The Other Dog by Madeleine L'Engle - a tiny book review

Publisher's Synopsis: "Reissued in hardcover to coincide with the movie release of A Wrinkle in Time, here is a true tale of dog-meets-baby from Newbery Medal–winning author Madeleine L'Engle! Based on Madeleine L'Engle's own poodle's experience coping with a new baby in the house, this sprightly picture book presents a familiar domestic drama with an utterly charming new twist. Tongue-in-cheek wit, endearing illustrations, and a revealing author's note make this a publishing event to celebrate!"

My Two Cents: Popping it's little head back into publication on the heals of L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time movie hoopla, The Other Dog is a simple and sweet tale of a dog's jealousy when Mom & Dad bring home another dog (aka: baby). Although the book is a exaggerated look at sibling feelings with the addition of a new baby, I think it has a wider appeal. Lots of kids will enjoy doggie Touche L'Engle-Franklin's affronted tone and eventual love for the new family member.

The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast by Samantha Clark - book review

Publisher's Synopsis: "The Graveyard Book meets Hatchet in this eerie novel about a boy who is stranded on a mysterious beach, from debut author Samantha M. Clark. A boy washes up on a mysterious, seemingly uninhabited beach. Who is he? How did he get there? The boy can’t remember. When he sees a light shining over the foreboding wall of trees that surrounds the shore, he decides to follow it, in the hopes that it will lead him to answers. The boy’s journey is a struggle for survival and a search for the truth—a terrifying truth that once uncovered, will force him to face his greatest fear of all if he is to go home. This gripping adventure will have readers hooked until its jaw-dropping and moving conclusion. Samantha M. Clark’s first novel heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice.”

My Two Cents: To pigeonhole  The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast as an "adventure" or even a "mystery" is way too simple.  To call it "horror" might be a bit closer; to call it a "coming-of-age" tale, still closer yet. Here's what I do know about this new book... kids are going to love the mystery and the adventure and are going to be gobsmacked at the ending not really being a mystery adventure at all.

Ready to Ride by S├ębastien Pelon - a book bite

Publisher’s Synopsis: “A funny, feel good book with a can-do attitude for anyone who's ever tried to ride a bike, about freedom, friendship, and the joy of cycling without stabilisers for the very first time.

A little boy is told to play outside by his mum and bumps into an imaginary friend with whom he goes for a bike ride. At first he finds it difficult to keep up, but with the imaginary friend’s help he takes off the bike’s stabilisers and learns to freewheel – all the way home.

Stunning illustrations and an imaginative design make this a really special picture book gift for little bike riders everywhere.”

My Two Cents:   Ready to Ride is a simple little book about the joy of learning to ride a bike without training wheels and the feeling of becoming a “big boy.” The imaginary friend is endearing and helps the boy overcome his fears and increase his tenacity. The illustrations are fun, going back and forth between traditional picture book style and graphic novel style. It would be a nice introduction to that type of print for young ones. 

That being said, there’s really not a lot educational ‘stuff’ to opine about. Therefore, I will just quickly say that limited budget libraries might want to make sure they have a demographic for it and parents who are teaching kids to ride a bike might find a place for it as it is a limited-in-scope title.

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr - a book review

Publisher's Synopsis: "Grisha is a dragon in a world that's forgotten how to see him. Maggie is a unusual child who thinks she's perfectly ordinary. They're an unlikely duo—but magic, like friendship, is funny. Sometimes it chooses those who might not look so likely. And magic has chosen Grisha and Maggie to solve the darkest mystery in Vienna. Decades ago, when World War II broke out, someone decided that there were too many dragons for all of them to be free. As they investigate, Grisha and Maggie ask the question everyone's forgotten: Where have the missing dragons gone? And is there a way to save them? At once richly magical and tragically historical, The Language of Spells is a novel full of adventure about remembering old stories, forging new ones, and the transformative power of friendship."

My Two Cents: This is a tough one because this book has all the elements present in my perfect kind of story: dragons, coming of age friendship, a quest, and deep themes. I expected to LOVE The Language of Spells, and I did really enjoy some of it, but it was so uneven and slow to start that it misses the mark for its intended middle grade audience. Therefore, as a reviewer focused on children's experience with a book and/or teaching implications, I have several misgivings.

The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet - book review

Publisher's Synopsis: "With the United States on the verge of World War II, eleven-year-old Gusta is sent from New York City to Maine, where she discovers small-town prejudices — and a huge family secret.
It’s 1941, and tensions are rising in the United States as the Second World War rages in Europe. Eleven-year-old Gusta’s life, like the world around her, is about to change. Her father, a foreign-born labor organizer, has had to flee the country, and Gusta has been sent to live in an orphanage run by her grandmother. Nearsighted, snaggletoothed Gusta arrives in Springdale, Maine, lugging her one precious possession: a beloved old French horn, her sole memento of her father. But in a family that’s long on troubles and short on money, how can a girl hang on to something so valuable and yet so useless when Gusta’s mill-worker uncle needs surgery to fix his mangled hand, with no union to help him pay? Inspired by her mother’s fanciful stories, Gusta secretly hopes to find the coin-like “Wish” that her sea-captain grandfather supposedly left hidden somewhere. Meanwhile, even as Gusta gets to know the rambunctious orphans at the home, she feels like an outsider at her new school — and finds herself facing patriotism turned to prejudice, alien registration drives, and a family secret likely to turn the small town upside down."

My Two Cents: There are many standout elements to The Orphan Band of Springdale that make it a great addition to middle grade shelves.

First, it's simply a good story: The protagonist, Gusta, is engaging and likable, made all the more real through the author's excellent use of narrative monologues which helps the reader to better understand not only Gusta's winning character traits, but also her emotions.

Red Sky at Night by Elly Mackay - Book Review

Red Sky at Night begins with, "Long ago, here and far away, people looked for clues in nature to predict the weather." As the book begins with an explanation of the weather aphorisms to follow, it was easy for this reading specialist to focus on the text while glossing over the gorgeous illustrations that paint the narrative. Therefore, this reader spent the first read-through noting teaching ideas focused on the weather aphorisms almost completely ignoring the narrative unfurled in gorgeous paper-cut 3-D imagery! Luckily, on the second and third read, the narrative added another layer as to why this fabulous book should be added to classroom shelves.