Ashes

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This book really has one overarching theme of survival.  The first of these survival themes is survival in the wilderness. Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick 17-year-old Alex is an orphan who is has terminal cancer. She’s fed up with the different treatments that aren’t going to help because her brain tumor is inoperable. She decides it’s time to take a journey into the middle of the wilderness to scatter her parents ashes, so she leaves home without telling her aunt and heads out on a weeklong  hike to her destination.  On her trip a phenomenon occurs that she later finds out is has to do with electromagnetic pulses. All her electronic devices stop working and Alex witnesses some strange behavior from some animals, along with a shocking and sudden death during the phenomenon. As the story progresses we find out that most people didn’t survive the EMP. The EMP also gives Alex some interesting new abilities that make up some of my favorite parts of the story. Along the way Alex has also ends up in care of an 8-year-old girl named Ellie. This is when the second part of the survival theme comes in to play, zombies. We find out that some people didn’t just die in the EMP, they changed. I thought the mix of wilderness and zombie apocalypse survival was great and for me Alex somehow becomes a more relatable character around this point in the story. Eventually Alex and Ellie meet Tom, a 20-year-old war veteran who helps save their lives. Together the three of them struggle to make it out of the wilderness alive.

 I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that the second half of the book is completely different from the first half. There are some many changes that it almost feels like a different story and there are a lot more characters introduced. At first I couldn’t decide if these changes were good or if I liked the story after this point, but ultimately I decided in some ways it made a little bit of sense for the characters to find other people who weren’t just on the run. This half is where Alex gets to the town of Rule. Rule is a little strange and there are a lot of parts where some of the characters in the town are kind of mysterious and cryptic about some of the things that Alex asks about.  It’s really more about survival in society for this portion of the story and I think it was a really a natural progression for the plot to go. There are also some interesting characters in Rule for me, the author throws them at you a little fast, so you meet about ten people in a few chapters, but it’s not that difficult to figure it all out. The tumor is in the back of Alex’s mind through the whole book and I thought that was another great aspect of survival. Having her think about the “monster” as she calls it and how long she has left before the end.

The book started off a little shaky for me and I wasn’t sure I would like Alex, the protagonist. It took me a few pages to feel ready to be in head for the duration of the book. Once the story picked up for me though, it did not disappoint. I think Ellie and Tom were great characters as well, along with some of the later characters in Rule (Jess, Lena, Chris, Peter, and Kincaid just to name a few). I thought the story had a lot of great action packed parts, it was also pretty gruesome. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who doesn’t like a little bit of horror. The end of the book has a big cliff hanger that was something I didn’t see coming at all and I’m really looking forward to reading the second book in this trilogy, Shadows.

YA: Cinder

cinder-by-marissa-meyer

This is a very interesting take on the classic fairytale of Cinderella, with a very compelling dystopian and slight science fiction twist. Cinder takes place in the fictional future of T.E. or third era, which is explained to be the years of peace on Earth after World War 4. Cinder is a cyborg living in the commonwealth of New Beijing, China.  In society cyborgs are considered 2nd class citizens. The protagonist, Cinder is the best mechanic in Beijing and the only source of income for an uncaring stepmother and two stepsisters. There is an ever present threat of a plague that has wiped out a large portion of Earth’s population. There is no known cure and contracting it is a guarantee of death in a few swift days. The plague is an interesting and important part of the story, Cinder’s youngest stepsister and only real human friend suddenly contracts the plague and is part of the catalyst for some major events in the story. The other important element is the commonwealth’s tense relations with the Queen of Lunar. The Lunar are people from Luna (the moon) and were once people from Earth that colonized the moon long ago. They have the ability to use bioelectricity to bend people’s will and perception. Tension between Earth and Luna increases when Cinder gets involved after the handsome Prince Kai of Beijing asks her to fix an android for him.

Cinder is a really great book for anyone that loves a little bit of everything in their books! There are great elements of science fiction, supernatural, adventure, romance and action. Marissa Meyer is a great storyteller who has put genres together that I would have never thought would work, but managed to make it one of those books you just can’t put down. The characters are really fun and well thought out. Despite a major part of the plot twist being obvious, the story stays fresh and never gets boring. I thought Cinder was a really great protagonist and a lot more interesting because she was not the typical female heroine. I liked that she was kind of an outsider type of character as the protagonist. I also really loved Iko and thought having an android best friend was a great part of why Cinder was so likeable and interesting. Queen Levana was also a favorite character for me, just because she was so horrible and easy to dislike. I would probably recommend this for anyone interested in a mix of genres and strong storytelling or for anyone who was looking for something new and fun to read!

And Tango Makes Three

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This is the fourth-most challenged and/or banned book from the decade 2000-2009.  Clearly, many are uncomfortable with this book because it shows that sometimes an animal may choose a mate of the same sex.  I believe that parents should have the right to choose which books are inappropriate for their children, but I don’t think that any parent has the right to say which books are inappropriate for all children.  I think a book like this could teach critical lessons in tolerance and celebrating diversity.

