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

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

The whole point of a classic is that it is timeless. This new look may prevent reluctant readers (mainly boys) from reaching for an Amelia Bedelia story. One of my elementary (male) students 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. And this is a child who avoided reading!

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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

Agricultural Inventions: At the Top of the Field

Agricultural Inventions: At the Top of the Field. Written by: Helen Mason. 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 agriculture over time. The author introduces the idea of America as a breadbasket, looks at how developments in farm machinery have impacted farms and the economy, addresses pesticides and genetics on the farm, and considers how advancements in communication have improved farming.

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

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

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler, Dial Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780803737259.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS



Auggie Jones lives with Grandpa Gus, who is a trash hauler. She never knew her father and as far as she knows, her mom is somewhere in California, making her way as a model and maybe a movie star. Mom’s picture covers most of the ad on a big billboard in town. Auggie and her best friend call the spot under it their wishing place.

When their school got condemned, Auggie, Irma Jean, Lexie and Harold have to attend a newer school. Bad things begin happening on the first day of school. Lexie falls under the spell of Victoria, the snooty daughter of the head of the town beautification committee. Before you know it, she’s stopped being friends with Auggie and Irma Jean, as well as letting Victoria talk her into cutting her long red hair. Losing a friend is bad, losing her to someone who is junior member of a committee that is determined to condemn your entire neighborhood is really bad.

Auggie and Gus as well as everyone else in Serendipity Place, the area of town where they live receives a notice from the town beautification committee, listing vague and arbitrary violations of town codes and really scary fines. While everyone is shocked at first, Auggie and Gus get creative, starting by using Gramp’s welding equipment to turn scrap metal into lawn art. Unfortunately, this only results in additional violations and a growing fine amount. However, the shared threat starts moving people in the neighborhood closer.

How Auggie, Gus, Harold and the rest of the neighbors decide to fight back, coupled with what Auggie learns when she tries to run away to find her mom because she’s convinced her mother can fix anything, ramp up the tension before the book closes in a real feel good way.

This is a great book for middle school kids to read, even as a family or classroom read aloud. Kids who come from a tough economic situation, or who have suffered the loss of a parent will really relate to Auggie and her friends.

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Maybe One Day

Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor, Harper Teen, 2014. ISBN: 9780062279200. Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS.

maybe one day

Zoe and Olivia have been best friends since they met in ballet class. In fact, ballet has played a huge part in their friendship and their lives. When their shared dream of taking it to the next level is dashed when they’re told that neither is good enough, Olivia rolls with it, starting to teach inner city girls how to reach for the stars. Zoe, on the other hand, deals with the disappointment by getting rid of anything that reminds her of dancing. After a failed attempt to be part of the high school soccer team, she’s in a major apathetic funk. Nothing seems to light her fire any more. While Olivia’s developing a crush on her brother’s friend, Calvin, Zoe can’t stand him. She thinks he’s obnoxious and stuck on himself, but she’s willing to ignore him if if makes her best friend happy.

When Olivia starts bruising and feeling really tired, everyone’s world turns upside down. Her diagnosis: Leukemia, the sort old men get, the kind that’s horribly aggressive. When two rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant don’t work, Zoe and everyone else have to face the unthinkable. That would be bad enough, but during the craziness surrounding her trying to support Olivia and be there for her and her family, Zoe has fallen for Calvin and he for her. Unable to come clean with her dying friend, Zoe faces more than she imagines possible.

This wonderfully sad story will draw lots of comparisons to John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars. It should, but in the best possible way. It’s going to make readers feel…a lot. It’s sad, it’s romantic, it’s very good at showing the reader how a terrible illness tears at everyone who cares about the person who has it and it will make them smile when they realize how resilient loving people are.

This is a book I’d be happy suggesting to teens and adults who like a strong story and aren’t afraid to feel when reading.

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Filed under Fiction, Grade 10-12