Eating Green

Eating Green. Written by Molly Aloian. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin. This book is part of a larger series that deals with environmental issues as they relate to individual life choices. This particular informational text introduces early readers to “eating locally”. Youngters will discover how eating area foods can reduce liter and pollution, and give consumers more control over the pesticides and chemicals that are often added to our foods.

This series has much to recommend it: large, bold print, colorful photographs, interesting facts and activities, and up-to-date resources. A beneficial series for any early elementary classroom or library.

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Filed under Grade K-3, Nonfiction

Say What You Will

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern, Harper Teen (to be published in June, 2014). ISBN: 9780062271105. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS. (ARC courtesy of Edelweiss)


Amy and Matthew are both wounded birds. Amy suffered a cerebral aneurysm the day after she was born and has had to deal with cerebral palsy ever since. Matthew has been dealing with OCD for several years without much success. They’re high school seniors and Amy has a burning need to start feeling more normal because she is going to college come hell or high water and her mother has been so overprotective that Amy has no friends. Matthew’s ailment has left him so trapped, he’s in a similar situation, but his grades and future plans are a mess.
When Amy comes up with a plan to hire peer aids to accompany her during the school day, Matthew is one of the teens hired and, as time goes on, is the only one who truly interacts with her. He’s been observing her for several years and those observations have made his interest in her more than casual.
As time progresses, Amy realizes how much his OCD holds him a prisoner and begins assigning him tasks to help him break out of his mental prison. Matthew is able to complete some of them, but others create greater stress. Despite this, their attraction for each other grows and they end up going to prom, but when another of the peer aids, Sanjay, talks Amy into sneaking vodka into the dance in her walker, it doesn’t turn out to be a good evening as a big misunderstanding causes Amy and Matthew to stop talking and seeing each other. This communication difficulty is a recurring issue, as much because of his OCD as from her reliance on a computer communication device.
Just before Amy goes away to college at Stanford, they spend one last evening together. Amy has high hopes for the night. In fact, she did something a while before in preparation, but it backfires horribly, both that night and later on when she realizes the over-control by her mother in terms of her housing situation at college has turned her into a very lonely girl.
When her situation at college reaches a giant crisis, Matthew and one of the girls she had as a peer aid are the only ones she can reach out to. What happens from the moment Matthew discovers where Amy is and what happened to her to create what turns into a life-threatening situation, make for one heck of a last-part-of-the-book read. There’s a ton of emotion and pain in this book, but sandwiched between them is a beautiful and quirky love story. Amy and Matthew are two people who deserve another book after this one. Because of content I can’t discuss without creating a huge spoiler, I’ll say that this is a very good choice for mature teens, particularly those with health/mental health issues or interests.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

By Any Other Name

By Any Other Name by Laura Jarratt, Electric Monkey, 2013. ISBN: 9781405256735. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS


(Note: this will not be available in the U.S. Until May). Holly is new. In fact everything about Holly is new. It had to be that way after her autistic younger sister, Katie, noticed the white car and her life went crazy. She was nearly killed during the disaster that followed her impulsive act. Now, she and her family are in the British witness protection program, uprooted from everything familiar. Gone is the home, the summer cottage on the ocean, the vacations to other countries and her friends. She’s been briefed again and again about how to avoid making a slip about her former life, but by playing by these new rules, she’s lost herself.

On the day they move to the new house well north of where she grew up, Holly watches as kids pass by on their way home from school. “His arms are bare despite the wind, but he’s got headphones jammed in his ears and his hands are stuffed in the pockets of his trousers. He slouches along as if he isn’t aware that the skin on his arms is goosebumped and mottled purple with the cold. Black hair flops over his face and his head is down, staring at the pavement, so I’m safe watching him. Metal glints in his ear and his eyebrow. …Dark, hostile eyes in a pale face glare at me. Eyes so hostile that I take a step back, even though I’m annoyed with myself for doing it.”

