Posted in Preschool Reads

Oskar and the Eight Blessings: A Hanukkah tale

Oskar and the Eight Blessings, by Ricahrd Simon & Tanya Simon/Illustrated by Mark Siegel, (Sept. 2015, Roaring Brook Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439498

Recommended for readers 4-8

Oskar is a young, Jewish refugee arriving in New York to stay with his aunt after the horror of Kristallnacht. He arrives in New York on the seventh day of Hanukkah in 1938, which also falls on Christmas Eve. He has no money, and faces a long walk from Battery Park to his Aunt Esther’s apartment on West 103rd Street. As he walks the length of Manhattan, he keeps his father’s words in mind: “…even in bad times, people can be good. You have to look for the blessings.” And sure enough, he encounters blessings, in the forms of people whose paths he crosses, that provide him with small moments of kindness, from a woman who gives him bread to newsstand man who gives him a copy of a Superman comic. Two legendary figures pop up to show kindness toward Oskar, whistling a tune with him and giving him a wink. Each act of kindness sustains Oskar on his journey, which ends in his aunt’s arms.

This is a gorgeous book. It’s about the power of empathy, and how the seemingly smallest kindnesses can make the greatest differences. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit and the strength of children. The book begins with a gut punch, and ends with a crescendo; you can’t be unaffected by Oskar’s story. The artwork relies on close-ups of faces, particularly eyes, to convey emotion, and it’s through Oskar’s eyes that we see the fear of being in a strange, new place; wonder and joy at the connections he makes, and finally, the comfort of home. I need my own copy of this book.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings received the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature and was chosen for both the Booklist Editors’ Choice and Kansas State Reading Circle. The book received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Blog Tour Stop: The Blood Guard concludes at The Blazing Bridge

blazing-bridgeThe Blazing Bridge (The Blood Guard, Book 3), by Carter Roy, (Feb. 2017, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781477827178

Recommended for ages 9-13

In the third book in Carter Roy’s Blood Guard series, Ronan Truelove is doing his best to protect his best friend, Greta, from his evil father and the awful Bend Sinister thugs. Greta is a Pure – one of 36 pure souls on the planet – and the Bend Sinister have their own horrible plans in store for her, and for the rest of the Pure, if they get their hands on her. With the unkillable Blood Guard agent Jack Dawkins, their hacker friend, Sammy, and a taxi driver named Diz, the group races around New York to foil the Bend Sinister and keep the world safe, but Ronan’s father is closing in.

This is the first Blood Guard book I’ve read, and I’ll be picking up the first two books – The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet – to catch up on this series. Told as a first person narrative, Ronan is a likable kid who’s trying to reconcile the fact that his father is an evil creep who tried to kill him and his mother by burning the family house down, comprehend the fact that his mom (and, because of circumstances, he) is Blood Guard, and his best friend is one of a handful of Pure souls in the world. He’s funny and wry, determined, and brave. Jack Dawkins is James Bond meets Captain Jack Harkness (where are my Doctor Who and Torchwood bretheren?); a secret agent that can fight with any weapon and who can’t die. The story is fast-paced and action packed, with a fight on the New York City subway system that readers will love.

While you don’t need to have read the first two Blood Guard books to enjoy The Blazing Bridge, readers will really get the full background and enjoy the series more if they do. Booktalk and display this series with other adventure novels, including the Nick and Tesla series by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hocksmith, The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari, and Michael Grant’s Magnificent 12 series.

carter-roy-photo-bw_credit-jdz-photographyCarter Roy has painted houses and worked on construction sites, waited tables and driven delivery trucks, been a stagehand for rock bands and a videographer on a cruise ship, and worked as a line cook in a kitchen, a projectionist in a movie theater, and a rhetoric teacher at a university. He has been a reference librarian and a bookseller, edited hundreds of books for major publishers, and written award-winning short stories that have appeared in a half-dozen journals and anthologies. His first two books were The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City and can be found at or on Twitter @CarterRoyBooks.




One lucky winner will receive a complete set of all three Blood Guard books (THE BLOOD GUARD, THE GLASS GAUNTLET, and THE BLAZING BRIDGE). (U.S. addresses only.) Just enter this One lucky winner will receive a complete set of all three Blood Guard books (THE BLOOD GUARD, THE GLASS GAUNTLET, and THE BLAZING BRIDGE). (U.S. addresses only.) Just enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance!

