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.
No One But You by Douglas Wood, illustrated by P.J. Lynch
This radiant picture book speaks to each of us having individual experiences in the world. Only you can feel things the way that you do. Only you taste, hear, smell and see things in the way that you do. No one else breathes with your breath. No one else wishes on the same star in the same way. And no one else feels the emotions you do or says I love you the way that you mean it.
Wood’s writing reads like a poem, a verse that dances, expresses and moves. He turns his lens onto different specific moments, emphasizing how we all experience things differently. Using small moments of life, the book also quietly asks people to slow down and really experience what they are doing then. Because no one else will feel it but you.
Lynch’s art is quiet and powerful. His realistic paintings focus on diverse children doing day-to-day things. The expressions they show are candid, real and vibrant. His colors range from bright to dark, all of them filled with a special light that emanates from the children’s faces.
A gorgeous picture book, this is ideal for bedtime reading and is sure to make any child who hears it think about just how special they are. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.
Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell
All Janie wants is to be normal, but she can’t shake her stinky reputation that comes from her family’s goat farm. The lump of something strange in her hair one day didn’t help and neither did the clump of goat poo on her shoe that stunk up the bus. To make it worse, her group of friends from middle school don’t have the same lunch as she does, so she has taken to wolfing down her lunch at her locker and then spending the lunch period in the library. She keeps hoping that someone normal will enter the library and befriend her, but there are only weird kids around. No friend material, and no boyfriend material either. The real trouble is that Janie herself is not normal: she makes her own clothes, is sassy, smart and vibrant. Now the question is when she’s going to figure that out.
Dowell’s writing is funny, intelligent and spot on. She writes dialogue that is snappy and a pleasure to read. Janie’s journey from hoping for normal to embracing her own uniqueness is written with great pacing, lots of truth, and a joyousness that is infectious. There are many places in the book that clichés could have been used, but Dowell never turns to them. Instead, she uses those moments to make the book ever more special.
A large part of the success of the novel is the character of Janie. She has a voice that is clear and consistent, filled with humor. The novel really traces her growth as a teen, finding her own way that is certainly not normal. Yet despite being a unique path, it is clear that the person she grows into is the one she was meant to be from the beginning.
A book that celebrates being exactly who you really are, even if you aren’t sure who that is yet, this is a treat of a read. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
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What’s Special about Me, Mama? by Kristina Evans, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
A child asks his mother what makes him unique. She responds, “So many things, Love.” He asks for examples. She tells him that his eyes are unique, because they tell stories without words. He dismisses that answer because he has always been told he has her eyes, so that’s not unique. His mother goes on to talk about his skin color, which is just like his father’s. Then his freckles, which are like Auntie Jade’s. His hair is like his grandmother. She starts to talk about the things he does, his special behaviors. He continues to ask for more, until she explains that there is nothing little about love and that he is loved more than anyone in the world.
The beautiful words by Evans have a rhythmic quality to them, a to and fro that works especially well here. The conversation has its own ebb and flow, and then the mother speaks in a poetic and joyous way about her son. It is a book that really speaks to the worth and special qualities of all children, but also of this specific one.
Steptoe’s illustrations are done in collage and feature many different shades of skin the the same family. The illustrations have bold colors and strong lines. Done in crinkled paper, they have a texture and heft to them that is gorgeous. I should also mention that the illustrations do not make it clear if the child is a boy or girl, making the book even more adaptable and interesting.
A joyous look at what makes someone special and unique, this book will have you smiling with its bright colors and embracing message. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Spork by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Spork’s mother is a spoon and his dad is a fork. In the world of the kitchen, there was very little mixing between different types of cutlery. Sure there were some rebels, but most of them stuck to their own kind. But no one else was quite like Spork with his mix of spoon and fork characteristics. To make matters worse, Spork was never chosen to be used at the table. That is until one day, when the messy thing arrived who had no respect for cutlery and didn’t know how to use them correctly. The messy thing needed its own special utensil. Something that could be slurped with, that was flexible and easy to use. It was the job for Spork!
With its clear parallels with children from mixed cultures and races, this book offers a clear message that no matter what there is a place for all of us. Nicely, it also speaks to those children who are a little different in other ways and may not fit in with the crowd in the cutlery drawer either. Maclear writes with a gentle humor that is evident throughout the book. The illustrations are a delight with their subtle color tones. The engaging personalities of the cutlery are clear to the reader, especially the loneliness of Spork with his very rounded head. Her use of digital mixed media works particularly well as cartoon faces intermingle with vintage line drawings. The result is a very charming book.
A book that speaks to the loneliness and uniqueness in all of us, this is a warm way to introduce the subject of individuality being just fine. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Check out the trailer for the book:
Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.
Tutus Aren’t My Style by Linda Skeers, illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf
Emma loves getting dirty, chasing frogs, and just being outside. So when a package arrives from her Uncle Leo with a pink ballerina costume inside, she isn’t sure how to even pretend to be a ballerina. The mailman offers her tips about how to float, flutter and twirl but Emma just ends up in the birdbath. Mrs. Gurkin walks by and tells her to walk on her tippy-toes, but Emma falls into the petunias. When Emma heads inside, her brother suggests that music might help. Emma tries her kazoo, but that doesn’t work quite right. As she tries to adapt to being a ballerina, Emma finds herself returning to her cowboy boots and shorts that have handy pockets. In the end, she dances in her own way and style.
This book is perfect for children who don’t fit into the mold of pink for girls and blue for boys. Emma is a girl that one doesn’t see often in picture books. She is her own self, yet open to trying new things to see if they work for her. She will have readers cheering her on! Skeers has written a heroine with plenty of personality and spunk. There are wonderful humorous touches that really make the book a pleasure to read aloud. The text moves along at a brisk pace. Wilsdorf’s illustrations add to the humor with their cartoon style. They also show the reactions of Emma’s cat which is an important piece of the story.
Appropriate for all kids, this book should not be saved just for the tomboys who come to the library. We all have unique things about ourselves that we don’t want to change to conform. This book is about that, not limited to solely pink tutus. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t) by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley
Miss Brooks is a librarian who loves books. She tries to share her enthusiasm for books with the children, but Missy is having none of it. Then comes Book Week! And Missy is asked to wear a costume and tell the class why she loves her favorite book. Missy is certain that she will never fall in love with a book, but Miss Brooks remains sure that she will. Book Week arrives and Missy has yet to find a book she likes. They are either too flowery, too yippity, or too furry. Miss Brooks sends more and more books home with her but she complains about them all. Her mother tells her she is as stubborn as a wart. Wart? And Missy is off to find a book about warts where she finds and falls for Shrek!
Yes, this book does my librarian heart good, but it is also told with a great sense of humor. Missy while dismissive and grumpy is also written with just the right tone. Readers will wonder if there really is a book for this kid! The book reads aloud well, and I can see librarians using it and then asking for a chance to find each kid the right book for them. What a great way to sell our services!
Emberley’s art is a hoot. I adored all of the costumes of Miss Brooks as she tries to get kids excited about books. I particularly love the way that Missy is depicted with her overalls, woolly hat and glasses. She is purely an individual and it shows.
Recommended for any librarian to read and glow about, this book is also just right for kids who don’t think books are cool. They just might love this one! Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.