This is Holly’s introduction to Joe, who she immediately labels Emo Boy. When they’re in English class, they spar over a war poem. This is her first inkling that he’s not Emo, but sad and very smart. Still, she can’t afford to get involved with anyone because of the danger it might create if someone finds out what led her family here. Even so, when the attraction begins, neither Holly nor Joe can stop it from leading to a terribly scary conclusion.

This is a terrific combination mystery and love story. The author does a stellar job of revealing the events that led to Holly and her family entering the witness protection program as well as why Joe is so sad, angry and guarded. The way their relationship evolves, despite neither being comfortable trusting anyone, is also well done. The climax at the end makes for truly nail biting reading. This isn’t for the faint of heart, but older teens and adults who like YA fiction will find this a truly rewarding read. I hope it picks up an Edgar nomination when it’s published in the US.

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Flyaway by Lucy Christopher, Scholastic, 2011. ISBN: 9780545342148. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.


Isla has inherited her father’s fascination with the wild swans they call whoopers that migrate from Iceland to their part of England every year. It was something he and his dad shared, before Isla’s grandmother died of a heart condition in the local hospital. Her grandfather, a retired veterinarian, hasn’t been the same since. He’s aimless and somewhat bitter, to the point where Isla and her older brother, Jack, try to avoid him as much as possible.
When she and her dad are out looking for returning swans, they witness a terrible sight. As a flock starts descending to land on a nearby pond, the birds can’t see the new high tension wires and several are killed right before their eyes. When they spot the surviving members of the flock trying another landing while they’re driving home, Isla and her dad stop the car and rush across the field to get a better look. Halfway across, Dad suffers a heart attack. Isla manages to get help and rides to the hospital in the ambulance.
What follows is a long, painful wait as the family stays at the hospital, waiting for news. When Isla can’t stand sitting any longer, she wanders off to a reception area by the hospital cafe. She’s looking around vacantly when she spots a boy about her age with a portable IV. Not wanting to stare, although he’s cute, she finds a bench and sits down to rest her eyes. When she feels someone sit down beside her, she opens her eyes and there’s the same boy. Harry noticed her distress and came over to see if she was okay. They start talking and Isla learns he’s being treated for leukemia. What impresses her is how easy he is to talk to and how he doesn’t find her fascination with birds at all odd.
As you follow their developing relationship against the drama of Isla’s father’s heart operation, her brother’s own budding romance, her grandfather’s terribly slow return to being human and the two tweens shared fascination with the lone whooper who seems stuck on the pond outside Harry’s window, you’re treated to a wonderful story. It’s one with suspense and a little bit of magic. It’s also a terrific narrative about those first tentative and deliciously scary feelings when you start to realize someone really likes you for the first time. For Isla and Harry, those moments are even more vivid because of his illness and what her father is going through. This book has a really nice ending.
It’s a terrific addition to libraries for younger teens who are just getting into romance, those with major family health issues and those who love animals, especially birds.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9

Mirror Image

Mirror Image by K.L. Denman, Orca Books, 2007. ISBN: 9781551436678. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

mirror image

Sable, a high school freshman, keeps to herself and dresses in black. She’s not Goth, but still has emotional scars from her wartime experiences in Bosnia when she was three. Her father was killed and she and her mother became refugees. After settling in Canada, Mom remarried and Sable has twin stepbrothers who are several years younger. She doesn’t talk about it, but she’s so afraid something terrible will happen, she can’t connect with anyone.
When Mr. Ripley, her art teacher has the class brainstorm to come up with an end of the year project, Lacey, who has a boyfriend and loves pink, suggests everyone create a customized mirror frame with a secret quote about themselves hidden on the back. Mr. Ripley likes the idea, but takes it a step further. He chooses pairs to work together, get to know one another and create the quote for their partner. Sable is horrified when she and Lacey are paired up.
Getting to a point where they can talk to each other is a challenge, but when Sable meets Lacey at her house, she’s shocked at what she finds. That starts the walls each girl has erected, tumbling and in the process, Sable lets Lacey in enough so she allows her to do a makeover, while letting Lacey know she’s realized ‘miss pink’ is smarter and more tuned-in that she ever would have admitted.
This extremely quick read with a 2.3 reading level, has a lot going for it. Tweens who have trust and friendship issues, as well as those with mental health issues in their families will relate to both Sable and Lacey.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9

Returning to Shore


Returning To Shore by Corinne Demas, Carolrhoda Books, 2014. ISBN: 9781467713283. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

returning to shore

Fifteen year old Clare is watching her mother get married for the third time as the story opens. In addition to being cynical about the durability of this union, she’s still hurting from the loss of the stepfather who said he’d be there for her forever. Now he’s just some guy living with another woman and out of her life. If that wasn’t difficult enough to deal with, her mother nixes her plan to go to Colorado with her best friend for the summer. Instead, her aunt takes her out on Cape Cod to meet and stay with her biological father, Richard.
Clare hasn’t seen him since she was three and her parents split up. He calls on Christmas and sends a birthday card with money in it every year, but she’s never felt any real connection.
After her aunt drops her off at a rest area, she has a hard time figuring out what to say to her dad. He doesn’t really help with his reticence. When they stop on the wooden bridge leading to the old house he lives in, they admire the sunset over the marsh and he begins to talk about his work studying and trying to protect an endangered species of sea turtle.
Over the next three weeks, Clare and her dad start to learn about each other. At first, it’s a halting and painful process, but after a while, she starts being more interested in helping him find caches of turtle eggs and erecting wire cages to protect them until they hatch. After one particularly emotional conversation, Clare realizes something very important about her father, something that helps a lot of puzzle pieces connect. When she sees how bigoted and shallow the three teens she tries to be friends with really are, it helps her to understand her dad even further as well as herself.
This is a sweet and easy to read story about a girl and her long absent dad finding themselves and each other in time to have a really good father-daughter relationship. Set against an emotional environmental issue in a really nice location, it will appeal to nature loving tweens and teens as well as those who like a happy ending, or have experienced some sort of parental loss.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9

Amelia Bedelia’s First Library Card

 Amelia Bedelia’s First Library Card. Written by Herman Parish. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin. Although some of the anticipated word play is included in this book, still Amelia Bedelia’s First Library Card falls short of the mark.

The illustrations of the new Amelia are obviously geared to a younger female audience, presumably so that today’s children can relate to the character more easily.  All the elements of a good picture book are missing. The storyline is weak and feels contrived. It lacks the special qualities we have come to expect in an Amelia Bedelia book – interesting and creative plots, humorous dialogue, appealing illustrations and original characters.

The whole point of a classic is that it is timeless. This new look may prevent reluctant readers (particularly boys) from reaching for an Amelia Bedelia story. One of my elementary students, a reluctant reader, loved the original story so much that he read through all of the Amelia Bedelia stories I had access to, in a very short amount of time. I’m not sure this would have been the case had the cover art been similar to this more modern version.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade K-3, Picture Book, Preschool

Skin Deep

Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt, Electric Monkey Books, 2012. ISBN: 9781405256728. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS


First off, this book was an unexpected reward for raising a daughter who not only loves to read, but knows what her dad will love to read. My younger daughter, a teacher in a Bronx charter school, got this at a library book sale, read it and realized I would want to read it. She was absolutely correct.

Jenna’s caught in a painful limbo. Less than a year ago, she was riding in a car with her best friend and four other teens when the driver, high on alcohol and marijuana, lost control after hitting black ice. Two girls, including her best friend, were killed and she was trapped, barely extricated before dying. Her face was terribly burned and even with therapy and skin grafts, she can’t face herself in the mirror and cringes every time someone looks at her and makes a face. Steven, the driver, got off with a slap on the wrist. Jenna’s father started a group to make it harder for teens to drive under the influence and the family is continually harassed by Steven and his sleazy buddies.

Ryan is equally wounded, but his are invisible, his mother is bipolar, he never knew his father and they’re constantly moving to somewhere new on their narrowboat that plies the English canals. He’s never gone to school, never been able to make friends and has had to endure the extreme highs and lows of his mother’s illness. He’s a seventeen year old, forced to act like a parent who desperately needs someone to care for him.

When Jenna’s puppy runs off while they’re on a late afternoon walk, the dog finds Ryan in the process of washing the boat’s windows. Puppy knocks his wash pail into the canal and refuses to obey Jenna, resulting in the two of them coming face to face. Jenna runs off, but when her emotions settle, she realizes this boy is the first person who has really looked at her without reacting in horror or disgust. As much as she wants to avoid him, she can’t stop thinking about his not being freaked out.

What follows is a quirky friendship that morphs into a wonderful romance, one that flourishes despite Ryan’s initial involvement with another girl, friction with Steven and his cronies and parent problems on both sides. When Steven is murdered, both Jenna’s father and Ryan are suspects. The way the crime is solved, the heartbreak when Ryan and Jenna have to separate and the feel-good ending make this a compelling read.

This is a true gem that blends mystery, romance and recovery from pain both physical and emotional into a great read. While people die, there’s nothing in the story that would be problematic for either teens or mature tweens.

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Transportation Inventions: Moving Our World Forward

Transportation Inventions: Moving Our World Forward. Written by: Robert Walker. Reviewed by: Cheryl Coffin. This volume is part of the “Inventions that Shape the Modern World” Series.

An informational text that takes a look how numerous inventions have changed and expanded our choices in transportation over time. The author looks at every from the early use of animals for transportation to space travel, as he considers the domestication of animals, the invention of the wheel, steam and rail, automobiles, boats and planes.

The written text is easy to read and includes a wide array of photographs and illustrations, as well as a timeline and additional resources.

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Filed under Grade 4-6, Grade K-3, Nonfiction

The Winner’s Curse

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkowski, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. ISBN: 9780374384678. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

the winners curse

Seventeen year old Kestrel feels an edginess. Her father, the top general in the emperor’s army, is often away fighting. Her mother died when she was quite young, and she was raised by a Herrani Slave, Enai. Her father expects her to choose between a military career or marriage very soon. While she’s an excellent military strategist, Kestrel isn’t a very good fighter and marriage doesn’t appeal to her. Playing the piano, sometimes for hours on end, does.
When she and her best friend Jess come upon a slave auction, something about the look of pride and defiance in a young man up for auction catches her eye and she bids until she pays an outrageous price for him. Once she gets him home, she finds his silence as well as what she suspects is behind his gaze, increasingly intriguing. It’s apparent that Arin is attracted to her too. While having a male slave accompany her when she’s away from her father’s estate isn’t unusual, the frequency of this happening , coupled with her private interactions with him, raise eyebrows and create gossip.
Arin was a noble before Kestrel’s father and his army vanquished his country, enslaving those not killed. His purchase by Kestrel was skillfully orchestrated as a way to set a rebellion in motion. Their growing attraction creates some interesting roadblocks, ones that become even more interesting after she becomes Arin’s prisoner. Along the way to a stunning conclusion (that will leave readers begging for a planned sequel), Kestrel survives a duel, public ridicule, nearly getting killed by another member of the rebellion and an escape by sea that’s almost fatal. What happens when she’s rescued is one of the better gotchas in recent fiction.
This is a dandy love story with fantasy and thriller elements. The author crafted it extremely well and the interactions between Kestrel and Arin are mesmerizing. Teens and even mature tweens who like love stories set in unusual times and locations will eat this up.

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Filed under Fantasy, Grade 10-12, Grade 7-9