Reviews

Punks and Posada: THE FIRST RULE OF PUNK by Celia C. Pérez

Pérez, Celia C. The First Rule of Punk. Read by Trini Alvarado. Viking/Recorded Books, 2017. 310 pages/5 hours and 20 minutes. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN978-0-425-29040-8

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!!!

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Maria Luisa O’Neill-Morales — Malú — lives and breathes punk music. Growing up in her father’s record store Spins and Needles has helped her be able to craft her punk identity. This means that moving to Chicago with her mother (“Super Mexican”) for her mother’s new professorship will also mean finding a way to preserve her punk self while not getting into daily battles with her mom (who just wants Malú to act like una señorita). Moving away from everything she knows is hard, and none of the zines she’s made arguing her case to her mom change the fact that she’ll be living in Chicago for the next two years. Upon arrival, Malú learns that not only is her punk cred unimportant to her classmates, she also finds that they expect her to act like una señorita, too, referring to her as a “coconut” for her love of punk music and culture. Can Malú stay true to herself and find a place in her new school?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is fantastic. The music references are cool, the descriptions of Malú’s zines are awesome, and the development of each character is wonderful. I would absolutely hand this off to students looking for coming-of-age stories, stories about moving away, and stories about finding yourself.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews starred06/15/17

Publishers Weekly Annex starred08/07/17

School Library Journal starred06/01/17

 

Readalikes?

Frazzled by Booki Vivat

 

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Reviews

The fox and his boy: Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pennypacker, Sara. Pax. Balzer + Bray, 2016. 276 pages. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN 978-0-06-237701-2; PLB $20.46, ISBN 978-1-53792-339-0

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Realistic fiction

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

When Peter’s father announces that he must go to war, it means that Peter must move in with his silent grandfather … and give up his beloved fox, Pax. Pax is puzzled by his boy’s sadness that day in the car, and when his boy throws the toy soldier far into the woods, Pax thinks it’s a game of fetch. Instead, both fox and boy are crushed as Peter is forced to rush into the car and leave his fox behind. After his first day with his grandfather, Peter realizes he can’t leave Pax on his own in the wild. Peter sets off on foot to cover the distance to find his fox. Pax realizes that living in the wild is much harder than living with his boy. Can Pax learn to take care of himself? Will he be alone forever? Will Peter make it to his fox?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book KILLED ME. I have a “no books with animals on the cover” rule because if the book is meant to be serious, I KNOW I’ll be ugly-sobbing by the end. Pax definitely delivers on that front! On his adventures, Peter meets Vola, a war veteran with one leg. Vola is a powerful character, and I loved her chapters. Pax’s voice as a narrator is clear and beautiful. Ultimately, this is a great book that I know I will never read again (TOO MUCH CRYING). I would absolutely hand this to a fan of wilderness, survival, and animal stories.

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 11/01/15

Kirkus Reviews starred, 11/01/15

Publishers Weekly starred, 11/16/15

School Library Journal starred, 12/01/15

Reviews

She is here, she is here, she is here: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Barnhill, Kelly Regan. The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Narrated by Christina Moore. Algonquin Young Readers/Recorded Books, 2016. 388 pages, 9 hours and 37 minutes. Hardcover $15.41, ISBN 978-1-61620-567-6; PLB $18.56, ISBN 978-1-53791-113-7

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!!!!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

Each year, the Protectorate must sacrifice the youngest child to an evil witch who lurks in the woods. This sacrifice guarantees the Protectorate’s continued subsistence…a meager one, fed mainly by a mystical bog and often filled with suffering. The sacrifice is a necessary evil … or, at least, that’s what the Grand Elders want the people to think. There is no witch. Except, unbeknownst to the Elders, there is a witch, and she’s good. The witch, an old woman named Xan, rescues the baby every year and finds a new home for the child in the Free Cities, feeding the child starlight along the way. One year, a woman fights the Elders who come for her baby. The woman is imprisoned in the Sisters’ tower and diagnosed mad. The baby captures Xan’s heart, and one night by mistake, Xan feeds the child moonlight and enmagics her. Luna the baby is so magical that Xan must bind her magic until her thirteenth birthday. Will Luna learn how to use her magic? Is Fyrian a Perfectly Tiny dragon? Will the Protectorate ever be free of its sorrow? And why do Xan and her swamp monster Glerk remember only that “Sorrow is dangerous?”

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

UGH THIS BOOK. This book is pure magic. Christina Moore’s reading is delightful; as Barnhill has written a gem of a book that draws on oral tradition, Moore’s performance is a truly wonderful storytelling feat. Fyrian’s voice is a treat, and Glerk’s grumbling is great. This is absolutely a pick for readers who want to know more about defeating evil or coming of age. The story is extremely dark, but I think kids who already love dystopias are going to be fine with this one.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 07/01/16
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred, 09/01/16
Kirkus Reviews starred, 06/01/16

Newbery Medal, 2017
Publishers Weekly starred, 06/06/16
School Library Journal starred, 07/01/16
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred, 10/01/16

Reviews

Return to the Sweet Life: The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase by Wendy Mass

Mass, Wendy. The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase. Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 533 pages. Hardcover $16.29, ISBN 978-0-316-08919-7; PLB $13.06, ISBN 978-1-53791-619-4; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-0-316-08918-0

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Mystery

Part of a series? Yes — this is the sequel to The Candymakers

Plot Summary:

Logan, Miles, Philip, and Daisy can’t believe that after these few months, Harmonicandy is finally about to go into production. Each child also is grappling with issues in their personal lives — does Daisy have a brother? How can she balance being a spy with having normal friends? How can Miles find out more about his family without upsetting his father? How can Philip feel closer to his mother’s memory while continuing to build his own future? And how is Logan to deal with the sympathy from everyone who knows that he did not win the contest when Philip’s win was the only way to save the factory? Things go from tricky to bananas when — once the first Harmonicandies are made and shared at the Kick-Off — Logan realizes that they do not use the same chocolate from the original Harmonicandy batch in the contest, rendering their win moot. If they can’t reproduce those exact Harmonicandies, they are disqualified! How to find the winning chocolate, and what will everyone do if they can?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is a wild ride. It feels more disjointed than the first Candymakers book, but our beloved narrators are just as unputdownable as ever. The team embarks on a road trip to find the mysterious chocolate (and Daisy’s family … and Miles’s family … and Philip’s family …), and characters from other Mass novels find their way into cameos here. It’s a fun read with good questions about stewardship and what’s right.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This still delivers as a solid mystery, and I’d also hand this to Mass fans for the cameos she provides.

Grade Level: 3-7

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

Reviews

Run Like the River: Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor and the Code of Claw. Scholastic, c2007, p2008. 412 pages. PLB $13.36, ISBN 978-0-329-65712-3  ; TR $6.84, ISBN 978-0-439-79144-1

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Gregor the Overlander series (The Underland Chronicles).

Plot Summary:

Gregor has returned to Regalia to claim his sword and read the Prophecy of Time, another Warrior prophecy that appears to hold the key to his –and all of the Underland’s– fate. It is up to Gregor to save the Underland, and his sister must also play an important role. The rats are marching for Regalia, and the Regalians must keep them at bay. Can the humans of the Underland win enough allies — warmblood and other — to save their homeland? Or will the rats rule all?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is intense. Collins really delivers on the peril in this one, and there is a great deal of violence on the page. Characters we know and love are wounded (sometimes mortally), and unnamed figures are killed during the battles. Gregor struggles with the ethics of killing, so the violence (while intense) is not there simply for violence’s sake, but is instead handled thoughtfully. That said, I would still be mindful of a student’s age/sensitivities before handing this one to them. You will definitely be crying by novel’s end!!

n/a

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book Magazine starred 10/01/07

 

Reviews

ARC Alert (with a book birthday today!) — The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken

Thank you to Disney/Hyperion and NetGalley for the ARC. Below is my honest review.

Bracken, Alexandra. The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding. Disney/Hyperion, 2017. 362 pages. Hardcover $16.99, ISBN 978-1-48477-817-3

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Horror

Part of a series? Appears to be — no spoilers, but the ending makes me think there’s a sequel!

Plot Summary:

Prosperity “Prosper” Oceanus Redding has had it up to here with his family’s nonsense. His evil grandmonster (grandmother, to most people) runs his hometown of Redhood, MA with an iron fist (it helps that she’s managed to remain mayor for the last ten years). His twin sister Prue (Prudence Fidelia Redding, thank you so much for the names, Pilgrim ancestors) has survived a weak heart and countless surgeries and emergencies, so for her, middle school is nothing to get worked up about. For Prosper, it’s torture. He isn’t successful, popular, or powerful — basically, he’s nothing like the rest of his family. A family dinner at the grandmonster’s house takes a turn for the sinister when Prosper’s parents call from out of the country demanding that Prosper grab his sister and run. A mysterious stranger crashes the party, rescues Prosper from his grandmother and the knife she’s trying to kill him with, and drags him to Salem, MA. The mysterious stranger is none other than Uncle Barnabas, a fellow Redding failure. He and his daughter Nell (an actual witch!) promise to save Prosper from both his grandmother and a much more sinister evil — an ancient demon by the name of Alastor who is currently residing inside of Prosper. How did the Reddings rise to power in the 1600s? Not through their work ethic! Rather, Alastor cut a deal with Honor Redding, the man from whom the town of Redhood got its name. After his rise to power, Honor enlisted a witch to help him get out of the deal, leaving Alastor to curse the family name and promise to return one day to destroy the Reddings once and for all. The time has nearly come, hence Prosper’s near-death at his grandmother’s get-together. Will Alastor succeed in destroying the Reddings, or will Prosper and his friends find a way to elude Alastor’s curse?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book has EVERYTHING. A snarky outsider narrator with a killer sense of humor? Check. A young witch whose first words readers encounter are lines from The Crucible? Check. A haunted house that is both tourist trap and actually haunted? CHECK! Family drama, mysteries, lies, and secrets? YOU GOT IT. A sassy demon? OF COURSE. A tiny black kitten that’s also a super powerful changeling who can fly? YES, FRIENDS! (Maybe I’m the only person who was looking for that? Okay.) Once I picked this one up, I couldn’t put it down. Prosper’s voice is intensely readable. This book delivers on creepiness, action, and humor. One scene can go from super creepy malefactor activities to an action-packed fight scene straight into Prosper’s deadpan reaction to the hoopla. The pace of the book is quick, but it never feels rushed. This is a great autumn read.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I would totally hand this one to students looking for a deliciously creepy, funny, and action-packed adventure. It feels like a good fit for fans of Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand, and the Jackaby series by William Ritter.

Grade Level: 3-7

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 08/01/17

Publishers Weekly starred 07/03/17

Reviews

Oh, rats! Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane. Scholastic, 2004. 312 pages. PLB $13.36, ISBN 978-1-41559-729-3; TR $6.84, ISBN9 78-0-439-65076-2

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Gregor the Overlander series.

Plot Summary:

While Gregor’s family is doing better emotionally, money is extremely tight. To help his family out, Gregor spends Saturday mornings “helping” his neighbor Mrs. Cormaci … although Gregor can’t help but feel that Mrs. Cormaci sometimes makes up errands or chores for him to do. Every Saturday, however, Mrs. Cormaci pays Gregor for his work, feeds him well and sends him home with food for his family, and usually gives him a little something for himself, too (a waterproof flashlight, her son’s old boots, etc.). One afternoon, Gregor takes Boots sledding in Central Park, only for his baby sister to disappear. The Crawlers of the Underland have taken her back down below! When Gregor goes to retrieve Boots, he finds that he has a part to play in yet another prophecy, that of a creature that will destroy the Underland: a giant white rat called the Bane. To save the Underland, Gregor will need to find and kill the Bane. A group of Regalians joins Gregor as well as Temp, Boots’s giant cockroach friend, and Twitchtip, a rat chosen by Ripred to help Gregor seek the Bane.

In this latest trip to the Underland, Gregor learns more about the people who live there as well as about himself.

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

A student recommended this to me after I handed her the first in the series. When the student found out that I’d never read past the first book, they immediately recommended that I keep going. This book is great — Gregor reads as a believable middle schooler. When things get super dramatic or frustrating, Gregor lets you know with an “Aw, jeez” or two. He says things like, “Come on, man!” to rats and bats alike, and his sassy attitude can keep the humor going even when things are bleak. Gregor also never gives up, stays true to his word, and faces certain danger and likely death with poise. This book does NOT disappoint, and I would happily hand this off to any student looking to continue the adventure from book one.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

n/a

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book starred 04/01/05

Reviews

Fly You High: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Gregor the Overlander. Scholastic, 2003. 311 pages. PLB $13.36, ISBN 978-0-329-61400-3; TR (mass market) $6.84, ISBN 978-0-439-67813-1

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? Yes — the Gregor the Overlander series.

Plot Summary:

Eleven-year-old Gregor shoulders a lot of responsibility. His father disappeared more than two years ago, and even working all of the time, his mother can barely keep food on the table. It’s up to Gregor to take of his two younger sisters Lizzie (age 8) and Boots (age 2) as well as keep an eye on his grandmother, a character who appears to be in the early stages of dementia. 

One day while doing the laundry, Gregor loses Boots behind the dryer. When he goes to find her, he falls down the same chute as his younger sister, and they fall down into the Underland. There, he finds himself in Regalia where a strange group of people live … and have lived there since the 1600s. A mysterious prophecy finds its hero in Gregor from the Overland, and Gregor and his sister must help the Regalians if he has any hope of ever returning home.

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I loved this one, so while I read it almost a year ago (and have a bit of a fuzzy memory on the details), I know it’s a good one to recommend to kids looking for fantasy and adventure. The peril is real — the rats are vicious, allies can turn at the drop of a hat, and the Underland guarantees no one’s safety. It’s a page turner with fun characters, too.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I would hand this book to anyone looking for an Alice-in-Wonderland type story. Gregor must quickly adapt to the bizarre world around him, and his New Yorker’s opinion on the goings-on of the Underland are perceptive and often funny.

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 11/15/03

Kirkus Reviews starred 08/01/03

Publishers Weekly starred 09/08/03

Reviews

Keep Calm and Creep On: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

Fox, Janet S. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. Viking, 2016. 388 pages. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN 978-0-451-47633-3; PLB $13.86, ISBN 978-1-51818-650-9; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-0-14-751713-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes … ish

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Steampunk (?)

Part of a series? Not at this time.

Plot Summary:

London is in the grips of the Blitz — it is World War II, and children are being sent away from London in order to remain safe from constant bombings. Safety is the foremost concern for the Bateson family; Mr. Bateson is a spy on a mission for MI6 — but before leaving, he secures three places at Rookskill Castle in Scotland for his children. There, the Lady Eleanor has opened an academy for children displaced by the bombings. Kat, the eldest Bateson, feels responsible for her younger siblings and does her best to remind them to “Keep Calm and Carry On” as they must leave their mother and Great-Aunt Margaret behind in London. Before seeing the children off, once-sharp Great-Aunt Margaret passes a family heirloom on to Kat. She gives the girl a châtelaine and explains that it is an extremely magical item that will help keep her safe. Kat, a lover of math, logic, and puzzles, is disturbed by this explanation, particularly since it just goes to show that Great-Aunt Margaret really is losing her marbles. 

Rookskill Castle is creepy from go, and Kat finds herself facing mystery and weirdness galore. Why is there a shortwave radio hidden in a secret room? What is Lady Eleanor trying to hide? And — most disturbing of all — why are so many secrets in the castle unexplainable by logic and common sense? Is there a spy at Rookskill Castle … or is there something much worse at hand?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book had a lot of potential. Historical fiction plus fantasy? SOLD! The premise was amazing. World War II plus creepy age-old magic sounds delicious. Unfortunately, the execution of the novel was a tiny bit disappointing. (This caught me by surprise given the starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.) The start of the novel is very strong, but not long after the Batesons arrive at Rookskill Castle, the story begins to meander. Quixotic episodes repeat with little impact on the plot, and major problems are set up that either fall by the wayside or are resolved in the blink of an eye. Every few pages we are reminded about how logical Kat is … to the point that you start to wonder when it will crop up again (hardly a mysterious thing can happen without the reader being reminded of Kat’s logic). Anachronisms also crop up throughout the text as well as dialectical issues that just don’t sound right. 

That said, however, the book does deliver on tone, so I would still recommend it to my readers looking for something creepy and set in a castle/past period. I also have to think that perhaps the book just didn’t speak to what I wanted from it, especially given its reception by major reviewing outlets.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

I would hand this book to anyone looking for a readalike for Coraline, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, or Elizabeth and Zenobia.

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 01/01/16

Kirkus Reviews starred 12/15/15

Publishers Weekly starred 01/04/16

Reviews

Does Perfection have a Purpose? The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Oppel, Kenneth. The Nest. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015. 244 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-1-48143-232-0; Tr. $6.84, ISBN 978-1-48143-233-7; PLB $18.51, ISBN 978-1-51811-847-0

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Horror

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

Steven is a nervous kid. He has nightmares that something creeps at the edge of his bed, watching him. He washes his hands to keep germs away, and he keeps prayer-like (but not prayers, since he isn’t sure he believes in God) lists asking for protection of his family and friends. He worries all the time — about the scary knife man who rides through the streets, offering to sharpen knives; about the wasps that have always terrified him, but that he now finds out he is allergic to; and now, about his family when his parents bring home their new baby boy. His new little brother has a long and difficult road of surgeries and struggles ahead of him; he is born very sick, and doctors diagnose him with a rare congenital disease. Steven knows that adults tell him that he can’t catch it, but he still worries. He also hesitates to call the baby by his name, because what if the little boy dies from his condition? Consumed with worry (and guilt), Steven struggles with sleeping…until an angel-like being comes to him in a dream, dispersing the scary dark shape that lurks at the edge of his bed, and promises to fix the baby if Steven agrees to the fix. His brother can be made perfect by these beings, but it is up to Steven to make that call. Is this really the answer to his family’s problems? 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is unputdownable. It moves forward like a thriller. The angelic beings show more and more of themselves as the book progresses, and choices become much more difficult. Mysterious figures appear, and no one believes Steven when he talks about his dreams and how nervous they are making him. The book also presents the important idea that no one is “perfect.” Everyone is “a little bit broken,” even if not everyone looks it.

This book also reminded me a great deal of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. That book is devastating and beautiful, and it also deals with some very difficult topics and frightening figures.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a fantastic reading circle book. It tackles some really tough topics (OCD, anxiety, babies living with disabilities), but it does so in a way that I haven’t seen before. The book makes you think about difficult topics while also keeping you on the edge of your seat to find out what happens next. Illustrations by Klassen are gorgeous and eerie. I would love to have students read and discuss this one. (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 7/1/15

Horn Book Guide starred 4/1/16

Horn Book Magazine starred 9/1/15

Kirkus Reviews starred 8/1/15

Publishers Weekly starred 7/20/15

School Library Journal starred 8/1/15