Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai

Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Pie in the Sky

by Remy Lai

Henry Holt, 2019. 380 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 5, 2019, from a library book

I only read this book because someone nominated it to Capitol Choices (a group of DC-area librarians who select what we think are the 100 best children’s book of the year), but I thought the cartoony cover and comic panels woven through the text meant it would be too much like the Wimpy Kid books for me. I ended up wholeheartedly loving it.

Now, there are lots of comic panels included, which I think makes the book all the more accessible. But the story goes a lot deeper than you might think.

Jingwen and his annoying younger brother Yanghao are moving with their mother to Australia. The book never tells which country they’re moving from, though the author was born in Indonesia, grew up in Singapore, and now lives in Australia. (So alas! It’s not eligible to win the Newbery.)

I like the way the comic panels show people talking with words Jingwen doesn’t understand as speech bubbles with strange squiggles. At first, he feels like he’s on an alien planet, and draws them as space aliens. But after awhile, he feels like he is the alien, and draws himself with six eyes and tentacles.

But this isn’t only about Jingwen and Yanghao adjusting to a new country with a new language while their mother works hard and leaves Jingwen to tend Yanghao much of the time. The book is also about Jingwen working through how much he misses his Papa, who died two years earlier.

Papa had talked about moving to Australia. He was going to open a fancy cake shop there and call it Pie in the Sky.

Papa’s English was only slightly less terrible than mine, but he knew a pie is not a cake. It’s just that he had a friend who spoke fluent English who told him the meaning of the idiom pie in the sky — an impossible dream.

Back home, Jingwen’s parents worked in his grandparents’ bake shop. But on Sundays, Jingwen’s Papa used to bake fancy cakes with Jingwen, cakes they planned to sell in their future Pie in the Sky cake shop.

Jingwen decides that what he needs to do to make life go better in Australia and to properly honor his Papa is bake all twelve of the Pie in the Sky cakes. Never mind that their mother doesn’t want them to touch the oven while she is not home.

They buy ingredients and he makes a list of rules for Yanghao to follow so he doesn’t cause trouble and give everything away.

But the plan isn’t simple to carry out. And meantime, he’s trying to adjust to a new country and a new language, which his annoying little brother picks up much more quickly.

This book with comic panel illustrations has an amazing amount of depth and poignancy.

“When someone is feeling sad, they can’t help but smile at the sight of a cake.”

remylai.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Golden Road, by L. M. Montgomery

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

The Golden Road

by L. M. Montgomery

Bantam Books, 1989. First published in 1913. 213 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 17, 2019, from my own copy

The Golden Road is a continuation of The Story Girl, so they should be read in order. It’s more antics and adventures of several children living in a village on Prince Edward Island more than one hundred years ago. Put that way, it’s maybe surprising how enjoyable the stories still are today.

The tone is nostalgic. Beverley King is an old man telling about a beautiful season of his childhood, when they were on “the Golden Road.” Like the first book, it’s an episodic tale, though this one doesn’t have quite as many stories told by the Story Girl. But we get more encounters with the local “witch,” Peg Bowen, and Felicity finally makes a mistake in cooking, and we find out about the mystery of the Awkward Man.

Summarized, there’s not a lot that stands out, but this is one of those books with characters who are delightful to spend time with. And the setting of Prince Edward Island pervades the book, making me all the more eager to see it for myself later this year.

This is a book that had me reading with a smile on my face.

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Review of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, read by Gemma Whelan

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Nevermoor

The Trials of Morrigan Crow

by Jessica Townsend
read by Gemma Whelan

Hachette Audio, 2017. 11 hours on 9 discs.
Starred Review
Review written July 1, 2019, from a library audiobook

Big thanks to my co-worker, Amanda Snow, for recommending this audiobook! I didn’t have time to read it while I was on the Newbery committee because the author is Australian (and therefore not eligible), but I’m so happy to make up for lost time.

Morrigan Crow was born on Eventide, which means she’s under a curse and bad luck for everyone she encounters. Her father has to pay constant claims for damages because Morrigan was around when something bad happened, so clearly it was her fault.

It also means that she will die the next time Eventide happens. So when it happens on her eleventh birthday, her family spends the day preparing for her death. Then a surprising stranger with a contract appears. His name is Jupiter North and he takes her into the “free state” of Nevermoor, outrunning the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow who want to track her down and kill her.

The trouble is, Morrigan’s presence in Nevermoor is illegal, and those in charge of border security plan to deport her. However, Jupiter has entered her into the trials to become a member of the Wundrous Society, along with hundreds of other children from whom only nine will be chosen. As long as Morrigan is in the trials, she’s under the protection of the Wundrous Society and can’t be deported.

And Nevermoor is full of wonders. There’s a Magnificat (a giant talking cat) who helps run the Hotel Deucalion where Morrigan now lives. Strange and magical things happen all the time.

But Morrigan must undergo four trials to get into the Wundrous Society, the fourth one being to display her talent. Jupiter refuses to tell her what her talent is. If she is not selected for the society, she will have to leave Nevermoor, and she’ll be killed by the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow, so the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The comparisons to the Harry Potter books are obvious, and normally I roll my eyes when people make that claim. But in this case, the comparison is actually not bad! Morrigan has discovered a magical world; she gains friends and companions as she explores the new world; and she must learn how it all works. There’s a sinister shadowy figure in the background and Morrigan has some sort of special calling, despite a wretched home life where she was not appreciated. Author Jessica Townsend even has an amazing imagination like J. K. Rowling and comes up with delightful magical details.

This book would make wonderful family listening. Great accents, lots of humor, and magical adventures! How could you go wrong?

lbyr.com
HachetteAudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Story Girl, by L. M. Montgomery

Friday, July 12th, 2019

The Story Girl

by L. M. Montgomery

Bantam Books, 1987. First published in 1910. 258 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 5, 2019, from my own copy

It’s really happening! My two childhood friends and I are going to Prince Edward Island this coming September, during the week when all three of us are 55 years old. We first conceived this trip when we were 50, but decided to put it off – and now our rooms are booked!

And this time I’m getting serious about rereading my L. M. Montgomery books. This time, I decided to reread them in the order they were published. I have already reread Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Kilmeny of the Orchard. Now it was time for The Story Girl.

The Story Girl is about the children of the village of Carlisle on Prince Edward Island. It’s told from the perspective of Beverley King, looking back as an old man on the joys they had as children.

[Incidentally, I have learned from L. M. Montgomery’s books that if a man’s name ends in Y, women will eventually steal it. All of these names appear in her books as names for boys: Beverley, Shirley, Lindsay, and Hillary.]

When I was a young adult reading L. M. Montgomery’s books, I preferred the ones that had romance. But now as I myself am “old” (by her standards – I’ve been shocked that “old” characters in her books are only in their forties!) – I’m reading these books with my own nostalgia.

The Story Girl was one of L. M. Montgomery’s own favorites. I think she liked to think of herself as a sort of Sara Stanley, who was called by everyone “the Story Girl.”

Maud Montgomery did her apprenticeship writing short stories and selling them to magazines. I think as a consequence, short stories are her natural form. And she does a nice job of weaving them through this book, with the Story Girl telling them family stories about objects in their home or stories about people from their village or fairy tales about something that happened.

There’s a lot that’s old-fashioned in this book. Sara and her cousin Felicity are fourteen and twelve years old, but they seem younger by today’s standards. And they have different abilities from children today, with Felicity completely able to run the house while the grown-ups are away for a week, including having baked all afternoon so their pantry is “well stocked with biscuits, cookies, cakes, and pies,” so that she is able to entertain an influx of visitors, as is proper.

Cecily set the table, and the Story Girl waited on it and washed all the dishes afterwards. But all the blushing honours fell to Felicity, who received so many compliments that her airs were quite unbearable for the rest of the week. She presided at the head of the table with as much grace and dignity as if she had been five times twelve years old and seemed to know by instinct just who took sugar and who did not. She was flushed with excitement and pleasure, and was so pretty that I could hardly eat for looking at her – which is the highest compliment in a boy’s power to pay.

I was amused how often the episodes between the children had to do with church and the Bible. When the paper reports that someone in the States has said the day and time for Judgment Day, they all get into a tizzy. Another time, they have a preaching contest (boys only, of course) with very amusing results. And there’s an incident with a picture of God and the question of praying for their cat to get well. Did prayer end up healing him – or was it their request to the local woman they all think is a witch?

All in all, it was delightful to be transported back into L. M. Montgomery’s world. This one doesn’t have romance, but it does have two other things L. M. Montgomery did exceptionally well: short stories plus the escapades of children.

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Review of We’re Not From Here, by Geoff Rodkey

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

We’re Not From Here

by Geoff Rodkey

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 250 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 19, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a tremendously fun and creative science fiction book for kids, with plenty to seriously think about as well.

Set in the future, the book begins with Lan and his friends on Mars, talking about rumors that the colony has found a new planet where humans can live.

Humans made earth uninhabitable a year before, but many escaped to a colony on Mars. However, the air processors were wearing down, people’s clothing was ragged and stinky, and the only food they had to eat was something called Chow manufactured by the Nutrition department. So humans needed a new place to live.

They found a planet called Choom with an atmosphere that will support human life. What’s more, Choom had taken in alien refugees before. There were already four species of aliens on Choom, three of which originally came from different planets. The main species, the Zhuri, look like giant mosquitoes. After some negotiating, they get an invitation to come to Choom as refugees. They go into bio-suspension for twenty years to make the trip. But when they wake up, the government of Choom has changed, and humans are no longer welcome.

In orbit around Choom, the humans who are left do not have enough fuel to go anywhere else. If Choom doesn’t take them, they’ll die. But the Zhuri now believe that humans are too warlike. After much negotiating, since they did invite the humans to Choom, the Zhuri agree to take one human family. If they can live in peace, all the humans can come, but if there are any incidents, the whole human race will have nowhere to go.

Lan, his sister, and their parents are the family chosen to represent humans. Lan and his sister must navigate going to school on an alien planet and trying not to cause any trouble – without knowing how anything works.

And they soon realize they have been set up to fail. Movies about World War II (from earth transmissions) have been playing on Choom television, showing how violent humans are. The Zhuri swarm in protest. Do Lan and his family even have a chance of saving the human race?

That makes the story sound grim, but it’s full of humor – because natural misunderstandings have plenty of food for humor. In fact, humor may be the key to saving the day.

This one takes the new-kid-at-school story and makes it intergalactic.

geoffrodkey.com
rhcbooks.com

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Review of New Kid, by Jerry Craft

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

New Kid

by Jerry Craft
with color by Jim Callahan

Harper, 2019. 250 pages.
Review written March 12, 2019, from a library book

Navigating middle school is the perfect subject for graphic novels and fictionalized memoirs. I’m thinking of Smile, Roller Girl, Real Friends, All’s Faire in Middle School, and Be Prepared — and then realize that none of those I mentioned have a boy protagonist. So, okay, it’s time.

New Kid is about Jordan Banks, an African American boy who’s being sent by his parents to start seventh grade at a fancy private school. Jordan wants to go to art school, but his mother thinks this is such a wonderful opportunity, he needs to go Riverdale Academy Day School.

This graphic novel is about navigating middle school as the new kid – and a new kid who’s one of the few African American students. We notice things like teachers consistently calling him by the wrong name, and other students looking at him when financial aid is mentioned, and assuming he’ll especially like the one teacher who’s African American.

And there are other quirks of middle school. Making friends. A girl who carries a puppet on her hand and talks in a puppet voice. A mean kid and his friends. A nice kid who’s really rich. What your parents want for you versus what you want (art school). Keeping up with friends who don’t attend the private school.

I hope this book is as popular as the ones I named above. It’s a lot of fun, and it throws in some insights along the way.

jerrycraft.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits, by Julian Gough & Jim Field

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Rabbit & Bear

Rabbit’s Bad Habits

story by Julian Gough
illustrations by Jim Field

SilverDolphin, San Diego, 2018. First published in Great Britain in 2016. 101 pages.
Starred Review

I want to call this a charming beginning chapter book, but it doesn’t actually have chapters. It’s got the format and length and skill level of a beginning chapter book, though, and is perfect for those readers. (I find myself wishing they’d stuck chapter breaks in just so the kids could say they’d read a chapter book.)

The story is about Bear waking up early in the middle of winter and deciding she’s going to build a snowman. She meets Rabbit, who knows much more about making a snowman than Bear does, and has plenty of advice.

Along the way, they make friends, even though Rabbit has done some not-very-nice things. But he has given Bear a carrot for her snowman, so when a Wolf is after Rabbit, Bear uses what she’s learned to save the day.

And we learn that you can be friends with someone who may have some quirks and may not be nice every moment. Not that you should be friends with someone who’s mean, but read the book! It manages just the right balance.

What’s more, we learn why rabbits eat their own poo! (Their food is only half-digested. But it’s all explained clearly.)

The overall product is a making-friends story with charmingly flawed and friendly characters.

And it’s the start of a series! I can’t wait for more.

silverdolphinbooks.com

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Review of The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter, by Diane Magras

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter

by Diane Magras

Kathy Dawson Books (Penguin Young Readers Group), March 2019. 271 pages.
Review written February 25, 2019, from an Advance Reader Copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting.
Starred Review

This book bills itself as a “Companion” to The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, suggesting you can read them in any order, but I think you’ll be better off reading the first book first – to find out how the young daughter of the war lord known as the Mad Wolf became the best friend of the lord of a castle who’s on the run and wounded.

The book is set in medieval Scotland. Drest rescued her father and brothers from the castle dungeon in the last book, but it turned out that Emerick’s uncle wants him dead, so he escaped the castle with them, still without having his wounds tended.

Drest’s father thinks it’s time for them to take care of Drest, but she learned in the last book that she can take care of herself. And Emerick doesn’t trust anyone to guard him as he trusts Drest.

But Emerick’s uncle has put a price on Drest’s head, so anyone who finds her will kill her. On top of that, he’s coming to look for her, as well as Emerick. If Emerick dies, he will be lord of the castle. Can Drest protect Emerick and help him find healing while staying alive herself?

This is another rollicking adventure with a girl who is deservedly a legend.

dianemagras.com

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Review of Pay Attention, Carter Jones, by Gary D. Schmidt

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

Pay Attention, Carter Jones

by Gary D. Schmidt

Review written March 25, 2019, from a library book
Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2019. 217 pages.
Starred Review

This book was delightful. I shouldn’t have chosen it to read during Silent Book Club, because I kept coming to spots that made me chuckle. My friend was reading Game of Thrones, and she said it was a little incongruous. Oops!

And yet some serious topics are covered in this book. There’s a little brother who died and an absent father. So that my primary response was chuckling shows that the serious topics were handled with a light touch and my overall response is delight.

Here’s how the book begins:

If it hadn’t been the first day of school, and if my mother hadn’t been crying her eyes out the night before, and if the fuel pump on the Jeep had been doing what a fuel pump on a Jeep is supposed to be doing, and if it hadn’t been raining like an Australian tropical thunderstorm – and I’ve been in one, so I know what it’s like – and if the very last quart of one percent milk hadn’t gone sour and clumped up, then probably my mother would never have let the Butler into our house.

As it was, it was a crazy morning, and Carter Jones was the one who answered the door when the Butler rang their bell.

There’s some confusion, but the Butler, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick, takes things in hand. It turns out that Carter’s grandfather has died, and in his will, he provided a generous endowment for Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick to now serve his son’s family.

That son is Carter’s father, who is now serving with the military in Germany. But the family can definitely use his services, though Carter’s not so sure he wants someone calling him “Young Master Jones” and requiring him to behave with good manners.

And then the Butler dresses Carter up in white, along with his friend Billy, and takes him to the school football field to learn to play cricket.

It seems like disaster when the eighth grade cross country team sees them – two sixth graders dressed strangely being taught to play cricket by an Englishman. But one thing leads to another, and soon the entire eighth grade cross country team is learning the fine points of playing cricket.

There are tidbits about the game of cricket at the start of each chapter – and I’m still completely confused by the rules. Though I do have a much better idea of how it works than before I picked up this book.

The whole idea of a proper English gentleman’s gentleman dealing with an American sixth-grade boy is what gives this book layers upon layers of humor. Carter Jones, though, is dealing with some big issues – and Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick also has compassion, in his proper English way.

I finished this book with a smile on my face. Completely delightful!

PS: Something else I loved about the book was that the principal was Principal Swietek! And the town is Marysville! Why is that so exciting? We find out who Doug Swietek married from Okay for Now, which was set in Marysville in the sixties. (The principal is female and her first name is given at one point.) Very fun for Gary Schmidt fans. In fact, I reread my review of Okay for Now, and yes I was right that it was the same town. Now I want to reread the book.

hmhco.com

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Review of Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

Sweep

The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

by Jonathan Auxier

Amulet Books, 2018. 358 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 23, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy
2019 Sydney Taylor Gold Medal

The way this book begins gives you a feeling of the magic to come:

There are all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning. You might see your parents sleeping. You might see an unclaimed penny on the sidewalk or the first rays of dawn. And if you are very, very lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the girl and her Sweep.

Look! Here they are now, approaching through the early fog: a thin man with a long broom over one shoulder, the end bobbing up and down with every step. And trailing behind him, pail in hand, a little girl, who loves that man more than anything in the world.

The girl, Nan, is the assistant to the Sweep and life is beautiful by his side.

But one night, the Sweep doesn’t come back. He leaves her his hat and coat, with a charred clump of soot in its pocket. She calls it her “char,” and it’s oddly comforting and unnaturally warm, as she lives the difficult and dangerous life of a “climber” – working for a sweep who is not kind or loving with a bunch of other stray kids who have no other home.

But one day, when Nan’s life is in danger in a tight chimney, she calls out for help – and the char in her pocket comes to life and breaks through the chimney. She ends up escaping from the cruel master and hiding out with her char, who quickly grows into a creature bigger than she is herself. He’s oddly innocent and very protective of her – and eventually Nan figures out that the Sweep made her a golem to protect her. She names him Charlie

This lovely book tells about Nan and Charlie’s adventures in the city, trying to make a home for themselves and escape her cruel master, who is looking for her since she escaped the chimney and was thought to be dead. Meanwhile, we learn about the horrible plight of all the climber children in Victorian London. Can Nan and Charlie make things better for them as well?

But the main trouble with loving a golem? He only lasts until his job is done.

TheScop.com
amuletbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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