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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Storytime: New & Notable Picture Books (13)

Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry
Written & Illustrated by Vern Kousky

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"Otto now knows that poetry should be shared with more than just the moon and the stars. Poetry should be shared with everyone."

This sweet picture book from Vern Kousky is a great little addition to any poetry unit. Not only does it introduce listeners and readers to a few great lines from some classic poets, including Dickinson, Eliot, Keats, and Rossetti, it portrays the joy that can be found in the experience of sharing poetry. I especially love how poetry brings two very different groups (mice and owls) together in a very special way.

After the Bell Rings: Poems About After-School Time
Written by Carol Diggory Shields; Illustrated by Paul Meisel

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Carol Diggory Shields and illustrator Paul Meisel have teamed up again, giving readers 22 more illustrated poems - this time with an after-school them. The collection begins with two poems, both titled 2:48 - one from the students' point-of-view, the other from the teacher's. From these first pages, the lighthearted and an undeniably clever tone is set, continuing through the remaining 20 poems. From a boy who's busted for playing video games instead of doing homework, the chilly moments spent in front of an open refrigerator looking for a snack, and even the unique ways in which your dog versus cat will meet you at the door, Shield's poems offer both humor and wit. Reader's will have no problem identifying with the subjects of the after-school poems and the spot-on illustrations. I highly recommend this one, especially for the classroom and school library.

Rodeo Red
Written by Maripat Perkins; Illustrated by Molly Idle

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I'll be honest: I picked up Rodeo Red because it's illustrated by Molly Idle and I adore everything she's done, but it truly is the collaboration between Idle and debut author Maripat Perkins that makes this book a winner. The story follows red-headed cowgirl named Rodeo Red, a cheeky girl bound and determined to gain her trusty sidekick Rusty back from her sly little brother. Perkins' writing is incredibly sweet and has great rhythm; it's near impossible not to slip into a western cadence while reading Rodeo Red aloud. This story and writing is further enhanced by Idle's illustrations; I was especially taken with the facial expressions and body language she depicts so skillfully depicts. This pairing is utterly delightful and I sincerely hope we'll see more from this duo.

Use Your Words, Sophie!
Written & Illustrated by Rosemary Wells

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In this third picture book from Rosemary Wells featuring Sophie, her parents bring home her new sister and urge her to use her words. Sophie, as usual, declines, choosing instead to speak in all manner of gibberish, from Jellyfish to Baboon to Martian. As Sophie refuses to use her words, her new little sister, who's name changes by the minute as her parents struggle to find one they like, howls like "the queen of the howler monkeys." In the end, it's Sophie, who uses her words and christens her sister Jane, who soothes the baby, simply explaining, "She wants to be called Jane." In the end, the power of words triumphs in more ways than one.
Written & Illustrated by Matthew Cordell

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What a beautiful, heartfelt little book. I'm unabashedly in love with Matthew Cordell's Wish and can confidently say it will be landing on my Best of 2015 lists. Quiet, tender, and warm, this story about an elephant couple that patiently and purposely build their life, then long with hope for the 'you' that will complete their family. Warning: You might find yourself crying by the end of this one.

Love any of the books featured this week? Want to see a certain theme, author, or illustrator explored in an upcoming Story Time post? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Cover Reveals - Middle Grade Edition - XIX

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
A girl and the wolves who love her embark on a rescue mission through Russian wilderness in this lyrical tale from the author of the acclaimed Rooftoppers and Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms.

Feo’s life is extraordinary. Her mother trains domesticated wolves to be able to fend for themselves in the snowy wilderness of Russia, and Feo is following in her footsteps to become a wolf wilder. She loves taking care of the wolves, especially the three who stay at the house because they refuse to leave Feo, even though they’ve already been wilded. But not everyone is enamored with the wolves, or with the fact that Feo and her mother are turning them wild. And when her mother is taken captive, Feo must travel through the cold, harsh woods to save her—and learn from her wolves how to survive.

