Thursday, February 15, 2018

February Recommendations

WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING, by Mariana Ruiz Johnson, is a work of stunning picture book magic. Beginning with a close up of a little girl going to bed, the artist pulls back to depict a night full of wonder taking place around her while she sleeps. Johnson’s world is a fantastical blend of human and animal, city and nature, all of it vibrantly portrayed.

A WALK IN THE FOREST, by Maria Dek, follows a boy as he spends a day in “the best playground ever,” where he can shout, follow footprints, find treasure, and maybe meet a fox. As with the book talked about above, gorgeous art brings magic into the picture.

In spare, rhyming text, MY FAMILY FOUR FLOORS UP, written by Caroline Stutson and illustrated by Celia Krampien, describes the simple joys of a girl walking to the park with her dad and her "small brown pup.” Swinging and playing in the sandbox come to an end when a storm blows in, but there’s still the pleasure of “splash, splash, splashing in the tub” to look forward to, along with supper, a story, and bed. A sweet read-aloud for younger kids.

In A COUCH FOR LLAMA, by Leah Gilbert, the Lago family needs a new couch so they drive to the store to buy a replacement. Unfortunately, on the way home it flies off the top of their car and into a field. Where Llama finds it. At first, he’s not sure what to do with a couch but, by the time the Lagos have come back to claim their errant furniture, Llama has figured it out. The illustrations of Llama bouncing and twirling on the couch are not to be missed!

In I WANT TO BE IN A SCARY STORY, by Sean Taylor with illustrations by Jean Jullien, Little Monster finds he's afraid of all the spooky stuff, so he and the narrator try to put him in a funny story instead. This interactive picture book, with its brightly colored, cartoony illustrations, manages to be scary, funny, surprising, AND adorable!

LOVE, by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long. Well. This incredible partnership of gorgeous prose and stunning art somehow manages to be an homage to so many different kinds of love and ways there are to experience it, while also somehow feeling like a love poem to America. Not to be missed.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Tess of the Road

YA Review: Tess of the Road

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman (Random House, $18.99 hardcover, 544p., ages 13-up, 9781101931288, February 27, 2018)

When high-spirited Tess Dombegh is six, she becomes "immoderately obsessed" with "the mystical origins of babies." Tess's energetic attempts to discover the mechanics behind brother Ned's birth disappoint her very devout, very unhappy mama, who gives her a spanking "for the ages." Mama requires "the wicked punished," and years of spankings have let Tess know she is "singularly and spectacularly flawed." Tess realizes that she'll have to work much harder than her twin sister, Jeanne, to make it into heaven.

Ten years later, Tess is a lady-in-waiting at court, tamping down her more "esoteric interests." Tess (now with a much more thorough understanding of those "mystical origins of babies") has the "whiff of scandal" about her, so it's up to sweet, mild, virtuous Jeanne to marry and save the family. Since it was discovered that their father's first wife was a dragon in human form ("illegal five times over"), he was stripped of his license to practice law and the family has suffered much ill fortune. When the very eligible Lord Richard proposes to Jeanne, Tess dares to hope that "[a]fter two years at court, diligently securing her family's future," she might be set free. But Mama wants her sent to a convent and, after making a horrible, drunken mess of Jeanne's wedding, the abhorrent plan becomes Tess's only apparent option. 

That is, until Tess is gifted with a pair of fine leather boots that "[seem] to be a suggestion"--she runs off to a distant city to make a new start as a seamstress. On the way, she meets up with her old best friend, the "lizardy" quigutl (a subspecies of dragon) named Pathka, who is on a journey of his own. Pathka's quest is an old dream of Tess and the two agree to adventure together. Eager to be rid of her past, Tess disguises herself and desperately tries to keep the unbidden voice of her mother--accusatory, destructive and quoting vindictive saints--out of her head.

