Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

noggin

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Travis died five years ago.  Now he’s alive again.  But not the same and nothing else is the same either.  Travis’ head is now attached to a different body, a healthy body, one not dying of cancer.  You see, when Travis was dying of cancer, he and his parents took a huge risk and had his head severed from his body and frozen.  Now Travis is one of two survivors of the cryogenic procedure and he has returned to the same home, the same parents, the same friends, but not the same life.  His girlfriend is now engaged to someone else.  His best friend who had admitted he was gay just before Travis died is now dating a girl and about to move in with her.  His mother can’t look at him without crying.  And Travis’ room which used to be his haven now is sterile and hotel-like.  But Travis is the same except for his body.  It was as if he closed his eyes and reopened them.  So what is a guy to do?  Well, he still has to finish high school, get his driver’s license and of course try to regain the girl.  But nothing is simple when you are on a completely different timeframe than everyone else!

Whaley blends immense amounts of humor into his novel.  Though Travis’ experience is unique, it also speaks to the universal experience of being a teen, of not fitting in, of making bad decisions, and yet of being vitally alive at the same time.  Whaley also cleverly turns the trend of books about dying teens on its head (pun intended).  This is a book about life but also deeply about loss, grief and death and how funny it can all be. 

What is most surprising about this book is the honesty it has and that through its humor there are deep truths revealed.  Whaley deals with the emotions of Travis’ return beautifully like in this scene on page 40 when he sees his best friend for the first time:

He let go for a second and wiped his face with the back of one sleeve before holding me by each shoulder and sort of just staring at me for a while with this expression that I’m still convinced no other person has ever had, a combination of shock, joy, pain, and terror.  It was like I could see all his memories of me projected into the air between us, rushing and swirling around and enveloping us both in a nostalgic haze.

This book has tremendous heart and a strong sense of its absurdity.  It has depth, humor and cool scars too.  Pure teen reading perfection.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root

plant a pocket of prairie

Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Betsy Bowen

Prairies used to cover vast swaths of the United States, but are almost entirely gone now.  In this nonfiction picture book, young readers are invited to create their own small prairies at home.  Root offers ideas for what native prairie plants should be planted first and then ties each plant to a type of wildlife that will arrive along with the plants.  Butterfly weed invites monarchs to your yard.  Asters and rough blazing star bring even more butterflies.  Toads, birds, mice, bumblebees, and more may appear in your little garden.  And who knows, if lots of people plant a little prairie, eventually we may have prairies back across the nation.

Root has written this book in poetry that rhymes at times and others not.  There are rhymes at the ends of lines, then internal rhymes within a line, and other times it is the rhythm and flow of the words themselves that create the structure.  It has a strong organic feel to it, the names of the plants flowing into those of the animals they will bring to your yard.  The book ends with information on all of the plants, animals and insects mentioned in the book as well as further information on the state of prairies in the United States and where you can go to see a prairie.

The illustrations by Bowen are light and free.  They focus on the plants and animals, showing them clearly.  Along the way, one bird moves from page to page, planting seeds that grow into the garden and building her own nest in the new habitat.  There is a sense of the garden expanding and building as the book continues, yet that light feel continues throughout. 

A song of the prairie, this book will inspire young gardeners to try native plants and is a great addition to curriculums in schools doing their own garden programs.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from digital galley received from University of Minnesota Press and NetGalley.

Rich Information from Reading Picture Books

baby-316214_1280A study in Frontiers in Psychology, an open access journal, shows that mothers reading picture books to their children share just as much information about the content in narrative and non-narrative picture books.

The study from the University of Waterloo observed 25 mothers as they read books to their toddlers.  One book about animals was narrative while the other book about animals was not.  The study showed that the amount of statements by the mothers about the animals did not vary according to the formats.  The conclusion of the study is:

Although non-fiction books and documentary films may first come to mind when one thinks about the genres of media that are likely to provide natural facts about the world, the present findings suggest that both narrative and non-narrative children’s picture books stimulate such pedagogical talk from mothers. While the narrative books promoted more references to individual characters, the non-narrative books elicited more instances of labels. Surprisingly, the two types of books encouraged similar amounts of generic talk about kinds of animals and talk about natural facts. Based on these findings, we leave the reader with one final piece of generic information: picture book stories aren’t just for fun; they’re for learning, too.

I love a study that proves the power of reading any sort of book to children.  Beautiful!

Review: The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp

worst princess

The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp and Sara Ogilvie

Girl power is celebrated in this picture book that turns the princess role firmly on its head.  Princess Sue has been lingering in her castle for over 100 years, waiting for her prince to come and rescue her.  Just as she is about to lose it, her prince appears on horseback and whisks her off.  But just as Sue thinks that she is heading to freedom, the prince arrives at his castle where Sue is given her own tower filled with dresses and shoes and informed that she shouldn’t even be thinking of adventures.  But Sue refuses to give up on her dreams and when she sees a fearsome dragon flying nearby, she gets a clever idea.

I must admit to a certain adoration for books that take girls away from the stereotypical princess role and make them active participants in their own destinies.  So this book is right up my alley.  Told in rhyme, the effect is dashing and active rather than sweet and stately.  It also has the feel of a bard’s story about Princess Sue.  The writing is also humorous and fun-filled.

The illustrations of the book are bright-colored and also filled with humor.  Sue’s long braids dangle down, her dress changes as the story progresses, and the sharing of tea with a dragon is definitely something to see. 

Get this in the hands of modern children who want to be more than princesses (and princes) as well as dragon-lovers.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

Review: The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat

adventures of beekle

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

Join Beekle, an imaginary friend, who is so special that no child seems to be able to even imagine him.  He waits and waits along with the other imaginary creatures, but he is never dreamed of by a child.  So Beekle does what no other imaginary friend has ever done, he heads out to find his child in the real world.  He finds himself in a big city, filled with grey people and lots of adults.  Luckily, he spots a bright familiar color and shape and follows it to a playground where he thinks he can find his special friend.  But they don’t come.  Beekle climbs a tree to see if he can spot his friend, but still no one comes.  Beekle climbs down, then a small girls gestures for him to get her paper out of the tree.  And on that page…  Well, you will just have to imagine it for yourself or get this charmer of a book to read and find out what happens next.

Santat has created a book that reads like a modern classic.  He has combined so many wonderful moments and positive feelings here that it’s like drinking a cup of cocoa for the spirit.  Beekle himself is perfection, a round and friendly little soul whose crown is made of construction paper and tape and who is unwilling to sit lonely when he could do something about his situation.  His positive reaction to a dismal situation is a great model for children. 

At the same time, this is a testament to imagination.  Both a warm embrace of imaginary friends and their positive role in children’s lives.  But also a celebration of Santat’s own imagination.  The world he creates is filled with the grey of adulthood, but childhood and imagination make that world shine in new colors. 

A delight of a picture book, this is one to share cuddled up in bed and to cheer aloud with the story.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward

mama built a little nest

Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Told in rhyme, this book explores the many different ways that birds create nests for their eggs and babies.  The jaunty rhyme is accompanied by informational text on each species and their habitats and nest building style.  Bird species range from penguins to falcons to flamingos.  There are also more unusual birds like weaverbirds as shown on the cover of the book. 

Ward’s rhyme works well here, offering a playful feel to a book filled with scientific information.  She has also selected a great mix of species with familiar birds mixed in with more exotic ones.  Each has its own unusual way of creating a nest, making this a book where turning the page is part of the adventure.

As always, Jenkins’ cut paper art is spectacular.  He manages to create so much life with textured paper and different colors.  From the subtle colors of a cactus plant to the feathers on an owl’s wing, this art is lovely and makes this book very special.

Intelligently and beautifully presented, this nonfiction picture book will entice young readers to learn even more about birds.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarter-Finalists

Badge

The 100 top entries in each of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award categories have been announced.  On June 13th, Amazon Publishing will announce the top five that advance to the semi-final.  The semifinalists for the Young Adult Fiction category are here.  The award goes to an unpublished or self-published novel that will then be published by Amazon Publishing.

Boys, Reading and Misogynistic Crap

child-315049_1280Children’s book author Jonathan Emmett says that “boys are being deterred from reading because the ‘gatekeepers’ to children’s literature are mostly women.”  The gatekeepers are editors, publishers, librarians, judges and reviewers of children’s books. 

According to an article in The Times of London that is summarized on a more accessible page at Publishing Perspectives, he believes that there isn’t enough boy-friendly elements in children’s books.  I’m honestly not sure what books he’s been looking at because he then goes on to name some pretty big themes in children’s titles:  “battling pirate ships” and “technical details about spaceships.” 

He does have some support from a couple of female authors who incongruously to the very claim of the author write very boy-friendly titles.  And he has done his research.  Out of 400 reviews in five British newspapers, less than 20% of the picture book reviews were written by men and less than a third of the fiction reviews.  That compares to 47% of the picture books being written by men and 41% of the children’s books.

Now wait.  So the claim is that the powerful cadre of women who control publishing, like LIBRARIANS as an example, are using the reviews that they write to weed out the boy friendly titles?  Or is the claim that the female publishers are controlling the writing of the male authors and making sure that they are not filled with swords, battles, dragons, pirates, etc. 

As a children’s librarian, I worked hard to get titles children love into the right hands.  If a boy or girl, because this is even more of that gender-focus that doesn’t help anything in our culture, comes in and asks for pirate books, I merrily get them those books.  Books into hands.  That’s all I want to manage. 

But perhaps the most disgusting part of logical extension of the author’s claim is that we as women are out to emasculate male children by withholding books they would prefer to read.  Producing books that reflect a softened, feminized version of our world, no battling pirates, no technical information, no baddies smoking, few if any baddies at all.  What misogynistic crap!

Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1) The Real Boy Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War

Women are writing some of the most captivating and violent books for children and teens. 

Women are the ones in the low-paying jobs of teacher and librarian who get books into the hands of children. 

Women are the ones who take the time to listen to the small voices of children and pick those marvelous Captain Underpants books off the shelves for them among many others.

Women are worried about the gender gap in reading and are having conversations about how best to collect books in our libraries that boys (and non-reading girls) will enjoy.

Women, professionally and as moms and grandmothers, are powerful, I agree with Mr. Emmett about that.  It is our power that will help solve this issue, not perpetuate it.

First Clip from Fault in Our Stars Film

Enjoy the “Metaphor” clip from the upcoming Fault in Our Stars movie: