Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Lissa is tired of playing second fiddle to a sports rivalry. Her boyfriend is on the football team, and it seems like his top priority is to focus on the football/soccer rivalry at Hamilton High. But Lissa has had enough, and she's encouraged the other girlfriends to fight back with the best weapon at their disposal: their sexuality. They are officially cutting off their boyfriends until the rivalry ends. It's not long before the guys are starting to feel the effects of this stance - but rather than giving in, they decide to fight back. Has Lissa started more than she can handle?

I enjoyed The DUFF and was really eager to read Kody Keplinger's second novel. My favourite parts were the sleepover scenes where the girls addressed sexual stereotypes and expectations. Those were, I thought, very honest, touching, and realistic. I also really liked that the book explicitly mentioned Lysistrata (although I'll confess that it was quite a while before I made the Lissa/Lysistrata connection - my excuse is that I was listening to an audiobook). There were some things that I would have loved to have seen explored more, like Lissa's issues of trust, compulsion, and abandonment, or the girlfriends in a role beyond that of "the girlfriends," but the dialogue and tone of the book went a long way to making it an enjoyable read.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
Lysistrata by Aristophanes
Troy High by Shana Norris

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff

Life in Pandemonium is all that Daphne's really known. She's the daughter of Lilith and Lucifer, half-demon and half-fallen angel. Her brother, Obie, rejected Pandemonium and went to Earth - and now he's missing. Daphne is determined to find him, and she needs the help of Truman, the last person to have seen Obie. But Truman is fighting battles of his own - a dependency on alcohol and a lack of will to live. Will they be able to overcome these demons, both personal and physical, and find Obie? Or will their quest meet a very violent end?

Don't Brenna Yovanoff's books have beautiful covers? I was enticed to pick up The Replacements because of its eye-catching cover (even though I eventually ended up listening to an audiobook version), and this cover is intricately designed and hauntingly beautiful. That's also a great way to describe the story. Daphne is driven by love and fear and there are some large questions raised in this book about love, relationships, duty, destiny, and family - not to mention the whole concept of good vs. evil. There are lots of creepy, atmospheric details that expanded on these themes. After a strong beginning, I got a bit lost in the middle, but the book grabbed me back for a solid ending (so it could just have been the timing of my own reading experience). I just put the book down, and I'm already excited about reading Yovanoff's next book.

I received a review copy from Penguin Canada.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Replacements by Brenna Yovanoff
Paradise Lost by John Milton
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Monday, November 28, 2011

Treasures at the Museum by Deborra Richardson and illustrated by George Hilton III

Robbie and Brittany are heading to the museum with their Aunt Imani, but Robbie doesn't want to go! He thinks it's going to be boring and that he won't have anything in common with the archives. But Aunt Imani explains that museums aren't the only things that have archives and collections - people have them too! And who knows what kinds of treasures they might find at the museum?

This is a fun look at museums and archives and a great introduction to the Smithsonian for children. It successfully takes what could be big, impersonal concepts ('what is an archive?') and makes them easy for children to relate to. Given the specialized subject matter, it's a bit hard to picture kids picking up this on their own to read for fun (not that it's not a fun book!), but teachers interested in using it with classes will find some supplementary material at the end of the story to help them with their lesson plans. This would be a great addition to classroom or school libraries, particularly if visiting a museum or archive is part of your school field trip plans.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of The Elevator Group.

Read it with:
Ulysses Kay: A Bio-Bibliography by Deborra Richardson
Lost in the Museum: Buried Treasures and the Stories They Tell by Nancy Moses
The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History by Nancy Pick and Mark Sloan
A Kid's Guide to the Smithsonian edited by Ann Phillips Bay and Barbara Hehner

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

While the battles of World War II are taking place overseas, the war is about to come to the small town of Jenkinsville, Arkansas. German POWs are being transferred to a nearby facility and the entire town seems to be a bit on edge. Watching the tension is twelve-year-old Patty Bergen. Patty is struggling with a lot of things: she's terrified of her father's abusive temper, her mother is always insulting her, and she's one of the only Jewish people in her small town. When she meets Anton, one of the German soldiers, she's amazed by his intelligence and his kindness. Then Anton escapes from the prison facility, and Patty's world is about to change forever.

(Some spoilers below)

I first heard of this story when I fell in love with the TV Movies - Daring to Love forum thread at Television Without Pity. So many people seemed to have such strong memories of both the book and the TV movie. This book wasn't really what I thought it was going to be - I pictured it being more of a romance, but due to the striking age difference between Anton and Patty (including her being only twelve at the time), I would have a hard time even thinking of it being based on romantic love. I was also surprised by the examination of race and the casual, institutionalized racism, although if I had really thought about the setting and the time period I shouldn't have been surprised (but probably still shocked at its extent). The edition that I read, the Open Road Media eBook edition, includes an "Author's Affidavit" at the front of the book where Bette Greene confesses that Patty Bergen is based on her and the book is based on her life. Reading the book took on a bit of a different light after that, making it even more difficult to read about "Patty's" mother and father and how they treated her. 

Summer of My German Soldier, the TV movie starring Kristy McNichol, aired in 1978. Someone has put the movie in its entirety up on Youtube, but I have no idea how long it will last until someone pulls it down.

Also check out Jezebel's look at Summer of My German Soldier.

I read a review copy of the eBook from NetGalley courtesy of Open Road Media.

Read it with:
Morning is a Long Time Coming by Bette Greene
The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself by Judy Blume

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Flyaway by Lucy Christopher

Isla and her father share a love of birdwatching, and the time when the swans arrive is a special time of year for them. But an outing together turns scary when her father collapses. He's taken to the hospital where it's discovered that he has a rather serious heart condition. Isla's mom tries to encourage her to go on with her life as normally as possible, but Isla isn't sure that she can. Then she meets a young boy named Harry who has health issues of his own and spots an injured swan on its own just outside the hospital. While struggling with her fears about her father, her loneliness at school, and her relationship with her mom and brother, Isla discovers a strength in herself that she never knew she had.

I picked up this book on the strength of Lucy Christopher's name. The cover wasn't one that would have immediately hooked me, although after reading it I do feel more connected to it. I had read Christopher's Stolen and wasn't really expecting a book like this from her (namely, a book for middle grade readers). That, combined with an early scene involving an accident with a flock of birds, stopped me from getting completely settled with the book. I felt like the rug could be pulled out from under me at any moment, which worked perfectly with the plot, because Isla's world is slipping away from her. It was an unsettling reading experience, but also a very powerful one, and I think the book would be just as strong if I reread it. The blurb at the back of the book says that Christopher is working on a new book, a psychological thriller for teens, and I can't wait to read it.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Flyaway: How A Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings by Suzie Gilbert
Birdwing by Rafe Martin

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

In 1974, Phillipe Petit had a goal: to walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. It was a dream that many would call foolish at best and life-threateningly dangerous at worst. But Phillipe Petit was not like many people. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers is the story of how he dared to do something that so many thought was impossible and how he captivated a city while doing it.

The book starts as if it was telling a fairy tale: "Once there were two towers side by side..." It would be easy to assume that this book won the Caldecott medal on the strength of post-9/11 emotion. I believe, though, that the illustration and style will stand the test of time. The images play with line, colour, and perspective and made me feel quite dizzy (but in a very powerful way). This might not be the book for people who are scared of heights, but for the right child this book could strike the right chord of history and adventure.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Man on Wire by Philippe Petit
September Roses by Jeanette Winter
A Book by Mordicai Gerstein
Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Playground by 50 Cent

Butterball is not happy to be going to therapy. What does someone like Liz understand about his life? He's teased because of his weight. His parents are divorced and he barely sees his dad; even worse, his mom moved him to a place that he hates. He has no friends, and the one friend he did have... well, he doesn't want to talk about that. Yeah, things might not be that great, but how is therapy going to help anything?

(Spoilers below)

Is it too much of a backhanded compliment to say that this book is better than I thought it was going to be? I'm usually not that optimistic about books written by celebrities - even a New York Times bestselling author like 50 Cent - for children, and even more hesitant for books that have some kind of obvious message. In this case, the issue is bullying, and the twist is that it's told from the perspective of the bully. Particularly strong were the scenes where Butterball realized how his actions affected how other people - including girls - saw him (as well as the incredibly sad and frustrating scenes where Butterball's dad engaged in his own destructive brand of parenting). The revelations near the end about Butterball's mom could have been handled a bit better (by both the character and the author), but maybe this will help to contribute to the normalization of gay parents in children's literature. The ending was a bit too neat for my liking, but it might go over better with younger readers who will take away a positive message about redemption.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene
From Pieces to Weight by 50 Cent
My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari
Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stitching Together by Ed Choy Moorman

When I ordered Stitching Together, I only really knew that there was a version of Kermit the Frog on the cover; I didn't know what I'd be getting on the inside. There's "Scenes from the Life and Death of Jim Henson," a glimpse at a genius visonary who died too soon. There's "The Life of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew," an early comic done around Muppet Labs' resident scientist. There's a visit to Jim Henson's childhood home (as seen from the outside). And there's an excerpt from another comic where a childhood crush on Kermit is confessed.

This is an absolutely lovely collection. The pieces are funny and sad and touching and sweet. The image of Jim Henson's funeral in "Scenes from the Life and Death of Jim Henson" had me tearing up. While the Dr. Bunsen Honeydew piece gets a lot of downplaying, I loved the visuals of Dr. Honeydew as a baby and the Honeydew family as well as the mini-origin story of how Dr. Honeydew and Beaker met (although for some reason the hatching in the panels and the bunk bed made me think that they met in prison - I imagine that that would be quite a different story). If you get a chance, definitely give this collection a read.

I purchased a copy of Stitching Together at Buy Olympia.

See more at Ed Choy Moorman's website.

Buy Stitching Together at his website (under the Shop tab).

