Book Review – The Kneebone Boy

Author:  Ellen Potter

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (September 14, 2010)

Reading Level: Grades 4th to 8th

Source: ARC for review

Rating:  5 Stars – Highly recommend

Description from GoodReads:

The book’s set in a small English town and follows the Hardscrabble kids who are relocated to live with their aunt in London, where they discover they might be living next door to “a horribly misshapen boy who has figured in local legend.” It’s the story of the three Hardscrabble siblings and their search for the legendary Kneebone Boy.

There are books that are fun to read.  There are other books that are amazingly well written.  Sometimes, though, it is a struggle to find “fun to read” and “amazingly well written” between the same covers of a book.  However, as I read through Ellen Potter’s newest book The Kneebone Boy, I found myself repeating in this awestruck manner “This book is brilliant”.  Both fun and well written and bound behind a spectacular cover. (Click here to read a post from Potter about the cover of the book illustrated by Jason Chan.)

The Kneebone Boy is a tale of 3 children, siblings, living in an odd home with a somewhat eccentric father in England.  There is a mystery surrounding the disappearance of their mother which permeates their lives and influences their actions.  When they find themselves on their own in London, rather than return home, they set out to find their great-aunt.  Their journey turns out to be an adventure of a lifetime.  One that will challenge and test them on many levels, but will ultimately provide them with new understanding.

I am determined not to spoil this story so if some of the details seem vague it is for exactly this reason.  Potter is a master storyteller and has crafted this novel in a manner that reveals just what needs to be at each step of the journey.  As I read each page, I never felt that I wanted more or less than what was given to me.  Even as I arrived at the end of the book, I was pleased with the manner in which she pulled together all of the aspects of the story and provided the reader with a deeply satisfying ending.

It should be noted that The Kneebone Boy is written in a style that fans of Lemony Snickets’ Series of Unfortunate Events or Pseudonymous Bosch’s Secret Series will be familiar with. Yet, the story begins in a very different voice and style from other novels by Potter. If you are not familiar with Snickets’ or Bosch’s stories, and more accustomed with Potter’s traditional writing style, then I would suggest that you give the story a couple of chapters to acclimate yourself to the narrator’s manner. Once in the rhythm of the story you will find yourself, enjoying the interjections and information provided by the book’s narrator. I will make the argument that I truly felt as if Potter has taken her writing to a whole new level with this story. There is a richness and complexity with the story that will appeal to older Middle Grade readers and even adults who are reading along with their children.

Kudos to Ellen Potter for an amazing new book and for continuing to write outstanding literature for middle grade readers.

For more information about Ellen Potter and her books, you can check out her website here: www.ellenpotter.com

Advertisements

Book Review – Tortilla Sun

Author: Jennifer Cervantes

Publisher:  Chronicle Books (May 5, 2010)

Reading Level: Grades 4th to 8th

Source: Personal Copy

Rating: 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

A tender, magical story about 12 year old Izzy Roybal who is sent to spend the summer in her nana’s New Mexico village where she is soon caught up in the foreign world of her own culture, from patron saints and soulful food to the curious and magical blessings Nana gives her tortillas. In Nana’s village she meets Mateo, the adventurous, treasure seeking thirteen year old boy who lives on the other side of the bolted door in Izzy’s bedroom and six year old Maggie who is raising her cat, Frida, as a dog and sees marshmallow ghosts float out windows. When the wind begins to whisper to Izzy, she is soon led on an adventure to learn about her father’s mysterious death, who she really is, and to connect the hidden pieces of her past.

Several months ago, I signed up to participate in The Story Siren’s 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  I will add admit that Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes was a late addition to my list of Debut Authors.  However, I am so thrilled that I found this absolutely lovely book.

If you hang around me for any length of time, you will know that trying to find books that my students will relate to is a big concern of mine.  The majority of my students are from Hispanic backgrounds.  Many are Mexican American.  There are some but not enough stories that feature Latino characters.  I was barely a chapter into Tortilla Sun when I knew that this was a book that I not only wanted to share with my students but that I would use as a read aloud with my fifth graders.

By now you may be wondering, what is so special about Tortilla Sun? Cervantes has created a story filled with well-developed characters, a vibrant setting, and a message of loss, love, family, and hope (pull out your tissues when reading this – I sobbed for nearly the last 1/4 of the book).  Twelve year old Izzy never met her father who died before she was born.  Her mother and she have never settled into one house or an apartment for any extended time.  After moving into yet another new place, Izzy uncovers a box of things that belonged to her father including a baseball with the worn words “Because____ ____ magic”.   Shortly after this discovery, Izzy’s mother is called away on a research trip and sends Izzy off to spend the summer in New Mexico with her grandmother.  At first Izzy is unhappy with this decision but shortly after arriving she discovers that the summer may be a time where she can learn about who her father was and what are the missing words rubbed off from the baseball.  From her Nana, she discovers the magic of homemade tortillas, and learns that the past needs time to be revealed.  From 13 year old Matteo and 6 year old Maggie, she learns about friendship, adventure, and caring about others.  From the adults that surround her in this small village, she learns to embrace the magic around her and discovers who she is.  Cervantes also weaves together Spanish words and phrases along with wonderful references to food and activities that further embrace the Latino culture.

This coming of age story is beautifully and masterfully told.  Cervantes has hit her own home-run with this debut offering and I am eager to read any future books from her.

You can find out more about Jennifer Cervantes and her book at: http://www.jennifercervantes.com/

You can find Jennifer on Twitter @jencerv or on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/jennifercervanteswriter?ref=ts

You can purchase a signed copy (while they last) of Tortilla Sun at Borders Glendale:  http://www.borders.com/online/store/StoreDetailView_149