Friday, April 30, 2010

Shakespeare makes the Playoffs - Ron Koertge

Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge
Kevin is a 1st baseman and writes poetry. Like the first book Shakespeare Bats Cleanup this is a novel in verse. The reader gets to know Kevin through his poems.

Kevin uses many different poetry forms, including blank verse, haiku, metronome and sestina. At a poetry reading Kevin meets Amy, a girl his age. The two become poetry partners and critque each others work. Amy gets a few poems of her own. They exchange some very cool poems about monsters. I loved Amy's sestina about Igor and Kevin's couplet about dracula. Kevin already has a girlfriend, Mira but he begins to fall for Amy.

Kevin is a wonderfully well rounded character. I think it would be very hard not to like him. Koertge has found a fun way to introduce poetry to readers who may think its for someone else.

Dracula Tells All (an excerpt)

I swear to god, I like the flying best
The sun goes down, it's dark there in the west
At last I rise intact from that pine box
Then all I have to do is change my socks
I'm ready for some fun up in the sky
before I have to land and terrify
some tourist in a flimsy negligee
who's come to Plasma Heights on hoilday
A maiden is my favorite midnight snack
the goal of my crepuscular attack

I've linked this to Poetry Friday, which is being hosted this week by Mary Ann over at Great Kids Book

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Interview with Karen Healey

I recently finished and loved Karen Healey's YA debut. Guardian of the Dead. (my review) Healey was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Hello Karen. Congrats on a wonderful debut, that was released in simultaneously in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm a New Zealander living in Australia writing a dissertation on American superhero comics culture. People occasionally find this confusing.

I love the U.S. cover. Who is the person behind it?

Ben Mautner, a very talented designer/producer/DJ. Check out his site

17 Ellie Spencer is not your typical YA female protagonist. She has a Black belt in Tae Kwon Do. When strange things begin to happen, she pays attention and takes action.

Did you always know the type of girl Ellie would be? How would you describe Ellie Spencer?
Impatient, sarcastic, directionless, isolated, determined - there's a lot of words for Ellie. I always knew she was going to be physically capable and interested in what was going on around her - for one thing, those traits were necessary for the plot to proceed!

Ellie doesn't speak to many people but she has her eye on Mark Nolan. I didn't know what to make of Mark, one minute I thought he was a good guy, the next I knew he was up to no good.

Have you received any fan feedback on Mark or his bracelet yet?

Not a lot, which I think is interesting. Perhaps many readers are likewise uncertain of what to think of him? He certainly does a lot of ethically dubious things, and he sabotages himself every chance he gets. I think his actions start from good intentions, in that his main motivations are always to protect people from harm, but he's very quick to take care of people without giving them any say in how such caretaking ought to proceed, and that's extremely dodgy behaviour.

I am sure you will get some I love Mark, I hate Mark, never trust a man who wears a braclet letters soon.

Guardian of the Dead is set in New Zealand. For many readers in the U.S. (including myself), this will be the first time reading a novel that takes place in NZ. One of the many things that stood out for me was the care you took in describing the setting.

When writing and incorporating the setting did you consider your audience? If so were you thinking about New Zealander's and people familar with the country or readers who had never been to NZ?
Both. I wanted to write a New Zealand that was familiar to New Zealanders without too much overdescription, as well as provide enough context for a setting that I knew would be unfamiliar to many other readers. It was a real tightrope. I think the glossary and afterword are helpful infodumps for people unfamiliar with New Zealand and Māori language/mythology.

I've had people say things like, "I read the whole thing, and then I went to the library and researched your country and read it again!" That's immensely gratifying. And then I get people saying, "I tried to understand, but it was just too confusing and I didn't get it." So obviously I failed some readers, and I'm sorry about that, but I tried to strike as neat a balance as I could; it was important to me not to write a New Zealand that New Zealanders would roll their eyes at, one that felt real to them.

A few pages in, it was clear there would be a diverse cast of characters. When a novel easily reflects a world filled with many culture reiligons and races, I enjoy it that much more. Did having a multicultural cast come naturally?
I wouldn't say it came naturally; I had to consciously work on it. I put a lot of thought into creating a cast that reflects New Zealand's diversity and even then I slipped up - I don't think there's a single non-Māori Polynesian character identified as such, which is pretty dumb, since that's the fourth biggest ethnic grouping in the country.

Guardian of the Dead is influenced by Maori mythology. What is your favorite Maori myth? Why did you decide to draw upon the mythology of another culture for your novel?
My favourite myth is that of Hine-nui-te-pō, the guardian goddess of the dead, as you can probably guess! I can't say much about it, for spoilery reasons, but I love the way she refused to stay a victim, that she got away from an intolerable situation and found her own strength. She's such a powerful, vital force. There's a wonderful book of artwork and story, "Wahine Toa: Women of Māori Myth", by Robyn Kahukiwa and Patricia Grace, that seeks to underline the strong women often at the centre of Māori mythology. That had a really strong effect on the way I imagine her.

The reason I drew on Māori mythology is that these are the first stories of my land. My ancestors are much more recent immigrants to Aoteoroa/New Zealand than the Māori are, but despite that, and despite living in two other countries for extended periods, no other place is home to me. I wanted to write about the stories of home, the way they shape us and the land, and are shaped by our belief. I wanted to try and write about how Pākehā could ethically engage with those imaginative forces.

Since, I am not familiar with the Maori people, culture or mythology, I can't say you got it right because I don't know. Though, I appreciate the work and effort you put into writing outside of your culture, and I loved the story. Your cultural consultants post last September is a must read.
Oh, thank you! I learned a lot from that process, and I'm doing the same thing for my next work, Summerton, which has three PoV characters - one Pākehā, one half-Pākehā/half-Kāi Tahu, and one New Zealand-born Samoan. And I started gathering contacts a little earlier this time to fend off the panic!

What is Summerton about?
It's a YA paranormal adventure set on New Zealand's West Coast, in a small town that is picture-postcard perfect. Three teenagers uncover the real forces behind their older brothers' apparent suicides, and discover that Summerton's sunny weather hides stormy secrets.

How did you decide which mythology versions to use?
I mostly tried to use the most popular versions, the ones that would be most familiar to New Zealanders - although there's quite a lot of regional variation. I also did diverge from some of the portrayals of certain mythological creatures a little, a process I outlined in the afterword so that people could see what was genuine myth and what was my extrapolation.

It's funny, actually - my Australian and North American readers often don't know what's up until it's actually stated, while a number of my New Zealand readers hit Chapter Two, and go, "red-haired, pale-skinned people who can't stand the smell of cooked food? RUN RUN RUN AWAY."

I was one of those clueless North American readers. Karen thanks again for your time. Guardian of the Dead is a wonderful book, I hope it finds its way into the hands of many readers.

My Friend Maya Loves to Dance - Cheryl Willis Hudson, Eric Velasquez

My Friend Maya Loves to Dance by Cheryl Willis Hudson illus. Eric Velasquez

First time we see Maya, she's in the ballet studio. Maya's in various poses, accompanied by short text.

"My friend Maya loves to leap." "She bends at the knees." "Never misses a beat."

Hudson has written a lovely story, with great rhythm. Maya loves all different types of dance from ballet to tap. I love that Maya's ballet class has girls and boys. At the end we learn that Maya's best friend is in a wheelchair. Velasquez beautiful illustrations make this book stand out even more. His attention to detail is amazing. I pretty much love anything Velasquez illustrates.
My Friend Maya Love to Dance is a wonderful story of a girl who loves to dance, as told by a best friend.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Diamond Ruby Joseph Wallace

Diamond Ruby: by Joseph E. Wallace
I was very happy to see that this was released today. Set in Brooklyn, NY the novel begins in 1913. Ruby Thomas is just 7 yrs old. For a few chapters Wallace allows the reader to connect to Ruby, her family and Brooklyn, NY. Then the 1918 flu epidemic hits and everything changes. 13 yr old Ruby must becomes the only provider for her two young nieces, Amanda and Allie. After the epidemic Ruby uses her strong arm to kill squirrels for dinner.

I picked this novel up because it had baseball. A few pages in I realized it was so much more.
Ruby's an amazing character filled with heart and determination to survive. Ruby faces many obstacles while trying to support her nieces. The Klan, is trying to become a presence in NYC. They don't think a Jewish girl should be pitching even if its just as a sideshow at Coney Island. Gangsters have found a way to make money off of Ruby's arm. She must figure out a way to out smart them.

Wallace's writing gave me the feeling of being transported back to 1920's Brooklyn, NY. The book is populated with some sports greats like Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. This is a beautifully written story. It has a little of everything, suspense, love, loss, fear, family and of course baseball. I loved losing myself completely in Diamond Ruby's world.

Diamond Ruby is fiction and very appropriate for young adult readers. I was flipping through a children's catalog last week and saw Diamond Ruby. It doesn't get more crossover than that. I won't be surprised to see this one on a few best of list at the end of the year.

A starred Library Journal review

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Soccer: The Ultimate Guide - Martin Cloake

Soccer: The Ultimate Guide by Martin Cloake
Ultimate guide is not an exaggeration. This is a wonderful look at the history of soccer, its rules and players. There is information about all the National soccer teams in the world. The book has a great layout. There are images of many of the top players, including a few action shots.

This is perfect for soccer fans, non soccer fans, kids and adult. Its great for anyone who wants to learn more about one of the most popular games in the world. The 2010 World Cup will be hosted by South Africa. Depending on where you work, in a few months all talk may turn to soccer. This would be a great book to keep you in the conversation. Young soccer fans will love facts, the stats and the did you knows?

Read an excerpt

Also check out Pele, King of Soccer/Pele, El rey del futbol a great bilingual biography on soccer legend Pele by Monica Brown

I've linked this post to non fiction monday round up, which can be found this week at Check it Out.

I Almost Said No

Recently someone at Westside Books asked if I wanted an arc of Michael Wenberg's upcoming YA release Stringz . Before I ask or accept an arcs, I try to make sure its a book I would like or would work for me. Sometimes this is easy, thanks to excerpts or online reviews.

With Stringz all I had to work with was the description at amazon. I liked the premise and the fact that the book featured Jace Adams,a mixed race teen. Jace's mother is Black is father White. Jace identifies more with his Black side, since he's never meant his father and when people look at him they see a Black teen.

I almost said, thanks but no thanks to Stringz because all three blurbs at Amazon are written by White men. A book featuring a kid of color written by a White author and blurbed with high praise by White readers is a red flag for me.

This one in particular was a big uh oh

"Stringz touched me very deeply. Michael Wenberg's done something very special, and has rare understanding of so many things--classical music, hip hop, black culture, and kids. His book has a huge heart, and a great sense of humor. And most of all, a deep love of all kinds of music." --Greg Sandow, Classical Music Critic for The Wall Street Journal, composer, writer and Juilliard Faculty member

After reading that my first thought was, what does Mr. Sandow know about Black culture? I know blurbs are all about great sound bites but that one should've be reconsidered - Hip hop and Black culture deleted.

Including a blurb by a Black person is no guarantee that I would enjoy Stringz but it would've made me more inclined to give it a go.

I wasn't worried about not liking Stringz. If I don't like a book no matter the source, I don't review it. However, I was worried I wouldn't find Jace Adams a believable character of color. In the past I've been critical of characters of color written by White authors I didn't believe in. I think its important that there be other points of view.

So, I had to ask myself, could I criticize Jace Adams if I found him lacking. Even after, I said yes I still wasn't sure. Since I enjoyed Stringz and liked Jace Adams, I still don't know the answer. Though I am hoping that when the time comes to be critical of an arc, I will do so without hesitation.

Crossing Bok Chitto - Tim Tingle, Jeanne Rorex Bridges

Crossing Bok Chitto by Tim Tingle, Jeanne Rorex Bridges
After reading Debbie Reese's review of Tingle's Saltypie a few weeks ago, I wanted to read it. Since it wasn't out yet I decided to check out one of Tingle's other books. I am very happy I sort out this wonderful story.

Many Native Americans helped slaves find their way to freedom. Bok Chitto is a river that cuts through Mississippi. On one side of the river the Choctaws people lived, the plantation were on the other side.

Martha Tom, a young Choctaw girl comes across a sercet slave church, while getting blackberries for her mother.

"The old man began to preach and the people began to sing. Martha Tom had never heard music like this before, but it touched her deeply. Then something else touched her - on the shoulder. She looked up to see the biggest man she had ever seen, his chest so big it was about to pop his buttons off his shirt! " You're lost, little girl?" he said in a deep voice that seemed to smile. "You're Choctaw, from across Bok Chitto? Martha Tom nodded."

The preacher gets his son Little Mo to take Martha Tom back to the river. The two become very good friends. Little Mo's mother is sold to the auction block. The family runs toward freedom and gets there thanks to the Choctaw people.

Tingle's has written a very entertaining and informative story. Bridges illustrations are beautiful.
Professional reviews and Honors via the publisher's site

Saltypie is scheduled to be released on May 1st. Another Cinco Puntos Press title, I am looking forward to is Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors - Francisco X. Stork

The Last Summer Of The Death Warriors by Francisco Stork
Stork's writing is straight forward, no tricks needed, beautiful. He's created three dimensional characters that engage in very realistic dialogue. While I read The Last Summer of the The Death Warriors, I recognized Stork's style and skill. Though, its when I looked back on the story that I truly appreciated what Stork did.

Ever since his father died, 17 yr old Pancho Sanchez, has been responsible for his sister, Rosa. Pancho is three years younger but Rosa has the mind of a child. When Rosa is found dead in a motel room, Poncho feels responsible and believes she was murdered. The police say Rosa died of natural causes.

With no family, Pancho's placed in an orphanage. Pancho wants to leave to find and kill his sister's killer. At the orphanage, Pancho meets Daniel Quentin, (DQ) who is dying of brain cancer. DQ believes their lives have crossed for a reason. Pancho doesn't know what to make of DQ.

Pancho agrees to go along with DQ, to another state, where he'll undergo experimental treatment. Pancho wants to use the time away from the orphanage to find his sister's killer. This isn't a mystery. Its a story about choices, decisions, life and death. DQ is writing a Death Warriors Manifesto, a guide to living out your last days to the fullest. DQ shares it with Pancho. As their journey continues, DQ and Pancho will share many things close to their hearts. Stork's words should be fully processed. This is not a story to be rushed, there is much to take away from it.

Read an excerpt
A very nice NYT review

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chavela and the Magic Bubble - Monica Brown, Magaly Morales

Chavela and the Magic Bubble by Monica Brown illus. Magaly Morales
This book is fun, gorgeous and colorful. Chavela is very close to her grandmother, loves chewing gum (chicle) and making big bubbles. She can make bubbles in the shape of animals.

"On Saturdays, Chavela and her grandmother would split a piece of gum and go shopping on Market Street. Chavela's abuelita would tell her stories about the quiet town of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where she grew up. One morning Abuelita was telling Chavela about the beautiful rainforest and the bird and the butterflies that lived there, when Chavela blew a big bubble shaped like a butterfly! "Bravo!" said Abuelita. "

Chavela chews a magic piece of chicle and flies to the Yucatan jungles. She meets the chicleros
who harvest the sweet fruit from sapodilla trees to make chewing gum. Chavela is welcomed by the children. Chavela goes on a wonderful adventure. There is a very nice unexpected surpise at the end.

Brown's text is beautiful as always. I am pretty sure Brown is blessed with an illustrator fairy. Once again, she is matched up with an artist whose style is perfect for this story. Morales is very skilled with . You will be wowed. It's beautiful.

The text curves. Whenever the word bubble appears its bold and in color. All of this makes for a very visually fun book. A great read aloud choice.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Celestial Globe Marie Rutkoski

The Celestial Globe: The Kronos Chronicles: Book II by Marie Rutkoski
This sequel to Cabinet of Wonders was worth the wait. Petra and her mechanial tin spider Astrophil are back home after getting Petra's father's eyes back from Prince Rodolfo.

When the Prince comes after Petra again, she is forced to flee to London, where she meets up with John Dee again. I loved the relationship between Petra and John Dee. Petra is a very strong independent, speak her mind protagonist. John Dee is an accomplished spy who is very crafty when it comes to words and deals. It was alot of fun watching the give and take between these two characters. Petra's relationship with Astrophil is lovely as well. Astrophil does his best to comfort Petra and make sure she doesn't do anything too foolish.

All of the main characters from the first book return as well, including Neel, a Gypsy and Petra's best friend Tomik. Neel's people are in search of the Celestial Globe. With the Globe someone could locate invisible threads and travel quickly to other countries. All Tomik wants to do is find Petra.

There are many things happening in this novel. Petra's is trying to outsmart John Dee, Neel and Tomik are unknowingly getting to know each other, Prince Rodolfo is still after Petra and of course there's the search for the Celestial Globe. Rutkoski does a wonderful job of blending all that happens. My one but is when Neel, Tomik and Petra meet up again it seems kind of rushed. However, there is an amazing (had to read it twice ) moment soon after. The Celestial Globe is a great page turner, there's action, cringe worthy fright, and a mystery to solve. I would suggest reading Cabinet of Wonders first, which is out in paperback now. Both books would make a great choice for a boy/girl book club. ages 10up

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How I Nicky Flynn Finally Get A Life And A Dog - Art Corriveau

How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog) by Art Corriveau
This is Corriveau's middle grade debut novel. When I saw the book in the store yesterday, I let out a happy squeal. I quickly took one copy and placed it on the staff pick display in the children's department.

Nicky Flynn's parents are getting a divorce. After, a scary incident at dinner, Nicky's mom decides it's time to leave. Throughout the story Nicky has flashbacks to that moment in the kitchen. Nicky and his mom move to a small apartment in Charleston. Nicky's mom told him they would be living in Boston, be he isn't fooled.

"Charlestown isn't Boston. You can sort of see Boston from Charlestown, if you squint through a bunch of highway overpasses and bridge. But Charlestown itself is pretty much exactly what it says - a town named Charles - not much bigger than Littleton, where I'm from. About the only difference is that Charlestown's a lot more run down and dirty. We now live in a one bedroom apartment on the parlor level (which is the first and a half floor) of one of these so called town house on Eden street. Eden is supposedly the beautiful garden where Adam and Eve live when they named all the animals. About all they could name here in Charlestown are alley cats and squirrels." (from the arc)

That was a long excerpt even with edits, but I wanted to show how well the author did with Nicky Flynn's voice. He sounds like the 11 yr old boy he is supposed to be. Yes, Nicky is a little negative about Charlestown but he's sad about his parents getting divorced and losing all his friends. There are many moments in the book when Nicky Flynn is positive after he comes to accept the changes in his life.

Things begin to turn around for Nicky after his mom gets him a dog. Reggie is a German shepard and a retired seeing eye dog. Reggie has a mind of his own and soon he has Nicky taking him to all of the places he's familiar with. Its thanks to Reggie that Nicky starts to get to know Charlestown. Nicky mom's is busy working, trying to support the two of them. Nicky has nothing better to do, so he decides to find out why Reggie is retired and what happened between Reggie and his old handler.

At school Nicky is doing an independent study project for English class on seeing eye dogs. The author slips in some very nice facts about seeing eye dogs. At one point in the story Nicky, gets a little taste of what it feels like to be blind and must put all his trust in Reggie.

Corriveau gives the reader a great feel for the city of Boston, when Nicky and Reggie go on the Freedom Trail tour. This is a very well layered story. Its also serious, funny and thoughtful. There is always talk about where are the books with boys. I believe this is a great one. If you haven't figure it out already I loved it. Nicky Flynn is one of my favorite male protagonist of 2010. This is perfect for fans of The Schwa was Here by Neal Shusterman or Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass. ages 10 up

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Orange Peel's Pocket - Rose Lewis, Grace Zong

Orange Peel's Pocket by Rose Lewis illus. by Grace Zong
The other day I read 5 new picture books, this was my favorite by a very wide margin. Chan Ming's nickname is Orange Peel because she always tired to eat the orange peel instead of the orange when she was little.

Chan Ming's Kindergarten class is learning about China. Chan Ming's classmates begin asking her questions about China. Chang Ming doesn't know anything about the country she was born in. Adopted when she was a baby, Chang Ming has always lived in America.

This is a wonderful story about a young girl learning about her birth country. Chan Ming and her mother visit many local Chinese business owners. The first person they visit is Mr. Fan the Tailor. Everyone tells Chan Ming something about China that is related to their craft.

"This is made from very special silk", he said. "The best silk comes from China because the silkworms there spin a special thread found nowhere else in the world"

When Chang Ming and her mother leave each shop, the shop owners slip a little suprise into her pocket.

Orange Peel gently felt the smooth silk and smiled. She thanked Mr. Fan, and as she was saying good bye, he secretly slipped something into Orange Peel's pocket.

Chang Ming eventually finds all of this wonderful gifts. They are perfect for show and tell, Chang Ming plans to tell her classmates everything she knows about her birth country.

Lewis has written a beautiful story, with a great natural flow. This is Grace Zong's first time illustrating a picture book. This will be the first of many. I loved the illustrations. Zong uses rich warm colors and captures everyone's facial expressions. I couldn't help but smile at everyone's happiness. ages 4up

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spies of Mississippi Rick Bowers

Spies of Mississippi by Rick Bowers
This is the true story of the spy network that tried to destroy the Civil Rights Movements.
In 1956 newly elected Mississippi Governor J.P. Coleman pass a bill called Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. This bill allowed the state of Mississippi to spy on people so segregation could continue throughout the state.

I was excited to get my hands on this book, it sounded interesting. Unfortunately I was underwhelmed. History isn't one of my strength but still I was left wanting.

Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. Many believed Till's murder help bring about the civil rights movement, yet Bowers didn't mention it. It would've made sense to include since many White Mississippians who were determined to keep the state segregated were threatened by the national attention. This fear was probably one of the main reasons behind the spying bill.

The chapters are very short, many facts felt underdeveloped. In chapter four Pipeline, Bowers discusses men White and Black who went undercover to infiltrate NAACP meetings. Bowers mentions two of the Black informants are found out. Though he doesn't go into any detail. I would love to know what Black men and women fighting for equality would do to someone of their own race who betrayed them.

Chapter nine Never Never Land, is about how segregation was allowed to thrive in Mississippi. The chapter ends with Bowers mentioning Dick Gregory.

"Black comedian Dick Gregory, who gained celebrity statue entertaining white and black nightclub audiences and appearing on national TV, charged that the military veteran, college student, and chicken farmer had been framed, railroaded into prison, abused, neglected, and left for dead."

The first two words I associate with Dick Gregory are comedian, activists. Bowers neglected to say Dick Gregory was a Civil Rights activists, without that fact it makes no sense to quote him. I would've even been okay with "Black social conscious comedian Dick Gregory" just something so readers unfamiliar with Dick Gregory will know why his words held weight.

The chapter on Medgar Evers is eight pages and that includes both acquittals of his killer. I didn't get a good sense of who Medger Evers and what he meant to the Civil Rights movements.

From the beginning, Bowers is quick to move on to a new fact and I was left wondering about what wasn't mentioned.

Read an excerpt
I've linked this post to Nonfiction Monday. This weeks nonfiction round up can be found at Wrapped in Foil

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
After reading how much other bloggers enjoyed this book, I picked it up again. First time in, I only got a few pages in before I stopped. This time around, I wondered what was I thinking, I almost missed a wonderful story.

11 yr old Melody is very smart but no one knows. No one knows her head is filled with many facts thanks to a photographic memory. Melody was born with cerebral palsy. She can't walk, feed herself and she has never spoken. Though Melody's body is not strong her mind is.

I loved Melody's voice -its funny, honest, strong, and powerful. When Melody is five years old her parents enroll in school . She is placed in the H- 6, aspecial needs class. I could easily feel Melody's frustrations at not being able to communicate. Draper writing is the best I've ever seen it The author isn't trying for sympathy, she's simply telling the story of a little girl. Melody has a wonderful support system, including her loving parents. Every so often Melody and the other students in H-6 got a teacher who actually listened.

Halfway through the novel something happens. I know its coming but I still got choked up. Draper caught my heart with this one.

Read the excerpt

Check out these more detailed reviews (they kept me from missing a great story) @

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My Shoes and I - Rene Colato Lainez - Fabricio Vanden Broeck

My Shoes and I by Rene Colato Lainez illus. by Fabricio Vanden Broeck
Mario and his father are making their way to the U.S. from El Salvador. They will be reunited with Mario's mother. Mario is wearing new shoes that were sent by his mother. This is a look at their long journey through Mario's shoes.

Uno, dos, tres, my shoes and I are ready to go.
I say good-bye to my house in El Salvador.
I am sad to leave my friends.
But I am very happy because soon I will be with Mamá.
Papá opens the door.
Oh-oh! My hat flies in the air.It is a wind!
A strong, powerful,spinning wind!
Whooooooshoooh whoooooosh.
My feet push forward. The wind pushes them back.
My shoes become pushing shoes. We push and push like a pack of elephants

I love the rhythm of this visual story. "The trailer is flooded. My shoes become swimming shoes. We swim freely out of the trailer, like big sharks in the ocean"

Fabricio Vanden Broeck illustrations are beautiful and detailed. This would make a great read aloud.
Author interveiwed @ Latin Baby Book Club

Keena Ford Melissa Thomson Frank Morrison

Keena Ford and the Field Trip Mix-up by Melissa Thomson illus by Frank Morrison
This is the second book in this new early reader series. Keena Ford's second grade class is going on a field trip to U.S. Capitol. Keena accidentally cuts one of her braids off playing with scissors. She makes a new braid out of yarn and covers her head with a scarf that looks like an American flag for the trip.

Keena's hair mishap is revealed to the entire class in the Capitol by Tiffany. The congressman, the class is visiting, lets Keena in one on a secret to make her feel better. Keena Ford is a very likeable character. She isn't a stranger to trouble, does her best to stay out of it, and always apologizes. Thomson takes advantage of the trip to the Capitol to include some facts about Congress. Besides visiting the Capitol, Keena's class is holding elections for student council. Keena is running. Also, Keena really wants to be the last one in line aka the caboose. I enjoyed this as much as the first one. I am a big fan of Morrison's work. He makes Keena Ford look hip, stylish, cool and contemporary.
Read an excerpt

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Scars Cheryl Rainfield

Scars by C. A. Rainfield
Recently released, I first heard about Scars thanks Lori Calabrese's review . It sounds like a wonderful story about survival and I love the cover. Check out the great trailer

Calabrese interviews the author

A Boy Had A Mother Who Bought Him A Hat - Karla Kuskin, Kevin Hawkes

A Boy Had a Mother Who Bought Him a Hat by Karla Kuskin illus. by Kevin Hawkes
I smiled my way through this story. I loved it. This is the story of a mother who buys everything for her son, beginning with a red hat in winter. Next came a mouse. The boy loves everything so much he always leaves the house with all his new things. The mother got her son new shoes after the mouse.

Well then she went out and she brought him new shoes, brown ones with laces for going places.
He loved them so much
hat whatever he did
or whatever he said
when dressed in his hat
which was woolly and red,
while holding his mouse
in its house of sky house
he wore his two shopes
which were shiny and new

With each new purchase the verse gets longer. The book has a very fun flow making it a great read aloud. The story goes through all the seasons. My favorite season was fall when the mother gave her son a cello. He played an outside concert for some animals. I love Hawkes illustrations they are a perfect for Kuskin's wonderful text.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Oceans Johnna Rizzo

Oceans by Johnna Rizzo
The beautiful cover of this book grabbed me. The photographs inside are just as amazing. This is a National Georgaphic Kids nonfiction title, so I expected the images to be great and I was still wowed

As far as I know this is Rizzo's first nonfiction book for kids. Though, Rizzo writes like he's done this before.

Various fonts and text are used to keep the readers attention. Filled with facts, including weird but true ones. After naming the oceans of the world, the author begins with Whales.
Rizzo highlights the differences between sea animals with close relations. Such as the sea horse vs Sea Dragon and squid vs octopus. Readers are introduced to a few of the animals that live at the oceans bottom.

Pitch-black and just a few degrees above freezing, the ocean bottom is a harsh place to live, and the fish that survive in these extreme conditions have developed some strange adaptations. Most of these deep sea residents are bioluminescent, which means chemicals inside their often see through bodies glow like underwater night lights.

Two cool facts I learned from Oceans. There are jellyfish that can weigh up to 450 pounds.
Blue Whale babies can weigh up to 6,000 pounds when they are born.

The text and photographs compliment each other very well. Young readers who enjoy factual books will love Oceans. I've linked this post to nonfiction Monday. This weeks nonfiction roundup can be found at Shelf-employed.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Kiss in the Dark Lauren Henderson

Kiss in the Dark by Lauren Henderson
This is the third book is the Scarlett Wakefield series. I am usually pretty good at knowing what books are coming out that I am looking forward to. Somehow I missed this one. I was very excited to see this one come into the store on Friday. Scarlett Wakefield was one of my favorite female protagonist of 2009. My expectations for Kiss in the Dark were high. I was not disappointed.

After being dubbed the kiss of death at her old school Scarlett transfers to Wakefield Hall. The school is run by Scarlett's grandmother and she will inherit it one day. Scarlett is looking for a fresh start Wakefield. Everything is going according to plan until, Scarlett's old enemy Plum enrolls. Forcing Scarlett to be on the lookout again for Plum's snide comments and cruel tricks.

