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Tuesday, August 22, 2023

REVIEW: Things in the Basement, by Ben Hatke

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  It was supposed to just be a normal basement—  some storage boxes, dust, you know, the usual basement stuff. But when Milo is sent by his mother to fetch a sock from the basement of the historic home they've moved into, Milo finds a door in the back that he's never seen before. Turns out that the basement of his house is enormous. In fact, there is a whole world down there. As Milo travels ever deeper into the Basement World, he meets the many Things that live in the shadows and gloom...and he learns that to face his fears he must approach even the strangest creatures with kindness.

This book answers a question that I've long had---where do lost socks go? (Spoiler alert, moms, they do NOT become tupperware lids). The story, in and of itself, is fabulous.

A nearly wordless graphic novel with illustrations so rich and intricate you could spend hours pouring over it. Okay, so my daughter did. It's perfectly atmospheric--I mean, look at the cover! Hatke has masterfully create the world and the mood along with it. 

Teachers, I can see this being part of all kinds of lessons:

  • In art class, telling your story through images, how colors lend to a mood you want your reader/viewer to feel.
  • In reading class, that all important skill of using the pictures provided for context and to improve literacy. 
  • In a writing class, how images drive the story, or even as a prompt--how would you tell the story in words?  

Overall, adored this. Hatke had me years ago awith Zita, and he's delivered yet another gorgeous book.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from First Second Books through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

REVIEW: Actually Super, by Adi Alsaid

Isabel is having an existential crisis. She’s three years into high school, and everything she’s learned has only shaken her faith in humanity. Late one night, she finds herself drawn to a niche corner of the internet—a forum whose members believe firmly in one thing: that there are indeed people out in the world quietly performing impossible acts of heroism. You might even call them supers. No, not in the comic book sense—these are real people, just like each of us, but who happen to have a power or two. If Isabel can find them, she reasons, she might be able to prove to herself that humanity is more good than bad.

So, the day she turns 18, she sets off on a journey that will take her from Japan to Australia, and from Argentina to Mexico, with many stops along the way. She longs to prove one—just one—super exists to restore her hope for the future.

Will she find what she’s looking for? And how will she know when—if—she does

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Isabel is every teeenager, trying to sort out what she believes in, what is real, what is true, and how it all fits into what she knows of the world. She is brave and strong, and knows her own mind. 

Then it goes a little left field. I don't know of any 17 year old whose parents would let them drop out of before high school graduation and travel the planet all alone with no real plans or direction other than a dream. So, this part was enjoyable in the sense that it's a bit fantastical.

Characters were attractive and believable. The people Isabel meets on her journey are realistic and interesting. The way story builds and moves captured my attention and held it all the way through.

This one, I could see being a movie. The writing lends itself to that possibilty right away. It's escapist story, and a satisfying. 


What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Random House Children's through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

REVIEW: The Only Astronaut, by Mahak Jain, illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier

On Sale June 6, 2023

A girl who loves solo space travel learns that having a partner can be even better. Avni loves being the only astronaut in her space station. She's in charge of when she takes off and where she goes. But space exploration can be a lot of work for one astronaut. It's time for a new mission: find an assistant. Avni crisscrosses the distant galaxies (her neighborhood) in search of the perfect partner. Does that even exist? Will Avni make space for a copilot or will it be mission impossible? Award-winning author Mahak Jain has crafted a witty and wonderful story about friendship, imagination and the thrill of a good adventure. Andrea Stegmaier's dynamic and highly detailed art uses line drawing overlays in orange, for Avni, and blue, for Aya, to cleverly depict the world as seen in each of their imaginations. It's a terrific representation of a child making room for both their own creativity and another's perspective. Avni's regular mantra, “An astronaut never gives up,” celebrates the power of perseverance and collaboration without compromising one's goals. This book highlights the character education concepts of teamwork, cooperation, adaptability and resilience. It also offers an invitation to children to use their imaginations and remain open to the exciting possibilities of exploration (as astronauts or aquanauts!).

I chose this title to review with my 9 year old daughter. She loves space, can't decide if she wants to do "pure science" or be an astronaut, or maybe a chef or a teacher or .......... *grin* Regardless, we enjoy reading together and she knows I review books. So, you get a two-for-one deal today!

Up first, her review. I asked her to tell me 3 things she really liked about the book.

1. The drawings. There was so much to look at! I liked the cat and the dog, and I liked how they showed the imagination pictures.

2. The adventure Avni and Aya went on, and how you could see there would be more adventures.

3. Avni made a friend with an imagination as big as hers!

Now, the mama/librarian/reading teacher review.

What a fun read! The story was cute and the illustrations made the book just perfect. I loved the mission log, the different possible assistants--and why they didn't work out! I absolutely ADORED that my daughter saw herself in the story (we've had a cardboard rocket ship or two in the living room!). 

I love the contrasting colors between Avni's imaginary scenes and Aya's, layered over the "real life" images. Even my 9 year old picked up quickly who was "seeing" which drawing. 

I'm all about sneaking in important lessons, like the blurb says--teamwork, perseverance, adaptability. Just what imaginative play should look like for kids that age.  

Even though I'm in a high school library, I'll be adding this to my collection. I can see it being used in an art class as you talk about perception in art. And I know it would be a delight in our future teacher program. 

 Overall, we both loved it and we cannot wait to get our hands on a print copy when it's released. 

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Kids Can Press through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

REVIEW: The Grimoire of Grave Fates, edited by Margaret Owen and Hanna Alkaf

Professor of Magical History Septimius Dropwort has just been murdered, and now everyone at the Galileo Academy for the Extraordinary is a suspect.

A prestigious school for young magicians, the Galileo Academy has recently undergone a comprehensive overhaul, reinventing itself as a roaming academy in which students of all cultures and identities are celebrated. In this new Galileo, every pupil is welcome—but there are some who aren't so happy with the recent changes. That includes everyone's least favorite professor, Septimius Dropwort, a stodgy old man known for his harsh rules and harsher punishments. But when the professor's body is discovered on school grounds with a mysterious note clenched in his lifeless hand, the Academy's students must solve the murder themselves, because everyone's a suspect. 

Told from more than a dozen alternating and diverse perspectives, The Grimoire of Grave Fates follows Galileo's best and brightest young magicians as they race to discover the truth behind Dropwort's mysterious death. Each one of them is confident that only they have the skills needed to unravel the web of secrets hidden within Galileo's halls. But they're about to discover that even for straight-A students, magic doesn't always play by the rules. . . .

18 authors, 18 students. One murder. Mass confusion for this reader.

The good: 

Each of the 18 authors did a great job with their part of the story. I'm not sure if it's good or bad that there wasn't any abruptly different, tell-tale difference in the writing styles. Each chapter flowed with the next as far as the "voice" of the storyteller.

The setting was really interesting. I'd like to read more stories set in this school

The characters were diverse--backgrounds and magic.

The overarcing story line carried through each part. No author contradicted something that had already been established by a previous one.

The not so good: 

I didn't feel like any one character was particularly well-developed. DIverse, yes, but they didn't have a lot of individual depth. Occasionally, some detail would emerge that made me think "so what?" because it didn't further the story at all, to me. 

18 unique points of view was too much. And they marginally overlapped, if they did at all.

The plot wasn't smooth. Some of the POVs seemed to retell what another had already told us about. There were individual climaxes for each, making it hard to figure out where in the arc there was really a climax.


I can appreciate there was A LOT put into creating this single story arc anthology. It's an interesting treatment, I just think the slate of authors and stories within the story was too large.

Contributors include: Cam Montgomery, Darcie Little Badger, Hafsah Faizal, Jessica Lewis, Julian Winters, Karuna Riazi, Kat Cho, Kayla Whaley, Kwame Mbalia, L. L. McKinney, Marieke Nijkamp, Mason Deaver, Natasha Díaz, Preeti Chhibber, Randy Ribay, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Victoria Lee, and Yamile Saied Méndez

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Random House Children's/Delacorte Press through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, May 29, 2023

REVIEW: The Last Secret of the Secret Annex, by Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl and Jeroen De Bruyn

Anne Frank’s life has been studied by many scholars, but the story of Bep Voskuijl has remained untold, until now. As the youngest of the five Dutch people who hid the Frank family, Bep was Anne’s closest confidante during the 761 excruciating days she spent hidden in the Secret Annex. Bep, who was just twenty-three when the Franks went into hiding, risked her life to protect them, plunging into Amsterdam’s black market to source food and medicine for people who officially didn’t exist under the noses of German soldiers and Dutch spies. In those cramped quarters, Bep and Anne’s friendship bloomed through deep conversations, shared meals, and a youthful understanding.

Told by her own son, The Last Secret of the Secret Annex intertwines the story of Bep and her sister Nelly with Anne’s iconic narrative. Nelly’s name may have been scrubbed from Anne’s published diary, but Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl and Jeroen De Bruyn expose details about her collaboration with the Nazis, a deeply held family secret. After the war, Bep tried to bury her memories just as the Secret Annex was becoming world famous as a symbol of resistance to the Nazi horrors. She never got over losing Anne nor could Bep put to rest the horrifying suspicion that those in the Annex had been betrayed by her own flesh and blood.

This is a story about those caught in between the Jewish victims and Nazi persecutors, and the moral ambiguities and hard choices faced by ordinary families like the Voskuijls, in which collaborators and resisters often lived under the same roof.

The Diary of Anne Frank is a book I go back to again and again. I'm simultaneously fascinated with her story, through her eyes, and horrified that humans could treat others that way.

This story isn't Anne's. It's the story of Bep, one of her father's employees and Anne's good friend, who helped hide and care for the family when they went into the annex. We learn how it affected her daily life at the time, and after the war. How it ultimately changed the trajectory of her entire family, and even affected her children. For me, it deepened my understanding of the fear and stresses the war and the Holocaust itself took on those who lived under German occupation. 

This book would make a good companion read when studying The Diary of Anne Frank. It widens the perspective and brings to light the generational affects of what the helpers survived.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Simon & Schuster through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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