Little Bot and Sparrow: A Picture Book Review

Little Bot and Sparrow by Jake ParkerWhen Little Bot is thrown out with the trash, he discovers a strange new world ready to explore.

Sparrow soon takes Little Bot under her wing and teaches him important lessons including why robots should not fly.

When the snow begins to fall, both Little Bot and Sparrow know that it’s time for Sparrow to move on with the other birds. But even when Sparrow is gone Little Bot knows he has found his first friend. Thanks to Sparrow, Little Bot also has his first dream in Little Bot and Sparrow (2016) by Jake Parker.

Everything about this book is thoughtfully assembled from the case covers (featuring schematic sketches of Bot and Sparrow) to the endpapers and the story itself. Parker’s artwork is subtle and finely detailed while also being quite evocative of the mood. Whimsical, full-color illustrations and finely detailed backgrounds help to ground Little Bot and Sparrow, both sweetly drawn, in their surroundings.

The text hits the perfect balance length-wise for younger readers. This picture book would be great to include in a themed story time for unlikely friends or robots (or both!).

Little Bot and Sparrow is a charming story about discovering the big world and making friends complete with an open-ended and hopeful finish that hints at things to come for Little Bot.

Possible Pairings: Little Eliot, Big City by Mike Curato; Clink by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Matthew Myers; Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2016*

Vassa in the Night: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vassa in the Night by Sarah PorterSixteen-year-old Vassa Lisa Lowenstein isn’t sure where she fits in her family or if it even qualifies as a family. Her mother is dead. Vassa’s father stayed only long enough to settle Vassa with his new wife. So now she has a stepmother and two stepsisters. Chelsea is nice enough but Stephanie might actually hate Vassa–which is fine since it’s mostly mutual. It’s an odd living arrangement to Vassa but no more peculiar than a lot of things in her working-class Brooklyn neighborhood.

The nights have been acting especially strange as they become longer and longer. When her stepsister (Stephanie, naturally) sends Vassa out in the middle of the night for light bulbs the only store that’s still open is the local BY’s. Everyone knows about BY’s, and its owner Babs Yagg, but people do tend to remember a store that dances around on chicken legs and has a habit of decapitating shoplifters.

Vassa is sure getting out of the store quickly will be easy. Even her enchanted wooden doll, Erg, is willing to behave and keep her sticky fingers to herself this once. When things don’t go as planned in BY’s it will take all of Vassa’s wits and Erg’s cunning to escape the store alive and maybe even break whatever curse has been placed on Brooklyn’s nights in Vassa in the Night (2016) by Sarah Porter.

This standalone urban fantasy is inspired by the Russian folktake “Vassilisa the Beautiful.” Although Vassa is described as incredibly pale, the rest of the book is populated with characters who are realistically diverse. Complicated dynamics within Vassa’s blended family add another dimension to the story. Evocative settings and imagery help bring this bizarre corner of Brooklyn to life including strong allusions to the Studio Ghibli film “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

Vassa is a cynical, no-nonsense character who is quick to make jokes and take risks with the delightfully sharp-tongued Erg at her side. Vassa’s frank narration is sure to remind fans of Veronica Mars as will her resigned acceptance of her role as hero in this story.

Elements of traditional horror blend well with high-concept fantasy in this surprising and engaging tale. A deliberate lack of romantic tension makes Vassa in the Night a refreshing read focused on themes of self-reliance, friendship, and family.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Diviners by Libba Bray, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the August 2016 issue of School Library Journal as a starred review from which it can be seen on various sites online*

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature: A (Non-Fiction) Picture Book Review

Ansty Ansel: A Life in Nature by Cindy Jenson-Elliot and Christy HaleWhen he was a child, Ansel Adams could not sit still. He fidgeted. He wanted to run. He did not like being indoors.

By contrast, Ansel loved the great outdoors–especially the parks surrounding his California home. When his father recognizes that his son will not thrive in a traditional school, he helps Ansel educate himself with access to books and also studying nature.

This choice will change the path of young Ansel’s life in Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature (2016) by Cindy Jenson-Elliot, illustrated by Christy Hale.

This non-fiction picture book introduces young readers to an iconic American photographer and his work documenting the country’s National Parks. Jenson-Elliot’s text is long enough to be informative but brief enough to remain approachable for younger readers.

The biographical book also includes some little known facts about Adams such as his accomplishments as a pianist (and his subsequent choice between pursuing a career as a professional pianist or as a photography). The back matter in the book has additional details, resources, and some reprints of Adams’ actual photos.

