The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest (9780373212316, Amazon)

Elloren has led a sheltered life with her uncle, making violins and creating cures out of herbs. Now she is being sent to university, something her powerful aunt doesn’t agree with. Her aunt attempts to have her paired with a seductive young man who seems eager as well, but Elloren has promised her uncle not to wandfast until after she graduates. At university, Elloren is exposed to more other races than ever before, including lupines, elves, and some hidden Fae. In an attempt to force Elloren to marry, her aunt has set up the worst possible quarters for her, sharing a room in a drafty cold tower with two Icarals, born with wings and considered to be cursed. Elloren slowly learns of her own biases and racism as the book continues, figuring out that her upbringing has been slanted and that her own history may be questionable.

I must address that this book was the subject of a huge situation at GoodReads where its star score is still low because people saw the book as racist. While colors of skin do play a role in the book, this book is all about a sheltered girl with a heritage that is filled with glory and blood figuring out that she is entirely and unquestionably wrong. The book made sure not to leave statements of Elloren’s bias on the page without a counterpart and does exceptionally well at having other perspectives always presented. There are no simple answers here, since Forest has created a complicated and intricate world that bears little resemblance to our own.

Forest’s characters are entirely flawed and that makes the book so much better. Elloren may or may not be the next Black Witch. Readers will know there is a well of untapped power within her and see clues about it. They will also be infuriated by Elloren at times, as she flirts with a man who is clearly dangerous and using her. Elloren grows at a natural pace, her perspectives shifting with research, lectures, and personal experience. There is a lot magical about this fantasy novel, but her growth remains steady and understandably human-like.

A strong book in a new series of magic, dragons and legendary creatures, this book is unafraid to ask deep questions about morals, ethics and bias. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar

7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar

7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross Macdonald (9781484717790, Amazon)

I was dozing in his office when 6 came in looking for help. 7 was after him! There was a rumor going around that 7 ate 9 and now he was coming for 6. So I went out to figure out what was going on. Following a series of clues after talking with letters and numbers, I deduced that 9 had disappeared but that 7 could not have eaten him since 7 was on vacation. Suddenly, I figured it all out and realized exactly what was going on in this topsy-turvy mystery.

Filled with puns and jokes, this picture book is a lot of fun. Using the framework of a vintage detective agency, this picture book borrows the lingo from that period as well, adding to the humor. Children may figure out the mystery along with I, but they may be surprised as well. No matter, the fun is in the language, the humor and the ride.

Macdonald’s illustrations allow the letters and numbers to pop on the page. They pay homage to vintage images using similar lines and colors. The letters and numbers have plenty of personality so they are distinct from one another as characters. Pay close attention to the small details as well. You wouldn’t want to miss the pi joke in the restaurant scene.

A mystery filled with humor, you can count on this to be a great read. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Disney-Hyperion.

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse

Hey Boy by Benjamin Strouse, illustrated by Jennifer Phelan (9781481471015, Amazon)

A boy finds a dog and takes him home. The two of them love playing together, but then the boy gets hurt. The dog is taken to an animal shelter and someone else adopts him. The boy is told that he simply isn’t old enough yet to care for a dog. Happily, the boy still gets to visit the dog and tries to grow up fast enough to take him back. As time passes, the boy grows up and the dog ages. When the dog is finally too much for his adoptive family, the boy is given the chance to take him. This book is an allegory for the love of pets and the unbreakable bonds they forge.

Strouse writes in prose that is simple and straight forward. Yet the story is much more of a fable, one that doesn’t follow logic but emotion instead. The story is about the bond between human and animal, one that defies time and distance to keep connections fresh and strong. Strouse embraces this even as he tells it in his simple prose, hinting at the true depths of emotion that lie beneath.

Phelan’s illustrations make this book sing. From the dogs in the shelter that are striped with bars to the way the black dog is such a strong graphic on the page, her images are iconic and beautiful. They match the simple prose with their own profound simplicity, allowing the white space on the page to speak too.

Strong illustrations make this allegory all the better to share with children and adults who love their pets. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

This Week’s Tweets, Pins and Tumbls

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

CHILDREN’S LIT

‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ Movie in the Works at Sony

Enter an Archive of 6,000 Historical Children’s Books, All Digitized and Free to Read Online

The Forgotten Government-Funded Kids’ Books of the Great Depression

It’s that time again. Time for the 2018 Newbery/Caldecott Summer Predictions (now w/some actual Newbery inclusions!)

My colleagues & I are pleased to present a new journal – Research on Diversity in Youth Literature (RDYL)

Notable Children’s Books Nominees – – ALSC Blog

Our 10 Favorite Judy Blume Quotes | Bookish

Our 2017 Big Summer Booklist! Great fiction & nonfiction for kids (incl reluctant readers) 0-12 yo

‘Productivity is Fun’ and Other Lessons From Soviet Children’s Books of the 1920s

A safe way to talk about hard topics: Children’s author Katherine Paterson | Vermont Business Magazine

The UK’s favourite children’s books have been revealed  

What Not to Tell the Kids When the Goldfish Dies, and Other Lessons from Pet Picture Books

Working Out the Bugs: Adventures in Translating Carson Ellis’s ‘Du Iz Tak?’

LIBRARIES

12 badass literary tattoos — and what inspired them:

Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia Program Expanding » Public Libraries Online

Don’t miss this piece! Librarians in the 21st Century: It Is Becoming Impossible to Remain Neutral – https://t.co/2gxcyVxplS

San Diego librarians undergo ‘Mental Health First Aid’ training

TEEN LIT

10 LGBTQ+ Young Adult Books to Read During Pride Month

11 Can’t-Miss Literary Graphic Novel Adaptations

21 YA Books You Should Be Reading Right Now via

Cover Design 101: Behind the Scenes of Scott Westerfeld’s Spill Zone Cover | Bookish

Get a first look at Scholastic’s Fall 2017 middle grade and YA titles (plus a giveaway!) >

The Skydiving Beavers by Susan Wood

The Skydiving Beavers by Susan Wood

The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale by Susan Wood, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (9781585369942, Amazon)

When people start to move into McCall, Idaho in the 1940’s, they encroach on the beavers who were already living there. Soon the new human homes and roads are flooded as the beavers build their dams. In this sort of struggle, it is always the humans who win. But a unique conservation effort is undertaken by the Idaho Fish and Game Department to move the beavers to a safer and more sheltered habitat. The problem is how to get the beavers into the pristine wilderness where there are no airports and no roads. Perhaps the solution can come from World War II parachutes and one brave beaver named Geronimo.

Wood takes care with the amount of prose she has on each page, offering just the right amount of detail and action for young readers. Her prose is also playful, as she describes both the beauty of Idaho and the damage that the beavers can do. The tone serves the book well with the whimsical use of parachutes and boxes that can open when they hit the ground. The story is a fascinating one and the book makes sure to explain that this sort of solution would not be done today where it is expected that humans and nature find a way to co-exist.

The illustrations are a mix of workshop images and desks where plans are made and then the Idaho landscape and horizons. The images settle the book deeply into the wilderness and the setting in which the book takes place. There is a sense of isolation and beauty in the images where the beavers land in their new habitat.

Fascinating and fun, this nonfiction picture book tells the story of a unique solution to a wildlife issue. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Sleeping Bear Press.

The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper

The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper

The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper (9781484726464, Amazon)

Part of the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading series, this early reader is a philosophical joy. Yellow Bird has a button that does absolutely nothing, or does it? He shows it to Red Bird and Blue Bird. When Blue Bird tries the button, it surprises him. And that’s not nothing! It doesn’t surprise Red Bird, which makes Blue Bird sad, also not nothing. Then Yellow Bird gets angry at their responses, which is also not nothing. Soon the button can make them do lots of things, even get funny and silly. Perhaps the button does everything?

Harper has created a wonderful mix of humor and philosophy in this early reader. Done with just the right jaunty humor and wild zaniness, the book moves at a fast pace towards its philosophical conclusion. The ties to Elephant and Piggie are clear and this feels like a natural extension of their humor and attitude, making it exactly the right kind of book for this series.

The illustrations are bright and simple. Done with similar speech bubbles to Elephant and Piggie, they convey the emotions of the birds clearly, something that is very important in this book in particular.

A zingy riot of an early reader, this one is a winner. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence (9781626722804, Amazon)

Avani’s father has signed her up for Flower Scouts so that she can make friends in her new town. But all of the other girls are interested only in talking about makeup and boys. Then Avani is accidentally teleported into space by an alien named Mabel, who is working on her own badges for her scout troop. Being a Star Scout like Mabel is a whole lot more interesting than being a Flower Scout, so Avani starts joining them instead of her earth-bound scouts. As Avani learns to build robots, teleport things, drive space ships, and race jetpacks, she finds a place where she fits in. Now she just needs to get her father to sign off on a permission slip for her to go to Camp Andromeda for a week!

This friendly science fiction graphic novel is filled with humor and lots of action. Avani is a main character of color with her Indian heritage that plays a role throughout the graphic novel in things like language and food. She is game for the entire adventure, allowing herself to try new things, push herself to learn and even form a real rivalry with another troop of scouts.

The art is playful and fun with the dialogue working well to move the book forward at a fast pace that will please young readers. There is lots of action, plenty of space exploration and even camp pranks and jokes. The pleasure is in seeing camping tropes used on an asteroid by alien creatures.

Funny and warm, this graphic novel has strong STEM overtones and even a few poop jokes. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.