Review: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

ophelia and the marvelous boy

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Released January 28, 2014.

Ophelia knows that everything worth knowing can be proven with science.  Her father is an expert in swords and is helping a museum set up an exhibit.  She and her older sister Alice come along, the entire family still aching with the loss of Ophelia and Alice’s mother.  As Ophelia wanders the museum in the city where it always snows, she discovers all sorts of amazing things.   But by far the most interesting thing she discovers is a boy locked behind a door.  He is a prisoner who claims to have lived for centuries though he looks like a boy.  And he believes that Ophelia is the person who can save him.  So Ophelia starts to help, and along the way, she has to give in to the magic that is around her and discover her own bravery.

A large part of the pleasure of this book is discovering all of the twists and turns of the plot.  This retelling of the Snow Queen fairy tale takes an entirely new approach to the story.  Foxlee has created a novel that is filled with frightening creatures, dangerous situations, and daring feats.  She has incorporated a clock that is counting down to the day that the Snow Queen can finally kill the marvelous boy, so that alone creates a great deal of time pressure.  Yet Ophelia is also struggling to keep her family happy and not concerned with her.  As the book goes on, the tension is tangible on each page.

Ophelia is a wonderful young protagonist.  While she does believe in science and fights against believing in magic, she is also on the adventure of a lifetime.  Her mother was a novelist and serves as the voice of courage in her head.  Ophelia has a great mix of deep courage and vulnerability.  Readers will figure out who the Snow Queen is long before Ophelia does, something that Foxlee uses to continue to crank up the tension.

Magical, frightening and beautifully written, this book is pure warmth and friendship in the face of icy brutality.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss.

Review: The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund

message of the birds

The Message of the Birds by Kate Westerlund, illustrated by Feridun Oral

The old owl tells the story of Christmas to a gather of birds.  He tells the story of Jesus in the manger and the birds above in the rafters.  The birds heard a song in the baby’s voice, a special song that they would carry through the world.  The robin asked why the birds don’t sing that song anymore, and the partridge explained that people don’t listen.  The little robin suggested that even if they don’t know the language anymore, their hearts could understand it.  The birds talk about whether the message would be heard and understood, and then the robin realizes that children are the most likely to hear the message.  So all of the birds sing the song, spread the message, particularly to children.  And something amazing happens.

I’m never sure with any Christmas book what level of Christianity I’m going to find in them and then what type of message it is going to be communicating.  When this book’s second set of pages had the manger scene, I thought I was in a very traditional Christmas book.  What followed though, was a delightful surprise as the book immediately turned from the traditional Christmas tale to one that is universal, a story of peace.  Westerlund tells the story with a pacing right out of folktales.  Her wise older owl, the inventive young robin are characters that are traditional in the best sense of the word.

Oral’s illustrations have a soft beauty to them.  Throughout his images of the birds, there is thick snow in the air.  The colors are consistently subtle and wintry, tawny browns, creamy whites and deep browns are punctuated only with the colors of the birds and the green of the trees. 

A lovely addition to Christmas stories, this book is beautifully written with rich illustrations.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Ned Vizzini Dead at Age 32

It's Kind of a Funny Story Be More Chill The Other Normals

I saw rumors swirling this morning about this, but didn’t want to post anything until something looked official.  What a tragedy to lose a tremendous writing talent so very young.  According to the LA Times, Vizzini committed suicide on Thursday in New York City. 

Vizzini was the author of several books, including It’s Kind of a Funny Story which was a fictionalization of his own time spent in a psychiatric ward due to being suicidal.  That book was made into a movie in 2010.  I particularly enjoyed an earlier book of his, Be More Chill and found it to be a great book to booktalk to teens.  I was also a fan of one of his more recent books The Other Normals which I had hoped would have a sequel since I loved the world he built so much and the humor too.

This is a deep loss for YA literature.

Review: Mo’s Mustache by Ben Clanton

mos mustache

Mo’s Mustache by Ben Clanton

Mo just got a brand new mustache in the mail!  But when he shows it to all of his friends, they all get their own mustaches and soon it isn’t special anymore.  So Mo decides to wear a striped scarf instead and leave his mustache off.  Then all of his friends get scarves too.  Mo loses it and shouts at his friends, demanding to know why they are copying him.  Everybody explains to him that he has a great sense of style, so they like to imitate him.  Mo had never thought of it like that.  So he sets up a fashion show where everyone can show off their own sense of style.  And you will never guess what Mo wears to the party!

Clanton’s writing is brisk and brightly funny.  He uses dialogue from the various monsters to tell much of the story and each one has an impressively different voice and tone from the others.  It all makes this book a treat to share aloud.  It is also a book that celebrates being yourself and having your own personal style. 

The art is modern and zany.  Mo himself has a star on the end of his tail, other monsters are furry, still others are tiny with just one eye.  They are all clearly individuals from the start and so it is a treat to see how they all use the new accessory in their own unique way. 

