Monday, January 26, 2015

Middle Grade Review: Breaking the Ice by Gail Nall (ARC)

Breaking the Ice
by Gail Nall
2015. Aladdin
ISBN: 9781481419116
Kaitlin longs to perfect her figure skating program and win a spot at Nationals. Unfortunately, she loses her temper at a competition and insults the judges, after which she is dropped by both her coach and her skating club. Now the only club that will take her on is Fallton, nicknamed Fall Down,  which is home to a group of misfit skaters, known for blowing it at competitions. At Fallton, Mia's new coach encourages her to connect emotionally with a brand-new tango-inspired skating routine, while cute boy Braedon gets her into trouble and level-headed Miyu provides friendship and support. 

This book is different from a lot of other middle grade novels from Aladdin because the main character has an actual life-changing problem. Other books focus on friendship and boy troubles - and there is some of that here - but this story focuses mainly on how young girls can bounce back from mistakes through hard work and determination. Debut author Gail Nall does a wonderful job of helping the reader to feel the tremendous pressure Kaitlin is under. She resolves Kaitlin's problems realistically as well, without ever providing an easy way out. It's a little disappointing that this book portrays homeschooling in such a negative light, giving into stereotypes that homeschooled kids are lonely, but this is the only true flaw in an otherwise enjoyable read. 

Breaking the Ice is a relatable story that will engage many middle school girls who, like Kaitlin, are struggling to be themselves, do their best, and express their needs. Other figure skating stories for this age group include Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner, the Mia books from American Girl, and Gold Medal Winner by Donna Freitas.

I received a digital ARC of Breaking the Ice from Aladdin via NetGalley.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Old School Sunday: A Long Day in November by Ernest J. Gaines (1971)

A Long Day in November
by Ernest J. Gaines
1971; 2013. 
Lizzie Skurnick Books
ISBN: 9781939601025
On a November day in the 1940s rural South, six-year-old Sonny wakes up to find his parents' marriage in turmoil. His mother, convinced that Sonny's father Eddie loves his car more than his family, decides to move to her mother's house down the street, dragging Sonny along with her. Desperate not to lose his family, Eddie spends all day seeking advice from friends and a local woman who practices voodoo, before ultimately sacrificing his car for  the love of his wife.

This slice of life story is fabulously well written. By telling the story through the innocent eyes of young Sonny, Gaines is able to provide an unbiased account of both parents' actions, leaving room for the reader - ideally a middle school student - to draw his or her own conclusions. What is for Sonny just a really long day is for the more sophisticated reader an opportunity to understand what it was like to live on a sugarcane plantation during this time period, and a study on human relationships and what drives people to behave as they do.

Though the novel itself is short, there is much to discuss and dissect that can easily encourage multiple re-readings. Kids in grades 6 to 9, especially, will have much to say about the decisions made by each character, and will delight in the final scenes where Eddie makes his choice and follows through. Historical fiction can be a hard sell, but once kids find out that this is essentially a book about breaking up and making up, they will be all over it.

I own a copy of A Long Day in November.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Picture Book Review: Hatch, Little Egg by Edouard Manceau

Hatch, Little Egg
by Edouard Manceau

Quick Booktalk 

Everyone is traveling to see the egg hatch - but they’re surprised - and disappointed - by what comes out!

About the Illustrations

The style of this book is a bit more traditional Manceau’s other recent titles (Windblown, ). Cartoonish animals appear in various modes of transportation against a stark white backdrop. The characters all pretty much have the same facial expressions at the same time, which helps the readers understand how the author wants them to react to the events of the story. While the illustrations are bold and colorful, they are all very similar and it is difficult to stay interested in them for the duration of the plot.

Story Time Possibilities

This book wouldn’t work for me in story time because the dialogue does not make it clear who is speaking. On certain pages, several lines of unattributed dialogue appear above the heads of a dozen characters with not even a visual hint at who is saying what. This is especially problematic when the creature who hatches from the egg starts speaking for himself. The story itself is also strange and quirky, which can be a huge draw for individual kids but a major turn-off for mixed groups. Early elementary kids might be a good audience for it, because they are advanced enough to talk about why the book does or does not work. For preschoolers, though, I’d skip it in favorite of something more reliable.

Readers Advisory 

Hatch, Little Egg is the perfect complement to books like Hunwick’s Egg, Eggs 1-2-3: Who Will the Babies Be?, and Ribbit. It also teaches character lessons about not judging others, being oneself, and not allowing oneself to be defined by the opinions of the masses, which may be appealing to teachers and daycare providers.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Picture Book Review: Bad Dog, Flash by Ruth Paul

Bad Dog Flash
by Ruth Paul

Quick Booktalk 

A dog named Flash is constantly in trouble for chewing shoes, digging holes, and ripping laundry, but at least one member of his family think he's a good dog anyway.

About the Illustrations

The illustrations do a lot of the work in this book, as the text is very simple. The pictures show Flash leaving a path of destruction everywhere he goes, sometimes very subtly suggesting the consequences of his actions (i.e. a man is shown holding a ladder after Flash chases a cat up a tree.) The illustrator shows Flash in several situations on one page to effectively demonstrate the passage of time, which helps the pictures keep pace with the fast-moving minimal text.

Story Time Possibilities

I would have loved to have this book available to me when I was doing story time for beginning readers. The high-interest subject matter (dogs) and the simple repetitive text sprinkled with familiar sight words would work very well for that purpose. It would also be fine for a preschool story time, especially because the kids could join in with a chorus of "Bad dog, Flash!" each time he does something wrong. It would be fun to pair this book with Harry the Dirty Dog for a canine mischief theme, or with something like Harriet You'll Drive Me Wild for a story time about mischief and forgiveness.

Reader's Advisory 

Parents who object to leveled readers on the grounds that they are "not real literature" might feel better letting their children read a book like  this, which looks more like a picture book but is still basic enough for a new reader. If Little Miss Muffet is any judge, it also has huge toddler appeal, as she loves pointing to Flash on every single page and is constantly reaching for the book and giving it to me to read.


I received a review copy of Bad Dog, Flash from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky via Edelweiss.
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