Saturday, April 30, 2011

Is The Trumpet for You? by Elaine Landau

Have you ever thought about playing a musical instrument? Maybe you're interested in the trumpet. It's an instrument that shows up in marching bands, jazz music, and even rock bands. This book takes a look at the crucial question: is the trumpet for you?

I was initially skeptical that this book really would be for people who were wondering what instrument to play. I thought maybe instead it would be about how awesome the trumpet is, or just a general 'biography' of the instrument. It really does, though, look at it from the point of view of a child who is considering why the trumpet might be for them. There are questions to ask yourself, pros and cons of choosing the trumpet, and it even highlights other instruments in the brass family. Realistically, I think that it will be used more by students doing a report on the trumpet than ones actually wondering if they should start playing, but it can ably serve both uses. A great fit for school classrooms or library non-fiction collections.

Find it at Amazon.

I read an advanced copy from NetGalley.

Read it with:
What is Valentine's Day? by Elaine Landau
Buzz to Brilliance by Adrian D. Griffin
To a Young Jazz Musician: Letters from the Road by Wynton Marsalis and Selwyn Seyfu Hinds

Friday, April 29, 2011

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple

Today, when people all over the world are celebrating the royal wedding of Prince William, I wanted to highlight a book that takes a fun look at princesses. The message here, that not all princesses dress in pink, reaffirms that young girls can be anything they want to be; being a 'princess' (or being a girl) does not limit their options in any way. Sure, some princesses do dress in pink. But as the United Kingdom welcomes Catherine as one of the new faces of the monarchy, it's time to think about the next generation of girls and everything that they can bring to the world.

(On a different note, do you think Princess Diana would have ever written a children's book?)

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Tea for Ruby by Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York
The Balloon Tree by Phoebe Gilman
Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming

Thursday, April 28, 2011

DC Super-Pets: Midway Monkey Madness by Sarah Hines Stephens and Art Balthazar

Beppo, Superman's pet monkey and fellow crime-fighter, is looking forward to enjoying a fun day at the carnival. But when a loud cry interrupts his Ferris Wheel ride, he knows trouble is in the air. His enemy Grodd is ripping apart animal cages - and all the animals are escaping! It's up to Beppo to find a way to stop Grodd, and he's going to need the help of his super-friends to do it!

I wasn't sure if I was the right audience for this book; I'm not to familiar with superheros, and when it started I was thinking less about the plot and more about "Did Superman really have a monkey?" (Apparently, he did.) But I like bright colours and early chapter books for new readers, so I went in with an open mind - and I liked it! The book helpfully explains who Beppo is and what his superpowers are; it also introduces his super-friends and allies. At three chapters long (the digital version I read was a total of 58 pages, including covers), it's not a long story but it is packed with action. That combination of interesting battles, fun words that show up Batman-style (Woooosh! Rooooaaarr! Smaaash!), and incredibly colourful pictures will prove irresistable to beginning readers who love superheros - and their pets.

I read an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley.

Find it at IndieBound.

Watch this trailer from Captsone Publishing:

Check out this interview with Art Balthazar:

Read it with:
Superman and the Mayhem of Metallo by Sarah Hines Stephens
Ninjatown Volume 1: The Adventures of Wee Ninja! by Art Balthazar and Franco Aureliani
DC Super-Pets: The Fastest Pet on Earth by J.E. Bright and Art Balthazar

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Murder She Wrote: Dying to Retire by Donald Bain

The funeral of an old friend brings Jessica Fletcher, mystery writer extraordinaire, to Florida. It's a sad occasion, but Jessica and her friends from Cabot Cove also plan to enjoy some sun and sand in the Sunshine State. But her friend's death turns out to have many strange details involved, and Jessica can't shake the feeling that foul play was involved. And before you know it, faster than you can say "Has there been a murder?" Jessica Fletcher is on the case.

With these books, you know exactly what you're getting when you start reading, and I like that comfort. (I suppose this is true of many series books, but the TV-tie-in factor at play here heightens this for me). This one features not only an exotic location but also some of the Cabot Cover regulars, which is a nice bonus. If you've read any of the Murder She Wrote books, it shouldn't be hard to figure out who the murderer is, but the book is really about journey.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han

Two years have passed since we last left Belly, Jeremiah, and Conrad. Belly and Jeremiah have been dating and are now at the same university. They seem to have a perfect relationship...and have decided to get married. But little cracks show that it might not be so great a relationship after all. And then there's Conrad. Will Belly ever be able to give her whole heart to Jeremiah? Will she finally become Mrs. Fisher? And if she does...who's the groom?

I really enjoyed The Summer I Turned Pretty; it's a great summer, beachy read. I thought that It's Not Summer Without You built on the characters and was a good sequel. Something about We'll Always Have Summer, though, As I was reading, I wondered if Belly had ever considered getting some counseling. She definitely has issues with intimacy, relationships, self-esteem, her family...I'd even settle for some career counseling. Anything to get her thinking about herself, as a person, and not as a player in some Jeremiah/Conrad drama. Seeing her on her own on the cover gave me hope for Belly, and this kind of bore out at the end, but getting there was hard. Jeremiah and Conrad, like always, were fascinating characters.

Find it at Amazon.

I read a Simon and Schuster Galley Grab copy.

Read it with:
The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han
It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jane Austen: A Life Revealed by Catherine Reef

Jane Austen's life and work are explored in this biography that draws on what we know - and what we don't know - about the famous writer. I can't think of too many other books about Jane Austen for a youngish set. Is this because people don't usually read her books until university? What other high school-level works are there out on Jane Austen? I'm not too familiar with any others, but I feel confident that this book could stand alongside any of them.
Reading this book made me want to read all of Austen's work (some again, some for the first time), and I think for a book like this, that's one of the highest ways to praise it. This book would work for people who have read and enjoyed Jane Austen as well as inspire those who haven't yet discovered her.

Find more at IndieBound.

I read an advance copy of the book from NetGalley.

Read it with:
Jane Austen by Carol Shields
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Sir Charlie by Sid Fleischman
Sigmund Freud: Pioneer of the Mind by Catherine Reef
The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy) by Barbara Kerley

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

Lucy Childs. They tell her her name is Lucy Childs. But she knows her name is Louisa Cosgrove, and she does not belong in Wildthorn, the madhouse where they are keeping her. Why is she locked up? Why was she taken from her old life? And is there a chance...that they might be right?

One of the scariest things for me to think of would be to have others not believe who I am, to be telling the truth and to have others thing I'm insane. That chilling premise is what prompted me to pick up Wildthorn. The book delivered on the promise of a taut mystery that kept me reading to find out exactly how all of the pieces fit together. There's also a romantic element to the book, too, as Louisa becomes closer to one of the girls who works in Wildthorn. Definitely a great read, and you don't need to be a fan of historical fiction to enjoy it.

Find it at IndieBound.

I read an advanced copy at NetGalley.

Read it with:
The Twin's Daughter by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets by Nancy Springer
Jane by April Lindner
Second Best by Jane Eagland
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mudkin by Stephen Gammell

Playing outside after the rain can be one. That's where one girl encounters Mudkin, and before she knows it, Mudkin has asked her to be the Queen! In the blink of an eye she has a mud cloak, a mud carriage, a mud castle, and more. But does this adventure have the power to last?

Continuing in the tradition of picture book characters that I would love to see marketed as toys, I think Mudkin would be a great stuffed animal. Looking like a cross between a turnip and a Kewpie doll, it's easy for me to see how this little imp captures the girl's imagination. And really, that's what this book is: a celebration of the imagination. The design plays cleverly with the idea of mud (the author's bio has some parts smeared out) while never feeling gimmicky. The wordless pictures provide a chance for kids to use their own imaginations to tell the story. A great pick for kids in that muddy season between winter and spring.

Find it at Amazon.

I read an advanced copy through NetGalley.

Read it with:
Twigboy by Stephen Gammell
Shadow by Suzy Lee
Mud Puddle by Robert Munsch

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tangles by Sarah Leavitt

Alzheimer's is a terrible, awful disease that affects not just a single person, but everyone around them. In Tangles, Sarah Leavitt depicts her mother's battle with Alzheimer's and how it changed and touched their entire family. There are tender moments, heartbreaking scenes, honest accounts, details that show how difficult and bizarre it is to grieve for someone who is still alive. This is an amazing book.

Tangles was on the short list (ten titles) for the Alberta Readers' Choice Award.

Find it at Sarah Leavitt's website.

Read it with:
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Bitter Medicine by Clem Martini
Essex County by Jeff Lemire
One! Hundred! Demons! by Lynda Barry
Finding Rosa by Caterina Edwards

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Brain Camp by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan and Faith Erin Hicks

Camp Fielding: a place where teens can live up to their potential. That's the message that parents get, but when the teens arrive, it doesn't take Lucas and Jenna long to realize that something sinister is going on. Will they be able to put aside their differences, work together, and save the campers?

