Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon (9781534449671)
Yolanda’s family has lived on the pecan farm for generations, but they aren’t accepted by the townsfolks who call the brujas, or witches. Yolanda herself seems to have not gotten a magical gift though. Her younger sister has hers, with bees flying around her head and the ability to make plants grow and flower. It’s similar to her Wela’s gift with butterflies. Now though, Yolanda’s family is dwindling with only her sister and grandmother left. As her grandmother falls into a strange sleep, Yolanda sets out on a journey across their property. Joining her is her ex-best friend, her sister whom she also isn’t really speaking to, and a boy who may have a big crush on Yolanda. The grass has magically grown over the last few days, obstructing the view across their land, lengthening the journey to several days rather than hours, and putting real dangers in their path. They must all work together, Wela included, to complete the journey and find the answers to their family puzzle.
Impossible to summarize in any way that makes sense, this novel is a marvel of natural magic, connection to a place, and an in-depth exploration of a family. The connection to nature is evident throughout the novel both in the way that characters can work their magic with insects and plants but also through the grass that grows and the way the land stretches to create a world to explore. Throughout the book there is an intensity, a focus that allows the strange world to become solid and real.
A large part of that intensity is Yolanda herself, a character who holds grudges and demands to walk her own path, even if it’s foolish. She has lost contact with the people she had been closest to in the world, her best friend and sister, and had also lost connection with her grandfather before his death. The journey is just as much about her finding a way back to these people as it is about solving the larger family puzzle.
Strange and unique, this magical realism novel is an enticing summer read. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from copy provided by McElderry Books.
Here are seven new children’s books being released in July that have gotten plenty of buzz from review journals.
Brother’s Keeper by Julie Lee
Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone
Monster and Boy by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz
Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramee
The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay
War Stories by Gordon Korman
Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (9780593125243)
Jen didn’t want to move out of the city and onto a farm with her mother, leaving her father behind. She particularly doesn’t enjoy her mom’s new boyfriend, Walter, who is always telling her how she should act. On the farm, Jen does love the hayloft with its privacy and kittens. She’s not quite sure about the chickens at first until she meets the fuzzy chicks, but even then taking care of them is a pain! When Walter’s two daughters come to visit on weekends, it’s particularly hard. The girls work at the farm’s stall at the market, selling berries, granola and flowers. But Andy, the oldest daughter, is bossy and constantly putting Jen down. Jen would much rather be drawing in her notebook than doing math at the market. Being a new family is hard, but small steps make big connections.
Knisley is one of my favorite graphic novelists. It is great to see her returning to graphic novels for children. She captures the emotions of being young with such empathy, valuing the perspective of her characters. She also allows her young characters to find their own way forward, the adults around and causing problems at times. Here it is figuring out how to be potential step-siblings while wrestling with a new life in the country, and a frog too.
Knisley fills her book with small moments of life on a farm and in the country. Every person who lives, loves or tolerates the country will enjoy her depiction. As always, her illustrations are clear, funny and full of great moments.
Full of fresh air, chickens, garden-rampaging deer, and a complicated family, this graphic novel is a great summer read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.
When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (9780525553908)
This graphic novel memoir takes readers directly into the heart of a huge Kenyan refugee camp and the life of one boy who lived there. Omar and his brother Hassan lost their parents in Somalia when their village was attacked. Omar still hopes to find his mother, who was separated from them in the chaos. The brothers live together in their own hut in the camp and are watched over by their guardian who lives next door. When Omar has a chance to go to school, he must make the gut-wrenching decision of whether to leave Hassan, who doesn’t speak, behind. Their time in the camp is spent waiting, waiting for a UN interview, waiting to see if they can finally be moved to another country, waiting for water, waiting for food. It is also a time filled with doubts and hope, requiring true resilience for Omar to see a way forward.
It’s always a delight to see a new graphic novel by Jamieson, author of the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl. It’s all the more impressive to see her take on the challenge of a more serious topic and to do it as a biographical piece, telling the true story of Omar Mohamed and his time in the refugee camp. Jameison crafts the story in a way that truly reveals the plight of those in the camp, the horrors of what they experienced in the past, and the dullness of the routine days. She fills the pages with Omar’s deep caring and worry for his brother, his only remaining family member, and the reality of his sole responsibility to not only keep him safe but offer him a future.
As always with Jamieson, the art is wonderful. In particular, she offers glimpses of the beauty of the night sky in the camp and the warmth of the community of people who have been thrown together by tragedy. It is marvelous that Mohamed worked with her to tell a true story of the camps, that truth resonates on the page, lifting this new work to a different level.
Human, tragic and empowering, this book gives a human face to the many refugees in our world. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from purchased copy.
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert (9780316456388)
Alberta has lived in the small town of Ewing Beach her entire life. She’s one of the only Black kids in the entire middle school, so when another Black girl just her age moves into the old bed and breakfast in her neighborhood, Alberta is thrilled. Alberta does have a best friend, but Laramie doesn’t understand some of the things that Alberta experiences, particularly with Nicolette, a bully who makes sly comments that imply that Alberta is different or gets special treatment due to her race. As seventh grade starts, Laramie gets closer with Nicolette and the popular group of kids while Alberta finds herself spending more time with Edie, the new girl. When Edie and Alberta discover a series of old journals in the bed and breakfast, they find themselves untangling a mystery that reveals haunting secrets about race and identity.
This is Colbert’s first middle-grade book and she brings the skill she has shown in her award-winning novels for teens to this new audience. The book embraces difficult subjects but also shows how having a strong family and sense of identity eases even hard conversations and situations. The book deals very directly with race and racism, having gay parents and a complicated family structure, and divorce. It also explores middle grade friendships and their tensions with empathy and solid advice.
Through the two main characters of Alberta and Edie, readers get to experience different sorts of Black girls. Alberta wears bright colors and loves to surf, spending lots of time at the beach. Edie who is from Brooklyn, wears black goth clothing and loves to read. They are both far from being stereotypical in any way, something that shouldn’t need to be said about today’s books but is also still noteworthy. The adults in the book show the same differences and exude a sense of warmth and support.
A great middle grade read about family, friendships and race. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
Here are 10 of the buzziest books coming out in June. Note: a bunch of books that had been slated to be released in June have been moved back to fall or 2021.
Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan
Beyond Me by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Braver: A Wombat’s Tale by Suzanne Selfors and Walker Ranson
Catalyst by Sarah Beth Durst
Con Quest! by Sam Maggs
Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster
Otto Tattercoat and the Forest of Lost Things by Matilda Woods
Raising Lumie by Joan Bauer
Sara and the Search for Normal by Wesley King
The Way to Rio Luna by Zoraida Cordova
Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Iman Rasheed (9781419740831)
Edited by two award-winning Muslim authors, this collection of short stories focus upon the celebration of Eid. The stories come from a variety of Muslim sects, cultures and backgrounds, offering a beautiful look at the expansive nature of the Muslim religion. The stories keep a focus on eleven and twelve year olds, many of whom are just starting to fast and many who discover the deeper meaning of Eid as they find a path through fasting as well. The stories also deal with deep issues such as divorce, friendships, hijabs, generosity, and family dynamics. At their heart though, each one is a positive force about seeing possibilities anew, finding ways to connect with one another, and pure joy.
The different voices and perspectives here provide a rainbow of experiences for children who are Muslim to relate to and those who are not to more deeply understand this religion. The positivity is uplifting and lovely to read, particularly during a pandemic. I don’t think it could have been better timed, frankly.
A winner of a short-story anthology, take hope and joy from this book. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Amulet.
We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly (9780062747303)
Welcome to 1986, the year of the Challenger disaster and a year when all three of the Thomas children find themselves in seventh grade together. Fitch and Bird are twins and used to be very close. Bird loves science and exploring how things are made. As the Challenger nears its launch, she finds herself spellbound by the potential it represents for women in space and for her own future. Fitch meanwhile is struggling to deal with the anger that rises inside of him constantly, filling his days playing Major Havoc in the local arcade. Cash has been held back a grade and no longer plays basketball, which he misses desperately. He finds himself wondering if he is actually good at anything at all in life. The three siblings grow up in a family that is filled with anger, regular arguments and verbal abuse. As the three grow apart, circumstances including the Challenger disaster pull them back together, just in time to allow them all to find a potential way forward.
Kelly is a Newbery Medalist and this book shows her skill and superb understanding of the minds of youth. Using the setting of the mid-1980’s, she invites readers to see that while some things are different, much of the emotions, family tensions and life was the same as today. The Challenger disaster provides the ideal unifying factor in each of the sibling’s stories which are told from their own points of view. Yet Kelly does not overplay that element, never drawing the lines starkly but allowing readers to connect elements themselves.
The three siblings are quite different from one another and yet their shared upbringing and lack of safety at home create a unified experience that they all emerge from in different ways. Bird, the smart one, who takes things apart and does well at school, wonders if she is disappearing. Fitch burns with an anger he can’t explain, lashing out at others. Cash too is frustrated but he takes it out on himself and struggles internally.
A deep and magnificent middle-grade novel. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.
Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet (9781536206197)
Darleen has grown up in the movie industry, first appearing as a baby and now at age twelve as “Daring Darleen” in a series of silent films. It is 1914 and the trend is to have the worlds of film and real life converge, so Darleen’s uncles make a plan for her to be kidnapped from outside a movie theater while being filmed by them. Everything seems to be going to plan until Darleen is snatched by the wrong kidnappers and discovers that she has been taken along with Victorine, a girl just her age who is an heiress. The two must figure out how to escape, using Darleen’s natural penchant for heights and daring moves that her dead mother also had. Still, she had promised her father to keep her feet on the ground, but that’s hard to do as her adventures continue almost like being in a real screenplay.
There is so much to love here! Nesbet creates the daring and inventions of early film-making in this middle-grade novel. The chapters are meant to be episodes, some offering a great cliffhanger until the next installment. The series of adventures makes for a page-turner of a book with two girls at its center who form a grand friendship along the way and adore one another for being just who they are.
Darleen is a heroine through and through from her day job in front of the camera but even more so in real life as she skillfully figures out puzzles, finds ways to escape, and does it all with real courage. In many ways, Victorine is her opposite. She wants to tell the truth at all costs, knows all sorts of facts and loves books and travel. The two together form an unstoppable force. It is also great to see Nesbet pay homage to Alice Guy Blache by having her as a secondary character in the novel.
A grand adventure of a novel that will have readers enthralled. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.