Book review: Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall, by Derek Hughes, illustrated by Nathan Christopher

Hughes, Derek. Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall. Illustrated by Nathan Christopher. Penguin Workshop, 2020. $14.99. ISBN 9781524793029. Unpaged. Ages 8+. P7Q9

Humpty Dumpty’s life is all work and no play. The king forbids dreaming of a different life, and requires his subjects to toil to serve him. Humpty, though, has a secret dream and builds a ladder so he can look over the tall wall that surrounds the kingdom. As in the traditional “Humpty Dumpty” story, the egg falls and is smashed. The king distributes images of the broken egg to prove that his subjects shouldn’t dream, but he misses Humpty’s smile on the top of the pile of broken shell. So, in the end, Humpty fulfills his dream, and we see other citizens building ladders to look over the wall. The simple text and traditional rhyme will make this a good book to read aloud, and the wonderfully intricate black and white illustrations will bring readers back again and again to look at the details.

VERDICT: I think this book will appeal to older children because the illustration style is very sophisticated. While the illustration style is stark and very dark, the message is hopeful as the story develops- having secret ambitions to realize one’s dreams, pushing fear to the side, having faith in our dreams, and making real effort can take us where we want to go.

February 2020 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Music for Tigers, by Michelle Kadarusman

Kadarusman, Michelle. Music for Tigers. “Prepublication advance reading copy.” Pajama Press, publication date April 28, 2020. [192 pages.] $17.95. ISBN 97817280543. Ages 8-12. P7Q9

Thylacines–Tasmanian tigers–are large, extinct, dog-like marsupial predators, once found across Australia, last seen on the island of Tasmania almost a century ago.  Like the North American Sasquatch, there are occasional sightings, with grainy video or photographs, but no credible evidence of living specimens has been found.  With Louisa’s scientist parents off to study endangered amphibians in the Ontario wetlands for the summer, middle-school violinist Louisa has to  has to spend her summer with her uncle in the Tasmanian rainforest.  Bush conditions—scary spiders and venemous snakes, kerosene lamps and inconsistent electricity, lack of internet—mean that Louisa cannot concentrate solely on practicing her violin for the upcoming auditions and the camp’s isolation throws her into the company of Colin, a boy on the autism spectrum.  Then there is the mystery of the large animal that seems to be stalking the camp, especially once Louisa begins practicing violin.  Her grandmother’s journal gives her the clue that the large animal might be a thylacine, descended from animals brought to the camp to protect them from encroaching loggers and miners at the turn of the 20th century.

Verdict: Students who enjoy  nature stories, especially those who are interested in cryptid species, will enjoy this book.  The idea that a large extinct predator species might actually be found is exciting.  I really liked the ways that Louisa and Colin interacted with each other, Colin sharing his knowledge of the bush and Louisa finding a way to demonstrate facial cues  to help Colin identify emotions.  This character and setting driven plot appeals on many levels and introduces a setting not well represented in children’s books in the United States.  I recommend it for middle school and public libraries.

February 2020 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: A Drop of Hope, by Keith Calabrese

Calabrese, Keith. A Drop of Hope. Scholastic Press, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781338233209. 305 pgs. Ages 8-12. P8 Q8

Ernest, Ryan and Lizzy are middle school students in a small, struggling town in Ohio. When they learn about local folklore describing a “wishing well,” they find it and things begin to change! Calabrese does a great job of capturing the ambiance of a small American town, its school, and its diverse inhabitants. The story’s theme is how small actions can make change in ways we don’t even think of. The kids realize that people they know need help in various ways; they don’t know exactly how to approach the problems, but their good intentions and small actions do help greatly in the end. I liked that it isn’t clear if there is some magic going on or not (at least at first), that there is an old mystery that gets solved, and that odd combinations of characters end up developing positive relationships.

VERDICT: This is a wonderful book for readers who need to read something hopeful, kind and uplifting. I think we could all use more of this these days.

January 2020 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, by Jason Reynolds

Reynolds, Jason. Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781481438308. 188 pages. Ages 10-14. P8 Q8

This book is a set of ten separate short stories, but the characters are connected; they all go to the same school. Each chapter is titled with the name of a street, and the stories are about the kids walking home to that part of the neighborhood. There are chapters about friends, bullies, family drama and first loves, all told through the eyes of young people. Some are laugh out loud funny, and others are heart breaking. On Placer St. we meet the the Low Cuts, four friends with many things in common including qualifying for free lunch, and parents who were cancer survivors. These shared experiences made them tough, yet we learn how leaning on friends makes tough times better. The stories capture the social lives of inner city middle school students perfectly. Verdict: a great book for middle school and the J Fiction section of the library. Friends play such a huge role in the lives of middle schoolers and this book focuses on those important relationships.

