Wednesday, June 3, 2020

67. The Willoughbys Return

The Willoughbys Return. Lois Lowry. 2020. [September] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The front page of the New York Times, on a Thursday in June: CONGRESS VOTES OVERWHELMINGLY TO BAN CANDY, CITES DENTAL HEALTH On the same day, on an inside page of a Zurich newspaper: AMERICAN COUPLE, FROZEN IN SWISS MOUNTAINS FOR THREE DECADES, THAW SPONTANEOUSLY, APPEAR UNHARMED These two events, it was later proved, were related. It’s complicated.

Premise/plot: It has been thirty years--give or take--since the events of The Willoughbys. In the first book, two dreadfully selfish parents freeze to death in the Swiss Alps, leaving their four children (Tim, Barnaby 1, Barnaby 2, Jane) orphans in the care of a nanny. It's a comic novel. It may sound completely odd and over-the-top...and it is...but it works. This sequel opens with startling and shocking news. First, ALL CANDY has been banned. This would be bad news to just about every household in America...but especially if your family's business is a candy factory. Tim Willoughby's business--which he inherited--is a candy factory. Second, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby find themselves unthawed and in a bit of a predicament. They are in a foreign country with soggy money and expired identification (and credit cards). They feel at a complete loss when interacting with the world. (Think Encino Man.) They return to the States...

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. I don't know how it compares to the first. It is equally delightful perhaps but with a bit more sugary goodness perhaps. I really loved the chapters focused on the Poore family. I definitely got vibes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

66. Write to Me

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian Left Behind. Cynthia Grady. 2018. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Katherine Tasaki returned a stack of books and turned in her library card. "We've got to move soon," she said, "All Japanese, you know."

Premise/plot: Write to Me is a historical picture book highlighting a fantastic librarian, Clara Breed, and her ongoing relationship and service to Japanese children in internment camps during the second world war. It is told from the perspective of children whose lives she touched.

My thoughts: Years ago I read a LOVELY, LOVELY nonfiction book for middle grade and young adults called Dear Miss Breed. It was a magical, magical read that I just loved. I didn't own it and I read it as part of Texas Woman's University's Librarians' Choices book list. I participated in choosing those 100 books for seven years. I doubt I'd be a blogger if it wasn't for that experience and fellowship. But I am making this WAY more complicated then it needs to be.

Long story short, this is a LOVELY picture book. I would definitely recommend it to readers of all ages.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, June 1, 2020

65. Sweep

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster. Jonathan Auxier. 2018. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: There are all sorts of wonderful things a person might see very early in the morning.

Premise/plot: Nan Sparrow, our heroine, is a chimney sweep; one of many. When we first meet her in the opening pages of Auxier's novel, she's in the employ of Wilkie Crudd. She wasn't always. In her vaguest, fuzziest memories, Nan remembers the Sweep, the man who raised her and taught her everything he knew. Those dreams of the past haunt her in a lovely way, for the most part. She tells stories about the Sweep almost making him legendary among the other children. His physical legacy to her was small--a small piece of coal and a hat--but his legacy was priceless in ways no one could have foreseen.

When she needs help the most--in her DARKEST hour--help comes from an unusual source, that small lump of coal. For that coal--once burned--becomes a living being, a golem of soot, if you will. She names him Charlie.

The story is fantastical and memorable.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved this one. I hesitate to share too much of its plot for just that reason. This one is best read without knowing all the ins and outs. (Some books are; some aren't.) It was a book to be experienced. It was a book with depth and substance. The writing is delightful in that it sweeps you up, up, and away. But the story itself is bittersweet. There's nothing cutesy and adorable about children living in such poverty and in such cruel situations.

I will need to reread this one. Perhaps even this year.

ETA: Funny how you can read the same book twice and have different reactions each time. I didn't love, love, love it the second time around. I liked it certainly. I found it well worth reading. But I didn't get swept up in the story. The other books I've reread by Auxier have held up better.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

64. The Story of Alexander Hamilton

The Story of Alexander Hamilton. Christine Platt. Illustrated by Raquel Martin. 2020. Rockbridge Press. 66 pages. [Source: Review copy]

  First sentence: Alexander Hamilton was born on a small Caribbean island called Nevis. As a boy, he loved to read. He also liked to play tricks on people. Those who knew him couldn’t have imagined that the young troublemaker would one day grow up to be one of America’s Founding Fathers and help form the government. Surely Alexander never thought his face would one day be on a ten-dollar bill!

Premise/plot: The Story of Alexander Hamilton is a chapter book biography for young readers. What you see is what you get, a biography written in chapter book format geared towards an elementary audience. It is packed with details that are appropriate for the audience. While the biography would include other details if intended for an older audience, I think this is a good balance all things considered.

My thoughts: I definitely enjoyed this one! I don't think I had an idea of who Alexander Hamilton was when I was in elementary school. I don't think the peanut butter chewing GOT MILK commercial came out until I was in junior high. Then I became curious about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. But I did enjoy biographies when I was young. And I looked for two things really PICTURES and BIG PRINT. It's hard to tell font size on an e-book, but I definitely think this one would have proved just right.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

63. Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard. Jonathan Auxier. 2016. Harry N. Abrams. 464 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It has often been said that one should never judge a book by its cover. As any serious reader can tell you, this is terrible advice.

Premise/plot: Peter Nimble has come to Bustleburgh in search of the Bookmender. Her name, he learns, is Sophie Quire, and she has grown up in a bookshop. Her mother was a world-famous bookmender. Sophie has come into the trade mostly by chance and love. Peter comes with a book. Not any book but The Book of Who! It is one of four magical books. Each one is protected by a different Storyguard. The book chooses Sophie to be its storyguard, and the LAST storyguard whatever that means! An adventure awaits her, Peter, and Sir Tode...and a treat awaits readers!

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved this one so much. I loved getting reacquainted with Peter and Sir Tode. But I really loved getting to meet Sophie. This one had me hooked from the beginning. Not just the characterization but the quality of the writing as well. The story is intense and exciting! This book made me FEEL things. Like when her dad threw the book into the fire! Definitely one I'd recommend no matter your age!


If one hopes to live in a world of wonders, he had better locate himself in a place where wondrous stories abound (147).
Stories are more than the sum of their words (150).
Stories lived inside those who read them (439).
Magic cannot be removed from the world, because the world--every speck of it--is magical. It is simply a matter of whether or not we can see it (439).

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

62. No Ordinary Boy

No Ordinary Boy (Tales from the Round Table). Adapted by Tracey Mayhew. 2020. [September] Sweet Cherry. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy] [j fiction; j fantasy; chapter books]

First sentence: Merlin was no ordinary eight-year old boy. Like a few other children in his village, he had grown up without parents. Unlike the others, his father had been a demon, and his human mother had abandoned him soon after his birth.

Premise/plot: This new chapter book series by Tracey Mayhew hopes to introduce young readers to the legends of Merlin, Arthur, and the Round Table. This first book introduces young readers to the character of Merlin. Merlin is a young boy still. He's still got supernatural gifts--prophecy--but they've not exactly been cultivated...yet.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I don't know that I loved it. But I definitely liked it. I do like Arthurian legends and it seems that retelling the stories for a younger audience could be a good thing.

I would definitely be interested in reading future books in this series. I like to see variety in chapter books.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

61. The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp

The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp. Jonathan Auxier. Illustrated by Olga Demidova. 2020. [October] 96 pages. [Source: Review copy] [j fantasy]

First sentence: At the Top of the World Sat an Island. And at the heart of that island lived a boy named Auggie.

Premise/plot: Auggie, the stable boy, works for Professor Cake. He's the only boy on the island, and, he gets a bit lonely for a playmate. Fen, his stick-in-the-mud sidekick, IS decidedly not a boy. But his job taking care of super-unique and amazing animals is awesome. In this first book in a new chapter book series, readers meet one of those animals, Willa the Wisp.

My thoughts: I'm conflicted between four stars and five stars. I'm leaning towards five stars because I really love, love, love, love, love, love Auxier's books. I've read The Night Gardener about six or seven times now. And I'm working my way through a second or third rereading of his other books. (Sophie the Squire; Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes). I love his writing, his characters, his stories. But it might be closer to a four star read in some ways. It is the first in a series. It is really setting things up. There is perhaps more set-up than adventure. Though the half with adventure, I think would be entertaining for little ones.

I am excited that a younger audience will get to enjoy Auxier's storytelling. I am excited to see what other animals and beasts we will be meeting in the future. I am excited to get to know more about this island and Auggie.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers