Tag Archive: friendships


pack of dorks

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel

Lucy just knows that this is the biggest recess of her life, because at recess she will kiss Tom and cement herself as a popular fourth grader along with her best friend Becky.  But after the kiss happens, all she has is a ring that turns her finger green and a sinking feeling about what just happened.  Soon after the kiss, Lucy’s baby sister is born.  Her parents are shocked to have a baby with Downs Syndrome and are caught up in coping with the surprise.  That leaves Lucy alone to cope with the sudden turn of events at school where over the course of a few days she goes from being cool and popular to being one of the lamest kids in the class.  Becky calls Lucy at night to tell her all of the mean things that the other kids are saying about her, claiming that she is still Lucy’s friend but can’t be her friend at school anymore.  In the meantime, Lucy starts to make friends with some of the other kids in her class.  She does a project on wolves with Sam, a very quiet boy who is bullied by the same kids.  Out of that project and her growing group of outcast friends, Lucy decides that the only solution for them is to become their own pack.

Vrabel captures elementary school perfectly with its confusing social pressures that keep people conforming to the norm.  She manages to keep everything at just the right level, never becoming melodramatic about the situation.  At the same time, it is clear how devastating the bullying is to Lucy.  While she has a supportive family, they are distracted by the new baby and rightly so.  Her new little sister helps be a guide for Lucy forward, and is a very smart addition to the story, allowing Lucy her growth and also serving as an example of someone who will also need their own pack to support her.

Lucy is a character who becomes more likeable as the book progresses.  At first with her quests for popularity and kisses, Lucy is shallow but after she becomes shunned by the popular crowd she immediately reveals how smart and strong she actually is.  Vrabel’s brilliant combination of wolf packs and middle school bullies adds strength to the entire novel.

A smart book on bullies, differences and disabilities, this novel is one that will make a great read aloud for elementary classes.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

sam and dave dig a hole

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Barnett and Klassen are an amazing picture book duo who have created with this book an instant classic.  Sam and Dave are two friends who set out to dig a hole on Monday.  They decide that they won’t stop digging until they find “something spectacular.”  They keep digging, deeper and deeper, missing jewels by just a few inches.  They stop and have chocolate milk and animal cookies and then continue to dig.  Maybe another direction will help them find treasure?  But readers will see as they take the turn that they miss the biggest gem yet.  The dog that is along with them though seems to realize that there are things right under the surface, but Sam and Dave don’t pay any attention to him.  They dig and dig, missing everything along the way until they are right above a dog bone.  The two boys take a nap and their dog continues to dig down until suddenly they are falling down from the hole into a world very like their own.  Readers who are paying close attention though will realize that it is a subtly different place.

Children love to dig in the dirt and I think every child has dreamed of digging a truly great hole and finding something amazing.  Barnett keeps his text very straight-forward and simple, allowing the humor to be in the near misses of the illustrations and the perceptiveness of the little dog.  It is this frank delivery that makes the humor of the illustrations really work, giving them a platform to build off of.  The ending is wonderfully open-ended, and some readers will miss the subtle differences and assume they are back home again.  Others though will see the changes and realize that no matter what Sam and Dave have discovered their “spectacular” something.

Klassen’s illustrations are wonderful.  I adore the way that he lets his characters look out from the page to the reader.  He did the same thing in both of his great “Hat” picture books and there is a strong connection from the page to the people enjoying the book.  His illustrations have a textured feel to them, an organic nature that reads particularly well in this dirt-filled world. 

An instant classic and one that will get readers talking about the open ending.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

100 sideways miles

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Finn is epileptic with seizures that he can’t control.  He’s actually not sure he’d want to anyway, because his seizures are beautiful experiences, even though he pees himself during them.  Finn also has eyes that are different colors.  But those are not the wildest things about Finn.  Finn’s mother was killed in the same freak accident that left him with epilepsy, a dead horse fell from a knackery truck passing on a bridge overhead and struck them both.  Perhaps even wilder though is Finn’s best friend Cade, who is almost certainly insane but also staggeringly funny.  Finn has a theory about his life.  His father wrote a book that has a character with many of the same characteristics as Finn who happened to be a murdering alien.  Perhaps Finn is caught in that book, or maybe the entire world is just a knackery truck.  Then Julia enters Finn’s life and he is suddenly shown that there is much more to life or the knackery than he had ever realized. 

