Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

Christopher Healy
2012 Walden Pond Press

When the pampered and perpetually protected Prince Frederick fails to keep Cinderella's interest after the ball is over, Cinderella takes off on a new adventure, leaving him behind. Can Frederic, who has never been outside the castle in his life, find the guts to go after her? And keep going after her, in spite of witches, giants, dragons, and three other princes with princess problems of their own?

This book reads like an animated film, and it's easy to visualize it that way with the help of all the whimsical illustrations. The story is chock full of fun and quirky characters, like vegetarian trolls and really grumpy dwarfs... I mean dwarves (they're sensitive about the spelling). A good read-aloud, laugh-aloud the whole family can enjoy.

My only worry is that Fox Animation has the movie option right now. Why not some studio with a more impressive track record? Come on, this one is totally worth it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Open Minds

by Susan Kaye Quinn

Kira Moore lives in a world of eerie silence.

It's the twenty-second century, and everyone can read minds, except for Kira. Her inability to share thoughts with her classmates leaves her hopelessly at the bottom of the social ladder, and she even has to wear a special hearing aid so her teachers can whisper their lectures. Things most young teenage girls look forward to, like college and boyfriends, are completely out of the question for a zero like Kira.

The one bright spot in Kira's life is her friendship with Raf. He's the only person who seems to care about her in spite of her freakish inability to communicate. But everything changes when Kira accidentally knocks Raf out--with her mind.

Terrified, Kira doesn't know what to do until Simon, a good-looking senior with a slightly dangerous reputation, reveals that he and Kira are both mindjackers, rare people who can control thoughts. He teaches her how to use her ability to fool everyone into thinking she's a normal mind-reader, and warns her that no one can ever find out what she really is. Tormented by the lies, Kira pushes her family and Raf away, spending time with Simon instead. After all, Simon is the only person who really understands her.

But Simon is about to pull Kira into a sinister clan of mindjackers who are being hunted by ruthless government agents. In this treacherous underworld, Kira discovers that her mindjacking abilities go way beyond what anyone has seen before, which puts her and everyone she loves, including Raf, in unspeakable danger.

I've seen stories about mind-reading before, but never one so thoroughly consistent and chillingly believable. Kira Moore rocks. Her quest to find her place in the world and to save the people she loves had me on the edge of my seat. I highly recommend this book for readers age twelve and up.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Heart of a Samurai

Margi Preus
Amulet Books 2010

When a storm at sea takes Manjiro's fishing boat far from the coast of his beloved Japan, he fears he will never see his home again. After months on a desert island, he and his companions are rescued by terrifying barbarians who hunt the oceans for great whales. No foreigners are allowed to land on Japan's shores, so Manjiro has never seen men like these. At first frightened, then curious, Manjiro gradually befriends the captain of the ship, who offers to take him back to America, a land that no Japanese person has ever seen before.

In this story of courage and overcoming prejudice, Manjiro discovers a new life in America, but never loses his longing for his homeland. In the end, he becomes instrumental in forging the first friendship between the two nations he had called home.

This book is a fascinating fictionalized biography of a man who brought two cultures together for the first time. Recommended for readers 11 and up.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Wednesday Wars

Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books 2007

Holling Hoodhood is sure his seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates his guts.

And that was before he accidentally wrecked the cream puffs, and before he accidentally let loose her pet rats, and before he started spouting curses from his Shakespeare reading (that was on purpose).

Repairing his relationship with Mrs. Baker is important. Mrs. Baker's family owns a sporting goods store, and Holling's father is hoping to get the architectural contract for their new building. As The Son Who Is Going to Inherit Hoodhood and Associates, Holling had better shape up and do whatever it takes to get on Mrs. Baker's good side, even if it means playing a dorky fairy in the community production of "The Tempest."

