Tag: school

Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (InfoSoup)

Simon has been exchanging emails with Blue for awhile. Simon doesn’t know who Blue is, just that he goes the same school. They have agreed not to try to find one another because they are both not out publicly yet. When Marty discovers Simon’s emails with Blue, he uses them to blackmail Simon by threatening to out not only him but Blue as well. Marty demands that Simon set him up with one of Simon’s best friends. Abby is a new part of Simon’s group of friends and the dynamics are getting more problematic as Leah seems to be more and more jealous of Abby, especially where Nick is concerned. Meanwhile Simon is starting to put together clues about whom Blue might be and keeps on dropping clues of his own accidentally about his own identity. But before Simon can fully figure it all out, Marty makes one final desperate move that outs Simon to the entire school in a very public way, one that might scare off Blue entirely.

I fell hard for this book. Simon is a delight of a character, a brilliant mix of teenage angst, intelligence, great taste in music, and a winning personality. Throughout the book, the writing is bright and sparkling with wit. Albertalli has worked with teens as a clinical psychologist, specifically those who are gender nonconforming and that expertise is reflected throughout this book. She understands teens at a deep psychological level that gives this book a solid foundation from which to build.

One element I have to mention is a spoiler, so look away if you need to. But this book allows two gay teens to actually fall in love, revel in their connection, flirt outrageously with one another, talk about sex, and yes eventually meet and be happy. There are kisses and making out, and both are happy and thrilled to be together. It’s pure bliss to find this in a novel for teens, since it is so affirming. All is not perfect in this world though, there is bullying from other kids at school, the blackmail over sexual identity and a parent who makes gay jokes. It’s complicated and that is the truth of life captured in this novel.

Funny, painful, and pure dynamite, this novel is one of the best teen reads of the year. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Maple & Willow Apart by Lori Nichols

Maple and Willow Apart by Lori Nichols

Maple & Willow Apart by Lori Nichols (InfoSoup)

Maple and Willow love playing together but what is going to happen when Maple goes off to kindergarten for the first time. On the first day, Maple came back from school and talked all about it. Willow had spent her day with a new friend, Pip, a friendly acorn she met. The next day Willow explored outside and Maple once again had lots of stories about her day when she returned home. Each day, Maple has stories about school but Willow also has stories about her day with Pip and all of the things they did together. Soon Maple is rather regretful about heading off to school, but the girls soon figure out a way that their days can still keep them in touch with one another.

This third book about Maple and her sister Willow delicately captures the experience of both the sister being left behind at home and the sister going off to school. There is the excitement of a new adventure for the older sister, the feeling of abandonment for the younger. There is the pull of wanting to be together for both of them, especially when the games at home seem so much fun. Nichols nicely figures out a way that works perfectly in the story for the girls to be connected and for their stories and experiences to continue on together in unison.

The art in all of the Maple and Willow books shines. Done in pencil on Mylar and digitally colored, the illustrations have a lightness that is captivating. The use of big colorful maple leaves is also very effective, and adds a distinct fall flavor to the entire read.

A great pick for families with children heading off to school for the first time and also for those left behind too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.

Review: When Sophie’s Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt by Molly Bang

When Sophies Feelings Are Really Really Hurt by Molly Bang

When Sophie’s Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt by Molly Bang

Released September 29, 2015.

Sophie and her class at school are given an assignment to paint a tree from real life. Sophie has a favorite tree, the big beech tree where she goes when she is feeling sad. When she visits it, she sees how it glows in the sun, how its branches are formed. But when she tries to paint it, she realizes that its gray trunk actually looks sad in the painting, it’s the opposite of how she feels about the tree. So she changes the bark color to a vivid blue, the sky is orange and the leaves are chartreuse and ringed in yellow to make them glow. Sophie is very happy with her painting until the other children start to tease her about it not being realistic at all. Sophie’s feelings get very hurt until her teacher comes over and they talk about what Sophie was showing in her painting of the tree. Sophie also gets the chance to see the trees that everyone in the class painted and to see how they conveyed what they were feeling too.

This second book about Sophie follows the very popular When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry, which received a Caldecott Honor. This book focuses on feelings and emotions once again and wisely takes on emotions through the lens of art. Bang makes sure to explain exactly how Sophie is feeling throughout the book, focusing on the emotions from how the tree makes her feel to the way that the teasing at school feels down to her physical reactions as well. These clear looks at emotions will allow a discussion of feelings that is manageable and one that can embrace art as well.

Bang’s illustrations are exceptional. They glow with a light from within. The beech tree is fabulous and one can immediately see the connection between Bang’s art and Sophie’s. Both are playful, colorful and show deep emotion. I particularly love the image when Sophie is upset that looks at her gazing down at her feet, so that the reader is almost seeing things from Sophie’s perspective. It captures the feeling of self-doubt and even shame that teasing can create. The entire book has moments like this.

Another winning title from Molly Bang, this second Sophie book deserves to be in every library right alongside the first. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from The Blue Sky Press.

Review: I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Im New Here by Anne Sibley OBrien

I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien (InfoSoup)

Follow three new students in the United States in this picture book. Maria is from Guatemala, Fatima is from Somalia and Jin is from Korea. The three students are all new to school and new to America. They face the same challenges in learning English and understanding the new culture they are in. There is a new language to learn, new alphabet to use, They feel alone, sad and confused. Steadily they start to use their new language to make new friends. They show others their culture and alphabet and they start to take chances and share aloud in class. They find their place in this new land.

O’Brien captures the challenges faced by children arriving from different countries and shows their universal feelings. The book is one that works in both directions, both welcoming children to classrooms and also providing American children with an understanding of what it feels like to be new and learning a new language. This book will be very helpful when new children from other countries join a classroom and can also be used as a discussion starter about emotions and feelings.

The art here is simple and welcoming. The children are shown in bright colors and the format is large enough to share with a class. The emotions are also drawn clearly on the page, allowing children to both read about how they are feeling and also see it demonstrated too.

This book celebrates diversity and new arrivals in the United States. It gives space for children to keep their own strong ties to their home cultures while also creating a new home here. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard by Jennifer K. Mann

I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs Bensons Blackboard by Jennifer Mann

I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard by Jennifer K. Mann (InfoSoup)

Mrs. Benson gives stars on her blackboard for things like spelling, neatness and raising your hand. Rose though, struggles with all of those things. Plus she isn’t good at math, her voice is too quiet for a star in reading, and she spilled snack on Mrs. Benson. Rose had been distracted by the artist who came to speak with them and dreaming of all of the things that she could create. At the end of the day, there was going to be a check for desk neatness, and Rose knew that she would never get a star for that. Mrs. Benson didn’t quite reach Rose’s desk that evening, so the next day Rose came in early and cleaned her desk. Then they got to make thank you cards for the artist who had visited, but doing art was messy and Rose undid all of her cleaning. At the same time, Rose had made an incredible card and who knows maybe art was a way that she could finally get that star!

Mann captures the pressure that a student who does not conform to classroom norms can feel. Rose desperately wants to do what is right, but none of the qualities that Mrs. Benson wants come easily or naturally to her. The presentation of someone to inspire her to do her best on something that she is definitely good at makes for a natural turning point in the book and allows Rose to continue to be herself all the way to the end. This is a celebration of artistic children who may lack in social graces but make up for it in boundless enthusiasm and creativity.

Mann’s illustrations make the book very kid-friendly as does the subject matter. The friendly round-headed characters are shown in a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Rose stands out in the illustrations with her bright-colored clothing and then the fact that at the artist presentation she is standing and listening rather than sitting. It all shows that she is a vibrant kid, filled with so much zing that it would be impossible to contain her.

A celebration of kids who don’t fit into classrooms easily, this picture book celebrates creativity and being yourself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Bob and Flo by Rebecca Ashdown

Bob and Flo by Rebecca Ashdown

Bob and Flo by Rebecca Ashdown (InfoSoup)

In a story perfect for small children starting daycare or preschool, this picture book shows how to make new friends and share. Bob really likes Flo’s pink bucket that she brought with her to school. When Flo is busy painting a picture, her bucket disappears. She looks for it everywhere. She notices that Bob has a new pink hat at one point. Then she sees him making a tall tower of blocks standing on something pink. She sees him playing a pink drum. And then at the playground, she finally spies her bucket by the slide. Bob is there too, stuck at the top of the slide. Happily, Flo knows just what to do to help and all it takes is a good pink bucket.

Such a simple book but told so very well. Ashdown perfectly captures the unique ways preschool children interact with one another, often playing alongside each other than right together. She weaves in the humor of Flo seeing her bucket over and over again and not recognizing it. That plays nicely against the creativity that Bob uses when playing with the bucket on each page. Toddler audiences will love spotting the bucket on each page spread.

Ashdown’s illustrations are cheery and bright. The sunny yellow background allows the grey and white penguins to shine on each page. The basic toys around them, evoke every preschool or daycare around. Then the penguins themselves have texture and patterns that give them personality and also make them seem more real and more childlike.

Perfect for returning to preschool in the fall, this picture book is just as much fun as a bucket. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

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.