Read it with:
Ghost Comics: A Benefit Anthology for RS Eden edited by Ed Choy Moorman
Tales of a Sixth Grade Muppet by Kirk Scroggs
Muppet Sherlock Holmes by Patrick Storck
The Muppet Show Comic Book: Meet the Muppets by Roger Langridge
Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Same-Sex Marriage by Tricia Andryszewski

The issue of same-sex marriage has been an incredibly politically-charged issue in the United States. Should a legal marriage include two men or two women as well as a man and a woman? What happens when religion and the government intersect like this? How have views of same-sex marriage changed over the recent decades? This book takes a look at the history of the same-sex marriage movement and the challenges that it has faced in America.

I admit that I was quite skeptical of this book before I started reading it. I run the risk of exposing my biases here, but I think I was focusing on the subtitle of the book and was anticipating a book that argued against same-sex marriage. Instead, the book reads more like an account of what has happened legally and socially around same-sex marriage. While information is included on the differing opinions, it comes as more to explain the context of the political division. The text is accompanied by news articles from USA Today and there's a timeline and a glossary at the end of the book, along with resources for where to look for more information. It's a book that takes what is still a very contentious political issue and makes it accessible for youth to understand (particularly those who are looking to use it for a school assignment). Still, I am optimistic that the day will come where students will look back on a book like this and wonder why such a debate was needed at all.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Books.

Find an earlier version at IndieBound or the updated version from Lerner.

Read it with:
Gay Rights by Tricia Andryszewski
Courting Equality by Karen Kahn, Patricia A. Gozemba, and Marilyn Humphries
Green Energy: Crucial Gains or Economic Strains? by Matt Doeden
Gay Power! by Betsy Kuhn

Monday, November 21, 2011

Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? by Paula Danziger

Lauren has realized that there aren't many perks of being fourteen.  She's not a kid, but she's definitely not an adult. High school is filled with stupid rules around what you need to do to be popular, and harsh actions that come when you break the rules - like dating a younger guy. Her parents still hold all the power, and they don't want to see that she's growing up. A law class at school captures her interest, but it gets her wondering: can you sue your parents for malpractice?

I realized a little while ago that my life needed more Paula Danziger in it (and frankly, with a cover like this one, how could I resist?). There's a whole bunch of tween-early teen books that I seem to have largely skipped when I was in the actual age bracket, so I'm exploring some of them now. Reading this book was like peering in on some kind of time capsule in terms of women's rights and gender relations, which I found fascinating. Sometimes it's hard to take all of the teen-related angst (like, is it really that big of a deal if someone's who's 13 dates someone who's 14?), but I think that's because it's tinged with my own memories of being that age.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger
P.S. Longer Letter Later by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin
It's Not What You Expect by Norma Klein

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Murder, She Wrote: The Fine Art of Murder by Donald Bain

While on vacation in Italy, Jessica Fletcher becomes an unwitting witness to a terrible art theft-turned-murder. The violent act continues to haunt her back when she's in the United States, but she tries to put it aside and focus on her new novel. But her work comes to an abrupt halt when she discovers that the husband of an old friend in Chicago has been killed. Jessica finds herself drawn into this murder mystery, lending support to her friend while wondering about the identity of the true killer. Jessica is shocked when the Chicago murder seems to have ties to the Italian murder. Has she found herself in the middle of another international incident?

Is there anything better than a cool autumn evening, a warm blanket, and a new Murder, She Wrote mystery? Jessica Fletcher is back, and this time she's taking on the world of art forgery. Well, sort of - it's more like the backdrop for her latest murder encounter. (Spoiler alert) I was expecting the Italian plot and the Chicago plot to come together a bit more and be more tied together in the resolution, but I wasn't exactly disappointed in the true resolution. It just felt a bit like there had been two possible ideas for this book, but at some point they got mashed up into a single story. Still, it's very much the Murder, She Wrote series that I know and love, and I think fans of cozy mysteries will be satisfied with this new volume.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Murder, She Wrote: A Question of Murder by Donald Bain
Murder, She Wrote: Provence - To Die For by Donald Bain
Murder, She Wrote: A Fatal Feast by Donald Bain

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The One Week Job Project by Sean Aiken

When Sean Aiken graduated from college, he had no idea what he wanted to do and no idea how to go about finding out what he wanted to do. So he developed a project that would give him the chance to find out. Every week for one year he would take on a different job. Then, after having worked at 52 different jobs, he would hopefully be closer to finding out what he wanted to do. When he started out he had no idea where the jobs would take him or what he would be doing. When he finished, he had a much different understanding of himself.

