Ellie loves to swim in the pool in her backyard. It makes her feel weightless and strong. It’s kind of ironic, since a swimming pool is where she was first bullied about her weight, earning her the enduring nicknames of “Splash” and “Whale.” Her mother has made it clear that she hates how Ellie looks, constantly posting articles on the fridge in the kitchen about calories and weight loss. She portions Ellie’s food, forces her to weigh herself every day, and is the source of all of Ellie’s Fat Girl Rules that Ellie tries to live by. Ellie is about the collapse under all of the expectations in middle school, from her mother, and from the entire society about how fat people should be invisible and yet easily mocked. When Ellie starts to see a therapist with the help of her supportive father, she begins to see that she has every right to take up space in this world. She may not be able to fix everything all at once, but she can start with what she says to herself and what she allows others to say about her.
In her verse novel, Fipps achingly captures the experience of being a fat person in today’s society, and even harder, a fat middle-school girl. She writes the bullying words from classmates, showing how each one takes aim and tries to hurt. Yet Fipps also shows beyond the bullies to the pain they are hiding too. Ellie’s family is beautifully contrasted with that of her new best friend, where no one tells Ellie to stop eating or to be ashamed. Her own family experience is one of drastic differences with her mother and older brother unable to even look at Ellie while her father adores her and supports her exactly the way she is.
Ellie is a great character, full doubts about herself and in need of real help to negotiate her family and society. Her internalization of all of the negative messages is deftly shown by the author and then transformed into a platform for advocacy and self respect. The entire book is full of truth about how fat people are treated and then an honest look at moving beyond that into fighting back.
A middle-grade novel that shows how self worth is created despite what others may think. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
Beginning with the mutations and evolution that brought life to Earth, this picture book soon focuses on snails as they climb out of the water and onto land. Mutations continued to happen, including to one specific snail who was discovered by a retired scientist. It was a smaller snail than normal, with a darker shell and a tentacle that had trouble unspooling, and a shell that spiraled in the opposite direction than other snails’. The scientist sent the unique snail to a snail laboratory where it was named Jeremy. It turned out that Jeremy’s body was a mirror image of most other snail’s and he also had inverted internal organs. Because of that, Jeremy could only mate with another mirror image snail, another one in a million. So the snail laboratory made a plea for the entire world to look for another “lefty” snail. Amazingly, in only a few weeks, two potential mates were found and sent to the snail laboratory. When eventually Jeremy had offspring, he was so old that he didn’t live to see them arrive. Sadly, none of the new snails had a left-spiraling shell. The mutation was once again dormant, but it will return again.
Inspired by a true story, this picture book is a touching mix of poetic description and scientific facts. Popova’s language embraces the reader, showing them the beauty and wonder in mutation, genetics and evolution. She marvels at finding two potential mates in the world for Jeremy and then delicately celebrates Jeremy’s life at the end. She writes with real intention both to reveal the amazing nature around us but also to describe the science, including Jeremy’s mirror image body, the way that snails mate, and the work of the scientists who cared enough to explore his mutation.
Zhu’s illustrations are awash in colors, from the blues of the original waters of life to the rich green of English gardens. Done in watercolor swirls and drips, the illustrations are a mix of close ups from a snail’s view and the bustle of humans transporting Jeremy and the other snails. There is even a lovely foldout page that invites readers to even more fully enter the depths of the garden.
Full of wonder and science. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
At age 16, Deka is preparing for the blood ceremony in her village that will prove that she is pure and worthy of marriage. When her village is attacked by deathshrieks though, Deka’s blood flows gold rather than red. Deka is discovered and held in a cell where she is drained of her blood regularly. Now unable to die permanently, she suffers through several deaths while her blood is sold by the elite members of her village. When a strange woman arrives wielding the power of the Emperor, she takes Deka with her to join a new elite force of fighters, all of them girls with gold blood and immortality. It is there that Deka becomes a warrior, learning to fight the deathshrieks and also learning about the powers she seems to have that no one else does, including the ability to order the deathshrieks to obey her commands. But all is not what it seems in the training camp. Steadily, Deka and her friends discover what is being hidden from them all.
