The Front Porch prints book reviews by local librarians, rotating to a different library each month. January reviews are by Monica Washenberger, Thane Benson and Liesel Schmidt from the Park Hill branch library. Librarians interested in writing book reviews can email Madeline@FrontPorchStapleton.com.
Children’s Graphic Novel
The Sleepwalkers by Viviane Schwarz
Nothing is scarier than a nightmare, especially those that return night after night. Enter a rag-tag group known as The Sleepwalkers. As three grow older, they summon their replacements one-by-one. The first summoned sleepwalker is Bonifacius, a bear with trouble facing his own fears. With his help, they bring in a nib-headed bird named Sophia and last, a precocious sock monkey named Amali. These three will learn their trade and spend their nights in the Safe House awaiting letters, helping children to defeat ravenous mice, hairy monsters, and the dreaded dream of falling; additionally, giving them the tools to defeat their own terrors in the future. This fast-paced graphic novel would be best for readers ages 7–11, but delight children and adults alike. It contains whimsical line work with bold digital colors and encourages children to face their fears, while reminding them that it is also okay to ask for help.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Susannah Cahalan was living the life of a fast-paced 20-something New York Post journalist when she developed symptoms so subtle they were written off as stress. As the lights and colors of Times Square grew unbearably bright and she struggled to keep her emotions under control, Susannah’s friends and family grew concerned. While doctors initially suspected the stress of work, possibly a propensity for wine, or maybe schizophrenia, her symptoms grew including paranoia and an uncharacteristic, burning anger. A seizure sparked a hospital stay. Once hospitalized, she seemed not only to be losing chunks of time but also slowly losing herself. This story will strike those who enjoy medical dramas and memoirs, as told in short chapters with vivid language as Susannah pieces together her lost month through unreliable memories, hospital video, doctors and her own family’s diaries.
Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Coralie has lived in the Museum of Extraordinary Things for as long as she can remember, and always under her father’s watchful eye. With eccentric rules and routines, including those guiding both her dress and her life, Coralie yearns for adventure. On one nightly swim she spies a mysterious man through the trees and cannot seem to get him out of her mind. Enter Eddie. Having renounced his Orthodox faith he makes his living photographing gruesome news stories and maintaining a solitary life. When a fire takes the lives of several girls, the mysterious disappearance of one brings Eddie and Coralie together in ways they never thought possible. While slow at times, this dark and enchanting tale spins stories of unlikely heroes, none of which are who they seem. This historical and magical tale is littered with twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Children’s Picture Book
My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik
In a dark white winter, two recent picture books are lit up by running red foxes. The first, My Father’s Arms Are a Boat, written by Stein Erik Lunde and illustrated by Oyvind Torseter, is a rich, sweet story of grief and caring. It is the story of a young boy, safe in his father’s arms, noticing the lives of the animals outside his window, and wondering if his mother will ever wake up.
Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam
In Fox’s Garden, by Princesse Camcam, angry adults chase a fox from a warm village. A young boy follows the fox and gives it, and its young, a gift of food. The foxes return the gift in a whimsical surprise. The entire story is told without words, through Princesse Camcam’s intricate cut paper illustrations.
Both these books address complicated subjects with few or no words and gorgeous illustrations. They are both stories of warmth in the winter.
Young Adult Fiction
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett leaves behind the usual fantasy trappings that have been the hallmark of his prolific body of work to venture into something new with Dodger. In this work of historical fiction set in streets (and sewers) of London in the early 1800s, fictional liberties are taken but there are no dwarves or dragons to be found anywhere. The author’s signature sense of humor remains, as does his gift for witty dialog and a well-paced narrative.
Dodger is a tosher (a scavenger for lost coins and other treasures in London’s sewers). When he steps in to defend a young lady, Dodger finds himself embroiled in a full-blown political conspiracy. What follows is a Victorian romp, filled with action, adventure, men dressing up like women, women dressing up like men, and a dog named after one of the most distasteful characters in the Bible. A tad long-winded at times, Dodger is still an enjoyable ride well worth a tuppence.