Archive for August, 2013

P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified Man by Caroline Lawrence

P.K. Pinkerton and the Petrified ManSummer always seems to be the perfect time to read a book set in the Old West — maybe because August is usually so hot and dry, so the descriptions of the sagebrush and cactus and dust feel that much more topical.

Caroline Lawrence, best known for her Roman Mysteries series (which I loved), is in the midst of a new series–half mystery, half western, about P.K. Pinkerton, a 12-year-old half-Native American boy who is trying to make is way as a detective in 1860s Nevada Territory. Like many a main character in recently-published middle-grade books, P.K. has something like Asperger’s Syndrome, which he refers to as his Thorn — it may make normal social interaction difficult for him, but it certainly helps to make him a one of the more realistically skilled child detectives in literature. (I hardly need mention that P.K.’s outlook and way of describing his world are both extremely amusing and very endearing).

The case of the Petrified Man is P.K.’s second outing, and I found it even more entertaining than the first. Lawrence’s entertaining style draws a reader in, and the non-stop plot keeps one turning pages until the very end. I have heard tell that a third book in the Western Mysteries series will be coming out next spring, and I’m eagerly awaiting word of what P.K. will be up to next time.

Check out Lawrence’s website for more information on either the Western Mysteries or the Roman Mysteries.

Post by: Sarah

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Get Real! A Non-Fiction Video Book Review

This month, Eileen shares a startlingly creative book: Face Book by Chuck Close.

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Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth

Boys Without NamesThere was a saying on a Mary Engelbreit poster from a few years back that went “Books Fall Open, You Fall In.” That’s the story of my life. I choose a book by its title, its cover, its author or whatever. Pretty soon I’ve met the characters, dropped into the setting and I’m lost to the immediate world. Sometimes, as in the case of Boys Without Names, I’m swept into a world that is as foreign as the surface of the moon. Not as forbidding as the moon perhaps but, maybe as lonely and unknown.

Boys Without Names is set in modern day India in the city of Mumbai, girlhood home of the author, Kashmira Sheth. The main character, 11-year-old Gopal, has recently found himself in the midst of a family crisis precipitated by the loss of the family farm, being weighted down by enormous debt that, because of unscrupulous money lending practices, could never be paid which finally leads to Gopal, his parents and younger twin siblings sneaking out of their village under the cover of night to seek refuge with an uncle living and working in the megalopolis of Mumbai. Just to heap misery on top of misery, Baba, Gopal’s father, has gone missing while trying to find the uncle’s home, leaving his family adrift and at the mercy of strangers both good and not-so-good. Falling in with the not-so-good, ultimately, Gopal, himself is drugged, kidnapped and sold into forced labor. All of this happens in the first hundred pages of the book. Yet somehow, despite the unfamiliarity of the setting, the strangeness of the culture, their customs and way of life, I fell in—head over heels.

This story could have been “ripped from the headlines.” It’s like something that you’d see on public television like Frontline or POV but it’s even more gripping. The thing that differentiates Boys Without Names from a TV report is the absolute humanity of the characters. Gopal’s family and friends are strong and weak, frightened and brave, courageous and timid, impetuous and cautious, they cover the entire ranger of characteristics that make us all the same despite our differences. This book has heart and guts. Like the sunshine that spills out between the monsoons, hope, especially for Gopal, is the prevalent emotion amidst the heavy gloom that pervades everyday existence.

Ms. Sheth has taken an aspect of our world, child enslavement, one that we’d rather not think about and turned it around from a tale of cruelty and horror to a shining, compelling novel of family and faithfulness. She’s a first-rate storyteller who has given us Gopal, a storyteller himself and a dreamer who, while he sometimes stumbles, he digs deep and fights to make his stories and dreams come true.

I hope you fall into this book the way I did.

Posted by: Eileen

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Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Three Times LuckyTupelo Landing, North Carolina is the setting for this middle grade mystery and a place I would love to visit especially to meet the characters in Three Times Lucky. This mystery is told in first person by “rising sixth grader” Moses LeBeau. Mo’s voice drips with Southern charm and humor from the first paragraph. Her voice is what kept me interested in the many mysteries in Tupelo Landing. Mo’s family is a mystery in itself.

The story starts with The Colonel being injured in a hurricane. He wakes up with amnesia and a baby girl who he names Moses since she was found floating down a flooded river. The Colonel and Mo soon find Miss Lana and their unique family unit is formed. However, Mo still longs to know who her “people” are and send letters in bottles to her “Upstream Mother” hoping to find out more about her origin. But in the mean time, she is happy to be living and working with The Colonel and Miss Lana in Tupelo Landing’s only café. As the only café, it is the heart of the town and Mo is treated to visits from many of the townspeople each day.

Things get really interesting in this story when one of the café regulars is found dead and a big-city detective arrives to investigate. Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, decide to start their own investigation and detective firm, Desperado Detectives, to solve the murder. This book touches on some serious issues, including alcoholism and spousal and child abuse which would make it a good start to a conversation about these issues, but does not get bogged down by them. It is at the heart, a mystery with a light tone and a lot of exciting rising action. I would recommend it for grades 5 and up.

Posted by: Kelly

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The Twelve Dancing Princesses retold and illustrated by Jane Ray

The Twelve Dancing PrincessesThe Grimms’ tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses has long been one of my favorite fairy tales. Rebellious princesses. Check. Enchanted gardens. Check. A suitor who is clever and kind. Check. Dancing. Check. The word slipper. Check!

There’s something so appealing about this story featuring twelve beautiful and clever princesses who sneak out every night to travel through an enchanted wood and across a little enchanted lake to a place where they can dance all night and sip and sup on delicacies. The poor King, however, can’t figure out why his beloved daughters are falling asleep at the breakfast table and wearing out their slippers each night. So, he promises the hand of one of his daughters in marriage to the man who can discover their secret. The clever princesses outwit a series of suitors until they finally meet their match in a traveling soldier. In this version, the tale ends with a happily married pair and a kingdom where the princesses are allowed to go dancing whenever they want, and as late as they want!

There are many retellings of this story available, but I particularly like Jane Ray’s illustrations. They are intricate, shimmery, and soft. She portrays twelve sisters with beautiful and interesting faces and hair that ranges from golden to raven. Some wear glasses, some are tall, some have curls – each is distinct. There is also a beautiful white dog among the pages with golden spots, and many other such details to pore over.

I recommend this story to anyone who loves fairy tales. For the child who demands princess stories, this is something that is a little off the beaten path. For this, it’s worth taking the trip over to the 398’s! (That’s the Folk and Fairy tale section – ask a librarian if you need guidance.)

Posted by: Parry

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Claude in the City by Alex T. Smith

Claude in the CityClaude is a happy little dog. He lives with Mr. & Mrs. Shinyshoes, loves to wear berets and has a best friend named Sir Bobblysock who actually is a sock, and quite bobbly. Every morning, after Mr. & Mrs. Shinyshoes leave for work, Claude pulls his beret out from under his pillow and heads out for a new adventure.

In Claude in the City Claude decides to go into (you guessed it!) the city. Along the way he and Sir Bobblysock visit a café, an art gallery, and numerous stores before inadvertently helping police catch a thief. All the while, Claude is happily taking in all the sights and enjoying every minute of his day on the town with his best friend, even when being honked at for walking down the middle of the street. Chapter two finds Claude and Sir Bobblysock in need of a doctor when Sir Bobblysock wakes up feeling a bit under the weather after their busy day in the city. While at the doctor’s office, Claude once again saves the day just by being the clever, silly little dog that he is.

Author and illustrator Alex T. Smith has skillfully merged his quirky and witty descriptions of a happy-go-lucky dog on the go with very charming black, white and red illustrations to create an instantly loveable character. Smith’s illustrations do a fabulous job of conveying Claude’s emotions, and provide a great opportunity to build visual literacy skills. Take, for example, the moment when Claude first comes across a pigeon on the street. He observes the animal in a number of different ways, and while the text explains what Claude is doing, it is the addition of the illustrations of Claude watching the pigeon that really brings the character to life and allows the little dog’s personality to shine.

Fans of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggy series who are ready to move on to chapter books will likely enjoy the Claude’s silly adventures and the expressive illustrations that bring them to life. This is a great book for readers in first through third grade, and makes for a very fun read-aloud or read together that parents will enjoy as well. Be warned, however, that when reading aloud you will likely be compelled to read with a British accent.

Posted by: Staci

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Monkey Ono by J.C. Phillipps

Monkey OnoSummer is here, and it is a great time to head to the beach.  Little Monkey Ono’s family is on the way to the beach, and he has only one thing on his mind: Boom Beach Day!  His first attempt of sneaking into the beach bag and joining the family on the trip is foiled when the bag is left behind.  But he forges on and plans and tries and fails repeatedly.  Finally, Monkey Ono and his friends find a clever way to bring the beach home.  Bananza!  Sometimes it’s best to stay at home after all!  Kids can join in with Monkey Ono’s catchphrases and enjoy the colorful illustrations.

Posted by: Liz

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