Monday, February 20, 2012

Special Section: HarperTeen Classics Re-envisioned

  • Austen, Jane. Pride & Prejudice. NY: HarperTeen, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-06196-436-7. $8.99. 18 & up.
  • ---. Sense & Sensibility. NY: HarperTeen, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-06201-563-1. $8.99. 18 & up.
  • Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. NY: HarperTeen, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-06201-562-4. $8.99. 18 & up.
  • Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights.NY: HarperTeen, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-06196-225-7. $8.99. 18 & up.
  • Meyer, Stephenie. New Moon. NY: Little, Brown & Co, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-31602-496-9. $10.99. 14 & up.
  • Shakespeare, William. Romeo & Juliet. NY: HarperTeen, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-06196-549-4. $8.99. 14 & up.

Confession: I judge a book by its cover.

As a graduate student in English, I know that I shouldn’t; I’m aware “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” But publishers understand how, when it comes to books at least, we throw those good moral platitudes out the window and transform ourselves into easily distracted, visually stimulated, semi-superficial consumers. Thus, it really is not all that surprising that it is a book’s cover art that essentially makes or breaks its sales.

Speaking of which, do you hear that sound? It is Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, and the Brontë sisters rolling in their graves, because the covers of their timeless, canonical, works of literary brilliance have been altered (read: butchered) to mimic those in the Twilight Series.

In an effort to make these classics more appealing to this vampire-crazed generation of Twi-hards, HarperTeen has given the covers of Romeo & Juliet, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights a face-lift.

As you can see on HarperTeen’s website, these new covers feature white and blood-red flowers set against jet-black backdrops. Look familiar? You can see that exact same, slightly emo, combination on the cover of New Moon, the second book of the famous vampire series.

If the art is not enough to fool Stephanie Meyer’s drove of drones, the books boast the same curly, yet dagger-sharp, font. Each cover also has its own darkly emotional blurb, which all gently allude to the Twilight series as well, such as “The Original Forbidden Love,” or “Love Never Dies.” Top it all off with a sticker on the cover of Wuthering Heights that reads, “Edward & Bella’s Favorite Book,” and HarperTeen has officially tapped into the money-making Twilight market.

I suppose I would not be as upset if the publisher’s intentions were purely to introduce these classics to a new generation, but clearly their goal is to make money by fooling young readers into thinking these book are something they are not. Sure, Heathcliff is dark and brooding, and Darcy is rich and brooding, and Romeo is young and brooding, but teenage girls are going to open one of these books expecting to read about Edward, and I fear they will throw it right down again when they find something perhaps entirely foreign to them instead: quality literature.

HarperTeen has even added material to the back of each book to make it more teen friendly. Readers can take a quiz called “Which Pride and Prejudice Girl are You?,” or a test that asks “What Would You Do For Love,” to see how you measure up with Shakespeare’s young lovers. The editors even brought Facebook into the mix with sample profile pages for both Romeo and Juliet. While HarperTeen claims on its website that each of these revamped originals are, “Beautifully presented for a modern teen audience” and “a must-have edition of a timeless classic,” I think it is safe to say that these new covers are merely a depressing attempt by the publisher to make some cash off the platinum Twilight bandwagon.

Caitlin Kennedy

Special Section: Princesses in Pink - PRINCESS HYACINTH and PINKALICIOUS

  • Heide, Florence Parry. Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated. Illus. Lane Smith. NY: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-375-84501-7. $17.99. Ages 4 & up.
  • Kann, Elizabeth, and Victoria Kann. Pinkalicious. Illus. Victoria Kann. NY: HarperCollins Children's Books, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-06077-639-8. $17.99. Ages 5 & up.
Girlie princess books are a dime a dozen these days, and the majority of them are just plain awful. You know the picture books that I am talking about, the ones that are wrapped in shiny pink covers, doused with glitter, and contain computer-generated illustrations and terrible stories. Factor in the multi-billion dollar, and increasingly permeating nature of the Disney Princess industry, and you’ve got a full-fledged princess plague on your hands.

An example from this nightmare of a genre, even though it is not exactly a “princess” book, is the Pinkalicious series, by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann. These books are extremely popular with young girls, but for all of the wrong reasons. The illustrations are too much to handle (think if Lisa Frank and Barbie had a Candy Land themed acid trip), and the story lines are sub-par to say the least. The bottom line is there are so many better picture book options for young girls, even books about princesses Case in point: Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated, written by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Lane Smith. 

Princess Hyacinth is the perfect counterattack to the Princess Problem. As a fabulous new take on the classic fairy tale, with amusing language and gorgeous illustrations to boot, it is no surprise that this picture book has been nominated for the 2011-2012 California Young Reader Medal.

Children devour this story for its stubborn, adventurous, and relatable heroine, a young princess who only desires to go outside to play. While parents appreciate the text for its elevated language, which is entertaining and challenging but not too advanced to go over a young reader’s head.

 Princess Hyacinth is the ideal book for reading out loud as well. Little ones sit on the edge of their seats, hanging on every word of the tale of poor Princess Hyacinth, the girl who floats. Her mom and dad (the King and Queen), make her wear a very heavy crown strapped under her chin, as well as a very thick robe, and even weighty socks that have little golden pebbles sewn into them, to keep their royal daughter on the ground. For if Princess Hyacinth doesn’t wear her princess clothes she just floats up, up, up.

 But Princess Hyacinth wants to float around outside! She is tired of dragging herself around the castle, and spending her days looking longingly at the children playing outside on the palace grounds (while she sits in her swimsuit, strapped down to her chair). Needless to say, Princess Hyacinth is “terribly, horribly, dreadfully bored,” so one day she decides to take matters into her own hands and do something about it…

Heide’s use of dramatic, yet playful, language (“alas and alack!”) is part of what makes this book so enjoyable. As Princess Hyacinth floats, kids love to hear how she “whirled and she twirled, she swooshed and she swirled, she zigged and she zagged and she zigzagged. She zoomed and caroomed and cartwheeled.” This type of creative, yet elevated, language draws young readers further into a story, and increases their vocabulary with new words and expressions.

Heide’s story is brought to life with Lane Smith’s phenomenal illustrations. Smith’s pictures are whimsical and sweet, but relatable too. For example, Princess Hyacinth doesn’t look like a Barbie-doll princess, but rather a cute little 8-year-old girl. Smith’s work is colorful, but it does not attack the eye, and there are plenty of things to look at on each page (such as the different animal-shaped topiaries on each page). The book also makes illustrations of the text itself, using different colors, fonts, and sizes to make the text playful. For example, when Heide writes that Princess Hyacinth floats “up, up, up,” the line of text itself floats up, up, up the page.

Unfortunately, our society’s obsession with pink, glittery, princesses will probably only get worse before it gets better. But there is no need to despair over the Princess Problem, as long as there are still intelligent, and entertaining, books like Princess Hyacinth to counteract the jarringly pink, computer-generated, monstrosities.  

Caitlin Kennedy

Special Section: Reviews by El Cajon & Sweetwater School District Students

Angleberger, Tom. Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset. New York: Amulet Books, May 2011. 978-0-8109-9715-8. $14.95. Ages 8 & Up. Reading Level: 5.8

Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset by Tom Angleberger is a hilarious mystery. Mysteries are usually serious but this one is funny. Horton Halfpott is a servant and was blamed for stealing a lump-shaped diamond. Horton is not the thief but he must solve the mystery because all kinds of things are going missing. Guess who is blamed? Yup, Horton.  M'Lady's wig, Col. Sitwell's monocle (I didn't know what that was...I looked it up), and Old Crotty's keys go missing. Really the whole story starts with M'Lady Luggertuck's corset. Does that have you curious? You should read it, but not in public because you will laugh out loud. People will think YOU are crazy!
Marley, age 11, Grade 5

Banerjee, Anjali. Seaglass Summer. New York: Yearling, Reprint 2011. ISBN 978-0-385-73567-4. $6.99. Grades 3-5.   

Seaglass Summer is a story about a girl named Poppy. While her parents are traveling in India, Poppy must stay in Washington State with her uncle, a veterinarian. She thinks being a vet sounds like a fun job. But, while working at her uncle's clinic, she finds out how hard it is. Poppy gets to care for the animals by weighing them, feeding them, and walking them. She also learns how frustrating some owners can be, but she also sees that the owners love their pets so much it hurts. Poppy realizes how much responsibility it is to be a vet and that a vet cares for the owners, too.

If you like realistic fiction and you want to learn more about responsibility and how to care for your pets, you should read this book.
Chrystal, Grade 4

Bruel, Nick. Bad Kitty Gets a Bath. Random House: NY.ISBN 978-0-312-58138-1 Reading Level: 3.7

This is a fiction(al) story about a bad kitty needing a bath. How do you give a kitty a bath? I say very carefully! The poor kitty stinks because a puppy chased her, and she ran into the garbage. Stinky! Her owner tries to figure out how to give Bad Kitty her bath. So, he gets an ambulance, bandages, and a suit of armor. Oh, and extra underwear, and a doctor on speed dial. This story is very humorous. But, it is also about bravery. That owner HAS to be brave to give a cat a bath! I wouldn't do it, would you?
Chrystal, Grade 4

Holm, Jennifer and Matthew Holm. BabyMouse: Mad Scientist. ISBN: 978-0-375-86574-9. Random House: NY, 2011. Reading Level: 2.6   

BabyMouse's dad tells her to enter the science fair. he thinks she should do an experiment on amoebas. So, they went down to the nearby pond to get some samples. BabyMouse ends up talking to the amoeba. Yes! How did she see it? Through a microscope of course! Babymouse gave the amoeba some cupcake. She was excited to take her talking amoeba to the science fair. But, when they got there, EVERYONE had done an experiment on amoebas! Everything turns out ok, BabyMouse gets second place! You'll have to read the book to find out how!
Ananda, Grade 4

Holm, Jennifer and Matthew Holm. BabyMouse Burns Rubber. ISBN: 978-0-375-85713-3. Random House: NY, 2010. Reading Level: 2.8    

The BabyMouse books have some CRAZY humor! In this one, BabyMouse enters a car race. But, the only problem is that BabyMouse has to make her own car! BabyMouse asks her friend for help. She builds her car and places a bet that she can beat a world famous racer. There is a lot of suspense in this story. You have to read how BabyMouse, out of the blue, wins the race.
Ananda, Grade 4

THE LUCKY KIND by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Sheinmel, Alyssa B. The Lucky Kind. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-75-86785-9. $16.99.

Nick Brandt and his friends Stevie and Eden all struggle with the same questions: “Are all families somehow messed up? Is anyone’s family normal? Does everyone hide something?” Nick finds out that his father has a secret adult son, born out of wedlock, who had been given up for adoption; Stevie’s parents barely know he exists, taking frequent exotic vacations, often over the holidays, leaving him behind in their NYC apartment; and Eden’s parents are weird, and fight constantly.

Sheinmel addresses difficult teen issues such as family tension, secrets, and first love. However, her characters engage in smoking, drinking and sex, none of which have direct repercussions in their lives.

The characters are relatable—only a few pages in and I cared about the narrator, his family, and his budding love with Eden. Sheinmel has addressed all the family issues appropriately and with understanding, but were I a parent, I’m not sure I would give The Lucky Kind to my son or daughter.

Marisa Behan


Pierce, Tamora. Alanna: The First Adventure. New York: Atheneum, 1983. ISBN 9781442426412. $8.99. Ages 10-14. 249 pp.

Well loved by young readers since its debut, this version of Tamora Pierce’s first book is a 2010 republished trade edition. Alanna is the first book in a quartet called Song of the Lioness, and introduces the world Pierce created in the realm of Tortall. Many of her other books take place in the same world. Alanna is not like most noble girls her age. When her father decides it is time to send Alanna and her twin brother Thom off to school—Alanna to the convent to learn how to be a lady, and Thom to become a knight—Alanna comes up with the plan to switch places with her brother. Thom, not wanting to become a knight any more than Alanna wants to become a proper lady, goes off to the convent to learn how to be a sorcerer, while Alanna disguises herself as a boy and begins lessons as a page in training bound towards knighthood. Though Alanna had thought herself one of the best at her home at fief Trebond, at the palace, it is not so easy for her. She has to keep the secret of being a girl from her teachers and fellow pages, and deal the tough training while being smaller than the other boys often having to work extra hard in secret to build up her upper body strength to compete with the boys. Yet through it all Alanna has grand adventures, meeting and befriending the king of the thieves, and learning how to use and not fear her own magic powers to save the prince from death and defeat an evil presence in a haunted city.

