Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend

"Are there rocks ahead?"
"If there are, we'll all be dead!"
"No more rhymes now, I mean it!
"Anybody want a peanut?"

Andre the Giant was a definitive part of my childhood, if only through The Princess Bride (my poor husband still doesn't get why I love the movie so much...and he hadn't seen it til we were engaged...sad buckets!)  I was never big into wrestling, but my uncle collected plastic figurines of Hulk Hogan and the I'm sure he was in there somewhere.

Box Brown's fantastic graphic novel Andre the Giant: Life and Legend gives a glimpse into Andre's sad, sometimes angry, but still amazing, life.  

Andre Roussimoff was a pretty normal guy...except he ended up being almost 7 1/2 feet tall, and weighed 600 pounds.  This book looks at Andre's life- his rise to wrestling fame, his immortalized performance in The Princess Bride, and the situations that resulted because of his size.

This is such a well-done biography.  For those who only know Andre as Fezzik, it was great to learn about his wrestling career.  Those who are fans of wrestling will appreciate the stories, and the history of the WWF, Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, etc.  Actually, it's interesting to those who don't have a real tie to wrestling, too.  Just reading about his on-the-road stories...craziness ensues.

The novel explains wrestling terms, and really puts in perspective the "good old days"- teens will be interested in large sporting events before pay-per-view.  Like, bars would charge a fee and people could watch there, or small theaters would be rented out to broadcast the event.

Looking also at the struggles he had because of his size.  Emotional AND medical...some of the situations he had were incredibly sad; but! some were also amazing, charming.  The brief look at The Princess Bride took me back to an episode of Biography, where I'd heard some of those stories told by Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin.  Seeing how the man handled a flight from Japan to the US, being unable to fit into the tiny, airplane restroom...riveting.

Done in black and white, the pictures are simple, but tell Andre's story well.  It's crazy how a couple of pen-strokes can convey so much emotion.

There are some adult themes, situations, language, humor...but look at the world he was living in!  I would say probably best for 13+...maybe older...parental call on that one.  That said, it all has a point...I mean, it's the guy's life!

This is one that could definitely bring in your reluctant readers, and your "guys"- I've lost count of how many times I've been asked for books on pro wrestling by my kiddo patrons. 

Crazy good biography about a man who was larger than life.

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend is published by :01 First Second.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 05.06.2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand

A few months ago, my friends' son asked this question: "Dad, is a univerthity where you go to learn to be a ninja, a knight or....a librarian?" Oh, my heart grew like the Grinch's.  And I had just learned this book was coming out, so I could say "Yes...oh yes."

The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey is a fun, middle-grade book.  When Dorrie and her brother Marcus chase a pet mongoose into their local library, they find something pretty amazing: Petrarch's Library, the headquarters of a secret society of ninja librarians.  
Their mission is to protect those whose words get them into trouble, anywhere in the world and at any time in history.  People like Socrates.
Petrarch's Library can stop anywhere there's trouble, like the Spanish Inquisition, or ancient Greece. Dorrie really wants to join the society, and learn to fight with a real sword! But when she and Marcus become suspected of being traitors, can they clear their names before the only passage back to the twenty-first century closes forever?

Oh, I loved this.  Amazing for word nerds :-D  a) I love a book with a strong, female character; b) I love books about libraries, because, well...obvi; c) it's also good for guys, what with all the sword fights, and history and stuff.

It's kind of like the manga Library Wars (which is a favorite of mine)- fighting censorship and all.  But, like Library Wars mixed with The Phantom Tollbooth.  Has anyone read that?  It's one of my all-time favorite books, and in the city of Dictionopolis the characters can give a "speech" before dinner...and then they eat their words.  In Ninja Librarians, characters can read passages out of books to create their meals.  No lie, I used to stay up dreaming of what my speech would be...

It also, with all its time-traveling goodness, introduces various historical characters: Socrates, Saul/Paul, Timotheus, the real Cyrano de Bergerac, and others!

Entertaining and educational historical(ish) fiction for middle-grades!

The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand is published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.  
Released: 04.15.2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Summer I Wasn't Me

I read this book in one sitting.  Granted, I read it in the backseat of a car heading 4 hours back home from PLA in Indianapolis...there wasn't anywhere else for me to go.  But!  This made the time go by much faster, and pretty enjoyably minus a brief bout of car queasiness.  

The Summer I Wasn't Me is a YA novel by Jessica Verdi.  Lexi's father has recently passed away, her mother isn't coping well, and she's just found out Lexi likes girls.  To rescue her unraveling family, Lexi agrees to go to New Horizons-a camp that promises to transform her; to make her like boys.  She wants to do this, she wants to start over.  However, her summer at New Horizons brings surprises, both good and bad.  

I love the movie But I'm a Cheerleader.  I think it was the first LGBTQ movie I saw that was, while satirical, poignant enough to leave a lasting impression.  Actually, I still have the song Glass Vase, Cello Case in my iTunes "Favorites" playlist.  This book was similar- but so much more gut-wrenching, heart-breaking.  I think I connected with the characters more.  Lexi is pretty awesome, and The Great Gatsby is one of her favorite books.  The symbolism in the books comes into play quite a bit throughout The Summer I Wasn't Me.

What's kind of a kicker, too, is Lexi's perspective is one who has grown up in the church.  At one point she brings up the sermons and how it was "getting harder and harder to listen to everyone talking about me like God didn't love me quite as much as he did them.  They didn't know they were talking about me, of course, but that didn't make it hurt any less."  

It's so...crazy, but then you realize that there are camps like this.  I tried to find a memoir from someone who had been through a similar experience, but to no avail.  