Smith has written several acclaimed novels and this one is by far my favorite.  He writes with a solid honesty, with teen characters who swear, who have sex, who talk about sex, who love and lust.  The book is filled with humor, even the scene where Finn and Cade are accidental heroes is filled with slapstick moments mixed with profound courage.  That is the way this book plays, it is humorous but also exceptionally though provoking.

Finn is a deeply flawed character who sees the world in a unique and strange way.  He measures time in terms of distance, something that is unsettling at first but then becomes almost a natural way to view time by the end of the book.  There is also something wonderfully darkly humorous about a character in a book worrying that he is a character in another book.  The novel has layers upon layers and invites readers to look deeply into the story and to find their own way through the knackery of life.

A great teen novel, one of the best of the year, get this into the hands of teens who will enjoy the humor, understand the depth and not be offended by the strong language.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

wildlife

Wildlife by Fiona Wood

Set in Australia, this teen novel features the first person voices of two sixteen-year-old girls experiencing a semester in a school wilderness camp.  Sib has been in this school for a long time, so it surprises everyone, including herself, when she is selected as a model for a billboard and modeling campaign.  Suddenly instead of ignoring her, everyone is paying attention to her.  That includes Ben Capaldi, the cutest and most popular boy in school.  Sib has no idea how to deal with this new interest, but her best friend is very willing to guide her, perhaps too willing.  Lou is a new girl in school and is recovering from the loss of her boyfriend in an accident a year ago.  She has no interest in joining into school life or making new friends.  Instead she wants to be left alone, connect with her old friends, grieve and try to figure a way out of her extra counseling sessions.  But even as she walls herself away from the others at school, she finds herself getting drawn into the drama and life happening around her.  This story of two very different and equally compelling young women dives deep into romance, sexuality and friendship.

Wood has made recent news through her frank depiction of teen female sexuality.  This book stands out clearly with its positive but also nuanced and honest look at one girl’s first sexual experience.  With moments of humor throughout, the sex is shown with lots of heat, tons of desire, and then reality as well.  In the end, the character decides what is right for her, not what is right for all teens, but there is no shaming, no despair, no regret, just decisions going forward.  This is sex as teen girls experience it, done with intelligence and care.

The reason the sex in the book works so well is that Wood has created two main characters who are themselves intelligent, caring and fascinating.  Sib is dealing with suddenly breaking the role that she had been cast in, and being thrust into popularity for something that she sees no value in, modeling.  It’s a deft combination of feminism and pop culture.  She also has a manipulative best friend, a character who is beautifully drawn and one that readers will adore to dislike.  Lou too is a complex character with her grief but also her growing interest in those around her.  Her internal voice is wonderfully wry and funny, showing a spirit and intensity well before she reveals it to the world around her. 

Set in a clever parent-free wilderness setting, this book is smart, funny and just what fans of Rainbow Rowell are looking for.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

i know a bear

I Know a Bear by Mariana Ruiz Johnson

A little girl gets to know a bear who comes from somewhere that he calls The Land of Bears.  Breakfasts there are sweet as honey, the land is vast, and the rivers are lovely for swimming.  Even the naps are better there, they go on for months.  But he can never return there, since he is in a zoo.  So the little girl has an idea, something that will let him feel a connection with the wilderness and something that she can set free.  It’s a powerful idea too.

Johnson tells this story in very short sentences, which one might think would be terse but instead feel slow and Zen-like.  It is a book about a girl who is forging her own connections with animals, making her own decisions too.  There are no adults in the story, just one little girl and one huge hairy bear.  It is a book about small choices making a big difference in the world.  It is simple and luminous.

