Friday, May 19

Reviews of the Week 5/15

I don't really know why this didn't get posted at the beginning of the week. Do you ever have one of those weeks that are like, "*Poof* it's Friday!" and you don't remember how you got to the end so fast? Actually, you know what. The whole month is going too fast. How is it already this far gone in May. What the heck. Maybe the books are just sucking me in too much. They're like a time warp. (#bookloverproblems)

Independence Cake: 
A Revolutionary Confection Inspired by Amelia Simmons, Whose True History Is Unfortunately Unknown
Written by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Giselle Potter

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0385390170
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Date of publication: May 9, 2017
Age: 5 - 8 years
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: library book

Themes: cooking, US History, post-Revolutionary War, cake

In the late eighteenth-century America, Mrs. Bean, the mother of six strapping sons, struggles to maintain her home and simply can't manage! That is, until orphaned Amelia Simmons arrives and puts things in order. And how well she cooks—everything from flapjacks to bread pudding to pickled cucumbers! She even invents new recipes using American ingredients like winter squash. Best of all, she can bake, and to honor the brand-new president, George Washington, she presents him with thirteen of her most special recipe—Independence Cake!

I liked it. And the biggest reason why is it's just a perfect little glimpse into what life was like in the newly created USA. It's not a boring history book, and it's not even about someone that well known, but it tells a fun little story about cooking in America. I like that. Now I not only know about the first cook book written in America and little bit more about the culture of American food, but even other little useful details like what it's like to try to run a home or what happens to orphans during this time period. Fictional, yes, but very much rooted in actual history. It's a great read for history-loving kids (or to read as a way to promote an appreciation of history!).

Now, I didn't love it. And the biggest reason why was the illustrations. They're not my style. While they do feel historically traditional (like something you'd see in 1700s America), the lack of emotion in the facial features was a turn-off (you can kind of see what I mean just on the cover). I didn't feel that the illustrations greatly enhanced the story, but were simply there reporting what was being told. Still, like I said, it contributes to the historical feel and I would be happy to recommend this to anyone looking for historical fiction in picture books.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wolfie & Fly
Written by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Zoe Si

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1101918203
Publisher: Tundra Books
Date of publication: January 10, 2017
Age: Grades 2 - 4
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Format: library book

Themes: friendship, imagination, submarines, play

"Renata Wolfman (Wolfie) does everything by herself. Friends just get in the way, and she only has time for facts and reading. But friendship finds her in the form of Livingston Flott (Fly), the slightly weird and wordy boy from next door. Before she knows it, Wolfie is motoring through deep water with Fly as her second in command in a submarine made from a cardboard box. Maybe there is something to this friend thing..."

Totally found this one randomly perusing the library and I'm so glad I did. The premise is a classic, if overused one: two opposite personalities somehow become great friends. In this case, the differing personalities are almost too over-the-top (Wolfie is kind of a jerk, especially to her own parents), but once the two are in their submarine, being taken on this wild imaginative adventure, it gets good. The writing is clever and had me chuckling, especially in the mashup of Wolfie's fact-preferring brain being faced with the wildly amusing imagination of Fly. Overall, I'm intrigued enough to read their next adventure. The better bonus of this book is, of course, the target age. For all of those beginning chapter book readers that zoom through the likes of Ivy & Bean and Dory Fantasmagory, this is another great series to put in their hands.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Hello, Universe
Erin Entrada Kelly

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0062414151
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Date of publication: March 14, 2017
Age: Grades 5 - 7
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Format: library book

Themes: friendship, fate, missing children, bullying, family relationships

"In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Sometimes four can do what one cannot. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms."

This book has gotten some Newbery buzz already and, indeed, has four starred reviews. But I'm still left a bit torn. On the one hand, the start of the story put a frown on my face and I was irked at several characters. On the other hand, the ending had me wanting to give the book a little hug. It's an odd feeling. The realistic middle school culture, fascinatingly unique main characters, and perfect ending would have my recommending it in a heartbeat. The frustratingly flat side characters, cruel bullying, and depressing beginning has me holding back. One could argue that the depressing parts are what, in fact, make the ending so sweet and that the flat side characters are really just to let the main characters shine. One could argue a lot of things with this book. But in the end, I will say that I appreciate its complexity and heart, and will leave it at a generous four stars.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

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