Review: Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (9781524719371)

An entire neighborhood of children steadily join together into one epic summer of fantasy fun built entirely out of cardboard. The book begins with The Sorceress, a boy who finds great power and identity in an evil sorceress character who uses magic and a sibling minions to try to take over the world. She is battled by the girl next door who dresses as a knight with a large sword to save the world. As more children join in, they take on characters who speak to what they need in their lives and to who they are deep inside. There are roaring creatures, a rogue, a prince, a huntress, and many more. Even the neighborhood bully ends up joining in as part of the epic final battle of summer.

Filled to the brim with diverse characters, this graphic novel is something very special. There are characters of different races and cultures, and LGBTQ characters. Written by several different authors who all drew on parts of their own childhood, the book speaks in a variety of voices that really feel like a neighborhood of children. There is a real spark here that demands creative thinking by the reader, looks beyond the cardboard and tape and sees the magic of imagination happening.

The art is bright and colorful, filled with family dynamics that are clearly felt deeply by the children in the book. Some stories like The Sorceress are told mostly in images while others have speech bubbles. This book embraces the fantasy motif and has a dynamic mix of superhero and classic fantasy elements that come together into one great adventure.

This one belongs in a every public library. Make sure to have some boxes on hand to build your own castles and creations. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.)

Review: Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri

Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri

Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri (9780763698980)

Explore the changing seasons through this exceptional book. With text that focuses on the various aspects of each season, this book invites you to look more closely at nature and the small events that take place. There is nest building in the spring, caterpillars turning into butterflies, and blossoms emerging. In the summer, swallows fly, the meadow grows, crickets chirp, bees buzz, green leaves emerge. The autumn arrives with leaves turning color, berries and nuts, geese flying south. In the winter, hibernation starts and branches turn bare.

The text of this book is filled with facts yet at the same time offer a sense of wonder at what is happening at nature around us. These small glimpses of nature form a larger image of the natural world for young readers.

As good as the text is though, it is nothing compared to the illustrations of this book. Uniquely designed out of pressed flowers and leaves, they are mesmerizing and achingly lovely. The larger animals are spectacular in their delicate beauty and so are the smaller animals and plants. Throughout there is a grace of line and delight. An organic look at nature in all of its beauty. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Review: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (9781338157802)

When Mia and her family first moved to the United States from China, she expected to live in a big house with a car and have plenty of money. But her parents have struggled from the beginning to find jobs. When they become caretakers of a motel, the job gives them free rent, but requires one of them to be on duty at all times and Mia’s parents to spend all of their time doing laundry and cleaning the rooms. Mia steps up to help by manning the front desk. She gets to know the “weeklies” who are the people who stay at the motel long term. Her family quickly realizes that the man who owns the motel is dishonest but Mia has a plan to help her parents get off of the roller coaster of poverty. All she needs is to write a perfect letter in English and somehow find $300.

Based on her own childhood growing up as a family managing motels, Yang tells a vibrant story of hope in the face of crushing poverty. It is a book that shows how communities develop, how one girl can make a big difference in everyone’s life and how dreams happen, just not in the way you plan. Yang’s writing is fresh, telling the tale of Chinese immigrants looking for the American dream and not finding it easily due to prejudice. She valiantly takes on serious issues of racism and poverty in this book.

Mia is a great protagonist. She never gives up, always optimistic and looking for a new way to problem solve. Her own desire to be a writer plays out organically in the novel, showing how someone learning a new language can master it. The examples of her editing and correcting her own writing are cleverly done, showing the troubles with American expressions and verb tenses.

A great read that embraces diversity and gives voice to immigrant children. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant (9781534412774)

Flora is a quiet child, who loves the purple chair in the window of the used book store more than any other place. That’s particularly true now that her parents are separated and living in different houses from one another. Flora has also lost her dog recently, so things feel very off kilter. Even fourth grade seems very different from other school years. Still, as Flora navigates the changes in her life, she also has some happy surprises. She meets Yury, a boy from the Ukraine, who enjoys animals and survival stories too. The two become close friends and soon each of them have new pets in their lives too. Flora’s other friend Nessy is steadily discovering her own talents. And though Flora hasn’t discovered her own yet, she soon will.

Set in Indiana in 1972, Rylant has created a book that captures being a worried and anxious child just right. Flora is quiet and a tad shy, unless she knows something. She worries about different things and her family is gentle and understanding with her. Even as she grows in this short novel, that aspect of her personality is embraced and not being fixed by others. The book itself is gentle in tone, slow paced and lovingly written.

A book that will have a specific audience who will adore it, this one may not be for everyone but will be just right for some children. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Review: Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien (9781250165695)

Peasprout and her brother, Cricket, are sent from the country of Shin to the glorious city of Pearl to attend the Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword. They are the first students from Shin to attend the school that teaches wu liu, a combinations of martial arts and figure skating. In Pearl, the floors and buildings are all built of pearl, a material that can be skated on. Peasprout has won many Shin awards for wu liu and is confident that she can become top of her class. Still, she has a lot to learn, including many of the more modern Pearl wu liu combinations. Peasprout soon gets the attention of the class bully and another girl who remains always apart and distant, even from her own twin brother. As the competition heats up, a vandal starts to attack the buildings of pearl on the campus and Peasprout as an outsider is the number one suspect!

I cannot stress enough how utterly captivating this children’s book is. It is like reading an anime in novel form or a manga in text. It has the same humor as those other art forms, combining wry laughs with epic battles and races. The pace of the book is brisk, the action scenes almost breathtakingly fast. Throughout there is a strong sense of place and one falls in love with Pearl and the Academy as much as with the characters.

And what characters they are! There is the confident Peasprout who rarely doubts that she is doing anything wrong, but when she does she grows and learns in an honest and organic way. Cricket is small and quiet but also gifted in a different way than his sister. The twin siblings offer Peasprout a chance at first love but also a great tug of rivalry and friendship. And everyone needs a good villain to round it all out.

A bright and unique novel that is pure joy to read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Henry Holt & Company.

Review: Bob by Wendy Mass

Bob by Wendy Mass

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, illustrated by Nicholas Gannon (9781250166623)

Livy is returning to stay with her grandmother in Australia for the first time in five years. Her mother will be visiting friends and showing off Livy’s new baby sister while Livy stays with her grandmother for a few days. When Livy opens the cupboard in the bedroom, she discovers a strange chicken-like creature who seems to remember her from her first visit when she was five. The creature, Bob, is a small green being wearing a chicken suit that Livy made for him five years ago. Now Livy must help Bob figure out what he is and where his family is, but it won’t be easy because Livy doesn’t remember anything from her original visit. As the two new old friends search for clues together, Livy must start to believe in magic to solve the mystery.

This short novel for children is a joy. It is tightly written with no spare scenes or elements to be found. The characters are big and bold, beautifully drawn in a way that makes them immediately understood and friendly. The setting of the Australian farmhouse and the land around it is lovingly crafted, each element playing out as Bob shows Livy through her forgotten memories, like the well and the big stone.

It is the relationship between Bob and Livy that really is the heart of this book. Bob, though wearing a chicken suit, is charismatic and clever. His joy over small things like potato chips and warm baths is something that children will embrace wholeheartedly. Livy is initially confounded by her lack of memory, but her personality soon shows itself. She is brave and imaginative, looking to help this forgotten friend.

A deftly written magical tale of rain, friendship and families. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy provided by Feiwel & Friends.

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.

 

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.

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (9780062499684)

Released May 15, 2018.

Newbery-Medal winner Perkins returns with a charming story of a summer vacation on the beach. Alix and Jools are heading out with their parents for their first beach vacation ever. It means leaving Alix’s best friend behind as well as their dog for a whole week. Both Alix and Jools are nervous about the trip, but they soon discover the many pleasures of being on a beach: sandcastles, long walks on the shore, bike rides, a local bakery, and maybe even a new friend. There are also surprises for them like eating periwinkles they gather themselves, seeing horseshoe crabs, and making a connection with a wounded falcon. It’s a week they will never forget and one that they hope to repeat again.

Perkins writes with a light hand for young readers. There is a sense of adventure on the pages and yet the discoveries and experiences are wonderfully mundane and things that children might experience themselves. The two sisters are quite different with Alix being a person who jumps in and tries things and Jools being more mature about things and less likely to take risks. As their vacation week progresses, they both learn that the other sister wishes they had some of the same qualities.

The art in the book breaks the text up nicely for young readers and also invites the reader to better understand what is happening the story. From horseshoe crabs to the landlady to releasing a falcon, the images are sand-filled and merry.

A great summer read for younger readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.