Johnson’s illustrations have a wonderful light touch to them.  The pages with the huge bear can be dark and filled with fur, but then the book opens to a new page filled with white and lightness.  They are studies in contrast but also create a book that is a joy to read through with changes of feel from one page to the next.

An empowering story about one little girl and her connection with one big bear and the beauty of freedom.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.

turtle island

Turtle Island by Kevin Sherry

The author of I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean returns with a picture book all about friendship.  Turtle is very big but Turtle is also all alone and getting lonely.  Then one day, a ship wrecked near him and he rescued a bear, an owl, a cat and a frog from the ocean waters.  They climbed aboard his shell and Turtle supplied them with fish to eat.  Happily, Owl could knit, Bear could build, Frog could cook, and Cat could draw.  The four quickly went to work and created a home aboard Turtle.  Turtle wasn’t lonely any more.  One might think the book would end there, but instead the four smaller animals got very homesick and missed their families.  They had to return home, leaving Turtle all alone in the big ocean again.  What is a big lonely turtle to do, especially now that he realizes the importance of having good friends?

Sherry has a way with simple storytelling.  He manages to convey complicated emotions using a combination of his storyline and his illustrations.  Here the impact of having friends is looked at with humor and through a unique relationship of a huge turtle and characters riding on his back.  It’s a very nice metaphor for needing to support friends in different ways.

As with all of Sherry’s books, his cartoony illustrations are child friendly and add to the humor.  They keep this story from becoming overly sweet, showing goggle-eyed animals in different colors and always clearly showing that Turtle is simply huge.

Gently funny, simple and honest, this picture book is a friend to any story time on friendship or turtles.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

absolutely almost

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

The author of A Tangle of Knots returns with a brilliant new protagonist in her new novel.   Albie doesn’t get good grades, in fact he was asked to leave his private school and is going to be starting public school instead.  Albie isn’t the best artist.  He isn’t the best at anything at all.  Except maybe at eating doughnuts for breakfast.  But when he changes schools, things start to change for Albie.  It could be the great new babysitter he gets, since his parents are very busy.  Calista is an artist and she thinks it’s OK that Albie reads Captain Underpants books even though he’s in 5th grade and that he sometimes needs a break from school.  It could be math club, that starts each day with a joke and sneaks math in when Albie isn’t paying attention.  It could be a new best friend, Betsy, someone he can talk to and joke with and who doesn’t get mad when Albie gets confused.  But things aren’t all great.  Albie’s other best friend is appearing on a reality TV show and suddenly Albie gets popular at school, risking his friendship with Betsy.  Albie has a lot to figure out before he knows exactly what he’s good at.

Graff’s writing here is stellar.  She writes with an ease that makes for a breezy read, yet it deals with deep issues along the way.  Thanks to her light touch, the book reads quickly, never bogging down into the issues for too long before lightening again.  Still, it is the presence of those deep issues that make this such a compelling read.  The fact that the book deals with so much yet never feels overwhelmed by any of them is a wonder and a feat.

Throughout the entire book the real hero is Albie.  He is a character that is ordinary, every-day and yet is still a delight to read about.  His perspective is down to earth, often confused, and he walks right into every social trap there is.  He is a character you simply have to root for, a regular boy who is also a hero.  He shows that simply making it through each day being yourself is heroic, and a win.  The world is filled with Albies and this book shows why they should be celebrated.  He’s a delight.

A book with at least four starred reviews, this is a standout novel this year.  Get your hands on it and share it with kids.  It’s a unique and surprising read, just like Albie himself.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

saving lucas biggs

Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague

When Margaret’s father is sentenced to death, she can’t believe it since she is certain he is innocent.  But this is what happens when someone tries to stand up to the company that owns the entire town.  It’s also the company that owns Judge Biggs.  The only way that Margaret can see to save her father is to change Judge Biggs’ mind.  According to Grandpa Josh, her best friend’s grandfather, Judge Biggs used to be a good person until his father was accused of murder and hung himself.  The only person who can change the course of time is Margaret who has to use her family’s forbidden power of time travel.  But history resists change and Margaret only has a few days before history rejects her to make the necessary changes to save her father.

