Book review: The Van Gogh Deception, by Deron R. Hicks

Hicks, Deron R. The Van Gogh Deception. Houghton, 2017. $16.99. 306p. ISBN 978-0-544-75927-5. Ages 10-14. P8Q8

A boy sitting alone in the National Gallery of Art starts the excitement of a search for his memory and for his father who has been captured to hide the fact that he can tell the world that a Van Gogh being purchased for $183 million is really a forgery. The plot is filled with strategies to also capture the boy who searches for his identity with Camille, the ten-year-old daughter of the woman assigned to temporarily foster the boy, and the ingenious ways in which the two young people foil their would-be kidnappers.

Verdict: Although the art information may be a bit overwhelming for some young readers, the adventure is non-stop. To enjoy the classic artwork referenced, readers need access to a device/smartphone to view the integrated QR codes.

February 2019 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: The Unsinkable Walker Bean and the Knights of the Waxing Moon, by Aaron Renier

Renier, Aaron. The Unsinkable Walker Bean and the Knights of the Waxing Moon. First Second, 2018. $18.99. 288p. ISBN 9781596435056. Ages 10-14. P8Q9

In the sequel to the graphic novel, The Unsinkable Walker Bean, Walker and the Jacklight’s pirate crew have survived a battle at sea complete with sea-witches and face more perilous adventures while shipwrecked on a deserted island with sparkly, shadowy creatures in a jungle. With friends Shiv and Genoa, Walker finds a secret passage leading to ruins and learns about the legend of an insane king and an aristocrat searching for a lost sister in a fallen civilization.

Verdict: The complexity of the plot, as Walker communicates with his grandfather and discovers the betrayal of his father, can be confusing, but the stunning illustrations by Sendak Fellowship winner Renier keep readers engrossed in the world that he has built, replete with shipbuilding, alchemy, hidden caves, two opposing ancient civilizations, and more. Renier provides enough backstory to clarify the plotting, but readers may want to return to the first book.

December 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Knights vs. Dinosaurs, by Matt Phelan

Phelan, Matt. Knights vs. Dinosaurs. Greenwillow Books, 2018. 148 pages. $16.99. ISBN 9780062686237. Ages 8-12. P8Q8

When knight errant Erec exaggerates his exploits at one of King Arthur’s feasts, claiming to have killed 40 dragons, Merlin sends him, along with three knightly companions and a squire, back to the time of the dinosaurs to learn the value of telling the truth.  Doughty battles ensue and the companions learn surprising truths about themselves and each other.

Verdict: Plenty of swash and buckle make this adventure fun to read and Phelan’s loose, flowing line drawings add depth and flow to the story.  The knights face naturally armed and armored dinosaur foes that tax their fighting skills, making cooperation necessary for their survival, while personal revelations threaten long held beliefs which makes that cooperation more difficult.  This adventure tale is simply told, yet includes a satisfying questioning of social norms in a writing style that works well for younger readers.  Highly recommended for elementary school and public libraries.

December 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Roxie and the Hooligans at Buzzard’s Roost, by Phillis Reynolds Naylor, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

Naylor, Phillis Reynolds. Roxie and the Hooligans at Buzzard’s Roost. Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 9781481437820. 188 pgs. Ages 7-10. P8Q8

Roxie has had real trouble with a group of hooligan bully kids at school. In the previous book, Roxie and the Hooligans, they tormented her and her friend Norman until they all had a run-in with some robbers. Roxie and Norman impressed the hooligans so much that they now want to hang around with them. Roxie thinks it’s better being friends than enemies, but wishes that they weren’t around quite so much. So, when her Uncle Dangerfoot takes her and Norman on a vacation, she’s unpleasantly surprised when the hooligans stow away with them. Once at the beach house Buzzard’s Roost, Roxie begins to feel that something is amiss- her uncle is behaving strangely, the landlady is very peculiar, and odd things are happening in the area. Along with the rough hooligans, Roxie and Norman get to the bottom of what is going on. This is a great summer book- it’s a very fast, lively read, the characters are funny and engaging, the hooligans are bullies but have some redeeming qualities, and the villain doesn’t get away with his mischief.

VERDICT: Kids who are looking for a fast, light adventure/ mystery will enjoy this book. It is the second in the series, but you don’t need to have read the first one to enjoy it.

September 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: The Only Fish in the Sea, by Philip Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Stead, Philip. The Only Fish in the Sea. Illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Roaring Brook Press, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9781626722828. Unpaged. Ages 3-6. P8Q8

This is a busy, funny, odd book. A boy races to tell his friend Sadie about Little Amy Scott, who received a goldfish for her birthday, told everyone that “Goldfish are Boring!” and dumps the plastic bag with the fish in the ocean. Sadie is appalled, so makes a very practical plan to rescue the fish (now named Ellsworth). She gathers her supplies (balloons, paint, headwear, fishing poles and nets, and her crew (a dozen feisty monkeys) and finds Ellsworth. The loose pen and watercolor illustrations are really fun- kids will enjoy looking at them to pick up additional details of the story.

VERDICT: This story has a great message about planning carefully and working together to help others, and a real sense of fun that will appeal to many children. There is a feeling of justice here too- the story ends with Little Amy Scott spending her birthday alone.

September 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: The Serpent’s Shadow, by Rick Riordan, adapted by Orpheus Collar

Riordan, Rick. Adapted by Orpheus Collar. The Serpent’s Shadow. (The Kane Chronicles Graphic Novels series, book 3.) Disney Hyperion, 2017. unp. $21.99. ISBN: 978-148478132-6. Gr. 5+. P9 Q8

Apohphis, the chaos snake, is once again trying to conquer the world. First he first has to deal with Carter and Sadie Kane and those who follow them. It is up to the Kanes to save the world and defeat Apophis. I have enjoyed reading this series and I love the fact that students reading them are gaining so much information on Egyptian mythology. This adaption by Orpheus Collar is packed with action to the very end. Though it is the third book in the series, I had no trouble understanding what was going on. The simple language helps reluctant readers love this series. The illustrations are colored some more darkly that others but they do carry the reader through the story.

Verdict: This action-packed mythology book will appeal to followers of the Riordan Kane Chronicle books.

June 2018 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Deep Water, by Watt Key

Key, Watt. Deep Water. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. 264 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-0-374-30654-0. Gr 5+. P8 Q8

Julie Simms is 12 years-old the summer she returns to the Gulf Coast of Alabama to spend time with her father. Her parents are divorced and she knows that her father struggles making a living running the Dive Shop. The divorce hinged on her father trying to find a secret artificial reef that divers would clamor to dive to. Julie books a dive soon after her arrival and the costumers are a demanding rich father and his son, Shane. The dive should be simple but complications arise when the father and son refuse to follow Julie’s orders. With 20 minutes of air remaining she makes her way slowly to the surface, so that the bends will not harm her. She sees that the anchor is missing and the boat too. This accident and the brewing storm result in Shane and Julie trying to survive the rough seas. This is a very fast paced adventure that teems with danger when diving.

Verdict: There were times when the plot seemed unbelievable because of the age of the Shane and Julie. This is due to two young children being able to pull off what I feel is more adult reasoning. Though through the expert training that Julie had it could happen.

June 2018 review by Carol Bernardi.