Friday, January 15, 2021

January Recommendations


SAUCY, by Cynthia Kadohata, is the story of eleven-year-old Becca, a quadruplet with three brothers who are all very good at something. Becca doesn’t know what her own something is yet, until the day she finds a tiny, barely-alive pig in the bushes. But when the vet says the pig—now named Saucy—will someday weigh six hundred pounds, Becca’s mom has a thing or two to say about keeping her in their backyard. This is a well written, accessible story about a girl on a mission by a Newbery-winning author. (MG)

WINTERKEEP, by Kristin Cashore, takes up five years after Queen Bitterblue of Monsea took up her crown. When Bitterblue learns that merchants from nearby Winterkeep have been stealing from her, she’s determined to investigate. But she’s swept overboard before her ship arrives. Devoted advisor Giddon and half sister Hava are brokenhearted, as her rescuers let the world think she’s dead. Lovisa Cavenda, daughter of two prominent politicians in Winterkeep, begins to dig into the mystery of the missing Queen. This is a wonderful addition to the Graceling series, full of intrigue and romance. (YA)

Picture Books:

Please do not miss IF YOU COME TO EARTH, by two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall! This lovely ode to our planet (written in the form of a letter to a potential visitor from outer space) talks about all the things we know—and a few that we don’t—about the “greeny-blue” world we all share. From different kinds of homes and families to the different kinds of stories we tell, Blackall has written a wondrous, inclusive picture book about life on our beautiful planet, illustrating it with her brilliant Chinese ink and watercolor art.

Another feast for the eyes is driven by mixed media art. THE BEAR AND THE MOON, written by Matthew Burgess and illustrated by Cátia Chien, tells a heartfelt story of a friend found and lost and found again. When a red balloon floats into the bear’s life, he’s delighted by its company. But, sadly, a little too much squishing and hugging turns his balloon into a “red tatter dangling on [a] silver string.” Luckily, the moon can help.

In TEN BEAUTIFUL THINGS, written by Molly Beth Griffin, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga, when Lily needs to move to Iowa to live with her grandmother, all she sees is an X marked “on an empty patch of land.” But Gram suggests that they find “ten beautiful things” as they drive, and Lily opens her eyes to the beauty around her. The digital illustrations are colorful and expressive.

Another book about moving, BIRDSONG, by Julie Flett, features a young girl named Katherena who must leave her “little home in the city by the sea.” She knows she’ll miss her “friends and cousins and aunties and uncles,” as well as her “bedroom window and the tree outside.” But as spring turns to summer turns to fall and winter, Katherena grows a friendship with the older woman next door, who loves nature and “making things,” just like Katherena does. The gorgeous pastel, pencil, and digital illustrations set the mood perfectly.


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

January's Book of the Month--The Shortest Day

Happy New Year!!! We’re on to 2021 and I hope it treats you well. Our first Book of the Month this year is THE SHORTEST DAY, by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, I hope you will soon—it’s the kind of book that can be read every year, over and over again.

Cooper’s text focuses on the winter solstice: “So the shortest day came,/ and the year died,/ and everywhere down the centuries/ of the snow-white world/Came people singing, dancing,/To drive the dark away.”

Sounds perfect for our times—except for the singing and please wear a mask :—)

Echoing “through all the frosty ages,” THE SHORTEST DAY describes a ritual of candle-lighting, fire-burning, and celebrating the new year’s sunshine as it blazes awake. There’s caroling, feasting, the giving of thanks, the love of friends, and the hope for peace.

Ellis’s beautiful gouache illustrations emphasize the enduring spirit of this tale, as, time and again, “promise wakens the sleeping land.”

Welcome Yule!


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Shelf Awareness--These Violent Delights

YA Review: These Violent Delights

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 464p., ages 13-up, 9781534457690)

Chloe Gong's debut novel, a vibrant, bloodcurdling retelling of Romeo and Juliet, is set in an alternate 1920s Shanghai divided for generations by the rival White Flowers and Scarlet gangs. Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov are ex-lovers, bitter enemies and heirs to the crime syndicates. When a madness causes members of both gangs to begin dying en masse, the pair find themselves secretly keeping company once again.

Juliette, recently returned from a four-year exile in New York, is eager to take her place as next in line to lead the Scarlet Gang. She needs to be a nefarious, "callous killer" at all times, but her cousin finds "every opportunity to upstage her." At the same time, her first love, Roma, is also trying to establish his right to be his father's successor. But when Scarlets, White Flowers and the innocent people of Shanghai all begin to "gouge their own throats out," Juliette and Roma grudgingly join forces and defy deeply entrenched gang tradition to unearth what's behind the madness. Tensions between political factions escalate and the two must reckon with each other, their families and new forces--perhaps even "the devil himself"--encroaching on their traditional territories and power.

Gong's lushly worded, thrilling historical fantasy (terrific for fans of Libba Bray's Diviners series) is a fresh take on one of Shakespeare's most famous plays. Her dynamic city throbs with life and lascivious behavior as downtrodden workers share space with decadent overlords. The gripping stakes, diverse and compelling characters and all-consuming mystery make this a particularly rich and rewarding debut. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: A mysterious madness--and a monster--cause the people of Shanghai to rip out their own throats in this YA Romeo and Juliet retelling set in the 1920s.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Shelf Awareness--I Am the Wind

PB Review: I Am the Wind

I Am the Wind by Michael Karg, illus. by Sophie Diao (Page Street Kids, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781624149221)

Playful, evocative text and art define this creative nonfiction picture book, an author and illustrator debut, which follows the whooshing, whirling and whispering wind as it visits 11 different animals--plus a human child--in various habitats around the world.

This story begins and ends in a city where, despite the "cold and dusky damp," a frisky breeze delights one young girl as it stirs autumn leaves. The wind moves on to "float in a barred owl's flight" above snowy fields, "scale the highest peaks" with a wolverine, race "like a river" with wolves and settle with "musk ox in massive coats... on a starry polar night." It electrifies "the heavens for a festive reindeer picnic," whistles through a "snow leopard ledge" and "serenade[s] some geese" over Everest. On and on it goes, all the while proudly proclaiming, "I AM THE WIND."

Michael Karg's expressive text makes excellent use of alliteration and repetition, and his personification of the wind serves as a perfect vehicle to whisk readers away to far-flung regions of the world. Sophie Diao's digital illustrations evoke the near constant motion of the journey, employing a variety of dynamic viewpoints to bring both wind and animals to boisterous life. Back matter includes a map, a short explanation of the way wind interacts with wildlife and an additional fact or two for each animal featured in the book. I Am the Wind serves as an age-appropriate introduction and global ode to this restless force of nature, one always ready "to lift again, and sing and swirl and soar." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: An exuberant wind proudly escorts readers on a journey to visit animals around the globe.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

December's Recommendations


TROWBRIDGE ROAD, by Marcella Pixley immediately suffuses readers in the magic of a summer afternoon in 1983, as June Bug, hungry and dealing with her mentally ill, germaphobic mother, meets Ziggy, whose own mother has unceremoniously dropped him off to stay with his Nana Jean. June Bug and Ziggy’s budding friendship allows them to deal with some heavy issues, while love in all its imperfections is explored and celebrated. This luminous, literary novel was recently longlisted for the National Book Award. (MG)

In THE WAY PAST WINTER, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, legend says that Eldbjorn is a bear whose den lies in the “heart-center” of Eldbjorn Forest,” a bear who is the reason the forest stays alive, a bear who rages against the humans who move in with their “glinting axes.” Mia loves this story, and the forest, too. But when winter lasts for five years, and a stranger spirits away Mila’s brother Oskar, Mila knows she will do whatever it takes to get Oskar back. This folklore-tinged magical adventure is the perfect choice for reading inside on an icy winter’s day. (MG)

Picture Books:

In GNU AND SHREW, written by Danny Schnitzlein and illustrated by Anca Sandu, the title animals meet at a riverbank. While Gnu is content to stay safely ashore, dreaming up ideas that will someday allow him to see what lies across the river, Shrew uses those ideas to build a boat so he can explore for himself. The pencil illustrations, colored digitally, are expressive and endearing.

A POLAR BEAR IN THE SNOW, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Shawn Harris, is a deceptively simple, beautifully illustrated picture book for ages 0 to 4. The text engages young readers by asking questions about where the polar bear is going, and the cut paper and ink art beautifully describes his progress. It’s rather perfect, really.

In EVELYN DEL REY IS MOVING AWAY, written by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez, the title character is the “numéro uno best friend” of narrator Daniela. The two girls live across the street from each other, in apartments that are “mostly the same,” just like them. This touching story of a close friendship turning long distance is chock full of character and creative fun. Digital illustrations are full of color, interesting textures, and are appealingly designed.

THE PAPER BOAT: A REFUGEE STORY, a wordless picture book by Thao Lam, interweaves two threads of Lam’s own journey from Vietnam to Canada as a very young child. Her parents must flee the Vietcong, and family legend says that a trail of ants helped her mother find her way. Designed in panels like a graphic novel, this is sophisticated fare, with creative illustrations that leave readers plenty to consider.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

December's Book of the Month--Ways to Make Sunshine

December’s Book Talk book is the uplifting middle grade novel, WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE, by the Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Renée Watson. This story stars a plucky, force-of-nature heroine named Ryan Hart, a fourth grader who rarely lets anything get her down for long. Ryan means “king,” and her mother wants her to “feel powerful”--like a leader--every time she hears it.

Even though most people assume it's a boy’s name, Ryan knows that it’s her name and she tries to live up to it. But life can be so complicated. Her parents say the family must move to a smaller, more affordable house in a new neighborhood, where they will "have to make some adjustments." And fourth grade is tough, no matter how you look at it. Luckily, having a loving family in your corner, a creative mind, and a boatload of confidence all help. Throw in a little mystery surrounding some hairpins found in Ryan’s new closet and the fourth grade talent show and you get this well-crafted young middle grade that kids are sure to gobble up. It's the first in a series.


Monday, November 23, 2020

Shelf Awareness--Underground: Subway Systems Around the World

PB Review: Underground: Subway Systems Around the World

Underground: Subway Systems Around the World by Uijung Kim (Cicada Books, 44p., ages 4-8, 9781908714831)

Through this brightly colored, information-packed picture book, readers can explore 10 of the world's busiest subway systems.

Uijing Kim devotes two double-page spreads to each country's distinct system. The first spread shows a train's exterior and presents six or seven facts, such as the number of stations or the cumulative length of the tracks in the country. There's also a list with pictures of cultural symbols (such as the London Eye or a kangaroo) for readers to find (on the next page). The page turn reveals the inside of the subway car, packed with riders and the symbols hidden throughout. The blocky, highly stylized art is especially appealing, and a glossary at the end briefly explains the seek-and-find objects. Underground provides an entertaining, highly visual experience that delivers a global context to subway ridership. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.