Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year End Round Up!

It's that time of year again. The round ups and best of lists should be hitting the net. Already Mock Caldecott and Mock Newberys have sprung up. Now it's my turn!

As I was reviewing what I read this year I realized it has been a bit of a great year for kid's books. I only review things that I like here, and while there were quite a few things that I read that didn't make the blog this year, the stuff that I liked, I really liked. So then I was thinking, should I figure out Top 5s that may show up on an ALA list, or should I pick Top 5s that I simply love? The latter won out.

So, without further ado, I present my favourites of 2008.

Top 5 Picture Books

Ladybug Girl, by Soman and Davis
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, by Frazee
Wonder Bear, by Nyeu
Don't Worry Bear, by Foley
Chalk and Cheese, by Warnes

Top 6 Tween Titles (Sorry...I just couldn't whittle it down!)

My One Hundred Adventures, by Horvath
Cicada Summer, by Beaty
A Thousand Never Evers, by Burg
Brooklyn Bridge, by Hesse
Savvy, by Law
The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap, by Bouwman

Top 5 YA Titles

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, by Lockhart
Madapple, by Meldrum
Gossip of the Starlings, by de Gramont
Little Brother, by Doctrow
Bliss, by Myracle

So there you have it. Don't see your favourites? Leave a comment and let others know why they should be in the Top 5!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap

Another GORgeous cover. Anytime artist Nicoletta Ceccoli does a cover, I inevitably pick up the book. That said, there are a few that I picked up and did not finish. Lucy and Snowcap, however, had me staying up into the wee hours wanting to find out "what happens".

On the surface, Lucy and Snowcap seem quite different. Snowcap is the newly orphaned, soon-to-be Governor of the land of Tathenland, which was colonized by 3 shiploads of British criminals in 1775. The Colay people, who have been on the land since anyone can remember are banished to the nearby smaller islands soon after the British arrive. Lucy is Colay.

One way in which the girls are similar is in personality. After her parent's deaths, Snowcap becomes rather unlikeable...bratty and over indulged, even. Lucy is a hard girl herself. The women of her Island say that she is as "tough as goat's teeth". Both girls are seemingly untouchable, and unbeknownst to them, they are both integral players in the near future for the Colay and the British alike.

Lucy's mother bears the last child of the Sunset Island. Why the last? Because all of the menfolk have been turned to stone. The lifestone that is native to the islands has claimed every last man and boy. Since Lucy's new sibling is a boy, she is given the task of taking him to the Stone Garden that holds all of the stone forms of the men. Lucy is not scared of this task, but what she doesn't expect is how badly she wants her brother Rob to stay a boy. In fact, she prays over him and bargains with the stone not to take him.

At the same time, Snowcap is trying to survive. She has just overheard her guardian, Sir Markham and his steward Renard, talk about poisoning her oatmeal. It is clear to her why they want her out of the way. Once she is dead, Sir Markham and Renard can take over ruling the land and claim all of the power over their fellow castaways. What they don't count on is Snowcap's feisty nature. It's not that she wants to rule so much as she cannot let them win. Once it becomes clear that the men are anxious to do her in, Snowcap decides to runaway.

While this is happening, Lucy's brother does not turn to stone. Lucy receives a prophecy from the Gray Lady on Sunset, and realizes that she must take Rob to the main island. The two girl's paths cross, and soon a grudging alliance is formed.

Both girls are perfectly unlikable at the start of this tale. I don't know what I was expecting, but this wasn't it. H.M. Bouwman has written what can only be called an exquisite story. The histories of the two peoples are folded in seamlessly, and it is interesting to notice that the castaway British, the criminals, still thought of themselves as better than and in charge of the Colay people. Quite the sociological angle. What I like the most about this book is the way that the girls grow. Morally, emotionally, and simply as strong girls. The side characters are interesting as well with my favourite being Philip Tutor (aka Robbing Parsons).

The unexpected element of magic plays a primary part in this story. I wasn't sure of its fit at first, but by the end, its placement makes sense. I think it may have been my adult self trying to categorize that hindered me. Is this fantasy? Is it magical realism? Is it another world in an alternate history?

The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap will stay with readers. I find myself thinking about it at odd moments, and wondering about the girls. Another read for the deep readers in your lives.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Hands down, the most fetching cover of the year. Look at this house. Absolutely beautiful. This is kind of the house of my dreams, and the minute that I saw the cover I yearned to live inside.

Until I read the book.

Miranda is a little girl who often gets caught by the wind. She is diminutive in size, and can easily wind up tossed about like a kite without a string. One day she is taken by the wind and lands in some brambles where she is discovered by Wysteria's hounds. Wysteria Barrows is the mistress of this house which is called Bourne Manor. Wysteria takes Miranda in, and sets her to work mending the fishing nets that pay the bills. Wysteria is a bit odd, but Miranda is thankful to have a home. So she overlooks the fact that Wysteria locks her in her room every night and makes her wear heavy iron boots so that the wind no longer takes her.

But Miranda is a child, after all, and she is curious. Over time, she discovers the entry to Wysteria's late husband's study. He was a sea captain, and among all of the expected treasures in the study, Miranda finds a secret room that is filled with kites. Miranda is soon up on the widow's walk flying the kites unbeknownst to Wysteria. When her beloved kite is stolen by the wind and found by a young boy named Farley, Miranda feels a stirring in her soul that she cannot name.

Soon, Miranda finds herself on her own, and is discovering the secrets of the Manor. Chilling secrets. Should she stay with Wysteria who has helped her all of this time, or should she escape and see where her future takes her?

Now, I should preface this by saying that I am very susceptible to books about houses that seem somewhat possessed. I went and read Amityville Horror at the tender age of 9 (which I DON'T recommend!!!) so houses with personalities scare me more than your average reader. I do not want to imply that this is a horror story, but there are ghost story elements to it. Along with a fairytale like atmosphere complete with an otherworldly lead character, and an Irish boy filled with fairy lore.

Rita Murphy has written an interesting and ethereal story about friendship, family, loyalty and first love. It is an odd story. There is no other way to say it. But it is magical and compelling as well. Bird is for the older tween who is a deep reader and will not be put off by something completely different.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey

It's been a year since the kids of the Mysterious Benedict Society foiled the evil Mr. Curtain's plans to take over the world with his Whisperer machine. Sticky, Reynie, Kate and Constance are gathering back together to go on a fun expedition, courtesy of Mr. Benedict. It's to be an international scavenger hunt of sorts, that will rely on all of the children's many talents to lead them to the clues. Nothing, however, seems to result in smooth sailing when these four are supposed to work with Mr. Benedict. This time, before the expedition can even start, there is a kidnapping. Mr. Benedict and Number Two are kidnapped by none other than Mr. Curtain.

The police are working on the case, but the children know that Mr. Curtain has followers high up in government, and they are sure that the case will be most likely be foiled. The children take it upon themselves to find Mr. Benedict and Number Two. What else are they to do?

What follows is quite the "Perilous Journey". The children start out on the original scavenger hunt thinking that Mr. Benedict is most likely being held at the final destination. But whereas there was supposed to be adult supervision on the hunt (Milligan and Rhonda were to come), on this dangerous mission the children are on their own. From ship to land to air and back to land again, they get into and out of scrape after scrape, but the action really intensifies as they get closer to their destination.

This is a title that really cannot be read without reading the original Mysterious Benedict Society. While the characterization goes deeper in this volume, readers really do need the history of the individuals as well as the knowledge of their time together at the school. Jumping into The Perilous Journey first, may end up confusing readers as well as make the storyline seem more of a shallow treatment than it actually is.

This is a dense book, as was the first, but I found this to be a bit more of a slow starter. Don't get me wrong, the action starts quite quickly, but readers simply know from the sheer length of the book that the scrapes will be gotten out of. I do think that fans of the first volume will eat this up, and if they slow down enough to listen to some of Mr. Benedict's monologues on the state of the world, they might find a degree of comfort in the seemingly dangerous world of Reynie, Sticky, Kate and Constance.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

And the Winner Is....


Just send me your deets at and I will get this gorg little book off to you asap!


Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Holidays Book Giveaway!

The lovely folks at Candlewick have given me a copy of The Secret History of Giants to give to one of you!

This is a gorgeous little book that makes for a perfect gift for the New Year.

"For thousands of years we, the Order of the Golden Quills, have chronicled and collected knowledge and wisdom of the Secret Folk, those races spoken of in legend but little known in our time. Here we present to you our work on one such race of Secret Folk--the mighty Giants. Explore their secrets, discover their lore, and learn where you might seek out the noble Great Folk...for they might be nearer than you think." (Back Cover)

So just leave me a comment telling me who is your favourite Giant in literature! I will randomly draw a winner next Tuesday! (12/23)

Friday, December 12, 2008


"It goes without saying that brothers and sisters often share things with each other, like knock knees, turned-up noses, freckles, the measles, and - if they are kind and generous - toys and bags of sweets; but apart from sharing the same father and mother, Athene and Zachary Enright, aged twelve and six respectively, didn't share anything at all." p.7

So we begin. Athene has a deep rooted hatred for her brother. There's no particular reason for it, but it is there. He says black, she says white. He wants to go on a camping vacation, Athene begs to go to a farm. Athene, as usual, gets her way.

She is bratty enough to convince her parents that they should share a room with Zach, and she should have a room all to herself. Once there, however, she realizes that being alone in a room in a strange space is a bit disconcerting. Athene decides that she will go find Crumbs the farm cat to keep her company, and she heads outside. Upon looking for the cat, Athene notices a kid walking around. She assumes that it is Zach and goes to catch him and tell him what an idiot he is. The thing is, the "person" she catches up to is not Zach at all. Instead, it was the oddest little man that Athene had ever seen. "His skin was striped and speckled, his eyes shone like pearl buttons and his broad, bat-like ears were inclined to flap and twitch." (p. 24)

Athene has happened upon a Humble Gloam. The Gloam are nocturnal creatures who live in seclusion in the country-side. They call humans the "Glare" and they do not interact with them at all. Athene makes sure that she gets befriended by this Gloam named Humdudgeon. It is the most exciting thing that has happened to her. That is until little brother Zach comes along and finds her with the Gloam.

But Athene hatches a plan. There is a group of Gloam called the Low Gloam who live underground and keep anyone who enters their realm bound there with magic. The entrance to the Low Gloam is not too far away. Athene tricks Zach into seeking shelter in the fallen tree entrance. He quickly disappears. Maybe forever.

Athene is quite surprised to be taken by a guilty conscience about Zach. Will her Humble Gloam friends help her find her brother? Will the Low Gloam keep her underground?

Anna Dale has written a magical little story that fans of light fantasy should take to. Athene is quite despicable at first, and the Gloam are quirky and interesting. It's a fun adventure tinged with magic that younger tweens will enjoy.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Tales of Beedle the Bard

(Photo courtesy of

Okay. So maybe my cover doesn't look exactly like this, but hey...I thought it might catch your attention.

After catching the enthusiasm of my friend Margaret, I was off to my local chain bookstore between classes to pick up Tales of Beedle the Bard. I hadn't been planning of buying it, but Margaret has a way of upping the ante when it comes to fostering my love for Harry Potter (or Snape, as it were).

I took the advice of Susan over at Wizard's Wireless, and I didn't rush through...I took my time.

When readers open the book they find that it's "Translated from the Ancient Runes by Hermione Granger", has "Commentary by Albus Dumbledore", and has an "Introduction, Notes, and Illustrations by J.K. Rowling". This lends to feeling that the reader is back in the wizarding world and that the tales are part of the cultural reality of Harry and the gang.

Now, I am not one of those HP fans that remembers every last detail of every book. I do know kids like this. They can recite charms, list character facts and draw a map of Hogwarts at a moment's notice. Not me. But it didn't matter.

There are 5 tales within the book, and each tale is followed by Dumbledore's comments with additional footnotes by Rowling. Of the five, my favourite is "The Warlock's Hairy Heart". It's gruesome in the tradition of early Grimm, and is written is such a way that the reader has an amazing visual in mind. I was actually scared for a moment or two as well! What a treat to read fairy tales where I am not sure what is about to happen!

Each story is different than the one before, and I think there is something in there for everyone. There is also an interesting commentary on the censorship of children's stories (hhmmmm...wonder why?). "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot" was not only challenged by the Malfoy clan for the mixing of pure blood and muggle bloods (don't want to give the kiddies any wayward ideas), but it was actually rewritten by Beatrix Bloxam who believed that the tales of Beetle the Bard were "damaging to children, because of what she called their unhealthy preoccupation with the most horrid subjects, such as death, disease, bloodshed, wicked magic, unwholesome characters, and bodily effusions and eruptions of the most disgusting kind." (p.17)

Brilliant, I say.

