Monday, March 27, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of Global: One Fragile World. An Epic Fight for Survival by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

Global:  One Fragile World.  An Epic Fight for Survival by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin illustrated by Giovanni Rigano
Publisher:  Sourcebooks for Young Readers
Format:  Paperback
Number of pages:  144
Publishing:   April 11th, 2023 
Source:  Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Opening Lines:  " It's not the sound of the waves that wake me."

 Sami lives with his grandfather in a little fishing village along the Indian Ocean.  As the ocean levels in their part of the world rise, the waves come closer and closer to their village, heavy rains have led to horrible mudslides that have destroyed their homes.  And many people have fled the safety of their village.  What fish they used to catch in their net have now receded causing them to risk going out further into the ocean in order to fish.  On the other side of the world, Far North of Canada lives Yuki.  Her village has been experiencing warmer temperatures, leading to the melting of ice caps.  The polar bears have been having difficulty in finding food and are venturing toward their village to hunt.  Concerned that the polar bears will be killed, Yuki has vowed to find a solution.  

Global is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel that was designed to highlight the impact of global warming.  Through the stories of two children who live on opposite sides of the world the authors illustrate the effects climate change has had on their lives.  This is similar to the authors other graphic novel, Illegal which was published in 2017.  Both are powerful stories with these gorgeous full color illustrations that immediately capture your attention.   Illegal told the story of one main character, Ebo who went on a daring voyage across the ocean on a small vessel from Africa to Europe in search of his brother.  Having one main character made this a very impactful story it really captured his struggles and answered the question as to why people would take such a daring journey and leave their homeland.  Global is just as impactful in its messaging.  What's unique is that it shows two sides of the world and how the challenges of climate change impacts us all.  Just like with Illegal, I found myself turning the pages quickly while reading Global.  There is lots of tension and daring moments captured with Sami taking a boat out to find his families knife and Yuki venturing out in the snow in search of proof of a new species of bears, grolars, a hybrid of grizzly and polar bears.  It was perfect picking two children to show the effects of climate change, as the authors point out, they're the ones who will be impacted the most. Included at the back of the novel is information about Global Warming and a sketchbook from the illustrator, Giovanni Rigano.  A recommended read for those interested in climate change or for fans of the authors graphic novel, Illegal.  

 I hope you'll check out all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge’s blog HERE.   

**A huge thank you to Sourcebooks for Young Readers for the paperback ARC in exchange for an honest review.**

Monday, March 20, 2023

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with a review of The Rabbit's Gift by Jessica Vitalis

The Rabbit's Gift by Jessica Vitalis
Publisher:   Greenwillow Books
Format:  Hardcover
Number of pages:  320 pages
Published:  October 25th, 2022
Source:  Author in exchange for an honest review

Opening Lines:  "I used to believe that every story had a hero and a villain." 

Quincy and his warren, a community of rabbit's harvest, farm and transport Chou (cabbages that grow human babies) to the people of Montpeyroux in exchange for their purple carrots.  This exchange has gone on for a long time, but lately the warren's supply of purple carrots has been dwindling, forcing them to forage in the nearby forest.  Quincy believes that the warren should be growing their own carrots and stop providing Chou to the selfish humans.  Quincy has always been the runt of the family, so to gain the respect of his peers, he's willing to take a risk by venturing out from the safety of his community to seek carrot seeds.  Perhaps he might even be seen as a hero if he can procure some. 

Fluerine is the only daughter of the Grand Lumière, a political figure in Montpeyroux who has been grooming her to one day take over her position.  But, Fleurine has no intention of taking over the state's business, she doesn't even like politics and so she hasn't even been following the difficulties that her mother has been seeing.  How the food costs have been soaring and production has been dwindling.  Instead, she wants to be a botanist and attend an academy of science.  She's fascinated with sampling the soil and has even tried to grow her own purple carrots, without much success.  Secretly, Fleurine longs for a sister and hopes that she can make her own exchange with the warren for her very own Chou.  But then one day, Quincy sneaks into her shed and steals Fleurine's carrot seeds.  Hoping to get them back, Fleurine follows him back to the warren and she ends up stealing a Chou from their garden.  One tiny mistake on both sides changes the balance of their once happy relationship and both Quincy and Fleurine must right their wrongs to bring back the balance.

I just loved the beginning of this story.  The distinction being made between heroes and villains.  How despite stories having both a hero and a villain, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish who's who and that the difference between the two is largely which side that you're on.  You see both Quincy and Fluerine think that they're the hero of the story.  That they're right in their actions, but as the story progresses, they learn to appreciate what is happening in the others community.  They begin to realize that they each have their own hopes and dreams, Quincy's desire to be a hero by saving the warren from starving and Fleurine's longing for a sister and to learn botany.  They also realize that they've upset the delicate balance that once existed between them.  How the food source of purple carrots and diminishing supply was connected to the people no longer having their Chou delivered.  How the once mutually beneficial harmony changes as a result of their actions.   The story truly had me thinking about the environment and the way in which small fluctuations can change the equilibrium of the whole system.  How we should tread lightly and focus on not causing and further disruptions.

I also loved the dual POV's getting to know what both Quincy and Fleurine were thinking.  Fleurine's loneliness was palpable, so her going to great lengths in order to have a sister seemed understandable.  It seemed natural she would turn to other things that gave her happiness, like being outdoors and cultivating her own garden, testing soil samples and trying to find a way to grow carrots.  But Quincy, he is quite courageous.  That despite being the smallest, I thoroughly enjoyed his motivation in trying to provide for and defend his warren. 

Overall, this was a lovely story about the delicate balance of nature, appreciation of science, friendship, rabbits and the things that brought them together.  The cover is absolutely delightful and engaging and will appeal to children who are interested nature, or perhaps in learning some facts about rabbits.  This also makes a lovely companion read to The Wolf's Curse, the authors debut book.  I must say I was fascinated to learn that the story was partially based on a French silent short film called La fe aux Chou (The Cabbage Fairy) and the belief that babies were delivered by fairies instead of the myth of a stork delivering a newborn. I can see this making for a fun Earth Day read paired with Tara Dairman's The Girl from Earth's End.  **A huge thank you to Jessica Vitalis for the review copy in exchange for an honest review**

       I hope you'll check all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge’s blog HERE.   

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy by Angie Thomas

Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy by  Angie Thomas
Publisher:  Balzer + Bray
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:  304
Publishing:  April 4th, 2023
Source:  Sparkpress via Netgalley

Opening Lines:  "When my best friend JP turned twelve, his parent bought him a phone."  

Nic Blake and her father live in Jackson, Mississippi, soon to turn twelve, she's hoping that her dad will finally teach her how to use the "gift," so she can become a real Manifestor like him.   But first she'll have to complete his task of catching a hellhound. 

 Nic's dad has been drawing out her training, perhaps concerned that she might view the gift as a quick fix to all of her problems, either way she is determined to prove to him that she is ready.  For her birthday, Nic has also been invited to go to a book signing with JP.  Aside from being her best friend, JP is one of the only Unremarkables she knows, someone without the knowledge or gift that Remarkables/Manifestors have.  The book signing doesn't quite go as planned and soon Nic is finding out some hard truths about how her mother never abandoned her and that her father is on the run from Uhuru because he kidnapped her as a child. 

Nic also learns that LORE has been searching for her, and because Nic's grandmother is the president of LORE, her dad's crimes are deemed far worse.  At the same time, she finds out that she has a twin brother who has been in Uhuru with her mother all this time.  When Nic's father is also accused of stealing the Msaidizi, a powerful weapon crucial in defeating one of Uhuru's most dangerous enemies, Nic embarks on a quest to find the allusive weapon and save her father before LORE removes all his memories as a punishment for his crimes.

Angie Thomas is primarily known for her contemporary YA books with black characters, and some of the previous titles included The Hate You Give and On The Come Up, which I enjoyed thoroughly.   So, I was very excited to learn she had a MG fantasy series coming out.  Her new series did not disappoint.   It reminds me a lot of The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton or Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston, so if you enjoyed these two books, I'm sure you'll enjoy Nic Blake as well.  While reading, I still had the same feel of Angie Thomas' humor that I've come to enjoy from her books with lines like: "I can smell a hellhound from thousands of miles away.  Wherever this thing is, it's filling the forest with a strong odor of boiled eggs and Fritos." 

I really enjoyed both Nic and JP, they're fun characters.  I also liked that despite being an Unremarkable, JP had a lot of skills he brought to their adventure too.    Nic's mixed feelings about why her dad hid her mom and twin brother Alex from her were also understandable.  She doesn't know if she can forgive her father, but also can't help being concerned about him.  Also, while she's excited to find out she has a twin, she's also upset that he knows so much about their mom and Uhuru.  Balancing some jealousy with wanting to get to know him better.  

 As a first book in the series, I was eager to learn about this new magic system, and to immerse myself in the world building.  I felt there were enough details and explanations made so that the major distinctions between Unremarkables, Remarkables and where their magic comes from were clear.  How learning to use the gift involves mojos and jujus to control the elements.  There still feels like there is so much more to learn about Uhuru and the gift that I hope will be explored further in the next book.  What I also enjoyed while reading the story were the cultural ties to African American folklore, history and mentions of slavery in terms that kids could easily understand.  Topics like school shootings and police violence are addressed but not delved into great depth.  It's a nice melding of magic, culture and historical elements mixed with a fast-paced adventure.  But oh, to end on a cliffhanger...torture.  Overall, I really enjoyed Nic Blake and the Remarkables and see lots of kid appeal.

** A huge thank you to Sparkpress for the E-ARC via Netgalley**  

Monday, March 13, 2023

MMGM review of Dead Alley: A Motley Education Book by S.A. Larsen

Dead Alley:  A Motley Education Book by S.A. Larsen 
Publisher:  Ellysian Press
Format:  E-ARC
Number of pages:  315
Publishing:  April 10th, 2023
Source: author in exchange for an honest review

Opening Lines:  "Out of the shadows stretched a crooked finger; shiny metal coiling around it to form a ring." 

In the first book of the series, sixth-graders Ebony Charmed and Will Fleishman were victorious in defending their school against Nidhogg's attack.  Ebony has now become the Keeper of the Doors and Fleishman is her official advisor.   Together they take care of the ghosts that reside in the boneyard, help to guide souls to their next destination and are knee deep in spirit training.  Meanwhile their school is preparing for the Ullr games and in between lessons, they are trying to locate the dark elf that stole their friend Lance's body so that they can reunite his spirit with it.  Just as Ebony feels like she is finally fitting in at school and embarks on her first mission to deliver a young toddler to the entrance to the afterlife, undead crows appear, and a mysterious illness begins to infect the ghosts.  Searching for answers they come upon a premotion and myth that may be putting the entire boneyard in danger.  Will Ebony and Fleishman be able to find the answers they need in the restricted section of Dead Alley and can they help their new sprit friend Lance while at the same time trying to dodge a new danger that has set their sights on revenge?  

 Dead Alley is the second book in the Motley Education series.  It's very important to have read the first book in the series to be able to follow the storyline and understand the world and characters that Larsen has created.  Overall, I've really enjoyed these books.  I love the way in which Larsen describes the setting, including passages like this one: "The scent of moss hung heavily in the air.  Stillness coated every surface, silence for all lay bound by an ageless slumber."  Paints a nice picture of the boneyard doesn't it?  Who doesn't love a paranormal story set in a graveyard, with all these ghosts and creepy undead crows hanging about.  Even the main villain, Elli is downright creepy in the way that she targets those longing for something or who are lacking in self-confidence.  I enjoyed how the chapters alternated between her and Ebony and Fleishman.    

I also really like the two main characters; Ebony has learned a lot since the first book about her magic and talents, although she's still a little rusty when it comes to conjuring a door.  Fleishman is such a dear adviser, always eager to talk things through and steer Ebony in the right direction.  A huge theme I picked up on while reading was Ebony learning that she needed to trust people or believe in their trust of her.  With Lance she needed to believe that he was trustworthy, that he isn't against her or will do her harm.  With Fleishman, she needed to share her thoughts and be forthcoming with what actions she was taking.  To believe that he would understand why she hadn't told him certain things and that he wouldn't judge her.  I really enjoyed seeing this side to Ebony's character.  

Finally, I really enjoy the Norse mythology included in the story.  Learning more about Fenrir, Freya, and the battles where rune stones are used as weapons to get Ebony and Fleishman out of some sticky situations.  Above all my favorite part was going down into the Archive and having book upon book for them to pursue seeking knowledge.  Quite a fun adventure and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series.  

**A huge thank you to S.A. Larsen for the E-ARC in exchange for an honest review.**   

I hope you'll check all the other Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts at Greg Pattridge’s blog HERE.   


Friday, March 3, 2023

The Magician's Elephant Movie tie-in by Kate DiCamillo and illustrations by Yoko Tanaka

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
with illustrations by Yoko Tanaka 
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Format:  Paperback
Number of pages:  224
Published:  January 17th, 2023 (First published 9/8/09)
Source: Publisher 

Opening Lines: "At the end of the century before last, in the market square of the city of Baltese, there stood a boy with a hat on his head and a coin in his hand."  

Peter Duchene was on his way to the market to buy a fish and some bread for himself and his guardian, Vilna Lutz when he spots a fortuneteller's tent.  He knows that the money in his pocket is meant for their dinner, but he can't seem to stop himself from going in.  In exchange for his last coin, the fortuneteller offers to give him one answer.  So, Peter asks the question that has been burning inside of him, how to find his sister.  However, the answer is not quite what he expected, "the elephant" the fortuneteller says.  He "must follow the elephant" and she will lead him to his sister.

I've been fascinated by all of the books that have been adapted into movies lately.  I recently saw Lockwood and Company by Jonathan Stroud on Netflix and loved it.  I'm hoping to watch Matilda the Musical soon.  And there is no way I'm missing out on Are You There God?  It's Me, Margaret (coming in April).   Kate DiCamillo also has a new story that has been adapted into an animated feature, The Magician's Elephant which will air on Netflix March 17th.  I was really happy to be able to read an ARC before seeing the movie.    

