Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Realistic Fiction MG Review: Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes

29221528Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Format:  Hardcover

Number of Pages: 160
Published:  September 19th, 2017
Source:  Library
Find it:  AmazonB&N,  Goodreads

Opening Lines:  "Beatrice Zinker always did her best thinking upside down.  It worked like magic and she never questioned it."

Since first grade, Beatrice's best friend has been Lenny.  They've had some of the best of times climbing trees, dressing in costumes for Halloween and acting like pirates and ninjas.  Then the Summer before third grade everything began to change.  Lenny went to the Philippines to visit family and Beatrice spent her vacation working on the secret operation that she and Lenny had agreed upon before she left on her trip. They even had plans to wear their favorite matching ninja suits for the first day back to school.  But then Lenny apparently broke her promise about wearing her ninja suit to school and shows up with a new look entirely.  Now she's even hanging out with a new girl, Chloe, asking about Beatrice's older sister's foreign language club and making plans to play "veterinarian" with Chloe in their favorite spot for recess.   Lenny doesn't even seem interested in Operation Upside or Beatrice anymore, so Beatrice has a new mission to win back her best friend. 

Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker was a book I heard about during #MGbooktober, one of the organizers, Jarrett Lerner also raved about it and I love when authors celebrate other authors.  I also happened to get lucky enough to find it at my library.  Beatrice reminded me a bit of Clementine or maybe even Ramona Quimby or Pippi Longstocking.  While they have similar personalities like following their own path, Beatrice doesn't get into nearly as many predicaments as the other three.  Beatrice is a pretty determined girl who tries really hard to be on her best behavior at school and follow her teacher, Mrs. Tamarack's rules, partially because she doesn't want to risk missing out on her recess and because she wouldn't be able to play with her best friend.  Johannes has written and illustrated a truly adorable and humorous book and I loved Beatrice's upside down thinking.  How she doesn't use the box lid as a guide when putting together her puzzles and prefers to eat dessert before starting her meal.   Beatrice is also tenacious in trying to be a part of Lenny and Chloe's game of "veterinarian, " despite Lenny making all of these new changes in her appearance and seeming to cut her out of their games.   It makes me sad to think that sometimes kids feel like they have to re-invent themselves to fit in, especially when they leave their friends behind in the process.  But, Beatrice does nicely illustrate how you shouldn't give up on your friends, how it's important to be who you are, and she also finds a way to show Lenny that you can like many different things at the same time while still being willing to try something new.  One of my favorite parts is Beatrice's family and how they adjusted their thinking, with her older sister making room for Beatrice in her foreign language club and her parents have a night of eating dessert before dinner.  Overall, a very sweet and encouraging chapter book which I'm excited to see already has a sequel, Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker, The Flipside coming out in March 2018.    

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Curious Chronicles of Jack Bokimble and His Peculiar Penumbra by James Demonaco

The Curious Chronicles of Jack Bokimble and His Peculiar Penumbra by James Demonaco
Publisher: Inkshares
Format:  Ebook
Number of Pages: 200
Published:  November 7th, 2017
Source:  In exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the publisher.
Find it:  AmazonB&N, InksharesGoodreads

Opening Line:  "Three nights after he was born, Jack Bokimble came home from the hospital."

Synopsis from Publisher-Shortly after Jack is born, strange things are afoot in the Bokimble house--glasses fall from shelves, and nothing seems to be where Mr. and Mrs. Bokimble left it. Jack's parents begin to sense that there's something strange about their son, and it's not long before they realize that he has a secret friend: his magical shadow. 
Is Jack's shadow a superpower that he needs to control and master? Or is it a curse that will separate him from others? Travel with Jack on his boyhood journey as he learns not only how to control his magical shadow but what it means to be different--a story that mines the potential for magic and mystery in all of us.

My Thoughts
It's pretty hard to pass on a book with a title like The Curious Chronicles of Jack Bokimble and His Peculiar Penumbra, it's one of those books you know you just want to read.  The story takes the form of an adult telling a story to a young child with a Roald Dahl-like quality that I particularly enjoyed.   Jack lives with his parents in New York City, close to Central Park.  Jack's parents might be considered slightly peculiar by some.  His dad has a heightened sense of smell which comes in handy for his experiments to build a device called the Smelliluminator that if everything goes as planned will make smells visible and give them color.   Hopefully, he can also use it as an early warning detection system against his wife's propensity for flatulence when she gets nervous, and she gets nervous a lot.  Mrs. Bokimble runs a popular website where she helps people faced with an impossible choice to make the right decision called "I'llMakeTheDecsionsYouCan'"   Jack's parents also create descriptive nicknames for each other like"Mister Meaty Midsection" and "Lady Large Yet Lovely Nostrils," which changes with their mood for each other on a daily basis.  Despite his parents being a bit odd, Jack is a lovely character, he's bright, a tad shy and lonely, and he'd really like to have a friend.  I also really enjoyed Jack's magical shadow and appreciated that he tried to use his shadow to do good things.  At the beginning of the story,  Jack's parents are concerned about all the odd occurrences happening around their house, even thinking the place is haunted, but once they realize that it's Jack and his magical shadow, their opinion on whether this is a good or bad occurrence began to differ.  Mr. Bokimble only thought of the fame they could have, while Mrs. Bokimble was concerned that Jack would stand out, be seen as cursed and it could prevent him from having friends.  At one point she even considers getting rid of her son's shadow entirely, until Mr. Bokimble convinces her that he can teach Jack to control it by having him learn how to "shadow cast" and "shadow play."  Jack learns his shadow is indestructible and has no fear, while also learning the importance of controlling and concealing it from others.  At least that is until Jack finds it necessary to use his shadow to help put a bully in his place.  I really liked how Jack's shadow touched and interacted with things around him allowing him to physically feel them too.  Especially how Jack's shadow could reach into the animal cages at the zoo so he could pet them and provide them comfort.  Wouldn't that be cool to feel a lions fur without risking getting eaten?  For a fairly short book, it covered a wide range of themes from bullying, feeling different, wanting to belong and make friends and to be accepted for who you are.  There is some quirkiness with an interruptive narrator, a random chapter heading with Rodney Dangerfield in the title, mention of the Black Eyed Peas, and an alien named Gulmhot who inadvertently crash lands his ship at the zoo starting a fire, but it all just added to the charm of the story for me.  Plus, I really enjoyed the positive message of there's nothing wrong with being different and different can be ok. 

Favorite line, " Remember, live with your shadow, not behind it."  

Monday, November 13, 2017

MG Review: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society by Janet Sumner Johnson

25709427The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society by Janet Sumner Johnson
Publisher: Capstone for Young Readers
Format:  Paperback

Number of Pages: 255
Published:  April 2016
Source: Giveaway sponsored by From the Mixed-Up Files and a copy of the book provided by the author.  
Find it:  AmazonB&NGoodreads

Opening Line:  I snuck the phone into the hall closet, where Katie's faux fur parka would muffle the sound."  

10-year-old best friends Annie and Jason regard themselves as spies and adventurers, and they're also the two founding members of the PB&J Society.  A society where each of their smushed peanut butter and jelly sandwichs receives a ceremonial sendoff to become "food for the worms."  Of course, their ceremony follows a very specific set of rules before their beloved sandwiches can be laid to rest.  But all of their adventuring gets put on hold when they learn that Jason's family might be losing their house and have to move away.  Annie then comes up with a list of sure-fire ways to help prevent the foreclosure and if all else fails, Jason and his family can live in her parent's basement, she's positive they won't mind.  The story is also about Mrs. Schuster, a neighbor in the cul de sac who invites the two of them over to her house, which to Annie and Jason is kinda odd because to them she's been nothing but "Mrs. Meany" ever since she yelled at them to get off her yard and wouldn't return Jason's football.  But it seems Mrs. Schuster is trying to change her crabby ways and after inviting them in shares a chest she found in the attic that once belonged to her great, great grandmother, Captain Black Marge.  Within the chest are antique pirate clothing and a bonified pirates map which Mrs. Schuster hints will lead them to Captain Marge's treasure, hiding somewhere within their own neighborhood.  So,  Annie starts to hatch a plan to find the pirate treasure and keep from losing her best friend forever.

The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society had me reminiscing about my own best friend from my childhood, Craig. Like Annie and Jason, we liked to roam about the neighborhood and have glorious pretend adventures, and I'll never forget playing in the hedge and being dive-bombed by the magpies who apparently decided to have a nest where our fort was, or our climbing tree in the front yard and drawing pictures together.  While reading, I also recalled how it felt having to move away from my friend and although we continued to write letters for a short while after, we had both moved on to new friendships by the time I returned to our house a few years later.  Maybe in some way, the story helps kids to realize that some things, like a friend having to move away, aren't necessarily something a parent can control.  I couldn't blame my dad for us having to move, although at the time I wanted to blame the army, eventually, I did realize that each move was a new opportunity to make new friends.   I really don't want to give the impression that this is just a book for adults to have warm fuzzy feelings over though, I really think that kids can see their own friendships in the story and connect with that feeling of not wanting your best friend in the whole world to move away.  Truthfully not only is this a fun friendship adventure story it also delves into some tougher subjects like Jason's family's financial struggles and how his dad not being able to find a job impacts the whole family.   I really liked Jason and how despite his initial skepticism about the pirate treasure, Annie's determination and bossiness wins him over and gets them searching for clues.  Even when Jason's family problems cause him to frustratingly tell her to "grow up, "  Annie still maintains her never give up attitude and you can't help rooting for her throughout the story.    Oh and the dialogue, between the two friends and Annie and her parents, so good.  One of my favorite parts happens early on when Annie is researching how much money she can make for donating her kidney and her mom walks in and see's the computer screen,

"Kidney donations?  An-nie?"  I hated it when she said my name like that.  It's like her tone could pull out a confession even if I were innocent."  

I really felt sorry for them when some of their adventures lead to Jason's dad grounding them from seeing each other for two weeks, which felt like an unjustly harsh punishment for such steadfast friends.  But absolutely loved the note that Jason left for Annie in her lunch box after one of their forced separations.  Overall, I thought this was a wonderful adventurous friendship story with two adorable main characters and one crabby lady, who doesn't turn out to be as crabby as she initially wanted you to think she was.  Bonus there is a lovely discussion guide that the author created.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

MG Speculative Fiction/Time Travel Review & Excerpt: Skavenger's Hunt by Mike Rich

33534896Skavenger's Hunt by Mike Rich
Publisher: Inkshares
Format:  E ARC

Number of Pages: 320
Publishing:  November 14th, 2017
SourceIn exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the publisher.
Find it:  AmazonB&NGoodreads, Inkshares

Henry's father, Nathan Babbitt has always said that one day they would go on an adventure together sailing or climbing the highest mountains, but after he's tragically killed in a car accident, their adventuring plans ended.  Since then, Henry's mother won't allow him to go outside, she's been cautious and overly protective, especially when it comes to his grandfather and all his wild stories.  Then one night on a visit to his grandparents on Christmas Eve, Henry hears the story of one of his grandfather's own adventures of trying to solve the greatest hunt of them all, the Skavenger Hunt.  His grandfather also shares the last clue he found, an antique ledger sheet.  Unable to sleep, Henry sneaks into his grandfather's study hoping to take a closer look, and while investigating mutters aloud a series of numbers that once added to the ledger transports him back to the year 1885, with the cryptic message:  
"To whomever has found this page from my
ledger: find me. There is a way back. Or
forward. But know this too-when the final
empty box of this sheet is full, so ends
your adventure. Whatever the date and
location, there you will stay. Forever.
Sincerely, Hunter S. Skavenger"

Henry must now follow the clues wherever they lead and risk each new mark on the ledger bringing him closer to being stuck in the past.  Will he be able to find Skavenger in time?  

Shortly after Henry arrives in 1885, and while trying to figure out what Skavenger's message means he stumbles upon three other explorers his age, all searching for the next clue in the puzzle.  Once they team up, things begin to get interesting as they make their way across New York visiting such landmarks as Central Park,  the Grand Central Depot, the Vanderbilt Mansion and The Telephone Exchange in Hell's Kitchen, New York.   I think the hunt is my favorite part of the story, reading about the places they visit and following along with their next clue.  Their travels even take them by Pennsylvania railroad and boat to destinations like Mississippi and Paris where they meet Mark Twain and Gustave Eiffel.  While closely behind Mr. Doubt and his Dark Men are following their every move.  Skavenger's  Hunt is a puzzle mystery, mixed with historical fiction, and adventure which I enjoyed very much.  There are many twists in Scavenger's Hunt, with one in particular that I'll admit I never saw coming, but the more that I reflect on the story it reminds me of the character of Arthur Slugworth from the 1971 movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Although, Slugworth seemed more mysterious, like what was he promising those children?  He also seemed to be more of a test of Charlie's moral character, was he trustworthy and honest, would Charlie be worthy of taking over the Factory?  Whereas in Skavenger Hunt, the antagonist frightens Henry and gets in the way, more of an obstacle to overcome.  So that, when the twist is finally revealed, it's even more surprising.  While there is a resolution to the Hunt, the final twist does leave room for more stories to be written.  

Excerpt from
Chapter Eleven
Doubt and the Dark Men

            HIRAM DOUBT’S HANDS were gently folded over the crown of his walking
       stick—the first thing Henry saw as he nearly walked straight into him.
             “Looking for something?” Doubt inquired with a sparkling gleam in his 
       otherwise bleak gray eyes. The old New York Times photograph in Chief ’s 
       study had been frightening enough—and that was just an old, faded black-
       and-white image. Fuzzy on the edges.
             Here the man was all too crystal clear. The eyes that had somehow 
       managed to pierce through century-old newsprint now leveled icy daggers
       into Henry’s rapidly blinking ones.
             No! No, no, NO! Sorry, can’t . . .
       Henry started to back up as if to turn and run, but the idea was quickly squelched.
             “Try to move?” Doubt advised with a clipped voice, raising a slender pointed
       finger, “You won’t move for long. Call for your friends? It’ll be the last call you
             Henry’s heart stopped as he glimpsed something moving in the shadows behind
             The Dark Men!
             One by one, all four of them appeared, all wearing black top hats and long black
       coats that reached all the way to the ground. Henry decided the safest place to be, 
       ironically, was standing right where he was, in front of the man with the pale gray
       top hat and the bleak and dreary eyes.
             “Allow me to introduce myself,” the disconcerting man said. Without raising 
        a hand, but with a slight tilt of his head, he gloomily uttered, “Hiram Doubt.”
             “I know,” Henry replied, his voice cracking.
             Doubt’s lips curved into a wicked grin. “I’ll take only a moment of your time, ” he 
       said, “because at this moment, young man, you and your friends are impressively
       close to cracking Mr. Skavenger’s next clue. A clue which, yes, I have already solved.”
             Despite being more frightened than he could remember, Henry couldn’t help 
       but take in the thin gray scar running the path of a teardrop down Doubt’s left cheek. 
       The snaggled and wisping gray edge of each eyebrow was hard to miss too.  Everything
       about the slim man in the dark charcoal suit—his sixty or so years of age, his height of 
       six feet and maybe another inch, seven feet with the hat—felt gray and threatening,
       though oddly cultured as well.
             The sinister-looking man continued on, “While hundreds still aimlessly wander the                          grounds of the Dakota and others still climb the walls of the Grand Central Depot, the 
       four of you have displayed a deductive intelligence far, far beyond your years. 
       Worthy of commendation.”
             Doubt unfolded his malevolent hands and Henry saw that his cane was capped with a                    gold-plated head of a snarling wolf.
             “Now, listen to me carefully, young searcher,” Doubt’s voice dropped low. “If I see 
       you again—and I’m certain I will—it will be either because you have solved a clue I 
       have also solved, or because you have solved one I’ve yet to decipher.”
             He raised his cane and the wolf ’s golden teeth drew close to Henry’s nose. “And 
       when I ask you for the answer to that riddle? The one you have solved, and I haven’t?”                         Doubt let his words settle before finishing. “You. Will. Tell. Me.”

Praise for Skavenger's Hunt

"With Skavenger's Hunt, Mike Rich has adeptly tapped into the best of children's literature. His book takes us on a journey that both fascinates and surprises us and is filled with characters who are curious and generous and, at times, very funny. The world that Henry Babbitt discovers is every bit as mind-blowing as the world that Lucy Pevensie enters when she first walks through the wardrobe. I can't wait to read it again!" —Mark Johnson, producer of The Lion, Witch and the WardrobeBreaking Bad, and Rain Man

"A mix of magic and history that takes the reader on an utterly engrossing adventure! Skavenger's Hunt is an edge-of-your-seat gem that’ll keep you turning pages from start to finish. An impressive debut novel." —The Wibberleys, writers of National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets

"Mike Rich is, very simply, one of my favorite writers. Any time you sit down to read a script of his you know that you will laugh, think and be moved. He has the rare ability to create emotion without schmaltz." —John Lee Hancock, writer, and director of The Blind Side

"Mike Rich writes stories with so much heart they almost explode. There's the work you know, like Secretariat, but also work on countless films you love that don't bear his name. Skavenger's Hunt is no exception." —Brian Koppelman, writer of Ocean's 13 and creator of Showtime's Billions

                                    Author bio:

 Mike Rich is a screenwriter best known for films like The RookieRadio, and Secretariat. His first movie was Finding Forrester, starring Sean Connery, for which he won the Nicholl Fellowship. Rich currently resides in Portland, Oregon. Skavenger's Hunt is his first book.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Graphic Novel Review: Giant Trouble (Hamster Princess #4) by Ursula Vernon

31579908Giant Trouble (Hamster Princess #4) by  Ursula Vernon
Publisher:   Dial Books
Format:  Hardcover
Number of Pages: 250
Published:  May 9th, 2017  
Source Library

Opening Lines:  "Harriet Hamsterbone was dripping wet and shivering with cold, and she had never been happier."

Giant Trouble is a twist on the Jack and the Beanstalk tale with Harriet being approached by a chipmunk who's trying to trade three of his magical beans for Harriet's faithful battle quail and best friend, Mumfrey.  Now anyone who knows Princess Harriet could guess that she would never exchange Mumfrey for any price, but apparently, the chipmunk salesman thinks his offer is too good to pass up on.  He's also not very knowledgeable about quails either cause you really shouldn't be waving beans in front of Mumfrey because he'd surely eat one.  Which is of course exactly what happens.  Frustrated by the loss of one of his magical beans the chipmunk disappears in a puff of smoke leaving poor Mumfrey with some stomach troubles.  The next morning, Harriet awakens to find a huge beanstalk extending up into the clouds and the sounds of harp music being played.  Upon climbing up the beanstalk to investigate, she finds a Harpster (half hamster, and half harp) named Strings and a giant goose being held captive by a very large Giant Lop-eared rabbit.  Harriet even promises Strings that she will help them escape.  

I'm always excited when one of Ursula Vernon's books gets nominated for the Cybils, they're so much fun to read and I don't usually get around to reading many graphic novels so it's always a treat.  In addition to Giant Trouble,  Ratpunzel was also nominated, but there were too many holds on it at the library so it will be awhile before I get to it.  I guess that's an indication of how popular the book series is.  I love how Harriet isn't a typical princess, she's adventurous and daring climbing up the beanstalk, even when's she's facing down the Giant.  Vernon's stories are always filled with laughs and I especially enjoy how she twists these tales often in amusing ways.  Like Mumfrey eating the bean and then providing the fertilizer so it can grow into the giant beanstalk.  Such fun.  

*Giant Trouble  has been nominated for the Cybils award and my review reflects my personal opinion, not the opinion of the Cybils committee.*

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

MG Folktale Review: Tokoyo, The Samurai's Daughter by Faith L. Justice

35340896Tokoyo, The Samurai's Daughter by Faith L. Justice
Illustrated by:  Kayla Gilliam
Publisher:   Raggedy Moon Books
Format:  Paperback
Number of Pages: 111
Published:  May 28th, 2017  
SourceIn exchange for an honest review, a review copy was received from the publisher.
Opening Lines:  "I put the last oyster in the net bag attached to my belt and clasped my knife between my teeth. "

Tokoyo is the daughter of a samurai in medieval Japan during the fourteenth-century.  When her father is falsely accused of cursing the local Regent Hojo Takatoki and banished to the Oki Islands far away, Tokoyo is determined to find and clear his name. 

The story begins with Tokoyo coming up from a long dive of collecting oysters with the Ama, "women of the sea" or pearl divers.  Among her catch is a pearl of "great worth,"  which she gifts to the Ama to thank them for allowing her to dive and training her.   Later in the story, this generosity is repaid when the Ama take her in after her father is arrested and their home and wealth are seized.  In addition, a corrupt minister claims all of Tokoyo's belongings except for some clothing and a knife she was able to barter for by giving him some of her deceased mother's jewelry.  Several months go by as Tokoyo lives and works with the Ama collecting oysters,  her father always on her mind.  When her concerns about not receiving any word about his safety become too deep, Tokoyo sets out across the ocean traveling from village to village in the nearby islands searching for her beloved father.  Everyone she meets has either not seen him or is unwilling to risk angering the Regent by telling her his whereabouts.  While on one of the islands, Tokoyo comes across a priest about to sacrifice a young girl to appease the sea demons and she offers to take the girls place instead.  Tokoyo plans to dive into the ocean and kill the sea demon or die trying.  

According to the author's note, Tokoyo was inspired by a Japanese folktale called "The Tale of the Oki Islands" from the book,  Best-Loved Folktales of the World.  The story held a special meaning to the author so she was inspired to trace the origin of the original story, which it turns out was a collection of stories from Ancient Tales and Folk-lore from Japan written by Richard Gordon Smith.  Also according to the authors note, the original story featured Tokoyo's father as the "hero" of the story but the author instead wanted to write a story about an adventurous girl who battles a sea demon to save her father.  Tokoyo is both strong-willed and talented having learned how to dive and through her samurai training from her father.  Just by looking at the cover you can see the determination in her eyes.  She is also quite brave and a lovely heroine and the one who ultimately wields her dagger killing the sea demon.  Tokoyo also manages to free her father by finding the actual culprit that cursed the Regent, thus winning his freedom.  There are lovely black and white illustrations by Kayla Gilliam and I especially enjoyed the addition of the Cultural notes which provided the definition of the Japanese words used in the story as well as the Author's note at the end of the book.  While the story had the length and feel of a folktale, I did wish the ending wouldn't have been so sudden as I really liked Tokoyo's spirit and love for her father and would've enjoyed learning more about her.    

   *Tokoyo, The Samurai's Daughter  has been nominated for the Cybils award and my review reflects my personal opinion, not the opinion of the Cybils committee.*