Friday, March 14, 2014

Star Quality Reads

Now that we are at the height of the spring publishing season, the starred reviews are coming out. Although starred reviews are not the final word on books, it's worthwhile to keep track of which books are receiving stars (keeping in mind that the 2007 Newbery Medal winner, The Higher Power of Lucky, only received one starred review!).

The highest number of starred reviews a book can receive from the major review publications that review children's and young adult literature is six (Kirkus, School Library Journal, The Horn Book, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books). Library and publishing industry professionals also consult two other review/industry news journals; however, Library Journal does not review children or YA literature, while VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) does not star its reviews of young adult literature.

No book has received six reviews so far; of course, we are only three months into 2014, and the number of stars these books have earned may, in fact, increase.  We do have three books that have received an impressive five stars:

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems 
Poems by Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, Charlotte Zolotow, and others are organized by seasons. What's drawing a lot of the attention, other than praise for the selections, is Melissa Sweet's vibrant illustrations.  Sweet earned a Caldecott Honor for A River of Words and created the delightful Sibert Medal winning Balloons Over Broadway.  Keep an eye on this one!

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing 
This sequel to the Newbery Honor (and one of the current Fauquier County Elementary Battle of the Books title) Three Times Lucky is earning tremendous reviews, although several point out that you really need to read Three Times Lucky before reading its sequel (which is not always the case for sequels).

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
We just ordered this last week, so I don't know much about it. I do know that there's magic and wizards in it, so that's pretty cool, right? Newbery watchers should know that Karen Foxlee lives in Australia, so this isn't eligible for the award.

I'm sure these authors and illustrators flipped when they learned that their books have already received an amazing total of four stars:

The Crossover
I'm always happy when a sports novel racks up starred reviews. I cannot wait to read this one: twin seventh grade brothers are both gifted basketball players, but they are as different as can be. While a plot element involving a first crush planting a wedge between two characters is not new, it typically features two girls.  I'm excited to see this common situation occurring between two brothers in a basketball-oriented story.

The Impossible Knife of Memory 
Definitely earned its superlatives.  You can read my thoughts in this post.

The Scraps Book: Notes From a Colorful Life 
I've been looking forward to Lois Ehlert's memoir for MONTHS.  One of my favorite picture book artists!

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain 
The last time an informational book won the Newbery award was in 1988, when Russell Freedman's Lincoln: A Photobiography received the gold medal. Informational books have received the Honor since then (most recently Steve Sheinkin's Bomb in 2013), but never the shiny gold medal.  Freedman has written many exceptional books since then; could he repeat in 2015 with this look at the Ellis Island of the West for Asian immigrants?

The Children of the King 
Another rapturously reviewed novel by an Australian author! Sonya Hartnett's novel about children living in the English countryside during World War II is a mix of history, mystery, and adventure.

And We Stay 
Jenny Hubbard was a finalist for the 2012 Morris Award, which honors debut novels by authors of young adult literature. Her sophomore novel, And We Stay, is obviously receiving a ton of attention; I'll discuss this in my end-of-the-month post.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, so won't say anything more until then.

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kadinsky's Abstract Art
This picture book biography of the Russian artist discusses Kadinsky's synesthesia, a neurological condition that caused him to experience colors as sounds and sounds as colors.  I'm definitely intrigued!

Here Comes the Easter Cat
Oh, wow. Wow. Wow. WOW. I LOVE this. I took a look at this before it hit the new books shelf, because I knew I would not see this again until after Easter.  This hilarious story of a cat who yearns to replace the Easter Cat is so very awesome. It is ridiculously funny and clever.   Deborah Underwood already has a sequel ready for the Fall 2014 season (guess who the cat wants to replace in that one?).

THREE STARS is quite an accomplishment!

The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean
David Almond's books are reliably offbeat and intriguing; his latest about a hidden boy who contacts the dead should be a hit with those who like creepy dystopias.

Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America
Children's books about early 20th century black history are uncommon, so I'm eager to read this account of a young African-American girl of American Indian descent who becomes a media sensation after inheriting land accorded to her tribe. Tonya Bolden is a terrific author, so this should be enlightening and fascinating.

Gravity has been praised for Jason Chin's exuberant illustrations and concise explanation of gravity.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch 
Anne Isaacs is well-known for her wacky tall tales, so the fact that her latest is receiving a bunch of praises is no surprise.  This one takes place in Texas and involves a rich widow who finds herself inundated with suitors after she inherits land.

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, And the Pursuit of Everything
This picture book biography touches upon the standard points of Jefferson's life, but also highlights his work as an architect, naturalist, and archaeologist.

A Snicker of Magic 
Legend has it that Midnight Gulch, TN was once inhabited by magic--and Felicity is determined to bring the magic back.  This is Natalie Lloyd' debut novel; what a way to debut!

Half a Chance
I'm excited that Cynthia Lord has a new novel out, and this one sounds as charming and engrossing as her other stories are.  Lucy has just moved to a new town in New Hampshire; when she spends her summer taking pictures for a photography contest, she learns new truths about her friend, Nate, and her family.

The Cracks in the Kingdom 
This is a sequel to A Corner of White, which also earned enviable reviews last year.  I haven't read that one, so it looks like I need to get on that!

Little Poems for Tiny Ears 
This collection of original poems about everyday lives of infants and toddlers is earning recognition for its charming and multicultural illustrations and delightful poetry.

Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina 
I reviewed this for School Library Journal; it's a harrowing story of two young people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker 
Oooh la la. A children's biography of Josephine Baker? This biography in verse explores both Baker's glamorous stage presence as well as the racial politics that sadly played in her life.

The Winner's Curse 
If you can't get enough of dystopian trilogies, check out The Winner's Curse.  This tale of star-crossed lovers in a dictatorship has earned raves for its characterization and storytelling.  Graphic violence has been noted as well.

Port Chicago 50: The Disaster, Mutiny, And the Fight for Civil Rights
No surprise that Steve Sheinkin's latest is gathering strong reviews; this account of a civil rights struggle in the 1940s involving the military is definitely on my list.

Wow! I have some catching up to do!  Next week, I'll feature the books that have received two or one starred reviews.  I'll update the list throughout the year.

Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library 

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