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Bri Meets Books

Children's and YA literature reviews.

Category Archives: 2008

Talk about a coincidence. Just yesterday, I was visiting with my mentor and we discussed what charities we’d donated to this Christmas. She mentioned her family of six participated in Heifer International two years in a row, and as luck would have it, I was scheduled to review today: Give a Goat, a picture book from Heifer International founder’s daughter, Jan West Schrock, and illustrated by Aileen Darragh.

Give a Goat is a true story about a fifth grade class who set out to help give a goat to a needy family. The children are inspired by a story read aloud by their teacher, and get together to hold fund raising to make enough to purchase a goat for a needy family so they may have a better life.

I won’t reveal the ending, but one thing the book taught me about Heifer International was “passing on the gift”: how one family receives an animal that eventually gives birth, the owners give the baby animal to another family, so they can too can experience an improved life.

As, The Well-Read Child points out, the book isn’t a blatant shilling for Heifer International., While the organization features heavily in the storybook, the result is a sweet story about giving, and how anybody – even children – can change the world, and the children inspired others in their school to give to other charities.

The language employed is a child’s vocabulary, with the occasional “cool!” – the tale related as if a child were really telling it, and the sketched, watercolor-like illustrations evoke a child-like feel, with mischievous goats populating the pages.

Tour Schedule

Monday, Dec. 8: The Well-Read Child
Tuesday, Dec. 9: Mitali’s Fire Escape
Thursday, Dec. 11: On My Bookshelf
Friday, Dec. 12: The
Wild Rumpus Starts
Saturday, Dec. 13: The Well-Read Child (author interview)
Sunday, Dec. 14: In the Pages
Wednesday, Dec. 17: Through the Looking Glass
Thursday, Dec. 18: Tea Leaves

Friday, Dec. 19: Becky’s Book Reviews
Saturday, Dec. 20 – Crazy 4 Kids Books
Sunday, Dec. 21: Read These Books and Use Them

Other visits recommended:

School Library journal: Interview with the author
Just One More Book: Podcast on Give a Goat
Give a Goat mentioned by Chasing Ray’s Colleen @ Bookslut

Copy for review provided by the publisher.


Under the Night Sky by Amy Lundebreck arrives on my blog during winter, when there’s not just a chill in the air – there’s a magical feeling. The picture book, beautifully illustrated by Anna Rich, is the tale of a little boy, who lies awake waiting for his mother to return home from her factory job. This is his tradition, pretending he’s been asleep as his mother kisses him goodnight. But tonight is different.

Ordering him to bundle up, mother ushers her son outside, where neighbors are gathered. Throughout the first pages, Rich uses dark and natural colors – browns, reds, etc. Blues are used very sparingly. Soon the sky is alive with magnificent blues, purples, and greens, with the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) captured on two pages, as every person on the street looks up at the natural wonder.

Together, they all watch the lights, as the child’s mother promises she will always try to give her best to him. The topics of conversation amongst the adults reflect the sentiment in her voice – the adults discuss the price of gas, rent, and other parental worries. The child recognizes the emotional atmosphere of the event, and makes an offer of friendship to a boy he previously teased. Here, under the lights, they are all part of something larger.

Slowly, as the sky whirls by, the child falls asleep under the night sky.

Ludenbreck’s work captures the dynamics of a single parent household, the lives of the middle-class and the awe-inspiring effect the simple things can leave on us. And Rich’s illustrations work well to portray the brilliance of the Northern Lights, as she slowly introduces more bright colors into the images for a dramatic effect. The picture book would serve as a great introduction to astronomy for younger children.

Copy for review provided by the publisher.

Be sure to visit the other stops on the blog tour!

Monday, Dec. 8: Shelf Elf —
Wednesday, Dec. 10: The Wild Rumpus Starts—
Thursday, Dec. 11: In the Pages—
Friday, Dec. 12: The Well-Read Child —
Saturday, Dec. 13: Read These Books and Use Them—
Sunday, Dec. 14: Ready, Set, Read —
Monday, Dec. 15: Becky’s Book Reviews —
Tuesday, Dec. 16: NatureMoms —
Wednesday, Dec. 17: TBD
Thursday, Dec. 18: On My Bookshelf—
Friday, Dec. 19: The Green Hour—

Ted Bell’s Nick of Time is part of the Alex Hawke series, Bell’s line of spy adventure novels. Nick of Time is the first young adult addition to the series, and serves well as a stand alone title. I found it enjoyable without being familiar to the earlier books.

Nick of Time is an enthralling read from beginning to end. The lead character, Nicholas McIver, is alive in the 1930s, but the character is so well-written, he could fit seamlessly in any time period (and soon does). Nick is plucky, adventurous, and is rich with boyish charm and a fervent desire for heroics of that of hero, Admiral Nelson.

His sister, Kate, is just as charming and precocious. She’s admiring of her brother, and the moments between the two characters were some of my favorites. The two live with their family in a lighthouse in the smallest of the Channel Islands, on Greybeard Island. Nick spends his days sailing the waters around the island, and develops a keen sense of every rock and reef surrounding them. One day, out on such an excursion, Nick discovers a mysterious chest, sent from 1805 by his ancestor, the Royal Navy’s Captain Nicholas McIver. Inside Nick finds a time machine, along with a letter, and learns the Captain and his entire fleet, Nelson’s men, are under attack by the treacherous Billy Blood. And he’ll stop at nothing to get the time machine, a double to the one he possesses. Meanwhile, the Nazis have their submarines in English waters and are closing in.

Kate and Nick enlist the help of the Lord Alexander Hawke, and his right-hand man, Commander Hobbes. Hobbes and Kate stay behind in 1939 to warn Churchhill of the impending Nazi invasion, while Hawke and Nick travel back to 1805 to help defeat Billy Blood, who travels throughout time, kidnapping children and livestock, and holding them for ransom. It is then that Nick discovers how he truly is a hero.

Nick of Time is action-packed from start to finish. It’s well-paced, with a mixture of fantasy, sci-fi, and historical fiction. Although my grasp of history isn’t that impressive, the details within the novel kept me riveted, from the descriptions of Nick’s encounters with his ancestor to the battle scenes, which moved quickly and weren’t bogged down in gratuitous detail. The emotional content of the novel also kept me hooked, especially in a poginant scene between Nelson and Nick. Nick of Time is a young adult book, but will capture the attention of any reader with its richly drawn characters, exciting action, and tender emotion for parents, for one’s country, and for family.

Nick of Time is available in hardback now from St. Martins. Copy for review provided by the publisher.

The New York Times had an excellent article Literacy Debate – Online, R You Really Reading?, in which the Times dissects reading, teenagers, and the internet. The piece discusses three children, and their respective approaches to reading. One teen profiled, 14 year old Nadia, reads nothing but stories, but hopes to be an author, and major in English, saying, “No one’s ever said you should read more books to get into college,” she said. (I think several hundred colleges just read this article and disagreed). The other teens both read occasionally and use the internet as the main source of information.

The article outlines the academic and career-oriented benefits of reading, as well as the way the internet is changing reading. We’re becoming more and more used to reading at random parts of the screen. Not surprising, those students who read novels score better on standardized tests than those who don’t. However, low-income students’ scores improved as well, when given internet access, because while navigating the internet, they were reading.

The piece continues, with one expert asserting that reading on the internet is more enriching, and one of the teens pointing out the interactive benefit of reading. The web, he says, “is more of a conversation,” due largely to the growing number of blogs, comments on news articles, message boards, etc.

Right now, the children born in 2008 will grow up having always known the internet, and the access of information at the click of a button. They won’t know the trials of having to use the periodical index – in the form of a book – to write a term paper.

Since my thesis will focus on it, it’d be interested to see the converse of this topic: how the internet appears to foster reading of actual books, thanks to sites like librarything, paperbackswap, goodreads, etc. With book clubs moving online and blog buzz igniting book sales.

The Times article is really worth the read, with an unique look at how reading is evolving. I’d recommend A History of Reading, which although very dry, does have several interesting parts on how we have evolved as readers, progressing from pictograms to words to books, and how digital media will alter our experience.

Today I help end author Chris Rettstatt’s blog tour for The Sky Village, first book of the Kaimira Code series.

I interviewed him about his writing process, future Kaimira code books, and the influence of his favorite science fiction on the series.

In The Sky Village, another character, Lizard Girl, is mentioned as one of the mysterious book’s stories. Rom and Mei previously thought the stories they read were simply childhood fiction, but realize they are real accounts of each other’s lives. How many other Kaimira children will there be?

The third book in the series will reveal the identity of the third Guardian. But there are references in The Sky Village that there might be more Guardians. Exactly how many and who they are is still a mystery.

As the Kaimira Code is a five book series with differing characters, plots, and locations, I imagine a great deal of research has to go within each. What are the challenges of writing about such diversity, rather than one set of characters in a few locations?

A big part of the challenge is exactly what you’ve said, doing the research to get each location right. And though this is fantasy, I wanted to represent cultures in a way that would feel authentic, not only to American readers but also to people who grew up in those cultures.

But this is also where a lot of the fun is. I love going to a new place and losing myself in the culture. And when I’m writing, I love trying to find just the right details to give a similar experience of that culture to the reader.

On your blog, you mention you’re a parent of twin girls. When they’re older, what characteristics from your characters would like to your children to have?

During the wedding ritual in The Sky Village, Ai-ling’s parents tell her that they’ve tried to raise her to be “happy, healthy, strong, and wise.” This was inspired very directly by what I want for my own daughters.

I’d also like for my twins to learn early that even the most intense emotions are manageable, which is something Rom and Mei have to learn.

Finally, I want very much for my twins to be independent and adventurous. This is the hard one, because my instinct is to come running every time they encounter an obstacle. But when I see how proud they are, even at this age, to have worked something out on their own, I know I have to try to let them figure out their world in their own way.

Despite being the first book, The Sky Village already bears a rich mythology of its own, with its history of demonsmithing, the brief story of the Trinary Wars, etc. There’s excerpts in the novel from diaries and histories – would you ever consider expanding these plots into their own series, such as a book of Sky Village tales, etc?