These are fun, scary and sophisticated stories. Followers of Harry Potter would do well to give it a read. I think that fans of traditional fairy tales might want to give these a whirl as well.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Ellie McDoodle New Kid In School

Ellie is convinced her life is over. She is moving to a new house, a new town, and a new school. She is sure that she won't make any new friends and that she will have the worst school experience ever.

Ellie and her friends come up with the idea to do a group journal...each friend will draw in it or write in it for one week and then pass it along. Ellie is first.

Ellie's problems start just as soon as she gets to her new house. In this house, she has to share a room with big sister Risa. This means zero privacy, as is witnessed by Risa peering over Ellie's shoulder as she writes in her journal. Ellie comes up with a plan to move to the attic. She has to make the attic unappealing to her sister, yet sell it to her folks at the same time.

Ellie is also exploring her new town. Right off she finds the public library and is quickly befriended by the Children's Librarian Miss Claire. While she is there she meets fellow kid Glenda, and in the neighbourhood she finds Travis. Maybe this whole moving thing won't be so bad.

But throw in an embarrassing situation involving a mall changing room, and couple that with something called "New Kid Bingo", and Ellie's road is a bit rough after all.

Ruth McNally Barshaw started this series with the book Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel, and fans of that book should love this one. Confession. I did not read the first book. Result. No big deal. I jumped right in and with the first bit of action being a move, it was smooth sailing.

This is a great book about a great family. The jokes are funny, the characters are realistic, and the diary/cartoon format is JUST what the kids are craving. I shopped this title to my fourth graders just after they had an AMAZING author visit with no other than Jimmy Gownley. They were in the mood for cartoons and drawing, so I grabbed this off my desk and read the first 53 pages. They all wanted to check it out (girls and boys), and they sat silently listening to the read.

Recommended for those looking for a bit of a meatier story than the Grace books, those Wimpy Kid readers, and kids who like realistic fiction friend and family stories.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Dragonfly Pool

So every now and again I get a hankering to order some books from the UK. Better covers, different release dates, and all that. This batch included Vivian French's The Bag of Bones, Oliver Jeffers' The Great Paper Caper, and Eva Ibbotson's The Dragon Fly Pool. Now this was a nice box to receive for sure!

I am an unabashed fan of Ibbotson. She is my go-to author for so many students, and the author of books that I read again and again. The Star of Kazaan is a real favourite of mine, and I was wondering how The Dragonfly Pool would sit with me. Well folks, I have a new favourite.

Tally is living with her father and her Aunts in London. Tally's father, Dr. Hamilton, has just been given an offer that he cannot refuse. A scholarship at a boarding school for Tally. His is not a stereotypical doctor's household. They have very little since Dr. Hamilton only charges his patients what he can afford. With Hitler raving on the radio, getting Tally out of London is a priority.

So off to Delderton goes Tally.

When she gets there she is a little surprised. It is not at all like the boarding schools that her cousins told her about. First off, the children are not in uniform. They address their teachers by their first names, and they only have to go to classes if they care to! Delderton is, after all, a progressive school.

Tally's letters home are reassuring to Dr. Hamilton, and she quickly emerges as a leader at the school. When the school Head throws out the fact that they have been invited to a folk dancing festival in Bergania during a school meeting, it is Tally who rallies her fellow students to form a folk dancing group and even make up a dance in order to go. She's not a bully about it either. She just has a way of getting people to agree and get excited about things.

Once the children are in Bergania at the festival they are quickly tossed into a situation that should be too much to handle. It is up to the children, no matter their nationality, to help Prince Karil in his time of need.

I don't want to give too much plot away here, since Ibbotson manages to dodge and weave avoiding predictability all together. Ibbotson's children and adults are all memorable, and even though Tally is the protagonist, there are others that readers may savour just as much (Matteo, perhaps). Friendship, education, class and character are all themes that show up throughout.

I tend to get a chuckle reading about progressive schools since I work at one. Delderton may be a leap or two away from today's progressive schools, but the heart and soul is really there. That the teachers are so caring and allow the students to discover their passions is spot on and a pleasure to read about.

Fans of Ibbotson should love this, as should fans of Creech, Birdsall, and even Cushman. With strong boy and girl characters and a fast moving story, the appeal crosses gender lines as well. A perfect choice for the tweensters during this season of gift-giving!