Monday, January 28, 2013

And the winner is...!

Caldecott winners

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds & illustrated by Peter Brown
Extra yarn by Mac Barnett & illustrated by Jon Klassen
Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
One cool friend by Toni Buzzeo & illustrated by David Small
Sleep like a tiger by Mary Logue & illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Winner: This is not my hat, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen

Newbery winners

Splendors and gloom by Laura Amy Schlitz
Bomb: the race to build and steal the world's most dangerous weapon by Steve Sheinkin
Three times lucky by Sheila Turnage

Winner: One and only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Printz winners

Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Code name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
White bicycle by Beverly Brenna

Winner: In darkness by Nick Lane

Some titles we guessed, while others we missed all together.  Check previous posts for reviews of Extra yarn, One cool friend, Slendors and glooms, Bomb, Three times lucky, One and only Ivan, and Code name Verity.  Keep an eye out for upcoming reviews of the books that we missed.   Click the following link to see all award winners announced by the ALA.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Week 4: Caldecott, Newbery, & Printz Reviews

Caldecott Reviews:

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett
A young girl named Annabelle discovers a magical box containing a never-ending supply of yarn.  Annabelle uses the yarn to knit a sweater for herself and her dog, then her friends, classmates, neighbors, animals, etc.  Eventually Annabelle’s whole village has benefited from her knitting.  Word spreads of her magical box until an archduke arrives demanding to buy her box but Annabelle refuses.  The archduke hires robbers to steal the box but when he receives the box, it has lost its magic and the archduke throws the box into the sea.  The box eventually returns to Annabelle and its magic is restored. 
The illustrations are ink, gouache, and digitally created.  Klassen has created a black and white world that is brightened with colorful geometric stiches.  Each stitch is bright and warm, giving feeling to Annabelle’s world.  Alone, Barnett’s text is void of emotion but with Klassen’s artwork the reader feels the power of the magical yarn box.  People, animals, cars, buildings, and trees become alive with Annabelle’s sweaters.  Ill-tempered characters’ facial expressions warm with Annabelle’s gift.  Barnett’s text paired with Klassen’s illustrations brings this story to life and show how simple acts are powerful.

Chloe and the lion by Mac Barnett
Chloe and the lion should be the story of a young girl who collects change all week to ride the merry-go-round on Saturdays.  After a fun afternoon of riding the merry-go-round, Chloe heads home through woods.  But this is where Chloe’s story ends because the Author and Illustrator disagree on what should leap out from behind an oak tree.  The author writes that a lion leaps out but the Illustrator draws a dragon, thus becoming a battle between the Author and Illustrator with the main character trapped in the middle.  The Author gets a new Illustrator to draw a lion and eat the Illustrator, but then he quits leaving the Author to draw the pictures.  It is only with the help of Chloe that the book can be finished.
While the story sounds confusing, Adam Rex’s illustrations help to distinguish between the story of Chloe and the lion and the story of Author & Illustrator.  Chloe and her story are line drawings, while Mac and Adam are Claymation.  Their story offers insight into the relationship between authors and Illustrators.  Often children do not consider the author and illustrator when reading a picture book but in this story you have no choice but to consider both.  Barnett’s book also shows how important a good illustrator is to a story.  As the illustrator changes in the book, so do the illustrations, quickly getting worse.
This book is a great example of the importance of illustrations, without them there is no story to tell.  This book is a great candidate for the Caldecott award.

Caldecott Reviews:
One and only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Ivan is a silverback gorilla that lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  Ivan has not always been a captive gorilla.  He was born in the wild but early in life was captured and raised by humans.  He has few memories of his life in the jungle and finds the easiest way to survive is to let go of the few memories he has.  Ivan is not alone.  In the cage next to him is Stella, an elderly elephant that grew up in a cirus before ending up in the Exit 8 Top Mall.  Ivan also has Bob, a stray dog that sleeps in Ivan's cage at night by squeezing through a crack in the glass.  Ivan's day to day life changes when a baby elephant, Ruby, is introduced to the Exit 8 Big Top.  Soon after Ruby's arrival Stella dies from an infection in her foot.  Before she dies Ivan makes the difficult promise to Stella to protect Ruby and keep her safe.  Ruby's presence opens up a wave of memories for Ivan of his mother, father, and sister. He begins inviting back the memories of his childhood in the jungle.  These memories and his promise force Ivan to look at the poor life they are all living.  Ivan knows that he and Ruby have to escape this place and Ivan begins to dream up a plan.

