Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

The Empty Grave

Lockwood & Co. Book Five

by Jonathan Stroud

Disney Hyperion, 2017. 437 pages.
Starred Review

I finished The Empty Grave today, and with it the entire Lockwood & Co. series – and Yes! The series ends well. I can now officially say that from start to finish, this is one of the best children’s book series ever. These books make good family reading, since adults will enjoy them every bit as much. Children need to be old enough to be able to not be afraid of all the murderous ghosts (and murderous people). If your child doesn’t mind some severe spookiness, I highly recommend this series.

This series deals with an alternate reality England where there’s a “Problem” with ghosts roaming the countryside and haunting buildings and places where they died. These aren’t friendly ghosts – if they touch you, you’ll die. And only children can see them. Lucy, Lockwood, George, and Holly still have their independent agency for dealing with ghosts – but powerful forces are ready to put them out of business – or perhaps simply kill them.

In this final installment, all the threads come together. Can the smallest agency in London expose what’s at the root of the Problem? Or will they be silenced? We’re told at the beginning of this book that Lucy survives. But will any of her friends survive with her?

I really mustn’t say any more about the plot. Yes, this is a series you should read from the beginning – It’s brilliantly crafted, with important pieces revealed at just the right time. In this book, it all comes together in a satisfying, and very suspenseful, way.

Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus series is brilliant – but Lockwood & Co. goes far beyond it. You come to care about all the characters deeply (even George!) and to understand the complex situation and all that’s at stake. This series is magnificent! Read it!

LockwoodandCo.com
jonathanstroud.com
DisneyBooks.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, preordered via Amazon.com.

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 All’s Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

All’s Faire in Middle School

by Victoria Jamieson

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. 248 pages.
Starred Review

This graphic novel is every bit as delightful as the author’s earlier one, Roller Girl. In fact, I liked it a little better, since I’m more familiar with Renaissance faires than I am with roller derby.

Imogene and her family have always been involved in the Florida Renaissance Faire all her life. Her father is an actor who plays the evil lord of the dragons, and her mother runs a craft store. Impy has always been homeschooled at the faire, along with her annoying little brother – but now she’s ready to go to middle school.

The middle school part of the story doesn’t have any big surprises – making friends and figuring out how to fit in, tough teachers, and eventually Impy has to face some not-very-nice things she does to please the so-called friends. All that makes a delightful parallel to the Renaissance faire, where Impy has a more responsible role this year as an actual cast member – her father’s squire.

Of course, the two worlds intersect when the leader of the mean girls has her birthday party at the Renaissance faire.

I’ve read other books about homeschooled kids adjusting to school, but this one’s a graphic novel, so it’s extra colorful (literally), and all the Renaissance faire parts make for great images.

And make no mistake about it, starting middle school is a whole lot like going on a quest and fighting dragons.

victoriajamieson.com
penguin.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 Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, by Megumi Iwasa

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe

by Megumi Iwasa
illustrated by Jun Takabatake

Gecko Press, 2017. First published in New Zealand in 2016. 102 pages.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is a light-hearted chapter book perfect for beginning readers.

Giraffe is bored. When he finds a bored pelican who is starting a delivery service, Giraffe decides to write a letter. He tells Pelican to give it to the first animal you meet on the other side of the horizon. That turns out to be very far away.

But Pelican finds a seal who delivers mail to Penguin. So Giraffe and Penguin start a correspondence.

They don’t understand each other terribly well. But how can you expect a penguin whose only companion is a whale to understand what a long neck is?

Giraffe decides that he’s going to try to dress up like penguin. He takes all penguin’s descriptions and does his best – with very funny results.

This story is good, sweet fun.

geckopress.com

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Review of All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, by Leslie Connor

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

by Leslie Connor

Katherine Tegen Books, 2016. 382 pages.
Starred Review

Perry Cook has grown up in prison at Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in Surprise, Nebraska. His mother is a resident, and Perry was born shortly after she came to the minimum security prison twelve years ago. Warden Daugherty is officially Perry’s foster parent, and Perry has his own room next to the warden’s office.

Perry goes to school in Butler County, and as the book starts, he’s getting ready to start middle school. He met his best friend, Zoey Samuels, when she moved there in the middle of fourth grade. Zoey moved to the area because of her stepdad’s job. The description of the stepdad rang true – always trying too hard with her and coming across like a big fake.

But then Zoey’s stepdad Tom VanLeer finds out about Perry. And Tom is the new district attorney. A boy living at a prison? He’s outraged. Without telling Zoey, he decides to Do the Right Thing and take Perry into his own home. What’s more, Warden Daugherty gets suspended, and Perry’s mother’s parole hearing gets postponed.

Tom also tries too hard with Perry. Tom thinks he’s saving him from a horrible life growing up in prison. Perry only knows that he’s been forced to leave his mom and his home.

Then their English teacher assigns the students a project to find out why their family came to Butler County. Perry decides to learn the stories of his Blue River family, including his mother’s full story.

I didn’t expect to even like this book much, but I loved it. Maybe it stretches plausibility just a tad, and things do tie up pretty neatly in the end – but the characters are so well-drawn, they’re a delight to spend time with, especially including Perry’s family at Blue River.

And while the overall situation of a boy growing up in prison may be a little hard to believe – if you accept the premise, it’s easy to believe this is how things would work out, including the residents and their quirky personalities, the comments Perry gets from kids at school, and the reaction of the self-righteous district attorney.

Most of the book is told from Perry’s perspective, with chapters here and there from his mother’s perspective. Personally, I think the book could do without his mother’s chapters – but they don’t harm the book. I just don’t think they’re necessarily needed. You can figure out how she feels about all of this.

Perry’s a great person to spend time with. As he learns the stories of the residents, the reader gets a chance to feel some empathy as well and see how easily lives can go off-course. But the big question: Can Perry do anything to help his mother get parole?

This story is filled with hope, compassion, love, and understanding. We see Perry get understandably angry with district attorney VanLeer – and figure out a way to rise above his anger. We see the power of learning people’s stories, even someone like VanLeer.

leslieconnor.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 Journey Across the Hidden Islands, by Sarah Beth Durst

Monday, August 7th, 2017

Journey Across the Hidden Islands

by Sarah Beth Durst

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), April 4, 2017. 338 pages.

Sarah Beth Durst is so imaginative! I have to say that as a rule, the creatures her characters befriend and ride on are generally exceptionally cuddly. I’m thinking of the bear in Ice and the tiger in Enchanted Ivy, but now also the winged lion in Journey Across the Hidden Islands.

This one’s a middle grade adventure about twelve-year-old twin princesses. Seika is the heir to the emperor of the Hidden Islands. And Ji-Lin will be her sister’s imperial guard, along with her winged lion companion, Alejan.

Ji-Lin and Seika are still in training, but somewhat to their surprise, on their twelfth birthday, they are told they are ready to go on the Emperor’s Journey.

Every generation, the emperor’s heir journeys across the hundred islands and renews our bargain with the dragon, ensuring the continuation of the barrier for another generation. The heir travels only with her or his brother or sister and one winged lion, as Himitsu himself did long ago.

The barrier that the dragon maintains keeps the islands safe from the koji (monsters) on the outside.

But as Ji-Lin, Seika, and Alejan travel, they encounter koji where they shouldn’t be. They find the journey much more difficult than it should be, and other unexpected surprises in what’s supposed to be carefully planned. Is the barrier already falling? What if they fail in their quest? What will happen to their people?

Along the way during this adventure, there are wonderful details of this magical world, including mer-minnows, waterhorses, and unicorns. I like the interaction between the sisters, and the character of Alejan – obviously a young winged lion, and one who’s always hungry.

