Review: Can I Keep It? by Lisa Jobe

Can I Keep It by Lisa Jobe

Can I Keep It? by Lisa Jobe (9781624146961)

A little boy finds animals in his backyard and wonders if he can keep them as pets when they “follow” him home. His mother addresses each type of animal by asking her son where he would want to live if he was that animal. When the boy catches a squirrel, his mother points out that squirrels like to climb trees and gather acorns. She helps him realize that the squirrel belongs outside. The frog he catches next likes splashing in water, so the boy releases him too after thinking about how he loves to swim. The bird likes to fly in the sky rather than live in a cage. The boy thinks about swinging high and how much he loves that. Happily, the next animal the boy finds is a stray cat who may just find living with a little boy exactly the right place to live.

Jobe uses a droll sense of humor in this picture book. The little boy says to his mother that the animals are following him home while he is actually trapping them in a variety of ways in the yard. The mother’s responses are clever and thoughtful without being heavy handed at all, allowing the child to figure things out on his own. The rhythm of the book is lovely, with the boy capturing a creature and each dialogue following a pattern.

Jobe’s art is bright and filled with motion. Done in watercolor, gouache, pastel and then digitally collaged, the illustrations are large enough to use nicely with a group of children. In every scenario with an animal’s preferred place to live, the little boy thinks about how he feels when he swings or swims or climbs trees. This is shown through illustrations and works very well.

A great picture book about respecting animals, engaging with nature, and finding the perfect pet. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy provided by Page Street Kids.

 

Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (9781524740955)

As a Chinese-American living in Atlanta in 1890, Jo veers between being invisible to being openly shunned. She even lives invisibly in an underground secret room with Old Gin, the man who has raised her. Fired from her millinery job due to her race, Jo returns to her previous job as a maid for the entitled daughter of one of the wealthiest men in town. From her underground chamber, Jo discovers that the newspaper publisher who lives in the house above is having difficulty. A competing paper has a new advice column that is getting a lot of attention. So Jo sets out to anonymously fill that role as Miss Sweetie. As her column gains attention and controversy due to her distinct take on race and women’s rights, Jo finds herself caught up in a mystery that may force her to reveal all of her secrets.

Lee writes about an interesting moment in American history. After Chinese people were brought over to replace African-Americans as slaves on plantations, they also fled the hard work and disappeared into urban areas. These Chinese-Americans then had to figure out how to get by in a world that saw only black and white, not other races. Jo finds herself at the heart of these struggles as she navigates the world of the South in the late 1800’s. Laws were changing, and certainly not for the better around her. It’s a captivating look at an almost invisible group of people who should not be forgotten in the history of our nation.

Jo is a marvelous protagonist. Lee does an admirable job of making Jo’s more progressive views make sense and not be too modern. Bound by the society around her, Jo is regularly reminded of her status and that helps the reader also understand the restrictions that Jo finds herself living in. Still, Jo fights for what she needs and figures out ways to move ahead and help those she loves. She is undaunted, brave and fierce.

A superb historical novel that looks at race, gender and America. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

New Zealand Book Awards Winners

The 2019 winners of the New Zealand Books Awards for Children and Young Adults have been announced. Here are the winners:

MARGARET MAHY BOOK OF THE YEAR and PICTURE BOOK AWARD

The Bomb

The Bomb by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan

 

WRIGHT FAMILY FOUNDATION ESTHER GLEN AWARD FOR JUNIOR FICTION

The Dog Runner

The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble

 

YOUNG ADULT FICTION AWARD

Legacy

Legacy by Whiti Hereaka

 

ELSIE LOCKE AWARD FOR NON-FICTION and BEST FIRST BOOK AWARD

Front Cover

Art-tastic by Sarah Pepperle

 

RUSSELL CLARK AWARD FOR ILLUSTRATION

Puffin the Architect

Puffin the Architect by Kimberly Andrews

 

THE WRIGHT FAMILY FOUNDATION TE KURA POUNAMU AWARD 

Te Haka a Tanerore (Te Reo Maori edition)

Te Haka a Tānerore by Reina Kahukiwa, illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa, translated by Kiwa Hammond

 

This Week’s Tweets

Here are the items I shared on Twitter this week:

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Alicia Silverstone and Mark Feuerstein to Star in Netflix’s Baby-Sitters Club Series | TV Guide buff.ly/2YSqDcw #kidlit
Get a first look at Holly Black’s original Maleficent novel – https://t.co/AIaH3Q4uo3?amp=1

Jia Tolentino Wants You to Read Children’s Books – https://t.co/zd1gnKYTkU?amp=1

Local artist cages “Make Way for Ducklings” Statue to Protest Child Detention Centers – https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2019/08/02/local-artist-cages-make-way-for-ducklings-statue-to-protest-child-detention-centers

LIBRARIES

Libraries are fighting to preserve your right to borrow e-books: https://t.co/isZZsICQBt?amp=1

Northwest Iowa Man Ordered To Pay Fine For Burning LGBTQ Library Books buff.ly/2ZRN9E1 #libraries #Censorship

READING

How to Read More Books in the Golden Age of Content buff.ly/2ZE4YWW #Reading

YA LIT

B&N Teen Blog – New Releases: Demons, Witches, and Ziggy Stardust – https://t.co/30uJApTKdO?amp=1

Lucasfilm’s first non-Star Wars or Indiana Jones film in years is a Children of Blood and Bone adaptation: on.io9.com/4zgHFNE

On the History (and Future) of YA and Speculative Fiction by Black Women – https://t.co/JncKmsRzHd?amp=1

Review: A Visit to Grandad: An African ABC by Sade Fadipe

A Visit to Grandad An African ABC by Sade Fadipe

A Visit to Grandad: An African ABC by Sade Fadipe, illustrated by Shedrach Ayalomeh (9781911115816)

On an alphabet adventure, Adanah heads out to visit her grandfather in Modakeke, Nigeria. The book starts in school with Adanah heading on break. She packs her bags and camera. Her Dad drives her to her grandad’s house out in the country with lots of animals around. The two of them spend time together, having lunch that is invaded by insects, drinking juice, and cleaning the kitchen. At night, Adanah sleeps under a mosquito net. Water is fetched in kegs, more work and cooking is done, and stories are told in the evening. Finally, Mom is there to take Adanah back home to share her adventures with her little sister, Zainab.

This alphabet book works really well as it shows life in modern Nigeria. It is that exploration of Nigeria that really shines in this book, allowing readers to see a fascinating mix of modern and traditional parts. The strong structure of the alphabet helps keep the book focused and while X will always be for something like xylophone almost none of the other letters are a stretch at all. The text feels free and unforced, which is impressive in this sort of book.

The art is bright and fresh, filling the pages with color and glimpses of home life and the landscape. On each page, there are other items that start with that same letter of the alphabet. The art is structured so well though, that it is easy to miss that these elements are even there until you are encouraged to look for them at the end of the book.

An alphabet picture book focused on family and Africa. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Cassava Republic Press.

Review: My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin

My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin

My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Lindsey Yankey (9780763694944)

The author tells the story of growing up in Iran at her grandmother’s side. Mina followed her grandmother everywhere. She woke with her at dawn when they prayed together. They bought bread from the delivery boy every morning by lowering baskets from their third-floor window. Mina’s best friend lived next door and their grandmothers were best friends too. The grandmothers prayed for one another to go to heaven at their respective mosque and church. Mina’s grandmother sewed all of her own chadors which Mina used to create a rocket ship when she draped them over the table. When her grandmother fasted for Ramadan, Mina was too little to fast for an entire day. So she joined her grandmother in eating at dawn and then after dusk too in addition to her regular meals. The love the two have for one another shines in this picture book.

Javaherbin opens the world of Iran to readers in the United States. Her memories of spending time with her grandmother are filled with moments of real connection, of quality time spent together side-by-side, of support and of true adoration for one another. The moments are beautifully small and everyday, showing how love is built throughout our lives, not in grand gestures but in the smallest ones.

The illustrations by Yankey are done in mixed media. They incorporate textiles and patterns. The warm glow on every page invites readers into a loving home. The illustrations are delicate and filled with details.

A beautiful look at the love of grandmother and grandchild. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.

Review: Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards

Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards

Once Upon a Goat by Dan Richards, illustrated by Eric Barclay (9781524773748)

A very naive king and queen tell their fairy godmother that they want to start a family. They’d like a child that they can place either on the hearth next to a vase or out in the garden by the roses. They say that a boy would be great, but “any kid will do.” So at the next full moon, they open their castle door to discover a baby goat on their doorstep. They reluctantly bring the goat into their perfectly designed home where it immediately starts eating things, butting statues, and even pooping on the floor. When they remove the goat to the garden though, they eventually rush out on a rainy night to rescue it and bring it back home. They think it is only for one night, but soon the goat has lived with them for months. When the fairy godmother returns though, she is surprised about the goat and realizes that a mistake has been made! When the human child is discovered living with a goat family, she abruptly moves the children back to their biological parents. However, families aren’t quite that simple.

This fractured fairytale sets up the scene very quickly and the entire story moves at a wonderful pace. The text is simple and carries the story well, offering just enough detail to create plenty of humor. The chaos of a goat in their perfect lives is just right, eating everything in sight and destroying plenty of the rest. It’s a great metaphor for any new child entering a home and the destruction of the ideal plans that have been made. The resolution of the confusion of the child and kid is very satisfying and will have readers cheering along.

The illustrations by Barclay are wonderfully detailed and rich. He uses a nice mix of simple scenes and then more elaborate ones with some images having elaborate borders and others showing the splendor of the castle. The mix is very successful, always paying attention to leaving enough white space for the eye.

Let’s not kid around, this is a great picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Review: Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali (9781534442726)

Zayneb keeps a diary with two types of things in it. There are marvels, something that is extraordinary and wonderful. Then there are oddities, which perplex, confuse or concern. Zayneb has always been someone willing to take on the world, something that gets her in trouble at times. So of course, she is the one willing to confront her racist teacher and ends up suspended and even pulling one of her classmates into trouble along with her. Zayneb ends up leaving for Doha, Qatar, to get an early start to her spring break. On the trip there, she meets Adam. Adam also does a marvels and oddities journal, but he is harboring a deep secret. He has recently been diagnosed with MS, the same disorder that took his mother’s life. Still, he is intrigued with Zayneb just as she is with him. While they are both Muslim, they don’t see life in the same way, though they are both busy putting on fronts for one another and not showing who they truly are.

Ali takes racism towards Muslims on in a very direct way. She shows microaggressions and other forms of aggression very effectively, demonstrating how each and every day as a girl wearing a hijab, Zayneb is subtly and directly attacked and questioned. But Ali doesn’t rest there, she also shows how to combat it, giving Zayneb tons of resilience and plenty of anger. Zayneb is a wonderful character because of the depth of her passion for being an activist and standing up for herself and for others. She is simply a kick-ass character. Adam on the other hand, is quieter and protective of those he loves in a different and gentler way. He too wrestles with questions and concerns, bearing the burden so as not to bother others until he can’t handle it alone any longer. He is a great foil for Zayneb’s character.

The city of Doha is also a character in the book. It comes alive with its markets and museums, public spaces and private homes. There is a beautiful sense of the city, one that none of the characters take for granted. It is not seen as a perfect place. Zayneb still has to confront overt racism there as well.

A romance that is strengthened by a focus on racism and a firm stance on being yourself. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.

Review: So Big! by Mike Wohnoutka

So Big! by Mike Wohnoutka

So Big! by Mike Wohnoutka (9781547600793)

A very positive picture book about first-day jitters when starting school. Bear is “so big,” a refrain that carries through the entire book. He is big enough to get himself dressed. He is so big that he can make his own breakfast too. He packs his own bag, ties his shoes, and heads out to the bus stop. But when the bus gets there, it is so big! The kids around him are big too. So is the large school. Bear is worried and sits down on the steps. There he notices a smaller child hesitating to go in too. The two join hands and head into the big school together where they discover that it’s not too big after all.

Wohnoutka’s story is told in the simplest of words by repeating “so big” and other phrases multiple times. It’s a story about confidence that starts strong, is lost along the way and rediscovered too. The bravery that it takes to try something completely new and then the resilience that is necessary to keep moving forward even when scared is shown deftly in this simple story.

The art is bright and centers entirely on Bear and the other children. Perspective is used very effectively to show how large the bus, the children and the school appear to a small child. Other times when he is more confident, Bear takes up space on the page and the perspective shifts to allow that.

Great for first day jitters, this book is simple and effective. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.