Applegate creates this story using first person narrative through Ivan's eyes.  His life and observations are showed through his concious thoughts.  Applegate does a beautiful job of showing readers how Ivan's mind works and how he views the world.  There is nothing fantastical about this story.  Applegate does not shy away from the truth about animal abuse. This is a beautiful written story, with a wonderful message about captive animals. 

Printz Reviews:

Code name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Code name Verity is a difficult book to review without giving away too many important plot details that will spoil the book.  This review will be brief. 

A British spy plane crashes in Nazi occupied France during World WarII.  There is a pilot and one female passenger on board.  As the plane crashes to the ground the passenger exits the plane and our two main characters are separated.  "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo before her mission even begins.  Nazi interrogators quickly break her spirit and give her two options: reveal British secrets or suffer further torture and a grisly death.  "Verity" is quick to tell readers that she is a coward and agrees to trade secrets to stop the torture, but will it be enough to save her life.  Verity reveals her secrets by writing a lengthy confession for the Nazi's in the form of a biography, making Maddie, her best friend, the main character in her story.  This may sound confusing but will be explained within her confession.

The book starts out with lengthy rambling by the main character that may turn off readers but keep going!  You will understand why the book needs to start this way.  "Verity" refers to herself in the second person but this is necessary for her to create a full picture of the war.  Half way through the book the narrator changes and all the loose ends are pulled together.  This is a beautiful story with well-developed characters that you want to love and hate.  Even the Nazi interrogators have dimension.  If this book appears too overwhelming or you are having trouble getting past the first fifty pages, check out the audiobook.  The narrators are brilliant.  Be warned that this book is not for the squeamish; torture is an underlying theme in this book that is necessary to the story.

Ask the passengers by A.S. King
Astrid Jones desperately needs someone she can trust to talk to.  She can’t talk to her parents, her sister, or even her best friend.  Instead Astrid lies on the picnic table in her backyard and watches the airplanes fly overhead.  She sends her love to the passengers on the airplanes and sends her own questions about love as well.  Astrid does not know the passengers of the flights she sees but believes they are the only people who will not judge her.
Astrid is questioning her sexuality.  She has previously had a boyfriend but now finds herself attracted to a girl named Dee.  As her relationship with Dee intensifies the people around her want answers; answers that Astrid is not prepared to share.  Growing up in a small town, Astrid faces many small prejudices.
Ask the passenger is not a groundbreaking book about struggling with sexuality but this story of belonging, self-discovery, and peer pressure is wonderfully written and allows readers to be who they are without labels.  This book is broken up with passengers from people aboard the flights Astrid sends her love to, offering insight into homosexual and heterosexual relationships; along with relationships just getting started and relationships that have come to an end.  This book is worth your time.

The Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz awards will be announced on Monday, January 28 at 11:00 a.m.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Week 3: Caldecott, Newbery, & Printz Reviews

Caldecott Reviews:

Oh, no! by Candace Fleming & Illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Oh, no! is the story of a frog that falls into a deep hole and needs help getting out.  One by one a mouse, a loris, a sun bear, and a monkey try to help but fall into the hole calling out “Oh, no!”  as they fall.  Once all five animals are trapped a hungry tiger appears offering to help; with a shout all five yell, “Oh, no!” and an elephant charges to the rescue pulling all five out as the tiger falls in.  The story is designed to be read aloud with a rhythmic beat and opportunities for the audience to shout out, “Oh, no!”.
The illustrations are created with an earth tone palette of browns, tans, and greens.  While the colors are dark, the characters appear to pop off the page.  Without the illustrations the text is weak.  While the text tells a straightforward and repetitive story, the illustrations tell a secondary story of a tiger stalking his prey.  Throughout the book you can catch glimpses of the tiger’s tail and paws until he appears fully on the page with his offer to help while licking his teeth.  The illustrations make this story.

