Here is the first trailer for the upcoming Ender’s Game movie. It comes out in November 2013. Enjoy!
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The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley
In East Turkestan, Mehrigul’s beloved brother has left the family and now her father is always angry and her mother has taken to bed. Mehrigul is forced to leave school and help out on the family farm. She also works the family market stall which is where her vine basket, created in the form of a cone rather than a more useful shape, is spotted by an American woman who offers to buy it for a very high sum. But her father just drinks and wagers away the money, leaving the family still on the brink of ruin. There are political pressures too with the Chinese pushing the Uyghur people to conform. If Mehrigul does not return to school, she could be sent to work in a Chinese factory. But there is one ray of hope and that is that the American woman asked for more baskets. It will take time and determination for Mehrigul to complete the baskets for her, especially once her father forbids her to do it.
I seriously could not believe this was a debut book. La Valley writes with such assurance and skill, building a world that makes sense to those unfamiliar with the Uyghur and East Turkestan. She also neatly explains very complicated politics in a way that children will understand thanks to the perspective of Mehrigul and her family. La Valley does not shy away from the difficult family situation she has created, clearly creating a world where there are no real villains just adults dealing with impossible situations.
Yet there are heroes. They come in the form of more than the American buyer too. Mehrigul’s grandfather is one of these, as he works impossibly hard and still supports her dreams and skills with baskets. Mehrigul herself is certainly a heroine as well, creating beauty with an incredible humility, taking on tasks far beyond someone as young as she is, and holding her family together.
La Valley never forgets to instill beauty into the world she is telling us about. We learn about the Uyghur rugs, music and art. We learn about the beauty of the desert, the sting of the sand, the wonder of the sudden rain, and the treasures of true friendship and family. It is in this mix of destitution and beauty that this book truly shines. It is a book that enters the very heart of the reader and takes up residence. Beautiful, haunting, cruel and wondrous, this is one amazing read. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley.
Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis
This third in the Kat, Incorrigible series continues the magical story of Kat who continues to romp through the social rules of the Regency-era with reckless abandon. In this book, she is attending the wedding of her sister Angeline or at least she hopes that it will turn out that way. But someone seems to be trying to kill her, cutting the axle of their carriage. She has spotted someone lingering in the shadows, watching her, but has yet to figure out what she has done to anger them. Kat is due to be initiated into the Order of the Guardians finally but that is delayed when it is discovered that their collection of spare portals has been stolen. Then there is the woman who looks disturbingly like Kat’s dead mother who is also attending the wedding and the fact that Kat’s brother Charles has chosen a very bad time to finally wake up and become responsible. It all makes for another delight of a novel in this charming series.
Burgis has created a heroine in Kat who is dynamic, ignores the social niceties of the day, and manages to get into all sorts of trouble, both magical and normal. Through it all, she finds herself in incredible scrapes and adventures, that are great fun to go along on. The writing is light handed, clear and makes for a rollicking read that is easy to read greedily and almost impossible to read slowly.
I see that this is said to be the conclusion of the series, though I admit that I hope for more about Kat. I want to see what happens when she actually enters the Guardians, what happens to the hint of romance in the air, and what scrapes she gets into next.
A grand ending to a great trilogy, this series is perfect to hand to both fans of fantasy and fans of historical fiction since it is a wonderful sweet concoction of both genres. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.
The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Over 100 years ago in Paris, there was a postman named Lalouche who thanks to his job delivering the mail was nimble, strong and fast. He lived a quiet life with just his pet finch and a view of the Seine River. When his job was replaced with an electric car, he was forced to turn to boxing to support himself. At first, he was laughed at because he was so small and slight, but once he got in the ring, he proved that those same postal service skills made him a great boxer. Soon he was pitted against The Anaconda in a major fight. What happens when Lalouche finally meets a boxer just as strong, nimble and fast as himself?
This is going to be one gushing review, since I complete adore this picture book. Olshan’s writing strikes just the right balance between history and humor. His text is completely readable and ideal to read aloud to a group. The names of the wrestlers are delightful: The Piston, The Anaconda, The Grecque. The story is satisfying and complete, one of those picture books that is all about the tale it is telling, much to its credit.
Blackall is the ideal illustrator for this quirky French picture book. She plays with proportions and size here, creating wrestlers that dwarf the little Lalouche. Her cut paper illustrations have a great dimension to them, the layers of paper creating shadows and depth. I love the warmth of the world she creates in her version of Paris, everything faded, watermarked and somehow familiar.
Highly recommended, this picture book would make a stellar pick to read aloud to elementary classes thanks to its boxing, action and humor. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House.
Rainbow Stew by Cathryn Falwell
Released on June 15, 2013.
Three children scramble out of bed at their grandpa’s house to a rainy day. But they don’t want to stay inside, so Grandpa sends them outside to find colors to add to his Rainbow Stew. They splash their way into the garden and look under the wet green leaves to find what colors are hidden beneath. They find all sorts of green vegetables like beans, spinach, and cucumbers, some rosy radishes, some purple cabbage, yellow peppers, red tomatoes and brown potatoes. Soon their basket is full and the three children are muddy and happy. They all head inside to cook the stew together, each child helping in their own way. Then there is quiet time inside as the stew cooks, until finally they can all enjoy Rainbow Stew!
Falwell merrily combines a love of gardening and a willingness to get muddy in this book. She uses quick rhymes that add a bouncy feel to the book, maintaining that sense of joy that is everywhere in this book. I am particularly pleased to see a book with a grandfather taking expert care of grandchildren in this book.
The illustrations are filled with falling rain, but also small faces turned up into it and knees plunked down into the mud. The completely African-American family is also great to see in a picture book that easily integrates into rain or gardening or color units and story times.
Ripe and ready to be picked, this is a great choice for sharing aloud in spring or fall. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Lee & Low Books via NetGalley.
A Special Gift for Grammy by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Hunter collected a big pile of stones and put them on his grandmother’s porch. When his father and grandmother ask him what she is meant to do with them, Hunter replied, “What everyone does with a pile of stones.” Hunter turned out to be right. Everyone who saw the stack of stones knew just how to use one or more of them. The postal carrier used one to weigh down the mail on a breezy day. Workmen used them as hammers or weights. They are used to stop wheels from rolling and show people what way to turn. When Hunter returned only six little stones were left. But this time it’s Grammy who knows just what to do with them.
I have one big issue with this book: the title. It does very little to convey the charm that is inside this book. I love the idea of a pile of stones that everyone borrows from and uses. Then the end of the book is intensely satisfying. I must admit though that with the uninteresting title, I almost passed on this book, expecting it to be a book about the death of a grandparent or a saccharine poem about familial love. Instead it is a well-designed look at community, family and connections. I’d much rather have had the title reference the stone pile or stones or rocks.
The illustrations are done in collage, acrylic and pencil. They have gorgeous deep colors, combined with lots of texture from the collage. The collage is done in such a subtle way that it is almost invisible, just adding a level of texture and pattern to the paintings.
This book truly is a special gift, but one that could use a new title. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins Publishers.
Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
The author/illustrator team that brought you the bestselling Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site returns with another gorgeous transportation-themed bedtime book. The cheerful rhyme invites children to explore the different types of train cars and what sorts of items are stowed in each one. This is done by a monkey crew who move monkey bars into the boxcars with tumbling moves and lots of bananas. The hopper car is filled with bouncy balls by kangaroos and a helpful giraffe. Elephants squirt paints into tankers with their trunks, each train car a different color. The cold reefer car holds ice cream treats as well as polar bears and penguins. Gondolas are filled with sand, beach balls and toys. The autorack has lots of fast racecars. The well cars have dinosaurs and their lunches. Finally there are the flatbeds made into beds and the red caboose, the train heads off to a new day.
First let me comment on the endpages which are done in train engineer cloth pattern and really invite young train enthusiasts to read on. The book has that wonderful rhyme that is playful and youthful, dancing along merrily to the beat. That sense of play is evident throughout the book, as the different animals load the train with things that will interest very young readers. All of it has a silly tone that makes it great fun to read.
Lichtenheld’s illustrations add to that silliness with small touches that are such fun to discover. Done in a soft yet rich style, the illustrations invite you to dream along with the book. Their deep color captures the nighttime setting while the softness will have little heads snuggling in close.
A worthy companion to the first book, get this into the hands of little engineers and fans of Thomas the Tank Engine. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis
Somehow I lost track of this wonderful magical series, so I’m a little late in reading the last two books. This is the second in the series, following Kat, Incorrigible. Kat’s oldest sister is wed at the beginning of this book, but not before her wedding is disrupted by the angry mother of another sister’s suitor. Once again Kat’s feud with Lady Fotherington has caused catastrophe. When Kat confronts Lady Fotherington about what she has done, she goes too far and loses her right to learn how to use her Guardian magic. Soon after the wedding, the suitor has reluctantly left and the family heads to Bath to escape the scandal for a time. Little do they know, but they are heading directly into a huge magical situation where Kat will be unable to avoid the Guardians.
Burgis weaves actual history into her story of Bath which adds a fine solid foundation to a story that is frothy with fun and sparkling with magic. Perhaps the best part of this book is the frumpery and finery of the upper class, making sure they are seen in the proper way and fretting about the smallest things. Through it all, Kat is a fierce heroine, determined to regain her right to learn Guardian magic and do what is best for her family.
A strong second book in a delight of a series, this book has a strong ending that sets readers up nicely for the final book in the series. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.