Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King
Glory can’t see a future for herself. She has no plans once she graduates from high school, not applying to any colleges. Perhaps she is just like her dead mother, who committed suicide four years ago. It’s the reason that Glory has only eaten microwaved food years, since her father won’t replace the oven her mother used to kill herself. Glory can’t even seem to get along with her best friend who lives across the road in a commune. It was there that they found the desiccated bat that they mixed with water and drank. It was a decision that changed Glory’s life because now when she looks at other people she can see their future, and it’s a future that is filled with civil war, hate of women, and horror. As Glory sees everyone’s future but her own, she starts to slowly explore the family secrets that surround her and even her own way forward.
King is amazing. While the cover may compare her to John Green, she is has a voice that is entirely unique and her own. King has created here a book that mixes photography with philosophy. Glory speaks the language of film, pre-digital and more physical and tangible. She uses light meters and ties the numbers she uses directly to her life: “By shooting the darkest areas three zones lighter, you turned a black, lifeless max black zone 0 into a zone 3. I think, in life, most of us did this all the time.” King also embraces a fierce and beautiful feminism in this book. It’s the feminism that we all viscerally crave, one that speaks to the power of girls and women, a feminism that can save us from ovens.
Glory is such a strong character. I love that she is cool and real, and yet she feels that she is the most awkward, unsexy and unreal person in the world. That is such a teen feeling, a feeling of hiding and being masked and fake. King captures it beautifully. Glory grows throughout the book, emerging from behind all of the barriers that she has set up for others before they can meet who she really is. The problem is that she is also hiding from herself.
Strong, beautiful, feminist and fierce, this book is one inspiring read for all of us who hide and need to be found by ourselves. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Canadian Children’s Book Centre announced the winners of the 2014 Canadian Children’s Literature Awards. Here are the winners of the six English-language awards:
The TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award
The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dušan Petričic (my review)
The Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
How To by Julie Morstad (my review)
The Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-fiction
The Last Train: A Holocaust Story by Rona Arato
The Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People
Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass
The John Spray Mystery Award
Who I’m Not by Ted Staunton
The Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction & Fantasy
Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow (my review)
CBC Fan Choice Award
In the Tree House by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Dušan Petričic
Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are cool:
Amid loss, author Nancy Carlson continues making children’s books | Star Tribune http://buff.ly/1oaxzyC
The best children’s books are also the saddest – Telegraph http://buff.ly/1x4OdCX
Children’s book shares tale of culture, unlikely friendship – The Philadelphia Tribune http://buff.ly/1A5JPFK
Finding New Voices in Children’s Books in Spanish: Spanish-Language Publishing 2014 http://buff.ly/1A5MVtr
The NYT BEST ILLUSTRATED: A Judge’s Experience – EarlyWord: The Publisher | Librarian Connection http://buff.ly/1opqpqk
On the Books: Prominent children’s author turns to Kickstarter | Shelf Life http://buff.ly/1uCHiQB
Reasons Why Reading With Your Child Is a Habit Worth Keeping – http://buff.ly/1E96Bt3
Top 10 monkey books for children | The Guardian http://buff.ly/1EmufnV
Seattle Sorts Library Books Faster than New York? Fuhgeddaboudit – http://buff.ly/1nXBQoZ
5 YA Books That Will Keep You On The Edge Of Your Seat| Ryan Graudin | http://buff.ly/1xfu4Xz
9 Books That Got Me Through My Awkward Teen Years…& That I’ll Still Revisit As an Awkward Adult | Bustle http://buff.ly/1x4NCRz
Best Books of 2014 | Publishers Weekly – includes picture books, middle grade & teen – http://buff.ly/1xTj0ze
Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?: Genre in a Digitized World – The Zena Sutherland Lecture – The Horn Book http://buff.ly/1sSAS8W
R.L. Stine: “I love killing teenagers” http://buff.ly/1s8H5yv
Sparkers by Eleanor Glewwe
Marah lives in a world where the magicians are in power. She helps out in the market at the book stall and has managed to teach herself many languages in the process. There she witnesses the brutality of the magicians and knows to fear them. But it is also where she meets a little girl who doesn’t mind that Marah is a poor Sparker. Soon Marah is visiting their home, which is much more opulent than her own. She meets the girl’s brother and discovers that he shares her love of languages. When a plague hits their city and people whom both of them love are threatened, the key to figuring out the cure is in a forbidden language. Marah has to find the courage to trust those she fears as well as her own intelligence in order to save the world she loves and those she holds most dear.
Glewwe herself has a background in linguistics, which means that when she writes about languages it all makes sense and really clicks. The world she has created is complex with almost a caste system of rank within it. Tied directly to magical ability, the differences are also racial, so the entire story ties closely to our own world’s struggles with racism and bigotry in a variety of forms. Glewwe has created a story where the children are truly those who save the world. They cross the barriers of their society and proceed to have the knowledge themselves to create the solution, but only because they worked together.
The world building here is exceptional. The society is unique but also frighteningly familiar at the same time. The central theme of exclusion and privilege and abuse of power makes for a taut novel that will keep readers going. The mystery of the plague carries the story forward, so that readers will be compelled to read to the end to figure out the extent of the deception and greed.
A very strong middle grade fantasy that grapples with some of the most difficult of societal issues, this book is a magical and danger-filled read. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Netflix has announced that it will be producing a series based on Lemony Snicket’s very popular “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” This new series is not expected to star Jim Carrey like the 2004 film did.
No expected release date has been set.
My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Based on a Yiddish folksong, this picture book celebrates the thrift, hard work and skills of immigrants to the United States. Told in the first person by the grandchild, this book looks at one man who came to the US and worked hard as a tailor. He met a woman and they got married and he made his own coat for the wedding. He wore it everywhere until finally, it was worn it. So then what did he do? He made it into a jacket. He wore that everywhere and eventually wore it out too. So then he made it into a vest. He then wore that until it was frayed. The book progresses through a necktie and finally a stuffed mouse made from the last of the old fabric and even when that is eventually torn apart, a mouse finds it to be perfect for her nest.
Aylesworth uses a repeating structure throughout this book, first introducing his character of the grandfather and then having him make a garment, wear it out, make another, and start the cycle again. He uses just the right amount of rhythm and rhyme to hold the story together, making the repetition clear and rollicking. It reads like a folk tale, filled with a celebration of one man and his skills at reusing things.
McClintock’s illustrations suit this subject matter perfectly. Her artwork’s vintage feel is right at home here, creating repeating tableaus on the page that reflect the changing time as children grow up and also the process and time of recreating garments from the scraps. Her art shows the loving family, the shrinking deep blue fabric, and the passage of time.
This story of reuse and recycling takes that modern movement and translates it directly into the frugality of our American ancestors. Cleverly written, striking illustrated and a great read aloud, this book is appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.
Beautiful Moon: A Child’s Prayer by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Eric Velasquez
On a moonlit night, a young boy realizes that he’s forgotten to say his prayers and hops out of bed to pray. He notices the beauty of the yellow moon and begins to pray. As the moon crosses the sky, it shines on the different people that the boy prays for. He prays for people with no homes and the moon shines on a woman trying to sleep on a park bench. He prays for wars to end and the moon shines on a man worried about his daughter who is a soldier. He prays for the sick to be healed and the moon shines into a hospital room. He prays that everyone has enough food and the moon shines on a family with empty cupboards and also into a food pantry. He prays for his own family, even his pet turtle. And back in his bed, he prays that the next night he will remember to pray.
Bolden manages to keep this book solely about prayer and the act of praying for others without defining what religion the boy is. Her use of the moon as a unifying factor works well, creating a book that flows along in a natural way. Bolden’s text is done in poetic form, capturing moments of people in need of prayers with a real clarity.
Velasquez’s art is luminous. He captures moonlit rooms and places with a cool but also rich light. He celebrates diversity on the page, the people in the images a rich tapestry of color and ethnicities. The little boy’s earnest face speaks volumes about the importance of prayer.
A nondenominational book about prayers, need and community support, this book celebrates the power of faith in a way that children will easily relate to. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Princess Magnolia was having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when then monster alarm sounded. Dressed in along dress of pink with a tiara, no one would expect that Princess Magnolia is actually also the Princess in Black who battles monsters and protects her kingdom. After all, princesses don’t wear black! Waiting outside the castle is Frimplepants, the princess’ unicorn, but he is also Blacky, the trusty pony of the Princess in Black. The two of them galloped off to face the monster who is threatening the herd of goats. Now the princess has to save the goatherd, battle the monster, and keep her secret identity from the nosy Duchess Wigtower!
Bravo for a princess figure who neither scorns the tiaras and dresses and pink nor is limited by them for the way she lives her life! This is one amazing young woman who transforms into a hero, but clearly lives her princess life with the same heroism and dedication as she has in her alter ego. The writing is light and fresh with rather dim-witted huge monsters who just want a meal and remember vaguely that there is a reason they don’t eat the kingdom’s goats. Happily too, the princess does the fighting, isn’t terrified at all, and routs the monsters from her kingdom. Clever, strong and brave, she’s exactly the heroine that her kingdom needs.
Pham’s illustrations show a young princess who is not stick-thin or Barbie-like in any way. Instead, she is strong in her body, built like a young girl actually is, and when she does battle it feels right and she doesn’t come off as weak at all. The illustrations of the monsters add to the humor, though their size is daunting.
A real treat for young readers looking for a real girl doing real battle whether she is a princess or not. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
100 Things That Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz
This flowing and joyous picture book lists one after another things that make someone happy. Told in rhyming couplets, the book has a jaunty lilt to it that moves it right along. Though it could become stagnant, this list of happy things never does. Instead there are little surprises as the book continues, moments that are funny, others that will have young readers nodding along about how much they too love things like sticky glue or camping trips or double scoops. Perfect for preschoolers to celebrate what makes them happy too, this book is sure to create smiles.
With all of the attention on gratitude journals and seeing that small things in life are what makes us happy, this book fits right in. Schwartz taps into moments of universal joy and also ones that will inspire new additions to the list. She manages to keep each page fresh, listing the things one by one. The font design adds to the cheerful feel as the words are shown straight, curving, and even wiggling along.
The illustrations too carry that cheer with their bright color and plenty of movement and motion. They show people of all races on the page, younger and older children, so everyone will be welcomed to share in the happiness. The images that go from one large one per page to several at a time. Those changes in pace make for a more dynamic read and one that never grows sing-songy at all.
A book that inspires smiles and pure joy, this book will have universal appeal. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Voyage by Billy Collins, illustrated by Karen Romagna
The former US Poet Laureate wrote this poem in honor of John Cole who is the Director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The poem celebrates reading and books, and the voyage of discovery that writing and words can take us on. In the book, a young boy gets on a boat and travels across the open sea. When he can no longer see land, the boat turns into a book which he starts to read. When he finishes the book, he becomes the book. The moon looks down as the boy returns to shore with his boat and his book.
Collins offers children a book that truly introduces them to poetry. This is a book that asks children to stretch and understand that there is more to the story than is right on the page in the words. The poem is about reading, about journeys, about wonder and the way that books can inspire and change us. That is not there on the page, and yet it is there if you look for it. This is a great book to introduce children to deeper poetry and how it too is dazzling.
Romagna’s illustrations take a literal look at the poem, offering images of what the words are depicting and also hinting at the depths behind them as well. Filled with moments of whimsy with a friendly moon and a blowing cloud with a face, the illustrations are friendly and celebratory.
A poetic picture book that will make a great gift for book lovers, those who enjoy Billy Collins, and children who are ready for their own voyage into poetry. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.