Helen

Hip & Hop in the House: A Free-flowing Tortoise and the Hare Collection by Matt Killeen

Hip the tortoise and Hop the hare both love to write rhymes and then say them to music (the story explains this as rapping). The text in Hip’s speech bubbles are red. The text in Hop’s speech bubbles are green. The author explains that when you see red words you should read slowly and green words should be read quickly. Hip raps so slowly that people lose interest. Hop raps so quickly that no one can follow her. The plot thickens from there, into two stories and one shorter “bonus mini-comic.” The rhymes and comic panels make the pages fly by, in this 80 page book. Children listening to this book with an adult, after some repetitions could transition into reading a few of the rhyming speech bubbles, which would be really fun for the adult and fledgling reader. The two stories are roughly the length of a picture book and quite funny as well. I think this book might engage some young listeners who are otherwise reluctant readers.

Picture Book Hardcover pr2103269

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

To imitate this book’s brilliant execution of in medias res, we meet our protagonist, Sarah, moments after a car crash, as her mother dies from a gunshot wound to the head. Sarah hears dogs barking and races away, eluding capture through a death defying gymnastic vault and flip onto a roof, out of sight. (Sarah hears a voice in her head, “commit to the move…”) As she lies motionless, and silent, invisible from below, and soldiers and dogs pass back and forth, she sees a man on another roof… 

The next day, Sarah climbs aboard the ferry her mother intended to take. She is safe. She has escaped. Then she sees the man from the roof, surrounded by soldiers – Nazis – asking for his papers. Sarah leaves her safety and, pretending that this man is her father, saves him. As these two characters learn and reveal more about each other, the reader gradually learns too. He is a British spy and Sarah – despite her blonde hair and blue eyes - is a Jewish German.

The voice in Sarah’s head creates fantastic tension and often offers enlightening flashbacks. It is a really effective narrative tactic.  All of Sarah’s talents and training become critical to the plan she forms with the spy.

 The relentless tension and pacing of this plot combines with deft character development, supported by fascinating facts from Nazi Germany. An author’s note (read by Matt Killeen himself, in the audio version) reveals that many of the most unlikely plot points are based in fact. Jewish children and other ordinary citizens played courageous and key roles in fighting Nazis in World War II. Both author and book make clear that democracies are fragile constructs and we, the ordinary citizens, are not powerless to defend but have a responsibility to support.

Young Adult Fiction Hardcover pr1305017
Audio CD pr2635152

You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

I wonder if young readers ever feel inadequate after reading book after book about protagonist kids saving the planet? You know, the kind with kids who have death-defying heroics, extraordinary powers and intellect, “sleuth-y” skills or the perfect team of friends... In this contemporary juvenile novel, two unexceptional, young protagonists come through experiences that are world shattering only to them, but nevertheless important, and life altering.

Ben and Charlotte are good kids, with excellent grades. They know each other only through their online Scrabble games and their comments to each other through the platform of their games. When Ben moves up to middle school, the two guys he’s hung out with in elementary school have drifted away. Ben hasn’t thought too much about that. He’s close to his parents and doing alright, that is, until they tell him they’re getting a divorce. Suddenly he can’t relate to either of them. He can’t talk to them, and he realizes he has no one else, except Charlotte.

Charlotte has a best friend, Bridget. They’ve always been inseparable, with lots of inside jokes that didn’t include anyone else. In middle school, Bridget makes friends with other girls, who aren’t Charlotte’s friends. Little shifts occur between them, just as Charlotte’s father has a heart attack. He’s in hospital, and Charlotte feels overwhelmed, but she can’t talk to Bridget. Her neighbour, Magda – who she and Bridget used to make fun of – is kind to Charlotte, asking about her dad. Over the course of a few weeks, Bridget’s behaviour erodes Charlotte’s steadfast loyalty to her. Finally, Charlotte realizes that Bridget isn’t that nice to her anymore, and Magda is.

During this time, Charlotte works out for herself a few things about her dad and gains the courage to go and visit him in the hospital, for the first time. Ben works through events around his parents’ divorce, in similar ways, eventually making a new friend at school, and making peace with his parents. Charlotte and Ben don’t become inseparable, but they are there for each other, in small ways, at critical times. Many moments in this book remind me of awkward or awesome times in my own childhood. That is, Charlotte and Ben’s voices, experiences and quiet bravery, ring true. Recommend this book to any patron sitting alone, to kids new to a school or neighbourhood, to avid readers, science enthusiast girls, or Scrabble players.

Juvenile Fiction Hardcover pr1307222

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