Posted in Children's Lit, Uncategorized

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty

23507745Serafina and the Black Cloak
Robert Beatty
2015 by Disney•Hyperion
ISBN – 9781484709016
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Elementary, Middle School
3.5 Stars
Serafina lives with her Pa on the Biltmore Estate. Her existence is a secret, and none of the residents are allowed to know about her. She has quite a sense of adventure, and explores the estate to her heart’s content. But the rule is that she must never go outside of the grounds. Then children start disappearing from the estate and Serafina thinks she knows who is taking them. There is a man that trolls the corridors in the night, and he wears a black cloak. Serafina must stop him before he steals her or her new friend.

I thought this book was slow. The plot seemed so exciting, but it just wasn’t able to keep my attention the entire time. I liked Serafina, she was quiet, adventurous, brave, and vulnerable. She reminded me a bit of how I might have been had I lived hidden away in a giant estate in my childhood. I liked the concept of defining oneself. Serafina had many questions about her past, and she was very concerned about how the answers may define her future. I think there is a powerful message hidden (not so much) about choosing who we are and who we can become. My biggest complaint is that the book wasn’t more exciting.

Posted in Children's Lit

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein

16054808Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library
Chris Grabenstein
2013 by Random House Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780375870897
Genre – Adventure, Puzzle
Age – Middle School
2.7 Stars

The new Alexandriaville library is opening, and to celebrate they are holding an essay contest. Twelve lucky winners will be chosen to have a sleepover before the library officially opens. The first twelve have been chosen, and the lock in commences. It is full of fun and games, but just when the party is about to be over, the real puzzle begins. Each child has the chance to win great prizes if they compete in an enormous puzzle, they must try to escape the library!

The idea of this book is clever. It is a haven for those who like riddles and puzzles, and it should be heaven for those who appreciate the library. The puzzles are fun, and I love the idea of spending the night in the library, especially if I don’t have to work! However, I felt like all of the factoids and lessons about the library and the Dewey Decimal System were cliche and forced. Although there was a lot of cleverness to be had, the library information was lacking. It’s as if abruptly mid sentence one would say “PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Nonfiction books are in order by subject headings as categorized by the Dewey Decimal System.” On another note, I listened to the audio book, and while I really enjoyed some of the quirky accents for the adults, I grew to despise the annoying nasally voice used for some of the children. Speaking of the children, I just didn’t like most of them, they were obnoxious, and lacked any interesting characteristics. But there were a couple of gems, unfortunately, they were not the most prominently featured. As a children’s librarian, I wanted to love this book, but I found that it was just okay.

Posted in Children's Lit

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Raina Telgemeier
2012 by GRAPHIX
ISBN – 9780545326995
Genre – Graphic Novel
Age – Middle School
3 Stars

Callie loves theater, but she is much more talented when it comes to creating the plays, not actually being in them. She works hard on her school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, making friends and having tons of fun as she goes. She is seemingly successful at all of her endeavors, except one, BOYS. No one who she likes ever likes her back. As she struggles through school, the play, and her attempts at romantic relationships, her friends always offer their support.

Let me start off by saying, I am not generally a graphic novel kind of girl. I wasn’t a huge fan of these illustrations. They weren’t bad at all, I just didn’t think they stood out. Also, I am not into theater. Why would I read this, you ask. I wanted to see what the hype was about, and why it was getting challenged so often. Honestly, it makes no sense to me. Nothing was explicit in this book, unless you consider two boys kissing explicit. I am glad that we have more LGBTQ characters in children and teen books these days, I just hope that they are portrayed in a non negative manner. At first I thought that Telgemeier was really pushing some stereo types, but I did appreciate that not every character followed the molds that society envision. Although I see the value, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Posted in Children's Lit

Countdown, by Deborah Wiles

Deborah Wiles
2010 by Scholastic Press
ISBN – 9780545106054
Genre – Historical Fiction
Age – Middle School
4.2 Stars

Everything is moving along in Franny’s life as normal. She goes to school, has fights with friends, and spends time with her family. Then, the threat of nuclear war. Everyone’s world is turned upside down, living in a shadow of fear. Although its face value screams out typical coming of age story, it is anything but. It is littered with speeches, newspaper articles, advertisements, songs, radio announcements and other snippets of popular culture from the time period. We follow Franny, and her quirky family as they learn to live their lives with a kind of fear no one has ever faced.

This was an excellent audio book. Each of the announcements, songs, and other interludes really make you feel as if you are immersed in the time. Franny’s story in nicely woven in between a fascinating history lesson. My hope is that after reading this, kids might have a bit of interest in learning more about the topic. I loved Franny’s family. They felt real, in the way that they all had different opinions, they were so different overall, but that did not stop them from coming together and supporting each other as a team. It seems to me that this might appeal a bit more to boys than girls (totally agree, Raina.) I was really hoping that the second book “Revolution” might be from a male point of view, but alas, it is another girl. Despite that, I am still really looking forward to listening to that one as well.

Posted in Children's Lit, Uncategorized

Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry

1033662Peter and the Starcatchers
Dave Barry
2004 by Hyperion Books
ISBN – 9780786854455
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Middle School
3.2 Stars

Peter and the other orphans are taken on the ship Neverland to live on an island ruled by an evil man. Little does everyone know that the ship is carrying something very special, and something that a lot of people and pirates would like to get their hands on. One of the pirates that is chasing after then is the notorious Captain Blackbeard, who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the treasure. Peter and his friends must help protect the mysterious trunk and try to stay alive while doing it.

