Tag: families

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

Released January 26, 2016.

From the outside, Vicky’s life looks perfect. Her father is wealthy, her step mother loves to take her shopping, and her sister is a high achiever. But Vicky can’t get over the loss of her beloved mother, whom she cared for during her last months. So Vicky turns to the only solution she can see and tries to commit suicide. When she wakes up in a mental disorders ward, she starts the process of putting her life back together. She meets three other teens who have lived very different lives from her and yet they all are part of each others recovery. Slowly Vicky starts to see that she suffers from depression and what it will mean to return to her life after her time in the hospital.

Stork has once again created a book for teens that will speak directly to them. He takes on mental illness here in a forthright way, showing the way that depression can creep up on a person and change the way they perceive things. He also shows how a person’s life can be glamorous and yet stifling and not fulfilling. It is a book that speaks to the importance of support from a therapist, of medication and of creating a group of people who understand you in your life. It’s a brilliant novel that is complex and deep with plenty to explore and feel.

Vicky could have been a very different character in a lesser writer’s hands. With Stork’s skill, he hints at a superficial look at Vicky’s wealthy life and then goes much more deeply into why she is experiencing life in the way she is. She is a poetic soul caught in a capitalistic family, driven by high achievement but in ways that she cannot relate to. With the loss of her mother, her father changed, her sister distanced herself, and Vicky had no one to turn to for support any more.

Organic and real, this novel has a diverse heroine and cast of characters that will appeal to a wide range of readers and deals with a serious subject in an uplifting way. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.


The Story I’ll Tell by Nancy Tupper Ling

The Story Ill Tell by Nancy Tupper Ling

The Story I’ll Tell by Nancy Tupper Ling, illustrated by Jessica Lanan (InfoSoup)

An adoptive mother knows that her son will eventually ask her where he came from. She dreams of what she will tell him. Perhaps that he floated down from a hot-air balloon. Or that he was delivered by horseback by a man in a cape. Or that she found him in the garden among the tiger lilies. Or that she rescued him from a dragon queen. But the story of where he really came from is special enough, filled with joy and tears, with winged flight over the ocean. That is the story to tell.

Each of the stories that the boy’s mother creates contains a touch of truth. Throughout there is a tie to China, there is flight, crossing long distances, and a story of rescue. This imaginative look at the power of international adoption and the formation of a family is endearing and magical. The stories create a beautiful rhythm among themselves, dancing and weaving a tale that invites children to see their adoption as something particularly special.

Lanan’s art evokes that same special magical feel. Throughout the book, there are creatures in the clouds, dragons rising into the sun, roosters summoning dawn. Each shows a future part of the story, the tiger lilies gracing the garden gate long before they are mentioned in the book. Fish float on walls, ribbons tie each experience to the next. It is a rich tapestry of illustration filled with Chinese symbols.

A gem of a book for adoptive families, this picture book conveys the joy of adoption and the wonder of finding one another and forming a family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Lee & Low Books and Edelweiss.

Review: Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon

Oskar and the Eight Blesssings by Richard Simon

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel (InfoSoup)

Oskar survived Kristallnacht in Nazi Europe and has been sent by his family to live with his aunt in New York City. When he arrives, he has to walk over 100 blocks down Broadway to reach her, hopefully before she lights the menorah at sunset. Along the way, Oskar is reminded again and again about looking for blessings in life. He is given bread by a woman feeding the birds, a comic book by the man who runs the newsstand, mittens by a boy in the park. But most of all in his long walk in the cold, he is given hope once again that he is somewhere safe.

The authors have created a picture book that speaks to the horrors of the Holocaust only in passing. Instead it is much more focused upon feeling embraced by a city even as a newly-arrived immigrant. It is about the small things that we do in kindness each day and the way that those small things build to something larger and more important for someone. This book celebrates New York City and the shelter and home that can be found there.

The illustrations are interesting for a book set in the past. They incorporate comic-like panels on the page that really work well. The illustrations have a sense of wonder about them. They capture small pieces of New York, allowing the snow and city to swirl around the reader just as they do around Oskar himself.

A lovely holiday book that is about more than either Christmas or Hanukkah but about home and hope. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: You Can’t See the Elephants by Susan Kreller

You Cant See the Elephants by Susan Kreller

You Can’t See the Elephants by Susan Kreller, translated by Elizabeth Gaffney (InfoSoup)

Mascha has been sent to spend the summer at her grandparent’s house. Their neighborhood is perfect in many ways with neat yards, gardens and neighborly gatherings. When Mascha meets Julia and Max at the playground, she is desperate for friends. There’s not a lot for a 13-year-old to do. Soon though Mascha realizes that something is wrong and then witnesses for herself Julia and Max being abused by their father. Mascha tells her grandparents and even other neighbors, but no one is willing to do anything. So Mascha decides to step in herself and stop the abuse.

