Tag Archive: friendship


little eliot big city

Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato

Eliot loved living in the big city, but sometimes it was hard being such a small elephant in such a huge place.  He had to watch out so he didn’t get stepped on, doorknobs could be too high, and he could never catch a cab.  Even at home, Eliot had to find a way to make everyday things work.  Eliot also loved cupcakes, though when he tried to buy  one in a shop he couldn’t get noticed by the person at the counter.  He felt very small and invisible then, but on the way home he discovered a mouse trying to reach some food and found that even though he may be small he can make a big difference.  Even better, he can make friends!

Curato uses only a few words to tell his story, making the most of the illustrations to show the ways that Eliot solves his height issues at home as well as how the new friends solve the cupcake buying problem.  Children will enjoy reading about this little polka-dotted elephant who faces the same issues that they do in life.  They will easily relate to the sadness of being ignored too. 

The illustrations in this book are filled with charm.  Eliot himself is a wonderfully unusual little fellow, shining on the page.  The images of the city are mostly done in a dark and subtle color palette.  The entire book has a fifties vibe to it and some of the images are pulled right out of an Edward Hopper painting.  It’s a courageous choice that works particularly well.

A charmer of a protagonist and an urban landscape make this one delicious cupcake of a picture book.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

madman of piney woods

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

This companion novel to Elijah of Buxton continues the story of the town of Buxton and the people who live there.  This book, which takes place forty years after the first book, is the story of two boys, Benji and Red.  Benji, who lives in Buxton, dreams of becoming a newspaper reporter.  He has two pesky younger siblings who also happen to be gifted builders with wood.  That doesn’t mean though that Benji doesn’t try to put them in their place when they need it.  Benji also has a way with the forest, spending hours walking the trails and exploring.  He is one of the first to see the Madman of Piney Woods.  Red is a scientist.  He’s been raised by his father and maternal grandmother, who hates anyone who isn’t Irish like she is.  She is strict with Red, smacking him regularly with her cane hard enough to raise a lump.  When the two boys meet, they immediately become friends even though their backgrounds are so different.  But can their friendship withstand the brimming hatred of some people in their communities?

I loved Elijah of Buxton so much and I started this book rather gingerly, hoping that it would be just as special as the original.  Happily, it certainly is.  It has a wonderful feeling to it, a rich storytelling that hearkens back to Mark Twain and other classic boyhood friendship books.  Curtis makes sure that we know how different these two boys are:  one with a large family, the other small, different races, different points of view.  Yet it feels so right when the two boys are immediate friends, readers will have known all along that they suit one another. 

Curtis explores deep themes in this novel, offering relief in the form of the exploits of the two boys as they figure out ways to mess with their siblings and escape domineering grandmothers.  There are scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny.  Other scenes though are gut-wrenching and powerful.  They explore themes like the damage done to the psyche during wars, racism, ambition, responsibility and family ties.  It is a testament to the writing of Curtis that both the humor and the drama come together into an exquisite mix of laughter and tears.

A great novel worthy of following the award-winning original, this book will be met with cheers by teachers and young readers alike.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.

phoebe and her unicorn

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson

When Phoebe skipped a rock (four times!) across a pond, she accidentally hit a unicorn in the nose, distracting the unicorn from gazing at her amazing reflection.  The unicorn was bound to offer Phoebe a wish and though Phoebe tried to wish for more wishes and things like that, she wasn’t allowed to.  So Phoebe wished that the unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, be her best friend.  The two become inseparable, much to Heavenly Nostrils’ dismay at first.  Soon they truly became the best of friends, dealing with bullies in unexpected ways, having slumber parties, and playing games together. 

This friendship between a girl and a unicorn is filled with great humor, including lots of biting sarcasm which helps offset the cuteness factor.  It is not the traditional unicorn and girl relationship either, both of them have unique personalities and sometimes they just don’t get along.  It’s those moments of reality that keeps the relationship honest and makes this a graphic novel to celebrate.

Simpson’s illustrations have strong ties to Calvin & Hobbes.  Readers will immediately find themselves right at home in the world she creates, one where unicorns are real but sheltered by a Shield of Boringness that keeps others from realizing how special the unicorn is.  These plot devices are brilliant and funny.

I brought this book home and my 17 year old immediately rejoiced since she reads the comic online.  So you will have fans in your library for this book already.  Get it on the shelves for kids and into the hands of adults who will also enjoy it immensely.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

glory obriens history of the future

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

Glory can’t see a future for herself.  She has no plans once she graduates from high school, not applying to any colleges.  Perhaps she is just like her dead mother, who committed suicide four years ago.  It’s the reason that Glory has only eaten microwaved food years, since her father won’t replace the oven her mother used to kill herself.  Glory can’t even seem to get along with her best friend who lives across the road in a commune.  It was there that they found the desiccated bat that they mixed with water and drank.  It was a decision that changed Glory’s life because now when she looks at other people she can see their future, and it’s a future that is filled with civil war, hate of women, and horror.  As Glory sees everyone’s future but her own, she starts to slowly explore the family secrets that surround her and even her own way forward.

King is amazing.  While the cover may compare her to John Green, she is has a voice that is entirely unique and her own.  King has created here a book that mixes photography with philosophy.  Glory speaks the language of film, pre-digital and more physical and tangible.  She uses light meters and ties the numbers she uses directly to her life:  “By shooting the darkest areas three zones lighter, you turned a black, lifeless max black zone 0 into a zone 3.  I think, in life, most of us did this all the time.”  King also embraces a fierce and beautiful feminism in this book.  It’s the feminism that we all viscerally crave, one that speaks to the power of girls and women, a feminism that can save us from ovens.

Glory is such a strong character.  I love that she is cool and real, and yet she feels that she is the most awkward, unsexy and unreal person in the world.  That is such a teen feeling, a feeling of hiding and being masked and fake.  King captures it beautifully.  Glory grows throughout the book, emerging from behind all of the barriers that she has set up for others before they can meet who she really is.  The problem is that she is also hiding from herself. 

Strong, beautiful, feminist and fierce, this book is one inspiring read for all of us who hide and need to be found by ourselves.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

lowriders in space

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third

Three friends, Lupe, El Chavo and Elirio, work together in a garage where they fix cars.  They dream of one day having their own garage.  Lupe loves working on engines and the mechanics.  El Chavo washes them until they shine with his octopus arms.  Elirio uses his mosquito size and his long nose to detail the cars.  Their favorite kind of car are the low and slow lowriders.  So when a contest with a large prize comes along, they know they have to enter.  Now they just have to turn a junker into the best car in the universe, so they head into space to see what they can do.  This is one unique read that combines space, cars and great friendship.

Camper incorporates Spanish into her story, firmly placing this book into the Hispanic culture.  Her characters are clever done.  The female in the group is the one who loves engines and mechanical things, yet is incredible feminine too.  The book seems to be firmly housed on earth until one big moment launches it into outer space.  The incorporation of astronomy into the design and art of the car makes for a book that is wild and great fun to read.

The illustrations by Raul Gonzalez have a cool hipness to them that is honest and without any slickness at all.  Done in a limited palette of red, blue and black, the art has a vintage feel that is enhanced by the treatment of the pages with stains and aging. 

This graphic novel is cool, star filled, rich with science, and has friendship at its heart.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

over there

Over There by Steve Pilcher

Shredder lives all by himself in the big forest.  He has a cozy bed in a matchbox under a maple tree, he has plenty to eat which means worms since he’s a shrew, and he has a pet acorn.  But acorns can’t talk and Shredder felt that something was missing.  So he sets off to see if there is something more out there.  Seeing a twinking in the distance, he heads out to see what it is.  After a long journey all night, it turns out to be a tiny silver boat and Shredder climbs aboard.  But the boat doesn’t float for long.  Happily, just as Shredder disappears under the water, a hand reaches out to save him.  It’s a mole, named Nosey.  As the two of them spend time together, Shredder starts to realize that he has found “something more” after all.

Pilcher’s story is straight forward and speaks directly to loneliness and the journey to find a new friend.  He incorporates clever elements that create wonderful quiet moments in the book.  The time that Shredder spends with his silent acorn pet, the question of what the shining thing in the distance is, the floating moments on the water, the warmth of new friendship. 

What is most special about the book though is the art.  Done by Disney Press as part of their Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase, it will come as no surprise that the entire book reads like an animated movie.  The backgrounds on the page have a cinematic depth to them.  Shredder himself is immensely likeable as a character, a tiny shrew often dwarfed by the world around him. 

A fine picture book, this book is very appealing thanks to its friendly art and the jolly adventure at its heart.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

farmer and the clown

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

In a wordless picture book, Frazee captures what happens when a young clown falls off of a circus train and is rescued by a lonely farmer.  The desolate and flat landscape is unbroken until the bright circus train passes.  The farmer is clearly reluctant to take in the bright little smiling clown, but he does anyway, taking him by the hand back to his tiny house.  There, the two of them sit together, share a meal and eventually wash up and the clown washes off his face paint.  Now it is the little clown who is worried and sad, his smile removed with the water.  The farmer sits with him as he tries to fall asleep.  Along with the light of dawn, the farmer starts to cheer up the little clown with silly faces and antics.  Soon the two are living a mix of their two lives:  eggs are gathered and juggled, hard work is shared, and the two head out on a picnic together.  While on the picnic, they hear a train coming and it is the circus train filled with clowns.  But somehow, the ending is not sad as the little clown returns to his family and the farmer returns to his farm, both changed forever.

I’m not sure how Frazee manages to convey so much in a wordless format.  She uses symbolism, like the face paint for removing barriers, the connection of the characters through held hands, and their very different hats being removed and shared and eventually exchanged.  It’s lovely and heartfelt and very special. 

I’ve seen this book on a lot of people’s top book lists for the year, and I completely agree.  It’s a gem of a book that has such depths to explore.  The wordless format might imply a simple story, but here readers will find subtlety about friendship, caring for others, and building connections. 

A masterpiece of wordless storytelling, this is a radiant picture book made to be shared.  Appropriate for ages 2-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

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.

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