Book review: A Werewolf Named Oliver James, by Nicholas John Frith

Frith, Nicholas John. A Werewolf Named Oliver James. Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, Inc., 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781338254334. Unpaged. Ages 6-8. P8Q8

Oliver James is going home from band practice as usual when something strange happened- he discovered that he was a werewolf! The purple and brownish illustrations give a nice feeling of early evening as Oliver learns that while being strong and fast and having super-senses is fun, scaring everyone he meets isn’t so much. He hesitates before going in his house as he considers the idea that his parents might be afraid of him. But everything turns out okay when he finds that his parents are werewolves too (there’s no explanation of why he never noticed this before…) I loved the quirky humor in the illustrations, and liked that Oliver and his parents are African American (when they aren’t werewolves).

VERDICT: Younger readers will like this fun, lively story, especially around Halloween.

November 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: It Is Not Time for Sleeping (A Bedtime Story), by Lisa Graff, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Graff, Lisa ; Lauren Castillo (illustrations). It Is Not Time for Sleeping (A Bedtime Story). Clarion Books, 2016. Unpaged. $16.99. ISBN 9780544319301. Ages 4-6. P8Q7

A child, dog, mother and father go through evening rituals in this cumulative repetitive story, with the refrain, “It is not time for sleeping.” Then, a final hug brings this bedtime story to a close.  As the evening advances from sunset skies during dinner to the moon shining through a window, the clear, warm watercolor illustrations gather more and more shadows, though even the darkened rooms have warm colors in the darkness.

Verdict: This is a comforting bedtime story, reflecting evening rituals in a nuclear family.  Nothing in the text of the book indicates the child’s gender.  Unfortunately, the jacket blurb refers to the child as “he”, limiting the appeal of the book to little boys.  I think it’s a poor choice on the part of the publicity team.  Also, the book is text heavy and does not rhyme, though cumulative repetition does make it accessible for small children.  Recommended for public library collections.

March 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Greetings from Witness Protection!, by Jake Burt

Burt, Jake. Greetings from Witness Protection! Feiwel and Friends, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9781250107114. 359 pages. Ages 10-14. P7 Q7

Trying to outwit the criminals and do something different, the witness protection decides to add a family member to a family they are hiding. Nicki who has spent most of her life in foster families and a group home finds herself with the opportunity to use her street smarts to help a family. The federal agents want the family to appear “normal” and have a plan for them to follow. Along the way, Nicki makes friends, but will she lose them in the end? Does she have the wit to outsmart the criminals? The brother-sister rivalry and family life is believable. Her dad, who she thought was in jail, shows up towards the end of the story and Nicki has to decide to whom she will be loyal. You root for the girl, hoping through the adventure she will find a permanent home.

Verdict: Middle school libraries and public libraries will benefit from this engaging, quick paced chapter book. Tweens and teens will relate to Nicki and what she goes through with her new-found friends.

February 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Crims: Crime Runs in the Family, by Kate Davies

Davies, Kate. The Crims: Crime Runs in the Family. Harper Collins, 2017. $16.99, ISBN 9780062494092. 291 pages.  Ages 8-12.  P8 Q7.

The Crims are a family of criminals, but they have not mastered their art and get caught.  Imogen (the twelve year old girl) doesn’t want to be a part of a crime family, so she escapes to boarding school. However, when her family is accused of a crime that she believes they did not commit, she comes back to solve it. The characters are relatable in a weird way and the relationships between the characters are interesting. It is neat to have references to pop culture and the hidden comedy with a play on words.  In the end, you find out who committed the crime, but I won’t spoil it for you.

Verdict: I recommend this for upper elementary because of the humor once you get into the book. It is an enjoyable and fun read.

January 2018 review by BG (student).

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: Almost Paradise, by Corabel Shofner

Shofner, Corabel. Almost Paradise. FSG, 2017. $16.99. 296p. ISBN 978-0-374-30378-5. Ages 9-13. P8Q9

In a rich Southern voice, 12-year-old Ruby Clyde tells about her failed attempt to care for her mother after her father’s death and wakes up in the backseat of a car to find that her mother’s boyfriend has tried to rob a convenience store. They have already “rescued” (aka stolen) a pig from its abusive life at a small circus, and Ruby grabs “Bunny” the pig while the police pick up her mother and boyfriend. Ruby’s only shelter is with her mother’s twin sister, Eleanor, who Ruby had not heard of until just before her escape from the car. The characters are unforgettable—the no-account boyfriend, the hapless mother, and the no-nonsense Episcopalian nun aunt–and the relationships ring true despite the far-fetched plot.

Verdict: Great twists in the plot, quirky characters, and poignant humor along with the strong narrative style make this debut novel stand out.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Making Scents, by Arthur Yorinks, illustrated by Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline

Yorinks, Arthur. Making Scents. Il. By Braden Lamb & Shelli Paroline. First Second, 2017. $15.99. 100p. ISBN Ages 7-10. P8Q8

Mickey thinks of himself as part dog because his parents, breeders of bloodhounds, tend to treat him like one of the litter, even insisting that he learn to track. The boy has an idyllic life until his parents suddenly die. His ensuing life with an older aunt and uncle who have been estranged from the boy and his parents is a disturbing shift with the loss of his entire family. The aunt and uncle hate dogs and force Mickey to behave like a boy instead of a dog. Illustrations are yellow, teal, and pink.

Verdict: The themes of grief and acceptance have value for all ages, and the lack of technology gives the graphic novel a timeless quality.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.