Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of A Case in Any Case, by Ulf Nilsson

Saturday, August 18th, 2018

A Case in Any Case

by Ulf Nilsson
illustrated by Gitte Spee

Gecko Press, 2017. Originally published in Sweden in 2016. 108 pages.

A Case in Any Case is part of the Detective Gordon series. It’s a gentle woodland mystery series for readers ready to begin chapter books. It’s got twelve short chapters with abundant colorful illustrations, and is very child-friendly.

Police Chief Gordon, a toad, is trying to retire. He has left Detective Buffy in charge of the woodland police station. She is a small mouse. She tries to be brave when she hears a mysterious scrabbler outside the station at night. But she thinks perhaps she should call in Detective Gordon.

Police Chief Gordon is not enjoying retirement. In fact, he finds himself drawn back to the police station….

But when the two meet up, they don’t get a chance to investigate the mysterious visitor, because two small children are missing! In the investigation that follows, the talents of both officers are needed to save the day.

This is a classic friendship early chapter book – with a mystery twist. It’s a gentle read, with subtle humor, but leaves you smiling when you’re done.

geckopress.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 Short, by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Monday, August 13th, 2018

Short

by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. 296 pages.

Julia Marks is short. She looks two years younger than she really is. The summer has started and her two best friends are away on vacation, and she misses her dog Ramon, who recently died. Then her mom makes her audition with her little brother Randy at the local university for a summer theater production of The Wizard of Oz.

Julia and Randy get to be Munchkins, and Julia’s summer changes. She makes friends with Olive, one of three little adults who are playing Munchkins along with the kids. And then Julia and Olive get chosen to play winged monkeys as well.

Down the street, Julia’s neighbor Mrs. Chang, turns out to have experience making costumes. She wants to help with the production – if they’ll let her be a winged monkey!

This book is full of the fun and energy of being in a show, with drama between actors and lessons learned and the difficulties of dealing with reviewers and fans. And Julia has a summer of growth. Maybe not on the outside, but on the inside, where it counts.

hollygoldbergsloan.com
penguin.com/youngreaders

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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 Waylon! Even More Awesome, by Sara Pennypacker

Monday, August 6th, 2018

Waylon!
Even More Awesome

by Sara Pennypacker
pictures by Marla Frazee

Disney Hyperion, 2017. 204 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2017

Here’s a second wonderful book about Waylon, a fourth grader who plans to be a scientist.

This book jumps right into the action. Dumpster Eddy, the stray dog that Waylon loves but can’t own because of his mother’s allergies, has been captured and is in the police station again.

Baxter is a police officer’s son, and he and Waylon usually break Dumpster Eddy out just before he has to go to a shelter. But this time there are some big obstacles. The first being that someone new is in charge of the animals at the station, so Dumpster Eddy doesn’t have as much time as usual.

Baxter’s helping Waylon, but Waylon’s still not sure he should associate with someone so obsessed with criminal behavior.

Also, it’s winter. The boys don’t want Eddy to be cold – so they build an igloo. But some more problems come up.

The way the obstacles and various subplots are resolved are all satisfying and lovely. Waylon learns about friendship and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and good collaboration. And the story’s engaging, funny, and realistic.

I do love Sara Pennypacker’s characters, children and adults both. They are always quirky, and come alive that way. Waylon’s dad, for example, has taken two years off from working with numbers in order to pursue his dream of making it as a writer, while Waylon’s mother is a scientist. Baxter is obsessed with criminology, and our friend Clementine makes some appearances, still giving her little brother the names of vegetables.

sarapennypacker.com
marlafrazee.com
DisneyBooks.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 Fish Girl, by Donna Jo Napoli and David Wiesner

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Fish Girl

story by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner
pictures by David Wiesner

Clarion Books, 2017. 188 pages.
Review written in 2017.

One of my favorite children’s fantasy writers Donna Jo Napoli has teamed up with the amazing illustrator David Wiesner to produce a gorgeous graphic novel.

