Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

An overscheduled princess takes a day off: Princess Cora and the Crocodile March 27, 2017

Princess Cora and the Crocodile, by Laura Amy Schlitz/Illustrated by Brian Floca, (March 2017, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-4822-0

Recommended for readers 4-8

A king and queen have a baby that they coo and marvel over – until they realize that she’s clearly not ready to run an entire kingdom. From that moment on, Princess Cora’s life is a nonstop schedule of lessons, physical training, and nonstop bathing (seriously, her nanny’s got a bit of a complex). Cora writes to her fairy godmother in desperation, and the response, while not necessarily what Cora expected, is exactly what she needs. A crocodile shows up to take Cora’s place for a day; while Cora takes a day off to enjoy being a kid, the crocodile sets to teaching the king, queen, and nanny a thing or two.

Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz and Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca have joined their considerable forces to create a book that parents need to read (cough, cough, and education administrators, cough, cough) as much as their children do. Princess Cora and the Crocodile is all about the stresses our kids face today: the lack of time to enjoy being a kid, doing kid things. The king and queen are so stressed out about what Cora’s not ready for, they strip the joy not only from Cora’s childhood, but rob themselves of the chance to enjoy watching Cora grow up; of playing on the floor with her as an infant, climbing trees and running around their considerable lands with her, of reveling in the carefree fun that parents should embrace.

When Cora’s fairy godmother sends a crocodile to her family, the croc immediately – if a bit roughly – sets to whipping Cora’s family into shape, with hilarious results. While the croc wreaks havoc at home, Cora spends the day picking strawberries, climbing trees, even stepping in a cow pie, and enjoying every moment of it. Every. Unscheduled. Moment. Brian Floca’s ink, watercoor, and gouache artwork is fun, hilarious, and every bit as free and joyful as the story’s text.

Image courtesy of Brian Floca

Parents, read this one. Please. It’s as much for us as it is for our kids. Schlitz and Floca created this fairy tale to let kids know that it’s okay to be a kid, but the message here is for us adults, because we’re the ones who can make the changes kids need to be happy – to be kids – again.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly.

Illustrator Brian Floca has a fantastic webpage, with lots of online extras, information about school visits, and upcoming events.

 

Historical middle-grade fiction: Snakes and Stones March 20, 2017

Snakes and Stones, by Lisa Fowler, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-1031-3

Recommended for readers 9-12

The year is 1921, and Chestnut Hill, a 12 year old girl, travels with her father and 7 year-old triplet siblings (also named after nuts) across the American south, putting on medicine shows so her daddy can sell his elixir. Daddy’s a snake oil merchant, and Chestnut is sick and tired of living in a cramped wagon, wearing clothes to rags, and going to bed with a rumbling stomach. She’s mad at Daddy from stealing her and her siblings away from their Mama, who must be out of her mind with grief right now. Even when the Hill family meets up with Abraham, a friend of her father’s, who tells her that there’s a lot Chestnut doesn’t know about her Daddy, she refuses to believe it and decides to take matters into her own hands, setting off a chain of events that will change her and her family.

I was happy to see a middle grade historical fiction piece take place in the early ’20s – it’s an interesting time that hasn’t seen a lot of middle grade storytelling just yet. Lisa Fowler has several strong characters here, most notably, Chestnut, who narrates the story. Her father is a seeming ne’er do well, a con man with a heart of gold, who just doesn’t know how to take care of his family; Abraham, an African-American character, allows for a look at the everyday racism and segregation in the South. Readers may get tired of Chestnut’s firm belief that her father’s the bad guy, especially when there’s clearly more to the story that Abraham knows but won’t discuss. While Abraham is a potentially strong character to highlight the racial issues in the Southern U.S., readers may be put off by the way his speech is written, which can be construed as negative stereotyping rather than striving for historical accuracy.

Overall, it’s a story that means well but gets caught up in melodrama and possibly troubling characterization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance like your life depends on it: Spin the Sky March 17, 2017

Spin the Sky, by Jill MacKenzie, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510706866

Recommended for readers 14+

Eighteen year-old Magnolia Woodson and her older sister, Rose, have to live with the sins of their drug addict mother, who abandoned them after a tragedy a year before. Living in a small clamming town in Oregon, everyone knows who they are and what happened; the only folks who seem to think differently are Magnolia’s childhood best friend, George, and his mother, who’s taken care of the girls whenever their mother fell short. To change the way the town sees Magnolia and her sister, she decides she need to win the reality dance show, Live to Dance. She and George head to Portland to audition, but they make it! Now the real work begins: will the competition be too much for Mags? Will her friendship with George survive the stress of the show, and will she be able to live in the fishbowl that is reality television, especially with a secret she doesn’t want made public?

Spin the Sky has a strong premise that isn’t afraid to tackle some hot-button topics like drug addiction, sexuality, abortion, and miscarriage. Some of your more conservative readers may shy away from this one; steer them toward books like Sophie Flack’s Bunheads, Lorri Hewett’s Dancer, or Sarah Rubin’s Someday Dancer. Magnolia is a tough character to crack: she’s consumed with what other people think of her, and obsesses over winning the competition, seemingly just so that the town will accept her and her sister. She has a complicated love-hate relationship with her mother (understandably), and she has an unrequited crush on George, who she thinks is gay – and is really upset when it seems that isn’t the case. The other contestants all have their own issues that the author briefly touches on throughout the novel.

If you have readers who love reading about dance and are interested in reality television, Spin the Sky is a good backup for your shelves.

 

Regency, betrayal, superpowers: These Ruthless Deeds

These Ruthless Deeds (These Vicious Masks #2), by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, (March 2017, Macmillan), $10.00, ISBN: 9781250127952

Recommended for readers 12+

The sequel to These Vicious Masks (2016) picks up shortly after the first novel leaves off. Evelyn is grieving the loss of her sister and finds herself working with a secret society that promises her they are devoted to protecting and working with Evelyn and her friends: friends with special abilities. She’s reunited with Mr. Kent, and even manages to locate Mr. Braddock. Her reputation is intact, even if she does have to be around the awful Mrs. Atherton, who is somehow involved with the society’s work. Still, Evelyn has a bad feeling about things. She’s going to have to take a deeper look into the society, and what she finds may not sit so well with her, after all.

I loved These Vicious Masks, and was excited for the sequel. While it did take a little bit of reading to get as into the second book as I did the first, it was worth it. If you haven’t picked up These Vicious Masks, I suggest you read it before diving into These Ruthless Deeds – you’ll be at a disadvantage in terms of key characters and situations otherwise. Everything that made book one such a strong read is here: secret organizations, heroes and villains (and you may not always know who is who), intrigue, betrayal, witty banter, and a strong heroine.

Display and booktalk with Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen series (Dark Days Club and Dark Days Pact), and Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, for readers with a craving for more steampunk.

 

The Last Civil Rights March of the 60s: The March Against Fear March 12, 2017

The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power, by Ann Bausum, (Jan. 2017, National Geographic), $18.99, 978-1-4263-2665-3

Recommended for readers 12+

In June 1966, activist James Meredith set out to walk from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi. He called it his Walk Against Fear; he wanted to conquer his own fears of walking through his home state; he wanted to encourage fellow African Americans to become voters: the Voter Registration Act had passed the year before, but the majority of African Americans had not yet registered, still living in fear of consequences they faced. Two days into his walk, James Meredith was shot in an assassination attempt. While Meredith recuperated, his cause was taken up by civil rights leaders of the day: Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael, and the ensuing March Against Fear became an historic march that included 15,000 people, resulted in 4,000 black voter registrations in Mississippi, and saw the rise of the Black Power movement.