Controversy aside, this is a lovely story.  Roy and Silo, two male penguins, bond with each other and try to hatch several rocks.  Naturally, this fails.  When another couple has one too many eggs to take care of, a zookeeper gives Roy and Silo the extra egg.  They care for it until Tango, their baby, hatches.  This really did happen at Central Park Zoo (in NYC).  The story was co-written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson; it was illustrated by Henry Cole.

The Snowy Day

Sick of the winter weather?  Peter, the protagonist from The Snowy Day (by Ezra Jack Keats) isn’t!  I love this book–I think it’s an American classic.  It’s sparse, imaginative prose coupled with its simple collage illustrations perfectly capture the sense of wonder felt by young children in a world blanketed with snow.  The book was first published in 1962 and was immediately celebrated for starring a black protagonist–it really stood out in the white-washed field of early 1960s children’s literature.  I personally feel that it’s very important that all kids have a chance to read books about kids that look like them, and that’s why this book was so monumental in the history of children’s literature in America.  This is a great book for story time in the library, or for a bed time story at home.  Enjoy!

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The Higher Power of Lucky

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron just may be my new favorite children’s book.  Lucky is a great role model for 10-year-old girls; even though her mother is dead and her dad has abandoned her, she’s an empowered young woman that I really admire.  She lives in the tiniest small town you’ve ever heard of, but she still manages to have fun collecting insect samples (à la her hero Darwin) and working at the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center.  

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One thing Patron did right was to keep the cast of characters to a manageable minimum.  Lucky has a lovely French caretaker, Brigitte (Brih-zheet)–but she’s worried Brigitte will move back to France instead of adopting her.  Her best friend Lincoln is an avid knot tier, which sounds boring, but is actually interesting.  There’s also the pesky Miles, a younger boy who always wants a cookie and for someone to read him Are You My Mother?.

I listed to this book as an audiobook, read by Cassandra Campbell.  She did an excellent job and really brought the (already excellent) story to life for me.  I highly recommend the book, especially the audiobook!

Robert McCloskey

I’m slowly making my way through Elizabeth Bird’s definitive list of “100 children’s books that belong in every library (snarky annotations included)” from Children’s Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career.  It’s a great list and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to dive head first into kids’ lit.

This list brought to my attention two classics by McCloskey that I hadn’t read before.  One is “Make Way For Ducklings.”  As two duck parents try to find a duck home for their ducklings, they see (and the reader sees) Boston from a “duck’s eye view.”

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Mr. Mallard has caught some heat for having something come up (abandoning Mrs. Mallard?) as soon as the eggs began hatching–although he was looking for a home for them.  Like a lot of the older Caldecott winners, you may be offended but I think the book is a trailblazer.  Boston now has bronze statues in honor of its most famous ducks.

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I also enjoyed Time of Wonder by McCloskey.  This is a very unique picture book because it’s told in the second person (“Now you even see the drops on the water…on the age-old rocky point…on the bayberry…on the grass…. Now take a breath–IT’S RAINING ON YOU!“).  The reader is transported to 1950s Maine, then spends an enjoyable day at the beach before an oncoming storm starts to pick up.  The second person narration really makes the storm seem immediate, although it’s such an unusual storytelling method that it does almost create a surreal effect.  This was McCloskey’s second Caldecott.  Yeah, it’s about rich white kids, but it’s so unique in the children’s literature cannon (for telling a story about the reader) that it’s worth looking through.

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Fablehaven

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Fablehaven by Brandon Mull tells the story of 13-year-old Kendra and her 11-year-old brother Seth, who are forced to spend two weeks over the summer with their grandpa and grandma Sorenson while their parents take a Scandinavian cruise. Neither Kendra or Seth is looking forward to this. They haven’t spent much time with their grandparents before and they hardly even know them. They arrive at Fablehaven, which they have never been to and discover it’s a massive estate with warning signs posted everywhere about trespassing and their grandpa sets some odd rules about where they’re allowed to go and what they’re allowed to do during their stay. The rules  are strange and leave both Seth and Kendra a little curious. Seth sets out to create mischief and Kendra works to discover a secret about Fablehaven. Between the two of them they uncover what Fablehaven really is and what their grandparents actually do there. Eventually Seth gets them into some trouble and they must both work together to save Fablehaven and their grandparents before it’s too late.

The interaction between Seth and Kendra was really great. I thought Brandon Mull really got what it was like to be that age and how siblibings interact with each other. I also enjoyed the differences between the two characters. Seth is an adventurer and a risky taker, while Kendra is a rule follower who thinks everything through before acting. I recently did a book talk with this book for 6th graders and had their full attention, those that hadn’t already read it wanted to after I told them what it was about. I will say though that if there is anything about this book to be skeptical about it’s the cover. I don’t think it’s just me either, some of the students thought it looked a little weird until they heard what the book was about. What I love most about Fablehaven is that it is a great fantasy book for middle grade kids that girls and boys can enjoy. It’s a great story for anyone who enjoys fantasy and children’s books.