Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz Book Review

Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz
Illustrations by Dan Santat
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: July 10, 2014

We all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood. In this newest fairy tale rehash Corey Schwartz and Dan Santat create a Red Riding Hood who is anything but naive or defenseless. Every page was an absolute delight as there was some new twist whether there be the wolf in a blond wig at the Dojo or Red Riding Hood throwing off her cape to reveal full martial arts attire. There is a wink to the readers too in regards to The Three Ninja Pigs. This is a must read and a must buy for anyone. If you have no young children in your life, consider it the next time you donate some books.

Eleanora E. Tate Author Interview

Don't Split the Pole: Tales of Down-Home Folk Wisdom by Eleanora E. Tate
An Authors Guild Back-in-Print Edition  ©May 2014
Published by iUniverse, Inc.    

Eleanora E. Tate
      Eleanora E. Tate, author of eleven children’s and young adult books, has been an author in schools, libraries, on university campuses and at conferences around the country (and in Canada and Bermuda) for over 40 years.  She’s on the faculty of  Hamline University’s Masters degree seeking low-residency program “Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults” in St. Paul, MN. She previously taught children’s literature at North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC and has been an instructor with the Institute of Children’s Literature at West Redding, CT.
     Her book Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2007), is a recipient of the 2007 AAUW  North Carolina Book Award for Juvenile Literature,  and an IRA Teacher’s Choice winner.  In addition to Don’t Split the Pole, her other books are The Secret of Gumbo Grove; Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!; Front Porch Stories at the One-Room School;  Just an Overnight Guest (made into an award-winning television film); African American Musicians; To Be Free; A Blessing in Disguise; The Minstrel’s Melody; and Retold African Myths.  Two books are audio books. Another  was both a Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies and a Bankstreet Child Study Book Committee “Children’s Book of the Year.” 
     She was a Bread Loaf Writers Conference Fellow;  a National Association of Black Storytellers  (NABS) Zora Neale Hurston Award recipient, and a former NABS national president. Her short stories have appeared in American Girl Magazine, Scholastic Storyworks Magazine, Gold Finch Magazine, African American Review, and in numerous short story book collections. Her latest essay “Harking Back to Hargett Street” is in the 2013 anthology Twenty-Seven Views of Raleigh

1. Your writing career spans decades.  At what point did writing and promoting writing in others go from being a hobby to a career?  Were you ever worried about taking on writing as a career?
     My writing birth arrived in third grade when   I wrote my first story. By sixth grade I envisioned myself as a published writer, striding along the streets of Paris, France, Isadora Duncan style scarf  wrapped around my neck and also trailing behind me,  flaunting a big Afro and in a swirling gown ( or mini skirt and boots!),  notebook and No. 2 pencil in hand. It was either that or being a revolutionary in a bandana wrapped around my head, in boots, denim jacket and jeans, bandoleer strapped across my bosoms, telescopic rifle in my hands, face frowned up with determination. Maybe I am both in my writing.
     In on-the-ground life I became news editor of The Iowa Bystander Newspaper, a Des Moines Black weekly. A few years later I joined The Des Moines Register and Tribune Newspapers, writing articles for news side, poems for its Picture Page (that award-winning full  back page of pictures and text), and fiction for its Picture Magazine. I never considered my writing to be a hobby. It was and continues to be my life quest. I did think I’d make lots more money, though.

2. Your stories in Don’t Split the Pole: Tales of Down-Home Folk Wisdom are based on proverbs and sayings.  Why?
     I was born by the Mississippi River  in northeastern Missouri where  Missouri, Illinois and Iowa meet. Everybody I knew as a child used proverbs, sayings, similes and hyperbolic anecdotes in their every day conversations in the language common to our area. This regional vernacular was  so rich that I tried to emulate it in my Missouri based books Just an Overnight Guest (1980, 1997), Front Porch Stories at the One-Room School (1992, 2007), and The Minstrel’s Melody (2001, 2009).
     After I moved to South Carolina in 1978 I was introduced to and fell in love with that state’s unique, vivid language, history, and traditions.  The result was my South Carolina books The Secret of Gumbo Grove (1987), Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! (1990), and A Blessing in Disguise (1995, 1999).
     In  Don’t Split the Pole I wrap a story around  a saying I’d heard that had an impact on me. Although the sayings are as old as dirt, I place them in the contemporary time period to show readers that they have meaning in today’s world. 
     Although my story “Slow and Steady Wins the Race” differs from Aesop the Ethiope’s “Slow and Steady Wins the Race” fable, my theme is the same, and still features turtles.  
     My other stories and sayings in the book are: You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks; A Hard Head Makes a Soft Behind; Never Leave Your Pocketbook on the Floor; Don’t Split the Pole; Big Things Come in Small Packages; and What Goes Around Comes Around. All but one story are set in North Carolina.
     Sayings explain the reasons why things are, or ought to be, and pass along wisdom not only to children but also to adults. That’s probably partly why scholars call  them “traditional literature” and lump them with fables, folk tales, myths, and legends (and yes, fairytales, too, around which there is still much discussion). In my original manuscript back in 1997  I included footnotes about the origins of the ones I wrote about, but they were removed due to space limitations and politics.
     Well, I plan to write a full essay about those origins now!

