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The Forget Me Not Summer by Leila Howland

The Forget-Me-Not Summer by Leila Howland (InfoSoup)

Marigold, Zinnie and Lily are sisters. They live busy lives in California where Marigold is hoping to have a real kiss for the first time, not one done on set. Zinnie is trying to get her curly wild hair under control and hopes to be able to spend time with Marigold and her friends. Lily is five and wants nothing more than to stay home with her nanny and eat great food. But then their parents get jobs out of town and the sisters are sent to spend the summer with an aunt they have never met across the country in Cape Cod. The three girls suddenly have to share a room with one another, live without a TV, not have cell phone service, and even the internet access is outdated and slow. Marigold is furious at losing a chance to be in a major film and having to spend time with her little sisters. Zinnie finds herself talking to trees for advice and watching for surprises created by special brownies. Lily longs for the food she had at home but also enjoys a good clambake too. Just as things seem to be starting to turn around, parts of California life appear and set everything askew again. These three sisters will have to figure out how to be themselves even when kisses, peer pressure and fame appear.

This book will inevitably be compared to the Penderwicks and rightly so. The sisters have that same spunk about them and the setting offers that timelessness that works so well. Though in this book, the girls chafe against the loss of TV and Internet, struggling to get along with one another. These sisters have fights, that are so well done that you understand both sides of the problem and can take the side of either one. The two older girls in particular both are human and far from perfect. Lily may look angelic but she too can throw tantrums and have horrible days, especially if baths are not negotiated properly.

It is that human quality that makes this book work so very well. The sisters are realistically portrayed and their relationships develop and change right in front of the reader in a way that makes sense. The unknown aunt turns out to be a very special person, kind and caring and someone who is a leader in the Cape Cod community. It’s a treat to see such a great female adult portrayed in a children’s book. One who is strong, enjoys children and gives them plenty of space to learn and grow without being overly odd or incompetent in any way.

A great summer read for fans of The Penderwicks, I’m hoping for another book featuring these girls. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Bostone Weatherford

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer:The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Bostone Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (InfoSoup)

This biographical picture book is written in verse, singing the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a woman who was at the heart of the civil rights movement. The book begins with Hamer’s childhood in Mississippi as the youngest of twenty children in a sharecropper family. She grew up working in the cotton fields, seeing it for the slavery that it was. School was only held for four months a year, because the children needed to work in the fields in order for their family to survive. Even in the early part of the 1900s, Hamer was taught that black was beautiful and that she was special. She stayed in the south rather than moving north like her siblings, taking care of her mother and getting married. The in the 1960s, voter registration became an issue and Hamer found herself standing up to the system despite the violence and the threats. She joined the movement for voter rights and starting to use her singing voice to bring people together. Soon she was seen as a leader in the movement, running for office, and speaking out for those who did not have a voice. She is an inspiration for today’s Black Lives Matter movement and youth activism in general.

Weatherford’s writing is gorgeous and the verse she uses to tell Hamer’s story is very effective. She is able to directly talk about racism and violence in her poems, never dancing away from the toughest of subjects. Each poem reads as a call to action, a reason to stand up and make sure civil rights are not being abridged. Even the poem where Hamer is beaten by police and other prisoners rings with strength and power. This is a biography of a woman who was immensely determined and strong. She stood up to the system, risked her own life for change, and used her own skills for the sake of the cause.

Alongside the powerful poetry are equally impressive illustrations. The collage art by Holmes is a mix of paper art and paintings. The illustrations are deep colored and tell the story of oppression and then accomplishment. There are illustrations that take the bright colors of Africa and the 1970s and make the pages blaze while others are dark and somber as violence and death cloud the pages.

Important and powerful, this nonfiction picture book shares the story of a woman vital to the civil rights movement. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Swan by Laurel Snyder

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad

This is a poetic and radiant look at the life of Anna Pavlova, prima ballerina. It begins with her childhood where she grew up poor, the daughter of a laundress in Russia. Then her mother takes her to the ballet one night and Anna’s life is transformed by a desire to dance. She auditioned twice for the Imperial Ballet School, turned down the first time because she was too young. At age 10, she was admitted and studied dance. Her body was considered all wrong for ballet, since she was so thin and not athletically built. She became the most famous ballerina of all time, helped by her tireless work to bring dance and music to those who had never experienced it. The book goes all the way through to her death, where she still longed to perform and dance until the very end.

Snyder’s poetry is just as delicate and strong as Pavlova herself. Through the words you can feel the tremble of desire, the longing for a different life and then the drive to learn and perform. As Pavlova’s story continues, Snyder captures the way that she created a home for herself when Russia changed and the importance of her performing around the world. Her performance as the swan is particularly beautifully captured in words, allowing her grace and particular style to be understood by young readers.

Morstad’s illustrations help with this as well. They highlight her beauty and grace, allow her to shine on the page and dance across it. Her pale beauty and black hair captivate on the page. Other pages show how hard she worked both in learning to dance and then again in a repeating format how hard she worked as a prima ballerina as well.

Beautifully written and illustrated, this picture book in poetry offers a glimpse at the wonder that was Anna Pavlova. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Night Animals by Gianna Marino

Night Animals by Gianna Marino (InfoSoup)

When Skunk walks by, he notices that Possum is hiding and asks why. She’s hiding from “the night animals” and hushes Skunk. The two hide together in a hollow tree until Skunk hears Wolf coming. Wolf shouts for help and says that something big is chasing him. Meanwhile Skunk has gotten alarmed and released his scent which has Possum fainting. Bear arrives in a panic saying that something HUGE is following him! It must be a night animal. Logic is restored by a little bat who informs all of the animals that THEY are the night animals. So what could they be afraid of? You will see!

Marino captures the hectic pace of panic neatly in this picture book. It builds from one animal to the next until it reads at almost breakneck speed as the animals grow in both size and number. The text is very simple and lends itself to lots of voices and humor when read aloud. Children may realize that all of these are nocturnal animals right away, but the final twist of the book will have even those clued into the lack of reason for any panic laughing.

The illustrations add so much to this book. With backgrounds of the darkest black, the animals pop on the page with their light coloring. Speaking in speech bubbles, they are funny and frightened. The addition of Skunk’s overuse of his scent makes for an even funnier read, particularly with it being Possum who is always hit with it.

Funny and a delight to read aloud, this picture book is ideal for sleepovers and bedtime reading, particularly if done by flashlight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

All the Rage by Courtney Summers (InfoSoup)

When Romy is raped at a party after having too much to drink, no one believes her that it happened. After all, she accused the sheriff’s oldest son and she’s the daughter of the town drunk. A year later, Romy has tried to put her life back together. She and her mother have moved in with her mother’s new boyfriend and her alcoholic father has left town. Romy works at a diner where no one knows about the scandal that she was involved in. But all is not good, she is bullied mercilessly at school for the “lie” that she told and she can’t trust anyone at her high school to have her back. Romance starts to bloom with the cook at the diner, a boy whom Romy is not sure she can trust and knows that she can’t let anyone at her hometown know about. As the annual senior party approaches, Romy knows she can’t attend but news that another girl may have been raped in a neighboring town sends her into a downward spiral, one that she may not survive.

This is one incredible read. The prose is beautiful, roaming and wild with a lusciousness that lingers in the mind. Summers makes the act of putting on finger polish and lipstick into one of battle paint and bravery. She also has a distinct feminist point of view that is a delight to read, one that shows the violence towards women and girls and rejects the notion that women are to be used and thrown away. She does that all by having a story where women are abused, raped, objectified and thrown away and where girls are called names, bullied and beaten. It is a story that is brutal in its fierce honesty and burning with anger at what we are allowing to happen to ourselves.

Romy is a spectacular heroine. She is a ball of ferocious pain, painted with makeup that allows her to control things, searching for a way to be a new person and finding it impossible to leave her anger and herself behind. Add to the appeal an African-American love interest where that is not the issue at the heart of the book. And a mother who is involved and cares deeply but is unable to save her daughter from the world they live in together. And a stepfather who is kind and lovely, disabled and disrespected. These people make up Romy’s family and heart. They hold her together when she cannot, though she fights to stand alone always.

A piercingly compelling read, this is a compelling feminist book that teenagers need to read to understand our society and what has to change. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Poet by Don Tate

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate

Released September 1, 2015.

George’s family were slaves in North Carolina. Though he loved words, George was not allowed to learn to read. But he listened when the white children did their ABCs and then got himself an old spelling book along with a book from his mother and taught himself how to read. He read everything that he could find, but loved poems most of all. He spent his workdays composing poems in his head, though he didn’t know how to write them down. Soon after, his family was split apart and he was sent to live on another farm. He worked in the fields and was sent to Chapel Hill to sell fruit and vegetables to the students. While there, he started to share his poetry aloud. The students loved his words and helped him by giving him more books to read and paying him to write poems for them. He was also taught to write his poems down and soon had his writing published in newspapers. George could then negotiate with his master to pay him for his time away from the farm where he could write. As George created the best life he could while still living a slave, the country was changing and a war for freedom was about to be fought. It was a war that would free George finally and allow him to continue writing but this time a free man.

Tate captures the life and times of this remarkable man with a tone of wonder at times. What Horton managed to do in his lifetime under slavery is amazing and a sign of the quality of the words he wielded so well. As readers watch Horton grow up and then fight for his freedom in his own way, with words, they will be devastated when he continues to be a slave despite his best efforts. Even the work of others on his behalf could not get him free.

Tate’s illustrations are exceptional. One can see the yearning for education on Horton’s face as he watches the white children learn to read. Tate also makes sure that Horton’s image shines on the page. He is regularly lit from outside lights of candles and the sun, creating a light around him. The illustrations also show North Carolina in the mid-1800s and Chapel Hill in particular. Tate also incorporates some of Horton’s poems into the illustrations, allowing them to flow past visually.

This is a choice nonfiction picture book that shows the strength of one man, his intelligence and the power of his words. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Peachtree Publishers and Netgalley.

Sun and Moon by Lindsey Yankey

Sun and Moon by Lindsey Yankey (InfoSoup)

All Moon wanted was to spend just one day as the Sun. The Sun agreed with two conditions. The first was that their switch would not be for just one day, but it would be permanent. The second was that Moon had to spend one more night in the sky, and this time he had to spend his time really looking at the earth below. The Moon agreed though he expected to only see a sleepy earth below him. Instead though, he saw city lights, foxes getting ready to hunt, children dreaming, flowers blooming that only open at night, the stars around him, and much more. There were even fireworks in the sky and fireflies darting too. Will Moon still want to change spots with Sun?

Structured like a folktale, this picture book speaks to the importance of both day and night. And to the important role that both our sun and our moon play in the sky and for life on earth. Yankey makes sure to honor both of them, creating timeless moments that show the Moon just how beautiful night actually is.

Yankey shows the brilliance of the night in this picture book. First she shows the beauty of the daytime with her tigers lounging and bright flowers blooming. But the book truly comes to life as the pages turn dark midnight blue and the world gets filled with the light of the moon and stars. Some pages are filled with celebrations of dreams and the wonder of the forest at night while others are quiet and subtle.

A lovely bedtime read, this picture book celebrates nighttime and its beauty. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs Bensons Blackboard by Jennifer Mann

I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard by Jennifer K. Mann (InfoSoup)

Mrs. Benson gives stars on her blackboard for things like spelling, neatness and raising your hand. Rose though, struggles with all of those things. Plus she isn’t good at math, her voice is too quiet for a star in reading, and she spilled snack on Mrs. Benson. Rose had been distracted by the artist who came to speak with them and dreaming of all of the things that she could create. At the end of the day, there was going to be a check for desk neatness, and Rose knew that she would never get a star for that. Mrs. Benson didn’t quite reach Rose’s desk that evening, so the next day Rose came in early and cleaned her desk. Then they got to make thank you cards for the artist who had visited, but doing art was messy and Rose undid all of her cleaning. At the same time, Rose had made an incredible card and who knows maybe art was a way that she could finally get that star!

Mann captures the pressure that a student who does not conform to classroom norms can feel. Rose desperately wants to do what is right, but none of the qualities that Mrs. Benson wants come easily or naturally to her. The presentation of someone to inspire her to do her best on something that she is definitely good at makes for a natural turning point in the book and allows Rose to continue to be herself all the way to the end. This is a celebration of artistic children who may lack in social graces but make up for it in boundless enthusiasm and creativity.

Mann’s illustrations make the book very kid-friendly as does the subject matter. The friendly round-headed characters are shown in a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Rose stands out in the illustrations with her bright-colored clothing and then the fact that at the artist presentation she is standing and listening rather than sitting. It all shows that she is a vibrant kid, filled with so much zing that it would be impossible to contain her.

A celebration of kids who don’t fit into classrooms easily, this picture book celebrates creativity and being yourself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

I Yam a Donkey by Cece Bell

I Yam a Donkey! by Cece Bell (InfoSoup)

This silly little book is a read-aloud gem. A donkey declares on the cover “I yam a donkey!” But unfortunately, he’s speaking to a yam and a rather persnickety one at that. The yam can’t leave the donkey’s odd grammar alone, and tries to correct him, but that quickly devolves into a “Who’s on first” type of exchange where misunderstandings pile up and the silliness does too. When the yam finally manages to explain that he is not a donkey (as the donkey has been misunderstanding) but actually a yam and all of the other characters are also vegetables, the ending takes a deliciously dark turn.

Bell uses impeccable comedic timing to make this picture book work so well. The vaudeville like comedy works perfectly here, playing up the stodgy yam and the enthusiastically confused donkey. The two are divergent personalities and make for a book that is such a strong read aloud that you really can’t read it silently. It begs to be shared and done with exquisitely different and wild voices since it’s written entirely in dialogue.

Bell’s illustrations are large and funny. Again, the two characters are shown as very different and the donkey mistaken the rather wrinkly and orange yam as a donkey is made all the funnier thanks to the illustrations. The final twist is wonderful and will have children who are a little older than preschool enjoying the grammar jokes and the ending together.

Funny, wildly silly and completely satisfying, this picture book will work best with elementary aged children who will get the dark humor as well as the grammar jokes. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Day Everything Went Wrong by Moritz Petz

The Day Everything Went Wrong by Moritz Petz, illustrated by Amelie Jackowski

When Badger wakes up one morning, he decides that he is only going to do things that he enjoys that day. But as he tries to get out of bed, he knocks over his lamp. Still in a good mood, he sits down to breakfast and his cup falls off the table and breaks. After breakfast, he can’t find his colored pencils. When he tries to spend time in his yard, he trips on a shovel and falls down, hurting his knee. He decides that the day is really rotten and heads off to see his friends. As he visits them, each one is having a bad day. Badger manages to help each of them feel better about their day, fixing what he can. But he still isn’t having a great day himself when he heads back home to find all of his friends there to make his day better in return.

This Swiss import has a gentleness that permeates the entire picture book. Though Badger is having a very bad day, readers will know that it’s all going to be alright just from the tone of the book. Young readers will recognize things that frustrate them in their own days, toys not working right, being unable to find things, and breaking things accidentally. Badger does not react in anger at any of this, feeling more sad and disappointed as his great day changes to a rotten one. The example that helping others will help your own day improve is definitely something worth reading about.

Jackowski’s illustrations add to the gentle nature of the book. Badger’s home is filled with touches that make it warm and comfortable. The tea kettle is steaming, toast is right within reach, a garden is right outside the door, and there’s a ladder to reach a high branch. Heading out to see the other animals, they all have homes that are personalized but have that same sense of small details.

A book about bad moods and bad days but also how to brighten your day back up again. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

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