To Tell You the Truth by Beth Vrabel

Cover image for To Tell You the Truth.

To Tell You the Truth by Beth Vrabel (9781534478596)

Gran told Trixy stories from the time she was born. No one else believed Gran’s stories were true, but Trixy knew they were. After Gran’s death, Trixy holds on to her stories, particularly the one she promised to never tell. Gran told Trixy that stories weren’t meant for everyone, because sometimes they can’t be heard. When her teacher tells her that she needs to write down a true story, Trixy borrows one from Gran. It’s a story that is unbelievable, combining cake, theft and Liberace. Soon Trixy is telling lots of people Gran’s stories and submitting some for publication. Deep down she knows the stories are real, but can she prove it? It’s going to take telling some lies, doing some sneaking, and traveling across the state to meet people who knew Gran and can tell Trixy the real truth.

Vrabel has created a novel wrapped around a series of delightful short stories told in Gran’s voice. Through those stories and Trixy’s memories, readers gain a deep sense of who Gran was. The novel is an exploration of the power of stories that are shared, a question of what truth really is, and then an ending that will require a few tissues. The writing is marvelous with just the right amount of Southern charm. The play between the novel itself and the stories works amazingly well, combining richly together.

Trixy is a character who is holding not only stories but also secrets. Her relationships with others are difficult thanks to her prickly way with others. Trixy regularly believes that she is right, doesn’t listen to others, and in the process speaks hurtfully to them. At the same time, her pain over losing her beloved Gran is evident as is her need to connect with other people. She manages to transform those around her with her stories while at the same time also changing herself too.

A charming Southern novel about stories, loss, love and truth. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Sonny Says Mine! by Caryl Hart

Cover image for Sonny Says Mine.

Sonny Says Mine! by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Zachariah OHora (9781547605804)

When Sonny finds a pink, soft bunny toy in the sandbox, he falls in love with it. He names it Bun-Bun and they spend lots of time playing together. Meemo, the dog, sniffs Bun-Bun but Sonny insists that Bun-Bun is “Mine!” Later, Honey and Boo come by. Boo is crying, because she has lost Suki, her favorite pink bunny. Honey searches everywhere for Suki, but Sonny keeps Bun-Bun out of sight. Honey even asks if Sonny has seen Suki, but Sonny says No! Sonny hides Bun-Bun in a safe place and then heads to help Boo feel better, but she doesn’t want to play. She is even too sad to eat cake. Now it is up to Sonny to see if he will do the right thing or not.

This is the first in a new series of books featuring these four characters. This first book looks at sharing and telling the truth. Hart’s animal characters have big personalities and their relationships with one another are well drawn and interesting. They are written as small children and show the same mistakes and learning.

OHora’s illustrations work really well here with their bright colors and simplicity. The emotions on their faces are clear and add to the understanding of how difficult the choices are for Sonny as he struggles with his desire for the toy and the need to make his friend feel better.

A charming new series starter that will start conversations about sharing and choices. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Not Little by Maya Myers

Cover image for Not Little.

Not Little by Maya Myers, illustrated by Hyewon Yum (9780823446193)

Dot is the smallest person in her family. Everybody thinks that she’s too little to do things, but they are all wrong. She can do all sorts of things. She’s also the smallest person in her class. People even ask if she is in preschool. That’s when she proves them wrong by talking about all the things that she knows. When a new student joins her class, Sam is even smaller than Dot is. He is quiet and seems to be afraid of Dot. At recess, she sees that the mean boy is talking to Sam, and it’s clear he isn’t being nice. Dot decides to sit with Sam at lunch, both to talk to him about the bully but also to measure and make sure she is taller. Before she can reach the table though, the mean boy is there again and he is saying that Sam is a baby! Sam slumps lower and lower, while Dot gets angrier and angrier. The bully then makes the mistake of calling Dot little. But Dot has found her voice and knows she needs to stand up as tall and brave as she can.

Myers captures the indignities of being small for your age with Dot. Beautifully, Dot uses her words to fight back at the stereotypes, both by demonstrating what she knows out loud and also in the end by standing up to a bully. Dot’s push back at being called “little” is cleverly handled, as is her desire to not be the smallest when Sam arrives. It’s all lovely and richly human.

Yum’s illustrations show a protagonist from a multiracial blended family. Dot dresses in polka dots with bright colors that draw the eye directly to her on the page. Even if she is sometimes the smallest thing on the page, she is the focal point.

A big hearted book for tall and small alike. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Neal Porter Books.

On the Trapline by David A. Robertson

Cover image for On the Trapline.

On the Trapline by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett (9780735266681)

A boy travels with his grandpa, Moshom, to his trapline up north. Moshom hasn’t returned to the trapline since he was a boy himself. The trapline is where people hunted animals and lived off the land, Moshom explains to his grandson. Once the small plane lands, the two meet one of Moshom’s old friends. They pull up to a small house near a big lake, but that is not the trapline. It’s where Moshom lived after they left the trapline. In the winter, everyone slept together in the room with the wood stove to keep warm. Moshom shows his grandson the ruins of the school he went to, where he was required to speak in English and not Cree. They head out on the water in a slow boat, until they finally reach the trapline. Moshom shows him where they trapped muskrats, where their tent was, and how they lived on the trapline. As they leave, the two of them can continue to envision the trapline as it is now and as it once was.

The Governor General Award winning team returns with a book about connection to the land, deep memories, family ties and generations sharing stories. The warm relationship between Moshom and his grandson, who narrates the book, is clear and central to the book. The grandson regularly asks whether this place is the trapline, until they reach the real trapline and it is clear. The book examines memories, both dark and happy, alongside physical discovery of the places. It’s a powerful look at experiences and connection.

As always, Flett’s illustrations are exceptional. Done in pastel and then manipulated digitally, they have a muted natural palette that works for both memories and current times. The greens are deep and rich, the blues offer clear skies and rich water.

A look at grandfathers, memories and the importance of place. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Accursed Vampire by Madeline McGrane

Cover of The Accursed Vampire.

The Accursed Vampire by Madeline McGrane (9780062954350)

Dragoslava is a kid and also a vampire. Born in 1460, Drago has seen a lot of Halloweens and history. They live with their two best friends Eztli and Quintus who are also vampires. Long ago, Drago made a witch angry and now has been cursed to be her servant. When she calls on them to retrieve her grimoire, Drago has to set off on the quest to Baneberry Falls. As the three little vampires reach the Midwest, it’s Halloween, a holiday that they excel at since they don’t need costumes. Plus they get to scare some of the older bullies who are out stealing candy. The three friends reach a creepy mansion, perfect for the local witch to live in. But it turns out that she lives with a vampire too. Now they just have to figure out who took the grimoire, who to trust, and who is out to get them.

This graphic novel is full of humor and just enough blood to be spooky but not frightening. The dynamic mix of witches and vampires adds to the fun with magical and undead powers on display. The characters are all interesting with full backstories, some of which is shared with the readers. The book offers a fully realized world where the characters feel like they have been living for some time and you have just popped into their lives. The characters are interesting and not stereotypical. There are lovely LGBT moments in the book too with lesbian couples and Drago themselves using they/them/their pronouns.

The illustrations are a marvelous mix of homey mundane and fang-filled spookiness. Drago pops on the page with their bald head and black cloak. The colors are rich, including poisonous greens, autumnal oranges, and dark blues and purples.

A spooky and funny graphic novel full of friendship and fiends. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Quill Tree Books.

Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor

Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor (9780062878014)

One day, Mel decided that it was going to be the day that she learned to fly. Mama was away and her siblings were doubtful, but Mel didn’t let that stop her. So she stepped to the end of the branch, flipped and fell, down and down. The squirrels further down the trunk tried to catch her but they missed. The bees reached her, but barely slowed her down. The spider used all eight of her hands, but Mel still fell. Until she dove into the water. There she caught a fish and flipped, heading back up again. She flew up and up, back past the spider, the bees, the squirrels and many others who had worried for her fall. She flew!

Tabor has created a picture book full of drama that centers on a little bird who has a lot of self-confidence. Even as she terrifies everyone by falling down so far, she keeps a smile on her beak, blissfully falling with her eyes closed until just before she hits the water. That sudden drop into water creates almost a splash of water in the face of the reader, since it’s so surprising. The triumphant return to her family high above is joyful and celebrated by all those around her.

The art is marvelously simple, the trunk of the tree staying steady as Mel falls past. The various creatures who either try to help or watch in shock create lots of humor along the way. I particularly enjoyed the very slow snail offering to help but far too slowly. The shift to having the fish Mel caught falling down after she is back home adds to the giggles.

A joyous and triumphant look at trying something for the first time. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Sister Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess

Cover image for Make Meatballs Sing.

Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Sister Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kara Kramer (9781592703166)

Corita Kent was a remarkable pop-artist who was also a nun, a teacher and an activist. From a small child, Corita showed kindness and empathy for others and also a love of art and creativity. Her father wanted her to do something original, and Corita certainly did. She surprised her family by becoming a nun, discovering a love of teaching and training new teachers. She joined the art faculty at Immaculate Heart College, where she discovered a love of silkscreen printing. Soon her art was winning competitions. Corita continued to teach classes and make her own art, which spoke to social justice and against poverty and war. She transformed a rather formal celebration into one of bright colors and activity. Not everyone approved of what Corita was doing, and she surprised the people around her once again, asking to be released from her religious vows. She found places for her largest work, painted on a gigantic tank, and her smallest, a rainbow postage stamp.

While Kent may not be a household name, many of us have seen her work on the iconic postage stamp. This picture book embraces her unusual life, celebrating the decisions she made, the art she created and her voice for social change. The book cleverly pulls out elements of how Kent taught and created her art, offering unique perspectives gained by seeing the world in a fresh way. The writing here is engaging and offers a tone of delight as Kent continues to surprise and amaze.

The bright and vibrant art in the book shares elements of Kent’s own work. Her play with lettering and words appear throughout the illustrations of the book, filling tree trunks, coloring margins, and as posters on the walls. The entire book is a delight of collage, typography and riotous color.

A positive and affirming look at an artist who should be better known. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion.

All We Need by Kathy Wolff

Cover image for All We Need.

All We Need by Kathy Wolff, illustrated by Margaux Meganck (9781619638747)

This picture book explores what we need to live. That includes essentials like air, food and water, then the book also explores the importance of learning opportunities, having a home, and the joy of family and friends. Told in poetic text, the book explores the necessities in ways that show how they bring special moments to our lives. For example, air is explained first as stillness and deep breaths. Food is explored both for filling bellies but also through the illustrations as cultural connection. This picture book takes simple essentials and shows the way they allow us to form community and inclusion.

Wolff’s poetic writing establishes those connections clearly, exploring the deep connection we have to air, water, food and one another. The book ends by establishing what we should do when we have enough or more than we need. Sharing becomes just as essential as the other elements here, connecting to new people and a larger community through generosity and giving.

Meganck’s illustrations are bright and colorful with a diverse cast of characters, including diverse races, religions and LGBT representation. The illustrations tell a lot of the story, showing playful elements of air and water. The images are given several full-page wordless spreads that reveal new ways to connect and form community with one another.

A look at sharing, connection and being human. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Ten Thousand Tries by Amy Makechnie

Cover image for Ten Thousand Tries.

Ten Thousand Tries by Amy Makechnie (9781534482296)

Golden knows that this is the year that he will become captain of his school soccer team. He’s been working toward a goal of practicing ten thousand times in order to master the sport. After all, his father was a pro soccer player, though now he is battling ALS, a progressive disease that is stealing his ability to use his muscles. Golden believes that as long as his father keeps on trying, he can prevent the disease from worsening. And sometimes it even seems like it is working. Golden tries to keep control of everything, making sure that his year is as perfect as possible, but there are so many things outside of his control. The soccer year doesn’t work quite as Golden planned, one of his best friends plans to move away, and his father continues to decline. Golden may need a different approach to all of these things if he is to look after his family and friends well.

Makechnie is the author of The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair. In this second book, she writes a heartfelt story about grief and denial. While the book has soccer as a major focus, she writes it in a way that allows the games to make sense for those of us who may not know the rules. Even in the games, the clear purpose is teamwork and supporting one another, things that Golden needs to figure out in the rest of his life too. She creates amazing moments throughout the book of deep connection with one another, wise choices and intangible joys that appear out of nowhere. It’s a book about loss but also about life.

Golden is a remarkable protagonist. He is so deeply in denial that at first his rationales make sense to both him and the reader. As the book and his father’s ALS progress though, the reader steadily realizes that Golden is struggling more profoundly. It’s beautifully done with grace and with a deep empathy for Golden and his family. The secondary characters in the book are all richly drawn, including Golden’s two best friends who have struggles of their own and his family members.

A heart-rending look at grief, this book embraces the joy of life too. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Atheneum.