Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

It’s 1936, in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and ten-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud’s got a few things going for him:1. He has his own suitcase filled with his own important, secret things.2. He’s the author of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.3. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers of Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!Bud’s got an idea that those flyers will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him–not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.Bud, Not Buddy is full of laugh-out-loud humor and wonderful characters, hitting the high notes of jazz and sounding the deeper tones of the Great Depression.

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This 2000 Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King award-winning book has been sitting on my to-read list for a while. Set during the depression and the historical backdrop of the jazz age, 10 year old orphan Bud has few possessions and little identity. However, Bud is intelligent, resourceful and determined to find his father. Through his journey, complex issues like homelessness and poverty are included. I liked how Bud uses his humour and his lists “Rules and Things for Having a Funnier Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself” to guide his way.

Through Bud’s story, Curtis did a fantastic job at teaching history to juvenile readers. I enjoyed reading the afterword, in which Curtis explains his family connection to the depression, and encourages young readers to listen to family members because “By keeping their stories alive you make them, and yourself, immortal (p.243).”

The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

Wicked stepmothers, traitorous brothers, cunning foxes, lonely princesses: There is no mistaking the world of the Brothers Grimm and the beloved fairy tales that have captured generations of readers. Now internationally acclaimed artist Shaun Tan shows us the beautiful, terrifying, amusing, and downright peculiar heart of these tales as never before seen.

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Even if you’re not a big fan of Shaun Tan or fairytales/folktales, the visually interesting front cover will instantly peak your interest and urge you to pick up the book. Lucky for me, I was in for a treat; beginning with a forward by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman highlights the importance of stories; both written and verbal. He writes, “They (Tan’s sculptures) do not look like moments of stories: instead, they feel like stories themselves.” I couldn’t agree more! Tan selected 75 short extracts of Brothers Grimm folktales/fairytales (some more well-known than others) and paired them with some strange and creepy sculptures. For those lesser-known tales, there is an index in the back that includes a brief summaries on the tales (of course, not a substitute for the full tales!) I had never heard of the Twelve Brothers, and did further research immediately after reading about it. There were plenty more I also enjoyed being introduced to. However, my favourite sculptures were: The Moon, The Riddle and the Frog King.

Overall, I was totally captivated by Tan’s original interpretation of the stories in sculpture form. Pick up The Singing Bones in October 2016.

When Friendship Followed me Home by Paul Griffin

A boy’s chance encounter with a scruffy dog leads to an unforgettable friendship in this deeply moving story about life, loss, and the meaning of family Ben Coffin has never felt like he fits in. A former foster kid, he keeps his head down at school to avoid bullies and spends his afternoons reading sci-fi books at the library. But that all changes when he finds a scruffy abandoned dog named Flip and befriends the librarian’s daughter, Halley. For the first time, Ben starts to feel like he belongs in his own life. Then, everything changes, and suddenly, Ben is more alone than ever. But with a little help from Halley’s magician father, Ben discovers his place in the world and learns to see his own magic through others’ eyes.

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As a huge dog lover, I knew I had to read this middle grade book. I just didn’t expect the story to be so heartbreaking AND heartwarming at the same time. There are some serious issues like abandonment, illness, and grief that could be emotional for some younger readers (heck, even I got teary eyed!) Regardless, the tone remains quite optimistic throughout. As a librarian, I loved all the public library, and librarian references, especially when former foster child Ben declares, “I think if there’s a heaven it’ll be my own private library. I walked along row after row of books and dragged my fingertips over their spines. In the twilight I felt the magic in them.” Books can be used to help individuals cope with certain emotional (and other) problems, and it’s clear that both the characters Ben and Halley use books/reading/writing as a form of bibliotherapy as they write their own sci-fi story together. The dog, Flip is an extra bonus and helps cheer up all those that meet him. Overall, a wonderful story about friendship and the true meaning of home.

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

“Lockwood & Co. are hired to investigate Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead, while Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in a ghost jar”–Provided by publisher.

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I’ve only read one book in between The Screaming Staircase (#1) and The Whispering Skull (#2) so this dark and creepy alternate world was easy to be welcomed back into. In this book, we fast forward six months and discover what the teenage ghost hunters of Lockwood and Co. have been up to. I enjoyed the inclusion of the whispering skull (glowing green head trapped in a jar —>) as it kept me guessing whether it was an ally or not. Only Lucy (because of her Talent) can hear the skull, but it taunts and teases Anthony, Lucy and George to no end! This is very amusing for the reader. Obviously, the title of the book hints of the skull’s importance in the book, but you’ll have to read The Whispering Skull to find out just how!

While I did enjoy The Whispering Skull, I wish Stroud would have included more info regarding The Problem. I thought the world building and background was super interesting in book #1, and that we’d learn more in book #2. I also found myself wanting more horror scenes as the first book. This one is more of a mystery/adventure, featuring a competition between ghost-hunting agencies to find stolen powerful and supernatural artefacts. Don’t get me wrong- there is ghost rats, talking skulls and plenty of creepy scenes to scare a brave reader! There is also a HUGE cliff-hanger that will likely unravel some of Lockwood’s past secrets. So, although The Whispering Skull did not engage me as much as The Screaming Staircase, I will likely continue on with book #3 The Hollow Boy.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake – and her own.25903764

I received some advanced reading copies from Scholastic and immediately picked Ghosts first. I’d likely read anything by Telgemeier! While Ghosts was not my personal favourite of her works, fans won’t be disappointed. In this graphic novel, Cat’s family move to the Northern Coast in hopes that it will make life easier for Maya who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Like any teenager, she’s having a tough time with the move, and settling into a town seemingly obsessed with the afterlife, but her love for her sister shines through and takes priority. I loved their relationship, especially the heartfelt moments discussing Maya’s chronic illness. At one point, Maya asks “What happens when I die, Cat? Will you be afraid of my ghost, too? (pg. 175)”

Besides the inclusion of chronic illness, I really liked that the book introduced aspects of another culture. Readers will learn more about Dia de los Muertos (day of the dead) and the colourful illustrations are a bonus! Look for Ghosts in September 2016.

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions. Lucy Carlyle, a talented yo51ap7b3fZGL__AC_UL320_SR210,320_ung agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.
I must admit, I don’t like reading scary stories (especially those about ghosts) and I’ve never read anything by Jonathan Stroud before. BUT that’s all changed.

In this alternate world, supernatural spirits (aka “visitors”) are so widespread that private agencies made up of children operatives (they have better senses than adults) are formed to battle “the Problem”.   One such agency, Lockwood & Co. struggles to remain afloat after a destructive accident involving the team members, Anthony Lockwood, George Cubbins and Lucy Carlyle. All three of these characters bring their own skill set and personalities, so the group dynamics (especially the banter!) was a highlight for me.

I was surprised how dark, scary and violent some scenes were, but I suppose that’s exactly what some readers are looking for. Although I think all ghosts are scary, in this world, there are two types to look out for: type 1 (harmless) and type 2 (dangerous). To solve these spine tingling murder mysteries, the group arms themselves with magnesium flares, iron rapiers, salt and chain nets- but will it be enough? Don’t worry, if you forget any of these important details, they are all listed in the glossary in the back.

I’m not a fan of reading series, but I’ve already placed Book #2: The Whispering Skull on hold and have recommended it to several colleagues. I’m looking forward to reading more about Lockwood & Co.’s adventures!

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again. Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?
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For a quick read, this book manages to cover heavy issues like poverty and homelessness. The impact on children is an important topic to include in juvenile fiction; however, the parents in this story really irritated me. Rather than seek out all the possible sources of help, they let pride stand in the way. In turn, the children developed major anxiety and their bellies growled of hunger. Jackson even turns to shoplifting to feed his hungry sister.

