Wild Librarian Bookspot

Welcome, book-lover types and interested others! After years of running a bookclub, it's clear that folks need to spread the word about good books ... and bad ones. I'll be uploading as many titles as I can. Read on.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

"Everything Everything" by Nicola Yoon

Huge kudos to Nicola Yoon for an unexpected, delightful, amazing novel.  Huge thumbs down to the Hollywood hype factory which exposes a MAJOR PLOT POINT in their 30 second commercials of a movie based on the book.  Unfortunately, knowing that plot point did reduce some of the joy in reading it, although there is much to appreciate.  Ms. Yoon writes in such a way as to be both simple and complex at the same time.  The voice of Madeline is strong, the settings vivid.  While this is a love story, and I don't particularly like love stories, Madeline's yearnings go beyond to boy to the world, to life.  Her passion isn't just about her body awakening, it is about her mind awakening to hopes, dreams and thoughts which she never dared to let herself have.  Ever take a bite of something simple, like pudding, and discover a half-dozen subtle flavors dancing around which you didn't expect?  It is kind of like that.  With echoes of Emma Donoghue's "Room" this story drew me in and didn't let go.  A page-turner I tore through in two days, it is the kind of writing which makes me eager to read her next novel, "The Sun is Also a Star" (preview provided at the end of this book).  Definitely a new talent worthy of her NY Times Bestseller status.  Brava.

"Jack Strong Takes a Stand" by Tommy Greenwald

Jack Strong has had it.  There is Cello, Chinese, Baseball, Karate, there are "volunteer" activities, tutors and more.  His schedule (listed neatly at the front of the book) is so packed that he literally doesn't have time to play a single computer game, much less hang out on the couch with his beloved grandmother.  So, he takes a stand.  By sitting down.  What could be a preachy, pedantic novel with a "POINT" is very accessible and warm.  Mr. Greenwald takes a modern issue many readers will readily identify with and embeds it with good characterizations and lots of humor.  Jack feels real.  His honest surprise at how his impulsive 7th grade behavior manifests into something he doesn't predict is genuine and keeps the novel from being a "lesson tome."  Family members and school friends have layers which create some unexpected twists.  The story as a whole is short and enjoyable. As a minor quibble, the drama at the end seems to be a bit much, but willing suspension of disbelief should suffice in letting any doubts go.  Greenwald again gets kudos for making the resolution more about complexities than a simple wrap-up.  The cartoonish drawings didn't add much to the narrative as far as I was concerned but will make the book more appealing to hesitant readers.  Overall a great little read which I wish I could recommend to a parent or two.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

"Mexican White Boy" by Matt de la Pena

This book is ostensibly about "Mexican White Boy" Danny Lopez, but it is also about a "Mexican Black Boy" named Uno.  The chapters swing between the two young men who have a lot in common and nothing in common.  Both are lovers of baseball and both feel a certain disconnect within their communities due to their mixed heritage.  Both want a stronger connection with their fathers.  But Uno is a talker, a deal-maker, an entrepreneur in the making.  Danny is troubled, lost and a true phenom.  While I found the book difficult to get into (baseball ... I am ~~so~~ not a sports person) it was the relationship between these guys and their inner struggles which finally got me hooked.  Worried about the stereotypes depicted in the opening pages I began to see deeper through Danny's eyes -- what that community is like when they are amongst themselves.  A minor quibble with the book included a violent act which comes out of nowhere near the end of the story and disappears just as quickly, seemingly put there for no other reason than to advance the plot.  The characters and the setting, however, feel real.  This is what you might see driving through a Latino neighborhood which is less well off, but Matt de la Pena is gently asking the reader to see the full dimensions of the people who live here.  His characters are complicated, tremendously imperfect and he doesn't clean anything up.  Many threads in the story are left unanswered.  But, in the end, that is real life.

Friday, April 28, 2017

"Flying Lessons & Other Stories" edited by Ellen Oh, Cofounder of WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS

True to their word, the creators of the "We Need Diverse Books" campaign created this anthology of short stories by some of the hottest, and most diverse, YA authors out there today.  In the forward, Ellen Oh writes a short introduction, which is both amusing and abstract.  It sets the tone for ten tales which range widely across time and place.  All of these vignettes deal with being the odd one out and most feature Middle School aged protagonists, but the concepts and vocabulary can be quite complex.  This is one of those situations where Middle School readers will read and enjoy the book, but an older reader might see some subtleties which could otherwise be missed.  As a tribute to the late, great Walter Dean Myers, the final story is his.  Ms. Oh explains how he was a mentor and inspiration to so many.  The bad news is that these stories are short -- many end right when you want to find out more.  The good news is that each tale gives a strong flavor of that particular author's works -- which will hopefully lead readers to their full-length novels.  My only comment to the folks from the "We Need Diverse Books" campaign on this first effort is "More, Please".

"Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library" by Chris Grabenstein

Took forever for me to get to this uber-popular book.  I can see the reason why it is such a large draw.  Funny, smart and fast-paced with a clever plot you can't quite predict, it is an accessible page-turner which left me with a lot of smiles and an overall "good" feeling.  Okay, it is a very obvious suck-up to librarians everywhere but there is enough real kid action to entice almost any reader.  Mix a G-Rated "Hunger Games" with "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" and you have a book which is a bit of a romp.  Our lead is Kyle Keeley, a typical 12 year old boy who acts first, thinks later and doesn't like to read.  The thing is, Kyle is street-smart and he is kind.  He just feels a little lost in the shadows of his two older brothers -- the jock and the brain.  He ends up locked up in the town's new library with 11 other kids in a game-filled maze.  With 24 hours to solve the riddles and tremendous prizes awaiting, Kyle must figure out how to solve the puzzles.  This is, quite simply, a delightful book which will draw in almost any reader.  Bravo to Mr. Grabenstein for his adorable book and library homage.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

"Roller Girl" by Victoria Jamieson

Another obvious "autobiography as novel" this one, too, has been extremely popular with young readers.  Told in graphic novel form, the art isn't particularly dynamic (although it is very colorful) nor the tale particularly lyric, but I can see the appeal.  In many ways, it was more simplistic than I expected, but since it rings true, the attraction will be there for any kid who ever struggled with the changes which accompany growing up, including losing a friend as they move from Elementary to the overly-social, cliquey world of Middle School (in this case, Junior High).  Astrid, a girl who likes black and tends to be a different drummer, finds herself alone one summer when best friend Nicole goes the way of ballet camp and other bottle blondes.  Astrid finds herself struggling at Roller Derby camp and oblivious to the skills required to make and keep friends.  What follows is a good lesson or two which isn't preachy in the slightest.  One of the most important lessons is about resilience.  Astrid is way behind the other skaters in ability level and doesn't think she can make it past day one.  But she is somehow determined.  She gets knocked down (actually, physically, a lot, like, a whole lot) but gets up every time.  And that is the point.  Getting up.  It's a celebration of inner strength which any pre-teen will identify with.  Throw in the kind of diversity which is part of the real world (Astrid's mom is Puerto Rican and her idol is African American) as well as a journey for identity and you have a story which feels like "us."  For fans of Raina Telgemeier's work, this makes a solid follow-up.

"Counting By 7s" by Holly Goldberg Sloan

A huge favorite among student readers, it has taken me a while to get to this one as it has been checked out every time I have looked for it in the past year or so.  So very glad I finally got hold of it.  "Heartwarming", "Bittersweet", "Charming" and "Smart" don't even begin to describe this absolutely delightful book which is not only good but one I could see kids re-reading over and over.  It's a tough opening when Willow Chance, a "different" kind of kid, has her life literally upended in a single moment.  The path of the tale after that winds in lots of directions (hint:  seven is a major theme), some of them being what you might expect, others being nothing like what you would expect.  Ms. Sloan gets major props here for writing a really layered story, building in metaphor and symbolism not so much with a heavy hand but the delicate strokes of an artist.  She doesn't let anything go and she doesn't shy away from the many sides to, well, everything and everyone.  She creates a rich, real tapestry of complex, human characters, including Willow herself.  Much like Fleischman's "Seedfolks" this is a tale of how our interconnectedness as people is both spiritual and undefinable.  I laughed, I cried, I couldn't put it down.  Absolutely one of the best I have read this year.  Brava.  Grab the hankies and get ready for a book which will not leave you even after you finish the last page.

"Wolf Hollow" by Lauren Wolk

This award winner seems to have more detractors than fans, so I was curious.  After reading a book which starts off as "Calpurnia Tate meets Nancy Drew" I get it.  Set in western Pennsylvania in the early 1940s, the novel starts off like a simple historical fiction tale.  But then it kind of takes an odd turn.  And then another.  ***SPOILER ALERT***  First, we are introduced to a homeless vet who wanders in the area.  Our heroine, Annabelle, describes him, well, not as 12 year-old might, including one section where she speaks of his nice "smell".  Ummm.  Okay, and then we get a bully.  Except it isn't exactly a bully, but a 14 year-old sociopath in the making.  Things go dark from there.  Very dark.  All of this tried me in reading this book but the over-arching issue was that the clear goal of the author to MAKE A POINT actually didn't happen.  The novel begins with the protagonist stating that this was the year she learned to lie.  But she doesn't.  The actual story is of her trying to keep lies and not keeping them at all.  The author's afterword talks about how she admires her hero's bravery, but I'm not sure there was any significant character growth.  Annabelle seems fairly unchanged from the beginning of this journey to the end.  In the end, if there was meaning in her sitting next to a grave talking to the air, I missed it.  This, and general sloppiness (am I to believe this community in the foothills of the Appalachia mountains has moderate temperatures and gets no snow in November/December?) made this one a "fail" for me.  The only possible plus was the cover, which cleverly used the actual opening words to create a powerful image.  I can only imagine well-meaning adults selected this title for a Newbery Honor and other awards because the theme of bullying is so prevalent right now.  Unfortunately, I have never been one who felt like books with a heavy moral lesson worked for me.  For this same reason, I disliked "Fish in a Tree".  Books of this type seem to appeal to grown-ups seeking to solve problems more than readers looking for something engaging and realistic.  Sorry, folks, I'll pass.

