Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Superman Smashes the Klan, by Gene Luen Yang, art by Gurihiru

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

Superman Smashes the Klan

by Gene Luen Yang
art by Gurihiru
lettering by Janice Chiang

DC Comics, 2020, 240 pages.
Review written September 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This fabulous graphic novel is based on a story told on the radio in the 1940s, and it’s wonderfully timely today. A Chinese family has moved to Metropolis. The older brother plays baseball and is welcomed on the neighborhood team at the “Unity Center,” sponsored by a priest, a pastor, and a rabbi. The younger sister, Roberta, misses their home in Chinatown.

But there’s a group that doesn’t want a Chinese family to move into their neighborhood – the Klan of the Fiery Kross – and they burn on cross on the Lees front lawn that night.

And you know what happens, because it’s in the title – Superman smashes the Klan! But along the way there’s plenty of danger and mixed loyalties and evil plots, and the kids get to ride with Superman as he – leaps. That’s right – Superman didn’t yet realize he could fly. In this book, Superman comes to terms with who he is, and that he, too, is an alien, even though his skin is white. And he learns to use more of his powers.

One of my favorite parts was a flashback to a time when teenager Clark Kent went to the circus with Lana Lang. Clark notices that the Strongman is the same guy who took their tickets. Their conversation goes like this:

What? No! That guy was bald! This guy’s got longer hair than mine!

Lana, he’s clearly wearing a wig!

Well. . . It’s not just that. Look at the way he carries himself! And that costume!

You like his costume?! He’s wearing his underwear on the outside!

Yeah, but he makes it work somehow.

Later the Strongman advises Clark, “The more colorful the costume, the better.”

It’s nice seeing Superman defeat bad guys who are still with us today.

The Grand Hornet of the Klan tells Superman that nothing binds us to people who don’t share our blood or our history. Superman responds by saying that we are bound together by the future. “We all share the same tomorrow.”

That’s right, Superman! Speak up for what’s right!

geneyang.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Monster and Boy, by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020

Monster and Boy

by Hannah Barnaby
illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Godwin Books (Henry Holt), 2020. 138 pages.
Review written August 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Monster and Boy is a charming beginning chapter book that tells about what happens after a mother tells her son during a bedtime story that there is no such thing as monsters.

The monster who lives under the bed and loves the boy hears the mother say this. He can’t resist. After the mother leaves, he decides to prove that she was wrong and shows himself to the boy. But things quickly get out of control.

“Hello,” the monster said.

The boy was silent. The monster thought maybe the boy couldn’t see him, so he made himself light up.

“Ta-da!” the monster said.

The boy took a deep breath and opened his mouth, and the monster knew he was going to scream.

The monster panicked. He did the only thing he could think of.

He swallowed the boy.

There’s a chapter discussing this with the reader. Then I like the part about what happens next:

The monster was instantly sorry that he’d swallowed the boy. The boy felt strange in his stomach, heavy and nervous. The monster did not like how it felt, and also he missed the boy terribly.

Then he heard a small voice from inside himself.

It was not his conscience. It was not his soul.

It was the boy.

“I’d like to come out, please,” said the boy.

“I’d like that, too,” the monster replied.

So their first problem is getting the boy out of the monster. But when they manage that, it turns out that the boy is now very small. So they must figure out how to get him back to his normal side.

This turns out to involve adventures downstairs (Monsters are terrified of going downstairs.) and an encounter with another monster – the boy’s little sister. Oh, and a swim in the toilet bowl.

It’s all wonderfully entertaining. The sentences are simple, and there are pictures on every page, but this story will make you laugh even if you mastered reading long ago.

The back cover says this book is introducing a new illustrated chapter book series, which is fantastic news for kids gaining confidence in their reading.

mackids.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 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 Magic for Marigold, by L. M. Montgomery

Friday, August 7th, 2020

Magic for Marigold

by L. M. Montgomery

McClelland-Bantam, Toronto, 1988. Originally published in 1929. 274 pages.
Review written August 3, 2020, from my own copy, purchased for me by a friend at Green Gables in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.

I’m still rereading all my L. M. Montgomery books, in honor of the trip I got to take to Prince Edward Island last Fall. I’ve slowed down my reading since the trip, but am still plugging away. After this one, I only have six of her novels left, and then the posthumous short story collections.

This particular copy of Magic for Marigold was brought to me from Prince Edward Island by a friend who had visited in 1988 – when the book had gone out of print in the United States but was coming out in paperback in Canada. The funny thing is that she brought me back two books – this one and also The Blue Castle — and they turned out to be my favorite (The Blue Castle) and least favorite (Magic for Marigold). Also interesting is that these two books were written the same year of L. M. Montgomery’s life.

Rereading Magic for Marigold many years later, I enjoyed it a lot more than I did the first time, because I knew what to expect. There’s no romance, and it amounts to essentially a series of short stories about a little girl as she grows from birth to age 12. L. M. Montgomery is a brilliant writer of short stories, and taken that way, this book is as delightful as her others.

Many themes that show up in the author’s other books are present here. Marigold’s father died before she was born, and she lives with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother in the ancestral home, part of an enormous family of relations. The foibles of family are at the heart of many of the situations Marigold faces.

They live in a small farming community on Prince Edward Island. I always love the names L. M. Montgomery invents for farming communities on Prince Edward Island. This one is Harmony.

Marigold is an imaginative child with an imaginary friend she can meet with if she follows a certain ritual. Her trouble making flesh-and-blood friends is one of the ongoing themes of the book, though her imagination is seen as a strength, not a weakness.

One thing, though, I’m afraid I hate this time through – the ending. Marigold has finally made a good local friend, a boy. But then another new boy comes into town and the first boy stops playing with Marigold or doing things with her. Well, after a tiff between them, he comes back to Marigold – but then makes up with the other friend. Marigold learns that sometimes you need to share your friends, and that’s fine. She figures out she shouldn’t pretend to like things she doesn’t like – such as hunting snakes and digging for worms. That’s fine, too.

What I don’t like is what her aunt tells her. There’s some good stuff about how we have to share our friends with others. But I didn’t like when she inserted gender into it with these words: “We – women – must always share.” And with that background, Marigold’s last line bothered me: “’And I’ll always be here for him to come back to,’ she thought.”

As a friend, okay. I’m still a friend to my friends who go through a spell of not having time for me. I do like the principle that you can have more than one friend at a time. That even best friends can have more than one friend at a time. But that feeling of waiting in one place? No, Marigold, go off and have adventures, too! When that boy comes back, it’s okay if you’re busy having fun with other friends yourself.

But that’s a small thing. As with every single L. M. Montgomery book, reading this gave me a feeling of joy and a reminder to notice the beauty around me. And now I can think back to my time on Prince Edward Island and imagine the characters in that stunning setting.

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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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Review of The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate

Saturday, July 25th, 2020

The One and Only Bob

by Katherine Applegate
read by Danny DeVito

HarperCollins, 2020. 4 hours.
Review written July 25, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

The One and Only Bob is a sequel to Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan. It doesn’t pack as much of a punch as the first book, but I’m glad it doesn’t. Because the first book had the characters fighting a bad situation, and I don’t want these beloved characters up against injustice again.

This time, though, they’re up against a hurricane. The little dog Bob, wonderfully voiced with attitude by Danny DeVito, was with his humans visiting Ivan at the zoo when a hurricane and then a tornado struck. Bob didn’t stay with the humans – in fact, he flew through the air. In the story that follows, Bob is involved both in rescuing other animals and in being rescued. He also does some coming to terms with his past.

I thought the summary of what went on in the first book went on a little long. Surely it’s safe to assume that anyone reading this book has read the earlier book. However, once it got past that, Bob’s a fun dog to hang out with. There’s a glossary of doggy terms at the front which have a very believably doggy attitude. The fact that Bob and Ivan used to watch the Weather Channel on Ivan’s little TV at the mall means that Bob believably knows quite a bit about hurricanes.

