The Boy on the Porch

Today, I bring you yet another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. My latest read, The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech, isn’t a very long book, but it packs quite an emotional punch. It is sweet, heartwarming, suspenseful at times, and it leaves the reader with a feeling of contentment. If I’m being totally honest, though, I think adult readers will appreciate it more than children will.

One day, John and Marta step outside, and they find a boy asleep on their porch. They don’t know why he is there or who left him. The boy, Jacob, doesn’t speak, so John and Marta don’t know where he’s from, who his family is, why they were chosen to care for him, or when someone will return for the boy. So they care for him as best they can.

John and Marta grow rather attached to Jacob. They love him as if he were their own…and Jacob seems happy with them. He still doesn’t speak, but he makes music, he paints, he enjoys time with the couple’s animals, and he communicates in his own way. He thrives in this young couple’s care.

But John and Marta are always waiting for someone to return for this boy they’ve grown to love…and one day, it happens. This young couple doesn’t want to say good-bye to Jacob, but they seem to have no choice. Even when Jacob leaves, they let him know that he is welcome to return at any time.

As days go by, John and Marta miss Jacob, and they look for ways to help other children who need special care. They open their home and their hearts to kids who need a little extra love, and they always remember the boy who started them on this journey. And they hope that one day, their beloved Jacob, the boy on the porch, will return to them once again.

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I can’t help but think that The Boy on the Porch is a must-read (and a great gift) for foster parents. This book shines a light on the sacrifices many of these people make to care for children in need. They often provide a safe, loving home for kids who’ve only known the opposite. Many, like John and Marta in this story, give children a voice in a world that doesn’t really understand them. This poignant book honors that and shows that the love that foster parents get in return is more valuable than diamonds.

Now, having said all that, I will admit that I don’t think this book will be a huge hit with my students. It doesn’t read like a “kid’s book.” Yes, it’s heartwarming, sweet, and all that other mushy stuff, but, in my opinion, it comes across as a short book for adults. The story is told from the adults’ perspectives. It’s not Jacob’s story. I doubt most young readers will be able to relate to the struggles of a couple tasked with caring for a young boy. Maybe I’m wrong, but this may be one book I market to the parents of my students rather than the students themselves.

So, while I enjoyed this book and think some of my students will pick it up solely because of its length, I sincerely doubt that most 2nd-5th grade readers will be able to pick up on the subtle–and even the more obvious–messages in this book. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you disagree.

If you’d like to learn more about The Boy on the Porch and other books by Sharon Creech, click here.

Published in: on April 14, 2015 at 1:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Almost Super

A couple of months ago, the South Carolina Association of School Librarians released the nominee lists for next year’s state Book Award program. When I first glanced at the lists, I was surprised by how few of the nominees I’d already read. Since I’m an elementary school librarian, I focus most of my attention on the Picture and Children’s lists, and, until recently, I’d only read two of the nominated titles on those lists. (One of those, Zane and the Hurricane, I’ve already posted on.) Today, though, I was able to check off one more nominee on the Children’s Book Award list, Almost Super by Marion Jensen.

Almost Super is sure to be a big hit with elementary and middle grade readers who enjoy movies like The Incredibles and Despicable Me. This book introduces readers to a family of superheroes…but what will they do when they realize that the supervillains they’ve been battling for years are just like them?

“At 4:23 in the afternoon, on February 29, any Bailey age twelve or over gets a superpower.”

This year, brothers Rafter and Benny Bailey will finally get the superpowers they’ve been waiting for. Will they be able to fly? Have super strength or speed? Shoot fire or water out of their hands? What powers will they get to aid in their family’s fight against the Johnsons, the evil family of supervillains?

When the clock strikes 4:23, Rafter and Benny finally get their long-awaited powers…and they’re total duds. No, they couldn’t get useful powers like flight, strength, speed, or even super-smarts. Nothing useful like that. No, Rafter now has the astounding ability to light matches on polyester, and Benny can turn his belly button from an innie to an outie. It doesn’t look like these two boys will be much help when it comes to fighting crime.

Rafter is shocked by how worthless his new power is. Why did he and Benny get such dumb powers? How can they possibly help the family fight evil with powers like these? Rafter becomes determined to find out just what is going on, and his quest leads him right to one person–Juanita Johnson. (Yes, of the evil supervillain Johnsons.) Did she get a worthless power, too? Or did this embarrassment somehow skip the Johnsons?

As Rafter and Benny learn more from Juanita, they begin to realize that maybe the two families–who’ve been fighting for decades–aren’t all that different. Maybe they both see themselves as superheroes. And maybe there’s an even bigger problem that they need to work together to solve.

