Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Review of Henry & Leo, by Pamela Zagarenski

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

Henry & Leo

by Pamela Zagarenski

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Pamela Zagarenski’s lush and detailed illustrations have taken some time to grow on me, but by now I love them. She’s consistent with some interesting quirks – characters so often wear a crown, sometimes hovering over their heads as if imaginary. I think of the characters as regal that way.

This is a story of a boy, Henry, and his stuffed lion, Leo.

Henry could never say exactly what it was that made Leo different. Perhaps it was his glass button eyes, which made him look as if he knew secret things. Or maybe it was his jointed and movable parts. I guess we can never really know what makes one particular toy more special than another. But from the moment Leo was given to Henry on his second birthday, the two were inseparable.

Henry’s sister thinks Leo isn’t real, but Henry knows better. When his family goes for a walk in the woods, Henry gets tired and accidentally leaves Leo behind. They don’t discover he’s missing until nightfall.

Henry insists they leave a light on for Leo, even though his mama explains that Leo is not real.

Then we see several wordless spreads of what happens that night in the woods. Many forest animals (all with crowns above their heads) including a large bear help Leo find his way home.

In the morning, Henry finds Leo close to the path right outside the front door. His sister and father looked there the night before, but Henry knows how Leo got there.

It’s a lovely warm book about friendship, with so much to notice and wonder about in the illustrations.

www.sacredbee.com
hmhco.com

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of I Will Not Eat You, by Adam Lehrhaupt and Scott Magoon

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

I Will Not Eat You

by Adam Lehrhaupt & Scott Magoon

A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Despite the title and look, this is not, actually, a Jon Klassen book. It is a whole lot of fun!

As the book opens we see a big dark cave with two red eyes peering out.

Theodore lived in a cave.
It was a quiet cave,
and that’s the way he liked it.

One morning, a bird flew up to the cave.
It tweeted and squawked at Theodore.

Theodore thought,
Does it want me to eat it?

But Theodore wasn’t hungry.

“Go away, silly bird,”
he whispered.
“I will not eat you.”

The bird flew away.

The same pattern repeats with slight variations as the day progresses with a wolf and a tiger.

That evening, a boy wearing a suit of armor gallops up to the cave and roars.

Seriously? thought Theodore.
I should eat it.

Theodore was getting hungry.

The boy doesn’t back down, and Theodore emerges from the cave. We finally see that he’s an enormous red dragon. He chases the boy!

Things could get pretty grim, but in a surprise for everyone, the two end up sharing a laugh and becoming friends.

I’m not sure it’s a healthy situation for the boy, but by the end of the book, they play together regularly.

I can always eat him later,
thought Theodore.

This book would be a hit with preschoolers. There aren’t a lot of words on each page. I think the hint of danger could be thrilling. There are certainly plenty of things to talk about after the story is done. Would you play with Theodore?

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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 How to Knit a Monster, by Annemarie van Haeringen

Monday, November 5th, 2018

How to Knit a Monster

by Annemarie van Haeringen

Clarion Books, 2018. First published in the Netherlands in 2014. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This book was first published in the Netherlands in 2014. It is not eligible for the Newbery. I should not have taken time to read it. On top of that, I have a pet peeve against books that show someone knitting a complete sweater in less than a month – and this book does much, much worse than that.

And yet, all that said — I did read this book today and was enchanted. The speedy knitting is all part of this amazing goat’s magic.

Here’s how the book begins:

Greta is a goat, a white goat. When she goes outdoors in wintertime, she’s almost invisible.

She is a very, very good knitter. She knits socks for everyone she knows and for many she doesn’t know.

Today Greta decides to knit something different. How about a whole goat?

She tries a little one first.

Click, click, clickety click go her knitting needles, and before long a little goat slides off her needle.

What fun! Greta knits more little goats so they can play together.

The illustration here shows several goats, with splashes of color in various places and trailing yarn. They are cavorting about happily, with two butting heads.

But then “mean Mrs. Sheep” comes by and badmouths Greta’s knitting.

Greta is upset. She isn’t watching her knitting.

We’ll see who knits the fastest, Greta thinks angrily. Clickclickclicketyclick go her needles.

Mrs. Sheep keeps talking. Greta still isn’t watching her knitting.

She decides it’s finished and ends it off . . .

. . . and a wolf jumps off the needle!

The little goats run away.

Well, the wolf deals with Mrs. Sheep. Greta hides just in time – in a closet with more yarn, thankfully. Because next she knits a tiger to catch the wolf. But the tiger is hungry….

And what is especially lovely about this book is how it all comes together – or, um, apart – at the end. (No one is permanently damaged, but Mrs. Sheep does learn a lesson.) Though Greta does need to learn to pay more attention to what she knits!

So this knitter, for one, truly appreciates the genius of Greta, whose knitting is just plain magical. Besides this being a really fun story to tell, all the better to convince children that knitters have magical powers, right?

hmhco.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 Unicorn on a Roll, by Dana Simpson

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Unicorn on a Roll

Another Phoebe and Her Unicorn Adventure

by Dana Simpson

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015. 222 pages.

This is the second collection about a girl named Phoebe and her best friend, the unicorn Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. And I am officially a Phoebe and her Unicorn fan.

In this volume, Phoebe releases Marigold from the wish that made Marigold Phoebe’s best friend – and discovers Marigold wants to be her friend anyway.

Phoebe faces normal kid things – such as wanting a part in the school play and competing in the school spelling bee against the boy she has a crush on. But she also faces things unique to someone whose best friend is a unicorn who is convinced she’s the best thing in the universe.

One nice sequence is when Phoebe gets to go to the land of the unicorns for a party – when the unicorns decide to hold an intervention, trying to convince Marigold to stop being friends with an icky human. They are unsuccessful.

Oh, and we learn that Marigold Heavenly Nostrils is skilled at roller skating – though Phoebe can’t ride her when she does. (Hence the title.)

This comic strip is all that a comic strip should be – inventive, funny, true to life, and with insights about life that sneak up on you.

danasimpson.com
ampkids.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 my own copy, sent by the publisher.

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 A Shadow Bright and Burning, by Jessica Cluess, read by Fiona Hardingham

Monday, October 15th, 2018

A Shadow Bright and Burning

by Jessica Cluess

read by Fiona Hardingham

Listening Library, 2016. 12 hours, 49 minutes on 10 compact discs.

This is alternate history Victorian England, read with impeccable English accents, reflecting class differences in the accents (even though I wouldn’t know the difference if I hadn’t heard it.)

Henrietta Howel has always hidden her ability to set things on fire and burst into flame without burning. So when a sorcerer comes to the school where she grew up and now teaches, she works hard to keep from flaming out. It turns out the sorcerer is looking for a girl with power over flame not to execute her as a witch, but to fulfill a prophecy about a woman from sorcerer stock who will save the country.

When the Ancients attack that night — seven great horrific spirits from another dimension who have been attacking England for years — Henrietta’s powers are revealed. But she is brought back to London to train as a sorcerer. She discovers a different world than the one where she grew up.

Henrietta’s one requirement is that she must bring Rook with her — a boy who is “Unclean,” marked by scars from an attack by one of the Ancients, Korazoth. Rook and Henrietta have always looked after each other. The sorcerer is willing to take him on as a stable boy — anything to get Henrietta to train with the sorcerers.

She’s up against a lot in London. She’s out of her depth with society. And she’s training in a house full of boys. She must master her powers in order to be commended by Queen Victoria and become an official sorcerer. And then she meets someone who says he knew her father. And she has grave doubts as to whether she really is the prophesied one. But if she isn’t, she’ll lose everything.

There are layers within layers in this book, but it never gets too complex to follow. I am delighted that there is more to come — the back of the book says it’s Book One of The Kingdom on Fire. The author develops a complicated world here with sorcerers, magicians, and witches — and powerful beings besieging England who destroy humankind and take people as their familiars. And in the middle of all that, you’ve got Victorian England trying to keep women in their place and a girl trying to figure out what that place is for her.

This book is imaginative, suspenseful, and gripping. The narrator’s voice and delightful British accent ensured that my commute was enchanting as long as I was listening to this book.

jessicacluess.com
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randomhouseteens.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 Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

Assassin’s Heart

by Sarah Ahiers

HarperTeen, 2016. 420 pages.
Starred Review

I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Come on, it’s about a girl assassin, from a family of assassins. The plot of the book is about finding vengeance.

Not long after the book opens, Lea’s entire family is murdered, burned to death in their sleep, because of a betrayal. I read the start of the book before going to sleep — and woke up the next morning to some pretty depressing thoughts!

But I wasn’t ever tempted to stop reading the book. Despite its dark subject matter, this is good writing and compelling characters.

The world of the book is innovative and unexpected. The nine Families of clippers (assassins) in Lovero serve the goddess Safraella by accepting contracts to kill people. That is also how they keep order in Lovero. If someone pays for someone else to be killed without a good reason, they can be sure their own death will be next. The kingdom accepts this service and doesn’t interfere in matters between the Families.

As part of the service, clippers place a gold coin in the mouth of those they kill.

The coin would act as a balm and prevent the man from becoming an angry ghost, because it signaled that the person deserved a quick rebirth. Instead of wandering the dead plains, Safraella, goddess of death, murder, and resurrection, patron of Lovero, would see the offering and grant him a faster return to a new life. A better life.

Ever since the king of Lovero devoted himself and the kingdom to Safraella, angry ghosts stay out on the plains outside the kingdom. Now Loverans can go out of their homes at night without fearing their souls will be pulled out of their bodies.

But because the Families are outside the law, Lea Saldana has nowhere to turn when her whole family is killed in the fire. She knows the Family that did this will try to hunt her down once they learn she survived. She needs to find her one living relative, an uncle who was banished from the Family years ago. Of course, that will mean crossing the dead plains, filled with angry ghosts. And then somehow finding her uncle, who has gone deep into hiding.

Besides being a compelling story (even if it did had a lot of death and gore), this book also had some twists and turns I didn’t see coming. There’s also romance — and I always have a soft spot for a romance that shows true character in the beloved, someone who’s more than a handsome face.

sarahahiers.com
epicreads.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 Imagine! by Raúl Colón

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Imagine!

by Raúl Colón

A Paula Wiseman Book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), 2018. 44 pages.
Starred Review

Look! A 2018 picture book that I can review!

Why can I review it? Well, I’m on the 2019 Newbery committee, but the Newbery Medal is given for the text of a book – and this book has no words. So it can’t win. (The Caldecott Medal is another story, by the way.) And I can review it.

In this book, a boy leaves his house on a skateboard and crosses a bridge to go into the city. He enters the Museum of Modern Art and checks his skateboard at the checkroom.

But when he looks at the paintings, some of the characters come out and join him! The first one, from Matisse’s Icarus, dances with him, and they climb into Picasso’s Three Musicians and get the musicians to come along, too. Next they round up a lion and another musician from Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy. Now they practically have a band!

The happy throng goes out of the museum, exchanging instruments along the way. They have joyful adventures around New York City. They finish up in Central Park with songs, balloons, and bubbles.

When the adventures are done, it’s back to their paintings, and then the boy rides his skateboard back home. And he finishes by drawing a mural of his day with his friends.

This is a beautiful and joyous book. I feel confident that children will find more in its pages every time they go through it.

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 The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud, read by Emily Bevan

Saturday, September 15th, 2018

The Empty Grave

by Jonathan Stroud
read by Emily Bevan

Listening Library, 2017. 12 hours, 41 minutes on 10 compact discs.
Starred Review

Ah! Another chance to enjoy the fifth and final book in the Lockwood & Co. series! Yes, listening to the book on CD is even more fun than reading it yourself.

Of course the reader’s accent helps you get into the mood of this alternate-reality London. And hearing it read slows you down so you can savor the story. (The books are hard to put down, but sometimes I had to simply turn off the car, shut off the CD, and go to work.)

I still say that these books make outstanding family listening – once your children are old enough to handle some seriously spooky events as well as people seriously trying to murder our heroes besides the incidental life-or-death danger they face routinely.

For the plot, I refer you to my review of the written book. I’m here to say that the audiobooks make them even more enjoyable – though it’s hard to believe that’s even possible, because they’re so good in the first place.

I have liked my approach to the whole series – devour each book as quickly as possible as soon as it comes out. Then, when I can get my hands on the audiobook, enjoy it again, savoring it a bit more slowly and catching some details I didn’t notice the first time.

(And that reminds me! I noticed a tiny, tiny flaw while I was listening! At the end, there’s a rapier fight between Lucy and the powerful woman who’s been running London. Well, the woman kicks off her heels when she starts fighting – but we’d already been told there were shards of glass all over the floor. If she had done that – then as the two move around the room fighting, she would have cut her feet and given Lucy a big advantage. But that’s the very first quibble I’ve found in these books.)

jonathanstroud.com
booksontape.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 Snow White, by Matt Phelan

Friday, September 7th, 2018

Snow White

by Matt Phelan

Candlewick Press, 2016. 216 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another amazing graphic novel by Matt Phelan. I’ve loved his art ever since I saw it in The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron.

This is a retelling of “Snow White,” set during the 1920s and 30s in New York City. Who knew you could fit Snow White into such a setting?

And it’s beautifully done. Samantha’s mother gets drops of blood on the snow not from pricking her finger on a needle, but from her cough with drops of blood. Ten years later, her father meets the “Queen” of the Ziegfeld Follies. Instead of running into the woods, Samantha runs into Hooverville, where she’s helped by seven boys who won’t tell her their real names.

The stepmother seems to have some sort of magic. And she’s very good with poison.

The story is told with very few words – in fact, at times I would have liked more to tell me exactly what was going on. It’s possible I was being lazy and not paying enough attention.

But whether or not I caught every detail – this story is striking and wonderful. Now here’s a twist on the fairy tale that I’ve never seen before.

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 Prince Ribbit, by Jonathan Emmett

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

Prince Ribbit

written by Jonathan Emmett
illustrated by Poly Bernatene

Peachtree, 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a fun twist on the Frog Prince fairy tale. Three princesses live in a castle. The two older ones love fairy tales and argue about who would treat a frog prince better.

Princess Martha rolled her eyes. She liked facts more than fairy tales and real frogs more than enchanted ones.

But a clever frog has been listening to the princesses talk. He figures out a clever scheme for getting the princesses to let him sleep in a soft bed and eat fine foods. Just tell them he’s a prince!

The two older princesses fall for it! They treat the frog like the prince he claims to be.

Martha has more insight. And she brings the story to a surprising conclusion that left me with a big smile.

A very fun story. And remember: Just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s true!

scribblestreet.co.uk
polybernatene.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?