Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrations by Christian Robinson
Gaston lives with his mother and his three siblings, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La. They are all poodles, but Gaston is something else. He worked hard to be the best poodle puppy he could be, not slobbering, barking correctly and walking gracefully. When the poodle family went to the park, they met a bulldog family there that had its own unusual family member who looked like a poodle. There had clearly been a mix up! So Gaston switches places with Antoinette. Now the families look just the way they should, but neither Antoinette or Gaston seem to feel right in their “correct” families. What is a dog to do?
Right from the first pages, readers will know that there is something unusual about Gaston and how he fits into his family. It all becomes clear once the other dog family appears in the story and readers may think that fixing the mix up is the resolution of the story. Happily, it isn’t and the book becomes more about where you feel you fit in rather than where the world might place you. Gaston is a great mix of energetic bulldog puppy and also a prim poodle attitude. Antoinette is the reverse, a delicate poodle who plays like a bulldog.
Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint that gives texture to the images. The bold illustrations have bursts of color throughout and are done in a large format that will work well when shared with a group. All of the dogs have charm, though readers will immediate fall for the bright spunk of Gaston in particular.
A book about adoption and families that doesn’t hit too hard with the message of inclusiveness and diversity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Kameeka just knows she can beat Jamara at hula hooping, but her mother reminds her that today is Miz Adeline’s birthday, so she can’t go and hula hoop. Instead Kameeka has to help get ready for the party. Kameeka helps sweep, dust, wash floors, clean windows, and peel potatoes. Her mother makes a cake but Kameeka is so distracted that she sets the temperature too low and the cake is ruined. So her mother sends her out to get more sugar. On the way home from the store, Kameeka meets Jamara and the two start competing for who can hoop the longest. It isn’t until another of their family friends walks up that Kameeka remembers Miz Adeline’s party. Now Kameeka is going to have to explain why there isn’t a cake at the party. But some quick thinking finds a solution and then Kameeka herself is in for a surprise, hula hoop style.
This clever picture book shows different elements of a community. There are moments of good-natured competition, times that you have to put your own wishes aside and think of others, and other times where forgiveness is important too. Godin manages to wrap all of this into a very readable book that invites readers into the heart of a tight-knit community where the older generation may just has some tricks up their sleeves too.
The illustrations by Brantley-Newton show a diverse urban community with busy streets and brightly-colored stores and shops. She uses patterns to create the curbs on the road, wall coverings and floor textures. Despite being animated and dynamic, the illustrations keep a lightness on the page that keeps it sunny.
Community-driven, intergenerational and a great look at personal responsibility, this book has a wonderful warmth and charm. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
The four Fletcher boys could not be more different from one another. There is the serious ten-year-old Eli who is starting a private school separate from his brothers for the first time and who just may have made a horrible decision changing schools. There is Sam, aged twelve, who loves sports and is popular at school but who will find himself stretching into new interests this year. There is Jax, also aged ten, who has a huge homework assignment that will have him talking to their new grumpy neighbor for help but only after he calms down from a number of things. Finally, there is Frog who is just starting kindergarten along with his imaginary friend and who may have a new imaginary friend named Ladybug. It all adds up to a wonderful read with lots of humor and one amazing family.
Filled with laughter, an angry neighbor, elaborate Halloween parties, soccer, hockey and plenty of pets, this book is sure to please middle grade readers. Add in the diverse backgrounds of the four boys in the family and their two dads and you have a book that celebrates diversity without taking itself too seriously. It’s the ideal mix of completely readable book with its diversity simply part of the story not the main point.
All of the boys as well as the two fathers are unique individuals with their own personal responses to crises and situations. Each chapter begins with a note from one character to another, usually funny and always showing their personality. Perhaps the best part of the book is that this family dynamic is clearly one of love but also filled with normal chaos and the daily strain of work, school, neighbors and friends. It reads like a modern classic.
I hope we get to read more of their misadventures in future books, because this is one family that I want to see much more of! Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Qin Leng
A boy and his family adopt a dog from the animal shelter. The boy has a hard time choosing a dog and finally decides to take Norman, because he’s been there the longest. Norman was a stray and doesn’t really have a tail, more of a stump, but he can wag it along with his entire backside. Once they got home, they discovered that Norman did not follow basic dog commands at all. He just tilted his head sideways and didn’t do anything. The family realized that Norman was just not smart, but at least he was funny and friendly. Then one day in the park, a man was playing with his dog and Norman started to follow the commands! But the boy couldn’t understand a word of what the man was saying, he was speaking in Chinese. Norman spoke Chinese! Now it was up to the family to figure out how to communicate with their Chinese-speaking dog.
Adderson’s gently humorous text leads readers to simply believe that this is the story of a rather slow dog being adopted into a family. The twist of the language appears abruptly, changing the course of the book and the reader’s opinion of Norman in an instant. It works tremendously well thanks to the set up in the text before that. Perhaps the best part of the book is the family’s attempt to learn Chinese so they can speak to their dog. I love that the solution is changing themselves instead of changing Norman.
Leng’s illustrations have the same quiet humor as the text. They feel like glimpses of real life moments, unstaged and candid. Done in simple lines and quiet colors, they support the story and help tell it.
A celebration of diversity and differences in doggie form, this picture book is just as clever as Norman. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The winners of the 2014 South Asia Book Award have been announced. The award is administered by the South Asia National Outreach Consortium and is given annually for up to two outstanding works of literature for children or teens which “accurately and skillfully portrays South Asia or South Asians in the diasporas, that is the experience of individuals living in South Asia, or of South Asians living in other parts of the world.” Up to five Honor Books and Highly Commended Books will also be recognized.
Here are the winners and recognized books for 2014:
A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury
Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby
Bye, Bye, Motabhai! by Kala Sambasivan, illustrations by Ambika Sambasivan
Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty, illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez
The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia
Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums by Lewis Helfand, art by Sachin Nagar
HIGHLY COMMENDED BOOKS
The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna written and illustrated by Demi
Gobble You Up! by Gita Wolf, art by Sunita
In Andal’s House by Gloria Whelan, illustrations by Amanda Hall
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman
Torn by David Massey
Henny by Elizabeth Rose Stanton
Henny was born just a little different than all of the other chickens. She was born with arms instead of wings! Henny liked her arms sometimes like when they flapped when she ran. Other times, she didn’t like her arms. Sometimes she liked being different and other times it made her feel sad and lonely. Henny had to worry about different things than other chickens like gloves or mittens. She tried to fit in with the other chickens, but she was always different no matter what she did. Then one day, she caught a falling egg and started to see how many ways she could use her arms and hands.
Stanton has captured exactly what it feels like to be distinctly different from others and the transformation that can occur when you realize the good parts of being unique. The text of the book is simple. She uses humor throughout the book to make sure the spirit stays light, even during Henny’s darker moments of doubt.
The watercolor illustrations are also quite funny. I particularly love the image of Henny running with her arms flapping behind her and that being one of Henny’s favorite things about her arms. By the end of the book, you are almost surprised to see other chickens with wings since the arms suit Henny perfectly.
A great pick to start discussions about being different, the light touch here keeps the subject approachable. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
The New York Times list of top children’s books of the year doesn’t tend to include Latino authors, listing only one Latino author in the last ten years.
So the group Latinas for Latino Lit has remedied that by creating their own list of the best children’s books by Latino authors. Two members of the group appeared on NPR and talked about both the books on their list and other issues like what language those books should be in.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Willow Chance didn’t fit in well at her elementary school, so she is attending a middle school across town which none of her previous classmates will be attending. But Willow is just not made to fit in with others. She does fine with her adoptive parents who are accepting of her obsession with gardening and medical conditions as long as she doesn’t tell them everything since that would make them worry. And one of the things she doesn’t tell them is that the middle school thinks that she cheated on a major standardized test because she got a perfect score. So she is sent to counseling though Dell, the school counselor has no idea what to do to help her. Two siblings who also go to see Dell have their own ideas though and that is how Willow comes to be out driving with Dell and the others when she finds out that her parents have been killed in a car accident. Now Willow has lost her parents, her home, her garden and her will to explore. This is a story that is about community, building your family one person at a time, and the wonder of what having people in your life that care can do. It is the story of the amazing Willow Chase.
Sloan’s writing verges on verse at times with its short lines, lined up neatly and speaking profoundly and honestly. It is writing that examines and explores but also moves the story forward at speed. It is imminently readable with plenty of white space and few if any dense paragraphs of text. Rather it has a wonderful lightness about it, even when describing tragedy. And this book is filled with loss and grief that is handled with a gentle depth. Yet it is also a book filled with joy and overcoming odds and inspiration.
Sloan creates not just one incredible character in this novel but an entire group of them. At first the book seems disjointed with the various perspectives shown, since we get to see things not only from Willow’s point of view, from the other teens, but also from the adults as well. But those disparate parts come together in a way that a book from just Willow’s point of view never could have. They add an understanding of Willow’s appeal to others that would not have been possible without it.
This is a tragic story with an indomitable heroine that will leave you smiling through the tears. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Neighbor Is a Dog by Isabel Minhos Martins, illustrated by Madalena Matoso
Originally published in Portugal, this book is a charming import. It is the story of a young girl who gets a new neighbor who just happens to be a dog. The dog is very friendly and kind, but the girl’s parents are not impressed, thinking that he would quickly start acting like the dog he was. Soon after that, more new neighbors arrived, this time a pair of elephants. The girl’s parents complained about them too, but the girl thought they were very nice. Finally, a crocodile moved in. That proved to be too much for her parents and they moved away. But before they did, the little girl finds out that her parents are considered the odd ones in the neighborhood. The final clever twist at the end shows exactly why.
Martins writing is just as vibrant as the bold illustrations. She tells the story with wonderful little touches like the elephants helping with washing cars and the crocodile giving purses and shoes as Christmas gifts. All of these details add to the world that she cleverly building and that wonderful surprise twist at the end. Done in vibrant colors, the illustrations are created in hot pinks, deep blues and bright reds. It is a modern world, with the pop colors adding to that feel.
A look at acceptance and diversity through the eyes of a child, this book will speak to all children about preconceptions and tolerance. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.