Taken by Erin Bowman Book Review

Taken by Erin Bowman
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: April 16, 2013

It happens on your eighteenth birthday. They call it the Heist. The ground shakes, the wind howls, and blinding light comes from the heavens, and then they are gone. When Gray's older brother Blain is taken by the Heist, Gray feels like a piece of him is missing. Then he finds part of a letter written by his deceased mother, one that promises secrets and Gray knows he must find the answers. However, the answers even when found are shrouded in secrecy. How are you supposed to trust and protect the ones you love, when everything you have ever been told is a lie?

Let's start with the good. Taken is very well-paced, with very little down time between action scenes. I was never bored and found myself finishing the entire book in one sitting. (despite having a lot of issues with it) There was no muddle in the middle and the consequences for these characters was huge.

That said, Gray Weathersby is one of the most unlikable characters I have read in a long time. If he was unlikable due to an anti-hero status then perhaps this would be okay, but I am pretty sure I, the reader am supposed to like this asshat. Pardon my language. This guy hits girls who say things he doesn't like, he rarely thinks anything through and allows himself to be fully ruled by his emotions, he is stubborn, rude, and has a tendency to trust all the wrong people and distrust the right ones. I was completely done with him though when he grabbed a man who had stolen an extra gallon of water and despite the man begging and pleading for his life, Gray refuses to let him go. The result is the man being executed before their eyes. Of course, there is guilt associated with this but my question is why? Why did it matter to Gray in the slightest? Why should he even care that some random dude stole some water? This isn't his city, these aren't his people, and he has never shown one inkling of caring about whether rules and laws are obeyed. His affections towards women are fickle at best and despite declaring himself multiple times to only want one love forever, he is very quick to move on the minute he meets someone else.

The plot itself was extremely transparent. At first, I thought that my guessing the plot points was the author allowing the reader to know something before the character. I don't want to figure out the twists and turns chapters before the character does though. I am on this journey with this character, I want to learn as he learns, rather than anticipating a plot twist that I already figured out three chapters before. It doesn't make much of a twist if you know what's going to happen. The sad part is that on its face there is great premise and mystery to the story. The Heist, the wall, domed cities, civil wars, a machine that can burn you to a crisp, an elder who may be in on the plot, other towns just like theirs. However, the answers to these mysteries were incredibly mundane. I was expecting the Heist to be teleporters or special machines made to scare people, to find out it was only a helicopter was extremely disappointing. That was how it all felt for me. Disappointing. Oh and don't even get me started with the random character who conveniently shows up in the end to suddenly save them.

Oh, and the love triangle. About 2/3 of the way through the book there is a sudden love triangle that is probably one of the worst I have ever read. Not only because of the aforementioned fact that Gray spends the first 2/3 pining over Emma and telling her how he believes some people should be together forever, but also because the other girl he "falls" for is probably the very opposite (read: not a good match) of Emma. Now we add in the fact that during any scene where Gray is thinking about girls he sounds like...well, a girl. He knows Emma is alive. He is completely aware that not only did she follow him over the wall, but that she loves him, and that it is his fault she is imprisoned, and yet he easily allows himself to fall in love with this other girl. I guess they are a good match in the respect that they like to fight, are ruled by their emotions, and are equally rude. However, Gray doesn't need someone exactly like himself.

In the end, Gray is a horrible operative and no rebel should allow him to go on any missions because the minute he gets a feeling or acts impulsively, he is going to get everyone killed. Not a big deal for him, since he is so good at just moving on, but it could devastate everything the rebels have worked for. Not to worry, I'm sure in what is sure to be a trilogy, the rebels will win and Gray will get some girl.

This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris Book Review

This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris Book Review
Illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 6, 2014

Lights! Camera! Moose!

This is a Moose. But Moose isn't a regular moose, he is a dreamer. He dreams of being an astronaut and going to the moon. Soon a whole cast of characters with unusual talents begin to emerge, from the lacrosse-playing grandma and a superhero chipmunk. The problem is, all these unusual animals are ruining the movie.

This is my favorite picture book to come out this year. Not only was it laugh out loud funny, but a movie set starring a moose felt unique and fun. There were so many great little jokes and asides and a reveal at the end that is both expected, but equally silly. Although I thought this book was fantastic, I do think that it is meant for a little older child on the picture book scale. The jokes were not something that I think a 2-4 year old is going to understand, at least not without a good deal of explaining, but that is okay because there are plenty of other books out there for them.

The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett Book Review

 The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett
Publisher: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers
Release Date: April 29, 2014

A little girl sees a shiny new bicycle in a shop window. Despite digging through the couch cushions and emptying her piggy bank, she is a bit short and so she seeks out ways to make money. No one seems interested, that is until a kindly old woman agrees. Together, they work through the seasons, forming a friendship. Finally, as the weather turns warm again, the little girl has enough money to buy her bike, but when she arrives at the store, it is gone. Sold. Then, in an incredible act of selflessness the little girl buys her little brother (who has been tagging along all this time) a tricycle. When she returns home, she discovers who the bike was sold to--her neighbor and friend--who gives the bike to the little girl.

I absolutely love wordless picture books. They are incredible in how much they can convey through expression and art. Although there is an obvious message here and not everyone should expect their neighbor to buy them a bike, I think what really impressed me was the character of the little girl. She works hard, saves her money, has a clear goal, and in the end is extremely generous. She spends her mother on her brother not expecting anything in return and delighting in the giving of the gift. I loved it.

It is amazing how much emotion I felt throughout the story too. I was rooting for the little girl. As she rooted through the couch, I laughed. As she knocked on neighbors doors, I sympathized. When she found that bike was sold, I audibly exclaimed, "Oh no." Her gift to her brother made me tear up a bit, and then more so when she returned home. Perfect.

Spera Volumes 1 & 2 by Josh Tierney Book Review

Spera Volumes 1 & 2 by Josh Tierney
Illustrators: Kyla Vanderklugt, Kwei Lin Lim, Emily Carroll, Olivier Pichard, Afu Chan, Rebecca Taylor, Giannis Milonogiannis
Publisher: Archaia
Release Dates: January 24, 2012 (vol.1); March 12, 2013 (vol.2)

Lono lived the typical life of a princess, sitting, reading, and dreaming. Then Pira, a princess from a neighboring kingdom arrives to tell her that Lono's father has been murdered and they must escape. Together Lono and Pira decide to become adventurer's, always on the run from Pira's mother, but determined to make their way in the world.

There is a lot of potential to this story. Pira and Lono are everything I want in my heroines. Lono, although definitely a more "soft" and girly princess, is willing to learn and try. She does grab a sword when a situation calls for it and has some smarts about her. Pira is our swashbuckling heroine whose magicked sword can take down any foe.

The difficulty in the series for me, especially with the first book were all the illustrators. Now, I have read enough graphic novels to understand that this is nothing new. Marvel's Runaways, another good teen read, used such methods. However, what it did do was turn the graphic novel part into a bunch of short story vignettes. It gave the stories a feeling of inconsistency and drew me out of the story every time there was an illustration change.

Spera Volume 2, felt a bit more cohesive, but didn't draw me in as much. That said, if I can get my hands on the third volume, I would read it.

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman Book Review

The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman
Illustrations by LeUyen Pham
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: June 25, 2013

Most people think of mathematicians as solitary, working away in isolation. And, it's true, many of them do. But Paul Erdos never followed the usual path. At the age of four, he could ask you when you were born and then calculate the number of seconds you had been alive in his head. But he didn't learn to butter his own bread until he turned twenty. Instead, he traveled around the world, from one mathematician to the next, collaborating on an astonishing number of publications. With a simple, lyrical text and richly layered illustrations, this is a beautiful introduction to the world of math and a fascinating look at the unique character traits that made "Uncle Paul" a great man.

How do I miss these books? Seriously, how do these books come out and me not hear about them until a year later. This is ridiculous. There I am sitting in book club and someone mentions it, so of course I add it to my list, and am absolutely appalled that I had not heard of this one before now. That said, I so incredibly glad that I found it. Now, I must first preface this review by stating that math and I have never been allies. From the time I was in elementary school, numbers and the manipulating of them have been a struggle. I had a math tutor for almost 6 years and I still barely passed it in high school. And then I had to take remedial math in college. Yet, I loved this book.

