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west of the moon

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

Astri lives with her stepmother, stepsisters and younger sister until she is sold to the cruel goat farmer.  He takes her to his home, refuses to ever let her bathe, has her do drudge work, and doesn’t let her ever return to see her sister.  Then Astri discovers another girl kept locked in a storage shed, who spins wool into yarn all day long.  Astri escapes the goat farmer, taking his book of spells and his troll treasure.  She heads off with the other girl to find her younger sister and then all three flee, heading to find their father in America.  But it is a long trip to get to the sea and an even longer trip from Norway to America.  Along the way, the goatman continues to pursue them, they meet both friendly faces and cruel, and the story dances along the well-traveled roads of folk tales.  Astri slowly pieces together her own story and then resolutely builds herself a new one with her sister by her side.

An incredible weaving of the gold of folktales with the wool of everyday life, this book is completely riveting.  Preus has created a story where there are complicated villains, where dreams are folktales and folktales build dreams, where girls have power and courage, and where both evil and kindness come in many forms.  It is a book that is worth lingering over, a place worth staying in from awhile, and a book that you never want to end.

Astri is a superb character.  Armed with no education but plenty of guts and decisiveness, she fights back against those who would keep her down and separate her from her sister.  As the story progresses and she escapes, she becomes all the more daring and free spirited.  Her transformation is both breathtaking and honest.  One roots for Astri throughout the story, fights alongside her and like Astri wills things to happen. 

A wondrously successful and magical story that is interwoven with folktales, this book is a delight.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

It’s National Library Week this week and ALA has released their annual list of the most challenged books of last year.  As always, the list is filled with books for children and teens, though And Tango Makes Three is not on the list this year!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl Bless Me, Ultima

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone

Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

The Bluest Eye Bone Complete Set, Volumes 1 9: Out From Boneville, The Great Cow Race, Eyes Of The Storm, The Dragonslayer, Rock Jaw, Old Man's Cave, Ghost Circles, Treasure Hunters, And Crown Of Horns The Adventures of Captain Underpants (Captain Underpants, #1)

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Bone (series) by Jeff Smith

Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1) The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James

The Hunger Games by  Suzanne Collins

Looking for Alaska The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Looking for Alaska by John Green

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

nightingales nest

Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin

Based on a story from Hans Christian Andersen, this book takes “The Nightingale” and turns it into magical realism.  Little John’s family is in turmoil.  His little sister died jumping out of a tree, his mother can’t deal with the loss and often forgets that her daughter died, and his father is struggling to make enough money to keep them from being evicted.  So Little John has to help his father take down trees to make money.  It is at Mr. King’s home that Little John first meets Gayle, a young foster child whose singing voice seems to heal people and who has built a nest high in one of the trees.  Then Mr. King decides that he has to record Gayle’s voice and hires Little John to bring her to him within a week.  Little John doesn’t want to, so Mr. King resorts to blackmail and money to get him to do it.  This story explores responsibility, betrayal, and loss in a poignant and beautiful way.

Loftin’s writing is exquisite and simple.  She has taken an old tale and breathed freshness and vibrancy into it.  Her setting is tightly woven, just the scope of Little John’s own summer days.  It makes the focus very close, intensifying the choices that Little John is forced to make.  More than most books for tweens, this one truly asks a character to face an impossible decision and then shows what happens afterwards and how that decision has repercussions for many people. 

Little John is a great male protagonist.  He is pure boy, resentful of the situation his family is in but also bound to them by love and blood.  At the same time, he is a gentle soul, worried about Gayle and the circumstances she is living in.  The only character who stretches believability is Mr. King who reads like a stereotypical villain, but he is the only character without nuance. 

Magical and beautiful, this is perfect for discussion in a classroom, this book begs to be talked about thanks to its complexity.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are pretty cool:

List of 1960s children's book.  Have you read these classics? Click through for the entire list.

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

HarperCollins to publish new Paddington Bear book | The Bookseller http://buff.ly/1lIIwCx #kidlit

Illustrator Becomes First Latin American to Win Highest Children’s Lit Honor | Vocativ http://bit.ly/1e8wVgh #kidlit

Should celebrities stop writing children’s books? | Comment is free | The Observer http://bit.ly/1g0ORV4 #kidlit

PUBLISHING

Tom Weldon: ‘Some say publishing is in trouble. They are completely wrong’ | The Observer http://bit.ly/1g0P8r5 #books #publishing

READING

Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say – The Washington Post http://buff.ly/1qkngTN #reading

TECHNOLOGY

Science says using social media makes you depressed | Science http://buff.ly/1lKcUfL (Yes, I’m sharing it on social media. Enjoy the irony!)

Search Engine DuckDuckGo Is Taking On Google By Doing The One Thing They Won’t Do – Business Insider http://bit.ly/OkOBbZ

YA LIT

8 Great YA Novels Featuring South Asian Protagonists :: Paste http://bit.ly/1g0Pqyl #yalit

15 years of SPEAK: An Interview with Laurie Halse Anderson | BOOK RIOT http://buff.ly/PM31mE #yalit

Ann Brashares talks dystopia and her new YA novel ‘The Here and Now’ http://buff.ly/1koonV3 #yalit

Hunger Games to Divergent: Get ready for the next teen revolution | Mail Online http://bit.ly/1e8td6j #yalit

Idaho school district bans award-winning book for being racy, racist and anti-Jesus http://bit.ly/1g0Pk9W #censorship #yalit

jacobs new dress

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case

At school, Jacob loves to dress up as the princess during play time.  Christopher though doesn’t approve of Jacob wearing girl clothes even to pretend.  Jacob’s teacher steps in and explains that you can imagine being anything you like.  At home, Jacob tells his mother about what Christopher said and she says that he is welcome to get out the dress he wore for Halloween and play in that.  Jacob loves the witch dress and wants to wear it to school, but Jacob’s mother doesn’t think that’s a good idea.  So Jacob creates his own dress from a towel that he wears to school, but Christopher pulls it off at recess and teases Jacob about wearing it.  Back at home, Jacob asks his mother to make him a real dress to wear.  She is reluctant, but agrees, and then Jacob has a new dress that is all his own to wear whenever he wants.

The authors take the issue of gender variance head on in this picture book, keeping it firmly at a level that children will understand.  The focus is on Jacob’s desire to wear a dress, not the complexities of what that may mean to label him in any way.  That makes this a book that is about inclusiveness and bullying as well as addressing the need for children who have gender differences to see themselves in a book.

I also appreciate the way the authors included not just Jacob’s emotions about asking for a dress from his mother, but also her own complex reaction to it.  While the entire exchange was positive and supportive, the pauses placed in the text spoke volumes about the emotions happening at the same time.

Case’s art is colorful and cute.  The characters clearly show their emotions on their faces.  The various dresses that Jacob wears are cleverly depicted.  The lace on his final dress is clear but so are the dirty spots from playing in it. 

An important book for libraries to have, this book will speak to children exploring their own gender roles and would make a great addition to diversity units.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Children’s Book Council of Australia has announced the short lists for their Book of the Year Awards.  There are five categories in the awards and the council also announces notables each year.  Here are the short lists:

OLDER READERS

Fairytales for Wilde Girls The First Third The Incredible Here and Now

Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near

The First Third by Will Kostakis

The Incredible Here and Now by Felicity Castagna

16119664 The Sky So Heavy Wildlife

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn

Wildlife by Fiona Wood

 

YOUNGER READERS

A Very Unusual Pursuit (City of Orphans, #1) Light Horse Boy My Life as an Alphabet

City of Orphans: A Very Unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks (In US, published as How to Catch a Bogle)

Light Horse Boy by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds

My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg (In US, published as The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee)

Song for a Scarlet Runner Violet Mackerel's Possible Friend

Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt

Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend by Anna Branford, illustrated by Sarah Davis

 

EARLY CHILDHOOD

Baby Bedtime 18751291

Baby Bedtime by Mem Fox, illustrated by Emma Quay

Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Granny Grommet and Me I'm a Dirty Dinosaur

Granny Grommet and Me by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Karen Blair

I’m a Dirty Dinosaur by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Ann James

19320490 The Swap

Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester

The Swap by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Andrew Joyner

 

PICTURE BOOK (Illustrations)

King Pig Parachute

King Pig by Nick Bland

Parachute by Matt Ottley, text by Danny Parker

Rules of Summer The Silver Button

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan

The Silver Button by Bob Graham

The Treasure Box the-windy-farm

The Treasure Box by Freya Blackwood, text by Margaret Wild

The Windy Farm by Craig Smith, text by Doug MacLeod

 

EVE POWNALL AWARD FOR INFORMATION BOOKS

Ice, Wind, Rock : Douglas Mawson in the Antarctic - Peter Gouldthorpe Jandamarra 

Ice, Wind, Rock by Peter Gouldthorpe

Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Terry Denton

Jeremy 17674558

Jeremy by Christopher Faille, illustrated by Danny Snell

Meet Captain Cook by Rae Murdie, illustrated by Chris Nixon

Welcome to My Country Yoko's Diary

Welcome to My Country by Laklak Burarrwanga and Family

Yoko’s Diary: The Life of a Young Girl in Hiroshima during WWII edited by Paul Ham

thomas jefferson

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

The author of Looking at Lincoln takes on Thomas Jefferson in her newest picture book biography.  The focus in this biography is on the wide range of Jefferson’s interests and how he truly was a Renaissance man.  Monticello, the house Jefferson designed and built, serves as a fine background to his interests since the home itself was ever changing and also housed many of his interests as well.  The book looks at fascinating small details like the design of Jefferson’s bed, the extensive vegetable gardens, and his hours spent practicing music.  After fully exploring Jefferson personally, the book turns to the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson becoming the third President of the United States.  Then the book also explores the fact that Jefferson had slaves and fathered children with one of them, Sally Henning.  This is a complex and thorough look at a man who was brilliant in so many ways but troubled as well.

Kalman writes biographies with her own opinions right on the page.  So when she addresses the slave issue, she speaks of “our hearts are broken” and then speaks to how tragic it is that Jefferson’s children who could pass as white had to hide who they really were.  This adds a personality to the book, making it far richer than simple facts would.  It will assure young readers that it is good for them to have opinions about history and to express them too.

As always, it is Kalman’s art that sets this book apart.  Her illustrations range from more serious portraits of the historical figures to eye-popping bright colors in the vegetable gardens where paths are pink next to the bright green of the grass.  It is all entirely rich and joyful.

Another dynamic and unique biography from Kalman, this book belongs in every public library serving children.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.

The finalists for the New Zealand Children and Young Adult Book Awards have been announced.  The entries were narrowed from a field of 120 down to five finalists in each of four categories.  Here are the finalists:

PICTURE BOOKS

 boats

The Boring Book by Vasanti Unka

Machines and Me: Boats by Catherine Foreman

  Snail-book-plus-spread-

The Three Bears…Sort Of by Yvonne Morrison & Donovan Bixley

Toucan Can by Juliette MacIver & Sarah Davis

Watch Out, Snail! by Gay Hay & Margaret Tolland

 

NONFICTION

 Anzac Day:the New Zealand story The Beginner's Guide to Hunting and Fishing in New Zealand, Paul Adamson “An Extraordinary Land” – Discoveries and Mysteries From Wild New Zealand.  An evening with Peter Hayden and Rod Morris

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry

The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting & Fishing in New Zealand by Paul Adamson

An Extraordinary Land by Peter Hayden & Rod Morris

Flight of the Honey Bee 

Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber & Brian Lovelock

Wearable Wonders by Fifi Colston

 

JUNIOR FICTION

Dunger Felix and the Red Rats cv_project_huia

Dunger by Joy Cowley

Felix and the Red Rats by James Norcliffe

Project Huia by Des Hunt

The Princess and the Foal A Winter's Day in 1939

The Princess and the Foal by Stacy Gregg

A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik

 

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Bugs Mortal Fire A Necklace of Souls

Bugs by Whiti Hereaka

Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox

A Necklace of Souls by R L Stedman

Speed Freak When We Wake (When We Wake, #1)

Speed Freak by Fleur Beale

When We Wake by Karen Healey

scraps

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert

This nonfiction picture book allows readers a glimpse into Ehlert’s creative process as well as her personal history.  The book begins with a very young Ehlert and how she was raised by parents who enjoyed making things with their hands.  She even had her own art space in the house.  After art school, she worked on her own art in the evenings and in an art studio by day.  She wasn’t creating books right away, but when she started she found inspiration right in her own life.  At this point, the book focuses on Ehlert’s previous work and the process she uses to create her beloved books.  This is a colorful and delightful visit to an artist’s studio.

Ehlert approaches this biographical book just as she does her fictional picture books.  The pages are scattered with scraps, cut out objects, designs from her previous work, and photographs from her past.  The result is a book that shines with her own personal style and energy.  This could be no one else’s studio and no one else’s art.  Ehlert invites young readers not only to explore her own history and approach to art, but also to seek out their own and create things themselves. 

Bright, beautifully messy, and wonderfully creative, this book will be inspiring to young artists and authors.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane.

eleanor-and-park-01.jpg

Whoa, somehow I missed that Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell is going to be made into a movie.  DreamWorks studio has picked up the rights to the book and Rowell will be writing the screenplay.  That alone makes me entirely ecstatic because it will mean that it stays true to the book.

But most importantly, these are two real-life teen characters being brought to the screen.  Eleanor is not from the worlds of Hunger Games or Divergent.  She’s real and honest and flawed and gorgeous.  Let’s hope that casting keeps her that way.  Park too of course, but it will be Eleanor who truly breaks the stereotype of what a beautiful teen girl is. 

Here’s to creating a teen movie that will change lives!

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