Large page spreads work to bring natural wonders to life in this vibrantly colored picture book. Hale makes “antsy Ansel” immediately fascinating along with the stunning pieces of nature that captivate Adams for much of his life and career. Detailed illustrations also reproduce some of the photographer’s iconic photos throughout the book.

Antsy Ansel is a beautifully illustrated introduction to one of the foremost photographers in the United States. A great choice for anyone looking to introduce young readers to biographic texts and a timely read for the centennial of the National Parks System.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Week in Review: September 11

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

This week was one of transition. After spending the last year trying to make myself into a person who carries a notebook everywhere, I am shifting to all-digital for notes/reminders/to-dos in an effort to minimize all of the junk I carry around daily. (I might write a post on this eventually but I’ve only tried it for two days so far.)

I am surprisingly bummed about the new iPhone 7’s glaring lack of a headphone jack–especially considering I cannot even upgrade my phone for another year. Do you have a stake in this heated debate?

I made a new friend at work:

Have you heard yet that I really enjoyed My Lady Jane? Here’s my Bookstagram about it:

When I got My Lady Jane in my June Royalty #owlcrate I wasn't sure what to expect beyond a possibly silly read. I'm happy to report that this historical fantasy far exceeded my expectations. Lady Jane Grey has little interest in marriage or the crown. When she end up married to Lord Gifford Dudley–an aspiring poet by night and a horse by day–she is resigned to a quiet life with a husband who may or may not be horrible. Then Jane's dear cousin dies (or does he?) setting off a hectic nine days with Jane in the throne and, eventually, on the run. This delightful romp through London's little known alternate (and true according to the authors) history is a page-turner filled with adventure, action, sweet romance, and even some magic. I loved this book to bits and plan on finding some non-fiction about the English monarchy soon (though how can it possibly compare to this book?). #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram

A photo posted by Emma (@missprint_) on

This week I’m reading The Apple Throne by Tessa Gratton and it is as amazing as I hope and as stressful as I feared. I’m in the weird in-between space where I simultaneously want to race through the rest of the story and also want to slow down and savor it. Decisions!

If you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my September Reading Tracker.

How was your week?

Who Wins?: A Non-Fiction Review

Who Wins? by Clay Swartz, illustrated by Tom BoothHave you ever wondered if Queen Elizabeth could best Gandhi at Ping Pong? What about who who if Charles Dickens could beat Marie Curie at Karaoke?

Who Wins? (2016) by Clay Swartz, illustrated by Tom Booth has answers to these and other important questions.

Swartz has put together 100 historical figures from a variety of time periods and regions (and a decent balance of men and women) to pit in head-to-head competition in a variety of categories. Each figure has an illustration, a fighting nickname (Cleopatra “Queen of the Nile” Pharoah, Feminist, Diva), a brief biography, and rankings on a scale of ten in wealth, fitness, wisdom, bravery, artistry, leadership, and intelligence.

Readers can use the rankings and their own opinions to choose winners in each battle. The book is designed to be flipped back and forth between competitors and the 50 competitions. Random flipping can lead to some unlikely matchups as well as landslide winners (I feel pretty strongly that Shackleton could beat just about anyone when it comes to escaping from Alcatarz). Meanwhile other competitions are too close to call.

Because of the rankings, readers can put as much or as little thought into the winner of each match as they like. (I opened up a lot of the discussions by asking probing questions. “Sure, Leonardo da Vinci has a 10 for leadership. But what about his 6 for intelligence? Couldn’t that be a problem if he was trying to catch Jack the Ripper?”)

The variety of matches and competitors, as well as the multiple ways Who Wins? can be read make this a great book for reluctant readers and biography buffs alike. I have coupled this book with a teen video gaming program with great success. While teens waited for their turn on the video game controllers, they joined me making up different matches. Everyone had a good time picking competitors and competitions and then we debated who might come out on top.

Whether you are reading this book alone or using it in a group for some quick entertainment, library programs, or even a party game, the facts speak for themselves. Who Wins? is a winner for readers of any age.

Bonus:

I couldn’t end this review without including a some interior images from the book. Here’s a spread I made on Instagram putting Harry Houdini against Alan Pinkterton in The Hunger Games. I think the match is no contest, but what about you? Let me know in the comments.

