Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Shadows of Sherwood, by Kekla Magoon

Robyn is a tinkerer.  She loves building things with her dad, but since her dad's job has taken up most of his time lately, Robyn is on her own.  One night after Robyn sneaks out as usual to head to the junkyard to find a voltage adapter for a project, things seem a bit off.  Usually dodging the guards and scaling the fence are fun endeavors, but this night the guards are more soldier-esque than usual.  And this time when she made it over the fence, there was a dog.

Luckily Robyn is a prepared girl, and has a pocket full of bacon to keep the dog at bay. True, the bacon was orignally for Robyn's friend Barclay who calls the junkyard his home, but Robyn is thankful she packed it.

It turns out that changes are afoot in a much more far ranging way than just upped security in the junkyard.  This night comes to be called the Night of Shadows, and what it is is a coup.  The standing government and all of the members of parliament are rounded up and/or killed. Robyn's father works for the government.

When she races home, she finds a horrifying sight.  Her empty house is in shambles and her parents are gone.  All that is left is a puddle of blood in the kitchen. Robyn is a wanted girl.

Now Robyn is forced to try to remember all of the warnings her father gave her that she only half listened to.  The ones that started with "If anything ever happens to me and your mother...".  Upon hearing strangers back in her house she takes the few items from her safe and takes off into the forest.

What comes next is an adventure that will keep readers up well into the night.  Solitary Robyn must learn that sometimes it's okay (and necessary) to trust others. Her group of friends must learn to live by their wits and manage to help others who may not be so resourceful along the way.

Magoon has reimagined the world of Robin Hood in an alternate time period and has woven in technology and the idea of the big brother very well.  Readers do not need to be familiar with the original tale to have a rip roaring time, but the ones who are familiar will likely be pleased with the reimagining of many of the main characters.  Magoon has also woven in moon lore as an aspect of the world building that brings an air of fantasy to the whole story.

I cannot wait for the next installment of this exciting story!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Top 5

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Well it's that time of year.  Looking back and looking forward.  Combing through my goodreads to look at what I read but didn't have time to blog.  Looking at other people's blogs to see what they have been loving in 2015.

What follows are my top 5 titles.  These are not *the* top five, simply five favorites of mine.

I'd love to hear about your favorites of 2015 as well, so please feel free to use the comments to let folks know what your top 5 titles are!!




First off, we have The Water and The Wild, by K.E. Ormsbee.  This book showed up in the mail for me one day, and boy I sure am glad it did.  There hasn't been loads of buzz around it, but THERE SHOULD BE!  As I've said before this is a charming story filled with magic and friendship and it's right up my alley!  If you don't want to take my word for it, check out Nafiza's review over at The Book Wars!






Next up is A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano.  This book is a slow burn for me.  Of course, I was immediately drawn to the cover, but the story of Pram is a curious one, and she has taken up residence is a corner of my mind.  Perfectly creepy, this one dips its' toes into the truly frightening but has hope woven through all the text. This one gets some love over at Good Books & Good Wine as well!






On to Gone Crazy in Alabama, by Rita Williams-Garcia.  Here's where I kick myself for not blogging this one.  These are my favorite sisters in children's books.  They've even beaten out those Penderwick girls.  I am thinking this summer I may get my hands on the audio books for all 3 titles in the series and share them with my daughters. I feel like they beg to be enjoyed aloud.  Filled with humor, heart and family this was a super satisfying conclusion to the series.





Oh, The Truth About Twinkie Pie, I love you so.  Kat Yeh has written a story about family secrets, family history that is filled with charm and heart.  I love discovering stories that examine class differences, and Yeh does so with aplomb and manages to avoid falling into the didactic.  Every tween I've handed this to has come back raving about it.  Check out this review in the emissourian!






And rounding it out is My Diary from the Edge of the World, by Jodi Lynn Anderson.  This one is all about the world and the journey.  I just loved Gracie's family. The fact that they are slightly broken but hopeful in different ways created a kind of magic for me.  I loved imagining the USA as a place filled with dragons and overgrown cityscapes.  It really made me sit up and notice.






What are YOUR top 5 titles of 2015?

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Sunny Side Up, by Jenni and Matthew Holm

Every now and again you come across a perfect book. Of course there's no such thing as perfection for everyone, but for you as a reader, the right book lands into your hands at the right time.  This is how I feel about the Holm's Sunny Side Up.

