Weekend Dad by Naseem Hrab, illustrated by Frank Viva (9781773061085)
When his father moves out of the house, the narrator of this picture book thinks about him a lot. His father is just a bus ride away, past the park and through the tunnel. On Friday, the boy gets to visit him, making sure to take his stuffed hedgehog Wendell along. Father and son take the bus together through the tunnel, talking the entire time. Then they are at the boy’s second home, but it doesn’t feel like home at all, since his mother isn’t there. The night is different and strange, sleeping in an empty room that has yet to be decorated with even a bed. His father wants to do something special, but the boy wants a normal day. So they have breakfast, play cards, go to the park, have dinner. Before returning to his mother, the boy leaves Wendell on his father’s bed to keep him company.
It is the tone here that is particularly effective. Hrab captures the strangeness of suddenly living in a divorced family and being a child navigating moving between two homes for the first time. Both parents are loving and gentle, showing their son support for the changes he is facing. But he still needs to experience them and go through them, even if his parents are lovely.
Viva’s illustrations are in his signature style that wonderfully warp, color and expose the strangeness of regular life. His distorted figures match the strangeness that the main character is experiencing, almost like a fun-house mirror at times and then other times frank and direct.
A look at divorce through the eyes of a child with inventive illustrations and a genuine exploration of emotions. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.
The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead (9781101938096)
When Bea’s parents got divorced, they gave her a list of things that they promised would never change. Since then, that list has grown to include new things that Bea has added to it herself. A big change is that her father is getting remarried to Jesse, the guy he’s been dating for awhile. Bea loves Jesse and is ecstatic when she finds out the Jesse has a daughter just Bea’s age. Bea is convinced that they will be the best sisters ever. Meanwhile, Bea is navigating living in two houses, going to see her therapist for anxiety, and finding a theme for her dad’s wedding. It all becomes a lot to handle when Sonia, Jesse’s daughter, isn’t quite as eager as Bea to become sisters. Still, Bea knows how it feels to need to be forgiven and offered more than one chance to become part of someone’s life.
Stead’s writing is deft and clever. She writes with so much empathy for children and a deep understanding for the puzzling situations they face in their lives. Stead creates incredible moments in the novel that offer wonder and refrain through the book like a catchy bar of music. I must mention that it is great to see the marriage of a gay couple handled with such joy, such acceptance while also addressing the bigotry society still has.
Bea a great character, complicated and yet easily understandable. She is enthusiastic but also at times quiet, defying labels as we get to know her better. That alone is a remarkable achievement as an author, just allowing this girl to be herself on the page. The secondary characters are all robustly depicted with no one become stereotypical and everyone showing heart.
Two things that will not change about this book. One, it’s wonderful. Two, it is full of love. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Wendy Lamb Books.
The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King (9781338236361)
Liberty loves the stars. She creates star maps that allow her to capture what she sees in the stars by drawing her own constellations on the night sky. But when her parents get a divorce, it is like her entire world fell apart. Her father assures her that she will see him often, but they don’t see him for 86 days after the divorce! In the meantime, Lib has witnessed a meteorite fall to earth and recovered the heavy stone. As time goes on, Liberty begins to seethe with rage. It’s an anger that emerges in school sometimes, sometimes at her parents, but mostly sits inside her, red and hot. It’s that anger that made her throw the toaster through the kitchen window, hides a diamond ring from a bully at school, and allows her to tell her father what she really thinks. Liberty worries that she might have depression like her father, and she gradually learns the power of talking about her feelings openly.
Amy Sarig King is the name that the YA author A.S. King writes under for middle-grade books. She does both extremely well. Here King shows the first months of a divorce from the children’s point of view. She steadily reveals what happened in the parent’s marriage, but the real focus is on grief as the two sisters must navigate their way through the pain of losing their family. The emotions run high, from tears to yelling to throwing things. They all feel immensely authentic and real on the page.
Liberty is a great heroine. Far from perfect, particularly at school, she is navigating life by confiding in a meteorite and trying to help everyone else. She is filled with rage much of the time, but also filled with a deep compassion for others, sometimes to her own detriment. King looks frankly at mental health issues here both in parents and in Liberty herself. The use of counselors is spoken of openly and without issue as the family gets the help they need.
A powerful look at divorce, grief and coming to terms with life. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.
Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (9780062473097)
Sweet Pea’s parents have gotten a divorce and came up with the brilliant idea of living just one house away from one another on the same street to make it easier on Sweet Pea. The houses are decorated very similarly too, particularly Sweet Pea’s room in each of them. In between the two houses is one that belongs to the town’s resident advice columnist, a woman known to be eccentric and a loner. So when she asks Sweet Pea to be responsible for picking up her mail and sending it to her, it’s a big surprise. As Sweet Pea’s own life continues to get more complicated with friend issues and her mother starting to date, she keeps one secret all her own. She has started to reply to some of the letters asking for advice herself!
This is Murphy’s first foray into middle grade writing and it’s a great way to start! In Sweet Pea, she has created a female protagonist who isn’t obsessed with boys, isn’t thinking about hair and makeup, and is much more concerned with her family, her cat and her friends. Sweet Pea is funny, intelligent and brave. She also procrastinates, takes a few too many risks, and fails sometimes at friendship. She is also not a small girl, all of which makes her a breath of fresh air in middle grade books.
As always, Murphy’s writing is light and readable even when dealing with large emotions or issues. In one of the best scenes of the book, Sweet Pea pukes at a birthday party she crashed. The scene offers humor mixed with deep empathy and then addresses the bravery it takes to return to school afterwards. This book is all about giving people second (and even third) chances, including yourself.
The author of Dumplin’ has another winner here. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.
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, 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 (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 (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.
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.