Category: Book Reviews

Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand

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Useless Bay by M. J. Beaufrand (InfoSoup)

When a boy goes missing on Whidbey Island, it’s expected that he’s hiding out at the Gray’s house. But Grant isn’t there. Pixie is one of the Gray quintuplets, large kids who seem to have special talents. When Pixie heads out with her scent dog, the best in the state, to find Grant, she discovers something else instead – the body of his mother. Henry, Grant’s half brother, is also part of the search. He knows the attention and problems that come with living in a very wealthy family. His family has staff that travel with them, and it could have been any of them who took Grant and killed his mother. Through the ensuing search, secrets are exposed and powers are discovered in this teen book filled with magical realism.

 

This book is great fun to read. One never quite knows when something mythical and amazing is going to suddenly happen. Those are mixed in with more mundane happenings like murder and kidnapping to create quite the setting for mayhem. Still, there is a feeling of truth through it all, of teens rising up through difficulty to heroism. There is a sense of fate and of purpose too, of destiny combined with the wonder of magic and myth.

The writing is strong and direct. It is haunted with death and pays homage to the damage of abuse and the strength of family. This book is not simple or easy, it is strung with danger and traps. The entire feel of suspense and the claustrophobic island setting combine to create a feeling of doom laced beautifully with hope and love.

A teen novel that is a compelling and vastly enjoyable read, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

Lift Your Light a Little Higher by Heather Henson

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Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson, illustrated by Bryan Collier (InfoSoup)

Stephen Bishop was a slave who explored and mapped Mammoth Cave. The book is set in 1840 where you can follow the light of Bishop’s lantern deep into the massive cave as he gives people and the reader a tour. For the reader though, the tour is about slavery, about civil rights and about the ability for a man to discover value through exploring darkness. Bishop was the first to see many of Mammoth’s sights, including the blind fish. He learned to read as people signed their names on the cave’s ceiling, though learning to read and write was forbidden for slaves. This man’s story is a tale of resilience, self worth and discovery.

Henson tells the story almost in verse, capturing the highlights of the man’s discoveries but also weaving the dark side of slavery with the darkness of the cave. Henson gives Bishop a strong voice, one that stands out on the page and demands to be heard. Told in the voice of The Guide, Bishop explains slavery and its structure to the reader just as he explains his role and his attitudes towards life and the cave that made his famous. The author’s note contains information on Bishop and how he was sold along with the cave to several owners.

Collier’s illustrations are exceptional. He has several that are simply amazing in their power. One that caused me to linger for some time was the page with the oxen with faces on their sides, faces of slavery in various colors that are wrinkled and damaged. It’s a powerful reminder of the place of slaves as property. There are other pages that show hope in the slanting light of sun as Bishop exits the dark of the cave is one. Exceptional.

A strong picture book biography of a man many won’t have heard of before, this book speaks to the tragedy of slavery and the resilience and power of one man. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

 

3 Fun Fall Board Books

Here are some recent board books that caught my eye! Perfect for holiday gifts or for any time of year for toddlers and babies.

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Hat Off, Hat Off by Theo Heras, illustrated by Renne Benoit (InfoSoup)

Not quite a board book, this puffy covered book is done on thick cardstock so the pages should stand up to toddler tugs. A toddler is getting ready to go out and picks out a wooly bear hat to wear. But while his shoes are being put on, he takes the hat off. Jackets goes on and so does another hat. The hat comes off and another is put on when he gets his sippy cup and toys. Going potty means taking off the hat and another is put on when he’s put in the stroller. Finally after bunny is found and they head outside, the final hat is left in a pile of leaves.

This is a funny and clever look at the problem with hats, shoes, socks, jackets, mittens and more when they are put on toddlers. It’s a universal story that will resonate with everyone. Nicely, the children in the story are not white and there is a lovely lack of gender specificity in the main character as well.

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Sunrise, Moonrise by Betsy Thompson (InfoSoup)

The day starts with a bird singing at sunrise. Squirrel runs, fish swim, bees buzz. Owl is asleep. The sun sets and squirrel falls asleep. New animals emerge like fox and fireflies. Bats swoop in the sky. There is a clear difference between day and night forest creatures here that is gently told. The art is bold and bright, the black lines forming almost a stained glass effect on the page. This is a lovely look at animals throughout the day.

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Tickle My Ears by Jörg Mühle (InfoSoup)

Another wonderful interactive book, this time perfect for very young children. Little Rabbit is getting ready for bed and it’s up to the reader to help him.He’s going to need help with getting his pajamas on with a clap of your hands. His pillow needs fluffing. His ears need a little tickle and his back needs to be rubbed. Then comes tucking him in, a goodnight kiss and the lights. This book is cheerful and sweet without being sugary. A perfect antidote to children hooked on apps and devices and who need to head to bed.

 

 

Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler

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Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler, illustrated by Jonathan Bean (InfoSoup)

This picture book takes a look at the skills that really make up a cowboy’s work. It’s not a book about lassoing and riding quickly. Instead the skills that a cowboy needs are things like patience, something that allows them to ride slowly along with the herd. They need to be about to ask for help from others and treat their dogs well. They have to be considerate of those around them and of the environment they ride through. They need to be strong but also careful and caring. They can be girls and are people of all colors. Their jobs may not be all fast horses and wild ruckus, but somehow the quiet reality is all the more heroic.

Hoefler chooses qualities of cowboys’ lives that match those that small children will be learning in classrooms and at home. They ability to share, to take turns, to be considerate, to ask for help. They are all things that we all need to know how to do in our lives. She then writes them in a poetic way that demonstrates how those qualities really matter when out on the range, how they make the job safer. Hoefler also speaks to the loneliness that cowboys feel and the sadness when cattle and dogs are lost.

The illustrations by Bean are bright and stylish. They move from glaring sun to winter storms to deep blue night. Throughout there are the shadows of the land they move through and the cattle they watch. Bean captures the slump of tired shoulders, the wild movement of a stampede, and the beauty of stars above.

A surprising look at cowboys that makes it clear what it takes to be a hero and a good human being. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards

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A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (InfoSoup)

Sophie first got a hat knit by Mrs. Goldman when she was a tiny baby. Now Sophie helps by making pom-poms for Mrs. Goldman’s hats. She learns about doing good deeds or “mitzvahs” for people. When Mrs. Goldman and Sophie head outside into the blustery weather to walk her dog Fifi, everyone has something knit to keep them warm except for Mrs. Goldman. So Sophie decides to knit a hat for Mrs. Goldman. It takes some time to knit and meanwhile there are more cold walks. When it’s done though, the hat isn’t perfect. It is lumpy and has holes where there shouldn’t be any. Sophie though has a plan that will make this a hat worthy of Mrs. Goldman.

This picture book is pure bliss. Edwards has created a vivid friendship between a grandmotherly neighbor and a young girl. There is kindness throughout, both in terms of the knitting but also the small kindnesses done for one another. Little details bring the world fully alive, like Sophie’s knitting that she started with Mrs. Goldman smelling of chicken soup, such a warm and homey smell.

The illustrations by Karas are lovely. They show the hard work that Sophie puts in, her frustrations and her successes. They show the cold walks and the fierce winds, the attempts at wearing scarves. They show the joy of completion and then the dismay at seeing that the hat is not perfect. And finally, they show the real hat that is glorious and unique.

A lovely book sure to warm up your own chilly fall and winter days. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington

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Catching a Storyfish by Janice N. Harrington (InfoSoup)

Moving away from Alabama is hard for Keet. She is moving closer to her beloved grandfather though, which helps. The two of them spend days together fishing, something that Keet used to find challenging because she loves to talk and tell stories. But at her new school, she is teased for her accent and suddenly her words start to dry up. She finds it hard to make friends and even at home she isn’t talking much. Slowly though, Keet starts to find her voice again and makes a new friend. Just as she starts to talk though, her grandfather suffers a stroke and struggles with the slow recovery. Keet though has just the solution, showing him the way forward with stories.

Harrington’s verse novel is pure loveliness. Throughout she plays with various poetic forms, delicately moving from haiku to concrete poems to narrative form with many others included too. She nicely lists them at the end of the book, talking about their difficulty and what makes a poem that form. Her skill is evident throughout with all of the forms as she tells the story of Keet and her progress from losing her confidence and her voice to finding it again. The voice of Keet’s new friend is including in the poems as well, often playing against ones in Keet’s voice.

The characters here are given time to grow and stretch on the page. Keet is a wonderful character filled with a great energy and drive, but also stuck in a lack of confidence that hits her out of nowhere. It is a book about quiet and both its power and the ability to drown in being silenced. It is a book about friendship, about family and the importance of finding your place and your voice.

Beautifully written and strikingly gentle, this book is a celebration of the individual and their ability to speak their own stories. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (InfoSoup)

A finalist for the National Book Award, this book for teens is exceptional. It is the story of two teens, Daniel and Natasha who meet one another through a series of events. Daniel, a poet, firmly believes in love at first sight and destiny bringing them together. Natasha though does not, believing in science and what is provable. The day is a big day for both of them. Natasha’s family is being deported back to Jamaica that night unless she can figure out a way to stop it. Daniel is being interviewed for Yale, a school and a career path that his Korean parents have chosen for him. When the two meet, the chemistry is palpable, but the timing is horrible. Daniel decides that he can prove to Natasha that love is real and measurable, but can he do it in time with their deadlines working against them both?

I can see why this book is getting all of the attention and praise that it is. It’s an amazing read, filled with possibility and the sense that the universe may just be on our side sometimes. It’s filled with romance and chemistry. The prose has a lightness that is exceptional, creating space for these two amazing characters to meet, breathe, and tumble head over heels in love with one another.

Meanwhile, it is also a story of New York City. It’s a story of immigration and illegal immigrants, of losing a culture and then losing the dream of America as well. It’s a story of overt racism and the new generation of teens who see beyond that and into hearts. It’s a story of profound loss, of parental betrayal, of hope that manages to rise again and again.

A book perfect for today, this teen novel is a voice of hope despite our challenges and loving through it all. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.