Laura shares this review:
Heart Transplant is a story about bullying that is both engrossing and heartwarming. In the opening narration, a kid named Sean takes down the movie clichés about high school life, where outsiders are able to rise above their social position when the popular kids realize they are a beautiful swan instead of an ugly duckling, or the beautiful girl learns about how great the nerd is on the inside and rejects her jock boyfriend. Sean is an outsider, and as such he is ignored by the more popular kids unless it is convenient for them to notice him. “The only time anyone ever saw us was when they needed someone to make themselves look big. By making us small.”
Sean is from a terrible, broken home. His mother has had a steady stream of live-in boyfriends, each of which she has insisted that Sean call “Daddy.” Her latest one, Brian, is vicious when he is drunk, which ends up being most of the time. Sean’s mother offers no protection from her boyfriend’s beatings. When she isn’t otherwise occupied, she takes her swings at Sean too. With no friends and rejected at home, Sean lives a sad existence.
When a drug deal by Brian goes bad, Sean comes home to two bodies. Before a social worker can take him off to a foster home, Brian’s father comes by the house and, seeing the child sitting alone, offers to take Sean in. Pop gives Sean what he has never had before: a home, with unconditional acceptance and protection. Living in a loving and supportive environment for the first time in his life, Sean begins to blossom.
But like many people, Sean begins to have problems in Junior High, despite his high grades. As kids begin to coagulate into social groups, Sean finds he doesn’t really belong anywhere. He’s different, the kind of person who gets rejected by every other group. When Sean gets picked on, everybody laughs. Ashamed to let Pop know what is happening, he tries to hide his bruises, but the old man isn’t so easily fooled. A problem that faces a child is a problem that faces their parent as well, and Pop is going to make sure that Sean has the skills to deal with this, and other challenges in life.
Recommended for young adults, their parents, and readers of graphic novels.
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This beautifully illustrated book tells the true story of Edith Rosenbaum and her musical French pig, Maxixe. Rosenbaum was a fashion designer who was travelling from Paris to New York on board the doomed Titanic. When the ship begins to sink, Rosenbaum goes to the deck to help children into lifeboats. Crew writes, “Everyone was calling for help, especially the children. ‘Where is my mama?’ they cried. ‘Where is my papa?’” A sailor mistook Maxixe wrapped in a blanket as a baby and put the music box into the lifeboat. Rosenbaum hopped in and used the musical pig to comfort and entertain the children in the dark, cold hours on the ocean.
This upbeat book about survival and music is a good way to introduce a tough topic to younger children. The Author’s Note in the end gives many more details than the simple story, including that Maxixe is kept in a private collection in New York today.
Check the WRL catalog for Pig on the Titanic: A True Story!
Jennifer D. shares this review:
In Tuesdays at the Castle, author Jessica Day George creates a setting that becomes a character. Castle Glower, identified as “The Castle,” is home to Princess Celie and the rest of the royal family of Sleyne. Living in a castle sounds pretty great, but what makes Castle Glower even better is that it is a magical castle. It will expand to create new rooms, make rooms that are no longer needed disappear, and even provide furnishings, all at its own discretion, of course. And it is a very opinionated castle. If it likes you, your visit to Castle Glower will be most comfortable. If not, your accommodations might look more like the dungeons, or The Castle might kick you out altogether. Furthermore, The Castle has views on who should rule. King Glower’s heir was chosen not by himself, but by The Castle.
You might think that such defenses would eliminate any concern about a hostile takeover from a rival kingdom, but that is just what happens. Prince Khelsh of Vhervhine, along with his entourage of guards and sycophants, has weaseled his way into the castle under false pretenses. He is determined to take over The Castle and claim the throne. With the rest of her family missing and presumed dead, Princess Celie, her brother Rolf, her sister Lilah, and Castle Glower must work together to mount a defense. Allegiances are questioned, and the siblings quickly learn that they can trust no one but themselves and The Castle.
