Tag Archives: genre:family stories

Murder at the Oaklands Mansion Review

murder_at_the_oaklands_mansionMurder at the Oaklands Mansion by Melinda Richarz Lyons, illustrations by Charisse Richarz

TreasureLine Publishing, 2012. 978-1617521317

Synopsis: Brooks Martin and his Aunt Mandy love having adventures – the more wild and daring the better! They also love history and trivia, especially about their hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When a Civil War reenactor is shot and his last words are to Brooks, Brooks and Aunt Mandy find themselves determined to solve the mystery of his death and his incoherent mutterings. Can they get to the bottom of the case or will they be dismissed as “just a kid and an old lady”?

Why I picked it up: The combination of historical fiction and murder mystery was something I didn’t want to pass up.

Why I finished it: This is a delightful read for both middle graders and their families. It highlights the strong bond between a young boy and his eccentric great aunt, and the love that they have for pushing themselves to be better and better. They have a thirst for knowledge that sometimes leads them into super crazy situations. I was instantly endeared to these characters and the relationships that continue to build as the plot moves along. I liked that the story kept up a steady pace throughout that made it easy to follow along and put together the clues alongside Brooks and Aunt Mandy. And I loved that Lyons devotes a couple of chapters to a research session in the library. Plus, it highlights the fun of knowing local history and exploring the towns in which we live, even if they might not be as historically exciting as Murfreesboro. The book may seem somewhat simplistic, but this makes it ideal for reluctant and struggling readers to read by themselves or out loud. It’s an intriguing, nail-biting read that will keep readers hooked and hoping for more.

Other related materials: Cynthia’s Attic series by Mary Cunningham; The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin; Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol; Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene; Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew book by Carolyn Keene, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan; The Hardy Boys books by Fanklin W. Dixon; The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner; Nate the Great books by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, illustrated by Marc Simont; The Samantha Wolf Mysteries series by Tara Ellis, illustrated by Melchelle Designs; Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein; Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein; The Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead


Leave a comment

Filed under reviews

Feature Presentation: Inside Out

mv5botgxmdqwmdk0of5bml5banbnxkftztgwnju5otg2nde-_v1_sx640_sy720_Inside Out starring the voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MachLachlan, and Richard Kind

Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios, 2015. Rated PG.

Synopsis: Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school. – from IMDb

This is one of those movies that my coworkers kept telling me to see and for some reason or another, I kept putting it off. And then, of course, after I saw it, I was sorry it took me so long. This is a family film with a wide appeal that will take you on an emotional roller coaster and make you think about how you process your own thoughts. It puts a different spin on what goes on inside your head as you go through your day and how you handle the changes in your life. It personifies the science, in a sense, and it makes sense. It makes sense that there would be these little people in our heads that help us process our thoughts and emotions. It shows what happens when there is an absence or suppression of emotions, what drives us to make the decisions we do. The premise is surprisingly believable for being a film largely ground in fiction. I loved Poehler as Joy and Smith as Sadness and the two women play off of each other very well. Smith (whom older viewers may recognize from The Office) has a delightfully melancholy voice that gives Sadness a bit of humor, though it typically represents a very low emotion. I also loved the fact that Black (who is an angry comedian) is Anger. Even though the actors aren’t actually physically interacting together, the cast feeds into each other and really bring each of the emotions to life. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t going to cry during this movie, but I have a feeling even the most stone cold of persons may shed a tear or two remembering their own childhoods and their own lost/faded memories. It’s a fun, funny, and thought-provoking film that is sure to please the crowd.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media: Movies, reviews

Kira-Kira Review

kira_kiraKira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004. 978-0689856402

Winner of the 2005 John Newbery Medal

Synopsis: Katie Takeshima has always looked up to her sister, Lynn, and the way she makes the world seem kira-kira: glittering, shining. Katie relies on Lynn to help her make sense of the world: their move to Georgia, the reason people stare at them, why it’s important for her to go to school. But when Lynn gets sick, Katie is forced to begin to make sense of things on her own and to make the world seem kira-kira again.

Why I picked it up: I snagged it at a used book store in Newport, Oregon while I was on vacation.

