Monthly Archives: November 2016

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog, by Lisa Papp

madeline-finnMadeline does not like to read—especially out loud— and even though she gets heart stickers from her teacher that say “Keep Trying,” she really wants a star sticker. When her mother takes her to the public library on Saturday, the librarian, Mrs. Dimple (best children’s librarian name ever), introduces her to Bonnie, a gigantic, white reading dog. Bonnie never giggles when Madeline makes mistakes, as her classmates do, and whenever Madeline looks up from her book, Bonnie’s gentle eyes are always patient and kind. It takes a while, but Madeline achieves her sticker goal at last.

I love reading dogs. If you are not aware of this type of service animal, many libraries have regular visits from dogs who are specially trained to sit quietly and listen to kids read. This is a win/win arrangement at its best: the child gets a completely non-judgmental listener, and the dog gets hours of attention from children. The little readers benefit greatly from this service, not only in their reading skills, but also in their confidence and self-esteem.

Ms. Papp’s artwork in this picture book is soft and sweet, with backgrounds in sea-foam greens, blues, and pale yellows. Madeline wears striped leggings and a cardigan, with a barrette holding back her fly-away hair. Her expressions range from timid to stubborn, and finally, hopeful. Bonnie really is a huge dog, but not in the least scary, and the artist also pictures many other breeds of dogs with children scattered around the library room, all with earnest expressions on their little faces. My favorite detail is that every page is filled with books—in piles, in arms, open or closed, on shelves and tables, or scattered across the floor. This is my natural environment, whether at home or at work.

It is heartbreaking to realize that little children are perfectly well aware of the difference between a heart sticker and a star sticker, as well as all the other ways that adults try to mask the fact that they are saying, “You just don’t measure up.” We think of childhood as all fun and carefree, but these kinds of pressures are overwhelming to children, and Ms. Papp conveys all of this emotion in the first few pages of the book. By the end, not only has Madeline achieved success in her struggle, but Bonnie has a sweet surprise for everyone.

If you have a little one who needs help with reading, check with your local library or independent bookstore to see if they host sessions with reading dogs. And don’t forget to let the kids in your life catch you reading all the time. They’ll want to be just like you.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book, which means, of course, that I bought dozens of copies for my library system. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Magnolia Story, by Chip and Joanna Gaines

magnolia-storyFixer Upper is my favorite HGTV show. I’ve watched Chip and JoJo take some absolute dumps and turn them into dream homes. They have been the inspiration for a lot of the plans for my own renovation, even though Joanna’s design taste does not always coordinate with mine. If I moved into her farmhouse, for example, I’d immediately start sanding and painting some of her more rustic woodwork. However, since I am blessed with a husband who really enjoys watching with me (he is a realtor, after all), it has given him a vehicle to say, “Hey, I like that,” to designs that I would otherwise never have considered. We now deliberately plan for both rustic (his) and formal (hers).

When I heard about the Gaines’ new book, I put a hold on it without knowing anything about it. It is not a decorating book, but rather a memoir of their lives together and how they came to be television stars. On the show, Chip is always goofing around, and Joanna is quiet and serious. One is left with the impression that she is the brains and he is the brawn. While she is smart, and he does lots of heavy lifting, I was surprised to find out that Chip is the business guy! Before they even met, he had owned and sold several businesses, and Joanna knew nothing at all about design! She was a broadcast journalist in New York, but was planning to take over her father’s Firestone dealership when he retired. Their lives have been filled with twists and turns, and many years have been really, really difficult. While I applaud Chip for his entrepreneurial spirit, I applaud Joanna for staying married to him. Even though Chip and JoJo have been my close friends—unbeknownst to them—for several years, there were some real surprises in these pages.

If you are a Fixer Upper fan, you will truly enjoy The Magnolia Story. It’s a fairly quick read, and will set you up for new episodes coming up soon. And if you were disappointed that it was not an interior design guide, no worries. Joanna’s Design Book is already in production.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

scytheIn a world where every disease has been cured and emotions are kept in check by nanites flowing through everyone’s body, governments have been rendered obsolete, and civilization is ordered through the Thunderhead, which grew from what we all know today as “the cloud.” Naturally, babies continue to be born, but no one dies anymore. Even accident victims’ bodies begin healing immediately, and pain is quickly quenched by pain-killing nanites. The world cannot hold that many people, and so the need for “gleaning” is recognized by everyone, and is carried out by Scythes.

