Friday, August 29, 2014

The Badger Knight - a review

Erskine, Kathryn. 2014. The Badger Knight. New York: Scholastic.
(Advance Reader Copy)

After the great plague, Adrian's father is overly protective. Having lost his wife and daughter, he is determined to protect his12-year-old son, Adrian.  Small and weak, Adrian has what we now call asthma and albinism. In the rural England of the 1300s, however, his condition is more often considered an unlucky and unholy affliction - rendering him only slightly more popular than Thomas the leper. Though he is quick of mind, skillful with a bow, and able to scribe, he is nonetheless treated as useless and dim-witted.

When the Middle March is threatened by war with the Scots, Adrian sees a chance to prove his mettle,

"Soon I hear the blacksmith's voice in my head: Nock! Mark! Draw! Loose! I spread some dirt under my eyes to counteract the bright sun, close my left eye, ready  my bow, and take aim at a single leaf fifty feet away.  On my second shot I split the leaf in two.  As I practice more, I can hit a leaf on my first try, even when it sways in the breeze.  I lose all sense of time and feel like I'm in another world.
Until I hear someone approach through the woods, and I grab my arrows, stowing them quickly with my bow inside the tree trunk.  For years I haven't been discovered and I don't intend for anyone to find me out now.  When the time is right, I will shock them all.  So I stand and look up at the branches to divert attention away from the trunk and to show that I'm simply addlepated Adrian looking at birds."

The Badger Knight is a historical fiction adventure that touches upon many common themes (bullying, friendship, gender bias, coming of age, survival, the nature of good and evil) as Adrian goes off to war and becomes a man - not by might, but by right.

 "... I'm reminded of Nigel and his search for the truth.  I think of what I always believed to be truths — Scots are pagans, thieves are bad, knights are noble, girls are weak, war is glorious — and how these "truths" aren't real at all.  They're things I was taught or everyone believes, just as all people who look like me are supposedly angels or, more often, devils.  I didn't believe Nigel when he said that scribing was power, that seeking the truth and sharing it is mightier than being a soldier.
     Now I see what he means."

The Knight Badger is rich in historical details - from the minor particulars of everyday life and the societal hierarchy of medieval England to the gruesome manner of medieval warfare. Erskine offers an unvarnished look into the lives of serfs, tradesmen, religious leaders, free lances, city street urchins, and robber barons. The author's thoughts on the nature of war are on display throughout, but readers are encouraged to come to their own conclusions and examine their own biases.

A solid adventure story that should appeal to boys and girls.  There is room for a sequel.

On shelves 8/26/14.   Target audience: ages 8-12, Gr 3-7
352 pages

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Time of the Fireflies - a review

I was actually searching for a fantasy book, but stumbled upon a good old-fashioned ghost story instead.

Little, Kimberly Griffiths. 2014. The Time of the Fireflies.  New York: Scholastic.

Larissa Renaud doesn't live in a regular house. As she tells it,
"My parents moved us into the Bayou Bridge Antique Store—a fact I do not brag about. It's embarrassing to admit I share the same space as musty, mothball-smelly furniture, dusty books, and teacups that dead people once drank from."
Sometimes she wishes they had never come back here from Baton Rouge, but her family has a long history in the bayou town, much of it is tragic.

When Larissa receives  a mysterious call on a broken antique phone, she's got a real mystery on her hands.
"Trust the fireflies," 
the ghostly girl tells her, setting Larissa on  a strange and eerie path of discovery. Can Larissa right the wrongs of the past to save her family's future?

Though it highlights rural poverty, bullying, and new sibling issues, The Time of the Fireflies is at heart, a ghost story with a remarkably likable and resourceful protagonist.

To avoid giving away too much, I'll merely mention that readers may see some similarities to Rebecca Stead's Newbery Medal-winning, When You Reach Me. The spunky Larissa and author Kimberly Griffiths Little will draw you into the rich world of the Louisiana bayou until you too, are carried away by the fireflies.

A link to The Time of the Fireflies trailer is here.  I'm not posting the trailer here because, honestly, I think the book is better than its trailer.

(My copy of the book was provided by the publisher as an Advance Reader Copy.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Visit me at the ALSC blog



It's Wednesday. I'm blogging for the ALSC Blog today. Stop by and see what you think.


If you're a librarian or book blogger, the Cybils are looking for judges.  Check it out here. I've done it in the past.  It's hard work, but a great opportunity and some fun as well!


Have a great day!

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Last Wild - an audiobook review

Torday, Piers. 2014. The Last Wild. Penguin Audio.  Narrated by Oliver Hembrough.

Like Eva Nine, in the WondLa series, Kester Jaynes finds that he can communicate with creatures of the wild - an ability that is particularly intriguing in a dystopian world where all animals are presumed dead - killed by the incurable red-eye virus.  Kester finds himself the leader of his own "wild," the ragtag remnants of the animal world.  Flora and fauna are pitted against commercial efficiency and industrialism in this first book of a planned trilogy.

The plot is occasionally predictable, but slow patches are often brightened by the humorous antics of The General (a likable but militaristic cockroach) and a befuddled white pigeon who speaks nonsense that is also somehow prophetic.

The author and narrator hail from the UK, so the reader or listener should be prepared for numerous British words that are uncommon here in the US (wellies, trainers, boot, windscreen, plaits, etc.).

My review of The Last Wild for Audiofile Magazine appears here.