Mousetraps by Pat Schmatz

Maxie is a person who looks at the world through her cartoon lens as she draws pictures of everything around her.  Her family is large, boisterous and close and little has happened to challenge her security.  Except that incident with Roddy her friend in grade school whom she abandoned when things got tough.  Now Roddy, who calls himself Rick, has returned to the community, high school and Maxie’s life.  Maxie is confronted on many fronts by how her own choices and her familial security have kept her blind to many complex situations right in front of her. 

It is a joy to watch Maxie make realizations and change in believable and interesting ways without losing what makes her herself.  Schmatz writes with an intriguing mixture of forthright plot-based writing and occasional glimpses of poetry and musing.  Maxie is an intriguing character who is neither pretty nor ugly, girly or tomboyish, lonely or popular.  She is what most teens are: somewhere in the middle but also very special and talented in her own way.

The book is also very timely in its subject matter.  Readers will get to explore the issues of being gay, bullying and violence in a book that takes each of them seriously and offers hope and solutions.  The homosexual characters in the book are far from stereotypical and offer a look at how modern families have adapted and grown to not just accept but embrace all family members.  This is done very believably and lacks any heavy-handedness.  The tone is perfection.

Appropriate for ages 14-16, this is a clever, interesting and often surprising novel.

A Young Dancer


A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student by Valerie Gladstone, photographs by Jose Ivey.

Enter the world of the prestigious Ailey School in New York City and view it through the eyes of Iman Bright, a thirteen-year-old student.  As she goes through her lessons in ballet, jazz, modern and West African dance, readers will understand the dedication it takes to study dance at this level.  At the same time, readers will see a normal thirteen year old who goes to school and plays the violin.  The book strikes exactly the right balance. 

Ivey’s photographs nicely capture the movement and poses of dance.  He is equally successful capturing Iman when she is out of school with her friends and family.  Gladstone’s text comes from Iman’s point of view and is simple and frank about what she is doing. 

A strong nonfiction dance title, this book takes it beyond popular dance with sparkly costumes and to a more studious and serious level.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.