Jacqueline Woodson: Feathers

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” starts the poem Frannie is reading in school. Frannie hasn’t thought much about hope. There are so many other things to think about. Each day, her friend Samantha seems a bit more holy.”There is a new boy in class everyone is calling the Jesus Boy. And although the new boy looks like a white kid, he says he’is not white. Who is he?

During a winter full of surprises, good and bad, Frannie starts seeing a lot of things in a new light:—her brother Sean’s deafness, her mother’s fear, the class bully’s anger, her best friend’s faith and her own desire for the thing with feathers.”

Jacqueline Woodson once again takes readers on a journey into a young girl’s heart and reveals the pain and the joy of learning to look beneath the surface.

Oh Jacqueline Woodson, you strike again. When I read Brown Girl DreamingI added this one to my TBR right away. I fell in love with her poetry and wanted to read more of her incredible writing.

I was not disappointed. Feathers is prose instead of poetry, but it is just as gorgeous. Written for middle-grade, her story combines so many different facets into a book under 150 pages. We see a young girl learning about life alongside a mother with depression and a brother who is deaf, and that gives her a unique outlook when a new boy comes to school needing a bit of compassion.

This is for sure going on my list of books to recommend when my parent friends reach out to me for their kids. If you have a child in middle school, definitely add this to your shelves.

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Dual Review: Thelonious Legend: Sins of the Father + Childish Things

I reviewed Sins of the Father a year ago, when it was first released. I hadn’t developed my Book Dragon system yet, but I gave it a 3 on Goodreads. But it has stuck in my memory, and every time I think about it, I have wanted to go back and reread–I really did love these girls. Because he has written a sequel, Thelonious Legend contacted me and generously sent me both books, and so here is an updated review for Book 1, as well as my write up for Book 2.

Book 1:  Sins of the Father

This was going to be a special year for the Parker sisters. Eve was going to dominate in the classroom and on the basketball court. Gwen was going to make the starting five and go down in history as the greatest prankster ever. Ana was going to do as little as possible. But without warning, all three sisters gain extraordinary abilities that defy science… powers that come with a cost. Now all they want to do is make it through the school year without drawing any undue attention, while racing to find a cure before the side effects of their new abilities kill them. Eve’s temperament, Gwen’s fondness for pranks, and Ana’s predilection for money, however, are challenges they must overcome to achieve their goals. Because if they can’t, they’re dead…

My memory did not deceive me. The Parker Sisters are just as incredible the second time as they were the first. They are smart, strong, and fast–and that doesn’t just refer to their super powers, but the plot itself. I read this over Christmas weekend and kept having to put my Kindle away. I couldn’t wait to get back to the story! It is racially diverse without bringing attention to it. It simply IS diverse.

At the book’s core is a story about three black middle school girls who develop super powers and have to navigate school drama while fighting for their lives. But behind all that is also a backdrop of privilege and culture that teaches us all to look deeper than the mask people wear.

I would definitely recommend this for older middle schoolers (7th grade+) or really anyone who likes YA. There is some violence and darker themes so just be cautious with younger audiences–though I’d never discourage anyone wanting to read this.

 

Book 2:  Childish Things

Mo Powers Mo Problems! It’s a new school year for the Parker Sisters but it’s the same song and dance. Get good grades, avoid being kidnapped or killed before dinner, and don’t forget to take to out the trash. But this year there are a few new players in the game. Players who are as special as the Parker Sisters. Let the games begin.

I know I’m reading a really good book when I stop and it is way too quiet. Was I listening to music? No…the book is just THAT good.

This happened more than once while I was reading Childish Things. The action gets completely turned up in Legend’s second book. The girls are older, wiser, and more powerful. They are training harder, and are more prepared for the bad guys that are, well, badder.

Childish Things is Gwen’s story, where Sins of the Father centered more around Eve. This gives the book a very “middle child syndrome” spin, as we see her take on friends, boys, and life while constantly comparing herself to her older sister.

The social justice spin is more subtle in this second book, but it is there in the margins for those who are paying attention. I am very interested in the almost backward character development of Stacey in particular, and how Legend is using her to show white privilege and the kind of subtle unknowing prejudice we don’t realize we have.

 

Both of these books are fantastic, and ones that’ll be making my top recommendations this year. For sure add this series to your Diverse YA TBRs. I cannot wait to see what Legend does with Ana’s story next–she got quite a bit of development in Childish Things, and she’s my favorite of the three sisters. I said in my original review for Sins of the Father that Thelonious Legend would do “Legendary” things with his writing, and it may have been a pun…but I wasn’t wrong. I LOVE these books, and you will too!

Disclaimer:  The author did provide me with copies of both books for an honest review, after I had reviewed the first last year for a book tour. 

