Book Review: Dorje’s Stripes by Anshumani Ruddra


Dorje’s Stripes by Anshumani Ruddra, illustrated by Gwangjo and Jung-a Park

In a small Buddhist temple in the Himalayas, the monks have an unusual visitor, a Royal Bengal tiger named Dorje.  Dorje is very unusual himself, because his coat has no stripes.  In the two years since he arrived at the monastery, they disappeared one by one.  One evening, the youngest monk noticed that Dorje had one stripe again!  One of the monks tells the story of when he entered Dorje’s dreams and saw that as Dorje lost each stripe, a tiger had died.  Now there was a new tiger in the wilderness, a female tiger, who seemed to have taken a liking to Dorje.  Soon perhaps, his coat will fill again with stripes.

Inspired by the tragic loss of tigers in India, this story vividly tells of the loss in a way that children will easily relate to.  The story is quietly told through Dorje himself and the voices of the monks.  It is a story that speaks gently about horrors beyond children’s comprehension, making them tangible and understandable. 

Ruddra’s tone is one of respect and awe for this creature.  He takes his time to tell the story to its fullest, offering inspiration along the way.  The illustrations are glowing with bright colors that capture the coat of Dorje and the world of the monastery.  The watercolors have been allowed to bleed a bit, creating auras around things.  At other times, the painting is tight and controlled.  The two play against each other, showing the wild next to the tame.

This is a lovely and inspiring book about threatened species.  It captures the plight, the loss and the recovery in one beautiful story.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Kane Miller EDC Publishing.

Book Review: I’m Me! by Sara Sheridan


I’m Me! by Sara Sheridan, illustrations by Margaret Chamberlain

When Imogen visits her Aunt Sara, she asks immediately to play pretend.  Aunt Sara offers to pretend that Imogen is a monkey on the beach.  Or perhaps a beautiful princess with a gown and a crown.  Or a witch’s cat with magic wands.  Or a pirate’s parrot searching for buried treasure.  Or a dragon-taming knight.  Or an astronaut.  But Imogen wants to be only one things today, herself!  So she and her Auntie Sara head to the park, play on the swings, eat ice cream, and then curl up on the couch together to share some stories.

Sheridan has created a book with a romping rhythm that keeps it moving quickly and merrily along.  The options that are given for different themes to play together are clever, silly and invitingly fun.  The book speaks to every child’s dream, an adult who is eager to play not only with them, but to play exactly what the child wants to play.

Chamberlain’s illustrations are done first in pen and ink on paper and then loaded into the computer to add color and texture.  This gives a pleasing combination of hand-drawn lines and deep computer colors.  The bright, bold colors and jaunty textures add zest to the title.

An invitation to play and imagine, this book is appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Book Review: Melvin and the Boy by Lauren Castillo


Melvin and the Boy by Lauren Castillo

Released July 5, 2011.

A young boy wants a pet very badly, but his parents always say no.  A dog is too big, a monkey too much work, a parrot too noisy.  One day, he sees a turtle at the park who is looking at him and follows him.  So the boy asks if he can keep it as a pet.  His parents agree, and the boy names the turtle Melvin.  But back home, Melvin won’t play.  He won’t eat.  Walking the turtle doesn’t work either.  The only time Melvin comes out of his shell is when he takes a bath.  The boy can see that Melvin is not happy in their house.  So they return him to the pond, where the boy will be sure to visit him often.

This is the first book that Castillo has both written and illustrated.  Her writing is pitch perfect here, offering just enough detail and with the right phrasing and tone.  It really feels as if a child was speaking in first person without becoming distracting.  I particularly enjoy the fact that the boy himself realizes the turtle is unhappy.  His parents follow his lead with the turtle rather than them leading him to a decision.

As always, Castillo’s art is very successful.  Her art emphasizes the urban setting of the book, playing the greens against the concrete colors nicely.  Her use of thick lines and soft colors makes for a book that is welcoming and warm.

A great addition to any story time on pets or turtles, this is also a wonderful read to start discussions about pets and keeping them safe and happy.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.

Book Review: White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick


White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick


Released July 5, 2011 in the US.

In a tiny English village that is being slowly eaten by the sea, Rebecca and her father spend their summer.  Rebecca is all alone, her friends back home ignoring her, thanks to her father being accused of something horrible.  Then Ferelith enters her life, a strange girl who speaks in riddles, plays dangerous and illegal games, and gets Rebecca thinking of something other than her despair.  But everywhere there are secrets, some hidden, walled up and shocking.  Some from long, long ago that have never completely died.  Some that search for angels or devils.  Some that may trap new people.  Secrets are at the heart of this eerie, frightening read that is perfect for dark summer nights.

Nominated for the Carnegie Medal in Literature, this book is a taut, thrilling ride that combines several elements into a disturbing novel that is impossible to put down.  There is the amazing setting of Winterfold, a town that is withering away as the sea reclaims chunks of the cliffs.  The setting is a powerful piece of the book, a presence that is important and vital to the entire story.

