Review: The Dam by David Almond

The Dam by David Almond

The Dam by David Almond, illustrated by Levi Pinfold (9780763695972)

Based on a true story, this is the tale of the Kielder Dam which when finished would flood the valley where there were farms, homes and a school. Musicians had played throughout the area, so right before the valley was to be flooded, Mike Tickell took his daughter Kathryn and her fiddle into the dam to play music there for the final time. They enter each boarded-up house and Kathryn plays music. They played all day long, one home and structure after another, filling the spaces with music. Now the area is a lake, a lake that contains music.

Almond’s writing is so incredibly beautiful here. He takes the haunting story of a musician saying farewell and welcome at the same time. He tells the story with poetry and awe, a hushed beauty filling the pages as he explains the wonder of the music that still lives within the lake. In his note at the end, Almond explains about the Tickells and Kathryn Tickell’s career as a well-known folk musician.

The illustrations by Pinfold are equally haunting. The lone stone buildings with their boarded doors and windows stand as witnesses but also ghosts on the landscape, soon to be covered by water. There are ghostly figures on the pages, swirling with the music and poetry, saying goodbye to the world they knew.

A gorgeous picture book that looks at the power of music and the wonder of a place. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Starstruck by Kathleen Krull

Starstruck The Cosmic Journey of Neil DeGrasse Tyson by Kathleen Krull

Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil Degrasse Tyson by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Frank Morrison (9780399550249)

This book rightfully starts with the Big Bang and then moves on to a young Neil Degrasse Tyson being inspired by the Hayden Planetarium. At age nine, Tyson was inspired to start investigating the stars and the universe around him. He began with binoculars and in a few years had his own telescope. He worked to get a better telescope and also started to build his library of science and astronomy books. In sixth grade, Tyson attended a class at the Hayden Planetarium, often one of the youngest people there. At fourteen, after drawing the attention of the education director at the planetarium, Tyson was taken on a journey to northwest Africa to view a rare solar eclipse. He attended the Bronx High School of Science and went on to start speaking publicly about astronomy. His hero, Carl Sagan, tried to get Tyson to attend Cornell University, but Tyson chose Harvard instead. Eventually after getting a PhD, he returned to the planetarium that had originally inspired him, becoming the director. It was there that the controversial but scientific decision to eliminate Pluto as a planet gained Tyson public attention, leading to him becoming one of the foremost speakers and authorities on astronomy in the nation.

Krull, a master nonfiction author, writes an inspiring story here, showing that from a single experience, a lifetime of enthusiasm and knowledge can be born. Throughout the book, Tyson’s drive and wonder at the universe is clear. Tyson’s willingness to be visible as an authority on astronomy is clearly depicted as he understands the power of media to reach people and demonstrate that people of color can be scientists too.

Morrison’s illustrations also demonstrate the wonder and awe that Tyson feels for the universe. The illustrations have a wonderful vibe to them with people frozen in action and Tyson shown as the heart of the book. There are shining pages filled with black sky and brilliant stars that are particularly striking.

A strong biography of a national science hero, this book will lead young people to dream and wonder. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.

 

Review: Mia Moves Out by Miranda Paul

Mia Moves Out by Miranda Paul

Mia Moves Out by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Paige Keiser (9780399553325)

When Mia moved into her house, she had a lovely room all to herself. She hung stars from the ceiling and it was perfect. Then her baby brother Brandon arrived, and Mia had to share her room. At first it wasn’t so bad, they had lots of fun together. But the toys piled up until Mia couldn’t even recognize her room anymore. So she made a decision, she would move out! She tried moving into the bathroom, but it was too gross. She tried the basement, but there were scary things in boxes. She tried all sorts of places until she built a space near the books. But something wasn’t quite right. That’s when she found out that Brandon had moved out too. Perhaps they could move out together!

This picture book perfectly captures the give and tug of being siblings. On one hand, they can be maddening while on the other hand, they are important to your life. It also shows the way that children “run away” or move out from their homes, how spur of the moment it is, how built on emotion, and how regretful it eventually becomes. The parents here deal with it well, guiding gently from the sidelines and allowing Mia to make her own decisions.

The illustrations are funny and warm, just like the story line. They show the growing pile of toys overtaking the entire room and the entire page. One can completely understand Mia’s frustration. As Mia searches for the perfect spot to move to, the illustrations play large part in conveying her responses to each.

Clever and funny, this is a warm look at siblings. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf. 

Review: Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner (9781481495561)

AJ just doesn’t feel like he fits in with his two best friends anymore. They are always daring each other to do things and have fantastic lives where they take big risks and brag about them. In contrast, AJ feels short and dull. But then he decides to take a big risk and start talking to a girl he’s had a crush on for years. He’s just not sure how to get Nia’s attention. He knows she is way into vampire novels, so he starts to read them too. Perhaps all it will take is some fake blood around the gums to get her to notice him. However, when Nia does notice AJ, she thinks he’s a real vampire and she has dedicated her life to slaying them. What none of them can see though is that there is a real vampire in their midst! Something they might figure out too late.

This graphic novel for teens and pre-teens is just right for both Twilight fans and Twilight haters. Getting it into the hands of Buffy fans would also be a great choice. Gardner wisely plays on the tropes of vampire novels, using similar character names and book titles. Throughout there is a sense that the reader is in on the broader joke of it all, something that is entirely charming.

Readers will figure out that there is a real vampire long before the characters do and Gardner then lets that play out delightfully. There is no attempt to conceal it, either through the storyline or the art work. And the art work is excellent, offering large panels in a colorful vampire-filled world. It has a cartoon feel to it that makes it approachable and then the humor completes it nicely.

A great pick for fans and haters alike, this one would make a great graphic novel to book talk to middle-schoolers and teens. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Hey, Wall by Susan Verde

Hey, Wall by Susan Verde

Hey, Wall by Susan Verde, illustrated by John Parra (9781481453134)

This picture book tells the story of a large, blank wall and a boy who sees the possibilities in it. The wall is cold and empty, ignored. People walk past, skateboard by. In the winter, dirty snow is shoveled up against it. Though flowers poke up through the sidewalk, they don’t visit the wall. Then the boy decides to change things. He and his friends come together to create a plan for the wall that with a lot of creativity and hard work becomes a new mural that reflects all of the action in the community around it.

Verde uses the feeling of free verse and spoken word here. It works particularly well with the urban setting. In the story she shows the importance of art, both street art like community murals and art that comes from children and communities. In today’s world, there can’t be a picture book simply about a wall. This book shows that walls can be more than dividers, instead bringing a community together.

Parra’s illustrations have a great organic quality to them, filled with textures. He shows an urban community full of diversity and gatherings together. There is a folk art aspect to his work that translates beautifully into the mural the children create.

A picture book about walls that bring us closer to one another and the power of art to create community. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

This Week’s Tweets & Pins

Here are my favorite tweets and pins from this week:

I may have nothing to wear, but I always have something to read

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Be Loud: 28 Best Kindergarten Read Aloud Books

Don’t underestimate children’s lit say 2 GG Literary Award shortlisted authors | CBC News

Jarrett J. Krosoczka talks ‘Hey, Kiddo’ |The Yarn

Just Us Books Turns 30: A Special Interview – The Brown Bookshelf

Mark Pett’s Epic Twitter Thread about How He Illustrated The Very Last Castle — 100 Scope Notes

Quiet + an interview with Tomie dePaola

“The Bookworm” by Fiona Marchbank on INPRNT

LIBRARIES

“As long as you have a library card and a device that can be used as an e-reader, you can access the digital content free of charge.” https://t.co/WfKFj1jlH4

How a free public library is becoming a beacon of hope in Baltimore

Libraries are about democracy, not just books

 

National Book Award Finalists Announced

The finalists for the 2018 National Book Award have been announced. The five finalists for the award for Young People’s Literature are below. Winners will be announced on November 14th.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge Hey, Kiddo

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

The Journey of Little Charlie The Poet X

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

Review: Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini, illustrated by Dan Williams (9780525539094)

The author of The Kite Runner has created a poetic work of short fiction that speaks to the plight of refugees around the world. Written as a letter from father to son, the book reflects on the beauty of the land they are leaving. The loveliness of life in Homs, Syria shows the vibrant world that was destroyed by bombs and war. As their lives crumble along with the buildings, they are forced to flee. The letter is written just as father and son enter the boat that will hopefully carry them to a new life in a safe country.

Hosseini was inspired to write this heart-wrenching piece by the death of the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was found on a Turkish beach. Throughout the short fiction, there is a sense of loss and grief, of a land lost and a future abandoned. Yet there is also a slim thread of hope, a hope that compels them aboard a small boat and out onto the sea.

The illustrations help make this a more approachable book for younger readers who will find themselves drawn to the emotions of the text and the desperation on its pages. Williams uses sweeping colors to convey both the beauty of Syria but also the dark haunting nature of war and being torn from your country.

A devastating piece of fiction appropriate for ages 8 and up.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Bitter and Sweet by Sandra V. Feder

Groundwood Logos Spine

Bitter and Sweet by Sandra V. Feder, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker (9781554989959)

Hannah’s family was moving to a new city, but Hannah didn’t want to move away from her friends, her house or her neighborhood. Her grandmother told her about when she moved from the old country to America and how the experience was a mix of bitter and sweet. But when Hannah’s family moved, all she could see around her were bitter reminders of what she had lost. The new house had a smaller porch, the road was too hilly for good biking, and she didn’t know anyone. Even when a neighbor girl came over to meet Hannah, the gift of cocoa she left was bitter when Hannah tried it. The next day at school, the girl talked to Hannah about needing to add sugar. Soon Hannah realized that she had to put forth a little effort to discover the sweet that was always there.

Picture books about moving are plentiful every year, but this one has a lovely feeling about it that makes it stand out. The advice from her elders turns out to be true but I also appreciated that Hannah put her own spin on it in the end. The book depicts Hannah’s Jewish family with warmth and scenes that show their traditions. The advice also rings with Jewish wisdom and brings a traditional feel to a modern story.

The illustrations are done in mixed media that combines paint and collage very successfully. The result are images that have a lovely texture to them, fabrics and paper that layer with one another. There is a beautiful light and color to the images that conveys hope even as Hannah struggles to see the sweet.

A rich picture book that looks at difficult times in life through a lens of hope and acceptance. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.