Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of The Door by the Staircase, by Katherine Marsh

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

The Door by the Staircase

by Katherine Marsh

Disney Hyperion, 2016. 272 pages.

Mary Hayes is a resourceful little girl who lives in an orphanage. One night, she manages to escape – but is stopped by a moving whirlwind. The very next morning, an old lady, Madame Z, comes to adopt Mary, first confirming that she has no family at all.

Madame Z takes Mary to a home outside the town of Iris, where all sorts of two-bit magic users live. She meets Jacob, a kid her age who also longs for a home. Jacob is the son of an Illusionist, and they move around a lot. Jacob’s good at pointing out how magicians do their tricks.

Then Mary thinks she’s spotted some real magic. And Madame Z turns out not to be the sweet old lady she pretends to be.

This book reminded me a little too much of Baba Yaga’s Assistant — but I liked the graphic novel a little better, for its conciseness and charm. Still, this book works in more elements of Russian folklore – including the firebird, rusalkas, and a domovoi.

Mary and Jacob must navigate various magical perils and prizes in order to escape a dangerous magical villain and win homes for themselves.

This is a light-hearted magical tale mixed with Russian folklore and cooking, and an orphan longing for a home.

katherinemarsh.com
DisneyBooks.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 Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig, by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Mango & Bambang

The Not-a-Pig

by Polly Faber

illustrated by Clara Vulliamy

Candlewick Press, 2016. 135 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a beginning chapter book – four chapters with abundant pictures – that is most unusual and utterly charming.

We first meet Mango Allsorts, a girl who is good at all sorts of things.

She had a nearly black belt in karate, and she could jump off the highest diving board at the swimming pool without holding her nose, use the Sicilian Defense when playing chess, and wiggle her ears while sucking on a lollipop.

She was also learning to play the clarinet. Sometimes the sounds that came out of the bottom were not exactly the sounds Mango had meant when she blew into the top, but Mango knew that she just needed to keep practicing and soon she would be good at that, too.

Mango had a lot of time for practicing; her papa’s long hours balancing meant she had to find her own things to do. Becoming good at those things kept her busy. And being busy was important, living in a very busy city, full of other busy people being good at things.

Because otherwise Mango might have been a little lonely.

It was on a Wednesday that everything changed. It’s important to note that it was a Wednesday. A Wednesday can seem a bit of a humpish, nothing-y sort of day, but even humpish sorts of days can hold the unexpected.

In this case the unexpected was a hump.

As a matter of fact, the unexpected is a tapir who is blocking all traffic in the city, hunkered down on a crosswalk because he thought he saw a tiger.

Mango knows how to be calm and listen. She talks gently to the tapir and invites him to her home for banana pancakes.

It takes much coaxing and reassurance, and some false starts, but Mango gets Bambang to trust her and come home with her for a visit.

Walking home with her new friend, Mango found herself feeling not perfectly certain what having a tapir come to stay might involve.

And that was a very exciting feeling indeed.

The remaining chapters deal with the adventure of having a tapir as a long-term visitor and best friend. First, Bambang finds a pool that suits him, then he deals with a sinister Collector, and finally he gives Mango exactly what she needs to be able to play her clarinet in a concert.

I liked the writing style from the moment I opened the book, and a story about a girl and her friend the tapir is certainly something new. Best of all, the spine of the book has a prominent number 1 on the top, so I’m pretty sure there are more adventures to come.

Beginning chapter books often seem rather boring to adults, since they are generally concerned with everyday things that are important to young children. Well, when the topic is fitting a tapir into those everyday concerns, things rapidly get quite interesting. There are pictures on every spread, and this book provides ample rewards to a reader ready for new adventures.

candlewick.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 Pets on the Loose! The Great Pet Escape, by Victoria Jamieson

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

Pets on the Loose!

The Great Pet Escape

by Victoria Jamieson

Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2016. 64 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a graphic novel just right for kids who are ready for chapter books. It’s by the brilliant Newbery-Honor-winning Victoria Jamieson.

This book is about the classroom pets of Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School. GW, a mouse, explains his fate at the beginning:

Three months,
two weeks,
and one day.

That’s how long I’ve been stuck in this terrible prison, otherwise known as . . .
a second-grade classroom.

I was captured along with my friends Barry and Biter. I haven’t seen them in months. We’re being held in separate cells.

GW has devised a clever plan to escape, including an elaborate contraption to get the door open. When he escapes one night, he goes to rescue Barry, a rabbit, and Biter, a guinea pig, as well.

