Reviews

Mermaids! Aquamarine

Hoffman, Alice. Aquamarine. Scholastic, 2001. 105 pages. Tr. $5.99, ISBN  978-0-439-09864-9; PLB $12.41, ISBN  978-1-41552-455-8

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes.

 

Genre: Fantasy

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Claire and Hailey (a timid girl and her fearless best friend) are drawing out summer as long as they can, for at the end of the month, their favorite summer spot will be closing forever, and Claire will be moving away to Florida. They are afraid of what the future holds and sad about the upcoming changes. What does it mean when, in the last week of the Capri’s last season, a mermaid is washed into the swimming pool? Will Aquamarine get to meet the human teen who works at the Capri snack bar? Will Claire and Hailey help her?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is a very short book, but it had a sweet story. This is a great pick for the reluctant reader as there’s plenty of white space on the page. One downside (also noted in Publishers Weekly) is that this book is so short that we are left with some questions (What? Mermaids? Who else is out there? What’s Aquamarine up to usually? What are the “rules” of being a mermaid?) that it could leave a reader used to the depth of other fantasy books (i.e., Land of Stories) wishing for more and feeling like they haven’t had much of a read. Readers who are looking for a nice short read, however, will enjoy this book about friendship and the magic of belief.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This novel has a movie adaptation  which may sweeten the reading deal; we could read the book as a group (or alone!), and I can recommend the film version to students looking to get to know Claire and Hailey a bit more. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Reviews referenced:

Anonymous (screen name). (n. d.). Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman (Review of the book Aquamarine). Teen Ink. Retrieved from http://www.teenink.com/reviews/book_reviews/article/763617/Aquamarine-by-Alice-Hoffman/

Kirkus Reviews. (2001, Feb. 15). Aquamarine (Review of the book Aquamarine). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/alice-hoffman/aquamarine-2/

Publishers Weekly. (2001, Feb. 19). Aquamarine (Review of the book Aquamarine). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-439-09863-2

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Reviews

Illuminating, indeed: Flora and Ulysses– the Illuminated Adventures

DiCamillo, Kate. Flora & Ulysses — the Illuminated Adventures. Illustrated by K. G. Campbell. Candlewick Press, 2013. 231 pages. Hardcover $15.34, ISBN 978-0-7636-6040-6; 2015 Tr. $7.69; ISBN 978-0-7636-7671-1; 2016 Tr. $5.99, ISBN 978-0-7636-8764-9; 2015 PLB $13.61, ISBN 978-1-48985-703-3; 2016 PLB $12.01, ISBN 978-1-53790-222-7

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Fantasy/Animal Story

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Flora’s vocabulary is a mix of high-scoring SAT words and comic book exaggeration, but it’s a delightful blend. Ulysses (a squirrel so named for the vacuum that nearly killed him and ends up imbuing him with superhero strength) is a poetry-writing, cat-fighting, high-flying squirrel determined to live life to its fullest. Will Flora’s mother (Ulysses’s arch-nemesis) successfully kill Ulysses? Or will Ulysses show everyone the power of love?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Holy Bagumba! Another gem from DiCamillo, this book is utterly absorbing. I’m not the only one to think so; my copy from the library has annotations as a previous reader or two puzzled out the meanings of DiCamillo’s heftier vocab words. There are also annotations translated words and phrases into Chinese characters. While many might take pause at having a written-in library book, I was actually really happy to see that a reader was working through the text and making it work for them.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a wonderful book club book, and it could also be a good branching-out title for a reluctant reader. While not a graphic novel, it is “illuminated” with comic-strip interludes showing the action in a new way. It could be a good read for kids who are trying to read titles that aren’t quite Diary of a Wimpy Kid in style but that still incorporate a lot of illustration. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2014

Booklist starred 6/1/13

Kirkus Reviews starred 7/1/13

Newbery Medal 2014

Publishers Weekly starred 6/24/13

School Library Journal starred 8/1/13

 

Reviews referenced:

