Month: February 2013

Review: Polar Bear Morning by Lauren Thompson

polar bear morning

Polar Bear Morning by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Stephen Savage

Following the picture book Polar Bear Night, this second book continues the story of the little polar bear cub.  The cub wakes up and peeks out at the day and snow outside her warm den.  As she starts to explore, she discovers another little cub out playing too, sliding down a little snow hill.  The two of them immediately start playing together, running towards the sea and eventually jumping into the icy water side by side.  The two little friends end up together on an ice berg surrounded by family, seals and whales.

Perfect for toddlers, this book speaks to the speed at which small children can find playmates and make friends.  As the two polar cubs run together, they pass different arctic animals like seals, walrus, seagulls and whales.  The text is brief and clearly sets the story in the arctic, the cold, the ice and the warmth of friendship.

Savage once again has amazing illustrations that are filled with chunky shapes, deep textures and shading that makes it stand out.  My favorite page in the book has the two small cubs nose to nose, one with a plop of snow on his head. 

A nice morning read aloud, this book be a good fit with bear story times or wintry tales.  Appropriate for ages 1-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.

Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

if you find me

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

Released March 26, 2013.

Carey’s mother has been gone for over a month, leaving Carey alone with her little sister, Jenessa.  They live in a large woods and sleep in an old camper with no heat.  Her mother had left them before, but usually not this long, just long enough to get more meth.  But this time, their mother was not the one who came to their camp, a man and woman arrive, claiming that the man is Carey’s father.  They take the girls back with them.  Carey and Jenessa have never had a hamburger, never watched TV and never really been cared for.  Carey was the only reason that Nessa had survived at all, often serving as the only love she had.  But now the girls were expected to live with Carey’s father, his wife and their stepsister in their home.  It’s a new life filled with challenges that Carey will only be able to accept if she can see the truth of why her mother took her away and also the truth of what she had been forced to do in the woods.

Murdoch has written a book that has a very compelling premise and happily, she is able to make the book about far more than that first bit ripped from the headlines.  She writes about the power of music to heal, the ability of family and love to make things right again, but also the agony of betrayal, the ferocious power of abuse, and the building danger of lies.  Carey is a heroine who has undergone real tragedy in her life, but here is she far from being a victim.  She is instead immensely resourceful, caring and desperate to do what is right for her little sister.

Murdoch also weaves into so much of the book Carey’s connection with nature.  It is the place she turns when in distress, moving even to the outdoor courtyard at the high school in order to find solace outdoors.  Her love of music in also part of it, having played her music under the open sky for so long.  When Murdoch writes of nature, she is part poet, creating a depth in this novel that lifts it to another level.

This story is one of a tough heroine who has to be strong for both herself and her little sister.  It is a tale of survival but also one of recovery and honesty.  I’d think this one would booktalk extremely well thanks to its strong premise that will nicely tantalize teen readers.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Macmillan and Netgalley.

Review: Starring Jules (As Herself) by Beth Ain

starring jules

Starring Jules (As Herself) by Beth Ain

When Jules is singing her new jingle for a fizzy ice-cream cone to her little brother and making lots of bubbles in their milk glasses, she is discovered and invited to audition for a mouthwash commercial.  But even for a girl with lots of “pizzazz” there are difficulties to overcome.  First, Jules finds out that the mouthwash is orange flavored, a flavor that makes her want to puke.  Second, the only one she can see who can help her is her old best-friend Charlotte Stinkerton Pinkerton.  Third, there’s a new girl in Jules’ class who may just be the perfect best friend ever, but Jules has to get to her first, before she joins the new clique that Charlotte has formed.  It’s a complicated situation for Jules and the question is whether it will be just too much for this girl who is fizzy and filled with pizzazz.

Ain has created a character that reads like an older Clementine.  Jules is wonderfully and innately quirky, obviously happy in her own skin.  All of the small details and Jules’ unique view of the world serve to make her a beautifully human character.  Happily, the same is true for the secondary characters as well.  They are all richly drawn and complex.  Friendship is shown in all of its miscommunication and mistakes.

Written with a light hand and a jaunty pace, this book will appeal to readers who have grown up with Clementine and are looking for a new heroine with plenty of individuality.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Review: Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier

open this little book

Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier, illustrated by Suzy Lee

Open the full-sized picture book and inside you find a series of nesting books, each smaller than the one before.  The stories in the books also nest with one another.  First the reader opens the Little Red Book and discovers ladybug who is opening the Little Green Book where frog is the character.  On and on it goes, until the story reaches a little twist in the little books.  Then the stories unwind as the books are closed one by one.  It’s impossible to not be charmed by the design and concept.

Debut author, Klausmeier has created a seamless partnership with illustrator Lee.  The book is so much a marriage of their work that one might think it was done entirely by one artist.  The story is simple yet fully engaging.  The problem you may have with little listeners is having them slow down opening the next book in time to read the words on the page.  Lee’s illustrations add to the charm, hearkening back to vintage picture books but still carrying a modern vibe.  The scale of the books is perfection, like opening a Russian nesting doll.

Engaging, interactive and oh so much fun, this book looks at colors, sequence and a love of reading.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Odette’s Secrets by Maryann Macdonald

odettes secrets

Odette’s Secrets by Maryann Macdonald

This true story of a young Jewish girl growing up in Nazi-occupied Paris is told in verse.  Odette’s father is sent to a Nazi work camp and her mother works hard to protect Odette.  As the Jews in Paris are steadily more badly treated, Odette has to wear a yellow star on her clothing and is unwelcome in many places in the city.  Even at school, Odette is bullied for being Jewish.  When their apartment is raided in the middle of the night, Odette and her mother hide in their landlady’s cupboard.  After that, Odette is sent to the country to live.  There she learns to pretend to be Christian so that she isn’t discovered.  When her mother is forced to flee Paris, the two of them move together to live in the French countryside as peasants, but Nazis and bigotry are never far behind.  Odette learns that sometimes secrets are vital to survival and just as hard to stop keeping as they are to keep.

Macdonald writes in her author’s note about the inspiration for creating a children’s book that tells the story of the real Odette.  It is interesting to learn about the transition from straight nonfiction to a verse novel.  I’m so pleased that the end result was this novel in free verse, because Macdonald writes verse with a wonderful eye to both the story she is telling and the poetry itself.  She truly creates the scenes of Paris and the French countryside in her poems, making each place special and amazing. 

Perhaps most amazing is Odette herself, a protagonist living in a brutal and complicated time, forced to lie to stay alive.  Odette has to learn to deal with the fear she lives in every day, something that no one should have to get used to.  There was the fear of slipping and telling the secrets she held but also the fear that someone could figure out they were Jewish without any slip from Odette.  Macdonald creates quite a dramatic series of events that point out that Odette was terrified for very good reason.

Beautiful verse combined with a true story of a young girl World War II France makes this a very successful book that cuts right to the heart and lays all its secrets bare.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.

Review: Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? by Tanya Lee Stone

who says women cant be doctors

Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

Back in the 1830s, there were no women doctors, only men could have that career.  But also growing up in the 1830s was a young girl who would end up changing that.  Elizabeth Blackwell was not particularly well behaved: she was always exploring, working to toughen herself up, and even carried her brother over her head until he backed down.  Elizabeth had not dreamed of becoming a doctor, but she was inspired when an friend mentioned how much nicer it would have been to be examined by a woman.  When Elizabeth started talking about her new dream, people mocked her and told her it was impossible.  She applied to school after school, until finally the 29th school she applied for said yes!  But Elizabeth would have to face additional challenges in school and beyond as well.  This is the story of a woman who would not take no for an answer and the way that she changed the face of medicine along the way.

Stone has written a very engaging biography of Blackwell.  Much of the story is spent on her childhood and the challenges she faced getting into medical school.  I love the image of a spunky young girl who just wants to explore and demonstrates determination from a very young age.  She is an inspiring figure for youth, someone who discovered her dream and stood by it despite the many obstacles in her way and the mockery she endured.  Stone’s author’s note continues Blackwell’s story and offers a photograph of the real Dr. Blackwell.

Priceman’s illustrations done in gouache and India ink are filled with bright colors.  They bring the past to life, showing the energy of the young Elizabeth Blackwell and incorporating the vistas and buildings of the 1800s.  While they are bright and vibrant, they also serve to make sure that readers are cognizant of the period in which the book takes place.

Blackwell is a real-life heroine that young readers should be aware of.  This bright and welcoming new biography for younger readers is a welcome addition to library collections.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.