Monday, June 23, 2008

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Mibs Beaumont is looking forward to her 13th birthday – the day when members of her family discover their “Savvy” – a magical power unique to each individual. Unfortunately, just two days before her momentous birthday, her father is critically injured in a terrible car accident that leaves him in a coma. Convinced that her “Savvy” will give her the power to awaken her father, Mibs, two of her brothers, and the local minister’s children hide on board a pink Heartland Bible Supply bus Mibs believes is headed towards Salina where her father lies in a hospital. However, when the bus turns left instead of right and the driver’s tattoos begin to talk to each other, Mibs realizes her Savvy isn’t what she’d hope for and her plan could be heading toward a whole bunch of trouble – for everyone. Quirky characters, loads of bad luck, and a young girl determined to get to her dad make this book a true stand-out adventure.

Ever by Gail Carson Levine

When 14-year-old Kezi’s mother falls gravely ill, her father makes a rash promise to Admat, the god of their city Hyte. He swears that if Admat will restore his wife’s health he will kill the first person who congratulates him within three days. The family hides out hoping for the three days to pass without contact. Unfortunately, Kezi’s beloved Aunt Fedo arrives without warning and begins to comment on the mother’s health, to save her aunt’s life, Kezi congratulates her father herself, bringing the oath down upon her own head. Meanwhile, Olus, the Akkan god of the winds has been observing Kezi’s family from afar and has fallen deeply in love with the girl. Determined to save her life, Olus reveals himself to Kezi and the two set off to change her fate by completing a series of quests that could make her immortal. The question of faith is prevalent throughout this tale. There is no tangible sign – even to the god Olus – that Kezi’s god exists and yet, she never abandons her belief in him or turns her back on her father’s oath to him even when doing so could prevent her death. That exploration of the meaning and power of faith allow this title to stand out from Levine’s other romantic works as one not only worth reading but also contemplating for some time after the last page is turned.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire Nivola

Wangari Maathai grew up on a farm in central Kenya and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. As a young woman she left Kenya to attend college in the United States. Upon her return, she discovered that her beloved land had been decimated and that many families, who once grew their own food on family farms, now labored on large plantations, forcing them to purchase expensive store-bought food. Lack of nutrition had left many of the people weak and susceptible to illnesses. Starting with the women, Wangari began to encourage the people to replant the land – particularly the trees. One seed at a time, this picture book biography celebrates the ability of one person to ignite a spark that will make a significant difference in thousands of lives.

Silent Music by James Rumford

More than anything, Ali loves calligraphy – “I love to make the ink flow – from my pen stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head.” The skill and effort required by this art form help young Ali through the difficult nights when the bombs fall and destruction reigns all around his home in Baghdad. The message is clear – the Arabic symbol for Harb (or war) is easy to create; the lovely symbol for Salam (or peace) takes time and practice. The mixed-media illustrations echo the graceful rhythm of calligraphy and the form of the Arabic language to create a picture book that is both somber and hopeful.

Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett

An active young girl imagines visiting all kinds of animals with her stuffed monkey. Exuberant illustrations of muted reds, browns and grays spotlight sprightly penguins, high hopping kangaroos, flitting bats and more. As the text repeats, “Monkey and me, Monkey and me, Monkey and me, We went to see, We went to see some…”, the illustrations capture the child in various points of movement that hint at the animal to come. Utterly child friendly from the first line to the final “zzzzzzzz”, this picture book is a spot-on hit.

If Animals Kissed Good Night by Ann Whitford Paul

Candy sweet illustrations cheerfully adorn this cozy bedtime story in which a mother and daughter imagine what it would be like if animal parents kissed their little ones goodnight like humans do. Rhyming text describes everything from the waggling twirling kiss of the snake to the jumpity-jump kisses of the kangaroo. One of the highlights of the tale is the repeated mention of the soooo slooowwwww kiss of the sloths.

Hello, Day! by Anital Lobel

"The Sheep said, 'Baa.' The Horse said, 'Neigh.' The Dog said, 'Woof.'... What they all meant was 'Hello, day!.'" A variety of animals greet the day and an owl welcomes the night in this vibrant picture book. The notably simple text and bright illustrations make this the perfect title for little ones who are just learning their animal sounds.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Airman by Eoin Colfer

Conor Broekhart was literally born in the sky, entering the world while his parents were on an ill-fated hot air balloon ride. In the 1890’s Conor and his parents live on the Saltee Islands off the Irish Coast, an idyllic life where young Conor spends his days playing with the Princess Isabella, exploring the intriguing castle, and dreaming of flight. However, at fourteen, his life takes a disastrous turn when Conor witnesses the king’s murder and that of his beloved tutor by the truly evil Bonvilain. When Conor tries to intervene, he is branded a traitor and cast into the island’s inhumane underground prison where the prisoners are forced to mine for diamonds under terrible conditions. There, Conor sees his dreams of flight dimming and struggles to survive. Adopting the name Connor Finn as his own, he wonders if he must lose his true self in order to survive. As the terrible years pass, Connor devises a daring plan to fly to freedom that will require all of the courage and scientific ability he possesses. Not for the faint of heart, this title contains enough daring, action, sword fighting, battle scenes, intrigue, revenge, and honor to satisfy the most demanding reader – with a touch of romance thrown in for readers like myself! Dark and fearsome but also hopeful and touching this is a title that will keep readers fully engaged and turning pages until the last word is read.

Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park

More than anything in the world, Maggie Fortini wants the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the World Series. She’s tired of saying “Wait till next year!” – the unofficial slogan of Dodger fans. Maggie doesn’t play baseball herself but she listens to every game possible, often gathering around the radio with the guys at the firehouse where her father worked before a career-changing injury. One day, a new firefighter is at the house and, horror-of-horrors, he’s a Giant’s fan! Despite her shock, Maggie and Jim quickly become friends as he introduces Maggie to a wonderful new dimension of baseball – keeping score. She quickly learns to love the complicated system of tracking game statistics on a sheet of paper, developing some of her own touches along the way. When Jim is called up to serve in the army in Korea, Maggie devotedly keeps in touch. However, Jim’s letters suddenly stop and Maggie is left feeling hurt and worried. Part baseball story, part growing-up tale, this is, ultimately a story of hope and the power of one person trying to make a difference in the life of another.

Waking Beauty by Leah Wilcox

The fabulous team that brought us the hysterical “Falling For Rapunzel” returns with their take on “Sleeping Beauty”. “Once upon a Saturday, in search of dragons he could slay…” Prince Charming happens upon a castle reverberating with a terrible thunder. Certain he has found a dragon, the prince enters only to discover to his dismay that the noisy disturbance is caused not by a dragon but by a “snoring girl in bed.” Adding to his disappointment is the pronouncement by the little fairies hovering over the girl that he must find a way to rouse the sleeping lass. Ignoring the poor fairies who try to explain to him the proper wake-up call, the prince proceeds to try everything from yelling to shooting the princess out of a cannon. At last, the fairies get through to him and the look on the horrified Prince’s face is priceless as he exclaims, “One hundred years of morning breath. Wow! That could be the kiss of death!” Hilarious from first snore to final kiss.

Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum by Robert Andrew Parker

This lovely illustrated biography tells of the young life of Jazz pianist, Art Tatum. Told in first person, with just a touch of fictionalization, illustrator/author Robert Parker charms the senses with mood-capturing watercolor illustrations and brief but beautiful text. When describing Art's love of the piano, the author writes, "When I am at the piano, I close my eyes. I play clouds of notes, rivers of notes, notes that sound like skylarks singing and leaves rustling, like rain on a rooftop. I forget that my eyes aren't good. I have everything I need." A well-thought out end note tops off the story with more detailed information about Tatum's life. Absolutely captivating!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Oggie Cooder by Sarah Weeks

Oggie Cooder's teachers say he is "different", "one-of-a-kind", "quirky", "unusual" - and not, necessarily in a positive way. Oggie certainly has his own style - he wears clothes from his parents second-hand store and especially likes to combine stripes and checks. He also has an extraordinary talent - the ability to "charve" (a combination of chewing and carving) slices of cheese into the exact shape of the various 50 states. Through a shocking sequence of events, this distinctive ability lands him on the popular game show, "Hidden Talents." This has some positive consequences, including a new popularity - even the boys Oggie's always dreamed of playing basketball with invite him to join in their daily game. But, the snooty Donnica Perfecto wants a piece of Oggie's fame and she will go to any length to get what she wants. Oggie must decide if he will allow Donnica to rule his life and take him down the path of fortune or if he will choose his own way. Fun and quirky with plenty of laughs along the way.

The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda

When Leo Langlander inherits an old, painted music box from his great-aunt he is very careful to follow the instructions - only wind the box three times, never move the box while it is playing, never close the lid until the music stops, and never wind the box while the music plays. However, when his odd cousin Mimi arrives for a visit she quickly breaks the music box rules with shocking results. Leo and Mimi ultimately find themselves in the mythical land painted on the outside of the box. On a quest to save Mimi's dog, they soon learn that this is a dangerous land where the name Langlander is feared and sometimes hated. They find some kind assistance along the way but never know who they can fully trust. The children are determined but not without fear and doubts, particularly the careful Leo. Action packed, this creative world should appeal to a wide-range of fantasy lovers.