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Review

15

Sep
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review Roundup: Japanese Internment

On 15, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Japanese Internment

When do you introduce children to a difficult topic like the Japanese Internment? That’s a tough question and part of it will depend on the child, but when I was working in the second grade we definitely broached the topic. I think it’s surprising how ready children are to learn about really difficult topics and I would recommend against assuming that they can’t handle them. Children’s fiction often does a wonderful job of presenting complex and fraught history to kids in a way that helps them understand and process it. The following are three excellent books that teach children about the Japanese Internment without overburdening or overwhelming them.

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki: This was one we read every year in second grade and the kids loved it. It does a really wonderful job showing how important it was to have something to do in the camps. The child’s perspective also gives the story an immediacy for children hearing the story. Even though this one is older, it is well worth reading. Sports fan will enjoy this story even though it’s really more a historical fiction.

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss: Another baseball story. This one follows the story of Zeni, an incredible professional baseball player who, because of his Japanese heritage, was put into a camp. The book is based on the true story of how he saw that the people in the camp needed something to do and worked very hard to build a baseball stadium complete with bleachers for the fans and uniforms for the players. He involves nearly everyone in the camp in some way with the project and gives them a new purpose. I especially like the lack of animosity in the story. I think with stories of injustice it’s easy to slip into pointing fingers and assigning blame, but I don’t think that kind of writing helps children understand what happened or appreciate the heroism of the people who rose above their situation. The art is also really incredible in this book. It has the feel of old sports ads and baseball cards (especially the cover). Back matter has a more complete story of Zeni with pictures of him standing with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The story is a little long so it may be better suited to second or third grade and up, but it is certainly appropriate. As with Baseball Saved Us, this story may encourage sports fans to read more history.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai: I loved this book. Not only does Mari use art to help her understand the situation she finds herself in, but she also uses gardening to help her and others heal. Mari struggles to understand why she and her family are now living in such an abysmal place as Topaz and she retreats within herself. Eventually her art class and art teacher give her the ability to beautify the family’s barren cabin with her drawings of their old home. When the sunflower seeds she planted with her mother finally begin to grow, so does Mari’s hope that there will be beauty in her life again.There is also a story of friendship here. Mari knows none of the children in the camp with her, but through her art class she meets another little girl who eventually becomes her friend. Through their friendship she finds someone she can lean on and talk to. The story is based on the author’s grandmother’s experience in the Topaz camp.

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12

Sep
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

YA Review: Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins

On 12, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Rebel BelleFrom GoodReads: Harper Price, peerless Southern belle, was born ready for a Homecoming tiara. But after a strange run-in at the dance imbues her with incredible abilities, Harper’s destiny takes a turn for the seriously weird. She becomes a Paladin, one of an ancient line of guardians with agility, super strength and lethal fighting instincts.

Just when life can’t get any more disastrously crazy, Harper finds out who she’s charged to protect: David Stark, school reporter, subject of a mysterious prophecy and possibly Harper’s least favorite person. But things get complicated when Harper starts falling for him—and discovers that David’s own fate could very well be to destroy Earth.

I was worried when I started reading Rebel Belle. There was so much talk about dresses and dates and lip gloss. I know there’s an audience for those books, but I don’t especially enjoy them. This book had gotten good reviews in a couple places so I stuck with it and I’m really glad I did because it picked up pretty quickly and got into some intense action. It’s still a light read, but it’s interspersed with action scenes and bits about Harper’s new found calling as a Paladin. There is a focus on being put together and on manners but not at the expense of the story.

Harper Price is one of those perfect, popular girls. She is a cheerleader, on all kinds of committees, dance organizer, dating the cutest guy in school, and wealthy. But her need for perfection is driven by something quite dark. Her sister made one bad decision, to drink and drive, and ended up dead. Now Harper is desperately trying to keep up appearances and keep people from measuring her by her sister. Plus staying busy keeps her from giving into the grief. I’m not sure she would make the most interesting friend, but she hasn’t really found herself yet and the action makes up for any lack of character development.

Unexpectedly at a dance she meets the school janitor who has just been dealt a killing blow. He gives her powers that she didn’t ask for and didn’t know about and now she is sworn to protect the most irritating boy in school. The complications that come from this threaten to throw her carefully constructed life to the wind. Harper tries to take it in stride and, even though she doesn’t want the to, she eventually rises to the occasion. That made me think we’ll see her grow more in the next book(s).

I will warn you, there is a love triangle of sorts. I know those bother some people, but I am not one of them. I thought that her switch from her cute, but rather bland boyfriend to David, the boy she is protecting, who also happens to be a lot like Harper made for a more interesting romance. And Harper doesn’t spend forever dwelling on choosing one boy or the other. More often than not, Harper is exasperated that she has to help David and she is often busy with that task.

As you might expect with a novel set in a small Southern town, there are a few characters. Harper’s aunts get together to smoke and play cards every Friday and they are a hoot. Harper often joins them and she ends up using them to get some information about funny goings on in the town when she is trying to piece together what has happened to her. People often resort to the polite manners I think we stereotypically associate with good Southern breeding. Then there is Saylor Stark head of the Cotillion ceremony. She is also the aunt of the boy Harper is sworn to protect and it turns out she is involved with it. She is also the epitome of proper which keeps Harper in line even in dire situations.

The mystery organization and Southern setting reminded me of the Hourglass series. I think fans of that may enjoy this one too. I would also try it with kids looking for a light action novel.

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10

Sep
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

On 10, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Under the Egg

From GoodReads: When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

Under the Egg was a really fun read. Theodora, or Theo, is a quirky kid with a great personality. She just is who she is and isn’t apologetic about it, even if she is a little odd. The reason she’s odd is because her grandfather has taught her to be very self-reliant and she’s grown up in a ramshackle house with an artist as a parent. Life hasn’t been easy, though. Theo’s father is absent and her mother is lost in the world of mathematics and money isn’t abundant. She also doesn’t have any friends to rely on. When Theo’s grandfather passes away unexpectedly she has to take on the role or house and mother caretaker. She has to become the adult. Which is hard for a 13 year old.

While the book is, on the surface, an art mystery it’s also a story about friendship and learning to gracefully and graciously take help when it’s needed. Theo’s grandfather had an independent streak in him and he passed it on to Theo. She doesn’t want to visit the food closet even though they desperately need the food. She is even hesitant to take a free meal from the diner owner in her neighborhood who offers to feed her whenever she is hungry, free of charge. As the story moves on and she opens herself up to a new neighbor that befriends her, she becomes more willing to open up to others as well.

Being short on money but interested in lots of things, Theo visits the library. In fact, it’s where she turns when she needs to research the painting she has found. Her local librarian was of the stereotypical type, but she was recently replaced with an awesome new male librarian. He’s funny, a little too loud, and more than willing to wipe out Theo’s library fines. He even gets involved in helping solve the mystery and puts his connections to use by linking Theo and her new friend Bodhi up with a librarian at the Jewish studies library.

There were a few parts that, as an adult, I had to suspend disbelief. Theo never explicitly says, but I think her grandfather was struck by a car. Why they haven’t filed some kind of lawsuit to help cover costs was beyond me. If you kill a pedestrian there would be trial, even if the Tenpennys aren’t lawsuit happy. Later in the story when an untrustworthy adult discovers she has a painting of value, he involves the police who show up at the house with a warrant. They don’t ask to speak with a competent adult (which her mother very clearly is not) and actually threaten Theo. I would be surprised if the police would involve a minor or even talk to her without a parent or guardian present. But both of those pieces move the story forward and create tension so I was willing to let it go. Plus I doubt the target audience would get hung up on these things.

I don’t like those “x meets y” descriptions of books because this isn’t fan fiction that mashes up two books. It may simply be a case of semantics, but I prefer to think that there are elements of other books in any given story. Elements that would make a book appeal to fans of another. I also prefer the term “readlike” but I think that implies a lot of similarity between books. Under the Egg has been called From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler meets Chasing Vermeer. There are definitely elements of those two books here. Particularly in the art mystery. I also see Wonderstruck in using New York City as a character and Theo reminds me a lot of Mo in Three Times Lucky. Any of these books would be good places to go after this one or come to this one from.

