Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This graphic novel retelling of Snow White is set in the Jazz Age (and you know how much I love a good Jazz Age fairy tale retelling). The artwork is beautiful, noir style, although I don’t know enough about art or illustration style to describe it further. (Sorry, guys!) All I can say is it’s worth checking out Matt Phelan’s work.
Unfortunately, I found the story itself a bit short and generic. I wish we could have explored the events more deeply. Like, what was up with the ticker tape that told the evil stepmother what to do? Clearly it’s replacing the magic mirror, but it barely gets a mention, much less an explanation. I just wish there had been more content to flesh out the characters and the plot. I feel like the author could have done a lot more with the Jazz Age revamping of Snow White, and I was disappointed that he didn’t.
This is the delightfully warm and enjoyable story of an old Parisian named Armand, who relished his solitary life. Children, he said, were like starlings, and one was better off without them. But the children who lived under the bridge recognized a true friend when they met one, even if the friend seemed a trifle unwilling at the start. And it did not take Armand very long to realize that he had gotten himself ready-made family; one that he loved with all his heart, and one for whom he would have to find a better home than the bridge. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This is a book I’m almost sure I read as a child, but I couldn’t quite remember it, so I decided to read it again. It’s a sweet story about a homeless man whose home under a bridge in Paris is suddenly invaded by a trio of children and their mother. Armand takes the children on adventures (much to their mother’s chagrin), and he even begins to enjoy their company.
There is a bit of sexism throughout the book, as well as references to “gypsies” that are outdated at best and Old-Timey Racism at worst. There are also some great illustrations by the illustrator behind the Little House on the Prairie series, Garth Williams.
Despite some questionable aspects, this is still an enjoyable, sweet book. If you read this one to your child, you can skip over some of the more offensive statements.
“Today is today and tomorrow may come late this year.”
Rating: Good but Forgettable
Belling the Tiger
The classic story is brought to life with colorful illustrations in a picture book format. Award-winning illustrator Pierre Pratt adds whimsical new art to this charming tale about two little mice assigned to a mission of putting a bell collar on the mean house cat. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is all about the illustrations. The well-known story about mice attempting to put a bell on the house cat turns into a wild adventure when two small mice get taken away on a ship and eventually meet a tiger. It’s a short, cute, funny story that younger kids will love.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can read all the posts in this series here.
This book is the only Newbery book from 1929 that I hadn’t already read. It’s a book of short stories and poems, many of which are based on historical events, myths, or fairy tales. This is going to be a very short review, because The Pigtail of Ah Lee Ben Loo consists of intricate but racist illustrations and a variety of fun, funny, or boring racist/sexist stories and poems. People, just leave this book alone.
Rating: Skip This One
Despite my usual hatred for short stories in general and this book in particular, I really like this quote about short stories by Neil Gaiman:
“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.
The latest in my exploration of the oldest Newbery books continues with The Boy Who Was. This book is yet another mythology collection, this time about Italy. A young boy named Nino is given eternal life, and thus he is present throughout many factual and mythological events in Italy’s history.
You all know my feelings about mythology and short stories (I hate them), and although this one was better written and more interesting than most, I still wouldn’t read it again.
The story of young Nicholas Drury’s struggle to maintain his uncle’s shipyard in a Massachusetts town in the difficult years following the American Revolution. (Summary via Goodreads.com)
Clearing Weather tells the story of the years right after the Revolutionary War. Nicholas is in charge of his uncle’s failing business when he decides to build his own ship and set it off in search of riches. This is not a bad story; I found myself enjoying the plot in many places, but it’s full of racism and sexism. For that reason, I found this book unsalvageable.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
In The STEM Club GoesExploring, students explore science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. While interviewing STEM professionals, the students prepare to make career presentations during their school’s Favorites Day.
Join STEM Club members Fran, Sara, Nixie, Winston, Patti, Betik, Jenny, Jesse, and their teacher Mr. Day, as they make field trips to a video game company, a veterinary clinic, a hospital, and even a mine, to learn more about career opportunities for professionals in STEM fields. Author Lois Melbourne, of the My Future Story series, inspires readers to identify their passions, explore them, and shape their own future stories. (Summary via NetGalley.com)
I’m a big fan of encouraging kids to get into STEM fields, especially girls and people of color who are statistically underrepresented in these more technical fields. Because of that, I’m really rooting for the success of this book.
The STEM Club Goes Exploring is a cute exploration of different STEM-related careers, from veterinary science to geology. I love the illustrations, too. My one complaint is that it reads a bit young, but it’s definitely not a picture book–possibly suited for elementary school kids. A fun, quick read to help your young kids get interested in STEM fields.
The seventh son of the seventh son, aptly named Septimus Heap, is stolen the night he is born by a midwife who pronounces him dead. That same night, the baby’s father, Silas Heap, comes across a bundle in the snow containing a new born girl with violet eyes. The Heaps take this helpless newborn into their home, name her Jenna, and raise her as their own. But who is this mysterious baby girl, and what really happened to their beloved son Septimus? (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is the first in the Septimus Heap series, a series that seems to have become popular right after I stopped reading MG books. This is a sweet magical adventure. I think of it almost as Harry Potter for younger kids. It’s funny and snarky, it has great characters, it’s lighthearted, but it doesn’t have the angst and drama of HP. The plot twists are a bit predictable (at least, they were to me, an adult reader), but that doesn’t take away from the fun of the story.
I’m very glad I picked it up this summer, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Septimus Heap series.
Although the 1935 Newbery award was given to several books, I have read only one of the honor books. Day on Skates: The Story of a Dutch Picnic is a sweet, fully illustrated story of a winter day in Holland when the canal ices over.
Day on Skates is exactly what the title leads you to believe. It’s very short, making it a great book to read with your younger kids (but do watch out for Old-Timey Sexism). I enjoy reading about the daily lives of people from countries other than the U.S. and England, the locations of most of the children’s books that are readily available in my country, and this book scratches that itch.
That’s what twelve-year-old Annie loves to do. When she’s barefoot and running, she can hear her heart beating . . . thump-THUMP, thump-THUMP. It’s a rhythm that makes sense in a year when everything’s shifting: Her mother is pregnant, her grandfather is forgetful, and her best friend, Max, is always moody. Everything changes over time, just like the apple Annie’s been assigned to draw. But as she watches and listens, Annie begins to understand the many rhythms of life, and how she fits within them.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
The rhythm of this verse novel is amazing. I’m not usually one for poetry, but the free verse works here; it fits nicely with Annie’s love of running. Heartbeat has sweet, unique characters (one of my favorite things about Creech’s books). Like all Creech’s books, this one sneaks up on you and makes you cry. It’s just beautiful. Short enough to read in an hour, but it will stick with you (or your child).
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Travel Far, Pay No Fare
“When twelve-year-old Owen finds that his nine-year-old cousin has a magic bookmark, he joins her when she enters different stories in hopes of finding a way to prevent their parents’ upcoming marriage.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is so cute! Owen and Parsley, thrown together by their parents’ upcoming marriage, discover that Parsley’s bookmark allows her to travel into the books she reads. The two team up in order to prevent their parents’ marriage, but they also enjoy a lot of adventures along the way.
This is a bookworm’s dream! Imagine exploring Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, Ramona and Beezus, and other classic children’s lit first hand! And the kids are pretty great characters, too. I just wish there had been more books that the kids got to explore.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library
“Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.
Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
This book is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Westing Game. Kyle and some of his friends win a chance to enter the brand new fantastical library built by a famous gamemaker before anyone else. But before they can leave, they must solve puzzles and win games in order to escape.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is an easy read that makes you want to visit that library (it has some amazing features that even my beloved library system can’t boast!). However, the writing sometimes tries too hard to be clever, and many of the kids are irritating or stereotypical. If you can get past those flaws in the writing, bookloving kids (and adults) will probably enjoy this one.
These two Newbery books don’t really have anything to do with each other (other than the award). El Deafo is a 2015 honor book, a graphic novel about growing up deaf. George Washington’s World, on the other hand, was an honor book in 1942, and it fleshes out the history and leaders of the 1700s. The one thing these books have in common? They’re both really good!
“Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.
Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)
El Deafo is a cute graphic novel that tackles the joys and difficulties of growing up deaf. It’s based on the author’s experiences, which I loved. This book definitely deserves the Newbery honor it received–it’s well written and drawn, and it offers representation to an underrepresented group. You’ll enjoy the book if you want to learn more about growing up deaf, but every kid will also be able to relate to the topic of not fitting in.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good
George Washington’s World
This book offers information on the leaders and events around the world during the 1700s. Although you might think from the title that this book focuses mainly on American history, that’s not the case. Each chapter focuses on a different character from history, from Catherine the Great to George III to John and Abigail Adams. Although the Revolutionary War is the main event, the French Revolution, the Seven Years War, and other events and leaders from Russia to China to Australia to Africa are also included. The book is full of great drawings, maps, and musical snippets, so there’s a lot of visual interest (important in a history book of this length!).
At first I was put off by the cheery way most events and people are talked about (war, slavery, colonization, etc.), but later I started to appreciate the subtlety–none of the people discussed were wholly bad or good, and the author doesn’t shy away from mentioning the less savory aspects of our forefathers’ lives, even if she doesn’t dwell on them. The other thing I love about this book is that it was updated by the author’s daughter to add diversity. This book does a better job of discussing the roles of women, Native Americans, and African-Americans during this time period than you would expect, and I really appreciated that.
Many kids may not enjoy this book because it is pretty lengthy and a straight up history book, but if you or your child has a deep interest in this time period, it’s worth looking into.