Wallach, Tommy. Strange Fire. Simon & Schuster, 2017. ISBN 978-1-4814-6838-1. $17.99. 400 pages. Ages 14 to adult. P6 Q7
A science versus religion, post-apocalyptic, American mid-west story with action and mystery. An asteroid has hit the earth, extinguishing most of humanity, over a thousand years ago. Within that time span the remaining peoples have created a new way of life including a new religion. The story begins with two families, and a protector traveling to the outer reaches of the known land to bring the word of God and the Daughter to the people who have no church or minister of their own. At their turn around point they come upon a man who appears to be dabbling in science, and everyone knows science is the root of what caused Earth’s destruction.
What I found interesting was the basis of the story from the religious perspective: Science caused the destruction of Earth and therefore any science related books or activity is considered anathema. But it was an asteroid that destroyed Earth, not scientific knowledge or experimentation. So, there either seems to be a message disconnect or I misinterpreted something along the way.
I liked the story and characters very much and I look forward to the sequel, but I wish there was a better explanation behind why science is anathema. Wallach’s religion seems very Christian based, “The Father, the Daughter, and Holy Gravity” (wouldn’t having gravity part of the holy trinity imply an acceptance of the scientific aspect of the law of gravity, and isn’t gravity what caused the asteroid to hit Earth?), which isn’t a bad thing, but because there are so many similarities to Christianity, is the author implying the religion modified itself through time, or was the author just lazy? Back to the Science thing. God’s Blood in the novel is oil for crying out loud. How can something so useful in a scientific sense be an integral part of their religion and not be construed as anathema?
Verdict: A good story in and of itself, but the writing left me questioning the premise of the story.
May 2018 review by Terri Lippert
Hurley, Jorey. Ribbit. Simon & Schuster, 2017. Unpaged. $16.99. ISBN 9781481432740. Ages 3-5. P8Q8
Simple, bold illustrations created in Photoshop combined with a single word in each 2-page spread introduce young children to the first year in the life cycle of the northern leopard frog. The changes from egg to tadpole, tadpole to polliwog, polliwog to froglet, and then to adult hibernating, before beginning the cycle again are given in the illustrations, though the words for the stages are not a part of the book. Even the ideas of frog as both predator and prey come through in the pictures.
Verdict: This introduction to the life cycle of frogs is an effective early science book. The visual design is striking, but the spare text does not introduce naming words such as tadpole. The author’s note at the end of the book does fill in some gaps, but may not be as useful for very young readers. Recommended for preschool, kindergarten and public library collections.
May 2018 review by Jane Cothron.
Kemp, Anna. Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes. Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. Simon & Schuster, 2011. Unpaged. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4814-3845-2. Ages 5-8. P7Q8
Daisy can’t get her parents to listen, they are always too busy, so when a purple pancake eating rhino shows up Daisy is delighted. He listens to Daisy. Daisy tries to tell her parents about him but they don’t believe her. They take her to the zoo to see a real rhino only to find that a big purple pancake eating rhino is missing. After they get the rhino on the plane for home, her parents listen until she runs out of things to say. Tomorrow however, Daisy would have more to tell.
VERDICT: This story illustrates the importance of listening and being heard.
December 2017 review by Patty Dodson.
Lowe, Natasha. Lucy Castor Finds Her Sparkle. Simon & Schuster, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 9781534401969. 231 pages. Ages 8-12. P7 Q8
Lucy likes magic, nests, and her best friend Ella. When she comes home from summer vacation, life has changed. Her friend Ella has joined a dance troupe and no longer cares about magic. Lucy wants life to remain the same is not happy to find that her mother is expecting a baby. As Lucy adjusts to life in the fourth grade, with the help of her teenage neighbor, Chloe, she makes new friends and realizes change is not always a bad thing. Lowe’s use of descriptive words enhance the story. Describing the magic wands, she writes, “It was as if the magic had leaked out, and all Lucy could see now were two old sticks covered in glitter and bits of moss. Like a little kid’s art project.” This easy to read, engaging story will hold the interest of readers. There are a few twists and turns that keep the reader wondering how things will turn out. The relationships between the characters form and grow as the story develops. Friendships are found in unexpected places and it teaches one to not look at a person’s outward appearance, but to take the time to get to know people. This book is very well written.
Verdict: It is a fact that life changes and does not stay the same. This book explores the value of change and how it can add to one’s life, encouraging the reader to embrace life as it comes and find the good in situations they encounter. While this book is a good read for all children, it is especially helpful for children who do not like change or children who are an only child with a sibling on the way. I highly recommend it for elementary school, public, and home libraries.
March 2019 review by Tami Harris.
Gravett, Emily. Old Hat. Simon & Schuster, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-5344-0917-0. Ages 3-7. P9Q9
Kate Greenway Medal winner and creator of such minimalist books as Orange Pear Apple Bear has brought young readers another fun-filled and thoughtful title exaggerating the pun “old hat.” Pencil, watercolor, and acrylic illustrations against alternating white and pale blue backgrounds highlight the attempt of Harbet (maybe a small white dog) to fit in with the other animals by emulating their hats. No matter what he does, Harbet’s always a half-step behind in copying their chapeaus, but they have already moved on to another crazy fashion style. Nothing works, not even reading Top Hat Magazine, until Harbet decides not to follow does he find instant success by deciding not to follow the others. When he takes off his hat and reveals the vivid feathers sprouting out of his head, he is the one who is being copied.
Verdict: Quirky creatures resembling a stork, a dinosaur, and a bear populate the pages as their headgear sports fruit, (“low in fat, high in fiber, and could provide 80% of his daily vitamins”), flashing lights, historic boats, and other wacky inventions. A gentle explanation about not bowing to peer pressure.
March 2018 review by Nel Ward.
Baskin, Nora Raleigh. Ruby On The Outside. Simon and Schuster, 2015. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-8503-7. 163 p. Gr. 4 – 7. P7Q7
Eleven year old Ruby’s mother is in prison and she hides that shameful secret from everyone at school. Finally, a girl Ruby’s age moves in to the apartment complex. Could Margalit be the friend that Ruby grows to trust enough to share the secret? It looks hopeful for the young girl, desperate for a best friend, until the connection between Ruby’s mom and Margalit’s family emerges.
Verdict: While this wasn’t a compelling page turner, I did find the narrator (Ruby) credible. She sounds like a middle schooler. Perhaps I’m jaded, but I thought the connection between Ruby and Maraglit’s family was too incredible to believe.
October 2016 review by Shelly Jones.
Salten, Felix. A Forest World. Simon and Schuster, 2013. $16.99 ISBN 9781442486386 282pgs. Ages 8-12. P6Q6.
Martin is a hunchback who lives with his family in the woods, Tambo is a buck that lives in the wild, and Manni is a curious donkey that wants to explore the wild. Each character has a different role in life, but all are intertwined. They learn that home is where they need and want to be, even if it can be dangerous. This book was slow at times, but I know of a few students who would read it. This book would be great for students who love nature. September 2014 review by Jo Train.
[Note: Originally published in German by the author of Bambi in 1942, A Forest World was translated by Paul R. Milton and Sanford Jerome Greenburger. This new edition reintroduces a classic work to a new generation.]