It's 1976 and Sunny Lewin is being sent down to Florida to spend some time with her Grandpa. But where Gramps lives is no Disney World ... it's a retirement community where Sunny has to wear an ID at all times to prove that she belongs there.

Luckily, Sunny isn't the only kid in the community.  The groundskeeper's son Buzz lives there as well.  He is totally into comics and introduces Sunny to some of his favorites while she's in Florida.  The two of them manage to make some money finding lost cats for the old ladies, and golf balls for the pro shop to fund their comic habit.

These all seems rather bucolic and idyllic on the surface, but readers learn through Sunny's flashbacks that there is a reason that she is spending time with Gramps far from home.  It turns out her older brother is experiencing problems with addiction.  Sunny doesn't understand what's really happening -- she just knows her brother isn't who she remembers him to be and he's causing all kinds of trouble for their family.

Handled deftly, Sunny's confusion and concern are heartbreaking. Based on true events, the authenticity in this title stands out.  The push pull of Sunny's feelings for her brother are obvious and none of the characters are one note.  Little things like the toilet roll doll and lifting buns from the early bird special may go over younger readers' heads, but are perfect for the setting and the time period.

I borrowed our copy from the library, but will be purchasing this one to live on my shelves.  I can imagine future me pulling it from the shelf and shedding a tear or two each and every time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

One Book. Two Perspectives. My Diary from the Edge of the World, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

 Oh, twitter.  Sometimes you are a wonderful thing!  Last July I was at my daughters' swim lesson reading away, and I shared a shot of the book I was reading online.  Barbara, it turns out, was reading the same book and we began somewhat of a back and forth as you are want to do when you find out someone besides yourself is smitten.  We decided we would co-blog closer to the publishing date, and here are our thoughts!

Barbara:  Gracie Lockwood's voice immediately drew me into the story. She keeps a careful record of the family's journey in a diary, a gift from her mother. It is lovingly inscribed with these words, To Gracie, May this diary be big enough to contain your restless heart.  Gracie is a girl with strong opinions, stating from the outset that her purpose in keeping a written record is to "prove that I knew it first." Her friend Oliver's observation, "You're kind of fiery" is an understatement. In addition to Gracie's fire, readers witness her gradually evolving realization that the world is much more complex than she initially imagined it to be.  She begins to temper her original strong judgments. "I've realized I may have been completely wrong about my dad."  "I wondered about the word 'beast.' I wondered if sometimes, the way everything looks - who's the beast and who isn't - depends on where you're standing."  I love this statement of self-realization:  "Every year I realize how dumb I was the year before." 

One of this book’s striking aspects is the comparisons I made to Homer’s The Odyssey.  The book’s 416 pages is itself a reading odyssey.  It requires an investment of time, attention to storyline, and a commitment to the characters. Reading Gracie's diary becomes a personal journey for the reader.

The travelogue aspect is certainly an integral part of this family's epic saga. We follow Gracie and her family on an extended journey to known and unknown places, several described in vivid detail. The mode of travel is symbolic. The family first travels via Winnebago, a name reflecting a Native American Tribe who excel in oral storytelling. Later they board the Weeping Alexa.  Alexa is a reference to Alexander the Great, the “protector”. These modes of transportation give added meaning to the family’s quest. 

​The major characters read like the cast from a Greek drama.
We meet good guys, bad guys, both real and mythical. Sea monsters and mermaids inhabit the waters. Dragons and unicorns take flight through the skies. 
Homer’s motifs take the form of the individuals the family encounters on their journey:  an oracle (Grandma), sirens (Luck City), Penelope’s suitors (Captain Bill).
Not since the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? have I encountered such an imaginative homage to Homer’s epic classic.

Without question, the theme which resonated with me and continues to haunt my thinking is the concept of fate. This also reflects the Greek concept of The Fates: goddesses who controlled the life of every mortal from birth to death and watched that the fate assigned to every being proceeded without obstruction.

Stacy: I read quite a few books.  Especially during the summer when I am fortunate enough to be lakeside and poolside depending on the day. So it’s not everyday that a story really makes me sit up and notice it. In the first few pages of MDFTEOTW I found myself looking up from the pages and grinning.  Reading bits aloud.  And then tweeting this to my friend Barbara -

@moonb2 thanks for the spotlight on this book, Barbara. I'm only on page 7 and I'm already delighted!”

