Strollercoaster by Matt Ringler

Cover image for Strollercoaster.

Strollercoaster by Matt Ringler, illustrated the Raul the Third and Elaine Bay (9780316493222)

Every day there is a time when the inside feels too small for Sam. She kicks toys around the room, stomping and angry. There is only one solution for this, which is to take a ride on the strollercoaster! To start the ride, Sam gets buckled in and the straps are pulled tight. A reminder of keeping hands and feet inside at all times is given, and they are off! Sam’s father runs fast and the neighborhood flies past them. There are cool shops, sweet-smelling bakeries, and the green of a park. Soon Sam feels like she’s flying and she’s smiling. The ride ends with a dark tunnel with a light at the end. By the time they get back home, Sam is asleep and her father is ready for a nap too.

Ringler writes a book that starts with anger and frustration and then shows a way to find delight in life once more with big smiles that turn into a cozy nap. It’s a book with a strong arc that is enhanced by all of the urban elements of the story and the warm relationship of father and daughter. The text in the book plays with the rollercoaster theme, using buckles, straps and the iconic warning and then clicking and clacking uphill. It’s funny, universal and delightful.

The illustrations are playful right from the beginning with all sorts of small details that are great fun to discover. Keep an eye on Sam’s stormcloud t-shirt that is big and bold at first, and then covered up skillfully as she calms down. The urban neighborhood is brought fully to life in the images with rainbow sherbet colors carrying throughout, creating a tropical summer feel.

A dynamic thrillride of a book. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

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.

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry (9781616208967)

San Antonio is not a comfortable place for the Torres sisters. Their mother died giving birth to Rosa, the youngest sister, and their father never recovered from her death, drowning his feelings in drink. When the oldest sister, Ana falls from her window and dies, it takes a great toll on the entire family. A year later, the cracks are beginning to become even larger. Their father is rarely home and when he is he is verbally abusive, demanding, and drunk. Jessica, who got Ana’s bedroom and clothes, mourns her sister by dating the same boy she did. The relationship is violent and controlling, but Jessica can’t seem to move on. Iridian has stopped going to school, reads the same book over and over again, and writes her own stories. She finds herself caught indoors, unwilling to leave their horrible house. Rosa seeks the hyena that is loose in their neighborhood, wondering what special gift she might have and searching for it outside and in religion. The girls all want to escape, and it may just take Ana returning as a ghost to get them free.

Mabry’s novel is exceptional. Her writing is achingly beautiful, telling a story of profound grief and pain. Yet throughout, each of the sisters has bursts of hope, their own unique way forward potentially, if they could just take it. It’s tantalizing writing that creates its own unique emotional tug and writing that offers gem-like moments of clarity before succumbing under the weight of grief once more. The flashes of anger are like lightning on the page, bursts where one thinks things are about to change.

The sisters are all wonderfully crafted and unique from one another. The interplay of their relationships feels like sisterhood, lifting one another up unexpectedly, injuring each other inadvertently and fighting like hell to save the others.

A great teen novel about sisterhood, grief and ghosts. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Algonquin.

Review: Furious Thing by Jenny Downham

Furious Thing by Jenny Downham

Furious Thing by Jenny Downham (9781338540659)

Lex is angry almost all the time. Her anger burns through her for reasons she can’t explain even to herself. Her mother’s fiance, John, is convinced that there is something wrong with her and that she should be medicated. Her mother is distant but loving, unwilling to stand up to John about anything much at all. He tells Lex that bad things happen when she is around and that seems to be true. Her little sister fell out of a tree and hurt her head because she was climbing with Lex as their parents fought. At school, Lex throws a chair through a window in a rage after auditioning for a drama production. Lex knows she isn’t a monster though at times that might be just what her world needs. She only has two more years at home and even though she tries, she can’t be perfect enough to make John happy for more than a few hours. As her mother’s relationship with John hits a bad patch, Lex begins to find her voice and reach out to tell others what is really happening. 

On the shortlist for the Costa Book Award for youth, this novel captures the horrors of living in a controlling relationship filled with verbal and emotional abuse. The novel allows the abuse to be revealed gradually, so that readers begin by wondering about Lex and her mental health for different reasons than the true causes of the problem. It is this slow unveiling that really makes the abuse all the more disturbing and allows readers to see how it hides in plain sight. The effect is entirely riveting. It’s a book you can’t look away from.

Lex is a tremendous accomplishment as a heroine. She is abused but not cowed, wild with rage but also full of love. She is unwilling to be told who she is or should be, yet also pushes back on things that would help her like having friends and doing better in school. Her relationship with her stepbrother is a vital component to the book, a glimpse of a young abusive male. Readers will be stunned to watch as Lex realizes the abuse she too is caught up in and will relish her strength in walking away.

A stunning novel about being righteously raging as a young woman in our society. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King

The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King

The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King (9781338236361)

Liberty loves the stars. She creates star maps that allow her to capture what she sees in the stars by drawing her own constellations on the night sky. But when her parents get a divorce, it is like her entire world fell apart. Her father assures her that she will see him often, but they don’t see him for 86 days after the divorce! In the meantime, Lib has witnessed a meteorite fall to earth and recovered the heavy stone. As time goes on, Liberty begins to seethe with rage. It’s an anger that emerges in school sometimes, sometimes at her parents, but mostly sits inside her, red and hot. It’s that anger that made her throw the toaster through the kitchen window, hides a diamond ring from a bully at school, and allows her to tell her father what she really thinks. Liberty worries that she might have depression like her father, and she gradually learns the power of talking about her feelings openly.

Amy Sarig King is the name that the YA author A.S. King writes under for middle-grade books. She does both extremely well. Here King shows the first months of a divorce from the children’s point of view. She steadily reveals what happened in the parent’s marriage, but the real focus is on grief as the two sisters must navigate their way through the pain of losing their family. The emotions run high, from tears to yelling to throwing things. They all feel immensely authentic and real on the page.

Liberty is a great heroine. Far from perfect, particularly at school, she is navigating life by confiding in a meteorite and trying to help everyone else. She is filled with rage much of the time, but also filled with a deep compassion for others, sometimes to her own detriment. King looks frankly at mental health issues here both in parents and in Liberty herself. The use of counselors is spoken of openly and without issue as the family gets the help they need.

A powerful look at divorce, grief and coming to terms with life. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

Review: Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson (9780698195264)

On the 20th anniversary year of her ground-breaking teen novel Speak, Anderson has written a searing book of poetry that chronicles her own journey to having a voice and speaking out. Thanks to the subject matter of Speak, Anderson is trusted by many of the teens she speaks before to hear their own stories of abuse and rape. Surely over the decades, something has changed. Has it? In this nonfiction work of verse, Anderson opens up about her own childhood and parents, her own experience with sexual assault and rape, the sexual harassment of college campuses from students and professors alike, and so much more. Her book is a call to action, to rage alongside her, and to not be silent.

Anderson’s poetry slams into you like a freight train. She does have some poems that are subtle and more introspective, but the ones that rush and insist are the best here. Her anger fuels this entire book, her call to be better, to raise sons who do right, to speak and shout and yell. She is so honest on these pages, allowing the teens and others who have spoken to her to have space in the book too. In a book that could have felt like too much pain, it is instead action oriented and forceful.

Anderson’s verse is incredibly skilled. She tells poignant stories, both her own and other people’s. She shares insights, yells at those she evaded once, demands changes and shows how very vital one angry voice can be for change. This is a book that every woman should read, teens and adults. It’s one to return to for fuel to fight on when you are spent.

Brilliant, courageous and heart breaking, this book is one that belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 14-adult.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Penguin Young Readers.

 

Review: Allie All Along by Sarah Lynne Reul

Allie All Along by Sarah Lynne Reul

Allie All Along by Sarah Lynne Reul (9781454928584)

When Allie’s crayon breaks, she is suddenly furious and turns into a bright red anger monster. She stomps, smashes things and throws a tantrum. When her brother gives her a pillow to punch, the worst of the anger leaves. She climbs out of the red monster suit, now an orange monster. Her brother tells her to squeeze her favorite toy really tight. That helped more and soon she was a green monster. Her brother tries more techniques and Allie becomes blue and rather sad. Still, she is herself after that and looking for a hug.

This picture book brilliantly explores anger and healthy practices to release it and let it go. The use of different colored monsters gives children a visual meter of Allie’s anger and how she is steadily de-escalating it with her brother’s help. Told from her brother’s point of view, he is calm and steady throughout the book, knowing just what to do. The illustrations are a huge part of this book with the angry monsters showing a steady decline in anger until sadness is revealed.

Well designed, this picture book will offer a way to talk about emotions and anger. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard

Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard

Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard (9780062652911)

Robinson tries to behave in school so that her grandfather doesn’t have to leave his work at the garage and come to the office. She worries that the principal and teachers will notice that his memory is not that good anymore, particularly in the afternoon. But when the class bully won’t leave her alone, Robinson speaks with her fists and lands in trouble. Assigned to a special group that meets in the school counselor’s room, Robbie has to figure out whether she can trust the others. To make it harder, one of them is the bully whose been tormenting her. As Robbie’s grandfather’s memory gets worse, Robbie knows that she has to keep her secrets from everyone, until that becomes impossible.

In this debut book by Stoddard, she writes with a great confidence, allowing Robbie and her unique family to reveal themselves to the reader. The writing is strong, showing complicated relationships, a loving family and a school that steps up to help children in need. Stoddard deftly shows how assignments like a family tree can be daunting to a number of children whether they are dealing with a dying parent, an impossible older sister, divorce or a lack of knowledge.

Robbie is an important protagonist. It is great to see a young female character having to deal with anger issues that she resolves at first by hitting others. The solution to her anger and fear is slow and steady, with set backs along the way, making it a very organic and honest depiction. Robbie also doesn’t look like her grandfather, since she doesn’t appear to be African American, another aspect of the book that is handled with sensitivity.

A brilliant debut novel with changing families, lots of maple syrup but one that isn’t too sweet either. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from copy provided by HarperCollins.)

3 Boisterous Noisy Picture Books

Bumpety, Dunkety, Thumpety-Thump! By K. L. Going

Bumpety, Dunkety, Thumpety-Thump! By K. L. Going, illustrated by Simone Shin (9781442434141)

Two young siblings, a brother and sister, head outside with their wagon. They play with pebbles near the pond, pick blueberries and then head home. Each thing makes it’s own noise: the wagon bumpety-bumps, the pebbles dunkety-dunk, and the plunkety-plunk. Back home, they bake the berries in a pie, eat, wash dishes, and then take a bath. These activities too are supported by a rollicking and noise-filled rhyme that carries the story forward with a jaunty vibe. The book ends with bedtime and everyone sharing stories and heartbeats together. This book beautifully combines noises of a day with a loving family story and creates a book that is a dynamic read-aloud for toddlers. Appropriate for ages 1-3. (Review copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Buster and the Baby by Amy Hest

Buster and the Baby by Amy Hest, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (9780763687878)

Buster, a little white dog, is hiding from the baby who is chasing him around the house. Buster tries different spots to hide, but each time, the baby comes and finds him. THUMP, THUMP, THUMP comes the baby, the same noise that Buster’s heart makes as he hides. Then the two dash off together in a wild chase until Buster finds his next hiding place and it begins again. This book begs to be shared aloud, as Hest has created moments of quiet tension and then uproarious frenzy that repeat again and again. The illustrations by Dunbar add to the joy, incorporating panels that let young listeners see the action across pages. A great pick for reading aloud to toddlers. Appropriate for ages 1-3. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Grump Groan Growl by bell hooks

Grump Groan Growl by bell hooks, illustrated by Chris Raschka (9780786808168)

Explore a bad mood in this picture book that takes a look at being very very grumpy. The child in the opening images prowls like a lion, sharp claws at the ready as he grumps across the page. He groans and growls loudly, almost a roar. There is nowhere to escape his foul mood. He feels wild and out of control until he realizes that he can look inside, let that feeling be and let it pass. Hooks speaks to the process of mindfulness about emotions with few words, showing the emotion clearly and then moving into the process to allow that emotion to pass on. Raschka’s illustrations are dark with emotion, tinged with colors that become more tangible as the child regains control. A great pick for mindfulness with children, this book doesn’t reject negative emotions or cling to them either. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)