The world that Pierce has created is intriguing as it contains elements of a medieval society complete with sword fights, magic, mystery, and clashes between good and evil. Alanna is a likeable heroine despite being stubborn with a quick temper, and I found myself rooting for her to succeed and prove that a girl can be just as strong and courageous as any boy. Without knowing her secret, Alanna gains the admiration of her peers and the book hints that Alanna is destined for more great deeds and is favored by the gods. The end of the books leaves you wanting to pick up the rest of the books in the series just to find out what happens and see all that she achieves.

Joyce Myers


Noyes, Deborah. The Ghosts of Kerfol. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-7636-4825-1. $7.99 US/$11.00 CAN. Ages 14+

Deborah Noyes riffs off Edith Wharton’s gothic ghost story, Kerfol, to create this compilation of short stories. The original “backstory,” that is, Edith Wharton’s original ghost tale, is told from the point of view of a young servant girl, observing the terrifying episode of madness, wrath, and haunting that make up Kerfol. From the death of Yves de Cornault, the dogs (and human characters) have been returning yearly to haunt the castle. In the short stories that follow, Noyes weaves together new hauntings in various time periods, up to the present day. The stories hold together nicely: just when you begin to miss a character, he or she shows up as a ghost! The final story, I think, puts a brilliant twist on the sequence – the haunted visitor to Kerfol is deaf and he, unlike the other haunted visitors, interacts most intimately with the Kerfol spirits. His sensory separation from the world allows him to be ghost, but not ghost simultaneously.

Noyes’ novel is well timed, with a resurgence of interest in the Gothic. But unlike many other gothic interpretations of today, there are no vampires or implausible love relationships, just a good story, enough of the uncanny to disturb, and interesting, complex characters. The Ghosts of Kerfol is a welcome addition to the modern gothic young adult novels on the shelves today!

Marisa Behan

THE TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo

DiCamillo, Kate. The Tiger Rising. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2001. ISBN: 978-0-7636-5270-8. $15.99.

Rob has a suitcase full of “non-thoughts:” the things in his life that he can’t change and therefore won’t do him any good to dwell on.  In this suitcase he keeps problems such as his incurable leg rash, his teasing at school, the recent death of his mother, and the poverty of his father. Also in the suitcase, he keeps “not-wishes,” such as his desire for a friend.

Everything changes when he finds a caged tiger in the woods behind his motel and a new girl, Sistine, moves to town. Armed with renewed purpose and a friend, Rob learns how to un-cage his painful memories, freeing himself to let some good stuff in!

DiCamillo, author of The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie, lives up to her previous successes with The Tiger Rising. Emotionally gripping, poignant, and touching, with relatable characters and a catchy story, The Tiger Rising pulls at your heartstrings in a positive, cathartic way.

Marisa Behan

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Hunger Games. NY: Scholastic Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-439-02352-8. $8.99. 14 & up.

The first book in Suzanne Collins’ post-apocalyptic dystopian trilogy is compelling, suspenseful, and thought-provoking.

Collins presents readers with a strong female protagonist and narrator: sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen. As the head of her household, Katniss cares for her mother and younger sister by illegally hunting in their hometown of District 12, just one of the dozen impoverished districts that surround, and support, a lavish capitol city. Every year, to remind the districts of their failed attempt at rebellion 75 years prior, the nation’s oppressive President Snow requires that each district send two tributes, one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, to the “Hunger Games.” When Katniss and her friend Peeta find themselves representing District 12 in the 74th annual Games, they are whisked away to the lavish Capitol, and forced into an arena where they must fight their fellow tributes, and one another, to the death on live television.

Readers are immediately intrigued by the strange world, and unjust circumstances, that Collins puts forth. They are hooked by Katniss’ plight, and are quickly impressed with her maturity, self-sacrificing nature, and the remarkable talents that she exposes in the arena. Collins uses a large portion of the text to successfully develop her characters. Instead of feeling fake or two-dimensional, each member of Collins’ cast of realistic and relatable individuals possesses a great amount of depth. Readers feel intensely attached to Collins’ complex characters, thus they relish every suspenseful twist and turn; however, the dark themes and graphic nature of the text should not be overlooked.

Because the Games are broadcasted live to “entertain” citizens, Katniss faces not only physical torment, but great psychological distress as well. Indeed, Katniss must wrestle with the thought of killing her young peers; and yet, what is almost more damaging is that she must also set her own personality and character aside to portray a different version of herself. If wealthy viewers in the Capitol like what they see on television they can become her sponsors, and send her medicine, food, water, and supplies. Therefore, in order to garner favor with the audience that is watching her every move, Katniss must abandon herself and pretend to be someone she is not. Collins does a wonderful job conveying to the reader Katniss’ inner turmoil as she is incessantly haunted by the requirement to kill or be killed, and continually torn between who she really is and who she must present herself to be.

Part of this inner turmoil and uncertainty is drawn from a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta (her fellow District 12 tribute), and Gale (her best friend, and hunting companion, from home). However, though the appearance of a love-story plays a great role in Katniss’ time in the arena, Collins clearly does not want this love triangle to be the forefront concern of the trilogy. Unlike the Twilight series, which divided readers into clear-cut “teams” that were built upon the protagonist’s two love interests, Collins clearly has more important subjects that she hopes to highlight. As the series continues, it is evident that though the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale is present it is often pushed aside to expound upon greater concerns like tyranny, materialism, conformity, politics, propaganda, starvation, and rebellion.

The Hunger Games does not simply establish a thought-provoking perspective of a dystopian society, or a cast of captivating and complex young characters. Most importantly, the text creates a wonderfully detailed foundation for the rest of Collins’ series.

Caitlin Kennedy

CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Catching Fire. NY: Scholastic Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-439-02349-8. $17.99. 14 & up.

Catching Fire, the second book in Suzanne Collins’ popular dystopian trilogy, will certainly satisfy a reader’s taste for suspense; however, this action-packed follow-up to The Hunger Games has a very political core.

Katniss must pay for the actions she took to save both Peeta and herself during the 74th Hunger Games. Some citizens have interpreted her overall success in the arena as an aggressive act of defiance towards the Capitol. The districts are buzzing with rumors of unrest and rebellion. As the “faces” of the supposed revolution, President Snow forces Katniss and Peeta to put a stop to it. The Capitol does not like to be made a fool, it demands revenge; thus, it threatens everything that Katniss and Peeta hold dear in order to salvage control of the nation. And President Snow hopes to regain the Capitol’s grasp on the districts through the conveniently timed “Quarter Quell,” an event that occurs every 25th year of the Games and allows the Capitol to introduce a twist in the way the Games are executed. As the 75th Hunger Games are set before her, Katniss must decide her role. Is she to be the face of the rebellion? What will she do to spare her family? To shelter Peeta? To protect Gale?

Once again, Katniss is faced with tremendous psychological distress, as she never feels completely safe from President Snow’s pervading threats and nearly omnipresent scrutiny. Readers witness the previously strong protagonist practically wither, due to the pressure of knowing that she might not be able to protect her loved ones. Katniss almost looses her sense of self-reliance, as it seems that President Snow is so set on her demise that she believes she is doomed before she can even attempt to make things right. However, what seems to wear on her the most is the heavy guilt she feels from the awareness that she is ultimately responsible for the needless deaths that have occurred, and will continue to occur, due to the “rebellion” she incited.

Readers adopt Katniss’ despair, and experience her same feelings of anxiety and near-paranoia throughout the entire book as she frantically attempts to attain some sort of clarity concerning the constant threats, and utter turmoil, that surround her. And yet, at the very end of the text, the author uncovers the truths that have been purposefully kept from Katniss (and the reader) throughout the entire novel. Collins sets up the next, and final, book in the trilogy by leaving Catching Fire in a complete state of questioning. Katniss does not know whom to trust, after she learns that her previous allies, like her mentor Haymitch, have kept such great secrets from her.

Collins presents a compelling and suspenseful narrative that ensnares her readers all over again. However, it is evident by the end of Catching Fire that Collins is clearly shifting the focus of her writing from character development to political and social commentary.

Caitlin Kennedy

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay. NY: Scholastic Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-439-02351-1. $17.99. 14 & up.

The Hunger Games series has become extremely popular in the last few years. Its books have been stationed at the top of various bestseller lists for months on end, and the first two books in the series have been nominated for, and won, a number of awards and honors (including the California Young Reader Medal Award for Young Adult Fiction and the Publisher’s Weekly Best Book Award for 2009). And if that weren’t enough, the trailer was just released for the first Hunger Games movie, which will be in theaters Spring of 2012. And yet, in spite of all of the excitement and anticipation surrounding this series, author Suzanne Collins’ presented fans with a rather lackluster final book to tie up her trilogy.

Unlike the first two books in the series that establish rich character development and interaction, Mockingjay deals almost exclusively with the social and political issues that wreck havoc on Katniss’ world.

After Katniss is rescued from the arena of the 75th Hunger Games, a full-on war begins between the districts and the Capitol. She learns that her home, District 12, has been incinerated, and that her mother, sister, and best friend Gale have made it safety to the rebellion’s headquarters, located in District 13. District 13 is a militant, yet thriving, underground community, which is virtually unknown to the Capitol because it was presumably destroyed during the last uprising-attempt. While she is essentially jailed in District 13, Katniss learns that her time in the arena was completely planned, without her acknowledgement or consent. She was to distract the Capitol, while the rebels worked to make a strong first stand against President Snow. Katniss was to be protected in the arena at all costs because she is so important to the rebellion, while others, including Peeta, were to be sacrificed. Unable to return to District 12, Katniss is forced to take on the role of the Mockingjay (the face of the rebellion), participate in various propaganda videos, and take orders from the president of District 13, Alma Coin, who Katniss believes to be just as power-hungry as the evil President Snow.

Throughout the text, Collins continually illustrates the harrowing effects of war, goes into lengthy descriptions of different battles and, overall, completely drags out the rebel’s attempt at taking the Capitol and capturing President Snow.

It is as though, all at once, Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and the rest of Collins’ characters lose their depth, complexities, and even emotions. Their personalities become thin, weak, unrealistic, and unrecognizable shadows of their former selves. Perhaps this is an intentional decision on the author’s part, to show the numbing effects of war. But what is far more likely is that Collins’ characters suddenly become stiff and artificial simply because they are neglected throughout the majority of the novel, while the author rants about the dystopian world’s political problems.

Of course, had the trilogy ended seamlessly, critics would have been just as displeased. Katniss’ world was far too damaged and convoluted to present a convincing ending in which everything is resolved. However, Collins’ flagrant disregard for her characters, literally tying up their loose ends in a one-page epilogue, cannot be excused. It is as though the author got so caught up in the descriptions of war and the social and political flaws of Katniss’ world, that she reached her page limit and went, “Oh, I forgot, I have to wrap this up.”

After establishing such richly complex yet relatable characters in her first two books, Collins fails to do those characters any justice in her final text. Throughout The Hunger Games, and even Catching Fire, Collins writes about her characters so descriptively and intentionally that readers cannot help but form strong attachments to them. Having built a relationship with these characters, it is heartbreaking for readers to finish Mockingjay with the sense that their fictional friends were not treated with the respect they deserved. Readers finish the trilogy without answers, without closure, and with the haunting feeling that their favorite characters’ stories were not really given the ending they were worthy of. These characters deserved better.

Interestingly enough, most readers do not disagree with how Collins tied up her loose ends but rather the vague, pithy way in which she did so. For the final twenty-five pages, though Katniss is still narrating the text, readers are not given any insight to what she is really thinking, or feeling, about the big events that are transpiring around her.

By the end of Mockingjay, Katniss and the rest of Collins’ characters have become a shadow of what they once were in the first two books of the Hunger Games series. However, this is not the result of a harrowing war, or due to a damaged dystopian society, but rather, the characters are weak and artificial simply because of poor writing.

Caitlin Kennedy

A TIME OF MIRACLES by Anne-Laure Bondoux

Bondoux, Anne-Laure. A Time of Miracles. Trans. Y. Maudet. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-385-73922-1. $17.99 US. Ages 12+

When I turned the final page of this book and closed the cover, I said aloud to my empty kitchen, “Wow. That was an incredible book.” I can see why Random House decided to translate it from the original French for the American market. The fictional narrator, Blaise Fortune, also known as Koumaïl, tells his story – as a war refugee in the Caucasus – and grips the reader’s heart.

The memoir-like novel is a tale of abject poverty and homelessness, but never asks the reader to feel pity, or to feel sorry for Koumaïl and his mother-figure Gloria. Gloria and Koumaïl have been running away from war for as long as he can remember. They sacrifice food and energy for one another’s well-being, while always hanging on to their dreams, trying as hard as they can not to “catch a despair.” Gloria always puts a positive spin on their trials. She tells Koumaïl, “There’s nothing wrong with making up stories to make life more bearable.” She takes their often shocking situations and turns them into little blessings for Koumaïl‘s sake. For example, the first time we see them move to a new place, she instructs Koumaïl to dig a hole behind their shack (made of a corrugated tin roof, next to a garbage dumping ground):
“Finally, she shows me a spot behind one of the walls, where I’m supposed to dig a hole.
“What’s it for?” I ask.
“Well, it will be to do our business!” she answers with a wink.
“Oh, OK.”
It gives me a funny feeling to dig our toilet. In the Complex, we shared toilets with the other people on the floor, but here we’ll have our own private corner. Gloria says that we’re becoming bourgeouis. I don’t understand that word, but she laughs so hard that I laugh with her, right by the edge of our future poop hole.”Bondoux illustrates the cruelty of war through other characters like Koumaïl’s friend Fatima, a young girl who has refused to open her eyes since she saw her father shot on his prayer mat, or Stambek, whose “mind had stayed in the rubble” when a bomb struck their house. The prevailing theme of the novel is one of hope – regardless of who surrounds you and how bad the situation is – hope and family sustain you as you “always walk straight ahead toward new horizons.”

The book is beautifully told, a magnificent insight into the life of a nomadic refugee, and later, a lonely child immigrant far from home.

Marisa Behan

TOKEN OF DARKNESS by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Atwater-Rhodes, Amelia. Token of Darkness. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-385-73750-0. $16.99

The main theme of Token of Darkness is constructed around Cooper Blake, his traumatic accident and its consequences. Due to a car crash, Cooper has to readjust his life and cope with the multiple facets of scars which now dominate his life. Not only did he miraculously survive, but since then, he is accompanied by Samantha, whom solely he can see.

Samantha becomes the center of his life, while he draws back from his friends, including his football team. Although she has no memory of her former existence, she helps him to come to terms with his new situation. Since the accident, Cooper is able to not only see Samantha, but also the shadowy demons which lurk in the dark to feed on weak humans and which threaten him and his surrounding again and again.

Cooper tries to return her kindness and support, but does not know where to start. He gets unexpected help from Brent, Delilah, and their mentor Ryan. All three have experiences when it comes to paranormal incidents: Brent is a telepath, Delilah is the manipulative captain of the cheerleading squad and a witch, and Ryan belongs to a long line of sorcerers. None of these three trust Samantha, and want to save Cooper from the potential threat she poses.

Token of Darkness is dominated by a dark and thrilling atmosphere. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes manages to tell a fast-paced story about growing up, trusting ones instinct, seeking help in times of need, and looking behind the mere façade of a person. In order to move forward in life, all of the characters need to face their problems, even traumatic experiences. Friends are paramount in achieving this aim; only with their support, Cooper is able to break his social isolation, and to become a happier person.

Karin Kakorski


Raczka, Bob. Lemonade: and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word. Illus. Nancy Doniger. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-59643-541-4. $16.99 US 

The inside front cover describe Raczka’s concept as “part anagram, part rebus, part riddle.” He takes one word, like “ran” and lines the letters up to form the poem

ra n
It feels a bit like the board game MadGab, where you have to sound out the words to figure out the real meaning. Often, it’s difficult to find where the word breaks are supposed to be! Kids who enjoy puzzles will enjoy lining up his letters and trying to read the puzzle-poems. The “answers,” that is, the puzzle written in full word form, is printed on the back page. The illustrations are whimsical and simple, painted entirely in black, grey, and red.

I think the greater value of the book, more so than just solving Raczka’s puzzles, lies in inspiring kids to create their own anagram single word poems. A great gift for puzzle-loving elementary school children!

Marisa Behan


Tillman, Nancy. Tumford the Terrible. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-312-36840-1. $16.99.

This book caught my eye because of the kitty with the “uh oh” expression peeking out from the bottom of the cover. Tillman’s gorgeous watercolor illustrations and the fun rhyming of this engaging story made me so glad that I picked it up.
Characterized with a charming mix of impish cat and curious toddler traits, TumfordStoutt (Tummy for short) isn’t a bad cat, but he always seems to get into trouble. His human parents (Georgy and Violet Stoutt) love him, no matter what mischief he makes, but they are having a hard time convincing Tummy to apologize instead of hiding whenever he makes a mess.

Throughout the story, Tillman incorporates perfect moments for other endearing little troublemakers to guess what happens next. Her illustrations – especially ofour hero’s dramatic facial expressions as he gets into various sorts of trouble and then hides (in a bag, in the garden, on a toy shelf trying to blend in among the teddy bears…)– bring the story to life as we witness Tummy’s tumultuous escapades.

I highly recommend this picture book for anyone who knows a cat, a toddler, or someone of any age who has trouble apologizing.

Emily Moore


Stein, David Ezra. Interrupting Chicken. Somerville: Candlewick Press, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-7636-4168-9. $16.99.

Stein’s Interrupting Chicken is an adorable tale of a father rooster trying to help his daughter, a little red chicken, go to sleep with her favorite bedtime stories. The problem is, every time he starts a story his daughter gets so excited that she interrupts and blurts out the climax, which defeats both his goal of helping her relax and of finishing her bedtime story.

By using a variety of contrasting media to illustrate (including water color, crayon, china marker, pen, ink, and tea), Stein skillfully juxtaposes the story of two chickens with the bedtime stories being told (and interrupted) within their story. Kids and adults alike will delight in the way the little red chicken bursts right into the pages of familiar children’s stories to shout out the ending as the characters in the original story gasp in dismay.

These amusing interruptions continue even at the end, as the tables are turned on the little red chicken. After interrupting all her father’s bedtime stories, the little chicken writes and illustrates her own story for her exhausted dad. He surprises her just after she starts telling the story with his own inadvertent interruption…snores.

This fun, endearing book is sure to be a read-aloud favorite, at bedtime or at anytime. Highly recommended

Emily Moore

SWIM! SWIM! by James Proimos

Proimos, James. Swim! Swim! New York: Scholastic, Inc, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-545-19419-1. $16.99. Ages 4-7

Big blocks of color are the best part of this picture book about a lonely goldfish who looks for a friend. Some pages are framed in foursquare panels. The typeface is too rough and doesn’t match the smooth lines of some of the drawings. All of the text is shown in dialogue bubbles next to the goldfish. The tone is that of a comic book and the fish’s conclusion that no one loves him is surprising. The loneliness is depicted on that two-page spread by a solid grey background around a smaller-sized fish on the page. The midpoint of the book with solitude quickly jumps to action as a hungry cat preys on the goldfish. But the cat puts the lonely goldfish with another goldfish and the two become friends. The reversal of cat as villain to nice guy is a pleasant surprise.

Linda Salem


Pearson, Susan. How to Teach a Slug to Read. Illustrated by David Slonim. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2011. ISBN 978-0-7614-5805-0. $16.99. Ages 5-8.

How to Teach a Slug to Read is a playful instructional ten-step guide addressed seemingly from a little boy to a mama slug on teaching her child slug to read. Some of instructions parallel what any parent or teacher would do to teach a child to read, such as putting labels on objects around the house, or helping the child sound out words, while other instructions are more slug related, such as having the mother slug tell the little slug to climb a rock so that he can see the pages of the book better.

My favorite parts of the book are within the side story found through the illustrations. The side story features parodies on other popular picturebooks. For example the little slug chooses to learn how to read from the book, “Rhymes from Mother Slug” rather than Mother Goose, and features clever spoof rhymes including:

Mary has a little slug,
His skin was smooth as silk,
She dressed him in a satin shirt,
And fed him bread and milk.

These parodies exist throughout the illustrations. Children and parents alike will enjoy finding and seeing these spins on other classic beloved picturebooks.

Joyce Myers

PERFECT SOUP by Lisa Moser

Moser, Lisa. Perfect Soup. Illustrated by Ben Mantle. New York, NY: Random House, 2010. ISBN 978-0-375-86014-0. $16.99. Ages 4-7.

Perfect Soup is about Murray the Mouse’s quest to obtain a carrot, which is the only ingredient he is missing from his recipe to make Perfect Soup. Murray really wants his soup to be perfect, so he runs out and asked Farmer for a carrot. Farmer makes a deal with Murray that if he hauls logs of wood for him, he will give him a carrot. Murray can’t actually do it,  so he goes to Horse for help, but Horse wants Murray to get him some jingle bells for his help. Murray goes on and on asking various people for help with all the tasks he agreed to do until he can’t take it anymore. Everyone wants another favor. All the while he is running he keeps passing by Snowman, who tries to get his attention, but Murray keeps ignoring him. Finally, when Murray is at his wits’ end, Snowman comes to help Murray without asking for anything in return. Murray is finally able to make his soup, but it not a carrot that makes it perfect; it is Snowman’s friendship and company.

Perfect Soup is a lovely story that details what friendship is all about. Asking and receiving favors from others is fine and has its place, but nothing beats a gift, where nothing is asked for or expected in return. Murray is so busy arranging favors for everyone that he almost misses out on the simple help and friendship Snowman has to offer. The story contains a lot of back and forth dialogue as Murray keeps having to reiterate the chain of favors he must arrange; this repetition makes the text cyclical, pleasurable, and easy to follow for children. The illustrations depict a beautiful and whimsical winter wonderland full of people and anthropomorphized creatures. It is an outstanding winter book to enjoy.

Joyce Myers


Mosel, Arlene. Tikki Tikki Tembo. Illustrated by Blair Lent. Tarrytown, NY: Square Fish, 1968. ISBN 9780312367480. $6.95. Ages 4-7.

This Tikki Tikki Tembo is a 2007 re-issue of an old Chinese folktale published in 1968. It is about an old tradition in which the eldest son in a family is given an honorably long name. Mosel’s protagonist  is named Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo, meaning “the most wonderful thing in the whole wide world,” while his younger brother is just named Chang, meaning “little or nothing.” The two boys enjoy playing near the well while their mother washes clothes in a nearby stream. One day Cheng falls into the well. When Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo tells his mom, she tells him to fetch the old man with the ladder to get him out. The old man retrieves Cheng and all is good again. Then, on another day, when the two boys are playing by the well again, Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo falls in. Cheng runs to tell his mother, but he so is frantic and out of breath that he can barely say his brother’s name. By the time his mother understands and Cheng is able to communicate the news to the old man with the ladder, Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo has been in the well for quite a while. As a result, his recovery time is much more lengthy than Cheng’s. And thus, as a result, Chinese parents from then on give all their children short names.

Children and parents have enjoyed this book together for decades by getting caught up in the fun of reciting Tikki tikki tembo’s full name. Blair Lair’s illustrations consist of line drawings with watercolor, making the artwork look similar to old classic Chinese art. I don’t particularly like how the mother names her children according to how she values them, but she does show that she cares for Cheng by being properly concerned when he first falls in the well. His rescue is then followed by a double page spread illustration of the mother, old man, Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo and Cheng all celebrating. Overall it is an entertaining story.

Joyce Myers

LUCKY: THE TALE OF A TREE by Richard Hawkins

Hawkins, Richard. Lucky: The Tale of a Tree. Illus. Deb Hoeffner. Los Angeles: Worldway Productions, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-578-09089-4. $14.95. Ages 5-12

Lucky, by Richard Hawkins, examines Christmas rituals from the point of view of the Christmas tree. A fir tree is plucked from his dull life in the forest clearing to the hustle and bustle of a Christmastime family home, where people call him “perfect,” decorate his branches, show him off to friends, and lay presents at his feet. He listens to the Christmas Eve stories and shares the joy of the children. But he begins to worry when they talk about “taking down the tree!”

Hawkins’ exquisitely told tale addresses the issue of life and death by subjugating the problem into the perspective of the fir tree who, after New Years, slowly withers away in the backyard, gently passing away in peace, having had his “days of glory.” Hawkins captures the wonder of a child, the ennui of a teenage girl, the gentle patience of their parents, and the rituals of an American Christmas, all from the perspective of this tree, ironically named “Lucky” by “Scraggly,” the old, wise fir growing in the backyard.

Hoeffner’s pencil illustrations are beautifully done, filled with emotion and detail. I was surprised to find the black and white, though, at my first turn through the book. I like the use of pencil for its detail, and artificially bright illustrations would overwhelm the narrative. But the grayscale printing lends a somber tone to the text that may or may not be the most engaging to young kids. I kept thinking that the book in my hand was a grayscale printing of colored pencil art, and had to remind myself that it was supposed to be like that!

