Category: Book Reviews

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T Cook by Leslie Connor

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor (InfoSoup)

Perry has lived in the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility for all eleven years of his life. His mother is incarcerated there and the warden has made it possible for them to be together. He sleeps in his own small room and makes the morning announcements out to the cell blocks. There are many people at the facility that he adores and who love his too, making up his family. He goes to school in the community nearby but obviously can’t invite his friends over to his house. As his mother’s parole date nears, a local DA discovers that Perry is living in the prison and has him removed. Perry is moved to live with the DA and his step daughter, who happens to be Perry’s best friend. There is also some question about whether Perry living at the prison will stop his mother’s parole. As the parole date is moved back, Perry works on a class project about how he came to live in the county and that means telling the stories of his prison family, particularly his mother’s.

Connor writes a piercingly honest book about the power of family and love, and the way that families don’t need to be nuclear to be functional and loving. Taking the unique perspective of a boy who grows up inside a facility, Connor demonstrates what a good prison looks like, how it can be a community and a home and how it can heal and allow for people to forgive themselves. The perspective of Perry’s mother is also shared in some chapters, giving the loving mother a voice as she tries to protect Perry from her own truth.

I must complain a bit about the title, which I continue to find confusing even after finishing the book. Add to that the cover which I also don’t relate closely to the book. It’s too bad, given the high quality of the writing and the story and I do hope that the paperback version does a better job of selling the real story inside.

A superb read that looks at prisons, families and the power of community. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Katherine Tegen Books.

 

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm (InfoSoup)

Released August 30, 2016.

This companion novel to Holm’s Newbery Honor Book, Turtle in Paradise, returns readers to the world of Depression-era Key West. The main character is Beans, Turtle’s cousin. It’s 1934 and the streets of Key West are filled with piles of garbage since there isn’t any money for trash pick up anymore. There are no jobs on the island, especially for a kid. Beans’ mother takes in laundry to make ends meet and his father heads north to New Jersey to see if he can find work there. Beans needs to find a way to provide for the family and for himself, so he tries jobs like searching the stinking garbage piles for cans. But when he doesn’t get paid what he’s been promised, Beans realizes that all adults lie. His best option seems to be working in the smuggling business, but that will have consequences that Beans is not prepared for at all.

Holm writes with a natural ease that is deceptively easy to read. Her writing allows readers to explore Key West in a time just as it is becoming a tourist destination due to the New Deal and its workers. Beans’ personal story is clearly tied to the story of Key West with his own despair and lack of money mirroring the city’s. His own journey through to honesty and truth follows that of the city as well. It’s a clever dynamic that makes both roads to change all the easier to relate to and believe.

Beans is a dynamic and wonderfully funny character. He cares deeply for his family even as he spends time avoiding his baby brother and feeling burdened by his younger brother, Kermit. Still, when others are hurting, Beans is there to help in his own way, one that is so deeply himself that readers will adore it. Throughout Beans grows and matures but steadfastly remains the same character, just a little older and wiser. He is brilliantly drawn and a joy to read.

A great follow-up novel to the award winner, this book is a great read aloud for classrooms and families. Children will howl with laughter at Beans’ adventures all the while learning about the Depression and the value of honesty. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Books for Young Readers.

 

Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah

Dara Palmers Major Drama by Emma Shevah

Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah (InfoSoup)

Dara knows that she is a star. She can make all of the facial expressions in her favorite teen movies, has huge posters of her two favorite actors on her bedroom walls, and has lots of imaginary conversations with them as she dreams of her future in Hollywood. Her first step to stardom is landing the lead in the school production of The Sound of Music, and she just knows that her name is going to be called. But then it isn’t. Dara starts to wonder if it’s about the color of her skin, since she knows she’s an amazing actress. Dara was adopted from Cambodia. Then she notices that others with different skin colors are in the cast. The teacher offers her the role of stage manager, but Dara won’t agree to that. The teacher also invites her to join her acting classes, but Dara knows she doesn’t need them. As Dara slowly realizes that she may have a lot to learn after all, readers become convinced that Dara may just be the star she always thought she was.

Shevah has created in Dara a character who is both repulsive and compelling. Dara is unthinking, rather vain and unable to listen at the beginning of the book. Wisely, Shevah frames the book as looking into the past and Dara knowing that she wasn’t a very nice person back then. This gives readers permission to dislike Dara and yet also enjoy her humor, drive and sparkle. It also makes Dara’s deep changes all the more believable. Various characters also help Dara see herself anew, including her siblings, her parents and her best friend. This is done in many different ways from overt to subtle and is a skillful way to create change in a character.

The voice throughout the book is entirely Dara’s. The fonts change with Dara’s emphasis on various words, showing the passion and emotions behind them. The book design is fresh and friendly, having designs around the page edges and illustrations that break up the text a bit.

A strong and funny protagonist becomes much more self-aware in this gorgeous novel. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke (InfoSoup)

Released September 6, 2016.

Jack wants to spend his summer sleeping in or even with a job of his own. Instead, he is stuck watching his mute younger sister for the summer while his mother takes a second job to pay bills. Then one day at a flea market, Maddy does speak and tells Jack to trade his mother’s car for a box of unusual seeds. Jack does and soon his summer has turned into something very different. They create a garden at home and the seeds turn out to be very wild and even magical. There are onions that can walk, squash that bite, others that chase them down. Huge snails climb the house and one night a green dragon appears. Soon Jack has a choice to make, destroy the garden and its evil magic or risk them all.

