Thursday, March 05, 2015

Raindrops Roll



By April Pulley Sayre


Immersed in a tiny, wet world of life we wait.  We feel the rain coming as the sky darkens.  Insects take cover where they can in leaves and flowers. When the rain comes, raindrops fill every upturned leaf and pond, they thud as they hit, and gather as they cling to each other and everything else. 


While reading this book for the first time, and again each time after, I felt as if I were on my front porch watching a summer rain drench the scenery around me.  April Pulley Sayre’s gorgeous, close-up photographs fill the pages with colors, textures and shapes.  Each photograph opens a tiny world that we can see in detail without actually getting wet.


Text set in a large white font uses rich vocabulary to describe scenes simply.  The tone, like a steady summer shower, is expectant, quiet and calm. 


This is a perfect picture book to share with children of any age.  Published just this year by veteran children’s author, April Pulley Sayre, Raindrops Roll covers a topic that everyone can related to.  Even very young children will be enraptured by the beautiful insects.  The science behind water and rain is described in brief, easy to understand paragraphs at the back of the book.  You’ll also find some suggestions for further reading.


I am a huge fan of Sayre’s other photographic children’s books such as Rah, Rah, Radishes!  A Vegetable Chant and Let’s Go Nut!  Seeds We Eat, but Raindrops Roll is by far my favorite work to date.


If you like the quiet, natural tone and setting of Raindrops Roll, you will probably love Stranger in the Woods:  a photographic fantasy, Lost in the Woods: a photographic fantasy, and other books by Carl R. Sams.  These are beautiful works set in the north woods of Michigan.  A previous VBPL Recommends post highlights them here.




     [Cover]     [Cover]     

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

Who doesn't love a yummy doughnut? In Steve Antony's new book, Please, Mr. Panda, the generous Mr. Panda offers a doughnut to a number of animals. Yet, the affirmative responses of the ostrich, whale, penguin, and others are anything but polite. Only when a kindly lemur pops out of a tree and uses his manners, asking if he can "please" have a doughnut does Mr. Panda finally offer up all his doughnuts.

This is a hilarious story for teaching manners. Despite Mr. Panda's questionable rudeness in promptly rescinding his offers (couldn't he suggest they say the magic words?!) the lesson that it pays to be polite without prompting sticks.

The illustrations illicit a fuzzy feel - you just want to pick Mr. Panda up, squeeze him, and make him happy! Additionally, they are large with truly few words on the page - Mr. Whale even gets two pages to demonstrate his enormity - making this a good title for younger preschoolers too. In reality, even adults might benefit from this reminder tale that it pays to demonstrate a little gratitude.

For another title where lemurs steal the show, you might try How to Lose a Lemur by Frann Preston-Gannon. And for more titles on teaching manners and positive behaviors, check out the Michael Dahl series Hello Genius, including Penguin Says Please, Bear Says Thanks, and Mouse Says Sorry.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Rosie Revere, Engineer By Andrea Beaty, Illustrated by David Roberts

When children are small, they have no qualms exclaiming what kind of superhero they’ll be when they grow up. But as they grow up, sometimes these dreams get lost in their constant discovery of how the world works. Andrea Beaty illustrates this journey beautifully in her rhyming book, Rosie Revere, Engineer. As a toddler, Rosie is busy making all sorts of gadgets to improve the lives of her loved ones, like a hat to keep snakes away for her uncle, Zookeeper Fred. She doesn’t understand why everyone laughs at the cheese that squirts out of her masterpieces. So, Rosie retreats and keeps her dreams to herself. 

One day Rosie gets a visit from her Great-Great- Aunt Rose, who worked building airplanes when she was younger. Rosie gets inspired to make Rose a flying machine and after much work is dismayed as it flies and falls back to the ground. Great-Great Aunt Rose helps Rosie to see that failures might happen, but the greatest failure is in giving up.

