Sunday, February 11, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 The Wild Robot Escapes

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The Wild Robot, or Roz, returns in an exciting sequel. At the end of her first book, Roz was taken away from the island where she lived with her animal friends and her adopted son, the goose named Brightbill. Roz had been damaged and her friends loaded her onto an airship so that she would be returned to the factory and repaired. So this adventure begins with Roz being sent from the factory to work for a farmer who has purchased her. His farm is in disrepair and he needs help, but cannot afford more than a refurbished robot. As Roz works on the farm and pretends to be like all other robots, she longs to return to the island and misses her son. She wonders if she can find some sympathetic humans to help her escape back to her home, or will she be stuck on the farm forever? From the title readers may guess that Roz does escape, but that doesn't guarantee a happy ending. There are many miles to cross between the farm and the island, dangers are everywhere, and there's the very big problem that robots can't swim. How will she reach her home?

At one point in the story Roz is discussing what makes her so unlike the other robots. She says, "I do not feel defective. I feel...different. Is being different the same as being defective?" "I hope not," said Jaya. "Otherwise we're all a little defective." That is a wonderful message for young readers. Everyone is a little different, but that does not make anyone defective or less than others. Roz has a lot of things to teach readers. She talks to a robot designer about how she learned to survive on the island and how the animals came to accept her because she showed them kindness. She also says, "Every problem has a peaceful solution. Violence is unnecessary." If only humans could be as wise as this wild robot!

Since I read an early review copy, the final art was not included. I can only imagine how much richer the story will be once Peter Brown adds all the illustrations of Roz, her friends, and her journey. Readers who are familiar with his books such as Mr. Tiger Goes WildThe Curious Garden, and Creepy Carrots will know what I mean - if the text alone could make me laugh and cry, the text plus the artwork will be stunning. Highly recommended for middle grades and up.

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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Who Will Bell the Cat?

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No one can tell a story quite the way Patricia McKissack does. I've seen other versions of this fable, but her story of the band of mice working together is enjoyable and teaches great lessons about cooperation, problem-solving, resourcefulness, and perseverance. The sad part is that the mice save the cat, but once they have nursed her back to health, she terrorizes them. I suppose another lesson is that we are all true to our own natures, whatever they may be. Once they begin looking for ways to protect themselves, the ingenuity of the little creatures clearly shows. The creation of the collar and the various schemes to get it onto the cat all pull readers into the plight of the mouse community. 

Illustrations depict a barn with straw, wooden walls, and mice peeking though cracks and knotholes. Marmalade the cat is a vibrant tabby with wicked claws and teeth and glowing yellow eyes. Rats are long, lean and roughly furred in contrast to the rounder, softer-looking mice with their chubby cheeks. After one of the belling attempts, the scene shows Smart Mouse and Friend Mouse pulling one of the smaller triplets (Tiny, Teeny, and Wee Mouse), back up to a rafter out of Marmalade's reach. The other two triplets are already on the rafter; one is cowering with its paws over its eyes, while the other lies on its back and grasps its tail as if making sure it is still attached. 

Highly recommended - a perfect story for discussing lifeskills, enjoying a tale of brave friends working for the good of their community, or to use with a lesson/unit on fables. This is the first book Christopher Cyr has illustrated, but with a debut like this, there are bound to be many more in the future.

I received an F&G from the publisher for review purposes.

Winter Reading 2018 A Mammal Is an Animal

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The presentation of the information in this book is cleverly done. Some facts about mammals are shared, and then the text asks if an animal is a mammal. "No!" is the answer, and then readers learn the reason(s) why. When that distinction is made, then a new animal is proposed as a mammal. "No!" again, and the pattern repeats. Here is an example: an earthworm "can eat, breathe, move, and grow. But is an earthworm a mammal?" And then the text explains that earthworms are "soft inside and out," but mammals have bones inside. Each distinctive feature of the mammal group is covered in this way with a nonexemplar given and then the proof of why it doesn't belong. 

The colorful illustrations show the animals in detail, with helpful labels to identify the animals or specific body parts that relate to the discussion. The spread showing humpback whales and harbor seals is beautiful. A young whale swims alongside the mother while a harbor seal swims nearby and other seals sun themselves on the rocks. A family with curious young children appear several times in the book, and readers see them as the text proclaims, "Mammals sure are amazing animals. Hey, you are one too!"

Back matter includes a list of strange animals (all depicted), focusing on monotremes and marsupials. There is also a list of mammal facts which serves as a good review of what the book has covered, and a list of reference sources. A final spread is a graphic organizer of life on Earth, with animals divided into invertebrates, vertebrates, cold-blooded, warm-blooded, etc. This is a wonderful title to use with lessons/units on animals and the various animal groups. (Including the companion book, A Bird Is a Bird, would also be good.)

I received an F&G from the publisher for review purposes.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Rodent Rascals

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From the tiniest pygmy jerboa to the large capybara, Rodent Rascals looks at the amazing world of rodents both near and far. Creatures on every continent except Antarctica show amazing adaptations to their environments. Some can jump 9 or even 10 feet, others can glide through the air or build watertight homes. Read to discover which has an unusual tail that helps it to swim, or which is clever enough to use "heat dumping" to keep itself cool in the desert. Find out which are used to help locate landmines, detect tuberculosis, or predict when spring will come - or which might be responsible for damaging the wiring of a car's engine. Some are kept as pets or lab animals, while others live in the wild or may be found in zoos. 

Young readers will be amazed to see each animal represented in life size, making it easy to compare them. Some of the larger animals are shown in part with just a head on one page and maybe a tail or leg shown on another, because they are too big to fit in the book as a whole image. A hamster is shown getting a workout on its exercise wheel while a prairie dog keeps a lookout for anything approaching the colony. Many of the rodents seem to have personality shining out from the page. The gerbil seems startled as if readers have interrupted him while he was busy, while the chipmunk stares over the top of the peanut he is eating as if to say, "What are you looking at?"

Back matter includes details about each species shown - size, habitat, and interesting facts about whether they hibernate, are nocturnal, live in family groups, etc. There is also a glossary, list of sources, and index. An entire page of useful websites are organized into sections about rodents in the wild, in zoos, as pets, and for rodent enthusiasts.

If you know an animal lover, or someone who is especially interested in small furry critters, this is a great book for them. It will make an excellent addition to classroom or school libraries, or to use in lessons on adaptations and the variety of mammals in the world.

I read an F&G provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Winter Reading 2018 Switched (Fairy Tale Reform School #4)

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Things are looking up at Fairy Tale Reform School. Rump/Mr. Stiltskin has been deposed as headmaster and Flora is back in charge. A new curriculum is being added for students who want to continue to work on their transition from FTRS into the larger world. The royals have donated a new library to the school that could give the one at Hogwarts a run for its galleons. And the new librarian is Beauty! While the princess is in charge of the fairies who work in the library, her husband will be teaching the new course and their daughter will also be attending FTRS.

Imagine what it would be like to have Beauty and the Beast for parents. What sort of results would you get in the genetics department? Half of each? More beastly or more beautiful? And how will Allison Grace fit in with the other students when she has always been home-schooled? It's hard enough being the new kid when you have some experience with schools, but combine lack of experience with high profile parents and it can be very intimidating.

Allison Grace isn't the only new student. Jack, of beanstalk fame, has recently been arrested and sentenced to the school. He claims he was only stealing because Rump had taken his mother and his cow and left him to fend for himself. Gilly immediately sympathizes with him since her sister Anna is still with the Stiltskin Squad, but Jax doesn't trust him. Is he jealous, or does he see something that Gilly doesn't? And why is Kayla's mother acting so strange? She keeps going on about a book that she has to find. Sounds like she needs to talk to Beauty.

As a librarian, I was especially happy for the library to be a part of the tale this time. One of the things students may learn in the FTRS library is "the difference between a book you can trust and a book you can't...What if a villain wrote the book under another name and you had no idea who the author really was?" And I identified with Beauty, who tells the students, "I don't just love books, I need them the some people need air." I'm sure that I will not be the only reader to agree with her.

Author Jen Calonita has once again created a fast-paced tale with plenty of action, humor and gentle truths about friends, families, and growing up. Highly recommended for middle grades and up. Visit the Enchantasia website to find out more about the world of Gilly and her friends.