This is an excellent adventure for middle grade readers. And who wouldn’t want to fly on the back of a lion?

sarahbethdurst.com
hmhco.com

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Review of Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Frogkisser!

by Garth Nix

Scholastic Press, February 2017. 372 pages.
Starred Review

This one’s fun. Garth Nix, the author of dark and mysterious tales of necromancy in the Old Kingdom has here taken a light-hearted and more traditional route. In a tale peppered with cleverness and delightful twists on tropes, we meet Princess Anya, whose wicked stepstepfather wants to take over her sister Morven’s kingdom.

He’s her stepstepfather because he married her stepmother. The stepmother “was expected to be quite evil but mainly turned out to be a very enthusiastic botanist.” But Anya’s father died a year after marrying the stepmother, and her stepmother married Duke Rikard.

So the girls had two stepparents. Their stepmother the botanist wasn’t a huge problem, but as it turned out, their stepstepfather was evil and wanted to be the king. Though Morven should by rights be crowned when she turned sixteen, in three months’ time, it was fairly certain Duke Rikard would somehow prevent this from happening.

Anya’s adventures begin when Duke Rikard transforms the current prince Morven’s in love with into a frog. But then he jumped into the moat with thousands of other frogs. Morven gets Anya to make a Sister Promise that she’ll find him. Anya makes a magical dowsing rod with the help of Gotfried, their castle librarian/sorcerer, to figure out which frog is Denholm, using hair from Morven’s locket.

But when she brings the frog to Morven, her sister refuses to kiss a frog. Fortunately, Gotfried has one dose left of Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm. This works best when a princess uses it, so now Anya gets to kiss the frog.

But when Anya does so, the frog turns out to have been a different former love of Morven’s, not Denholm. And then her stepstepfather, who notices someone has tampered with his spell, decides to send Anya to a distant land to school, and he’s got a new prince for Morwen who Anya realizes is a transformed magpie – with no actual family or kingdom to help Morwen take her rightful place as queen.

Anya does manage to find Denholm, in the hands of the local frogcatcher. But then consultation with the Royal Dogs convinces her the time has come for her to go on a quest.

“You can’t hide away,” the elder dog informed Anya. “You can’t even go back to the castle now. It is time that you sought help against the Duke. He grows in strength and power, and he clearly feels he can move against you and Morven now. This is your Quest: to find those who can help you defeat the Duke.”

When Gotfried gives her a copy of the spell for the making of “Fairly Reliable Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm,” Anya gives in and adds to her quest a search for the ingredients to the spell, which include witch’s tears, a retired druid’s blood, and feathers fresh-pulled from a cockatrice’s tail.

Along the way, Anya collects allies – but many of those have also suffered transmogrification. Anya will get their help if she promises to reverse their transformation once she makes the lip balm. And so she assembles a motley crew. Once the heralds give her the name Frogkisser, her reputation spreads. When she finally assembles the ingredients, Denholm manages to break free and get into a pond with many other transformed frogs – so the Frogkisser name is apt.

This book is full of silly fun, with a nice traditional quest and amusing obstacles.

I enjoyed it immensely – so I’m not quite sure why it took me a very long time to finish. Probably the episodic nature of the story made the book easy to put down. This is light-hearted magical fun that makes me smile as I write the review.

garthnix.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 Cloud and Wallfish, by Anne Nesbet

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Cloud and Wallfish

by Anne Nesbet

Candlewick Press, 2016. 385 pages.
Starred Review

One day both Noah’s parents come to pick him up from school. He is informed that they are taking a sudden trip to Germany, leaving now. And not West Germany, the one they’d talked about going to for vacation some day, the other Germany. Noah’s Mom is going to continue her PhD research, looking at education for people with disabilities on both sides of the Wall.

That’s only the beginning for Noah. They also tell him that he’s going to be called Jonah and he has a different birthday than the one he’s always used. They even made a book for him, showing him the history of his life – with fake elementary school pictures and fake places they supposedly lived.

It’s 1989, and Noah and his parents – now the Brown family instead of the Keller family – are going to live in East Berlin for six months.

They’ve got a set of Rules. They must not draw attention to themselves. They must smile. They must not talk about serious things indoors, where they’ll be bugged. If Noah absolutely must talk about the past, he must stick to the Jonah Book.

