Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

April Hall - or April Dawn, as she likes to think of herself - has just moved in with her grandmother. She quickly makes friends with Melanie, a girl who lives in the same apartment building. Both girls love making up stories and imaginary worlds, and it isn't long before they've created an entire fictional landscaped based on Egyptian mythology. Over time, other children join in the game, but when mysterious things start happening, have they taken the Egypt Game too far?

Reading this book was sort of unsettling because I had no idea where the story was headed. I really felt like anything could happen - and given the dark undertones present in the story, I was prepared for the worst. The incident around Marshall (Melanie's brother)'s missing toy Octopus, Security, was really well-done in terms of plotting, atmosphere, and suspense. I'm not sure how well the original illustrations have held up in the decades since the book was first published (although I did love the image of April in her furs and fake eyelashes).

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

Friday, April 23, 2010

Here a Face, There a Face by Arlene Alda

I see faces in houses. Windows, doors, and other exterior objects are perfect for creating eyes, mouths, and full expressions. In Here a Face, There a Face, Arlene Alda uses pictures of common items to show how faces are all around us. Some of the pictures are amusing, some are clever, some are expected, and some are difficult to recognize as faces. I think this book would resonate most deeply with particularly imaginative children who like to look at the world a little bit differently.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Thomas the Tank Engine Story Collection by Rev. W. Awdry
The Book of ZZZs by Arlene Alda
Hot Cold Shy Bold by Pamela Harris
Hello, Goodbye by Arlene Alda
Can You Make a Scary Face by Jan Thomas

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Harry and Horsie by Katie Van Camp

Harry loves a lot of things, like bubbles, adventure, and outer-space travel. But he loves his friend Horsie more than anything. When Horsie gets carried away by a bubble from the Super Duper Bubble Blooper, Harry knows he must go on an outer-space adventure to bring him back home.

The images in this book, created by Lincoln Agnew, are really wonderful; they're dark but not scary and hint at a world full of wonderful opportunities. It was the artwork that reminded me of Calvin and Hobbes (and their intergalactic adventures) before I made the connection about the relationship between a boy and his stuffed friend. It's its own story, though, and definitely one worth checking out.

Fun Fact: Harry is based on David Letterman's son, Harry; Katie Van Camp worked as his au pair, and David Letterman has written an introduction to the book.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Waterson
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
Let's Do Nothing by Tony Fucile
Something to Do by David Lucas

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

Before I start, I have to come clean: before reading this book, all I could think about was this:

Marge: Bart, I'd like you to read this copy of ``Johnny Tremaine''. It's a book I read as a girl.
Bart: A book!? Pfffft.
Marge: I think you might like this. It's about a boy who goes to war. His hand is deformed in an accident.
Bart: Deformed? Why didn't you say so?They should call this book ``Johnny Deformed''!
(From The Simpsons.)

And then there is the time Peter Griffin of Family Guy was caught reading while intoxicated:

So that's what I was working with.

Johnny Tremain is a silversmith's apprentice in 1770s Boston. He's extremely talented...and extremely arrogant. Then his hand is injured in a silversmithing accident, and he is forced to find a new way of life. He befriends the nephew of a printer, who teachers him how to ride a horse - which comes in handy with the American Revolution right around the corner. Johnny quickly finds himself interacting with people like Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and many other actual historical figures.

I was ready for the worst; the copy I was reading was old and the print was small-ish. But the story gets really exciting, and Esther Forbes has a really great way of keeping the action moving. I wanted to know what was going to happen to Johnny, even when I didn't like Johnny (he spends a lot of time trying to learn to control some of his worst habits). It's been awhile since I've studied American history so I only vaguely knew about the events they were describing (the specific details, that is), but that didn't really matter. It was a great read and one that would probably be enjoyed by any child looking for an exciting story with lots of action (as long as the edition looked a bit more relevant than the one above - the one I read - I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but...yeah). Of course, as with some pieces of historical fiction, the depiction of people of other races and ethnicities is not exactly sensitive, so there is that to consider, too.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Many Rides of Paul Revere by James Giblin
The Pox Party and The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Mibs Beaumont is just on the cusp of turning 13: the age when she will get her savvy. Everyone in her mother's family has one. A savvy is like a special magical gift: one older brother can control water, another can conduct lightning, her mother's savvy is that she's always perfect, and her aunt can talk people in to anything. Mibs is looking forward to hers but when her father gets sick and has to be taken to the hospital, all of her family's plans are changed. Mibs becomes convinced that her savvy, whatever it is, will be the key to healing her father, and she's desperate to get to him as soon as possible. And that's the start of one of the strangest road trips in history.