Author Ann Bausum, who has connections to this history, captures the strife in Mississippi as whites and blacks clashed over civil rights. She looks at Meredith’s frustration at how his private stand grew into a full-scale movement, and at the discord between Stokely Carmichael and Martin Luther King: Carmichael’s desire for Black Power frightened whites who saw the movement as a possible militant uprising; King wanted to promote a nonviolent, peaceful march. Bausum also looks at why this march, of all marches, seems to have disappeared from history books – I certainly never learned about this one in school – and how we are still “trying to establish the essential truth that Black Lives Matter”.

An essential read for everyone. An essential addition to history classes in high school and college.

For more information about The March Against Fear, check PBS’ American Experience page on the Civil Rights Movement and the National Archives webpage on James Meredith and March Against Fear.

The March Against Fear received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly.

 

Fun with Phonics: Phoebe Sounds It Out March 9, 2017

Phoebe Sounds It Out, by Julie Zwillich, (Apr. 2017, Owl Kids), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-77147-164-0

Recommended for readers 3-7

Phoebe’s teacher announces that the children are going to learn to write their names today. All they have to do is sound it out. Phoebe doesn’t quite agree. First of all, Mama sewed her name on her school bag, and she’s convinced that she made a mistake: Phoebe’s name begins with a P, but that’s not the sound her name makes! She dawdles as the teacher encourages the class to sound it out, and finally, she gives it a shot. Her encouraging teacher tells her that it’s a great start – she did sound it out, after all!

I enjoyed so much about this book. I love that there’s a child of color main character and the diversity reflected in the classroom. One of the two teachers is also a person of color, and there is diversity in the classroom, including a classmate in a wheelchair. I enjoyed Phoebe’s thought process while the rest of the class works on their assignment: she fidgets, she goofs off, she “borrows” a letter from a classmate’s name to jazz up her name as she sounded it out. Kids will recognize themselves in Phoebe.

I’ve seen comments questioning whether a teacher would let Phoebe’s misspelling stand. I tend to say yes, especially for this first attempt. The point of the story is to sound out a word, and Phoebe does just that. When my older kids were in elementary school, the practice for teachers was not to correct spelling errors on similar assignments; the kids were expected to catch on eventually, and they did, through vocabulary words, spelling tests, and reading and being read to.

Denise Holmes’ art is rendered in ink and colored using Photoshop, and it’s very cute. There are bright colors and fun patterns, and sweet touches, like the children’s pictures on their cubby spaces and the handwritten children’s work.

This book presents a fun chance for a similar Sound It Out activity, complete with glitter glue to finish up your kids’ work. Let them sound out their names, or other fun words around them.

Julie Zwillich is a television personality with shows on Food Network Canada. You can see more of Denise Holmes’ illustration at her website.

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Noodleheads See the Future… Is there cake?

Noodleheads See the Future, by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, & Mitch Weiss/Illustrated by Tedd Arnold, (Jan. 2017, Holiday House), $15.95, ISBN: 9780823436736

Recommended for readers 6-10

Noodlehead brothers Mac and Mac return for a second round of goofy fun in Noodleheads See the Future. The empty-headed brothers (no, really, they’ll show you their hollow pasta heads) are a bit gullible, which leaves them open to pranks by their cousin, Meatball. The Noodleheads head to the woods to get firewood for their mother so she can bake them a cake; where Meatball tricks them and steals their firewood. The joke’s on Meatball, though; the Noodleheads still manage to get the job done for Mom, who bakes them a cake!

Think of the Noodleheads as a first step toward Amelia Bedelia. The brothers take everything literally, like looking up when being told, “heads up”. This is a fun graphic novel to give to emerging independent readers; the text is brief and bold, the panels show events in sequence, and the three chapters are short enough to keep a reader’s attention. Plus, the illustrator and one of the authors is Tedd Arnold, whose Fly Guy series is an Easy Reader favorite. An explanation of the myths inspiring the stories told in Noodleheads of the Future will interest kids and grownups.

This is the second Noodleheads book. The first, Noodlehead Nightmares, was released in 2016. The series is a Guided Reading level L, according to the publisher’s website, and received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.