Ms. Rapscott’s Girls by Elise Primavera (InfoSoup)
Ms. Rapscott runs a board school for girls that is all about adventure, courage and birthday cake, with candles. When a new summer term begins, five little girls are mailed to the school in their boxes. Mailed because their parents are some of the busiest people in the world and can’t be bothered to drop their children off at school in person. Four little girls make it safe and sound but the fifth has fallen out of her box because it wasn’t sealed properly. Ms. Rapscott has to teach her remaining students some of the basics of life like bathing, brushing teeth, and the importance of stout boots when going on adventures. But most of her lessons are much more fun and involve things like riding the wind into the sky and skimming the surface of the water on seals. As the girls learn how to take care of themselves and embrace adventure, they are also locating the missing student, by trying not to find her.
Funny and delightfully whimsical, this book is at its heart a book that shows that little girls can be just as daring, naughty and adventurous as boys. These are girls who have flaws, like shouting all the time, being a know-it-all, and just wanting to spend time watching TV or asleep. But in each of them is a little adventurer who if fed enough attention and cake will rise to the opportunities before her.
The art in the book adds a delightful richness to the tale as well as breaking up the text so that the book is more approachable for young readers. Done in full double-page spreads, the illustrations show the different parts of the school as well as important moments in the story. At the beginning and end of the book, they appear in a series of illustrations that welcome the girls to the school and then send them home at the end with a promise of adventures to come.
Enter a world of magical wonder in this book for young readers where adventure awaits everyone. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke
What is a witch to do when no one believes in magic anymore? She has her family’s potion recipes and cauldron, but that’s about it. Then she realizes that there is one perfect job for someone who creates horrible brews – being a lunch lady! So Grunhilda becomes a lunch lady, one who scares all of the children. But Madison isn’t scared of Grunhilda despite the fact that she is the one person who knows that she is not what she seems. Madison has enough knowledge to blackmail the witch, but that’s a dangerous course even when the witch wants to help you. Grunhilda finds a kinship with Madison, but her horrible ancestors are maddened to find their magic being used for good, so they step in and cause all sorts of trouble for both Madison and Grunhilda.
Lucke’s story is a delightful mix of horrible potions, bats that don’t listen, nasty dead ancestors with too many opinions, and amazingly also two people who may just become friends through it all. Lucke creates a story around Grunhilde that offers her back story and makes her transformation to an almost-good witch believable and organic. Madison too has her own story, one that also makes the story work well and makes her own role and connection ring true.
The art of this graphic novel is gorgeously strange and wild. Each chapter leads in with a differently stained page, from oily splotches to actual tomatoes. The pages too are dark and stained, as if Grunhilda herself had been using the book in her kitchen. Against that the white of aprons and speech bubbles pops. Other subtler colors are also used and create a subtle effect against the dark page.
A funny and heartfelt story of unusual friendships created during the most unusual of times. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold
Iris and her family have just moved to Corvallis, Oregon where Iris longs for sunshine and warm weather but is constantly faced with falling rain. Iris is struggling with the death of her best friend and has very little interest in making new friends or exploring her new town. Iris meets Boris and the two slowly become friends despite the fact that Boris is a messy eater, breaths through his mouth all the time, and wants Iris to play Magic all the time. But Boris is also fascinating to Iris because his birth could have been a real miracle that the Vatican is investigating. Iris wants to know how some people get miracles and others don’t. And what’s with the haunting presence she feels in the cupboard under the stairs where her best friend’s tennis racket rests? Is it possible that there is another miracle about to happen and Iris will be able to contact her friend?
Arnold does a simply beautiful job of writing this novel. Her crafting of Iris’ world and family is done with a gentleness and detail that is inspired. And through it all, readers will feel the chill of the constantly falling rain, the loneliness of the tennis racket under the stairs, and the sorrow that leads Iris to fall asleep early often. Arnold also shows in imagery over and over again the impermanence of things. From snow angels that are stepped on to eggs that don’t hatch, she crafts moments of fragility that show the uncertainty of life.
At the same time, she uses intense moments of comfort and being together with others that are warming and stand brightly against the cold wet weather that Iris finds herself trapped in. Those moments show such hope for Iris in a way that is tangible and realistic. Arnold also allows readers to see Oregon through Iris’ eyes for the most part. While there are these moments of light and warmth, snacks and hot chocolate, readers will start to see the beauty of Oregon and the wonder of the rain only when Iris herself starts to lift out of grief. The entire process is done over time and very realistically.
Beautiful writing that is poetic and filled with imagery yet easy to read and understand, this book will speak to fans of Kevin Henkes. Appropriate for ages 9-12
Reviewed from library copy.
The Tapper Twins Go to War by Geoff Rodkey
Released April 7, 2015.
When siblings go to war, they both end up hurt especially if they happen to be twins! Claudia and Reese are very different from one another, but they are also alike. They both love toaster pastries and that is how the entire war began, when one twin accused the other of stealing their pastry. That was bad enough, but then it escalated quickly at their school cafeteria where Claudia was accused of being the one who farted and got the nickname “Princess Farts-A-Lot.” That led to Claudia trying to get Reese to be called stinky by the others and she put a dead fish in his backpack, perhaps a bit too well hidden. From there though, the war gets really ugly and turns virtual with social media and video games as the battlefields. A modern look at being a sibling and having one enormous fight, online and off.
Rodkey has created a very smart book that captures the digital age and being a tween. The book is in a unique format where Claudia is documenting what had happened during the war with Reese and Reese regularly interjecting his own point of view. The book has photographs, cartoons, and texts between different family members too. The result is a book perfect for reluctant readers who will enjoy the short blocks of text broken regularly with images.
They will also enjoy the humor of the book, including a very nicely done interplay between the two siblings. Their anger at one another and their relationship really works in the book and is life like. The escalating war between the twins is made possible by parents who are tired, inattentive and also lifelike. Their exchanges with one another are equally humorous as the twins’ exchanges are.
Funny and very friendly, this is a book that middle school readers will love. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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.
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.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Astrid and Nicole have been best friends for years, but something is changing. When Astrid’s mother takes them to see roller derby, Astrid immediately wants to do it. Nicole is more interested in doing her ballet camp. Without telling her mother that Nicole won’t be helping with carpooling, Astrid starts at roller derby camp. There she discovers that there is a lot to learn about roller skating, hitting and friendship. As Astrid struggles to keep up with the more advanced skaters at the camp, she finds herself dreaming of of being the star of the roller derby. As junior high and the roller derby show near, Astrid has to figure out how to handle her new budding friendship without losing it to jealousy and how to be a strong teammate.
Jamieson is a roller derby girl herself, so the skills and hard work depicted in this graphic novel offer plenty of detail and reality. The result is a book that shows how hard you have to work to be successful and the determination it takes to stand up over and over again after you fall down. At the same time, the tone is realistic, and does not overdramatize learning new skills and being part of a rough sport. The tone is always realistic and honest.
That same tone continues in the depiction of the friendships that Astrid has. The two friendships, one that Astrid is growing out of and one that is just beginning, are shown in all of their fragility. Astrid’s own responses are honest and depict the difficulties of a young girl trying to find her own voice and her own place in the world. Many readers will see themselves on the page, whether or not they are derby girls.
Get this one into the hands of fans of Raina Telgemeier! It’s another graphic novel with a strong and funny female protagonist. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Red Butterfly by A. L. Sonnichsen
Kara was abandoned as an infant and taken in by an American woman living in China. Her Mama never leaves the apartment they share and Kara doesn’t attend school. Kara does get to leave the apartment each day to run errands on her bicycle, her favorite time of day. In China where the one-child limit is in effect, parents leave infants who have physical challenges like Kara who was born with one hand with only two small fingers on it. Mama longs to return to the United States, but she can’t without abandoning Kara, who has no identification papers and has not been formally adopted. When Mama’s American daughter comes to visit, Kara finds their entire lives turned upside down and their secret exposed. Will Kara be able to bring their family back together again?
