9/2/15

Little Robot, by Ben Hatke

Little Robot, by Ben Hatke (First Second, Sept. 2015), is a lovely graphic novel for the young (1st or 2nd grade) reader, that can, like all of Ben Hatke's books, be enjoyed by older readers too.

A little girl, still in her white nightie, climbs out her bedroom window.  She's too little to be one of the kids getting on the school bus, so she heads out to explore.  In the junkyard she finds a tool belt, which she dons, and her lonely path takes her on to the edge of a stream.  There, in a cardboard box in the water, she finds a robot!  Now she has a companion, and she and the little robot explore nature together.

But the Big Factory of Robots has noticed little Robot is gone, and a scary bot is sent out to find and retrieve him.  And the little robot himself isn't sure about his own situation; he misses the company of others like himself.

When the scary bot seizes little Robot and takes him back to the factory, the girl follows....and with tons of gumption, she saves her friend. 

The nearly wordless story is an utterly charming story of ingenuity, friendship, and pluck!  I love Ben Hatke's art--his characters, whether robot or girl, all have such endearing personalities (unless they are scary hunter robots!), and this story is a particularly satisfying one for any kid who wants a best friend.  The little girl is also a great role model for anyone who's wanted to be a maker and a tinkerer with tools!  Her skills with a wrench and her confidence in her abilities are what makes the happy ending as happy as it is.  It's a good book to give emergent readers, to give them the habit of turning pages and becoming immersed in a story, without the possible stress having to read words might bring! 

What makes this book stand out (apart from the great pictures, great story, and appealing protagonists) is that the little girl is not only a kid of color, but she's from a family that isn't economically advantaged--she lives in a mobile home park, and the grown-ups in her life aren't helicopter parents lavishing her with round-the-clock attention and material possessions.  (The only thing that negatively impacted my enjoyment of the story was my very deep maternal concern that the little girl was going to end up with tetanus from wandering around the junkyard in bare feet, although I realize that the target audience won't share this anxiety).  But in any event, it's lovely to see the possibilities of fantasy adventure expanded to include kids like her!

Here's the starred Kirkus review.

disclaimer:  signed copy received at Book Expo America, but I was so excited to be meeting Ben Hatke and Gina Gagliano from First Second that I became overcome, and like a derp I left my signed copy behind at the signing desk.  Gina was kind enough to mail it on to me.  Thank you so much, Gina!

9/1/15

Wild Robert, by Diana Wynne Jones, for Timeslip Tuesday

Finally I have gotten hold of  a copy of Wild Robert, by Diana Wynne Jones (1989), the last full length book of hers I had never read (sigh).  I enjoyed it, but felt like it was half a story--I wanted it to follow the very intriguing open thread at the end!

Heather's home is the grand old historical estate of Castlemaine, where her parents are caretakers.  This is all very well, except in summer, when the place is overrun by tourists.  Desperately seeking a tourist free hiding spot, Heather retreats to the edge of the estate, to the strange little mound said to be the grave of Wild Robert, who lived and died most mysteriously 350 years ago.   In her frustration, Heather angrily calls to Wild Robert to do something about the tourists, and to her very great (and understandable) surprise, he appears before her, a handsome young man in period clothing, somehow brighter than everything around him, but very much corporally present (so not a ghost).

Wild Robert was a magician, and he still has considerable powers of magic.  During the course of his day with Heather, he works considerable magic and mischief.  But though Heather is consternated by tourists being turned into sheep and the like, as she learns more of his story, and empathizes with his reactions to seeing his home 350 years in the future (this is the part that makes this timeslip in my mind), her primary response is one of deep sympathy.  And the book ends with Robert returning underground, and Heather wondering if his heart can ever be returned to him....

And I really wonder that too, and want the next story really badly!  It is Heather's empathy for Robert, and the sadness of his story with its twisty magic and familial betrayal, that gives the book more weight than it would have it were just simply magical high-jinx worked on tourists (although that makes for fun reading in its own right!).  But because the story ends after that one day, we never get to explore that deeper part enough to make this a truly outstanding book. 

Sigh.

8/31/15

The House on Stone's Throw Island, by Dan Poblocki

Dan Poblocki is my go-to author when I need to recommend horror to an eleven or twelve year old, and his latest book, The House on Stone's Throw Island (Scholastic, Aug. 25, 2015) is another fine atmospheric and spooky story for that demographic.

Two kids, Josie and Eli, are thrown into each other's company when they head out to Stone's Throw Island, off the coast of Maine, where their older siblings are going to get married.   The house is big, the island is isolated, and as Josie and Eli start exploring it, it soon becomes clear that it is a very, very creepy place indeed.   Caves flooded at high tide echo with a voice crying for help in German, and Josie's room is haunted by the specter of a girl her own age.

And then things go really bad!  The ghosts of Stone's Throw Island are desperate for revenge, and they will possess the living in order to get it!  It is rather direct horror with lots of  omg is the really happening type terror; after the initial gentle creepiness, things explode.  If you want a book in which a ghostly Nazi submarine crewed by friends and family possessed by Nazi ghosts pursues the heroes, this is the book you have been waiting for! 

Josie and Eli add to the character side of things, especially Josie, from whose perspective we see the horror unfold.  The island setting and the historical mystery that Josie and Eli must solve, with the help of a diary written by a girl on the island in 1942,  also add elements that will appeal to those who find the ghost sub and its zombified ghost crew a tad over the top (which would be me). 

That being said, the premise of Germans in Atlantic waters is based on fact; they were here, within spitting distance of the Atlantic coast, sinking ships right and left.

Dan Pobloki will be at Kidlitcon 2015, as part of a panel on Middle Grade Horror! So come on down (or up) to Baltimore October 9th and 10th!)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

8/30/15

This week's roundup of middle grade science fiction and fantasy (8/30/15)

Let me know if I missed your post!
The Reviews

Alistair Grim's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon, at alibrarymama

Cat in the Mirror, by Mary Stolz, at Charlotte's Library

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend, by Michelle Cuevas, at Book Nut

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Dandilion Fire, and The Chestnut King, by N.D. Wilson, at Dead Houseplants

Dark Whispers, by Bruce Coville, at Read Till Dawn

The Familiars, by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson, at Jean Little Library

Finding Serendipity, by Angelica Banks, at Becky's Book Reviews

Flunked, by Jen Calonita, at Leaf's Reviews and The Indigo Quill

The Gift of Sunderland, by Jeanne E. Rogers, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Girl With the Silver Eyes, by Willo Davis Roberts, at Log Cabin Library

Goblins on the Prowl, by Bruce Coville, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible, by Ursula Vernon, at Abby the Librarian, Waking Brain Cells, and Word Spelunking

The Isle of the Lost, by Melissa de la Cruz, at Small Review

The Jumbies, by Tracy Baptiste, at For Those About To Mock

The Last Ever After, by Soman Chainani, at The Writing Hufflepuff

A Nearer Moon, by Melanie Crowder, at On Starships and Dragonwings

The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel, at Fuse #8

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Nightmares: The Sleepwalker Tonic, by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, at The Book Monsters

