Book Review – Threads by Ami Polonsky

threadsBy Awnali Mills

Yumming’s grandparents have died, and she goes in search of her older brother who went off adventuring because she needs him to help her with the farm.  But while she’s looking for him, Yumming gets kidnapped by Mr. Zhang and put to work as a slave in a Chinese purse factory.  In desperation, she places a note and a picture of herself in a purse, pleading for rescue.

In America, Clara is grieving the death of her adopted Chinese sister, who has died of cancer.  When she discovers the note and picture in the purse, she knows that she is the one who must rescue Yumming.  Her parents believe that the Chinese government will do the job, but Clara doesn’t trust them.  She couldn’t save her sister, but she might be able to save Yumming.

I didn’t expect Threads by Ami Polonsky to be a feel good book.  I actually expected a condemnation of American consumerism, to tell you the truth.  But that isn’t what the book is about at all.  It’s about grief and the strength to survive, and what it means to be a family.

No, it wasn’t a feel good book, because both girls are dealing with tragedies, and Polonsky doesn’t sugar coat that.  Both girls are strong and resilient, even though they don’t always feel that way.  Polonsky doesn’t make things easy on her characters, and she doesn’t give formulaic happy endings either, although the ending was very satisfactory.

This is a great book to give to kids who like strong female protagonists, or kids who enjoy characters who take matters into their own hands.  Great for grades 4-6.

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Audiobook Review – Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

nightbirdBy Awnali Mills

This time when I needed my next audiobook fix, I headed up to Young Adult to see what they had in.  I picked up Nightbird, written by Alice Hoffman and narrated by Jenna Lamia.  Alice Hoffman?  I’m totally there.

Twig and her mother have always been very reserved, refusing to engage with any of the townspeople of Sidwell.  It isn’t because they are unfriendly, it’s because they have a secret that no one can find out: Twig has an older brother, James.  And James has wings.

A long time ago, Twig’s ancestor ran afoul of the Sidwell witch, and she cursed their family.  The men in the family always have wings.  Usually, the wings are removed at birth, but this leaves the men weak and sickly.  Twig’s mother refused to remove James’ wings, and now they must protect him at all costs.  But Twig is very lonely.

Now, a family with two girls has moved into the witch’s cottage next door to Twig’s house, and Twig can’t resist forming a friendship with Julia against her mother’s wishes.  James is increasingly restive and has been spotted flying by the townspeople.  Someone is stealing things, and graffiti messages purportedly from the Monster of Sidwell are showing up everywhere.  Can secrets stay safe?  Twig is torn between the habit of secrecy and the seduction of friendship.  Is there any way that she can keep everything from flying apart?

Jenna Lamia has such a sweet little girl voice that she is totally convincing as Twig.  She does a good job of differentiating the voices of the characters, particularly Julia.  I enjoyed the story very much.  It’s perfect for the younger YA audience because it does not have problematic content (not sure how to say that—no sex or cursing, okay?).  But still has content that would appeal to them—friendship issues, obeying/disobeying parents, keeping secrets, a mild love interest.

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Book Review – This Is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans

this-is-not-a-werewolf-storyBy Awnali Mills

One of the new books that I picked up is This is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans.  Naturally, I assumed that this WAS a werewolf story, because why even bring it up, right?

So…this is actually not a werewolf story.

I know, right?  Go figure.

Raul’s mother has disappeared, and his father has abandoned him at a boarding school.  He hardly ever speaks, but when he does, he is respected.  He is the defender of the younger children, but he has no way of defending them against the PE teacher, Mr. Tuffman.

When the new kid, Vincent, arrives, he seeks out Raul as a best friend, even though he could have chosen anyone.  Raul is flattered.  He values this friendship, but hesitates to let Vincent in on his darkest secret: the woods surrounding the school are magical.  Every weekend, when the dean thinks Raul’s father is picking him up, Raul is actually running away to experience the magic that helps him connect with his mother again.   But now a dangerous cougar has been spotted in the woods.  Is this cougar a foe, or could he actually be a friend?  And will Raul figure out which before it’s too late?

Honestly, I was expecting a fairly simplistic werewolf story when I picked this book up.  What I got was a story that has more twists and turns than an ouroborus.   There are themes of friendship, family, and bullying.  What do you do when the bully is an adult in authority?  There were so many layers of things going on in this story.  It was much deeper and more complex than I was expecting.  It’s totally worth putting in the hands of anyone who feels like an outsider, or who enjoys a good adventure story, or magical reality.  Perfect for grades 4-6.

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Audiobook Review – Spellbinder by Helen Stringer

spellbinderBy Awnali Mills

My newest listen on my daily commute was Spellbinder by Helen Stringer.  Belladonna’s parents are dead, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone.  Nope.  They’re ghosts, and they (mostly) carry on as though they are living.  That is, they do until all the ghosts in the world disappear.  Well, all of them but Elsie, the ghost who haunts Belladonna’s school.  Belladonna’s grandmother and aunt are trying to figure out where the ghosts have gone (seeing and communicating with ghosts runs in the family), and they’re not letting her in on their investigations.

But circumstances are not leaving Belladonna alone, and her friend Steve gets sucked into the problem as well.  The world of the living is in jeopardy, night ravens and nightmare hounds are out to get Belladonna, and she is determined not to sit idly by.  But will she and Steve have the guts and smarts to figure out what’s going on and stop it before the world is destroyed?

I enjoyed this book enough that I may seek out the rest of the series to listen to.  The book is narrated by Helen Stringer herself, and she does the great job you’d expect of lending the characters the right inflections and tones.  She doesn’t do the best job of differentiating the voices, but her English accent is so delightful to listen to that I didn’t mind much, even though it was sometimes hard to figure out who was speaking.

Because the story is a little dark and focuses so much on death and the plotline can be complicated, I might reserve it for older elementary students.  There’s nice snarky humor to spice things up and lighten the mood, so don’t think it’s all grim.  Kids who enjoy fantasy or darker stories will enjoy this one.

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Book Review – Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall

howard-wallace-piBy Awnali Mills

Another new book that I picked up lately is Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall.  Howard is a kid sized version of a hard-boiled detective.  Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade are his heroes.  His first person narration is filled with their lingo and style.  Naturally, this predilection for talking like someone from the 20’s and 30’s (and other things) makes him an outcast.  It doesn’t, however, stop his classmates from hiring him to solve their problems.

Enter the new girl, Ivy.

Ivy jumps into Howard’s world with both feet, demanding that he make her his partner. She’s decided that she needs a friend, and so does Howard, and that she’s just the person for the job.  She thinks he’s interesting, and she doesn’t even bat an eye at Howard’s personification of his bicycle, Old Blue or his bathrobe-turned-trench coat.  But when they’re called upon to solve a nasty case of blackmail in the student council, will detecting the blackmailer get them kicked out of school?

I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I would.  It isn’t just a light-hearted mystery.  Lyall has some really powerful things to say about the importance of friendship, both having it and losing it.  I loved that Howard was confident enough in himself to do the unusual thing.  He’s not in the cliques?  Fine.  He’ll follow his interests, and to heck with everyone else.  Howard is smart, with a wry sense of humor, and Ivy is a perfect sidekick.  I could totally picture him in his brown bathrobe, leaning a hip against his lopsided desk, cocking his head and saying, “You see, there was this dame…”

Put this book into the hands of 3-5th graders who enjoy mysteries, friendship stories, or who enjoy tales of outsiders.


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Book Review – Woof by Spencer Quinn

woofBy Awnali Mills

I love funny books.  Who doesn’t?  And when we got a new copy of Woof by Spencer Quinn, I snagged it.  Bowser and his human, Birdie, have just met.  Bowser hasn’t had a good life, but things are definitely looking up now that Birdie has adopted him.  Trouble is just around the corner, however.  Birdie’s family store has been broken into and Birdie determines to find the thief.  As Birdie follows clues, Bowser is right beside her, sniffing out leads and biting the bad guys.  But will Bowser’s courage and strength be enough to keep Birdie safe?

Quinn really gets how dogs think, and the novel is written from Bowser’s perspective.  He’s been abused—but hey, that’s in the past.  He adores the way that Birdie smiles, but oftentimes her words are just the things that Bowser needs to drift to sleep.  Bowser is dedicated to his girl, but his attention span is short, and he doesn’t really get how people think.  He responds instinctively to body language and smells, and isn’t always in control of how he acts.

I laughed so hard at one point that I ended up reading a passage aloud to the staff who were in the lunchroom (at their request).  Bowser is goofy and loveable, and even though he doesn’t really get everything that’s going on, he reports enough of it to us for US to understand what’s going on.  I really enjoyed the fact that Bowser wasn’t an intelligent human inside a dog’s body.  He’s a dog, and the sandwich tossed into the garbage can in front of him is much more important to him than whatever it is that Birdie might be looking for on the shelf.  Sometimes he does the wrong thing out of the very best of intentions—something I’m sure kids can relate to.

Put this book into the hands of 3-5th graders who love animals, mysteries, or funny books.

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Bedtime Storytime 2-8-17

By Awnali Mills

Today’s storytime was bedtime themed.  I planned the theme months ago, and when it came time to get down to the nitty-gritty, I was tired and almost put myself to sleep while choosing books.  Is that a good thing when planning a bedtime storytime?

The books I chose were Chicks Run Wild by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Hooray for Today! by Brian Won, and Bedtime for Monsters by Ed Vere.


We started off by talking about one of my personal teddy bears who had come for a visit.  Then we talked about words that started with “B.”  While I had my teddy, we did Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear.

Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground
Teddy bear, teddy bear, reach up high
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the sky
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch your knees
Teddy bear, teddy bear, sit down please

Then we read Chicks Run Wild.  My crowd was a bit restless today.  I had one youngster who kept insisting that I tie his shoe while I was reading until finally another parent tied his shoe for him, one who is normally as good as gold who wanted to move my cart around (until her grandmother decided enough was enough), and another very little one who wanted to climb the stack of chairs in the corner (Dad kept retrieving her.)  Despite all of these distractions, the other children seemed glued to the story.  Some days are challenging.

Next, we all “twinkled” our fingers while singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  Then we did the fingerplay Here Is the Baby from Library Village:

Here is a baby                                  (index finger)
Ready for a nap
Lay her down in her mother’s lap.     (place finger in palm)
Cover her up so she won’t peek.        (curl fingers around index finger)
Rock her till she’s fast asleep.            (rock)

The little man who wanted his shoe tied kept insisting that the index finger was NOT the baby, the pinkie finger was.  *Sigh*  Then I pulled out the flannel Five in a Bed.  This is the traditional “There were five in the bed and the little one said, “Roll over! Roll over! So they all rolled over and one fell off.  There were four in the bed…” and so on.

Next, we read Hooray for Today!.  I had all the kids practice saying “Hooray for today!” and then they echoed me each time I read it.  This was done with much enthusiasm!  Next, I turned on Bouncy Blue’s Five Little Monkeys, and pulled out my string of monkeys that Velcro to each other.  While the music played, we danced around and monkeys fell off the bed.  I love this version of the song.

Our next flannel was Sleepy Cow.

The Sleepy Cow
Inside the barn,
Lying fast asleep,
Were a cow,
And a rooster,
And three little sheep.

In flew an owl
With nothing to do.
Woke everyone up
With a loud,
(pause at the end of each line to allow children to make animal sounds)
The sheep said, “Baaa!”
The rooster, “Doodle-doo!”
The sleepy cow yawned
And said, “Oh, Moo!”

Our next book was Bedtime for Monsters.  Some of the children were looking a little worried through the book (and some were delighted), but they all laughed when the monster just wanted to give them disgusting, sloppy goodnight kisses.

To finish, I handed out scarves and put on Brahms Lullaby.  We just danced around with our scarves.  The kids had such a good time with this.  They love getting to play with the scarves and watch them float around.  And having it sanctioned by an adult?  Get outta town!

And NOT ONE child fell asleep on me.  Huh.

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