Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, by Leslie Connor

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

by Leslie Connor

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 326 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 4, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 National Book Award Finalist
2019 Schneider Family Award Winner
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

Okay, I love this book, and I love Mason Buttle! I’m writing this at the beginning of my Newbery reading year. I may read many more books I love this year, and I may be the only person on the committee who loves this book – but I am so encouraged that such a wonderful book exists.

Mason Buttle is the biggest and tallest kid in seventh grade. And he has a disorder, so he sweats. A lot. And he has dyslexia, so he’s not very good at reading or writing.

As you may guess, a kid like that with a last name like “Buttle,” will get teased a lot, and bullied. But Mason takes it matter-of-factly.

His family’s gone through a lot lately. Mason’s grandpa died. Then his mother was killed in an accident, so only his grandma, Uncle Drum, and Mason are left. And then Mason’s best friend Benny died.

Benny died after he fell from their tree fort when the top rung of the ladder broke. The sheriff keeps wanting to talk with Mason about it. But he interrupts Mason, and it’s hard for Mason to get his words out. Mason has told the sheriff everything he knows.

But there’s a wonderful teacher at school named Mrs. Blinny. (Mrs. Blinny, too, is quirky and wonderfully described.) She’s got a new machine that Mason can talk into – and it will write down his words for him. Now at last, Mason can write his story.

Meanwhile, Mason makes a new friend, Calvin Chumsky. Calvin gets bullied, too. But the two together start a project together and become friends.

That’s only the bare bones of how the book begins. There’s a lot more going on – things with Mason’s family, things at school, the bully’s nice mother and the bully’s nice dog that Mason dog-sits, the family orchard that Uncle Drum has been selling off, and of course the mystery of what really happened when Benny died and why do so many people in town give Mason a sad-to-see-you look?

But Mason isn’t the type to feel sorry for himself. I challenge anyone to read this book and not just love this kid. Here he is in the very first chapter after he misspelled stopped as STOOPID in a spelling bee and someone put a t-shirt with the word STOOPID in his locker.

Matt Drinker loves when something like that happens. That’s why I’m guessing he put this STOOPID shirt inside my locker. He must have picked my lock to do it. Funny thing is I knew what the shirt said because of the two Os in the middle. I knew in two blinks.

Matt doesn’t know it but he did me a big favor. I always take two shirts to school. Unless I forget. I change just before lunch. This is because of how I sweat. It is a lot. Can’t stop it. Can’t hide it. I need to be dry at the lunch table. Otherwise I’m a total gross-out of a kid.

Well, today was a day that I forgot my extra shirt. So I’m wearing this one that says STOOPID on it. It’s big and it fits me. It’s clean and dry. I’m going to keep moving. Maybe nobody will see what it says.

And if they do, well, tell you what. Plenty worse has happened.

leslieconnor.com
harpercollinschildrens.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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Review of The Flight of Swans, by Sarah McGuire

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

The Flight of Swans

by Sarah McGuire

Carolrhoda Books, 2018. 441 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 30, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
Mock Newbery winner at City of Fairfax Regional Library
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy

Wow. Most of my readers know I love fairy tale retellings – this is a wonderful one, completely pulling me into the fantasy world, getting my very heart beating along with the protagonist, who tried to be silent for six years.

The fairy tale it’s retelling is the Grimm tale, “The Six Swans.” That was never my favorite fairy tale – but I think it’s interesting that my favorite fairy tale retelling for adults, Daughter of the Forest, is based on the same tale. This version is written for children, and doesn’t have quite as brutal things happen to the silent sister, but it’s equally powerful.

I reread the fairy tale after reading this book, and almost wish I hadn’t. The author retained the main elements – six older brothers turned into swans by the witch who enchanted and married the princess’s father, and she has to stay silent for six years, while knitting them shirts made out of nettles. But oh! The way she tells the story! I want to start reading it all over again. I’m actually a bit resentful that I need to keep reading other books. But the Newbery process being what it is – I know that I will read this book more times, and that’s a comfort to me.

Okay, I should tell about the book, not just rave about how good it is.

The book begins with Andaryn trying to fight her father’s enchantment:

The exile of the princes of Lacharra didn’t begin with swords or spells.

It began inside the castle kitchen with a quest for cloves.

It began with me.

Cooks mistrust anyone with empty hands, so I darted to the nearest table and snatched up a bowl of chopped leeks. Then I shouldered between scullery maids and undercooks as I moved toward the spice pantry.

Perhaps I was foolish. Maybe Father was just sick after being lost so many weeks in the forest. Maybe it was normal for a man newly married to hardly speak to the daughter he’d loved –

Then I remembered last night: Rees, the stable master, and the stable boy being beaten while Father looked on with empty eyes.

