Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

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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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 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.

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Review of The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate

by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Candlewick Press, 2017. 90 pages.
Starred Review

A fifth book about the Princess in Black! I like the way she’s maintaining her secret identity, but now her friends are emulating the Princess in Black with their own attempts to fight monsters.

At the start, the Princess in Black and the Goat Avenger drive a monster back into Monster Land. But then the Princess in Black has mysterious plans and must leave. What she doesn’t tell the Goat Avenger is that she has a playdate with Princess Sneezewort.

But a very sneaky monster follows her to Princess Sneezewort’s kingdom! It interrupts the playdate. Princess Sneezewort, inspired by the Princess in Black, becomes the Princess in Blankets. (After all, blankets make a good disguise.) As it happens, she discovers exactly the ninja skills needed against a super-sneaky monster.

I like the way these books inspire everyone to become a hero, battle monsters – and then celebrate together!

squeetus.com
candlewick.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 War I Finally Won, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

The War I Finally Won

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. 385 pages.
Starred Review

The War I Finally Won is the sequel to the wonderful award-winning book The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It was my #1 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Children’s Fiction for books I read in 2016. Yes, you should read the first book first.

The book begins with Ada having surgery to fix her clubfoot so she can walk without crutches. But the war is going on, and a lot of people she knows are dying, including her Mam – which means that Susan can become Ada and Jamie’s legal guardian.

Susan’s house was destroyed in the first book – but Lady Thorton gives them a home in a “cottage” on her estate – a bigger place than Susan’s house had been. However, things get smaller when Lady Thorton moves in with them after her stately home is requisitioned by the government. And then Susan is asked to tutor a 16-year-old German Jewish girl named Ruth.

Lady Thorton doesn’t want to have anything to do with a German girl, because her son is in harm’s way fighting the Germans, but she has to give in. Ada only gradually comes to understand that Ruth hates Hitler just as much as they do.

Ada still has the same voice as in the first book. There are still a lot of words she doesn’t understand because she has no experience with them. And she still is prone to emotional outbursts, still has trouble feeling safe.

This book explores many aspects of what it means to be a family. It was marvelous watching Ada’s fragile heart open wider, even while dealing with the hardships and tragedies of wartime.

kimberlybrubakerbradley.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 Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Beyond the Bright Sea

by Lauren Wolk
read by Jorjeana Marie

Listening Library (Penguin Random House), 2017. 7.5 hours on 6 compact discs.

Beyond the Bright Sea tells the story of a 12-year-old girl living on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts.

Here’s how the book begins:

My name is Crow.

When I was a baby, someone tucked me into an old boat and pushed me out to sea.

I washed up on a tiny island, like a seed riding the tide.

It was Osh who found me and took me in. Who taught me how to put down roots, and thrive on both sun and rain, and understand what it is to bloom….

And then, one night when I was twelve, I saw a fire burning on Penikese, the island where no one ever went, and I decided on my own that it was time to find out where I’d come from and why I’d been sent away.

But I didn’t understand what I was risking until I nearly lost it.

This book is set in the 1920s. The island called Penikese is where about ten years earlier there’d been a leper colony, with the residents kept isolated from any other human beings. Is Crow’s story connected with theirs?

Miss Maggie lives on Cuddyhunk, the next island over. She has helped Osh care for Crow since she first washed up on Osh’s island. Miss Maggie wrote letters to Penikese and several other places, asking about a missing newborn baby, but never got any reply. All the same, the islanders treat her as if she will sprout a dreadful disease at any time.

At first, Crow wants to prove she’s not from Penikese. But the more she finds out, the more that changes.

There’s a surprising amount of adventure in what starts out sounding like a quiet story. Crow’s quest to find her origins ends up involving shipwrecks and pirate treasure, but all with plenty of love from Osh and Miss Maggie.

I wasn’t crazy about the narrator – she read the story almost too calmly and quietly, though to be fair, Crow is a calm and quiet child. There are also some coincidences in the story itself. I was somewhat disturbed by the presence of a purely evil character – I think a little more so because there had also been a purely evil character in Lauren Wolk’s previous book, Wolf Hollow, which was also very good in spite of that. I guess I was willing to overlook it the first time, but the second time that particular objection gets a little stronger.

That said, this audiobook made absorbing listening, and I would love to meet Crow, Osh, Miss Maggie, and their cat named Mouse. Lauren Wolk’s good people feel like real people you’d love to meet, and she makes the world of these 1920s islands come alive.

penguin.com/middle-grade
listeninglibrary.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.

What did you think of this book?