I really liked the idea of a savvy. It makes perfect sense to me, in a not-at-all-making-sense way. People do often have certain traits that set them apart, and not always the most useful ones. It's a great concept for a book. The themes of the book aren't that new: mean people can be lonely too, you can't judge things by how they look, standing up for yourself is important, everyone has secrets. But Mibs' voice and perspective is winning, and the supernatural elements of the story keep it interesting. I really like the character of Will Jr., and his interactions with Mibs. Careful readers will not be that surprised by the novel's resolution, but that doesn't make it any less satisfying. I'm looking forward to Scumble, out this August.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The BFG by Roald Dahl
A Very Fine Line by Julie Johnston
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reaction by Lesley Choyce

Zach's happy with his relationship with Ashley. They get along well, they're having fun, and they've hooked up a few times. Then she tells him that she's pregnant...and that changes everything. Ashley angrily lashes out at Zach, blaming him. He reluctantly confesses to his parents, who are less than thrilled with this news. It doesn't get any easier once Ashley's parents are involved. Zach just wants to do the right thing for Ashley, and for the unborn child, but he has no idea what that right thing is.

This book is part of the Orca Soundings series, a collection of books with high interest plots and low on difficult words. At just under a hundred pages, there isn't much in the way of plot twists or story intrigue, but the short length might just be the thing that convinces some reluctant readers to pick it up.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
I Know It's Over by C.K. Kelly Martin
Glitter by Babygirl Daniels
Hanging On to Max by Margaret Bechard
Slam by Nick Hornby

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

I feel like I'm the last person on Earth to read this book, which came in #2 on A Fuse #8 Production's countdown of the Top 100 Children's Novels. (Many of the 'older' books that I've been reading lately have come from this list, because I like reading from lists, and because I wanted to have a better background in children's novels. I actually think I'm going to do a tag for them.) I definitely didn't read it when I was younger; I wasn't a huge reader of science fiction, and I also didn't read a lot of middle grade fiction when I was actually an elementary school student (I seemed to go from Baby-Sitters Club to...something? adult novels.)

But anyway, the book really started being on my radar last year when I read When You Reach Me - I enjoyed it, but I think I would have had a much deeper reaction if I had known about A Wrinkle in Time. Now I've read it, and I'm looking forward to going back and re-reading When You Reach Me. I enjoyed the book, although I just let a lot of the science details just wash over me. I liked Meg as a protagonist and was really moved by the ending. I haven't looked at it too deeply from a religious point of view (is that why it's been such a banned and challenged book?). I haven't been inspired - yet - to pick up any of the other books, but I'm glad that the Fuse 8 Poll was the kick I needed to actually read this book.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Candor by Pam Bachorz

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

The subtitle of this book pretty much sums it up: a summer tale of four sisters, two rabbits, and a very interesting boy. When the Penderwicks go on vacation, they have all kinds of adventures. There are the rabbits that are kept by the groundskeeper of the estate where they rent a cottage, and there's the very interesting son of the estate owner, Jeffrey Tifton, and Mrs. Tifton's very evil plans to send him to military school. It doesn't take long for the Penderwick sisters to run afoul of this woman and her fiance, but will they be able to keep their new friend safe from his mother's plans?

I hadn't picked this book up because I thought it might be science fiction (it's not); I think I had it confused with the Spiderwick Chronicles. So, with that out of the way, I thought that it was a very enjoyable read. I like the dynamics of large families, and even the absent-minded (and absent-bodied) father came across well. I liked the different voices and characters of each of the sisters. I'm intrigued enough to pick up the sequel, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Year I Turned Sixteen by Diane Schwemm

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In A Heartbeat by Loretta Ellsworth

Amelia has been waiting for years for a new heart; if she doesn't get one soon, she will die. Eagan is a competitive figure skater who has a difficult relationship with her mom. Eagan suffers a freak accident while competing and dies; Amelia is the person who receives her heart. After she wakes up, Amelia feels happy, guilty, and a bit...not like herself. She's sarcastic, for one thing, and speaks back to her parents, and she's taken an interest in...figure skating? Amelia is determined to learn more about the girl whose heart she now has and to figure out a way to let Eagan rest in peace.

I really liked the premise of the novel - it has just a bit of a supernatural vibe, but the kind of one that still seems kind of plausible. I liked the journey that Amelia has to go one as the recipient of a new heart, processing survivor guilt, dealing with the fact that there was a time on the operating table when she didn't have a heart at all, viewing herself as a kind of monster made up of spare parts. Eagan's story reminded me a lot of The Everafter, but with figure skating. I could have lived without the love-interest character for Amelia, but even he was enjoyable, and overall this was a different sort of story that I'm glad I picked up.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Next Competitor by K.P. Kincaid
Six Months to Live by Lurlene McDaniel
Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Edward's Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan
The Everafter by Amy Huntley

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Boys by Jeff Newman

This little boy really wants to play baseball, but he’s new in town and too shy to ask the other kids to play. Instead, he ends up on a nearby bench populated by a number of old men. As the days pass, the boy tries to fit in with this new crowd, and they decide to show him how to have a good time.

