Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Search for Wondla

This book reminded me of the Star Wars movies. Strange aliens and flora on another planet.

Twelve-year-old Eva Nine has been raised underground and has never seen the surface of her planet. Her mother is a robot, named Muthr, who has been training her in survival methods. When their home is attacked and Eva is forced to the surface she and Muthr realize that all that training didn't prepare them for a world of alien creatures and plants. Eva meets Rovender, a blue creature, who helps her survive and Otto, a water bear, that she can communicate with telepathically. The foursome set off on an adventure to find if there are any more humans left in the world. They are pursued by Besteel, the hunter, who captures rare artifacts or creatures for the queen's museum. Besteel is hunting them to free his brother but we never know his side of the story. Eva is a strong female character.

The story is full of action and fast-paced. It would not be easy creating characters that have a relationship when one is a giant bug, a machine, an alien, and a human but the author manages to do this. The author changes the voices of the characters to fit their beings. The water bea,r which looks like a giant bug, speaks simply with one word at a time, not sentences. The robot sounds like a dictionary. The Halcyonus put plurals on words randomly in their sentences. For instance, "Anyone's we know?" p 236

The theme of nature and how living creatures are interconnected runs throughout the story. The queen shows her prejudice toward those different but in this story it is the human who is the unusual creature. The adventure has violence throughout but I felt slightly removed from it because they were made-up creatures.

Reading Level 7.5

:-) :-) :-) :-) 4 Smileys

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Fire Thief

As punishment for giving humans fire, the Titan Prometheus is chained to a rock by the gods where his liver is ripped out of him by a Fury. The story begins with Prometheus breaking free of his chains and making a deal with Zeus to find a hero. He decides to travel in time to Eden City, 1858, an industrial cesspool where misery runs rampant. Prometheus can't believe what humans have done with fire. The city is cloaked in smog. He is so disappointed. He meets up with Jim and Edward, two thieves who put on a stage show for the rich and rob them while they are watching it. When they get caught Prometheus becomes the hero without even realizing it.

This book has asides and footnotes where the author is speaking to the reader. Some will find them hilarious and some will find them annoying. Or maybe both. This technique slows down the pacing of the book. If it annoys you, then don't read them and stay with the action.

I enjoyed Deary's characterizations of Zeus with his pot of thunderbolts and throwing temper tantrums. Zeus and Hera sounded like an old couple bickering and Hermes as the spoiled son. The Chimera (a monster with three heads of a lion, goat, and snake) was the most entertaining creature of the four: "...Help me and I'll give you the city."

"Ah," the goat gurgled. "A settee - I need somewhere comfy to sit."

"Goat-head," the lion groaned. "You are deaf."


"Deaf!" The lion roared.

"I know. It's all your roaring. Wrecked my ears," the goat replied.

"Shut up and let's hear what the Fury has to say," the snake pleaded. p137

While funny, the plot was predictable in many parts and some of the foreshadowing obvious. There is a Dickens type ghost story at the end and a running joke about school being miserable. I thought the setting could have been more developed and the plot less predictable. Still it is a fun read and students who like Percy Jackson should enjoy it.

Reading Level 5.6

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Friday, February 18, 2011

Show & Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration

Caldecott Committee members are recommended reading the book, Show & Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration, by Dilys Evans.

I can see why.

This marvelous professional book points out the elements of art that make a picture book distinctive. Choosing a wide-range of illustrators that represents different art styles Evans shows how the illustrators go beyond a simple interpretation of the text. Instead they have powerful images and storylines resulting from their choices of colors, lines, texture, and techniques. For instance, Lane Smith has many illustrated books that are surreal and represent the Abstract Expressionists. Or Paul Zelinsky, in Rapunzel, imitates the Italian Renaissance artists. She goes on to look at the texture, lines, and color of various well-known illustrators. But that is just one portion of what she examines. She also shows the connections between folk art, comics, film, poster art, and more. It is a fascinating view of the arts and the fine art of illustrating books.

I have not reviewed a picture book yet for this blog because I wasn't really sure there was much to write about. After reading this book I am inspired to write about picture books. I also have a better idea of what to look for in the illustrations.

 I love the visual arts and have a passion for architecture, art history, folk arts, and more.  My bias on this topic may not make me the best reviewer for this book, but I believe this book can help even a non-art lover appreciate the work and talent that goes behind making and illustrating a picture book.

