Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire


Fans of unique individuals such as Junie B. Jones will be delighted with Cilla Lee-Jenkins. As a second-grader, Cilla is more mature than Junie, and as a future author extraordinaire, she has a wonderful vocabulary. Cilla enjoys being an only child and is not AT ALL excited about a new sister on the way. She decides that the best thing to do is finish writing her bestseller and become a famous author before the baby's arrival. 

Being a writer is such a big part of Cilla's life, that it comes through loud and clear in her best-seller manuscript. Even though her father urged her to give kindergarten a chance, she "despaired. As writers do." And when she plays with her dollhouse, she creates "an epic drama that had Suspense and five main characters, three love interests, ten children, two imaginary dogs, and (her) teddy bear as an all-powerful dragon." How many nine-year-olds have that sort of imagination and grasp of what creates a successful book? Yet, even with all her intelligence, she still has problems knowing the right thing to say to Colleen when she's worried over her grandmother, or how to find a way to get her own grandparents to be closer. After all, she's just a child, not yet a best-selling author.

Susan has created a completely believable character. Everything about Cilla is so easy to accept. I personally identify with Cilla's problems with her slowly growing hair when she was very young. She resents a cousin who has bows in her pigtails and explains, "When you're bald and your mom is trying to tape a bow to your head because it won't stay on, then and only then will you understand the agony of this terrible injustice." Having suffered through taped-on bows myself, I agree with Cilla completely. And I also agree with her that "your best friend knows that there's more to you than the words you accidentally say, or don't say. And you know the same thing about her."

I received an advance copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Spring Reading 2017 Compassionate Soldier: Remarkable True Stories of Mercy, Heroism, and Honor from the Battlefield


Don't be misled by the title. Although all the stories take place in war zones or during military conflicts, not all the featured individuals are actually soldiers. The accounts of these compassionate folks are presented in chronological order, according to the conflict they were involved in, from the American Revolution to modern day deployments to Iraq. Some stories focus on honor like Captain Ferguson refusing to shoot General Washington in the back, or Robert Campbell giving his word of honor to return to the German prison camp if the Kaiser will release him to visit his dying mother. Others feature battlefield angels like Richard Kirkland at the Battle of Fredericksburg, or nurse and resistance supporter Edith Cavell. Whether it discusses journalist and philanthropist Edith Wharton's efforts to help the women of Paris, or Hunter Scott's quest to find justice for Captain McVay of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, each tale spotlights how humanity can survive and even thrive in the worst of circumstances.

Each of these accounts captures extremes of human behavior, juxtaposing the terror of napalm falling from the sky to the efforts of journalists and medical staff to save a child's life, or a serviceman's bravery in coaxing Japanese civilians and combatants to surrender in WWII's Pacific theater. A few of the stories end with referrals to Bible verses, but even readers who are not deeply religious will still be able to appreciate the grace and compassion shown by these individuals. The author obviously believes strongly in providing these examples for readers to admire and emulate. This book could be used to stimulate discussion about what the duty of one human being is to another, perhaps in a civics or philosophy class. Recommended for grades 4+.

I received an advance copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Spring Book Festival

Welcome spring 2017 by attending:
MARCH 27-29
Find your new favorite books and authors. Fiction of every genre, from Children's Literature to Fantasy, Romance to Horror will be represented by a diverse list of Indie authors at discount prices; many are free. You say you like Non-fiction, too? Don't worry, we've got that.
Enter the $150 giveaway in prizes!
Come join us and tell your book-loving friends!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Real Friends: A True Story about Cool Kids and Crybabies


Shannon Hale is well known for her chapter books, and now her collaboration with LeUyen Pham will earn new fans among graphic novel readers. Her memoir of her elementary school years and dealing with bullies at school and an older sister who could be a bully at home will show young readers that they are not alone in their struggles. Many people can empathize with Shannon and remember how it felt to want to make friends and feel that everyone else knew some friendship rules that they were somehow never told. How do you get to be part of the "in" crowd? Why is there always someone in a group that seems to be the least empowered or the last one taken into consideration when plans are made?

I heard LeUyen speak on a panel at ALA Midwinter, and she talked about working on the illustrations for this book. She said there were some scenes that were very difficult to draw and she would have to try them out from several viewpoints before she could capture the emotional tone she was going for. One scene in particular she showed to her own child and was told that it was too scary because of the expression on a character's face, so she had to rethink her approach and switch the perspective to make it easier for young readers to deal with. 

The author's note at the end reinforces that this is the story of those year's told from Shannon's memories. Others in the story, classmates and family, may recall some of the same situations differently. That doesn't mean anyone is remembering wrongly, just that they all have their own point of view and how things seemed to them at the time. I love that she included school photos of herself from each of those grades. What a nice touch!

Highly recommended for graphic novel fans, readers of Shannon's other books, and anyone who is feeling left out by friends or even feeling bullied or picked on (but if they are -they should get help from a trusted adult). 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 The Metropolitans


Think of all the best books that feature a group of kids who become friends and go on to solve a mystery and save the day. The kids from Chasing Vermeer come to mind. Or what about stories like The 39 Clues, or the friends from The Infinity Ring series? And don't forget about Harry, Ron, and Hermione tracking down the Deathly Hallows, among other things. This book will be joining their ranks soon. 

Madge, Kiku, Joe, and Walt all meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art at a time in their own lives where they have suffered losses and feel lonely. It is also a time in our country when things are very rough. The Nazis are surging across Europe, and on the day the kids meet, Pearl Harbor is bombed. Suddenly their chance encounter turns into fate. They find themselves forming a group of modern knights, searching for the pages of a missing book of Arthurian legends. If they can solve all the clues and retrieve the lost chapters of the book, then they may be able to prevent an horrific attack on New York. Can four middle-school students foil the plots of enemy agents?

The Metropolitans is a delightful mix of urban fantasy, espionage thriller, and historical fiction. The world of 1941 America comes to life with Indian boarding schools, Japanese internment, Hoovervilles, and the Nazi threat. Cultural references such as Captain America, Captain Marvel, Little Orphan Annie, and King Kong are smoothly worked in to ground the story in the historical timeline. The Arthurian legend transfers into the Met and the lives of the children so that readers learn about Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Morgaine, Mordred, and Merlin along with the protagonists. The action is fast paced. The clues take the knowledge and skills of all the group to solve, forging the bond between them stronger with each task that is completed.

This is a great read for those who have enjoyed any of the other books I mentioned, as well as for those who enjoy mysteries and historical fiction. It is perfect for a read-aloud because each chapter will leave listeners begging to hear more. Highly recommended for middle grades and up.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Winter Reading 2017 Diary of Anna the Girl Witch 3: Fighting Witch


The adventures of Anna Sophia, the girl witch, continue to expand her circle of friends and take her to different parts of the world. This time around she is off on a quest to recover her father's heart. He had given it to her mother and she had hidden it to keep it safe. Now that her mother is gone and her father is ill and weak from having his magical energy siphoned off, he needs his heart to regain his strength and resume his job shepherding the dead to the after-world. Anna and her friend Lauraleigh travel to Canada and head north into the territory of the Wendigo to search for the missing heart, using riddles that Anna's mother left behind as clues. They have help from Monsieur Nolan's half-sister, Evelyne, who happens to be familiar with Canada. And they meet other beings of power along the way, some helpful and some not. 

The earlier books in the series tied a lot of Russian folklore into Anna's story. Baba Yaga, Vodyanoy, and Koschey all have a part in the tale of Anna's mother and Anna herself. This time, while those characters are still a part of her history (and some are even family), Anna and her companions will encounter the Wendigo, fly in La chasse-galerie, and hear about Inukitut legends. Besides learning more of the folklore from the land she is travelling, Anna must also practice her magic and learn to control her growing skills. One of the most difficult things for her to do is manage her temper. Isn't that a challenge that many of us can understand? Luckily, Anna remembers some good advice from her Uncle Misha about how each story has many different versions from the viewpoints of those involved, and each one is true, although it may not be all the truth. If she can just keep that in mind as she meets others who knew her mother and share their own stories with her, she may be able to complete her quest and learn more of her past.

These tales of Anna the Girl Witch are a coming of age story, with the added bonus of magic and magical creatures, a quest, and steadfast friendship. Readers who enjoy stories that mix magic and the modern world (I wouldn't say urban fantasy, since most of the action takes place in the wilderness), and who like protagonists that are trying to discover the sort of person they will be as they mature, should give the Diary books a try.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 Where Will I Live?


Rosemary McCarney, author of books such as Every Day Is Malala Day and Because I Am a Girl, has a new picture book that portrays the uncertainty and the hope of refugee children. Where Will I Live? has full-page color photos of scenes from Cameroon to Slovenia, places around the world where there are refugees. Each photo captures a moment in time; it might be fleeing an armed conflict, entering a tent city, or some children playing in a camp. What unites the scenes is the presence of children in every one. They might look frightened or tired, or sometimes they might be smiling with a new friend. Their faces make a remote situation recognizable and something to which readers can relate. We've all felt tired or scared or relieved and those are commonalities that help us connect to the text.

Each of the photos is unobtrusively labeled with the location where it was taken. Beneath the photo is a short bit of text that ties the images together. "Sometimes scary things happen to good people," it begins. Then it explains why people might have to leave their homes and look for a safe place. It talks of how they reach this new place and what sort of shelter they might find. But the biggest point is saved for last, the hope that these children have for someone to say "Welcome home" at the end of their journey. 

As Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations, Rosemary McCarney hears of situations like these every day. Using photos taken by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, she has created an accessible book about the topic for young readers. But it could also be used as an entry point for older readers - who could then research the situations in each of these places, plot them on a map, or try to find a service project to help the refugee populations. This would make a wonderful addition to classrooms and school libraries.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.