Overall, though, I loved the story. Hawkins and Hoeffner have created a wonderfully unique Christmas story—an impressive achievement in a market largely over-saturated with Christmas stuff. I would definitely recommend this book for any family with a Christmas tree!&

Marisa Behan

MUDKIN by Stephen Gammell

Gammell, Stephen. Mudkin. Minneapolis, NM: Carolrhoda Books, 2011. ISBN 978-0-7613-5790-2. $16.95. Ages 5-8.

What child doesn’t love playing in the mud? Mud even  offers endless possibilities for adventure in the imagination. Mudkin is an almost wordless picturebook about a girl’s adventure one afternoon after a rainstorm. On this fantastic day, the girl meets Mudkin, a creature of earth and fantasy who makes the girl a queen, dressing her in fine mud apparel, and whisks her away to a castle where she meets her mud subjects. It’s a glorious afternoon there, but then the rain returns. The girl must return home, although she will never forget her subjects, nor ever stop being their queen. 

Mudkin is a strong reminder that you can present children with all the toys in the world, but nothing beats the imagination and nature. Gammell’s illustrations are marvelous in depicting what is going on in the girl’s head better than any words could. Mudkin looks like a blob with knobby arms and legs and an onion shaped head. The things Mudkin then creates out of the mud are incredible, including a mud crown and robe for the queen, a wonderful mud carriage, and castle. In the few words and dialogue featured in the book, the girl talks to Mudkin and her subjects. While her speech is in text,  what the mud creatures speak are lines of mud, leaving it up  to the reader to infer what they are saying. Not only is this book a story about a child’s imagination, it requires readers to use their own imagination to interpret the story. It is a clever and beautiful book.

Joyce Myers

MOUSE AND LION by Rand and Nancy Burkert

Burkert, Rand. Mouse and Lion. Illus. Nancy Ekholm Burkert. New York: Scholastic, Inc, 2011. $17.95 US $19.95 CAN. ISBN: 978-0-545-10147-9. Picturebook, ages 2-6

Aesop’s fables have delighted children for generations, and Rand and Nancy Burkert have created a rendition of the tale Mouse & Lion worthy of cherishing.

Rand Burkert’s retelling, unlike most traditional versions, places Mouse at the center of the story, since, as he writes in the author’s note, “Mouse clearly performs the lion’s share of the work.” Parents and children who read this story can discuss Mouse’s positive characteristics, such as loyalty, repayment of a debt, honesty, and courage, as well as Lion’s leadership as King, particularly his fairness and openness.

The dust jacket is made from off-white textured paper, and the soft colored pencil color scheme of the illustrations reminds me of classic storybooks. Burkert has set her illustrations in the savannahs of Africa, with its baobob trees and swaying grasses. Truly this is a gorgeous work that belongs in any classic storybook collection.

Marisa Behan


Crosby, Jeff, and Shelley Ann Jackson. Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies: A History of Horse Breeds. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra Books, 2011. $19.95 US, $21.95 CAN. ISBN: 978-0-88776-986-3. Ages 9-14

As a young horse lover and avid rider, I would have loved this book—so much horse minutiae and gorgeous pictures to boot!

A husband and wife team, Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson take their readers on a comprehensive tour of horse breeds around the world. The book is loosely divided into categories by the horse breed’s intended purpose: rapid transit, military advantage, horsepower, equine entertainment, and feral horses. They detail not only common and well-known breeds such as Arabians, Shetland ponies, and Clydesdales, but also more unusual niche breeds such as the Kiso from Japan and the Basotho from South Africa. Each breed is given its own page, with stunning pastel illustrations of the horses in action.

Marisa Behan


Roy, Ron. Trapped on the D.C. Train. New York: Random House, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-375-85926-7. $4.99 US/$5.99 CAN. Ages 7-12

Ron Roy’s Capital Mystery series contains thirteen beginning reader chapter books, all set in the nation’s capital, starring K.C. Corcoran, the President’s stepdaughter, and her friend Marshall Li. Their adventures land them in various scrapes, requiring them to figure out the clues to the mystery.

The stories are written in typical Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys style, but with simplistic language and texts for young chapter book readers. The clues unfold throughout the first 2/3 of the story, reach a suspenseful climax in which the two kids are in “danger,” then resolve, with a full explanation of how all the clues fit together. The context clues all seemed very obvious to me, but for an elementary reader, would probably be appropriately suspenseful.

The book also has full-page pencil illustrations every chapter to help young readers visualize the action. Online resources include a trivia game and printable coloring pages from the in-text illustrations.

All in all, Roy has created a kid-friendly presidential intrigue: I’d pick this for “silent reading time”!

Marisa Behan

INTO THE UNKNOWN by Stewart Ross

Ross, Stewart. Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air. Illus. by Stephen Biesty. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-7636-4948-7. $19.99. Ages 8-12.

In my education classes, I was taught that boys need hands-on learning. I was also taught that they tend to choose non-fiction over fiction. Into the Unknown meets both needs. The text is well written, with a good mix of history, science, and storytelling. The pages have detailed diagrams, maps, and pictures, which focus on things like ship construction, supply loading, and route mapping. The pop-outs make the narrative a 3D experience.

The sequence includes not only commonly known explorers like Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, and Marco Polo, but also lesser known adventurers like Mary Kingsley, who explored the West Coast of Africa solo, Edmund Hillary, who first peaked Mount Everest, and Umberto Nobile, who flew over the North Pole. Ross begins his chronicling with Pytheas, a classical Greek explorer who navigated the Arctic waters as early as 340bc, and finishes with Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.

The book’s dust jacket unfolds to reveal a giant world map poster, perfect for hanging in a bedroom and imagining one’s own adventures. The map, which shows all the continents, lists the explorers, and draws out their routes, is a bit plain, but a fun surprise nonetheless. The book also contains a glossary of exploration and navigation jargon, and an index.

Marisa Behan


Myklusch, Matt. The Accidental Hero. New York: Aladdin, 2010. ISBN 9781416995623. $6.99. Ages 9-12. 468 pp.

