Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
A blue crayon labeled as red is not very good at being red at all. His fire trucks were all wrong. He thought more practice might help, but his strawberries didn’t look anything like Scarlet’s. When he tried to mix with other colors, like Yellow to make orange, it turned very green on him. His parents tried to warm him up with a scarf, but it didn’t work either. Everyone had advice for him, like just trying harder or sharpening himself to a new point. Nothing made any difference. Then he made a new friend who asked him to make an ocean for her boat to sail on. Red protested at first because oceans aren’t red, but then agreed to try. And suddenly he realized that he had been blue all along!
Told in symbolism that children will immediately understand, this book works on a variety of levels. It can inspire children to be who they really are on the inside and to be true to that and not the labels that society puts on you. Others will read it as a metaphor for being gay or transgendered and I think it works beautifully for that as well. Perhaps the best praise that can be given this book is that it can mean so many different things to people.
Hall’s artwork is simple and lovely. His various crayons are different heights and have wonderful color names that range from more normal colors to “Cocoa Bean” and “Hazelnut” and “Grape.” They all have something to say too, helpful and not-so-helpful alike. But they are Red’s community and children will see in them things that are said to people who are different in some way.
A celebration of inner diversity, this picture book is all about accepting and celebrating our differences. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Geek Girl by Holly Smale
Released January 27, 2015.
This British import is hilarious, geeky and great fun. Harriet Manners knows that she is not a popular person. She shares too many factoids about things, she doesn’t care about fashion to the point that she took wood shop to avoid going to a fashion event, and she even has a list of the people who hate her. So when Nat, her best friend, demands that she come along to the fashion event, Harriet knows that she has to. Nat has dreamed her entire life of being a model, something that Harriet doesn’t even start to understand. She’d much rather be a paleontologist and spend her time watching nature documentaries. But everything goes wrong and it is Harriet who is discovered at the fashion show, and now Harriet starts a series of lies and cover ups to keep both her best friend and her step mother from knowing anything about her being discovered. Modeling is hard when you’ve never walked in heels before, when you don’t know the rules and when you are sitting next to the most gorgeous boy you have ever seen.
Smale has managed to give us a perfect mashup of geek and Next Top Model in this novel. Harriet is an unforgettable heroine, someone who is awkward in the extreme, entirely herself, and uncertain about who she wants to be. She is bullied by a classmate even as she is being discovered as a model. Even as she wants modeling to transform her into someone else, Harriet manages to be a voice for teens who are different, fascinated by facts, think in charts and graphs, and who are different from the rest.
Smale is also deeply funny. Harriet has wonderful asides that reference geeky movies and books. Her father and step mother have the most marvelous arguments, ones that read like a real argument when things stop making sense and have plenty of zinging comments. Best of all, the arguments don’t end their relationship but somehow form a basis for it. The writing throughout is clever and witty, making it a book that is impossible to put down.
The first book in a trilogy, this book came out in the UK in 2013 and was nominated and won several awards. It certainly lives up to the hype with its wit, strong heroine and inherent joy. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Harper Teen and Edelweiss.
Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison
Jane lived in an extraordinary world at the circus, but she was just an ordinary dog. Her mother could do tricks on the back of horses. Her father could lift an elephant. Her brothers got shot out of cannons and her sisters performed on the high wire. But Jane didn’t do any of that. She tried to find her own special talent, but nothing seemed to work. She even managed to cause some disasters along the way. Jane was just ordinary, but in her own quiet way she was very special too.
Harrison has created a quiet heroine in her picture book. This book will speak to dog lovers but also to children who feel that they don’t live up to their older siblings. It is a story that celebrates kindness, supportiveness and just being yourself whether that is loud or quiet, flashy or subtle. The setting of a circus was an inspired choice, offering the most contrast between a regular dog and the daredevil family she has.
Harrison’s art is wonderfully detailed. She offers spreads of the entire circus and its three rings filled with action. The dogs fur is shown in individual hairs, the wrinkles on the elephants are striking, and the perspectives are engagingly diverse.
For all of the quiet stars out there, this amazing dog will be inspiring for them to just be themselves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
Henny by Elizabeth Rose Stanton
Henny was born just a little different than all of the other chickens. She was born with arms instead of wings! Henny liked her arms sometimes like when they flapped when she ran. Other times, she didn’t like her arms. Sometimes she liked being different and other times it made her feel sad and lonely. Henny had to worry about different things than other chickens like gloves or mittens. She tried to fit in with the other chickens, but she was always different no matter what she did. Then one day, she caught a falling egg and started to see how many ways she could use her arms and hands.
Stanton has captured exactly what it feels like to be distinctly different from others and the transformation that can occur when you realize the good parts of being unique. The text of the book is simple. She uses humor throughout the book to make sure the spirit stays light, even during Henny’s darker moments of doubt.
The watercolor illustrations are also quite funny. I particularly love the image of Henny running with her arms flapping behind her and that being one of Henny’s favorite things about her arms. By the end of the book, you are almost surprised to see other chickens with wings since the arms suit Henny perfectly.
A great pick to start discussions about being different, the light touch here keeps the subject approachable. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Love Monster by Rachel Bright
Love Monster lives in a world filled with soft and cuddly pastel animals and everyone loves them. But no one loves a red, googly-eyed monster who isn’t so cute. So Love Monster decides to head out and see if he can find someone who will love him despite not being cuddly. Love Monster searches and searches for someone like this. He even thinks he’s found them, but then discovers that he has not. He’s just about to give up, but learns some things are worth working hard to find.
Bright does an admirable job of creating a book that has a very large message without it consuming the story too much. She uses a narrator voice that is strong and individual which helps keep the book from becoming to sweet as well. Love Monster is a great character, primarily because he isn’t a complainer and refuses to just settle for a life alone.
Bright’s art is bight and large. Love Monster pops against each pastel page with the pages getting darker colored as the story progresses. Finally, night has fallen and the stars come out in a black sky and Love Monster pops there too.
Monsters and love, sounds like a great Valentine’s Day book for little monsters. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Mo’s Mustache by Ben Clanton
Mo just got a brand new mustache in the mail! But when he shows it to all of his friends, they all get their own mustaches and soon it isn’t special anymore. So Mo decides to wear a striped scarf instead and leave his mustache off. Then all of his friends get scarves too. Mo loses it and shouts at his friends, demanding to know why they are copying him. Everybody explains to him that he has a great sense of style, so they like to imitate him. Mo had never thought of it like that. So he sets up a fashion show where everyone can show off their own sense of style. And you will never guess what Mo wears to the party!
Clanton’s writing is brisk and brightly funny. He uses dialogue from the various monsters to tell much of the story and each one has an impressively different voice and tone from the others. It all makes this book a treat to share aloud. It is also a book that celebrates being yourself and having your own personal style.
The art is modern and zany. Mo himself has a star on the end of his tail, other monsters are furry, still others are tiny with just one eye. They are all clearly individuals from the start and so it is a treat to see how they all use the new accessory in their own unique way.
Clever, smart and full of zest, this book will have you picking out your favorite mustache and scarf too. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Fat Angie by E. E. Charlton-Trujillo
Angie has hit rock bottom. She tried to kill herself in front of the entire school and now she just wants to make it through each day. She numbs herself with lots of junk food, eating her way past the pain of her sister being held hostage in Iraq and her adopted brother being cruel to her both in public and at home. Her mother is just anxious for Angie to be normal or at least to appear normal to everyone. But Angie’s entire world changes when the new girl is nice to her. KC Romance is not from Dryfalls, Ohio and it is obvious. She is innately cool, something that Angie has never even tried to pretend to be. Best of all, KC sees past the fat and the walls that Angie puts up to the real Angie, the one that Angie herself has never really known was there. Now Angie is inspired to do more and that means big changes both inside and out.
This teen novel deals with all sorts of issues, all focused through Angie herself. There is suicide, binge eating, being overweight, a sister missing in Iraq, cutting, and sexuality. One might think that it all doesn’t fit into a single novel, but it does thanks to the incredible character of Angie. The author writes with a wonderful snarky voice yet one that is ultimately human and smart. She is entirely herself even though she isn’t sure who that is.
