Book review: Ogre Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine

Levine, Gail Carson. Ogre Enchanted. Harper, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9780062561213. 337 pages. Ages 8-12. P8Q7

Lucinda, the troublesome fairy from Ella Enchanted (1997 Newberry Honor), returns in this stand-alone prequel.  Fifteen-year-old Evie falls victim as Lucinda transforms her into an ogre because Evie rejects of her best friend’s genuine proposal of marriage. Evie has sixty-two days to secure another sincere proposal or she will remain an ogre forever.  Ogres are odious and feared creatures that eat humans and livestock. Additionally, ogres are notorious for their magical ability to persuade which includes luring their victims into complacency for consumption. Evie hopes to use this in her favor in her desperate quest for a marriage proposal. Evie falls in with a band of ogres and hopes to learn the art of persuasion as she eyes their recent human captive, a merchant named Peter. Levine references both the Portuguese fairy tale “The False Prince and the True” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Evie is happiest when she is healing people whether as a human or an ogre.  However, as an ogre, she must overcome social prejudice as she faces suspicion and hostility.

Verdict: longtime fans and new alike will enjoy this fast-paced suspense tale about loyal friends and the satisfying lesson of love.

March 2020 review by Penny McDermott.

Book review: The Plant Planet, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Steven Weinberg

Scieszka, Jon. The Plant Planet! (Astro-Nuts series, book 1). Illustrated by Steven Weinberg. Chronicle Books, 2019. $14.99. ISBN 9781452171197. 213 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q7

If your reader likes Dog Man and Captain Underpants, they are sure to like Astro-Nuts! Four mutant animals who have been in hibernation are activated to explore the plant planet, a Goldilocks planet. Mount Rushmore is the Top-Secret NNASA (Not the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) headquarters. Their top-secret ship, Thomas Jefferson Nose Rocket is inside Mt. Jefferson’s nose! The Astro-Nuts are super powered, but have not been tested. Follow AlphaWolf, SmartHawk, LaserShark, and Stinkbug on their comical adventure that includes climate change, facts, and science, narrated from the Earth’s point of view. Some of the humor includes farts and boogers. The brightly colored illustrations are comic style and include graphs, reports, blue prints, plant cell structures and mathematical calculations. The graphic-hybrid design blends varied typefaces and collage illustrations.

Verdict: This is a fun way for tweens to learn about climate change and the earth. I can see this comical book being used by teachers to teach facts about plant cells. Readers will glean valuable facts and be entertained at the same time.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Niagara Falls, by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by John Wallace

Bauer, Marion Dane. Niagara Falls. (Wonders of America series ; Ready to Read series). Illustrated by John Wallace. Simon Spotlight, reprint edition 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781534445406. 32 pages. Ages 5-7. P6 Q7 Paperback published in 2006.

What do you know about Niagara Falls? “Niagara” comes from a Seneca Indian word, meaning “thunder of the waters.” Every second, 400,000 gallons of water go over the Falls. The illustrations, which take up at least ¾ of each page, are in muted colors and represent the text well. The illustrations that correspond to Blondin walking on a tightrope across the Falls, carrying his manager, shows his manager wearing a top hat, which matches what one would wear that time in history. The Level 1, Ready to Read book uses simple sentences, easy sight words, medium to large sized text, and extra space between sentences. Words that might be challenging to children include pronunciation in parenthesis. Text is written around illustrations, which make the text feel shorter and easier to read. Interesting facts about Niagara Falls are included on the last page.

Verdict: If your reader is interested in Niagara Falls, if you are a teacher, or a homeschool instructor, you will appreciate the accessibility and the reliability of facts this book contains. While this may not be a book that readers look at over and over, they will obtain valuable information and learn from it. I recommend this book for elementary age and public libraries.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Samuel Morse, That’s Who!, by Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrated by El Primo Ramón

Maurer, Tracy Nelson. Samuel Morse, That’s Who! Illustrated by El Primo Ramón. Henry Holt & Co, 2019. $18.99. ISBN 9781627791304. Unpaged. Age 5-9. P5 Q7

What was it like in the 1800’s before cell phones and instant communication? Did you know that Samuel Morse not only invented Morse Code, he was also a fine artist? Samuel saw the need for instant communication and created a system using dots and dashes to stand for letters and numbers. Many of the inventions he created failed. The author explains his ideas and asks, “who would dream of instant messages, who would think of a better system, who would show them, and finally, who created instant messages and changed the world forever?” The author answers, “Samuel Morse, That’s Who!” The illustrations in subdued colors fit the 1800’s era. The book includes an Author’s note, “Tap into more facts about Samuel Morse and telegraphic history,” bibliography, and Timeline of Samuel Morse’s life. There is a Morse Code chart if one flips over the cover, which would not be accessible if it has a mylar plastic cover from the library.

Verdict: Samuel Morse was tenacious, creative, and passionate. The themes of perseverance, commitment, and growth mindset are emphasized. If one is writing a report about Samuel Morse’s life, this book would provide valuable information. While this book is well written and interesting, children may not gravitate towards it on their own, but would enjoy it if an adult read it to them.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots, by Michael Rex

Rex, Michael. Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots. Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House LLC, 2020. $17.99. ISBN 9781984816269. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q7

Author/Illustrator Michael Rex is known for his unique humor, and this book for young children is a good example of his unique means of dealing with something adults everywhere are trying to figure out:  What is fact, and what is opinion?  Rex uses robots in primary colors to help get across what are facts and what are opinions.  For example, it is easy to state as a fact whether a robot is blue or red, etc. Facts can be proven true or false. But if you are trying to decide which color robot is the most fun?  Well, that is an opinion. This book makes logical thinking a fun experience for its audience. It is surprising to find this foundational, logical simplicity in a picture book on a topic that alludes many adults. I think families will appreciate the happy robots and the solid message.  Classrooms and libraries will welcome Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots as a book that will inspire conversation and programs.

March 2020 review by Sharon McCrum.

Book review: Our World Is Relative, by Julia Sooy, illustrated by Molly Walsh

Sooy, Julia. Our World is Relative. Illustrated by Molly Walsh. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781250293688. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q7

This is a very original idea in a picture book. It will be just right for some young readers. Our World is Relative, by Julia Sooy, gives children a very simple comprehension of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity regarding the measurement of time and space. Sooy did a report on Einstein in third grade and has been hooked ever since.  The pictures by Molly Walsh match well with the simple words like “Something that seems big . . . can also seem small.” The artist brings visible white, chalk-like measurements into the illustrations throughout the book. The illustrations and words take the reader on a trip through a neighborhood to a train and to outer space.  It gets young brains thinking “What is big? What is small? What is moving? What is not?”  I find this book fascinating.  As a first science book, this puts some huge concepts into small bites.  Young scientists may well love it. It will be a unique addition to early classrooms and libraries, with a specific audience.

March 2020 review by Sharon McCrum.

Book review: Parked, by Danielle Svetcov

Svetcov, Danielle. Parked. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. $17.99. ISBN 9780399539039 (hardcover). 383 pages. Middle-grade. P7 Q8

Jeanne Ann has moved to San Francisco from Chicago with her mother in an orange van only to find that the job and housing expected are not available.  Cal and his mother live in a very large house across from the park and street that Jeanne Ann now finds is her home. This is a debut novel by Danielle Svetcov about an unlikely friendship that includes common bonds (such as cooking and books) in an unusual situation.  This story takes on a big topic that is a critical problem. In the Author’s Note, Svetcov sums it up with “there are not enough affordable homes for the people who need them.  The result is a lot of displacement—families living in cars, vans, shelters, and on the street.”  As Cal deals with his need to help Jeanne Ann and the other people living in vans across from his house, Jeanne Ann finds her world coming apart a little more each day.  But, with committed friends, a determined mom, skills, and some surprises, the outcome is good. A nice segue in this story as it goes between Jeanne Ann’s perspective and Cal’s, is unreceived letters from Jeanne Ann’s librarian friends in Chicago.  The cover of this book at first glance makes it seem lighthearted—and parts of it are very funny—but overall Parked is a good chance for fifth through middle school age readers to look at a growing problem–a problem that some of their classmates might be experiencing. This would be a good, current-events book to be read as a classroom or on an individual basis.

March 2020 review by Sharon McCrum.