Book Review – Baseball Genius by Tim Green and Derek Jeter

Baseball GeniusBy Awnali Mills

Jalen makes a stupid decision to steal some baseballs from major league player James Yeager and gets caught.  To save himself, he offers Yeager a deal:  Jalen will help the player go 4 for 4 and save his contract with the Yankees.  Jalen can do this because he’s a baseball genius.  He can almost always tell what the pitcher is going to throw before he throws.  But will Jalen have to give up his own dreams to help Yeager save his?

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Book Review – Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary Lambert

Family Game NightBy Awnali Mills

I am weirdly fascinated by the TV show Hoarders.  Until this show came out, I was unaware of the mental illness that causes people to hang onto everything, turning their homes into garbage dumps.  I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live with that.  But Annabelle, her older brother Chad, and her younger sister Leslie are Continue reading

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Audiobook Review – Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen

Skink No SurrenderBy Awnali Mills

Walking on the beach one evening, Richard encounters Skink, an enormous, scruffy old man with a missing eye, a mysterious past, and buzzard beaks woven into his scraggly beard.  The two strike up a friendship, as they are both trying to protect loggerhead turtles.

Richard’s cousin Malley has done something incredibly stupid: Continue reading

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Book Review – Forever, or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter

Forever or a Long Long TimeBy Awnali Mills

Flora and Julien are foster kids who have finally found a forever home—or at least, that’s what their adoptive parents tell them.  But then again, they’ve been promised that before, so trust is hard to come by.  They’re kids with lots of problems.  Flora has trouble talking, and Julien hides food in his room.  They know they’re a lot of trouble to deal with, so their fear of being abandoned escalates when their new mom gets pregnant.  Will there be enough love to go around?  If they’re perfect, maybe they can stay with their mom and dad.

But perfect is really hard to do.

It’s even harder when their mom realizes that Flora and Julien believe that they were not born.  They just came into being.  They have lots of theories as to how this happened, but they know that if you are born, then you have a real mom and a dad, and they don’t remember having them.  If you are born, then someone must have loved you once upon a time, and they don’t remember that.  All they remember is a white house and not enough food, and not-safe.  So their family sets out to find the truth.  Where did Flora and Julien come from?  And will the answer devastate them all?

This was a fantastic book.  I haven’t read a book about foster kids this well done since The Great Gilly Hopkins (not that I’ve read them all—I haven’t.)  There’s a bi-racial family, bi-racial kids, foster kids, adoptive kids, step kids/families, and biological children/parents.  There’s bad behavior and good parenting, with lots of love for everyone.  The story touches on the plight of gay couples who were not allowed to adopt, and the tragedy of families who only want perfect children.  Flora and Julien’s family is messy and imperfect, and wonderful all at the same time.

I think this book would really touch kids who have families that don’t look like stereotypical, generic families, and much of the book is dealing with the question of what families really do look like.  Does everyone have to look the same?  Have the same last name?  Do they have to live together?  Is it only about who you love and who loves you?

Ms. Carter doesn’t shy away from the hard questions, like do parents love their biological children more?  Are biological children “real” children, but adoptive kids aren’t?  This book is for everyone who has a messy family (um, all of us?), or who would like to understand the confusion that kids (and adults) face about these big questions. For grades 3-5.

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Book Review: Grandpa’s Great Escape by David Walliams

Grandpa's Great EscapeBy Awnali Mills

Jack absolutely adores his grandfather.  Grandpa was a World War II flying ace, and Jack grew up listening to tales of Grandpa’s part of the war.  Together, the two relive the battles, triumphs, and daring escapes.  But gradually, Grandpa’s past has become his present.  He’s confused when confronted by modern realities, but strong and confident when he believes he’s in the middle of the war.  But Jack’s parents aren’t as understanding as Jack, and when Grandpa has to be hauled out of a museum’s Spitfire, they put him in Twilight Towers—a horrid home for the elderly.  Jack is determined to rescue him, but will his determination be enough to save the day?

Walliams’ writing has been compared to Roald Dahl’s with good reason, and the illustrations by Tony Ross are definitely evocative of Quentin Blake’s work.  Jack is smart and resourceful, and, aside from Grandpa, the rest of the book is peopled with bumbling, evil, and idiotic caricatures of adults.   Naturally, this makes for a delightful read.  Just like Dahl, Walliams’ writing is fantastical and stretches the bounds of (adult) credulity.

