Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Review: Property of the Rebel Librarian

Property of the Rebel Librarian Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All my library friends must read this tribute to librarians and the freedom to read!

June, a 12-year old avid reader, checks out a new book from the middle school library as she's done many times before. But when her parents see it and disapprove, June's innocent choice of reading material snowballs into the suspension of her beloved school librarian, the sacking and pillaging of the school library, and a ban on all books other that what the school assigns! On top of that, June's parents confiscate all of her personal books at home (later returning them vandalized with ridiculous edits and re-writes). June is devastated, but when she discoveres a Free Little Library nearby, the Rebel Librarian is born!

I loved this book, even though it had my blood boiling by the end of the 3rd chapter. I loved June and related to her love of reading, and I was so angry and frustrated with her parents, as well as the school principal and board members. They were all absolutely narrow-minded and ridiculous, and I hope a gross exaggeration of the degree of censorship that is really out there, though I do know of some cases where communities have gotten up in arms over specific books. June also deals with budding romance, betrayal, and figuring out when and how to stand up for herself. The book is fast-paced and has a satisfying ending.

I would recommend this to all librarians and English teachers, and to kids who are passionate about reading and making their own choices about what they read. This is a manifesto of sorts, about the importance of the freedom of information, equal access, and anti-censorship in regards to children. [The author also wrote an article for Brightly recently about the importance of letting kids make their own choices about what they read.]

While the book that set off the whole book-banning frenzy in this story is fictitious, many other great children's books are mentioned, including classics like Old Yeller, popular fiction like Harry Potter, and potentially controversial books like George, and a complete bibliography of all of them is provided in the endnotes.

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Review: Louisiana's Way Home

Louisiana's Way Home Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to say I was a little disappointed in this book. I was looking forward to the trio of Louisiana, Beverly, and Raymie having another adventure and getting to know them better and watching their friendship deepen and grow. Instead it's all about Louisiana having her own adventure and finding out some surprising information about her family history after her Granny takes her and sneaks out of town in the middle of the night.

The story is told in Lousiana's voice, in the form of a letter documenting the events of her unwilling flight from Florida and the events that followed. Louisiana is very precocious and adorable with the way she talks to people and relays her story, but the story seemed too short and rushed, and too much in Louisiana's head. I think it needed more involvement and development of some of the other characters, and I think we needed to get to know the Allen family a little before before Lousiana's decision.

It's okay, and I would recommend it to readers who enjoyed the first book, but I think it could've been better. I'm curious if there will be a third book about Beverly...

[I received this as a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review: Merci Suárez Changes Gears

Merci Suárez Changes Gears Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. I've read Meg Medina's Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, but I had not read any of her work for younger readers before.

In this story we see Merci, a young girl who is adjusting to changes in her life (starting middle school, ageing grandparents, older brother about to leave for college) and finding she is starting to resent all the obligations that her extended family dumps on her, and sacrifices they expect of her, without ever including her in the conversation or decision making. Plus, her beloved grandfather who she has always had a special relationship with, begins to act strangely, leaving Merci with very mixed feelings when he asks her not to tell anyone about his "incidents".

This story deals with all the typical tween-angst of navigating friendships, frenemies, changing social structures in middle school, trying to become more independent, dealing with parental and familial expectations, all with the added nuances of the cultural expectations. There is the added conflict of having a relative with Alzheimer's, at first not understanding the odd behavior, angry outbursts, and forgetfulness, and then feeling angry and betrayed after finding out the family knew of the illness for some time and kept it from her.

I thought the story was well-written and well-paced, with great characters. I loved Merci's whole extended family, but I greatly emphathized with her resentment of the unfair expectations put on her. I think this is a great story for all young readers, but those who have similar close, extended family units would appreciate seeing that type of family represented.

[I received this as a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Review: The Dollar Kids

The Dollar Kids The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I had a little bit of trouble connecting with the story and characters at the very beginning, I was quickly caught up in Lowen's struggle to overcome the guilt he felt in the death of the boy who lived across the hall, and the Grover family's struggle to start over in a small town where apparently not everyone welcomed them.

There is a lot going on in this book with it's ensemble case of characters, but I think it is generally all pulled together pretty well. I thought the idea of a family buying a "dollar house" (a foreclosed, rundown house sold for only a $1, with the stipulation the purchaser perform repairs and improvements within a year) very interesting, and though the mixed reactions from the locals were spot on: some would be welcoming, some would assume they were poor, and many would regard them with suspicion as "outsiders".

Although Lowen's father remained a bit of a stranger due to his staying in the city for much of the book, I thought the characters of the rest of the family were fairly well-developed, particularly Lowen and his mother. I could relate to his mother's dream of her own business, and to feeling like an outsider in a small-town. The story touched on so many things. Initially it seemed to be all about Lowen's guilt (which I liked seeing that he used his art to work through), but it was also very much about friendship, with Lowen finally understanding there are different types of friendship and realizing he and Abe were friends, and gradually building a friendship with Dylan. It was also about starting over, working hard, overcoming obstacles, and how a dying town finally came together and reinvented itself.

I really enjoyed this and will definitely recommend it!

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Review: The Storm Runner

The Storm Runner The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3-1/2 stars. This is the second book published under Rick Riordan's new Disney imprint "Rick Riordan Presents". In Rordan's own words, the purpose of this new imprint is:

"....to publish great books by middle grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage."

I do love the idea of an established author helping to promote new authors, especially those from underrepresented groups, and I respect Riordan for going that route rather than using unknown authors as ghostwriters and publishing them under his own name, a practice that has always seemed rather predatory to me.

However, I am not sure I really heard the author's voice in this story. I felt like it was too similar to Riordan's style and just seemed really cookie-cutter to me. It was not bad, and I can't really point out any specific flaws, other than the character development just wasn't quite there for me and it just wasn't as engaging. I usually hate to put a book down until I'm finished, but that wasn't the case with this one. I also found I was more interested in some of the supporting characters, like Ms. Cab and Jazz, than the main character. However, I have read so many middle-grade books based on mythology in the last few years I think I am just really burned out on the genre.

In this story, Zane Obispo is the only child of a single mother who feels self-conscious because one leg is shorter than the other, resulting in his walking with a limp. His seemingly normal life is interrupted by some very unusual events and a new shape-shifting friend. He soon discovers that he is the son of a Mayan creation god, and must destroy Ah Puch, the god of death, whom Zane had released from where the gods had imprisoned him.

I am still curious to see other titles from this new imprint, and I would suggest them for young readers looking for something similar to Riordan's Percy Jackson and other series.

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