Review: The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

children of the king

The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

Along with their mother, Cecily and Jeremy are sent from London to the English countryside during the bombings of World War II.  Seeing other children who don’t have parents or family with them, Cecily decides that her family should take in one of the young refugees.  So she picks out May, a girl who looks just the right age to be a friend but also still young enough that Cecily can be in charge.  But May won’t be contained by Cecily, and soon is out exploring the countryside on her own.  She is the one who first discovers the two boys hiding in the ruins of Snow Castle.  Cecily joins May and the two of them meet the boys who are dressed in old-fashioned clothing.  Meanwhile in the evenings, Cecily and Jeremy’s uncle Peregrine tells the story of Richard III and his nephews.  The two stories weave together, two levels of history intertwined into one gorgeous tale.

Hartnett does so much in this book without ever losing sight of the heart of the story.  Her story telling is phenomenal.  She shares details of life during the Blitz and creates a warm and rich world of safety in the country.  Within the World War II setting, she manages to have a character tell of another historical period with its own harrowing historical details.  So often in a book with a story within a story, one is better than the other.  Here they are both beautifully done and complement each other nicely.

Throughout the book, Hartnett uses imagery and beautiful prose.  Her writing is rich and dazzling, painting pictures of the countryside, the city, Heron Hall, and England for readers.  Here is how the study in Heron Hall is described for readers on page 35.  This is just part of the lush writing that sets the stage:

Underfoot were flattened rugs, and a fire karate-chopped at the throat of the chimney.  There was a good smell of cigarette smoke mixed with toast and dog; this room was a den, the lair of Heron Hall’s owner.  Here, rather than in any of the grander rooms, was there the house’s living was done.

Hartnett’s characters are done with an ear for tone.  Jeremy and Cecily have a mother who is mostly absent though she is right there all the time.  She is disengaged from their days and even when they are out in town together she is separate and withdrawn.  Cecily too is a rather unlikeable character.  And what a risk that is, to create a story primarily about a little girl who is pushy, bossy and whiny.  Yet it is Cecily who makes the book work, the character who brings the responses, the action, and keeps it from being overly sweet or convenient. 

Gorgeously written with a complex storyline and interesting characters, this is one incredible piece of historical fiction.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Candlewick Press.

Review: A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley

home for mr emerson

A Home for Mr. Emerson by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

Ralph Waldo Emerson grew up in Boston where he moved often with his family.  He dreamed of living out in the country near fields and woods.  After college Emerson moved to the small town of Concord, Massachusetts where he bought a farmhouse.  He brought along a bride and an extensive personal library.  He quickly found that he wanted friends to fill up his house and set off throughout Concord to meet his neighbors.  Emerson now had all that he wanted, a family, woods, fields, an orchard and many books and friends.  He began to travel extensively and lecture which brought even more people to his home, people from around the world.  Then one day, Emerson’s beloved home caught on fire and it was his way of life that saves him in the end.

The creative team that did The Extraordinary Mark Twain and What to Do about Alice? return with another dynamic picture book biography.  Kerley manages to both introduce Emerson to elementary-aged children and also to delve deeply into his personal life and the way that his writings reflected that lifestyle as well.  More details about Emerson and his life are available at the end of the book along with inspiration for young people to build their own worlds around what they love. 

Fotheringham’s illustrations are fresh and whimsical.  He has created a world of vivid colors against which the black and white figure of Emerson pops out.  Nature is celebrated in the images, reflecting Emerson’s connection to it and the Concord community spirit is shown as well.

Another exceptional picture book biography from an amazing team, this is a great pick for young readers who don’t know Emerson but will appreciate his sentiments.   Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

winners curse

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Kestrel refuses to join the military like her father wants her to.  They live on an island conquered by the Valorian army and her father is a general, but Kestel wants to continue playing her music not killing people.   She also doesn’t want to get married, which is her other option in Valerian society.  When in the markets with her best friend one day, Kestrel finds herself at the slave market and then against her better judgment she buys a young man.  Arin is an unusual slave, a gifted blacksmith, he also has a connection to music though he tries to hide it.  The two of them slowly begin to fall in love with one another, though both of their societies forbid it.  But the world is about to twist and turn around them, bringing their love into question, their motives into doubt, and placing their very lives at risk. 

Rutkoski has created a world tinged with magic but not overflowing with it.  While her book has the feel of a light romance, it has much more depth than that.  It is a book that explores questions about slavery, about what victors in a war should be able to take and own, about protection and when that becomes a sort of slavery or jail.  There is romance, definitely, but it is a romance built on unequal footing and even lies. 

This is a society in a precarious state, delicately balanced and written so that  the reader is very aware not only of how uncertain things are but also of the forces at work to destroy that balance.  Rutkoski does a great job of creating a world where the enslaved people had recently lived in the homes where they now work as servants.  The tug and pull of this and their connection to the land is a vital part of the book and makes the world unique and riveting.

The two main characters each have chapters of the book from their points of view.  Kestrel struggles against the constraints of her warrior upbringing, a society that is strict and formal but also bloodthirsty.  Arin has lost everything and much of the story is the reader trying to figure out what and who Arin once was.  Their relationship mirrors the world they are caught in.  It is rebellious, as delicate as blown glass, and yet with a core of strength. 

A stunning cover will have teens finding themselves thrown headlong into a world of corruption, war and slavery but also one of romance and beauty.  Powerful and magnificent, there are no easy answers between these covers but the questions are certainly worthy of exploration. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.

Review: Hannah’s Night by Komako Sakai

hannahs night

Hannah’s Night by Komako Sakai

When Hannah woke up one day, she was surprised to find that it was still night.  She tried to wake up her older sister, but she would not wake up.  So Hannah headed downstairs with Shiro the cat.  She checked on her parents and they were asleep too.  Hannah gave Shiro some milk, ate some cherries right from the refrigerator, and no one scolded her.  When Hannah returned to her bedroom, she checked again on her sister.  Then she borrowed her sister’s doll, her music box, and her art supplies and played with them on her bed.  As dawn arrives, Hannah gets sleepy again and falls back asleep.

Sakai has created a beautiful little book filled with the glow of the moon and the delight of the night.  What is done best here is the lack of drama or danger.  Instead it is a story of small mischiefs and safety.  The stealing out of bed itself is enough to drive the story forward and keeps the book moving yet doesn’t make it scary or frightening at all.  The matter-of-fact tone of the writing also adds to the peaceful feel of the book.

Sakai’s art is rich and textured.  Layered and filled with the blues of night, the images have a radiant delicacy.  The combination of rough edges and the detail of sleepy eyelashes create a book that is beautiful to look at as well as a pleasure to share aloud.

A nighttime story, this is one bedtime story that may not keep little wanderers in bed but is worth sharing all the same.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

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:

Read books to your little one that reflect a diverse world.


Aaron Starmer and Laurel Snyder Interview Each Other About Loneliness, Magic, and The Outsiders | Nerdy Book Club

Can books unite children across the world? | Children’s books #kidlit

Jean Craighead George’s Children Complete Her Final Novel #kidlit

A Picture-Book Like No Other | Brain Pickings #kidlit

‘Pippi Longstocking’ Author Astrid Lindgren Gets a Spot on Sweden’s 20 Krona Note – GalleyCat #kidlit

Rush Limbaugh selection in children’s book competition causes a stir – CNN #kidlit

(via Fascinating Illustrations Blend People, Animals, and Objects Together - My Modern Metropolis)


E-book Settlement Refunds Released to Consumers #ebooks


Fisking How “Libraries Are Failing America” | Agnostic, Maybe

How US libraries are becoming community problem solvers | Local Leaders Network | Guardian Professional #libraries

I hang out at libraries, even when I’m not looking for a book | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST #libraries

Joint statement from the presidents of AILA, APALA, BCALA, CALA, REFORMA and ALA #libraries

New Top 10 Reasons Why Libraries are still Important – Stephen’s Lighthouse New #libraries

St. Paul Public Library: Sharing More Than Books – YouTube #libraries

Central Library San Diego: Art Gallery


MetaPhone: The Sensitivity of Telephone Metadata « Web Policy #privacy

People Battle to Regain Online Privacy #privacy


American Libraries Learn To Read Teenagers : The Protojournalist : NPR #libraries

Another Reason The Hunger Games Is Awesome: Katniss Is Taller Than Peeta – … AMEN says the tall girl

A Censored History of Ladies in YA Fiction | BOOK RIOT #yalit

Is Divergent Sci-Fi’s First Successful Bisexual Allegory? #yalit #glbtq

A message from Holly Black and Cassandra Clare | Children’s books #yalit

Must Every YA Action Heroine Be Petite? – Julianne Ross – The Atlantic #yalit

Stacked: Challenging the Expectation of YA Characters as "Role Models" for Girls #yalit

Tanya Byrne’s top 10 black characters in children’s books | Children’s books #kidlit #yalit

This Spring’s Hottest Teen Books #yalit

YA Outer Space Adventures to Read While Waiting for the Next Tin Star | BOOK RIOT #yalit

Review: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi

grandfather gandhi

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk

When Arun went to stay at his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi’s village, he worried that he would not be able to live up to his famous name.  Arun walked all the way from the station to the village and made his grandfather proud, but he continued to fret that he would not do the right thing the next time.  The village was very different from where he lived before.  Arun had to share his grandfather’s attention with 350 followers who lived there as well.  Arun struggled with his studies and the other kids teased him as well.  He found the meditation and prayers difficult too.  His grandfather urged him to give it time, that peace would come.  However, Arun just found it more and more frustrating.  When Arun finally lost his temper with another boy, he had to tell his grandfather about it, worried that he would be told that he would never live up to his name.  How will Mahatma Gandhi react to this angry young man?

Gandhi relates his own memories of his grandfather, offering his honest young reactions to this amazing yet also formidable man.  The book resulted from Arun recounting childhood stories aloud.  Hegedus emailed him afterwards and asked to work on a book with him, though she felt very unworthy of such a project.  The book is beautifully written and speaks to everyone who has felt that electric anger surge through them too.  Hegedus sets the stage very nicely for the lesson, allowing time for Arun’s anger to build even as she shows the lifestyle of the village and Mahatma Gandhi himself.  It is a book that is crafted for the most impact, building to that moment of truth.

Turk’s illustrations add much to the book.  Using mixed media, he offers oranges, purples, deep pinks and more that show the heat not only of the climate but of Arun’s anger.  Throughout, he also uses fabrics for the clothing, creating three-dimensional depth to the paintings.  When Arun’s emotions flare, the illustrations show that with tangles of black thread that all bring readers back to the image of Gandhi spinning neat white thread.  The contrast is subtle and profound.

Personal and noteworthy, this is a picture book about Gandhi that is entirely unique and special.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

2014 Booktrust Best Book Shortlist

booktrust award logo

Booktrust has announced the short list for their Best Book Awards, a new UK prize in children’s literature.  There are five age categories as well as a sixth category for best tech book.  The winners are selected by public votes from children.  Here are the shortlisted titles:



Do Not Enter The Monster Zoo Peck, Peck, Peck

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

Peck Peck Peck by Lucy Cousins

The Snatchabook The Storm Whale

The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty, illustrated by Thomas Docherty

The Storm Whale by Benji Davies


BEST STORY (Ages 6-8)

The Great Galloon (The Great Galloon, #1) Oliver and the Seawigs Penny Dreadful Is a Record Breaker Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

The Great Galloon by Tom Banks

Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve, illustrated by Sarah McIntyre

Penny Dreadful Is a Record Breaker by Joanna Nadin, illustrated by Jessica Mikhail

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephen Pastis


BEST STORY (Ages 9-11)

Hard Luck (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, #8) The Jade Boy The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co., #1) The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney

The Jade Boy by Cate Cain

Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth by Julia Lee


BEST FACT (Ages 9-11)

Not For Parents How to be a Dinosaur Hunter (Lonely Planet Children's Publishing) Operation Ouch!: Your Brilliant Body 

Not for Parents: How to Be a Dinosaur Hunter by Scott Forbes, illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock

Operation Ouch!: Your Brilliant Body by Dr. Chris van Tulleken and Dr. Xand van Tulleken

The Romans: Gods, Emperors, and Dormice Space in 30 Seconds: 30 Super-Stellar Subjects For Cosmic Kids Explained in Half a Minute (Children's 30 Second)

The Romans: Gods Emperors and Dormice by Marcia Williams

Space in 30 Seconds by Clive Gifford, illustrated by Melvyn Evans


BEST STORY (Ages 12-14)

Dead Romantic The Fault in Our Stars Heroic You Don't Know Me

Dead Romantic by C J Skuse

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Heroic by Phil Earle

You Don’t Know Me by Sophia Bennett


BEST TECH (Ages 0-14)

Axel Scheffler’s Flip-Flap Farm by Axel Scheffler

Little Red Riding Hood illustrated by Ed Bryan

Signed Stories: The Lark in the Ark by Peter Bently, illustrated by Lynne Chapman

The Slightly Annoying Elephant by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross

Review: Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth

aviary wonders

Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth

Birds are steadily going extinct, but Aviary Wonders Inc. has the solution.  Ever since 2031, they have been providing a fun and engaging way to create your own avian companion.  Each bird is made up of high-quality parts that you can put together in unique ways that never existed in nature.  You can keep your bird or set it free.  Teach it to sing and fly.  Assembly is as easy as putting together a book case.  To get started, just select the body type that you want to start with.  After that, you can pick out the beak, tail, legs, feet, wings and crests.  Assembly instructions are included in the book as are directions for feeding and caring for your pet bird.  This clever and creepy look at a potential future for birds serves as a warning for all.

Samworth marries a warning about loss of habitat and food for birds with a catalog that hearkens back to turn of the century catalogs and the wonders they contained.  There is definitely a strange and frightening factor on every page.  While the beaks, tails and wings are beautifully drawn, the images of the beakless birds turns it all odd and stomach-twisting.  It is that interplay of disturbing and lovely that makes the book very effective.

The art in the book is a large part of its success.  Samworth honors the variety and beauty of birds while also making them firmly her own with the wild colors, naming of the different styles, and hawking of her “wares.”  The image of the sepia-toned beakless, legless and featherless bird resting on a pillow is profoundly wrong in just the right way. 

Full of black humor, creepy sales pitch jargon and a message of how close we are to truly losing entire types of creatures, this book is beautiful, moving and frightening.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Astrid Lindgren Award Winner

The winner of the 2014 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) has been announced.  The ALMA is the world’s largest monetary award for children’s literature, approximately $770,000 and is given annually to one or more authors, illustrators, storytellers or promoters of reading. 

Benny and the Binky The Wild Baby Sam's Cookie

This year’s winner is Swedish author Barbro Lindgren.  You can visit the ALMA site for more details on Lindgren’s life and work.