"Egg & Spoon" by Gregory Maguire

Once upon a time, I thought the trippiest YA novel I had ever read was Libba Bray's "Going Bovine".  That book has just lost the crown to this one.  Drawing on Russian history, Russian myth, and a fair number of archetypes, this wild adventure/allegory roars through a moment at the end of the Tsars' reign to tell a story which seems appropriate to children and yet is inexplicably dense.  Maguire weaves in so many threads I often had to pause and backtrack.  His prose is so dense I had to look up quite a number of words (me! that's rare) An omniscient narrative voice reminiscent of the ones in Zusak's "Book Thief" and DiCamillo's "The Tale of Despereaux" paints a vibrant picture of a dying nation, even as three children come together to put magic back into the world.  There are other literary parallels.  Peasant girl Elena and noblewoman Ekaterina have a Mark Twain moment while a prince hides -- not to find his princess but to escape from her.  There are themes about monarchies, communism, belief, hope and global warming.  There is a firebird, a dragon, and, of course, Baba Yaga!  One could not have a tale of Russia without Baba Yaga.  Here is where I had my one and only complaint.  The crotchety old witch is a personal favorite but this particular rendition of the character makes her into a time-traveler of sorts.  She rambles on constantly, using phrases and references of the modern era (at one point, she serves a child some Cheerios).  I think it was meant as humor but became a distraction which pulled me out of the narrative.  Nonetheless, this is a rich, remarkable story which satisfied and transported me.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

"Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom" by Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke

For one of "these kinds" of books, this is quite good.  Succinct, to-the-point, and free of eduspeak jargon, the book is written by two teachers who use their classroom examples to get right to the heart of things.  Rather than theory, this is practical.  They talk about a lesson they did, how it worked with their students, and then provide sample worksheets and questions.  Each chapter ends with a terrific "Things to try tomorrow" section.  The six chapters run about 20 pages each, making the book easy to read in short bursts.  Highly applicable, the messages are common-sense.  Message #1 -- You can dip your toe in.  You don't need to go whole hog and up-end your classroom.  Just take one thing that looks interesting and give it a try.  Message #2 resonates throughout every page of the book -- Technology is useless if not grounded in solid classroom instruction.  In many ways, this is a book about good classroom practices more than it is a book about technology use, as many of the lessons "use" tech, but aren't "about" tech.  An added bonus to this brief little tome are QR codes throughout, which link to videos of the actual lessons and practices taking place.  This is the kind of professional reading I like, something you can "apply" rather than "discuss".

Friday, February 24, 2017

"I'll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson

Oh my -- my, my, my.  We often talk about books with food adjectives.  One book might be "popcorn", another, an "appetizer".  This one is a veritable feast.  My first adult book in a while, it is right up there with "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" as an all-time favorite.  A flowing, lyrical novel which pushes prose to the very edge of poetry, it is the tale of family, loss, love, art, madness, mysticism, death, creation, and more.  A set of twins tell the story in alternating chapters.  There is the boy, Noah, who begins his narrative at 13, while his sister, Jude, speaks from age 16.  The sometimes dizzying threads interwoven between the them create a rich, deep kaleidoscope of pain and redemption in many shades of grey.  This is not a novel that has clear black and white delineations.  It was a long story, and one I really had to focus on, but it was a book I could barely put down.  I laughed, I cried, and I was drawn in.  A good background in artists and their respective styles will help, as the references are plentiful.  The lessons are frequent, and each carries a bit of poignancy (there is a good deal of fan art online highlighting the great number of memorable quotes).  Already in my "top 20 of all time", it is easy to see the appeal for teens, not to mention the New York Times Bestseller ranking and numerous awards.  Make time for this one.  It transports and transforms the reader.  Brava, Ms. Nelson.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

"Shh! We Have a Plan" by Chris Haughton

Reading like a Marx Brothers comedy, some will find the ineptitude of these characters hysterical, while others may raise an eyebrow.  Told primarily in blue tones, the book chronicles the efforts of four (seeming?) hunters as they try to catch a bright pink bird in the forest.  Each plan results in slapstick failure.  With limited text, readers are primarily left to determine plotlines for themselves, including a great moment when the page fills with birds.  It's a subtle message younger readers might not get, but librarians and teachers can use the book as a prompt for questions and digging deeper.

"Found" by Salina Yoon

This adorable board book which is part of this year's Virginia Readers' Choice selections will make a fun read for the very youngest.  With large, simple drawings and a theme which all children will recognize, it pulls at the heartstrings.  Told with the kind of repetition used in many books for primary children, there is a rhythm to the book, if not rhyme.  The lesson is gentle and sweet, and one that kids will identify with.  Adults need not fear boredom, either.  A close reading of the end pages will result in a giggle or two which only those over a certain age will get.  Nice, solid little book, one which children will likely request over and over.