The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez (9780425290408, Amazon)
Malú doesn’t want to move with her mother to Chicago, even if it is only for a couple of years and not permanently. She knows her mother wants her to be much more of a proper Mexican young lady just like her. But Malú is much more into punk rock and creating zines. When they get to Chicago, Malú finds herself in a very diverse middle school where she manages to violate the dress code on the very first day. As she struggles with the rules of the new school, Malú starts a punk rock band of other kids who don’t fit in. They enter the school talent contest but don’t get any further than the audition and then are rejected for the performance. Now Malú has to channel her own punk attitude to stand up and be heard.
This is such a winning and cleverly built novel that one can’t really believe it’s a debut book. Pérez captures the push and pull of middle school and being a person with unique interests struggling to find friends. Pérez also weaves in the main character’s cultural heritage throughout the book, making it a vital part of the story and playing it against the rebellion of punk rock. That play of tradition and modern attitudes is a strength of the book, allowing readers to learn about Mexican culture and also about rock and roll.
Malú is a great protagonist, filled with lots of passion and energy. She has a natural leadership about her even as she is picked on by another girl at school. Still, Malú is not perfect and it’s her weak moments when she despairs or lashes out where she feels most real. Her zines are cleverly placed in the book, thanks to the skills of the author who also publishes zines.
A fresh and fun new read that blends Mexican Americans with punk rock in a winning formula. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Melba had always loved the sounds of music: blues, jazz and gospel. Even when she slept notes and rhythms were in her dreams. When she signed up for music class at school, Melba picked out a long horn that was almost as big as she was. Melba practiced and practiced, teaching herself to play. Soon she was on the radio at age 8, playing a solo. When Melba was in sixth grade, she moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles where she became a star player in the high school band. When she was 17, she was invited to go on tour with a jazz band. She played with some of the greats, but she was one of the only women on tour and racism in the South was harrowing. Melba decided to quit, but her fans would not let her. All of the top jazz acts in the 1950s wanted her to play with them. So Melba came back, went on more tours, and her music conquered the world.
This picture book biography of Melba Doretta Liston shows how music virtuosos are born. Her connection with music from such a young age, her determination to learn to play her selected instrument, and her immense talent make for a story that is even better than fiction. Melba faced many obstacles on the way to her career but overcame them all. She survived the Great Depression, found her musical voice early and then professionally. She also had the challenges of sexism and racism to overcome on her way to greatness. This is all clearly shown on the page and really tells the story of a woman made of music and steel (or brass).
Morrison’s art beautifully captures the life of Liston on the page. His paintings are done in rich colors, filled with angles of elbows, horns and music, they leap on the page. They evoke the time period and the sense of music and jazz.
Put on some Dizzy Gillespie with Melba Liston playing in the band and share this triumphant picture book with music and band classes. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Lee & Low Books and Edelweiss.
The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos
Trying to fill out a college application, Harry decides to ignore the word limit and tell his full story to that point. When he was 8 years old, kids in his neighborhood tied him to a tree during a thunderstorm. The tree was struck by lightning and set ablaze with Harry tied directly to it. Harry has severe scars both physically and emotionally from that day. Harry had no friends until Johnny came into his life, a charismatic and confident boy who swept down and saved Harry from obscurity and loneliness. Together the two of them started a band, one that really sucked at first, but then amazingly got better and better. Called The Scar Boys, the band transported Harry from his dull life into a different type of storm, one of music and pure joy. But bands often fall apart and so do high school friendships on the brink of college. As the future looms closer, Harry has to figure out what to give up on and what is worth fighting to keep.
Vlahos’ debut teen novel is a screamingly funny wild ride. The author was in a band himself when he was younger and the moments onstage read honest, zany and completely true. The writing throughout is smart and clever, making points with arrow-sharp zingers that are surprising and make for a great read. Here is one from page 97:
Truth is, if we’d had a shred of sense, we’d have known we were getting in way over our heads. But you can’t buy shreds of sense, and even if you could, we were pretty much out of money.
Harry is a great protagonist. He is witty and smart himself, since the book is written in first person from his point of view. Vlahos manages to never lose track of Harry’s scars but also manages to make his scars much deeper than his skin and therefore the book about much more than that as well. It is a book that explores friendships, power and dreams.
An amazing debut novel, it has a winning mix of punk rock, guitars and real life. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley from Edelweiss and Egmont.
The Beatles Were Fab (And They Were Funny) by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Stacy Innerst
This is a picture book biography of The Beatles that captures their humor and the way that they used it in their music and lifestyle. The book begins with the formation of the band and the fun they had naming themselves. The book talks about their use of silliness and jokes to keep their spirits up as they struggled to make it, looking for a record deal. When success came, it came quickly and with success came fame and fans. Then there was the Beatlesmania craze that swept the United States, nothing like it had been seen before or since. Krull includes some small details like American fans throwing jellybeans on stage because the band said they liked jellybabies, but jellybabies are soft where jellybeans are certainly not. She then has a section on each Beatle and some of the interesting responses they gave during interviews. This is a merry and fast-moving look at one of the greatest bands of all time.
Krull injects her nonfiction work with humor and zest. She tells specific stories that offer insight into the Beatles nature. It is a treat to hear their own words but it is also wonderful to read about moments in history that are revealing about their character. Krull and Brewer skillfully end the book before drug use became an issue for the band. Instead they focus on the early Beatles and their humor rather than the complexity of the later Beatles music and attitudes.
