In Real Life by Cory Doctorow, illustrated by Jen Wang
After a woman gamer comes to present information on gaming and computer science to her class, Anda starts to play Coarsegold. She starts to spend most of her time away from school playing the online multiplayer game. Online she meets another player who encourages her to start killing gold farmers for real life money. So Anda refocuses her battles online specifically on gold farmers, killing them even though they don’t fight back. But something feels wrong about what she is doing and then Anda gets to know one of the gold farmers who has started to learn English. He is a poor Chinese kid who is just trying to survive and loves playing Coarsegold even though he does it for hours as a gold farmer. Anda soon finds herself questioning the morals of killing gold farmers and what is wrong and right in real life and in the game world.
As a gamer girl myself, I applaud Doctorow for choosing to have a female lead in his book about online gaming. It adds another dimension to a book that wrestles with tough questions about gaming and gold farming. Gold farmers are people, usually from poorer countries, who are paid to play the online game, gather materials, and then sell them for real money, something that is against the rules of the games. So the book gets to the heart of people from wealthy countries using those from poorer countries, it looks at working conditions in gold farming companies, and questions the real ethics of the situation, beyond the superficial ones.
Wang’s illustrations are dynamite. She shows Anda as a girl who is built like a real person. She is rounded, comfortable in her clothes, and wonderfully not on a diet! Wang creates an online character for Anda who is powerful but not busty and half naked. It’s a great choice artistically.
Gaming books that actually get the game worlds right are few and far between. Gamers of any MMO will recognize the economy, the style and the play here while non-gamers will find themselves understanding gaming and game economies too. Appropriate for ages 12-16.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
A Possum’s Tail by Gabby Dawnay, illustrated by Alex Barrow
Little Samuel Drew walks along the streets of London pulling his toy dog behind him, headed in one particular direction. He passes all sorts of people, markets, even Buckingham Palace on his way to London Zoo. He sees many different animals in the zoo, but it’s the possum family in particular that he’s come to visit. But when he gets there, they are all hanging upside down by their tails, fast asleep. So Samuel heads back home again, not noticing that the possum family has woken up and have grabbed hold of the dog’s tail and are all five following along behind. Once home after creating chaos on the London streets, Samuel serves tea to the possums. But wait! How will they get back to the zoo? Another kind of tail to the rescue.
Dawnay has written this book in rhyming couplets that skip along merrily. The pacing is brisk and the humor is whimsical and deliciously drawn out as Samuel fails to see the possums until he reaches home. There is a delightful moment as Samuel returns homeward and passes the same people going the other way. The text repeats itself again in a lively way, echoing the journey that Samuel made to the zoo.
Barrow’s illustrations add to the joy of the journeys to and fro. He first shows the bustling London streets in a straight forward way, then on the return trip the possums cause quite an uproar, though Samuel doesn’t notice at all. Children will love looking at both sets of pictures and seeing the differences even though the words remain the same. The illustrations have a vintage feel with Samuel in a sailor suit and the dog on a string that hearkens to books like Madeleine.
A clever cheerful read that explores London with humor and whimsy. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Tate.
Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third
Three friends, Lupe, El Chavo and Elirio, work together in a garage where they fix cars. They dream of one day having their own garage. Lupe loves working on engines and the mechanics. El Chavo washes them until they shine with his octopus arms. Elirio uses his mosquito size and his long nose to detail the cars. Their favorite kind of car are the low and slow lowriders. So when a contest with a large prize comes along, they know they have to enter. Now they just have to turn a junker into the best car in the universe, so they head into space to see what they can do. This is one unique read that combines space, cars and great friendship.
Camper incorporates Spanish into her story, firmly placing this book into the Hispanic culture. Her characters are clever done. The female in the group is the one who loves engines and mechanical things, yet is incredible feminine too. The book seems to be firmly housed on earth until one big moment launches it into outer space. The incorporation of astronomy into the design and art of the car makes for a book that is wild and great fun to read.
The illustrations by Raul Gonzalez have a cool hipness to them that is honest and without any slickness at all. Done in a limited palette of red, blue and black, the art has a vintage feel that is enhanced by the treatment of the pages with stains and aging.
This graphic novel is cool, star filled, rich with science, and has friendship at its heart. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
The shortlist for the Red House Children’s Book Award have been announced. The Red House Children’s Book Award is the only national UK book prize that is voted on entirely by children. It is divided into three age-specific categories. Here is the shortlist:
The Day the Crayons Quit by Oliver Jeffers and Drew Daywalt
Go to Sleep or I Let Loose the Leopard by Steve Cole and Bruce Ingman
That Is Not a Good Idea by Mo Willems
Baby Aliens Got My Teacher by Pamela Butchart
The Bomber Dog by Mega Rix
Demon Dentist by David Walliams
Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman
Prince of the Icemark by Stuart Hill
Split Second by Sophie McKenzie
Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge
Explore different baby mammals from around the world in this nonfiction picture book. Learn about how different animals function when they are born, polar bear babies are tiny and are kept safe for months before going outside while giraffes are born ready to run right away. Baby animals eat in different ways too. Baby bears nurse, baby wolves learn to eat meat quickly, and other animals eat grass and drink their mother’s milk. Other subjects like protection and shelter are examined as well as grooming, moving from place to place, and what their families look like. This book is a celebration of the diversity of mammals on the earth and all of the ways in which they are loved and cared for as they grow.
