Review: Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes

Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes

Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (9780062852571)

Amelia is stuck at home during spring break while her best friend is off in France, probably forgetting all about Amelia. Amelia spends her time with Mrs. O’Brien, the neighbor who has helped care for her for most of her life. She also goes to the local art studio in her Madison, Wisconsin neighborhood and works on her pottery. When she is there one day, she meets Casey, a boy who is trying to rescue his parents’ marriage without much success. As Amelia and Casey start to become friends with a shared sense of humor and love of art, they notice a woman hanging around the area who looks a lot like Amelia, but Amelia’s mother died ten years ago. Is she a ghost? Has Amelia’s entire life been a lie? The two set out to discover the truth.

Henkes’ excels at both novels for children and picture books. His novels are like small gems. His writing is focused and lovely, exploring the intense emotions of childhood without mocking them at all. Instead, he endows them with a deep understanding and empathy, demonstrating how small untruths can turn larger in unexpected ways. Henkes looks closely at young artists in this book, exploring how art can convey emotions, serve as a release, and connect people to one another.

Amelia is a detailed character, a girl who is lonely in a very deep way. With a dead mother and a distant father, she is close to her babysitter, but missing her friends too. Casey is feeling a sorrow and grief for his parents’ dissolving marriage. Both children have a powerlessness to them as well that turns into action as they work together to solve who the unknown woman actually is. A warning, this is not a mystery story but instead a more quiet character study.

Henkes once again stuns with his deep connection to his characters and his skill as a writer. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.

Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban

Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban

Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban, illustrated by Katie Kath (InfoSoup)

Max’s father has an apartment of his own now where Max spends weekends. On his first visit to the apartment, Max is amazed at how white and clean everything is. Everything except his bedroom which is filled with football things, even though Max doesn’t particularly care about football any more. He is much more into being a spy. So Max and his father spend their weekend getting to know his new neighborhood by dressing as spies, taking covert photographs, eating pancakes, and following a mysterious man. Following visits to his father’s apartment involve meeting the neighbors, walking dogs, doing some homework, having a friend over and buying a couch. As Max settles into his new weekend routines with his dad, he learns a lot about what makes a place a home.

Urban writes with a gentleness about this new circumstance in Max’s life. Max is refreshingly unburdened by guilt in his parent’s divorce. The focus instead is on the new place to live, figuring out the different relationship, and realizing that a person can happily have two homes. Throughout the book, real love and devotion is shown by both Max and his father. There is a beautiful flexibility from both of them in each story and also a willingness to listen and learn from one another. Each also takes care of the other emotionally, not wanting to hurt one another. Which is also a very nice change from children lashing out in books about divorce.

The illustrations by Kath make this book very approachable for young readers. They nicely break up the text, plus add to the humor. Readers can see Max’s father in his full spy disguise as well as enjoying the finished school project and the furry fun of two basset hounds. The pictures add to the warmth and love that exude from this book.

A loving book about father and son relationships after a divorce, this novel for young readers demonstrates that life and love continues. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Booked by Kwame Alexander

Booked by Kwame Alexander (InfoSoup)

In his follow up to the Newbery-Award-winning The Crossover, Alexander once again blends sports and poetry. Nick loves soccer and is really good at it too. Nick and his best friend are on opposing teams in an upcoming soccer cup and Nick is also getting ready to ask out April, a girl he can’t stop thinking about. Everything is going well except for his father who insists that Nick read the dictionary of large words that he personally created. That’s when Nick finds out that his mother is moving away for a job working with horses, leaving Nick with his father, not a great combination. Nick will have to rely on soccer and his best friend to get him through this rough patch. Because there is more tough road to come.

Alexander is quite simply amazing. He writes verse that is both poetic and beautiful but also accessible and welcoming to young teens who may be far more interested in kicking a ball than reading a book, especially a book of poetry. Alexander also demonstrates throughout the book the power of words both in his poetry itself and through the story line, where Nick is clearly smart and uses words from his father’s collection without even thinking about it. Nicely, definitions are provided in footnotes.

Nick is a protagonist who is easy to relate to. He has several things on his mind: soccer, girls and gaming. It is life though that pulls him outside of those interests and broadens his scope. His father does this in a clumsy way, forcing Nick to learn words. A school librarian also helps, getting books that Nick will clearly love directly into his hands. So as much as this is a book about a smart young teen boy, it is also a book about the power of having adults who care in your life.

