The Wonderling

Written and Illustrated by Mira Bartók

Reminiscent of many other orphan stories, this debut book nonetheless creates its own niche in the realm of allegorical novels. The downtrodden are not unlike the subjugated in any setting. And the needs they are missing are universal items we can all identify with – food, shelter, clothing, cleanliness.

In Miss Carbunkle’s Home for Wayward and Misbegotten Creatures lives a young foxling known only as number 13. The creatures in the home, called groundlings, are orphans that are not quite animal, not quite human. Mean Miss Carbunkle rules with an iron fist. Rule number one is no singing. She ignores the home’s bullies, creating an unbearable environment for 13. When 13 makes a friend in a small, flightless bird creature, Trinket, he learns the address of his birthplace. Trinket dubs 13 with the name Arthur. They escape together and set out to find family. For a while, things are looking up, but then matters go from bad to worse for Arthur. He’s young, trusting, and unaware of the world at large. Eventually, he makes more friends and adopts a quest of his own.

The author’s fascinating ink drawings help create the world of the groundling and the feel of a Dickens-like story. The characters are incredibly well-developed so that the reader will find they are cheering for Arthur, Trinket, and all the groundlings and their friends.

  • WonderlingTitle: The Wonderling
  • Author/Illustrator: Mira Bartók
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 9
  • Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9121

Slider

Written by Pete Hautman

David is a champion eater. His mother can’t figure out where he puts it. When he accidentally charges his mother’s credit card $2,000 (!) for a half-eaten hot dog, he decides it’s time to enter actually eating contests for the money to pay her back. With the help of two friends, Cyn and HeyMan, he starts training for the big pizza eating contest at the Iowa State Fair. Of course, he has to intercept Mom’s Visa bill and hope he can win the contest in time. He may be good, but is he good enough?

Meanwhile, David’s dealing with the pressures of middle child syndrome. His older sister is an over-achieving college student. His younger brother is a non-verbal autistic ten-year-old. David is often enlisted to watch his brother, Mal. What David fails to realize is that he is the only one with a realistic view of Mal’s world and that helping Mal reveals David’s best talents. With David’s help, Mal learns new words, learns to eat new foods, and is more relaxed out in the world.

Boys, especially, will enjoy the body humor created by David’s efforts, but everyone will love the heartwarming and hilarious ending of this great story.

  • SliderTitle: Slider
  • Author: Pete Hautman
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 9
  • Genre: Fiction, Coming of age, Competitive eating
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9070-0

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Arthur (birth name Arturo) Schomburg’s personal story may seem like a small chapter in the history of African descendants. He had a great ability to shine a light on other stories that may have passed into obscurity or become footnotes.

Born in Puerto Rico, Schomburg was obsessed early on with learning about the story that wasn’t being told. He moved to New York when he was 17. With no records of his formal education, he could not enter law school or medical school, but that did not stop him from indexing and memorizing thousands of pages of testimony in his job as law clerk. Then the book collecting bug bit. He collected obscure volumes, many written by African descendants, thus of little interest to white people and therefore relatively cheap. He was struck by the tremendous talents among people like Phillis Wheatley, who was not well-known, and Frederick Douglass, who was known only in certain circles. He also learned that people who he did know about, like John James Audubon and Ludwig von Beethoven, had more African background than most people knew. Schomburg’s book collection quickly outgrew his home, so the Carnegie Corporation bought it for the New York Public Library. The Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints was born. He worked one year at Fisk University in Nashville on their Negro Collection. He always had definite ideas on what was important and how to arrange the collection.

More than window dressing, the realistic illustrations provide important information about Mr. Schomburg, his life and times, and about the history he was learning. The illustrator depicts the looks and activities of those Schomburg was learning about.

So much information is contained in this book, but the reader has so much more to learn. A great starting place.

  • SchomburgTitle: Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library
  • Author: Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Illustrator: Eric Velasquez
  • Published: Dawn Publications, September 12, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8046-6
  • Extras: Timeline, Source Notes, Bibliography

Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond

Written by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Stephen Biesty

Don’t let the small number of pages fool you, this great new book is loaded with information.  Comprehensive text is accompanied by no less than eight huge and detailed pencil drawings of telescopes, space suits, and other equipment plus smaller depictions of rockets, planets, and more.

Human fascination with the stars goes back as far as humans do. Each time a little progress toward understanding is achieved, the focus and goals change. Originally, people struggled with what was the center of the universe and what made the stars move at night. After that, it was a matter or getting off the ground. Then traveling into space  and returning safely after brief periods. Now, there’s a quest to discover life outside the earth’s atmosphere, to understand the origins of the universe, to use satellites wisely, and to safely travel and colonize at great distances.

