Waking Brain Cells
Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf
Translated from the original Dutch, this book is the story of Fing and her family. Fing’s mother died years ago and since then her father and her grandmother have taken care of them. They are a big family, with Fing’s three older brothers and her two sisters, Muulke and Jess. Fing’s father has decided to start a cigar business, so they move out of town to a big old house that has something very strange about it that Fing can’t quite figure out. They call it Nine Open Arms, because that is how far across it is. The house is near a cemetery, the front door is at the back, and there is a bed in storage that looks like a tombstone. As the girls start a new school, they slowly begin to discover the secrets of Nine Open Arms and of their own community and family.
Delightfully wild and incredibly quirky, this book is one of a kind. From the family that moves constantly, to the cemetery next door where they go to get their water each day, to the crocodile purse that is used to tell family stories, to the controlling grandmother who is dominant but deeply loving in her own way, to the one old story that is the key to understanding it all. This is a richly rewarding read, one that you have to head out on before you even know what journey you are on. It is a book that meanders but each turn is essential to the book in the end, where it all clicks into place.
Told in the first person by Fing, the book unfolds before you, each reveal another piece of the family, another story, another moment that is meaningful. It is a perfectly crafted book that has a plot that moves in its own time, another time, a less modern pace. It ties to the pace of the family, one where things are revealed in their own space. It’s incredibly well done.
Beautifully written, magnificently crafted, this Dutch novel is like nothing you have read before, and that is wonderful! Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Middle School Tagged: Dutch, families, Netherlands, siblings, stories
Little Green Peas: A Big Book of Color by Keith Baker
The peas return for their third book, this time focusing on colors. Peas play on each page, surrounded by a specific color that also shows up in huge letters across the double page spread. Told in rhyme, the colors are named and objects that are that color are named too. Young readers can find those objects on the page. Turn to the next and you get to see even more little green peas enjoying themselves with that color. Then on to the next. This colorful read has a great playfulness to it that will keep the youngest readers giggling as they learn their colors.
Baker knows just when his rhyme and structure have reached their limit and then turns it just slightly to make it fresh again. His little peas are doing all sorts of things on the page and part of the fun of the book is lingering and just seeing what is happening to each little pea. The illustrations are big and bold, the colors deep and strong. Yet the little peas and their detailed big fun make this a book best shared one on one.
A great pick for learning colors, children will enjoy the little peas on each page. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: colors, concept books, peas, toddlers
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
The final book in the Grisha trilogy, this is an amazing ending to an incredible series. After her failed battle with the Darkling, Alina has been hiding in the White Cathedral, slowing healing from the damage of the fight. But Alina has lost much of her power and must rely on trickery to display the light of the Sun Summoner. She is surrounded by those who believe her to be a saint, but also by those who would control her for their own means. It is soon time for Alina to escape, but in her battered body and mind, planning such a thing is insurmountable. Luckily, she still has some of her faithful friends around her, who are only too pleased to free her and themselves from the protection of the Cathedral. Now Alina must figure out how to find the final amplifier that will allow her to complete the set and access her full power. But the Darkling is still hunting her, and he will not stop until she is under his control.
This is one of those books that you read at breakneck pace, turning the pages quickly. Bardugo has created such a rich world in this series that it is one that is hard to leave behind, and when you do it continues to call to you as a reader to finish the story. Mixing Russian aspects into the story makes this very unique, but she also has a world that has its own rules, ones that make sense and hold true throughout the books.
Rife with romance, the book also offers different choices in future lives to Alina. There is the ever-steady Mal who is the only one who can track the final amplifier for Alina. There is the prince who is charming and funny, giving Alina freedom but also making her a queen. And of course, there is the choice of the Darkling himself, destructive and evil but so alluring. Alina is a wondrous mix of delicacy and steel. She is a stunning heroine.
Make sure to start this trilogy from the beginning, but also make sure to read it through to this riveting, dark and sun-streaked ending. Pure bliss! Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: fantasy
Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat
This companion to The Three Ninja Pigs mixes ninja training, wolves and girls in red capes into one great homage to the traditional tale. Wolf can’t catch any animals to eat. They all defeat him with their ninja skills, so he decides to get training himself. After practicing for hours, he heads into the woods where he sees Riding Hood carrying a treat to her grandmother. He suggests that Riding Hood pick some flowers for her grandmother, and dashes off to the grandmother’s house himself. She isn’t home, so he puts on her clothes. After Riding Hood slowly realizes that this is not her grandmother in a wonderful mix of traditional and martial arts storytelling, it is revealed that Riding Hood has also had ninja training. But when the two are evenly matched, it will take one butt-kicking grandmother to save the day.