I particularly enjoyed the snippets of therapy that are shared along with the therapist’s notes. This is the sort of humor that pervades this book. Yet there is incredible sadness within it as well. There is grief that others don’t share, mean girls that are beyond cruel, and a family that doesn’t try any longer. Angie has a lot to be angry and sad about, but somehow she rises beyond that. Most remarkable of all though is that in this book, she does it herself. And along the way, she helps others rise too.
Beautifully written, dark and wildly funny, this book will have you crying, raging and cheering. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
Bink and Gollie return in their third book of escapades as best friends. The first of the three stories in this book has Gollie wondering if she might have royal blood while Bink is much more interested in pancakes. The second has Bink worrying about being short and buying the incredibly complex Stretch-o-matic that requires “excessive assembly.” The third story has the girls wondering what collection they should start to get a record in Flicker’s Arcana of the Extraordinary.
In all of these stories, we get to see Bink and Gollie as pure individuals. It’s a relief as always to return to a storybook world where girls are not bedecked in glitter, ruffles and pink. These are two girls who read as real and tangible and completely unique. I also enjoy the way that the friendship between the two girls always has space enough for them to be themselves and not try to even mimic one another. As always the stories are clever with great endings and completely readable by young readers. The illustrations continue to have the same freshness as the stories and characters, with wonderful humor embedded in them.
Fans of Bink & Gollie will be clamoring for the third book and thanks to the unique characters and easy reading format, these books belong in every library. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Starring Jules (As Herself) by Beth Ain
When Jules is singing her new jingle for a fizzy ice-cream cone to her little brother and making lots of bubbles in their milk glasses, she is discovered and invited to audition for a mouthwash commercial. But even for a girl with lots of “pizzazz” there are difficulties to overcome. First, Jules finds out that the mouthwash is orange flavored, a flavor that makes her want to puke. Second, the only one she can see who can help her is her old best-friend Charlotte Stinkerton Pinkerton. Third, there’s a new girl in Jules’ class who may just be the perfect best friend ever, but Jules has to get to her first, before she joins the new clique that Charlotte has formed. It’s a complicated situation for Jules and the question is whether it will be just too much for this girl who is fizzy and filled with pizzazz.
Ain has created a character that reads like an older Clementine. Jules is wonderfully and innately quirky, obviously happy in her own skin. All of the small details and Jules’ unique view of the world serve to make her a beautifully human character. Happily, the same is true for the secondary characters as well. They are all richly drawn and complex. Friendship is shown in all of its miscommunication and mistakes.
Written with a light hand and a jaunty pace, this book will appeal to readers who have grown up with Clementine and are looking for a new heroine with plenty of individuality. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
Island’s End by Padma Venkatraman
A remote island in the Bay of Bengal is the setting for this novel by the author of Climbing the Stairs. Uido is a teen who can communicate with spirits. Just before strangers arrive at their island, Uido dreams of it. The tribe has conflicted feelings about the strangers, some are drawn to the technology of their fast boats and matches, while others see the end of their ways if the new ways are adopted. During this confusing time, Uido studies to become her tribe’s spiritual leader. There is danger in the studies, from braving the dangers of the island to finding her spirit animal. But nothing is as dangerous yet beguiling as the strangers and their new ways, as Uido is soon to find out.
Venkatraman creates a vivid world here surrounded by water and coral reefs. It is a world where everything is different. The island itself is a character in the book as seasons turn, Uido journeys across the island, and finally in the climactic ending scenes. The island is beautiful, wild, untamed and irresistible.
Uido is a heroine who faces many self-doubts, but rises to the challenges she is faced with. She has a spirit herself that is true and strong. She struggles with a friend who doesn’t understand her, a brother who is jealous, and the loneliness of being away from her family. Plus the allure of the modern world. Yet in Uido, readers will also see a young woman who is tied to the traditional ways in a strong and compelling way.
Beautifully written, this book is a journey into an unknown, primitive world where readers will discover a radiance and wonder. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Young Readers Group.