This is a fun concept. It's not something that I have the personality or the inclination to do, so I get to live vicariously through this person's experiences. It's easy to be skeptical or even cynical about this experiment. On one level, there's the question of the job experience. How much can you really experience in a week? If you step into a job with no experience and little training, are you really doing the job or are you shadowing? Some of that is just a semantic difference, and Sean Aiken does a good job of explaining how the project worked and what experiences he did have. I also found myself wondering how, for lack of a better word, 'genuine' this project was. Aiken, from very early on the project, used social media and web technologies incredibly smartly. He was able to promote the project and himself. In the book, he admits that he anticipated writing a book about the project. At the end of the 52 weeks, he doesn't really come away with a job that's right for him; he comes away with a job/career that he's created for himself through the One Week Job Project. Would it have been more satisfying for me as a reader to find out that at the end of the project he had decided that he really did want to be a brewmaster (week 19) or a yoga instructor (week 7)? Would that have been more "honest"? Probably not, and then we wouldn't be reading this book, which creates a weird kind of loop. Besides, this book is just as much (if not more) about Sean and his relationships with others (his parents and family members, his friends, his new girlfriend) while he goes on this journey.

But to the book itself! It's is structured really well and hooks you in and keeps you interested. It's a fun read. This has been marketed (or at least I have seen it being marketed) to the 'just out of school' crowd, but I think it is a story that will resonate with anyone who has ever wondered if there's a perfect job out there for them.

See more at the One Week Job website.

It's also a movie; view the trailer here.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Craft Rubin
Living Oprah by Robyn Okrant
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
Not Buying It by Judith Levine

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems

Piggie is really excited - it's Pig Day! The happiest day of the year! But Gerald feels a bit left out. Pig day is for pigs, and he's an elephant. He doesn't want to make Piggie unhappy on her special day, but is there a way that they can all celebrate together?

There's something about Elephant and Piggie that just makes me smile. I love these characters and their friendship. I even have an Elephant and Piggie poster in my home. Although of course I hate seeing anything that makes Gerald anxious (though that could be almost anything), there's a great message in here that friends don't have to be identical to each other. Many children may celebrate different holidays than each other or have cultural differences, but that doesn't mean that they can't be friends and celebrate each other. This wasn't quite up there for me with my favourite Elephant and Piggie boks (I think I was spoiled by We Are in a Book), but it is another solid entry into the Elephant and Piggie canon. And for extra fun, check out this interview with Mo Willems from (I had never put together Elephant Gerald).

Find it at IndieBound.

Don't miss visiting Mo Willems' website. (I particularly love the fan mail.)

Read it with:
We Are in a Book by Mo Willems
I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems
Pigs Make Me Sneeze by Mo Willems

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Before E (Except After C) for Kids by Susan Randol

FOIL. BEDMAS. HOMES. These are all acronyms that I used in school to remember different things. There were many more tricks, too: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas (the order of the planets, including then-planet Pluto)), Thirty days hath September (the days in each month), Never Eat Shredded Wheat (the order of compass points). Many students find these acronyms, poems, and memory aids helpful in memorizing information for tests. This book has lots of fun ways to remember information. Wondering when to use affect or effect? Need to remember the order of the US Presidents? Forgetting how to spell "believe"? This is the book for you.

It was a bit of an information overload to sit down and read this book from cover to cover, but it seems like it would be a fun reference book for students to have in classrooms and libraries. I fully admit to my more nerdish tendencies, but I would have really loved this book as a kid (and I definitely still found it useful today). True, from an adult perspective there were some rhymes or tricks that were so elaborate that I wondered "Wouldn't it just be simpler to actually memorize the information?" But I think that there are enough different tips and approaches for a variety of students to find this book useful. It's also the type of book that could be really helpful for adults who are preparing for any type of trivia competition - did Socrates teach Plato, or was it the other way around? This book can help you remember! (P.S. - Socrates taught Plato, who taught Aristotle - you can remember it with the acronym SPA).

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Reader's Digest Children's Books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Popular Mechanics' The Pocket Genius by Susan Randol
I Before E (Except After C) by Judy Parkinson
"I" Before "E" Except After "C" by Dr. Laurie E. Rozakis

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Implosion of Aggie Winchester by Lara Zielin

Aggie Winchester's life just became extremely complicated. Her friend Sylvia is pregnant - and the father refuses to publicly acknowledge Sylvia or the baby. On top of that, a new girl at school is driving a wedge between Sylvia and Aggie's friendship. Aggie's mom, who is also the principal, is undergoing cancer treatments. And all of this is coming to a head as a rumour starts that Aggie's mom interfered with the prom court elections to prevent Sylvia, a pregnant Goth, from winning. Add in some boy trouble of her own, and Aggie isn't sure what to do anymore. Will things ever get back to normal?

One thing that I thought worked particularly well in this book is how Lara Zielin nailed the high school dynamic of a friend that you're friends with because of circumstance, not because you necessarily like them. Aggie is a particularly interesting character because she's still trying to find out who she is. She doesn't necessarily want to be a Goth, but she doesn't necessarily want to live exactly as her parents want her to. Her rebellion seemed realistic. There was also some extremely questionable parenting choices being made by Aggie's parents, but unlike, say, Wait Till Helen Comes (one of the first books that inspired by 'questionable parenting' tag), the choices are understandable if not necessarily right. Sometimes the strands of the dramas seemed to be bordering on a bit too much, but Zielin has a strong writing style that kept everything in check.

Check out Lara Zielin's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti
Bumped by Megan McCafferty
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Prom Kings and Drama Queens by Dorian Cirrone
Donut Days by Lara Zielin

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Crossed by Ally Condie

(Warning: Crossed is a sequel to Matched, so this part has spoilers for Matched. There will be another spoiler warning below for Crossed.)

Cassia's world was turned upside down when she was matched with Xander...but saw an image of Ky on her official match microchip. This confusion led her to question her feelings about Xander, and Ky, and to wonder about the total control that's exercised by the society officials. Crossed picks up where Match left off - with Cassia and Ky on the very fringes of society, alone and thinking about rebellion - and each other.

(Spoilers follow, both for Matched and Crossed.)

When I started reading Crossed and saw where the characters were, I was afraid that it would take the entire novel for Cassia and Ky to get back together and the book would seem like it was just killing time. I was pleased with both the speed at which Cassia and Ky found each other but also how well the story worked when they were apart. I thought that the new characters were interesting and fit into the novel's world very well. The action in this book raised the stakes to true life-or-death situations. And, though, he took more of a backseat in this book, I'm curious to see how Xander will fit into the story again. I'm now very excited to see what happens in the third book, scheduled to be released in November 2012.

Check out Ally Condie's website.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Penguin Canada.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Matched by Ally Condie
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Freshman for President by Ally Condie
Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Monday, November 14, 2011

Also Known as Rowan Pohi by Ralph Fletcher

It was a twist of fate that brought Rowan Pohi into existence. He was an imaginary character created for a laugh; Bobby and his friends Marcus and Big Poobs imagined the perfect applicant for the snooty Whitestone Prep school. To their surprise, Rowan gets in. Having taken the joke as far as it will go, Bobby and his friends have a funeral ceremony for Rowan, and that should be that. But Bobby is looking for a chance to escape his own life, and Rowan might represent that. Soon Bobby-as-Rowan is attending Whitestone: befriending wealthy classmates, enjoying the difficult classes, dodging questions about his background. How long until his luck runs out?

One of the keys to this novel working is understanding why Bobby wants to risk so much to become Rowan. This part is well set up. Not only is Bobby's home life something that he wants to run away from (only his younger brother Cody is holding him back), but he also shares his name with his father. He can't create his own identity because he's in the shadow of his father. I could easily understand the attachment to Rowan, although there were some times where I didn't quite understand why Bobby's friends treated Rowan as if he was an actual person and not a prank. There's something about this book that I could see working quite well as a Disney-esque TV movie, particularly as the book marches toward its dramatic climax.

I do have to say, though, that I was troubled by the passages where Bobby's brother Cody played at being an "Indian." His behaviour included wearing feathers in his hair, playing with a "tomahawk," and calling himself an "Indian boy." While this plays into the larger themes of identity and acceptance of yourself, I was uncomfortable in seeing it play out this way. (There is a passage at the end of the book - MILD SPOILER ALERT (not really related to the main plot) - when Cody says that "Being Spider-Man is way cooler than being an Indian." While Cody is, at five years old, a small child, statements like that go completely unchecked without any indication that there is a very real difference between the two.) Check out Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature blog for another perspective on this type of behaviour.

Check out Ralph Fletcher's website.

I received an advance reading copy from NetGalley courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher
Spider Boy by Ralph Fletcher
My Favorite Band Does Not Exist by Robert T. Jeschonek

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists

It's easy enough to find a book of nursery rhymes. They're common in bookstores, libraries, and on the personal bookshelves of babies everywhere. But this is a different kind of nursery rhyme book. Fifty of today's most talented and celebrated cartoonists have joined together to present Nursery Rhyme Comics. With comics from Nick Abadzis, Andrew Arnold, Kate Beaton, Vera Brosgol, Nick Bruel, Scott Campbell, Lilli Carre, Roz Chast, JP Coovert, Jordan Crane, Rebecca Dart, Eleanor Davis, Vanessa Davis, Theo Ellsworth, Matt Forsythe, Jules Feiffer, Bob Flynn, Alexis Frederick-Frost, Ben Hatke, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Lucy Knisley, David Macaulay, Mark Martin, Patrick McDonnell, Mike Mignola, Tony Millionaire, Tao Nyeu, George O’Connor, Mo Oh, Eric Orchard, Laura Park, Cyril Pedrosa, Lark Pien, Aaron Renier, Dave Roman, Marc Rosenthal, Stan Sakai, Richard Sala, Mark Siegel, James Sturm, Raina Telgemeier, Craig Thompson, Richard Thompson, Sara Varon, Jen Wang, Drew Weing, Gahan Wilson, Gene Luen Yang, and Stephanie Yue, this is definitely not your grandparents' books of nursery rhymes.

