Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Dragons vs. Drones by Wesley King - ESSENTIAL

King, Wesley, Dragons vs. Drones. pgs. 288. Penguin Random House, 2016. $16.99.

Language: G, Mature Content: PG, Violence: PG

8 years earlier, Marcus Brimley's CIA father disappeared under mysterious circumstances and was labeled a traitor. Determined to prove his father's innocence Marcus uses his genius math skills to crack the mystery. He soon becomes obsessed with the specific, unusual weather patterns that were occurring at the time of his father's disappearance. When Marcus goes into what he thinks is an identical storm to the one 8 years earlier, Marcus rides into the storm. He ends up in a parallel universe inhabited by dragons. Unfortunately, the CIA's drones follow him in. To save the dragons of Dracone, he'll have to enlist the help of Dree, a girl with unusual gifts, and dragons to fight the drones. Will he find out what happened to his father? Will he stop the CIA from destroying the dragons?

The plot is complex with lots of twists and turns. The main characters are well developed and engaging. The author does a great job of pulling the reader into Marcus' world. This fun, action-packed fantasy adventure is perfect for reluctant readers and/or dragon fans.

EL - ESSENTIAL. Reviewer: Kira M, Youth Services Librarian, WHI Public Library.

Paths and Portals (Secret Coders #2) by Gene Yang and Mike Holmes -OPTIONAL

Yang, Gene and Holmes, Mike Paths and Portals (Secret Coders #2) 92 pgs. First Second, 2016. $18.99 Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G Violence: G
This second book of the series is the continuing adventures of Hopper and Eni. They have found out some things about their mysterious school and now must solve a coding challenge if they want to unlock a door and learn more from the school Janitor. They learn some amazing things and start to be taught even more. In the meantime the school bully is after them for something they have and they must be creative if they are to stop him. Features basic black and white and bright green simple graphic novel style illustrations.
I didn’t like this book as much as the first book. It was less mysterious (to the point where I was disappointed) and the coding was more complicated (and at this point a bit awkward in written form since it was so challenging). I sort of wish this book was an iPad interactive app book. Elementary readers at my school are excited for this second book, but I am not sure if they will be able to follow the code in it. Better for Middle school.  

EL – OPTIONAL MS- ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved - ADVISABLE

Ringtved, Glenn Cry, Heart, But Never Break, illustrated by Charlotte Pardi. PICTURE BOOK. Enchanted Lion Books, 2016. $16.95. Content: G.  

4 children live with their dying grandmother.  When Death comes to visit, they are sad and try to distract him from his mission, but he tells them a beautiful story that helps them understand.  

This is a beautiful story with a wonderful message. There is balance in life so we can appreciate the good and get through the bad.  The illustrations are slightly whimsical and very sweet.  Translated from Danish, this is a great book about death.  

EL (K-3) - ADVISABLE  Lisa Librarian

Volcanoes: Fire and Life (Science Comics) by Jon Chad -OPTIONAL

Chad, John Volcanoes: Fire and Life (Science Comics) 115 pgs. First Second, 2016. $12.99 Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G Violence: G
This graphic novel combines fiction with non-fiction. Aurora and her family live in a time where earth has changed and the climate has become an endless frozen winter. They spend their days searching for fuel to burn. Before they burn a library of books, they scan them into their computer. But Aurora discovers a book about volcanoes. The more she reads the more she is convinced that they may be solution to her tribe’s problems. She educates her family and friends about volcanoes in an effort to make her case.
I normally love informational books that use a story to make learning more palatable but this one is just a tad off base for a number of reasons. The story is very intriguing, sort of dystopian survival, but when the information component about volcanoes comes into play its serious information vomit. Tons and tons of technical information which is off putting as it instantly reveals that the whole book is a sugar coated trick. Now tons of technical information isn’t a barrier to true interest, but the only students in my school who are super excited about volcanoes are Kindergartner's and first graders, though it is 5th grade curriculum. This might work for middle school ESL or lower level readers who could use the visuals to give textual clues when being asked to learn about science topics.  I had my eye on purchasing this entire series, but I think (with some small exceptions) the factual information has a cut and paste from a complex textbook feel.
EL, MS – OPTIONAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Esquivel! : Space-Age Sound Artist by Duncan Tonatiuh - ADVISABLE

Tonatiuh, Duncan Esquivel! : Space-Age Sound Artist. PICTURE BOOK. Charlesbridge, 2016, $17.95. Content: G. 

Juan loved music, he taught himself to play the piano and by the time he was 14 he was performing on the radio.  By 17 he was an orchestra leader; he really loved to make unusual sounds.  His music was very original and eventually he moved to the United States where he recorded his crazy colorful music in stereo and changed his name to Esquival! (The ! is part of his name)  

This is a great picture book biography.  Tonatiuh has included a photograph of Esquival!, resources including websites and video, and both an author’s and an illustrator’s note.  The reader will certainly want to hear his music. His sound was different that anyone had heard before, and the text gets that across with great sound words like BOWM-BOWM and WHEEDY-WHEE.  Can’t wait to show this to my music teachers.  

EL (K-3), EL, MS - ADVISABLE  Lisa Librarian.

Over the Ocean by Taro Gomi - OPTIONAL

Gomi, Taro Over the Ocean, PICTURE BOOK. Chronicle Books, 2016. $16.99. Content G.  

A child stands on the beach looking over the ocean imagining all the things that may be on the other side.  Some things are funny, other things are serious, but none of her questions are answered.  

Originally published in Japan, I enjoyed the pictures, particularly the color choices, but I found the story, well, maybe something was lost in the translation.  

El (K-3) - OPTIONAL Lisa Librarian

Freedom in Congo Square by Carol Boston Weatherford - ADVISABLE

Weatherford, Carole Boston Freedom in Congo Square, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. PICTURE BOOK. Little bee Books (Bonnier Publishing Group) 2016. $17.99. Content: G

Congo Square is a free space set aside in New Orleans for enslaved people to meet, sing, dance and socialize with each other on Sunday afternoons.  This picture book, told in verse,  counts down the days until they can meet at Congo Square.  Each day lists the tasks or trouble or work that the slaves endured, and then Congo Square time - with music and dancing - a half of a day where they can forget themselves as if they have no cares.  

This book is a celebration! The poetry and the illustrations show how terrible their lives were (so busy, difficult, despair) and then the mood totally changes when they are at Congo Square.  I great introduction to some of the hardships of the enslaved.  

EL (K-3) - ADVISABLE  Lisa Librarian

The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles - ADVISABLE

Giles, Jeff The Edge of Everything, 358 pages. Bloomsbury Kids, 2017. $12. Language: PG-13 (5 swears, 0 ‘f’); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG-13 (Non graphic murder)  

Zoe meets bounty hunter X the day her brother ventures into the woods after his dogs during a perilous snow storm, causing Zoe to peruse him outside just as darkness is about to fall. Unable to return home in the inclement weather, they take shelter in a recently forsaken cabin. There they meet a man with severe murderous intentions, and a young man with even more so… though with a heart that is still as innocent as the day he was born.   

The Edge of Everything is an original masterpiece in a sea of merely adequate young adult novels. I highly recommend it for maintaining its pulse pounding plot alongside a heartbreaking, clear eyed look at difficult familial relationships. Jeff Giles is extremely adept at making you care and grieve for characters even if they get little page time. The romance, while admittedly quick to occur, is tender and genuine. It goes beyond the surface of the otherworldly boy meets average girl trope and challenges the reader to differentiate between superficial infatuation and the act of loving someone more than yourself. Best of all, the novel exudes lighthearted humor that will appeal to teens while also teaching the importance of mercy and why it is essential for personal well-being. 

MS, HS - ADVISABLE.  Student Reviewer: Jewels, 12th grade

Where You’ll Find Me by Natasha Friend - OPTIONAL

Friend, Natasha Where You’ll Find Me, 264 pages.  Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016.  $17.  Language: PG-13 (40 swears, 0 ‘f’); Mature Content: PG-13 (body talk, implied sex).

At the beginning of eighth grade, Anna’s best friend of many years, Danielle, flat out dumps her for a more popular crowd.  At first Anna flounders, trying to find a place to belong, but soon she reluctantly, and then with more enthusiasm, finds an eclectic group of friends where she can thrive.

I was surprised at the high level of mature content and swearing in Friend’s latest.  She has written about tough issues in the past without resorting to such tactics.  Her Bounce and Lush are two of my all-time favorite middle level books.  Friend doesn’t stumble of her handling of the issues – this is many times a better book about friendship than “The Thing about Jellyfish”.  It also touches on blended families and mentally ill parents in authentic ways.  I just wish she had handled things in a way that I could recommend this to elementary schools also.

