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!

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.

Tommysaurus Rex, by Doug Tennapel

ToomysaurusTommysaurus Rex
Doug Tennapel
2013 by GRAPHIX (first published 2004)
ISBN – 9780545483834
Genre – Graphic Novel
Age – Elementary School
4 Stars

After Ely’s beloved dog Tommy is hit by a car, he goes to live with his grandfather for the summer. Soon after the local bully starts bothering him, he comes across a very friendly dinosaur. They become the best of friends and get into all sorts of trouble together. Ely and his grandpa try to convince the town that a dinosaur is worth having around. I like Tennapel’s illustrations. They seem to have a certain bit of darkness to them. He also has a common theme of bullying, and he always seems to resolve this issue in a positive manner. Ely is relatable, and so is his situation. The book manages to be funny and serious all at the same time. I thought this book was great fun. What little boy or girl wouldn’t want a giant pet dinosaur, even with all of the concerns that go along with having one?

Listen, Slowly, by Thanhha Lai

listenListen, Slowly
Thanhha Lai
2015 by HarperCollins
ISBN – 9780062229182
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – Middle School
3.7 Stars

Mai is looking forward to her summer at the beach with her best friend, and the boy who she has a huge crush on when she gets terrible news. She will have to spend the summer with her grandmother in Vietnam. Her grandmother has never been able to accept the disappearance of her husband during the war, and may finally have the opportunity to find out what happened to him. As much as she screams and cries it is unavoidable, and before she knows it she is in the hot and humid climate of Vietnam. She is figuring out how to make friends and survive in a completely different world, but will they ever find out what happened to her grandfather?

This book is a very sweet portrayal of a young and selfish girl, who is made to think of someone other than herself. Mai starts off spoiled and sullen about the whole trip, but eventually she realizes that some things in the world are a bigger deal than the beach, and the boy who she pines after. She does an amazing amount of growing up in such a short time! I loved the setting of Vietnam, it is obvious that the author has first hand experience. She paints a picture that makes me feel like I am there, or at the very least that makes me want to be there. She talks about the culture with such love and beauty. I thought that the lesson that friendship and family go beyond the boundaries of language was important. I loved the examples of communication that parted from our typical ways of speaking. Also, I must say, I probably wouldn’t have read this book if not for the beautiful cover, but I am glad that I did.

Alistair Grim’s Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro

OdditoriumAlistair Grim’s Odditorium
Gregory Funaro
2015 by Disney Hyperion
ISBN – 9781484700068
Genre – Fantasy
Age – Middle School
3.7 Stars

Grubb has been working as a Chimney Sweeper for a horrible man ever since the woman who cared for him died. He was abandoned at his doorstep when he was an infant, and is now about twelve years old, he doesn’t know exactly. His luck seems to be changing when he escapes from his master and catches a ride with Mr. Grim. He seems a bit worried when the carriage that he has stowed away in starts to fly, but he holds on for better or for worse. When they arrive at their destination, Grubb finds himself in a place full of mystery, magic, and wonders. Little does he know that the Odditorium, his new home, is about to be attacked, and he may be integral in helping save it!

It seems as if these kinds of books are quite plentiful recently, you know, the ones set in historical England full of magic, and wizards, and spunky little apprentices. They may be splitting the fine line of overdone, but I didn’t feel that way about this one. I liked that it was magic without your stereotypical wizard, although I am not sure what I would call Mr. Grim. I loved the setting of The Odditorium. It was such a fantastical building, with amazing creatures like fairies, and banshees, and samurais, oh my! It seems to me that with all of the insanity smashed into such a small book, it would be nothing but chaos. However, Funaro manages just fine. The characters run the gamut between bad, good, and evil, and everyone seems to find their place perfectly in the story. This is definitely a good one for fans of Harry Potter and The Magic Thief.

The Terrible Two, by Mac Barnett and John Jory

terribleThe Terrible Two
Mac Barnett and John Jory
2015 by Harry N. Abrams
ISBN – 9781419714917
Genre – Humor
Age – Elementary School
4 Stars

Yawnee Valley is a small town with not much going for it, except for cows. Miles Murphy is not very happy when his family moves there. He was quite comfortable with his old home, school, and friends. Most importantly he was the uncontested best prankster at his old school. Now he has to start all over. It gets worse when he gets to his new school only to find they already have a prankster, and he is quite good. In order to take the lead spot, Miles must engage in an all out prank war!

I am not generally a fan of this genre, but Mac Barnett is one of my favorites when it comes to picture books so I thought I would give it a try! I was pleasantly surprised. While it has everything kids, especially boys, are looking for at this age, it also carries a bit of cleverness. Sure the two young boys are a bit obnoxious, but they actually use their brains to solve their problems! The illustrations are simple, yet they add to the imagination and hilarity of the story. On top of that, there is a positive message lurking in the background. Finally, if you want to learn wacky facts about our favorite mooing animal, this is the book for you! Would be great for book talking to elementary aged kids.

Dory Fantasmagory, by Abby Hanlon

DoryDory Fantasmagory
Abby Hanlon
2014 by Dial Books
ISBN – 9780803740884
Genre – Humor
Age – Elementary School
2 Stars

Dory is six years old. She has an older brother and sister, who never want to play with her. They come up with a story to scare her away from them and it backfires on them. Her wild imagination is more than enough to keep her busy!

I get what this book is trying to do, however, I am not sure it succeeded. Dory was just plain obnoxious in my mind. Her imagination was fun to follow, but insistence upon ignoring the real world got old. The complete lack of attention to her behavior (good or bad) by everyone in her family was also appalling. She acted well below her age, which might make it hard for appropriate readers to relate. I did find the rough illustrations to be fun and add to the story. Otherwise, it really fell short for me.

Hidden, by Loic Dauvillier

Loic Dauvillier
Illustrated by Marc Lizano Color by Greg Salsedo Translated by Alexis Siegel
2014 First Second
ISBN – 9781596438736
Genre – Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction
Age- Elementary
4 stars

A grandmother tells her granddaughter her story of the Holocaust. When she was a young child, the world started being cruel to her and her family as well as some of her friend’s families. She was made fun of at school, her dad lost her job, and her parents seemed to be on edge. Suddenly she was told she had to hide in a closet, and when she came out of hiding her parent were gone. Her downstairs neighbors took care of her and kept her safe, they even fled the country with her. She loved her new family, but she dreamed of being reunited with her mom and dad.

This is a very emotional graphic novel. It is about several generations of love and loss. It is about teaching family history to all of the generations that follow, to always remember your history no matter how painful it was. I loved the imagery, and the way that you really felt each scene. Not only were the emotions clear on the faces, but in the colors that were carefully chosen. I liked the theme of protection through the generations. Dounia’s father protected her from the Nazi’s, while Dounia tries to protect her son from the horrors that she faced. I also really enjoyed that the Grandmother was able to tell her story after many years, with maturity, but somehow still through the lens of a little girl. She tells the story with innocence. She is hurt and sad, but not angry and vengeful. I think that this would be a good book to read as an introduction to the Holocaust. It conveys sadness and injustice, but is not too brutal for children to read.

Gracefully Grayson, by Ami Polonaky

GraysonGracefully Grayson
Ami Polonsky
2014 by Disney-Hyperion
ISBN – 9781423185277
Genre – Realistic Fiction
Age – Middle School, High School
5 Stars

Grayson is a twelve year old who lives with his aunt and uncle in Chicago. His parents both died in a car accident years ago.  Grayson’s parents encouraged him to express himself however he wanted, but when he came to live with his aunt and uncle, they were not as accepting. Now in sixth grade, Grayson has made a new friend. They hang out at lunch, they go to thrift stores on the weekend, and they ride the bus together. Everything seems like it is falling into a good place. That is until Grayson tries out for the female lead in the school play, and his new friend catches him trying on a skirt. Grayson has always felt like “he” is living in the wrong body, and now is the chance to show the real Grayson.

I am in love with this book. I love how amazingly honest it was, even when honest is not edgy or dramatic. I love that it didn’t exaggerate the everyday life of a girl who was living in a male body. Yes there was teasing, and yes there was bullying, but it was not overdone just for the sake of drama. I loved how strong and confident Grayson was. Despite the differences, new friends were made when the old ones weren’t accepting, Grayson was strong when someone was mean. Grayson felt more alive and honest than ever before. The characters felt true to life. Some were amazingly supportive, some were amazing jerks, some were owned by their fears, and some just didn’t plain understand Grayson. It is great to see an LBGTQ book that embraces a strong protagonist that refuses to let people control their identity. Yay for this book. Beautifully done. I don’t think my review does it justice.

Heap House, by Edward Carey

HeapHeap House
Edward Carey
2013 by Hot Key Books
ISBN – 9781471401565
Genre – Dark Fantasy
Age – Middle School, High School

3.8 Stars

Clod Iremonger lives at the Heap House. It is a strange mansion full of mazes surrounded by and built from lost and discarded items from London. Everyone in Clod’s family has a birth object, something that is chosen for them when they are born. They must keep this item with them at all times. Clod can hear these birth objects speak. Each one says a different name, his bath plug says James Henry. Things begin to get even stranger when Lucy Pennant arrives at the house. A big storm seems to be taking shape and the voices are getting louder. What will be left when the mysteries of the house come unraveled?

To be honest, it is hard to even describe this book. In a nutshell, it was strange. The fantasy of it was very dark. This book included elements of child slavery, cruelty, and just plain evil. I found it to be incredibly original and creative. It started a bit slow, but I think most of that came from my confusion. As I read more, I found that I could not stop reading. The characters were unique, and I liked them all, even if I liked them because they were evil. They were almost as well described as the setting of the house and its grounds. I would love to have a chance to wander the house and grounds. I also like that each chapter began with a picture of a different character in the book. It really helped to visualize such fantastical characters. I also enjoyed that the story was told from two different perspectives, Clod and Lucy. It allowed us to hear the story of the house from the side of privilege as well as the side of captivity. I really enjoyed this book, but I wonder if it would appeal to too small of a group.