Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas wombat

by Jackie French

French has found a way to take a very simple concept and make it very funny.  All of her wombat stories are best for audiences of at least preschool age.  Toddlers might not get it if there are no wombats in the neighborhood. 
This time, little wombat is ready to do battle for carrots.  The strange creatures who also want them turn up repeatedly on his voyage to find even more tasty nibbles around the world.  Eventually, wombat discovers that reindeer are rather helpful. 

Christmas parade

by Sandra Boynton

Chickens with bassoons!
Piccolo mice!

Boynton returns with a holiday story filled with her signature rhythmic style.  The onomatopoeia will draw the audience in on the very first page.  For storytime, it would be lots of fun to have band students visit with the actual instruments in the parade.   If not, any rhythm instruments make a preschool crowd into one of the liveliest marching bands possible.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

In a near-distant future, magic exists. While it's been relegated to performing boring tasks like delivering pizza and rewiring houses without tearing up the walls, it does exist and is in use - and teen orphan Jennifer Strange is the girl who schedules the work and fills out the forms to make it legal.

But it seems there are bigger jobs for Jennifer to perform - this coming Sunday at noon, for example, she's supposed to kill the last dragon in existence. Not that she WANTS to, or even necessarily WILL ...  but Big Magic is afoot, and abundant soothsayers agree the visions include both Jennifer and dragon death.

The comedy is decidedly British (like Fforde's other books, and in the vein of Douglas Adams or Monty Python), and the setting is the Ununited Kingdoms. It's fairly obvious Fforde plans to make this a series - there are a lot of characters introduced here that could have a rich life down the line in another tale. And while there's a satisfactory ending to the tale, the climax of this story is almost an after-thought in the larger scheme of establishing mythology for another story.

While the main character is 16 years old (in two weeks), this story would easily be of interest to younger readers or adult readers too. Jennifer is a teen slightly wise for her years - but not dissimilar from anther magical orphan embraced by young and old alike (*cough*Harry*cough*).

We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee

Yes, this was a movie too - but they took lots of liberties with the "based on a true story" and I wanted to read the nonfiction book it was based on.

It cannot be said that the Mee family "fell into" zoo keeping - it was a long, tumultous process fraught with challenges that eventually led to their owning the Dartmoor Zoological Park near Devon, England: they fought the former owner, creditors, banks and lending agencies, and even one another. Many people would have given up any number of times through the process but Benjamin persevered, even when his wife became gravely ill with brain cancer during the wind-up to licensing inspection.

Overall, this is a warm, personal story about a guy with a dream. The way the extended Mee family gets involved cannot be undervalued, and their commitment to the animals is amazing. The reader learns a lot about exotic animals, as incidents and anecdotes are sprinkled throughout the tale.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Beyond Courage

by Doreen Rappaport

Audio version.  A well researched look at some of the stories of the Jewish Holocaust.  The most haunting part of this tale is that every short story is true.  The reader will find himself/herself cheering alongside the members of the resistance as they devise each technique to outwit those in power.    Some stories may be familiar to adult readers, but many will also be new.  The juvenile audience will have an opportunity to imagine life separated from loved ones, often with the knowledge of imminent death.  The suffering endured by so many is chilling.  Alternatively, the courage and will to fight for the lives of others is empowering.  Many of the stories are short, so that they could easily be cherry picked for addition to a classroom setting.

Note: This is written for grades 5 and up.  Teen readers would enjoy combining this with the fiction title, Code Name: Verity by Elizabeth Wein for another perspective of the war.

Code Name: Verity

by Elizabeth Wein

Female pilots are rarely the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions WWII.  In reality, many did have the important task of ferrying new and/or damaged planes from airfield to airfield.  Thanks to those oft-forgotten women, Wein created Maddie, a young woman with an aptitude for mechanics.  Get to know Maddie through the eyes of her friend, a female spy.  This friend is a prisoner of war with an engaging story to tell.  Throughout much of the book, I couldn't help but wonder how much was really the cover story.  By the end you will know.  If you are a tenderheart, you will be blubbing your way to the finale.

Note: This title ties in well with the nonfiction title, Beyond Courage by Doreen Rappaport.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hidden by Helen Frost

On a trip to the store, eight-year-old Wren was accidentally kidnapped during a car jacking. Six years later, the new girl in Wren's cabin at summer camp has a connection to that long-ago incident.

The tension between the girls is well-told: Each is scared and wary of the other, and both have spent six years wondering about and kind of hating the other, without really ever having met. The story's told in alternating chapters between Wren and Darra, and each girl has her own poetic form - Wren in short, visually creative stanzas, and Darra in longer free-verse, with another facet of the story constructed between the lines.

It's a great story - something I haven't seen a bunch of times before - and I was completely captivated by the girls' stories and connection. They're relate-able characters with honest feelings and complicated lives. The book brings up some interesting subjects: victimization, difficult family relationships, mixed emotions, and childhood trauma. But it's not a heavy story. The story zips along briskly, and Frost has made every word work its hardest in less than 150 pages.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

Sunny has spent five years being the perfect mother: wearing the blonde wig, making the mother-shape in the world, organizing, responding and acting properly. And yet, her son Bubber is autistic and must wear a helmet in the car to prevent head-banging.

Her husband, Maxon, has spent his life trying to respond and react appropriately in social settings: nodding, raising his eyebrows, and using inflection in his voice to convey emotion. And yet, now that he's in a rocket headed to the moon, his robotic Asperger's brain may make him Earth's perfectly evolved hope for space colonization.

When something sets each Sunny and Maxon's missions off-course, it's not just a minor glitch - these are major situations, not in the plan or part of the forecast. Nobody graphed this out on the whiteboard. Will the cracks show? Will anybody be OK?

I loved, loved, loved this book and I'm not sure I can fully describe why, but I'll try. The characters are perfectly flawed, yet trying their hardest to be normal: They don't see is that normal is a mirage. Each has a unique perspective coloring their world vision, and I thoroughly delighted in their thoughts and theories.

Additionally, the narration of the audiobook by Joshilyn Jackson was truly, monumentally EPIC. Her voices for each character were rich and unique, truly fitting such spectacular and strange people.