Try it and post if you liked it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Toad Rage


Limpy sighs and limps over to where a car has just flattened a relative. Again. He'll have to wait for him to dry out before he can carry him home. Limpy, a cane toad, is sick of cars purposefully driving over his relatives. He limps because a car drove over his leg. Why do people hate cane toads? This is the setup for a funny book about Limpy who goes on a mission to make humans like cane toads. He gets help from the not-so-bright Goliath and a human girl. He thinks that if he can become a mascot for the Olympic games people will like toads. He and Goliath have all sorts of adventures and meet other insects and animals along the way that have questions as well.

Limpy is quite likeable and sincere. While other toads and animals are killed it shouldn't distress kids. It is quite funny and done in a clever way that shows readers how creatures fit in the food chain. Readers also learn about Australia and words that are unique to their country with a glossary in the back to help. The quirky humor about bugs, reptiles and toads should appeal to certain readers.

Reading Level 5.2

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Last Book in the Universe

The Great Earthquake has destroyed most of the population on Earth except the "normals" who live in the violent Urbs and the "Proovs" who live in peaceful Eden. Spaez, a "normal",  is on a mission to save his sister who has leukemia. The problem is that only the "Proovs" who live in Eden have the technology to save her. It is forbidden for "normals" to enter Eden. Spaez gets help from Ryter, a "normal" old man, who remembers what it was like before the Earthquake; Little Face, a "normal" boy; and Lanaya, a "Proov." The three go through three gang-controlled territorities where they have to fight for their lives in order to make it to Eden.

The story is confusing at first because of the different names and made-up words used in their language. It is a page turner with plenty of action and violence.

Be aware that while it isn't graphic in describing what happened, some of the violence is disturbing. One of the gang leaders chops off the head of another gang leader. A mob tries to eat Ryter and one of the characters meets a violent ending at the hands of a mob.

This plot made me think of Uglies by Scott Westerfield with the "Proovs" and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury that has a world with no books.

Reading Level 6.0

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 Smileys

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Elegance of a Hedgehog

This story reminded of when I went to the play "Endgame" by Samuel Beckett where Nagg and Nell sit in a garbage can arguing and unhappy. Their unhappiness was supposed to be funny but I didn't get the humor. Same with this book.

Renee and Paloma live in a building with wealthy people. Both are brilliant and comment on what snobs everyone is around them. I think they were supposed to be funny but they came across as preachy, whiny, self-righteous characters. For instance, when Renee meets the Japanese man in the building they both flinch when a woman (who should know better being of high class) uses the word, bring, in a sentence incorrectly. Renee goes on and on about how the tenants don't use their commas properly or have split infinitives.  Later, the author softens the snobby tone regarding language and has Renee and Paloma discuss how they love language but it is too late after reading 300 pages of them putting down everyone around them. A story develops after they meet a Japanese man and there are less interior monologues. It was enough of a story to keep me turning the pages. The two characters do change at the end of the story.  

I disliked the voices of the main characters and Paloma is 12 years old but sounds too much like Renee. The beginning is about philosophy and reads like a bunch of essays not like the plot to a story.  The Japanese man is sterotypical - he's a "mysterious" Asian man.

If you like philosophy and pondering questions such as the meaning of life, beauty and Art you might love sections of this book. For me it was an endless merry-go-round where I kept wondering if the author would ever get to the point. 

:-) :-) 2 Smileys

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Red Umbrella

Lucia's world is crumbling. Her school has been shut down. Her neighbors are being thrown into prison or killed for disagreeing with the Cuban revolutionists. Her best friend has joined the brigades and is leaving for military training.

Lucia's family faces danger when her  father becomes labeled a dissident. Lucia and her brother flee to the U.S. with other children to live in a foster home while her parents wait to get exit VISAs.

The pacing is fast and the characters well-developed  in this book. The author does  a nice job but it isn't loaded with historical facts. The story revolves mainly around characters and friendships. I thought the author could have captured more of the fear and overwhelming feelings of what it is like traveling to another country and living with different people. I kept thinking of how hard it is being illiterate in a different country: not being able to read signs, getting yelled at when you can't figure out the change in the grocery store, being passed over in line because of looking different, to helplessly stare at a form because you can't read the language to know how to fill it out. I think the author could have captured the tension and fear better in the part when Lucia and her brother, Frankie, entered the U.S. It is the little things that can be overwhelming; plus, Lucia had to look out for Frankie. The author does do a nice job with showing misunderstandings when learning a language and how funny slang can be.