This is what I want a picture book biography. The childhood to adulthood, that still keeps the life story simple and understandable. Paul Erdos was a very interesting man and I imagine that if he were born today he would probably be diagnosed on the autism spectrum. What made me love the story though was the love that other people had for him. They saw his genius, but they also saw that he could not take care of himself and so the entire mathematical community (which he created) came together to care for Paul and provide him with places where he would be happy. On top of that, Paul was an extremely generous man in that he never kept his knowledge to himself. He felt that the things he discovered deserved to be shared and collobarated with. What I think I love about this book is that although the story centers around math, it is not about math and that is what makes this such a successful biography.

Abuelo by Arthur Dorros Book Review

Abuelo by Arthur Dorros
Illustrations by Raúl Colón
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: April 22, 2014

A young boy and his abuelo (grandfather) go camping together, ride horses, and even confront a mountain lion. He loves spending time withe his abuelo, but what will happen when his family moves from the country to the city? Using memories of his abuelo, the boy adjusts to his new life.

A book in English, with a smattering of Spanish, I am not entirely sure who the audience for this book is. There isn't enough cultural references or exact locations for this book to feel like a story of culture. It could have been set in Mexico or Texas and I wouldn't know which. If it is about the memory of a grandfather, then it is a rather melancholy book, for there is no return to the abuelo in the end so it is almost like the grandfather has died. From what I gathered, after they moved, there was very little chance the boy will ever see his beloved grandfather again. If it was supposed to be an introduction to the Spanish (or English) language, then there far too many phrases and not enough individual singled out words. The Spanish phrases throughout also slow down the story since the reader must slow down to read these unfamiliar words before translating them again into English. Perhaps it was a book about memory, but I never felt entirely attached to the characters, so I never felt an emotional tie to those memories.

The illustrations on the other hand are beautiful. Classic and soft, with colors that leap off the page.

Middle School: Ultimate Showdown by James Patterson Book Review

Middle School: Ultimate Showdown (Middle School #6) by James Patterson and Julia Bergen
Illustrations by Alec Longstreth
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Release Date: March 31, 2014

Young readers now have a chance to join Rafe and Georgia on their Middle School adventures. Polar opposites, the Khatchadorian siblings discuss topics ranging from bullying to cafeteria food, dress codes to drawing.

I know, I know. There is a lot of anti-James Patterson sentiment out there. After all, it is glaringly obvious that no one man can possibly write as many books as he does in a year. We know about his "co-authors". We are aware of the writing factory that is now James Patterson. However, I can't help but like these books. Really. I find them funny, cute, and great reads for the age group it is geared for.

This activity book is little bit different from the other books as it doesn't have much of a storyline, but eleven-year-old me would have loved it. Not only did I love the idea of being able to write in a book, but I was just starting to do journaling so this concept of an activity book/novel would have been extremely appealing. Rafe and Georgia are very different from each other too, so these stories can suit two very different types of kids. I was, by the way, Georgia. There was a bit of sibling rivalry, fights between my brothers and I, but we weren't like these kids. I liked my brothers.

Gravity by Jason Chin Book Review

 Gravity by Jason Chin
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Release Date: April 29, 2014

What keeps objects from floating out of your hand?
What if your feet drifted away from the ground?
What stopped everything from floating into space?

In beautiful Jason Chin fashion, young readers are given another fantastic non-fiction picture book, this time concerning Newton's most famous law. Chin speaks with authority, zooming out further and further as he explains gravity and its effects. The story is simple, reminding me of A Trip Into Space in that respect, but all the necessary information is there for a basic introduction to the subject matter. There is a very interesting element in that there is a book within the book that leads to a surprising "twist" ending, if you can call it that. I originally saw this book as a galley and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Worth every penny.

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth Book Review

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth
Publisher: Graphix
Release Date:August 27, 2013

When Nate's family moves to a new house, he isn't too happy about it. After all, no one even asked him his opinion on the matter. Then, when Nate discovers an old tape recorder beneath the floor boards of his bedroom, strange things begin to happen. Weird creatures begin to follow Nate and his friend Tabitha. Talking crickets riding dogs, tree people, living baby dolls. Soon, the children are caught up in a terrifying adventure that will lead them to the truth of the Lost Boy.

Graphic novels, by definition, is a fictional story that is presented in comic-strip format and published as a book. A very simple explanation. Here's the thing about some graphic novels though, they must, by the previous definition have a story. The Lost Boy relied fully on its beautiful illustrations to carry the story through to completion and it simply did not work for me.

Firstly, story aside, the hand lettering within the speech bubbles was terrible. Sometimes I found myself having to stop and reread something because I couldn't read what was written. This is not good, especially in a format where the reader's eye is supposed to be flying from image to image with the words acting like sub-titles where you read almost subconsciously. Not to mention the constantly bolded text that made me think something was important, only to discover that it was not.

The story itself was supposed to be some kind of fantasy ghost story in which the characters, through means of a magical gate, eventually travel to a world that reminded me of Oz. The problem was that this world of talking crickets and giant talking baby dolls was never really explained. There was just no world building whatsoever. Ruth hinted at this world at every turn, but I found myself confused and repulsed by it. Everything felt convoluted and the frustrating part was that I could see the potential that the story had. All the pieces were there, but it was missing the links in between, which made the entire story unravel for me.

Churchill's Tale of Tails by Anca Sandu Book Review

Churchill's Tale of Tails by Anca Sandu
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Release Date: March 1, 2014

Churchill is rather proud of it's tale. Then, one day, it disappears. Despite trying on a variety of different tales, some of which add to his personality, Churchill discovers that his friends are what is truly important. A tale, despite how awesome it can be, can never be better than friends.

I am going to assume that this book was originally published overseas, since it has an original publication date of 2012, but was just released here in March 2014. Reminiscent of Eeyore, but with a more flamboyant personality, Churchill's Tale of Tails is a fun story with a good deal of silliness. I personally loved the peacock tale. The illustrations and expressions of the various animal cast were cleverly done and there was great use of the white space on the page. As is expected, there is a nice little lesson to learn, but it never felt heavy handed.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart Book Review

 No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young
Illustrations by Nicole Wong
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Release Date: August 1, 2013

Everyone loves chocolate, right? But how many people actually know where chocolate comes from or how it is made? Or that monkeys have a very important role to play in making sure that chocolate continues to be a part of our desserts?

In perfect non-fiction picture book style, Stewart, Young, and Wong set out to show and tell their young readers the incredible ecosystem that exists in order to make chocolate from cocoa beans. Everything is connected from the pollen-sucking midge, to the aphid-munching anole lizard, to the brain-eating coffin fly maggots, to the monkeys.

The story begins with a birthday party in which massive amounts of chocolate are displayed, enough to get the mouth watering. From there, the story of chocolate grows. Nothing is left out. The entire life cycle of a cocoa plant is walked through, as well as every insect and animal that are effected. For added humor, there are two bookworms that help move the story along and reiterate important details. Each detail is carefully explained and stressed, because as the story shows, should one of these things not happen, we would no longer have chocolate.

This is a fantastic book that I can see both educators and children enjoying. There is a wealth of possibilities and subject matter that can be covered.

Game Over, Pete Watson by Joe Schreiber Book Review

Game Over, Pete Watson by Joe Schreiber
Illustrations by Andy Rash
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 11, 2014

Pete Watson is a bit video game obsessed. When he doesn't have enough money to buy a new video game, he quickly grabs some junk from around the house and has an impromptu yard sale. What he can't know is that his dad is not only a super-spy, but he has also been kidnapped and is now trapped inside the very video game that Pete sold at his yard sale.

Pete Watson is the kind of character that a lot of boys will be able to relate to. Heedless, headstrong, video game obsessed, with a love of comics this book felt like a sure winner. I wanted to enjoy this, I wanted to be sucked into this middle-grade spy thriller, but instead I just felt old. I know the Wimpy Kid crowd is going to love this, yet I couldn't.

Even though his mother has proven she is good for her money with her IOUs, Pete decides that his video game is so important that he decides to sell things that belong to his parents. Of course, the grown up in me really balked at this, but I took a deep breath and read on. Next comes the adventure where Pete's father is apparently a secret agent stuck inside a video game. This is where the story just felt like something that is completely in Pete's head. In fact, that was what I was expecting. The plot was so ridiculous that I thought, given the unreliable first-person trope, that Pete would reveal that he made the entire thing up. He didn't, which just made the story more ridiculous. A younger readership may not care, but then again I think children are very discerning, I can't help but wonder if they will let this fly.

Pete boasts about the digital version of this book and how it will be interactive, which made me wonder if the publishers would be able to make an actual eBook seeing as it would really need to deliver on its promise. Obviously, with its illustrations and goofy characters, we are aiming for a certain age group, but it isn't nearly as successful as some other books out there in this genre.

Children's Book Adaptations for 2014

In case you aren't aware, this year there are a number of children's and teen books that have been adapted into film. Here are some you can look forward to (or dread) this year:

Flight School by Lita Judge Book Review

Flight School by Lita Judge
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 15, 2014

Although little Penguin has the soul of an eagle, his body wasn't exactly built to soar. However, Penguin is persistent and determined and he adamantly follows his dream to fly even if he needs a little help with the technical parts. Penguin is ready to find his destiny on the wind.

On the one hand this book was adorable, with a very determined Penguin who perseveres even when he is told he cannot possibly fly. He is sure that he can figure it out. This message of persistence and finding solutions to a problem made for a nice character arc.

However, the whole Penguin-who-can't-fly plot has been done so many times that I wonder how publishers don't get tired of it. I am aware that with the amount of books that go out of print every year and with the general age of a picture book audience, young readers really don't know about all those other penguin books out there, but do the adults get tired of them or is it a guaranteed seller? That isn't really a judgement on the book itself, for on its own it was a very cute book. I guess this simply the downside of being a prodigious reader.

Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge Book Review

Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge
Publisher: Abrams
Release Date: May 7, 2013

Wilhelmina, or Will for short, is struggling to cope after her parents both died in a car accident. Living with her aunt, Will creates beautiful hand-crafted lamps to stave away her fear of the dark and to provide extra income for the antique shop they run together. When she meets some new friends who are putting on an arts carnival, Will quickly jumps on board, helping in any way she can. However, hurricane Whitney has other plans and Will is forced to face her fear of darkness and the darkness that lies within as well.

Despite the cover, I can assure you, this is not a romance. Instead this is the story about loss and grief and how people deal with it. It is about strength amidst tragedy and how it is okay to mourn. Like her first book Page by Paige, Gulledge uses a lot of metaphors and symbolism to get her points across, some working more successfully then others. The references to Will being afraid of the dark and that being in direct correlation with her parent's deaths did not work for me because the story mentions that she had this problem for years. Her grandfather is the one who taught her about lamp making. Perhaps I didn't understand the timeline correctly, but in the story it seemed like her grandfather had died a while back and her parents the year before. If it was the other way around then I would be curious to know why Will didn't also greatly grieve for the loss of her grandfather too.

However, the story had good pacing and fantastic illustrations that I fell in love with while reading Page by Paige. In the end, I cried, which means the characters really captured me. I just wish the story had not ended so abruptly. Just a few pages more would have made me happy.

Chengu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg Book Review

Chengu Could Not, Would Not, Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: May 6, 2014

High in a tree, a young panda named Chengu just can't fall asleep. Even though everyone else around him is quietly sleeping, Chendu just can't find the right spot. He scrunches, squirms, and wiggles with little success. That is until he finds that he just needed something a little less tree-like to lay on.

This is a cute little bedtime story, with a character that is expressive and adorable. There are some great foldout pages that were fun although this adult had some problems pulling them out so I imagine they aren't for little hands. Perhaps my favorite illustration though was an entire white page with Chengdu's panda eyes, wide awake, staring at the reader. Readers need not fear though, Chengdu does eventually find a comfortable spot, hopefully just in time for little ones to find theirs.

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana Book Review

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: April 8, 2014

Armani Curtis is about to turn ten years old. Living in the Lower Nines of New Orleans, all the adults seem to care about though is the hurricane Katrina chugging away in the Gulf Coast. Intent on having her birthday party, Armani doesn't tell her papa about the neighbors who are getting out of town and she ignores her Memaw who frets over the storm. However, when the hurricane changes course, heading straight for New Orleans, no one can ignore the storm any longer. Then the unthinkable happens, the levees break and Armani realizes that being ten means more than just getting older, it means being brave, watching loved ones die, and requires strength in order to hold her family together.

For me, the adult reader, this story was agonizingly suspenseful. I think the timeline of the events of Hurricane Katrina will be forever cemented in my mind, just like 9/11. A national tragedy that some young readers, especially those living in Louisiana and Mississippi will have heard about all their lives, but don't remember. I think the story would be suspenseful for younger readers as well, but watching the days and hours tick by with each chapter was especially grueling. I knew that water was coming.

Lamana does not spare her young readers either. The tragedy that follows when the levees break is heart wrenching and terrible. People die. Families are split apart. Armani, our young heroine, is so so brave. We are taken through each stage of the disaster. First they climb into the attic to escape the flood, then they manage to get on the roof, then rescue by a kindly boatman, followed by a quick stop at the Super Dome. Finally, there is the shelter. By the time Armani comes to the shelter her family has been so fractured that she clings desperately to the ones she has left, lying when needed in order to keep them all safe and together. There are some fabulous secondary characters that come and go.

Perhaps the best part of the book though was how well Lamana captures the language, culture, poverty, and familial ties that help shape New Orleans and the Lower Nines. She isn't afraid to hit on the hard parts, but shows the beauty and strength that can be found amidst such tragedy.  

The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett Book Review

The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: March 25, 2014

Cecily and Jeremy, along with their mother have been sent to their Uncle's countryside manor 'Heron Hall', far from London and safe from the war. Upon Cecily's urging, they take in another refugee May, who is to remain with them for the duration of the war. Mae is quiet and mysterious, Jeremy hates that he is being treated like a child, and Cecily just wants to forget about the war. Then May stumbles across two boys hiding in the ruins of a nearby castle and then the real adventure begins.

I wanted to like this book. Vaguely reminiscent of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Tom's Midnight Garden, I wanted to be sucked into the old time whimsy. Yet I wasn't. It is a beautifully written book, that is to be sure, with its gentle truths and whispering secrets. The problem is that so much was just a whisper, barely touched on ideas and a melancholy that felt like it belonged in an adult novel.

The character's themselves ranged from shockingly complex to archetypal shallow. Jeremy, fourteen, is angry at having to evacuate, angry that he is not being treated as an adult, and angry that he is not quite old enough to do something about it. Cecily is spoiled, callous, selfish, inconsiderate, and bossy. Her attitude towards May is that the girl is her pet, to do with as she pleases. The problem with Cecily is that she is a child in a world that is asking her to grow up and she is fighting it with all her might. May on the other hand is quiet and even though she is two years younger than Cecily, a good deal more mature. The problem with the story is that most of it is told through the lens of Cecily, the most unlikable of the three children.

As for the mystery of the two boys in the castle, it was not done very cleverly as it became abundantly clear who the two boys were supposed to be and also was a slightly twisted version of history. Was it ever a ghost story? Not really. It lacked the magic, or for lack of a better word, spirit.

There was a lot of promise in this story that wasn't quite fulfilled, but it did end with a very poignant message. Children, very rarely, have any control in a world thrown into chaos. War is a terrible and ugly thing brought on my forces who seek power. It is that quest for power that will kill fathers, murder children, and harm countless other innocents who get in its way.

Travelling to Foreign Lands in Children's and Young Adult Literature

When I was a kid, family vacations consisted of two things: 1) camping or 2) vising relatives. I recall a few other adventures, but money was tight and our trips were usually of the budget-friendly variety. This meant that traveling overseas, was an adventure completely relegated to the world of books, at least until I grew older. There are many interesting non-fiction books about foreign countries, stories set in far off places in ancient times, or regarding famous moments in that countries history. For the sake of this book list though, I thought it would be interesting to find some books where American children (or pigs) travel to a foreign country for travel and adventure. Although it is a decent list, they aren't nearly as prevalent as I thought they would be. Definitely something to keep in mind while I am writing. Also something to keep in mind, if my characters do travel, perhaps sending them somewhere besides Europe would be interesting. 

 Netherlands - A Fault In Our Stars by John Green

 France - Eloise in Paris by Kay Thompson

 Russia - Eloise in Moscow by Kay Thompson

 Japan - My Awesome Japan Adventure: A Diary About the Best 4 Months Ever! by Rebecca Ottowa

 France - Lately Lily: The Adventure of a Travelling Girl by Micah Player

 Italy - Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer

 France - Nobody's Girl by Sarra Manning

 Italy - Are We There Yet by David Levithan

 India - Karma by Cathy Ostlere

 India - The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami

 World - Toot & Puddle by Holly Hobbie

 Netherlands - Knuffle Bunny Free by Mo Willems

 India - Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj

 Greece - Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

 Egypt - The Pharaoh's Secret by Marissa Moss

 Great Britain - Gilda Joyce: the Ghost Sonata by Jennifer Allison

 Thailand - Stolen by Lucy Christopher

 South Africa - Many Stones by Carolyn Coman

 Netherlands - Post Cards From No Man's Land by Aidan Chambers

India - Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins

Cleopatra in Space by Mile Maihack Book Review

Cleopatra in Space by Mile Maihack 
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Release Date: April 29, 2014

When a young Cleopatra (yes, THAT Cleopatra) finds a mysterious tablet that zaps her far, REALLY far future, she learns of an ancient prophecy that says she is destined to save the galaxy from the tyrannical rule of the evil Xaius Octavian. She is enrolled in Yasiro Academy, a high-tech school with classes like algebra, biology, and alien languages (which Cleo could do without), and combat training (which Cleo loves). With help from her teacher Khensu, Cleo learns what it takes to be a great leader, while trying to figure out how she's going to get her homework done, make friends, and avoid detention.

On the one hand I absolutely loved this story. I love the concept of taking a character from the past (a famous one at that) and throwing her into the distant future where a prophecy says she will save the world. She is brave, funny, and is convincingly heroic. On the other hand, Cleo acclimates to this new world really fast. After all, isn't shooting a ray gun the same as a slingshot? Oh and, if you were sent to the future, wouldn't they immediately enroll you in school?

Truthfully, I think I liked it because it was a combination of Indiana Jones meets The Search for WondLa, with some travel added into the mix. The adventure, the fun cast, as well as Cleo's quick whit are page turner enough before you add in prophecies, ray guns, and cats. My only major criticism is that Cleo is fifteen, but she really doesn't act like a teenager. The audience for the book is clearly not young adult and since Cleo already acts like she is twelve, it would not have hurt to make her a little younger. Weirdly enough it would have made the story more believable, especially if we are talking about the Cleopatra VII Philopator who was a regent at the age of 14.

Have You Seen My Dragon by Steve Light Book Review

Have You Seen My Dragon by Steve Light
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: April 8, 2014

In the heart of the city, among the taxis and towers, a small boy travels uptown and down, searching for his friend. Readers will certainly spot the glorious beast, plus an array of big-city icons they can count. Is the dragon taking the crosstown bus, or breathing his fiery breath below a busy street? Maybe he took a taxi to the zoo or is playing with the dogs in the park. 

Although this is a book about a missing dragon, it also so happens to be a counting book going up to the number 20. Each spread highlights objects, the only color on the page, for children to count as the main character searches for his dragon. I absolutely loved the black and white illustrations with the splashes of color. It made the book feel so accessible and distinct. I also loved how the dragon with an Asian-style flair, which made sense when the dragon was found hiding in Chinatown. 

Salvage by Alexandra Duncan Book Review

Salvage by Alexandra Duncan
Publisher: Greenwillow
Release Date: April 1, 2014

Ava has lived her entire life aboard the deep space merchant ship the Parastrata. Rigidly patriarchal, Ava's future is bound by her Captain father's whims. Therefore, when Ava is told she is going to be married off to a man on another ship, she is overjoyed to discover it is the ship where Luck, a kind young man who once offered to teach her how to read, lives. When he meets her at the dock, Ava is beyond excited that she is to be married to Luck. However, the minds of men are fickle and in a series of horrible mistakes, Ava finds herself facing a death sentence. Taking her own life in her hands, Ava flees the only life she has ever known and heads planetside. However, life on Earth is not easy for a girl who has spent her entire life locked inside a space ship.

