Book review: Tru & Nelle: A Christmas Tale, by G. Neri

Neri, G. Tru & Nelle: A Christmas Tale. Houghton, 2017. $16.99. 291p. ISBN 978-1-328-68598-8. Ages 10-13. P7Q9

This sequel to Neri’s first book about Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Trump Capote, author of several books and short stories, covers two Christmases during the 1930s in the small town of Monroe (AL). The first Christmas surrounds a custody battle when 11-year-old Tru picks his neglectful mother in hopes she will love him. Two years later when Nelle is 11, he runs away from a military boarding school and returns to his relatives, only to see their house burn down. The mélange of characters shows their love for one another while they follow the segregation and Jim Crow values of the time as the two white children befriend black characters and seek their help. Although Nelle plays an integral part, Tru’s development is a focus as he talks about his first kiss with a boy, fights the son of a KKK leader, and comes to terms with his relationship with his mother. He also witnesses the trial of two black men that inspired the scene in Lee’s novel. A final chapter describes how Nelle is given the money to take a year off in New York City where she writes her famous novel.

Verdict: A clear picture of the South as it struggles with prejudice of class and race is set against a warm friendship between two young people.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

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Book review: Giant Pumpkin Suite, by Melanie Heuiser Hill

Hill, Melanie Heuiser. Giant Pumpkin Suite. Candlewick, 2017. $16.99. 434p. ISBN 978-0-7636-8155-4. Ages 12-15. P7Q9

Talented twelve-year-old Rose is driven to do everything to perfection, especially playing the Bach Cello Suites that could get her a scholarship with a famous maestro. Her life changes in a second, however, when an accident on a table saw badly injures her hand, and she is forced into different paths. Fortunately, she had started to build a support system when a project in growing a giant pumpkin with her twin, Thomas, and her elderly neighbor had caused her to reach out more to the people around her. First-time author draws out the characterizations of these people and Rose’s other family, her mother and grandmother. The theme of change, sometimes from unwanted circumstances, is prevalent as Rose learns to face her recovery from surgery, her growing relationship with Thomas, and her developing understanding of people as she discovers that they are not all one-dimensional.

Verdict: Rose’s frustrations, including body image as she towers 14 inches over her twin and has overly curly hair, are skillfully dealt with in her third-person narrative, and her personal growth throughout her twelfth summer shows the value of adaptation to different situations. One criticism might be that the book addresses too many issues, but it is long—another potential criticism—and can handle these. Young people concerned about the length probably read series books, and this book almost has a break in the middle. Reading the book, replete with multicultural characters bonding over the pumpkin growing, is like watching a warm family movie. This excellent beginning promises more good writing from this author.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: The Player King, by Avi

Avi. The Player King. Richard Jackson/Atheneum, 2017. $16.99. 199p. ISBN 978-1-4814-3768-4.  Ages 10-13. P7Q9

In 1486, Henry VII had just defeated Richard III on the battlefield to become the king of England, but the Earl of Lincoln decided to overthrow Henry by placing an orphaned kitchen boy on the throne with the pretense that he was the son of Edward IV’s brother Clarence and had escaped from imprisonment in the Tower. A friar sees the similarity between the boy, Lambert Simnel, and the boy who should have been king. By the time, the friar finishes educating Lambert, the boy is not only learned but also convinced that he is the real king. Lambert’s first-person narrative of his poverty, capture, and training rings true in this excellent historical novel based on a true occurrence. Although Lambert would probably not have succeeded, it was his ego and desire for power that greatly led to his downfall.

Verdict: Newbery winner Avi has executed Lambert’s adventures with his usual exciting writing, authentic details, humor, and personal touches that bring the people to life through the rich language filled with 15th-century street terms.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: The Force Oversleeps, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Krosoczka, Jarrett J. The Force Oversleeps. (Star Wars: Jedi Academy). Scholastic, 2017. $12.99. 174p. ISBN 978-0-545-87574-5. Ages 8-12. P7Q7

In the fifth book of this series, Victor heads back to his second year at boarding school after The New Class with high hopes that he’ll be happier because he has made friends, but Zavyer, a new student, makes him feel less popular, and his older sister, Christine, is accused of being a spy for the dark force Sith. The first three books of the series had a different author and different characters.