While the language is easy-to-read and at a grade 4 or 5 level, this book has some adult themes in it which is why I put it under Young Adult. There is some violence such as when the prisoners are executed, but Lucia and Frankie don't actually see it, they just hear the gun shots. Lucia also sees a neighbor hanging from a tree in the park. He was murdered for organizing a protest against the revolutionaries. Lucia gets a letter from her best friend who gets raped at camp although the word "rape" is never used and some might just think she was attacked by a man. Lucia also has an unpleasant encounter with a boy at a dance that she likes but who is overly affectionate toward her.

Reading Level 4.5

:-) :-) :-) 3.75 Smileys


Jacob Reckless is impulsive, fast, edgy and reckless. He travels between two worlds using a mirror looking for his father who disappeared mysteriously. In the real world he disappears for weeks at a time leaving his brother and mother to fend for themselves. In the alternate world Jacob finds a place where fairy tales come to life with fairies, witches, and Goyls (something of a cross between a gorgon and gargoyle).

Jacob's brother Will follows him into the alternate world and gets infected by a virus from a Goyl which slowly turns him into a jade stone. This color stone is so rare that the King of the Goyls wants Will. The Goyls are at war with humankind. They live underground, are filled with a vicious hatred of humans, and are made of stone. As Will transforms into a Goyl, Jacob fights to save his life.

This story is fast-paced with some romance. Jacob and Will are named after the Grimm's brothers and the plot includes many references to their fairy tales. The plot and characters are similar to those in Inkheart but the tone is darker. The theme of grief and loss is prevalent throughout. Jacob is grieving for his lost father. He seems to have abandoned his mother when she died but Will didn't and he grieves the loss of Jacob being absent when he needed him. Jacob escapes to this alternate world so that he doesn't have to face the reality of his parents dead or missing in the real world. Jacob is frantic when faced with losing Will as he turns into stone. The author's husband died a few years ago and I can't help but wonder if this novel is a way of showing that no matter what she did in the real world she couldn't save her husband and he died, but in the make believe world of fairy tales or stories she could save her husband.

The first few chapters give many names and can be confusing. I wasn't always sure who was speaking. It might help to know that Will and Clara are a couple and Fox has been by Jacob's side helping him for many years. Also, the Goyl are the stone men (in the color of jasper, onyx and moonstone) and are fighting the humans. The King of the Goyls is Kami'en and his faithful servants are the Dark Fairy and Hentzau. The Empress is human and Kami'en is at war with her.

This book sets-up for a sequel and doesn't have much of an ending. I had more questions than answers: Why did the daughter go with the king? Why did the Evil Fairy spare Jacob's life? What did she gain by letting him go? Did turning her into a tree teach her something? It seemed out of character that she wouldn't kill Jacob. All I could figure was that she was interested in Jacob because he loved his brother enough to sacrifice for him and the Evil Fairy is fascinated with human love. Also, what about the unresolved feelings Jacob has for Clara? Fox doesn't really address her feelings for Jacob. Although she seems to recognize she's jealous of Clara. How does Fox fit in this triangle?

Jacob sleeps around with different women but it is not explained except he spent the night with someone. There are violent parts with shootings, monsters attacking, and war.

Reading Level 5.3

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys


Hermes is the wise-cracking messenger god in Greek mythology. He can make Zeus laugh as well as the people that he ferries to the dead in the underworld. He helps Perseus slay Medusa, Persephone spend time with her mom, is involved in the Trojan War, and gets Odysseus released from Calypso.

The author covers a lot of ground with all these stories. Some will like it and some will not. I didn't like it. Hermes never comes alive for me. It felt like the quick tour through Greek mythology. It was too many stories and not enough depth. I did read it, so it wasn't horrible.

The book has violent parts and some might be uncomfortable when the goddesses undress in front of Paris or when Andromeda is left nude to the sea serpent by unscrupulous parents.

:-) :-) 2.5 Smileys

Full Tilt

Blake, Quinn, and two friends are at a carnival when Quinn decides to scale the roller coaster scaffolding to get his hat. He puts himself right in the path of a roller coaster. Blake climbs after him and saves his life.

Blake is always saving his reckless brother, Quinn. Blake is cautious while Quinn is out-of-control. When Blake gets an invitation to a midnight carnival from the mysterious Cassandra, it is Quinn who steals the invite and enters the carnival on his own. Anyone who enters this amusement center never leaves again. Blake goes to save his brother and discovers that he has to go on 7 deadly rides that are life or death. No one has survived and gotten out of the park. Can Blake make it through?

Shusterman is a great writer with strong character development. However some readers might be confused with the surreal nature of the rides that are part nightmare, part fantasy, part realistic.

This book is catagorized in grades 5-8 but I would put it with Young Adult due to some content such as the brother being rebelous and suicidal, the violence of the rides, and the abuse suggested toward the boys by Mom's boyfriends.

Reading Level 5.5

:-) :-) :-) 3 Smileys


Caitlin sees the world in black and white. It's less confusing. Color muddies thoughts and people. Devon, her brother, understands her best. He helps 5th grader Caitlin, who has Asperger's syndrome, make sense of a confusing world. When Caitlin's brother dies in a school shooting, she has to figure out the world without him. Caitlin's mom is dead and her father is overwhelmed with grief. Having Asperger makes it difficult for Caitlin to express her feelings. She has to study a book of expressions or look on an expression chart to describe how she is feeling. Caitlin gets help from the school counselor and her newfound friend Michael.   The community and Caitlin try to find closure surrounding the senseless deaths from the shooting at the school.

The title is based on the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. The movie was Devon and Caitlin's favorite and he called her, Scout. The word, scout, symbolizes many things in the book from Devon's eagle scout to Caitlin scouting for words; particularly the word, closure.

The book is a tear jerker but because of Caitlin's blunt explanation of events that have little emotion, it takes away some of the intensity. All the same, there are some teary spots in the plot. Some might be confused with the dialogue that is in italics. It isn't always clear when Caitlin is speaking or thinking.

Reading Level 4.1

:-) :-) :-) :-) 4.75 Smileys.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dread Locks

Parker Baer is rich and bored. Until Tara, the new girl, moves in next door. Baer meets her when she shows up in his bed just like Goldilocks. Only this Goldilocks is not scared by anyone and she is not just hungry for porridge. Tara's blond curls seem to be alive and she wears dark glasses all the time because of an "eye condition." When students start becoming ill at the school Parker notices that Tara is involved somehow. When Parker's brother gets sick he is convinced Tara is behind it.

The plot is predictable at first and you know that Tara is Medusa or one of the Gorgons from Greek mythology. The author skillfully unfolds this with tension and suspense so it is not boring. Then the plot starts twisting in unique ways at the end that aren't predictable. There is a lot of violence and the ending is not happy although Parker acts like a true Greek hero.

:-) :-) :-) 3.5 Smileys.

Touch Blue

"Touch blue and your wish will come true."

Tess Brooks believes in luck. She stands on the pier waiting for her new foster brother, Aaron, to step off the ferry at Bethsaida island thinking about luck. Luck that Aaron will like her family. Luck that school won't be closed. But then she spots Aaron and his red hair that shines out of the crowd like a beacon. Her heart sags; everyone knows it's unlucky to ride a boat with a red-head.

This is the setup for the story where Aaron has to learn to live with his third foster family. He distrusts them when he hears that the islanders have taken on several foster kids to increase their numbers which will save the island's school from closing. Eben, the bully, blurts out this truth to Aaron in a malicious and mean-spirited way. When Aaron threatens to run away and find his birth Mom, Tess concocts a plan to get her to the island to hear Aaron play his trumpet in a talent show.

The writing in this novel is beautiful and succinct, drawing the senses into what it smells and feels like living in a fishing village on an island. The author does a marvelous job creating the setting.

The color blue symbolizes luck and freedom. Tess discovers that it isn't luck but letting others choose their destiny and giving them the freedom to do so is what matters. Aaron has no freedom and has been manipulated by the state and foster families since he was a young boy. No one seems to be working in his best interests and he is like the blue lobster that Tess has caught that swims in circles in the bucket searching for a way out that doesn't exist. His life has been a series of unlucky circumstances. He has to learn how to find happiness within. Just like Tess does. Tess figures this out at the climax when she tells Aaron  to be happy and to stay on the island only because he wants to and not to save the school. She also learns that even though she is disappointed with her best friend, Amy, who has not written much since moving off the island to the mainland, it doesn't mean that Tess can't write to her.

This story is rich and multi-layered. The use of music ties in with the theme as well as references to the main characters in The Great Gilly Hopkins and Anne of Green Gables. A fantastic book! Based on a true story, you can follow the links on the discussion guide.

Reading Level 3.6

:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) 5 Smileys