Allie, First at Last by Angela Cervantes

Allie First at Last by Angela Cervantes

Allie, First at Last by Angela Cervantes

Released March 29, 2016.

Allie has never won anything in her life. Her entire family though has a shelf of trophies. Her older sister is a national debate champion. Her brother is a star soccer player. Even her little sister is a rising star as an actress. Allie is almost certain she is going to win the science fair, but it ends up a disaster instead of a win. That’s thanks to “help” from Victor, a new boy at school. When another opportunity to win an award comes up, Allie knows that she has to try hard. She decides to do a photo essay on her great-grandfather who is a decorated World War II veteran. But her ex-best friend who won at the science fair has also decided to use Allie’s grandfather as the subject of her entry. When is it going to be Allie’s turn to shine?

This is a very accessible book, written with a light hand and a friendly tone. That lightness allows this book to deal with deeper truths without getting caught up in darkness. It is a book that speaks to the importance of doing well, healthy competitiveness and the pleasure of a job well done. It also looks deeply at how that healthy competition can twist and become something that is no longer positive in one’s life. Allie’s entire family tries to teach her this in different ways, some by being more competitive and others speaking to her intrinsic worth whether she has trophies or not.

While Allie was a great protagonist, two secondary characters really stand out in this book. First is Victor, a boy who is from a poor family and someone that Allie assumes is being tutored. It turns out that Victor is incredibly smart and is doing the tutoring. Victor though is less concerned with acclaim than with his future. Allie’s great-grandfather is another amazing character. He offers sage advice and a point of view that is particularly filled with grace and compassion. The fact that almost all of the characters in the novel are Hispanic and offer a wide array of points of view about life makes this book all the more winning.

A charming story with strong characters and a clear message that winning is not everything. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Rose and the Wish Thing by

Rose and the WIsh Thing by Caroline Magerl

Rose and the Wish Thing: A Journey of Friendship by Caroline Magerl (InfoSoup)

This gentle picture book tells the story of a girl who has moved to a new home. When she looked out her window one night, she made wish. But the wish thing did not come. Rose could not be comforted when the wish thing did not respond. Nothing worked to calm her. Her entire family searched for the wish until they came to the sea. That is when they saw the box floating on the water. In that box, was the wish thing: a thing of tiny stitches and a red glass heart. And that is what let Rose head outside of her new house and make friends.

This Australian import has a gorgeous softness to it in both images and text. The story is warm and nurturing with a large family trying to comfort Rose, a rambling house with a garden, and a big furry dog. It is also a lovely strange tale that is not straight forward, but meanders a bit, travels a lot, and finds something special along the way. Magerl’s language is noteworthy too:

The evening tide came with gentle fingers to roll over the crabs and rock the stones.

The illustrations are soft and detailed. The fine ink lines are colored with watercolors which makes them both detailed and gorgeously nuanced in color. Pages of Rose and her family are alternated with illustrations of the wish thing’s journey to Rose. There is plenty of drama along the way.

A warm and gentle look at loneliness and how it can be transformed. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Penguin Random House and Edelweiss.