Review of Here We Come! by Janna Matthies and Christine Davenier

Here We Come!

written by Janna Matthies
illustrated by Christine Davenier

Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), 2022. 40 pages.
Review written May 26, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Okay, I just recently got news that I landed my dream job of Youth Materials Selector for my library system — and this is the first picture book I’ve read since that news that makes me sad I’ll no longer be doing storytimes. (I anticipate lots of picture books like that in the future.) However, the good news is that I have one last storytime next week, and this book is going to be featured. *Update* – the day I’m posting this is the same day I did my last storytime ever – and used this book.

Here We Come! has the kind of rhythm and rhymes that beg to be read aloud. The illustrations portray a joyful fantasy parade at night.

It starts with a boy heading out the door on a moonlit night playing a musical pipe with his teddy bear marching behind him.

The only line on that first spread is:

Here we come with a rum-pum-pum

When we turn the page, we see a dog peeking out of its doghouse with the teddy bear beckoning. The caption is:

Wanna come?

From there, we’ve got a parade and a cumulative rhyme going. Next is “a pick and a strum.” Then “Little Lu on her thumb with a swish-swish bum.” And so on. After each new line is added, we see another creature ready to join and the question, “Wanna come?”

The action is reminiscent of the classic We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, because we do have something that prompts the group to run back home — in this case, it’s rain and thunder. But instead of going right to bed, there’s a nice meditative bit at the end that continues to rhyme and finishes up with “Here we come!”

This book is almost impossible to read silently as the rollicking rhymes bring out the joyful exuberance of the illustrations. Although I’m going to use it in Baby Storytime, I think the ideal audience would be toddlers, who would surely start marching around the room. Check it out and read it with a child.

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Review of The Ogress and the Orphans, by Kelly Barnhill

The Ogress and the Orphans

by Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Young Readers, 2022. 392 pages.
Review written May 3, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is by the Newbery-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon. I think I actually liked The Ogress and the Orphans even better.

This is an old-fashioned fantasy tale, with just a touch of magic here and there and fantasy characters like an ogress and a dragon. We learn about the village of Stone-in-the-Glen, which used to be a lovely place. But since the library burned down, things haven’t been the same. After that the school burned down, and a sinkhole opened up at the park, and people started to keep to themselves. An ogress lives on the edge of town, an ogress who likes to make delicious treats for the townsfolk to leave on their doorsteps at night. There’s also an Orphan House in the village, where fifteen orphans live. The town used to provide money for the Orphan House, but it’s been a while since anything has come in. Another important person in the story is the mayor.

The town of Stone-in-the-Glen had a mayor, and everyone loved him very much. How could they not? He cut a fine figure and had a blinding shock of blond hair and a smile so bright they had to shade their eyes. He glittered when he spoke. He was well mannered and seemed so sensible. When people went to him with their problems, well, they came away feeling so fine that they completely forgot what had vexed them in the first place. And isn’t that, really, what a mayor is for?

The fifteen orphans are delightful characters. Their names are alphabetical, with the oldest being Anthea, then Bartleby, then Cass, so you can keep them straight. The Orphan House is run by Matron and her husband Myron, and the children all help look after one another. Some of the books from the old library got transferred to the Reading Room of the Orphan House, and some of the orphans have learned surprising things, such as how to speak Crow.

There’s a lot of setting the stage, but tension builds when the people in town decide the ogress must be at fault for a recent problem. It’s up to the orphans to save the day and set things to rights while they’re at it.

When I finished this book, I had a big smile on my face. My only complaint was that it took a very long time to actually finish it. It seems long for a simple story suitable for young readers.

However, I think this book would be truly perfect for a read-aloud. It would be wonderful for classroom after-lunch reading sessions or nightly bedtime stories. And it would work for a wide range of ages. In that case, the length would be a feature — all the more reading sessions! The chapters are short, so you could decide how many to cover each night with lots of flexibility. The voice of the narrator is a storyteller’s voice, and I find myself wishing I had a child to read it to myself.

kellybarnhill.com
AlgonquinYoungReaders.com

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Review of The Gilded Ones, by Namina Forna

The Gilded Ones

by Namina Forna
read by Shayna Small

Listening Library, 2021. 12 hours, 46 minutes.
Review written January 24, 2022, from a library eaudiobook
2022 Cybils Young Adult Speculative Fiction Finalist

The Gilded Ones is an epic tale set in a fantastical kingdom inhabited by people and strange sentient creatures – and demons who appear as human girls.

