July Book Pick: Mouse Bird Snake Wolf by David Almond

mousebird

In an empty world with lazy gods three children decide to fill in the gaps by creating their own animals.  They start with a little mouse, and when that doesn’t cause any trouble–or rouse the gods from their naps–they create progressively larger animals.  David Almond and Dave McKean create an unusual story that won’t appeal to every reader, much less every child.  Because despite it’s dark tone, scary moments, and philosophical musings, it is a book that is aimed at children, ages 8 to 12.   Though I think that anyone with an interest in fantastic storytelling or McKean’s art will want to give this book a chance.

Mouse Bird Snake Wolf is a fable that opens up more questions than it answers.  The power of imagination, the nature of evil, taking creative risks.  These aren’t easy ideas, but Almond and McKean have a way of making them really quite beautiful–if a bit dangerous.  Not for sensitive readers, most likely.  Nor for anyone who doesn’t like the idea of lazy gods or alternative creation stories.  I’ll also note that the female gods are topless, and in a couple of illustrations there is a glimpse of boobs.  Assuming none of those things are an issue, this is a must read.

mousebird2

 

Other reviews: The Guardian and Waking Brain Cells.  You might also be interested in this post about  what we can learn from fairy tales.

Miss last month’s Book Pick?  Check out Rapture Practice.

May Book Pick: Formerly, Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham

formerlysharkgirlWhen I’m talking to people about my prosthetic arm, I am quick to point out that I was born this way and that I’ve been wearing a prosthesis since before I can remember.  Most people assume that there was some kind of accident and subsequent rehabilitation, and they often ask questions around that assumption.

Then since I’m a children’s librarian by trade, people will bring up Izzy Willy Nilly–a book in which a teenage girl loses a leg in a car accident–and I try to differentiate my experience from this classic teen novel that tends to be a lot of people’s only context for limb deficiency.  Izzy’s situation in the book is just as different to me as it is to anyone else.  There isn’t as much in common as you might think.  I’ve said those sentences many times over the years.

But, honestly… I’m kind of lying.  Well, let’s call it exaggerating.  I do have a few key commonalities with Izzy in that book and with Jane, the main character in my Book Pick for May, Formerly, Shark Girl.  Izzy, Jane, and I all live with a lot of assumptions about who we are and what our lives are like.  We are heroes or victims.  Inspirations or curiosities.  But we’d like to be more.

This is an uplifting novel about the big life decisions that will appeal to fans of realistic teen fiction, especially if you like novels in verse.  But it’s also an opportunity to challenge your assumptions about people who look different.

If you are curious about my story, you can check out Fake Arm 101 for answers to some frequently asked questions. You can also find more reading material on my list of books about various disability experiences.

Did you miss last month’s Book Pick?  Check it out: The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made from these links may benefit Proper Noun Blog.  Thanks for your support! :)

Book Review: If I Stay

If I StayIf I Stay by Gayle Forman

Anything can happen.  One moment you can be enjoying a spontaneous road trip with your family.  Then next you can be having an out-of-body experience while your clinging-to-life body lies in a hospital bed.

Not a ghost story, not a tear-jerker (though it may have some appeal for fans of either.  If I Stay is the story of 17 year-old Mia in the aftermath of a car crash that kills her family and leaves her gravely injured.  She watches the efforts to save her life and we watch as the narrative seemlessly flips between the emotionally taut present and the vividly drawn memories of her family, friends, and music.  The style reminded me a bit of one of my other favorite teen novels, Dana Reinhardt’s How to Build a House.  If I Stay is easily a new favorite.

Intense.  Beautiful.  Do not miss.

Awards & Honors: 2010 Teens Top Ten, 2010 Best Books for Young Adults, Booklist Starred Review

On the Wiki: Musicians

Book Review: Every Crooked Pot

Every Crooked PotEvery Crooked Pot by Renee Rosen

“Every crooked pot has a crooked top.”  This is the encouragement Nina’s larger-than-life father offers her to boost her confidence.  He also makes sure that Nina has the best treatment he can get her for the port wine stain that is in and around her eye.  No matter what her father says, though, Nina is the one who has to face the kids that call her “Big Eye, Little Eye” in elementary school, and later in middle school when no one wants to be friends with the freaky girl.  This story has the feel of a memoir, and in fact much of it is based on the author’s life. The 1970’s setting and topics like losing virginity and life after high school give this teen novel crossover appeal to adults who are interested in looking back on these aspects of childhood and young adulthood.  I felt a distinct nostalgia as I read.

Recommended to older teens or adults who are in the mood for a thoughtful read about a girl discovering who she is in relation to the way she looks and the way her family is.

On the Wiki: Disabilities in teen fiction, Losing Virginity in teen fiction

Book Review: Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon piqued my interest with an annotation that held promise of a “stunning” survival story after a nuclear attack.  I am not too proud to admit my interest in such stories, so I quickly procured a copy from my local library.

The title refers to a code agreed upon by two brothers in case of an end-of-the-world type of emergency.  It was the 1960’s, after all.   Our main character, Randy, isn’t given much time to prepare for the looming apocalypse but he has more time than most.  His home (and supplies) quickly become a refuge for family and friends in need, and we watch Randy slowly turn from failed politician with an alcohol problem to community leader and survivalist.

I can’t imagine it’s too realistic for a small area in Florida to be completely unaffected by radiation, but  I didn’t really expect post-apocalyptic fiction published in 1959 to be particularly realistic.  I also wasn’t expecting much in the way of character development.  With those expectations set aside, I can say that I was satisfied with the story.  Fascinated, even, with certain aspects of the how the group managed to survive and what their world was like after such a catastrophe.

Readers who liked Life As We Knew It who want more but aren’t quite ready for something quite as heavy as The Road (full disclosure: I was not quite ready for The Road) will probably like Alas, Babylon.  There was nothing particularly “stunning” about it, but it was a decent survival story that shows its age in a somewhat charming sort of way (if you will).

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2005)
Originally published 1959
More info: Wikipedia, Reading Group Guides
Read More: Dystopian Futures

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Review: Devil’s Paintbox

Aiden and Maddy have been fighting to survive on their own since their parents and siblings died. Most of their neighbors have moved on due to the harsh conditions in the Midwest in 1865. The two have stuck together, worked hard, and kept themselves alive. Barely. The kids take the first opportunity out of there, which turns out to be a wagon train bound for Seattle. The two promise to work in a logging camp as their ticket out of lonely survival living.

Like any good saga, the story covers a lot of ground. It is easy to lose yourself in the richness of the journey. I must admit that I was much more keyed into the cross country journey portion of the book over the life in the logging camp portion. Interesting subplots about small pox and vaccines tie the parts of the story together. It doesn’t always seem realistic, but the details make it clear that a lot of research went into getting the historical back drop just right. Fans of historical fiction, whether teens for not, will likely appreciate that. Elements of survival and adventure may draw in some readers, and patient readers will see this saga to its drawn out conclusion.   I was glued to the page for most of the book and found myself experiencing the whole range of emotions as the action in the book brought hope and despair again and again. I was fascinated by the details (including the author’s note), and some readers will likely be just as drawn in as I was.

The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan
Knopf (January 2009)
Honors: Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review, School Library Journal Starred Review
Blog Reviews: Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Talk, Inkweaver Review, Flamingnet Young Adult Book Blog
Read More: Teen Historical Fiction

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Book Review: Red Sings From the Treetops

Colors come alive in ways you wouldn’t expect with the poetry of Joyce Sidman and the art of of Pamela Zagarenski in this magical picture book.  I must admit I love Joyce Sidman’s books and Zagarenki’s art is just the sort that I would love, so I was sure I was going to love this book even before I picked it up.

I loved the way this book pulled me into the details.  It reminded me to notice the things that I am often too busy to see.  It was a lovely invitation to see each season as something new to explore.  I can’t recommend it enough.

Red Sings From the Treetops by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin (April 2009)
Audience: Anyone who loves poetry, but especially those in Kindergarten through second grade.

Reviewed from library copy

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate. I receive a percentage of the purchase price on any purchases made from links on this blog.