And then it's spring by Julie Fogliano & Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

After a snowy winter, a young boy and his dog go outside and observe all the brown the surrounds them and decide to plant a garden.  The boy and his dog wait and worry until the brown becomes a hum of green and at last the brown is gone and green is all around.
Fogliano’s story is a simple poem about the brief weeks between the melting away of winter and the green of spring.  Her story shows what great satisfaction there can be in patience.  What takes Fogliano’s story from a simple, sweet poem to a great picture book are Stead’s illustrations.  Stead’s illustrations add depth and understanding to the story.  The boy’s impatience is reflected in the illustrations and readers can empathize with his desire to see signs of spring.  This is a great picture book for nonreaders.  The text is not necessary to enjoy the book and with the details Stead incorporates in her illustrations, children can make up their own stories. 

Newbery Reviews:
Kelper's dream by Juliet Bell
Eleven year old, Ella is forced to spend the summer with the grandmother she never met.  Her mother has been hospitalized to undergo a dangerous cancer treatment in hopes of curing her of leukemia.  Ella’s parents are divorced and her dad cannot be pulled away from his job running fishing expeditions to take care of her and suggests his mother look after her.  With no other option she is sent from California to Albuquerque, New Mexico.  When she arrives she is greeted by Miguel, the caretaker for her grandmother’s estate, who is a pleasant man with a daughter about Ella’s age.  This is the only ray of light in her dark summer ahead.  To Ella, it appears that the only things her grandmother, Violet, cares about are books, grammar, and etiquette.    Violet is a collector of rare books and her house it littered with them.  At the center of her house is a massive library packed with books.  There is one in particular that is the prize of her collection “Kepler’s dream of the moon.”  She purchased this book in honor of her deceased husband, a passionate astronomer.  When the book is stolen from the library Ella teams up with Miguel’s daughter, Rose, to find it.  Rose wants to find the book because she is worried her father will be blamed for its theft.  Ella wants to find the book in hopes of repairing her fractured family.  Ella discovers that this book is at the heart of the story that broke her family apart.
Kepler’s dream is a quiet novel with well-developed characters.  At first you believe it is a mystery but as you read the book, you discover that the story is really about family, both the loss and gain of family.  Ella’s father has been absent the majority of her life and with the possibility of her mother dying, her father’s behavior towards her does not change.  Her grandmother is cold towards Ella’s father and makes little reference to her mother.  If her mother dies, Ella believes she will be alone.  This story is slow-paced.  While adults will love what this book has to offer children, younger readers may have a difficult time moving through the book, which has an abundance of character introductions that are brief and sometimes confusing to keep track of.

Bomb: the race to build-and-steal the world's most dangerous weapon by Steve Sheinkin
Harry Gold has the F.B.I. banging on his front door.  In a panic he tries to destroy seventeen years of evidence, but as the F.B.I. enters his room they find everything they need to prove Harry Gold was a Soviet spy.  This is how Sheinkin begins his story of the atomic bomb.  From here we go back in time from 1950 to 1934, where it all started.  Bomb is the story of betrayal, espionage, war, and science; weaving together the history of the race to build the first atomic bomb, World War II, and the efforts of Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States to stop each other from being first.
This work of nonfiction reads like an Alex Rider novel; with vivid writing and first person quotes.  Sheinkin 's movement through time and place is fluid and engaging, encouraging readers young and old to keep reading and see who betrays who next.  The story does not fully examine the history of the time period but does appeal to young readers, opening the door for further exploration.  This is a great book for both lovers of fiction and nonfiction.

Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
Deza Malone is a strong twelve year old girl growing up in Gary, Indiana.  She takes great pride in her education and family.  Both Deza's parents and teacher have big ambitions for Deza's future but with the backdrop of the Great Depression, Deza has to hold tight to her dreams.  Deza's father has been out of work for a longtime, like most colored men in Gary.  Her father decides to move to Flint, Michigan to find work then send for his family.  After a month goes by with no word from her father, things get worse.  Deza's mother losses her job.  Deza, her older brother Jimmie, and her mother pack there things and head to Flint hoping to stay with Deza's grandmother, find her father, and find a job for her mother.  But things do not workout as planned and they end up in Hooverville, outside of Flint.  From there Jimmie decides to leave, hoping to use his beautiful singing voice to become a performer, leaving Deza and her mother behind to find her father.

Deza's story has many twists and turns.  As Deza's story moves forward readers are shown the devastation of the Great Depression.  While the story changes directions several times, Deza is a great storyteller with a likeable attitude towards her circumstances, giving readers hope.  For older readers, the ending may resolve to easily, but younger readers will enjoy Deza's happily ever after. 