A worthy follow-up to his first verse novel, this book is just as beautifully written. Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (InfoSoup)

Released April 12, 2016.

The amazing Kate DiCamillo does it again with another winning novel for middle grade readers. Raymie has a plan to get her father to return to the family. If she can just win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire pageant, she knows she will have her picture in the paper and gain her father’s attention and he just might come back home. Her mother hasn’t been the same since he ran off with a dental hygienist. And that is why Raymie is attending baton twirling classes during the summer. But the classes aren’t going like Raymie had expected. One girl, Louisiana Elefante, has fainted and the other, Beverly Tapinski, is just out to sabotage the pageant, not win it. Then there is the matter of the pageant requiring them to do good deeds, something that is harder that one might expect. Soon an unlikely friendship springs up between the three girls, each facing their own form of abandonment and discovering their own ability to rescue themselves.

This book reads so beautifully. The language pulls you in, embraces you and you happily immerse yourself in the world that a master storyteller has built for you. It’s a world filled with three girls who are vibrantly human and each completely distinct from one another without using any tropes or stereotypes. In other words, it’s wildly refreshing to have three girls depicted as unique and very special.

And what a treat to also have a book about girls that is not also about boys and attraction even though it is about pageants. Instead this is a book about girl power in a way that is subtle and strikingly honest. The writing is clever and wonderfully witty with little moments that capture life whether it is today or in 1975.  It is a book that celebrates individuals and their own ability to make the world a better place just by being themselves, and also by trying to do a good deed every so often.

Brilliantly written with glorious girl characters, this novel is a summer treat from start to finish. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

Review: Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen Daly

emilys blue period

Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen Daly, illustrated by Lisa Brown

An intriguing mix of subjects, this picture book combines art with divorce and it works gorgeously.  Emily really likes the work of Picasso and the way that he put body parts in odd places in his cubist work.  It reflects the way that Emily feels about her own family life, with her father now living in a different home than the rest of them.  Emily tries to help her father pick out furniture for his new home, but it’s not easy and her little brother quickly becomes problematic at the store and has to be carried out.  Even art becomes less fun for Emily.  She feels blue a lot of the time and not like using any other colors.  Then her art teacher shows her about collage, and Emily finds a way to express her feelings through her art and depict her family in their own unique style.

Told in short chapters, this picture book is just right for elementary students.  The unique combination of subjects works particularly well, each supporting the other and allowing them to be explored in more depth.  Daly manages to use art to show the emotions of children experiencing a divorce and the divorce to show the importance of art in expressing yourself when you can’t find the words. 

Brown’s art is light-handed and friendly.  She captures Picasso’s art with that same light touch and creates Emily’s blue time with plenty of blue but no darkness.  The result is a book that is filled with light, despite it’s more somber subjects.  It keeps the book from being too serious and allows the emotions to surface nicely.

A striking combination of art and real life, this picture book truly shows the power of art in one’s life.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton

monday wednesday and every other weekend

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton

Henry and his dog, Pomegranate, live in two different houses.  On Mondays, Wednesdays and every other weekend, he lives with his mother on Flower Street.  On Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other weekend, he lives with his father two blocks away on Woolsey Avenue.  The two houses are very different.  They smell different, look different, sound different and even taste different.  Pomegranate though is never truly happy at either house.  He wants to be somewhere else.  Then one day, Pomegranate gets out and runs away.  Henry and his father head to Flower Street to see if he is with Henry’s mother, but no Pomegranate.  Then Henry realizes where Pomegranate must be and heads straight to the house where his family used to live all together.  Now a little girl lives there and she has Pomegranate with her! 

This book has such a strong heart.  Stanton clearly shows the differences between the two homes that Henry lives in.  The different neighborhoods, the different foods, the different sounds.  Both homes are beautiful, both are filled with love for Henry.  Stanton’s clever use of Pomegranate as the expression of the emotions involved in a divorce is well done.  She manages to allow Henry to be well adjusted and happy while still dealing with the complex emotions that divorce elicits.

The art is charming and wonderfully loud.  Done in collage mixed with painting, the colors shine on the page.  She makes sure to show the elements that make up life in each house, showing again the differences but also the similarities in the homes.

A memorable book on divorce for children, even children who have not experienced divorce themselves will enjoy this engaging title.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel & Friends.

Review: Living with Mom and Living with Dad by Melanie Walsh

living with mom and living with dad

Living with Mom and Living with Dad by Melanie Walsh

This picture book takes a look at divorce in a way that is appropriate for very young children.  It focuses on living in two separate homes and what happens to the things a child holds dear and to their family.  Using flaps to invite young listeners to participate in the story, children will be able to explore the differences, including different nightlights, changes in how a child is picked up from school, and trips with each parent.  Nicely, the book also explores what happens for special events and birthdays and how the parents attend but separately.  There is no negative emotion here, just a matter-of-fact book that answers the questions that children will have about their every day life. 

Walsh has created a book that will be of particular help in both families going through a divorce and for children who have questions in general about divorce.  The lack of emotion gives the book some distance from the situation, yet it manages to answer all of the nuts and bolts details that children fret about. 

Walsh’s art is flat and friendly.  The book is populated by bright colors, cheery flaps and a friendly outlook.  All of this in a book about divorce.  And it manages to work and work well.

A good choice for the youngest of children who are thinking about divorce, this book is a welcome addition to library shelves.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Lexie by Audrey Couloumbis

lexie

Lexie by Audrey Couloumbis

The shore has always been one of ten-year-old Lexie’s favorite places in the world.  She would spend the summer there with her parents, playing on the beach, finding treasures in the sand, and reading picture books.  Now though, her parents are divorced.  So her mother isn’t going to be going to the shore at all.  Lexie is spending a week there with just her dad.  Or so she thinks!  On the way there, her father announces that his new girlfriend will be joining them, and her two sons too.  Lexie is pushed out of her usual bedroom into one that is as tiny as a closet.  Teenage Ben is also not enthusiastic about being stuck together.  Little Harris is messy and doesn’t even want to head outside at first.  As the two families try to live together, Lexie discovers that connections can be created over the smallest things and that there is still room for everyone even if the house is a lot more crowded.

This is a book that takes a moment in time, a week at the shore, and creates a world out of it.  Couloumbis writes with a voice that celebrates the small things, yet doesn’t wander.  The characters are real, each written with an honesty that is surprising.  The adults have faults, make mistakes.  The young people are struggling with this new situation, facing it with various emotions that all read as true.

Lexie is child who can see past her love for her father and see him through the others’ eyes.  At the same time though, she has to spend time with the others to understand them as deeply.  It all works well as the reader is also learning about these characters.  When truths are revealed is a crux of the story.  Throughout the book, honesty is explored.  Lexie struggles with trying to be kind and then finding herself in situations where it may have been better all along to tell the truth.  The situation with the adults mirrors this as well.

This is a radiant read that explores deep issues of divroce and truth while never losing the sunshine of the shore.  It would make an intriguing pairing with Junonia by Kevin Henkes which is for a similar age and also is set on the beach. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

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The Dancing Pancake

The Dancing Pancake by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

Bindi is facing a lot of changes in her life.  First, her father has left their family to find a job in another city.  A few months later, she learns that her parents have separated.  Now her mother and her aunt are starting a restaurant called The Dancing Pancake.  They will be moving into the apartment above the restaurant and out of their house.  As all of these changes hit, Bindi finds herself feeling sad and angry about them.  People at the restaurant and her extended family help her deal with her feelings and show her the positive in her life. 

This verse novel features a full cast of interesting characters.  The poems are written from Bindi’s point of view.  She is a protagonist who is open and honest about her feelings, even when she is struggling with them.  She offers readers a clear view of what children deal with when parents separate and life changes.  At the same time, she is uniquely Bindi, a girl who loves to read, worries about what sort of friend she is, and tries to help others whenever she can. 

Spinelli’s verse is short and sweet.  It has a clarity and understated feel to it that makes it very easy to read.  Lew-Vriethoff’s illustrations have a breezy, effortless quality to them.  They are simple line drawings that capture the moments in the book.  The verse format and the illustrations throughout the book will make this a very inviting title for young readers.

Highly recommended, this book strikes just the right balance between a girl’s life falling apart and a family ready to catch and hold her.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Knopf.