Penguin and Pumpkin

Penguin and PumpkinTitle: Penguin and Pumpkin
Author/Illustrator: Salina Yoon
ISBN: 9780802737335
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Walker Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc., c2014.

It was fall, and very white on the ice, as always—which made Penguin curious.
“I wonder what fall looks like off the ice.”
“Let’s go to the farm and find out!”

Penguin, Bootsy, and a posse of penguins set off on an ice flow to the farm to see what fall looks like. They pick pumpkins and Penguin gathers leaves to take home and share with his younger brother, who was too young to make the journey with them. A heartwarming story that is filled with sweet details in the bright and uncluttered digital illustrations. The penguins’ ice ship melts as they approach warmer weather, so they hollow out a pumpkin and use that as a boat on the way back! Each penguin, who can be told apart by their different accessories like glasses, hats and scarves, has a uniquely shaped pumpkin subtly proving there really isn’t one perfect pumpkin. Going slightly astray when showing Pumpkin’s imaginings when left behind, the pictures are still thematic, and don’t detract from the overall journey or goal of bringing fall to the ice. My first exposure to Yoon’s penguin series, I’ll be taking a peak at the rest of the series for future story time use.

Act 1

Act One Jack and LouisaTitle: Jack & Louisa Act One
Author: Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead
ISBN: 9780448478395
Pages: 229 pages
Publisher/Date: Grosset & Dunlap, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2015.

”Listen,” I whispered. “As far as you are concerned, I’m not a Musical Theater anything. You saw how Tanner and those boys acted when they found out I was from New York. What do you think they’d do if they found out I took ballet every week?”
“My friend Jenny takes ballet!” Louisa chimed in.
“Good for her,” I replied. “I don’t do that anymore. For now I just need to keep quiet, go to class, remember where my locker is, and try not to get stuffed in one, okay?” (85)

Twelve-year-old Jack has just moved from New York to Shaker Heights, Ohio, and is attempting to blend in with the rest of the student population. But his neighbor Louisa knows his secret, that’s he’s acted in Broadway and got kicked off a debut show because his voice decided to change. Louisa disagrees with Jack’s decision to leave the theater completely, never to return. She’s going to make every effort to get him back on stage, starting with the community theater’s production of “Into the Woods”. If Jack is more interested in playing the role of a normal kid, Louisa might need some real stage magic to get him to cooperate. Or will her actions push him away for good?

I’m curious to see if this becomes a series, based on the Act One written on the cover. Especially since there is enough material to mine for future books, like if Jack brought Louisa to New York for a visit, or if a classmate competed against one of them and earned the part. Jack and Louisa are both much more grounded character as compared to Tim Federle’s Nate in Better Nate Than Ever, and readers will be sympathetic to his plight as a new kid searching for a new identity. Louisa is a hyper, peppy kid who has a few friends her age but isn’t afraid to be different and follow her passion, even if it’s not the popular thing. She isn’t a manic pixie though, and knows how to keep a secret and doesn’t make herself or Jack stand out unnecessarily. An initial reluctance in becoming friends and teasing from Louisa’s friend that Louisa likes Jack thankfully doesn’t turn into a romance, although I could see it happening if there are future installments. They are supportive of each other’s decisions, and having that friend to turn to at all times is important. There’s enough tension in the “will he or won’t he” dilemmas that Jack faces to keep readers engaged without the romantic angle. The pros and cons of small town Ohio and community theatre receive just as much attention as those involving New York and professional shows, and the knowledge and first-hand experience of the authors shows in the easy inclusion of facts about both. Into the Woods, the play of choice by the community theatre, was incorporated into the plot both on and off stage, and was a smart choice considering the recent movie and audiences probable familiarity with the story, but prior knowledge isn’t necessary to understand the book. Bravo.

Act Two Jack and LouisaEdit: Just before I posted this, I attended a publisher’s book preview and discovered that I was right, there is a sequel! Coming to a book store near you February 16, 2016. Does anyone have an advanced copy they want to lend me?

