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

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Reviews

All aboard to Alcatraz! Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Choldenko, G. Al Capone Does My Shirts. Puffin Books, 2006. 228 pages. Hardcover 2004 $15.34, ISBN 978-0-399-23861-1; Hardcover 2000 $15.45, ISBN  978-0-7569-7020-8;  Tr. $6.84, ISBN  978-0-14-240370-9; PLB $13.06, ISBN 978-1-41566-588-6

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Historical Fiction

Part of a series? Yes — Al Capone at Alcatraz series

Plot Summary:

Moose Flanagan finds himself living on Alcatraz alongside the worst of the worst criminals when his dad needs a new job … and his sister needs a new school. Natalie Flanagan has been ten years old for quite some time, as keeping Natalie “ten years old” is her mother’s best chance at getting Natalie the help that she needs. Natalie is different, and since no one has been able to accurately diagnose her or prescribe a cure, the Flanagans are trying everything they can to give Natalie a normal life. For Moose, this means moving from home in Santa Monica all the way out to Alcatraz, taking a boat into school in San Francisco everyday with Piper, the warden’s daughter and a girl who is more trouble than she’s worth. Can Natalie get the help she needs (and is it the help being given to her?)? (Plus — will Moose ever meet Al Capone?!)

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book was a great read. There are some elements of it that are tough — namely, how people treat Natalie as well as the focus on “fixing” her, but it also reads as historically accurate, as many of the ways that we as a community discuss autistic people and their differences from “neurologically typical” people are still in the process of acknowledging autistic people as people who think differently, rather than “broken” people who need to be prevented or fixed. The presentation of Alcatraz is delicious, and Moose is as fantastic narrator. His love for his sister is obvious, as is his frustration with Piper, his struggles with his mother’s treatment of him (and his sister), and his desire to live a normal life.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This is a great historical fiction pick especially for my students as we are located in San Francisco and have a clear view of the island! The neighborhoods discussed in the book are close to our school, so it’s a fun look back at what San Francisco and Alcatraz were like. This would be a fun reading circle book. Perhaps an activity for this book would be to look at photos of “old” San Francisco and to then compare them to photos now … perhaps even taking part in a San Francisco scavenger hunt and/or trip to Alcatraz with parental supervision and permission! (Given our proximity to the island, this could happen for our group.) (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Books, 2005

Kirkus Reviews starred 3/1/04

Library Media Connection starred 11/1/04

Newbery Honor, 2005

Publishers Weekly starred 2/2/04

School Library Journal starred 3/1/04

Reviews

Seafaring sorts: Compass South

Larson, Hope. Four Points Book One: Compass South. Illustrated by Rebecca Mock. Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016. 224 pages. Hardcover $15.34, ISBN 978-0-374-30043-2

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Historical Fiction/Adventure Story (Graphic Novel)

 

Part of a series? Yes — the Four Points series

 

Plot Summary:

Cleopatra and Alexander are twins living in New York in the 1800s. Their father, a jack-of-all-trades who takes work whenever and wherever he can find it, has disappeared. When it looks like they are on their own, they join the Black Hook Gang, only to find themselves forced to turn them in when police catch Alex and Cleo. After some double-dealing adults and an assisted escape, the twins decide to impersonate a rich San Franciscan’s missing twin boys so that they can win the reward money. Cleo shears her hair, and they set off for San Francisco. In New Orleans, they meet another pair of red-headed twins bound for the same man. After a scuffle, one twin from each pair ends up together and on two separate boats headed round the Cape for San Francisco. Can Alex and Cleo (“Pat”) escape Luther of the Black Hook Gang? Will they find their father?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This was a solid historical fiction/adventure graphic novel. The period felt very well-researched but not dry, and the moments on the sea were exciting. It was sometimes tough to know which set of twins was being featured, but it could be figured out as the chapters went on.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This book would be a great recommendation for kids looking for a solid adventure story. This is also a fun book to hand to kids who are twins; while it is true that it can be tough to tell which set of twins is talking when, each twin is also very different, and their personalities set them apart clearly. This could also be a solid book club choice, but be prepared for readers to want to know what happens after this volume! (Ideas from myself)

 

Grade Level: 4-8 (Titlewave says 5-8, but I agree with SLJ’s assessment that 4th and up are a good fit)

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 5/15/16

School Library Journal starred 6/1/16

 

Reviews referenced:

Kirkus Reviews. (2016, March 30). Compass south (Review of the book Compass South). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/hope-larson/compass-south/

Publishers Weekly. (2016, April 25). Compass south (Review of the book Compass South). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-374-30043-2

Trischitti, J. (2016, June 28). Compass south by Hope Larson  |  SLJ review (Review of the book Compass South). School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/2016/06/reviews/books/compass-south-by-hope-larson-slj-review/

 

 

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

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garica

Williams-Garcia, Rita. One Crazy Summer. Amistad, 2010. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-0-06-076088-5; Tr. $4.54, ISBN 978-0-06-076090-8; PLB 1 $12.81, ISBN 978-0-329-96783-3; PLB 2 $16.89, ISBN 978-0-06-076089-2

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? YES! Absolutely.

