Tag Archive: friendships


wheres mommy

Where’s Mommy? by Beverly Donofrio, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Released March 11, 2014.

I am so pleased to see a follow-up story to Mary and the Mouse, The Mouse and Mary!  This new book focuses on the daughters of Mary and Mouse.  Maria is a little girl who has a mouse for a best friend named Mouse Mouse.  The two of them never reveal to anyone else that they know one another because otherwise the mice would either be driven off or have to move.  The two girls live parallel lives, getting ready for bed in the same way and both calling for their mothers at the same time.  But both mothers are nowhere to be found!  The search is on by both girl and mouse to figure out where their mothers have gone.  They both look all over their homes, check with their fathers, and ask their siblings.  Nothing.  Then they notice a light on in the shed and both head directly for it.  And if you read the first book, you will know exactly who they will find in the shed. 

Donofrio has written a clever parallel story that reveals the lives of two friends.  The upstairs downstairs aspect of the book has incredible appeal as does the wee details of mouse life.  There are little touches throughout the book that make the text charming and lovely.  Her pacing is also adept and keeps the entire book moving along and yet completely appropriate for bedtime reading. 

So much charm and style comes from the illustrations.  I particularly enjoy looking closely at the world of the mice created from borrowed items from the human home.  These little touches truly create a world under the floor that any reader would love to discover or live in themselves.  The illustrations are rich with color and details, worthy of lingering over when you aren’t quite ready for lights out.

Beautifully written and lovingly illustrated, this book is a suitable companion to the first.  They both stand alone fully on their own, but I’d think that anyone finding out there was another in the series would want to read them both, probably back to back.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC received from Schwartz & Wade.

five six seven nate

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

This sequel to the award-winning Better Nate Than Ever is one of the strongest second books in a series I have read.  After getting cast as ET in the upcoming ET: The Musical, Nate is now living in New York City with his aunt who is also an actress.  But Broadway isn’t everything that Nate has dreamed it would be.  There seems to be a feud between the video-game creator who is their director and the choreographer.  Nate is an understudy and a member of the chorus but he can’t tap dance and is put into extra classes to improve.  But there are also high points.  Nate has a secret admirer who leaves notes and gifts, and he certain he knows who it is.  Nate is also secretly helping another of the ET actors with her lines and they become close friends over manicures.  Like any great Broadway story there are twists and turns and some romance too.  It’s one hell of a second act.

Federle writes in a way that is so easy to read and creates books that are impossible to put down until the final curtain falls.  This ease of reading though is because he is really writing directly for children in a way that is open, honest and speaks to all children whether they are actors or not.  Add in Nate’s questioning his sexual identity and you have a book with plenty of depth.

What Federle does best is to create characters who surprise and delight.  Nate himself captures this.  Nate could come off as a stereotypical actor, but instead because the book is in first person, Nate reveals all of his inner dialogue.  Much of which is screamingly funny.  But Nate is not the only deep character here.  Even tertiary characters are interesting and offer glimpses of how unique they are.  Among the secondary characters, there are many who would make great books all on their own.  Federle is a master of creating characters and making us care for them.

Bravo!  This is a smash production filled with humor and delight.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

peek a book bunny

Peek-a-Boo Bunny by Holly Surplice

Bunny and his friends are playing their favorite game, Hide-and-Seek!  Bunny gets to seek first and all of his friends hide.  He counts to ten.  Then he bounces and rushes around, moving way too fast to notice the others hiding.  As Bunny races from one page to the next, another friend is revealed in their hiding place on each page, making it a real game of hide-and-seek for the reader.  Eventually, Bunny does slow down, but he still can’t find the hidden animals.  Bunny sits down under a tree, saddened by not finding any of his friends.  But don’t worry, they can find him!

A jolly picture book where the game is made real for the reader, Surplice infuses her book with humor but also with a gentleness toward Bunny too.  The story itself is simple and linear, offering space for the illustrations to carry the full story for the reader.

The illustrations are lovely.  They offer collages of cut paper grasses and flowers in a rainbow of colors that pop against the pastel backgrounds.  Bunny and his friends all pop out as well with their firm lines dark against the flowing colors of the forest. 

A sparkling spring pick, this book is great for preschoolers and toddlers.  I could see it making a great board book too.  Appropriate for ages 1-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

ghosts of tupelo landing

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

Return to the world of the Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky in this follow-up novel.  Mo and Dale continue to run their Desperado Detective Agency but the mysteries have gotten smaller.  Then an old inn goes up for sale and Miss Lana, Mo’s guardian, accidentally purchases it.  That’s when it is discovered that that inn comes with a resident ghost.  Now it is up to Dale and Mo to figure out why the ghost is haunting the inn, something they also manage to make into a homework assignment to do double duty.  But the mystery of the ghost is tied up in other secrets in Tupelo Landing, secrets that have been kept for decades but that must be revealed to solve this mystery.