Bird, E. (2013, June 10). Review of the day: Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (Review of the book Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures). School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2013/06/10/review-of-the-day-flora-and-ulysses-by-kate-dicamillo/  Eisenhart, M. (n. d.). Flora and Ulysses: The illuminated adventures (Review of the book Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/flora-ulysses-the-illuminated-adventures#

 

Does the Squirrel Die? :   NO

 

Tags: comics, squirrels, vacuums, belief, writers, love, animal stories, superheroes

Reviews

Music and more: After Tupac and D Foster

Woodson, Jacqueline. After Tupac and D Foster. Puffin Books, 2008. 153 pages. Hardcover $13.64, ISBN 978-0-399-24654-8; Tr. $5.19, ISBN 978-0-14-241399-9; PLB $13.01, ISBN 978-0-329-77678-7

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Historical Fiction

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

This middle grade novel explores friendship, family, and what it means to be “lucky” in the mid 1990s. Our unnamed narrator and her friends Neeka and D navigate life on the block (or, as only D is allowed to do, “roaming”) as well as topics such as having a (gay) brother in prison, dealing with when your favorite rapper (or any person on the street) says homophobic things, and what it means to really know someone.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This novel is a great read for many reasons. Not only does Woodson incorporate elements such as LGBTQIA characters, incarcerated family members, missing parents, and foster care, but she does so in a way that does not unnaturally highlight any of those plot elements. They are realistic elements of our narrator’s life, not “after school special” type inclusions.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This book would be a great choice for any music fans. Readers could think about a musician who really speaks to their own feelings, and they can share some of that musician’s work with the class, describing why that musician’s work is so important to them. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Library Media Connection starred 10/1/08

Newbery Honor 2009

Publishers Weekly starred 12/17/07

School Library Journal starred 4/1/08

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 2/1/08

 

Reviews referenced:

Berman, M. (n. d.). After Tupac and D Foster (Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/after-tupac-and-d-foster

Bird, E. (2008, Feb. 19). Review of the day: After Tupac and D Foster (Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster). School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2008/02/19/review-of-the-day-after-tupac-d-foster/

Kirkus Reviews. (2007, Dec. 1). After Tupac and D Foster (Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jacqueline-woodson/after-tupac-and-d-foster/

Publishers Weekly. (2007, Dec. 10). After Tupac and D Foster (Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-399-24654-8

 

Tags: Rap, Tupac Shakur, historical fiction, 1990s, lgbtqia, incarcerated people, HIV/AIDS, friendship

Reviews

Rock and Roll! Roller Girl

Jamieson, Victoria. Roller Girl. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015. 239 pages. Hardcover $17.89, ISBN 978-0-525-42967-8; Tr. $11.09, ISBN 978-0-8037-4016-7; PLB $17.06, ISBN 978-1-48988-662-0

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? YES ABSOLUTELY

 

Genre: Sports story (Graphic Novel)

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Once again, I find myself wishing that I could do roller derby (alas, I am terrified of falling over and breaking my glasses, and my balance on skates of any kind is laughable). Jamieson’s protagonist Astrid discovers roller derby one night when her mother takes her and her best friend Nicole out for an Enlightening Cultural Experience (ECE). Unlike previous ECEs when Astrid has been forced to watch an opera, go to a modern art museum, or otherwise improve herself, Astrid instead gets to watch women on roller skates slam into each other to win points. She immediately plans to attend the Rose Bud roller derby summer boot camp with her best friend Nicole … until Nicole’s dance class friend (and Astrid’s number one enemy) Rachel starts talking about plans for dance camp. Confident in the knowledge that Nicole won’t desert her for Rachel, Astrid is shocked when Nicole ditches her and roller derby for a summer of dancing on pointe. Astrid’s summer doesn’t get much better when she finds out that roller derby is HARD … falling more often than she actually skates, Astrid feels lost, until her favorite jammer Rainbow Bite replies to her anonymous notes asking for advice. Could Astrid make new friends? Can she become a superstar roller derby girl? Or is she just a Rose Dud?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I could not put this graphic novel down. I raced through it, eager to read more roller derby names, follow more plays, and get to know Astrid and Zoe (her musical-obsessed roller derby friend) better. I further appreciated Jamieson’s nod to the intense athleticism required for ballet, too. While it is awkward that Nicole chose Rachel and dance over Astrid and roller derby, Nicole’s preferred activity is not painted with the “girly girl” brush that her other choices are. Instead, Jamieson shows the painful side effects of dancing on pointe — bloody toes and bandaged feet, not unlike Astrid’s roller derby injuries. While Nicole’s interest in boys and shopping are more typically feminine than Astrid’s pursuits, their sports are not as different as one might assume. Readers will also appreciate the diversity on the page and the excitement of the sport.

