Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Island of Misfit Toys by Brendan Deneen -- NOT RECOMMENDED

Deneen, Brendan Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Island of Misfit Toys, illustrated by George Kambadais. 80 pgs. GRAPHIC NOVEL. Square Fish/MacMillan, 2014. $9.99. Content: PG.

Based on the characters from the claymation version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, this graphic novel fills in the time gap between when Rudolph leaves the Island of Misfit Toys to when Santa delivers each toy to a new home. In this adventure, Charlie-in-the-Box is separated from the other toys. With the help of Yukon Cornelius and the Abominable Snowmonster, the remaining toys set out to rescue him.

While the pictures are engaging, and it is fun to revisit the classic characters, it's hard to recommend this story for a classroom or library. Children who are young enough to still be swept up in Santa and Rudolph will likely be lost by such vocabulary as intuition, gestures, aspiring, momentarily, utmost, scenario, surmised, callous regard, and merely unless they have a lot of adult help. Furthering its difficulty, the lettering is tiny, and the sheer length of the text and the complexity of the story -- which changes perspectives frequently -- will make this one very difficult for younger children to read on their own, while the graphic novel format and wordiness will make it a chore for an adult to read aloud. In turn, older children who do happen to enjoy Santa stories will likely notice some huge plot inconsistencies, such as the misfit train having spare square wheels to change into out in the wilderness. Why no round ones, then, when he doesn't want to be a misfit, and that's all he would need in order to fit in? Or King Moonracer being too tired to fly with Charlie on his back, but then easily carrying Charlie and several other toys two pages later. The flirting between Dolly and Cowboy is also a bit much; it begins to felt more like the stuff of a young adult novel rather than a story for kids. And do not even get me started on the fact that the one female character is not only no help at all, but actually needs serious rescuing from the very masculine Cowboy the one time she actually tries to do something important -- and that is after she does all this self-important blustering about how she is just as brave and strong as any boy. Not exactly an ideal example to set for children of either gender.

EL -- NOT RECOMMENDED. Reviewed by: Caryn

Friday, December 19, 2014

I am Cleopatra by Grace Norwich –ADVISABLE

Norwich, Grace I am Cleopatra 128 pgs, Scholastic Inc., 2014. $4.99 Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G Violence: G
The biography of Cleopatra starts off with the author setting the historical stage, then moving into Cleopatra’s affluent childhood, women’s rights of the time period, and the tumultuous politics of her teen years. Cleopatra’s adult years and rise to power are detailed as well as her downfall.
Cleopatra’s story is quite complex, requiring a ton of foundation knowledge of history, world events, and politics. The author does a great job of bringing this down to a 5-6th grade level. An effort is made to include pictures or illustrations of anything that will help to make more sense of the story, such as maps, jewelry, statues, and hieroglyphics. The author also does a great job of navigating all the romance and bloodshed to make the read more wholesome for this young student audience. I think students will be interested in this biography and it has cover appeal.
EL –ADVISABLE  Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

I am Walt Disney by Grace Norwich – ADVISABLE

Norwich, Grace I am Walt Disney 128 pgs, Scholastic Inc., 2014. $4.99 Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G Violence: G
Walt grew up in in the early 1900’s. He loved art, but had many jobs including delivering newspapers. Eventually he decided to do art full time, even if his stern father disapproved. When one of his characters, Mickey became a success, Walt knew he had what it took to succeed. Between his imagination and tons of hard work, Walt company Disney only grew in success. He created more characters and cartoons, even live animal documentaries, and eventually Disneyland.
This was a fun biography to read and it included TONS of pictures, which really helped to bring the text to life. It’s a perfect read for 3-4 graders, it vocabulary well geared to this reading level. Though I think this series will have an uphill battle again the much beloved “who was” series. I loved the addition of timelines, definitions, and references to more modern day Disney stuff that todays students could relate to.
EL –ADVISABLE  Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Alien Escape (Geronimo Stilton Space Mice #1) by Geronimo Stilton –ADVISABLE

Stilton, Geronimo Alien Escape (Geronimo Stilton Space Mice #1) 128 pgs, Scholastic Inc., 2014. $4.99 Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G Violence: G
Geronimo Stiltonix's is the captain of a spaceship, he starts his day with his computer blaring him awake and giving him a cold shower. When his grandfather comes to visit, the former commander, he informs Geronimo that he needs a rare element to keep the spaceship going.  Geronimo must find it or risk his ship and lose his captains position to his sister. When some alien mice give him the compound for free, he is suspicious. As he investigates, his ship is invaded by a dangerous alien creature. Will Geronimo and his crew be able to solve both problems?
I really enjoyed this book and its a wonderful start to a series. It has a ton of well crafted illustrations, tons of text variety with different fonts and colors, and a ton of cover appeal. I though the story was fun, exciting, and included tons of great tidbits and side plots which really made the book immersive. The characters are well developed in a short amount of time and to be honest, reading this book was sort of like watching a movie –so much fun! Students already love Geronimo and I am sure they will enjoy this new series featuring him in outer space.
EL(K-3) –ADVISABLE  Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Unicorn Valley (Secret Kingdom #2) by Rosie Banks –ADVISABLE

Banks, Rosie Unicorn Valley (Secret Kingdom #2) 81 pgs, Scholastic Inc., 2014. $4.99 Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G Violence: G
In this second book of the series Ellie, Jasmine, and Summer use the beautiful box at a rummage sale to travel to the Secret Kingdom to help defeat a second evil thunderbolt. This time the magic  apple tree of Unicorn Valley is infested with worms. The girls must help and hope that the Goldengames can go on as planned.
Despite the danger from the evil queen, this is a sweet and wholesome book that will appeal to girly girls at a second to third grade reading level. Like the first book it features tiny illustrations that add to the story and cover appeal. I didn’t really feel that I got to know the characters any better, there could almost just be one girl having the adventure, since there isn’t much conflict or differentiation between the characters. Despite this, students won’t even notice will love this series as I am sure I would at that age, since like many girls, I adored Unicorns. I do find myself wishing there was more to it, some sort of life lessonS, more like the Nevergirls series.
EL(K-3) –ADVISABLE  Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Enchanted Palace (Secret Kingdom #1) by Rosie Banks –ADVISABLE

Banks, Rosie Enchanted Palace (Secret Kingdom #1) 128 pgs, Scholastic Inc., 2014. $4.99 Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G Violence: G
Ellie, Jasmine, and Summer finds a beautiful box at a rummage sale. They take it home and try to discover a way to open it, on a tiny mirror they discover a riddle. When they solve the riddle they meet a real fairy and the King of the Secret Kingdom. They are whisked away to help the kingdom defeat the threat of the evil Queen Malice. She has thrown down 6 evil thunderbolts, and its up to the girls to help get rid of at least one of them. Together they throw the King a birthday party and hope to defeat the evil spell.
I think students will adore this book. For being so girly, it stays just below the level of sickly sweet and manages to have a fun plot that make sense. There are plenty of small illustrations and the cover is appealing to young girls.  
EL(K-3) –ADVISABLE  Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.

Back to School Weird Kids Rule! (My Weirder School Special Edition) by Dan Gutman –ADVISABLE

Gutman, Dan Back to School Weird Kids Rule! (My Weirder School Special Edition) 144 pgs, HarperCollins ,2014. $4.99 Content: Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G Violence: G
Its still summer break and Andrea is so excited for school. She has a ton of reasons why she loves school. Her crush, AJ, whom she calls by his full name Arlo, is out of town though. When his family ends their trip early and has to stay with them, Andrea is thrilled. She is determined to hang out with Arlo. She wants him to play barbies and shop with her. But Arlo has other ideas about that and the two spend quite a bit of time bickering. When the pair ends up at a day camp, Arlo is horrified to discover it’s a back to school camp, like school during the summer.
I really enjoyed this book in the series. The jokes were toned down, and the banter between the main characters was authentic and funny. Students are always requesting this series, but its so hit and miss for me, that I am not adding it. This book, one of many, would be a great addition if you are adding this series to your library. I have no complaints about this one. EL (K-3) –ADVISABLE Reviewer: Stephanie Elementary School Librarian & Author.