Wednesday, November 14, 2018

November Book Picks


LOUISIANA’S WAY HOME, by Kate DiCamillo, is a gem, whether or not you’ve read the previous RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE. This time, Louisiana Elefante narrates her own story, which begins when Granny pulls her out of bed at 3am. They hit the road, leaving behind Louisiana’s pet cat Archie, along with her best two friends, Raymie Clarke and Beverly Tapinski. There is also Buddy, the one-eyed dog. Louisiana begins to believe that Granny does not have her best interests in mind… (MG)

In THE EXTREMELY INCONVENIENT ADVENTURES OF BRONTE METTLESTONE, by Jaclyn Moriarty, the title character has been raised by Aunt Isabelle ever since she was a baby. Her parents left her in Aunt Isabelle’s lobby and went off to have adventures. So when Bronte is ten years old, and she's notified that they've been killed by pirates, she’s not overcome with sadness. But her parents have left an unbreakable will (bordered by fairy cross-stitch), which sends her on a dangerous journey to deliver very specific gifts in very specific ways to her ten other aunts. Moriarty’s smart, inventive fantasies are always chock-full of quirky characters, whether human, water sprite, or evil Whispering Dark Mage. (MG)

Jarrett Krosoczka, author/illustrator of picture books--such as Baghead--and graphic novels for young children, turns to a young adult project with HEY KIDDO, which describes how his life has been shaped by his mother’s addiction. When her bad decisions make life too dangerous for three-year-old Jarrett, the boy is taken in by his grandfather and grandmother, "two incredible parents" who "just happened to be a generation removed.” Krosoczka’s powerful memoir shows how art helps him to make sense of his world, including his unconventional upbringing. (YA)

Picture Books:

In BLUE, Laura Vaccaro Seeger follows up her Newbery Honor Book, GREEN, with the story of a boy and a puppy who grow up/old together. A tender look at how life goes on. The text consists of variations on the word “blue,” and there are subtle die-cuts that add interesting continuity throughout.

HOW TO KNIT A MONSTER, by Annemarie van Haeringen, tells of Greta the goat, who is a very, very good knitter. When she doesn’t pay attention to her work, a wolf jumps off her needles! Things escalate until Greta manages to make things right. An award-winner in Holland, where it was first published.

And, finally, GREEN PANTS, by Kenneth Kraegel, features young Jameson, who only ever wears green pants. Because when he wears them he can do anything. But when he’s asked to be in his cousin's wedding party, it’s with the understanding that he must wear a (black) tuxedo. Will Jameson decide to be in the wedding without his green pants?


Friday, November 9, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Muse of Nightmares

YA Review: Muse of Nightmares

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor (Little, Brown, $19.99 hardcover, 528p., ages 13-up, 9780316341714)

In Strange the Dreamer, the first book in Laini Taylor's spellbinding duology, orphan Lazlo Strange joined a delegation tasked with saving the city of Weep from the shadow of a towering citadel, once home to tyrannical blue-skinned gods who raped, tortured and murdered Weep's citizens. Lazlo fell in love with Sarai, one of five surviving "godspawn" living secretly in the citadel since the day an enslaved human broke free and led a deadly revolt. As the citadel finally toppled, Lazlo discovered he has a powerful, magical gift and must be godspawn; in the same moment, Sarai, who spent her life entering dreams, plunged to her death.

Now, in Muse of Nightmares, Sarai is a ghost. She's been saved from "the tide of evanescence" by her sister Minya, who has the power to bind souls. Minya makes it clear that she will bind Sarai if Lazlo doesn't help her wreak revenge on the murderous humans. The godspawn subdue the girl and try to figure out how to "unwork Minya's hate" while also attempting to locate the thousands of other godspawn "who'd vanished before" and make peace with the humans below. Then, a new terror arrives. Nova is a wrathful blue "soldier-wizard" from the same world as the slain gods, who also has a powerful gift. She's spent hundreds of years searching for her sister, Kora--stolen away by the very gods who terrorized Weep--and won't be appeased until Kora is found.

Gods and humans collide as master fantasist Taylor employs multiple points of view to explore the wonder of magic and the madness of vengeance. She seems to effortlessly conjure whole worlds for her readers' delight. The elegant prose is at once lofty and lusty, tender and brutal, as Taylor weaves her deeply tangled tale of revenge and redemption. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Lovers Sarai and Lazlo are nearly swept away by the fallout from a war between gods and the humans they preyed upon.

Monday, November 5, 2018

November's Book of the Month--You Bring the Distant Near

November’s Book of the Month is YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR, by Mitali Perkins.

This story presents three generations of Das women, who struggle to balance multiple cultural identities.

We begin with the voices of Sonia and Tara Das, as they move with their mother from London, England, to Flushing, Queens, USA (they’re Bengalis who have also lived in Ghana). They join their father, who has gone ahead to find work. Flushing isn’t to Mrs. Das’s liking—too many people of color make her feel unsafe. Her daughters, however, quickly adapt. Budding actress Tara goes from channeling Twiggy to mastering Marcia Brady, while high-achieving, feminist Sonia finds peace by documenting her life in notebooks. Both girls navigate the ups and downs of the American dream, Das family-style.

The saga is later taken up by their daughters, Shanti and Annu, who are equally compelling characters exploring their own identities and futures. And, although the story mostly belongs to its various teenage narrators, Mrs. Das functions throughout as something of a backbone. Like the wonderfully complex, evolving human being that she is, her journey, possibly the most difficult of all, ultimately feels the most triumphant. YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR is the journey of strong, unique women who experience life on their own terms.


Friday, October 26, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Got to Get to Bear's!

PB Review: Got to Get to Bear's!

Got to Get to Bear's! by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9780544948822, October 30, 2018)

When Izzy, a chipmunk who lives in a cozy-looking home (complete with furniture, books and a tiny guitar), gets a note from Bear asking her to "[p]lease come at once!" she doesn't consider refusing. Izzy knows the summons must be important, because "Bear never ask[s] for anything." Even though the sky looks ominous, Izzy puts on her striped scarf, grabs a lantern and hurries out, just as the "flakes [begin] to flutter down." The snow continues to fall, piling "deeper and deeper and deeper" until, before long, Izzy finds herself stalled, up to her chest in snow.

Scritch (a squirrel in a green hoodie) comes by and asks Izzy where she's headed. On hearing that Bear wants to see the chipmunk right away, Scritch agrees that "if Bear asks you, you gotta go." The helpful squirrel invites Izzy to hop on board, exclaiming "we'll be there in a jiff!" The duo make great progress using the "treetop road" until the branches become too slippery with snow. Bingle the duck (sporting a knitted winter cap with earflaps and a pom pom) appears just in time, and insists that Izzy and Scritch pile on, because "[y]ou don't say 'no' to Bear!" Bingle flies them through the darkening "skyway" as the "wind [grows] wild, and snow [stings] their faces like tiny bees." Visibility decreases and the three come to a "sudden stop" on a snow-covered roof, and then the group is back to walking. They toil along in snow that's "too deep to waddle," until Snaffie (a raccoon in a sweater) catches up with them. Izzy, Scritch and Bingle ride the rest of the way on Snaffie's back, through the dark and increasingly treacherous storm. By the time Bear opens her door, only Izzy is visible above the snow line. But their teamwork has paid off, because Izzy, Scritch, Bingle and Snaffie are all present to share in the great surprise that awaits them in "the warmth of [Bear's] den."

Brian Lies (Bats at the Beach; The Rough Patch) illustrates his wintertime adventure in meticulous detail. His snow scenes, such as the one where Bingle flies through the darkening sky, perfectly convey the claustrophobic nature of a fierce winter storm. Fur and feathers are rendered with exquisite care, as are textures on the distinguishing pieces of cold-weather clothing each animal wears. The characters all have their own distinct personalities, but each is on board with the shared mission of persevering together toward their common goal: getting Izzy to Bear's house. Friendship, teamwork and an overall commitment to helpfulness give this story its warmhearted appeal. Subtle foreshadowing of the surprise will provide satisfaction during subsequent readings of this beautifully realized picture book, imbued with the gratifying sentiment that "[n]o matter how steep or tough the climb, a friend is worth it, every time!" --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: When Bear asks Izzy to come over "at once," Izzy and her three friends, Scritch, Bingle and Snaffie, brave a dark and stormy night to get there.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Africville

PB Review: Africville

Africville by Shauntay Grant, illus. by Eva Campbell (Groundwood Books, $18.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9781773060439)

A modern girl daydreams of how life used to be in the once-thriving black community of Africville in Shauntay Grant (Up Home) and Eva Campbell's picture book collaboration.

Located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at "the end of the ocean,/ where waves come to rest/ and hug the harbor stones," Africville is a place, the child imagines, where "the houses lay out like a rainbow" and "home/ smells like/ sweet apple pie/ and blueberry duff." With berry picking "up over the hill," playing football at "the Caterpillar Tree," rafting "at Tibby's pond" and bonfires "burning red/ like the going-down sun," readers will savor the sweet vision of what life in Africville might have been like.

But, as the backmatter reveals, even though Africville was a "vibrant, self-sustaining community," tax-paying residents had to deal with all kinds of adversity. They lived without such basic services as "running water, sewers and paved roads" and their town became home to "all kinds of unpleasant facilities," including a slaughterhouse and a city dump. Africville was demolished in the 1960s and then, after plenty of opposition, was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 2002. Former residents later received an official apology from the City of Halifax, and "a replica of the community's church was built on its original site, and... now operates as a museum."

Evocative art, deftly rendered in oil and pastel on canvas, brings to life the heartfelt blending of past and present that coexists in this loving tribute to the Africville community. The final uplifting spreads depict an annual reunion festival now held at the town's original site. Though Africville is gone, young readers may find comfort in the book's final words: "memories turn to dreams, and dreams turn to hope, and hope never ends." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: A young girl daydreams about the once-thriving community of Africville, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Monday, October 15, 2018

October Book Picks


MERCI SUAREZ CHANGES GEARS, by Meg Medina, is one of my favorite kids’ novels this year. It’s a funny, wise, realistic mid-grade story about plucky sixth-grader Merci, who navigates the changes in her life with varying degrees of grace: an escalating rivalry with Edna Santos, the most popular girl in her class, a beloved abuelo who’s becoming increasingly confused, and —gross—puberty. Meg Medina delivers yet again. (MG)

Jeanne Birdsall concludes her fabulous Penderwicks series with THE PENDERWICKS AT LAST. The zany Penderwick family all return to beloved Arundel, the grand estate owned by Honorary Penderwick Jeffery’s insufferable mother, the dreaded Mrs. Tifton. Eleven-year-old Lydia’s sister, Rosalind, is getting married to longtime boyfriend, Tommy Geiger, and Lydia dances her way through plenty of charming hijinks, not all of which are her fault. (MG)

Easy Reader:

BABY MONKEY, PRIVATE EYE, by Brian Selznick and David Serlin, is a meticulously illustrated, beautifully produced, pitch-perfect book for emerging readers. Baby Monkey investigates The Case of the Missing Jewels, The Case of the Missing Pizza, The Case of the Missing (clown) Nose, The Case of the Missing Spaceship, and one more adorable Last Case. The short, repetitive text is lovingly drawn in Selznick’s singular style, and deeply enriched by all sorts of literary, cinematic, historical, etc. references, all of which are listed in the Key to Baby Monkey’s Office at the end—and none of which needs to be understood for readers to enjoy this book. Wow!

Picture Books:

A PARADE OF ELEPHANTS, by Kevin Henkes, is practically perfect in every way. A short, lyrical text is expertly brought to life by the simply-designed, candy-colored elephants trundling about. There’s marching and counting, yawning and stretching, and a dose of wonder at the end. Another wow!

In A BIG MOONCAKE FOR LITTLE STAR, by Grace Lin, Little Star hopes her mother won’t notice as she nibbles her way through the sweet and tasty Big Mooncake that they baked together. The illustrations wonderfully illuminate this tender, original story based on the author’s favorite Asian holiday, The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Identical endpapers reinforce the satisfying full-circle structure.

Board Book:

HERE, GEORGE! by Sandra Boynton, illustrated by George Booth, is a little gem of a book about the secret life of a dog. There’s not a wasted word in the text, not a wasted line in the art. Perfecto! (I do wish it was a regular picture book though—the publisher says it’s for one to five year olds, but I think it makes more sense to give it to two to five year olds, and they don’t necessarily eat their books anymore.)


Friday, October 5, 2018

Shelf Awareness--What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?

PB Review: What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan by Chris Barton, illus. by Ekua Holmes (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, $17.99 hardcover, 48p., ages 4-9, 9781481465618)

As a child growing up in Texas, Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) was proud of her "big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice." It was a voice that "made a difference"--that "caused folks to sit right up, stand up straight, and take notice."

Inspired by a lawyer visiting her high school, Barbara studied "long and hard" to earn her law degree. But being a lawyer meant using "a typewriter and pen a lot more than she did her voice," so Barbara began speaking out for political change. Wanting "more justice and more equality," she ran for office and, on her third try, was elected state senator in Texas, where she dedicated herself to ensuring the political system was used to improve people's lives. In 1972, Barbara was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. During the Watergate affair, she gave a stirring, televised speech to remind the nation that the Constitution applies to everyone, even the president of the United States. She was a rising star, "battling" to end discrimination, until her own fight with multiple sclerosis forced her to leave Washington. Back in Texas, she taught college, "[using] her voice to instruct and implore and inspire."

Chris Barton's (Dazzle Ships) strong, engaging text is well-matched by the stunning hues and bold textures of Ekua Holmes's (Out of Wonder) mixed-media illustrations. Differing type sizes and colors, along with a generous trim size and strategic use of blank space, make the text easily readable and each illustration stand out. Back matter includes an author's note and timeline, as well as recommendations of additional resources for interested readers. Many of Barbara's former students, Barton's text states, still hear "echoes of her words as they try to make life better for all of us." They, like she did, seek "Equality. Justice. Trust." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Throughout her life, the late Texas state senator, U.S. Congresswoman and college professor Barbara Jordan used her strong voice to advocate for equality and justice.