Returning to Tupelo Landing was immediately like being reunited with friends.  There was catching up to do, but it was easy and warm right from the beginning.  Turnage’s writing is rich and layered.  She excels at descriptions, creating analogies that are surprising and constantly original.  Here in Mo’s voice is a description of Lavender, the boy she plans to marry eventually:

Lavender has eyes blue as October’s sky and hair like just-mown wheat.  He’s wiry and tall, and flows like a lullaby.

All of your favorite characters from the first book are back again.  There are the Colonel and Miss Lana, continuing to figure out their relationship while running a restaurants whose theme changes every night.  There is Grandmother Miss Lacy whose funding saves Miss Lana and the inn, but who may be dealing with secrets of her own.  There is even the scary Red Baker who may be closer to the ghost than anyone else.  There is even one complex new character who takes time to learn about because his secrets are held very close.  And then of course there are Mo and Dale, the two detectives at the heart of the story and who give the story its heart.

Funny, heartfelt and memorable, this sequel is just as good as the award-winning original.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Group.

paul meets bernadette

Paul Meets Bernadette by Rosy Lamb

Paul is a fish who just circles his bowl, over and over again in different patterns.  But his life changes when Bernadette joins him in his bowl.  She shows him the world beyond his bowl.  They can see boats, forests filled with colorful trees, a cactus, and even an elephant with babies.  Of course, what they are thinking they see isn’t really what is there.  The objects are far more mundane: bananas, flowers, a clock and a teapot and cups.  Paul’s entire world expanded and made room for the outside world but most especially for Bernadette.

Lamb’s book combines a gentle humor with a warm charm.  It is a story about the power of one person to open the other’s vision and imagination.  It is about transformation but also being able to transform while staying right where you are.  Lamb’s illustrations are done in paint, daubed thick enough at times to add plenty of texture to the images.  The colors are subtle, the globe the fish live in almost bubble-like as it floats on the page. 

This delightful picture book will have young readers wondering what Paul and Bernadette would see in their room too.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

counting by 7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow Chance didn’t fit in well at her elementary school, so she is attending a middle school across town which none of her previous classmates will be attending.  But Willow is just not made to fit in with others.  She does fine with her adoptive parents who are accepting of her obsession with gardening and medical conditions as long as she doesn’t tell them everything since that would make them worry.  And one of the things she doesn’t tell them is that the middle school thinks that she cheated on a major standardized test because she got a perfect score.  So she is sent to counseling though Dell, the school counselor has no idea what to do to help her.  Two siblings who also go to see Dell have their own ideas though and that is how Willow comes to be out driving with Dell and the others when she finds out that her parents have been killed in a car accident.  Now Willow has lost her parents, her home, her garden and her will to explore.  This is a story that is about community, building your family one person at a time, and the wonder of what having people in your life that care can do.  It is the story of the amazing Willow Chase.

Sloan’s writing verges on verse at times with its short lines, lined up neatly and speaking profoundly and honestly.  It is writing that examines and explores but also moves the story forward at speed.  It is imminently readable with plenty of white space and few if any dense paragraphs of text.  Rather it has a wonderful lightness about it, even when describing tragedy.  And this book is filled with loss and grief that is handled with a gentle depth.  Yet it is also a book filled with joy and overcoming odds and inspiration. 

Sloan creates not just one incredible character in this novel but an entire group of them.  At first the book seems disjointed with the various perspectives shown, since we get to see things not only from Willow’s point of view, from the other teens, but also from the adults as well.  But those disparate parts come together in a way that a book from just Willow’s point of view never could have.  They add an understanding of Willow’s appeal to others that would not have been possible without it.

This is a tragic story with an indomitable heroine that will leave you smiling through the tears.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

sex and violence

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian

Evan had always been the new kid at school, but he found advantages to that.  In each new school, he knew just which girls would be the ones to say “yes” and have sex with him.  That all changes when he picks the wrong girl at a private school in North Carolina and ends up savagely beaten in a boys’ restroom.  Evan’s father, who has been absent physically and emotionally since his mother’s death when he was a child, moves them to a lakeside cabin in Pearl Lake, Minnesota.  As his body starts to heal and scars start to form, Evan also has to deal with the damage to his mind.  He can no longer take showers because they evoke the same terror as the attack.  And even sex is so mixed with guilt and fear that it holds little appeal.  Pearl Lake is quiet but also filled with teens who know everything about one another but nothing about Evan, and that’s just the way he likes it.  Or is it?

This novel looks deep into what happens psychologically after a physical trauma.  Mesrobian handles dark issues with a certain tenderness, yet never shies away from the trauma itself.  While details of the attack are shared in snippets throughout the novel, they are not lingered over and sensationalized.  This is far more a book about a boy who survives and grows, combined with the agonies of change along the way. 

Evan is a wonderfully flawed protagonist.  The book begins just before the attack but with a prologue that foreshadows what is going to happen.  Evan is entirely detestable at this stage, a boy who screws girls just for fun, feeling little to no connection with them emotionally.  He convinces himself he is right about the way he is treating Collette.  Then early in the book, the attack comes, and Evan is transformed in a matter of pages into a character worthy of sympathy.  This sort of complexity runs throughout the novel which provides no easy answers but lots to think about.

Another great character is Baker.  She is a smart senior who is sexually active and even describes herself as sexually aggressive.  She and Evan almost immediately form a friendship that deepens over the summer.  She stands as one of the most honest and beautifully written teen girls I have read in a long time.  I love that she is not scared of expressing her sexuality, that her life doesn’t fall apart because of it, and that she is still feminine, smart and kind.  Amazing characterization!

This novel asks tough questions, changes underneath you, demands that you think and never gives concrete answers to the questions it asks.  Beautifully written, complex and brilliant.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

picture me gone

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

Mila is spending her Easter break traveling from London to the United States with her father.  They plan to visit one of his oldest friends, Matthew, and his family.  But days before they are to set off, they hear that Matthew has gone missing and his wife has no idea where he might be but urges them to come anyway.  Mila has long known that she has exceptional perception skills: she can tell when someone is pregnant before they even know, can read emotions quickly and can easily gather clues from a room.  So when they arrive, she quickly realizes several things about Matthew and his family.  As she gets closer to solving the mystery, it all gets more complicated and soon Mila has to even question whether her father is being honest with her. 

Rosoff writes so beautifully.  She takes time here in the book to create a family dynamic in Mila’s father and mother that is strong and buoyant.  She also carefully builds the background of Mila’s life, so that readers will understand what a different situation Mila finds herself in.  A theme of translation runs through the entire novel.  Mila’s father is a translator of books, Mila has to translate to American English, Mila can understand the language of objects and read nuances into them, and there is also the language of pain and loss that permeates the book.  It is a theme that unites this book from one of a road trip into a quest.

Mila is a very intriguing character.  She is both wildly perceptive and then also unaware at times.  All of the characters in the book are fully developed and well drawn.  Her parents are real people with their own pasts and foibles.  I particularly enjoyed the almost brittle portrayal of Matthew’s abandoned wife who seems very one dimensional at first, but then at the end shows more of herself in a subtle way.

A virtuoso book that is rather quiet, very thoughtful and filled with insights just like Mila herself.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

my basmati bat mitzvah

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Tara’s father is Jewish and her mother is East Indian, so Tara has mixed feelings about her upcoming bat mitzvah.  Some of the kids in her Hebrew class even wonder if she is actually Jewish at all.  Tara though is more concerned with whether she actually believes in God and if she doesn’t, does that mean that she can’t have a bat mitzvah?  She also worries about what celebrating this side of her family says to the other side.  So Tara decides to make sure that both sides of her family are represented by wearing a family sari that had been passed down for generations.  Unfortunately though, the sari is accidentally burned and Tara has to figure out how to tell her mother about it.  But that’s not the only complexity in Tara’s life.  Her best friend Rebecca seems to be spending more time with another girl, someone that Tara doesn’t get along with.  Her other best friend Ben-o seems interested in being more than friends sometimes but other times spends a lot of time with another girl.  It’s up to Tara to navigate all of the confusion and make her bat mitzvah her own.

Freedman very successfully tells the story of a young woman dealing with two distinct family heritages.  Happily, she doesn’t feel the need to build heightened angst about it, allowing Tara’s personal doubts to really drive this part of the story.  Her family around her does not have the same feelings, sharing holidays with one another and enjoying the same foods, most of the time. 

The book has a lightness of tone that makes the book very enjoyable.  Freedman explores bullying with a perfect touch, but less successfully explores the underlying issues.  Tara is a strong heroine who is far from perfect.  She has a temper, responds physically at times, and can be too self-absorbed to really see what is happening with her friends.

Hurrah for a book with a brown-skinned girl right on the cover that explores her multicultural heritage in such a straight-forward way!  Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

from norvelt to nowhere

From Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos

Halloween has come to Norvelt right at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Jack dresses up as the local serial killer to trick or treat, but no one finds him funny.  Even Jack loses his sense of humor when another old lady is killed right in front of him from a poisoned cookie.  Miss Volker, the last surviving original Norvelt woman, takes the murder very personally since the serial killer had been killing in order to marry her.  She is intent on revenge and takes Jack along with her on a cross-country journey to settle the issue once and for all.  But all may not be as simple as it seems as Jack finds himself with plenty of potential killers riding on the same train with them. 

Gantos won the Newbery Medal with the first Norvelt book and it was spectacular.  This book is more of a bumpy ride.  There are moments where Gantos reaches the same smart mix of serious heartfelt writing and humorous situations.  Then it can drag a bit as historical lessons are shared.  But the good thing is that those good parts outnumber the slowdowns and the humor still shines.

A large part of what makes the book work are the characters of Jack and Miss Volker.  This wonderful pairing adds to the fast pacing of the novel, move the story forward and are a pleasure to spend time with.  The book tends to slow when Miss Volker is more quiet and contained.  When she is unleashed, the story is exceptional. 

Fans of the first book will want to read the second and I’m happy to travel along with Jack and Miss Volker anytime.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

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