Review: The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr (9781452159584)

When Grisha was a young dragon still learning of the dangers of the world, he is trapped by a magician into the shape of a teapot. He spends decades trapped in that form, decorating the rooms of the emperor and then joining the household of a small family. Luckily, the father of the family knows how to see magic and realizes what Grisha is. When Grisha is finally released from the spell, he is sent to Vienna to join the rest of the world’s dragons there. It is now after World War II and Grisha is one of the lucky dragons who still walks the streets of the city. He meets a very special little girl, Maggie, and they become close friends. But when Grisha starts to remember what happened to the other dragons, the two feel compelled to try to solve the puzzle and rescue the surviving dragons from the magic that binds them. But at what cost?

Weyr has written a very unique fantasy novel for children that is firmly grounded in the real city of Vienna and world history, but adds dragons and other magic as a vibrant layer on top of that foundation. The world building is cleverly done, meshing history and fantasy into something new and very special. The story is accompanied by illustrations done in black and white that are like small framed windows into the story.

The characters of Grisha and Maggie are compelling. Grisha is immediately fascinating partly because he is a dragon who isn’t quite sure of how a dragon should act. Maggie is a character who has grown up very lonely and then makes one of the best friends ever. Throughout the story there is an air of tragedy, of lost years, of forgotten tragedies. This melancholy only grows larger as the end of the book nears. I recommend having a few tissues on hand.

Beautiful, haunting and tragic, this is a special fantasy for young readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.

3 Deep and Watery Picture Books

Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso

Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso (9781452168753)

A little girl heads down to the dock near the water to watch the fish, dreaming of one day swimming alongside many fish at the same time. When a small orange fish jumps out of the water, she catches it in a water bottle and runs home with it. With a black hose, lots of containers, and plants, she creates a new watery space for the fish. When she swims along with the little fish in her pool though, the fish jumps out into a puddle. In that moment, the girl decides to return the fish to the sea.

This wordless picture book beautifully explores a little girl’s connection to nature and her own desire to be part of it and have a piece of it for herself. Through the images, one knows that the little girl means no harm, only to celebrate the fish and her connection to it. Still, readers will know that it will be a problem if the fish is kept from his home for too long. The illustrations are full of the blues of the sea which contrasts with the rest of the scenery that is left barely sketched and uncolored. It is water that really brings the book alive, combined with trees and rushes. A beautiful look at connecting with nature by preserving it. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers

Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers (9781481470377)

Finn lives by the sea, On the day that would have been his grandfather’s birthday, it is a good day for sailing and for building a boat, one that will help him find the place that his grandfather told him about, where the ocean meets the sky. So Finn spent his morning building a boat that was suitable for a long journey and then he took a nap. When he awoke, the boat was rocking in the sea and the journey had begun. As Finn got lonely in the open sea, a large golden fish emerges from the water and agrees to show him the way to the place he is searching for. They travel past Library Islands filled with birds and books, an island of giant shells, and a sea of glowing jellyfish. Until they finally reach the place where the ocean meets sky and Finn’s boat soars out of the water and into the sky, all before dinner.

This beautifully rendered book is exceptional. There is a lovely consistency throughout even in the more dreamlike sequences. The text is simple and inviting, creating a world that children will enjoy exploring alongside Finn himself. The book moves from a feeling of grief and loss that is handled with delicacy to hard work in honor of Finn’s grandfather and then into a world of dreams and wonder.

The illustrations move from black-and-white memories of Finn’s grandfather to pastels for the real world of today and then into sharp details and deeper colors of dreams. I love that the dreamworld is the most defined and colorful. Grandfather appears throughout the dreams in the form of the large fish and the moon. His presence is everywhere.

A lovely and layered picture book about grief, memories and wonder. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Water Land Land and Water Forms around the World by Christy Hale

Water Land: Land and Water Forms around the World by Christy Hale (9781250152442)

One of the most inventive uses of cut pages that I have seen! This picture book takes water forms and with a turn of the page creates corresponding landforms. A lake becomes an island. A bay turns into a cape. Strait and isthmus compare beautifully. It goes on and on. One will turn back and forth between water and land, stunned by the comparisons and the feeling of a complete ecosystem on the page.

It is the art that is central in this book. With cut pages, the drawings are active around the land and water forms. Boats and trucks cross land and water, diverse people play on the sand, sharks circle in the water. A brilliant book that will have young readers looking at water and land in a new way with plenty of terms to name what they are seeing. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

Review: Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno (9780062493644)

Georgina has grown up on the island of By-the-Sea where generations of the women in her family have lived. They are women of specific talents: her mother can brew useful potions, her sister can float slightly off the floor particularly when she’s not paying enough attention. But Georgina doesn’t have any powers at all. The sisters are getting ready for college and leaving the island for the first time in their lives. It’s an island with one special resident, a bird that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, a bird with a distinct family connection. But this year, the bird doesn’t arrive, much to the dismay of the entire island and the birding community who arrive each summer. As the search for the missing bird intensifies, tragedy strikes and soon the summer is filled with salt, magic and mystery.