There's so much wonderfulness to discover and uncover in this volume. Some of the cartoonists have taken a traditional approach to illustrating the rhymes, while others have reinterpreted them in new ways. Some of the standouts for me were "The Donkey" by Patrick McDonnell, "Hickory Dickory Dock" by Stephanie Yue, "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Craig Thompson, "Georgie Porgie" by Raina Telgemeier, "Pop Goes the Weasel" by Scott Campbell, "Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been?" by Ben Hatke, "The Grand Old Duke of York" by Kate Beaton, "London Bridge is Falling Down" by David MacCaulay, and "There Was a Little Girl" by Vera Brosgol. I was excited to see pages by artists whose work I already know and love; I've also discovered some new artists to look for in the future. Wondering what to get new parents as a baby gift? This is a book that comic fans (or future comic fans) should have on their shelves.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of First Second and Macmillan.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Jelly Belly by Dennis Lee
Hark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton
Bake Sale by Sara Varon
My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tales of a Sugar Hero by Michael Dahl, Scott Nickel, and Jeff Crowther

On Halo's 11th birthday, she receives a special gift from her Aunt Pandora. At first, it just looks like delicious candy - but when she tries it, strange things start to happen. Strange and exciting things, like being able to fly, and make fireballs, and shoot streams of water. These new skills will come in handy, because there's bad things happening all over Midnight - and Halo is just the girl to take on these evildoers!

(Slight spoilers follow)

I love how this story puts girls at the forefront. The main character is a girl and the source of her powers (the candy) comes from her Aunt (she also lives with her grandmother). The evil characters are all women, too. There are a few male characters, but they don't overshadow the girls - and even better, they don't magically come to Halo's aid in the end. In fact, in at least one of the stories, Halo is the one who saves her male classmate's life. This story of strong female characters is wrapped up in bright, fun colours and fast-paced action. This special edition combines four Princess Candy stories into one book, which made a tasty treat seem even more satisfying.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Capstone.

Read it with:
Power Lunch by J. Torres and Dean Trippe
The Drained Brains Caper by Trina Robbins
Princess Candy: Sugar Hero by Michael Dahl and Jeff Crowther

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Next Sure Thing by Richard Wagamese

Cree Thunderboy sees himself as a blues man - but he also has a knack for picking horses. It's a talent that is noticed by Win Hardy, who has an interesting proposition for Cree. If Cree starts feeding Win winning information, Win will finance Cree's music career. It's an offer that Cree can't - or won't - refuse, but is it too good to be true? And when so much is riding on it, will Cree be able to pick the next sure thing?

Some of the details of the plot were a bit confusing to me; some of the story is told by having something happen and then having a character explain it later. It's a book that might benefit from a second reading, but I can definitely see readers being interested enough to give it a second reading. There is so much that I'm excited by with this book. One thing is that it has a Native character who is living a modern life. The fact that he is Native is not ignored (details about his family motivate him to get into Win's shady world), but the book is not fully about Cree being Native. He's also a friend, a blues musician, and a guy who's gotten in over his head. Richard Wagamese, an Ojibway author and storyteller, has crafted a very strong story. Another thing that I really love is that this is part of the Rapid Reads series, a book of original, high-interest books that are designed for adult learners to enjoy. The Good Reads series and the Rapid Reads series are such an exciting thing for Canadian adult literacy students. For more information about other Rapid Reads, visit Orca's website.

Check out Richard Wagamese's website.

I received a free copy from a LibraryThing Draw.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
One Fine Day You're Gonna Die by Gail Bowen
Orchestrated Murder by Rick Blechta
And Everything Nice by Kim Moritsugu

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Charley Harper Colors by Charley Harper

Charley Harper's birds take centre stage in this colour-based concept book for young kids. The intricate designs show off the colourful creatures. All the favourites are here: red, green, blue, pink, and more. While young babies and toddlers might have a more difficult time seeing the little details, preschoolers might appreciate the whimsy of pictures like a fire hydrant covered in birds. I can see this being a hit with hip parents who love different art styles and want to introduce their children to books beyond the ordinary.

(My personal favourite page is the one of a duck swimming in a lake surrounded by orange, yellow, and red leaved-trees. It's a lovely fall image.)

I received an advance review copy at NetGalley courtesy of Ammo Books.

See more of Charley Harper's artwork.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Charley Harper 123s by Charley Harper
Charley Harper ABCs by Charley Harper
Counting in the Garden by Patrick and Emily Hruby

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Can You Tell an Alligator from a Crocodile? by Buffy Silverman

This is a brilliant idea for a series. I can't always tell an alligator from a crocodile! I know that there are differences in the mouth shape and probably where they live, but I'm not sure which difference goes with which animal. This book is perfect for people like me (as well as younger kids who are still learning about all of the different animals in the world.) There are cool photos that show the differences between them (the alligator has a shorter, more rounded snout that looks like the letter U, while the crocodile has a longer, more narrow snout that looks like the letter V). There are more differences than I ever imagined, including sense organs and salt glands. There are a couple of pictures that I might see again in my scary dreams (like the ones with lots of teeth or the one where an alligator is stalking its prey) but these same pictures will help make it a popular choice with reluctant readers and curious kids who like non-fiction. A great fit for class and school libraries.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Do You Know About Mammals? by Buffy Silverman
I'd Really Like to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio
Alligators by Frank Staub
Can You Tell a Frog from a Toad? by Buffy Silverman
Can You Tell a Bee from a Wasp? by Buffy Silverman

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hot Guys and Baby Animals by Audrey Khuner and Carolyn Newman

Two popular items come together in this very straightforwardly-named book: hot guys and baby animals. Guys in various states of dress pose with cats, dogs, sheep, a snake, and other animals. Beyond that, there's not that much more to say. To get a sense of the book, see more pictures at Hot Guys and Baby Animals. Its size, price, and subject matter makes it a likely pick for stocking stuffers, bachelorette parties, birthdays, and joke gifts (and, according to the Andrews McMeel website, purchases will benefit the SPCA.)

