Beach House by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Amy June Bates (InfoSoup)
A family is headed to a beach house after waiting a year for summer to return. When they arrive it’s not time for the beach yet. The car has to be unloaded and things have to be unpacked. The kids make their beds, but can’t stop looking out the window at the waves and the beach. Then chores are done and it’s time to go! The family heads out to the beach where they spend the day in the water, building sandcastles, clam digging, chasing crabs and much more. In the evening, they have a campfire and roast hotdogs before heading inside for baths and bed. And one last moonlit look at the beach before falling asleep.
Caswell captures the beach and the sun and the water and sand in her rhyming couplets. It could be a sea, it could be a lake, it’s all about the experience of being near water and playing in waves. A day spent with family soaking in the sun and then being together still when the day is done. Families who have spent time together near the water will all recognize their days of sun and waves on these pages.
The illustrations shine with golden sand and dancing water. They are filled with the movement of the breeze at the beach, with the joy of the sun and the connection with family. One can almost smell the campfire smoke in the air or the ocean salt. The pictures here sing with freedom and long days spent together. The washes of watercolor that make the waves and the sky create a sense of timeless ease on the page.
A book of family connection and love that brings the glory of a beach vacation right off the page. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Bridge, Tab and Em vowed to be best friends years ago and over a shared Twinkie swore that they would have one rule only: no fighting. Now that the girls are in seventh grade, things are starting to change. Em has gotten some new curves and is spending a lot of time with the other girls on her soccer team. Bridge has started wearing cat ears to school every day, just because they feel right. Tab has joined the social responsibility club and rails against anything sexist. Meanwhile there is a high school girl, nameless, who avoids Valentine’s Day at school and leaves her parents to worry about her, because she has done something dreadful. Em starts to flirt with a boy on her phone, and it progresses until he asks her for a picture of herself after sending her one of him without a shirt. Meanwhile Bridge has become friends with Sherm, a boy whose family just fell apart when his grandfather left his grandmother. As the book progresses, friendships become frayed, betrayals happen, vengeance is taken, and yes, the friends even fight. It is middle school after all!
Stead finely captures the feeling of middle school, of just being in the process of changing and growing up, of different people being at various points of maturity both physically and mentally, of meeting new people and maybe being attracted in a different way, and of trying to stay friends through it all. Happily too, it is a book that shows the heart of girls, the bravery of being a modern kid, and the choices that are made. This is not a book that laughs at the antics of pre-teens, but one that celebrates them and this moment in their lives in all of its baffling complexity.
The characters are all interesting, all likeable except for some of the secondary characters who are mean girls. There are many voices in this book from the three main girl characters to Sherm to the unnamed teen. They are all very distinct from one another. The author uses a technique of doing the teen girl in a different perspective than the rest of the book which sets those chapters apart. Despite the number of voices, the book remains clear and shows in many ways the difficult decisions that come from starting to try to figure out who exactly you are going to be.
Another amazing read from Stead, this novel offers a rich look at middle school. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from ARC received from Wendy Lamb Books.
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley (InfoSoup)
Buckley and his mother live together in a little cabin near the ocean. Buckley loves to explore the beach near their house, collecting driftwood to build little boats. One day he sends a favorite boat out to his father, whom he thinks about often. He decides that if the boat never returns that it means his father received it. The boat doesn’t come back. From then on, on special days, he and his mother send a boat off to his father. Buckley’s boats get better and better. Then on his birthday, Buckley forgets to put the note on his boat that says that it’s for his father and how much he loves him. Buckley heads inside to find paper for the note and discovers that his mother has been collecting all of the boats Buckley has sent to his father. So when Buckley sends his birthday boat out onto the ocean, he’s made one big change.
Bagley’s book grapples with some huge issues like grief and loss but it does so in a way that allows children to approach the situation at their own level. It never forces emotions onto the reader, instead making those emotions much more intense by having characters who internalize much of their grief. The use of boats to send a message is beautiful and moving in itself. The fact that the mother is collecting them, yet allowing her son his own grieving process is also very special.
The artwork in the book is done with pen and watercolor. It offers so much detail, creating a setting that is rich and warm. It suits the story so well, giving the reader a chance to realize on their own that the mother is also sad and grieving in her own way even while supporting her young son and protecting him. The natural setting is awash in watercolors, giving it flow and a luminous quality that lets light shine from the sky and ocean too.
Grief and loss are made beautiful and tangible in this picture book that offers such grace and nurturing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Dad’s First Day by Mike Wohnoutka (InfoSoup)
Oliver and his dad have had a great summer together, playing and doing so much. Now it’s time for Oliver to start school for the first time. Oliver is all ready and excited to go. But that first morning, Dad’s stomach starts to hurt. He’s nervous and when it’s time to leave the house he even hides from Oliver. But Oliver manages to get his dad to the car, though he drives to school very slowly. Once there, Oliver happily joins the class but his father starts to cry when it’s time for him to leave Oliver in school. Back home, Dad thinks a lot about Oliver and heads off to school to check on him. Through the door, he sees Oliver happily participating in class and realizes that they are both ready for school after all.
Wohnoutka takes the first day of school jitters and turns them on their head with this cheery picture book. The father in the book acts just like a child at times, adding to the broad humor in the book. Most of the time though parents will recognize their own feelings about a child entering school for the first time. It’s a great title to have conversations about how you and your child are feeling about school and the fact that you will both miss one another even when you are both ready to start school.
The illustrations are approachable and have a cartoony appeal. Dad in particular is a wonderful rendition of a middle-aged father. There is cause for celebration when you have a back-to-school book focused on a father who takes care of his child and then also cares so emotionally as well. The illustrations amp up the emotions and then take a humorous approach to keep the book sunny and silly.
A back-to-school book for the entire family, parents too, this picture book will have families laughing even as the first day of school approaches. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.
The Specific Ocean by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Katty Maurey
Released on August 1, 2015.
A girl does not want to leaver her friends behind in the city and head off for summer vacation. There’s nothing to do in the little house near the ocean that she used to call The Specific Ocean instead of the Pacific. She starts out with a moping schedule and refuses to head to the water. The next day though, she does go down with her family and the water is cold but it also has warm spots. The next day, she races her brother down to the beach. They spend time floating in the waves, walking along the shoreline, and sitting on the rocks to watch the waves. The girl decides that she wants to have some of the ocean to call her own and to bring home, but that won’t work. So she has to figure out how to take the feeling of it home with her, deep inside.
Maclear has written a book about the process of change and the time that it takes to allow new experiences in. Time in the book moves slowly forward, allowing the girl the chance to change her mind in a natural way. Then the connection with nature becomes a delight, a way to spend the long days of vacation. The ocean becomes not just a source of activity for her, but a source of personal peace and joy. That process is honored here, that feeling of being connected to the world as a whole and wanting to keep that feeling with you every day. The prose in this book is exceptional. Maclear writes in first person and allows the girl’s voice to be poetic but still childlike and simple.
Maurey’s illustrations are filled with an inner glow that is helped by the pastel palette that is used. The sun shines on the page, the water beckons. The book has that dreamlike quality that many good vacations do, especially those filled with salt water and sand.
This quiet picture book speaks to those who don’t like change but is ultimately about nature and its power in our lives. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes (InfoSoup)
Raised in a cult, Minnow left normal life behind at age 5 to start a new life in the wilderness with her family, other believers, and the Prophet. Minnow was taught to obey, to fear outsiders, to hate people of color, and to not think for herself. When she started to drift too far from the Community’s teachings, she was punished by having her hands cut off. Now she has been taken into custody after attacking a boy. In juvenile detention, she has plenty of time to think about what she has done and all that has happened to her. Her family is in tatters, her community burned to the ground, and Minnow had a part in all of it. Minnow now has to decide how to share the truth and how much of it she can tell without causing even more harm to those she is trying to protect. She also has to figure out what to believe in and how to trust herself at all.
Oakes has adapted a tale from the Brother’s Grimm as the basis of this story. You can hear the echo of those brutal times throughout this novel for teens. The truth of Minnow’s life is told in fits and starts through flashbacks which makes for tantalizing reading and a book that is impossible to put down. Oakes’ portrayal of the cult is very effective, from the wild premises of the faith itself to its leader, the cult is a devastating mixture of the ridiculous and the savage. Trapped in that world, Minnow learns to find beauty where she can and friends in the most unlikely of people and places. The life in the cult contrasts eerily with the order of juvenile detention where there is violence but also protection, enemies but also friends.
Minnow is a protagonist who begins the book almost like a wounded animal with her faith shattered but still clearly influencing her reactions. As the book progresses and she learns not only who she can trust but also of her own strength and her own duty to herself, Minnow grows and evolves. Not only does she turn away from things that she was clinging to in the beginning, but her own beliefs and language change along the way. The growth is organic and subtle. Minnow also thinks in poetry, connected to the wilderness where she spent most of her life. She sees things through that lens, and the beauty of that place returns to her and the reader again and again throughout the novel, strong and pure and lovely.
A book that wrestles with family, faith and truth, this teen novel is a dark and powerful read. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dial.
Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson (InfoSoup)
Tabitha has been given an envelope and sternly told that her parents have to be the ones to open it. But when she gets home, she finds her parents packing up and getting ready to leave on a lengthy vacation. They are also planning to leave Tabitha in the local orphanage. Once the envelope is open though, their plans change since Tabitha and her parents have been invited to the home of a wealthy countess for the weekend. Once there, Tabitha discovers that she is one of six children who have been invited to the estate and that the countess is searching for the child who is her grandchild. But all is not what it seems and Tabitha also finds out that she is in the middle of a great mystery. With the help of her pet mouse, it is up to Tabitha to solve the mystery and stay alive while doing it!