I found this story to be very immersive and quickly became lost in the twists and turns of Castle Glower. The setting truly comes to life, and you’ll soon find yourself wondering, “Well, how does The Castle feel about that?” Don’t worry, being concerned for the emotional well-being of supposedly inanimate objects is just a side effect from reading fantasy in general, and Tuesdays at the Castle in particular. This is the first in a series which continues in Wednesdays in the Tower.
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Noreen shares this review:
America Singer lives in llea, which was once the United States, but now is a country with a caste system, a monarchy, and lots of rebel groups. Her family is in the third caste, which is not great but is also not terrible. However, an opportunity to better their lot appears when the Palace sends out a call for The Selection. Each province can send one young woman to live in the palace and vie for the honor of marrying Prince Maxon Schreave. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the Bachelorette meeting royalty in a dystopian land. But, you want to keep reading.
America also has a secret. She is in love with Aspen, the son of a neighbor who is in a lower caste. They meet secretly at night in a tree house in America’s yard. Aspen is the sole provider for his family. He is constantly working and is always hungry. As America’s family keeps pushing her to enter the contest, Aspen seems to be withdrawing, indicating hat he has found another woman. America finally agrees to enter, and, of course, is selected.
The characters were interesting and constantly developing. Plus the descriptions of everyday life in the castle, including clothes and meals, were wonderful. The relationships among the women vying for the Prince’s hand provide humor and some intrigue.
Equally intriguing is the relationship that develops between America and Prince Maxon. She is completely up front with the prince about not wanting to win, while admitting that she’d like to stay, if only for the food and clothes. Prince Maxon is obviously interested. Enter Aspen who is now a military guard. America is caught between her feelings for Aspen and the Prince. How will it end? We need to wait for the next book.
The Selection ends with us waiting to see who America will choose and how it will work out. And I do want to know.
Check the WRL catalog for The Selection
ROAR! Watch out! It’s a velociraptor! Never fear – did you know that velociraptors were only as big as your family dog? Any budding paleontologist will love this fun take on dinosaurs that tells us a little more about the realities of what they looked like when they lived. Kids will read about comparisons to the modern day that really put these creatures into perspective.
Each page describes one specific dinosaur from the littlest Microraptor to the largest Argentinosaurus and everything in between. Readers will learn about how much they weighed, how big they really were and so much more. There is a great section of this book that tells the reader about the process archeologists use when they find new dinosaur bones and when they preserve them. To add to the wonderful information, there are two fold-out pages that open up to show each of the dinosaurs discussed in the book in comparison to one another and to the other present day animal comparisons. This holistic look at the end of the book ties together each of the previous pages.
Adults and children will enjoy going through this book in individual, small group or large group settings and hearing the reactions from the groups will surely be fun. Grab this book for a wonderful look at these ancient and mysterious animals.
Check the WRL catalog for How Big Were Dinosaurs?
Everyone knows the tale. A little girl adventures into the woods and finds herself in the home of three bears, but what would happen if the tables were turned? Leigh Hodgkinson has taken the traditional tale and flipped it on its head.
In this story, a lonely bear finds himself in the heart of a big city. Lost and confused, the bear goes to an apartment building and takes the elevator up to find a place to rest. The new version of the story has many parallels to the traditional one with finding a good snack, a place to sit, and a place to take a nap. However, there is a surprising twist at the end that will have readers smiling. Hodgkinson has tied the old and new together in a seamless way.
This story is perfect for group story time for children in lower elementary school or any lovers of the original Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It would also be a great partner book for the original story and could be read as a sequel. This version has modern and colorful illustrations that make reading the story even more entertaining. Children will love to look at the details of the book and see what happens to the bear on each page.
Check the WRL catalog for Goldilocks and Just One Bear.
Rachael shares this review:
As a longtime fan of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, I picked this up as soon as I saw the subtitle. The book is told in free verse — but don’t be thrown if you are not a poetry lover – from Mary’s perspective about her young life from age 14 through her early 20’s, during which she ran away with the charismatic poet Percy Bysse Shelley to travel Europe with his coterie of fellow intellectuals and artists, and she wrote Frankenstein, before she was even 20 years old .
I fear this book won’t be very popular for those not inclined to pick up historical fiction, poetry, or the gothic classic, Frankenstein, but it is full of romance, scandal, and adventure in a format that doesn’t keep you waiting. The brief but dense poetic format offers one scandalous tidbit after another, and the title of each of the poems/entries make it easy to flip back to earlier moments in the story or character introductions. I would almost call this a celebrity gossip special, 19th century style, if it also weren’t so beautifully written, and didn’t so carefully explore Mary’s joys and struggles as a young woman who is intellectually voracious, determined to write, and in love with an inspiring yet unstable man (did someone say “bad boy?”)
I think young women will be able to relate to Mary’s growth as a young woman, as a writer, and in her relationships with others and the world; her strength and frequent acts of informed fearlessness also make her a character to admire. Hemphill’s choice to write this book about Mary’s formative years as a writer has offered the additional benefit of making her relatable by exploring the often raw and complicated formative years of young adulthood, and the strength and genius that is possible from them.
Although this book seems limited to the historical fiction and YA genres, it has much wider appeal characteristics. Teens who gravitate toward gothic and/or historical drama will find this an interesting and fast read, as will anyone who enjoys celebrity drama and scandal without a lot of excess prose. This also offers appeal to both teens and adults that appreciate YA realistic fiction about the struggles and revelations of young adulthood. Young women will also admire Mary’s self-determination, even though Mary’s love affair with Shelley may be questioned by today’s higher standards for the marital and gender equality in relationships. Adult fans of Philippa Gregory and 19th century English literature will enjoy this, as well as literature buffs who may enjoy the insight that this biographical fiction may offer into readings of Mary’s written work (I couldn’t help but constantly compare the monster/creator relationship in Frankenstein to the strained relationship between Mary and her adored yet rejecting father).
This book was interesting, packed with drama, and nicely written. I will share that there is a character list at the end of the book that may be helpful as one needs refreshing about the large cast of characters that populate the story. Enjoy this on a rainy day.
Check the WRL catalog for Hideous Love.
Everyone makes mistakes. Kate Banks and Boris Kulikov have created a wonderful tale about how to turn mistakes into learning experiences and even see that mistakes we are afraid to make can be just what we need.
The Eraserheads features three unlikely friends, a crocodile, an owl, and a pig, who are all erasers. These three each have their special skills. One helps a little boy with his math, another with words and letters, and the last one with anything not involving big animals. They catch his mistakes and help him to correct them. One day, the little boy drew a picture of a road but ran out of space. Crocodile decided to help and began to erase to make more space, but Crocodile accidentally erases the whole picture and the three friends are stranded on a blank paper with nowhere to go. The little boy draws them into other adventures with giant waves, tropical islands, and exotic animals. Soon the animals are stuck in a precarious situation and they have to work together to find a solution. Ultimately, they accomplish their goal and make it back home to the tops of their pencils and are ready to help the boy again with more confidence than before.
This story is a beautifully illustrated book that would be best for lower elementary students. Students will be able to creatively think about the adventure the characters go on and gain the most from the moral of the story. Young students will be able to draw parallels to some mistakes they have made and see that mistakes are part of the learning process. Read this during one-on-one reading time or group story time. For a more interactive experience, encourage the children to come up with new adventures for the characters.
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The Giver is a very interesting book, and is unlike what I have ever read before. It showed how being the same as everyone else is a bad thing, not a good thing. It teaches people how to copy others, but to be themselves.
The book starts out in a community where everything is the same. Jobs, families, and houses are all assigned. Joys and tragedies, such as snow, war, or sunsets, were all taken away. The only person who even knows of such things is known as the Receiver of the memory. Eventually, as the Receiver grows older, he will die, just like anyone else. The people cannot lose the memories, so they must transfer them to someone else.
A boy named Jonas is selected to become the new Receiver. As Jonas learns more and more about the past and how things used to be, he begins to want to be like that now. While Jonas was pondering about what to do, he stumbles upon a book about the art of Receiving. Jonas learns that if he, as a Receiver, crosses the border into another community, the memories will return to the people living in his community. In the middle of the night, Jonas leaves his community and runs away. The government tries to find him and stop him, but it was too late, he had gotten too far away.
