THE FAMILY ROMANOV: Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Non-fiction

April 11, 2015

RomanovThe Family Romanov:  Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

A non-fiction page-turner that reads like a novel.  Reading about the lives of the imperial family of Russia–especially in contrast to the poor masses of Russian peasants–is a wonderful introduction to the compelling power of good biographies.  Middle school children and older will be drawn into the absolutely incredible (yet true) story of the clueless monarchs, the almost unbelievable characters like Rasputin, the heart-wrenching poverty of most of Russia, as well as the intrigue of what happened to Anastasia, the rise of Lenin, and the role of the Russian Orthodox Church.  I especially appreciated the photos  from the period and the family portraits.  These artifacts are in stark contrast to the first person accounts of the non-nobility during the same time period.  Well-written, appealing, and accessible.


New Series for Teens and Tweens

April 5, 2015

Recently, we shared the latest and greatest in on-going YA series.  In our research for recommending great reads, we also found that there are several great new series that promise to be very popular with both adolescents and those of us addicted to the Young Adult field of literature.  So, we start with the following three books, which will lead you into future reading adventures.  We savor the chance to get to know these characters as their lives and worlds unfold in future books.

Glass-sentenceThe Map Maker’s Trilogy:  The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove

Sophia Timms is a lover of maps.  In fact, it’s the only way she has seen the world.  In the Boston of her universe in 1891, it is her family that people turn to map the New World–a world that was greatly changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods.  You’re hooked already, right?  Add to this premise an intriguing host of characters, like Sophia, forced to fend for herself when her parents and Uncle Shadrack disappear while on a mission.  With her friend she travels over rough terrain and uncharted ocean, encounters pirates and traders, and relies on a combination of Shadrack’s maps, common sense, and her own slantwise powers of observation.  Grades 6 and up–especially Phillip Pullman fans–will be captivated by this new world, with time-travel and adventure galore.  And maps have never looked more intriguing!  Stay tuned for The Golden Specific, book 2 in the series, due out this summer.

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Red-QueenThe Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Mare Barrow lives in a world divided by color–in this case, the color of blood.  Red-blooded folks like Mare are at the bottom of the social structure, unlike the Silvers.  The pale upper-class Silvers rule by their blood as well as the super-human abilities that are their birthright.  Mare is brought out of her poverty and life as a quick-witted thief when she is chosen to work at the Court, and her own powerful brand of super power is discovered.  Forced to play a role as a long-lost Silver Princess, Mare is brought into a double existence as a noble woman–and as a revolutionary, in the growing Red rebellion.  It’s a world of adventure, intrigue, treachery, and not a little romance.  It’s an imaginative fantasy thriller and wonderful debut for this new series.

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ClarielClariel by Garth Nix

Though this novel is often touted as the fourth novel in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, that’s a bit of a misnomer, as Clariel is a prequel to the world that Garth Nix creates that takes place 600 years after Clariel’s youth.  I loved the chance to revisit the kingdom and see it at the transitional time where the power of the Charter magic began to ebb and Free Magic rose.  We see the world through young Clariel’s eyes.  She is the daughter of one of the most notable families in the Old Kingdom, with blood relations to the Abhorsen and, most important, to the King. She dreams of living a simple life but discovers this is hard to achieve when a dangerous Free Magic creature is loose in the city. Her parents want to marry her off to a killer, and there is a plot brewing against the old and withdrawn King Orrikan. This novel can stand alone–but it’s also a treat for fans of the Abhorsen  Trilogy (Old Kingdom) series.  It made me want to revisit an old favorite. Highly recommended!

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April Fool’s Surprise!

March 28, 2015

April Fool’s Day is coming up this week.  Interested in a little history and a few recommendations?  You might start by checking out  April 1st-April Fool’s Day

And to add to the list, we are also recommending a new “twins book “for early readers that celebrates the fun of good-natured April Fool’s tricks.  Perfect for early readers.

