Thursday, September 11, 2014

Skink - No Surrender - a review

Hiaasen, Carl. 2014. Skink - No Surrender. New York: Knopf.
(Advance Reader Copy)

Skink - No Surrender is Carl Hiaasen's first foray into YALit and he's making his entrance in a big way—employing Skink, the outrageous and outlandish character from his adult novels.

In keeping with his customary practice of setting books in Florida's great outdoors (Hoot, Flush, Scat, Chomp), Skink No Surrender begins on a Florida beach where Richard finds Skink buried in the sandon the hunt for turtle egg poachers. Though at first taken aback by the one-eyed, cammo-wearing giant of a man with buzzard beaks braided into his beard, Richard soon finds out that he is the ex -Florida governor and a force to be reckoned with - even if he is presumed to be dead.

     All kinds of wild rumors got started, and some of them turned out to be true.  According to one Wikipedia entry, the ex-governor became a wandering hermit of the wilderness, and over the years he'd been a prime suspect in several "acts of eco-terrorism."  Interestingly, he'd never been arrested or charged with any serious crimes, and it seemed to me that the targets of his anger were total scumbags, anyway.
     The web article included interviews with a few witnesses who'd supposedly encountered Clinton Tyree by chance.  They said he'd lost an eye, and was going by the name of "Skink."  They had differing opinions about whether or not he was nuts.  The most recent entry quoted the governor's closest friend, a retired highway patrol trooper named Jim Tile, who said:
     "Clint passed away last year int he Big Cypress Swamp after a coral snake bit him on the nose.  I dug the grave myself.  Now, please let him rest in peace."
     Except the man was still alive.
An unlikely pair, Skink and Richard team up to find Richard's cousin, Malley, who has run off with (or been kidnapped by) a young man she met online.

An intense hunt takes the two across the swamps in search of Malley and a dangerous impostor.  Suspenseful and very funny at the same time, Skink No Surrender presents a case for Internet safety, bird habitat conservation, and the value of family, but you'll be havimg so much fun that you won't even notice!

Getting my autographed copy of Skink
See the first 56 pages of Skink No Surrender here.

On sale and in libraries beginning September 23, 2014.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Colors of the Wind - a review


National Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15 - October 15. What a great time to celebrate the life and work of Mexican-American painter, George Mendoza.  

Powers, J.L. 2014. Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza. Cynthiana, KY: Purple House Press.

As a child, George Mendoza began seeing brilliantly-colored lights, shapes and squiggles, eventually losing most of his sight except his peripheral vision and the ever-present colors.  Unable to play basketball or other do other things he wanted, George took up running. He excelled in the sport and competed twice in the Olympics for the Disabled.  In the back of his mind, however, he'd kept a long-ago word advice from his youth.

One day, a flyer arrived in the mail,
advertising a contest for blind artists.
George remembered the priest, who told him,
"You should paint what you see."

George started to paint,
just like the priest told him to do.
And so began the painting career of George Mendoza.

The text appears in a plain, small font on white pages, accompanied by simple blank ink drawings, often highlighted with colors from Mendoza's paintings.  Each facing page contains a full-bleed image of one of Mendoza's paintings.

Biographical information, photos of Mr. Mendoza, and painting titles are included in the book's back matter.


The joyful, riotous colors of Mendoza's paintings will certainly appeal to children, as will his story of perseverance and purpose.  Enjoy!

You can see photos from Mendoza's "Colors of the Wind" exhibit at the Ellen Noel Art Museum here.  The exhibit is listed with the Smithsonian Affiliate Exhibition Exchange.


My copy of the book was provided by the author.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Middle School Ultimate Showdown - an audiobook review

Below is my review of the audio version of Middle School: Ultimate Showdown by James Patterson and Julia Bergen, as it appeared in the June, 2014 edition of School Library Journal.


PATTERSON, James & Julia Bergen. Middle School: Ultimate Showdown. 2 CDs. 2 hrs. Hachette Audio. 2014. $18. ISBN 9781478952619.

Gr 3–6—Rafe Khatchadorian and his younger sister, Georgia, here engage in a series of rants about bullies, school dances, dress codes, and other middle school concerns. However, this work is not simply about rants. It centers on a showdown between the siblings—with listeners acting as judges. Included on the CD is a 66-page PDF offering. Listeners who print it out can vote, draw, play, and create, adding their own opinions to Rafe's and Georgia's. Narrators Bryan Kennedy and Cassandra Morris make it easy for listeners to follow the inevitable disagreements between the siblings. Morris, as Georgia, is likable, confident, and youthful. Kennedy's Rafe is perfect for the wisecracking troublemaker, but he suffers from the lack of character depth in the showdown format. Listeners not familiar with his character from other books in the series will find him shallow and arrogant. While considerable adaptations were made for the audiobook format, the necessity of printing and constantly referencing the lengthy PDF will likely limit this audiobook's appeal to book group facilitators and die-hard fans of the series.



Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
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Friday, August 29, 2014

The Badger Knight - a review

Erskine, Kathryn. 2014. The Badger Knight. New York: Scholastic.
(Advance Reader Copy)

After the great plague, Adrian's father is overly protective. Having lost his wife and daughter, he is determined to protect his12-year-old son, Adrian.  Small and weak, Adrian has what we now call asthma and albinism. In the rural England of the 1300s, however, his condition is more often considered an unlucky and unholy affliction - rendering him only slightly more popular than Thomas the leper. Though he is quick of mind, skillful with a bow, and able to scribe, he is nonetheless treated as useless and dim-witted.

When the Middle March is threatened by war with the Scots, Adrian sees a chance to prove his mettle,

"Soon I hear the blacksmith's voice in my head: Nock! Mark! Draw! Loose! I spread some dirt under my eyes to counteract the bright sun, close my left eye, ready  my bow, and take aim at a single leaf fifty feet away.  On my second shot I split the leaf in two.  As I practice more, I can hit a leaf on my first try, even when it sways in the breeze.  I lose all sense of time and feel like I'm in another world.
Until I hear someone approach through the woods, and I grab my arrows, stowing them quickly with my bow inside the tree trunk.  For years I haven't been discovered and I don't intend for anyone to find me out now.  When the time is right, I will shock them all.  So I stand and look up at the branches to divert attention away from the trunk and to show that I'm simply addlepated Adrian looking at birds."

The Badger Knight is a historical fiction adventure that touches upon many common themes (bullying, friendship, gender bias, coming of age, survival, the nature of good and evil) as Adrian goes off to war and becomes a man - not by might, but by right.

 "... I'm reminded of Nigel and his search for the truth.  I think of what I always believed to be truths — Scots are pagans, thieves are bad, knights are noble, girls are weak, war is glorious — and how these "truths" aren't real at all.  They're things I was taught or everyone believes, just as all people who look like me are supposedly angels or, more often, devils.  I didn't believe Nigel when he said that scribing was power, that seeking the truth and sharing it is mightier than being a soldier.
     Now I see what he means."

The Knight Badger is rich in historical details - from the minor particulars of everyday life and the societal hierarchy of medieval England to the gruesome manner of medieval warfare. Erskine offers an unvarnished look into the lives of serfs, tradesmen, religious leaders, free lances, city street urchins, and robber barons. The author's thoughts on the nature of war are on display throughout, but readers are encouraged to come to their own conclusions and examine their own biases.

A solid adventure story that should appeal to boys and girls.  There is room for a sequel.

On shelves 8/26/14.   Target audience: ages 8-12, Gr 3-7
352 pages