Maxi’s Secrets by Lynn Plourde

Maxis Secrets by Lynn Plourde

Maxi’s Secrets by Lynn Plourde

Timminy is not looking forward to starting a new school, particularly one where his father is Assistant Principal. Now he won’t be able to disguise from his parents how bullied he has been at school due to his small size. But his parents try to make the move more palatable by giving him a puppy, Maxi, who is a huge white furry ball of energy and love. Eventually, they discover that Maxi is deaf and have to figure out how to keep her safe in their woodsy new home. Meanwhile Timminy is busy worrying about school, dodging bullies who put him in lockers. When he meets his neighbor, Abby, she doesn’t put up with his whining about his size. After all, she doesn’t let her blindness slow her down at all. It is up to Timminy to realize that his size doesn’t define him any more than Abby’s or Maxi’s disabilities do. It’s time for them all to stand tall.

Plourde has created one of those dog books. You know, the ones where the dog dies. But at least she admits it right up front, warning readers that Maxi is one to be adored and loved but that she will be gone before the story is done. The book happily is about much more than that. It is about bullying and the ability to keep strong in the face of being different and unique. It is also about everyone being more than they seem on the surface, even those who may appear to be bullies at first.

The writing here is heartfelt and fast. Timminy is a great protagonist and though he can whine at times, it is always justified. The fact that he learns a lot from those around him is to his credit. He is also someone who offers second chances to others and seeks them himself when he does something wrong. This is a book about friendships and allowing people into your lives even if they are different in ways other than hearing and sight and size.

A tearjerker of a book, this is one with a huge heart to go along with the huge white dog. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Nancy Paulsen Books.

 

 

Review: There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake

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There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake

Shelby is about to be hit by a car, in four hours.  She lives an isolated life with her mother, one where she is homeschooled and doesn’t really know anyone else outside of the online forums she visits without her mother knowing.  Every Friday they have a day out, one with ice cream for dinner, batting in the batting cage, and a visit to the library.  There’s a cute boy there that Shelby has seen, another thing that her mother doesn’t know about.  But the car is coming, and Shelby’s quiet life is about to change.  After she is hit by the car, a coyote appears to her, warning her that she will be told two lies and then she will know the truth.  Immediately after she is released from the hospital, her mother takes her away in a car, fleeing from dangers that only her mother understands.  As Shelby begins to see her mother in a new light, she also starts leaving real life and spending time with Coyote in The Dreaming, a place where she is responsible for saving the world.  And soon she will have to deal with the truth and that may be a lot harder than dealing with the lies along the way.

Lake has written a book that is a real page turner.  Readers will know immediately upon meeting Shelby that something is wrong with her living situation, though it is vague enough to be almost anything.  I don’t want to ruin at all that exploration of the lies and truth, because it is a large reason the book is so compelling to read.   Lake has also constructed the book so it’s a count down.  First readers know that the car accident is coming.  Then readers will see that the chapter numbers are counting down, one after another towards another impact, one that readers know is coming but can’t avoid or quite understand yet. 

One of the revelations that comes early in the book is Shelby’s deafness.  Written in the first chapters without any acknowledgement, readers will be stunned by the news that Shelby is 90% deaf.  Then they piece together the clues of it, the many gestures used as she communicates with her mother, the subtitles, the way her mother tells her to be careful because she is special.  I appreciated this treatment so much because Shelby is a person first and then her disability is revealed.  Exactly the way it should be. 

Strongly written, compellingly structured, with one strong and very human heroine, this book of family, lies and truths is a riveting read.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Bloomsbury and Edelweiss.

Review: The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner

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The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner, illustrated by Kristina Swarner

Released October 28, 2014.

Ruthie’s family was known for their wool and the mittens they created from it.  They sheared their own sheep, prepared their own wool, spun their own yarn.  At night, Ruthie and her mother knitted together, with Ruthie in particular making mittens.  On market days, they traveled to town to sell their fabric and knitting.  One day, they found a woman on the road with her baby where their wagon had broken down.  The woman wrote on a slate to communicate, because she was deaf.  She used sign language with her little son.  Ruthie’s family offered her a place to stay for the night and Ruthie noticed a deep blue piece of yarn around the woman’s wrist.  That night, she saw how the women used the yarn to tie herself gently to her baby so that she would know if he needed anything in the night.  Ruthie had a great idea and quickly went to work creating a mitten on a string with one sized for an adult and the other for a baby.  In return for her kindness, the woman gave Ruthie her string of yarn of the deepest blue and then also showed Ruthie what plant to use to create the blue dye. 

As Rosner says in her author’s note, this book is inspired by her great-great-aunt Bayla who was deaf and used the trick of tying a string to her baby’s wrist from her own.  She also offers a knitting glossary at the end along with some knitting-related sign language signs.  I appreciate that while this book is about a woman who is deaf, she is also a very capable person.  The family may offer her help, but it is more about her circumstances than about her deafness.  It is a pleasure to have a book about a disability address it in such a positive way.

Swarner’s art has the softness of yarn.  Done in the same rich, deep colors that Ruthie knits her mittens out of, the entire world is soft and warm.  There are small touches throughout that add details of homeliness and kindness.  From the different sizes of mittens around the home to the flowers all over the grass. 