This book was like the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) meeting up with Firefly. On board the Parastrata, life is run by the men. Polygamous marriages are the norm, especially to underage girls. A girl could be beaten or even killed for stepping out of line, and the line can be as simple as looking another man in the eye. Women have very specific jobs they are allowed to do and their education is extremely limited. To add a sci-fi twist to this already twisted tale, women are never allowed to walk in normal Earth gravity, which means that if any of them should go down to Earth it is very likely that they would die. Ava is lucky in that she meets a kind person who helps take care of her, but even then, Ava spends weeks getting her landlegs under her. They also speak in a way that reminded me of Firefly, with this almost country accent and phrases that set them apart from other people they met. It is a closed off society that leaves Ava with massive amounts of culture shock.

I absolutely loved Ava. She is clearly smart and capable from the very beginning although it is clear that she is always one step away from breaking a rule. Her confusion at being cast out, abandoned, and given a death sentence stir within her a desperate want to live. No, she does not understand the ways of life outside her ship, but she wants to live and that is enough. Ava escapes to Earth, she finds another family, she finds kindness like she has never known, she learns to fly a ship and discovers some of the deep terrible secrets of her own family and culture.

There was a bit of a love triangle and for the first time in my life I will say that this one worked. Ava, in the beginning, is a girl just doing what she thinks is right. Luck, the boy she is in love with, feels so right. At the time. However, with her escape Ava is unsure whether Luck lives or not and even as she begins a new life on Earth, there is still that pull on her heart. When she meets another boy Rushil, the friendship doesn't become romantic right away. She doesn't meet him and immediately feel pitter pattering on her heart. She is suspicious and cautious. Each thing he says or does she analyses and a part of her still hopes to find Luck. That made sense, which in turn made the love triangle okay too.

I loved the world building in this novel. So many complex societies and cultures, so many wonderful flavors of life and language. There are some great "reveals" that felt so true to the story without feeling trite. Ava learns and grows so much throughout her journey and in the end she achieves the very thing she didn't even know she desired--Freedom.

Minnie in Paris by Sweeny Higginson Free Book Giveaway

 Minnie In Paris by Sweeny Higginson
Illustrations by Mike Wall
Publisher: Disney Press
Release Date: May 13, 2014

Fashion is Minnie's passion! And, as a result, she's been invited to show her bows on the runways of Paris. At the airport, Minnie is so busy taking care of her nieces, Millie and Melody, that she accidentally switches suitcases with Penguini the magician--and finds that his suitcase is full of bunnies instead of bows. Minnie must round up the mischievous little bunnies, find Penguini, and maker her bows in time for the show.

It's that time again folks. Time for another free book giveaway! This time winners will receive not one book, but five Disney stories to add to your collection. Contest begins today (June 2) and will run through June 8.

Read your favorite stories with a Disney book bundle!
One (1) winner receives:
·         Minnie in Paris
·         Minnie’s Bow-Toons: Trouble Times Two
·         Jake and the Neverland Pirates: Follow That Sound
·         Sofia the First: The Royal Slumber Party
·         Sofia the First: The Enchanted Forest

Open to US addresses only
Prizing courtesy of Disney Press

Minnie in Paris is part of a new collection of books from Disney Publishing that includes digital content such as songs, eBooks, iPhones/iPads apps and more. Other titles in this collection include Sofia the First: The Enchanted Feast, which includes a code to download the song “All You Desire,” Jake and the Neverland Pirates: Follow that Sound! which includes a code to download the Jake and the Neverland Pirates Shapes and Patterns app, Minnie: Trouble Times Two which includes a code to download the Minnie Bow Maker app and Sofia the First: The Royal Slumber Party which includes a code to download the Sofia the First: Story Theater app.  

·         Visit the Minnie in Paris product page
·         Follow Disney Publishing on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram