Thursday, May 31, 2012

40-31 SLJ's Top Children's Novels

As always links take you to Betsy Bird's posts at Fuse8.

40.  Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
I don't get it. I just don't get it. Some books I find I don't like that lots of people do I can at least see why they like them. Not this one. Even reading Betsy's post and the others she quoted (all of whom I have heaps of respect for) I'm still left looking at this book with ???????????

39. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
I love how this book plays with format and is next to  impossible to pin a label on. It is a true homage to art in all forms.

38. Frindle by Andrew Clements
I think it is criminal this book wasn't given an award. The characters. The concept. The themes. The heart. And all brilliantly told in 105 pages (with illustrations from Brian Selznick) that a 2nd grader can read but that will have any age reader engrossed. I have reread it so many times and it never gets old.

37.  The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Such a great book. What I love about Schmidt's writing is the hopefulness and the desire to be better, live better, he gives his characters. And how real they all seem even in their most over the top moments.  And this one has Shakespeare too. My library system, whose shelving choices I often find myself scratching my head at, places Schmidt's books in the Teen section where I think they are least likely to find an audience. (My review.)

36. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
It has been years since I have read this book. I remember liking it though. If you click through the title Betsy posted an awesome 90 second Newbery of the book.

35. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
I loved this book and all its companions as a 3rd-4th grader. They were quick reads and oh so funny. Bit keeps turning her nose up at them though which has made me curious: Is my daughter strange, or do these books not appeal to kids like they used to?

34. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
A boy and his dog, or dogs as the case may be. Yeah, we all know from page one where that is going.  I came into my student teaching in a class that was reading this book. They had just started so I had to read it too. The teacher, a man who was the right age to have fond childhood memories of it, oozed enthusiasm. The kids? Not so much. Me? Not so much. There is a review that Betsy posts a link to that is HILARIOUS and pretty much says everything I would say about the book if I knew how to be that funny and insightful. It is such a gem I'm linking to it as well. Go here, on the left you will find a list, click on titles s-z. Find Where The Red Fern Grows. Enjoy.

33. Mrs. Frsiby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien 
 I believe I mentioned that as we went further up the list I would be volleying between the emotions of love and hate with little in between. Guess which one this inspires? Creepy stuff with talking animals. No. No. No.

32. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
Fabulous. As far as historical fiction goes it doesn't get better than this.

31. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
This is one I don't like. As I've stated before I'm not a fan of Victorian fantasy. This book reads like it was written by someone on something. Something of the controlled substance variety. Yes, it reads like a crazy dream. The dream of someone on something.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Lions of Little Rock

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine is a good strong MG historical fiction novel. A spot should be saved on shelves for it in libraries and upper elementary classrooms. If you have a young voracious reader in your life who enjoys historical fiction with a strong minded female protagonist then put this book in their hands.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958.
Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear - speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.
But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. But Marlee decides that doesn't matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families.

What I Enjoyed:
  • Marlee loves Math and wants to be an engineer when she grows up. In a world where a disproportionate number of MG protagonists seem to be bookish girls this was refreshing. (Not that I mind reading their stories. Not at all. I am, after all, a bookish girl myself. There just isn't nearly so  many of us out there as the number of these characters make it seem.)
  • I like that the story chronicled what happened after the reporters and federal agents left. This is the year after the famous Little Rock Nine began school at Central High and shows what the fallout of that first year looked like. 
  • The friendship between the girls was portrayed very well.
  • There were no anachronistic phrases or cleaning up of speech that I noticed. This is real Little Rock circa  1958.
What Bothered Me:
  • Marlee's voice was really inconsistent for a first person narrative. The writing moved between sounding like a 12 year old's writing and a 12 year old's thoughts. Those two things are worlds apart at that age. The simplicity of some sections compared to the maturity of others was jarring to me as a reader. 
  • Historical details seemed to thrown in to the plot in heaping doses. I prefer when I'm reading historical fiction that the historical details be so much a part of the woven fabric of the story that you don't notice them every time they show up. I noticed in this. I may not have and it may not have annoyed me so much if I hadn't already read Peaceweaver and Crow, two MG novels that weave in historical detail exceptionally well, this year.  
  • It's 298 pages.

Are kid readers going to notice the things that bothered me? Probably not. (Well except for the last one. That might be off putting to many of them. The cover is also not going to help with the kid appeal.) 

It's a bit too long to teach in a history unit but is perfect to add to recommended reading lists or book report lists. (I'm adding it to mine.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dandelion Fire

Featuring Bit, Age 8 (Can you believe it?????)

Upon finishing our last read aloud , 100 Cupboards, Bit was anxious to begin its sequel, Dandelion Fire.

The Story
Dandelion Fire picks up where 100 Cupboards left off. The Willis family is recovering from their adventures with the cupboards and Henry is trying to make sense of all he learned about himself and what is coming in his future. Then an inexplicable encounter with a dandelion changes Henry for good and his connection with the cupboards isn't over. Nimiane, witch queen of Endor, wants his blood. There is a strange deranged wizard intent on making him his son. There are some grumpy Faeren intent on silencing Henry for good. And then there is his family who he has to find before it is too late.

Bit's Thoughts
I liked the book so much I don't know what to say. I like how Henrietta changed how she acted and started thinking about others more. I thought the plot was interesting because it switched back and forth between characters. Except it always switched at the most interesting places. Henry made a lot of interesting discoveries like having the second sight which I think is cool. I'm going to read the next book on my own.

My Thoughts
Dandelion Fire is my favorite of Wilson's works of fiction and much of that has to do with the nature of Henry's second sight and what it is he sees when he uses it. I also enjoy how Wilson pieced the plot together so intricately. He does switch between characters at the most inconvenient times for a reader's peace, but it certainly keeps one wanting to read and read. And read some more. And then there is the beauty of the prose itself and the intricacy of the world building. It is just well crafted in every way from beginning to end. Adults out there who have read Wilson's non-fiction work, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl will find may parallels between the two. Much of what Wilson builds in that book he incorporated into the world of this one. Very Lewis like that.

As Bit said she wants to try the third installment of this trilogy on her own. So the next book she and I are reading together is: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling.

50-41 of Top Children's Novels

The next 10 books in the list are out today and this puts us in the Top 50. I have a feeling my thoughts on the books to come will be extreme one or way another. Though there are a couple today I could take or leave. As always I have linked to Betsy's posts at Fuse 8.

50. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
This is an excellent book in so  many ways. It is a book that introduces children to the concept of the Holocaust without throwing the full horror of it at them. The main themes of the story are friendship and family, both of which children identify with. Also, and this is key from a teacher's view, it is short enough to include as part of a history unit.

49. My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Cute and fun. This is an excellent book for kids who are crossing over from early readers to chapter books. It has to be given to a child at exactly the right time.

48. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
I have a fondness for The Series of Unfortunate Events because of how much circulation they got in my classroom. They were always being read, and they were perfect for those students who wanted to be seen reading a popular series but couldn't quite tackle Harry Potter yet. Personally I was never that taken with the books and never read past book three.

47. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I loved this book growing up. I wore out more than one copy and reread it at least once a year all the way into high school. I still love it. I have always had issues with the end, but the way I wished it ended has changed over the years as I've grown up.

46.  The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
I had a friend who loved this book. I tried to read it when we were in sixth grade and was bored out of my mind. It still causes me to feel like I would rather be doing anything else whenever I see it. Needless to say I haven't attempted to read it again.

45. The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
A well meaning teacher made me read this. The same teacher who made me read My Side of the Mountain. She must have loved stories about surviving while communing with nature. I don't.

44. Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
Of all the recently published books to make the list this one makes me the happiest. I love Doug's voice, his hope, everything about his story. (My review.)

43. Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
I loved this book as a middle schooler. As an adult there are elements of it that seriously creep me out.

42. Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
I read this book when I was in elementary school. I never reread it and have very little memory of it.

41.  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
I am forever indebted to this book for being the source material used for Wicked. Other than that I have no use for it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Notes from an Accidental Band Geek

Notes from an Accidental Band Geek by Erin Dionne is a book I wanted to read because, I'm not going to lie, I was a band geek. Even after I quit band and wasn't in it anymore I was still a band geek. That's where all my friends were. It's like the mafia. Once you're in, death is the only way out.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Elsie Wyatt is a born French horn player, just like her father and her grandfather before her. In order to qualify for the prestigious summer music camp of her dreams, she must expand her musical horizons and join - gasp! - the marching band. There are no French horns in marching band (what the heck is a mellophone??), but there are some cute boys. And marching band is very different from orchestra: they march, they chant, they . . . cluck? Elsie is not so sure she'll survive, but the new friends she's making and the actual fun she's having will force her to question her dad's expectations and her own musical priorities.

If you aren't or weren't in band much of this novel will be meaningless to you. You will wonder why these people do what they do. Why on earth would you do something that makes you pass out (band camp-she locked her knees) and come back the next day? What is a drill formation? What does any of it matter? There was also a lot of time spent on the tension between Elsie's marching playing and her concert playing. Having been a person who played in a band that did both competitively there is a big difference.  There is a totally different mindset and technique and when you are a perfectionist like Elsie is who wants to impress her Boston Symphony Orchestra father it's a big deal. People who don't get musical performance might not understand why-you play the instrument standing, you play it sitting-so much time is spent on Elsie's obsession over time to practice her concert and classical pieces.

I enjoyed it lots. It was a fun quick read and I liked how Elsie was a very flawed character. She is incredibly self absorbed and manages to alienate people a lot. But she is also vulnerable and terrified of failure making her sympathetic. 

This book reads a lot like Dionne's earlier novel The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet (my review). It has many of the same elements but I believe they were better executed here. If you know young people who enjoyed that they should enjoy this as well. 

Note on Age: Elsie is a freshman in high school but this is most definitely a middle grade level book. There is a dance, a first crush and a first kiss but nothing that makes this YA. Some teens may enjoy it simply for the band experience so I'm labeling it as both. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

60-51 SLJ's Top Children's Novels

I am a day behind! Here are the next ten. Not as many of my favorites today, but still some excellent titles. As always all links lead to Fuse 8.
60.  Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtuis
This is a wonderful book, historical fiction that is about the characters and not the time period.

59. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
I am not a huge fan of this one despite loving DiCamillo's books in general. It is beautiful writing, marvelous illustrations. The story? Not real sure what DiCamillo was trying for there.

58. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Just not my thing at all. All that nature.

57. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
THIS is my thing. Orphans! Evil Guardians! Old house! England! I love it, delightfully creepy and just scary enough it is a delight for the imagination.

56. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Not my favorite Burnett. Or even my favorite classic. Still the perfect book for little girls who love this type of story.

55. All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
I have never read this one. The cover and the descriptions make me think it is a little too precious for my tastes. I can see how it would have a dedicated following though.

54. Half Magic by Edward Eager
This book. It has a special place in my heart. It was the first read aloud I did with Bit where she was completely sucked in. She had enjoyed other chapter books we read together, but this was the first one that had her begging for 3-4 chapters a night. More importantly it was the book that caused her to realize she had reach the point where she could read them on her own. She read this one again right after we had finished it together.  And then read Magic by the Lake (the first novel I found her asleep on top of) and Seven Day Magic. In addition to my sentimental attachment to it is just good delightful fun.

53. The Graveyard Book by Niel Gaiman
This is a favorite. I love it. It is actually the only Gaiman book I've read I can say that about. (I have a complicated relationship with his writing.) I have every intention of teaching it and The Jungle Book together when my kids are in sixth grade.

52. Betsy-Tacy by Maude Hart Lovelace
I think this book is lovely but I absolutely can not get Bit interested in it at all.

51. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
One of my favorites. I read it for the first time when I was pregnant with Bit and couldn't wait until she was old enough for me to read it to her.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Everybody Sees the Ants

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King is a bizarre book. It is in fact one of those books I normally don't finish. Or if I do I'm annoyed that I did. Not this time. Nope. Despite the highly bizarre and inexplicable weirdness that sometimes doesn't make any sense I ate it up as if it were made of dark chocolate with flecks of hot peppers inside. I can't say I was completely satisfied at the end but the experience was delightfully strange.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Lucky Linderman didn’t ask for his life. He didn’t ask his grandfather not to come home from the Vietnam War. He didn’t ask for a father who never got over it. He didn’t ask for a mother who keeps pretending their dysfunctional family is fine. And he didn’t ask to be the target of Nader McMillan’s relentless bullying, which has finally gone too far. But Lucky has a secret—one that helps him wade through the daily mundane torture of his life. In his dreams, Lucky escapes to the war-ridden jungles of Laos—the prison his grandfather couldn’t escape—where Lucky can be a real man, an adventurer, and a hero. It’s dangerous and wild, and it’s a place where his life just might be worth living. But how long can Lucky keep hiding in his dreams before reality forces its way inside?

The line between dreams and reality in this book is incredibly vague. Lucky can fall asleep anywhere, particularly if he is stressed, and go into the dream world in which he experiences all kind of adventures with is POW MIA grandfather in Vietnam. He awakes and is always left with some memento from the dream. He has a box under his bed full of them. Then there are the ants. They show up when Lucky is having his face smashed into concrete by Nader at the pool. They then follow him everywhere. The Greek chorus in the play of Lucky's life. They comment. They pantomime. They amuse. So bizarre. This sort of surrealism is usually too much for me. What made the difference this time?

Lucky did.

And  his mom, Ginny, Jodie, Charlotte, his dad, even his uncle. This book has characters. Oh does it ever.

Through these characters there are many themes being explored. Suicide, bullying, exploitation, the idea of a dysfunctional family, mental illness, the crimes of war, the crimes of high school. The characters are what make the book though and every single theme is funneled through their lives in such a way that they are never what the book about. The book is about Lucky. One teenage boy who is trying to survive high school long enough to experience his first kiss. A boy who has been pushed to the edge but is learning how to pull himself back from it. To keep his balance. He won my heart in every way. Even with all the strange.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

I love when authors take old fairy tales and spin them around in new and inventive ways. I was so very excited about The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy. Four disgruntled Princes Charming going out to make their names important. It is most excellent fun.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You've never head of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as "Prince Charming." But all of this is about to change...
Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Guztav stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it's up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other associated terrors to becom the heroes no one ever thought they could be.

The princes are all suffering from different types of problems. Liam is less than happy about having to marry the spoiled petulant Briar Rose. Gustav is trying to prove his worth to his family, most especially his 16 older brothers, and having to be rescued by Rapunzel didn't do his ego any favors. Duncan and Snow White truly love each other, but are having difficulties adjusting to married life together. Probably because they are both exceedingly odd. Frederic truly wants to marry Ella, but Ella thinks he is boring and goes off adventuring on her own. It is this particular problem that sets the story in motion. Frederic wants Ella back and so ventures into the unknown himself for the first time in his life. Along the way he meets up with the other three princes and they form an alliance to save their kingdoms from the evil witch. With a healthy dose of help from Ella. And Liam's sister Lila shows herself to be fairly capable and awesome as well.

This is a large cast of characters and every single one of them is wonderful. I thought I would have a difficult time remembering which prince was which but I didn't. Their personalities are so very different it was not at all difficult to keep them straight. The story does have a touch of the absurd in it, but that is what makes it so utterly delightful. There is a lot going on too: a bandit king with an early bed time, dragons, surly dwarves, missing bards, and a witch with a diabolical plan that must be thwarted. It is great good fun.

I really enjoyed how the princesses were portrayed as well. (Other than Briar Rose, but every story has to have at least one mean girl right?) Ella and Liam's sister Lila were my favorites of the girls and I hope both of them continue to be important to the story as it continues in the next volume. 

It is a little long, but I think most readers will be so caught up in the world and zany characters they won't really care.  

This is the sort of book Bit just loves too which is why I bought it for her birthday.  

70-61 Children's Novels Poll

Here are the next 10 books in the SLJ Top 100 Children's Novels Poll. There are a couple of surprises in today's list. (At least it was surprising to me.) Again titles are linked to Betsy's posts at Fuse 8.

70. Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
This is one that almost made my top 10 but ended up not. It was so close though. I love this book for its beautiful narrative, Sal's voice, and the themes. And all the other characters too. They become real people as you read. This book will make you cry, or at the very least tear up, but the end is full of such joy it makes it worth it.

69. The Ruins of Gorlan by John Gorlan
SURPRISE #1! And really the bigger one. I have had the Ranger's Apprentice series on the TBR for quite some time but felt no big rush to read them. That is changing now. The premise is perfect for me so I have a feeling I will enjoy it.

68. The High King by Lloyd Alexander
Another favorite. I love the Chronicles of Prydain. I love Taran and Eilonwy. I love the world and the story. I pretty much love everything about it.

67. A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck
A lot of my favorites are making the list today. And there are only so many ways one can say I love this book. I have a feeling that will continue to be a challenge in the days to come. This one is wonderful for its three main characters, particularly Grandma Dowdel, or as my students like to call her, Crazy Grandma. This book is really a collection of short stories that follow the same three characters through several summers. Even though there is not a singular plot arc what each story reveals about the characters (particularly Grandma) makes this a wonderful book for studying characterization. Or for just reading some really entertaining stories about great characters.

66. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly
I am embarrassed to say I haven't read this one. It won the Newbery Honor in 2009 when I was going through one of my frequent no-no-I'm-not-reading-another-long-middle-grade-historical-fiction-about-a-plucky-girl phases. By the time I had exited the phase (they sometimes last a long time), I had forgotten its existence. Ooops. I should probably read it now, but after reading so many of said books already this year it's about time for another season away from them.

65. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
SURPRISE #2! A book just published this year made it all the way to #65. And yes it has to be said: That is the wonder of Wonder. (I go back and forth between finding that phrase annoying and liking its cadence and convenience.) If I still had a classroom this would be the first read aloud of the year. Seriously if this book doesn't win the 2013 Newbery there may just be a riot. Here is my review.

64. The Twenty One Balloons by William Penn du Bois
I'm not a fan of this one. Never have been. I don't have strong feelings toward it one way or the other. I read it as a kid and didn't hate it but never wanted to read it again either.

63.  The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
This is actually my favorite of Paterson's novels and the one she wrote that my students continued to read and enjoy. (I can't say that about all the others.)

62. Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
I haven't read the Clementine books but my daughter has read every single one of them. She loves them. I feel like I have read it because I have heard so many stories from them told me at meal times.

61. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
And here it is. The other of the two Dahl books I actually like. (The other is The BFG.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Children's Festival of Reading

I can not tell you how thankful I am to live in a place where the library has such a prevalent role in the community. I sometimes complain about the slowness in the availability of some titles (particularly in the Teen section) but most of the time I know that for a city this size the library is phenomenal. The Children's Festival of Reading reminds me of this every year. It is our annual kick off to the summer reading program. There are several tents with events going on all day. Storytellers, musicians, authors. The zoo does a presentation. There is a quartet from our orchestra who comes and plays.

And it is all free.

My kids LOVE it.

Here is a recap of some of the fun we had this year:

 That is Bit and the Little Man looking at a tarantula. It eats birds. Shudder. One of the animals brought by the zoo. Like always the presentation was fresh and informative. A horrifying story about what a spider wasp would do to the tarantula was reshared by Bit at dinner. Because hearing it once wasn't enough for all of us. Also learned: frogs swallow with their eyes; there are mini boas slithering around North America. (They brought one of those too. It was cute. For a snake.)

Gail Carson Levine, one of this year's featured authors, doing a talk and Q and A session. This was really interesting. She read some from her poetry book Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems. She also had a lot of interesting things to say about the writing process I'm glad Bit was able to hear from someone else. (She is complaining about editing and rewriting an awful lot. She kept looking at me during the presentation and sighing as if I had conspired with Gail Carson Levine to have the subject addressed. Yet she also indicated in our conversation afterward that she found the information useful.) My favorite part of this was when one of the young audience members asked if she thought the movie for Ella Enchanted did the book justice. (Those were the exact words she used. She looked to be middle school age.)  I also found it interesting that she uses a baby name book for character names at times.
Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm were also there as a featured author and a featured illustrator. Bit was particularly excited about this as she is a huge Baby Mouse fan. Notice how she has parked herself right in front of them. (That being where the only available shade was probably had something to do with her location as well.) Jennifer and Matthew are as dynamic a team presenting as they are creating graphic novels. Matthew drew Baby Mouse and Squish right up there on the stage. Bit was really impressed by him and the quickness of his Baby Mouse drawing abilities. She had been taking for days about how she was excited about seeing Jennifer in person but it was Matthew she talked about all afternoon after that. She asked them during the Q and A where they got all the Baby Mouse ideas from. Jennifer answered that it would be wise to remember every bad thing that ever happens to you in elementary school. Hopefully traumatic school experiences won't be giving Bit too many future story ideas as she is homeschooled.
And here she is having her Baby Mouse book signed by them. Note the color of the shirt she chose to wear today:

That book was read three times before we returned home. With many pauses for her to stare at the place where they signed it and Matthew drew in Baby Mouse with a marker.

As always we loved the Festival and now the kids have their reading logs for the summer reading program. Bit as an independent reader has to read for fifteen hours. Which means she will be done with the challenge by Wednesday.

Much thanks to Knoxville, the Knox County Library for organizing, and all the librarians and volunteers  I saw working there tirelessly all day while keeping smiles on their faces (you can see some of them in the background of that last picture with the blue shirts on).

Saturday, May 19, 2012

80-71 Children's Novels Poll

Day Three of SLJ's Children's Novels Poll has a few newer titles, but most are again older titles. Again I have linked to Betsy's posts at Fuse 8.

80. The Four Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright
The only Enright book I have ever read is Gone Away Lake. I haven't read the  quartet of books that this is the second one of. They are sibling stories though so I probably should.

79. The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
I remember liking this book as a child, but haven't read it since. I tried to entice Bit to read it this past year as she was studying Ancient Egypt but she found it uninteresting and didn't finish it. (Unlike Eloise Jarvis McGraw's Egypt novels, The Golden Goblet, which she read herself, and Mara Daughter of the Nile, which I read to her. Those she couldn't get enough of and wanted more.)

78. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
There is a lot I like about this book. It is a sibling story. It is British. There are three very different main characters. It has a very real sense of time and place. I have had several students (including my own daughter) tell me they think it is boring. (I really like the recent BBC movie version starring Emma Watson. They changed stuff but it may actually be a way to get kids to read the book.)

77. My Side of the Mountain  by Jean Craighead George
My sixth grade teacher made me read this. I hated it. One of my students wanted to do a book report on it so I had to read it again. I hated it. If you like nature and completely implausible stories about city kids who can survive it on their own and become one with the animals around them this book is for you. If, like me, you require clean comfy beds and clean bathrooms to enjoy yourself (preferably in a noisy city) reading this book will feel like torture.

76. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
I haven't read this. (Gasps of horror.) I know. It is current and popular so why not?  I only have so much time on my hands. I am not going to teach this book or put it on a book report list. This is the book my students are reading without needing my encouragement to do so. I do have it on the TBR and will read it if/when my own kids want to if I haven't gotten to it before that.

