Month: January 2018

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (9781484728499)

Released February 6, 2018.

Camellia and her sisters were born Belles. They are children of the Goddess of Beauty and given talents that let them bestow beauty on other people. The people of Orleans are born with gray skin and red eyes and must be transformed by Belles. Each generation, one Belle is chosen to be the Queen’s favorite. Camellia knows that she is destined to be the favorite, just as her mother was. But it is not that simple as one of her sisters is selected over her, because Camellia has refused to be confined by the rules. When the favorite position is offered later, Camellia jumps at the chance to take her sister’s place. But behind all of the beauty and opulence there is darkness, hidden truths and poisonous hatred. Can Camellia survive in court? And if so, how will she be asked to break the rules now?

Clayton has written a stunning first book in a trilogy. She has crafted a claustrophobic world of glitter, dazzle and beauty that is conveyed with fine detail and a sense of wonder. Throughout though, she has laced the story with pain, intrigue, lies and a sense of foreboding of the darkness to come. There is a finely wrought sense of unease even as the Belles make people beautiful.

Camellia is a great heroine, complicated and naive. Seeing the court through her eyes allows readers first to see the beauty only and then steadily as Camellia comes to understand the power struggles in court, to see them along with her. The pacing of the novel is slow at first and then downright breakneck at the end. I look forward to the rest of the series showing us more of the world that Clayton has created.

A mesmerizing first novel from an incredible new talent. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney-Hyperion.

3 New Picture Books to Explore Together

Here We Are Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (9780399167898)

With a gentle tone and a comprehensive eye, Jeffers welcomes someone newly born to our planet. He does a quick tour, whisking past the land, the sea and the sky. He mentions being careful of your body, since the part don’t just grow back. Jeffers celebrates life on earth in all of its diversity, both human and animal. There is night and day, slow and fast. The book ends with a message to share the earth with others, since there is enough for everyone. It is the tone of this picture book that is particularly effective. Jeffers embraces the contradictions of our world, the beauty of life, and the spectacular nature around us. His illustrations show the vastness of the universe and the wonder of our planet. Meant for older children who will enjoy the tone and the joy of exploration. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

How to Find an Elephant by Kate Banks

How to Find an Elephant by Kate Banks, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (9780374335083)

Cloudy days are the best days to look for elephants. You will need to head into the wild, so make sure to pack some food and supplies like a flute, blanket and binoculars. You will need to enter the jungle and search. Look for footprints, but don’t expect to hear footsteps. Ask at any houses you find, drink at waterholes and take shelter from rain under large leaves. Have lunch, swing with a chimpanzee and fly with an eagle. You will probably find an elephant when you least expect it, so keep your eyes open! This picture book is written with lovely details that invite young readers and listeners deep into the story. There is a sense of adventure throughout, particularly due to the illustrations that cleverly hide elephants on each page. Sharp-eyed children will suddenly glimpse them and you may need to go back and find any that they may have missed. Beautifully illustrated, this book makes a great read-aloud but make sure that everyone can see the images up close. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.)

Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon

Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon (9781626723498)

George Laurent is not like other birds. He doesn’t go anywhere, not flying south or north, just staying at home. He always had something delicious cooking in his oven and the other birds would come and visit. They would invite him on their next adventure, but George would always decline and have some kind of excuse. When winter arrived, George met Pascal, a bear, out in the cold. George tries a series of excuses to explain why he is still there and then finally admits that he doesn’t know how to fly. Pascal decides to try to help George learn but they keep failing. Then they discover the hot air balloon that just went up in France. Can a goose who loves staying home love to travel too? This picture book balances a strong story line with simple text that is very inviting for young children. The book is fast paced and yet tells a deeper story of being ashamed of not knowing how to do something and how friendship can create new opportunities to learn and grow. The illustrations are a warm mix of watercolor, pencil, crayon and collage. The collage offers vintage papers that add an additional level of interest and flair. A great book to offer alongside others about learning to fly. This one just takes a very different route! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

 

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (9781250147905)

For all of Alice’s seventeen years, she and her mother have been moving from one place to another. Her childhood is a blur of long car rides, the novels she read in different places, and the love of her mother. When Alice tries to ask about people like her grandmother, a reclusive author of a book of fairy tales that has a strong cult following, her mother won’t answer. So when they get news of her grandmother’s death in her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice longs to go. When her mother disappears, Alice and her classmate Finch set out to rescue her from the Hinterland, the setting of her grandmother’s book. Can Alice and Finch survive the dangers of a fairy tale world made real?

As a longtime fan of fairy tales, I loved this book. I particularly appreciated the fanged and bloody approach to these stories, ones that have echoes of traditional tales but are also entirely unique. Albert bridges Alice’s grandmother’s book into the novel cleverly, offering glimpses of the stories but never giving them all to the reader or to Alice. They are tantalizing peeks at the stories that are warnings mixed with welcomes. The entire novel is like this, beckoning readers in but also offering cruelty as a reward.

Alice is an equally fascinating figure who is deliciously flawed, filled with an anger that hovers just under her skin. She sees her mother as the one person she has in life, thanks in large part to their nomad lifestyle, as they flee the dangers that suddenly appear. The writing throughout the book is incredibly beautiful, angry and fiery. Albert weavers new metaphors with an ease that is deceptive, creating magic in the real world before moving on to do it in a fairy tale as well.

A great read, this blend of fairy tale and horror is completely intoxicating. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Netgalley and Flatiron Books.

 

This Week’s Tweets, Pins & Tumbls

Here are some cool links I shared on my TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr accounts in the last week:

CHILDREN’S LIT

5 Reasons to Start Reading to Your Baby (or any baby, really; you don’t have to be picky):

21 Memorable A WRINKLE IN TIME Quotes

Harry Potter-Inspired Signs Totally Ruled Women’s Marches Around The World |

Sad News: Ursula K. Le Guin, Acclaimed for Her Fantasy Fiction, Has Died at 88 | https://t.co/NDzhfxG9W1

TEEN BOOKS

Best-selling Kansas author faces backlash for writing Muslim character

Neal Shusterman on World Building

3 New Biographies of Great Women

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James R. Ransome (9780823420476)

Told in reverse chronological order, this picture book biography of Harriet Tubman is stunning. The verse walks readers through her life, from her work with runaway slaves to her speeches as a suffragist. The book touches on other parts of her life that readers may not be aware of such as her work as a Union spy and a nurse. The book moves all the way back to Harriet saving her family from slavery and then her own time enslaved on a plantation when her father taught her about the woods and the stars, creating an opportunity for Harriet to become the amazing woman she was. The poetry of this book is beautiful and spare, it moves from one important moment in Harriet’s life to another, spooling out her life’s story. The illustrations by Ransome are beautiful, playing with light and dark. The images stop readers just to gaze when the page is turned as they capture one moment after another. An important and lovely book about Harriet Tubman that belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (ARC provided by Holiday House.)

Grace Hopper Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu (9781454920007)

This picture book offers a friendly and approachable look at the life of Grace Hopper, one of the most important and influential computer geniuses of history. Even as a child Grace spent her time figuring out how things worked and designing devices. She attended Vassar College where she studied math and physics and also found adventures like going up in a plane. She attended graduate school in Yale, one of two women in her class. When World War II came, Grace wanted to help and tried to join the Navy. At first they would not accept her, but after a year she convinced them. She wrote programs for the first computers, coining the term “computer bug” when a moth flew in and stopped the computer from working. She created the way that computers can be programmed using language rather than 1s and zeroes.

Wallmark also shares a timeline of Hopper’s life at the end of the book that shows even more of her accomplishments over her long career. She also makes sure to share Hopper’s personal verve for life and her approach to creativity, moving the book away from what could have been too distant and factual into one that children can relate to easily. Wu’s illustrations capture that feeling as well, showing Hopper hard at work and yet enjoying daredevil time and teamwork. A great picture book biography that will add a lot to STEM collections. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Nina Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Briere-Haquet

Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Briere-Haquet, illustrated by Bruno Liance (9781580898270)

This picture book is a completely engrossing look at the life of Nina Simone. Done in a way that welcomes even small children to hear her story, the book opens with a greeting and a lullaby. Using piano keys as an allegory for race, the book looks at the keys through the eyes of a young Nina, who notices that white keys are whole notes while black keys are half notes. She sees something similar in society as well. Nina used music as a way to unite and to protest. Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., her music spoke to people of all color and united them. While the story follows a linear path in time, the information shared focuses on important events in Nina’s life rather than feeling like a chronological list of accomplishments or dates. Instead readers get to see what influenced her and how she grew into her voice as an activist. The illustrations are particularly compelling. Done in black and white, the image of people who arranged as piano keys and the one of dandelion seeds floating downward are particularly compelling. Smart and beautifully designed. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis (9780062659002)

Evan Panos has been dealing with physical and emotional abuse from his mother since he was five years old. Now at almost 18, he is simply trying not to let his different worlds collide. At summer Bible Camp, he has his first kiss with a boy, who then comes to his small town to visit, something that makes Evan very nervous in case his mother discovers the kiss. Then there is his long time best friend, Henry who has suddenly become very hot over the summer. Evan pours his emotions into his art and his notebooks where he meticulously documents his mother’s abuse, his father’s inability to step in, and his own isolation and fear. As his mother becomes even more suffocating and cruel, Evan has to find a way forward that will allow him to survive and maybe even fall in love.

Surmelis grew up in a very similar strict Greek family as a gay boy who was shunned for being who he was from a very young age. The writing here is strong and powerful, particularly during the scenes of abuse, the way that time slows down and then rushes forward again, the terrifying switches from kindness to cruelty and violence, the warning signs far in advance that still don’t allow the abuse to be avoided. It is chilling, violent and gut wrenching.

The character of Evan is multidimensional and complex. The extensive secrets he is hiding and the horrible abuse could have defined him as a character, but instead they serve to show even more clearly his intelligence, artistic nature and ability to forgive. Even as his mother is hurling insults at him, readers will know who he really is and will never question him the way that he questions himself. He is a vital character, one who survives and moves forward despite being trapped for so long.

An important look at the abuse suffered by gay teens at the hands of their families, this teen novel is riveting. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.

 

3 New Picture Books Celebrating Diversity

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins, illustrated by Bryan Collier
(9780316360302)

First written in 1975, the poem at the heart of this picture book speaks directly to young African-American children. It encourages them to be who they truly are. To learn all that they can learn. To be strong and be leaders for themselves, their communities and their country. If they do all of that, their country may just change to be what they want it to be. The poem is profoundly simple yet speaks deep truths that uplift children of color to fully be the wonderful people that they are. The illustrations by Collier are exceptional. He ties the children directly to role models like President Obama and Mae Jemison. Using collage and paintings, the illustrations are layered and lovely. A call for young people of color to stand up and change their country, this picture book belongs on the shelves of every public library. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Groundwood Logos Spine

I Wait by Caitlin Dale Nicholson (9781554989140)

Written in both Cree and English, this picture book quietly celebrates three generations of women in a Cree family. As the grandmother gets ready, a little girl and her mother wait. They all walk out into the fields together, then they all pray. They gather yarrow together, the mother a little bit more slowly than the others. Then they are done! Told in very simple sentences of just a few words, this picture book shows written Cree, Cree in English letters and also English. There is a gentle solemnity to the book, a feeling of importance and family. The illustrations are done in acrylic and show the landscape and also the three very different members of the family as they work together. Beautifully presented, this is a glimpse into modern Cree life for young readers. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Princess Hair by Sharee Miller

Princess Hair by Sharee Miller (9780316562614)

This book directly challenges the idea that princesses must have straight golden tresses in order to be proper royalty. In this picture book, princesses come in all colors and their hair comes in all sorts of types and styles. There are puffs, dreadlocks, frohawks, head wraps, afros, kinks, and much much more. The text here is joyous as it celebrates each type of hairstyle with rhythm and rhyme. Happily, the illustrations have girls of color outnumbering those who appear to be white. This is a book about differences and similarities that make it just fine to be royal no matter what type of princess hair you might be sporting. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library  copy.)