Posts tagged ‘200-249 pages’

The Nest

NestTitle: The Nest
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
ISBN: 9781481445474 (ARC), 9781481432320 (hardcover)
Pages: 244 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, c2015.
Publication Date: October 6, 2015 (TODAY!)

This review and quotes for this review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher.

With every rung I got angrier. My parents couldn’t even deal with the nest. I was allergic, but they were too busy. They were busy with the baby and would be for the rest of their lives, so I had to do it. I didn’t know if these wasps were really from my dreams, but I wanted them off my house. I wanted them out of my dreams. That nest was coming down. […]
First swing, and the bristles gently raked the bottom of the nest. The broom kept going. Grunting, I brought it back and tried again. It hit a little harder this time, and I saw some papery bits waft down.
The wasps came. In a rush they dropped from the bottom of the nest and swarmed around the bristles of the broom. I gripped the very tip of the handle and was preparing to give it a big upward shove, when I was suddenly aware of a single wasp on my left hand, then a second on the knuckles of my right. I froze. (90-92)

Steve’s parents are preoccupied by the health issues of their newborn baby, which doctors seem unable to diagnosis. Even Steve’s reaction to a wasp sting, which seem to be everywhere that summer, garners only minor attention. Steve dreams that the wasps can help the baby, so long as he agrees to help them. But are the wasps from his dream real, and if so, are their plans for his little brother really something he wants to happen?

This is a disturbing book, perfect for horror fans and those intrigued by Kafka’s metamorphosis. But really, how many middle school aged children are familiar with Kafka? It’s an unsettling story because readers, like Steve, are never quite sure what is real and what isn’t. Klassen’s black and white, blurry illustrations cast a further shadow over this dark story. Upon further review, instead of written numbers the chapters are designated by the number of wasps at the start of each chapter, with one of the final ones showcasing a swarm of undistinguishable quantity, a very subtle but ingenious design feature. I could possibly give this to kids who have outgrown Goosebumps, as it gave me goosebumps reading it. Not a story that you’ll easily forget, but also one that is not easy to recommend unless you are familiar with the reader. A definite departure from his previous title The Boundless, this one is sure to keep you up at night until you come to the somewhat predictable and thankfully happy conclusion.

West of the Moon

West of the MoonTitle: West of the Moon
Author: Margi Preus
ISBN: 9781419708961
Pages: 216 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams, c2014.

<blockquote>”Astri!” Aunt yells up the stairs. “Don’t dawdle!”
I kiss the top of Greta’s head and place my hand on her face for just a moment—all I dare, or risk a broken heart.
Down the ladder I go to stand by the door, my bundle under my arm. I can’t help but notice there are now two shiny coins glinting on the table, along with a large, lumpy package. My cousins are eyeing the coins with the same intensity that the dog is sniffing the package. Now I know how much I’m worth: not as much as Jesus, who I’m told was sold for thirty pieces of silver. I am worth two silver coins and a haunch of goat.
Uncle comes and tucks a wisp of hair behind my ear, almost tenderly. “I’m sorry Astri,” he says. “It can’t be helped.”
That’s all there is for a good-bye, and then out the door I go. (6-7) </blockquote>

Thirteen-year-old Astri is sold by her aunt to the humped-back, filthy, ill-mannered and equally ill-tempered goat herder. Astri is intent on getting back to her aunt’s house, not out of kindness or love of her aunt, but concern for her little sister Greta who is still there. Her escape plan involves getting on a ship bound for America and meeting up with her father, who left some time ago and she hasn’t heard from since. In their escape attempt over the Norwegian mountains, they pick up among other things a book of dark magic and a silent Spinning Girl, blurring the lines of reality and fairy tale in the process.

Inspired by an entry in an ancestor’s diary, Margi Preus builds an entire story around farmer girl Astri. Karen Cushman said it best in her back cover blurb when she describes it as “an astounding blend of fiction and folklore that celebrates the important things in life—loyalty, devotion, courage, and the magic of stories.” Elizabeth Bird’s review is also extremely coherent and cohesive, probably much more so than mine ever could be.

