August 5, 2015

When humans become prey

by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

For those who don't care for the television series, the book is better. A brief summary: amateur scientist Jackson Oz tries to warn the world about escalating human-animal conflict. The science may be iffy - it involves hydrocarbons and cell phone radiation - but Patterson makes it sound pretty plausible. Oz encounters the usual bureaucratic indifference as the animal attacks increase exponentially. The carnage is confined to short, quick chapters, while the rising suspense will keep readers riveted.

For those who aren't keen on nearly 400 pages, try Zoo: The Graphic Novel.

July 15, 2015

Dear as Salt

Dear as Salt
by Rafe Martin
illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka

One day, a king became angry because he thought that his daughters didn't love him. His eldest daughter said she loved him as dear as bread, his middle daughter said she loved him as dear as wine, but Zizola, his youngest daughter, said she loved him as dear as salt. Incensed, he wants her dead, but Zizola's mother hides her in a giant candlestick shaped like a rooster. 

The similarity to King Lear is obviousexcept that this version is definitely stranger. Yet it's also more delicious, and with a happier ending!

A surprising, enjoyable read.

June 24, 2015

A family of shape-shifters

Aesop's Secret
by Claudia White

Melinda is a ten-year-old girl who one day discovers that she can turn into a horse! She and her family are Athenites, an ancient race of shapeshifters who can take on the form of any animal. Melinda revels in her newfound ability, but her brother Felix wants nothing to do with it. He's more interested in science and goes off to study at the Stumpworthy School of Science in Paris. But things take an ominous turn when Felix falls into a coma, his father disappears, and his mother starts acting strangely. It's up to Melinda to find out what's really happening in order to save her family. She is helped by her pet rabbit Aesop, who is more than what he seems.

White does a good job of blending the mythical with the real, but doesn't allow her story to properly develop. Everything happens too quickly and conveniently, with adult characters explaining key plot points. I find it disappointing that Melinda and Felix are the only children in the story. Another puzzling aspect are the characters' reactions to various situations. They laugh when they should be scared, are reckless when they should be cautious (Melinda makes no attempt to hide her shapeshifting), and seemingly unconcerned at bad news. Part of the problem may be White's attempt to use a word other than "said." So Melinda sneers or drawls or giggles, which often doesn't fit with the serious conversations that she's having. It's also a major letdown that the villain, Professor Stumpworthy, is the boastful type who enjoys revealing his nefarious plans.

Surprisingly, Aesop's Secret has spawned two sequels, Key to Kashdune and Servalius Window, each with beautiful cover art by Larissa Kulik, which is what initially attracted me. 

White has another book on the way, so she does have her fans. But sadly, this reader isn't one of them.

June 17, 2015

Dream of diving horses

The Girl on the High Diving Horse
by Linda Oatman High
illustrated by Ted Lewin

Ivy Cordelia and her photographer father spend summer 1936 in Atlantic City. Of all the sights and sounds, Ivy most loves the Steel Pier and the high-diving horses. She watches the act every day and dreams of being the girl on a high-diving horse. Will her dream come true?

Poetic words and old-fashioned, postcard-style pictures make for a nostalgic, magical read.

May 20, 2015

Summer island adventure

Shack Island Summer
by Penny Chamberlain

Twelve-year-old Pepper and her older brother Everett are spending the summer with their grandmother, who lives on tiny Shack Island. Feeling neglected by Everett, her parents and the knowledge of being adopted, Pepper starts dreaming about her real family and of being special, especially since she seems to have psychic ability. She sometimes has slightly scary dreams that tend to come true. These dreams lead her to Ray, a draft dodger who's hiding out in one of the shacks. Pepper quickly decides that Ray is her real brother and is determined to help him. Her poor judgment leads her into danger, but it somehow works out in the end. Along the way, Pepper gains a new appreciation for her life and her family.

Set in 1969, this is an innocent, almost idyllic novel with a nostalgic feel and a happy ending.

May 13, 2015


The Farmerettes
by Gisela Tobien Sherman

The Farmerettes are a group of girls who, during the summer of 1943, live and work together on an Ontario farm as part of the Farm Service Forces. Most abled-bodied men have enlisted to fight in the second World War and there's not enough of them left to tend to the crops. It's up to the Farmerettes to pick fruit and hoe vegetables. 

