Tag Archive: families


nine open arms

Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf

Translated from the original Dutch, this book is the story of Fing and her family.  Fing’s mother died years ago and since then her father and her grandmother have taken care of them.  They are a big family, with Fing’s three older brothers and her two sisters, Muulke and Jess.  Fing’s father has decided to start a cigar business, so they move out of town to a big old house that has something very strange about it that Fing can’t quite figure out.  They call it Nine Open Arms, because that is how far across it is.  The house is near a cemetery, the front door is at the back, and there is a bed in storage that looks like a tombstone.  As the girls start a new school, they slowly begin to discover the secrets of Nine Open Arms and of their own community and family.

Delightfully wild and incredibly quirky, this book is one of a kind.  From the family that moves constantly, to the cemetery next door where they go to get their water each day, to the crocodile purse that is used to tell family stories, to the controlling grandmother who is dominant but deeply loving in her own way, to the one old story that is the key to understanding it all.  This is a richly rewarding read, one that you have to head out on before you even know what journey you are on.  It is a book that meanders but each turn is essential to the book in the end, where it all clicks into place. 

Told in the first person by Fing, the book unfolds before you, each reveal another piece of the family, another story, another moment that is meaningful.  It is a perfectly crafted book that has a plot that moves in its own time, another time, a less modern pace.  It ties to the pace of the family, one where things are revealed in their own space.  It’s incredibly well done.

Beautifully written, magnificently crafted, this Dutch novel is like nothing you have read before, and that is wonderful!  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

turtle of oman

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

Aref’s family is moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan from where he has always lived in Muscat, Oman.  After his father heads off ahead of Aref and his mother, the two of them head home to finish packing and for his mother to finish working.  But Aref does not want to leave Oman, leave his bedroom to his cousins who will be living there while they are gone for several years, leave his pet cat behind.  But particularly, he does not want to leave his grandfather.  Aref pretends to pack, but finds himself playing instead, riding his bike, ignoring the packing entirely.  His mother gets frustrated and asks Siddi, his grandfather, for a hand.  So the Aref and Siddi head out on a series of adventures that let them spend time together, but also let Aref say goodbye to his beloved Oman and be open enough to greet the future in Michigan.

Nye is the author of Habibi as well as an acclaimed poet.  Her novel is short and wonderfully vivid, painting a picture of Oman for young readers who will be drawn to the natural beauty.  Readers will also be taken by the loving family, where parenting is done with grace and kindness, and where a grandfather is willing to spend lots of time saying farewell, as much time as a child needs. 

Nye’s writing shows her poetic skills again and again.  Her prose reads like verse, filled with imagery and striking wording.  When Aref goes to the sea with his grandfather, Nye describes it like this:

The sky loomed with a few delicate lines of wavery cloud, one under the other.  It looked like another blue ocean over the watery blue sea.  Aref took a deep breath and tried to hold all the blue inside his body, pretending for a moment he didn’t have to move away or say good-bye to anything or share his room and cat, none of it.

Many of the moments with Aref and his grandfather are written like this, celebrating the tiny pieces of beauty in the world, relishing the time, treasuring the wonder.  Her book is like a jewel, faceted and lovely to turn and marvel at.

This short novel is a vivid and majestic look at the Middle East, at familial love, and at the special relationship of a boy and his grandfather.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.

fourteenth goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Released August 26, 2014.

Eleven-year-old Ellie loves doing puzzles, because the pieces fit together so neatly.  She doesn’t like change at all, like the way that her best friend Brianna never talks with her anymore.  She lives with her mother in a tiny house with the garage filled with costumes from her job directing high school theater.  Her mother wants her to find her own passion, but Ellie isn’t sure that she has one.  Then something very strange happens, and her grandfather comes to live with them.  But he’s not really himself, instead he’s thirteen years old again!  Now Ellie has a “cousin” Melvin who goes to school with her but dresses, talks and thinks just like her grandfather.  Could he really have found the key to eternal youth?  This is the classic story of growing up, mixed with someone who is trying to grow down.

Holm’s signature light touch is a large part of the success of this novel.  Dealing with big issues like aging, death, and growing up, Holm manages to keep the tone light enough to make the reading great fun.  She mixes science into the story, clearly displaying her own interest in the subject, but also making sure that the science is just as readable as the story.

She populates her story with great characters from the dramatic mother to Ellie herself who readers will relate to quickly and easily.  Melvin is my favorite character in the book, written for pure delight as a great mix of teen boy and aging man.  In particular, I love that Holm kept him wearing the same clothes, talking to his daughter in the same way, and relating with teens he meets as if he didn’t resemble them in the least.  He’s a brilliant character, a wonderful grandfather, and profoundly funny.

Grab this as a great book to share in a classroom, it has lots to discuss but is immensely readable and serves as a clever entry point to science fiction reading.  Also, get this into the hands of Holm fans who are ready for something beyond Babymouse.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.

beetle boy

Beetle Boy by Margaret Willey

Charlie Porter never expected to have a girlfriend who cared this much for him.  Enough to bring him into her home after he had surgery on his Achilles tendon and care for him while he could not walk.  But now Clara is starting to ask pointed questions about Charlie’s childhood and his family, questions that Charlie does not want to answer.  Clara knows that Charlie was once billed as the world’s youngest author and sold story books about beetles.  She also knows that he has nightmares every night that usually involve screaming.  She doesn’t know though that Charlie’s dreams are filled with huge black beetles or that the books he sold were not really his own stories.  She doesn’t know that his mother abandoned him, that his father forced him to sell books, that his brother hated him then and still does for abandoning him.  She knows so little, but can Charlie open up and let her see the truth about him without her leaving him entirely?

Willey paints a tragic and painful look at a young man continuing to wrestle with the demons of his childhood.  At 18-years-old, Charlie continues to dream about his past and to live as if it is his future as well.  The book shows how difficult dysfunctional and neglectful childhoods can be to escape, even after one has physically left if behind.  Willey manages to create a past for Charlie that does not become melodramatic.  She makes it painful enough but not too dramatically so. 

Charlie is a very interesting protagonist.  He is not a hero, because he is too damaged to be called that.  He is certainly a survivor, wrestling with things that will not let him go or let him progress.  He is frightened, shy, and can’t see a future for himself.  He is a tragic figure, one that readers will root for entirely, but also one that drips with anger, shame and sadness.  One of the best parts of the novel is the end, which does not end neatly or give a clear path for Charlie.  The ending has hope, but continues the complexity of the issues that Charlie faces.  Perfectly done.

A brilliant and powerful look at neglect and abuse and the long shadow it casts over a life.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Carolrhoda Books and Netgalley.

forget me not

Forget Me Not by Nancy Van Laan, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

This look at the impact of Alzheimer’s is personal and touching.  Told in the first person, the book looks at the changes of Julia’s grandmother.  Her grandmother used to make favorite foods, have her house just so, and even smelled of cinnamon and lilac when they cuddled.  But as time passed, her grandmother started forgetting more and more.  She made mistakes and even started to forget who her family members were.  A little later and Julia’s grandmother started to forget what they had done together in the past, she wasn’t allowed to drive anymore, and her cooking wasn’t the same.  She got worse and worse until she had to be given special care in a home.  Julia and her family have to make the best of it, and that means that Julia has to find a way to continue to connect with her grandmother even though she can’t remember her.

Van Laan uses a delicacy of language her to weave her story.  Since the entire book is about loss of memory and the loss of a grandparent to Alzheimer’s, this delicacy sets a lovely tone for the book.  As the changes start to happen, Van Laan describes them: “But ever so slowly, like a low tide leaving the bay, a change came along.”  Filled with constant change, the book captures moments along the way, showing how Julia’s grandmother is worsening but also how they continue to keep her spirit alive and well during the changes.

Graegin’s illustrations show the changes in the grandmother but also maintain a sweetness that never leaves the story.  Despite the grandmother’s decline, the light remains bright in the illustrations and the family stays close knit in a visual way.

There are many books about Alzheimer’s available now, but this one takes just the right tone and gives information that young children are looking for.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley from Edelweiss and Random House Children’s Books.

sisters

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Released August 26, 2014.

The exceptionally talented and incredibly popular Raina Telgemeier returns with a sequel to her beloved Smile.  This is the story of Raina and her little sister, Amara.  Raina was desperate to have a little sister, but Amara is not working out the way she had pictured.  Now Raina is stuck on a road trip with her sister, little brother and her mother.  They are all stuck in a van traveling from San Francisco to Colorado for a family reunion.  The relationship between the two sisters is tense, not only because they have very different personalities but also because they are both artists.  Then you add in the clear issues of Raina’s parents and you have a dynamic view of a family on the brink of big changes.  It’s just up to Raina and Amara as to how their relationship with one another will change.

Telgemeier has created another breathtakingly honest graphic novel for elementary and middle grade readers.  Through her illustrations and humor, she shows a family at the crux of a moment that could change things forever.  The book though focuses on flashbacks showing the family and how relationships have altered.  Readers may be so focused on the story of the two sisters that they too will be blindsided along with Raina about the other issues facing their family.  It’s a craftily told story, one that surprises and delights.

As always, Telgemeier’s art is fantastic.  She has a light touch, one that invites readers into her world and her family and where they long to linger.  Her art is always approachable and understandable, more about a vehicle to tell the story than about making an artistic statement on its own.  It is warm, friendly and fantastic.

Highly recommended, this book belongs in every library that works with children.  A dynamite sequel that lives up to the incredible first book.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

love and other foreign words

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Josie attends both college and high school, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  So she has to be able to speak fluent High School and College.  There are people in her life who speak her own language, her best friend Stu, her parents, and her older sister Kate.  Josie also has to learn the way to talk to Kate about her dismal new boyfriend who doesn’t seem to be going away as quickly as Josie would like.  Even worse, it looks like they might be getting married, but not if Josie can stop it.  As Josie starts to date, she learns that there are Boyfriend languages that she has to learn as well.  But will anyone bother to learn to speak Josie?  And how in the world do you stop a crazy bride-to-be from ruining your life along with her own?

McCahan has written a smart female protagonist who is not afraid of being seen as intelligent and often shows off her knowledge in very humorous ways.  It’s great to have a super-smart girl in a book who relishes her own brains and also manages to have close friends.  Just as lovely is a book with a teen protagonist who enjoys her parents and gets along with her siblings too, most of the time.  Josie is entirely herself with her own sense of identity that often does not match the ones that people want to inflict upon her.  And that is celebrated in this wonderfully clever read.

McCahan has a knack for comedic timing and witty comments.  She doesn’t take it too far or make Josie too very clever.  Instead the humor reads naturally and seems like the sort of things that a smart teen would say.  The use of foreign languages to look at how people communicate in different ways is a very clever take on it.  As Josie stumbles through relationships on different levels, she is acutely aware of when things go awry but also just as confused about how to fix them.

This is an outstanding novel with an unusual protagonist that will have you laughing along with Josie as she navigates the many languages of her world.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

gaston

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.

misadventures of the family fletcher

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.

emilys blue period

Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen Daly, illustrated by Lisa Brown

An intriguing mix of subjects, this picture book combines art with divorce and it works gorgeously.  Emily really likes the work of Picasso and the way that he put body parts in odd places in his cubist work.  It reflects the way that Emily feels about her own family life, with her father now living in a different home than the rest of them.  Emily tries to help her father pick out furniture for his new home, but it’s not easy and her little brother quickly becomes problematic at the store and has to be carried out.  Even art becomes less fun for Emily.  She feels blue a lot of the time and not like using any other colors.  Then her art teacher shows her about collage, and Emily finds a way to express her feelings through her art and depict her family in their own unique style.

Told in short chapters, this picture book is just right for elementary students.  The unique combination of subjects works particularly well, each supporting the other and allowing them to be explored in more depth.  Daly manages to use art to show the emotions of children experiencing a divorce and the divorce to show the importance of art in expressing yourself when you can’t find the words. 

Brown’s art is light-handed and friendly.  She captures Picasso’s art with that same light touch and creates Emily’s blue time with plenty of blue but no darkness.  The result is a book that is filled with light, despite it’s more somber subjects.  It keeps the book from being too serious and allows the emotions to surface nicely.

A striking combination of art and real life, this picture book truly shows the power of art in one’s life.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

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