As soon as I started flipping through Who Wins by Clay Swartz and Tom Booth (thanks @workmanpub for the review copy!) I knew I wanted to stage a battle to see who would win the Hunger Games. Harry Houdini was my immediate choice for one contender. He's a performer, he's athletic, and he's daring. Basically, I'm pretty sure Houdini could have been a career tribute in another life. Picking his rival in this match was a little harder. At first I considered Eleanor of Aquitaine or Sacagawea or even Cleopatra, I realized these women would never go along with the Hunger Games and would just jump right to bringing down the Capitol. Then I found Allan Pinkerton and the match was set. Pinkerton was a tough guy with a strong moral code. He used his strength, toughness, and ingenuity to catch notorious train and bank robbers while also establishing a detective agency that still exists today. So who would win here? While Pinkterton would no doubt make an admirable showing with his bravery and start an early alliance with some of the other tributes, I have to give this match to Houdini. His work as a magician and escape artist, mean that Houdini would be able to work alone and endear himself to viewers to gain sponsors. All the while Houdini would bide his time until the moment came to strike and become the lone victor. #whowins #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram

A photo posted by Emma (@missprint_) on

Tumbling: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tumbling by Caela CarterGrace cares more about gymnastics than she cares about anything. She has the “international” look that appeals to judges. But with younger, smaller gymnasts coming along all the time, Grace is desperate to keep her edge–even if it hurts her.

Leigh is Grace’s best friend but it’s hard to balance friendship with their constant competition for first place. Leigh balances a normal life in school with her professional aspirations at the gym but she doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere.

Camille was an Olympian four years ago–but only for a day. Now everyone is cheering  for “Comeback Cammie” as she tries to make the team again. Between her mother’s expectations and her boyfriend’s disapproval, she isn’t even sure she wants to be an Olympian anymore.

At nineteen Wilhemina is practically a different generation from the other girls competing when it comes to gym years. She missed her chance four years ago because her birthday was four days too late. This time she isn’t going to let anything stand in her way, especially not petty gymnastics politics.

Monica is far from the top and everyone knows it. She’s a decent gymnast. She’ll definitely qualify for an NCAA scholarship one day. But she knows to keep her expectations low because hoping for more and falling short will hurt too much.

These five girls are gambling everything–every choice they have made for their entire lives–on how well they perform at the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials. At the end of the trials some of the girls will be stars, some will have nothing. All of them will be changed forever in Tumbling (2016) by Caela Carter.

Tumbling rotates between five perspectives (all close, third-person) throughout the novel to explore Grace, Leigh, Camille, Wilhemina, and Veronica’s stories. Set over the two days of the meet for the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials this story explore their individual stories as well as their (sometimes unexpected) moments of intersection. These girls are also a diverse and inclusive group that reflect the real face of this sport.

Carter takes this ambitious structure and handles it well. Each girl’s personality comes through in her individual sections as well as in the larger plot of the novel. Supplemental material including a roster with all of the characters (and the seven other gymnasts competing at the trials) and a glossary of gymnastics terms will help even the least initiated feel like a gymnastics expert while reading.

Tumbling explore the competitive and grueling nature of gymnastics. All of the girls are struggling with something whether it’s body image and not eating, self-esteem, figuring out if being a lesbian really needs to be a part of a public gymnast persona, or just self-esteem. While this book highlights the thrill of competition (and the drama), it also is an honest portrayal of the work and dedication needed to compete at such a high level. Themes of body positivity and staying healthy while competing are also stressed throughout.

While there is drama, fierce competition, and some intense conflict the overwhelming focus of Tumbling is on positivity and friendship. Yes, these five girls are competing. But it’s not always with each other so much as it is to be the best. While each character is flawed, by the end of the story they are all striving to build each other up and be better versions of themselves both in and out of competition.

Readers will think they know what to expect at the start of Tumbling but Carter artfully includes realistic twists and surprises that leave several characters in surprising circumstances by the end of the novel. Veronica and Wilhemina’s arcs are particularly satisfying and work well to bring the entire novel together. Highly recommended for gymnastics enthusiasts as well as readers looking for an exciting book with a strong cast of female characters.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, Rival by Sarah Bennett-Wealer, Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, The Flip Side by Shawn Johnson, Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

This Month at YALSA’s The Hub: Booklist: So You Want to Read a Scott Westerfeld Book

Booklist: So You Want to Read a Scott Westerfeld Book

This month (or last month since it published August 31) at the Hub, I gave a detailed rundown of all of Scott Westerfeld’s books for new readers and long-time fans:

Scott Westerfeld is one of the most inventive sci-fi writers writing for teens right now. His book Uglies helped lay the groundwork for the dystopian trend that would take hold in a few years with The Hunger Games. With a new co-authored series in the works, a movie adaptation of Uglies in development, and a new multi-platform middle grade series launch later this year, Scott Westerfeld is definitely an author you should know.

If you want to start reading Scott Westerfeld, or want to know where to go after reading your favorites from him, head over to the Hub to read my full booklist and see if there’s anything new to add to your “to read” list!