Jenny's Library

Archive for August 2014

cover image for Up Against ItUp Against It by M. J. Locke

When disaster strikes the asteroid colony of Phoecea, it’s up to Jane Novio, manager of the Resource Commission, to figure out the logistics of how the colony is going to survive. With Jane soon dealing with a rogue AI, probable sabotage, and the Martian mob – all on top of a colony threatening water crisis and the aftermath of a tragic accident – the question quickly becomes if Phoecea will remain intact and functioning, not how.

This wasn’t a book that I fell into quickly, but when I did fall, I fell hard.  It’s not just that Jane is both competent and interesting, and old enough to have experience and history.  I also desperately loved how much the story was aware of how vital many of the mundane things we take for granted are.  Living in California, especially now, the importance of access to potable water is something that is increasingly hard to ignore, and so I found the underlying crisis both relevant and believable.  The supporting cast is great as well, and I’m realizing that I’m a sucker for good AI stories.

cover image for Let's Play HouseLet’s Play House by Emma Quay, illustrated by Anna Walker

In very few – but well chosen – words and with soft but expressive pictures, Quay and Walker show the ups and downs of playing with friends, and the joys of playing pretend.

I don’t know if I’m just looking in the wrong places, but I have a hard time finding books for children that focus on the dramatic play they engage in every day.  With the exception of Antoinette Portis’ excellent picture books, the act of imaginative play almost feels like the preschool set’s version of Fight Club: first rule of playing pretend, don’t talk about playing pretend.  Which is very odd, not only because I have memories of picture books and easy readers that talked about it when I was young (perhaps it’s just books for toddlers in which the topic is lacking?), but also because it’s extremely common for young children to preface their play with “but just for pretend.”

Which is a very long winded way of saying: when I saw this book, I had to grab it.   Short and cute, it’s perfect for older toddlers and exactly the kind of book that I’ve been looking for to add to my “imagination” story time.

cover image for The End (Almost)The End (Almost) by Jim Benton

A blue bear named Donut has a story he wants to share with you!  But when the story is over, will Donut be ready for the book to end?

I could tell you how silly and hilarious this book is, but since it’s written and illustrated by Jim Benton – creator of Dear Dumb Diary, Frannie K. Stein, and the Happy Bunny – do you really need me to? More seriously though, Benton did a great job adapting his humor to a younger set of kids than his books usually target. It’s not quite There is a Bird on Your Head levels of funny, but it is definitely entertaining.

cover image for HippoppositesHippopposites by Janik Coat

This is, indeed, yet another board book about opposites for young children. Coat’s book is worth highlighting, however, because of it’s uniqueness and memorable design.

This particular concept book doesn’t feature a popular character or only make use of the typical pairings for such titles.  Instead, the pages inside use a (often) red hippopotamus to illustrate the difference between heavy and light, in front and behind, etc.  By using the same basic shape for each page (the red hippopotamus has a very geometric design to it) Coat’s book is able to present concepts (like “transparent”) that would be much more difficult otherwise  This is also one of those board books with the extra thick and glossy pages, and several of the shapes on the pages are raised or indented, making the pages easier and more interesting for little hands.  Not every pair works as well as it could, but it’s well done overall. Highly recommended.

 

inside pages of Hippopoositesinside pages for Hippopoositesinside pages of Hippopposites

 

cover image for The Juvie ThreeThe Juvie Three by Gordon Korman

Gecko, Arjay and Terence have all been given a second chance.  Pulled from juvenile detention, an adult prison, and a reform school in the middle of farm country, the three boys have been selected to instead live with the idealistic Douglas Healey in New York City as part of a special probationary program.  While Gecko and Arjay are determined to do whatever it takes to make sure they aren’t sent back, Terence is only concerned with making money (illegally, if needed) no matter the consequences.  When Terence tries to sneak out one night, Arjay and Gecko go to stop him, and Healey comes in during the chaos and is knocked unconscious, and sent to the hospital as a John Doe, in the process.   Prompting all three boys to make a pact and work together to keep their school and social worker from finding out that anything has gone wrong.

Yeah, that look on your face right now? Is probably the same one I had while reading this book. The Juvie Three is a good example of the narrative supporting bad decisions, versus bad decisions simply being something that people do.  It’s not that the boys make a mistake that ends up hurting someone, but rather that the boys never even discuss how their continuing actions may harm Healey.  The book acknowledges the mistakes they make, but it never acknowledges the reasons why they were bad decisions.  This lack of nuance, ironically, actually makes the boys decisions harder to understand, as it makes the whole story feel shallow and lacking in internal logic.

(This is also where I feel like Young Adult books do have a responsibility to bring up issues that younger readers may not think of themselves: leaving Healey as a John Doe not only leaves Healey without support, it deprives the medical professionals of the information they need to treat him properly. Healey isn’t merely a broken lamp that can be hidden in the closet; the boys continuing silence places him in danger every moment they stay silent. I was extremely disappointed that none of the adults brought this up once the truth came out.)

Korman’s jocular and irreverent style, which I loved in Son of the Mob, does not work well here it all. It is possible to write funny books about serious and dark subjects, but that isn’t what Korman has done in The Juvie Three. Instead, he has taken a serious subject and watered it down, and the book inevitably suffers for it.