75. The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright
Two books from the same quartet in the same 10. Interesting. (See #80)

74. Are You There God? It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume
While this is a book that helped many a young girl through the confusing time of adolescence I wasn't one of them. I read it in the fourth grade when I was making my way through every Judy Blume book on the shelf at the library thanks to my teacher reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing aloud. Fortunately my wonderful and insightful mother was ahead of the game and had already discussed with me everything in the book that would have otherwise thrown me into a completely uncomfortable tailspin at the age of 9. (Thanks for never being afraid of these subjects Mom!) Said amazing Mom also made it impossible for me to identify with Margaret in any way. So I left the book in fourth grade and never looked back.

73. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
This is a special book and Betsy covers why in her write up of it: It has staying power. It is funny and touching without being trite or sappy. The reason so many people love this book is because it is so easy to identify people we know in the characters within its pages.

72. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
This book is a work of art. No kidding. If you haven't read it you need to go out and get a copy. Then flip through and look at the illustrations. See what I mean? Now read it. See what I mean? It is wonderful and beautiful is it not? I'm very much looking forward to when Starry River of the Sky comes out later this year.

71. Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles
I haven't read this one. I live in the south and so try to avoid reading novels that take place here whenever I can manage it.  Especially if anyone has described the characters in it as being "quirky". They usually make me cringe. (Seriously everyone who doesn't live here, we are not all that quirky.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Birthday Books

May is a busy month here in our house. In addition to all the end of school stuff and Mother's Day, we have three birthdays and a wedding anniversary to celebrate. Two of those birthdays, falling 8 days apart, belong to the children. I always like to do a post on the books they are getting for their birthdays. This year is a little bittersweet for me. I'm so excited about the people and readers my children are becoming, at the same time we are well and truly leaving the baby years behind. (Wait until next year when my little one will be preparing for Kindergarten. I may be a puddle.) Here is this  year's lists:

The Boy (turning 4):

Bit (turning 8):

The third birthday in May was my own. I also got a lot of books (thanks to gift cards received). My b'day books:
 Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones
A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff
Dragon's Castle by Joseph Bruchac
The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott

Thursday, May 17, 2012

90-81 of SLJ's Top Chapter Book Poll

No books in today's 10 that I haven't heard of. I am happy to say I have heard of every single one of them. Even if I haven't read them all. Again I have linked to Betsy Bird's descriptions of each book posted at Fuse 8. You should really click through and read them if you haven't yet. She does a fantastic job discussing each book.

90.  The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
This is one I haven't read because I don't typically go in for these type of books. Since it has made the list twice now I suppose I need to go ahead and read it. Sigh.

89. The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
Not my favorite Cleary book but who can resist that cute little mouse on his motorcycle. I actually think this book works best as a read aloud for the 4-6 year old range because it hits right at their level of development.

88. The BFG by Roald Dahl
This is actually tied with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as my favorite Dahl book. In fact I can do without all the others.

87. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
What a delightful surprise! This book is super current. So current I have a review for it. (It's here.)  It is the funniest book I've read in recent memory. It also has a delightful sequel in Darth Paper Strikes Back, and I can not wait to read the to be released in August third installment The Secret of the Fortune Wookie.

86. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
I'm not a big fan of Victorian fantasy. Peter Pan is an exception to that. It is one I can tolerate. The book. Not the animated Disney movie. The book. If you haven't read the book you are missing out on the true experience. (Though I actually like the 2003 live action movie better than the book. Hides head in shame. Jason Isaacs is made of awesome.)

85.  Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
One of my favorite books of all time. I taught it every year I taught fifth grade. I taught it to my 4-6 literature class at our homeschool co-op this year. It is the standard by which I judge all other fairy tale retellings. I have a review of this one too that Bit and I did when I read it to her. (It's here.)

84. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Oh-kay. This always bored the socks off me. I think I only made it through the whole thing once-the first time I read the series at age seven. While I reread all the other books several times I never made it through this one a second time.

83. Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Again: ?????? Of course, this coming from a person who would rather have her eyebrows plucked than read The Wizard of Oz again. I'm certainly not going to read its sequels or prequels or whatever. I don't care how many of them make the list.

82. The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
This another one I was unimpressed with as a child and just as unimpressed with as an adult. Then again, it is an animal story and I think I've made my views on animal stories clear in the couple years I've had this blog.

81.  The Witches by Roald Dahl
Eh. See #88.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Something Like Normal

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller is a book that intrigued me since I first heard of it. I liked the idea of a book that shows soldiers returning from war dealing with the aftermath. Then I read Trish Doller's post during Marchetta Madness and became even more interested.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.

I have to say that for the first half of the book I was nervous I wasn't going to like it as much as everyone else has so far. I was loving the themes and setting, but something was keeping me from completely loving the characters. I felt distant from Harper and flat out didn't like Travis. I felt sorry for Travis and wanted him to get help for his obvious PTSD, but I didn't like him. Or so I thought. Upon reflection I have decided what I was really worried about was where the plot was going. I distanced myself from the characters because I was worried all of the plot elements were going to culminate in one of those overly dramatic YA novel Misunderstandings where the two main characters end up in some fight that could have been avoided if they had been honest and not acted like toddlers . I could have done a dance when the plot resolved itself in the exact opposite way. Yay for characters who act their age! Travis makes some seriously bad decisions at times, but the way he responds to the knowledge of those mistakes makes his character. And he is wonderful in all his messed up glory. 

My favorite thing about this book is that it tells a story of many real people that needs telling simply by focusing on one individual and all the complexities of his life. By letting us into Travis's head, Doller has given us a sense of what many young men we come in contact with regularly are going through. The mindset of soldiers returning home from war is one that needs to be addressed. This country is not serving well in so many ways those who serve us so well by risking their lives in our armed services. Travis's story is one that is playing out in cities and towns all across our nation. Travis's unwillingness to admit he needed help for fear of what acknowledging such a weakness would do to his career is such a real concern for these guys. I confess my favorite parts of this book weren't the scenes between Travis and Harper, as lovely as those are, but between Travis and his fellow Marines. It was a snap shot into a world I have never been and will never be a part of, and I was grateful for the view of it I was given.

Note on Content: I also should say that despite the sexiness of the cover this is not one of those books. If that is a concern that might keep you from reading it know that while it is clear sex is being had it is not described. The language in the book is reflective of the mc being a 19 year old Marine. 

I read a copy of this made available via NetGalley. It will be in stores on June 19th.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

100-91 SLJ's Top Chapter Books Poll

Over at A Fuse 8 Production the new polls have started posting. I shared the picture books I voted for a couple weeks ago. I'm not going to share the chapter books I voted for until next month even though the results have started posting. Today revealed the first 10 of the Chapter Books. I have listed them and linked each to the post Betsy Bird did on it today. The links are followed by brief thoughts of my own.

100. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
I used this book in my poetry unit every year and the kids loved it. Without fail.

 99. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner 
Always a crowd favorite. I was never really into these books and Bit outgrew them fast but it is definitely a must read for students who are venturing into chapter books.

 98. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
I am in the camp that believes this is where the editing of the series started to go awry. Yet I still love it. I love the tournament, and the Yule Ball, and the darker elements introduced that upped the stakes so very much.

97. The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton
I had never heard of this book before today and according to the post it is out of print. My library has a copy though and it is now on its way to me. (Thank you library holds system.)

96. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
I am oh so happy about this as it is my favorite of the Chronicles of Narnia.  It is also probably the most controversial (as Betsy addresses in the post) so I'm really surprised to find it here.

 95. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Expury
I have never read this one, apparently my not taking French can be blamed for this. The cover has always been off putting as well. I suppose I need to read it.

 94.  Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary
I read this book way back in 2nd grade so don't remember much about it. It was one I never really wanted to reread but maybe I should.

 93. Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson
 I have only read a few of Ibbotson's books and this isn't one of them. I will be reading it now.

 92. Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
Well this is quite a surprise. I wasn't expecting to see this here at all. And it's another one I haven't read. It has been on the TBR forever but never near the top. This is despite my very much enjoying the author's most recent work The Running Dream.

91. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
I don't get the love for this book. I didn't get it as a child and I still don't get it as an adult. Oh well. To each his own.

So we are only on day one and I already have 4 books on the list I haven't read. Hopefully that won't keep up. My TBR is already long enough as it is.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Cabinet of Earths

The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet is one of those books that begs to be read. Just look at the cover. It is one of those fantasies that surprises in how grounded in reality it is. There are no journeys to other magical places to fight evil. There is plenty of evil to fight right here.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
On their first day in Paris, Maya and her little brother, James, find themselves caught up in some very old magic. Houses with bronze salamanders for door handles, statues that look too much like Mayas own worried face, a man wearing sunglasses to hide his radiant purple eyes . . . nothing is what it seems. And what does all that magic want from Maya?
With the help of a friendly boy named Valko, Maya discovers surprises hidden in her family trees brother. And now the shimmering glass Cabinet of Earths, at the heart of all these secrets, has chosen Maya to be its new Keeper. 
As she untangles the ties between the Salamander House, the purple-eyed man, and the Cabinet of Earths, Maya realizes that her own brother may be in terrible danger. To save him, Maya must take on the magical underworld of Paris . . . before it is too late.

This book is mostly a book about fear. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of  letting go of the comfortable. It's themes are perfect for a middle grade novel and Maya's character displays them well. She is a character easy to relate to as she is completely average in every way. Maya longs for her mother to be permanently well, to go back home to where things are familiar, to not have to be such a good sport all the time. The temptations she faces to stray for what is right are realistic without dulling the fast actin of the story. It is love for her brother that propels her actions in the end and as I always love a good sibling story this made be particularly happy. (On a personal note the dynamic between Maya and James reminded me much of the dynamic between my own children so I was particularly concerned for their outcome. My son has the same sort of effect on people as James, and I've seen in my daughter's trying to reconcile always being in her younger brother's shadow the feelings Maya displays in the book. But she loves him ferociously and would go to any lengths to defend him. And he thinks there is no greater person on the planet.) I was quite happy to see how well Maya and James's relationship demonstrated how complicated and devoted sibling relationships can be merely by showing their interactions.

I really enjoyed how the author was dealing with some complex concepts of trust and betrayal, mortality and immortality, inner beauty and outer beauty, science and magic and managed to make it all work on exactly the right level for this story. She never condescends and she only gives as many details as needed to tell the story in this book.

My only one small complaint was that I feel like I still didn't know Valko well by the end of the book. He is Maya's best friend (possibly more?) but their relationship isn't nearly fleshed out as well as the sibling relationship. That may be corrected in the sequel, Box of Gargoyles, due out in 2013.

I was actually quite surprised to discover there would be  a sequel as this reads as a stand alone story. Surprised, but very happy indeed.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Hunter's Moon

Faeries. Ireland. Quests. Sacrifice. All good stuff. All in O.R. Melling's The Hunter's Moon.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The Hunter's Moon, follows two cousins, Gwen and Findabhair, as they backpack around Ireland in search of the country's magical past. When she arrives in Ireland to visit her cousin Findabhair, American Gwen expects a fun backpacking trip to sites of the fairy lore they're both fascinated with. What neither cousin knows is that it's the summer of the Hunter's Moon, a dangerous time for mortals to meddle in the kingdom of Faerie. The girls camp out, and deep in the night Finn is kidnapped by the handsome Faerie king! In Gwen's quest to save her cousin, across beautifully evoked settings of modern-day and mystical Ireland, the spunky heroine's biggest challenge may be convincing Finn she needs to be saved!

We know how much I dislike insta-love between beautiful people one of whom is magically powered in some way the other the only mortal girl who can make him abandon his bad boy supernatural ways to worship forever at her feet. Vampire. Werewolf. Faerie. Don't care. I was really nervous at first this was going to be one of those stories. But it wasn't. YAY! Except really it was, but the reader is far removed from those shenanigans as the story actually follows said mortal girl's cousin who has a great deal of sense (and is more inclined to fall for kings of the human variety), and who realizes that not all is on the up and up with his beautiful Faerie King and his court of giddy revelry. Gwen is determined to "rescue" her cousin from the clutches of the Fae who have her ensnared and as a result pits herself against the wits of the King of Faerie. He is playing a game far more dangerous than she realizes though and things go from complicated to more complicated quickly. The  story has Gwen running all over Ireland in a race against time. As a result Ireland seemed more the main character of this story. The setting is beautifully and vividly described, and the way Melling wove Celtic legend through the plot made it all the more tangible. It is a fast paced and action packed read that sped up my journey during a Saturday road trip immensely. That being said, I wasn't a big fan of the end. It felt rushed and rather pointless. I did enjoy the writing enough that I will be looking for the sequels.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Who out there knew there was a race riot in Wilmington, NC in 1898? If you did not know this and you have never set foot in NC then that is understandable. I however lived in NC for 10 years and didn't know. I took a class on NC history in college and IT NEVER CAME UP. I want my money back. My husband was born and raised in NC and he didn't know either. Thankfully Barbara Writght wrote Crow so hopefully more people will be aware of this interesting event in the history of our country. It also has the bonus of being all around awesome.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
The summer of 1898 is filled with ups and downs for 11-year-old Moses. He's growing apart from his best friend, his superstitious Boo-Nanny butts heads constantly with his pragmatic, educated father, and his mother is reeling from the discovery of a family secret. Yet there are good times, too. He's teaching his grandmother how to read. For the first time she's sharing stories about her life as a slave. And his father and his friends are finally getting the respect and positions of power they've earned in the Wilmington, North Carolina, community. But not everyone is happy with the political changes at play and some will do anything, including a violent plot against the government, to maintain the status quo. One generation away from slavery, a thriving African American community—enfranchised and emancipated—suddenly and violently loses its freedom in turn of the century North Carolina when a group of local politicians stages the only successful coup d'etat in US history.
Yes, this book is about important things and I will get to that, but for me what made it were the characters. Some might think this book starts out slow. If plot is what drives a story for you the episodic nature of the beginning could be frustrating. Character is what drives a story for me and all those episodes were brilliantly revealing all the layers of the main characters. Moses is such an 11 year old boy. His thoughts, the things he says, the things he does all demonstrate this. I loved the way he wanted to be all his family wanted him to be, but also struggled with remorse when he thought he wasn't. I loved that he made some terrible decisions that are realistically reflective of the mindset of someone his age. Boo-Nanny is oh so wonderful too. Wright wrote everything about her pitch perfect from the way she spoke to her cynicism about the white community to her love for her family. Moses's parents, Jack and Sadie, are also fully realized characters. Jack is college educated, a writer, and in politics. He is idealistic and wants the world for his son. Sadie is a housekeeper for a wealthy white family. She was born into slavery, loves to play the piano, and desires to learn as much as she can. The dynamics in this family are as much a story as the historical context. My favorite scenes in the book are when they are interacting over the dinner table, whether they are talking about music or the threatening times. Wright made me love them all which made the historical events that much more real and threatening.

The episodic nature of the beginning also did an incredible job of giving the story a specific sense of time and place. The Wilmington I was once so familiar with was overtaken by the Wilmington of 1898. Wright's descriptions and the scenes playing out from the story put the reader right there where everything is happening. 

We don't get a whole lot of African American historical fiction that doesn't focus on Civil War era slavery or the Civil Rights movement. That Crow focuses on Reconstruction and Jim Crow make it  unique enough, however this also stands out as being historical fiction the way it should always be done. Wright depicts the time period realistically and no one acts or thinks anachronistically. The realism of the book is what sucks the reader into the story and holds them until the end. Unfortunately there are probably some people who aren't going to appreciate that aspect. Wright didn't pull any punches and tells it like it is. The vocabulary is exceedingly accurate and wince inducing. Yes, the "n" word is used, as are other derogatory terms. Lynching is talked about and allusions to rape are made (though neither is fully explained-much to Moses's frustration). I take my hat off to all the people involved in the creation of the book, Wright and her editors, for having the courage to tell it like it was. The events depicted in the last half of the book blew me away. That synopsis exaggerates not at all when it says there was a coup d'etat, and that every law this nation holds sacred and dear was toppled over in the name of white supremacy.  This is something that all Americans should know about. Barbara Wright has posted some interesting photographs of the time on her website.

Here is a scene that encompasses all I loved about this book. the history, the family dynamics, Moses himself (he thinks exactly like a kid in the scene):
Daddy took a deep breath. "Well, Mrs Felton thought that white men needed to do a better job of protecting their women in the countryside from the, um, unwanted attentions of black men."
"That doesn't sound so bad," I said.
"She was talking about violent attentions."
"You mean rape?" I asked.
Mama gasped
"Do you know what that word means?" Daddy asked.
I shook my head no.
"Well, it involves unwanted sex..."
"Hush up. That ain't no thing for young ears," Mama said. 
"He deserves to have his questions answered." Daddy said.
"Jackson..." When Mama gave Daddy that dark look and drew out the syllables in his name I knew she would not be refused. She turned to me and said, "Run along now, Moses. You be excused."
There was no reason to treat me like a child. I knew about sex; Lewis had told me. Men and women got together and had sex and made babies. Lewis's next-door neighbor, a white woman named Mrs. Roberts was a sex maniac, because she had six children and had done it six times.
I do think it fits best in a middle school due to the  maturity of the humor and the prose. I am ecstatic that I have found the perfect book to help teach this time period when my kids are studying it as 6th graders. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dark of the Moon

The myth of the labyrinth and the minotaur has always been a favorite of mine, which is why it is embarrassing to admit that I have never read The King Must Die by Mary Renault. It is, after all, supposed to be the quintessential novelization of Theseus. I think I have built my expectations of it so high I'm afraid to read it in case it doesn't live up. I did intend to read it before I  read Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett., but then I saw Dark of the Moon sitting so enticingly on the new arrival shelf at my library and I couldn't resist it.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Ariadne is destined to become a goddess of the moon. She leads a lonely life, filled with hours of rigorous training by stern priestesses. Her former friends no longer dare to look at her, much less speak to her. All that she has left are her mother and her beloved, misshapen brother Asterion, who must be held captive below the palace for his own safety.
So when a ship arrives one spring day, bearing a tribute of slaves from Athens, Ariadne sneaks out to meet it. These newcomers don’t know the ways of Krete; perhaps they won’t be afraid of a girl who will someday be a powerful goddess. And indeed she meets Theseus, the son of the king of Athens. Ariadne finds herself drawn to the newcomer, and soon they form a friendship—one that could perhaps become something more.
Yet Theseus is doomed to die as an offering to the Minotaur, that monster beneath the palace—unless he can kill the beast first. And that "monster" is Ariadne’s brother . . .

This is an excellent novelization of the minotaur myth. I loved how Barrett took the familiar and changed it just enough to give it depth and believability.  For those who are familiar with the myth, you will find all the essential elements of the original story: the tribute, the yarn, the maze, the "monster", Minos. Daedalus and Icarus are both mentioned. I enjoyed the glimpses we had of Medea as well.  All readers will find in Barrett's Krete a world fully realized and developed. A very intricate religious system governs the lives of Krete's inhabitants ruled by She-Who-Is-Goddess, the human manifestation of the moon goddess. This system involves yearly human sacrifice to ensure the harvest. Ariadne is She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess, daughter of the current goddess and one of the yearly sacrifices.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Theseus and Ariadne. This is all Ariadne's story though. Theseus, while starting off interesting, is not well developed and seemed to only serve to further Ariadne's character. Ariadne is realistically torn about her role in Krete. She is confused and lonely. Through her interactions with Asterion we see her as loving and strong. Her loneliness makes her an easy target for those who want the ways of Krete to change and she leaves herself vulnerable in ways that cause her much distress. In this version her actions take on new meaning and understanding. She has what the Ariadne from the myth was lacking, power to determine her own actions and end. She is not the girl who has her head turned by a charming hero and betrays her people only to be abandoned by said hero to fend for herself. This Ariadne grows in strength, power and knowledge of who she is. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel for what it did with her character.

If you are a fan of mythological retellings this is definitely a must read.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Favorite Picture Books

I became a regular follower of Betsy Bird's SLJ blog A Fuse 8 Production back when she did the original 100 picture books and chapter books polls. I was pretty excited when she decided to redo them because it meant I would be able to submit my own choices this time. Little did I know how hard it would be. Not so much the first five or so, but those last few were next to impossible. There are simply too many wonderful books. The picture book poll was a little easier for me because I don't have as vast an experience with picture books. The only factor in determining what went on my list was the love I have for the books. I'm really interested in seeing which ones make the final Top 100 when the new results start posting. In the meantime here are my choices:

 This not the order I listed them in for the official poll. Anyone want to guess which got the top spot?

What is your favorite picture book of all time?

For more of my (and my children's) favorite picture books you can check out this Pinterest board.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby is a book I have had my eye on for a while. It is excellent historical fiction full of mystery, treachery, and deceit with Vikings and berserkers. I love when books are set in different times and places we don't have an overabundance of books about. So much the better when they are as well written as this one.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father's victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.
Those charged with protecting the king's children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father's watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?

 Solveig suffers from middle child syndrome in the worst kind of way. Her older sister is beautiful and valuable to their father in the marriage she may make. Her younger brother is the heir. She is plain, unhelpful, and unnoticed. As the story moves on Solveig comes to see she has valuable strengths that she can use to carve a place in the world for herself. I love stories like this, where the character embraces who they are and uses that rather than trying to become something they are not. I loved how Solveig came to see herself as worthy and began to care less about how others saw her. She is brave, smart, and talented and uses all of these to save her companions from the treachery they are facing. I enjoyed the sibling dynamic of the story as well and thought it played out very realistically.

I particularly enjoyed the way the setting reflected Solvieg's feelings and mood. The frozen cold of winter, the thawing, the breaking, and renewal. This parallel was subtle and done very well. The language is wonderfully descriptive:
"I sit down. I don't want t o cry anymore, so I keep my thoughts away from Hilda and listen to the ice. It speaks to me of scouring winds, of cloudless nights, of endless cold. It measures its loneliness by the weight of its layers, the years and years of snow falling unobserved. I've been told its lament is the loudest at the beginning of winter and the coming of summer, as if it knows that is the closest it will ever come to warmth and thaw. As if it yearns for its own demise. But it can will be only what it is, bleak and alone, until the breaking of the world."
This language could have been too much and overdone but Kirby uses it sparingly. The result is that when he does it packs a punch and drives a point home. 

The mystery was not a terribly difficult one to unravel (though it will be harder for a young reader) but I did enjoy watching the interactions between the people as it all unfolded. 

Icefall was a finalist for this year's Cybil Awards in the category of MG science fiction and fantasy. I feel like calling this a fantasy is a bit of false advertising. It is fantasy in the same type of way one might classify Holes by Lois Sachar or Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta as fantasy. Which is to say I wouldn't. I'm clearly in the minority on this but I believe it is more accurately labeled as simple historical fiction. Of course it is also a mystery as its recent Edgar Award  proves.

Nitpicky genre discussions aside, this is a book that will appeal to any who like stories with brave protagonists,  mystery, action, and adventure.