2020 Morris Award Finalists

The William C. Morris YA Debut Award honors a book for teens that is published by a first-time author. The winner will be announced during the ALA Youth Media Awards in early 2020. Here is the 2020 shortlist of five titles:

The Candle and the Flame The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

Frankly in Love (Frankly in Love, #1) Genesis Begins Again

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

There Will Come a Darkness (The Age of Darkness, #1)

There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool

Review: Nya’s Long Walk by Linda Sue Park

Nya's Long Walk by Linda Sue Park

Nya’s Long Walk by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (9781328781338)

This is a companion picture book to the author’s novel A Long Walk to Water. It shows the plight of people in the South Sudan as they search for clean and safe water sources within walking distance of their homes. The book focuses on Nya and her little sister Akeer. The two head out on a two-hour walk to get water for their family. But today, Akeer is not merry and active along the way. She drags behind and eventually is revealed to be sick and unable to walk any farther. It is a two-hour walk back home, and Nya has to dump much of the precious water back out to be able to also carry Akeer on her back. She finds that even when she thinks she can’t make it all the way back to the village, she can take one more step.

Park’s writing is captivating in picture book format, a lovely combination of pared down writing with dramatic content. Readers will believe that Akeer is simply going slowly at first, until her waterborne illness is revealed. The difficult decision to leave just enough water behind to make the walk possible is gut wrenching. The long and difficult walk is a gripping series of pages that show human resilience and strength vividly.

Pinkney’s art is full of movement and lines. They twirl around the characters who stand out on the page that has bright sunlight and brown dirt. The lines form halos around both of the girls, dancing on to mark their path and show the way.

A look at the impact of unclean water and the health crisis happening in South Sudan, this book also offers solutions. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier.jpg

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni (9781338318548)

This easy reader is a wonderful choice for older children who need a simpler text. The book is full of shivers and delights for those who love a good creepy story. The book has five individual stories, each a stand-alone tale which also makes this a great pick for smaller and shorter reading sessions. The book begins with a box left at someone’s door full of items for stories. Those objects are then the basis of each tale. There is a scary house and dare to enter it. There are neglected toys that seek revenge. A scratchy throat proves to be something truly awful. A statue insists on being warm. Scratching at the window may not be a tree branch after all.

The easy text works really well here, the simplicity of the words building a sense of not quite being told the entire tale and details being held back from the reader. Brallier builds suspense nicely in each story and readers will notice a nod to classic scary story tropes in the tales that doesn’t impact the delicious scariness of them at all. The illustrations are used liberally throughout the book and also will appeal to older readers. Their dark shadows add to the shivery nature of the book. It’s also great to see a diverse cast of characters in the stories.

A great pick to use in reading classrooms and to offer parents looking for easy readers for slightly older children. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Birdsong by Julie Flett

Birdsong by Julie Flett

Birdsong by Julie Flett (9781771644730)

In the spring, a girl moves with her mother from their seaside home to one in a field of snowdrops. They have a nearby neighbor who the girl gradually gets to know. When they first move, the girl doesn’t want to draw anymore. She does love to draw and her neighbor also loves to create things, pottery in her case. As the two start talking, the girl starts to think about creating things again. As autumn arrives, the neighbor shows her what she is working on, and the girl shares some Cree names for phases of the moon, inspired by the pottery. Winter is harder for the elderly neighbor, even with salmon soup shared between them. When she becomes bedridden, the girl uses her art to create a space ready for inspiration and healing.

Flettis, a Cree-Metis author, has won many awards for her work. Here she creates a story of the disruption of moving and the discovery of another artist who inspires new ideas. The inter-generational friendship is lovingly depicted, offering a web of support where each of them takes turns showing the other care when they need it most. The entire book has a gorgeous quiet to it that allows space for creativity to thrive.

The illustrations are simple and rich. The landscapes are filled with gauzy, haze that softens the hillsides, the sky and the moon. Against this softness, the characters stand out clear and bold.

A beautiful and inspiring picture book about art and friendship. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.

Review: Double Bass Blues by Andrea J. Loney

Double Bass Blues by Andrea J. Loney

Double Bass Blues by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez (9781524718534)

Nic plays cello at school with a zip and a hum, filling the room with his solo. Then he heads home, climbing over fences, rushing past dogs, to get on the bus. It takes him to another part of town where people make fun of his school uniform and wonder what his cello is. As rain falls, the mocking follows him all the way home until he reaches his granddaddy’s apartment that is filled with other musicians all ready to play along with his “bull fiddle.”

Loney celebrates the transforming power of music in this picture book. Her text is very simple, filled with sounds like clapping hands, musical zips and swoops, and noises of rain, buses, and crowds. Then he takes those noises and the stress of the ride home and turns them into music to share. This book also explores the life of a child straddling two communities, demonstrated by one trip home, with music anchoring both parts of his life.

The illustrations are done in acrylic paint. They incorporate strong lines and bright colors. The faces of Nic and other people are done in great detail, contrasting with the world around him which is done in a more stylized feel.

A marvelous musical picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf.

Review: Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb, illustrated by Kevin Cornell (9781984835482)

The book begins with Chapter One, of course, where it is discovered that Chapter Two is missing! A phone number for the police, an email and even a place to tweet is offered to the reader. When the page is turned to Chapter Two, the reader only sees some erased and illegible text on a few pages. Then the book picks up again in mid-story. The chapters move past quickly, with even the characters noting the brisk pace. The detective arrives, the janitor redecorates with M’s and messes with punctuation. Another story merges in for some chapters and then some are blank as characters think hard about the mystery. In the end, the culprit is identified but not caught. Perhaps the reader though can find proof in their own home. Take a look!

Lieb has written a chapter book full of wild humor and a twisting mystery. The book has only three characters: the first person narrator, the detective and the janitor. So the potential suspects are limited. The joy of the book comes with the silliness of the premise, the jaunty pace and the knowledge that each turn of the page will bring something fresh and different. Lieb uses blank pages, inserts a different genre, mirror writing, and messes with punctuation to great effect.

While this may present as a chapter book, it actually bridges between a chapter book and a picture book as it is filled with illustrations and often the chapters are single pages. Done in black and yellow-orange, the illustrations are very funny, often interacting directly with the text on the page.

Funny and fast, this chapter book is a silly mess that really works. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Razorbill.

Review: Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9781338233155)

This third in the Sunny series of graphic novels continues the story of Sunny, who is growing up in the 1970s. Sunny is starting middle school and things with her friends are becoming more and more confusing. There is the mystery of hair rollers, the unspoken rules of being a girl like when a boy bumps you he’s showing he likes you and that even if girls talk about boys all the time, it’s not OK to be friends with them. But there are things that make perfect sense to Sunny, like playing Dungeons & Dragons with her group of friends, who are mostly boys. When that too ends up being forbidden in middle school, Sunny must decide if she wants to be groovy or wants to be herself.

As someone of almost the exact same age as Sunny in the 1970s, one of the most charming parts of this series is how much of the seventies is captured in the stories without it becoming unnecessarily retro. I also love the inclusion of Dungeons & Dragons. Sunny is a girl after my own heart as I played a paladin always. The fact that D&D bridges from the seventies to today is impressive. The tone is just right as well, offering moments of real humor and empathy in the middle school years. As always, the art is right on, with the failures of Sunny to curl her hair, the beauty of tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, and the quiet loveliness of a paneled basement for gaming.

Bright and funny, this is another great book in the series. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers

The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers

The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers (9780008357917)

A picture book fable, it tells the story of a man, Fausto, who believed that he owned everything. He set out to survey all he owned. He owned the flower, he owned the sheep, and he owned the tree. He claimed ownership of a field, a forest and lake. When he tried to claim a mountain, the mountain refused until Fausto put up an amazing fight and showed the mountain who was boss. The mountain reluctantly agreed that he belonged to Fausto. Fausto then headed onto a boat and out into the sea. He told the sea that it belonged to him. At first the sea did not answer, but when it did it disagreed. Perhaps one of Fausto’s fits would help, or will it?

Jeffers has written a fable about greed and an endless hunger for ownership of nature, land and water. It is a story about having enough, about having limits, and about even if you are as greedy as Fausto discovering those limits (hopefully before it’s too late!) There is a great pacing here where page turns are effectively used to show length of time and length of refusal to belong to Fausto. The text is incredibly simple and effective. Jeffers’ illustrations very cleverly use whiteness to convey things like silence and space. He has several pages that are blank except for the words on them, hanging in space. It’s a beautiful effect.

Another winner from a master author/illustrator. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Philomel.

Review: I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

I Remember Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins (9781620143117)

This wonderful collection of poems and illustrations speak directly to the poets’ cultural heritage. Each poem looks deeply at family and identity, whether it is being asked where you come from or meeting a family member for the first time. Some of the poems show the fear of being African-American in America, the oversimplification of race when filling out forms, the way food can bring people together, and the joy of summer nights. The illustrations paired with each of the poems highlight the wide variety of cultures and heritages in the texts. The result is a rainbow of skin tones and colors, weaving together to create a book that reflects the vastness of our country.

The poems and illustrations in this book are very impressive. As they play through the authors’ memories of their childhoods and the variety of emotions those memories evoke, the reader gets the pleasure of visiting each author’s experience. Poetry always gives a more concentrated look, a deep feel for the author, and that is certainly the case here. The illustrations are wonderful, each self-contained and presented almost as a treasure to discover along this journey.

A great compilation of art and poetry that celebrates diversity and inclusion. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lee & Low Books.