If your little explorer enjoys Rosie's story you may also like the adventures of Iggy Peck, Architect

Reviewed by Heather, Youth Librarian at the TCC/City Joint-Use Library

Monday, March 02, 2015

Little Humans by Brandon Stanton

I am an unabashedly passionate fan of Humans of New York (HONY), the blog created by photographer Brandon Stanton featuring photographs of everyday New Yorkers. The photographs are accompanied by stories—sometimes long, sometimes no more than two sentences—about the subject in the picture. These stories more often than not make me tear up because they are generally heartfelt and raw. Adding levity to the blog (also seen in Instagram, Facebook, and a best-selling book of the same title) and interspersed between photos and stories that range from silly to devastating, pictures of children pop up - like this one of a superhero and his sidekick. This picture along with over 30 others can be found in the light-hearted picture book created by Stanton titled, Little Humans. The photography takes center stage in the book with a simple poem running below the pictures that brings the collection together.

Though the book is called, Little Humans, the children in the pages are quite big in spirit, fashion, and talent. The picture book shows its small subjects doing what kids do best—falling down and getting back up, playing sports and musical instruments, showing off twirly skirts and well-loved basketballs, and just being plain adorable. Young readers will delight in seeing kids just like them in the pages and parents will appreciate the positive message. Don’t miss this beautiful picture book and check out Humans of New York on social media!

Reviewed by Megan, Youth Librarian at Kempsville Area Library 

Friday, February 27, 2015

We Will All Go Down Together by Gemma Files

This cast list reads like a who’s who of strangest people to cram in one book:
  • (maybe) washed-out former child medium
  • defrocked priest turned magic objects store owner
  • monster-slaying warrior nun
  • ghostbuster
  • shaman
  • former victim of possession
  • psychic with a twist on being afraid of his own shadow
  • bodysnatching ghost
  • a couple of regular people
Take this unusual cast, and feature them in this dark fantasy horror collection of short stories, along with human nature at its darkest, witches, the Fae, forces and myths beyond human comprehension, and a feud spanning generations to get We Will All Go Down Together. 

This short story collection features different characters that connect to each other bit by bit, forming one overarching story of family drama gone very wrong.  The feud is between witches who made a deal with a fallen angel and the Fae. The feud started with betrayal, and the betrayed witches, their family, and their allies have been slowly working their way over generations, deliberately or not, to a confrontation with the traitors.  This fragmented style works with the story spanning generations. Focusing on key characters and their stories create the sense of a cold war, where there is no active fighting, just loosely connected events moving towards a final showdown. The moments are more poignant, especially since different kinds of experiences are captured and illustrated with Files' uniquely dark imagery and writing.

Files’ writing is the hugest draw. It is eloquent, punch-in-the-gut and cutting at times, requiring careful reading, but it is worth it. The things Files does with words is practically poetry in prose form, with a dark and morbid bent. She has a way of blending description, observation, and experience into one thing, capturing what the character sees and thinks in place of the usual background description that can be skimmed. It makes the story more personal, deeper, more biased and sometime questionable, with intriguing insight mixed in. She gets deep into her characters' heads, hearts, and experiences. The imagery is original and provides much to think about. The characters stand out, each well-developed with their own story and unique voices, and readers can see how complex and twisted they are.  There are no good guys, just very flawed people.  Even Toronto, the setting for most of the stories, is a character itself. Files brings an interesting look at the identity of Canada and Toronto with both insider and outsider perspectives and issues of diversity. It makes this an even more fascinating read, and Files brings attention to Canada and Toronto's character, digging below the nice fa├žade.

Look for We Will All Go Down Together in the VBPL Catalog.  For more of Files’ trademark dark and twisted writing, try her Hexslinger trilogy (see review).  For a similarly dark and poetic writing style, try works by Caitlin Kiernan and Kathe Koja.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Silence of Six by E.C. Myers

“What is the Silence of Six, and what are you going to do about it?” is the final, cryptic statement a mysterious hacker makes before he kills himself on live TV.

This teen techno thriller is a refreshing read amongst all the teen dystopian fantasies and paranormal reads out there with their angst, drama, and romances. The cool cover and intriguing title hint at a promising read, and the book delivers on that promise.

At a presidential debate held at his high school, Max and his school witness Evan, his best friend, hack the debate on live TV, leave a cryptic message about the "silence of six," and commit suicide. Life turns upside down for Max quickly, as he realizes his friend has uncovered a conspiracy involving Panjea, one of the largest social media presences in the world. He goes on the run when the investigation into Evan uncover their friendship, and the clues Evan leaves connect Max to whatever Evan was involved in. Max finds himself relying on his hacking skills, his knowledge of his best friend, and the hacking community to figure out what the clues mean.

This book is a technical checklist of the things Myers does well without sacrificing story. It is a fast-paced, intense read with a clean writing style and is well-written.  It does not feel juvenile, nor does it get bogged down with technical details on hacking that would lose the lay person. It maintains a nice balance with providing information and just enough of it to make a convincing story.  Empowering to read is how teens could be such skilled hackers and can do so much.  Even better is how Max and his friend, DoubleThink, are not stereotypes and their first introduction addressed some of those stereotypes without being pedantic. 

Myers displays a solid grasp of the issues of privacy and anonymity with the internet and social media, and the conflict is not reduced to good versus evil. The situation is more complex than that, with people who are motivated by fear, doing the right thing, friendship, selfishness, and greed.  Evan haunts the story, not only through his death but with how his character gets fleshed out. As Max figures out Evan's clues, which are based on how well they know each other, Max reveals details about Evan and learns about parts of Evan’s life that were kept secret. The story pacing is great, where the plot does not feel too convenient or easy. Myers captures just the right amount of emotion and intelligence.  The story has just enough resolution but also recognizes larger, underlying issues that are not going to be resolved overnight.

Look for The Silence of Six in the VBPL Catalog.  Try E.C. Myers other works, Ian McDonald’s Everness series (see review), and Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series for more solid teen speculative fiction.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

“...history, as you may know, is much like a spiral staircase that gives the illusion of going up, but never quite goes anywhere.”

A fitting image for an imaginary place called Bulikov, the City of Stairs, with literal stairs to nowhere and a complicated history that serves as the setting for this fascinating mash-up of spy mystery and fantasy in a post-gods modern age. 

The story is set during a time of bad blood, generations since the Continent flourished under the rule of six Divinities, and Saypur, a slave nation, rose up in rebellion, killed the Divinities, and defeated their once-masters. There is resentment and tension between the Saypuri and the Continentals over the past, their respective rules, and Saypur repressing Continental history and the Divinities' existence.  With the death of the Divinities, reality unwrote and rewrote itself, and Bulikov (former seat of the Divinities' rule) and the Continent bear this mish-mash of realities, with mashed together buildings, fragmented places, and stairs that go nowhere.  Things reach a tipping point when a Saypuri historian is murdered in Bulikov, and Shara, a diplomat who is also spy and agent for Saypur, investigates and discovers this is more than just a murder mystery with conspiracies, deeper issues, and the possibility that the Divinities and their miracles are still somehow involved.

City of Stairs is a well-written fantasy.  It feels unique, incorporating gods but being neither medieval epic fantasy nor urban fantasy. Bennett offers an interesting premise, solid plot and twists, and develops an intriguing world, character back-stories, history, and politics.  Bulikov is its own character with the setting adding much to the story.  Between chapter introductory quotes, Shara's historical knowledge, and what the characters uncover, readers learn about Bulikov and the war and how it led to the current state of affairs.  The writing, dialogue, and conversations are great, with some humorous moments.  The characters are a huge draw.  Shara is not a typical protagonist—30ish, not-particularly-imposing bespectacled bookworm yet Saypur’s foremost intelligence agent.  Sigrud accompanies her as secretary and doubles as her bodyguard and muscle, doing the legwork and physical jobs. They have an odd friendship that really works, with their personalities balancing each other.  Additional supporting characters add voice and additional perspectives to the story’s political situation.

Look for City of Stairs in the VBPL Catalog.  Try Robert Jackson Bennett’s other works.  For more gods and unique twists in fantasy, read Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series and Sundering duology and Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence series.