Day: September 8, 2014

Review: Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

half a world away

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

Jaden was adopted from Romania four years ago.  He knows that he’s a huge disappointment to his adoptive parents, who had expected a much younger child than the 8-year-old who came off the plane.  Jaden gets angry sometimes and shows it in destructive ways like burning his stuffed animal.  He also hoards food, particularly bread.  He is obsessed with electricity and can’t seem to stop his bouts of aggressive running that always end with him hurting himself.  Now his parents are heading to Kazakhstan to adopt a baby from there.  But Jaden knows that he is being replaced by this new baby, a way to fix the failure that he has been.  When the family gets to Kazakhstan though, the baby they had chosen has already been adopted.  Now they have a new baby to try to bond with and it doesn’t feel right to any of them.  Meanwhile, Jaden has met a toddler named Dimash who is three years old and barely talks.  Jaden feels an immense bond with Dimash, but his parents say that they came for a baby.  For the first time, Jaden starts to feel a powerful emotion that is not pure rage.  The question is what he can do with this newfound love.

Kadohata gives us a completely unique novel for children.  The point of view of an adopted child is not new, but one this troubled and angry in a children’s novel is a powerful new voice.  As a character Jaden is a study in complexity and contradictions.  His emotions are constantly high, but he mainly feels rage.  He has never felt love, but manages to make connections with people that are meaningful for them.  He is not a stereotype in any way, wildly human and profoundly troubled. 

Yet Kadohata allows us to live with this boy without fixing him, without changing him, just allowing him to grow before us.  While Jaden does have a therapist and it is clear he is getting all the help his parents can find, that is not the focus of this book.  It is not a book about repairing the damaged child, rather it is one that gives that child a voice.  That’s courage in writing.

Strong, marvelous writing allows this book to be a stirring tale of love in its many forms.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 

Review: Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes

remy and lulu

Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison

Lulu the dog finds a new owner in the struggling portrait painter, Remy.  The two head out into the French countryside together looking for new clients for Remy’s work.  He doesn’t get many repeat customers because of his abstract style.  Lulu herself is also an artist and quietly begins to add her own meticulous and smaller paintings to the corner of Remy’s large canvasses.  Her tiny art is of the subject’s pets and once the owner sees the tiny rendering, they absolutely love it.  Remy quickly becomes the toast of the town, but is unaware of what is really happening.  What will happen when Remy discovers that a large part of his fame is Lulu’s talent?

This is a wonderfully rich picture book.  The story has lots of depth to it, filled with creativity of both humans and hounds.  It is a tale of friendship, of artistry, of pride and of forgiveness and acceptance.  Remy is a wonderful character, bearded and smocked; he is a great blend of gruff exterior and a huge heart.  Lulu herself has a wonderful delicacy that plays in delightful contrast to Remy.  They are a solid pair.

Most inventive in this picture book is that Hawkes did the larger illustrations, the ones with rich colors that pop on the page as well as Remy’s abstract work.  Paired with his work is that of Harrison, who is an award-winning miniatures artist and her work is shown as Lulu’s.  The difference in the two artists is gorgeous and striking, perfectly matching what is happening in the story itself.  It’s a delight.

Best for slightly older children, this book will be embraced by art teachers and art-loving children and dogs alike.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.