Barry’s the first grade classroom pet, but he seems to have gone soft in prison. Still, when GW breaks him out, he goes along.

Barry tries to warn GW about Biter:

She’s . . . she’s doing hard time in the worst cell block in this place. Her jailers torture her nearly all the time with stupid songs and crazy behavior . . . .

You don’t mean . . .

Yes, I’m afraid I do . . . .
Biter is in KINDERGARTEN.

Sure enough, Biter has even changed her name to “Sunflower.” She says, “Here in kindergarten, we talk a lot about feelings, and, well . . . I’ve come to realize I have some anger issues.”

Well, that’s the beginning. GW and Barry do convince Sunflower to come along, on the strength of their friendship. But then they meet the fourth grade class pet, Harriet, and her mouse minions. Harriet is planning to sabotage the school lunch.

What follows is a grand and dramatic food fight.

Classroom pets on the loose! Jokes about school! Mayhem in the school cafeteria in the night! All in graphic novel format! There’s not one kid you’ll have to coax to read this book.

And best of all, it shows all the signs of being the first book of a new series, Pets on the Loose!

victoriajamieson.com
mackids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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 Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package, by Kate DiCamillo

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package

Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume Four

by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Candlewick Press, 2017. 101 pages.
Starred Review

Tales from Deckawoo Drive is a spin-off from Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series, telling stories about the other people who live on Deckawoo Drive. I haven’t read them all, but I wasn’t lacking any knowledge I needed to thoroughly enjoy this one.

Eugenia Lincoln is an elderly lady who lives down the street from Mercy Watson, with her sister, Baby Lincoln. Here is how she’s described when the book opens:

Eugenia Lincoln was a practical person, a sensible person. She did not have time for poetry, geegaws, whoop-de-whoops, or frivolity.

She believed in attending to the task at hand.

Eugenia Lincoln believed in Getting Things Done.

Baby Lincoln, Eugenia’s younger sister, loved poetry, geegaws, and whoop-de-whoops of every sort and variety.

She was especially fond of frivolity.

“We are diametrically opposed,” said Eugenia to Baby. “You are woefully impractical. I am supremely practical.”

But then, one day, an unexpected package arrives with Eugenia’s name on it.

Naturally, there’s plenty of fuss and bother and speculation about opening the package. Inside is an accordion! Baby Lincoln has heard that they can be a pathway to great joy.

But Eugenia wants none of it! She tries to send the accordion back with no luck. She places an ad to try to give it away. Instead, a colorful character comes to her door planning to give her accordion lessons.

One thing leads to another – all in very silly ways – and it turns out that Eugenia Lincoln has a natural gift for accordion playing.

This is a wonderful beginning chapter book with an engaging story that rewards discovery, not too many words on a page, and plenty of pictures throughout. And it’s always a delight to read about a curmudgeon set on a pathway to great joy.

candlewick.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 Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Echo

by Pam Muñoz Ryan

read by Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, Macleod Andrews, and Rebecca Soler
music performed by Corky Siegel

Scholastic Audiobooks, 2016. 10 hours, 22 minutes, on 9 compact discs.
Starred Review
2016 Newbery Honor Book
2016 Odyssey Honor Audiobook

This is an amazing audiobook production.

The story is about an enchanted harmonica. The prologue tells of a boy lost in the woods in Germany who learns about the sisters whose spirit enchants the harmonica, and who entrust it into his care.

Then the main part of the book gives us three stories – first a boy in Germany with a musical gift but with a birthmark on his face that makes him seen as less than perfect and in danger in Hitler’s Germany. The second story is about two brothers in Pennsylvania at an orphanage after their grandmother became too frail to care for them. Mike is a talented piano player, and it seems they have a chance of a home, but something is wrong. Perhaps he can join the harmonica band that’s auditioning for new members. Then Ivy, in California, has to move to a new home, where children of Mexican heritage aren’t allowed to go to school with the other children. But she can join the orchestra.

The three stories are told completely separately, with a different narrator for each part. What they have in common is that all involve a harmonica with an especially beautiful tone that has a red M painted on it. The three stories come together in an episode at the end, and then we get an epilogue to tell a little more about the story of the boy and the three sisters who sent the harmonica out into the world.

The book is good, and won Newbery Honor. Each story has some punch to it, and each child has reason to need the encouragement that comes through the harmonica.

The audio production is exceptional! There is harmonica music throughout, as well as piano music when that’s part of the story. It adds so much to hear the songs being played.

Some producers might not have dared to add harmonica music when the text is raving about the harmonica’s glorious tone. But for the most part, the music played went perfectly with what was described. For several of the songs, they added a singer, which I wasn’t completely happy with – but that was a way to let the listener know the words, which was a nice addition for the child listener. Even though I know the words to songs such as “Brahm’s Lullaby” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” an unobtrusive way to include them for kids was to have a voice along with the harmonica playing.

This is definitely a book that has much value added in audio form! A delightful listening experience.

scholastic.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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 Lulu and the Cat in the Bag, by Hilary McKay

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag

by Hilary McKay
illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

Albert Whitman & Company, Chicago, Illinois, 2013. First published in the United Kingdom in 2011. 84 pages.

I don’t know how I missed this third book about pet-loving Lulu!

Lulu and her cousin Mellie’s parents have gone on a trip, so their grandmother Nan has come to stay with them. Nan is not a fan of pets, but she does love gardens. She’s not happy with their two dogs, Sam and Rocko.

The book begins with a bag on the doorstep, and the bag ends up holding an enormous marigold cat.

Nan is not happy about an enormous marigold cat turning up, and is relieved when it soon disappears. But the cat comes back. This cat likes flowers and knows how to keep the dogs out of the garden. Maybe Nan is warming up to it.

This is another gentle chapter book that any animal-lover will appreciate.

albertwhitman.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 Ashes, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

Ashes

The Seeds of America Trilogy, Book Three

by Laurie Halse Anderson

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. 298 pages.
Starred Review

This book concludes The Seeds of America Trilogy. I never did read the first book, Chains, about Isabel, an African girl stolen into slavery during Colonial times. (I need to remedy that!) I did read Forge, the second book, about Curzon, a slave turned soldier, and what he went through at Valley Forge.

In Ashes, Isabel and Curzon have joined forces and are going through the countryside looking for Isabel’s little sister Ruth. When they find her, their welcome is nothing like Isabel hoped for. But they wind up at the army camp in Williamsburg as the American and French soldiers prepare to lay siege to the British army at Yorktown.

Isabel’s the narrator of this volume. She’s got lots to worry about — finding her sister, staying alive, staying healthy, getting money and food to travel on, and staying free. Also, how does Curzon really feel about her? He seems to care more about fighting for so-called “freedom” than about her.

This book gives a fascinating look at a time I thought I knew a lot more about than I did. Giving the vantage point of African-Americans inside the camps brings it to life so much more vividly than a textbook.

I enjoyed the Revolutionary War-era diary excerpts and letter excerpts at the start of each chapter. There are also in-depth notes at the back. I knew from reading Octavian Nothing that the British promised freedom to African-Americans who fought for them. I learned in this book that 17 of George Washington’s slaves escaped during the Revolutionary War and fled to the British. Many of those were returned to him after the war, but a few did make it to New York and managed to get safety and freedom in Nova Scotia. Twenty-three of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves fled to join the British, though six were found and recaptured after the war.

All of these tidbits (told as answers to questions that naturally arise out of the story) are accompanied by suggestions for further reading.

MadWomanInTheForest.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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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 Swing It, Sunny, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Monday, January 29th, 2018

Swing It, Sunny

by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm
with color by Lark Pien

Graphix (Scholastic), 2017. 220 pages.

This graphic novel is a pleasant sequel to Sunny Side Up. Sunny’s now starting middle school, which is tough, but most of the tension in the book comes from the difficulty of adjusting to her older brother being sent away to boarding school. When he comes home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the whole house is full of tension.

The story’s set in 1976, which was when I was in eighth grade myself. So I especially enjoyed the seventies’ touches such as Pet Rocks, seventies’ décor, and TV shows like The Six Million Dollar Man. The authors keep a light touch, mixing fun diversions – like a new next-door neighbor teaching Sunny how to swing a flag – with worries about her brother.

You’ll enjoy it a little bit more if you read the first book, since you’ll appreciate Sunny’s interaction with Gramps and her fondness for the alligator Big Al. But even without that, you’ll still have fun with this book.

It all adds up to a truly delightful and hopeful graphic novel.

scholastic.com/graphix

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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 Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, with illustrations by Erin Stead

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

by Mark Twain
and Philip Stead
with illustrations by Erin Stead

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2017. 152 pages.
Starred Review

Oh, this is such a lovely book! The story is based on 16 pages of notes discovered in Mark Twain’s papers. It was discovered by a researcher hoping to write a Twain cookbook – found because of the word “Oleomargarine.” Mark Twain House & Museum authorized Philip and Erin Stead to make a book from those notes, which were based on a story Mark Twain spun for his daughters at bedtime while in a Paris hotel.

