Archive for October, 2009

Review of Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

hattie_big_skyHattie Big Sky

by Kirby Larson

Delacorte Press, 2006. 289 pages.
A 2007 Newbery Honor Book.

I actually met Kirby Larson when I went to the 2007 ALA (American Library Association) Annual Conference in Washington, DC, when she saw my SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) bag and commented on it. Imagine my delight to learn that she was there to receive a Newbery Honor Award!

It took me a long time to get around to reading her book, but when I finally did, I thought the award well-deserved.

Hattie Wright has received an inheritance from an uncle she didn’t even know — a homestead claim out in Montana. “All” she has to do is “prove up” by cultivating forty acres and setting four hundred eighty rods of fence and paying the final fees, and she has ten months left in which to do it.

Hattie takes on the giant task, because the challenge appeals to her much more than being the poor orphaned relation with her other aunt and uncle in Iowa. It’s 1917, and World War I is going on, and Hattie writes about her experiences to her childhood friend who is off in the fighting.

Meanwhile, in Montana, Hattie faces all kinds of challenges with weather against her and other disasters. The other homesteaders help, especially Perilee Mueller and her houseful of children. Perilee is married to a man who only speaks German, who isn’t popular during World War I. But Hattie can only see their kind hearts. Another neighbor, handsome but not kind to the Muellers, offers to “help” Hattie by buying her claim. But Montana with its big sky is already in her heart.

Kirby Larson based this book on her own great-grandmother’s story. It’s another pioneer tale, but set in a different time and place than any I’ve read before. An inspiring story of a young woman discovering her own strength to face challenges and the value of true friends.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

Review of My Fair Godmother, by Janette Rallison

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

my_fair_godmotherMy Fairy Fair Godmother

by Janette Rallison

Walker & Company, New York, 2009. 311 pages.

After Savannah gives her brilliant older sister Jane a makeover, Savannah’s boyfriend suddenly sees Jane’s charms and takes up with her. In Savannah’s despair and sorrow, she gets a visit from her fairy godmother, but unfortunately learns that her fairy godmother is only fair at the job.

In fact, she seems a bit hung up on fairy tales. Savannah learns that life as Cinderella or Snow White is not much fun. Then she thinks she makes a wish that can’t be twisted — and ends up stuck in the Middle Ages until a nice guy from school can make himself a prince.

I admit I was thrown a bit at first, because the book started from Jane’s perspective. I was completely delighted to have a handsome, intelligent guy see the light and fall for the plainer, calculus-loving sister for a change! Oops! We weren’t supposed to be happy about that….

Well, several chapters further on, I was able to drum up some sympathy for Savannah. I must admit I’m not sure she didn’t deserve a few weeks as Cinderella, but she got them, and they did their work. Mostly, the author does a grand job making a delightful mess of fairy-tale situations and magic and the meaning of love.

Here’s a passage after Jane and her boyfriend get pulled into the Middle Ages, too:

Then I had to explain to Jane and Hunter how my fairy godmother had misunderstood certain statements I’d made and had sent Tristan back in time to become a prince. He still had two tasks left before he could achieve that goal and return to our time.

“Kill a dragon?” Hunter said as though he both envied and feared for Tristan. “Can you do that?”

“I’ve got to.”

Jane shook her head, disbelief seeping into her tone. “But your leprechaun told us that all you had to do to come home was to ask your fairy godmother.”

“Oh, well, that just means you were duped by a leprechaun,” I said.

Hunter cocked his head and looked at me narrowly. “Your fairy godmother won’t help you at all?”

“My fairy godmother won’t even take my calls. She’s sort of a teenage, airheaded shopping diva who didn’t pay attention very well in fairy school.”

Jane sat down on my bed and rubbed at her forehead wearily. “Well, that figures.”

I followed her with my gaze. “Meaning?”

“They must match fairy godmothers to people by type. You pretty much just described yourself.”

A truly fun tale of a clash between modern high school dating and fairy tales as they would be if you actually had to live in them.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

Review of Mothstorm, by Philip Reeve

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

mothstormMothstorm

The Horror from Beyond Uranus Georgium Sidus!

by Philip Reeve

narrated by Greg Steinbruner

Recorded Books, 2009. Unabridged. 7 CDs, 8.25 hours.

Here’s a third rollicking tale of the adventures of the Mumby family, subjects of Queen Victoria in an alternate reality where Britannia rules outer space.