From the author of Rooftoppers, which Booklist called “a glorious adventure,” and Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, which VOYA called “a treasure of a book,” comes an enchanting novel about love and resilience.
The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari

Are you average? Normal? Forgettable? If so, the League of Unexceptional Children is for you! This first book in a hilarious new adventure series is for anyone who's struggled to be noticed in a sea of above-average overachievers.
What is the League of Unexceptional Children? I'm glad you asked. You didn't ask? Well, you would have eventually and I hate to waste time. The League of Unexceptional Children is a covert network that uses the nation's most average, normal, and utterly unexceptional children as spies. Why the average kids? Why not the brainiacs? Or the beauty queens? Or the jocks? It's simple: People remember them. But not the unexceptionals. They are the forgotten ones. Until now!
A Pocketful of Murder by R.J. Anderson
In the spell-powered city of Tarreton, the wealthy have all the magic they desire while the working class can barely afford a simple spell to heat their homes. Twelve-year-old Isaveth is poor, but she’s also brave, loyal, and zealous in the pursuit of justice—which is lucky, because her father has just been wrongfully arrested for murder.

Isaveth is determined to prove his innocence. Quiz, the eccentric eyepatch-wearing street boy who befriends her, swears he can’t resist a good mystery. Together they set out to solve the magical murder of one of Tarreton’s most influential citizens and save Isaveth’s beloved Papa from execution.

But each clue is more perplexing than the next. Was the victim truly killed by Common Magic—the kind of crude, cheap spell that only an unschooled magician would use—or was his death merely arranged to appear that way? And is Quiz truly helping her out of friendship, or does he have hidden motives of his own? Isaveth must figure out who she can trust if she’s to have any hope of proving her Papa’s innocence in time. . .
Connect the Stars by Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
When thirteen-year-olds T.E. and Audrey meet at a wilderness camp in the desert, they think their quirks are enough to prevent them from ever having friends. But as they trek through the challenging and unforgiving landscape, they learn that they each have what it takes to make the other whole.
One Wish by Michelle Harrison
Prequel to the award-winning 13 Treasures series.
The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon
The story, pitched as The Mixed-Up Files meets Lemony Snicket, follows an unlikely trio: the grandson of famous explorers who were lost at sea long ago, a former ballerina, and the grandson's best friend.
Which new covers are your favorite?  Let me know in the comments!

Review: My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

Goodreads / Buy It
Title: My Best Everything
Author: Sarah Tomp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Pub. Date: March 3, 2015
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 14+
Pages: 400
More by this author: N/A
You say it was all meant to be. You and me. The way we met. Our secrets in the woods. Even the way it all exploded. It was simply a matter of fate.

Maybe if you were here to tell me again, to explain it one more time, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so uncertain. But I’m going back to the beginning on my own. To see what happened and why.

Luisa “Lulu” Mendez has just finished her final year of high school in a small Virginia town, determined to move on and leave her job at the local junkyard behind. So when her father loses her college tuition money, Lulu needs a new ticket out.

Desperate for funds, she cooks up the (definitely illegal) plan to make and sell moonshine with her friends, Roni and Bucky. Quickly realizing they’re out of their depth, Lulu turns to Mason: a local boy who’s always seemed like a dead end. As Mason guides Lulu through the secret world of moonshine, it looks like her plan might actually work. But can she leave town before she loses everything – including her heart?

The summer walks the line between toxic and intoxicating. My Best Everything is Lulu’s letter to Mason – though is it an apology, a good-bye, or a love letter?
When I think about the fact that I almost missed this book, my stomach does an unhappy flip. So, I suppose the best way to start this off is by saying that this book needs to be on your radar. It isn't an issues book and it isn't particularly easy to read the description and say 'if you like X you'll love this book too,' but, if you love beautifully written, sincere contemporary YA fiction, My Best Everything is for you.