See more pictures at Hot Guys and Baby Animals.

Find it at the Andrews McMeel website.

Read it with:
Cake Wrecks by Jen Yates
That is Priceless by Steve Yelcher
Passive Aggressive Notes by Kerry Miller

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group by Catherine Jinks

Toby's life was pretty ordinary until the one day he turned up in a dingo pen. He had no idea how he got there or what he was doing there. His mom worried that he was on drugs, doctors thought that maybe he had epilepsy, but a mysterious stranger had a different explanation - that Toby was a vampire. At first Toby decides to play along and make a fool out of this stranger, but before long he realizes that it's no joke. Meeting strange new people, kidnapped into the middle of nowhere, and fighting for his life, ... what will Toby have do deal with next?

I really enjoyed The Reformed Vampire Support Group but it had been awhile since I'd read it; I was afraid that I'd forget key details for this second book. But for a long time it didn't really matter. This book is very much Toby's story; while Reuben Schneider and Father Alvarez appear fairly early on, the rest of the characters play only minor parts in this story. I missed Nina in particular, and her sense of humour; I didn't care much for the antics of Toby and his two best friends. But once the story started focusing on the werewolf side of things and it became more of an action story, my attention was definitely piqued. A solid choice for fans of humorous supernatural stories.

Check out Catherine Jinks' website.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley (but I ended up listening to an audiobook version).

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Beat the Band by Don Calame

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jellaby by Kean Soo

Portia's been having a hard time lately. She doesn't really get along with anyone in class. Her teacher wants her to participate more. Her mom works long hours and she spends lots of time alone. Then she meets a mysterious creature in the woods one night. She's never seen anything like him before. He's not scary, though; he seems sad, lost, and lonely. Can these two find a way to help each other?

Jellaby has been on my 'to read' list for awhile, and I found it at the library one day so I decided to pick it up. I'm glad that I did. In addition to being drawn into the story, I responded very well to the art style. Most of the drawing are done in black, white, and purple; only Portia's classmate Jason's orange shirt provides an occasional burst of colour. I loved seeing Toronto emerge as a location; I don't live there any more, but I still get excited when I see it as itself in books. I believe Jellaby's gone out of print, so check libraries or used book stores for a copy. The story continues in volume two, Jellaby: Monster in the City.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Jellaby: Monster in the City by Kean Soo
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Prime Baby by Gene Luen Yang
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
The Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Power Lunch: Book 1 - First Course by J. Torres and Dean Trippe

Joey is the new kid in school. He's been the new kid a few times, because when he's around things tend to...happen. As long as he eats only bland white foods, though, everything seems to go okay. This time he's befriended another kid who's a bit of an outsider; Jerome is being bullied by Bug, one of the big kids at school. Joey is happy to help Jerome by biting into some of his powers, but what will happen when Joey isn't around?

I can easily see kids responding really well to this book. The colours are bright and dynamic, the characters are funny and likeable (except for the bully, who's suitably bad). The idea of everyday foods magically transforming someone into having superhero-like powers is a brilliant combination of high-concept and easily understandable concept. There's also space for a neat little ethical dilemma around Joey trying out for the soccer team: is it okay to use your superpowers to your advantage? Is it fair to yourself if you don't take advantage of your full potential? It was raised but not elaborated on too much in this book, so I'm excited to see more about Joey's soccer playing in future books.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Oni Press.

Check out Dean Trippe and J. Torres' websites.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Sketch Monsters by Joshua Williamson and Vinny Navarrete
Possessions by Ray Fawkes
Salt Water Taffy by Matthew Loux

Friday, November 4, 2011

Murder She Wrote: Skating on Thin Ice by Donald Bain

Winter sports are popular in Cabot Cove, Maine, and that’s what the owner of the local skating area is banking on. After renovating the facilities, the new arenas have attracted a top coach and one of the most buzzed about pairs in the country. They’ve only recently started skating together: she’s originally from out West, and he was one-half of a popular Russian pairs team. Whispers of rumours and scandal surround them – even in the quiet Maine town. While Jessica learns more about the inside world of skating, she gets to know more about this team and other locals who also have an interest in the arena. But there's more going on than just death spirals; a dead body is discovered and everyone is a suspect.