There were some coincidences, yes. But it all makes for a fun story, and it’s great to spend time again with Bob, Ivan, Ruby, and their humans. We root for resourceful, though small Bob as he takes on a hurricane.

katherineapplegate.com

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Review of Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

Harbor Me

by Jacqueline Woodson

Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin), 2018. 176 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 30, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#9 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

It’s unfortunate when you read as many children’s books as you can, all put out in the same year, when some of the books lose some of their impact because you’ve read a similar story already. Harbor Me reminds me of Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes. In both cases, you’ve got a group of kids from tough backgrounds coming to care about each other as they open up and share their stories. In Just Like Jackie, something similar happens. I’m a little tired of hearing about teachers pulling this off, because I’m starting to be skeptical – but at the same time, personal stories do have a powerful effect.

In the case of Harbor Me, it’s a group of six 5th and 6th graders in the same class. Every week, they get to meet for one hour in a room without a teacher and say whatever they want. They learn each other’s stories.

It begins with Esteban, whose father was taken away and put in a detention center. Esteban was born in America, but now his mother is afraid she’ll be taken, too.

And Haley, our narrator, who’s thinking back over the year, has a dad who was in prison. She’s lived with her uncle as long as she can remember.

This book isn’t poetry, but Jacqueline Woodson has a poet’s facility with language. This may also explain why my favorite parts of the book were Esteban’s father’s poems, which he wrote in the detention center and sent to his son, who translated them into English.

The book feels a little short – I’d like to know more about more of the kids’ stories – but it’s also refreshing to read a book for 5th graders that’s less than 200 pages long. This book is about kids on the margins, and it is short enough that kids on the margins themselves might not be intimidated by it.

The day I read this, I also reviewed Jacqueline Woodson’s new picture book, The Day It Begins — which is also about making friends by sharing your stories. We are all different, but we all have things in common. When we hear stories, we can find those things in common. The picture book tells about that, and the novel fleshes it out.

Yes. Let’s share stories. And then we’ll have people to harbor us when times are hard.

jacquelinewoodson.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Doughnut Fix, by Jessie Janowitz

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

The Doughnut Fix

by Jessie Janowitz

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2018. 298 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 20, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

This book is a whole lot of fun to read. Doughnuts! What could be better?

Tristan and his two sisters get taken on a road trip one Saturday – and then told that they’re moving out of New York City to Petersville. Their parents have bought a ramshackle old house a bike ride away from the tiny center of town. His mother is going to open a restaurant.

When Tristan bikes into town the morning after they move, he spots a sign that makes him hungry – “Yes, we do have chocolate cream doughnuts!” Except the trouble is, the sign is a lie. Winnie, the lady in the general store says she quit making the doughnuts because they were so popular, it was too much bother to make them. They were so good, they were in the newspaper.

“Too much work. After that story, people came in here from all over, all hours of the day and night. Nearly drove me crazy. I really had no choice.”

Just in case you think you don’t get it, let me tell you, you do: the General Store’s chocolate cream doughnuts were so good, and people liked them so much, they decided not to make them anymore.

Tristan can’t stop thinking about those doughnuts. So when they’re told that they don’t need to start school until after Winter Break, and his parents tell them to work on a project – Tristan chooses to bring back the doughnuts to Petersville.

It’s not all that simple. He needs to get the recipe from Winnie, and then she wants him to make a business plan. He needs to negotiate a good price on the ingredients, and they have to get a business license, not to mention making the doughnuts and filling them with chocolate cream – despite his four-year-old sister’s “help.”

Maybe that all sounds boring, but the quirky characters in the town combined with Tristan’s unusual family and Tristan’s determination to get these doughnuts made – all add up to a funny and absorbing tale.

Of course, Tristan also needs to make a new friend – and he gains some insight about his former best friend. Meanwhile his gifted and talented sister Jeanine is having more trouble adjusting than he is, which comes as a surprise for him.

There are recipes in the back of the book plus tips on starting a business. The flap says that this is the first book in a series – that makes me happy, because these characters are a whole lot of fun.

Beware, though – This book will make you hungry.

jessiejanowitz.com
jabberwockykids.com

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Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Out of Left Field, by Ellen Klages

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

Out of Left Field

by Ellen Klages

Viking, 2018. 314 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 3, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Historical Children’s Fiction

This book is historical fiction set in 1957 when San Francisco is about to get a major league baseball team, the Giants. Katy Gordon is the best pitcher in the neighborhood, and she’s thrilled when she tries out for Little League and makes the team. But when they find out she’s a girl, she’s not allowed to play, and she gets an official letter from Little League saying baseball has always been a man’s sport.

Katy suspects that’s not true. She starts at the library and discovers a woman who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig – consecutively.

One thing leads to another. Katy interviews women, writes letters, and does more research – and uncovers hundreds of women who played professional baseball, some in their own leagues, some in the Negro leagues, and some as barnstormers playing exhibition games along with men.

It’s interesting how much fun it is to read about a kid doing research. Back in 1957, most of these women were still alive, and Katy was able to meet them and talk with them. And Katy’s research is interwoven with her baseball games and perfecting her pitching. I like the part when she gets to pitch to Willie Mays!

With all the kids’ books I’ve been reading, it was refreshing that even though Katy’s best friend Jules got assigned to a different teacher this year, and even though she doesn’t like playing baseball and has other interests instead – the girls stay friends and stay supportive of each other. What’s more, there are no dead parents in this book! Okay, Katy’s parents are divorced, but this doesn’t seem to be traumatic in her life and her father sends supportive messages.

I learned a whole lot about women’s baseball by reading this book – but all the information never got in the way of the story of Katy, the best pitcher in the neighborhood.

penguin.com/YoungReaders

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Review of The Ambrose Deception, by Emily Ecton

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

The Ambrose Deception

by Emily Ecton

Disney Hyperion, 2018. 359 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

This book opens with three unlikely candidates from three different Chicago schools being offered a $10,000 scholarship opportunity. When Melissa Burris, Bondi Johnson, and Wilf Samson arrive at the office, they’re first made to sign a form saying they won’t discuss the clues with absolutely anyone. Then they’re given an envelope with three clues and told to take a picture of the clue solution. They are also given a cell phone, a camera, a debit card – and the use of a car and driver to take them anywhere in Chicago city limits.

Now, the kids are pretty sure something’s fishy. Given the title of the book, the reader is pretty sure, too. Wilf decides to enjoy the car and driver while he has them and plans a list of fun activities in Chicago. But Melissa and Bondi start seriously tackling their three clues.

So begins a clever and inventive puzzle novel. The clues all lead to locations in Chicago – and they are clues that require some thought. I now wish I’d tried to solve some using the internet – but I was reading the book in bed and didn’t bother. I imagine kids who live in Chicago might have an advantage, but this is still a legitimate puzzle that you feel like you as a reader can solve along with the characters.

I like the way they repeat the clues periodically – so you don’t have to keep turning back in the book.

I like that the characters are pretty ordinary kids, each with their own quirks. In fact, the drivers also have their own quirks. Wilf is a real slacker, trying to take advantage of this. Melissa is very suspicious, not wanting to even use the debit card or the car and driver. Bondi is a take-charge kind of kid, but he jumps to conclusions in a few spots.

I won’t say what the “deception” is in the title, but it’s all very satisfying when it works out. A puzzle novel with ordinary kids cast as the solvers, kids whom adults had written off.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Parker Inheritance, by Varian Johnson

Monday, May 18th, 2020

The Parker Inheritance

by Varian Johnson

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2018. 331 pages.
Review written in 2018 from a book sent by the publisher.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Contemporary Children’s Fiction
2019 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
2019 Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book

The Parker Inheritance is a wonderful tribute to The Westing Game, with a mysterious millionaire leaving money to enhance a town in the south – if and only if someone can solve the clues and tell the story of discrimination that happened in the past.

Many years ago, Candice’s grandmother was city manager of Lambert, South Carolina. She got one of the original letters and tried to solve the clues – but succeeded only in disgracing herself by digging up some tennis courts and not finding the treasure.

Now Candice and her mother are living in her grandmother’s old home for the summer. In the attic, she finds an envelope addressed to her from her grandmother. In the envelope is the original letter – promising treasure for the town and for the person who solves the clues.

Brandon, a neighbor kid from across the street is there in the attic with her when she finds the letter. (They were looking for books to read, because her grandma was good about that, too.) Together, they start researching the people mentioned in the letter, the Washington family, who got run out of Lambert back in 1957.

The book gives periodic interludes from the story of the Washingtons while we follow the main story of Candice and Brandon solving the clues.

And Candice and Brandon have to learn about what happened in 1957. They look at pictures in the library. They need to find yearbooks from both the white high school and the colored high school. They find out about a secret tennis match between the two schools. The African Americans won, and there were repercussions.

The puzzle is well done, but the story supports it well – making this much more than just a puzzle book. I’m going to have to reread The Westing Game. It also tells a story of racism – which was sad back in 1957, but is largely overcome over the years. I especially like Siobhan Washington’s emphasis on love and forgiveness and rising above.

varianjohnson.com
scholastic.com

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Review of The Orphan Band of Springdale, by Anne Nesbet

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

The Orphan Band of Springdale

by Anne Nesbet

Candlewick Press, 2018. 433 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 25, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Historical Children’s Fiction

Reading The Orphan Band of Springdale made me happy. I liked the main character, Gusta Neubronner, and seeing the world through her eyes was a delightful experience.

The book begins as her father puts her on a bus – and leaves! He told her where to sit and put her suitcase onto the rack above her, and then got off the bus. Instead of getting back on, two men in uniforms came onto the bus looking for him.

The setting of the book is 1941 in Maine. Gusta had lived with her parents in New York City. Her father, who was born in Germany and hated the Nazis, was a union organizer. But anti-German sentiment being what it was, as well as anti-union sentiment, he had become a fugitive. Her mother got a job and couldn’t take care of Gusta, so she was sent to her grandmother in Springdale, Maine.

Now, Gusta’s mother had told her a story about her grandfather, who built the house in Springdale. He had been a sea captain and found a chest full of real wishes. They looked like coins that sparkled mysteriously. He didn’t believe it at first, and made frivolous wishes, which all came true.

“He said that after a day or two, he suddenly realized the seriousness of the situation. These were actual wishes, and he was wasting them. He would pick up one of those odd little coin things and wish for his sardines (for example), and after that, he said, he could tell that Wish was all used up. It didn’t sparkle anymore, he said. It just looked empty.”

“How can a coin be empty?”

“I don’t know. That’s how he described it. And of course that made him realize he couldn’t keep wasting those Wishes; he needed to think it all through more carefully, make wishes that counted. And then – right that very day – something really terrible happened: the ship he was on hit a reef and sank.”

The entire chest with Wishes sank in the sea. But one Wish remained, in his pocket.

“A single Wish,” said her mother. “One last Wish left. He kept that Wish safe, and he brought it back home with him. And you know what? He never used it, his whole life long. That’s what he told me, anyway, and I knew him when he was very, very old.”

He’d put the Wish in a box on a shelf, somewhere in the house. Can Gusta find it while she’s there? Can she use it to solve some problems?

And there are some problems while she’s there. Her father’s a fugitive. She meets her grandmother, who now runs an orphanage, and other relatives, including her uncle, whose hand was injured working in the mill and now needs an expensive operation or he can’t work. Gusta knows that the law is on his side, but without a union there, what can one person do?

But the most fun is the oldest girl in the orphanage, Josie, and Gusta’s cousin Bess. Gusta has brought her father’s French horn with her. When she plays it, she’s letting out her heart. Josie has a beautiful voice. Together they form the Honorary Orphan Band of Springdale (Josie being the only one who’s an actual orphan).

I laughed delightedly when I read this paragraph when the band finally performs:

They played “Angeline the Baker” and “Hard Times in the Mill” and a couple of cheerful, quick-moving songs they had made up themselves, and it’s safe to say no band composed of French horn, ukulele, voice, and bean jar ever had a more enthusiastic reception anywhere.

You’ll learn a little history reading this book about life on the home front just before the United States joined World War Two. But mostly you’ll have fun reading about some good-hearted characters in difficult circumstances trying to set things right – with or without a Wish.

candlewick.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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