February 28, 2012

Out of the Box

by Michelle Mulder

Ellie's mom gets upset a lot and her dad likes to stay in his office. To ensure life runs smoothly, Ellie posts a chore list for each of them and tries to stay out of their way. So she's happy to spend the summer with her Aunt Jeanette, who is mourning the recent death of her partner. While helping Jeanette clean out her basement, Ellie finds a bandone√≥n, a type of accordion used by Argentine musicians. In the instrument's case are letters, airline tickets and a large amount of American and Argentinian money. She sets out to find the bandone√≥n's owner, and learns about the military dictatorship in Argentina at that time (1976) and the desaparecidos. Additionally, she is dealing with a new friend and Jeanette's assertions that her mother is struggling with a mental illness. 

This novel deals with a lot of issues. Family, friends, politics, grief, mystery, music, depression, anxiety, and uncertainty. There are no easy answers or nicely wrapped-up endings. But Ellie's voice is strong and her growing maturity is beautiful to see. 

A complex, rewarding novel for middle-grade readers.

February 23, 2012

Bantu tale

retold by Celia Barker Lottridge
illustrated by Ian Wallace

Long ago, in the land of the short grass, there was a great drought. The animals were hungry and thirsty. To find food, they walked across the flat plain until they came to a very tall tree. The tree had fruit on it that was as red as pomegranates, as yellow as bananas, as green as melons, as purple as plums, as orange as mangos, and it smelled like all the fruits of the world. But the tree's branches were so high that even the giraffe couldn't reach them. The tree will only lower its branches to those who call it by name. First the gazelle and then the elephant cross the plain to ask their king, the lion, to tell them the name of the tree. When they fail, it is up to the young tortoise to remember the tree's name.

A well-told story with beautiful, softly tinted pictures. 

February 21, 2012

Maasai legend

by Tololwa M. Mollel
illustrated by Paul Morin

One night, an old man notices that a star is missing from the sky. He goes in search of it, but finds a young boy instead. The boy's name is Kileken. He is an orphan who needs a home. The old man is delighted to have a son, especially when Kileken does all the chores. But the man is even more amazed when his cattle become fatter despite a drought. Overcome by curiosity and urged on by his shadow, he discovers how the boy turns the dry land into a magnificent green wood. His secret powers revealed, Kileken returns to the sky, to appear again as the planet Venus. 

The tale is made more wondrous by the detailed, textured paintings.

February 16, 2012

Truth can be slippery

by Avi

What happened was this: Philip Malloy hummed along with “The Star Spangled Banner” when it was played over his school’s public address system. His homeroom teacher, Miss Narwin, sent him to the principal’s office for not standing at “respectful, silent attention” during the anthem. Philip is suspended. The resulting media circus occurs because no one, not Philip’s parents, the principal, the school superintendent, or the newspaper reporters, bother to get the whole story.

This book will leave you shaking your head at how a relatively minor infraction could be so badly mismanaged. As the truth gets more and more mangled, the novel provides a sound lesson in the importance of good public relations.

This is one story that ends badly for everyone involved. A remarkable and extraordinary book.

February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

by David A. Carter

Hugs to everyone, from the kissing bugs!

February 9, 2012

Odd man

by Sarah Ellis

Twelve-year-old Kip is spending the summer with his grandmother and his five cousins, all of whom are female, talkative, and enthusiastically active. His mother has just remarried and he's not sure what life will be like when his family reforms. Gran's seaside home is different. The house has been sold and is slated for demolition, so Kip and the girls are free to write on the walls, paint them, and or bash them with sledgehammers. The tribe of girls take a while to get used to, but Kip's attic bedroom is a welcome retreat. There he finds his deceased father's adolescent journal, a binder filled with drawings, diagrams, and photographs. They tell a story of espionage, secret plots, and a boy called the Operative. Kip feels an instant connection to this story, not only because it's exciting, but because his dad was so creative. But this image is shattered when Kip learns that his father suffered from paranoia and delusions and that the journal was the record of life as he saw it, not a story after all.

This is a thoughtful and often funny tale of a boy who doesn't quite fit in, and how he starts to accept himself and his abilities.

February 7, 2012

Crazy man

by Pamela Porter

After a terrible farm accident, Emaline's father abandons his family. To make ends meet, Emaline's mother hires a man from the psychiatric hospital to tend the crops. The townsfolk are scared of Angus. They think he'll steal things or break into their homes. But as Emaline gets to know him, she finds that he is gentle, kind, and likes animals. Angus becomes a comforting presence as she deals with the pain of her injury and the loss of her father. 

Written in free verse, the novel explores themes of love, loss, loyalty, ignorance, and cruelty. It also shines a light on the stigma associated with depression and mental illness. 

A tender and important book, winner of the 2005 Governor General's Literary Award.

February 2, 2012

Menacing times

by Ellen Klages

In this sequel to The Green Glass Sea, Dewey is living comfortably with Suze Gordon's family in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Suze's father is working at the White Sands Missile Range where he's building a rocket that will go to the moon. In the meantime, his wife is trying to stop the Bomb. Their differing views between scientific advancement and world peace is causing a lot of conflict. Meanwhile, Suze and Dewey have combined their talents into building "The Wall", a creative contraption with gears, buckets, and marbles. Suze, still a bit of an outsider, becomes friends with a Mexican-American family, while dealing with feelings of jealousy about her mother's close relationship with Dewey. Dewey, who actually fits in now, is close friends with a boy who shares her interests. But things get complicated when her previously absent mother suddenly shows up.

Themes of family, abortion, politics, racism, sexism, science and road warriors (really!)  are seamlessly woven together to create an absorbing novel.