Review: Take What You Can Carry by Kevin C. Pyle

take what you can carry

Take What You Can Carry by Kevin C. Pyle

This graphic novel explores connections between generations and across races, in an innovative way.  It is the story of two teenage boys.  One is a Japanese American who is sent to the internment camps during World War II.  His part of the story shows the displacement of his family, the loss of their rights, and the realities of the camps.  In alternating chapters, we also get the modern story of a teenage boy who moves to a new community and gets in with the wrong group of boys.  Soon he is robbing stores and eventually ends up in real trouble.  The man whose store he robs was the Japanese teen, who also resorted to stealing in the camps. 

At first, readers are not sure how the two stories will ever come together into one, or if they ever will.  They seem so remote and separate from one another.  Then when they do, there is a great satisfaction is realizing why the modern boy is given a chance to remedy what he has done.  It is a story that deals with two very personal stories, but that also has a more universal message about displacement, theft and redemption.  Both of the teen boys find ways to make things right in their lives, to accept their conditions, to rise above. 

Pyle’s two stories are shown in different color palettes as you can see from the cover.  The sepia tones work well for the historical story, also emphasizing the wasteland of the internment camps.  The blues of the modern story give it a cool feeling that suits a story where a boy is not making the right choices and where his world is devoid of warmth. 

This intriguing graphic novel is a compelling read that will show young readers not only about history but also about themselves and their own choices.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt.

Review: The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci

year of the beasts

The Year of the Beasts by Cecil Castellucci and Nate Powell

Told in chapters that alternate Castellucci’s writing with Powell’s graphics, this is the story of two sisters.  When the summer carnival comes to town, Tessa, her younger sister Lulu and her best friend Celina get to go to the carnival without their parents for the first time.  After meeting up with a group of boys they know, the three girls and the boys head to the sideshow tent with its darkness and opportunities.  But Tessa’s plans don’t quite work out, and the boy she has a crush on, Charlie, ends up entering the tent with Lulu instead.  Tessa is left to go in with Jasper, a boy who is known as a strange loner.  When they exit, Tess has rebuffed Jasper’s attempts to kiss her, but something has obviously happened between Charlie and Lulu that has sealed them together as a couple.  Now Tessa has to deal with her jealousies and their dark results.

Castellucci’s prose is lush and wild.  The emotions in the book sizzle, coming right off the page.  On page 97, there is a great example of this:

If there were such a thing as a dark cloud over someone’s head, Tessa had one.  It was a stormy little thing.  With hail and lightning and thunder.  And no silver lining.

She explores the feelings of confusing lust and potential love, the ability for those same feelings to alienate and discourage, and the intensity of sisterhood.  The book is character-driven with Tessa at its center in all of her confusion, desperation to not be jealous, and constantly feeling as if she is second best.  There are no easy answers here, nothing is let go of easily, and emotions twist and turn.  It is a beautiful storm of a book.

Then you have the other chapters done in graphic novel format that show Tessa as Medusa with her nest of snake hair.  The graphic portion moves along in advance of the text portion, foreshadowing things that are yet to come.  Medusa finds that her school is also filled with other monsters, her best friend is a mermaid, and Charlie is a centaur.  She has turned her parents to stone with her gaze and now must live with the consequences of that unless she is able to reawaken as a human again. 

The pairing of these two makes this book even more original and powerful.  It also makes the book much more welcoming for reluctant readers or those who have discovered Castellucci through her graphic novels. 

An emotional ride of a teen novel done with beauty and power, this book has an innate appeal thanks to its graphic novel portion and the dynamic writing.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Here Come the Girl Scouts by Shana Corey


Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Juliette Gordon Low, or Daisy as her friends called her, was nothing like the other girls growing up in the Victorian Era.  While girls were meant to be prim and proper, Daisy instead loved the outdoors and adventure.  Daisy traveled the world, but eventually wanted to be more useful.  Then she found out about the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in the United Kingdom and realized that America needed something that would get the girls there out in nature and exploring.  So Daisy started what would become the Girl Scouts with just 18 girls in Savannah, Georgia in 1912.  She taught them the rules, designed uniforms, planned excursions, and had them outside, active and learning.  This book is about the impact one person with a purpose can have and also the incredible impact the Girl Scouts themselves have had in our society.

Corey looks at Victorian life very briefly and then jumps right in to celebrating the life of Daisy and her Girl Scouts.  The tone here is one of delight in a life well-lived.  Daisy is shown as a person unfettered by her time, but definitely not un-criticized by those around her.  Daisy rose above the scorn and derision that her program faced, continuing her commitment to everything the Girl Scouts stand for.

Hooper’s illustrations have a wonderful playful quality to them.  Done using printmaking techniques, the images have a hand-made quality that suits the subject matter well.  Woven into the images are phrases from the Scouts that immediately incorporate their attitude towards life and service.

An impressive picture book biography of an incredible woman, this book will inspire young readers to dream big and work hard to achieve those dreams.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Rating Teen Reads – A Rant

No, this isn’t about me starting a system on my blog to rate the books I read with a series of stars.  Instead it’s about the insidious suggestion by Brigham Young professor, Sarah Coyne, that books for teens should have rating labels on them.  It’s enough to make my librarian skin crawl.

Coyne checked teen novels for profanity in five different categories.  All but five of the books she looked at had at least one instance of profanity.  (Though I must point out that “hell” and “damn” are included in her list of profane words.)

First, let me say that I’m opposed to labeling books at all.  But really, profanity??  Not sexual acts, not violence?  But instead the damns and the hells and the transient but powerful words we use to express emotions?  What the…

Second, I have to relate my own story of reading a Judy Blume book.  I loved Judy Blume as a pre-teen and read book after book by her in a single summer.  I found Deenie and loved the storyline of a girl who wanted to be a model and had to deal with being in a back brace.  But as a younger reader, I completely (and I mean completely) missed the section on masturbation.  I missed it so thoroughly that when I later heard about that being in the book, I was confused and baffled.  I reread it as a teenager, and by golly, there it was!

No labels necessary, no parent needing to intervene.  Books are special that way.  They are patient, waiting for you to be the right age and then they change along with you.

And for those of you who think that the four letter words are different, I was an voracious reader and still needed to have someone on the school bus draw what the F-word meant.  Then I got to teach her the medical terms my mother used for those parts of the body.  We all learned something that day.

Another wrinkle is what we do with the adult books that teens are also reading.  I read Stephen King as a teen, hauling his huge tomes along with me.  I read adult romance novels that my mother didn’t approve of at all and that the librarians in my small town library also frowned at but let me check out.  I read Ivanhoe, Gone with the Wind, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and any book that caught my fancy.  And I would have read them despite any labels, and perhaps even because of labels.

And what happened to me?  I became a lover of books, a librarian, a book blogger, and a mother who would let her teenage son read anything that he wanted.  Labels or not, he can read it.  Just like I did.  If it makes him into a reader, especially one who takes risks and learns about the way others think and feel, then I say: Hell Yes!

Review: A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

greyhound of a girl

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

Four generations of a Dublin family come together in this ghost story.  Mary is a modern Dublin pre-teen who finds herself moving away from her childhood rituals but also wanting to cling to them too.  One day on her way home from school, she meets Tansey, a woman who wants her to give a message to her grandmother.  Mary forgets, distracted by visiting her grandmother in the hospital with her mother.  So it isn’t until later that she mentions the woman to her mother, who pales at being told the name, Tansey, because that was her own grandmother’s name.  Soon Mary is having her mother meet Tansey and her relationship is revealed as is her status as a ghost.  The three of them conspire to get Tansey and her daughter together again, even though Tansey can’t survive the harsh lighting of the hospital.  The result is a road trip filled with hellos, memories, family stories, and goodbyes.  Richly layered, this slim volume holds a grand tale.

Doyle plays with the format of a ghost story here, at first starting with a little shiver and danger and then turning the story into that of a family that has dealt with an early death for generations.  It is a story of maternal love and the connections of women in a maternal line.  It is also the story of loss, death and above all, life.  Doyle creates fascinating characters, particularly in the two older women, Tansey and Emer.  Their stories have a pastoral beauty, a vivid warmth, and yet are damaged by death.  It is poignant, lovely and tragic.

The story is character driven and told in a slow, transformational way.  It takes its time, filled with small moments of lives, hands wrapped around tea cups, children on laps, slow steps up stairs for the last time.  Yet it is not a slow story, it is engaging, rich and builds a mood that is inescapable and memorable.

I loved this little book and the world that it created that seemed just for me.  Doyle’s writing is confident and beautiful, meticulously crafted.  This is a ghost story but so much more as well.  Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

2011 Andre Norton Award Winner

The 2011 Nebula Winners have been announced.  As always, teens will enjoy many of the science fiction and fantasy winners for adults, but happily there is also a category just for young adult books: The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

The winner is:

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman

Other books on the shortlist were:


Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout

Chime by Franny Billingsley

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor


Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Ultraviolet by R. J. Anderson

Review: The Conductor by Laetitia Devernay


The Conductor by Laetitia Devernay

This wordless picture book is tall and narrow, just like the trees featured within.  A man enters a forest of trees that are shaped like lollipops with long trunks and round tops.  He climbs to the very top of one tree and raises his hands.  Suddenly, birds start to appear, formed from the leaves of the trees.  They fly off leaving holes in the tree leaves shaped like them.  The leaf patterns are on their wings and they fly above the conductor in a variety of formations.  Until eventually they are gone, and all that are left are the blank trees.  The man climbs down and plants a seed that quickly grows into a tree.  As he is planting, the birds return to the trees, covering them once again in leaves.  The man leaves the forest just as he has found it, but with one more small trees.  It’s a beautiful look at the environment and the impact humans can have if they choose.

The art here is wonderfully done.  It has a limited palette of just yellow, green, black and white.  The juxtaposition of tree leaves and flying birds is spectacular visually and surprising at first.  It lifts the book to a more surreal place, a world where you are unsure what could possibly happen next.  The fine lined art, the scale of the book and the gentle theme all work well together, creating a memorable whole.

A surprising wordless picture book that is a work of art, this book would work well in art curriculum or as a quiet, beautiful book to share.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Hippopposites by Janik Coat


Hippopposites by Janik Coat

This clever board book takes a hippo and runs through a variety of opposite pairs with him.  There are light and dark hippos, dotted and striped hippos, soft and rough hippos, small and large hippos.  Then there are the more intriguing opposites like opaque and transparent, positive and negative, clear and blurry.  My favorite opposite pairing is the front and side, which made me laugh out loud with surprise.  Something that rarely happens with board books!  This is truly a modern, hip board book that will be enjoyed not only by young children but also their parents.

Coat makes this book dynamic and modern with her very solid graphic skills.  She has a wonderful quirky sense of humor that is on display throughout the book and that combined with the strength of the simple illustrations makes this book a winner.  I also like the limited color palette and the simplicity of the page design, which will work particularly well with infants.

Have a cool friend expecting a baby?  This book would make an ideal gift.  It will also be a great addition to the myriad of pastel board books on library shelves.  Appropriate for ages birth-2.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Appleseed.

This Week’s Tweets and Pins

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter and Pinterest accounts that you might find interesting:

You can also see more library and e-book related posts here on my Sites & Soundbytes blog.

1 in 10 Million: PW Talks with Garth Nix #yalit

Bedtime rituals: Where the wild things still are #kidlit

Fresh Approaches: Happy Anniversary! Celebrate Favorite Characters with New Editions #kidlit

In A Glass Grimmly (A Tale Dark & Grimm #2) by Adam Gidwitz – Squee! So looking forward to this one! #kidlit

Laurel Snyder » Blog Archive » A meditation on my fierce love of picture books… #kidlit

Newbery Winner Jean Craighead George Dies at 92 #kidlit

Of pigeons and naughty kids #kidlit

So thrilled to see that SON by Lois Lowry is coming out this fall! And with a starred review from Kirkus too! #kidlit

Summer reading recommendations — The Horn Book – great summer reading suggestions for all ages – #kidlit