December 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: Spindrift and the Orchid, by Emma Trevayne

Trevayne, Emma. Spindrift and the Orchid.  Simon and Schuster, 2018.  ISBN 978-1-4814-6259-4.  $17.99.  256 pages.  Ages 11-13.  Q8 P8

Spindrift is a middle school student whose been orphaned since she was a baby.  Her grandfather has cared for her since the day she floated to shore in a boat by herself.  The ship her mother was captain of sinking in the distance.  The adventure begins when a man comes to her grandfather’s magical trinket shop asking for a black orchid.  Around the same time Spindrift’s grandfather shares letters to him from Spindrift’s mother detailing her parent’s quest to unite the orchids (7 orbs that contain the essence of a powerful sage.  Whoever controls the orb gains the power of the sage) and gain their power.  Ultimately ending in their demise.  On Spindrift’s quest to find the orbs to keep them from someone who would abuse their power, she follows in her mother’s footsteps.  On her journey she takes her two best friends who wouldn’t think of letting Spindrift go on such a dangerous mission alone.  Their friendship is challenged when it becomes apparent Spindrift is putting the quest for the orchids above their friendship.  All three have tough choices and have to ask themselves: Is power worth more than friendship and is forgiveness possible in the most unforgivable situation?

Verdict:  Lots of adventure, magic, and discovering the true meaning of friendship in this book.   A great addition to middle grade libraries.

December 2019 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Charlie Numb3rs and the Woolly Mammoth, by Ben and Tonya Mezrich

Mezrich, Ben and Tonya Mezrich. Charlie Numb3rs and the Woolly Mammoth. (Charlie Numbers series, book 3.) Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99. 183 pages. ISBN 9781534441002. Ages 8-12. P7 Q7

Charlie is on a Cargo ship being chased and heading for freezing water. He has two choices; he can be caught or he can jump into freezing water. The adventure then goes back two weeks to when Charlie and his friends, all Whiz Kids, find a bone while they are on a field trip to the Boston Public Gardens. Stumped by what the object is, they take it to a science professor at Harvard to be identified. This discovery leads to more questions and new friends who are also scientists. The new friends include Janice and Rod. While Janice is sweet and kind, Rod is a bully and mean. They work together to solve the mystery of the “bone” and why it was found in Boston. The cast of friends include a black girl in a wheelchair (Janice), a Japanese boy, two redheaded boys, boys from a wealthy suburb and some from the city, which offer a diversity in characters. The friends use carbon dating, Boston trivia, and science factoids as they seek to figure out the mystery. Fossils and rocks are highlighted in the story and a rock is actually a clue to the origin of how the “bone” arrived at the Boston Public Gardens. While Rod is a bully, as the story develops, Rod’s backstory comes to light and the dynamics between the friends change in a positive direction. This is the third novel In the Charlie Numbers series, but can stand alone.

Verdict: If you have a child interested in fossils, rocks, carbon dating or science, they would enjoy this adventure.

The reader will learn a lot about fossils, Africa, elephant tusk trade and science as they read this mystery. While the book appears to be lighthearted, one will learn a lot. The themes of friendship, giving others a chance and looking beyond the obvious come through strongly in this book. This would be a great read aloud for a teacher or a good book for families to read together.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Spy Who Loved Ice Cream, by Sam Hay, illustrated by Marek Jagucki

Hay, Sam. The Spy who Loved Ice Cream. (Spy Penguins, book 2.) Illustrated by Marek Jagucki. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. $13.99. ISBN 9781250188588. 225 pages. Ages 7-10. P7 Q7

Penguins, spies, ice cream and a mom who was an award-winning store detective set the stage for an adventure. Jackson, otherwise known as Secret Agent 00Zero and his friend, Quigley go on a quest to figure out why his uncle is committing crimes. Will Jackson be able to solve the mystery before his uncle is arrested? Black and white illustrations enhance the text. Easy read, just the right amount of suspense to keep the reader wondering what will happen and be able to predict a few things that will happen. This is book 2 in the Spy Penguins series, but it can stand alone.

Verdict: This easy read will entertain and keep the reader captivated. I like the emphasis of believing in his uncle and working together to prove his innocence. This is a fun, lighthearted adventure that will keep the reader engaged.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.