Review of The Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye

August 8th, 2018

The Crown’s Game

by Evelyn Skye

Balzer + Bray, 2016. 397 pages.
Starred Review

This book is about a magic duel in Imperial Russia.

Russia has always had magic, but over time it is hidden, and the people don’t believe in it. But the tsar needs an Imperial Enchanter, who draws on the magic of Russia. However, there can only be one, or they will dilute the magic. The magic needs to be concentrated.

The tsar explains the Crown’s Game to the two participants, Vika and Nikolai:

The Game is a display of skill and a demonstration of strategy and mettle. The goal is to show me your worthiness to become my Imperial Enchanter — my adviser for all things from war to peace and everything in between.

The Game will take place in Saint Petersburg, and you will take turns executing enchantments. There is no restriction on the form of magic you choose, only that you do not alarm or harm the people of the city….

Each enchanter will have five turns, at the most. As the judge, I may declare a winner at any point in the Game, or I may wait until all ten plays have been made. Remember, your moves will reveal not only your power but also your character and your suitability to serve the empire. Impress me.

So the two enchanters start the Crown’s Game. Besides impressing the tsar, they can end the game by killing the other enchanter. At the end of ten moves, if both are still alive, the tsar will declare a winner. The other will be incinerated by the brand placed on each enchanter at the start of the game.

So Nikolai and Vika begin the work they’ve trained for all their lives. Neither one expected to find a kindred soul in their opponent. It shouldn’t be a surprise, since never before has either one met someone who can work with magic like they can. But there is only room for one Imperial Enchanter.

The book gives the flavor of Imperial Russia. Nikolai has grown up in fashionable Saint Petersburg, a friend of the son of the tsar, mentored by harsh and power-hungry Galina. Vika grew up out in the country, learning how to manipulate nature from her kind mentor Sergei. For the first time, both are going to show their magic to the world.

evelynskye.com
epicreads.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 Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, by Raphaël Frier, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

August 7th, 2018

Malala

Activist for Girls’ Education

by Raphaël Frier
illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

Charlesbridge, 2017. 45 pages.
Starred Review

This is a picture book biography of Malala. Her story is told simply, in a way that children can understand.

Malala was born in 1997 in Pakistan, the daughter of a teacher who had founded a school for girls. As the Taliban rose to power, Malala became an activist for girls’ education, even though she was still a child.

When she was eleven, she spoke against the Taliban trying to take away her education, in a speech covered by newspapers and television. After the Taliban did close down schools for girls, Malala was offered a chance to write a blog for the BBC about girls and education.

When she was still thirteen:

Malala is elected speaker of the child assembly associated with the Khpal Kor Foundation, which promotes the rights of children. In this leadership role, she begins as a children’s rights activist.

She wins the first-ever National Youth Peace Prize in Pakistan, and starts an educational foundation. But the Taliban does not like her work. Assassins come onto her school bus and shoot her three times. (This page is rendered symbolically with silhouetted figures in guns, but a bright light (like an explosion) coming off Malala. The faces of the girls are peaceful.)

Malala is flown to England, where she recovers. And then she begins a fresh wave of activism. Now she’s working for girls all over the world.

On Malala’s sixteenth birthday, July 12, 2013, hundreds of people from around the world hear her speak at the United Nations in New York City. Malala wears a shawl that belonged to Benazir Bhutto, a Pakistani prime minister who was assassinated.

The book includes quotations from that speech and tells us that the next year, at seventeen, Malala was the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

This book is packed with facts, but they are presented in a way children can understand. The illustrations are lovely, and tend toward symbolic depictions of ideas. There are 10 pages of back matter with photos and more information.

malala.org
charlesbridge.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 Waylon! Even More Awesome, by Sara Pennypacker

August 6th, 2018

Waylon!
Even More Awesome

by Sara Pennypacker
pictures by Marla Frazee

Disney Hyperion, 2017. 204 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2017

Here’s a second wonderful book about Waylon, a fourth grader who plans to be a scientist.

This book jumps right into the action. Dumpster Eddy, the stray dog that Waylon loves but can’t own because of his mother’s allergies, has been captured and is in the police station again.

Baxter is a police officer’s son, and he and Waylon usually break Dumpster Eddy out just before he has to go to a shelter. But this time there are some big obstacles. The first being that someone new is in charge of the animals at the station, so Dumpster Eddy doesn’t have as much time as usual.

Baxter’s helping Waylon, but Waylon’s still not sure he should associate with someone so obsessed with criminal behavior.

Also, it’s winter. The boys don’t want Eddy to be cold – so they build an igloo. But some more problems come up.

The way the obstacles and various subplots are resolved are all satisfying and lovely. Waylon learns about friendship and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and good collaboration. And the story’s engaging, funny, and realistic.

I do love Sara Pennypacker’s characters, children and adults both. They are always quirky, and come alive that way. Waylon’s dad, for example, has taken two years off from working with numbers in order to pursue his dream of making it as a writer, while Waylon’s mother is a scientist. Baxter is obsessed with criminology, and our friend Clementine makes some appearances, still giving her little brother the names of vegetables.

sarapennypacker.com
marlafrazee.com
DisneyBooks.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 Stairways to Heaven, by Lorna Byrne

August 4th, 2018

Stairways to Heaven

by Lorna Byrne

Coronet, 2011. First published in the United Kingdom in 2010. 293 pages.
Starred Review

Stairways to Heaven continues the life story of Lorna Byrne begun in Angels in My Hair, including telling about the process of becoming an author and people finally knowing that she can see angels.

Lorna Byrne has been able to see angels all her life. This book begins after her husband’s death and tells how the angels helped her move with her youngest daughter to a new home. Along the way, she reveals many things that angels have told her about life and about spiritual things.

Some of the things in this book seem a little out there. I’m thinking that it’s possible that even with all the study of the Bible I’ve done, I don’t know everything there is to know about spiritual things! Lorna Byrne doesn’t claim to know it all either, and she has a simple, humble style. She just tells what the angels have told her.

Since this book covers publishing her book, she’s also starting to answer many of the questions that people ask her now that the world knows she can see angels.

For the most part, these things are extremely inspirational and uplifting. Some points I especially like are that each one of us has a guardian angel who loves us and is with us always. And that there are many other angels all around us that we can call on to help.

This paragraph sums up nicely an important thrust of her teaching:

Many of us don’t understand how important the relationship between mankind and angels is. We have free will, but we have angels to prompt us to do the right things, to prompt us to do what God would want us to do in each and every circumstance. This is the task God has given angels and, because it is God’s task, angels will never ever give up. Every time you pray you are talking directly to God. Regardless of your belief in angels, angels are praying with you at the same time, adding power and strength to your prayer. This is one of the tasks God has given the angels. We never pray alone.

This is an inspiring and eye-opening book, though, like me, you may have to set aside some of your previous assumptions to fully appreciate it.

lornabyrne.com
hodder.co.uk

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

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Newbery Notes

August 3rd, 2018

As of the beginning of August, I’m starting to feel overwhelmed with the task of trying to find the best books of the year.

So far, I’ve received 375 books from publishers. I’m also reading library books.

How to decide what to read? Well, of course I read everything suggested by the committee. So far, members have suggested 79 books. (Did you know ALSC members can also suggest books? The committee will all read suggested books.)

I also read any book that a kid member of my Newbery Book Club at City of Fairfax Regional Library gives 5 out of 5 stars to.

After that? Well, let’s just say I’m trying to get pickier and pickier.

I’m still trying to read at least two hours every day and four hours on days off – but I’ve been falling off of that the last week. I was trying to take a day off for reading each month and do at least one 48-hour Book Challenge per quarter, but that didn’t happen in July because the summer is just too busy.

However, I should get back in the groove of that at the end of August – and I just booked a 4-day weekend reading getaway to Harper’s Ferry in October.

So – it’s still a challenge, but a wonderful one. I’m also starting to figure out which three books I want to nominate in October. I will probably go with my three favorites. (I already have two that will be hard to knock out of the running in my mind. But the fun part is that it could still happen!) Then to nominate two more in November and two more in December – I will also consider whether my next choices have been nominated by someone else or not.

It is the nominated books that we will discuss and consider for the award when we meet together next January.

