Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Marvelwood Magicians

Marvelwood Magicians.jpgTitle: The Marvelwood Magicians
Author: Diane Zahler
ISBN: 9781629797243
Pages: 188 pages
Publisher/Date: Boyd Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, c2017.

“Stand there, and look at the pendulum,” Master Morogh ordered Bell. Bell planted himself in front of the metronome, and Master Morogh started it up. Click-clack, click-clack it went, back and forth. Mattie watched Bell fearfully. It took only a couple of moments for the light to leave his eyes. Like the frat guy and the woman before him, his expression went slack and lifeless.
“No!” Mattie said again. She started for the stage, her heart pounding. “Bell, come back here!” But Bell couldn’t hear her. […]
“Bell, wake up!” Mattie cried. There was something wrong here, something very wrong. (90-91)

Mattie Marvelwood’s big mouth and mind-reading have gotten her in trouble again, resulting in her gifted family being fired from the traveling carnival where they worked.  They think themselves lucky when they stumble across a circus, with ringleader Master Morogh instantly adding their acts. The circus has two tigers, an elephant, and another family, with a daughter who instantly becomes Mattie’s friend. But something isn’t right, as one entertainer after another begin to lose their talents. Some are more ordinary, like singing and tumbling, but the Marvelwood’s abilities are more magical in nature. Suspicious that Master Morogh might be the mystery manipulator, it’s up to Mattie to save the day, without losing her own abilities in the process.

With the recent popularity of The Greatest Showman, I wonder if there will be an influx of people looking for circus themed books.If they are young enough, you can give this title to them.  The cover reminds me of the classic cover of The Great Gatsby mixed with Kehret’s Danger at the Fair for some reason, but it’s tamer than both of those books. Mattie is understandably weary of strangers due to her talent of mind-reading and predictably frustrated that her life and family aren’t normal. There is some diversity, with Mattie’s dad being Scottish and her mom being “India Indian.” The mystery is not a “who done it” but more of a “will they get away with it” as about half way through the story you know who is to blame for the missing abilities. Besides Mattie, most of the characters are one dimensional, acting to emphasize aspects of plot or Mattie’s personality rather then develop their own attributes, only being identifiable by their act or relationships to each other. Mattie’s own feelings of her mind-reading talent changes drastically, from exasperation to acceptance in very little time, but the conclusion is solid and ties up all the loose ends. A fast read, entertaining but not very memorable, emphasizing that no matter the circumstances the show must go on and you can trust your family, even when they aren’t related by blood.

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Ned the Knitting Pirate

Ned the Knitting Pirate.jpgTitle: Ned the Knitting Pirate
Author: Diana Murray
Illustrator: Leslie Lammle
ISBN: 9781596438903
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2016.

We’re pirates, we’re pirates, out sailing the sea
So scruffy and scrappy and happy are we.
We’re tougher than gristle and barnacle grit.
We heave, and we ho, and we swab, and we . . .

KNIT! Or at least that’s what Ned does. The other pirates, especially the captain, aren’t so enthusiastic about Ned’s hobby, and orders the needles to be stowed. But Ned’s knitting might be the only things that saves the Rusty Heap from becoming an ocean beast’s feast. Jaunty, rollicking rhymes can be sang as a sea shanty, although the uneven numbering scheme makes a sometimes rough transition from the narration to the song the pirate’s sing, which gets repeated but not verbatim. Readers get an advanced glimpse of the threatening sea monster (resembling if Slimer from Ghostbusters had been crossed with an octopus and a mermaid’s tail) on the title page, along with a fully clothed mermaid (she wears a shirt instead of a bikini top) who seems to be its caretaker. It’s little details like that, along with the anthropomorphic critters scattered throughout the ship and the ever-growing knitting project which matches Ned’s knit, tri-cornered hat, that add whimsy to the story. Keep in your trunk for a new spin on Talk Like a Pirate Day in September.

Two Roaring Press Books about knitting in the same year (the other one being Leave Me Alone, being reviewed tomorrow)! Is this one of those weird trends that pop up on occasion?

Red Hat

Red Hat.jpgTitle: Red Hat
Author/Illustrator: Lita Judge
ISBN: 9781442442320
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c2013.

Pictures and unconscious inflections tell the story of a group of animals who see an opportunity to claim a hat, and seize it (both the opportunity and the hat). Little does the baby bear, the leader of the group, realize that his plan and the hat are slowly unraveling. With contributions from rabbits,  a raccoon and what looks like a porcupine, the baby bear is soon left with only long piece of yarn. Returning it proves problematic, but the original child seems unfazed, and final page shows that everyone gets their own knitted article of clothing. While reading aloud in a group setting might prove challenging, sharing in a more intimate setting the expressive illustrations, especially with a child who has their own prized piece of needlework, will certainly elicit giggles, but it should really have been turned into an animated short.

