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.

Eric Hill’s Spot the Dog resonates with babies

2014-05-05 10.08.01 copy“WHERE’S SPOT?” by Eric Hill, Putnam Juvenile, $12.99 (ages baby-preschool)

Four years ago, I was working as the in-house book critic for a newspaper. It was an awesome job — I got paid to read and interview authors! I also would occasionally receive corresponding merchandise. Such was the case with Eric Hill’s “Where’s Spot?” which was celebrating its 30th anniversary.

wheres_spot__fullFast forward four years and I now have a child of my own. Though she’s only just edging up on 3 months, my daughter has taken a liking to loveable Spot in both book and plush form.

In “Where’s Spot?” Sally is searching for Spot, and children can help her look for him by lifting the flaps to see where the puppy is hiding. Bright illustrations and interactive flaps make this classic a smart choice for babies up to preschool and beyond.

The corresponding plush dog brings this playful puppy to life. Beanbags in his feet give him structure but aren’t too heavy for newborns just figuring out their hands.

© 2014, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved.

Categories: ages 0-3, picture books

Lori Nichols’ ‘Maple’ celebrates nature

April 29, 2014 No comments

MapleMAPLE,” by Lori Nichols, Nancy Paulsen Books, Feb. 20, 2014, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 3-5)

When Maple is tiny, her parents plant a maple tree in her honor. She and her tree grow up together, and even though a tree doesn’t always make an ideal playmate, it doesn’t mind when Maple is in the mood to be loud — which is often. Then Maple becomes a big sister, and finds that babies have their loud days, too. Fortunately, Maple and her beloved tree know just what the baby needs.*

“Maple” is one of those sweet picture books you know you’ll love from the moment you pick it up. Lori Nichols sets the perfect tone with simple text and lovely illustrations that truly capture the title character’s personality. I love Maple’s relationship with her tree. It’s refreshing to see a young child loving nature at that level — I hope my own daughter will feel the same way as she discovers the world around her.

*Synopsis provided by Nancy Paulsen Books

Editor’s note: The above post differs from Cracking the Cover’s regular review format. Learn more.

© 2014, Cracking the Cover. All rights reserved.