August 11, 2017

The man behind the spider and the mouse

Up til this point, I could most likely count the number of biographies written for children that I've read. Actually I could probably count how many biographies in total I've ever read because I have to admit biographies in general not my favorite genre. However, there are always exceptions and every now and again there are people who I find intriguing enough to seek out more information about them. Last year I read My Ears Are Bent which included different excerpts from The New Yorker along with background on the magazine itself. I discovered from this book just how much of the writing was done by E.B. White. (You might recognize him from such things as Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web.) This piqued my interest in White but I had so many other things on my TRL that I somewhat forgot about him until I saw Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet pop up as a recommended read. I think E.B. White would have heartily approved of this biography even though he was an intensely private, low-key individual. This book delivered not only on giving me the biography that I was looking for but also offering up beautiful mixed media layouts which make it more accessible to children.  His approach to writing and his proliferation of works is fascinating and astonishing. Sweet manages to educate the reader about his works but she also manages to paint a portrait of a writer that was passionate about his craft, his family, and his farm. She does this almost from the start. This book is great if you want to learn more about E.B. White yourself or if you want to introduce your kids to biographies. It's easily accessible and the layout is beautiful. Quick, fun read that I'd recommend for reluctant biography readers (like myself). 10/10

To give you a taste of what I mean about the mixed media approach:

Source: NPR
Source: NPR

What's Up Next: Brian Selznick Masterpost including The Invention of Hugo Cabret, The Marvels, and Wonderstruck

What I'm Currently Reading: Alice by Christina Henry

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

August 4, 2017

The devil is in the details

It's ironic that after I made the post about not finding enough time to post twice a week I exponentially increased how many books I was reading. This has resulted in a backlog of books which show as 'currently reading' on all of my literary social media sites (Goodreads, Booklikes, & LibraryThing if you were curious). This has generally meant that the reviews which have been going up on Fridays are following in the order that I read them but I may have read them as much as two months ago. I'm going to change that up with this post because I'm just so excited to talk about this book that it's jumping the queue. Strap in, guys.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon was brought to my attention by watching this video by one of my favorite BookTubers, Mercedes. It was the cover that initially grabbed my attention (Honestly, are you even surprised anymore?) but it was the quick blurb which she read that truly won me over. (PS The UK and US covers are vastly different and honestly I prefer the cover from the UK.) Cannon's debut novel is set on a small road in England during the summer of 1976 and the winter of 1967. Two seemingly disparate events from these two time periods seem to be converging during what turns out to be one of the hottest summers on record. The reader follows several narrative threads from the inhabitants of this road but the central character is 10-year old Grace. We see her neighbors, family, and friend (Tilly is a delight) through her eyes while also getting to peek behind the shuttered windows and closed doors of their homes where secrets lurk in every corner. It started with a disappearance of a woman...or was it a baby? Maybe it was a fire that started things. It's sometimes difficult to determine just what started a chain of events, isn't it? The Trouble with Goats and Sheep explores that and much more. I don't want this novel to sound distressingly gloomy or dark because that's not accurate. It's difficult for me to convey just what it was that instantly drew me in and had me savoring it like a delicious treat. I think it's that Cannon was able to move seamlessly between the different characters and two time periods and create a story that was both believable and poignant. The people on the avenue felt real and tangible. Their foibles and fears weren't inconceivable or written with a melodramatic air. These were real people who had made mistakes but were too stubborn to admit them. It's a study of humanity and how two little girls tried to reconcile what they were seeing with what they desperately wanted to believe.  I knew within 30 pages that this was a book that this was going to have high re-readability for me and I daresay for many others as well. 10/10 highly recommend.

The UK cover:
Source: Waterstones

The US cover:
Source: Amazon

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

July 28, 2017

I continue to be drawn in by beautiful cover art

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox is another prime example of an eye-catching cover which I couldn't resist. It evokes a certain gothic mysteriousness which I'm happy to say was delivered. From the very beginning,  the reader is launched into a tale of magic, wickedness, desperation, and all-consuming power. The story follows a family of children who are sent to stay at an estate in the country during the Blitz of WWII. However, all is not what it seems at this country school as the oldest daughter, Kate, quickly realizes after meeting the lady of the house. Much of the drama is tied to a chatelaine (a chain decorated with different items used around a house and usually worn by the woman in charge of the household affairs) worn by this woman. There are a lot of different threads to follow in this narrative which made it a little challenging to follow at times. The reader is sent back in time to follow this woman's history and then suddenly we're back with Kate in the present. That was a bit jarring but easily overcome. I'd say that the book's biggest strength was its originality in using magical artifacts of an unusual sort (I don't want to give it away entirely). If you are a fan of boarding school mysteries with a healthy heaping of dark magic then you'll most likely enjoy this book. It's a 6/10 for me but it would have been higher if the narrative thread had been a bit tighter.

I mean how could I have turned down this cover?!

Source: Amazon

What's Up Next: Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

What I'm Currently Reading: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

July 21, 2017

Figuring out who you are

The only exposure I've had to roller derby is through the film Whip It which admittedly is more than some people. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to read more about it especially when I saw the cover of today's book. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson follows a middle schooler named Astrid who (after going to a roller derby bout) decides that she will be an all-star roller derby girl. However, there are a few hiccups in this plan. (I was going to tell you what they are but I decided it would be better for you to discover them yourself especially since they make up the backbone of the book.) This is a story all about discovering what you're made of, adolescent friendship, and perseverance. It's pretty much middle school wrapped up in one volume + crazy rollerskating antics. I should also mention that it's a graphic novel with truly epic illustrations which were done by the author (I love when that's the case). Overall, I thought this was a fast paced, angsy book that captures what it's like to be a preteen girl who is obsessed with <insert hobby>. It's a fun book, guys. If you have any middle grade readers in your life that love sports I think they'd really like this one. 8/10

And since I've done this with a few other author/illustrators I thought I'd include a blog post that Victoria Jamieson did with some sketches from the book. Here's a sample:

Source: Victoria Jamieson Illustration
And here's what you can expect from the finished product:

Source: books4yourkids

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

July 14, 2017

Activism in India

Like those of you who come to my blog looking for book recommendations, I often check out book vloggers/bloggers and 'what's new in children's lit' to see what I should be checking out next. That's how I heard about Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami. Firstly, I don't think I've ready any children's books from an Indian author before so I was interested to see if the styles would be at all similar and what kind of themes would be explored. Secondly, this book is about two of my favorite things: books and community activism. :-D Our main character, Yasmin, is a voracious reader and she gets all of her books from a lending library run by Book Uncle who sets up his 'shop' on the corner by her apartment building. There is no price for these books and if you want to keep it then that's perfectly okay. Yasmin and many members of her community come to see this little library as a constant in their lives but one day their world is upended because Book Uncle has been told that he must leave. What transpires next is nothing short of inspiring and that's just what I think is so phenomenal about this book. It teaches children that their actions matter and that activism can be accomplished by every member of the community. It's a great way to talk about 'doing your part' that doesn't make it overbearing or heavy-handed. It's also a great way to expose children to a different part of the world. 8/10

Note: This book will also make you extraordinarily hungry.

Source: Bright Group International

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

July 7, 2017

Long overdue + Anniversary!

"...the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between..."

There were several lines from The Phantom Tollbooth that I could have chosen to start this blog post but this one really stuck with me. It might come as a surprise for you to learn that this was the first time I had read Norton Juster's classic work for children. It has been on my TRL for years and I finally knuckled down and checked out a copy. I'm glad that I did because it was just what I needed. For those who haven't been initiated, The Phantom Tollbooth is the story of a little boy named Milo who seems to make his way through the world with a listless, bored attitude...until a mysterious package appears in his bedroom. What happens next is a pun lovers' dream. (If you're a fan of grammar and word play then this is the book for you.) Milo goes on an adventure which will totally change the way he looks at the world. This is the perfect book to create lifelong learners because it's all about critical thinking. (I realize that I'm making this sound like homework but I swear it's fun educational learning.)

A/N: Today marks 6 years that I've been posting my book reviews online. I can't believe that something that started as a fun little side project has turned into my second job (albeit unpaid). I feel very proud of how far I've come and I am very much looking forward to the future (and all of those books!). Thanks to those who have been around from the beginning and those just now discovering me (hello!). I hope that in some small way I've helped you to find your next great read and somewhat brightened your day.  Here's to the next 6 years! :-D

Our protagonist, Milo. Source: Book Jacket Letters
To give a hint of the word play. Source: you-books
**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

June 30, 2017

Slow on the uptake

Alright, I'll admit it. I'm often drawn to a book because of its cover. There's nothing wrong with that. Why else would they hire people to make them attractive and spend so much time designing them to be eye-catching? And then there's the blurb on the back of the book. These can range from evocative, cringeworthy, perplexing, or in some cases spoiler-y. Even after reading the back of the book jacket of today's book and seeing the title and looking at the cover image I was still surprised to discover just what this book was about. Maybe you're all smarter than me. Can you guess what Deadly 7 by Garth Jennings is about just from the name? What if I told you that it was about a little boy who had 7 little monsters accompanying him on a rescue mission and each of them had a very separate personality? The main character of Deadly 7 is Nelson who comes across a machine which creates 7 monsters that only he can see. One is always sleeping, one is angry about pretty much everything, one keeps stealing everything in sight...have you figured out what they are yet? I almost hope you haven't because then I won't feel like such a dolt. This is Garth's debut novel but he's no stranger to writing as he was the genius behind the movie Sing. However, this book is pretty much nothing like that movie. This story feels like it could be rooted in our present but with a decided twist. There's an ever-present feeling of dread while flipping the pages of this book which honestly I think that a lot of kids feel at this age. Remember the anxiety and fear when you realized that you were changing and you didn't know into what? Jennings taps into that and uses the monsters as a way to illustrate it which I think is rather brilliant. I have to say that the plot of this is kinda all over the place but the writing is solid so I have hope that further books by him will be tightened up and be even better. Nonetheless, it was a quick read and entertaining and I think it would be a good springboard for conversation. It's a solid 6/10.

PS Here's an article where Jennings talks about writing the book.

Source: Garth Jennings on Twitter

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **