all ages · nonfiction

NonFiction Friday: Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different by Ben Brooks

The world has changed since I was a girl. I used to believe that our society placed too much pressure on girls and not enough on boys. When I was younger I felt like I had to be strong in a dress and pretty in pants. I had to follow all of the rules or ruin my reputation but boys could do whatever they wanted. This pressure didn’t originate with my parents, it just felt like a tangible reality to me. As a grew I saw that wasn’t always true. It wasn’t all boys that were free. It was just the sporty, rich, white kids who grew up fairly free of society’s constant micro-corrections.

I still argue that our society places too much pressure on girls. New books and movies are coming out all of the time that feature the myriad of different ways to be a “girl.” I think we have all seen this book prominently displayed.

strongisthenewpretty

This is a great book. But, my concern is that this book and all of the other inspirational books for girls are still leaving out a major component of equality: boys. All of these books let girls know that it is ok to be different – to be more than “pretty.” Meanwhile, for most of child hood boys had two choices: sporty and not-sporty (also known as “cool” and “not cool”).

It still happens. Just take a five to fourteen-year-old boy anywhere with you. The first thing well-intentioned strangers want to know is, “do you plan any sports?” I know they are just trying to make a connection with the kid, but it is always awkward when the response is, “no, no sports for me.” The whole conversation falls to a deafening silence.

storiesforboysThis is why I was enormously pleased to find Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different, True Tales of Amazing Boys Who Changed The World Without Killing Dragons by Ben Brooks. This books features thirty-seven examples of individuals who don’t fit most pre-determined “manly man” roles. Furthermore, many of them, like Percy Shelly and Daniel Anthony, make a clear connection between how allowing boys to embrace their differences directly supports equality and opportunities for women.

This struck me as wonderful. I believe the more we encourage people to be themselves the more comfortable they are with differences in others. If we can support variety in boys maybe they in turn will naturally accept diversity around them. If boys can be chefs and computer geniuses then women can be CEOs and teachers and everything in between. There is no “normal” way to be successful that is predetermined by your gender.

This lovely illustrated book for middle grade students also features: transgendered people, people with disabilities, kings, nature enthusiasts, NASA astronauts, artists and many more. The people chosen come from all around the world, are all different ages, and represent many people of color. It starts with a boy and shows how their unique perspective changed the world. Each mini-biography is only a page long and is accompanied by an illustration making it easy to read solo or fun to read together.

The more we tell all children that it is a good thing to be themselves, the more we foster that thought across the generations and throughout our society. It isn’t up to just the girls to explore the uniqueness of ourselves or break the mold – many boys have similar struggles. That is why I highly encourage both of these books to be read by both genders. Boys needs to know that strong is pretty just as much as girls need to see how wonderfully diverse boys can be.


Tell me, please!

Have you read either of these books?


 

all ages · Audible · Fantasy · SeriousSeriesLove

Magical Non-Fiction Friday: Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling

I am sitting for my O.W.Ls this month through the OWL Readathon hosted by G at Book Roast and I am more excited than I can possibly explain. The universe must sense my excitement because the library delivered an audiobook version of Fantastic Beasts early last evening. This is just one more reason I never make it through a predetermined list of books – my wonderful library! I sat down with my illustrated copy of the book and listened to the audiobook simultaneously and had an amazing two hours of total immersion in the world of Fantastic Beasts.

fantasticbeastsThe audiobook is narrated by Eddie Redmayne in the very same clipped manner he gives to the sweet Newt Scamander he plays on film. However, unlike the shy film version of Newt, the audiobook personality is the knowledgable and excited Newt that we see, briefly, when he is talking about his fantastic beasts. Matched with the gorgeously illustrated Fantastic Beasts I sat like a child and listened to the whole book in one sitting.

If you have previously read this book, you know that it is filled with footnotes. Footnotes can be extremely annoying in audiobooks but this one has the most savvy and smooth use of auditory footnotes I have ever experienced. In addition there are animal sound effects that add that special little bit of interest to what is, basically, a fake non-fiction book. If you have a hard time with audiobooks or you are trying to get a child interested in the platform, this would be an amazing place to start. And, at only two hours long, it is easy to successfully complete the whole book.

If you have the opportunity to listen to the audiobook, I highly recommend it. And, if you already own a copy of this beautiful illustrated book or can use kindle unlimited to read along, it is a wonderful experience that I cannot recommend enough!


Tell me, please!

Have you ever listened to an audiobook while you simultaneous read one?


 

all ages · Audio Book · Science Fiction

A New Hope: The Princess, The Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken

The worst thing about writing only positive reviews is when you go through a terrible dry patch. Combine that with a fairly deep and weird non-reading period and it looks like I have abandoned my reviewing completely! But, the good news is that I am baaaack!

princessscoundrelfarmboyI tried listening to a LOT of audiobooks over the past few weeks. I am burned out with a specific style and so I turned to a completely new genre. Well, a new audiobook book genre anyway. I borrowed The Princess, The Scoundrel and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken from my local library. Admittedly, I briefly considered not listening to it when the introduction marked the book as a re-telling of A New Hope but this whole mood reading can only go on for so long. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and finish a book! I am so glad that I persevered because this is an excellent audiobook.

Told in three parts by two extremely talented narrators, this book transported me back to the magic that was my first Star Wars experience. Aided by sound effects and selections from John Williams original score, the audiobook reminded me of my beloved Star Wars, A New Hope LP.  Here though, the author cleverly expands the inner thoughts and experiences of the three main characters to give me what all Star Wars fans want most: more Star Wars. Listening to Leia’s childhood reflections, her concerns regarding her usefulness to the Rebellion, Han’s growing admiration for both Leia and Luke and his fear of losing them, and Luke’s introduction and growing awareness of the Force stayed so true to Star Wars canon without becoming trite. It is glorious!

The whole time I was listening I could not stop thinking that this audiobook might be the perfect way to introduce young children (or older new fans) to Star Wars. The audiobook gives all the excitement and adventure, as well as wonderful character development, as the movies but without some of the scarier visual images that the film so masterfully uses. While there is no replacement for the first time you see Darth Vader’s cape fan out as he stalks down the corridor with The Imperial March thundering in your ears, this audiobook is an auditory treat. And, since I loved it after seeing the film countless times, it would be perfect for new fans and rabid older fans alike.

I have to mention as well that this book has a wonderful theme. Star Wars is my basis for explaining everything but I have never really considered how these characters break societal and self-imposed labels during their adventures. Leia is more than a Princess, Han is only a Scoundrel when he wants to be and Luke is SO much more than a Farmboy. How the world sees them and even how they label themselves changes and grows  during their time together and it is wonderful to behold. It is also an important message to send children – you can change who you are and you can change how you think about people.

I cannot recommend this audiobook enough! Whether you’ve enjoyed Star Wars since childhood or are a reluctant (but curious) fan, this is a wonderful retelling.


Tell me, please!

If you aren’t a Star Wars fan, what is holding you back?


 

all ages · Fantasy · Middle Grade

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

assasinationOnly a middle grade book can successfully disguise itself as a spy thriller wrapped in fantasy and still educate its reader about the value of perspective and the importance of cultural awareness. The hilarious (or tragic!) story of The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin pays homage to the famous travel writers of history while poking fun at the experiences of trying to bring your own ideals to a new land.

At first glance the book appears to mimic Brian Selznick’s work with the story alternating between written and illustrated sections. But, unlike the art in The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the illustrations in Spurge tell a completely different story then the narration. And this insanely clever trick beautifully demonstrates how a different perspective and upbringing can result in two entirely different experiences even when two people are in the same place at the same time.

In Spurge the elfin historian Brangwain Spurge has been sent on a mission to spy on the goblin city. Unfortunately, Goblin archivist Warfel thinks he is hosting an emissary and plans for the two to become great friends! As Warfel proudly shows Spurge around his beloved neighborhood and city and introduces him to important people he becomes more and more discouraged by Spurge’s attitude. And then he discovers Spurge’s underlying plan! What will Warfel do with the spy?

Warfel is the foreign host we all hope to have when we travel into unknown lands. He is kind and proud and willing to put his good name, reputation and even his life on the line to keep his guest comfortable. Sadly, even without the spying Spurge is the annoying and judgmental guest who comes into a land already prepared to hate everything he sees. Still, watching the characters grow and change was an absolute delight.

This book was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award and it shows. In addition, I can only imagine how useful this story would be to parents and teachers for explaining how perspective, culture, and history (especially of conquered peoples) vastly alters our present experiences. And, more importantly, how without frank dialogue and an open mind, neither side will be able to see from the other’s point of view.

If you aren’t already convinced by my glowing review, please check out the funny book trailer by the authors here.


Tell me, please!

Do you find that YA and Middle Grade books are often more poignant in delivering messages than adult books?


all ages · FrighteninglyGoodRead

FGR #3 The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

housewithclocks
An orange and black cover featuring a tomb with two boys entering. Over the tomb is an orange cloud in the shape of a skull. A sticker reads, “Soon to be a Major Motion Picture.”

Lewis Barnavelt features in almost a dozen of John Bellairs mystery books and he is, without a doubt, my favorite thing about The House With a Clock in Its Walls. Orphaned at age 10, Lewis must relocate to New Zebedee to live with his Uncle Jonathan. This popular trick of orphaning the main character gives Lewis the usual freedom of an unsupervised child. And, while Lewis does make the mistakes any ten year old would without the guidance of an adult, it is how he copes that opened my heart to him.

Lewis is a big kid. Not in height but in girth. The story, set in 1948, has little to do with that but because of his shape Lewis is ridiculed and mocked. And, of course, the one friend he does make manages to get him into supernatural trouble.  Still, Lewis does not become mean or spiteful. Instead, he takes comfort in good books and hot cocoa. And he recognizes when the one friend he has is not worthy of his time. Ah… to be so wise at ten.

Perhaps this is I loved this book. It wasn’t scary or even spooky. Instead it was more like any other well written children’s book – a story about one thing with an important life lesson deftly nestled inside of it. Because of this I would absolutely recommend this to an all-ages audience. And, it has enough magic and ghosts to be a light Frighteningly Good Read.

I am headed to see the film tomorrow and I can predict with a near certainty that I will love Jack Black as Uncle Jonathan. But I am already disappointed that Lewis is a slender and standard looking child actor. I would have loved to see Hollywood tackle this angle.


Tell me, please!

Have you read any other John Bellairs?


all ages · Fantasy · fiction

Bob by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass

One of my 2018 challenges was to not purchase any books until I had read my already owned whole shelf of books. I did really well in January and February and then fell off the wagon….hard. I wrote down my newly purchased books for some of March but then I just couldn’t even keep track. Now I am not even trying. Recently, I went into Barnes and Noble to wander around (the lie all book lovers tell themselves upon entering a book store). I stumbled across an a few must-purchase books and I could not resist the sweet premise of Bob by Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass.

BobFive years ago Olivia (Livy to her friends) visited her Gran in Australia. Now that she is back she can’t help but feel that she is forgetting something. Something really, really important. Maybe it is the little green man dressed in a handmade chicken suit hiding in her closet. His name is Bob and he has been waiting for her all this time. She promised to help him and now its time to keep that promise.

This sweet little book left me sighing with pure happiness. Olivia and Bob’s friendship is pure and wrapped in the protective bubble of childhood that seems to disintegrate slightly during adolescents. The mystery of what Bob is and why Livvy struggles to remember him only adds to their bond.

This adorable book is well written and sweet. For adults, this is a one hour read. I can imagine this book would be a one week to ten day read aloud. Either way, it really make me think about memories, friendships, and how childhood adventures can sculpt our future lives.


Tell me, please!

Was there a childhood moment that defines magic to you?


all ages · historical fiction

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

trueconfessionsofcharlotteI picked up The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi from a used bookstore after I started seeing it everything. It was on display in bookstores, at the library and on required reading lists at the local schools. I must confess, while I hated required reading when I was in school I have grown almost fanatical in my desire to read everything on those lists in my adulthood. This might just be my “adult” reason for reading excellent children’s literature.

Charlotte is not a book I would have chosen without other encouragement. Frankly, I might still not have read it except for the lure of the used book store price. Even then it sat on my shelf for close to a year before I finally started the story. My reluctance stems directly from my fear of boats and more specifically being stuck on boats.  And the synopsis only added to my fear.

“An ocean voyage of unimaginable consequences.”

“Not every thirteen-year old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guiltygbv. But, I was just such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago. Be warned, however: If strong ideas and action offend you, read no more. Find another companion to share your idle hours. For my part I intend to tell the truth as lived it.”

I was as terrified for Charlotte the whole story long as I was enchanted by the prior owner of this books use of sparkly pens to circle unknown vocabulary. Charlotte is stuck on a boat, friendless and at sea and we know someone will be murdered. I just kept thinking, “if sparkly pen can see this to the end so can I!” Otherwise, I may have stopped reading when the boat first left the shore.

And Charlotte is more than a historical fiction story about murder at sea. I was once a thirteen-year old girl myself. Charlotte’s voice and experiences may have happened nearly 200 years ago but all thirteen-year old girls struggle to emerge into womanhood the way Charlotte did. We want to be treated like adult women and admired in our society in one way or another but the illusions from our childhood and nativity can twist our understanding of our role. For most young women awkwardness is the paramount sensation. For Charlotte, her life was at stake.

This is an beautifully written story that I found terrifying and lovely all at once. I grew to adore Charlotte and the crew and I was elated to discover that the author has put Charlotte in other books. All in all, I am thrilled that it is my first book of 2018!


 

all ages · FrighteninglyGoodRead · Halloween2017

Frighteningly Good Reads #7

Recently I was coerced into watching the Amazon original show, The Worst Witch. Truthfully, this is not the best filmmaking I have ever seen. The “magical” moments were definitely not million dollar blue screen shots. However, the story telling was absolutely on point. It follows a girl struggling to better herself even though she is considered “the worst” in her class. It was so endearing that I watched the remainder of the entire series.

apprentice witchSo, when I saw The Apprentice Witch I had to check it out. This book by James Nicol begins with our witch, Arianwyn, flunking her Witch’s assessment. However, since there is such a great need for Witches she is assigned to a little town called Lull as an Apprentice Witch. There she works she learns to become more and more confident in her abilities. And, it is working. With each spells cast and charm mended Arianwyn becomes more confident in her abilities. Then, sinister darkness appears out of the woods and Arianwyn is challenged by a force that would thwart even the most talented and seasoned Witch.

Maybe this selection takes the Frighteningly out of the FGR but it was such an adorable and fun book that I had to add it to my selections for October 2017. Arianwyn is a good person who chooses friendship over personal success and makes mistakes while learning.

For me, the supporting characters are often the biggest draw in a book. And these supporting characters come in all shapes and sizes. Arianwyn has to cope with being assigned her first post while on Witching probation and a long term visit from her rival Witch from school – Gimma. Gimma was a great foil for Arianwyn and her blossoming friendship with Salle. Truthfully, people like Gimma have managed to manipulate me my whole life and I went back and forth between hope that they would finally become friends and cheering for Arianwyn to crush her.

There was also Wyn’s new friendship with Lull townie Salle that had the realistic element of awkward hope that seems to be true of all new friendships – no matter how old you become. And maybe this is what I enjoy the most about children’s books. They allow us to learn over and over again what every child and adult needs to know. How to become a better person.


Tell me, please!

Are there any not-so-spooky stories on your TBR for this month?


 

all ages · Challenges · historical fiction · Uncategorized

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

thewarsaved

I have been seeing this book everywhere. It is on display at all of my favorite bookstores both major and minor. I didn’t pick it up because I was sure it was going to be bad-sad (that sadness that feels foisted upon you by authors). Finally, I requested it from my local library because I wanted to give it a chance. I am so glad I tried it.

This book is Ada’s story but it so much more. Ada is nine (maybe) and her brother Jamie is six in 1939 when Hitler has begun to threaten England. Children are being sent to the country for safety. We have all read this story haven’t we?

But, this is where author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley changes the tune. Ada is not just poor and unloved by her cruel Mother. She was born with a clubfoot. In 1939 having a clubfoot was treatable but Ada received no medical attention for her’s and has been kept in her one room apartment in London nearly her entire life.

Whenever I read stories of London’s children being sent to the country during World War II I am struck but the terrible decisions families made to keep their children safe. As a kid, I couldn’t dream of being away from my parents. As an adult, I cannot imagine handing a child over to a stranger on the other side of a train.

But, for Ada, could this separation might be her salvation? Since the book is called, The War that Saved My Life, it is a good guess that the answer is yes. But, what I think made this book really magical was the way being in the country affected Ada.

I loved this book so much I had to own it. I cannot wait to read the sequel The War I finally Won because all of these characters because very dear to me. So, if you enjoy historical fiction or are participating in the When Are you Reading Challenge like I am, this is a fantastic juvenile fiction novel.


 

all ages · historical fiction · Uncategorized

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

I picked this book up because the cover caught my eye. And the tag line on the front reads, “The Inquisitor’s Tale Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog.” I was sold. It took me a fair bit of time to get around to reading it but I just finished it and I must recommend it to all of you. It was a lovely story!

inquisitorstaleThe Inquisitor’s Tale is set in 1242 and features three unique children from different backgrounds and a dog. The dog, Gwenforte, is a white greyhound who has died (don’t stop reading! Remember, its a Holy dog!). The peasant, Jeanne, is fierce and honest and has visions that show her glimpses of the future. Jacob is a young Jewish boy and his story touched my heart the most. Then there is William, a young monk with tremendous strength. These children are “magical” or blessed with “powers” but their story really comes from the people who met them.

The combination of the setting, France in the Medieval Ages, and the way the story unfolds was quite reminiscent of Chaucer’s, The Canterbury Tales. Throughout the story someone is collecting the stories of these children. We hear about them through a Nun, a Brewster, a Librarian, and many other interesting people all of have gathered in a small French inn. The dog’s story and that of the children was woven together so well and so smoothly. But, I also enjoyed the peek into the mannerisms and lives of all the characters who told their tale.

Adam Gidwitz really captures the time period in this book. If you read the note at the end, the author’s explains the inspiration and background for the story. I didn’t need that to help me understand how much work had gone into this book. The whole thing really felt like I was in Medieval France.

This was a really enjoyable tale. I have a difficult time finding well written Children’s Historical Fiction and this is one of the best I have read yet. The fact that it checks the box in my pre-1500’s When Are You Reading Challenge is just the halo on my holy dog.


Tell me, please!

Children’s Historical Fiction – Does it interest you?