Review: Henry’s Hand by Ross MacDonald

henrys hand

Henry’s Hand by Ross MacDonald

Get ready for a perfect non-Halloween Halloween book!  Henry is a monster who often loses bits and pieces of himself.  So every morning he goes through a little rhyme to make sure that all of his pieces are there.  Henry’s right hand was his favorite body part.  They played games together and traveled everywhere together.  Then Henry got lazy and started using his right hand to do all of the chores that he didn’t want to do himself.  Hand got more and more upset until finally, he just left.  Hand was off to the big city on his own and Henry was left behind, knowing that it was all his fault.  But how do you apologize to someone who has already left?  And how do you know they are OK and not hurt?  Henry had to figure out not only how to live without his right hand, but how to get him back.

MacDonald has written a wonderfully original book that is unafraid of being wildly wacky.  Behind that wild premise though is a book with plenty of heart.  It is a story of real friendship, the loss of a best friend, and finding a way back to reunite.  MacDonald has a nice feel for pacing and drama, peppering his book with plenty of action. 

This is a book set in a world that has a vintage feel about it, the city is filled with early century vehicles and technology.   Henry himself is an homage to the monsters of that time, yet he is also completely friendly and nonthreatening. 

Add this to your Halloween reads, monster story times, and units on body parts and friendship.  It is sure to come in handy!  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Gorgeous Catching Fire Poster

Huge thanks to BookRiot for sharing the IMAX version of the Catching Fire poster.  It’s spectacular.  What do you think?

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2013 Best Illustrated Children’s Books

The New York Times has released their picks for the Ten Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the year.  They are:

Romance The Dark Fog Island

Ballad by Blexbolex

The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen (my review)

Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer (my review)

Holland Jane, the Fox, and Me Jemmy Button

Holland by Charlotte Dematons

Jane, the Fox and Me by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Jemmy Button by Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidali

Journey Locomotive

Journey by Aaron Becker (my review)

Locomotive by Brian Floca

My Brother's Book Nelson Mandela

My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson (my review)

Review: Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee

engines of the broken world

Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee

Merciful’s mother has finally died.  After years of growing more and more confused and cruel, she died as the weather grew colder and colder.  Merciful and her brother Gospel had wanted to bury her properly but the bitter weather had worsened and prevented them from digging a hole.  The snow came too, lashing the windows and keeping them from even venturing out to the barn to check on the animals.  So they put their mother under the table and went to bed.  The Minister, in an animal form, said prayers over her but was also firm in saying that she needed a proper burial.  Merciful is starting breakfast the next morning when she hears it, a voice she thought she would never hear again, singing her childhood song.

This novel is completely unique.  It is the story not of a post-apocalyptic world but of the days leading directly into an apocalypse.  Yet it is also a book that explores religion in a way that will certainly bother many people.  This is a religion beyond decay, heading into the final days, one that is flagging but still powerful.  Even better, it is one that is familiar to many of us.  Now add zombies to this complex world, and you are starting to understand why this book is so difficult to explain.

Against this dire setting, we have two young characters Merciful and Gospel.  The two do not get along, both approaching the world from different places.  Yet given the claustrophobic setting, the two are forced to see the truth about each other and their strengths.  It is this setting of a blizzard at the end of the world that makes this book so haunting.  Vanhee writes in a voice that we haven’t heard before either, he tinkers with perception of the characters, and he has created a book where you can’t trust much at all.  It is a wonderfully slippery book, that changes underneath you and turns into something unexpected.  Yet it is also filled with moments of great beauty and character. 

A horror book for teens, this is also something much more.  It is a beautifully written apocalypse that is harrowing, striking and powerful.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

Review: Captain Cat by Inga Moore

captain cat

Captain Cat by Inga Moore

Captain Cat is a trader, but he’s not very good at making profitable deals.  You see, instead of trading for riches, he trades for cats.  So his ship is full of them.  All of the other traders make fun of him for this, but Captain Cat is very happy surrounded by the furry creatures.  He decides to head off and see new places, far from the trade routes he usually travels.  On the way, he is caught in a violent storm that blows him off course, right off the map!  There he discovers a small rocky island led by a young queen.  She and the population are very friendly, and have never seen cats before.  When the cats take care of the island’s rat problem, the queen begs Captain Cat to leave them behind.  What is a cat-loving caption to do?