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

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 The Wonderful Baron Doppelganger Device


Waldo Baron, W.B. to his family, has two scientists for parents, and they have a workroom attached to their house out in Arizona Territory. He also has a teacher who seems to think students should spend all their time giving oral reports. The bad news for W.B. is that his teacher thinks everything in his reports is from his imagination rather than facts. Can he help it if his parents drag him along in a coast-to-coast flying contest or undersea to look for lost pirate treasure? So he spends a lot of time sitting in the corner and wearing the dunce cap, with the other kids making fun of him. When a new kid comes to town and actually wants to be friends, W.B. can't believe his luck. Readers don't know all of this at the beginning of the book because W.B. starts at the end of the story with an evil twin holding him at gunpoint on the edge of a cliff. When he realizes that his audience probably doesn't understand why he is in that particular situation, he goes back to the beginning of the adventure and starts again. 

Filled with eccentric characters, a horse named Geoffrey, exploding pies, and a best friend who affectionately calls him "Wide Butt," W.B.'s life is rather eccentric and one can easily see why his teacher doubts the veracity of his reports. Waldo is an entertaining narrator who cheerfully admits that when his parents start talking about science, 'my brain refuses to listen. It will shut off and play loud, wacky music, usually with a lot of funny sounding horns and an off-key piano." He also comes up with funny observations about life, like "never trust a doctor who sells used shoes on the weekend." Since he is easily distracted by food and doesn't have a lot of experience with other children outside the classroom, he is not sure if his friend Shorty is simply jealous of the new boy from class, or if it is normal for friends to be suspicious of each other at first. Waldo does get the feeling that someone is watching him, but he has hit his head so many times his parents aren't sure if it is paranoia or someone actually spying on the family.  

If you enjoy humorous stories with lots of action, clever horses, a cutthroat baking contest, and hobos singing "Camptown Ladies," then pick up this book. Until you read it, you can't imagine all the zany events and characters. And you'll never know why that pie exploded or who the evil twin really is. How will you be able to sleep with questions like that unanswered?

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

Friday, February 2, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Inky the Octopus: Bound for Glory

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Inky is an incredibly curious octopus who feels the call of the open sea, even while living a pampered life with catered meals and companionship within the National Aquarium of New Zealand. Despite "three meals a day of lobster, shrimp, and squid," Inky longs for something more than life in a tank. "Out of this tank, I must break free. I hear the ocean calling me!" says the adventurous cephalopod. 

Based on the real-life escape of an octopus from the aquarium, this picture book is told from Inky's point of view. While this may detract a bit from the strictly scientific accuracy of the account, it has the advantage of appealing to young readers. The rhyming text makes readers wonder how it would feel to "live in a world of see-through walls, in a tank with a locked down lid." While Inky enumerates the benefits of life at the aquarium like food and other creatures to play with, the call of the sea is a refrain as faithful as the tides. 

Illustrations show Inky playing "seaweed hide-and-seek" with a puffer fish, which seems like fun. But the pictures also show the view of the ocean so tantalizingly close that readers can almost hear the waves on the shore and sympathize with Inky's desire. The stealthy departure from the aquarium includes some eight-armed tiptoeing on the part of the protagonist while the other residents look on with alarmed expressions. Then comes a cannonball into the water, and a celebratory pirouette beneath the waves. The large eyes show every emotion, along with plenty of invertebrate body language.

Back matter includes the details of the real escape and Inky's photo. There are also three pages of octopus facts and a bibliography. Highly recommended to accompany units on ocean animals or animal adaptations, as well as for readers who enjoy animal stories in general.

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

Winter Reading 2018 The Boggart Fights Back

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Those who have read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban will remember the boggart that Professor Lupin used in his Dark Arts class. It was a shapeshifter that took on the form of the worst fear of whoever faced it. So readers may think this boggart will be the same, but it is rather different.

Boggart is able to change shape, but it is more of a prankster than something fearful. And it has a history of association with the MacDevon family. So when Castle Keep, the family seat of the MacDevon clan is threatened by a greedy developer, Boggart and his cousin Nessie take action. While the descendants of MacDevon work on petitions to stop the construction and meetings with the local council, Boggart and Nessie call on other "ancient creatures of the Wild Magic" for help. The results are not always what they expect, but they don't give up the fight.

