Reviews of children's and young adult books old and new

Monday, November 30, 2009


Fallen by Lauren Kate

Set to be published December 8th by Random House, Fallen follows Luce Price as she starts at Sword & Cross reform school after a frightening incident at the end of the previous summer that left one boy dead. The dismal grounds and drab buildings give the whole campus a sad and depressed feeling but there is much more happening than meets the eye. Luce cannot understand why she can see dark shadows wherever she goes or what Daniel and Cam see in her that is worth fighting over. Will Luce be able to unravel certain mysteries about her past before it is too late?

This is a young adult paranormal romance. For some strange reason this is my new favorite genre to read for fun. So as you can imagine I was very excited to read this book and to receive an advanced reading copy from Random House. However, I felt that the story had a very long lead and set up for only about 50 pages of interesting story at the very end of the book. To top that off, this is a series, so not much is resolved when we leave Luce after a month at Sword & Cross. I am interested to read the next book in the series which is scheduled for next fall; and at that point I feel like the story will actually take off. I cannot fault the writing of the book from a technical standpoint but ultimately I felt that it was uninteresting. I will admit that I was hoping for a different kind of story based on everything I had read about it from the pre-publication publicity. I was hoping for much more detail about the paranormal aspect of the story, and more about the past of the characters, as that is a central part of the plot. There is a prequel scheduled to be published and that may have more of the background that I was hoping for in this book.

A bit of a slow starter, I would recommend waiting until Torment, the next book in the series, comes out next year before picking this one up.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Last Apprentice

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

Middle grade fiction from HarperCollins this book follows young Tom Ward as he begins his apprenticeship with the county Spook. The Spook fights "the dark" in the area. Tom, being a seventh son of a seventh son is uniquely qualified to fight all the things that go "bump in the night." This is the first book in a seven book series however, the storyline ends nicely in this book so there is not a cliffhanger awaiting you at the end. Tom's first year as an apprentice is filled with danger as he encounters Alice (a village girl with pointy shoes), Mother Malkin (an old vicious witch), and Bonny Lizzy (another equally as dangerous witch). All of Tom's training may not be enough to save him or his family from these evil women.

This book is surprisingly scary for middle grade fiction. The reading level is for 7-11 year olds depending on the reader and is not for the easily scared child. I did like how the story is told through Tom's eye's so we learn as he learns. The chapters are a manageable length and while the book is on the long side I think most readers will be so engrossed in Tom's struggles that they will have to know what happens and finish it. The illustrations at the beginning of the chapter are excellent and give the reader a great sense of the dark and danger that Tom faces on a daily basis. The character of The Spook is firm and fatherly and you cannot help but like him even though he is often hard on Tom. Tom is a very likable character who is easy to identify with as he learns his new trade and is often scared of the predicaments he finds himself in. Recommended for readers 8-10.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Adventures of Polo

The Adventures of Polo by Regis Faller

Published in 2007 I was intrigued by this book when I passed it in the library because it has no words. The book is laid out in a series of panels (ranging from 1-9 panels per page) like a comic book. Flipping through the book I quickly became intrigued about what this story was about, so I brought it home to read.

Polo is a dog who lives in a tree by the water. The story begins with Polo packed and ready for adventure. He starts on a boat and travels across the ocean, to a tropical island, a frozen iceberg, to space and then safely back home again. Polo has many adventures in each place and uses his creativity to get out of some sticky situations.

I was a bit skeptical of this book at first because so many odd things happen to Polo that I thought it would be hard to keep a cohesive narrative going while telling this story. Then I realized that Polo is all about imagination. This story can be as tame or outrageous as you want. I like that young readers can make up their own version of Polo's story from the pictures and learn story telling along the way. With bright primary colors and simple clean illustrations Polo lets the reader use context clues in the images to come up with a different story every time. I feel this is a great book for children 2-6. The younger readers will enjoy hearing the story change from time to time and as they get older will be able to "read" the story themselves. A great tool to teach story telling for children 2-4 and a wonderful way to begin talking about narrative for children 5-6.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Turtle's Penguin Day

Turtle's Penguin Day by Valeri Gorbachev

From Knopf this January Turtle's Penguin Day is a great picture book for any child who loves animals. The story begins with Father Turtle reading Little Turtle a bedtime story about penguins. Little Turtle dreams he is a penguin and has so much fun in his dream playing with penguins that when he wakes up he decides to be a penguin that day. He goes off to school in a big black jacket and red slippers. Once at school he tells his teacher and the other kids about all he learned about penguins from the story he read. The kids all want to be penguins and they spend the day learning and pretending they are penguins.

This is a very fun story that would be a fun read aloud for kids about to go to preschool. The story takes the reader through a lot of activities that Little Turtle has at school that would be a great way to introduce school to children. I liked that at the end of the story there is a list of facts about penguins so that curious minds can learn more facts about these cute birds. The illustrations have an older feel to them that fit really well with the story and add a lot to the overall tone. All of the animals in the story are represented accurately so that you can easily tell which animal is which. It is always fun to have young listeners point out the different animals in this story and maybe learn some new animals. Great for bedtime or anytime throughout the day, Turtle’s Penguin Day is a fun way to learn about animals and going to school. Recommended for children ages 3-5.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tough Chicks

Tough Chicks by Cece Meng and Illustrated by Melissa Suber

Tough Chicks is a new picture book from Clarion Books published in November 2009. The story centers around three newly hatched chicks, Penny, Polly, and Molly. These chicks are curious and adventurous. The other farms animals are constantly asking their mother to "make them be good" to which their mother always replies "they are good". The chicks eventually get into some trouble with the farmer when they are caught looking in the hood of his tractor. However, when the tractor brakes fail and the farm is in danger, it is the three little chicks that save the day and are able to fix the tractor. In the end the chicks are appreciated for who they are rather than being compared to the other chicks.

This is a very cute story about being able to do your own thing. I like the fact that the three little chicks are appreciated for who they are and their special talents. I also like that the chicks are athletic, smart, daring, artistic and scientifically minded. This story is a great way to encourage little girls to be just who they are, no matter what that is. The illustrations in this book are wonderful. The colors are bright and vibrant which helps convey the chicks' adventurous attitude. Not to mention the fact that the chicks themselves are adorable, and you instantly love them. Throughout the story, as the chicks zoom through the pages they say "peep, peep, zoom, zip, cheeeep", which has a fun sound to it when read aloud. It is also something that young listeners can remember and can say along with the storyteller. I like books where there is something the kids can repeat and feel a part of the storytelling process.

This is a great read aloud for three and four year-olds with a lot of good lessons to take away.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ballyhoo Bay

Ballyhoo Bay by Judy Sierra, Illustrated by Derek Anderson

Ballyhoo Bay is a new picture book from Simon & Schuster published in May 2009. Written in rhyme, it tells the story of Mira Bell, an artist and art teacher who conducts her classes on the beach at Ballyhoo Bay. She teaches humans and animals to paint, sketch, sculpt, and decorate. Mira Bell is planning a big art show for the first of June with contests and races. When she shows up at the beach the day before to set up for the art show, she finds barbed wire and a plan to construct apartments and a casino. She gets all of her students together to make a plan to stop this from happening on their beach. They attend the town meeting that night and are able to save the beach and keep it free for everyone to use. Mira Bell and her students are able to have their art show the next day and it is a great success.

This is a very fun story. The rhyming is great for a reading aloud and the story matches the rhyme's fun feeling. The illustrations are wonderful, very colorful, and a lot to look at on every page without being too busy. There is a lot on every page to stop and point out to young listeners. All of the animals look like what they are supposed to be so it is easy to identify the wildlife in the story. The colors are very warm and give you the feeling of being on the beach in the summertime. I am impressed that they story is kept lighthearted while dealing with some very real content. It gives a chance for parents or educators to begin the conversation of conservation in a way that four and five year-olds would understand. I highly recommend this book. Whether in a classroom or for a read aloud at home, this is a very colorful and fun book to read that teaches kids about saving our natural resources in an age appropriate way.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Calvin Coconut

Calvin Coconut: The Zippy Fix by Graham Salisbury

Calvin is in the fourth grade and lives in Hawaii with his mother, little sister, and fifteen year old babysitter Stella. The Zippy Fix follows Calvin and his friends as he tries to get even with Stella for teasing him about his height. Calvin learns that Stella is allergic to cats and so decides to put his friend's Maya's cat on Stella's pillow. He thinks she will just sneeze a bit. After taking a nap on that pillow Stella's face is swollen and her voice raspy, she then has to cancel her first date which was supposed to be happening that night. Calvin feels justified in his actions but also a bit guilty. Calvin's mom asks him the next day to try to get a present for Stella for her sixteenth birthday on Monday. Calvin has three days to try and put something together. Eventually after working a couple jobs, and with the help of his friends, he raises $18 to buy Stella the new CD from her favorite artist.

Although there are some good lessons to be learned from this story about working hard and asking for help, Calvin never admits to putting the cat on Stella's pillow that causes her allergic reaction. I have a problem with this. His mother asks him repeatedly if he knows what might have happened and he lies every time. By the end of the book he no longer feels guilty about what he did because Stella was so happy about her new CD. I think this is a terrible ending. I realize that children lie everyday and are not caught but I do not think promoting it in their books is appropriate. I also disapprove of the underlying message that if you do something wrong, then buy someone a present, it is all ok. It is not ok, and I don't think lessons like this teach children anything positive. I hate to stand on a soap box here but it is another one of my pet peeves, when people do not apologize. (On a side note I have noticed this in movies too, characters rarely if ever apologize, they may admit they were wrong but do not ask for forgiveness). Why is forgiveness such a bad thing?

Overall though, this is a fun read for boys ages 8-11. It is also the second book in a series, so if you like Calvin and the little adventures he has, there are more books to come.

Prophecy of the Sisters

Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

Prophecy of the Sisters is a new young adult book Little Brown published in August of 2009. This paranormal romance is hard to put down. It is book one in a trilogy so beware before you begin that you will be left hanging. Lia and Alice are twins living in 1890's upstate New York when their father dies leaving them and their brother orphaned. At 16 Lia feels the need to care for her family and is a naturally mothering character but has an unsettling feeling about her sister. Soon after her father's death, a strange mark appears on Lia's skin that she discovers will pit her against her sister in a prophecy that has caused generations of sisters to turn on one another (including her mother and aunt). Lia knows that she must work to end the prophecy before her sister does.

I found this story to start a bit slowly at first, but once I started to care about Lia and to see how twisted Alice could be, I was hooked. I do love stories from another time period and this book does incorporate details about life in the 1800's without becoming monotonous. The story does stick to the conventions of conduct at the time so there are very innocent interactions between our heroine and her finance James that are not gooey or hokey but have a sense of realism about them. I appreciate how intricate the plot is as well. The author reveals information to us slowly and weaves a very complex story, just when you think you have everything figured out another twist or turn is revealed. The one drawback I found is that the next book may not be out until next year at the earliest and I want to know what happens next.

A great read for girls 13+.