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08

Sep
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Leaving China by James McMullan

On 08, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Leaving ChinaFrom GoodReads: James McMullan was born in Tsingtao, North China, in 1934, the grandson of missionaries who settled there. As a little boy, Jim took for granted a privileged life of household servants, rickshaw rides, and picnics on the shore until World War II erupted and life changed drastically. Jim s father, a British citizen fluent in several Chinese dialects, joined the Allied forces. For the next several years, Jim and his mother moved from one place to another Shanghai, San Francisco, Vancouver, Darjeeling first escaping Japanese occupation then trying to find security, with no clear destination except the unpredictable end of the war. For Jim, those ever-changing years took on the quality of a dream, sometimes a nightmare, a feeling that persists in the stunning full-page, full-color paintings that along with their accompanying text tell the story of “Leaving China. “

Leaving China is a clear-eyed, interesting look back at James McMullan’s early years. I love how it is told in little vignettes with each illustration accompanied by a remembrance of a memory, an event or a time period in McMullen’s life. It is interesting to see how his childhood unfolded and how, although he was interested in art, his introspective and reflective personality was more formative for his future career than any one experience.

There are some dark elements here. World War II comes to China and forces James and his mother to leave, beginning their nomadic lives. They don’t see any horrors of war, but the threat of something happening hangs over them. James’s mother, Rose, is an alcoholic and although James doesn’t go into detail it is brought up. She also spends time with men while they are away from James’s father. Again, there aren’t any lurid details, but James mentions that his mother maybe having an affair. Because of these points I would say the book is better suited to older elementary students or even young middle schoolers.

I would give this to kids who like autobiography or who are interested in the lives of artists. It might be a good addition to an autobiography/family project book list. It’s been ages since I read it, but the early parts remind me of Jean Fritz’s Homesick: My Own Story. It’s also a great story for those kids with unusual childhoods, especially military kids who move a lot.

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05

Sep
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

YA Review: She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick

On 05, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

She Is Not InvisibleFrom GoodReads: Laureth Peak’s father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers – a skill at which she’s remarkably talented. 
Her secret: she is blind. 
But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness. 

I like Sedgwick’s writing, but I always come away with the impression that he’s trying to do something that I can’t quite put my finger on. His picture in the back of the book really makes me think he’s outsmarted me. In the best possible way. That feeling makes me want to come back to his books and keep thinking about them. I also appreciate that the two novels by Sedgwick that I’ve read are short. I think he accomplishes telling a complex and interesting story with interesting characters without taking forever.

On the surface She Is Not Invisible is a mystery, although there aren’t exactly clues that would help you solve it before you reach the end. There is a lot about coincidence, but I didn’t find many coincidences occurring within Laureth’s story which I almost found disappointing (this maybe where Sedgwick outsmarted me). Underlying the mystery, the story was about Laureth making herself visible (hence the title). As a child she had a transformative experience where, because she was blind, a woman in a candy shop didn’t interact with her, only with her mother. This made Laureth feel invisible and she decided she needed to learn how to function in a sighted world by being confident and composed even if she doesn’t feel that way. But I think Laureth hasn’t put together that, at this point, she wants to be visible to her parents, not necessarily the outside world. She’s conquered the sighted world in a lot of ways. Her trip to New York was a brash way of making her parents see her on her own terms and see her as a capable individual.

I think where this book also shines is in showing Laureth as blind and how she really wants to be treated normally. She does a lot to call out our prejudices and stereotypes. However, she also does a lot to appear sighted and is then offended when people are taken aback that she is, in actuality, blind. The conflict she feels here really makes her sound like a 16-year-old trying to figure out how she fits into the world and how she wants to fit into the world.

She Is Not Invisible would make a great book club selection. There is a lot to talk about in terms of diversity, adventure, parental relationships, coincidence, and the number 354. Fans of light mysteries would probably have fun with the book, but as I said it isn’t a mystery in the traditional sense. Philosophical types will also find a lot to like with the father’s research into coincidence, sychnronicity, and probability. Kids who like diverse characters and strong girls may also really click with Laureth. This may appeal to middle grade audiences and is certainly appropriate for them even though Laureth is high school age.