As with the others, this book is full of narrow escapes and deadly peril. Now Art and Myrtle go beyond Uranus (which they know as Georgium Sidus) and encounter a powerful Shaper. This Shaper has created a world of giant space moths, intent on making a new home in our solar system. Jack Havock and his crew are back, and we even find out the surprising story of Cilissa’s origins.

I’m still hooked on Greg Steinbruner’s narration, clearly delineating the voices of the different characters coming from such a wide variety of species.

These books will be much more fun when read in order. They’re full of humor, adventure, wild imagination, and wondrous doses of British pluck. This series would be fantastic listening for an entire family, and definitely provided diverting listening for my daily commute. Huzzah for another adventure!

Buy from Amazon.com

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

Review of French by Heart, by Rebecca S. Ramsey

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

french_by_heartFrench by Heart

An American Family’s Adventures in La Belle France

by Rebecca S. Ramsey

Broadway Books, New York, 2007. 308 pages.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #4 Nonfiction: True Stories

Having lived in Germany for ten years, French by Heart is exactly the sort of book I love — someone else’s tale of making a home in another country. There’s much that I relate to from my own experiences, much that I enjoy vicariously, and a wistful feeling of “Wouldn’t I love to move to France for four years!”

Rebecca Ramsey’s husband works for Michelin, and for four years they moved their family to Clermont-Ferrand, four hours south of Paris. Her three children attended the local French school, and her family’s way of doing things quickly came under the scrutiny of their neighbor, a grandmotherly type with definite opinions.

Rebecca has a wonderful way of pulling you into the confusions and delights of living in a foreign country, of beginning to feel like you belong, while always knowing you are different. She expresses the joys and frustrations of building a friendship with her nosy and opinionated neighbor. We cringe with her as she describes the daunting adventure of getting stitches for her bleeding son, and feel pride with her at her success.

One of the things I love about living in a foreign country is how it adds a certain sense of wonder even to the events of daily life — shopping, going out to eat, going to school, talking with friends. Everything is new and different, memorable and exciting.

Rebecca Ramsey catches some of that as she describes their arrival in France:

“What was it about this place that was so enchanting? Even with my queasiness, I couldn’t help feeling charmed by it, from the old brass door knockers shaped like a lady’s hand to the women, young and old, with their sultry eyes and obvious confidence. As we walked by the cafes I tried not to stare at the people sitting there, their beautiful French words twirling out of their mouths, mingling with the swirls of coffee perfuming the crisp morning air. I wanted to understand it all, the Frenchiness of this place. I wanted to be part of it and for it to be a part of me — a part of us, our family. We hoped to have four years or so in France. Could that happen in four years? We were nervous, yes, but our American hearts were open. Could we be French too, just for a little while? French, not by citizenship, but by heart?”

Reading this book, France will win a place in your own heart, too.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/french_by_heart.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.

My Prime Factorization Sweater

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

pfsweater

I wore my Prime Factorization Sweater to KidlitCon09, and it shows up in all my pictures, so I think it’s time for me to explain it.

This is the sweater that proves that I am a Certified Math Nut.

Okay, here’s how it works. You have to start in the bottom lefthand corner, because the mathematician in me couldn’t bear to start anywhere except where the origin would be on Cartesian coordinates. Naturally, the numbers go from left to right and from low to high.

I’ll post a picture of the front of the sweater:

pfsweater_front

Okay, look at the bottom row. It looks like there is a blank space on the left. That represents 1, because 1 is the background color, because 1 is a factor of every number.

Next is a blue square, which represents 2.

Next is a red square, for 3.

Then comes 4. 4 = 2 x 2. So 4 is represented by two blue rectangles.

Then comes 5. 5 is prime, so 5 gets a new color, yellow.

Next is 6. 6 = 2 x 3. So 6 is represented by a blue rectangle and a red rectangle.

7 gets a new color, purple.

8 comes next. 8 = 2 x 2 x 2. So 8 is in a square with three blue rectangles.

Then comes 9. 9 = 3 x 3. Two red rectangles.

Last on the bottom row is 10. 10 = 2 x 5, so we have blue and yellow.

The second row starts with 11, which is given the color pink.

12 has three factors, since 12 = 2 x 2 x 3, so two blues and a red.

Get the idea? This sweater presents a chart giving the color-coded prime factorization of every number from 2 to 100.

The patterns are wonderful and fascinating. You’ll quickly notice that the yellows and the blues line up, because 5 and 2 are factors of 10. You also might notice that all perfect squares are symmetrical. Multiples of 11 go in a lovely pink diagonal across the sweater. There are hundreds more patterns. It would be a lovely visual aid for teaching number theory. Fun to quietly wear to Math competitions, too!

What’s more, you can use this as a quick conversion table to convert to Octal (Base 8), because on the back I did the same thing with rows of 8:

pfsweater_back

The fun thing about rows of 8 is that the patterns are all different! Notice how the last column is full of blue squares because every number there is a multiple of 8 and has at least three factors of 2. And now 9 (two reds) acts like 11, going diagonally up the sweater, as does 7 (purple) in the opposite direction.

On the sleeves, I did rows of 2 and rows of 3. The rows of 3 is the only one where the blues do not line up, because 2 and 3 are relatively prime.

Isn’t it just the coolest thing in the world?!!!

Okay, I warned you: This is the item that proves I am a Certified Math Nut. I can get hugely excited and animated talking about this sweater.

I have already done a library program called “Puzzles and Patterns” showing kids how they can make simple codes using the ideas from this sweater. There’s definitely a children’s book in there, but I haven’t gotten around to writing it yet. I definitely plan to some day!

One of the cool things about this sweater is that it works in any language and on any planet!!! You see, even if an alien race had only four fingers on each hand, they could look at the back of the sweater and all their numbers would work. For that matter, a number system with a base of 7 or some other strange base would still work, even though it might not be in neat rows for that base. The chart is entirely independent of the symbols used to represent a number, and based only on color.

So we had a family joke that if an alien ever came to our door, we’d run and get the sweater to prove that we are intelligent life.

I only hope the aliens are not color blind!

Of course I also like to tell the story that when I was knitting this sweater, I brought it along to visit my family and friends one Christmas. Most of my family are Math Geeks, too, so they were impressed. But one friend had a young son who listened to my explanation and responded, “That’s just weird!

What can I say? He does have a point. Call me weird, but I still think it’s one of the coolest things in the world!

Edited to add: Here’s a link to my CafePress store, where you can order t-shirts using this idea, showing the color-coded prime factorization of the numbers from 2 to 100, with the number also printed below the color-coded square.

Also, here are all my entries about other prime factorization projects.

My posts on Mathematical Knitting and related topics are now gathered at Sonderknitting.

KidlitCon09 Round-up

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

KidLitCon-badgeAwesome! That’s what everyone agrees about the third annual Kidlitosphere Conference in Washington, DC, on Saturday. (Well, really at the Crystal City Sheraton in Arlington.)

It was Saturday morning. I decided it wasn’t crucial to be punctual for the 7 am breakfast. I looked up the directions and it sounded easy as can be. Then, as I approached the other end of Highway 66, I learned that a crucial exit was closed all morning for an “event.” So I got off the exit before and had no idea where I was. Good thing I brought a map! Too bad I couldn’t read it and drive at the same time! Too bad I couldn’t find a place to pull over! Too bad I drove around and around Arlington for awhile!

However, I was delighted to discover that even though I arrived about ten minutes after 8:00, the first group session hadn’t begun. Whew! Time to relax and stop kicking myself for not leaving earlier.

And the first session was a perfect way to calm my nerves, which were jangling from the consciousness of being late. Mother Reader, who was responsible for putting together the wonderful conference, started us off with a session called “The Blog Within: An Interview With Your Inner Blogger.” She asked us to write our personal answers to questions like: Why are you blogging? What do you have to share that is unique to you? Who are you blogging for? Where do you see your blog among the other blogs?

Looking back at my answers, even though written when I was still trying to un-frazzle my nerves, I’m pleased by my main answer to “Why are you blogging?” I said: To connect with people through books.

The reason I like this answer is that two key words of the conference were Connection and Community. I have connected with people through my website, and made new face-to-face connections with people at the conference. Most of all, I felt part of a Community, a community that cares about good books and kids and literacy and ideas and giving back and all sorts of other good things.

The second session was called “Building a Better Blog.” Mother Reader spoke about Purpose, Passion, and Professionalism. Under “Passion,” I’d like to do the assignment she suggested: Go back over the past six months. Pick out your 5 favorite posts, then pick out the 5 posts that best represent you. Do you hear your voice in those posts?

The next speaker in that session was Michelle Franz of galleysmith.com, talking about technical aspects. She had great tips about involving and engaging your audience, building community with reciprocal links, and participating in memes like Poetry Friday and Nonfiction Monday (I will have to get going on that, or maybe try starting one of my own), or Salon Sunday. She talked about Search Engine Optimization and a plugin I can download on my WordPress blog. She convinced me to get on Twitter and to post links to my reviews on GoodReads. She told me what a gravitar is and how to get one.

So many great ideas! So little time! But little by little…

The third session was just us bloggers, with the authors in a separate session. I finally loosened up and pulled out my camera.

kidlit_panel1

This panel featured Melissa Fox of Book Nut, Jennie Rothschild of Biblio File, Tricia Stohr-Hunt of The Miss Rumphius Effect, and Mary Lee Hahn of A Year of Reading.

Some of their great tips included: Join the book blogging community. Participate in Reading Challenges. Do weekly features. (Poetry Friday and Nonfiction Monday again.) Get on the Kidlit Listserv. Participate in the Carnival of Children’s Literature. Post your reviews on the Children’s Book Review wiki. Focus on your opinion, because that’s what you personally add to the discussion. People can get summaries on the book jacket.

Once again, so many great ideas, it’s a little overwhelming!

Next, Mary Engle from the FTC came and talked to us and calmed fears about new “guidelines” they posted. I resolved that I should put a note on each page that I am an Amazon Affiliate and get a tiny percentage when people order books via the links on my site.

Then came lunch. This was the exciting part where I somehow ended up walking to a food place with a bunch of authors! Cool! I got tips and encouragement from them, too, like: Get an agent!

One of the authors I ate with was Diana Peterfreund, whose book Rampant I read (devoured) and reviewed just the day before. I loved that book, even if it did make my own first novel, Unicorn Wings, look awfully tame. (But I’ve pretty much given up on publishing that one anyway, and am chalking it up to experience.) Diana already had read my review, thanks to the magic of Google alerts. She has assured me there will be a sequel, and in fact she was supposed to be working on the revisions that very day. I’m so glad — what an awesome book! Killer unicorns — who would have thought? She also alerted me to an anthology I will have to watch for, Zombies vs. Unicorns, (or was it Vampires vs. Unicorns?), which includes a story she wrote.

So here’s a picture of me schmoozing with Diana:

kidlit_diana_peterfreund

Also in the lunch group were authors Varian Johnson and Paula Chase. I was especially excited later to get an Advance Reader’s Copy of Varian’s book My Life As a Rhombus, because it features a heroine who loves math. What could be cooler than that?

Here are Varian and Diana and Paula:

kidlit_nice_authors

After lunch came a Meet the Author session, which was when I got the above pictures. I met some other authors whose books I reviewed and loved:

Laurel Snyder, who wrote Any Which Wall was delightful to talk to. I liked it that she understood that when I said her book was like an Edward Eager book, that was high praise indeed.

kidlit_laurel_snyder

I also met Elizabeth Scott and was given a signed copy of Something, Maybe! Woo-hoo! The books I’ve reviewed of Elizabeth’s are Stealing Heaven and Perfect You. Here I am with Elizabeth:

kidlit_elizabeth_scott

And then I met Sara Lewis Holmes, who wrote Letters from Rapunzel, and whose new book, Operation Yes, I definitely want to read. (She’s lived in Germany, too!) I feel silly posting all these pictures with authors, but it was a thrill to actually meet real, live, published authors, and my plan is to one day be one of them. Meanwhile, I want some of that published aura to rub off! Here I am with Sara:

kidlit_sara_lewis_holmes

And finally, here’s a picture of two authors I met whose books I haven’t read yet, but hope to soon, Jennifer Hubbard, whose book The Secret Year will be out in January 2010, and Pam Bachorz, who kindly gave me an ARC of her new book Candor.

kidlit_nice_authors2

All of these authors were so wonderfully nice! In fact, one feature of the Kidlitosphere Community is that it seemed like an incredibly nice bunch. So fun to meet these people!

Of course getting more books to read and review was one of the highlights of the conference. Never mind that I’m in the middle of a Newbery class and reading old Newbery winners…. Somehow, some way, some day, I’ll get them read!

After the time with the authors, Greg Pincus did a wonderfully inspiring and entertaining talk about social media. More great ideas. More talk about Community and Connection. I especially liked when he said that when you reach out to expand your community, you are Sharing the Joy!

Again, I made lots of resolutions. Get on Twitter. Post comments on other blogs. Get involved in the Cybils. Engage. Another good phrase: Play in traffic!

(Greg had mentioned Knitters and Fibs (poetry based on the Fibonacci Numbers — what could be cooler?), so I was inspired to explain my prime factorization sweater to him, which you can see in all the above pictures. He was most appreciative. I promise I will write a post explaining it after this one.)

