Archive for the ‘Suspense’ Category

Review of When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

“When Did You See Her Last?”

All the Wrong Questions, Book 2

by Lemony Snicket
read by Liam Aiken

Hachette Audio, 2013. 4.5 hours on 4 CDs.

“When Did You See Her Last?” is the second entry in the All the Wrong Questions series of crime noir for kids. Young Lemony Snicket continues to stay in Stain’d-by-the-Sea. He and his chaperone are asked to solve another mystery, and once again his chaperone is completely misled, but young Snicket follows a progression of clues and reveals answers.

These books should be read in order. A master villain is hanging about, the statue from the previous book makes an appearance, and we get more clues as to what is going on with Lemony Snicket’s sister, but no answers.

These make wonderful listening. You’ve got a gripping story with plenty to set you chuckling. This would be ideal for a family trip. Now I just hope the next installment is coming out soon!

LemonySnicketLibrary.com
HachetteAudio.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/when_did_you_see_her_last.html

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

“Who Could That Be at This Hour?”

All the Wrong Questions, Book 1

by Lemony Snicket
read by Liam Aiken

Hachette Audio, 2012. 4 hours on 4 CDs.

I began listening to this new series by Lemony Snicket and was captivated. It’s got all of his clever humor without the sad plight of persecuted orphans that turned me off from A Series of Unfortunate Events.

We do have a 13-year-old kid – the young Lemony Snicket – setting off on his apprenticeship for a mysterious organization. His chaperone takes him to Stained-by-the-Sea, and they are told to return a mysterious statue to its rightful owner. However, Snicket quickly realizes the statue is already in the hands of its rightful owner. His chaperone doesn’t believe him, and they begin a crazy adventure.

The book is full of delightful, understated details. Stained-by-the-Sea, for example, is no longer by the sea, but there is a sinister forest of seaweed where sea used to be. The reader uses a wonderful matter-of-fact voice, eminently suitable for crime noir.

I love Lemony Snicket’s trademark, “which here means…”, always used in clever and funny ways. And the similes he uses are always bizarre, but apt. I wish I could give examples, but that’s a problem with an audiobook.

Lemony Snicket freely tells us that he was asking the wrong questions, and tells us what the right question would have been. But he doesn’t tell us what the answer would have been to the right question. That is only revealed with time.

Some pieces of the mystery are revealed in this book, but it’s definitely the beginning of something bigger. There are reportedly going to be four Wrong Questions. And I have already decided I’m going to be sure to listen to all of them.

LemonySnicketLibrary.com
HachetteAudio.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/who_could_that_be.html

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of All the Truth That’s in Me, by Julie Berry

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

All the Truth That’s in Me

by Julie Berry

Viking, 2013. 288 pages.
Starred Review

I read this book simply because it’s in School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books, which commences March 10. I’m not sure what I expected, since I hadn’t heard much about it, but I was blown away and kept reading well into the night.

This is a rare book that’s written in second person voice, addressed to “you.” But the speaker is not addressing the reader. It soon becomes clear that she’s addressing the young man she loves.

Here’s how the book begins, with the heading “Before”:

We came here by ship, you and I.

I was a baby on my mother’s knee, and you were a lisping, curly-headed boy playing at your mother’s feet all through that weary voyage.

Watching us, our mothers got on so well together that our fathers chose adjacent farm plots a mile from town, on the western fringe of a Roswell Station that was much smaller then.

I remember my mother telling tales of the trip when I was young. Now she never speaks of it at all.

She said I spent the whole trip wide-eyed, watching you.

She still watches him. She remembers when he smiled at her, gave her posies. But something terrible happened, and now the whole village barely notices she is there.

We get bits of what happened, all along the way. We find out why she doesn’t speak. She was gone for two years. When she came back, she was out of her head, left for dead, with half her tongue cut out.

Then ships are sighted off the shore, coming toward the town. The Homelanders are bringing war to them, wanting their fertile farms. All the men of the town must fight, even though their arsenal was destroyed, even though they are doomed.

But Judith knows where to find help – only she must confront her own nightmares.

And after she does so, everything changes.

This book is marvelously constructed, revealing bits of the past at a natural pace, as it comes up in the present, finally with mysteries solved at the very end. I find myself wanting to read it all over again, knowing now how it all fits together.

And ultimately, it’s a love story. And a story of healing. And a story of courage. And a story of a wounded girl finding her voice.

julieberrybooks.com
penguin.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/all_the_truth_thats_in_me.html

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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of The Nazi Hunters, by Neal Bascomb

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

The Nazi Hunters

How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi

by Neal Bascomb

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2013. 242 pages.
Starred Review
2014 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Winner

Here’s a work of nonfiction that reads like a thriller. I didn’t realize until I read the note about the author at the back that this book was based on the author’s book for adults, Hunting Eichmann. It doesn’t read like an abridgement.

Because of the nature of the material, this is a book for teens and preteens, rather than children. But anyone who enjoys a good spy novel will enjoy this true-life tale.

The book sets the stage with what happened in World War II. It looks at the particular, focusing on the story of a young man, Zeev Sapir, in Hungary. Zeev later testified at Eichmann’s trial. The book explains the four phases of Eichmann’s plan: Isolate the Jews, secure Jewish wealth, move the Jews to ghettos, and finally, transport them to camps. His job was to get them to the camps, and he didn’t claim responsibility for what happened to them there.

The first chapter briefly explains Eichmann’s rise to power and his escape from Germany at the end of the war. The rest of the book focuses on how he was discovered in Argentina by Israeli Secret Service, and the elaborate plan they needed to be able to abduct him, bring him to Israel, and put him on trial.

I was struck by the sheer number of those involved who had lost family members in the Holocaust. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but the details as mentioned in this book brought it home to me.

I like the way the book explains the importance of the trial of Adolf Eichmann:

The Eichmann trial was almost more important in the field of education than in that of justice. David Ben-Gurion achieved his ambition: The trial educated the Israeli public, particularly the young, about the true nature of the Holocaust. And, after sixteen years of silence, it allowed survivors to openly share their experiences.

In the rest of the world, the intense media coverage and the wave of Eichmann biographies and fantastic accounts of his capture rooted the Holocaust in the collective cultural consciousness. The Shoah, as it was also known, was not to be forgotten, and an outpouring of survivor memoirs, scholarly works, plays, novels, documentaries, paintings, museum exhibits, and films followed in the wake of the trial and still continues today. This consciousness, in Israel and throughout the world, is the enduring legacy of the operation to capture Adolf Eichmann.

The book is full of photographs all along the way, including pictures of important documents, such as the captain’s logbook for the El Al flight out of Argentina and Eichmann’s Red Cross passport. This reminds the reader, all the way through, that these exciting events actually took place.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/nazi_hunters.html

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 an advance review copy I got at an ALA conference.

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.

Review of Endangered, by Eliot Schrefer

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Endangered

by Eliot Schrefer

Scholastic Press, New York, 2012. 264 pages.
Starred Review
2012 National Book Award Finalist
2013 School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books Contender

Endangered is the only Battle of the Books contender this year that I hadn’t already read. I’m glad I finished it before it’s out of the Battle. And, dare I say it?, now I find myself hoping it pulls an upset over The Fault in Our Stars. Though I don’t want it to beat my favorite, Code Name Verity in the next round, and The Fault in Our Stars is bound to come back from the dead anyway, so this doesn’t feel like a very fateful prediction.

But Endangered is a gripping, powerful, and suspenseful story that feels like it’s teaching you at the same time. I knew nothing about bonobos and very little about Congo or life in Congo. Eliot Schrefer writes with authenticity that sure makes the reader think he knows what he’s talking about.

I already had an idea of the story. Sophie was visiting her Mom on a bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Without asking permission, she adopted Otto, a baby bonobo being sold on the side of the road. Later, her Mom heads out to release some adult bonobos at a safe location in the wild, but while she is gone, war erupts. UN peacekeepers try to take Sophie to safety, but Sophie won’t leave Otto to die.

What follows is an epic journey. Because war comes to the sanctuary. Sophie takes refuge in the electrified enclosure with the adult bonobos, so her first challenge is to be accepted by them. But when the electricity goes off, she knows she must escape before the soldiers come in to kill them all. Can she travel through the jungle and find her mother, miles away?

This book is a survival tale, a frightening story of war, and full of authentic details about bonobos and life in Congo.

At first, I was a little annoyed with Sophie for seeming more concerned about bonobo life than human life. But as the book went on, I came to feel that someone needed to care about “the least of these.” When another opportunity came up for her to go to safety if she abandoned Otto, but she had clear evidence he would die if she did, I was by then fully on Sophie’s side in continuing on with Otto.

Sophie’s journey takes her from one danger to another. But she never feels unduly lucky. There are many setbacks. Some she deals with better than others, and she does end up finding kind strangers who help along the way, after initial help from the bonobos. It’s hard to write a series of narrow escapes and still have the reader feel like it could happen, but Eliot Schrefer pulls it off. It all feels believable and terribly scary.

During a quiet moment it struck me that Congo was an easier country to survive in than most during a time of war. In peacetime the teacher couldn’t afford to buy food at the markets, which meant he had a field, and snares for wild game, and a well for water since the government had never run pipes out here. I tried to imagine getting by if the same thing happened in Miami and couldn’t. When a country was as primed for civil war as Congo was, when it came apart, the pieces weren’t as heavy.

eliotschrefer.com
scholastic.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/endangered.html

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 the 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Bomb

The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

by Steve Sheinkin

Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2012. 266 pages.
Starred Review
2013 Newbery Honor Book
2013 Sibert Award Winner
2013 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Winner

Okay, this is a book that deserves all the acclaim. It’s exciting. It’s important. It’s well-researched. And it’s true. What’s not to like?

Steve Sheinkin takes three threads of history: The Americans’ race to build a bomb in time to make a difference in World War II, the efforts to stop the Germans from developing a bomb first, and the Soviet effort to steal the technology, with repercussions in the arms race that followed. He weaves all those threads together in a gripping page-turner that captures the tension of the time, even though you know how it all turned out.

I was surprised by how much I didn’t know. For example, I’d had no idea a team of Norwegians sabotaged a German heavy water factory and ultimately hampered Germany’s chances of beating the Allies to a bomb. I also wasn’t clear on the different types of atomic bombs and the obstacles in producing them. He made it all seem so simple!

And a whole lot of the book is about the spying and espionage surrounding the bomb. Talk about drama! Steve Sheinkin makes you feel the tension and intrigue, even while sticking to what’s known.

The one thing that bugged me? I fully realize this is incredibly minor, but I also strongly hope that it will be fixed in subsequent printings (and I’m sure this book will have many, many printings). Not once, but twice, someone was quoted talking about their “principle concern.” Eventually, people did have concerns about the principles involved, but in that context they were talking about their “principal concerns.” It bugs me to have an error like that in what seems to be an impeccably researched book. We discussed on Heavy Medal, do we hold Nonfiction books to higher standards? Well, I can assure you that would have bugged me in any book, but, yes, probably a little more in Nonfiction. But I can also inform you that I was too absorbed in the story to jot down the page numbers.

Despite those two annoying spots for nitpickers like me, this is a groundbreaking history book that I recommend for adults, teens, and children alike. You’ll learn something, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat learning it.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/bomb.html

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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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.

This review is posted today in honor of Nonfiction Monday. This week’s Round-Up is hosted at Apples with Many Seeds.

Review of Audiobook Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein
read by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell

Bolinda Audio, 2012. Unabridged. 10 hours 9 minutes on 9 compact discs.
2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out, #1 Teen Fiction
Starred Review

In my mind, Code Name Verity is easily the best book written in 2012. It’s not a pleasant story. It’s not even a happy story. But Wow! It blows you away.

I’m already thinking about how to booktalk the book. Spies. The Resistance. A British pilot stranded in France during World War II. Nazi interrogators. Think that will do it? It’s also a book about friendship.

I already reviewed the print version of the book, which I devoured as soon as it arrived via Amazon. But as soon as I finished, I knew I’d want to read it again. There are lots of things in the second part referred to in the beginning part, and I wanted to see if I would have a new perspective having already finished the book. Besides, I wanted to enjoy it again! So when the audio version was nominated for Capitol Choices, that seemed like a good excuse to reread the book in a different format.

