Hunger Games Casting Continues


Last week I completely missed the news that Lenny Kravitz has been cast to play Cinna in the upcoming Hunger Games film.   Talk about a guy with style!

The actor playing President Snow has also been announced and I’m very happy with the casting.  Donald Sutherland!  I am already rethinking the voice of Snow in my head. 

So what do you think of the new cast members?

Book Review: The Voyage of Turtle Rex by Kurt Cyrus


The Voyage of Turtle Rex by Kurt Cyrus

Follow the story of a baby sea turtle starting with her hatching under the sand.  But there is something very special about this little turtle, she’s growing up surrounded by dinosaurs!  So what is a little turtle to do to survive?  She’s got to find safety and then grow, grow as big as she can.  She eventually grows into an enormous two-ton archelon.  Eventually something inside her calls her to return to the shore, so she leaves the safety of the silt at the bottom and heads back to land.  There she digs a nest for her eggs and buries them before returning to the sea.  The book then talks about modern shelled animals who are descendants of the great prehistoric sea turtles.

Cyrus, author of Tadpole Rex, has added another thrilling book that extends the landscape of the dinosaurs to include more creatures.  Here sea turtles are celebrated in rhymes that make the book very entertaining and fun to read.  Cyrus offers just the right mix of scientific fact and story line, keeping the book anchored in fascinating science but also fast-moving.

His illustrations are dramatic as the tiny turtle struggles to survive at sea after a harrowing crawl to the water near dinosaurs.  All of the many predators around her add to the interest and excitement both in the text and the illustrations.  Cyrus uses bold lines, effective textures and a surprisingly soft color palette to create the images. 

Perfect for both dinosaur and turtle fans, this book is sure to find an eager audience in elementary and public libraries.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by Wrapped in Foil.

Book Review: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai


Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Debut author Lai has created a verse novel of fleeing Saigon for the United States.  The narrator is ten-year-old Ha, who speaks of the beauty of Vietnam, its culture and their lives there.  Her father was captured years ago in the war, so she lives with her mother and three older brothers.  Her mother has a good job, but when the prices begin to rise because of the war, the family can barely survive.  They are given a chance to flee Saigon by ship though when they do, they almost starve because their rescue by the Americans is delayed.  Ha describes her culture shock when they do arrive in Alabama as a sponsored family.   All is different from the taste of the food to the quiet of the neighborhood to the language.   Many of her classmates are cruel to her, but she does meet nice Americans who help her learn the language and who are willing to learn about Vietnamese culture as well.

Lai’s verse is precision, written tightly and beautifully, it changes mood from one poem to the next.  Some are sliver thin and crack like a whip.  Others are sinewy and strong, ropes that bind and connect.  Still others are emotions that unite us all, tying us closely to the story.  Lai herself also immigrated from Vietnam at the end of the war to Alabama.  Her book speaks to the personal journey that she had in its depth of feeling.

Ha is a character whom readers will immediately connect with and understand.  She is written in a universal way, even as she describes her homeland and evokes scenes that many readers will not have seen or experienced.  In the descriptions of Ha’s family, Lai creates characters who are vivid and profound.  One of my favorite passages is early in the novel where the family is deciding to leave Saigon.  Ha’s mother is described on page 54:

Who can go against

a mother

who has become gaunt like bark

from raising four children alone.

This a book that is so beautifully written.  It captures the journey both physically and emotionally of refugees to our country.  It is breathtaking and strong.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by:

Book Review: Leap Back Home to Me by Lauren Thompson


Leap Back Home to Me by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

A little frog takes his first small leaps over a ladybug, over a bee, and over the clover before returning to his waiting mother.  His leaps get bigger and he leaps over the creek and over the beavers.  Then they get even bigger, leaping over trees and hills!  After every outing he returns to his mother who is waiting for him with either a book to share, food to eat or a hug.  Soon the little frog is leaping out into space and the stars, but no fear, his mother is still there for him.

Thompson has created a picture book that is very simple with just a few lines on each page and a gentle concept.  Her text has an infectious rhythm to it, adding to the jaunty tone of the book.  The humor of the book builds as the little frog leaps over larger and larger things.  Children will love the humor and will delight in the final pages as the little frog enters outer space. 

Cordell’s illustrations echo the jaunty tone of the text and add a friendliness, warmth and plenty of color to the story.  The little frog soars into the sky with a joyous freedom, his froggy legs and arms waving merrily. 

An ideal book for toddler story times featuring frogs, this is sure to become a favorite of young listeners.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Also reviewed by 100 Scope Notes.

Book Review: Kat Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis


Kat Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

Mix a Regency setting with plenty of magic and one smart, sassy heroine and you have this winning novel for children.  Kat never knew her mother, since she died when Kat was born.  She does have a stepmother who is far more interested in the wealth her stepdaughters will bring with strategic marriages than with their future happiness.  Kat is the youngest of the three sisters and she discovers early in the novel that she has inherited her mother’s magical talents.  One of her older sisters, Angeline, has also gotten magical talents of a different sort.  As the eldest sister, Elissa, is about to be betrothed to a grim fiancé, the younger two get deeper into trouble as they explore their magical gifts.  All too soon, Kat will be called upon to use her magic to save those she loves, while trying to act graceful and polite in society.

I’m a huge fan of mixing historical settings with fantasy, and this novel does it very well.  Readers never lose the fact that they are reading a Regency novel, thanks to the elements of society that are woven successfully throughout the novel.  At the same time, the fantasy elements are tantalizingly and beautifully done as well.

The characterization is superb, especially Kat, who is a Regency girl that modern children will relate to happily.  She is intelligent, irreverent and irresistible.  From the first glimpse readers get of Kat with her short-cut hair and her desire to save her family, Kat is an intriguing character.  Happily, Burgis has incorporated plenty of humor into the novel as well.  There are scenes that are filled with genteel sarcasm and bites but sometimes the story merrily heads closer to farce with delightful results.

Highly recommended, this is a book that children will adore with just the right mix of humor, fantasy and style.  Sounds like ideal summer reading to me!  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Check out the book trailer:

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books.

Also reviewed by:

Alan Rickman’s Thank You for Harry Potter

I was truly moved by Alan Rickman’s letter of farewell to JK Rowling.  For me, the lifetime passing in minutes is so true as my youngest son turns 10 this week.

"I have just returned from the dubbing studio where I spoke into a microphone as Severus Snape for absolutely the last time. On the screen were some flashback shots of Daniel, Emma, and Rupert from ten years ago. They were 12. I have also recently returned from New York, and while I was there, I saw Daniel singing and dancing (brilliantly) on Broadway. A lifetime seems to have passed in minutes.

Three children have become adults since a phone call with Jo Rowling, containing one small clue, persuaded me that there was more to Snape than an unchanging costume, and that even though only three of the books were out at that time, she held the entire massive but delicate narrative in the surest of hands.

It is an ancient need to be told in stories. But the story needs a great storyteller. Thanks for all of it, Jo.

Alan Rickman"

Via Moviefone.

Book Review: Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about Peace by Anna Grossnickle Hines


Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about Peace by Anna Grossnickle Hines

Celebrate peace with this book pairing beautiful quilts with poems.  Short poems explore the nature of peace and the myriad of forms it takes.  There is the peace of quiet, of home, of nature.  Then there is the peace that is the opposite of weapons, anger and war.  There is the peace of acceptance, of moments, of prayer.  Then for readers, there is the peace of reading this book.

Each poem itself is a moment of peace, inviting the reader to linger, consider.  The author has created distinct poems that work both as individual poems and as a whole work together.  The flow from poem to poem is very successful, making it difficult to read just one or two poems from this book.

The quilts themselves are done in jewel tones.  They range from strong-lined images filled with words to natural scenes of quiet grace.  Turning the page from one to the next is a journey of color, expression and beauty.

Highly recommended, this book beautifully marries poetry and quilting, resulting in a book that is warm, cozy and lovely.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

Also reviewed by:

Check out the book trailer to see some of the quilts and hear some of the poetry:

Book Review: Meadowlands by Thomas Yezerski


Meadowlands by Thomas F. Yezerski

This nonfiction picture book tells the story of the history of the wetlands that are now known as the Meadowlands in New Jersey.  From hundreds of years ago, when the wetlands had 20,000 acres of marshes through to the 1800s when the land was drained and filled in with dirt to the 20th century when the industries came to surround the Meadowlands with their factories.  The wetlands were used as a garbage dump, filled with waste and filth.  It became a problem area in New Jersey until the state decided that it needed to be cleaned up.  By 1985 with the clean up and then the developers, there was less than 7000 acres of wetlands left.  But the wetlands began to recover, with time the lack of pollution and the rivers and tides cleaned the water and allowed plants, birds, fish and animals to return.  This is a celebration of wetland recovery and the strength of the ecosystem as well as a stirring call to action.

Yezerski offers just the right amount of information here for an elementary-aged audience.  From the brief history of when the wetlands were unchanged, readers see how steadily the impact of humans deteriorated the size and quality of them.  The garbage portion of the story is startling, stark and brief, indicating the small amount of time it took to do such extensive damage.  When the book turns to the recovery of the Meadowlands, the tone lifts and the text turns to celebrating the nature returning to the area.

The pages of the book are bordered with objects pulled from that illustration.  So the two-page spread of the 1800s is bordered with a knife, musket, scythe, trap, kettle, muskrat and more.  This adds to the feeling of time changing and the area changing along with it.  The watercolor illustrations are often looking at the wetlands from above, showing the devastation and changes.  Beautifully, as the wetlands recover, the illustrations become more close and intimate with the wetlands and the animals.

Get this one on your elementary nature and ecology shelves.  It is a readable and very successful look at wetland renewal for children.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 

Book Review: Underground by Shane W. Evans


Underground by Shane W. Evans

Using only the shortest of sentences, the smallest of words, Evans has created a picture book that captures the fear and hope of escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad.   The well-chosen words add to the tension, keeping it taut with danger.  It reads as if the author too is trying to be quiet, near silent and to escape notice. 

The palette is one of darkness with bright whites of eyes shining, the colors capturing the oppression of slavery.  As freedom nears, the colors change, almost glowing with the light and brightness of freedom.  The art here is what makes the book so special.  The images are collage mixed with the texture of brushstrokes, all evoking a rustic, roughness.  Yet in the faces there is a nobility, a grace, a hope that shines through.

A beautiful, evocative book that is haunting and ever so strong.  It will work beautifully for elementary aged children learning about the Civil War and slavery.   Appropriate for ages 7-10. 

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.