AprilDouble Trouble #2:  April Fool’s Surprise by Abby Klein, illustrated by John McKinley

Twin sisters Kelly and Kasey are the stars of this series for early readers.  They are always getting into trouble, so of course, April Fool’s Day is a favorite celebration for them.  They hope to succeed with an “ultimate” prank that will fool their whole second-grade class.  Kids love this Scholastic series as a quick but enjoyable read.  Perfect for April Fool’s Day!


Downton Abbey for Children’s Literature Fans

March 21, 2015

Downton-Abbey ~posted by Ruth Are you a fan of the BBC series Downton Abbey?  Are you, in fact, addicted to it?  Do you take part in the knitting challenges, knitting special creations while watching the series, like Lady Violet’s Dinner Gauntlets?  Or Edith’s Secret shawl?  Oops, that would be me, a diehard fan of both Downton Abbey and knitting.  Well, now you can share your love of Downton Abbey (and who knows?  Maybe knitting?) with the younger members of your family.

Mouseton-bbeyMouseton Abbey by Nick Page

Imagine adorable mouse faces taking the place of well-loved Downton Abbey characters.  My favorite, of course, is the mouse version of  Lady Violet, who retains her wit, her British nobility, as well as her sometimes deafness.  The characters are all amazing in their knitted splendor (wish they included the knitting patterns!), and the tale of Cheesemas and the missing Great Big Cheesy Diamond is both fun and well-told.  These whimsical upper-crust mice are a treat for young readers.  And for adult fans of Downton Abbey, too.

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 CheesyMouseton Abbey:  The Cheesy Treasure Hunt by Hayley Down

And if you liked Mouseton Abbey, you might also enjoy the follow-up board book for the littlest readers (and their older siblings).  The knitted mice characters of Mouseton Abbey are back with another mystery:  Who stole the cheesecake?  Silly, but fun–and with the added enticement of flaps to open.  Just what little fingers itch to do!

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Downton-TabbyDownton Tabby by Chris Kelly

If your animal preference runs to cats rather than mice, we have the right book for Downton Abbey fans.  Cats are the perfect characters to portray the upper crust, not to mention, the downstairs working class cats that groom, feed, and care for their aristocratic fellow cats.  This retelling and re-imagining is more a satire for the Downton Abbey aficianado, but children love the dressed-up period cats. Downtown Tabby is the stately Yorkshire home of the Earl and Catness of Grimalkin, their three kittens – the pretty one, the prettier one and the other one – their kittens’ kittens, their servants, and, of course, the Dowager Catness, Vibrissa.  (Trust me, her claws really come out!)  Lots of fun, especially for cat lovers.

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Tweens and Teens Series Updates!

March 14, 2015

~ posted by Ruth

As soon as we begin our posts updating the series we love, other titles are published.  We already have a second list of “must-read” latest-in-the-series, so stay tuned for another edition soon.  In the meantime, feast your eyes on these new titles:

FairestFairest: The Lunar Chronicles:  Levana’s Story by Marissa Meyer

The Lunar Chronicles have topped our YA Recommended list since Meyer first published Cinder.  This shorter novel tells the story behind the evil lunar Queen Levana before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress (heroines of the other novels in the series). It helps to have the backstory to this fascinating villain, though it doesn’t help explain why she is so evil.  This prequel does help set up the next tale to come:  Winter.  I was intrigued with the way Meyer was able to create this retelling of Snow White; the glamour spell that Levana is able to create and uphold is an interesting twist.  And she certainly does become an evil stepmother!  No spoilers here–just an invitation to dig in and enjoy.

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AtlantisAtlantis in Peril by T. A. Barron

Coming this spring, the second novel in a planned trilogy about the fantasy world of Atlantis.  We loved the first one, Atlantis Rising.  And Barron sustains his magical writing and wonderful characters in the sequel.  The evil Narkazan is back, plotting to take over the land of Atlantis as well as the spirit realm.  Fortunately, our heroes Promi and Atlanta are in on the adventure, working to save the mysterious island, and the natural world.  Their relationship is growing and deepening, though they must contend with the veil between the worlds that separates them in both time and space.  Fantasy-loving teens, tweens, and the adults in their lives will enjoy this read, and look forward to the final book in the series.

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 Golden-SonGolden Sun:  Book II of the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

Yes, it’s another dystopian future YA series. (The first in the series is Red Rising. You can tell we loved it from our post! )  But with enough sci-fi (such as genetically altered “golds”, truth-telling scorpions, elements of special and dangerous “games”) to keep readers intrigued and guessing about what will happen next.  I appreciate the continuing character development of our hero, Darrow, as well as the others who people the novel.  Lots of growing and changing, shifting alliances, continuing romance, and spectacular challenges.  Darrow, you recall, is a lowly Red at the start of the first novel, whose young wife is killed for her rebellion.  Saved by the rebels, he is altered to become a Gold and lead the revolution from the inside.  The second novel is, if possible, even better, as the characters are engaged in further challenges.  The ending is a cliff-hanger, so you ‘ll be anxiously waiting  for the 3rd novel!

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National Pi Day is March 14th

March 7, 2015

~posted by Ruth

What could be more fun than celebrating the mathematical elegance of pi–and eating its homophone (aka pie)?   For nerdy readers (like me), here’s the reason why Pi DayPi:

“Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.”  For more information and Pi Day trivia, check out the Pi Day site.

To learn more about pi  (and pie) through cool children’s literature, browse the following list:

Dragon-of-PiSir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander, illustrated by Wayne Geean

I love the mathematical plays on words for the characters’ names in this book.  Not only Sir Cumference, but of course the Lady Di of Ameter, not to mention the young boy at the center of the story, Radius.  Radius must use math to save his father.  It’s a great introduction to the concept of pi for younger students, and I know oh high school math teachers who use the whole Sir Cumference series with their students as a fun diversion and review.  Slightly silly, but entertaining and educational.

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Pi-in-the-skyPi in the Sky by Wendy Mass

Here’s a science fiction book to intrigue science enthusiasts, from a well-loved author for tweens, Wendy Maas.  This time, her hero is Josh, 7th son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe.  While Josh’s brothers have important jobs, he finds his own to be quite menial:  delivering pies for his father. Living in the Realms, locked inside dark matter, it feels to Josh like “nothing elver happens.,”   Until an Earth girl, Annika, exploring the skies with her telescope, spies the Realms, and is transported there.  Turns out Earth has been removed from the space-time continuum!  Josh must fix things by rebuilding the entire solar system.  As usual, Wendy Maas brings us to new worlds through a great read.

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PiePie by Sarah Weeks

How do you leave a pie recipe to a cat?  And why is it such a coveted recipe in the first place?  Well, Alice’s Aunt Polly is the Pie Queen of Ipswich, and everyone want to be able to win the pie contests with her award-winning recipes.   Here’s a book for Pi Day that celebrates that glorious circle, the dessert of champions:  Pie!  Filled with recipes, engaging characters, and sweet themes of friendship and family, Pie is a winner to read aloud on Pi Day–or anytime!

 

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A YA Great Gatsby Retelling: GREAT

March 1, 2015

Great

~posted by Ruth

Great by Sara Benincasa

We love retellings, especially when there is a twist in the new version that highlights the themes in a different voice.  And that’s the case here, in the YA contemporary version of  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great GatsbyThe original is a big favorite of mine; my intrepid Book Club decided to read a “classic” for a change last year and chose The Great Gatsby.  Though we had all read it at least once (several English teachers. . .), we found ourselves marveling at the language, deep themes, and compelling voices.

Fresh from that rereading, I was delighted to see Sara Bencasa had taken on the challenge of updating this classic–especially with the gender-switching roles she crafts while keeping so many of the original themes and personalities. Instead if the Jazz age, the time is “now” in the rich Hamptons of New York, complete with jet-setting and mega-rich socialites, decadent over-the-top parties, and faux friends who change sides.

At the heart of the story is the narrator, teen-ager Naomi, who befriends Jacinta, the Gatsby character.  While certainly not the literary level of the original, Great gets high marks from me for reinterpreting the major plot line of the book into today’s teen world.  I’d use this as a pre-read to The Great Gatsby, noting similarities and differences.  The gender-bending elements are ripe for discussion, as well as the variation in the endings.

What do you and the teen readers in your life think of this YA novel?  We’d love to hear!


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