Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Wild Robot

Written by: Peter Brown

First line: Our story begins on the ocean, with wind and rain and thunder and lightning and waves.

Why you should read this book: A quiet but surprisingly powerful and charming tale of a robot shipwrecked and activated on a island populated only by animals, armed only with basic programming to be helpful and to learn. Through observation of her surroundings, Roz the robot learns how to survive and thrive in her environment, until her neighbors stop seeing her as a monster and start believing her to be a very helpful friend. But Roz is a valuable piece of equipment: is there any place in the world for a truly wild robot.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The ending may be a bit ambiguous for some young readers to find satisfying (but in writing this review I realized there's a sequel so it's probably OK).

Ancillary Justice

Written by: Ann Leckie

First line: The body lay naked and facedown, a deathly gray, spatters of blood staining the snow around in.

Why you should read this book: Breq has a secret: she is not human, but the last remnant of a massive, two thousand year old artificial intelligence once controlled by a colonialist space empire, and Breq has a bone to pick with that empire. She doesn't understand why she's wasting her time rescuing Seivarden Vendaai, an officer who's hit hard times after a thousand years in cryostorage, but together they make their way through a dangerous universe, with Breq's unwavering focus on her goal pushing her forward to the next danger. The plot jumps back and forth between Breq's present day (far future) journey and the events of the last thousand years that precipitated her disenchantment with the culture that created her.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The world-building is so complex that it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what was going on and to get into the story, and I'm still not one hundred percent sure what the author is trying to do with gender here, even though it's clearly significant.


Written by: Sharon Draper

First line: Plunk. Plink. Ripple. Rumble. Tinkle. Twinkle Boomble.

Why you should read this book: Isabella is a biracial girl with a great musical talent and a problem: after getting used to having her parents divorced and living in different states, her father and his new family are moving back to town. Suddenly her life is upended, punctuated by fraught custody swaps and the sense that no place is really home anymore; half her life is always somewhere else. Isabella will have to come to terms with her own place in the world, racism, and the reality of remarriage, all while finding time to practice the piano.

Why you shouldn't read this book: I found its disparate parts enjoyable story, but at times those parts seemed disjointed in relation to each other.

Dragon Was Terrible

Written by: Kelly DiPucchio and Greg Pizzoli

First line: Dragon was terrible.

Why you should read this book: While all dragons are a little terrible nature, this dragon is intentionally extra-terrible in a sad-troll killjoy kind of way that involves things like spitting on cupcakes and taking candy from babies. When the knights of the land cannot defeat Dragon, the king opens the dragon-taming quest up to the rest of the kingdom, who also cannot deal. Only when a small boy finds a creative solution that involves showing the dragon who he could be instead of trying to force him to be someone else is the kingdom saved.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It might give some kids ideas on how to be more terrible.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Worst Witch and the Wishing Star

Written by: Jill Murphy

First line: Squalling rain and a biting wind buffeted the pupils of Miss Cackle's Academy as they struggled to read the school in time for the first day the Winter Term.

Why you should read this book: Mildred and company are seniors, and while Mildred continues to struggle valiantly to follow the rules—she's the only senior to abide by the "all witches must carry a cat on their broomstick" rule on the first day of school even though she has the worst possible cat for the job—the rules keep getting more difficult. Seniors are assigned jobs within the school, and Mildred has a tough one: she must light all the lanterns on one side of campus every evening and put them all out every morning. To her great delight, this task allows her to make the acquaintance of a dog, who turns out to be a much more talented flier than her assigned cat, and even though witches don't keep dogs and pets aren't allowed at Cackle's, this little doggy, like Mildred herself, knows how to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and even manages to win over the unwinnable Miss Hardbroom.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Everything is Ethel's fault. Again. The grotty little liar.

The Worst Witch to the Rescue

Written by: Jill Murphy

First line: It was early in the morning on what promised to be a fine day in March, a bit blustery by a perfect start for the first day of Summer Term at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches.

Why you should read this book: In a characteristic bit of optimistic kindness, Mildred shares her original research with Ethel, who immediately takes this information as license to commit physical assault, theft, academic dishonesty, further assault with a venomous animal, and aggravated turtle-napping/torture. Of course, Mildred takes the blame and punishment for all of it and spends a rather hard few days suffering before her daring, late-night turtle rescue redeems her. In a surprising reversal, Ethel is ratted out by a talking turtle, compelled to dig through the garbage to retrieve the evidence of her crimes, and forced to make a public apology to Mildred in front of the entire school, although, of course, she isn't actually punished.

Why you shouldn't read this book: One thing that bugs me in series is when the bad guy becomes a caricature of themselves and of villainy in general, to the point that their crimes are ridiculous but predictable and telegraphed in such a way that the protagonist ought to catch on to them but doesn't, which detracts from the suspension of disbelief in a story; in this case, for six books, Mildred is constantly threatened with expulsion, primarily as a result of Ethel's misbehavior, but here, where Ethel actually confesses to the assault, theft, academic dishonesty, etc., there's no mention of any repercussions beyond the humiliating apology.