The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang (InfoSoup)
The author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu returns with a new novel for young readers. Peter loves baseball just like all of the others in his family, including his mother who is a huge Pittsburgh Pirates fan. His older brother is amazing at baseball and will occasionally join in the neighborhood game and hit homeruns with his favorite bat. But when tragedy strikes their family, Peter stops playing entirely. He can’t seem to find joy in it anymore and starts to spend most of his time alone. As Peter’s mother descends deeply into grief, rarely eating or speaking and never leaving the living room, Peter decides that maybe baseball can inspire her to return to normal. So Peter tries out for a Little League team that his father reluctantly agrees to coach. Soon baseball is once again a huge part of their family, but can it heal the wounds left behind by loss?
Shang has written a book that will appeal to children who adore baseball but also invites in those who may not be fans. This is not a sports book, but rather a novel that features baseball and the catalyst that sports can be for a family to rally around. At the same time, Shang shows the appeal of baseball in particular with its mathematical logic, fascinating trick plays, and the effect that being on a team can have on different kids.
The central family in this novel is Chinese American. Shang weaves details of that heritage throughout the novel. It is more about the reverberations through generations of concepts like honoring your elders and showing respect in very tangible ways. The father in the book had been a distant figure and suddenly becomes that sole caretaker for Peter and his little sister. That transition is shown in all of its difficulty, made even more difficult because of the strict nature of their relationship. These complexities add a lot of depth to the novel, making it about so much more than baseball.
A deep look at grief, loss and baseball, this novel features strong writing and great characters of diversity. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (InfoSoup)
Finn and Sean had been abandoned by their mother years ago, leaving Sean taking care of Finn. Finn is called Moonface and Sidetrack by people in Bone Gap because he never makes eye contact and is often day dreaming. But things changed for the brothers when Roza appeared. Beautiful Roza lived with them, cooked them Polish food, and fell in love with one brother. Then Roza disappeared. Finn witnessed her being abducted but could not give a full description of the man who took her. The people of Bone Gap had always assumed that Roza would leave, people leave Bone Gap and never return. Now Finn has fallen for a girl who keeps bees and who is known in town as a homely girl, but Finn just sees beauty when he looks at Petey. Finn will need to figure out things about his family, himself and the unique way he sees the world before he can set out to rescue Roza and everyone he loves.
Ruby has created a unique and amazing read. Her world shifts under your feet, seemingly something solid at first and then changing on you, revealing itself and exposing both wonder and horror in the same breath. It is a challenging read, one that puts you on a journey of discovery about all of the characters and about the town itself too. As the book peels open and you see deeper inside, it will surprise you with what it shows. And you will question whether this book is a new genre, one that is not clearly fantasy or horror or reality fiction, though it may read as more real than most of that. it’s a genre bender, one that needs no classification to be great.
The characters in this book are complex and detailed. Each one, even the secondary and tertiary characters have backgrounds and histories. They have all witnessed things and reacted to their pasts in ways that turned them into who they are today. Ruby reveals many of these details while others are untold but also richly displayed. The main characters of Finn, Roza and Petey all have great details and histories. They are thoughtfully shown, moments captured in crystalline details that shimmer and sparkle.
A stunningly beautiful and amazing teen novel, this unique book will impress and delight readers who make the journey to Bone Gap. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Truth Commission by Susan Juby (InfoSoup)
There are books you never want to end, and this is one of those. These characters are so fresh and new and real that I wanted to spend even more time with them. This novel is about three teenage friends who attend a private art high school together. There is Dusk, the stunningly beautiful girl who creates tiny tableaus for stuffed shrews. There is Neil, a boy stuck in the 1970s and who paints portraits of beautiful women like Dusk. And then there is the protagonist, Normandy, who does tiny needlepoint work and is best known for being the younger sister of the famous graphic novelist. The three start The Truth Commission, where they decide to start asking everyone the truth about things they may be keeping secret. Nothing is off limits from sexuality to love to angry ostrich-raising school secretaries. But Normandy’s family survives on secrets and the question becomes whether she can face the truth about herself and those she loves.
Juby has created a witty and dazzling read for teens. Done entirely in Normandy’s voice and writing as “narrative nonfiction” the book offers footnotes that are often asides between Normandy and her English teacher. This framework creates a real strength of the story, allowing for not only the story to be told but for Normandy to be writing about the past and offer some perspective on what happened. Filled with plenty of clever humor, this book is an impressive mix of tense mystery and gentle romance.
The characters are the heart of the book. Normandy reveals herself on the page and hides nothing. She shows through her own reactions to her sister’s graphic novels, which depict Normandy as entirely useless and ugly, as the only one who is thoughtful and credible in her family. As she hides from the wrath of her sister, making herself small and quiet, she also becomes her sister’s confidante. Her best friends too are intriguing mixes of truth and denial. Dusk is the artistic daughter in a family of doctors, and yet one can see her own ties to medicine through her art. Neil seems to be the son of a stereotypical middle-aged man who hits on teen girls, but both he and his father are far more lovely than that.
Strongly written with great characters and a dynamic mix of humor, romance and mystery, this teen novel is one of the best of the year so far. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.
Room for Bear by Ciara Gavin (In InfoSoup)
Bear visited the Duck family one spring and then never left. He fit in perfectly in many ways, except for their house which was not designed for someone Bear’s size. So Bear set off in search of a perfect space for all of them. But it was hard to find a place that worked. Places that fit Bear perfectly did not work for the Ducks. Where the Ducks were happy, Bear was not. Then Bear thought that maybe it was because HE did not fit in with the Ducks after all, so he went away to find a home just for him. The Ducks missed Bear horribly, and Bear missed the Ducks. Finally, Bear found just the right huge cave for himself and then came up with a clever Duck-sized solution that would let them all live together happily.
This picture book is about families and what makes a family. Told from the point of view of animals, it speaks beyond cultures and skin color to a feeling where differences in general are embraced and honored. At the same time, the book honors the feeling a person can have of fitting in just fine sometimes and in other situations feeling that they are an outsider. These complex feelings are caught on the page without over dramatizing them. The result is a book the embraces adoptive and blended families of all sorts without making the picture too rosy and uncomplicated.
Gavin’s illustrations are done with a whimsical sense of humor. From Bear trying to fit into a tiny and tippy Duck boat as a home to the unhappy Ducks sitting around the table forlornly missing Bear, she captures emotions clearly on the page as well as the dilemmas of differences. The illustrations are softly painted with fine ink lines that allow both the big bear and small ducks to have personality galore.
A winning read that speaks to all families and particularly adoptive and blended families. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown
Stella’s class is going to be celebrating Mother’s Day and all of the kids know who they will bring as their special guest. But Stella has two dads and no mother, so who can she invite? Stella worries and worries about who to bring, and the other kids in her class start to ask her how she manages without a mother to do so much. Stella’s dads take great care of her along with a big extended family who give lots of love and kisses. When Stella talks to her dads about who to bring, they come up with a perfect solution and soon Stella has the largest group at the Mother’s Day party even though none of them are her mother.
Perfect for families of all sorts who may not fit the traditional stereotypical family, this picture book shows how a loving family can create their own unique solutions and fill them with their own joy. Schiffer clearly conveys the worry and stress that a child can feel in this sort of situation, not minimizing the emotional impact. At the same time, she also demonstrates how that can be so easily eliminated by a family that listens to concerns and solves problems in positive ways. This is one empowering story that many families will relate to.
The illustrations are filled with children of all races and the story also includes a family with two mothers. On the day of the party, there are also grandmothers there, speaking to that issue of working parents who may not be able to be there either. The inclusive art has a warmth to it that is conveyed by the caring adults and the brightly hued illustrations.
All public libraries need more picture book that embrace gay families, so this is a great pick for strengthening those collections. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold
Iris and her family have just moved to Corvallis, Oregon where Iris longs for sunshine and warm weather but is constantly faced with falling rain. Iris is struggling with the death of her best friend and has very little interest in making new friends or exploring her new town. Iris meets Boris and the two slowly become friends despite the fact that Boris is a messy eater, breaths through his mouth all the time, and wants Iris to play Magic all the time. But Boris is also fascinating to Iris because his birth could have been a real miracle that the Vatican is investigating. Iris wants to know how some people get miracles and others don’t. And what’s with the haunting presence she feels in the cupboard under the stairs where her best friend’s tennis racket rests? Is it possible that there is another miracle about to happen and Iris will be able to contact her friend?
Arnold does a simply beautiful job of writing this novel. Her crafting of Iris’ world and family is done with a gentleness and detail that is inspired. And through it all, readers will feel the chill of the constantly falling rain, the loneliness of the tennis racket under the stairs, and the sorrow that leads Iris to fall asleep early often. Arnold also shows in imagery over and over again the impermanence of things. From snow angels that are stepped on to eggs that don’t hatch, she crafts moments of fragility that show the uncertainty of life.
At the same time, she uses intense moments of comfort and being together with others that are warming and stand brightly against the cold wet weather that Iris finds herself trapped in. Those moments show such hope for Iris in a way that is tangible and realistic. Arnold also allows readers to see Oregon through Iris’ eyes for the most part. While there are these moments of light and warmth, snacks and hot chocolate, readers will start to see the beauty of Oregon and the wonder of the rain only when Iris herself starts to lift out of grief. The entire process is done over time and very realistically.
Beautiful writing that is poetic and filled with imagery yet easy to read and understand, this book will speak to fans of Kevin Henkes. Appropriate for ages 9-12
Reviewed from library copy.
The Tapper Twins Go to War by Geoff Rodkey
Released April 7, 2015.
When siblings go to war, they both end up hurt especially if they happen to be twins! Claudia and Reese are very different from one another, but they are also alike. They both love toaster pastries and that is how the entire war began, when one twin accused the other of stealing their pastry. That was bad enough, but then it escalated quickly at their school cafeteria where Claudia was accused of being the one who farted and got the nickname “Princess Farts-A-Lot.” That led to Claudia trying to get Reese to be called stinky by the others and she put a dead fish in his backpack, perhaps a bit too well hidden. From there though, the war gets really ugly and turns virtual with social media and video games as the battlefields. A modern look at being a sibling and having one enormous fight, online and off.
Rodkey has created a very smart book that captures the digital age and being a tween. The book is in a unique format where Claudia is documenting what had happened during the war with Reese and Reese regularly interjecting his own point of view. The book has photographs, cartoons, and texts between different family members too. The result is a book perfect for reluctant readers who will enjoy the short blocks of text broken regularly with images.
They will also enjoy the humor of the book, including a very nicely done interplay between the two siblings. Their anger at one another and their relationship really works in the book and is life like. The escalating war between the twins is made possible by parents who are tired, inattentive and also lifelike. Their exchanges with one another are equally humorous as the twins’ exchanges are.
Funny and very friendly, this is a book that middle school readers will love. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
The New Small Person by Lauren Child
The creator of Charlie and Lola returns with a new picture book sibling pair. Elmore Green has always been an only child. He has his own room, no one moves his toys around, and no one eats his jelly beans. But suddenly a new baby enters the picture and soon Elmore finds himself sharing a room, unable to leave any of his toys unattended, and no one pays him attention. Perhaps worst of all, his jelly bean collection is licked by his little brother! Just as all seems to be falling apart, Elmore discovers that there are some parts of having a new sibling that aren’t so bad after all like laughing at TV shows together, sharing toys, and even sharing jelly beans (maybe).
Child has a wonderful way of understanding what children are thinking. While other new sibling books have more focus on the loss of parental attention, Child shows exactly how a small sibling can bother an older one. She merrily skips quickly past the baby stage and directly to toddlerhood where the most disruption can take place. Young readers will enjoy a book that has plenty of humor but also is realistic too.
Child’s art is done in her signature style. Her collage work incorporates pieces of cloth and patterned paper. I appreciate that her new family are people of color and also that it is not a focus of the book but just a visual component, natural and not remarked upon.
Perfect for Charlie & Lola fans and also for older siblings experiencing their own toddlers at home. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mosquitoland by David Arnold
Mim now lives in Mississippi with her father and his new wife. Her mother has been left behind in Ohio. When Mim finds out that her mother is sick and perhaps dying, she sets off to find her. Mim steals cash from her father and stepmother and buys herself a Greyhound bus ticket to Cleveland. She heads north, determined to reconnect with her real home and her real mother, remembering the days they spent together filled with energy and love. But things happen along the way that keep on slowing Mim’s epic trip down. There is a perverted man on the bus, a kind older woman who smells of cookies and has a mysterious box, and a boy with green eyes and plenty of sarcasm. There is also a bus crash, moments of heroism, another boy who melts Mim’s heart in a different way, and the discovery of a new kind of family and a new kind of home. This bus ride turns out to be completely and wonderfully epic, but for very different reasons indeed.
Arnold dances down the dotted yellow line of humor and tragedy with grace. He melds the immensely sad and harrowing together with the hilarious and strange into a mix that is beautiful and real. He bravely mocks the sort of romance story that this could have been, allowing Mim herself to see the movie that she could have been starring in, before reality comes back and takes over again. Yet along the way, Arnold is also creating a movie and a book that are so much more romantic and beautiful than those false films of the mind.
Mim is a magnificent protagonist. Struggling with mental illness, Mim starts out obediently taking her medication but discovers along the way that her demons may not be the ones she was diagnosed with thanks to her father’s interference. Mim finds her own way to sanity in her journey, connecting with people who speak to her deeply, allowing herself to feel deeply, and rejecting ways that seem false to her. This is a teen who is strong, passionate about life, and luminous on the page. Her voice is her own, a glorious mix of sarcasm, well-read references and humor.
A road trip across the United States that is wildly funny, deeply introspective and completely extraordinary. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking.