May 28, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Cow Goes Rogue, Dickens Goes Steampunk, and Katie Friedman Goes Luddite | Fiction Grades 5-8

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redstarBar-el, Dan. Audrey (cow). illus. by Tatjana Mai-Wyss. 240p. ebook available. Tundra. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781770496026. LC 2013953683.

Gr 3-5 –A courageous cow poet, a canine companion, an eavesdropping horse, an intelligent pig, and many more amazing animals call Bittersweet Farm their home. After a mother Charolais cow is taken away to “Abbot’s War,” her calf, Audrey, begins to ask questions of her fellow animal pals. Eventually, she discovers that “Abbot’s War” is no cow paradise; it’s a slaughterhouse. The poetic cow quickly puts her energy into finding a way to avoid the same fate. She attempts, but fails, to starve herself, learns how to jump a fence, and more. Ultimately, she is able to use the help, knowledge, and experience of her farm friends to achieve her goal. This is no simple farm story; it is a powerful tale that takes a philosophical stance against today’s meat industry. Written in transcripts of interviews from the perspective of various animal and human characters, the book emphasizes the emotional reactions of those surrounding Audrey. These monologues give readers the opportunity to discern different perspectives about the same events. Readers must make conclusions and predictions about the events, weighing the relative reliability of the various narrators. A unique approach to a sensitive topic.–Mary-Brook J. Townsend, The McGillis School, Salt Lake City, UT

redstarKelly, Erin Entrada. Blackbird Fly. 304p. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062238610.

Gr 5-8 –Eighth grader Apple and her mother moved from the Philippines to Louisiana several years ago after the death of her father. All Apple has left of her dad is a Beatles cassette with his name written on it. At school, her two best friends are trying to become part of the in-group and have become very critical of her, especially after it’s discovered that she is on the unwritten Dog-Log and considered one of the ugliest girls in school. Apple is embarrassed by her mother, who doesn’t speak English well. The protagonist is desperate to get a guitar so she can learn to play the Beatles songs that her dad loved, but her mother is adamant that she not waste her time on music. Soon, Apple makes friends with a new boy, Evan, who’s not impressed with her former friends or their boyfriends. When the music teacher loans her a guitar, she discovers that she is something of a prodigy. The story will resonate with any student in middle school who has felt different and ostracized. The author has skillfully captured the various characters that populate Apple’s middle school. Only Apple’s mother remains two-dimensional until almost the end. The story is rather predictable until it ends with a twist. Apple mentions her favorite song “Blackbird” many times; readers unfamiliar with the song would benefit from listening to a recording or finding a YouTube clip.–Nancy P. Reeder, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, SC

redstarPyron, Bobbie. Lucky Strike. 272p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. Feb. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545592178; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545592192.

Gr 4-6 –Wherever Nate Harlow goes, bad luck seems to follow. He has never even won a coin toss, so it comes as no surprise to many residents of Paradise Beach that it is Nate who gets struck by lightning out of the literal blue on his 11th birthday while playing mini-golf with his friend Genesis Beam. What does come as a big surprise is that Nate’s luck seems to change drastically after the strike. All of a sudden, he is winning. Everything. Nate has to decide how he is going to handle this change—he is now surrounded by friends and opportunities whereas before it was only him and Genesis sticking together. Will she stay by Nate’s side while he finds his feet, and, more importantly, will he support her when she needs it most? This well-told story of growth, friendship, and small-town life hits all the right notes. The quirkiness of the characters and the town never goes too far, and there is an overall cozy feeling to the book. Genesis’s dad is the preacher at The Church of the One True Redeemer and Everlasting Light, but she is a scientist through and through, which adds complexity to the text, including musings on destiny, fate, probability, and weather. Fans of Susan Patron’s Higher Power of Lucky (S. & S., 2006), Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky (Dial, 2012), and Ingrid Law’s Savvy (2008; both, Dial) will find something new for their to-read shelves.–Stacy Dillon, LREI, New York City

