Tim Federle’s book debut is fiction. Or is it?
Fans from American Idol, The Voice or Glee will love the depth of 13-year-old Nate Foster’s wild ride to New York City to audition for E.T. The Musical.
Nate is a theater-loving runaway. A runway for only for 24 hours. At least, that’s his plan. Apart from the theater, he’s living in a world of complex characters. Nate himself divulges in his first-person, present-tense recap:
“I am a freshman at the College of Sexuality and I have undecided my major…”
In fact, much of the homophobic taunting Nate endures comes from his older brother.
Nate’s family is struggling with other dramas. Anthony’s squeaky-clean image gets tarnished by story’s end. Nate’s mother has a drinking problem. His dad faces a marital challenge.
For unlikely support, Nate discovers that a disowned aunt who lives in New York City becomes his secret weapon. Most of all, classmate Libby maintains her masterminding best-friend status, despite a potential kiss in the book’s beginning.
The reader will feel like they’re getting inside scoops from Nate in the next seat at the cafeteria table. Chances are, the reader gets at least one sassy aside (or more!) from Nate every 2 to 3 pages.
Amazingly, Federle stuffs his novel with insider details that any age of musical theater fan would savor. As an actor in five Broadway shows himself, Federle takes the reader deep into the making of a major musical. An authentic “been there, done that” vibe runs through this entertaining tale.
One subversive fascination in the book is watching Nate and Libby find a new way to swear. Their exclamations are coded, using the names of failed Broadway shows. Not just names, either. Nate dishes the dirt, remarking why these flops flopped.
What makes this middle-grade novel a show stopper is Federle’s willingness to let Nate have a life outside of school. In a sense, being a student is only Nate’s job. Federle lets him live his passion, which isn’t found in a classroom.
Many good things are happening for Nate by book’s end, although readers don’t get a full idea of all the glory awaiting him.
Sounds like a curtain call, even an encore, are in order for Nate and author Federle. When there is an E.T. musical and Nate’s a star, readers will want front-row seats.
—Tom Owens, author
Who—or what—you choose to love is the subject of another gem from author James Howe.
Otter and Odder describes a male otter who falls in love with a female fish.
“Impossible,” he said. “I am in love with my food source.”
Therein lies a mystery in Howe’s fable for our times. Is he creating a story of tolerance, or showing readers the possibilities of vegetarianism?
Either way, the book is a joy.
Shattering assumptions becomes the challenge of Howe’s main character.
Otter must face the whispers of his species. He must consider for himself what is “right” and “natural.” Again, tradition includes a traditional diet.
The “way of the otter” gets contrasted to “the way of the heart” when Otter seeks advice from wise neighbor beaver. The youngest reader will appreciate the difference between loving someone, as opposed to loving to EAT someone.
Both creatures learn to ignore peer pressure as they decide how to find true happiness.
Few authors in children’s literature today would earn the right to conclude their book with “And they lived happily ever after.” Howe’s conclusion is the perfect choice for the perfect narrative.
Two-time Caldecott medal winner Chris Raschka chose watercolor and pencil for the deceptively-simple illustrations in the book. Adult romantics yearning for a tale of star-crossed lovers might be wishing for more grandiose artwork. Nevertheless, Raschka excels with fun, fluid lines in this aquatic surprise.
Don’t be surprised if Otter and Odder becomes a crossover hit. Adults seeking a Valentine’s Day gift may flock to this title. This book would speak to any age.
Love is love. If anyone can make the case in such sweet, sincere terms, it’s author Howe.
—Tom Owens, author
Susanna Reich writes like a cat. She describes the life of famous cook Julia Child in nimble feline terms. Her book Minette’s Feast doesn’t pussyfoot around. This Paris cat remained a member of the family for Child and her husband.
The author relied on Child’s own words to tell the tale of one beloved cat. The books Appetite for Life and My Life in France allow Reich to give young readers a true look at life unknown to many animals: roaming the family kitchen and tasting the fare. Beforehand, readers can relive daily Parisian life savored by Child and her husband. They dine at sidewalk cafes inhabited by dogs, cats and even pet birds.
The authentic touches will delight adult readers especially. Turning a Brussels sprout tied to a string into a toy for Minette? Vintage Child. Or, classic Reich.
Readers will be able to define French phrases presented in context, in cases like learning how to say, “A house without a cat is like life without sunshine!” Illustrator Amy Bates shows equal talent in depicting animals and humans, a feat showcased in her 2008 picture book The Dog Who Belonged to No One. In Minette’s Feast, Bates rises to the occasion of representing an image seen often through thousands of PBS programs. Happily, many double-page spreads allow readers to see the cat being overshadowed by the oh-so-tall cook. Child’s size wasn’t always apparent in her TV appearances.
Minette the cat gets an epic double-page solo near book’s end. When Child cooks something that appears to be turkey or goose (but isn’t identified, perhaps to soothe vegetarian readers) Minette is given a bone. She rejoices and finds many ways to enjoy the morsel. Each happy gyration is described and depicted. Bates’ pencil-and-watercolor creations are the ideal ingredients for this tale.
Meanwhile, author Reich respected Child’s droll sense of humor. Not until the book’s glossary and pronunciation guide does a reader learn that Minette’s term of “poussiequette” is not true French. The author lets us decide that the Childs made their own phonetic French term to honor their cat.
Likewise, Reich reveals that Minette’s middle name of “Mimosa” came from an odd spontaneous dining choice.
The last page, in an author’s note, is the ultimate topping on the literary dish Reich creates. She tells that she met Child once. In fact, Reich made the official gift presented to Child during her 80th birthday party.
Minette’s Feast is a joyful remembrance of a beloved feline friend who inspired a culinary queen.
—Tom Owens, author
During World War II many Jews were sent to concentration camps. Many of them went into hiding so they would not be sent to the horrible camps. Anne Frank and her family are one of the most well-known families to go into hiding. While the Franks were in hiding, their youngest daughter Anne kept a diary of her experiences. She describes what it is like to be living in a strange place away from home, what it is like to hide from the government, what it is like to live with seven other people in a cramped space, and how restricted they were.
I really enjoyed The Diary of a Young Girl because of its truth and its great descriptions. Anne is writing to an imaginary person named “Kitty” and it seems as if she is writing to a good old friend. After reading this young girl’s journal you will have a different perspective on what it was like for Jews during that time. I know I did.
—Megan Zamow, 7th Grader
Double-crossing a business partner. Plagiarism. Are those uplifting themes or storylines appealing to young readers?
Author Marc Tyler Nobleman defies the odds on both counts in his stellar, surprising Bill The Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.
Bill Finger thought he was collaborating with artist Bob Kane on a new series for DC Comics in 1939. Kane sold the premise, taking all the credit. His contract allowed him to be recognized as sole Batman creator. Finger worked in frustrated anonymity, an angry ghostwriter.
Ironically, Nobleman discovered that Kane called the prolific Finger “the boy wonder” for all his input on the storylines. The nickname became the famed description for Robin, Batman’s youthful sidekick.
All comics need heroes. In this book, Nobleman details how Batman fans kept Finger’s little-known contributions preserved in comics history.
Nobleman’s writing style reflects comic book drama. He uses punchy puns, enjoying the names of Batman and comic writer Finger. At the same time, he infuses character into the picture book, recounting how Finger kept a “gimmick book” of facts and trivia bits for future comic books. As a jaw-dropping complement to Nobleman‘s work, pair his super-heroic writing with the pitch-perfect illustrations of Ty Templeton. Templeton’s art looks worthy of a Batman comic book, complete with action-packed layouts. Ironically, Templeton’s extensive comic book credits include none other than Batman.
Nobleman distinguishes himself as a four-leveled talent with the book’s postscript. He sparkles as an author. Avid comic fans will agree that Nobleman is a solid historian, analyzing background art in a 1943 Batman issue for a surprising discovery. His detective work in finding sources to interview (Finger died in 1974) is an exciting as any crime-solving.
What’s left? One noble feat of activism. Nobleman finds out if Finger left any heir, and if there’d be a way that the comic co-creator’s possible offspring could receive some kind of compensation.
Be sure to read to the last page. The revelation is a true-to-life happy ending that would make even the Caped Crusader smile.
Young readers will take new pride and ownership in their own creations after reading this book. Even more, they might wonder who some of the unsung heroes were as their favorite stories were born.
—Tom Owens, author
Imagine a community where families can’t have more than two kids. Luke is the third kid in his family. Illegally. He is a shadow child. He has never been to school, never made friends or even talked to his neighbors. When Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a new house where two kids already live, he makes a plan to find her. Will he become involved in Jen’s dangerous plan to come out of the shadows?
I really enjoyed Among The Hidden. It is a great start to the Shadow Children series. Anybody any age will keep turning the pages to this action-packed book, begging for more.
—Megan Zamow, 6th grader
Three books unravel in front of your eyes. The Giver and Gathering Blue come together to create the fascinating Messenger. Many twists take you throughout the amazing book. Lois Lowry allows readers to use their imaginations to guide themselves through Messenger.
Messenger takes place in a futuristic community called Village. Matty, Leader, Mentor, Jean, and Seer are the characters that are focused on most. Matty lives with Seer, a blind man, who has a daughter in another community. Matty starts noticing strange changes in Village and the people who live in it. Suddenly a huge change is made and Matty needs to find Seer’s daughter before it is too late. Lois Lowry makes it seem as if her theme is friendship and what you will do for those close to you.
I really enjoyed Messenger. It kept me interested and wanting to read more. It is that kind of book that many people would enjoy, child to adult. Lowry includes many turns in the plot and characters that many people could relate to.
Lois Lowry’s Messenger left me wondering and interested. Children and adults, boys and girls with an active imagination would like it. What will Matty find out about Village?
—Megan Zamow, 6th grader
Imagine a community where if you have even the littlest thing wrong with you, you are sent to die. That is the way it is in Kira’s community in the book Gathering Blue. It included the meaning of friendship, family, loss and injury in an entertaining plot line. Many interesting twists and turns appear in Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry.
In this companion to The Giver, Kira, a two-syllable girl loses her mother to disease and is taken to a court to see if she can live. Arguments arrive as soon as they see her useless twisted leg but stop dead in their tracks after discovering her amazing work with threads. She is sent to a wing to work on the Singer’s robe when she meets Thomas, a carpenter, Jo an orphan singer, and Matt who help her make her threads and find out what really happened to her family. She uncovers huge secrets about the community and the people who live there.
Lois Lowry created Gathering Blue in a way that kept me thinking and entertained. I would surely recommend it. My favorite part is when Kira met Jo because it made me wonder why the council was making her do the things she was and why she was doing them at such a young age.
If you are looking for a book to read, try Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry. It makes you wonder what will happen next and how people could be different than you think they are.