Noah has a stutter, which makes German, with all its consonants, even harder for him than English, even though he has a gift for languages and can understand. But the authorities don’t think he can speak it well enough to go to school. He meets a girl named Claudia (pronounced “Cloud-ee-a”) who lives in their apartment building with her grandma and missed school because she was sick.

Before contact is forbidden, Noah/Jonah and Claudia, who both feel like Changelings, invent a fairyland and draw pictures of that place on a map of Berlin. On the map, West Berlin is blank, so they fill it in as fairyland.

The adult reader will know this was an interesting time to be in Berlin – and sure enough, things progress as events move toward the Wall coming down. To fill in historical details, every chapter has a “Secret File” giving some background. I was a little ambivalent about those being included. But since it was information I had already, it seems only fair that kids should have that information, too.

I was pulled into this book right away, as Noah was bewildered by his parents’ news of the sudden move and name change. The characterization is brilliant as his parents take on East Germany, and Noah observes, follows the Rules, and makes a Changeling friend.

Of course, I’ve got a soft spot for this book since I lived in Germany for 10 years, though it was after the Wall fell. There was even a Sonderschule mentioned. It’s a school for special needs kids, but hey, it’s part of a special book.

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

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Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

Monday, March 13th, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

by Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 388 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Newbery Medal Winner

In the Protectorate every year, the youngest baby is left in the woods for the Witch.

But this year, the mother of the child protests and goes mad and has to be locked up.

And Antain, the young apprentice to the Elders is disturbed by what he sees and asks uncomfortable questions. But the elders leave the baby anyway.

They left her knowing that there surely wasn’t a witch. There never had been a witch. There were only a dangerous forest and a single road and a thin grip on a life that the Elders had enjoyed for generations. The Witch – that is, the belief in her – made for a frightened people, a subdued people, a compliant people, who lived their lives in a saddened haze, the coulds of their grief numbing their senses and dampening their minds. It was terribly convenient for the Elders’ unencumbered rule. Unpleasant, too, of course, but that couldn’t be helped.

They heard the child whimper as they tramped through the trees, but the whimpering soon gave way to the swamp sighs and birdsong and the woody creaking of trees throughout the forest. And each Elder felt as sure as sure could be that the child wouldn’t live to see the morning, and that they would never hear her, never see her, never think of her again.

They thought she was gone forever.

They were wrong, of course.

Now, there is a witch who lived in the woods named Xan. Here’s her perspective on the Day of Sacrifice:

For as long as Xan could remember, every year at about the same time, a mother from the Protectorate left her baby in the forest, presumably to die. Xan had no idea why. Nor did she judge. But she wasn’t going to let the poor little thing perish, either. And so, every year, she traveled to that circle of sycamores and gathered the abandoned infant in her arms, carrying the child to the other side of the forest, to one of the Free Cities on the other side of the Road. These were happy places. And they loved children.

But this year, which was turning out so differently from usual, something about the baby caught at Xan’s heart. And as she journeyed with the baby, she accidentally fed it moonlight rather than the usual starlight.

There is magic in starlight, of course. This is well known. But because the light travels such a long distance, the magic in it is fragile and diffused, stretched into the most delicate of threads. There is enough magic in starlight to content a baby and fill its belly, and in large enough quantities, starlight can awaken the best in that baby’s heart and soul and mind. It is enough to bless, but not to enmagic.

Moonlight, however. That is a different story.

Moonlight is magic. Ask anyone you like.

So, baby Luna gets enmagicked, and Xan realizes that means she must care for the baby herself. So Luna grows up in the forest with tiny dragon Fyrian (who thinks he is Simply Enormous) and bog monster Glerk. When her magic comes in, there may be disastrous consequences, so Xan has to take momentous steps to control it.

Luna has no idea of her origins. And Xan has no idea what she has set in motion – things that are going to change the lives of everyone in the Protectorate and the forest. They will find the source of all the Sorrows and discover how to fight against it.

This is a lovely book with a fantasy world not quite like any other. We have the usual quest of good versus evil, but it proceeds in surprising ways.