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, by Karen Foxlee, at Pages Unbound

Ratscalibur, by Josh Lieb, at SLJ (audiobook review)

Rose and the Silver Ghost, by Holly Webb, at alibrarymama

Saving Lucas Biggs, by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague, at Big Hair and Books

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

School for Sidekicks, by Kelly McCullough, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels and Teen Librarian Tool Box

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at Fantasy Book Critic

The Sign of the Cat, by Lynne Jonell, at The Book Wars

The Sixty-eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone, at My Cozy Book Nook

Stolen Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Leaf's Reviews

Thor's Serpents, by K.L. Armstrong and M. A. Marr, at Breathless Book Reviews

Tom Thorneval – Dream Merchant Extraordinaire, by Cornelius Elmore Addison, at Candace's Book Blog and Cover2Cover

Author and Interviews

C. Alexander London shares the illustrations from The Wild Ones at Nerdy Book Club

Other Good Stuff

Jillian Heise ponders books with animal characters at The Nerdy Book Club

The magic of maps in middle grade fiction, at Mother, Daughter, and Son Book Reviews

A personal look at the Green Knowe books from Christopher William Hill at The Guardian

Dan Pobloki, middle grade horror maestro, is now on the kidlitcon roster! check out the Kidlitcon tumblr for more info.

There's still time to apply to be a Cybils Judge, in middle grade speculative fiction or another category.  Here are all the categories:

  • Book Apps
  • Early Chapter Books
  • Easy Readers
  • Fiction Picture Books
  • Graphic Novels

    • Elementary/Middle-Grade
    • Young Adult
  • Middle-Grade Fiction
  • Nonfiction

    • Elementary/Middle-Grade
    • Young Adult
  • Poetry
  • Speculative Fiction
    • Elementary/Middle-Grade
    • Young Adult
  • Young Adult Fiction

  • (YA non-fiction is most in need of applicants).

     here's where you apply.

    8/29/15

    Dearest, by Alethea Kontis

    Dearest, by Alethea Kontis, is the third book in a series about the seven daughters of a woodcutter, each of whom is magically gifted with the attributes of the seven days of the week in the old rhyme (Monday's child is fair of face, Tuesday's child is full of grace, etc).  They are named for the days of the week too, and this third book is about Friday (loving and giving).  (aside--as a Wednesday's child, "full of woe," I was never fond of this rhyme.  We had to draw a picture of ourselves as our day of the week;  I drew stick figure me in a purple dress standing in the rain....but I don't hold it against the books!)

    When Sunday married a prince, Friday's world expanded likewise.  But all is not well in the realm--a magical ocean has flooded the land, bringing its people to the brink of famine.  And seven swan brothers have taken refuge in an old tower in the castle; they are being perused by their enemy, determined to make sure that the curse on them can't be broken.  And Friday, loving and giving, is determined to help them and their sister do just that.

    The seven swan brothers is one of my favorite fairytales, and this is a retelling that sticks pretty closely to the original.  There is also reference to the goose girl story, though not central to the plot, and a whif of Peter Pan.

    This is just pure escapist reading goodness for those who like fantasy where the bad things are clearly not going to be allowed to take over, and where there's a nice, fairly straightforward romance.  It does not make any particular demands on the reader, but simply sets the stage for the story and lets all unfold very nicely indeed.   Those who have read the previous two books (Enchanted, and Hero) will be pleased to see the sisters again, those who have not might be a bit confused, but not so much so as to be deterred.   

    On the slightly downside, Friday sure is loving and giving, so much so that she's not the most satisfyingly nuanced character ever.  And it was so clear that all would end well that there's not much tension to the swan story; the much more mundane possibility of famine and efforts to avert it was more interesting to me.   The first two books were twistier, and so more mentally engaging.

    That being said, younger teens, and older readers willing to relax into the story, can look forward to being enchanted!  I don't think I'll ever need to read it again, but I sure did enjoy it the first time around!

    8/25/15

    Cat in the Mirror, by Mary Stolz, for Timeslip Tuesday

    I remember reading Cat in the Mirror, by Mary Stolz (1975) twice when I was a child, lo these many years ago (about 36 years ago, give or take).  The first time I read it was either because I was on a stint of reading through the public library collection in backwards alphabetical order, or because the cat in the title appealed.   I didn't love it, but liked it enough to check it out a second time, at which point I decided I really didn't care for it as much as it seemed like I should have--girl, cat, time travel is supposed to equal a good book!  And now I have read it a third time, and I realize that I really don't like it because:

    1. The main character, Erin, is tremendously unappealing.  All she does is feel sorry for herself, and hate her mother.  Both are pointless, even though her mother is a pretty awful, unloving mother.  And if people go around pouching their faces up with air all the time, being nicknamed "blowfish" is only to be expected.  And if people loose their temper and start screaming hysterically at their classmates on a regular basis, they won't become popular.  I knew I was supposed to sympathize with her, and admire her modern ideas about slave labor, and relate to her introspective nature, but she is actually a whinny spoiled brat. She doesn't, for instance, bat an eyelash at the fact that her housekeeper, Flora, is totally oppressed (perhaps by choice, but still).  As an adult, I was shocked when Erin's parents leave her in the hospital, saying "Flora will stay with you" and Flora just smiles and nods. 

    2.  The time travel is pointless.  So Erin makes friends (!) with a new kid, who is not repulsed that she keeps blowing her cheeks up with air, and the new kid is Egyptian.   This is not deeply important to the plot, except for the new kid saying that she looks Egyptian, and adding a sort of "Egypt is important to the story" set up.  In any event, Erin whangs her head on a sarcophagus and finds herself (sort of) in ancient Egypt.  That is, an Egyptian girl, Irun, now has almost sort become possessed by Erin's memories, and sometimes the point of view is Erin in Egyptian girl body, but mostly it's not.  Erin does not learn valuable lessons, grow as a person, or change anything in the past.  She's just a partially embodied, thought to be demonic, observer (and to give Stolz some credit, it's a perfectly reasonable "lets take a tour through ancient Egypt" sort of story, nicely described, detailed, vivid, etc.).  But at least Erin stops blowing her face out while back in Egypt.

    3.  If I were to title a book "Cat in the Mirror" I would make sure that the cat presence/foreshadowing/magical implications of cat were part of the book from the beginning.  The cat comes into the story very near the end, and although it is the catalyst for the only interesting bit of something happening, it's not on stage enough to make the book deserve the misleading title.

    Really what I remembered most clearly about the book was the whole business of her masses of black bushy hair, which travels back in time to Egypt with her, and which is assumed by the Egyptians to be the result of demonic possession.  It gets shaved off pretty quickly, an image that has stuck with me.  When she gets back to her modern self, waking up in the hospital with her head shaved because of the accident with the sarcophagus, she comments that now she will have an afro, which struck, and strikes, me as odd, because tightly cropped head of hair, no matter how bushy it used to be, isn't my idea of an afro.  But the 1970s were different, so what do I know. 