At sixteen, Deka is ready to undergo the purification ceremony, but the ceremony is interrupted by an attack from the fearsome Death Shrieks. In the chaos, Deka learns she has surprising powers – but also that she is a demon. A cut reveals that her blood is gold.

There’s a death mandate, so the village elders try to kill Deka. But she’s a demon and stubbornly comes back to life, through decapitation, dismemberment, burning. After a long ordeal, a woman comes to the village with the seal of the emperor and takes Deka away. Now the girls like her are being trained to become a powerful fighting force to wipe out the Death Shrieks, and Deka’s special powers will be helpful.

It’s a fun tale, full of Black Girl Power. (Although it’s a different world, Deka has the dark skin of Southerners.) There’s friendship, teamwork, romance, destroying the patriarchy, and even a cute and loyal pet.

Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble with suspension of disbelief for this one and details of the fantasy world bothered me. How could blood serve the function of blood bringing oxygen to the body, and yet be gold, turning into a supple metal after it’s shed? How could someone actually come back to life after dismemberment? Sure, they explain body fibers reaching out to find one another, but seems like if someone really wanted to kill them, they could make barriers that couldn’t be overcome? How can a shapeshifter gain and lose matter and change from the size of a small bird to the size of a giant? How could creatures expend lots of energy but not need to eat? And then I had problems with the plot – there were schemes on both the good side and the bad side that lasted decades, even centuries, and I was murky about the motivation.

Okay, but this book is finding readers and I already knew that I’m often way too picky about world-building details. If you want an epic series about a formerly oppressed sisterhood powerfully battling to win freedom for everyone, and an underestimated girl discovering she has power to save the world – this book is only the beginning.

GetUnderlined.com

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Review of This Book Is Not for You! by Shannon Hale, illustrated by Tracy Subisak

This Book Is Not for You!

by Shannon Hale
illustrated by Tracy Subisak

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 40 pages.
Review written May 3, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Oh, this book is wonderful! Don’t tell, but this is a message book — for the adults.

Shannon Hale has written many magnificent books, but several of them have “Princess” in the title, including her Newbery Honor book Princess Academy and her beginning chapter book series The Princess in Black. She’s been frustrated when adults tell little boys that her princess books are not for them, even though the Princess in Black has a secret identity and fights monsters. So this picture book points out how ludicrous that attitude is.

As the book opens, a boy named Stanley is happily biking to the bookmobile.

A book called The Mysterious Sandwich sat up tall on the display shelf. Stanley liked mysteries, and he liked sandwiches. Perfect.

But when he asks the librarian if he can check it out, a very old man is there in her place. (I appreciate this touch that the role of mean gatekeeper is not played by an actual librarian.) The old man looks at the back of the book and finds out it’s about a girl and tells Stanley he wouldn’t want to read it.

Stanley really did want to read it, but now he felt embarrassed.

His friend Valeria comes along, and she does get to read the book.

But things start getting silly when the old man finds a cat book but won’t let Stanley check it out. Instead, he gives it to a cat! And when Stanley asks for a robot book, he’s told only robots can read books about robots — and a robot rolls up and checks it out.

After another attempt to read an interesting book that has a girl as a main character, the old man gives Stanley a book to try and he goes over to the field where everyone who got a book is reading.

After that, some secretive trading happens, not only between Stanley and Valeria, but between the cat and the robot as well.

But as they are quietly enjoying books that were not authorized, the ground shakes because a dinosaur is walking to the bookmobile. The dinosaur wants to read a book about ponies. When the old man doesn’t dare deny the dinosaur’s request, Stanley gains the ability to speak up as well.

It’s all silly and delightful and shows how ridiculous it is to insist that boys read books about boys and girls read books about girls. Because who’s going to tell a dinosaur she can’t read about ponies?

shannonhale.com
tracysubisak.com
penguin.com/kids

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Review of Otto: A Palindrama, Jon Agee

Otto

A Palindrama

by Jon Agee

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021. 144 pages.
Review written April 23, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is just so silly. But it’s irresistible if you like palindromes at all. I was sitting and chuckling over it in my office, and had to bring it out and share, which got my coworkers laughing, too.

This is a kid’s full-length graphic novel — in which the only printed text that appears are entirely palindromes. The result is very silly — but it all actually makes sense!

Here are some of the 200 palindromes that appear:

Was it a rat I saw?

No, Son.

Nate Bittnagel, elegant Tibetan.

[In a museum] Gustav Klimt milk vats? Ug!

