Friend of Agatha, not to be missed

wordismurderI was putting together a book display a while back and realized we have a pretty large collection of murder mysteries that feature authors, booksellers, editors and librarians.  Also cats.  A lot of them have cats on the cover, which I take to be a sign that it’s sort of a cozy book, much like the shirtless, buffed guy might signal a romance.  Maybe I’m reading that part all wrong.  I’m wrong about a lot of things these days.  You’ll know what I mean if you live with a teenager.

Anyway, apparently readers, writers, and publishers can all imagine pretty easily how violent death might waltz into their lives.  And if you’re going to grab a writer to stick right in the middle of it, I’d choose Anthony Horowitz just about any day.  In addition to writing the Alex Rider teen series, he wrote Foyle’s War, one of my favorite TV mystery series ever.  He’s also written a Sherlock Holmes mystery and The Magpie Murders, which is very Agatha-esque and delightful.

And now this one.  Agatha Christie would be writing this book if she were alive now and Anthony Horowitz hadn’t beat her to it.  It’s such a great mixture of red herrings, unhappy people, social commentary, lies, deception, acting and more.  More interesting stuff.

Anthony Horowitz as the character of the author is just about as perfectly snobby, anxious, smart, and reckless as you’d expect any of us armchair detectives to be.  His detective is also flawed and difficult and, like some book characters, frustratingly uncaring about details we as readers think matter.  This is the kind of manipulation that’s so masterfully done that you have to appreciate it.

I’d still like to have more of Foyle, but really, maybe, it’s just more of Anthony Horowitz’s storytelling I’d enjoy.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

This book was released in 2017 outside the U.S.; the American edition was released June 5, 2018.

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Wrinkles, time, love, Madeleine

becoming madeleineMy book club is reading A Wrinkle in Time for June, and because my to-be-read stack is so huge, I decided to re-read the Hope Larson graphic novel version for a change of pace.  I love the original, and when I re-read it, I always notice that I remember it differently than it actually is, and that happens with the graphic novel, too. I don’t mind one bit.  It’s wonderful both ways.

And then the other day, Becoming Madeleine landed on my desk at work – a biography of Madeleine L’Engle, written by two of her grandchildren.  The perfect pairing?  Oh yes!   There are journals, grade reports, and pictures. For fans, this is a wonderful look into one writer’s youth and early adult life, and a reminder that even the best writers are rejected and unsure of their talent sometimes.  A good reminder for all.

Becoming Madeleine by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy

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A walk through the woods takes imagination in a new direction

house that once wasA house with a past—can you imagine what that might be?

Was it happy and full of life?

Is it just waiting for its former occupants to return?

There isn’t much to add, except that Lane Smith’s art is always worth a look and a second thought.  It’s both detailed and blurry, all in exactly the right spots.

a house that once was by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith

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Sweetness, light, Audrey Hepburn

for-audrey-with-love-9780735843141_lgThis probably never entered the mind of Philip Hopman, but this is a picture book that Frank from Julia Claiborne Johnson’s Be Frank with Me would love.  (And if you’ve missed that novel, please find it and put it in your stack for summer reading immediately.)

I have no idea how creating a picture book like this seemed like an excellent financial decision to a publisher.  Maybe it could sneak into Common Core nonfiction stuff for younger kids?  It’s a wonderful story of friendship and growing up into the person you most want to be.  It’s really only that Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy’s relationship was so long ago and part of a time and place very unfamiliar to children today that made me wonder who its target audience was.  Maybe fashion-loving kids?  Maybe Frank?  Maybe me?

Who knows?  Who cares?  Just read and enjoy.

For Audrey with Love by Philip Hopman

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Love, love, science, science

There is so much to be sad about today and, seemingly, every day.  The moments of light and silliness are so quickly overshadowed by politics and just plain meanness.  People are unsettled.  Animals are struggling to survive.

Although they seem to spring from two completely different ideas, these books are a nice pair to read when you are feeling overwhelmed by it all.  Look at how science connects us all!  Look at the love in the world!  It’s a place to start, anyway, and a way to talk with kids about our roles and choices in this battered world.  Can we change it all?  Maybe not.  But we aren’t powerless, either.  Be strong, brothers and sisters.  Look forward.  Persist.

Fur, Feather, Fin: all of us are kin by Diane Lang and Stephanie Laberis

All of Us by Carin Berger

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A kind act can be the start of a new story

i walk with vanessaThat mean kid who teases Vanessa?  He can ruin her day, but if someone is paying attention, he’ll find out pretty soon that a whole army of kids can and will support her, and then teasing her won’t look like such a good idea.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few decades talking about bullying.  Highlighting how one person can make a difference by standing up and supporting another person – being kind – is such an important thing in this ugly world of name-calling and anger.   Standing up for yourself is vital, too, but bystanders can change the whole dynamic in an instant, going from fear and sadness to joy and happiness.

This one’s wordless, so you can tell your own story no matter how old you are.

I Walk with Vanessa: a story about a simple act of kindness by Kerascoët

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One word, many emotions

dudeTry to imagine that you want to tell a story using just one word.  There are highs.  There are lows.  There is excitement and fear and joy.  Then imagine that word is “dude.”

This one is great for talking with kids about expression and what a difference the sound of a word makes when you read it and hear it, and is also a nice way to talk about the importance of punctuation.

Note the “word by Aaron Reynolds” at the top of the cover.  The revision process must have been awful for him.  Almost wordless.  Pretty wonderful.

Dude!  by Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat

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A happy camper she is not…

be preparedVera does not fit in, not at the slumber parties with her school friends, and not – as it turns out – with the other immigrant kids at camp.  This is one of those, “well, it seemed like a good idea…” stories.

For her wealthier friends, going to camp all summer is just a part of what you do.  Maybe you go to horse camp or tennis camp.  Or maybe if you’re Vera, you just hang out on an empty playground all summer.  Until you find out there is a Russian camp your mother just might let you attend.

Somehow your prayers have been answered, and you think you can do all the cool things the other kids are talking about.  Until you get there and find out that it seems pretty much like the rest of your life. Sigh.

A fun read, even if the memories of camp it brings back are not all happy ones.  Perfect for summer.

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

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Penderwicks. More Penderwicks.

Penderwicks-At-Last-450wThere is nothing quite like a good Penderwicks story.  Cozy – no murders or anything too awful – and just enough drama and anger to keep things churning.  Dare I say it – meaning only nice things by it – they are comforting?  The characters are relatable.  The settings are safe other than the occasional roof-climbing or pasture-breaching.  The family is supportive and quirky.

In The Penderwicks at Last, the family is returning to Arundel, where they started.  Rosalind is getting married.  Jeffrey’s unhappy mom has turned over Arundel to him, so he’s invited the family to celebrate there.  The youngest, Lydia, is the center of it all – making new friends, appreciating sheep, finding out what Arundel is really about for them all.  The perfect read for a Sunday afternoon.

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall

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Calling Prince Charming… anyone? Anyone?

Boy-Who-Went-MagicPrince Voss is just all kinds of bad decisions and misplaced anger, with a side of evil thrown in.  He’d be happy to join the Dark Side if it meant bringing his royal family (meaning him) back into complete control of, well, everything.

Sadly for him, pesky Young Bert and his extremely calm sidekick, Norton, are going to mess up the best of his evil plans.  Bert lives most of his life in a boarding school, trying to lie low and not be too noticeable, so being the center of any attention is not his happy place.

However, there will be a lot of excitement before this story is through.  Also an airship, a pirate called the Professor, and a smartypants girl named Finch to add to the fun.

There is magic, but this is not a lame trying-to-be-Harry-Potter-and-failing story.  It’s all its own and a wonderful ride.

The Boy Who Went Magic by A.P. Winter

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