Tag: self esteem

Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Dumplin by Julie Murphy

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (InfoSoup)

Willowdean doesn’t spend her days worrying about how fat she is, though her mother’s nickname of “Dumplin'” can be a problem, especially when used in public. Her mother is in charge of the local beauty pageant and has never encouraged Will to enter, though she has told Will’s best friend Ellen that she could win. When a boy at her work at a local fast food joint starts to flirt with Will, she is shocked. Bo is a gorgeous guy and someone that moves in a different social level than Will. When the two of them start to make out after work in their own secret place, Will begins to question her comfort with her body. As Will’s confidence plummets, she makes a big decision. She’s going to enter the Miss Clover City pageant. As she reclaims her self-image, she ends up helping other girls do the same.

Murphy’s novel is simply brilliant. Willowdean is a wonderful protagonist and the claustrophobic setting of a small southern town is also perfection. It’s that setting that lets Will really shine, since it wears on her and the reader. Add in the Dolly Parton songs, the loss of a beloved aunt who served as a second parent, and a handful of red suckers, and this novel will have you head-over-heels in love with Will and everything that she stands for.

Murphy gets the fat-girl personality just right. The feeling of complete self-acceptance that you can have and then the way it can disappear as if it never existed. Murphy though does not accept that. Instead Will fights back, recovers from her funk about herself, insists on relationships on her own terms, and heck even falls in love for good measure.

A book that will have you turning on Dolly yourself, this novel for teens shines and dazzles. It’s for girls of every size, because none of us feel worthy enough. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs

Mixed Me by Taye Diggs

Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (InfoSoup)

The author of Chocolate Me! returns with his second picture book. Mike is a boy with wild curls whose skin doesn’t match that either his mother or his father. His father has dark skin and his mother light, and Mike is somewhere in between. Mike loves to run and dash with a cape on his back. He knows exactly who he is and is proud to be a mix of both of his parents. He’s not mixed up at all, he just wants to do his own thing, wear his hair the way he likes it, choose his own clothes, and be exactly who he is.

Taye Diggs, the well-known actor, keeps his book fast moving and filled with rhythm. The character of Mike is a joy to find on the page, a creative boy who has a look and personality all his own. The frank look at skin color is also very welcome as is the exuberant acceptance of being mixed race and the beauty that brings.

Evans’ illustrations are a dynamic collage of fabrics, printed paper and skilled drawing. The way that Mike’s hair is shown gives it its own personality, often moving ahead of Mike himself as he zips through life. The art celebrates different races and colors and the way that Mike stands out for all sorts of reasons from the crowd.

A celebration of self-acceptance, children of all backgrounds will enjoy this book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.

Review: Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison

extraordinary jane

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.

Review: Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds

carnivores

Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat

It’s hard to be a carnivore when all of the prey whispers behind your back, nobody understands the way you eat, and you are accused of sneaking around.  So a lion, a great white shark and a wolf get together to form a support group.  Their first plan is to become vegetarians, but that doesn’t go well at all.  In fact, the wolf can’t seem to find a berry bush that doesn’t have a bunny in it.  The next plan is using disguises to blend in, but one smell of the lion’s zebra breath turns the antelope against him.  Finally, the lion asked the great horned owl to speak with them.  The owl talked about accepting themselves as carnivores.  The others realize that he is right and follow his advice perfectly.

Reynolds has written a book that is screamingly funny.  Each page has laughter on it with the perfect timing of his jokes.  It begs to be shared aloud with punch lines that just have to be delivered.  Happily, the humor is edgy and truly funny, not just for small children.  With clever twists throughout the story and situations that make for very funny results, children will be delighted with this look at self-acceptance and meat eating.

Santat’s illustrations are perfection here.  Bright colored and bold, just like the humor, they add just the right touch to the book.  He manages to capture the comedy perfectly, but not allow his art to blow the punch lines prematurely.  The large format will work well with a group, but there are also details that will have to be shared too.

Clever, funny and wonderfully inappropriate, this book asks us all to accept our inner or outer carnivores.  Appropriate for ages 4-6, this would also work well as a read-aloud for older elementary kids who will love the humor and the naughtiness of the jokes.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

lucy variations

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

Lucy Beck-Moreau was considered one of the top concert pianists.  Now at age 16, she has abruptly left the concert circuit and doesn’t play the piano at all.  Instead she is attending school just like any other teenager, doing homework, and listening to her younger brother Gus practice his piano pieces.  When Gus’ aging piano teacher dies, she is replaced by Will, a young teacher who was once himself a child pianist and recommends plenty of time away from the piano for Gus, including once forbidden video games and TV.  As Will balances out Gus’ life, Lucy is drawn to him.  Will is older and sophisticated and interested in Lucy herself as both a pianist and a person.  This is the story of Lucy’s triumph over grief and loss and her struggle to play music on her own terms and for her own reasons.

Zarr has beautifully captured a family of wealth and talent without lingering overlong on those details.  It is Lucy who is the center of the novel, which is told in third person but specifically from Lucy’s view.  This gives the book a necessary distance so that readers can view Lucy from a small space and recognize the mistakes that she is making and repeating.  Lucy is a wonder of a flawed protagonist, filled with talent yet drawn into destructive situations of her own making, one feels an affinity to her and yet pushed away as well.

It is this strength of the central character that lifts this novel above others covering similar subjects.  The writing here is strong and clear, and the story flows with a natural feel that allows Lucy to veer dangerously close to disasters that make the reading that much more exciting.  Along the way, a dysfunctional family is on display, showing readers how Lucy came to be the way that she is, and also showing hope for what is possible.

A true mix of hope, music and tenacity, this book is beautifully composed and harmonious with lingering crescendos.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci

odd duck

Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon

Theodora was a very busy duck.  She exercised every day, she swam laps in the pond (with a teacup on her head), she ran her errands every afternoon, she rode her bike rather than flying, and in the evening she quietly watched the stars.  She had the perfect life of routine and quiet until a strange duck moved in next door.  Chad was not like Theodora.  He was an artist who made sculptures out of found objects, he colored his feathers, and he liked dancing and swimming in a wild fashion.  When fall came and the other ducks flew south, Theodora and Chad were the only two left.  Over the winter, they became fast friends.  But when someone implied that one of them as an “odd duck” the question became which of them they were talking about.

Castellucci beautifully tells the story of a duck who is obviously unique and then another duck who is unique as well.  Readers will at first think that it is about accepting others who are different from you, but the author has something deeper in mind here.  It’s about also accepting that you yourself are the odd duck.  As we all know we are!

Varon’s illustrations have wonderful small touches.  Make sure you check out the titles on her books, since they are good for an additional chuckle.  Her characters are winning and cheery, both so very comfortable in their own skin. 

Fun, buoyant and with plenty of depth, this children’s graphic novel should fly off the shelves just like a normal duck.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

Review: Bunnies on Ice by Johanna Wright

bunnies on ice

Bunnies on Ice by Johanna Wright

This icy read is just right for a very cold winter day, like we have been having here in Wisconsin.  One little bunny thinks that she is a champion ice-skater.  As a champion, she has to wait for conditions to be just right, even if it means waiting through spring, summer and fall!  When the waiting is finally over, she has to eat a big breakfast to prepare.  Clothing selection is also important, enough layers to be warm, but not too many.  Finally, it is time to skate her adoring fans.  She demonstrates her high level of skill, well, almost.  The day ends with hot chocolate, a warm bath and a cozy bed.  The perfect ending for a champion day.

Wright has created a cheery book about not only ice skating but the wonder of big dreams.  It is a delight to find a picture book with a young girl exhibiting such strong self-esteem with no hesitation.  Wright nicely weaves in the truth behind the little girl’s dreams.  This happens particularly when the actual skating begins and readers discover that she’s not really a champion ice skater. 

In her illustrations, Wright creates a cozy world.  There is the rabbit’s home inside a large tree that is filled with deep colors that evoke a warmth.  This contrasts nicely with the blues of the outdoors and the white of the snow.  The entire book exudes a cluttered friendliness and family-centered cheer.

Sparkling with ice and plenty of bravado, this picture book will inspire children to dream big themselves.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.