Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand

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Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand (InfoSoup)

When a boy goes missing on Whidbey Island, it’s expected that he’s hiding out at the Gray’s house. But Grant isn’t there. Pixie is one of the Gray quintuplets, large kids who seem to have special talents. When Pixie heads out with her scent dog, the best in the state, to find Grant, she discovers something else instead – the body of his mother. Henry, Grant’s half brother, is also part of the search. He knows the attention and problems that come with living in a very wealthy family. His family has staff that travel with them, and it could have been any of them who took Grant and killed his mother. Through the ensuing search, secrets are exposed and powers are discovered in this teen book filled with magical realism.

 

This book is great fun to read. One never quite knows when something mythical and amazing is going to suddenly happen. Those are mixed in with more mundane happenings like murder and kidnapping to create quite the setting for mayhem. Still, there is a feeling of truth through it all, of teens rising up through difficulty to heroism. There is a sense of fate and of purpose too, of destiny combined with the wonder of magic and myth.

The writing is strong and direct. It is haunted with death and pays homage to the damage of abuse and the strength of family. This book is not simple or easy, it is strung with danger and traps. The entire feel of suspense and the claustrophobic island setting combine to create a feeling of doom laced beautifully with hope and love.

A teen novel that is a compelling and vastly enjoyable read, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

Lift Your Light a Little Higher by Heather Henson

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Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson, illustrated by Bryan Collier (InfoSoup)

Stephen Bishop was a slave who explored and mapped Mammoth Cave. The book is set in 1840 where you can follow the light of Bishop’s lantern deep into the massive cave as he gives people and the reader a tour. For the reader though, the tour is about slavery, about civil rights and about the ability for a man to discover value through exploring darkness. Bishop was the first to see many of Mammoth’s sights, including the blind fish. He learned to read as people signed their names on the cave’s ceiling, though learning to read and write was forbidden for slaves. This man’s story is a tale of resilience, self worth and discovery.

Henson tells the story almost in verse, capturing the highlights of the man’s discoveries but also weaving the dark side of slavery with the darkness of the cave. Henson gives Bishop a strong voice, one that stands out on the page and demands to be heard. Told in the voice of The Guide, Bishop explains slavery and its structure to the reader just as he explains his role and his attitudes towards life and the cave that made his famous. The author’s note contains information on Bishop and how he was sold along with the cave to several owners.

Collier’s illustrations are exceptional. He has several that are simply amazing in their power. One that caused me to linger for some time was the page with the oxen with faces on their sides, faces of slavery in various colors that are wrinkled and damaged. It’s a powerful reminder of the place of slaves as property. There are other pages that show hope in the slanting light of sun as Bishop exits the dark of the cave is one. Exceptional.

A strong picture book biography of a man many won’t have heard of before, this book speaks to the tragedy of slavery and the resilience and power of one man. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

 

This Week’s Tweets, Pins & Tumbls

Here are some cool links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts these last couple of weeks:

Picture Books that Teach Kids to Combat Racism:

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

8 Picture Books that Deconstruct Gender Norms

“25 Picture Books That Promote Empathy and Respect”

And the Undie Goes To . . . — 100 Scope Notes

At 7-Imp today, a big, beautiful new collection of some of Tomi Ungerer’s work: .

Books do speak to children’s imagination, says author Julia Donaldson

Celebrate picture books! Reading is “the grand conversation of humanity”

Children’s book author Jon Klassen and the morally ambiguous universe of hats – Salisbury Post

Children’s books to add to your gift-giving list

A couple great picks from here!🙂 Children’s Books that Encourage Kindness

Fairytale feast of recipes inspired by children’s books

“Family Reading: A place for ALL families”

“Finding Home: 5 Middle Grade Novels About Immigration”

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to Publish Picture Book of John Lennon’s Song of Peace and Tolerance, “Imagine”

How to write great books for children and young adults

Interview with Mary Cronk Farrell, author of Fannie Never Flinched – ALSC Blog

Moving On Up: ‘They All Saw a Cat’

New York Public Lib Reveals its List of Best Books for Kids and Teens Just in Time for The Holidays

Linkubator Roundup: Week of November 13 2016:

LIBRARIES

A Bronx Librarian Keen on Teaching Homeless Children a Lasting Love of Books

Considering the Denver Public Library’s mission in the wake of the election

“Open to Change | Office Hours” – Unstaffed public libraries increase access at GCPL

State of Michigan says literacy is not a fundamental right

reading humour:

TEEN LIT

29 YA Books About Mental Health That Actually Nail It

“2016 Transgender and Gender Non-conforming Books for Teens”

Faces of Color on 2017 YA Books

Netflix Orders ‘The Kissing Booth’; YA Adaptation To Be Produced By Komixx

3 Fun Fall Board Books

Here are some recent board books that caught my eye! Perfect for holiday gifts or for any time of year for toddlers and babies.

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Hat Off, Hat Off by Theo Heras, illustrated by Renne Benoit (InfoSoup)

Not quite a board book, this puffy covered book is done on thick cardstock so the pages should stand up to toddler tugs. A toddler is getting ready to go out and picks out a wooly bear hat to wear. But while his shoes are being put on, he takes the hat off. Jackets goes on and so does another hat. The hat comes off and another is put on when he gets his sippy cup and toys. Going potty means taking off the hat and another is put on when he’s put in the stroller. Finally after bunny is found and they head outside, the final hat is left in a pile of leaves.

This is a funny and clever look at the problem with hats, shoes, socks, jackets, mittens and more when they are put on toddlers. It’s a universal story that will resonate with everyone. Nicely, the children in the story are not white and there is a lovely lack of gender specificity in the main character as well.

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Sunrise, Moonrise by Betsy Thompson (InfoSoup)

The day starts with a bird singing at sunrise. Squirrel runs, fish swim, bees buzz. Owl is asleep. The sun sets and squirrel falls asleep. New animals emerge like fox and fireflies. Bats swoop in the sky. There is a clear difference between day and night forest creatures here that is gently told. The art is bold and bright, the black lines forming almost a stained glass effect on the page. This is a lovely look at animals throughout the day.

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Tickle My Ears by Jörg Mühle (InfoSoup)

Another wonderful interactive book, this time perfect for very young children. Little Rabbit is getting ready for bed and it’s up to the reader to help him.He’s going to need help with getting his pajamas on with a clap of your hands. His pillow needs fluffing. His ears need a little tickle and his back needs to be rubbed. Then comes tucking him in, a goodnight kiss and the lights. This book is cheerful and sweet without being sugary. A perfect antidote to children hooked on apps and devices and who need to head to bed.

 

 

Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler

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Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler, illustrated by Jonathan Bean (InfoSoup)

This picture book takes a look at the skills that really make up a cowboy’s work. It’s not a book about lassoing and riding quickly. Instead the skills that a cowboy needs are things like patience, something that allows them to ride slowly along with the herd. They need to be about to ask for help from others and treat their dogs well. They have to be considerate of those around them and of the environment they ride through. They need to be strong but also careful and caring. They can be girls and are people of all colors. Their jobs may not be all fast horses and wild ruckus, but somehow the quiet reality is all the more heroic.

Hoefler chooses qualities of cowboys’ lives that match those that small children will be learning in classrooms and at home. They ability to share, to take turns, to be considerate, to ask for help. They are all things that we all need to know how to do in our lives. She then writes them in a poetic way that demonstrates how those qualities really matter when out on the range, how they make the job safer. Hoefler also speaks to the loneliness that cowboys feel and the sadness when cattle and dogs are lost.

The illustrations by Bean are bright and stylish. They move from glaring sun to winter storms to deep blue night. Throughout there are the shadows of the land they move through and the cattle they watch. Bean captures the slump of tired shoulders, the wild movement of a stampede, and the beauty of stars above.

A surprising look at cowboys that makes it clear what it takes to be a hero and a good human being. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Jess, Chunk and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

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Jess, Chunk and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (InfoSoup)

Jess hasn’t spoken with her father for years, ever since he refused to support her in getting the hormones she needed to start to transition from the male body she was born in. Now her father is getting married to her mother’s ex-best friend halfway across the country in Chicago and Jess decides to attend the wedding and confront her father. It’s going to be a surprise for her father, since she had already responded rather negatively to the RSVP in the invitation. Happily, Jess’ best friend Chunk has both a car and time, so the two of them make the road trip together. As the trip unwinds, they visit roadside attractions, pick up a passenger, and discover things about themselves, their friendship and one another.

This book joins many others this year in providing strong transgender characters in teen novels. Clark does a great job of showing how safety is a huge concern for people who are transgender, particularly in more conservative parts of the country. She also shows what a long-standing friendship looks like as it leaves high school and heads into the future. There is little angst about the future here in terms of college or school, and more of a focus on the approaching wedding and Jess’ feelings.

Happily, Jess as a character is far from perfect. She is often self-absorbed and lacks interest in others, particularly her best friend. Readers will be shocked at times by how internally focused she is and will cheer when her best friend finally stands up to her. Jess also ignores how she makes other people feel, like the nickname bullies gave Chunk that she continues to use.

However, even as I understand that the nickname and Jess’ behavior is both condemned and indicative of a complicated look at a character, I do have issues with how larger people are viewed in the book and how much emphasis is placed on how people look. There is a focus on hair and clothes that is near obsessive. But it’s the fat shaming that is problematic, particularly when it’s in the title itself. The fat shaming happens both for Chuck, the best friend, and for others throughout the book. People are referred to by their size, their looks and then their personality comes later.

A complex look at friendship, being transgender, self esteem and acceptance, this book tackles a lot of issues and fails to handle a major one with enough grace and attention. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.