Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky

Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky

Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Julie Morstad (9780593116296)

It is 1973 in Paris, and the girl decides that she wants to wander and travel. One day she gets on a motorcycle and starts out, carrying everything she needs with her. Listening to the road before her, she sets out to ride around the world. From Paris, she flies to Montreal in Canada, riding across the country. She camps at night, swims under the Northern Lights, and heads to Alaska. From there, she flies to Tokyo then to Bombay. Sometimes her bike breaks down, but the road keeps calling. She goes through Afghanistan, Turkey, then Europe. Then she returns home to Paris, different from when she left.

This is the true story of Ann-France Dautheville, who was the first woman to ride a motorcycle around the world alone. For ten years, she traveled the world, including the four months that she made this journey told in the book. Novesky was inspired by a single photograph she saw, creating a picture book that celebrates the bravery and spirit of this woman. Using a unique approach of calling her “the girl,” the book invites readers to see themselves in Dautheville’s place, exploring on her own. Throughout the book, there is a merry sense of adventure, acknowledgement of the dangers, and a deep appreciation for life on the road.

Morstad’s art captures that same delight in the journey. From the items packed in her bags to the amazing landscapes she journeyed through, the art follows her travels. There are dark nights under Canadian’s trees, red flower days in India, sapphire rivers, and calming Buddhas. Told in vibrant yet simple illustrations, readers get a true sense of the scope of her ride.

A great book that exemplifies girl power, jump on this ride! Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Viking Books for Young Readers.

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon (9780374307417)

This poetic picture book takes a deep look at emotions that hide inside. The emotions wait there, until the boy has the strength to look. Inside, he finds a mix of emotions, positive and negative. There is joy and happiness that “shines delight on everything I see.” There is sorrow like a watery grave for those who have been killed. There is fear that wakes him up at night. There is anger and fury. There is a hunger to be free. There is a pride in being a Black American. There is also peace, compassion, hope and love to carry him forward in making a difference.

Elliott’s poetry is marvelous, using imagery that children will understand to express all of these complex emotions, laying them clear and bare. The complicated mix of negative and positive allows readers to see their own emotions not as contradictory but as valid and important in the world that we live in. The clear use of Black Lives Matter throughout the book and the focus on race makes this an ideal read for our time.

Denmon’s illustrations are vibrant and powerful. Focused on the emotions, they convey those particularly well with body language and movement. They also capture critical moments in our modern times, including protests, police officers, murders. At the same time, they also show the beauty of an urban neighborhood filled with murals, people and homes.

Strong poetry that calls for social justice while exploring valid emotions. Appropriate for ages 5-7/

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (9780062996480)

Amal is an artist and a poet. He’s also a Black teen. So when he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time and makes a poor decision, his life is turned upside down. With a white boy left in a coma from the fight, Amal is wrongly incarcerated, accused of beating the other teen almost to death. Sent to prison, Amal must figure out how to survive incarceration without his anger at his situation changing him and his future forever. Amal must find a way to stay in touch with his inner artist, to write the words that come to him, to insist upon being seen as more than a convict. He must face the racism of the system, of his community, and of the people around him in prison. It’s a system set against him and it takes real courage and humanity to stay alive and whole as it grinds you down.

Told in verse, this is a powerful book that insists that readers see how the system actually works, its inherent racism, and the way that Black youths, particularly boys, are seen by white communities and white teachers. It is unflinching in showing the grueling nature of prison, the way that teens are treated in detention, the beatings and the inevitable protection in finding a group to belong to. Yet through it all there is hope, solely because of who Amal is and the fact that he is innocent but needs help proving it.

The book reads with such honesty about what life is like for an innocent person incarcerated that it is clear that Salaam offered so much of his own experience to this verse novel. As one of the Exonerated Five, he lived through what Amal does in the story, what so many Black men and boys in our communities do.

This powerful verse novel demands that we see the reality of what we are doing to generations of Black men and boys. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall (9781452137797)

Inspired by Blackall’s travels for UNICEF and Save the Children, this is a picture book guide to our planet. It offers a first-time visitor to earth useful information, such as directions to our planet in the solar system. The world is looked at through the people who live here, the homes we live in, the families we grow up in. It also features the world’s weather, schools, transportation, jobs and hobbies. Then the book turns to animals around the world and under the sea. It finishes looking at creativity, art, science and medicine. It’s a celebration of all that makes us unique, fascinating and worth the visit.

While the list above may sound mundane, in Blackall’s hands it is warm and energetic. Each item is marveled at for a bit, rather like picking up a gem and then moving on to the next amazing jewel. The entire book is a delight, looking at the earth and at humans as something to be proud of, to care for, and to adore.

As always, two-time Caldecott Medal winner Blackall’s art is remarkable. She shows diversity of humans and animals with such joy. Her characters always have a little extra sparkle in their eye or in the tilt of their head.

A grand tour of earth that invites us all to slow down and love our planet and one another. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books. 

 

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar

Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar (9781338343809)

Betita’s father has always told her that they are descendants of the Aztecs who came from Atzlan, which is now the southwestern United States. They are cranes who have returned home. Living in Los Angeles, Betita goes to school while her parents work long hours. But then one day, her father is taken by ICE and deported to Mexico. Betita and her mother make the long car ride to the border to see him, but find themselves arrested and put into a detention camp. Forced to sleep on the concrete floor, eat moldy food, and succumb to the monotony and cruelty of the camp, Betita almost loses herself. But she rises, inspired by the women and children around her, to insist that they have rights even when she has no one with her anymore.

Salazar uses verse to tell the story of Betita and her family. The early part of the book is almost dreamy as the family creates their new life in Los Angeles together. But the book turns and twists into a razor-like call for dignity and legal help for those both deported and those held in camps. The conditions of the camp are horrible, the indignity and casual cruelty heaped upon them is almost soul crushing. It’s difficult to read and even more difficult to accept that this is the United States doing these things to children and families.

Salazar gives her young heroine a voice in the book, a playfulness and creativity that lets her create her own toys, form connections with other children. She also has the ability to write and to lead others to write their own stories too. That powerful ability is what allows the characters to rise above and insist upon being seen.

An important and powerful call to see Latinx people held in border camps as humans first and always. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic Press. 

All Along the River by Magnus Weightman

All Along the River by Magnus Weightman

All Along the River by Magnus Weightman (9781605375182)

The journey following the river and waterway begins with Bunny losing her rubber ducky into the flow of the stream from the glacier near their home. She and her brothers hop into their boat to catch up to the toy. Soon they are floating past a pine forest, filled with other animals on picnics, racing motorcycles, kayaking, cycling, hiking, and much more. The river moves past farmland full of cows and horses, then spills into a huge lake where it is still hard to glimpse the toy floating. Look closely! After a glorious waterfall, the scene moves to a medieval town and European castles. Then a factory appears, pumping steam and water. Rain starts and the river slows to explore small islands. Windmills and tulips appear until a harbor is reached with a broad sea. Finally the toy is caught again. But what other stories did you see along the way?

This thoroughly Dutch picture book is a very entertaining seek-and-find book that is complicated and funny. Readers will need to lean in closely and read the book multiple times to follow all of the clever story arcs contained in the book. Nicely, Weightman outlines some of the ones to watch for in introductory pages.

The book does have words, but they are nearly unnecessary as the real star of the book are the incredibly detailed landscapes filled with foxes, rabbits, bears, pigs, and lots of other animals. Throughout the action, there are lovely moments of blissful floating, meeting new people, and a strong sense of a large community together.

An exceptional seek-and-find book with a European flair. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Clavis.

The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg

The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg

The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg (9781338325034)

Two teens arrive at exactly the same time on the George Washington Bridge, planning to jump off. At the last minute, when he sees Tillie, Aaron decides not to jump, but Tillie does. Aaron now must find new ways to deal with his rising depression, struggles that he can’t admit to his father, even though his father is desperately to figure out what is going on with his son. Tillie’s family is devastated by their loss, particularly her little sister. Tillie, ignored by her adoptive father because she embarrassed him in one of her performances, is being cyberbullied by girls in her school, including one of her previous best friends. But wait, perhaps it was Aaron who jumped and Tillie survived. Or did they both jump? Or did they both stop themselves and find one another. This masterpiece of a novel looks at suicide, getting help, and the impact of loss.

Konigsberg takes one pivotal moment in the lives of two people and shows how it could be different given a slightly different reaction. How one person could be saved, or the other, or neither or both. He portrays two very different families, each struggling with loss or trying to help their teenage child. He shows glimpses of hope, the long slog of treatment, the lifesaving connections that can be made, and how one person can save another. In short, this is life on the page, captured with real empathy.

Konigsberg takes his young protagonists and builds their storylines fully, in one part even projecting us forward decades into what their loss meant for their families and how it continued to echo in their lives. He shares their deep sorrows, their reasons for contemplating suicide, their inability to put it into words themselves, and the powerful desire to have their pain just be over. He gives us the darkness and then the light, the ending portrayal of their stories are just what the reader needs, hope and unlikely friends.

Powerful, deeply impactful and masterful, this teen novel shows suicide in breathtaking complexity. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic Press.

Smashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman

Smashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman

Smashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (9780062910370)

Join Mr. Gilly in his crane with a wrecking ball in this dynamic picture book. Mr. Gilly’s crane is slow moving, but it can do a lot. When he swings the wrecking ball and hits a wall, it goes “Smash! Smash! Smash!” When he hits it again it goes, “Crash! Crash! Crash!” The wall tumbles down. Is he done? No! On goes the demolition, the ball swinging, smashing and crashing. When it is finally finished, Mr. Gilly uses his bulldozer to clear up the mess he made. The new building starts going up as Mr. Gilly heads home to dinner and bed.

This is a picture book just right for toddlers who love trucks and machines. The text is jaunty and great fun to read aloud. It has plenty of rhyming repetition in the smash and crash as well as the repeating question of whether Mr. Gilly is done yet. Get the children you are reading to involved in the crash and smash with claps and stomps, and you have a great finishing book for a story time.

The art by Yaccarino is bold and simple, ensuring that this is great for reading to a crowd of children. The art has the same good humor and merriment as the text, offering a busy urban setting for demolition as well as a final view of a public library being built on the site.

Let this one crash your story time! Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.

News to Wake Your Brain Cells – Sept 11

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Your go-to roundup of fall books for all reading levels – QNS

YA LIT

13 spectacular young adult books from independent publishers – BuzzFeed

18 diverse YA horror books packed with thrills, chills, and #ownvoices tales – Book Riot

40 YA novels that come out in the first half of 2021 that we’re already excited for – BuzzFeed

Antiracist young adult books for tweens and teens – Pop Times

Five years later: on the enduring legacy of All American Boys – Literary Hub