Review: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

absolutely almost

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

The author of A Tangle of Knots returns with a brilliant new protagonist in her new novel.   Albie doesn’t get good grades, in fact he was asked to leave his private school and is going to be starting public school instead.  Albie isn’t the best artist.  He isn’t the best at anything at all.  Except maybe at eating doughnuts for breakfast.  But when he changes schools, things start to change for Albie.  It could be the great new babysitter he gets, since his parents are very busy.  Calista is an artist and she thinks it’s OK that Albie reads Captain Underpants books even though he’s in 5th grade and that he sometimes needs a break from school.  It could be math club, that starts each day with a joke and sneaks math in when Albie isn’t paying attention.  It could be a new best friend, Betsy, someone he can talk to and joke with and who doesn’t get mad when Albie gets confused.  But things aren’t all great.  Albie’s other best friend is appearing on a reality TV show and suddenly Albie gets popular at school, risking his friendship with Betsy.  Albie has a lot to figure out before he knows exactly what he’s good at.

Graff’s writing here is stellar.  She writes with an ease that makes for a breezy read, yet it deals with deep issues along the way.  Thanks to her light touch, the book reads quickly, never bogging down into the issues for too long before lightening again.  Still, it is the presence of those deep issues that make this such a compelling read.  The fact that the book deals with so much yet never feels overwhelmed by any of them is a wonder and a feat.

Throughout the entire book the real hero is Albie.  He is a character that is ordinary, every-day and yet is still a delight to read about.  His perspective is down to earth, often confused, and he walks right into every social trap there is.  He is a character you simply have to root for, a regular boy who is also a hero.  He shows that simply making it through each day being yourself is heroic, and a win.  The world is filled with Albies and this book shows why they should be celebrated.  He’s a delight.

A book with at least four starred reviews, this is a standout novel this year.  Get your hands on it and share it with kids.  It’s a unique and surprising read, just like Albie himself.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Promise by Nicola Davies

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The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin

In a gritty city filled with dust and yellow wind, a girl survives by stealing from other poor people.  Her life was just as dust filled and ugly as the city around her.  Then one night, she saw an old frail woman with a fat bag walking along.  She would be an easy mark, so the girl tried to get the bag away from her.  The old woman held on tightly, but eventually asked the girl to promise to plant them and she could have the bag.  The girl promised.  In the bag were only acorns, nothing to eat, no money to spend, but a wealth of trees.  So the girl started planting them one by one, and nothing changed for a long time.  Then green sprouts started to appear, then trees grew and green returned to the broken city.  But the girl had already left, going to other cities that needed a forest too.  Until one night she had her fat bag of acorns with her, and a young person tried to steal it from her.  All it took was another promise and she let them have the bag.

This allegory is lovely.  The setting is hauntingly familiar, a war zone where all that is left behind is the dust and rubble of war and people who cannot escape the city or see a future beyond it.  The transformation of the theft of property into a promise is stunning.  Simple and profound, it is courage, passion and change all wrapped into a single act.  I also love the moments before the trees appear, the anticipation, the question of whether it will work, the effort before the payoff.  And then the fact that the girl leaves to go to other cities, makes this entire story less about her than about her deeds.  It’s one intelligently written book that works so well.

Carlin’s illustrations are done in muted grays and sands, they are images that suck the color out of the day, cover you in their dust.  And yet, they are also filled with hope.  When that first green hits the page, it’s like you can smell it in the air.  Then the transformation that is so colorful, so fresh. 

This radiant allegory would be appropriate for classrooms learning about allegories or about peace.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.