Tag Archive: families


moonpenny island

Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb

The author of What Happened on Fox Street returns with a beautiful story set on a little island in a large lake.  Flor loves her island home, loves being able to ride her bicycle everywhere, loves that her best friend is the only other person in her grade at school, and loves that she knows all of the people who live there year round.  But things start to change that Flor has no way to control.  Her best friend is sent off the island to attend a different school, leaving Flor the only person in sixth grade.  Flor’s mother leaves to take care of her sick grandmother, and with her parents always fighting, maybe she won’t be back.  Even her very responsible older sister is hiding something from Flor.  Flor has to figure out how to live in this new island landscape where everything is changing around her.  But in change there is also opportunity, perhaps a new friend (or two) and also seeing things for what they actually are. 

Springstubb writes a love letter to her island setting.  She imbues each bike ride of Flor’s with a beauty and a celebration of this small island and its nature.  Her writing sparkles like sun on the water as she picks unique metaphors to show both her characters emotions and the setting.  Here is one of my favorite examples:  “Her heart’s a circus, with trapezes and tightropes and people shooting out of cannons but no nets – someone forgot the nets.”  Springstubb also shows emotions rather than telling about them.  Flor’s emotions come out in the way she digs her toes in sand, how she pedals her bicycle and through what she notices in the island itself. 

Flor is a great young protagonist.  She reads like an eleven year old, desperate to hold her family and friends together.  She has a youthful and frenzied love of her island, something that readers can see may change in the future but it is her connection to this place that makes this book work so beautifully.  She is fiercely protective of her siblings, throwing herself in to defend and protect them even as she proves that she has no understanding of teen love, something refreshing in a young protagonist.

Strong written, this book is beautiful, deep and rich just like its island setting.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.

hold tight dont let go

Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner

Magdalie lives in Haiti with her cousin Nadine and Nadine’s mother, but Magdalie considers them to be her sister and mother.  Her aunt works for a wealthy lady, cooking and cleaning, and the three of them live in the lower rooms of the house.  When the earthquake hits Haiti in 2010, the girls survive but Nadine’s mother is killed.  The two girls have nowhere to go but they are rescued by Magdalie’s uncle and move into the refugee camp.  Soon after they move, Nadine’s father gets her a visa and she moves to Miami to live in the United States.  Nadine promises to send for Magdalie as soon as she can.  Magdalie is left all alone, unable to afford to attend school any longer and mourning the loss of her sister and mother.  Magdalie holds tightly to the hope of heading to the United States, but eventually has to admit that she is staying in Haiti and figure out how to not only survive but thrive there.

Wagner writes with a passion that shines on the page.  She shows the beauty of Haiti, creating a tapestry of food, sounds and voices that reveals what is often buried beneath the poverty.  She does not shy away from the ugliness of poverty, from the waste, the violence and the impossible choices facing a girl like Magdalie.  Sex simmers constantly around her, offers are made to young girls, and in one instance Magdalie must make the choice of whether she is willing to be taken care of in exchange for sexual favors. 

Through it all, even when she is deep in despair, Magdalie is clearly a smart girl who loves to learn and wants to be something more than where she finds herself.  Magdalie is incredibly strong too, facing on a daily basis things that American readers will never have experienced.  And that too is part of Wagner’s amazing depiction of Haiti.  She makes it clear that it is because of the society of Haiti that there is immense poverty but also that people can survive that poverty.  When Magdalie visits a rural part of the country, readers revel right alongside her in the natural beauty.  When she longs to return to the camps and the filth, readers too will begin to understand what she sees there and the potential it offers her if she can just find a way.

This is a complex book that does not try to answer society’s issues in a pat or simple way.  Rather it stands as witness to the brutality, beauty and incredible strength of Haiti and its people.  Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

first snow

First Snow by Peter McCarty

Pedro is visiting his cousin Sancho.  While he is there, snow starts to fall, something that Pedro has never seen before.  But he knows already that he won’t like the snow since it’s so cold.  The next morning, his cousins are thrilled to head outside into the fresh snow that fell all night long.  Pedro is very doubtful, saying again how cold it is.  When the other children make snow angels, Pedro doesn’t even want to try.  Other children in the neighborhood arrive with their sleds.   One of them shows Pedro how to catch snowflakes on his tongue.  They all take their sleds to the top of the big hill.  Pedro is too cautious to go first, but soon he finds himself joining everyone else riding down the hill.  He is thrown off his sled and lands in the cold snow, but he no longer finds it too cold to have fun.

McCarty deftly shows the reluctance of a child experiencing something for the first time. He handles it with a delicacy that shows the hesitation clearly and the hanging back.  Yet Pedro still tries things as the day goes on, and the other children don’t force him to try anything he doesn’t want to.  By the end of the day, Pedro is just as merrily playing in the snow as the others.  This book shines with a gentle spirit and allows children to see themselves clearly on the page.

As always McCarty’s illustrations are a treat.  I particularly enjoy seeing characters from his other picture books in this story.  Plus you have the added bonus of little creatures in snow suits with room in the hoods for their ears! 

An ideal pick for snowy days or a way to discuss trying something new in a gentle and supportive way.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

dear mr washington

Dear Mr. Washington by Lynn Cullen, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Based on a true story, this enchanting picture book will have everyone smiling.  When George Washington comes to the Stuart house to have his official portrait painted, the children must all by on their best behavior.  But it doesn’t quite work out that way.  With each visit to the house, Charlotte has to write another letter of apology.  She has to apologize for the cat racing up his shoulder, for the baby chewing on his hair ribbon, and much more.  She shares a list of how they will be better behaved the next time.  But then there are her many examples in the following letter of how very good they had been, which was not actually true.  In each and every letter though, she is cajoling Mr. Washington to smile in his picture.  Can a very serious president handle the wild and silly Stuart clan?

A large part of the joy of this book is that it’s based on a true story.  You can read the author’s note at the end to see just how much.  The interplay between Mr. Washington and the children is lovely.  He mutters under his breath, ignores them as best he can, and yet it all ends up a mess anyway.  And the children themselves are cheery and playful, undeterred by either their parents demanding they behave or the scowling Mr. Washington.

Carpenter’s art adds to the fun.  She merrily depicts the naughty children from the baby chewing on Mr. Washington’s shoe to the entire group falling asleep all together on top of him.  It’s great to see a historical book that is playful and fun.

A great read aloud, this book is funny, silly and filled with history and art.  What more could you want?  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

there will be lies

There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake

Shelby is about to be hit by a car, in four hours.  She lives an isolated life with her mother, one where she is homeschooled and doesn’t really know anyone else outside of the online forums she visits without her mother knowing.  Every Friday they have a day out, one with ice cream for dinner, batting in the batting cage, and a visit to the library.  There’s a cute boy there that Shelby has seen, another thing that her mother doesn’t know about.  But the car is coming, and Shelby’s quiet life is about to change.  After she is hit by the car, a coyote appears to her, warning her that she will be told two lies and then she will know the truth.  Immediately after she is released from the hospital, her mother takes her away in a car, fleeing from dangers that only her mother understands.  As Shelby begins to see her mother in a new light, she also starts leaving real life and spending time with Coyote in The Dreaming, a place where she is responsible for saving the world.  And soon she will have to deal with the truth and that may be a lot harder than dealing with the lies along the way.

Lake has written a book that is a real page turner.  Readers will know immediately upon meeting Shelby that something is wrong with her living situation, though it is vague enough to be almost anything.  I don’t want to ruin at all that exploration of the lies and truth, because it is a large reason the book is so compelling to read.   Lake has also constructed the book so it’s a count down.  First readers know that the car accident is coming.  Then readers will see that the chapter numbers are counting down, one after another towards another impact, one that readers know is coming but can’t avoid or quite understand yet. 

One of the revelations that comes early in the book is Shelby’s deafness.  Written in the first chapters without any acknowledgement, readers will be stunned by the news that Shelby is 90% deaf.  Then they piece together the clues of it, the many gestures used as she communicates with her mother, the subtitles, the way her mother tells her to be careful because she is special.  I appreciated this treatment so much because Shelby is a person first and then her disability is revealed.  Exactly the way it should be. 

Strongly written, compellingly structured, with one strong and very human heroine, this book of family, lies and truths is a riveting read.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Bloomsbury and Edelweiss.

blue on blue

Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes

On a family farm, the day starts out with bright sunshine and laundry drying on the line.  Soon though, clouds move in and the weather changes, becoming colder.  The rain starts to fall and it falls for a long time, combined with thunder and lightning.  When the rain slows, the dogs and the little girl head outside, discovering along with the pigs the joy of muddy play in the sunshine.  Sun sets and baths are given.  The night ends with the sparkle of stars in the night sky and everyone tucked into bed except for the whales jumping in the moonlight.

Told in very simple poetry, this picture book shines and shimmers on the page.  White’s poem captures the wildness of a summer storm, the feeling of the endlessness of the rain, and then the slow return to sunshine and warmth.  In particular, she creates that sense of impending storm beforehand as well as the slow pitter patter of the drops as they slow and then end.  Her poetry is complete accessible for even the smallest of children who will enjoy the repetition and the farm setting with all of the animals.

Krommes is a Caldecott-award winning illustrator.  Her scatchboard and watercolor illustrations are incredibly detailed and marvelously textured.  She creates a sense of place so clearly here, with the little house perched on the edge of the water, the whales jumping, and the farm.  Her detailed art plays homage to the simple things in the life, the cat on the other side of the screen door, a jumprope over a bedpost, abandoned umbrellas, and mud. 

This book is a joy and is a perfect springtime or summertime read when the big storms are blowing through.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

everlasting embrace

The Everlasting Embrace by Gabrielle Emanuel, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

A toddler spends her day in Mali strapped to her mother’s back.  Told from her point of view, this picture book celebrates the strong bond that occurs between mother and child as they spend their entire day together.  The little one is bound to her back and they move as one.  She is there as her mother beats millet with a pestle.  There when her mother carries it back home in a basket balanced on her head.  During the day, her mother tickles her, reaching behind to touch her little girl.  They dance together, the rhythms of their day lulling the baby to sleep at times.  They shelter together in the shade the big basket of mangoes makes when her mother carries it.  When they return home, the little girl carries her teddy bear bound to her back.  These days together are precious as the little girl will soon be too big to carry all day.  But the bond they have formed together will never go away.

Emanuel lived in Mali for a year after graduating from college.  While she was there, she shared stories aloud with a little girl, but found that there were no picture books that she could read her about her own country and lifestyle.  So Emanuel created this one.  It is a very strong debut picture book with writing that is confident and a point of view that is unique.  Told from the view of the little girl on her mother’s back, one never worries that she is being neglected or ignored as the mother goes through her day.  Rather one quickly realizes that she is content, cared for and completely part of her mother’s daily life.

Lewis is an extraordinary illustrator.  He captures life in Mali clearly on the page, showing the mother and daughter together at home, walking through the markets, doing chores and spending time together even when the mother is busy doing other things.  There is a joy in his images, a dedication to truly capture this country and its way of life on the page.

Strong, beautiful and unique, this picture book takes children on a journey to Mali where they will see life lived differently and warmly.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

outside in

Outside In by Sarah Ellis

Lynn has a busy life with two best friends, choir, and a mother who keeps messing things up.  Her mother can’t hold down a job and the man who has brought a lot of stability to their little family for a few years has just left because her mother cheated on him.  Luckily, he is allowing them to keep living in his condo for a few months.  When Lynn chokes on a butterscotch candy at the bus stop, an unknown person helps her.  All Lynn knows about the person is that they were wearing a plaid skirt.  Lynn sets out to find them, but it isn’t until she gives up that Blossom introduces herself.   As her choir sets off to the United States for a competition, Lynn discovers that her mother hasn’t sent in the paperwork for her passport so she can’t attend.  Her friends head out without her and Lynn starts to get closer to Blossom, a strange girl who talks about disguising herself as a “citizen” and lives off the grid.  Soon Lynn has been drawn into the incredible alternate life of Blossom and her family.  But some things they are doing may not actually be legal and in order to be part of their lives Lynn has to promise to never reveal that they exist.  Lynn’s life works as long as the two worlds remain completely separate, but how long can she lie to her friends and mother?

Ellis is a Canadian author and this book is clearly set in Canada.  Lynn’s own family life is portrayed realistically and with great empathy both for her and for her mother.  There is no great villain here, only humans who make mistakes.  The lives of the “Underlanders” are shown as a balanced mix of utopian and harsh.  The moral questions about what they are doing emerge very naturally as the plot moves forward.  Then at the same time, Lynn herself is struggling with the moral ambiguity of lying to her loved ones about what she is doing in order to keep the Underlanders safe.  Again, there are no right answers here, it is about the puzzles of good and bad, wrong and right.

Lynn is a fairly straightforward character caught in a world where her mother is eccentric and unreliable but her friends are her rocks.  Her new relationship with Blossom captures the fact that she has some of her mother in her as well, something that wants a simpler life and a more unique and meaningful one.  Ellis manages to show this without ever mentioning it, allowing her readers to deeply understand Lynn beyond what Lynn does herself.

A complex and short novel for teens, this book is richly written, filled with ethical choices, and made beautiful by a glimpse into another way of life.  Appropriate for ages 11-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

meet the bigfeet

The Yeti Files: Meet the Bigfeet by Kevin Sherry

The author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean and other picture books has released his first book for early readers.  It is the story of Blizz Richards, a yeti who lives an isolated life in Nepal.  He has a great cave for a house that he’s filled with all sorts of cool gadgets and lots of things to play on.  He is a cryptid, and as one he has taken an oath to never be seen by the outside world.  So Blizz almost never sees his family.  But all that is about to change with the announcement of an upcoming Big Feet Family Reunion.  Blizz shares the story of Brian, one of his relatives in Canada who got spotted and had his picture taken and put up on the Internet.  It was all because of George Vanquist, a man who continues to seek out cryptids and expose them.  Now Blizz has to risk it all to see his family, rescue Brian from his shame of being exposed and avoid George Vanquist along the way. 

Sherry has such a great touch for humor.  Throughout the book there are moments of hilarity that children will adore.  He also manages to create unique characters even in this very simple format.  Blizz manages to be a cool character, someone who lives a rich life despite being mostly alone.  He does have several clever smaller creatures who live with him and who help out regularly throughout the story.  The book moves along at rocket speed, helped by the large number of illustrations which will make it a welcoming read for new readers.

The illustrations have the same clarity as Sherry’s picture books.  With simple lines, he creates entire worlds here with characters who express emotions clearly.  One of the best parts of this book are the little diagrams throughout, first of what a yeti really is, then showing Blizz’s house, and next explaining cryptids,  They are clever, funny and avoid creating large paragraphs of explanation.

Filled with humor and the same distinctive illustration style as his picture books, this early reader will appeal to any child looking for some giggles.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.

blizzard

Blizzard by John Rocco

Rocco tells a story from his childhood of the blizzard of 1978 that dumped 53 inches of snow on his Rhode Island town.  The story begins with just a few flakes in the air and by the time school closes and the children make their way home, the snow is getting deeper and deeper.  The next morning, the drifts were so high that they had to leave the house through the window rather than the door.  The snowplows stopped running because the snow was too deep.  They were isolated and at first it was great fun with days of playing in the snow and drinking mugs of hot cocoa with milk.  Then after a few days, food got scarcer and the cocoa was being made with water.  It was up to a ten-year-old John to make his way to the grocery store pulling his sled with tennis rackets strapped to his feet. 

Rocco embraces the wonder of a huge snowfall in this picture book.  The delight of a landscape and world changed into something foreign and incredible.  The changes to routine, the cancelation of school, families stuck inside together, the futility of trying to dig out paths.  He celebrates it all on the page and then moves the story to an arctic exploration of one boy against the elements, complete with a map of his route to the store.  There is a rich humor throughout the narrative that reassures children that the family is not going to starve but also offers real reason to travel to the store, watery cocoa!

Rocco’s art cleverly incorporates the days of the week in the art, from snow on branches spelling out the word to a squirrels trail on the roof.  The cool white and blues of the outdoors are contrasted fully with the yellows of the indoor world of the family.  The disjointed attempts at clearing the snow are cleverly done, speaking to the power of intent but also the depth of the snow and the effort required to clear it. 

Perfect for folks in Buffalo, but also a great story to read when any snowstorm is drifting your way, preferably with mugs of milk hot cocoa.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

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