The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor (9780062491497)
Released January 23, 2018.
Mason is the biggest kid in his grade and it doesn’t help that he’s also the sweatiest. To make matters worse, he has dyslexia and trouble with reading and writing. His family has gone through a series of tragedies with his mother dying and then his best friend falling out of a tree house in Mason’s family orchard. Since his death, Mason has been trying to tell the police his side of the story, but he can’t write it down and the officer interrupts him and makes it all confusing. Now Mason has a new best friend, one he made when running from the neighborhood bullies who throw balls and apples at them as they get off the bus. The two create a club house for themselves in an abandoned root cellar behind Mason’s house. But trouble seems to find Mason, and soon there is a a new tragedy to overcome.
Connor writes books that soar and are completely heartfelt, this book is another of those. Connor looks at what grief does to a family, the time that it takes to recover and what happens when a series of incidents occur to the same family and they can’t return to normal. Still, there is hope in every day things. There is hope in the clean kitchen, NPR playing, banana milkshakes. There is hope in good dogs, new friends and people surprising you. Connor’s book shines with that hope, despite the clutter of their life, the dirt on the carpet, the laundry on the floor.
Mason too shines with hope and honesty. He is an unlikely hero with his size and his sweat. And yet, readers will immediately see beyond that. They will see Mason as a friend and a source of protection and care. Readers will also figure things out well before Mason does, including the fact that he is suspected of contributing to his best friend’s death.
Filled with heart and hope, this is a wonderful read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Harper Collins.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
The author of One for the Murphys returns with a brilliant second novel. Ally hates school. She’d much rather spend her days drawing the vivid pictures in her head. Homework is almost impossible for her, since she has such trouble reading. To cover up her problems, she uses her disruptions and gets sent to the principal’s office often. When Ally gets a new teacher though, things start to change. Mr. Daniels can see who she is under the reading and writing problems, offering her compliments about the way she thinks and the way she draws. As Ally gets more confident, she just might be brave enough to ask for the help she needs rather than hiding and trying to be invisible.
Hunt writes with a light touch, never negating the powerful feelings that Ally is wrestling with and how serious her issues are. Yet it is that soft touch that allows the book to be so effective in its approach to dyslexia and the variations in the ways different brains think. Throughout the book, there is hope and readers will yearn to have Ally recognized as the bright and funny person they now her to be. Hunt also incorporates a bully who is intelligently drawn with just a glimpse as to why she is that way and who is just cruel and mean enough to be realistic.
Ally is a wonderful protagonist. She doesn’t hide her difficulties from herself at all, but works so hard to hide them from everyone else in her life, something she can achieve because she is so bright. Throughout Ally is immensely likable, someone who would make a tremendous friend. I love that she does not become this as the novel moves on, but she is already there, just waiting for others to discover her behind the barriers she puts up. The two characters who become her close friends are also strongly written and unique voices too, adding depth and diversity to the story.
An incredibly strong novel, this one belongs in every library and will be inspiring to students and teachers alike. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Wild Book by Margarita Engle
Told in poems, this is the story of Engle’s maternal grandmother and her struggle with dyslexia. Known as Fefa, her grandmother was diagnosed with “word blindness” and told she would never read or write. Luckily, Fefa’s mother has an idea. She gives her daughter a blank book to fill with words, as if she is scattering wildflower seeds on the ground. At first Fefa’s words are hesitant and stilted, like seedlings. But steadily her writing and reading improve as she learns to take her time and gains confidence. And that reading is what saves her and her siblings from being kidnapped in the chaos following Cuba’s fight for independence.
Engle writes a gripping series of poems that range from celebrating the written word to the difficulties of dyslexia to the triumph of overcoming. Over the entire book the threat of violence and kidnappings hangs low and dark. It is clear that this is not a modern story from the very beginning and Engle cleverly reveals the extent of the chaos the family is living in the midst of through Fefa herself and her own growing knowledge.
As always, Engle’s verse is exceptional. Often her individual poems could be read one their own. Yet it is as one complete story that they really show their beauty. There are many exceptional stanzas to share, but one of my favorites comes early in the novel:
My little brothers love
to frighten me
by hiding lizards,
bugs, and spiders
in my bloomers.
Today it’s a frog,
but they tell me it’s a snake,
so I scream and tremble
until I can clearly see
that the little creature
like jittery letters
on a blinding
The skin of a frog
feels just as slippery
and tricky as a wild
Engle traces the love of words and poetry Fefa’s own mother, who shares poems with her family. It’s a beautiful celebration of that history and those words.
This novel in verse is a powerful look at Cuba’s history and also at dyslexia and overcoming challenges. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Art of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco
Polacco continues to explore her childhood in picture book form in this tribute to a teacher. In school, young Patricia struggled with her grades, specifically when taking tests. Luckily, she had a teacher, Mr. Donovan, who was willing to give her extra time to finish. That little change allowed Patricia to get better grades. Mr. Donovan was also the first teacher to recognize her artistic talent. He connected her with an art program run by Miss Chew. Miss Chew talked about learning to see, working with line and pressure, and taking their sketchbooks with them everywhere. Patricia soaked all of this up like a sponge. But then Mr. Donovan’s father died, and the substitute teacher would not give her more time to finish her tests. She even threatened to pull Patricia out of her special art class. Happily, Miss Chew was there to come to the rescue!
Polacco has continued to write about her challenges with school and about how a single amazing teacher changed her life again and again. Her books are a testament to the power of teachers to make a difference in a child’s world, but in turn they are also a look at the emergence of a gifted artist who works hard and makes her own special place too. In my eyes, it is the combination of Polacco and her teachers that is magical.
The art is done in Polacco’s signature style that is artistic, evocative and realistic too. As she speaks about art, she demonstrates it in her art in the book. Readers will notice how she captures shadow and light and plays with perspective too. It is a very engaging way to create a quick art lesson in the middle of a story.
Art teachers will love this as a gift, but they will also enjoy sharing it in their classrooms. Bravo for Miss Chew and all of the other great teachers out there who do this work every day. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.