Book review: Penguin Day: A Family Story, by Nic Bishop

Bishop, Nic. Penguin Day: A Family Story. Scholastic Press, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9780545206365. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q8

The author combines beautiful photographs of penguins in their natural habitat, living their lives, along with simple text explaining how penguins live. The result is a beautiful picture book that children will enjoy. The photographs match the text and tell the story oft a family of penguins. The author spent three weeks photographing rockhopper penguins for this book. Severe gales and freezing temperatures often made things difficult for him.  End matter includes an  author’s note about rockhopper penguins.

Verdict: I highly recommend this book for all libraries for elementary aged children. Not only is the book beautiful, it depicts the life a family of penguins in story book form.

October 2017 review by Tami Harris.

[Editor’s note: Veteran photographer and naturalist Nic Bishop lists 41 children’s books and 5 books for adults on his website (http://nicbishop.com/index.html).  The 2011 Robert F. Sibert Medal was awarded to Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot, written by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).]

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Book review: Slappy Birthday to You, by R.L. Stine

Stine, R.L. Slappy Birthday to You.(Goosebumps: SlappyWorld, book 1). Scholastic, 2017. $6.99. ISBN 978-1-338-06828-3. 139 pages. Ages 8-12. P8Q6.

Ian’s father refurbishes dolls and gives Ian a ventriloquist’s dummy for his birthday. His cousins Vinny and Jonny are nuisances who tease Ian about the doll. It goes without saying that Slappy starts wreaking ruination, and Ian takes the blame.

Verdict: There has been an increase in interest in the Goosebumps books.

May 2017 review by Penny McDermott.

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 reviews: Take the Key and Lock Her Up, by Ally Carter

Carter, Ally. Take the Key and Lock Her Up. (Embassy Row series, #3) Scholastic, 2017. $17.99. 327p. ISBN 978-0-545-65495-1. Ages 13-16. P5Q5

In the third—and final—volume of this series, the heroine, Grace, has found that she is the target of assassins because she will inherit the kingdom of Adria. With her own life in danger, she feels responsible for saving the lives of her brother and the young man she loves. The plot of the book surrounds her attempts to survive.

Verdict: Earlier Carter series were much stronger. This one almost seemed as though the author was either bored with the writing or didn’t like protagonist. Although Carter specializes in lack of realism, this book lacked believability, for example the characters’ escape from a secret Russian mental institution and the way that they can jet around the world without any parental interference. Grace’s behavior was overly dramatic and the romance forced. Editing might have helped. For example, the following sentence: “I don’t know what the drug is, but my body can feel it long before the syringe touches my skin.” The book is recommended for libraries with the first two volumes.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Pig the Pug, by Aaron Blabey

Blabey, Aaron. Pig the Pug. Scholastic, 2017. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-338-11245-0. Ages 4-6. P9Q9

“Greedy and selfish” is the way that the author describes his leading man in this tale about the dog who refuses to share his toys with the dachshund, Trevor. Pig is so anti-sharing that he falls out the window after climbing on top of all his possessions. The broad comedy of the acrylic and pen/pencil illustrations on white watercolor paper extend to the bulging eyes, and the punny rhymes include “pugs cannot fly” about Pig’s fall. Young readers will appreciate Pig’s comeuppance because they most likely experience Pigness in their associates.

Verdict: Originally published in Australia in 2014, the irreverent story about contrasting personalities suffers a bit from lack of poetic scanning, but it will produce giggles if children understand that it’s delightfully ridiculous fiction.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Old Turtle: Questions of the Heart, by Douglas Wood, illustrations by Greg Ruth

Wood, Douglas. Old Turtle: Questions of the Heart. Illus. By Greg Ruth. Scholastic, 2017. $19.99. Unp. ISBN 978-0-439-32111-2. Ages 8-11. P3Q6

This companion piece to the earlier Old Turtle and Old Turtle and the Broken Truth continues to attempt an explanation of the mysteries of life to young children. In this one, five multiracial adults and a child seek the Old Woman, who can lead them to Old Turtle where they present their questions: Why are we here? How do we find happiness? Talk to us about evil. [understood by the Old Woman who takes them to the Old Turtle] Who are you and how will you live this day?

Verdict: Graphic pencils with digitally scanned watercolors, largely of golds and reds, provide a lovely desert backdrop, but the book is quite text-heavy. It is a didactic book with some good messages to be read by adults to patient children in very short doses.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: A Taste for Monsters, by Matthew J. Kirby

Kirby, Matthew J. A Taste for Monsters. Scholastic Press, 2016. $18.99. ISBN 9780545817844. 343 pages. Ages 12+. P7Q7

It’s 1888 in London, and Jack the Ripper is murdering women. Evelyn, whose hard life has hurt her emotionally and bodily (she is disfigured by Phossy Jaw or phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, caused by the white phosphorus used in match factories), begins working at the London Hospital as a maid to the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick. As Evelyn and Mr. Merrick, who is sweet and fragile, get to know each other, they are afflicted with ghostly visits from the unhappy spirits of Jack the Ripper’s victims. These visitations cause Mr. Merrick’s health to suffer, and Evelyn tries to resolve the mysteries to relieve his mind. There is a bit of romance, which turns out badly, but Evelyn is successful in resolving the situations that keep the ghosts restless, comes to terms with her own fears, and finds out who the Ripper is. All in all, it was a satisfying paranormal mystery that wasn’t too gory or explicit.

VERDICT: Young adults interested in the Victorian era and lovers of mysteries will enjoy reading this novel.

April 2017 review by Carol Schramm.