Saturday, July 31, 2010

Love and Pollywogs from Camp Calamity, by Mary Hershey

Effie Maloney is dying to go to camp! Ever since her big sister Maxey had come home from her end of 4th grade experience at Camp Wickitawa, Effie has been excited. She can’t imagine anything better than a week away from home, her sister and her family with her 2 best friends Nit (short for Trinity) and Aurora at camp! She is super happy that the Principal of her school is letting one of her bffs Aurora go to camp with them, since Aurora doesn’t even go to St. Dom’s anymore!

Effie has been planning and planning, but there are a couple of things that she definitely is not ready for.  The first is that big sister Maxey will be at camp with her. Sure she will be working in the kitchen, but still…Effie really wanted this to be her year at camp. Secondly, she is stunned when she finds she doesn’t even want to get off the bus! All the planning, all of the reading of the camp handbook, all of the anticipation seems to have evaporated.

Effie is beside herself. Here she is at Camp Wickitawa with Aurora and Nit and Effie can tell that there is something terribly wrong. She feels like she can’t breathe and she’s cold all over. She is trying to be excited, but she’s finding it incredibly difficult. Add the fact that everyone else seems to be finding their place with ease, and Effie is feeling more like an outcast than ever! She’s not liking the food, she’s not connecting with her friends, she’s the only 4th grader who can’t swim, and the only thing that she seems to be good at is walking her bunkmates to the biffy in the middle of the night.

Effie’s CIT Cricket says that soon she’ll be so busy that her mind will be off of feeling badly. Effie’s not sure she believes Cricket, but since her mom is away from home at a well deserved retreat, there’s not much she can do about it but try.

The funny thing is, things do get a bit better without Effie even noticing.First, there is Chica who lives at the camp and decides that Effie is going to be her friend. Next, there is the cute boy Swat who works in the kitchen and always remembers that she likes to drink iced tea. Then there is the fact that her friends are rallying behind her when they realize that she is uncomfortable. There is nothing like having 2 best friends!

This is the third book featuring Effie Maloney, but readers will have no problem picking it up if they have not read the first two (Effie Maloney: My Big Sister is So Bossy She Says You Can’t Read This Book and 10 Lucky Things That Have Happened to Me Since I Nearly Got Hit by Lightning). Effie is a super likable, if somewhat worry filled, character who readers will root for. This installment sees her getting a little deeper in her judging of other people as well as her understanding of herself.

Mary Hershey writes with a truly hilarious voice that had me laughing out loud several times during my read (starting with one of the funniest first lines I have come across in a long time)! Effie and her friends are heartfelt and believable, and most readers will see themselves somewhere in these pages.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze, by Alan Silberberg

Milo and his family move around a lot. He is currently on House #5, which seems nice enough, but you never know. He has to change schools again and this time he’s headed to Junior High. With a name like Milo Cruikshank he knows he will never be part of the “Cool Name Club” like all of the Bobs, Ricks, Steves, Daves and Mikes, but nonetheless, he’s trying to look at all of these changes as opportunities.

For example, he’s already spied a super cute girl at the corner store, and it doesn’t matter too much that he was buying toilet paper when he saw her.

But there’s a heck of a lot more to Milo than the regular nerdy kid moving and going into middle school. See, house #4 was coined “the fog house” for a very good reason. That’s where Milo was living when his mom was sick and went into the hospital. Everything from that house is a bit blurry because really, who wants to remember that time?

Milo’s dad has even gone as far as trying to erase his mom.  The clothes, the pictures, the jewelry boxes, even the pots and pans are gone. It just kind of happened. It was never discussed.

Meanwhile, Milo has managed to find himself some friends. He has Marsh (aka One Eyed Jack), and Hillary from next door. Milo’s not too sure about Hillary and her sticky notes at first, but Marsh doesn’t question Milo’s freak flag, and even seems to like the same stuff as he does. Things almost seem good.

But then there’s Sylvia…the lady across the street that seems to think that Milo should work on remembering his mom, instead of just letting his dad erase her. After all, Milo is feeling that not only his mom is gone; his dad has turned into someone that he doesn’t even recognize.

