Review: Life Inside My Mind

Life Inside My Mind

Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles edited by Jessica Burkhart (9781481494649)

This nonfiction book for teens is a brutally honest look at mental illness and how over thirty well-known authors of young adult books have faced their own struggles. It is a book of short personal tales of how mental illness entered their lives, took them over, turned them upside down. It is a book always though about hope, about tools that work sometimes but not always, drugs that help but may not work for everyone, thought processes that offer glimpses of freedom beyond the illness.

This book is profoundly important for teens. It is a book that took such bravery to write. Almost every story has some taut hesitation in it, to reveal something this private. Each one is a testament to the author’s strength, whether they see it themselves or not. Taken together though is when this book really sings. It is a chorus of voices that say strongly that you can survive. You can thrive. We can do this.

Reading this book is an exercise in opening your heart. It belongs in every public library serving teens. It will save lives. Period. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

3 New Picture Books Full of Animals

Honey by David Ezra Stein

Honey by David Ezra Stein (9781524737863)

This is a companion book to Leaves with the same bear. This time the bear has woken up from hibernation and is hungry for honey. Everything around him reminds him of aspects of honey like the golden sun and the flowing river. But it is too early for honey to be ready, so the bear tries to forget about it. Still, he keeps on thinking of the sweet treat as he spends his days. He enjoys the rain, swimming in the water, and exploring his surroundings. Finally it is time for honey! And then the days start to cool again and fall approaches.

A great companion book to the first stellar picture book, this one feels so connected to the first. The art has the same free and flowing style as the first that was so compelling. In this book, honey is the focus and Stein cleverly shows how different parts of the bear’s day remind him of honey even when he is distracted. The illustrations are compellingly summerlike, the sunshine clear on the page. A welcome new sweet treat of a book to share. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Moon Man by Isabel Harris

The Moon Man by Isabel Harris, illustrated by Ada Grey (9781680100785)

One day Cat, Rabbit and Squirrel discovered a new addition to the wheatfield they lived near. It was a scarecrow, but only Rabbit knew that. The friends played near the scarecrow because he smelled nice and had a friendly face. That night, Fox, Owl and Hedgehog came out into the field and see the scarecrow. They think that he’s a moon man and leave him food to eat. The next morning, the other animals believe the scarecrow has left them some treats to eat. They in turn give the scarecrow flowers. The nocturnal animals see the flowers and think that the moon man has picked them because the moon doesn’t have any flowers. Perhaps they should build him a rocket to return home. When the farmer returns, he finds his scarecrow quite different! He moves it to another field, so the nocturnal animals believe their rocket has worked!

Grey’s picture book has young readers in on the joke immediately. The day animals know what the scarecrow is and their jubilant reaction sets the tone for the book. The nocturnal animals are the most confused, but their story is what makes the book really work. It is particularly nice that their story of what is happening is never disproven and instead remains intact throughout the book. The illustrations are bright and summery, filled with golds and greens. The nighttime illustrations fade to grays and pastels. A book about imagination and creativity, this picture book is full of humor and friendship. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Pignic by Matt Phelan

Pignic by Matt Phelan (9780062443397)

An adorable family of pigs head out on a sunny day for the perfect picnic. A friendly turtle helps the littlest pig climb up into a tree. As other pigs want to fly a kite, a wolf sneaks up on them. There isn’t any wind, but luckily the wolf has a solution and fixes the problem with a “Huff puff.” Called to eat, the pigs leave the wolf holding the kite. Soon storm clouds gather and rain pours down in a gush. It leaves lots of mud behind, much to the joy of the pig family!

With one problem after another, the pigs still manage to have a wonderful picnic together. The text is very simple, with a natural rhythm that ends with a chorus of “Hooray!” when each obstacle is overcome. This playful book shows the power of helping one another and having a positive outlook. The illustrations are done in watercolors and pencils, showing pink pigs of all sizes ready for a great day together. Even the blue wolf is not scary, just right for the littlest listeners. A book that will have everyone planning the next picnic. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (9781626724457)

Based on the author’s own childhood experiences, this graphic novel looks at the perils of summer camp. Vera has always wanted to go to summer camp like the other girls in her class. But she knows that her life is very different from theirs. Just look at her disaster of a sleepover birthday party and the way that her Russian family approach scared off the other girls. But then Vera finds the perfect summer camp, a Russian camp where the girls should be just like her! She drags her younger brother along too and just knows that this will be the best experience ever. But when she discovers that the girls she has to share a tent with are five years older that she is, that there is no electricity and no running water, Vera finds herself feeling just the way she always does, not fitting in and unsure she’s going to survive.

Brosgol is such a gifted book creator, moving skillfully from picture book to graphic novel. She has a wonderful twisted sense of humor in all of her work that marks it as uniquely hers. Here she beautifully creates a story that rings with truth, about not fitting in even in the place you should fit in the best, of not finding your place, and then eventually of finding it in an unlikely place but only after you accept that you are different. It’s a lovely package of a book, showing that being yourself is all you can do.

Brosgol’s art captures the humor as well. The book is done in a palette of green and black, mimicking the natural setting but also quickly moving from darkness to light. Vera herself is a great character, with her huge glasses and limitless hope that things will improve.

A wonderful middle grade graphic novel just right for summer. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

3 New Picture Books All About Me, Myself & I

I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein

I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein (9781419726439)

When a housecat named Simon introduces himself to large cats from the wild, he tells them that he is a cat too. But they laugh and him. Each big cat goes on to explain why they are a cat and he clearly is not. The lion explains that he has a mane and a tuft on the end of his tail. Cheetah can run faster than any other animal. Puma lives in the mountains. Panther lives in the jungle and sleeps in trees. Tiger is very big, very strong and very orange. Simon is confused, because each example is unique to that big cat. Then Lion explains how they are all alike and Simon is able to show that he shares those same attributes too.

Written almost entirely in dialogue between the various cats, this book moves along as fast as a cheetah. Along the way, readers will realize that they are not being told what cats actually are and will agree with Simon when he protests. The ending of the book is immensely satisfying as the cats play together and then fall asleep in a heap, big and small together. The illustrations are very appealing, showing long before the text does the similarities between the big cats and Simon. The subtle color palette is particularly effective. This picture book is the cat’s meow. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

I Am Enough by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo (9780062667120)

In gentle rhyme, this picture book tells everyone that they are enough, that they deserve a good life. The book speaks of the importance of learning, of growing, of getting up when you fall and trying all over again. It is also about diversity and the way that we are all different from one another but that we can still make connections, support one another and be friends.

Written in gliding poetry, the book doesn’t focus on a story but on a feeling of inclusion and support, of self esteem and empowerment. Children of all races and faiths will see themselves on these pages thanks to the inclusive illustrations that accompany the text. The illustrations have a joy to them that celebrates the power of children to rise above. A strong and simple picture book that is inclusive and celebratory. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

I Got It by David Wiesner

I Got It by David Wiesner (9780544309029)

Award-winner Wiesner returns with another of his signature near-wordless picture books. Here the book is about baseball and what happens in the outfield. A boy in a red shirt is sent to the outfield and when a ball is hit out towards him, he calls “I got it!” But as he leans to get the ball, he trips, loses a shoe and is left face down on the ground. As he trips, readers will see roots emerge from the ground. The next time he attempts to catch the ball, the tree roots and limbs are even larger and result in a bigger crash. The third time, the ball itself becomes huge but as the boy is smaller, he determinedly goes after the ball, climbing over the other players to finally make the catch.

While the elements are playful here and rather surreal, there is a truth to the entire book that speaks to the tangle of feet, the tripping of toes, the humiliation of falling, and the resilience it takes to keep on getting up, reach for the play and finally make it. With Wiesner’s beautiful illustrations, this picture book soars like a baseball into a blue sky. Simply superb. Appropriate for ages 3-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Review: Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake

Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (9781328778239)

Mara and her twin brother Owen have always been close. But when Owen gets drunk at a party and is accused of rape by his girlfriend Hannah, Mara is horrified. Though she doesn’t want to believe it, Mara sees signs that her brother isn’t telling the truth. Meanwhile Mara is dealing with Charlie, her ex-girlfriend, who seems to have quickly found a new girlfriend. Mara starts to find comfort with Owen’s best friend, Alex. At the same time, Mara is facing her own secrets about sexual assault and must decide who to trust with something she has never told anyone about for three years. As all of this collides in Mara’s life, she emerges as a fierce survivor but not before the book takes a deep look at perpetrators, lies and victim blaming.

Blake writes with a searing voice in this book. Some passages blaze on the page, ripping right through the reader with their honesty and their cry for justice. In other parts, the truth is just as present but is filled with grief and loss, a haunted realization that things will not be the same. Throughout though, there is the power of female friendships, of young women standing together and standing up for one another. It will never be enough to erase the trauma of rape, but it is enough to speak for hope and a future beyond the assault.

Blake beautifully portrays a bisexual protagonist who clearly is attracted to both men and women. Mara does not wear bisexuality as a label or as a token gesture, instead it is part of the heart of the book. Mara’s ex-girlfriend Charlie is genderqueer and exploring what that means in terms of pronouns and coming out to her parents. Charlie is a great genderqueer character, beautifully blending both genders at times, at others angry at her voice, and still others feeling like nothing fits. At the same time, she is Mara’s anchor and rock, the safe place that Mara returns to as chaos envelopes her.

Fierce and angry, this novel about sexual assault and the power of survivors. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HMH Books for Young Readers.

3 New Picture Books about Nature

All the Animals Where I Live by Philip C. Stead

All the Animals Where I Live by Philip C. Stead (9781626726567)

Stead has created another picture book that invites you into his everyday world. Filled with stories of a bear chased off my an elderly woman and a teddy bear that Stead has had his entire life, stories of maple-syrup scented blankets, a dog named Wednesday, loud cranes, a falling turtle, and much more.

There is a beautiful simplicity to the book, one that slows the reader down to look out their own windows and think about the animals that live near them. The illustrations are simple too, washed with colors that suit the season and time of day, they move from yellows to blues to the oranges of autumn and to the ethereal greens of winter. A quiet and marvelous picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

The Sockeye Mother by Hetxw_ms Gyetxw

The Sockeye Mother by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett David Huson), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (9781553791395)

This picture book combines biology with a storytelling feel to create a very special tale. It is the story of sockeye salmon. From their time as a small fry just losing their yolk sac through to adult sockeye returning to their birthplace to spawn before they die. The picture book is also about the Gitxsan people of the Pacific Northwest and their connection to the river and the salmon. The book looks at the various stages of the live of the salmon and offers scientific information about them, the bears, environmental impact of humans, and much more.

The book is deep and lovely, the tone unique and lush. Seasons are captured in words but also in the senses. The scent of pine and cedar, the replacing of old snow with new snow, the run of water in the river, all fill this book with elements of the Pacific Northwest. The illustrations are large and mostly focused on the river and the salmon. Even the smoke from a fire flows across the dark sky like the river flows on other pages. A picture book written and illustrated to honor the Xsan river and the animals and humans who depend on it. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayre

Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayre (9780062697349)

Sayre provides a love letter to the Earth in this picture book. With a reverential tone and gentle rhymes, the book swoops the reader up on a photographic journey around Earth with all of its wonders. Thank yous go out for mountains, water, air and trees. Then the book moves to smaller things like patterns, sounds, seasons and plants. The book once again widens to look at the beauty of the sky and the amazement of lifetimes.

Embracing and filled with just the right tone of enthusiasm, this picture book is celebratory and filled with big thoughts that children will find mesmerizing. The photographic illustrations are varied and filled with color, mists, water, stone and more. A diverse look at life on earth and our privilege to be here. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty (9781524767587)

When Lucy was struck by lightning as a child, she gained the ability to do genius-level math problems. She has other impacts from the lightning strike, including some OCD that has her tapping her feet three times and sitting three times before she can settle. Lucy has been homeschooled by her grandmother since the incident but now she is twelve and her grandmother wants her to go to middle school rather than college (like Lucy would prefer.) They make a deal that Lucy has to try middle school for one year, make one friend, join one activity and read one book that is not about math. Lucy decides not to tell anyone about her math skills and lowers all of her grades to make herself seem more normal. Lucy’s new class has to do a service project and she has to work with two other people. But how can she help if all she has to offer is a love of numbers that she is trying to hide?

For being such an extraordinary girl, Lucy is someone that everyone in middle school will be able to relate to. Issues starting a new school, making new friends, and finding a way to be yourself all make this middle school novel classic. Add in the math skills, lightning strike and Lucy’s need for cleanliness and her other quirks and you have a book that is something special. Throughout McAnulty makes sure that readers deeply understand Lucy at a variety of levels. Lucy is a protagonist who discovers a lot about herself in the course the book. As Lucy grows and changes, it feels entirely organic and natural.

At its heart, this book encourages us all to be our unique and quirky selves in middle school and beyond. The writing is accessible and the novel is a joy to read. The book is written with all numbers in numerical format, a clue that Lucy sees the world a bit differently. As she counts and calculates her way through her day, Lucy shows everyone that there are ways forward where you don’t want to pretend to be normal.

A stellar read, this middle school book is a book that is hard to sum up, but one you can count on. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Random House Books for Young Readers.

3 New Picture Books about Compassion

The Funeral by Matt James

The Funeral by Matt James (9781554989089)

Norma has to go to her great-uncle Frank’s funeral. She has to miss school, and she gets to see her favorite cousin, Ray. But she still practices her sad face in the mirror. Their car joins a line of cars headed to the church. The funeral is long and Norma has to be quiet. Ray has trouble staying still for that long. Finally, the funeral is done. There are sandwiches to eat and then Norma and Ray head outside to play. They play all afternoon until it is time to go home. Norma thinks that her Uncle Frank would have liked his funeral.

James captures going to a funeral as a small child with a poignancy and beauty. Anyone who attended a funeral as a child will see their own memories come to life. Small things like the flags on the cars, playing outside the church, and the graveyard add up to a full day of remembering someone. James’ illustrations are done in acrylic and ink on masonite. They have deep colors and incorporate collage pieces as well. The illustrations open up and soar when the children go outside, the green of the grass taking much of the space on the page. This is a book that celebrates life and honors the perspective of the child. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Old Man by Sarah V

The Old Man by Sarah V., illustrated by Claude K. Dubois, translated by Daniel Hahn (9781776571918)

A little girl wakes up and gets ready for school. Outside, an old man gets up too from where he is sleeping on the ground. He is wet and very cold. He walks to warm himself up. He’s hungry and eats out of a trash can. But he is too tired to continue, so he falls asleep on the ground in a park. The police wake him and ask him to move along. He heads to the shelter for something to eat, but can’t remember his name when he’s asked. He leaves and it begins to rain. He sleeps on the bus but has to leave there too. Then the little girl from the beginning of the book appears and offers the man her sandwich. That evening, he is able to go back to the shelter and this time he remembers his name and gets a hot meal.

The author of this picture book focuses on the power of compassion for those around us. Societal issues are not tackled here, just the pieces of the day of a person experiencing homelessness. They are small but vital, each moment leading to the next and each impacting how the man feels and how well he is able to do. The text is very simple though the book is thicker than most picture books. That allows room for the sepia-toned illustrations that take us on a journey through the man’s day. They are shadowy, chilly and seep under the skin like a shiver. An important book about small acts of kindness. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (9780735229358)

One day Taylor made a wonderful creation out of blocks. But then everything came crashing down. One animal after another tried to help Taylor feel better. Chicken wanted to talk about it, but Taylor didn’t want to. Bear wanted to shout, but Taylor didn’t feel like it. Elephant wanted to rebuild it exactly the way it was, but Taylor didn’t feel like remembering. Others came one after another, but nothing worked. Taylor was alone until Rabbit came in, moved closer and just sat there right next to Taylor. The rabbit just listened and Taylor talked, shouted, remembered and much more. Then Taylor was ready to create something even better.

Doerrfeld has skillfully created a picture book that looks at anger and disappointment, at the process of working through big emotions and the importance of taking things at your own pace and speed. I appreciate that Taylor eventually is ready to talk, be angry and much more. This is not about bottling up emotions but about listening, supporting and moving forward in your own way. Using animals as the emotional reactions was a smart move, with the frowning bear and chattering chicken. The rabbit immediately changes the tone and feel of the book, mirroring what he is doing for Taylor as well.

An intelligent look at big emotions and how best to deal with them and support one another, this picture book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 3-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (9780399544682)

Amal loves going to school in her small Pakistani village. She plans on becoming a teacher herself one day. But after her mother gives birth to a fifth daughter, her mother slumps into postpartum depression. Amal, as the eldest daughter, has to stop attending school to take care of the household. Thanks to her younger sister, Amal manages to keep on learning. But then Amal talks back to the son of the corrupt politician and landlord who runs their village. Amal is taken from her family and forced to work in his household as a servant to work off the debt. As Amal comes to terms with this abrupt change in her life, she has to figure out how to navigate being a servant in a grand house filled with secrets. Now Amal has to discover how connections with others could be the key to unlocking her future once again.

Saeed brings the setting of a small Pakistani village to vivid life in this novel for young people. From the paths to get to her home to the crowded schoolroom to the bustling village market, all demonstrate a warmth and strong community. That is beautifully contrasted with the setting of the grand home where Amal works in indentured servitude. It is a house that is chilly with deceit and secrecy.

Amal is a great heroine, dedicated to reading and learning as much as she can. She is also inventive and formulates solutions to the problems she encounters. At the same time, she also needs to learn to trust others, even those who may have betrayed her before.

A very readable book that invites readers into rural Pakistan and the dangers of corruption and debt. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.