Sada Stipe

In Anthony Doerr’s riveting novel, All the Light We Cannot See, we meet 16-year-old blind girl Marie-Laure and 17-year-old Nazi soldier Werner as they are hunkered down in separate corners of the French seaside town of Saint-Malo during the American liberation of the Nazi occupied city. Through alternating chapters that jump back and forth in time between 1934 and 1944, Doerr beautifully tells the story of these two children, doomed by the war, and destined to meet. 

In 1934, 6-year-old Marie-Laure loses her sight from a degenerative condition. Although her mother died in childbirth, her doting papa is relentless in helping Marie-Laure relearn her world. The master locksmith at Paris’ Natural History Museum, Daniel LeBlanc is also an exceptional miniaturist and puzzle maker. He creates a miniature version of the Paris block they live on, complete with sidewalks and street lamps. He guides her on the walk to and from the museum every day until one day, two years later, Marie-Laure is able to guide him. Her father’s love and the confidence he gave her sustains Marie-Laure once she is forced to become self-sufficient.

At the same time, in a coal-mining complex in near Essex, Germany, Werner lives with his sister, Jutta, in an orphanage. Curious Werner is clearly a gifted child and peppers the benevolent head of the orphanage, Frau Elena, with continuous streams of questions. One day, Werner comes across a discarded radio. It takes him three weeks, but he finally gets the spool of wires to pick up a station playing music. Six years later, Werner’s talent with radios captures the attention of a high-ranking mining official. And it’s he who writes a letter of recommendation for Werner for a coveted spot in the most prestigious SS school, saving him from the fate of his father, who died working in the coal mines, and simultaneously sealing his fate as a Nazi child soldier.

The reader travels both backward and forward through these characters lives as they move closer and closer to each other until they are finally in the same place at the same time. Doerr does a brilliant job of weaving this kind of six degrees of separation story together so that the reader can’t even guess at the links until they are slowly revealed. The prose is simple and lyrical. It perfectly captures the innocence of youth and then, later, the loss of it. Each short chapter overflows with the intense emotions of the time and is packed with enough action to make the novel an unlikely, gripping page-turner. A National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is easily one of the best books of the year and not to be missed.

 

In Anthony Doerr’s riveting novel, All the Light We Cannot See, we meet 16-year-old blind girl Marie-Laure and 17-year-old Nazi soldier Werner as they are hunkered down in separate corners of the French seaside town of Saint-Malo during the American liberation of the Nazi occupied city. Through alternating chapters that jump back and forth in time between 1934 and 1944, Doerr beautifully tells the story of two children doomed by the war and destined to meet. 

The first book in a new series from 19-year-old author Lucy Saxon, Take Back the Skies offers readers an incredibly fast-paced mixture of fantasy and steampunk. It’s full of twists and turns that will shock even the most ardent fantasy fan.

Fourteen-year-old Cat Hunter has lived a privileged, sheltered life on Tellus, a world where children approaching adolescence are “collected” to fight in a far-off war. Cat’s father, Nathaniel, is a high-ranking government official, so, unlike the commoners, their family escapes all of the hardships that come with living in a war-torn country. Her life isn’t all champagne and caviar, however. Nathaniel is a cruel, sometimes abusive father, and has promised Cat’s hand in marriage to a boy she finds loathsome. To free herself from the oppressive environment, Cat disguises herself as a boy and becomes a stowaway on the skyship Stormdancer.

After she boards the ship, nothing prepares her for what she learns about her home country and her father. And then there’s Fox, a fiery redhead with a personality she loves to hate. Soon Cat must choose between saving her father and saving the world. Will her new skyship family embrace her and go along with her insane scheme, or will they leave her in the far-flung country of Siberene?

With action on every page, Take Back the Skies is great for fans of Scott Westerfeld and Cherie Priest. With five more books to come in the series, readers won’t have to wait long to read more about this fascinating world.

The first book in a new series from 19-year-old author Lucy Saxon, Take Back the Skies offers readers an incredibly fast-paced mixture of fantasy and steampunk. It’s full of twists and turns that will shock even the most ardent fantasy fan.

In Aaron Meshon’s Tools Rule!, the tools in a very messy yard need to get organized, but how? By building a tool shed, of course! From the obscure awl to the ubiquitous drill, all the tools pitch in and, in turn, teach the reader about what they do. Find out what sounds a saw makes (vrip!) and how a level works as they put a frame together. Watch the glue stick on roof tiles and the paintbrush slap on paint. Once the shed is finished, these tuckered-out tools can finally get some rest, as long as the screwdriver doesn’t snore.

Reminiscent of many Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld collaborations, Tools Rule! is full of clever puns easy enough for young readers to understand. Little handymen and women will love the bright illustrations and kid-friendly fonts. The simplicity of each detailed spread is spot-on for this age group. Although each page is bustling with objects and activity, it’s easy to spot specific tools and their corresponding names. This is perfect for the budding builder who is just starting to read.

In Aaron Meshon’s Tools Rule!, the tools in a very messy yard need to get organized, but how? By building a tool shed, of course! From the obscure awl to the ubiquitous drill, all the tools pitch in and, in turn, teach the reader about what they do.

It may not be the biggest or most dazzling spectacle on Earth, but Sir Sidney’s Circus in The Show Must Go On! is certainly the most charmingly entertaining circus that you’ll ever see (or read about).

When kindly owner and circus master Sir Sidney decides to go into semi-retirement, he believes he has found a suitable replacement in Barnabas Brambles. After all, Brambles holds a degree in lion taming from the University of Piccadilly Circus. Although the circus performers—Leo the lion, Elsa the elephant and the Famous Flying Banana Brothers—are a bit skeptical of the regime change, they trust that Sir Sidney would never put them in harm’s way. Still, Bert and Gert, the circus’ special mouse helpers, smell trouble right away. As Gert puts it, “Never trust a lion tamer in a poorly tailored suit.”

True to form, sisters Kate Klise (author) and M. Sarah Klise (illustrator) use clever jokes, wordplay and adorable illustrations to guide their readers through Brambles’ epic bumbles as circus master. Sir Sidney gives him only a few rules to follow during his trial period: Perform only one show in each city, charge $1 per person, do not charge admission for children and give out free popcorn and lemonade. Brambles, however, immediately restructures the business to make more profits—with disastrous results. Performers are injured and sickened, and the circus train ends up in bizarre places like atop the St. Louis Arch and the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s up to Sir Sidney, of course, to save the day.

As in their award-winning 43 Old Cemetery Road series, forgiveness and empathy are major themes in this sweet story, the first book in the Klise sisters' new Three-Ring Rascals series. Great for classroom reading and reluctant readers, it has the perfect blend of humor and gravitas for the younger end of the middle grade audience.

Sada Stipe is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.

It may not be the biggest or most dazzling spectacle on Earth, but Sir Sidney’s Circus in The Show Must Go On! is certainly the most charmingly entertaining circus that you’ll ever see (or read about). When kindly owner and circus master Sir Sidney decides to go into semi-retirement, he believes he has found a […]

In his latest middle grade novel, Icefall author Matthew J. Kirby brings readers a fast-paced fantasy set in colonial America on the brink of the French and Indian War.

When Billy Bartram’s botanist father asks Billy to join him on his next expedition to the western wilderness of the New World, he is thrilled. Billy idolizes his father and wants nothing more than to use his artistic talents to make his own contributions to the world of science. Little does he know, however, that this is not a plant-finding mission—it’s actually the maiden voyage of the most technologically advanced vehicle on Earth, the de Terzi aeroship. A “vessel of philosophy,” the flying ship was built by the American Philosophical Society, whose members include Benjamin Franklin and Billy’s father. And Billy soon finds out that they’re not just taking the aeroship out for a joyride, they are also evading French spies, attempting to form an alliance with Native Americans and searching for the lost kingdom of the Welsh prince Madoc.

As the group endures battle after battle—facing a traitor among their ranks, a ferocious bear-wolf and the French army—Billy wrestles with his own internal struggle. He comes to realize that his father is as fallible as any other man. He must learn to accept his father’s faults, even if doing so compromises his own newly formed beliefs, or reject him and lose him forever.

This riveting adventure brings to life a remarkably realistic mythical America, and young readers will quickly become invested in the characters, many of whom are based on actual historical figures. The helpful author’s note at the end of the book also provides a great starting point for generating interesting classroom discussions and research projects. Fascinating and fun for kids and adults alike, The Lost Kingdom offers an inventive look at a unique time and place.

In his latest middle grade novel, Icefall author Matthew J. Kirby brings readers a fast-paced fantasy set in colonial America on the brink of the French and Indian War. When Billy Bartram’s botanist father asks Billy to join him on his next expedition to the western wilderness of the New World, he is thrilled. Billy […]

In The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail, the smallest mouse in the Royal Mews, Mouse Minor, makes life harder on himself by also being the most inquisitive and the scrappiest. It could be simply his nature or perhaps it has something to do with his tail, which, as the book’s title indicates, is curiously shaped like a question mark. Either way, the little guy is always asking something. As we soon find out though, the only questions that truly matter are: Who am I and where did I come from—questions that are as important to humans as they are to mice.

In this elegantly written companion novel to Secrets at Sea, Newbery Medal-winning author Richard Peck creates a rich world where mice behave like people. Set around Buckingham Palace, the novel takes place during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrating her 60 years on the throne. The Royal Mews where Mouse Minor lives isn’t just bustling with people, it’s also teeming with mouse activity. As the reader learns, “for every job a human holds, there is a mouse with the same job, and doing it better.”

An orphan with a big mouth, Mouse Minor soon finds himself fleeing from school in search of his parents. In the midst of the jubilee preparations, the young mouse is struck with the brilliant idea to ask the queen herself about his parentage. After all, who would know his story better than her majesty, the omniscient, all-powerful ruler of the realm? And so the mouse’s adventure of a lifetime begins.

Young readers will love the tiny intricacies of mouse life that Peck eloquently describes (like the human scissors the mouse guards use for swords) and they will get a kick out of Mouse Minor’s humorously arrogant demeanor.  An entertaining romp, The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail is perfect for fans of other great mouse adventures like The Tale of Despereaux and Stuart Little.

In The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail, the smallest mouse in the Royal Mews, Mouse Minor, makes life harder on himself by also being the most inquisitive and the scrappiest. It could be simply his nature or perhaps it has something to do with his tail, which, as the book’s title indicates, is curiously […]

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