Thursday, December 29, 2011
by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Harry Bliss
Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins) August 2012
Jenkins' first Inkling book perfectly melded an interesting creature, a well-meaning family, and the real-life problems of an elementary-schooler with humor and a dash of adventure. Jenkins' second book is just as strong as her first.
It's Halloween and Inkling (the invisible bandapat) is overwhelmed. Pumpkins, his favorite squash of all, are appearing everywhere- including some on the kitchen table. Unfortunately, these pumpkins belong to other people (including Hank's older sister Nadia) and as Hank learns, it's as difficult to keep Inkling from eating pumpkins as it is to get his dad to make one of his specialty icecream flavors. With no one to trick-or-treat with, no Loose Tooth icecream, and a crazed bandapat- not to mention Nadia's yearly scare- Hank is more worried about surviving Halloween than enjoying it. But where there's an invisible bandapat there's bound to be a surprise, and Hank's Halloween turns out much different than he expected.
Recommended for ages 7-10 or readers ready to move on from Flat Stanley or Junie B. Jones, or who like Sara Pennypacker's Clementine
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl
New York, NY: Firebird (1971).
Elana and her father's team are from a culture with interstellar travel and their job is to ensure that more primitive civilizations are allowed to develop naturally. When they end up on a medieval planet being colonized by a culture with space-travel capabilities, they assist the natives in vanquishing the colonists by posing as Enchanters who know magic. Told from the point of view of all three cultures, Engdahl breaks down fantasy and science-fiction, examining how viewpoint can turn science into magic or vice-versa, bringing readers to question their own notions of genre and convention.
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (2002).
On a futuristic Earth, most people have a constant Feed into their brain. Media, school, and relentless advertising are streamed through this Feed. When teen Titus meets Violet, he's immediately smitten, but becomes revolted and confused when her Feed starts malfunctioning, disabling her entire body and memory. Anderson has created an intriguing technological dystopian future, but his characters fail to bring the questioning of their technological existence to any conclusion.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush by Virginia Hamilton
New York, NY: Philomel Books (1982).
Teresa, or Tree for short, takes care of her older, mentally-challenged brother while her mother works. It's not a terrible life, but when the ghost of her uncle, Brother Rush, appears, his ability to show her the past begins to alter how she views the present. The catalyst for Tree's travels back in time is Brother Rush. However, Tree does not always travel bodily, instead viewing events in a detached manner or through the eyes of her younger self. Tree's methods of travel make this teen novel paranormal fiction rather than time-travel fantasy.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2009).
Minli and her parents live on Fruitless Mountain, where people are poor and food difficult to grow. The only hunger Minli's father can feed is her desire for stories. Determined to change her family's fortune, Minlin sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon. Along her journey, Minli is told stories by the people she meets, and these stories weave through the narrative. The inset stories in this immersive fantasy are drawn from traditional Chinese tales and Grace Lin's full-color illustrations reference Chinese folk paintings.
The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
New York: Penguin (1984).
When Laura Chat's brother becomes ill, she knows doctors can't help him. The only person who can help her is Sorensen Carlisle, a witch. When it becomes apparent that the only way to save her brother is to “changeover” into a witch, Laura takes the leap. Set in contemporary Australia, this teen fantasy novel depicts witchcraft as a personal strength and sensitivity that is not at odds with a conventional lifestyle. The strength of the novel lies in Mahy's realistic rendering of relationships- both familial and those of budding romance.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (2010).
Ten years ago, the royal family of Lumatere was murdered, the throne seized, and a curse placed over the entire country. While most citizens now roam as exiles, Finnikin, his mentor, and Evanjalin, strong young novice, are intent on bringing Lumaterians back to their land. While this is a high fantasy novel, it is the realistic refugee story embedded in the fantasy that gives the novel its' strength. Disease, hunger, and brutality are all realistically portrayed but in the end, the refugees' desire to cling their customs, language, and land, not just the fantastical aid of magic and swords, is what helps them fulfill their quest.
I want to put stars all over this book; It is absolutely brilliant. Note: recommended for ages 14+ due to content.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
New York, New York: Penguin (2010).
When Sam realizes that she has died in a car crash, she suddenly wakes up on the morning of the day she died. A pretty, popular girl at a preppy Connecticut high school, Sam lives the last day of her life over and over again, each time taking a different approach. The result is the story of a mean girl coming to the realization of how her and her friends' bullying affected those around them. The only fantastical attribute of this decidedly realistic novel is Sam's ability to relive her last day. Though from a fresh point of view, Before I Fall is so full of brand references that it is unlikely to have staying power.
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
New York, NY: Del Rey (2007).
Below London lies UnLondon, a place where broken umbrellas become moving Unbrellas and smog is a living being. Deeba and her friend are pulled into UnLondon, and even after seeing the destructive power of the Smog, Deeba vows to help destroy the Smog. With the help of many a strange creature, Deeba sets out on her unprophesized quest. This fantasy of parallel worlds is wildly inventive, with overwhelming descriptions of the strange buildings and creatures of UnLondon. However, even Mieville's creative world cannot hide the thinly-veiled and heavy-handed environmental message.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Ingrid Law. New York, NY: Penguin (2008).
When Mibs turns thirteen she will discover her Savvy, or magical talent, and she's certain it will be something great. But when her poppa ends up in an accident, all Mibs wants is a Savvy to cure her father- and she'll do anything to get to the hospital where he's held. This road-trip adventure is more than a magical coming-of-age story as Mibs and her companions come to realize that even non-magical people have a Savvy-like talent. With tall-tales and mid-western flavor, Savvy is an American immersive fantasy.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making
Catherynne M. Valente. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends (2011).
One day September is whisked away from her normal life in Omaha by the Green Wind, who takes her to Fairyland. With the help of some strange magical creatures, September must find a way to stop the bossy Marquess, who rules Fairyland with an iron fist. September's quest follows the format of a classic hero's journey. While Valente references touchstones of children's portal fantasy in her text, her world and characters are unique creations.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Mrs. Noodlekugel by Daniel Pinkwater
Candlewick, April 24, 2012
I expect quite a lot from Daniel Pinkwater's books. Humor, good writing, and a plot of one sort of another. Mrs. Noodlekugel is a fabulous title that had me expecting a humorous and contemporary Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Alas, it is not to be. Mrs. Noodlekugel's house is an architectural (but not literal) gingerbread cottage in a garden that is wedged in between skyscrapers. Nick and Maxine are tricked by their parents into finding her, only to be told that she is their new babysitter. The potential is here, as Mrs. Noodlekugel's house contains fairytalesque creatures, from four blind mice, to animated gingerbread creations, to a talking, piano-playing cat. But besides viewing these interesting characters, nothing happens, and readers are given a glance at an interesting world only to be denied an adventure in it.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
The Klaatu Diskos 1: The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman
One day Tucker's father disappears into a waver in the air, and returns a short time later with a strange girl. He won't say where he's been, or offer up a reason why he's lost his faith. Then Tunker's mother starts behaving oddly, and then, one morning, both his parents are gone.
Though the book begins slowly, I think this is due to it's place as the first book in a series, and therefore must set up characters and a world before plunging readers into the mind-bending places the Diskos leads to. Hautman uses the Diskos as portals for time-travel, portals that bring both readers and characters to question concepts of religion, progress, medicine, and history. I'm haunted by this book, continually trying to make the connections between time, space, and characters. Hautman has created an incredibly intricate world, and while only some strands of the story have come together by the end, I have no doubt that his sequels will prove he has spun a masterful web indeed.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, ed. by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet, Abrams, March 2012
I love comics collections; you get a short yet complete story arc, the perfect read for a piece of snatched time, and you invariably discover new authors and illustrators whose work you now want to find. Explorer features a compilation of seven stories, each by a different author/illustrator, yet each featuring a mysterious (and often magical) box that serves to tie the stories together. Each story is vastly different from every other one, and set in a completely different place. From Johane Matte and Saymone Phanekham's box in an alien universe-building warehouse to Dave Roman and Raina Telemeier's magical box found in the back of an ordinary closet, Explorer holds something for readers of every genre. A gorgeous graphic compilation for the graphic novel enthusiast or a fabulous introduction for the comics novice, this book is for those who want to explore the medium.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Friends with Boys by Erin Faith Hicks
First Second,February 28, 2012
Everyone feels awkward in high school, but what if the first day of high school is also your first day of public school after being homeschooled your entire life? For Maggie, public school is a frightening prospect, especially when she notices that her three older brothers have their own friends and activities. When Maggie meets Lucy and her brother, suddenly she has friends who aren't family. But there's still the matter of the ghost that's following her and the nasty volleyball team boys. Luckily, Maggie is friends with boys- and her brothers will go to ends of the earth to help her- or at least the graveyard.
With just the first few pages of her book, author/illustrator Erin Faith Hicks welcomed me into a family where I immediately felt at home. Her characters are developed, each with their own unique feel, and Maggie's family members are all linked by some distinct feature. Maggie's emotional journey will resonate with teens from all educational backgrounds and would be wonderful book to give as a gift to graduating middle-schoolers. With dynamic panels, and a host of stellar characters, Friends with Boys is sure to appeal to readers who enjoyed Anya's Ghost. Though Maggie's relationship with her own ghost remains unresolved, I can only hope this indicates further installments to come!