Welcome to My Book Bag!

I'm Susan Aikens. Welcome to my blog about kids' books, My Book Bag. I'm one of those people who is always "selling" books to friends, relatives, and even to strangers in bookstores who mistake me for an employee. This blog is an extension of that. Here you'll find impartial reviews of new and time-tested fiction and non-fiction books for kids, ages 6 through teen. I'll also let you know about promising new authors and emerging trends in children's literature. Hopefully, you'll find these reviews helpful as you select titles for your child, your classroom, or yourself.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

iBoy by Kevin Brooks


Chickenhouse, an imprint of Scholastic Inc
$17.99 cloth, due 11/11.  Young adult, intended for ages 14-18.

I've been a huge Kevin Brooks fan ever since I read his first novel, Martyn Pig.  His books are not for everyone; his teen characters are often caught in dark, violent, & morally ambiguous situations. iBoy, which is due to release in November, is definitely for the older teen or young adult as it deals with murder, rape, & gang violence.   That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book which should be subtitled, "With great power comes great responsibility".  Yes, that is a Spider Man reference.

In iBoy, a 16- year-old boy named Tom is hit in the head by an iPhone thrown from the 30th floor of his public housing building.  Parts of the iPhone are embedded in his brain.  After his release from the hospital, Tom discovers that he has all the abilities of an iPhone, including access to the web, the ability to make calls, & the ability to serve as his own camera. He is also able to defend himself by emitting an electrical charge that disables attackers. 

Tom puts all his new found powers to use as he attempts to avenge the gang rape of his best friend, Lucy.  Tom & Lucy's neighborhood is rife with drugs & gang violence.  After Lucy's attack, both she & her brother are afraid to identify her assailants because of the real threat of further retaliation. 

Yes, this plot sounds far-fetched, but Brooks saves it from being just a sci-fi thriller by grounding his characters within their world & by realistically portraying their emotions, reactions & moral dilemmas.  Tom is devastated by his inability to protect Lucy & he struggles with how far he can or should go to bring her attackers to justice.  In one scene, Tom sends a fake text to the girlfriend of one of the attackers that implies his involvement with another girl.  The ensuing confrontation ends with the boy being stabbed.  Tom is horrified & realizes that he is ultimately responsible for the boy's injuries.  Just because he can, doesn't mean he should. 

I loved Tom & Lucy. Their conversations as they try to reestablish their friendship after Lucy's rape are very moving.  Tom's questioning of a gang member about why he blindly follows the gang leader is chilling & disturbing because it is so mundane.  Once I got past my disbelief over the opening chapter which establishes the "iPhone in the head" premise, I was sucked into this gripping story.  I strongly recommend iBoy for older teens & adults.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shine by Lauren Myracle


Just bought the e-book of Shine by Lauren Myracle after reading about the National Book Award hubbub.  When the selection committee announced the 5 nominees, someone mixed up the names of 2 books, Chime & Shine, so there were 6 books on the publicized list.  Initially, the committee was going to keep both titles as nominees, but then decided to ask Ms. Myracle to withdraw her title from consideration.  Lauren Myracle has now withdrawn Shine due to pressure from the NBA committee.  I bought a copy in support of this wonderful author.  I'll have a review of Shine next week.

Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper


I  was emotionally overwhelmed by Out of My Mind, a middle grade novel by Sharon Draper. This is the story of Melody, a 10 year old girl with Cerebral Palsy so severe that she can neither speak nor move independently. Trapped inside Melody's uncooperative body is a brilliant mind with a cutting wit.
Melody is relegated to a classroom of special needs kids because she can't communicate & her teachers assume that she is also mentally handicapped.  Her world suddenly opens up when she gets a computer with a voice program that allows her to speak. Unfortunately, the rest of the school is not ready to accept Melody.
I cheered for Melody while I read this book as I sat at my kitchen table. The conversations she has with her parents and caregivers about being different are gut-wrenching. Melody knows exactly how she is perceived by other kids and adults, including teachers. The conversations between Melody's parents as they comtemplate the birth of their 2nd child moved me to tears.
This is more than a book about a girl with special needs. It holds up a mirror for all of us to see how we react to people with disabilities that make us uncomfortable.
I encourage everyone to read this.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Brian Selznick created a new art form with his illustrated novel, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret". Now, he's followed up with his 2nd novel, "Wonderstruck".  Perhaps the title hints at the reaction that readers will have to the many intricately rendered pencil drawings.  "Wonderstruck" is actually 2 intertwined stories set many years apart.  Selznick uses his hundreds of drawings to tell the story of Rose, a deaf girl living in 1920's New York.  The text tells the story of Ben, a boy living in Minnesota in 1977.   "Wonderstruck" is as thick as a brick,  but don't let the size deter you from experiencing this marvelous read. This is a perfect book to share with reluctant readers or for parents to read at bedtime. 

I've been a Brian Selznick fan for years, ever since I saw him "put on a show" to promote his picture book, "The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins". He's talented, personable, & a born promoter.   "Hugo Cabret", which won a Caldecott Award, is one of my favorite books of all time.  I hope the movie by Martin Scorcese due at Christmas does it justice.

My first post!

I've always thought that there was something inherently noble about selling books, especially kids books.   I was Borders Senior Buyer for Children's books.  I bought thousands of new titles for all the Borders & Waldenbooks stores.  I can honestly say that I learned something new every day & that I had the best job in the world.  Borders ceased to exist in September 2011 & with it went my job. 

After 6 weeks of unemployment, I'm going through withdrawal. Admittedly, I'm enjoying  reading whatever I want, but  I so miss the excitement & sense of community prevalent in the world of kids publishing.  I still remember the on-sale dates for the big books I'd hoped to market & sell this fall.  I wonder how many copies of the new Rick Riordan book we'd have sold on day one. I wonder if Wimpy Kid 6 will set a new sales record. I gnash my teeth over the lost opportunity to introduce new readers to Hunger Games & Hugo Cabret because of the upcoming movies. 

Now, I want to use my knowledge to help parents, teachers & kids book lovers find the best reads.  I hope to use this blog to bring talented new authors to the fore & contribute in some small way to promoting literacy.   I will regularly post impartial reviews & comments about kids books, movies, & other happenings. 

I hope you find this blog useful & enjoyable.

Susan