Review: The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle


The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle (9781408896884)

Fionn has never visited his grandfather on Arranmore Island. His mother left and never returned after his father died in a storm. So Fionn is surprised to find that his grandfather is seen as a very important man on the island. He is the Storm Keeper and it is his job to capture memories and weather in candles that are then released when lit. As Fionn learns of the magic of the island itself, he discovers that another boy from a different island family is planning to use up the single wish given to their entire generation. Now Fionn must race him to find the hidden sea cave and make a wish that could save his family. Fionn grows more and more connected to the island as he spends time and explores, but something dark is also reaching out to him, something that wants Fionn’s very soul.

Doyle weaves a complex and intricate tale in this book for middle-grade readers. The island setting of the book is truly a character in the tale since the island is aware and able to control certain things. The island is rough and rugged, a place filled with opportunities, magic and danger. Fionn is connected to the island in a deep way that is revealed throughout the book. Doyle’s writing is fresh and honest. She gives Fionn and the reader a chance to explore for themselves and discover the layers of magic on Arranmore as the story progresses. There is a lot going on in this book with a magical island, a historic mage battle, family problems, dementia, depression and more. But it written in a way that allows readers to steadily take on the information. The book is a complete world rather than a narrow peek inside.

Fionn is a strongly-written character as is his grandfather. Those two are the most robustly drawn characters in the novel. Fionn is a younger sibling, tormented by his older sister most of the time. He is excluded from being with the others his age and spends much of his time alone with his grandfather or out on the island. His tie to his dead father is a major theme, since the islanders know he looks just like him. Fionn’s grandfather is a man steeped in magic. His candles surround him filled with memories even as his own mind fails him. He exudes warmth and charm, working to make sure the next Storm Keeper will succeed against the darkness that is coming. Their relationship is bittersweet, one of lost opportunities with Fionn’s father and a sense of impending loss due to the grandfather’s worsening memory.

Unique and dynamic, this novel is full of magic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury.



Review: Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt

pay attention, carter jones by gary d. schmidt

Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt (9780544790858)

Carter’s family is a bit of a mess. On their first day of school, there are lunches to pack, socks to find, ribbons to tie, and dog vomit to clean up. So when an English butler appears on the doorstep just as Carter is heading out to buy milk, it solves a lot of immediate problems. Still, there are other issues that Carter is still grappling with, including grief and loss. As the story continues, readers learn more about the darkness in Carter’s family and his role as the oldest to be strong for everyone. As Carter matches wits with the butler who seeks to control all of Carter’s free time, the two become a team and along the way start a cricket league at Carter’s new school. As the past becomes too much for Carter to bear alone, he learns about the power of sports, teams and a good butler.

Schmidt takes the spirit of Nanny McPhee and Mary Poppins and gives us a male version in Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick. The book demands a certain amount of setting aside of disbelief for things like cricket being embraced by an entire middle school and a twelve-year-old driving a car. It is mix of lighthearted storytelling and deeper subjects, moving from eliciting laughter into moments of real tragedy with skill. Readers may not fully understand cricket by the end, but will know what a sticky wicket actually is and how the basics work.

Carter is a protagonist who is dealing with a lot. As the book progresses, he learns how vital he is for his little sisters and how his interacting in their lives is powerful. He steadily builds confidence as the story continues with the final scenes fully demonstrating not only his person growth but also the depth of his struggles. As the tragedies of his family are revealed, readers will be amazed that Carter continues on as he does despite it all. He is a figure of resilience and humor.

Another winner from a master storyteller, this novel for middle graders introduces cricket and one amazing butler. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Clarion Books.


Review: Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu

eventown by corey ann haydu

Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu (9780062689801)

Elodee’s family faced a tragedy this year and had trouble recovering from it. Elodee is always angry and her twin sister, Naomi, is getting quieter. Given those circumstances, moving to Eventown seemed like the best plan. The family had vacationed in Eventown and had great memories of being there. When they move into their house that is just like every other house in town, they discover a life filled with hikes into the hills, no cars, walking to school past a waterfall and woods, and rosebushes everywhere. Their lives find a comforting rhythm there. But things are a bit too perfect: there are no clouds in the sky, no rainy days, and ice cream doesn’t melt down your wrists. When the twins are sent to the Welcome Center, they are given a chance to tell six stories of their lives, days of their greatest sorrows and joys. Naomi goes first and tells her stories, but Elodee’s session is interrupted. Naomi is quickly fitting into the town while Elodee remembers more of their life before and starts to ask questions about their lives in Eventown.