Join Rafter, Benny, and Juanita in Almost Super as they uncover a plot to manipulate both of their families and learn that one doesn’t need superpowers to do something truly heroic. Sometimes, being almost super is enough.

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I found Almost Super to be a quirky, witty, thoroughly entertaining read, and I look forward to sharing it with my students. I think this will be a huge hit with those who love comic books and all things superhero. A fun writing exercise to go along with this book may be to have students come up with their own “dud” superpowers and figure out a way for those to be used to fight crime. I’ll have to think a little more about that.

Almost Super does end with a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m thrilled that the next book, Searching for Super, is already out. I’ll definitely add that one to my next library order!

Within the next week or so, I’ll try to create a book trailer to go along with Almost Super. (I do this with most of the SC Picture and Children’s Book Award nominees. Those I can’t find videos for, anyway.) Check my library YouTube channel periodically to see when it’s posted. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Almost Super as much as I did.

Published in: on April 12, 2015 at 7:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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All the Rage

For the past week or so, I’ve been reading All the Rage by Courtney Summers, and I was finally able to finish it last night. (Thank you, NetGalley.) This book, which will be released on Tuesday, is not a light, easy read. It deals with some very serious, sensitive issues, and it doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Sometimes, I simply had to put the book aside and read something a bit less intense and disturbing. And if this book–which addresses things like date rape, victim-blaming, bullying, etc.–doesn’t disturb you on some level, then you’re not paying attention.

Romy Grey is the town pariah–and it’s not just because she’s the daughter of the town drunk. She receives dirty looks from nearly everyone, people talk about her behind her back (and to her face), she’s bullied incessantly, and she can’t rely on anyone to truly have her back. Why? Well, not so long ago, Romy was raped…by the sheriff’s son, a golden boy who everyone believed could do no wrong.

After Romy came forward with what happened, it became crystal clear that no one would ever take her seriously. People blamed her for trying to ruin a “good kid’s” reputation and figured she was just a slut from the wrong side of town looking for some attention.

But Romy knows the truth. She still bears the scars of that horrible night. She fears nearly every guy who crosses her path, and she can’t trust that this won’t happen again. She’s dead inside, and she doesn’t think she has anyone to lean on. Romy certainly can’t depend on her former friends–friends who abandoned her when everything went pear-shaped. No, they’re too busy making her life miserable…and they’re not the only ones. Some of the adults she should be able to trust fail Romy at every turn.

Romy’s only respite is her job at a diner in a neighboring town. No one knows her or her story there. She can blend in and try to have something (or someone) good in her life. But all of that ends when Romy’s former best friend, Penny, comes in the diner one night and hints that the guy who violated Romy may have done the same to another girl.

Romy doesn’t want to hear what Penny has to say, but this news–and Penny’s appearance at the diner–sends Romy’s entire world into a tailspin. She seems to go looking for trouble…and she definitely finds it.

As Romy’s life spirals out of control, she realizes that she has once again been victimized by those around her. And that’s not all. Now, Penny is missing, and, for some reason, people are blaming Romy for Penny not being found. Why? Why are people so eager to point the finger at Romy? What connection does she have to Penny’s disappearance?

Facing the comments and looks at school make Romy feel dirty and sick, and that only gets worse when she comes to understand just what happened to her–and Penny–on the night that Penny went missing. Romy wonders if maybe she should be the one in Penny’s place. Everyone else seems to think so.

Romy is struggling with everything that is happening. She doesn’t feel like she can talk to anyone, and all of this pressure is going to make her self-destruct. And if Romy knows anything, it’s this–there’s more than one way to kill a girl.

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I don’t know how appropriate the title of this book is for the characters, but All the Rage definitely fits my feelings about the book. I raged at everyone who made Romy’s life miserable. I raged at a corrupt system that blamed the victim and made her feel totally worthless. I raged at those who bullied this girl so incessantly that she couldn’t feel safe anywhere. And, yes, I even raged at Romy for not speaking up, for seemingly trying to ruin the only good things in her life, and for taking what everyone else dished out. I wanted her to fight to be heard, and I wanted the people around her to stand by her, believe her, and fight for this tortured girl.

All the Rage is a gritty, realistic look at something that happens all too often. When young women are sexually assaulted, people wonder what they were wearing, how much they were drinking, or if they were “asking for it.” Why aren’t we putting the blame where it belongs? On the rapist. If someone–anyone–in power had believed Romy, the entire chain of events that followed could have been avoided…and two girls could have been spared horrible fates.