This is one of those books that you fall for hard. It sweeps in with poetic language that invites readers to explore the island of By-the-Sea, breathe in the magic, taste beautifully-named ice cream flavors and linger in the autumnal graveyard for awhile. Leno lingers over the details, creating a world that is so specific, small and focused. It seeps into your pores, this story, invades you like tainted tea and asks you to believe. And you will.

The characters are all written with such care, each one unique and special. Georgina may feel like a side kick, but she is the full-on protagonist here. She is brave, smart and quite the leader when given the chance. She faces real evil on her island home, must find the perpetrator and meanwhile is in the throes of leaving her home for college while not getting any magical powers herself at all. She is complicated, exploring new romance with the hot girl who visited the island, solving a mystery, and coming into her own.

An amazing read, just right for summer. This is one that fans of magical realism are going to adore. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.

 

Review: Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (9781524719371)

An entire neighborhood of children steadily join together into one epic summer of fantasy fun built entirely out of cardboard. The book begins with The Sorceress, a boy who finds great power and identity in an evil sorceress character who uses magic and a sibling minions to try to take over the world. She is battled by the girl next door who dresses as a knight with a large sword to save the world. As more children join in, they take on characters who speak to what they need in their lives and to who they are deep inside. There are roaring creatures, a rogue, a prince, a huntress, and many more. Even the neighborhood bully ends up joining in as part of the epic final battle of summer.

Filled to the brim with diverse characters, this graphic novel is something very special. There are characters of different races and cultures, and LGBTQ characters. Written by several different authors who all drew on parts of their own childhood, the book speaks in a variety of voices that really feel like a neighborhood of children. 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.

The art is bright and colorful, filled with family dynamics that are clearly felt deeply by the children in the book. Some stories like The Sorceress are told mostly in images while others have speech bubbles. This book embraces the fantasy motif and has a dynamic mix of superhero and classic fantasy elements that come together into one great adventure.

This one belongs in a every public library. Make sure to have some boxes on hand to build your own castles and creations. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.)

Review: Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

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

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

Peasprout and her brother, Cricket, are sent from the country of Shin to the glorious city of Pearl to attend the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword. They are the first students from Shin to attend the school that teaches wu liu, a combinations of martial arts and figure skating. In Pearl, the floors and buildings are all built of pearl, a material that can be skated on. Peasprout has won many Shin awards for wu liu and is confident that she can become top of her class. Still, she has a lot to learn, including many of the more modern Pearl wu liu combinations. Peasprout soon gets the attention of the class bully and another girl who remains always apart and distant, even from her own twin brother. As the competition heats up, a vandal starts to attack the buildings of pearl on the campus and Peasprout as an outsider is the number one suspect!

I cannot stress enough how utterly captivating this children’s book is. It is like reading an anime in novel form or a manga in text. It has the same humor as those other art forms, combining wry laughs with epic battles and races. The pace of the book is brisk, the action scenes almost breathtakingly fast. Throughout there is a strong sense of place and one falls in love with Pearl and the Academy as much as with the characters.

And what characters they are! There is the confident Peasprout who rarely doubts that she is doing anything wrong, but when she does she grows and learns in an honest and organic way. Cricket is small and quiet but also gifted in a different way than his sister. The twin siblings offer Peasprout a chance at first love but also a great tug of rivalry and friendship. And everyone needs a good villain to round it all out.

A bright and unique novel that is pure joy to read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Henry Holt & Company.

Review: Bob by Wendy Mass

Bob by Wendy Mass

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, illustrated by Nicholas Gannon (9781250166623)

Livy is returning to stay with her grandmother in Australia for the first time in five years. Her mother will be visiting friends and showing off Livy’s new baby sister while Livy stays with her grandmother for a few days. When Livy opens the cupboard in the bedroom, she discovers a strange chicken-like creature who seems to remember her from her first visit when she was five. The creature, Bob, is a small green being wearing a chicken suit that Livy made for him five years ago. Now Livy must help Bob figure out what he is and where his family is, but it won’t be easy because Livy doesn’t remember anything from her original visit. As the two new old friends search for clues together, Livy must start to believe in magic to solve the mystery.

This short novel for children is a joy. It is tightly written with no spare scenes or elements to be found. The characters are big and bold, beautifully drawn in a way that makes them immediately understood and friendly. The setting of the Australian farmhouse and the land around it is lovingly crafted, each element playing out as Bob shows Livy through her forgotten memories, like the well and the big stone.

It is the relationship between Bob and Livy that really is the heart of this book. Bob, though wearing a chicken suit, is charismatic and clever. His joy over small things like potato chips and warm baths is something that children will embrace wholeheartedly. Livy is initially confounded by her lack of memory, but her personality soon shows itself. She is brave and imaginative, looking to help this forgotten friend.

A deftly written magical tale of rain, friendship and families. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy provided by Feiwel & Friends.

The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth Durst

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

Mayka is a stone girl, created by Father, a stone mason who lived alone with his stone creations on a mountain. Father died years ago and now some of Mayka’s friends, whose markings are wearing off with age, are in danger of becoming statues instead of living stone. So Mayka decides to see if she can find a stone mason to recarve her friends, though that will mean heading away from the her quiet home in the mountains into the valley below. Mayka is accompanied on her quest by two stone birds who can fly and talk. Their journey leads them to the large city of Skye, where there is a stone mason’s quarter. Mayka finds someone willing to help them, but along the way discovers that there is a threat to all stone creatures brewing. Mayka has to create her own story as she seeks to find a solution that will save not only her friends but everyone made of stone.

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. She incorporates a sense of history into her world, allowing Mayka to discover things about Father that she had never known. The book revolves around reading and stories, with markings carved into the stone creatures that set their roles in the world. Markings that can be read by a clever storyteller to be even more evocative and reworked by a stone mason to say something else entirely and create a new life for that creature.

Mayka is a strong heroine, as one might expect from a girl made of stone. She is far more capable and clever than she realizes, though others around her know that about her and trust her completely. She not only identifies problems but figures out solutions to them quickly, moving her story forward at a brisk pace. My only quibble with the book is the cover. The scene it shows happens very late in the book and not in the way it is shown. A pet peeve of mine and certainly not a reason to miss this book!

A great fantasy for children, this one is warm and delightful. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by the author.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (9781250170972)

Zélie has spent most of her life training to fight with a staff, hoping that if her village is attacked again she will be able to defend herself. When she was a little girl, she watched her mother be dragged off and murdered. It was the night the world lost magic and she lost her mother. Now thanks to an accidental meeting with the realm’s princess who is on the run, Zélie has a chance to restore magic to the land. But first she must reunite three magic items together and evade capture by the crown prince who is hunting them down. Zélie must also figure out her own emerging magic just as the crown prince is discovering his own even as he works to destroy magic forever. Traveling through the land, Zélie finds unlikely allies, new enemies and tests the strength of an entire monarchy bent on stopping her.

What an amazing read this is! It is a world that no one has seen before, a world anchored by Black Lives Matter that will echo for fans of Black Panther. It is a book that is incredibly well written, incorporating elements of African culture directly into the fantasy world that is so beautifully rendered here. The world is one that is explored fully, from climbing mountains with surprise fields of flowers to surviving the dangers of the desert to the lush jungles that hide dangers. Throughout this world, there are flares of magic that illuminate the wonder and the possibility of a people refusing to be cowed any longer.

Zélie herself is an amazing protagonist. She is ferocious, loyal and strong. She takes on everything thrown at her, shouldering far more than her own share of every burden. She is inspiring, chosen by the gods and yet still learning to harness her powers. Adeyemi does not hold back in testing her young hero, creating scenes that are excruciating to read. Yet no one will be able to put this novel down until the end and then will crave the next book in the series immediately.

Powerful and strong, this magical read will soon be made into a movie. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

 

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (9780062570604)

Released April 3, 2018.

This inventive teen novel mixes a zombie apocalypse with American Civil War era history into one compelling read. Jane was born on a plantation, an African-American child to the white mistress of the house. The dead started to rise only days after her birth, so Jane never knew a world without Shamblers. Now Jane is attending Miss Preston’s a school for African American girls that teaches them how to kill zombies. As she nears graduation, she begins to question how the zombies are being managed in her area near Baltimore. Though she is seeing more of them around, claims are being made that they are being exterminated. As the lies that surround Jane come crashing down, she is sent to a new city in Kansas, but life there is even more brutal than the one she has left behind. It is up to Jane not only to save herself but an entire community from destruction.

Ireland’s world building is incredible rich as are all of the details of the story. It makes it almost impossible to summarize the book effectively, because there is so much more to say! Ireland was inspired by the Indian Boarding Schools in the United States and based her model of zombie training schools from them. This book tackles racism in the same clear cut way that you take a zombie’s head off.

Jane is a great protagonist. She is smarter than almost everyone else in the book, cunning as she quickly creates solutions to impossible situations, and still deeply flawed. She is judgemental of others, often misunderstanding them and falls for the wrong people. She is beautifully proud, almost entirely unable to bite her tongue, and always creating trouble for herself.

A wild and bloody book with a fierce protagonist who sears the page. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.