Sunday, January 15, 2017

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea - Ben Clanton

Title: Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea
Author: Ben Clanton
Publisher: Tundra Books, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 64 pages
Genre: Children's Graphic Novel
Started: January 12, 2017
Finished: January 12, 2017

Summary:
From the publisher's website:

Narwhal is a happy-go-lucky narwhal. Jelly is a no-nonsense jellyfish. The two might not have a lot in common, but they do love waffles, parties, and adventures. Join Narwhal and Jelly as they discover the whole wide ocean together.

A wonderfully silly early graphic novel series featuring three stories. In the first, Jelly learns that Narwhal is a really good friend. Then Narwhal and Jelly form their own pod of awesomeness with their ocean friends. And finally, Narwhal and Jelly read the best book ever - even though it doesn't have any words...or pictures!

Ben Clanton showcases the joys of friendship, the benefits of working together, and the power of imagination in the delightful Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea.

Review:
So. Stinkin'. Cute. That's pretty much my final thought on this little comic.

This is perfect for young readers: it has very simple, large text, and the characters are adorable and endearing in the way that most children's characters are. The author even includes some real facts about narwhals and jellyfish amidst the fun little romp of a story. This concept won't appeal to most kids once they hit the age of around 11-12, but for the younger set (or adults looking for something utterly charming), this is a great title to pick up, it's hard to resist the utter cuteness.



Recommendation:
A perfect first graphic novel for primary classrooms.

Thoughts on the cover:
This is pretty much indicative of the entire book, cute and silly.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Headstrong - Rachel Swaby

Title: Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the World
Author: Rachel Swaby
Publisher: Broadway Books, 2015 (Paperback)
Length: 263 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction
Started: January 6, 2017
Finished: January 11, 2017

Summary:
From the back cover:

In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children." It wasn't until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the New York Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and she had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary - and subsequent outcry - prompted were, who are the role models for today's female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?

Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day. Rachel Swaby's vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one's ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they're best known. This fascinating tour reveals these fifty-two women at their best - while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.

Review:
This was one of my Christmas presents that I finally got around to reading. This is a great nonfiction title that classrooms should have, especially for those trying to encourage girls to pursue a future in the STEM fields.

The author had a few main principles in mind when writing this book. She wanted to explore women whose life's work has already been completed, so she didn't include any important female scientists that are still living. She also doesn't include Marie Curie, because she's the first one to come to mind when anyone thinks of women in science (she does highlight her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, though). The author categorizes the women according to their scientific disciplines: Medicine, Biology and the Environment, Genetics and Development, Physics, Earth and Stars, Math and Technology, and Invention. She includes a good variety of female scientists from different nationalities, though a little heavy on the Americans at times. I'm seriously glad a book like this exists, because though I recognized the names of a few of the women included here, the majority were ones I had never heard of. This is a great little history lesson not just on science, but on gender issues throughout the modern era.

Recommendations:
A great read for anyone with an interest in science or gender, and also makes a great reference book for girls wanting to enter STEM fields.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the little bubbles that alternate between random colours and the head shots of some of the women included in the book (she identifies each one on the back of the front cover).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Orphan's Tale - Pam Jenoff

Title: The Orphan's Tale
Author: Pam Jenoff
Publisher: Mira Books, February 21, 2017 (Hardcover) (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: January 5, 2017
Finished: January 5, 2017

Summary:
From the inside cover:

The Nightingale meets Water for Elephants in this powerful novel of friendship and survival, set in a traveling circus during World War II.

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep. When Noa discovers boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she steals one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another - or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

Review:
'Tis the season for 2017 ARCs! I actually received this one right before Christmas and with winter break almost over I decided it was a good time to get lost in a great piece of historical fiction.

After the occupation of her native Holland, Noa is impregnated by a Nazi soldier and disowned by her parents. Hoping that her Aryan colouring will help her child to be adopted by a German family, her baby is taken from her after birth, and Noa immediately regrets the decision. Months later, she encounters a railway car full of Jewish babies, and longing for the son she was forced to surrender, she rescues a baby when the soldiers aren't looking. She is rescued from the cold by members of a travelling circus who agree to take her and the baby in if she is willing to be their new aerialist. Astrid, who is a Jew in hiding at the circus after being abandoned by her SS husband, is ordered to train Noa with a six-week deadline. Astrid initially looks at Noa in disdain due to her age and inexperience, but grows to view the younger woman as a sister after seeing her determination on the trapeze and discovers that baby Theo isn't Noa's brother as she claims. Noa bonds with Astrid, seeing the older woman love and care for her and Theo in a way her own mother could not. As the circus prepares to go on the road into France, Noa and Astrid view this as an opportunity to escape Germany and find sanctuary, but France in 1944 is still under Nazi control, and as SS soldiers visit the circus and things unravel around them, the two women struggle to keep the other (and baby Theo) alive.

I read the first 200 pages in one sitting, this book grabbed my attention and didn't let go. Noa is portrayed very sympathetically, as is Astrid. I particularly enjoyed how the author explored how both women struggle to trust men after being betrayed and disappointed by their prior love interests (the solider for Noa, and Astrid's husband Erich), I think many readers will be able to relate to that. The novel is well-written and the author manages the alternating narration between Noa and Astrid incredibly well, each voice is clearly distinct and there's no confusion about who is speaking when you move from chapter to chapter. The backdrop of the Holocaust will attract many readers just for that, and the author includes an historical note at the end of the novel (as well as a reader's guide, I love when publishers/authors include those). Even I (as someone who claims to be pretty well-versed in that time period) learned something about the true history that inspired the novel, but I feel there are so many facets of WWII history that you can always uncover something new that you had no clue existed.

Recommendation:
Read this when it comes out in February, then loan it to all your friends so you can spread the love of this wonderful novel (this is going to be a book club favourite, I can tell). It's well-written, with relatable, sympathetic, and admirable female characters that will stay with you long after you finish the book. This is my first novel by this author and the experience makes me want to look up all her other historical fiction novels (all similarly set in WWII).

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how the image focuses on the train since they feature prominently in the novel. The winter setting is foreboding, but calm; it sets the mood nicely.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Original Ginny Moon - Benjamin Ludwig

Title: The Original Ginny Moon
Author: Benjamin Ludwig
Publisher: Park Row Books, May 2, 2017 (Hardcover) (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 360 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: December 30, 2016
Finished: December 31, 2016

Summary:
From Amazon.com:

Meet Ginny Moon. She's mostly your average teenager - she plays flute in the school band, has weekly basketball practice, and reads Robert Frost poems for English class. But Ginny is autistic. And so what's important to her might seem a bit...different: starting every day with exactly nine grapes for breakfast, Michael Jackson,  taking care of her baby doll, ad crafting a Big Secret Plan of Escape.

Ginny has been in foster care for years, and for the first time in her life, she has found her "forever home" - a place where she'll be safe and protected, with a family who will love and nurture her. Though this is exactly the kind of home that all foster kids are hoping for, Ginny has other plans. She'll steal and lie and reach across her past to exploit the good intentions of those who love her - anything it takes to get back what's missing in her life. She'll even try to get herself kidnapped.

Told in an extraordinary and wholly original voice, The Original Ginny Moon is at once quirky, charming, bighearted, poignant, and yet also heartbreaking and a bit dark. It's a story of a journey, about being an outsider trying to find a place to belong, and about making sense of a world that doesn't seem to add up.

Review:
Whoo boy, this baby will surely be one of the big hits of 2017, the hype surrounding this is certainly well-deserved. I read the first 300 pages nearly in one sitting, it captured my attention right from the beginning, and Ginny is the reason.

Ginny is fourteen and autistic. She was recently adopted by Brian and Maura Moon, her "Forever Parents" and lives in the Blue House. She goes to school and plays Special Olympics basketball, loves Michael Jackson, and must have exactly nine grapes at breakfast. Because she was nine years old when she was removed from her birth mother's care due to physical abuse and neglect, which led to a string of foster homes that she ran away from before being adopted by her Forever Parents. Maura is expecting a baby soon, so Ginny is given an electronic baby doll to practice caring for her Forever Sister, but when Ginny stuffs the electronic baby in a suitcase to stop it from crying, her Forever Parents resume Ginny's sessions with Patrice, the attachment therapist. What follows is an amazing look into the mind of an autistic child dealing with the trauma of the loss of a parent and trying to figure out exactly where she belongs and what her role is after the upheaval she's experienced.