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Hans Christian Andersen: The Snow Queen

Hans Christian Andersen’s magical tale of friendship and adventure is retold through the beautiful and intricate illustrations of Finnish illustrator Sanna Annukka. Cloth-bound in deep blue, with silver foil embellishments, The Snow Queen is elevated from a children’s book to a unique work of art. It is an ideal gift for people of all ages.

It’s interesting how fairy tales used to be so harsh and murderous. The world was so simple. Death was a part of life–people felt, they got angry, there were consequences and murder. Fairy tales were not for children.

Now, these stories have been so watered down. This isn’t a fairy tale I’ve read before, and maybe that’s because it would be pretty hard to Disney-fy it. That said, I wonder if this influenced CS Lewis when he wrote The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. There is a lot of resemblances to Edward’s story line.

The book itself is stunningly beautiful with its blue paper cut out illustrations, done by Sanna Annukka. That is what drew me to it on Blogging for Books.  It is cloth bound hardcover, and would make a gorgeous gift for any collector.

A copy of this book was provided by Blogging for Books and Ten Speed Press. This post does contain affiliate links.

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Review: Women in Science

It’s a scientific fact: Women rock!
 
A charmingly illustrated and educational book, Women in Science highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary. The trailblazing women profiled include well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
 
Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more!

I requested this book because I wanted to read it. And once a book is in my collection, it is very hard for me to part with it. I don’t lend very many books out, and almost NEVER do I give one away. I’m selfish like that.

But Women in Science will not be staying on my shelf. It will be one of the rare exceptions that is so good that I MUST give it up. It is not for me. I am seeing my niece this weekend and she needs it more than I do. For this book is meant for the encouragement of our next generation. And my niece is pretty badass, just like the women in this book.

Women in Science is fully-colored, with fun, cartoonish illustrations. Each biography fills one page, and is hardly boring. The women are diverse, and many fields are represented–microbiology, psychology, zoology, and many others. Inspiration can be drawn from every path that these women had to follow to achieve their dreams.

This is one of those books that should be on every library display and classroom shelf. Parents of daughters especially, but sons too, should put this in their child’s hands. Kids need to know about these women along with the men we study in school. I didn’t know about any of them, but maybe 2 or 3, and even then it was mostly just their name and field of study.

Watch out though, this will inspire your kids. Be prepared for them to do something amazing!

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Blogging for Books and Ten Speed Press provided a copy of this book for unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

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HOWARD LOVECRAFT FCBD 2016 EDITION

I participated in my very first Free Comic Book Day this year, since we did a Paws in the City event at a Dallas Comic Book store. I picked up some great titles, but still haven’t had a chance to read them. I’m going to be parsing them out in the coming weeks. The reviews will be short, but I figured I’d at least do a write up on them in case you want to check out the full versions.

First up on the list was Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom. I’m always interested in books that break down classic fiction or authors into something kids can grasp onto, and this is no exception. Kid HP Lovecraft and his pet Cthulhu (named Spot) have a spooky snowball fight and end up chasing a  “squishy” snow monster into a cave.

It’s not a book I would pick up myself, but totally one I would give to my husband’s nephew. He would LOVE this.

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Ella Enchanted

At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the “gift” of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: “Instead of making me docile, Lucinda’s curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally.” When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella’s life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you’ll ever read.

One of my friends has been on a mega fairy tale kick lately, and she sent Ella Enchanted my way last week when it was on sale. I think I read this way back when I was young, but I didn’t remember this story at all.

Cinderella has never been my favorite fairy tale–maybe it’s just not dark enough? You know I like a good, dark villain (like Maleficent). Ella Enchanted kicks up the classic story up a notch. It combines Sleeping Beauty‘s fairy gift with Ella’s obedience to show us that it isn’t always just the thought that counts.

After getting stuck this past week, it was nice to go back to some kidlit and relax my brain a bit. Ella Enchanted is such a sweet story–an easy read for an adult, but there are definitely some deep themes here:  friendship, honesty, secrets, manners, even learning foreign languages. Fairy tales were not only written for children, after all. It isn’t a new book by any means, but if you have kids (or even if you don’t), for sure pick it up from your library or book store for your next bedtime rotation.

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Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale

My name is Kano Murasaki, but most people call me Risuko. Squirrel.

I am from Serenity Province, though I was not born there.

My nation has been at war for a hundred years, Serenity is under attack, my family is in disgrace, but some people think that I can bring victory. That I can be a very special kind of woman.

All I want to do is climb.

My name is Kano Murasaki, but everyone calls me Squirrel.

Prepare your TBRs, friends. You are going to want to add Risuko to the very top!

Set in the time of the Samurai, this mysterious historical fiction novel draws you into a secret world of Japanese women. Sheltered away from the rest of society, they manage a shrine…or do they? Kano Murasaki thinks there is something not quite right about these shrine caretakers.

I immediately got sucked into this one. I couldn’t put it down. At some point, or another, you kind of side-eye every person in the shrine, to figure out who is causing trouble. And the description of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cultures are fascinating. Of course I liked the cooking parts the best! But it also reminded me of my Japanese language classes in school–it makes me sad to have lost so much.

I give this book an A++ for sure. The story is beautiful, the characters are incredibly badass and mysterious. There is some violence with swords and poison, but I would give this to my middle-grade aged niece. She’d love the kick-ass females. I’m hoping this gets turned into a series–the way it is labeled on Goodreads, looks like it’s going to be!!

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NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. I also received a $10 Amazon gift card for filling out a survey about the book after the fact. Releases June 15.

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The Cage

“Could it happen here, Mommy? Could it happen again?”

“If we forget the past, it could happen again. We must learn from these horrors. We must learn what happens when people remain silent while others are persecuted.”

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Ruth Minsky Sender’s Holocaust memoir The Cage was required reading in school, and it has stuck with me for over a decade. I have been meaning to go back to it for awhile now, so when I finished Harry Potter, I figured I’d bring it into my reread cycle.

Even knowing that it had made an impression on me in school, I forgot just how incredibly poignant this book is. Riva pulls her family and friends through one of the worst crises our world has ever known–serving as a mother figure to her brothers in the ghetto, inspiring those around her in the concentration camps, even touching the heart of a fierce commandant. This is a very simple story, meant for children in middle school, but it shows all of us just how important hope is in the face of absolute horror.

Minsky Sender also has one very important message for all of us. We cannot forget. We must remind ourselves what happened to the Jews (and others who were persecuted), and we must NEVER let that happen again.

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Tell the Story To Its End

Sometimes I get on an unintentional streak of books that all have the same theme. Lately it has been dark, twisted fairy tales. It started with Coraline, got even freakier with Through the Woods, and now we’re rounding the bases with Tell the Story To Its End. These are perfect books for October!

Simon Clark’s first book provides plenty of mystery from the get-go. Oli’s mother has dragged him far into the countryside to stay with his uncle for the summer, and Oli is NOT happy about it. He’d much rather be hanging in London with his dad, but for some reason his father didn’t come, and no one will tell him why. The adults are all acting very strange, and even the kids avoid the news when he is around. Something is going on.

To make matters weirder, there is a being in the attack. It isn’t human, and it wants something from Oli. Stories, tales. At first it seems innocent enough, but the need turns darker quickly.

I have a similar feeling with this book as I did with If I Fall, If I Die–confusion–although it’s not so angry this time. Mostly, there’s just two separate parts to this story that don’t connect at all, or have anything to do with one another…and so it just didn’t really make much sense. Like Will in If I Fall, I had a hard time finding the point and/or direction.

In “real” life, Oli’s family has a rift in it. For a good portion of the book, I was pretty certain the parents were going through a divorce, but there was a huge cloud of mystery over it. Why wouldn’t the mother just tell Oli what was going on? It was very strange.

In the attic, everything is very dark. Is this real? Is it a dream? Is it a break of consciousness or mental illness? I absolutely cannot tell. I suppose it is open to interpretation, but again, it was so vastly halved from the real life plot that there’s no strings to grasp onto.

Looking at the rest of the Goodreads reviews, this is going to be a Love It or Leave It book. Either it gets 5 stars or 2. I don’t think the writing is bad, and the characters have potential–I just think the story needs developing so the two ideas can be brought together. Two Book Dragons from me.

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Netgalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Releases October 20.

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The Story of the Treasure Seekers

Before video games and television and tablets, children used to come up with their own adventures. Many of these were based on the books they read–they mimicked heroes and heroines from stories of mystery and wonder. Dirt wasn’t an enemy, but a tool, to be washed off at the end of the day in time for dinner. Anything that could be found in the environment became a prop–sticks, stones, leaves, a broken piece of brick.

I’m not saying it’s better or worse…it was just simpler, maybe. Kids are always going to be kids and will always find ways to feed their imaginations, no matter what tools they have available.

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The unnamed narrator of The Story of the Treasure Seekers (unnamed because he wants you to figure it out on your own) tells us about several adventures that he and his brothers and sisters concocted. Their mother has died, leaving a mourning father and The Fall of the Fortune of the Bastables. Obviously, it is up to the six Bastable children to raise money so that their devastated father’s happiness will return. The sentiment is very sweet, but they get up to so much trouble. Every single plot they come up with goes horribly awry, and the adults in their universe pity them so completely that you just want to smother them with hugs. Not that they would ever accept that, of course.

I imagined our brave little narrator as a sort of Gavroche character–rebellious, ornery, but definitely the leader of the clan. Every child had his/her own personality, but I think my favorite was Noel, the solemn little poet. Some of them were quite good!

E. Nesbit wrote this is the late 1800s, and it’s one I can see a group of siblings cuddling around in the nursery to read before bed. It’s going on the list to buy my nephew when he gets old enough–technology or not, I think any 7-10 year old would love these old-fashioned silly little adventures.

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