I love figure skating, and I love Murder, She Wrote, so I was hoping that this would be the equivalent of two great tastes that taste great together. I did enjoy it, but it wasn’t as delicious as I hoped it would be. My first hurdle was getting past the idea of a first-class internationally popular ice skating rink being built in Cabot Cove, but hey – this is the MSW world where anything is possible (and, to be fair, they did show it to be struggling). Rather than reading about senior skaters – quite a bit of time is devoted to Jessica getting back on the ice, to varying results – I would have preferred reading about cut-throat senior-division skaters; couldn’t Jessica have taken a trip to Colorado Springs, California, or Detroit? But, really, the mystery moved right along and thanks to consultations with Dick Button, the skating information was largely accurate. There might not be enough to satisfy people who pick it up because of the skating angle, but fans of MSW and gentle mysteries should enjoy it.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Murder She Wrote: Nashville Noir by Donald Bain
Murder She Wrote: The Queen’s Jewels by Donald Bain
Death Drop by Alina Adams
Axel of Evil by Alina Adams
Skate Crime by Alina Adams

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Swimming to Chicago by David-Matthew Barnes

In the summer, everything seemed like it was going well for Alex. He was in a relationship (a secret relationship, but still some kind of something) with Tommy, a star football player at their high school. His relationship with his best friend Jillian wasn't perfect, but it was nothing that he couldn't deal with. Then things started unraveling. Tommy broke up with him, and as awful as that was, it was only the beginning. New kid in town Robby might be a second chance at...something, but Robby has lots of baggage of his own. While dealing with homophobia, grief, parental relationships, scandal, suicide, teen pregnancy, and small town secrets, is it possible for these two to find a way toward happiness?

My one-word review for Swimming to Chicago would be "drama!" The characters must face difficult emotional situation after difficult emotional situation, all building to a violent conclusion that draws these plots together. I would have liked a chance to spend more time understanding how the characters were reacting to the drama; Jillian, in particular, was a character I felt I knew little about. Because I knew so little, I wondered about the way that she talked to other characters and I didn't always understand why Alex would want to be friends with her (or, at times, why she would want to be friends with Alex). The book is told in two different parts, with a jump of about six months in between. I couldn't shake the feeling that there was some kind of character development or relationship information that I missed out on experiencing. Having said that, though, there is (spoiler alert) a part where a character is brutally attacked because of who he is. The description of this attack is just heartbreaking, beautifully written, and strong reminder that high school is not a safe place for all students.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Bold Strokes Books.

Check out David-Matthew Barnes' website for more information.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Next Competitor by K.P. Kincaid
The Screwed-Up Life of Charlie the Second by Drew Ferguson
Mesmerized by David-Matthew Barnes

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lily Renee: Escape Artist by Trina Robbins

When Lily Renée was a young girl, she had a wonderful life in Vienna. She went to the ballet and the opera and lived in comfort with her parents. Then, as the Nazi Party came to power, things started to change. Jewish people were separated from the rest of the population. People treated them differently...and then violently. Afraid for her life, Lily's family agreed to send her to live with her pen pal in England. Then, while there, England went to war with Germany, and Lily's life changed again. Fighting for her freedom at every turn, Lily struggled to be united with her family. Once in America, she did different jobs before gaining fame as a comic book artist - a job not usually held by women. This is the story of how Lily Renée faced all of the obstacles in her life and never gave up on believing in herself.

Books that deal with World War II and the Holocaust are not rare in children's library collections, but they should definitely clear some space for this book. The path that Lily's life takes is so clearly laid out, from the small details to the bigger historical events. The art is beautiful and fitting of its subject; it has an historical feel to it, but does not look old. The end of the book has pages to explain some of the historical details (everything from concentration camps to money to Automats). The book is a glimpse into Lily Renée's life and not an exhaustive biography, but it's enough to make me want to learn more about this woman, artist, and survivor.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Brinkley Girls: The Best of Nell Brinkley Cartoons from 1913-1940 edited by Trina Robbins
Bessie Coleman: Daring Stunt Pilot by Trina Robbins
Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Love Twelve Miles Long by Glenda Armand and illustrated by Colin Bootman

As a boy, young Frederick Douglass lived apart from his mother. She lived twelve miles away from him, and it was only on special nights that they were able to visit with each other. So happy to be in each others' company, she would tell him of the twelve mile journey she'd make to see him. Every mile had a meaning: forgetting, remembering, listening, looking, and more. Every mile was part of the journey to reach her son. And once they'd had some time together, she would make the twelve mile walk back. And in between visits, they would depend on the love that stretched twelve miles long.

This is a beautiful, inspiring, heartbreaking book. The text and the images work really well together to show the love and excitement when the mother and the son are together and the sadness and strength when they are apart. The tone for this is set fairly early on when Frederick asks "Mama, why can't I live with you?" and as the page turns it reveals the image of his mother working in a field. She is sad and tired but determined and strong. This picture sent a shock through me and was such a powerful start to the book. It's a biography, a history book, and a story of a parent and a child - and of love. Don't miss this book.

Don't miss Glenda Armand's website or Colin Bootman's website.

See more at Lee and Low Books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Steel Pan Man of Harlem by Colin Bootman
Young Frederick Douglass: The Man Who Loved to Read by Linda Walvoord Girard
Frederick Douglass: A Noble Life by David A. Adler