If I had to say one negative thing about this book as a whole, it would be that the timeline of events could be difficult to follow. I often found myself going back and rereading passages because it wasn’t entirely clear if something happened “now” or “then.” A little confusing there.

All the Rage is definitely a book for mature readers. (I would not put this book in the hands of a middle school student.) It’s raw, dark, and frank. It is not a book to pick up when you’re looking for something light and fluffy. This is a book that will make you think, make you reexamine your own attitudes about very important issues, and, most importantly, a book that will make you rage. Be prepared for that.

You can buy All the Rage on April 14th. If you want to learn more about the book in the meantime, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with the author via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Published in: on April 10, 2015 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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All Fall Down

Late last night, I finished reading Ally Carter’s latest novel, All Fall Down, the first book in her new Embassy Row series. Having read her Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, I figured that I would immediately fall in love with Carter’s newest work. Well, I can’t exactly call it love at first read, but I do think this series is promising. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Three years ago, Grace Blakely witnessed the death of her mother. She tried to convince everyone that it was no accident, but no one would listen to her. They all thought she was crazy, and she spent the next few years moving from therapist to therapist, hospital to hospital, drug to drug. She still believes that her mother was murdered, but Grace has learned to keep her thoughts to herself.

Now, with her military father deployed, Grace is returning to the land where her mother grew up. She’s living with her grandfather now, but her grandfather isn’t some kindly old guy who’s retired and spends his days fishing or gardening. No, he’s the U.S. Ambassador to the country of Adria, and Grace is now living in her mom’s old room at the Embassy. No pressure to act normal here.

As Grace tries to adapt to her surroundings–which are familiar but different at the same time–she also encounters some new–and old–friends who are looking out for her and trying to make her feel welcome. There’s Noah, son of two ambassadors, who appoints himself as Grace’s best friend. There’s Rosie, a young girl from the German Embassy, who has the impressive ability of blending into the shadows (and getting loads of information). There’s Megan, a former playmate of Grace’s, who has depths that surprise everyone. And then there’s Alexei, son of the Russian Ambassador, best friend of Grace’s brother, and her self-appointed protector. Even with all of these people, though, Grace feels totally alone.

Grace is haunted by her past, and her worlds collide when she sees someone in Adria who everyone says is a figment of her imagination. The Scarred Man who killed her mother. None of the adults around her believe Grace’s tales of the Scarred Man, so she seeks the help of her fellow Embassy kids. Together, they search high and low (sometimes very, very low) for information about the Scarred Man, proof of his past crimes, and clues pointing to his next target.

While Grace is seeking the truth about her mother’s death, everything around her seems to be spinning out of control. She doesn’t really know who she can trust, who will believe her…or who will ultimately betray her. And in a world where one misstep can have international ramifications, Grace may just find herself in the middle of something she never could have foreseen. Something that may change everything.

Is Grace prepared for what she will discover about her mom and herself? Or will the truth ultimately tear her apart? Begin to unravel the mystery when you read All Fall Down by Ally Carter.

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Like I said at the beginning of this post, I think the Embassy Row series shows great promise, but I did have a couple of issues with this book. The biggest problem for me was that some of the action sequences and changes were rather abrupt. I found myself going back and rereading several passages because I was sure I had to have missed something. (I even looked to see if pages were missing from my copy of the book. No dice.) Some things just happened way too suddenly, and there was very little explanation about why things unfolded the way they did. (This was especially true at the end of the book.) I’m hopeful that this will be ironed out in the next book.

I also didn’t quite get the relationship between Grace and Alexei. For most of the book, Alexei was a big brother figure with questionable motives. By the end of the book, we’re supposed to believe there’s the possibility of a budding romance between Grace and Alexei…but then he disappears without a word (which was, again, rather abrupt and unexpected). I guess I just didn’t see these two as a potential couple. It didn’t make sense in this book, but I have a feeling we’ll see Alexei again in future books, and maybe that relationship will feel a bit more natural.

Speaking of the next book in this series, it should be released sometime in 2016. There’s currently no title listed on Goodreads, but I’m sure that will be remedied soon. There is, however, a bonus scene available, Before the Fall: Arrival, that is already out, and you can read it for free. Given the title, I’m guessing this 15-page short story highlights Grace’s arrival in Adria. I’ll take a look at it soon.

In conclusion (because it’s almost time for bed), I would like to say that, even with its faults, I did like All Fall Down, and I will likely continue with the rest of the series. I’d recommend this book to both middle grade and young adult readers who like a bit of political intrigue in their books. I look forward to seeing where Grace’s story leads and how this girl navigates the tough waters of international politics while trying to have a somewhat normal life. Should be interesting.