Scarlett's spends most of her time with her boyfriend Jase or her best friend, Taylor. Scarlett and Jase are forced to hide their relationship since their families disapprove of it. Scarlett comes from money, Jase's dad is the Wakefield's groundskeeper. The adults in Scarlett and Jase's life are concerned about more than different financial brackets. Henderson does a wonderful job of keeping the reader guessing and interested in what's behind the harsh feelings the adults have for this young relationship.

Besides being Scarlett's best friend Taylor is also her partner. Taylor wants to become a private investigator. So being friends with a girl who is good at coming across dead bodies is perfect. After discovering a body at Wakefield, Scarlett must uncover the truth to protect someone she loves.

In Scarlett Wakefield, Henderson has managed to create a very believable accidental teenage sleuth. Scarlett is smart and athletic ( being a former gymnist comes in handy). In many good mysteries the main character have their own secrets to uncover. Scarlett is beginning to wonder about her parents past. Whether a sleuth is 16 or 36, an author must decide if they work alone or have a partner. (either way works for me) Henderson decided to do the latter. Scarlett and Taylor's friendship and partnership are very believable. One of the many things Henderson is doing right with this series is not forgetting to give Taylor her own storyline.

When I reviewed Kisses and Lies I wondered if Taylor would have a relationship of her own in the third book. If so would Henderson give her a boyfriend or girlfriend. Taylor is still unattached. Plum is continuously calling Taylor names and referring to the two as a couple. Scarlett isn't bothered by Plum's remarks. Towards the end Scarlett does ask herself what if Taylor is gay? Taylor's storyline isn't limited to her what her sexual preference might be. She has a few secrets of her own.

Kiss in the Dark was really good. I read it in one sitting. This is one of the best transitional books in a series I've read. Transitional books bridge the gap between the stories packed with action. Usually, I like them well enough. Though at times it can feel as if an author treats them merely as a precursor to the next book, and they don't spend as much time developing the storyline. Henderson didn't fall into that trap.

Kisses and Lies made many references to the first book. I found it to be a little repetitive. I was worried this would be the case with Kiss in the Dark. I worried for nothing. Henderson does not over do the references. Those who have read the first two books will get a chance to remember a favorite scene or two. Those who haven't will wish they had.

The first two books are out in paperback. I highly recommend starting the Scarlett Wakefield series from the beginning For those already familiar with this series, you will be very happy with Kiss in the Dark. This would be a great suggestion for fans of Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series.

Guys Lit Wire 2010 Book Fair

On Wednesday April 7th, GuysLitWire annonuced Operation Teen Book Drop

After the impressive success of last year's Book Fair for Boys that saw over 600 books sent to the LA County Detention Center, GLW has teamed up with the Readergirlz, YALSA and If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything, (A national reading club for Native American children) for another book fair event to get books to students enrolled at Ojo Encino Day School and Alchesay High School. You can read more at the Readergirlz and the ALA about the massive effort to get books from publishers to multiple reservation school libraries across the country, but for GLW it is all about two wishlists for these two schools and a plan to build on our success from last year by making a difference for a lot of teens who could use our help.

There are a lot of kids that need books in America - heck there are kids all over the world who need books. And while the news of the latest e-reader or publisher shakeups or outrageous advance to a political or celebrity writer makes readers everywhere wonder if books still matter, it only takes a few minutes worth of research about life for the average Native American teen on the reservation to realize that they are important, perhaps more now than ever. Books are power - we are all book lovers and we know that; most of us learned it when we were kids. Books showed us worlds like our own, as well as places we could not imagine. They taught us how to cope, gave us big ideas to ponder and dared us to dream great futures.

For the next two weeks the wishlist for Ojo Encino Day School and Alchesay High School can be found at To view the wishlist, click on wishlist located at the upper right corner at than enter in the your friends email address box. All other information about how and where to send the donations can be found here.

These list weren't made out the blue. Both schools were consulted. So, if can afford to please donate a book, it will find its way to some readers who really want it. If you can't, spreading the word doesn't cost a thing. You never know who might be paying attention.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Guardian of the Dead Karen Healey

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
First, let me say I love this cover, and what's inside is even better. 17 yr old Ellie as always called North Island, NZ home. When her parents take an unexpected trip, Ellie finds herself at a boarding school in South Island, NZ.

Ellie keeps to herself, with the exception of her best friend Kevin. Ellie respects the fact that Kevin is asexual and doesn't try to change him. She agrees to be a buffer between Kevin and his oldest friend Iris Tsang, who has a crush on Kevin.

Ellie's life gets interesting when she accidentally bumps into Mark Nolan, a quiet mysterious student with many secrets. Knowing almost nothing about Mark doesn't stop Ellie from being attracted to him. Soon, Ellie learns she has a few things in common with Mark. While Ellie's story plays out in, there's continuous new coverage on serial killings, the victims eyes are removed

Guardian of the Dead storyline is based around Maori mythology. That and the New Zealand setting made this novel stand out for me. Healey makes it very easy for those (like me) unfamiliar with Maori mythology to easily follow along, without missing a beat. I always enjoy reading stories set in other countries, especially if the author is from there or spent time there. Since the author's writing rhythms and style are going to be different . I can also visualize some place new. Healey does a wonderful job with the setting. I loved the pacing of the novel as well. I thought the set up in the beginning was very well done.

Healey gives the reader an opportunity to get to know Ellie. She is definitely a character I can get behind. Ellie is alert, listens to her instincts and has a Black belt in Tae Kwon Do. It was a pleasure to watch Ellie add up the clues in front of her and take action. Unlike some female protagonist who don't figure out what's going on until the novel is halfway over.

Guardian of the Dead is filled with wonderful surprises, that the author never felt the need to drag out. The ending is very satisfying and totally unexpected. Much of action comes before, the ending is quiet reflective and beautiful.

Guardian of the Dead is a wonderful YA debut, made even better by the inclusion of a diverse cast of characters. A few pages in Ellie, must keep her roommate, Samia from opening her door. Not long after that Ellie's clues us in on Kevin's heritage. Like Devil's Kiss by Chadda, Guardian of the Dead reflects a world filled with many cultures, relgions and races. ages 13up

One last thing, I loved the afterword and Maori glossary in the back. I have much respect for an author, who writes a story influenced by a culture other than their own, and freely admits to their limitations

"Finally, I caution the reader against drawing parallels between the mythological constructs depicted and contemporary constructs depicted here and contemporary Maori society. This novel is greatly indebted to Maori mythology and draws on some points of traditional Maori social and religous custom: it touches only very lightly on the diverse cultures, politics, and history of modern Maori life, and that only as through the eyes of a 17 yr old Pakeha woman, who is very far from being a reliable narrator."

Check out this great review @ The Book Smugglers

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Speech to Inspire

So I've hit a slight reading slump. It would be a major one if not for Healey's wonderful YA debut Guardian of the Dead . I loved it and it features diverse characters. I will review very soon. Check out 5yr old Joshua Sacco, giving the speech from hockey movie Miracle on opening day at Fenway Park. It's hilarious

The Red Sox's came back to win the game 9 -7

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Nikki & Deja: The Newsy News Newsetter Karen English

Nikki and Deja: The Newsy News Newsletter by Karen English illus by Laura Freeman
The best friends Nikki and Deja decide to start a newsletter and report the interesting things that happen on their block and at school.

Everyone loves the first newsletter. The following week is slow on news, Nikki and Deja jump to conclusions and print a lot of things that aren't true. Deja's aunt Dee, helps the girls understand why what they did was wrong.

I loved the first two books in this series Nikki and Deja and Nikki and Deja: Birthday Blues. This one was just okay for me. The author sold me on Nikki and Deja in the first book, so I still highly recommend this early chapter series

Read an excerpt from book one.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Max Cassidy Paul Adam

Max Cassidy: Escape from Shadow Island by Paul Adam
14 yr old Max is the youngest escape artist in London. He performs to sold out crowds. Max's fathers was one of the best escapologist in the world. Two years ago Max's father was murdered and Max's mother was arrested for the crime.

Max is positive his mother is innocent and is determined to prove it. He heads to Santo Domingo the central Amercian country, where Max's father had his last show and was supposedly murdered by his wife.

This was a lot of fun to read. Its filled with action, close calls and a few prison breaks. With an action adventure novel like Max Cassidy, I think how good the book is depends on how believable an author can make a fictional character that's improbable. Adam does a good job with Max. He is a down to earth 14 yr old who just happens to be an escape artist.The author gives us some of Max's back story, so we know his skill comes from practice and hardwork. Max is smart, plans ahead and thinks things through.

As much as I enjoyed this novel I had a problem with the name of the fictional central American country. I think giving the country the same name as the capital of the Dominican Republic will confuse many readers. Yes I know this is fiction but the author does surround this fictional country with real ones.

"He clicked on a few websites and read through them. Santo Domingo was a tiny country in Central America, so small most people had never heard of it. It was dwarfed by the nearby much larger states of Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Santo Domingo seemed to have kept its independence only because there was nothing much there that anyone wanted. "

The author puts in facts that if the reader didn't know any better would think Santo Domingo was real.

For more than a hundred years thereafter the country was run by a succession of military dictators, each as brutal and incompetent as the last, until in the 1970's a nationwide uprising removed the last of the generals and brought democracy and fair election to Santo Domingo. The leader of the Partido Democratico Popular. The Democratic Popular party or PDP was a teacher named Juan Cruz.

The Democratic Popular Party is the name of a Puerto Rican poltical party

I have no problem with the author creating a fictional country. Its done all the time. Though why confuse readers by making it sound almost true.

An author's note or a fact guide in the back would've been helpful. The author could've talked a little about Central American countries, why he decided to set his novel in a fictional country and a few facts on the real Democratic Popular Party. For awhile I wondered if I was overthinking this but I don't think so.

In the end I know this is fiction so I will still recommend it. Young readers who like action adventure stories with a little mystery will enjoy Max Cassidy. ages 11up. An excerpt