When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost (9780374303037, Amazon)
Sisters Claire and Abi have been going to their family’s lake house since they were born. After their mother died, her things were kept just the way she had left them at the lake house: her chair at the window, books on the shelves and a painting on the easel. Now everything is different. Their father has married Pam and their mother’s things have been moved from the house. Pam is pregnant and the baby should come during their time at the lake. Claire discovers that Abi is changing too. Abi is interested in boys and starts to sneak off to meet them, involving Claire in her lies. Claire finds herself alone on the lake often, trying to figure out what all of this change means for her family.
Frost is a master of the verse novel, and this book is a great example of her skill and heart. She plays with formats for her poetry, using different types of poems and different structures for the various voices. The book is told not only by Claire and Abi but by the lake itself, and those poems are my favorites. They have embedded sentences using the bolded letters either at the beginning or ends of the poetic lines. It turns reading them into a puzzle that leads to discovery, rather like Claire’s summer.
The two sisters are dynamic characters. Abi’s interest in boys is seen as natural and normal, and so is her pushing the boundaries. Organic progression is made in Claire’s relationship with Pam, positivity slowly moving in to replace the wariness. Claire is a girl who is brave and wonderfully written. She has fears but overcomes them and never stops trying.
A beautiful verse novel that captures summer days on a lake and a family becoming stronger. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
A Letter to My Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780375868450, Amazon)
The framework of this picture book is a thank you letter to a childhood teacher. Inside that framework, it is the story of a girl who is struggling to learn to read and the 2nd-grade teacher who taught patience and gave the little girl space and opportunity to bloom. Along with the little girl, there is also a gardening project in the classroom, one too that takes its own time to come to fruition though the hard work is done throughout the year. Through the year, there are learning moments, accidents, setbacks and leadership opportunities. It’s a year of inspiration that clearly lasted a lifetime.
Hopkinson’s words paint a vivid picture of a little girl who much prefers the out of doors over books and classwork. She is something of a loner, someone who learns to love books during the year and becomes much more part of the group by the end. Hopkinson shows a wonderful individual child who is still universal while being so specific. Hopkinson does the same with the character of the teacher, who is patient and yet has structure in her classroom and expectations. It is the story of all teachers who make a difference and see a child for who they can become.
Carpenter’s illustrations are also exceptional. They use color to keep the focus of the illustrations on the teacher and the little girl. The other child become part of the background at times, though they are still there. Carpenter also shows the relationship of teacher and child with a depth that is very effective, using expression on the characters faces to show the trust that is being built.
A perfect gift for teachers, this picture book is also full of hope and opportunity for children to notice how special their teachers are. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.