Book review: Have Sword, Will Travel, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Nix, Garth, and Sean Williams. Have Sword, Will Travel. Scholastic, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780545259026. Ages 10-14. P7Q

Small, quicksilver Eleanor wants to be a knight, like her mother.  Odo, the miller’s son, is brawny, but has no desire to leave their small village.  However, the once mighty Silverrun River has slowed to a trickle and as the two friends fish for eels, they find a magical sword which chooses Odo as its knight, leaving Ellie to be the squire.  The two friends and the sword– Hildebrand Shining Foebiter (Biter for short)—take on the quest to free the dying river, facing and solving numerous problems along the way.

Verdict: Australian authors Nix and Williams have worked together on previous books, though Williams has not been published in the United States as often as has Garth Nix.  Have Sword, Will Travel is a solid fantasy for middle grade readers that shows both protagonists growing and changing as they accomplish their quest.  Highly recommended for public, middle and high school libraries.  This story leaves room for sequels, so be prepared to purchase not only the first, but also subsequent titles.

January 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

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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: The Bad Guys in The Furball Strikes Back, by Aaron Blabey

Blabey, Aaron. The Bad Guys in The Furball Strikes Back. (Bad Guys series, book 3) Scholastic, 2017. $5.99. 140p. ISBN 978-1-338-08749-9. Ages 6-10. P9Q9

After rescuing 10,000 chickens in Mission Unpluckable, the motley crew of “bad” guys turned into “The Good Guys Club” led by Mr. Wolf face more danger from Dr. Marmalade, the evil mad scientist guinea pig, was wants revenge for the chicken rescue. Mr. Wolf is captured along with the snake and the shark, leaving the piranha and tarantula to save the day. Fortunately, the ninja-like Special Agent Fox steps in to help, but Mr. Wolf’s crush on her may cause more problems. The simple illustrations on large, sometimes full-page panels, are full of shouting in bold, all caps type that contribute to the excitement.

Verdict: Well laid out and simple, the drawings clearly show the different creatures, and the crazy humor, including the group’s in-fighting dialog, is non-stop. Although the graphic novel can be read without the first two books in the series, reading those two books first would enhance the enjoyment. A wonderful sequel by the Australian author with a short taste of the crew’s fourth adventure against an army of zittens—zombie kittens.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward

Book review: Why Am I Me?, by Paige Britt, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Britt, Paige. Why am I Me?.  Illustrated by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko. Scholastic Press, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9781338053142. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q8

Have you ever wondered why you are you and not someone else?  Using illustrations created with acrylic paint, colored pencils and collage, this book explores why we are who we are. Simple and repetitive text allows for contemplation and exploration while the illustrations are full of children with diverse ethnic backgrounds engaged in activities. The author asks the questions who we are, but does not answer the question, which stimulates a discussion on why we are who we are. Along with celebrating diversity, one will realize that we are all important and while sometimes we wish to be like others, others may also wish to be like us. One page just has one word on it and the background is a star and planet.

Verdict: This book celebrates diverse cultures and is a valuable book for any children’s library. It was included on the Publishers Weekly Best Books for 2017 list.

December 2017 review by Tami Harris

Book review: Thelma the Unicorn, by Aaron Blabey

Blabey, Aaron. Thelma the Unicorn. Scholastic Press, 2017. $14.95. ISBN 9781338158427. Unpaged. Ages 3-8. P8 Q8

If you like pink, glitter and unicorns, you will love Thelma the Unicorn. Thelma is a pony who wishes to become a unicorn. She ties a carrot to her nose and has a run in with pink paint and glitter. This results in her becoming a unicorn! However, things do not turn out how she had imagined. The cover of the book is raised sliver glitter. Children will be captivated by Thelma and also learn that what we wish may not be all we think it will be.

Verdict: Through Thelma’s experience, children will see how they are special the way they are–they do not need to be something else. We do not need to be something else to be special, we are special just the way we are.  Highly recommended for young children’s libraries.

December 2017 review by Tami Harris

Book review: Robinson, by Peter Sís

Sís, Peter. Robinson. Scholastic, 2017. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-73166-9. Ages 4-8. P8Q8

A childhood memory of being uncomfortable on Halloween leads the three-time Caldecott Honor winner from a party where children dressed as pirates make fun of his Robinson Crusoe costume to an imaginary trip to a Caribbean island while he lies asleep with a fever. The pen, ink, and watercolor go from yellows and sepia tones to predominantly blues and greens during his survival on the lush island.

Verdict: Sís’ detailed art of the children and his creation of temporary home and friends with the many animals and plants are reminiscent of children’s drawings as in Madelenka. Although this may appeal to young readers, I prefer some of his earlier work such as Tibet through the Red Box and Starry Messenger. 

November 2017 review by Nel Ward.

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).]