[On a tombstone] Evil, atonal, racy Carla. Not alive.

Eva, can I stab bats in a cave?

No, Don.

I’m Al, a slob. My symbol: Salami!

Too hot to hoot.

This all happens while Otto is looking for his dog, Pip. And of course it’s the pictures that make it all make sense. It’s all extremely silly, but a whole lot of fun.

We’ll have some more Palindrome Days in March 2023, so this may be the perfect book to pull out for a program.

JonAgee.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Review of A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, by T. Kingfisher, read by Patricia Santomasso

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

by T. Kingfisher
read by Patricia Santomasso

Tantor Audio, October 2021. 8 hours, 30 minutes.
Review written March 30, 2022, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2020 Andre Norton Nebula Award Winner
2021 Locus Award Winner for Young Adult Fiction
2021 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Winner for Children’s Literature

I loved this book! I listened to it while driving to and from vacation, and it helped make the driving delightful. Patricia Santomasso’s English accent captured the voice and tone of the main character beautifully.

The book begins when 14-year-old Mona goes in to work in her aunt’s bakery in the wee hours of the morning — and finds a dead body! Even worse, when the authorities are alerted, they think Mona is suspicious because she’s a magic worker. Never mind that her magic is confined to working with bread.

Mona can make dough rise quickly, keep bread from burning, and even make gingerbread men dance. She’s got a sourdough starter in the basement named Bob that seems to be sentient. But she certainly wouldn’t be able to kill anyone with bread!

Fortunately, when Mona is brought before the duchess, things get straightened out — but that’s only the beginning. More magic workers are dying, and Mona, even confined to bread magic, may be a target. And things keep going and escalating — until the fate of the entire city may depend on Mona using bread magic to defend against an invading army.

This book is just so much fun. Mona is resourceful and compassionate and knows her own limits. The book is full of humor and joy as we read about a worthy heroine thrust into impossible situations and figuring out how to do her best.

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Review of Crucible of Gold, by Naomi Novik, read by Simon Vance

Crucible of Gold

by Naomi Novik
read by Simon Vance

Recorded Books, 2012. 10 hours.
Review written May 29, 2021, from a library eaudiobook

This is the seventh book in the Chronicles of the dragon Temeraire and his human, Captain Laurence of His Majesty’s Air Corps. By now, Naomi Novik has stopped trying to explain the world and drops you right in. She doesn’t make much effort to explain what went before – and this series is better read in order, to follow the developments. As for me, it had been a long time since I listened to Book Six, but there were enough reminders that I could follow what was going on and enjoy the familiar characters, dragon and human. (Simon Vance is good at being consistent, giving each character a distinctive voice.)

This book opens with Temeraire and Laurence in Australia, but they are given an offer to be reinstated to the Air Corps in order to help with a situation in Brazil. However, their voyage is met with disaster, and it takes the whole book before they get to Brazil.

Beginning with a sinking ship and continuing when they are picked up by a French vessel, they face one problem after another. I did enjoy that old friends and enemies show up at different times in the book.

Something I like about this series is how Temeraire and Laurence end up visiting all the continents and we learn how the dragons of that continent developed in this alternate world. All while Temeraire and his companion dragons are commenting and interacting. In this book they meet the Incans and their dragons and want to make an alliance before Napoleon can do so, no matter what it may take. I do like the back story of these dragons, who slaughtered Pizarro after he dared to kill a dragon’s human. Unfortunately, though, the human population has been decimated by plague, so dragons there are always looking for more humans. Add to that the dragons from Africa trying to recover the people stolen into slavery, and you’ve got a world that is diverging further and further from what happened in our world’s history.

Another novel of Temeraire! If you haven’t yet begun this saga, start with His Majesty’s Dragon, and you’re in for many hours of entertainment. It looks like I still have three more books to read before I’m done.

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Review of The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, by Adrianna Cuevos

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez

by Adrianna Cuevas

read by Anthony Rey Perez

Dreamscape Media, 2020. 6 hours, 5 minutes.
Review written March 17, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
2021 Pura Belpré Honor Book

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez was fun to listen to, though I had to suspend my disbelief regarding the fantasy.

The premise is fun – Nestor Lopez can understand animals and talk to animals. How the story goes – that there happens to be an animal witch in the woods near his new home and that this powerful witch needs the help of a local bully in Brandon’s grade and that it would resort to threatening children to stop trying to thwart it – well, I almost expected the Scooby-Doo line, “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids!”

Why did I keep listening though? I kept listening because I really liked Nestor and his new friends. Even if what the animals said didn’t seem very animal-like, I still enjoyed his ability. But mostly I felt for Nestor always having to move to a new town, with his father in the army, and never staying long enough to make friends.

Now his dad’s in Afghanistan, and Nestor’s got a lot of worries about that. But this time, they decided to go back to the town where his dad grew up and stay with his abuela.

It also just so happens that this year the sixth grade trivia team has a focus on animal facts. I could accept that coincidence because it added to the fun. It was a little harder to believe the faculty sponsor of the trivia team would be personally involved with the witch. (Or that she’d have gone to a place due to have an eclipse if she was trying to stop being involved – but that’s a little close to being a spoiler.)

So even though I have a lot of quibbles with the story line – even if I accept that Nestor can talk to animals – this book was still a whole lot of fun to listen to. I also appreciated that the narrator slipped in and out of Spanish as naturally as Nestor and his family would do. And I liked a book about a kid having to deal with his dad being deployed over and over again.

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Review of Much Ado About Baseball, by Rajani LaRocca

Much Ado About Baseball

by Rajani LaRocca

Yellow Jacket (Little Bee), 2021. 312 pages.
Review written January 4, 2022, from a library book
2022 Mathical Honor Book, grades 6-8

12-year-old Trish is new in town. She’s used to being the only girl on the baseball team and the only girl and sixth grader on the Math Puzzler team – but just when her old teammates had gotten used to her, now she has to win over a new team. Her brother Sanjay has encouraged her to win them over by being good at baseball.

Ben is back on the baseball team this summer after two years off. And he’s upset when he sees Trish – the girl who beat him for the Individual Math Puzzler championship. Now she’s going to do better than him at baseball? But they both love math and baseball, so shouldn’t they be friends?

There are hints of something magical happening this summer, some amazing treats, and then two magical books of math puzzles show up at Trish’s house and at Ben’s house. Ben right away figures out it’s magic, but Trish thinks it’s probably some special formula invisible ink. But either way, there are some fun and challenging math puzzles to solve, woven into this story of baseball, rivalry, and friendship.

Perhaps if I knew the Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing better, the plot wouldn’t have seemed quite as random. The magic didn’t really seem to operate with rules, but perhaps chaotic fairy magic, as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream doesn’t need to. Anyway, it was a fun story, and for me the math puzzles woven in made it even more fun. There’s material at the back taking some of the concepts further.

RajaniLaRocca.com
yellowjacketreads.com

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Review of Vespertine, by Margaret Rogerson

Vespertine

by Margaret Rogerson

Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster), 2021. 387 pages.
Review written January 24, 2022, from a library book.
2022 Cybils Young Adult Speculative Fiction Winner
Starred Review

Vespertine is set in a version of medieval Europe troubled by spirits of the dead. Artemisia, a girl with the Sight, lives at a convent in Loraille, training to be a Gray Sister who cleanses the bodies of the deceased so that their spirits won’t possess the living. Before Artemisia came to the convent, she was possessed by an Ashgrim, a spirit that had died in fire. The nuns are helping her trauma heal, and she only wants to live a quiet life in the convent.

Then the convent is attacked by an army of possessed soldiers. They need to use the relic of Saint Eugenia, which holds a powerful revenant. But when the wielder of the relic dies in the fight, someone must take control of the relic and save the convent. Artemisia is the person it falls to.

And so begins Artemisia’s story. When she wakes from the battle, she’s bound and being taken to the capital city to have the revenant exorcised and sent back to the finger bone of Saint Eugenia. But the revenant doesn’t want to go back. And Artemisia doesn’t want to be exorcised. They come to an agreement. But they also discover that Old Magic is being used in the capital city and many people may be killed and devoured. Can Artemisia save the country?

Artemisia is a wonderful and flawed heroine. She got intense social anxiety and can’t handle being around people, but she’s hailed as a saint. The world-building in this book is fascinating and we gradually learn the different orders of spirits and the rules for dealing with them. And the conversations between Artemisia and the revenant inhabiting her mind are wonderful, full of spice as they each try not to be controlled.

My plan as soon as my Cybils reading is done is to read Margaret Rogerson’s other books. It had wonderfully crafted fantasy with all the details holding together and making sense. (I always appreciate that!) And the characters made me want to spend more time in this world. (Well, not actually – I wouldn’t want to live in a world with all those spirits of the dead. But I enjoyed reading about it.)

MargaretRogerson.com
Simonandschuster.com/teen

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