For more information about All Fall Down, the future of the Embassy Row series, and the author’s other books, check out Ally Carter’s website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

The Wicked Will Rise

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige, turn back now. This post focuses on the second full-length novel in the series, The Wicked Will Rise, and I’d hate to ruin this journey for you. That doesn’t mean I won’t, though.

If you’ve been following this blog for the past couple of weeks, you’ve no doubt noticed that I’ve become a tad obsessed with Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series. It all started, of course, with the first novel, but I quickly became enamored with the three prequel novellas that I read. (For reference, those are No Place Like Oz, The Witch Must Burn, and The Wizard Returns.) In short, I love this series and the fact that it turns everything I thought I knew about Oz on its ear.

I had a feeling that I would also adore the second novel, The Wicked Will Rise, and–aside from one minor thing that may just be my issue–I was right. This book, which was released a couple of days ago, kept me entranced from the very beginning, and I was reluctant to see it end…mainly because I now have to wait a really long time to find out what happens next.

If you’re new to this series–and you ignored my warning above–I’ll try to quickly fill you in on where things stand as The Wicked Will Rise begins. Here goes…

In Dorothy Must Die, Amy Gumm was transported to Oz from Kansas in a cyclone. This, however, is not the Oz she remembers from books and movies. It’s dark, dangerous, and terrifying. Why? Well, because Dorothy returned some years ago, took over, and proceeded to become the most heinous you-know-what in the history of the world. The Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Woodman are working for her, and Glinda is also doing her part to drain the magic from Oz and keep Dorothy in power (supposedly). Amy, who is new to Oz and walks into all this trouble, teams up with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked (a bunch of witches who actually blur the lines between good and wicked) and trains for the most important mission in Oz. She must kill Dorothy. Well, things don’t exactly go as planned, and that’s where we pick up our story in The Wicked Will Rise. (As you can imagine, I just left out a crap-load of details. Do yourself a favor. Read the book.)

Amy Gumm has failed. She had the chance to kill the evil Dorothy, and she totally blew it. Now, she’s on the run with Ozma (the true leader of Oz) and a couple of flying monkeys. She doesn’t know where the rest of the Order is, where Dorothy ran off to, or what has become of the Emerald City.

She does, however, know that she must regroup and continue with her tasks. She’s already eliminated the threat of the Tin Woodman. Now, she must neutralize the Lion and the Scarecrow before she has any hope of killing her true enemy, Dorothy. To do this, Amy taps into the magic that is coming much more naturally to her now. She becomes so in tune with the dark magic around her, though, that she hardly recognizes who she is becoming. And neither do those around her. Amy is now feared…and she kind of likes it. Is she becoming a Wicked Witch…or something far worse?

As Amy works to reunite with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked, she encounters a couple of beings that may help her on her way. First is Lulu, Queen of the Wingless Monkeys. This feisty ruler wants little to do with the war that is overtaking Oz, and she lets Amy know that…but she does give Amy a bit of direction on where she should head next. Amy also seeks the aid of Polychrome, the Rainbow Fairy. Polly also wants to stay above the fray, but, as with Lulu, she isn’t given choice in the matter. Oz is being destroyed, Ozma is almost literally being torn in two, and Amy will need every ally she can gather to fight her formidable foes.

With all of this going on–and all that is ahead of her–Amy still tries to hold on to the girl she once was. She doesn’t want to lose herself to the darkness swirling inside and all around her, but she may need every bit of that darkness to fight against Dorothy, Glinda, and those who seek to betray her. And when Amy realizes that the war in Oz may put her home in Kansas in serious peril, Amy knows she’ll have to harness all the power she can to prevent the destruction of everything she’s ever known.

Is Amy willing to make the hard choices to save both Oz and the home she left behind? Is she prepared for who she’ll have to become to defeat Dorothy and her cronies once and for all? Will she ever truly know who can be trusted and who is orchestrating the chaos around her?

Nothing is clear for Amy and her allies, but one thing is certain. If Oz is to have any hope of survival, the Wicked must rise!

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So…I really, really liked this book. It was action-packed from start to finish, and Amy’s journey was fascinating to see. I’m not just talking about her physical journey here, either. Despite her assertions that she’s still the same girl from Kansas, Oz has changed her. She’s more confident and–dare I say it–bad-ass in this book than she was in Dorothy Must Die. I kind of like it that she’s in touch with her dark side. (I imagine, though, that will come back to bite her in the posterior later on.) She’s definitely a strong female character who “don’t need no man” to fight her battles, but she’s smart enough to seek help when she really needs it. Given how the book ended (which I refuse to divulge), I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the future.

