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

Imaginary Friends: Crenshaw

Applegate, Katherine. Crenshaw. Feiwel and Friends, 2015. 245 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-1-25004-323-8; PLB $18.51, ISBN 978-1-51810-864-8

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? YES!

 

Genre: Fantasy

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Jackson and his family do what they can to make ends meet. They were homeless once, living in a van when they lost their house. Jackson is afraid that they are approaching another homeless period. To compound his fears, a gigantic cat that eats grape jellybeans, wears snazzy tee-shirts, and takes bubble baths keeps appearing … but only he can see it. Crenshaw is this cat’s name, and the last time he saw Crenshaw was when he was homeless (and a little kid!). Jackson is all about the facts — science, chemistry, things that you can prove. So why does Crenshaw keep appearing? Is Jackson crazy, or does he just need to accept the magic?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Once again, Applegate takes a difficult subject and infuses it with magic and care. Jackson’s homelessness is discussed in a frank tone; Applegate does not use those moments to condescend to her readers. Jackson also reflects on how compared to other children who have been homeless, he had it easy as his period of homelessness was shorter than those he has met with similar stories. Crenshaw himself is fascinating; he combines the sweetness of an imaginary friend with the attitude (Cattitude?) that a talking giant cat would likely have.

 

This story also made me cry in public, which I am usually unhappy about. This story was just so sweet, however, that I did not mind. Jackson’s little sister (amongst others) work to help him accept magic in the world, and while readers will have to check out the book to find out if he does, I guarantee that it will give them something to think about.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a great book for reading circles to inspire the discussion of imagination. A fun activity would be to snack on jellybeans and make care packages for local shelters. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 3-6

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Horn Book Guide starred 4/1/16

Horn Book Magazine starred 9/1/15

Library Media Connection starred 1/1/16

Publishers Weekly starred 6/22/15

School Library Journal starred 8/1/15

 

Reviews referenced:

Carr, J. (n. d.). Crenshaw (Review of the book Crenshaw). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/crenshaw

Kirkus Reviews. (2015, June 29). Crenshaw (Review of the book Crenshaw). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/katherine-applegate/crenshaw/

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

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

Catch-up Post: The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke

All I can say is, “YUCK!” and “When can I read more about Grunhilda?!”

Lucke creates a fantastically disgusting protagonist here, and I cannot recommend it enough to fans of gross-out humor, dark comedy, and snarky readers. It’s yucky, it’s funny, and it might make you feel a little green. (The detail on the background paper is TOO MUCH sometimes, and I mean that in the best way).

Genre:

  • Graphic novel

Major Things:

  • Witches
  • Magic
  • Gross!
  • Fitting in