Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

When beginning The Clockwork Crow, the reader will undoubtedly recognize parallels to The Secret Garden (orphan girl, formerly from India, escorted to large, cold house full of mystery, etc.).  I was grateful, however, that the author threw in a curveball in the very first chapter as Seren becomes entrusted with a mysterious package by a stranger before boarding a train. The way that single action redefines her life is part of the magic and mystery of the rest of the book.

On her way to Wales, just prior to Christmas, Seren builds castlles in her mind about her loving guardians and their son--who she can't wait to meet!  Anything would be better than the orphanage with the mean girls, cold conditions, and lousy food--at least that's what Seren thinks.  Her new reality is much bleaker than she had imagined. From the moment she arrives, Seren senses a coldness about the house. Her guardians are not even in residence when she arrives. Escorted by the austere housekeeper, to her room by one solitary candle (and then left in the dark for the night), definitely sets an ominous tone to the book.

In spite of the less than friendly welcome, Seren is fascinated by her new home and desperate to explore (even those areas that she has been strictly forbidden to go).  Our of sheer boredom, she opens the parcel she received from the stranger and decides to assemble the curious contents (also against the expressly stated note that says NOT to do so).  

The son of her guardians, Tomos is of particular interest to Seren. But all of her questions about him are left unanswered and she is not even allowed to play with his toys. Seren's curiosity gets the better of her and when she sees the housekeeper bringing a food try upstairs, she is convinced that Tomas must be a prisoner in the house.

Readers will thrill at the mystery and suspense of the story. The Clockwork Crow plays an important part in the story and serves as mentor and guide to Serena on her quest to solve the mystery of Tomos's disappearance. I highly recommend this myster and suggest it be read aloud as a family.  I can't wait for the sequel!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of The Clockwork Crow from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

The Edge of Everywhen by A.S. Mackey

While a book with orphaned children, an aloof guardian, and a magnificent library (off-limits to children), may seem predictable, The Edge Of Everywhen is anything but.  A.S. Mackey adds plenty of creativity by reimagining a formulaic story into something completely original. I appreciated the Christian truths woven gently into the story. 

Phoenix has not spoken for as long as Piper can remember but he has a special way of writing coded messages for his sister (there are clues to the key, but nothing expressly explained--may be fun for puzzlers to figure out).  Their Aunt Beryl has some mystery, and sadness surrounding her that unfortunately, keeps her on the periphery of the children's lives. But the butler and cook make up for the warmth their guardian may lack. The book has some mystery and even a bit of magic (just a very sweet, innocent type of magic).  

Readers will also be fascinated by a parallel story and how that may eventually impact the main character's lives. After losing her parents, Piper takes solace in her love of reading and one of my favorite parts of the book included the narrator's asides about various children's book titles. If you read this together as a family, I highly recommend going back and reading  the books mentioned. I felt that there were things not completely explained so I really hope that additional books in the will be forthcoming! 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of The Edge of Everywhen from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Stella Endicott and the Anthing-Is-Possible Poem by Kate DiCamillo

Most kids today are familiar with Mercy the pig (shown on the cover). While this installment from Kate DiCamillo does include the house trained hog, she plays a minor part in the story.  Stella is in 2nd grade and has to sit by the most annoying, know-it-all boy in the class, Horace. At least she has a teacher that she adores.

When that beloved teacher assigns a project to write a poem with a metaphor, Stella snuggles up to her favorite pig for inspiration. She felt so proud of her poem, until she foolishly lets Horace read her poem and one hum dinger of an argument ensues which then leads to {horror of horrors} a trip to the principal's office. But there is still adventures to be had between their classroom and office and in the end, Stella and Horace gain a greater appreciation for their differences.

The illustrations are marvelous and help illustrate the action so well. Kids will enjoy seeing the representation of each character in the story (including Mercy as well!). Readers will learn a bit about poetry and metaphors so this would make an excellent read for elementary classrooms. Readers will also learn a fair amount of vocabulary (helpfully defined by Horace within the story), and also learn some valuable lessons about friendship. 

I highly recommend not only this book by Kate DiCamillo, but all the other titles about Mercy Watson.  DiCamillo's books are destined to be childhood classics. 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Monday, July 6, 2020

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Peterson creates a unique world of humans coexisting with a animal-like race that controls the land in this first installment in The Wingfeather Saga. Readers are introduced to 3 siblings growing up a within a world of danger and uncertainty, while their mother and grandfather do all they can to keep them safe. The children don't know much about their father and they know better than to ask questions.

The world within the book is highly imaginative. There are some illustrations included to help one wrap one's mind around the creatures described. The author has spun a tale of pure fantasy, complete with its own vocabulary and fictitious literary references (adults will probably enjoy the lengthy footnotes more than the children). For parents who are are avid J.R.R. Tolkien fans and long to introduce their kids to fantasy, this series would be a good age-appropriate introduction to that genre (think Chronicles of Narnia reading level paired with Tolkien creativity). The lines between good and evil are very clearly drawn and there is a hint of allegory running throughout the story.

I loved the sense of discovery present; readers feel part of the mystery, the danger, the expectancy (and occasionally the fear) that the siblings experience. Characters will become dear friends (or despised enemies) by the time the last page is read. And some characters are not whom they appear to be. I highly recommend this clever, unique tale for ages 8 and up and guarantee you will want to continue reading the rest of the series. 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

The Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest

I love reading books seasonally and this one is a great summer read for elementary children. Older reluctant readers will enjoy some historical details about WWII and a cameo by a First Lady.  And younger readers will appreciate the very short chapters. This would be a perfect book to transition into reading to oneself. Although it could still be a wonderful read aloud for the family.

There is a bit of mystery involved; the main element of which is introduced in the first chapter and not fully explained until the end. The book offers a unique 3-person perspective to the story: Bruno, Julie, and Martha (the latter two sisters) take turns offering their thoughts and some of the dialogue they have with one another or family members. Dialogue is written in caps (instead of traditional use of quotation marks). 

The whole thing reads as though you were observing three chatty children on a summer day. The mystery that opens the book as well as their relationship to one another reveals itself in slow layers. It is interesting to see how each child reacts to the mystery.  Adults are sort of in the background, their presence only filtered through the children's minds.

I'm hopeful that the final edition will have illustrations included.  Given the reading level and brevity of chapters, the target reader would still expect (and delight in having) illustrations. The book touches on war in a very child-like way and could provide a spring board for some history discussions between parent and child. This would make a great companion read for a day trip in the car or an afternoon at the beach.

I received a free digital copy of The Summer We Found the Baby from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Easy Classics: Pride and Prejudice

I am an avid Jane Austen fan and feel that she tackles moral issues in a very tasteful way. Does that mean that I think an elementary child would benefit from the story? The story revolves around the pursuit of finding a mate--some characters having better luck than others. Should a person who would read a less than 100 page book be focusing on those things? Not in my opinion. And I fear that reading this extremely condensed version at a young age, may unfortunately innoculate the reader from finding pleasure in teh complete original work when older.

Given the brevity of the book and the quite captivating cover with bright and elegant illustration, I was surprised to find interior illustrations being black and white. And while the illustrations could perhaps be treated as a coloring book, I'm not sure the child of the targeted reading level, would do so carefully. (And once one begins, younger siblings may think it's ok to color in any book).

The style of illustrations were cartoonish and felt a little too modern for the time period. I am usually a very big fan of introducing children to classics but I do not think Jane Austen books are the right choice.  I would not recommend this for young readers but I could see it being a very good choice for a teen who struggles to read and would like to have access to the flow of the story prior to enjoying the movie.

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Easy Classics: Pride and Prejudice from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Slightly Sinister Stories

Racha Mourtada has created a sinister batch of 55 short stories that are each exactly 55 words.  First of all, I love the concept in which she forces herself to craft words carefully while conveying a complete story. Each story is finely tuned like a sharp knife, offering witty, suprising or shocking endings. Think small installments of Alfred Hitchcock style tales.

It's a quick read, making it the perfect bathroom reader or accompaniment to appointments, allowing you to grab a quick snatch at one of the stories. Aspiring writers may want to read one a day and try to expand on the story or fill in the back story. Or use as a model to challenge oneself to create a short story of a specified number of words (maybe even in a specified number of minutes!).

All in all, it's an interesting concept and a quirky book. Mixed throughout are some black and white drawings that readers may choose to color. I would recommend this for teens due to some mature or macabre content. 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of Slightly Sinister Stories from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received.

The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

When beginning The Clockwork Crow, the reader will undoubtedly recognize parallels to The Secret Garden (orphan girl, formerly from India, ...