Reviews

ARC Alert! Elizabeth and Zenobia

Miller, Jessica. Elizabeth and Zenobia. Amulet Books. 208 pages, 2017. Hardcover $14.60, ISBN 978-1-41972-724-5

Elizabeth and ZenobiaTL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Anticipated Publication: September 2017

Genre: Horror

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

When her father decides it is time to move back to his childhood home, Elizabeth and her friend Zenobia have no other choice but to go along. (Father isn’t so pleased that Zenobia is coming along since she is, after all, imaginary — well, maybe not quite imaginary, but not quite real, either.) Elizabeth is afraid of everything — ghosts, the dark, gloves without hands in them — and Zenobia loves EVERYTHING creepy or disturbing. Poisons? Check. Ghosts — oh, excuse me, Spirit Presences? Check. Edgar Allan Poe? Check. Something is … off in Witheringe House, and to Zenobia’s delight, the conditions are PERFECT for a haunting. Add to that the fact that the East Wing of the house is forbidden to the girls, the eeriness increases the longer the girls are there. As more secrets are revealed, more seances are performed, and more bizarre midnight happenings occur, it becomes clear that something is truly and deeply wrong at Witheringe House. Will Elizabeth be brave enough to uncover the truth, and will she be strong enough to vanquish the evil that lurks in the house?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

The book’s description refers to it as “middle grade gothic horror,” and that is a perfect description. That creeping weirdness so critical in a good gothic novel is here in full force. Plants that seem a little too alive, a house with many secrets, silent and seemingly ubiquitous housekeepers, and a governess contending with mysterious forces all feature here. The book moves quickly, but it’s a page-turner, meaning that readers are going to enjoy this scary story enough not to want to put it down.

It’s a great read-alike for fans of Coraline, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. (Doll Bones is also similar with regards to creepy ghost factors!) Edgar Allan Poe is mentioned several times as he has the honor of being Zenobia’s favorite author. The book also draws upon gothic classics; Witheringe House of course reminds us of the title of Wuthering Heights; the governess plot smacks of Jane Eyre; the nursery’s walls are reminiscent of “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” and the whole “don’t go in the East Wing” situation is VERY Bluebeard. There’s something here for every gothic fan!

 

Grade Level: 4-8

 

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Reviews

Sunshine and rainbows: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Holm, Jennifer L., & Holm, Matthew. Sunny Side Up. Graphix, 2015. 216 pages. Hardcover $20.44, ISBN 978-0-545-74165-1; PLB $17.56, ISBN 978-1-48988-011-6; TR $11.09, ISBN 978-0-545-74166-8

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Genre: Realistic Fiction (Graphic Novel)

Part of a Series? No.

Plot Summary:

Sunny Lewin is sent to spend August with her grandfather in a retirement community. This shatters Sunny’s summertime dreams of beach lounging and fun having. Instead, her grampa’s “big plans” for each day tend to include going to the post office or the grocery store. Only one other person at the community is her age, and while Buzz and his comics are a fun distraction, they aren’t enough to stop Sunny from thinking about her big brother Dale. What is happening with Dale, and is it Sunny’s job to fix it?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is a super sweet and poignant story. The material is a bit intense, but it’s written well for a third through seventh grade audience. Some kids don’t know how to respond to the reveal, but I don’t think this is necessarily a problem.

Trigger Warnings:

  • substance abuse

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

n/a

Grade Level: 3-7

Awards and Starred Reviews: n/a

Reviews

You callin’ me an egg-head? BRAIN CAMP by Susan Kim

Kim, Susan, and Klavan, Laurence. Brain Camp. Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks. Square Fish/First Second. 151 pages, 2010. PLB $15.56, ISBN978-1-48985-625-8; Tr. $ 8.54, ISBN 978-1-25006-292-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Genre: Science Fiction (Graphic Novel)

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Jenna and Lucas just don’t fit in — Jenna’s an underachiever with deeply disappointed doctor parents, and Lucas’s tough home life slows him down. When their parents are approached by a man from Camp Fielding — a camp that promises to turn anyone into an Einstein — each kid finds themselves unceremoniously shunted to camp. The campers are weird, transforming into zombielike nerds while mysterious stuff happens in the woods. It seems like the adults are out to get them, and Jenna and Lucas’s parents refuse to understand. Are Jenna and Lucas doomed to follow their fellow campers’ fates, or can they escape unscathed?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is gross-out horror at its finest. If vomit makes you squeamish, give this book a pass. Kids barf up feathers (and major spoiler in white to follow >>> the bodies of infant bird alien things???) There is also blood “on the page” in a super vivid scene, and a lot of the action is … just that. Horror movie action without a lot of plot-furthering substance. That said, it’s a great pick for your horror fans.

There is also a romance element with some themes better for older middle graders (see Goodreads reviews).

Grade Level: YA

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Reviews

Bad News Ballerinas AGAIN: Shiny Broken Pieces

Charaipotra, Sona, & Clayton, Dhonielle. Shiny Broken Pieces. HarperTeen, 2016. 374 pages. Hardcover $15.44, ISBN 978-0-06-234242-3

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes, for older readers

Genre: YA/Realistic Fiction/Ballet!

Part of a Series? Yes — duology; Tiny Pretty Things is the first novel

Plot Summary:

We’re back at the American Ballet Conservatory, and the company is reeling. The book picks up only a few months after the shocking conclusion of Tiny Pretty Things. (I won’t share too many details — no spoilers!)

Bette and June and still desperate for the top spots. Cassie is BACK, and she’s got a bone to pick with anyone and everyone who will stand in her way.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Like the first novel, this book moves at warp speed. There are more secrets than ever, and alliances are shifting. Strangely, it feels as though readers are meant to feel sorry for Bette in this book, which is a weird feeling after all of her mean-girl antics in book one.

More drama, more backstabbing, more fights in the hallways. If you liked the tension and the jealousy of Tiny Pretty Things, this will be a good pick for you.

Trigger Warnings:

  • eating disorders
  • violence
  • drug abuse
  • harassment

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

n/a

Grade Level: YA (9-12)

Awards and Starred Reviews: n/a

Reviews

Bad News Ballerinas: Tiny Pretty Things

Charaipotra, Sona, & Clayton, Dhonielle. Tiny Pretty Things. Narrated by Imani Parks, Nora Hunter, Greta Jung. HarperTeen, 2015. 13 hours and 12 minutes. (438 pages). Hardcover $15.44, ISBN978-0-06-234239-3; PLB $15.56, ISBN 978-1-51812-929-2; TR $8.54, ISBN 978-0-06-234240-9;  Audio $26.45

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes, for older readers

Genre: YA/Realistic Fiction/Ballet!

Part of a Series? Yes — duology; Shiny Broken Pieces is the sequel

Plot Summary:

Life at the American Ballet Conservatory is cutthroat. The book opens with new girl Cassie reflecting on her good luck to be a young dancer with a solo part in the show … only to have her suffer a fall that injures her so badly that she must leave the conservatory.

The story picks up the next school year. Gigi is the new girl in school, fresh from California. Also the conservatory’s only black dancer, she immediately feels ill at ease, missing the camaraderie of her California studio. Bette Abney knows that this is her year to take all of the solo roles, and June Kim realizes that her mother’s ultimatum — a solo or she must go to public school — is for real. When Gigi earns the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Bette is left reeling, things get tense. Bette will stop at nothing to be the best … and June is finding herself more and more motivated to do just the same. Who will be the prima?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is a lightning-fast story. Each narrator has secrets, motivations, and needs that keep the reader going. For readers who enjoy some serious drama (with startling consequences!), this book has a lot to offer.

One note: the audiobook gets tough when actors need to do accents for the Russian teachers.

Trigger Warnings:

  • eating disorders
  • violence
  • drug abuse
  • harassment

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

n/a

Grade Level: YA (9-12)

Awards and Starred Reviews: n/a

 

Reviews

Leave it on the court: The Crossover

Alexander, Kwame. The Crossover. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 237 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN  978-0-544-10771-7; PLB $18.51, ISBN 978-1-48985-855-9

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Sports Novel/Novel in Verse

 

Part of a series? No, but Alexander’s Booked is similar in style and content for readers who want more like this book.

 

Plot Summary:

Josh (Filthy McNasty) and Jordan (JB) Bell are twins and stars of their middle school basketball team. Their father Chuck Bell, former basketball star, helps them prepare for their goals of eventually playing on all-star college teams. When Josh loses a bet, his bald-headed brother gets to cut off a precious lock from Josh’s hair. Joking around, JB doesn’t pay attention to his cutting and ends up chopping off five locks, forcing Josh to get his hair cut short. Deprived of his prized hair, Josh’s mood can only worsen when JB falls for the new girl in her pink Reeboks; with both his hair and the company of his brother taken from him, Josh loses his temper during a game and hits his brother in the face with a ball so hard he nearly breaks JB’s nose. Their mother suspends Josh from the team, leaving him more free time to worry about his father’s failing health — and the fact that his father refuses to see a doctor.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Alexander’s poetry flies across the page. Moments can be slow and contemplative, or words can explode, grow, smash together, and slide around as Josh describes the game he plays. The story progresses at a good clip, and the passage of time marked by holidays and the food shared is a powerful way to return readers to the thought of food and how it affects the family.

 

This is a fantastic book; writing a novel in verse is not easy, and this book is gorgeous. The action, the thought behind those actions, and the characters themselves are brought to life. I would recommend this to any reader; sports fans may love the play-by-play details, but anyone can enjoy the poetry.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be fantastic for a poetry unit. Readers can also make poems out of alphabet soup and cookies, adding a 3-D level to the poetry creation. Students can also go out into the school community for fifteen minutes and just listen, then come back and write a poem incorporating when they heard on campus; Alexander uses this onomatopoeic technique frequently, and those are always exciting poems to read. (Ideas from myself).

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2015

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 2/1/14

Coretta Scott King Author Honor, 2015

Kirkus Reviews starred 1/15/14

Library Media Connection starred 8/1/14

Newbery Medal, 2015

Publishers Weekly starred 1/20/14

School Library Journal starred 3/1/14

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 8/1/14

 

Reviews referenced:

Clarke, T. (n. d.). The crossover (Review of the book The Crossover). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-crossover

Kirkus Reviews. (2013, Dec. 18). The crossover (Review of the book The Crossover). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kwame-alexander/the-crossover/

Vardan, E. (2015, Apr. 26). The crossover by Kwame Alexander  |  Book review (Review of the book The Crossover). The Children’s Book Review. Retrieved from https://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/weblog/2015/04/the-crossover-by-kwame-alexander-book-review.html

Reviews

On the Run: Maniac Magee

Spinelli, Jerry. Maniac Magee. Little, Brown, 1990. 184 pages. Hardcover $15.34, ISBN 978-0-316-80722-7; Tr. $6.85, ISBN 978-0-316-80906-1; PLB $12.31, ISBN 978-0-7587-0201-2

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Historical Fiction

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Jeffrey L. Magee has a normal family until an accident leaves him without parents. His aunt and uncle are so cold to one another that one day he starts running and doesn’t stop. His running — along with his fearlessness, knot-untying prowess, and goodness — inspire kids all around to call him Maniac. He meets people, eats with generous families, bonds with the Beales in the East End and Grayson in the West End. He learns about racism, helps kids stay motivated to go to school, learns about baseball from a Minor League legend, and kisses a baby buffalo. Maniac’s story is larger-than-life.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is another solid novel from the master Jerry Spinelli. Maniac’s story is told like a legend — there are many references to “people say,” “some will tell you,” and other staples of a tall (city) tale. Maniac deals with homelessness and manages to always find the good in people (if there is good to find). 

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a great book to use for a unit on bravery. Maniac never gives up, not even when he feels like he has no place and no one to call on for help. While the story is fictional, it gives a great view into life as a child in a difficult situation and a difficult time. This would be a great way to open the door to conversations in the library or the classroom about tough topics such as homelessness, racism, and prejudice. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred

Newbery Medal, 1991

 

Other Notes:

Children drink beer; there is a situation in which a father is a racist alcoholic who is literally arming his children for the “revolt” when the African-American residents of the East End will charge the West End. In these scenes, he and many of the children drink beer and talk about violence.

 

Reviews referenced:

Berman, M. (n. d.). Maniac Magee (Review of the book Maniac Magee). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/maniac-magee

Kirkus Reviews. (1990, March 15). Maniac Magee (Review of the book Maniac Magee). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jerry-spinelli/maniac-magee/