    The clear descriptions of Erin make the paperback portrayal of her rather eyebrow raising; in a sense, she's been whitewashed (though can you be whitewashed if you are white to start with?)  to look less like an ancient Egyptian and more like an utterly ordinary white girl.

    In any event, I don't think I'll be reading it a fourth time. 

    8/24/15

    The Temple of Doubt, by Anne Boles Levy

    The Temple of Doubt, by Anne Boles Levy (Sky Pony Press, August 2015), introduces one of the most believable speculative fiction teenage protagonists I've read in a long time, a girl named Hadara, who finds herself unwillingly placed at the center of events that not only shatter the pattern of her own life, but will probably change her whole world.

    It starts with a shooting star, falling into the swampy heart of her island home.  Soon after, two high priests of the god Nihil and their military retinue arrive from overseas, taking over the place, and demanding help in finding what has fallen from the heavens, suspecting that instead of a harmless meteorite it is the vessel of a demon.  Hadara and her mother are the only locals familiar with the swamps; they've ventured there often, gathering plants to make forbidden medicine--magic from Nihil, not natural cures, are all that their religion permits.  And so Hadara and their mother find themselves guiding the preists and their guards into the dangerous realm of the nonhuman people, the lizard-like Gek, whose make the swamp their home. 

    And there Hadara confronts the mystery of the fallen star, and the threat it might hold...

    And in the meantime, Hadara is very much a teenage girl!  Even before the star fell, she was chafing against the strictures of her society; unlike her pious sister, she had no patience for learning religious dogma by route, but would rather be out and doing, held back by a society that gave little room for girls to do so.   She's a direct sort of person, saying what she thinks even when she shouldn't, and that doesn't exactly go over so well with the priests and their soldiers.   Basically, she's in a situation way over her head, that's she's not tremendously equipped to deal with.  And to add to the complications of her situation, she's fallen hard for one of the foreign soldiers in a very believable teenage crush sort of way (with indications that it might turn into more).

    We see the events of the story unfolding as Hadara does, and this both strengthens the story and limits it.  The material details of her world are clear and vivid, and the religion is well-developed, but her somewhat insular upbringing and limited point of view can be frustrating  The presence of two non-human races in her world is something she takes for granted, for instance, but it takes the reader by surprise, and the nuances and backstory of this part of the world is never, in this first book, fully explored.  And perhaps because (at least this is my impression of her) Hadara doesn't have the character or education to understand religious/political machinations and manipulations, there was a frustrating sense that lots was happening that the reader wasn't getting told.  And the focus on Hadara's day by day experiences, though it did bring her vividly to life, meant that the pacing was somewhat slow--the action and tension are at times overshadowed by her introspection and mundane reality.  So it won't be to everyone's taste.

    That being said, since I enjoy tight character focus, and since I was fascinated by the religion that shapes Hadara's world, and since I was hooked on the mystery of the space thing, I myself was not slowed down in my reading, but turned the pages briskly and with enjoyment.  Even though I wanted to shake Hadara occasionally, or draw her attention to things I wanted her to be thinking more about, I enjoyed spending time with her and look forward to her continued adventures! (and I think readers who are themselves teenage girls will not have the wanting to shake her thing but will simply be able to relate very strongly with her).

    And now comes the part where I have to stick a label on this post--part of me says science fiction, because this feels like a "planet with alien races" such as one finds in sci fi, but another part says it has to be fantasy, because the magic of the god Nihil actually is real.   So I guess I have to go with both...

    disclaimer: not only did I receive a review copy from the publisher, but I consider Anne a friend, having met her in real life and worked with her for several years on the Cybils Awards (which she founded), and I tried hard  not to let this affect my review of her book.

    8/23/15

    This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (8/23/15)

    Here's what I found this week; enjoy!

    And let me know if I missed your post.

    The Reviews

    Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Castle, by Gabrielle Kent, at The Book Zone (for Boys) and Middle Grade Strikes Back

    Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Abby the Librarian

    Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at Semicolon

    Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at Sharon the Librarian

    A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Charlotte's Library

    The Emerald Atlas, by Jonathan Stephens,  at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

    The Eye of Zoltar, by Jasper Fforde, at Sonderbooks

    The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

    The Glass Gauntlet, by Roy Carter, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Always in the Middle

    Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invicible, by Ursula Vernon, at books4yourkids

    The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at Welcome to my (New) Tweendom

    The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Brallier, at The Reading Nook Reviews

    Lilliput, by Sam Gayton, at Redeemed Reader

    Princess Juniper of the Hourglass, by Ammi-Joan Paquette, at Cracking the Cover

    Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at Cracking the Cover

    The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, at SLJ

    A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd, at Reading is my Escape from Reality

    Took, by Mary Downing Hahn, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

    The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones, by Will Mabbitt, at The Book Wars

    Villain Keeper, by Laurie McKay, at On Starships and Dragonwings and Charlotte's Library

    The Wrinkled Crown, by Anne Nesbet, at SLJ

    Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Diary of a Mad Brownie, by Bruce Coville, and Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible, by Ursula Vernon

    Two by Kenneth Oppel at Boys Rule Boys Read--The Boundless, and Airborn


    Authors and Interviews

    Maile Meloy (The Apothecary series) at The New York Times

    Sherel Ott (Princess Janai and the Warrior Maidens of Ouinu) at The Haunting of Orchid Fosythia


    Other Good Stuff

    A Tuesday ten of male protagonists in 2015 fantasy at Views from the Tesseract

    A Birthday look at Diana Wynne Jones (sniff) at Tor

    A look at E. Nesbit at the Guardian

    You have until Sept. 9th to apply to be a Cybils Panelist.  Here are my top five reasons to apply (with specific reference to MG speculative fiction).  Book apps and YA non-fiction are in particular need of panelists (although there is lots of room in the other categories too).


    8/21/15

    Villain Keeper (The Last Dragon Charmer Book 1), by Laurie McKay

    Villain Keeper (The Last Dragon Charmer Book 1), by Laurie McKay (HarperCollins, middle grade, February, 2015), starts as if it is going to be a standard medievally boy on dragon-slaying quest story, but bang!  things take a surprising turn when our young hero, Prince Caden, finds himself magically transported to Ashville, North Carolina. How will he find a dragon to slay there in the mundane world?  And how will he ever get home again?  A young magic user, Brynne,  has fallen through with him, and though her magic still works, she has no clue how to get them back where they belong.  (Caden's beautiful white stallion ends up in Ashville too, adding bonus beautiful brave horse elements for the horse-loving kid).

    So Caden finds himself in foster care, enrolled in the public school system (where he is, later in the book, joined by Brynne).  But Caden's school has a very peculiar set up, one that makes clear why the book has the title it does.  And when Caden becomes determined to track down a missing girl, Jane Chan, who disappeared from his foster home a little bit earlier, he finds himself in the thick of dangers just as magical as those he might have expected to find back home.  And the lack of dragons proves not to be much of a problem after all! 

