Tag Archive: friendship

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon

Archer lives in a house that his grandparents filled with all of their discoveries from exploring the world. That’s the closest that Archer has ever gotten to having his own adventure. In fact, he’s really not allowed to leave the house except to attend school because his mother is afraid that he has “tendencies” towards exploring. And she is right! Even though he is stuck in the house, Archer manages to make two close friends in Oliver and Adelaide. The three of them begin planning to rescue Archer’s grandparents from the iceberg where they were last seen two years ago. They have to avoid detection from Archer’s mother as well as their horrible teacher who also lives in their neighborhood. As they plan their escape, the three friends are in for the adventure of a lifetime.

It is amazing that this is Gannon’s debut book. It is written with such surety and clarity. The plot is very strong, one that readers can count on answering questions after allowing the reader to puzzle and stew a bit. The writing is lovely, creating a setting that is clear and crisp. The house itself is a world separate from the rest, filled with mounted animals, surprising gifts, and red trunks. Descriptions are used to create this world and paint it before your eyes. They manage to not slow the pace of the book, which moves from leisurely storytelling to a wild mania at the end.

The illustrations too are exceptional. Done in old-fashioned full-color panels, they are filled with wonderful details. You get to see the various houses depicted in minute detail. The characters too are shown in a wonderful delicacy that shines with lamplight and sun. Even the darkness of the classroom is lit from the side, glowing with a wonder that matches the storyline.

An imaginative and wonderful read, this book is one to snuggle up with and share aloud. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.

Little Robot by Ben Hatke

Little Robot by Ben Hatke (InfoSoup)

The author and illustrator of the Zita the Spacegirl series returns with a lovely graphic novel that is nearly wordless. A little girl climbs out of her bedroom window and heads out into the nearby junkyard where she discovers a strange round object. Upon pressing the button on top, the object transforms into a small robot that has trouble even staying on its feet. But the little robot has been missed in the factory and a huge robot is coming to reclaim it. Meanwhile, the girl and the robot make friends with cats, discover flowers, skip rocks, and play tag. That’s when they realize that another robot is on its way. Now the girl has to figure out how to keep the robot safe while she is also learning the skills of being a good friend.

Hatke has a wonderful sense of story in this graphic novel. The fact that he can tell such a varied story with so few words is testament to the power of his artwork. The story moves from quiet moments of connection between the girl and the robot to times of fast action and chases. Those little quiet moments are presented with a gorgeous solemnity that is occasionally made even richer by moments of humor. The action is riveting and sharp, contrasting beautifully with the quieter moments. The pacing is dynamic and energetic, creating a book that can easily be devoured in mere minutes.

Yet the book is also worth lingering over. The connection between the two main characters is told in such a shining way that this is not a book to rush through. The balance of the book is so well done, from the design of the pages to the skill used to keep readers fascinated and also touched by the budding friendship. Hatke should be congratulated for creating a book with an African-American girl as the one who is drawn to tools and robots. She often uses her tools to fix things, showing that she has knowledge as well as interest. The incorporation of STEM is done with subtlety and yet is also pervasive through the entire book.

Strong and lovely, this graphic novel for younger readers will entrance lovers of robots and science fiction. It’s also a great pick for those ages that are a bit young for most graphic novels but still long to be reading them as well as for young reluctant readers who will enjoy the illustrations and the little bit of text. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from digital galley received from First Second and Edelweiss.

Leo a Ghost Story by Mac Barnett

Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Released August 25, 2015.

Leo has lived for a long time alone in his house. Most people can’t see Leo, because he’s a ghost, but if you are reading this book you are one of the special people who can see Leo. When a new family moves into the house, Leo tries to be welcoming by bringing them tea, but the family is frightened of the floating tray. After hearing how much they dislike him because he’s a ghost, Leo leaves his house and roams the city. He is invisible to everyone until he meets Jane, a little girl with a lot of imaginary friends. She thinks that Leo is just another of them and since Leo was so hated because he was a ghost, he doesn’t correct her. The two of them have a grand time playing together and she even gives him a sheet and pillow to sleep by his side. Leo is so happy that he can’t sleep. So he heads downstairs and that’s where he meets the robber who has entered Jane’s house. But what is an invisible ghost to do to stop a robber?

Barnett immediately invites readers into his world by allowing them to suddenly “see” Leo with the first page turn. It creates a real connection with the story and makes Leo all the more tangible to the reader. Barnett excels at creating a simple story but one that has strong implications to real life running throughout. This is a delight of a light ghost story, but it is also about acceptance, honesty and embracing who you really are.

Robinson’s illustrations are light hearted. Her art is done with acrylics and construction paper. Leo himself is see-through and rendered in what looks like crayon, making him very childlike and welcoming. While Leo is pale or completely transparent, the others are all rendered in deep blue construction paper except for the pale-skinned thief.

A book about acceptance and the power of a strong imagination, this picture book will be a welcome addition to Halloween story times. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

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.

Dory and the Real True Friend
This is the second book featuring Dory, better known as Rascal by her family. In this book, Dory is headed to school. Her older siblings insist that she leave her best friend, Mary, who happens to be a monster that only Dory can see, at home. Dory agrees, since Mary had caused so much trouble at school the year before. Dory is going to try instead to be a regular girl and not get into trouble, but that’s not very easy when a new adventure comes her way. She also meets a girl in her class who appears to be a princess and talks about the castle she lives in and her pet dragon. Her siblings don’t believe that Rosabelle isn’t imaginary though. As Dory figures out that this may be a new real friend, thanks to their shared huge imaginations, she may also need help rescuing Mr. Nuggy, her fairy godmother, from the clutches of Mrs. Gobble Gracker.
I adored the first book in this series thanks to its embracing of a character who is wonderfully quirky and entirely unique. Dory is a girl with a huge imagination and also one who does not bow to social conventions easily. From wearing her nightgown all of the time at home to packing salami for lunch and then eating it like cookies, Dory does what makes her happy and doesn’t care for what others think. That is tested when she tries to befriend Rosabelle and while Dory works to make friends she still doesn’t change herself for it. Instead the two create a great synergy of imaginative play together where fairy godmothers with beards, evil sharp toothed women, dragons, monsters, and knights fight an amazing battle.
The illustrations are in the same style as the first book, drawn as if Dory herself was doing them as she tells her story. The entire book bursts with energy and funny moments. I particularly enjoyed seeing favorite characters from the first book return and the consistency of Dory’s imaginative play. While Dory may be entering a new year in school, all of the wild characters she invented in the first book are back in the second.
Fans of the first book will love this second one. Dory is exactly who I’d love as a friend! Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Grandpa Ephraim has been telling Micah stories of Circus Mirandus since he was a small child. It is the story of a circus that is so magical that adults cannot find it, only children who need to. You can’t get in without a ticket, but you never know what form that ticket will take. Once inside, you get to see acts like a flying birdwoman and a man who creates entire worlds in seconds. But now Grandpa Ephraim is sick and probably dying. Micah’s great-aunt Gertrudis has arrived to take care of both of them and that means no disturbing his grandfather and no talk of magic at all. When a talking and thinking parrot appears, Micah knows that the circus is real and then finds out that the most powerful man at the circus promised his grandfather a miracle that his grandfather saved. Now Micah knows exactly how to save his grandfather. He has to find the circus and use that miracle to stop him from dying and he has to do it quickly!

Beasley has written a terrific read one that nods to books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the way that an entire magical world is placed adjacent to our own, one that is just close enough to glimpse at times. She has also created a book which while it pays homage to classic children’s literature also modernizes it and mixes in magic too. The story arc works particularly well here, built on a strong tale that is filled with marvelous and amazing creatures and beings. The result is a book that is very readable and one where you aren’t quite sure what’s going to happen next, in the best possible way.

Micah is a very likable protagonist. He struggles to make friends and when he does their friendship takes time to grow. It feels very organic and the two of them are not natural friends who see the world the same way. Instead it is much more like making a real friend where it is the willingness to be friends that makes a huge difference and a decision to stop arguing when you don’t agree. It is these parts of the book that are so realistic, where the relationships shine, that make the book as strong as it is. Without these clever human elements the book would be too frothy and light. These keep it grounded and real.

A magical book filled with real people alongside the mystical ones, this book for young readers will be enjoyed almost as much as a visit to Circus Mirandus itself. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.

The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg

The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg

17-year-old Carson has moved from New York City to Billings, Montana with his mother to take care of the dying alcoholic father he hasn’t seen in 14 years. When they first get to town, his mother drops Carson off at the zoo to spend the day while she handles the initial contact with his father. At the zoo, Carson meets Aisha and finds himself able to speak to a pretty girl for the first time. Aisha is cool, she doesn’t mind his odd sense of humor, and she is also a lesbian. Carson also discovers that Aisha is homeless, thrown out by her father once he found out about her sexuality. Carson begins to discover that there are secrets in his own family, ones that lead him and Aisha to head out on a road trip to explore what happened to his grandfather and what caused him to leave his family and never return. Carson hopes that the answers to these secrets may be enough to help his father heal, but they also have the potential to hurt him badly as well.

I adored Openly Straight by Konigsberg and I am equally excited about this novel. In both, Konigsberg manages to speak to the gay teen experience but he does it in very inventive ways. The focus here is on Carson, a white straight male, but one who is beautifully and hauntingly damaged. Throughout the book, that damage is explored and exposed. Aisha is an incredible character too, an African-American lesbian character who refuses to be anyone’s sidekick or any novel’s secondary character. This is her journey as well, though the two of them are looking for different things along the same path. Konigsberg also takes a hard look at AIDS and early gay activism in this novel, something that is important for modern teens both gay and straight to understand.

I am rarely a fan of road trip novels since they often meander too much for my liking. That is not the case here where the journey is part of the discovery about the characters. The journey is also a way to give these two teens time to talk about big things like families and faith. It offers the core of the novel, a connection between two very different personalities where both of them discover home in one another. Even better, it’s not a romance book at all even though it has a male and a female in the lead roles. Hurrah!

An important addition to the LGBT collections, this book explores faith, sexuality, and family with humor and depth. Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Trent can’t manage to move on from last year when a tragic accident ended with another boy dead. Trent lost not only all of his friends because of it but also finds himself unable to play the sports he loved, like baseball. At the same time, Trent is unable to control his anger, even if he puts his most disturbing thoughts down on paper in drawings. It helps a bit, but he continues to have problems getting angry at everything and everyone. It all just proves that he is entirely the messed up kid that everyone things he is already. Fallon enters Trent’s live as they head to middle school. She is a girl who loves baseball movies, has a similar sense of humor, and has clearly also survived a tragedy which left her with a scarred face. Fallon becomes Trent’s closest friend, but one burst of anger may end that too, taking away the only good thing he has left.

Graff does such a beautiful job in this middle grade novel. She creates in Trent a truly complex character, one that readers will need time to understand. Trent is at his heart a boy dealing with death and loss and his own role in it, including showing a lot of self-hatred. So in that way, he is an entirely understandable character, one that is sympathetic. Then there is the angry Trent, who loses control, says horrible things, and lashes out. That part of his personality is hard to like, making him at times a character who is far from heroic. At the same time, this is the same person, likable one moment and the next impossible to like at all.

Graff captures the loss of control that comes with flashing red anger, the words that flow out of control, and the way that it feels in the body. Readers will completely understand those zings of anger and the shame that follows if you lash out. Graff also shows a path forward from being isolated and angry, a way to find people to help you even if you have lashed out at them earlier. It is a powerful story of redemption, of learning to return to who you really are, and of self forgiveness.

Beautifully written, this book is an amazing look at powerful emotions and the equal power of watering plants, breathing deeply and playing baseball. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel Books.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

Released May 26, 2015.

This is the first YA novel by Priest, a well-known fantasy author for adults, and it’s a treat. May and Libby have been friends for years, the best of friends after meeting in fifth grade on a playground. The two of them wrote comics together about Princess X, a katana-wielding heroine. But then one day, Libby was gone, dead after a car crash from a bridge. Three years later, May has returned to their hometown and notices an image of a princess holding a katana on a sticker, a sticker that is brand new. May tracks down the image to a web comic where she realizes there are real similarities to the story that she and Libby had created. How can that be? And how strange is it that some of the stories seem to have messages only May could understand hidden inside of them?

There is a real joy in finding a book that does digital life so very well. The online elements of the story and the web comic are clear and make perfect sense. The hacking and dark net also work well in the way they are portrayed where there is information to be found but often it’s not legal to access it. That aspect alone, so often mismanaged in novels, is worth this read. But add to that a determined friend who quickly believes that her dead friend is still alive, an online and real life quest for information, horrible bad guys, and the exploration of Seattle both above and underground. It’s a book that is a searing fast read thanks to its pacing and the need to find out the truth.

The online comics are shared as comic inserts in the book, and were not completed in the galley that I have. The first couple of comics were available and add to the drama of the book. The mix of words and images works very well here with Priest using it both to move the story forward and to show the drama and appeal of the comic itself.

Smartly written with great characters and an amazing quest for the truth, this book is satisfying, surprising and impressive. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

ballet cat

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea

Released May 5, 2015.

Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony want to play together, but first they have to decide what to play. Sparkles has lots of ideas, like doing crafts, playing checkers and selling lemonade, but none of them work when Ballet Cat wants to be able to spin and leap and twirl. Very reluctantly, Sparkles offers to play ballet with her instead and Ballet Cat jumps at the opportunity. Sparkles though is not having a very good time. When Ballet Cat asks him what is wrong, Sparkles doesn’t want to say in case she won’t be friends with him any longer. Ballet Cat though has her own secret that she doesn’t want to tell Sparkles either. It will take one very brave pair of friends to share these secrets.

Shea has created a new series for beginning readers that is sure to appeal. Ballet Cat and Sparkles fill the page with humor that is broad but also wry and clever. It’s the perfect mix for young children navigating their own friendships. The best parts are when the characters are at odds with one another and when they state the obvious. It’s writing that reads as if small children were saying it without ever putting them down.

The art is pure Shea, dynamic and colorful. It is filled with action and activity and emotions too. Shea excels at showing emotions on his characters that are done strongly enough that small children will be able to understand immediately how a character is feeling. Sparkles in particular emotes clearly on the page, his body language and expressions showing exactly how he feels.

A strong new beginning reader series about friendship that is perfect for Elephant and Piggie fans. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley.


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