Review: Dragon War

“I knew that smile. Neither the Butcher nor the Boneless King liked to be crossed, so whoever the ruler might be, the future of the capital was at risk. Once the Boneless King had disposed of the dragons, he would turn his attention to the uncooperative citizens of Ramsgate.” page 67

Dragon War (Dragon Quartet #4) by Laurence Yep.
Harper Trophy, HarperCollins, New York, 1992.
MG fantasy, 314 pages.
Lexile: 850L .
AR Level: 5.9 (worth 11.0) .
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for previous volumes.

Princess Shimmer’s companions have faced many challenges during her quest to restore the inland sea and bring her people back to their home. One has died, one was magically transformed into an inanimate object, another learned that her entire home and people have been destroyed, and the Monkey King has had his pride and several of his tail hairs wrecked. But probably the worst was when they let the Boneless King out of his long imprisonment…

Dragon War by Laurence Yep.

… from which he has joined forces with a ruthless human called the Butcher, Shimmer’s traitorous brother Pomfret, and a variety of other characters who may or may not understand that the Boneless King’s ultimate goal is the total destruction of theirs and every world.

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Review: When You Trap a Tiger

“I feel for the mugwort in my pocket, but it’s gone – and in a flash of orange and black, the tiger disappears, too.” page 147

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller.
Random House, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 298 pages.
Lexile: 590L .
AR Level: 4.1 (worth 8.0 points) .

Lily, her older sister Samantha, and their mother have left California to live with Halmoni (grandmother), which Sam resents and Lily quietly accepts.  But as they arrive, Lily begins to see something nobody else does – a tiger who can talk and walk through buildings and strike bargains, who wants something from her family.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller.

I had gotten this book, read and enjoyed it, started a review, and was in my second reading when… it won the Newberry. All of a sudden everyone was reading and reviewing it! I frequently am surprised by, or disagree with, the Newberry awards – but it isn’t often my reaction is disbelief that others chose a book I personally loved.

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On Deafness, ASL, and Cattywampus

While I like to see Deaf characters in books, a few points in this book – especially the use of SimCom – felt awkward and forced.

Where do all my conversational essays come from? Reviews that have gotten far too long, of course. Yesterday my review of a novel called Cattywampus went up (or should have, I’m writing this well before posting).

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, learn to fingerspell your name or other words at http://www.scholastic.com/wonderstruck/signs.html

Overall I enjoyed the novel (see the review for more details) but the ASL aspect sometimes felt off in ways that were hard to describe. Talking about it took up way too much of the review, so here’s a separate post for those who wish to delve deeper into this aspect of the book. First I wish to give a major disclaimer that I personally am not Deaf nor Appalachian so it is very possible that I’ve gotten some aspects of this wrong. I do have deaf, Deaf, and hard of hearing friends and family, and am familiar with, although not fluent in, American Sign Language.

If you are yourself or know of reviewers who discuss this topic from either of those standpoints, or from the intersex view which I don’t get into here but discuss in the main review (as it is a more major part of the novel) please share those reviews! Since Disability in Kidlit is now ended, I have been hoping for Sharon Pajka to review this book on her blog, but haven’t seen a post about it yet.

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Review: Cattywampus

“The weight of Delpha’s secret tugged at her gut, promising to rearrange her life nine ways to Sunday if she’d let it.” page 5

Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo.
Scholastic Press, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 280 pages.
Lexile: 810L .
AR Level: not yet leveled

Delpha’s strict mother’s biggest rule is a total ban on magic. But as they sink deeper into poverty, Delpha is ready to break any rule to prevent more of her beloved grandmother’s treasures from being sold off as tourist souvenirs.

Since finding out she’s intersex, Katybird has desperately wanted magic to prove she’s the successor to her family’s magical traditions. When that longed-for Hearn magic doesn’t manifest as planned, she’s desperate for a magical fix – even from a McGill like Delpha.

Together the girls unleash a terrible curse – threatening not just their families, but the whole valley.

Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo.
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Review: Fish in a Tree

A plethora of problematic details ultimately ruin this widely hyped pro-dyslexic novel. See review for quotations.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
Puffin, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015.
MG realistic fiction, 276 pages + sketchbook of impossible things and excerpt.
Lexile:  550L  .
AR Level:  3.7 (worth 7.0 points)  .
NOTE:  This review is a lot longer than my usual.  If you’d just like a general opinion, scroll down to the final paragraphs.

Ally’s been to half a dozen different schools.  With a military dad and working mom, it’s easy to hide things from teachers, like not being able to read.  If trouble arises, she just goes with the laughs and builds on her trouble-making reputation.  But the new teacher is bringing light to her gifts and might illuminate her struggles also, if she lets him.

Fish in a Tree

I wanted to love this book.  It’s been on my wishlist for ages and I hoped this would be a good book to share with the kids.  Instead, I feel ambivalent.  None of the individual issues alone were major enough to ruin it; some parts I liked, but many aspects were problematic.

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Review: Gloom Town

“One melancholy voice rose in the air and he smiled. It was his mum, singing a sad sea ballad, one that she had sung to him when he was a child, and he knew the tune well” page 25

Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York 2020.
MG fantasy, 274 pages.
Lexile: 650L .
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 7.0 points) .

Rory’s mother has two jobs, is taking as much extra work as she can, and living cheaply, but they still have simply run out of money. With the landlord taking their last cash and still threatening eviction, it’s clear that the only choice left is for Rory to work – but town rules won’t allow him in a seafaring job for another two years. So when a position at Lord Foxglove’s creepy mansion is advertised, he doesn’t see any option but landing the position, even if it turns out to be not quite what he thinks.

I’ve reviewed just one of Smith’s books before, Hoodoo. That one takes place in the American South in the 1930s, so I was mildly surprised, and impressed, to find that this book takes place in an atmospheric near-Britain seaside town in a vaguely Victorian (but more progressive) time. Most of the women in this novel work in some form or another. Some wear skirts while others choose pants, and women are aboard ships at the harbor. In fact, while Rory is certainly capable himself, his friend rescues him from physical danger multiple times, in a pleasant turn on the normal damsel in distress storyline.

Smith has certainly worked out the bumps in his writing now – this is his fifth novel, and clearly I need to go back and read the other three. His format here is many relatively short chapters, exactly the style my sons most enjoy. While some segments understandably have more action than others, none felt slow or irrelevant.

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Review: Arcade & the Triple T Token

“My cousin is the same age as me, and we’ve been best friends pretty much since birth. And that’s another reason why I hated this move to New York.” page 48

Arcade and the Triple T Token (Coin Slot Chronicles #1) by Rashad Jennings, illustrated by Alan Brown.
Zonderkidz, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2019.
MG Christian fantasy, 254 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Level: 3.7 (worth 7.0) .
NOTE: Despite the low AR level, there is enough peril and plot complexity that I wouldn’t generally suggest this for children below third grade.

Eleven year old Arcade Livingston just moved from Virginia to New York City and is struggling to fit in and avoid the class bullies when a woman in the library gives him a mysterious token – that lets him time travel! But his teenaged sister wants him to stop, or at least take her along.

Arcade and the Triple T Token by Rashad Jennings, illustrated by Alan Brown.

For several years I’ve been avidly seeking diverse fantasy books, but surprisingly had never heard of this series before. After reading, it was clear why – it’s Christian. (I could have figured this out sooner if I’d been paying attention; Zondervan is an explicitly Christian publisher although some of their titles appeal to a broader demographic.)

Although Narnia is probably what most people think of when they consider Christian fantasy, there’s more available. For children especially time travel stories seem to be popular. But I’ve never reviewed a Christian fantasy on this blog before because most tend to be very white.

Returning to this specific title, their family moved so Mr. Livingston can pursue a career as a set designer. It’s a big adjustment for the kids to both move to a big city and go from having a stay-at-home parent to being more personally responsible for things like getting themselves to school. Arcade handles the transition by finding the closest library and spending all his time there.

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Board Book Review: Good Morning World

“Good morning salmon swimming up the stream.” page 7

Good Morning World by Paul Windsor.
My edition Native Northwest, Vancouver, Canada, 2018. (Originally published in 2011.)
Board book, 24 pages.

Good morning greetings to various parts of the Pacific Northwest world, with local indigenous artwork.

Good Morning World cover resized
Good Morning World by Paul Windsor.

This was, as near as I can recall, one of the earliest board books ever printed by Native Northwest.  Some of the early versions appeared to have trouble with the printing, but by now that’s all sorted and my copy is full of vibrant color.

I’ve been wanting this book ever since I saw this review on AICL a good six years ago, but other needs and books popped up, so this only more recently joined our collection.  There is a companion book called Goodnight World but since we already have a different good night board book, I stuck with this one instead.

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Review: When the Sea Turned to Silver

“Pinmei looked at Yishan, but he did not meet her eyes. Instead, he was gazing upward. Another star was flying across the sky, making a silver scratch on the black-lacquered night.” page 191

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 380 pages + extract.
Lexile:  750L  .
AR Level:  5.3 (worth 9.0 points)  .

Pinmei and her grandmother live simply high up on the mountain.  Pinmei rarely ventures far from home, and hardly speaks to anyone beside her grandmother and friend Yishan.  But she doesn’t need many words when her grandmother tells the most wondrous stories – until the emperor’s soldiers kidnap her grandmother and leave her with an impossible quest.

When the Sea Turned to Silver cover resized

This is technically the third book in a series, but it’s very possible to read them out of order even though all three are set in the same world.  I’ve already reviewed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky.  If you read those first, then this one will have all sorts of little connections to delight avid readers.  But if you’ve accidentally started with this book instead, don’t worry, you can still enjoy the others!

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