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100 sideways miles

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Finn is epileptic with seizures that he can’t control.  He’s actually not sure he’d want to anyway, because his seizures are beautiful experiences, even though he pees himself during them.  Finn also has eyes that are different colors.  But those are not the wildest things about Finn.  Finn’s mother was killed in the same freak accident that left him with epilepsy, a dead horse fell from a knackery truck passing on a bridge overhead and struck them both.  Perhaps even wilder though is Finn’s best friend Cade, who is almost certainly insane but also staggeringly funny.  Finn has a theory about his life.  His father wrote a book that has a character with many of the same characteristics as Finn who happened to be a murdering alien.  Perhaps Finn is caught in that book, or maybe the entire world is just a knackery truck.  Then Julia enters Finn’s life and he is suddenly shown that there is much more to life or the knackery than he had ever realized. 

Smith has written several acclaimed novels and this one is by far my favorite.  He writes with a solid honesty, with teen characters who swear, who have sex, who talk about sex, who love and lust.  The book is filled with humor, even the scene where Finn and Cade are accidental heroes is filled with slapstick moments mixed with profound courage.  That is the way this book plays, it is humorous but also exceptionally though provoking.

Finn is a deeply flawed character who sees the world in a unique and strange way.  He measures time in terms of distance, something that is unsettling at first but then becomes almost a natural way to view time by the end of the book.  There is also something wonderfully darkly humorous about a character in a book worrying that he is a character in another book.  The novel has layers upon layers and invites readers to look deeply into the story and to find their own way through the knackery of life.

A great teen novel, one of the best of the year, get this into the hands of teens who will enjoy the humor, understand the depth and not be offended by the strong language.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

twins little sister

The Twins’ Little Sister by Hyewon Yum

This follow-up to The Twins’ Blanket features the same twin girls.  The book is told from their shared perspective.  In this book, the issue is that there are two of them, but they only have one mother that they have to share.  During nap time, both girls want their mother to look at them, but she can only look in one direction at a time.  Being pushed on the swings is also a problem, since their mother can only push one of them at a time.  Now they have a little sister arriving soon too and there will be even more demand for their mother’s time.  When the baby arrives, the girls are not impressed.  They can no longer be in the big bed with their mother because the baby is there.  Their mother can’t push the swings at all anymore, because her arms are full.  Then the girls discover that they get lots of attention for helping with the baby.  Soon the girls are adoring big sisters, but there’s still one problem, they need another little sister so they don’t have to share!

This is a clever twist on sibling rivalry that shows the closeness and competitive nature of being sisters and twins.  It is particularly good to see that the rivalry existed before the younger sibling arrived and that it was just another factor in the family dynamic.  The voice of the two girls together is clear and bright, they are strong-willed little girls but that is not a bad thing.  I appreciate a book that shows children being less than perfect on the page. 

Yum’s illustrations are done in pencil, watercolor and cut paper.  The girls are distinguished by their dresses and barrettes but are otherwise identical.  Emotions are clear on their faces, their eyes shining with feelings above their rosy cheeks. 

A great choice for new siblings, this picture book shows human children grappling with being siblings and sharing.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

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

Picture Books for Little Inventors and Engineers

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

10 Perfect Read Alouds for 5th Grade http://www.pragmaticmom.com/2014/10/10-perfect-read-alouds-5th-grade/ … via @PragmaticMom

And…. GO! 2014 Cybils Nominations are OPEN | Cybils Awards http://buff.ly/1rTrEhd #kidlit #yalit

A Book That Cuts To The Core Of Human Experience – The Giver | Off The Shelf | http://buff.ly/ZoQjPg #kidlit

The cost of Calvin: How much damage did one six-year-old cause? | News http://buff.ly/1oUgfcd #comics

Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers to Create a Sequel For ‘The Day The Crayons Quit’ – GalleyCat http://buff.ly/1n0fgLR #kidlit

Eerie places – The Horn Book http://buff.ly/1s5kQNP #kidlit

Fall Fun: Great Books About Autumn | School Library Journal http://buff.ly/ZfWIMs #kidlit

J.K. Rowling Hints at Harry Potter’s Possible Return in ‘Fantastical Beasts’ http://buff.ly/1oOdTeV #kidlit

John Dougherty’s top 10 fictional badgers | Children’s books http://buff.ly/1ycO0Oo #kidlit

Jon Klassen fills a bookshop window full of dirt – video | Guardian http://buff.ly/1oMSLFS #kidlit

The Paddington Trail Will Open in London – GalleyCat http://buff.ly/1rSpm1F #kidlit

‘Reading Rainbow’ Host Debuts New Children’s Book and Announces the Show’s Online Return – ABC News http://buff.ly/1BXIyMH #kidlit

Three Million First Printing for Riordan’s Finale http://buff.ly/1vAH6xL #kidlit

Travis Jonker’s Five to Follow on Twitter | School Library Journal http://buff.ly/1yJRpp7 #kidlit #twitter

Wimpy Kid Series to Hit 150M in Print http://buff.ly/1qpdq2l #kidlit

EBOOKS

Adobe Digital Editions 3 Probably Safe From Adobe’s Spying, Experts Say – The Digital Reader http://buff.ly/1sagx3R #privacy #ebooks

Adobe software may be snooping through your hard drive right now | Apps and Software http://buff.ly/1oNMIRp #privacy #ebooks

Pattern Recognition » Blog Archive » Adobe Digital Editions and infoleaks http://buff.ly/1si4ane #ebooks #libraries

Print Books Outsold Ebooks In First Half Of 2014 http://buff.ly/1BWBsIu #ebooks

Not Your Mother's Library -  Columbus, OH

LIBRARIES

Librarians React to Pew Study on Willingness to Disagree on Social Media http://buff.ly/1rSpLkH #libraries #socialmedia

Milwaukee Public Library Introduces Book Vending Kiosk | Wisconsin Public Radio http://buff.ly/1s294TO #libraries

Photos: Southwest Madison’s Meadowridge Library opens in new space : Ct http://buff.ly/1yHZRVP #libraries

PRIVACY

Protecting Privacy In The Digital Age: Mikko Hyppönen Answers Your Questions : NPR http://buff.ly/1yHALpV #privacy

READING

How Videogames Like Minecraft Actually Help Kids Learn to Read | WIRED http://buff.ly/1oUeXOg #reading #gaming #literacy #minecraft

Will Self and the Plight of the Pearl-Clutching "Serious" Reader – BOOK RIOT http://buff.ly/1xhgS4K #reading

Will Self: ‘The fate of our literary culture is sealed’ | Books | The Guardian http://buff.ly/1yHelFp #reading

TEEN READS

3 On A YA Theme: If You Love Watching Supernatural – BOOK RIOT http://buff.ly/1skpvLM #yalit

Candlewick to Publish New Kate DiCamillo Novel in Spring 2016 http://buff.ly/1rXOnHo #kidlit

Four Questions for Garth Nix http://buff.ly/1EvRey5 #yalit

Julia Donaldson: ‘Don’t push books on teens, they’ll come back later’ – The Independent http://buff.ly/1s4gFSh #yalit

Marcus Sedgwick: where I write | Children’s books http://buff.ly/1s954RX #yalit

Meg Wolitzer On Writing And Reading Young Adult Novels http://buff.ly/1n9J3lj #yalit

.@SaraFarizan talks about her new book, a light-hearted YA lesbian romantic comedy http://tmblr.co/ZX8F1t1SkkvrX

Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014: How Multicultural Is Your Multiverse? http://buff.ly/1vHJeno #diversity #yalit

Why adults are buzzing about YA literature | PBS NewsHour http://buff.ly/1s10fd5 #yalit

YA supernatural baddies – The Horn Book http://buff.ly/1BJrxWr #yalit

monster book

Monster Book by Alice Hoogstad

This wordless book shows the power of art for a whole community.  In a black-and-white town that looks like a coloring book with black outlines, a little girl picks up a red crayon and starts drawing a heart on a wall.  Soon she moves on to creating a monster on the road and her dog picks up her heart drawing and runs after her.  The orange monster comes to life and the girl quickly moves on to another creature.  One after another, she draws them and they come to life.  The rest of the town looks on with amused expressions and no alarm even as monsters dance in the streets.  Soon the monsters have crayons too and are coloring the buildings and people.  This though is too much and the townsfolk order them to leave town and the children start to clean up the walls back to white again.  Rain falls and washes all of the color away, or does it?

This is a picture book that celebrates public art and then turns whimsical and magical as the creatures come to life.  Despite their fearsome appearance, they are friendly and silly rather than mean.  The art is quite unique with its color-book feel and then the colors being drawn in.  There is a radiant quality to the colors that are used and the loose and generous way the colors are applied invites children to be even more creative when they color too.

While this could encourage children to color on white walls, this book is much more likely to end up in a family coloring together appropriately and creatively.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Lemniscaat and Myrick Marketing.

shh we have a plan

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton

The author of Little Owl Lost returns with another great picture book in his signature style.  In this book, four people head into the forest with nets at night.  There, they find a gorgeous red bird.  The littlest of them calls out “hello, birdie” but the others shush him and declare that they have a plan and show the cage they are holding.  They slowly tiptoe up to the bird, count off and jump!  But the bird flies up into a tree.  No worries, they have another plan.  And when that fails, another and another.  Finally, the smallest of them comes up with a plan that just might work, or maybe not.

This book is a stupendous read aloud.  The chipper, bright voice of the littlest of them, the hushed shushing from the others, the counting off and finally the shout of GO!  This happens again and again and will keep even the wiggliest of children paying close attention.  Even better, the little one is the one who figures things out and presents a solution.  Add at the end a wonderful twist to continue the story, and you have an outstanding picture book for sharing.

Haughton’s illustrations are created digitally but have the feel and texture of cut paper.  He uses beautifully deep blues throughout the nighttime story and then the bright red of the bird pops.  It also helps that the bird seems to live in its own beam of light, one that follows it as it escapes again and again.  It’s a clever use of stage lighting in a picture book.

A top pick for sharing aloud, this picture book is a dazzling dark delight.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Egypt Game (Game, #1) The Headless Cupid (Stanley Family, #1)

Author Zilpha Keatley Snyder has died at age 87, according to Publisher’s Weekly.  She won three Newbery Honors for her novels for middle graders. 

I love this quote from the Publisher’s Weekly article about her writing and her connection with middle graders:

By the early 1960s back in California, Snyder’s two children (a foster son would join the family a few years later) were in school and she found the time to begin writing in earnest. She carved out hours for writing while working around her teaching joband said in her autobiography that her time with her students “had given me a deep appreciation of the gifts and graces that are specific to individuals with 10 or 11 years of experience as human beings.” “It is, I think, a magical time – when so much has been learned, but not yet enough to entirely extinguish the magical reach and freedom of early childhood.”

tales of bunjitsu bunny

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

Isabel is the best at Bunjitsu in her school.  They call her Bunjitsu Bunny, but she knows to never use her martial arts skills to hurt anyone, unless she has to.  This easy reader features a series of short stories about her Buntjitsu skills and how she uses them throughout the day.  Isabel figures out before anyone else in her class how to get into the school when the door is locked.  She outwits pirates who want to steal from her.  She races a tortoise in a fresh take on the Tortoise and the Hare story.  In one story after the other, Isabel shows her poise, her intelligence and her sense of honor. 

This book for the early chapter book reader will appeal on many fronts.  First of course is the martial arts aspect, though those looking for flying fists and fighting will find something very different here.  Inside the covers is a unique mix of Eastern philosophy and problem solving that is presented at a level that children will understand. 

Himmelman’s illustrations offer just the right amount of break for young readers, so that they will not be put off by the amount of text.  The fonts are equally welcoming with their large size.  The illustrations are done in black, white and red.  They are welcoming and cartoony, created often with just a few lines that carry plenty of action and humor.

A unique and fascinating chapter book for new readers, this is a wonderful mix of girl power, martial arts and restraint.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

hunters of the great forest

Hunters of the Great Forest by Dennis Nolan

Released October 28, 2014

This wordless picture book is the story of a group of hunters who head out from their small village one day and into the forest.  Bringing only a handful of items with them, the group must face large rocks, mountains and enormous trees.  It quickly becomes apparent that the hunters are tiny people as they are forced to run from buzzing dragonflies and then from a hungry toad.  After escaping those creatures, the hunters must then flee from a bird and a chipmunk.  Sneaking out later from their hiding place, the hunters discover a girl sitting by a campfire roasting marshmallows.  But even though they have food to bring back to their village, the dangers are not over for our intrepid group of hunters.

Wonderfully detailed pictures make this a spectacular picture book to share.  The journey of the hunters makes for a page-turning delight filled with dangers, mishaps and surprises.  If you pay close attention to the illustrations, some of the surprises can be predicted with clues about the next page.  For example, you can see the toad’s legs in the corner of the page before the toad is fully revealed after the page turn.  This makes for a book that reads as a continual stream of story, rather than individual images strung into a story.

I applaud Nolan for including plenty of little female hunters on the journey as well.  There are young and old little people too.  And even better, if you watch, it is not the women who need rescuing on the journey.  In fact, the older of the little women carries the spear the entire journey and seems ready to use it at times.

Join the hunters on their quest for the elusive marshmallows in this journey through a forest filled with dangers of all sorts.  It’s a jolly read that is sure to please.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

sweetest kulu

Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk, illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis

Kulu has just been born and is being welcomed by the world.  Kulu is Inuit and as the world comes to welcome the baby, traditional Inuit beliefs are shown in the story.  It is the Arctic summer, so the first to welcome Kulu is Smiling Sun, who stays bright all through the night.  The Wind arrives and teaches Kulu the importance of listening closely.  Then the animals start arriving.  These are not your normal animals, but ones that are specifically from the Arctic and of importance to the Inuit.  With each animal comes a blessing:  the Snow Bunting reminds Kulu to always believe in himself, Fox tells Kulu to get out of bed as soon as you wake and to help anyone who needs it.  The entire book sings with a connection to nature, to this specific region of the earth, and for the love of a baby.

Kalluk, who is an Inuit throat singer, has beautifully captured the values of her people in this picture book.  It is done so organically and naturally that many will not realize that this is more than a sweet picture book.  The fact that it also weaves in traditions and values of the Inuit makes the book all the more special and noteworthy.  Kalluk writes very lyrically, creating moments for each of the animals that are unique to them which keeps the book from becoming repetitious.

The illustrations have a lovely cartoon quality to them, one can almost see them leaping to life from the page.  The large animals dwarf little Kulu by their bulk, but the tenderness they all feel for this tiny baby shines on the page.  There is a respect between human and animal that is warm and tangible too.

A gorgeous and meaningful book welcoming a baby to the world, this picture book is unique and special.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from ARC received from Inhabit and Myrick Marketing.

and two boys booed

And Two Boys Booed by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

From the author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day comes a new book all about overcoming stage fright.  A boy is performing in a talent show and knows that he is ready to sing his song because he’s been practicing and practicing it.  Plus, he also has on his lucky blue books and his pants with lots of pockets.  He is very confident until the other five children start performing their acts.  Then his mood changes, even though he still says that is he fine.  The story uses repetition that mirrors the child’s internal dialogue about his lucky pants, the pockets, and how much he has practiced, adding another line about each child’s performance and it all leading up to his.  When his turn finally comes, he is almost unable to stand up, much alone sing and two boys boo him from the crowd.  But in a final burst of determination, the boy stands and his brain starts to make sense again, and he sings.  And two boys booed, but the rest of the children cheered!

Viorst takes a universal fear of both children and adults and turns it into a very engaging picture book.  I love the modern setting of the book paired with the timeless use of a story that repeats again and again, building through the story.  It matches the nerves that the boy is feeling and creates a wonderful tension as each new person gets up to perform.  Adding in the booing children is brilliant, because that is what most of us fear, the negative reaction of the crowd.  But in the book that happens, the boy faces it and continues his performance. 

Blackall’s illustrations clearly show the boy’s emotions even as he bravely continues to repeat to himself that it is all OK.  He looks directly at the reader, conveying his surprise at feeling nervous and pulling his striped shirt higher and higher in an attempt to hide.  Blackall has incorporated a lift-the-flap component into her illustrations allowing us to peek into the boy’s pocket and at the end of the book the effect is used to propel the entire story forward in a creative way.

A smart and very human picture book about performance, nervousness and overcoming it all.  This would be a perfect book to share with children about to do a show.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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