Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

mountain Deep in rural China, a young girl named Minli lives with her parents in a gray, mud-covered village at the foot of Fruitless Mountain.  The mountain is barren now, and the people in the village are poor.  Minli’s father tells her stories of ancient China and of a time when the people were rich and prosperous.  Minli believes the magic stories and sets out on a journey to bring back wealth and happiness to her family and her village.  On her quest she meets a dragon who cannot fly.  They become good friends, and together they make their way through dangerous forests and cities to find the Old Man of the Moon, who is the Guardian of the Book of Fortune.  Minli believes that the Old Man of the Moon has the power to help the dragon fly, as a proper dragon should, and to grant her own wish for wealth and good luck for her family.  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a fast-paced, magical story that will take you on a fantastic journey of adventure through ancient China.  Review by Trudy Walsh

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Dog in the Wood by Monika Schröder

dog in the wood This book takes place in April, 1945, right at the end of World War II, in eastern Germany. 10-year-old Fritz lives with his mother, older sister, grandmother, and grandfather (who is a Nazi sympathizer). There is a lot of uncertainty as the Soviet army gets closer to their town. Some people look forward to their coming, but Fritz’s family situation is a little different, and after the announcement comes of Hitler’s death, his grandparents kill themselves. Things get even worse: after the Russians take over, their farm is taken away, and they have to leave to go live with his other grandmother, someone Fritz has never warmed up to. At least Lech, the Polish farmhand who has been like a second father to Fritz, comes along with them. Fritz learns the difference between a friend who cares more about himself (his childhood best friend Paul pulls Fritz in front of him when a drunken Russian soldier points a gun at them) and a true friend like his new friend Konrad, who borrows a bicycle for Fritz to use to try to track down his mother and Lech after they are taken prisoner by the Russians. This is a sad book, and there is no happy ending, but Fritz learns to rely on the people who really care about him, and how to stand up for what he believes in. Review by Stacy Church

The Homeschool Liberation League by Lucy Frank

homeschool I didn’t expect too much from this book when I started it, but after reading for a while, I realized there was a lot more to it than I thought there would be.  Katya can’t stand the prospect of starting school again.  Mostly she just can’t face another mind-numbing year.  She spent the summer going to a wilderness camp where she learned all kinds of interesting things about nature –how to forage for edible plants, how to identify alien invasive plant species.  She also doesn’t like the person she becomes when she’s at school –she still cringes when she remembers the essay she wrote about their principal, Mr. Westenburg, and his supposed affair with his secretary, Ms. Pinchbeck, which her friend Danny read over the PA.  “At camp there was no need for me to start trouble.  At camp I didn’t worry if I was good enough or too good, not perfect enough or too perfect for anyone to like me.” Katya is so freaked out on the first day of school that she runs away –from school, that is.  She puts together a presentation to convince her parents to homeschool her.  They are completely against the idea, until they go with her to the principal’s office and realize that they don’t like his attitude very much.  Against their better judgment, they decide to give it a try.  There are some interesting side stories and characters, like old Mr. Horton who comes in to Katya’s mother’s salon for pedicures because he’s diabetic and needs her to check his feet for sores.  It turns out that he is an amateur naturalist and he helps Katya rescue a beaver she finds trapped under a log.  There’s even a romantic interest –Milo, a violin prodigy she hears playing in a field near her house one day, who turns out to be homeschooled, too.  Review by Stacy Church

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne

total tragedy I really enjoyed reading this book!  It’s hard to imagine a situation more embarrassing than the one Hamlet Kennedy has to face as she’s starting 8th grade.  First of all there’s her name.  Then there’s the fact that not only are her parents Shakespearean scholars at the local college, they also dress in Shakespearean clothing (complete with capes with bells in her mother’s case, and tights in her father’s) and speak only Shakespearean English (no contractions allowed).  These are things that Hamlet has dealt with her whole life, although heading into 8th grade they seem a little worse than when she was younger.  The thing that really pushes the envelope is that Hamlet’s younger sister, Desdemona, who is a certifiable genius at the age of 7 (IQ over 200), will only be allowed to enter college if she takes arts classes for credit at the local middle school.  That’s right, the same middle school where Hamlet goes.  Luckily Hamlet has a really great circle of friends who already know all about her strange home life.  Unluckily there are a couple of mean girls who quickly decide to make Desdemona their pet so they can cheat from her.  One of the things I like about the book is that the author avoids turning Hamlet into an angry character who refuses to acknowledge her family in public.  Even when she is pretty angry at the way Desdemona is acting, she feels too much sympathy for her as a really out-of-place under-aged kid at school to really take it out on her.  By the end, Hamlet and Desdemona team up to get revenge on the mean girls.  Review by Stacy Church

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Watching Jimmy by Nancy Hartry


I love Carolyn, the main character of Watching Jimmy. She feels a lot of regret about what happened to her best friend Jimmy. She thinks she should have yelled at her Aunt Jean not to leave them alone with her brother, Uncle Ted, or that she could have run faster when Uncle Ted went zooming off down the street with Jimmy sprawled out across the trunk of his fancy car, or maybe if she had screamed, someone would have come and stopped the awful thing that happened next. The worst thing is that Uncle Ted told everyone Jimmy fell off a swing at the park and that he tried to wake him up and then carried him to his car to get help. Carolyn knows it won’t do any good to tell, so she tries to protect Jimmy as best she can after he comes home from the hospital. She never leaves him alone with Uncle Ted, and she coerces Uncle Ted into helping Aunt Jean by threatening him in a way that only he will understand. Carolyn has her own troubles, but she knows they’re nothing compared to Aunt Jean’s: Ted claims ownership of her house and says she’ll have to move out; Jimmy could have surgery to help with his brain injury but there’s no money to pay for it; and she has the great sadness of having lost her older son in the war. Carolyn has a couple of talents. She has a beautiful singing voice (but she’s careful not to let anyone hear her), and she’s a moving public speaker (which she’s not shy about showing off at all). This is a story where good triumphs in the end, even though things can never go back to the way they used to be. Warning:  there is some language that might be considered offensive.  Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Listen! by Stephanie S. Tolan

listen Do you think that it is possible to telepathically communicate with a dog?  Do you think that you can mentally become aware of what your dog is experiencing at a particular moment in time? This amazing book will show you how it can be done!  In Listen! we meet Charley, who is home for the summer recuperating from a car accident.  Her house is on Eagle Lake, where she walks daily to get her strength back and fight her pain.  One day she spots a wild dog in the woods.  Instantly she connects with him, but when she blinks and looks again, the dog has disappeared. Yet the vision of the day stays with Charley.  Over the summer, as she realizes that the dog, who she has named “Coyote,” needs help, Charley works out a plan to rescue him and pursues it fervently.  If you think that Charley’s plans to rescue “Coyote” are too fantastic and impossible to achieve, then read the author’s “EXTRAS” at the end of the book.  Stephanie S. Tolan’s photos of the real “Coyote” and her testimony on how she rescued him verify everything in the beautifully written book Listen!  Review by Trudy Walsh

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Sylvie and the Songman by Tim Binding

sylvie What a fabulous book!  Chapter One starts with poor Sylvie trying to memorize the famous Willliam Blake poem “Tyger”

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,/In the forest of the night:/What immortal hand or eye,/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

“The first lines of the poem seemed straightforward enough, the tiger with his bright shining eyes prowling through the jungle, but she couldn’t get her head round the second half too well.  Immortal hand –what did that mean?  And symmetry? She’d never even heard of the word.  But despite it all, it did make a sort of sense, this fabulous beast with its great rippling body and huge padded paws.”  And speaking of symmetry, the book begins and ends with the tyger/tiger.  Sylvie’s life is on a trajectory to bring her into direct opposition to the Songman, who plans to take over the world and gain dominance over all animals –and eventually humans too –by taking away their voices.  There’s only one animal that’s been able to resist his control, and guess what it is?  The tiger. Sylvie’s father is a composer who also invents bizarre instruments for his compositions: the Furroughla, the Shinglechord, the Featherblow, and one night when Sylvie is helping him practice, something bizarre happens. The instruments sort of take on a life of their own, creating a huge, booming vibration, which causes sort of a seismic shift in the world.  The Songman is instantly aware of what has happened, and the next day he kidnaps Sylvie’s dad to make him tell the secret.  The book is about music –the power of music to transform our lives (just look how the Songman entrances Sylvie by singing her own song to her, the song of her life, that is so sweet that she will give up almost anything to hear it again).  It’s also about animals and how important they are to our lives.  Sylvie loves her old dog, Mr. Jackson, and after a fox (who is actually supposed to help her save the world from the Songman) bites her, she can hear his voice (“seeyoulaterMrJackson seeyoulater Who‘salovelyboythen who’salovelyboy”). This is a classic good vs evil story, and though you can count on good to triumph in the end, there’s plenty of excitement along the way.  Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Crimson Cap by Ellen Howard

crimson I’m not usually a fan of this type of historical fiction, but I found The Crimson Cap really interesting.  I didn’t know anything about the time period (1687) or the setting (LaSalle’s expedition to find the Mississippi River and the route to New France), but I got hooked into the story pretty quickly because Pierre Talon is such a great character.  He is only a boy when he is chosen (because of his ability to learn Native American languages quickly) to accompany LaSalle’s expedition, and he must leave his mother and siblings behind.  He is afraid, but feels a heavy responsibility because his father has run off and left the family to fend for itself.  The settlers are starving, and LaSalle is going to try to find help.  Pierre makes friends with a slightly older boy along the way, and has to contend with some pretty horrible behavior from some of the men on the expedition.  When LaSalle is killed by his own men, and Pierre falls ill, he is taken in by the Hosinai and nursed back to health.  He has to choose several times between the Native Americans who have adopted him and Europeans who haven’t all treated him very well.  The story is realistic, and makes the point that your enemies are those who don’t treat your own people well.  They’re not necessarily good or evil.  Review by Stacy Church

Hannah’s Winter by Kierin Meehan

hannah Hannah’s mother has an irritating habit of speaking in capital letters, which is pretty funny (“Living in Japan will be a WONDERFUL experience for you.”)  Hannah can speak and understand some Japanese from when she lived in Japan as a toddler, but she doesn’t read or write it well, so her mother sees her upcoming trip to Japan to research her next book –Surprising Japanese Gardeners (which Hannah says should be called Surprised Japanese Gardeners because they’d be very surprised after they’d met her and seen her bright purple hair) –as the perfect opportunity for Hannah to learn at least 1,000 kanji.  Hannah is to stay with the Maekawas, who have a daughter, Miki, about her age.  Miki and Hannah turn out to be well matched, especially when it comes to solving the mystery of an ancient riddle that turns up in an antique box that was a gift to Mr. Maekawa.  The riddle leads to some pretty alarming meetings with a ghost/spirit who turns out to be a mischievous boy, and some more alarming meetings with various spirits trying to prevent them from helping the boy, who they nickname “Ocean Boy.” Hannah’s Winter will give you a real sense of Japanese culture, both modern and ancient, and the mystery is fun, too.  Review by Stacy Church

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner

brilliant Gianna Z. is good at a lot of things: helping her grandmother find where she left her false teeth (in the vegetable crisper), posting the fastest times at cross-country meets, figuring out what dogs people would be if they were dogs (the mean girls at school –pit bull/bloodhound mix), dreaming up really cool art projects.  Unfortunately, she isn’t good at deadlines or schoolwork.  She especially has trouble with big projects with lots of little deadlines.  It doesn’t usually get her down, but now her science grade might stand in the way of her running in the cross-country sectionals, and it doesn’t help that the mean girls break into her gym locker and trash the part of her project she has finished.  As if that’s not bad enough, Gianna’s beloved Nonna seems to be slipping away from her, and her mom is too caught up in her busy schedule to even show up at Nonna’s doctor appointment.   Luckily she has a great best friend, Zig, who seems to always understand what she needs help with.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that Gianna’s dad is a mortician and sometimes has to drop her off at school in the hearse.  Great fodder for the mean girls.  I absolutely love this book.  It’s my favorite combination of funny and sad.  Review by Stacy Church