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.)

 

 

Horrible Bear! by Ame Dyckman

Horrible Bear by Ame Dyckman

Horrible Bear! by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora (InfoSoup)

A little girl is flying a kite when her string breaks and the kite lands in a cave. When she heads into the cave to get her kite, there is a big bear in there who rolls over in his sleep and breaks her kite. The little girl gets very angry and yells at the bear, “Horrible Bear!” She stomps away to her home. Bear was very upset too. After all, he isn’t a horrible bear at all. But then he had a horrible idea of his own. He practiced barging in, making lots of noise and waking someone out and then headed down to her house. Meanwhile though, the girl was figuring out exactly how rude she had been. Now an apologetic little girl is all set for a run in with a bear ready to be horrible!

Dyckman has created a book that simply must be shared aloud. From the refrain of “Horrible Bear!” as the girl storms off to the roaring bear as he is being horrible, the entire book is filled with ways for children to participate. This book is about the importance of apologizing for bad behavior and mistakes and the way that apologies can completely change a situation. I particularly enjoyed the clever interplay of a grumpy girl and a mellow bear that then switch roles. It also shows that each of us have different aspects to our personality and that we can decide to change our moods.

OHora’s illustrations are wonderfully large and bold, adding to the appeal of the book for group sharing. With a dynamic mix of panels and other images that span both pages, the book makes turning pages fun and interesting. The orange bear pops on the page as does the red-headed little girl. The two convey their emotions clearly which makes it easy for children to understand as their moods change.

A wonderful picture book that is just right for sharing aloud with a group. Expect lots of chants of Horrible Bear from preschool audiences. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff

Trent can’t manage to move on from last year when a tragic accident ended with another boy dead. Trent lost not only all of his friends because of it but also finds himself unable to play the sports he loved, like baseball. At the same time, Trent is unable to control his anger, even if he puts his most disturbing thoughts down on paper in drawings. It helps a bit, but he continues to have problems getting angry at everything and everyone. It all just proves that he is entirely the messed up kid that everyone things he is already. Fallon enters Trent’s live as they head to middle school. She is a girl who loves baseball movies, has a similar sense of humor, and has clearly also survived a tragedy which left her with a scarred face. Fallon becomes Trent’s closest friend, but one burst of anger may end that too, taking away the only good thing he has left.

Graff does such a beautiful job in this middle grade novel. She creates in Trent a truly complex character, one that readers will need time to understand. Trent is at his heart a boy dealing with death and loss and his own role in it, including showing a lot of self-hatred. So in that way, he is an entirely understandable character, one that is sympathetic. Then there is the angry Trent, who loses control, says horrible things, and lashes out. That part of his personality is hard to like, making him at times a character who is far from heroic. At the same time, this is the same person, likable one moment and the next impossible to like at all.

Graff captures the loss of control that comes with flashing red anger, the words that flow out of control, and the way that it feels in the body. Readers will completely understand those zings of anger and the shame that follows if you lash out. Graff also shows a path forward from being isolated and angry, a way to find people to help you even if you have lashed out at them earlier. It is a powerful story of redemption, of learning to return to who you really are, and of self forgiveness.

Beautifully written, this book is an amazing look at powerful emotions and the equal power of watering plants, breathing deeply and playing baseball. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel Books.

Review: Here Comes Destructosaurus! by Aaron Reynolds

here comes destructosaurus

Here Comes Destructosaurus! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard

Destructosaurus enters town tipping buildings over as he rushes in.  His feet are filthy from seaweed and fish.  He is angry and shoots flames from his mouth, doesn’t he know he needs to burp quietly and keep his mouth closed?  Destructosaurus gets grumpier and starts to show attitude, throwing buildings around and generally throwing a temper tantrum too.  But then he finds what he was looking for the whole time and settles down, but he won’t stay to help clean up the mess.  Maybe someone else will?

Told in an adult voice scolding Destructosaurus for his lack of manners and his tantrum, this picture book is a blast to share aloud.  Children will immediately recognize the tone of the voice and will delight in it being focused on a rampaging monster.  The humor here is wonderfully broad and right in your face.  It will appeal to toddlers who have their own tantrums and older children who will enjoy the play of monster movie and parent.

Tankard’s illustrations are bight colored and loud.  They zing with energy as the monster enters the city and destroys it.  The monster is done in thick strokes that set him apart from the landscape, allowing him to pop and seem even larger than the surrounding buildings.

A zany and fun look at tantrums, this book will be appreciated by parents and children alike.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi

grandfather gandhi

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk

When Arun went to stay at his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi’s village, he worried that he would not be able to live up to his famous name.  Arun walked all the way from the station to the village and made his grandfather proud, but he continued to fret that he would not do the right thing the next time.  The village was very different from where he lived before.  Arun had to share his grandfather’s attention with 350 followers who lived there as well.  Arun struggled with his studies and the other kids teased him as well.  He found the meditation and prayers difficult too.  His grandfather urged him to give it time, that peace would come.  However, Arun just found it more and more frustrating.  When Arun finally lost his temper with another boy, he had to tell his grandfather about it, worried that he would be told that he would never live up to his name.  How will Mahatma Gandhi react to this angry young man?

Gandhi relates his own memories of his grandfather, offering his honest young reactions to this amazing yet also formidable man.  The book resulted from Arun recounting childhood stories aloud.  Hegedus emailed him afterwards and asked to work on a book with him, though she felt very unworthy of such a project.  The book is beautifully written and speaks to everyone who has felt that electric anger surge through them too.  Hegedus sets the stage very nicely for the lesson, allowing time for Arun’s anger to build even as she shows the lifestyle of the village and Mahatma Gandhi himself.  It is a book that is crafted for the most impact, building to that moment of truth.

Turk’s illustrations add much to the book.  Using mixed media, he offers oranges, purples, deep pinks and more that show the heat not only of the climate but of Arun’s anger.  Throughout, he also uses fabrics for the clothing, creating three-dimensional depth to the paintings.  When Arun’s emotions flare, the illustrations show that with tangles of black thread that all bring readers back to the image of Gandhi spinning neat white thread.  The contrast is subtle and profound.

Personal and noteworthy, this is a picture book about Gandhi that is entirely unique and special.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.