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

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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

 

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

Coraline the graphic novel adaptation by P. Craig Russell

Gaiman, Neil. Coraline. Adapted and Illustrated by P. Craig Russell. HarperCollins, 2008. 186 pages. Hardcover $16.19, ISBN 978-0-06-082543-0; Tr. $6.48, ISBN 978-0-06-082545-4; PLB $15.51, ISBN 978-0-329-69109-7

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Horror (Graphic Novel)

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

This graphic novel is an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s delightfully creepy novel. Readers who are familiar with the novel will recognize the elements that come straight from Gaiman. The story itself is scary and wonderful to read, so this review will focus on the illustrations.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

As other commenters have noted, P. Craig Russell’s style is not entirely compatible with the “feel” of Gaiman’s story. It looked too realistic for Coraline; I supposed I’ve been spoiled by Selick’s interpretation in the film. Russell’s Coraline looked older (as commenters have noted), and she did not look like the girl I imagined. Furthermore, the Other Mother was clearly evil from the start in this adaptation. She is drawn in much sharper lines than Coraline’s mother, and her face is clearly predatory from Coraline’s first moment in the Other flat. I like how the film (and, arguably, Gaiman’s text) only hint at some creepiness (i.e, another Mother? What the what?) but doesn’t spoil that she truly is an evil creature. She looks wholesome (save her button eyes). While the film does open with the Other Mother remaking the doll into a Coraline doll, this is not a major spoiler of the terrifying beast that she is (the transformation in the film from humanoid Other Mother to arachnid made out of sewing needles is truly frightening!) Russell’s Other Mother was scary early on, her sharp teeth spoiling the evil reveal from her very first smile.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

A cool activity for a book club reading this graphic novel would be a scavenger hunt. It would not be quite so high stakes as Coraline’s search for the children’s souls and her parents, but it could still be fun! Items could be hidden throughout the school, and teams will be timed to find them. An alternate possibility would be to turn part of the library into an “escape room.” Kids will have to solve the puzzle and escape before the Other Mother takes their eyes! (Gruesome, but potentially fun)! I would have a box of buttons and a spool of thread handy just to creep out the kids if my group skews towards older tweens. (Ideas from myself; how to do an escape room here; I will refer to this activity several times in this document.)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 3/15/08

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 9/1/08

Kirkus Reviews starred 6/15/08

Kliatt starred 9/1/08

Library Journal starred 1/1/09

School Library Journal starred 7/1/08

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 6/1/08

 

Does the Cat Die?: (Highlight this whole line for the answer) >>> NO! 🙂

 

Review referenced:

John (screen name). (2009, Feb. 22). Comics: John reviews “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell (Review of the book Coraline). Wit War. Retrieved from https://witwar.wordpress.com/2009/02/22/comics-john-reviews-coraline-by-neil-gaiman-and-p-craig-russell/

 

Escape Room:

Booth, H. (2016, July 14). TPiB: Locked in the library! Hosting an escape room program at your library (blog post). Teen Librarian Toolbox. Retrieved from http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2016/07/tpib-locked-in-the-library/

 

Reviews · Uncategorized

Bones, Boats, and Books: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Podehl, Nick and Black, Holly. Doll Bones. Digital file. Listening Library/Findaway World, 2013. 5 hours 11 minutes, 23 seconds. $39.00 ISBN 978-0-8041-2293-1

This is a wonderful unabridged audiobook. The book alone would definitely be creepy, but hearing this ghost story aloud is chilling. Poppy, Alice, and Zach are engrossed in a game involving pirates, thieves, and an imprisoned Queen. The Queen, an expensive bone china doll locked in Poppy’s mother’s living room case, is the focal point of their adventures. While they have been barred from ever opening the case (let alone touching the doll), the children use the Queen as the driving force behind all of their characters’ action. When Zach’s father throws away Zach’s action figures in an effort to force him to grow up, Zach is so upset that he can’t bear to tell his friends what happened. Instead, Zach lies and says that he doesn’t want to play anymore. In an attempt to draw Zach back into the game, Poppy opens her mother’s cabinet and takes out the Queen. Immediately, Poppy claims that the ghost of Eleanor Kirtchner appeared to her in the night, telling her story and claiming to be the ghost of the dead girl used to make the Queen. The china that makes up the Queen’s body? According to Poppy, it came from Eleanor’s bones. Poppy claims that the only way to put Eleanor’s spirit to rest is to bury the Queen in Eleanor’s own (empty) grave … all the way in East Liverpool, one state over and a long bus ride away.

