New Books in Juvenile Literature reviewed May 2013

Posted on June 16, 2013 by

Evaluations by Juvenile Book Review Committee  (community volunteers)

Being Henry David written by Cal Armistead Image

    A tall, good looking teenager finds himself in Penn Station with a bleeding head wound and a paperback of Walden by Henry David Thoreau and no memory of who he is but he is frightened about something. He meets Jack and Nessa—two street kids who try to help him but things get too scary so after stealing money off a dead man, he gets on a train for Concord, Mass. He tells people his name is Henry David or Hank because he can’t think of anything better.
    Arriving at Concord he hopes that the book must mean something so he heads to Walden thinking that then he will remember who he is. Instead he finds Thomas, a friendly research librarian who gives him a place to stay and a way to find out who he is. He also meets Hailey, a funny, talented pretty girl who sings beautifully.
    The author brings all the pieces of “Hank” together in an amazing and very satisfying way. I really cared for Hank and his troubles.

Image      Beholding Bee written by Kimberly Newton Fusco

    Beholding Bee is a beautiful story set during WWII. Bee, an eleven-year-old orphan with a large facial birthmark, has been raised by Pauline who fries hot dogs in a traveling carnival. When Ellis, who runs the show, sends Pauline away to start a different carnival, Bee knows she has to leave the carnival or become a freak attraction. Bee takes the stray dog that has adopted her, the smallest of the pigs from the pig race and leaves.
    They wander until they find the perfect home which is inhabited by two old women that only Bee can see. Bee and the dog and the pig move into this perfect place with Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter who clothe her and feed her.
    The author beautifully solves all the problems created by these elements for a tender and satisfactory ending.

Bright Island written by Mabel L. Robinson   Image

    This is the 75th anniversary edition of a wonderful book. The story of Thankful’s last year as a girl on this Maine island and her tribulations on the mainland at the Academy is full of beautiful details. She learns about what she can do (having learned well from lessons taught by her mother and being willing to join in social dance) how to do what she needs to do like befriending a boatman for Saturday adventures and helping rescue hapless classmates. She finally is content to make her choices about life. Thankful is a determined young woman. She learns from experiences, as well as a roommate and a potential beau who do not understand her, to be open to possibilities while following her own heart.
    Young teens, especially those from beautiful places, will enjoy reading about Thankful’s adventure. This is a book for those who enjoy sinking into a good tale from far away and sometime ago.

Image   Eighth Grade is Making Me Sick: Ginny Davis’s Year in Stuff
  written by Jennifer L. Holm with illustrations by Elicia Castaldi

    This is a graphic novel in scrapbook style, with notes, screen shots of text messages, poetry assignments on lined paper, and flyers. Despite the presentation, the story is a realistic contemporary account of a family with a new baby, a lost job and subsequent changes. Some of the assignments she completes are based on literature, so there are titles of classics mentioned, which may prompt interest. Ginny dreams, frets, and is finally diagnosed with a chronic illness. So the book has humor and heartbreak, even suspense until the happy ending is revealed. This is a sequel to Middle School Is Worse than Meatloaf.

Here Where the Sunbeams are Green written by Helen PhillipsImage

    Two girls and their mother go to Costa Rica to find their father, a naturalist who is on a job. When they find him, he is cold and distant and tells them to leave. They find out that the “green” spa and lodge for whom he works is trying to kill a Lazarus species. This book is well written with good character development and description of place. I liked the blending of magic and reality. The ending seemed too contrived but the story was good enough to keep one interested.
    Find this at Mendenhall Valley Public Library on New Juvenile Books shelf

Image    Janie Face to Face written by Caroline Cooney
    Jennie Spring was kidnapped at the age of three by Hannah—a dysfunctional young woman—who gives Jennie to her own parents who change their names and move so Hannah can’t find them again. They call Jennie, Janie Johnson and they raise her with loving care. That was the first book—The Face on the Milk Carton.
    Four Jennie/Janie books later she has kept the name Janie Johnson to enroll in college even though she has spent increasing amounts of time with her birth family. Her brothers and sister are not happy about Jennie/Janie and all the attention she gets. The author cleverly writes in the voice of each person who is involved so the reader feels the anger of Hannah–the kidnapper, the jealousy of Janie’s sister and brothers, the love of each of her mothers and the love of Reeve—Janie’s ex-boyfriend who still loves her.
    I am so very impressed by how the author reveals the growth of each character—even the increasing madness of Hannah. The magic of the conclusion with each person playing a part is carefully built, I was breathless.

Malcolm at Midnight

written by W.H. Beck with illustrations by Brian Lies  Image

    What happens after the students and teachers leave school in the afternoon? This is an exciting story of what classroom pets do after dark. This gentle fantasy has a scrawny rat who acts with valor and merit. Yes, he has his doubts and enemies, but he perseveres. The emotions and dilemmas are explained in clear and fresh ways: rage as “like putting Mentos into a bottle of soda.” An ally is found as the creatures dangle from the hands of the clock in the tower.
    This is a fun novel and would be a great read-aloud for fourth or fifth grade.

Image  mr. terupt falls again  written by Rob Buyea   

   This realistic novel is a companion book. As in the first one, the ‘tweens are coping with worries and being led by a devoted teacher. The chapters vary among the children’s voices. This volume focuses on out of school activities and parents, though the teacher gets involved and is able to help the children. There are nice references to school work and literature woven into the story. The problems are real (from online reviews, some are a bit more than some adults are comfortable with for twelve year olds):  menstruation, parental and peer pressure, bra padding, wrestling team, cigarette smoking.
This teacher is heroic and successful at changing lives. For me, there is an issue about relying on the classroom teacher to solve everything and in having the teacher assign wedding planning to his class. (I hope that most children have community members that guide them.)

Out of Nowhere written by Maria Padian Image

    Enniston, a small town in Maine, is a haven for Somali refugees. Four of them join Tom Bouchard’s soccer team. The best player among them is Saeed who is able to kick unbelievable goals. As a result Tom’s hometown team begins to defeat all the other teams—including Maquoit which has always been undefeated due to the club soccer players—rich kids who play all year with the best coaches money can buy.
    When Tom gets community service as a result of a prank, he comes to see the Somali kids in a different light. He meets the college age Myla who’s quirky honestly and intelligence cause him to break up with his hot, shallow, nasty girlfriend Cherisse.
    The Somali kids do not have birth certificates. When they received their green cards they were all given January 1 as their birth date plus whatever year the social worker felt appropriate to the age the child looked. As a result when the Enniston team keeps winning one of Maquoit parents questions Saeed’s age which means he can’t play.
    There is not a happy ending but a realistic and satisfactory solution is found to the many problems. The characters were all so strong that I knew them well. This is an excellent book for these troubled times.

Image   Outcasts United:
The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team That Changed a Town by Warren St. John
    This adaptation is not entirely successful, as the level of explanation seems to slow down the story. Perhaps this is because he covers the coach’s and the player’s family history during five seasons in such detail.
    Did you know that Clarkston, Georgia has gained thousands of inhabitants so that the 2000 census showed one-third of the population of its population was born outside the United States? Because of resettlement policies, the soccer players share no language but English. The volunteer coach is a Jordanian woman who has created a strong program based on running and playing hard. The publicity the author has provided has helped recruit donors.
    This is a good book for middle schoolers and a revealing look at America in the early 2000s.

Two Crafty Criminals and How They were Captured by the Daring Detectives of the New Cut Gang   Image

written by Philip Pullman with illustrations by Martin Brown

This book includes two successfully solved “cases” of the New Cut Gang, a group of ragtag kids out to right wrongs. Although less skilled young middle grade readers may find the British Victorian era slang and Pullman’s sophisticated storytelling style a challenge, stronger readers are sure to enjoy the humor and havoc. The relationships among the kids are particularly well drawn, their loyalties and friendships kid-like and believable. There is a useful glossary of Victorian slang at the back of the book. These stories could be classed as old fashioned (they were originally published in the nineties) and as such, will not appeal to all readers, but for the children who enjoy these kinds of quirky characters, the British slang, and seeing is a different slice of life, it has great entertainment value.
    The sly funny line drawings of Martin Brown add greatly to the entertainment value of this book. They are an inspired accompaniment to Pullman’s tales.

Image   The Upside of Ordinary written by Susan Lubner
      Our heroine wants to be famous. She has a video camera and is filming her family and friends to be her first hit reality tv show. This modern setting belies the traditional tale of an eleven year old realizing that her actions have consequences and that loving kindness is more important than celebrity.
The writing is clear, the plot amusing, and the other characters realistic. Here is the author’s description of reality television:  “It’s shocking, fascinating, freaky, sometimes all at once.  That’s reality TV. And we can gawk, gasp and snicker in the comfort of our own homes”. Deft words carry the reader through sisters bickering, girlfriends surviving bad haircuts, and reckless actions (collapsing the display of pickles at the local fair). This is an appealing chapter book for upper elementary grades.

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop written by Kate Saunders  Image

    This is a confection of a fantasy, in which the eleven year old twins are allied with a vain, talking cat and a tough rat, taken into the British intelligence service, and, through a series of adventures, responsible for foiling dastardly villains. There are enjoyable zany characters. The plot is rife with modern technology and age-old human relationships. The author does provide some good character development, as the children grow in empathy and get beyond their self-defined roles. This will be a good read-aloud book and a tasty assignment for a small group. It tells of an adventurous summer vacation (with plenty of James Bond references).





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