Clever, smart and full of zest, this book will have you picking out your favorite mustache and scarf too.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

2013 on Twitter

Check out a summation of my 2013 activity on Twitter. Thank you to all of my followers for another great year!

twitter video

Click on the image above to be taken to the video. 

This Week’s Tweets, Pins and Tumbls

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I hope you find interesting:

Fun New Year's Books for Kids - learn about different traditions and resolutions.


15 Children’s Books Re-Envisioned For College Students #kidlit

100 Magnificent Children’s Books 2013 — @fuseeight A Fuse #8 Production #kidlit

Best science picture books of 2013, including one that explains that babies don’t grow in mommy’s tummy. #kidlit

Bilbo Baggins is a girl: Until children’s books catch up to our daughters, rewrite them. #kidlit

For gifters: kid picture books with snowy themes | Post-Crescent Media #kidlit

HARRY POTTER Apparates Into the West End; J.K. Rowling to Co-Produce Stage Play Based on Magical Book Series! #kidlit

Hooked on books: Author James Patterson wants kids to share his love of reading : Student News #kidlit

How Beatrix Potter self-published Peter Rabbit | Books #kidlit

Jim Smith’s top 10 funny books for kids | Children’s books #kidlit

Joyce Sidman casts spells with poetry | Star Tribune #poetry #kidlit

Live Webcast Scheduled for ALA 2014 Youth Media Awards | School Library Journal #kidlit #yalit #awards #libraries

This Is What Children’s Books Looked Like In The 1800s, And It’s Super Fascinating #kidlit


E-Readers Mark A New Chapter In The Developing World : Parallels : NPR #ebooks

It Seems Weird How Cheap Amazon Kindles Are — Until You See This Crazy Stat – Business Insider #ebooks


Germany’s Unperfekthaus: Is this the Library of the Future? – The Digital Shift #libraries

Libraries and how a study into their use influences facilities management | Human factors in FM #libraries

Libraries reinvent themselves for the 21st century #libraries

Library, parks and rec merger commences in Clive | The Des Moines Register #libraries

Weekend Giveaway: Literary Quote Art Prints from Obvious State


54 Civil Liberties and Public Interest Organizations Oppose the FISA Improvements Act | EFF #privacy

CBS Airs NSA Propaganda Informercial Masquerading As ‘Hard Hitting’ 60 Minutes Journalism | Techdirt #privacy

Facebook self-censorship: What happens to the posts you don’t publish? #privacy


Here’s Your First Look at the Much-Anticipated Museum of Science Fiction | Underwire


10 Great Books for the Teen in Your Life #yalit

11 Best YA Books of 2013 – Mashable – #yalit

14 Amazing YA Books With Inspirational Heroines #yalit

Black Girls Hunger for Heroes, Too: A Black Feminist Conversation on Fantasy Fiction for Teens | Bitch Media #yalit

Eleanor Catton’s Advice For Hunger Games Author… #yalit

An Interview with 2014 Morris Award Finalist Carrie Mesrobian | The Hub #yalit

My 25 Favorite Young Adult Book Film Adaptations [Part 1] | Film Equals #yalit

Poster For THE FAULT IN OUR STARS Movie » EarlyWord – #yalit #movies

Seeking Wonderful Young Adult Novels That Deal With Race : Code Switch : NPR #yalit

Why read graphic novels? | Children’s books #yalit

YA Romance in 2013 | Blog | Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – #yalit

NYPL’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing

nypl 2013 list

New York Public Library has released their 2013 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing on a great dynamic page that offers ways to limit the list by age, subject or format.  They also offer a pdf download of the list.  Click any cover image and you can see the full recommendation for that title.  Plenty to love here!

Thanks to Fuse #8 for sharing the link.

Review: Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

herman and rosie

Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

Herman is a crocodile who lives in New York and finds it very lonely.  He loves playing his oboe in his apartment.  His job selling things on the telephone, makes his life less lonely because he can talk to people, but doesn’t make him very good at his job.  Rosie lives in the building next door to Herman and she loves to sing.  She has a job washing dishes but loves most of all her singing lessons and performing in a little jazz club on Thursday nights.  The two are lonely but fairly happy because both of them hear great music floating into their windows from time to time.  Then one day Herman loses his job and Rosie discovers that the jazz club is closing.  The two of them head home and don’t make any music for a long time.  Until they wake up one morning and things have changed.  They are craving their favorite food and want to make music. 

Gordon has written a picture book ode to big city living, particularly New York.  He incorporates the potential loneliness of urban life but also praises the bustling, the music, the lifestyle.  The characters are quirky and believable.  They are the sort of characters who make perfect sense, whose actions are credible, reactions ring true, and they make the entire book work. 

Gordon writes and illustrates with a playful tone.  His illustrations are done in mixed media, including photographs, paint, and pencil.  The different media are worked together so thoroughly that at times you never notice the photos mixed in.  They are so cleverly done that it all forms one unified piece until something catches your eye.

Two musical souls in one big lonely city where they live next door to one another.  It’s a combination just as exquisite as New York itself.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.