The story is about a young mermaid who is kept in captivity by a man who calls himself Neptune, god of the sea. The building is next to the ocean, and the man puts on shows for tourists. Fish Girl’s job is to let the tourists get glimpses of her, but never a good look. And she picks up the coins they throw into the tank after the show.

Then a 12-year-old girl sees Fish Girl. She’s afraid Neptune will find out. But the girl comes back, and the two become friends. Fish Girl starts climbing out of the tank at night – which changes things. She begins asking questions about the stories Neptune has told her.

There are a lot of unanswered questions in this graphic novel – the story is mostly told through the pictures. But the story is gripping, and the pictures are stunning. And we’re rooting for Fish Girl as she makes a friend and gets a name and starts thinking about freedom.

hmhco.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 Bunjitsu Bunny vs. Bunjitsu Bunny, by John Himmelman

Monday, July 16th, 2018

Bunjitsu Bunny vs. Bunjitsu Bunny

by John Himmelman

Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2017. 122 pages.

I still say that John Himmelman’s books about Bunjitsu Bunny are perfect for readers who are just becoming fluent enough readers for chapter books. There are pictures on every page, and not a lot of words, so even though there are more than a hundred pages, the book is not daunting. And each chapter is a self-contained story, and most of them have some kind of pay-off or surprise ending, so reading them is rewarding.

Now I’ll admit that there’s nothing excitingly new about this new volume, and it doesn’t matter what order you read the books in. So I’m not struck with new enthusiasm about this series or itching to tell you about an especially clever new story.

However – collectively, the books are wonderful. I’m so glad they exist. Kids who already love reading about Bunjitsu Bunny will be happy for a set of more stories.

A bunny who’s skilled at bunjitsu and can conquer every foe, except maybe herself. What could be better?

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 Paths and Portals, by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

Paths and Portals

Secret Coders, Book 2

by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

First Second, 2016. 92 pages.
Review written in 2016.

This is very much part two of a longer story – not really a stand-alone book at all. But I like what they’re doing here.

This graphic novel is a vehicle for teaching readers how to code using the LOGO programming language – but the story is fun and engaging.

There are puzzles along the way – coding challenges are presented and the reader’s given a chance to figure out the solution before each step is explained. In fact, like the first book, this one ends with a coding challenge. And this one begins with the solution to the problem posed at the end of book one.

The story will keep kids’ interest. There are even villains introduced in this book – a sinister principal and a whole rugby team doing his bidding to get new uniforms. So now their coding activities with the old janitor, Mr. Bee, who used to be a professor, are threatened. There are lots of secret rooms and something sinister going on.

With this second book, I’m impressed where the authors take things. They show how to generate random numbers and then make beautiful patterns with code. The progression is straightforward – but so interesting. The story makes it more than just a coding textbook, and the fact that it’s a graphic novel makes the instructions and examples much easier to understand.

secret-coders.com
firstsecondbooks.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 Mister Cleghorn’s Seal, by Judith Kerr

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

Mister Cleghorn’s Seal

by Judith Kerr

HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2016. First published in Great Britain in 2015. 94 pages.
Review written in 2016.

I’m going to list this book with Beginning Chapter Books, but there aren’t actually any chapters. However, the pace, length, and reading level are consistent with other Beginning Chapter Books. There are black-and-white drawings by Judith on every spread, keeping young readers interested.

The story opens with Mister Cleghorn sitting on his balcony watching the sunrise, wondering how he will get through the whole day.

I should never have sold the shop, thought Mr Cleghorn, even though the people who bought it had paid him a tidy sum. Whatever am I going to do with myself?

While he is watching passersby, he sees the janitor of his building scold a little middle-aged lady for bringing her sister’s canary into the apartment building. “No pets!” shouted the janitor. “You know the rules! No pets in the flats!”

Later that day, Mr Cleghorn gets an invitation to visit his cousin and his family. Cousin William is a fisherman, and William’s son Tommy has been watching a cute seal pup by the shore. Mr Cleghorn takes an interest in the pup as well.

Then one morning he found the little pup lying listlessly on its rock. It looked up for a moment at the sound of the oars, but turned its head away at once and lay down again. It seemed sad and thinner than before.

William tells him that some seals were shot the day before, and the pup’s mother must have been one of them. It can’t live without its mother, so they should put the pup out of its misery. But Mr Cleghorn can’t bear to let the pup be shot, so he decides to take it home with him. He plans to take it to the zoo right away.

Next comes the adventure of getting the pup home and figuring out what to feed it. Once there, he needs to hide it from the janitor.

When he accidentally leaves the water running with the pup in the tub – he meets his downstairs neighbor, the lady with the birdcage. She becomes his ally in hiding the pup from the janitor. Her father was a vet, and she even knows the keeper at the local zoo.

But when the two of them go to the zoo, it has a new owner and has fallen into disrepair. The rest of the book is about trying to find a permanent home for the seal pup, yet keep him hidden while they are looking. The eventual solution makes everyone happy.

This is a nice book for animal lovers. Unfortunately, the true story in the author’s note in the back about the seal Judith Kerr’s father kept doesn’t have a happy ending, so it dampened my enthusiasm a bit. But perhaps her way of finishing will appease young readers:

I always loved this story. I wished I could have known the little seal, and I wished more than anything that the story could have had a happy ending. Perhaps that is why, more than a hundred years later, I have made up a different story, which has one.

I’m thinking of this as a quieter version of Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Charming.

harpercollins.co.uk

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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 Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

The Seventh Wish

by Kate Messner

Bloomsbury, 2016. 228 pages.

This is a nice quiet middle grade story with a touch of fantasy. It reminds me of Edward Eager books – dealing with wishes – except that it’s only one kid figuring out the wishes instead of a family of brothers and sisters.

I like all the details in this book. Charlie (short for Charlotte) lives in a town where winters and long and cold and her neighbors like to go ice fishing. Charlie’s always been afraid to go far out on the ice – until one day at a hole in the ice at a shallow part of the lake, she catches a fish with sparkling green eyes. It promises her a wish if she releases it.

Charlie thinks she must be imagining it, so she makes a frivolous wish – that Roberto Sullivan (the cutest boy in her school) will fall in love with her and that she won’t be afraid to go on the ice.

Instantly, she is no longer afraid. She goes out on the ice with the others and catches more fish. She starts to forget about it – and then the next day at school Robert O’Sullivan – definitely not the cutest boy in the school – is crazy about her, embarrassing her with love notes.

It turns out that when Charlie fishes at that hole in the ice, she usually catches the fish again – and is promised a wish if she releases it. She tries to help her friends – but wishes don’t always turn out exactly like you hope they will. And when she makes a wish for herself, it especially backfires.

I love all the details in this book. Charlie competes in Irish dancing and wants to save money to get a solo dress for the competition. I knew nothing about Irish dancing or ice fishing.

But the central problem of the book is that Charlie’s older sister who’s off at college turns out to be addicted to heroin. This book reveals how that affects Charlie and how much it affects her whole family.

So what starts as a light-hearted book as Charlie is saving money for a dress and catching fish and having fun with friends – does delve into some heavier issues. But Kate Messner keeps things firmly from the 7th grade protagonist’s perspective.

There is a message, done with a very light touch, about how hard it is to get out of heroin use once you’ve started. And that your life will be much better if you never start. The Serenity Prayer comes up frequently – Charlie does have to learn that she can’t magically fix her sister. Not even with a magic fish.

But mostly it’s a playful story about a seventh grade girl who finds a magic wishing fish.

What would you say if a fish offered you a wish, and you had to come up with a good one in time to let it back in the water?

katemessner.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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Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon, by John Himmelman

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon

by John Himmelman

Henry Holt and Company, 2016. 120 pages.

Bunjitsu Bunny’s back! Isabel the Bunjitsu master is back in this third book of short stories about fighting well and knowing when not to fight.

