Thursday, December 9, 2010

Review: Saraswati's Way

by Monika Schroder
Frances Foster Books | Farrar Straus Giroux (November 2010)
Ages 10-14

Some books remind me of movies that come out right around the end of the year, just in time to be fresh in the minds of Academy Award voters. I'm talking about the quiet movies, the ones with substance and staying power. Like their visual counterparts, these books earn their way through the emotional landscape--no manufactured sentimentality or cheap scenes that break down at the end of the day.

SARASWATI'S WAY, by Monika Schroder, is one of those books. Set in current day India, it has all the components of a heartrending plot: a boy has a dream to go to a good school, but he needs a tutor in order to compete for a scholarship, his family is poor and his father dies, forcing the boy to grapple with modern day indentured slavery from which he escapes, only to end up in the slums of Dehli where his dream slips farther and farther away; and yet, Schroder keenly shies away from milking the reader's emotions with the editorial narration of a superior outsider.

This isn't a "multicultural" book that helps to educate readers about other ways of life. It's a human and humane novel that levels the playing field for all readers.

Schroder deftly crafts a story that tells itself honestly and without frills. This is simply how life is. People die. Others are cruel. Circumstances turn good children into drug addicts, dealers and thieves. However, no one and no thing can steal or stifle a dream when it's as powerful as that of twelve-year old Akash.

He has a genius for numbers and patterns, and a real chance for a better life if only he can find the money to pay for a tutor, but Akash's real gift is his personal integrity and internal compass. Through the lens of a somewhat distant third person narration, Schroder brings us inside the mind of a boy struggling to understand why the gods—Ganesha, remover of obstacles, and Saraswati, wisdom and knowledge—are ignoring his pleas.

Thankfully, Schroder allows Akash to make mistakes—one of which leads to a big loss—and she does not ignore the realities of lecherous men who prey on boys, corrupt authorities, and the prevalence of poverty and crime. I'm not sure how she does it, though, but none of the seaminess is gratuitous. Like the storytelling itself, it's there to serve and not detract.

My only wish is that the resolution had taken longer to reach and been a bit less tidy. Even so, I was left wanting to follow Akash to the next chapter in his life. This is one book I would love to see a sequel to.

For a little taste of SARASWATI'S WAY, check out the book trailer:

Source: copy provided by author

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Top Ten Chapter Books of 2010

On average, I read about 2-3 books per week. Most are chapter books, a few young adult novels and a smattering of picture books and early readers. Since my own writing is geared toward the 8-12 year old crowd (my peers, basically), I sifted through all the chapter books I've read that were published this year and came up with a solid list of top ten. (A few are in that gray area—lurching toward YA.)

(Please click on the bottom right of the screen to get rid of the ads if they appear.)

There are other worthy books, of course, but these are the ones I would recommend to any reader or parent/grandparent without a second thought. I have no doubt that some of these will be on the Newbery shortlist.

For picture books, I have to put in a plug for Bonny Becker's A BEDTIME FOR BEAR. And it's not just because I know her. This follow-up book to the E.B. White Read Aloud award winner, A BEDTIME FOR BEAR, is the season's best gift for little ones. Another great picture book gift for the holiday season is Jesse Joshua Watson's HOPE FOR HAITI.

And let's not forget Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee's BINK & GOLLIE for the year's most smashing early reader chapter book.

Keep reading!

The books listed in the Top Ten Books of 2010 slideshow are (in alphabetical order): 
Alchemy and Meggy Swann, by Karen Cushman
The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester, by Barbara O'Connor
The Fences Between Us, by Kirby Larson
Forge, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Guinea Dog, by Patrick Jennings
The Kneebone Boy, by Ellen Potter
One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia
Seaglass Summer, Anjali Banerjee
Touch Blue, by Cynthia Lord
Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm

Friday, November 19, 2010

Popeye Reviews Splipping Spiddlers

Campfire Songs for Monsters
Written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Gris Grimly
Scholastic Press (May 2008)
Ages 9-12

Diz heer is Popeye an i jes kongradulated frum skool (yu kan se my pichur beelo). My peeples sez im soo smart i kud prolly lern to reed an soo i red me a buk i wont too tel yu abowt. Itz colled Splipping Spiddlers Threw An Strawl by Kelly DiPucchio and Gris Grimly (woo i thunk muzt ble a dawg becuz he maks growly fun pichurs).

