Tuesday, June 29, 2010

One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia

Last time I had a book in hand on the train to ALA, it was Grace Lin's Where The Mountain Meets the Moon.  This time I took along One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, and was pleased as punch when I closed the book upon arriving at Union Station.

Delphine is trying to keep her younger sisters Vonetta and Fern calm as they jet through turbulence on the way to go meet their mother Cecile in California.  Delphine has an inkling of the turbulence she and her sisters may be in for once they get to Oakland.  She has vague memories of being with Cecile in their kitchen in Brooklyn while she wrote on the walls and muttered to herself.  She also knows that Cecile left soon after Fern was born.  After that, Big Ma moved from down South to Brooklyn and took up right where their mom left off.

Now the girls are about to spend their summer with Cecile, just because Daddy says it's time.  Cecile didn't send for them, or ask about them, but they are coming anyway.  When they finally land, the stewardess hands them off to Cecile -- a strange woman in a pair of man's pants, gigantic sunglasses and a scarf.  Not one for affection, she tells them to follow her and strides off.  After a commute that involves a particular taxi and a bus ride, the girls enter into Cecile's house.  It's more than the girls thought it would be based on all of the talking that Big Ma had been doing.

But it's not quite homey.  The girls are banished from the kitchen, and are told to head to the back bedroom that they would all be sharing.  There's no food in the house, no television, and it becomes obvious quite quickly, that the girls won't be depending on Cecile for any entertainment this summer!

The morning after they arrive, Cecile directs Delphine and her sisters to the People's Center to get some breakfast.  She tells them that it will be easy to find.  After all it's "black folks in black clothes rapping revolution and a line of hungry black kids." (p. 57)

This sets the stage for the slow reveal.  The story is one of family, of politics, of race and friendship.  Williams-Garcia has seemingly effortlessly woven in the feel of the time period (1968), and allowed a window into Oakland and the reality of the Black Panther movement; whether it be senseless arrests or educating children.  There are enough jumping off points to bring on a study of the time period, but the story never veers into message territory.  Delphine is the epitome of the 11 year old.  She's a responsible first born who is trying to figure her mother out, while finding her own self at the same time.

I was amazed upon finding the reality of Cecile's existence.  All of the characters in this book are multifaceted, and remind the reader to look a little deeper.

A must read.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Witch's Guide to Cooking With Children

It’s not often I get to listen to an audio book. With my own young children around who aren’t quite ready for the books that I review, I end up listening catch as catch can. I was bound and determined to finish The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children, not just for the story itself, but for the excellent performance by Laural Merlington.

When brainy Sol and precocious Connie move with their “dad” and their stepmother to Grand Creek, Sol isn’t too broken up about it. He is hoping that the move can give him a fresh start far away from “the terrible day”. True to form, Sol is already in possession of bus maps and some knowledge of their new town.

When they meet neighbor Fay Holaderry and her dog Swift they have no real reason to think that she’s anybody other than the sweet old lady she first appears to be. But Fay Holaderry has a deep, dark secret. She’s been taking misbehaving children out of families at the request of their parents for generations and generations. Yes, the methods have changed (big donation boxes outside of movie theaters have replaced the dark, spooky woods), but Holaderry’s still on her game, and thanks to a call from Sol and Connie’s parents, they are next on her list.

But Holaderry’s not counting on Sol’s genius or Connie’s pluck. Once they realize that their folks have it out for them, the combination of their personalities seems unbeatable! But can they outsmart a witch who has magic on her side and who has been cooking up children since the days of Grimm?

Keith McGowan has written a clever twist on Hansel and Gretel that modern kids will eat up! Since I listened instead of read, I did not get to see the accompanying illustrations. But I did get to enjoy Laural Merlington’s masterful performance in the Brilliance Audio edition.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Radio Silence

I have to apologize for the radio silence that seems to have taken over this blog! Not only am I scrambling around to get ready to attend ALA's Annual Conference in Washington DC, but the ending of this school year has been particularly busy! Sometimes wearing the hat of the commuting, working mother of two doesn't mesh schedule wise with the wearing of the volunteer blogger hat!

But I have been reading, rest assured.

In the near future you will be seeing posts about the following, fabulous books!

* The Kneebone Boy, by Ellen Potter
* Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner
* What Happened on Fox Street, by Tricia Springstubb
* The Summer of Moonlight Secrets, by Danette Haworth
* Princess of Glass, by Jessica Day George

All of these titles were a pleasure to read, and some were even outstanding!

What have you been reading lately?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Nola's Worlds #1

This super cute pink haired girl just about jumped off the galley table at the Lerner Publishing preview during BEA. I wanted to read it, for no other reason than the super cute Nola and her friends on the cover. I wasn't disappointed. (note: the US cover is slightly different from this one...Nola's hair is longer, the title is different and there is a blue wash to the whole thing)

Nola lives home with her uber busy Mom and her cat in the town of Alta Donna. In Nola's words, "This is my hometown, my world, a peaceful and pleasant little paradise. In a word...absolutely boring." (p. 3) Her days are filled with trying to get to school on time, and trying not to be disappointed when her mom shows up late again. All of that is about to change thanks to classmate Damiano.

Nola helps him save face during math one day, and as they walk down the hall together they run into Damiano's sister Ines, who is being *incredibly* rude to a teacher. After Damiano excuses himself to talk to Ines, Nola does a bit of eavesdropping and shortly becomes obsessed with the sibs. Are they spies? Runaways? Witness Protection kids? Add to that the fact that the school librarian has just been attacked, and Nola has herself a full blown mystery to solve.

She starts trailing Damiano to see what she can find, and soon becomes enchanted with Ines' beguiling ways. Nola's bff Pumpkin is a bit worried, and hopes that her friend will be alright.

Just when Nola is starting to get the answers that she originally set out to find, the book comes to a crashing, cliff-hangering stop which may me cry, "Noooo! I need book 2!!!!"

Just the way I like it!

The art has a manga edge, but it's not too much. There is lots of movement in the panels as well, but what makes the book sing are the colours. Incredibly vibrant (in the Magic Trixie vein), just looking at the pages is bound to make readers happy.

Fun, fun, fun!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Secret Lives of Princesses, by Philippe Lechermeier & illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer

Okay. So I have to begin with an admission. I am not that into princesses. I was always more of a curled up in the corner with a mystery hanging out in the treehouse kind of gal. But here's the thing. You don't have to be into princesses to adore this absolutely stunning book by Lechermeier and Dautremer.

The Secret Lives of Princesses fits into that format of book that is set up as non-fiction, but is all fiction all the time. Topics are given their own pages, and are generally set up with one page of text paired with one exquisite illustration. Topics explored are familiar fairytale finds such as "The Cradle", "A Confidante", "The Garden", and "Royal Cuisine". Between the pages of topics are minibiographies of the princesses themselves. Will you find Cinderella here? Oh, no. But you will find such intriguing young women as Princess Anne Phibian, Princess Quartermoon, and this librarian's favourite, "Princess Paige".

Readers will delight in the fast facts that are provided in sidebars throughout the text. Did you know that the tears of a pricess are prized and "are used to compose the sweetest songs, the most beautiful poetry, and the most adoring love letters." (p.16) Did you also know that "the ruby heals dizziness, and the diamond helps avoid the brushing of teeth"? (p.30)

So what makes this a perfect picture book for tweens? First off, the gorgeous illustrations beg to be poured over. There is also an edge to the writing that may go unappreciated on the younger set. (The Practical Guide in the back of the book is a perfect example of this). These aren't your cookie cutter princesses, and readers are bound to find themselves in at least one of these fair ladies.