Tea Rex by Molly Idle

Tea Rex coverIf you’ve never invited a Tyrannosaurus Rex to tea, clearly you’re missing out. In Tea Rex, Molly Idle instructs young readers in the proper etiquette for a polite and dignified tea party: welcome your guest, offer a variety of tasty snacks, and engage him or her in conversation. Her illustrations depict two children — a dainty little girl in a giant hat and a little boy who fully appreciates the noisy joy of their guest — trying very hard to live up to the stated expectations while things get more and more out of hand. In the midst of happy chaos, there’s just the barest hint of a moral. If a guest needs to drink his tea from a giant hat and have room to swing his tail to be comfortable, good manners might be a lot more interesting than we thought.

I loved the combination of dinosaur and tea party, and the casual presence of both brother and sister at the tea table. Tea Rex skips over stereotypes to tell a story that anyone can enjoy for its humour and its familiarity — who hasn’t planned something out and had it turn out terribly wrong just the same? Idle’s illustrations carry the weight of the story, and do so beautifully. Soft and colourful, full of activity and silly details, they strike a balance between gentility and playfulness that fits the tone of the story just right.

Read more reviews from Three Books a Night and Publishers Weekly.

A sweet book trailer:

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave coverIn a post-apocalyptic world, Cassie feels like she is the last human alive. When the alien mothership loomed closer towards Earth, no one could have predicted what was to happen. The first wave took away their lives, the second took away hope of reconciliation, the third left only the few (both lucky and unlucky) survivors, and the fourth is killing off most of those who have outlived the other waves. Now, on the brink of the fifth wave, anything could happen — nothing and no one can be trusted.

Among Cassie’s possessions is her M-16, a first aid kit, water, a diary, some tins of sardines, pictures and a stuffed toy bear. Though worn and ragged from years of being loved, the bear represents the promise that she made to her brother, and the reason she fights so hard to survive. Little does she know that she is being stalked by someone in the shadows.

Elsewhere is another survivor who, through a miracle, has also somehow survived through all four waves. Dubbed Zombie by his rescuers, he is ushered to the barracks amongst the other surviving children to become trained “military style” to fight the enemies: you either make it or you die trying. When his regiment succeeds in bumping up its ranking and finally takes action outside camp, they are in for a surprise when they learn who their real enemies are.

Suspenseful, mysterious and with hints of romance throughout, Yancey does a stellar job of interweaving the lives and stories of its characters. He leaves the reader speculating about the realities within our day to day lives; what if the world that we live in really isn’t what we think it is? What would you do if your life was endangered by another species?

See more reviews by: Wired, the New York Times, and Mrs. ReaderPants.

Read the interview between Entertainment Weekly and Rick Yancey.

Ten: Saying Goodbye

Modern kids’ and YA fiction doesn’t go easy on its readers. Some of the best books out there look honestly at topics as real and raw as war, racial injustice, and poverty, giving readers a safe space to engage deeply with these topics, and guidance to help them understand and respond in healthy, constructive ways. This week’s Ten highlights stories about loss and grief. Though the stories are sometimes painful to read, they almost always end with hope: in friendship, memory, and new things to come.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Caitlin’s brother, Devon, used to help her understand how things worked and what she was supposed to do. A handy thing when you have Asperger’s, and a lot of what people do (and expect) really doesn’t make sense. But Devon was killed in a school shooting, and with their dad turning his back on the world in an attempt to cope, Caitlin’s left pretty much on her own to figure things out. A counselor at school helps some, and so does her friendship with a younger boy she meets at recess. But Caitlin wants closure, and she’s going to have to find it for herself. Continue reading

This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book I by Kenneth Oppel

This Dark Endeavour coverVictor may be brilliant, but it’s his twin brother, Konrad, who seems to have life figured out. Konrad is cheerful, athletic, and gets along with everyone, while Victor is passionate and stubborn — fitting in doesn’t come easily. There’s jealousy, to be sure, especially when their childhood companion seems to become more than just (distant) cousin Elizabeth to both brothers at the same time. Still, the boys love one another deeply, and the majority of their daily lives is lived in common.

When Konrad falls mysteriously and seriously ill, Victor is determined to do whatever is necessary to make him well. Dismissing the ineffectual methods of conventional doctors as a waste of time, Victor, his cousin, and their friend, Henry Clavel, turn to the books collected in a library hidden deep under the Frankensteins’ castle. Everything rational marks the books as untrustworthy, but the promised Elixir of Life appears to be Konrad’s only chance. The thing must be attempted, no matter what the cost.

Though I’m not generally a fan of the sort of dark, emotional atmosphere Oppel evokes here, to me it felt very much in line with what I remember of Shelley’s novel, even if the specific details didn’t quite line up with the original. I really enjoyed the questing and the complex relationships between the main characters — the fact that most of them had conflicting motivations in particular made the characters feel remarkably real. I think that This Dark Endeavor (and its sequel, Such Wicked Intent) would work especially well either as an introduction to Shelley’s novel, and as a follow up to the same. The novel stands on its own, but there’s so much potential to draw more from both Oppel and Shelley by reading each novel with the other in mind.

Find more reviews at Librarianaut and The Globe and Mail.

Find some great extras — a discussion guide, videos of the author talking about the book, and more — on Kenneth Oppel’s website.

Savvy by Ingrid Law — Audiobook Edition

Savvy coverMibs Beaumont’s 13th birthday will reveal her special talent – her savvy – but it’s only the beginning of the process of learning to use that talent. Last year, when her brother Fish turned 13, his newfound power over local weather resulted in a short-lived, but damaging hurricane. He’s still figuring out how to keep that power under control.

A few days before her birthday, her father is in an accident that leaves him in a coma in Salina, 90 miles away. Mibs’s mother leaves the younger Beaumonts at home with Grandpa Bamba to be with him, but when events on her birthday convince Mibs that her savvy can help her father, she stows away on a Bible delivery bus in an attempt to follow. Her rescue mission gets complicated when Fish, the pastor’s kids, Roberta and Will, Jr., and the Beaumont’s younger brother, Samson, join in, and the fact that the bus still has several stops scheduled in the opposite direction before returning to Salina doesn’t help, either. In the two days that it takes to actually reach her destination, Mibs discovers the true nature of her savvy, Fish figures out the secret of managing his, and all five kids find ways to share their respective talents, savvy and otherwise.

Savvy places a lot of emphasis on the roles that a person’s talent plays in the context of a community. Mibs’s talent is an inherently social one, focusing the necessity of control on the way that that talent affects her relationships with her brothers, her friends, and a handful of others encountered through the course of the novel. The audiobook, narrated by Lily Blau, does a great job of bringing the story to life and settling Law’s tendency toward creative colloquialisms into the broader “tall tale” approach to the story.

Check back Wednesday to find out how the next Savvy book, Scumble, compares!

For a conservative but very detailed review, visit Kimberly Lyn Kane’s blog. For another take on Savvy, check out another review on Librarian Tells All.

The official Savvy book trailer:

P.S. Apologies for the delayed review.

Ten: Moody Books

Along with all their other powers, stories can have considerable influence on our moods. Whether you’re looking for something that reflects your current mood, or something that will change it, sometimes a good story is just the thing. The challenge is in knowing what book to pull off the shelf. You probably have a few reliable favourites for such purposes — I know I do! This week’s Ten focuses on picture books for their simplicity of focus, but I think most will appeal to readers of any age.

When you’re feeling disgusted by injustice
The Paper Bag Princess written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko
When a dragon burns down Princess Elizabeth’s castle and kidnaps the prince she was supposed to marry, she picks herself up, puts on the only thing left to wear (a paper bag), and sets off to correct the dragon and retrieve her prince. Whether Prince Ronald is worth keeping around post-rescue does nothing to diminish the value of Princess Elizabeth’s take-charge heroism. Continue reading

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

ImageRamon loves to draw. He draws anything, anytime  anywhere. That is, until his older brother teases him about his artwork, leaving him overly critical of his drawings. After that, his works never seem “perfect.” He draws and draws and draws again, but feels that his drawings are never good enough. He ends up crumpling them up and drawing them over again.

One day he notices his younger sister picking up one of his crumpled pieces of art. Chasing after her to get his drawing back, Ramon follows her into her room, where he finds all of his crumpled up drawings carefully hung on his sister’s walls. When a flabbergasted Ramon tells her that the drawings are not perfect artistic renditions, his little sister doesn’t even blink, saying that while his drawing of a vase doesn’t look like a vase, it still looks “vase-ISH.”

Ramon feels inspired once more as he starts to see things in an entirely new way. “They do look…ish,” he says. Feeling less burdened and newly energized, Ramon begins once again to draw freely, living “ish-fully ever after.”

This book shows readers that whatever someone says to them, not everything needs to be perfect. It provides an avenue to know that they can relax and stand by their ideas and or works and express themselves fully in adverse situations knowing that there is value in imperfection. Contemporary in its artwork, Ish is a story filled with emotion and warmth that will surely grasp the attention of readers young or old.

See a booktalk on YouTube.

Get to know a little bit more about Peter Reynolds on his website. Learn about his mission, read his blog, and browse through his photo album.

Find a classroom guide for this story as well as for the dot, another one of Reynolds’ books.