Sarah Tomp's debut is an epistolary novel and I can't imagine a better format for this particular story. Through a letter to Mason, a boy she formed an unexpected and deep relationship with during a summer of trials, tribulations, and illegal moonshining, Lulu pulls the reader in. She's writing this letter after the events of the summer, which creates a soothing sense of inevitability while infusing the story with a bit of mystery. Only Lulu knows why she's writing Mason this letter, recounting events, sharing realizations, and reminiscing - the reader is left to put the pieces together and, if you're like me, worry about how it will all end.
“I heard the missing in her voice. Knew she dreaded me leaving, but even more, Bucky. He'd been in all of my AP classes, quietly earning grades almost as good as mine. He was only headed two hours down the highway to Virginia Tech, but Roni knew there were more than miles between here and there, more than hours between now and what might come. Bucky was way too smart to stay in Dale and pump gas so other people could go places.” - from My Best Everything
Lulu's story begins in a place many readers will recognize. She's wrapping up her final year of high school and ready to leave her small town - where dreams go to die - in the dust. Nothing and no one is going to hold her back or change her mind - until the day her dad breaks the news that, thanks to a bad investment, the money to pay for Lulu's education is gone.  She takes one look around Dale and swears that this isn't happening. Her solution: produce and sell enough moonshine during the three months of summer to pay her tuition. Given the fact that plenty of backwoods, dead end hicks can do it, Lulu is sure she can figure it out. After all, it's just a bit of chemistry, right?
“I wasn't in a place to judge any choice she'd made. The moments when we feel most untouchable, that's when we most need a hand.” - from My Best Everything
What I most appreciated about My Best Everything is that it takes people, actions, and stories that you think you understand - that perhaps you even judge - and challenges those assumptions. Lulu, Mason, Roni, Bucky, and the town of Dale are all so much more than a cursory glance could ever reveal. Each is a beautiful collection of good and bad, right and wrong. They are so wonderfully, exuberantly real.
“I didn't know how to say it, but I'd learned to love Dale. More than I ever thought I could. I loved the rush of the river and the hundred different shades of green. The sun on the hills and the shadows of the valleys. The smell of the air first thing in the morning and the last breath at night. The rhythms and sounds. Also, the people who made their way through this place. Like you. And me too. We tried to make things better, but we also made do with what we had. We weren't too proud to scratch and scrape by. We knew how to spot beauty within the rough.”  - from My Best Everything
Another reason I so loved this novel was it's treatment of small town life. As someone who grew up in a small town, who left the town for something I was convinced better in every single way that mattered, I related to this novel in a very intense way. Like Lulu, I worked hard, did the right thing even when it wasn't nearly as fun, and longed for the day I would be able to escape my small town full of narrow minded and backwards thinking. Unlike Lulu, it took me a lot longer to realize the beauty of small town life. To admit that every place has elements of light and dark. And, most importantly, that while the light might sometimes feel overshadowed by the dark, it's important to acknowledge elements that shine. 

My Best Everything will surely become one of my go-to recommendations for readers looking for a contemporary YA novel with romance and depth.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Cover Reveals (That Made Me Swoon) XVIII

Consent by Nancy Ohlin
Bea has a secret.

Actually, she has more than one. There’s her dreams for the future that she can’t tell anyone—not her father and not even her best friend, Plum.

And now there’s Dane Rossi. Dane is hot, he shares Bea’s love of piano, and he believes in her.

He’s also Bea’s teacher.

When their passion for music crosses into passion for each other, Bea finds herself falling completely for Dane. She’s never felt so wanted, so understood, so known to her core. But the risk of discovery carries unexpected surprises that could shake Bea entirely. Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about Dane, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced, in this absorbing novel from Nancy Ohlin.
Da Vinci's Tiger by Laura Malone Elliott

Young, beautiful, and witty, Ginevra de’ Benci longs to take part in the artistic ferment of Renaissance Florence. But as the daughter of a wealthy family in a society dictated by men, she is trapped in an arranged marriage, expected to limit her creativity to domestic duties. Her poetry reveals her deepest feelings, and she aches to share her work, to meet painters and sculptors mentored by the famed Lorenzo de Medici, and to find love.

When the charismatic Venetian ambassador, Bernardo Bembo, arrives in Florence, he introduces Ginevra to a dazzling circle of patrons, artists, and philosophers—a world of thought and conversation she has yearned for. She is instantly attracted to the handsome newcomer, who admires her mind as well as her beauty. Yet Ginevra remains conflicted about his attentions. Choosing her as his Platonic muse, Bembo commissions a portrait by a young Leonardo da Vinci. Posing for the brilliant painter inspires an intimate connection between them—one Ginevra can only begin to understand. In a rich and enthralling world of exquisite art, elaborate feasts, and exhilarating jousts, she faces many temptations to discover her voice, artistic companionship, and a love that defies categorization. In the end, she and Leonardo are caught up in a dangerous and deadly battle between powerful families.
Dreamland by Robert L. Anderson
Odea Donahue has been able to travel through people’s dreams since she was six years old. Her mother taught her the three rules of walking: Never interfere. Never be seen. Never walk the same person’s dream more than once. Dea has never questioned her mother, not about the rules, not about the clocks or the mirrors, not about moving from place to place to be one step ahead of the unseen monsters that Dea’s mother is certain are right behind them.

Then a mysterious new boy, Connor, comes to town and Dea finally starts to feel normal. As Connor breaks down the walls that she’s had up for so long, he gets closer to learning her secret. For the first time she wonders if that’s so bad. But when Dea breaks the rules, the boundary between worlds begins to deteriorate. How can she know what’s real and what’s not?
Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom
A blind sixteen-year-old girl with a take-no-prisoners attitude navigates friendships, romantic relationships, and the track field in high school.
Diary of a Haunting by M. Verano
When Paige moves from LA to Idaho with her mom and little brother after her parents’ high-profile divorce, she expects to completely hate her new life, and the small town doesn’t disappoint. Worse yet, the drafty old mansion they’ve rented is infested with flies, spiders, and other pests Paige doesn’t want to think about.

She chalks it up to her rural surroundings, but it’s harder to ignore the strange things happening around the house, from one can of ravioli becoming a dozen, to unreadable words appearing in the walls.  Soon Paige’s little brother begins roaming the house at all hours of the night, and there’s something not right about the downstairs neighbor, who knows a lot more than he’s letting on. 

Things only get creepier when she learns about the sinister cult that conducted experimental rituals in the house almost a hundred years earlier.

The more Paige investigates, and the deeper she digs, the clearer it all becomes: whatever is in the house, whatever is causing all the strange occurrences, has no intention of backing down without a fight.

Found in the aftermath, Diary of a Haunting collects the journal entries, letters, and photographs Paige left behind.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
What if you weren’t the Chosen One?

What if you’re not the one who’s so often the hero in YA fiction; who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you were like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend might just be the God of mountain lions...
Which new covers are your favorite?  Let me know in the comments!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Review: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Goodreads / Buy It
Title: Mosquitoland
Author: David Arnold
Publisher: Penguin
Pub. Date: March 3, 2015
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 12+
Pages: 352
More by this author: N/A
I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange.

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

Told in an unforgettable, kaleidoscopic voice, Mosquitoland is a modern American odyssey, as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.
Mosquitoland is one of those books that I love so deeply that writing any kind of coherent recommendation is near impossible. We all have those books - the ones that we just want to place reverently (or, perhaps shove immediately) into the hands of every reader we know. David Arnold's debut is truly that type of book.

With Mosquitoland, I find myself speaking in declarative, one word sentences. Visceral. Bold. Honest. But it's also more nuanced than one word or an even entire essay can accurately describe. I read a good portion of Mosquitoland aloud while on a road trip with my brother. There were points where I would pause in reading and look over to see my brother shaking his head and, when I questioned his slow head shake, all he could do was shrug, grin, and say "Mim." Because, sometimes, when a character is so real and her journey is so fully realized, you don't need to say anything at all.
“I swear the older I get, the more I value bad examples over good ones. It's a good thing too, because most people are egotistical, neurotic, self-absorbed peons, insistent on wearing near-sighted glasses in a far-sighted world. And it's this exact sort of myopic ignorance that has led to my groundbreaking new theory. I call it Mim's Theorem of Monkey See Monkey Don't, and what it boils down to is this: it is my belief that there are some people whose sole purpose of existence is to show the rest of how not to act.”  - from Mosquitoland
Mim's got some serious angst. She's resentful towards her father and stepmother and feels adrift in a new environment where she's unsure of her place. Mim also struggles with mental illness and that blurry line between illness and normality. As a reader I was often unsure of her reliability, not because she was prone to purposeful deception, but because part of her journey is learning to truly trust herself.
“Home is hard. Harder than Reasons. It's more a storage unit for your life and its collections. It's more than an address, or even the house you grew up in. People say home is where the heart is, but I think maybe home is the heart. Not a place or a time, but an organ, pumping life into my life. There may be more mosquitoes and stepmothers than I imagined, but it's still my heart. My home.”  - from Mosquitoland
Many road trip novels are about leaving home, often to experience something new or with some grand adventure in mind. But Mim's road trip is more complicated. She thinks she's running home, to something she once had and is now missing, to the mother she's been distanced from and away from her father and stepmother. Of course, nothing is ever quite that simple. Mim's search for home - that feeling you long for when you're at your most distressed and adrift, rather than the physical place - is a journey I particularly related to. 

Though Mim is clearly an important element of this novel as the main character and not-so-reliable narrator, the cast of characters that surround her cannot be understated. So many of the characters Mim meets and befriends along her journey sparkle. I can't help but wish I could visit each of their own stories as well. So often I'll finish a book and miss the main character and maybe the occasional love interest, but it's rare that I miss a whole rag tag group; rare that I feel each secondary character has made a lasting and important contribution to my reading experience. I wouldn't be entirely surprised to run into these characters myself if I hopped on a Greyhound bus and retraced Mim's steps.

I have no doubt readers will fall for Mim’s sardonic voice and the quirky cast of characters that surround her. Mim Malone is going to be okay ... and you are going to love this book.

Check out the book trailer:


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Monthly Wrap Up: February 2015

The last wrap up I wrote was at the very beginning of February while I was at ALA Midwinter in Chicago. February completely got away from me  - I can't believe it's already March 1st! While I felt completely disorganized and pretty out of it this month, I did get a fair amount of reading done. As I put together this post, in which I link to most books I read this month, I realized my MG reading was on the light side. I'm thinking this was because I was in a bit of YA slump in January, so when I hit a good streak I was too excited to stop! That said, I need to up my MG reading in March to balance things out a bit. As far as Picture Books, I only included yet-to-be-published titles in this particular post for the sake of length... and my sanity. I read a good number of already published titles as well, but I'll cover those bit by bit in my Storytime posts. 

I hope you all had productive reading months as well! Or - if not productive - that you at least got to read some fantastic books!

This Month's Reads

The Cage by Megan Shepherd
Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty
The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise by Matthew Crow
Tangled Webs by Lee Bross

Little Peach by Peggy Kern
Deadly Design by Debra Dockter
Lies I Told by Michelle Zink
My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp

Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud
Vivian Divine is Dead by Lauren Sabel
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Fish in a Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt 
Witherwood Reform School by Obert Skye 
A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep & Joanne Ryder
Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly M. Burnham

Vincent and the Night by Adele Enerson
Tommy Can't Stop by Tim Federle; Mark Fearing
Jampires by Sarah McIntyre; David O'Connell
By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman

There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight by Penny Parker Klosterman; Ben Mantle
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore; David Ercolini
The Queen's Hat by Steve Antony
Waddle! Waddle! by James Proimos

Your Hand in My Hand by Mark Sperring; Britta Teckentrup
Zen Socks by John J. Muth
Friendshape by Amy Krouse Rosenthal; Tom Lichtenheld
Where's Walrus? And Penguin? by Stephen Savage

Frog on a Log by Kes Grey; Jim Feld
Wish by Matthew Cordell
Toad Weather by Sandra Markle; Thomas Gonzalez

Which can't be missed books did you read this month? I love recommendations! Did we read any of the same books this month - what did you think?