Tag Archive: friendship


categorical universe of candice phee

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

This Australian award winner is the story of 12-year-old Candice who is completing a school project that is supposed to be a paragraph for each letter of the alphabet that reveals something about her.  But Candice can’t keep it to one paragraph, so she begins to do chapters for each letter and the words she chooses for each letter are unexpected too.  As she writes, Candice is telling the story of her family and her pet fish.  She worries about her family falling apart, since her mother is still grieving the loss of Candice’s baby sister Sky to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Her father is working on software in his spare time to prove that he can be as successful as his brother, Rich Uncle Brian, or flying his toy plane.  Either way, both parents are self-absorbed rather than paying attention to Candice.  She also doesn’t have any friends, until an unusual boy comes to school, a boy who believes that he’s traveled to another dimension and spends his time trying to get back home by falling out of a tree.  It seems to Candice that it’s up to her to fix a lot of what’s wrong, but how can she?

Jonsberg has crafted a unique character in Candice.  She may or may not be on the autism spectrum, but it is clear that she is different from the others in her grade and that they know it.  Yet Candice functions fully, just in her own way.  She loves her family, makes connections with others, and cares deeply about what is happening around her.  She just does it in her own way, one that makes sense and that shows just how smart she is. 

The book is wonderfully funny, with situations that are almost slapstick at times and others that are cleverly worked.  The scene where Candice forces herself to get on her uncle’s boat to talk about the problems between him and her father is classic nausea humor that is done to perfection.  Yet the book has plenty of depth too, with the deep depression that her mother has fallen into and even a little romance.

Strong writing keeps this complex book from tangling into knots and a strong protagonist gives it a unique and smart voice.   A great Australian import that is ideal for middle grade readers. 

Reviewed from e-galley received from Chronicle Books and Edelweiss.

my heart is laughing

My Heart Is Laughing by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

Dani has always been happy, but now that her best friend has moved away to another city, she is unhappy sometimes too.  But Dani tries not to think about being unhappy.  Dani didn’t know anyone in her class when she started school, but now she does.  When two girls in her class both get a crush on the same boy and ask him who likes best, they are amazed when he shows that he’s much more likely to like Dani.  Dani tried to keep being friendly with the girls, but neither of them wanted anything to do with her.  Dani sat by herself at lunch, but she didn’t mind because she just thought about all of the fun she had visiting her best friend.  But then her teacher moved her between the two girls, and Dani was cruelly pinched by them.  Dani finally had enough, and reacted by squirting them (and then the teacher accidentally) with sauce.  Now it is up to Dani to tell the truth about what happened and to figure out how to find happiness without her best friend at her side.

This is the second book featuring Dani, following My Happy Life, which tells the story of how Dani met her best friend and then how she had to move away.  In this second book, the focus is on bullying and the author does a great job with it.  As the situation escalates, Dani remains apart from the situation for awhile, then finds herself right in the middle of it.  I appreciate that Dani is not faultless in the situation in her reaction, but also that she reacts humanly and believably to the situation. 

Set in Sweden, the stories have a universal appeal but also are clearly not set in the United States.  This is a gentle introduction to the subtle cultural differences and a great way to start a discussion about how people are both the same and different in other cultures. 

Fans of the first book will love the next in Dani’s adventures.  This will also find an audience as a read-aloud for teachers wishing to discuss bullying with elementary students.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Gecko Press and NetGalley.

wednesday

Wednesday by Anne Bertier

Little Round and Big Square are the best of friends.  Every week on Wednesday, they get together to play their favorite game: one of them says a word and they both transform into it.  Big Square starts with “butterfly” and the two of them change into butterflies, Big Square with sharp angles and Little Round with half circles.  They go through “flower” and “mushroom” until Big Square gets carried away and starts naming lots of different things all at once, things that Little Round can’t shift into.  Soon the friends are arguing, but just like with any friendship there are rough patches and they both have to figure out how to fix it. 

Done in just two colors, the dot and the square and the many shapes they make pop on the page, the blue and orange contrasting vibrantly on the white background.  It is the illustrations that tell the story here, and the strong style they are done in is striking.  Children will immediately relate to both the square and the circle.  They may not have faces, but they convey emotions clearly on the page from anger to exuberance to friendship. 

Strong and vibrant, this picture book translated from the French, is a great pick for units on friendship or shapes.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

oliver's tree

Oliver’s Tree by Kit Chase

Oliver, Charlie and Lulu are three best friends who love to play together outside.  When they play hide-and-seek though, Oliver doesn’t have as much fun as the others.  Lulu is a bird who loves to hide in the trees and Charlie the rabbit does too.  But Oliver is an elephant, and he doesn’t like trees at all, since he can’t climb them.  So the three friends set out to find a tree that will work for Oliver.  The low trees are too small for him.  Trees with big branches are too tall.  When they finally find a big low branch, Oliver is thrilled.  But then the branch breaks.  Oliver has had enough and runs off to be on his own.  He settles down on a huge tree stump and dozes off.  That’s when his friends have one great idea that saves the day and creates a tree that even an elephant can love!