Set over forty years ago against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, The Wednesday Wars is the hilarious story of a boy trying to navigate the rocky shoals of seventh grade. Holling's voice has an air of tall-tale telling that kept me laughing. But the book isn't all comedy. Holling's evolving relationships with the people around him reveal some poignant insights on friendship, on racism, and on what it means to be a hero.

One of the best books I've read in a long time. I recommend The Wednesday Wars for ages eleven and up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Wee Free Men

Terry Pratchett
Harper Trophy, 2004

Nine-year-old Tiffany doesn't care a fig for her baby brother. She resents the fact that he usurped her place as youngest child, resents having to watch over him all the time. So when she notices a strange creature lurking in the stream near her home, she doesn't hesitate to use her baby brother to lure the monster out so she can give it a good whack with a frying pan (before it gets anywhere near baby brother, of course).

Tiffany's bravado impresses a band of small, blue-skinned rouges that go by the name of Nac Mac Feegles, otherwise known as the Wee Free Men. When Tiffany's baby brother goes missing a few days later, they tip her off that he's been stolen by the queen of a nightmare fairyland that's invading Tiffany's world.

Armed with her frying pan and accompanied by a mob of tiny rebels, Tiffany marches into fairyland. It isn't so much that she cares about her baby brother. It's that the queen stole something from her, and Tiffany means to get it back. But in order to do so, she has to discover another weapon--the magic inside herself.

This book is Terry Pratchett at his best.  Lively humor from the antics of the Feegles, cunning word play, delicious satire, deep beauty, and ancient wisdom all play together to create this delightful coming-of-age story about a young witch-in-training named Tiffany. Recommended for ages nine and up.

Monday, March 29, 2010

When You Reach Me

Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books 2009


When You Reach Me is a book of stunning revelations. Of discovery.

Time travel. The book begins in 1978, and so as I first settle in to the story I feel like I'm time-traveling already. But soon I forget I'm in the past, because Miranda and her friends act like sixth graders act now, like they've always acted since the sixth grade was invented.

Stead's characters are so human, so immediate, so rich and surprising and fascinating. They pull me through the exposition until the mystery begins.

And then I can't put it down. My daughter needs a ride to the craft store to buy shells for her history project - traditional ceremonial mask from Bambara - and I say, "Okay, okay, but only if you'll read to me on the way."

Book, bag, pocket, shoe---in each place Miranda finds a clue, a hint that there's a deep tragedy looming, something that will kill one of her friends and destroy another. Miranda can stop it, but only if she believes that she can affect something after it's already happened.

This is one of the finest science fiction books I've ever read. Through the course of the story, Miranda makes deeply powerful discoveries about herself, about her friends and family, and about life. I loved the setting, learned things about growing up in New York City that I never would have guessed. Stead's insight into the nature of time made me want to joyfully embrace the universe. This is a great book, every bit deserving of the Newbery Award. And it's science fiction!

Bravo! Author! Encore! Recommended for ages ten and up.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Troll Fell

Katherine Langrish
HarperCollins 2004

This is the kind of book I like best.

Peer has no time to grieve over his father's sudden death. His cruel uncle shows up at the funeral, claims Peer and all his father's property, and drags the boy back to the dismal mill which he shares with Peer's other uncle, his equally nasty twin. Half-starved and forced to do all the work around the place, it doesn't seem it can get any worse for poor Peer.

Then Peer learns his uncles have plans for him. They've bargained with the Troll King to provide a human slave as a wedding present for an important royal match. Peer has to find a way to escape before the midwinter wedding, but where can he go that his uncles won't find him?

Katherine Langrish spins a delicious tale, with trolls and wicked uncles you love to hate, and a clever and kind-hearted hero you love to cheer on. Lush prose paints the Scandinavian setting in perfect detail, with lively descriptions that are a joy to read. The story rolls faster and faster to the climax, with one disaster piling on top of another, until I was just aching for the characters and couldn't see how they could possibly get out. And then it got even worse!

Fans of the folktale will adore this adventure in the lands of the far north. Recommended for ages ten and up.