Alan Silberberg has written an astounding illustrated novel that deals with the loss of a parent. Milo’s feelings are real and raw, and he’s busy coping with trying to be in 7th grade, while sorting out needing a parent who is no longer there. Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, readers will effortlessly be drawn to Milo and his friends and family. This is not simply a book about losing a parent…it is a pitch perfect story of being in middle school, the push/pull of need and independence, and the story of a boy.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Vordak The Incomprehensible: How To Grow Up and Rule The World

I first saw this book at ALA in Washington DC.  You’ve got to give it to the publisher who puts “Not for Wimpy Kids” directly on the cover.  Not only will it attract the inevitable push backers for that phenomenon, it will likely peak the interest of Kinney’s faithful readers to find out what the heck that means!

Vordak the Incomprensible is a Super Villain who has decided to share the wealth with the rest of us mortals (“As Seen on TV" style), by giving readers, through the scribing of his minion Scott Seegert,  a step-by-step guide towards world domination!  For a guy who hasn’t actually defeated his own arch-nemesis (the superhero Commander Virtue), he has an awful lot of bravado as is evident in the prologue simply entitled “Glorious Me”.

Beginning with the idea of “Bringing out the EVIL”, to an absolutely hilarious acrostic definition of superhero (Stupid, Underwear munching, Pig kissing…), to amazing plans for “Diabolically Clever Yet Extremely Slow-Acting Death Traps”, Vordak will have readers laughing out loud.  Every action movie/mystery cartoon stereotype gets the send up, and the delivery is spot on.

The visual appeal of this title cannot be easily matched. John Martin’s illustrations run the gambit from yearbook photos with barred out eyes to files on heroes and villains; from advertisements to quizzes.  The text to illustration ratio is seemingly perfect, and will keep reluctant readers interested, and voracious ones zipping along.

While the cover does look young, and the age rating is the ever-popular 8 and up, I’d say that the perfect range for this one is 4th-7h grade.  There is a media savvy that the reader needs to have to truly appreciate the Tick like humor in the pages.  I have a feeling that the Punisher-esque pronged out logo will be gracing the margins of some notebooks in the days to come.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb

Mo loves Fox Street but she especially loves it in the summertime.Sure she has to look after little sister Dottie, aka The Wild Child, but it was also the time of year that Mercedes comes to stay with her grandmother Da across the street.Mo cannot wait til Merce gets to Fox Street so they can hang out in “The Den” and drink Tahitian Treats together.

But this year, something has changed with Mercedes.She looks very grown up for one thing, what with her shaved head and her designer clothes. Mo knew that Mercedes had a new step father, but she didn’t know that they were “comfortable”. When Mercedes tells Mo that she’s starting to notice how run down Fox Street looks, and how even Da’s house isn’t what it used to be, Mo feels a distinct shift.And that is not a good thing.

Mo does not like change.

So when she takes a special delivery envelope for her Daddy one day, instead of passing it on like she promises she will, she opens it. It’s an offer on their house. Mo knows that her Daddy doesn’t like his city job, and she knows full well of his restaurant dream, and there’s no way she’s going to let him get this letter!

But no matter how much Mo wants things to stay the same, Fox Street is bound to change.Her Daddy’s dream is mighty big, neighbors may not be who Mo thinks they are, and her own sorrow about her mother is a shifting think in her chest.

Tricia Springstubb has written so much more than a simple story of growing up.She has written a whole neighbourhood full of folks so real readers will feel like they know them. Strong women like Da and Mrs. Steinbott bring the history of the street to life. The crazy Baggott boys bring vitality and movement. Mercedes brings progress and Mo herself is one of those kids that comes along every now and again who makes folks say, “she’s got an old soul”.

With hints of magical realism, and extraordinary turns of phrase that will give readers pause, What Happened on Fox Street is sure to generate buzz this year. There is something magical about this little book that will have readers looking for a flash of red in the ravines of their own lives.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Ivy's Ever After

Ivy has never fit the mould of a typical princess. Since her mother passed away during Ivy’s birth, the King has not been much for putting on airs and standing by tradition. Ardendale was never a flashy kingdom anyway, made up mostly of peasants and farmers. The one standing tradition that is left is that of the tower.

Ivy learned about the tower by accident. A couple of her friends (the daughters of servants) told her that she was to be locked away in a tower at age 14 and guarded by a dragon. Whichever prince could slay the dragon would not only be Ivy’s betrothed, but also the new ruler of Ardendale.

Ivy cannot believe that her father, befuddled as he is, would keep this important information from her, but when she confronts him, she learns not only that it’s true, but that the King has every intention of standing by this tradition that is part of the Dragon Treaty.

Not long before Ivy’s 14th birthday, a strange ship made of bone with hide for sails, enters into the harbour, carrying Prince Romil of far off Galacia. The Prince claims that he is in Ardendale to slay the dragon that is to guard Ivy’s tower and then to take on leadership of the land. But Ivy thinks there is more to Romil than meets the eye. Why would someone who complains so bitterly about the backwater state of Ardendale want to rule here?

Just before Ivy is to enter the tower, she learns of Romil’s overarching plans, but due to her wild ways of the past, nobody believes her. There is no way she can stay in the tower until she must marry Romil. When Ivy unexpectedly is rescued by an unlikely source, she is in for the adventure of her life.

What follows is a quest that will keep readers on edge over mountain tops, through swamps, into the fairy realm and the dragon’s den. Ivy is filled with pluck, and is desperate to prove that while she may not be the most refined princess, she is indeed brave and true.

Dawn Lairamore has written a fun-filled fantasy for the younger end of the tween set. Filled with trappings of dragons, treasures, fairies and trolls, readers will delight in getting their feet wet in some wizard free fair for a change. At times light and and other times filled with peril, Ivy’s Ever After is a satisfying tale that honors family, friendship and the idea of the greater good.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Princess of Glass

Poppy is just getting used to having her own room.  She is staying with her late mother’s cousin Lady Margaret Seadown and her family in Breton.  It has not been so long since Poppy and her 11 sisters were cursed to dance every night Under Stone, and Poppy is still suffering some lasting effects of that dark magic.  The primary one being that under no circumstances does Poppy want to dance again. But family curses aren’t exactly the type of thing that people in Society talk about, and Lady Margaret wants Poppy to attend the upcoming ball hosted by the Thwaite family.  After all, this shuffling around of princes and princess was meant to end with several marriages and thus the uniting of different areas, and the way to meet suitors is by attending party after party.  As awkward as this would be (what with several princes having died trying to rescue Poppy and her sisters – including the sons of families who would be attending these parties), Poppy acquiesces to her hostesses wishes, and is soon attending the fete at the Thwaite’s mansion. Poppy creates much intrigue when she refuses to dance, but ends up doing quite well in the card salon of the gentlemen!

Christian is one of the princes who has been sent to Breton on a marriage mission.  Unlike Poppy, however, he is welcomed into Tuckington Palace.  After his host Prince George gives him a tedious tour of the palace, Christian is shown to his room just as a rather frazzled maid was trying to lay the fire.  She is jumpy and covered in soot, and receives a scolding from Prince George for not laying the fire earlier.  Christian feels a bit like a fish out of water here.  His own court is much more casual, and they certainly treat their servants more kindly.

Ellen Parker, meanwhile, is not too happy with her existence as a maid.  This isn’t her life…at least it shouldn’t be.  She had once been Eleanora Park-Whittington, meant to be served, not a servant.  But that was a long time ago, before her father had lost everything.  The Seadowns are not the first family that Ellen has worked for, but they might be her last.  She is abysmal as a maid; prone to dropping, spilling, smashing and messing things up with the soot that she seems to trail around.

These three didn’t end up together in Breton by accident.  There is magic afoot, which becomes apparent when a spectacular stranger starts attending the balls of the season.  This beautiful woman who arrives unescorted in an extraordinary carriage calling herself Lady Ella, seems to throw everyone into a thrall.  She is dressed exquisitely right down to her astounding shoes that seem to be made of glass!  All of the men in attendance are soon clamoring to dance with her, but she only has eyes for Prince Christian.  Only Poppy, who has been so intimate with magic, seems to understand that something dark is at play.

Jessica Day George has written a beautiful blend of romance, mystery and re-imagined fairytale.  Ellen Parker certainly gives a new twist to the Cinderella character, and will make readers think about wishes and entitlement.  Princess of Glass is part of a series, but is easily read as a stand alone.  I had not read Princess of the Midnight Ball that features Poppy and her sisters, and I had no trouble jumping right into this title.  Filled with magic, both dark and light, as well as memorable settings and characters, Princess of Glass is sure to have readers up late into the night, turning pages to find out what happens!