Sunday, October 29, 2017

My new favorites

This has been a super busy week.  We had our state librarians conference called FAME in Orlando this past week.  There were lots of workshops, authors to meet, vendors to talk to and most of all friends from all over our wonderful state.  It was a great conference but I'm exhausted and exhilarated at the same time!  I'm also still whittling away at the CYBILS speculative middle grade fiction.  I'm sure you're not shocked to hear that I barely had time to open a book this past week, much less read one.  But I finished one today that is not to be missed.  It's called "Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth" by Frank Cottrell Boyce.  The last sentence in the completely irresistible first chapter is this "I probably shouldn't have written it all down.  It might get me into trouble.   We broke a lot of laws, including some of the laws of physics.  But I wrote everything down anyway, because I didn't want to forget any of it."  I sincerely hope I have a week like that one of these days.

 It's about a boy named Prez who is going to a foster family for the summer.  He had been living with his grandfather, but that is somehow not possible anymore (the story about that unfolds with the book).  He's placed with a big, loud family who has a small farm with animals.  Prez is ok with the family-they are nice enough and loud enough to cover up the fact that he doesn't really talk to anyone.  But right away, there's something kind of strange.  An alien shows up calling himself Sputnik Mellows (Mellows is Prez's last name).   He's wearing a kilt and aviator goggles and a yellow backpack and large number of weapons.  The foster family takes one look at Sputnik and believes he is a dog, but none of them can agree on what KIND of a dog Sputnik is.  After the youngest sister's birthday where she is nearly decapitated by a light saber and a tree is uprooted, Sputnik reveals he is actually trying to make a list of good things about the earth, because it is about to be destroyed.  Honestly, this one of the craziest books I've ever read.  It has so many hilarious, poignant moments that I'm tempted to read it again, RIGHT NOW because I'm worried I missed some of the good parts. This is brilliant.  DO NOT MISS IT.

Science fiction is usually not in my wheelhouse, but this one was amazing!  It's called "The Countdown Conspiracy" by Katie Slivensky.  It's about a group of 6 super smart kids who are chosen for a Mars space mission.  The main character, Miranda, is an expert in robotics.  In fact, she's built a robot that obeys her every command and she won a world wide competition, beating out her strongest competitor, Sasha, a Russian boy.  Miranda is very excited about the opportunity to go to Mars, but is also means leaving her family behind and going to train in Antarctica with scientists, computer programmers, and former astronauts.  However, the mission is more dangerous than it seems, because even before they get to the training site, Miranda and one of her team mates are attacked.  Security is increased and Miranda starts wondering why she was picked at all.  There are lots of very exciting plot twists in this one.  The characters are interesting and have lots of interesting kinds of interactions -they aren't all just friends because they're part of this small group and it's fun to watch how they figure out how to work together.   The science in this one is awesome-from robotics and coding to space science, that was super fun to read about.  And did I mention, at the heart of this book is a big fat mystery?  I liked it a lot and I think the kids are going to like it too.  

The last one is a kind of a folk tale fantasy adventure.  It's called "Journey Across the Hidden Islands" by Sarah Beth Durst.  It's about two girls, Ji Lin and Seika who are 12 year old twins.  They live in an isolated kingdom and have been separated for quite some time so that they can train for their jobs. Seika is meant to be the ruler princess and Ji Lin is meant to be the protector/guard.  They come home for a birthday celebration and are sent out on a quest to meet and negotiate with the dragon that protects their island kingdom.  It's a great quest full of magical creatures, including the flying lion that Ji Lin rides as well as koji that need to be destroyed.  It also has a lot of folktale elements that will make it a terrific read aloud.  What's also  great is that both girls are unsure about their abilities to do their jobs but each one gives the other courage when they need it the most.  They make a wonderful  team.  I completely love Sarah Beth Durst's writing-she writes some really great dialogue that will make you laugh out loud.  I think the kids are going to love this one.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Middle grade fantasy fiction

I'm plunging into the dark heart of fantasy or speculative fiction.  I haven't had a chance to go here for awhile, so I'm looking forward to it!

The first one is called "Last Day on Mars" by Kevin Emerson.  I'm going to tell you straight up that science fiction is not my favorite, but this one was a breathtaking adventure.  It's about a boy named Liam who has grown up on Mars.  His parents are scientists and they moved to Mars before Liam was born because the Earth was failing.  They've been living on Mars for the past 15 years and now it's time to leave there too because the protections they've built to help them survive there are failing. Liam is sad to leave Mars (it IS the only home he's ever known) and although he's heard lots of stories about how amazing Earth was, the new place they are going is uncertain and a bit fraught with peril.  But it also seems that there is some sabotage going on and Liam and his best friend Phoebe seem to be best positioned to help with some narrow escapes.  I really liked Liam and I liked the science aspects of the science fiction book better than I thought I would.  It's very fast paced and there's so much action that I think a lot of kids are going to like this one a lot.  It also appears to be the first one in a series-there's a giant cliff hanger at the end.  I can't wait to see what happens next in this one!

The second one is more in my wheelhouse-it's a book of fairy tales called "Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales" by Emily Jenkins.  Emily has written some terrific stories-she wrote one of my favorites last year called "Toys in Snow" which is just like it sounds-some toys go out and play in the snow but it's a lovely little imaginative story with lots of great language.  Brave Red, Smart Frog is kind of like that too.  It's 11 favorite fairy tales retold.  Each chapter is a different story so they go FAST.  Each one is like visiting a familiar place that's had a really great make over.  All the things you love are still there but it's somehow better and fresher than the one you remember.  I think my favorite retelling was the one about the Princess and the Frog.  In this retelling, both the Frog and the Princess make some big changes and I liked them both better for it.  One of the things that keeps you anchored in the old school is the art work which is beautiful and somehow very traditional yet modern at the same time.  I really liked this compilation and I can't wait to put it in my library.

The last one is the third and final (I think) installment in this series.  Two years ago, Gordon Korman came out with a completely brilliant science fiction story called "Masterminds".  It's about a group of people who live in a perfect small town in New Mexico that is very isolated.  It's so isolated that people don't really come and go from there.  The kids grow up thinking that this normal (well, for them, it IS normal).  Until one day, two of the kids decided to go out of town.  Not leave town, just go and investigate some things that are just beyond the border of the town.  As the approach the border, one of the boys, Eli, gets violently ill.  The other boy calls emergency services and Eli is scooped up and rushed to the hospital.  He's sick for a few days but then he's fine.  The other boy is GONE when Eli is released from the hospital.  Eli's dad tells him that he's been sent to live with his grandmother and suddenly, in a community where honesty is valued above all things, Eli starts to think that maybe people aren't really being all that honest with him and with all the other kids in the community.  It turns out their parents have a REALLY big secret.  It would be a total spoiler if I told you exactly what the secret is (because it's totally awesome), so I won't.  But I will tell you that the third book takes up where the second one leaves off.  This one is a very thrilling adventure full of wild chases and ethical dilemmas.  It also has a very satisfying ending to the whole story.  I thought this one was great.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Something new in middle grade fiction

Are you looking for something new in middle grade fiction?  Well, have I got a couple of titles for you!  These are new releases and are DEFINITELY worth looking for!

The first one is called "The Adventurers Guild" by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos.  It's about a group of kids who live in a town called Freestone.  Freestone has an annual event called Guildculling where children who are of a certain age are called to join their professions.  For many of lower class children, there isn't too much of a choice, but members of higher societal families have greater opportunities for choices.  But there are always some surprises, and there are some very big surprises at this particular Guildculling.  I don't want to give too much away because each layer of this well written book has excellent suspense and interesting plot twists.  There is some wonderful political drama, some great opportunities for talking about class expectations and racism, as well as magic and thrilling combat.  I really liked this story a lot and I hope there are more to come!

  Here's a little preview of the book!

The second one is a fairy tale/quest kind of book.  It's called "The Silver Gate" by Kristin Bailey.  It's about a brother and sister, Elric and Wynnfrid who are on a kind a of quest.  Wynn has struggles to speak and remember things so she's been living with her mother in a hut out in the woods, while Elric lives with his dad and tends sheep for the lord of the manor.  It's not a really great life, but they do not appear to have a lot of choices.  When Elric and Wynn's mother dies, Elric decides he has to run away with Wynn to save her life.  So Elric is just looking for someplace safe, but Wynn is searching for a fairy kingdom because she's been called a changeling her whole life-a baby who was exchanged for another by fairies.  I liked this one because of the themes of bravery, loyalty, and family connection.  I liked the magical elements and I really loved the pet that Wynn brings along on the quest.    I think this one would make a good addition to our library.

 The last one is a sequel to one of my favorite books last year.  It's called "The War I Finally Won" by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  Like the first book, it's about a girl named Ada who was born with a clubfoot in a dysfunctional family in east London at the 1930s.  Ada escapes London with her little brother Jamie when the government starts evacuating children to the countryside because of the bombings in London.  Ada and Jamie end up with a woman named Susan Smith who is deeply grieving the loss of her best friend, Becky, who died of pneumonia some months earlier.  At the beginning of this book, Susan has come to London to get Jamie and Ada back-they had returned to London with their mother and Susan is determined to get them to come back to their small village with her.  While she's in London with the children, the village is bombed and her small house is destroyed.  So this new book begins with a bit of an uncertain future-Susan would like the kids to return but they don't have a house to go to, Ada's mom seems to feel the need to get them back, and Ada is getting ready to have corrective surgery fix her clubfoot.  I hate to tell you more about this story because each part unfolds in such a lovely way that it ALL feels like a spoiler.  Suffice it to say, this one is a bit more introspective and the new characters add some very interesting pieces to the story.  I loved this one just as much as the first one and it's definitely coming to live in our library.  
Here's a little video with the author about the book.