3. How were you introduced to folktales?
    I loved to listen to my grandmother (who raised me) tell stories about her own youthful, green salad days.  She talked with such authenticity and her language was so picturesque that her adventures were as thrilling as many books I read, like The Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She also shared stories handed down from the African and African American oral storytelling tradition, her versions of Grimms’ fairytales, neighborhood gossip, and unusual newspaper stories. 
     Once she told me about a Missouri woman who was ten feet tall! I thought this was just another yarn until  as an adult researcher I found out about a very real woman named Ella Ewing, nicknamed “the Gentle Giantess.” She was  born in 1872, grew to be eight feet, four inches tall, and had hands ‘as big as frying pans’. Because of my grandmother’s love for story I was compelled to have my fictional narrator Margie Carson tell about Ella Ewing’s life in my book Front Porch Stories at the One-Room School. Thank you, Momma!
     I still collect stories. A fellow in Tennessee in 1976 gave me his account of “Old John and the Bear”  that I included in Just an Overnight Guest. Many years later I finally uncovered a similar version.
     My plat-eyed ghost tale in The Secret of Gumbo Grove was based on an encounter a woman told me she’d had with one in South Carolina. I also read Ambrose Gonzales’  book The Black Border: Gullah Stories of the Carolina Coast (1922)  and DuBose Heyward’s short story “The Half-Pint Flask”  to get a better feel for Ole Plat-Eye.   Years later the late Dr. James Haskins, a master writer, researcher and good friend, included my plat-eye account in his book The Headless Haunt and Other African-American Ghost Stories (1994). His research revealed  to my delight that a “plat-eye” legend existed in the West Indies, probably having migrated earlier from west Africa centuries ago!
     My book Retold African Myths (1993) consists of age-old,  often religious stories that existed primarily in oral form for centuries on the African continent that I “retell” in my own style and voice, based on the European published “variants” that my Perfection  Learning Corporation editor and his consultants (including famed writer Pat McKissack) selected. What I love in this collection are the word lists and extended activities that lead students to each of the eighteen selected kingdoms, cultures, and past and present histories.
    I can’t stress enough that no single culture or country can claim that the “first” folk tale was exclusively its own. Wherever those ancient people gathered with a common verbal or sign-making vocabulary, they told tales, and eventually created popular shorter versions that grew into their lexicon.
     Because of modern media technology, Walt Disney, and writers eager to create something new and sellable from the old, tracing folk tales, myths, legends, fables, fairytales, and, of course proverbs and sayings back to their origins can be difficult. Still, I advise writers to search for primary materials as best they can, and credit their sources.

4. What are some of the most important lessons you learned that serve you in your life?
     You know what? While conducting a teacher in-service years ago, I asked teachers that same question. We were discussing proverbs and sayings, of course. But I’ll come back in a bit to what one  teacher revealed.
     For me the most important lesson still is A hard head makes a soft behind that my grandmother often said to me. You should think about what you’re about to do and be prepared to suffer the consequences if you make the wrong choice.
     The “hard head” back story: When I was four or five years old my grandmother and I walked to the local ice cream parlor. I loved chocolate chip ice cream and lime sherbet, even in the winter. She warned me not to climb upon the bar stool because in my snowsuit I’d lose my balance and fall. Of course I tried anyway, and BAM!  Landed on the floor HARD on my butt. In that special grandmother who-still-loves-you-anyway tone, she said, “See? A hard head makes a soft behind.” Of course she didn’t say “behind.”
     Worse, no ice cream for me! Since that time I’ve learned to think and look first before placing my behind anywhere.
     Anyway, back to those teachers in my in-service. After some thought, one teacher responded, “Never make a major decision in the dark. I know. I have five kids now.”

5. Although the children’s book landscape has changed over the years, there is still a lack of diversity within their pages. Beyond simply inserting more diverse characters for the sake of diversity, what do you think is needed to create a more diverse landscape within children’s literature?
     Creating “a more diverse landscape” can’t happen if the effort is directed only to children’s literature. It’s just symptomatic of the “diversity” problems in the larger world. Children’s literature has been around for less than a thousand years, but racism and sexism and the other negative “isms” have been present in their many insidious forms in the world since Day One, and evolve to fit racist and sexist  et al. purposes.
     For the moment, let’s assume that all is right with the world otherwise, and that the only problem left is “lack of diversity in children’s books.”