Judge offers just enough information on each animal to make the book readable. She gives intriguing glimpses of each animal before moving on to the next. It’s a fast paced book that merrily jumps from one animal to the next. More in-depth information on each of the featured mammals can be found at the end of the book.
Judge’s art is exceptional. Her animals are filled with personality. The baby mammals look straight out at the reader at times, their parents’ eyes are filled with love, and there is a tangible joy to each of the images. The cuteness factor could have been unbearable, but instead it’s perfect, just the right amount of cute and wild mixed together.
A great choice for smaller children who love animals, this book is gorgeous as well as informative. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Over There by Steve Pilcher
Shredder lives all by himself in the big forest. He has a cozy bed in a matchbox under a maple tree, he has plenty to eat which means worms since he’s a shrew, and he has a pet acorn. But acorns can’t talk and Shredder felt that something was missing. So he sets off to see if there is something more out there. Seeing a twinking in the distance, he heads out to see what it is. After a long journey all night, it turns out to be a tiny silver boat and Shredder climbs aboard. But the boat doesn’t float for long. Happily, just as Shredder disappears under the water, a hand reaches out to save him. It’s a mole, named Nosey. As the two of them spend time together, Shredder starts to realize that he has found “something more” after all.
Pilcher’s story is straight forward and speaks directly to loneliness and the journey to find a new friend. He incorporates clever elements that create wonderful quiet moments in the book. The time that Shredder spends with his silent acorn pet, the question of what the shining thing in the distance is, the floating moments on the water, the warmth of new friendship.
What is most special about the book though is the art. Done by Disney Press as part of their Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase, it will come as no surprise that the entire book reads like an animated movie. The backgrounds on the page have a cinematic depth to them. Shredder himself is immensely likeable as a character, a tiny shrew often dwarfed by the world around him.
A fine picture book, this book is very appealing thanks to its friendly art and the jolly adventure at its heart. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Dragon and the Knight by Robert Sabuda
This new pop up book by Sabuda, a master of the form, is very child friendly. While I admired his remakes of the classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, those books spoke more to adults than to children. This new book is perfect to share aloud with a child who will enjoy a romp through different fairy tales. A knight starts chasing a dragon through different stories including Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood. Each page opens to a different scene that pops open showing the characters of the story created out of the pages of their book. Entirely clever, quick reading and worthy of revisiting again and again.
Sabuda’s art in creating pop up designs will astound young readers. Two pages in particularly are stunning. There is the entire gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel that pops into being in 3D complete with awnings, windows, door and chimney. Another amazing page is Little Red Riding Hood where the trees pop into a woods that has different dimensions and lots of height. Readers will also enjoy the little reveal at the end as the knight takes off HER helmet.
As always, pop up books aren’t really for very small children, but this is one of those that could be shared carefully with preschoolers who will love the detail and the incredible joy of the format. Appropriate for ages 4-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Jam has been taken by her family to The Wood Barn, a boarding school in Vermont for fragile teens. After losing her British boyfriend, Reeve, Jam has been unable to function at all. She just wants to be left alone with her grief and loss. Jam spends her days sleeping and thinking about Reeve and how in only a few weeks their relationship grew into love only to have him die suddenly. At her new school, Jam finds herself selected for a small and exclusive English class where they will read one author for the entire semester. They are also given journals to record their feelings and ideas, old books that look ancient and valuable. As Jam starts to write in hers for the first time, she is transported to a world where Reeve is still alive, where they can spend a brief time together, and where they can relive their experiences with one another. All of the students in the class are having this experience and together they decide to only write in the journals twice a week to make them last, because no one knows what happens to this strange world of the journal when the pages run out. By the end of their experiences in the place they call Belzhar, Jam must face the truths of her loss and her grief.
Wolitzer has earned acclaim as the author of adult literary novels and her short works of fiction. Those skills really show here as she turns what could have been a novel about teenage love and loss into a beautiful and compelling work of magical realism. When I started the novel, I had not expected the journals to be anything more than paper, so that inclusion of a fantasy element thoroughly changed the novel for me. It made it richer, more of an allegory, and lifted it to another level.
Jam, the protagonist, is a girl who does not open up readily. The book is told in her voice and yet readers will not know her thoroughly until the end of the book. It is because of Wolitzer’s skill as a writer that readers may not even realize until the twist comes that the book has even more to reveal. Jam is also not particularly likeable, and I appreciate that. Instead she is lonely, prickly, eager to please and complex. That is what makes the novel work.
This is a particularly deep and unique novel for teens that reveals itself slowly and wondrously on the page. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Dutton.