Monday, January 14, 2019

STEM Pick: Picture Book: The Very Impatient Caterpillar

The Very Impatient Caterpillar
by Ross Burach
Illustrations by the author
Scholastic Press
32 pages
ISBN: 9781338289411

Quirky and quaint, this very impatient caterpillar will have young readers in giggles. The cover art says it all: Is it time yet?

A caterpillar see others climbing a tree and wants to know here everyone is going. They tell him they're going to build their chrysalis and metamorphosize. He doesn't know what that means, but he doesn't want to have severe FOMO so he follows them.

The others build their chrysalis like good, patient caterpillars except for our impatient friend. He wants to know how long this will take, and when he finds out it's TWO WEEKS, he's batty! He tries to wait, but emerges early thinking he's a butterfly. When he tries to fly, SPLAT! He gives in and tries a second time doing everything to pass the time: he wants a comic book, he tries to order a pizza, he'd like to play a game,  and wonders what he'll do if he has to go to the bathroom (sure to cause laughter!) The other caterpillars shush him. A squirrel has a great time watching the action.

When he finally changes, he wants to know where everyone's going. They tell him "we're migrating." He goes along asking, you guessed it that famous question children ask on long trips (on short ones as well) Are we there yet?

Hilarious art by the author is captivating and the use of cartoon balloons enhance the cartoon-like story. STEM for caterpillar to butterfly and migration, this is a great read-aloud for early science classes.

Highly, highly recommended pre-school to grade 3.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Picture Book Pick: Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Hunt

Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Hunt:
The True Story of the Quest for America's Biggest Bones
by Carrie Clickard
Illustrations by Nancy Carpenter
A Paula Wiseman Book
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
40 pages
ISGN: 9781481442695

Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Hunt is a delightful romp in history that highlights American history and one fascinating facet of forefather Thomas Jefferson. Just one year after winning independence from British rule, Thomas Jefferson touts America as the greatest place to live. It's a beautiful country with land and riches for settlers. In King Louis' court in France,  Count Baffon begs to disagree. He says America is a swampy, dirty place. Jefferson makes it his job to prove Baffon wrong.

Jefferson begs his scouts to find the largest animal in America to show how much bigger and better America is. Soon, Jefferson receives pelts from every type of animal imaginable and giant bones arrive. When they assemble the skeleton, it's a giant sloth. Count Baffon is unimpressed. Then the most amazing discovery, the bones of a giant mammoth!

Fascinating author's note and a list of who's who are included for future history buffs. Whimsical illustrations by Nancy Carpenter breathe life into history. The illustrations are so deftly handled that people jump off the pages! Rhyming content is fun and will keep younger readers interested. This picture book has wide appeal for any readers who love history, archeology, dinosaurs, adventure and touches of whimsy. Much more than a picture book, this is a must read and a must have for all collections.

Highly recommended for early readers. Pre-school age may not sit still for the entire read, but a young one who loves dinosaurs and bones will find this fascinating. Grade K-up (depending on child's attention span).

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Middle Grade Pick: The Whispers

The Whispers
by Greg Howard
G.P. Putnam's Sons
Penguin Random House LLC
229 pages
ISBN: 9780525517498

Heartfelt, beautiful, mesmerizing and a tale that will captivate readers!

The Whispers is this year's must read for young readers, teachers, parents, everyone! It is that middle grade book  readers will remember long after finishing it.

Riley is ten when his mother disappears. He misses her and sees her influence everywhere he looks. He tries to find her in the whispered voices he hears at twilight. He prays that the voices can tell him where she's gone or better yet, bring her back home. The whispers is a story Riley's mama used to tell him every night.

Riley's family doesn't mention Mama. Photos of her have been put away as if she never existed to anyone but Riley. His grandparents refer to his "condition." Riley has two conditions: his foggy memory on the day his mother went missing and his secret "condition"--the fact that he likes boys.  His family considers Riley quiet, weak and a "Mama's boy." He is introspective, creative and soft-spoken.

Riley has to meet with "Fat Bald Detective" many times. The man keeps asking him the same questions. What does he remember about the day Mama disappeared? Riley remembers she was lying on the couch and he touched her hand. Then, he went out to play and Mama went missing. Riley doesn't see why the cops aren't searching for whoever took Mama. Why do they keep questioning him? He didn't have anything to do with her disappearance, but he does have secrets.

