Jess, Chunk and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

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Jess, Chunk and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (InfoSoup)

Jess hasn’t spoken with her father for years, ever since he refused to support her in getting the hormones she needed to start to transition from the male body she was born in. Now her father is getting married to her mother’s ex-best friend halfway across the country in Chicago and Jess decides to attend the wedding and confront her father. It’s going to be a surprise for her father, since she had already responded rather negatively to the RSVP in the invitation. Happily, Jess’ best friend Chunk has both a car and time, so the two of them make the road trip together. As the trip unwinds, they visit roadside attractions, pick up a passenger, and discover things about themselves, their friendship and one another.

This book joins many others this year in providing strong transgender characters in teen novels. Clark does a great job of showing how safety is a huge concern for people who are transgender, particularly in more conservative parts of the country. She also shows what a long-standing friendship looks like as it leaves high school and heads into the future. There is little angst about the future here in terms of college or school, and more of a focus on the approaching wedding and Jess’ feelings.

Happily, Jess as a character is far from perfect. She is often self-absorbed and lacks interest in others, particularly her best friend. Readers will be shocked at times by how internally focused she is and will cheer when her best friend finally stands up to her. Jess also ignores how she makes other people feel, like the nickname bullies gave Chunk that she continues to use.

However, even as I understand that the nickname and Jess’ behavior is both condemned and indicative of a complicated look at a character, I do have issues with how larger people are viewed in the book and how much emphasis is placed on how people look. There is a focus on hair and clothes that is near obsessive. But it’s the fat shaming that is problematic, particularly when it’s in the title itself. The fat shaming happens both for Chuck, the best friend, and for others throughout the book. People are referred to by their size, their looks and then their personality comes later.

A complex look at friendship, being transgender, self esteem and acceptance, this book tackles a lot of issues and fails to handle a major one with enough grace and attention. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards

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A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (InfoSoup)

Sophie first got a hat knit by Mrs. Goldman when she was a tiny baby. Now Sophie helps by making pom-poms for Mrs. Goldman’s hats. She learns about doing good deeds or “mitzvahs” for people. When Mrs. Goldman and Sophie head outside into the blustery weather to walk her dog Fifi, everyone has something knit to keep them warm except for Mrs. Goldman. So Sophie decides to knit a hat for Mrs. Goldman. It takes some time to knit and meanwhile there are more cold walks. When it’s done though, the hat isn’t perfect. It is lumpy and has holes where there shouldn’t be any. Sophie though has a plan that will make this a hat worthy of Mrs. Goldman.

This picture book is pure bliss. Edwards has created a vivid friendship between a grandmotherly neighbor and a young girl. There is kindness throughout, both in terms of the knitting but also the small kindnesses done for one another. Little details bring the world fully alive, like Sophie’s knitting that she started with Mrs. Goldman smelling of chicken soup, such a warm and homey smell.

The illustrations by Karas are lovely. They show the hard work that Sophie puts in, her frustrations and her successes. They show the cold walks and the fierce winds, the attempts at wearing scarves. They show the joy of completion and then the dismay at seeing that the hat is not perfect. And finally, they show the real hat that is glorious and unique.

A lovely book sure to warm up your own chilly fall and winter days. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

SLJ’s Best of 2016

SLJ Best of 2016 logo

School Library Journal has announced their top picks for the year. It’s a list filled with books for preschoolers through teens, apps, movies and much more.

The list was livestreamed earlier this month and you can see the presentation on YouTube:

NYT Notable Children’s Books

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The New York Times has announced their list of the best in books for youth for 2016. The list covers picture books through teen books, fiction and nonfiction. The list is selected by the Children’s Books Editor of The New York Times Book Review.

I love seeing so many of my favorite books of the year there along with others that I must try yet.

Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington

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Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington (InfoSoup)

Moving away from Alabama is hard for Keet. She is moving closer to her beloved grandfather though, which helps. The two of them spend days together fishing, something that Keet used to find challenging because she loves to talk and tell stories. But at her new school, she is teased for her accent and suddenly her words start to dry up. She finds it hard to make friends and even at home she isn’t talking much. Slowly though, Keet starts to find her voice again and makes a new friend. Just as she starts to talk though, her grandfather suffers a stroke and struggles with the slow recovery. Keet though has just the solution, showing him the way forward with stories.