Why I finished it: The two very strong themes that run through this book are the strength of family bonds and the power of positive thinking. Katie and Lynn have a friendship that is unique to sisters, and the ways in which they support one another have a lasting impact on the characters and the reader. Katie might not be as smart as her sister, but Lynn knows that if she works hard and applies herself that Katie can succeed, an idea that becomes more apparent to Katie as she watches her sister decline. Speaking from experience, it can be hard to see the world as kira-kira when everything around you seems so dark and desolate; it can be hard to move on even when it feels like the world is stopping or speeding ahead without you. But what Katie and the reader slowly begin to realize is that Lynn desires for Katie to make her own magic. Katie has the potential to make the world kira-kira for her younger brother and her family in the same way Lynn made the world kira-kira for Katie. Yet, Kadohata’s story runs deeper, mixing grief and helplessness with humor and the special brand of drama that is specific only to families. The first-person narrative gives us a window into one family’s struggle to keep themselves together even though their lives as they know them are changing in ways they could have never imagined. It’s a sweet and heartbreaking story that will leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Other related materials: The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata; Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata; Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata; Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata; Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff; Penny From Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm; Criss-Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins; Under the Mesquite by Guadaulpe Garcia McCall; The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell

Leave a comment

Filed under reviews

Woundabout Review

woundaboutWoundabout by Lev Rosen, illustrated by Ellis Rosen

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015. 978-0316370783

Synopsis: When their parents die in a tragic accident, Connor and Cordelia and their pet capybara are sent to live with their Aunt Marigold in the mysterious town of Woundabout. Woundabout is a special place that seems to be untouched by change, but it makes the town a somewhat gloomy place. When they learn of the theft of a valuable crank that could wind the town back to life, the children decide that they must find the crank and use it in order to create the change that Wondabout desperately needs.

Why I picked it up: I heard the author speak at a library conference this last summer and was intrigued by the premise. Also, why would you not want to read about kids who have a pet capybara?

Why I finished it: This is a charming story about the joys that can come out of tragedy and the positive power of change. Connor and Cordelia have no idea what is in store for them when they are sent to live with their aunt, but it is clear from the outset that their presence in a town without change is being met with mixed feelings. The reader gets the sense that there are some townspeople – like their aunt’s butler, Gray – who might welcome change, but the Mayor and many of the others believe change to be almost harmful and dangerous. Connor and Cordelia must become ambassadors of why the town should embrace change and in the process begin healing. Rosen’s art adds an extra dimension to the story, bringing to life the strange and mysterious world of Woundabout. The use of thick lines adds a whimsical touch, and the black and white drawings break up the text a little more so that the reader is not bogged down. The Rosen brothers have created an engaging and uplifting story whose message is about why change is nothing to fear. It is possible to bounce back from even the saddest situations, and even if something seems like it is at an end, it is really just a new beginning.

Other related materials: Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley; The Marvels by Brian Selznick; Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick; The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick; The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka; Stonebird by Mike Revell; Masterminds by Gordon Korman; Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson, illustrated by Natalie Andrewson; A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano; Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly, illustrated by Skottie Young; If You Find This by Matthew Baker

Leave a comment

Filed under reviews

The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas Review

the_twenty-four_days_before_christmasThe Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas by Madeline L’Engle, illustrations by Jill Weber

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. 978-0374380052

Synopsis: Vicky Austin’s family does one special thing each day of December to prepare for Christmas. This year, they’re also preparing for the birth of a new brother or sister, due after the New Year. Vicky is worried that the baby will come early―what kind of Christmas Eve would it be without Mother to help them hang up stockings and sing everyone to sleep with carols? – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: The title reminded me of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas“.

Why I finished it: L’Engle is quite prolific and her body of work has a wide age range, this novelette being no exception. The reader is treated to the holiday traditions of a picturesque little family that are deeply rooted in the Christian faith, and I enjoyed the different crafts and activities that the Austins did in the days leading up to Christmas. I can appreciate the anticipation and the anxiousness that Vicky experiences in worrying about her performance in the pageant and whether her mother will be home to celebrate the holiday with the family. She wants to prove that she isn’t too young to be the angel, and yet, she is child-like in her worry for her mother. But the Austins are a tightly knit group, and they look out for each other, desiring to make sure that everything will be as they hope it will be. Weber’s illustrations add a festive note to the narration, enlivening the margins with their own brand of holiday cheer. It’s a short book that can be read to oneself or out loud with others and enjoyed and shared year after year.

Other related materials: A Full House: An Austin Family Christmas by Madeline L’Engle; Meet the Austins by Madeline L’Engle; The Moon by Night by Madeline L’Engle; The Young Unicorns by Madeline L’Engle; A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle; Troubling a Star by Madeline L’Engle; Miracle on 10th Street and Other Christmas Writings by Madeline L’Engle; Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien; The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Brian Floca; A Little House Christmas Treasury: Festive Holiday Stories by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams


Leave a comment

Filed under reviews

Penina Levine is a Potato Pancake Review

penina_levine_is_a_potato_pancakePenina Levine is a Potato Pancake by Rebecca O’Connell, illustrated by Majella Lue Sue

Roaring Brook Press, 2008. 978-1596432130

Synopsis: Penina should be excited about Hanukkah, but everything seems to be going wrong. Her presents aren’t ready, her four-year-old sister insists upon being the center of attention, her favorite teacher is leaving, and her best friend just told her that she’s going on vacation to Aruba for Christmas vacation. Plus, she’s gotten in the middle of an argument between her mother and grandmother. Will a blizzard, dozens of snowflakes, and a hearty helping of latkes really be enough to fix the holiday and spread some much needed cheer.

Why I picked it up: I was looking to give some other holidays besides Christmas some love.

Why I finished it: This book reminded me a lot of Danziger’s Amber Brown books: a spunky main character that finds herself fighting to right a somewhat sticky situation that she may or may not have helped create. Penina is caught somewhere between doing the right thing and being selfish. She wants to remember the real meaning behind Hanukkah, but a younger sister and the news of her teacher’s departure is making it hard for her to enjoy the holiday. It makes us remember our own struggles, those days when nothing seems to be going right. And while some of the situations get blown out of proportion, that’s part of growing up. O’Connell’s characters are supremely real and the fact that the reader can identify with them makes the story so much more enjoyable and worth reading. Sue’s illustrations give us a window into the characters lives and make them much more three-dimensional. The pictures have a free-flowing quality to them that highlights the fun and whimsical elements of the plot. It’s a fun holiday read that can be enjoyed by all readers – not just those of us that celebrate Hanukkah.

Other related materials: Penina Levine is a Hard-Boiled Egg by Rebecca O’Connell, illustrated by Majella Lue Sue; Amber Brown books by Paula Danziger; Judy Moody books by Megan McDonald; Clementine by Sara Pennypacker; Cam Jansen books by David A. Alder; Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren; Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary; Rules by Cynthia Lord

Leave a comment

Filed under reviews

Oh, Brother!: Brat Attack! Review

oh_brother_brat_attackOh, Brother! Brat Attack! by Bob Weber, Jr. and Jay Stephens

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015. 978-1449472252

Synopsis: Oh, Brother! stars the sibling duo of Bud and Lily, who humorously interact within the leafy confines of their middle-class suburban home and neighborhood. Whether they are playing together in the family room or running amok in the schoolyard, Bud and Lily elevate the act of one-upmanship to Code Red levels. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I have a soft spot for books about siblings.

Why I finished it: For those of us that have been blessed with siblings – either older or younger – we know what’s going to happen with Lily and Bud before we even crack the spine. But even if the antics between the two siblings is somewhat predictable, the reader is instantly endeared to the characters because of their love for each other…even if it isn’t always obvious. Lily and Bud are involved in a constant battle of the wits, each intent upon showing up the other with their own brands of superiority. The quick, light-hearted humor keeps the reader engaged and captures the delicate love/hate relationship between brothers and sisters. It’s reminiscent of the relationships between Beezus and Ramona Quimby and Peter and Fudge Hatcher: we laugh with them, we get angry with them, we cry with them, we are happy with them. They are the sort of stories that not only carry a nostalgia factor, but make us smile and remind us of the fun and innocence of childhood. Cute, quirky, and funny, this book is sure to strike a chord with reader of all ages.

Other related materials: Snoopy: Contact! (A Peanuts Collection) by Charles M. Schulz; Woodstock: Master of Disguise: A Peanuts Collection by Charles M. Schulz; Charlie Brown and Friends: A Peanuts Collection by Charles M. Schulz; The Mutts Winter Diaries by Patrick McDonnell; The Mutts Diaries by Patrick McDonnell; Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce; EMU Club books by Ruben Bolling; Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary; Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary; Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary; The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner; Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume; Superfudge by Judy Blume; Fudge-a-Mania by Judy Blume; Double Fudge by Judy Blume

Leave a comment

Filed under reviews