Innerst’s illustrations are just as humorous and playful as the stories that Krull and Brewer tell. The characters have a feel of bobble-heads and a strong modern vibe. He
she uses bright colors that match the energy of the text. I have to say, I am particularly partial to Ringo’s nose in the illustrations.
This strong picture book biography is not made for research, but instead fans of the Beatles can share part of their story with children and everyone is sure to end up humming some of the songs. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Amplified by Tara Kelly
The author of Harmonic Feedback returns with another book that centers around music. Jasmine has decided that she doesn’t want to attend Stanford in the fall, so that she can follow her dream of becoming a musician. She finds herself homeless when her father kicks her out for her decision. Jasmine’s car breaks down in Santa Cruz. She finds a listing for a place that she can almost afford but the kicker is that she needs to audition for a band and get picked as their guitarist in order to get the room. All she has to do is convince three jaded, ultra-cool guys and one amazing girl that she can do it. The problem is that she’s never played for anyone except her best friend. Can Jasmine fool them all and for how long?
This book sings. The character of Jasmine is complex, haunted, frigid, closed off, wide open, and entirely human. The other band members are equally fascinating, often veering away from what you would expect from them, making them all the more intriguing. Though it would have been easy to make Jasmine’s father a cardboard stereotype, Kelly didn’t. One of the conversations with her father shows that both Jasmine and her father are trying yet unable to connect.
Music is difficult to write about in novels, but Kelly manages to invite readers into a band, allow them to experience the hard work, the drive, the crap and the intensity of the relationships that music creates. The music in this book is not subtle, this is not another book about a quiet pianist or violinist. Instead this book thrashes and rocks.
Impossible to put down, readers will thrum to the rhythm of disaster, recovery, lies and truth. It is a compelling and remarkable combination. Appropriate for ages 15-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.
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Little Pig Joins the Band by David Hyde Costello
His family all call Jacob, Little Pig, and he is the smallest in his family. So when his siblings get out his Grandpa’s old marching-band instruments, Little Pig has trouble finding one that fits him. He’s far too small for the drums, too little for the trumpet and trombone, and don’t even ask about the tuba! All he can do is watch as his older brothers and sisters march around the room. But when they come to a crashing stop, Little Pig knows just how he can join the band after all.
This simple story speaks to everyone finding their own niche and value in a family. Here, Little Pig finds the special place for himself rather than the older children or adults helping him. It makes for a very powerful message for young children, that not only do they have value but they can discover it on their own.
Costello writes with simplicity and a solid feel. His story has small, clever asides that are filled with puns as well. His art is friendly and cheerful. Little Pig has an oversized snout, small eyes and expressive ears. Even the older children are treated as individuals in the art, with one decked out in hat and a boa. I can see more stories about the children in this family.
A strong story about finding your place and becoming a leader, this book has a cheery feel that is very appealing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
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Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
Winner of the 2011 Schneider Family Teen Book Award
High-school senior, Piper has been invisible in her school for years. Until one day, she gets herself a lot of attention for cheering for a band. Not that unusual? Well it is for Piper, because she’s deaf. And now her mouth has gotten her involved with the band as its manager. Now the girl who can’t hear the music has to figure out how to get the band ironically named Dumb paying gigs. And she has to do it in a month. Piper is tired of being invisible to her classmates and her family, so being a band manager comes at exactly the right time for her. It will take her getting to know the members of the band, understanding a lot more about herself, and learning to feel the music before she can discover her inner rock and roll.
John has written a book with protagonist who has a disability but does not let it dictate her life. Piper is a great character who is filled with self-doubt but does not allow it to stop her from moving ahead. She is at times jealous, manipulative, pushy and self centered, and it all makes her that much more human and relatable. Throughout the book she is one amazing, powerful female character. Nicely, the book also has other great girl characters of different types.
This book just feels real. John uses music and humor in the book to create a beat that moves the story forward. Small touches make sure readers know they are in Seattle. Piper’s entire family is vividly dysfunctional but equally believable and filled with love for one another, though they have problems showing it. The growth of the characters, including Piper’s parents, has a natural feeling.
Highly recommended, this is a great teen book that is certainly not dumb. It just rocks. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Boom Bah! by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Nina Rycroft
Break out the noise makers, drums, and kazoos and start your own band after you share this one.
It all starts with a mouse tinging a spoon against a teacup. Then the cat gets involved by banging a spoon on a can. Pig grabs two pot lids to bash together as cymbals. And soon a line of animals are marching and dancing to the beat. What could that be coming over the hill? A real marching band with real drums, a tuba, trombones and more. Everyone starts to play music together with a happy “Hey ho!” A jolly book filled with rhythm, music and merriment, this is a winner of a book for toddlers.
Cummings text is kept to a minimum, just carrying the noises and the beat along with it. The words are simple and great fun to read aloud because they are so jaunty. Rycroft’s art is silly and warm toned. I love that she included diving insects on most of the pages. If you look closely you can even see beetles in the grass who also get caught up in the music. Her attention to the small but delightful details is clever and adds to the fun.
Highly recommended when you want a story time about music and you don’t mind the kids getting loud with their own marching band. Appropriate for very small children through preschool, this book will work for ages 1-4.
Reviewed from copy received from publisher.