redstarRYAN, Pam Muñoz. Echo.592p. Scholastic. Mar. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780439874021; ebk. $19.99. ISBN 9780545576505.
Gr 5-8–“Long before enchantment was eclipsed by doubt,” a young boy named Otto lost in the woods is rescued by three sisters imprisoned there by a witch’s curse. In return, he promises to help break the curse by carrying their spirits out of the forest in a mouth harp and passing the instrument along when the time is right. The narrative shifts to the 20th century, when the same mouth harp (aka harmonica) becomes the tangible thread that connects the stories of three children: Friedrich, a disfigured outcast; Mike, an impoverished orphan; and Ivy, an itinerant farmer’s child. Their personal struggles are set against some of the darkest eras in human history: Friedrich, the rise of Nazi Germany; Mike, the Great Depression; Ivy, World War II. The children are linked by musical talent and the hand of fate that brings Otto’s harmonica into their lives. Each recognizes something unusual about the instrument, not only its sound but its power to fill them with courage and hope. Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy are brought together by music and destiny in an emotionally triumphant conclusion at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Meticulous historical detail and masterful storytelling frame the larger history, while the story of Otto and the cursed sisters honor timeless and traditional folktales. Ryan has created three contemporary characters who, through faith and perseverance, write their own happy endings, inspiring readers to believe they can do the same.–Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

redstarStanley, Diane. The Chosen Prince. 368p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Harper. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062248978.
Gr 5-8–Stanley’s newest fantasy, set in ancient Greece, is a bittersweet delight. Prince Alexos learns early that being the champion of a goddess does not make for an easy life. Alexos is destined to bring about reconciliation between battling gods, Athene and Zeus, if he can survive a childhood filled with near-impossible challenge and little joy, except for his love of running and his little brother Teo. However, by the age of 12, even these are lost to him. As he struggles to regain the use of his legs and recover from causing the death of his beloved brother, Alexos learns from a wise mentor, develops relationships with people from all levels of society, and becomes a force for good. At the same time, he is comforted by visions of his brother in the land of the dead, living an idyllic life with a new father and sister. However, the protagonist soon learns that all is not as it seems. Alexos is a strong character, capable of accepting and adapting to change, even as he struggles with heartbreak and almost insurmountable odds. Other characters—especially the court physician Suliman and Teo’s new sister Aria—are equally well done. The language is lyrical and accessible, and the end is satisfying in the extreme.–Mara Alpert, Los Angeles Public Library

Graphic Novels

redstarJAMIESON, Victoria. Roller Girl. illus. by Victoria Jamieson. 240p. Dial. Mar. 2015. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780803740167; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780698190610.
Gr 4-8–Twelve-year-old Astrid realizes that her interests are distinctly different from those of her best friend. Mesmerized while viewing a roller derby, she dreams of becoming a “Roller Girl” but discovers that the sport is considerably more daunting than she imagined and is not without physical, social, and emotional pain. Nevertheless, Astrid is determined to succeed. While this graphic novel provides interesting information about the sport, at its heart it is a story of friendship, exploring the tensions which test the girls’ relationship as they move from childhood to adolescence. Astrid learns to be honest with herself, her mother, and her friends through a series of stressful events. The graphic novelist employs several excellent visual devices: angles to denote action and effective placement and space within panels. Jamieson’s clever use of imagery is noteworthy. For example, desert and prehistoric depictions are used to suggest exaggerated perceptions of elapsed time. Her clothes shopping “hell” sequence is spot-on. Panels with stick figures are employed for comments, notes, and explanations. A prologue effectively frames the story and the realistic style with full-color art is reminiscent of the work of Raina Telgemeier. While at times some panels are a bit text-dense, the story will engage readers who will identify with Astrid as she deals with frustrations and disappointments. It will especially appeal to those whose aspirations fly in the face of convention. Offer this comic to fans of Telgemeier’s Smile (Scholastic, 2010) and Laura Lee Gulledge’s Page by Paige (Abrams, 2011).–Barbara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue:


Amateau, Gigi. Dante of the Maury River. 320p. (Horses of the Maury River). ebook available. Candlewick. Apr. 2015. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763670047. LC 2014945450.