Hammer and Nails

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Hammer and Nails.jpgTitle: Hammer and Nails
Author: Josh Bledsoe
Illustrator: Jessica Warrick
ISBN: 9781936261369
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Flashlight Press, c2016.

Darcy crumpled up her playdate plans and plopped onto her bed.
Her best friend was sick, and now Darcy’s entire day was ruined.

Father and daughter take turns completing their to-do lists, including mowing the lawn, laundry, dressing up, doing their hair, and *gasp* manicures! Is Darcy’s Daddy man enough for a manicure? Brightly colored illustrations invoke small details, like grass stains and the slowly deteriorating hair styles. Aside from a blurry background wall photo and the too-big heels Darcy clumps around in, her mother is never mentioned in the text. While children will laugh upon seeing stocky Daddy dressed in plaid with a pink tutu, the message is clear that Darcy is loved and dads and daughters can do anything they want.

Clementine, Friend of the Week

Clementine Friend of the Week.jpgTitle: Clementine, Friend of the Week
Series: Clementine #4
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Narrator: Jessica Almasy
ISBN: 9781440777929 (audiobook), 9780545283076 (hardcover)
Discs/CDs: 2 CDs, 2 hours
Pages: 161 pages
Publisher/Date: Recorded Books, LLC, c2010. (Scholastic Inc, by arrangement with Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, LLC.)

“It’s time to give us your presentation. That’s quite a smile. I’m glad to see you’re so happy about it. Come on up.”
I looked through my backpack in case I had forgotten that I remembered to make some notes last night, but nope.
“That’s all right,” my teacher said. “Just come up and tell us about your life.”
“So I went up to the front of the class. “I was born,” I began. And then nothing else came out, because it is very hard to think when you are standing at the front of the class with all those eyes on you. (40)

Clementine has been chosen as Friend of the Week, an honor that bestows upon her the ability to be line leader, feed the fish, collect the milk money, and tell the class her autobiography. At the end of the week, she will receive a book from her classmates detailing all her positive attributes. But Clementine doesn’t feel like a very good friend, as she doesn’t understand why Margaret is mad at her. She starts granting compliments, tattoos, names, and decorations for the upcoming bike rally. But when her kitten Moisturizer goes missing and that’s all she can focus on, will Clementine loose the friends she’s worked so hard to gain?

I written before how much I love and am charmed by Clementine. She’s got a personality that is impossible to not love. Marla Frazee’s pictures convey the emotions of the entire family, and it’s a shame that they aren’t included in the audiobook format. But Almasy continues her narration of the series, conveying these same emotions through her inflections. Clementine’s distress when her kitten goes missing is authentic to a third grader who looses a pet. She is intent on finding her, at whatever the cost (and it does cost, as more than a few wanted posters are printed by her parents). The outcome realistically solves all the problems. Pennypacker smartly restricts the action to a week in the life, letting everything play out naturally, and I’m excited to see what everyday adventures Clementine gets into next.

Alex + Ada

Series: Alex + Ada
Volumes 1, 2, and 3
Story by: Jonathan Luna and Sarah Veughn
ISBN: 9781632150066 (vol. 1), 9781632151957 (vol. 2), 9781632154040 (vol. 3)
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Originally published in single magazine form by Image Comics, c2015

You might think about getting one.”
“Me? An android?”
“Sure. You could always put her in the basement when you find someone.”
“Do you know how sick that sounds? It might as well be a dungeon.”
“Kinky.”
“Grandma… I appreciate the idea. But, no– even if I had the money– I don’t want an android girlfriend. It’s just… weird.” […]
“Grandma, what were you thinking?
“‘Thank you’ would suffice.”
“When I gave you a spare key, it was for emergencies only! It is not okay for you to sneak into my house and drop off a robot! How did you even get it here?” (unpaged)

Alex is getting over a break-up and is tired of everyone offering him advice, from his coworkers to his friends. So when his grandmother sends him an artificially intelligent, realistic looking android, he is less than happy. Especially amidst speculation that the security features keeping them from being sentient are possibly malfunctioning. But Alex can’t shake the feeling that there is more to the robot named Ada, and pursuing those possibilities might lead him into deep trouble.

The premise reminded me of a more militarized version of the movie Bicentennial Man, and could definitely spark discussion about the current state of artificial intelligence, technological advances, and the ubiquitous nature of surveillance and information gathering. Different viewpoints are presented, and while obviously readers are meant to side with the main characters, both sides have valid arguments and neither one is victimized or demonized. For instance:

“Daniel would have so much potential if he was unlocked. He’d have a life.”
“But it would put him in danger.”
“Is it really all just about the danger.” […]
“I like the way things are. It was why I got Daniel in the first place. I didn’t want complications. But if he’s not sentient, then I don’t see an issue. What harm is there in keeping him as he is now?”
“It would be wrong to keep him locked just because he doesn’t know there’s more for him.”
“Or is it wrong to unlock him when the world isn’t prepared for it?”
“Plenty of people have done important things in history when the world wasn’t ready.” (Volume 2, unpaged)

I was admiring the ability of the artist to keep Ada straight-lipped throughout the series (since I’m assuming her robotic origins would limit mobility) but then realized that every character is drawn in that same manner. The pacing provided by wordless panels enhances the story, as it forces readers to consider reactions before they happen, slow down in the reading, and really look for the incremental differences in facial expressions and body language that provide cues of the character’s intentions and thoughts. While the predictable plot is enjoyable, it also prevents the series from standing out among the cliche of sentient robot stories.

Thunder Boy Jr.

Back in June, I did a Father’s Day craft and story time, and I’m finally finding the time to blog about it. Rather than stick with the more tried and true “I love you” stories, which I didn’t think would capture the attention of the older kids in attendance, I intentionally chose three newer books that show three more unconventional relationships between child and father. This was one of the ones I used.

Thunder Boy Jr..jpgTitle: Thunder Boy Jr.
Author: Sherman Alexie
Illustrator: Yuyi Morales
ISBN: 9780316013727
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Little Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, c2016.
Awards: 2016 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Honoree

But I am named after my dad. He is Thunder Boy Smith Sr., and I am Thunder Boy Smith Jr.
People call him Big Thunder. That nickname is a storm filling up the sky. People call me Little Thunder. That nickname makes me sound like a burp or a fart. (unpaged)

Thunder Boy Jr. hates his name. He understands the importance of where it comes from, being named after his dad who he loves. However, he wants his own name, that “sounds like me” and celebrates him. Trying out several new names throughout the book, his father realizes the problem and together they come up with a name that reflects where he came from, as well as the boy’s own individuality.

I choose it because it presented a “stereotypical” family (mom, dad, two kids, dog) but with dark skin, and my current community is heavily diverse. The family was slightly unconventional (mom rides a motorcycle –how cool!) but it presents a very typical problem of a child being unhappy with their name, and explains the thought that might have gone into choosing a name. The pictures by Yuyi Morales are bright, colorful and full of action, quite frequently bursting off the edge of the page.

However, when presented to a group of children in conjunction with a father’s day program, they laughed at the names the little boy came up with as possible replacements. Although that ensured they were more engaged in the reading of what is essentially a laundry list of names and life events, I was unsure (and still am) on how to respond to the delightful mirth that came from the suggestions. I can’t speak for the validity of those types of suggested names, and whether they are offered in jest or in all seriousness. Some of them, like “Full of Wonder” and “Star Boy” sound to my admittedly untrained ear as a legitimate option. Others, like “Old Toys are Awesome” present as absurdly unpractical and possibly meant to elicit laughter, like Phoebe in the television show Friends changing her name to “Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock”. Written by well-known and well-respected award-winning author Sherman Alexie, does the author’s Native American heritage prevent us from seeing what could be construed as mocking the naming conventions of different cultures? Does Alexie realize that the name finally chosen, Lightning, is also the name of a popular cartoon sports car character in a multi-film franchise, or did he do that intentionally so that it would be more accepted by the audience as a “legitimate” name? Lightning is no less unusual in the modern world than Thunder Boy, although it is slightly shorter.

After some quick searching, I found Debbie Reese over at American Indians in Children’s Literature also had some of my same concerns about the book, with an equally mixed reaction. With the recent uproars over the presentation of African American history in books like A Fine Dessert and A Birthday Cake for George, and the long standing arguments that sports teams named after Native Americans are cultural misappropriation, where are the calls of misrepresentation here? Does diversity only apply when it is something as politically divisive and visible as African American history?

I still like the book, as the problem of liking or disliking and choosing names is universal. I’m still hoping to use it again for other story times, but I feel like I may need to add some context the next time I use it. The audience laughter over what the little boy himself calls a not normal name still bothers me.

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