According to the author note, this book was in the works for ten years. It’s a brilliant riff on the Jack in the Beanstalk classic. Fans of Zita the Spacegirl will recognize the character who sells Jack the seeds, which is a lovely little moment. Hatke keeps the pace wildly active with readers not knowing at all what is going to appear in the garden next. There is plenty of action and a willingness to just spend time exploring the magic garden and what it holds. Those pages are a delight.

The characters are nicely done as well with Maddy being the one who doesn’t speak but is also integral to all of the decisions being made. Then there is Lilly, the neighbor girl who knows how to wield a sword and even has access to other weapons and armor that will become crucial in the story. I greatly appreciate having a homeschooled girl character who is the one who knows how to battle and knows how to get along with others. It is these critical choices by the author that makes the book work so well. Maddy too is an autistic child who may not speak but has deep connections to the garden and knows exactly what she wants and often knows better than her brother.

Get this in the hands of Zita fans for sure and also those enjoying the battles in Hilo. There is so much to love here! Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from First Second and Edelweiss.

 

The Haunting of Falcon House by Eugene Yelchin

The Haunting of Falcon House by Eugene Yelchin

The Haunting of Falcon House by Eugene Yelchin (InfoSoup)

Twelve-year-old Prince Lev Lvov moves in with his aunt at Falcon House. It is a house that he will inherit as he is heir to the Lvov estate. Lev wants to be just like his grandfather, a general in the Russian army, stern and strong. Things are strange though at Falcon House where he finds wonders like an elevator in the home but also rooms that have not been touched in years. As he enters the home, Lev sees another young boy there, playing on the banister. Lev is sent to sleep in his grandfather’s old study where he can’t sleep and finds himself drawing and drawing with much more skill than he ever had before. In fact, he finds it nearly impossible to put the pen down. Slowly Lev starts to learn the secrets of his family and realize that some of the family secrets are more terrifying than ghosts.

Yelchin won a Newbery Honor for Breaking Stalin’s Nose. Here he very successfully merges historical Russia with a dark ghost story. Based on the premise of having found old notes and drawings from Lvov, the book is immediately mysterious and filled with wonder. There is the amazing setting of the huge mansion, filled with things like death masks and a basement of mothballed clothes. There are the servants who manage to work for his aunt despite her disdain and harshness. There is the ghost, who tells his own story but ever so slowly. They all create a world of darkness and beguilement.

Then the book turns and changes, becoming something deeper and more filled with emotion. It looks beyond the cranky aunt and into why she acts the way she does. It examines the death of a boy and eventually becomes about who is responsible for it and why. It looks at servants and royals, at status and power. It figures out what it takes to become someone willing to wield that power too.

Entirely gorgeous, haunting and deep, this novel is chillingly dark and wonderfully dangerous. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

The Storyteller by Evan Turk

The Storyteller by Evan Turk

The Storyteller by Evan Turk (InfoSoup)

When the Kingdom of Morocco formed many years ago, it was built around fresh water sources and filled with storytellers. Then people lost their fear of the desert and the water fountains dried up and the storytellers left. A thirsty boy walked the city looking for water but found none. An old man called him closer and offered to tell him a story that would quench his thirst. At the end of his story, the little boy’s water cup was full. The story continued from one day to the next, each day resulting in water. Meanwhile, in the desert, a storm is forming created by a djinn looking to destroy Morocco. When the djinn arrives though, there is a way to battle it and bring water to the entire city. It just takes a young storyteller.

Turk beautifully weaves two stories together into one remarkable tale. The stories intertwine, showing the power of storytelling and its ability to refresh and quench thirsts. It is also about community and the vitality of shared stories and their power to change society. Beautifully, it is also about a boy learning a skill and a master storyteller showing his craft, plus it’s about a great story at its heart. There is attention to the flow of the tales here, how they work together, how repetition and rhythm are part of oral storytelling.

The illustrations are impressive, creating borders on the page that add richness. They also have a looseness to the images that is imaginative and allows the reader to fill in the blanks visually themselves. Even the text plays a visual role with different characters having differently colored fonts.

The power of story is brought to life in this rich picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

 

Applesauce Weather by Helen Frost

Applesauce Weather by Helen Frost

Applesauce Weather by Helen Frost, illustrated by Amy June Bates

Faith and Peter know that it is applesauce time when the first apple falls from the tree outside their house. It’s also the time of year when their Uncle Arthur comes to tell his stories about how he lost his finger. But this year is different, since Aunt Lucy died and Uncle Arthur just isn’t as twinkly as he once was. Faith though is sure that her uncle will come and he does, unsure of his welcome without Aunt Lucy. He sits on the bench under the apple tree with the children, warming up to telling his tales. Maybe this year they will finally learn the truth of his missing finger!

There is a beautiful delicacy in this book, spun together by the masterful poetry of Frost. She holds the hearts of her characters with such tenderness, showing the love of the children for their uncle and also the love of Arthur for his beloved Lucy. The stories all twine together, the family sitting under the tree, long-lasting love, Peter discovering his own first love, and then the remarkable stories that Arthur tells. The entire work is dazzling, moments of life held up and made amazing just for taking the time. This is real world writing at its very best and one of the best verse novels of the year so far.

The illustrations by Bates are filled with emotions. There is the hesitation of Arthur as he arrives. The bend of the back of Faith as she waits under the apple tree. The flow of breeze into her hair. They are filled with whimsy, the stoop of an old back, the twinkle of a storyteller starting to tell, the joy of apples in fall.

Beautiful and amazing, this very short verse novel is a celebration of autumn and families. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.