Saturday, February 28, 2015

Sekret by Lindsay Smith -- ESSENTIAL

Smith, Lindsay Sekret, 345 pgs. Roaring Brook Press, 2014. $17.99. Language: PG-13 (10 swears, no 'f'), Mature Content: PG-13; Violence: PG-13.

Life in 1960s Russia is treacherous. Yulia must keep her head down and her mind blank in order to survive, but lying low is difficult for someone with a strong will, vibrant hopes, and unique psychic abilities. Then the KGB ruthlessly kidnaps her and forces her to use her powers as a spy. Yulia doesn't easily give up her dreams of freedom, however; she's as determined to be free as the KGB is to control her.

It its heart, SEKRET is a vivid historical novel, and I found myself fascinated by the facts Smith used to make her setting come alive. The paranormal aspect and spy/mystery threads add unusual twists that keep the momentum going. On top of that, the writing is wonderful. I began the book while in a cafe with a friend (who had a book of her own) and I had to keep interrupting her to share passages because they were so evocative. Because it hits on several genres, expect this one to appeal to a variety of readers.

HS -- ESSENTIAL. Reviewer: Caryn

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kate's Story, 1914 (Secrets of the Manor) by Adele Whitby - ADVISABLE

Whitby, Adele.  Kate’s Story, 1914 (Secrets of the Manor), illustrations by Jaime Zollars.  Simon Spotlight, 2014.  $16.99.  148 pages. 

Kate Vandermeer is Lady Beth’s cousin (Beth’s Story, 1914) and she lives in big house in America called Vandermeer Manor.  She is excited for her Cousin Beth’s visit and her birthday where she will receive the Katherine necklace, just like Beth’s Elizabeth necklace.   Unlike Beth, Kate’s great-grandmother Katherine (original owner of necklace) is still alive.   Kate is excited to show Beth around America and introduce her to places and foods, and the fourth of July.  There fun is put on hold, when Beth’s parents ask for her to be sent home because of the start of World War I.  But before she can go, Kate and Beth must solve a mystery as old as their necklaces.

This is the second book in the Secrets of the Manor, and it needs to be read in order.  Beautiful necklaces, secrets, and assisting in a romantic affair (lady’s maid finds a man), what more could a young girl ask for?  A simple, charming historical story with a gentle mystery that will be sure to find readers.

EL-ADVISABLE.  Samantha Hastings, MA, MLS.    

Beth's Story, 1914 (Secrets of the Manor) by Adele Whitby - ADVISABLE

Whitby, Adele.  Beth’s Story, 1914 (Secrets of the Manor), illustrations by Jaime Zollars.  Simon Spotlight, 2014.  $16.99.  148 pages. 

Lady Beth of Chatswood Manor is excited to celebrate her twelfth birthday because she will inherit a family heirloom called the Elizabeth necklace.  She now has her very own lady’s maid, Shannon, who used to be a housemaid.  To add to Beth’s joy, her cousin Gabrielle, from France, is coming for a visit.  But Gabrielle isn’t like she remembered.  She isn’t interested in talking to Beth at all or the plans for her party.  Gabrielle’s locket goes missing and it is found in a laundry basket in Shannon’s room.  Beth is sure Shannon is innocent, but she’ll have to prove it before Shannon is dismissed. 

The book feels like “Downton Abbey” watered down for kids.  The plot’s mystery was very basic and obvious.  The character development was slim.  However, young girls who are interested in historical fiction will probably enjoy this very light fare.  Recommend to American Girl series fans. 

EL-ADVISABLE.  Samantha Hastings, MA, MLS.    

The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin – OPTIONAL

Martin, George R.R. The Ice Dragon 120 pgs, Tor Teen, 2014 (Reprint edition). $15

A young girl name Adara was born in winter, she lovea everything about that season, and is a bit like winter herself, cold and quiet. Her family doesn’t understand her. Adara hates it when summer comes, bringing with it her Uncle, a dragon riding warrior who fights in the war. War can only be fought in the summer, because the fire-breathing dragons will only fly in the warm weather. Adara has a secret, in the cold of winter, she flies on an ice dragon. When the war finally reaches her family’s home, in the heat of a summer, Adara gets a surprise and a chance to help save her family.  

I am big fan of The Game of Thrones books, and was excited to see that he had written a book for younger readers. This was an interesting story, but I found the main character difficult to bond with or care about. I think upper elementary students may enjoy reading this, though it is a very quick read, more along the lines of an easy chapter book, though content wise its better for upper grades. The cover is very appealing and I think that will be a big draw.  

EL  –OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian

The Boy and the Book: A Wordless Story by David Slater –NOT RECOMMENDED

Slater, David The Boy and the Book: A Wordless Story 32 pgs, Charlesbridge, 2015. $16.95 PICTURE BOOK
At the public library the books live in fear of a certain little boy who isn’t very nice to books. They try to run, they try to hide, but this little boy catches one and when its apparent he can’t read it, he plays roughly with it instead. The next time he comes in, he is able to catch the book, and now he is able to read a bit, so he treats it nice. The book finds himself happier to spend time with the little boy.
I was very excited to get my hands on a wordless book, I love using these with all ages. But this was sort of upsetting, the books were really scared, and beaten. I don’t think I want to introduce the concept of books being scared of kids to young readers. Additionally, is it ok to treat books bad just because you don't know how to read? When the boy starts to be able to read, then he treats the book right, which is a total oxymoron if you think about it, since the actual book we are reading is wordless, so why couldn’t the little boy in the story enjoy ‘reading’ the illustrations (just as we the readers are) and treat the book right from the start?
EL (K-3) – NO Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Washington’s War (Blast to the Past Book #7) by Stacis Duetsch –OPTIONAL

Duetsch, Stacia Washington’s War (Blast to the Past Book #7) 128 pgs, Aladdin, 2007. $5.99
Abigail, Zach, Bo and Jacob are sent back in time again, by their history teacher, to stop the meddling of the evil Babs, who wants to ruin history. This time they must try their best to help George Washington stay in the miserable Valley Forge with his army. George wants to give up and go home, he doesn’t know that if just stays a bit longer help will be coming, and the impact waiting will have on the future of our country. But George will take a lot of convincing, and the kids must take him on a tour of the military, in the future, to show him what  the outcomes are from staying in Valley Forge.
I have reviewed books in this series before, and I find the plots complex and convoluted. There are just too many elements for starting chapter book readers; the hardly present history teacher, the plots between the characters at school, the complex time travel unit, the nemesis who they never actually have contact with. I wish, for this reading age group, the author could have kept it simpler. Maybe this history teacher sends the students back to observe and one always messes things up, then they fix it. This short book manages to stuff in just enough facts and history that a 2-3 grade reader would be overwhelmed. I am not a big fan of this series.
EL (K-3) – OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

The Smurfs Christmas by Peyo –OPTIONAL

Peyo The Smurfs Christmas 56 pgs, Papercutz, 2013. $5.99
A collection of random smurf adventures, with a few, but not all, that feature a Christmas/Santa theme and winter snowmen. One features a sick Santa that stops at Gargamels hovel to get a cure, but when Gargamel finds out that Santa’s reindeer know the way to every home, he gives Santa a sleeping potion. Then Gargamel takes the sleigh and heads straight to smurf village. Will someone be able to stop him? Another adventure features the smurfs trying to save hibernating animals from a hunter. Another features magical snowmen who turn the tide on Gargamel to help save the smurfs (and themselves from melting).
I have been the reviewer of a few smurfs books, including the giant Peyo collection, but this one has been the only one I would recommend to elementary students. The others have featured high level vocabulary, and more advanced politics and humor. This small collection is very child friendly, good for 2-3 graders. This is more the smurfs I remember from when I was a kid. I still wouldn’t add it to my collection because the Smurfs just aren’t popular enough to spend the money for it.
EL (K-3)  –OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nuts to You by Lynn Rae Perkins - OPTIONAL

Perkins, Lynn Rae Nuts to You, 272 pgs. Greenwillow Books, 2014. $16.99. Language: G; Violence G; Content: G. 

The author of this story meets a squirrel who decides to describe to her the events that led up to his first bite of peanut butter. He tells her his tale of adventure in which he is captured by a hawk and falls to a new portion of the forest.  He meets some new friends, but when his old friends come to save him a catastrophe occurs and all of the squirrels rush back home to warn their companions of oncoming danger. 

This book was such a struggle for me to get through. The author was very set on portraying the “squirrel” language that it made it difficult to read some of the names and words that the squirrels were speaking. She also provided a lot of footnotes to try to add more to the story or elaborate. These notes ending up convoluting the story and made it difficult to flow through the book. The premise wasn’t incredibly intriguing to me either. 

EL, MS –OPTIONAL. Reviewed by: Shay, School Librarian

Crow by Barbara Wright - ESSENTIAL

Wright, Barbara Crow, pg. 298 Random House Children’s Books, 2012 Language: (0 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content-PG; Violence: PG-13;

This book is about a charming African American boy who lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.  A coming of age story, it’s set right after the Emancipation Proclamation.  His father works for a black newspaper; his mother works for a white family as a maid.  Boo Nanny, his grandmother, lives with them.  She is a former slave and loves to tell stories of her slave days.  The upcoming election creates tension between the white and black communities because blacks feel they have the right to vote.  

The story illustrates beautifully the horror of the events leading to the Wilmington Massacre of 1898.  This book was easy to read and I truly enjoyed it.  It helped to bring that time period of history to life.  Not many of us think about life after the slaves were set free, at least not until we reach the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. 


The Riverman by Aaron Starmer - ADVISABLE

Starmer, Aaron The Riverman, pg. 320 Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014

Language: (0 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content-PG; Violence: G;

The Riverman tells the story of friendship, secrets and fantasy worlds. What do you do when a Fiona Loomis, the girl who lives down the street leaves a tape recording at your house and asks you to write her biography? This is what Alistair Cleary has to figure out. Initially  he is quite flattered, but as she starts to share her story Alisatir isn't quite sure what he's signed up for.  Fiona tells Alstair about her escapes to a magical land called Aquavania that she access through the water heater in her basement. She insists that her story be written as there is a villain in Aquvania called The Riverman who is stealing the souls of the children who go there and she believes he is now after hers too. But as things progress, and Alastair learns more about this seemingly fantasy world and the people around him he begins to notice parallels between Aquavania and the small town where he lives.

I was initially drawn to the book because of the fabulous art of the cover. I was unsure of how I would like it but I was pleasantly suprised. The Riverman was truly an original coming of age story. Super imaginative and full of fun twists. it still has me wondering what's real and what's just vivid, youthful imagination.  The cover makes it appear be for the more middle school audience but I would say it leans towards a slightly older and even adult crowd.