Category: Book Reviews


league of beastly dreadfuls

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls by Holly Grant

Anastasia started her day by attending a funeral alongside her father, a funeral at the compost pile for her father’s dead venus flytrap. Other than that unusual start to the day which ended with her mother bellowing for waffles from her bedroom, Anastasia was an entirely average girl. There was simply nothing special about her at all. But then at school that morning everything changed when she is kidnapped by two old women calling themselves her “great aunties.” She finds herself trapped in an old Victorian house that was once St. Agony’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane. She is fed only Mystery Lumps and no dinner. She is forced to clean the asylum and at night she is locked into her room. Slowly though Anastasia starts to put together the mystery of her great aunties and what is actually going on in the creepy asylum. An escape plan begins to brew when she meets the frightening gardener and his brother, but can they get past the electrified fence and the guard poodles?

Grant has created a marvelous farce of a book that is filled with broad humor. She also manages to combine that humor with real scares, devious villains, and a nearly hopeless situation. Grant’s use of a quite ordinary young woman as a protagonist adds to the fun, making the scares work better even though they are done just as broadly as the humor is. It is that sense of joy in the situation and the delight that Grant writes with that makes this book such fun to read.

Anastasia is an average girl but also a strong heroine. There are moments in the middle part of the book where readers will want to shake her awake and make her realize what is happening, but in once she realizes she is certainly up to investigating the mystery. The other characters are great fun, including the two horrible aunties who are purely awful in the very best way. The two boys arrive later in the story along with other great characters and they add to the twists and turns of the tale.

A great mix of Victorian and modern fantasy, humor and horror, this book will appeal to fans of Roald Dahl. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Random House.

blackbird fly

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

Apple just doesn’t fit in. Her Filipino mother cooks food that no American kids eat. Plus she is so strict that Apple isn’t allowed to take any music classes at school because it might impact her other more important grades. Apple though desperately wants to learn to play the guitar. When they left the Philippines, she took just one picture and a tape of the Beatles that had belonged to her dead father. Apples does have friends, but once they discover that she is on the Dog Log, a list of the ugliest girls at school, they stop hanging around with her. Apple decides to start saving up for a guitar and as she does that she starts to make new friends, other kids that have been singled out as odd or different. But one misstep with a teacher’s wallet marks Apple as a thief and that is all it takes for her former friends to really turn against her. Apple has to figure out how being different can actually be a very good thing.

This tween novel has a strong mix of a multicultural main character combined with middle school popularity and racism. Kelly does not flinch away from the blatant racism that teenagers can engage in as well as the casual hate that they throw at each other, particularly kids who are different from them. Kelly’s writing has a friendly, straight-forward tone even as she deals with the drama of both middle school and a parent who is over protective. Using music as a language that bridges new friendships and new understandings works particularly well and serves as a backbone for the entire novel.

Apple is a character with lots going on in her life. She faces racism on a daily basis at school and in turn takes it out on her mother, turning her back on much of their Filipino culture. She is embarrassed by her mother and angry at her lack of support for Apple’s musical dreams. As Apple puts together a misguided plan to run away, readers will hope that she finds a way to live in the life that she already has, particularly because they will see how special she is long before Apple can realize it herself.

A great tween read, this book offer complexity and diversity in a story about individuality and friendship. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Greenwillow Books.

fork tongue charmers

The Luck Uglies: Fork-Tongue Charmers by Paul Durham

This second book in the Luck Uglies series continues the rollicking story of Rye and her family and friends. With a new lawman in town, Rye and her family have been targeted as outlaws. It doesn’t help that Harmless, the High Chieftain of the Luck Uglies, is her father. When her mother’s shop is burned to the ground, they take refuge in the inn that belongs to one of Rye’s best friends family where lawlessness is already embraced. But that safety is breached as the soldiers march upon it and Rye and her family are sent across the sea to the safety of the Isle of Pest. It is where Rye’s mother and father first met and where her mother’s father still lives. But Pest will not be the safe haven that they are looking for as they are pursued there as well, putting the entire island in danger. It is up to Rye to figure out what exactly is going on and who the new lawman actually is.

Durham has written another great read for middle graders. He has a knack for creating stories that are fast-paced and wildly exciting. At the same time, his feel for world building is impeccable. Here he creates a new island world for readers to explore even as he continues the story of Drowning and its people. The new island has its own quirks and Durham builds it with such skill that they all make sense and feel natural.

Rye grows even further as a heroine in this second book. Her pluck, courage and grit show on every page. She is clearly the daughter of her parents, who people who don’t back down or ever cower, though they face enemies in different ways and styles. Rye’s relationships with people continue to be the heart of the story from her dear best friends to her budding relationship with her grandfather. It is these moments that add depth to the book.

A great second book in a marvelous series, I can’t wait to see what happens next and neither will young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

wild bathtime wild bedtime

wild mealtime wild playtime

Wild! Bathtime by Courtney Dicmas

Wild! Bedtime by Courtney Dicmas

Wild! Mealtime by Courtney Dicmas

Wild! Playtime by Courtney Dicmas

Romping animal babies and zany humor combine to make this series a great pick for toddlers and infants.

Bathtime shows all sorts of different animals taking baths, cleaning faces and other parts of the body. The humor comes at the end with a mother pig looking dejectedly at her sleeping piglets who are all clean while she is dirty.

Bedtime invites everyone to curl up to sleep but some of the little animals are not quite ready yet. Grabbing your teddy has a different meaning here as does turning out the light. Clever little touches make this one that you will read again and again.

Mealtime has animals acting very much like toddlers. They want more to eat, eat too quickly, and even try to hide their peas. Once again clever matching of animals to phrases makes for fun reading.

Playtime is the ultimate romp of a book, showing lots of wrestling and movement. And the parents are all in for the fun, mostly.

This series will be appreciated by children who love animals and also little ones who may need an excuse to slow down and read a bit. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from copies received from Child’s Play.

good night knight

Good Night, Knight by Betsy Lewin

When Horse and Knight are falling asleep, Knight has a dream about golden cookies. So he wakes up Horse and sets off on a quest to find the golden cookies. They search everywhere, in hollow tree trunks and under water and in the bushes, riding from one place to the next at a brisk trot. It isn’t until they return home and Knight has collapsed from exhaustion that Knight realizes that the cookies were right in their castle all along. The two have a golden cookie feast and then go to bed, but it’s not long before Horse has a golden dream of his own!

Written for emerging readers, this picture book is written with a limited vocabulary and words that repeat on the page and from one section of the story to another. The picture book format will invite reluctant readers to give reading a try. Lewin also wisely incorporates plenty of humor and galloping around, giving the reader reasons to turn the page to see what will happen next. It’s a good mix of action and silliness.

Lewin’s illustrations break the text into nice readable chunks appropriate for beginning readers. Plenty of attention is paid to the illustrations, offering humor beyond the text itself. For example, Knight never removes his armor, even to sleep! The art is simple, funny and inviting.

Head out on a quest with your beginning reader and this simple picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Holiday House.

dragons guide to the care and feeding of humans

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder

The dragon Miss Drake has recently lost her beloved human pet, Fluffy. She is rather surprised and even irritated then when her pet’s great-niece, Winnie, shows up with a key to her lair. Winnie and her mother were given the home above Miss Drake’s and Fluffy, or Great-Aunt Amelia as she was known to Winnie left directions on how to find Miss Drake. Soon the pair are off having adventures together, though Miss Drake has plans to make Winnie far more docile and polite. After flying to a shop up in the clouds, Winnie gets a sketchbook that has a tingle of magic about it. She sets to a project of drawing each of the pretty magical creatures she has seen on their trip. But soon her drawings have come to life and left the pages of the book. Now it is up to Winnie and Miss Drake to work together to catch all of the creatures, even the one that threatens the entire city of San Francisco and the magical world.

Each chapter in this book features tips on how to best train your human pet. The entire book is filled with humor and whimsy and drenched in magic. The book is pure adventure of the fantasy sort. The world makes sense, a hidden world of magic right alongside our own, specifically in San Francisco. There are spells to keep normal people from seeing the magical ones and this book has that wonderful touch of Harry Potter where the magic is right in front of us. The writing here is playful and jolly, setting the tone of a grand adventure with plenty of danger, problems to solve, and one new best friend to discover.

Miss Drake is a grand character. Having a book with the dragon as the narrator adds to the fun of the story and also offers a unique perspective. It would have been a far different book told by Winnie, since the humor of Miss Drake is not always apparent on the surface. Winnie too is a great protagonist. She doesn’t shy away from Miss Drake even when she is rude or shows her huge teeth. She stand up to her and it looks like at the end she is going to be a very different sort of pet than Miss Drake has ever had before.

Magic and humor come together in this warm and wonderful fantasy that looks to be the first in a new series. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Crown Books for Young Readers.

new small person

The New Small Person by Lauren Child

The creator of Charlie and Lola returns with a new picture book sibling pair. Elmore Green has always been an only child. He has his own room, no one moves his toys around, and no one eats his jelly beans. But suddenly a new baby enters the picture and soon Elmore finds himself sharing a room, unable to leave any of his toys unattended, and no one pays him attention. Perhaps worst of all, his jelly bean collection is licked by his little brother! Just as all seems to be falling apart, Elmore discovers that there are some parts of having a new sibling that aren’t so bad after all like laughing at TV shows together, sharing toys, and even sharing jelly beans (maybe).

Child has a wonderful way of understanding what children are thinking. While other new sibling books have more focus on the loss of parental attention, Child shows exactly how a small sibling can bother an older one. She merrily skips quickly past the baby stage and directly to toddlerhood where the most disruption can take place. Young readers will enjoy a book that has plenty of humor but also is realistic too.

Child’s art is done in her signature style. Her collage work incorporates pieces of cloth and patterned paper. I appreciate that her new family are people of color and also that it is not a focus of the book but just a visual component, natural and not remarked upon.

Perfect for Charlie & Lola fans and also for older siblings experiencing their own toddlers at home. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

one plastic bag

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Used to just dropping their baskets when they wore out, people in Njau, Gambia did the same thing with their plastic bags, but the plastic bags decayed like the baskets would. They also didn’t last nearly as long. Torn bags can’t be mended or used at all, so one by one, then ten by ten, and thousands by thousands they were thrown to the side of the road. They accumulated in heaps, poisoning the goats that tried to eat the garbage around them. Water pooled in them and brought more mosquitoes and diseases. Burying and burning them weren’t the solution either. Then Isatou Ceesay found a way to recycle the plastic bags and get jobs for her community by transforming them into something new.

This book speaks to the power that one person can have to change things, both for themselves and their entire community. The prose here is straight-forward but also has moments of poetry thrown in, showing the devastation the plastic bags were creating in the Gambia. The book also shows the way that an idea is born, comes to fruition, passes through being scorned and is finally embraced.

The illustrations by Zunon are remarkable. Using collage, they bring together the textures of the weaving and baskets as well as the plastic bags from photographs. The textiles of the Gambia are also incorporated and vibrate on the page. They are combined with painting and other more playful textures to create the natural setting and the people.

Strong writing and superb illustrations combine to tell the true story of how one woman transformed pollution. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

shadow scale

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hautman

Serafina was one of my favorite dragon books of all time and here is its sequel!  I tend to really dislike seconds books in series, especially those that I love. They seem disappointing after the amazement of the first novel. Happily, this sequel does it all right. It continues the story of Serafina the half-dragon. The kingdom of Goredd has long born the brunt of the dragon wars, protecting the rest of the south. Now they must ask for help in order to survive a war. Serafina and the young queen learn of a magical weapon wielded by during the time of the Saints and Serafina sets off to gather all of the other half-dragons, the ones who populate her mind garden. But as she gathers new allies, an old enemy re-emerges and wreaks havoc on those that Serafina holds most dearly. Soon Serafina is without allies and has no one she can trust, and she is the only one who can save the others.

This sequel was a long time coming, but worth all of the wait. Hautman has once again crafted a world of dragons that fits into the dragon myth but also expands upon it and makes it come fully alive. She writes with such amazing detail, crafting a world of intrigue and wonder. At the same time, it is grittily real, with real repercussions, a world filled with bias and bigotry, faith that can be compromised, and a reliance on real intelligence and wit to save.

Serafina remains one of the great fantasy heroines. She reads as real, a girl trapped in a world with greatness forced upon her. She is a musician at heart but she must step up and also be a heroine for the world at large. Hautman shows the strong connection of music and friends, music and science. She creates a world around Serafina that is just as realistic as she is, but also populated by dragons.

Beautifully written with one amazing heroine, this novel is a worthy sequel to the first, and that is the greatest praise that could be given. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Random House.

vegetables in underwear

Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman

Released April 7, 2015.

All different sorts of vegetables demonstrate the joys of wearing big-kid underwear in all sorts of colors and styles. Never taking the subject too seriously, this book celebrates an often under-appreciated piece of clothing. One after another vegetables show the different sorts of underwear from dirty to clean, big to small, and serious to funny. But there is one sort of kid who doesn’t wear underwear, since babies wear diapers. Suitable giggle-worthy, these grinning vegetables invite young children to join the underwear ranks.

Chapman has written this book in an infectious rhyme that is jaunty and adds much to the fun of reading this book aloud. One never quite knows what is on the next page, except that it will be friendly and fun. The book ends with a silly reminder that you should have your clothes on top of your underwear before you leave the house, something that will have preschoolers laughing along.

Chapmas has created an entire garden of smiling vegetables here. Using whitespace very nicely, they pop on the page in all of their colorfulness. The vegetables are friendly, approachable and entirely silly. Children will immediately get the joke of vegetables being the ones to show humans how to wear undies.

Funny and friendly, this is a great pick for potty training giggles. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

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