Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spike: Shadow Puppets

Book: Spike: Shadow Puppets
Author: Brian Lynch
Artist: Franco Urru
In a Nutshell: Spike is a wee little puppet man!

In this continuation of the story arch from the hilariously twisted Angel episode "Smile Time" , Spike and Loren go to Japan to investigate reports that the evil puppets of "Smile Time" have gone global. And of course, the two end up turning into puppets and battling not just a horde of evil ninja puppets, but also evil replicas of Angelus, Druscilla, Cordelia, Classic Wesley, Spoiler Wesley, Fred/Illyria, Street Gunn, Lawyer Gunn, and more.

Very funny. Nice job on Spike's dialogue especially.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Plain Janes

Book: The Plain Janes
Author: Cecil Castellucci
Audience: Teen
In a Nutshell: Four Janes make art, not war

After she is a victim in a terrorist attack in Metro City, Jane's family relocates to the sterile suburbs. She finds a group of misfits- Jane, Jayne, and Polly Jane- and once she overcomes their resistance, together they form P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art In Neighborhoods) and secretly perform random acts of public art, what some consider art terrorism. She continues to write letters to a John Doe in a coma in Metro City, and when a letter is returned, she must go against her parents' orders and go back to see what happened.

Great graphic novel about the healing and bonding power of art.

Art by Jim Rugg.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Book: Slam
Author: Nick Hornby
Audience: Teen
In a Nutshell: teen pregnancy, skating, and a talking poster of Tony Hawk

At the age of fifteen, Sam Jones's girlfriend Alicia gets pregnant and Sam's life of skateboarding and talking to a poster of Tony Hawk (which talks back) changes drastically.
Sam also believes TH is responsible for the fast-forward dreams he has, dreams that accurately portray his near future as a father.

Sweet, funny, not overdramatic or idealized view of teen parenthood from a young father's perspective. TH's responses are quotes from his autobiography, which Sam has read dozens of times- quote choices that don't always match Sam's situation, which makes for the funny.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Book: Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Audience: Teen
In a Nutshell: Icelandic saga of kidnapped Irish princess, retold

Melkorka is the 16-year-old daughter of a medieval Irish king around 900 A.D. When she and her younger sister, Brigid, are sent away for safety before an attack by Vikings, they are captured by foreign slave traders and taken on a long sea voyage. Melkorka has always been free with voicing her questions and opinions, but now staying silent is what's keeping her safe, since the leader believes she has powers and doesn't want to incur her wrath. They go from Ireland through the North Sea to what is now Sweden, where her captor intends to sell them all as fine young virgins.

Well-written retelling with good major and minor characters. Napoli integrates lots of info about life in medieval northern Europe, and Ireland in particular. There's a simple map included for the visual among us, like me. There's also basic pronunciation guide for medieval characters like ð and þ, but a glossary with more complete pronunciations would be helpful.
Like in the Icelandic saga it's based on, this retelling leaves several important elements unresolved, which was unsatisfying to me but true to the story, and it also recreates Melkorka's situation and frame of mind more authentically for the reader, since she never found out either. Good read for fans of Napoli and realistic medieval fiction.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

Book: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Audience: Grades 4 to 6
In a Nutshell: vignettes on medieval life for one or two readers

And the Newbery goes to... a collection of 17 short portraits of young people living in a medieval English village. Mostly written in different poetic forms, and all intended to be read aloud as monologues or two-person vignettes. The word portraits are simply illustrated in the style of a medieval illumination or tapestry, and interspersed with simple introductions to related historical topics such as Pilgrimage, the Crusades, and Falconry. A full stratum of society is represented, from the lord's daughter to the miller's son to the village half-wit. The characters and their stories often overlap or interact with the the one right before or after, but there is not an overarching story- more like a poetic cycle that gives an overall picture when taken together.

The book does an excellent job of combining historical facts and effective, three-dimensional characters fleshed out in very few words. As this year's Newbery winner it seemed to come out of left field for many fans of kid lit (as they often do), but I see what the Newbery Committee was thinking. It stands out in terms of quality of writing, facts, illustrations, and physical layout. As oral monologues I think some are more accessible than others for a grade school reader, but that's not a requirement for handing out Newberys. Enough of the characters' poems are accessible that many young readers will find at least a few they like. And if the shiny medal on the cover, which makes it a shoe-in for school library shelves around the country, starts a revival of readers theater in history and English classrooms around the country, then good for the author.