Heer iz me reedeeng da buk.

Da buk iz abowt funni monster songs lik Home on the Strange an Creepy Creepy Little Jar. But my flaborite iz Clap Your Paws (if yur skary an yu no id).

Da pichurs by Gris Grimly iz extry spesel kreepy an funnly too. My peeples sez he iz uh geanus.

I laf so hard wen my peeples I reed da buk, I thunk everlybudy shud git it for Kristlemas an Honnikerh prezentz too gif everlybudy.

My peeples sez itz wun uv har flaveritz buks uv oll tim.

Heer iz me getteeng kongradulated.

Soo ok, go ged da buk.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Monster Read

The Monstrumologist
by Rick Yancey
Simon & Shuster 2009
Ages 14+

Unlike this masterful work of macabre, I'll keep my review of THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST short and sweet. This 2010 Printz Honor is hands down the best gothic horror novel I've read in years.

THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST details a man's dying account of his boyhood service to a "philosopher" with a maddening obsession for the Anthropophagus (flesh eating monster).

Lucky for us, some really nasty Anthropophagi are on the loose, and Yancey leaves out none of the details.

From the moment the crazed doctor and his young assistant dig a monster's spawn out of an unfortunate victim, Yancey takes readers deep into a maze of horror that gradually reveals some painfully personal secrets.

Yancey seldom relieves readers with a moment of peace, continually ratcheting up the tension with breathless suspense. But there's more to the story than a rip-roaring plot. The main character, an orphan named Will Henry, has a story of his own that's beautifully crafted and well-paced. He is a refreshing surprise. I'll just say that.

I was hooked, and if you like superb writing, you will be too.

Here's the book trailer:

Source: I bought my copy at Orca Books

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Monster Chuckles

by Adam Rex
Harcourt Children's Books (Spetember 2006)
Ages 4-8

Monsters make great stories, but do they make a good sandwich? Adam Rex answers these and other pressing questions with a resounding mmmph! mmmph! in FRANKENSTEIN MAKES A SANDWICH, a fun and fabulous collection of illustrated monster rhymes.

From Frankenstein's culinary challenges to the Creature from the Black Lagoon's swimming cramps,  Rex tells it like it isn't. The rhyming narratives flirt with scary legends by poking fun at prominent baddies, like Dracula who's got an embarrassing problem in Count Dracula Doesn't Know He's Been Walking Around with Spinach in His Teeth.

Rex has fun toying with the reality of monsters who have to deal with mundane issues, but he also manages to turn the mundane into the monsterish with The Dentist (a scary topic in its own right) whose described by Frankenjunior as having hooks for fingers and a giant glowing eye for a head.

One of the delights of this collection is a running gag with the Phantom of the Opera's inability to rid his mind of maddening tunes like It's a Small World and B-I-N-G-O—something everyone can relate to. This recurring theme also has the effect of subtlety tying the collection together.

The real star of this wickedly entertaining variety show, however, is Rex's mad gift of illustration. Talk about range--the illustrations run from classic monster film creep show to black and white comic strip and full-color, eye-popping paintings. It's a bit like strolling through an old-time fun house.

There are oodles of monster books, but very few that have oodles of monsters worth their weight in gore. FRANKENSTEIN MAKES A SANDWICH is definitely worthy of a permanent place on the bookshelf.

Source: I bought my copy at Orca Books.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Written by Kevin Bolger
Illustrated by Aaron Blecha
Razorbill (June 2010)
Ages 9-12

When the Widow Imavitch of Dementedyville sells a sinister-looking "stuffy" to Stanley Nudelman, life in his "tidy, uneventful town" suddenly becomes interesting; but interesting in a way that's sometimes barely indistinguishable from the everyday horrors of slope-headed bullies, and sixth graders who speak only in grunts or snarls ("So?" says Stanley's friend Miranda. "They're always like that.")

Kevin Bolger has a gift for making the dreadful totally entertaining, beginning with the nighttime playroom massacre in which Zombiekins comes to life with its menacing limp—Stump!—scritch...Stump!—scritch...Stump!—scritch—tearing the stuffings and limbs off the competition. But is this scary? Nah. It's delicious fun. Stanley blames his poor dog for the "savaged stuffies" and ignorantly takes Zombiekins to school, where things really unravel.

Bolger lightens the mood set by this terrifying teddy by poking fun at the ordinary and mixing it up with the horridnary. After all, can one really tell the difference between a pack of sixth-graders and a zombie horde? No wonder poor Stanley is a little slow to tumble.

He's not the only one to miss the signs. When one of his classmates starts moaning and swiveling her head after one bite from Zombiekins, the teacher Mr. Baldengrumpy doesn't notice a thing. As long as everyone stays in line and follows instructions, he could care less.

Once he catches on, however, Stanley sets out to save his school from ETERNAL ZOMBIEFICATION before something really bad happens and he gets detention.

ZOMBIEKINS is pure entertainment, perfect for reluctant readers and eager readers alike. The illustrations of Aaron Blech bring this deadbeat toy to life with just the right touch of ghoulishness.

Source: I bought my copy of ZOMBIEKINS at Ocra Books.

Want a little taste? Here's a trailer for the book:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Picture Books for Little Chills

Written by Kathyrn O. Galbraith
Illustrated by Jeff Mack
Sandpiper (September 2010)
AGES 4-8

“One shy bunny / One dark night” begins the quietly told tale of a bunny's daring evening of trick-or-treating. Kathryn O. Galbraith delivers just the right touch of shivery anticipation for young readers as one scared bunny joins another, and the two friends face the spooky sights and sounds of Halloween "paws held tight."

The bumps, eeks, squeaks, booos and whoooos resolve into a satisfying ending that makes the journey all the more worthwhile.

BOO, BUNNY! is told in rhythmical slant rhymes and long vowel sounds that create an engaging read-aloud. Great for small groups and one-on-one reading.

This one is a keeper.

Written by Sean Taylor, Illustrated by Nick Sharratt
Roaring Brook Press (August 2009)
Ages 4-8

WHEN A MONSTER IS BORN is the twisted creation of Sean Taylor who lays out the many possibilities that unfold when a monster is born, starting with:
"either it's a faraway-in-the-forests monster, or…it's an under-your-bed monster." 
Each set of choices has one option that ends the story ("If it eats you, that's that") and one option that leads to two more possibilities. After a series of fabulous twists and turns, the story returns to the birth of a new monster...and the story begins again.

The publisher says it's for ages 4-8, but I don't think it stops there.

This is a great book for a dramatic reading and interactive storytime.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Guaranteed Good Read

by Kirby Larson
Scholastic (September, 2010)
Ages 9+

THE FENCES BETWEEN US reintroduces Scholastic's Dear America series through the diary of thirteen-year-old Piper Davis who witnesses the incarceration of her preacher father's entire congregation of Japanese immigrants and their American-born children during World War II.

As author Kirby Larson expertly reveals over the course of the novel, it was one of our country's darkest secrets and deepest shames—particularly in the Pacific Northwest where the threat of an attack from without and within our borders felt imminent (sadly, not all that different from today).

Piper's account of the events leading up to, and during, the incarceration of Japanese Americans is carried by the impeccable voice of authentic self-interest that slowly evolves from lipstick and boyfriend drama to the realities of war and fear of "otherness."

Larson ups the emotional ante for Piper, whose brother is stationed in Pearl Harbor when his ship is attacked. So, while her father attends to the victims of war at home—to the point of moving with Piper to Idaho Falls to be with his congregation fenced inside Camp Minidoka—she follows news reports of the war in the Pacific with an added level of fear for her brother's life.

Through Piper's recounting of the news, as well as her vivid description of conditions inside two incarceration camps (thanks to Larson's brilliant decision to make Piper a budding photographer), THE FENCES BETWEEN US explores the war far and near without ever feeling like a history lesson.

The voice of Piper is pitch perfect, adding yet another layer of authenticity to a fictional account that feels so very real. Piper's entries are loaded with the idioms, values, and facts of the day in a natural, unforced way. And, as she changes, so too does the reader, as we transform from outsider to insider, peering through the fog of war to find some clarity and understanding.

This is education at its best—when it makes the reader think beyond the dry facts to what it all means in human terms.

Kids, teachers, and librarians will love this riveting relaunch of Scholastic's Dear America series.

Satisfaction Guaranteed:
Because I know and adore Kirby Larson, one could argue that my opinions are biased. So, just to keep my integrity, I'll stand behind my words with a money back guarantee. If you are not completely satisfied with THE FENCES BETWEEN US, send your copy to the South Sound Reading Foundation, email to let me know, and I will refund your money. F'real.

Source: I bought my copy at Third Place Books

Thursday, September 16, 2010

It's no secret...

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester
by Barbara O'Connor
Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux (August 2010)
Ages 8-12

It's no secret that I'm a BIG fan of Barbara O'Connor's work. She's got a signature style that never goes out of style. Her words are playful, lyrical, and a delight to read aloud.

The stories have heart.
The emotions are earned.
The characters are true.

It's also no secret that I'm a tough reader, hard to please, and easily irked when I think a writer is rusting on her laurels.

The only rusting going on in THE FANTASTIC SECRET OF OWEN JESTER, however, is the cage that Owen and his buddies Travis and Stumpy are constructing for poor, sad Tooley Graham, "the biggest, greenest, slimiest, most beautiful bullfrog in the whole world."

Once again, O'Connor has crafted a tiny corner of the world that's jammed packed with characters and mysteries that she slips into the story as easily as Owen drops poor Tooley into Earlene's soup pot. Besides Owen and his buddies, there's the memorable Viola, a girl who makes it her business to be in Owen's business no matter how much he tries to shed her from his life. I love this kid. She could have easily been a one-note character, but O'Connor surprises us—slowly, but surely—as the story unfolds.

The adults are, thankfully, either in the background or slightly off center stage, just enough to make life complicated for Owen. Interestingly, Owen and his parents have come to live with his grandfather due to financial problems. O'Connor drops this background—so pertinent to today's reality—with a deft hand. The loss of Owen's home is simply there. It gives an emotional underpinning to the story without being the least bit overwrought and hand wringingly nauseating (as others with less skill—me maybe—would be tempted to do).

With great subtlety, Owen's story mirrors that of Tooley Graham—plucked from his home and made to live under the unnatural law of Earlene, his grandfather's aide. The relationship Owen has with his grandfather is magnificently understated. He shares his secrets with his ailing grandfather (who never speaks) at the same gradual pace that it takes him to make sense of the world.

It's incredibility difficult to people a world without confusing the reader or becoming distracting, but O'Connor manages to do this with such ease, the result looks effortless. Every character is part of a delightfully designed puzzle that, when it comes together, is completely satisfying.

Why discuss the characters first, before the plot? Because the characters are what make this story float (heh). The big secret of course (which is illustrated on the book's stunning cover), is the discovery of an unearthly object that's fallen off the train tracks in the middle of the night. It's the sort of discovery of a child's summer fantasy, but O'Connor makes it perfectly possible.

And that, ultimately, is the wonder of this book. It leaves the reader feeling that the world, despite its problems, is filled with possibility. Imagination is not just in the head. It may, in fact, be just beyond those trees, lying off the side of the tracks, waiting to be discovered.


Source: I bought my copy at Orca Books.

For fun, check out Barbara's O'Connor's Trailer:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Uh Oh

(Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World)
Written by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Dan Santat
Hyperion Book (June 1, 2010)
Ages 4-8

Having read and loved Mac Barnett's Brixton Brothers' CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY, I could not wait to get my hands on his picture book OH NO!, illustrated by Dan Santat.

Let me just say that it is a visual feast, a gloriously illustrated graphic-novel-style-picture-book-that-defies-picture-book-convention. This is good and not so good. The good is that it is delicious eye candy from cover to cover. Dan Santat is a genius. Period. As someone who volunteers for a reading foundation, handing out free books by the hundreds, I know that kids would dive-in headfirst for this golden nugget.

The not so good is that I would be there to pull them back from the plunge and point out a book with an actual plot. Because the truth is that there's no there there. It's a premise (what happens when a girl's science project destroys the world?) with an unfulfilled promise.

I could add a spoiler alert here, but the subtitle sort of gives it all away: How My Science Project Destroyed the World. That about sums it up. Santat's stunning comic book illustrations show how a girl's (a girl, yay!) science project destroys the world. To her (and Barnett's) credit, she does try to fix the problem...once, by repeating it. So much for story arc. 

In a chilling way, it reminds me of M.T. Anderson's FEED, in which language is boiled down into its most elemental state, except that in the case of OH NO! it's the concept of story that's been reduced for mass consumption, sort of like being fed through the television. It's non-interactive. You look at it, but you don't really need to think about it.

