Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pigsticks and Harold by Alex Milway

Pigsticks comes from a distinguished line of successful Pig ancestors and he thinks it must be time for him to make his mark. He declares that he will be an explorer, only he doesn't want to carry the bags. Enter Harold an unsuspecting Hamster who is persuaded to join Pigsticks in this difficult and dangerous expedition. Harold is promised cake, otherwise he wouldn't agree to come. 

This is a truly delightful story for beginning readers. The humor is extremely dry and in places just plain silly, with some great visual jokes provided by the cartoonish illustrations. But the plot is sweet enough that it will appeal to parents too. 

In the end this is a funny book about two real characters. Pigsticks is spectacularly confident and utterly incompetent. Harold is stalwart and easily bribed. I would like to see more adventures with this mismatched duo.

Age 6-10

Published May 27, 2014 by Candlewick Press

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

When we meet Molly and her younger brother Kip they looking for work in the Victorian English Countryside. Molly is 14 years old and the driving force behind their search. She knows the truth about what happened to their parents, but she's not ready to share that with Kip. 

They find work with The Windsor family, even though the local people are superstitious about the sourwoods surrounding the Windsor's home. The Windsor's seem sickly, the house is in disrepair and money is tight. There is something evil in the house and it wants to give you your heart's desire.

When I picked up this book, I was expecting a fairy story. What I got was a terrifying fairy tale in the true Grimm tradition. The writing is as twisty as a tree root, pulling the reader through many emotions toward an exciting and satisfying ending. 

Not every kid is going to love this book, but I can imagine that it will be very meaningful for some people. 

For ages 11+ (one of those rare books that effectively stand on the cusp between middle grade and teen)

Published May 20, 2014 by Amulet Books

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Art of Secrets by James Klise

Saba Khan is a good student, a fierce tennis player and a creature of habit, but her life is destroyed when her family's home is the target of an arson attack. The family are unharmed, but the fire leaves them with nothing. The community at Saba's exclusive Chicago school pull together to help her family by organizing a fundraising auction. Events take a turn for the truly strange when a highly valued work of outsider art is found, donated and stolen in the run up to the auction.

The Art of Secrets is told in the voices of the main protagonists, so we read diary excerpts, emails, text messages and press interviews as we put the story together and assemble the clues. And there are plenty of mysteries to solve here; who burned down the Khan's home. Where did the paintings go? Why is the class president suddenly so interested in Saba? And what is the Principal up to?

A clever young adult mystery from the award winning author of Love Drugged. The story is fun with plenty of surprises and an emphasis on the theme of the Outsider, in art, in school and in life.

Published April 22, 2014 by Algonquin Books

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

Selwyn Academy is an Arts School, where the pupils excel in dance, drama, art and music. Some of those pupils are stars of a reality tv show called "For Art's Sake" which is filmed at the school.

Our hero Ethan is a mediocre trumpet player and has no confidence in himself or his ability to draw. He is not one of the reality tv stars and neither are any of his small group of friends.

An English class on Ezra Pound incites Ethan and his friends to a secret rebellion against the administration and the tv production company who may or may not be controlling them.

This all seems like an unlikely set of circumstances and yet the characters really hold it together. There's a great mix of different outlooks from this group of friends which underpins the theme of the perceptions of reality. A theme which works so well, in fact, that the three different beginnings and three different endings all make perfect sense.

I really enjoyed this book, a youthful stirring of dissent makes a refreshing change from kids trying to survive in alternate worlds or kids battling apathy in this one. 

Ages 12+

Published April 8, 2014 by Knopf