Reviews

Dive in! Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Rushdie, Salman. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Granta Books in association with Penguin Books, 1990. 216 pages. Tr. $13.65, ISBN 978-0-14-015737-6; PLB $20.71, ISBN 978-0-329-78295-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

Haroun, son of Rashid Khalifa, the Ocean of Notions, makes the mistake of asking his storyteller father, “What is the point of stories that aren’t even true?” His father suddenly loses his Gift of Gab, and says that he might as well stop being a storyteller. At this time, Haroun runs into Iff, a Water Genie, who is dismantling the faucet that allows Rashid to be such a master storyteller. In order to secure his father’s storytelling capabilities, Haroun blackmails Iff into taking him to Kahani, the Sea of Stories.

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is an intricately woven fantasy with elements rooted in real-life places and events. Readers need not know those references in order to enjoy the book, but the way that Rushdie combines real life and fantasy (especially in such an intricate book) is awe-inspiring. Haroun’s bravery (and realness as a boy) make him leap off the page. This book was unputdownable, smart, and funny to boot.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

While Titlewave classifies this as a book for adults, Kirkus Reviews writes that the novel is  “targeted for an audience as large as a bull’s-eye on the side of a barn” (1990). I agree with Kirkus that this book is one that can be read by anyone.

This is a great fantasy book that doesn’t focus on white kids having adventures. Instead, it references places in the Middle East and utilizes a great deal of storytelling elements and figures from that region in the book. I would hand this to any fantasy fan. This book would also be a great read for students who are looking for a more complex book to read — while it is not necessarily an adult-level book, it has more to offer in terms of storytelling nuance and detail than something like Alex Gino’s George, which is another wonderful book with a reading level more accessible to less advanced readers. (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: Titlewave classifies it as Adult; I would recommend this book for students grades 6-9

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

Reviews

Guitar Hero: Kubo and the Two Strings

I know, I know — this is a book blog!!!! Sometimes, however, you just gotta watch a movie. What follows is my review of the movie Kubo and the Two Strings. I’ve struggled with other Laika films (particularly The Boxtrolls) because their casting is often disturbingly non-diverse (ALWAYS AND FOREVER LOOKING AT YOU, BOXTROLLS), and while this movie was still problematic in terms of casting, the storytelling is superb.

 Kubo and the Two Strings. Directed by Travis Knight. 101 minutes. Laika Entertainment. 2016, $17.96 (DVD). ASIN: B01KMKM5NW

TL;DR: Do I recommend this movie? YES

Genre: Fantasy (Animated Movie)

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

Kubo and his mother live in a cave above their village. His mother is fading as her mind drifts away, and Kubo, one-eyed from infancy after his grandfather stole an eye from him, must provide for himself and for his mother. Kubo goes down to the village each day to play his magical string instrument and make origami figures dance and act out his tales, but as soon as the bell before sunset tolls, he packs up and heads straight home. As his mother warns him, he can never let The Moon King (his grandfather) or his mother’s sisters find him, so he must always be home before dark. During the festival, he ignores this rule, desperate for contact from his deceased father. As soon as the moon shines on Kubo, his aunts appear and destroy the village in an attempt to capture Kubo. Kubo must grab only what he has on his back and run.

Critical Evaluation/Viewer’s Comments:

Unfortunately, Laika still struggles with casting nonwhite actors in main roles (Kubo, Monkey, the Moon King, and the Beetle are all voiced by white actors despite being designed as Japanese characters). That said, there are still many more voices from actors of color voicing other Japanese characters in the film, so while I am disappointed by their casting choices yet again (looking at you, The Boxtrolls), at least they have improved slightly.

The storytelling, however, makes me still appreciate the movie despite the casting issues. I will continue to acknowledge the casting situation as I look at Laika films, but Kubo really delivers on storyline. Kubo’s music and magical abilities are delightful to behold, and the animation of the origami figures coming to life and floating through the air is truly stunning. Some twists are guessable from early on, but ultimately, it was still a fabulously animated film.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This film is more intense in content than I was anticipating, so I would not bust out this movie for younger tweens. Instead, I would perhaps only use this movie with eleven-to-thirteen year olds (and up into teens) given the peril that characters are constantly in. Without spoiling too many elements of the film, people do die and are frequently in frightening situations. The main conflict of the film is that Kubo’s grandfather — who has already stolen one eye from him — is desperate to pluck the other one so that Kubo may be blind to humanity and finally be perfect, fit to sit alongside the Moon King in his otherworldly palace.

This would be great movie for a tween group that is interested in storytelling; ultimately, Kubo knows his “story” (i.e., Hanzo the samurai warrior versus the Moon King), but he doesn’t know how that story ends. Play this movie, talk about stories and the craft of storytelling, and fold origami! We could also look into bringing in a storytelling expert and have a storytelling workshop after we watch Kubo. San Francisco Public Library offered some storytelling classes this summer, so this could be doable if we found good storytelling instructors. (Ideas from myself)

Grade Level: 4+ (Common Sense Media approves this one for kids ages 9 and older)

Awards:

n/a

Reviews

Shake, rattle, and roll: Bone: Out from Boneville

Smith, Jeff. Bone: Out from Boneville. Graphix, 2005. 138 pages. 2005 Hardcover $22.99, ISBN 978-0-439-70623-0; 2015 Hardcover $12.79, ISBN 978-0-545-80070-9; Tr. $11.09, ISBN 978-0-439-70640-7; PLB $17.61, ISBN 978-1-41557-850-6

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Fantasy (Graphic Novel)

 

Part of a series? Yes — the Bone series

 

Plot Summary:

Fone, Phoney, and Smiley Bone find themselves stuck in a desert. Smiley and Fone have helped their cousin Phoney escape from the mob that ran him out of town. Phoney, enraged by the townspeople’s attitude towards his wealth, refuses to accept the situation while Fone tries to stay on task and Smiley tries to keep everyone calm (these opening actions help readers to know how each will handle the adventure ahead!). The cousins end up separated, and Fone winds up in a magical valley in uncharted territory. There, he meets big bugs, rat creatures, a dragon, and more. Will he be able to make it home, or does something have it out for him?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This one is mega-popular at my library. Volumes are either checked out or being perused in-library constantly. Since I’ve also heard that it’s one of the most challenged books in schools, I wanted to know how those two things lined up. As I read, I really couldn’t see why it has been challenged as often as it has, so I turned to Google. Apparently, Smiley and Phoney’s smoking and drinking were the source for a lot of parental concern, as was “violence or horror” (“Case Study: Bone,” n. d.). I was surprised that Thorn’s depiction has not yet garnered enough complaints to count … if anything was going to jump out at me, it was how Thorn is illustrated. In any case, I don’t really “get” why this was banned, and I think it’s a fun adventure for readers. While I don’t plan to continue reading the series just yet, I was so sad that it ended on the cliffhanger that it did! The adventure is nonstop, and the intrigue unfolds slowly enough (but excitingly enough) to maintain tension throughout the book.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a great book to hand off to a student who enjoys fantasy and historical fiction. While the Bones are clearly not realistic characters, the setting of the novels is reminiscent of a late 1800s or early 1900s town; Phoney’s schemes and plots sound like an Industry Baron’s attempts to scam his town out of money. It would be fun to read this alongside a unit on the Industrial Era if only to make those connections. I also think this is a great recommendation for any kid who is looking for another fantasy read after finishing Land of Stories or Gregor the Overlander. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

References:

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. (n. d.). Case study: Bone. CBLDF. Retrieved from http://cbldf.org/banned-comic/banned-challenged-comics/case-study-bone/

John (screen name). (2013, March 1). Bone — parent content review (Review of the book Bone: Out from Boneville). The Eclectic Dad. Retrieved from http://eclecticdad.com/2013/03/01/bone-review/

Neary, L. (2014, Sept. 24). Too graphic? 2014 Banned Books Week celebrates comics. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2014/09/24/350881667/too-graphic-2014-banned-books-week-celebrates-challenged-comics

Reviews

Monsters at Midnight: Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper

Kibuishi, Kazu. Amulet Book One: The Stonekeeper. Graphix, 2008. 185 pages. Hardcover $21.29, ISBN 978-0-439-84680-6; Tr. $11.09, ISBN 978-0-439-84681-3; PLB $17.61, ISBN 978-0-329-65428-3

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Fantasy (Graphic Novel)

 

Part of a series? Yes — the Amulet series

 

Plot Summary:

The Stonekeeper tells the story of the story of the Hayes family. When Emily and Navin lose their father in a tragic car accident, their lives are changed forever. The children and their mother must move to an old family home far away … one that has not been lived in for many years due to the rumor that it is haunted. The rumor, based on the story of Emily’s great-grandfather who locked himself somewhere in the house and was never seen again, does not prevent the Hayes family from starting extreme renovations. On their first night, they hear a mysterious sound in the basement, and find carnivorous creatures who snatch Mrs. Hayes and take her to a mysterious world. Will Emily and Navin be able to save their mother? What is the necklace that Emily found in the library? Will they ever be able to be a whole, safe family again?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is the first in a series of graphic novels that never stay on the shelf long in my library. Students are forever wanting the next book on hold; while we have duplicates of many of the volumes, the whole series is usually checked out by different patrons. After spending a full week fielding requests for various volumes from the series, I decided to check out the first one for myself. It’s a fast-paced story, and the book itself is a quick read, leaving me with a third of my bus ride with nothing to read! The stakes are high, and while some plot developments feel a little too convenient, the story is extremely engaging and ends on a major cliffhanger (now I understand my students’ anguish when the second Amulet is not available!).

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

The action never stops, so this is a great one for readers who want intense adventuring. This is a great book to hand to a reluctant reader due to its action-packed storyline in such a slim volume. It is also a great book for those readers who just want to immerse themselves into some thrilling fantasy. If this were a book club book, the club could have puzzles be our main activity for the book, including a focus on “escape” puzzles (see this post from Teen Librarian Toolbox, referenced in an earlier entry of mine). (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 12/1/07

 

Reviews referenced:

Berry, M. (n. d.). The stonekeeper: Amulet, book 1 (Review of the book The Stonekeeper). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-stonekeeper-amulet-book-1

Hogan, J. (2008, Jan. 1). Amulet, book one: The stonekeeper (Review of the book The Stonekeeper). Kidsreads. Retrieved from http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/amulet-book-one-the-stonekeeper

 

Tags for my blog: graphic novels, amulet, magic, monsters, elves, puzzles, different worlds, grief and loss, fantasy

Reviews

Once Upon a Time: The Wishing Spell; The Land of Stories, Book 1

Colfer, Chris. Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. Little, Brown, and Company, 2012. 438 pages. Hardcover $16.20, ISBN 978-0-316-20157-5; Tr. $8.54, ISBN 978-0-316-20156-8; PLB $13.71, ISBN 978-1-48985-276-2

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Fantasy/Fairytale Retellings

 

Part of a series? Yes — The Land of Stories series

 

Plot Summary:

Twins Alex and Conner Bailey couldn’t be more different. Alex loves school and homework, and Conner struggles with classwork, accidentally napping instead of listening when his teacher talks. To make matters worse, life at home continues to drag the twins down. After losing their father the year before in a car accident, the kids have had to move out of their beloved home and into a rental down the street. Their mother has to work long hours to pay bills, and their grandmother cannot spend as much time with them as they would like. To their surprise, they get a real birthday treat when their grandmother comes to visit. She gives them her beloved copy of The Land of Stories, a book filled with the fairy tales that had united the family when they visited her at her home. Within the week, however, the book begins glowing and vibrating, and the twins find themselves literally pulled into the book! Will Conner and Alex ever get back home, or will they live in the Land of Stories forever? Furthermore, will the characters in the book be just like they’ve always imagined, or will they be more complicated?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

An engaging read, The Wishing Spell is the first in a series that I literally cannot keep on my shelves. Kids are always checking out a volume, and I am peppered with questions during library time about whether or not I have certain books (and when they’ll get back!). With such enthusiasm for the series in my own library, I knew I had to give it a shot. Colfer’s use of familiar fairy tale figures is inventive, and readers with any familiarity with these characters will enjoy new interpretations. Conner has a smart mouth that provides comedic relief as well as getting them out of tough spots, and Alex’s cleverness helps them escape risky moments, too. The text could be clunky at times, and events were either much more complicated or resolved far too quickly for the story’s demands, but overall, it was an enjoyable read.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a super fun book club book, especially since so many readers at varying levels have read the books. Rewriting our own fairy tales would be a great activity, especially if we could connect them or have the same protagonists moving through each story on their own question. It wouldn’t be quite an “exquisite corpse” game, but rather, we could assign the group the names and basic qualities of our protagonists, and use those characters in each of our retellings. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Review referenced:

Eisenhart, M. (n. d.). The wishing spell: The Land of Stories, Book 1 (Review of the book The Wishing Spell). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-wishing-spell-the-land-of-stories-book-1#

 

Reviews

Running with Rat: The Nameless City

Hicks, Faith Erin. The Nameless City. First, Second, 2016. 232 pages. Hardcover $18.74, ISBN 978-1-62672-157-9; Tr. $12.79, ISBN  978-1-62672-156-2

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Genre: Fantasy (Graphic Novel)

Part of a series? Yes — The Nameless City series

Plot Summary:

Kaidu is a brand-new trainee in the Nameless City (aka Daidu, aka Yanjing, aka Monkh, aka DanDao, and so on, as each conquering group has renamed the city as they go). Kaidu, a Dao teen, has finally made it from his tribe at home to the city where his father works. He is excited to finally meet his father, but he is not looking forward to fighting. When he meets Rat, a Named girl who lives in the city, he sneaks out of the palace so that she can teach him how to run. Rat refuses to befriend or trust him because the Dao are not to be trusted, and the Dao traditionally view all non-Dao as Skral, “anyone not Dao […] anyone not a person” (36). Kaidu, however, does not share this view. Will he be able to get to know Rat and the city? Or are the Dao truly in for the end of their time ruling the Named?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This was a really cool graphic novel, and the theme of judging Other people rather than getting to know them ran strong in the text. The Dao characters judge the Named, and the Named judge the Dao just as harshly. Including a tomboyish girl and a bookish boy help to make this readable for all readers, and Hicks’s action scenes are gorgeous.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a fantastic book circle book. Just as Rat reaches Kaidu to run, members of the book club could take turns teaching each other a skill that they are proud of (i.e., how to draw a face, how to make an origami figure, how to tie a certain knot, etc.). (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 3/15/16

Kirkus Reviews starred 2/15/16

Publishers Weekly starred 1/11/16

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 4/1/16

Reviews

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Hale, Shannon. Princess Academy. Bloomsbury Press, 2005. 314 pages. Hardcover $15.34, ISBN 978-1-58234-993-0; Tr. $6.84, ISBN 978-1-61963-613-2; PLB $13.71, ISBN 978-1-48986-273-0

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Part of a series? Yes — Princess Academy series

 

Genre: Fantasy

 

Plot Summary:

Miri is nervous. Will her Pa just let her work in the linder quarry? She feels useless and knows her town agrees with her — she’s too small to mine linder, so what’s the point of her? When it’s announced that the prince’s bride will come from remote Mount Eskel and that the girls must attend a Princess Academy in preparation, Miri’s world is opened. Learning to read gives Miri pathways to a new world and new understandings. Will she gain confidence and learn that she is not useless?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I thought this was a really sweet fantasy novel about confidence, empathy, bravery, and even prejudice. As “lowlander” after lowlander assumes the Mount Eskel girls to be stupid (and the Mount Eskel girls assume the lowlanders are weak), each group gets to know the other and realize that they are not as different as they seem.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This novel really packages discussions about empathy and bravery well, too, so this would be a great book club pick or reading circle choice. Readers could discuss different ways that parents or other adults show that they care for others. They can talk about what it’s like to feel different. Perhaps I could steer the conversation eventually towards a conversation of what it means to have different abilities and strengths, and then I could give the kids time to discuss their own cool skills. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-9

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Review referenced:

Plevak, L. L. (2005). Princess academy (Review of the book Princess Academy). School Library Journal, 51(10), p. 161.

 

Reviews · Uncategorized

A Conceivable Classic: The Princess Bride (the film!)

The Princess Bride. Directed by Rob Reiner. 98 minutes. Act III Communications/Buttercup Films Ltd., The Princess Bride Ltd. 1987, $39.95 (DVD). ASIN: B00PGTNA52

A boy is sick in bed when his grandfather comes to visit. Rather than being given free reign to play video games, the kid is made to listen to his grandpa tell a story, one that his grandfather had told to the boy’s dad when he was sick growing up. The story? It’s about a girl named Buttercup, Westley (her former farm boy), a king, a giant, a sword master bent on revenge, and a conniving kidnapper. Death, miracles, swordfights, and drama ensue. Will true love win the day? (And will this book be better than a regular sports book, even though it has kissing in it?)

I watched most of this movie when I was in high school, and I have read the book, but I had not seen the film all the way through. Common Sense Media lists this as a “Laugh Out Loud” “Essential Movie” for tweens (ages 8+). Despite references to breasts, jokes that might go over kids’ heads but adults will notice, bloody wounds, and violence, I would have to agree. The slapstick and pratfalls are hilarious, the drama is real, and the tension sustains itself over the course of the movie. As each issue appears to be wrapped up, a new twist sets the story off on another dramatic course. Interruptions from the boy hearing the story heighten some drama, as his reactions (i.e., nervousness when the shrieking eels close in on Buttercup) reflect what we viewers feel.

Tween reviewers echo that the film can be scary. One Common Sense Media kid reviewer (10 years old) wrote a review titled “Way too scary” in which they talk about the violence in the movie and the fact that “This movie gave me nightmares for a while after I saw it” (2015). The same reviewer said it was a good movie, but they advise parents to know their kids’ “scary” thresholds before turning on the movie. Other reviewers posted about enjoying the adventure, the romance, and the humor.

 

Programming Idea: This would be a great movie activity for older students. The library could potentially hold a Princess Bride club reading. The movie viewing would be the final activity for the club’s focus on the book, followed by a discussion of what the film kept and what the film cut from the book. The book involves many more story elements (as often happens when books are made into movies), and it would be fun to talk about the ways that the “interruption” style is used in each medium. (Idea from myself).

 

Reviews read:

Common Sense Media. (n. d.). All teen and kid member reviews for The Princess Bride.    Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/the-princess-bride/user-reviews/child

Common Sense Media. (n. d.). Essential Movies: Laugh Out Loud. Common Sense            Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/guide/essentialmovies/s/age%207-12/laugh%20out%20louds?page=1

Common Sense Media Editors. (n. d.). The Princess Bride (Review of the movie The         Princess Bride). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from             https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/the-princess-bride

Kid, 10 years old. (2015, May 16). Way too scary. Common Sense Media. Retrieved from           https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/the-princess-bride/user-    reviews/child

 

Reviews

Of Mice and Music and Darkness and Thread and Soup: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

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DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereaux. Candlewick, 2003. 272 pages. Paperback $17.99 ISBN 9780763617226

I am SO LATE TO THIS PARTY.

Despereaux is named for the despair he causes his mother at his birth — the only of the mouse litter to survive, he is also born with his eyes open, marking him from the very beginning as “different.” While the mouse community sees his differences as negative ones — ultimately banishing him from their society — the narrator helps readers to see that Despereaux’s “lack of conformity” is the very thing that makes him our little mousie hero. Despereaux braves certain death, rats, darkness, and a cook’s knife on his quest for the one he loves … will he be successful?

DiCamillo’s narration is gorgeous; it feels as though someone is sitting beside you, telling you the whole tale. The “Coda” at the end of the book reinforces this feeling, as the narrator asks that we imagine that we are like Gregory the jailer listening to Despereaux’s story in the dark. Truly, this book fills up a reader like light can brighten a bad day and soup can warm a person. This would be a fantastic book for book clubs or reader’s theatre — encouraging students to swap turns as narrator and perhaps having students “act out” the characters could be a lot of fun. There is also a great deal of space to discuss universal truths — fear, goodness, kindness, bravery — when reading through this book in a group. Despereaux is often fearful, but he works through his fear for the good of others. Roscuro is no doubt a bad guy … but we can see what made him that way. DiCamillo’s small lesson on “empathy” is perfectly packaged and will make for some great class or club discussions.