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Get Excited About Spring December 15, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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You should be excited about the spring, even if it’s still cold and December-ish, because there are some great titles coming out from both new and established authors. Here are a few that I’ve read and am looking forward to getting into readers’ hands:

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Oppel returns to the world of his Printz Honor-winning Airborn in this tale of high adventure on a cross-country train. Will’s father is the chief engineer on the Boundless, an enormous train traveling across the country to Lionsgate City. Along the way Will will encounter a murderer, a Mountie, a girl with a talent for wire-walking and disappearing, and a sasquatch, among many other characters. It’s a plot crammed with incident and danger and a fantastic tale for middle grade readers.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Fans of Catherynne Valente, here is your next read. Ophelia is wandering the halls of the massive museum where her father is curating a swords exhibit when she meets a marvelous boy. However, he is trapped by magic, and the Snow Queen is coming for him. Will Ophelia (who for the record, is scientifically minded and doesn’t believe in magic) be able to rescue him? This one is for lovers of fairy tales, adventures, creepy museums and quirky female leads.

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

In this second fairy tale inspired work, Preus (who won a Newbery Honor for Heart of a Samurai) mixes various Scandinavian tales with the story of two girls who are trying to find their way to the magical land of America. Dealing with obstacles from difficult relatives to a surly goatman to a spinner girl who might be magical, they use knowledge gleaned from tales like ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon’ to reach their goal. Preus was inspired by the journal of one of her ancestors and the back matter is fascinating.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

A middle-grade debut, this will satisfy fans of Elise Broach’s Masterpiece and Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer (as well as any kid who’s heard their parents raving about Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch). Theo Tenpenny is trying to scrape together enough pennies to keep herself and her absent-minded mother from starving when she inadvertently finds a potentially priceless painting in her late grandfather’s studio. A fun mystery with added interest for young artists and art historians.


The First Drawing & Kali’s Song December 10, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Classroom Books.
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Two picture books in the past couple of years have explored the possible ways that humans first discovered music and drawing. These titles would make a great starting point for students studying early humans and their world or just a fun read aloud for families.

drawingMordecai Gerstein sends the reader back in time with his first images and sentences in The First Drawing, about a boy living “…thirty thousand years ago.”  In present tense sentences that give a sense of immediacy, Gerstein sketches the reader’s life back then: “You live in a cave with your parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers…and your wolf Shadow.” “You love to watch animals.” Illustrations with bright color and scratchy line quality show how the protagonist (you) looks at clouds and stones and sees animals there, that no one else in the family can see. After an encounter with a woolly mammoth, while sitting by the fire, the young artist finally finds a way to show the rest of the family these visions–in drawings on the cave wall. After initial panic (the father throws a spear at the wall, expecting the drawing of the mammoth to charge) everyone agrees that “It’s MAGIC!” which, of course it was. And still is. In his author’s note, Gerstein points out that children are much more likely to draw than adults…so it makes sense that the first person to invent drawing was probably a child. Read this book and then do some drawing, of woolly mammoths or whatever you like!

Jeanette Winter imagines a somewhat similar tale about discovering music in Kali’s Song (complete with another woolly mammoth on the cover.) Kali is familiar with drawing, as his mother paints animals on their cave wall and tells him “Soon you’ll hunt and kill animals like those.” Kali’s father gives him a bow so that he can practice shooting, but Kali soon discovers another use for the weapon: plucking the string to make music. As in Gerstein’s book, family members are astonished by this new idea and honor Kali for his talents. This book would be fun read aloud for young musicians, kids interested in history or anyone interested in wondering a little about the past.


Friends, Food and SciFi December 7, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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One of the genres in YA lit that has exploded recently is comics and graphic novels. A form traditionally dominated by male artists and male voices, it has been great to see more women writers and artists getting recognition for their fantastic work. Here are three female comic artists and writers to check out:

relishLucy Knisley is based in Brooklyn, NY and has two autobiographical graphic novels centered mostly around food. French Milk details a trip she took to Paris with her mother at age 22. Knisley includes photos from the trip, along with countless doodles of meals and food that are no less tantalizing for being black and white sketches. This is a great read for anyone who has fallen in love with Paris, as well as those teens who long to get away and travel. Anyone who enjoyed To Timbuktu by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg will also like this combination of words and images.