This book provides a great jumping off place for anyone already captivated by space exploration. It is also a must have for any classroom studying space, Galileo, technology, or the planets.

And of course the more we find out about other worlds, the more we might come to appreciate how unique and precious our planet that we call home really is.

Buy on Amazon

  • Exploring SpaceTitle: Exploring Space: From Galileo to the Mars Rover and Beyond
  • Author: Martin Jenkins
  • Illustrator: Stephen Biesty
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Space exploration
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8931-5
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Index, Timeline, Glossary, Selected Sources

Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War

Written by Paul B. Janeczko

Warfare has always relied heavily on two things: the confidence of the fighters and the people at home and fooling the enemy. This book is about fooling the enemy and many of the ways that’s been accomplished.

Beginning with ancient times and the story of Gideon in the Bible. Using torches and the element of surprise, they convinced the enemy they had much larger numbers. That helped them win the battle. The author shows how deception during the Trojan War helped armed forces gain the upper hand. After a long siege, the forces were evenly matched, so the Trojan Horse provided the means to end the siege. During the Battle of Hastings, the Normans used a faked retreat to overwhelm the English. The author discusses deception during the French and Indian War and World War I, then he goes into great detail about the many techniques used during World War II. The final chapter is about modern times, including Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq.

 Well-researched and loaded with information, the text is nevertheless very exciting and wonderfully readable for a history book. Boys, in particular, will love it, but girls with an interest in puzzles will also want to keep reading. Great resource for the classroom.

Buy on Amazon

  • Title:  Double Cross: Deception Techniques in War
  • Author:  Paul B. Janeczko
  • Publisher:  Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format:  Hardcover, 256 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-7636-6042-0
  • Genre: Upper Middle Grade Nonfiction
  • Grade level: 5 to 9
  • Extras: Table of Contents, Source Notes, Bibliography, Image Credits, Index, Numerous maps and photos

Beyond the Bright Sea

Written by Lauren Wolk

A brand-new baby, alone in a skiff, washed up on your island. What would you do?

Osh, or maybe his name is Daniel, took the baby in, called her, Crow, because that’s what her squawking sounded like, and raised her.  Their only real neighbor, Miss Maggie, lives on the next island. They must wade through part of the ocean to even get between her place and theirs. Theirs, being only a shack.

What brought Osh, or Miss Maggie to the Elizabeth’s Islands is never discovered, but the mystery of baby Crow is unraveled by the twelve-year-old girl herself. She just wants to know where she came from and why she was put to sea in a tiny boat, all alone. Osh is afraid the truth will change her, them, and their lives.

Filled with metaphors drawn from the island life of tending sheep and mucking out chicken coops, meaning as well as humor leaps from the pages turned rapidly by grade five and well above readers, anxious to see what could possibly happen next.

Long buried treasure, threats, storms, leprosy, sinking ships, and finally finding out she was right where she belonged all kept Crow grounded in what is important in life.

Each character is so well developed and real, the reader is left missing them just after closing the cover of the book. Many things worth thinking about are gently presented, like how we treat our neighbors. But no preaching is done, well, sometimes a little scolding by Miss Maggie, but then, everyone will recognize her commonsense way of living and loving.

Teachers and librarians will remember, Wolf Hollow, and will order this work from Lauren Wolk immediately in order to read it before book club time. This will be gobbled up by the students.

This book is sure to be an award winner for years to come.

Buy on Amazon

  • Beyond the Bright SeaTitle:  Beyond the Bright Sea
  • Author:  Lauren Wolk
  • Publisher:  Dutton Children’s Books, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 299 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-101-99485-6
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade level: 5 Up

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Written by Kelly Barnhill

Well-written and fascinating, this tale will leave you wanting to read more about the characters and their realm.

Even within the world of witches and dragons, not everything is as it seems. The Protectorate fears the Witch (Xan) in the woods so much that they sacrifice their youngest citizen to her each year. Meanwhile, she is the most benevolent of old ladies. Even the Elders are convinced there is no witch and the babies die in the woods. Meanwhile, Xan is caring for the babies and finding them homes in the surrounding villages, where they are honored and called Star Children. One mother is so distraught, she instantly goes mad. Meanwhile, her daughter becomes enmagicked by the Moon and is cared for by Xan herself. Her name is Luna. Add a kindly young man of the Protectorate, a sleeping volcano, a tiny motherless dragon, and an ageless Bog monster and you have a lot of excitement. Naturally, all these characters eventually collide, setting the universe right. But how?

There are many reasons this book won the Newbery Medal. It has a lot to say about the world today and the role perception plays in our actions. Luna transforms into a woman before our very eyes. Worth the read.

Buy on Amazon

  • Girl Who Drank the MoonTitle: The Girl Who Drank the Moon
  • Author: Kelly Barnhill
  • Published: Algonquin Young Readers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 to 9
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • ISBN: 978-1-61620-567-6

Lucky Broken Girl

Written by Ruth Behar

Set in the 1960’s in New York City, this tale based on real life experiences is one of an immigrant’s own experience. Life is filled with diversity as well as poverty but then disrupted by a car accident. Ruthie is put in a body cast and stuck in bed for months.

Trials between her and her mother are real and expected but tend to slow the pace of the story. While the experiences are true to life, the plot will seem weak to today’s readers and may cause more readers to begin the book than will finish it. Part of the problem may be due to readers not being aware of the time period of the story. Aside from the usage of Chiclets and GoGo Boots, there is little to announce it is taking place in the 1960’s. This lack of clear setting is a problem.

Teachers and librarians can help get the book into the hands of readers by explaining it is historical fiction. It is a “quiet” read but has much to offer to individuals, especially those in a healing mode.

The writing is lyrical and beautifully done. Character development is strong and dialogue is realistic. The beauty of the story comes in finding healing through the wonderful people, books and stories brought to Ruthie. There is always hope, even in what could look like dire circumstances.

Buy on Amazon

  • Lucky Broken GirlTitle:  Lucky Broken Girl
  • Author:  Ruth Behar
  • Publisher:  Nancy Paulsen Books, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 250 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-399-54644-0
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Grade level: 5 up
  • Extras: Author Note

Atlantis Lost

Written by T.A. Barron

Featuring the battle between good and evil and offering an explanation for the disappearance of the island of Atlantis, the last volume of Barron’s trilogy is exciting and action packed.

This tale begins with the island being well-established and her residents living idyllic lives. Immortals traverse the Universal Bridge, between light and dark, and discuss their existence. Meanwhile, the evil Narkazan plots to increase his power and take over the world. He wants to retrieve the Starstone, a sort of magical amplifier from the mortal love, Atlanta, of one immortal, Promi. Narkazan unleashes his minions, including dark mistwraiths and a horrible monster that destroys the City of Great Powers, devours her residents, and produces terrible offspring. Many characters have pure motives. They help wherever they can. Many characters are complicit and devious. A fierce battle ensues, involving wind lions, good and bad dragons, giants, and many other mythical creatures. In order to save the world, Atlantis must die. Hope survives.

As with many of Barron’s books, this is a great introduction to or addition to mythical sagas and the literature surrounding them. It is riveting and worth the read. 

Order on Amazon

  • atlantis-lostTitle: Atlantis Lost                                                
  • Author: T.A. Barron
  • Published: Philomel Books/Penguin Random House, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 up
  • Genre: Fiction, Mythology
  • ISBN: 978-0-399-16805-5

 

The Dog, Ray

Written by Linda Coggin

In the first sentence, the main character dies. Funny stuff.

Daisy (the girl who dies) goes through a sort of employment office and becomes a puppy. The thing is, she passes through the wrong door and retains all her knowledge of being a girl. She also retains her heterochromia, having two different colors of eyes. Some think of that as a spirit dog. When she’s adopted by a not-very-kindly family, she spends all her time tied to a doghouse plotting her escape. Eventually, she does escape and attaches herself to a homeless boy and a kindly old man. The boy, Pip, treats her well and renames her Ray. Ray, in turn, helps Pip find his family and get a good start in life. They find both good and bad people along the way. Pip and Ray form a strong bond.

The author presents a lot of philosophy and a lot about the nature of death and transmigration of the soul. If desired, this could start a great discussion about death and religion in general. Do dogs have souls? Do they dream about the things the author claims? Are other animals really afraid of spirit dogs?

Whether or not dogs really think like the author says, they should.

I can see a piece of toast someone must have dropped under the next table and has escaped Maisie’s sharp eye. I begin, very slowly, to inch myself toward it. Elbow. Elbow. Foot. Foot. Body. Mmmm.

 

Order on Amazon

  • the-dog-rayTitle: The Dog, Ray
  • Author: Linda Coggin
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 up
  • Genre: Fiction, philosophy
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7938-5

 

 

« Older Entries