As someone who actually has experience in the foster and adoption system, one thing I'll say is that the author has captured the experiences of a child from this system so well in Ginny. Plus there's the added effect of her autism on those experiences, so it's like a double whammy of not only the trauma but Ginny trying to express herself properly and not always being able to. He includes little details that really signify that he not only knows this world but inhabits it: Ginny will hoard food not only for herself but for her Baby Doll, because she's not accustomed to having a dependable person around to actually provide it. She's obsessed with her Baby Doll because she was in a caregiver role at a very early age. She's not always comfortable around men due to Gloria's choice of abusive male figures.

One thing that doesn't fit in this whole scenario is that in my province, Ginny's adoption wouldn't have even been allowed to proceed due to Maura's pregnancy. We have an 18-month time period rule between adoptions or birth of children, so since Maura was already pregnant when the adoption was in the works, Brian and Maura wouldn't have been able to adopt Ginny until Baby Wendy turned 18 months old. We have this rule for issues of attachment, which would've prevented the problems in the book from escalating the way they did. But I appreciate that the author included that really low period in this book, because it shows that adoption isn't sunshine and rainbows, especially for kids from traumatic backgrounds with attachment issues....add in special needs and you've hit adoption bingo right there.

Moving away from the adoption aspect of the novel, the book flows really well and doesn't lag or have any slow periods that detract from the story in my opinion. Ginny is an amazingly well-developed character, and her voice as the narrator gives us a unique look inside her mind, which just makes me want to alternatively hug her and shake some sense into her (knowing quite well that shaking wouldn't work on an autistic child, but I think you get my meaning). You can't help but root for her, she's portrayed so sympathetically that even when she does negative things you know the reasoning behind it, you just want to be the poor kid's cheerleader.

Recommendation: 
Buy this book when it releases in May, borrow it from the library, pass it on to friends, this one will be talked about widely and for good reason. As a teacher who has had the privilege of teaching autistic children and someone with experience in the foster/adoption system, this book really hits home and should be a must-read for anyone working with children in either system.

Thoughts on the cover:
It employs Ginny's favourite colour, which I think she would approve of. I like the little detail of her backpack at the bottom and Ginny's silhouette poking out of the O in the title.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goldie Vance - Hope Larson, Brittney Williams, and Sarah Stern

Title: Goldie Vance Volume One
Author: Hope Larson, Brittney Williams, Sarah Stern
Publisher: BOOM! Box, 2016 (Paperback)
Length: 112 pages
Genre: Children's/Young Adult; Graphic Novel, Mystery
Started: December 31, 2016
Finished: December 31, 2016

Summary:
From the back cover:

Sixteen-year-old Marigold "Goldie" Vance has an insatiable curiosity. She lives at a Florida resort with her dad, who manages the place, and it's her dream to one day become the hotel's in-house detective. When Walter, the current detective, encounters a case he can't crack, together they utilize her smarts, skills, and connections to solve the mystery...even if it means getting into a drag race, solving puzzles, or chasing a helicopter to do it!

New York Times bestselling and Eisner Award-winning writer Hope Larson (A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel) and artist Brittney Williams (Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!) present the newest gal sleuth on the block with Goldie Vance, an exciting, whodunnit adventure that mixes the fun of Eloise with the charm of Lumberjanes.

Review:
This is a cute little mystery story with an awesome retro feel to it, kind of like a more modern day, diverse version of Nancy Drew.

Taking place in the Cold War era, Goldie works at her dad's resort doing odd jobs around the place like parking cars, but she really shines in her detective work. Smart, spunky, and persistent, Goldie manages to crack cases that Walter (the red-headed guy on the cover) can't, with the help of her friend Cheryl (the girl on the left).

Not only is the comic kid-friendly, it's funny, and has a wonderfully diverse cast of characters (racially, sexually, and in terms of body types). I picked this up purely for the representation I had hoped it showcased just based on the cover, so it's worth picking up for that fact alone, but the story itself won't disappoint either.

Recommendation:
If you're looking for a kid-friendly graphic novel focused on witty mysteries with diverse characters, you've got it here with Goldie Vance.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the showcase of the characters in their bright 1950s clothes against the yellow background, it really makes things pop.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Star-Touched Queen - Roshani Chokshi

Title: The Star-Touched Queen
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: December 12, 2016
Finished: December 17, 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father's kingdom. While Maya is content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran's queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar's wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire...

