Book review: Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element, by Jeannie Mobley

Mobley, Jeannie. Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element. Holiday House, 2017. 229 pgs. $16.95. ISBN 9780823437818. Ages 8-12. P8Q8

Bobby Lee Claremont, age 13, decides to leave New Orleans after losing his mother to consumption and realizing that he has no future in that city. He embarks on a life of crime by robbing the poor box at the Sisters of Charitable Mercy Orphanage. He buys a train ticket to Chicago, since it looks like the best bet for a clever kid who wants to join a gang and cash in on the illegal alcohol business that prohibition created. His plans don’t quite work out though- he gets thrown in with some nasty gangsters on the train, and finds that the life of crime may not be for him. Together with two quick witted African American boys (the grandsons of a train employee), Bobby Lee gets to the bottom of a murder mystery. I really enjoyed this fast paced adventure, with its villains, believable characters, jazz musicians, and train culture. Bobby Lee learns a lot about the Jim Crow laws that were in place at the time, and comes to believe that segregation and racism are very wrong. The author’s note gives further information about Jim Crow laws, segregation on trains, and gangsters in the 1920s.

VERDICT: I think young readers will find this a fast and fun read. It could be used in the classroom to provide background in a history class as well.

January 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Advertisements

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: 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: Thornhill, by Pam Smy

Smy, Pam. Thornhill. Roaring Brook, 2017. $19.99. 539p. ISBN  978-1-626-72654-3. Ages 13+. P9Q10

Darkness, both in narrative and illustrations, highlight the tragic story of Ella Clarke, a lonely girl in a new town who slowly learns about the misery of another teenage girl living in an orphanage across from her house 35 years earlier. As the girl looks out the window at the deserted building and onto its untended surrounding land, she is drawn to investigate Thornhill and discovers the reason for the fire that destroyed the facility just days before the last few girls were to be moved to foster homes. The story is one of cruel bullying, horrific neglect by adult caretakers, and the loss of hope leading to the end of lives. Each brief chapter from the orphan girl’s diary is prefaced by magnificent two-page spreads that extend the plot and characters.

Verdict: Smy’s debut novel is an engrossing tale of harrowing persecution leading to revenge, an unforgettable and chilling revelation of abuse and desperation. An excellent choice for Neil Gaiman fans of Coraline and The Graveyard Book.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: The Bad Guys in The Furball Strikes Back, by Aaron Blabey

Blabey, Aaron. The Bad Guys in The Furball Strikes Back. (Bad Guys series, book 3) Scholastic, 2017. $5.99. 140p. ISBN 978-1-338-08749-9. Ages 6-10. P9Q9

After rescuing 10,000 chickens in Mission Unpluckable, the motley crew of “bad” guys turned into “The Good Guys Club” led by Mr. Wolf face more danger from Dr. Marmalade, the evil mad scientist guinea pig, was wants revenge for the chicken rescue. Mr. Wolf is captured along with the snake and the shark, leaving the piranha and tarantula to save the day. Fortunately, the ninja-like Special Agent Fox steps in to help, but Mr. Wolf’s crush on her may cause more problems. The simple illustrations on large, sometimes full-page panels, are full of shouting in bold, all caps type that contribute to the excitement.

Verdict: Well laid out and simple, the drawings clearly show the different creatures, and the crazy humor, including the group’s in-fighting dialog, is non-stop. Although the graphic novel can be read without the first two books in the series, reading those two books first would enhance the enjoyment. A wonderful sequel by the Australian author with a short taste of the crew’s fourth adventure against an army of zittens—zombie kittens.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: Our Story Begins: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, an Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids, edited by Elissa Brent Weissman

Our Story Begins: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, an Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids. Ed. by Elissa Brent Weissman. Atheneum, 2017. $17.99. 208p. ISBN 978-1-4814-7208-1. Ages 8-12. P4Q9

Twenty-six living authors and illustrators in a mix of ethnic background, age, and gender share their creative childhoods. Each of the entries includes a photograph as a child, memoir, biography, and sample of childhood creative work. Weissman uses the order of beginning creative work from youngest, 7, to oldest, 16. Reflections range from humous to serious and sometimes provide tips on writing.

Verdict: Although aspiring writers and artists may find the book of interest, it may have more appeal in general to adults.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Making Bombs for Hitler, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. Making bombs for Hitler. Scholastic Press, 2017. 230 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-0-545-93191-5. Gr. 6+. P8 Q8

Lida is not Jewish and therefore should be safe, but she is not. She and her younger sister, Larissa, are taken from their home in the Ukraine and then separated by the Germans. Larissa’s story was told in the author’s previous book, Stolen Child. Blonde and blue-eyed, Larissa meets the Aryan specifications and is adopted by a German family. Lida, along with other children, is transported to a work camp in a cattle car. Only nine years old when she arrives, Lida is warned by a woman at the camp to lie about her age. The advice saves her life. The other children’s blood is drained from their bodies to be used to save the lives of German soldiers. The book is a horrific tale about the survival of a young girl in a Nazi work camp. Lida’s survives due to her determination to find her sister. She has several jobs in the camp, one of which was making bombs for Hitler and she determines to sabotage them.

Verdict: There is not a lot of information about German involvement in the Ukraine during WWII. This book could be used as a read aloud to introduce the atrocities of Nazi aggression during WWII.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.