Ty’s Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons

Ty's Travels All Aboard by Kelly Starling Lyons

Ty’s Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Nina Mata (9780062951120)

Ty loves adventures and most of all he wishes his family would play with him. But his father is busy making dinner, his mother is folding the laundry, and his big brother is doing his homework. Ty spots an empty box and knows just what to do with it. Soon he has built a train engine and begins a journey down the tracks. At the first stop, someone is waiting! It’s Daddy, who climbs aboard. At the next stop, it’s Momma who comes aboard in time to see the city go by. The next stop has his big brother join in. The last stop comes eventually and they are back home just in time for dinner.

There is real challenge in writing a good easy reader and Lyons meets that challenge head on here. With her story of a supportive and playful family, she has a story that can be told simply. It has plenty of action and motion to keep the story moving forward in a way that is paced perfectly for new readers.

The illustrations by Mata are friendly and use the white space on the page nicely. They support the text on the page, offering new readers just the right amount of support visually. She also shows the imaginary journey clearly using crayon and simpler graphics that are done in a childlike style.

This series is a great pick for new readers. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperCollins. 

 

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon (9780374307417)

This poetic picture book takes a deep look at emotions that hide inside. The emotions wait there, until the boy has the strength to look. Inside, he finds a mix of emotions, positive and negative. There is joy and happiness that “shines delight on everything I see.” There is sorrow like a watery grave for those who have been killed. There is fear that wakes him up at night. There is anger and fury. There is a hunger to be free. There is a pride in being a Black American. There is also peace, compassion, hope and love to carry him forward in making a difference.

Elliott’s poetry is marvelous, using imagery that children will understand to express all of these complex emotions, laying them clear and bare. The complicated mix of negative and positive allows readers to see their own emotions not as contradictory but as valid and important in the world that we live in. The clear use of Black Lives Matter throughout the book and the focus on race makes this an ideal read for our time.

Denmon’s illustrations are vibrant and powerful. Focused on the emotions, they convey those particularly well with body language and movement. They also capture critical moments in our modern times, including protests, police officers, murders. At the same time, they also show the beauty of an urban neighborhood filled with murals, people and homes.

Strong poetry that calls for social justice while exploring valid emotions. Appropriate for ages 5-7/

Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (9780062996480)

Amal is an artist and a poet. He’s also a Black teen. So when he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time and makes a poor decision, his life is turned upside down. With a white boy left in a coma from the fight, Amal is wrongly incarcerated, accused of beating the other teen almost to death. Sent to prison, Amal must figure out how to survive incarceration without his anger at his situation changing him and his future forever. Amal must find a way to stay in touch with his inner artist, to write the words that come to him, to insist upon being seen as more than a convict. He must face the racism of the system, of his community, and of the people around him in prison. It’s a system set against him and it takes real courage and humanity to stay alive and whole as it grinds you down.

Told in verse, this is a powerful book that insists that readers see how the system actually works, its inherent racism, and the way that Black youths, particularly boys, are seen by white communities and white teachers. It is unflinching in showing the grueling nature of prison, the way that teens are treated in detention, the beatings and the inevitable protection in finding a group to belong to. Yet through it all there is hope, solely because of who Amal is and the fact that he is innocent but needs help proving it.

The book reads with such honesty about what life is like for an innocent person incarcerated that it is clear that Salaam offered so much of his own experience to this verse novel. As one of the Exonerated Five, he lived through what Amal does in the story, what so many Black men and boys in our communities do.

This powerful verse novel demands that we see the reality of what we are doing to generations of Black men and boys. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez (9781536207040)

Evelyn and Daniela are best friends. Evelyn tries to act like today is just like any other day, but it’s not. Daniela goes across the street to find a big truck getting filled with boxes and their furniture. The two climb the stairs two at a time, the way they always do. They go past Evelyn’s neighbors who they know so well, into the apartment which is a twin of where Daniela lives across the street. The furniture is all packed and just a few boxes are left, so the girls play in an empty box until it is time for Evelyn to go. In the empty apartment they spin together, then discover stickers to share. A heart pressed to a cheek to seal the promise of a future visit together. Then it is time to go, knowing they will always be best friends.

Medina proves here that she can write just as beautifully for preschoolers and elementary age as she does for older readers. Focusing on the long goodbye, this picture book shows how farewells can be done with smiles and promises. Medina invites us into their shared imaginative play, the joy of big empty boxes, the pleasure of hiding from adults together, and finally the sadness of goodbyes. The twinning of the two girls with their similar apartments and attitudes works so well here, showing their connection in a physical way.

