Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

I feel that I should like this book – the reviews have been great, and it won a Newbery honor and a National Book Award. But I quite frankly did not like this book. First of all, the cover is very deceiving. Looking at the illustration of the sad-eyed hound dog and his two kitten companions, you’d think it would be the cute story of an unlikely animal family. While that is part of the story, the rest of the story is dark and depressing. The pregnant calico cat has been abandoned, driven out to the woods and left there by her owners. She finds the dog, Ranger, chained to the porch of a run down house. Ranger’s owner physically and emotionally abuses him, as he himself was abused as a child. There’s also a subplot about a thousand year old snake trapped in a jar that I’m just not even going to get into. The book jacket states that this is a “tale about the power of love.” More like a tale about child and animal abuse, abandonment, alcoholism, deceit and death. Most of the reviews praise the authors writing style, but I found it repetitive and boring. I felt impatient while I was reading it, like I was just waiting for it to be over. Perhaps children who like sad animal stories will like this tale, although it’s certainly not one that I would recommend. I think that the main audience for this book is adults who are interested in children’s literature. In fact, I did not find one review that was written by a child or young adult, which I think is telling. Review by Katie Corrigan

Monday, February 23, 2009

Beowulf by Stefan Petrucha with artwork by Kody Chamberlain

Beowulf is the first epic work written in English. It was written more than 1,000 years ago in verse, but in this retelling the text is in modern English. What makes Beowulf an epic poem is that "the main character is a hero who travels great distances to prove his strength at impossible odds against supernatural demons and beasts" (Wikipedia). In this case, Beowulf must defeat the monster Grendel, who has been terrifying the land for more than a dozen years. Not only that, if he succeeds in defeating Grendel, he has to face Grendel's mother, an even more terrible monster. I love the artwork in this version. It's beautiful and dark, but make no mistake about it, it is a bloody story. Even though the story is told in modern prose, the words retain the sense of poetry of other versions. For another graphic novel version of Beowulf, older readers should check out Gareth Hinds's version in the Young Adult dept. Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Bringing the Boy Home by N.A. Nelson

The cover was the first thing that made me want to read this book, with the scary-looking yellow eyes of a crocodile staring out at me (I later discovered that this crocodile is actually called a caiman, which is just as terrifying and dangerous), but it was the story that kept me reading. This book is about 2 boys from seemingly different worlds who have something magical in common. Luka has never been out of his hidden rain forest village and has suffered the humiliation of not completing his soche seche tente, a test of manhood. Tirio, with his disabled foot, was sent out of his hidden rain forest village in a death canoe when he was just a small boy -just a small boy alone to face the terrible caimans and other jungle predators! But Tirio is lucky; he is found by an American scientist named Sara, who has taken Tirio to live with her in California. As each boy nears his 13th birthday, their lives begin to magically and mysteriously change and collide. Review by Loretta Eysie

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A River of Words by Jennifer Bryant

Yes, I know, some people will say this is a picture book and so doesn't belong on this blog, but it's a wonderful book, and it's about one of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams. The book was just named a 2009 Caldecott Honors book for Melissa Sweet's collage-style artwork, which incorporates the text of many of Williams's poems. I have always thought Williams's poetry is well suited for children (check out the Poetry for Young People series book William Carlos Williams) and this book is sure to provoke new interest in his work. I never knew that he was a doctor! His poetry is so appealing, I just assumed that he was a full-time poet. It's certainly inspiring to learn that someone can be so accomplished as a writer when it's not even their full-time job. It's also funny to read about such a distinguished poet being called "Willy!" This book clearly satisfies the Caldecott requirement of being "distinguished." In the back of the book are a timeline of Williams's life, publications, and world events, and also notes by the Author and Illustrator which let the readers in on how the book came about. Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Savvy by Ingrid Law

What is a savvy anyway? In Mibs’ family, a savvy is a special gift you get when you turn 13, and Mibs will be 13 soon. It isn’t a gift like a computer, or a bicycle or a cell phone; it is more like a gift you should get when you live in the middle of nowhere, away from water and electricity and people. Mibs is really looking forward to her birthday to find out what her savvy will be, but she is a bit frightened too. She has good reason for fear -- her brother Rocket’s savvy has to do with electricity, and her brother Fish’s savvy can cause hurricanes, and they can both cause destruction. But before Mibs’ birthday arrives, a terrible truck accident leaves her papa unconscious and in critical condition in a hospital far from home. When Mibs finally discovers her savvy, she knows that she must get to that hospital and use her abilities to save her father. Review by Loretta Eysie

Cyberia by Chris Lynch

Just like most kids, Zane is sick of being watched, listened to, traced, and monitored, but in this story set in a future world, his room even knows when he will need to use the bathroom! With all that technology in his life, Zane is not thrilled when he gets a super new gizmo from his dad called a Gizzard. His dad thinks that this gift is the best ever and that it will let them talk to each other just by thinking about it! Zack is speechless at this news, but his dad will be speechless when he finds out what chaos this device will cause -- it enables Zack to talk to animals - and the animals aren’t happy! Review by Loretta Eysie