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Bri Meets Books

Children's and YA literature reviews.

Category Archives: review

In 2002, Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman was published.  The book was a discussion on the inner world of girls, from cliques to drama, in a way few parenting books bothered to eclipse.  The book became the basis for the hit movie Mean Girls, staring Lindsay Lohan.

Now Wiseman turns her sights on writing fiction, with her young adult debut, Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials.  Charlotte, or as she’s more known, Charlie, has suffered at the hands of mean girls during middle school, and is eager to start anew at Harmony Falls High. But people from the past arrive in her new life – Nidhi, also a victim of mean girls, and Will, her childhood best friend.  And when Will becomes a varsity athlete  and tries too hard to fit in with “the guys,”  an innocent man is hurt during their hazing prank. Charlie realizes she must make a choice between her friendship and doing the right thing.

It’s Rosalind’s experience with the microcosm of high school from Queen Bees that richens Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials.  While certainly not a flawless depiction of high school, her take on the mean girls was refreshing.  I loved Charlie, who wasn’t like most of the teenage girls in fiction – here was a girl who wasn’t constantly obsessed with her appearance.   Same for Sydney and Nidhi – friends that Charlie had left her old high school to find.    The dialogue feels fresh and real, not the product of a weekend’s worth of MTV viewing.  The plot of the damage mean boys can wreak, a converse of what Queen Bees introduced, was refreshing. However the plot with Will and the near-fatal prank came too far toward the end of the novel for me.  As a central plot device, one on which a character-altering decision hinged, it felt awkward to confront so near the conclusion.

There are great things to take from this novel, and I’m always a fan of a book that makes me think:  How Charlie must confront her past in the form of Nidhi and Charlie.  How far one will go to fit in.  Sexual harassment. The list goes on.  But they’re all presented woven into the narrative, never does a character speak for the author and real-life teen issues she writes about every day on her website.     Might be a great book for parents of teen girls to read with their children to spark some conversations.

Copy for review provided by the publisher.

Title:  Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials
Author:  Rosalind Wiseman
Date:  January 2010
Publisher: GP Putnam
Pages: 288

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“Everyone forgets their manners sometimes.”

Lisa Tharpe and Ali Bahrampour’s P is for Please: A Bestiary of Manners features twenty six lessons on etiquette, with the help of a large menagerie.   Starting from A, with “A is for asking permission,” each page offers a reminder starting with a letter of the alphabet, and a silly alliteration of the importance of manners.

What follows is a  zany breakdown of all the things one should always do, whether it’s using table manners or saying “excuse me.”

“Excuse me!”  whispers Xavier Xolo when he accidentally bumps into an extra large xenopus.”

Ali Bahrampour’s illustrations are simple but effective. The gentle nature of the animals depicted reminded me of Richard Scarry’s early work from his Golden Book titles. A wide range of species, from the common to the exotic, are shown here.  P is for Please is great for kids, because they’re learning lessons on politeness, while being entertained and the illustrations add to the whimsy of the text.

The cover design features a raised illustration.  Such tactile touches are rare these days in picture books, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Copy for review provided by the author.  To purchase your own copy, visit!

Title:  P is for Please
Author:  Lisa Tharpe (Illus. by Ali Bahrampour)
Date:  November 2009
Publisher: Blueberry Ink Press
Pages: 32

This past summer, for my Media and Society class, we collected data from our days. That is, conversations – we wrote down conversations we observed, and ones we participated in.  The information was then mined for similarities, categorized, and put in collections.  It was then these observations became media.
We live in a constantly connected society. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and other sites, we can know with a click of a button where our friends are, what our favorite celebrities are doing, up-to-the-minute news as it breaks, and more.
It’s these thoughts went through my thread as I sat down to write this review for The Knife of  Never Letting Go first of the Chaos Walking series.  That class proved the claim that information is everywhere.  But it took me a long time to review this. I actually read it when I received it in 2008. Then I read it again. I just couldn’t form words that could capture what it does to you.

What would it be like to live in a world where others could hear your every thought?

Such a society exists in The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. The first in the “Chaos Walking” series introduces us to a world in which there are no women left, and every thought by a man or child is audible to all those around, due to an infection known as “Noise.”  Todd Hewlitt is the last boy in the strange settlement of Prentisstown.  His birthday is around the corner, and he’s about to become a man.   With only his dog,  the ever-faithful Manchee, for companionship, Todd ventures to pick apples in a clearing. Only it’s silent and devoid of noise.  More importantly, a girl, Viola Eade, whose spaceship has crashed, and she is its only survivor.    Todd soon learns Viola’s existence poses a threat and the two flee, pursued by the townspeople.

There’s a lot going on in this book, but unlike some dystopian novels I’ve read, The Knife of Never Letting Go appears to have a very clear direction. There’s a great deal of mystery and intrigue in this society, but as Todd uncovers more, the readers learn the real history of Prentisstown along width him. The varying fonts throughout Knife really illustrate  the overwhelming cacophony of thoughts that surround the members of Prentisstown, and let us feel like we’re on the run with Todd as well.   The writing is quick paced, and I flew through the novel, each chapter becoming more taut with suspense as Todd discovers the dark secrets of those he trusted.    The voice of Todd, however, was my favorite.  The improper grammar, the introspective moments , the running stream of consciousness, in other books it would grate on a reader’s nerves perhaps, here, it fuses together perfectly.   His growing loss of innocence is amplified in lines such as the following:

“Men lie, and they lie to theirselves most of all.”

“And there’s so much sorrow in his noise, so much worry and edginess, I know he’s speaking true, I know he can’t help what’s happening and I hate it…  We don’t say anything more. What else is there to say? Everything and nothing. You can’t say everything, so you don’t say nothing.”

This is a heavy read and will stick with you for quite some time.   The novel approaches so many topics from information to the role of women, to colonization, I could easily see it used in a classroom. On Twitter, I suggested it might make an interesting read next to Fahrenheit 451, with the constrasting themes of the ending of the dissemination of information and the overwhelming power of information.

Two things worth noting:  One issue I had with the storyline: Todd’s abuse of Manchee.  However, I did consider that within this society such treatment of animals isn’t vilified.     Also the foster guardians of Todd, Ben and Cillian, their relationship wasn’t explicitly stated, but it seemed that the two men were a couple who displayed nothing but devotion and care for Todd.  I found this refreshing in a YA novel, and liked that it just existed in the backdrop.

I’d recommend The Knife of Never Letting Go to fans of dystopian fiction, Fahrenheit 451, Candor, Margaret Atwood.

The second book in this series, The Ask and the Answer, has been released in hardcover as well. I warn you, The Knife ends on very unsettling cliffhanger. You’ll want to get The Ask and the Answer immediately.

Copy for review provided by the publisher.

Title:  The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author: Patrick Ness
Date: 2008
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Pages: 496
Format: Hardback

It’s Nonfiction Monday! Created by Picture Book of the Day, it’s where book bloggers feature a nonfiction book for kids.  

Wendie’s Wanderings hosts the roundup this week.

Today I’ll be reviewing a title sent to me by Capstone Publishers, Animal Rights: How You Can Make a Difference by Rhonda Lucas Donald.

This is an excellent book for any child or classroom interested in animal rights.  It’s not just a guide to how others make a difference, it emphasizes how anyone can.   Throughout the book, there’s several stories of teens who saw an injustice to animals and fought to right it.   As the book opens, we learn the story of Haley, who lost her dog due to antifreeze poisoning, and fought to get her home state of Tennessee to require manufacturers a bitter chemical. Her campaign paid off, and the bill she proposed became a law.

Each chapter of Animal Rights illustrates a step towards activism. This format makes it a great classroom addition, as it goes through all the parts required for such a campaign: brainstorming, research,  mapping out a plan, etc.  Keeping its young audience in mind at all times, the book asks the reader to consider the reliability of any website (such as looking for university and government websites first), book, etc,  to look out for bias and stereotyping.  Also, when discussing online communication for their cause,  it does remind children to use caution online and never reveal private information.  Finally, the resources section of Animal Rights offers the Capstone Facthound service, where readers simply plug in the book’s unique ID number in the Facthound website, and will receive quality and kid-safe websites on the topic.

With a kid-friendly approach towards a complex issue and a helpful guide for their campaign, Animal Rights is a must-have.  Slim but loaded with information, plus tips, a glossary, and additional resources, it’s the perfect introduction to giving children a voice for a concern.

Animal Rights: How You Can Make a Difference is part of Capstone’s Take Action! series.  Learn more about the series at the publisher’s website

Copy for review provided by the publisher.

Title: Animal Rights
Author: Rhonda Lucas Donald
Date: 2009
Publisher:  Capstone Publishers
Pages: 32
Format: Hardback

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I survived retail at Christmas, and am looking forward to reading a lot in 2010.

Fainting Goats and Other Weird Mammals by Carmen Bredeson is a small volume of peculiarities in the animal world.  The title is a part of the I Like Weird Animals! series by Enslow Publishers.  The hardback twenty four page book features eight strange animals, including the Duck-Billed Platypus, the Star-Nosed Mole, and the Pygmy Marmoset.  

The layout of the book is perfect for children, with bold large text, a small glossary of terms with pronunciation guide, and images that cover the entire page.  First animal profiled is the vampire bat, with a closeup on the mammal, fangs bared. The caption will intrigue even the most reluctant reader: “The vampire bat is the bat that drinks BLOOD!”  The rest of the animals profiled are just are interesting, especially the Tasmanian Devil.

Pygmy Marmoset

At the end of the book, readers will find two pages offering additional resources:  three additional books, and two websites of related mammal information.  Although they are helpful sources, my only criticism of this title is the limited number of resources.

Other titles in the series include Flying Geckos and Other Weird Reptiles, Leafy Sea Dragons and Other Weird Sea Creatures, and Weird Birds.   See the entire list at Enslow’s website

Copy for review provided by the publisher

Title: Fainting Goats and Other Weird Mammals
Author: Carmen Bredeson
Date:  2009
Publisher: Enslow Publishers
Pages: 24
Format: Hardback

It took me awhile to get out of academic-mode and into book reviewing again, but I’m back. I earned my M.S. in Communications and it was a long haul, but here we are!  That aside, time to review The Brain Finds a Leg by Martin Chatterton.

My idea of Mavis.

The Brain is actually Theophilus Nero Hercule Sherlock Wimsey Father Brown Marlowe Spade Christie Edgar Allen Brain.  The “Brain” nickname comes from his oversized cranium, which, as you can guess is full of information.  The Brain has arrived in Farrago Bay, Australia where Sheldon McGlone is still mourning his father, lost at sea after a mysterious accident while driving a tourist-laden whale watching boat.  And there’s other peculiar animal happenings.  Possums stealing a Land Rover.   Lorikeets covering pet psychologists in waste. Kangaroos robbing convenience stores of tasty snacks.  And did I mention the fetching and barking pet crocodile named Mavis? Yes. Crocodile.

Sheldon becomes The Brain’s sidekick, primarily out of boredom and also urgency, after his brother is thrown into jail. When the city’s pride and glory, surfer Biff Manly, ends up dead with his leg severed, suspicion falls on Sean McGlone, and The Brain decides to take the case. Nobody’s exactly offering it to him, but he takes it.   And the animals’ behaviors aren’t the only thing that’s off in Farrago Bay. But how does it all fit?

I’m a big fan of the author Christopher Moore, which is why I offered to review this.  Brain author Martin Chatterton’s style and plot seemed to be in the same vein, and I wasn’t surprised I loved it.   I loved the rollicking humor and wacky sense of plot throughout the book. Chatterton appears to have a enjoyable time writing this, and the effort shows.  His flair with exaggeration and hyperbole run rampant through the book, with ridiculous names (Infinity Override) and even more outlandish incidents: the police sergeant having to play the role of ‘stick’ for the fetching crocodile,  The Brain   I knew I’d love Sheldon McGlone from his first appearance: groggy, and nearly hungover from a massive candy and chocolate binge.

I’d recommend The Brain Finds a Leg to middle readers to teens looking for a fun mystery, fans of Christopher Moore, and anybody who loves offbeat absurd comedies such as Arrested Development.

Read my guest post with author Martin Chatterton!

Visit his website, WorldofChatterton.

Copy for review provided by the publisher

Title: The Brain Finds a Leg
Author: Martin Chatterton
Date:  October 2009
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Pages: 224
Format: Hardback

princesshyacinthPrincess Hyacinth isn’t your normal princess. She floats. And that’s not a metaphor for her delicate manner of walking lady-like, she literally floats in the air. The only solution is for the king and queen to weigh her down with a heavy crown and jewels. But she wants to fly, and a new friendship will help do so.

A collaboration of two big names in the children’s literature world, Princess Hyacinth is a visual delight. Lane Smith’s illustrations are usually bright and loud, all over the page.  Here they’re  watercolors, more restrained and delicate. The story’s words are art themselves, when Princess Hyacinth floats up, so do they.   The visual play with words continues as the princess careens across the sky.

The ending is great. I love when a children’s book steps outside of the realm of neatly tying up things, it sparks imagination in children and in this dreamy fairy tale, it’s perfect.

Title:  Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated)
Author:  Florence Parry Heide (Illus. by Lane Smith)
Date: September 2009
Publisher: Schwartz and Wade (Random House)
Pages: 48
Format:  Hardback