Tag: families

Review: A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova

A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova

A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova (InfoSoup)

Dasha is twelve when her mother leaves Moscow to go to school in America. Dasha is left in the care of her grandparents. It is the early 1990s and things are changing in Russia. Dasha though is more interested in her first crush on a boy, her friendships, and her trip to Germany for Christmas. She misses her mother terribly and has to figure out how to have a life without her there. Dasha’s life reaches a crisis when she fails an important test because she is having problems with the boy she likes and her friends. When spring comes, Dasha’s life changes again with her mother returning and deciding to take Dasha back to America with her.

This autobiographical graphic novel is something unique and very special. Tolstikova tells a story that is both universal and also very personal. She speaks of liking boys, struggling with friends who are changing, lives changing due to parents leaving, and the strength of family. She also tells her specific story of living with her grandparents, growing up in Moscow, and the self-imposed pressure of getting into a better school.

The graphic novel is illustrated with outstanding and quirky illustrations that are effortlessly modern. Done in primarily black and white line, subtle colors are also on the pages to lift it from any dreariness. Pages are dynamically different from one to the next both in size of the illustrations to using only words in large fonts when someone is yelling.

Beautiful and haunting, this graphic novel captures a time in the author’s life that is fleeting and special. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Over the River and Through the Wood by Linda Ashman


Over the River and Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Kim Smith (InfoSoup)

This modern take on the classic holiday song has family members from around the nation traveling to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the holidays. One family traveling by car comes with 2 dogs, 2 pies and one enormous teddy bear. When their car runs out of gas, they are rescued by a horse and sleigh. The next family, a gay couple with older daughter and baby, travel from a major city via subway and then train. They discover there aren’t any rental cars, but again they are rescued by the same sleigh. Two more families join the pattern, both with diverse family members, and all needing the rescuing sleigh in the end so they can all make it to Grandma’s house by night.

I love the jaunty rhyme here. While it can seem stilted when read silently, once you try to read it aloud it is magically fun and the rhyme works to create a real rhythm to the story. The repetition for each family no matter how they are traveling to Grandma’s house makes for a book that even small children will enjoy. Each meets with a disaster and then is rescued by that same sleigh. Hurray!

The diversity on the page here is especially welcome. Nothing is mentioned in the text, it is the illustrations that bring this large family filled with different types of families together. There is the gay couple, the multiracial family, and one family that may or may not have adopted children. Staying open to interpretation also means that many families will see themselves reflected here.

A great addition to holiday book shelves, this take on a classic song adds a modern sensibility to heading to Grandma’s house. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Sterling Children’s Books.


Review: Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago

Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago

Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng, translated by Elisa Amado (InfoSoup)

A little girl and her father travel together. As they go, the little girl counts different things like chickens and the people who live by the train tracks. They are accompanied by a coyote, shown as an animal here but clearly meant to represent the person they pay to get them to safety eventually. The two board a train, riding on the roof where the little girl counts clouds and falls asleep when it gets dark. They and their coyote avoid soldiers, wait on the side of a highway, and even make new friends along the way. Her new friend gives her two white rabbits to take with them, rabbits that they eventually release into the wild near a border wall.

Filled with a powerful blend of the naive understanding of the young child and the harshness of trying to escape to a new country with a coyote, this picture book captures the risk and harrowing nature of that journey. The book ends with a statement by the President of IBBY Foundation about the millions of people who make journeys like this every year, including the hundreds of thousands of children from Central America traveling north. The author uses symbolism in a powerful way, showing the coyote as an animal and also the two white rabbits who are clearly both a present and the father and daughter themselves. The ending is ambiguous and will invite discussion about what happens to the rabbits and to the people.

The art by Yockteng is filled with delicate lines. He takes what could have been thoroughly grim moments and enlivens them with the eyes of the child. So the crossing of a muddy river becomes an adventure, the ride aboard the train is time to spend close together, and the wait by a highway is a chance to bond with another child. At the same time, readers will also see the truth, the danger and the exhaustion of the journey. It is a delicate balance that is beautifully achieved.

A book to inspire discussion, this picture book speaks the truth about desperate families looking for a better life and the risks they will take to reach it. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Sophie lives above her parents’ bookstore that is actually much more than a place to sell books. Downstairs below the store is another shop, the dream shop, where her parents deal in dreams harvested from dreamcatchers and then bottled. Sophie never has dreams of her own and she has been forbidden from ever drinking a dream. One day though she tries one and discovers that she has the ability to bring things back from her dreams into real life. That’s how she gets her best friend, Monster, a creature from a nightmare. Dealing in dreams can be dangerous business since it is done on the black market. When the dream shop is robbed and Sophie’s parents are taken, Sophie has to figure out who is responsible and the find a way to free her family that will mean trusting outsiders and breaking family rules.

Durst is a master storyteller. Her flights of fancy here are intoxicatingly original and yet also pay homage to traditions too. Monster is one of my favorite characters, a wise-cracking, fuzzy and loveable creature who is ferociously loyal, brave and hungry. Then there is a snooty pegasus who has his own attitude and speaks harsh truths, not to mention the multicolored ninja bunnies. Durst builds a story that has room for all of them and remains wonderfully clear and focused on the real story going on.

Sophie is a character who is known by classmates as being prickly. It’s difficult to create a character who is embraced by the reader as a hero but faces real issues at school with making friends. Durst does it with real skill, giving Sophie a personality that is by necessity very private but also making her warm and loving to those in her inner circle. The use of that privacy is also used to isolate Sophie, making the adventure all the more harrowing and forcing her to open up to those she would not otherwise trust.

A strong fantasy for elementary readers, this book is filled with smart humor and great characters. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Clarion Books.

Review: Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Lauren Tobia (InfoSoup)

A picture book all about skin and how important it is to our bodies, this book also celebrates the different colors of skin we all come in. The book begins with the joy of baby skin in all of its sweet colors of cocoa, cinnamon, honey and ginger. It then talks about how skin forms a protective barrier for you, forming scabs when you hurt yourself and growing along with you. The way skin reacts to sun and to cold is also talked about and then the book talks again about how your skin is unique and so is everyone else’s too.

Written in rhyming couplets, this picture book has a jolly galloping feel to it with they rhymes propelling the text along. The book is a wonderful mix of scientific information about skin that is appropriate for very small children and praise for the beautiful variety of skin colors that you see. This is a wonderful book to start discussing diversity with very small children. The urban setting is a delight with people of differing abilities, Muslim families, and children and adults of all races. The book does focus on one family in particular where one of the parents could be any gender, making this book all the more welcoming.

The illustrations by Tobia go a long way to making this book inclusive and diverse. From henna on hands to families of mixed races, these illustrations are celebratory of the vast diversity we have. At the same time, there is a universal nature to all of them, with all of the families loving their children, adoring their infants, and spending the day outside together as a community.

A fresh and lovely look at diversity for the smallest of children, this book will serve as both a mirror and a window for all. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

When Joseph joins Jack’s family as a foster child, Jack’s life definitely changes. Joseph is 14 and Jack is 12, both of them end up not going on the school bus the first day that Joseph goes to school, since the bus driver made a comment about Joseph before he even got aboard. So the two boys walk together to school, two miles in the winter weather. As they journey together, they get to know one another better. The dairy farm that Jack’s family owns is also another place where Jack can learn about Joseph. Joseph is immediately accepted by the cows, a good sign in Jack’s opinion. Joseph is desperate to find the daughter he has never met. But it is not simple to do that, even though his life is changing for the better.

Schmidt writes a spare and fierce novel here, one where the biting wind of the winter is tempered only by the warmth of a caring foster family and the love of a dairy cow. The sharpness of the cold is also cleansing, clearing the way for Joseph to tell the truth to Jack and his family. The relationships here are built in a natural and understandable way. It all feels real especially as the story veers into tragedy.

The two main characters are different yet brotherhood grows between the two of them quickly. It happens in leaps and bounds as they both discover that the other will be there for him. Yet that is how brotherhood and friendship works, it is slow until it is fast. This book captures that wonderfully. Jack’s parents are also well rendered, full characters who wrestle with the problems Joseph brings to the family and yet are available and open to see him as he is.

This is a book that speaks to the tragedy of some young people’s lives, the power of love to transform, and the impossible choices that life creates. It is powerful, beautiful and wrenching. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus

Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke and Lauren Tobia

I’ve been a big fan of Anna Hibiscus since the first titles were released. Those books were chapter books and it’s great to see the transition to picture books about Anna continue. In this book, Anna wakes up one morning to discover that her mother has given birth to two baby brothers. Her cousins inform her that baby boys are trouble and Anna Hibiscus quickly sees that that is true. When she wants to snuggle with her mother, she is sleeping. Her grandmother too is sleeping after being up all night helping with the birth. Her uncle is too busy making food for her mother to get Anna her regular breakfast. Her aunts are busy rocking the babies. Finally, it is too much for Anna Hibiscus to take and she starts to yell and cry. After all that fuss though, Anna Hibiscus quickly realizes that while things may take longer now, her family is still right there beside her.

The story deals directly with the mixed emotions that come from having new siblings, from the surprise of their arrival to the lack of attention for the older sibling. These classic emotions are shown clearly here, despite Anna Hibiscus having such a large family around her. Readers will notice that she has lots of support, though she is not noticing it at all. The emotions build quickly and steadily to a breaking point and the resolution of Anna Hibiscus’ outburst is filled with understanding and kindness.

The art work is lovely, clear and clean. The beauty of African life is shown on the page as is the loveliness of the mixed races of Anna Hibiscus’ family.  As always, the warmth of the lifestyle that Anna Hibiscus grows up in is radiantly shown in the images.

Another winning Anna Hibiscus book, perfect for new older siblings who may have double or single troubles of their own. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Kane Miller.