By page 7 we know this: Cliffden Maine isn’t the Maine that we know in 2015. It is a Maine where there are the expected things like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s, schools and houses. But people in town are scuttering around because the dragons are on their way to hibernate and they’ve been quite destructive this year. Protagonist Gracie is out at her favorite spot (where she’s not supposed to be) on top of the hill overlooking town and writing in the journal her mom gave her for her 12th birthday.  

Dragons aren’t the only odd things in the sky in Maine. There are also Dark Clouds. These are not the storm clouds we know that release the likes of lightning and rain. Rather they come to town and take away the people who are meant to die.  And now a Dark Cloud is settling right in Gracie’s yard.  Gracie is worried about her little brother Sam, who is often ill.  Complicating family matters is the fact that Gracie’s dad’s crackpot theories about the Extraordinary World have just ousted him from his job.  So when Gracie comes home one day to see a Winnebago in the front yard, she’s not too surprised that her dad means to pack up her mom, sister, brother and Gracie and head out of town.

Obviously this is a story about a journey, but it wasn’t until I had back channeled a bunch with Barbara that I could see the Odyssey’s tracks.  For me, the Lockwood family was running from crisis and desperately grasping at possibility.

Gracie truly makes this books shine. Whether it’s seeing her witchy grandmother’s house through her eyes, feeling her affections for Sam, seeing her longing to have a relationship with older sister Millie, or having those moments of embarrassment followed by yearning to believe in her father, if Gracie’s voice was less Gracie, the story wouldn’t work half as well.

The other high point for me was Anderson’s world building. The magical mixing with the mundane is presented so matter of fact, that readers simply have to buy it.  The journey has them landing in places like Luck City, Big Tex’s Circus, The Crow’s Nest, a broken down L.A. and even Cliffden itself and of the places contain different magic, but the magic follows the same rules. 

And then there’s the idea of hope. Inextricable hope tangled up with fate. Which one rules the day?

What a pleasure it was to virtually read My Diary from the Edge of the World with Barbara across geography and time.  Clearly, both Barbara and I love this book, and though we both approached it differently, it worked for us.  I can’t wait to share this with a big cross section of readers. It works on so many levels that I am sure it will be a crowd pleaser!

************************

A big note of thanks to Barbara Moon for co-blogging with me this time.  Barbara is a retired librarian who reads up a storm! Member of 2009-2011 Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee, 2012 Odyssey Award committee, 2014 Margaret A. Edwards Award committee. Currently servicing on the 2016 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award committee. You can find Barbara blogging at Reading Style

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Quick Bits

Hello?  Is anyone there?

It's been quiet over here with the start of school and getting back into the swing of living the commuting life again.  Every September, something has to give and it tends to be this blog.

But I'm back! And to make up for lost time, I am sharing short recommendations for three (yes 3!) books with you.

First up is the delightful and different Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones. Now if you know me, you know that the saddest part of my summer was finding out there would be no chickens at the county fair due to avian flu paranoia.  I do have a soft-spot for all things chicken.  And how can you deny that title?  Sophie Brown has just moved with her parents to her late great uncle Jim's farm from LA. It's quite the culture shock. Add on the fact that Sophie's dad has lost her job and money is tight, and there don't seem to be any other brown people in Gravenstein aside from Sophie, her mom and the mailman.  Readers learn about Sophie's circumstances through the letters she writes. Letters to her grandmother, and to great uncle Jim who have passed on.  Letters to the poultry company to help her figure out how to take care of the weird chickens she keeps finding. And letters to the mysterious Agnes. It soon becomes clear that Sophie's chickens are exceptional and that they are wanted by someone else in town.  Will Sophie be able to manage all the changes in her life and figure out how to keep chickens at the same time? Wonderfully illustrated by Katie Kath, this is a book like no other.


Next, the dreamy Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley.  My kid's librarian read it aloud to her class last year, but she liked it so much, she asked me to read it for our family read this summer.  After the first few pages I knew that this one is going to be a modern classic.  Beasley manages to get that dreamy feeling, respect the reader and get us to suspend disbelief.  Micah's grandpa Ephraim is very ill.  His sister, Micha's great aunt Gertrudis, has come to live with them and she couldn't be more different from grandpa.  She is pinched, closed off and truly hateful.  She won't even allow Ephraim to keep telling Micah his stories about the Circus Mirandus...a place she is sure is fictional.  But with childlike wonder, Micah vows to find his grandpa's circus and save him.  This is a dreamy adventure that will have readers young and old believing in magic.