But Akaran has its own secrets - thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most...including herself.

A lush and vivid story that is seeped in Indian folklore and mythology, The Star-Touched Queen is a novel that no reader will soon forget.

Review:
I had picked this up once before earlier in the year and didn't have a chance to read it due to work being insane at the time. Thankfully I did pick it up again or else I would've missed an incredibly gorgeous novel.

Mayavati is the daughter of the Raja of Bharata, and unfortunately for her, she was born with a horrifying horoscope in a place that is very superstitious. Shunned at worst and tolerated at best, Maya spends her days spying on the politics of court sessions that the harem wives or other daughters would never be allowed to see. When her father decides to use her as bait to lure all their enemy countries to Bharata under the pretence of choosing a suitor, Maya is rescued from the burning palace by the mysterious Amar, who offers her not only the sun, moon, and stars; but also a relationship between equals. When Maya suspects that her life is in danger in Akaran and that Amar has been keeping secrets from her, she makes a decision that reveals her unknown past, after which she endeavours to restore her now broken world.

This story reminded me a lot of the fairy tales of East of the Sun, West of the Moon (and others based on it) since Maya marries a man she doesn't know much about who asks her to trust him and not snoop around for information essentially. She doesn't trust him (honestly I can't blame her) and discovers something that completely unravels the order of things and she goes on a journey to save her husband.

This book is impeccably written. The prose is beautiful and dreamy and just plain gorgeous. This is almost always a good thing, but in this case I found the prose to be flowery to the point where I got wrapped up in the imagery being presented and actually didn't catch everything that was going on in the plot. This isn't a huge detriment overall in my opinion because I am fully content to just waltz along with dreamy prose and ignore the plot (more of enjoying the journey rather than the destination kind of idea), but others might have more of an issue with it than me. The first part of the book where Maya is adjusting to life in Akaran was much more exciting in my opinion than the second part after things go horribly wrong and she's trying to fix everything. The romance between Amar and Maya is well done, and the (SPOILERS!) reincarnation aspect excuses any insta-love accusations I would have heaped on this. The world inspired by Indian mythology and folklore is simply amazing, and one I wish more authors would experiment with in their works.

Recommendation:
A work of pure beauty, amazingly well-written with unique world-building that will leave you spell-bound.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the juxtaposition between the image of the palace at sunrise at the top of the cover with the night sky filled with stars on the bottom and Maya in the middle.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Canada Year by Year - Elizabeth MacLeod

Title: Canada Year by Year
Author: Elizabeth MacLeod
Publisher: Kids Can Press, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 93 pages
Genre: Children's Nonfiction
Started: December 8, 2016
Finished: December 9, 2016

Summary: 
From the inside cover:

At the stroke of midnight on July 1, 1867, Canada was born! Each year has a story to tell...

1881 - Construction begins on a railway that will link the country from coast to coast.

1891 - Canadian James Naismith invents basketball.

1918 - Most women are granted the vote in the country's federal elections.

1932 - Superman is born - not on Krypton, but in the mind of Toronto-born Joe Shuster.

1946 - Viola Desmond of Nova Scotia takes a stand against racial inequality.

1959 - Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens popularizes the goalie mask in pro hockey.

1977 - Willie Adams is appointed the first Inuk senator.

1984 - Astronaut Marc Garmeau of Quebec rockets into space.

1999 - Nunavut becomes the country's newest territory.

2017 - Canada celebrates its 150th birthday!

A unique look at Canadian history, Canada Year by Year captures these milestones and many more in ten chapters filled with sidebars, biographies, quotes, trivia and engaging illustrations. It's the story of the people, places and events that have shaped the country - one year at a time.

Review:
I'm always looking to expand my collection of non-fiction books for kids, especially on Canadian history since most kids find it boring as heck (not that I blame them, our history can be pretty dull at times). This book lists every year, starting from Confederation in 1867, and gives one major event that defines that year. The book is sorted into chapters centred on each 10-20 year period. There are tons of illustrations and tidbits of information in the sidebars, and information on difficult issues such as residential schools and Japanese-Canadian Internment is explained clearly and in an age-appropriate way.

Recommendation:
A must-have for classrooms or home libraries, it makes a great little reference book and educates our kids on milestone events in Canadian history.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the illustration style, and the illustrator makes sure to depict diverse individuals throughout the book.