A Blog of Children's Literature

City of Fallen Angels, Book 4 June 6, 2011

Filed under: Reviews — akibird @ 4:20 pm
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City of Fallen Angels (The Mortal Instruments, #4)City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

City of Bones (Mortal Instruments, Book 4).
Clare, Cassandra (author).
Apr. 2011. 432p. Margret K. McElderry Books, hardcover $19.99 (9781442403543). Grades 9 and up.
REVIEW. First published June 6, 2011 (Akibird).

The fourth book in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, City of Fallen Angels (CFA) takes place a couple months after the defeat of Valentine at the end of Book 3. CFA follows Clary as she begins her transition from average teen to fighting Shadowhunter, the part angel-part humans who protect the world against demons. Tension builds when Shadowhunter bodies are found in various Downworlder territories, pinning vampires, werewolves, faeries, and Shadowhunters against one another. Readers who have previously enjoyed Jace and Clary’s forbidden relationship will savor their struggle and growth as a couple. More will appreciate the stronger development of other characters, including a closer look at Simon’s new life as a cursed Daylighter vampire, who is struggling to appear like a normal teen and dealing with a love triangle with him in the middle. Clare does not disappoint fans, giving them a big helping of the dramatic paranormal lives of their favorite characters. As the fourth book in a series that was originally supposed to end after the third, Clare creates a whole new set of conflicts that are left to be resolved in the final two installments to come. As City of Bones, Book 1 moves into film production, librarians will have a hard time keeping copies on the shelves as fans crave the latest book in the Mortal Instruments series.


The Arrival April 18, 2011

The ArrivalThe Arrival by Shaun Tan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2007)

Graphic Book, 128 pages

In a book that looks like an old-fashioned photo album, the story of one man’s journey to emigrate to another country is documented wordlessly through illustrations that seem like photographs. In the beginning the man leaves behind his family in order to find his place in a new world and ultimately make enough money to send for them. On his arrival, he is met by bizarre creatures, customs, and text which he cannot decipher, echoing the experiences of new emigrants around the world. Without any text, the experience could represent numerous immigrant experiences; however, with the diverse faces on every page and elements of fantasy, Tan seems to be making a universal statement on the hardship and obstacles immigrants around the world face as they settle into a new home. The man’s story is captured in Tan’s exemplary pencil sketches that look like grainy photos. Slight variations in gray or sepia allow the reader to understand time and place for the protagonist, as he makes friends, hears their histories, and tries to make a living. Tan’s own imagination comes to life in the unique companion creatures that each resident attains, the grand architecture of the new country, and the impending doom from the oversized shadows and people who take over former homes. With multiple layers, younger readers will appreciate the basic story of one man’s strength to overcome hardship, while older readers will find elements of immigration, politics, war, and acculturation. As a great piece for visual learners, I would recommend The Arrival to ages 10 and up with more of an emphasis on the middle school years. Teachers may also find this book useful in portraying general settler experiences during an immigration unit of study.


Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic CollectionTrickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection by Matt Dembicki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection edited by Matt Dembiki (2010)

Graphic Book, 231 pages

In a compilation of work from over 40 storytellers and artists, Trickster shares a diverse collection of trickster tales from various Native American cultures and regions. In some the crafty coyote plays the trickster who ends up being taught a lesson, in others it is the sly raven who gets away, while in some it is the rabbit or the raccoon, depending on the cultural origin. Many of the tales share a reason behind a natural landform (“Moshup’s Bridge”) or an animal’s appearance/ways (“How the Alligator Got His Brown, Scaly Skin”), while others teach a lesson about behavior to learn from (“The Wolf and the Mink”). The novel’s true success draws from its diverse collection of tales and the art that captures them. Each tale highlights a different artist’s style that sets the tone of the story. Specifically, the composition in “Coyote and the Pebbles” is to be lauded with its strong storyline by Dayton Edmonds and amazing illustrations by Micah Farritor. Trickster not only creates an anthology of trickster tales but creates an anthology of artist’s interpretations of the cultural stories, a unique gem in both Native American and graphic novel publications. This book could add so much to various units of study within folklore, illustrations, and cultural anthologies, as well as provide plenty of stories for anyone looking to read about wily characters. I would recommend Trickster to anyone ages 11 and up, especially those drawn to graphic novels.


The True Meaning of Smekday April 13, 2011

The True Meaning of SmekdayThe True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (2007)

Fantasy, 432 pages

In a world that was once the United States, 11-year-old Gratuity “Tip” Tucci struggles to find her mother who Boov aliens have abducted, befriends a Boov named J.Lo, and tries to save the planet from alien dominance. Most of Tip’s cross-country adventures occur while driving her mother’s car which has now been transformed by J.Lo into “Slushious,” a hovercar that is steered by the radio tuner and operates using a combination of alien mechanical parts and convenience store finds. Earth, now called Smekland, is a hot commodity as Gorg aliens come to overthrow Boov and secretly enslave humans. Gratuity and J.Lo are running against the clock to find a plan to restore earth to human control and convince others that Gorg do not intend to allow humankind to survive. In a very unique style, Adam Rex creates a dizzying narrative full of twists and comical turns that show humanity may not just be limited to humans. Using comic-like illustrations and Polaroid drawings, Rex also walks the reader into his narrative with the history of the alien worlds (drawn by J.Lo), a new America full of alien contraptions, and a car that flies complete with pink beach ball safety devices and a Snark’s Adjustable Manifold. Rex’s quirky imaginative story would be a great find for any young adult open to extraterrestrial hilarity that turns our world upside down.


Falling In

Filed under: Adventure and Fantasy — akibird @ 3:26 pm
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Falling InFalling In by Frances O’Roark Dowell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Falling In By Frances O’Roark Dowell (2010)

Fantasy, 256 pages

Isabelle Bean was never a normal child and neither is this half fairytale. After being sent to the office again for something that was not her fault, 11-year-old Isabelle turns a knob to a door that is supposed to lead her into the nurse’s closet but instead finds herself falling in true Alice in Wonderland fashion. She lands in a new world with five villages and learns that an evil witch has been hunting children from one village each season. While most children flee north to a camp that hides them away, Isabelle relishes the idea of meeting a true witch and heads south. However, what Isabelle finds is even a surprise to her on this magical journey. Along the way, she finds a new friend, meets her grandmother for the first time, and learns who she really is. Throughout the tale, a crafty and silly narrator shares the story but often takes alternating chapters to step out of the story and speak directly to the readers, pulling them into the action and building suspense. O’Roark’s narrator and story details add a touch of whimsy to this modern day fairytale, encouraging readers to imagine the unimaginable. All you have to do is turn that doorknob and believe “the unexpected lies beyond the door” (138). A great read for 8-12 year-olds who still cling to the lure of fairytales and magical places.


Gregor the Overlander

Filed under: Adventure and Fantasy — akibird @ 3:21 pm
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Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1)Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (2003)

Fantasy, 320 pages

11-year-old Gregor quickly becomes the man of the house when his dad mysteriously disappeared two years ago, while his mother was pregnant with Margaret. Gregor’s little sister Margaret, or “Boots,” now 2 years old, is his responsibility as his grandma is going senile and his mother has to work to provide for their now one-parent family. Gregor prepares for the hot boring summer as he watches Boots and does laundry in his family’s New York City apartment building basement. However, his dull summer plans quickly change as Boots mysteriously disappears into an air vent in the laundry room with him chasing frantically behind. What follows is similar to O’Roark’s Falling In and Carroll’s famous Alice and Wonderland when Gregor lands in the Underland and meets a group of translucent-skinned humans and a cast of talking creatures who have been living in this underground world. Initially, Gregor just wants to make it home with Boots before his mother gets home from work and he gets in serious trouble. However, his feelings change when he finds his father is being held prisoner by rats, and he must depend on the kindness of human-sized cockroaches, bats, spiders, and a rogue rat to lead him to his father and save his travel Underland companions. Completely overwhelmed Gregor realizes that everyone thinks he is the warrior, the one who has come to fulfill the Prophecy of Gray and save the Underland from rat domination. With just as much action and internal questioning as Katniss in Collins’ bestselling The Hunger Games, the author creates a young hero who must set his priorities and show courage in the face of adversity. With a little bit more humor and less focus on themes of politics and dictating regimes, Gregor the Overlander speaks to a younger reading audience who is still drawn to the same spirit as that in Collins’ second series. I would definitely recommend this book to 9-year-olds and up who enjoy adventure and getting lost in a little fantasy.


The Underneath

The UnderneathThe Underneath by Kathi Appelt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (2008)

Fantasy, 336 pages

Both a Newberry Honor Book and a National Book Award Finalist, The Underneath is a story about a pregnant calico cat that has been abandoned by her family on the side of the road. With nowhere to go, she tramps through the forest and the Bayou Tartine until she hears the baying of a lonely hound named Ranger. Forming a strange pair, the cat and dog have an instant bond of friendship and build a family together with the two new kittens, despite Ranger’s evil owner, Gar Face. The alternating narrative also offers the tale of Grandmother Moccasin, a Water Moccasin snake over a thousand years old, who patiently waits for the day she is freed from her imprisonment in an ancient jar. In her debut novel, Kathi Appelt does a stellar job intertwining stories to build a mystical bayou’s past and present full of animals and their human spirits, weaving in the culture and beliefs of the Caddo people. The Underneath shares characters’ struggles to put aside vengeance and accept love, desires to conquer their fears for their loved ones, and despair to find someone to fill the void in a solitary existence. David Small’s illustrations pepper the book, personifying imagery that Appelt creates in a dark forested tale that ultimately sheds light on the meaning of love. Reminiscent of oral traditions with repeated lines and poetic narrative, the book might not normally appeal to reluctant readers. However, the multiple layers and short chapters of the narrative will attract diverse readership in grades 4-8.