Newbery Verdict: The Year of Billy Miller

The Year of Billy Miller // by Kevin Henkes (2013)

year-billy-millerNewbery Honor Book (2014)
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Billy Miller is starting second grade. When he has a fall and gets a bump on his head, he begins to worry that he’s not quite smart enough for school. And so begins the year where Billy tries to figure out what makes him Billy…

MY THOUGHTS…

So this is the author of some wonderful picture book characters, like Lily (of purple plastic purse fame). Kevin Henkes does a really nice job with Billy Miller and his family. I love his family! He has such a creative and sympathetic Papa! (Although, Billy thinks that he’s getting a little too old to be calling his Papa and begins to call him “Dad”.) I really enjoyed how Billy inspires Papa when he’s feeling down about his work.

One of my favourite parts is when Billy and his sister try to stay up all night. 3-year-old Sal wants to play with her dolls. Billy has no interest in playing with the dolls, but he feels that if he wants Sal to stay awake, he better do what she suggests. THEN, he plays with the dolls by creating an explosion! (Typical boy!) Suffice it to say that Sal isn’t impressed. But the two of them end up working it all out. 🙂

NEWBERY VERDICT…

For a lower grade book, this story is fun with a lot of endearing characters. I can definitely see why they gave this book a Newbery Honor.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal, or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

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ARC Review: The Phoenix and the Carpet

phoenix-and-carpet

Book: The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904)
Author: E. Nesbit
Genre: MG, Magical Realism
Rating: 5 Stars

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

Basic Plot: The five children from Five Children and It are back! This time their magical adventures come in the form of a Phoenix and a flying carpet. And there may (or may not) be a special guest appearance by everybody’s favourite Psammead!

WHAT’S COOL…

1) It’s not often that the sequel is as good as the original, but this book is the exception to the rule. We get more great magical adventures featuring Anthea, Cyril, Jane, and Robert. And of course, the Lamb. How can you forget the Lamb!

2) I love the chatty Phoenix, so different from the grumpy Psammead from the first book. Also, the Carpet’s a nice, silent, companionable foil. Love how that works into the plot at the end of the story.

One of my favourite lines in the book:

“Then we’ve lost the treasure,” said Cyril.

And they had.

“But we’ve got the carpet and the Phoenix,” said Anthea.

“Excuse me,” said the bird, with an air of wounded dignity, “I do so hate to seem to interfere, but surely you must mean the Phoenix and the carpet?”

(The Second Chapter)

3) E. Nesbit is the queen of magical realism. The magic always has a bit of a twist or causes some sort problem for the children. I love how that works. (Even though it’s rather frustrating to the children!) It makes for a great story.

4) I love how the kids work together and bicker and tease. I love their adventurous natures.

5) My favourite episode is probably the chapters that involve the Topless Tower. (Treasure. Towers. What more could you ask for?) Although the bit with the Burglar near the end is also hilarious!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Can’t think of anything to put here!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 5 Stars (out of 5) – This is a wonderful, magical tale. And it still holds magic even though the story was originally published over 100 years ago. This makes a great re-aloud.

Review: Breakout

breakoutBook: Breakout (2018)
Author: Kate Messner
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Nora, Lizzie, and Elidee all live in a small town that houses a large prison. Their world is interrupted when two inmates escape and the entire town goes into lock-down mode. While Nora is determined to get the scoop, both Lizzie and Elidee have their own troubles. And then there’s the mad mile, an annual tradition that keeps getting cancelled because the grownups are freaking out about the escaped prisoners…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I enjoyed the format, which ranges from letters (for a time capsule) to text messages to newspaper articles. It’s nice to see the different perspectives of the different people in the story. Lizzie’s parody news segments are pretty amusing.

2) Nora and Lizzie have a great friendship. I liked the arc for the new girl, Elidee, and how she eventually fits into the story.

3) The manhunt is pretty exciting stuff. And, of course, it’s fun to know that our main characters [MINOR SPOILER] have a hand in the capture. But don’t worry. It’s actually quite realistic. And it’s based on history! And I love history… [END SPOILER]

4) I like the running sub-plot about the mad mile. I like books about running, so what can I say?

5) Love the cover of this book!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) It’s really quite a long book at 448 pages. Now, this is just my personal opinion, but I would have removed all the Hamilton references and the hip-hop battles and poetry. First, I’m not a huge fan of poetry. And second, I just don’t get why that musical is so popular. (I’ve heard the music, and I’m not impressed. I feel like my grandmother!) Okay, let’s just say that this wasn’t my favourite part of the book, I tended to skim those sections anyway. (I would have been more interested if Elidee was reading more about space/planets.) I think Messner could have cut it completely and saved a few trees in the process.

2) Why did Elidee and her mother move upstate about two weeks before school gets out? This just didn’t make sense. Especially since there was no super good reason for this to happen. Two weeks would not make a difference. And if absolutely necessary, I really think Elidee’s mom would have let her continue at her old school in New York City for a few more weeks (since she could have stayed with her aunt and cousins for that time.) So, my complaint here is that Elidee’s arrival felt like an obvious plot device.

3) I felt that the racial issues dealt with in the book were not really necessary to the actual story. It’s like Messner was trying to fit it in, and those parts came across as forced and preachy. (Not that you couldn’t have a book about these issues, but I think they’d deserve their own story. It just got lost in this story.)

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I found this book enjoyable for the most part. The girls were fun to read about, and the manhunt was quite suspenseful.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Review: Becoming Naomi Leon

Book: Becoming Naomi Leon (2005)
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars

Becoming_Naomi_LeónBasic Plot: Naomi Outlaw lives with her great-grandmother and younger brother. But then one day her mother shows up, ready to come back into their lives. Except, she only wants Naomi. But the grandmother has a plan to save her little family… a plan that involves a road-trip down to Mexico to seek out Naomi and Owen’s long-lost father.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved how protective Naomi and the grandmother were of Owen. I like, too, how they give the mother a chance.

2) But boy oh boy, I did not like the mother! Not only did she abandon the children, but she’s also changed her name to… Skyla. (Oh, the fakeness of that mother!) But I think what really got to me was her treatment of Owen, her own son. Even the mother’s boyfriend treated Owen better. (And yes, this is in the What’s Cool section because her portrayal was that good!)

3) One of my favourite parts of the book is when Gram and their neighbour decide to skip their favourite television show (a show they haven’t missed in years). This is the clue to the children that the grown-ups are serious about helping to save Owen!

4) I loved the Mexican culture in this book. I really enjoyed the radish-carving competition!

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I almost wished they had gone to Mexico earlier in the story. Once they were there, it somehow didn’t seem like the same story. This should have been my favourite part of the book!

2) Also, once they were in Mexico, the grown-ups didn’t seem to be doing much to locate the father. They left things up to… Naomi?? (who makes a lot of expensive telephone calls). In the end, [SPOILER] it didn’t seem too hard to find the father. [End SPOILER]

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked Naomi and enjoyed this story. While its not my favourite book by Pam Munoz Ryan, it’s still worth the read.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Review: Sunny

Book: Sunny (2018)
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

sunnyBasic Plot: Sunny runs the mile. Except, now he doesn’t want to anymore. So, he just stops running. He was only running to please his father and to fulfill his dead mother’s dream of running. But with his birthday looming, Sunny only feels guilt over the fact that he “killed” his mother (she died the day he was born). His home-school teacher, Aurelia, decides to teach Sunny dancing and that’s when he realizes that he’d rather dance than run. He tells Coach, who decides that maybe Sunny should give the discus a shot. Because, it’s as close to dancing as track and field gets.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is a continuation of the series with Ghost and Patina. This one focuses on Sunny. Obviously. He’s an interesting character, with a love of rhythm that permeates his whole being, and translates well to his writing style. (This book is written in diary-format.)

2) I like the arc for the relationship of Sunny and Darryl (his father). The scene in the dad’s bedroom is quite touching. I love how Sunny describes his father as having a stone face, and how this changes and morphs during this section of the book.

3) We get another track meet at the end of the book. This time, it’s not a race, but the discus throw. And yes, as in all the other books, we don’t actually find out how it turns out. (But I’m sure we will in the next book… which I’m assuming will be about Lu.)

4) I do like how Ghost, Patty, and Lu are really good friends to Sunny. (Although, at one point, he tells them he doesn’t go to school—he’s home-schooled—and they’re all shocked. But I’m pretty sure they knew this already from the last book. Unfortunately, I don’t have that book with me, so I can’t check. If you’ve read this book and can correct me, please let me know in the comments.)

5) I really enjoyed the fact that Sunny was home-schooled, and Aurelia sounds like an awesome teacher.  I also like how Aurelia’s story merges with Sunny’s.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I mentioned earlier that I like the supportiveness of the newbies (aka Ghost, Patty, and Lu). This is also a BIT of a problem. It means there is very little conflict happening between these characters. And stories need conflict. Since these characters don’t present any conflict, they end up being not so relevant to the actual story. I wish they could be more central to the plot. But really, they’re just side characters that almost don’t matter. 😦

2) Note to Jason Reynolds: Please don’t mention that awful scene in the Chinese Restaurant from the first book. Argh! That brought back bad memories for me! Okay, I’m slightly kidding, but slightly serious as well. I didn’t find the scene (in this book) as cathartic as I think it was supposed to be. I felt like it was slightly unnecessary. Now maybe this is because of the call-back to the secrets scene in the first book (meaning I was distracted). But I think it may be because this scene just came AFTER a very similar scene (the one in the dad’s bedroom).

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – I didn’t like this book as much as I liked Patina, but that is probably because I understand and relate to Patty better than I do to Sunny. I also really like track (running). But in this book, we veer over to the field part of track and field. Let’s just say that the field part of track and field has never truly excited me. Still, Sunny is a wonderful character and I did enjoy reading about him.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Review: Patina

Book: Patina (2017)
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

patinaBasic Plot: Patty hates losing a race. Or even coming in second. She also has a to-do list longer than your arm. She’s starting to find it hard to juggle her sister, her mom, her mother/aunt, school, and, of course, track. When Coach puts her on the relay team, she comes nose-to-nose with some unhappy teammates. Couple that with a group project where Patty is doing all the work while her partners take it easy. And then comes a family emergency that Patty never even anticipated. Something that might just threaten to keep her off the track for awhile.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is a continuation of the series with Ghost. In this book, Ghost is only a minor character. The MC is his newbie teammate: Patty (Patina). (And yes, we do find out in this one what happened in the race at the end of the first book!)

2) I was nervous about reading this book. Partly because Patty had the potential to be a Mary-Sue character. In the previous book, she doesn’t seem to have any flaws. But that worry melted away immediately. Maybe she was perfect in Ghost’s eyes, but once Patty starts telling her story, we get to see her faults… just enough to make her a human being we can relate to.

3) I loved the relationship between Patty and her little sister, Maddie. Actually, I love her whole family. Her ma, who no longer has her legs due to diabetes. And her uncle and aunt (Momly) who have legal custody of her. I enjoyed getting to know them.

4) The Coach was awesome yet again. He’s not in the book as much as he was in the last. But he has some great moments. I love the part where Coach Whit is teaching the girls to dance and Ghost and Lu? are laughing at them… along with Coach. Then, what Coach does next is priceless.

5) Jason Reynolds has talent for capturing voice. Patty’s voice in this book is unique to Patty, just as Ghost’s voice is unique to Ghost. (And I’ve already started reading the next book: Sunny. Ditto.)

6) The story of the dad is good. I like the cupcakes. And I like the scene near the end with the uncle and the cupcakes.

7) Another race at the end, but Reynolds does things a little differently this time. But I won’t spoil it.

8) Whoever does those book covers… I’m liking them. I like how each one is geared to each character. (Although, Patty really should have a baton in her hand.)

9) Finally, I like that you don’t technically have to read Ghost to enjoy this book. It really is Patty’s story and a stand-alone.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I don’t get why Momly thinks it’s okay to serve turkey wings every night for supper. Don’t they get sick of them?

2) The Momly-janitor story was a little odd. Not sure exactly if this backstory was needed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I liked this book better than Ghost and I’m trying to figure out why. Premise-wise, I think Ghost is a stronger story, but the pacing was off. (Ghost could have been a 5-star book, which is saying something.) Patina’s story is good, and the pacing and emotional beats are right on. I’m glad I gave it a chance!


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

vanderbeekers1Book: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
Author: Karina Yan Glaser
Genre: Upper MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: The five Vanderbeeker children have lived forever at their New York City brownstone. But now their landlord, Mr. Beiderman, is kicking them out, even though it’s Christmas. The kids decide it’s time to try to make friends with The Beiderman, even if he’s an award-winning crank. The problem is that they’ve never seen him because he never comes out of his upstairs apartment.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved this family of five kids. This book reminded me of the The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright, which also takes place in NYC. And I do love the fact that there are five kids. Yay for big families! (And how can you not like their last name!)

2) The illustrations are a wonderful addition to this book. They definitely helped me understand Jessie’s scientific inventions.

3) Quiet Hyacinth, Brave Hyacinth is my favourite Vandereeker! I also like Oliver (the reader) and little Laney is cute. The twins (eldest girls) are fine. I wasn’t crazy about the subplot about the dance, but it was okay. I guess I was just really drawn to the younger Vanderbeekers.

4) There is a hint of mystery to this book with regards to the grouchy recluse neighbour. I was definitely drawn into the mystery surrounding the Beiderman. (I love how they call him “the Beiderman” even though their parents keep reminding them that it’s Mr. Beiderman!)

5) The neighbourhood is sooo New York. I like how Glaser captures the atmosphere of these tiny pockets within the City… the communities where everybody knows everybody else’s business. (It makes me miss living in NYC!)

6) The quotes at the front of the book… One from Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) and the other from Spiderweb for Two (Elizabeth Enright) are delightful. I’m always HAPPY when the authors I read have such love for other authors that I love.

7) The Vanderbeeker parents are wonderful parents. Yay for good parental figures! (Still, the kids always manage to give them the slip, because otherwise it’d be a boring book.)

8) The ending didn’t exactly make me cry, but it DID bring some tears to my eyes. Even though the ending isn’t too surprising, it felt just right.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The winter setting. I kept thinking it was summer. The kids never seem to bundle up, even though it’s December. I’ve lived in NYC. While I know it doesn’t have to be freezing cold, it IS cold enough to have to wear a winter coat in December. And if it were somehow unseasonably warm, why didn’t they mention this? Also, the kids go up on the roof at some point to pour water down a special invention (that was pretty cool!), but why are they doing this in December? It felt like a summer book. Or maybe fall/spring.

2) The five-day ticking bomb (being evicted at Christmas) was not necessary. And I found it a little unbelievable. Like suddenly Scrooge was the villain of this story??

3) They go to the bakery A LOT. Where do these kids get all their money? I can’t imagine that the parents are all that wealthy. They don’t seem to have any jobs. Why are they always going to a bakery when their own mother is an amazing baker (her job)? (If I were the mother, I’d be a bit annoyed. And I certainly wouldn’t give my kids money for that.) And why are they going two times a day to get cookies or cheesy croissants?

4) I had a hard time remembering which child was which. I mean the family does have five kids, so it was a little difficult to remember all their names, PLUS all the pets they have in the house. Since the book already has illustrations, why didn’t they give us a family illustration? Even simple silhouettes with names underneath and something to help us identify each character, like Isa (plays the violin); Jessie (the scientist); etc.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I had some mixed feelings about this book. There’s a lot that I loved. The siblings. The Harlem neighbourhood. The cranky neighbour. The attempts of the children to befriend him. But there were also things that irked to no end. Like the sudden eviction and the summer-y (but wait! It’s supposed to be winter!) weather/atmosphere. But in the end, this book came together. I choked up at the end (in a good way), so I will recommend this book 🙂


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? Who’s your favourite Vanderbeeker? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

The Magic of Half Magic

20171007ma_5029The magic of Edward Eager’s Half Magic isn’t always the actual magic in the book. Yes, there’s a charm that grants wishes (or, to be more accurate, half-wishes!). What’s really magical about the book, is Eager’s way of putting things. Usually, it’s some little aside. Something quick.

And then there is this delightful passage. It happens when the four children (Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha) first meet Mr. Smith, a new grown-up that has entered their lives…

The four children generally divided all grown ups into four classes. There were the ones like Miss Bick and Uncle Edwin and Aunt Grace and Mrs. Hudson whofrankly, and cruel as it might be to say itjust weren’t good with children at all. There was nothing to do about these, the four children felt, except be as polite as possible and hope they would go away soon.

Then there were the ones like Miss Mamie King, whowhen they were with childrenalways seemed to want to pretend they were children, too. This was no doubt kindly meant, but often ended with the four children’s feeling embarrassed for them.

Somewhat better were the opposite ones who went around treating children as though the children were as grown-up as they were themselves. This was flattering, but sometimes a strain to live up to. Many of the four children’s school teachers fell into this class.

Last and best and rarest of all were the ones who seemed to feel that children were children and grown ups were grown ups and that was that, and yet at the same time there wasn’t any reason why they couldn’t get along perfectly well and naturally together, and even occasionally communicate, without changing that fact.

Mr. Smith turned out to one of these.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager (Chapter 6)

This is why I love to read (and re-read) books by Edward Eager! It’s the magic of his words. 🙂