Printz Reviews:

The list by Siobhan Vivian
Every year at Mount Washington High School a new list is posted naming the ugliest and prettiest girl in each grade.  This list is released one week before the Homecoming Dance.
The List is told through the eyes of eight different girls.  Freshman to senior, we follow the prettiest and ugliest girls in each grade, and we see how they are affected by the way others perceive them.  They each receive more attention, both good and bad, and we see the consequences of how these girls are treated by their classmates.  After this list is posted, several problems arise for each of the girls.  The creators of the list remain anonymous, but each year when it is posted, it gives the entire student body ammunition towards the eight girls selected.  The girls are now subject to bullying, jealousy, eating disorders, sibling rivalry, etc.; making their lives in high school even more stressful than normal.  It is not just the “ugly” girls who are having a hard time, but the “pretty” ones as well. 
This book takes us through the difficulties of figuring out who we are in high school, and how we can deal with other people’s opinions of us.  The creators of the list take it upon themselves to unapologetically judge the girls on their superficial features, making each girl feel a sense of defeat.  If this is how they are already perceived, then what is the point of trying?  See how each girl deals with her elected label and displays her true self.
Each chapter is told through a different character.  With eight characters to keep track of, the beginning chapters were a bit hard to follow.  However, as the story progressed and the characters developed, it became easier to follow the different story lines and draw connections between the characters.  Some of the characters were stronger than others, but with eight different girls to choose from, I found myself connecting with different girls at different points in the story.  A strong aspect of this book was how it showed the fine line there is between ugly and pretty, both on the inside and outside.   Although there have been many other books written about the pressures and the “mean girl” attitudes that come with surviving high school, the message of this book remains true and timeless.  This book allows readers to reflect upon their own actions towards other people.  I enjoyed getting to know these girls and seeing their growth through the story.

There is no dog by Meg Rosoff

What if God were a teenage boy? 
Mona, a goddess with a gambling problem wins earth in a poker game.  She hands the job of being God of earth to her spoiled, self-centered teenage son, Bob, in hopes of teaching him responsibility.  Mr. B is assigned to be Bob's assistant.  Bob is tired and lazy and leaves his assistant to clean up the mess that Bob has made of earth.  Because Bob created humans in his image, the planet is filled with selfish and greedy beings.  While Mr. B is trying to manage earth, God falls in love with a mortal, Lucy, an assistant zookeeper.  As Bob attempts to court Lucy, strange things begin to happen.  While Bob's lust for Lucy grows, the weather starts doing strange things.  Mr. B and Mona warn Bob, advising him to leave the girl alone and get back to fixing earth but Bob only cares for his own desires.  Through this Mr. B decides to resign and be assigned to a new planet but struggles with the guilt of leaving earth alone with Bob.

This story is told from multiple points of view.  Rosoff does an amazing job of creating a believable story of a disfunctional family watching over earth.  There is no dog has an ending with a twist that gives earth it's faith back.

Check back for the remaining Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz reviews.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Week 2: Caldecott, Newbery & Printz Reviews

Caldecott Reviews:

"Bear Has A Story To Tell" by Philip C. Stead. Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Bear has a story to tell is about getting ready for winter.  Bear is tired and ready to sleep but first he has a story he wants to share with his friends.  He starts with mouse, but mouse need to collect seeds, so bear stops to help.  Bear then offers to tell duck his story but duck is getting ready to fly south.  Bear helps duck get ready to leave.  This continues with frog and mole until the first snowflakes fall and bear decides it is time to go to sleep. In the spring bear wakes and all his friends return, ready to hear bear’s story.

This story is simple with a message of patience and friendship.  The illustrations perfectly match the feel of the book.  With soft, muted watercolors, Stead creates simple backdrops, leaving the details in the expressions of the animals.  This husband and wife team previously won the Caldecott medal for A sick day for Amos McGee and again they achieved the perfect pairing of text and art.

"A Home For Bird" by Philip C. Stead (author & illustrator)

While out foraging for interesting things Vernon the toad discovers an extremely quiet blue bird and they become fast friends.  Vernon introduces Bird to his friends and shows Bird all his favorite places but Bird says nothing and Vernon begins to worry that Bird is not happy.  With the help of his friend Porcupine and Skunk, they decide Bird is not happy because he misses his home.  Together Vernon and Bird set out on a journey to find Bird’s home.  Vernon shows Bird many new places but it is not until they discover a clock shaped like a bird house that Bird finally speaks.
Stead’s illustrations are created with a mix of pencils, watercolors, and pastels.  At first glance the illustrations appear sloppy but as you are reading the story, you start to notice the detail that Stead has added to his pictures. The pictures help to move the story along, adding the detail that the text does not offer.  On the first page before the text begins, readers see a cuckoo bird falling off a truck full of household items.  This one pictures sets the stage for the story.  Each time Vernon shows Bird a place to live, it is the illustrations that show the reader where they are.  A home for bird is a wonderful story of unconditional friendship told both through text and pictures. 
"Homer" by Elisha Cooper (Author & Illustrator)
Homer is the story of a sturdy old yellow labrador that spends his days lying on the front porch looking out over the ocean.  One by one members of his family leave that house inviting him to join them; to explore the fields, to walk the beach, to swim, or to run to the market.  And one by one Homer declines, content to observe the day from his spot on the porch.  As each member returns home they check in with Homer showing him what they discovered or telling him what they did.  As the sun sets, Homer leaves the porch, returning inside to eat his dinner and climb into a chair to sleep.  At the end of the day Homer is asked by his owner if he needs anything and he replies saying he has everything he wants, “I have you.” 
Elisha Cooper used pencil lined watercolors to illustrate her story.   The illustrations are simple, clean, and inviting.  Each layout show a page with someone inviting Homer and the second page showing Homer content with his decision to stay.  This format continues until everyone leaves the house.  Then you see a full spread illustration of everyone out exploring and Homer in the distance lying on the porch.  As everyone returns home, the illustrations go back to the earlier format.   While the text tells the story of Homer’s day, it is the illustrations that show the depth of this story.  It is difficult to look at this book without feeling relaxed and content.  Homer offers a wonderful sense of home and family, content and at ease with his family and surroundings.  This is a beautiful example of illustrations building a story.
Newbery Reviews:
"Lions Of Little Rock" by Kristin Levine
Lions of Little Rock is about a twelve-year-old girl starting middle school in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1958.  In school students learn about the “Little Rock Nine.”  Nine black high school students were integrated into an all-white high school in 1957.  This story takes place one year later after the integration.
Marlee is a twelve-year-old girl starting her first year of middle school.  She is an introvert who only speaks to her family.  At school she does not speak and she allows herself to be bossed around by her best friend Sally.  The only person who tries to understand Marlee is her older sister Judy.  On Marlee’s first day of school her sister challenges her to try and make a new friend and she does.  The new girl in Marlee’s class is everything that Marlee wishes she could be and she wants to be her friend.  Liz helps her to learn to speak up.  Marlee is making progress until one day when Liz stops going to school and leaves without saying goodbye.  Rumors quickly spreads through the school that Liz was caught passing as a white student.  
Despite the previous year’s government forced integration, schools in Little Rock are still segregated.  The school board has refused to even open the high school for fear of allowing  black students to attend.  The town is divided.  To make the situation worse for Marlee, her sister has been sent to live with a relative in order to attend high school.  With no one to turn to, Marlee decides that she wants her friend back; she does not want to go back to being the girl that does not speak.  In order to stay friends, they have to be willing to take on segregation at the risk of their own and their families’ safety. 
This piece of historical fiction sheds light on a year that is given little attention in classroom history books.  While students are taught about the integration of Little Rock in 1957, many people do not realize that 1957 was only the beginning of a lengthy battle for integration in schools.  Lions of Little Rock does an amazing job of showing readers what it was like to grow up in the midst of the Civil Rights movement providing points of view from different sides and age groups.  Levine’s characters are genuine, and even her secondary characters are well-developed and greatly influence that direction of the story.
"Splendors And Glooms" by Laura Amy Schlitz

Clara Wintermute, the only daughter of a wealthy doctor, is turning twelve years old and begs her parents to invite the master puppeteer Gaspare Grisini and his assistants Lizzie Rose and Parsefell to entertain the guests at her birthday party.  Clara is Clara wants a birthday party filled with laughter and excitement.  Clara was not always an only child.  She had a twin brother and sisters who all died from cholera.  Her home has become filled with grief, guilt, and secret in the past couple of years. 
Grisini is more than a master puppeteer.  He has a criminal past involving dark magic.  He sees Clara’s birthday party as an opportunity to make a fortune.  The evening after the puppet show Clara goes missing and Grisini and his assistants become the primary suspects.  Lizzie Rose and Parsefell search for clues as to what happened to Clara and believe that Grisini has done something awful, discovering his evil intentions.  Next Grisini disappears and Lizzie Rose and Parsefell find themselves in trouble with the law and have to flee London, falling into a trap set by Grisini’s old rival.
Schlitz introduces two storylines; one of Lizzie Rose and Parsefell and the other of a dying old lady trying to fight off death knocking at her door.  These storylines merge into one dangerous story with everyone fighting for their lives.  This Victorian gothic story offers dark comedy, deadly magic, and powerful friendships. 
Printz Reviews:
"Every Day" by David Levithan

Every day is the story of "A", a teen who wakes up every morning in a different body, living a different life.  The only thing A knows it that when he/she goes to sleep he/she will wake up in a different body but a body that is the same age as A and within a certain distance of the previous place.  A has no specific gender, race, or physical appearance.  A has made peace with this life and has established rules to live by: never get attached, avoid being noticed, and do not interfere with the life choices of that body.  There rules help A get through each day, until the day A wakes in the body of sixteen-year-old Justin.  As Justin, A meets Justin's girlfriend Rhiannon.  A can see how Justin continues to put Rhiannon down making her feel inadequate by accessing Justin's memories.  A knows that he/she cannot should not change that but decides to change the course of the day and takes Rhiannon to the beach, spending the day sharing stories and connecting on an extremely personal level. But this only gives Rhiannon hope that Justin is a good person and tomorrow when A wakes up she will not be with Rhiannon.  The next morning A wakes in a new body longing to see Rhiannon.  Going against the rules created, A has become attached and is willing to interfere in people's lives that he/she embodies to see Rhiannon again.  A has to decide how fat to go to be with Rhiannon and if she can be trusted with A's secrets.  Levithan offers up the possibility of unconditional love, loving someone purely for who they are inside.   

"The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green

Sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster is clinically depressed. Three years earlier she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. She is considered a survivor thank to a medical miracle that shrunk the tumors in her lungs. She is forced to drag around an oxygen tank in order to breath and has to live with the understanding that the cancer can always come back. Hazel's parents and doctors want her to attend a weekly support group for cancer survivors, which she does with resistance until she meets Augustus Waters. Augustus lost his leg to cancer but since then has been cancer free. Hazel and Augustus make an immediate connection and bond over Hazel's absolute favorite book Imperial Affliction, about a girl diagnosed with cancer. Hazel's dream is to meet the author who lives in Amsterdam. Hazel is given the opportunity to when she receives a letter from the author inviting her to meet him if she is ever in Amsterdamn. With Augustus's help Hazel has a change but what Hazel experiences is far from what she has hoped for.

There are a lot of books about teens with cancer, but this is one of the few that examines what it is like to live with cancer; not to die but nor to be cured either.  HAzel is expected to live her life as if she has a future where she can get married, graduate college, and have a job.  But the reality is she can just as easily dir from the disease.  This book examines all the different sides of the disease, from death to survival and everything in-between.

"Diviners" by Libba Bray
Evie O’Neil has been sent to New York City in the 1920s to temporally live with her bachelor uncle after creating a scandal in her hometown in Ohio.  Evie is thrilled with her punishment.  She plans to make the most of her banishment, touring speakeasies, movie halls, and department stores.  But her plans for a wild and exciting new life are dampened by a rash of cult-based murders.  Evie and her uncle Will become entwined in the investigation when the police consult Evie’s uncle Will, the curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult (known to the locals as the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies).   Evie cannot resist being part of the investigation believing that her own personal secret can assist in finding the serial killer.  While Libba Bray focuses on Evie, she also offers points of view from a long list of other characters:  Sam, Jerico, Theta, Henry, Memphis, Mabel, Gabe, etc.  While the story of the occult serial killer is solved, numerous subplots are left unfinished, which may frustrate many readers.  This book is the first in Bray’s new series. If you do not like books that leave you with unanswered questions, this is not the book for you. Diviners is over 400 pages.  If you find this overwhelming, check out the audiobook.  Well worth the listen with a wonderful narrator that makes it easier to keep the numerous characters straight in your head.  