The next panel was “Authors, Bloggers, Publishers (and ARCs).” More inspiring talk about Community. Publishers are still figuring out blogging and if that publicity is helpful, so we were encouraged to communicate with them what sort of book we like. (My favorite is YA and Middle Grade Fantasy, by the way.)

The final panel of the day featured Terry Doherty of Share a Story — Shape a Future, Ernestine Benedict from Reading Is Fundamental, Gina Montefusco from PBS’s Booklights, and Jen Robinson from Jen Robinson’s Book Page:

kidlit_panel

They too, talked about building community, giving back, connecting kids with books, and promoting literacy. They mentioned the gallery A Lifetime of Reading at NCTE’s National Gallery of Writing, with writing on that topic from members of the Kidlitosphere. (Yet another thing to do: Submit something!)

All in all, it was a day packed full of inspiration, ideas, connection, and community. But it wasn’t finished yet! As it happened, I ended up at a table at dinner with other people from the DC area, and got invited to participate in Capitol Choices and a Kidlit book club and met some wonderful local people who seem to be kindred spirits, and whom I may well see again if I get involved in these local events, too. One of them has also applied to the Bill Morris Seminar in January and, like me, is waiting anxiously to find out in November if she was selected. I hope I see her there!

Here are my tablemates except Jacqueline Jules, who had just stepped away. Let’s see if I can remember their names: author Moira Rose Donohue, Susan Kusel the librarian (can someone send me her blog address?), Wendy Burton (I think! Am I right?), author Sue Corbett, author Wendy Shang (whose first book, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, will be published by Scholastic in Spring 2011), and author Jennifer Hubbard:

kidlit_dinner

What do you know? I was eating with Authors again. I still hope something rubs off! ­čÖé

I drove home exhausted but inspired. So many things I’d like to add to my blog, so many books I’d like to read, so many more blogs to follow, so many connections to explore! But meeting these wonderful people face-to-face was definitely a delightful way to start!

A huge thank you again to Pam Coughlan, Mother Reader for putting together an incredible day!

P.S. Yes, there was some discussion of how long a blog post should be and the consensus was that it should NOT be this long! Once I got started, I was on a roll, however, and couldn’t bring myself to stop until I finished. And I did follow the suggestion of providing links, so you can discover some fantastic blogs just by exploring the links in this post. Some day I will even update my blogroll to include them, but that’s another thing on my list of things to do that suddenly grew to outrageous proportions at this conference.

Review of Rampant, by Diana Peterfreund

Friday, October 16th, 2009

rampantRampant

by Diana Peterfreund

HarperTeen (HarperCollins), 2009. 402 pages.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #1 Fantasy Teen Fiction

In Rampant we learn that, contrary to popular current sentimental beliefs, unicorns are not cuddly, cute, sparkly and sweet. No, Astrid’s mother, whom everyone including Astrid believes is crazy, has taught her since she was small that unicorns are truly vicious, man-eating brutes that are almost impossible to kill. Fortunately, their own relation killed the last unicorn centuries ago.

Astrid is making out with her boyfriend behind the house where she’s babysitting when she learns that everything her mother told her is true, except for the important part about unicorns being extinct. A unicorn comes out of the woods and viciously attacks her boyfriend. Astrid sees that he is clearly dying, but fortunately her mother comes with their ancestral gift, a last bit of the Remedy, and he is cured. But he’s convinced Astrid and her mother drugged him and doesn’t buy her rabid goat story for a moment. Her social life is over.

Fortunately, her mother gives her a chance to get far away. Unfortunately, it’s to take her place as an heir to the powerful tradition of unicorn hunting. It seems vicious unicorns are reemerging all over the world, and a group has opened an ancient cloister in Rome to train the hunters.

I want to say that this book stands the traditional view of unicorns on its head, but it actually fits quite well with many of the older unicorn stories. One tradition she definitely keeps is that unicorns are attracted to virgins, well, at least virgins who are descended from Alexander the Great, in the traditional unicorn-hunting families, like Astrid. Such virgins are immune to the poison of alicorns and have a mystical power to fight unicorns. But what can a handful of untrained girls do against such powerful beasts?

With the importance of virginity to unicorn fighters, sex and whether or not to have it is definitely an issue in this book. I think it’s handled tastefully and realistically, but keep in mind that it deals with these issues head on, and so is not a book for very young unicorn lovers.

My only quibble is the same one I have with some of Stephenie Meyer’s scenes: Where do they find these young men who are able to go so very far and yet not go all the way? Do they really want young women to think that’s realistic? All the same, I think Diana Peterfreund does point out that you can’t take that for granted.

Anyway, sexual issues are by no means the main point of the book. This is an incredibly absorbing story (It ate a chunk out of my day off!) about a girl learning who she is and how to be a warrior. Astrid is definitely a heroine to cheer for.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

Review of Letters from Rapunzel, by Sara Lewis Holmes

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

letters_from_rapunzelLetters from Rapunzel

by Sara Lewis Holmes

Winner of the Ursula Nordstrom First Fiction Contest
HarperCollins, 2007. 184 pages.

Cadence Brogan feels like Rapunzel. Only her tower is Homework Club, and she doesn’t have hair long enough to rescue her.

Cadence is a newly-identified genius who harnesses her creativity working hard to not give her teachers what they want. When she is required to do homework during after-school Homework Club, she keeps busy writing, but she’s writing letters to a mysterious “friend” of her father’s, using the pen name Rapunzel.

Cadence became Rapunzel when her father went away, a victim of the Evil Spell. Her mother calls it C. D., clinical depression, but Rapunzel is poetical, like her father, and thinks of it as the Evil Spell. She found a torn up letter her father was going to write to this mysterious friend. She doesn’t have even a name, but she does have the post office box number. The fragment says,

. . . You are the secret to my success as a poet and a human being. Writing these letters every day has helped me keep my heart open, to be willing to live, to keep the darkness . . .

Maybe if Cadence, as Rapunzel, can write letters to this mysterious benefactor herself, maybe she can draw back the darkness and get her father back from the hospital.

The book, Letters from Rapunzel tells the story of her quest, in the form of the letters she sends to the box, along with copies of her creative alternatives to her teacher’s assignmments. There is plenty of humor in the situations Cadence gets herself into, but plenty of poignancy as well, as she deals with her father’s absence and Evil Spell on top of pressures from school and her Mom. She uncovers things no one wanted to tell her along with some profound truths about herself.

This is definitely a promising first novel. It covers some profound issues with a light touch. Quick reading that will make you smile, but will also make you think.

Buy from Amazon.com

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

Review of Robot Zot! by Jon Scieszka and David Shannon

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

robot_zotRobot Zot!

by Jon Scieszka
illustrated by David Shannon

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2009. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another book I got to hear the authors themselves read at the National Book Festival. Okay, Jon Scieszka did the reading, but David Shannon did some awesome sound effects.

nbf10

Jon Scieszka enjoyed reading the book so much, I can’t help but like it. When I brought it home, I still enjoyed it, and I think it will be an outstanding pick for Storytime — plenty of great sound effects, nice drama, and inside jokes to point out in the illustrations.

The book opens with Robot Zot in his spaceship looking out at earth, ready to conquer.

“No one stop Robot Zot.
Robot Zot crush lot!”

But then as Robot Zot enters an earth building, ready to conquer, we see in the pictures that he turns out to be only a few inches tall.

He enters an earth kitchen and believes the appliances are enemy robots which he must conquer. Indeed, he conquers them.

But then a large sinister monster (the television set) offers a challenge in the next room. And in the children’s room he sees the bot of his dreams — a little girl’s toy cellphone. He must save her from the evil guardians (dolls).

Throughout the book, we hear of Zot’s bold conquests from his perspective, while the big, bold pictures tell another story of a suburban household with plenty of appliances and a curious dog, who ends up getting blamed.

Tremendous fun, and will definitely be featured at my next Storytime.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/robot_zot.html

Review of Stitches, by David Small

Monday, October 12th, 2009

stitchesStitches

A Memoir

by David Small

W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2009. 329 pages.

It is always poignant when a successful, accomplished adult tells the story of a painful childhood. When the person telling the story is a skilled artist telling the story in graphic form, it has all the more power.

David Small is an award-winning illustrator of picture books for children. His memoir, however, is not for children.

When he was a child, he was given x-ray “therapy” as treatment for a sinus condition. That well-meaning therapy gave him cancer as a teenager, leaving scars both on his skin and on his voice.

The abuse he suffered is all the more poignant in that much of it was well-meaning, and some of it simply neglect. In this powerful graphic memoir, he shows us how the world looked to a little boy and a teen going through difficult things at the hands of those who were supposed to love him.

A moving and memorable story.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/stitches.html