Verdict: Younger readers may be disappointed with the black-and-white format and the extensive text (for a graphic novel) from journal entries and pages from the school newspaper. Some of the conflicts are too easily resolved, for example the competition between Victor and Zavyer as well as Christine’s coldness toward him. Victor is also far too self-absorbed and selfish to be a likable protagonist. Yet the science fiction plot draws in the reader, and Victor grows up—sort of. The clearly distinct characters are diverse in color and shape, and the plot is easy to follow.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: Swing It, Sunny, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Holm, Jennifer L. & Matthew Holm. Swing It, Sunny. Graphix/Scholastic, 2017. $12.99. 218p. ISBN 978-0-545-74172-9. Ages 9-12. P8Q9

In the graphic novel Sunny Side Up, Sunny visited her grandfather in Florida only to return home and discover that her beloved older brother, Dale, has been sent to a boarding school because of his drug use. His departure leaves a void in the family as Sunny copes with her new middle school. Even Dale’s visit doesn’t help Sunny because he is angry and hostile. The creators of Baby Mouse and Squish take a darker view of life in this perspective of growing up in 1976-77. the nuclear family has three children (Teddy is a toddler) and mother stays at home, but Dale’s problems overshadow the feeling of security.

Verdict: The sibling authors continue their excellent perceptions of growing up and struggling with friendship and family with simple, colorful cartoon art. Young readers may not understand references to television programs of the 1970s, but they are well described. Those who enjoyed the character of Gramps may miss the growth of relationship between him and Sunny, but the book is a solid read with a hopeful resolution. The book stands alone but would have a deeper understanding by reading the first one also. (Personally, I loved the incident with the pet rock: I still have mine!)

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: Kit Meets Covington, by Bobby J.G. Weiss

Weiss, Bobby J.G. Kit Meets Covington. (Ride series, book 1) Candlewick Entertainment, 2017. $7.99. ISBN 9780763698355. 269 Pages. Ages 12 +. P7 Q7

Based on the Nickelodeon series Ride: Kit Meets Covington. After her mother’s death, Kit and her father move to Covington Academy, a prestigious boarding school in England, where she meets new friends and figures out how to navigate life in a new country. Kit bonds with a wild horse, TK, and makes a plan to save the horse from being shipped away from the school. The book does not reference Kit’s mother, which makes the reader wonder what happened to her. In the beginning of the story, the author references Kit’s friend, Charlie, but only in the first few chapters. There are a few unresolved conflicts. I think it makes a better movie than book. The book focuses on Kit riding TK, but the book ends before the competition occurs. More details on what happened to her mom, follow up with her friend Charlie and resolved conflicts would improve the book. It is almost like you are coming into a story already in progress that ends before the story is over. It is set up for a sequel, but can stand alone.

Verdict: If you have seen the movie, you might enjoy the book. Beautiful photo on the front of the book with Kit and TK, Covington in the background, and glossy photos in the middle of the book will appeal to young teens.

December 2017 review by Tami Harris

Book review: Lucy and the Rocket Dog, by Will Buckingham, illustrated by Monica Arnaldo

Buckingham, Will. Lucy and the Rocket Dog. Illustrated by Monica Arnaldo. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Children’s Books, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9780399554322. 154 Pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q7

Lucy loved space so much that she built a rocket ship called Prototype I. She knew it would not fly. One day, her dog Laika entered the rocket ship and pushed some buttons. This starts the adventure of Laika heading to space and Lucy continuing her life on earth without her dog.  Will Lucy find Laika? You will need to read the book to find out. In 1957 when people were first building rockets to be sent into space, a dog named Laika, which means “barker” was sent into space in a rocket named Sputnik II, but never returned. This inspired the author to write a story about Laika. Children will learn about relativity, worm holes and other space related things. The book is told from Lucy and Laika’s alternating perspectives.

Verdict: This space related book is a nice addition to an elementary school library, public library or individual library. Children will enjoy the adventure and wonder if Laika and Lucy will reunite.

December 2017 review by Tami Harris