 

Note: This didn’t affect my reading of the graphic novel, but one parent reviewer on Common Sense Media was appalled by the use of profanity in the rude nickname Astrid is given by the school bully (who refers to her as “Ass-Turd.”) While I didn’t find this to be a huge problem, it might be for some folks, so I should remain aware of the potential reactions to the nickname.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

A fun book club activity for this book could be designing a roller derby team — names for players, team names, and a logo. We could also potentially watch clips on YouTube from a roller derby bout, after I’ve had a chance to preview some to ensure there aren’t any inappropriate signs in the crowd or language caught on the microphones. (Ideas from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 4/1/15

Horn Book Guide starred 10/1/15

Horn Book Magazine starred 3/1/15

Kirkus Reviews starred 12/15/14

Newbery Honor 2016

Publishers Weekly starred 1/26/15

School Library Journal starred 12/1/14

 

Reviews referenced:

Beach, A. (n. d.) Roller girl (Review of the book Roller Girl). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/roller-girl

Natsmom22 (screen name). (2016, Feb. 12). Profane and inappropriate for its target audience (blog comment). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/roller-girl

Kirkus Reviews. (2014, Dec. 6). Roller girl (Review of the book Roller Girl). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/victoria-jamieson/roller-girl/

Publishers Weekly. (2015, Jan. 26). Roller girl (Review of the book Roller Girl.) Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8037-4016-7

 

Reviews

Superheroes I love: El Deafo

Bell, Cece. El Deafo. Amulet Books, 2014. 233 pages. Hardcover $18.71, ISBN  978-1-41971-020-9; Tr. $9.36, ISBN 978-1-41971-217-3; PLB $14.41, ISBN 978-1-48984-422-4

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Biography/Memoir (Graphic Nonfiction)

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

This graphic “novel” tells the true story of Cece Bell’s childhood, and her experience with meningitis that took away her hearing. With characters drawn as rabbits in order to emphasize how different Cece’s ears were to those of her family, friends, and classmates, El Deafo explores what it is like to feel so different — and how that difference can set you apart in painful and cool ways.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Bell’s book (writing and illustrations) work together to tell this extremely engaging story. Deaf and hearing readers will have something to learn and enjoy in reading this story, and Bell makes it clear in her afterword that one d/Deaf person’s story is not the same as another’s.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a fantastic book club book. I think that the major thing I would want to focus on is a discussion of what it means to have different abilities; perhaps we could watch a documentary on Deaf culture. We can also make superhero versions of ourselves based on the things that make us different. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2015

Horn Book Magazine starred 11/1/14

Kirkus Reviews starred 9/1/14

Newbery Honor 2015

Publishers Weekly starred 7/7/14

School Library Journal starred 9/1/14

 

Reviews referenced:

Berry, M. (n. d.). El Deafo (Review of the book El Deafo). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/el-deafo

Kirkus Reviews. (2014, July 22). El Deafo (Review of the book El Deafo). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/cece-bell/el-deafo/

Publishers Weekly. (2014, July 7). El Deafo (Review of the book El Deafo). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4197-1020-9


Warnings: Vomit appears three times in the novel and is drawn as the act of vomiting (i.e., it happens “on the page” rather than “offstage”)

 

Tags: Deaf culture, hard of hearing, graphic novels, vomit, memoir, rabbits, imagination, superheroes