And, Wow! Okay, I realize I’m not being even slightly eloquent. Let me simply say that this is an outstanding audio production of an outstanding story. They got someone from Scotland to read Julie’s parts, and someone from England to read Maddie’s. And they were magnificent. It felt like I was really listening to the two friends talking about their wartime service and their friendship.

I still love this passage. I almost burst out crying in the car when it came up in the audiobook:

Then she hitched up her hair to its two-inch above-the-collar regulation point, swabbed her own tears and the grease and the concrete dust and the gunner’s blood from her cheeks with the back of her hand, and she was off running again, like the Red Queen.

It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.

I wouldn’t have thought there was a way to improve this book. But listening to Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell made me feel like I was listening to Julie and Maddie tell me their thoughts.

Now, I suppose I should add that there’s torture that happens in this book. It’s set during wartime, and it isn’t pretty. Julie and Maddie are adults, young ones, yes, but adults serving during wartime. So although Code Name Verity is published as a young adult book, “old” adults won’t feel the least bit like the book is too young for them. And this isn’t a YA book I’d want to give to the youngest teens, because the subject matter is deadly serious. This audiobook is wonderful for listening in the car, but I wouldn’t call it a “family” audiobook if there are young kids around.

But Wow. Code Name Verity is a story of wartime, yes, but it’s a beautiful one. The story of the friendship, of these amazing young women, far outshines the ugly details of wartime.

elizabethwein.com
bolinda.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/code_name_verity_audio.html

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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein

Hyperion, New York, 2012. 343 pages.
Starred Review

Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. For me, this is the Year of Escalating Greatness. For the Newbery: First I read Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, and hoped it would win. Then I read The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, and hoped it would win. Then I read Summer of the Gypsy Moths, by Sara Pennypacker, and hoped it would win. Recently, I read Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, and now I’m hoping it will win.

For the Printz Award, it hasn’t been so drawn out. I read The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, and was sure I’d found the book I want to win next year’s award. But now I’ve read Code Name Verity. I simply can’t imagine another book surpassing this one this year.

(Mind you, I want all my past favorites to win Honor, and won’t even be too upset if they end up taking the prize. But wow, this book is good!)

I already was a big fan of Elizabeth Wein. I’ve read all of her Aksum books, set in old Africa, and knew that her writing is something special. But I wondered about a book set during World War II. That seemed something altogether different.

And this book is different. There’s still the flavor of her wonderful storytelling ability, but the story, set in France and England during World War II, is nothing like ancient Africa. But every single bit as compelling.

Here’s how the book begins:

I AM A COWARD.

I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending. I spent the first twelve years of my life playing at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers — and even though I am a girl, they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to be one of our ancestors, because I did the most rousing battle speeches. God, I tried hard last week. My God, I tried. But now I know I am a coward. After the ridiculous deal I made with SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden, I know I am a coward. And I’m going to give you anything you ask, everything I can remember. Absolutely Every Last Detail.

Here is the deal we made. I’m putting it down to keep it straight in my own mind. “Let’s try this,” the Hauptsturmführer said to me. “How could you be bribed?” And I said I wanted my clothes back.

It seems petty, now. I am sure he was expecting my answer to be something defiant — “Give me Freedom” or “Victory” — or something generous, like “Stop toying with that wretched French Resistance laddie and give him a dignified and merciful death.” Or at leaszt something more directly connected to my present circumstance, like “Please let me go to sleep” or “Feed me” or “Get rid of this sodding iron rail you have kept tied against my spine for the past three days.” But I was prepared to go sleepless and starving and upright for a good while yet if only I didn’t have to do it in my underwear — rather foul and damp at times, and SO EMBARRASSING. The warmth and dignity of my flannel skirt and woolly sweater are worth far more to me now than patriotism or integrity.

Queenie, which is what she calls herself in the narrative, draws things out. She tells the story of how she entered the war effort, but she tells it from the perspective of her best friend, Maddie Brodatt. Maddie is the pilot who crash landed the plane that brought Queenie into France after Queenie parachuted out of it. They have shown Queenie pictures of the burned plane and ruined cockpit.

Now, the reader has to wonder how much truth Queenie is giving the Nazis in this narrative, being read immediately by them. But the reader never doubts her firm and unquenching affection for Maddie, the girl who loved to fly. Maddie gets more and more opportunities in a men’s world, culminating in the chance to fly Queenie into France. Too bad it ended in a crash and a capture.

I don’t want to say one bit more about the book’s plot except that I am reminded of something Megan Whalen Turner said when she was speaking at the Horn Book-Simmons Colloquium. She said that she feels she has failed if her readers read her books only once.

With Code Name Verity I honestly caught something in the section I just quoted to you that had gone right by me the first time around. I am absolutely going to be rereading this book very soon to see the many, many things that I will look at differently the second time around.

Wow! All right, already! Just read it!

elizabethwein.com
un-requiredreading.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/code_name_verity.html

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 my own book, ordered from Amazon.com

Review of Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Ship Breaker

by Paolo Bacigalupi

Little, Brown, and Company, New York, 2010. 326 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Printz Award Winner
2010 National Book Award Finalist
2011 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 Other Teen Fiction

Ship Breaker tells the story of a boy caught on the wrong side of progress in a future world after the Age of Acceleration has ended. The story is gripping, with Nailer in life-or-death danger on every page. Yet Paolo Bacigalupi builds a world that shows the consequences of society’s actions now, without ever letting the story slow down to tell us what’s going on. We learn through the eyes of the characters.

The book begins with Nailer crawling through the ducts of an old oil tanker, lit only by LED glowpaint on his forehead. He’s after the light stuff – copper wiring, steel clips, things that can be dragged out to his crew waiting outside.

The author doesn’t have to tell us they’re poor. He describes the wire being pulled out of the duct, “She sucked the wire out like a rice noodle from a bowl of Chen’s soup ration.” We begin to understand that he’s scavenging parts when we read about the new clipper ships: “Replacements for the massive coal- and oil-burning wrecks that he and his crew worked to destroy all day long: gull-white sails, carbon-fiber hulls, and faster than anything except a maglev train.”

Nailer was too slow in there, and he needs to go back in to get more scavenge before a big storm hits. He forgets to renew his LED paint, and gets caught in the dark. That’s okay, he’s finding plenty of copper wire that leads him out – until a duct collapses under him and he falls into a tank of oil.

“How could he die in such a stupid way? This wasn’t even a storage tank. Just some room full of pooled waste oil. It was a joke, really. Lucky Strike had found an oil pocket on a ship and bought his way free. Nailer had found one and it was going to kill him.

I’m going to drown in goddamn money.

“Nailer almost laughed at the thought. No one knew exactly how much oil Lucky Strike had found and smuggled out. The man had done it slow, over time. Sneaking it out bucket by bucket until he had enough to buy out his indenture and burn off his work tattoos. But he’d had enough left over to set himself up as a labor broker selling slots into the very heavy crews that he’d escaped. Just a little oil had done so much for Lucky Strike, and Nailer was up to his neck in the damn stuff.”

Then one of his crewmates, Sloth, finds him. He begs her to bring help, to get him out, but she can’t resist the thought of pulling her own Lucky Strike. But when Nailer does find a way out, even though the oil goes out with him, Sloth is exposed as a traitor, and Nailer’s new nickname is Lucky Boy, because everyone knows he should have died.

That dramatic incident is important, because after the storm Nailer and his crewmate Pima find a wrecked clipper ship with one lone survivor. The rings on the girl’s fingers alone would be enough to set them up for life. But Nailer doesn’t have the heart to kill the girl, because he now knows what it was like to be left for dead. That incident gets him thinking throughout the book about what it means to be family, what it means to be Crew.

The tension in this book doesn’t let up for a second, and it’s life-or-death danger on almost every page. Nailer and Pima aren’t the only ones to find the girl, and the group with Nailer’s father is not at all interested in keeping her alive, only in getting money from her.

They go from one danger to another, with Nailer trying to figure out not only what’s the right thing to do, but also how to stay alive.

This book is a thriller all the way along, with a never-flagging plot. And it presents hard-hitting commentary and questions about our way of life now.

I finally read this book when taking a class on the Printz Award. It definitely seems worthy of the award it won: Besides telling a rip-roaring story, it warns us that in our policies even now, we should look out for the little guys. We should think about the consequences of the things we do.

Here are my notes on his brilliant acceptance speech at the Printz Awards.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/ship_breaker.html

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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg

Monday, February 6th, 2012

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales

illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011. 221 pages.
Starred Review
2011 Sonderbooks Standout: Children’s Fiction #5

One of the highlights of my year this year was when, on vacation, I was driving my son a couple hours in the State of Washington to visit a college, and I got him to read aloud to me from The Chronicles of Harris Burdick as I drove. He’s 17, and we both thoroughly enjoyed the stories.

But let me backtrack. Many years ago, when I was first married (so about 25 years ago, in fact), a friend of my husband and me gave us The Mysteries of Harris Burdick for Christmas. (Thanks, Len!) It maybe wasn’t a traditional gift to give a young couple, but we both loved it.

In the introduction to this new book, Lemony Snicket summarizes the premise behind the original book:

“The story of Harris Burdick is a story everybody knows, though there is hardly anything to be known about him. More than twenty-five years ago, a man named Peter Wenders was visited by a stranger who introduced himself as Harris Burdick and who left behind fourteen fascinating drawings with equally if not more fascinating captions, promising to return the next day with more illustrations and the stories to match. Mr. Wenders never saw him again, and for years readers have pored breathlessly over Mr. Burdick’s oeuvre, a phrase that here means ‘looked at the drawings, read the captions, and tried to think what the stories might be like.’ The result has been an enormous collection of stories, produced by readers all over the globe, imagining worlds of which Mr. Burdick gave us only a glimpse.”

The original pictures, especially combined with the captions and titles, all have something eerie or surreal about them. For example, there’s the picture that goes with the story “Under the Rug” that shows a lump under a rug, and a man with a bowtie holding a chair over his head about to swing it at the lump. The caption reads, “Two weeks passed and it happened again.”

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the picture that goes with “The Seven Chairs.” You see a grand cathedral, and two priests standing and looking at a nun who is sitting calmly on a chair that is floating into the cathedral. The caption reads, “The fifth one ended up in France.”

Chris Van Allsburg implied so much between the pictures, the titles, and the captions.

Back in 1993, Stephen King wrote a story to go with “The House on Maple Street” (the picture with the caption “It was perfect lift-off.”) For this volume, they asked fourteen distinguished authors (including Chris Van Allsburg) to write stories to go with the pictures.

At first, I thought it might be a shame to actually write down a story. But I’ve been thinking about these pictures too long. I don’t feel like these are the only possibilities. In fact, looking at the pictures still gets your mind spinning — but these offerings are still tremendous fun.

Some do a better job than others, and some used approaches I wouldn’t have ever taken, but I can honestly say that I enjoyed all the stories. In fact, this would be a fine collection of stories even if it didn’t have such an intriguing history. In fact, I hope the publishers will consider making this a tradition every decade or so, and get 14 more authors to write the stories!

My personal favorites, in order of appearance, were Jon Scieszka’s “Under the Rug”; Jules Feiffer’s “Uninvited Guests”; Kate DiCamillo’s “The Third-Floor Bedroom”; Chris Van Allsburg’s “Oscar and Alphonse”; Stephen King’s “The House on Maple Street”; and my very favorite, M. T. Anderson’s “Just Desert.”

These stories are eerie enough, they aren’t for the usual picture book crowd. Teens, like my son, will definitely enjoy them, and so will elementary age kids who can handle and enjoy some creepiness.

Like the years when we’d read our new Harry Potter book in England or Bavaria or wherever we were traveling on vacation, this book, in a smaller way, definitely enhanced my vacation. After all those years of reading to my boys, it’s a treat to find a book that my son is willing to read to me. We only finished half the book on vacation, but when I read M. T. Anderson’s story, I insisted that my son read it as well. I can confidently say this book spans many age ranges.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/chronicles_of_harris_burdick.html

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Source: This review is based on an Advance Review Copy I got at ALA Annual Conference.