Scythes are humans, but they glide through the streets in robes, wearing rings that gather DNA into a database and grant immunity to a gleaned person’s family for a year. They are both revered and feared. Scythes study the history of mortal humanity and try to glean in a widespread, unbiased manner. If they understand that risk-taking personalities died at a younger age than others, they will choose reckless types more often. If a certain habit caused death in the mortal age, they may choose to glean someone with that habit. Otherwise, they try to glean in a carefully random pattern. If they are caught gleaning one ethnic group or geographic area too often, whether through prejudice or laziness, they are disciplined by the Scythedom. Only Scythes are not controlled by the Thunderhead.

Although most people live for hundreds of years without ever knowing someone who dies, Citra and Rowan are teens who witness the gleaning of someone close to them. They are strangers to one another, yet they share unusual qualities that are just what Scythe Faraday has been looking for in a new apprentice. Since there is only space for one apprentice, the two students will train for one year, and then one of them will go back to normal life. At least, that is the plan. As they reluctantly move more deeply into this tight circle of death-dealers, they realize that only one of them will make it out alive. Even in this most honorable calling, there are those who glean and those who slaughter.

Neal Shusterman is a master at blending taut sci-fi adventure plots with deep, philosophical questions. I am never disappointed in anything he writes, but Scythe ranks right up there with Unwind and Challenger Deep as the top of the list. His adult characters range from wise guru to absolute monster, and the narration flips from Rowan’s perspective to Citra’s, keeping the plot rolling right along. The teens’ relationships—with one another, with the adults in their lives, and with their families—add layers of depth to what could have otherwise been techno sci-fi in the hands of a lesser writer. There is so much to discuss in these pages. How would the meaning of life change if there was no death? What does it mean to be human? What is the function of government and authority? How far does loyalty extend? When a task must be accomplished, does it matter how it is done or just that it is done? The list goes on and on. Teens and adults will love this one.

Very highly recommended, and the first of a series!

Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reader copy of this book, which releases November 22nd. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Samurai Rising, by Pamela S. Turner

samurai-risingYoshitsune was born into the powerful Minamoto family in 12th century Japan, but when his father died in disgrace, he was shuffled off into a monastery with no hope for the future. As a scrawny teenager, no one expected much of him, but he escaped, ran north, and lived in asylum with another samurai lord. Although Yoshitsune started his real samurai training late in life, he was more motivated than most. When he felt he was ready, he planned to defeat the rival Taira family and win back the honor of the Minamoto.

Pamela Turner writes an unlikely hit biography for today’s teens. Not much is known about ancient Japan in today’s American high schools, but this tale of epic battles and political machinations will capture the imagination of even the most jaded student. Yoshitsune had to deal with sibling rivalry, false friends, and unexpected betrayals, but he became the most powerful samurai in history. As in most stories of royal families, there were forced marriages and illegitimate births, so keeping track of one’s lineage was a complicated task that was sometimes completely separated from one’s affections. Feelings ran even higher when an entire clan decided to change sides on the battlefield in the middle of a war!

American readers could find the naming conventions of 12th century Japan to be a challenge, so Turner included charts of names and places in the beginning of the book. Family names come first, and parents seemed to have a penchant for giving their children long names with the same initial letter. Minamoto Yoshitsune’s half brother was Minamoto Yoritomo. His father was Minamoto Yoshitomo. Then there were his close friends, the brothers Tadanobu and Tsuginobu. One other cause of discomfort could be the Japanese code of honor that preferred suicide over a perception of shame. I do have concerns about the effect of some of the suicide scenes on a teenage reader, so discussions are in order.

This multi-starred true story is action-packed and will introduce readers to a real-life superhero. If you’re looking for a tale that will motivate teens to work hard to achieve amazing goals, this is it!

Expect to see some medals on the cover after January’s Youth Media Awards.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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