Written in wildly engaging style, this book is a gripping and tense look at a society that denigrates women yet has to depend on them for their very survival in war. The pacing is strong, the book moving ahead with new discoveries and new revelations nicely. The diverse characters fill the entire cast, making a rich reading experience in an interesting fantasy world with monsters who are more than they seem at first.
Deka is an engaging protagonist. She must push back on the way she was raised to be submissive, something that many girls and women in our own society must do as well. Stepping into her own power is a theme of the book, learning to wield her new weapons and then figuring out who the real enemies are. Readers will figure out the puzzle long before Deka even seems interested in wondering about it. There are a few surprises along the way though, making it worth reading even if the reader has it mostly solved.
Ferocious, feminist, fierce and great fun. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Tola lives in Lagos, Nigeria with her older brother and sister and her grandmother. Tola is the youngest and quite small, though she notices throughout these three stories that often the smallest people turn out to be the strongest too. In the first story, Tola goes with her Grandmommy to the market because she is the best at counting change. She and her grandmother carry the heavy groceries and items back on their heads, stopping along the way for treats. In the next story, the water stops working in their apartment, so Tola wakes her siblings to get water from the well early so they aren’t late for school. But her clever idea doesn’t quite work out as expected. In the last story, Tola and her brother help their neighbor the tailor after he gets into an accident and can’t ride his bike. Thanks to her way with numbers, Tola can measure the clients for their new clothes and her brother is strong enough to pedal them all over the city.
Any new book by Atinuke is a treat, but one that introduces a new character and her family is a particular delight. As always, Atinuke shows both the poverty in Nigeria but also the strength of the community. Tola works hard throughout the book, making sure that she is taking care of her grandmother, her siblings and her neighbors. She uses her own particular skills to help, including her ability to notice small things, count correct change, and measure closely. She also uses her innate kindness and love for others to motivate herself.
The illustrations are done in friendly and often funny line drawings. These drawings show vital elements of the story such as the size of the rice bag that Grandmommy carries on her head and the length of the line at the well. They also help to break up the text, making this early chapter book approachable and adding clever humor.
Another charmer from a master Nigerian storyteller. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
As a little girl growing up in Eatonville, Zora loved to listen to stories. She listened to stories of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox at the general store. Zora told her own stories too, to anyone who would listen. But her father didn’t approve of her storytelling, since he considered it telling lies. Her mother though, didn’t want her children growing up to till the land, so she encourage Zora to “jump at de sun.” When Zora’s mother died, she was sent to the Florida Baptist Academy boarding school. Zora loved the books there, but soon her school fees were not paid and she had to leave. She didn’t stay long with her family, quickly moving out and finding work though she kept getting fired or quitting. She only loved the times when she could spin stories. Zora decided to return to high school and graduate, so she lied about her age of 26, claiming she was 16. After graduating, she headed to Howard University and decided to become an author, writing her stories of Eatonville. So she moved to New York and eventually sent out some of her stories to a magazine contest. Zora made another leap after she got attention from winning the contest and got a scholarship to another college where she was assigned to collect Negro folklore, something she had been doing since she was a child!
Williams writes Hurston’s biography with such energy and appreciation. She takes the statement Hurston’s mother made and turns it not only into the title of the book but also into a sentiment woven throughout the entire story, showing the connection between Hurston’s success, her talent and her willingness to make leaps of faith to new opportunities. There is bravery and resilience on these pages, shining in the sunlight as Hurston takes risks in the most inspiring ways.
The illustrations are marvelously colorful, filling the pages with Eatonville, various colleges and the dynamic feel of New York City. All of the pages are full-page art, taking the color right to the edge of the page, glowing with streaming sunlight, peach, green, blue and reds.
A shining leap of a picture book biography that suits its subject perfectly. Appropriate for ages 6-9.