Micro Review: Some Cat! by Mary Casanova and Ard Hoyt

 

Title: Some Cat!

Author: Mary Casanova

Illustrator: Ard Hoyt

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Violet has always imagined ruling a kingdom with sharp claws and velvet paws, so when she is adopted and goes to live with two dogs, she immediately takes over with a Meowww! Hisssss! and Spat! Poor George and Zippity try to befriend Violet, but they get nowhere. One afternoon, while her new family is out fishing, Violet is awakened by some stray dogs who chase poor Violet into a corner. Luckily, George and Zippity arrive home just in time to help.

Review:

I love Ard Hoyt’s art, and I am now a rabid fan.  Some Cat! revisits George and Zippity from Some Dog!, introducing Violet, a homeless cat, to the family.  I love the humans in both of these books.  They are patient and loving to their pets, willing to watch from the sidelines as their new family member tries to find a place for herself.  The problem is, Violet isn’t easy to get along with, and she doesn’t make things easy for herself.  She, like most cats, believes that she is royalty, and instead of trying to make friends with George and Zippity, she attempts to take charge – of everything.   She bullies her new animal companions, stealing their toys, food, and favorite sleeping spots.  She hisses at them, and she swats at them with her velvet paws, claws extended.  She is so NOT nice!  When a pack of dogs attack her, though, it is George and Yippity to the rescue.  Will Violet finally learn to play well with others?

This is a delightful story, with wonderful prose and charming illustrations that perfectly capture the mood and action of the book.  Some Cat! is sure to enchant animal lovers both young and old.

Grade:  A

Review copy provided by publisher

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Review: My Brother’s Shadow by Monika Schroder

 

Title: My Brother’s Shadow

Author: Monika Schroder

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

ISBN: 978-0374351229

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

As World War I draws to a close in 1918, German citizens are starving and suffering under a repressive regime. Sixteen-year-old Moritz is torn. His father died in the war and his older brother still risks his life in the trenches, but his mother does not support the patriotic cause and attends subversive socialist meetings. While his mother participates in the revolution to sweep away the monarchy, Moritz falls in love with a Jewish girl who also is a socialist. When Moritz’s brother returns home a bitter, maimed war veteran, ready to blame Germany’s defeat on everything but the old order, Moritz must choose between his allegiance to his dangerously radicalized brother and those who usher in the new democracy.

Review:

I usually try to avoid books set during either world war.  I find them depressing, and they leave me with so many questions far beyond the scope of a fictional novel.  When I was asked to review My Brother’s Shadow, I hesitated.  Would I be able to make my way through a setting that I find unpleasant?  Bleak?  Hopeless?

The answer is a resounding yes.  I even found myself using the Google-fuu to do some on the spot research into the background of some of the events that take place during the story.  After struggling to get through the first chapter, I powered through this book.  I had to know what happened to Moritz and his family.  I had to know that he, at least, found some happiness and hope in the dreary world he was forced to live in.  Moritz is forced to grow up much faster than is fair to a boy his age, and as he struggled to keep the remnants of his family safe and fed, he is also forced to let go of his childish illusions that his life can go back to the way it was before the war.

In this bleak setting, Moritz is a bright, relatable character.  His father has been killed in the fighting, his brother has proudly marched off to the frontlines to do his duty for his fatherland, and his mother, like most of the women in Berlin, has been pressed into service, too.  She works in a factory making ammunition, making arms for the soldiers weary after four years of brutal warfare.  Moritz works at in a print shop running a press, his dreams of attending school and becoming a journalist dissolving with the mind-numbing hunger and stifling poverty that plagues most of the Germany citizenry.  When he discovers that his mother is attending illegal gatherings that rally against the Kaiser, he is beyond dismayed.  How can his mother be a traitor?

I enjoyed this book so much because I liked Moritz.  He strives to help his family in every way he can, and he makes some huge blunders in judgment along the way.  I liked that he learned from his mistakes, and as he began to truly open his eyes to the political conditions in Germany, his own opinions of the war and the Kaiser begin to slowly change.  He no longer blindly believes in the current governing system, and more importantly, the war,  and he sees that it is people like himself who are suffering the most. 

I am so happy that I overcame my reluctance about the setting of My Brother’s Shadow and read the book despite my misgivings.  It’s a compelling read about a brave boy who is forced to become a man before his time. 

