Tag Archives: adventure

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

by E.L. Konigsburg
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I remembered loving this one as a kid and the re-read did not disappoint. I was a sucker for kids running away and specifically their economy (The Boxcar Children, My Side of the Mountain, and even on the economy side, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, were in this category). I loved Claudia and Jamie’s story, and remembered it better than I did Harriet the Spy, but still forgot details like the fact that they had two whole other brothers. (I also didn’t remember how well Claudia and Jamie complement each other, but that’s sort of beside the point.) I loved especially how they hid in the bathroom stalls after the Metropolitan Museum of Art closed and then slept in the antique beds. They were very clever and I also loved the mystery of the angel statue and how Claudia and Jamie eventually figure it out, though I have to say that I did not recall them taking a taxi to Mrs. Frankweiler’s house and basically accosting her. But overall, except for a few things, it holds up well and is clearly a classic for a reason.

The Popper Penguin Rescue by Eliot Schrefer

by Eliot Schrefer
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I loooooooved Mr. Popper’s Penguins as a kid. I believe it even fueled me and my sister pretending our stuffed penguin was alive, putting it in a box and “feeding” it torn up construction paper, on an Antarctic twist on proving responsibility to our parents to get a real pet. I haven’t re-read the book as an adult, mostly out of fear that it won’t have aged well.

The Popper Penguin Rescue features descendants of both Mr. Popper and his penguins. His distant relations, Nina and Joel and their mom, move back to town and into one of the old Popper penguin attractions and promptly find two mysterious eggs, about to hatch. They eventually decide to reunite the two chicks with the other Popper penguins, who had been rehomed on an arctic island. With the unquestioning help of an Inuit sailor, they take off from school to make the trip.

While on the island, they realize that the penguins don’t belong there, and are in fact having a devastating effect on the native puffins, who no longer have enough fish to eat. So they get Yuka, their Inuit guide, to take them and all the penguins to Antarctica. Once they get there they realize that the two chicks are a totally different species and should be somewhere else. In fact, because they have imprinted on Joel and Nina, they won’t survive in the wild at all, so the family decides to keep them in the end and use them to tour and educate people on penguins and climate issues.

This story is a lovely adventure for young children but requires a lottttt of suspension of disbelief that older readers might find frustrating. In particular, the family’s reliance on others – in particular a Native person for his labor and time, but also the Popper Foundation for funding – not to mention just dropping everything and going off on an adventure. But probably similar things happened in the original book and I was probably just fine with it, which makes me wonder if it holds up, both culturally and in my estimation as an adult.

Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

by Rebecca Roanhorse
Overall: 2 out of 5 stars

This is a solid adventure story, but has been docked three full stars because of Debbie Reese’s “not recommended” status. I’ll let Dr. Reese and her associates explain why, but I’ll cover why it did earn a couple of stars from me, without knowing anything about Navajo culture.

It was a solid, western-style adventure story and I appreciated seventh-grader Nizhoni’s development over the course of it. It ties up neatly at the end and I felt like I learned something about Navajo culture (though, of course, what I learned could be incorrect and/or not something outsiders are supposed to know about – it’s worth mentioning that Roanhorse addresses the possible errors in her author’s note, as many authors do, but says that her husband and daughter, both Navajo, fully supported this book). I also had the audiobook and the reader, poet Kinsale Hueston, did what seemed like an amazing job with the pronunciations. Beyond these things, I will defer to Dr. Reese.

This is part of Rick Riordan’s imprint, Rick Riordan Presents. I respect the idea behind the imprint (using Riordan’s fame from his Percy Jackson and other kids’ series to bolster stories from other cultures), but in this case he maybe didn’t pick the best person for the job, or the best job for the culture.

Savvy by Ingrid Law

9780803733060by Ingrid Law
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Mississippi “Mibs” Beaumont is approaching her 13th birthday, when all other members of her family (save her non-magically-endowed father, Poppa) come into their particular magical power, or savvy. Mibs’ brother can create storms with his temper; her mother is perfect at everything (including being imperfect). Mibs is excited, until her father is in a serious accident and hospitalized miles away, taking away her mother and eldest brother, leaving them unguarded and swept up into a pity birthday party thrown by the pastor’s wife (whose son Will, incidentally, Mibs has a bit of a crush on). But when her powers descend during the party, it’s time to grab her remaining two brothers and hit the road – literally. They stow away on the pink bus of a bible salesman visiting the church, along with Will and his 16-year-old sister, Bobbi, hoping that he’s heading toward Mibs’ parents.

This one was recommended to me by a new 9-year-old friend. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, but I love to take kids’ recommendations seriously so this time I actually picked it up (well, downloaded it to my e-reader; same diff). The story of the adventure they go on with Mibs’ savvy (telepathy, specifically if a person has ink on their skin) and the other characters they meet, is delightful and tidy and I loved watching them all grow and change. I especially liked how Mibs handled not being ready to kiss Will, and his response. Perfect. One spoiler note, on top of the burgeoning heterosexuality: Mibs’ Poppa doesn’t entirely recover from his head injury, and I did appreciate how it was handled very realistically.

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Cam’s dad needs a birthday present for his son that doesn’t cost anything. A mysterious man gives him some cardboard and challenges him to use his imagination. The cardboard comes with specific, if odd, instructions: to return every scrap they don’t use, and they cannot ask for more. Cam’s dad lugs it home feeling despondent, but Cam is surprisingly game to try it and they make a man who then comes to life. Things quickly spiral out of control when the evil kid next door, Marcus, gets hold of the cardboard replicator they’ve also built (out of the magic cardboard) and starts building his own army of cardboard people. They build a whole world and then turn on the humans and it gets very dark, very fast. Marcus and Cam also have a moment of connection at one point, and Cam’s dad comes around and opens up to the woman next door who has expressed her interest in him, but he has previously been too absorbed in grieving his late wife. All in all, a surprisingly deep story full of adventure and suspense!

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

9781368022828by Carlos Hernandez
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This book starts with a bang and never looks back or slows down, which is partly due to a forward by Rick Riordan, though beginning the story with Hernandez’s skillful first chapter would be plenty gripping. Our hero, Sal Vidon, is always at the center of the action, of which there is plenty. Sal is able to reach through some sort of wormhole to other parallel universes and bring things or people through to our universe. Sometimes they come with things that then disappear back with them when they return, which is inconvenient (or in the case of food already in your tummy, very sad). Sometimes it’s your dead Mami or a sick baby you’re trying to make better and you wish you could keep. Sal’s father works on fixing wormholes.

There’s a lot to love about this book. We open on a scene with new-kid-at-school Sal, bully Yasmany, and Yasmany’s “lawyer” and student council president Gabi (like a 7th grade Cuban Hillary Clinton). The relationships between the three of them are very rich. Gabi’s family is fascinating and includes many adults she refers to as Dad, some of whom are male, plus a mom, and Sal doesn’t make a big deal of this when he learns it, so we never learn more. Gabi also has a baby brother who is in the NICU, so a fair amount of the story takes place there. Sal himself has type-1 diabetes, which is one reason my (also type-1 diabetic) boss shoved it in my hands to read. The information about diabetes is skillfully, if not own-voices-y, presented, not really didactic. Sal is a magician, which is how he gains entry into his performing arts magnet middle school in Miami, and magic plays a large role in the story, not just a quirky thing about him. Sal’s mother passed away several years ago and his dad married his vice principal – again, not incidental to the story. Sal loved his mother and loves his American Stepmom (which is how he refers to her almost always). He also has a habit of bringing back his mother from other universes (part of why they moved). Finally, Yasmany’s home life is, predictably, rough – and it’s his mother who is the abuser (unclear if his father is in the picture).

There are also relationships with teachers and other kids, as well as the same cast of characters from other universes with whom Sal and Gabi interact, all of which add richness and depth to the story. There’s also a fair amount of Spanish and spanglish, and some interesting slang (apparently in Sal’s world, being called a “sandwich” is an insult?). Altogether very well done and I’m looking forward to book 2, which should be out next year!

Double Review: Graphic Novels


Beyond the Western Deep, Volume 1
by Alex Kain and Rachel Bennett
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

A graphic novel seems an interesting medium for this fantasy story, which required a few pages of worldbuilding to catch the reader up on the history needed to understand the plot. There are four (or five?) peoples, in each of the four directions, and they live in an uneasy truce with each other. Our heroes, some sort of anthropomorphic animals, set off on a quest at the end of the book. Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed with all the unfamiliar names (maybe I’m just out of practice with reading fantasy?) to really dig into the story. As with often happens when I read graphic novels, I had a lot of trouble telling the characters apart, but at least this one is in color, so that was mitigated a bit. It’s a Very Serious Story, and I just didn’t connect with it. But it would probably be ideal for 4th graders (or strong 3rd graders) who are into Redwall or the Warriors series.


Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth (Volume 1)
by Judd Winick
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

After the utter seriousness of the first graphic novel, I thoroughly appreciated the humor of Hilo, who falls to Earth with amnesia and immediately meets D.J, who greets him with an “AAAAAH!” and takes him in. Hilo adopts the greeting and uses it to great comedic effect throughout the book, to my delight. I didn’t 100% follow the storyline of Hilo’s origin and the conflict on his home planet, but I was so entertained that I didn’t care. D.J.’s old friend Gina also moves back to town and very little about either of them has changed so they fall right back into their friendship. D.J.’s family is large and loud (he’s right between two older brothers and two younger sisters and feels like he doesn’t do anything especially well) and Hilo’s appearance livens up his and Gina’s otherwise humdrum lives in a sleepy small town. Hilo’s irrepressible nature is catching, as is his favorite adjective, “outstanding!”

Great for fans of: Big Nate, Calvin and Hobbes, and the Flying Beaver Brothers

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman


by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

12-year-old Emily Crane and her family are on a quest to live in all 50 states. Well, her parents are on a quest, and she and her older brother are mostly along for the ride, whether they like it or not. When their next moving truck takes them to San Francisco, though, Emily finally makes a friend who’s as into puzzles and games as she is. It’s also the home of her hero, the great Garrison Griswold, creator of the website Book Scavenger, which is part Little Free Library, part geocaching game. But Griswold suffers an attack that lands him in the hospital and his next game reveal is put on hold indefinitely – or is it? When Emily and her new friend, James, find a book they believe it is the first clue in the next game and Emily is determined to win it, even if there are two men after them to get hold of the book.

Emily and James have help from a local bookshop owner named Hollister. There is a part near the end where they walk through a park past a homeless man in a sleeping bag and Emily comments in her head about staying away from there for safety, and it turns out the man in the bag was Hollister. He has graying dreadlocks and I appreciated the nod to race/class stereotypes that was turned upside down. On other interpersonal fronts, Emily and James have a fight about being a good friend, and Emily and her brother fight because he has stopped caring about book scavenging and being her friend and is more into his new favorite band. (Matthew is 15 years old.) Her teacher, Mr. Quisling, is rather inexplicably short with her on her first day of school, and he gets in the way of her plan to solve Mr. Griswold’s new game, though he turns out to be a good guy. Her parents also realize how much Emily would love to stay in one place for a while and end up putting the next moving plans on hold.

For fans of: The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase


by Wendy Mass
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I am a huge Wendy Mass fan, but was surprised to re-read my review and remember that I was quite unimpressed (3 out of 5 stars) by the original Candymakers book. The four friends return for this adventure, which takes them on the road in search of mysterious, magical, blue cocoa beans. The beginning of the story rotates in perspective among the four; the middle section is told as one story but omniscient, jumping from person to person even within the same paragraph; and the end section is separate again. All in all, this made for some confusion – particularly in the beginning, when you experience the same day through each person’s eyes but jumping over the events that have already happened. For example, Logan tells how he came to be in possession of a box of his grandfather’s old letters and notebooks, and how he told Miles about it. Then during Miles’ account of the day, we skip right over that and go to him going through the box. It left me confused at points about what exactly the new narrator was reacting to, but then again, I have the attention span of a flea. Or a ten-year-old (which, it should be noted, is Mass’s target audience). This jumping around is the reason for the 1 star deduction – well, that and the fact that there were SO many threads to the story that I had a lot of trouble keeping them straight. Even now, I’m not sure that they were all wrapped up, but maybe that’s on purpose and there is a third book in the works. Who knows!

What I did like was the imagination in the story, and also that some of Mass’s other characters came together. Mia and her family from A Mango-Shaped Space, the eponymous Jeremy Fink, and the crew from Every Soul a Star all pop in at various points, and then are also together at the end. Even the group from Willow Falls gets a shout out. It was really nice to see them all again! There was a plot line of secret relatives coming out of the woodwork, about which I feel a bit wishy-washy. Having more than one felt contrived, and there were THREE to make seem realistic. I did like Daisy and AJ’s tricked-out RV and the vid coms, and also the eventual revelation of the origin of the magic beans / Paradise. The closing scene of the book has an unnamed (but male) character planting a magic bean in the tropical room at the factory, and I did not like that we don’t know who that was, only that it wasn’t Daisy.

One final note: There is much referring to things that happened in the first book, but just vaguely enough that I wasn’t sure exactly what had gone down. Definitely read them in close succession, or give the first one a re-read before picking this one up!

Amulet, book 1: The Stonekeeper


by Kazu Kibuishi
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Emily and her family move to an old house that’s been in the family for generations. Rumors are that the place is haunted, since Emily’s great-grandfather moved in ages ago and was never seen again. The night they move in, they discover the house’s secret and are sucked into an alternate-reality Earth, with new creatures and characters both good and bad. With the help of an amulet and her ancestor’s assistants, Emily fights to keep her family together.

Solid story and very imaginative. I only had to reread a few sequences twice to fully grasp what was going on. In one sequence, a scene between Emily and her mother echoes one from the beginning of the book in a very touching way. My favorite part is the sound effects, which are very accurate. I often find it hard to follow big action scenes in graphic novels, but this one did a pretty good job – in part, I think, thanks to the sound effects. I’m not sure I’ll read more than this first book, but it’s so popular in my library I felt like I had to! Like most graphic novels, it’s a quick read (took me about an hour) and satisfying, though the adventure continues.

The stakes are clear and high for Emily at each turn: if she loses her mother, she and Nevin are orphans. If she chooses to accept the amulet and her role as Stonekeeper, she can rewind time (and, the implication is, ensure that her father doesn’t die) and find happiness again. Etc. A post on the author’s website announces he’s working on books 8 and 9 as of May 2016, which will close out the series.