I can't see being able to read this aloud at a storytime event because there's a lot going on visually that would be hard for a group of children to see; and it doesn't seem to challenge the imagination enough to sit down one on one. It is something that, like television, could be given to a child to keep busy, but that sort of ruins the point of a picture book. Little kids are learning how to use a book, turn a page, read left to right. The layout of this book appears to ignore developmental needs. So, maybe it's a new breed of early reader, for first and second graders who want to watch a book.

I could have said nothing about Oh NO! because I admire Mac Barnett's work (and Dan Santat, well, he's brilliant), but I found myself dreaming about it last night and getting upset. It's not really this particular book that's gotten a rise out of me, it's the style of book--a $16.99 television program or movie produced by Disney. Even the gorgeous cover, when removed, lays out to reveal a movie poster.

Please, don't let this be a trend. And Mac Barnett, please get back to telling great stories.

Source: I bought my copy at Orca Books.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: Brixton Brothers

by Mac Barnett
Simon & Shuster Children's Publishing (October 2009)
Ages 9-12

The title of this first installment of Mac Barnett's wisecracking, tongue-in-cheek gumshoe series says it all: THE CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY is a swell send-up of kid detective novels that's ace all the way. Barnett takes stereotypical characters and situations and, like all good satire, pushes them to the extreme. It's a fun, cheeky approach to reinventing tired and simplistic genre tropes

Barnett's easy style and the short-clipped narrative of his kid detective, Steve Brixton, milk this genre for all it's worth and then some. It's brilliant, really, the way Barnett riffs on old HARDY BOYS mysteries by incorporating a fictional brother duo—the Bailey Brothers—as a guide for Steve to navigate the ins and outs of detecting. 

The mystery that Steve must solve is fantastically far-fetched: After being assigned an essay on quilting, he finds himself the target of some badass librarians who are out to recover a top secret quilt that they believe Steve has been hired to steal for the mysterious Mr. E. It's corny without being cheesy, in large part because Barnett does what every smart criminal does: he hides in plain sight. He's telling us what he's doing as he's doing it.

Whenever Steve runs up against a baddie, why he whips out The Bailey Brothers Detective Handbook for tips. When he finds himself in a tight spot, the Bailey Brothers bail him out with the following advice:
Jumping from high places isn't so bad—as long as you know how to fall! Shawn and Kevin Bailey are always leaping from old water towers or speeding trains. The key is rolling when you hit the ground!
As happens throughout the book, The Bailey Brothers Detective Handbook then goes on to give advice that falls apart in real life. It's a fun spoof! With lots of exclamations! And keen ideas! That don't work!

The only problem I have with the book is not with the book, but the next one. How can Mac Barnett sustain the freshness of THE CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY? Will retro get old? Can Barnett top the top of his game? I guess I'll have to wait until this fall when the next Brixton Brothers mystery—THE GHOSTWRITER SECRET hits the shelves.

(Oh--and Adam Rex who illustrated the book, he's ace too!)

Source: I bought my paperback copy at Orca Books.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Great American Illustrator Month at Ripple

It's Great American Illustrator Month over at Ripple, the brainchild of illustrator Kelly Light. Ripple offers a way to stop feeling helpless over the assault against wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico by making "ripples" with small donations for sketch cards created by contributing artists. The proceeds go to benefit one of two non-profit organizations working to save animal victims of the Deep Water Horizon Gulf Oil Spill.

Today, four Mo Willems' sketch cards will be up for bid (at $50 each), beginning promptly at 6:30 pm (EST) and continuing until 8:30. Instructions are explained on the Ripple's site, so be sure to read through before contacting Kelly.

See you there!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Libba Bray Has Some Serious Ovaries

After reading countless tweets from ALA-goers who could never quite capture the moment (an impossible task), here is Libba Bray's Printz Award acceptance speech for GOING BOVINE.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Monday Review: Guinea Dog

by Patrick Jennings
EgmontUSA (April 2010)
Ages 8-12

No point beating around the bush on this one. Patrick Jennings latest book, GUINEA DOG, is simply the most delightful, laugh-out-loud funny read I've come across this year.

The premise alone is enough to entertain: Boy (Rufus) wants dog. Dad does not want dog. Mom compromises with guinea pig (Fido) who behaves exactly like a dog. Fido whines for attention, growls, plays fetch and keeps up with the big dogs like nobody's business.

The last thing Rufus wants, however, is a rodent. He wants a real dog, one like his friends have. And there's the real issue right there—the tender little nugget tucked inside this hilarious romp—accepting who you are, even (or especially) if it's not quite up to normal standards. Jennings takes the perfect approach to dealing with a topic that can easily be ground into preachy pablum. He makes a joke of it. An expertly crafted one.

Three things that make this story work like a dog:

1. The seamless integration of fantasy into real world. Without a single explanation for Fido's existence (in fact, the pet store from which she came has mysteriously vanished), Jennings manages to make us believe the reality of a guinea the point that I've been thinking of getting one. This deft manipulation of reality is no small feat. In fact, it's the sign of a master magician/storyteller.

2. Rufus and his friends are hands down some of the most well-crafted, fully rounded characters to strut the page. With very small strokes, Jennings paints such realistic characterizations, I know that I know these kids. They're recognizable without being stereotypes. The dialog and mannerisms are spot on. He captures the essence of kids with the same care and respect he uses to depict natural life (animals are a mainstay of Jennings' work). In Jennings' world, kids and animals live in harmony. He doesn't cheat either out of their dignity, yet he always finds unique ways to draw out the humor.

3. The sound and rhythm of Jennings' words create a lyrical soundtrack that make this story sing. Jennings uses several poetic techniques to achieve this effect: the well-place repetition of words and phrases that take us directly into the mind and emotion of Rufus (who's narrating the story); listing (which also makes use of building repetitions and rhythm); short, declarative sentences that drive the beat; and unobtrusive alliteration.

Jennings hit a home run with this book. Before he came to our Imagination Celebration two weeks ago, I knew that GUINEA DOG would do well at the book signing. It did. In fact, it sold out.

I was just glad I already had my copy.

Book Source: I bought GUINEA DOG at Orca Books

Friday, May 14, 2010

Get This Book

The Quiet Book
Written by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Renata Liwska
Ages 4-8
32 pages
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (April 12, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0547215679

I was at the South Sound Reading Foundation earlier today and Jennifer Forster, the director, pointed to one of the countless books tumbling from every surface in her office and exclaimed, "The Quiet Book! Have you read it?"

First of all, any book called Quiet that makes someone holler is going to get my attention. Since I don't get many chances to flaunt my knowledge, I pulled my finger out of my nose and said No, I haven't even heard of that book. But I said it in a very graduate schoolie way.

She left me alone to read it.

Let me just say this: READ THE QUIET BOOK!!!!

Oh man, this little nugget of sweetness melts in your middle. It's a very quiet book, with loud powie love written all over its pages.

Deborah Underwood's concept for the book is simple: write about all the different kinds of quiet. Add the whispery quiet illustrations of Renata Liwska and you've got a classic picture book. Simple, but profound.

It's stunning, really, how many different types of quiet there are. Some are playful ("jelly side down quiet,") some are serious ("thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall quiet") and some are poignant ("last one to get picked up from school quiet").

What's even more remarkable than all the types of quiet that Underwood describes is how her perfectly selected words, together with the images, evoke such nuanced emotions and strong associations. Each little vignette explores daily life from morning to evening. The events are all recognizable and relatable.

There's a lot to shout about in THE QUIET BOOK. But shhhhh....try not to holler when you tell someone about it.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Review: The Magician's Elephant

The Magician’s Elephant
By Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka
Ages 9-12

I hold to the belief that what a story means (as in message) is less important than how it makes the reader feel. After all, a well-crafted story can mean many things to many people. However, in the case of Kate DiCamillo’s The Magician's Elephant, meaning and magic unite to create a mystical sensation of wonder, love and possibility beyond everyday imagination. It’s an emotionally evocative, fairy tale journey for the reader.

Weird and wonderful characters populate this mystical world in which the inexplicable appearance of an elephant weaves together the lives and aspirations of people seeking love and a sense of belonging.

One of the reasons I fell in love with this mesmerizing tale of a boy’s quest to find the sister he never knew is because of its language—the poetic repetition and building of speech patterns, such as the following instructions by the feverishly delusional soldier, Vilna Lutz ,to his ward, Peter Duchene:
“You must ask the fishmonger for two fish and no more….Ask him for the smallest ones. Ask him for the fish that others would turn away. Why, you must ask him for those fish that other fish are embarrassed to even refer to as fish!”
Even the elephant has his own special syntax, which is so very elephanty it feels utterly authentic.

To cap it off, the narrative is brought to luminous life by Yoko Tanaka’s illustrations. As with the words, the images evoke an emotionally resonant tale.

Simply put, The Magician’s Elephant is miraculous.