Told in lovely rich verse, this novel is elegantly written and conceived. It shows the results of the one-child policy in China and the children who were abandoned because of it. Yet it is far from a condemnation of China or the United States. It is a portrait in contrasts and complexity, showing that there is good and bad in both systems. It is also the story of one very strong young girl who has already lost one family and is determined not to lose another.
Kara is the voice of the book with the poems told from her point of view. She is unique in many ways, including being able to speak English better than she Chinese due to her upbringing. Kara’s disability is handled in a matter-of-fact way for the reader. While she is profoundly ashamed of it, her hand and disability do not label her at all in the novel. Kara’s situation is complicated by the politics of adoption and identity. In her journey to a resolution of where she will live, there are episodes in an orphanage and then later in a home in the United States. These are all deftly and clearly drawn, showing both the universal nature of family and love but also the differences in cultures.
Radiant verse and a very strong young protagonist make this verse novel a treat to read. The unusual subject matter of an older orphan from China makes it a unique read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books.
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
Released March 24, 2015.
This fourth book in the fabulous Penderwicks series is sure to please longtime fans and inspire new ones. While the Penderwick family is still the center of the story, the focus this time has moved to Batty and Ben rather than the older Penderwick girls. Batty continues to play the piano, loving music passionately. She has also just discovered that she has a noteworthy singing voice thanks to a new music teacher at school. So she has to find a way to make money for singing lessons, since the family needs a new car and to put the Rosalind, Jane and Skye through college. Batty starts a neighborhood business that offers services like dusting and digging up rocks, specifically a Ben job. But the only jobs she gets offered are to dog walk, something that she really doesn’t want to do because it seems very disloyal to Hound, who died recently. Batty has big plans to unveil her singing to her family, but her planning goes seriously awry as Skye starts to push Jeffrey away from both herself and the Penderwick family.
Returning to the Penderwicks is such a treat. The new focus on the younger members of the family makes me hope that there will be more such treats to come too. Birdsall writes with a such a feel for characters. They all shine through, each unique and distinct from one another. Batty is the same person as that small child that we all fell for in the first novel and so are all of the family members. Adding a new family member in little Lydia is also a treat and she is just as special and wonderful as the others.
Birdsall’s writing pays homage to so many great writers, feeling both modern and vintage at the same time. Her writing is funny, wry and immensely comfortable. It’s a joyous mix of stories, chaos and noise. It is the pleasure of old friends and new adventures that you get to share. The springtime setting is beautifully conveyed and suits the story perfectly as Batty starts to unfold herself into something new along with the trees and flowers.
If you have read the previous books, this one is another delight. If not, what are you waiting for? Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Knopf.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
This nonfiction picture book tells of a history that will surprise modern American children. It is the story of love and one family that was brave enough to stand up to a racist law. Mildred and Richard Loving fell in love in the small town of Central Point, Virginia. They had different colored skin and so they were not allowed to get legally married in Virginia. So they crossed state lines into Washington, DC and got married there. When they returned to Virginia though, they were arrested for violating the state law against interracial marriage. The two moved to Washington DC and raised their children there. Things started to change in the 1960s and the Lovings took their case all the way to the Supreme Court to win the right to marry one another in the state of Virginia.
This book is strikingly beautiful with a rich warmth that flows directly from the story and art. The author and illustrator are a husband wife team who are also interracial. Their passion for this subject shines on the page. Alko explains that subject matter with a vibrancy, offering information on the laws in a way that is suitable for small children. The drama of the arrest is also clearly captured, exposing the ludicrous law to today’s perspective.
The art of the book was done by both Qualls and Alko. Their styles marry into a beautiful richness that fills the pages. They are filled will playful hearts and flowers that add a lighter note to the images. At the same time they have detailed paintings filled with texture and power at their center. The combination of both has created a stunning beauty of collage and painting.
An important piece of our civil rights history as a nation, this picture book documents one family willing to take up the fight for themselves and others. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.