Oh, and we got some potentially lovely news: One of the Newbery committee members is expecting a baby – due 5 days before we start deliberating! So if baby comes late, she will have to drop out. But if all goes well and Baby is on time or early, and healthy – we will get to deliberate with a tiny baby in the room!

And here are my reading totals as of August 3, 2018:

Middle Grade Books: 164 books (17 not finished), 34,998 pages.
Young Adult Books: 48 books (7 not finished), 14,101 pages.
Picture Books: 348 books, 13,112 pages.

Grand totals: 560 eligible books read, (536 completely), for a total of 62,211 pages.

Clearly, I need to step it up!

Review of Little Pig Saves the Ship, by David Hyde Costello

August 3rd, 2018

Little Pig Saves the Ship

by David Hyde Costello

Charlesbridge, 2017. 32 pages.
Review written in 2017

This story of the youngest child left behind is crafted well. So often when a younger child or pet saves the day, it feels contrived. In this one, the adventure is realistic and satisfying. The reader sees there can be compensations to being the smallest.

The book opens:

Little Pig wished he could go to sailing camp with his brothers and sisters,

but he was too little.

Tiny, the oldest, had been to sailing camp five summers in a row. He gave Little Pig his book of sailors’ knots and a piece of rope.

The speech bubbles on the pages inform us that Little Pig will be old enough to go next summer.

Little Pig spends his first day, with a lot of spare time, learning to tie knots. Then Little Pig’s grandfather shows him the beautiful wooden ship he’s making for Little Pig. He promises that the next day, they’ll finish it together.

(I love almost all the illustrations. But the two older pigs with full white whiskers look way too strange for me.)

They end up sailing the ship on the stream every day for the rest of the week. But on the last day, the ship gets away from them and goes down a waterfall, and is headed rapidly downstream. Little Pig runs downstream to a bridge across the stream – but his arm is too short to catch the boat.

Then he remembered Tiny’s rope in his pocket!

And that is how Little Pig saved the ship.

I like the way Little Pig and Poppy tell all his siblings about his rescue. He still wishes he could go sailing with them – and the next day, they all sail his little boat together.

charlesbridge.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 Ruined, by Amy Tintera

August 3rd, 2018

Ruined

by Amy Tintera

HarperTeen, 2016. 355 pages.

Ruined begins with the main character killing someone, which is fair enough – It’s a violent and bloody book. But the author wins you over anyway.

The stakes are obviously high right from the start. Em and two Ruined fighters are attacking the carriage of the princess of Vallos. This princess is the one who killed Em’s father, the King of Ruina, and left his head on a stick for her to find. The princess was traveling to marry the prince of Lera. Lera was responsible for the death of Em’s mother, and they took her sister Olivia captive. Em is going to take the princess’s place and marry Cas, the prince of Lera.

The plan is dangerous. If anyone discovers her deception, she will of course be killed. At the start of the book, as Em meets the royal family of Lera, with each person she meets, she thinks about how she could kill them if things go bad. What weapons are handy? How could she use them?

The Ruined are feared because they have magic. Anyway, most of them have magic. Em was born without magic and is considered useless. Her powerful sister was to be the next queen. Em hopes that by infiltrating the royal family, she can learn Olivia’s whereabouts, before warriors from Olso attack with the remaining Ruined.

Em didn’t expect to find Cas so different from his parents, so willing to listen to reason. She didn’t expect to fall in love with him.

This book is full of action and, yes, blood and gore. There’s a violent history on both sides. And not everything goes smoothly in the attack Em had tried to coordinate.

By the time I read this book, during my reading Teen Speculative Fiction for the 2016 Cybils, I was getting tired of girls falling in love with a prince-of-a-family-who-oppressed-my-people-but-has-a-heart-of-gold. Really? I did enjoy the book, but wasn’t quite comfortable with that aspect of it, even by the end.

Unfortunately, this is only Book One. Though the story comes to a decent stopping place, it’s not finished. There will be conflict ahead! Fortunately, this is only Book One. There will be more!

