Book review: Witchtown, by Cory Putman Oakes

Oakes, Cory Putman. Witchtown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 310 pgs. $17.99. ISBN 9780544765573. Ages 12+. P7Q6

Macie O’Sullivan and her mother Aubra have traveled around from one witch haven (places where witches can live safely) to another for most of Macie’s life, pulling scams and heists. Aubra is a natural witch, and Macie seems to be a void (a person with no magic), a fact which they hide. Macie desperately wants to settle down to a normal life in a loving community, and she think she has her mom convinced to do that after one last big theft. But things aren’t as they seem. What Aubra has told Macie all her life about her lack of magical talent isn’t true, and Aubra has some very dark secrets; she gets what she deserves in the end. There is a bit of romance, a feisty poltergeist who keeps burning down the herb shop, and some other interesting characters. I enjoyed this book, though I felt that the main characters and their motivations could have been developed more fully. I also felt like the title could have been improved- I almost didn’t pick up the book when I first saw it, largely because the title sounded simplistic.

VERDICT: Teen readers who are interested in magic and modern witches will probably like this book.

December 2017 review by Carol Schramm.


Book review: Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish Are Saving the World’s Largest Rainforest, by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Keith Ellenbogen

Montgomery, Sy. Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish Are Saving the World’s Largest Rainforest. Photographs by Keith Ellenbogen. (Scientist in the Field series) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. $18.99. ISBN 9780544352995. 65 pages.  Includes selected bibliography, web resources, and index. P7Q8

When Scott Dowd of Boston’s New England Aquarium first came to Barcelos to study the cardinal tetras and other aquarium fish to be exported from the dark, tannin-rich waters of Brazil’s Rio Negro, he was appalled by what he saw as drastic overfishing.  Further study brought him to the conclusion that the people who fished for the piabas—the brightly colored tiny fishes exported for the aquarium trade—were actually protecting the river and watershed from deforestation and the goldmining that plagues much of the Amazon’s rainforest.  Sy Montgomery, author of 20 books for adults and children, explores Brazil’s Rio Negro along with photographer Keith Ellenboggen to understand the relationship between the humans who collect the many small, brightly colored fishes and the ecosystem that produces the fishes.  Scientists from Project Piaba work with the fishers—the piabeiros—to safeguard the fisheries and protect the watershed.

Note: Scientists from Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon are mentioned.

Verdict: The book is divided, with approximately half devoted to the ecology and the work of scientists and the other half exploring the piabeiros and the towns that depend on the fisheries.  As with all of the Scientist in the Field series, the layout is appealing, with maps, sidebars explaining additional aspects of the topic.  The science is sound, with the acknowledgement of problems to be faced.  Highly recommended for school and public library collections and for middle school STEM classroom collections.

September 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Round, by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo

Sidman, Joyce. Round. Ill. Yoo, Taeeun. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-544-38761-4. Unpaged. Ages 3-6. P7Q8.

This book examines items that are round in nature mostly but also created or inspired by the coziness beneath a blanket or encircled in loving arms of a circle of friends. The soft peaceful outdoor scenes depict a child with Asian features as she plants peas, peeks at the round eggs of a turtle and a ladybug, blows bubbles, points to tree rings. A huge full moon complements the story wonderfully. The youngster carries a basket of blueberries, explores a beach, canoes past water-rounded rocks, and throws pebbles into a pond. This book is an early invitation to visualize and think about shape and concept. In two pages in the back of the book, Sidman goes on to describe how roundness benefits seeds, eggs, and other living things.

Verdict: this is an excellent picture book to engage and encourage exploration in early years.

May 2017 review by Penny McDermott.

Book review: Frankie, by Mary Sullivan

Sullivan, Mary.  Frankie. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. $12.99.  ISBN 9780544611139. Unpaged. Ages 4-10. P8 Q8.

Frankie is the new dog introduced to a home that already has a dog–Nico.  The two dogs go through the struggle of not wanting to share and then they develop a relationship. Cute illustrations have soft borders. The emotions of the dogs are clearly illustrated. The book is written only in think and talk bubbles that change shapes with the emotions expressed, but it is not in the format of the cartoon style of a graphic novel.  The endpapers have cute hearts.

Verdict: This is an adorable book for a young readers and a good addition to a library.

June 2017 review by Deborah Gwynn.

Book review: Mr. Putter & Tabby Hit the Slope, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard

Rylant, Cynthia. Mr. Putter & Tabby Hit the Slope. Illustrated by Arthur Howard. (Mr. Putter and Tabby series, #25) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. Unpaged. $14.99. ISBN 9780152064273. Ages 5-7. P7Q8

On a slow, snowy day, Mr. Putter remembers the long ago fun of sledding down hills. The adventurous neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, has sleds in her garage. Mr. Putter, Tabby, Mrs. Teaberry and her dog, Zeke, head out for an adventure, riding sleds down hills in this twenty-fifth book in the series.  Much of the charm of the long-running series comes from the simple watercolor and goache paintings that show the varied emotions of the characters—Mr. Putter’s sadness in being left without a sled, Tabby’s worried terror  as Zeke pilots the two of them down the hill, the contentment on both Mr. Putter’s and Tabby’s faces as they have muffins afterward.

Verdict: Highly recommended for preschool, elementary, and public libraries.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: A Rambler Steals Home, by Carter Higgins

Higgins, Carter. A Rambler Steals Home. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-544-60201-4. 213 pages. Ages 7-12. P8Q9.

Derby Christmas Clark, her brother Triple, and her father Garland are wanderers in the truest form. Their yearly expedition leads from the mountains of Wisconsin where they cut Christmas trees and sell them along the highway, to spring carnivals on their way south, to their summer home in Ridge Creek, Virginia. They travel and live in what they call “the Rambler.” Hitched to the Rambler is a concession stand where they sell apple cider and donuts in the fall, hot chocolate in the winter, carnival cotton candy in the spring, and burgers and sweet potato fries next to a minor-league baseball stadium in Ridge Creek in the summer. This story starts in the summer where we meet Derby and watch her discover her Virginia home while grieving the death of her friend the ballfield caretaker. Derby will grow on you along with her biggest desire to set down roots.

Verdict: This is a sweet story that explores what it means to call home not only a place, but people too.

May 2017 review by Penny McDermott.

Book review: Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel, by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated by Ashley Spires

Harper, Charise Mericle. Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel. Illustrated by Ashley Spires. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. $15.99. ISBN 978-0-544-63063-5. 120 pages. Ages 6-10. P6Q7

June loves to play with her dog Sam, particularly because the two are able to communicate unbeknownst to others. When her grandmother sends her a big chalkboard on a wheel,  June is thrilled.  She and Sam are entertained with completing the suggested tasks. It’s even more fun when a new girl moves in next door and ends up in the same class. Mae seems really nice, but classmate April is bound and determined that Mae will be friends with her and not June. The girls have to learn to get along, and eventually become fast friends.

Verdict: This is a very positive, fun story for beginning readers. The illustrations add to comprehending the story. Other nice touches are June’s grumpy teenage sister, the fact that Mae is a character of color, and the adventure of the wonder wheel.

May 2017 review by Penny McDermott.