Sunday, April 30, 2017

Taking stock - April

Wowzers! And another month bites the dust! 

Total posts this month: 23
Total books read this month: 25
Total books read this year: 144

Audio: 8/27
Debut: 2/5
Picture Book: 7/67

The Good: Reviewed a couple more books than usual.

The Bad: Still not reviewing everything I'd like to signal boost. Also didn't manage a book a day. I'm still ahead on my Goodreads goal though.

The Books: * = favorite
121. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (4/5)*
122. Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker (4/7)
123. The Land of Stories: the enchantress returns by Chris Colfer (4/8)
124. My First Book of Soccer by SI Kids (4/9)
125. This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith (4/10)
126. Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee (4/10)* (audio reread)
127. Brave by Stacey McAnulty (4/11)
128. Yvain: the knight of the lion by M.T. Anderson (4/14)*
129. Pig and Goose and the First Day of Spring by Rebecca Bond (4/14)
130. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya (4/16)
131. I am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer (4/18)
132. Wires and Nerves by Marissa Meyer (4/18)
133. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (4/18)**
134. Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey (4/19)
135. Yellow by Megan Jacobson (4/20)*
136. Josh Baxter Levels Up by Gavin Brown (4/21)
137. Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz (4/23)*
138. Big Book of Animals: A Lego Adventure in the Real World (4/24)
139. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (4/24)
140. Ollie's Odyssey by William Joyce (4/26)
141. And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon by Janet Stevens (4/28)*
142. Six Dots: a story of young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant (4/28)
143. The Night She Disappeared by April Henry (4/28)
144. Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan (4/29)*

145. The Ultimate Guide to Gardening by Lisa Amstutz (4/30)

Saturday, April 29, 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.

For review:

The Ultimate Guide to Gardening: Grow Your Own Indoor, Vegetable, Fairy, and Other Great Gardens by Lisa J. Amstutz. 112 p. Craft It Yourself series. Capstone Young Readers, April, 2017. 9781623706494. 

Publisher synopsis: It's your turn to grow something just for you! The Ultimate Guide to Gardening is perfect for newbie gardens. This book is full of many types of gardens. Step-by-step instructions ensure everyone has a green thumb. Whether you want to grow a garden that's edible or something truly creative, you will find inspiration inside these pages.


A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass. 240 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October, 2005. 9780316058254.

Publisher synopsis: Mia Winchell has synesthesia, the mingling of perceptions whereby a person can see sounds, smell colors, or taste shapes. Forced to reveal her condition, she must look to herself to develop an understanding and appreciation of her gift in this coming-of-age novel.

I bought this to replace the one that was lost/ stolen from my library. My jobber doesn't have it in hardcover, so it'll be another donation to my school library.

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf. Unabridged Audiobook on One MP3-CD. 10 hours; 11 minutes. Performed by Michael Page, Phil Gigante, Christophe Lane, Laurel Merlington and Angela Dawe. Candlewick on Brilliance Audio, 

Publisher synopsis: Arrogance and innocence, hubris and hope--twenty-four haunting voices of the Titanic tragedy, as well as the iceberg itself, are evoked in a stunning tour de force.
Millionaire John Jacob Astor hopes to bring home his pregnant teen bride with a minimum of media scandal. A beautiful Lebanese refugee, on her way to family in Florida, discovers the first stirrings of love. And an ancient iceberg glides south, anticipating its fateful encounter. The voices in this remarkable re-creation of the Titanic disaster span classes and stations, from Margaret ("the unsinkable Molly") Brown to the captain who went down with his ship; from the lookout and wireless men to a young boy in search of dragons and a gambler in search of marks. Slipping in telegraphs, undertaker's reports, and other records, poet Allan Wolf offers a breathtaking, intimate glimpse at the lives behind the tragedy, told with clear-eyed compassion and astounding emotional power.

This will be a reread for me. I read it with my eyes when it originally published. 

That's what's new with me. What's new with you?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Slider by Pete Hautman

I learned about this from a post on Pete Hautman's blog a while back. So excited about this because I am a fan of his work.

Slider by Pete Hautman. 288 p. Candlewick Press, September 12, 2017. 9780763690700. 

Publisher synopsis: David can eat an entire sixteen-inch pepperoni pizza in four minutes and thirty-six seconds. Not bad. But he knows he can do better. In fact, he’ll have to do better: he’s going to compete in the Super Pigorino Bowl, the world’s greatest pizza-eating contest, and he has to win it, because he borrowed his mom’s credit card and accidentally spent $2,000 on it. So he really needs that prize money. Like, yesterday. As if training to be a competitive eater weren’t enough, he’s also got to keep an eye on his little brother, Mal (who, if the family believed in labels, would be labeled autistic, but they don’t, so they just label him Mal). And don’t even get started on the new weirdness going on between his two best friends, Cyn and HeyMan. Master talent Pete Hautman has cooked up a rich narrative shot through with equal parts humor and tenderness, and the result is a middle-grade novel too delicious to put down.

I can't wait!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Audiobook Review: Yellow by Megan Jacobson

Yellow by Megan Jacobson. Unabridged audiobook on one MP3 CD. 7 hours, 6 minutes. Read by Marny Kennedy. Audible Studios on Brilliance, July, 2016. 9781522642121. (Review from purchased audiobook)

Wow! It has been forever since I reviewed an audiobook! I've been reading with my ears quite a lot lately - 25 so far for 2017. I cannot recall how this one came on my radar. Perhaps it was via a starred review of the audiobook in SLJ. It wasn't available through my library cooperative, nor as a book. Since the audio was inexpensive online, I bought it.

I really wish the book was available in the U.S. I may have to send to Australia for it because the writing was often stunning. Since I listened in my car, note taking was not an option. I often gasped at all the lovely bits of imagery and unique metaphors. Quite an impressive debut! I would love to reread this with my eyes and a highlighter! I'd also love to read her next book! (Visit the author's website for a sneak peek of the cover!)

Okay, this review is a bit topsy-turvy. Usually I start out with a synopsis. What is it about? Fourteen-year-old Kirra is in crisis mode. She lives in public housing on the poor side of an Australian beach town with an alcoholic mother and a recently departed surfer-dude dad. This departure has escalated her mother's drinking and Kirra is tired of being the parent. She's devastated but not really surprised when her dad, Lark turns down her request to live with him. He lives with a new girlfriend who clearly calls the shots and, with a new baby on the way, insists there's no room for Kirra. She's bright but tries to keep her smarts under the radar so as not to draw attention to herself. She is routinely berated by her frenemies and is on the outs with them as the novel opens. She's tiny and quiet and absolutely hates her eyes, which are huge and yellow. In fact, her father's nickname for her is, Yellow.

As books that portray bullying go, this one is very good, excellent even. But there are tons and tons of good books about bullying out there. What sets this one apart? The ghost. Kirra answers a ringing pay phone (the story takes place in the 1990s) to find herself talking to a ghost named Boogie. He's lonely and wants her help in bringing his killer to justice. He tells Kirra that he was just fourteen when he was murdered and promises to help her if she helps him. When he reveals who his killer is, Kirra is truly scared but she agrees to try to help Boogie, especially if he can help with her popularity and getting her parents back together. The paranormal aspect lent an interesting twist and suspense was high throughout.

The Australian coastal setting was vividly drawn as well as the characters who peopled Kirra's community. It was small and stifling and folks tended not to move out.

Marny Kennedy's narration was pitch perfect. Her pacing, her voice, that gorgeous Australian accent all made for a riveting read. I will confess that I was let down a bit by the ending. It felt a bit rushed and too happy - not that I wasn't rooting for Kirra. And, while the portrayal of her mother's alcoholism was incredibly spot on, Kirra's, hm-m, (how to be non-spoilery?) solution was not. Still, the book is well worth a look. Kirra is a memorable character you won't soon forget.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Non-Fiction Monday: Big Book of Animals: a Lego Adventure in the Real World

Big Book of Animals: a Lego Adventure in the Real World. 128 p. Scholastic Inc., February, 2017. 9781338130072. (Review from finished copy courtesy of reviewer.)

I doubt there are many who will be able to resist this adorable tiger cub staring out from the cover of this attractive title. If the picture doesn't grab your young readers, perhaps the Lego log and brick design framing the cover will. What does Lego have to do with informational books? I wondered the same thing and my thoughts did turn a bit cynical, truth be told. Here's a link to the partnership page since the book just gives the main Scholastic link and I did not find a search box on the home page. This particular title is not shown (as of 4/24/17) in the line-up of titles, but has a downloadable building starter associated with it.

A bubble adjacent to the Table of Contents explains that Lego and Scholastic have entered into a partnership to bring a series of nonfiction titles out containing, "amazing facts, beautiful real-world photos, and mini figures everywhere." Let's start with the positive - real world photos? Check. Lots and lots of them. Beautiful? Double check - lots of crisp, clear, color photos. Many are close-ups. Mini figures? Check. There are explorer guides/ responsible for each of seven biomes and they are all dressed appropriately for their biomes. That said, they lead a rather eclectic group of explorers/ tourists whose running commentary is supposed to add humor. This is fine, but more information about the biomes and animals might have increased the value of this volume as a resource for reports.

Additionally, a construction guy appears periodically to suggest some building ideas, which is where the Legos come in. Presumably, young readers will be inspired to pull out his or her bricks and mini figures. This is encourages imagination and free play. This is sort of refreshing since there are so many themed kits available for purchase, some kids might not realize that Legos can be used for their own creations. I'm serious! A robotics teacher whose class I observed told me that she wanted the kids to build their own programs without relying on building/ programming instructions and most of her students couldn't do it.

Now for the amazing facts - where the pages are crammed with photos, the "amazing" facts are a bit brief. There's a text box of "Minifacts" on each double-page spread and a very general overview of a variety of animals in each biome. What I found particularly interesting was the group  name feature, which stated either none or the collective noun if the animal had one associated with it. Some of them were quite fun!

This is more a browsing book for most readers. Having raised a few Legomaniac fact hounds, I would've been all over this as a parent. If budget dollars are tight, its report value is limited. If you want enthusiastic browsers lining up and have the dollars, this title will be hot.

The books in the series are colorful and attractively designed. I would be interested in getting a few of the titles. A short glossary and index, as well as picture credits conclude the volume. There is no additional back matter.

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.