Everyone deals with grief differently. Riley's father becomes a shell of himself hardly speaking to anyone and he won't make eye contact with Riley.  Riley remembers Mama and how they learned a word a day from a calendar. Mama would make him use the word in a sentence and Riley continues the practice. He turns to "the whispers" to find his Mama.

The Whispers has a favorite trope of all time: the unreliable narrator--ten, now eleven-year old, Riley. He has developed an alternative narrative where "...your head and your heart tell you a different story in order to protect you" (from the Author's Note). His memory loss is a break with reality and his coping method.

The Whispers is my early pick for Best Middle Grade Book of the Year and are you listening, Bluebonnets? I believe this book will be a Texas Bluebonnet pick and other states will step up to the plate. This is a must have for all collections and a must read. The Whispers would be a great book to read as a class and the discussions would help so many kids.

Highly, highly recommended and DO NOT MISS THIS ONE.
Grades 5 and up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Space Opera Pick: Pitch Dark

Pitch Dark
by Courtney Alameda
Feiwel and Friends
384  pages
ISBN: 97812500085894

Pitch Dark is one of the best books of the year. A science fiction horror story that is chock full of gore, action and moxie. Tuck and his family jettisoned from Earth on the John Muir, a spacecraft. He wakes up from stasis  four hundred years later, and finds himself alone (?)  on the ship. Alone, except for the monsters who used to be human and a few other humans. Most of the crew died, but those who didn't mutated into fast and furious beasts capable of killing with just their voice. Tuck learns to kill them, but must always be wary of attack. An engineer, Tuck keeps the ship running with the hope of someday someone will rescue them.

Laura Cruz is on the Conquistador with archeologists and scientists from post apocalyptic Earth. She's  a teen hacker who sabotages her own ship's mainframe in order to remove a chip that controls her. Another hacker with evil intent is  on board. The Conquistador finds damaged spaceship John Muir and attempts to come alongside it to see if  anyone survived or if it contains any artifacts they need in order to save Earth.

Laura is horrified when her ship collides with the derelict wreck of John Muir. Her mother and family escape the Conquistador in a smaller ship leaving a trail of clues for her to follow. Laura boards the John Muir and meets Tuck. The two of them must  survive the monsters, keep the John Muir intact  and pray for discovery before their supplies run out or the monsters kill them.

The rapid pace of Pitch Dark will keep  pages turning at a furious pace. Teen readers (and adults) who seek a thrill ride will love Pitch Dark. Even this non-SF fan loved the story and the characters, and I read it in one sitting.  Sublime pacing, expert world building and a resounding story make this book a solid five stars. There's no one I'd rather be lost in space with than Tuck and Laura.

Highly, highly recommended for every sci-fi reader and every YA fan. You won't forget this book!

Grades 9 and up for gore and violence.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Horror Pick: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein
by Kiersten White
Delacourte Press
287 pages
ISBN: 9780525577942

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is the perfect book to curl up by the fireplace with. Don't let the lights grow too dim. Don't let the shadows linger too long. This spooky and creepy read will keep you up at night.

Deftly re-imagined by Kiersten White, Mary Shelley's masterpiece has undergone big changes. The main character of this novel is a female who fights to stay alive and stay safe. Although set in the 1800s, Elizabeth Lavenza is as feisty as power female protagonists of today.

Elizabeth is born into poverty. She's sold away by her unloving father to become a playmate of a wealthy family's son. Victor, even as a boy, isn't quite right. There's something wrong. Something that lurks deep inside of him. He's dangerous to himself and others. Victor's a problem child, and unless he can learn to play with others, he'll never become human.

Young Elizabeth knows her place in the household is precarious unless she can make insert herself into Victor's life so deeply that he must have her to survive. She is intelligent beyond her years, but because it is the 1800's, she must use feminine wiles to get what she wants. Feminists may have a problem with this, but it's doubtful whether feminists would read a YA retelling in the first place.

Readers will love the fact that they get to see Victor's own descent into madness.

The setting is atmospheric and imaginative; the story is historically beautiful and gritty. Mary Shelley would be proud to see this version if she were alive today. The cover art is breathtaking with creepy raised lettering sewn together with needle and thread. In fact, I would say this is my favorite YA cover of the year.

Highly, highly recommended for any horror collection. Grade 8 and up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

YA Pick: Isle of Blood and Stone

Isle of Blood and Stone
by Makiia Lucier
Houghton Mifflen Harcourt
389 pages
ISBN: 9780544968578

Beautifully imagined and entertaining, The Isle of Blood and Stone may become your favorite YA read of the year!

Two maps are discovered and the secrets they hold must be deciphered by Elias, a mapmaker himself. Two princes were murdered as boys eighteen years ago, and now their younger brother sits on he throne. Ulises and Elias, friends as boys, now their roles have changed to ruler and nobleman. King Ulises asks (orders) Elias to find the man behind the maps and uncover their secrets. Could it be that Elias's father, the original mapmaker, is still alive?

Elias goes on a journey (but remains close to home)  to find the truth but some enemies want the "bodies to remain buried." When two kingdoms are at war, secrets are buried deep and some friends are enemies and some enemies are friends.

Isle of Blood and Stone has everything that make speculative fiction fun! Epic world building, interesting, powerful characters that readers will empathize with, a hero's journey (close to home), long buried secrets, warring kingdoms and a struggles for power. The maps play an important part in the book and are integral to the story.

A real page turner, give this novel to fans of Tamora Pierce. The book is the first in a duology.

This book is on the consideration list for the Cybils Awards 2018.

Highly recommended grade 9-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for my review.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Picture Book Pick: Life With My Family

Life With My Family
by Renee Hooker & Karl Jones
Illustrated by Kathryn Durst
Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House
32 pages
ISBN: 9781524789374

Funny and heartfelt art captures a chaotic family scene where the sister wonders what else could we be? She imagines her family as: a pod of pelicans, a swarm of bees, a school of fish, a herd of buffalo, a pride of lions, a pandemonium of parrots and lesser known animals like wombats and jelly fish. The girl realizes that even though her family is loud and messy, there is no place she'd rather be.

Each animal sports human accessories so that young readers can tell which member of the family is portrayed: Mama wears earrings, Papa wears glasses, the brother with red hair sports a tuft of red hair, and the baby has a pacifier, and this makes it fun for the youngest readers.

Highly recommended ages 1-up. Cute family interaction and fun artwork make this a keeper of a book! Included is a list of terms for collective nouns, or terms of venery, for each group of animals.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Picture Book Pick: Tomorrow I'll Be Brave

Tomorrow I'll Be Brave
by Jessica Hische
Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House
40 pages
ISBN: 9781524787011

Insightful and positive, this quick read is a bedtime story sure to teach and instill qualities of confidence, having fun whether you win or not, learning new things, asking questions, creating things and being brave.

Colorful illustrations by the author are gender neural and sure to appeal to young readers. The words: adventurous, strong, brave, creative, smart, confident, and  curious  come alive in an illustration near the end, and readers learn that even if they didn't do all those things today, there is always tomorrow to try again.

Powerful and appealing, give this little beauty to every child in your life!

Highly, highly recommended age two and up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Picture Book Pick: No Boring Stories

No Boring Stories!
by Julie Falatko
Illustrated by Charles Santoso
Viking; Penguin Young Readers
48 pages
ISBN: 9780451476821
Available November 6, 2018

A mole invites his friends: a crab, a weevil and a warthog to write an exciting story featuring princesses, a giant robot suit, grapes, and lasers. A cute bunny who just won't go away keeps trying to tell his story and FIX theirs. The others don't want a story about cute, furry animals, birthdays and mommies.

Eventually they all work together to develop a story with a beginning, a middle and an end that they are all happy with and they celebrate as friends.

Funny, new words that young readers will want to include in their developing vocabulary are: mandibles, steed, humiliate, evidence, and discarded.

Recommended age 3-up.

Monday, October 22, 2018

YA Pick: Not Even Bones

Not Even Bones
by Rebecca Schaeffer
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
355 pages
ISBN: 9781328863546

Gruesome, grisly and ghastly but all in the best ways, Not Even Bones lives up to its pitched comparisons "'Dexter' meets 'This Savage Song.'" Schaeffer goes in deep (pun intended) in her descriptions of dissections, body parts, the human meat market, cutting skin off the body, and meat hunters who enjoy eating their products. It's as if Jeffrey Dahmer has been cloned and is in the body parts smuggling business!

Nita has grown up with dead bodies and learned to take them apart, piece by piece. Her mother marvels at her butchery skills, but then  Mom brings home a live boy that she intends to sell off piece by piece. He was being kept by a collector in Buenos Aires, but her mother grabbed him and begins posting his body parts for sale online. Nita is fine with chopping up dead bodies, but she cannot bring herself to cut off the boy's ears or toes, so she sets him free, giving him  a bus ticket and her phone.

Nita knows her mother will be furious. That boy was worth close to $1 million, and her mother doesn't like to lose money. Even worse, her mother's punishments are legendary. Nita is taken away and loses consciousness. She wakes up in a high tech cage beside another prisoner who tells her they are for sale in the worst meat market in the world. Nita always knew her mother could  be cruel, but she had no idea the depths of her evil. Her mother sold her for profit. Nita is an unnatural herself and her parts are worth far more than the boy she set free.

In a world where humans traffic in fresh body parts of unnatural species, kill or be killed is the new norm. Not Even Bones begins the story with Nita fighting for her freedom. When she escapes her cage, she is sure she's beat death, but the surprise twist at the end blows up the entire book setting the stage for book two. Kudos to Rebecca Schaeffer for the BAM! surprise twist that will leave teen readers reeling.

Recommended grade 9 and up. For readers who enjoy gore and blood and are not bothered by grisly details like livers, hearts, cutting off digits or skinning live subjects.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

High School Pick: Here To Stay

Here To Stay
by Sara Farizan
Algonquin Young Readers
204 pages
ISBN: 9781616208721

Shy teen Bijan Mijadi  loves basketball and plays on his school's JV squad. When he's called up to the varsity squad and sinks  with the winning basket, he's his school's new  hero. Students congratulate him and the coach even asks Bijan to join the varsity squad for the rest of the season. Not everyone is happy to see Bijan join the team. Some people want him to fail.

When a photo of Bijan is photoshopped  to make him look like a terrorist, the school administrator is outraged and vows to find the culprit and punish him or her. Some students rally  together to champion Bijan, but he just wants the incident to go away. Islamophobia and hate speech does not just "go away" his mother insists. She and other parents meet and pass out flyers to rally the community. Bijan is now poster boy for a movement he wants no part of. Can't he just play basketball and crush on cute girl Elle in peace?

Play by play announcers,real-life basketball announcers Kevin and Reggie (Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller),  provide narration for some of Bijan's inner thoughts and epic fails. Their tongue-in-cheek banter makes this novel special. Basketball terminology and the mention of game legends like Bill Laimbeer (legendary bad boy player fans loved to hate) make Here To Stay a smart addition to sports fiction. It's obvious that Farizan knows a thing or two about the sport.

This timely topic will resonate with readers of all backgrounds. Bijan is a character they'll fall in love with. Here To Stay will be on the top of all awards lists this season! Can you say TAYSHAS?

Highly, highly recommended grade 8-up. A MUST READ.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Lower Middle Grade Pick: If This Were a Story

If This Were a Story
by Beth Turley
Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
256 pages
ISBN: 9781534420618

This sweet and soaring debut by Beth Turley introduces readers to nine-year old Hannah. Hannah is in fifth grade. She wishes her parents would stop their fighting. When they fight, she turns to her stuffed elephant, Ambrose. One night, Ambrose comes to life and has a conversation with Hannah. He tells her that he'll always be there for her as long as she needs him.

Bullies at school are bothering Hannah. Someone even wrote a note and left it where she'd find it. It said: Nobody likes Hannah. Her teacher demands to see the note and warns the class they will be punished for their behavior. Hannah is sent to her counselor for a "talk." Hannah parents are called and they pull together to help Hannah  feel better. Hannah is happy to see her parents stop their fighting. 

Hannah's best friend Courtney seems to be distancing herself from Hannah. There is trouble on all fronts, so  Hannah puts her energy into  practicing for the spelling bee. An avid speller and lover of vocabulary words, Hannah is in her element when learning new words and using them. She daydreams frequently and is creative and imaginative. She imagines how scenes would turn out, "if this were a story," but then she counters by saying, "...but this is real life, so..." Ambrose the elephant  becomes her constant source of comfort as things spiral down. Hannah can't wait until she meets upper grade pen pal Ashley, but when she does, Ashley isn't as "cool" or fun as Hannah had envisioned. 

Readers will be surprised by the twist in the ending which will  lead to spirited classroom discussions about bullying and its effect on everyone involved.

Not to be missed for its timely topic and masterful storytelling, If This Were a Story is likely to earn many state awards. Can you say Texas Bluebonnet? You heard it here first.

Highly recommended grade 3-6.  Bullying.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, September 21, 2018

YA Pick: Heartless

by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends
449 pages
ISBN: 9781250044655

Heartless is a richly imagined, breathtakingly told story prequel of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Evocative of Carroll's mad romp and "Wicked," Heartless delivers this story to this generation of readers. All the principal characters appear: the Cheshire Cat, Cath (who becomes the Queen of Hearts), the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and with Meyer's deft ability to tell a tale, live again in this book.

Catherine  wants to open a bakery and sell the best tarts and pastries in all of Hearts, but her mother has other ideas. No high born woman should work in business. The king has his eye on Cath as a wife, but Cath meets and falls under the spell of Jest, a new court jester. There's magic and monsters in this kingdom and enough trouble to keep the young couple apart.

There is no happy ending in this book. We all know Cath turns into the Queen of Hearts, so we are prepared for her wicked behavior. It's interesting to see a villain as a young and innocent teen before life and love wreaks their heart and mind.

For fans of Meyer's The Lunar Chronicles, this is a must read. This is not simply a retelling of Alice in Wonderland; it's a prequel  which means Meyer can imagine anything for young Catherine.

Recommended grade 7-up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I purchased this book for my library.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

High School Pick: Fat Girl on a Plane

Fat Girl on a Plane
by Kelly DeVos
Harlequin Teen
376 pages
ISBN: 9780373212538

Fat Girl on a Plane is an important book for teen readers tackling issues of self-esteem, body shaming, body image, self acceptance, overcoming obstacles, and rising to challenges. Cookie Von is an aspiring fashion designer with a keen eye and a knack for pattern, proportion, and color. She makes much of her own wardrobe and writes a fashion blog. Fat Cookie is forced to buy two seats on a plane and she vows that she's done being "the fat girl on a plane."

The story jumps back and forth from fat Cookie (in high school) to skinny Cookie in a fashion design program at ASU. Some readers may become disconnected with the way the story is told, but it's a strong story nonetheless.

Cookie has self-doubt and a good bit of self-loathing brought on by stares and comments from complete strangers and most biting of all: rude comments from her super-model mother. One lesson Cookie learns is that fat or skinny, things don't change that much. Sure, men give her approving looks. People take her designs more seriously, but designing for plus-size women isn't considered a real design business.

Through it all, Cookie sticks to her guns and creates plus-size fashionable pieces because she believes that fat people deserve fashion. A woman should not have to wear tents or caftans because she is bigger than runway models. Fashionable pieces can be created and worn by all sizes of women. Fat Girl on a Plane forces readers to view fashion from the eyes of women who have been under served and unrepresented by designers, publishers, fashion editors, models, and media. The plus-size market is a gold mine if someone like Cookie makes it their own. 

Once skinny, Cookie attracts a much older, more worldly boyfriend. This is where this YA novel veers off path. With profanity and sexual references, this book cannot be placed in a middle school library. Cookie is in her first year of college and if there were still a recognized genre as New Adult, that's where this title would be placed.

Recommended grades 9 and up. Profanity, sex.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Picture Book Pick: The Wall in the Middle of the Book

The Wall in the Middle of the Book
by Jon Agee
Illustrations by the author
Dial Books for Young Readers
48 pages
ISBN: 9780525555452

Available October 2, 2018

A story that could only come from the imaginative mind of Jon Agee, The Wall in the Middle of the Book will entertain and captivate young readers. As a read aloud or bedtime story, parents and readers will want to encourage youngsters to see EVERYTHING happening on both sides of the wall at the same time. Children will point out what they see on both sides. The poor knight, however, cannot see over the wall and assumes the worst. 

The tiny knight is safe on his side of the wall; the left side of the book is safe he explains. The wall protects him from the right side where there is danger lurking. Wild animals: a rhino, a tiger and a gorilla are on the right. When a mouse appears, the larger animals run!

The knight climbs a ladder not at all worried about the rising waters at his feet. Several pages later,  the safe side, the left side, doesn't seem so safe after all. An ogre that eats people is on the right side. The knight is torn. What should he do?

Careful readers will spot clues on each page that tell more of the story. Children are apt to tell YOU the story of the knight and what he will do.

A MUST HAVE for every young reader. Buy this for your favorite toddler and toddler parents.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.