Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Booklist starred (December 15, 2013 (Vol. 110, No. 8))
Grades 4-6. Ophelia is a grieving 11-year-old who only believes in things that science can explain. Following her beloved mother’s death, her father takes a job at an enormous museum in a city where it constantly snows. There Ophelia discovers the imprisoned Marvelous Boy, who discloses to her that in three days the Snow Queen will discharge her wretchedness upon mankind. He further reveals that he must save the world before that happens and that only Ophelia can help him. As the boy tells his story, Ophelia accepts the challenges required to release him from his three-hundred-year captivity. She faces magical snow leopards, child ghosts, a Spanish conquistador, and a monstrous misery bird—none of which, like the boy, can be scientifically explained. Nevertheless, Ophelia learns there are truths she never dreamed of and that courage is less about bravery than about the decision to help people in need. Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, this clever story-within-a-story reads easily yet offers deep lessons about trust, responsibility, and friendship.

A Snicker of Magic

School Library Journal (January 1, 2014)
Gr 4-7-A delightful and inspiring debut. Mama has a wandering heart, which means that 12-year-old Felicity Pickle and her little sister, Frannie Jo, have wandered along with her in their battered van. But Midnight Gulch feels like home, and not just because it's where Mama grew up. It's one of those quirky little towns where there just might be magic. It's the characters that make this story shine: gruff Aunt Cleo and her tongue-tied swain; Oliver and Ponder, purveyors of unusual ice cream and baked goods, respectively; Jewell Pickett, hair-stylist and auto-mechanic extraordinaire; and her son Jonah, who has the amazing ability to make things better for anybody, despite his own difficulties. And Felicity, who sees words everywhere and uses them in remarkable ways. She's a girl who loves deeply and openly, and who creates her own kind of magic. Added to these elements are a series of folkloric backstories about feuding brothers, doomed romances, mysterious do-gooders, lost children, and a curse. Mibs Beaumont and her magically gifted clan from Ingrid Law's Savvy (Dial, 2008) would feel right at home here. As Felicity loves to say, "Yes.yes.yes!"-Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Extraordinary Jane

School Library Journal (March 1, 2014)
PreS-Gr 1-Jane is an ordinary dog, which under normal circumstances shouldn't be cause for much angst. But as part of a circus troupe in which all of the other members of her family are extraordinarily graceful, strong, or brave, she feels the need to find her special talent. Unfortunately, she's afraid of heights, is not all that artistic, "and then there was that whole balancing ball disaster." Readers will notice that the ringmaster has a soft spot in his heart for Jane and understand how he could be perfectly content with her being "a really good dog." Harrison's detailed and expressive illustrations give the circus animals plenty of personality and lend an air of grandeur to their talents. The pages depicting Jane's disaster-prone circus tricks and the resulting emergency room visit are particularly funny. In a world full of competition for kids to be the fastest, smartest, and best at everything, this story's message is a worthy one. Jane is exceptionally good at being herself, and for that, she is loved.-Jenna Boles, Greene County Public Library, Beavercreek, OH (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Bow-Wow's Nightmare Neighbors

School Library Journal (June 1, 2014)


K-Gr 4-In this wordless, comics-style picture book, Bow-Wow's neighbor cats have bitten his tail and stolen his soft doggie bed. Bow-Wow must travel to the spooky house next door to retrieve his bed, only to find a house full of tail-biting cats, trapdoors, pictures with eyes, shifting shadows, and all kinds of other spooky objects. Just when it seems things couldn't possibly get any stranger, Bow-Wow finds the scariest thing of all: a giant (almost room-sized) cat. Nestled nearby is his missing doggie bed. Will the jumbo kitty and her many dozens of feline minions let Bow-Wow escape with his bed? Digitally designed panel graphics offer a sophisticated visual narrative with subtle and humorous details. This unique book challenges readers to pay attention, all while working through the realms of the real, the familiar, nonsense, and play.-Jennifer Miskec, Longwood University, Farmville, VA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

The Fourteenth Goldfish

School Library Journal (June 1, 2014)
Gr 5-7-Eleven-year-old Ellie Cruz's life changes dramatically when her mother brings a teenage boy home one night and she learns it is her estranged grandfather. Melvin is a scientist who has figured out how to reverse aging and is now 13 again. Tensions are high between Melvin and his adult daughter, Ellie's mother, but Ellie feels like she now has the opportunity to really get to know her grandfather. Her interest in science blossoms, and she is eager to help Melvin retrieve the jellyfish specimen he used in his experiments so he can publish his discovery. Fascinated, Ellie learns about the work of Jonas Salk, Robert Oppenheimer, and Marie Curie. But as she learns more, she realizes that scientific discoveries often have unforeseen consequences. Readers are carried along with Ellie as she navigates old and new friendships in her first year in middle school with the added complication of her teenage grandfather at the same school. Short chapters keep the story moving at an engaging pace, and the interactions among the characters will easily hold readers' interest. Ellie's growing relationship with her grandfather helps her make discoveries about herself. Melvin, who begins as unapologetically single-minded in his determination to continue his work, also learns from Ellie. With humor and heart, Holm has crafted a story about life, family, and finding one's passion that will appeal to readers willing to imagine the possible.-Amanda Raklovits, Champaign Public Library, IL (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Soccer Fence

Booklist (February 1, 2014 (Vol. 110, No. 11))
Grades 1-3. Hector tells of apartheid’s gradual breakdown, which happened while he was growing up in South Africa. As a young black boy, he watches white boys playing soccer, but they ignore his request to join their game. Years pass and changes come. After the first open election, Nelson Mandela becomes president. Later, South Africa hosts a soccer tournament and wins with an integrated team. And, at long last, a white boy invites Hector to play soccer with him. Bildner overcomes some of the problems inherent in a picture book with a time frame extending over several years. Roughly four years old in the opening scenes, Hector is in his early teens at the end, but the illustrations convincingly portray the boys as they grow up, while the narrative thread connecting the story’s events is strong. Combining pencil drawings and acrylics, the illustrations are colorful and expressive. An appended apartheid timeline, aimed at a much older audience, briefly discusses significant events. This unusual picture bookshows social change as it affects one boy.

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

School Library Journal (June 1, 2014)
Gr 3-7-In the newest addition to this inventive series, Revolutionary War figure Nathan Hale tells the story of World War I with the support of two sidekicks who help shine light on some of the nuances of the historical event. The narrative explores why the war began, each country's role, battle tactics and technology implemented, and the lasting impact of the conflagration. Each country is represented by an animal, bringing to mind Art Spiegelman's iconic Maus (Pantheon, 1986). The facts are well researched and include statistics, as well as direct quotes from historical figures. The drawings are detailed and engaging, and the sparse use of color matches the tone of the tale. Not for the faint of heart, the book doesn't mince the gruesome, tragic reality of the Great War. The format lends itself as an effective presentation through the lens of Hale's sidekicks: a serious soldier who serves to clarify details, and an irreverent executioner who provides some much-needed comic relief. A mixture of textbook and slapstick, this essential read makes history come alive in a way that is relevant to modern-day life and kids.-Jenna Lanterman, formerly at The Calhoun School and Mary McDowell Friends School, New York City (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.