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: 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.

Book review: WildLives: 50 Extraordinary Animals that Made History, written by Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Sarah Walsh

Lerwill, Ben. WildLives: 50 Extraordinary Animals that Made History. Illustrated by Sarah Walsh. Atheneum, 2019. 112 pages. $21.99. ISBN 9781534454842. Ages 8 and up. P8 Q8

This unique book explores the lives of amazing individual animals by name and life. It tells about the history of humankind and the animals that have come to the aid of other species, illuminating each animal’s life and story. The information is abundant on each page. There are pages of text, along with photos and illustrations, and each animal is named with its human assigned moniker. This large book will take a long while to read through, but is a deep factual journey into the lives of these numerous animals and why they were included.

VERDICT: It is refreshing to have entire large volume dedicated to heroes and helpers that made history that are not human. All ages will find something they connect with in these pages and an appreciation for animals in our daily lives, our personal heroes.

March 2020 review by Lynne Wright.

Book review: Taming of the Shoe, by Sarah Darer Littman

Littman, Sarah Darer. Taming of the Shoe. Aladdin, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781534431577. 230 pages. Ages 8-12. P6 Q6

From the title, I thought this book was going to be a modern twist on the play, the Taming of the Shrew. However, once I started reading it, I realized that it was made up of fairytale characters, told in first person, from Arminita’s point of view. Arminita who goes by Minty, is the daughter of Cinderella. Her family is famous for supplying their superior cleaning products to royalty. Her aunts (her mother’s step sisters) own a Comfortably Ever After line where they sell comfortable–but ugly–shoes. Minty arrives at a new school and tries to make friends. Along the way she meets Dakota, whose dad is Hansel and aunt is Gretel. Nina and her popular friends befriend Minty, but even though she has been warned that they are not to be trusted, Minty has to learn it for herself. When her aunts take care of her for a week while her parents are out of town for a “global product roll out” her life spirals into disaster. This book was a bit different than I thought it would be. Since the characters are from fairy tales, it took me awhile to get into it. I almost stopped reading it, but I gave it another chance and actually enjoyed it. I felt the book was a bit disjointed because of the number of fairytale characters who were introduced without a lot of background or reference to why they appeared in the story. While the plot was good and the book tied up nicely, it was a bit hard to follow at times. The author is the winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award. This book is a follow up to Charmed, I’m Sure and Fairest of Them All. 

Verdict: I think the reference to many fairytale characters in modern day may appeal to some readers. You have to be able to think outside the box to be able to enjoy this book.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem, by Kate Messner

Messner, Kate. Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem.  Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing, 2020. 64 pages. $31.99. ISBN 9781541557062. Includes glossary, source notes,  bibliography, further reading, and index. Ages 9-14. P8Q9

     “Sometimes, people will ask me what pythons eat.  The question should be, What don’t they eat?…”

–Ian Bartoszek

Escaped Burmese pythons have become an established invasive species in the state of Florida, eating their way through native species such as turtles and aligators, cottontails, raccoons, and even deer.  Scientists are tasked with studying the fast-growing snakes to find ways of limiting the ecological damage and managing their population.  One successful strategy has been to use male sentinel snakes—captured male snakes released with implanted radio tracking devices—to locate female pythons.  Research for the book saw author Kate Messner hiking through the Florida wilds with Ian Bartoszek and other scientists from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida as they used radio trackers to locate sentinel snakes.  For readers with smartphones and tablets, additional online photographs are available, linked to the text by embedded QR codes.

Verdict: This is a gritty adventure story wrapped up as scientific research.  Photographs show the snake scientists capturing and carrying pythons that may weigh as much as 100 pounds.  The price is high, but this well-written nonfiction book will appeal to readers—an excellent addition to STEM titles. Highly recommended for middle through high school  and public libraries.  Especially recommended for teens interested in ecology and the biology of invasive species.

March 2020 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Follow Those Zebras: Solving a Migration Mystery, by Sandra Markle

Markle, Sandra. Follow Those Zebras: Solving a Migration Mystery. Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing, 2020. 40 pages. $31.99. ISBN 9781541538375. Ages 8-12. P8Q8

Every year in southern African, along the Chobe River in Namibia, a herd of some 2,000 zebras leaves their grazing area and returns months later—and where they go has been a mystery. How could such a sizable herd of large mammals just disappear? Using GPS collars and drones, scientists documented the zebras’ migration path and their destination, but that left the mystery of why the animals would leave an area with ample grazing and a year-round water supply.  Further research found an answer, but questions about human impacts on zebra biology and changes brought by climate change remain.  Back matter includes an author’s note, plains zebra fast facts, glossary, source notes, suggestions for futher reading, and an index.

Verdict: Brilliant photographs of zebras place the reader in the African plains and carry the story of how scientists approached the mystery of zebra migration.  In fact, the author’s repeated use of ‘mystery’ to describe the research brings readers into what might otherwise have been a simple scientific report and increases interest in the process with each repetition.  I really like how Markle weaves in the scientific process with the story of how scientists use technology to answer questions. The only drawback I see with this book is the price—at $31.99, the price is almost twice that of other similar books (see Caitlin O’Connell’s 2011 book, The Elephant Scientist, in the Scientists in the Field series, still available in hardcover edition for $18.99).  Recommended for middle through high school and public library collections.

March 2020 review by Jane Cothron.