Now, for my one teeny issue with this book. Queen Lulu. I have no problem with talking wingless monkeys. More power to them. I’m sure they’re lovely. My problem with Lulu is the way she speaks. No, I’m not talking about the fact that she actually, you know, speaks. I’m talking about the words and phrases she uses. One that really stood out was when she said that something wasn’t “kosher.” How does a wingless monkey from Oz even know what that word means? It just seemed totally unrealistic to the setting, and that’s just one example. Maybe language from the Other Place has seeped into Oz over the years, but, if that’s the case, it needs to be made clear. I’m sure other characters made similar comments that seemed out of place in Oz, but Lulu’s seemed more pronounced to me. Probably because she’s a monkey…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

All in all, I feel that The Wicked Will Rise is a great book that will appeal to all sorts of readers, but it may not be for everyone. There’s quite a bit of “saucy” language, violence, and a girl learning to harness dark magic, so if you’re looking for a nice little retelling of The Wizard of Oz to share with kids, you may want to look elsewhere. If, however, you’re looking for a book that turns what you think you know upside down, explores the line between good and wicked, and features a kick-butt female protagonist, this entire series may be right up your alley…or your Yellow Brick Road, as it were.

I cannot wait for the next book in the series. Sadly, it seems we have quite the wait ahead of us. Even though there is another prequel novella, Heart of Tin, that will be released on July 28th, according to Goodreads (which I know may not be the most reliable source, but it’s all I could find), we’ll have to wait until sometime in 2017 for the third full-length Dorothy Must Die novel. *Cue epic Dorothy-inspired temper tantrum here.*

In the meantime, if you want more information about this wicked awesome series (Ha!), visit author Danielle Paige on Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook. You may also want to check out Epic Reads’ book trailer (below) for The Wicked Will Rise. If I hadn’t already read the book, this short video would likely convince me to pick it up. Enjoy!

Published in: on April 2, 2015 at 11:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pluto: A Wonder Story

If you work with kids at all–or are a kid yourself–and you haven’t already read both Wonder and The Julian Chapter by R.J. Palacio, do yourself a favor and remedy that immediately. (Also, there may be a few spoilers ahead, and you really need to at least read Wonder before reading the rest of this post.)

Wonder introduces readers to the remarkable Auggie Pullman, “an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face,” as he faces the ups and downs of middle school. The Julian Chapter, an ebook novella that came out a while back, gives readers a look at this story from a bully’s perspective. Julian, one of Auggie’s harshest critics, provides us with a look at what may drive someone to be a bully…and what may ultimately redeem him.

Now, we have another story to add to what I like to think of as the Auggie Chronicles. In Pluto, we meet Christopher, Auggie’s oldest friend. Christopher has been friends with Auggie from the very beginning, before he even realized that Auggie didn’t quite look like other kids. An on this particularly bad day, Christopher reflects on his friendship with Auggie and what it means to really be there for someone…

It started off like any other day. Christopher didn’t want to get out of bed and go to school, but his mom insisted. But something was a little different today. Christopher’s mom had bad news. His friends’s dog, Daisy, passed away last night. This news hits Chris pretty hard, and it makes him think about all the fun he and his friend, Auggie Pullman, had with Daisy…and with each other.

As the day goes on–and gets worse for Chris–he continues to think about Auggie, his own issues, and just how hard it is to be a friend sometimes. He remembers both the good times (watching Star Wars, planning expeditions to Pluto, throwing Nerf darts at Auggie’s sister, Via) and the not-so-good times (visiting Auggie in the hospital, other friends not wanting to play with Auggie). It’s not always easy being Auggie’s friend, and, since Chris’s family moved away, it hasn’t helped matters. The two friends have sort of drifted apart.

Today, though, a series of events may just bring the two boys back together. With everything that’s happened today–starting with the news of Daisy’s death and ending with a car accident, a band breakup, and really confusing math problems–Chris might just need Auggie more than he ever realized.

Though distance, time, and experiences may separate some friends for a while, true friends will find their way back to each other. Join Chris as he realizes just how important his friendship with Auggie is (even if it can be tough sometimes) and how that friendship can make his current troubles a little easier to handle.

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I know Pluto is going to be a big hit with my students. My 3rd-5th graders are fairly obsessed with all things Wonder, and I’m sure this story will be no different. My hope is that they’ll learn a lesson with this story, as with Wonder and The Julian Chapter.

In Pluto, I think the big lesson is that real friendships take hard work, but it’s worth it. True friends will always be there for you, no matter what. That was a lesson that Chris needed to learn, and I think his circumstances in this story drove things home for him.

There was quite a bit going on in this short story that I didn’t begin to touch on, and that was intentional. You need to read this story for yourself and see how the little tidbits fit with Wonder and what we know of Auggie, both before and after his time at Beecher Prep. It’s interesting to compare the friendship between Chris and Auggie with those Auggie later made at school.

On May 12th, we’ll get the chance to read a story from one of Auggie’s new friends. Shingaling will show us a bit of Auggie’s first year and take us into his second year at Beecher Prep, and we’ll see this story through the eyes of Charlotte. (You may recall that she was one of Auggie’s “welcome buddies.”) I look forward to reading this story and seeing just how it adds to the “wonder of Wonder.”

For more information on Pluto and all things Wonder, I urge you to check out author R.J. Palacio’s website.

Happy reading!

Published in: on March 30, 2015 at 6:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Wizard Returns

Warning! Read Dorothy Must Die, No Place Like Oz, and The Witch Must Burn before continuing with this post. The Wizard Returns is the third prequel novella in the Dorothy Must Die series, and I’d hate to ruin this magical journey for you!

So, it’s the first day of my Spring Break, and I kicked things off by finishing The Wizard Returns this morning. (I would have posted on the novella sooner, but I decided to take two naps today. Priorities, people.) This prequel is the perfect lead-in to the second full-length novel, The Wicked Will Rise, which comes out on Tuesday.

In No Place Like Oz, we learn how Dorothy made her way back to Oz and rose to power. In The Witch Must Burn, we see the new power struggle through the eyes of Jellia Jamb, and we learn more about Glinda’s thirst for control. Now, in The Wizard Returns, we’re (obviously) off to see the Wizard.

Everyone thought the Wizard headed back to Kansas when his hot air balloon left the Emerald City. Everyone was wrong.

It is only as his balloon was leaving Oz behind that the Wizard realizes he doesn’t really want to leave. Well, it seems there are powers at work that also want him to remain in Oz, and, mysteriously, the Wizard never quite makes it back to the Other Place. Instead, he crash lands in a field of poppies…

Fast forward twenty-five years, and the Wizard wakes up…with no memory of who he is, what he’s done, or how much time has passed. He’s met by a curious figure named Pete. This boy gives the Wizard (who doesn’t know he’s a wizard) the name of Hex and takes steps to ensure that no one will recognize him. Why? Has Hex done things so horrible that being recognized would put him in danger? (In a word–yes.)

Pete informs Hex that he’ll have to pass three tests–tests of Wisdom, Courage, and Love–to have his memories restored, but Hex isn’t sure if all this trouble is really worth it. If he was such a horrible guy, does he really want to remember everything? Maybe it’s better to have a fresh start.

Unfortunately, those who were victimized by Hex’s actions don’t have the luxury of forgetting, so Pete guides Hex through the tests that will determine his fate. Hex must prove that he is willing to put the good of Oz over his own interests, but that proves easier said that done.

Something in Hex wants the power he knows he once had. He hungers for the magic that flows through Oz. Have these trials revealed and repaired the weaknesses in the Wizard’s character, or have they made him more convinced of his own superiority than ever before?

Will the Wizard do his part to restore Oz to its pre-Dorothy glory, or will he be this magical land’s ultimate doom?

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In Dorothy Must Die and the previous novellas, I was unsure about the Wizard’s motives in everything that was going on. After reading The Wizard Returns, I’m even more unsure. Sometimes, he really seemed sincere, repentant, and more concerned with others’ well-being than with his own. At other times, he was clearly looking out for his own interests. I just don’t know where that leaves us going into The Wicked Will Rise. Hopefully, things will become clear as I read that book.

One thing I will say about the Wizard is that his behavior toward the monkeys was thoroughly despicable. *Spoilers* When I learned how he essentially sold them into slavery to the Wicked Witch of the West, I was horrified. He seemed to feel the same way when he got snippets of his memory back, but I don’t know if that was enough to change his behavior. He still seemed to have a bit of a superiority complex, and I predict that will get him into trouble.

So, what’s going to happen to the Wizard when things come to a head with Dorothy, Amy, and the Witches of Oz? I don’t know, but I look forward to seeing how this intense power struggle plays out. Only a few more days until this wonderful series gives us some answers!

If you’d like more information about The Wizard Returns and the other Dorothy Must Die stories, visit author Danielle Paige on Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook. Enjoy!

Published in: on March 28, 2015 at 9:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Watch the Sky

I was just talking to one of my colleagues about my most recent read, Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard, and, in a nutshell, I described it as “kids of Doomsday preppers.” She reminded me that we actually have some of those kids at our school, so I think this book, which comes out on April 7th, will eventually be added to my school library collection.