     If this was the case, the best way to have more children’s books with more characters reflective of the human race (i.e. diverse) is to have more writers and editors who reflect that humanity to do the writing and editing.
     But the problem is much deeper than that. The problem goes to the core of human relationships. Some   writers question why they need to  include characters different from those that  they want to write about in their manuscripts. After all, they’re writing about “their” world. I’d hate to have an editor insist that I add accessory characters to those I already have “just because.” I’m writing about “my” world, too, but my characters  represent different ethnicities and ages  and  have purpose in my books.  I’ve had wonderful editors who understood this, and I’ve had editors who haven’t. They were good people, but they just couldn’t comprehend.
     White writers and editors write and edit  the majority of every other culture’s books for children, but they can’t know everything about everybody all the time!  Yet, being in charge, having privilege, and not used to so much ingrained compromise, too often they produce books  that may be  racially and/or culturally problematic, certainly insensitive.  Though readers may see the weaknesses, these writers and editors might not. What they will recognize is that they are in charge.
      Even words evolve. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s the word used to describe people of color  was “minority.” It was personally sad to me to hear about a school being “85 per cent minority.”  Excuse me? Wouldn’t that make the school a “majority” of whoever most of the student population was? 
     In the 1980s and 1990s  the “trendy” words were  “multicultural” and “multiculturalism”. Now it’s  “diverse” and “diversity”.
       Writer, educator and scholar Dr. Violet Harris produced a succinct definition of  “multicultural” that  I agree with: “Multicultural can include race, ethnicity, gender, class, and other elements that denote difference.” And “culture,” she writes, could refer to “beliefs, attitudes, values, world-views, institutions, artifacts, processes, interaction, and ways of behaving.”
     Dr. James Banks, another scholar and educator who I met some years ago and also admire, is a leading advocate for “multi-ethnic” education and curriculum, which would (and as it should)  include children’s books that offer clear voices and  characters.
     I obviously don’t care for the words “diversity,” “diverse” and “minority,” because people are quick to say what these words should do but have yet to offer  precise definitions of what they mean
      Though they may not realize or acknowledge it, all writers send their characters through their own social, cultural, emotional, racial lenses. There are also those writers who write about cultures other than their own, yet  don’t have enough knowledge about that culture to do it well. Yet they’ll have fits when their published terribly written work is justifiably criticized.
     Add to that lens  a society’s stereotypes about culture and ethnicity,  and you end up with  turmoil in the world  and in books. It’s an insidious circle.
     In the meantime  … read my books.

6. How do you hope your books will impact the next generation of readers? Is there something you wish your readers would learn or understand through you?
    I offer a glimpse into African American life in the United States  through my lens. Those lives, whether biographical or fictional, encompass a variety of lifestyles. I stand by what I write. I see it, I envision it, I live it, I hear it told to me by people who’d lived it,  I research it through narratives of those who’d gone before me, all of which is part of my personal history. This is real to me. I study history because I want to know what happened  with my people before I came on the scene.
     When I speak about “my people” and “my ancestors” I mean folks who were kin to me as well as those who weren’t.  People of African descent -- enslaved, free, from the African continent before enslavement, now  --   experienced triumphs and tribulations  that were and continue to be very real and important  to me.  
     Did you know that there are younger generations of  “Black” writers and illustrators who laugh at children living in “the ghetto” and ridicule them? Yet they want these children to read their books and look up to them.
     I am different in my thought and philosophy from such people, who are just as negative as the writers and illustrators who don’t want to include people of color, disability, gender and the rest of humanity in their works.

7. Does writing and getting published still hold the same excitement as it used to? How do you celebrate when a new manuscript is complete, published, or back in print?
     Several of my other books have been reprinted. Seeing   Don’t Split the Pole: Tales of Down-Home Folk Wisdom reach re-publication in May 2014  gave me a quiet sense of satisfaction. Now all of my books, I think, are back in print.

 8. How can readers discover more about you and your work? (blog, twitter, web page, etc.)
     My web site is:
     My latest essay, “Harking Back to Hargett Street,” appears with twenty-six other writers in the anthology 27 Views of Raleigh (2013, Eno Publishers).
      Here are some online  interviews:
Interview with author Tamera Will Wissinger:

Interview with author Kelly Starling Lyons:

Interview with Author Jennifer Bertman:

     A few of my favorite magazine and book  essays:
     Bond, Dr. Ernie, editor; “Author Spotlight;” Literature and the Young Adult Reader;  Pearson Education, Boston, 2011.
     “Novels with Long Roots,” essay, Book Links Magazine, American Library Association, January 2000.
       Harris, Dr. Violet, editor; “From the Oral to the Written,” essay, The New Advocate Journal, spring  2003.
        “From Book to Movie,” essay, North Carolina Literary Review, online edition, spring 2012. 
     My posts are also at Hamline University’s Creative Writing Program’s with my most recent post published April  23, 2014, “A Few Essential Ingredients for My Writing Stew.”


National Book Festival 2014

This weekend I will be in Washington, D.C. for the National Book Festival! On Friday afternoon I will be tweeting live from the Library of Congress and all day Saturday I will be tweeting live from the National Book Festival. Expect pictures, quotes from authors, and perhaps a few author sightings too. If you are around say hi to me, send me a tweet, or tell me where you are so I can come visit you! As if the trip wasn't exciting enough, August 30 is my birthday. If you ask me, this is the best birthday present ever.

Who is AC? by Hope Larson Book Review

Who is AC? by Hope Larson
Illustrations by Tintin Pantoja
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 16, 2013

Lin was your average teenager, until her cell phone zaps her with powers and she becomes an instant superhero, complete with a cape. Still learning about her new abilities, while observing curfew, Lin realizes that she stopping petty crimes is not all she is going to have to do. After a run-in with a teen blogger, he dubs her Anonymous Coward, a moniker that she doesn't mind so much, although it does mean restoring her superhero reputation, which is only the beginning.

Can I write a review that just says, meh? No? Then here it goes, I like superheroes and am all for some great new heroines, but Who is AC? didn't really have that superhero feel. Lin has superpowers sure, but she doesn't seem to know what to do with them and the rules governing those powers (world building) were rather amalgamous. The villain of the story felt like a metaphor for internet warnings rather than any kind of threat. Of course, it was beautifully drawn, but in a graphic novel, the plot is just as important as the images and I just wasn't drawn into this one.

Little Green Peas by Keith Baker Book Review

Little Green Peas: A Big Book of Color by Keith Baker
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Release Date: July 22, 2014

A passel of playful peas keeps it green as they experience the colorful world around them, from red kites to yellow buses to purple mountains and more.

Until I looked up the author I didn't realize that this book was an addition to the LMNO Peas series. A perfect addition it is too. Another concept book, this time about colors, these peas are as colorful, active, and busy as ever. There is so much action on every page of the story and I absolutely loved the surprise rhymes. Just when you think you have the hang of the page turn rhymes, one sneaks in there that is just a little bit different. Sure to make kids giggle, this is another great book for the beginning of the school year as kids begin learning these very basic concepts.

R Is For Robot by Adam F. Watkins Book Review

R Is For Robot: A Noisy Alphabet by Adam F. Watkins
Publisher: Price Stern Sloan
Release Date: June 26, 2014

In this noisy alphabet book, Watkin's uses robots and goofy noises to bring the alphabet to life. Of course, alphabet books have been so many times that it is rather difficult to stand out among the crowd, but R is for Robot manages to find a certain level of originality. Perfect for reading aloud, with an extra object on every page for kids to alphabetically identify, this is perfect for the classroom. There are so many great craft ideas and noises that children can make that begin with these letters and for that reason alone, I think this book sets itself apart from other alphabet books. The illustrations are colorful and vibrant and other than an odd fart joke on M, I found it entertaining as far as alphabet books go.

The Battle for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi Book Review

The Battle for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 6, 2014

In this third and final installment of the WondLa trilogy, Eva Nine has gone into hiding. Fearful of both the humans and the aliens hunting her, she is unsure who she can trust. After traveling to the ancient city ruins of New York City, Eva Nine begins to realize that her life and destiny on this future Earth are directly tied to what happens to the people on it, the people she has come to call family. With the help of her new family and a few unlikely allies, Eva sets about to change the destiny of all the species on Orbona and bring peace to a world in desperate need of it.

The WondLa series is a strange and wonderful trilogy. Set on a future Earth with alien species that seem straight out of a fantasy novel, DiTerlizzi weaves together a story full of heart. In this final book, DiTerlizzi seems to dwell a lot on what it truly means to be family and forgiveness through understanding. To be fair, Eva Nine's mother (Muthr) was a robot so it should be no surprise that she would consider an alien species to be her father. However, I truly loved how, despite the fact that she was almost killed by Zin and Cadmus in the first two books, she is able to forgive both of them and actively works with them to restore peace.

Eva Nine is such a great heroine, intelligent and always seeking answers. She is willing to put her life on the line. Of course, she is a child, and sometimes her trust is misplace and her decisions are not always wise, but DiTerlizzi gives her a great cast of supporting characters to help her along the way.

This is one of those books that does not lend itself well to audio as the illustrations are necessary to completely understanding the story. It isn't that DiTerlizzi does a bad job of description, but with so much alienness, the illustrations become integral to the storytelling. I originally listened to the first book and ended up rereading it afterward because there were a lot of things I missed, like the fact that Eva's mother's title is spelled Muthr.

All in all, a nice ending to the trilogy that left me satisfied and content.

My Teacher Is a Monster! by Peter Brown Book Review

My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not) by Peter Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown Book for Young Readers
Release Date: July 1, 2014

Bobby has a problem. His teacher is a monster. That is, until he sees her one day outside of school. Despite the awkwardness, Bobby begins to see his teacher in a new light, one that makes her a little less monster-like.

I had a fourth grade teacher who I couldn't stand. To this day, I still think of her in a very negative light, despite the fact that I learned a lot of really important things that I use to this day. I can still recite all the president's names as well as all hundred counties in my state thanks to her. She also instilled in me a love for cursive and fierce academic competitiveness. That last bit could be both good and bad.

Therefore, I completely understand Bobby's plight.  Although I was never able to discover the truth behind my 4th grade teacher's surliness, I must assume that outside of school she was probably a much more interesting (and not so scary) person. As with many Peter Brown's books, there is a limited color pallet within the illustrations, but these give them an almost classic feeling, reminiscent of the sixties.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang Book Review

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: September 10, 2013

China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers are roaming the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants. Harnessing the powers of the ancient Chinese gods, Little Bao recruits an army of Boxers-commoners trained in kung fu. Together they fight to free China from the "foreign devils" (Christians) and "secondary devils" (Chinese converts).

Meanwhile, an unwelcome and unwanted fourth daughter seeks to find friendship and acceptance and she does--with the Christians. But China has become a very dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is in full swing and bands of young men trained in kung fu roam the countryside murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between the love of her country and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide whether she is willing to die for her faith.

First things first, because people always seem confused about this--which book should you read first? I believe the order is Boxers and then Saints. This is a reasonable conclusion because Saints plays off of what was written in Boxers and has an epilogue. The two books are completely reliant on one another as it is absolutely necessary that both sides of this story be told.

Although the events described in this story are based on actual events, Yang used a lot of fictional storytelling devices to carry the story. Although the Boxers did believe themselves to be impervious to weapons, in Boxers, (I did a bit of supplemental reading) the characters in the novel actually turn into Chinese gods. This adds a beautiful visual and religious element to their story, but also made it feel more fictional than I would have liked. Yang is careful though, not to make any of his characters seem too "righteous". Little Bao feels like what he is doing is just, however in the end, he is responsible for the deaths of a great many women and children. In turn, in Saints, the characters are shown as being both caring and a bit self-righteous. Viviana sees them for their acceptance and love, but is also shown that even the people she looks up to can be judgemental or hurting with addiction. It felt so terribly honest to show the characters from both sides in this manner.

I found myself understanding each side of the conflict. The methods that the foreign missionaries were using for proselytization were both normal for that time period and extremely boorish in nature. Walking into an unfamiliar town, grabbing their sacred idol and breaking it on the ground is beyond rude and the priest was lucky the locals didn't tear him apart right then. In turn, people like Viviana found hope and acceptance in this new religion and most simply wanted to be left in peace. Let's not doubt though, both groups had their fanatics and both saw the other as evil. The results were terrible and I lost all sympathy for the Boxers once they began murdering children.

A beautifully told story that does require at least a quick read of Wikipedia in order to understand the story more fully. I love that there are two books with two different perspectives as that is what is usually lacking in a documentary style of story telling.

Monsters Love School by Mike Austin Book Review

Monsters Love School by Mike Austin
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: June 24, 2014

Summer is over and we all know what that means--Monster School! As the monsters start their first day of school there is a lot of fear and apprehension, but that all goes away quickly as the monsters begin to have fun.

Another back to school book that tries so hard to be different and yet is boring same. I can't believe I am saying this about a picture book, but there were times where I was actually confused as to who was talking and which monster was supposed to be the one that was scared. I am still not entirely sure if it was all of them, or just the green one. Or the blue one. The story itself was a bit ho hum as all the monsters do at this school is rather normal stuff. If this is Monster School then I feel like there is so much more that the author could have done with this story. I know that there are so many of these stories out there, but it is for that reason that making a story like Chu's First Day of School or Planet Kindergarten work so much better.

Simon Bloom: The Gravity Keeper by Michael Reisman

Simon Bloom: The Gravity Keeper by Michael Reisman
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release Date: February 14, 2008

Simon Bloom cannot believe his luck. After talking a walk in woods that he never remembers seeing, he finds a book that allows him to control the laws of physics. By reciting the formulas contained within, he can defy gravity, increase and decrease friction, and control electricity. The only problem is, the book only found him because someone tried to kill its previous owner and now they are after him.

This book was a roller-coaster of fun and confusion. In the beginning, the secret society of what I can only think of as scientific wizards talk about things that are absolute gibberish. Once Simon Bloom and his friends enter the scene, the story gains some traction, but on the whole the story itself was like a cheap thrill ride. Quick, fast paced, and entirely too forgettable. Simon Bloom is only interesting in that he is "the chosen one", not for any actual characterization aspects. His friend Owen is a little more memorable as he speaks rather quickly and has a fear of everything. Alysha has the best depth as she likes to run with the cool kids, but finds Simon & Owen to be far more interesting and misses Simon's friendship.

By the end there is a whole lot of science-based magic going on with electricity, gravity, and velocity, which was (and arguably should be) the best part of the book.

The most interesting aspect of this book was in that of the narrator. In a strange twist that was a pleasant surprise and a unique bent, the characters themselves run into their own narrator who is currently chronicling their story as that is his job. Often, the omniscient or even third-person narrator is a spectral nobody. For writers who have an interest in narrative voice, this is one of the books I would recommend reading.  All in all the book wasn't bad, it just wasn't memorable either.

The Tooth Fairy Wars by Kate Coombs Book Review

The Tooth Fairy Wars by Kate Coombs
Illustrations by Jake Parker
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: July 15, 2014

All Nathan wants to do is keep his tooth, but this is apparently against Tooth Fairy protocol. No matter where he hides it, the Tooth Fairy manages to find it. This means war!

In a hilarious battle of wills, this imaginative and cute book takes a classic idea and adds a fun new twist on it. The ending was rather abrupt, with Nathan winning some kind of award for his battle with the tooth fairy, but seeing as picture books are rather short and all end rather quickly, it wasn't enough to ruin the story. I dare say, a lot of kids would really like the idea of winning an award from the Tooth Fairy administration (or whatever they are called). The illustrations are full of great personality that really leaps off the page. I recommend reading this one to kids before they lose their teeth. Parents might save a bit of money if they do.

Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones Book Review

Wild Boy by Rob Llyod Jones
Illustrations by Owen Davey
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: September 24, 2013

The only life that Wild Boy has ever known is that of the workhouse. That is until he is taken by an unscrupulous and abusive showman who runs of freak show with the circus. Covered in hair from head to toe, Wild Boy (the only name he has ever had) is the perfect new addition. Forced to watch the world, rather than be a part of it, Wild Boy develops observational skills that Sherlock Holmes would be proud of. When another showman is murdered though, it is Wild Boy who is blamed. Barely escaping with his life it is up to Wild Boy and the spunky young acrobat Clarissa, to clear his name and find the real murderer.

Set in Victorian London, this was a heartfelt story of belonging cleverly disguised as a mystery. Wild Boy has never been loved. Abandoned as a baby and raised by abusive people, it is a wonder that he doesn't have more issues than he already does. Wild Boy looks out at the world around him and he sees a world that will never accept him and yet yearns for it. As the story delves deeper into the mystery, Wild Boy stumbles upon a machine that offers the hope of changing him, making him normal. What is the cost though?

Both Wild Boy and Clarissa are interesting, complex characters who offer a very unique perspective in a world that is in itself unique--the circus. Like any good Sherlock Holmes mystery there are twists and turns along the way and the bad guy reveal, which was sadly a bit transparent, but didn't ruin the book.

There were one or two issues I had with historical accuracy such as the characters hanging out in a sewer, even after one gets shot and somehow manages to get better in such conditions. Nope. The introduction of rampant bacteria would kill a person if the wounds weren't clean and bandaged properlly. The other problem is the same issue I had with Harry Potter. There is no way that someone who has been neglected and then raised in such conditions would be in any way functional. As we have seen from children in orphanages in Russia and even those abused by parents and guardians here in the States, Wild Boy would have some serious psychological problems due to his situation. Yes, I understand that this would have ruined the story and so we must suspend our disbelief for a time.

Those two things aside, I thought the book was quite an enjoyable mystery adventure. Due to the ages of the character, but the violent content I am not entirely sure of the intended age of the audience, but I am leaning toward older middle grade, right on the cusp of young adult. I also really love the cover by Owen Davey.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta Book Review

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: February 9, 2010

Finnikin of the Rock and his guardian, Sir Topher, have not been home to their beloved Lumatere for ten years. Not since the dark days when the royal family was murdered and the kingdom put under a terrible curse. But then Finnikin is summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young woman with an incredible claim: the heir to the throne of Lumatere, Prince Balthazar, is alive. Evanjalin is determined to return home and she is the only one who can lead them to the heir. As they journey together, Finnikin is affected by her arrogance . . . and her hope. He begins to believe he will see his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, again. And that their cursed people will be able to enter Lumatere and be reunited with those trapped inside. He even believes he will find his imprisoned father.

I get why people love this book. An epic-feeling fantasy in a big world, full of intrigue, deception, loyalty, budding romance, a rolling plot, a nice mixture of character and plot-driven elements, with a dash of heroism, and some teen angst added in more good measure.

All that said...

I hated it.

I have far too many issues with it, many of which have already been aired on Goodreads in the 1 and 2 star sections, which are available for perusal. My major grievance lay with the character of Evanjalin. The girl is a complete and total liar. Now, this would not be such a problem as I myself have written a character who is a bit of a liar myself, however Evanjalin often lies for no freaking reason. She trusts no one but herself, which by the end makes little sense as she really does need all these people on her side. But no worries. Despite lying to almost everyone within her life, Evanjalin is quickly forgiven. In fact, Finn falls in love with her. Admittedly, Finn is a bit of a surly jerk so perhaps they do make a good pair, but I find manipulation in characters who are supposed to be heroes, rather off putting.

Second major issue. The rape scene. Guys, there is an almost rape scene. Now, the issue isn't in the fact that this is in a book. The problem lies in that the character who almost rapes Evanjalin develops of morbid Stockholm Syndrome with this girl afterward and becomes her biggest protector. He is a snivelling, weasly, would-be rapist who suddenly turns into a hero because she didn't kill him afterward? And I am seriously supposed to empathize with such a person? Worse yet, the next book, is from his perspective! The one character I would never want to get to know, now has an entire book.

I know there are many many fans of this series and again, I can see why, but I just can't. I am not remotely interested in reading the next book and will gladly mark this book off my reading list as well as its sequel.

Crater XV by Kevin Cannon Book Review

Crater XV by Kevin Cannon
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Release Date: July 2, 2013

From Goodreads: Straight from the pages of the hit digital series Double Barrel! You've never seen a Cold War like this! In Crater XV, the follow-up to 2009's Eisner-nominated Far Arden, Kevin Cannon weaves together an intoxicating tale of swashbuckling adventure, abandoned moon bases, bloodthirsty walruses, rogue astronauts, two-faced femme fatales, sailboat chases, Siberian pirates, international Arctic politics, and a gaggle of horny orphans. Mixed up in all of this are Army Shanks, our salty sea dog still reeling from a devastating loss, and Wendy Byrd, a plucky teenager who wants nothing more than a one-way ticket off the face of the Earth. For mystery, thrills, and Arctic chills, set a course for Crater XV!

The reason I used a Goodreads summary there was because I was having a very difficult time explaining this one. I both love and hate the graphic novel genre. As someone who really enjoys the visual aspect, I like seeing the characters and the marriage between word and image. However, what sometimes happens when I read a graphic novel is that I spend a good deal of the book confused, feeling like frames and pages are missing, and wondering who the audience is. Crater XV is a rather thick graphic novel that takes about a third of the book to really begin making sense. 

In the beginning the reader is just thrown into the story with no explanation of who this Army Shanks character is or why he is headed to Antarctica to retire. I am assuming this made no sense because I have not been following the digital series nor did I read Far Arden. Not knowing that this was a sequel I was obviously a little lost and felt very detached from the characters. Wendy Byrd, our plucky teen heroine, who I assume wasn't in the first book definitely feels like the more vibrant character in this story. 

Once the story really got going though I was completely engrossed by this space race espionage action adventure story with pirates, orphans, and betrayal. Although a bit bizarre at times, the story engaging and I was definitely rooting for Wendy. I'm still unsure as to who the target audience is, but obviously it has its fans so I don't know if that really matters. 

Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmidtt Book Review

Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmidtt
Illustrations by Shane Prigmore
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: May 20, 2014

This clever picture book will prepare young explorers to boldly go where they have never gone before: Planet Kindergarten. Suit up for a daring adventure as our hero navigates the unknown reaches and alien inhabitants of this strange new world. Hilarious and confidence-boosting, this exciting story will have new kindergartners ready for liftoff!

This is one of the more fun back-to-school books that I have read in a while. Then again, I have a propensity to like things science and space related. This is the story of one kid whose first day of school is basically a space mission to a new world. Lots of great space words too. 

I already bought my nephew's space themed birthday presents, but I kind of wish I had read this book before I bought them, because this would have been a great book for him starting kindergarten.

A Perfect Place for Ted by Leila Rudge Book Review

A Perfect Place for Ted by Leila Rudge
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: June 24, 2014

Ted has lived among the dogs at the pet store for as long as he can remember. Nobody ever chooses Ted. So he decides to take matters into his own hands. He tries his hand at being a circus dog, but doesn't have fancy pom-poms like the other show dogs. However, when he sees a sign asking for a perfect pet, Ted is sure that he will fit the bill.

The story in the beginning is a little sad. A dog who keeps getting left behind and never adopted? Although Ted is heavily anthropomorphized, he is a sweet loveable dog and I simply couldn't see why no one would adopt him. Sure, he isn't circus material, but how many dogs are? Nice in its simplicity, with beautiful illustrations, this one is definitely for all the kids who love dogs, which is pretty much the majority of children.

