Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Allison McGhee (InfoSoup) Jules and Sylvie are sisters, just one year apart. They live with their father in a house that backs onto a woods with a river. There is one part, the Slip, where the girls are … Continue reading Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Allison McGhee
Summerlost by Ally Condie (InfoSoup) Cedar’s family is much smaller than it once was. Her father and brother were killed in a car accident and now Cedar, her mother and her other brother are returning to the small town of Iron Creek for the summer … Continue reading Summerlost by Ally Condie
The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Christian Robinson (InfoSoup) This is a reillustrated edition of the classic picture book by Margaret Wise Brown. In the story, a group of children find a dead bird in the park. They check for a heartbeat … Continue reading The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown
Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Charlotte Voake (InfoSoup)
Published to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth, this picture book tells the true story of an event in Potter’s childhood. Beatrix loved animals from a very young age. In fact, she and her brother had quite a collection of animals over the years from a family of snails to rabbits trained to walk on a leash. Beatrix also loved to draw and paint her animals. One day, she wanted to paint a guinea pig so she borrowed one from a neighbor. The guinea was a magnificent specimen named Queen Elizabeth. Beatrix promised to return Queen Elizabeth the next morning “unharmed.” Unfortunately though, she would not be able to keep that promise!
Hopkinson adopts a wonderfully wry tone throughout this picture book where readers know that something horrible is going to befall Queen Elizabeth. There is lovely foreshadowing from the title but also from the demise of other creatures in Beatrix’s care, including the family of snails who simply dried out and lizards eaten by birds. The pacing here is delicately balanced, allowing plenty of time for the dread to creep in as Beatrix takes the guinea pig home.
Voake’s illustrations are done in pen and watercolor, showing the world of Victorian England as well as the myriad pets owned by the Potter family. Voake includes parts of Potter’s own diaries in the illustrations, showing her detailed look at her pets and also illuminating how some of them died.
This picture book offers a humorous look at young Beatrix Potter who would become known for her images of animals living through what many children do when they care for others pets or even their own. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.
A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond
The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is transformed into a tale of modern English teens in this masterful novel. Claire and Ella are the closest of friends, in fact Claire is in love with Ella. The two spend all of their time together and with their larger group of friends. When Ella is forbidden to go on the trip with all of the friends to the beaches of Northumberland, Claire goes without her. Throughout though, Claire is longing for Ella. Then she meets Orpheus, a strange and handsome musician whose music is so powerful that all of nature seems to stop when he plays. She calls Ella and holds the phone out so that Ella can hear the music too. That one impulsive moment sets in motion a story of profound love, deep loss, death and beyond.
Almond’s own writing is like the music of Orpheus. It creates an intoxicating blend of timeless Greek myth and wild modern teens. The girls become legends, their longing the desire of ages, their love the love to last all time. Orpheus is directly from myth, a wanderer who is captured in a love that seems to have been in existence for all time. There is such beauty here, not only in the myth itself but in the characters too. This book speaks to the power in each of us to live a story, a legend, a myth and to love in that way too.
Almond’s language is exquisite. His writing flows around the reader, inviting them into the magic that is happening on the page. He focuses on small things, showing how the tiny things in life are the most profound from falling rain to trees in the wind to sand drifting by. It is Orpheus’ music that brings these things to life for his listeners. And the reader falls in love with him alongside Ella, never having heard the music itself but having felt its impact to their bones.
Beautiful, mystic, and mythical, this book is a love song for young people, capturing the tumultuous feeling of tumbling into love and the tenuous nature of life and death. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
Suzy knows that things happen for a reason. She loves nature and all of the facts about it and the way that science makes sense. But when her best friend drowns, Suzy just can’t make sense of it. They had fought before Franny left on vacation and now there is no way for Suzy to fix that. Suzy retreats into silence, refusing to speak to her parents or to anyone at school. As Suzy searches for a reason, she discovers that Franny might have been stung by a jellyfish. It is up to Suzy to prove that that is what happened and to let everyone see that there was a cause for Franny’s death. Filled with natural wonder and tangible grief, this book is an elegant and powerful look at how one child copes with loss.
Benjamin writes about nature with such awe, sharing facts about animals as if they were precious jewels. The facts about jellyfish alone are profound and concerning, allowing readers to understand Suzy’s fascination with them. Yet though these facts are in the book, it is Suzy’s inability to cope with reality that shines. Her unwillingness to accept that death can be an accident without any reason at all will speak to all readers.
Suzy is a great character. Filled with a powerful and all-encompassing grief, she becomes silent and yet somehow does not withdraw from life. Instead her silence allows her time to be more creative, more thoughtful about the loss she has experienced even while she is in denial about what has happened. Benjamin also beautifully tackles the grieving process, mingling it with the difficulties of middle school. Filled with flashbacks about the changing friendship of Franny and Suzy, this book addresses the way that even best friends grow apart.
Beautiful and luminous, this book is a powerful look at grief, loss and the way that we process our lives. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Giselle and Isabelle are identical teen twins on their way to Izzie’s concert at school when their car is crashed into and their lives changed forever. Giz wakes up in a hospital room, unable to speak or move. She can hear though and is in a semi-conscious state. That’s how she realizes that everyone thinks that she is Isabelle. People don’t mention her at all, avoiding the subject, but Giz is sure that she would know if Isabelle had died. Her parents eventually come to see her, both physically battered by the accident and with bruises, broken bones and casts. Trapped and unable to communicate, Giselle thinks about her past with her family, their strong ties to their Haitian heritage and the bond that she and her sister have always had.
Danticat is an award-winning author of several adult books. This is her debut YA title. Her writing is superb. Told in Giz’s voice, the prose lilts and dances like poetry. It weaves around the reader, creating moments of clarity and then as Giz reminisces about her family and sister lifting into pure emotion. Nothing is told, all is shown and there is a radiance to the entire novel that is sublime.
Giz is a strong heroine. Haitian-American, she is solidly connected to her heritage through her grandparents who still live in Haiti. It’s a joy to see a depiction of a family of color who are complex and far from stereotypical. Giz is a large part of this. Her voice is clearly her own, her upbringing affects everything around her, and being a person of color is at the core of this novel yet not at center stage. It is done with a delicate yet firm hand.
One of the most beautifully written teen novels of the year, this look at sisterhood, death, grief and family is hauntingly lovely. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.