I loved the illustrations in this nearly-wordless picture book – they looked like they had just been taken out of a Pixar movie, and the wit and charm would easily fit right in alongside Pixar movies like Up!. Newman can do so much with just pictures, and this is a great book to share with people who’ve enjoyed other wordless books like The Lion and the Mouse, Flotsam, Tuesday, or Wave.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Flotsam by David Weisner
Wave by Suzy Lee
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Tuesday by David Weisner
Let's Do Nothing! by Tony Fusile

Friday, April 9, 2010

Feminism and Pop Culture by Andi Zeisler

This book is a great way to get a brief overview of feminism, gender, and identity as viewed through the lens of pop culture. To me, it makes complete sense to look at pop culture (that is, popular culture) to look at how women, femaleness, and ideas of equality. The book is written in a way that is pretty accessible for people who are curious about learning more about this subject, and the extensive citations and reading lists are perfect for people who want to read more.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
BITCHfest edited by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler
Enlightened Feminism by Susan J. Douglas
You've Come a Long Way, Maybe by Leslie Sanchez
Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan
Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists edited by J. Courtney Sullivan and Courtney E. Martin

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Very Fine Line by Julie Johnston

Rosalind Kemp is the youngest daughter in her family. She's still trying to figure out where she fits in - in her family, in her small Ontario town, in life in general - when she starts developing a second sight. She's not quite sure how to handle it, or what it means for her and her family. Her confusion over her own body and identity lead her to identify as a boy - but she quickly discovers that this is not the fix that she hoped it would be.

I liked the gender commentary of male/female expectations, and the more supernatural elements of the story didn't feel that impossible. It felt like there were a lot of stories going on in this book, and at times it was hard to keep track of what was going on. The ending was not what I expected, but then again I'm not sure what I did expect. This book piqued my curiosity to try Julie Johnston's other books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Impossible by Nancy Werlin
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
The Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Baby-Sitters Club: The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin

Ann M. Martin's Baby-Sitters Club series sold millions and millions of copies since it was created in 1986. The series spawned a number of other spin-off series, and ended about a decade ago. Since then, fans of the series have had to be content re-reading old favourite titles, following Ann M. Martin to her new books, reading BSC fanfic, or creating BSC book blogs. Until now...

...because on April 3, a prequel to the series, The Summer Before, hit stores. It's the first book I can ever remember buying on the day it's released (sadly, there were no other people in the store dressed up like their favourite BSC characters), and I read it all before I went to sleep that night.

The story is told from the perspectives of the four original BSC members: Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, and Stacey. It takes place the summer between sixth and seventh grade, the summer before they formed the BSC. Kristy is having a hard time dealing with her mom's new boyfriend and her father's neglect; Mary Anne is starting to struggle against her father's strict rules. Claudia feels much more mature than her friends and thinks she's ready for her first boyfriend, and Stacey has had a terrible year at school and is eagerly looking forward to her family's move to Stoneybrook.

The book had the feel of the early BSC novels, which was great (the first six books hold up remarkably well, dated details and all). I liked the insights into the characters and how it raised themes that were dealt with for the entire run of the series. I was prepared for it to read like fanfic, but it didn't - it felt like a story that Ann M. Martin had known all of this time, but had decided to share it to us now.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin
Kristy's Great Idea by Ann M. Martin and illustrated by Raina Telgemaier

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Zoom by Tim Wynne-Jones

This collection brings together all three of Tim Wynne-Jones' Zoom stories: Zoom at Sea, Zoom Away, and Zoom Upstream. Zoom is a little cat who loves the idea of the sea and of adventure. He comes by it naturally; his uncle is a famous explorer who travels the world in search of adventure and discovery. Before reading this book I was only familiar with Zoom at Sea, where I fell hard for Eric Beddows' gorgeous illustrations. This is a lovely collection that would be great for children (and adults) who love cats, adventure, and great Canadian books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Chester by Melanie Watt
True Story by Marty Chan
Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
Something to Do by David Lucas

Monday, April 5, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu

Everyone has secrets. That's what Lucy tells herself, but she can't imagine that anyone at school or in her town has as big a secret as she does. Her mom is a hoarder (or a 'collector,' as her mom calls it), and their house is filled floor-to-ceiling with piles of junk, garbage, and who knows what. Lucy is the only child left at home; her sister and brother have already moved away, and she only has two years until she can move away, too. Then her mother dies, and Lucy is terrified that everyone will find out their secret. She has worked so hard to look and act normal to her friends, her teachers, and the guy she has a crush on - if this dirty little secret comes out, what will it mean for Lucy?