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by the author

Review: The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O’Connor

 

Title: The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

Author: Barbara O’Connor

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

ISBN: 978-0374368500

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

An amazing secret has tumbled off a freight train into Carter, Georgia, and Owen Jester is the only person who knows about it. If he can simply manage to evade his grandfather’s snappish housekeeper, organize his two best friends, and keep his nosy neighbor, Viola, at bay, he just might be in for the summer of a lifetime. With her trademark wit and easy charm, Barbara O’Connor spins a fantastic fable of friends, enemies, and superbly slimy bullfrogs.

Review:

When I saw the cover of The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester, I had to read it.  Why?  There is a big ole bullfrog floating in the water, and a tiny submarine behind it.  Just like Owen, I have a secret, too.  I love frogs.  And turtles, and toads, and snakes.  Why?  They eat bugs, and if there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s a bug.  They always sneak up on you with their billion legs, all creepy and crawly and scary.  I hate bugs, so it is only natural that I would like critters that eat them.

Protagonist Owen Jester is a bit of a brat.  Actually, he’s just your average, overly energetic kid, with a special knack for getting into trouble.  After his father loses his job, his family moves in with his bed-ridden grandfather, and the move isn’t sitting well with Owen.  His friends live further away, nosy Viola lives next door and she can’t seem to stay out of his business, and Earlene, his grandfather’s housekeeper, does nothing but lecture him and complain about his messes. 

When Owen hears something fall off the train as it rumbles over the tracks at the back of the property, he is determined to find whatever it is that fell off.  With the help of his friends, Travis and Stumpy, and some unwanted assistance from bossy Viola as well, Owen makes the discovery of a lifetime.  Can he keep it a secret from his parents and Earlene?

My first impression of this book is that it’s a “boy” book.  I hate to use labels like that, but I think that this will have so much more appeal for MG boys than girls.  Owen was difficult for me to relate to, and at first, I didn’t like him much.  He is mean to both Earlene and Viola, and once he decides what he wants, he pursues it with a stubborn intensity, even when he knows he’s doing the wrong thing.  I was so happy that he shows development during his summer adventure, and he begins to think about other people and their feelings.  It changed my opinion of him, and by the end of the book, I actually liked him. 

Despite my difficulty getting to know and like Owen, I still enjoyed it.  I think this book will be a hit with reluctant MG boys.  It’s a quick read, about one boy’s magical summer, and how a once in a lifetime discovery changes his relationships with his friends, as well as his nemesis.

Grade: B

Review copy obtained from my local library

Picture Book Roundup – The Mud Fairy & Some Dog!

Title: The Mud Fairy by Amy Young

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Emmalina is a fairy, and from the first page, you can see that her life is anything but flowers and sparkly dust.  She is working hard to earn her wings, but because she doesn’t think she has any talent, she’s getting frustrated that all of her friends have earned their wings, but she hasn’t.  The only thing that she seems to be good at is playing in the swamp with the frogs, but that’s not going to get her a pretty set of wings!

I liked Emmalina right away because she stays so true to herself.  Fairies are supposed to be delicate and dainty, but she loves playing leapfrog in the mud and running around in the swamp.  It’s so hard for her to fit in, and she despairs at ever earning her wings.  The harder she tries, the more spectacularly she fails, until the fairy queen tells her that maybe she is trying too hard.  Patience will reveal her talent, but Emmalina is fearful that she’s not good at anything.  This is a fun read because her talent just needed to be understood by the rest of the fairies, and when it is, it shows how important it is to be you.

The colorful art is eye-catching, but it’s the expressive characters that charmed me.  Emmalina’s feelings are very clear to see, and the frogs are super cute, too.

Title: Some Dog! by Mary Casanova and Ard Hoty

Publisher: Melanie Kroupa Books(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

One look at the pouty basset hound on the cover of Some Dog! and I had to take it home.  This despite my resolve to NOT check out any other books from the library.  Those librarians are very, very clever – they display the picture books on top of the bookcases, and before you know it, you have an armful that you want to read.  Stop it!!

George is a happy basset hound who is living the good life with his people.  They pat his head and tell him that he’s “Some dog!”  Then a tiny interloper shows up one day, throwing George’s well ordered life into chaos.  Zippity never shuts up, he never stops running around, and he hogs George’s comfy bed at night.  Now George’s people are even patting him on the head and telling Zippity that he’s “Some dog!”

This is a wonderful book about a faithful old dog who feels threatened when a younger dog moves in.  Dog lovers will eat this one up!  George may be slow and laid back, but he is the most dependable dog on the planet!  When Zippity runs off during a scary thunderstorm, who do you think is asked to go find him?  Yup, poor, put-upon George, who wishes the annoying Zippity would just stay gone!

The illustrations are just as charming, and have just as much personality as the characters in the book.  The dogs are rendered with exaggerated details that make them memorable and demand rereads.  Moods in the story are effortlessly relayed to the reader, and the page layouts during the scary storm build up a very real sense of suspense. 

Grade: B+

Review: The Chihuahua Chase by A. E. Cannon

 

Title: The Chihuahua Chase

Author: A. E. Cannon

Illustrations: Julie Olson

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

ISBN: 9780374312596

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When Teddy Krebs’s speedy if homely little dog goes missing right before the town Chihuahua races, fourth-grader Addie May Jones can’t resist Teddy’s plea for help. Soon she has two mysteries on her hands: Is there a dognapper on the loose? And why won’t Teddy stop making a pest of himself? Addie May turns detective to find the vanished pooch and at the same time discovers a bad case of puppy love.

I waited forever to read this book!  There is only one copy in the entire library network, and it had a gabillion holds on it.  I  just couldn’t resist the goofy looking Chihuahua trotting happily on the cover, so I added my name to the hold list.  Several months later…

The book appeared at the library!  This is a fast, fun read, with two likable protagonists.  Addie May can’t stand Teddy Krebs, because he throws dodge balls at her head during recess, leaves her nasty notes, and constantly makes fun of her.  When his ugly little dog goes missing before the Chihuahua races, Addie May is SHOCKED when Teddy asks her for help finding Phantom.  Teddy hates her, doesn’t he?

As the mystery deepens, Addie May learns that looks can be deceiving, and not everything is what it seems.  It seems that gorgeous Zack likes her, but does he really?  It seems that Teddy can’t stand her and lives to make her life miserable, but is that true?  It seems that Teddy’s grumpy neighbor may be responsible for Phantom’s disappearance, but did he dognap the little canine?

It’s a good thing Addie May wants to be a detective, because she is going to need all of her sleuthing skills to figure this mess out!  Addie May is one determined young lady. She is going to save Phantom, even though she can’t stand Teddy Krebs and wishes he would get sucked into a volcano.  The tenuous relationship between the two leads brought a smile to my face.  While it is obvious to everyone else that Teddy is just having a communication issue with Addie May, she wants to keep as much distance between them as possible.  Even while she’s helping him track down the missing Phantom, Teddy just can’t stop being mean and nasty to her.  Why is he so nice to everyone else?

With its rapid pacing and engaging characters, The Chihuahua Chase will appeal to the kid in everyone.  Peppered throughout are charming illustrations by Julie Olson, which capture the mood of key scenes in the book.   This breezy read was worth the wait.

Grade: B+

Review copy obtained from my local library

Review: The Diary of a Killer Cat by Anne Fine

 

Title: The Diary of a Killer Cat

Author: Anne Fine

Illustrations: Steve Cox

Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux

ISBN: 978-0374317799

 

May Contain Spoilers

Tuffy is an unrepentant murderer.  The little bird had it coming, what with landing in his mouth and all.  Besides, he’s a cat!  What does his girl, Ellie, expect?  The pathetic tree-hugger would have him holding hands with all of the neighborhood dogs! Doesn’t she understand?  He’s a cat!

This short book for younger readers has a ton of personality.  Too bad I didn’t really like the personality.  Tuffy is all cat, and he is not going to adjust his feline behavior to make any humans happy.  When he starts bringing home dead critters, his people start having fits.  He’s a murderer!  A killer of innocent little birds and mice!  Tuffy can’t understand what all of the fuss is about, and soon he is on the outs with Ellie and her family.

Told in first person from Tuffy’s point of view, this is a pretty funny book.  I just couldn’t relate to Tuffy.  He is tough talking and streetwise, and he is every bit a cat.  He doesn’t care about anything but what he wants; he’s self-indulgent, and he’s a smart-aleck.  I don’t know why I didn’t connect better with this book.  Maybe I found the dead bunny episode morbid?  I’m not sure, but I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I was hoping I would.  

Grade: C+

Review copy obtained from the library