Lawson offers up a gorgeous mystery here with all sorts of treats along the way. Readers who enjoy a good British whodunit will find so much to love here. There is a great mansion to explore, complete with hidden passages. There are ghosts all around, haunting everyone in the house. There are odd servants, a prickly butler, and a mad countess. Throughout the mystery makes sense and the pleasure of figuring out the mystery is heightened thanks to the twists and turns along the way.
Tabitha is a great protagonist. She is a true friend, one who stands by her mouse. As she gets to know the other children, the sorrow of her own upbringing is heightened and her loneliness which could have been used as a shield is beautifully displayed and then slowly cracked until she is fully engaged with the others. The mystery is the heart of the book but so is the growth of the confidence of Tabitha as she works to solve the mystery and grows a lot in the process.
A strong British mystery, this book is dark and lovely. A great way to spend some summer afternoons. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
One Family by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanca Gomez (InfoSoup)
A joyous look at how different families can be and how very happy people can be in small and large families. The book is a cheery mix of counting book and family size, moving from one person happily sharing her book with her cat to a very large family of ten with grandparents mixed in. The book celebrates diversity in families as well with people of different ethnic backgrounds and gay parents. This picture book will have every child seeing themselves on the page and able to relate, which is definitely something to be celebrated!
Shannon writes a great little poem that carries this book forward at a brisk and jaunty pace. Each verse looks at a larger family but begins with “One is…” and then the number of people in that family. The verse then goes on to show other objects and items that are that number but still a solid unit, like a bunch of bananas or a flock of birds. The message is one of being loved and included no matter the size of your family or who is part of it.
Gomez’s illustrations are lovely. She creates diversity with a sense of ease, rather than it being forced at all. It is a joy to see the final page where all of the families are in the same neighborhood and mingling outside, one big rainbow of people together. Her paper collage illustrations are friendly and filled with small touches that are worth lingering over. It’s those touches that make the book feel even more warm and the families all the more loving.
A great pick to celebrate the diversity in every community, this is a great pick to share aloud thanks to the clever rhyme and lovely illustrations. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Ready Rabbit Gets Ready! by Brenna Maloney (InfoSoup)
When Ready Rabbit wakes up in the morning, he doesn’t feel like getting right out of bed. But his mother keeps on calling him so he gets up. Then before he starts to get ready to go, he has to build a spaceship. His mother calls for him to pick up his toys and get ready to go. So Ready decides to get dressed. But what should he wear? He has all sorts of costumes to try on and consider until he remembers that rabbits don’t wear clothes! Breakfast is ready but Ready finds it quite boring to sit and eat. He’d rather be doing a daring rescue with an ambulance. Brushing teeth takes some concentration and before you know it, there’s toothpaste everywhere. Will Ready ever be ready for school?
Maloney creates the ultimate distracted child in Ready Rabbit, a rabbit who can’t concentrate on anything except his imagination. The voice of the mother only appears in voice bubbles and she never appears on the page. So the book is fully centered on the protagonist and his vivid imagination. The book works hard to make sure that the tone of the mother is encouraging and not angry and that Ready is actually slowly making progress towards getting ready even as he plays around.
The illustrations make this book particularly special. Ready Rabbit and all of his things are objects with Ready being a knit bunny with a face that is a piece of fabric with changing expressions drawn on it. One might not think it would work, but the result is charming and has a very different vibe than many picture books.
Families trying to get ready in the morning will recognize their own wish to play just a little bit longer. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.
In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van, illustrated by April Chu (InfoSoup)
In a fishing village near the sea, there is a small house high in the hills. In that house, there is a kitchen with a warm fire where a pot of noodle soup is simmering. A woman watches and waits, grinding spices in a mortar and pestle while a baby sleeps nearby. Their dog looks down into a hole in the floor and spots a cricket there. The cricket is painting on an easel, creating an image of a stormy sea with large waves. In that sea there is a small boat with a worried fisherman hoping to get out of the storm soon and dreaming of his family in a small house above the sea.
Both the author and illustrator are Vietnamese-Americans. The story was inspired by the author’s father and his ancestral village in Central Vietnam. It is the story of both the men who head onto the sea to fish and the families they leave behind. It is also a story of the cycle of life, of connections to one another. After all, the storm itself is both on the cricket’s easel but also part of the heart of the story too. It’s a book that twists a bit, so that one forgets the origin of the storm and the story, but knows that it echoes with history and truth.
The illustrations are dramatic and gorgeous. They evoke Vietnam with its stunning shoreline. They also capture the danger of the high waves and surging seas, conveying that tension clearly without making it too frightening or intense for young readers. The entire book celebrates the cozy home but also the wildness of nature, dancing from one to the other with ease and creating a strong dichotomy but also connection between the two.
Beautifully illustrated and told, this cyclical story is a journey to Vietnam and a celebration of their way of life. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.