I would definitely recommend this book.
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Jan shares this review:
As the main character, Jody says near the beginning, “The upside of being a military kid was that you got to see a lot of cool places. The downside was that every time you made a friend, you had to move away.” And her friend Vivian adds, “My mother thinks I’m having this great international experience, but changing schools all the time is just the same horrible experience over and over.”
Jody and her two friends Giselle and Vivian live on an American Army base in Berlin in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They are brought together by their love of music and they travel by train each week to music lessons in East Germany with Herr Muller. They are scheduled to attend a music competition in Paris and they all know it will be their last time to perform together as they are all moving away. On their way home from a music lesson they witness an attempted murder and the adventure begins, sending them across international borders as they desperately try to save the life of a young man.
Without their musical connection the three would not have been friends at all, as Giselle’s father is a general and the base commander, while Jody’s father is enlisted. Jody feels she can’t invite the general’s daughter over as even the adults in the enlisted housing area wouldn’t like it. Of course, parents’ ranks shouldn’t make a difference to the children, but this book accurately reflects that they do.
Second Fiddle is an exciting adventure that sneaks in some history about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. Try it if you are interested in the military lifestyle and the people who lead it. It will be a great start for conversations.
Check the WRL catalog for Second Fiddle.
The brash T-Rex in this imaginative story will be a big hit with story time listeners. He talks directly to the audience throughout, boasting of his powerful physique and hunting prowess, but his attempts to hunt fail again and again. The illustrations provide a clue as to the reason for this, which parents are more likely to pick up on than children: his two front teeth are too big for his mouth. Yes, this dinosaur is about seven years old, in T-Rex years. The full-bleed illustrations are done in bold strokes and psychedelic colors, and the text is laid out in an endless variety of configurations and colors. Another book with a child narrator who addresses the audience to charming effect is Juster’s Hello, Goodbye Window. The McMullans, who jointly wrote and illustrated the book, have done a series of books with unusual narrators, most of whom are vehicles: I Stink! stars a garbage truck; I’m Dirty! is about a backhoe loader; and the forthcoming I’m Brave! is told by a fire truck.
Check the WRL catalog for I’m Bad!
Rafe had just started middle school and had decided to make it a great year. He wanted to fit in with the cool kids, unlike in the previous years. In order to do so, Rafe decides to break some rules. He pulls the fire alarm, sells gum to other students, and he even decides to run around the school without any clothes on! The school’s administration becomes fed up with it and decides to expel him for the rest of the year. At first, Rafe was excited for a break from school until he found out that he was required to go to summer school.
To find out what happens next, you have to read the second book, Middle School – Get Me out of Here. I enjoyed reading this book because it shows how most middle school students act, while keeping it comedic.
I would recommend this book to all middle school students, especially those who enjoy reading comedies.
Check the WRL catalog for Middle School. The Worst Years of My Life
Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of Middle School. The Worst Years of My Life
Lily Brown’s love of her world infuses her paintings. She paints things she knows, like fruit at the corner market and stars in the sky. But she also changes them, so the fruit laughs and sings and stars “come down to earth to hang around in sidewalk cafes and shine when the sun goes down.” And when she changes them, she makes new worlds. Her love of her family always brings her back to their world at the end of the day. The vibrant, full-bleed watercolor illustrations combine impressionistic but mature pictures of Lily Brown with the images from her own paintings. Pair this with The Hello, Goodbye Window to focus on children’s self-expression at story time. Invite the children to paint their families and favorite things during craft time. The author is perhaps best known for her young adult novel The First Part Last, which won the Michael L. Printz Award, the highest honor for young adult literature. The illustrator, E.B. Lewis, has won numerous Coretta Scott King awards and honors.
Check the WRL catalog for Lily Brown’s Paintings.
Jessica shares this review:
Frank Ross, a fair-minded farmer living in Arkansas in the 1870s, tries to intervene when a barroom fight breaks out one day in Fort Smith. One of the fighters, Ross’s own farmhand Tom Chaney, takes the opportunity to kill and rob the farmer. Chaney then flees on horseback to Indian Territory.
Ross’s fourteen-year-old daughter Mattie is angry. She is beyond angry. She wants blood and she wants justice. She is going to hunt down the man what done kilt her pa.
Mattie is not stupid. She is stubborn, impatient, and unforgiving, but she is not stupid. She knows she can’t go blazing off into the frontier without help, so she goes in search of a man with enough grit to get the job done. The man who matches that description is the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, technically on the side of the law– he is a U.S. marshal– but of very questionable repute. You don’t kill twenty-three men in four years without getting some rough edges.
Slightly more respectable is a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf, who has his own reasons for tracking Tom Chaney, but Mattie doesn’t want him interfering with her search– and LaBoeuf doesn’t want a teenaged girl interfering with his search. It is under a very uneasy truce that the girl, the ranger, and the marshal agree to pursue the outlaw together.
If you’ve seen the John Wayne movie adaptation (1969) or the Coen brothers adaptation (2010), you know what’s coming: adventure, and lots of it. There are bandits. There are fight scenes. There are more fight scenes. There are galloping horses and perilous injuries and there are snakes, lots and lots of snakes, all conveniently gathered into the pit that Mattie falls into.
I have no idea if True Grit is typical of its genre– I’ve never read another Western except for Brokeback Mountain, which probably doesn’t count– but you don’t have to be a fan of Westerns to like it. It’s an easy and fast read with tons of action. There is a lot of subtle humor that comes by way of Mattie’s contrary disposition and her colorful idioms. Children and squeamish readers would find the violence to be too intense, but it’s a great read for teenagers and adults who love a good story and who aren’t bothered by a few rattlesnakes.
This Halloween tale starts off a little scary, but ends with humor that dispels the creepy mood. Skeletons, ghosts, zombies, a werewolf, and other monsters gather for a ball on Halloween night, but flee when the trick-or-treaters arrive: “The thing that monsters most abhor/Are human niños at the door!/Of all the horrors they have seen, /The worst are kids on Halloween!” The text includes a generous sprinkling of Spanish words, but most of the English equivalents appear nearby, so the meanings are clear. There is also a glossary provided at the back. This book is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, and shouldn’t be limited to bilingual storytime use only. The painterly illustrations, each a full-bleed double-page spread, evoke a haunted night with muted colors and slightly blurred outlines. Use for a Kindergarten storytime at Halloween. The author was born in Puerto Rico, but moved around a lot as a child because her father was in the military. In addition to English and Spanish, she also spoke French. The illustrator, Yuyi Morales, had many different dreams before she became an artist. She describes herself this way on her website, http://www.yuyimorales.com/me.htm: “I tried to be a psychic; I wanted to move things with my mind. I practiced to be an acrobat too—and broke many things at home. Then I grew and became an artist and a writer. Oh, well.”
Check the WRL catalog for Los Gatos Black on Halloween.
Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile, by Tomie de Paola, is the adventure of Bill, a crocodile, and his friend Pete, a bird, as they go on a field trip with their class down the Nile. In their adventure, they run into Mr. Bad Guy and have to try to thwart his plans to steal the The Sacred Eye of Isis.
This book is a fun additional adventure to de Paola’s Bill and Pete series. This book would be ideal for children grades K-3.
If your child enjoyed this book he/she can also try Cornelius: A Fable by Leo Lionni or the original Bill and Pete by Tomie de Paola
Check the WRL catalog for Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile.
Jennifer D. shares this review:
It is the spring of 1768 and Matt’s father has just left him alone in the middle of nowhere. Well, not nowhere. He is on property his family has purchased in Maine territory, in a cabin he and his father just finished building. Matt’s father is making the return trip to Massachusetts to bring the rest of his family to their new home. He leaves Matt to protect their land, tend the crops, and prepare for the family’s return. Matt expects to be alone for six weeks, perhaps a bit more. Things don’t exactly go according to plan.
Matt faces many obstacles during his time alone – a thief, bees, bears, and a dwindling food supply. He is unsure whether the neighboring Indians are friend or foe, until they come to his rescue one day. Though they do not get along at first, Matt slowly builds a friendship with Attean, an Indian boy about his own age. This friendship might turn out to be the most important in Matt’s life.
It is an excellent story and well deserving of its Newbery Honor award. Classics are classics for a reason and this one is definitely worth revisiting.
Check the WRL catalog for The Sign of the Beaver
The Elephant from Baghdad, by Mary Tavener Holmes and John Harris, tells the tale of Charlemagne and his white albino elephant Abu, who was a gift from the caliph of Baghdad. This book, “written” by Notker the Stammerer, Charlemagne’s real life biographer, tells of Charlemagne’s travels to and from Baghdad and his relationship with Abu. In addition to the illustrations, this book includes photographs of artifacts from Charlemagne’s era.
This would be a great book to read to a child who is interested in medieval history. It shows the similarities and differences between Germany and Baghdad during the medieval period. This book would be ideal for children grades K-3.
If your child enjoyed this book he/she can also try Twenty-one Elephants by Phil Bildner or Children and Games in the Middle Ages by Lynne Elliott.
Check the WRL catalog for The Elephant from Baghdad.
Jan shares this review:
A misfit is a great subject for literature, because the character’s life story creates inbuilt dramatic tension before the plot even begins.
And what a misfit we meet in Limpy the cane toad!
He lives in Queensland, Australia, where introduced cane toads are an ecological disaster and Australians are attempting to exterminate them. As a misfit Limpy not only is a member of a hated species, he also has a “crook leg” that was run over on purpose by a truck, which makes him hop around in circles when he gets excited.
At first Limpy doesn’t believe that humans hate cane toads and it takes numerous attempts on his life before he believes it. He notices that humans do love some animals, especially the three Olympic mascots: the platypus, the echidna, and the kookaburra. To further his ambition of cane toad/human harmony Limpy and his cousin, Goliath, go on a madcap adventure to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, to try and become mascots as well. Along the way they meet many quirky characters, from talking mosquitoes and rats to a kind human athlete (who, unfortunately, doesn’t understand what they say).
The humor is exaggerated and slapstick, but Limpy is an anti-hero that many people will be able to relate to. He is basically a decent person (cane toad?) in a world that doesn’t appreciate his inner beauty.
Since I come from down under, I especially enjoyed “having a squiz” at the glossary of Australian words. I can attest that the words are accurate as my grandmother used to say many of them (dubious looks from my American colleagues notwithstanding).
Although it is aimed towards younger audiences, Toad rage is a quick and funny read for teens and adults. And you never know, you may just learn some bonza new words!
Check the WRL catalog for Toad Rage.
When Evie’s mother passes away, she and her father move from Michigan to New York, and take over an old orchard that no one can coax to grow. It stands dead, blackened and withered, and is thought by locals to be cursed. It has been that way since the disappearance of another young girl named Eve, the daughter of the orchard’s former owner. When this Eve’s father set off to find the original site of the Garden of Eden, he abandoned his pregnant wife, Eve, and her brother Rodney. Upon his return, Eve refused to forgive him, and is thought to have run off. But the trees never grew again.
New to town, and still mourning her mother, Evie wanders into the cemetery across from the orchard, and meets Alex, a boy who claims to be a ghost. While Evie is skeptical at first, she grows to believe Alex’s claim. Soon, however, there are other, even more unbelievable, perhaps magical things to comprehend. Rodney left behind a single seed, a gift for Evie. This seed, and two others like it, were brought back by Rodney’s father from the purported site of the Garden of Eden. The first of these seeds was planted by the other young Eve, immediately before her disappearance. Could Eve’s disappearance be tied to these seeds? Are they really from the Garden of Eden? And what would happen if Evie planted one? Fantasy and reality blend, the seed takes Evie and Alex to a magical place. But the story takes a turn. Everything is not as it seems, and soon Evie must race to put things back as they should be.
Check the WRL catalog for the availability of The Garden of Eve.