That’s a dangerous suggestion. I love coming up with stories that fit the various nooks and crannies of the Kaimira storyverse, so much so that I tend to go overboard. But I can say that if readers want more Sky Village stories, It will be my pleasure (literally) to write those stories. And I’m hoping readers will write some of those stories, too.

You appear to be quite the science fiction buff, as evidenced by the technological aspects of the Kaimira Code, as well as your blog writings mentioning the genre. Are there any elements from science fiction or fantasy that inspired the series?

My favorite books as a child were fantasy and science fiction, and it’s still a favorite genre of mine. There are tons of influences that found their way into Kaimira, and probably a lot more that that I’m not even aware of.

A common theme since the beginning of Science Fiction was fear of science. We’ve seen so many stories that pit humanity against science and technology, and they never get old, because just as we’ve started to relax about a certain science, a new one comes along to scare the bejesus out of us.

And stories about humans against the untamed wild go back to the days of cave paintings. And these stories keep coming back, because the more we conquer nature, the deeper our fear that nature’s going to fight back.

Kaimira weaves both themes together, with science on one side, nature on the other, and humans stuck in the middle just trying to survive.

If it was possible, what animal-machine hybrid would you want as a pet?

The answer to that question changes daily. Some days I’d say Feifei, because I love the idea of a beautiful little pet you can keep in a pouch around your neck. Other days I’d say Spot, particularly if I were going to battle. But today my answer is going to be Robertson’s demon Shakes (whose name is short for Shakespeare).

I always ask authors…If you could live inside any children’s book, what title would it be and why?

Where the Wild Things Are. I’d love for every day to feature a Wild Rumpus and then be back home by dinner.

Thanks to Chris for letting me participate in his blog tour. Be sure to read my review.

Watch the book trailer below!

Mei takes flight with the Sky Village, a series of hot air balloons anchored together. Separated by her parents by the complex war between machine, beast and man, the twelve year old is alone in her new surroundings, as her father goes off to rescue her kidnapped mother. A stranger among the Sky Village citizens, Mei must learn their traditions after a peace treaty between human and bird is severed.

Meanwhile, in the shell of Las Vegas, thirteen year old Rom and his sister, Riley, fight daily for survival amongst the demons and beast that roam the ruins of the city. Rom scours the city for water and bits of technology he can barter, but Riley’s taken by demons – animal-mechanical hybrids, and Rom must travel underground to rescue her. Forced to fight in the demon-battling circuit, Rom discovers an untapped power within himself.

The two soon discover they can communicate through a journal, a book they previously considered a storybook where they read of other children’s and each other’s adventures. Animus, the mysterious being within the book, reveals a startling secret to their genetics: the kaimira gene in their DNA embodies them with beast and mek quailities.

When Animus ask for release, Mei and Riley are forced to confront their new inheritance, and face the remnants of the world: the aftermath of the Trinary wars, in which man, beast, and machine fight for control.

Monk and Nigel Ashland’s The Sky Village oscillates between pulse-raising action, and heartfelt takes on grief and loss. Both primary characters are richly written, and the emotional travails Rom and Mei face come across in sharp paragraphs and gripping situations. The depth of familial love is captured perfectly as Rom helps his sister construct puppets modeled after their parents, and Mei relishes her time with one of her mother’s pets.

Though a teen series, Rom and Mei wrestle with adult situations as both must save those around them by recognizing and controlling their newfound genetics. Throughout The Sky Village profound questions are raised, such as a futility of progress in science, the price of power, and what differentiates man, beast, and machine. The Sky Village is an exciting new entrance into the children’s literature world, and a worthy contender.

The action journeys from the page to the screen with the companion website, where the rest of the novel’s journals and excerpts are revealed.

The Sky Village arrives in hardback July 8 from Candlewick Press.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Zoe Marriot’s debut, The Swan Kingdom, is a fantasy based on the Han Christian Anderson tale The Wild Swans. The cover art (pictured left) reflects the beauty and power within in the novel.

Princess Alexandra, of Farland, lives in a “beautiful and lush Kingdom,” that’s kept alive by the enaid, “the life of the world.” She’s taught in the ways of healing magic and “workings” by her mother. Alexandra grows up loved by her mother and doted on by her brothers, which help offset the distance she feels from her father. After her mother’s death, a mysterious woman banishes Alexandra and her brothers. Alexandra, armed with perseverance and fierce love might vanquish the woman and restore order to her kingdom.

Alexandra is an excellent character, as her mannerisms and inner self are realistic – like any young girl in her mother’s shadow, she has doubts in her abilities, and looks upon herself as the least favored in her father’s eyes. Marriot’s prose is electric and brings Alexandra alive, with stirring passages as Alexandra must confront not only the outsider who has banished her and her brothers from their kingdom, but also her doubts.

Marriot writes very sparingly, without overly flowerly descriptions of the kingdom and the magic within, and the effort leaves a powerful novel rooted in a familiar tale, yet with a magic all its own.

The Swan Kingdom is available now from Candlewick Press.

Copy for review provided by the publisher.