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.

Book review: Short Mysteries You Solve with Math!=Misterios cortos que resuelves con matemáticas!, by Eric and Natalie Yoder

Yoder, Eric and Natalie Yoder. Short Mysteries You Solve with Math!=Misterios cortos que resuelves con matemáticas! (One Minute Mysteries series) Science, Naturally!, 2017. $12.95. ISBN 9781938492228. 224 pages. Includes Glossary, Index, and Conversion Table.  Ages 10-14. P6 Q8

Bilingual (English/Spanish) book with vignettes of realistic things that could happen and some silly stories provoke thoughts to explain the mystery. Using higher level thinking skills the reader can predict the explanation and then check the following pages to learn the answer and the mathematical explanation.

Verdict: It is great for a bilingual classroom as a transition read aloud or daily discussion.  Also for the Talented And Gifted (TAG) students or students that need additional challenges, it would be an engaging book to provide an extension to their thinking.

June 2017 review by Deborah Gwynn.


Book review: Dark Shadows: Yes, Another Misadventure, by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin

Cronin, Doreen. Dark Shadows: Yes, Another Misadventure. Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin ; cover by Kevin Cornell. (Chicken Squad Adventures series, #4) Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2017. $12.99. ISBN 9781481450492. 115 Pages. Ages 6-12. P7  Q7.

Four chickens nicknamed Dirt, Sugar, Poppy, and Sweetie go on a vacation to visiting a farm full of chicken cousins which are all named starting with the letter B.  Sugar goes back to get jelly beans and meets a mysterious big bird called Buger. Then Poppy’s shoe goes missing and they are on the hunt to find the missing jellybeans and shoe. Illustrations engage the reader throughout the book.

Verdict: It is a great early reader chapter book with fun chicken humor.  It is silly and makes you laugh.

June 2017 review by Deborah Gwynn.

Book review: The Crazy Classroom Caper, by Tony Abbott, illustrated by Colleen Madden

Abbott, Tony. The Crazy Classroom Caper. (Goofballs series, #6). Illustrated by Colleen Madden. Egmont, 2014. $15.99. ISBN 9781606844496. 104 Pages. Ages 7-10. P7 Q7.

The Goofballs–Jeff, Mara, Brian, and Kelly– help solve a mystery in a school.  Supplies, furniture, and everything in the kindergarten classroom of their former teacher are disappearing.  The Goofballs pretend to be teachers to make closer observations and watch over the classroom.  Finally with the help of their dog Sparky, they find where everything went.  Illustrations throughout the book help students enjoy the humor.

Verdict: With suspense and relatable characters, students will enjoy reading this book.

June 2017 review by Deborah Gwynn.