Haydu’s novel takes a deep look at grief and pain and its purpose in our lives. It looks at what happens when bad memories are removed and perfection is put in their place. It is a limited perfection, one with no books to read, only one song to listen to, no cell phones, no Internet and no television. It is idyllic and eerie, a Stepford version of childhood. Horror is sidestepped neatly here, instead becoming a book about empowerment and making your own choices while asking important questions.

Elodee is a great main character. The fact that she is a twin is an important element in the book as it focuses on everyone in Eventown being the same but even then Elodee and Naomi are very different from one another. The twins make an interesting counterpoint to the entire town, with Elodee and her vivid anger, big questions and willingness to be different making an ideal person to expose what is really going on.

Filled with magic and mystery, this book is a compelling look at the price of perfection. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.

Review: This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

this promise of change by jo ann allen boyce and debbie levy

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy (9781681198521)

This nonfiction novel in verse tells the story of Jo Ann Allen, one of the twelve African-American students who were among the first in the nation to integrate a segregated high school in the South. The small town of Clinton, Tennessee became one of the first communities to attempt desegregation after the Supreme Court ruling made segregation illegal. A year before the Little Rock 9, this lesser-known group of brave students at first attended their new school without incident but then outside agitators, the KKK and other white supremacists got involved. As the issue grew, simply attending school became too dangerous for the African-American students. When they were escorted by a local white pastor to school, he ended up beaten and almost killed. Jo Ann became a spokesperson for the group of students and for integrating schools in general. Her story is one of resilience and tolerance.

Levy very successfully uses various forms of poetic verse to tell Jo Ann’s story in this book. In her author’s note, she speaks about why verse was the logical choice as it captured the musicality of Jo Ann’s speech. Her skill is evident on the page, capturing both the quiet parts of Jo Ann’s life and the dramatic moments of desegregation including acts of hatred against the students. Jo Ann’s story is told in a way that allows young readers to understand this moment in United States history in a more complete way. The images at the end of the book and additional details shared there add to this as well.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that these moments have been lost to history and this group of twelve students is not as well-known as the Little Rock 9. At the same time, that is what makes this book all the more compelling to read as their story is more nuanced since the mayor and governor did not defy the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Beautifully written, this heartbreaking and dramatic story of courage in the face of hatred belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Review: Sincerely, Harriet by Sarah Winifred Searle

sincerely, harriet by sarah winifred searle

Sincerely, Harriet by Sarah Winifred Searle (9781541542723)

After moving to a new city with her parents, Harriet is stuck sitting around their new apartment alone while her parents start new jobs. She is missing camp back in Indiana and writes her camp friends postcards about sightseeing in Chicago, even though she hasn’t gone anywhere. She starts to pretend that the mailman is sinister, that the third floor of the house is haunted and that the kind owner of the house, Pearl, is a murderer. Pearl though continues to try to connect with Harriet during her long summer, using books and stories as a way to relate to one another. As the book steadily reveals, Pearl’s son had polio while Harriet herself has MS. This book beautifully portrays a teen’s long summer and dealing with a chronic illness.

Set in the 1990s, this graphic novel depicts a Latinx family as they move closer to Harriet’s doctors in Chicago. The family is warm and lovely, connected to Harriet but not hovering or overly worried about her. The graphic novel uses warm colors, sultry breezes and just enough mystery about what the truth of the house could be to keep the pages turning. The focus on books and reading is conveyed through the eyes of a teen who doesn’t really enjoy reading her assigned books. Filled with diversity, there are lots of people of color as well as people experiencing disabilities in this graphic novel.

Harriet herself is a rather prickly character, so I loved when she faked reading The Secret Garden, saying that she didn’t really like the main character that much. Readers will develop a sense of connection with Harriet as her vivid imagination comes to life, even though she may have misled the readers as well as herself at times. There are few graphic novels that have characters with invisible disabilities who sometimes need mobility aids and other times don’t. This is particularly effective in a graphic novel and portrayed with grace and gentleness.

A quiet graphic novel for tweens and teens that is just right with some lemonade and pizza. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Graphic Universe.

2019 GLLI Translated YA Book Prize Shortlist

The Global Literature in Libraries Initiative has announced the shortlist for their inaugural Translated YA Book Prize. Works published within the last three years were considered for the prize that honors books in English translation for young adult readers. Here are the shortlisted titles:

Alpha. Abidjan-Gare du Nord: Abidjan-Gare du Nord (Hors collection) Bronze and Sunflower

Alpha by Bessora and Barroux

Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan

Defying the Nazis: The Story of German Officer Wilm Hosenfeld, Young Readers Edition (Young Readers) La bastarda

Defying the Nazis: The Life of German Officer Wilm Hosenfeld by Hermann Vinke

La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

Max My Brother's Husband, Volume 1 (My Brother's Husband Omnibus, #1)

Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali

My Brother’s Husband: Vol 1&2 by Gengoroh Tagame

Piglettes Rasha

Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais

Rasha by Muhammed Zafar Iqbal

The Secret of the Blue GlassWonderful Feels Like This

The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui

Wonderful Feels Like This by Sara Lovestam

Review: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

genesis begins again by alicia d. williams

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (9781481465809)

Genesis keeps a list of things that she hates about herself. Some of it is the color of her skin and the way that others tease her about how dark she is, unlike her light-skinned mother with good hair. Some of it is about the way that their family keeps getting kicked out of the houses they live in because they don’t pay the rent. Some of it is the way her father speaks about her when he is drunk. Some of it is based on her grandmother’s hurtful comments about Genesis. So after being kicked out of yet another house, Genesis’ family moves to a more affluent neighborhood outside of Detroit. Genesis discovers that she likes her new school and even finds herself making real friends for the first time. The house is the nicest they have ever lived in too. But other things aren’t any better. Her father keeps on drinking. Genesis is still as dark-skinned as ever, but she has plans to try to lighten her skin, thinking that will make her entire life better. As Genesis discovers her own talents, she must learn that learning to accept herself is a large piece of moving forward in life.

In this debut novel, Williams writes with a strong voice, taking on difficult topics including verbal abuse, racism, skin tone, alcoholism and co-dependency in an unflinching way. Williams reveals the deep pain and lasting scars that cruel words and verbal abuse can have on a young person, particularly when it is about a physical characteristic that is beyond their control. With Genesis’ parents caught in a marriage filled with anger and substance abuse, Williams offers other adult figures and also young peers who model a way forward for Genesis.

Genesis’ growth is organic and well paced. She learns things steadily but has set backs that end up with her damaging herself. She is a complicated character who looks at life through a specific lens due to her upbringing. She is constantly judging others before they can judge her, placing distance where there could be connections, and making poor decisions when offered compliments. Still, she is a good friend, someone willing to look beyond the surface and see what others can’t. But only when she allows herself to do that. Her complexity is what makes this book really shine.

Strong and vibrant, this book takes on the subject of skin tone in the African-American community as well as other heavy topics. Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Atheneum.

2018 Best Middle-Grade Fiction!

It’s been an exceptional year for middle-grade fiction, filled with diverse characters written by diverse authors. Here are my top picks for the year:

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (9780399544682)

A very readable book that invites readers into rural Pakistan and the dangers of corruption and debt. – My Review

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin (9780763698225)

A timely look at political intrigue and getting beyond what holds us apart with plenty of humor to make it a delight. – My Review

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr (9781536200171)

Richly told, this book is a delightful wintry read that feels like a long-lost classic. – My Review

Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older (9781338268812)

A rip-roaring read that will have children longing for a dactyl to ride. – My Review

Front Desk by Kelly Yang The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (9781338157802)

Based on her own childhood growing up as a family managing motels, Yang tells a vibrant story of hope in the face of crushing poverty. – My Review

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson (9781338209969)

A dynamic retelling of the Baby Yaga folktale, this book offers a big world of magic and ghosts to explore. – My Review

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (9780316515467)

Blake has created a middle-grade book that is warm and beautifully supportive. – My Review

The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (9780553535327)

A complex book that takes a deep look at grief, loss, courage and family. – My Review

It Wasn't Me by Dana Alison Levy.jpg The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (9781524766450)

Strongly written and compellingly paced, this novel is a fascinating look at how justice can be done in a school setting without the use of detentions or suspensions. – My Review

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis (9780545156660)

The Newbery Award winning Curtis writes with such skill that it is impossible not to fall deeply into his stories and become immersed in the world he builds. – My Review

Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr

Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard (9780062652911)

A brilliant debut novel with changing families, lots of maple syrup but one that isn’t too sweet either. – My Review

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr (9781452159584)

Beautiful, haunting and tragic, this is a special fantasy for young readers. – My Review

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (9780763694630)

DiCamillo tells Louisiana’s story with a deft humor and a deep empathy. – My Review

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (9780763690496)

A winning middle-grade novel that is part of #ownvoices, this is a must-read. – My Review

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty (9781524767587)

A stellar read, this middle school book is a book that is hard to sum up, but one you can count on. – My Review

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen (9780735262751)

A nuanced and skilled look at homelessness with great characters to discover along the journey. – My Review

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien (9781250165695)

I cannot stress enough how utterly captivating this children’s book is. – My Review

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (9781524715663)

Smartly written and filled with glowing characters living complicated lives, this middle grade novel is unbreakable. – My Review

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (9781524715953)

Magoon has created a story that reads smooth and sweet, a tale filled with adventures and riotous action. – My Review

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden (9780525515029)

Written with rich prose that is a delight to read, this eerie tale will be enjoyed by any young reader looking for some spine tingles. – My Review

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth Durst Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst (9781328729453)

Durst has created a compelling stand-alone fantasy book for middle graders. The world building is warm and lovely, unrolling like a carpet before the reader. – My Review

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier (9780735264359)

I loved the London that Auxier has created for us with all of its Victorian charms. He peels away the charming veneer though and shows us the brutality of child labor, the dangers and the cruelty of chimney sweeping in particular. – My Review

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor (9780062491497)

Connor writes books that soar and are completely heartfelt, this book is another of those. – My Review

The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie (9781534414464)

A great read, a grand mystery, and a strong protagonist. – My Review

2018 Best Graphic Novels!

It was a great year for graphic novels, particularly for those showing diversity in authors and content. Here are my picks for the best of 2018:

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol Brazen by Penelope Bagieu

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (9781626724457)

Brosgol is such a gifted book creator, moving skillfully from picture book to graphic novel. – My Review

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu (9781626728691)

The book is a delight to read, each chapter focused on one woman and told briefly and yet in a way that honors them and makes readers want to learn even more about them. – My Review

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell Deadendia The Watcher's Test by Hamish Steele

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (9781524719371)

There is a real spark here that demands creative thinking by the reader, looks beyond the cardboard and tape and sees the magic of imagination happening. – My Review

Deadendia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele (9781910620472)

Steele has created one of the zaniest, twistiest and most demonic graphic novels around. – My Review

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner (9781481495561)

A great pick for fans and haters alike, this one would make a great graphic novel to book talk to middle-schoolers and teens. – My Review

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss (9780062644107)

An empowering read that makes the quiet child the hero and the star. – My Review

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka Illegal by Eoin Colfer

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (9780545902472)

Personal, painful and profound, this graphic novel is honest and deep. – My Review

Illegal by Eoin Colfer (9781492662143)

Smartly written, deftly drawn and plotted to perfection, this graphic novel is a powerhouse. – My Review

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden Peter & Ernesto by Graham Annable

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (9781250178138)

An impressive graphic novel both for its content and its art. This one is unique and incredibly beautiful. – My Review

Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable (9781626725614)

A great early graphic novel for elementary-aged readers. – My Review

Photographic by Isabel Quintero The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena (9781947440005)

One of the best biographical graphic novels I have read, this one is a stunning look at an impressive woman. – My Review

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (9781626723634)

Beautiful, layered and modern, this graphic novel embraces gender identity and gorgeous dresses. – My Review

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks Speak The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks (9781368008440)

The story is fast paced and a delightful mix of STEM and girl power. – My Review

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, artwork by Emily Carroll (9780374300289)

It’s a groundbreaking novel made into one of the most powerful graphic novels I have read. – My Review

The Unwanted Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (9781328810151)

A strong and important look at the Syrian refugee crisis in a format that makes the content very readable. – My Review