Book Review: What’s Special about Me, Mama? by Kristina Evans


What’s Special about Me, Mama? by Kristina Evans, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe

A child asks his mother what makes him unique.  She responds, “So many things, Love.”  He asks for examples.  She tells him that his eyes are unique, because they tell stories without words.  He dismisses that answer because he has always been told he has her eyes, so that’s not unique.  His mother goes on to talk about his skin color, which is just like his father’s.  Then his freckles, which are like Auntie Jade’s.  His hair is like his grandmother.  She starts to talk about the things he does, his special behaviors.  He continues to ask for more, until she explains that there is nothing little about love and that he is loved more than anyone in the world. 

The beautiful words by Evans have a rhythmic quality to them, a to and fro that works especially well here.  The conversation has its own ebb and flow, and then the mother speaks in a poetic and joyous way about her son.  It is a book that really speaks to the worth and special qualities of all children, but also of this specific one. 

Steptoe’s illustrations are done in collage and feature many different shades of skin the the same family.  The illustrations have bold colors and strong lines.  Done in crinkled paper, they have a texture and heft to them that is gorgeous.  I should also mention that the illustrations do not make it clear if the child is a boy or girl, making the book even more adaptable and interesting.

A joyous look at what makes someone special and unique, this book will have you smiling with its bright colors and embracing message.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Book Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen


What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Mclean has moved four times in the last two years.  Ever since her parents very public divorce, she has lived with her father and his restaurant management job keeps them moving around.  At each new place, Mclean changes her first name and also the persona she has in school.  Now she is in the second half of her senior year and in another new city.  Mclean renames herself Liz at first, but then finds herself using her real name, making real friends, and feeling connected to a community.  But Mclean hasn’t been herself in years.  In fact, she’s not really sure she knows who she is, just that she is not any of the personas she has been before.  This smart, thoughtful book examines the feeling of losing oneself only to realize that it’s hard to find yourself again.

Dessen excels at creating worlds in her books:  communities and characters that readers will want to linger with and befriend.  Mclean is one of those people, as are many of the secondary characters.  Mclean is a protagonist that readers will understand immediately.  She is much more of a mystery to herself than to the reader, which is a great piece of the novel.  She is strong and resilient, independent to a fault, but at her core she is afraid, defensive and hurt.  It’s an intriguing mix of characteristics. 

Dessen’s secondary characters are also well written and complex.  Mclean’s friends read as real people, their interests and quirks make for well-rounded characters.  From Beth, the new girl who never managed to make friends, to Dave, the genius whose parents no longer trust him.  They are far more than they seem, perfect foils for Mclean who is far more than she thinks she is. My only quibble is that I was quite taken with the character of Deb, and I rather wished the book had been about her as a main character. 

Dessen writes with humor, charm and a light touch.  What could have been a problem-novel becomes something much more enjoyable in her hands.  This is a book that will speak to almost every teen. 

Highly recommended, this book is sure to fly off of library shelves into the hands of Dessen’s fans.  But I can’t help but think what a great booktalk this book would make.  Just Mclean herself, her moves and her different names and personas would be all it would take to get this book into even more hands.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Group.

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2011 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards

The winners of the 2011 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards have been announced with the incredible Margaret Mahy winning the Book of the Year!

Picture Book Category Award Winner and New Zealand Post Book of the Year

The Moon & Farmer McPhee by Margaret Mahy & David Elliot


Nonfiction Award Winner

Zero Hour: The Anzacs on the Western Front by Leon Davidson


Junior Fiction Award Winner

Finnigan & the Pirates by Sherryl Jordan


Young Adult Fiction Award Winner

Ebony Hill by Anna Mackenzie


Best First Book Award

Hollie Chips by Anna Gowan

Children’s Choice Awards


Overall Winner and Picture Book Winner : Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark Sommerset & Rowan Sommerset

Nonfiction Winner: Who’s Cooking Tonight by Claire Gourley & Glenda Gourley

Junior Fiction Winner: Hollie Chips by Anna Gowan

Young Adult Winner: Smiling Jack by Ken Catran