Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo
Translated from French, this graphic novel delicately but powerfully explains the impact of the Nazis on a child. Told by a grandmother to her granddaughter, this is the story of Dounia, a young Jewish girl whose life changes when the Nazis come to Paris. First she has to wear a yellow star, then she stops attending school, and finally her parents are taken away and she is sheltered by neighbors. She has to call the neighbor woman “mother” even though she doesn’t want to. The two flee Paris and head to the countryside where Dounia is able to live comfortably with enough food, but worries all the time about whether she will ever see her parents again. This is a book about families but also about those people thrown together by horrors who become family to one another to survive.
Dauvallier first offers a glimpse of what Dounia’s life was like just before the Nazis arrived. Quickly though, the book changes and becomes about persecution and the speed of the changes that Jews in France and other countries had to endure. Isolation from society was one of the first steps taken, the loss of friends and mentors, then the fear of being taken away or shot entered. But so did bravery and sacrifice and heroism. It is there that this book stays, keeping the horrors at bay just enough for the light to shine in.
The art work is powerful but also child friendly. The characters have large round heads that show emotions clearly. There are wonderful plays of light and dark throughout the book that also speak to the power of the Nazis and the vital power of fighting back in big ways and small.
A powerful graphic novel, this book personalizes the Holocaust and offers the story of one girl who survived with love and heroism. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from First Second.
West of the Moon by Margi Preus
Astri lives with her stepmother, stepsisters and younger sister until she is sold to the cruel goat farmer. He takes her to his home, refuses to ever let her bathe, has her do drudge work, and doesn’t let her ever return to see her sister. Then Astri discovers another girl kept locked in a storage shed, who spins wool into yarn all day long. Astri escapes the goat farmer, taking his book of spells and his troll treasure. She heads off with the other girl to find her younger sister and then all three flee, heading to find their father in America. But it is a long trip to get to the sea and an even longer trip from Norway to America. Along the way, the goatman continues to pursue them, they meet both friendly faces and cruel, and the story dances along the well-traveled roads of folk tales. Astri slowly pieces together her own story and then resolutely builds herself a new one with her sister by her side.
An incredible weaving of the gold of folktales with the wool of everyday life, this book is completely riveting. Preus has created a story where there are complicated villains, where dreams are folktales and folktales build dreams, where girls have power and courage, and where both evil and kindness come in many forms. It is a book that is worth lingering over, a place worth staying in from awhile, and a book that you never want to end.
Astri is a superb character. Armed with no education but plenty of guts and decisiveness, she fights back against those who would keep her down and separate her from her sister. As the story progresses and she escapes, she becomes all the more daring and free spirited. Her transformation is both breathtaking and honest. One roots for Astri throughout the story, fights alongside her and like Astri wills things to happen.
A wondrously successful and magical story that is interwoven with folktales, this book is a delight. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.
Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin
Based on a story from Hans Christian Andersen, this book takes “The Nightingale” and turns it into magical realism. Little John’s family is in turmoil. His little sister died jumping out of a tree, his mother can’t deal with the loss and often forgets that her daughter died, and his father is struggling to make enough money to keep them from being evicted. So Little John has to help his father take down trees to make money. It is at Mr. King’s home that Little John first meets Gayle, a young foster child whose singing voice seems to heal people and who has built a nest high in one of the trees. Then Mr. King decides that he has to record Gayle’s voice and hires Little John to bring her to him within a week. Little John doesn’t want to, so Mr. King resorts to blackmail and money to get him to do it. This story explores responsibility, betrayal, and loss in a poignant and beautiful way.
Loftin’s writing is exquisite and simple. She has taken an old tale and breathed freshness and vibrancy into it. Her setting is tightly woven, just the scope of Little John’s own summer days. It makes the focus very close, intensifying the choices that Little John is forced to make. More than most books for tweens, this one truly asks a character to face an impossible decision and then shows what happens afterwards and how that decision has repercussions for many people.
Little John is a great male protagonist. He is pure boy, resentful of the situation his family is in but also bound to them by love and blood. At the same time, he is a gentle soul, worried about Gayle and the circumstances she is living in. The only character who stretches believability is Mr. King who reads like a stereotypical villain, but he is the only character without nuance.
Magical and beautiful, this is perfect for discussion in a classroom, this book begs to be talked about thanks to its complexity. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.
The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van Leeuwen
Toda lives with her father and grandmother. Her mother left them years earlier and went to a neighboring country. Now Toda’s father has gone to be a soldier in a war. Toda discovers that he has learned how to become a bush, so that he will not be shot. At first Toda stays with her grandmother in their family bakery, but that soon becomes too dangerous. Her grandmother sends her off to her mother, but Toda must make a dangerous journey with strangers to cross the border. Though her grandmother has made plans, they go awry along the way and Toda must navigate much of the border crossing on her own. Even once she is across the border, she doesn’t know where her mother is and how she will ever locate her. This is a story told from a child’s view of war and being a refugee.
