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: 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: The Oracle Code: A Graphic Novel, by Marieke Nijkamp, illustrated by Manuel Preitano

Nijkamp, Marieke. The Oracle Code: A Graphic Novel.  Illustrated by Manuel Preitano. “Advance Uncorrected Proof.” DC Graphic Novels for Young Adults, publication date 3/10/2020. [208] pages. $16.99. ISBN 9781401290665. “Ages 13 – up.”   P7Q7

Barbara Gordon, hacker and teenage daughter of Gotham’s Police Commissioner Gordon, is shot when she tries to stop a robbery. Suddenly she is paralysed from the waist down and her best friend refuses to answer her texts.  Her father enrolls her in the Arkham Center for Independence for mental and physical rehabilitation.  Barbara, understandably angry, has trouble with the mandatory counseling and with her physical limitations. She avoids dealing with her changed mobility by avoiding connections with others. Only as she forms friendships with other girls in the Center does she begin to come to terms with her new reality.  Only then does she begin to ferret out the secrets hidden in the Arkham Center.

Verdict: Placing Barbara Gordon’s rehabilitation in the Batman/Gotham City comic book universe plants disability rights in an established superhero story cycle and gives a memorable origin story to both Batgirl and her alter ego, the wheelchair-bound Oracle.  Preitano’s illustrations show Barbara’s anger, grief, and intensity, while Nijkamp’s running theme that disabled persons do not need to be fixed is centered within the story.  The two work well together.  Recommended for middle through high school and public libraries.

March 2020 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Singing Rock and Other Brand New Fairy Tales, by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, illustrated by Simini Blocker

Lachenmeyer, Nathaniel. The Singing Rock and Other Brand New Fairy Tales.  Illustrated by Simini Blocker. First Second, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781596437500. 97 pages. Ages 8-10 P8Q8

A generous genie, a singing rock (rock music!), a clever sorcerer, and an art loving ogre are all featured in this comic format collection of four original short tales similar to classic fairy tales. Each tale comes alive with colorful digital artwork and expressive characters. Just like a good fairy tale, each story has a lesson tied to it. “The Singing Rock” is particularly engaging because the sorcerer concocts all of his spells using a secret language of sorcerers: Igpay Atinlay (Pig Latin!)

Verdict: With humor and lively pictures, these stories invite readers to have fun and come away with a lesson. The first story, “Hop Hop Wish” has very little text, allowing emerging readers to confidently read the story. This book would fit nicely in a comparison of fairy tales study.

March 2020 review by Denyse Marsh.