Chase sets a pitch-perfect tone here for young children.  It’s a pleasure to see three children playing together in a picture book that is not about jealousy.  This instead is a book that celebrates differences and has children who work together to solve a problem in a creative way.  The result is a jolly book that has a fast pace and a cheery personality.

Chase’s illustrations have the same bounce as the text of the book.  They have a friendly quality that children will immediately respond to as well as a sweet humor that is cheerful.

It’s perfect tree climbing season right now, even if you are an elephant!  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.

lion and the bird

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

One day a lion discovers a hurt bird in his garden.  He bandages the bird’s damaged wing, but then the rest of the bird’s flock flies away, migrating for the winter.  So the lion takes the bird into his home.  Throughout the winter, the bird and the lion spend each day together doing all sorts of things.  And the lion notices that the winter doesn’t seem as cold with a friend along with him.  Then spring arrives and the bird’s wing has mended, so the bird heads off to join its flock as they return for the warm weather.  Lion is once again alone and now he misses his friend.  Lion spends all summer alone, tending his garden.  Then autumn comes again and Lion hopes to see his friend return, but will he?

Dubuc is a Canadian author who is internationally known.  She has a decidedly European vibe to her work with its quietness and the message of larger things written in the small world she creates on the page.  She cleverly shows the passing of the seasons using pages of white that allow space for the time to pass for the reader.  The book is also a lovely riff on The Lion and the Mouse, except in this book the lion is the one doing the kindness for another creature and the payback of the kindness is more delicate in the form of friendship.

Dubuc’s art is exceptional.  Her fine lines show both close-ups of the friends together and also vistas of the world they live in.  There is a feeling of smallness, closeness and a limited world that Lion lives in.  That contrasts with the bird leaving on migration and exiting this close world.

A noteworthy picture book, this new title by Dubuc is charming and warm.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

adventures of beekle

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

Join Beekle, an imaginary friend, who is so special that no child seems to be able to even imagine him.  He waits and waits along with the other imaginary creatures, but he is never dreamed of by a child.  So Beekle does what no other imaginary friend has ever done, he heads out to find his child in the real world.  He finds himself in a big city, filled with grey people and lots of adults.  Luckily, he spots a bright familiar color and shape and follows it to a playground where he thinks he can find his special friend.  But they don’t come.  Beekle climbs a tree to see if he can spot his friend, but still no one comes.  Beekle climbs down, then a small girls gestures for him to get her paper out of the tree.  And on that page…  Well, you will just have to imagine it for yourself or get this charmer of a book to read and find out what happens next.

Santat has created a book that reads like a modern classic.  He has combined so many wonderful moments and positive feelings here that it’s like drinking a cup of cocoa for the spirit.  Beekle himself is perfection, a round and friendly little soul whose crown is made of construction paper and tape and who is unwilling to sit lonely when he could do something about his situation.  His positive reaction to a dismal situation is a great model for children. 

At the same time, this is a testament to imagination.  Both a warm embrace of imaginary friends and their positive role in children’s lives.  But also a celebration of Santat’s own imagination.  The world he creates is filled with the grey of adulthood, but childhood and imagination make that world shine in new colors. 

A delight of a picture book, this is one to share cuddled up in bed and to cheer aloud with the story.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

winston george

Winston & George by John Miller, illustrated by Giuliano Cucco

Released March 21, 2014.

Winston is a crocodile and George is a crocodile bird, the kind of bird that cleans a crocodile’s skin.  The two of them would fish together in the river with George calling out when he saw a fish and Winston diving into the water to catch it.  Then they would share the meal together on shore.  But George had the bad habit of playing pranks on all of the crocodiles as well as on Winston.  The other crocodiles tell Winston to just eat George to end the problem, but Winston can’t eat his friend.  Then George takes a prank too far and puts Winston’s life in danger.  He has to convince the other crocodiles and animals to help, but at what price?

Written and illustrated 50 years ago, this picture book is finally being published.  Unfortunately, the illustrator died in 2006, so he did not live to see this work finally come to the public.  Happily though, the book is fresh and vibrant with a wonderful vintage feel that makes it feel like an immediate classic.  Miller’s words are simple and drive the story forward at a fast pace.  The ending is immensely satisfying and sharing it aloud one can expect cheers of joy and relief.

Cucco’s illustrations are superb.  They have a wonderful grace of line combined with bright tropical colors that pop on the page.  The dramatic moments of the book are captured with plenty of motion and action.  Best of all, the humor of the text translates directly into humor of image. 

