Illustrator of the Week - Erin E. Stead

Caldecott Medal winner Erin E. Stead has illustrated numerous children's books including A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Bear Has A Story to Tell, and her newest book And Then It's Spring. Using woodblock printing techniques and pencil, Erin's art has garnered much attention, having been named a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2010 and a Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of 2010.

Chomp Book Review

Chomp by Carl Hiassen

Wahoo's family owns a wildlife refuge, full of all manner of beasties from pythons, to parrots, to a 13-foot alligator named Alice, the very animal responsible for Wahoo's missing thumb. After Wahoo's father, Mickey is struck on the head by a frozen Iguana, the family falls on hard times and in their desperation they agree to be animal handlers for Expedition, Survival!, a not-so-reality based show in which Derek Badger goes into the wild (or into Wahoo's backyard), fighting off all manner of dangerous creatures, or in this case, the rather docile Alice. Things turn bad though when Wahoo and his dad agree to go to the Everglades along with the TV crew and a girl named Tuna, whose abusive father is not far behind.

Having only read Hoot, which was rather light despite the environmental message, I think I was expecting something along those lines. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of this novel, so much more than Hoot and yet still light enough for young readers. Wahoo, despite his wacky name, is a kid who has been forced to grow up quickly, taking on the role of manager while his mother is off in China and his father is still suffering from his iguana attack. Smart, witty, and quick thinking, Wahoo is the perfect foil for his speak-before-he-thinks father. Mickey, is a great complex adult character, the kind I rarely see in children's novels, albeit usually the adults are simply missing in middle grade books. Derek Badger is plenty the imbecile and once he gets to the real wild, the Everglades, his idiocy is ramped up to the point of bizarre...and it is wonderful. Tuna was the only character who I felt was a little unlikely, but Hiassen weaves her and her abusive father into the plot so deftly that I barely gave notice while reading.

After some research, I think this may be one of Hiassen's darker novels for young readers, but it was handled well and even though there were serious issues involving abuse and guns and such, Hiassen is careful to keep his intended audience in mind. That said, teachers and librarians should keep in mind that this novel has a bit more bite. Or Chomp.

Scarlet Review

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Will Scarlet, aka Scarlet, is a thief. And a female, although this is mostly unknown outside of Robin Hood's band of merry "men". Hiding a dark past, Scarlet steals and fights for Rob, frustrated by her own tumultuous feelings regarding men, especially Rob and Little John. When Guy of Gisbourne, a notorious thief catcher, is hired by the Sheriff of Nottingham, Scarlet's secret is threatened. A secret that could very well get her killed, or worse, married.

The Robin Hood ballad has always been a favorite of mine, Howard Pyle's compilation of stories The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood is one my favorite books. I own and watch frequently the 1936 Errol Flynn movie by the same title as well as the anthropomorphic Disney classic. Amazing authors like Rosemary Sutcliff, Geoffrey Trease, Robin McKinley, and Theresa Tomlinson have all flirted with the notorious outlaw. Cynthia Voight wrote an interesting tale called Jackaroo that was reminiscent of Robin Hood, with a female as the main character. Robin Hood has been made into movies, TV shows, songs, comic books, and even a Lego set, which, of course, I owned)

I say all this to express my absolute love for this classic tale and how I am generally happy with the different retelling that has been created over the years. However, I am afraid that Scarlet was not my favorite addition to this 'genre'. (if I can call it that)

Scarlet's constant prattling about men and boys and her flirtations, that she swears are not, with Little John and Robin were the bulk of the story. Even her deep dark secret, which I promise not to reveal, revolved around this theme. I liked that Scarlet was a girl, it was a fun twist on a classic story, but there was far too much inner monologue and the story, which has always been one of adventure and action, became nothing but a angsty love triangle. The reader is never really allowed to get to know neither Robin nor Little John outside of Scarlet's twisted versions of them, which makes her a rather frustrating and unreliable narrator, even for her own life and feelings. The author relys on the reader's foreknowledge of the two main male characters as character development. We all know who Robin ends up with and it definitely is not Will Scarlet, so where is this story going? When the secret is revealed, I wanted to bang my head against the table because I saw it coming and I was just hoping that the author wasn't going there.

Scarlet is not badly written and I imagine that the girls who prefer romance, would enjoy it. Although I found the book cloying, it wasn't all bad and I did feel the need to finish it. Scarlet is a rather adventurous story with plenty of action and knife throwing. The love triangle is definitely original, but it could have been so much better, which is important when retelling something that has been told again and again for centuries.

Insert Romantic Cliche Here

As a teen I was what you would call a late bloomer. I wasn't very interested in boys nor was I interested in the girls who were obsessed over them. I preferred watching movies and reading books and going out places with my friends. We once invented a game called pan ball in which you went to Wal-mart, got a pan from the pan aisle and a ball from the ball aisle and then proceeded to play a version of tennis in which the only rules were don't break anything. Ahh, to be young. Even when I did begin dating, I think it was more for the...this is what you do not necessarily because I was boy crazy.

Now that I am an adult, I have to say, the plight of the teenage dating process doesn't interest me in the slightest. Neither does the breakup process concern me. This may be because I know that for very few of these teens, the relationships they have at fifteen are lasting. Sure it leaves a psychological impact, but it is just not something I care about.

This does not mean that I think these books are badly written in the least. Clearly they fulfill an emotional need and many teenagers can relate to them. All I am saying is that there are some books that I am more likely to avoid. If the occasional romance shows up then so be it, but an entire book about love and dating or breaking up is not something I would pick up on my own. In other words, Romance is not my genre.

Which is why books like the following often have characters and storylines that I just can't seem to care about and they will rarely be blogged about:

Just thought I would clear that up for some of my readers who wonder why I don't review more of these types of books.

When Things Come Back Book Review

When Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Cullen Whitter hates his boring ass-hat town, full of boring ass-hat people and dreams of the day when he can escape. Until then he suffers through saved only by his best-friend Lucas and his very cool little brother Gabriel. Then an ego-centric birdwatcher announces that he has discovered the extinct Lazarus Woodpecker. This discovery puts Cullen's small town on the map, but while everyone else is going Lazarus crazy, the Whitter family is desperately searching for Gabriel who has mysteriously gone missing. Interweaved within the novel is a second plot in which a young missionary goes to Africa and loses his faith and this seeming innocuous event leads a chain of events that will change Cullen's life forever.

Winner of the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, I obviously felt obligated to read this book. Having just read another book about two brothers of about the same age, I spent the first fifty pages confusing the characters of this book with the ones in Angry Young Man. Once I got past that though, I just felt confused. The second plot with the missionary kid was often jarring. I trusted the author to make it connect and he did, but I don't know if I expected it to go to crazy. Honestly, I thought it would be more sinister than what it was.

Whaley established a righteous anger in his readers too as each day and week passes and they are no closer to finding Gabriel. It is like no one cares and no one is helping them look. As if a missing fifteen-year-old is no big deal and that woodpecker overshadows everything. This sense of helplessness with Cullen and his family is really the most engaging part of the story. And it is the mystery too for the reader is forced to ask, up until the very last page, What happened to Gabriel?

I don't know if I consider this the best book that came out last year, but I can see why it was in the running. In the end, I personally didn't like the crazy place that it went and found the second storyline to still be rather out of touch with Cullen's world.

Angry Young Man Book Review

Angry Young Man by Chris Lynch

"I want you to understand my brother. I don't need you to, so don't get all worked up over it or anything. Ultimately you can do what you like. But I would like for you to understand him. As far as that goes, I'd like to understand him myself."

And so begins the journey of Robert and his brother, Xan. Robert, eighteen, is a driven and although he teases his brother, he is deeply protective. Understandably so as Xan, his rather serious and socially awkward seventeen-year-old brother needs a lot of guidance. Xan hides behind dark glasses attempting to his his soft-puppy like "soul windows". And it is Xan's softness and his righteous anger that gets him into trouble.

Angry Young Man is a book full of brotherly love that quickly turns sinister, with Xan being sucked in by an extremist animal rights group bent on destruction and a loan shark out for their mother.

The problem with the novel is that the pacing is very slow, the real action of the story not beginning until the last third of the book. Yet, the book was good enough that I had to keep reading. Also, Robert struck me as a rather unreliable narrator and frankly, I didn't find him that interesting. He was a regular guy with a regular girlfriend, struggling to get by and go to college at the same time. Xan on the other hand was anything but normal and reminded me a lot of my brother who has Asperger's Syndrome.

That said, I like the discussions between the brothers about killing and how far are we really willing to go to help those things and people that we care about. There is also this wonderful understanding by the end that although we can get hurt through life, we cannot change who we inherently are. Xan is kind and soft and cries easily and no matter what he does he will always be that person. No matter how angry or serious he is, that is who he is and that is good. I liked that message and definitely think there teens who could really relate to one or both of these characters despite their seeming differences. Written for upper YA.

Starters Book Review

Starters by Lissa Price Starters - Lissa Price

Sometime in the future, mankind has discovered a way to extend life, allowing many to live to almost 200. Because the Enders (as they are called) live longer they are vying for jobs and positions and therefore anyone under the age of 20 (called Starters) are not allowed to work. This would have been fine if war had not struck and a biological weapon wiped out all those between the ages of 20 to 60, leaving kids without living grandparents or relatives to fend for themselves. Those not claimed can be locked up in institutions that make workhouses of old look like playgrounds. Enter Prime Destinations, a business that allows Enders to rent the bodies of teens for a day, a week, or a month, and allows them to be young once more. Desperate for money, Callie signs up, but when the chip implanted in her head malfunctions, Callie is thrown into a world of intrigue and danger that even a street hardened girl like her may be too difficult to handle.

This post-apocalyptic thriller was non-stop can't-put-it-down action that sucked me in from the very beginning. Callie is a normal girl, living is completely abnormal circumstances, and her world is both horrifying and fascinating. At first I wondered how adults could be so terribly cruel and uncaring about the unclaimed minors, but after having just read a book about Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London, I had to remind myself that even in a so-called civilized world, there can be uncaring and unfeeling people. I think that the problem was not that it was so improbable, but that I wished it wasn't. But there is hope, for there are grandparents and nice adults who do care and who do suspect the evil that is Prime Destinations.

The bad guy in this story is also sufficiently creepy. Wearing a mask that constantly shifts from one grotesque image to another, the "Old Man" is goosebump inducing and not to give anything away, but he ups the creepy level to 10 by the end. Amidst the action are wonderfully tender moments between Callie and her brother, her friend Michael, and her love interest Blake. The romance scenes were well-handled and never slowed down the pacing of the story.

Clearly, the publisher and author intend this to be a series, but I was pleasantly happy that the author wrapped it up in a way that made me happy but left me with more questions. This is the perfect book for Hunger Games lovers and may even become as big as Hunger Games with the right word of mouth.