Check back next Friday for the next set of reviews for the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz award.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Week 1: Caldecott, Newbery, & Printz Reviews

Caldecott Reviews:

"Baby Bear Sees Blue" by Ashley Wolff.  Baby Bear Sees Blue is the story of a baby cub and his mother, starting when he wakes up in the morning and ending at bedtime. Baby bear spends his day exploring the world around him with his mother always in the background keeping watch. As the day warms, baby bear leaves his den and discovers blue birds, red strawberries, orange butterflies, and other colorful things in nature. This is a concept book teaching toddlers about colors, asking questions, and learning to see the world around them.

The background illustrations are created with watercolors and baby bear is inked linoleum print; popping off the page in a deep black. Each page features one color prominently but still offers a well laid background.

The illustrations in this book help to enhance the themes of the book. Each color introduced stands out clearly on the page making it easy for toddlers to identify and learn the color. The illustrations also create secondary themes that are not always apparent by the text alone, showing the relationship between the mother bear and baby and the importance of seeing the world around you.

"One Cool Friend" by Tony Buzzeo & Illustrated by David Small.  One Cool Friend is about a very proper young boy, Elliott, who dresses in a tuxedo every day and appears to have a formal relationship with the world around him. Elliott’s father takes him to the aquarium for the day, leaving him to explore while he reads the paper. Elliott feels a connection to the Magellanic penguins and decides to take one home with him in his backpack. Readers follow Elliott as he spends the day and night with his new penguin; feeding him, ice skating, visiting the library, and falling asleep in the freezer. Elliott’s dad appears oblivious to his son’s behavior, instead, lost in atlases, maps, and charts.The illustrations are black and white line drawings, with small touches of soft color. The sparse illustrations match the sparse text but enhance the depth of the story creating a humorous story that can be enjoyed multiple times. The artwork also helps to tell the father’s part of the story. From the text Elliott’s father appears disconnected from his son but the illustrations show how the two are similar in behavior, both adventurous and mischievous.

"Because Amelia Smiled" by David Ezra Stein. This story starts with a young girl running down the sidewalk in the rain, smiling with two other children. A grandmother sees the young girl smiling, reminding her of her grandson. Thinking about him, she bakes cookies to send to him in Mexico. In Mexico, Lionel receives the cookies and shares them with his class. These small moments of happiness continue to travel around the world and back to Amelia.

Stein creates vibrant illustrations using pencils, water soluble crayons, and watercolors. While Stein's illustration do not have a focal point on each page, there is a lot to absorb with many details to focus on. While the text conveys the theme of "what goes around comes around" and the signifigance of small acts of kindness; the illustrations show how these moments of happiness effect both other people in the moment and move across time and space.

Newbery Reviews:

"Breathing Room" by Marsha Hayles. Breathing room is a work of historical fiction set in Minnesota, in 1940. Thirteen year old, Evvy Hoffmeister has to leave her parents and twin brother to stay at Loon Lake Sanatorium, where she is treated for tuberculosis (TB). There she meets other girls her age suffering from the same illness. Rules are harsh and the nurses are strict, often cold in demeanor. There she shares a room with Beverly, Pearl, and Dena. Evvy’s new life is filled with restrictions: no talking, no walking, or going to the bathroom without permission. These are all considered privileges that have to be earned.

While the book tells the story of bed-ridden children, it tells a fascinating story of a time in history that was overshadowed by World War II. Hundreds of thousands of people died each year of TB and many ill children were sent away to hopefully recover. Evvy’s story does not shy away from the ever present truth that people died from TB frequently in the 1940s, and Evvy and her friends showed strength and grace in the face of death.

"Liar and Spy" by Rebecca Stead. Rebecca Stead, a previous winner of the Newbery award for When you reach me, has written another book worthy of the Newbery award. Liar and Spy is the story of a seventh grade boy, Georges (the S is silent). Georges’ story begins in the middle of several big changes for him and his family. He is moving from a house into a small apartment in Brooklyn, his father has lost his job and is starting up a new business, his mother has picked up extra shifts as a nurse at the hospital. Georges is now spending a lot of time on his own and meets a neighbor in his building, named Safer. Safer is a twelve year old, coffee drinking, self-appointed spy. Georges accidentally becomes Safer’s first spy recruit, spying on the mysterious Mr. X who lives upstairs. At first is seems like a game but Safer becomes more and more demanding. What started as a game begins to feel dangerous. At first this seems like a story of a lonely boy making friends with a neighbor; however, Georges' story is more complicated than making friends. Georges has his own mystery to be solved, along with his own struggles both in school and at home. This a quick, satisfying read with an unexpected ending that will surprise readers. 

"Three Times Lucky" by Sheila Turnage. Three Times Lucky takes place in a small southern town, where everyone knows everyone elses business and no secret is too sacred. Turnage tells the story of Moses LoBeau’s eleventh summer growing up in Tupelo Landing, NC. Moses, referred to as Mo, was discovered as an infant washed ashore in a hurricane by the Colonel, who had been in a car crash by the river and developed amnesia from the accident. In that moment the Colonel became Mo’s guardian and they start their new lives together, along with Miss Lana, who discovered the Colonel and Mo on the side of the road. Together the Colonel and Miss Lana raise Mo as their own child and open a cafĂ© together in the heart of Tupelo Landing.

What starts out as a quant story of a young girl struggling with being orphaned and searching for her “upstream” mother quickly twists into a murder mystery. Mo and her best friend Dale start their own detective agency together after a lawman, Joe Star shows up in town asking questions about a murder in the city and then a member of the community turns up murdered. To make matters worse Dale appears to be the primary suspect in the murder.

With the support of Mo’s community, she is able to piece together the mystery but even she is not prepared when all the pieces come together. At first glance this appears to be another girl story about struggling with identity, but this is really a story about a community that loves and supports each other, with a mystery that takes a group of clever children to uncover.

Printz Reviews:

"Last Dragonslayer" by Jasper Fforde. Jennifer Strange is a fifteen year old foundling, indentured to the Mighty Shandar, owner of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians. However the Mighty Shandar has disappeared and Jennifer is trying to keep the business afloat until he reappears. Jennifer lives in a kingdom where magic was a part of everyday life; it could save a kingdom and unclog a drain. Now magic has faded, it is hard to stay in business when magic is drying up and the bureaucracy of using magic has restricted everyone. Magic carpets have been limited to mere pizza deliveries. But then magicians start having premonitions about the death of the last dragon, Maltcassion, and Jennifer is part of this vision. Now everyone is talking about the death of the last dragon, and it is Jennifer’s destiny to slay the dragon. But Jennifer believes that the magic is directly connected to the dragon. As dragons have died, so has the magic. If she slays the last dragon will all the magic disappear? No matter how hard she fights her destiny she cannot escape it.

This is the first book the Chronicles of Kazam series. This is a quick and entertaining read. While the world Jennifer lives in appears to be mundane and tiresome, the people and creatures surrounding her bring life to her story.

"Survive" by Alex Morel. Jane Solis is flying home for Christmas break. She has spent the last year at Life House, a mental hospital for teens. Jane has previously made two attempts at suicide, thus landing at Life House. Jane wants to leave this place but cannot unless she earns enough points to receive a travel pass. For the last six months she has been participating in group and telling her doctors what she thinks they want to hear. Now she is heading home for a week with a plan to guarantee she will never have to come back. Jane has been spending years dealing with the loss of her father, who committed suicide on Christmas eve when she was young, Jane believes that she is destined to take her own life as her father did, and his mother did before him. Once Jane has boarded the plane, she gets ready to activate her plan. Once the plane is in the air and the turbulence has subsided enough for her to go to the bathroom, Jane removes the pain killer and sleeping pills from her bag.

She has figured out exactly how many of each she needs to take in order to ensure a successful suicide. In the bathroom she has difficulty taking the pills; not because of hesitation but because the turbulence is so bad that she cannot keep the pills from jumping out of her hand. At one point she is lifted off the ground and hits her head on the ceiling and blacks out. When Jane wakes up she feels sick and throws up. When Jane leaves the plane bathroom, she is standing on a mountain covered in snow. The plane has crashed and broken into three pieces. Everyone around her is burned and dead. She thinks she is alone until she hears someone calling for help and discovers her seatmate, Paul Hart trapped in his seat tangled in the branches of a tree growing out of a crevice in the side of the mountain.

Jane has to decide whether to give up or fight to survive. This has become a difficult decision, even for someone not on the verge of committing suicide. She believes it is unfair that she is alive when she wanted to die, and everyone else is dead. Why was she the one to survive? This book is a quick read. While there are moments of romance in the book they do not overshadow the story and it develops from their shared experiences and stories.

Check back next Friday for the next set of reviews for the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz award.