Black can transition from game to ghost story in an instant, leaving the exploits of William and Lady J in the dust as she jumps to a frightening description of the Queen and her (perhaps malign) intentions. Poppy, Alice, and Zach have clearly differentiated voices in Podehl’s reading, and Zach is a fun narrator to walk alongside as we try to ensure that the Queen is properly buried. Is the Queen really haunted by Eleanor’s ghost, or did Poppy just make it all up as one last, grand Game? It’s a creepy, delightful, “unputdownable” story, perfect for a student who enjoys ghost stories, Neil Gaiman, or other scary reads.

Tweens who reviewed the book on Common Sense Media were split. Of the three reviews, one tween loved the book, one was very disappointed and wished that it was up to par with Black’s other books, and the third thought that it was too scary. Despite these mixed reviews, if there was interest in my patron base, I would like to use this book with students for a fun read. School Library Journal also selected this audiobook as a “Pick of the Day” in 2013.

 

Programming Ideas: This would be a fantastic alternate to a library read-aloud for older students. At five hours it’s a bit of a commitment, but perhaps a group of interested students could gather at their lunch breaks to listen. Doing half an hour a day only took me about a week and a half, so it’s definitely a doable listen as a pre-Halloween scary read! (Idea from myself).

 

Reviews read:

Common Sense Media. (n. d.). All teen and kid member reviews for Doll Bones.    Common Sense Media. Retrieved from             https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/doll-bones/user-reviews/child

School Library Journal. (2013, Aug. 2). Pick of the day: Doll bones (audio) (Review of      the audiobook Doll Bones). School Library Journal. Retrieved from    http://www.slj.com/2013/08/industry-news/pick-of-the-day-doll-bones-audio/

Stewart, D. (n. d.). Doll bones (Review of the book Doll Bones). Common Sense Media.   Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/doll-bones

 

Reviews

Creepy-Crawlies, Kids, and Cavendish: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand

LeGrand, Claire. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012. 352 pages. Hardcover $15.54 ISBN 978-1442442917

img_0141This creepy book is an excellent read for fans of Coraline. Victoria’s dearest ambition is to be the best; nothing short of perfection will do. In her quest for perfection, she has decided to live life without friends … until, of course, Lawrence “the Skunk” (so called for his stripe of gray hair) strikes her as so pathetic, so utterly unable to take care of himself, that she makes him her Special Project and hangs out with him in order to be a good influence. As Victoria struggles with her B in music — impossible! A B?! And here’s Lawrence, a veritable music prodigy! — she misses the fact that Lawrence looks very anxious, and his parents are acting very oddly. In fact, once Lawrence disappears mysteriously, Victoria notices everyone acting very oddly. The answer to all this weirdness lies in the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, run by the too-perfect Ms. Cavendish and her assistant, the unsettling gardener, Mr. Alice. As Victoria hunts for the truth, she finds herself sucked into the Home and learning far too much about why her town runs like a well-oiled machine.

This book has a definite gross-out factor — creepy creatures, slime, mystery meat, beetles, and cockroaches fill the pages. This book is also terrifying — much like how Coraline’s scary button-eyed Other People are too good to be true, so is Ms. Cavendish and her orphans’ home. This book is perfect for the student who wants to be scared, one who looks for disturbing stories where kids have to battle some pretty evil big bads. This would be a great Halloween book club book or display item, and it has definitely earned a spot in a Coraline book talk.

Readalike: Coraline by Neil Gaiman.