Monday, April 20, 2015

The Water and the Wild, by K. E. Ormshee

Every now and again a book comes along that renders me smitten. In this case, the book was unexpected.  It showed up on my front porch, which is something that doesn't happen so often these days. I was intrigued by both the cover and the title and since it was a weekend, I settled in.

There is not much that makes Lottie Fiske happy.  She is stuck living in the boarding house with Mrs. Hester Yates after her intended guardian passes away in his porridge.  Mrs. Yates is not much like her husband who was always doing things that were kind.  She finds Lottie a bother who doesn't help with the chores, and is more likely found cavorting in the garden with her imagination.

Two things do make Lottie happy, and they are the apple tree in her yard, and her best friend Eliot.  She has been putting her wishes in that tree for ages now and each year on her birthday she receives the trinkets she asks for. So when Eliot's health takes a turn for the worse, Lottie knows she needs to use her birthday wish for something more important than hair bows.

An apple tree gateway, a magical legacy, political intrigue and plenty of double crossing do not deter Lottie from trying to get what she needs in order to help Eliot. The problem is, Eliot's not the only one who needs what Lottie has come for.

Ormshee has written one heck of a charming story that had me right from the beginning. Setting, character, story and world building all come together in a way where readers do not see the strings. The writing itself is a pleasure to read, and I am planning on reading this aloud this summer to my own daughters. The book comes blissfully map free, but I find myself wanting to draw not only Lottie's journey, but the characters she meets along the way.  From her apple tree, to Iris Gate and especially the Wisps...I have them in my mind's eye, but want to put pencil to paper and give them more shape and look upon them.  While this book doesn't scream sequel (and you all know how much I adore the stand alone), I find myself wanting more of these characters.  For fans of the faery, friendship, poetry and a well spun yarn.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Jack & Louisa Act 1, by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Weterhead

Jack can't believe that he is moving from New York City to a suburb of Cleveland!  He knows that it's where his dad is from, and that work is bringing him there, but for a kid city born and raised, the suburb and its stand alone houses aren't exactly familiar territory for him.  His parents know he's feeling down when an offer of listening to the Into The Woods soundtrack is turned down.

Louisa is just coming down from being at Camp Curtain Up (theater camp if you can't tell) with the other MTNs (musical theater nerds).  As she and her parents pull into their driveway, they notice that the new family is moving in two doors down.  Louisa notices that the kid looks about her age, and then suddenly she notices his tshirt.  It's from the musical Mary Poppins! This is a very interesting development. After all, up until now, Louisa was the only MTN in her grade!

If Louisa only knew! Jack's dad's job wasn't the only reason they were moving to Cleveland.  Jack had lost a job himself. He is a theater kid, and not too long ago he was cast in the musical The Big Apple.  And not in a bit part either.  He was super excited to be part of the cast...until the first rehearsal.  Jack is going into 7th grade, and his voice was changing. The notes no longer came easily...and sometimes they didn't come at all.  So Jack was no longer first choice for the role.  Which obviously made leaving NYC a heck of a lot easier.

In this age of google, Louisa finds out about Jack pretty quickly.  And seeing as they are in the same class at school, she figures they are pretty much meant to be friends since they have so much in common.  But Jack is thinking about reinvention.  It's pretty easy to be a theater kid and be a boy in NYC, but in Cleveland he figures his soccer skills will make his life easier than his singing and dancing skills.

Sometimes, however, it's hard to turn off what you really love.  And when the community theater announces it's putting on one of Jack's favorite shows of all time, will he be able to resist the call of the stage (let alone Louisa's influence)?

This is a pitch perfect middle school story that's not simply about theater, but drills down into issues of family, friendship and being true to oneself.  Keenan-Bolger and Wetherhead get the voices spot on without ever venturing into over-the-top Glee caricatures.  The alternating voices go back and forth in time, but are never confusing, rather a great device for giving the back story in pieces instead of one big chunk.  Fans of Federle will eat this up, as will fans of realistic fiction and musical theater.

