Friday, February 26, 2010

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder: My Life on the Dork Side by Julie Halpern, reviewed by Fegan

Loved the title - definitely one to make teens stop and read the jacket cover at least. Loved the cover - eventually. At first, when the dress on the front didn't match what the main character was sewing, I thought it was another case of someone not bothering to read the book first (don't you hate that?!) It made sense, though, about the time I realized the 'jewels' surrounding it were D&D dice. What can I say, they don't make contacs for turtles!

Jacket description:
It’s Jessie’s sophomore year of high school. A self-professed “mathelete,” she isn’t sure where she belongs. Her two best friends have transformed themselves into punks and one of them is going after her longtime crush. Her beloved older brother will soon leave for college (and in the meantime has shaved his mohawk and started dating . . . the prom princess!) . . .

Things are changing fast. Jessie needs new friends. And her quest is a hilarious tour through high-school clique-dom, with a surprising stop along the way—the Dungeons and Dragons crowd, who out-nerd everyone. Will hanging out with them make her a nerd, too? And could she really be crushing on a guy with too-short pants and too-white gym shoes?

If you go into the wild nerd yonder, can you ever come back?

While the crux of the story is Jessie's struggle with things no longer being 'normal', I found the storyline and characters themselves refreshingly normal. Halpern manages to address the issues and mistakes teens face without filling every moment with angst. Siblings who get along, how refreshing! And, despite what much of today's fiction would have you believe, not that uncommon!

The story line is not a new one: friends drift apart in high school, find new friends, change stereotyped opinions, etc. While in some books the transitions happen so quickly they seem forced and implausible, Into the Wild Nerd Yonder lets Jessie vacillate just long enough to make her decisions wholly realistic without annoying the heck out of the reader. Two flippers up, and glad to see it made the Cybils shortlist for 2009!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Secret Shofar of Barcelona by Jacqueline Dembar Greene, illustrated by Doug Chayka, reviewed by Freaky

Jacket summary: In the late 1500's while Don Fernando, conductor of the Royal Orchestra of Barcelona, prepares for a concert to celebrate Spain's colonies in the New World, his son Rafael secretly practices playing the shofar for the Jews who must hide their faith from the Inquisition, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Rosh Hashanah is a long way off (September), but I don't want to hang onto this book without reviewing it until then. I love reading tales about the conversos - Jews who practiced their faith in secret during the time of the Spanish Inquisition. I also, like many kids, like to hear about people 'putting one over' on those in power who are being unfair.

That is not to make light of the danger faced by the main characters - the anxiety is conveyed well without becoming too heavy for children, as Rafael and his father make plans to hide the blowing of the shofar in plain sight. Reading this book together with your little one can provide an opening for discussions about anything from religious persecution, to the colonization of the New World, to different types of instruments.

For older readers interested in the story of the conversos, I highly recommend Blood Secret by Kathryn Lasky. Set in my home state, it travels back and forth through various points in time from the Inquisition to the present day. One of Lasky's best!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Retro Tuesday: Diamond Secret by Suzanne Weyn, reviewed by Miss Ami

Have I mentioned how much I like fractured fairy tales? I especially like the ones that make the fairy tale plausibly realistic, as is done in this series from Simon and Schuster. The "Once Upon a Time" series began in 2004, I believe, but there are still new ones coming out - this one is actually from June of last year, so not quite retro. I have found several voracious readers who didn't know the series exists, however, so it's worth plugging here.

"The Diamond Secret" is a retelling of the story of Anastasia - not so much a fairy tale per se, but still an intriguing mystery after all these years. If parts of the explanation for Anastasia's disappearance and rediscovery seem a bit implausible - the convenient case of amnesia being the biggest pill to swallow - their very implausibility is addressed within the story, as the characters discuss whether her grandmother or anyone else will believe it. The ending comes as a surprise only to the main characters, but it is still a fun read. I enjoyed Weyn's "Water Song" (a retelling of The Frog Prince) from the same series more. Other authors in the series include Cameron Dokey and Nancy Holder. A good series to add to your YA collection.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dr. Seuss, by Laura Hamilton Waxman, as reviewed by Fegan

What better follow-up to yesterday's yummy link than a new Seuss biography from Lerner Publishing?

The first thing that intrigued me was the cover photo: usually biographies of Dr. Seuss feature pictures of him in his later years, with the white bushy hair. This one gives a slightly younger Seuss surrounded by a few of his many characters. Since there are so many Seuss biographies out there (but never enough come March), it's nice to see one that immediately starts off a little different.

The illustrations throughout the book are the second thing that caught my eye. I loved all the period photos interspersed with Geisel's artwork. The text matches up nicely, giving little bits of history (i.e. the Great Depression, Prohibition, etc.) in context with the events of Geisel's life. Parts are a bit whitewashed, such as the problems Geisel had in college, but I suppose appropriately so for the age group - I would put this around 2nd or 3rd grade.

This book is part of the History Maker series from Lerner, which features dozens of other historical figures. Nicely bound and attractive as well as well-written, we recommend the whole series for libraries or personal interest. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cakewrecks Does Dr. Seuss

Good books are a good thing. Good cake is a good thing. Combine the two, and you have all sorts of greatness!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George, reviewed by Miss Ami

Our newest reader is establishing herself as a bit of a high maintenance babe. Due to a bout with RSV and a hospital stay, we had another, unintentional hiatus there, but we are back now! For real! For a long time! Are you listening, little miss thing???

One good thing about a long stay in a hospital with NO internet access and a mostly sleeping child, is plenty of forced reading time. We mostly brought YA with us, so we will spend the next few days reviewing those, beginning with:

I am partial to fractured fairy tales, and loved the cover - the kind of dress you love to look at and might want to own, but are very happy you don't actually have to wear. This book got some mixed reviews, mostly from people who had issues with the premise. It's a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and attempts to explain my old question of just WHY these girls would go out dancing every night, but then be perfectly happy to have that come to a sudden end.

In George's version, the girls are under a curse, passed on from their mother. They must dance each night for the Kiing Under Stone, until the end of the time period agreed on by their mother, who died before fulfilling her contract. The King wants tthem as brides for his twelve sons, although it is never explained how he plans to force that to happen.

I can see where people had issues with parts of the plot. was their mother really as dumb as she appeared? I mean come on, fool me once shame on you, fool me twelve times...?! And if she's dancing for the king every night, when the heck did she get pregnant? How come the king got to change the contract each time? Why did it pass on to the girls? Since there are twelve of them, wouldn't they get the time done twelve times as fast? What was the point of the Heinrich story? Why did the girls' father keep buying them new slippers? As a mom of three growing boys, that one really bugged me. Why is this just now an issue if they have been dancing for five years? And then there is the convenient part of the curse that prevents them from uttering a word about it. Ever hear of charades? Letting people guess?

Having said all that, I truly did enjoy the story. It is well written, and I liked the characters. i enjoyed the soldier/gardener twist on the old tale. A little suspension of disbelief is a helpful start to any fairy tale, so the things I mentioned really didn't bother me all that much. Not as good as Dragon Slippers, but I would still recommend it to a reader or for a library shelf.

Review copy checked out from the local library, where it can be found under "YA F Geor".

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Back with a Giveaway!

Thank-you for excusing our week-or-so-hiatus while we catered to our newest reader. She already has quite the collection of books going, which we may blog about later. In the meantime, thanks to our friends at Sleeping Bear Press, we have a simple contest to celebrate Black History Month and help you add to your own shelves.

In our experience, elementary-age kids love hearing that a story they have read is true. They are also usually good for a bit of righteous indignation. This book offers both, combined with the quality we expect from Sleeping Bear. Chris Ellison's illustrations are warmth and expression, and Margot Theis Raven is great at telling a story simply, while at the same time making it exciting and packing it full of history. One of my favorite lines:

"Boys wanted to be Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and mothers like Flossie Bailey on Strawberry Lane wanted to find their missing mop handles."

To win a copy of this book, generously donated by Sleeping Bear Press, simply leave a comment under today's post telling about a book for any age level that you would recommend for celebrating/learning about Black History Month. See how broad we left that, to make it as simple as possible? Unfortunately, as turtles make very little money, we have to limit this to people with US addresses. At the end of the month, we will randomly pick one post and mail the book off to the happy winner! Good luck!