One note, all the first words of each chapter (and the first words from the excerpts from her dad’s notebook) come together to make a couple sentences. Sedgwick says as much in the last paragraph of the book, but he’s subtle about it. While I thought the idea was neat, it made for some awkward and abrupt first lines in a number of the chapters.

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03

Sep
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki

On 03, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

This One SummerFrom GoodReads: Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It’s their getaway, their refuge. Rosie’s friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It’s a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

The words heartbreaking and painful have been thrown around to describe This One Summer, but while I agree there is some sadness, I didn’t get sorrow. I thought it was more a bittersweetness or nostalgia as the girls move into the adult world.

This One Summer is definitely one of those “coming of age” stories. And that apparently means a growing awareness of sex. I know we all have those moments and years where we come to realize how important and prevalent sex is, but I don’t find that part of adolescence all that interesting. What I prefer is seeing the girls, especially Rose, become aware that parents are people and have lives and thoughts and emotions beyond their children. That they can make mistakes and bad decisions. That they can unwittingly choose to hurt other people, their children included.

Rose’s mother is having a personal crisis, which I’m guessing is the sorrow and heartbreak, but it doesn’t appear that Rose knows much about what happened. I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going on, even Rose’s dad, because her mother is so shut down (very understandably). What happened to their family is sad, but I think from Rose’s perspective it’s more of a frustration and the reaction has been hurtful. (This sounds so vague, but I’m trying not to spoil the book. What happened isn’t a plot twist, but it’s revealed slowly and purposefully I think.) It’s these events and the fall out, like her parents fighting, that start to open the adult world for her and help her see them more as people.

I love, love, loved Windy. She is a little younger and doesn’t always “get it”. But she strikes me as one of those people who even when she does get it, will still choose to be a bit goofy and silly and live on the sunny side of life. She dances and says “boobs” and laughs about almost everything. She even names the older teen who runs the minimart “The Dud”. Her generally sunny disposition makes her a great friend and a good counterpoint to Rose who is much quieter, moodier, and more reflective. Rose is likable too. She’s one of those girls who, if she feels awkward or uncomfortable, doesn’t show it. She comes across as cool and confident. Still waters run deep, though. Rose is struggling with growing up and with some heavy emotional baggage at home.

Since this is a graphic novel I have to mention the art. It’s really wonderful. Everyone is identifiable. I love the use of the blue printing. It gives the book a cool, summery feel but also a touch of melancholy. No matter how good of a story there is, a graphic novel can be sunk by its art. Not so here. There are plenty of panels with no dialogue, but the story is beautifully conveyed through expressions on the characters faces, through their body language, and through the progression of panels.

The protagonists in This One Summer may be middle school aged, but I think there is much broader appeal here. Certainly seventh and eighth graders would enjoy the book, but I think it would do well with high schoolers and even adults who remember their own days as adolescents.

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01

Sep
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Emily’s Blue Period

On 01, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Emily's Blue Period

From GoodReads: Emily wants to be an artist. She likes painting and loves the way artists like Pablo Picasso mixed things up.Emily’s life is a little mixed up right now. Her dad doesn’t live at home anymore, and it feels like everything around her is changing.

“When Picasso was sad for a while,” says Emily, “he only painted in blue. And now I am in my blue period.”

It might last quite some time.

Emily’s Blue Period is a picture book about divorce, but I think it handles it in a very interesting way, a way that makes is accessible to all kids.

Despite the fact that this is a “divorce book”, it doesn’t take the tack of many divorce books I’ve seen. In fact the word is never even mentioned. It never tells kids it will all be okay. It doesn’t have Emily trying to get her parents back together and it doesn’t have her blaming herself for their divorce.

What it does do is show Emily and her brother struggling to make sense of their new reality. I think you can look at the book through the lens of Emily or through the lens of Picasso. Which is to say you can look at it as a divorce book or an art book (or both, obviously). Through Emily you see how divorce can be confusing for a child. But you also see her use the transformative power of art to make sense of what is happening to her family. Emily is clearly sad, but the book is hopeful as she works her way through understanding that home is not necessarily your house, but a feeling you create through love and although many things have changed, her parents love for her and her brother has not.

Taking the art angle, the reader learns about Picasso and about his art. But the great thing about this book is how his art is related to Emily’s life. It gives real examples, of the variety that are relatable and don’t shy away from the difficult times in children’s lives, of how Picasso used art. I think many or even most kids know someone with divorced parents, so understanding that it’s a hard and confusing and sad time for their friends still make the topic familiar. I think children who are not faced with divorce will still like Emily and her interest in art and may even find inspiration to use art to work through problems they are faced with.

A lovely book for slightly older kids who are either interested in art or have parents divorcing. The format uses chapters to break the story up even though the chapters are short. I’m not sure how well issue books work for reading aloud to a group, but if any book like that is going to work it would be this one. I think really it makes art, abstract art at that, come alive and feel relevant and understandable.

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29

Aug
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

YA Review: The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

On 29, Aug 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Grisha Trilogy

I loved this trilogy. I often like first books, but won’t continue with a series simply because there is always a long list of books to work through. But the Grisha Trilogy warranted a full read. Warning, I may spoil certain parts of the books because I am reviewing the three as a whole.

For me I was drawn to the mythology, culture, and world building. The story is clearly set in a country based on Russia and her folklore. I know very little about Russia as it doesn’t tend to be a country we study much in the US, except as the enemy. And that hardly delves into their rich culture. As much as we celebrate diversity as something involving non-white people, I think there are plenty of white people who we know little about and are, in actuality, very different from us. Russia has some incredible fairytales and myths and how their environment shaped their culture and society is fascinating. The Grisha trilogy doesn’t detail any Russian history, but it does draw on the country (from the Czarist days) and you can easily see the parallels. Themes and characters from the folklore is woven very deftly into this world.

I was also drawn to the romance in the book. I’m not normally a romance fan per se, but the romance between Mal and Alina really added to the tension of the book. You really want to see them together, but you also know it can’t help but end poorly. They are also friends before they are lovers which is a dynamic I like to see because I think friendship is an incredibly important aspect of romance and romantic relationships. I will warn anyone purchasing this book for a collection, there is no sex in the first two books although it’s hinted at and there are some steamy kissing scenes. The third book, however, has an incredible first-time sex scene for Alina. It’s very beautiful and romantic, but it is sex and although it’s not graphic it doesn’t exactly happen off page either. (Side note, when Mal tells Alina he just wants to push her against the wall and kiss her so much she forgets that other men exist made even practical, unromantic me swoon.)

For the intended audience, I think teens will certainly like the romance and may be curious about the books’ cultural connections to Russia. But I think Alina will be the real draw. She’s a complicated character. Life has not been easy for her and denying the magic in her has cost her a lot in terms of her health, mental and physical. Besides Mal, she has never had a real friend and things are complicated with Mal. When she is taken under the Darkling’s wing it’s easy to see why she is drawn to him. He feeds right into her vulnerabilities. Thankfully she  figures this out. Her lack of confidence in all areas is endearing, instead of irritating. Knowing her history it’s easy to see where it comes from and it makes her very human and relatable. She’s cantankerous, but under her prickly exterior she is compassionate and generous. Despite the emotional baggage she has, she’s a strong young woman interested in helping her people.

One last thought, Leigh Bardugo can write. She weaves an amazing story into a fascinating world and works the language of Ravka into conversation and description. Nothing feels stilted or awkward.

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28

Aug
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Throwback Thursday Review: Outside Your Window by Nicola Davies

On 28, Aug 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Outside Your WindowFrom GoodReads: The buzz of bees in summertime. The tracks of a bird in the winter snow. This beautiful book captures all the sights and sounds of a child’s interactions with nature, from planting acorns or biting into crisp apples to studying tide pools or lying back and watching the birds overhead. No matter what’s outside their windows — city streets or country meadows — kids will be inspired to explore the world around them.

I decided to include this title in my throwback series for a couple of reasons. First, I really love to use poetry to encourage kids to become readers. Second, I’ve been reading this with my daughter for more than a year now and we just love it.

As you probably already figured out, this is a collection of poems about nature. But what I have loved about is that the poems are organized around the seasons. There is a section each for spring, summer, fall and winter. This is the kind of book you can leave out in a classroom, on a nature table, or in a bedroom. You can pick it up whenever you have a few spare minutes and select a poem or two for your current season.

The poems themselves are really lovely and evocative. Not every child is going to have experienced all the nature in the book, but there is something for everyone from a window box on an apartment balcony to a farm. The illustrations are a mixture of collage, watercolor and probably a few other media thrown in. They really do a wonderful job complementing each poem. They are bright, cheerful with seasonally appropriate color palettes. The animals are all very charming and a nice enticement for many children. It’s a large book which I think encourages kids to open it out on the floor and pore over it. The paper is heavy and thick which adds to the sensorial experience of reading it.

The nice thing about a collection of poems like this is that you can dip in and out of if, like with a lot of nonfiction. Kids whose attention spans are short or who are having a hard time reading can choose a poem or two, look at the illustration and move on to something else. Reading doesn’t have to be torturously long. Very young children, who may not want to sit still for an entire picture book or story, are often willing to listen to a poem or two and the use of language and vocabulary in poetry is especially good at getting little ones to listen to spoken words. An all around great book for all ages (parents included!).

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27

Aug
2014

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Middle Grade Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…

On 27, Aug 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

CircumnavigatedFrom GoodReads: Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

I need to start by saying: OMG, this is the world’s longest title. It is also a little pretentious and very indicative of how the book goes. Which is whimsically, with a good vocabulary and just a little pretentiousness. In the best possible way.

It took me awhile to get into this one. At least the first 50 pages, if not more. The language and syntax initially made the story feel like it was trying very hard. I can’t say if that stopped eventually or I just got into the rhythm of the book, but I was sucked in to the point of wanting to finish. The book does have an excellent use of language going for it, which is partially to blame for the slow start. Is widdershins a word? Yes (it means counterclockwise, but sounds so much better), but it feels a bit arcane like some of the other vocabulary and syntax. To be clear the slow start and old fashioned vibe are not a count against the book, it just took me longer to move through it.

Fortunately both the characters and plot make you want to stay with the book. September is just a regular girl with a lot of doubt about why she ended up on this adventure. She meets a lot of characters like a trio of witches who explain what witches actually do (see the future), a cantankerous gnome, the green wind who is very fond of September, a leopard, a Wyvern whose father is a library and so he calls himself a Wyverary. The cast of characters alone is quite creative and most are good hearted or interesting. September decides to help one of the witches retrieve her spoon from the Marquess, the new ruler of Fairyland who rules with an iron fist, and this sets off a chain of events that pull September deeper and deeper into the troubles of Fairyland. She also becomes more attached to the friends she has made and more determined to help them.

The comparisons I’ve seen to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are apt, but at times, especially toward the beginning, it felt like the book was trying to be Alice which just made it feel contrived. On the other hand, it clearly wasn’t Alice. For starters September had a lot more presence of mind and was less of a ditz than Alice. September also makes friends and does things out of the goodness of her heart. To me, the adventure and language brought the book My Father’s Dragon to mind.

The difference between these, besides length and complexity, was how dark Circumnavigated was. September’s adventure is not all sunshine, rainbows, and friends. Things end well enough, but it is not without some unhappy revelations and discoveries. Things go awry in some awful ways and Valente doesn’t shy away from sharing them and how September reacts to them. September also becomes a bit contemplative about her situation at home with a mother who is constantly at work and a father who has disappeared to the war, a father who volunteered to disappear.

The book may appeal to upper elementary students, but it would take a strong reader to get through it or a highly motivated/interested one. The reading level was surprisingly low, but the vocabulary and sentence structure made it feel more difficult. (Or maybe that was just me?) I would suggest it as a good read aloud, especially for parents looking for a book that would appeal to them too. Otherwise this one is good for kids who like adventure, quirk, and whimsy. Readers who like twists on fairy tales may also find something to enjoy in the mythical creatures, witches, and September’s quest.

SPOILER ALERT:

There was a swoony bit right at the end. September has traveled with Saturday through much of her adventure. As a marid he experiences time differently, all at once and not chronologically. He explains that marids know to get married when they start seeing their children around and they find their spouse based on who their children look like. Just before September is whisked back home, Saturday asks if she saw their daughter. I think the anticipation of them falling in love in future books (there are two more in the series) is really sweet.

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