Growing up in an orphanage named St. Barnaby’s Home for the Hopeless, Abandoned, Forgotten, and Lost does not inspire a kid to have much hope or fun in life. Jack Blank has spent the whole of his life at St. Barnaby’s, where he is not only the most disliked and picked upon child, he doesn’t even know who he is. The last name Blank only came about because he always had to leave the field for last name blank when filling out forms, and to top it all off, according to his school aptitude tests, his highest career aspiration is to become a toilet brush cleaner. Yet, Jack is not without spirit. He is creative and imaginative despite all efforts to beat it out of him, thanks to the comic books he smuggled out of the trash. Then one day, Jack is attacked by a Robo-Zombie, just like a character in one of his comic books and everything changes. All of a sudden a mysterious agent appears to take Jack to an island called the Imagine Nation, where it seems Jack was born. In the Imagine Nation, Jack realizes that his favorite comic book characters are real. The citizens of Imagine Nation range from superheroes, warriors, aliens, robots, and ninjas to inventive scientists and technologists. In the Imagine Nation, Jack discovers that he too has powers and in learning his identity realizes that the distinction between hero and villain is not as clear it seems in comic books.

Incorporating elements of comic books, medieval legends, fantasy and science fiction, the world Matt Myklusch created in the Imagine Nation is vast and inventive. The book moves slowly at first due the enormity of genres and concepts Myklusch needs to illustrate in order to establish the background and describe the many facets of the landscape of the Imagine Nation, but after that readers will find themselves engaged in both the storyline, which is in solving the mystery of Jack’s identity, and the intricacies of the Imagine Nation itself.

One of the concepts detailed in the book that I really enjoyed is creativity and the power of the imagination. The agent who takes Jack to the Imagine Nation tells him that he has to truly believe before he goes there:
All the fantastic, unbelievable things in this world start in the Imagine Nation. It’s a real place, but you can’t get there if you try to keep one foot in the real world when you go. Only people who believe in the unbelievable are able to see the island. To find it, you have to believe that there’s a place out there where the impossible is possible. You have to believe it deep in your heart. If you can’t do that, you won’t recognize it when you see it. Even if it’s staring you right in the face.

The agent tells Jack it is the influence of the Imagine Nation that led to time periods like the Age of Exploration and the Enlightenment, and that many long ago writers, artists and world changers came from the Imagine Nation. But it is not the same anymore with less people being able to find the Imagine Nation and becoming less adventurous. It parallels our modern times, where children do not read as much and there is less creativity in schools. It is thanks to books like The Accidental Hero, and other fantastical and imaginative stories that reading is beginning to regain popularity. Along with supporting the renewal of creativity and imagination, this book also stresses that a person’s future is what they make of it. Overall, this is an enjoyable book.

Joyce Myers


Lowry, Lois. Dear America: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce. Like the Willow Tree. New York: Scholastic, Inc, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-545-14469-8. $12.99 US/$14.99 CAN

The Dear America series has long had a reputation for excellence. Lois Lowry’s contribution, “Like the Willow Tree,” a diary of the fictional Lydia Amelia Pierce, an orphan of the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, lives up not only to the quality of her extensive other publications, but also the rest of the Dear America novels.

When Lydia and her brother Daniel lose both of their parents simultaneously to the Spanish influenza, their grieving uncle sends them to be raised by Shakers. Lydia learns the lifestyle of the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake, while worrying about her brother, who struggles much more acutely than she with the transition to Shaker life. Over the course of the year, Lydia grapples with difficult issues of gender separation, the loss of her personal property, and the strain of diligent work. She tries very hard to be a good Shaker, learning their songs and conforming to their ethical system, but she accurately questions the Shakers on the denial of marriage as a means of propagating the religion.

Lydia’s story and voice are a compelling read. Lowry also manages to be very informative about Shaker culture and the historical decline of the faith in American society.  Young readers will both enjoy the story and gain valuable insights about an often forgotten or misunderstood faction of American history.

Marisa Behan

THE WHITE BALLETS by Rajka Kupesic

Kupesic, Rajka. The White Ballets. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra Books of Northern New York, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-88776-923-8. $19.95 US $21.99 CAN. Ages 9-12

The White Ballets is equally as much a work of art as a storybook. The book itself is stunningly gorgeous. All of the pages are edged with gold, and the illustrations are richly made in paint and gold leaf. The art is reminiscent of an illuminated fairy tale storybook and fits well with the elegant tales of dance told on the pages.

Kupesic retells the plot of three ballets: Swan Lake, Giselle, and La Bayadère. Her writing style is graceful and clear. The three stories are separated by full-page spreads written in the author’s voice explaining her paintings, which encourages readers to flip back to the earlier pages and examine the art in detail.

The White Ballets makes a beautiful gift for the young ballerina in your life. It belongs on display on a table or upright on a shelf – as elegant and gorgeous as the fairy tale ballets it retells!

Marisa Behan


Crum, Shutta. Thomas and the Dragon Queen. New York: Knopf, 2010. ISBN 9780375857034. $15.99. Ages 7-11. 266 pp.

Despite being the oldest of nine children, twelve-year-old Thomas is a comparatively small boy. Yet he dreams of training to be a knight and serving the kingdom. One day, a chance encounter with Sir Gerald, a knight of the realm, brings Thomas the opportunity to go to the castle and train. The kingdom is experiencing hard times and needs the help of any who are willing and able bodied, even a boy who is extremely short. Sir Gerald sees that Thomas possesses the knightly qualities of being smart and hard working and decides to gives him a chance. Thomas perseveres through his training, working past the ridicules of his peers, eventually gaining the privilege of becoming squire to Sir Gerald. Then one day, a dragon queen kidnaps the princess. There are no knights available to send to her rescue due to the war. Thomas valiantly volunteers and the king agrees to send him and so Sir Thomas heads out on his first quest armed only with a sword just barely longer than a dagger, and a donkey, outfitted only with a leather vest. It is the adventure of a lifetime and Thomas proves that size that nothing to do with what it truly means to be knightly.

Although the basic premise of the story sounds like a generic fairytale, with a knight on a quest to rescue a princess guarded by a dragon, it is anything but typical. The hero is not tall and handsome; he is not even grown up. And when he reaches the dragon’s lair, it is not the standard evil, ferocious, treasure-guarding dragon he meets, and it is not a knight’s strength that is needed to rescue the princess and defeat the dragon. Accompanied by black and white illustrations, some small drawings, others full page or double spreads depicting scenes from the book, for example Thomas among his younger brothers and sisters, several of whom are much bigger than him, or Thomas riding on his little donkey, this book is great for young readers transitioning from picture books to longer chapter books. The story keeps readers surprised and enthralled and emphasizes the importance of qualities such as courage, loyalty and honesty over that of physical appearance and prowess.

Joyce Myers