Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Percy Jackson's POV

Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan and illustrated by John Rocco. Disney/Hyperion, 2014. $24.99. Recommended for ages 9-12

When approached by a New York publisher to “tell all” about the gods, Percy Jackson asks:

“Can we do this anonymously? Because I don’t need the Olympians mad at me again (Percy Jackson, p. ix).”

Despite his understandable concerns (irking the gods can be dangerous to your health), Percy, in typical teen fashion, humorously narrates nineteen stories about the Greek gods, weaving in snarky comments and observations.  Surprisingly, blending these dark and grim stories with irreverent humor makes the myths (a little) less horrific.  Here’s Percy’s interpretation of an exchange between Kronos and Rhea concerning their children and…. Kronos’ food choices:

“He [Kronos] stuffed Hestia in his mouth and swallowed her whole.
Just like: GULP. She was gone.
As you can imagine Rhea completely freaked.
“My baby!” she screamed …”
“Oh wow,” Kronos belched. “My bad …(p. 23).”

Percy’s title for each myth, not only reflects his wit and humor, but lets the reader know how Percy will interpret that myth.  Demeter Turns Into Grainzilla puts a spin on a pop culture monster (Godzilla) when Demeter becomes a monster after her daughter, Persephone, is abducted by Hades.

Read my full review at Good Reads with Ronna

"... a gem waiting to be discovered ..."

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009, $10.99. Highly recommended for ages 7-10.

“Dyamonde Daniel was a gem waiting to be discovered … so what if she had wild-crazy hair and was skinnier than half a toothpick (p. 1)?"

Dyamonde Daniel’s boundless spirit cannot be quelched despite some recent setbacks. Her parents’ have divorce, she and her mother have moved to a an unfamiliar neighborhood. Their new apartment only has one bedroom, so Dyamonde sleeps on the couch. She misses her best friend and still feels like an outsider at her new school. How come she doesn't have a new best friend?

So Dyamonde is sympathetic to new student Reed “Free” Freeman when he enters her 3rd grade class after the start of school.  However, despite her friendly overtures, he’s grumpy and rude. Finally, taking her teacher’s advice, she decides to ask him why he’s so mad. Turns out that, like her, he’s got some pretty big family problems to deal with. Dyamonde can certainly understand, and, supported by her positive attitude, Free opens up to a friendship which brings comfort to both.

Smart, spunky, and determined, Dyamonde possesses an awareness and confidence that most children her age (and even some adults) don't have. Her willingness to confront problems creatively and not bow to peer pressure make her a wonderful role model for young students dealing with interpersonal relationships.

This is the first in a series by the talented and prolific Nikki Grimes. The author has written a highly readable and satisfying story that feels realistic, but not gritty and sends an upbeat message without being too preachy or too "heavy."  R. Gregory Christie’s cubist-like illustrations, sprinkled throughout the 80 page book, lend themselves well to the urban New York setting, but this is a story that is easily relatable to all young readers. Other titles in the series include Rich, which looks at issues surrounding poverty and wealth when Dyamonde and Free find out that a classmate lives in a homeless shelter. In Halfway to Perfect Dyamonde helps a friend address body image when other classmates make fun of her weight.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Flashback Friday

Code Name Verity (Young Pilots series) by Elizabeth Wein. Disney Hyperion, 2012.

"I am utterly and completely damned. You'll shoot me at the end no matter what I do ..."  

"Verity" to her captor SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden (p. 5)."

Thus begins Wein's powerful YA novel about friendship, bravery, and survival set in WWII England and France.

A young British agent, code named "Verity," disappears after being shot down over Nazi-occupied France. Maddie, the plane's pilot and Verity's best friend, is rescued by British agents and local members of the French Resistance. Deeply distressed about Verity's disappearance, Maddie never gives up hope that her friend is out there somewhere ... and still alive.

Verity turns out to be a valuable Nazi prisoner and following some grueling torture sessions, she's given a choice: sell out and tell everything or face execution. Verity agrees to this and begins to walk a very thin, very dangerous line. Can she give the Nazis just enough information to keep herself alive while also documenting the story of her friendship with Maddie?  Von Linden finds the story compelling, but his superior grows impatient with the lack of results.

As bits and pieces of information surface about Verity's location, Maddie and the Resistance fighters devise a daring rescue plan ... but can they get to Verity in time?

Wein's dramatic and compelling novel is set in England and Europe and depicts how war and survival impact societal norms and blur distinctions between gender, race, class, and nationality,  The story is told from both women's POV, their heroic stories finally culminating on a French bridge in a plot twist that literally left me gasping out loud. Mature scenes (torture, inhumane treatment, and wartime violence) make this appropriate for ages 12 and up.

Code Name Verity is the winner of several awards and honors including  The Edgar Award, the ALA's Michael L. Printz Award (honor) for excellence in Young Adult Literature and is listed in the ALA's  Outstanding Books for the College Bound.

 Wein's web site  is a must see, a treasure trove of information and resources about the author and her books.  Teachers or book discussion groups should check out Disney Hyperion Books' teaching guide for this book as well as one for Rose Under Fire (see below), a companion novel in Wein's Young Pilot series. Each guide contains research and activities suggestions, discussion questions,  an author interview, and more. Also see Egmont Publishing's book trailer.

The Bolinda Publishing's audio version of this book was read by Christie Morven and Lucy Gaskell, talented readers who amazed me with their skills in bringing to life the many different characters-each with their own distinctive accent.

 Rose under Fire (Disney Hyperion, 2013) is Wein's companion novel to Code Name Verity and is set in WWII England and Germany. Young American Rose Justice enlists in Britain's Air Transport Auxiliary and is captured by the Germans while on a mission. She is sent to the infamous women's concentration camp,  Ravensbrück. There she is befriended by several women, including a Russian pilot, a French writer, and a "Ravensbrück rabbit," a small, but tough and tender survivor of the Nazi's cruel medical experiments on living people. The women band together to support, care for and protect each other ...but can they escape execution?  Rose under Fire won multiple awards including the Schneider Family Book Award. Visit Wein's web site for more information on Ravensbrück, the "Ravensbrück rabbits," women pilots and more.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage month!

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera with paintings by Raúl Colón. Dial Books for Young Readers, August 7, 2014. $19.99. Recommended for ages 8-12.

"Although there have been incredible contributions by Hispanic Americans since the beginnings of this nation, their pioneering roles often have been overshadowed and their identities besmirched by terms such as 'alien' and 'illegal." (p. 7).

Many people have heard about the achievements of famous Hispanic Americans such as Roberto Clemente, Sonia Sotomayor and César Chavez. However, how many people know ...

1. which Hispanic American won a Nobel Prize in Physics?

2. who defeated the British at the Siege of Pensacola (FLA) in 1781?

3. who was the first Latina astronaut?

Don’t know? Find out by reading-and relishing- this book! This is an eye-opening and inspirational celebration of  people whose achievements and accomplishments are just begging to be shared with children.  

Read my full review at Good Reads with Ronna.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A warm and humorous book for beginning readers

Annie and Simon: the sneeze and other stories by Catharine O’Neill. Candlewick Press, 2013. $15.99. Highly recommended for ages 3-7.

Cheerful and talkative Annie, and her big brother Simon are back for another adventure. Each of the four short stories in this second volume focuses on the two very different, yet loving, siblings, delivering gentle messages about relationships, perspective, caring, and sharing.

“Living Things” is a perfect introduction to both characters. The wise-beyond-his years Simon uses his binoculars to observe nature at the lake, while Annie draws what she sees-or thinks she sees. Her scribbly drawings are not always accurate and what she believes she knows isn’t necessarily true. An exchange about frogs is humorous and telling:

“Knees? Frogs with knees? Oh, Simon. Tee-hee.  Tee-hee.  Tee-hee.”
“Good grief,” said Simon (p. 5).

Under Simon’s patient tutelage, Annie begins to understand more of the world around her than just what she sees or thinks she knows ...

See my full review at Good Reads With Ronna.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A creepy start for October

The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco. Sourcebook Fire, 2014. $16.99. Recommended for mature readers grades 8+

"I am where the dead children go... (p.1)."

Before you begin this book lock the doors, draw the curtains, turn on all the lights, check under the bed (if you dare), tell your children not to bother you with trivial requests for dinner and homework help, then try to read this book.

Okiku, a  young woman cruelly murdered centuries ago,
has traveled across continents and years,  gruesomely avenging murdered children and releasing the victims from this world. She, herself, is unable or unwilling to escape this existence. 

In  21st century America, she is attracted to Tark, the moody, teenage son of a Japanese mother and an American father. In him she senses an evi trapped in his tattoos.  This presence is gaining strength and becoming more and more threatening to Tark.  Can Okiku help him?

Chupeco has skillfully woven together several elements from American and Japanese cultures into a chilling and horrifying story in the vein of The Ring, The Grudge, and the Exorcist.  Clues about Okiku and Tark pasts are woven into the narrative, creating much suspense as past and present come together in a remote area in Japan. There, three powerful women will attempt to exorcise the evil spirit from Tark. Can they do it without killing him? 

Most of the novel is quite dramatic and atmospheric and I  especially found the juxtaposition of contemporary Japanese (and American) life with traditional Japanese beliefs fascinating.  Despite scenes of horror and gore, Chupeco's beautiful and descriptive writing enhances the legendary and other-worldly quality of the story:

"... like a leaf caught in the throes of a hidden whirlpool, slipping down without sound, away from sight. They [the dead] roll and ebb gently with the tides until they sink beneath the waves and I no longer see where they go (p. 1)."

 The first chapter can be found at Sourcebooks Store. Visit the Young Adult author's web site for more information about her and her writings.  

Review based on Sourcebook's e-galley downloaded from NetGalley