The novel follows the stories of six girls from different backgrounds - Helene, whose wages support her single mother; flirtatious Peggy, who tries to keep her German background a secret; Isabel, pining for her soldier fiancé; rebellious Binxie, trying to escape the constraints of her rich family; Jean, whose family owns the farm; and X, the mystery girl. 

The work is hard and the hours long, but they still have time to laugh and sing and dance with boys. Moments of heartbreak and romance shape their lives, changing them from girls to women. The action ebbs and flows like real life and readers have their choice of characters to root for, whether it's watching Helene gain confidence, Isabel strength, or Binxie a new path. Of all the girls, X is the least mentioned, but her story is the saddest. She gives readers a lot to worry about; thankfully Binxie helps her a lot. Binxie supports all the girls, which is why she'll be a favorite.

Full of caring, heartfelt moments, this is a tender novel that will appeal to girls who like quiet romances and sensitive secrets.

April 15, 2015

New posts in May

This blog will be on hiatus for a few weeks. Look for new posts in mid-May.

April 1, 2015

Teenage con man

Who I'm Not
by Ted Staunton

A young con man takes on the identity of a missing teen named Danny, who disappeared three years ago. Reunited with his "family", he's amazed that they're accepting of him, even though he looks and sounds nothing like the Danny they knew. Only Officer Griffin suspects that something's not right. 

Danny only plans on staying for a short time, before the police can figure out the truth. But his sister Shan and her kids are so happy he's back. Plus, he meets Gillian, who makes him want to be a better person. 

This very intriguing story raises interesting questions about identity, hope, and desperation. Worth checking out.

March 18, 2015

Gabe's lucky number

The Highest Number in the World
by Roy MacGregor
illustrated by Geneviève Després

Gabe (who hates being called Gabriella) is a new player on The Spirit hockey team. She's always worn number 22, the number of her favorite player Hayley Wickenheiser. Unfortunately, the jersey numbers only go to twenty. Gabe is stuck with number 9. Devastated, Gabe buries her jersey at the bottom of her closet. But a visit from Grandma makes her realize that the number 9 is very special.

A sweet story that warms the heart.

March 4, 2015

New publisher, new series

Fragile Bones: Harrison and Anna
by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

This book is part of a new series by Clockwise Press. Each book in the series, called One-2-One, tells the story of a different pair of teens participating in the Best Buddies program at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School. Best Buddies is a real program, but the stories are fictional. 

In Fragile Bones, we meet Harrison, a fifteen-year-old who has high-functioning autism and his Best Buddy Anna, a graduating senior who's aiming for med school. Harrison is fascinated by bones and tends to recite every bone in the skeletal system whenever he gets anxious. Anna is hoping to pad her resumé and get closer to Justin, the Best Buddies president. Together, Harrison and Anna embark on a rocky relationship with more than its share of ups and downs. Told in alternating voices, Nicholson does a good job of showing a scene from two different perspectives, allowing readers to really understand what Harrison and Anna are going through. 

Although the book ends a bit abruptly, it manages to instill a great deal of empathy towards its characters. A very worthwhile read.

February 25, 2015

Lives at stake

Best Friends through Eternity
by Sylvia McNicoll

Fourteen-year-old Paige, in an attempt to avoid the school bullies, takes a shortcut across the railway tracks and is hit by a train. Suddenly, she finds herself on a sandy beach where she meets her former best friend Kim, who died seven years ago. Not willing to give up her life and wanting to help her current friend Jazz, who is also threatened by the bullies, Paige is granted seven days to fix things up and maybe change her fate.

McNicoll has tackled the afterlife conundrum previously in an earlier book, Dying to Go Viral.   While the protagonist in that book tries to enjoy the time she has left and ensure that her family will be able to go on, Paige has to deal not just with saving Jazz, but with coming to terms with her own past. Abandoned as an infant in China and adopted by a Canadian couple, Paige struggles with her cultural identity and the knowledge that her parents haven't always been truthful with her. At the same time, she tries to be nicer to people; even to Vanessa, the mean head bully. Paige's efforts aren't entirely successful, so she needs multiple tries to get it right. Events culminate in one final, desperate scene.

Full of twists and turns that mirror the uncertainty of life, this is a heartfelt, emotional novel. Teens will readily relate to the strong, believable characters and situations that so many of them encounter in real life.

Highly recommended, this is one of McNicoll's best.

February 18, 2015

Young Rumpelstiltskin

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
by Liesl Shurtliff

In The Kingdom, your name is your destiny, and twelve-year-old Rump's destiny really stinks. His mother died before she could say his full name making Rump small and short and the target of everyone's jokes. But his luck starts to change when he finds his mother's spinning wheel. With no wool at hand, he tries spinning straw and is astounded when the straw turns into gold. 

At first, Rump's gift seems wonderful. He can now trade his gold for whatever he needs. His friend Red warns him that magic causes trouble, but Rump discovers this too late. He finds himself trapped in a curse that can only be broken by a purer, stronger magic. So Rump sets out to break his curse, with many adventures along the way.

Shurtliff's unique take on the Rumpel fairy tale is a refreshing delight. Her characters are sympathetic, appealing and funny, even the villainous ones. And her trolls steal the show.

Highly recommended.

February 11, 2015

How the armadillo came to be

The Beginning Of the Armadillos
by Rudyard Kipling

Stickly-Prickly the hedgehog and Slow-and-Solid the tortoise live along the banks of the Amazon River. Also living there is Painted Jaguar, whose mother teaches him how to eat hedgehogs and tortoises. He must drop hedgehogs into water and scoop tortoises out of their shells. But since he can't tell the two animals apart, Stickly-Prickly and Slow-and-Solid have no trouble getting away. To further ensure their safety, Stickly-Prickly practices how to swim and Slow-and-Solid practices how to curl up. Eventually, they both discover that they are no longer the same animals as they were before. They have become armadillos.

A very fanciful creation story told in uniquely affectionate prose. However, armadillos are actually not related to hedgehogs and turtles. Their closest relatives are sloths and anteaters! To learn more about armadillos, visit my other blog Interesting Nonfiction for Inquisitive Kids.

February 4, 2015

Real snow people

by Lois Ehlert

Lois Ehlert's snow people fill vertical double-page spreads in her wonderful book, Snowballs. Made in her signature collage-style, she shows her young audience how to create fun pictures out of paper, buttons, twigs, seeds, bottle caps, popcorn, and mittens. She ends with a brief definition of snow and why it snows. She also includes photographs of actual snow people with all their natural charms (much better than using those generic, fake snowman decorating kits you buy in a store).

To learn how Ehlert creates her wonderful books, read her autobiography, The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life. A review of the book can be found on my other blog, Interesting Nonfiction for Inquisitive Kids.

January 21, 2015

Lighten your load

Whimsy's Heavy Things
by Julie Kraulis

Whimsy's heavy things are weighing her down. She tries hiding them, hanging them, sinking them, and ignoring them, but she can't make them disappear. Shaped like bowling balls, the heavy things sap her spirits, making sad-eyed Whimsy even sadder. So she tries something different: she breaks them down into smaller pieces. As she does, she begins to feel lighter. In the end, Whimsy discovers that heavy things are just light things in disguise.

Sometimes life's burdens can get us down but, as Kraulis shows us, we can find a way to deal with them. Her message is cleverly conveyed through her sensitive pictures and simple words. The text also mirrors the action as they sink and float across the pagesBut as Whimsy slowly lightens her load, the pictures become brighter and the words gain strength. 

A lovely book that provides reassuring hope to those in need.

January 14, 2015

Dogs save the circus

The Circus Dogs of Prague
by Rachelle Delaney

JR the Jack Russell terrier and his human, George, are on vacation in Prague. With them are JR's friends - Robert, Pie, and Beatrix - and George's girlfriend, Nadya. Besides touring the city, JR also meets the animals of Circus Sergei. Nadya's brother, a trapeze artist, is also a member of the troupe. His future and that of the circus itself is threatened by the modern, more exciting Circus Magnificus. When JR discovers that the circus animals are unhappy - the dancing chimpanzee would rather swing, the kangaroo does not like boxing, and the elephant just wants to be free - he dreams up an unlikely idea that could help save the show. But to really wow the crowd, he'll need the services of a tightrope-walking cat named Kisa, whom Nadya has adopted. Since dogs and cats don't get along, JR has his work cut out for him.

Fast-paced and funny, this amusing novel is sure to be loved by anyone who owns a pet or has ever dreamed of owning one. Sure to be an especial favorite of dog-lovers.

Also read The Metro Dogs of Moscow, JR's first adventure.