Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

Cassie has been told the story of the Polar Bear King and her mother making a deal with him for years.  When she matured, she realized it was a fairy tale to explain her mother’s death.  But when she sees a very large polar bear out on the Arctic ice and he walks through solid ice, she has to admit that the story may be true.  It becomes even more real when Bear begins talking with her and then takes her away to his ice castle past the North Pole.  Cassie has grown up surrounded by ice and bears in her father’s Arctic research facility, but nothing has prepared her for the magic that suddenly surrounds her.  Cassie is caught in her own fairy tale, where she has to brave true love, harsh weather, protective prisons, and frightening trolls before she understands what love and family are really about.

I am a fan of Durst’s previous novels and their twists on fairy tales.  Nothing in those however, prepared me for the wonder and magic of Ice.  Durst has taken my favorite fairy tale of all time, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” and transformed it into a modern novel.  There have been other retellings of this story, but Durst has reached new heights.  Bear is immediately appealing, large and protective, and readers fall for him long before Cassie does.  Their relationship with its tumult and trust issues rings so clear and true. 

Durst’s largest accomplishment in this novel is its heroine, Cassie.  Her inner voice carries this novel as she struggles not only with Bear and the magic, but with real forces that would keep her docile.  Her bravery is amazing, but never off-putting.  She is definitely a modern heroine caught in an old-fashioned fairy tale, which makes the book even more marvelous. 

Durst’s story takes readers from the Arctic to the tundra to the boreal forest and back again in the arms of the wind.  Through it all, she creates settings that are vivid and tangible.  Bear’s ice castle comes to life in minute details and crystalline beauty.  The Arctic wilderness is frightening, white and barren.  The boreal forest is spectacular in its diversity. 

Highly recommended, this novel is a magnificent swirl of romance, ice crystals and warm fur.  Perfect to curl up with in front of a roaring fire.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copies received from publisher.  Copies will be placed in library collection.

Also reviewed by Bib-Laura-graphy and Laini Taylor.

National Book Award 2009 Finalists

The National Book Award finalists for 2009 have been announced:

Deborah Heiligman for Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

Phillip Hoose for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

David Small for Stitches

Laini Taylor for Lips Touch: Three Times

Rita Williams-Garcia for Jumped

CCBC Shorts

Librarians here in Wisconsin know just how lucky we are to have the CCBC in our state.  The CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) offers insight into new books with a great eye for multicultural gems and great children’s poetry books. 

They have started a new service for librarians called CCBC Shorts which are book recommendations via  Wisconsin librarians can watch the webinars live (here is the upcoming schedule) and everyone out of state can watch the programs once they are launched on Blip.  The first Short covers titles for Halloween and new books of note from 2009. 

Dear Vampa

Dear Vampa by Ross Collins

When the Wolfsons move in next door to the Pires, the differences are clear.  The Pires are amazed when their neighbors stay up all day and complain when there is noise at night.  The pets of the two families don’t get along at all.  And when the Pires take to the sky as bats, the Wolfsons shoot them out of the sky.  That’s was it.  The Pires moved away much to the surprise of the Wolfsons who just may not be as normal as readers may have thought.

Collins’ art is wonderful.  You can see more of it on the Harper Collins website where several of the pages are available.  The use of black, white and red for the Pire family is striking against the full-color world of the Wolfsons.  The stylized colors are carried throughout the book to great effect, especially on the pages with both families in the same room.  Collins has a knack for humor both in his understated and brief prose and in his illustrations which really tell the full story. 

This is a great addition to any Halloween story time.  It has vampires but is much more about the neighbors than about any scary aspects.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Robot Zot!

Robot Zot! by Jon Scieszka and David Shannon

Robot Zot is here to conquer the earth.  His battle cry rings out:  “Robot Zot – never fall.  Robot Zot – conquer all!”  He finds himself in a house and destroys a blender with his blaster.  He then wrestles a vacuum cleaner tube on his way to blast his enemy, which happens to be a TV.  But something surprising is waiting for Robot Zot!  His Queen!  He can only reach his ship if he makes it past the Commander General who is in his way and insists on licking his queen.

Robot Zot is a delightful romp of a book.  The combination of Scieszka’s text with Shannon’s art is irresistible.  Combine it with robots and outer space, and this is one book that you can expect to be read to tatters.  Scieszka’s text is humorous, fast-paced, and surprising.  The reveal of Robot Zot’s small size is done with such style in Shannon’s art as are other great humorous touches.  The two work together seamlessly, sharing punchlines and big laughs smoothly.

