March 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Audio Xpress Reviews | September 2016

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For more of this month’s
Xpress Reviews:

Bavis, Cyril. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. 1 CD. 6 min. Dreamscape. Jan. 2016. $14.99. ISBN 9781682629161.

PreS-K –Based on the 1797 poem written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and made famous as one of the segments of Disney’s Fantasia, the story features Tiernan, the apprentice, who is chosen by the Sorcerer because of his “hidden gifts.” Tiernan’s job at the castle is cleaning and organizing, though he is fascinated by magic and studies spells when he can. When the Sorcerer leaves Tiernan alone for the first time, Tiernan resorts to magic to help him accomplish the final task: sweeping and mopping. However, the magic goes terribly wrong. The bucket won’t stop dumping water on the floor, and the castle is in danger of being destroyed. The Sorcerer returns at just the right moment, and all is saved. Although Tiernan fears the worst, the Sorcerer respects his courage and creativity, acknowledging that the young apprentice’s gifts could cause him trouble but also, if used well, might serve to make him great. Nicholas Mondelli provides a soothing and melodic narration. VERDICT This simplified and abbreviated version of the classic story is ideal for a very young audience.–Terri Perper, Olney Elementary School, MD

Cavanaugh, Nancy J. Just Like Me. 4 CDs. 4:25 hrs. Dreamscape. Apr. 2016. $29.99. ISBN 9781520005928. 1 MP3-CD.

Gr 4-7 –Julia is headed for a week of summer camp, but she’s not looking forward to it, especially since she has to keep a journal for her adoption agency that she would rather forget about. She may have been born in a Chinese orphanage, but that doesn’t have anything to do with her life now. She, Becca, and Avery were all at the orphanage together, but that’s where their similarities end. Once at camp, though, Julia discovers that they might just have more in common than she thought. This coming-of-age tale is perfect for those struggling with their identities. The mean girl characters begin more as caricatures than real people, but they do become more three-dimensional as the story progresses. The narrative touches on divorce and foster care, as well as adoption. It’s a religious camp, but the only references to Christianity are several mentions of having a Bible and one short discussion of a Bible verse. Cassandra Morris narrates, bringing all the characters to life. VERDICT Those looking to add diversity to their shelves will find this fits the bill. [“Filled with slapstick humor and fast-paced action, the novel will engage reluctant readers, while offering fuel for deep contemplation by those ready to tackle questions of identity and belonging”: SLJ 1/16 review of the Sourcebooks Jabberwocky book.]–Elizabeth Elsbree, Krug Elementary School, Aurora, IL

Gibbons, Gail. The Reasons for Seasons. 1 CD. 12 min. Dreamscape. Feb. 2016. $14.99. ISBN 9781682621370.

PreS-Gr 2 –Gibbons has a knack for concisely condensing complex science concepts. Here, she breaks down the seasons, solstices, and equinoxes, as well as how living creatures behave in relation to the seasons. Chris Lutkin reads efficiently and with precise elocution. However, those trying to pair the recording with the printed book (Holiday House, 1995) will find that the recording doesn’t always match the book’s text word for word and that the narrator intermixes the captions with the text. In some parts, it’s a challenge even for experienced readers to follow how his narration moves around the page. Additionally, the simplicity of the scientific illustrations and surprising lack of diversity—residents of the tropical regions along the equator are depicted with light gray skin—in the print book add little to the text. Unremarkable music ebbs and flows amid the narration, supported by basic sound effects: blowing wind, buzzy snoring, falling rain. VERDICT This is introductory information presented in utilitarian fashion, but it does its job. [“Gibbons seems to know just what teachers need to fill that open niche in their curriculum plans”: SLJ 5/95 review of the Holiday House book.]–Jennifer Verbrugge, Minnesota Department of Education, State Library Services, Roseville

HADDIX, Margaret Peterson. Redeemed. (The Missing: Bk. 8). 8 CDs. 9:30 hrs. Recorded Books. 2016. $87.75. ISBN 9781501909412.

Gr 9 Up –In this series conclusion, novice time traveler Jordan deals with elucidators, nasty villains plotting destruction, time agency spies, and the enigmatic character Second Chance while coming to terms with the reality of his identical twin, Jonah, and the lives they lived in different dimensions of time. There are frequent references to previous story lines and characters as well as sundry historical events and figures, including the Middle Ages, the Russian Romanov family, and the Great Depression. Haddix ties together all the books and creates a resolution that answers many questions. Jonah, Katherine, and Jordan are told there will be no more time travel yet are secretly bequeathed an amazing gift. Chris Sorensen’s narration is superb. VERDICT Science, math, history, and logic blend together into a fast-paced, whirlwind story that will delight fans of the series.–Patricia Ann Owens, formerly at Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, Mt. Carmel

Hale, Shannon. The Princess in Black, Books 1-3. 1 CD. 56 min. Listening Library. Feb. 2016. $15. ISBN 97801735209930. digital download.

K-Gr 3 –When her monster alarm ring goes off, Princess Magnolia trades her fluffy princess dresses for her Princess in Black disguise. With the help of her faithful unicorn, Frimplepants, she fights the creatures from Monster Land. Will Magnolia be able to keep her secret while juggling her princess duties and defeating monsters great and small? Can she stop the monsters from destroying her kingdom? Narrator Julia Whelan’s fun and engaging narrative style brings Princess Magnolia to life. Her pace is perfect, keeping listeners engaged and allowing those with a copy of the print books to read along. The installments, The Princess in Black, The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party, and The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde, set a new standard for well-written early reader chapter books. Princess Magnolia is a lovable and refreshingly strong character. VERDICT Listeners who want to be a princess and a superhero will love listening to this audiobook.–Jessica Moody, Olympus Junior High, Holladay, UT

McGOVERN, Cammie. Just My Luck. 5 CDs. 5:06 hrs. HarperAudio. Feb. 2016. $29.99. ISBN 9781504695893. digital download.

Gr 3-7 –Benny’s father endures long-lasting effects when he suffers a brain aneurysm. Benny’s life was already tough: his brother George, who has autism, requires special attention; Benny’s best friend moved away, and making new friends hasn’t been easy. Now with his father’s recovery uncertain, the whole family is facing the toughest time ever. Meanwhile, at school, a new program encouraging random acts of kindness awards kids with named footprints displayed on walls, and Benny feels like he’s the only kid who isn’t getting any recognition, no matter how hard he tries. Through LEGO-populated films, a homemade carnival, and a well-placed literary homage, McGovern—herself the mother of a son with autism and here making her middle grade debut—deftly propels Benny toward awareness of his own resilient, amazing soul. Eternally youthful-voiced narrator Kirby Heyborne effortlessly imbues the characters with multifaceted personalities. VERDICT An ideal acquisition for all libraries, especially for summer but recommended for any season. [“Recommend this sensitive novel to fans of Lisa Graff’s Absolutely Almost (Philomel, 2014) and Rob Buyea’s Because of Mr. Terupt (Delacorte, 2010)”: SLJ 12/15 review of the HarperCollins book.]–Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC

Pearson, Ridley. Disney Lands. (The Return: Bk. 1). 6 CDs. 7:11 hrs. Brilliance. Mar. 2016. $49.97. ISBN 9781511325462. 1 MP3-CD.

Gr 5-8 –With the defeat of the Overtakers behind them, the five teenagers known as the Kingdom Keepers have their futures set. Finn, however, has a nagging feeling that not everything is as it seems. The fountain pen the teens used to save the Magic Kingdom is not on the archive list for Walt Disney’s desk. When he finds some coded messages from his late friend Wayne, Finn realizes that there is an unknown evil trying to destroy the Magic Kingdom, but the other Kingdom Keepers don’t believe him. Can Finn convince them that danger remains? Macleod Andrews’s original narrative style brings Finn’s world to life. Andrews easily navigates between the past and present and seamlessly flows between action and dialogue scenes. VERDICT Listeners who love fantasy, adventure, and mystery will enjoy this fast-paced book. And though it is the first book in a spin-off series, this opener will especially appeal to fans of the author’s “Kingdom Keepers” books.–Jessica Moody, Olympus Junior High, Holladay, UT

Potter, Ellen. Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: Too Much Good Luck. 1 CD w pb book. 58 min. Live Oak. Nov. 2015. $20.95. ISBN 9781430120117.