This book brings up tough issues like religion, family, choices in general, abuse, but specifically from the perspective of LGBTQ teens.  Definitely a conversation-starter on many levels.  

Bonus!  Author Jessica Verdi will be guest posting in a couple of weeks- stay tuned!

The Summer I Wasn't Me is published by Sourcebooks Fire. Review Copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Released: 04.01.2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Mermaid and the Shoe

Everyone has a talent- some people have many talents.  What are yours?  I, for one for instance, have double-jointed thumbs and can form them into grotesque shapes that freak out my friends and family.

Minnow, the heroine of K.G. Campbell's The Mermaid and the Shoe, is the daughter of King Neptune.  Well, she is one of Neptune's 50 daughters.  Each daughter has a talent- singing, making jewelry, gardening...but Minnow is only good at asking questions.  One day she finds an object, and is determined to find out what it is.  Turns out, asking questions is a talent- especially asking the right questions!  And more importantly, she can answer a very significant one: who am I?

The illustrations in this book are magical, you constantly see and feel the movement from being underwater.  I'm not sure if it's chalk? pastel? neither? but there's an eeriness to the dark coloring- with the stark illumination of the mermaids.  It's beautiful, almost ghostly (but not scary).  There's a beautiful scene where Minnow finds the shoe, she's swimming up with a group (or, I guess technically, a "smack") of jellyfish.  Again, the contrast of the dark with a bright red-orange, and Minnow's luminescence, and the red shoe- it's so simple, but stays with you.  Also, there's a pretty amazing shrugging octopus.

I love that the book encourages kids to ask questions, and lets them know that no matter how small it seems, a talent is a talent.

There's so much cute in here, too- as previously mentioned, the shrugging octopus, and when Minnow sees the "landmaid" with her "leg-hands."  Very...Ariel, Scuttle and Dinglehopper.  I think it would be a great one for parents and kids to read together.  It also reminds kids that curiosity could also mean they are brave explorers.  

The Mermaid and the Shoe is published by Kids Can Press.  Digital ARC provided by NetGalley.
Released: 04.01.2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

We Were Liars

Okay...I'm not going to give the plot, a summary...anything.  All I will say is: READ THIS!  Commit the title to memory and/or pre-order it (or support your local library and put it on hold).

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart is  The story catches you and carries you from the first page.  The language is so beautiful and mesmerizing.  I couldn't put it down.  Seriously, I had a procedure done on my back, and the doctor had to scold me to put it away so he could get started.

I received the ARC and thought I skillfully hid it under some papers on my desk at work.  A group of us had been talking about the book, bemoaning that none of us had gotten it, and I'd forgotten I'd requested it. of my staff came into my office to ask me a question; my not so skillful hiding spot failed me, and in 30 seconds she pounced on the title.  I spoke to her like I do my dog "Drop it!  Put. the book. down!"  (I know, not exactly boss-of-the-year behavior).  She pulled back, replying "I just want to hold it..." as she hugged it to her cheek.

If that's any indication of how much buzz this book is making, you know you're in for a treat. 

And don't worry, my staff person will get the ARC after another one finishes it.  I promise, I share post-read.

We Were Liars is published by Random House Children's.  Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 05.13.2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust

Some of my favorite stories growing up were the ones my grandfather told about when he was a boy.  He grew up in Milwaukee in the 20s and 30s, and we got to hear about getting ice from the ice truck- or the butcher for whom they delivered sausages, who offered two salami slices as payment (instead of the usual one).  He then took the one slice, and cut it in half.  Much can be said about what we learn listening to these stories.

A sad, beautiful look at the Holocaust from the perspective of young Dounia.  Hidden, by Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano & Greg Salsedo, starts with a young girl listening to her grandmother's story (a story the girl's father, Dounia's son, has never heard).

Dounia was a young Jewish girl in Paris.  As Nazis moved in, Dounia hid.  A series of neighbors and friends kept her alive, as her family was taken away to the concentration camps.

I think that's the shortest summary I've ever written, and while the story seems simple from what I just wrote (and it's a mere 88 pages)- it's so much more.  

The pictures give such an innocent, confused perspective.  It's almost as if you're peeking in on Dounia's life. The warm colors throughout, the glow of a candle or a fire in a dark room, also give the feel you're privy to something quiet and important.

The characters themselves are simply drawn- circles, lines, and dots.  Similar to those a child would draw, telling a story.  This adds to the childlike atmosphere of the book.

Dounia's family and friends are so scared, so brave.  It was heartbreaking from the beginning, when Dounia's father gives her her yellow star.  He tells her that they are playing; that they are a family of sheriffs.  It was reminiscent of Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful.

The escape to the farm was symbolic more than just being free- as farms are about growth and new life.  It is there that Dounia also gets a chance at a new life.

Speaking of Dounia's new life, the ending is happy.  I'll say that much.  But it is also sad.  When someone has been through something this terrible, this is so hard to keep it inside.  It is hard for the person who won't, or can't, share.  And it is hard for those around them, who know there is something more.  Who want to help ease that burden, or see where the person is coming from.

This graphic novel is so touching, so beautiful.  It shows the Holocaust in France (which, sadly, I tend to forget about France), and shows it in a way that's accessible to young readers.  It could open a lot of conversation about that whole period.  

I highly recommend this.  Read it by yourself, read it with your it with tissues.  

*Hidden is being released in April as a tribute to Holocaust Remembrance Week.

Hidden is published by :01 First Second Books.  Review Copy graciously provided by the publisher.
Release Date: 04.01.2014