    Caden's character is initially defined by his all-consuming desire to reach Elite Paladin status, and win the respect of his father and numerous older brothers.  Elite Paladin aspirations and ideals fit somewhat awkwardly into the social norms of our world; as he realizes this, Caden gradually becomes a more developed character (which is good, because he starts the book as a cardboard sterotypical kid hero wanna-be), finding friends and a place in a family that, despite being a foster care placement, offers him more than his own royal family did.  I also enjoyed seeming him learning the potential of the magical gift bestowed on him when he was born; I like people finding out how to get mileage from seemingly not that thrilling magical gifts!  Brynne is obnoxious and not especially kind, but she brings an engaging sort of thumbing her nose attitude to the vicissitudes of the situation.  And Caden's new foster brother, Tito, determined to find out what happened to Jane, adds a nice counterweight on the good kid side.

    It's fun and engaging.  Kids will be amused by Caden's mis-steps with modern technology, and readers of all ages will find the titular "villain keeper" fascinating.  With its highly irregular fantastical set up, Caden's new school (where the lunch ladies might really be witches) makes for entertaining, seasonally appropriate (back-to-school-time), reading.

    Aside:  sometimes I think I read a lot more like the ten year old target audience than whoever reviews MG fantasy for Kirkus.  After writing this, I went and read their review, and am now scratching my head trying to figure out when "the characters frequently seem to know more than they should...."  This did not cross my mind; I guess I take it for granted when characters in books (also Real Life) know more than me about what's going on.  They have more invested in the story, for one thing, they have longer to think about it (the days they live through, as opposed to the hour and a half of reading time I get, and they are right there, able to pick up on nuance and detail, and they have existing knowledge that I don't have access to).

    disclaimer: review copy received from the author
     

    8/19/15

    Five reasons to apply to be a Cybils Judge (with particular referrence to middle grade spec fic)

    The call for Cybils panelists has gone out, and anyone who has a website where children's books are reviewed is welcome to apply!  If you are unfamiliar with the Cybils, the jist of it is that there are many categories of books (including middle grade speculative fiction, formerly middle grade science fiction and fantasy), and during the nomination period, everyone in the world is welcome to nominate their favorite books in each category.   Then comes the first round of judging, in which panelists read all (as far as is possible) the books nominated and come up with shortlists, and then comes the second round, in which a different set of panelists reads the shortlists and comes up with a winner.

    So in essence, the first round involves lots and lots of reading, and lots of emails exchanged with co-panelists, and the second round slightly less of each, but perhaps more intense.  Books are picked on the basis of good writing and lots of appeal for the target audience.

    Here are five reasons why you might want to apply to be a Cybils judge in middle grade speculative fiction!

    1.  The books are really really good this year.  I just scrolled through the Kirkus reviews back to October 16 (the beginning of this year's eligibility period) and there are about thirty mg spec fic books with stars (and others to which I'd have given stars).  And I just went through my own list o books read so far, and came up with thirty (!) books I'd be happy to see on the final short list of seven. Good books means good reading, and good, passionate discussion.

    2.  It makes fall a lot more fun when you are a first round panelist.   I love the excitement of the nomination period, the fun of marking books read in the spreadsheet, the wild placing of library hold requests and the packages that arrive full of books not obtainable through the library.  I love having a forum in which I can honestly share with no holding back what I really think about books. 

    3.  It will make you really really knowledgeable about the middle grade spec. fic. books of the past year.  You will be able to come up with a book for anyone!  It is something you can put on your resume.  It will bring you to the attention of authors and publishers.

    4.  You will make new blogging friends and quite possibly be inspired to blog more.

    5.  I'm the category organizer for middle grade speculative fiction, which means assembling the panels is part of my job, so this reason why you should apply is somewhat selfish.  I want lots and lots of people to apply so that I can have new participants along with reliable veterans, and so that the panels can have lots of different view points represented.  I take up one of the seven available slots in the first round, but that still leaves six, and five more for the second round....

    If you still have doubts, let me reassure you that it is less work than you might think!

    There will probably be around 150 books nominated in MG Spec Fic.  This might seem like a lot of books to read, but remember, you'll probably have read a fair number of them already (if you haven't, you must not like MG spec fic, so you wouldn't be applying).    Also each book only Has to be read by 2 panelists, and since I plan to read all the books, that takes pressure of others.   And also if it is clear to you before finishing a book that you could not support it being shortlisted, you don't have to finish it but can still mark it as read.   Though the nominating period ends October 15, you can start reading just as soon as you get the invitation email from me in mid September, giving you three and half months for reading (the shortlists must be assembled by the end of December).    On the other hand, if you are having a baby, starting a new job, planning on spending the month of December snowbound with no internet access, or moving house this fall, the second round might be a better fit for you!

    Things that I look for when gathering panelists:

    Obviously, I really want people who know and love MG Spec Fic; this is the most important thing to demonstrate when you apply!  (Do not include a link to a review in which you say "I don't really like middle grade fiction, but I liked this book" or some such, which really has happened a few times in the past).   I want a mix of parents, educators, librarians, and authors. I want a range of viewpoints.  And I want panelists who are able to think clearly (at least most of the time, she says, looking at self) and critically about what makes for a good mg spec fic book. 

    So here's the direct link to the application form; please apply!

    If you are on the fence about applying, please feel free to email me at charlotteslibrary at gmail.com with any questions or concerns! 

    8/18/15

    Amber House, by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, and Larkin Reed for Timeslip Tuesday

    Amber House, by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed, and Larkin Reed (Scholastic, October 2012), has a great first line, that tells you right from the get go that strange things are going to happen with time--

    "I was almost sixteen the first time my grandmother died."

    Her grandmother's funeral is the first time Sarah Parsons has come to Amber House, the great Maryland estate that has been in her family for generations, full to the roof beams with family treasure, and family secrets (Amber House is a good name for it, because lots and lots of piece of the past have gotten stuck there...).  Sarah's mother wants to sell the house, and quickly--she'd become estranged from her mother, and doesn't have any desire to become the next chatelaine of Amber House.   But Sarah still has time to begin exploring, encouraged by another teenager, Jackson, who's grown up at Amber House, and who is in fact a distant cousin thanks to the rape of his several times great grandmother by one of Sarah's slave owning ancestors.

    And as Sarah explores, Amber House begins, literally, to show her its secrets.  The women in her family have the gift of slipping through time, to watch events from the past play out.  Past and present are tightly entwined, and Sarah finds herself desperately trying to fix the tragedy that changed her mother and drove her from home.  She's helped in her quest by visits through time with Jackson's African great, great grandmother, who offers council, and helped as well by her own pluck and determination, and Jackson's obvious caring.

    In the meantime, Sarah's mother is determined to have a grand party for Sarah's 16th birthday, and a rich young wasp boy of great attractiveness seems to be falling for her, and Sarah wonders if she is falling for him, and she also finds herself drawn to Jackson.  The party planning elements seemed excessive even for an excessive party, and the wasp boy was kind of a pointless distraction (I didn't feel he added much to the book in terms of plot; he felt more like a cute rich boy accessory).   These parts of the book, though, might well appeal much more to the target teen audience.

    I myself was more interested in the house, but though I really like old houses full of treasures in my fiction, there just seemed (again) to be a bit Too Much.  Too much melodrama, too many secrets, both architectural and familial, basically just an overly lavish hand that kept individual elements from shinning as brightly as I would have liked.   Yet the twists and turns of the secrets as they were uncovered, and the character of the House itself, kept me turning the pages eagerly... All those who like teenage romance with family complications, opulence, and historical mystery thrown in will doubtless enjoy Amber House lots!

    My main complaint is that everything gets Set Right at the end of the book; Sarah has fixed things so that her mother is a completely different person, the one she was meant to be, and so her parents marriage is saved, the house is saved, and everyone is happy.  It was a bit too much to swallow, and seemed to me to retrospectively weaken the emotional tension of the whole rest of the book.  I'm kind of glad to see that the sequel shows that happy ever after isn't necessarily the best idea!

    It turns out that although the immediate problems are solved, more have been created--the whole course of American history is changed!  In Neverwas, Sarah and Jackson work together again to set things right...and I liked them both enough that I have added that one to my library holds list!

    disclaimer: Amber House was received from the publisher a long, long time ago, and fell curse to the "I'll probably enjoy this one so I'll set it on the shelf and save it for a bit" trap that resulted in its being saved much too long. 

    8/17/15

    A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano

    A Curious Tale of the In-Between (Bloomsbury, Sept 1, 2015) is YA author Lauren DeStefano's middle grade debut, and it is a good one!

    Pram was orphaned before she was even born when her mother killed herself.  Her mother's body was found before it was too late for Pram, and so she was taken in by her aunts, determined to protect her as they hadn't been able to do for her mother.  The aunts named her Pragmatic, in a hopeful wish for future grounded-ness in reality, and homeschooled her in the home for the aged that they ran.

    But Pram's reality was not that of her aunts, because Pram could see ghosts, even the ghosts of insects.  Her only real friend was a ghost boy named Felix, and that was enough.  But her somewhat isolated peace was shattered when she was 12, and her aunts could no longer fight the command from Authority that Pram attend regular school....and that's when the story really gets going

    At school, Pram becomes friends with Clarence, who's own mother recently died.  His desire to make contact with her again leads the two of them to the attention of a medium, who senses Pram's ability to see ghosts.  The medium wants to use Pram's powers for her own sinister purposes...and the story takes a dark turn toward supernatural evil when Pram is kidnapped.

    But though there are horrific elements, and times of great tension (making for vigerous page-turning), Pram, with her goodness of heart and essential calm, serves as an anchor keeping the book from being too dark.  This is a book for those who enjoy stories of unlikely friendships, kids learning about who they are (in Pram's case, this involves learning about her parents, as well as learning about what she herself is capable of as friend to both the living and the dead; in Felix's case, it involves gathering the strength to move on from his life as a ghost, and in Clarence's case, it means dealing with his mother's death) and, most obviously,  it's one for those who like ghosts as people, not just as spectral menaces!

    It is really rather charming, and very gripping, not least because Pram is a dear.

    Review copy received from the publisher.

    8/16/15

    This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/16/2015)

    Here's this week's round-up; please let me know if I missed your post!

    Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at alibrarymama

    Beast Keeper, by Cat Hellisen, at alibrarymama

    Blaze, by Ginger Lee Malacko, at The Musings of a Book Addict

    The Blood Guard, by Carter Roy, at Always in the Middle

    Brilliant, by Roddy Doyle, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia

    Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at SLJ

    A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Hidden in Pages and The Quiet Concert

    Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at BookDragon

    Fire Girl, by Matt Ralphs, at The Book Zone (for boys)

    The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at The Write Path

    Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

    The Golden Specific, by S.E. Grove, at On Starships and Dragonwings and The Reading Nook Reviews

    The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley, at Hope is the Word

    Hook's Revenge, by Heidi Schulz, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

    Hopper's Destiny (Mouseheart #2), by Lisa Fiedler, at Fantasy Book Critic

    The House on Stone's Throw Island, by Dan Pobloki, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    The Imagination Box, by Martyn Ford, at The Book Zone (for boys)

    The League of Beastly Dreadfuls, by Holly Grant, at The Book Wars

    Lucky Strike, by Bobbie Pyron, at Always in the Middle

    Magic in the Mix, by Annie Barrows, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

    The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan & John Parke Davis, at Fantasy Literature

    Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creaters, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater, at The Book Monsters

    The Pirate Code, by Heidi Schulz, at Snuggly Oranges

    School for Sidekicks, by Kelly McCullough, at Read Love

    Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at WinterHaven Books

    Shadows of Sherwood, by Kekla Magoon, at The Compulsive Reader

    The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, at SLJ

    Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Hunt for the Pyxis, by Zoe Ferraris, and Valley of the Kings, by Michael Northrup


    Authors and Interviews

    S.E. Grove (The Golden Specific) at The Reading Nook Reviews

    Bruce Coville (Diary of a Mad Brownie) at The Book Cellar

    Dianne K. Salerni (The Eighth Day) talks suspension of disbelief at Project Mayhem


    Other Good Stuff

    A Tuesday 10 of great mg spec fic female protagonists of 2015 at Views from the Tesseract

    A gorgeous celebration of the life and works of Joan Aiken in pictures at The Guardian

    The applications for this year's Cybils judging open tomorrow!  If you would like to be part of this great experience, please apply!  Here is my take on offering more explanation and encouragement. 

    8/11/15

    The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma, for Timeslip Tuesday

    I am pretty sure in my own mind that there's an element of time slip-ness in The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers, March 24, 2015, YA) but in order to discuss it, I have to spoil everything, and this is a book that's well worth reading unspoiled.  So when I get to the part where I explain why I think there's timeslips happening, I shall helpfully insert the word "spoiler" and if you haven't read the book, you can stop reading there.

    Locked inside Aurora Hills, a juvenile detention facility, is Amber, a teenage girl convicted of murdering her abusive stepfather.  Outside is Vee, an aspiring ballet dance, whose life seems to be proceeding exactly how it should.  But Vee's best friend and partner in dance Ori, isn't there any more.   She's gone to join Amber at Aurora Hills.   We learn about Ori through Amber and Vee's two very different perspectives, Vee's told in flashbacks from three years after Ori was convicted of a horrible crime, Amber's told in the time just before and just after Ori's arrival as her new cell-mate. 

    It's a story of guilt and innocence and surviving.  And it's a gripping, twisty, incredibly vivid story, that kind of zings electrically across the pages, and I recommend it lots!  Ori is a lovely character, Amber is a fascinating one, and Vee is more than just a pretty face and blistered feet.

    Spoiler!!!! (this is the helpful insertion part, because I really am about to ruin the whole book for those who haven't read it.  I mean it!)