Carriger, Gail. Waistcoats and Weaponry. 304p. (Finishing School: Bk. 3). Little, Brown. 2014. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316190275; ebk. ISBN 9780316279611.

Dickens, Charles. Steampunk: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. illus. by Zdenko Basic. 204p. Running Pr. Teen. 2014. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9780762450909. LC 2014942243.

Eagland, Jane. The World Within: A Novel of Emily Brontë. 336p. ebook available. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545492959. LC 2014004667.

Gavin, Rohan. K-9. 320p. (Knightley and Son: Bk. 2). Bloomsbury. Feb. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781619634947; ebk. $8.99. ISBN 9781408851449.

Green, Tim. Lost Boy. 304p. HarperCollins. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062317087.

Greenwald, Tommy. Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting! (And Lives to Tell About It.). illus. by J.P. Coovert. 240p. (Charlie Joe Jackson). Roaring Brook. Feb. 2015. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781596438378.

Hill, Kirkpatrick. Bo at Iditarod Creek. illus. by LeUyen Pham. 288p. ebook available. Macmillan. Dec. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780805093520.

Johnstone, Ian. The Bell Between Worlds. 512p. (The Mirror Chronicles). HarperCollins Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780007491223; ebk. $13.99. ISBN 9780007491247.

Kerr, Esme. The Girl with the Glass Bird. 272p. Scholastic/Chicken House. Apr. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545699846; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545699853. LC 2014014422.

Kuhlman, Evan. Great Ball of Light. illus. by Jeremy Holmes. 304p. S. & S./Atheneum. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781416964612; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442426610.

Lowe, Natasha. The Courage of Cat Campbell. 288p. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481418706; ebk. ISBN 9781481418720.

Lupica, Mike. The Only Game. 320p. (Home Team: Bk. 1). S. & S. Feb. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481409957; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481409971.

Machado, Ana Maria. Until the Day Arrives. tr. from Portuguese by Jane Springer. 152p. House of Anansi/Groundwood. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781554984558; ebk. $14.95. ISBN 9781554984572.

Miller, Jeff. Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind. 272p. (The Nerdy Dozen: Bk. 2). HarperCollins. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062272652; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062272676.

Nielsen, Jennifer A. Mark of the Thief. 352p. ebook available. Scholastic. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545561549.

Nye, Alex. Chill. 208p. ISBN 9781782501497.

––––. Shiver. 248p. ISBN 9781782501503.

ea vol: Floris. 2014. pap. $9.95.

Smale, Holly. Geek Girl. 384p. ebook available. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062333575; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062333599.

Snicket, Lemony. “Shouldn’t You Be in School?” illus. by Seth. 336p. (All the Wrong Questions: Bk. 3). Little, Brown. 2014. Tr $16.00. ISBN 9780316123068. LC 2014933203.

Sonnichsen, A.L. Red Butterfly. 400p. S. & S. Feb. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481411097; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481411110. LC 2013050300.

Spencer, Octavia. The Sweetest Heist in History. 224p. (Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective: Bk. 2). ebook available. S. & S. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442476844. LC 2014000792.

Stratford, Jordan. The Case of the Missing Moonstone. illus. by Kelly Murphy. 240p. (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: Bk. 1). ebook available. Knopf. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385754408; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385754415.

Thor, Annika. Deep Sea. tr. from Swedish by Linda Schenck. 240p. Delacorte. Jan. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385743853; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780375991325; ebk. ISBN 9780385371346. LC 2014005586.

Torday, Piers. The Dark Wild. 352p. Viking. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670015559.

Webb, Holly. Rose and the Magician’s Mask. 211p. (Rose: Bk. 3). Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. 2014. Tr $6.99. ISBN 9781492604303.


This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.