In addition to Jackson’s parents, I was also annoyed with Jackson’s imaginary friend, Crenshaw. Crenshaw the cat seems to appear when Jackson experiences anxiety. As shown in flashbacks, this anxiety stems from his family’s financial situation. Since I’ve never had an imaginary friend, I’m not really sure how Crenshaw helps Jackson. Crenshaw explains, “Imaginary friends are like books. We’re created, we’re enjoyed, we’re dog-eared and creased, and then we’re tucked away until we’re needed again (p. 222).” While this is a lovely thought, Crenshaw has little personality, and doesn’t provide Jackson with wise advice, or comic relief. He’s barely even in the book! Overall, Crenshaw was a bit of a disappointment, but I’ve been told Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan is better.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself — because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of: a woman with a future. Follow Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (electricity! carpet sweepers! sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.The Hired Girl

I picked up The Hired Girl simply because of all the starred reviews and awards it was receiving. I didn’t read the synopsis before I dove in, and I’m glad. I’m not usually one for historical fiction, or stories that heavily feature religion but The Hired Girl worked for me. I now understand all the hype!

The story is told in diary format by our charming and optimistic narrator, fourteen year old, Catholic Joan Skraggs. It’s 1911, and her father is wicked cruel and demands everyone earn their keep on the farm. Joan loves learning, so when he forbids her from school and burns her books, she runs away in search for a better life. Joan, renames herself Janet Lovelace, pretends she is 18 and lands a job as a hired girl in a Jewish home.

My favourite aspect of the book was the dynamics between Janet and her employers (the Rosenbach family- and of course, Malka.) Although Janet has a strong work ethic, she quickly becomes over-involved and finds herself in trouble on numerous occasions. It’s during these moments when her true age shows. However, since Janet is such a spirited character, it’s hard not to root for her from beginning to end. The strong cast of secondary characters all help Janet learn tough lessons about love, tolerance and respecting religious beliefs.

I loved that The Hired Girl was inspired by the author’s grandmother’s journal. Overall, the story that Laura Amy Schlitz has crafted is an engaging, thought provoking and a definite must read!

The Secret Language of Sisters by Luanne Rice

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Thanks to Scholastic for sending me this advanced reading copy of The Secret Language of Sisters.  Unfortunately, I could not get past the blame game to enjoy the read.  The one moment that Ruth Ann (Roo), answers a text when driving, her entire life changes.  It’s a serious crash, and she ends up in the hospital and permanently disabled.  Her sister Mathilda (Tilly) was the last person to text her, and feels responsible for the crash. There is so much blame placed on Tilly as “she should have known better” than to text Ruth, it’s ridiculous.  Everyone texts these days, and you never know if the individual on the receiving end is driving or not.  It’s up to the driver to drive responsibly and not answer the text. Throughout the whole book, her mom, friends, and reporters continue to shame Tilly.

“I texted you, too, that day, “ Isabel said. “I swear I stopped once I knew you were on your way to Tilly. I would never put you in danger.”

“But Tilly did?” Dr. Howarth asked.

“Yes, she did,” Isabel said, head up high and sounding ferocious. “It was the last text before Roo went off the road.”

Overall, I felt like I was being continuously hit over the head about the dangers of texting and driving. However, for some high schoolers this may be exactly what they need to read.  If you’re interested in this book, it will be available February 2016.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all. With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

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Based on the above blurb, I thought the book would center mostly on the pageant. However, I was sadly disappointed that the pageant doesn’t come into play until halfway through this really slow paced book.

I found the main character Willowdean unlikable and cruel. She was constantly judging other people’s bodies! I was really hoping to read about a different kind of YA character: a confident, sassy big girl who embraces her body.  Instead I got an insecure, selfish chick with boy drama (ugh). There was definitely conflicting messages about body positivity.

Despite the hype and praise, I totally felt underwhelmed by Dumplin’. Perhaps if you don’t have expectations of the book and/or a fan of Dolly Parton music, you may enjoy it.

Favourite quote:

“All my life, I’ve had a body worth commenting on. And if living in my skin has taught me anything it’s that if it’s not your body, it’s not yours to comment on. Fat, skinny, short, tall, it doesn’t matter.”

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