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci Book Review

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: February 25, 2014

Tula is supposed to be heading with her family to a new world on board a colony ship. Instead, she finds herself stuck on a remote space station, left for dead, with no way of leaving and no friends. Living by her wits and trading for what she needs, Tula manages to eek out an existence on board the Yertina Feray. However, underneath she boils with anger at the colonists' leader, Brother Blue, the man who nearly killed her and who she is certain was the cause of her families' deaths as well. It isn't until three other humans arrive on the station that Tula begins to see a way for her to leave and exact revenge on Brother Blue.

I am always a fan of books that start in the middle of the "action". When this story opens, Tula Bane is lying on the floor, being kicked to death, and barely able to breath the air on the space station, knowing that if she doesn't play dead she will likely end up dead. The backstory, which comes soon after is quick and to the point. Although the story does start there, I don't want to give the false impression that this is an action-packed sci-fi. Although I really did like this story, it was definitely character-driven rather than plot-driven.

Tula is the only human on Yertina Feray and it remains that way for almost three years. I loved the way the author played around with that. If there were no other humans about would you really care about how your hair looked or even whether you were acting very human? Would you take on characteristics of aliens? What would it be like to not be touched by another human being for three years? Tula spends a lot of her time in a simulated greenhouse, eating the fruit and staring down at the abandoned planet below. She yearns for a home, a planet, and I was completely sucked into her world.

Despite how much I enjoyed the book, there were a few areas that fell a little flat for me. Tula is a very strong, street smart, intelligent character and yet she has a really hard time putting two and two together in regards to Brother Blue. Even when it is obvious to the reader that there is so much more going on, Tula remains in the dark and this felt so out-of-character for her. She knows something is wrong. In the entire three years that she has been sending transmissions to the colonies, she didn't figure out that something else was wrong? Even when the other humans arrive and give her more information on Brother Blue, it takes Tula a frustrating amount of time to put it all together. I understand that Tula desperately wants there to be a happy ending for her family, but the fact that Brother Blue was willing to lie and murder people should have been a clue that something was not on the up and up. The secondary characters are rather hit or miss in how well they are fleshed out. Tula's good alien friend is interesting and thought provoking as is the security guard at the station (I love him so much), while the stranded human teens were agonizingly simple. There are hints of this big universe out there, but since we are stuck with Tula, we know very little about it. I am hoping that as the series (I am assuming it will be a series) we will learn more about it.

Despite all that though, I really did love this. I read it in a day and I have great hopes for future books. The image of Tula, standing on simulated soil, her head pressed against glass, staring down at an abandoned planet is one that has really stuck with me and is the image I wish had been on the cover. Tula is strong and her internal struggles along with diabolical plans, made me wish the second book was already out.

Chu's First Day of School by Neil Gaiman Book Review

Chu's First Day of School by Neil Gaiman
Illustrations by Adam Rex
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: June 24, 2014

It is Chu's first day of school. Chu is nervous. He hopes the other boys and girls will be nice. Will they like him? What will happen at school today? Will Chu do what Chu does best?

It's that time of year folks. The back to school (or first time in school) books are making their way to the shelves, trying to alleviate fears and make school sound fun and exciting. They all do it fairly well, especially since the target age, preschool to 2nd grade, really do have some fears, but school isn't really something they dread yet. Not that some kids don't get bullied or have a difficult time in school, but the worries are definitely different than a kid going into middle school.

As per usual, Adam Rex's illustrations were beautiful, but this book was not what I expected from Neil Gaiman. This book was so cutesy and unlike the first Chu book, Chu's Day, it was kind of boring. First day of school. Nervous. Everyone has a special ability and Chu's is the ability to sneeze incredible sneezes. That's it. Kids may enjoy this story, but I think they will need the context of the first book to "get it".

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen Book Revi

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen
Illustrations by Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: May 7, 2013

You wouldn't expect Nate and Charlie to be friends. Charlie is the captain of the basketball team and Nate is his robotic obsessed next door neighbor. Then, Nate declares war on the cheerleaders when they threaten to take away his funds for the robotic championship in exchange for new cheerleader uniforms. Soon the two boys are locked into a fight that neither really wants that quickly gets out of hand.

Despite the obvious cliche of two groups fighting over school funds and the mean girl cheerleader stereotype, this was actually very enjoyable. The characters are neurotic, energetic, and and keep the story fun. There is heart to the story as well, but the pacing and plot never felt weighed down or slow. There are just so many great moments in this book that had me laughing out loud, so much character. I loved Nate and Charlie's friendship, because the truth is sometimes we are friends with people that, on paper, don't always look like a good match, but somehow it works.

As a graphic novel this one really worked. It was a quick read that kept me smiling through the combination of writing and illustration. Oh, did I mention there are robot wars? Yeah.