 

Genre: Historical Fiction

 

Part of a series? Yes — Gaither Sisters series.

 

Plot Summary:

Delphine Gaither and her sisters Vonetta and Fern are in for a rough summer. Their father has decided it’s time they got to know their mother who left the family seven years before. In order to get to know her, they have to fly cross-country by themselves to Oakland where she now lives. It’s 1968, and their grandmother, Big Ma, is not thrilled about sending her granddaughters to “a pot of trouble boiling.” Even so, they go. Cecile — called Sister Nzila by the members of the Black Panther Party who visit her home and run the People’s Center — wants nothing to do with her daughters’ visit. She sends them to Black Panther summer camp a few blocks away. Will Delphine be able to protect her sisters from the trouble around them? Will she become part of the revolution?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This story is completely engaging. Delphine is a fantastic narrator, utterly relatable and forced to be wise beyond her eleven years. She doesn’t take trouble from other people, and she is a wonderful filter for the events of the summer of 1968. I really enjoyed reading this book

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

It would make a strong book club choice or reading to go along with a unit in American History or literature. Activities for this book could include ones that were listed in the “Extras and Activities” section at the back of the copy I received from the library. Each of the activities looks interesting, but I would perhaps choose the first activity in which students would put together a playlist of songs from the 1960s that reflect the era as well as scenes from One Crazy Summer. As the activity directs, I would have students play a minute of their songs and explain A) what moment it’s for, B) what aspect of the era it is meant to convey, and C) anything else about the music they like. I might also try activity two in which kids “adopt” a poet of the sixties and read their poetry as well as writing poetry themselves. I would skip the last performative prompt, however, as I am not comfortable directing kids to do that one their own (even asking for parental permission).

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2011

Booklist starred 2/1/10

Christian Library Journal starred 11/1/14

Horn Book Magazine starred 3/1/10

Library Media Connection starred 3/1/10

Parents’ Choice Gold Award 2010

Newbery Honor, 2011

School Library Journal starred 3/1/10

 

Program Ideas from:

Williams-Garcia, R. (2010). One crazy summer. New York: HarperCollins Children’s.

 

Reviews referenced:

Breck, K. (n. d.). One crazy summer (Review of the book One Crazy Summer). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/one-crazy-summer

Bird, E. (2010, Feb. 2). Review of the day: One crazy summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (Review of the book One Crazy Summer). School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2010/02/02/review-of-the-day-one-crazy-summer-by-rita-williams-garcia/

Kirkus Reviews. (2010, Dec. 22). One crazy summer (Review of the book One Crazy Summer). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/rita-williams-garcia/one-crazy-summer/

 

Reviews

Courage, Love, and Strength: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Brubaker Bradley, Kimberly. The War That Saved My Life. Puffin Books, 2016. 336 pages. Hardcover $10.36 ISBN 978-0147510488


img_0143Ada and Jamie have never had it easy, and for Ada, life has been nothing but pain. Born with a clubfoot that her mother never sought treatment for, Ada is raised in a single room, forbidden by her mother to ever walk, let alone  leave their flat, even as Jamie, Ada’s 6 year old younger brother, is given free run of the neighborhood. When it is announced that children are being evacuated out of London in preparation for bombs that Germany may drop on the town, Ada learns that her mother intends only to send Jamie out into the country. Ada sneaks away with Jamie armed with the ability to walk — a skill she taught herself over the summer months in preparation for Jamie’s start at school. The country is not like home — there are many things they don’t know, and there are a lot of people who are upset by the influx of evacuees. There is also, however, a pony named Butter, and he lives with a woman named Susan Smith who is made to take them in. While Susan never wanted children, she takes care of Ada and Jamie, buying and making them new clothes and keeping them well fed and educated. Will Ma ever reply and let Ada get surgery for her clubfoot? Will they be sent home to London? What does “home” mean?

I really enjoyed this book. It’s completely gripping, and Ada’s voice is very clear. Her PTSD that she suffers resulting from her mother’s verbal and physical abuse is written realistically, and her fits are never meant to make readers think she is silly or stupid — readers are  upset on her behalf. This is a powerful historical fiction read, especially as context for a unit on the start of the war in Britain and the preparation for the bombings. While a fictional character, Ada is a realistic lower-class London girl. This is also a great read for kids who like horses and ponies, as equestrian activities take up a good portion of the action as well. This is a powerful recommendation for kids who want more context or who simply are interested in World War II.

Reviews

Time Travel and Twenty Thousand Dollars: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. 199 pages. Hardcover $11.29 ISBN 978-0385737425

IMG_0140.JPGThis book is a total brain-bender! We follow Miranda in her letters to an unknown “you” in the school year spanning 1978-1979. Miranda tells the story of the day her friend Sal told her he wanted to take a break being friends. Devastated, Miranda does her best to live with that decision, even though it means walking past the scary Laughing Man, a homeless person who has a tendency to kick into traffic, scream at the sky, and call out specific passersby. Despite her fear of the laughing man, Miranda manages to have a pretty good go of things. She often thinks about her favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time, with Marcus, a mysterious kid who punched Sal “just to see what would happen.” While Marcus is convinced time travel is real, Mira isn’t so sure. She is also receiving mysterious letters, and these letters freak her out pretty badly.

This was not the mystery I was expecting, but it was still a great read. The concurrent preparation for her mother’s shot on The $20,000 Pyramid injects urgency into the novel, as does the unexpected appearances of each letter. The laughing man swoops between lucidity and madness, and it leaves Miranda and readers with a lot of questions. The repeated references to A Wrinkle in Time could make this a great next read for kids who loved L’Engle’s story and would like to have someone (albeit a fictional someone) to “talk to” about the book and its time travel capabilities. It would be fun to play Catchphrase during book club to show kids how hard it can be to think on your feet like Miranda’s mother would have to do, and conversations about friendship, growing up, and empathy could be really fruitful. Furthermore, I really appreciated the portrayals of characters with differences (Richard’s need for a platform shoe on his right side, Annemarie’s epilepsy) respectfully and without making them seem as though they had been inserted to increase the “diversity” of the novel.

Reviews

Catch-up Post: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

I reread this book over the summer. As I wrote for an assignment searching for Echo read-alikes,

If you liked Friedrich’s chapter and want to read another novel set in Europe in World War II…

Try Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. This gripping story is a serious novel about Annemarie, a ten-year-old girl living in Copenhagen during the years the Nazis occupied Denmark. Annemarie’s family must help her best friend Ellen and her parents escape once the Nazis begin relocating Jewish citizens of Denmark. Annemarie and Ellen pretend to be sisters, and while they are able to move Ellen out of Copenhagen and to the coastal town of Gilleleje, her safety isn’t guaranteed. Will they be able to get Ellen and her family past the soldiers and to freedom?

 

Lowry, Lois (author). (1989). Number the stars. New York: Houghton Mifflin.     Paperback: $4.76 (Amazon.com). ISBN: 0547577095. 156 pp.

Kirkus Reviews. (1989, March 15). Number the stars [Review of the book Number the     Stars]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-          reviews/lois-lowry/number-the-stars-2/

This classic novel definitely stands up to the test of time.

Genre:

  • Historical Fiction

Major Things:

  • World War II
  • Prejudice
  • Fear
  • Suspense
Reviews

Catch-up Post: Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith

I read this one over the summer. I’ll have to do a reread for a better memory of the book, but this is what I wrote in an assignment of mine:

If you liked how Ivy worked to help others even during her own time of stress…

Try Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith. In this book, Hurricane Katrina brings two boys together. Zavion and his father must escape their New Orleans home during the havoc of the hurricane in 2005. They lose everything except each other. Thousands of miles away in Vermont, Henry loses his best friend Wayne in a terrible accident. All he has left of Wayne is the marble they traded back and forth for luck. When Henry’s mom accidentally donates the marble in a pair of Henry’s jeans to victims of Hurricane Katrina, Henry has to go to New Orleans to find it. Will Henry heal? Can Zavion ever feel like he’s on solid ground? Read to find out!

Note: This book has some strong language for a 4th-6th grade level book. In the time following his friend’s death, Henry is upset, and he use some minor swear words (“freaking,” “crap,” “damn,” and “pissed”) when overcome with emotion.

Ellis Smith, Tamara (author). (2015). Another kind of hurricane. New York: Schwartz &   Wade/Random House. Hardcover: $16.42 (Amazon.com). ISBN: 978-0-553-51193-2. 336pp. Ages 9-12 (Kirkus Reviews).

Kirkus Reviews. (2015, April 15). Another kind of hurricane [Review of the book             Another Kind of Hurricane]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from             https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/tamara-ellis-smith/another-kind-of- hurricane/

I really felt like the kids sounded “real,” which is key when recommending a book to a child! This book involves some tough stuff, but it’s definitely worth a read.

Genre:

  • Historical Fiction

Major Things:

  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Grief and loss
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Accidents

 

Reviews

Catch-up Post: Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

I read this book earlier this summer. As I wrote on my main blog,

I loved this book! Its style was very reminiscent of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a major favorite of mine. While this book was a lot bigger than I expected a MG book to be, I never felt like it dragged (even if my hands got tired holding it up!). Otto, Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy had me captivated. I had to know more about this harmonica with the letter “M,” and the cliffhangers made me keep going. I remember finishing the Mike section late one night and thinking, “Just one more chapter!” — but I knew that if I did try to do “just one more chapter,” I’d be up all night until I finished the book! So I had to put it aside.🙂

I definitely would recommend this book to young readers.

Swoon! I loved Echo so much. Framing anything in a fairy tale is a surefire way to get me hooked, and this book was no exception. Ivy, Mike, Friedrich, and Otto all captured my interest, and I would be happy to recommend this to any young reader.

Warnings:

  • Death
  • Racism
  • Prejudice

Major Plot Points/Themes/Etc.:

  • Racism
  • Prejudice
  • Historical Fiction
  • Music
  • Harmonicas
  • Fairy tales
  • Perseverance