Sanchez’s art is glorious. Full of the deepest of colors, saturated reds and oranges, cool blues and greens. They are paired with textures of wallpaper, cardboard corrugations, red bricks, and floorboards. This is an entire world of apartments and friendship.

A great picture book with an empowering final page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist (9780593121368)

Adapted from the short story that was published in Flying Lessons & Other Stories, this novel tells the story of Isaiah Dunn. Isaiah lost his father almost a year ago and now lives in a motel with his mother and sister. His mother tries to hide her drinking from them, but Isaiah knows what the bottles mean even if she removes the labels. Isaiah is lucky to have his best friend, Sneaky, someone who has a candy-selling hustle at school. It may mean heading into a dangerous part of town, but he’s intent on earning money. Isaiah joins him, hoping to get enough money to get his family out of the motel. But Isaiah is tired too, tired of being hassled by classmates like Angel, who makes fun of him, tired of the teachers cracking down on him, tired of being hungry. Luckily, he also has his father’s journals, which keep him focused, inspire him to write, and lead him to find positive ways to support his family.

In her first novel, Baptist gives us an incredible young hero. Isaiah is a powerful mix of family-focus, creativity and anger. Inspired by his father, he tries to keep focused on the good, on doing the right thing and on supporting his family. But sometimes it is too much for a ten-year-old boy to be the adult. Sometimes you need help. The book is also filled with great adult role models for Isaiah, from teachers to neighbors to employers. He may not see them at first, but they are there, ready to support him and his family.

Baptist’s writing is child-centered and clarion clear. She demands that readers see Isaiah as more than a statistic, as a full human being, worthy of attention and help. In a family that has sustained a powerful loss, she depicts grief with real skill, allowing it to destroy but also to be the reason to rise again.

Powerful, deep and full of creative voice, this novel will make Isaiah everyone’s hero. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers. 

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée (9780062836717)

Jenae goes through life being invisible. It’s her own superpower, just like her favorite show, Astrid Dane. At school she is entirely ignored, and she prefers it that way. Her family is different, though with her mother always rushing, her brother’s injury and her grandfather’s health problems, Jenae can end up invisible there too. So it’s very strange when the new boy at school notices Jenae immediately. Aubrey is also different from the other kids. He too loves Astrid Dane. But Jenae isn’t looking for a friend at all. She keeps pushing Aubrey away, but Aubrey just keeps coming back. Soon Jenae realizes that she has found a friend. It’s too bad that circumstances are creating a time when she will have to ruin their friendship to avoid having to do the thing she fears most, giving a speech in front of a crowd.

There is so much to love in this book. The warm family that Jenae comes from gives the book a wonderful heartbeat, including a brother who won’t really talk to her after his accident and his return home from college. Her grandfather is full of advice, pushing Jenae to face her fears head on. Jenae blames herself for much of what happens in her family, including her brother’s accident. She deeply believes that she can think strong thoughts and make things happen.

Still, that’s not true when it comes to Aubrey, a new friend who brings lots of mixed feelings for Jenae. Jenae with her unique view of the world, her ability to be alone and not lonely, and her independence is also full of fears at times. She’s marvelously complex, geeky and individual. Aubrey is much the same, yet where Jenae is quiet, Aubrey always has something to say.

Full of fascinating characters, this book is about finding your voice, standing up and insisting on being heard. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (9780062990297)

This award-winning teen verse novel deals with gender, identity and fabulous drag performances. Michael’s father is entirely absent in his life, leaving the room when they are in the same house together. Michael does have a connection with his father’s Jamaican family, receiving gifts from them and time spent together. He lives with his Greek-Cypriot mother in London; she accepts Michael entirely, from the time he was a small boy wanting to play with Barbies to college as a gay man. Along the way, Michael must deal with racism, of not being black enough and assumptions being made about him by society. He doesn’t know any other gay black people, forging a path on his own that leads him to university and a club that does drag where he finds his voice and a stage persona too.

Atta is a poet and this is his debut YA novel which has already won the Stonewall Book Award. Just starting reading, it is clear that the poems are done by a master storyteller. They allow readers to deeply understand the struggles of Michael from his family life to friendships that come and go to coming out and then performing. There is a valuable evolution on the page where Michael comes out and yet doesn’t quite become himself fully for several years, until he finds a place to belong.

Atta’s writing is beautiful. He mixes his own poetry with that of Michael the character, moving gracefully between the two. Somehow they are distinct from one another, the voices similar and still separate. The use of poetry to tell such a personal and deeply-felt story makes this really work, as poetry and verse are a fast way to allow readers to see the heart and soul of a character.

Brave, beautiful and deep, this teen novel is masterful. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.