MS – OPTIONAL.  Cindy, Library Teacher

Monday, January 30, 2017

Watched by Marina Budhos - ESSENTIAL

Budhos, Marina Watched 265 pgs. Wendy Lamb Books (Random House), 2016. $17.99 

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: PG Violence: G


Naeem lives in Queens New York. He is a fairly typical teen, not doing his best in school, goofing off, and hanging out with an entertaining and dangerous friends. When he finds himself in legal trouble, his is given an interesting escape option, to act as a spy of sorts. Because he is from a Muslim community (though his connection to this has been minimal) his job is to become involved with the Muslim community of New York City and to report everything he can observe and discover, so that potential terrorist threats can be nipped in the bud. Naeem is thrilled at first, they even pay him, but as he delves deeper into his own community, he finds himself wondering if he is doing the right thing.

I thought this was a fantastic read. Its brings to light the issue both the issue of the treatment of the Muslim American community and of surveillance; the reasons, the methods, the conclusions, and the costs. As the main character becomes more involved in his religion and community his world view changes and his life changes, he is forced to question his involvement in the surveillance and make some tough choices.  I loved that this book addressed the current misconceptions and attitudes toward the Muslim culture and our Muslim residents in the United States, it’s an incredibly relevant and important issue that is in the forefront of current events. I find myself wondering if it’s common for young people to be coerced into situations by the police to inform on their own community. Because of its main character, I think many students will relate to this book and find engaging to read, while boarding horizons and inspiring discussion.

Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author

The Playbook by Kwame Alexander - GIFT

Alexander, Kwame The Playbook : 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in this Game Called Life, 169 pgs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. $14.99. Language: G (0 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: G; Violence: G.   

This book is a collection of 52 life rules, some inspirational life sketches and personal reflections on Kwame Alexander’s life.  Unlike his other novels in verse, this one is missing Alexander’s intense poetry.  

The book design is wonderful! The end papers are textured to feel like a basketball. However, 52 is a lot of rules.  The short biographies (Pele, the Williams sisters, LaBron James) give good insight to successful people, but they are hidden in a book that is more “words of wisdom” than text.  I supposed this would be a good gift (birthday? graduation?) but it would need some promotion in a middle school library.  It’s not like his other books.  

MS - GIFT Lisa Librarian

Hunt for the Bamboo Rat by Graham Salisbury -ESSENTIAL

Salisbury, Graham Hunt for the Bamboo Rat 323 pgs. Wendy Lamb Books (Random House), 2016. $17.99 Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: PG Violence: PG13+ (military torture)
Zenji is an American born and living in Hawaii. He has been taught to respect his Japanese heritage and speaks fluent Japanese. World war II is sweeping across Europe and the United States is getting ready. Zenji is asked to join a secret division of the army located in the Philippines. Here his translation skills will be useful to discovering information about the Japanese. Zenji will be asked to decide his loyalties, even under extreme duress, decide the fate of those he is surveilling, and to endanger his life on many occasions.
This is historical fiction at its finest. It asks some very important questions about heritage versus the country you were born in in regards to loyalty, deciding what is the right thing to do in harrowing situations, and the costs of heroism. I avoiding reading it because I thought it would be upsetting, but its incredibly engaging and I could not put it down, I had to find out what would happen to Zenji. The descriptions of the places and the character building were some of the best I have read. I like that it deals with a little written about component of World War II and is loosely based on a real person. This is a book for High School only due to the level of military torture described.  

HS– ESSENTIAL Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Six Dots by Jen Bryant - ADVISABLE

Bryant, Jen Six Dots illustrated by Boris Kulikov. PICTURE BOOK. Alfred A. Knopf 2016. $17.99. Content: G.  

Louis Braille was blinded at a young age. He wanted books that he could read.  Even sending him to a special school that had books for the blind was not enough.  Eventually Louis develops his own system of raised dots that fit under a finger, a system still used today.  

This picturebook biography includes an author’s note, a “more about Braille” and a bibliography for both the man and the writing system.  A real nice young people’s biography as its focus is mostly on the young boy.  

EL (K-3) ADVISABLE  Lisa Librarian

As Time Went By by Jose Sanabria - OPTIONAL

Sanabria, Jose As Time Went By PICTURE BOOK. NorthSouth Books 2016. $18.95. Content: G. 

A fancy ship changes hands and is eventually abandoned and derelict. A wealthy family lives in excess and luxury and eventually downsizes several times, finally losing everything. Eventually living in a village by the sea with other poor people, they move the whole town down to their ship and restore it and everyone.  

Told in 3 short chapters, this fable is about what is valuable.  Muted watercolor illustrations give it an early 20th century feel.  Originally published in Switzerland and translated from German, I don’t know how well it will go over with children.  Not too excited about this title.  Dark and gloomy and sad - except the ending.  

EL (K-3) - OPTIONAL  Lisa Librarian

Leave Me Alone! by Vera Bristol - ADVISABLE

Brosgol, Vera Leave Me Alone! PICTURE BOOK. Roaring Brook Press (MacMillan) 2016. $17.99. Content: G.  

When an old grandmother finds it impossible to get her winter knitting done, she goes all the way to the moon and back to get her sweaters finished.  

I’m a knitter and I totally get this book! It’s hard to get something done when the people (and animals) around you don’t understand.  Adorable pictures tell as much of the story as the text does.  Part folk tale, part science fiction, I’ll be reading this over and over to the grandkids and letting them play with some yarn).  

EL (K-3) ADVISABLE  Lisa Librarian

In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson - ADVISABLE

Jackson, Richard In Plain Sight, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. PICTURE BOOK. Roaring Brook Press (MacMillan) 2016. $17.99. Content: G.

Everyday, Sophie’s grandpa hides something “in plain sight” and when Sophie gets home, he asks her to find it.  Each item seems to be attached to an item that has a story (which the reader never gets to hear).  Sophie is good at finding things, but when she hides something for grandpa, will he see right where it is?  

Jerry Pinkney’s colorful and busy illustrations give the reader a fun opportunity to look for themselves first and see if they are right (note, not all items are able to been spotted by the reader first).  Grandpa has a lot of interesting things around him.  I liked this story about a little girl and her relationship with her disabled grandfather. Pinkney has dedicated it to his great granddaughter - I wonder if they play the same game?  I wish there was a little more to it though than just a hide and seek book.  

EL (K-3) - ADVISABLE  Lisa Librarian

Giant Squid by Candace Fleming - ADVISABLE

Fleming, Candace Giant Squid, illustrated by Eric Rohmann. PICTURE BOOK NON-FICTION. MacMillan Publishers (Roaring Brook Press) 2016. $18.99. Content: G.  

The giant squid is probably the most illusive, mysterious creature on our planet. Living so deep in the ocean that they have never been studied in their natural habitat - in fact, a live giant squid had never been seen until about 6 years ago. However, scientists have been able to piece together quite a bit of information about them.  

Beautiful, full two-page spreads accompany poetic descriptions and questions about them - and even one fold out picture, stretching the picture to 4 pages!  Includes a line drawing identifying the giant squids parts, a bibliography, online and print sources, and a single page endnote with a lot of great information.  Perhaps one of our young readers will grow up to discover the answer to all of the questions in this book.  I sure hope so!  

EL (K-3), EL - ADVISABLE  Lisa Librarian

Radiant Child by Java Steptoe - ADVISABLE

Steptoe, Javaka Radiant Child : The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, PICTURE BOOK NON-FICTION. Little Brown and Company (Hachette), 2016. $17.99. Content: G. 

Jean-Michel dreamed of being a famous artist since he was a little boy.  He would spend the whole day drawing, sitting on the floor with his mother until his masterpiece was done. His mother exposed him to a lot of art - theater, music, cooking, decorating, museums.  As he grew, life gave him challenges which are reflected in his art.  By 17 he moved to New York and started his career, first as a graffiti artist, and eventually reached “famous artist” status with friends like Andy Warhol. 

Steptoe captures the essence of Samo©’s art with murals painted on wood and other surfaces found all over the New York area.  Includes a bibliography, more thorough biography, and artist’s note, plus a glossary indicating some of the symbolism Samo© used.  A nice story about achieving your dream, but also good for the middle school art student as an introduction to this special artist. 2017 Caldecott Medal winner.  

EL (K-3) MS - ADVISABLE  Lisa Librarian