Chirp! by Jamie A. Swenson

Cover image for Chirp.

Chirp! by Jamie A. Swenson, illustrated by Scott Magoon (9781534470026)

Chipmunk spends her days chirping on top of her rock. Her songs can be happy, or bittersweet or very sad. Her rock was very good at listening, but didn’t sing along. So Chipmunk set out to find a new friend. She found a pinecone that she scooped up and brought back to where the rock was waiting. But the pinecone was also a listener and not a singer. So Chipmunk set off again. She found a log that she thought would make the perfect addition to her group of friends. The problem was, Chipmunk couldn’t move it. So she sat in the log and sang a sad song. Raccoon heard her singing and offered to help her move the log. But even with both of them trying, it wouldn’t budge. Chipmunk and Raccoon sang a bittersweet song together and Moose heard them. With Moose’s help they managed to pop the log free and it rolled right next to the pinecone and rock. Chipmunk still spends her days singing, now though Raccoon and Moose join in too.

A search for friendship makes for a poignant look at how it can be a struggle to find the right friends. At the same time, Chipmunk never gives up on her rather silent friends, framing it instead that they are good listeners. It’s a charming take on loneliness. The bridge of music to share emotions and find new friends weaves throughout the book and brings Raccoon and Moose into the story where they share their voices too. The ending is lovely and satisfying.

Magoon’s illustrations convey Chipmunk’s emotions with colors and movement. The pastels of happiness, the orange and dark moments of bittersweet feelings, and then the blackness of sadness that still has some light within it. The forest setting of the picture book is shown in lovely small details of ferns, grasses, leaves, rocks, dirt and light.

A book about finding friends who truly hear you. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon and Schuster.

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

Cover image for How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe.

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland (9781534448667)

Moon has always lived in the shadow of her beautiful sister, Star. Now Star is a Fotogram influencer, making enough money to have bought their family a new house. Their mother is ecstatic with Star but has always had problems showing any sort of love to Moon. Star has been offered a seat on a tour bus of influencers traveling the nation for the summer, and Moon is sent along as her photographer, a role she has played for years. Moon will also be the tour’s “merch girl,” manning the booth that sells items for the influencers to all their fans. Moon has been planning her escape to college after the summer and pockets her money for the meal plan to help pay for board at college, deciding to live off peanut butter and grilled cheese on the bus. But she hadn’t planned on Santiago, an impossibly gorgeous guy who is the grumpy and rude brother of the owner of Fotogram. He’s also the other person doing merch sales. It’s hate at first sight, at least until Santiago starts to share his talent with food and Moon starts to question everything that her mother has ever told her.

Incredible writing, a fresh plot and lots of character growth make this teen novel a pure joy to read. Gilliland has real skill with dialogue, making all of the conversations seem natural and realistic but also clever and sharp-witted. Throughout the book there are wonderful slow reveals of information, such as how Moon actually got her scar (she did not fall out of a tree). The nature of Moon’s relationship with her sister and mother is honest and painful, each moment scalpel sharp and devastating, even when Moon herself doesn’t realize how bad it is.

Moon is a magnificent Latina protagonist. She is not waif-thin nor muscular, moving through her life with wobbly and jiggly bits that she struggles to love. She is herself a gifted earth artist and someone with a deep and meaningful connection to nature. One that often leaves her covered in insects like luna moths, ladybugs and dragonflies, something her mother considers a curse. Moon is complex, acerbic, funny and immensely vulnerable, just like the novel itself.

One of the best of the year, this is a book to fall for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.