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A Hidden Masterpiece

A Hidden Masterpiece

posted by:
July 28, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Under the EggTheodora Tenpenny has more than her share of burdens for a 13-year-old. With the death of her beloved grandfather Jack, Theo has been thrust into the role as head of the household which includes taking care of her sweet but thoroughly withdrawn mother, tending to the family’s crumbling, 200-year-old Greenwich Village townhome, fending off creditors and trying to make ends meet with a legacy of less than $500. Fortunately, her grandfather’s dying words have given her some hope. “Look under the egg,” he tells her, hinting that a supposed fortune lies waiting there.  In Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s Under the Egg, this clue sets the plucky and resourceful Theo on a series of adventures that she could never have anticipated.

 

Fitzgerald does an amazing job of capturing not only what Theo is feeling as she is forced to take over the role of parent to her ineffectual mother, but how Theo manages to still behave like a typical 13-year-old girl. One thing Theo yearns for almost as much as a way out of her financial nightmare is to have a friend.  When she meets Bodhi, the daughter of a Hollywood couple temporarily living down the street from Theo, the two girls instantly bond.  They decide to team up to figure out the mystery surrounding an odd painting that Theo discovers in Jack’s studio.  Is this the work of the world-renowned artist Raphael? If so, how did Theo’s grandfather acquire it? Soon Theo discovers that Jack also worked with the famous “Monuments Men” group during World War II, and she is confronted by even more questions. It’s up to Theo and Bodhi to solve these questions and discover the real mystery lying “under the egg.”  
 

Regina

 
 

Finding Her Chinese Roots

Finding Her Chinese Roots

posted by:
July 15, 2014 - 6:00am

The Year of the Fortune CookieFor sixth grader Anna Wang, life is presenting her with some serious and exciting challenges. She’s learning her way around middle school, trying to make new friends and accepting her adopted baby sister Kaylee. In The Year of the Fortune Cookie by Andrea Cheng, Anna’s also been offered the chance of a lifetime. Her family’s friends, the Sylvesters, have invited Anna and her mom to travel to China. Being a Chinese-American and having a basic understanding of the language, Anna realizes that this trip is a way to connect with her Chinese relatives, see the orphanage where her sister used to live, and improve her language skills. Unfortunately, Anna’s mom cannot get time off from work to accompany her so she has to travel by herself.

 

This third installment in the Anna Wang series gives the young heroine some real-life issues to deal with in a thought-provoking way. While Anna has never even travelled out of state by herself before, the chance visit to China is one that she cannot turn down, even though it takes a lot of inner strength and courage for her to go. Cheng effectively portrays how Anna, being one of a small number of Asian-American students in her home town, is suddenly thrust into a culture where she no longer sees herself as a minority. Yet, while the Chinese people do not stare at Anna as an outsider, she comes to realize that she is not just Chinese or just American but both. Cheng also nicely integrates some simple Chinese words and symbols throughout the story so young readers can learn something about the language.

Regina

 
 

Magic Doesn't Solve Problems

Magic Doesn't Solve Problems

posted by:
July 11, 2014 - 6:00am

Cover art for The Islands of ChaldeaAileen was supposed to become a wise woman like her Aunt Beck, but then she messed up her initiation and spends the following morning in one of those depressions that sucks the joy right out of eating. So maybe it's just as well that she and her aunt are summoned to the castle and sent off on a quest to reopen the sealed land of Logre, which vanished behind a wall not long after Aileen was born. Things go wrong. When Aunt Beck gets herself cursed out of her own stubbornness, it's up to Aileen to take over and deal with all the problems — both large and small — that crop up.

 

When Diana Wynne Jones died in 2011, we lost one of the great fantasy and children's writers of the past century. There's a sense, not just of magic and quests, but of people who actually have to live in a world where curses might mean that every meal has to be spoon-fed, and where the horse isn't a gallant steed but a donkey that gets the cart stuck in the mud sometimes. There's true love, the refutation of childhood crushes and a gentle understanding that people sometimes make the wrong choices when they're alone. It doesn't take center stage, but there's a lot that an older reader will get that a child won't.

 

What makes a Diana Wynne Jones story is the understanding that as wonderful as magic is, it doesn't solve problems. Magic is merely an extension of the personality of the people who use it. Character, not power, decides the fate of Aileen and her companions.

 

The Islands of Chaldea was completed by Diana Wynne Jones's sister, Ursula Jones, an acclaimed novelist and actress.

Matt

 
 

Your Underwater Adventure Awaits

Covert art for Deep Sea DisasterCover art for Lights! Camera! Hammerhead!Harry Hammer, a hammerhead shark, has created his list of the top five coolest sharks in existence. Of course, number one is the great white with their rows of pointy sharp teeth. Number two is the fast swimming blue shark. The stripy and scary tiger shark clocks in at number three, and number four is the ginormous whale shark. Finally, to round out the top five cool sharks, there's the bull shark, who can swim in rivers as well as the sea. So what could be cool about a goofy-looking hammerhead shark? That’s the question on Harry’s mind in the first book of Davy Ocean’s new series, Shark School: Deep Sea Disaster.
 

When Harry’s class goes on a field trip to a shipwreck for a group project, their sea turtle teacher has given them strict instruction to not go into the wreck because it’s too dangerous. However, Harry’s group ignores their teacher’s instructions and enters the rusty old ship anyway. Things turn bad and the students become trapped in the collapsing wreck. Can Harry use his special hammerhead sensory powers to find a way out and prove that he’s just as cool as all the other sharks in the sea?
 

In the second installment, Shark School: Lights! Camera! Hammerhead!, we follow Harry and his friends as they try to find something entertaining to do during school vacation. When the “leggy air-breathers” arrive to make a new movie, Harry hatches a plan to become famous, just like his hero Gregor the Gnasher. But Harry’s not the only shark with aspirations for stardom. Will Harry be able to nab a starring role in the film? Or will Rick Reef steal the show?
 

These fast-paced, action-filled, underwater adventures are sure to please first chapter readers. From dealing with bullies to embracing your own uniqueness, kids will be able to identify with the situations faced by Harry and his friends. As an added bonus you can enjoy some “Shark Bites,” fascinating facts about the animals that live in the ocean.

Christina

 
 

When Fairy Tales Fracture

Cover art for Princess PinkOnce upon a time there was a little girl named Princess Pink. Yes, her first name was Princess and her last name was Pink. Princess enjoyed mud puddles, monster trucks and giant bugs. She absolutely, positively hated the color pink. One night, after her mother tucked her in bed and turned off the light, Princess noticed that her tummy was grumbling. She tiptoed to the kitchen to find a snack, but instead of finding some tasty green-bean casserole, Princess opened the refrigerator door and fell into the land of fake-believe. Accompanied by Mother Moose and a green-haired girl named Moldylocks, Princess set off on a crazy-cakes adventure in Moldylocks and the Three Beards, written and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones.

 

Moldylocks took the still hungry Princess to the weird looking house of the Three Beards. Once there, the two girls tried the three Beards’ chairs and tasted the three different bowls of chili. They also tested out all three of the Beards’ beds, finding one to be just right to jump on and play Cowboy Caveman.  Suddenly, the Three Beards returned home and were not happy to find that someone had been sitting in their chairs, eating their chili and jumping on their beds!

 

Did Moldylocks and Princess escape the three angry Beards? Or did they end up ingredients in the next batch of chili? And what exactly is a tunacorn? If your child has recently transitioned into first chapter books and likes zany, action-packed stories with unusual characters and colorful illustrations on every page, then this book is perfect.  Parents will also enjoy the reading comprehension questions on the last page that will help you discuss the wonderful world of fake-believe with your kids. This book is an excellent pick for summer reading fun!

Christina

 
 

Walter Dean Myers, 1937-2014

Cover art for MonsterCover art for Fallen AngelsWalter Dean Myers, author of more than 100 books for children and teens, passed away on July 1st at the age of 76. Myers wrote with depth and authenticity. His novels included realistic characters, and he didn’t avoid difficult topics. In his Michael L. Printz Award-winning novel Monster, Myers delves into the world of a 16-year-old boy on trial for murder. His novel Fallen Angels is about a Harlem teen who enlists in the Army and spends a year on active duty on the front lines of the Vietnam War.

 

 

Throughout his distinguished career, Myers earned many prestigious awards for his work including two Newbery Honors, three National Book Award nominations and six Coretta Scott King Awards. He was also awarded the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, as well as the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. In 2012, Myers was named the Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.

 

 

A lifelong champion of diversity in children’s literature, Myers passionately addressed the issue in an essay in The New York Times, writing, “Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?” The essay ended simply, “There is work to be done.” That work will be done in his memory as his legacy is carried on through his writing.

Beth

 
 

Innocence Lost

Innocence Lost

posted by:
June 20, 2014 - 6:00am

Cover art for GaijinKoji Miyamoto’s 13th birthday is quickly tarnished by the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a half-Japanese American during World War II, Koji’s life dramatically changes on that fateful day. Gaijin: American Prisoner of War is a graphic novel by Matt Faulkner which describes this ugly period in American history in heartbreaking detail.
 

Koji’s day begins innocently enough as he listens to the Lone Ranger on the radio while helping his mother with the dishes. When the attack is announced, he and his mother have to look up Pearl Harbor in the atlas. Koji immediately wonders if his Japanese father could have been flying one of the attack planes. His father had returned to Japan the summer before to take care of a sick family member. After a night of bad dreams, Koji heads to school only to discover he is persona non grata everywhere — at school, on the streetcar and on the street. As the government increases restriction on Japanese Americans, Koji’s innocence is lost forever when he is sent to a “relocation camp.” Outside of the camp he is ostracized for being half-Japanese, inside he is tormented for being half-white.
 

Faulkner’s novel is a powerful piece of historical fiction told graphically. Koji’s journey to adulthood under terrible conditions is beautifully detailed in color as he deals with discrimination, tough choices and growing up. Faulkner also neatly teaches the reader about a dark piece of American history, when over 110,000 Americans were made prisoners of war in their own country.
 

For more information on the subject, Faulkner has created a website - www.gaijinamericanprisonerofwar.com.

Diane

 
 

Steam and Grime in Victorian Times

catalog.bcpl.lib.md.us/polaris/search/searchresults.aspx?ctx=1.1033.0.0.6&type=Default&term=Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times&by=KW&sort=MP&limit=TOM=*&query=&page=0London:
 

Ten-year-old Jack Foster has never been the center of his parents’ universe. Spending much of the year at boarding school, Jack’s infrequent trips home to smog-choked Victorian London are fraught with awkwardness, boredom and his own guilty anticipation of returning to school.
 

So when on one visit home Jack spies Mr. Havelock, his mother’s mysterious new spiritualist, opening a door where no earthly door should be, he jumps at the chance for adventure and follows...
 

Londinium:
 

...into a magical world that so closely mimics our own, the line between what is mechanical, what is magical and what is alive has long been blurred. Here the air is thick with smoke, and many residents are obliged to wear goggles and nostril grills to shield them from the noxious atmosphere. Whole, flesh-and-blood children are rare and prized by Londinium’s ruler: the Lady. Now, the Lady requires a new, perfect son and she’s set her sights on Jack.
 

As keen as he was for adventure, Jack isn’t so sure he’s ready to be adopted, and the Lady’s previous son, Mr. Havelock (aka Sir Lorcan), isn’t happy about being replaced. This new world is not without friends though, including Beth, a wind-up doll with an attitude, and Dr. Snailwater, the scientist who created her. If Jack wants to escape back to his own world, he’ll need the help of his new friends and that of the Gearwing, a powerful, mythical creature that no one has seen in years.
 

Emma Trevayne paints an atmospheric and eerily entrancing landscape in Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, her middle-grade steampunk debut. Boasting excellent world building, characteristic of the steampunk genre, gorgeous cover art and an independent protagonist with amusing supporting characters, Flights is best suited for younger middle-grade readers.
 

For all the narrative merit displayed in much of the story, Flights does suffer from some underdeveloped and ultimately unresolved plot devices. Among these weaker elements are the obscure motivations of the Lady in continually craving perfect, eternal sons in the first place, as well as the underdeveloped mythos of the Gearwing itself. As a standalone novel these flaws are prominent, however, in the larger context of a series (should Ms. Trevayne continue to expand Jack’s horizons) these shortcomings might be camouflaged.
 

Meghan

 
 

Seven Stories That Will Make You Cry in Public

Cover art for The Book ThiefCover art for AtonementCover art for Bridge to TerabithiaIt has happened to most of us at some point. You’re reading a book on a plane or on the beach. Suddenly, there is a heartbreaking plot twist or a beloved character dies. You try to fight it, but it’s a lost cause. You’re crying in public, and it’s not pretty. These sad stories highlight the deep emotional power that books have over us.

 

•    Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is one of the first books that made many of us cry. This novel about the friendship between a boy and his two hunting dogs is a modern classic.

 

•    Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is an unforgettable story about a girl named Liesel living in Nazi Germany. The novel was recently adapted into a movie, but this is a book that you simply must read.

 

•    Me Before You by Jojo Moyes follows Louisa Clark, a young woman who takes on a job as a caretaker for Will Traynor, who is a quadriplegic. The two of them quickly grow close, but Will’s plans for his assisted suicide loom ahead of them in this tragic, romantic tale.

 

•    Ian McEwan’s Atonement is an elegant exploration of guilt and forgiveness. During the summer of 1935, 13-year-old Briony accuses the family maid’s son Robbie of sexually assaulting her cousin. The consequences of her testimony haunt her for the rest of her life.

 

•    Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is a beloved childhood favorite for many readers. Despite their differences, Jess and Leslie become inseparable friends. When tragedy strikes, Jess must use the lessons that their friendship taught him to heal.

 

•    Set in a postapocalyptic America, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the story of a father and son who walk through the desolation, depending only on each other while they try to make their way to the coast.

 

•    Gail Caldwell’s Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship will make you want to call your best friend. In this poignant memoir, Caldwell chronicles her friendship with her best friend Caroline Knapp from their first meeting through Knapp’s death of lung cancer at age 42.

Beth

 
 

Birdy Bath Time

Birdy Bath Time

posted by:
June 11, 2014 - 6:00am

The Pigeon Needs a Bath!Caldecott Honor winner Mo Willems has brought back his beloved pigeon character in the funny new picture book The Pigeon Needs a Bath! The bus driver, this time clad in a shower cap and bathrobe, once again needs your help. Pigeon is absolutely, positively filthy. It’s been about a month, maybe even longer, since Pigeon had a bath. Goodness sakes, Pigeon is really starting to smell. He’s so stinky that the flies buzzing around Pigeon don’t want to be near him. Can you help convince Pigeon that he should take a bath?

 

Sixth in the Pigeon series, we last saw Pigeon two years ago co-starring in The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? Duckling makes an appearance in Pigeon’s new book in the form of a rubber ducky in the bath tub. Cartoon-like illustrations transition from muddy brown to bright, clean colors as Pigeon finally gets into the bath and starts to get clean. He’s having so much fun, he may never get out of the bath tub!

 

Whether it’s driving a bus, finding a hot dog, staying up late or wanting a puppy, Pigeon is sure to delight young children with his requests, which may also mimic some of the desires of the audience as well. Willems, both author and illustrator, has been awarded three Caldecott Honors, two Theodor Seuss Geisel Medals and Three Geisel Honors for his children’s books. And as your little ones progress from picture books to beginning readers, they are sure to also enjoy his Elephant & Piggie series.

Christina