Watch the Sky is an interesting book–told from the perspective of a young boy–about a rather fascinating (and disturbing, in my opinion) lifestyle choice. Now, I’ve never watched Doomsday Preppers or anything like it–nor do I intend to–but I think this book gives readers a small glimpse into what life may be like for the kids in those situations. It can’t be easy to live in fear all the time while finding some way to balance school, friends, and loyalty to family. That’s what Jory is going through in Watch the Sky

Jory’s stepfather, Caleb, is always telling the family to look out for signs. Signs of what? Jory’s not entirely certain, but Caleb seems to be sure enough for everyone. These mysterious signs could be things like an odd newspaper article, a meteor shower, some dead birds, or even the simplest, seemingly innocent thing. Jory’s not sure what makes something a “sign,” but he trusts Caleb to keep the family safe from danger.

Jory must also do his part to keep his family safe. He must follow all of Caleb’s instructions. He can’t draw too much attention to himself or the family, he always wears heavy work boots, and he can never tell anyone about his sister Kit. And he must make sure to “watch the sky” for signs.

Before long, Caleb becomes convinced that all of his “signs” are pointing to a cataclysmic event, one that the family will need to prepare for. What do those preparations entail? Stockpiling supplies, getting used to eating MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), canning food…and digging. Almost every night, the entire family digs in the canyon beyond their house. Jory’s not sure exactly why or what they’re digging, but this mission soon becomes clear. They are creating a bunker to survive whatever danger Caleb feels is on the way.

While all of this is going on, Jory also has to go to school. He has to worry about keeping his grades up, staying out of trouble, and making friends with a couple of people who won’t let him blend into the background.

It’s hard to balance his schoolwork and friendships with everything happening at home, and Jory is starting to wonder why he should have so much to worry about. Why is Caleb so convinced that danger is coming? If things are really so bad, why aren’t they warning others? Caleb always taught Jory to question everything he was told, but what will happen when Jory begins to question Caleb? Is he prepared to live a life without fear if it means losing his own family? Or will Jory follow Caleb into an uncertain future away from the world around him?

Answer these questions and many more when you read Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard.

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I think Watch the Sky will spark some intriguing conversations with my students. I haven’t read anything like this book before, so it definitely fills a hole (that I didn’t know was there) in my library collection. I would recommend this book for libraries that serve elementary and middle grade readers.

That being said, I did have one big issue with the book. There didn’t seem to be much resolution at the end. I kind of expected what was going to happen, but there just needed to be more. More about what happened to Kit, both before and after her time with Jory’s family. More about how Jory and his family fared after their decision in the canyon. What came next? Maybe these things played out in the final version of the book (I read a galley copy via NetGalley), but I would have liked a bit more clarification.

For more information on Watch the Sky and author Kirsten Hubbard, check out the author’s Goodreads page.

Published in: on March 26, 2015 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

People often ask me what my favorite movie is. Most of those people expect me to name The Empire Strikes Back, Ghostbusters, The Avengers, The Goonies, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail as my all-time favorite. And while I do adore those movies (and many others), there is one that leaves them all behind.

The Princess Bride. My feelings about this movie (and the book) go way beyond adoration. I can (and often do) quote entire passages from the film, much to the dismay of those around me. Even my three-year-old niece has told me to be quiet while we’re watching The Princess Bride together. (She loves it, by the way. The kid has good taste.) I have a framed poster of Buttercup and Westley hanging in my bedroom. I have several t-shirts featuring quotes from the book/movie. I watch the movie at least once a month, and I try to reread the book every year (and this has been my pattern for the past 20+ years). So, yeah…I LOVE The Princess Bride.

I tell you all of that to explain why I picked up my latest read, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. This book, written by Cary Elwes (better known as Westley) and Joe Layden, takes a peek behind the scenes of what I would argue is one of the greatest–and most underrated–movies of all time. (I was even reading this book while I had The Princess Bride on in the background. I may have a small obsession.)

Now, I’m not going to go into the plot of The Princess Bride here. No, you really must experience that for yourself. Instead, I’ll discuss As You Wish just a bit in the hopes that those who enjoy this movie as much as I do will find something to fall in love with all over again.

In As You Wish, Cary Elwes–better known as Westley or the Man in Black–takes readers on a journey. We see the earliest days of this movie, which many studios did not want to touch. We see Rob Reiner work to get a film close to his heart to the big screen. We see amazing casting decisions that would play a large part in vaulting the film to cult status (eventually). Through it all, we see that each person who had a hand in making The Princess Bride knew it was something special.

As You Wish gives readers a look at the intense training that went into the Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times, the laughter that took over the set whenever Billy Crystal (Miracle Max) opened his mouth, and the awe generated simply by being in the same room as Andre the Giant.

Cary Elwes shares some very personal, funny, and often poignant memories with fans of The Princess Bride, but we also hear from such notable figures as Rob Reiner (director), Robin Wright (Buttercup), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), Christopher Guest (Count Rugen), Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdink), Carol Kane (Valerie), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), William Goldman (author/screenwriter), Andy Scheinman (producer), and, of course, Billy Crystal. Their contributions to this book make it so much richer than it may otherwise have been.

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I can’t possibly touch on everything that is covered in this book, but I can tell you that I laughed, I teared up a bit, and I reminisced about The Princess Bride‘s place in my own childhood (and my adult life). As You Wish is a gentle reminder that this movie means as much to those who brought it to life as it does to the fans who love it so much.

If you love The Princess Bride as much as I do–or even if you’re just a casual fan–I strongly urge you to read As You Wish. Having this small glimpse behind the scenes makes me appreciate this beloved film even more, and my hope is that you’ll feel the same.

If you’d like to learn more about all things Princess Bride–and find your own bit of tweasure–I urge you to visit princessbrideforever.com. It’s a good place to spend a couple of hours.

“Have fun storming the castle!”

Published in: on March 23, 2015 at 1:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Witch Must Burn

If you haven’t read Dorothy Must Die or the first prequel novella, No Place Like Oz, I urge you to do so before reading prequel novella #2, The Witch Must Burn. That is all.

Welcome to my new obsession. I have quickly fallen in love with Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series, and that adoration only continues with The Witch Must Burn. It is absolutely fascinating to see the political maneuvering and machinations behind Dorothy’s rise to power upon her return to Oz. Yes, Dorothy is horrible, but she’s not the only one. In The Witch Must Burn, we get a closer look at Glinda, who seems to have forgotten that she’s supposed to be a “Good Witch.” The lines between Good and Wicked aren’t exactly clear anymore.

Jellia Jamb has lived in the royal palace of Emerald City as long as she can remember, and she’s worked her way up to the position of head maid. Jellia has seen lots of changes during her time at the palace, but the current state of things give her cause for great worry.

When Ozma, the land’s true leader, was in power, life was idyllic. Now that Dorothy’s in charge, however, things are different. Everyone walks on eggshells, people are punished–and often disappear–because of the smallest infractions, the Scarecrow is conducting strange experiments, and much of the magic has gone out of Oz.

Jellia, who has her own magical abilities, does what she can to ease the way for herself and the other maids, but a mighty force soon realizes that Jellia’s gifts may be more powerful that even she realizes. Glinda sees something in Jellia, something she can possibly use to mine the magic deep within Oz’s core.

Glinda borrows Jellia from Dorothy and spirits her away to her own estate for the summer…a summer that will throw Jellia into a situation more dangerous than she ever could have foreseen. She’ll learn that Glinda is the real force behind Dorothy’s rise to power, and she’s working to gain more magic and control than ever before. Jellia will also discover that a revolution is in the works…a revolution that is trying to restore Oz to its former glory.

Jellia is now in a position to help those who seek to put an end to Glinda’s–and Dorothy’s–reign of terror. Is she willing to trust these people–the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked–who know more about Jellia than she does herself? Will she put her fate and that of Oz in their hands? And what may she learn about herself and her own abilities in the process?

Join Jellia, a seemingly simple maid, as she navigates the power struggles in Oz. What can she do to turn the tide? Read The Witch Must Burn to find out!

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I’m so glad this novella is told from Jellia’s perspective. We see this character in Dorothy Must Die, and, by the end of that novel, we know that she plays a much bigger role than originally thought. It’s wonderful to see how that role developed. Given what happened at the end of Dorothy Must Die, though, I wonder how much intel Jellia was able to gather and how that will help Amy Gumm and the Order overthrow Dorothy, Glinda, and their associates. That’s something to ponder before the second novel, The Wicked Will Rise, comes out on March 31st.

Before we get to The Wicked Will Rise, there’s still one more prequel novella to dive into. The Wizard Returns is next on my to-read list, and I will begin reading it as soon as I finish a couple other reads-in-progress. The Wizard has made appearances in the other Dorothy Must Die stories, but his loyalties and motives have been a little suspicious. I’m hopefull that The Wizard Returns will clear things up a bit. We’ll just have to see.

For more information about The Witch Must Burn and the other Dorothy Must Die stories, visit author Danielle Paige on Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook.

 

Published in: on March 22, 2015 at 1:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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