Friday, May 22, 2015

Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

Title: Brown Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Genre: Middle Grade, Memoir, Book In Verse
Awards: National Book Award, Newbery Honor Book

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

My Review:
When I picked this book up at the library, I was surprised to find it under the non-fiction category. It is in-fact, a memoir. A memoir written in free verse: what a beautiful concept!

Woodson writes with a deep sense of purpose as she takes you on this unique journey through her childhood. Each poem immerses you in a part of her life. You can feel, smell, and touch every moment. The poems run like little streams into each other, forming a river of words, through which Woodson’s childhood becomes a clear pathway to her future.

As much as I enjoyed this book, the sad truth is I probably would not have read it as a MG reader. There is a certain lack of “story.” Imagery, setting, and characters are all brilliantly crafted and flowing with purpose, but without a plot to pull me through, I don’t think I would have finished it.

Most of the people who seem to be enjoying this book are teenagers and adults, and I think that’s okay. It’s a story of such warmth and beauty that it should be read by all ages.

My Rating: Four stars.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review: Red Butterfly

Title: Red Butterfly
Author: A.L. Sonnichsen
Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade Fiction, Story in Verse

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an elderly American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has … but what if Kara secretly wants more? 

Told in lyrical, moving verse, Kara’s story is one of a girl learning to trust her own voice, discovering that love and family are limitless, and finding the wings she needs to reach new heights.

My Review:
Kira’s questions are piling up: Why doesn’t her father visit? Why doesn't her mother leave the apartment? Why can’t she go to school?

Life has always been this way, but Kira wants answers. And, bit by bit, she’s finding them. Finally, just when everything falls into place, and the puzzle pieces of her life form a clear picture, it blows up in her face.

There’s so much hope in this story and so much love. This book re-defines what it means to be a “Mother.” Sonnichsen can put so much emotion in so few words.

Overall: Five stars. It is a must read!Written in simple but elegant verse, this is a poignant story, with heartbreaking characters.

P.S. Read the author’s note at the end, and you’ll understand why it is written so well!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Book Review: Heartbeat

Title: Heartbeat
Author: Sharon Creech
Genre: Middle Grade, Book in Verse

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Run run run.
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.

My Review:
Newbery Medalist Sharon Creech, author of Walk Two Moons, skillfully uses simple words and rhythmic lines to capture the story of a young girl finding her identity, while seeing for the first time both the painful and magical sides of life. Annie is 12 years old when her mother becomes pregnant, her grandfather begins to lose both his mental clarity and bodily strength, and her best friend, Max, becomes even more moody and distant. Annie must weigh her choices. Choosing between what she can do for others and what she must do for herself. 

Overall: Three stars. This book is short and lovely. It deals lightly with big issues using simple, but expressive language.

Other great books by Sharon Creech:


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Top Drawer Tuesday!

National Poetry Month is Coming to a Close, so I just want to highlight a few fantastic poetry books for Children:


Winnie the Pooh fans will love A.A. Milne's Poetry for kids.


And you can never go wrong with anything Shel Silverstein!

Also, don't miss out on the hilarious poems of Kenn Nesbitt.

Starting this week, I will be review books in verse, so you can look forward to the following reviews:


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Book Review: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency

Title: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Moonstone
Author: Jordan Stratford
Genre: Middle Grade, Mystery, Historical Fiction (I guess so…)

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Jordan Stratford imagines an alternate 1826, where Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) meet as girls and form a secret detective agency!

Lady Ada Byron, age eleven, is a genius. Isolated, awkward and a bit rude—but a genius. Mary Godwin, age fourteen, is a romantic. Adventurous, astute, and kind, Mary is to become Ada’s first true friend. And together, the girls conspire to form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary.

My Review:
The best thing about this book is its characters. Ada and Mary are form a kind of Sherlock/Watson friendship. Ada being the socially inept reclusive genius and Mary being the empathetic and practical one. They are both intelligent, strong, and adventurous.

I will say, this book is not for reluctant readers. For one, there is quite a run of difficult vocabulary––though often the reader will be helped out by one of the characters (Stratford does a great job of incorporating definitions without it sounding forced or unnatural). Two, there are a lot of historical references children may not be familiar with (this can be looked at as a great little history lesson). And three, the plot drags a bit as the actual mystery is not particularly inventive or thrilling (too neat, tidy, and simple). The case itself only takes up a small portion of the overall story. This book serves its purpose as an introduction to the characters, setting, and era, but the lack a serious plot may make mystery readers less enthused about the next book. 

Adult readers and lit fans will revel in the historical characters mentioned and all the nods to the gothic, mystery, and victorian writers of the time. Unfortunately, all that will go right over the average MG reader’s head (but still I nice introduction to Byron, Shelly, Dickens, and others).

Overall: Three stars. The characters are excellent (seriously funny and endearing), the historical details are nicely done and introductions to historical figures, well placed. The plot is so-so, however, and the mystery, sadly less than that. I did enjoy the book, but I was really hoping for more (plot-wise). Not sure if I’ll read the next one.  

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

Title: The One and Only Ivan
Author: Katherine Applegate
Genre: Middle Grade

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

My Review:
This book is based on a true story!

Using short chapters and simple but poignant writing (almost poetic in style) Applegate writes in a truly unique voice. The voice of Ivan is perceptive and matter-of-fact, Applegate doesn’t try to humanize him, or give him unnatural emotions. He sounds like … well, a gorilla. A gorilla that’s been in captivity and has learned a lot about humans, but doesn’t really understand them.

Besides Ivan, there is Bob a dog of “uncertain heritage,” Stella an elephant, and later Ruby––a baby elephant. Each animal has a voice both unique to their character and their species. The dialogue between these characters is bitter sweet and often humorous.

Applegate doesn’t hold back the painful truths about animals in captivity, or shield her readers from the dark side of human behavior. But for every bad thing that happens a good thing shines through. The animals have stories to tell about good humans and bad humans and you see it everyday in the behavior of those around them. There’s nothing preachy or sentimental in these stories or Applegate’s writing––animals don’t have those devices.

My favorite character is Bob who dislikes humans the most (he was abandoned as a puppy and the only one in his litter who survived). Bob distrusts all humans and can never see the good in them, but the book ends with (SPOILER ALERT) him being adopted by my favorite human character, Julia.

Overall: Five stars! If I had to describe this book in just one word  I would say: hopeful. After reading it, I am not the least bit surprised that it got the Newbery. This book is fantastic. All I can say is READ IT! 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Genre: YA

About the book (Taken from Goodreads):
Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

My Review:
This is the first book I’ve read by Sherman Alexie (which is kind of embarrassing because I live in Spokane). I’ve never read a book with this much hype and not been disappointed. But in this case, the hype is all well deserved, and I’m sorry I waited so long to read it.
The best thing about this book is that it speaks to everyone. This is a story every teenager can identify with: feeling like an outsider, the pressure of being different, the pressure of being expected to be the same, and the wish to be accepted. The story of Junior is hilarious, heartbreaking, and full of hope. Alexie wrote a story so painfully true you feel like you’re getting kicked in the gut.

I read this book at Lake Roosevelt and was almost half way through it before I remembered I was quite literally on “the rez.” It made the book all the more memorable when we drove home through Rearden. I had to stop so I could take a look at the High School and yes, their school team is still the Indians.
Overall: Five stars. This is one of the best coming of age books I’ve ever read. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel like you got kicked in the stomach.

Note: Not for MG readers! This book contains sexual references, heavy subject matter, and gratuitous swearing.