    But in any event, the description above makes it sound a lot more linear than it really is. In one early scene in the book, Amber sees the institution as it will be three years in the future, when it's been abandoned after a terrible tragedy (although at that point the reader has no clue what's going on), and sees Vee, and then later we learn that in Vee's present timeline, she does in fact visit Aurora Hills, and sees all the same graffiti and abandonment that Amber had seen.    But Vee isn't just visiting, she's kind of traveling back in time, and Amber sees her for what she really is (not a nice person, to say the least), and in a bit of messing with temporal reality, Ori, who has now been dead for three years, isn't dead any more but now Vee is, and Ori goes free while Vee joins the ghosts of the guilty.   My main problem with this (other than confusion) is that Ori has been dead three years and it's not clear whether she's alive in the post-gap present, not having aged, or possibly now three years older, or whether she's gone back in time enough to have a more complete do-over.  And what will the grown-ups say when she shows up again?

    I feel pretty certain that at least one slip in time (when Amber first sees Vee), possibly two (when things really go wild during the Swap of the Guilty and Innocent, has happened.   School Library Journal calls it "magical realism" which I think is something of a cop-out.  When a girl who died three years ago is now alive again, this is more than magical realism.  Others call it a ghost story, and I agree there are ghosts involved.  But there are also people who aren't dead (yet), but who simply exist in different times,  crossing paths, and I don't think ghostly visions of past and future are enough of an explanation.  If you've read it, do you agree that there are time slips happening?



    8/10/15

    Two fun Adventures in Cartooning tales--Sleepless Knight and Gryphons Aren't So Great

    Adventures In Cartooning, by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost introduced Edward the Horse and the knight who is his companion in adventure.  Now Edward and the knight have their own stories, stand-alone graphic novels for the young.  Sleepless Knight and Gryphons  Aren't so Great are top notch books to offer the 5 to 8 year old whose just getting going with the fun of graphic novel reading!


    In Sleepless Knight (FirstSecond, April 2015)  Edward and the knight head off on a camping trip.  But though the knight's teddy bear was carefully packed, when bed time comes, it can't be found.  A helpful bunny tells the knight where bear is....but the bear in question isn't stuffed!  All ends well, though, with Edward bringing out his ukulele to sing with the bear and bunny by the campfire, while the knight snoozes with the real teddy.




    In Gryphons Aren't So Great (FirstSecond Sept 15 2015), the knight finds a Gryphon who's willing to fly her around.  Poor Edward is left earthbound while the knight whoops it up in the sky.  But gryphons aren't reliable, and Edward has to make a daring leap to save the knight when things go wrong.   And the knight realizes that she'd been thoughtless, and she and Edward decide that jumping into the moat from the castle towers is great fun they can have together.  (You can get a sneak peak here at FirstSecond).

    So nice, simple stories little kids can relate too, told in simple language and told with really  charming pictures of great kid friendliness.  Don't expect much instruction in cartooning--the inside front and back covers have instructions on how to draw the characters, but that it.  Do expect young readers to be charmed (I was!), and to look forward to more about Edward and the knight!

    NB:  I had defaulted to assuming the knight was male, since gender was never specified, but the publisher's blurb makes it clear that the knight is actually "she." 

    Here's my 2010 review of The Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book--I still think Edward is my favorite graphic novel horse ever!

    disclaimer: review copies received from the publisher

    8/9/15

    This week's round-up of fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/9/15)

    Here's this week's round-up, brought to you on a  beautiful day here in southern New England (although we need rain....).  Let me know if I missed your post!

    The Reviews

    100 Cupboards, by N.D Wilson, at Dead Houseplants

    Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My…, by Adam Mansbach & Alan Zweibel, at Mom Read It

    The Book of Storms, by Ruth Hatfield, at The Book Monsters

    Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at The Book Wars

    A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

    The Disapperance of Emily H., by Barrie Summy, at Read Love

    Dragon Rider, by Cornelia Funke, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

    Dragons of the Dark Rift, by Kevin Gerard, at Mother Daughter and Son Book Reviews

    Goddess Girls books 9-11, by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Small Review

    The Hostage Prince, by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, at Read Till Dawn

    The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, at Pages Unbound

    Lilliput, by Sam Gayton, at Charlotte's Library

    Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Nerdy Book Club

    My Diary from the Edge of the World, by Jodi Lynn Anderson, at SLJ

    The Princess Curse, by Merrie Haskell, at Nooks and Crannies

    Princess Juniper of the Hourglass, by Ammi-Joan Paquette, at Word Spelunking

    Ranger in Time series, by Kate Messner, at Redeemed Reader

    Renegade Magic, by Stephanie Burgis, at Leaf's Reviews

    The School for Good and Evil series, by Soman Chainani, at A Backward's Story

    School for Sidekicks, by Kelly McCullough, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    Smek for President, by Adam Rex, at Read Till Dawn

    The Time of the Ghost, by Diana Wynne Jones, at The Book Smugglers

    Trollhunters, by Guillermo Del & Daniel Kraus, at SLJ

    Valiant, by Sarah McGuire, at Bookyurt

    Winter Turning, by Tui T. Sutherland, at Hidden in Pages


    Authors and Interviews

    S.E. Grove (The Golden Specific) at The Book Smugglers

    Cornelia Funke (Dragon Rider, Inkheart), at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

    Liz Kessler talks about The Wishing Chair at The Guardian

    Emma Carroll (In Darkling Wood) at Fluttering Butterflies

    Janet Fox (The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle) at Elizabeth O. Delumba

    Other Good Stuff

    "Magical Realism or Fantasy?" at Project Mayhem

    A Tuesday Ten of middle grade sci fi at Views from the Tesseract

    The program for Kidlitcon 2015 will be released early next week; stay tuned!
    And all stay tuned for the call for Cybils panelists, coming in the middle of the month.  All of you whose blogs show up in these round-ups on a regular basis would make great panelists in Middle Grade Speculative Fiction....

    8/8/15

    Lilliput, by Sam Gayton

    Lilliput, by Sam Gayton (Peachtree Press, August 2015, middle grade) is the story of a Lilliputian girl, Lily, captured by Lemuel Gulliver and kept captive by him in London.  Gulliver is busy finishing his epic account of his travels, and Lily is going to be the scientific proof he needs to convince the world that Lilliput is real.

    This, of course, stinks for young Lily.  In her birdcage prison, she watches Gulliver writing, and plans escape after escape.  None of them are successfully, until sleeping drops in his coffee send Gulliver into a stupor, while Lily is briefly outside her cage, gives her the chance she's been waiting for.  With the help of  Finn, clockmaker's apprentice from the rooms below, who she helps escape from his own imprisonment, Lily makes it to a temporary place of safety.  But safety isn't enough, Lily wants to go home.

    And that means going back to her old prison, to find Gulliver's book, and free the bird trapped in a clock by the evil clockmaker in the hopes that she might fly home.

