November 21, 2017

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Chapter Books: Tales of a Monarch and Silly Top-Secret Missions | October 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Aridjis, Homero. Maria the Monarch. tr. from Spanish by Eva Aridjis. illus. by Juan Palomino. 64p. Mandel Vilar. Sept. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781942134343; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781942134336.

Gr 2-5 –Cousins Eréndira and Corina live in Mexico where each year they await the arrival of the monarch butterflies from Canada, particularly Quetzalpapalotl, the mythical queen of the monarch butterflies. They are eager to go on a class trip to the monarch sanctuary, Altamirano Hill, where they find an insect whose tag reads Maria the Monarch. Corina’s mother believes that “the monarchs are the souls of the deceased who return to the world in the form of butterflies” and Eréndira has dreams throughout the novel where she receives messages from butterflies. A group called the Green Mountain Company for the Care of Wildlife, led by a man named Tongo, are known for illegal logging practices and capturing and selling animals. Over the course of the novel, Eréndira’s father tries to stop the loggers and the girls meet Quetzalpapalotl and risk their lives to rescue her. Poetic language sets a slow pace for the book; some choices are stylistically awkward, such as the italicization of the word “selfie” each time it’s used. Palomino’s collage-style illustrations are filled with the vibrant orange, yellow, green, and blue tones that evoke the Mexican landscape. A section called “The Monarch: A Tireless Traveler” provides additional information about monarch butterflies. VERDICT Even with its awkward moments, this book is unique in presenting the cultural significance of the monarch butterfly in such depth. An additional purchase.–Liz Anderson, DC Public Library

Bixley, Donovan. Hot Air. illus by author. 112p. (Flying Furballs: Bk. 2). Upstart. Sept. 2017. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781927262542.

Gr 2-5 –Dashing young pilot Claude D’Bonair returns in another exciting installment. The battle between DOGZ and CATS continues and General Fluffington assigns young Claude and one of the felines’ most experienced pilots, Syd Fishus, a top-secret mission to break the code of an intercepted DOGZ message. Claude and Syd break the code and fly into enemy territory to save the day, crashing a DOGZ dirigible in the process. Action-packed and heavily illustrated, this will appeal to young readers who enjoy maps, charts, and cornball humor. VERDICT Buy for new readers looking for a quick read and for fans of the series.–Kathy Kirchoefer, Henderson County Public Library, NC

Nicholas, Soraya. Pony Detectives. 192p. Puffin. Sept. 2017. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9780143308614.

Gr 1-3 –In this series starter, Poppy is a horse-obsessed girl living in Australia. She is spending the summer with her Aunt Sophie and Uncle Mark, owners of Starlight Stables. Poppy has been a guest at the stables many times, but this is her first time back since her father died. Sophie and Mark surprise Poppy by giving her a pony named Crystal. In return, Poppy has to help care for the horses and look after two girls who earned scholarships to Sophie’s riding school. Milly is headstrong, like her pony, Joe. Kate is more reserved, like her pony, Cody. The girls quickly become friends and have fun riding together when they are not helping at the stables or taking lessons. When they learn that horses from some nearby stables have gone missing, Milly immediately suspects Old Smithy, the man whose property borders Starlight Stables. Against her better judgment, Poppy goes along with Milly’s plan to trespass onto Smithy’s land to look for the horses, even though she knows they could get into trouble for disobeying her. The three girls are likable and there is enough characterization to distinguish them from one another. As the story progresses, readers find out about Poppy’s worries for her mother and younger brother. Sophie and Mark offer kind but firm guidance. The text is sprinkled with terms that will be familiar to horse-lovers. VERDICT A pleasant additional purchase for fans of “The Saddle Club” and other horse-themed fiction.–Martha Simpson, Stratford Library Association, CT

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. A Little House Picture Book Treasury: Six Stories of Life on the Prairie. illus. by Renee Graef. 208p. HarperCollins/Harper. Sept. 2017. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780062470775.

Gr 2-4 –Wilder’s series about life on the prairie is adapted into a collection of six short stories designed to engage younger readers. Linear, focused plots make the vignettes easy to follow for newly independent readers and are balanced by emotional observations that encourage children to compare and contrast their lives with the characters (“… [Laura and Mary] were not sure what a town was like. They had never even seen a store.”). The language is clear, with occasionally lyrical descriptions for which Wilder’s original stories are so well known. Repetition of a common refrain (“Once upon a time, a little girl named Laura lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin in a little house made of logs”) at the beginning of almost all the entries creates a sense of continuity between the chapters, while also allowing each one to read like a stand-alone tale. The language itself preserves the original’s folksy style (“She wanted to hide in the tall grass like a little prairie chicken”) while simplifying the cadence enough not to alienate children. Full-color, full-spread illustrations in a style and palette similar to Garth Williams’s famous ones, are found on almost every page. VERDICT Fans of the original books wishing to share some of the key stories with young children can start here.–Kate Stadt, Manchester-by-the-Sea Public Library, MA

Yee, Paul. Shu-Li and the Magic Pear Tree. illus. by Shaoli Wang. 72p. (Shu-Li). Tradewind. Apr. 2017. pap. $8.95. ISBN 9781926890159.

Gr 1-3 –The start of a new school year brings changes for Shu-Li. Some are good, like a new friend and a fun group project. Some aren’t: Tamara’s worried that rent increases mean her family will have to move and their school is on the district’s closure list. Shu-Li continues to volunteer by reading to her elderly neighbor. Mrs. Rossi has a pear tree in her backyard, and, based on the stories she tells, they may have wish-granting powers. Shu-li isn’t sure magic pears can save her school, but she’s willing to try. This early chapter book deals with some big and difficult issues, but at a level that Shu-Li and friends, and young readers, can understand. While the pears do seem to have some magic, most of the happy endings are realistic in nature. The ethnic and economic diversity of Shu-Li’s neighborhood and school is highlighted textually and in Wang’s frequent black-and-white line drawings. VERDICT Recommended for libraries where the previous volumes are still popular.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington County Public Libraries, VA

This article was published in School Library Journal's October 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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