Review: A Certain October by Angela Johnson

certain october

A Certain October by Angela Johnson

Johnson continues to write powerful books in a short format.  Here we meet Scotty, a teenage girl who thinks of herself as rather bland, like tofu.  The people around her seem more vibrant and complex like her little brother who has autism and enjoys trains, being naked, and eating cookies.  Her best friends too seem to be more interesting to Scotty.  Then in October everything changes because of a train accident.  Scotty’s little brother is injured severely and another boy is killed. Scotty feels responsible for both of them, though she barely knew the other boy.  This is a story that takes the small details of life and then shows how a single event can tear through, changing life forever.

Johnson writes like a poet, using unique symbolism to make her points.  Scotty sees herself as tofu, bland until someone else adds flavor.  Readers though will immediately understand that that is how Scotty views herself, not how the she actually is.  Instead Scotty is an intriguing mix of teen angst, intelligence, and a big heart. 

Johnson writes her characters in real life.  They all read as real people, not even the parents becoming stereotypical.  The teen boys are just as human as the main character, treating the girls with respect and friendship.  It’s a refreshing change to see male secondary characters who are more than a stereotype too.  When Scotty is grieving, the power of family and friendship together is obvious.

With its dynamic cover and short length, this book is sure to be picked up by teen readers.  Here they will find a strong heroine who is intensely and utterly real.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

School Library Journal Best Books of 2012–Picture Books

SLJ has named their best books of the year.  I’m breaking them into the categories to make for easier browsing.  Here are their top picture books for 2012:


The Bear in the Book by Kate Banks, illustrated by Greg Hallensleben

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis


Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems


Jimmy the Greatest! by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng

Mice by Rose Fyleman, illustrated by Lois Ehlert


Oh, No! by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

Penny and Her Doll by Kevin Henkes

Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills


Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett, illustrated by Ann James

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski


This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

Z Is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

2012 Parent’s Choice Award Winners

Parent’s Choice has selected gold and silver medal winners for different categories of children’s books.  Additionally, if you visit their site, they have recommended and approved books.  The lists below contain only the gold and silver medal recipients:



After Eli by Rebecca Rupp

Alek by Bodil Bredsdorff

Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinketrousers by Dav Pilkey


Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities by Mike Jung, illustrated by Mike Maihack

Iron Hearted Violet by Kelly Barnhill, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

The Last Dogs by Christopher Holt


On the Road to Mr. Mineo’s by Barbara O’Connor

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure by Matthew Reinhart

The Universe of Fair by Leslie Bulion




The Impossible Rescue by Martin W. Sandler

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip M. Hoose




Bailey at the Museum by Harry Bliss

Bear in Love by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand


Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Fifty Cents and a Dream by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Bryan Collier

The Frank Show by David Mackintosh


Jangles: A Big Fish Story by David Shannon

Life-Size Farm by Teruyuki Komiya

Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! by Wynton Marsalis, illustrated by Paul Rogers


Sky Color by Peter Reynolds

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole