Saturday, December 30, 2017

Graphic Pick: The Witch Boy

The Witch Boy
by Molly Knox Ostertag
graphic novel; full color illustrations
224 pages
ISBN: 9781338089523

Masterful illustrations by debut author Molly Knox Ostertag position The Witch Boy to be the graphic darling of 2018. The late 2017 publication date insure that this title will be considered for both years.

Aster's family has always taught their daughters and girls magic. It is the rule. When Aster shows his interest, he is berated and bullied by his male relatives and chastised by his female relatives. Aster is headstrong and actually shows a penchant for "girl's" magic. He has not yet been able to see his shape. Boys in his family are shapeshifter, yet Aster has not had any luck realizing his shape. Then two of his boy cousins disappear and the family worries that a dangerous spirit may be at work. It may be up to Aster to discover his cousins' plight and rescue them from an evil entity. For him to be successful, he'll have to embrace magic and find his power.

The Witch Boy  and Aster embrace the differences in children. Aster won't accept his family's social norms and he breaks them. By breaking out, he is able to save his cousins, show his family that he is normal and show them that different is okay.

Recommended grade 4 and up.

Friday, December 15, 2017

YA Classic Retelling: Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook

Guest Review by Oscar Porras, Library Media Specialist, Ysleta Middle School in El Paso, Texas.
Follow Oscar on Twitter @oporras_LMS

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook
by Christina Henry
304 pages
ISBN:  9780399584022 

From the beloved story from childhood, readers have learned that there is a fierce rivalry between Peter Pan and Hook; however, the author never expounded on how this rivalry began. One story is that Hook was once a Lost Boy who  ran away when he realized that he was too old to be a part of the group. Another story goes that Hook was always a pirate and always Peter's nemesis (think Batman vs. The Joker).

Christina Henry's YA novel is a unique twist on the relationship between the two. Jamie, aka future Captain Hook, is the first boy Peter chooses to join him in Neverland for adventures. They will stay young and be irresponsible forever. This new world holds terrible secrets: there are pirates and beasts of many kinds. Through Jamie's eyes, the reader realizes that the title Lost Boy carries a terrible price. Jamie  has had to bury his fellow Lost Boys when they have died or when they've gone to battle with pirates on the island. Jamie's aging has also started to weigh heavily on him. Although he doesn't physically age, the years are catching up to him. Peter Pan, on the other hand, stays young and reckless often sending his Lost Boys on dangerous adventures without regard for their safety and they are lost on the island.

The book's trajectory follows the path of a falling out between the two boys. Hook realizes that Pan is anything but his best friend and the Lost Boys are mere playthings for Peter discarded in the name of fun. The traditional story features Peter as a jovial child playing tricks on friends and flying children to Neverland to have epic adventures. Henry's Peter is much darker. He is a sociopath with no regard for human life and wholly predictable. This line encompasses the book, "This isn't a wonderful place for boys to play and have adventures and stay young for always. It's a killing place, and we're all just soldiers in Peter's war."

Recommended grade 9 and up. Violence and gore.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I (Pamela Thompson) received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review nor did reviewer Oscar Porras.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Top Books 2017: Pamela's Picks: YA and Others!

2017 was an AWESOME year for YA fiction. It was stronger by far than last year. I saw a few trends in YA this year: the sibling relationship was strong in several books. Strong female protagonists abound--it was the year of "Wonder Woman" at the box office! Books with messages about what is going on in the news were strong this year. Books that will leave teens (and adults) thinking and talking were big.  What we saw on the news, we saw in our fiction this year. This year I was selected to sit on the YA Fiction panel for the Cybils Awards. Many of my picks are also being considered for Cybils.

Here are my top picks of the year for Graphic novel, non-fiction, preschool and ten for YA. The ten picks are in no specific order. They are all fantastic and I would hand them to any YA fan! Oh, but the BEST of the BEST because it was EVERYTHING a book should be and it surprised me for its crossover appeal: The Last Magician! This could easily be labeled as adult fiction. I would give this to any adult who loves to read. 

Ten Ten YA:

The Last Magician
by Lisa Maxwell

This one has EVERYTHING! A tough female protagonist, New York at the turn of the century (1900s), bad guys, a magical book, magicians who are imprisoned in New York, a love interest, second story guys, mobsters, ladies of questionable virtue, dens of inequity, street thugs, thievery, magic, you-name-it, it's here! The writing is SUBLIME. You can eat these words! Best book of the year! On the Cybils Awards list and a contender. 

A Short History of the Girl Next Door
by Jared Reck

OMGosh, this book! It's the BEST realistic fiction. It has all the feels. I laughed, I cried. You will need tissues. Tear-jerker appeal. You simply MUST read this book. I am happy to report this one is on the Cybils list and a possible contender. 

A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
by Mackenzi Lee

Wow! Historical fiction done right! This one follows a young British lord who is bi-sexual and promiscuous and what a rapscallion Percy is! I have never seen a bi-sexual teen in historical fiction before in YA. Percy, his friend and sometime love interest and sister travel to the Continent for a year before Percy is expected to come home to England and be a proper gentleman. Oh, but the fun and shenanigans doesn't stop. This one is hilarious in all the right ways. This one is on the Cybils list and a possible contender. 

The Reader 
by Traci Chee

This is first in a trilogy of Sea of Ink and Gold. The Reader is fantasy, it's magical with a strong female protagonist, pirates, stowaways, clues that are actually sprinkled throughout the book--a fun adventure on its own, a secret message if you are able to solve it, and Chee's masterful storytelling.

by Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie is just as fun as its cover! Book love for this one! I received the ARC of this one and a button "Moxie Girls Fight Back" at Texas Library Association conference back in April. Little did I know how much "trouble" this book was about to stir up! The boys (and teachers) in this book are so awful it's nearly laughable, but I remember hearing their types of comments, as I'm sure girls do now, in high school. Well, moxie girls do fight back and create a movement. What's not to love? It is the Year of the Female Protagonists Take Over the World (at least in YA). Moxie is on the Cybils list and a possible contender. 

Piecing Me Together
by Renee Watson

What a beautiful book! Jade uses her art as an outlet for her feelings. She takes trash and makes collages. Elegant storytelling by Renee Watson make this one a winner! This is on the Cybils list and a possible contender! 

The Lake Effect
by Erin McCahan

This one is also on the Cybils list and a contender. 2017 saw a trend of a little bit older protagonist. Many of the YA books had teens who had just graduated high school and were getting ready for college. The Lake Effect is one. I consider this book a postcard from the Great Lakes. Having spent many summer on Lake Erie and having countless relatives who hail from there, it reminded me of all those summers on the lake. McCahan pays homage to the teens who have to work summers for college. Briggs arrives at the beautiful Victorian on the lake in time to take his new 84 year old boss to the first of many funerals he will have to attend. This one is sarcastic, funny and whip-smart. 

Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn
by Elizabeth Kiem

This book breaks boundaries in YA. We usually don't see a spy thriller set in 1958 Soviet Union. The writing and research is sublime. Kiem deserves mass praise for what must have been exhaustive hours researching the time period and political nuances. I loved this book. It is historical fiction with a BANG. 

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life 
by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Saenz triumphs again after success with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe. If you loved that one, you'll love Logic even more. Sal is a teen who questions his place. Sounds familiar, right? In Saenz's loving hands, each character seems like a real person. I am glad I live in the world where Benjamin Alire Saenz writes YA fiction. I have seen him speak a number of times (he is from El Paso) and he is one of the most sincere and sweet humans you will ever meet. I don't add this book to the list because Saenz is known to me. I add it because it's amazing and also on the list for the YA Cybils Fiction panel and a contender. If you missed Dante and Aristotle--buy it today! 

Non-fiction Pick:

Some Writer!
The Story of E. B. White
by Melissa Sweet

E.B. White. Melissa Sweet. It's genius! Highly readable and enjoyable. I am not a big fan of non-fiction, but this was GREAT!

Pre-School Pick:

by Tim McCanna
Illustrations by Richard Smythe

The artwork is the most beautiful gift you can give to a child. A lovely treasure!

Graphic Pick:

Fish Girl
by Donna Jo Napoli
Illustrated by David Wiesner

There's a reason Wiesner is a Caldecott winner, this is it! No one can beat his artwork. I LOVE Fish Girl! 

That's it! My picks for the Best of the Best for 2017. Happy reading, everyone! I hope 2018 gives us many more literary gifts. Pamela 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Young Reader Pick: Tiny and the Big Dig

Tiny and the Big Dig
by Sherri Duskey Rinker
Illustrated by Matt Myers
Scholastic Press
32 pages
ISBN: 978054504292

Available January 30, 2018

Tiny and the Big Dig is a book with tremendous heart! Tiny is a small dog who loves to dig. Digging is hard work but don't let Tiny's size fool you! He is determined and strong. The cover depicts Tiny in all  his digging glory, his puppy face alive with elation as a surprised snail watches over him. A bird and a cat try to tell Tiny that he's too small to dig such a big hole, but Tiny just won't quit. Tiny's owner, a little boy, believes in his dog.

Tiny says, "I am little, yes, that's true/ But wait and see what I can do." Tiny finds every kind of bone but believes there is a very, very big bone yet to be discovered. Young readers will squeal with delight when they see the bone Tiny discovers! (Spoiler alert: it's a dinosaur).

Tiny and the Big Dig is fun and written in rhyme that young ones will learn more of  each time they read. This is likely to be their favorite bedtime story. For those who are too little or too weak, Tiny is like the little engine that could. He never gives up! This is a lesson children need to learn.

Sadly, you can't buy Tiny and the Big Dig for Christmas since it's on sale January 30, 2018, but put it on your list for a Valentine's Day or Easter gift for that special little one you know.

Highly, HIGHLY recommended. This is the book that you and your children will LOVE.

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

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

YA Pick: Long Way Down

Long Way Down
by Jason Reynolds
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Atheneum Books for Young Readers
320 pages
ISBN: 9781481438254

Gripping and mesmerizing, Long Way Down will INVOLVE readers. Will (William) Holloman recounts the night of his brother's murder and how he will exact revenge on the killer because that's how his neighborhood and his life works. Everyone in his neighborhood knows the rules.

Will knows who shot his brother and knows his brother has a gun. Will grabs that gun and decides to take matters into his own hands. He steps into the elevator to go down to the street. On each floor, Will is met by someone from his past. Each person is along for the ride and each person has been affected by gun violence. Will must listen to each one's powerful story and decide what it means for him.

Told in verse, this is one story that will tug at hearts and make heads hurt. The poetry is sometimes written as a "concrete" poem where the poem is placed on the page to create the effect of an earthquake or one word on a white page. Shawn. Will's dead brother's name. Or one word repeated in the shape of a question mark. The word "right?" These pages are the strongest and most beautiful causing the reader to take a moment to think and admire the art of true poetry and storytelling.

Cover art is thoughtful and effective as the reflection of a boy is shown on the elevator door along with the buttons for each floor.The reader is left wondering what path Will will take, and maybe that's the point of the character's name: Will.

Jason Reynolds is writing some of the most powerful books on the market--the books that must be talked about and it's refreshing. For those kids who like Reynolds, felt they didn't see characters like themselves in books, he is writing their stories. Long Way Down will be a strong contender in prize categories for next year. I expect it to take top state honors and likely be a National Book Award Finalist.

Highly, highly recommended for grade 9 and up.  A must have for all collections. I would place copies in poetry and also in YA Fiction to insure it is read by all its fans.

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