My Year of Running Dangerously

My Year of Running DangerouslyTitle: My Year of Running Dangerously
Author: Tom Foreman
ISBN: 9780399175473
Pages: 276 pages
Publisher/Date: Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015

My descent into the madness of ultrarunning began with a Thanksgiving conversation. The dishes had long been cleared, we’d watched some TV, and I had returned to the kitchen when my eighteen-year-old daughter, Ronnie, asked that question every father dreads.
“How would you feel about running a marathon with me?”
My heart jumped. My pulse raced. A bite of leftover stuffing fell from my fork. […] I had the flexibility of a stepladder, and my weakness for cinnamon rolls had convinced me that covering any sizable number of miles would forever more involve a combustion engine or a plane ticket. […]
I sighed the way a man might when the judge asks if he understands the charges.
“Okay. When do we start?” (5-7)

Tom Foreman is an Emmy Award-winning CNN Correspondent (so proclaimed on the cover of the book). He used to run (used to being the key word there), which consisted of disappearing during high school track practice and getting lucky during meets and four ill-trained for marathons with his brother after college. Using a 4 month training schedule, Foreman works in runs during east coast winters between covering breaking news and constant travel. He finds himself in the most unlikely of places pursuing the pavement. Then, after that first marathon with his daughter, he’s hooked, and keeps going farther and farther distances, until the end of the year arrives and he’s set his sights on a fifty mile ultramarathon. The biggest question waiting for him is if he’ll finish.

More anecdotal and motivational then instructional, Foreman avoids giving any specifics regarding his training process, such as the name of the first or any subsequent schedule that gave him guidance. Foreman mentions the bad and the ugly when it comes to running, including inclement weather, injuries, fatigue, and hunger. While running is typically a solitary sport, he also relates the camaraderie he experiences when in a race, meeting people who share this strange passion and looking out for each other, taking turns cheering for the other. It’s a self-deprecating display of what happens when outlandish ideas take hold and the impossible becomes possible. You can almost hear the “Anything you can do I can do better” challenge issuing from the pages, questioning readers “What’s holding you back from accomplishing your goals?” So lace up those running shoes and take that first step towards your own goals. You may be surprised where they lead.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

Max and the Tag-Along Moon

Max and the Tag-Along MoonTitle: Max and the Tag-along Moon
Author/Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
ISBN: 9780399233425
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2013.

”That ol’ moon will always shine for you . . . on and on!”

On his drive home from visiting his grandfather, Max focuses on his grandfather’s promise and watches the moon follow him home. But when the moon disappears from sight behind some clouds, is this proof that his grandfather was wrong? While the plot can be found in numerous other stories, this version is filled with soothing hues, a comforting message, and a sweet and simple story about feeling a loved one’s presence even when they aren’t present. The close ups of Max and his grandfather are the most notable of Cooper’s paintings, and he has a solid understanding of poses, postures, and facial expressions, especially when Max’s eyes are drooped in disappointment, and then spring open wide when the moon appears again and floods his room with light.

After Dark

After DarkTitle: After Dark
Author: James Leck
ISBN: 9781771381109
Pages: 252 pages
Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press Ltd., c2015.

I lowered my hand toward the opening and eased the tweezers into the patient. When I was sure that I had a firm grip on the heart, I took a deep breath and began the extraction. A drop of sweat slipped down my left temple. A hush fell over the room. The patient’s heart was more than halfway out when the door flew open and the lights came on.
“What is going on in here?”

Fifteen-year-old Charlie Harker’s first day of summer vacation starts poorly when his mom announces that they, along with Charlie’s twin sister Lilith and older brother Johnny, are moving to Rolling Hills (population 1251) to renovate his great grandfather’s inn. It gets even worse the first night at the inn, when town crier Miles Van Helsing comes running up to them seeking sanctuary from the “humanoid creatures” supposedly chasing him. While the UFOs Miles has claimed to have seen never materialized, Charlie has to admit there are some weird things happening in town, including people with superhuman strength who avoid the sunlight and wear huge sunglasses even inside. Is Miles’ paranoia spreading to Charlie, or are the headaches and lethargy plaguing the town mysterious symptoms of something worse to come?
This is a page-turner by all standards! When I read The Undertakers by Drago way back in 2012, I mentioned the dearth of realistic zombie novels, wanting more Walking Dead then Warm Bodies. Some readers might be disappointed by the lack of a body count, but the tension and action is strong enough to warrant adding it to the short list. It encompasses sarcastic quips and thrilling chase scenes along with real danger of being changed into … well into whatever the residents are becoming.

Look Miles, it doesn’t matter if they’re crazy, on drugs, or if they’re vampires –“
“More like zombies,” he said, cutting me off.
“Vampires, zombies – call them zompires for all I care!”
“Zompires? That’s a ridiculous name.” (111)

The book reads like a script for a movie, with lots of action and tense scenes after the set-up of the very normal family (or at least, as normal as you can be with a superstar brother and martial arts trained sister) assuming the role of newcomers to an almost abandoned stretch of a small town. The crazy kid’s vigilance is vindicated and then he’s forced to confront what he was always imagining existed but never dreaming he’d have to face on his own. The characters are typecast but recognizably relatable, with Charlie’s mother becoming more exasperated at the antics of her son and this noisy, nosy neighbor kid. There’s a rational explanation for everything they claim to have seen, which prolongs the plot and anticipation. Readers and Charlie and Miles know better, but convincing everyone else is going to take time, quite possibly more time than they have until they too are assimilated. The technology is current without name dropping, with not a single Apple iPhone 6, only cell phones and surveillance videos, which get dropped, damaged, and discarded over the course of the plot. Is the ending convenient, yes, (thank you Kirkus review for reminding me of the term deus ex machina) but in the same way the movie Red Dawn ends conveniently, and that became a classic and an updated remake. Just when you think everything has been resolved, the twist ending sends new chills down your spine and has you looking over your shoulder. Read this as one last homage to the scary Halloween season, or put it on your list for next year.


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.

MoletownTitle: Moletown
Author/Illustrator: Torben Kuhlmann
Translator: Andrew Rushton
ISBN: 9780735842083
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: NorthSouth Books Inc., c2015 (originally copyright by NordSud Verlag AG)
Publication Date: October 1, 2015

The story of Moletown began many years ago. One day a mole moved under a lush green meadow. He was alone at first, but not for long. And over time, life underground changed . . .

Kuhlmann’s second foray into publication is more propaganda then inspiring plot. The detailed illustrations from his lovely first work are maintained, drawing upon iconic images such as Ellis Island travelers, the industrial revolution, and corporate America from the change of the century. But readers quickly lose track of that first mole mentioned in quoted narration blocks in these variant vignettes. One picture shows what looks like moles living in tightly compacted lockers, while another shows an office piled high with papers. The last lines of text allude to an environmental agenda, overlaying a dirty and smoky sea of mole hills and machines surrounding one spot of roped off grass with “Many generations later, the moles’ green meadow had completely disappeared. Almost.” A disappointing ending to what feels like a collection of editorialized cartoons. This will not keep the attention of a story time unless they are tired of the Lorax.

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

Tricky VicTitle: Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower
Author/Illustrator: Greg Pizzoli
ISBN: 9780670016525
Pages: 39 pages
Publisher/Date: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, c2015.

“Victor” was a convincing count: exceedingly well dress, soft spoken, and always with lots of money to spare at the game tables. Once the ship docked and the passengers disembarked, “Count Lustig” would disappear, along with their money. (5)

“Count Victor Lustig” was the alias of Robert Miller, a man born in the Czech Republic who didn’t stay in one place for very long. He traveled around the world playing people for their money, from his home country to America, Europe, and back again, earning the respect of Al Capone before finally getting caught and imprisoned in Alcatraz. Two popular cons were either selling a money making box to an unsuspecting person or simply counterfeiting the money directly. His most well-known con however was selling the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal, a trick that proved so successful that he attempted it a second time.

Little is known with certainty about Robert Miller, and Pizzoli makes that clear in his author’s note. Teachers will also appreciate a glossary of terms, an extensive works cited list, and a word about the artwork. The effort to include primary sources within the illustrations, like Miller’s death certificate, should also be highlighted if used in a classroom. There’s some light symbolism in the use of a finger print in place of Miller’s face in every illustration, which was a distinctive but very effective method of obscuring his identity but still allude to the criminal nature of his work (being fingerprinted when arrested) and his unique fabricated identity and business (since all fingerprints are different). Adults might be interested to seek out more information, but this is a succinct narrative and an age-appropriate introduction to the idea of con artists, fakes, and double crosses.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 126 other followers

%d bloggers like this: