Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rebel McKenzie by Candice Ransom

rebel I was sold on this book from the very first line: “Convicts can spot a runaway right off the stick.” Then came: “I was trudging down Coolbrook Road, a big fat lie of a name if there ever was one. The brook was invisible, unless you counted the dried-up gulley running alongside.” Still, I was worried that Rebel McKenzie was going to be one of those clever books that just don’t go anywhere, the author too busy thinking of witty things to say to worry about things like plot and character. Then, Rebel was trying to convince the convict that she wasn’t running away: “’I’m out for a walk.’ ‘Wearin’ half your clothes? You look swolled up like a tick.’ It was true I had on seven pairs of underwear, four pairs of shorts, and five T-shirts…” By the way, the title of the chapter is “Never Wear Seven Pairs of Underpants.” Ok, I give. Rebel is running away to try to escape having to spend the summer living with her sister, who she hasn’t seen in 3 years, babysitting her nephew (that’s right, nephew –Rebel’s been an aunt since she was 5) instead of going to the Summer Ice Age Kids’ Dig and Safari in Saltville, Virginia. Rebel wants to be a paleontologist, and she can’t wait for a chance to excavate a woolly mammoth skeleton and stake her place in paleontology history. Instead, she’s living in Grandview Estates, which is really a trailer park (or mobile home community according to Rebel’s sister Lynette), taking care of Rudy, “a spindly-legged boy with cowlicky brown hair and a narrow, ferret face….He put me in mind of one of those plants that grow under rocks” while her sister goes to beauty school. There are some other great characters: Doublewide, the cat who knows how to pee in the toilet, Lacey Jane, who’s been tormenting Rudy, and Bambi Lovering, a young beauty-queen-in-the-making. When Rebel finds out there’s a beauty contest with a cash prize, she decides that winning the contest is her only chance of having enough money to go to the Ice Age Kids’ Dig. The story just gallops along from that point on, with Rebel bulldozing her way past every obstacle (not the least of which is that her idea of talent is being able to burp the names of the 13 colonies). Rebel McKenzie is a great read –clever, and with a great plot and funny characters. Review by Stacy Church

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Moon over High Street by Natalie Babbitt

moonIt was a long, boring bus ride. Looking out the window, there was nothing to see but farm fields stretching forever to an endless horizon. Very few farmhouses were visible. The landscape looked monotonous as it flew by. Joe Casimir was on his way to Midville to stay with his Aunt Myra while his Gran, who was also his legal guardian, was recuperating from a broken hip. Joe had lost both parents as a baby and had always lived with his Gran. He certainly did not want to leave her now at the beginning of his summer vacation. Why did Gran send him away? As Joe was missing his old friends and classmates already, he did not look forward to getting off the bus at Midville. But then, destiny was waiting for him at the new town. One of the first people Joe meets at Midville is beautiful Beatrice, a neighbor, who shows him the town. Then Rover, Beatrice’s big dog, escapes into Mr. Boulderwall’s yard. While trying to get their dog back, Joe and Beatrice meet the local millionaire, Anson Boulderwall, and apologize profusely for the mischievous dog. Many years before, Mr. Boulderwall had emigrated from Poland. When he meets Joe, he thinks that Joe Casimir might be descended from three Polish kings named Casimir. Mr. Boulderwall makes up his mind that Joe should become his adopted son, be trained in business and eventually take over his factory, and also become a millionaire. Soon, Mr. Boulderwall instructs his lawyers to present Gran with the adoption papers for Joe. Gran is shocked. Aunt Myra and Joe are shocked when they hear about the adoption plans. Now everyone in their family and circle of friends advise Joe on what to do. Most of them love the opportunity for Joe to become rich. In the end it is Beatrice who helps Joe make the perfect decision. Review by Trudy Walsh