Kate DiCamillo wrote one of my favorite books, The Tale of Despereaux, I have such fond memories of reading this book with my kiddo.  I've tried to read pretty much anything she's written since then.  Flora & Ulysses, Bink & Gollie, and her Three Ranchero series (just loved Louisiana's Way Home and Beverly, Right Here).  She's one of those authors that can write something serious, funny, heart wrenching or most recently books with strong messages, fable like stories like The Beatryce Prophecy and now The Magician's Elephant.  Quiet stories that provide moments of reflection about hope and questioning the what ifs in the world.

Peter is such an endearing boy, the love that he feels for his sister is so sweet.  Despite being repeatedly told that she has died, he has these fuzzy recollections of hearing his sister's cries. Peter can't help having faith.  To question the what if?    Hoping that Vilna Lutz lied to him about his sister being dead and hoping that the fortuneteller is right, and an elephant will help him find his sister.  Peter also can't help thinking that the whole thing is absurd, an elephant.  But he still holds out hope and dares to question could it be?

 I loved the way that DiCamillo created these characters that felt like they were circling around one another, that were separate little stories but connected.  Like Leo Matienne, the policeman who lives with his wife in the same building as Peter. At first, he and Peter are passing acquaintances and who later has an important role in helping Peter.  The magician was also an interesting character professing that he only intended to conjure lilies and not an elephant.  Again, his magic later becomes crucial to the story.  I really enjoyed how all these little pieces came together in the end.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the beautiful illustrations by Yoko Tanaka, which are superb in setting the mood of the story.  It gives the story a dark dreamy quality with some bits of sadness and despair mixed in.  I can see this as a story read aloud with a younger child.  Definitely thankful that I read it before the animated film comes out.  **A huge thank you to Candlewick Press for the Movie-Tie in edition in exchange for an honest review**

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Unicorn Island: Beyond the Portal by Donna Galanti, illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe

Unicorn Island:  Beyond the Portal by Donna Galanti, illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe 
Format:  E-ARC
Publisher:  Andrews McMeel Publishing
Number of pages:  240
Publishing:  April 4th, 2023
Source: author in exchange for an honest review

Opening Line:  "Sam slid the perfectly browned pieces of banana French toast onto two plates as her dad, Mitch leaned over to add a few slices of crisp bacon." 

Beyond the Portal is the final book in the Unicorn Island series, while the author gives a nice recap of the previous book in the series, I would still recommend reading these in order.  

A lot has changed since the last book.  Revelations were made about Sam's dad and she and Tuck became unicorn protectors.  But lingering in the back of all of their minds was that Sylvie, Sam's biological mom might still be alive despite having disappeared through a portal.  Sam would love more than anything to reopen a portal, but this would be too risky.  The unicorns are still too weak from the disease that infected the herd and drained their magic, and Sam doesn't want to risk them becoming mortal.  So, the search for Sylvie was placed on hold.  Meanwhile, Sam and Tuck busied themselves by studying The Unicorn Protector's Creed, when they happen upon a coded message on how to open a cave portal in "dire and unforeseen circumstances".  Could this be the answer that Sam's been looking for?

 As always, the full color illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe, are wonderful.  I love the vibrant colors and the way they exude a light, cheerful tone that really complements the story and engages the reader well.  Being the final book in the series, I was expecting a few more secrets to be revealed and was pleasantly surprised by what awaited Sam, Tuck and Barloc on the other side of the portal.  No spoilers from me, only to say that I enjoyed how Galanti explored the grays of the world and that sometimes not everything is as it first seems.  Also, sometimes we just need to take a chance. 

Overall, I've really enjoyed The Unicorn Island series. I've enjoyed following Sam and Tuck on their many adventures.  Experiencing the various obstacles that they've faced, including Grendell, the sand creature in book two.  It's been a sort of atmospheric read for me, with the whole island shrouded by mist and our two unicorn protectors.   It has strong kid appeal, the artwork is lovely, there are unicorns and a positive friendship between a boy and girl.  This last book showed a lot of character growth and emphasized standing up for your principles.  Lastly, I enjoy that each book features tidbits of information at the back of the book that tie back into the story.  Things like explaining the history of coded messages, the importance of water, colic, horseback riding, and the healing prosperities of unicorn horns, explaining some of the mythology of unicorns while highlighting important historical and scientific facts.  I'd happily gift this to fans of unicorns and kids who enjoyed Adam Gidwitz's The Unicorn Rescue Society or the Unicorn Academy Series by Julie Sykes. 

  **A huge thank you to Donna Galanti for the E-ARC via BookFunnel  in exchange for an honest review. **