Schwartz mixes the traditional tale with ninja skills and martial arts to form a tremendously fun book that happily does not leave the original story too far behind. The moments of the story where the original story is followed closely are quickly turned into a more Japanese and ninja storyline. Cleverly mixed, one never quite knows what is going to happen from page to page, making it all the more delightful to read and even better to share with a group.
Santat’s art has his signature modern style. He has a natural feel for comedic timing and that is used extensively in this book. He mixes in Japanese touches throughout, from the dojo to grandmother’s traditional Japanese home. Bright, bold and filled with action, this book begs to be shared.
Another successful twisted tale, let’s hope there are more ninja folk tales coming! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: fairy tales, ninjas, wolves
The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye
Aref’s family is moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan from where he has always lived in Muscat, Oman. After his father heads off ahead of Aref and his mother, the two of them head home to finish packing and for his mother to finish working. But Aref does not want to leave Oman, leave his bedroom to his cousins who will be living there while they are gone for several years, leave his pet cat behind. But particularly, he does not want to leave his grandfather. Aref pretends to pack, but finds himself playing instead, riding his bike, ignoring the packing entirely. His mother gets frustrated and asks Siddi, his grandfather, for a hand. So the Aref and Siddi head out on a series of adventures that let them spend time together, but also let Aref say goodbye to his beloved Oman and be open enough to greet the future in Michigan.
Nye is the author of Habibi as well as an acclaimed poet. Her novel is short and wonderfully vivid, painting a picture of Oman for young readers who will be drawn to the natural beauty. Readers will also be taken by the loving family, where parenting is done with grace and kindness, and where a grandfather is willing to spend lots of time saying farewell, as much time as a child needs.
Nye’s writing shows her poetic skills again and again. Her prose reads like verse, filled with imagery and striking wording. When Aref goes to the sea with his grandfather, Nye describes it like this:
The sky loomed with a few delicate lines of wavery cloud, one under the other. It looked like another blue ocean over the watery blue sea. Aref took a deep breath and tried to hold all the blue inside his body, pretending for a moment he didn’t have to move away or say good-bye to anything or share his room and cat, none of it.
Many of the moments with Aref and his grandfather are written like this, celebrating the tiny pieces of beauty in the world, relishing the time, treasuring the wonder. Her book is like a jewel, faceted and lovely to turn and marvel at.
This short novel is a vivid and majestic look at the Middle East, at familial love, and at the special relationship of a boy and his grandfather. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Middle School Tagged: families, grandfathers, grandparents, moving, Oman
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
Released August 26, 2014.
Eleven-year-old Ellie loves doing puzzles, because the pieces fit together so neatly. She doesn’t like change at all, like the way that her best friend Brianna never talks with her anymore. She lives with her mother in a tiny house with the garage filled with costumes from her job directing high school theater. Her mother wants her to find her own passion, but Ellie isn’t sure that she has one. Then something very strange happens, and her grandfather comes to live with them. But he’s not really himself, instead he’s thirteen years old again! Now Ellie has a “cousin” Melvin who goes to school with her but dresses, talks and thinks just like her grandfather. Could he really have found the key to eternal youth? This is the classic story of growing up, mixed with someone who is trying to grow down.
Holm’s signature light touch is a large part of the success of this novel. Dealing with big issues like aging, death, and growing up, Holm manages to keep the tone light enough to make the reading great fun. She mixes science into the story, clearly displaying her own interest in the subject, but also making sure that the science is just as readable as the story.
She populates her story with great characters from the dramatic mother to Ellie herself who readers will relate to quickly and easily. Melvin is my favorite character in the book, written for pure delight as a great mix of teen boy and aging man. In particular, I love that Holm kept him wearing the same clothes, talking to his daughter in the same way, and relating with teens he meets as if he didn’t resemble them in the least. He’s a brilliant character, a wonderful grandfather, and profoundly funny.
Grab this as a great book to share in a classroom, it has lots to discuss but is immensely readable and serves as a clever entry point to science fiction reading. Also, get this into the hands of Holm fans who are ready for something beyond Babymouse. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Middle School Tagged: aging, death, families, science, science fiction
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