Sunday, September 1, 2019

Summer Reading 2019 The Unwritten Library


Claire is the Head Librarian in charge of the Unwritten Wing. In Hell. Yes, all stories not finished by their authors are shelved in a neutral space in Hell, off-limits to the various factions always striving for dominance under "His Crankiness," as Claire calls Lucifer. The main job of the librarian is to keep the characters from manifesting as a physical presence and tracking down their authors, demanding to be completed. "There's nothing stronger than an unwritten book's fascination with its author." But Claire's latest retrieval job goes pear-shaped when a fallen angel decides that she and her companions have the Devil's Bible. Can they all survive long enough to retrieve the missing Hero, solve the mystery of this ancient volume all the demons and angels are after, and make it back to the library?

The story is intriguing and the setting puts a unique spin on what the afterlife might be like. In this world, "We all get the afterlife our soul requires." Various realms of the afterlife like Valhalla or ancient Egyptian planes all exist, along with a Heaven managed by Uriel in the Creator's name, and the darker realm of "His Grouchiness."  Claire wound up in Hell, although we aren't told the reasons behind that determination. Her assistant is a former muse named Brevity, and details on her backstory are even sketchier than Claire's - which gives readers good reasons to check out the next book in the series. Other companions include the demon courier Leto, the escapee from the unwritten book, and Andras the Curator of the Arcane Wing of the Library.

Bits and pieces of each character's past are woven into their interactions with each other, building the tension as readers begin to see connections between what is happening and previous choices and actions. Scenes such as a duel between bards in Valhalla are captivating, and there are lots of juicy quotable bits such as "Only books died in Hell. Everyone else had to live with their choices." (Doesn't that need to be on a t-shirt or coffee mug?) By the end of this adventure there are alliances, betrayals (what else can you expect in Hell), and some changes within the power structure of the afterlife. And the characters are poised to begin the next book - as long as it doesn't wind up on the shelves in the Unwritten Wing.

Highly recommended for YA and adult readers who enjoy stories that deal with the power of books and words, adventures through various realms, and tough librarians. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All quotes are from that ARC and may be subject to change before final publication.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Summer Reading 2019 A Place to Stay

A warm and understanding look at a mother and child who come to stay in a shelter. The book does not explain the  reason for their stay, but focuses on how they help each other make the best of the situation. The mother encourages her daughter to imagine they are someplace exciting and special as they enter the building and are shown to their room. They meet other residents in the dining room and by the time they need to shower and get ready for bed, the child is comfortable enough to take the lead in their game of make-believe about this new home.

Bright, colorful illustrations help to keep the tone upbeat and hopeful. The images show the shelter and, while it is obviously not a traditional family home, readers see some of the services that are offered and what life might be like for the residents. The imagined scenes that the mother and daughter conjure up include a palace, a rocket ship, and an underwater adventure. 

The back matter explains various reasons why families might need the services of a shelter, but the story is open-ended so that it could apply to any of the possible situations. The author wrote the book after working as a child abuse and neglect investigator. Her background shaped the book and makes it an excellent opening for discussions about homelessness.

Highly recommended for school and public libraries, and for use by teachers and counselors working with displaced children and families. I read an e-book provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Summer Reading 2019 Dear Justice League

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Answering fan mail doesn't sound too dangerous compared to a superhero's usual activities, but you would be surprised. Superman actually crashes into a building while reading an email from a fan while flying through the city. Other fans write to Aquaman asking if he smells like a fish, or to Hawkgirl asking if she eats small mammals. Wonder Woman gets invited to a birthday party - and has some memories of her own eleventh birthday. (Warning, don't pig out on the cake.) 

The notes come from kids with a variety of questions - some are worried about fashion, others want to know about how to survive the first day at a new school. (Batman has some great ideas for a school utility belt.) Besides answering their mail, we also see the heroes feeding pets, teasing each other, and battling giant bugs from outer space. Flash even teaches some practical jokers a lesson. The final letter actually addresses the entire League, so they answer it together, rounding off the book with a nice recap of the lessons the heroes have learned. 

With humorous situations and action-filled illustrations, this graphic novel is sure to appeal to DC fans.

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

Summer Reading 2019 Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America


I could probably stop at - Steve Sheinkin wrote this book - and anyone who has read one of his other works would know what to expect. Sheinkin always tells a full, rich story with tons of details he has learned in his meticulous research about the topic. This time he introduces all the women who participated in the 1929 Air Derby. The one most recognized today would be Amelia Earhart, but there were 20 women in that race across the country. Beginning with their childhood days and their early exploits (jumping off barn roofs, creating their own roller coaster, etc.) the author goes on to tell how each of them entered the field of aviation and make their way to the derby.

Some came from working class families and fell in love with flying after seeing an air show or buying a 5 minute flight over a field near home. Others came from wealthy families and purchased flying lessons and a plane of their own without having to scrimp and save. Whatever their pasts, they all came together to prove that women had the endurance and skills to fly in a cross-country air race just as well as men. And despite the hardships, sabotage, and crashes along the way, they did just that. Sheinkin captures the determination and the inspiration of those amazing women, describing how they pressed on through hardships, mechanical failures, social pressures, and the loss of dear friends in fatal crashes. 

Anyone interested in aviation history, or especially in female pioneers in the field, will enjoy this book. It is written to be age-appropriate for 4th grade and up. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Summer Reading 2019 Don't Let the Beasties Escape This Book!

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A picture book inspired by an exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Don't Let the Beasties Escape This Book! follows a medieval peasant boy named Godfrey through his day. Although his mother gives him a list of chores to do and reminds him that he must not forget any of them, Godfrey is distracted by the book being created for the lady of the castle. He borrows the book to look at the illuminated images inside and begins to make up a story about the beasts in the pictures. Godfrey doesn't realize that saying the names of the beasts will summon them from the book. A lion, unicorn, griffin, bonnacon, and dragon all appear as the tale of "Godfrey the Glorious" becomes more and more elaborate.  Luckily, even though Godfrey is distracted by the adventure he imagines, the creatures manage to complete all his chores for him without his notice - until the dragon lights the fire in the cottage.

Back matter includes an explanation of what a bestiary was, and about how life in a medieval castle worked. Families like Godfrey's would not have their own books, but would hear tales of fantastic beasts.  Those tales were a mix of true facts from distant explorers and myths and legends. Without cameras, television, and other media we are accustomed to today, people had no way of knowing which stories were true or not. Examples of various beasts shown in the books form the exhibit are shared along with descriptions of the beasts and their powers.

This would be a helpful book to use when talking about fake news. The comparison of tales from beastiaries and the incredible stories shared across social media and the Internet could start a discussion about what can be proven and what is only rumor. It is also a fun book just for the glimpse into medieval life and fantastic beasts. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Summer Reading 2019 A Small Zombie Problem


It's bad enough to lose your parents at a very young age and wind up living with your rather odd Aunt Hydrangea. Added to that, she always dresses as if she is participating in a beauty pageant, she is terrified of butterflies, and she won't allow August out of the house. Is it any wonder that he has grown up to be a rather strange boy? He has never played with another child, never attended school, never met anyone bu his aunt. When he finally does leave the house, mayhem ensues.

August ventures out of the dilapidated family home to rescue his favorite snacks when they are dropped in the front yard by the grocery delivery service. And that is when things go sideways. He meets other kids, is followed home by a zombie, and even learns that he has other relatives besides Hydrangea. But is a boy who has never interacted with anyone but his eccentric aunt ready to deal with snobs, unscrupulous adults, and bullying children? Oh...and the small problem of the zombie.

Perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket and Tim Burton, this story has oddball humor, offbeat characters, and perplexing situations.

Summer Reading 2019 Because of the Rabbit


As someone who threw a fit until she was allowed to go to kindergarten, I can't imagine not going to school until the 5th grade. But that is just what our protagonist Emma is dealing with; she has been home-schooled until this year and is nervous about starting public school and making friends. She thinks that the two girls she is sitting with might be her friends, but they pair up for a class project and leave her to work with Jack.

Jack likes science and knows lots of animal facts, so it seems like they would be a good pair. After all, Emma loves animals and her father is a game warden. But Jack is also impulsive, doesn't always get social cues, and there is an assistant in the class to help keep him on track. If Emma is paired up with him, will she ever be able to make other friends?

This is the perfect story to read aloud to a class at the beginning of the school year since it deals with fitting in, first impressions, being open to differences, and friendship. The addition of the cute rabbit, Lapi, increases the appeal for animal lovers in the group. Emma learns a lot of lessons, in and out of school, about friendship and being true to yourself.

Highly recommended for grades 3 and up. Perfect for fans of stories featuring animals like Ben Baglio or Bill Wallace books.