Guru Nanak: The First Sikh Guru by Rina Singh

guruHave you ever heard of a baby coming into this world laughing? Nanak was born in a small village in India in 1469. After he drew his first breath, there was no crying, but only a gentle laughing coming from the baby. His parents knew then that Nanak was a special child. When Nanak was seven years old, he was sent to the village school, run by a Hindu priest. In no time at all, Nanak learned the alphabet and started writing poems praising God. His teacher was amazed. His mother and sister were proud of him. His father was upset because he wanted his son to learn math and accounting. No matter how much Nanak’s father tried to get him interested in business and making money, Nanak remained a day dreamer. He followed Muslim and Hindu holy men around and engaged them in conversations. Nanak never became the businessman his father had hoped for. Instead, he travelled thousands of miles across India, from the snowy Himalayas in the north to the tropical island of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in the south. Wherever he went, Nanak took his message with him, “Worship one God, treat everyone equally, work honestly, share with the less fortunate, and serve the community.” On this basic belief system Nanak laid the foundation for the Sikh faith. In Guru Nanak we meet an extraordinary, powerful person who follows his dream, performs miracles, and draws crowds of people wherever he goes. Nanak is one of the great spiritual teachers of our times. This biography gives us insight into his active, influential life. Review by Trudy Walsh

Mosey: The Remarkable Friendship of a Boy and His Elephant by Ralph Helfer

moseyThey were born on the same day on a small farm in Germany: Bram Gunterstein, the boy, and Mosey, the elephant. They grew up together. The boy and his elephant were inseparable. Their relationship was so close that once, when Bram was sick in the middle of the night, Mosey became so agitated in the barn that she trumpeted and stamped until the parents woke up and realized something was wrong. Bram was rushed to the hospital. Mosey had saved his life. When Bram turns thirteen, tragedy strikes. His father, who is an elephant trainer for the local circus, comes down with a dreadful disease and makes Bram promise to always take care of Mosey. Then the circus is sold, and all the animals are to be shipped to America, including Mosey. At first Bram is heartbroken and doesn’t know how to keep his promise. Then he bravely makes an appointment with the new circus owner, Mr. North, and offers to take care of Mosey and become his official trainer. Mr. North looks at the young boy and tells him that he has his own professional elephant trainer who, from now on, is in charge of Mosey. Bram is determined to find a way to stay with Mosey. With the help of some friendly circus people, he becomes a stowaway on the ship that carries all the animals via India to America. Only Bram’s devoted love for Mosey gives him the strength to endure the adventures on the high seas, including the survival of a hurricane. Mosey is a fast-paced book filled with danger and adventure. Bram meets each new life-threatening challenge with a brave and loving heart. He would do anything for his best friend, his “twin,” his Mosey, “the greatest elephant that ever lived.”

elephantAnother adventure-filled elephant story is An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo. This book is also based on a true story, the same as Mosey. Review by Trudy Walsh

An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo

elephantKarl and his mother are sitting at the edge of their seats as ninety-year-old Lizzie tells them the amazing story of survival and adventure of when she, her mother, her little brother and an elephant trekked at night across war-torn Germany. Lizzie tells them what it was like growing up in Germany during World War II. When her father was inducted into the German army, he left Lizzie, her little brother, Karli, and her mother behind. Lizzie’s mother had a job at the zoo in the city of Dresden in East Germany. As the war progressed, it soon became clear that Dresden would be the next target for the Allied bombers. The zoo director called an emergency meeting. He told his staff that in the event of an air raid all the large animals would have to be shot. Everyone was shocked, but they soon realized how dangerous it would be for the people of Dresden if a direct hit destroyed the large animals’ cages, and tigers, lions and elephants ran free. Lizzie’s mother had been taking care of an orphaned elephant. She begged the director not to shoot this gentle elephant, who was no threat to anyone. Finally the zoo director put Marlene, the young elephant, into Lizzie’s mother’s care. Marlene would now have to be with Lizzie’s mother day and night. Every evening Marlene came home with Lizzie’s mother from the zoo and was brought into their garden, to the delight of Lizzie, Karli and the neighborhood children. In the morning, the elephant went back to the zoo. Lizzie and Karli looked forward each evening for the arrival of Marlene. They learned to feed her, clean up after her and play with her. In a very short time they learned to love her, and Marlene became part of the family. Then, one day, the warning sirens sounded and everyone rushed to the air raid shelter. Lizzie, Karli, their mother and Marlene were too far out on a walk in the park to make it safely to the shelters in time. They had no choice but to flee into the countryside. From a safe distance they watched the bombs fall on Dresden and came to realize that they would never be able to go back home. The decision was made that all four would have to travel west to get away from the burning city and the advancing Russian soldiers. What an adventure-filled trip it turned out to be for them! An Elephant in the Garden is a fast-paced, exciting story.

moseyIf you like this book, then check out another elephant adventure story: Mosey: The Remarkable Friendship of a Boy and His Elephant by Ralph Helfer. Both books are based on true stories. Review by Trudy Walsh

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Margaret and the Moth Tree by Brit and Kari Trogen


For the majority of Margaret Grey’s existence (all eleven years) she has been an orphan taught to be quiet and to cause the least amount of trouble possible. When Margaret’s parents died, her only living relatives were the quiet, but-not-big-on-hygiene, bachelor Uncle Amos, and the well-mannered-to-a-fault Great Aunt Linda. Margaret lived with one, then the other, but as years went by, they, too, die and leave her alone. She gets sent to the Hopeton Orphanage where she hopes against hope that she will finally find a warm and kindly place to call home. Instead she comes face-to-face with terror and tyranny in the form of Miss Switch. Miss Switch seems to have leapt from the pages of a Roald Dalh story and can go head-to-head with the best of evil villains. In fact, she is one of the worst kinds of villains –she appears kind and motherly in front of the public, but once public eyes look away, she switches and turns nasty and cruel. Even though she’s the matron of an orphanage, she hates kids, especially orphans (or dregs, as she calls them). I could go on about her awfulness, but you will soon see there is no end to her cruelties (she thinks being cruel is a kind of talent). Here are some examples of her cruelty: locking a child outside on a windowsill all night through a storm, ignoring her cries; gluing hands together; taping mouths shut; the list goes on and on. When Margaret tries to get help from the outside, she is punished severely, but it’s actually the punishment that empowers her and inspires her revolt. Her punishment? No one is allowed to speak to Margaret, and Margaret is not allowed to utter a word. As the days go by in silence and solitude, Margaret uncovers a kind of sixth sense: if she truly listens, she can hear the quietest of sounds, even a fluttering of wings. It is this talent that helps  her discover the moths (playful creatures that talk and play games all night). Her discovery of the moths and her friendship with them give Margaret the courage to overcome her fear and turn the switch on Miss Switch in a humiliating and hilarious climax. For those of you who like Roald Dahl’s Matilda, this is a story for you. You’ll be rooting for Margaret all the way to the end, just like you did for Matilda. Review by Lizzy Healy

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

humming roomMost people assume that being strong or tough is the skill that will protect you and save you, help you survive when you're in a dangerous situation, but Roo Fanshaw sees it differently. Her special skill is hiding, being able to disappear at a moment’s notice. Roo has spent most of her life hiding, finding the smallest spaces to curl herself into. It is in these small spaces that she feels able to breathe freely; in fact, open spaces make her feel enclosed, as if she can't breath. It is Roo’s hiding skill that saves her life when her parents are murdered in the trailer where they lived. Roo was hiding underneath it, close to the earth. Roo feels she has a quiet connection to the earth and the life that dwells in it. She puts her ear close to the ground and she can hear, actually hear, the sound of life teeming beneath it –a kind of humming sound. Though she loves the quiet reflection of small safe places, Roo’s life doesn't stay quiet for long. After her parents die, a long-lost eccentric uncle agrees to take her in. She moves to his mansion on Cough Rock Island, a mansion that was once a hospital for children sick with tuberculosis, full of secrets and ghosts. Roo doesn't believe in ghost stories, but there are strange noises coming from the forbidden east wing of the house, and the locals are full of superstitious stories of the river and the mansion. But the river, the mansion, and life on the islands have their own story to tell. Since she came to Cough Rock, Roo is full of questions. Who gave her uncle those bloodied scratches across his face? What is that strange humming sound Roo hears through the wall? Who is that wild boy canoeing up and down the river? Roo is determined to come out of her hiding space (both physically and mentally) and learn the truth about the house and her family. Though everyone in the house tries to keep her away, Roo discovers a secret garden hidden in the center of the mansion, a garden locked away because it holds a tragic secret. This story is inspired by the classic "The Secret Garden." Though elements of the story unfold in a familiar way, the characters that Potter creates are quirky and likable. Roo is strong and feisty. The author has done an excellent job of giving readers a different angle on a familiar story. Reading The Humming Room may even inspire you to take a favorite classic tale, write what it would be like in a different time, with different characters, and see how the story unfolds. Review by Lizzy Healy

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cold Cereal by Adam Rex

cold cerealKoKolumps, Burlap Crisp, Puftees. “There’s a little bit of magic in every box!” say Goodco Cereal Company’s commercials. Sound familiar? When you hear a cereal commercial on TV, you may get excited about a toy, sticker, or even a coupon in the cereal box… but actual magic? And who would ever guess that a cereal company (especially one named GoodCo) would be evil and plan on world domination? Scottish Play Doe, a.k.a. Scott, sees things, weird things. As if that weren't bad enough, he is the new kid in town. Scott, his mom, and his little sister Polly have just moved to Goodborough New Jersey, home of the GoodCo Cereal company factory where his mom just got a new job as a researcher. Scott has grown up seeing things his doctors call "hallucinations" that accompany blinding headaches… things like a uni-cat, unicorns, a weird-talking rabbit man, and a smallish man (dare we say leprechaun?) who tries to steal his backpack and is on the run from the GoodCo cereal company. How literal is Goodco’s motto "magic in every box?” Turns out this magic is actually being sucked from real magical creatures that only Scott can see. With Scott’s realization that his so-called hallucinations are actually real, his world has turned upside down. He finds friends and allies in Erno and Emily, twins who look nothing alike. Erno has dark brown curls while Emily has straight white blonde hair, the palest skin and . . . pink eyes. Erno and Emily have grown up in Goodborough and have had numerous foster fathers, all of whom worked for GoodCo. You could even say that the twins belong to GoodCo. There are strange happenings going on in this little cereal-town. Emily has dizzy spells which require her to put pink milk ear drops in her ears every morning, courtesy of GoodCo's "doctor;" there are strange white vans canvassing neighborhoods looking for magical escapees, and there is definitely a strange taste getting stronger and stranger in GoodCo's most popular cereal, Puftees. Scott, Erno, Emily, and Mick-the-leprechaun all come together to uncover Goodco's sinister plans--and try to take the first steps in saving the world from this evil cereal company. It’s one heck of ride and one you will most definitely enjoy… although a warning is in order: you may think twice about what exactly you're eating next time you scarf down a bowl of your favorite sugary, colorful, crunchy breakfast cereal! Review by Lizzy Healy

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

May B. : A Novel by Caroline Starr Rose

may bI won’t go.

“It’s for the best,” Ma says,

yanking to braid my hair,

trying to make something of what’s left.

Ma and Pa want me to leave

and live with strangers.

I won’t go.

May B. (short for Mavis Elizabeth Betterly) doesn’t want to move away from her sod farm house on the Kansas prairie, but her parents are adamant that she needs to move in with the Oblingers to help Mr. Oblinger’s fancy new wife get used to farming life.  Mrs. Oblinger is homesick: she’s way too fancy to be living in a dirt-floor sod house in the middle of nowhere, and May B’s family could use the extra money that she’ll earn.  Life at the Oblingers’ home turns out to be as lonely and sad for May B. as it is for Mrs. Oblinger, but while May B. has plenty of work to do, Mrs. Oblinger just dreams the day away.  When Mr. Oblinger has to go into town and stay overnight, Mrs. Oblingers seizes the moment to run away from the farm.  Mr. Oblinger rushes after her as soon as he discovers his wife gone, leaving May B. all alone.  She’s never been alone before, and she’s frightened.  She hopes they’ll be back soon, but they don’t come back!  With little food or wood for the fire, May B. has to find the strength to survive the huge blizzard that’s coming.  She’s terrified, freezing and starving, but she decides to try to find her way home.  Why hasn’t anyone come to help her?  Why has she been forgotten?  Have her parents sent her to this terrible place to die alone?  Review by Loretta Eysie