Friday, January 29

Announcement & Under Construction


This post is for those (select few) who regularly follow the blog: it's time for re-construction!

If you haven't noticed, posting has been pretty random and sparse. Heavy on the sparse. Sad day, right? Well, not only do I have a newborn, but I was building my home office and new computer, and dealing with a whole lot of re-organizing.

New computer and home office, you say? Yep. Time for my announcement...

I am not returning to work at my public library. I am now a stay-at-home mom!

What does that mean for the blog? Well, there won't be too much change because my number one goal is to stay on top of "all things literary" so that I'll be ready and excited when it comes time for me to re-enter the library workforce.

But! This does provide an excellent time for me to restructure the blog a bit. Time for some moving around and tweaking! I have new and exciting things headed your way!!

So if the blog is wonky this weekend, or crashes, or does something weird...don't worry. It's supposed to.

Kind of.

I'm working on it.

Speaking of construction, and since this is a book blog...

Did you see Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site is coming out with a glow-in-the-dark edition?? How cool is that?? That'd be super fun for a glow-in-the-dark storytime, like the one Tara did. So cool.

So thanks for sticking around. Even better things are on the horizon!

Thursday, January 28

Moonpenny Island

Moonpenny Island
Tricia Springstubb

My rating: ★★

ISBN: 978-0062112934
Publisher: Balzar + Bray
Date of publication: February 10, 2015
Age: Grades 5 - 7
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: family relationships, best friends, secrets, fossils & geology, change

Moonpenny is a tiny island in a great lake. When the summer people leave and the ferries stop running, just the tried-and-true islanders are left behind. Flor and her best, her perfect friend, Sylvie, are the only eleven-year-olds there—and Flor couldn’t be happier. But come the end of summer, Sylvie is suddenly, mysteriously, whisked away to school on the mainland. Flor's mother leaves to take care of Flor's sick grandmother and doesn’t come back. Her big sister has a secret, and Flor fears it's a dangerous one. Meanwhile, a geologist and his peculiar daughter arrive to excavate prehistoric trilobites, one of the first creatures to develop sight. Soon Flor is helping them. As her own ability to see her life on this little lump of limestone evolves, she faces truths about those she loves—and about herself—she never imagined.

So depressing. And not in one of those good ways. Because the ending was just terrible (though I'll admit I was skimming the last couple chapters—I was hoping there would be some great resolve...and there wasn't). The characters were frustrating; I didn't understand or appreciate them. Does the dad really have to be that ignorant? Was the whole geologist-and-daughter aspect really necessary? And the writing. So flowery and poetic. Too flowery and poetic. I wanted Springstubb to get to the point.

Okay, I apologize for that rant. What did I like? The issues Flor faces are real, and change is hard. Flor does a lot of growing up that many readers will appreciate. Overall? There will be plenty of adults who will enjoy the beauty in this tale, but I, sadly, am not one. And I really don't believe many grade-schoolers will like it either.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, January 25

Dory Fantasmagory

Dory Fantasmagory
Written and illustrated by Abby Hanlon

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0803740884
Publisher: Dial Books
Date of publication: October 9, 2014
Age: Grades 1 - 3
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: imagination, family relationships, imaginary friends, humor

As the youngest in her family, Dory really wants attention. More than anything she wants her brother and sister to play with her. But she’s too much of a baby for them, so she’s left to her own devices—including her wild imagination and untiring energy. Her siblings may roll their eyes at her childish games, but Dory has lots of things to do: outsmarting the monsters all over the house, escaping from prison (aka time-out), and exacting revenge on her sister’s favorite doll. And when they really need her, daring Dory will prove her bravery, and finally get exactly what she has been looking for.

This book is all over the place. Told from Dory's perspective, the reader is placed in a world half-real and half-imagined. Dory faces the real issues of dealing with the teasing of her siblings and the imagined issues of surviving the exploits of a nefarious witch named Mrs. Gobble Gracker. It's basically summed up in this (awesome) part from the book: "I tiptoe downstairs and into the dark living room. Oh! Where did I put Cherry? I gave her to Mrs. Gobble Gracker, of course. But what did I REALLY ACTUALLY do with her?" It ends up being a hilarious, true-to-life portrait of childhood.

The pacing is good (I thought Dory's pretending to be a dog dragged on for a bit--no wonder her family all lost their patience with it) and there's a good mix of vocabulary. It's told from a child, so proper grammar is not a priority, but it's much better than, say, Junie B. Jones (ugh). The child-like pencil-drawn illustrations with random speech bubbles further contribute to its kid-appeal.

Overall? Yes, it's genius as many people have said. I said four stars, though, because it could get a little too crazy. In my humble opinion. Maybe I need to spend more time with crazy children.

Better than Junie B. Jones books, a good readalike for imaginative books like Princess in Black or Heidi Heckelbeck. The quick wit and humor is similar to Ballet Cat. But it really does stand out in its own way.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, January 14

The Honest Truth

The Honest Truth
Dan Gemeinhart

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0545665735
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: January 27, 2015
Age: Grades 4 - 8
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: cancer, death, friendship, family, truth, mountaineering

Mark is a normal kid. He's got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day. But Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from. So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier—even if it's the last thing he ever does.

I'm going to sound hypocritical here (since I often complain about how depressing the critically acclaimed middle-grade novels are), but this book had (spoiler alert!) too happy of an ending. Yeah, I know. But I didn't find it realistic at all. Also, he might have said "And that's the honest truth" a bit too many times. Became a tad annoying.

But hey, those are small complaints (I can't be that mad there's a happy ending!). There's a lot I did like. The story starts off running, diving into the action before you're even sure what's going on. And it doesn't stop, making it perfectly hard to put down. It's emotional and heart-wrenching, thanks to some excellent writing. I also love that it's told in alternating POVs—the anger and desperation of Mark, and then his family/friend's reaction. It kept the story balanced. Mark himself? Pretty awesome character, full of the depressed determination one might expect from a kid with cancer. Everybody else? Well, you hardly get to know anyone else, so it's hard to say. It's Mark's book, though, so I guess that's okay.

In the end, I'd still recommend it, especially to those who prefer the happy ending (no matter how implausible). Great readalike for All the Answers (cancer, family relationships) or Lost in the Sun (anger, death, friendship).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, January 11

The Thing About Yetis

The ALA Youth Media Awards have been announced! All winners can be seen in this article, published this morning. But the big news? A picture book won the Newbery! Yep! Last Stop on Market Street received the prestigious Newbery AND a Caldecott Honor. I reviewed it way back when and I think I nailed it on the head when I said adults would find much to appreciate in it. But I certainly didn't think adults would appreciate it this much! 

So while no one could predict the Newbery winner, guess who predicted ALL the Newbery honor books? That's right. This girl. Total bragging moment. As for the Caldecotts? Well, as you'll see in that post, I didn't get a single prediction right. Which I'm still upset about because I really liked those picture books.

Anway, back to our regularly scheduled picture book review...

The Thing About Yetis
Written and illustrated by Vin Vogel

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0803741706
Publisher: Dial Books
Date of publication: November 10, 2015
Age: 3 - 6 years

Themes: winter, summer, yetis, seasonal activities, moods/feelings

Everyone knows yetis love winter. They love snowball fights and hot chocolate and sledding and building snow castles. But even yetis get the shivers, and even yetis get crabby from all the cold. So here’s a secret about yetis: sometimes they miss summer. Sometimes, they have to bring a little bit of summer to the coldest of winter days. Those yetis, they're just full of surprises.

Okay, the higher rating might have to do more with my love of winter and affinity with yetis. But beyond personal preference, this book is really quite adorable. The storyline is simple to understand: sometimes you miss the season you're not in. So why not have a picnic in winter? Or snowball fight in summer? Kids will have a lot of fun with pairing up different seasons with unexpected seasonal activities.

And the illustrations? ADORABLE. Just look at that yeti on the cover! Don't you just want to squish him?! And all the fun winter/summer activities the yetis do are really well depicted throughout. Also, since there's an emphasis on emotions, Vogel does an excellent job displaying those, too.

Honestly, it's a perfect mid-January read and it'd be SO FUN to read in a storytime about seasons. Definitely recommended.

(Heck, you could do a whole storytime about yetis, if you want. There's been a plethora of recent publications, including Yeti and the Bird, No Yeti Yet, and Are We There, Yeti?--all of which were published in the last year. Must be one of those trends!)

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, January 5

Author Interview: Gregory Funaro

Guess what guys? I got to do an author interview! With an awesome author! (Would I have done it otherwise?)

Gregory Funaro is the author of a middle-grade, Dickens-esque series set in a fantastical steam-punk London starring a orphan chimney sweep named Grubb. Yep, we're talking about the Odditorium books.

It just so happens that TODAY is the publishing date for book 2: The Odd Aquaticum! Happy book birthday! You can click here to order on Amazon or here to find it at your library.

To help celebrate, Greg was nice enough to answer some of my questions about life as an author and how the Odditorium came to be (spoiler alert: he's not actually sure how it happened. Ha!).