Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (9780062215918, Amazon)

Newbery-Honor winner Williams-Garcia returns with another book that is filled with love, loss and family. Clayton loves playing the blue with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, in the park. It’s something they do together when his mother works double shifts, since she doesn’t approve of the blues or his grandfather. Clayton knows he is ready for a solo on his blues harp, but Cool Papa wants him to wait a bit longer. Then one night, Cool Papa doesn’t wake up and Clayton is left with his mother’s anger at her father and his own deep loss. School becomes almost impossible for Clayton as he struggles with his grief and when his teacher makes him read the same book that Cool Papa had been reading aloud to him, it is too much. Clayton decides to hit the road, find the blues men that his grandfather played with and join them on their travels. But it’s not that simple and Clayton soon finds himself on an unexpected journey on the New York subway.

This book is simply incredible. Williams-Garcia writes with an ease that welcomes readers deep into the story. She manages in well under 200 pages to tell a deep and rich story that resonates. It’s a story of the power of music to connect generations, of grandfathers who teach and lead, of subways and busking, of urban landscapes and neighborhoods. It’s a story of loss and grief, of self discovery too. It is a multilayered book that will inspire discussion and connection.

Clayton is a wonderful main character with his grandfather’s porkpie hat on his head and his harmonica in his pocket or in his hands making music. He is clearly a gifted musician and it is a treat to have a young character playing music like the blues and then mixing it with hip hop. Clayton is an individual and proud of it, yet he loses one of his main anchors in life and has to find a way forward once again.

Deep and resonating, this novel is a demonstration of real skill and the power of books and music. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex

Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex

Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex (9781452154435, Amazon)

All of the other fruit are having great fun creating rhymes for themselves. But Orange knows that nothing rhymes with him, so he can’t join in. He does ask if he can participate, but no one has time to answer him. Meanwhile the rhymes that the other fruit are using get forced and the kinds of fruit get more unusual. Soon other fruit that don’t have rhymes either are included and only Orange is left out. Luckily though, Apple has noticed and creates a rhyme just for Orange!

Rex has immense joyous fun creating the weirdest rhymes for fruits in this book. Readers will agree with Orange’s take as the book gets odder and odder as it continues. Adults will laugh aloud with surprise with even Nietzsche makes an appearance just to force a rhyme with lychee. The dynamic energy of the book makes it great to read aloud and will have everyone laughing along and hoping that Orange gets to play too.

The illustrations combine grocery-bag brown paper with photographs of different fruit. The fruit also have faces with big expressions and lanky limbs that make them friendly. Orange in particular is very emotive as all sorts of emotions are felt by him during the course of the book.

A great read aloud and a hilarious book, this one will have everyone rhyming! Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

 

Marti’s Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy

Marti's Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy

Marti’s Song for Freedom by Emma Otheguy, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal (9780892393756, Amazon)

This picture book in both Spanish and English verse tells the story of José Martí. Martí spent his entire life working to end slavery in Cuba after witnessing the brutality first hand. At the time, Spain ruled Cuba and a war of independence started in 1868. Martí wrote against the Spanish government and was jailed and put to hard labor. At 17-years-old he was sent away from Cuba. He continued to fight for Cuba’s independence and settled in New York. He would travel into the Catskill Mountains to see the nature that he missed from Cuba. Martí eventually returned to Cuba and helped fight in the battles against the Spanish, dying on the battlefield before freedom was realized. His words live on: it was his words and songs that helped drive the Cubans to fight for freedom and to continue fighting.

The verse contains excerpts from Martí’s works, allowing readers to read his words directly. The verse from the author and from Martí  work beautifully together, flowing into one river of words that tell the story of Cuban freedom. The afterword and author’s notes add information to the verse, giving more dates and information on the war for freedom in Cuba and on Martí’s life. This picture book biography takes a complex subject and makes it accessible for young readers, demonstrating how a young-person’s passion can ignite a nation.

The illustrations move from Cuba to New York to the Catskills, capturing scenes of daily life, lush greenery, and battles. There is a sense of energy to all of the illustrations, that matches that of the verse as it speaks to the drive that Martí had to speak out for Cuba’s independence.

A great picture book biography that adroitly pairs English and Spanish on the page. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli (9781452167008, Amazon)

This detailed, wordless picture book shares the story of one professional working crocodile’s day. Crocodile is awakened from his dream of floating in a swamp by his alarm clock. He gets ready for work, uses the bathroom, brushes his teeth and selects an appropriate tie. He has jam and bread for breakfast and heads out. He window shops on his walk to work and takes the subway. He picks up flowers, the newspaper and a treat from the bakery. He finally reaches his destination, the zoo, and takes his place in the exhibits after changing out of his clothes.

This book plays up the mundane little activities in life, making them all the more important. Clearly European, this book captivates, showing small details of life and then suddenly switching into wild animals at the zoo with a satisfying ending. The illustrations are filled with little details, like other animals on the streets and subway, and humans looking just a tad nervous as they see Mr. Crocodile near them.

It is the use of human life details with the crocodile character that work so well here. That tension plays throughout the picture book, making it a look at humanity and our lives just as much as being a crocodile. There is a real appeal to the illustrations and the story line that draws the reader in and will have them leaning over the page to see more.

Great illustrations and a whimsical crocodile character make this a winner. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

 

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Thornhill by Pam Smy

Thornhill by Pam Smy (9781626726543, Amazon)

Released August 29, 2017.

A grand Gothic graphic novel, this book is surprising and delightfully dark. The story is told in two parallel stories, one in images and one in text. Both stories take place in the same neighborhood and revolve around Thornhill, a home for orphans. Mary’s story is told in text and is set in 1982 where she is one of the last children to leave Thornhill. As the other girls leave, Mary is left with a girl who has been bullying her for some time and the story builds to a terrible climax. The illustrated story is that of Ella in 2016 who has just moved to town and doesn’t have any friends yet. She can see Thornhill, now disused and old, from her house. When she glimpses a girl there, she decides to figure out the story of Thornhill and the girl.

This is the sort of story, you curl up with and read as fast as possible. Happily, Smy’s writing and illustrations make it almost impossible to leave this book behind for even a moment. The illustrations linger with the reader, haunting in their black and white details. The text invite readers into the past, showing them what being an orphan in was like before rules were put in place to protect children. There is a brilliance to not setting the history piece in the 1800’s, but allowing shocking situations of a more modern time to surface.

The art pieces in the book allow the reader to piece together that the girl being described in the text is not the one in the images quickly. The images are done only in black and white, filled often with deep shadows and lit by bright light at other times. They are dynamic and interesting, telling their own wordless story of Ella and her own losses.

Get this into the hands of children who enjoy ghost stories, because this one will haunt readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Roaring Brook Press.

 

 

Waking Brain Cells Anniversary

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It’s the birthday of this blog which turns 14 years old tomorrow!

Thank you everyone for tuning in, putting up with the stream of content on Twitter and Facebook, following on RSS feeds, reading on WordPress or Google. Thank you for making me part of your days whether you read this blog regularly or just once in awhile.

Thank you too to the publishers for sending me copies of books to read and for discovering new talented authors every year that make it impossible for me to ever stop reading.

I hope to keep going into the future!