Category: Book Reviews

Blood Family by Anne Fine

Blood Family by Anne Fine

Blood Family by Anne Fine (9781481477734, Amazon)

At age seven, Edward was saved from his abusive stepfather, Harris, when a neighbor saw him peeking out of their apartment through a boarded-up window. He had been shut in with his mother for three years, unable to leave. The only glimpse of the real world that he had was through a series of videotapes that the previous resident had left behind. Thanks to those videos, he was able to learn about the world and mentally escape the horror of his life. After he is rescued, Edward struggles to adapt to real life. He is smart and fascinated by everything, but his peers realize how different he is. When Edward becomes a teenager, he is suddenly confronted by the idea that Harris might be his real father after all. Is there a monster waiting inside him to break free?

Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, this novel is heartrendingly realistic.  The book is told in many voices. They include Edward himself and also the adults around him from the social worker who first rescues him from the apartment to the couple who foster him to the family that adopts him and his adopted sister. This is necessary as Edward begins to spiral out of control, so that readers can still view him clearly and better understand the hidden impacts and scars that his tortured upbringing have left on him.

Edward is a strong and interesting protagonist who is vastly human and easy to relate to. Fine uses the videos of a Mr. Rogers like figure to explain how Edward’s mind survived intact. As Edward seems completely fine much of the time, it is his fall into darkness that makes the book believable and allows readers to more fully understand the deep despair that has been lapping at him all along. Fine’s writing allows us hope for Edward’s future, then takes that away, only to restore it once again, showing that all of us have the potential to lose ourselves and find ourselves over and over again.

A powerful read that will be popular with those teens who like A Child Called It. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Fresh-Picked Poetry by Michelle Schaub

Fresh-Picked Poetry by Michelle Schaub

Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmer’s Market by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington (9781580895477, Amazon)

Through a series of poems, take a visit to the farmer’s market. From the early work done by farmers long before their customers are awake to the market itself, this book celebrates one of the joys of summer. There are poems about how markets transform empty parking lots, the displays of heaped produce, the friendly sharing of samples, tempting baked goods, and the feeling of community that markets bring. It’s also a collection that celebrates the food too, the freshness of the produce and the bounty that people bring home.

Schaub very successfully has captured the summer joy of farmer’s markets across the country. One can hear the bustle and busyness of the market, captured in her poetry. Throughout there is a sense of humor and immense pleasure at what the market provides beyond the food itself. The poetry has a lightness that reflects the feel of summer and sunshine.

Huntington’s illustrations are equally bright and sunny. She incorporates people of a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures in her images, making sure to fully celebrate communities in her images. She also cleverly weaves a story in her images with a loose dog who adds to the energy of the day.

A fresh and vibrant look at farmer’s markets that is perfect zest to a summer day. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Still a Family by Brenda Reeves Sturgis

Still a Family by Brenda Reeves Sturgis

Still a Family by Brenda Reeves Sturgis, illustrated by Jo-Shin Lee (9780807577073, Amazon)

This important picture book shows how a family who is experiencing homelessness continues to foster connections that demonstrate their love for one another. The little girl who narrates the book must stay in one shelter with her mother while her father stays at a different one. They sleep on cots among other people and the little girl must share her doll with the other children there. Sometimes they meet her father in the park to spend time together, though most of the time her parents are out looking for work and taking turns watching her. They have to stand in line to get food and celebrate holidays even though they are apart. It’s hard but they are still a family.

This book offers a gentle way to explain homelessness to children. It shows what life is like living in the shelter, how family members are separated from one another, and how difficult it is to live in this way. This is one of those important books that serves as a window for some children but also as a mirror for those living with homelessness. Throughout the young narrator shares her positive outlook despite the challenges.

The illustrations by Lee are childlike and explore seeing the subject from the point of view of the little girl. They have a rough quality to them and have the feel of being drawn by colored pencils and crayons.

An important book for urban libraries, this picture book fills a need in many of our communities. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Board Books about Bodies

Heads and Tails by Carli Davidson

Heads and Tails by Carli Davidson (9781452151373, Amazon)

This is the best of three books in a board book series that focuses on photographs of dogs. This very simple board book goes through body parts of dogs from eyes to teeth to tails. Each body part is shown in two ways, one very tight close up and then a full picture of the dog from farther away. It’s a book that invites pointing to lots of things and talking about them.

So Many Feet by Nichole Mara

So Many Feet by Nichole Mara, illustrated by Alexander Vidal (9781419723186, Amazon)

A look at the feet of many different animals shows how widely different animals and habitats are. A touch of information is shared for each animal, just enough for the youngest scientist. The illustrations are bright and bold, embracing the colors and feeling of each habitat and showing the animal using their feet to explore their world. The book ends with children thinking about what their own feet can do.

Short Stories for Little Monsters by Marie-Louise Gay

Short Stories for Little Monsters by Marie-Louise Gay

Short Stories for Little Monsters by Marie-Louise Gay (9781554988969, Amazon)

A series of cartoons make up these short stories for children. The stories are so short that most of them take up only a page or two. They are very short stories about imagination, becoming invisible (maybe), and whether there are sharks in the water. Other stories are about the speed of snails, the wonder of worms and the secret powers of mothers. In each story, children are the stars and they are busy asking questions, making messes and being creative.

Gay is the author of Any Questions? and it has the same energy of that book. In this newer book there is less of a focus, giving lots of opportunity to find something that captures your attention or makes you think differently. The children are questioning, sometimes rather naughty and easy to relate to. They make messes and figure things out. Readers will love the running snail jokes and the sharp humor.

Thanks to its comic-book format, the book is more for elementary-aged children than preschoolers. It may actually do better in your children’s graphic novels and find the right audience there. The illustrations have a dynamic feel to them, capturing children running, playing and creating. The loose lines add to the playful nature of the entire book.

A welcoming book of super short stories that is sure to appeal. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (9780062473042, Amazon)

This debut novel combines magical realism with the hard streets of modern Detroit. Fabiola and her mother are journeying to live with family in Detroit, leaving their native Haiti behind. But while Fabiola is allowed to continue on to Detroit, her mother is held in a detention center due to issues with her papers. Now Fabiola must get used to living with her American relatives, including three cousins who are loud, fierce and not to be messed with. Fabiola struggles with the food, the culture, and getting used to a new life and school while worrying about her mother. Just as it seems that she is finding a way forward with a new boyfriend and new friends, the dangerous life that supports her family comes crashing down threatening to sweep Fabiola along with it.

Zoboi’s writing is exceptional. She has drawn on her own experience as an immigrant from Haiti in this novel, infusing it with vodou religion and spirits that both guide and haunt. As Fabiola follows the spirits to the truth about what is really happening, she risks everything that she has found to hold onto and love. This is a book that doesn’t turn away from the violence of Detroit, the guns, drugs and power struggles happening even as children die.

There are many moments in this book that a situation is so fraught with danger that it sears into the reader’s brain. Against those moments, Fabiola and her three cousins stand strong and tall. They are four amazing characters who shine on the page each so different from one another and ferociously both independent and interdependent at the same time. This is family on the page, pushing against the dangers that surround them and include them.

Beautifully written with strong characters and danger, this book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith (9781554988716, Amazon)

In a coal town in Cape Breton, Canada, a boy wakes up to a summer day. He wakes to the sound of the sea, spends some time with his friends. Still, his mind continues to think of his father mining for coat deep under the sea in the darkness. He runs errands for his mother and visits his grandfather’s grave which looks out over the sea. His grandfather too was a coal miner and the boy knows that it is his future as well.

Schwartz has created a book set in the 1950s in a coal town where families worked in the mines for generations. Even as the book shows a richness of a well-spent childhood, it is overshadowed by the presence of the coal mine in the boy’s life and how it impacted his family and his father in particular. She wisely works to contrast life above the ground with that below, showing a childhood of fresh breezes and sunlight that will turn into a life spent primarily in darkness.

Smith’s illustrations clearly depict the claustrophobia of the mines, filling the page with smothering darkness and only a couple of men in a tunnel. This contrasts with his illustrations of days spent near the sea, sometimes the sun nearly blinding as it shines off the water. There is a sense of the inevitable in the book, of life paths already formed.

A glimpse of Canadian history, this picture book will appeal to older readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.