Super fun.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson

Astrid rolls her eyes as her mother takes her and bestie Nicole to a surprise "evening of cultural enlightenment!"  Astrid knows what that means because in the past it mean poetry readings, opera performances and trips to the modern art gallery. The girls are amazed when Astrid's mom's cultural outing takes them instead to an evening of Roller Derby! Astrid is quickly obsessed with the derby and is quite taken with local Rose City Roller jammer "Rainbow Bite".  At dinner after the derby, Astrid's mom shows the girls a flyer for a Jr. Derby League summer camp, and Astrid knows that is exactly how she and Rachel should spend their summer.

Unfortunately for Astrid, Nicole doesn't feel the same way.  She'd rather go to dance camp than spend her summer skating.  Astrid can't understand this, especially since prissy Rachel is going to be at dance camp too.  The same Rachel who embarrassed Astrid  back in first grade and had been giving her grief ever since.

Astrid goes through with Derby camp even without Nicole.  She doesn't let her mom know that Nicole isn't going, even though it's Nicole's mom who is supposed to drive her home from camp! The first day is a disaster. Not only do all of the other girls look older and different, complete with dyed hair and piercings, but they all seem to know how to skate a whole lot better than Astrid does!  Then there is the pain.  Lots and lots of it.  Add onto this the fact that Astrid has to walk all the way home in the blazing sun, and it turns out the Jr. Derby camp isn't going exactly as amazingly as she had imagined it.

Astrid's summer is filled with the ups and down as they can only be felt in the tween years.  Keeping secrets, finding new friends, getting caught in a lie, and growing pains are all a part of Astrid's days at camp.  Throw in some rainbow socks and Hugh Jackman voodoo dolls and the result is a graphic novel that hits the sweet spot for the 9-12 year old set.  Filled with colorful and welcoming art, Roller Girl is certain to sit on the shelf for the same number of minutes as books by Telgemeier and Bell. Do yourself a favor and get multiple copies.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Moonpenny Island, by Tricia Springstubb

Flor and Sylvie are the best of friends.  They live on Moonpenny Island - a small island that only boasts 200 residents when all of the summer folks leave.  Even though Sylvie and Flor seem quite different from one another, they compliment each other very well.  Sylvie doesn't make fun of Flor's fears, and when she does laugh at her, it's not the kind of laugh that hurts her feelings.

Imagine Flor's surprise when Sylvie announces that she is leaving Moonpenny and moving to the mainland in order to live with her aunt and her uncle and attend private school.  It seems that Sylvie's big brother's mess ups have made her parents want a better situation for her.

One day, Flor goes off on her bicycle to hang out in the old quarry after her parents have a fight. She runs into a girl she doesn't know! It's a girl with hiking boots wearing an oversized sweatshirt.  She says her dad is a geologist, and that they are on Moonpenny Island because of all of the fossils.  The girls strike up an awkward friendship and not unlike Flor and Sylvie, Flor and new girl Jasper need each other.

What follows is a poignant story of friendship, family and change. Springstubb is at her very best as she coaxes the characters along in their journeys and sets the stage for the story to unfold. This is the summer that everything is changing for Flor and her family.  It's that eye opening summer...the one where a certain degree of innocence is lost and truths are revealed.  The juxtaposition of the three families gives readers much to think about.

This is a book that will stay with readers.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Truth About Twinkie Pie

I was lucky enough to receive this ARC a long time ago. It was irresistible.  I mean, look at that cover! Read that title! I am a person who has never even had a twinkie, but I knew I needed to read this one.  Sometimes a book just gives you a feeling, and this one was calling to me.

Twelve year old Gigi (short for Galileo Galilei) and big sister Didi (short for Delta Dawn) have moved from their trailer park digs in South Carolina to an apartment in Long Island.  One of the only things they have brought with them is their late mother's recipe book which helped the girls win big money in a cooking contest, and Didi is set on giving Gigi a better life that she had.  Gigi is all registered to go to Hill on the Harbor Preparatory School and as long as she keeps following Didi's recipe for success by studying hard and getting top grades, everything will be great.

But here's the thing...Gigi is ready for some changes.   She has even come up with her own recipe for success that doesn't include studying in the library every extra moment of the day.  Instead she wants to find friends her own age, try on a new version of her name, and find ways to have the qualities she knows her late mother would see in her shine.  Gigi (now Leia) is feeling confident about memorizing her locker combination and her schedule and is ready for her first class on her first day when she crashes into Trip who just happens to be the most beautiful boy she's ever seen, and is also in her English class.  All of a sudden this front row girl was sitting in the back row next to Trip.

But change isn't alway smooth or easy, and even though Trip and most of his friends are super nice, mean girl Mace notices Leia's dollar store shoes and less-than-healthy E-Z Cheeze sandwich and makes sure that Leia knows that she is the square peg at school.  Leia can handle the insult about the shoes, but nobody makes fun of Didi's cooking!

Readers will be rooting for Leia as she navigates through all sorts of changes in her life. From the tony world of private school to freshly unearthed family secrets, Leia's life is not following any recipe!  Kat Yeh has written a treat of a middle grade story that will tug on your heart strings and make you smile in equal measure.  The multifaceted characters and rich turns of phrase that had me reading with a twang are only a couple of the reasons I read this book in one big gulp.  The Truth About Twinkie Pie is a book with honesty and heart and I cannot wait to share it with the tweens in my life!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Year End Favorites

For many reasons, I will be super happy to kick 2014 to the curb.  But as I look back on all of the amazing books I read this year, I will keep them as a bright spot of the last 365.  I make no attempts to balance my favorites of the year. I don't look at award criteria. What I look for is a balance of high quality writing, great stories, interesting information and the good old heart-song book.  There were many to choose from this year, and these were the ones that rose to the top for me.

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

Rising to the very top is this amazing memoir that goes beyond genre and format and is simply dreamy.  Luscious and glorious all at once, this is a family story, a writer's story, a story of race in America, and the story of a girl. It is a book I will revisit in pieces and as a whole.







Greenglass House, by Kate Milford

This is a book where I have loaned out my personal signed copy (sans dust cover) to a student when we didn't have it in the library.  Rich in setting and cinematic in scope, I just love Milo and his family and can imagine that if I read this at 11 years old, I would have dreamed of living in the inn. I think this may become a read aloud Christmas tradition in my house.






The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander

There is no denying the poetry of Kwame Alexander.  Begging to be read aloud, but at the same time an intimate story of brothers and family that wants to be read in corners and quiet rooms, this one will surprise, delight and kick you in the gut in equal measure.






Nest, by Esther Ehrlich

Character driven, so sad yet hopeful, Chirp and Joey went straight to my heart. This is a quiet book nestled into the Cape Cod 1970s setting that tackles serious themes with aplomb.







Neighborhood Sharks, by Katherine Roy

Defying age categorization, this non-fiction incredibly illustrated book about the Great Whites of the Farallon Islands will have readers pouring over the pages again and again.







The Family Romanov, by Candace Fleming

Incredibly informative and readable at the same time, this is Fleming at her best.  Thought provoking and oddly timely.









These are the titles that rose to the top for me.  What are your favorites of 2014?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Real Life Tween Reader

I've been watching L read since she was a wee one.  It became clear very early that she was mad about mythology and fantasy, and it's been very fun watching her grow as a reader.  I asked if she would be open to answering some questions for this blog, and she happily agreed.

Do you consider yourself a reader?
Yes I do because I read a lot and I love to read.

What are your favorite genres to read?
My favorite genres are fiction, historical fiction, and fantasy.

How do you select the books you want to read?
I usually select books from recommendations from my mom and from the school librarians.

What is your favorite book so far?
It's tough to choose a favorite book, but on of them is called "Dear America: I Walk in Dread", by Lisa Fraustino.  Another is "The Blood of Olympus", by Rick Riordan.

What is your favorite thing about reading?
My favorite thing about reading is just getting engrossed in a book and not getting enough of it.

Do you read on an e-reader/phone/computer?
I don't usually read on the internet because I like the feel of books.

What kinds of books do you think are the most popular with kids your age? Why?
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What are you currently reading?