Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (9780525552963)
Darius can’t seem to fit in anywhere. He is teased at school for being fat and Muslim. He’s never really had a friend. His father doesn’t approve of anything he does and often seems ashamed that Darius is his son. Darius is nothing like his younger sister who is adorable, outgoing and speaks flawless Farsi. So when Darius and his family take their first-ever trip to Iran to see his ailing grandfather, Darius wonders if anything will be different there. There he finally gets to meet his grandparents. His grandfather is intimidating, still watering his trees from up on his roof and driving at breakneck speeds. At the same time, he also gets lost sometimes and has outbursts of temper. Darius’ grandmother is pure love and kindness, creating meals and sharing tea. So when Darius meets Sohrab, a boy from the neighborhood, they cautiously make friends. There are bumps along the way, penis jokes taken too far, but soon they are fast friends who share a special spot overlooking Yazd. When tragedy strikes Sohrab’s family though, Darius is unsure how to help and ends up driving a wedge in their friendship that may not be able to be mended.
This book entirely stole my heart. I enjoyed Darius himself from the very beginning as he struggled with American teenage culture. However, the book truly begins when they get to Iran. It is there that Darius blossoms, but slowly and naturally. The entire book clicks together, beautifully depicting Yazd, carefully leading readers through new experiences and new foods, and celebrating the culture of Iran.
In many ways this book is a love letter to the city of Yazd and Iran itself, but it is also deeply about Darius and his growth as he finds a best friend and a place he fits. There are profound statements here about depression, stress to fit in and the sudden magic of discovering what true friendship is. There is also great humor, struggles to be understood and to understand, cultural issues and family tensions and joy. It’s complicated, just like every good novel should be.
Come fall in love with Darius and Iran at the same time in this amazing debut novel. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.
Who’s the Biggest? by Delphine Chedru (9780500651490)
This is a very simple picture book that is all about size and teaches the concepts of bigger and smaller. The book focuses on which animal is bigger, comparing one to another. One each page, one of the animals declares “I am!” There are big things on the page like elephants and trees. Then there are also smaller objects like flowers and bees to compare. The book is just right for very small children to learn the concept in a positive and fast-paced way. As mentioned in the book, with a little creativity, the book can be read to say which one is smallest too.
Chedru’s text is simple, yet she plays with some of the phrases, making sure that each animal speaks in their own distinct way. The illustrations are strong and graphical with deep colors combined with bright ones that burst on the page. Even though the story has a strong structure, there are surprises on each page with the page turn.
A book worth exploring with toddlers. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from library copy.
Here are the tweets I shared this week:
After 150 Years, ‘Little Women’ Still Resonates |
Picture Books about Mighty Girls Who Love Math – https://t.co/YUMAD6VZs9
Can We Talk? Librarians Lead New Push for Civics Education, Focusing on Discourse
The last storm-damaged public library branch in New Orleans has finally reopened, more than a decade after it was flooded by Hurricane Katrina.
Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement by Stephanie Roth Sisson (9781626728196)
This nonfiction picture book begins in much the same way that Rachel’s childhood days started: birdsong, insects, forest exploration and insects. Rachel loved to look at the world from the big view and then to kneel down and look very closely at nature. She loved spring days best, returning home after dark to supper and her big family. As the seasons turned, Rachel watched and documented them all, growing bigger herself. She headed off to college to become a writer, until she discovered the microscopic world which led her to science. She worked as a scientist, diving under the sea and then writing books about it. Soon though, she realized that things were changing and species were disappearing. This led to her most important book, Silent Spring, which cautioned about the impact of chemicals on the ecosystem.
Sisson encapsulates Carson’s life in a very approachable way. The first part of the book focuses on Carson’s childhood love of nature and being outside. The text focuses on what Carson sees and experiences. As the book moves to her adult life, the text is about bravery and taking on the unknown. It then moves to her realization of what is happening in nature and her tenacity in figuring out what is going on. Throughout, this is the picture of a girl and woman who loves nature, thinks deeply and writes beautifully enough to change the opinions of a nation.
The illustrations are simple and lovely. They show all of the sounds of nature when Carson is a young child. Those same rich experiences are shown with the ghostly figures of animals that have disappeared due to chemicals. There is no mistaking the warmth of Carson’s home and family and then the strength that it took for her to stand strong in the face of people’s doubts.
A great picture book biography about an amazing woman, this is a timely read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Who Eats Orange? by Dianne White, illustrated by Robin Page (9781534404083)
Asking which animals eat what colors allows this book to explore both animals and colors at the same time. Starting with the title question, the book looks at bunnies eating carrots, chickens pecking cantaloupe, goats biting oranges, and pigs munching pumpkins. But what about a gorilla? No, gorillas eat green! And the book merrily moves on to that color and then on to other food colors as well. The animals are varied and interesting including turkeys, foxes, quetzals, marmots, reindeer and many more. The book ends asking you about the colors you eat and revealing the rainbow of food that humans enjoy.
White has created an energetic picture book that has a strong structure that young children will find enticing. She has selected the featured animals cleverly, using both familiar animals and exotic animals side-by-side. The book’s structure includes asking about a different animal to move to the new color of food, leading very nicely into the final part of the book as well.
The digital illustrations have a great physicality about them, feeling more like paper collage than digital on the page. Each of the animals has a great light in their eyes, looking back at the reader usually with a playful and inviting glint while not being anthropomorphized at all.
A great book for the youngest set that introduces colors and animals and allows for some guessing games as well. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.
Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins (9781534413627)
Stumpkin is one of the pumpkins for sale outside a little shop in the big city. He is a nearly perfect pumpkin. He is bright orange, round and large. Unfortunately though, Stumpkin is missing his stem and only has a little stump instead. As Halloween grows closer, one pumpkin after another is selected to be turned into a jack-o-lantern in the neighborhood. They are placed up in apartment windows and look down at the little shop below. Even the gourd is selected before Stumpkin, leaving him all alone. But there is a happy Halloween ending to come!
Cummins’ story written in a simple style. She shows the difference between Stumpkin and the others, explaining why he is left behind. Children listening to the story will protest that they would pick Stumpkin first since he is so lovely. The feeling of being different and left out builds as the story moves ahead and Stumpkin is left alone and sad. The simple art adds to the appeal of the book with its bright oranges, black cat and jack-o-lantern grins. It is impressive how much emotion she can convey with a few dots and lines on a round pumpkin.
Perfect pumpkin pick for those looking for non-scary Halloween and autumn tales. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.
Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, artwork by Emily Carroll (9780374300289)
The original novel Speak came out almost twenty years ago and is such a masterpiece of teen writing that I hesitated to read it in graphic novel form. Somehow though, the graphic novel captures the novel with a darkness that is beautiful and troubling at the same time. It has the same tone, the same damage on the page. Sadly it is just as relevant today during the #metoo movement as it was two decades ago.
Removing the bulk of Anderson’s skilled text had to be a gargantuan task in itself. The result is a pared down book that loses nothing of the powerful story. The imagery of trees plays throughout the book as does the use of dark and light on the page. It is a haunting and haunted book of a girl unable to speak about what happened to her. This new version will make the story more accessible for those teens who enjoy a great graphic novel rather than a great text novel. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
It’s a groundbreaking novel made into one of the most powerful graphic novels I have read. Get your hands on this one, get it into the hands of teens. Appropriate for ages 13+.
Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.
Trevor by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Amy Hevron (9781250148285)
Trevor is a very lonely canary who knows that he can escape his cage at any time, but stays put for the seeds. He has one favorite kind, sunflower seeds, that he saves for when he is feeling loneliest. When Trevor sees a lemon outside of his window, he tries to get it to sing with him. He even gives it his last striped sunflower seed, but it won’t eat. The lemon doesn’t reply to Trevor at all and doesn’t give him any gifts in return. Still, Trevor builds a nest in the tree for himself and the lemon. Meanwhile, the seed has fallen to the ground below. Eventually, a storm comes and Trevor must try to save the lemon. When he reaches the ground, he discovers the sunflower has sprouted and grown, scattering seeds across the ground. When a group of hungry birds arrives, Trevor quickly realizes what real friendship feels like.
Averbeck keeps the text of this picture book very simple, making it just right for younger listeners and good to share aloud. The emotions that Trevor feels in the book take center stage, from frustration at the lemon to eventual forgiveness to acceptance about their differences. Trevor is a great mix of brave, inquisitive and friendly as he makes his way into the larger world.
Hevron’s illustrations are painted onto wood. She cleverly allows the wood to show through to create tree branches and leaf spines. Against the pale blue background, the leaves, lemon and Trevor himself pop. One can see the wood grain throughout the book, both covered in color and plain. It makes for a very organic and natural feel.
A lovely quiet picture book about new friends and what to do when life gives you lemons. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken (9780735230378)
Adrian Simcox is always talking at school about the horse that he owns. But Chloe knows he is lying, since he lives with his grandfather in a small house in town. There is no room there for a horse. She also knows that Adrian’s family isn’t wealthy and a horse costs a lot of money to keep. So Chloe complains to her friends, her mother and eventually to the entire class about Adrian lying. When Chloe’s mother takes her to Adrian’s house, Chloe knows she is going to be proven right. But she doesn’t bargain for what she is actually going to find there.
This beautifully told story will have readers siding with Chloe from the beginning, since her reasons for not believing Adrian are clear and logical. Still, as the story unfolds readers will start to understand what Adrian is doing long before Chloe does and will begin to feel for him and relate to Adrian. The book does this without becoming didactic at all, instead naturally leading children to an empathy before Chloe gets there. The prose is strong and the pacing is just right in this quiet book.
The illustrations by Luyken are done with lots of white space around Chloe and then riotous plants and gardens around Adrian. Even on the playground, there is a sense that Adrian can create his own world out of imagination, filling the white space in a way that the others can’t. It’s an ideal analogy for the story line itself.
A great book to discuss lying and imagination, friendship and support. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.