A humorous and dramatic look at an unusual friendship, one only wishes that Winston & George could go on more adventures together.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

snicker of magic

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Felicity’s mother loves to move to new places, so Felicity has lived all over the country.  But when her mother returns to the small town of Midnight Gulch, Felicity quickly realizes she has never lived in any place quite like this one.  Midnight Gulch had once been full of magic of all sorts, but then a curse took the magic away and drove two brothers apart as well.  But there is magic left in town, if you know where to look.  It’s not big magic, just little pieces that were left behind.  Felicity has one of those pieces of magic herself, she can see words everywhere, words spoken aloud and words thought silently.  She is a word collector keeping a list of the words she finds.  Others in town have some magic too, including Jonah, a mysterious boy who calls himself the Beedle and does good deeds around town.  Then there’s also the ice cream factory that makes a flavor that evokes memories both sweet and sour.  Felicity loves Midnight Gulch, but can she figure out a way to keep her mother from moving on to new places again?

This book was such fun.  Lloyd has created an entire town that is filled with a wonderful mix of magic and history.  Throughout the book, we learn about what first made Midnight Gulch so magical and then how it was taken away.  Then little by little in tantalizing ways readers see the magic that is left and are offered clues about how it may return someday.  It’s a book that is surprising and very readable.

Felicity is a great protagonist as she struggles to keep her family in one place.  As she finds out more about her own family history and discovers members of her family and community she never knew before, she finds herself less lonely in a way that she never though possible.  Perhaps the most delightful piece of all is that Felicity does not need her magic to solve her family’s issues, rather it is about piecing together a mystery and solving a riddle. 

Glowing with magic, this novel is a shining read that should be savored just like an ice cream cone on a hot day.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

half a chance

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Lucy and her family have moved often, following her father’s love of new places to photograph.  So when they move to New Hampshire and a house on a lake, the moving process is nothing new.  On her first day at the lake, Lucy meets Nate, a boy who summers on the lake with his family and grandmother.  Nate invites her along to help document the loons that live on the lake and soon Lucy is out on the lake every day.  Lucy longs to be a great photographer like her father, who has left for the entire summer on a photography shoot.  So she decides to enter a photo contest for youth, the only problem is that her father is the judge.  As Lucy sets out to prove her own skill at taking photos, she finds herself on a different parallel journey, one that will reveal new friends, expose difficult truths, and one that is far more important than winning any contest.

Lord has written another exceptional book for middle graders.  Lord excels at creating seemingly simple books that open with a premise and then blossom into something far more complex by the end.  Here she explores several themes that center on families.  There is the deteriorating grandmother who is aware of what is happening but unable to stop it.  There is Lucy’s own family that is fractured at times but remains strong.  There is a search for approval that Lucy undergoes as well as her own harsh criticism of her work.  Through it all, honesty is overarching, an unflinching sense of reality and truth that makes it impossible to look away.

Beautifully written, the entire book is memorable.  Lucy is a great character, a strong heroine who has self-confidence issues but is also talented, friendly and warm.  She is a rare young character who moves often with her family and yet the book is not about her scars from that transient life.  Rather it is about so many other things that that is just a small factor in a rich tapestry of her world.

Brilliant, soaring and honest, this book is another great read from one of the best.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Scholastic.

Review: The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

scar boys

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

Trying to fill out a college application, Harry decides to ignore the word limit and tell his full story to that point.  When he was 8 years old, kids in his neighborhood tied him to a tree during a thunderstorm.  The tree was struck by lightning and set ablaze with Harry tied directly to it.  Harry has severe scars both physically and emotionally from that day.  Harry had no friends until Johnny came into his life, a charismatic and confident boy who swept down and saved Harry from obscurity and loneliness.  Together the two of them started a band, one that really sucked at first, but then amazingly got better and better.  Called The Scar Boys, the band transported Harry from his dull life into a different type of storm, one of music and pure joy.  But bands often fall apart and so do high school friendships on the brink of college.  As the future looms closer, Harry has to figure out what to give up on and what is worth fighting to keep.

Vlahos’ debut teen novel is a screamingly funny wild ride.  The author was in a band himself when he was younger and the moments onstage read honest, zany and completely true.  The writing throughout is smart and clever, making points with arrow-sharp zingers that are surprising and make for a great read.  Here is one from page 97:

Truth is, if we’d had a shred of sense, we’d have known we were getting in way over our heads.  But you can’t buy shreds of sense, and even if you could, we were pretty much out of money.

Harry is a great protagonist.  He is witty and smart himself, since the book is written in first person from his point of view.  Vlahos manages to never lose track of Harry’s scars but also manages to make his scars much deeper than his skin and therefore the book about much more than that as well.  It is a book that explores friendships, power and dreams. 

An amazing debut novel, it has a winning mix of punk rock, guitars and real life.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley from Edelweiss and Egmont.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,106 other followers