Gr 1-3 –Piper Green is an inquisitive and imaginative girl who lives on Peek-a-boo Island with her mother, father, and brother, Leo. Piper rides a lobster boat to school, and she and her friend Jacob stay on deck while the other island children ride below with the captain. Piper tells everyone she meets that she is having a lucky day. Her mother is painting her bedroom lime green, Piper has found the perfect strawberry for breakfast, and she has lost a tooth. But when she gets to her classroom, class pet Nacho is gone and a new student with an allergy to rabbits has taken his place. Is Piper’s luck turning? Is this what happens when one has too much good luck? Piper Green, a girl who vocalizes many heartfelt childhood sentiments, is an endearing character. Narrator Tavia Gilbert creates a winsome voice for Piper and convincing voices for the other characters in the story. VERDICT Will appeal to a variety of young readers.–Mary Lee Bulat, Harwinton Public Library, CT

Starmer, Aaron. The Storyteller. (The Riverman Trilogy: Bk. 3). 8 CDs. 8:45 hrs. Recorded Books. Mar. 2016. $87.75. ISBN 9781490616339. digital download.

Gr 5-8 –Eighth grader Keri Cleary is trying to have a normal life—hanging out with her best friend and spending time with her first boyfriend. But after a tumultuous night when a friend is found shot, two other friends go missing, and her sixth grade brother Alistair is shocked speechless, Keri’s life goes into turmoil. To try to stay grounded, she begins to write fantastical stories in her diary. When her brother begins talking again, he tells her about his experiences in another dimension, which parallel what has happened in Keri’s stories. Listeners are treated to multiple narratives at the same time—the stories that Keri creates, the ones Alistair relates, and the realistic life of Keri and Alistair. Are Keri’s tales influenced by what her brother tells her, or is he reading her diary and making up similar stories? Erin Moon narrates with her fresh, youthful voice, competently differentiating among characters and shining when it comes to offbeat ones: monsters, weird creatures, and valley girls. Because so much of the work is built on what has happened in the two previous books, this is not an easy stand-alone. VERDICT Recommended only where the other parts of the trilogy are popular. [“Fans of fantasy and realistic fiction alike will find something to love about this book, in which narrative ambiguity has never been so well leveraged”: SLJ 2/16 starred review of the Farrar book.]–Julie Paladino, formerly at East Chapel Hill High School, NC

redstarWALTER, Jon. My Name Is Not Friday. 9:56 hrs. Scholastic Audio. Jan. 2016. $19.50. ISBN 9780545911061. digital download.

Gr 7 Up –Samuel, almost 13, and his younger brother Joshua are orphans but born free and growing up educated. During the Civil War’s final year, Samuel takes the blame for mischief that he’s convinced that Joshua committed, and finds himself betrayed by the priest who has raised him. He’s stripped of everything familiar and renamed Friday—for the day he’s auctioned off as a plantation slave. As much as he suffers and witnesses the degrading abuse of others, Samuel shares moments of deep connection with fellow slaves and even with the young master. Throughout his captivity, Samuel never stops making good-behavior bargains with God to keep Joshua safe until their promised reunion. British author Walter’s second remarkable novel arrives from across the pond to entertain, enlighten, and inspire stateside readers about their own American past. Narrator Dion Graham elevates the written word with a mesmerizing performance. VERDICT A multilayered epic that weaves together history and humanity while confronting the elusive grays between right and wrong, this work proves to be a significant, resonating addition to the Civil War canon for middle grade audiences. [“Lyrically written historical novel”: SLJ 11/15 starred review of the Scholastic/David Fickling book.]–Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC


This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.