Susan Cooper's books often include elements of legend and myth from the British Isles. In this story we have beings from Scottish legend such as the boggarts, the Caointeach, the Each Uisge, the Blue Men of Minch, and the Nuckelavee. Raeders will also see what it is like to be part of a community that is being invaded, so to speak, by a corporation intent on changing everything for its own purposes and how that impacts the environment, the local economy, and even things as mundane as the water lines.

Seeing the struggle against corporate powers and the wonder of the boggarts and other legendary creatures from the viewpoint of the children (Jay and Allie), adds to the feeling of powerlessness in the first case and the awesome thrill of the second. And for those who already read the first two appearances of the Boggart, this will be a welcome return of a favorite character. Either way, I highly recommend this for middle grade readers who enjoy a mix of magic into everyday world.

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

Winter Reading 2018 The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1)

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Kiranmala is a captivating protagonist, with her balance of snark and vulnerability. Her life in New Jersey has not prepared her for the events of her twelfth birthday. Kiran returns from school to find her house empty, an unfinished note from her parents, a blank sheet of paper which is supposed to be a map, a basket of treats to hand out for Halloween. Kiran has no idea what is going on, but the arrival of a demon which begins eating the contents of her house and two princes on flying horses only makes things even more confusing. Are some of the crazy stories her parents told her actually true? Is she an Indian princess that they found floating in a river as a baby? Are all the figures from myths real? It seems she will have to do as the note says and trust the princes if she wants to survive and find her parents.

This is a delicious mix of mythology, adventure, alternate dimensions, coming of age, and perhaps a twinge of romance. With the popularity of the Percy Jackson books and the Kane Chronicles, the demand for similar stories has been hard to fill. Readers will be glad to have this new series to enjoy and a new mythical realm to explore with all its gods, goddesses, and creatures. Whether you enjoy a quick-witted princess who can answer riddles from demons and talking birds, a fierce princess with deadly archery skills, or a preteen from New Jersey adventuring across the "Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers," Kiran and her companions won't disappoint. When you reach the end of the book you will already be asking for the next one.

Highly recommended for readers of Rick Riordan, JK Rowling, and those who have already discovered the wonders of Indian mythology in books such as Aru Shah and the End of Time

**This book is currently available on Scholastic Book Fairs - and the author introduces the book trailer on the fair's preview video. Don't miss it!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Starring Carmen

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Do you know anyone who has a flare for the dramatic? Perhaps someone who can entertain their family and friends with style? Then you will probably recognize a similar spirit in Carmen. She is "an actress, a singer, a dancer, and a costume designer." Everyone loves her performances - Mom, Dad, and her brother Eduardo are a loyal audience, cheering her on as she presents a new show each night. In fact, Eduardo loves the shows so much, he would love to help out on the stage.

Carmen reminds me of Fancy Nancy with her elaborate costumes - glitter, feathers, and even ninja masks find there way into the wardrobe for her various shows. And there are elaborate sets and "a few surprising twists" of plot. These are not small performances; just one show has "seventeens songs" and "twelve dance numbers." "It's exhausting, but... "That's showbiz!" says Carmen."

The story brims with personality, and the vocabulary is richly descriptive. It would seem impossible for the illustrations to capture all of Carmen's vivacity and amazing skills, but they do. Rich purples, beautiful teals, and vibrant pinks reflect her dazzling personality. Eduardo's wide-eyed young face shines with adoration when he looks at her, while she glances at him out of the corner of her eyes, too busy with her art to stop and give him attention.

Another great aspect of this book is the warm portrayal of the family. The support her parents give Carmen in her shows is wonderful, but it is her brother's admiration and love that really shines through. As her mother points out to Carmen, "He loves you, mija, even when you make him wear a lampshade on his head." And Carmen proves her own love in a delightful way.

Whether you are looking for a picture book of realistic fiction, a family story, or a book that includes Latinx cultural elements, Starring Carmen is a must. As the text says, "Carmen is a one girl SENSACION!"