This is a very engaging book.  It was different right off of the bat with a sailor surrounded by cats who hate water.  Throughout the story, it continues to surprise and delight.  It never heads where you expect it to, yet ends up being completely delightful both along the way and in the end.  Unlike many picture books, Moore tells a full story here.  It not only has the structure of a full story, but also has a depth that can be missing in picture books.

The illustrations are finely done with lots of details.  Done in mixed media, they have fine lines and soft colors.  Thanks to their detail, this book would best be used with small groups or individual children.

Take a feline-filled journey with this clever picture book.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Little Santa by Jon Agee

little santa

Little Santa by Jon Agee

Christmas books are tricky.  They are often too sugary and sparkly or simply dull.  Happily, each year there are little holiday gems.  This is one of those.  It is the story of a young Santa and how he grew up and became the Santa everyone loves.  Santa grew up at the North Pole along with his large family.  While he loved it there, everyone else in his family hated it.  They planned to move to Florida instead.  But just when everyone was packed and ready to leave, a huge blizzard hit.  It was up to Santa to figure out how to save his family.  He set off to look for help and along the way found a flying reindeer and a group of elves.  Soon it was Santa to the rescue!  The elves, reindeer and Santa made such a great team that the rest is history.

Agee keeps far away from anything too tinsel-filled or cute.  He uses his trademark simple illustrations to keep a straight-forward tone to the book that is very refreshing in the crowded Christmas market.  He also manages to be a bit sly and silly along the way, adding a bit of zest into this Christmas treat.  The writing is clear and crisp, perfect for sharing aloud.

Grab a cup of cocoa with plenty of marshmallows and get ready to share a stellar new Christmas gift.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2013 Shortlist

 

The Roald Dahl Funny Prize was launched in 2008, so this is the sixth year the prize has been awarded.  The award goes to authors and illustrators who use humor in books for children.  The prize has two categories based on age.  You can see the shortlist below for each category:

 

Ages Six and Under

Do Not Enter The Monster Zoo Monkey Nut Noisy Bottoms. Sam Taplin

Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo! by Amy Sparkes, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Monkey Nut by Simon Rickerty

Noisy Bottoms by Sam Taplin, illustrated by Mark Chambers

 Troll Swap Weasels

Spaghetti with the Yeti by Charlotte and Adam Guillain, illustrated by Lee Wildish

Troll Swap by Leigh Hodgkinson

Weasels by Elys Dolan

 

Ages Seven to Fourteen

 Geek Girl (Geek Girl, #1) The Grunts All at Sea

Fish-Head Steve by Jamie Smart

Geek Girl by Holly Smale

The Grunts All at Sea by Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

17137682 My Parents Are Out Of Control 

I Am Still Not a Loser by Jim Smith

My Parents Are Out of Control by Pete Johnson

Pants Are Everything by Mark Lowery

Review: Reality Boy by A. S. King

reality boy

Reality Boy by A. S. King

Gerald became a reality TV star at age five when his mother brought in a television nanny to help him with his anger issues.  He had been putting holes in the walls.  He then started crapping around the house, often caught on camera.  Now Gerald is seventeen and still struggling with anger in his life.  His abusive older sister is back home, living in the basement.  His closer sister has gone to college in Scotland and never calls.  His mother and father are both entirely ineffective to stop anything.  Gerald spends much of his time in Gerland, a world filled with ice cream and candy, where no one is angry or mean.  But he can’t live there forever, and he has to return to the real world where he has no friends and people call him The Crapper.  It’s all too much sometimes for Gerald to handle, but he has to figure out a way to handle things that doesn’t have him escaping to a fantasy world or beating someone bloody.

I found this book to be entirely gripping.  The premise of a boy who is damaged by a reality show that is meant to help (at least on the surface) is very clever.  As the layers of the story are pulled back, one discovers who the true problem is.  King does this in surprising ways though flashbacks that continue to shock even though one thinks all is revealed.  This is a book that will do much to show teens that abuse by siblings and children happens to others.

King has created a wounded hero in Gerald.  He is stunted by his family, unable to grow up and unable to control his outbursts.  The reader aches for him, roots for him and yes is also frightened by his lack of control.  He is a teen caught by his past and unable to see a future.  One weakness of the book is the depiction of Gerald’s family.  They are not fully developed and the book loses something because of that, given that they are so much of the story of Gerald’s dysfunction. 

Gerald is a magnificent character, and the book is compelling and harrowing.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from digital copy received from NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.