The result is delightful. Philip Stead retained Mark Twain’s folksy style. He presents it as a conversation with Mark Twain – but where Mark Twain disappears right before the story ends. He includes some discussion between the two authors. Here’s a small example:

“How did she know she was a fairy?” I asked.

“Because,” answered Twain, “the woman in question was only four and a half inches tall. It was the scientific conclusion to make. Now, let’s try not to interrupt, shall we?”

The story turns out to be a gentle one – about a boy named Johnny who, through his kindness, receives the gift of understanding the speech of animals and gains a family of animal friends. The animal friends are observant and know what happened when Prince Oleomargarine disappeared, so they tell Johnny.

The story is presented in picture book format, with Erin Stead’s delicate woodcut illustrations on each spread, and many spreads with few words or no words at all. It’s a book to savor slowly and would make magnificent classroom reading or for reading aloud at bedtime for a sequence of nights (imitating the original creation of the story).

Okay, I was browsing through the book for the delightful language, and found a part I simply have to quote. This is supposedly what Mark Twain said to Philip Stead as he was relating the story, and is off on quite a tangent from the tale of Johnny. It started with a skunk who was the first to befriend Johnny.

“Of course,” he added, “I could have saved myself – and Johnny – from the silly prejudices of the unenlightened. I could have lied and said porcupine or kangaroo instead of skunk.

“But if I lie to you once, you will never trust me again. And if history is our guide, our entire undertaking will be lost –

“Napoleon,” he explained, “lied to his men at Waterloo. He said: We are going to have a great time! They did not.

“King Henry VIII lied to Anne Boleyn, and the whole thing caused nothing but headaches.

“There are other examples, too! –

“Consider George Washington. He made an awful stink about the nobleness of truth telling after the fact, but the sad reality is this – he looked that cherry tree in the face and told it: This won’t hurt a bit.

“History tells us these things. And we can trust history on the matter of lies because history is mostly lies, along with some exaggerations.”

Spend some time savoring this uplifting and ultimately very silly story.

Here are Twain’s notes: (Much better in this book form!)
http://admin.rhcbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Twain-fragment.pdf

randomhousekids.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 Patina, by Jason Reynolds

Saturday, January 13th, 2018

Patina

Track: Book 2

by Jason Reynolds

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), 2017. 233 pages.

This is the second book in Jason Reynolds’ Track series, each one featuring one new member of the “Defenders” track team. Both volumes so far end with a race, but you don’t find out who wins until the next volume. (This is a little annoying. By the time I got to read Patina, I’d forgotten Ghost had left off in the middle of a race, so I wasn’t nearly as invested as I would have been if the end of the race had been the end of the book. Once the series is done, it will keep kids reading on in the series, though.)

The first book featured Ghost, who’s used to running from problems. This second book features Patina, who’s carrying a heavy load for her family. As in the first book, the track gives her insight about her life, this time it’s Patina learning to run a relay and be part of a team.

Patina’s father died years ago, and her mother has diabetes, with both her legs amputated and needing dialysis. So Patti and her little sister Maddy live with their uncle and aunt. But Patti feels very responsible for Maddy, and responsible for her mother, too, to some extent. On top of that, Patti’s going to a new school, a private “academy,” and is new on the track team.

I like where Patti describes her Sunday ritual of doing Maddy’s hair.

I do Maddy’s hair every Sunday for two reasons. The first is because Momly can’t do it. If it was up to her, Maddy’s hair would be in two Afro-puffs every day. Either that, or Momly would’ve shaved it all off by now. It’s not that she don’t care. She does. It’s just that she don’t know what to do with hair like Maddy’s – like ours. Ma do, but Momly . . . nope. She never had to deal with nothing like it, and there ain’t no rule book for white people to know how to work with black hair. And her husband, my uncle Tony, he ain’t no help. Ever since they adopted us, every time I talk about Maddy’s hair, Uncle Tony says the same thing – just let it rock. Like he’s gonna sit in the back of Maddy’s class and stink-face all the six-year-old bullies in barrettes. Right. But luckily for everybody, especially Maddy, I know what I’m doing. Been a black girl all my life.

The other reason I always do Maddy’s hair on Sundays is because that’s when we see Ma, and she don’t wanna see Maddy looking like “she ain’t never been nowhere.”

I like the way this series focuses in on each featured character. There’s always a story. Patina’s story isn’t quite as dramatic as Ghost’s, but Patti still has plenty to deal with in this book. And I like the way some things get worked out with the team.

jasonwritesbooks.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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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.

What did you think of this book?