    It's a story that's both exciting and moving, with the adventure/danger part of the story nicely balanced by Lily's thoughts, and the friendships she's able to make with Finn and another helpful giant.  The illustrations add to the enchantment; though I read quickly, they caught my attention (which coming from me says a lot!).   There's more fantasy here than just the existence of Lilliput--there are birds of preternatural intelligence, and clocks that do more than just tell the time.  But Gayton's portrayal of Lily and her experiences as a tiny person in a big world feels perfectly realistic and believable.  She is truly a heroine to cheer for, never giving up hope. 

    And (yay!) she gets her happy ending and the evil clockmaker magician gets his comeuppance, though Gulliver has to pay the price (kind of horrifically, but at least he realized in the end that what he had done to Lily was wrong). 

    This is the second "Lilliputians in England" book I've read, the first being Mistress Masham's Repose, by T.H. White.  That book  was much more concerned with a human girl's reactions to the Lilliputians and is a totally different book.  Because this story is seen from Lily's point of view, there's not so much focus on matters of perspective.  Yes, things in our world are huge to her, but it is what she is used to.  And I think this helped the book stay focused on the main point, which was Lily's escape, without slowing things down with excessive authorial interest in matters of size.....

     So in short, even if you haven't read Gulliver's Travels, do give this one a try.   I enjoyed it lots. 


    Review copy received from the publisher at BEA.

    8/4/15

    Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot, by Dav Pilkey, for Timeslip Tuesday

    In his past few books, Dav Pilkey has thrown in time travel to jazz things up, because why not?  And it's a good thing, too, because it saves the day for George and Harold, as they face off against a new villain, in Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot!  (Scholastic,  August 25, 2015)

    George and Harold, in a twist they'd never have seen coming, must find adults they can trust to help them out of a stinky situation.  Their gym teacher has acquired to turn children into obedient goody goodies, and our heroes must stop him before they too fall victim to his foul miasma.  But with even their own parents favorably impressed by the good children, George and Harold must take drastic action--the only adults they can trust are their own future selves!  So they travel to the future, to bring their adult-selves into the battle in the present.

    It was fun to see their grown-up selves!  George and Harold are unencumbered by deep reflections on the paradoxes of time travel, so there were no particularly worrying concerns about altering the future.  This is about as worried as anyone gets, and made me chuckle:

    "Wait a minute," said Old Harold.  "I don't remember doing any of this when we were kids, do you, George?"

    "No," said Old George.  "If this happened in our past, how come we have no memory of it?"

    "I don't know," said Harold.

    "Probably bad writing," said George.

    As an added time travel bonus, George and Harold get to read one of the graphic novels their adult selves have published (an us readers get a peak at it ourselves!).

    But in a twist I never saw coming, Captain Underpants might have fought his last battle!  Will this, the 12th book, be his last?????

    It's as funny as all the other Captain Underpants books, and fans of the series will enjoy it. 

    8/3/15

    Ink and Ashes, by Valynne E Maetani

    I went into Ink and Ashes, by Valynne E. Maetani (Tu Books, June 2015) assuming it was speculative fiction, as that's what I associate with Tu Books.  So my reading experience was colored by the expectation that at an minute, supernatural forces would appear...but this never happened.  Instead, Ink and Ashes is more a mystery/thriller type book.

    Claire is an ordinary Japanese/American teenager, with a loving family--mother, stepfather (her own father having died when she was seven) and two brothers.  Three more neighborhood boys are almost family too, including her best friend, Forrest.  But when Claire finds a letter, in Japanese, hiding among some old papers belonging to her biological father, she sets in train a disaster when secrets from her father's past as a member of the Japanese mafia come back to haunt her family, with potentially deadly consequences.  Claire finds herself the target of progressively more frightening threats, and though her stepfather promises to do his best to keep her safe, Claire can't help what wonder what other secrets he himself is hiding....

    And in the meantime, Forrest becomes more than just a best friend!

    So the mystery is combined with a romance, and readers will enjoy following the trail of clues along with Claire and her brothers and friends.   Claire's relationship with the back of boys brings warmth and humor to the mystery,  and elements of Japanese culture and Claire's own experience of being Japanese/American add interest.  Although the mystery itself, which hinges on Claire's parents withholding information and Claire withholding information of her own from them,  didn't entirely work for me, this is possibly because I was expecting demons or something.

    Short answer:  a good read for those who enjoy teens under threat from mysterious strangers who want to kill them.

    8/2/15

    This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs 8/2/15

    Here's what I found this week; let me know if I missed your post!

    The Reviews

    The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Leaf's Reviews

    Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at Redeemed Reader and proseandkahn (audiobook review)

    Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at Mom Read It

    A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Welcome to My Tweendom

    Darkmouth: The Legends Begin, by Shane Fegarty, at This Kid Reviews Books

    The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

    The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, at Good Books and Good Wine (audiobook review)

    George's Secret Key to the Universe, by Lucy and Stephen Hawking, at Nerdy Book Club

    The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester, at Manga Maniac Café

    The Girl Who Not Dream, by Sarah Beth Durst, at SLJ

    The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Leaf's Reviews

    The Island of Dr. Libris, by Chris Grabenstein, at Ms. Yingling Read

    Mark of Thief, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Tales of the Marvelous

    Omega City, by Diane Peterfreund, at The Hiding Spot

    Ranger in Time: Danger in Ancient Rome, by Kate Messner, at Geo Librarian

    School for Sidekicks,  by Kell McCullough, at Read Till Dawn

    Servalius Window, by Claudia White, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

    Shatterwood, by Lelia Rose Foreman, at Mother, Daughter and Son Book Reviews

    Six, by M.M. Vaughan, at Redeemed Reader

    Song of the Wanderer, by Bruce Coville, at Read Till Dawn

    Space Case, by Stuart Gibbs, at Mister K Reads

    A Tangle of Knots, by Lisa Graf, at Story Time Secrets

    The Wand and the Sea, by Claire Caterer, at Book Nut

    Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Princess Juniper of the Hourglass, by Ammi-Joan Paquette, and The Dragonfly Effect, by Gordan Korman

    Authors and Interviews

    Kekla Magoon (Shadows of Sherwood) at Nerdy Book Club

    Other Good Stuff

    Check out this 3D tribute to Hayao Miyazaki at Tor

    The Smithsonian looks at the History of Creepy Dolls

    2015-KidLitConLogoSquareT
    One reason that I don't have any reviews to contribute myself this week is that I've been working on the Kidlitcon Program! Early registration discount ends 8/15 http://ow.ly/QbV5E 
    Friday night there will be a birthday party for the Cybils Awards, with bowling!  http://ow.ly/Q8J3A   And thank you, CrhonicleKids, for sponsoring a bowling lane! http://ow.ly/Qf1iC    And for attendees who can stay an extra day, we’re planning a tour for Sunday, October 11: Tour Baltimore http://ow.ly/Qi18i 

    7/28/15

    Harlem Renaissance Party, by Faith Ringold, for Timeslip Tuesday

    Harlem Renaissance Party, by Faith Ringold (Amistad, January 2015), is a somewhat didactic time travel book--a magic airplane (at least one assumes its magic) transports a young boy, Lonnie, and his uncle back in time to celebrate the Harlem Renaissance.  The book basically introduces Lonnie to all the great writers, artists, and musicians, and then he goes home again.  So not much actually happens that has story to it; there's no narrative tension--it's basically just the meetings and greetings and listing of accomplishments.  In short, a celebration more than an adventure....time travel as learning opportunity for character and reader.

    I happen to know, because I read Faith Ringold's earlier book, Bonjour Lonnie, that Lonnie's grandfather was black.  But it might be confusing to readers who don't know for sure that Lonnie is multiracial to see his red hair and pale skin, although his uncle is clearly black, so one can assume even before Lonnie confirms it that he identifies as African American.  I think it's rather useful, though, to show that identity can't always be assumed from appearance, something that doesn't come up much in picture books....
     
    Faith Ringold's art just doesn't work all that well for me, but that's a matter of personal taste (Lonnie on the cover doesn't look happy at all, for instance, which I feel he should!).  If you want a celebratory introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, this might work well for you (back matter provides more information about the great people Lonnie meets); if you want time travel where the time travel is nuanced and complicated (which picture books are capable of), not so much.

    7/27/15

    Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older

    Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older (Scholastic, June 30th, 2015), is a gripping new YA fantasy that just goes to show that there's a lot more magic out there than is found in medieval Celtic inspired otherworlds.  The heroine, Sierra Santiago, is a Puerto Rican teen living in Brooklyn, who finds that her family are Shadowshapers, able to infuse two-dimensional art with the spirits of the dead.  She does not find this out in a pleasant, "oh gee I've got magic!" sort of way; instead, she finds it out when people she's known all her life start dying, and malevolent shadow creatures come for her.

    With the help of a young Haitian artist, Robbie, himself a Shadowshaper, Sierra sets out to find the killer (a white anthropologist, which added all sorts of interest to me, since that's my own academic training) who's warping the magic of shadowshaping for his own ends (driven mad by anthropological lusts, and the feeling that a white anthropologist knows more than the non-white informants!).  But will she be able to untangle the secrets her families kept from her, and learn to use her power, in time?  Fortunately, Sierra has really good friends, as well as Robbie, on her side, friends who are willing to believe the wild stories she has to tell.   And fortunately she's a fast learner....

    So I would say that I am not particularly drawn to "urban fantasy" mainly because I find urban settings kind of gritty and unappealing, in real life and in fiction.  But Sierra's Brooklyn is not defined by grit.  Instead it is a place of memories and meaningful connections; it is Sierra's Place.   And I do like a strong sense of place and belonging, so the urban-ness of Brooklyn didn't impinge on my enjoyment.

    And likewise, though Sierra, an African-American-Puerto Rican urban teen, doesn't overtly mirror my own life experience, she is Real enough to simply enjoy spending time with, and her concerns about family and her feelings toward Robbie and her self reflection (happily self reflection that's primarily positive, rather than body image critical) are eminently relatable.  The dialogue is fast paced and full of non-standard English, making things simultaneously realistic sounding (to me, for what that's worth) or unfamiliar (I think age as much as anything is a big contributor to the unfamiliar factor for me). 

    But I guess the point I'm trying to make is that it's not a book I read thinking "oh wow this a mirror into lives not at all like my own teenage years" and more a book I read thinking "oh wow it is fun to read a fantasy that goes in directions that aren't along well-oiled tracks."  At the risk of sounding banal, I can, with confidence, say that Shadowshaper struck me as "fresh," "vibrant," and "gripping."
    Academic me also was very interested in the villainous anthropologist; the tension of the neo-colonialist outsider appropriating indigenous culture is very real in the real world, and it is was interesting as all get out to see it driving a fantasy story!

    Yet that being said, it is Sierra's experience as the person she is that stays with me most clearly, because she is so very real!  And her friends are very real.  And I want to see if what she and Robbie have growing between them turns into more, and what happens with their art, and their lives shaping shadows....

    disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

    7/26/15

    This Week's Round-Up of Middle Grade Sci Fi and Fantasy from around the blogs (7/26/15)

    Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

    The Reviews

    The  Abominables, by Eva Ibbotson, at books4yourkids

    The Astounding Broccoli Boy, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at SLJ

    At the Back of the North Wind, by George MacDonald, at Becky's Book Reviews

    Betrayal (Crystal Keeper, 2) by Laurisa White Reyes, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

    Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at proseandkahn

    Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia Wrede, at The Book Smugglers

    Deep Water, by Lu Hersey, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

    A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Children, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, at Jean Little Library and Read Till Dawn

    The Dragonfly Effect, by Gordan Korman, at Read Till Dawn

    Five Children on the Western Front, by Kate Saunders, at The Children's War

    Frostborn, by Lou Anders, at Paper Cuts

    Gabby Duran and the Unsittables, by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

    The Glass Sentence, by S.E. Grove, at On Starships and Dragonwings

    The Golden Specific, by S.E. Grove, at Book Nut

    Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Leaf's Reviews

    Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins, at The O.W.L.

    The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, at Carstairs Considers

    House of Robots, by James Patterson, at Mister K Reads

    The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at YA Book Shelf

    The Maloney's Magical Weather Box, by Nigel Quinlan, at On Starships and Dragonwings

    Masterminds, by Gordan Korman, at This Kid Reviews Books

    A Nearer Moon, by Melanie Crowder, at SLJ

    The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, at Beyond the Bookshelf

    Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at Sonderbooks and Cover2CoverBlog

    Nightborn, by Lou Anders, at The Arched Doorway

    Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror, by Geoffrey McSkimming, at Charlotte's Library

    Valiant, by Sarah McGuire, at Charlotte's Library

    Villain Keeper, by Laurie McKay, at Ms. Yingling Reads

    Authors and Interviews

    Will Mabbitt (The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones), at The Children's Book Review

    Soman Chainani (The Last Ever After) at Lili's Reflections, Seeing Double in NeverlandWonderland Novels, The Cover Contessa, and Reading Teen


    Other Good Stuff

    At The Horn Book, Monica of Educating Alice looks at the Morgan Library's exhibit Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland.

    Some suggestions for fans of the Ever After series at Pages Unbound, and some suggestions for underappreciated middle grade fantasy series at From Kirsten's Brain

    A Tuesday Ten of Cinderellas at Views from the Tesseract

    If you need another good reason to come to Kidlitcon this October, the lovely folks at Papercutz are giving two most enticing looking graphic novels to every attendee! Scarlett #1: A Star on the Run
    by Jon Buller and Susan Schade, and The Red Shoes and Other Tales, by Metaphrog!  Just a reminder, the early registration rate ends August 15!  And it is not to late to submit a session proposal (Aug. 1 is the deadline for that).  So if you have a burning desire to talk about something, do let us know!

    And finally, in as much as August is just around the corner, it is time to start thinking about applying to be a panelist for the Cybils AwardsHere's a post I wrote a while back explaining what's involved.

     

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