Solo by Kwame Alexander (9780310761839, Amazon)
Blade has grown up with all sorts of privileges as the son of a rock star, but the big house and huge parties come at a cost. His father is always humiliating him, like when he crashes (literally) Blade’s graduation ceremony where Blade is meant to give a speech. His father tries to clean up his act regularly, but it never seems to stick and he returns to drugs and alcohol. Blade also misses his mother terribly after her death. When Blade finally confronts his father about his behavior, a family secret is revealed that changes Blade’s perspective permanently. He sets off to discover his own history, a journey that takes him to Ghana, a place entirely different than the one he has been living in.
Newbery-Medal winner Alexander has crafted another amazing verse novel here. He moves firmly into teen territory here, with a 17-year-old protagonist who is truly on a journey to discover himself. Alexander starts the novel with the excess of a rock legend’s life and then beautifully changes the novel mid-course to Ghana and people who live as a strong community with few luxuries. The two settings could not be more different nor could what Blade feels while he is in each. Ghana is vividly depicted as is Blade’s reaction to it, rich with people and place.
Alexander’s poetry writing is superb in both settings. Yet it truly comes alive in Ghana, particularly with Joy, Blade’s guide and inspiration while there. Just as Blade cannot look away from Joy, neither can the novel nor the reader since she is so captivating. Throughout the book, there are questions asked that are deep, about wealth and poverty, about privilege and race, about addiction and recovery, about parenting and failure. This is a rich book filled with lots to discover and discuss.
A great read that will be enjoyed by even those teens who may not think they’d like a verse novel. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from HarperCollins.
Whose Moon Is That? by Kim Krans (9781101932278, Amazon)
When the cat asks aloud who the moon belongs to, he gets many different answers. The tree and bird both insist the moon is theirs. The bear claims to have seen it first while the stars say it’s theirs because they hold it. The wolf insists that it helps him howl, so it’s his. Even the ocean thinks it is theirs because they reflect the moonlight. But the moon itself soon sets things straight and explains that the moon belongs to no one and to everyone. Still, the cat awakes the next morning with a new question about the sun!
This picture book about the moon is written in rhyming couplets that are not forced or unnatural. The book flows nicely from one natural figure to the next, each insisting that the moon is theirs with rhythm and rhyme. The illustrations are a mix of detailed fine-ink black and white with dramatic watercolor backgrounds that at times are almost tie-dyed and a mix of deep and bright colors.
A lovely bedtime book that will be welcomed especially on moonlit nights. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Random House.
Here are some cool links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week:
Filth and fame: how David Walliams became king of kids’ books in the U.K. |
The InbeTWEENers: 25 Great Books for Kids Between Middle Grade and Young Adult
Neal Porter Moves Imprint to Holiday House via
Yes, Some Comics Are For Kids — And They’re Big Business | – https://t.co/itqR73Yc6W
Your children will love these new poetry books:
StoryWalk lets children read book while soaking up nature
Too Much Reading To Do? 5 Reasons Having A Large TBR Pile Is Actually A Good Thing |
5 YA Romantic Comedies to Lift Your Spirits
Lana Condor to Star in ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ Movie Based on Jenny Han Novel |
My Little Fox by Rick Chrustowski (9781481469616, Amazon)
Mama Fox watches closely over her little fox as he heads outside for the first time. When he is scared at first, she reassures him that she will always be nearby. Little Fox discovers the wonder of water in both rain and a pond. Sunny summer days have him frolicking in the flowery meadow. In the fall, he hops into the fallen leaves. Winter snow shows his footprints. As another year begins, it’s time for him to head off on his own. Even then, his mother will be close.
Chrustowski notes in his blurb on the book jacket that he discovered a fox den in Minneapolis one day and returned regularly to try to catch a glimpse of the foxes. Finally seeing one is the inspiration for this picture book. That inspiration shows as a real reverence for these animals is clear. The book is a celebration of maternal love and also of giving youngsters the freedom to explore and discover on their own. Mama Fox doesn’t rescue Little Fox at all, rather being nearby to encourage.
The illustrations in the picture book are done watercolor and pastel pencil. They have a deep richness of color that works well with the wooded setting. Chrustowski has used the illustrations to show different words in his rhymes. The words are made of leaves, mushrooms, the sun and pond weeds. This ties the words directly to the images and adds a playful touch.
A lovely look at maternal love and childhood play. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Life by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel (9781481451628, Amazon)
Celebrate life with this picture book. Told in simple poetry, the book starts by looking at how small life is when it begins. It shows how life grows into large animals like elephants. How animals love their habitats, from sand to snow. Life always has wilderness-like moments in it but those times can be journeyed through and a fresh start can be found. There are animals to love and protect. Humans can turn to the wild to find their own path and their own place to see each morning begin and everything around them growing.
Rylant has written an expansive poem that embraces life big and small. She moves with assurance from the tiny start of life through to speaking about all of nature and then to nature’s importance to all of us as human beings. It is that look at wilderness and the wild that makes this book so much more than a poem on nature. It becomes a poem on us. There is a light touch to these deep subjects, allowing readers to think about the subject and wonder.
Wenzel’s illustrations add to that wonder that readers will find in this picture book. From elephants walking in sun and moon to whales lifting to the light. There is a sense of grace and expansiveness in the illustrations, demanding that readers enter the wilderness for themselves.
Beautiful and wild, this picture book invites readers to look deeply into themselves. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Blue Ethel by Jennifer Black Reinhardt (9780374303822, Amazon)
Ethel is a cat who is old and fat. She is black and white and she has a routine to her days. She first surveys the land from her porch. Then she watches the weather. She chases insects and then explores the sidewalk where she has a favorite square where she likes to roll. But one day, someone has used chalk on the sidewalk square and when Ethel rolls on it, she becomes blue! The other cats look at her very strangely and Ethel runs home to hide. The next morning, Ethel feels blue and licks herself into blue stripes and white stripes. Another kitten is outside waiting for her and he is pink! The two together do Ethel’s routine with a colorful change at the end.
Reinhardt shows in this picture book that even old cats can learn colorful new tricks. Ethel is a wonderful look at the familiar routines turned on their heads. Her life is filled with simple pleasures that make her feel powerful and in charge. But that is all changed with one color. Still, Ethel also shows that while change may be hard, it isn’t impossible.
The illustrations are silly and quirky. The area that Ethel surveys each morning is filled with fake animals like deer, flamingos and one large rhino. It takes what we see as normal lawn ornaments one step farther into farce. Ethel herself is rather odd looking and therefore quite delightful as a character.
A look at colors, changes and resilience. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley (9780525428442, Amazon)
Released August 29, 2017.
This second book from the author of Circus Mirandus takes readers deep into the Okefenokee Swamp. Blue has known his entire life that he is cursed. He can’t win at anything, no matter how hard he tries. His most recent loss was when his arm was broken standing up to a bully at school. Now his father, who always wins, has dropped him off for the summer at his grandmother’s house. The mystical red moon is rising this summer and Blue will have the chance to break his curse if he can reach the golden alligator before anyone else. But it’s complicated as his grandmother may need her curse broken more badly than anyone else and the entire family is there to compete for the right to head into the swamp. Meanwhile, Blue meets Tumble, a girl desperate to be a hero and who wants to save Blue from his delusion of always losing. But is it a delusion or is it ancient magic at work?
Beasley has written a wonderful second novel that tells a fascinating story of greed and sacrifice even as it speaks to the importance of losing sometimes in life. The book reads easily even as it deals with deeper issues of family, betrayal, love and heroism. It is far more complex than readers may expect as different themes weave beautifully together to form the whole tale. The ribbon of clear magic that swirls throughout the book takes it directly into fantasy even as it is firmly rooted in the real world too. It’s a winning mix.
The two main characters are fascinating. Blue struggles with his constant losing and yet never quite gives up to it. He continues to try to run faster, is willing to attempt to break the curse in different ways. He is a hero who is easily related to, taken in by extended family and looking for home. Tumble is a girl who has lived in an RV for most of her life. Her problems becoming a hero are indications that she too may have a curse she has never realized is there. Even though she fails regularly at being a hero, she too perseveres and is resilient in the face of her challenges.
A vibrant and strong story of failure and heroism. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.
The Eisner Awards were announced at Comic-Con this week. The awards are given to the best work in comics and graphic novels. Here are the winners in the youth categories or awards that went to books for children and teens:
BEST REALITY-BASED WORK
March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
BEST PUBLICATION FOR EARLY READERS (Up to Age 8)
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clinton
BEST PUBLICATION FOR KIDS (Ages 9-12)
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
BEST PUBLICATION FOR TEENS
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
Don’t Blink by Tom Booth (9781250117366, Amazon)
A little girl sits in the middle of the page, looking right at the reader. When a bird flies up and asks her what she is doing, she replies that she’s having a staring contest with the child reading the book. As the pages turn, more and more animals join the staring contest, until the page is crowded with an elephant, fox, frog, porcupine, owl, giraffe, monkey and many more. Even a slow-moving tortoise is heading to the game. But before the tortoise can get to the center of the page, everyone has blinked. Perhaps another try?
Booth’s playfulness is fully on display in this picture book. The book is entirely written in dialogue that is color-coded to the animal speaking with dotted lines to clarify who is saying something. With so many animals on the page, this book lends itself to lots of various voices which will also add to the fun. The illustrations are modern and friendly, even the alligator being more toothy than frightening. All of the animals looking directly at the reader is also very effective.
A great pick to share aloud and have children try to win the staring contest. Or maybe the next one! Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from library copy.