As before, most of the short well-illustrated chapters have some kind of kicker to the story. My favorite is “The Floating Rabbit” where their teacher challenges them to get from one circle drawn on the floor to another on the other side of the room without touching the floor. Isabel figures out to ask her friends to carry her.

“Sometimes,” said Isabel, “friends can help us do things we cannot do on our own.”

There are 13 short chapters in this book. The print is large and there are pictures on each spread, so this is a perfect choice for kids ready to start chapter books.

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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 Poppy Seed Cakes, by Margery Clark

Friday, June 1st, 2018

The Poppy Seed Cakes

by Margery Clark

with illustrations by Maud and Miska Petersham

Everyman’s Library Children’s Classics, 2013. First published 1924. 157 pages.
Starred Review

Last year I wrote Project 52 – each week reflecting on one year of my life. Which brought back memories. And one of the memories was about which chapter books I read when I was still small, before we moved away from Seattle.

One of those first chapter books was The Poppy Seed Cakes.

I hadn’t read The Poppy Seed Cakes in years. But remembering it made me want to get a copy and hold it in my hands and read it over again. So I looked on Amazon and was delighted to find an Everyman’s Classics edition.

Once the book arrived, I read it immediately. All the pictures and page decorations are there! And I remember every single one and greet them all as old friends. There are many full-page illustrations, alternating between color and black and white. But there are also decorative patterns on each page, with each chapter having its own theme, and the pattern enclosing the text. For example, the chapter “The White Goat,” has a stylized picture of a goat parading across the top of the page. “Erminka and the Crate of Chickens” has chickens across the top, and “The Picnic Basket” has a goose reaching for a picnic basket.

The only thing wrong with this book is its bright yellow cover. I’m pretty sure my grandma’s copy was red. And that’s another thing. I’m not so sure any more that I did read this book from the library in Seattle. But I specifically remember reading it at my grandma’s house in Salem, Oregon – and I think maybe my great-grandmother had a copy as well. (However, that means my mother had read it as a child, so there’s a very good chance she did check it out for me from the library. Which would explain my memory of it as one of the first chapter books I got from the library.)

I am very sad I didn’t think of ordering this book when my own children were small, because I find it’s a book that begs to be read aloud. In fact, I’ll admit that I read some of it aloud even when sitting in my own home all alone. The phrase “Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka,” which appears over and over just doesn’t want to remain silent in your head.

The stories are old-fashioned and quaint – but do stand the test of time. And the language! First we have stories about Andrewshek and Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka. Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka asks him to do something while she is gone – and Andrewshek consistently chooses to do something else – with varying results. Though they usually manage to deal with said results.

Then we have stories about Erminka and her red topped boots. They are her brother’s, and they are too big, so wearing them gets Erminka in trouble more than once.

At the end of the book, the stories come together when Erminka comes for a tea-party at Andrewshek’s house. With poppy seed cakes.

All the animals can talk in this book. Each story is child-sized and matter of fact, and the animals are child-like in their responses. Here’s how the last story ends:

Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka spread a clean white table cloth on the table under the apple tree in the garden. She brought out two plates of poppy seed cakes and five cups and saucers and five spoons and five napkins. Then she went back into the house to get some strawberry jam.

The white goat and the kitten and the dog and the two chickens came and sat down on the bench beside the table under the apple tree in the garden. They sat very quiet with their hands folded.

“If we behave nicely,” said the white goat, “perhaps Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka will let us join the tea-party.”

Andrewshek’s Auntie Katushka came out on the porch with a bowl of strawberry jam in her hand. She saw the white goat and the kitten and the dog and the two chickens sitting quiet on the bench, with their hands folded.

“Well! Well!” said Auntie Katushka. “Some more friends have come to our tea-party. I hope they will like poppy seed cakes and strawberry jam, too.”

And they did.

Simple stories and simple concerns, with a happy ending. Though a modern child probably won’t hang out with geese and goats and chickens like Andrewshek and Erminka, they will understand how easy it is to be distracted, the lure of new boots, and the delight of eating poppy seed cakes.

randomhouse.com/everymans

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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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