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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

LITTLE JANE SILVER, by Adira Rotstein

Rotstein, Adira. Little Jane Silver. Toronto: Dundurn, 2011. ISBN 978-1554888788. $12.99 U.S./ $8.99 CAN. Ages 10-13.

Little Jane Silver is the daughter of infamous pirate Captains, Long John Silver II and Bonnie Mary Bright, and she lives on a pirate ship called the Pieces of Eight. Little Jane, as she’s affectionately called by her parents, lives a child’s dream: she sails the open seas with her pirate parents and explores the Caribbean meeting all sorts of dynamic characters. There’s only one tiny problem, Little Jane insists on being part of a “boarding party” now that she’s twelve years old and her parents won’t take her seriously. Instead, she’s confined to banal pirate chores: swabbing decks and tying down cannon afts. Little Jane devises a plan only to be launched into a bigger kettle of fish as she makes arch enemies with Ned Ronk, the boatswain of the ship. One thing leads to another and before she’s completed her sword lessons with the weapons master Jezebel Mendoza, Little Jane finds herself in the midst of a traitorous battle where she must fight to save her parents, the crew, and a buried treasure. Little Jane may only be twelve, but she’s about to be taken a lot more seriously; she’s become the Pieces of Eight’s best hope for survival!
Little Jane Silver is chock-full of pirate history, jests, adventures, and all things pirate for a thrilling ride on the Caribbean seas. I highly recommend for any child who can’t get enough of pirates and craves a true pirate education. Ms. Rotstein includes deftly researched chapters that expound upon British and French colonization of the islands, the slave trade, and reminders of why many a British Captain turned treasonous to pursue a life of piracy.

If you like this book, I also recommend the sequel: LittleJane and the Nameless Isle. Middle Grade Readers may also enjoy: Geoff Rodkey’s Deadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg, Book 1. For Teen Readers: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Shelley A. McRoberts   

Monday, November 25, 2013


Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass. Illustrated by James E. Ransome. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2012. ISBN 9781416959038. $16.99. Ages 5-9.

It is never too early for a child to start learning history and about the past that has helped to shape our nation and make it what it is today. Words Set Me Free is a picture book adaptation of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an influential book everybody should read at some point in their life. This picture book is a great way to educate and inspire an early interest in reading the full book.

As far as picture books go, Words Set Me Free is rather wordy and lengthy, and is a book that beginning readers should probably read alongside an adult, so that they can be sure to be able to understand all of the text, and be able to discuss the issues the book addresses. This book could never be taken as light reading. The author is not overly graphic when discussing the hardships of being a slave, but she also does not mince words, nor hide the fact that life was cruel for Frederick.

The illustrations, done as very realistic paintings, also portray the truth of the subject matter without being too explicit or scary. For example, in one part of the book, Frederick’s master finds out that his wife is teaching Frederick his letters and becomes very angry. Instead of depicting Frederick being punished by his master, the illustrator painted a silhouette of the master in an angry pose, with a scared young Frederick cowering below. This way, the master’s disapproval and Frederick’s fear are portrayed, but with subtlety.

One thing I find interesting is how the author chooses to end the book. Obviously, this picture book only portrays a snippet of the actual events detailed in the full Narrative, but the book ends with an epilogue where Frederick forges a letter in his master’s name that seemingly will win him his freedom. But when you read the author’s note on the next page, you realize that it is much later on in his life that Frederick actually becomes free. I suppose it could just be that the author simply did not wish to prolong the story, but still wanted to end the book optimistically.

Other than introducing American history, I think that the best themes of this book are about perseverance and the power of words and reading and how they can change your life. For children who do not really enjoy books, that is a powerful lesson in the importance of reading and of not giving up.

Joyce Myers

Friday, November 22, 2013


Brennan, Sarah Rees, Untold, The Lynburn Legacy, Book Two. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-0375870422 $14.68 YA Novel- fiction. 

Sarah Rees Brennan takes her readers back to the Sorry-In-The-Vale town. Untold, Brennan’s sequel to her Gothic work Unspoken, takes place a few days after Kami Glass, the story’s heroine, and her friends clashed against Rob Lynnburn, a man who lusts after power and control. In Untold, we, the readers, see the aftermath of the battle that took place at the end of Unspoken. Revealed as the series’ antagonist, Rob wishes to rule the town through fear, manipulation, and destruction. Seeking power and protection from Rob’s reign, members of the town with magic of their own have started to join him. Not willing to go down without a fight, Kami, Jared, their friends Angela, Holly, and Rusty, and the rest of the Lynnburn family join together to find allies of their own and search for a way to combat Rob’s vast number of followers. Further, in the devastating aftermath of her last battle Kami’s link with Jared severed. For the first time since their connection, Jared and Kami find themselves feeling isolated and vulnerable. Additionally, the two learn to find ways to cope with their mental separation and reconnect with each other in physical ways. Kami discovers she can now choose who to love without Jared’s overpowering influence and bond. But is her love for Jared real or is it the aftermath of their bond? To discover herself and fight against her enemies, Kami will need to burrow her way through Sorry-In-The-Vale’s secrets and, to her own shock, her own family’s secrets as well. What she discovers in the dark vault of secrets will test her in ways she never thought possible. Untold proves to be another stunning  and compelling work by Brennan. The witty and sarcastic humor is still there, elements of love and passion are further shown, and death continues to be a dark element to the story. Unlike Book One, Brennan draws out more of her characters by adding their voices throughout the book, exposing the reader to the character’s strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, without their bond, Brennan makes Jared and Kami appear a bit needy, shown as constantly pining for each other and worrying about each other’s thoughts rather than their own. Overall though, the story was nicely done and leaves the reader hanging at the end- a sudden pause of breath for whatever comes next in Brennan’s Book Three!

Jacquelyne Yawn

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Brennan, Sarah Rees. Unspoken, The Lynburg Legacy, Book One. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012. ISBN13: 9780375870415 $14.63 YA Novel- fiction.

Ever had an imaginary friend growing up? Well what if that imaginary friend you talked to as a child was real? 

Meet Kami Glass, a teenager living in the English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Kami is like most girls, she likes to dress in style, has a best friend and two crazy brothers, and is even in love with a boy- Jared, whom she has known all her life. However, no one knows about Jared except her due to the fact that he seems to exist only in her mind. Despite that odd quality, life is normal for Kami until the Lynburns move back to their manor in town. The Lynburns are a family that has a dark past and even darker secrets. The two teenagers, cousins, arrive at school and Kami quickly encounters the shock of her life. Jared is real. Now our protagonist needs to uncover not only the mystery of the Lynburn’s, but also her feelings about Jared. Through their mind link, the two are aware of their feelings and thoughts, but can Kami still trust him? And will Kami uncover the mystery behind the brutal animal sacrifices and nurder happening in her secretive town? Sarah Rees Brennan does a fantastic job creating a strong and compelling story in Unspoken. The author shows her ability to bring Gothic romance to a new and modern age with her independent heroine and the boy that needs to be saved. Brennan provides for her readers a strong cast of characters full of complexities and a dash of quirkiness. Throughout the story we see characters using witty humor in their dialogues that helps to lighten the atmosphere of a dark and suspenseful story. Even with grisly deaths, the reader can laugh as they read lines like: “Your soul like the souls of a thousand monkeys on crack, all smushed together.” Overall, the book is very entertaining to plow through and leaves the reader hungry for more.

Jacquelyne Yawn

Monday, November 18, 2013

ART MARKS by Sallie Lowenstein

Lowenstein, Sallie. Art Marks. Kensington MD: Lionstone Books, 2013. ISBN 978-9859618-0-0. $30 

The first thing you will notice about Sallie Lowenstein’s Art Marks is the book itself, by which I mean the artisanal uniqueness of its production. It’s a book of art, i.e. a handcrafted volume the likes of which you seldom encounter these days. It’s hand-bound and stitched with thick covers and corners like an old photo album, fittingly, since this is a book of memoir, of travel, of family, and of artistic discovery as Lowenstein relates and provides drawings from her childhood spent in Burma and India. As she writes on the opening page, “I wish every child a trip like mine to change their worlds and minds forever.”

Focused on a (magnificent!) road trip to Delhi in the late 1950s, she recalls the driver who sketched for her, opening the cosmos of art she has since pursued. It is a treat to see her drawings from decades ago—talented and observant child! She notes and draws the peacocks surrounding one of their hotels, camels and elephants elsewhere—all the swirling wonder of South Asia recalled in the grown-up’s reverie, a respite of cherished memory interspersed with the “hectic scramble of America.”

Constructed as it is, the book opens flat to numerous double-truck pages of gorgeous, vibrant illustration. Evidenced in her many other picture books, Lowenstein has a gift of both design and replication of, for example, the intricate decoration of Muslim art in Jaipur, in Agra, and of little known but poetically-named places like Fatehpur Sikri. These painting are sometimes on half pages; each page is thick, sensuous paper and the chosen font looks like beautifully-written print on old-style lined notebook sheets.

Lowenstein’s prose matches her art and honors the memory of her journey through descriptive words that convey not just sights but smells and touch, like the feel of sand. The words equal her topic and honor that turbaned driver of long ago who took the time to entertain and instruct a little girl from far away. The cover of the book and an inside illustration show his hand sketching a bird for her---- reminding us all that random acts of kindness can have lifelong benefits for those who receive them, including the creation of this truly lovely memoir.

Alida Allison