Book review: Postcards from Venice, by Dee Romito

Romito, Dee. Postcards from Venice. Aladdin, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781534403383. 257 pages. Ages 9-13. P7 Q7

What would it be like to live for a few months in Italy? Skyler’s mom is relocated to Venice, Italy for her work. When they arrive, Skyler finds out she will be part of a mentorship program writing a blog about the city. While Skyler loves to explore and discover new things, she finds that she has writers block when it comes to writing her blog. Her mom is often preoccupied at work, which adds an element of disappointment to some of Skyler’s adventures. Skyler meets new people and she has to figure out how to navigate friendships. This book is a companion to The BFF Bucket List, but can stand alone. I think readers will enjoy the many descriptions of Venice. It captured the magic of Venice along with the tourist attractions.

Verdict: Readers will enjoy Skyler’s adventures in Venice, mishaps as she learns a new language, how she navigates her new and old friendships and how she works through her mom’s priorities. I recommend this book for elementary and public libraries.

October 2018 review by Tami Harris.

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Book review: You May Already Be a Winner, by Ann Dee Ellis

Ellis, Ann Dee. You May Already Be a Winner. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2017. 347 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1-101-99385-9. Gr. 5+. P8 Q8

Olivia Hales and her younger sister BerKeley are devastated when their father leaves. Their mother struggles to keep them fed and housed on her meager salary. Olivia, though only 12 years-old, cleans the house, fixes dinner and cares for her sister. She enters every contest she can, sure that winning will fix everything. She promises her sister that she can have a circus in the Sunny Pines Trailer Park, where they live. Olivia is a brave strong character who tries to cope at home and in school.

Verdict: This is a book that will resonate with middle school children. We have many students in our schools who are coping with similar situations.

June 2018 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Lone Stars, by Mike Lupica

Lupica, Mike. Lone Stars. Philomel Books, 2017. 240p. $17.99.  ISBN: 978-0399172809. Gr. 7-9. P6 Q8

This book is about Clay, a young boy who overcomes his fear of playing football.  He and his friend Maddie also take time to help the coach (a former Dallas Cowboys player) cope with traumatic brain injuries he suffered while playing pro football.

Verdict: I liked this book; it’s an easy read that will appeal to anyone who is interested in sports.

April 2018 review by NHS student.

[Editor’s note: Other reviewers noted that, unlike other books by Mike Lupica, the sports action sometimes takes a back seat to emotional issues off the field. Unfortunately, the decision to have the children hide the coach’s symptoms may also hide some of the effects of cumulative brain traumas.  This new book by a well-known sports writer brings awareness to a growing problem for school and professional football programs.]

Book review: Joseph’s Grace, by Shelia P. Moses

Moses, Shelia P. Joseph’s Grace. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2011. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-3942-9. 153 p. Gr. 6 – 12. P7Q8

moses-josephs-graceJoseph’s cousin has recently been shot by his mom’s drug dealing boyfriend.  Joseph, a sophomore in high school, is dealing with that loss, along with his father’s deployment to Afghanistan.  Joseph hasn’t been able to speak to his father in over a year.  His mom is trying to avoid the family for she was the reason that Joseph’s cousin died.  He is in a battle to keep his family together… a battle that he fights by himself.

Review by student: S. I.-B.

Editor’s note: In this sequel to Joseph, Shelia P. Moses continues the story of Joseph Flood, now a sophmore in Durham, N.C., whose father has deployed to Iraq and whose mother is addicted to cocaine.  Now living with his aunt, uncle, and cousin Jasmine, Joseph tries to balance his new life.  As Joseph’s mother tries to get off drugs, her sometime boyfriend shows up and kills Jasmine, leaving the family struggling with their grief.  Other reviews note that although the characters are not well developed and the language is simplistic, the compelling story will appeal to reluctant readers, especially boys.

 

Book review: Until I Find Julian, by Patricia Reilly Giff

Giff, Patricia Reilly. Until I find Julian. Wendy Lamb Books, 201. 151 pgs. $16.95. ISBN:978-0-385-74482-9. Gr. 5+. P8 Q8

Giff Until I Find JulianThe race for the presidency of the United States has started and one of the topics that is being discussed is the eleven million undocumented immigrants here in the United States. There are many ideas that are being suggested to solve the problem. Whether we will ever be able to come up with an answer I don’t know. In this story, Julian has gained access to America illegally and has been sending money home to Mexico to help his family. When the letters and money stop coming, his family knows that something is wrong. Mateo, Julian’s younger brother, leaves to go to “El Norte” to cross the border into the USA. What the author delivers is a unique view of the hazards that people face on their journey to cross our border. Maybe the answer to this problem is to be better educated and to offer other means and access to those who want to gain admission to the USA. I loved this book because it did educate me and I gained a better understanding of the dangers that those eleven million may have faced.

November 2015 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: If You’re Reading This, by Trent Reedy

Reedy, Trent. If You’re Reading This. Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic Inc., 2014. 296 pages. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-43342-6. Ages 12+. P7Q8

Reedy If Youre Reading ThisThis novel follows the story of Mike who is trapped between his overprotective mother, the inspiration of his dead father, and his own drive to fit in at school. Seven years after his father died in the war in Afghanistan, sixteen-year-old Mike starts receiving letters from him full of advice about growing up and being a man. During this time he also decides to take a risk and secretly go out for the football team against his mother’s wishes. The story revolves around a boy learning how to grow up without a father and suddenly finding that missing advice that he has so desperately needed. Although the story is not as sad as I was expecting, it definitely has moments were it pulls on the heart strings and makes you stop and think.

September 2015 review by Beverly Minard.

Book review: The Walled City, by Ryan Graudin

Graudin, Ryan. The Walled City. Little Brown and Company, 2014. $18.00. ISBN 9780316405058. 424 pgs. Ages 13+. P8Q7.

Graudin Walled CityThis book really captured my imagination, largely because of the fascinating setting. Dai, Jin, and Mei Yee are three teens who, for different reasons, find themselves in trouble in Hak Nam, the Walled City. The storylines of the three characters become connected, and in the end, they depend on each other for their survival. In the book, Hak Nam (which translates as City of Darkness) is a mysterious, dark, and dangerous place. It is a slum area which is physically walled off from Hong Kong itself, and is run by violent criminal gangs. The book takes the readers into a world of prostitution, drug use (opium and heroin), and violence, including a rape and murder. However, the description of the worst scenes isn’t terribly graphic. Sensitive readers will understand what is happening, however, and the book could be disturbing. Dai, Jin and Mei Yee need to get out of the Walled City- there is a real feeling of urgency as the book progresses to get them out before all is lost. At the end, the storylines come together and we understand how the three characters came to be in this dark place, and why there is such pressure for them to leave. I was left wanting more- more description of the place and more development of the characters. This book could have been developed into one of those thousand page epics. Despite this, it was a satisfying read.

As I said at the beginning, the best part of the book, for me, was the setting, which lead me to investigate Hak Nam. It was a real place- Kowloon Walled City filled a 6.5 square acre area and was home to almost 33,000 people living in buildings up to 13 stories high, until the 90’s when it was demolished by the Chinese government. It had no real government; neither Britain nor China really wanted to take it on, so just left it to run itself. Besides the criminal syndicate (the Triads), the Walled City was a home to unlicensed factories and clinics (especially dental for some reason). Along with all of the darkness and despair, there was a huge amount of creativity and innovation present in this place, and the anarchic system somehow survived.

If you’re interested in learning more, I found some great sources of background information: a youtube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dj_8ucS3lMY) , and two websites: http://gadling.com/2009/11/04/dim-sum-dialogues-kowloon-walled-city/ and

http://www.architonic.com/ntsht/-harmonious-anarchy-revisiting-hak-nam-hong-kong-s-slum-city/7000463

May 2015 review by Carol Schramm.