Tess of the Road, first in a duology, is a companion book to Seraphina and Shadow Scale, which introduced Tess's half-dragon half sister. Now, author Rachel Hartman returns to this same world to share the story of fully human Tess, whose life has been constrained by shame and the medieval expectations of others. Her growing awareness of the inequality and unfairness she has been subjected to, along with an unfolding sense of herself and her potential, will captivate any reader. Tess's ultimately unquenchable spirit, her struggles and adventures--be they at home or on the road--are a delight. --Lynn Beckerblogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Tess's spirit has been crushed by the weight of her mother's vindictive saints, but when Mama decides to send her to a convent, Tess runs off to make her own way.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

February's Book of the Month--All the Wind in the World

February’s Book of the Month is the lyrical, magical YA novel ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD, by Samantha Mabry.

Sarah Jac and James have a dream. Even though they work in dusty fields of the American Southwest, they want their own place someday, a ranch on the East Coast where they can work with horses and dip their toes in the ocean. Unfortunately, like so many others, they are stuck harvesting maguey, the plant used to make pulque, mescal or, for the very rich, tequila. It’s the only thing that grows now that more than half the continent is desert, with what water that’s left being “salty, unfiltered, and full of the dust-remains of dead fish and birds.” When Sarah Jac steps in to help a fellow worker and a foreman ends up dying, she and James flee to a strange ranch in Texas where they know they’ll find work. Cursed fields, an owner who hexes his workers, drugged food, and strange injuries are just some of the rumors muttered about The Real Marvelous.

Sarah Jac and James know how dangerous it can be to show weakness to others, so they harden their hearts and trust no one. Even though they’re a couple, they routinely run a scam where James takes up with another woman. But, at The Real Marvelous, when James manages to catch the eye of the owner’s daughter things begin to spiral out of control.

Long-listed for the National Book Award, ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD evokes a tough and gritty landscape where only a lucky few have the means to live a decent life. Author Mabry sets up a terrific conflict when she shoves the temptation to be one of them at James. I think he’s perhaps the most interesting YA love interest I’ve ever read, and Mabry plays it well—do we ever really know what’s going on in the heart and mind of James? Beautiful language, the element of magical realism, and a romance that’s being scoured by the dusty desert make this one heck of a page-turner.


Monday, January 15, 2018

January Recommendations


THE SECRET OF NIGHTINGALE WOOD, by Lucy Strange: When 12-year-old Henrietta (Henry) and her family move to the English countryside, it's supposed to be a fresh start. But, after the tragic death of Henry's older brother, Mama is kept sedated and Father escapes by taking a job abroad. When nasty Doctor Hardy takes baby Piglet away, Henry is determined to save her family, even when the adults question her own sanity. Strange's debut is a gorgeous coming-of-age tale, probably my favorite mid-grade of 2017. (MG)

THE WAR I FINALLY WON, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, is the follow up to Newbery Honor book The War that Saved My Life. Ada finally gets surgery to repair her club foot. But the war is still on and people keep dying. “Iron-faced” Lady Thornton offers Ada, Jamie, and Susan a cottage to live in after Susan’s house is bombed, but then the British army requisitions Lady Thornton’s home, and she moves in too. Along with her daughter, Maggie, and a Jewish girl from Germany. A German! Ada is a remarkable character and this second book is a worthy follow up to the first. (MG)

THORNHILL, a graphic novel by Pam Smy, tells two parallel stories. Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute in 1982. Ella, in 2017, is also lonely, having just moved into a new house, with no mother and a father who’s always working. When Ella glimpses a girl’s face in the window of run-down, abandoned Thornhill, she begins to investigate. Mary’s story is told in diary entries, Ella’s in atmospheric black and white art. Echoes of Jane Eyre lend creepiness and foreboding to this ghostly tale. (MG/YA)

Picture Books:

ON A MAGICAL DO-NOTHING DAY, by Beatrice Alemagna, is the story of how a kid, stuck in a cabin with his mom, his electronic game taken away, begins to explore. Outside, in the rain, he discovers a (real) word full of (real) treasures. You’ve got to see this art!

HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH A GHOST, by Rebecca Green, is your handy guide for creating “a lifelong (and beyond) friendship” if you’re lucky enough to be found by a ghost. Charming art illuminates detailed instructions that are funny and sweet.

AFTER THE FALL: HOW HUMPTY DUMPTY GOT BACK UP AGAIN, by Caldecott winner Dan Santat, is a powerful story about not giving in to your fears. It takes place after Humpty falls from his wall, after all the king’s men DO manage to put him (mostly) back together again. Humpty really wants to be up on that wall again, high above the city, but he’s afraid of heights. The ending will knock your socks off!


Monday, January 8, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Dear Girl

PB Review: Dear Girl

Dear Girl by Paris Rosenthal and Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illus. by Holly Hatam (HarperCollins, $17.99 hardcover, 40p., 9780062422507)

Beloved children's author Amy Kraus Rosenthal and her daughter, Paris, offer young readers plenty of uplifting, empowering advice in the form of a series of letters shared by a mom to her "Dear Girl." They tell readers to "[k]eep that arm raised! You have smart things to say!" and "[i]f your instinct is telling you to say no, say no, you know?" The message to young girls is clear: be bold and find your own way.

These timeless bits of wisdom encourage all kids to celebrate what makes them distinctive, from freckles to birthmarks to hair color. Girls are advised to accept a wide range of feelings, whether they need "a good cry" or a friend or a moment to dance. And, just as importantly, the letters promote taking time to experience the wonder of rainbows, crazy handshakes and coloring outside the lines.

Holly Hatam's art is lighthearted and energetic, with a variety of textures and techniques employed to demonstrate pointers that are both practical and full of whimsy. Amy Kraus Rosenthal died in 2017, but this collection is no weepy farewell. Adults may realize how bittersweet it is for the book to end "Most of all, dear girl who I love, know that you can always always always... turn to me." But readers of any age will want to return again and again because, as the authors advise, "Whenever you need an encouraging boost, remember you can turn to any page in this book." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.  

Discover: Letters from a mom to a young girl emphasize empowerment and self-acceptance.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

January's Book of the Month--Leave Me Alone!

January's Book of the Month is a 2017 Caldecott Honor Book, LEAVE ME ALONE! by Vera Brosgol.

The old woman of this tale lives in a small village, in a small house, but her very big family makes it just about impossible to sit quietly and knit. And knit she must. So she packs her things in a sack and leaves. She travels to a forest (which has curious bears). She climbs a mountain (which has hungry goats). And she even reaches the moon (inhabited by aliens who want to examine her with scanners that go “beep boop"). But don’t worry, she finds the perfect place to finish her knitting. Though it's not all that long before she thinks twice about her new situation.

This Russian-tinged story is an imaginative take on classic fairy tales, but the material is fresh and new in Brosgol’s hands. Much like Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s The Wolf The Duck & The Mouse, LEAVE ME ALONE! feels like it’s been created by someone who wants to bring her own spin on the classics to a modern audience. The color of the art is stunning, and Brosgol makes good use of the white of her pages, too. The old woman’s facial expressions are priceless. Did I mention it’s funny? And absurd. And . . . a winner!


Friday, December 22, 2017

Shelf Awareness--Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

MG Review: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison (Little, Brown, $16.99 hardcover, 96p., ages 8-12, 9780316475112)

Originally begun as a social media project during Black History Month, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History highlights courageous African American women who broke new ground by following their dreams--women who persevered, didn't listen to "no" and found success despite overwhelming odds. Bessie Coleman was denied entry to "every aviation school in America," so she moved to France and "became the first African American woman in the world to receive her pilot's license." Phillis Wheatley was "the first African American woman poet ever to be published." Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who attended "a private school in Massachusetts," became "the first African American woman physician in the country." And, at 80 years of age, Alma Woodsey Thomas had her colorful paintings exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "the first-ever solo exhibition of an African American woman artist at one of America's most important art museums."

The short, engaging biographies are accompanied by charming portraits. Each woman, depicted in clothing and costumes reflective of her time and vocation, seems to be looking within, mustering the strength necessary to persevere in the face of daunting odds. Backgrounds are minimal, rendered mostly in pale shades, which leaves the focus on the women and helps ground them in history. Debut author Vashti Harrison created Little Leaders with her younger self in mind, but she hopes readers of every background will find these stories compelling. Little Leaders will undoubtedly inspire a new generation of high achievers. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI. 

Discover: This collection of mini-biographies highlights 40 extraordinary African American women.