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Middle School, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Assassin’s Creed goes YA with Last Descendants

assassinLast Descendants: An Assassin’s Creed Novel, by Matthew J. Kirby, (Aug. 2016, Scholastic), $9.99, ISBN: 9780545855518

Recommended for ages 12+

Owen is going through some rough stuff. He and his mother live with his grandparents; they were forced to after his father was arrested for robbing a bank and died in prison. Owen believes he was innocent, but that doesn’t stop his grandparents from badmouthing his dad whenever they get a chance. His best friend, Javier, has been more distant lately, so he really feels alone until the school IT guy, Monroe, invites him to use his device called the Animus, which will help him explore memories buried in his DNA. He convinces Javier to come along and make sure things sound on the level, and Javier ends up having a shared genetic memory in the Animus with Owen. Use of the Animus sets off some kind of alarm, though, and Monroe brings the two teens to a hideout he’s established, where they meet four other teens who have used the Animus. Monroe explains that the group all have roots in one (or both) of two ancient orders: the Brotherhood of Assassins or the Templar Order. There’s a precious relic that needs to be found, and their group is the only group that can do it through a shared genetic experience. The teens find themselves in the bodies of their ancestors, transported into the 1863 New York City, on the even of the infamous Draft Riots.

This is the first book in a YA Assassin’s Creed series, based on the insanely popular video game. I’ve never played Assassin’s Creed – I think I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m fairly inept beyond a joystick and firing button – but I love the mythology behind the game, which my eldest has played for years. Having a YA series that follows teens descended from the Assassins and Templars, going through different eras in history? I loved it! We get a look at the Gangs of New York-era Lower East Side through an interesting fantasy perspective, with some nice groundwork about the two dueling factions in place for newbies to Assassin’s Creed (I double-checked some info with my son as I read). Being a Gangs of New York fan and a student of Lower East Side history, I was thrilled to see how Kirby worked the gangs into the main storyline. The story flows through multiple perspectives, yet he keeps everything together so readers shouldn’t be confused by whose voice they’re reading, especially appreciated when characters are in the Animus and living through their ancestors. There’s great character development, action, and he doesn’t flinch from the racism that fueled the riots. The ending leaves no doubt that there will be a sequel, and I can’t wait to read it.

I’ve liked Matthew Kirby’s writing since I devoured Icefall four years ago. He creates great characters and skilfully weaves historical fiction and fantasy. With an Assassin’s Creed movie hitting theatres in a little more than two weeks, this is a book you need front and center on your displays (and on your holiday lists – we all know someone who loves this franchise). Put this one on your purchase lists.

Posted in Non-fiction, Uncategorized

The Battle for Room 314: One Teacher’s Story

room314The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School, by Ed Boland (Feb. 2016, Grand Central Publishing), $26, ISBN: 978-1455560615

Recommended for ages 16+

I normally review books for children here at MomReadIt, but I felt like this was an important book to review here for parents, educators, and anyone else trying to wrap their heads around education these days. Education is a hot-button topic everywhere – it’s always been, because it concerns our kids, and our future, but it’s never hotter than it is during an election year, and that’s exactly where we’re heading.

We know the education system needs help. We know that underserved communities in our country are falling through the system’s cracks. The Battle for Room 314 tells the story of one man who tried to make a difference in both arenas. Ed Boland left a high-profile career at a non-profit to teach in a New York City public high school. He was ready to make a difference in the lives of young people, having seen the fantastic results of his non-profile organization, which sends exemplary children from low-income neighborhoods to the best schools, giving them an advantage in life they wouldn’t otherwise have. He’s ready to cut out the middleman and help these kids himself.

What a rude awakening. What Mr. Boland learns in his year of teaching is that politics enters the classroom at all levels. That the problems aren’t only in the classroom, they’re in the homes that these children come from. That teachers are burned out, overworked, and when they try to propose changes that will benefit the students and make things easier on themselves, they get stymied by their own union. He can’t make these kids turn on to learning, not when the issues they’re facing in their individual lives seem almost insurmountable. He met young girls who were prostituting themselves at middle grade age; children homeschooled on the subway by their homeless parents; kids who were running drug rings for their incarcerated family members. Their realities are so far away from anything Boland could comprehend – and myself, reading this book – that it seems like the ultimate Sisyphean task.

This isn’t going to be a fairy tale ending: the title alone is your heads-up to that. It’s not meant to be. It’s an indictment of so-called education reform and a plea for the powers that be to understand that changes need to be made at ALL levels, by multiple organizations. More standardized testing isn’t going to make these children succeed. Common Core isn’t going to help these kids.

I loved this book. Boland has a sense of humor and a sincerity in his belief that makes it hard to read this book at times. I hurt for him, and I hurt for the kids in the classroom just as much as I wanted to scream at them for Boland. I’m a public librarian in an area that serves a lot of underprivileged kids, and I only see a fragment of what Boland witnessed in his classroom every day. There are some days where I just knock my head against a wall and wonder if I’m ever going to get through to “my kids”. Some days, the answer is “maybe”. Some days, I even feel like it’s a “yes”. Boland’s book spurs me on, to keep doing what I’m doing, but I’m in a completely different area, doing a completely different job. I see where I can make change, and go for it. And that’s what Mr. Boland’s book reminded me to keep in mind.

Parents, read this book and understand what our educators are up against. Educators, read this book and know that you’re not alone. People get it, and more people will continue to get it. All we have to do is keep pushing for the right changes to be identified. And it has nothing to do with a new state test.

Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Post-Apocalypse New York, run by teens- Chris Weitz’s The Young World

youngworldThe Young World, by Chris Weitz (2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $19.00, ISBN: 9780316226295

Recommended for ages 14+

The Young World takes place in a post-apocalyptic New York City. A sickness has wiped out young children and adults, leaving only teenagers to fend for themselves in this new world. When you turn 18, you develop the sickness and die, too. Jefferson, left in charge of the Washington Square tribe once his brother dies, sets out with key members of his group to find information on what caused the sickness, hoping to find a cure. The trip will take them throughout New York City – and other tribes that are dangerous in their own right – and beyond, as they discover secrets and experiments that lead to the rise of the Young World.

It’s an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre. Author Chris Weitz knows how to stage a teen story: he’s directed films like Twilight: New Moon, American Pie, and About a Boy. He has a good grasp on the teen voice, and the novel itself is told effectively in alternating first-person narratives between Jefferson and his childhood friend and would-be love interest, Donna. In a world where kids and adults are dead, teens – at a tumultuous time of life to begin with – are left to forge ahead on their own. We see different social classes and races handle things very differently, and the factioning of Manhattan, particularly Grand Central, is fascinating. The characters are well-developed, each with his or her own distinct voice. Secondary characters, particularly Brainbox – the brains of the Washington Square tribe –¬†are nicely fleshed-out¬†through Jefferson’s and Donna’s eyes. I felt that Donna struggled a bit to find her own voice, but hits her stride mid-novel.

The story reminds me of 12 Monkeys meets The Warriors. (This is a good thing; I love both of those movies.) I’m interested in seeing where the next book – The New Order, publishing this July – takes things.

Check out more about The Young World at Little Brown’s page.

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (Yearling, 2010)

Recommended for ages 10-14When You Reach Me is a science-fiction novel set in a realistic fiction setting. It received the Newbery Award in 2010.

Miranda and Sal are best friends of the same age who live in the same building and both have single mothers. They spend all off their time together until the day when Sal is inexplicably punched in the stomach by a boy on the street. From then on, he shuts Miranda out of his life, leaving her hurt and confused. At about the same time, Miranda begins receiving strange notes from someone saying they are coming to save her friend’s life and his or her own, but that Miranda must write a detailed letter as the author will not be himself when he reaches her. She tries to figure out whether the notes or real or a joke as she navigates her situation with Sal, amkes new friends, and preps her mother to be a contestant on a game show, The $20,000 Pyramid. The notes continue to arrive, each with future predictions that come true, until the day Miranda witnesses an awful accident and brings the truth home: the notes are no joke.

The book is wonderfully addictive, with interesting characters and a realistic, New York in the 1970s setting. Ms. Stead layers plot upon plot, drawing the reader in and dropping little clues throughout the story to guide the reader along while never giving away the surprise until the climax of the story. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time figures heavily into the story both as Miranda’s favorite book and a device to further the plot and is woven beautifully into the fabric of the story. Older readers will be better able to sit down and spend some time with this complex book and have great discussions afterwards.

In addition to winning the Newbery, When You Reach Me has received numerous awards and honors including designation as a New York Times Notable Book and an American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Book; it has also won School Library Journals’ Best Book of the Year (2009) and Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Book of the Year (2009).

The author’s website provides information and reviews on her books, a link to her blog, and contact information for libraries and schools that wish to host her.