Amytintera.com
Epicreads.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 Artemis, by Andy Weir

July 26th, 2018

Artemis

by Andy Weir
performed by Rosario Dawson

Brilliance Audio, 2017. 8 hours, 59 minutes on 8 discs.
Starred Review

I got to read a novel for adults! The Newbery committee decided to avoid listening to audiobooks of eligible books, since we don’t want the skill of the readers to influence our opinions one way or the other – so when I drive to and from work, I do not listen to children’s books. And Artemis is indeed a book for adults – there is plenty of profanity and sexual innuendoes.

Jazz Bashara, the main character of this book, is not as likable as the main character of The Martian, the author’s first brilliant book. At least not for me. I’m a rule follower. Jazz is the opposite of that. She’s surviving in her home town on the moon as a smuggler.

But then she gets a chance to change that completely, if she’ll pull off a sabotage job for a billionaire. But then something goes wrong, and then the billionaire gets murdered, and to save her own life she ends up planning a much bigger job.

Like The Martian, this book is full of suspense and full of authentic details about the technology. Artemis is a city on the moon, built in domes named after the men of the first manned mission to the moon. The book is full of details about how life works on the moon, and the job Jazz needs to pull off can only be done using science. The problems she confronts have to do with science, too.

There are also details about how the economy works in a frontier town. And law enforcement. Even the things Jazz smuggles – like flammable items – make sense in this near future world the author has built so carefully. (I like that it’s the Kenya Space Agency that built Artemis, for a fun little detail.)

So it’s a book completely different from the author’s first, but it’s also full of life-and-death science scenarios. And I tend to be extremely picky – but it never disrupted my suspension of disbelief even once.

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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 I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings, pictures by Shelagh McNicolas

July 24th, 2018

I Am Jazz

by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings

pictures by Shelagh McNicholas

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014. 32 pages.
Review written in 2017

I Am Jazz is a simple picture book about the experience of one transgender girl.

Her experience is presented simply, in child-friendly language. She talks about her best friends, Samantha and Casey, and the things all three of them love to do.

But I’m not exactly like Samantha and Casey.

I have a girl brain but a boy body.
This is called transgender.

I was born this way!

She tells us that at first her family was confused, they’d call her a boy despite her insistence that she was a girl.

Then one amazing day, everything changed. Mom and Dad took me to meet a new doctor who asked me lots and lots of questions. Afterward, the doctor spoke to my parents and I heard the word “transgender” for the very first time.

That night at bedtime, my parents both hugged me and said, “We understand now. Be who you are. We love you no matter what.”

This made me smile and smile and smile.

This book was published in 2014, but our library has only recently purchased it. Better late than never! It’s in the nonfiction section – in juvenile biography under “Jennings” – so no child is going to accidentally stumble across it in the picture books. That’s a bit of a shame, because it’s a simple explanation of what it’s like to be transgender – but at least we won’t have parents complaining that they don’t want their child exposed to this. To find this book, you will have to look for it.

I do recommend looking for it! A lovely book to explain to children what life is like for the transgender classmates they may end up encountering. Or, for that matter, to understand what they themselves may be going through. Stories go a long way to counteract bullying. This book tells a true story in a positive way.

transkidspurplerainbow.org
penguin.com/youngreaders

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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 Fish Girl, by Donna Jo Napoli and David Wiesner

July 23rd, 2018

Fish Girl

story by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner
pictures by David Wiesner

Clarion Books, 2017. 188 pages.
Review written in 2017.

One of my favorite children’s fantasy writers Donna Jo Napoli has teamed up with the amazing illustrator David Wiesner to produce a gorgeous graphic novel.

The story is about a young mermaid who is kept in captivity by a man who calls himself Neptune, god of the sea. The building is next to the ocean, and the man puts on shows for tourists. Fish Girl’s job is to let the tourists get glimpses of her, but never a good look. And she picks up the coins they throw into the tank after the show.

Then a 12-year-old girl sees Fish Girl. She’s afraid Neptune will find out. But the girl comes back, and the two become friends. Fish Girl starts climbing out of the tank at night – which changes things. She begins asking questions about the stories Neptune has told her.

There are a lot of unanswered questions in this graphic novel – the story is mostly told through the pictures. But the story is gripping, and the pictures are stunning. And we’re rooting for Fish Girl as she makes a friend and gets a name and starts thinking about freedom.

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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