Knisley’s latest book is Relish: My Life in the Kitchen which is a more comprehensive food-centered memoir. Structured around a set of recipes, each one caps a story or episode from Knisley’s life. Many are about family, her mother’s work at restaurants and farmers markets, trips abroad, and the experience of working at a gourmet store in Chicago during college. Each episode is well-paced and as in her other work, Knisley is excellent at using her artwork to make you hungry.

I think one of the big appeals about Knisley’s work for teen readers is her focus on everyday things like food. There are plenty of comics and graphic novel series about superheroes, magic and grand epic battles, and fewer about common experiences such as being with family and preparing food. Knisley has talked in interviews about her goal to use comics to create a bond between herself and her readers, and that warmth and dedication to connection definitely comes across in both these titles.

mercuryHope Larson writes for a slightly younger audience but is just as good a storyteller, with her titles Salamander Dream, Chiggers and Mercury (to say nothing of her adaptation of the classic A Wrinkle in Time). Similar to Knisley, much of her work is in black and white, with the addition of blue to A Wrinkle in Time. All of her work features believable female protagonists and often a touch of mystery or the supernatural. Change and growing are themes in many of her books, with an emphasis on friendship. Hailey in Salamander Dream encounters an ambiguous being named Salamander, Tara in Mercury must find the connection between a quicksilver necklace and her family’s past, while Meg in A Wrinkle in Time of course discovers her true abilities while fighting IT on the planet Camazotz. Larson’s compelling characters and unusual settings make her a great choice for any middle school reader interested in comics.

friendsFaith Erin Hicks takes on the twin themes of family and friends in her book Friends with Boys, as well as Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, authored by Prudence Shen. Both titles have families with absent mothers and friendship struggles. In Friends with Boys, Maggie is starting public school for the first time and worries about making friends. Add to that a gang of older brothers with their own struggles and a ghost hanging around and you have a great coming of age story with a slightly creepy touch. Charlie Nolan in Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong ends up as a candidate for student body president as his neighbor and his cheerleader ex-girlfriend fight over whether student council money gets spent on cheerleading uniforms or a robotics competition. Campaign tactics reminiscent of the movie Election get the teenagers in trouble both at school and at home and it seems as though Charlie will never be able to find a peaceful moment. Hicks’ drawing style is a little busier than either Larson or Knisely, her characters’ faces defined with sharp lines and shadows around the eyes.  Readers will root for her teenagers and agree that their happy endings are entirely deserved.

Comforting Words December 4, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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We’re getting to a time of year when seasonal books are flying off the shelves. People are coming in asking for holiday books and new versions of old classics and holiday tales starring familiar characters. But when picking gifts for older readers, sometimes it’s nice to give a book with beautiful illustrations and words that resonate beyond winter. Here are two books suited to older readers or perhaps a family to whom you want to give something special.

heartWhat the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings by Joyce Sidman, illus. Pamela Zagarenski

Sidman’s latest book of poetry tackles some of the harder moments in a lifetime: heartache, illness, and loss. In four different sections, Sidman celebrates the idea of words as magical. The section headings ( Chants, Charms, Spells, etc.) reinforce this idea, that words can smooth over hurt places and help us heal. Beautiful mixed-media illustrations by Zagarenski, twice a Caldecott Honor winner, capture the essence of each selection. This is a wonderful choice for a loved one, a teen getting ready for new experiences or anyone facing change in their life.

givingGiving Thanks by Katherine Paterson, illus. Pamela Dalton

Celebrated author Katherine Paterson brings a calm wisdom to this collection of poems, prayers and praise songs, just in time for Thanksgiving. If you are looking for a new reading to share with family at your dinner table or just to read in quiet moments, this is a wonderful choice. Paterson includes prayers and poetry from different cultures, Bible selections alongside Native American blessings, lyrics to spirituals and Amazing Grace. Dalton’s illustrations are  traditional scherenschnitte paper cuttings. Elaborate borders and page edgings are in white and some pieces are painted with watercolors, creating a nice contrast. This beautifully designed book would be a special addition to any family collection.