Book review: Otto and the Secret Light of Christmas, by Nora Surojegin, illustrated by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin

Surojegin, Nora. Otto and the Secret Light of Christmas. Illustrated by Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin. Floris Books, 2016. English Version 2016. 101 pgs. $24.95. ISBN 9781782503231. Ages 5-10. P8Q8

Otto the elf goes on a quest through the dark forests of Finland looking for the Light of Christmas to brighten the dismal winter on the coast. This is a beautiful Christmas tale that is rich in references to Finnish folklore and culture, and the soft, intricate, glowing illustrations added so much to my appreciation of the story. I enjoyed the richness of the language. The descriptions of the forest, scenery, and characters are absolutely magical, and new vocabulary is used. I can imagine parents and children cuddled up, drinking hot chocolate and reading this book together over the Christmas holidays. The kindness and generosity that Otto encounters throughout the story are a nice reminder of how people should behave. The format of the book is pleasing too- it’s a large size with a sturdy cover. Every spread has an illustration, and the text is divided into short chapters that will help young readers keep pace with the story, and will make the book a good bed time story to read over the course of several nights. The author and illustrator are mother and daughter.  Originally published Finland in 2010.

VERDICT: I think this book will become a holiday favorite at my library in the years to come.

January 2018 review by Carol Schramm.


Book review: Stop Feedin’ da Boids!, by James Sage, illustrated by Pierre Pratt

Sage, James. Stop Feedin’ da Boids! Illustrated by Pierre Pratt. Kids Can Press, 2017. $16.95. ISBN 9781771386135. Ages 5-6. P7Q7

Swanda, new to her Brooklyn neighborhood, causes a problem for her neighbors when she begins feeding a few pigeons. A few quickly become a lot, and she seeks advice from different people- a pest control officer, a zoo keeper, and an exotic bird fancier- but their advice isn’t helpful. The neighbors get together and talk and finally realize that the solution is that, “Swanda, you gotta stop feedin’ da boids!” Once that crisis is averted, Swanda moves on to a fascination with fish…

Verdict: The illustrations are colorful, stylized, and full of contrast and texture. I think they give a good sense of the multicultural, busy nature of Brooklyn life. Recommended as an additional purchase for public and preschool libraries.

January 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Bad Guy, by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Mike Yamada

Barnaby, Hannah. Bad Guy. Illustrated by Mike Yamada. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN 9781481460101. Ages 4-7. P8Q8

This is a book about competition between siblings. The main character prides himself on being a bad guy- he trapped superheroes in a cage with lions, ran the sheriff out of town, and ate his sister Alice’s brain- Alice is usually his victim. But after a visit to the library, the bad guy finds that Alice is a match for him in terms of deviousness, and that bad guys aren’t necessarily guys! I enjoyed the bold artwork, and especially liked how the shadows added to the depth of the pictures.

VERDICT: This book will be popular in any elementary school or public library. It would make a good read-aloud for a group of “bad guys” on a rainy afternoon.

January 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Swish and Squeak’s Noisy Day, by Birgitta Sif

Sif, Birgitta. Swish & Squeak’s Noisy Day. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. Unpaged. $16.99. ISBN 9780399556227. Ages 2-5. P8Q7

This lovely picture book deals with the sense of hearing, and shows how a rich imagination can expand on the everyday sounds we hear. The illustrations are soft and gentle, mostly in light pastel colors. I really like Sif’s illustration style– her books are really pretty without being sickly sweet, and they invite you to look closely for small details.

VERDICT: This is a great book for a public library, and I can see it becoming a favorite bedtime story for some of my library’s younger children and their parents.

January 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Tempests and Slaughter, by Tamora Pierce

Pierce, Tamora. Tempests and Slaughter. “Advance Reader’s Copy.” (The Numair Chronicles, book 1) Random House Books for Young Readers, on sale February 6, 2018. $18.99. [480] pages. ISBN  978-0-375-8471-0. “Ages 12-up.” P8Q8

Fans of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall series will welcome this new prequel series about the early life of mage Numair Salmalín, once called Arram Draper.  At the age of 10, Arram becomes a student at the Imperial University of Carthak. The opening scenes with his father and uncle at the Imperial Games introduce Arram to the gladiator Musenda, who saves his life, and begin his lifelong aversion to slavery.  In many ways, Tempests and Slaughter is a fantasy tale in the form of a school story.  Arram faces classroom challenges, dormitory dominance issues, beginning friendships, and growing confidence in his own abilities. Also typical of school stories, Arram’s story focuses on new classes and growing mastery, not on extraordinary quests and tests.  In this first book of a planned trilogy, Pierce introduces major players and conflicts that tie into the later books in the world of Tortall.

Verdict: Highly recommended for public, middle and high school libraries.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Have Sword, Will Travel, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Nix, Garth, and Sean Williams. Have Sword, Will Travel. Scholastic, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780545259026. Ages 10-14. P7Q

Small, quicksilver Eleanor wants to be a knight, like her mother.  Odo, the miller’s son, is brawny, but has no desire to leave their small village.  However, the once mighty Silverrun River has slowed to a trickle and as the two friends fish for eels, they find a magical sword which chooses Odo as its knight, leaving Ellie to be the squire.  The two friends and the sword– Hildebrand Shining Foebiter (Biter for short)—take on the quest to free the dying river, facing and solving numerous problems along the way.

Verdict: Australian authors Nix and Williams have worked together on previous books, though Williams has not been published in the United States as often as has Garth Nix.  Have Sword, Will Travel is a solid fantasy for middle grade readers that shows both protagonists growing and changing as they accomplish their quest.  Highly recommended for public, middle and high school libraries.  This story leaves room for sequels, so be prepared to purchase not only the first, but also subsequent titles.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Apprentice Witch, by James Nichol

Nichol, James. The Apprentice Witch. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9781338118582. 318 pages. Ages 12-16. P7Q8

After blowing up the magical testing apparatus in front of the entire school, including her arch-enemy, mean girl Gimma Alverston, apprentice witch Arianwyn Gribble accepts a continuing apprentice position in the town of Lull. Arianwyn makes new friends and begins to rebuild her confidence as she deals with various otherworldly infestations and incursions from the Great Wood.  When Gimma turns out to be the niece of Lull’s mayor and comes to Lull for an extended stay, Arianwyn has to work with her on the problems in the village.  A failed spell creates a disaster for the village just as Arianwyn’s second evaluation comes due.

Verdict: The author’s voice in this coming of age fantasy novel creates a realistic setting, real people and relationships, and real dilemmas for the new witch.  Issues of creating a new life away from home and family ring true, making this fantasy feel like a British cosy.  (I found myself looking forward to a cup of tea and a biscuit.) This book will probably not appeal to fans of dystopian fiction; it is wonderful debut novel and I am looking forward to the second book in the series.  Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries, as well as public library juvenile collections.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.