My Cousin’s Keeper

My Cousin’s Keeper.  Written by Simon French.  Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

My Cousin’s Keeper is a provocative story of a self-centered boy name Kieran and his feelings for and about his less fortunate cousin, Bon.

Kieran’s life has always been pretty good.  He has recently begun to make his way into the popular group of kids at school.  He has developed his first crush on Julia, a mysterious new girl.  Kieran’s family life is carefree, with parents who are loving and engaged, however, all this is threatened by the arrival of Bon.

Bon is Kieran’s age but his life has been anything but easy.   At the very least, Bon has been neglected and most likely abused by a mentally unstable mother with a transient lifestyle.   Bon’s grandmother agrees to Bon in and raise him, which elicits all sorts of jealous feelings in Kieran.

Although this book can be a little dark at times, the story leaves a lasting impression.  A good choice, for the right audience – mature kids, ages 9 and up.

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

Schools of Hope

Cover ArtSchools of Hope.  Written by Norman H. Finkelstein. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.  An important view of American Schools during the early part of 1900s, this informational text focuses on the contributions Julius Rosenwald made to improve the lives of African Americans, especially in the area of African American Education.

Julius Rosenwald was committed to helping those in need, provided they were willing to contribute as well. His seed funding was responsible for the building of 5,357 schools for black children in the south (1912 -1932).   He also help black colleges expand their graduate programs, provided access to books through libraries, supported teacher-training programs, offered fellowships to black men and women so they could choose careers as college administrators, professors, writers and musicians and improved the quality of millions of people’s lives by giving them access to standard medical care.

With its in-depth look at African American education during the early 1900s, this information book would be a beneficial addition to any library.  It is refreshing to have a children’s book offer readers such a comprehensive view of this important topic.



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

Tales From My Closet

Tales From My Closet by Jennifer Anne Moses, Scholastic, 2014. ISBN: 9780545668118. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

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Justine’s fashion sense keeps her on keel. She needs it because her family has just moved again, this time to New Jersey. It’s dogged hot, all the kids her age, she’s fifteen, are at the beach it seems and her best friend is back in San Francisco. Her forced meeting with Becka, the elegant, but snooty girl living across the street, is an epic disaster, leaving Justine tongue tied, but determined to make a fashion statement with her antique paper dress on the first day of school.

As other kids encounter her that day, their reactions are varied, from cool to ugh! But Justine’s so unnerved by her perception that nobody likes her, or the dress, she comes home and shreds it. We are introduced in depth to four other girls she meets that first day in alternating chapters. Becka whose mother is a therapist and has been writing teen oriented psychology books while using her daughter as the supposedly anonymous subject. Ann, who’s very small and hates being compared to her ‘robotgirl’ older sister, but can’t tell her mom she’s in love with art, because she’s supposed to become a lawyer or something similar. Robyn, Becka’s best friend, who loves fashion, but has a mother who thinks she’s a shopping addict and a law professor dad who is an untreated alcoholic and Polly, daughter of a single mom, because her father supposedly abandoned the family when she was little. Polly’s a sweetie and an excellent swimmer who obsesses about what she thinks is an oversized butt that makes it impossible to look good in any outfit.

Told in alternating chapters related to what they wear, what’s in their closets and how they gradually become drawn into their own collective universe, sometimes gracefully, often painfully, this is a smart, sometimes funny, very emotional book. It’s about family secrets, self-image, teen angst and, ultimately, about how we’re a lot more alike than different when we let ourselves really be seen. Both mature tweens and teens, particularly those with a love of fashion or with unspoken family issues will really like this book.

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

The True Adventures of Nicolo Zen

Cover Art The True Adventures of Nicolo Zen.   Written by Nicholas Christopher.  Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

A poor, orphaned boy dresses up as a girl to get into a special music school that takes in orphaned girls.  Nicolo Zen has a second secret.  Although he appears to have an unusual talent for playing the clarinet, it is the magical instrument itself that makes him so gifted.  A well-known magician has placed a spell on the clarinet so Nicolo lives in fear that without the magic, he will not be able to perform.   The plot  becomes even more complex when Nicolo falls in love with Adriana, one of the orphaned girls that he shares a room with.

This is an imaginative “coming of age” story, with plenty of magic and mayhem.  Due to situations of an adult nature, I would recommend the book to mature older teens and young adults only (ages 16 and up).

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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, Grade 10-12

Because It’s In My Blood and In The Age of Love and Chocolate

Because It’s In My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012. ISBN: 9780374380748, and In The Age of Love and Chocolate by Gabrielle Zevin, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2013. ISBN: 9780374380755. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.



I reviewed the first book in the series a while ago. In the second book, Anya does her best to stay on the straight and narrow, but the world isn’t interested in allowing her to have a normal teenage life. Her sister has skipped two grades, her best friend has gotten hot and heavy with Anya’s sleazy ex and her boyfriend, Win has a new love of his own. Win’s father is running for district attorney and makes it very clear that any contact between his son and Anya can’t happen. All it takes is one photo snapped by people working for Mr. Delacroix’s opponent, showing them holding hands in the school cafeteria and Anya is on her way back to Liberty, the horrific juvenile prison she spent time in before. This time, she arranges an escape and ends up in Mexico on a cacao plantation where she begins an odd relationship with Theo a young man near her age, whose family owns the place. After surviving an assassination attempt, she returns to New York when Mr. Delacroix loses the election.

Despite her best efforts, Anya can’t escape the Balanchine chocolate legacy. Determined to be as independent as possible, she begins working with Mr. Delacroix to open a lounge where medicinal cacao can be dispensed in drinks for those who have a prescription. Unfortunately, this decision costs her Win and at the end of book two, she’s empty and alone, but determined to go forward with her plan.

In the final book, Anya finds herself in a self-imposed emotional prison. The lounge was so successful she had to expand and now, with help from the Balanchine Family syndicate and her brother, lounges have sprung up all over the country. Natty has survived her own crisis and is on track to go to college and make her dream of finding a way to make more clean water available come true. Theo wants a relationship with Anya, but after she spurns him and enters a marriage of convenience with Yuji Ono, head of the Japanese chocolate family because he’s dying after being poisoned by Sophia, a former lover and widow of one of Anya’s cousins, he finally leaves. Shortly after her marriage, Yuji dies, leaving Anya in control of 2/5ths of the world’s chocolate empire. Sophia attacks her and nearly kills her. It takes months of painful recovery before Anya even wants to be around other people. When that moment comes, Mr. Delacroix arranges fro her to recuperate on the upstate New York farm owned by his ex-wife. The combination of a rustic farm setting and the love and caring of her sister, Nattie and Win who never stopped loving her, finally breaks down all of Anya’s walls. Battered and wiser, she’s finally able to open up an accept what had been waiting for her all the time.

This is an excellent trilogy for teens who like an intricate plot with characters who get banged about by life’s misfortunes. They might read a bit slower than other books, but they’re well worth the effort.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

The Glass Mountain: Tales from Poland

The Glass Mountain: Tales from Poland. Retold By David Walser. Illustrated by Jan Pienkowski. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

These eight fairy tales are the perfect conduit for Jan Pienkowski’s superb paper cutouts.  The illustrations in this book are eye-catching, finely detailed works of art, created in contrasting colors.

Originating in Poland, these tales will be “new” to many readers, so it’s great that the author includes a pronunciation key at the beginning of the book.  I found myself referring to it, time and again.

Because some of the stories reference the devil, and may be unsettling for younger readers, I would recommend this book for readers ages 8 and up.

~A nice addition to any library.

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Filed under Grade 10-12, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9

The Vanishing Season

The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Harper Teen, 2014. ISBN: 9780062003270. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS


After Maggie’s mom loses her bank job in Chicago, the family moves to a beautiful, but rundown house in Door County, Wisconsin, overlooking Lake Michigan. It’s a very remote area and the town is small. One of the first things Maggie notices is a complete lack of cell service, another cut between herself and the life she had to leave behind. Since she’s home schooled, opportunities to meet other teens are pretty limited. She begins to wonder about the strange girl she sees who lives next door and about the hammering she hears off in the woods.

When she meets Pauline, the girl she’s been watching, they begin a tentative friendship. Pauline’s dad died of a heart attack while fishing on the lake and her mom seems frozen in time as a result. Pauline is a bit odd, but Maggie warms to her, partly because she is different. The mysterious hammering turns out to be Liam, the boy whose mom left years ago and whose dad is a local pariah because of his athiestic behavior. Liam’s building a sauna so Pauline can have a warm place during the winter.

When girls begin dying and are found in the lake, everyone becomes frightened and circle the wagons. This brings Pauline, Maggie and Liam closer. Liam has loved Pauline since they were very little, but she’s unable to reciprocate, mostly because her mother wouldn’t approve. When Pauline is sent away until the killer is caught, Liam and Maggie fall in love, but upon Pauline’s return, she takes him away from Maggie, who pretty much gives up feeling anything.

Interspersed with the action are stream of consciousness observations by a ghost, whose identity isn’t revealed until the very sad and unsettling ending. While reviews of this book are all over the scale, I liked it, but found it terribly sad. I suspect teen readers will also have mixed feelings about it.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12

Dear Malala, We Stand with You

Dear Malala, We Stand with You. Written by Rosemary McCarney, with Plan International. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

Malala Yousafzai was only fifteen years old when she was shot by the Taliban on her way to school.  This picture book not only tells  Malala amazing story but the author does an excellent job of looking at the lives of girls around the world, and the many factors that keep girls from getting an education, including poverty, violence, discrimination and early marriage.

This photo picture book is both heart-breaking and encouraging. The message for immediate change comes across loud and clear, and the case is made in a compelling  way.

~A must have for public and school libraries.

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Filed under Grade 10-12, Grade 4-6, Grade 7-9, Nonfiction, Picture Book

Our Solar System

Cover ArtOur Solar System by Seymour Simon. Reviewed by Cheryl Coffin.

This picture book is an updated version of the author’s original 1992 informational text.  It combines awe-inspiring photographs of the planets, moons, asteroids, comets and other space objects, with the author’s carefully crafted words.

Due to Pluto’s demotion, libraries and media centers have a need for updated astronomy books.  This classic remains a good choice, as it will instill in young readers a passion for “everything space”!

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

Tin Star

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci, Roaring Brook Press, 2014. ISBN: 9781596437753. Reviewed by, John R. Clark, MLIS.

tin star

Tula Bane hasn’t been in control of her life at any point. Her dad is dead and her mother has fallen under the spell of the charismatic Brother Blue, so much so, that she’s taking Tula and her younger sister into space to settle on an alien world. At first, Tula is excited because Brother Blue seems to have selected her to become one of his assistants, but when she notices that the seeds destined for planting on the new world aren’t being reloaded when they reach an obscure space station, she makes the mistake of asking him why.

Brother Blue beats her senseless, leaving her for dead. Tula comes to in time to witness the destruction of her family when the colonizing ship is blown to pieces shortly after launch. She’s alone and penniless on a station that’s more an afterthought than anything of importance. It circles a mined-out planet. At first, she’s numb, but it doesn’t take long for her to figure out how to survive. This involves a bit of theft, some deceit and a growing skill in trading favors for bigger ones, in large part because of her friendship with fellow wheeler-dealer, an alien known as Heckleck. She also begins an interesting relationship with the station boss, an alien named Tournour. It’s one she can’t quite figure out until the end of the book.

When three teens, survivors of another space disaster, land on the station, Tula begins realizing that they may be her way of getting revenge for Brother Blue’s betrayal and beating, but it’s been quite a while since she’s been around humans and this makes connecting with them challenging. The fact that each of them, Els, Reza and Caleb all want different things, not only from her, but in terms of revenge for having been betrayed themselves, further complicates her figuring out what to do and who to trust.

I like this story, but had to re-read the last two chapters in order to make up my mind that I did. There’s serious room for a sequel, but it does work as a stand-alone. Tweens and teens who like unusual settings, science fiction and are okay with a slightly ambiguous ending will enjoy this book.

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