Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Deborah Hopkinson's newest book is about submarines and the men who called them home during WWII.  I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did, but Hopkinson does a great job of taking this vast subject that is part of an even more vast story and making it personal.

The book starts with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and quickly moves ahead to the beginning of submarine warfare.  She makes the story engaging by focusing on specific submarines and men, like Mush Morton who took command of the Wahoo after a skipper who had been trained the WWI reconnaissance style of submarining.  The new captain led his crew with gusto and bravado while sinking numerous Japanese ships.

Hopkinson also includes humanizing stories, like the stowaway dog and the importance of the ice cream machine.  She does such a great job that the reader feels the loss when some of the profiled men are lost in battle.

I would recommend this book for war buffs in particular but also to anyone who likes a good high stakes adventure!

The Warden's Daughter

Twelve-year-old Cammie O'Reilly lives in an apartment adjacent to the prison in Two Mills, Pennsylvania.  Her father is the warden, and she is known affectionately to the female inmates as Little Warden.

Cammie's mother died saving her daughter when Cammie was just a baby.  She doesn't remember her mother at all, but everyone in town knows who she is.  Cammie carries a well of anger over her lost mother that she doesn't quite understand.

It's the summer of 1959, and Cammie is determined to find someone to fill the mother void in her life, and she has settled on Eloda Pupko, the prison trustee granted the job of housekeeper and Cammie-sitter. Eloda is all business, but that doesn't deter Cammie.

Though Cammie is a tomboy, her best friend Reggie looks much older than she really is and has a longing for fame.  She has another friend in Boo Boo, a black inmate who adopts the sad little girl.

The summer will bring friendship, fights, fame, and a murderer, but will Cammie find a mother? Jerry Spinelli's new book was good but not great for me.  I'm trying to put my finger on the problem, and I think it's the plot device of Cammie telling the story as an adult.  I think it would have benefitted from a sense of immediacy.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Cloud and Wallfish

One day Noah's parents pick him up from school with a packed car and tell him they are going to East Germany on a trip.  Also, while they are gone, his name will be Jonah and his birthday will actually be six months earlier.  Noah is stumped by all of this.  It doesn't seem real until his dad burns his new Batman backpack in a trash can at a rest stop.

Before he knows it, Noah is living in an apartment in East Berlin in 1989.  His mother is there to study childhood speech disorders, like Noah's astounding stutter.  He is bored out of his mind because the East Germans are dragging their feet about whether or not he can go to school, and Noah always thought school was required!

Then he meets a girl named Claudia, his downstairs neighbor.  They become fast friends and invent a magical land over the border from East Berlin.  When word arrives that Claudia's parents are dead, she is devastated, but she can't quite bring herself to believe it.  Is it possible that her parents could be alive on the other side of the wall?

I have some mixed feelings about this book.  After an intriguing opening, it got bogged down, but I kept giving it one more day until the last half of the book, which is phenomenal.  I'm glad I read it, and I know I could market it to kids, but I think it would take a stalwart reader to make it through the first half of the book.

Give Anne Nesbet's book to kids who are interested in the Berlin Wall.  They study it in 6th grade here in Texas, and my kids love anything on the topic.


Twelve-year-old Alice Queensmeadow was born without color in a land where color is everything.  It's not just that the people of Ferenwood have lovely skin and bright hair.  Magic in Ferenwood comes from color, and Alice feels like an outsider.  Her father was the only person she truly felt connected to, but he disappeared five years ago.

When her former enemy, Oliver, shows up one day asking for her help, Alice would rather punch him, but Oliver has been tasked with finding her father, and he needs her help.  She reluctantly agrees, and they set off on an adventure in Furthermore, a land with strange rules and even stranger eating habits.

While Furthermore may look delightful, it is the most dangerous place Alice has ever been.  She and Oliver will have to overcome their past and truly learn to trust each other or the quest will end in disaster.

Tahereh Mafi's newest book is filled with characters and adventures in an all new wonderland for her Alice.  There are sunshowers, living origami foxes, and cannibals.  All this sounds great, but the story really got bogged down in the details and an overabundance of whimsy.  Still, I think there are plenty of kids who would enjoy it, especially fans of the original Alice's adventures.

Friday, March 3, 2017


It's Evie Messenger's fifteenth birthday, and like all the Messengers, she's about to get her gift.  It's something different for everyone.  Her Aunt Odie has the gift of cooking, and she presides over a small empire of baking mixes with Evie as her assistant.

Evie and her mother have recently moved in her with her stepfather, JimDaddy.  The move put them in a nicer neighborhood and a better house, but it's on the other side of her Florida hometown which means she has to switch to a new high school without her best friend.  It's not all bad, though, she loves JimDaddy and her new baby sister.  Aunt Odie immediately bought a house in the neighborhood to be close by, and then there's Buddy.  Evie isn't sure if he's boyfriend material or just a lot of trouble, but he sure is good to look at.

When it turns out that her gift might be no gift at all (maybe it skips a generation?), Evie isn't sure how to feel.  The gift is part of being a Messenger, but it comes with responsibility.  You have to use your gift to make other people's lives better, and sometimes it's hard to find the boundary between the gift and your own personal life--especially when your new stepfather and almost boyfriend are still mired in grief over a tragic accident.

Carol Lynch Williams's newest book is a gentle story about family and grief with paranormal and romance elements to spice things up.