Review: The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof

The Cat Who Came InReview:

The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof

Author: Annie M. G. Schmidt

Publisher: Delacorte Press, English translation copyright, 2014

Source: Personal Purchase

Mr. Tibble is a reporter, but he’s got a problem. He’s too shy to get any real news. Instead he writes articles about cats. He’s about to be fired, but his editor is giving him one last chance. Tibble must submit a news article by the morning.

Luckily for Tibble, a very unique young lady – Miss Minou – comes into his life when a dog chases her up a tree. She claims she is really a cat. She certainly has some very cattish traits. She sleeps in a box in his attic apartment. She is ready to pounce when a schoolgirl brings her pet mouse to show Tibble. She purrs and hisses and her very favorite person in the neighborhood is the fishmonger.

It is Miss Minou, whom Tibble calls his secretary, who saves Tibble his job, for as she climbs out onto the roof and converses with the other cats of the neighborhood, she is able to dig up some real news for Tibble to report. Again and again she is able to find out things long before anyone else hears a word. Tibble becomes the star reporter at the newspaper.

However, just as Miss Minou and her ‘sources’ are the reason behind Tibble’s success, they could be his downfall. Can Miss Minou save the situation? And now that she has somewhat adjusted to being human herself, what will she do if she has the opportunity to once again become a cat?

This delightful story will have readers cheering for everyone – Tibble, Miss Minou, and all her feline friends, even Tatter Cat, who is more than a bit rough around the edges. It’s a timeless and ageless little romance in the truest of feel-good traditions.

Review: Call Me Sunflower

Call Me SunflowerReview:

Call Me Sunflower

Author: Miriam Spitzer Franklin

Publisher: Sky Pony Press, 2017

Source: ARC

Sunflower Beringer – who wants to be known as Sunny – has had some major changes in her life. Her mother has suddenly decided to pursue an advanced degree and in the process left their home in New Jersey and Scott (Sunny’s dad), and moved the rest of the family to live with Grandma Grace in North Carolina just as Sunny is about to start sixth grade. All Sunny really wants to do is to get her parents back together, so she develops “Sunny’s Super-Stupendous Plan to Get Mom and Dad Back Together.” It includes playing on the feelings of both parents because she is sure the love still exists between them. She needs them to be a family once more!

However, the plan to rekindle their romance is so much more difficult than Sunny had expected, especially when working as a long-distance Cupid. When her first attempts are not particularly successful, Sunny knows she has to up her game. She moves from mysteriously delivered flowers from secret admirers to getting Mom to pose for a “glamour” photo to share with Scott. All to no avail. Revised plans call for stronger action, and the fact that she may actually hurt others in the process is a factor that Sunny has not considered.

My first thought was that this book would be a modern-day Parent Trap, but it takes a much fresher approach. I will admit that I felt angrier with Sunny’s parents than Sunny actually appears to (Why would you get involved in such deceptions? Just tell the truth from the start!), but I really like how Franklin makes us all realize that families come in many different forms. It’s all about the love and concern we share for one another that creates a family.

 

Note: This book was provided for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Review: The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs

The Nine Lives of Jacob TibbsReview:

The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs

Author: Cylin Busby

Publisher: Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 2016

Source: Personal purchase

If readers think that my review of the nonfiction book The Whydah, A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found may have dampened my enthusiasm for a swashbuckling tale, I must confess that it has not. Give me more vicarious adventure on the high seas, including run-ins with violent (or silly, as in Jack Sparrow) pirates and tales of perilous storms!

Fortunately The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs has somewhat satisfied my thirst (although not entirely – I could be entertained by a lot more) even though it is a story lacking in pirates. It is fiction, but very solidly based in fact. Although the “walking the plank” myths are missing, it is filled with plenty of real-life adventure.

Jacob Tibbs is a ship’s cat. He’s just a little guy – a kitten and the runt of the litter – but he’s the son of the infamous Mrs. Tibbs, a formidable ratter and a cat who can accurately foretell the weather. Mrs. Tibbs is famed on the docks of Liverpool and her kittens are much desired – all except little Jacob. So Captain Natick sets sail for American with both Mrs. Tibbs and her young son on board.

Jacob quickly realizes that it takes a lot of learning to be a ship’s cat. They are barely out of port when Mrs. Tibbs forecasts a storm. The weather seems clear but Captain Natick is uncertain. There’s no sign of an impending storm, yet Mrs. Tibbs has never been wrong. Unwisely he does not heed her warning, a choice he will come to regret. Within hours the violent storm brews up, one which will cost  men their lives, cause a mutiny and ultimately aid in the discovery of new land. Jacob Tibbs will face many dangers: harsh storms, cruel sailors (some are kind), and dangerous beasts of several varieties.

There are plenty of historical fiction books that feed us facts like a too-obvious pill in the jam. By using the fresh perspective of Jacob Tibbs, Busby is able to give readers the information, yet avoid boring everyone with too many facts and too little story. The balance is just right and the story is enjoyably gripping as we follow Jacob from one danger to the next.

Visit Cylin Busby’s website to learn more about her books at: http://cylinbusby.com/

 

 

 

Review: Fish in a Tree

fish-in-a-tree.jpgReview:

Fish in a Tree

Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Publisher: Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2015

Source: Library

Ally Nickerson is called many names: freak, dumb, loser. The truth is that she is simply different, and she thinks she knows why. She has a problem which she tries desperately to conceal even though this secret “is like dragging around a concrete block” (pg. 69). Ally can’t read. No matter how hard she tries, she simply can’t make sense of those squiggly, little symbols.

So far she has been able to fool her teachers, though not without consequences which include regular visits to the principal. When her teacher goes on maternity leave, her substitute, Mr. Daniels – a grad student studying special education – discovers the truth. Ally is dyslexic. Ally begins to realize that different is not stupid.

The intriguing title comes from a quote that reminds us all of this fact: If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its life believing it is stupid.

This book celebrates students with all kinds of abilities. It explores the importance of friendship and family and offers hope to those who struggle academically. At the end of the book is a wonderful set of discussion questions and a journal of sketches of “impossible things.”

Check out Lynda Mullaly Hunt at: http://www.lyndamullalyhunt.com/

 

Review: The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher

the-misadventures-of-the-family-fletcher-2.jpgReview:

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher

Author: Dana Alison Levy

Publisher: Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, 2014

Source: Public Library

What do two dads and four very different brothers make? A sea of testosterone? Complete chaos? A family, of course – a little bit wacky, a little bit chaotic (but what family with kids isn’t?), but also very lovable.

Jason Fletcher and his husband Tom Anderson have reached out and adopted four boys. Frog (really Jeremiah) is the youngest. At six, he is just starting kindergarten along with his imaginary friend and pet cheetah, Flare. At school he meets plenty of real boys and girls, but who exactly is this elusive friend named Ladybug?

Jax and Eli are both ten and until this year have attended the same school. This year, however, Jax will be attending the local upper elementary school while Eli will be heading off to a private school for gifted students. And though the boys and the schools are different, both boys are to find that there are challenges to face. Will Jax be overshadowed by older brother Sam? And is Pinnacle School the best thing that ever happened to Eli – or not?

Sam is the oldest (12) and seems to have everything figured out. He’s one of the cool kids and the best goalie on the soccer team. He’s got a real chance to make it on the Shipton Under-15 Elite Team. But Sam has other gifts, too, and is not at all certain which direction he should go.

Add to this mix a dog with MIR (maximum inconvenience radar), a cat, a cranky neighbor who moves to the neighborhood looking for a quiet life, and a loving aunt from NYC who makes cupcakes for a living, and you have the kind of unforgettable story and characters that make you want everything about this book to be real.

Learn more about Dana Alison Levy and her books at: http://danaalisonlevy.com/books

 

 

Review: Touching Spirit Bear

Touching the Spirit BearReview:

Touching Spirit Bear

Author: Ben Mikaelsen

Publisher: Harper Trophy, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001

Source: Personal Purchase

Cole Matthews pretends he doesn’t care about anything. He doesn’t care that he’s always in trouble. His latest run-in has involved beating another boy, Peter Driscal, to a bloody mess. Peter suffers permanent injuries due to the beating, but to Cole it doesn’t matter. Peter had it coming to him. In the past, his parents have always paid for Cole to be bailed out of whatever fresh trouble he has gotten involved in.

This time will be different. Prosecutors want to try Cole in adult court, and he is facing jail time. His parents have divorced and are no longer as willing to help. However, Cole does have one chance to escape jail. From Garvey, his youth probation officer, he learns he can apply to a new program called Circle Justice. This program is “a healing form of justice practiced by native cultures for thousands of years” (pg. 12).  It is an opportunity for a person to make their wrongs right. To Cole, it’s just another opportunity to get away with his crimes.

Cole’s application is accepted, and he is brought to a remote Alaskan island where he will spend a year alone. When he sees the shack that has been prepared for him, his anger and resentment blaze up. As soon as he is left alone, he burns down the shack and his supplies. He attempts to escape the island by trying to swim to another nearby island, but finds that he cannot make it while the tide is coming in. Again his anger flares. While near the remains of his shack, he sees a white bear, Spirit Bear, and decides to challenge the animal. It is a grave mistake, for the bear mauls and nearly kills him. He survives simply because Garvey finds him and gets him the necessary medical help he needs.

Cole’s journey is not yet over. It takes six months for his injuries to heal (and even then he still needs plenty of therapy.) Although he has broken his contract with Circle Justice, and it seems unlikely that he will be trusted enough to go to the island again, he is given one more chance to redeem himself. Has Cole really changed? Can he really heal all of his scars, not just the physical ones, but the emotional and spiritual ones? And, most of all, can he somehow earn Peter’s and his own forgiveness?

This is a great story. Cole certainly is a troubled young man and yet, despite his attitude, the reader never loses faith. I think it’s the type of story that will appeal to young men, not only for the emotional aspect but because of the adventure part, too.

Stay tuned! As usual with stories that mean a lot, I have been working on discussion questions!

Review: Paper Wishes

paper-wishes.jpgReview:

Paper Wishes

Author: Lois Sepahban

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016

Source: Personal Purchase

Manami and her family lived on Bainbridge Island, Washington. They are Americans, but when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Manami, her parents, and her grandfather are brought to a prison camp in the Californian desert. Manami’s brother and sister, Ron and Keiko, are away at college and have been able to avoid the prison camp. When preparing to leave her home, Manami attempts to bring the family’s dog, Yujiin, but soldiers take her pet away.

Life in the prison camp is difficult. It is hard to grow herbs and vegetables when your garden is in the desert. Living space is cramped, and father and mother work hard. Manami is able to attend school where a very kind teacher, Miss Rosalie, does her best to help the students. Then Ron, concerned about his family’s welfare, joins them at the prison camp. He will also teach, handling the older student classroom. Keiko remains at college, available to help should her family be freed. While Manami is happy that Ron is with the family, his presence brings complications – dangerous secrets that will affect everyone and their safety.

For readers who think they don’t like historical fiction, I have to say: please give Paper Wishes a chance. It’s a wonderfully told story and while it is historical, the history blends itself in seamlessly, never catching our attention by being overly obvious or didactic.

Check out Lois Sepahban’s website, especially the classroom guide for Paper Wishes at: http://www.loissepahban.com/pdf/PaperWishes-Classroom-Guide.pdf

Short Story Grab Bag

Since May is short story month, I’ve reviewed a short story collection earlier this month and tomorrow I have a special feature concerning a particular short story. Before making my selections, I did some research by searching for things like “best short stories for middle grade (or high school)” or “classic short stories.” The lists that popped up contained much of what I expected. Here are a few of the most recommended stories:

 

“To Build A Fire” – Jack London

“The Ransom of Red Chief” – O. Henry

“The Tell-Tale Heart” – Edgar Allan Poe

“The Lottery” – Shirley Jackson

“The Rocking-Horse Winner” – D. H. Lawrence

“A Sound of Thunder” – Ray Bradbury

 

Most of these writers had several stories on the list. I have read all of these choices and agree: they are fantastic stories. However, while these are the classics that show up repeatedly, I feel there are some missed opportunities here. There are many writers, perhaps more well-known for their novels, who have written some equally wonderful short stories. So here are a few suggestions that might give readers some food for thought.

 

“A Haunted House” – Virginia Woolf

“Rikki-Rikki Tavi” – Rudyard Kipling

“Skin” – Roald Dahl

“Back Windows” – Louisa May Alcott

“The Brother Who Failed” – L.M. Montgomery

“Mr. Edward” – Norah Lofts

Mother West Wind “Where” Stories – Thornton Burgess

“The Sphinx at Dawn” – Madeleine L’Engle

“The Prank” – Gregory Maguire

 

Once again, most of these writers have several – or many – great stories.

Check back tomorrow for an interested take on a well-known short story!

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Wizard’s Hall

Wizard's HallWizard’s Hall

Author: Jane Yolen

Publisher: Magic Carpet Books, Harcourt, Inc. 1991

Source: Public library

When he is eleven years old, Henry’s mother sends him to Wizard’s Hall to learn wizardry. Henry is worried that he might not have the talent for it, but his mother explains that whether or not he has talent is not important. “Talent don’t matter,” she tells him. “It only matters that you try” (pg. 2).

When Henry arrives at Wizard’s Hall he is renamed Thornmallow because he is prickly on the outside but squishy within. He begins his classes and learns that perhaps he does have some talent for magic because he is able to (accidentally) conjure up an avalanche of snow and some red roses.

But Thornmallow’s real purpose is something else. For the Magisters (teachers) are fighting a dark wizard and a Beast quilted from the dark side of souls, and it is going to take the right person – someone prickly on the outside but squishy within – to help them defeat the dark forces and save the school.  Thornmallow is not sure if he has what it takes, but he is going to try.

This book predates the Harry Potter series, but I found the similarities between the two uncanny. I mean, two eleven year old boys going off to wizardry schools – actually castles – that contain all kinds of magical elements like talking pictures. Both boys are befriended by a red-headed, freckled boy as their closest friend. And both young wizards will find themselves fighting a dark wizard against seemingly impossible odds. My only complaint is that Yolen’s version is too short. As with Harry, I was ready to follow Thornmallow to a much longer adventure/battle.

 

 

Review: The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories

witchs-vac.jpgReview:

The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories

Author: Terry Pratchett

Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2016

Source: Public Library

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find there is nothing better than to read a short story. You get the complete reading experience – from the curiosity at the beginning that peaks your interest, to the adventurous middle that just won’t let you put a story down, to the (hopefully) satisfying conclusion – and you can do it in one quick sitting. Sometimes it is just nice not to have to wait. Since May is Short Story month, I’ve been looking for just such stories to share.

If you are looking for some magical stories – but nothing in the line of the dark and disturbing, then Terry Pratchett’s stories compiled in this volume, will fill the need perfectly. It is lovely pure silliness. As the title informs, we learn about a witch that rides a vacuum cleaner. There are miniature people riding about in walnut-shell submarines. Ant #4179003 wonders about the meaning of life.

Pratchett gives us all the popular themes – cowboys and pirates; witches and magicians. However, each time we enter a story, we get something unexpected and fun. I also like that in several of Pratchett’s stories, we are reunited with familiar characters. I happen to love when short stories, which I expect to be able to stand as a story alone, also intertwine with one another. It’s like getting the best of both worlds. You get the quick satisfaction of a short story along with the deeper involvement and emotional connections of a novel.

You can learn more about Terry Pratchett’s works at: https://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/