Reviews: Mars Evacuees

Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall (HarperCollins, February 2015)

Alice Dare is going to Mars.  She’s not entirely sure she wants to go (even if she does want to escape the Muckling Abbot School for Girls).  Mars isn’t exactly human friendly just yet.  It’s only partially safe for humans.  Only some of the air is breathable.  But the Emergency Earth Coalition has declared that Alice, along with a group of other kids, will be evacuated to Mars where they will live and be schooled by robot teachers and live in the relative safety of the planet away from the ongoing war.

Welcome to the future, where the aliens have invaded and are trying to take over.  The humans are putting up a good fight, but things are not going as well as they would like.  Alice’s mom is one of the star fighter pilots  when it comes to battling the invaders– and that’s the reason Alice is part of the group heading to the red planet.  All the other young teens and tweens that are a part of the trip come from different parts of the world–many from the families of the elite in the Coalition.    Now this select group of young people are all going to have to live together and learn together on a new planet. And as you might expect isn’t long before things go wrong.  The adults vanish.  Chaos reigns.  Alice and her friends are caught out on the Martian landscape trying to survive they might just have to find common ground with their long-time enemies in order to combat an even greater threat to the entire solar system.

Science fiction adventure that’s a wild ride of danger, daring and delight.  We have Alice with her rather dry sense of humor and observation, quirky Josephine who just can’t help taking things apart, reckless Carl who loves to show off and his younger brother Noel whose intuitive compassion for other creatures comes in handy.  Add to that an aggressively optimistic Goldfish teaching robot,  two sets of aliens and a lot of surprises and it’s just the sort of bang-up read I love.   I admit I’ve been waiting and waiting for this book since I learned it was being published in Britain last year.   And I was not disappointed when I finally got my hands on a copy.  Our characters are satisfyingly complex, and our main alien enemies are not so simple a “bad guy” to contemplate.  No bug-eyed monsters here.  The Morrors are another intricate race from out in the galaxy and their needs and goals are not simply broad villainy and destruction.  And really, can you name me a book that discusses alien reproduction that involves more than a male/female binary and yet manages to keep it firmly middle grade?

Sophia McDougall pulls off a great story from the first-person perspective of Alice.  The writing is strong and well balanced between description, explanation and dialog.  The book never gets bogged down in long histories or reflective passages, preferring to keep readers moving with the characters through their adventure.  It’s a great science fiction book to hand any reader who enjoys a good story–even if they haven’t read science fiction before.  Beautifully accessible for middle grade readers, upbeat and ultimately positive in its resolution–this is the kind of science fiction I’ve been hoping to see more of for a long time.

Can’t wait to see what the author has in store next!

Publisher: HarperCollins

Expected Publication Date: February 2015

ISBN13:       9781405268677

Recommended for grades 4 and up.

Flashback Fridays: And She Didn’t Get Married After All . . .

You’re a princess who’s going to marry a prince.  Until a dragon comes along and ruins everything you own and steals him away. Well you’re not going to let things stand, that’s for sure!

Do you remember:

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko (Annick Press, c1980)

Princess Elizabeth starts off this hilarious picture book as a traditional princess . . . at least for the first page.  She’s beautiful and has a wonderful castle and a Prince Ronald who’s going to marry her.  But author Robert Munsch isn’t about to leave her there.  On the second page a dragon burns down her castle, burns all her clothes and steals away Prince Ronald.  Elizabeth is left with nothing to wear but a paper bag.  However, this does not stop her from heading out on a quest to rescue Prince Ronald from the dragon.

One proactive princess meets one very vain dragon . . . and she cleverly defeats the dragon using his own vanity against him.  It’s brilliantly done.  And then Elizabeth goes to rescue Ronald who has just witnessed her victory.  But is Ronald grateful?  Hardly!  He’s outraged that she’d come to rescue him in a paper bag and covered in soot.  He demands she come back when she’s dressed “like a real princess.”  At which point Elizabeth decides Ronald may be pretty, but he isn’t much else. So she decides not to marry him after all.


Robert Munsch is a master of bizarre picture books.  Even if you love his work, I bet there’s at least one or two books that will leave you scratching your head.  Among his most popular works, however, is this one–The Paper Bag Princess.  A fractured feminist fairy tale that tends to make my read aloud groups giggle with glee.   As a kid, I was equally delighted with this story –especially with Elizabeth’s ingenuity.  But the kicker is the end–because Elizabeth doesn’t get mad about Ronald’s derision.  She doesn’t see her whole adventure as pointless!  Instead she declares him a bum and joyfully skips off into the sunset without him.  I’d like to think the ungrateful wretch Ronald winds up stuck in his dragon prison when the dragon awakens and finds him still there. But it doesn’t matter, because this is Elizabeth’s story–and she is victorious.

Michael Martchenko illustrates plenty of Munsch’s books–and for good reason!  The pair go together like peas and carrots.  Martchenko strikes just the right note with Elizabeth’s paper attire.  (the bent and sooty crown is a nice touch).

If you’ve never encountered Robert Munsch and his picture books, I highly suggest you go out and find them!  Plenty of fantastic tales: one about a vicious mud puddle that lurks on roofs and in shadows waiting to attack a little girl in her clean clothes (Mud Puddle), and one about a subway stop inside an apartment (Blackberry Subway Jam).  They like to find the absurd in things, but I tend to find that just about right.

The Paper Bag princess is the first book that rang home the message that happily ever afters didn’t have to come with marrying a prince–and that marrying somebody because they were pretty certainly wasn’t a good idea.  I’ve read about many excellent princesses since then, but Elizabeth remains a favorite, and a clever young woman I’d like to introduce every young reader to!

Upon surfing images on the web, this story has apparently caught the imaginations of many readers!  Great artistic interpretations, hilarious costumes and some really clever  projects. (Plus a number of tattoos, believe it or not!)

A Crocheted Paper Bag Princess from

Paper Bag Princess Cosplay on Deviant art (check it out here)

ShadesofEarth on deviant art had this interpretation! See it here.

So who’s your favorite princess? Comments Welcome!


A Tuesday Ten: Bunnies!

So . . . Bunnies.  Yep, those hoppy, cottontailed  critters that epitomize Spring.  Today’s ten is all about SF and Fantasy featuring rabbits, hares and all kinds of bunnies!



Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath, illustrated by Sophie Blackall  (Schwartz and Wade, 2012)

It’s up to Mr. and Mrs. Bunny to help a human girl when her father is kidnapped by nefarious foxes!  These anthropomorphic bunnies are hilarious in their affectations, but they do manage to get the job done.  This is the first book in an ongoing series, the second book; Lord and Lady Bunny –Almost Royalty! came out in 2014.


The Long Patrol by Brian Jacques (Firebird, c1997)

The Redwall series is full of anthropomorphic woodland creatures.  So hares show up quite often in nearly all the books of the series.  However I wanted to pick one where a hare is the main protagonist, thus this book.  The Long Patrol is the elite hare fighting force that gets called out when needed.  And right now they’re needed to defeat the Rapscallion Army headed for the abbey.  It’s up to a young hair named Tammo,  a lead sword in the Long Patrol, to help win the day in fierce battle!


Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman (Henry Holt and Co. ,2014)

One of my favorite reads with my son, this particular bunny is Isabel, a master of bunjitsu and  quite a wise young bunny overall.  This young reader chapter book is broken up into several short stories that convey clever bits of wisdom, along with a good dose of humor.


Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne (Dutton Juvenile, c1926)

Oh the beloved Rabbit from the 100-acre Wood!  The hyper-organized bunny who despairs of Pooh and his inability to focus or plan.  Poor  rabbit!  So often he sets out to teach his neighbors a lesson or demonstrate his own knowledge only to have things fall out badly for him.  We love him despite –and maybe because of –his flaws and foibles.


The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick Press, c2000)

Edward Tulane is not a real bunny, but a china rabbit who is loved and well cared for until one day he is lost.  His remarkable journey teaches this unusual rabbit how to love and lose and love again.


Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (Puffin, c1944)

Humans are coming once more to Rabbit Hill!  And the local animals can’t possibly be more stirred up by the news.  The rabbit family is particularly excited, but reserved as well.  Human folks aren’t always the wonderful thing that some beasts imagine them to be, and when the youngest rabbit goes missing one day . . . the family assumes the worst.  This heart-warming tale enchanted me when I was eight, I still love it now.


The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson (Doubleday, c1922)

What list is complete without the toy bunny who dreams of becoming REAL?  Our Velveteen rabbit is a new toy to the household when he first encounters the skin horse and learns about what it takes to become real.  But can one stuffed bunny really be loved and believed in enough to realize his dream?



Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe (Atheneum, c1979)

Two children find a tiny bunny abandoned at a movie theater and bring him home.  The little fella has black markings like a cape across his back and two pointy fangs.  Might this seemingly cute and fuzzy cottontail really be a bloodsucking vampire?  Well maybe he’s a veggie sucking vampire bunny–but he makes for one unforgettable story!


The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward, illustrated by Marjorie Hack (Houghton Mifflin, 1939)

A particular Easter favorite of mine.  Little Cottontail is told she’s no kind of candidate to be an Easter Bunny –but she’ll prove them all wrong.  Small, female and a mother of twenty-one bunnies she may be, but she’s still as fast, and wise and clever as an Easter Bunny needs to be!


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel (Barnes & Nobles, c1865)

This one belongs on the list as the anchor since it’s the rabbit’s fault that Alice ever winds up in such a mess.  Spying a peculiar creature clutching a pocket watch and muttering how he’s late, Alice will follow the white rabbit down the rabbit hole and into the wild and wacky whimsy of Wonderland.

Any rabbit books you can add? Comments Welcome!


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