Next, Rebecca Stead's Goodbye Stranger.  I'm not going to lie. When I heard there was a new Rebecca Stead coming out, I did a happy dance. Then I harangued my colleagues to hand over any arcs they had forthcoming!  Luckily I got my own eyes on an arc through netgalley.  Stead can capture that moment -- that breath of change that  happens when kids are on the cusp of that place moving from kid to teen.  As usual, I find it difficult to summarize Stead's book.  Suffice it to say there is a character for everyone in here...whether it's Bridge who is resisting the changes of growing up,  strong willed Tab who jumps into life with two feet, Em who is navigating the changes to her body and friendships with a little less grace than folks would assume or Sherm who is a bit like the Duckie of the modern day. There are moments of breathless beauty in the writing, and I found myself putting the book down and just considering the words.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste

Corrine La Mer is totally at home on her island. She’s not afraid of the woods like most of the kids she knows, so when two village boys tie her late mother’s pendant to the leg of an agouti she simply follows her instincts and dashes into the woods after it. It is all she has of her mother and she needs to get it back.

But once she retrieves the pendant and is not concentrating on the chase, Corrine does start to feel some unease. Her skin prickles as she thinks about the creatures the villagers talk about inhabiting these woods...the jumbies.  Corrine thinks she sees some eyes behind a bush and she hightails it out of the woods straight into the arms of her Papa as he and the rest of the village makes their annual trek to the graveyard to pay respects to those who have passed.
On their way home, a woman stands in the shadows. Corrine’s Papa asks if she needed any help but she refuses.

This is both the end and the beginning.

It is the end of the simple life with the people living on the outside and the jumbies living in the woods. It is the beginning of Corrine’s coming of age. Not only has a jumbie followed her out of the woods, but this particular jumbie has Corrine and her Papa in her sights.

So begins the adventure that will test Corrine’s will.  Even though she has always been strong willed and independent, she must bend a little and learn to ask for help and depend on her friends.  She learns that things aren’t always as they seem, and that adults are very adept at keeping secrets.

One of the most interesting parts of the story is in the way that Baptiste weaves in a narrative about colonialism, and as Betsy Bird put it “us” and “them”. There are some very poignant moments filled with these big ideas that are handled with aplomb and never seem forced.

This book fills several voids for the audience. First, most of the retellings of folklore in novel format that I have read are European in source. The Caribbean setting is a stand out.  Also, this title fits perfectly into the just creepy enough and just scary enough for the audience.  The island is lushly painted with its’ port and marketplace and dense woods.  Corrine and her friends are off on their own most of the time, but the adults in their lives clearly care for and love them deeply. This gives readers the reassurance that things will hopefully come out okay.

I will be booktalking this one as soon as we go back to school!

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano

Pram has never truly been told the tale of her beginnings.  A beginning that started with her still inside her mother, even as she hung from the branch of the tree. Pram was orphaned right from the start, but was taken in by her two no-nonsense aunts. Pram is even short for Pragmatic -- named such because it was deemed sensible for a young lady, and sensible is just what the aunts wanted for Pram.

But Pram has always been the opposite of sensible.  She’s dreamy, and her oldest and best friend is a ghost named Felix who appeared one day in the pond by the home for the aged where she lives with her aunts.

Pram is forced by the state to actually attend school at the age of eleven and this is where Pram meets her first real life friend. She gets into an argument with Clarence before school even starts when he informs her that she is sitting in his desk. By lunch time they have discovered that both of their mothers are dead and with this the seeds of their friendship are planted.

As time goes on, Pram doesn’t tell Clarence that she can speak with ghosts, but she does agree to accompany him to a spiritualist show where he hopes his mother’s spirit will reveal herself. Things don’t go as Clarence hoped and instead the spiritualist is very interested in Pram. What Pram and Clarence cannot know is that the spiritualist is anything but a charlatan, and a girl like Pram is very valuable to her.

What follows is a haunting and frightening ghost story that straddles the world of the living and the dead. Lyrical and tender, DeStefano’s story will scare readers without tipping into horror. This is an achingly beautiful story of love and loss, of friendship and family. A Curious Tale of the In-Between is for the deep reader, and I can see it becoming that touchstone title that ferries readers into more complex and intricate stories.

Gorgeous.