All Summer Long

by Hope Larson
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 1, 2018
Content: There’s a little bit of romance, and just some themes of growing up in general. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore, but the sweet spot for this one is 6-7th graders, I think.

It’s the summer after 7th grade, and Bina’s not looking forward to it. Her best friend, Austin, is off to soccer camp for a month, and Bina’s afraid that summer will be boring without him. They’ve always spent the summer together, making their own fun, but they seem to be… growing up. And things aren’t the same.

Though, eventually Bina finds her own things to do: she makes friends with Austin’s older sister, Charlie, gets some babysitting gigs, and practices her guitar. It’s not the way it was with Austin, but it doesn’t suck.

The underlying conflict in the book is Austin and Bina’s friendship: they’ve been friends forever, but Austin’s been getting some grief from other boys (toxic masculinity is the worst!) for being friends with a girl, and so he attempts to push Bina away — which is part of the reason he’s been acting weird toward her. Larson treats all this with kindness and humor, and puts across a message that it’s okay to be friends with whomever you want to be with. Period. It’s wonderful.

And Larson also captures what it’s like to be young and faced with a long summer of doing… nothing. I like that the parents are concerned and responsible, but not hovering (they also change the Netflix password, so Bina can’t just watch TV all summer… that’s not a bad idea!) and Bina has some freedom to go out and find her own fun, but within reason.

It’s really a delightful graphic novel.

Advertisements

Series Books

Last week, we studied graphic novels and series books. I didn’t think these warranted their own post, so here they are…

The Adventures of Captain Underpants
by Dav Pilkey
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
First sentence: Don’t know, since my copy was missing the first 14 pages…
Content: Simple sentences, lots of illustrations, and some bad puns (and underwear humor). It’s in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

I don’t know how I made it this far, with kids and as a bookseller, and not have read any of the Captain Underpants books. I mean, I knew about them and all… and even some of my girls have read them. I just never did.

(If you don’t know the plot: a couple of 4th grade kids at an elementary school hypnotize their very mean principal and turn him into the hero Captain Underpants, except he’s not very good, so they have to go save him a lot.)

My thoughts? It was very silly. There’s not much else besides silly. I can see why kids like these: they read fast, and they’re silly. Pretty much it. At least I get it now?

Ivy and Bean
by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
First sentence: “Before Bean met Ivy, she didn’t like her.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Simple words and illustrations. It’s in the beginning chapter book (grades 1-2) section of the bookstore.

This is another series I’ve sold and my kids have read, but I’ve never bothered with. It’s about how Bean, an adventurous 7-year-old, and Ivy, a more imaginative 7-year-old became friends.

I thought it was cute. Bean reminded me a lot of Ramona, especially in her relationship with her older sister, Nancy (who’s 11). Bean’s kind of rude, rambunctious, mischievous, and definitely prone to getting into trouble. She becomes friends with Ivy, who is a more creative, imaginative child, one day when she tries to play a trick on Nancy that backfires and Ivy comes to her rescue. They then combine their interests and try to place a spell on Nancy. I think Barrows captured the crazy imagination and “games” (as my kids called them) of 7-year-olds, and it made for a very delightful book.

Warriors: Into the Wild
by Erin Hunter
First sentence: “A half moon glowed on smooth granite boulders, turning them silver.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s got more words and characters than other series books; it’s probably better for older readers. Warriors, and all the accompanying series have their own section at the bookstore.

So, I have to admit: I’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about this series. We sell it hand over fist (so much that it, like Magic Treehouse, has its own shelf!), and so there must be something about it that appeals to kids.

But, for the life of me, I don’t know what that is. The basic plot is that in this forest there are for clans of cats, that are always at odds with each other over territory (because food is scarce) and a house cat named Rusty decides to run away and join one of the clans. I’m sure something else happens, but honestly? I couldn’t finish it.

It’s not just that the writing was terrible. (Okay, it was passable, but it got really grating after a while.) It’s that I just didn’t care about the cats. I don’t care about their hyper masculinity (and all the warrior cats were male, the female cats were called “queens” and relegated to the nursery, except for the overall leader, which just seemed like a bone they threw) and their territorialism (really? This is what kids are reading? No wonder we’re so divided. If the ThunderCat Clan and the RiverCat Clan can’t get along, there’s no hope for us!) and the monologuing… It was all just Very Bad.

Though, I suppose, if I were an 8- or 9-year-old kid, I might think differently. (I checked: none of my kids ever read these. I wonder what that says about us?)

Breathing Room

by Marsha Hayles
First sentence: “Father jerked the car to the side of the road and stopped.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some unsettling moments and a couple of characters die. The book would be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore if we had it.

I know I’m not supposed to start a post like this, but: I wasn’t terribly thrilled about reading a book about a girl with tuberculosis in the 1940s. The main character, Evvy, is shipped off to a sanatorium because she has TB and her family hopes she can be cured. And it was surprisingly engaging and actually kind of gripping. I’ve not read many sick kids books (tending toward the cancer end of them), but I was fascinated not only by the treatments used in the 1940s, but just the general mood of the book. Evvy wanted to get better, and her body was fighting her, so there was that conflict. There was a camaraderie between the girls in the ward, but they were sick, so things that were outside of their control constantly interfered in their lives. It made for a very good story.

I was also fascinated by the historical pictures that the author put at the beginning of every chapter, as well as the small details she included in the book. It wasn’t anything that slowed the story down, but it added an extra layer to the story that I didn’t expect.

It really was a good read, and one I’m glad I did.

Module 13: The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones

Riordan, R. (2008). The 39 clues: The maze of bones. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

Genre: Multi-author series book, realistic fiction, puzzle book.

Book Summary: Amy and Dan Cahill have always been the favorites of Grace, the matriarch of the huge Cahill family. Now, upon her death, they (and other members of the vast extended Cahill family) are given a choice: $1 million in inheritance, or the first of 39 clues that will give the winner power and access to the Cahill family’s vast secrets. Of course, Amy and Dan take the clue, which leads them on a wild and often dangerous race against the other members of their family (who are sufficiently horrible) as they try to figure out the clue and where to go.

Impressions: This was so much fun! (Of course: Rick Riordan wrote it.) I’ve said this before: Riordan knows how to pace a book (or at least did when he was writing the original Percy Jackson series; he’s not been as tight lately) and knows how to keep a reader turning pages. And this one was no exception. I liked the play between Amy and Dan — they really felt like siblings, sometimes fighting but usually cooperating to reach a shared goal while looking out for each other. I can see why kids liked this, and wanted to read more. My only drawback is that Riordan didn’t write the whole series (each book was a different author), so I wonder if the characterizations of Amy and Dan would change slightly with each book.

Review: While Grossman kind of disdained the premise behind the series and the “focus-grouped, manufactured quality” of the books, he praised Riordan’s writing: “the premise of “The Maze of Bones” is dramatic and instantly engaging.” Ultimately, though, he was underwhelmed by the idea behind the series, writing, “It’s a story about people born into the most privileged family in the world, who then set out to become the most important people in history. Whatever happened to just owning your own chocolate factory?”

Grossman, A. (2008, November 7). First prize: World domination.  New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/books/review/Grossman-t.html

Uses: This would be good for a summer reading group (one that reads the first in a series? Maybe just a 39 clues club? I might use this idea one summer) for 3-5th grade kids.

Readalikes:

  • York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby — Siblings Tess and Theo Biederman and their friend Jamie Cruz follow clues left by genius inventors — the Morningstars — in a quest, full of danger and intrigue, to hopefully save their apartment building. The stakes may begin small, but they soon realize there is much more at stake.
  • Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet — A Vermeer painting — A Lady Writing — has been stolen. Demands that Vermeer’s paintings be reassessed have been issued as a ransom. Two sixth grade students — Calder and Petra — start looking at information in new and unique ways, taking no coincidence for granted, and solve the mystery finding the painting and catching the thief in the end.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart — Four gifted children pass a test to go on a secret mission to take down the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened. I haven’t read it (yet; I picked it for my summer reading group this year), but it sounds fun.

Audiobook: Children of Blood and Bone

by Tomi Adeyemi
Read by: Bahni Turpin
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Listen to it on Libro.fm
Content: There’s a lot of violence, some of it intense. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Imagine a world in which magic existed, but the non-magic users (who happened to be in power) were afraid of what magic can do, so they (well, he: the king) did everything they could to stamp it out. They killed the magi — adults who were at full power — and suppressed the children of the magi. These children, Diviners, were never able to fully come into their power, they were discriminated against, and their families taxed beyond what they can afford.

This is the world that Zélie, a Diviner, was raised in. She remembered the raids, when her mother was taken and killed and her father (who is not a magi) beaten. She remembers the stories her mother told about magic and the gods, and has all but lost her faith that it can ever come back. That is, until she meets Amari, the daughter of the king that ordered the raids. Amari has stolen a magic scroll, an artifact that, in the right hands, can bring magic back. And she’s on the run. She teams up with Zélie and Zélie’s brother, Zane. And together they are determined to bring magic back.

Except it’s not as easy as that. Amari’s brother, the crown prince Inan, is on their tale, determined to stop them. And nothing — NOTHING — goes to plan.

It’s a huge book, but it’s a fast-paced one; Adeyemi definitely knows how to plot to keep a reader engaged and the pages turning. Or, in my case, a listener listening. It helps that my favorite narrator, Turpin, read this book, and as always, was fantastic at it. It’s such an excellent performance, one that immersed me into the world of Orïsha (and it helped with all the foreign names and places too!) and the story.

And what a story! There were moments that I was afraid Adeyemi would disappoint me (especially toward the end), but she pulled off a spectacular ending, and still left enough undone for a sequel (which I can’t wait for).

Remarkable. And definitely worth the hype.

Rebound

by Kwame Alexander
First sentence: “It was the summer when Now and Laters cost a nickel and The Fantastic Four, a buck.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!”
Others in the series: Crossover
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some drug dealing and stealing, but it’s all incidental to the plot. There’s a wee bit of romance. Crossover is in the Newbery section, and so I might put this one next to Booked in the Middle grade (grades 3-5 section) or I might move it to the YA section (grades 6-8) where it feels like it should go.

Even though this one is a pre-quel to Crossover, you really should read that one first.

It’s 1988 and Charlie Bell, the father of the characters in the Crossover, has just lost his father to a major heart attack. It’s the end of his 7th grade year and the loss — and the subsequent grief of both him and his mother — has put Charlie at odds with the world. He doesn’t want to deal with school or friends or his mother, even though he tries to put his father’s death out of his head; all he wants to do is sit and read his comic books. But then, he gets mixed up a bit with his friends older brother, and gets caught stealing (nothing major though), so his mom ships him off to DC to his grandparents (his father’s parents) for the summer.

It’s there that he learns how to deal with his dad’s death, and finds a passion for basketball that stays with him the rest of his life.

I’ve become a fan of Alexander’s in the years since his Newbery win, and this is no exception. It’s a lot geekier than his other books — there are comic poems, to reflect Charlie’s love of the comic book, and he’s not a suave as his kids turn out to be. But, it still has Alexander’s signature poetic style, and it tells the story of a kid coming to terms with his grief extremely well. I loved the 1980s references (throwback to high school!) and I thought Alexander handled the girl characters much better in this one (in fact, Charlie’s cousin, Roxie, is pretty amazing!).

An excellent read.

Ghost Boys

by Jewell Parker Rhodes
First sentence: “How small I look.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: April 18, 2018
Content: There are some tough issues here, but all the violence is either handled delicately or is off stage. The publisher has it for 10 and up, so I will probably shelve it in the YA section (grades 6-8) at the bookstore, but it would be good for curious 4th and 5th graders.

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a white police officer while playing in the park. He had a toy gun, and the officer thought he was being threatened and therefore shot Jerome. If that sounds familiar, it’s intentional.

The book isn’t about the shooting, exactly. It’s told from Jerome’s perspective, after his death. He’s a ghost, hanging around, angry he is dead, and wondering what his purpose is. From there, we learn in flashbacks how he came to be shot, as well as following the preliminary hearing (in which the white officer gets off), and learn about Emmett Till’s murder in Mississippi in 1955. The point of the novel, however, isn’t about the story. It’s about the feelings this kind of murder generate. The sadness and anger in Jerome’s family. The questioning by the daughter of the officer. The sheer number of black boys that have been murdered. But also hopeful feelings: the friendships that come out of a tragedy like this.

While it’s a bit on the heavy-handed side, I think that was done intentionally. Rhodes wants to get her readers — many of whom are young — thinking about why this happens. About underlying racism. About seeing the “other” as, well, not “other”. And I think she wants to get a dialogue going, because if we don’t talk about these things, our culture won’t change and black men and boys will keep getting murdered.

It’s a quick read, and definitely a worthwhile one for kids (and adults!) to read.