Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Hero's Trail by T. A. Barron

T. A. Barron takes readers on a mountain hike that is unlike any trail they have ever encountered. This climb is not about testing physical abilities or enjoying the view. This special path leads readers to the heights of true heroism. But that footpath needs to be strictly defined. The media is confusing youth with false tracks leading them to think that famous celebrities are real heroes. With Barron’s guiding hand, readers traverse a well-trodden, safe route showcasing the attributes of both past, present, and fictional heroes. These attributes are courage, perseverance, generosity, compassion, and hope. With each section of the road readers trek, they meet countless individuals whose inspiriting stories bring enlightenment, direction, and definition to the hero’s trail.

Barron’s story is a timely, motivational book that will have readers asking themselves how they can be genuine heroes to their families, friends, community, or to the world. There are heroes many readers would recognize like Abraham Lincoln, Jane Goodall, Lou Gehrig, Helen Keller, and Anna Frank. But most of the stories Barron uses are of unknown young people who saw a need and stood up to make a difference even in the face of physical limitations or negative criticism. Originally published in 2002, Barron has revised and updated his book to include current youth who are making a difference today. A great resource for teachers, librarians, and parents to illustrate how anyone and can make great strides on the hero’s path.       

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Darkbeast Rebellion by Morgan Keyes

After escaping Lutecia with both their darkbeasts and their lives, Keara, Goran, and Taggart are traversing the snowy forests in search of a rumor. The rumor is that a colony of darkbeast supporters—aka darkers—is located somewhere in those woods. The three Travelers find the colony, but Caw, Keara’s darkbeast, is uneasy about the darkers. Caw’s fears are solidified when the colonists turn in Keara, Goran, and Taggart to the Inquisitors. The three are taken back to Lutecia to undergo the torturous repentance of those unfaithful to their religious traditions. While incarcerated Keara meets Dillon, heir to the throne of Duodecia. Dillon befriends Keara and uses his influence to lighten the load of their imprisonment. But when Dillon takes it too far, he is taken before his father and other Inquisitors to justify his interference.

Keyes sequel to Darkbeast explores the deeper sides of belief, friendship, loyalty, and love. In Darkbeast, Keara felt alone in loving Caw and hid the truth from others. In Darkbeast Rebellion, Keara is not alone in loving her darkbeast and is unafraid to live what she believes. With support in numbers, Keara teaches Dillon the healing bond between man and darkbeast. But Keara’s attention to Dillon causes Goran to pull away, thinking he has been replaced as Keara’s best friend. But their background and surviving so many trials together helps the two to reconnect in an unbreakable friendship. What would have strengthened Keyes’ story is a map showing the journey of Keara and her group. This would help readers know the timeframe of their travels and solidify the setting for Keyes’ book. A thought-provoking fantasy appropriate for ages twelve and up.     

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Masterminds by Gordon Korman

Serenity, New Mexico, seems to be the best town in the United States. There isn't any crime, poverty, or secrets. But Serenity's clean streak is smeared when Randy Hardaway accidentally takes his best friend, Eli Frieden, outside the city limits. Eli almost dies and Randy is immediately shipped out of town. But Randy leaves Eli a secret note stating that Eli and several other kids are "special" and that Serenity isn't what it appears. Eli and four of his classmates--Tori, Hector, Malik, and Amber--start seeing behind Serenity's spotless fa├žade. The classmates plan a reconnaissance mission to the local plastic's works, the only source of employment in town. The kids discover it is an observation station that strategically monitors and documents Eli, Tori, Hector, Malik, and Amber's every move.

Korman's beginning novel to his Masterminds series is a clean, clever, and calculated book that will keep readers on their toes. Each chapter is told from the perspective of Eli, Tori, Hector, Malik, or Amber. As the truth behind Serenity is unveiled, their narratives show the unease, shock, anger, and doubts each child has about their existence and the purpose behind Serenity. Korman's underlying theme behind the series is nature verses nurture. But taking that theme further, Korman addresses what happens when the ones being nurtured find out their possible nature and the deceiving way their nurturers are combating it. A spectacular start to a promising series. Appropriate for ages 10 and up.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson

Princess Decomposia is struggling to juggle the affairs of the kingdom, care for her hypochondriac father, and maintain positive relations with heads of state. This mountain of work gives her no time for herself. But Decomposia's life changes when she hires a new court chef, Count Spatula. Count Spatula is an imaginative cook who is just as sweet as his baked goods. Soon after he is hired, Count Spatula notices the strain Decomposia is under and gives her helpful advice to cut down on her load. Unfortunately, her father, King Wulfrun, is not happy with the budding relationship between his daughter and the new chef.

Watson's graphic novel is a quirky read showcasing the importance of family, friendship, food, and having fun. Readers follow Decomposia as she starts each day taking on the duties King Wulfrun is avoiding. Her love for her father keeps her from complaining and from shirking these royal responsibilities. But when Count Spatula arrives, he sees Decomposia's dilemma. He uses his cooking and listening skills to lighten her load. However, outlandish reports on the two friends cause the king to spring into unlawful action. This creates a rift between father and daughter. Again, Count Spatula comes to the rescue to save Decomposia and King Wulfrun's relationship. A great book to introduce readers into the graphic novel world. Appropriate for ages twelve and up.      

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Sky is Falling! by Mark Teague

Fox is hoping to stir up trouble, and a possible meal, by hitting Chicken Little on the head with an acorn. As soon as Chicken Little is hit, she and the other hens repeatedly scream that the sky is falling. Squirrel tries to explain what really happened, but the chickens don't seem to listen. Soon their panicky chants lead all the chickens to, what else, dance! Their odd response both puzzles but delights the other farm animals as everyone joins in the fun. Fox is very confused by the dancing, but still thinks his easy meal is within reach...that is until he is challenged to dance.   

A fun interpretation of the classic "Chicken Little" tale, Teague's watercolor illustrations showcase both the humor and energy of the story. At first reading, the plot can seem a bit random with the hens sporadically dancing in the face of their doom. However, with careful re-reading, the dumb idea of these choreographed chickens saves them from the real fate noted in the original tale. A note of caution to both parents and teachers: Teague's story is a read-aloud book, not a "read-alone" picture book for new readers. Teague uses several exotic dancing styles in his story. When reading the book aloud, Teague's boisterous illustrations still carries the silliness of his message even if young listeners may be unfamiliar with the dance styles mentioned. But new readers may stumble over these exotic terms when reading the book on their own.