With such an unusual title, I wasn’t sure what this book was going to be about. It was surprising to find myself in a book about war. Even more amazing to find that it was a book filled with humor. Van Leeuwen has written a book with a wild sense of humor but even more importantly a very unique point of view. Toda sees the world in her own special way, often misunderstanding what adults around her are trying to say. This gets her into all sorts of adventures along the way.
With such a grim subject of a child refugee separated from all those who love her and continuing forward on her own, one would expect it to be frightening. It certainly is at times, yet the grim reality is held at bay much of the time through Toda’s optimism about what is going to happen to her. There are still moments where the reader is unsure of what is going to happen next and whether Toda is going to be severely injured if not killed. Those moments are handled with the same frank and open attitude as the more silly moments. Together they form the fabric of the story, one that is harrowing but also incredible.
Completely unique, this book features a fresh and noteworthy point of view that comes from a young survivor who has no idea how very brave she is. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Gecko Press.
Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison
Jane lived in an extraordinary world at the circus, but she was just an ordinary dog. Her mother could do tricks on the back of horses. Her father could lift an elephant. Her brothers got shot out of cannons and her sisters performed on the high wire. But Jane didn’t do any of that. She tried to find her own special talent, but nothing seemed to work. She even managed to cause some disasters along the way. Jane was just ordinary, but in her own quiet way she was very special too.
Harrison has created a quiet heroine in her picture book. This book will speak to dog lovers but also to children who feel that they don’t live up to their older siblings. It is a story that celebrates kindness, supportiveness and just being yourself whether that is loud or quiet, flashy or subtle. The setting of a circus was an inspired choice, offering the most contrast between a regular dog and the daredevil family she has.
Harrison’s art is wonderfully detailed. She offers spreads of the entire circus and its three rings filled with action. The dogs fur is shown in individual hairs, the wrinkles on the elephants are striking, and the perspectives are engagingly diverse.
For all of the quiet stars out there, this amazing dog will be inspiring for them to just be themselves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton
Henry and his dog, Pomegranate, live in two different houses. On Mondays, Wednesdays and every other weekend, he lives with his mother on Flower Street. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other weekend, he lives with his father two blocks away on Woolsey Avenue. The two houses are very different. They smell different, look different, sound different and even taste different. Pomegranate though is never truly happy at either house. He wants to be somewhere else. Then one day, Pomegranate gets out and runs away. Henry and his father head to Flower Street to see if he is with Henry’s mother, but no Pomegranate. Then Henry realizes where Pomegranate must be and heads straight to the house where his family used to live all together. Now a little girl lives there and she has Pomegranate with her!
This book has such a strong heart. Stanton clearly shows the differences between the two homes that Henry lives in. The different neighborhoods, the different foods, the different sounds. Both homes are beautiful, both are filled with love for Henry. Stanton’s clever use of Pomegranate as the expression of the emotions involved in a divorce is well done. She manages to allow Henry to be well adjusted and happy while still dealing with the complex emotions that divorce elicits.
The art is charming and wonderfully loud. Done in collage mixed with painting, the colors shine on the page. She makes sure to show the elements that make up life in each house, showing again the differences but also the similarities in the homes.
A memorable book on divorce for children, even children who have not experienced divorce themselves will enjoy this engaging title. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel & Friends.
No Place by Todd Strasser
Dan seemed to have it all from being popular to his hot girlfriend to probably getting a baseball scholarship to college. But then his family started having financial problems and they got worse and worse. Finally, they were forced to leave their home and live in Dignityville, a city park reused as a tent city for homeless people. Dan struggles to figure out how to continue being the same person with his friends, how to stay focused on his future, and how to keep dating one of the wealthier girls in town. On a daily basis, Dan is confronted with the differences in lifestyle and priorities. But Dignityville is not without some good aspects. Dan gets to spend more time with his family and he gets to know Meg, a girl who attends his high school and who also lives in Dignityville with her brother and family. Then Meg’s brother is brutally attacked and it quickly becomes evident that there is a conspiracy to destroy Dignityville, one that may end up hurting those that Dan loves.
Strasser tackles the issue of homelessness head on here. Yet he does in such a way as to make it accessible to those who have not experienced it. The emphasis is on the fact that there are all sorts of people who are homeless, not just those with addiction and mental health issues. Seeing the slow fall to homelessness by Dan’s parents and their reaction to being homeless further underlines that people are doing their best in trying and exceedingly difficult situations.
Dan is a very engaging character, one who quickly learns how profoundly his life has changed. The other characters at Dignityville are also well drawn and interesting as are Dan’s parents. The only character I found two-dimensional was Talia, Dan’s girlfriend, who seemed distant and aloof from what was happening. As the book progressed, the mystery of who was trying to shut down Dignityville moved to the forefront of the story. I felt that this distracted from an already powerful story and took it over the top. It was an unnecessary addition to the book.
An important book about a teen and his family experiencing homelessness, teens will find much to love in these pages. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Goose the Bear by Katja Gehrmann
In a Canadian forest, Fox stole an almost-hatched goose egg, planning to eat roast goose very soon. But he is so proud of himself that he forgets to watch where he’s going and runs right into Bear. Bear picked up the egg from the ground after Fox ran off and wondered what it is. Then the gosling hatched and called him “Mama!” Bear tried to explain that they were not the same type of animal, but the gosling did not understand. So Bear decided to show the little goose just how different they were. Bear demonstrated how well bears climb trees, but the gosling could reach the top too. Bear showed how fast bears can run, but the little goose ran just as quickly. Finally, Bear jumped in the river and the little goose followed him in. Then Bear got very worried. Would the little creature survive the fall into the water?
Gehrmann has created a picture book that stands out from the many books about foxes chasing smaller animals. Her addition of a bear as a main character adds a clever twist and throughout the book she continues to surprise the reader. The writing has been done to create a read-aloud that will also keep young readers guessing about what is going to happen next. With the theme of a tiny creature who can do just what a big bear can do, this book has strong kid appeal.
The premise of the book is quite unique and so is the artwork. First published in Germany, the book has a European feel, particularly in the art. It is humorous and bold with changing colors throughout. Gehrmann’s depiction of the natural world around the characters is particularly rich and layered.
Fresh, vibrant and full of fun surprises, this book is an exceptional take on fox and goose (and bear) stories. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Felicity’s mother loves to move to new places, so Felicity has lived all over the country. But when her mother returns to the small town of Midnight Gulch, Felicity quickly realizes she has never lived in any place quite like this one. Midnight Gulch had once been full of magic of all sorts, but then a curse took the magic away and drove two brothers apart as well. But there is magic left in town, if you know where to look. It’s not big magic, just little pieces that were left behind. Felicity has one of those pieces of magic herself, she can see words everywhere, words spoken aloud and words thought silently. She is a word collector keeping a list of the words she finds. Others in town have some magic too, including Jonah, a mysterious boy who calls himself the Beedle and does good deeds around town. Then there’s also the ice cream factory that makes a flavor that evokes memories both sweet and sour. Felicity loves Midnight Gulch, but can she figure out a way to keep her mother from moving on to new places again?
This book was such fun. Lloyd has created an entire town that is filled with a wonderful mix of magic and history. Throughout the book, we learn about what first made Midnight Gulch so magical and then how it was taken away. Then little by little in tantalizing ways readers see the magic that is left and are offered clues about how it may return someday. It’s a book that is surprising and very readable.
Felicity is a great protagonist as she struggles to keep her family in one place. As she finds out more about her own family history and discovers members of her family and community she never knew before, she finds herself less lonely in a way that she never though possible. Perhaps the most delightful piece of all is that Felicity does not need her magic to solve her family’s issues, rather it is about piecing together a mystery and solving a riddle.
Glowing with magic, this novel is a shining read that should be savored just like an ice cream cone on a hot day. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
Violet feels like she just doesn’t fit into her family. Whenever she goes anywhere with her mother and sister, people are surprised to hear that she is related to them. They are both white and blonde while she has brown skin and brown hair. Violet’s father died before she was born, and while her sister knows her other grandparents, Violet has never met hers. But now Violet takes things into her own hands and starts researching her African-American grandmother who happens to be a well-known artist. Violet convinces her mother to allow her to go to her grandmother’s new gallery show but things do not go as Violet had dreamed. Violet just wants to put the pieces of her family into a whole where she fits seamlessly, but it may be too late for that.
It is a joy to have such a charming and positive book that speaks to biracial issues. Woods does a great job of focusing on both the positive and negative aspects of being bi-racial and having two distinct sides of the family. I was particularly pleased that all of the adults in the book were supportive and loving towards Violet as she explores her African-American heritage. Woods also addresses the differences in religions in the book, something that children who come from two religious heritages will appreciate.
Violet herself is a particularly radiant protagonist. Though she worries about fitting into her family and seeking out the other side of her family, at heart she is an optimist and approaches each event with a sense of adventure and openness. This is a book that cheers children on to explore their own families and discover others in their world who will adore them too.
Positive, cheery and yet addressing difficult situations, this book is a pleasure to read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.