This book is full of magic, adventure, pirates, and talking porpoises, sounds great right? For some reason, it just didn’t excite me. It seemed to drag on with too many characters, and too many story lines. I had a hard time connecting to any of them, its as if they were all spread too thin. I love the idea of the beginning of Peter’s story, and I really enjoyed the parts of the book that addressed his coming to be a lost boy. I enjoyed that part so much, that I may still pick up the next one, just to see how his character is developed. On a side note, the audio book was narrated by Jim Dale, and he is always excellent!

Posted in Children's Lit

The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm

19156898The fourteenth Goldfish
Jennifer L. Holm
2014 by Random House Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9780375870644
Genre – Science Fiction
Age – Middle School
2.99 Stars

Ellie does not want to leave the fifth grade, in fact she doesn’t really want life to move forward at all, and she just can’t picture growing old like her grandpa Melvin. But wait, somehow her grandpa Melvin has figured out how to be young again, and he appears as a 15 year old boy and the family tries to pass him off as Ellie’s cousin. It seems that grandpa has found his own fountain of youth, but now that he looks like a fifteen year old, he is having trouble getting back into his lab!

I thought this book was okay. Three weeks after reading it nothing really sticks out to me. The best character was Melvin by far, but how could he not be with the juxtaposition of the curmudgeonly old man in the body of a pubescent boy! Ellie was forgettable, and the lesson in the end was weak. I did really enjoy the tidbits of science. I love when novels throw in interesting and educational facts that may lead to piquing the interest in young minds. So other than that, nothing really called to me. I also read Bird as well as Countdown just before and just after this one, and as far as female coming of age tales, they both surpassed this one in my opinion.

Posted in Children's Lit

Bird, by Crystal Chan

Crystal Chan
2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
ISBN – 9781442450905
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – Middle School
4 Stars

Jewell lives in the shadow of her brother, who died the day she was born. Her grandfather will no longer speak because he nicknamed her brother Bird. Thinking he could fl, he jumped off a cliff. Jewel is constantly trying to find the balance in between her mother’s practical nature and her father’s superstition. She is also trying to make it known that while her brother may have died, she is still very much alive and has her own needs.

The writing in this book was so lyrical that I kept reading. This is not normally my favorite type of book, but there was so much that I enjoyed. I appreciated the multicultural aspects in the book. The superstitions of Jamaica really added a fantastical element to the book. Coupled with the prose, it was really quite magical. At times I loved Jewell for being so honest with herself and everyone else, but other times I just felt that she was completely unrealistic. Jewell is strong in the way that she doesn’t give up. Even when things are hard and people are mean, she doesn’t stop trying. She is not the character that is strong in an unemotional way, she embraces her feelings, and lets them guide her through her rough times. Not only does this foster her own growth, but the growth of her friends and family as well.

Posted in Children's Lit

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

22749539 (1)Echo
Pam Muñoz Ryan
2015 by Scholastic Press
ISBN – 9780439874021
Genre – Historical Fantasy
Age – Middle School
5 Stars

Three stories woven together by one fairy tale. Three beautiful stories of life, struggle, family, racism, and strength. The first, a young Jewish boy and his family struggle to live in Germany during the Rise of Hitler. The second, two orphans struggling to stay together as a family no matter what. The third, a family of farmers defending their rights for equality for themselves and their friends. Each one as heartbreaking and heartwarming as the last.

I hate to use the word magical for this book, because that is what everyone else is saying, but the thing is, that is exactly what it is. It is the kind of magic that hurts your heart, but also helps it in so many ways. After reading this book, I was in such amazement, but I was so sad that never again would I read it for the first time. The writing is fantastic, the characters are selfless, and wonderful, they are who I strive to be. They are wise beyond their years, while still carrying the innocence of childhood. The story is amazing and it is beautifully woven together. I think I could read this again and again. Seriously, READ THIS BOOK, no matter what your age.

Posted in Children's Lit

The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex

5976052The True Meaning of Smekday
Adam Rex
2007 by Disney-Hyperion
ISBN – 9780786849017
Genre – Science Fiction
Age – Middle School
5 Stars

Gratuity Tucci, or Tip as her friends call her has to write an essay about what Smeckday means to her. Smeckday was previously called Christmas, but is renamed to honor the invading alien race’s leader. Tip tells the story of her cross country road trip with an alien named J-Lo in order to find her mother who was previously abducted by the aliens.

Yay for this book! It is so excellent, and obviously so much better than the movie! It is funny, and on so many levels, funny for all ages. It is sweet, it focuses on family and friendship, and prejudice. It shows us that we can be friends and family with all sorts of creatures! Also, DIVERSITY!!! On top of all of this, it is well written, and well illustrated. It is just plain fun for all ages. I can’t think of a single negative thing to say. That’s pretty rare!

Posted in Children's Lit

The Princess in Black, by SHannon Hale and Dean Hale

princessinblackThe Princess in Black
Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
2014 by Candlewick Press
ISBN – 9780763665104
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Early Elementary
3.7 Stars

Princess Magnolia was having hot chocolate with the Duchess when her monster alarm goes off. Despite the bad timing she rushes off to her secret closet, and puts on her secret outfit, and becomes the princess in black. While she is away taking care of business, the Duchess is determined to uncover her secrets. Will the Princess be able to save the world before the Duchess finds out who she really is?  This book is a great lesson that not all girls are alike. It also teaches us not to judge someone by their looks, because you never know what awesomeness is hiding in their closet. The illustrations are bright and magical. They really add to the humor of the story. This book is witty and funny, and perfect for little girls who love princesses or mischief.