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Young Adult Novel Review – Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein

CURSED
by Karol Ruth Silverstein
(Charlesbridge Teen; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

Cursed Book Cover

 

I loved Cursed, the debut YA novel by Karol Ruth Silverstein, even before I read it because the cover spoke to me, and was perfect. Now, having finished the book, I can confirm how well this cover works. Its dual-meaning title presented in a bold red printer’s-block-style lettering, the warning on the bottom, along with the emojis capture the entire essence of the story. I think you’ll agree once you’ve read Cursed, too.

When I attended the book launch and heard Karol read from the opening chapter I couldn’t wait to find a chunk of time to finally read the novel undisturbed. In so many ways this is Karol’s story, an #ownvoices novel not only in that Karol authored it, but she has also lived with the chronic illness she writes about honestly and creatively using spot on “sarcasm, and bouts of profanity” that you will sorely miss when the novel ends. To give you an idea of what to expect, Karol recently tweeted this:

“Hi, I’m Karol. My book, #Cursed from @CharlesbridgeYA is about 14 year-old Erica (aka Ricky), who’s newly diagnosed with a painful chronic illness and seriously pissed off about it. It’s funny, frank and full of f-bombs.”

With that in mind, join me in Rickyville where the journey of Erica (aka Ricky and annoyingly Ricky Raccoon to her dad) Bloom is presented in 62 brief chapters with teasing titles that will add to your reading pleasure. I know that may sound semi-snarky but it’s so Ricky-like and snarkiness is one of her secret weapons, well not so secret. Six months prior to the story’s beginning, Ricky was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an illness of the joints, although she doesn’t immediately share that information with readers. She simply describes the excruciating pain and major inconveniences she has to deal with on a daily basis and that’s a big part of what’s fueling her f-bombs.

The cursing is also what gets Ricky into trouble at school, when she eventually goes. Early on in the novel, written in first person-present tense, Ricky explains how she’s actually been cutting school while hiding it primarily from her father, Dr. Dad (a dentist-doctor), and mother and sister. There’s tons of stuff she can’t deal with at glorious Grant Middle School, one being that as a ninth grader she has to attend a middle school and not a high school. Another reason is that it’s a new school because she’s moved into her divorced dad’s Batch Pad⁠—Ricky gives everything neat nick names including The-Disaster-Formerly-Known-as-my-Parents—in a different part of Philadelphia from her family home. Add to that how difficult it is getting to school and then having to navigate the building when any part of her body can hurt at any given moment with the dagger-like or burning pain usually in her knees, feet and ankles. It doesn’t help matters that when she finally does return to Grant she feels humiliated by the things typical girls her age do “when their biggest worry is looking their best all day.”

There’s a strong cinematic sense conveyed in Cursed because Karol not only hails from Philly where the story is based, but she also has a screenwriting background. It’s easy to picture every place described in the novel. From the city itself and Dr. Bloom’s Batch Pad, the school with its grueling long corridors to the nurse’s office where she spends a lot of time and becomes friends with Oliver. From the waiting room outside the principal’s office, her speech teacher, Mr. Jenkins’ classroom, to the music room where her crush Julio practices, and the doctor’s office where she gets her intravenous medication. Add these strong visuals to the already compelling, engrossing and downright funny storytelling and at once you are totally in Ricky’s head as she tries to cope emotionally and physically with her disability as she approaches age 15.

Once Ricky’s Charade (skipping school) is discovered, she’s got to work her butt off to graduate with her class or risk being held back aka Operation Catch-Up-So-I-Can-Get-The-Hell-Out-of-This-Crap-Ass-School. Helping her accomplish this is the friendship she’s cautiously allowing to blossom with Oliver, a childhood cancer survivor who has such a can-do attitude that some of it has to rub off on Ricky, right? I felt hopeful when Ricky met Oliver. At her old school after having been diagnosed with Juvenile Arthritis and telling her friends “… they all abandoned me. I can’t risk that again.” Oliver is not the abandoning type. But is Ricky?

Some of my favorite scenes in Cursed are the ones where Ricky’s vulnerabilities and strengths are exposed like when I learned how much she dislikes her current arthritis specialist, Dr. Blickstein (aka Dr. Blech-stein) because he never speaks to her and treats her like she’s invisible, choosing instead to relay info to her mom. When she finally decides to change doctors and finds one who’s caring and truly interested in her feelings, I wanted to cheer out loud. Another time, when she comes to the aid of a girl who’s part of a clique, I felt her compassion. She may try hiding that side of herself, but as a reader I knew she had a lot of it just by her observations about the people around her. And wait until her final project, the speech in Mr. Jenkins’ class. That’s all I’ll say or I may start sobbing.

Watching Ricky grow from being a teen who feels cursed, “Like you did something horrible in a past life,” and unable to be comfortable in her own skin to one who is more willing to come to terms with her illness and more open to letting people get close to her is what kept me turning the pages. I mean that’s in addition to the dynamite dialogue, witty asides and meaningful insights into living with arthritis. It was a privilege to get to know Ricky. The changes in her arrive slowly and are sometimes subtle, but they do happen making it all the more worthwhile to be on her team. Stick with Ricky and you’ll be rewarded with this read.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here to read an interview with Karol by author Lee Wind on The Official SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Blog.

Click here to read more on “How Stories about Disability Help Create Empathy” at We Need Diverse Books.

Read another YA novel review here.

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The Bad Seed written by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald

THE BAD SEED
Written by Jory John
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Harper Collins Children’s; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

After reading The Bad Seed  written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald, I truly appreciated its deep message about the value we place on ourselves and others based on behavior.

Here’s where the review gets interesting though; while this is a children’s picture book geared towards ages 4-8; I feel it’s also a great book for older kids and even adults!

Younger kids, especially in the world we live in today, know the power words hold over someone. When reading to a younger crowd, as a teacher, I would explain that words like “bad” and “good” are labels. We all make mistakes sometimes. Why is the seed labeled this way? For older children the book serves as a reinforcement of what they hopefully know to be true, there’s always room for self-growth.

The story follows a little sunflower seed who loves his family dearly on their Sunflower head home. As the seeds scatter when it’s nature’s time for them to drop off the beloved plant, they become separated.

 

Int_art_p14_BadSeed

The Bad Seed Text copyright © by Jory John 2017 Illustration copyright © by Pete Oswald 2017

 

Our once loved and happy seed protagonist quickly becomes traumatized by events beyond his control (such as a man at a baseball game nearly swallowing him and then being spit out- with a permanent crack in his once whole shell!) The seed isn’t so happy anymore and is convinced that he is bad (something anyone with trauma in their life can relate to, as it is often the victim left feeling at fault).

He begins to act out by deciding “not to care anymore” which he does by not listening to others, lying, and not washing his hands, among other things. But what our dear seed needs desperately, is for someone to connect to. To see his cracks and accept him, showing him that he can be whole again from the inside out. Children often act out when they need help, and our little seed is a perfect example of someone needing intense care.

He eventually tires of his “bad” behavior and starts working on being “good” again. I say these words in quotes because the truth is none of us lives in a world of black and white/good or bad people. It requires constant awareness to make positive choices to be your very best self and not let a label define you.

We never know someone else’s background- their own unique make-up and history, so labeling them as “bad” or “good” means that we miss out on why they are behaving that way to begin with. With children especially, curiosity goes a long way in sorting out behavior that doesn’t work. We are all moving through each moment trying to meet needs. Some strategies we try are better than others, and The Bad Seed, through both its humorous art and prose, illustrates that beautifully. Pete Oswald’s expressive and whimsical illustrations truly capture the emotions of this little seed in a way many children can relate to so they can instantly guess at how he is feeling.

I recommend this book as a tool to show that we never know what someone else has been through. Being curious, asking questions, and offering kindness before judging and criticizing would be best whenever possible in life.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

 

 

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Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker – A Giveaway Courtesy of Disney-Hyperion!

A REVIEW & GIVEAWAY
FOR
BEATRICE ZINKER, UPSIDE DOWN THINKER
by Shelley Johannes

Disney-Hyperion sent Good Reads With Ronna a copy to check out,
and we’re delighted they’re partnering with us for the giveaway!

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker cover image

Read the review then scroll down to enter the giveaway today!

 

REVIEW:
In Shelley Johannes’s charming debut, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, the main character is appealing in a cute and quirky way. She’s someone whose personality will no doubt resonate with many different thinkers when they see themselves reflected on the pages of this delightful new chapter book series for tweens and pretweens.

Beatrice approaches life from a creative and different perspective. In other words, she does her best thinking upside down. Up until third grade, this singular skill has been accepted, even rewarded by her school teachers. But things are about to change as the summer of second grade ends and it’s time to head back to school. Not one to make promises easily unless it’s very important (a running sight gag throughout this illustrated story), and involves her BFF Lenny Santos, Beatrice is dressed and ready for third grade in her ninja attire as was agreed upon when second grade ended. The outfits signified the girls’ participation in a secret plan called Operation Upside that was supposed to be put into action on day one. Then why does Lenny, unrecognizable in pink instead of her brother’s black hand-me-downs, seem to have forgotten? Maybe her new friend and neighbor Chloe has something to do with it and that’s why they’ve also chosen desks right next to each other! Beatrice, on the other hand, has to sit up front, under the watchful eyes of the strict Mrs. Tamarack.

Beatrice is determined to find a way to convince Lenny to reconsider the mission when it’s obvious that, with Chloe now in the picture, the stealth operation has been put on hold. Being an upside down thinker, Beatrice develops an unusual and risky plan that winds up including a dangerous fall and a clandestine visit to the staff room, something no ordinary student could ever concoct. Will Beatrice win back her friend and give Operation Upside a reboot? It seems there’s a lot at stake for this thoughtful third grader whose resilience is demonstrated in the most original ways, and who is certain to inspire young readers rooting for her success.

Johannes does a terrific job of engaging readers right from The Very Beginning, the title of Chapter One. Young Beatrice is hanging onto a branch in the first of many marvelous illustrations “created with felt-tip pen, brush marker, and colored pencil on tracing paper,” and using only black, grays and orange. And it works wonderfully. There’s occasional rhyme and an easy flow from chapter to chapter in this 155-page book kids should breeze through. The problem-solving and different thinker theme is age appropriate and should encourage interesting conversations about creativity, inclusiveness and friendship. The 20 chapters are short and Johannes makes sure there are no loose ends which can sure get in the way if you’re an upside down thinker! I’m eager to see what this amiable tween who marches to her own drummer gets up to in Book#2.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

GENERAL DETAILS:
Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
By Shelley Johannes
Release September 19, 2017
Recommended chapter book for ages 7-10

ABOUT THE BOOK …
Beatrice does her best thinking upside down.

Hanging from trees by her knees, doing handstands . . . for Beatrice Zinker, upside down works every time. She was definitely upside down when she and her best friend, Lenny, agreed to wear matching ninja suits on the first day of third grade. But when Beatrice shows up at school dressed in black, Lenny arrives with a cool new outfit and a cool new friend. Even worse, she seems to have forgotten all about the top-secret operation they planned!

Can Beatrice use her topsy-turvy way of thinking to save the mission, mend their friendship, and flip things sunny-side up?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Shelley Johannes previously spent ten years in architecture—
where she fell in love with felt-tip pens, tracing paper, and the
greatness of black turtlenecks. She lives in Michigan with her husband
and two sons. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is the first book
she’s written. Find her online at shelleyjohannes.com.

 

 

FIND OUT MORE:
Visit the Official Site here.
Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter and Instagram
Like Disney Books on Facebook
Hashtags #BeatriceZinker #UpsideDownThinker

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:
Be An Upside Down Thinker!
One (1) winner receives:
Copy of Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker
And branded pencil case and notepad!

Open to US addresses only.
Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.
This giveaway ends 10/12/17 12:00am PT so don’t wait! Enter today
for your chance to win a copy and cool BZUDT swag!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Walter and the Wallet – A Guest Post by Billy Bloom

“Doing the Right Thing—Not Always So Easy”

A Guest Post by Billy Bloom

 

Cover image for Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom

 

A wallet lying in the street, stuffed with cash. Not a single person anywhere in sight.

It’s a universal question for children and adults alike: when no one’s watching, will you do the right thing? How about when doing the right thing runs counter to your own self-interest? That is the premise of Walter and the Wallet.

Walter Whippingdale has been having the worst day of his life. As he walks home, shoulders slumped, head down, he discovers a wallet overflowing with cash. And suddenly, his awful day is awash with possibilities.

It’s a situation that most people have to deal with at some point in their life. And that includes me. I was working in my second year as a substitute teacher on Long Island. The school day had just ended, and, after straightening up the room for a few minutes, I headed for the parking lot.

Almost everyone had left the building by then, so no one was in front of me or behind me as I exited the building.

And there it was, just outside the doors: a small pile of cash.

 

interior spread from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom

Interior artwork from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom with illustrations by Tanya Leonello, Eifrig Publishing.

 

I feel like I’m a very honest person. When playing volleyball, I always call it on myself when I touch the net. I’m a firm disciple in the Golden Rule—and believe that if everyone would just live by it, the Earth would be an infinitely nicer place.

So I bent over, picked it up, and counted it. $23. I obviously knew what the right thing to do was. And yet … there was the tug. From some dark corner of my brain, a tiny voice was saying “You could just slip it in your pocket. There’s not a soul in sight.”

I didn’t keep the money; I turned around and brought it into the office, telling them that if they couldn’t determine the owner, to use it to buy some school supplies. They thanked me profusely. But as I left, I felt a sense of shame. I’m a good person, I thought—so why did some small part of me want to keep that $23? It wasn’t mine. It wouldn’t have changed my life one iota.

Such is the conflict in Walter and the Wallet. But it’s not a purportedly mature, allegedly honest adult who’s confronted with a near-identical situation—it’s a 9-year-old child.

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. One might be too busy, too tired, too distracted. But doing the right thing when it runs counter to your own self-interest is even harder. That is the dilemma I want children, their parents, and their teachers to discuss after reading Walter and the Wallet. It all comes down to that Golden Rule: what would you want a person to do if they found your wallet?

 

Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom interior spread 2

Interior artwork from Walter and the Wallet by Billy Bloom with illustrations by Tanya Leonello, Eifrig Publishing.

 

Children can learn several lessons from reading about Walter: a bad day can turn around on a dime. Money can’t buy you happiness. And of course, if you find something that isn’t yours, do everything in your power to get it back to its owner.

Walter ultimately makes the right choice, and finds that it comes with some unanticipated rewards. I’m hopeful that reading my book will help children do the honorable thing when they inevitably confront a similar scenario in their own lives.

Brief Summary of Walter and the Wallet:

Walter Whippingdale is having the worst day of his life. The girl he likes has been making googly eyes at another boy in his class. He struck out during recess. He broke his favorite watch. A giant pimple appeared on his nose. And to top it off, he somehow managed to get mustard in his eye at lunch! Walking home from school, his head is hanging low. Which is precisely how Walter spots a wallet lying in the street … a wallet bursting with cash. Suddenly, his terrible day is about to change. But how?

In this engaging tale of life lessons, first-time children’s author Billy Bloom has created a story to spark some important conversation between kids and parents about making good choices. Accompanied by Tanya Leonello’s charming watercolor illustrations, this story of childhood morality and the daily dilemmas children face, is sure to pull young readers in and get them thinking.

For more info/to order copies:

Eifrig Publishing

Amazon

About the Author:

Billy Bloom is an elementary school teacher in New York. Before becoming a teacher, he had several other jobs, including professional Frisbee player (finishing 6th in the World Championships in 1983), newspaper editor, advertising copywriter, and volleyball league owner. He currently referees middle and high school volleyball and basketball games after school and on weekends. This is Billy Bloom’s debut children’s book.

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Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

GO BIG OR GO GNOME
Written by Kirsten Mayer
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Imprint, $16.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.  

 

Cover image of Go Big or Go Gnome by Kirsten Mayer

 

 

There may be princess stories and fairy tales a plenty, but good goblin or troll tales can be difficult to find. Now Go Big or Go Gnome, written by Kirsten Mayer and illustrated by Laura K. Horton provides a lighthearted and entertaining look at life from a verdantly impish perspective.

A tiny gnome named Al lives and works in a lush green garden. He trims shrubbery alongside a crew of friendly fellows who bathe birds, fluff dandelions, and rake rocks. While the gnomes keep busy tidying the sweet scenery, they are also grooming impressive “imperial beards and illustrious mustaches.” Everyone, that is, except Al. Al has nary a whisker on his smooth pink cheeks. This bothers Al tremendously, because he dreams of participating in the Beards International Gnome-athlon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so Al attempts to enter the contest by faking a beard using tiny white butterflies. They fly away and expose his trickery, so he tries again with a squirrel tail, and then with some moss. Thinking he’s doomed to be a plain, bare-faced gnome forever, Al heads home to trim some topiary and keep himself busy. Luckily he still has his clippers in hand when his best friend Gnorm has an emergency – sap is stuck in his beard! He snips, clips and trims Gnorm’s whiskers into an award-winning look. What will the other gnomes think of Al now?

Mayer’s sweet and upbeat tale is a funny fantasy addition to the beard-book genre. Clever language and gnomish word puns add to the appeal. Her text is a delightful set-up for illustrator Horton, who maximizes the opportunity to create inventive, elaborate and impressive beard styles on a pleasant array of diminutive creatures. She also establishes a imaginative garden setting accented with birds, flowers and mushrooms, using a green and blue palette that offsets the gnomes’ de rigueur red pointed caps and boots.

Clever and cute, Go Big or Go Gnome is an encouraging tale for young readers in search of their special talents and ready to embrace their true selves far before they reach the whisker-sprouting years.

 

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I reviewed a preview copy of Go Big or Go Gnome from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

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A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young

 

A UNICORN NAMED SPARKLE
Written and illustrated by Amy Young
(Farrar Straus Giroux BYR; $16.99, Ages 2-6)

 

A_Unicorn_Named_Sparkle book cover

Carving out a new niche in the unicorn-book market may seem a difficult task, but A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young accomplishes this task with humor and flare. When Lucy finds a mail-away ad stating, “Unicorn, 25 cents,” she, of course, sends her quarter off to Unicorn City, New Jersey, barely able to wait.

Meanwhile, Lucy imagines all the wonderful things they’ll do together. She’ll name her unicorn Sparkle and “he will be blue with a pink tail and pink mane.” To ease him into her world, she plans to give him a cupcake.

When the big truck rumbles up, Lucy’s cupcake disappears in one chomp. I must note that this is a great image—just the unicorn’s mouth coming out of the shipping crate, snapping down the cupcake – terrific!  What emerges from the shipping crate doesn’t quite match Lucy’s expectations. “He had spots. His ears were too long. He smelled funny. Oh, and he had fleas.” And that’s just the beginning.

Interior_art_.A_Unicorn_Named_Sparkle interior artwork

Interior spread from A Unicorn Named Sparkle, written and illustrated by Amy Young, Farrar, Straus Giroux ©2016.

Playing together doesn’t go the way she planned either. So Lucy does what every frustrated shopper would: she phones Unicorns, Inc., and tells them to take Sparkle back. While she awaits the truck’s return, Lucy gets to know Sparkle and even stands up for him when neighborhood kids tell her that Sparkle looks like a goat. Of course we all know that Sparkle is a “special kind of unicorn.”

In this tale of friendship and discovery, Lucy comes to the conclusion that you may not get what you expected—and that can be just fine too.

Author and illustrator Amy Young’s A Unicorn Named Sparkle is a truly enjoyable read, ideal for the pre-K crowd. And her vivid, expressive images are well-matched to the text. Sparkle may not be the handsome unicorn we imagined, but he surely will capture our hearts.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/

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