Nikki McClure’s ‘Cat’ & ‘Stars Drip Down’ sure to resonate with little ones

How_to_be_a_Cat Nikki McClureTwo recent releases by illustrator Nikki McClure are sure to resonate with your little ones.

In the first, “May the Stars Drip Down,” McClure’s illustrations accompany musician Jeremy Chatelain’s lyrics. McClure is known for her cut-paper work, and this book is no exception. Her work is both simple and intricate, making you question how she accomplishes the final product. Chatelain’s narrative is calming and lyrical. Together, the two have crafted what has become a favorite bedtime book.

McClure’s “How to Be a Cat” is simpler both conceptually and graphically. Bold illustrations depict the day and the life of a cat — stretching, pouncing, hunting, dreaming.

While both of these books are intended for children ages 3-7 and 2-5 respectively, they’ve already joined the rotation for my 5-month-old. The images here are simple enough to catch her attention and interesting enough to hold it. And she enjoys the rhythm of the lyrics in “May the Stars Drip Down” as we nod off to sleep.

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© 2014, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved.

Catch a good read with Kim Culbertson’s ‘Catch a Falling Star’

Catch a Falling StarCATCH A FALLING STAR,” by Kim Culbertson, Point, April 29, 2014, Hardcover, $17.99 (ages 12 and up)

Full disclosure: I’m not obsessed with Hollywood. Surprised? No, I didn’t think so. “Catch a Falling Star,” by Kim Culbertson, features a main character who feels pretty much the same way about Hollywood as I do. For this reason, I approached “Catch a Falling Star” with curiosity and trepidation.

Nothing ever happens in Little, CA. Which is just the way Carter Moon likes it. But when Hollywood arrives to film a movie starring former child star turned PR mess Adam Jakes, everything changes. Carter’s town becomes a giant glittery set and, much to her annoyance, everyone is starry-eyed for Adam. Carter seems to be the only girl not falling all over herself to get a glimpse of him. Which apparently makes her perfect for the secret offer of a lifetime: playing the role of Adam’s girlfriend while he’s in town, to improve his public image, in exchange for a hefty paycheck. Her family really needs the money and so Carters agrees. But it turns out Adam isn’t at all who she thought he was. As they grow closer, their relationship walks a blurry line between what’s real and what’s fake, and Carter must open her eyes to the scariest of unexplored worlds – her future. Can Carter figure out what she wants out of life AND get the guy? Or are there no Hollywood endings in real life?*

It turns out that my trepidation was unfounded in this case. “Catch a Falling Star” is actually a quick, easy and fun read. It’s easy to imagine yourself as Carter, or any of the surrounding characters for that matter, and get swept away in the not so glamorous life of a star.

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© 2014, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved.

Categories: YA review, young adult

Laura Fitzgerald’s ‘Under the Egg’ is a perfect summer read

Under_the_Egg-copyUNDER THE EGG,” by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, Dial, March 18, 2014, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 8-12)

In high school, my favorite class was AP art history. I loved it so much; I went on an art history tour my teacher offered a year after I graduated. In college, my minor was history. So when you mix art, art history, history and books together, well you might just say I’m in heaven. So you can understand my excitement when I came across “Under the Egg,” by Laura Fitzgerald — it fits into all of those categories and more.

When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.*

“Under the Egg” has a lot of things going for it — great pacing, an interesting storyline and characters you actually care about.

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© 2014, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved.

Categories: ages 8-12, middle reader

James Klise’s ‘Art of Secrets’ is probable fiction at its best

Art of Secrets copyTHE ART OF SECRETS,” by James Klise, Algonquin Young Readers, April 22, 2014, Hardcover, $16.95 (young adult)

I received an advanced copy of James Klise’s “The Art of Secrets” long before its recent release. It was added to my rather large pile of “to-read” books but didn’t stay there long. Something about the book’s synopsis and its cover stood out to me — I ended up reading most of it in one sitting.

When Saba Khan’s apartment burns in a mysterious fire, possibly a hate crime, her Chicago high school rallies around her. Her family moves rent-free into a luxury apartment, Saba’s Facebook page explodes, and she starts (secretly) dating a popular boy. Then a quirky piece of art donated to a school fund-raising effort for the Khans is revealed to be an unknown work by a famous artist, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Saba’s life turns upside down again. Should Saba’s family have all that money? Or should it go to the students who found the art? Or to the school? And just what caused that fire? Greed, jealousy, and suspicion create an increasingly tangled web as students and teachers alike debate who should get the money and begin to point fingers and make accusations. The true story of the fire that sets events in motion and what happens afterward gradually comes together in an innovative narrative made up of journal entries, interviews, articles, letters, text messages, and other documents.*

“The Art of Secrets” is at heart a mystery, and the way Klise sets the scene makes you feel as if this could happen anywhere. Fires, hate crimes, missing art found — all have made recent headlines. It’s probable fiction at its best.

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© 2014, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved.

Categories: YA review, young adult

Tracy Holczer’s ‘Secret Hum of a Daisy’ is smart, sophisticated

Secret Hum of a DaisyTHE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY,” by Tracy Holczer, Putnam, May 1, 2014, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 10 and up)

People like to think of children as immature, unable to tackle difficult topics. The truth is, however, children are faced with difficult things every day, and it’s our job as adults to help them process and move forward. “The Secret Hum of a Daisy,” by Tracy Holczer, explores how one girl copes with the loss of her mother and the life she’s always known.

Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. Just when she thinks she’s found it her mother says it’s time to move again. Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels and will always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

After her mother’s sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she’s never met. She can’t imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home.*

Told through Grace’s eyes “The Secret Hum of a Daisy” offers a child’s perspective on death. When we first meet Grace, she’s a very angry girl. She doesn’t want to live with her grandmother, she’s mad at her mom for leaving her and she’s mad at herself for being mad. Grace is sure that her mother is leaving her messages and is determined to solve their mystery, even if that means staying at her grandmother’s a little longer than planned.

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© 2014, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved.