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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

And Then the Sky Exploded - David A. Poulsen

Title: And Then The Sky Exploded
Author: David A. Poulsen
Publisher: Dundurn Press, 2016 (Paperback)
Length: 206 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction
Started: December 5, 2016
Finished: December 7, 2016

From the back cover:

While attending the funeral of his great-grandfather, ninth-grader Christian Larkin learns that the man he loved and respected was a member of the Manhattan Project, the team that designed and created the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during the Second World War.

On a school trip to Japan, Chris meets eighty-one-year-old Yuko, who was eleven when the first bomb exploded over Hiroshima, horribly injuring her. Christian is determined to do something to make up for what his great-grandfather did. But after all this time, what can one teenager really do? His friends tell him it's a stupid idea, that there's nothing he can do. And maybe they're right. Or maybe, just maybe...they're wrong.

The first thing that caught my eye about this one was that the author is Canadian (yay Canada!). The second thing was that this book is similar to The Blue Helmet where the author uses a modern day teenage boy's experiences to explore a difficult aspect of history.

Christian is fourteen and your typical teenage boy. His great-grandfather, whom he calls GG Will, just passed away, and Christian is incredibly intrigued when he witnesses a group of protestors outside the funeral home. Not getting any answers from his parents, he is tipped off by a school bully and discovers through his own research that his grandfather was a scientist for the Manhattan Project. It's difficult for Christian to reconcile the idea that his beloved GG Will helped engineer a weapon that was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. When he has an opportunity to travel to Japan, he feels a deep need to make amends for the actions of his great-grandfather, and when he meets elderly Yuko in Hiroshima, he actually gets the chance to do so.

As a teacher, this book is the perfect novel to teach in applied classes: it's short, the language isn't overly difficult or clunky, it's relatable, and manages to tackle a difficult subject in a heartfelt, poignant way. The author did his homework: the petition Carson mentions actually does exist (students can google it), the details about Japan are spot-on, and he manages to capture the Japanese spirit in regards to the sentiment of war. There are a few drawbacks though. The first half of the novel moves fairly slowly but it picks up substantially once Christian is actually in Japan. The incident with the protestors is not really believable in my opinion (most people can't even name the scientists of the Manhattan Project let alone care enough to protest at their funeral), and the airport in question that Christian and Zaina are trying to navigate unsuccessfully due to not knowing Japanese actually has English on all signage and is quite easy to navigate even if you don't know a word of Japanese.

A wonderful novel study choice for applied classrooms due to its ability to tackle difficult subject matter in an approachable way.

Thoughts on the cover:
Strangely appealing but it works here.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Irena's Children: Young Readers Edition; A True Story of Courage - Tilar J. Mazzeo, Mary Cronk Farrell

Title: Irena's Children: Young Readers Edition; A True Story of Courage
Author: Tilar J. Mazzeo, Mary Cronk Farrell
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 242 pages
Genre: Children's/Young Adult; Non-Fiction
Started: November 29, 2016
Finished: December 2, 2016

From the inside cover:

This young readers edition of Irena's Children tells the incredible untold story of Irena Sendler, a courageous Polish woman now nicknamed "the female Oskar Schindler" who saved the lives of 2,500 children during one of the worst times in modern history. With guts of steel and unfaltering bravery, Irena smuggled children out of the walled Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. She put them in toolboxes and coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through the dank sewers and into secret passages that led to abandoned  buildings, where she convinced her friends and underground resistance network to hide them.

In this heroic tale of survival and resilience in the face of impossible odds, New York Times bestselling author Tilar J. Mazzeo and adapter Mary Cronk Farrell share the true story of this bold and brave woman, overlooked by history, who risked her life to save innocent children from the horrors of the Holocaust.

I was first introduced to Irena Sendler through films and documentaries a few years ago, and now many of my co-workers use her in conjunction with Schindler to teach students about acts of resistance and bravery during the Holocaust.

This is an adaptation of the author's original book intended for a younger audience. I won't necessarily say its middle grade because I think your average ten-year-old would have issues navigating this book (just in terms of the difficulty of the content), but I think a mature twelve or thirteen-year-old or older wouldn't have a problem. The book begins with the occupation of Poland in 1939 and introduces us to Irena, a social worker collaborating with co-workers to forge records allowing for poor Jewish families to qualify for welfare benefits where they otherwise wouldn't. When Germany invades and occupies Poland forces the Jewish population of Warsaw into the ghetto, Irena eventually realizes that the Germans intend to eradicate them and begins to make plans to smuggle children out of the ghetto to safety.

The author really did their research, there's so many details that you don't see in the films included here, including information on Irena from the post-war period. This is a great resource showing exactly the risks she took to do what she did, perfect for teaching solidarity and social justice.

A wonderful text geared for younger readers about a modern day hero that is often overlooked in history.

Thoughts on the cover:
Interesting choice using a drawing for the children's version when the adult version of the same book used a photograph on the cover.