Something had happened to Father in the forest. He never would have allowed a beating for violating such a small edict, even if the woman he’d married had issued it.

Whatever she banned must be important – even if it was something as simple as cloves.

Andaryn secures some cloves and brings her father out of the enchantment – for a little while. But the Queen comes upon them together and quickly destroys Andaryn’s efforts. When Andaryn breaks the glamour her six older brothers feel for the Queen, her victory doesn’t last. The Queen locks them up, burning down the oldest brother’s castle with the brothers locked in the dungeon.

Andaryn bargains for their lives with her silence.

Finally, she spoke. “It would be a great sacrifice to release your brothers. I would expect something great in return: one year of silence for each of them. Not a word spoken,” she raised a finger, “and not a word written, either, for a word that’s written can be spoken. The moment you consent is the moment they are free.

Andaryn consents, and the Queen does set them free – but turns them into swans. They will take human form again only on the night of the full moon each month.

And so begins Andaryn’s journeys, in silence. It turns out it’s not enough to find a place to shelter, because the Queen sets otherworldly Huntsmen out after her.

The journeys aren’t as solitary as in the fairy tale, for her oldest brother’s wife accompanies Andaryn for some of the years. And there is a child to tend, as in the fairy tale – but the baby is her oldest brother’s son, the heir of the kingdom. And yes, the princess is discovered by the king of another country, but she still can’t speak.

Andaryn starts out as a 12-year-old determined princess. She ends the book as an 18-year-old young lady who has learned to be strong as steel through her suffering. A magnificent story.

lernerbooks.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 The Book of Boy, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Friday, February 8th, 2019

The Book of Boy

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
illustrations by Ian Schoenherr

Greenwillow Books, 2018. 278 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Newbery Honor Book
Review written March 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.

[Disclaimer: This review was written before I ever discussed the book with the Newbery committee and after only my first reading. The opinions expressed are only mine, and only my first impression.]

After reading the first few chapters of this book, I thought I’d stumbled on a book that had the same basic story as The Journey of Little Charlie, by Christopher Paul Curtis – except in Little Charlie the young innocent was forced to journey with and help a slave catcher, and in The Book of Boy the young innocent was forced to journey with and help a relic thief.

But I was quite wrong. Although The Book of Boy started out this way, the story that followed was completely different from anything I’d read before.

Yes, Boy is young and innocent. He’s a hunchback and doesn’t like the way people are afraid of him and call him a monster. The book is set in medieval Europe, just after a Pestilence has gone through the land. A pilgrim demands his aid in carrying a pack. Boy thinks they are going to protect a relic of Saint Peter, but it turns out the pilgrim will use Boy to steal more relics.

We learn some interesting things about Boy and about the pilgrim along the way. The pilgrim can’t touch any relics of St. Peter, but for Boy, the relic already in the pack warms him and makes it so people don’t notice his hump. Every morning when Boy wakes up, no matter where they have camped, animals curl up and sleep with him. What’s more, after a while we realize all the talking Boy does to animals isn’t just rhetorical. Animals understand Boy and talk to him as well.

Secundus the pilgrim wants to gather seven relics of St. Peter, and he has a compelling reason. And although he is indeed a thief, he grows under our skin as their journey continues.

But Secundus the pilgrim doesn’t win us over as fully as Boy does. He is indeed a young innocent forced to help with thievery – but he learns things along the way about his own true nature which are most surprising.

This is ultimately an uplifting book, full of details about life in medieval times. You’ll enjoy the company of the good-hearted Boy, who can talk with animals and is very surprising.

Here’s what the Newbery committee had to say about this book: “From Murdock’s first line, readers are swept into an epic quest across Europe in 1350 with Boy and a mysterious pilgrim, adventuring to recover seven relics of St. Peter. Layered characters from goats to nuns, lyrical language, and multiple reveals combine to create this powerful story of redemption.”

catherinemurdock.com
epicreads.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 Night Diary, by Veera Hiranandani

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

The Night Diary

by Veera Hiranandani

Dial Books for Young Readers, March 2018. 267 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 3, 2017 from an Advance Reader Copy.
2019 Newbery Honor Book

[Disclaimer: This review was written before I ever discussed the book with the Newbery committee and after only my first reading. The opinions expressed are only mine, and only my first impression.]

The Night Diary is set in a time I knew nothing about: 1947 India, the part that became Pakistan.

Nisha and her twin brother Amil live with her Papa and his mother Dadi and their beloved Kazi, the cook. Their mother died when giving birth to the twins. They are twelve now, and Nisha is writing letters to her Mama in a diary that Kazi gave her.

Nisha’s Mama was a Muslim, but her Papa is Hindu and they live as Hindu, but Kazi is Muslim. Many didn’t want her parents to get married, but they moved to a place where all religions lived together peaceably. That is about to change.

When the British left India, it was decided that they should partition India into two countries – Pakistan for Muslims and India for the remaining religions, particularly Hindus. So Nisha and her family need to move.

Nisha’s father is a doctor and he listens to the ideas promoted by Gandhi. He lingers in their town probably longer than they should. Eventually, their journey to cross the border into India is fraught with danger. They have many brushes with death.

On top of this, Nisha has trouble speaking to anyone who is not family. This will add to her challenges on the road.

This book is based on the author’s father’s family’s experiences at the same time. It adds power that this story of refugees is based in truth.

Sadly, refugee stories are always timely. As are stories about conflict between religions. I like the way Gandhi’s ideas of religions living peacefully together are included – though still showing the nonsensical side of hatred based only on religion.

This is a powerful story, including brushes with death, but it’s all told from a child’s eyes and in a way a child can understand.

Here’s what the Newbery committee said about the book: “Following introspective Nisha and her family as they flee their homeland for an uncertain future, Hiranandani illuminates the 1947 partition of India with unprecedented balance and sensitivity. Through spare evocative diary entries addressed to her late mother, Nisha discovers the complex beauty of her Hindu-Muslim identity.”

veerahiranandani.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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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 Merci Suárez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

by Meg Medina

Candlewick Press, 2018. 355 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 27, 2018, based on an advance reader copy I got at ALA Annual Conference.
2019 Newbery Medal Winner!

Note: This review was written after my first reading of the book, before I had discussed it with any committee members. The views are mine alone – and I gained yet more appreciation for this book when rereading and discussing it. And today I’m completely thrilled that this is “our” Newbery winner!

(That’s fun! I just remembered when looking up my review of her earlier book, Mango, Abuela, and Me that I was on a Cybils Picture Books committee that chose her book as one of our Finalists. Now I’m on another committee that chose her book!)

This is another book about navigating middle school, this time from the perspective of sixth-grader Merci, who attends Seaward Pines Academy on a scholarship since her father does maintenance there. Merci lives with her extended family close by:

How we live confuses some people, so Mami starts her usual explanation. Our three flat-top houses are exact pink triplets, and they sit side by side here on Sixth Street. The one on the left, with the Sol Painting van parked out front, is ours. The one in the middle, with the flower beds, is where Abuela and Lolo live. The one on the right, with the explosion of toys in the dirt, belongs to Tía Inéz and the twins. Roli calls it the Suárez Compound, but Mami hates that name. She says it sounds like we’re the kind of people who collect canned food and wait for the end of the world any minute. She’s named it Las Casitas instead. The little houses. I just call it home.

Merci’s got some of the normal middle school pressures. She’s been assigned to be Sunshine Buddy to a new student who’s a boy, and the most popular girl in the school is jealous. But on top of that, she wants to be on the soccer team, but she’s expected to babysit the twins after school. And her grandfather Lolo, who has always been her confidant, is beginning to act very strangely. And through it all, she’s hoping to earn enough money to buy a better bike than the old rickety one she rides now with Lolo.

Merci’s a very likable heroine and her conflicts and friendships feel organic and not stereotyped. Author Meg Medina reminds us that middle school comes with lots of changes, and some of those changes – like a grandparent getting dementia – aren’t good changes. But with the help of family and friends, we believe Merci’s conclusion that she’ll be able to switch to a more difficult gear and ride on.

megmedina.com
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 Unicorn on a Roll, by Dana Simpson

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Unicorn on a Roll

Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure

by Dana Simpson

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015. 222 pages.

This is the second collection about a girl named Phoebe and her best friend, the unicorn Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. And I am officially a Phoebe and her Unicorn fan.

In this volume, Phoebe releases Marigold from the wish that made Marigold Phoebe’s best friend – and discovers Marigold wants to be her friend anyway.

Phoebe faces normal kid things – such as wanting a part in the school play and competing in the school spelling bee against the boy she has a crush on. But she also faces things unique to someone whose best friend is a unicorn who is convinced she’s the best thing in the universe.

One nice sequence is when Phoebe gets to go to the land of the unicorns for a party – when the unicorns decide to hold an intervention, trying to convince Marigold to stop being friends with an icky human. They are unsuccessful.

Oh, and we learn that Marigold Heavenly Nostrils is skilled at roller skating – though Phoebe can’t ride her when she does. (Hence the title.)

This comic strip is all that a comic strip should be – inventive, funny, true to life, and with insights about life that sneak up on you.

danasimpson.com
ampkids.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, sent by the publisher.