For this book to work it was crucial for me to feel for Lucy, and I did. Like Karl in Tales of the Madman Underground, she's a kid who can't be a kid because she is too busy dealing with the life that her mother has made. I thought that Omololu did a great job at presenting her mother's actions as abuse, and showing how the pattern of abuse can go from generation to generation. Some passages hit a little unsettlingly close to home (like Lucy's comment that her mother could never throw out a good box - neither can I!), making me very aware of my own attitude to my surrounding. I grew up in a house where I couldn't always bring people home because of how it looked, but it was nothing compared to Lucy's situation. Her mom wages a psychological war on Lucy that manifests itself through Lucy having sub-zero self-esteem. I was surprised by the end of the book but really hope that it brings Lucy peace. This book is timely but I didn't find it sensationalist; at several points in the credits and acknowledgments Omololu references Children of Horders.

Visit C.J. Omololu's site.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes
Blue Plate Special by Anna D. Kwasney
Coming Clean: Dirty Little Secrets from a Professional Housecleaner by Schar Ward
Big Slick by Eric Luper
Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Frog Scientist by Pamela S. Turner

If you like stories of scientific discovery or giant pictures of frogs, then this is the book you've been waiting for. The Frog Scientist is actually Tyrone Hayes from UC Berkeley, who is trying to determine the effects of pesticides on frogs. This book features lots of information on the obstacles that Hayes has overcome to pursue a career in science, and has a "you can do it!" message that will resonate with young readers. The environmental arguments of the book beyond Hayes' experiments are a little vague but maybe that's for the best, because it allows this one story to stand on its own. I found myself looking at the world a little differently after reading this book.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Redwoods by Jason Chin
Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone
Sweethearts of Rhythm by Marilyn Nelson
Moonshot by Brian Floca
Rachel Carson: A Twentieth Century Life by Ellen Levine

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes

Normal. That's exactly what Karl wants to be this year. If he acts normally, the school won't put him in group therapy. If he acts normally, he can pretend that he is normal. If he's normal, then the can be someone else: someone with a mother that he doesn't have to take care of, someone who doesn't have to work a half-dozen jobs, someone...normal. But then a new girl comes to school and it looks like she'll be part of the Madman Underground (the name Karl has given the therapy group). Between dealing with his mom, her cats, his best friend, and this new girl - not to mention all of the other problems at school and work - being normal is going to be a lot harder than it seems.

I hadn't heard much about this book before it was named a Printz Honor book, but that pushed it onto my radar and my reading list. I'm really glad that it did, because I really liked Karl's voice. There are hints in the book to Karl's unreliability as a narrator, which made me more interested in what he was saying (and what he wasn't). The book is set in the 1970s, so there's a bit of retro charm about certain things, but it avoids reading like "wow, the 70s were so different!" A lot of really heavy issues are presented in this book (abuse, alcoholism, death, and prostitution are just a few), and it's pretty weighty in terms of pages, too, but I found it more engaging than depressing.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney
Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Friday, April 2, 2010

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

You may have noticed that I've reading a fair bit of not-that-recent books lately. While i love discovering what's brand new in the book world, there's also an embarrassingly high number of books that I haven't read. I've been working my way through some of the books listed on A Fuse 8 Production's list of Top 100 Children's Novels, which is an excellent place to read about a discussion of children's novels.

I had never read Bridge to Terabithia, probably for two reasons: one, I thought it was a fantasy novel, and two, I also thought it was a cat story (because I got it confused with The Three Lives of Thomasina, which was on pretty high rotation on the Family Channel when I was younger). So its appearance on the list (at number 13) convinced me to pick it up.

It's a beautiful story about imagination and friendship, growing up and being yourself. Would I have enjoyed it as a child? Probably. I admit that while I didn't cry when reading it, there were times when I was close, and I had been in a different mood when reading it, it's likely that tears would have been falling. This is a really lovely book that has a real resonance with current economic times (as does Ramona and her Father, published in the same year and a Newbery Honor book to this book's Newbery Medal) as well as being pretty timeless in terms of friendship.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Ramona and her Father by Beverly Cleary
There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

India Opal Buloni is living with her father, the Preacher, in Naomi, Florida when she finds a dog she names Winn-Dixie...that she found at the Winn-Dixie. He doesn't seem like an ordinary dog: he's a great listener, hates to be alone, and seems to have a special gift for bringing people together. Which is great, because there are some people in Naomi in need of a dog like Winn-Dixie.

I was prepared to not like this book. I'm not a big pet person in real life, and I don't tend to read a lot of books about animals. I was really pleasantly surprised, then, by how much I liked both Opal and Winn-Dixie. There was depth to the supporting characters; they weren't one-dimensional plot-points used to tell us how special Winn-Dixie is. Kate DiCamillo has described this book as "a hymn of praise to dogs, friendship, and the South," and I think that sums it up perfectly.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck
Marley: A Dog Like No Other by Josh Grogan
Dogs by Emily Gravett
The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo