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.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I love this book!!!

Fred Stays with Me! by Nancy Coffelt, illustrated by Tricia Tusa, $16.99, published by Hachette Book Group. Best for ages 3-6.

Fred Stays with Me is a picture book about a little girl, her dog, and her parents who share custody.  This is a tough subject to write about and it isn't appropriate for, or even intended for, every family.  However, there are many children and parents looking for comforting stories to help them deal with the challenges of shared custody.  As a single parent, this story's underlying message of consistency, understanding, and empowerment deeply resonated with me.

In Fred Stays with Me, a little girl casually tells the reader that sometimes she lives with Mom and sometimes with Dad.  She never mentions the reasons why she travels between her homes. The word "divorce" is never used in the book, nor is the word "visit".  Whether Mom and Dad were divorced, separated, or never married is irrelevant; she just knows that she lives at two homes.  She goes on to describe the differences between her two houses; she has a bunk bed at Dad's and a single bed at Mom's.

The things that stay the same in her life are school, friends, and Fred, her beloved dog. No matter where she stays, Fred sleeps on the floor beside her bed. Of course, Fred is not always a good dog and he causes problems at both parents' houses. He barks too much and gets into all kinds of mischief. When Fred's antics make him unwelcome at both houses, the little girl must pointedly reminds her parents that Fred is her dog and that he stays with her.  To Mom's and Dad's credit, they decide to better train Fred to behave.

Everything about this simple story appealed to me. It is touching and funny with a subtle message about how families must adapt to change and the importance of stability and consistency. This little girl knows she is loved; she obviously feels safe and comfortable reminding her parents of her feelings and helping them to fix Fred's bad behavior problem. She actively participates in the plan to train Fred. 

Nancy Coffelt's concise text is limited to a sentence or two on each page so it can be read to even the youngest children.  Tricia Tusa's cartoon-like illustrations perfectly capture the love and devotion between Fred and his young mistress and Fred's penchant for trouble.  My favorite page is where Fred looks up, with goofy, floppy-eared joy, after he's emptied Dad's sock drawer.  As a dog owner, I am quite familiar with that look.

Of course, not all young children have dogs, but they do need stability, patience, and room to voice their feelings.  As a bookseller, I was often asked for books explaining specific issues to kids.  The death of a family member, the birth of a sibling, and divorce were the most often requested topics.  Fred Stays with Me! is a lovely story for parents looking to take some of the scary out of shared custody, whatever the cause.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Too much YA...

Just reread my posts so far & I seriously need to lighten up.  I promise that the next book I review will be for a younger audience & will be of a less fantastic & depressing tone

Partials by Dan Wells, Harpercollins, 2/28/12

Partials, by Dan Wells, Harpercollins, $17.99, due 2/28/12. Best suited for ages 14+.

Although I haven't posted recently due to my frantic job search efforts, I have been reading several YA & middle grade fiction titles.  Last week, I finished reading the ARC of Partials by Dan Wells (Harpercollins, 2/28/12), a dystopian thriller with a unique premise.  I was intrigued as soon as I saw the fantastic cover image & read the plot summary.

Partials is set in 2076, eleven years after humanity has been ravaged by war with the Partials, super-human clone warriors who turned on their human creators. During the war, the Partials released the RM virus.  Since then, all human babies die a few hours after they are born.  The small, surviving human population is desperate to develop immunity to the virus to prevent the eventual extinction of humanity.  In a world without children, all women & girls over the age of 17 are required by law to get pregnant as often as possible to increase the chances of having a baby immune to the RM virus.  Kira, the novel's protagonist, is a 16-year-old medic who vows to find a cure before she is required to get pregnant.   

While I enjoyed Partials (I read most of it while sitting in a hotel room in Columbus),  I made the inevitable comparisons with Hunger Games & The Giver, both of  which provide more complete depictions of post-apocalyptic societies.  I found many of the adults in Partials one-dimensional.  As authority figures, they practically beg the teen protagonists to rebel. At almost 500 pages, the author had plenty of time to develop his story, yet I found several aspects rushed or under-developed. When Kira decides to cure RM, she goes out to capture a Partial for study.  I kept wondering at the ease with which she accomplished this.  Her Partial, Samm, doesn't seem very warrior-like.  Kira's relationships with her friends, particularly her boyfriend Marcus, lack depth & emotion. Where are Peeta & Gale when you need them?

On the positive side, Partials is fast-paced & action-packed, although quite violent. There's no shortage of explosions or confrontations. Kira's dread of getting older & having to get pregnant to satisfy the Hope Act permeates the story.  The cliff-hanger ending & the unresolved questions about Kira's past perfectly set up the story for the next installment.  If you're looking for a good dystopian read while waiting for the Hunger Games movie, you may enjoy Partials.