Book review: Scary Sleepover, by Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Mike Malbrough

Bernstein, Ariel. Scary Sleepover. Illustrated by Mike Malbrough. (Warren & Dragon series, book 4). Viking, 2019. $14.99. ISBN 9780451481054. 90 Pages. Ages 6-10. P8 Q8 

What do you do when you have a fear and you are too embarrassed to tell your friend? Seven-year-old Warren has been invited to his friend Michael’s house for a sleep over. He fears that the scary stories will make him afraid and he will want to go home. Warren has a Dragon for a pet, but in reality, Dragon is a stuffed animal. With the help of his friend, Alison, he finds the courage to tell Michael how he feels. Will Michael make fun of him or understand? You will have to read the book to find out. The book has 12 short chapters, written from Warren’s point of view and is a quick read. Warren has a running outrageous word contest with Dragon throughout their adventures, which encourages readers to read nonsense words. When Warren refers to Dragon as his friend, the illustrations show Dragon larger than Warren. When other characters refer to Dragon, he is the size of a stuffed animal. Throughout the book , Michael refers to “one of his moms” which normalizes all types of families.

Verdict: Readers with fears or imaginary friends can relate to Warren. The theme of friendship, courage, imagination and respect come through clearly. LGBTQA+ inclusive with Michael having two moms. Readers will stay engaged and realize others have fears too. This is book 4 in the Warren & Dragon series, but it can easily stand alone. I highly recommend this book.

September 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Sea Sirens, by Amy Chu and Janet K. Lee

Chu, Amy and Janet K. Lee. Sea Sirens. (A Trot & Cap’n Bill Adventure). Viking, 2019. 140 pages. $20.99. ISBN: 9780451480163. Ages 8-14. P8Q9

Vietnamese American surfer girl, Trot and her rescued cat Cap’n Bill live for riding the waves, but Trot’s grandfather suffers from dementia.  The day Grandpa wanders away from the beachwhile Trot is catching one last wave, Trot’s mother grounds everyone—Trot, Grandpa, and Cap’n Bill.  Disobeying her mother, Trot and the cat head for the beach for one last chance to surf, only to be caught in a monster wave which takes them into a fantasy kingdom under the sea.  When Grandpa follows Trot and Cap’n Bill under the sea, the three find themselves embroiled in a war between sirens—mermaids—and sea snakes.

Verdict: The full color cinematic illustrations of fantasy sea life and legendary creatures along with an unpredictable ending make this graphic novel especially appealing. The inclusion of Grandpa in the story shows not only a strong intergenerational relationship, but also demonstrates that people with dementia may still offer wisdom and creative solutions.  Recommended for middle school and public library collections.

June 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: From Here to There: The Story of How We Transport Ourselves and Everything Else, by HP Newquist

Newquist, HP. From Here to There: The Story of How We Transport Ourselves and Everything Else. Viking, 2017. $18.99. ISBN 9780451476456. 123 pgs. Ages 10+. P6Q8

This history of transportation and how human mobility has affected our history and development was written for the Smithsonian.  The first chapter begins, “Survival depends on moving, and for humans that begins with two legs and two feet.” The author looks at the earliest examples of footwear, and how the development of different kinds of shoes helped humans advance. Then we move on to snowshoes, skis, skates, and more. Subsequent chapters look at water travel, wagons, cars, trains, and air and space transportation. Each chapter has a different color scheme and specific graphic markers, and is supported by photographs and reproductions of art work found in the Smithsonian. I enjoyed the scope of the book- the topic is enormous, and the sections are very broad, but the author manages to organize the material in a way that keeps you interested. I really liked the inclusion of a lot of social history, like details about the bicycle changed the social behavior and public perception of women, and even how women dressed. There is a page of the author’s resources (mostly websites), and an index. It was voted one of the best STEM Books of 2018.

VERDICT: This book will be a good addition to public and school libraries. It may be a useful resource to supplement social studies and history classes, and is interesting enough that kids may pick it up just to browse.

May 2019 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: The Game of Hope, by Sandra Gulland

Gulland, Sandra. The Game of Hope. Viking, 2018. $18.99. 379p. ISBN 978-0-425-29101-6. Ages14+. P6Q6

The massacre of the French Revolution led to France’s takeover by Napoleon Bonaparte with his coup in 1799. The author of a trilogy about Josephine Bonaparte, Napoleon’s wife of 14 years, addresses the life of her daughter Hortense, 15, and her teenage friends including Adèle Auguié, Hortense’s cousin Émilie, and Bonaparte’s sister Carolina in a boarding school outside Paris during the years before and after the coup. The narrative follows their hard work in their studies and the crushes they develop on the military men around them.

Verdict: The period details and Hortense’s emoting result in a leisurely historical novel about life of the upper class. The terrors of the Revolution are lightly touched on, and the characters are flat. The plot deals with Hortense’s struggle to be happy, but the factual material in the afterword reveals her future to be different. For the most dedicated readers of romantic historical fiction.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, by Steven Johnson

Johnson, Steven. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. Viking. 2018. $19.99. 152p. ISBN 9780-425-28778-1. Ages 12-15. P7Q9

Those who live in comfortable settings rarely reflect on the creative minds that give us warmth, technology, and safety plus clean food and water. The chapters in this book following the history of science—Glass, Cold, Sound, Clean, Time, and Light—trace these subjects back to prehistoric times to connect the dots of discoveries leading to electricity, health, and other advantages that give security.

Verdict: About the adult version of this book, satirist and writer, Jon Stewart stated, “An unbelievable book … It’s an innovative way to talk about history.” Johnson’s fascinating connections are similar to the twists of mystery plots, and this adaptation for young readers may lead some of them to the original for adults, published in 2016.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Night Door, by Frank Cammuso

Cammuso, Frank. The Night Door. (Edison Beaker Creature Seeker series). Viking, 2018. $15.99. 160p. ISBN 978-0-425-29192-4. Ages 8-12. P8Q8

Creator of the Knights of the Lunch Table has another fun-filled graphic novel series, this one featuring a boy, his younger sister Tesla, and her pet hamster as they find themselves embroiled in Uncle Earl’s extermination business—that exterminates monsters. When the children fail to “stay in the van,” as their uncle orders, they get caught in a creepy warehouse filled with slapstick horror as they try to find their escaped hamster.  The search for a missing hamster leads two siblings into a monstrous underworld.

Verdict: Fast-paced humor in a different world will engage young readers with enough unfinished pieces to keep readers wanting the sequel.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Meet the Latkes, by Alan Silberberg

Silberberg, Alan. Meet the Latkes. Viking, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-451-47912-9. Ages 5-8. P8Q8

Punny language and funny stories provide a joyous explanation to the celebration of Hanukkah as Grandpa tells the story of a king who failed to destroy the Jewish temple because Judah and his “giant bees” stopped him. The story continues with protecting the temple from alien potatoes from Planet Chhhhh. It’s the family dog who manages to get the story accurate. And did I mention that the “Latkes” are a family of Jewish potato pancakes?

Verdict: Young readers who know the background of Hanukkah will call out corrections, and those who don’t will learn about another culture through giggles and delight in the colorful, action-filled illustrations.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.