Friday, February 22, 2008


Book: Unwind
Author: Neal Shusterman
Audience: Teen
In a Nutshell: unwanted teens used for spare parts

In a future U.S., abortion became such a divisive issue that it sparked the Second Civil War. Both sides eventually agreed to a treaty which created a sort of delayed abortion in which unwanted teens are essentially stripped for parts, or "unwound." The story centers on three teens. Connor is 16 and has trouble controlling his temper. Due to the "troubled youth" he has become, his parents have chosen to unwind him. Risa is a ward of the state. She's a talented pianist, but not talented enough; the StaHo (State Home) needs to correct a 5% overcrowding problem, so she's being unwound. Thirteen-year-old Lev has always known he would be unwound. He's the tenth child in a strictly religious family, and he has been set aside since birth as a Tithe to God.

Circumstances throw these three teens together on the run as they hide from Juvy-Cops, care for a baby who's been storked (legally abandoned on a doorstep), find a secret refuge of Unwinds, and fight threats both from within and without as they try to hold themselves together. Literally.

Fascinating premise that challenges stances on both sides of the abortion issue; no one view comes across as wholly good or bad. This is a book that I think will stick with me for a while, much like Pete Hautman's Rash. It also brings up interesting questions about soul and consciousness, and under what conditions our human bodies could hold on to either.

Aside from the overall concept, this is a great action and survival story with lots of plot twists and characters that keep you guessing as to whether they're friend or foe- and they often change. One scene near the end, without being at all gorey, is one of the most disturbing things I've read in a long time.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Book: Defect
Author: Will Weaver
Audience: Teen
In a Nutshell: the boy who could fly- or at least glide

David is tall, skinny, has bug eyes and a strange face, and wears hearing aids. Predictably, he's not had an easy life, bouncing from one foster home to the next after his mother turned him over to the system. But there's more, things that not his current foster family the Crutchfields, or his case workers, or anyone at school knows. The hearing aids are actually to block out sound, because his hearing is off the charts. But his biggest secret would have to be his batlike, functional wings. He often goes to Barn Bluff outside of Red Wing and glides down on warm nighttime drafts.

When he is transferred to an alternative school, he actually makes a few friends, and even gets a girlfriend, a girl who calls herself Cheetah and who's prone to grand mal seizures.
Things are going pretty well until an accident and a trip to the hospital exposes his secret, which leads to a stay at the Mayo Clinic. He faces a choice: stay who he is, or have corrective surgery on his face and body and become handsome, earth-bound New Guy. He also befriends a young terminal cancer patient named Brandon and finds himself in a position to help with the boy's very unusual Make-a-Wish wish.

Good "outsider finds his place and comes to terms with self" story.
His relationship with his foster parents is particularly nice- they're truly kind people without being cardboard saints. I really liked this one.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Green Glass Sea

Book: The Green Glass Sea
Author: Ellen Klages
Audience: Grades 4 to 7
In a Nutshell: Our parents invented the atomic bomb- how about yours?

In 1943, Dewey Kerrigan takes the train alone from Chicago to New Mexico to join her scientist father at the secret location where the world's greatest scientists are working on "the gadget." She is a smart girl who loves to tinker with mechanics, and is more comfortable around adults than kids her own age. And at Los Alamos, most of the adults are world-famous scientists, which suits her fine.

Suze Gordon tries desperately to fit in on "The Hill", but the popular girls call her "the truck" behind her back. She protests when "Screwy Dewey" comes to stay with her family when her father goes to Washington for several weeks, but the two girls gradually come to an understanding, then find friendship.

Against the backdrop of Los Alamos and the Manhattan Project, the girls live their lives, unaware of the enormity of what their parents are creating; and really, the adults don’t understand it themselves.

Interesting look at a pivotal scientific acheivement and the community that grew up around its creation. I found it a bit slow at times, but nicely written. Dewey and Suze are nicely fleshed out, although only a few of the other characters feel real; which is ironic, since several of them actually were real historical people. I expected more from a few of Dewey's adult friendships that were set up but never explored.
Dewey's voice occasionally shifts from present to past tense, which didn't really work for me; I found it distracting. But aside from the picky stuff, it's a great picture of life not just during WWII, but in a historic ad hoc community.