De los Santos and Teague have written a book that takes on time travel in a very refreshing way.  The idea that history actively resists change and that there is a physical toll on the time travelers makes for frustrating time travel.  Yet it feels right and also creates tension in the story at just the right moment.  The authors also explore company towns and how workers tried to stand up to unfair business practices.  Here there is plenty of action in that fight, including murder and gunfire as well as quiet desperation. 

Margaret is a winning character, one who travels in time very reluctantly but is given little choice when she is the sole person who has a chance of saving her father.  The story dives into complexity, never making things easy or simple.  One aspect of this is the way that redemption is viewed.  Characters are seen as changeable, able to be rescued from what happened to them even in their elder years.  This book is about getting chances to make the right choice in the end, forgiveness for poor choices earlier, and friendships that stand through time and betrayal. 

A rich and vibrant look at time travel, this fantasy will also appeal to history buffs.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

infinite sky

Infinite Sky by C. J. Flood

This book begins with the death of a boy but the identity of the dead person is not revealed.  We are then taken back to the beginning of summer, three months after Iris’ mother has left their family and just as the travelers come to stay in the field near Iris’ home.  She lives with her father and Sam, her brother, who continues to struggle with his mother leaving.  Iris starts watching the travelers in the field and becomes friends with Trick, a boy who is easy to talk to and easy to listen to.  Tensions start to rise as a theft is discovered and the travelers are blamed for it.  The long, hot British summer inexorably leads towards the death of one of the boys, but who is it?  Is it Trick or Sam?

Flood’s writing is beautiful and detailed.  The setting she creates of the British countryside in summer is one that is so finely drawn that you can see it in its entirety.  In fact, you can hear it, feel it, smell it too, so clear and strong are her descriptions.  The book’s structure of starting with the tragedy that defines the story adds a great amount of tension.  Because the boy who dies is not revealed until towards the end of the book, that mystery is a focus.  Yet at times one is also lost in the summer itself, its heat and the freedom it provides.

Flood has also created a complicated group of characters in this book.  All of the characters have complicated family lives, whether it is a mother who left or an abusive father.  Yet these characters are not defined by those others, they are profoundly affected by it, but are characters with far more depth than just an issue.  This is a book that explores being an outsider, falling in love, expressing emotions, and most of all being true to yourself and doing what you know is right.

A perfect read for a hot summer day, this is a compelling mix of romance, mystery and tragedy.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

this one summer

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Rose goes to Awago Beach every summer with her parents, but this summer things don’t feel quite the same.  Rose’s friend Windy is also there and the two of them hang out together just like every other summer.  But Rose’s parents are always arguing and her mother won’t go swimming with them at all.  Rose and Windy find their own way to escape the fighting, they rent horror movies from the local shop.  While they are there picking out and returning their movies, they watch a summer of teenage drama unfold in front of them.  This is a summer unlike any others, one where secrets are hidden and revealed and where sorrow mixes with the summer sun.

Done by the pair that did Skim, this is an amazing graphic novel for teens.  It deals with that fragile moment in life where children are becoming teens and everything around them is changing.  These two girls are suspended in that time during the summer, learning about themselves, about their parents and witnessing events around them in a new way.  The use of a summer vacation to capture that moment in time is superb.  Yet this book is not a treatise on the wonder of childhood at all.  It deals with deeper issues, darker ones, ones that the two girls are not ready to handle yet.  And that’s what makes it all the more wondrous as a book.

The art in the book is phenomenal.  The two girls are different physically, one a little stouter than the other and both are real girls expressing real emotions.  And the larger of the two girls is not the shy, meek one.  She has a wonderful sassiness to her, an open grin, and rocks a bikini.  Hoorah!  The art captures summer days, the beach, what a face of sorrow looks like and how it tears into ones entire physique.  Done in blue and white, the images are detailed and realistic.

A glimpse of one summer and what happens during it, this book is about capturing a moment in time, one that is filled with depth, despair and desire.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from digital copy received from

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