The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

    The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher, Walker Books, 9781536214918, c2018, 2020
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review)4
Genre:  Fantasy
What did you like about the book? Seren Rhys is an orphan who is sent to live in Wales with a friend of her father’s. Her parents died when she was a baby in India, her only living relative had taken her in but now she was all alone. She is to live with the Jones at their estate, Plas-y-Fran.
At the train station in Trefil, Wales she encounters a strange man who, after being scared by something or someone in the dark, leaves a package with Seren telling her not to leave it there alone. When he doesn’t return she decides to take it with her.
When she arrives at Plas-Fran in the depths of a cold and snowy winter, the only residents of the home are a few servants. The Jones have been in London since their son, Tomos, disappeared nearly a year ago.
The ancient house is cold and scary but Seren explores it with the clockwork crow she reassembled. He was inside the package.
Seren gets into trouble with Mrs. Villiers, the housekeeper, and the two butt heads often. But Seren tries to fit in and makes friends with the other servants. Then she thinks she knows how to save Tomos.
This is the first in a trilogy and readers of this one will wait anxiously to see how Seren makes out in them!
To whom would you recommend this book?   Fans of the Serafina series by Robert Beatty will love this story.
Who should buy this book? Public and school libraries should definitely get this book.
Where would you shelve it? Fantasy
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Near the top
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Maria Touet, Malden Public Schools, Malden, MA
Date of review: February 24, 2021
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Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

 Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore, HarperTeen, 9780062869913, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Magical realism

What did you like about the book?  Lita and Chicky, former best friends, are consummate outsiders in their small town of Meteor, New Mexico. Chicky has three glamorous former beauty queen contestants for older sisters, although she’s a self-described tomboy who can’t bring herself to announce her pansexual orientation. Meanwhile, tiny Lita is an actual space alien, who arrived on Earth along with the meteor, and faces disintegration if she can’t somehow anchor herself to her new home. The story revolves around a beauty contest and who doesn’t love that as a plot device? There’s also two romances on tap: Chicky’s torn between her attraction to artistic Junior and her discomfort with announcing her sexual orientation and Lita’s recognizing that the friendly interest from Cole (a trans man) may be something more. There’s lots of pageant shenanigans involving glitter, swimsuits, duck tape and Vaseline and an emphasis on learning to own your identity. Almost all of the characters in the large cast are LatinX, with the exception of the sort-of evil pageant favorite Kendra (Cole’s sister).

Anything you didn’t like about it? The story is told in alternating chapters by Lita and Chicky in first person. This is sometimes a challenging format for me and in this case, it didn’t add anything to the story as Chicky and Lita’s voices are remarkably similar, despite their different life circumstances. I found Chicky’s story and her character, with her family’s struggling diner, the more compelling, while Lita, with her unicorn pajamas and cactus birthday parties, far too cutesy to be a real girl (although she is supposed to be an alien). Many reviews mistakenly identify this book as science fiction, but it wouldn’t satisfy readers drawn to that genre, despite the meteor and a lot of stardust.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Teens looking for romance with diverse voices, especially something light-hearted, will be the natural audience for this book. There is some drinking and discussion of body parts, making it more appropriate for grades 9 and up.

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: February 24, 2021

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The Pocket Chaotic by Ziggy Hanaor, illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett

      The Pocket Chaotic by Ziggy Hanaor, illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett, Cicada Books, 9781908714800, 2021 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Picture books

What did you like about the book?  We often get picture books where the kid has to get their act together, but how often are we treated to a hapless parent? Poor Alexander lives in his awesome mom Nancy’s chaotic pocket (he’s a joey and she’s a kangaroo). Nancy can skip rope, play the piano, and outcraft anyone, but she needs some executive function help. Her pocket is stuffed with old tissues, rappers and receipts, even smelly gym shorts. Big sister Elly encourages Alexander to move out, but he likes the comfort. The little guy tries to keep on top of things (a wonderful two page spread shows him floundering amid a recorder, old socks, and a half-eaten banana) but it’s too much. Finally mom helps him move into a room of his own, with one of her old scarves for company. A final image shows Alexander tucked into his new big boy bed, reassuringly surrounded by his own mess. But wait! Isn’t that Mom and Elly craftily peaking around the corner? A final image shows Nancy emptying the mess from her pocket into the trash and sending a wink to the reader.

The illustrations (shout-out to 1944’s Katy No-Pocket by Emmy Payne with illustrations by H.A. Rey) are delightful. The family lives in a people-world (England? Nancy is called his “mum” and it’s a British publishing house) with colorful, orderly shops and fantasy pockets (with room for laddered shelving units). The kangaroos are all neon orange and are rendered in slightly messy, scribbly watercolors. There is so much to look and giggle at in this book.

Anything you didn’t like about it? My only qualm was the retro-gender roles: neat moms wear pearls and dad carries a briefcase. Mom is shown shopping, preparing meals, and shouldering all childcare while dad bounces off to the office.

To whom would you recommend this book?  If you have fond memories of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s cures, in which parents engage in subterfuge to bring about behavioral change, you’ll appreciate this book. This is also a light-hearted look at the serious topic of growing up and taking steps to independence, recognizing that the process can be uncomfortable at first!

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: February 24, 2021

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Curls – Ruth Forman, illustrated by Geneva Bowers

  Curls – Ruth Forman, illustrated by Geneva Bowers, Little Simon, (9781534446311), 2020

Format: Boards books

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4.5

What did you like about the book? This is a celebration of little Black girls and all the ways they can and do wear their hair.  Colorful and vibrant full-page, double-spread illustrations contribute to the joy and exuberance of styling your hair for a school day.  Afro-style curly hair, corn rows, multiple braids and pigtail puffs result.  Just a few words on each page in large font with a clear background create a joyful appreciation of Black hair.

Anything you did not like about the book?  No.

To whom would you recommend this book? For all the little Black girls out there and their white friends.

Who should buy this book? Public libraries and day-care centers

Where would you shelve it?  Board books

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  For young ones, yes.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Katrina Yurenka, Retired Librarian, Manager, Youth Services Book Review

Date of Review: 2/20/2021

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In Your Face! – Lincoln Peirce

  In Your Face! (big Nate) – Lincoln Peirce, Andrews McMeel, (9781524864774), (March) 2021

Format: Paperback

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

What did you like about the book?  This is Volume 24 (!!!) of the big Nate books.  It does not disappoint.  All familiar characters are back: Teddy, Chad, Gina, Sherman the hamster, Francis, Dee Dee, Mrs. Godfrey, Spitsy, Nate’s Dad, the School picture guy and all of your favorites. Their familiarity contributes to the charm and humor of the Nate stories.  In this one Nate wants to train to be a soccer goalie who will make it into the National leagues with Coach John as coach (!), he reluctantly helps his class celebrate the dreaded Mrs. Godfrey’s birthday, he tries to get a girlfriend by giving every single girl in the school a valentine and, of course, much, much more.

Peirce has been drawing the big Nate cartoons for twenty-five years now; you’d think he may have lost some of the humor and expressiveness but no, not a bit.

Bonus:  big Nate poster included!

Anything you did not like about the book?  I did not find it as funny as previous big Nate books but that may only be me.

To whom would you recommend this book? Anyone who is a big Nate and/or Lincoln Peirce fan will decidedly grab this book as fast as they can.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? If you are a fan of big Nate, yes.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Katrina Yurenka, Retired Librarian, Manager, Youth Services Book Review

Date of Review: 2/22/2021

Posted in *Book Review, Comic / Cartoon, Graphic novel, Humor, Lincoln Peirce | Tagged | Leave a comment

Missing – One Brain by Bruce Coville, illustrated by Glen Mullaly

  Missing – One Brain (Sixth-Grade Alien) by Bruce Coville, illustrated by Glen Mullaly, Aladdin, 9781534464841, 2020 (original copyright 1999 as I Lost My Grandfather’s Brain)

Format: Hardcover, 149 pages

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Genre:  Science Fiction

What did you like about the book? The third installment of the Sixth-Grade Alien series, continues the adventures of our two narrators: Tim and Pleskit.  This can be read out of sequence as back-story is explained, however, I would not recommend it.  Tim is an average sixth-grader and his new best friend Pleskit, an alien from Hevi-Hevi, is the new student in class.  They both have to deal with alien haters not to mention other bullies at school.  In this installment, Tim is accused of leaking stories about Pleskit to a local tabloid.  Their friendship becomes strained due to these allegations and Pleskit ends up becoming friendly with their arch nemesis and personal bully, Jordan, who takes advantage of the situation by driving a bigger wedge between them.  As the story progresses, Pleskit decides to bring his grandfather to school (his grandfather is a brain and nothing else) for a day out and to talk to the students.  Situations heat up when the brain goes missing at the same time as Tim.  The story is set in a run-of-the-mill middle school environment in Syracuse, and includes trips to Pleskit and Tim’s home.  Colorful and interestingly morphed aliens continue to add complexity to the story line.  The multiple narratives give readers an alien’s perspective on human behavior and add life and humor to the plot.  The theme of “do not assume” and a reminder that communication is a valuable asset in a friendship is consistent within the text.  Short, easily digestible chapters are told in large font with plenty of white space and black and white illustrations, enticing struggling readers.  Back-pages contain the third installment of Pleskit’s adventures on Geembol Seven as well as a glossary of alien vocabulary.

Anything you didn’t like about it? The plot is simple, as are the characters.  The creative alien vocabulary may cause some confusion for struggling readers; however the glossary at the end is helpful.  The story line is consistent with the other novels in the series with enough burps and farts to keep readers entertained.  

To whom would you recommend this book? Readers in grades 3 to 5 who enjoy stories about aliens or other titles in this series would enjoy this book.

Who should buy this book? Librarians who have a Coville following or who like to read science fiction centered on alien encounters will find this a useful purchase.  

Where would you shelve it?  Science Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  I feel that this title would reside near the middle of a “to read” pile.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Elena Schuck, Nathaniel H. Wixon Intermediate School, Dennis, Massachusetts

Date of review: February 21, 2021

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Junk Boy by Tony Abbott

 Junk Boy by Tony Abbott, Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 9780062491251, 2020

Format: Hardcover, 352 pages

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Genre:  Fiction-Realistic

What did you like about the book?  Robert lives with his father, Jimmy, an alcoholic.  Told in verse, Abbott does an excellent job of hooking his reader right from the beginning of the novel.  With Robert as our narrator, we are introduced to him as a victim of abuse and neglect, a child that does his best to be invisible so as not to get hurt physically or emotionally.  His life changes when he meets Rachel, a talented artist who is going through issues of her own identity and her parent’s separation.  The unlikely pair have a stormy friendship, due to Rachel’s untreated mental health issues.  Situations get heated as Rachel asks Robert to go with her to New York for a school interview.  Emotions get confused as Robert tries to figure out how to help his friend as she continuously pushed him away.  Set in the woods, a three mile walk from civilization, our protagonist is isolated in numerous ways.  Jimmy does not throw away objects leaving their yard a junk heap of forgotten and unusable items, a barrier to the outside world.  The plot and well-developed characters will move readers and have them turning pages to see what happens next.  Short easy to follow chapters will be a hit with struggling readers.

To whom would you recommend this book? Readers in grades 7 to 12 who enjoy realistic teen-age fiction or stories told in verse would enjoy this book.

Who should buy this book? English teachers as well as school librarians in middle to high school as well as public librarians will find this a very useful purchase.  

Where would you shelve it?  Fiction-Realistic

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  I feel that this title would reside near the top of a “to read” pile.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Elena Schuck, Nathaniel H. Wixon Intermediate School, Dennis, Massachusetts

Date of review: February 21, 2021

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How to Build a Story… or, The Big What If – by Frances O’Roark Dowell, illustrated by Stacy Ebert

How to Build a Story… or, The Big What If  – by Frances O’Roark Dowell, illustrated by Stacy Ebert, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 9781534438422, 2020

Format: Hardcover, 117 pages

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

What did you like about the book? This introduction to the process of writing is set with the task of encouraging burgeoning and reluctant writers.  Each chapter takes readers step by step explaining each stage of the writing process in a clear and humorous way.  Each step is interwoven with fun anecdotes and the author’s personal experiences with becoming a novelist.  Every chapter includes steps on how to get started with the strategy discussed in that section and include: “Big Take Home”, “Writer’s, Start Your Engines!” and “Let’s Write!”.  Each of these subheadings summarizes what the writer needs to know as they get started with each specific skill, what it would looks like in a sample text and finally, gives ideas on how to get started.  From plot development, character backgrounds, creating tension in the story and so much more, the author gives detailed instruction for beginners that are creative and witty.  The book is easy to follow and does not come across as stogy or preachy.  Well written and informative a must-have for future authors.  Fanciful and lighthearted black and white illustrations add to the book’s allure.

Anything you didn’t like about it?  The writer does mention her novels and suggests that the readers read them, not a bad thing but definitely self-promoting.

To whom would you recommend this book? Readers in grades 3 to 9 who wish to learn better writing technique, or teachers who wish to show how quality writing is done, would enjoy this book.

Who should buy this book? English teachers as well as school librarians in upper elementary to high school will find this a very useful purchase.  

Where would you shelve it?  Nonfiction-Writing

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  I feel that this title would reside near the top of a “to read” pile.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Elena Schuck, Nathaniel H. Wixon Intermediate School, Dennis, Massachusetts

Date of review: February 21, 2021

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Thirteen Witches: The Memory Thief (Book 1) by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Thirteen Witches: The Memory Thief (Book 1) by Jodi Lynn Anderson. Aladdin, 2021. 9781481480215

Format: ARC (pub date 2/21)

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Genre:  Fantasy

What did you like about the book? The prologue of the story tells of a witch stealing a child at birth, setting the scene for a dark story of grief and longing. Eleven year old Rosie is then introduced. She lives with her mother, whom the reader assumes is the mother of the stolen newborn. Rosie takes care of herself because her mother is in a perpetual semi-lucid state and barely acknowledges Rosie’s existence. But Rosie has her best friend Germ and the stories where her imagination creates the world she wants. When Rosie burns all of her stories after an argument with Germ, her world changes. Suddenly, she can see all of the ghosts of people and animals that float around her house, and she learns the reason why her mother is the way she is: her mother was a witch hunter who was cursed by a terrible witch called the Memory Witch. All of her mother’s memories were taken in order to prevent her from hunting witches. She learns this from some of the ghosts who are kind to her, in particular a boy named Ebb. And she learns that in order to regain her mother, she must use the “Witch Hunter’s Guide to the Universe,” written by her mother before the curse, and hunt down the fearsome Memory Witch herself.

The author has created a world that is entirely believable, and her beautiful descriptions of the way the ghostly creatures haunt the world, unseen, make reading of Rosie’s adventures more than just a ghost story. Although she feels the burden of freeing her mother’s spirit is hers alone, Rosie finds that the talents of her imagination give meaning and purpose to her quest. She is shy but brave, and readers will see in her echoes of Harry Potter. In fact, Rosie names her trusty flashlight “Lumos” and it has an important part in the story. Germ is a good and loyal friend with wisdom beyond her years, and is well fleshed out, as are several of the ghosts who support her quest. This is a wonderful story, albeit with serious issues of grief and parental neglect, and with a girl protagonist many will root for. It is the first in a planned trilogy.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  For ages 9-13, especially Harry Potter fans who love fantasy with girl protagonists.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and middle school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it ? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Definitely near the top

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA

Date of review: February 21, 2021

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Henry’s Important Date by Robert Quackenbush

Henry’s Important Date by Robert Quackenbush. Aladdin, 9781534415461, c1981, 2020

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Genre: Picture book

What did you like about the book? Henry the duck receives an invitation from his friend Clara to attend her birthday party on Sunday. In typical Henry fashion, trouble and mayhem ensue. As he tries to make his way through the busy city, he encounters one setback after another, some of his own doing, but many out of his control. When he finally arrives at Clara’s apartment, exhausted and deflated, he gets quite the surprise when he discovers that it’s Saturday! Young readers will enjoy cheering Henry along as he maneuvers his way through each challenge to get to Clara’s house. The watercolor illustrations are classic and timeless as is this fun story of mishap and determination. 

Anything you didn’t like about it?  No

To whom would you recommend this book? This story is perfect for reading aloud to young children.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries, preschools, daycare centers

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer: Linda Broderick, Lincoln Street Elementary School, Northboro, MA

Date of review: 2/20/2021

Posted in *Book Review, *Picture Book, *Starred Review, Birthdays, Robert Quackenbush | Tagged | Leave a comment