It’s the blending that of fiction and folklore that Cushman mentions that is done so seamlessly and that captures the imagination, making you wonder if the collection of coins is really a troll’s stolen treasure, or if the hairbrush really is magic or just a clever con. I’m reminded of the movie Big Fish or Oh Brother Where Art Thou, to give a comparison of how effortless the stories within the story, featuring giant bears and magic and hope, meld and shift within the book’s central plot of Astri’s more realistic and painfully brutal world of childhood brides (and all that implies/entails), running away to an unknown country, and discovering that money doesn’t ever buy as much as you need or want. Do the spells and prayers work to keep the rain and Death away, or was it just time that was finally allowed to work a magic of its own? The world Astri lives in is interchangeable with the fairy tales, just as the beliefs are interchangeable between the “old ways” of keeping a rowan twig in your pocket for protection and quoting the Bible. Maybe that fluidity between customs and beliefs makes the fantastical elements of the story all the more believable, even if they can be easily explained as unremarkable. Readers will recognize at least some of the mixed-up fairy tales Astri mentions and makes her own, like Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, the Three Billy Goats Gruff, and the seven-league boots, and may be intrigued by mentions of the lesser known ones to seek out the rest, which Preus helpfully provides in her Author’s Note.

Overall, Astri and Greta’s journey is somewhat fantastical, when you think of all they are able to accomplish, especially by themselves. Readers find themselves just as conflicted as the two girls when they are forced to steal their way to their destination. There is no ambiguity that what they are doing is wrong, as Astri identifies herself as a thief and a liar and a host of other things. However, there is some ambiguity in if these acts are ever justified, and what punishment will befall upon you if you are the only one who knows how much of your “sinning nature” you are responsible for. When she makes a slightly fantastical promise, she wholeheartedly believes that if she finishes her part of the deal, the other half will follow. (I don’t want to give too much away by saying what or who the deal involved, because it happens towards the end of the novel.)

It all ends happily for the girls, but just like in fairy tales you are left wondering about the minor characters briefly mentioned but never seen again after the “happily ever after”. Hopefully neither girl will lose that ability to see the magic in the world while keeping the street smarts they seemed to have gained through their Cinderella-like upbringing.

Roller Girl

Roller GirlTitle: Roller Girl
Author/Illustrator: Victoria Jamieson
ISBN: 9780803740167
Pages: 240 pages
Publisher/Date: Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, c2015.

“By the way, did you see this in the program? There’s a junior roller derby camp, starting this summer.”
“What?! Let me see! Please!”
“It starts next month, right after school lets out.”
And just like that, my fate was decided. I was going to be a roller girl. (24-25)

Astrid’s mother periodically takes twelve-year-old Astrid and her friend Nicole to events for “evening of cultural enlightenment”. Usually they consist of concerts or museums, but this time around it’s a roller derby match. Astrid is hooked from the very beginning, even though she doesn’t own skates and doesn’t know how, and is eager to sign up for the upcoming junior roller derby camp. Nicole though, has not caught the bug, and Astrid worries about attending without her only friend. When she gets there, Astrid realizes that while it may look like fun, it’s also a lot of work, and she’s worried that while she might look like a roller girl with newly dyed hair, is she really ready to compete?

Fans of Raina Telgemeier will celebrate that there is another bold, brightly colored, friendship based, girl centered graphic novel for them to find and check out. Astrid is just a tiny bit clueless when it comes to her good friend Nicole and will just not accept that the two could have such drastically different interests. Her acts of rebelliousness — like dying her hair and lying to her mother — are realistic. This non-traditional sport has been gaining popularity and cultural presence, I think ever since the Drew Barrymore movie came out. Author/artist Jamieson is a competitor in real life, and takes the time to explain the game to readers in a way that allows them to learn along with Astrid. I loved that her single-parent family was presented in such a way that I didn’t even notice until the end that her father isn’t mentioned once. We don’t know what happened, and it doesn’t matter because it’s not central to the plot and Astrid has a loving, involved, and supportive parent who acts like a parent. Highly recommended.

Around the World

Around the WorldTitle: Around the World
Author/Illustrator: Matt Phelan
ISBN: 9780763636197
Pages: 237 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2011.

“I will bet twenty thousand pounds against anyone who wishes that I will make the tour of the world in eighty days or less: in nineteen hundred and twenty hours, or one hundred and fifteen thousand two hundred minutes. Do you accept?”
Thus begins Jules Verne’s rollicking adventure novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Verne’s novel, like his previous books, was an international success. Millions read it and pondered the possibility of racing around the planet Earth. A few intrepid adventurers — for a variety of reasons both known and unknown — decided to attempt the amazing feat. (11)

Author Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days planted in many minds the thought of seeing the world, traveling to foreign lands, and experiencing all that the planet has to offer. Three people who actually set out upon the journey are featured in this compilation biography. First came former miner Thomas Stevens, whose efforts began with a 3.5 month trip across the United States on a big-wheeled bicycle. Once he succeeded with that trip and secured sponsorship, he continued on across the globe, spending a year showcasing the bicycle’s abilities as he went. Two years after he returned, reporter Nellie Bly had the intention of beating the challenge that Phineas Fog set in the novel. Many said it couldn’t be done, and the paper she wrote for even took guesses from readers as to when she’d arrive back. Finally, there was the old retired sea-captain Joshua Slocum, who quietly set sail in a time of steam ships and pirates, spending years alone as he circumnavigated the globe just like old times.

