Thursday, December 19, 2013


The Savage
By David Almond
Illustrated by Dave McKean
Published by Candlewick Press
Copyright © 2008
Review by Anthony Kendrick

David Almond has hit upon some of the best advice for youth who are dealing with harrowing problems – Write it down.
Blue Baker’s father recently died. To make matters worse Blue has caught the eye of the school bully, Hopper. Because bullies are like wolves they look for the prey that is showing weakness, and right now Blue is showing weakness. Blue wishes he could smash Hopper’s face in, but he knows he’d get killed. Telling adults doesn’t seem to help either. So Blue does the only thing he can; he writes. Blue writes a graphic story about a grunting Savage who lives in his town and owns nothing more than a pair of pants and a knife. When the Savage pays a visit to Hopper in the middle of the night, the lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur. The Savage is almost who Blue wishes he could be, but is it who he will become?
David Almond’s character, Blue, does the right things. He ignores the bully, he talks to parents, and he talks to teachers but it doesn’t make things any better. Instead of giving in to the anger he begins to vent his feelings through storytelling. And this outlet helps him in reality more than he could have possibly imagined. Anyone who has lost a parent can relate to this book. And if you have been bullied you can relate to this book. If you have dealt with both I’m sorry, but you must read this book.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


By Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Copyright © 1980
Review by Anthony Kendrick

What happens when 2 of the meanest old people come up against 4 young boys, 4 monkeys, 1 roly-poly bird from Africa, and hundreds of European birds? They get outwitted.

Mr. and Mrs. Twit are old, mean, and ugly. Mr. Twit has a long, unkempt, food littered beard and Mrs. Twit has a screwed up face and a glass eye that always stares in the wrong direction. These two used to be decent looking people but years of bad thinking has made them look as ugly as their thoughts. Mr. and Mrs. Twit love to torture each other with mean spirited practical jokes. They like to catch unsuspecting birds and make bird pie. And they like to train monkeys to perform upside down. All of this meanness is going to catch up with the Twits when the birds conspire with the monkeys to give the Twits what they deserve.

Giving mean and obnoxious people consequences of their actions is what Roald Dahl does best. In “The Twits” Dahl gives us two people who are laughably mean. The practical jokes that they play on each other are pretty old fashioned and low-tech by today’s standards, but still very funny. That said, however, the retaliation of the monkey’s and birds was in general predictable, so the first half of the book was more enjoyable than the last half.

After reading this and many other Roald Dahl books, I have to say that to me his writing style seems very giddy. It is not always pleasant to read because bits and pieces are always added, and sometimes you never do realize why they are there. I think this is what makes his stories enjoyable for children though, because when they read his books, they read as if a child was telling the story. That, I believe, is a hard thing to accomplish, and that is why he remains one of the most loved children’s authors of all time.


By Ashley Spires
Published by Kids Can Press
Copyright © 2012
Review by Anthony Kendrick
I have always had an affinity for the Sasquatch legend. I will freely admit that there is a little part of me that believes that Sasquatch is out there. But even if they aren’t, to believe in them is to retain that sense of unexplainable wonderment in the natural world. So when I saw “Larf,” by Ashley Spires, I knew I had to read it.

Larf, as you may have guessed, is a Sasquatch. He likes the fact that no one knows he exists, and even when they see him they don’t really believe he exists. Larf is the only Sasquatch in the world and he loves his privacy.

While reading the newspaper one day he reads an article that says that “a Sasquatch is scheduled to make an appearance today in the nearby city of Hunderfitz.” Larf wonders how this could be, and then he wonders how this could affect him. Larf has no choice; he must go to Hunderfitz to see this Sasquatch. Larf is in for a surprise.

The story of Larf is cute. As much as I hate the word “cute” there is no other word that fits. There is no deep layer of morality to this tale; it is just cute. Sure you could look at it as a tale about getting out of your own head and letting others in so that we can make friends, but that is merely an aside to the cuteness.

Fortunately, “cute” is not the only thing that “Larf” has going for it. This story is very humorous. Most of this humor shows up in the illustrations. Spires’ line art is reminiscent of the work of Craig Bartlett on the Nickelodeon cartoon “Hey, Arnold” (which I loved), but she lightens it up and makes it more whimsical and fluffy with her use of what seems to be water color. The funny comes not just in her way of drawing people and Larf, but in the way she juxtaposes the text of the story with the illustrations. For instance I laughed when we read “Larf knows no one would ever leave him alone if they found out he was real.” And then we see an illustration with his face on the cover of magazines, newspapers, and tabloids with the addition of a book featuring his pet bunny Eric on the cover with the title “Bigfoot’s Bunny: Shocking Tell-All Memoir.”

This book will definitely get five stars on my book sharing accounts. It will be a welcome addition to the story time rotation for children’s groups or individual children ages 3 to 103.


By Hope Larson
Published by Atheneum
Copyright © 2010

Review by Anthony Kendrick

“Mercury” is, for me, the embodiment of a great graphic novel. Larson tells a strong story that is realistic with just a hint of magic. And her illustrations show so well just what can be done in simple black and white.

Josie Fraser has her heart set on her best friend’s brother Jonathan, until a stranger by the name of Asa Curry comes to the farm. He seems like a good God fearing young man and he is handsome to boot. He has come to propose a business venture with Josie’s father, he wants to form a partnership with him and mine for gold on his property. Josie falls in love with him and they plan to marry, but she soon learns that Asa isn’t what he seems.

150 years later Josie’s descendant, Tara Fraser, is living with her Aunt in the same town. Tara’s mother has been working in Alberta since their house burned down back home. Her mother wants to sell the family property and have Tara move to Alberta with her, but Tara is less than enthused about this idea. That house and property had been in Tara and Josie’s family for a long time, and Tara isn’t ready to give up on it.

As we read Josie’s story slipping into tragedy and sadness, we simultaneously get to read of Tara’s story rising from tragedy and sadness into hope that has its roots in the Nova Scotia Gold Rush.

Hope Larson takes us to a place that most of us have never been, or even thought of going, and she takes us to a time and event that we didn’t even know happened. I had no idea that there was a Nova Scotia gold rush, but there was one in the 1860’s and beyond. In truth there is still small scale gold mining there today. I love stories that can inform and transport you to such events.

In addition to the story the artwork is wonderful. The black and white frames really move the story along and Larson has a real knack for conveying emotion with facial expressions. Another thing that I noticed from page one is that her drawing style seems to be slightly influenced by Jeff Smith, writer and illustrator of the Bone graphic novels. (One of the best, if not the best, graphic novels ever.) I absolutely love Smith’s style and I love Larson’s just as much.

Mercury is suitable for most teens and the characters are very relatable. If, like me, you love graphic novels that are heavier on story and relatable characters rather than on out of this world color graphics and superheroes, then Mercury is definitely for you.


By Jeanette Ingold
Published by Harcourt, Inc.
Copyright © 2005

Review by Anthony Kendrick

Moss Trawnley is 17 and he is doing everything he can to keep his family afloat. Considering that he is living during the tail end of the great depression and he still has his job at an airfield in Texas he feels pretty hopeful. He is able to send money home to his family in Louisiana every month, he is planning to go to radio repair school, and he has girlfriend named Beatty. However, when Moss suddenly loses his job his dreams seem to be turned on end.

After locating his father in Montana, Moss decides to sign up for a hitch with the Civilian Conservation Corps where he will get 3 squares and a cot and two-thirds of his pay will be sent home to help his family. Moss endures extreme weather and troublesome cabin mates, but he also learns what it takes to be a good man and a leader. He learns the meaning and value of hard work, helping others, and of loyalty.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s initial New Deal programs designed to put the nation’s young men to work during the Great Depression. They were charged with among other things the tasks of reforestation, dam and reservoir construction, and park restoration. Ingold tells a fascinating story that shows why a young man might join the CCC and what camp life might be like.

More than just being an overview of the CCC though, she creates a likeable protagonist for us who is coping with internal and external conflicts. And she highlights the proper way to deal with those conflicts. While reading Moss’ story you are waiting for him to lash out because it is the natural first instinct, but he learned from his experience what happens when you do that. Moss is a flawed character but he is good at heart, accepts subtle direction, and learns the best ways to lead.

In addition to Moss, she shows young men and women who have many different talents and passions. I thought it was great that there were young men who loved to read and were good in the kitchen, and that there were young ladies who were pilots and were interested in the family farm. It is a reminder that it is our abilities and interests that should guide our work and passions, not our sex.

While the characters in this story tend to be 17 and older, I feel that youths 12 and up would enjoy this story. This book would also be well used in middle/high school language arts classes to make a cross curriculum connection with U.S. History in particular the Great Depression and the New Deal era.


By Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by Simon & Schuster
Copyright © 2010
Review by Anthony Kendrick

Another Dare-ing adventure through time with JB, Katherine, and Jonah. Our time traveling trio will try to solve the history mystery of the Roanoke Colony.

Jonah and Katherine are set to take Andrea back in time to merge with her tracer and do what needs to be done to repair the timeline. Their destination is coastal North Carolina around the end of the 16th century where, and when, the Roanoke colony suddenly disappeared. There seems to be a change in the travel plans though when an unknown stranger causes a problem with the elucidator and they don’t get dropped where they should on the timeline. Not only that, but they lose the elucidator and they have no contact with JB. Does he even know where they are? Jonah, Katherine, and Andrea are going to have to figure out how to fix time on their own if they are to have any hope of escape.

Haddix has found a way to mix science fiction and social studies education together in a neat package with “The Missing” series. Many kids aren’t that interested in history itself, but what happens if you time travel and get dropped into the middle of history? Now that is interesting! I commend Haddix because she researches her history well and feeds the story pertinent information about it as needed to move story along. Nowhere does she add a history lesson for the sake of a history lesson. Kids would sniff this out in a heartbeat. Social Studies education is sorely lacking in American primary education today, and I applaud anyone who can include it in the creation of entertainment.

From a pure enjoyment stand point, children 8 years old and up will enjoy this series. They will love the time travel plot where it takes a couple of kids to save time. They will also enjoy its main characters. Haddix does a good job of writing the sibling interaction between Jonah and Katherine so children with brothers or sisters will really feel it. The author also helps the tone of her plot by not making the book too humorous. Part of the fun of time travel sci-fi is the childlike belief that it is just within reach of the realm of possibility, even though we know it isn’t. Too many laughs would probably keep pushing the story out of that realm.

For me personally, I loved the first book but I couldn’t latch on to the second and third wholeheartedly. This third book at 360 pages just moves too slowly for me with all the questions of what the characters should and shouldn’t do and explanations of time and tracer movement. What keeps me going in this series is the history. I was interested in knowing how the author explained the Roanoke Colony’s disappearance, and I was quite pleased with that. I understand, however, how all the explanations help young readers to wrap their mind around the story and take it seriously. I would definitely recommend using this book in conjunction with language arts to bring more attention to history in our classrooms. Stories like this just might grab a child’s attention and make them want to learn on their own.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


By Eric Berlin
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Copyright © 2007
Review by Anthony Kendrick

Move over Encyclopedia Brown there is a new detective on the block, Winston Breen puzzle genius. Winston Breen is a 12 year old puzzle aficionado. He breathes, eats, and sleeps puzzles. He sees puzzles in the oddest places like on a piece of wrapping paper, or on a pizza. Oddly enough the biggest puzzle he has ever come across is one that he did not know was there. 

Winston buys a last minute birthday gift for his 10 year old sister at his favorite store, Penrose’s Curio Shop. Used to his puzzling ways Katie assumes that there is a puzzle hidden in her gift. Even though Winston didn’t provide a puzzle this year Katie still finds one. This puzzle created by a local inventor decades ago, is going to send them on a wild goose chase with an odd group comprised of two treasure hunting enthusiasts, the town librarian, and an ex-policeman. Can a puzzle that is very intricate and very old be solved by this group? With Winston and Katie’s help it can.

I really enjoyed this story. It was fun and mysterious from the very beginning. It demonstrated that the best way to solve a problem is through teamwork. In addition it is chock full of puzzles for you to solve. I like crosswords, word searches, and I’ll do the occasional number puzzle so it gave me the opportunity to test my smarts. Some of the puzzles were easy and others were hard. I’ll be honest and admit I couldn’t solve some of them and others I didn’t even try. However I tried enough of them that it really did get me into the puzzling spirit of the book. 

While I recommend this book for pleasure reading, the connection between puzzles and school is obvious. Puzzles help teach logic, reasoning, and observation; they fit in well in math and language arts classes. Here is a little puzzle of my own, see if you can find the Encyclopedia Brown connection as you read this book. While the writing style and story lengths are different, both Brown and Breen rely on knowledge and deduction. I think Eric Berlin has written a timeless character, maybe not quite on par with E.B., but a nice homage to him.