Harrington’s verse novel is pure loveliness. Throughout she plays with various poetic forms, delicately moving from haiku to concrete poems to narrative form with many others included too. She nicely lists them at the end of the book, talking about their difficulty and what makes a poem that form. Her skill is evident throughout with all of the forms as she tells the story of Keet and her progress from losing her confidence and her voice to finding it again. The voice of Keet’s new friend is including in the poems as well, often playing against ones in Keet’s voice.

The characters here are given time to grow and stretch on the page. Keet is a wonderful character filled with a great energy and drive, but also stuck in a lack of confidence that hits her out of nowhere. It is a book about quiet and both its power and the ability to drown in being silenced. It is a book about friendship, about family and the importance of finding your place and your voice.

Beautifully written and strikingly gentle, this book is a celebration of the individual and their ability to speak their own stories. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Mortal Engines – The Movie

Predator Cities #1: Mortal Engines

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, who brought us the film versions of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, will return with a film of Mortal Engines, based on the books by Philip Reeve.

Variety has the news that the film will premiere in December 2018.

 

10 Great Picture Books on Thankfulness

In this week of Thanksgiving in the United States, I wanted to share my own thankfulness for those of you who take the time out of your busy day to read my blog. Thank you too to the librarians and teachers who connect children and books each and every day. Thank you to parents who spend bedtime with books shared together. May you have a lovely holiday week.

All of Me!  A Book Of Thanks Badger's Fancy Meal

All of Me! A Book of Thanks by Molly Bang

Badger’s Fancy Meal by Keiko Kasza

Bear Says Thanks Gracias/Thanks

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman

Gracias/Thanks by Pat Mora, illustrated by John Parra

Pecan Pie Baby Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story

Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Thank You and Good Night Thank You, World

Thank You and Good Night by Patrick McDonnell

Thank You, World by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin

8754563 Winter Candle

Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by Grace Lin

Winter Candle by Jeron Frame, illustrated by Stacey Schuett

10 Great Picture Books on Courage

As the next four years go by, we will all need to be brave. Brave enough to stand up when others are in trouble, brave enough to speak up even when our voices shake, brave enough to love those who don’t agree with us. Here are some picture books to inspire:

13269821 The Knowing Book

Hands around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya

The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by  Matthew Cordell

Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats Nightsong

Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Birgitta Sif

Nightsong by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long

26074148 The Promise

One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom

The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin

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The Ride: The Legend of Betsy Dowdy by Kitty Griffin, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

Running with the Horses by Alison Lester

The Wren and the Sparrow 23108939

The Wren and the Sparrow by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

You Can Do It, Bert! by Ole Konnecke

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (InfoSoup)

A finalist for the National Book Award, this book for teens is exceptional. It is the story of two teens, Daniel and Natasha who meet one another through a series of events. Daniel, a poet, firmly believes in love at first sight and destiny bringing them together. Natasha though does not, believing in science and what is provable. The day is a big day for both of them. Natasha’s family is being deported back to Jamaica that night unless she can figure out a way to stop it. Daniel is being interviewed for Yale, a school and a career path that his Korean parents have chosen for him. When the two meet, the chemistry is palpable, but the timing is horrible. Daniel decides that he can prove to Natasha that love is real and measurable, but can he do it in time with their deadlines working against them both?

I can see why this book is getting all of the attention and praise that it is. It’s an amazing read, filled with possibility and the sense that the universe may just be on our side sometimes. It’s filled with romance and chemistry. The prose has a lightness that is exceptional, creating space for these two amazing characters to meet, breathe, and tumble head over heels in love with one another.

Meanwhile, it is also a story of New York City. It’s a story of immigration and illegal immigrants, of losing a culture and then losing the dream of America as well. It’s a story of overt racism and the new generation of teens who see beyond that and into hearts. It’s a story of profound loss, of parental betrayal, of hope that manages to rise again and again.

A book perfect for today, this teen novel is a voice of hope despite our challenges and loving through it all. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.