Matt Phelan’s style is almost instantly recognizable once you’ve read some of his works featuring watercolors accented with pencil, ink, and gouache. Thomas Stevens’s story is the most colorful, featuring panoramic landscapes in greens, golds, and reds and a beautiful double page spread silhouetting the rider in front of the iconic Taj Mahal. Phelan briefly touches upon the changes that were happening while Stevens was on his ride, including the development of newer bicycle models and a gasoline engine. Phelan’s portrayal of the trip is the shortest of the three stories in terms of page count, and I do wish we had heard and seen more the trip, especially since Phelan mentions the exorbitant length of Stevens’ own account of his journey.

Nellie Bly’s is more muted, with her bright blue outfit and plaid orange-brown ulster standing out among the grays, whites, and browns of her transportation methods. I was somewhat surprised at his portrayal of Nellie as an impatient, irritable woman, but maybe she has good reason to be perturbed. It’s shown that the deck is stacked against her from the very beginning as she purposes the idea to her editor, is shot down immediately by staff due to her gender, and then she is given the assignment a year later as their own idea. It’s just another reason that I should do some research on a trailblazer in journalism.

Joshua Slocum’s journey sets a very different tone, both in the style of illustrations and the actual narration. It’s a solitary tale of a solitary man who is not in a race against time like Nellie or interacting with many people like Thomas. In fact, the minimal interactions portrayed are with hallucinations, memories, and ghosts from his past indicated with greens and yellows that separate their content from the blues and grays of the seemingly never-ending sea journey. There was no mighty fanfare upon his return, and when the story ends with his disappearance at sea 10 years later, it’s made abundantly clear to readers that this restless man was searching for a life and solace he could not find.

Phelan includes a short author’s note and bibliography of sources at the end, although I question how many of those resources would be beneficial to children. Epilogues are also included after each of the three stories, giving answers to the inevitable “and then?” questions that would follow a tale of a trip around the world. Captain Slocum’s is the only one played out in graphic novel format. Readers expecting the daring feats that they find in the 39 Clues series will be disappointed, but introspective adventurers looking to whet their appetite on true tales may enjoy the stories and provide a launching point for further speculation on their own future endeavors.

Doll Bones

Doll BonesTitle: Doll Bones
Author: Holly Black
Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler
Narrator: Nick Podehl
ISBN: 9780804122900 (audiobook)
Pages: 247 pages
CDs/Discs: 5 CDs, 5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2013.
Awards: Newbery Honor (2014)

“It wasn’t like a regular dream,” Poppy said, her fingers smoothing back the Queen’s curls and her voice changing, going soft and chill as the night air. It reminded Zach of the way Poppy talked when she played villains or even the Queen herself. “It wasn’t like dreaming at all. She was sitting on the end of my bed. Her hair was blond, like the doll’s, but it was tangled and dirty. She was wearing a nightdress smeared with mud. She told me I had to bury her. She said she couldn’t rest until her bones were in her own grave, and if I didn’t help her, she would make me sorry.”[…]
“Her bones?” he finally echoed.
“Did you know that bone china has real bones in it?” Poppy said, tapping a porcelain cheek. “Her clay was made from human bones. Little-girl bones. That hair threaded through the scalp is the little girl’s hair. And the body of the doll is filled with her leftover ashes.” (62-63)

Zach, Poppy, and Alice have played an ever-changing, imagination based game involving pirates, mermaids, treasure, curses, and the Great Queen, influenced by a bone-china doll locked in Poppy’s mother’s cabinet. It’s all pretend, and Zach’s father is urging him to grow up. But Poppy claims to recently receiving dreams from the Queen, urging the trio to bury the doll in her empty grave. They set off in one last adventure, with Zach and Alice not quite sure what to believe. Is Poppy possessed, or is this just play? When things start going wrong, it’s anyone’s guess whether they will be successful.