A must-read for children who love robots and space, this book could be purchased just for the explosion of the television set.   If read to a class, expect lots of blaster and explosive play.  Inventive, funny and a great joy, this book is appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by Fuse #8.

African Acrostics

African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways by Avis Harley, photographs by Deborah Noyes

Acrostic poems are very popular, especially for children to write on their own.  But you haven’t seen anything like the acrostics in this book.  Harley creates acrostics that have words not only in their first letters but both the first and last letters.  She has one poem with five hidden words and others that use letters in patterns rather than the first letter.  But her real achievement is in making acrostics that are such good poetry that one forgets they are reading acrostics at all and just enjoys the flow and
rhythm of the poems. 

So many acrostics are stodgy and dull due to the constraints of the form.  Harley seemed to take that as a challenge to overcome.  She certainly did just that.  The book is very welcoming and children will relate immediately to the form of the poems.  Noyes photographs are clear and crisp, working well with the poems.  She took them primarily in Namibia and offers her perspective in a note at the end of the book.  The book also has information on acrostics, showing readers the more complicated forms that were used in the book.  There are also nature notes with more information on the animals in the book.

Pair children, animals and good poetry and you have a real winning book.  This book elevates a poetic form to new heights.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by The Miss Rumphius Effect and Becky’s Book Reviews.

The Day of the Pelican

The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson

Meli and her family are Albanians living in Kosovo.  They are in grave danger.  Her older brother, Mehmet is detained after leaving school one day.  He is finally returned home to his family.  So many people are being killed by Serbs that they are forced to flee their home, leaving their store and almost everything else behind.  The family is forced first into tents in the mountains where they are safe for a short time, sleeping in a single shared tent and living without running water or electricity.  Mehmet expresses interest in joining the Kosovo Liberation Party and the family leaves the mountains to keep him safe.  They then live with their uncle in the family’s small farm with many people living under one roof.  They live in constant fear of being discovered and turned out of their home with the tiny babies, elderly grandmother, and small children.  Eventually they are forced to become refugees and the family is forced to separate with Meli and her immediate family going to the United States.

Paterson tells a gripping story of heroism, courage and family ties in this brief novel.  As readers experience the fear and uncertainty through Meli’s eyes they will be moved by her story.  This book captures the emotions of war without allowing them to overtake the storyline.  Instead the book is about everyday people becoming heroes, small choices that mean living one more day, and endurance in the face of such hatred.  Paterson rights with an honesty and a tautness that makes the book easy to read but difficult to digest. 

This is an important book that is not just about the Albanians in Kosovo, but about all wars, all displaced people, and their courage and strength.  Paterson takes a single incident among many and makes it universal and true.  Highly recommended, this is a great book for classroom exploration and discussion.   Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC received at the ALA Conference. 

Mal Peet Wins the Guardian!

Mal Peet has won the British Guardian’s fiction prize for his book Exposure.  It is a novel that takes Othello and resets it into the world of South American soccer. 

Peet won the Carnegie Medal for his novel Tamar.

Adding another book into my ever-growing MUST READ pile.

The Lion and the Mouse

The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

In this almost wordless book, readers revisit Aesop’s tale of the lion who spares the life of a mouse only in turn to be rescued by the mouse.  The only words on the page are animal noises that bring the African setting to life.  Readers follow the mouse right into the lion’s paws, sigh in relief at the release, and will be riveted as the capture of the lion plays out. 

Pinkney shows readers the world in focused images, revealing the view of the land the mouse has, the perspective of the lion, and foreshadowing the capture of the lion in the poacher’s net.  Each image is beautifully done, filled with details that bring the story to life and invite you to linger over them.  His pacing is done with such skill that he can create suspense with a single page turn.  From the moment of opening the cover, readers are in the hands of a master story teller who speaks through his art.

One of the best wordless picture books I have ever read, this book should be on every library’s shelf.  And with that cover, it is not going to sit there long!  Make sure you face this one out!

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.  Copy will be placed in library collection.

Also reviewed by Collecting Children’s Books, 100 Scope Notes, A Patchwork of Books, Pink Me, and Fuse #8.