This German novel has already won several international awards. The writing is haunting and beautiful. My quibble with the translation is that I wish it had maintained its German setting rather than being moved to the United States. It reads as a European book and I’m not sure the story works as well with an American setting. But that is a minor factor in such a powerhouse of a book.

First, the setting in an upper-class community focused on image rather than real warmth is a cunning choice. It reveals the thin veneer of neighborliness, the unwillingness to look deeper at what could be happening, and the ability to turn away from the ugly truth to see only the good. Mascha herself is a brilliant heroine. Facing the death of her mother and sent to stay long term with her grandparents, she is not connected to this community at all. She sees the truth, speaks the truth and then is forced to find her own solution. And what a solution it is. It is clever but flawed, a plan only a child could produce. It is entirely believable and therefore a truly riveting read.

A great book, this novel about abuse, friendship and the importance of protecting the vulnerable in our world is one of the best of the year. It is startling, provocative and timely. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Review: The Dog That Nino Didn’t Have by Edward van de Vendel

The Dog That Nino Didn't Have by Edward Van de Vendel

The Dog That Nino Didn’t Have by Edward van de Vendel, illustrated by Anton Van Hertbruggen (InfoSoup)

Nino has a dog, but it’s a dog he never had. It’s invisible to everyone else, but Nino can see it clearly. It’s a dog that climbs trees like a squirrel, loves deep water, and likes salty tears. But one day, that dog disappeared and a new dog took his place. It was a dog that everyone could see, one that had it’s own personality that is completely different from Nino’s other dog. Soon though, Nino is enjoying the new dog. But that doesn’t stop him from thinking up lots more animals that he’s also never had.

Just opening this book, you know you are in for a strange and beautiful treat. Originally published in Belgium, the book carries that elusive European flavor about it. The concept of an invisible friend or pet is not a new one, but as it is done here it takes on extra weight and meaning. Here, the pretend dog is a companion for a lonely boy, a comfort when he needs one, and someone who understands that he misses his father desperately. His real dog can’t quite do all of that at first, but he steadily does take over those duties just in a different way. This is a book about change, resilience and the imagination.

The art here is part of weaving that odd world. It is done in 70s angles and styles with the A-frame houses and long, low station wagons as vehicles. Even the colors hearken back to that time. The book is filled with night skies and bright hot days. Some pages are busy with details while others are open and wide white. Beautiful, strange and wondrous.

This is a strikingly unique book that will speak to anyone who is missing a parent and needs a dog of their own to help. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.


Review: This Is My Home, This Is My School by Jonathan Bean

This Is My Home This Is My School by Jonathan Bean

This Is My Home, This Is My School by Jonathan Bean (InfoSoup)

Based on his own experience being home-schooled as a child, Jonathan Bean shows the creative and structured chaos of a home schooling family. There are his siblings who are his classmates, his mother who is his teacher, and his father who comes in as a substitute teacher too. They have the playground of their yard and go on field trips to places like the library. Their art classes are outside and there are lots of other kids who join in those and phy ed too. Dinner is the place for show-and-tell and bedtime is an English class. It’s a busy day for everyone because home is school too.

I love the wild energy of this book, showing that homeschooling can be just as engaging and social as any other type of schooling, probably more so! The book is filled with a warmth built from the family itself and their cozy home. Home-schooled children will see themselves on the pages here, something that is very important. The book ends with family snapshots and an Author’s Note that also speak to the joy of being home-schooled.

Bean’s artwork adds to the zingy energy of the book. His loose lines don’t contain the watercolors, letting them wash freely and blend dynamically on the page. The pages are filled with loving detail from the crowded home filled with projects going on to the huge backyard.

A critical item for public libraries, this book will help support home-schooled children in communities and will show others what they are missing. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.


Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs

Mixed Me by Taye Diggs

Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (InfoSoup)

The author of Chocolate Me! returns with his second picture book. Mike is a boy with wild curls whose skin doesn’t match that either his mother or his father. His father has dark skin and his mother light, and Mike is somewhere in between. Mike loves to run and dash with a cape on his back. He knows exactly who he is and is proud to be a mix of both of his parents. He’s not mixed up at all, he just wants to do his own thing, wear his hair the way he likes it, choose his own clothes, and be exactly who he is.

Taye Diggs, the well-known actor, keeps his book fast moving and filled with rhythm. The character of Mike is a joy to find on the page, a creative boy who has a look and personality all his own. The frank look at skin color is also very welcome as is the exuberant acceptance of being mixed race and the beauty that brings.

Evans’ illustrations are a dynamic collage of fabrics, printed paper and skilled drawing. The way that Mike’s hair is shown gives it its own personality, often moving ahead of Mike himself as he zips through life. The art celebrates different races and colors and the way that Mike stands out for all sorts of reasons from the crowd.

A celebration of self-acceptance, children of all backgrounds will enjoy this book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.