Have I mentioned before how much I love Nick Podehl’s narrations? Because I really do. While this book did not require the range and variety that I know he can create, it was still an excellent audiobook. Black paints this questionably creepy situation where the events of the book could be explained away as someone playing a trick…. except maybe it really is a ghostly presence influencing the group. It was the creepy factor that did it to me, as the doll was described so well, I was picturing a feminine version of Chucky. The cover really doesn’t do the doll justice, and unfortunately neither do the interior illustrations. The beauty of the narration is the imagining, the what if, and the illustrations pull you out of that spook factor. I read one review that compared this to Toy Story meets Sweeny Todd, which I guess is apt although I think Sweeny Todd is much more graphic in nature than this one.

You can tell that a lot of thought went into this book. For example, if you Wikipedia East Liverpool, Ohio, where the bulk of the story ends up happening, it really does exist. And it really did have a number of potteries, “once produced more than half of the United States’s annual ceramics output. Throughout East Liverpool’s ceramics history, there were more than 300 potteries.” (link) You can read all about Holly Black’s road trip to this tiny town, which she did for research. The trio’s adventures were fully realistic, whether it was getting from point a to point b, budget issues, or dealing with suspicious adults who paid a little more attention then they would have liked to three unchaperoned minors traveling together. A pivotal scene takes place in a library with a pink-haired librarian who is super savvy about the ways of teens, and you can tell Black is a fan of librarians through her portrayal of this character.

I did wish that Alice and Poppy had more personality. While there is some exposition regarding Zach’s attitudes and evolution, we never really hear about the two girls and how they feel about the game that Zach’s father is so keen in making Zach give up. I think Zach’s father’s change in attitude towards the end came about a little too neatly, and the quest’s end was very convenient in nature. But it’s the journey, that’s the part that compelled me to keep reading, and the uncertain ground that Black keeps you on, forcing you to question everything that is happening. Leave the light on, and you’ll never look at your dolls the same way again. Especially the china ones, which plays such a big roll to making the whole premise work.

El Deafo

El DeafoTitle: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Color: David Lasky
ISBN: 9781419710209
Pages: 242 pages
Publisher/Date: Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, c2014.
Awards: Newbery Honor (2015)

I wake up every morning happy and relieved to be home. I stay close to Mama, no matter where she is. But suddenly, I lose her. Where is she? I call out but she doesn’t answer me! When I finally find her, I know that everything is different. I think she knows it, too. I can’t hear. (11-12)

As a result of meningitis when she was four, Cece spent some time in the hospital. When she got back home, her parents and her realized that there was something wrong. She had become deaf. After being fit with hearing aids, Cece attends a special school to adapt to her lost hearing, but a family move means she leaves behind the welcoming environment. A new school means she needs to adapt to kids not understanding what the hearing aids do and how to react and interact with her.

The idea of portraying the people as bunnies was an inspired choice on the author’s part. Deafness seems more pronounced when exhibited by an animal with such pronounced ears, and that makes real the anxiety that the author feels when trying to hide her defining characteristic. I had a classmate with a similar hearing device that Cece wears and uses in school, and it’s interesting to see the world from that perspective. Cece’s reluctance to learn sign language was surprising to me, but her reasoning makes sense. She is trying so hard to not appear different that she is isolating herself because she can’t change her differences. It’s when she finally embraces her differences and uses them to the class’s advantage (like a super power) that she makes friends. But honestly, I’m glad she made friends like Martha, who didn’t care about her hearing aids, either as a positive super power or a negative disability.

Most of the feelings of acceptance are universal, they are simply amplified by Cece’s difference. Fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and R. J. Palacio’s Wonder will probably enjoy this graphic novel with a similar story line. These books are important to have to teach acceptance to children and share unique perspectives, but some may be turned off by the continued emphasis of the differences and the primary role they play in the plot.

The Last Great Walk

Last Great WalkTitle: The Last Great Walk: The True Story of a 1909 Walk From New York to San Francisco, and Why It Matters Today
Author: Wayne Curtis
ISBN: 9781609613723
Pages: 236 pages
Publisher/Date: Rodale Inc., c2014.