I like the way this book celebrates Love and Joy. And conquering those who feed on Sorrows.

kellybarnhill.wordpress.com
AlgonquinYoungReaders.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 Lily and Dunkin, by Donna Gephart

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Lily and Dunkin

by Donna Gephart

Delacorte Press, 2016. 331 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #10 Children’s Fiction

Neither Lily nor Dunkin is happy with the name they were given at birth. Dunkin doesn’t like his name because it’s Norbert Dorfman, after his grandfather and great-grandfather. Lily doesn’t like her name because it’s Timothy. Lily knows she’s really a girl, and is trying to be brave enough to wear girl’s clothes to school when eighth grade starts, but she doesn’t quite manage it.

Dunkin met Lily before school started, and even saw her wearing a dress, but when he asks about it, Lily backs down and says it was just on a dare. Dunkin would like to be friends with Tim at school, but when the guys on the basketball team take an interest in him because he’s so tall, he can’t stay away — even though they’re the same guys who bully Tim.

On the surface, this is an issue book. Lily is dealing with being transgender and trying to get up the courage to go public with that. She also wants to go on hormone blockers before it’s too late, but her Dad’s having a hard time with it.

Meanwhile, Dunkin has his own issues. He’s got bipolar disorder. His mother decided to trust him to take his own medication this year. But if he takes his antipsychotic pills, he doesn’t have enough energy to play basketball. So he sneaks a pill into the trash each day.

As an issues book, I enjoyed this. It’s for a slightly older reader than George but I like the way both books help you understand how it would feel to be transgender and some of the many difficulties you’d face.

But the book does have more to it. There’s navigating friendships and eighth grade, and there’s an old tree in front of the library that’s scheduled to be cut down. It’s a tree that meant a lot to Lily and her grandfather who is now deceased. As for Dunkin, he’s the new kid. He’s just moved to Florida, leaving behind some kind of family disaster involving his Dad. He knows nothing about basketball, but now he has a chance to be somebody because he got his growth early. If he can learn enough about the game before it’s time to play.

donnagephart.com
randomhousekids.com

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

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Review of When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

When the Sea Turned to Silver

by Grace Lin

read by Kim Mai Guest

Hachette Audio, 2016. 7.5 hours on 6 CDs. Unabridged.
Starred Review
2016 National Book Award Finalist
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 Children’s Fiction

Like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky, Grace Lin weaves Chinese fairy tales throughout this story, bringing elements from the various tales into the conclusion at the end. It’s okay if you haven’t read or don’t remember the other two, as this story stands well on its own.

The audiobook includes a pdf file of the illustrations, but I chose to check out a copy of the print book so I could enjoy them as I went. Each day after my commute, I’d look at the pictures as far as I’d gotten in the audiobook. Grace Lin is an illustrator as well as a writer, and this book includes color plates at intervals, and small one-color illustrations at the start of each chapter. This book is a treat to hold in your hands, and would make a wonderful read-aloud.

At the start of the book, the evil emperor comes with his soldiers up the mountain, during a winter that has lasted far too long, and takes away Pinmei’s grandmother, the Storyteller. When the neighbor boy Yishan protests, the emperor tells him that they can have the Storyteller back if they bring the emperor the Luminous Stone that Lights Up the Night.

The soldiers set fire to the hut and leave, but Yishan rescues Pinmei from her hiding place, and the two travel together to try to find a Luminous Stone and save Pinmei’s Amah. Their adventures take them to the City of Bright Moonlight and the kingdom of Sea Bottom. Along the way, Pinmei tells stories she’s learned from her Amah – and those stories provide clues to what the emperor is looking for and how to thwart him and get Amah back.

This book has a theme of immortality, the importance of stories, and finding your voice. At the start, Pinmei is too shy to even speak in the presence of others, but by the end, she can speak truth even in front of the emperor.

This book would make a wonderful family or classroom read-aloud. The fairy tales woven throughout give it a timeless appeal for a wide age range.

gracelin.com
HachetteAudio.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?