I read this book around the same time as I read The Drained Brains Caper by Trina Robbins, and I thought they had a similar story (although brainwashing kids/teens is hardly unique to the two). In my mind, they had an Armageddon/Deep Impact relationship going on, and Brain Camp was my Armageddon (i.e., the one I liked better). It benefited from being a stand alone story and not a set-up for a series. Looking at it on its own, I really liked the style, art, and look of this book. It was a fun story (I read a review that compared it to a Goosebumps novel, and I think that's a really great description) and I'll definitely keep an eye out for what the authors and illustrators do in the future.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Drained Brains Caper by Trina Robbins
Candor by Pam Bachorz
The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
City of Spies by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Pascal Dizin

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Barfed on Mrs. Kenly by Jessica Harper

Cleo has just experienced one of the worst traumas of her life: she barfed on a grownup. Sure, bad and embarrassing stuff has happened to her before, but this is different! How will she ever recover?

I'll be honest: I picked this book up because of the cover. I love the illustration (with its innocence and shock) and Cleo's adorable dress (or possibly a coat? No matter - adorable). The title is awesome and is something that many people could relate to. It's probably inevitable that Cleo will be compared to other girls like Clementine, Junie B., or my personal favourite, Ramona. (Remember when Ramona barfed in her classroom?) I think that Cleo could nicely stand next to any of those girls, especially since the book skews a little lower (good for beginning/newly independent readers) and I'd love to see more Cleo titles.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Uh-oh, Cleo by Jessica Harper
Underpants on my Head by Jessica Harper
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
A Place Called Kindergarten by Jessica Harper

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

These days Portia de Rossi is arguably known best as being Ellen Degeneres' wife (and maybe secondarily known for her recent roles on Better Off Ted and the brilliant Arrested Development), but when she first burst onto the American TV scene it was as icy lawyer Nelle Porter on Ally McBeal. So much of the attention that that show got was about the physical appearance and wardrobe of the actors like Calista Flockhart and Courtney Thorne-Smith. Off screen, Portia was suffering from anorexia, ending her marriage to a (male) filmmaker, and constantly worrying about her career. In Unbearable Lightness, she recounts those days with an unflinching honesty that provides a window into the mind of a woman suffering from a terrible disease.

In addition to the detailed accounts of the anorexia, Unbearable Lightness also provides a really interesting look behind the scenes of a hit TV show. Portia De Rossi joined the show when it was at its hottest, but then it eventually cooled down before being canceled after its fifth season. The bulk of the story ends before Portia and Ellen started dating, although Portia does touch on it near the end of the book. I would totally be interested in reading a sequel about the next part of her life if she chose to write one.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips
Prairie Tale by Melissa Gilbert
Unsweetined by Jodie Sweetin
Love, Ellen by Betty Degeneres

Monday, April 18, 2011

Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown

Lucy has made a delightful find: a child! She wants to take him home and make him her pet, even as her mother thinks that this is a bad idea. But Lucy is determined to make things work with Squeaker (as she's named him) and things do go well...for awhile. Will Lucy learn that children make terrible pets?

One word review: delightful. Two word review: adorably illustrated. Hilariously told. Love it. I could go on like this; there's just so much about the book (the illustrations, the storyline, the vocabulary, the look of the book) that adds up to a complete win. Children Make Terrible Pets was on many people's top ten lists of last year, including the New York Times. Definitely check it out and see why.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
I'd Really Like to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio
Chowder by Peter Brown
A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea! by Michael Ian Black
Henry In Love by Peter McCarty

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Borrowed Light by Anna Feinberg

Callisto May, sixteen, has a theory about people: most can be assigned an identity based on astronomy. Some are planets, some are stars. Some, like Callisto, are moons, existing in the borrowed light of others. When Callisto finds out she is pregnant, though, she realizes how little support a borrower actually has.

One of my favourite things about Borrowed Light is how it showed that Callisto's life didn't stop when she discovered she was pregnant. She quickly decides on getting an abortion, but things still have to be dealt with: going to school, taking care of her brother, the details over every day life. Cally's relationship with her five-year-old brother, Jeremy, is the heart of the novel, and their interactions (which are numerous because their mother seems to have abdicated any actual parenting to Cally) consistently ring true with honest emotion. I think this book is out of print now (I read it through an Interlibrary Loan), but if you can find it it's definitely worth reading, especially since abortion is still such a rarely-touched issue in YA books.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn
I Know It's Over by C.K. Kelly Martin
Happily Ever After Anyway? by Michelle Taylor
Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont