Tag: self esteem

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 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.

Review: The List by Siobhan Vivian


The List by Siobhan Vivian

At Mount Washington High School, the same thing always happens just before homecoming.  The List comes out.  It gives the names of two girls in each grade: one is named the prettiest in that grade, the other the ugliest.  Being on the list can change your life at Mount Washington, and it does for all of the eight girls on this year’s list.   Abby is ecstatic to be on the list as prettiest freshman, especially with her brainy older sister looking down at her all the time.  Danielle, the other side of the freshman pair, sees the list take a toll on her relationship with her boyfriend.  Lauren, prettiest sophomore, was previously homeschooled and finds that the list can help her make new friends.  Candace, named the ugliest sophomore, isn’t unattractive at all, instead it’s her attitude that is horrid.  Bridget, celebrated for losing so much weight, knows that she’s started something very dangerous.  Sarah is a rebel and immediately writes UGLY across her forehead in permanent ink.  And then there are the seniors, two girls who used to be best friends and who now are strangers, one whose path to homecoming queen seems clear and the other who has been on the list as ugliest all four years. 

Vivian sets the wheels of this story in motion and her characters take over.  It is a trick to create eight characters unique enough to read as individuals throughout an entire book, and Vivian does that very well.  She explores the relationship between beauty and self-esteem, beauty and popularity, and the perception of beauty and its impact.  Some of the girls are robbed of that feeling while others have never felt it.   But it’s not just about the “ugly” girls.  The perception of beauty haunts the “pretty” girls as well, creating rifts in friendships, questions about values, and eroding self-esteem in much the same way as being labeled ugly.

Vivian does not shy away from this complexity, instead she embraces it.  This is foreshadowed by the reaction of the principal to discovering the list where she warns the girls that they have all been hurt by being placed on the list. 

Here we have a book that is deep, complicated, and riveting reading.  It’s a book that takes on some “truths” of our society and turns them on their head, in a pretty beautiful way.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.

Review: Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs

chocolate me

Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

The main character of the book, who goes unnamed, is teased because he is different than the other boys in the neighborhood.  Compared to the white kids, his skin is darker, his hair more poofy, his nose is wider, and his teeth shine brighter.  He returns home in tears, because he wants to fit in.  His mother talks to him, telling him how special he is and how perfect he is.  She tells him that his skin is like “velvet fudge frosting mixed in a bowl.”  She gives him a t-shirt that says “Chocolate me!” and he starts to rethink things as do the other kids.

The focus of this book is self-acceptance and self-love.  The universal theme of trying to fit in and feeling different than others will speak to all children.  Diggs writes with a smoothness and natural rhythm.  The book reads as confident poetry, though it does not rhyme.  Evans’ illustrations have a great organic feel as well.  They are bright colored, rough lined, and filled with motion. 

Share this with a group of children discussing self-esteem or diversity.  It will also be one of those books that children pick off the shelves thanks to the sunshine bright cover.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.