I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day (9780062871992)
Released October 1, 2019.
Edie knows that her mother was adopted by a white couple, but the only thing she knows about her mother’s background is that she is Native American. Her mother won’t talk about her childhood at all. While looking in the attic with her friends, Edie discovers a box of old photographs and documents with a woman who looks a lot like her and has the same name! As Edie explores the documents, she realizes that her parents have been lying to her for her entire life. Even when she tries to give them a chance to tell the truth, they continue to avoid it. One of her best friends seems to be more interested in filming Edie’s story than in really supporting her, so Edie must figure out who she can really trust.
This is Day’s debut children’s book and it’s a very special one. Based on her own family history and the government’s role in separating Native children from their families, the book offers a glimpse into the heart wrenching loss of a child. Day also takes on the vital need for Native Americans to be portrayed fully in film, TV and the media.
With those big issues at play, it is to Day’s credit that this story stays firmly focused on Edie and her own journey to understanding her family and her culture. As the mystery of her name and her family is solved, readers will get to experience Edie’s first glimpses of her Native family. The stories are full of deep wounds caused by white government policies that damaged Native families for generations. Still, it is full of hope as well and the promise that healing can continue and justice can be found.
An important book about one Native girl’s journey to learn about her people and herself. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins.
For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington (9780374308049)
Keda sometimes feels like an outsider in her own family. She is adopted and the only member of her family who is African American. Moving to a new city across the country and to a new school, Keda has to leave behind her best friend who completely understands her. Keda’s parents are both classical musicians, though her mother hasn’t been even practicing her violin lately. She tends to have spells where she can’t get out of bed mixed with other times filled with lots of energy and projects. Keda feels a lot of pressure to take care of her mother, often not sharing the microaggressions she suffers at school or the racist names that others are calling her. When Keda’s mother finds out about the name calling, she pulls Keda and her older sister out of school entirely to be homeschooled. But her mother doesn’t consistently teach them, placing Keda into a girl scout troop for the summer where more racial incidents happen. As her mother’s condition worsens, Keda finds herself often alone with her mother at home trying to figure out how to help and not make things worse.
Lockington vividly tells the story of a tween who struggles to make her personal needs known to a family who doesn’t experience the world in the same way due primarily to race. The book is told from Keda’s perspective which gives it a strong voice and makes the aggression she receives feel very personal to the reader. Just telling the story of an adoptive child who is pre-teen, African-American, and in a loving but struggling home is important. The subjects of microaggressions and racism are told in a straight-forward and unflinching way that will allow readers of all races to understand the impact and pain they cause.
Keda’s character is resilient and smart. She is often struggling with huge issues from racism to mental illness. Yet she doesn’t ever give up. She stands up to bullies and racists, tries to protect her fragile mother from knowing about the hardships happening to her, and then works to care for her mother and protect her father. She is immensely alone in the book and yet always looking for a way forward.
An important and very personal story of adoption, race and strength. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
The Goose Egg by Liz Wong (9780553511574)
Henrietta is an elephant who loved quiet. Most of all, she loved the lake and sinking below its surface into silence. She would get lost in her thoughts and just swim. But one day, she got too lost in her head and she banged it on a pole! She went home and discovered that she had a big lump, a goose egg, on her head. She bandaged the bump and stayed quiet until something on her head hatched open! She reached up and found a gosling. She tried taking the baby goose back to her nest, but the mother goose never returned. So now quiet Henrietta had a very noisy gosling to take care of. Goose got louder as she grew bigger. By then, Henrietta realized that she needed to teach Goose to be a goose. So she taught her how to look for food, how to swim behind, how to flap her wings and more. Eventually, it was time for Goose to fly south. Henrietta was able to return to her quiet life again, but it wasn’t the same. Henrietta dreamed of Goose’s honking and longed to hear it again, until one day she did!
Wong takes a one-liner joke about a goose egg on the head being a real goose’s egg and turns it into a completely charming picture book. Readers who enjoy a bit of quiet will find a kindred spirit in Henrietta while those who enjoy a more raucous life will relate to Goose. The pair of them are opposites and manage to teach one another things along the way. The book has a gentle tone, allowing the story to unwind before the reader at its own pace.
Wong’s illustrations are done on a white background that nicely frames the drama of the bumped head, the goose egg and then the hatching. The images have subtle coloring until Goose appears in his bright yellow feathers, showing visually how he change Henrietta’s life. The illustrations take on a vaudeville humor as Goose and Henrietta interact. Then Henrietta’s solution for teaching Goose is a lovely visual as well.
A sweet and gentle tale of adoption, letting go and returning home. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf.
Solo by Kwame Alexander (9780310761839, Amazon)
Blade has grown up with all sorts of privileges as the son of a rock star, but the big house and huge parties come at a cost. His father is always humiliating him, like when he crashes (literally) Blade’s graduation ceremony where Blade is meant to give a speech. His father tries to clean up his act regularly, but it never seems to stick and he returns to drugs and alcohol. Blade also misses his mother terribly after her death. When Blade finally confronts his father about his behavior, a family secret is revealed that changes Blade’s perspective permanently. He sets off to discover his own history, a journey that takes him to Ghana, a place entirely different than the one he has been living in.
Newbery-Medal winner Alexander has crafted another amazing verse novel here. He moves firmly into teen territory here, with a 17-year-old protagonist who is truly on a journey to discover himself. Alexander starts the novel with the excess of a rock legend’s life and then beautifully changes the novel mid-course to Ghana and people who live as a strong community with few luxuries. The two settings could not be more different nor could what Blade feels while he is in each. Ghana is vividly depicted as is Blade’s reaction to it, rich with people and place.
Alexander’s poetry writing is superb in both settings. Yet it truly comes alive in Ghana, particularly with Joy, Blade’s guide and inspiration while there. Just as Blade cannot look away from Joy, neither can the novel nor the reader since she is so captivating. Throughout the book, there are questions asked that are deep, about wealth and poverty, about privilege and race, about addiction and recovery, about parenting and failure. This is a rich book filled with lots to discover and discuss.
A great read that will be enjoyed by even those teens who may not think they’d like a verse novel. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from HarperCollins.
Blood Family by Anne Fine (9781481477734, Amazon)
At age seven, Edward was saved from his abusive stepfather, Harris, when a neighbor saw him peeking out of their apartment through a boarded-up window. He had been shut in with his mother for three years, unable to leave. The only glimpse of the real world that he had was through a series of videotapes that the previous resident had left behind. Thanks to those videos, he was able to learn about the world and mentally escape the horror of his life. After he is rescued, Edward struggles to adapt to real life. He is smart and fascinated by everything, but his peers realize how different he is. When Edward becomes a teenager, he is suddenly confronted by the idea that Harris might be his real father after all. Is there a monster waiting inside him to break free?
Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, this novel is heartrendingly realistic. The book is told in many voices. They include Edward himself and also the adults around him from the social worker who first rescues him from the apartment to the couple who foster him to the family that adopts him and his adopted sister. This is necessary as Edward begins to spiral out of control, so that readers can still view him clearly and better understand the hidden impacts and scars that his tortured upbringing have left on him.
Edward is a strong and interesting protagonist who is vastly human and easy to relate to. Fine uses the videos of a Mr. Rogers like figure to explain how Edward’s mind survived intact. As Edward seems completely fine much of the time, it is his fall into darkness that makes the book believable and allows readers to more fully understand the deep despair that has been lapping at him all along. Fine’s writing allows us hope for Edward’s future, then takes that away, only to restore it once again, showing that all of us have the potential to lose ourselves and find ourselves over and over again.
A powerful read that will be popular with those teens who like A Child Called It. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
A Cat Named Swan by Holly Hobbie (9780553537444)
This is the story of a small kitten, who was suddenly alone on the city streets. He learned a lot about the dangers, scavenged for food, and survived. Until one day, he was taken off of the streets and put into a cage. There was plenty of food there though and no one was mean to him. Soon afterwards, he was adopted. And that is where his life changed. It became a series of perfect days. Days that started with breakfast, were filled with exploring the garden, had visits and naps, and ended with everyone returning home in the evening. Each day became night with him curled on a pillow fast asleep.
This picture book shows the harrowing life of a small kitten alone outside. Then it becomes a rescue and adoption story, one that is pure joy after the rescue takes place. The kitten learns about his new family, the dog, and the garden and house that are his too. There are small adventures, plenty of pleasures like just being with one another and bumblebees. It’s a picture book about small joys and the wonder of having a pet.
Hobbie’s illustrations are filled with energy and carry emotions clearly. The image of the kitten being lifted by his family for the first time is pure sunshine and blue sky. Readers know right then and there not to worry any longer. When they see the gardens and land, they realize that Swan has landed in kitten nirvana.
A testament to the power of animal adoption and the joy of a life well lived. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Random House Books for Young Readers.
Home at Last by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka (InfoSoup)
Lester is adopted by Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert, who pick him up with their dog Wincka once the adoption is formalized. They head home, put Lester’s new clothes away. But when Daddy Albert tries to put Lester’s suitcase in the attic, Lester shows them that it is full of his action figures and insists that they have to stay right in the suitcase in his room. Lester is happy during the day, playing with his toys and spending time with his new fathers. At night though, he packs up his suitcase and stands near his fathers’ bed. This happens night after night, despite cocoa and toast, singing songs, and explanations that Lester is safe. Finally, one of the fathers loses his temper with the situation and then Lester really opens up about what he is worried about. A solution to the problem is found by Wincka, the dog, who was listening to Lester’s story too.
This was the book that Williams was working on when she died. Raschka had been involved from the beginning with the book and completed the vision that Williams had shared with him. Williams captures the deep-seated fear that adopted children can have, the understanding at one level of newfound family love but also the change that comes at night where fears become larger. Williams also shows two loving gay men, both delighted to be fathers and each different from the other. The two of them together parent Lester with kindness and concern and deep love.
Raschka finished the book, basing his art on sketches by Williams. His large colorful illustrations have a loose feel that ranges across the page, capturing both the mayhem of a family short on sleep but also the warmth of that family too. His watercolors convey deep emotions from the frustrations of sleepless nights to the power of coming together afterwards. All is beautifully shown on the page.
A tribute to adoptive families, LGBT couples who adopt and the importance of love and patience, this picture book is a grand finale to the many books by Williams. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Dara Palmer’s Major Drama by Emma Shevah (InfoSoup)
Dara knows that she is a star. She can make all of the facial expressions in her favorite teen movies, has huge posters of her two favorite actors on her bedroom walls, and has lots of imaginary conversations with them as she dreams of her future in Hollywood. Her first step to stardom is landing the lead in the school production of The Sound of Music, and she just knows that her name is going to be called. But then it isn’t. Dara starts to wonder if it’s about the color of her skin, since she knows she’s an amazing actress. Dara was adopted from Cambodia. Then she notices that others with different skin colors are in the cast. The teacher offers her the role of stage manager, but Dara won’t agree to that. The teacher also invites her to join her acting classes, but Dara knows she doesn’t need them. As Dara slowly realizes that she may have a lot to learn after all, readers become convinced that Dara may just be the star she always thought she was.
Shevah has created in Dara a character who is both repulsive and compelling. Dara is unthinking, rather vain and unable to listen at the beginning of the book. Wisely, Shevah frames the book as looking into the past and Dara knowing that she wasn’t a very nice person back then. This gives readers permission to dislike Dara and yet also enjoy her humor, drive and sparkle. It also makes Dara’s deep changes all the more believable. Various characters also help Dara see herself anew, including her siblings, her parents and her best friend. This is done in many different ways from overt to subtle and is a skillful way to create change in a character.
The voice throughout the book is entirely Dara’s. The fonts change with Dara’s emphasis on various words, showing the passion and emotions behind them. The book design is fresh and friendly, having designs around the page edges and illustrations that break up the text a bit.
A strong and funny protagonist becomes much more self-aware in this gorgeous novel. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
My New Mom and Me by Renata Galindo (InfoSoup)
When a puppy comes to live with his new cat mother, he is scared. But his mother reassures him. He tries to give himself stripes so he looks more like her, but she says there is no need to change at all. She likes that they are different and the puppy does too. His new mom takes care of him and plays with him. Not all days are perfect, but his mother tells him that they can do better next time and that it is OK. This is a portrait of a newly formed family finding their way together.
Galindo captures the emotions of a newly adopted child in this picture book. She tells the story with a frank simplicity that really works, not trying to explain away the emotions but allowing them to show in their messiness as a reassurance that such emotions will not undo a new adoption. Galindo also shows the connection building and love that an adoptive family feels. Her decision to use a single parent is one that is not always seen in picture books about adoption.
The art is very effective. Large on the page, it is done in a limited palette of oranges, yellows and grays. The differences between cat mother and dog child are beautifully clear and the part where the puppy paints stripes on himself is a visual reminder of the desire to be a solid family unit. Just the use of a dog and cat as the characters was a brilliant choice. It is clear to children that they are very different and could even have points of view that are opposites.
A simple and strong new picture book about adoption from the child’s point of view. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.