The Troublemaker by Lauren Castillo
Told in the first person, this picture book is from the point of view of one bored little boy. He and his stuffed raccoon decide to play pirates. To do that you had to not only be sneaky but you also needed a prisoner, and his sister’s stuffed rabbit was quickly stolen and sent afloat in the lake. The boy was scolded and the now damp bunny was returned to his angry sister. The boy then spent time playing with his own toys, but soon his mother was asking if he’d taken the bunny again. He hadn’t but no one believed him and then his stuffed animal went missing too! It was a real mystery and now they had a real pirate on their hands.
Castillo takes a classic book of summer boredom and then picking on a sibling to a different and surprising place in this picture book. Children who are paying attention will notice a furry face that appears on almost every page in the background, a lurking raccoon who seems to want to get involved or maybe is having his own dull afternoon and is looking for some fun. This second little troublemaker adds a great amount of fun to the story. Even better, having dealt with raccoons invading my house and stealing my son’s stuffed animals up into their attic den, this all rings completely true.
Castillo’s signature art style is on display here. She manages to capture a timeless look on the page but also one that is modern and fresh. The tinge of blue on the stuffed raccoon make sure that children will not mix up the real and stuffed animals. The family’s home is well detailed, busy and filled with other natural touches.
A solid new title from Castillo that will work well for units or story times about pirates, siblings or raccoons. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn
Jamie and his sister Cate were adopted by a wealthy couple whose own children died. But money can’t fix everything. Two years ago Cate was sentenced to juvenile detention for burning down their neighbors horse barn and injuring a girl. Now Cate is free and she’s returning to Jamie’s life though he wants nothing to do with her. When Jamie had first heard of the barn burning down, his arms went completely numb and non-functional. He’s gotten better in the last two years, but hearing that his sister is returning and looking for him specifically has his arms going numb again. Cate bears a truth that Jamie might finally be ready to hear, and Jamie knows that there is something about the fire at the barn that just isn’t right. This tense and twisting thriller will keep readers enthralled right to the incredible ending.
Kuehn won the William C. Morris Award for her first book, Charm & Strange. Her skills is on display here too as this second book is a completely engrossing read that is one wild ride. Told entirely from the point of view of Jamie, readers can only guess at what he is hiding from himself. Tension builds as Jamie starts to piece together clues about Cate and what she was doing the night the barn burned and then why she turned herself in days later. As Cate starts to call Jamie and provide hints herself, the tension creeps up higher. The explosive ending will confirm some reader’s guesses but will also stun with its revelations.
Skillfully written and plotted, this novel explores mental illness in a very close and personal way. Jamie is a wonderfully flawed narrator, filling the pages with his unique point of view that readers know from the beginning is skewed though they are not sure exactly how. That is part of the brilliance of the book, that there are many ways in which Jamie can be misunderstanding his sister and his past. That’s what keep readers turning the pages, the need to know what in the world is the truth.
A riveting and breathtaking read, this is a perfect summer read to share between friends. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Macmillan.
Infinite Sky by C. J. Flood
This book begins with the death of a boy but the identity of the dead person is not revealed. We are then taken back to the beginning of summer, three months after Iris’ mother has left their family and just as the travelers come to stay in the field near Iris’ home. She lives with her father and Sam, her brother, who continues to struggle with his mother leaving. Iris starts watching the travelers in the field and becomes friends with Trick, a boy who is easy to talk to and easy to listen to. Tensions start to rise as a theft is discovered and the travelers are blamed for it. The long, hot British summer inexorably leads towards the death of one of the boys, but who is it? Is it Trick or Sam?
Flood’s writing is beautiful and detailed. The setting she creates of the British countryside in summer is one that is so finely drawn that you can see it in its entirety. In fact, you can hear it, feel it, smell it too, so clear and strong are her descriptions. The book’s structure of starting with the tragedy that defines the story adds a great amount of tension. Because the boy who dies is not revealed until towards the end of the book, that mystery is a focus. Yet at times one is also lost in the summer itself, its heat and the freedom it provides.
Flood has also created a complicated group of characters in this book. All of the characters have complicated family lives, whether it is a mother who left or an abusive father. Yet these characters are not defined by those others, they are profoundly affected by it, but are characters with far more depth than just an issue. This is a book that explores being an outsider, falling in love, expressing emotions, and most of all being true to yourself and doing what you know is right.
A perfect read for a hot summer day, this is a compelling mix of romance, mystery and tragedy. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
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.