January 10, 2020

It’s Trevor Noah:  Born a Crime:  Stories From a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers)

Last year, I read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, and was so taken with it, I was recommending it to everyone I knew.  It turns out I had come across it a bit later than most of my friends and family, as most people let me know they had already read it.  Luckily for me, that did not dampen our enthusiasm for discussing the book and hoping it could become a movie.  Well, here’s a New Year’s gift:  yes, they are currently casting the movie, and the talented and beautiful Lupita Nyong’o will play Trevor’s mother. (He’s thrilled.)

In our latest trip to LA to visit with the grand twins, we were delighted to have the chance to dip back into this fascinating memoir, as Molly (now almost 13) had received the Young Reader version as a Hanukkah gift.   She loved it as much as we did.  I feel very confident in recommending this version to tweens and teens 10 and older.  Really, it’s a fine book for adults, but older readers might want to read a longer and more complete memoir.  In Born a Crime, Noah explains how his very existence is illegal, since he is half black and half white, which was against the law in South Africa when he was born.  As a mixed child growing up, he never would have imagined that he would become a popular comedian and commentator on The Daily Show.  It isn’t giving away any plot twists to say he grew up smart and savvy, and very funny, though there are clear elements of tragedy in his youth in a racist society with his existence fundamentally challenging the laws and social fabric of the country. There is great poignancy and wisdom in the book as well.  Trevor Noah writes eloquently as he explores the ramifications of not seeing what we do to others because we do not live with them.  Highly recommended–and remember:  the movie is in the works!


December 31, 2019

The Burning Queen, Tangled in Time, Book 2 by Kathryn Lasky

If you love the twin genres of historical fiction and time travel, then you are already fans of Kathryn Lasky’s newest series, Tangled in Time.  As you can see from our recent blog post, we were captivated and eager to read book 2.  Lucky for us, the wait wasn’t long and we already have the next installment.  Sometimes sequels disappoint; in this case, I found Book 2 possibly even better.  The characters we met have had time to develop in this new story. We again encounter Rose’s father, master spy and goldsmith to the court of Queen Mary.  His fears for his daughter in those dangerous times causes him to urge her to flee back to her home in the 21st century.  There, we come to new understandings of Rose’s grandmother and the growing depth of their connection to each other.  And there is a compelling plot development when Rose befriends an immigrant girl on her own.  Rose not only has to protect her from the “mean girls” in middle school, but also from the threat of US Customs and Immigration Enforcement.  The parallels to her decision to help save her friend Franny from the horrors of Queen Mary’s rule are woven into the plot lines in both time periods.  The only problem with this book?  Now we have to wait for Book 3!  Highly recommended.

THE SHORTEST DAY by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis: My Favorite Solstice Picture Book

December 21, 2019

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis

At my house, the winter holiday we celebrate is Winter Solstice. In our (humble) opinion, because it is a holiday based in nature, it is in a sense the “mother” of all the other winter holidays, so in a way, it honors them all.  Over the years, I have eagerly delved into each new promising picture book on the Winter Solstice.  There are some lovely ones, but none has really captured the essence of the wonder, the tradition, and the history of this special day.  That is, until I read Susan Cooper’s new (2019) picture book, illustrated by master artist, and Caldecott Honor winner, Carson Ellis.  Susan Cooper, of course, is no stranger to important awards as a Newbury Medal winner for The Grey King, one of the books in her fantasy series The Dark is Rising.  So their new collaboration sounded promising to me indeed.  And:  Great news!  It’s the perfect book for the Yuletide season celebration, and my new favorite winter holiday picture book.

So, what do I love about it?  The lyrical writing, first of all.  It reads like a poem.  And no wonder:  it is a poem, one that Susan Cooper wrote forty years ago for a theatre production, one that has been performed annually for the Christmas Revels.  Cooper describes the Revels in this way:  “[A] joyful celebration of  the winter solstice in music, dance, and words. . .Every year, on Revel stages in nine cities across America, an actor steps forward and begins quietly:  ‘So the shortest day came. . .'”

And the illustrations are magical, with their play of light and dark and emphasis on honoring our ancestors’ worlds, as well as our own contemporary families.  I love the way the images perfectly match the poem’s words emphasizing our human traditions and links to the natural world.

I only received the book yesterday, so I am a bit late to recommend it for this year’s Solstice, but check it out and see if it resonates for you as it did for me.  If so, you’ll want at least one copy on hand for next year’s Winter Solstice.  Happy reading!

OTHERLIFE by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller: The Satisfying Conclusion to The Last Reality Series

December 14, 2019

OtherLife by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

New to the YA (and Tween and Young Adolescent) science fiction thriller Last Reality Series? Then you’ll want to dig into OtherWorld and OtherEarth before you read this one.  But if you are like our family, it will be a pleasure to immerse yourself in this near-future world.  OtherEarth is a “fantastic” (in the original meaning of the word) VR gaming experience created by the (evil) Company.  It’s bad enough as a relatively safe game where when you die it is only in the VR world and you get to start again.  But The Company has also created software so that the experience is very realistic–so real that you can smell and taste and eat in the alternate world, and yes, die if you are killed.  And I mean die back here in the “real” world as well as the “game.” But what happens when the game takes a new turn and it is imported into our daily reality?  It’s more horrifying than you can imagine, and it’s up to our friends from earlier in the series to essentially save the world.  Simon, Kat, Busara, and Elvis accept the challenge.  There are moments of romance, deep adventure, and even philosophical discussions before we reach a very satisfying conclusion to the series in OtherLife.  Perfect for binge reading over the holidays!

APPLE by Nikki McClure: Wonderful New Board Book for Toddlers

December 4, 2019

Apple by Nikki McClure

Remember paper-cut artist Nikki McClure?  Her other books and her yearly calendars and poster art have earned her many fans (including me).  So I was immediately intrigued to see she has a new board book for toddlers.  The cover is worth the price of the book alone, with its bold graphic in black and white with a splash of vibrant color. The narrative, told in pictures with a very few simple words, tells the story of the life cycle of the apple: a father picks up an apple that has fallen from a tree, and gives it to his daughter, who carries it to school for lunch.  But when she takes a bite on the way to school, she drops it. Over the seasons, it remains buried in the ground, until spring arrives and a few tender shoots spring up to begin the growth of a new apple tree.  I recommend the hardbound version, as toddlers can retell the story, talk with parents and caregivers about the words and images– even kindergartners will delight in poring over the pages.  In fact, a first-grade teacher friend told me it was a perfect book for her students. This is a  book that will last, as even adults will be drawn into the gorgeous paper-cut images.

THE CRAYONS’ CHRISTMAS by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

November 16, 2019

The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Yes!  The crayons are back and in top form! We have loved the previous two Crayon books:  The Day the Crayons Quit and The Day the Crayons Came Home.  We’ve waited a while for the next in the series, and this one is a winner.  The story begins when peach crayon’s parents send a note to peach crayon.  (You remember, peach crayon was left naked and embarrassed when Duncan had peeled off his paper wrapper. . .) The story unfolds from here, as other crayons receive letters, cards, gifts, and notes, with Daywalt and Jeffers’ hilarious and perfectly matched text and drawings.  The book carries on other stories from past books (yes, orange and yellow crayons are still arguing) and also includes the actual letters in their own envelopes.  Not to mention ornaments, posters, a pop-up tree, and more jokes and stories to share as a family (especially if you’ve read the previous two books.) I hear a publisher’s rumor that a new book will be out in time for Valentine’s Day, so stay tuned.

For new Crayon readers, here’s our thumbnail review of the first book when it came out:

This one is hot-off-the presses–and a keeper!  When you open your box of crayons, you expect to be able to color, not be surprised by a packet of letters from each crayon, proclaiming that they have had enough. No more coloring for them!  Their complaints are as varied as their, well, individual colors.  Black, for instance, is sick of only being used to outline.  Blue is worn down to a little stub by being overworked–all those oceans and blue skies!  And orange and yellow are feuding over which one is the true color of the sun.  I love the different personalities and voices of each crayon in the pack.  And Duncan’s ultimate solution. . .Of course, Oliver Jeffrey’s off-beat sense of humor comes through in each drawing.


November 7, 2019

The Trials of Apollo, Book 4:  The Tyrant’s Tomb by Rock Riordan

If you’ve been following Apollo’s difficulties and adventures, you know that here in the 21st century, Zeus has punished his son Apollo by changing him from a god to a mortal and banishing him from Olympus.   And not just any mortal, but an out-of-shape adolescent mortal named Lester Papadopoulos. Lester must accomplish a series of tasks restoring five ancient oracles and reclaiming his godly powers.  In book 4, his trials continue.  Luckily, he works with several demigod allies, familiar to readers of Riordan’s Greek and Roman mythology-based novels, as well as the entire Roman legion.  But will these noble allies be able to stop the evil emperors, Caligula and Commodus, from attacking Camp Juniper and unleashing the army of the undead?

Hazel, Reyna, Frank, Tyson, Ella, and many other old friends need Apollo’s aid to survive the onslaught.  It’s wonderful to meet old characters and new, and see “Lester’s” growth as he becomes accustomed to his mortal status. I love the way each chapter begins with a simply terrible haiku, as the former god of poetry tries his hand at the genre as a mortal.  And of course, there are numerous plot twists, hilarious dialogue, and thrilling adventures.  It is Rick Riordan, after all.

The good news continues, as we are left with a satisfying conclusion that also lays the foundation for the next adventure in Book 5.  So stay tuned!