Then there are the characters.  Rebecca, a thoroughly modern teen, who finds life in Winterfold even for the summer entirely too dull.  Ferelith, the strange girl, who both loves Rebecca for who she is and also hates her for it.  And finally, the voice from the eighteenth century who speaks of horrors, of blood running, of experiments, that will amaze and torture.  They come together to create a book that is wild, vivid and scary.

A modern gothic story, this book is intense and horrific enough that you will want a light on.  Seriously.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

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Another Percy Jackson Movie Is Coming

Thor Freudenthal has been hired to direct the second film in the Percy Jackson series, according to /Film.  He will be following Chris Columbus, who directed the first movie.  The first film was not a huge hit, but neither was it a flop. 

I’m intrigued by the concern expressed about the age of Logan Lerman, the star of the films, who is now 19.  Goodness, hasn’t it been a long-running choice to cast older actors as teens?  We only have to look at Hunger Games for that. 

So what do you think?  Are you eager for a second Percy Jackson movie?  And what about Lerman’s age?

VOYA Lists

VOYA, the incredible YA book review magazine, has some new lists from their 2010 reviews.  One of my favorite features of VOYA reviews is that they look at books from two perspectives, quality and popularity. 

The best of the best are listed in VOYA’s Perfect Tens which are books that received top scores of 5 in both quality and popularity: 5Q 5P.  So many of my favorites are here as well as others that are on my list, but I never got around to reading.  Still others are brand new on my reading list, but I know they are worth the time.

If you are looking for great middle school reads, check out Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers 2010.  These are books chosen by a committee, so they don’t have the top ten ranking.  Any with a star are the Top of the Top Shelf, or the best of the best. 

The Nonfiction Honor List 2010 has nonfiction suitable for grades 6-8.  I love the mix of science, history and just plain fascinating. 

Book Review: Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell


Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell

All Janie wants is to be normal, but she can’t shake her stinky reputation that comes from her family’s goat farm.  The lump of something strange in her hair one day didn’t help and neither did the clump of goat poo on her shoe that stunk up the bus.  To make it worse, her group of friends from middle school don’t have the same lunch as she does, so she has taken to wolfing down her lunch at her locker and then spending the lunch period in the library.  She keeps hoping that someone normal will enter the library and befriend her, but there are only weird kids around.  No friend material, and no boyfriend material either.  The real trouble is that Janie herself is not normal: she makes her own clothes, is sassy, smart and vibrant.  Now the question is when she’s going to figure that out.

Dowell’s writing is funny, intelligent and spot on.  She writes dialogue that is snappy and a pleasure to read.  Janie’s journey from hoping for normal to embracing her own uniqueness is written with great pacing, lots of truth, and a joyousness that is infectious.  There are many places in the book that clichés could have been used, but Dowell never turns to them.  Instead, she uses those moments to make the book ever more special.

A large part of the success of the novel is the character of Janie.  She has a voice that is clear and consistent, filled with humor.  The novel really traces her growth as a teen, finding her own way that is certainly not normal.  Yet despite being a unique path, it is clear that the person she grows into is the one she was meant to be from the beginning.

A book that celebrates being exactly who you really are, even if you aren’t sure who that is yet, this is a treat of a read.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

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Book Review: I Spy with My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs


I Spy with My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs

Children adore books with holes to peek through.  In this book, the frog’s eye on the cover is actually a hole that carries through the book, with the background changing as the page is turned.  The entire book is an I-Spy game where a clue is given and then you can see just a bit of the next page.  My favorite aspect is that as you turn the page, you see the next creature’s eye looking at you.  The book incorporates game play, colors, and logic with great results. 

Gibbs has a real sense of style with this book.  His illustrations are big and bold, the animals bursting off of the pages with the bright colors and the large size.  While the illustrations are large, the lines stay delicate and filled with swirls. 

This is one book that will fly off of library shelves as soon as children spy it with their little eyes.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by Everyday Reading.

Book Review: Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor


Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor

Raine’s mother suddenly drags her from their home in Milwaukee to a strange place called Sparrow Road far away.  Her mother has a job as a cook at Sparrow Road, making meals for the artists who call the place home for the summer.  Not only is Raine away from home and her beloved grandfather for the first time, but Sparrow Road has rules.  No one is allowed to speak all day long, until after dinner, she is not to bother the artists, and her mother won’t let her leave the grounds.  As the days pass, Raine discovers some of the secrets of Sparrow Road but answers will be harder to find.  The biggest secret of all is why Raine and her mother came to Sparrow Road in the first place.

A delight of a novel, this book is about family, connections, and friendships.  Readers may believe at first that it is going to be about Raine discovering how to be on her own and silent in the beauty of Sparrow Road’s natural setting, but that is not the case.  Instead it is about creating new friendships, finding unexpected connections, and discovering anew those closest. 

O’Connor’s writing creates a world within Sparrow Road.  She writes with great sensory detail of both the natural setting and the strangeness of the big house where orphans used to live.  She blends the past and the future with great results, allowing Raine to wonder about the past both her own and that of Sparrow Road.  It is a beautifully written book that has a strong sense of place.

Highly recommended, this book would make a great read aloud for a classroom as it explores families, forgiveness and friendship between generations.  It is also a great summer read for older elementary children who can head for their own green space to think and wonder.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin Group.

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