August 17, 2019

The Pigeon Has to Go to School by Mo Willems

Just in time for back to school, Mo Willems has gifted us with a new book about our favorite grouchy bird, Pigeon!  Pigeon is set to start school–but he clearly isn’t quite ready.  His stance is typical Pigeon: “Why do I have to go to school?  I already know everything!”  But as his monologue continues, readers learn he is actually nervous, wondering just what will happen at school, and how he will fit in. As he ruminates, he also starts thinking about a community of friends and “maybe a playground?”  And best of all, how else will he travel to school.. .but. . .A BUS!

I imagine many kindergarten and first-grade teachers sharing this book on the first day of school to invite conversation about the start of school, and the school year.  It will also serve as a great introduction to the delightful and snarky Pigeon and his various adventures in other books.  Happy Reading!



August 10, 2019

Tangled in Time:  Book I:  The Portal by Kathryn Lasky

A trip to Powell’s Bookstore gave me the chance to roam the YA and Children’s Literature sections, and let my whims guide me as I chose new books to read.  I was drawn to a new book by a favorite author of mine, Kathryn Lasky, that is a mix of two genres I adore:  time travel and historical fiction.  Here’s the basic premise:  Rose is being raised by her single Mom, Rosemary, when tragedy strikes,  Her mother is killed in a car accident and Rose is sent to live with her somewhat peculiar grandmother, with a new school, a new home, new friends, and sadly, new enemies in the form of three mean girls who choose her as a new target for bullying.  Despite Gran’s memory issues and sometimes dementia, Rose is able to develop a bond with her especially when they work together in the greenhouse.  When she investigates a strange glow there one night, she is transported back to Hatfield Palace and the Court of Henry VIII.  In Rose’s adventures 500 years ago, she learns more about her mother and her own past and finds parallels between the mean bullying girls in her 21st-century world, and the mean court girls, including Princess Elizabeth and Princess Mary.  These are just the bare bones of the story, though.  Other details include the blogging life of Rose, who designs her own clothes and writes about it.  The ideas she brings back from the 16th century are an intriguing element of the book.  Of course, there is also a mystery which takes the form of a rose locket found at court with a photo of Rose and her mother decked out in 21st century clothes!  I spent a full day immersing myself in the book–only to discover there is a sequel!  Thank heavens it is coming out this fall, so I don’t have to wait too long to learn what happens next. I’ll keep you posted.

THE FALSE PRINCE (The Ascendence Trilogy, Book 1) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

August 3, 2019

The False Prince (The Ascendence Trilogy, Book 1) by Jennifer A. Nielsen

This summer, I have been immersing myself in YA and middle grade reader books.  With the tween twins visiting, these summer reads surrounded me–and tempted me to put down other books and enjoy the pleasures of hot weather reading.  Meghan recommended I give The False Prince a try. (Actually, she said I would love it and on a trip to Powell’s, I chose it when the whole family picked out a new book for our afternoon reading time. ) Turns out this series is just like the old potato chip commercial:  you can’t eat just one.  I devoured The False Prince, raced through The Runaway King (I know I am mixing my metaphors), and I have just started the last of the trilogy, The Shadow Throne.

I really appreciate Nielsen’s writing skills.  She has a way with realistic dialogue, and nuanced characters.  The plot is full of adventure and surprises, but the surprises are grounded and don’t come out of nowhere.

In Book 1, we meet Sage, an adventurous and risk-taking young orphan.  He and a couple of other orphans are kidnapped by the kingdom of Carthya’s regent noble Connor who plans to pass one of them off as the lost Prince Jaron and rule with a puppet king.  Though Sage doesn’t want to be involved in this treasonous plot, he must go along as the boys who are not chosen will be killed. Mixed in with the adventure are funny episodes, wit, treachery, and questions of honor.  No spoilers here, but some real surprises in the plot, too!  A perfect end-of-summer read!

THEY CALLED US ENEMY by George Take, illustrated by Eisinger Scott Becker: An Essential New Graphic Novel!

July 20, 2019

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, illustrated by Eisinger Scott Becker

I am a big fan of George Takei; when I was a girl, I watched him in episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series as Hikaru Sulu.  More recently, I have admired his social activism and support worldwide for democracy, especially for LGBQ rights.  Now I admire him even more for his courage and conviction in the face of the oppression he and his family suffered during the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. What a gift his graphic novel memoir is!  I am recommending and gifting the book to all my friends and family.  It’s perfect to share with middle grade and high school readers, and to read as an adult.  Be prepared for intense discussion!

Both Jim and I read it straight through once we started it.  Though I knew a little about the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during the war, I learned so much about the racism and political atmosphere that led to this disgraceful and shocking period. Takei’s mother was born in the United States, but his father, while raised in the U.S., had been born in Japan. He was not a U.S. citizen because at the time it was illegal for Asians to apply for U.S. citizenship. (Shocking, right?)  Not only that, the Japanese Americans all lost their homes, their jobs, and worst of all, their freedom. Takei and his family survived 4 years in two different internment camps.

Takei uses flashbacks as well as more contemporary episodes to document his experiences.  It is such a timely book for all of us to read now. To quote George Takei:  “The resonance of my childhood imprisonment is so loud today…every headline, every morning…It’s an endless cycle of one inhumanity, cruelty, injustice, repeated generation after generation. And it’s got to stop. We have to learn our history. America is a land that is made up of the desendents of immigrants.” (Washington Post interview with George Takei, published 7/16/19).

Most highly recommended!


OTHER EARTH By Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller: Book 2 of the Last Reality Series

July 13, 2019

OtherEarth by Jason Segel and Kirstin Miller

We are currently embarking on Season 2 of the HBO series Westworld, and reading the Last Reality Series is the perfect complement. When we last left Simon and his best friend Kat, they were trying to rescue themselves and others in the digital landscape that takes place in the video game of Other World.  As the adventure continues, the plot thickens:  the Company is even more evil than previously believed and has created an even more terrifying aspect to their digital ownership:  OtherEarth, an augmented-reality game that can not only kill, it has the power to erase the line between what’s real and what’s fantasy. Look for deepening relationships, surprises in the plot, and high adventure.  Book 3 comes out in November!

OTHERWORLD by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

July 2, 2019

Otherworld by Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller

This summer, our family is making time to read family-recommended books.  Jacob suggested we all read one of his favorite recent discoveries, Otherworld.  It was a happy coincident, too, because I had been thinking he might like to read the classic Ender’s Game.  And when I read the reviews of Otherworld, one stated that it was an intriguing cross between Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I agree, though I think you could also add a dash of Westworld and a pinch of The Matrix.  If that doesn’t pique your interest, then this probably isn’t the right choice for you!

In this near-future sci-fi, a popular video game is advanced to new heights.  For some players, with a headset, it feels as if you are really in this world through your avatar.  Of course, when you are “killed” or hurt, it is your avatar who is sent back to the start-up point.  But in a terrifying advance, some players are hooked up by disks attached to their brains.  For these “guests,” it is all too real:  the good news is, you can touch taste, smell, feel everything. And that’s also the bad news, because if you are hurt, you are truly injured.  It’s that real!

Kat and Simon are at the center of an adventure that hopes to save the “real world” from the villains (The Company) that rule (and reap profits from) the players that become addicted to  “Otherworld.”  It’s more complex than that, though.  The characters are intriguing:  Simon is a tall, thin, and gawky brilliant teen, known for his prominent snoz, inherited from his low-level gangster grandfather, who also becomes a minor character.  Kat has her own mysterious background and present-life with a step-father who is one of the arch-villains of the Company.  Lots of twists and turns as the story delves deeper. Other characters include a brainy teen hacker, a Russian oligarch, a few adult programmers with their own issues, and more.  I am looking forward to discussing it with Jacob and the rest of the family. And then, reading the sequel, of course (Other Earth).

TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

June 21, 2019

To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

Another middle grade novel to recommend for your summer reading pleasure.  It’s perfect for my family:  both Meghan and I (Ruth here) love Meg Wolitzer’s novels (especially The Interestings and The Wife.  This is her first foray into writing for teens and tweens, and she and her co-author are superb writers who really connect across the ages.  Also, last summer, our family dipped into the past with watching both versions of the movie The Parent Trap.  I loved it as a teen myself (the Hayley Mills version), and the twins really enjoyed the Lindsey Lohan movie from the 1990’s.  Well, To Night Owl from Dogfish plays on the “parent trap” theme a bit.  Only this time, two twelve-year old girls are being sent to summer camp by their Dads who have fallen in love and want the girls to meet and become friends.  Instead of plotting to get their parents back together, as Hayley Mills and Lindsey Lohan tried to do, these girls decide they must find a way to break their Dads up. . .at least at first.  The book is entirely composed of texts, emails and letters, and I love the distinct voices of all the characters that come through their written words.  The girls, of course become fast friends in spite of themselves, and when their Dads do split up, Avery and Bett’s plans take off in new directions.  The book explores family, friendship, bravery, courage, and is never predictable (unlike The Parents Trap!).  Meghan and I both really enjoyed it and are waiting for Molly to dig in and let us know her take on it.  We’ll keep you posted!