . only some are more eager to win than others. Can they beat the boys, prove to Aunt Jane that they really are happy campers, and not get into a horrible sister fight?
Six times the campers means six times the calamity in the latest Brewster triplets adventure!
My tweens are going to flip about this!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Non-Fiction Monday: Be the Change: a Grandfather Gandhi Story by Arun Gandhi and Bethan Hegedus

Be the Change: a Grandfather Gandhi Story by Arun Gandhi and Bethan Hegedus. Illustrated by Evan Turk. unpgd. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, August, 2016. 9781481442657. (Review from copy borrowed from public library.)

This was displayed on the top of the book shelf in the picture book section of the library. Since I've had picture book biographies on my mind lately, I grabbed it unaware that the authors had an earlier picture book about Grandfather Gandhi. I subsequently ordered that one through ILL and will review it soon.

I am a firm believer in "never too old for picture books." I have also been toying with the idea of getting kids into longer biographies through picture books.

This is the story Gandhi's grandson relates about how, after a year spent living on his grandfather's ashram, he continued to struggle with some of his grandfather's teachings, specifically how waste is a violent act. In fact, one afternoon, Arun impulsively decides to fling his pencil stub into the brush. When Grandfather Gandhi finds out, he sends Arun back to the brush, in the dark, with a flashlight to find the stub. Arun does so and feels shame but admits to his grandfather that he does not understand. Grandfather Gandhi spends an hour each day helping his grandson to understand.

When I think of the waste that occurs daily at my school, of lockers, at the end of the year, being emptied of unopened supplies and my students attempting to throw them out rather then cart them back home, I cringe! We teachers collect the supplies rather than allow them to be thrown away, but still the mindset is rather horrifying. 

Symbolism is embedded in both the language of this parable and the gorgeous illustrations making this a picture book to share across grade levels and subjects. This is a book to share to introduce the concept of nonviolence and/or to interest students in reading further about Gandhi. A note from the authors and an invitation to visit conclude this meditation on Gandhi's teachings. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Arc Review: Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton. Illustrated by Benjamin Schipper. 220 p. Rabbit Room Press, April 28, 2017. 9780986381881. (Review from arc courtesy of Blue Slip Media)

Henry is an artist and a bit of an oddity at La Muncha Elementary School. His teachers and classmates don't know what a great artist Henry is because he does not share his art - not even with his very best friend. When he refuses to color a ridiculous bunny template for his class' entry into an "Eat Your Vegetables" art show in the cafeteria, a note is sent home. His parents are supportive of Henry's talents. His mother allows him to draw on his bedroom walls. Indeed, she created a surface upon which Henry can draw, erase and draw again to his heart's content. They encourage him to take part in the school project but Henry absolutely cannot. He gets quite angry, in fact. He's also angry about a few other things. The kids at school don't treat him kindly and he recently got angry with his very best friend, Oscar and there's a ripped up something under his bed to prove it.

As Henry reluctantly gets ready to go to school, the magnificent dragon that he drew on his wall slips off and into his backpack. Henry has no choice but to bring him to school. He dons a suit of armor because that's what knights do and boards the school bus, where he is ridiculed. His ally, the bus driver, who sees Henry for what he is, isn't able to help Henry. 

Once inside school, the dragon slips out of the backpack and magical mayhem ensues. It's all explained away by the clueless adults who cannot "see" the dragon. It's up to Henry to subdue his work of art who seems to be able to change into anything Henry has drawn in his secret sketchpad. He is joined by Oscar and Jade, the new girl at school. Jade is fierce. She is a poet along the lines of traveling minstrels and has been watching Henry very closely. She sees Henry's potential. If only Henry would recognize the ally that she is!

This book is quirky with a capital Q. I will admit that quirky sometimes rubs me the wrong way. When I read the back jacket and saw that the name of the town was Squashbuckle, I was ready to be rubbed. Thankfully, my edges were smoothed on the first page by the wonder of Henry's door and the lovely, evocative writing. There are lots of italics and the occasional odd capitalization for emphasis that lend charm, like "Work of Art." Speaking of art, the cover, with it's slate feel and chalk writing, is perfect; as are the bits of spot art that were available in the arc I read.

I cannot wait for the book to come out so that I can get it into the hands of a variety of readers - my artists, my quiet kids, my kids who want adventure, my kids who want funny (because many of the scenes are laugh-out-loud funny), ...any of my kids really.

Visit the author's site for a terrific curriculum guide

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown. 288 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 3, 2017. 
Publisher synopsis: Shipwrecked on a remote, wild island, Robot Roz learned from the unwelcoming animal inhabitants and adapted to her surroundings--but can she survive the challenges of the civilized world and find her way home to Brightbill and the island?

From bestselling and award-winning author and illustrator Peter Brown comes a heartwarming and action-packed sequel to his New York Times bestselling The Wild Robotabout what happens when nature and technology collide.

I learned about this a couple of weeks ago on Fuse#8. I must confess, when I saw the words, "Cover Reveal" and Fuse#8 come up on my feeder, I thought, "Wow, she's doing a lot of cover reveals lately." Then, chuckled as I read the introduction. Yes, Betsy, you're right. There's no way you could pass this up. This news thrills and delights me. Keep up the good work!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Blog Tour Review: I am (Not) Scared by Anna Kang. Illustrated by Christopher Weyant

I am (Not) Scared by Anna Kang. Illustrated by Christopher Weyant. unpgd. Two Lions/ Amazon Publishing, March 21, 2017. 9781503947451. (Finished copy courtesy of Blue Slip Media)

Happy book birthday tomorrow to I am (Not) Scared! The husband and wife team who brought us the delightful, Geisel Award winning You are (Not) Small and the equally delightful That's (Not) Mine, are back with the perfect book about conquering fear. 

Neither furry creature looks particularly happy on the cover. Our Mutt and Jeff bear friends are headed to the amusement park. Little purple bear looks happy and big brown bear does not. Little bear announces, "You are scared." Big bear denies this and asks, "Are you?" Little bear asserts that he is brave and states, "You look scared."

Big bear admits, "...maybe a little." We learn that the two are waiting to ride the LOOP OF DOOM. Little bear says there are much scarier things than snakes. The two friends imagine other scary things before coming face-to-face with the car they need to ride the roller coaster in. What's in the car? A snake! He's just ridden the roller coaster and wants to go again!

Simple sentences, plenty of white space and adorable pen and ink and water color illustrations convey the thrilling terror that a ride on a roller coaster, as well as other fears, can bring. The kids I read this to were unfamiliar with the two previous books. They were so taken by our two furry friends that they immediately demanded that I order the first two for their next read aloud. A spontaneous discussion of fears arose in a natural and comfortable way. 

Visit the author's website or click here for an activity guide. Visit the illustrator's website here.

All three books are adorable, hilarious and absolutely first-purchases!