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 Gallery, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Friday, October 12th, 2018

The Gallery

by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016. 321 pages.

Here’s a historical novel set in 1928 during election time. Martha O’Doyle is going to work as a maid in the home of a newspaper tycoon where her Ma is the housekeeper. Ma once worked for the tycoon’s wife, who was known then as “Wild Rose.” But now she’s gone mad and is kept locked up in the attic, with bland food sent to her by dumbwaiter, kept from any excitement.

But is Wild Rose really mad? She’s got a collection of paintings up in her attic room, and periodically she sends certain paintings down to the main gallery of the house. Martha thinks Rose may be trying to send a message.

This book holds a mystery, with clues found in paintings referring to mythology. (Martha researches the stories in the library, of course.) But as well as that, it pictures life in a wealthy home just before the stock market crash, a period I hadn’t read much historical fiction about.

The plot seemed slightly wild and far-fetched – but the author developed the story from old newspaper headlines, so that was probably appropriate. And it does give you a feeling for the time. And the fun of solving a mystery. An Author’s Note at the back tells more about the many historical details and the paintings she worked into the story.

lauramarxfitzgerald.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 My Pet Human Takes Center Stage, by Yasmine Surovec

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

My Pet Human Takes Center Stage

by Yasmine Surovec

Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 100 pages.

Oliver’s back! He’s the cat with the pet human, Freckles.

In this book, Freckles goes to school and Oliver decides to tag along. This gets Freckles to join the Fur-Ever Friends Club, where she decides to foster a kitten.

Oliver is not excited about sharing his human with a kitten! To make matters worse, Freckles has plans for Oliver and the kitten to participate in a pet talent show put on by the club.

This book has five chapters with pictures on every page. The dialog is all done with speech bubbles, but there is some narration from Oliver’s perspective as well, so it’s not quite a graphic novel.

But it is a delightful and funny chapter book for beginning readers. They will enjoy how the world looks from the perspective of a cat.

catversushuman.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 The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, read by Emily Bevan

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

The Empty Grave

by Jonathan Stroud
read by Emily Bevan

Listening Library, 2017. 12 hours, 41 minutes on 10 compact discs.
Starred Review

Ah! Another chance to enjoy the fifth and final book in the Lockwood & Co. series! Yes, listening to the book on CD is even more fun than reading it yourself.

Of course the reader’s accent helps you get into the mood of this alternate-reality London. And hearing it read slows you down so you can savor the story. (The books are hard to put down, but sometimes I had to simply turn off the car, shut off the CD, and go to work.)

I still say that these books make outstanding family listening – once your children are old enough to handle some seriously spooky events as well as people seriously trying to murder our heroes besides the incidental life-or-death danger they face routinely.

For the plot, I refer you to my review of the written book. I’m here to say that the audiobooks make them even more enjoyable – though it’s hard to believe that’s even possible, because they’re so good in the first place.

I have liked my approach to the whole series – devour each book as quickly as possible as soon as it comes out. Then, when I can get my hands on the audiobook, enjoy it again, savoring it a bit more slowly and catching some details I didn’t notice the first time.

(And that reminds me! I noticed a tiny, tiny flaw while I was listening! At the end, there’s a rapier fight between Lucy and the powerful woman who’s been running London. Well, the woman kicks off her heels when she starts fighting – but we’d already been told there were shards of glass all over the floor. If she had done that – then as the two move around the room fighting, she would have cut her feet and given Lucy a big advantage. But that’s the very first quibble I’ve found in these books.)

jonathanstroud.com
booksontape.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 Snow White, by Matt Phelan

Friday, September 7th, 2018

Snow White

by Matt Phelan

Candlewick Press, 2016. 216 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another amazing graphic novel by Matt Phelan. I’ve loved his art ever since I saw it in The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron.

This is a retelling of “Snow White,” set during the 1920s and 30s in New York City. Who knew you could fit Snow White into such a setting?

And it’s beautifully done. Samantha’s mother gets drops of blood on the snow not from pricking her finger on a needle, but from her cough with drops of blood. Ten years later, her father meets the “Queen” of the Ziegfeld Follies. Instead of running into the woods, Samantha runs into Hooverville, where she’s helped by seven boys who won’t tell her their real names.

The stepmother seems to have some sort of magic. And she’s very good with poison.

The story is told with very few words – in fact, at times I would have liked more to tell me exactly what was going on. It’s possible I was being lazy and not paying enough attention.

But whether or not I caught every detail – this story is striking and wonderful. Now here’s a twist on the fairy tale that I’ve never seen before.

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.

What did you think of this book?