I first came across a mention of Edward Payson Weston about twenty years ago. […] I happened upon a brief wire service story about a man’s cross-country journey on foot in 1909. I skimmed enough to get the gist — a seventy-year-old man was walking about forty miles a day for a hundred days en route from New York to San Francisco. Good for him, I thought, and then I scrolled ahead in search of the page I needed.
A few minutes later, I had another thought: Wait . . . what? Forty miles a day? A hundred days in a row? At seventy years old? (Introduction, xii)

Wayne Curtis probably describes his book best when he writes his introduction:

Part of my goal in this book is to explore, revive, and expand on the message that Weston was intent on publicizing — advocacy for the long walk, once common and now rare. As such, this book is only in part about a single man and his obsession, and just as much about mobility, about how we choose to get around and how that impacts the health of our bodies and our minds. Above all, it’s about what we lost when humans, starting roughly a century ago, opted to stop using their legs to get from here to there and instead chose to regularly climb into a metal box harnessed to a series of small explosions. Some of what happened in the intervening century you might easily guess, but much of it you might not. Walking is more complexly knitted into our bodies and minds than you might think. How we move can determine our relationship to the land and people around us and even, to some degree, how we understand ourselves.
Not walking, I believe, is one of the most radical things we’ve ever decided to do. Here’s why. (Introduction, xviii)

To say that Curtis has an agenda is an understatement. We seem glimpses of Weston’s walk framed by free-ranging commentary involving the evolution of humans (both physical and mental), urban planning, technology, pedestrian patterns, and societal statistics such as number of hours spent watching television and walkability ratings for neighborhoods. But people who pick up this book are more than likely looking for just this sort of justification for walking and slowing down, assuming an almost existentialist philosophy towards the task. Just as people who dislike witchcraft aren’t going to read Harry Potter, people who dislike walking aren’t going to read this book.

However, it’s also the sort of book that may provoke thoughtful discourse between like-minded individuals, compiling fodder for future conversations. For instance, I’ve had a long personal belief about how long I’m willing to drive to get to a destination. Turns out this may be influenced by prehistoric habits. Curtis presents research by Cesare Marchetti that proposes humans have been willing to spend about an hour in unsheltered transit before retreating from the threat of being exposed to possible threats like enemies and the elements, and that constant has maintained itself, simply expanding as we are able to travel faster and farther in the same amount of time. The 2009 US Census Bureau data supports this philosophy, reporting the mean one-way commute is about 25 minutes (so an hour both ways). A Gallup poll confirms this by reporting the average American spends 190 hours a year (about 30 minutes a day) commuting. Although, Curtis also quotes an unnamed study that hours in delayed in traffic has increased from seven hours annually in 1982 to twenty-six hours in 2001. (131-133, 53)

The book is filled with those type of statistics that you’ll kick yourself for never fully remembering, but always remember the impact that they allude to. A few more to whet your curiosity:

  • Melvin Webber “noted that one’s perception of what constitutes a mile varies depending on the speed of travel. So it turns out it’s not just the actual exertion of walking a mile that dissuades many from taking to foot, but that they have also developed the belief that a given trip is far longer than it actually is.” (drivers thought distances were twice as much as what they actually were, whereas walkers and bikers were much more accurate) (109)
  • “In 1969, about half of all schoolkids still walked to school; 41 percent of all students lived within a mile of their school, and 89 percent of these students walked. […] Today, only 13 percent of America’s children walk to school.” (54)
  • “According to a 2009 Nielsen survey, the average American watches about 151 hours of television a month, or about 5 hours every day.” (52) “after the age of twenty-five, every hour of watching television reduced life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.” (54-55)
  • “While different studies arrive at moderately different conclusions via various routes, the recent research of dozens of scientists more often than not converges at a single intersection. And that consistently suggests that if you exercise, your brain will be fitter than if you don’t.” (97)
  • The same can also be said towards physical health, as skimming over study results yields benefits by reducing the risk of coronary disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, gallstones prevention, immune dysfunction, adult-onset asthma, arthritis, and osteoporosis, and cancer. (68-69)

For a book covering an actual walk, I was more intrigued by the above mentioned statistics and studies and the historical, psychological, and physical evolution brought about by walking than I was about Weston’s vague (and more than likely biases) reports regarding weather, landscape, reception, and conditions in general. I was somewhat surprised that there were no images. No maps of Weston’s route, which is described with varying degrees of precision and details, no pictures of Weston, and no charts to support the multitude of statistics presented in the pages. For all of that (minus the charts), you’ll have to visit the website. Upon arrival, you receive an interactive Google Map with individual points plotted based on newspaper articles. Sources are broken down by chapter on the website. While I understand he was making the book more approachable for the general public, I wish footnotes and a full source notes had been included in the printed copy, so as to better guide further research into various quoted statistics. There seems to be an influx in interest in walking and voluntary isolation (Wild, Into the Wild, Castaway, to name a few) and this book supplements all those introspective self-reflections with science. It’s a worthwhile, thought-provoking read for meandering minds and bodies.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 120 other followers

%d bloggers like this: