Wink by Rob Harrell

Wink by Rob Harrell

Wink by Rob Harrell (9781984815149)

Ross desperately just wants to be normal, but that isn’t working out for him. After being diagnosed with a rare eye cancer, he has a permanent wink. He goes for treatments each week, making friends with an old guy who is always there as well as with one of the technicians who is desperate to improve Ross’ taste in music. Meanwhile at school, he is steadily becoming stranger as his hair starts to fall out in clumps, he has to use gloppy creams, and he starts to wear a hat all the time. He’s the opposite of normal and the bully in his class definitely notices. But even as he gets further from normal, he starts to figure some things out, like how great it feels to play the guitar even if your fingers are ready to bleed, how amazing it is to play in a band, and how a ton of humor can get you through almost anything.

Based on the author’s personal story, this book takes a unique look at a cancer journey. Harrell’s book is downright hilarious, never allowing the book become too full of the harrowing nature of having a rare cancer and the impacts of the treatment. Ross and Rob are too funny to let that happen, incorporating the adventures of Batpig to help. Through all of the humor a poignancy shines through, allowing those moments of serious crisis to really stand out with their importance and yet also their impermanence.

The book is filled with comic pages, art, and notes. It has hair clumps, face goop, music mixes and more. These graphic elements help to break up the text but also really demonstrate Ross’ skill with art and his quirky sense of humor as he deals with his cancer.

Funny, sarcastic and honest, this is a cancer book with laughter and head-banging music, not tears. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (9780593125243)

Jen didn’t want to move out of the city and onto a farm with her mother, leaving her father behind. She particularly doesn’t enjoy her mom’s new boyfriend, Walter, who is always telling her how she should act. On the farm, Jen does love the hayloft with its privacy and kittens. She’s not quite sure about the chickens at first until she meets the fuzzy chicks, but even then taking care of them is a pain! When Walter’s two daughters come to visit on weekends, it’s particularly hard. The girls work at the farm’s stall at the market, selling berries, granola and flowers. But Andy, the oldest daughter, is bossy and constantly putting Jen down. Jen would much rather be drawing in her notebook than doing math at the market. Being a new family is hard, but small steps make big connections.

Knisley is one of my favorite graphic novelists. It is great to see her returning to graphic novels for children. She captures the emotions of being young with such empathy, valuing the perspective of her characters. She also allows her young characters to find their own way forward, the adults around and causing problems at times. Here it is figuring out how to be potential step-siblings while wrestling with a new life in the country, and a frog too.

Knisley fills her book with small moments of life on a farm and in the country. Every person who lives, loves or tolerates the country will enjoy her depiction. As always, her illustrations are clear, funny and full of great moments.

Full of fresh air, chickens, garden-rampaging deer, and a complicated family, this graphic novel is a great summer read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (9780062685094)

This graphic novel memoir tells a compelling story. Chuna lived with her single mother in Korea, until they went to Alabama on a what Chuna thought was a family vacation. Instead it was a way for her mother to actually meet the man she had been dating long distance and see where he lived. Now at age 14, Chuna must learn a new language and figure out a new society which is very unlike that of Korea. She doesn’t get along with her new stepfamily and continues to be furious with her mother. After all, she lost everything with the move: her country, her language, her friends, and a lot of her favorite things. When her mother enrolls her in a comic book program, Chuna discovers a way forward with new friends and a new way to express herself.

Ha’s memoir is marvelous. She creates real emotion on the page, not shying away from the raw reaction that she had as a teen to being moved to an entirely different country unexpectedly. The book is filled with tension, between Chuna and her mother, her mother and her new husband, and the entire extended family. Readers will see flashes of hope and a future before Chuna does in the book, adding to a feeling of possibility and resilience.

The art in the book reflects the strong plotting that Ha has created here. She lingers in moments very effectively, emphasizing their importance for readers. The art moves from tans and pastel colors to more dramatic moments where emotion is shown in waves of colors or hauntingly dark scenes that capture depression perfectly.

A great graphic novel memoir that tells the story of the isolation of being a new immigrant in America, but also the potential for a new future through art. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from library copy.

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs by Leslie Connor (9780062796783)

Lydia was with her mother as she died and soon after is moving to rural Connecticut to live with her Aunt Brat, her wife and their elderly landlord. Lydia brings with her a box of the goddesses that she and her mother created together as they faced the good and bad in their life. She keeps them hidden from Aunt Brat and everyone at her new home, looking for a private place to hang them in honor of her mother. On the weekend after Lydia moves in, the family also adopts a big yellow dog. Lydia isn’t a dog person, having never lived with one, particularly one this large and untrained. Still, Lydia pitches in to help, something that she does a lot with a chirpy voice that doesn’t seem to belong to her. It helps her also cover up secrets like the growing hole in her wall, a tag that might help them find the yellow dog’s new owner, and even a secret of Aunt Brat’s about baby goats. 

Connor’s books are always surprising in the best way. She takes very interesting characters and throws them together here in a new family with a new dog and plenty to hide. The result is a book that untangles itself slowly, revealing new truths and interesting hiding places along the way. The setting of rural Connecticut plays a large role in the story, inviting readers to explore the hills and valleys filled with farms and fields. 

The characters, both human and dog, are exceptionally well drawn. No secondary character is left without a deeper story, and this is done without crowding the main story out. Still, it is Lydia’s story and she is far more than a tragic orphan who has lost her mother. Instead, she is resilient and hard working, willing to always pitch in to help. As she literally grapples with having a new dog in her life, she is also working on new human friends, fitting into a new family, and finding her way forward with new people to love.

Full of dogs, warmth and love, this is another great read from a talented author. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.

Review: Birdsong by Julie Flett

Birdsong by Julie Flett

Birdsong by Julie Flett (9781771644730)

In the spring, a girl moves with her mother from their seaside home to one in a field of snowdrops. They have a nearby neighbor who the girl gradually gets to know. When they first move, the girl doesn’t want to draw anymore. She does love to draw and her neighbor also loves to create things, pottery in her case. As the two start talking, the girl starts to think about creating things again. As autumn arrives, the neighbor shows her what she is working on, and the girl shares some Cree names for phases of the moon, inspired by the pottery. Winter is harder for the elderly neighbor, even with salmon soup shared between them. When she becomes bedridden, the girl uses her art to create a space ready for inspiration and healing.

Flettis, a Cree-Metis author, has won many awards for her work. Here she creates a story of the disruption of moving and the discovery of another artist who inspires new ideas. The inter-generational friendship is lovingly depicted, offering a web of support where each of them takes turns showing the other care when they need it most. The entire book has a gorgeous quiet to it that allows space for creativity to thrive.

The illustrations are simple and rich. The landscapes are filled with gauzy, haze that softens the hillsides, the sky and the moon. Against this softness, the characters stand out clear and bold.

A beautiful and inspiring picture book about art and friendship. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.

Review: Hum and Swish by Matt Myers

Hum and Swish by Matt Myers

Hum and Swish by Matt Myers (9780823442867)

Jamie spends her time at the edge of the quiet beach near the waves. She is hard at work making something, but she isn’t sure what quite yet. People walk past and ask her pesky questions, but Jamie just wants to be alone with the swish of the waves and her own humming as she works. Then someone else comes to the edge of the water. She has a lot of things along with her and sets up an easel to paint. She starts to work, and Jamie asks her what she is making but the painter isn’t sure yet. Jamie agrees. The two work side-by-side silently with only the hum and swish of their work making noise. Still, they are clearly friends. Finally, Jamie is done with her sandcastle, bridge and creatures made of rocks and objects. The painter is done too and they share their work with one another.

Myers captures the intensity of a young artist who just wants to be left alone to quietly work on their project. The importance of silence and space to think and be creative is emphasized here, along with the need to not explain during the creative process. The simple and limited text in the book is used very successfully to show Jamie’s brisk responses to those who ask her questions and also her connection to the ocean and her kindred spirit.

Myers, who has illustrated several picture books previously, shows great skill in his illustrations here. From the images of Jamie and the ocean together in their isolation to the lovely connection she forms with the painter. There is a strong sense of place, of art and of introversion on the page that is very welcome.

A lovely look at creating art and finding space to be quiet. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: My Art Book of Sleep by Shana Gozansky

My Art Book of Sleep by Shana Gozansky

My Art Book of Sleep by Shana Gozansky (9780714878652)

This is the second board book in a series that links fine art to a single concept. In this case, the book is focused on sleep. In the book, you will find 35 images of art works from a variety of time periods and cultures that depict sleeping in a number of different ways. The book explores naps and also getting ready for bed and bedtime. It also looks at dreams and what you might see in them. The book also shows sunsets and night skies.

Accompanying the art is a simple set of sentences that cleverly tie together the disparate pieces of art. It offers a loose connectivity to the images that makes the book able to be shared aloud. The use of the connecting words is a critical element here that makes more than an art collection and turns it into a bedtime story with amazing art. Each piece of art is also labeled with its title and artist. The book ends with more information on each piece of art.

An intelligent look at art for the youngest of children. Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (9780451479532)

This superb middle-grade novel introduces readers to a young artist who finds herself at the center of a mystery. Ollie’s parents are both artists. Her father and his partner Apollo restore art work and her mother creates sculptures. But then one night, her father leaves for France with his new French girlfriend and her mother won’t get out of bed. Ollie fends for herself, eating apples and peanuts, meeting Apollo for meals out, and protecting the secret of her mother’s depression. She spends time with her two best friends, Richard and Alex, throughout their Soho neighborhood. Ollie discovers that there is more to her father’s disappearance than she thought and is determined to find out what is truly going on.

Filled with compelling characters and a mystery worth sleuthing, this novel is a delight of a read. Tucker uses the setting of New York City as a vivid backdrop to the tale. Soho itself serves as almost another character in the book with its lofts for artists, empty buildings, and occasional illegal poster hanging. When Ollie and Alex head to an island getaway, that setting too is beautifully depicted as a foil to the city and is equally celebrated too. Her writing is deft and nicely keeps the pace brisk and the questions about Ollie’s parents fresh.

All of the young characters in the book are fully realized and each have a distinct personality that makes sense and carries through the title. Apollo, a giant of a man who serves as a rock for Ollie in this tumultuous time, is also a well depicted character. Ollie’s mother is an important character whose depression keeps the reader from knowing her better. The subject of parental mental illness is handled with frankness and the book concludes with a sense of hope.

A fresh mix of mystery, art and secrets, this book is full of vibrant colors and not just Greys. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking.

 

Review: Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth

Birds of a Feather Bowerbirds and Me by Susan Roth

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth (9780823442829)

Collage artist Roth takes a look at the amazing bowerbird and how her work and their building process compare with one another. Both she and the bowerbird are collectors of random items. They use those items to create compositions. For the bowerbird, that is a bower for their courtship process. They both like unusual objects that they use to create art, things that no one else might ever combine in that way. They both pay attention to color and both seek out praise for their work in the end.

I was really pleasantly surprised by the content and construct of this picture book. While I knew it would be about bowerbirds and humans, I didn’t expect it to be so directly related to the artistic side of both. Roth beautifully shows the fascinating correlations between her work and that of the bird. She demonstrates both in her collage illustrations and in the text of the book how similar they actually are. The text though is kept wonderfully simple, making this book about art very accessible even for young children. She completes the book with more facts about the birds and about her own work as well as a bibliography of sources.

Roth’s illustrations are fabulous. Bright and filled with objects of all kinds, they fill the page with vibrancy. Most of the pages show the bird and then Roth, each working in a similar way on their art. The result is a book about Roth’s way of making art that is also an example of the art itself. Clever stuff!

A very successful mix of nature, science and art. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.