“Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940.” I nodded, but he couldn’t see that I didn’t understand. With his last bit of strength, he added, “Emerson – the letter. Tell them what happened, Yakob.” (p. 33)
Jacob Portman believed he was destined to live an incredibly ordinary life. But then his grandfather is tragically killed, spewing the above disjointed jibberish as he lay dying in Jacob’s arms. Could this cryptic message have anything to do with the strange photographs his grandfather used to show him when Jacob was younger about the magical children’s home he lived in on a small island off the coast of Wales? Jacob had long ago dismissed his grandfather’s stories as rubbish, but now he’s not so sure. In order to make sense of everything that’s happened, Jacob and his father travel to Wales. Cairnholm is shrouded in fog and mystery, but Jacob is determined to honor his grandfather’s last request and find out the truth about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
Riggs’s debut novel is unique in that he blends Jacob’s story with some fantasically creepy photographs borrowed from collectors around the country (including himself). Unfortunately, I felt some of the fantasy elements of the story could have been explained better and that, at times, the story was written to complement the pictures and not the other way around. Readers who are looking to be thoroughly creeped-out may be disappointed as the story is not nearly as scary as I thought it would be. Overall, though, I was impressed with the writing and was intrigued enough to read it all the way through. The ending seemed like it might lend itself to a sequel, though I probably wouldn’t be interested in reading it.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Young Adult fiction | 352 pages | Quirk Publishing | June 2011 | 1594744769 | Library copy
J. J. Tully is a retired search-and-rescue dog who’s living out his glory days on his trainer’s farm. Compared to the excitement and danger of his previous job, farm life can be rather boring. When a wacky chicken named Millicent (Moosh) shows up in the doghouse doorway needing J. J.’s help to find her two missing chicks, Poppy and Sweetie, he quickly negotiates cheeseburger payment and is on the case.
The trouble with chickens, J. J. soon realizes, is that they’re hard to read. And they get in the way. And they possibly know more than they say they know when they know it. If J. J. is going to have any chance of rescuing Poppy and Sweetie from the evil house dog, Vince the Funnel, he needs all the information…and someone’s not talking.
From the author that brought us Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type, Bounce, and Wiggle, comes a new series for young readers. The Trouble with Chickens: A J. J. Tully Mystery is Doreen Cronin’s first venture into chapter books. This book has been getting a lot of love around the kidlitosphere and I can see why: short sentence structure, a mix of familiar and new vocabulary, dead-pan humor, vivid descriptions and a fast-paced plot make this a good choice for a read-alone or read-alouds. However, I felt the shift between narrators was a little awkward at first and that I didn’t have those laugh-out-loud funny moments others were raving about. I really, REALLY wanted to love this book, but for whatever reason the elements didn’t come together for me. Still, I can see the appeal for many readers in The Trouble with Chickens and would have no problem recommending it.
See other reviews at A Patchwork of Books and Bookends.
The Trouble with Chickens: A J. J. Tully Mystery by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
Juvenile Fiction | 128 pages | Balzer & Bray | March 2011 | 0061215325 | Library copy
“I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. If we’re supposed to ignore everything that’s wrong with our lives, then I can’t see how we’ll ever make things right.” (p. 44)
Vera Dietz and Charlie Kahn have been best friends since they were four years old. In a world where mothers left their families and husbands beat their wives, Vera and Charlie were there for each other, were solid for each other, kept each others secrets. Until Charlie turned his back on Vera. And then died.
Now Vera is facing the fallout from Charlie’s death. She knows more than she’s letting on, but in order to tell the truth, she must first come to terms with everything that’s happened between her and Charlie-good and bad. Even though she’s been told to ignore the ugly things in the world for most of her life, Vera knows that ignorance doesn’t make them go away. It just makes you feel like a chump for not doing anything to help.
I absolutely loved this book. From the first page, I was drawn into Vera’s story. Her voice is vivid and full of personality; she’s quirky and smart and funny. She’s also been hurt very deeply by the people who were supposed to love her. Watching her experience that cruelty was literally heartbreaking. Several times I found myself clutching my chest, fighting back tears for this girl. But don’t think Vera’s some helpless damsel-in-distress; she’s tough in ways she shouldn’t have to be.
Vera tells us her story in alternating perspectives: present and “history” – glimpses into her relationship with Charlie as they grew up. There are also some interjections from “the dead kid”, AKA Charlie, Vera’s dad, and the Pagoda. Although the sections told from Charlie’s and the Pagoda’s perspectives add a bit of fantastic realism to the story, they weren’t distracting or jarring as you might expect.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz is as much about death and loss as it is about love and life. It’s about letting go of the past so you can embrace your future. It’s a complex and nuanced exploration about the complicated nature of love, whether it’s romantic or familial. I think Vera put it best when she said:
“True love includes equal parts good and bad, but true love sticks around and doesn’t run off to Vegas with a podiatrist.” (p. 97)
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
Young Adult | 336 pages | October 2010 | Knopf Books for Young Readers | 0375865861 | Library copy
Christopher Newell didn’t plan to spend his summer working at the morgue, but when he sees the ad in the paper, he decides it might help him with his dreams of working as a spy someday. From day one, Christopher is sucked into what appears to be a murder cover-up. The police appear to be involved, leaving Christopher, along with the femme fatale journalist, Tina, to carry on an investigation of their own. Under the guise of “innocent” journalism, the pair manage to uncover a scenario of events involving the town mayor, blackmail, and bribery. As Christopher and Tina delve deeper into the case, things become more and more dangerous. Will they be able to solve the crime before one of them gets seriously hurt?
The Morgue and Me is a fast-paced, classic whodunit-type mystery with a well-drawn cast of characters and enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing until the end. This is definitely a good pick for reluctant readers and those who enjoy the class mystery genre.
“Life in the bug city. It ain’t easy” (p. 7)
Have you ever had one of those days? When your brand new assistant doesn’t have the first clue about collecting evidence, bungles eyewitness interviews and nothing generally goes right? Joey Fly, Private Eye is having one of those days. But he’s determined not to let little things like a clumsy assistant and getting fired stand in his way of solving the case of the missing diamond pencil case for the beautiful swallowtail butterfly, Delilah. As Fly gets closer to the truth, something is fishy, and it’s not just the smell of scorpion aftershave. Will he be able to solve the case?
I don’t normally read graphic novels but I really loved Joey Fly. I was amused by Reynolds’ use of what Booklist calls “this noir-type story filled with classic detective dialogue and swarms of insect humor.” The art is clean and stays firmly within its designated boxes, which I appreciate because it helps me follow the story better. I’m not a big fan of more cluttered pages with a lot happening, like The Secret Science Alliance. My only concern would be for the audience-will they appreciate the element of film noir? Or will it be lost on them?
Julian Calendar is getting the second chance he always dreamed of. He gets to start over at a new school where no one knows he’s a huge nerd. During “Operation: Act Ordinary”, Julian must pretend he doesn’t know the answer to every question his teachers ask and that he loves sports. The plan works well…for about a week. Julian lets a complicated explanation of aerodynamics slip out during history class and the jig is up. Now he’ll never be popular.
But then he gets a secret coded note that will change his life. Greta (notorious bad girl) and Ben (dumb jock) want him to join their secret science club! Like Julian, Greta and Ben love inventing things and think Julian will be the perfect addition to their group. Together they form the Secret Science Alliance and spend their days swapping ideas for new inventions.
Then one day they discover their top secret idea notebook is missing! When Julian reads a newspaper article showing the evil Dr. Wilhelm Stringer standing beside one of their inventions, the kids know who’s stolen their precious notebook. Dr. Stringer hasn’t liked Julian , Greta and Ben since Greta’s Hover Hook accidentally flew into his laboratory. Now he’s taking credit for their ideas and is planning to use their inventions to commit a crime! Will the Secret Science Alliance be able to stop him before it’s too late?
I liked the idea of these three finding each other despite appearing to be so different. Middle school is a time where appearances are everything and being into things like science might not make you the most popular kid at school. It is a sweet story about fitting in even when you stand out, but not one I’ll likely remember.
Juniper Berry’s parents have been acting very strange lately. The days when they all used to make pizzas together or put on one of Juniper’s plays are just a memory that grows more and more distant each day. It seems as though the more famous they become (her parents are movie stars), the less interest they have in Juniper.
Without friends or her parents, Juniper spends one lonely day after another pacing her gargantuan mansion and its expansive grounds with her dog, Kitty. One day, she meets a boy named Giles in the woods. Another loner who is picked on at school, Giles confides in Juniper that his parents have also not been themselves recently. The two team up to try to discover what is turning their parents into creepy, ghoulish remnants of their former selves.
A spooky tree that leads to a secret, underground world leads Juniper and Giles to Skeksyl:
He was extremely tall, taller than any man Juniper had ever seen. In fact, almost everything about him had length. Each body part extended: long legs, long arms, long neck, long fingers. He was enveloped in a ratty hooded cloak, his elongated face concealed in shadow…He was a gangly creature, and would have seemed to the point of breaking if it were not for how he slithered about , his limbs like anacondas in their movement. (p. 103)
His all-knowing manner at once frightens and intrigues the children and the temptation to fall prey to his promises (much like their parents did) is strong. Will Juniper and Giles be able to resist long enough to uncover the truth before it’s too late?
An attractive cover will definitely draw kids to this book and I think they will enjoy the fantasy/mystery thrown in, despite the fact that I was put off a bit by the slow pacing. It reminded me of Coraline by Neil Gaiman, in that there is an alternate universe where you get what you think you want, only to discover it’s not what you wanted at all.
This is an ARC slated for release in April 2011.