Jack really loves his Grandpa, and I thought the book was a lovely depiction of the bond between grandparent and grandchild, even through the film of dementia.  The book is also a caring tribute to the men and women who fought World War II so bravely.  Grandpa makes history come alive, and he is courageous, wily, and physically strong.  His mind might wander, but his spirit is quite intact.

A few words of caution.  This book isn’t an accurate depiction of dementia or Alzheimer’s (at least in my experience).  For a child who is dealing with a grandparent going through this, they may experience anger and frustration that their own grandparent isn’t as wonderfully active and strong as Grandpa.  However, the book could lead to some honest discussion about the realities of what an elderly relative or friend might be going through.

Because Grandpa is living in the 1940’s, he refers to a Hindi friend as “Char Wallah.”  As Walliams explains in the glossary, this is a “term used by the British Army stationed in India for the local people who served them tea.” (pg. 436).  In the story, Raj is not offended by this because a wallah is someone who does something, like we use the term “guy” (i.e. pizza guy).  But because there is a whiff of colonialism to the term, some people might be offended.

If you have Dahl fans who have run out of reading material, don’t hesitate to give them Grandpa’s Great Escape.

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African Story Time – 3/22/17

By Awnali Mills

When I was searching for some music, I ran across the song Funga Alafia on the album Bouncy Blue by Eric Litwin.  I loved it so much that I researched it and discovered that it was a Swahili song from East Africa.  I thought it would be a great part of an African story time and so I looked online for other African storytimes and heard…crickets.  Most everything I found focused on either jungle animals or savannah animals, but very little was on African culture.  I thought that was kind of sad.  This storytime grew out of my research and determination to put together a good African storytime.  The books I chose were Old Mikamba had a Farm by Rachel Isadora and Rain by Manya Stojic. (Just a note: most African stories I found were too long for storytime for 3-5 year olds.  If you have better ones, please post them in the comments.)

We started storytime by doing a stretch and then stretching out our arms and flying to Africa.  Once we had zoomed to a stop, we sang Funga Alafia, which is a traditional welcome song.  I made up movements to go with it that were basically waving one arm, then the other, then both together in a beckoning motion.  Then, I brought out my antelope puppet friend, who was very shy, but brought us the letter A.  We talked about words that started with A, and then about African Animals.  Then I did the flannel I made for this storytime called Walking Through Africa.

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Book Review – Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Daughter of the Pirate KingBy Awnali Mills

Alosa is the pirate king’s daughter.  She has her own ship, her own crew, and she’ll do absolutely anything to please her father.  So she doesn’t hesitate to let herself be captured by rival pirates in order to search their ship for one third of a treasure map that her father has ordered her to retrieve.  Alosa has thought of everything, prepared for every contingency, and the years of training her father has given her have made her mentally and physically tough.

But she never expected to fall for one of the pirates.

Don’t be ridiculous.  She hasn’t fallen for him.  NO.  That would NEVER happen.  Alosa is too tough, too experienced, and too determined to make her father proud (so what if he’s an abusive animal?).  Alosa has goals, and first mate Riden has no part in them.  So what if he’s gorgeous, smart, and considerate?  He’s a pirate, and she should never, ever, let her guard down.  Because pirates can’t be trusted.

I loved this book.  I zipped through it way too fast, because I could hardly bear to put it down.  Alosa and Riden have both come from abusive backgrounds, and have come out scarred but strong.  There’s a lot of smart repartee, even if I thought that some of Alosa’s explanations for what she was doing when she’s caught searching the ship were transparently false.  Even though I wasn’t sold on some of the twists, I was so engaged with the story that I didn’t care.  Alosa spends a lot of mental energy explaining away her actions when they don’t line up with her mission, and I hope she becomes more self-aware as the story continues.  This wasn’t a deep book, but it was a lot of fun, and I look forward to seeing where the sequels go.

Teens and adults who enjoy strong heroines, pirates, or rousing adventure stories (with a twist of fantasy) will enjoy this book.  It’s a smidge racy (seduction and innuendo) and there’s plenty of violence, so use your best judgment with younger tweens.

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