Review: The Toymaker’s Apprentice

“Just then, the massive pendulum he’d seen in the outer caverns swung into the chamber, lifting Stefan’s hair in its wake. In the light of the Cogworks, it shone like a slice of the sun.” p. 122

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The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith.
Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 392 pages.
Lexile:  710L  .
AR Level:  5.2 (worth 14.0 points)  .

The Toymaker's Apprentice resized

By the second reading, I’d worked out how to describe this book when recommending it.  It’s a bit like a cross between Hugo and Redwall, without really being like either at all.  While this is technically a retelling of the story of the Nutcracker, I believe it could stand alone even if a reader had no previous knowledge of the stories and ballet it’s based on.

Sherri L. Smith is one of those rare authors who seems to write many genres well.  You might recall my review of her historical fiction Flygirl, and the dystopian Orleans is one of my favorite books (though I’m still struggling to review it).  She’s also written several contemporary novels that I haven’t gotten to yet, and this piece is a middle grade fantasy retelling.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Shark King

This slim early-chapter-book graphic novel retelling of a traditional Hawaiian story will appeal to adults as well.

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson.
TOON Books, New York, 2012.
Graphic novel, 40 pages.
Lexile:  GN410L or GN380L ?   ( Also what does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  1.6 (worth 0.5 points)  .
NOTE: I have some disagreement with these levels, see review for details.

This is the story of Nanaue, from the day his parents met onward.

The Shark King resized

Most graphic novels I’ve reviewed here so far fall into the middle school, teen, or adult categories.  While some might be appropriate for younger MG readers, most were not.  This book is aimed at elementary students – although I wouldn’t hesitate to add it to a middle school library or even a high school if high-low books were needed.  The age of the characters is not specified, and while Toon Books specializes in elementary graphic novels, they do also make some for older readers.

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Review: Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon!

“The softball he couldn’t find / Last Saturday, / One toothbrush, one helmet… / He put them away.” p. 18

Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon! by Pat Cummings.
Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon and Schuster, 1991, my edition 1994.
Picture book, 32 pages.
Lexile:  not yet leveled
AR Level:  3.3 (worth 0.5 points)  .

The story of one boy with a very messy room and the Saturday morning he spent cleaning instead of watching cartoons.

Clean Your Room Harvey Moon Cover resized

I’m always delighted when I find books about various life skills featuring children of color.  If diverse children are unrepresented in books in general, they are even more invisible in educational books, whether it’s word problems in the math textbook or “soft” life skill texts like this funny book about cleaning your room.

Harvey is settling down with a snack and getting ready for a Saturday of all his favorite cartoons when his mom walks in and tells him no TV until he cleans up his room!  Amidst moans and groans, Harvey starts cleaning.  The entire book is in loose rhyme and the funniest parts are about the items he finds in his room, both good and gross.

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Graphic Novel? Review: Tina’s Mouth

“Even here things are pretty divided. Except that the breakdown is different. The aunties hang out with the aunties and the uncles hand out with the uncles.” page 53

Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2011.
Illuminated realistic fiction, 247 pages.
Lexile:  not leveled
AR Level:  4.7 (worth 3.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is a YA book, not intended for younger children.

Tina Malhotra is the youngest in a family of five and a sophomore at the mostly white Yarborough Academy.  She’s taking an Honors English elective course in existential philosophy, and has taken on an assignment to write letters to Jean-Paul Satre about the process of discovering who she is and who she is becoming.

Tina's Mouth resized
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki.

The format of this book was different to any I’ve read before.  I hesitate to call it a graphic novel (although the dust jacket does so) because large portions of the story were carried through text only.  Neither was it an illuminated work because whole pages at a time would be done in a comic style relying on both text and illustrations.

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Review: Hope Against Hope

“Unlike most literature about New Orleans, this book focuses on what makes the city ordinary rather than extraordinary.” page 5

Hope Against Hope:  Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children by Sarah Carr.
Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2013.
Nonfiction, 317 pages including notes, bibliography, and index.
Not leveled.

The story of how a wave of mostly outsider-led charter schools are dramatically changing education in New Orleans, through a year long 2010 study of three different schools.

Hope Against Hope

Carr took such an interesting tactic in this book, and not one I would have thought of myself.  She worked closely with three different people: a student, a teacher, and a principal.  They are all at different schools, each with its own take on solving the education crisis and its own method for resolving the problems that the 2005 hurricane have only exacerbated.

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Review: We Are Family

“Each family is different; it may be large or small. / We may look like each other – or not alike at all.” p. 21

We Are Family by Patricia Hegarty, illustrated by Ryan Wheatcroft.
Tiger Tales, Caterpillar Books Ltd., Wilton, CT, 2017.
Picture book, 22 pages.
Not yet leveled.

A sweet vintage-style picture book depicting similar moments in the lives of ten very different families.

We Are Family cover

This British book is a bit off the beaten path.  I think I was looking for family books that were inclusive of foster and adoptive kids, and this certainly fits that mold.

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Review: 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Parents Knew

“One of the most sacrificial acts of love adoptive parents can do is to give up their preconceptions and agendas.” page 16

Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge.
Delta, Bantam Dell, Random House, New York, 1999.
Nonfiction, 224 pages including index and recommended reading.

This book of advice, information, and deep thought aims at communicating with the next generation of adoptive parents so the adoptive experience can be better.

20 Things Adoptive Kids etc

This was probably the most helpful book I read before becoming a parent.  (One was great for general parenting but not especially relevant to this blog.)  Sadly, this isn’t a book recommended by a social worker or from one of our required classes.

Some of my adopted friends reminded us to consider the child’s perspective.  At the used bookstore this was the only book by adoptees I could find.  Rereading it for this review was an unexpectedly emotional journey.

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