This is a picture book about kindness and caring for one another with a brilliant blue thread of love woven throughout.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell

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El Deafo by Cece Bell

Author/illustrator Cece Bell has created a graphic novel memoir of her loss of hearing as a child.  At age four, Cece contracts meningitis and the disease takes away her ability to hear.  At first Cece attends school with other children who have hearing loss and wear hearing aids, but then she is sent to first grade with a new super-powered hearing aid, the Phonic Ear.  Her new teacher has to wear a microphone, one that she sometimes forgets to take off (even when she uses the bathroom) which leads to some rather interesting sounds!  But along with these superpowers come some ethical questions and some technical problems.  As Cece copes with her hearing loss, she is also living the normal life of a child, attending school, making new friends, all with a big hearing aid on her chest.

Bell writes with a great honesty here, revealing helpful hints about what deaf people need to help them read lips and understand people better, things that other people can help with.  There is plenty of humor throughout the novel, making it very appealing.  Also adding to the appeal is Bell’s transformation from human to bunny in the illustrations, sending herself as an imaginary superhero flying upwards with her long ears.

While this is a book about a disability, it is much more a book about Bell and how her creativity helped her through times that required a real strength of character.  Her sense of humor also helped immensely, and it is her positive take about her hearing loss that makes this such an incredible read.

A top graphic novel for children and libraries, this is a must-read and a must-have.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

Review: Helen’s Big World by Doreen Rappaport

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Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Tavares

This picture book biography of Helen Keller celebrates both the accomplishments of Helen Keller in overcoming her world of darkness and silence and those of her teacher Annie Sullivan.  The book begins with Helen as a small baby, before she had an unknown illness at 19 months that took her sight and hearing away.  It then moves through her attempts to continue to communicate, the frustration that caused her tantrums, and the slow progression of learning that led to the seminal moment at the water pump that connected the letters in her hand to the outside world.  Readers will see how Helen learned to write, read in Braille, and put her hands on people’s faces to feel their lips move so she could understand their speech.  The book continues to show how Helen Keller spoke up for social injustices that she felt were wrong.  This is a testament to what a brilliant mind and a great teacher can create.

Rappaport has somehow condensed the complicated story of Keller’s life into a very readable picture book that has a brisk pace and invites readers to find out more about this remarkable woman.  Throughout the book, Keller’s own words are used to illustrate points in the story.  Shown in their own font that is colorful and set apart from the rest of the text in size too, her words shine.

Tavares’ illustrations reveal the marvel of Helen Keller’s learning and education.  There is a light to the images once the learning begins that contrasts with the darkness of her earlier life.  Throughout Keller is shown experiencing the senses she does have, from the scent of a rose to the feel of the breeze on her face. 

An inspirational figure, Helen Keller continues to be a beacon for overcoming obstacles and using one’s mind.  This book is a beautiful tribute to her.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

Book Review: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

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Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Released September 13, 2011.

This second book, following his award-winning The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is just as magnificent and haunting.  Here there are two stories, set 50 years apart.  In 1977, Ben has grown up along the shores of Gunflint Lake, Minnesota.  His dreams are filled with wolves chasing him, but he doesn’t know why.  His mother recently died and when he goes back to their home, a freak accident causes him to lose his hearing.  But just before the accident, he uncovers what may be a clue to his father’s identity.  The picture section of the book is the story of Rose in 1927.  She is deaf and refuses to be cooped up in her house and protected.  She has built a city of paper around her room and manages to sneak away to New York City.  As both children are drawn to New York, their stories come closer together and eventually become one.

Selznick has once again created a story that only he could tell.  His illustrations, done in line drawings, read cinematically, visually telling part of the story.  Here they perfectly capture deafness, offering readers a way of “reading” a book in pure silence without words.  It is a beautiful experience that is tangible and breathtaking.

Selznick takes readers on a journey here, because of the intertwining nature of the book, they must place themselves in his hands and simply trust.  Their trust will be rewarded as the stories come together with a click as the pieces meet.

The story also brings together divergent subjects into a whole.  The combination of the history of museums, silent film changing to sound, Deaf culture, and families would seem to be too many themes for any book to contain.  In Selznick’s hands, they are all ingredients in a satisfying recipe, each one adding flavor and depth that is uniquely theirs but none of them overwhelming the others.  It is a dance of balance that Selznick achieves effortlessly.

Highly recommended, this is a book that all fans of Hugo Cabret will want to get their hands on.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

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Laurie: A Picture Book About Hearing Loss

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Laurie by Elfi Nijssen & Eline van Lindenhuizen

Originally published in Belgium and Holland, this tremendously sweet book takes a straight-forward approach to the story of Laurie, a girl with hearing loss.  Laurie has trouble hearing other children, so she usually plays alone.  The others tease her about being deaf and refuse to play with a girl who can’t understand them.  Laurie’s dog doesn’t mind that she’s different from the others.  Finally one day, Laurie and her mother go to the ear doctor.  He discovers she needs hearing aids, or “hearing computers” as Laurie calls them.  Now Laurie can hear cars coming, plays happily with others, and pays better attention in class.  Sometimes though, she still likes the quiet and turns her hearing aids off just to return to the silence. 

Nijssen’s writes as an author who has experienced hearing loss herself.  This makes the emotions and struggle of Laurie very real.  The book doesn’t shy away from conflicted feelings and one of the nicest parts is when Laurie decides to turn her hearing aids off or down once in a while.  It makes for a lovely moment that shows that being different was not the problem, being misunderstood was.

Lindenhuizen’s art is simple and friendly, depicting Laurie separated from the other children at first and later connected with others.  She uses space on the pages very successfully, emphasizing the spirit of the text visually.

A great pick for units on differences and diversity, this book is friendly and straight forward.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Five Flavors of Dumb: It Rocks

5 Flavors of Dumb

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.