Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior, illustrated by Laura James
Anna wishes that she could carry water on her head the way her older brothers and sisters do. Her family does not have running water in their home, so the children walk to the spring and back every day toting water. Her siblings carry the water in different types of containers balanced on the top of their heads. But Anna with her smallest container can’t do that. Anna tries, but only manages to dump water down herself and have to refill the coffee can. Then she carries it in her hands instead. Anna’s oldest sister reminds her that when she is old enough to balance the water, it will just happen. But can Anna wait that long?
This Caribbean picture book is a treat. It not only offers a glimpse into a different way of life but also gives a gentle reminder of the importance of patience and perseverance. Written in simple language, the book uses repetition very nicely to give it a sense of traditional folktale while being firmly set in the present day.
The illustrations tell much of the story and also have a traditional feel mixed with modern content. They are bright colored, vibrant and help make sure that readers know that they are in another part of the world.
A bright and vivid book, this is a great pick for sharing aloud and would make an unusual but great addition to any story time or unit on water. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Never Ending by Martyn Bedford
Shiv is unable to live with her brother Declan’s death, particularly her own role in it. So she is sent to the Korsakoff Clinic where she hopes to be cured and be able to continue her life. Unable to see past her own guilt and loss, Shiv finds herself in an unusual clinic where she is first forced to focus on her brother and then forced to look directly at his death without turning away. She is joined in the clinic by several other teens who all lost people in different ways but all feel as responsible and guilty as Shiv does. As they are forced to see the truth of their loss, all of them react in different ways. When hope is highest though, the ground falls out below Shiv and she must figure out that saving someone else may be the answer to saving herself.
Bedford has created a very compelling read. He slowly reveals Shiv’s life before Declan’s death. Along the way, readers get to know Shiv and Declan and their warm and loving parents. They see directly what grief and loss do to people and the way their relationships are torn asunder. They also see how hard it is to return to life after such a loss. Bedford maintains a large level of complexity throughout the novel, moving into flashbacks and also showing Declan as a human rather than a lost angel. The relationship between the siblings is good until a gorgeous young man enters their lives and creates waves for both of them.
As the flashbacks to Declan’s final days continue, the tension in the book mounts. The pressure is also building in Shiv’s recovery as she starts to recover and then suffers setbacks. There are no easy answers here. Declan’s life as well as Shiv’s are complex. The therapy she undergoes is unusual but it is up to Shiv to really do the work of recovery.
Beautifully written and structured, this novel of recovery, pain and guilt weaves a mesmerizing web for the reader who is never quite sure how things are going to end. Appropriate for ages 15-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
Maple by Lori Nichols
This is one amazing debut picture book. Maple loved her name. When she was a baby, her parents had planted a maple tree in their yard. It was tiny just like her and as Maple grew so did the maple tree. Her tree never minded if she was loud even though her parents did sometimes. Maple loved to be outside with her tree. She would sway along with it, pretend to be a tree and spend time gazing up into its branches and leaves. When the tree lost its leaves in the fall, Maple gave it her coat to keep it warm. Throughout the winter, the two played together. Then in the spring, there were new surprises! A new tree in the ground and a new baby in the family. It is Maple who figures out exactly what to do to keep her new sister happy.
Clever and very satisfying, this book is an exceptional debut. Nichols sets just the right tone with her prose. From the very first page, you know that she understands children’s books and the way to structure and write them. The story is clearly presented and the arc of the tale is nicely plotted and designed. One knows that it is building towards something, but the book is willing to take the right amount of time to get there. The book reads like a veteran author wrote it.
The illustrations are also impressive. They have a lovely softness to them that is very pleasing. The colors are muted but very effective. My favorite pages are when Maple looks up into the tree and you see her through the leaves. It is all beautifully done.
Take it from someone who named one of her children after a tree and then planted one for him to grow up with, this book captures children, love for nature and new siblings with grace and style. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
The Nowhere Box by Sam Zuppardi
George just can’t get away from his little brothers. They follow him everywhere, even into the bathroom! George has had enough. So when he finds the box from the new washing machine, George builds himself a way to travel far away. In fact, he goes to Nowhere. Nowhere is wide open and empty, but George quickly fixes that by dumping things out of his box. In no time at all, Nowhere is incredibly fun. But wait, there are no dragons to fight and no pirates to sail the seas. Perhaps there is room in this new space for a few more people to play.
Zuppardi takes a classic story of imaginative play and makes it rambunctious and fun. George’s frustration with his younger brothers is tangible in the early pages as is the relief of being alone for awhile. The story is simply told with a frankness and with the images and George’s own imagination carrying the tale forward.
The images are a huge part of what makes this book worth reading. They have a similar energy level to the “No, David” books. As the box becomes more of the story, cardboard is incorporated into the scenes, forming the ground and most of the objects. The images are bright and bold, perfect for high energy kids.
A story of imagination and being an older sibling, this book will be enjoyed by any child who has loved a big box. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers
Inspired by his daughters aged 3 and 5, this book celebrates a rainy day. When Matilda wakes up on a Saturday morning, she is delighted by everything she can do that day. Clemmie, her little sister, gets excited too. But then their day turns out to be filled with rain. Matilda is undaunted and sets out to persuade Clemmie to join her out in the rain. Clemmie is very hesitant, insisting that it is wet, until Matilda shows her the umbrella and how to use it. Clemmie then enjoys the rain until her red balloon floats off when she gets too excited. But Matilda finds a way to make that right as well.
Liniers shows his adoration for his daughters in this book. Clemmie is clearly a toddler and expresses herself in early sentences and short words. Matilda is an enthusiastic older sibling who wants to spend time out in the weather. It is a pleasure to see a sibling relationship depicted with such warmth and evident love for one another. Matilda is never frustrated by the situation, always coming up with another way to approach it. The words and art dance together here. Both help tell this story of a rainy and wet Saturday.
My children always loved rain more than sun, so this is a book that they would have loved. Time to get out rain slickers and umbrellas and play in the rain! Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dee Dee and Me by Amy Schwartz
Told from the point of view of the younger sister, Hannah has had enough of her older sister Dee Dee. Dee Dee always gets her way, gets the best seat, eats the best food. She manages to do it in sneaky ways that seem nice as first but don’t end up that way for Hannah. So Hannah decides to run away and packs up all the things she doesn’t want to share with Dee Dee. In the end, she decides not to really run away because she can’t find her teddy bear. But all alone, she spends time with the things she had packed up. When Dee Dee appears having finally done something really nice for Hannah, Hannah puts her foot down and makes some new rules for them to play together. This is a book that captures sibling relationships to a tee, or perhaps to a Dee.
Schwartz infuses her story with touches of humor that make Dee Dee’s tyrannical attitudes more funny than threatening. Both Hannah and Dee Dee have strong personalities and individual perspectives. Schwartz does a good job of telling Hannah’s story clearly but also making sure that Dee Dee is not vilified entirely. The art is vivid and colorful, displaying a family home filled with small details and lots of flowers. It is a home that you want to visit and play in.
This is a superb telling of two siblings at odds that is filled with humor and charm. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko
Released August 20, 2013
This is the third and final book in the Alcatraz trilogy. Moose is growing up on Alcatraz where his father has just been made Assistant Warden. But with the promotion also comes dangers that he had not faced as a guard. Moose quickly discovers that the inmates have a point system where his father is now worth a lot more points if he is attacked. Moose has far more to worry about though, when there is a fire in their family apartment. Moose feels very guilty because he had been watching his sister Natalie who is autistic, but he fell asleep. Others are all too quick to blame Natalie for setting the fire, though Moose and his family don’t see her doing something like that. Now Moose feels that he has to solve the mystery of the fire as well as protect his father as best he can, but there may be more mysteries along to solve, one that is even hinted at by a note from Capone himself!
I have loved this series from the first book. The historical perspective of a family living on Alcatraz is tantalizing. Yet it is Choldenko’s skill in creating characters who are immensely human and wonderfully heartfelt that makes this series so good. Moose is a character who grows from one book to the next and within each book as well. The growth is strong and believable. The mystery here fits nicely in the historical setting and one finds out from the Author’s Note that the reason it is so credible is that Choldenko based much of it on real events of the time.
This series has been strong from the first book, never suffering from lagging in the middle book or from the final book trying to do too much. Nicely, each book is individually satisfying as well, so they stand just as nicely on their own as they do in a trio. However, I could never not find out what happened next to Moose and the other children on the island.
Satisfying and superbly written, this book is a great conclusion to a wonderful trilogy. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.
The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems by Lauren Myracle, illustrated by Jed Henry
Ty is seven years old and has a pretty complicated life. He has a new baby sister who is taking all of his mom’s time and attention. His older sisters won’t walk him into school like his mom used to, insisting that he can do it all on his own. His best friend is in the hospital battling cancer, and Ty’s other friends can be confusing and even alarming. Ty keeps getting into trouble at home for things like chasing the cat with a Dustbuster. Then on the school trip to the aquarium, Ty takes a baby penguin home with him. This is one wild boy who is also big hearted and caring, just not sure how best to show it.
Myracle, who writes teen books primarily, has created a truly exceptional book for younger readers. Ty is a character who is easily relatable, even when he does some extremely unusual things, like stealing a penguin. His home life will be familiar to many children, who will have older siblings and babies in their families too. Add to that the universal feelings of being asked to do big-kid things too early and also being treated like a baby, and you get a book that is universally appealing.
Myracle’s writing has an outstanding humor throughout. In the more dramatic moments, children will understand that things will be alright in the end. The black and white illustrations by Henry convey that humor and lightness as well.
Perfect for both reading aloud and for a child reading on their own, this book will be enjoyed by fans of the Stink series as well as those who like Clementine. This book would pair well with The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Dutton.
Listening for Lucca by Suzanne LaFleur
Siena and her family move to Maine from Brooklyn to help her little brother Lucca. He doesn’t speak, using only gestures to communicate with them. Siena isn’t sad to move, since she didn’t have lots of friends to leave behind. Maine should be a new start for all of them. When they arrive at their big old house on the beach, the family gets to work fixing it up. But both Lucca and Siena believe that the house is haunted by a family that used to live there. Siena finds a pen on a high shelf in her closet that seems to connect her to a young girl who used to live in the house. She also dreams about the girl’s brother Joshua as he fights in World War II. The stories of the two families have striking similarities that give Siena the idea that she may be able to not only fix the present but also the past.
I adored this book. LaFleur tells a story of mystery and ghosts where the past is just as alive and changeable as the present. Throughout the book has a sweetness and wistfulness to it that makes it a pleasure to read. I also appreciated the way that Siena has a tie to the past through her collection of lost items. LaFleur builds her story carefully, so that each element makes an innate sense as it happens. Beautifully done.
The characters are strongly written. Siena is a heroine who can be prickly at times, but has the courage and talents to make a difference. She is an incredible older sister, loving and attentive, but is much more critical of herself. Her parents and younger brother are just as fully realized in the story. The friends that Siena makes in town all also have touches that make them whole as people.
This lovely book transcends genres with its mix of mystery, historical fiction, and fantasy. It’s a winning combination. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Wendy Lamb Books.