Friday, June 24, 2011

Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots, by Abby McDonald (fiction) - city girl in Canadian mountain town

For Fun Friday, we're heading north of the border. I can see why Jenna would rather spend her summer with the godmother she hasn't seen in years, instead of sweltering in a Florida retirement community with her grandma - it's been ridiculously hot in C.Florida this summer already and there's only so much bingo that a teen wants to deal with...

But how could she be prepared for a small community in the Canadian forest, where hunting and fishing are essential parts of life, a one-horse town where everyone has known everyone forever?

Oh, I did laugh out loud when Jenna, the kayak, and the beaver lodge had a sudden meeting, but Jenna's summer looks like an uphill climb, doesn't it? And what about the bear, and the moose, and the mountain biking? Well, you'll just have to read this funny book to find out, eh?

Book info: Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots / Abby McDonald. Candlewick, 2010. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Jenna is a Green Teen for environmental awareness at her high school, so when she can choose between spending the summer in the Canadian woods with her godmother Susie or snoozing through card games at her grandmother’s Florida retirement village, she jumps at the chance to head north.

But the teens of tiny Stillwater, British Columbia, have known each other forever and don’t exactly welcome Jenna. Ethan, Grady, and Reeve play practical jokes on her from the moment they meet. Fiona hates everything, especially her stepmother, Susie, who works frantically with her new husband to transform a huge old house into a bed-and-breakfast resort before the first guests arrive in a few weeks. And Jenna’s best friend doesn’t get much cellphone signal at her summer camp job back home... what else could go wrong?

How about crashing through a beaver dam with her kayak or accidentally catching a trout? “I left the cork on the hook! I didn’t think anything would actually bite!” screams vegetarian Jenna.

The five teens start to get along as they create a website (complete with videos of Jenna’s rookie attempts at rock climbing and dirt bikes) so the inn can compete with the new luxury spa hotel across the valley, but secrets and misunderstood kisses may end the whole summer with a crash!

Does everything have to be eco-friendly or else? What makes a true friend? Why do guys have to be so complicated? (and watch out for the bear, Jenna, and the moose, too!)(One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Four Seasons (fiction)

Today is "Let It Go Day", as urges folks "Whatever it is that’s been grabbing your gut or your psyche, let it go. Just let it go. It’ll be a better day afterwards."

Ally is having an awful time letting things go. After all, piano is her whole life. Except that perhaps it isn't - maybe a little time with friends or an occasional sleepover would also be good for a 13 year old who happens to play piano like an angel.

Thankfully, Ally doesn't have "helicopter parents" or "stage-manager parents" always hovering over her, pushing her to practice-practice-practice, win-win-win. Her parents are both talented musicians and know the dedication that it takes to succeed in such a competitive field, yet they somehow miss the signs that Ally could crumble under the strain.

A fascinating look into the demanding world of classical pianists, into the psyche of super-talented youth, into the gaping void of "what now?"

Book info: Four Seasons / Jane Breskin Zalban. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: As a piano student at Julliard, Allegra must practice 6 hours every day and attend music classes all day Saturday. But the pressure is so intense that Ally wonders if she could stop. Just stop playing the piano, her chosen instrument since age 4.

Child of two wonderful musicians, Ally has a true gift for the piano, yet still wants what normal 13 year olds have – friends, sleepovers, time to relax. Her famous piano teacher is demanding and stern, quick to remind her about the 7 year olds at the school who have already won international piano competitions.

When she finally has time to talk to a nice guy from her regular school, Ally starts thinking about whether playing the piano competitively is worth it. After a disastrous summer music camp festival, who is more surprised at the choices she begins to make: her best friend? Her parents? Her piano teacher? Ally?

Much like her beloved Vivaldi concerto, Ally’s story has four distinct sections. Can the tension of these four seasons turn life into joy? (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Journey of Dreams (fiction)

Let's go to Central America for World Wednesday, where the designs of Guatemalan huipiles tell stories, woven into the cloth, strand by strand, using a backstrap loom. It would take many weeks for Tomasa or her mother to weave enough cloth for an entire skirt or blouse.

Tomasa tells her story as she would weave a huipil, strand by strand, row by row, along the jungle paths and strange city streets of their journey. Guatemala's long civil war was at its height in 1984, when thousands of Native Mayan families like hers fled from their land as soldiers destroyed their villages. Many thousands more were killed in the government's "scorched earth" campaign - it was a bitter time.

Questions about refugees or immigrants often have no easy answers, but hearing the stories of others' lives can help us understand how their world is different and perhaps show us ways to make life better for others.

Book info: Journey of Dreams / Marge Pellegrino. Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2009. [author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: As she and her mother weave, Tomasa hears the helicopters carrying soldiers. As they wash clothes at the river, she worries aloud about the planes spraying poisons, trying to force people from their small farms. Stones are thrown at their house, wrapped with notes threatening them to keep quiet about the planes and the pesticides.

Maybe tomorrow, maybe tonight, the army will come for the older schoolboys, like her brother Carlos, to make them soldiers against the rebels who are trying to save their land, to make them shoot at their neighbors.

Mama and Carlos slip away one night, escaping to the north. Soon, Papa decides it is too dangerous for the rest of the family to stay, and they flee in the darkness, just ahead of the soldiers who burn the crops, bulldoze down the houses, try to erase their village from the map of Guatemala.

Tomasa helps Papa lead her little brother and baby sister through the jungle, across rivers, and even into cities, looking for Mama and Carlos. When sanctuary workers locate them in the United States, the journey becomes even longer and more perilous.

Can the family get through Mexico to find Mama and Carlos? Will they die crossing the borders, as so many refugees have? Who can hear Tomasa’s dreams of running, of friends left behind in the ruined village?

Tomasa weaves into her huipiles many symbols from the Qui’che legends that Papa retells, the faith of the Church, and the love of her family in this compelling look at the Central American refugee experience, as seen through a 12 year old’s eyes. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Atomic Weight of Secrets, by Eden Unger Bowditch (fiction) - inventions, intrigue, adventure

"Strange round bird with three flat wings, Never ever stops when it shivers and sings" - what an odd song to learn as a child! And not to know any other nursery rhymes or children's stories...

Welcome to the slightly steampunk world of The Young Inventors' Guild in 1903! Meet five brilliant children with incredibly talented, intelligent parents - parents who are swept away from them as the children are brought from around the world to a small farm outside Dayton, Ohio, USA.

And those mysterious men in black who take them to and fro in black carriages and other conveyances - every time the children see them, they're wearing different all-black outfits, including tam o'shanters and top hats, Zouave pants and riding breeches, fur coats and inflatable vests.

Their parents hardly even write letters to them (this is 1903, after all), yet dear Miss Brett (their teacher in the farmhouse) assures the children that they are quite alright. The children's various discoveries lead them to decide that they must invent something to ensure their safety and escape from the men in black.
Perhaps there are some grown-ups they can trust to provide some necessary assistance in this covert operation?

Feel free to share this adventure with younger readers as we wait for the next volume of The Young Inventors' Guild Trilogy to be published.

Book info: The Atomic Weight of Secrets, or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black / Eden Unger Bowditch. Bancroft Press, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Five brilliant children whose parents are talented scientists – why have they been brought to a farm in Ohio in 1903 from their homes all over the world by mysterious men in black costumes of all sorts? And what about their new weekend homes in the city nearby, with wonderful nannies and bedrooms for their parents who never arrive?

Having school with Miss Brett at the farm is much nicer than being bullied at their school in London, think Jasper and Lucy, but where are their parents? Faye misses working in her parents’ laboratory in India, where she was treated like a princess. Noah can’t play his violin right now, worrying that his mother doesn’t know where he is (she left to star in another opera just before…). And Wallace, well, his late mother said he’d make a discovery before his 10th birthday that would save the world – and he has just a few days to finish the project.

The youngsters teach Miss Brett about their advanced experiments, and she introduces them to the wonderful world of stories and rhymes and children’s games that their tutors and scientific encyclopedias never covered. During the week, they discover farm animals’ habits and hopscotch and how to bake biscuits, then are taken “home” to their nannies by roundabout routes in black carriages or autocars by men in odd black outfits every weekend. Whether at the farm or in town, patrols of men in black circle around their residences like clockwork, week after week.

The children investigate a pageless journal Lucy found in her mother’s room and discover that it once contained pages written by the Young Inventors’ Guild. They decide to use it to chronicle their experiments as they pool their knowledge of scientific principles so they can escape the mysterious men in black and rescue their parents!

Are their parents safe? Why don’t they write or even use that newfangled telephone device in the farmhouse closet? Can the birdwatcher seen near the farm help them? What about Faye’s cousin or those clever brothers they met in town?

Mystery, science, and the song of The Strange Round Bird (which they all learned as tiny children) meld in this exciting first volume of The Young Inventors’ Guild series. (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Monday, June 20, 2011

Clarity (fiction)

It's a mystical Monday. What's your ideal summer job? Bet it's not like Clare's, where "the family business" uses the psychic gifts of the Ferns.

Her brother loves summer, when he can romance the visiting girls - what local high school girl would date a guy who gets messages from dead people?

The Ferns can tell tourists about hidden things which have happened in the past, but the new psychic in town starts taking away their customers by promising that she can predict the future.

Add a murder to the summer crowds during an election year, and suddenly Clare's gift for psychometry is in demand by the local authorities.

Kim Harrington says that Perception (Clarity #2) is due out in March 2012. Hope YA paranormal fans can wait that long! (She's also writing a middle grades detective series, due out next summer).

Book info: Clarity / by Kim Harrington. Point (Scholastic), 2011. [author's website] [author's blog] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Just another summer at the family psychic business, where Clare sees what happened with an object by just touching it, brother Perry sees spirits, and Mom hears people’s thoughts. They can’t predict the future, but Cape Cod tourists wanting answers keep them in business.

Too bad the town residents aren’t as accepting of the Ferns – Clarity and Periwinkle (named by hippie parents) have been bullied and scorned ever since their gifts began to manifest. Just another year of high school and they can escape to somewhere else… especially after Clare’s only boyfriend cheated on her.

A murder – the first in decades –shocks everyone on the Fourth of July weekend. The mayor is up for re-election and asks Clare to help the police find clues. So she’s stuck with the mayor’s son (her ex-boyfriend) and the new detective’s son (completely anti-psychics) as she visits the murder scene… and finds that Perry was with the woman before she died! He assures Clare that he did not kill the woman, but they’re not sure that the police will understand visions instead of evidence.

On tourist row, a new psychic arrives, saying she can foretell the future and luring clients away from the Ferns. Perry disappears when a witness states that he was seen leaving a restaurant with the victim. Clare’s worst bullies boast about inside knowledge, then vanish.

How can Clare keep working with Justin when she still can’t forgive him? How can she convince Gabe that her visions are the truth (without telling too much)? Can Clare find the real killer without becoming the next victim? (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

Since my dad is (a) driving with Mom somewhere in Canada with the cellphone off, (b) doesn't get online at all (but does ask us kids to look up things when visiting), and (c) probably doesn't know exactly what a blog is, I'll still wish him Happy Father's Day here as we look back at some fictional fathers in recent BooksYALove recommendations.

In YA books, dads can often be a cipher, just kind of a placeholder while Mom is the key figure - try Ten Miles Past Normal and Stolen for father-who's-there-but-barely. Other times, Dad has to fill both parental roles (Zen & Xander Undone -not so well, and I Love Him to Pieces, much better).

Some are adoptive fathers as in Dogtag Summer and Heart of a Samurai, while others are fathers no longer in the child's home, like This Thing Called the Future.

We have bumbling-yet-well-meaning fathers in Kat, Incorrigible and Visconti House, then trying-the-best-they-can dads in What Happened to Goodbye and Astronaut Academy.

Plenty of papas are long, long gone, as in Flawless and Fire, while others are rather too involved in their teenagers' lives (Awaken, anyone?), as far as the teens are concerned.

Fathers might leave through divorce (Who Is Frances Rain?) or through death (Saraswati's Way and Trickster's Girl), and yet young adults must cope with their changed world, a world with one pair of guiding hands forever gone...

Of course, we'll find these various sorts of fathers, father-figures, and conspicuous-by-their-absence fathers as we go along on BooksYALove = family is so often a key element in YA fiction.

So, wish a dad Happy Father's Day today, even if he's not your dad; there's enough love to go around, right?