Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake

I am continuing my look at jFIC books with a female protagonist. Some that I have read have likable personalities but
 deal with issues that though important to them are not important in the grand scheme of things. of  Set in the Midwest in Jim Crow 1950s Octobia May lives with her aunt Shuma who runs a boarding house. Octobia has a vivid imagination and along with her best friend (a boy) is on a crusade of sorts against one of the boarders, Mr. Davenport who she thinks is a vampire. To be fair, Mr. Davenport does walk around mainly at night and she also glimpses him skulking around at the graveyard.

Octobia's aunt Shuma is very permissive and allows her a lot of leeway. Some times she gets herself into trouble and one night she follows Mr. Davenport downtown hoping to catch him turning someone into a vampire, she does see him and a lady get into a fight and then the lady winds up in the river. Davenport is no fool however and becomes more stealthy in order to evade Octobia's prying eyes.

Things get even stranger when Aunt Shuma in an attempt to get some capital for investment purposes asks Mr. Davenport for a favor. Octobia sees firsthand the choices a spinster must make in that day and age. Aunt Shuma to her credit had tried various ways to get social and cultural cachet.

In addition to the vampire theme the book explores various social themes in the African American community such as the role of soldiers in the segregated army of World War II, the phenomenon of "passing", the strong sense of community that existed in the fight for civil rights. There is also a brief mention of the role of Jewish refuge scholars at black colleges.

I like the dual meaning of the word freedom as employed in this book. Aunt Shuma tirelessly underscores to Octobia that some children in other parts of the country cannot go to school. Aunt Shuma is also seeking but one senses that Octobia will have to find this one for herself. At the end of the work Octobia shows personal growth and a burgeoning political awareness which bodes well for her. I would not mind reading one or two more books about this incredible little heroine.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Interesting library news -October

I am falling a little behind on my reading this week (don't worry I have some cool books to review very soon) so in an effort to keep to my twice a week posting  schedule I am rounding up some of the best library-related stories of the week.

1. Who would have thought that even the Vatican could get in on the digitization bandwagon.

2. Think libraries will soon go the way of the dodo? Thing again. This article explores how libraries are competing in the digital age.

3.  Want to get the latest or special kitchen gadgets for your kitchen. Have no fear, there is a new lending library based in Toronto

4.I am not sure how I feel about this story considering the myriad issues that our library has with just a vending machine. The board of trustees narrowly approved for a bar and restaurant to encroach into the rear patio of this library.

5. I am passionate about access to various books covering all sorts of themes so I am miffed taht according to this report some of the more frequently challenged books are those covering issues of poverty and social class.

6. Finally Denver Public Library's Western History and Genealogy department has a channel on youtube and this week they uploaded footage featuring survivors of the Battle of Little Bighorn. The recording was from the early 20th century and featured actual survivors and not actors.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz

   I am seeing many new books featuring girl heroines. Of late, Amulet, Zita the Spacegirl and Maddie and the Tongue Taker come to mind. This book is another with a brave child heroine. Jocelyn is a privileged girl who lives with her stodgy grandfather Sir Charles and loves spending her days tormenting her various tutors.  Her mother is dead and her father just happens to be the infamous Captain Hook.  In the first few chapters of the book I couldn't help but think, "oh boy, is this girl going to be this bratty for the entire book" but when she proves incorrigible she is sent to a finishing school where she rooms with girls even brattier than she. At finishing school she meets a boy called Roger whose father was also a pirate and the pair soon spend much time together sharing dreams about the sea.

     Jocelyn gets a bit of a reputation at the school because she is the daughter of the most feared pirate on the seas but she harbors dreams of one day sailing with her father. This ends when a crow arrives one day with a letter confirming that Hook is indeed dead. The crow carries her to Neverland where she hires a crew that is not the greatest (to say the least).  In her first encounter with the crocodile she realizes just what a mess she has gotten herself into and this is when it dawns on her that this is not a game.
    The book borrows some of the Neverland lore and there are brief interludes where Jocelyn meets Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and a few of the lost boys. Peter is left flummoxed every time they meet however. I was wondering how come the lost boys didn't attack her and her crew but Schulz explains this away with the fact that the lost boys don't know what to do with a girl who isn't mothering them.
    Later in the book Jocelyn gets her own fairy, a prince named Meriwether. This is after a run in with some cannibalistic savages, the part of the book that I didn't like because it fell into the old trope of the savage people who had to be "civilized" by an interloper from Europe. Thankfully this section did not last long. Jocelyn's big nemesis is the crocodile who ended her father's life and I couldn't help but think that the crocodile stood for facing one's fears. She certainly had to face her fears in this first book. The end sees her with a map and there are a few other loose ends that I am sure will be tied up in a future book or two.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Stupid by Kim Firmston

 For a father to call his son "stupid" constantly is perhaps the worst thing imaginable but this is the word Martin's dad constantly uses to describe his son. Martin is sixteen and is not exactly an A student. It bothers him that his younger sister Carly makes good grades and is the apple of his dad's eye. Besides his struggles in school, Martin isn't good at sports either which is one less thing his dad can brag about. What he is good at is filming and it is on one nighttime filming shoot at an abandoned brewing company that he meets Stick, a parkour enthusiast. The pair quickly bond and Martin tells stick that he can film he and his friends doing parkour.  Stick encourages Martin to enter the film into a contest to which the latter reluctantly agrees.

   Martin's academic woes at school continue which leads to frequent fiery encounters with his dad who doesn't seem to be the most patient individual. His dad is a frequent Googler and then acts on whatever the search results turn up. This is why poor Martin has a ton of Ritalin which he doesn't take. The story is written from Martin's point of view so we see how he describes his study routine and we share his disappointment when after all the effort he expends his grades still don't go up. After one particularly fiery argument with his dad he tries to confide in Stick but Stick's reaction is not what he expected and Martin learns that Stick does not exactly come from a nuclear family.
Stick proves to be a good influence on Martin though and it is he who helps Martin develop a plan for dealing with his academic woes. Martin begins equating life struggles with parkour obstacles and developing strategies to overcome them. I like that the book talked about issues both social and personal. Martin as it turned out had a problem that could be easily detected and fixed. From the various descriptions in the story I guessed what the problem was and I was a bit ticked off in the end because no one around Martin detected it earlier. (I suspect that in real life this may not have happened but it served as an effective plot device in this book). There is some inappropriate language used so I would recommend this book for ages 14+.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

      I rarely see juvenile fiction booths with young African-American males on the cover so needless to say I was intrigued by this title. The main character Jarrett is a rising seventh grader from Newark, New Jersey who lives with his mom, a Guyanese immigrant. His mom is a foster mom who works with social services to take n kids for varying lengths of time. This is how Kevon and his little sister Treasure come into their lives. Kevon's father went missing and so the two are placed with Jarrett's family for the time being.
     Jarrett is not pleased with this arrangement since Kevon has to share his bunk bed and his living space. Kevon also ends up going to the rec center with Jarrett since it is summer time and there is a lot going on there. Jarrett is also dealing with some health issues as well as some academic difficulties (he has to go to summer school for remedial help). He is a budding Romeo as well even though he can't muster up the courage to tell his friend Caprice that he likes her.  The boys are two headstrong characters so it doesn't take long for them to butt heads over various issues.

    Even though the book is set in Newark it isn't necessarily about the harsh reality of urban life, at least not for Jarrett. He and his mom live a relatively comfortable life and he is exposed to a lot more things than Kevon (at one point in the book Kevon mentions never having tried tacos). The book explores a bunch of issues some more in depth than others. Jarrett learns for example that his best friend is gay but he is ok with this. There are issues about mental health, coping with grief and anger, as well as proper conduct as an African-American male when stopped by the police.  The author also introduces elements of Caribbean culture and briefly mentions the generational and cultural differences that exist between Caribbean immigrants and their offspring who are often more finely attuned to the nuances of American culture.
    One would think that all these issues would bog the book down but Booth skillfully weaves short but powerful vignettes into the narrative. Perhaps more importantly for me was the role of positive male  role models for the next generation of African-American youth I especially liked the fact that she made a passing reference in the book to stepping and the role of such in the black community.

This is an excellent read and I recommend it for readers aged 11+. Even though the main characters are of color the issues are universal and timely. There is no happy ending to this story and we know that both boys will eventually argue about one issue or the other the beauty lies in the fact that they can admit their wrongs and move on peacefully- a good life lesson. I am looking forward to more reads from this author.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Aurora and Zita!

It is not often that we see graphic novels where the hero is actually a heroine. And it's even rarer for the heroine to be a well-developed character who does not spend half the panels in various stages of undress. This week I came across two graphics aimed at the younger set. The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is actually the third installment in a series by author Ben Hatke and The Rise of Aurora West by Paul Pope is also the third installment in the Battling Boy series.

Set on an unnamed planet powered by a leviathan The Return of Zita the Spacegirl shows Zita captured by evil forces and thrown into a dungeon where she meets Femur and Ragpile. A mysterious ally then sets her free but then the real adventure begins with planet-moving consequences.  Along the way there are some characters who cooperate to help Zita's quest. Some of them are from the two previous installments in the series but like most good trilogies the book keeps moving even though you are not sure what transpired before. This book is epic like Saga (but without the raucnhiness) and action-packed like Amulet. I like the fact that Zita's flaw is that she cares about other people and about all living creatures. As is often the case with any good series even though she saves the day and returns home the door is left open to future adventures. I highly recommend it for young readers.

I had read Paul Pope's other two books in his Battling Boy series a while back and found them to be excellent. When I heard that there was a prequel in the works I simply had to read it. The Rise of Aurora West sees her still under the tutelage of the inimitable Haggard West. She is still coming to terms with the death of her mother under mysterious circumstances a fact which almost destroyed Haggard from the grief and the feeling of powerlessness it left him with. In Battling Boy Haggard is killed and in this book we see the back story behind the villain whose rogue gang terrorizes the city stealing children. Aurora also discovers that her imaginary friend when she was a kid, a being called "Mr. Wurple" was a very real being who has returned now in a more sinister form.

The book is in black and white, very rare for a graphic novel these days but the writing is so compelling that you can't help but turn the pages. Although I thought Aurora would be much more kick ass, this shows however that the journey from teen-aged girl to full-fledged heroine is not without speed bumps.  The series' style is a throwback to the golden age of comics and I remember when I read the first book I kept checking to make sure that it wasn't an old series I had somehow overlooked or never heard of.

This book is in the teens section of our library and rightly so. There is some comic violence and weapons used and some of the subject matter could be a little heavy for younger readers.  It is so well written though that I for one am on pins and needles waiting for the next installment in the series. In our library it is classified as YAurora1 so I am wondering if this means that there will a series based around her and how she developed into the crime fighter that Battling Boy meets when he arrives on earth. I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Great fall crafts

Fall season is upon us so I thought I would share some great crafts that would work in story times, pre schools, day cares and the like.

The site dltk-kids.com has some excellent crafts for a virtually any lesson plan, curriculum unit, holiday or feast. This is a cute Autumn leaf hat that can be made with construction paper, chenille sticks, tape and a few other supplies.
autumn leaves crown photo

Scarecrows re always cute and scarecrow crafts are always a hit. Most places have paper plates left over from a potluck or some other event so what better way to use up some of the surplus. This craft is good for ages 3+ and can be made with the plates, various colored construction paper and some paint if you'd like.
Paper Plate Scarecrow

Keeping with the paper plate theme you may want to use the plates to make suncatchers. These are made with clear contact paper and you can use leaves, draw with markers or do both. Very nifty indeed.

Kids Crafts with Fall Leaves - Autumn Nature Suncatchers

Fall is pumpkin season so why not make a cute pumpkin frame for a loved one. The little ones love to make something for mom or dad. This can be made with a wooden frame, pipe cleaner, glue, foam and a few other accessories.

Another twist on the picture frame is to use a square or rectangular frame, unfinished wooden leaves and then using paint. glue markers and such to accessorize it as shown below. Of course you can modify and adjust according to the age level of your children.

Finally, this craft on babble caught my eye because of the sheer simplicity of it. Using a simple twig and red, orange yellow and similar-hued buttons the kids can create an eye-catching creation that they can keep for years.
fall kids crafts 05

This is a cute song that I intend to try soon in two year old story time at my library. It incorporates numbers, rhythm, colors and helps the little ones learn about the seasons.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sherlock and vampires and Wrenchies oh my!

 Any casual Sherlock Holmes fan knows that the master detective can solve even the most difficult case put to him. What if he has to fight immortal, super strong creatures though? That is the premise of the graphic novel Sherlock Holmes and the Vampires of London by Sylvan CordurĂ© and Laci. It starts after Sherlock's defeat of Moriarty at Reichenbach falls. He has returned to London unknown to his faithful companion Watson. Watson is newly married and Sherlock doesn't want to endanger the couple. A strange being is attacking Londoners of all social strata and soon Holmes and his brother Mycroft find themselves under attack which they barely escape.

Things get stranger when the vampires summon Holmes to find one of their own who has gone rogue killing indiscriminately and damaging the fragile alliances that the vampires have with London high society. Holmes reluctantly agrees to help them even though he doesn't trust the vampire king Selymes. Holmes devises a cunning plan to rid London of the vampire menace forever.

Though this work is a speculative Holmes adventure I was fascinated to learn that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a contemporary of Bram Stoker and wrote a few vampire-inspired tales. You can check them out here.

This was a good read and it was told in an epistolary style with Sherlock relating the events in his will to be delivered to Watson should he not survive his encounter with the vampires. I couldn't help but notice that Sherlock bore more than a passing resemblance to Jeremy Brett, star of the Sherlock series that aired in the 80s and my all time favorite tv Sherlock. I recommend this book for teens and adults.

20575438I often read Kirkus reviews to see what is new in graphic novel land and I came across a new book called The Wrenchies. To be honest the review did say that due to the graphic nature of this book (the creatures enter through the kids' eyeballs) that it was not for everyone. My gripe with this book is that the story seems to fragmented. I wasn't sure how if parts were a dream or if the characters were travelling through dimensions.

Even though the first part was set in some dystopian future where kids battle daily with weird creatures and live in fear of Shadowsmen I enjoyed this part more than the latter parts with a kid named Hollis who walks around dressed in superhero garb. Later parts of the book just involved too many characters and it became hard to track who was who and to make sense of what was happening. I did like the whole meta-textual nature of the book though because the cahracters stumble upon a copy of a book called The Wrenchies and use that to figure out what relevance the book has to their present situation.I am guessing that there would be teens who might like this book because that is who I would recommend it for. It is too graphic and obtuse for younger readers to comprehend.