When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (9781620148372)
At birth, everyone thought Aidan was a girl. But as Aidan grew up, he didn’t like his name, the way his room was decorated, or wearing girl clothes. Aidan cut his hair off, realizing that he was a boy. He told his parents, and they learned from other families what having a transgender child is all about. Aidan picked his new name, they changed his bedroom into one that felt right, and he liked his new clothes. Then Aidan’s mother got pregnant. Aidan loved helping pick clothes for the baby, paint colors for the nursery, and even the baby’s name. But when people asked Aidan if he wanted a little brother or little sister, Aidan didn’t know how to answer. As the big day approached, Aidan worried about being a good big brother. Happily, his mother was there to explain that no matter who the new baby turned out to be, they would be so lucky to have Aidan as a brother.
Lukoff has created an #ownvoices picture book that truly celebrates a child who deeply understands their gender identity to be different from the one they were assigned at birth. The reaction of the supportive parents is beautiful to see in a picture book format as they work with Aidan not only to be able to express himself fully but also to be able to work through natural fears with a new baby. Those fears and the inevitable discussions of gender of a baby are vital parts of the story and allow readers to realize how deeply ingrained gender is in so many parts of our lives.
The illustrations by Juanita are full of energy and show a child with a flair for fashion who expresses himself clearly as a boy. His facial expressions change from his deep unhappiness when he is being treated as a girl to delight at being able to express himself as the boy he truly is. The depiction of a loving family of color handling these intersectionality issues so lovingly is also great to see.
As the parent of a transgender person, this is exactly the sort of picture book our families need and other families must read. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lee & Low Books.
I Love My Colorful Nails by Alicia Acosta and Luis Amavisca, illustrated by Gusti (9788417123598)
Ben loves to paint his nails in cheery colors. He loves looking at the bright colors on his hands. His mother shares her nail polish and so does his friend Margarita, they both have large collections of colors. One morning, as Ben headed to school with red nails, two boys started teasing him, telling him that nail polish is for girls. Ben felt very sad and a few days later, he told his parents about it. His father immediately asked for orange nail polish for his own nails. At school though, more boys started to tease him. Soon Ben was only wearing nail polish on the weekends, removing it for school. His dad though, wore bright nail polish every day, even when he picked Ben up from school. As Ben’s birthday arrives, he gets the best present ever! What could it be?
This picture book offers a very approachable way to talk about gender expectations and how even small expressions of difference are important. The parents in the book are both tremendously warm and encouraging of their son, but the book accurately shows how school can be very different for children who are not conforming to societal norms. The use of nail polish is clever, adding a colorful element to the tale as well as something that Ben’s father can embrace himself.
Gusti’s illustrations are marvelous. Filled with warmth and humor, they celebrate the bright colors of nail polish on each page. Ben’s emotions are shown through the set of his shoulders and his entire posture. When he is sad, he droops over and when he’s happy he bounces on the page.
A great book about gender nonconforming behavior in children and how a school can be a place of safety. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Nubeocho.
Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis (9781547601004)
11-year-old December has moved from one foster family to another over the past several years. As she moves, she has learned not to have many possessions, enough that she can carry them in a couple of bags. One item she brings with her every move is her biography, a book that reminds her why she is special and different from those around her. With her large scar on her back, December believes that she was raised as partially a bird and will eventually have her wings and feathers and be able to take flight. But when she jumps from a tree, she is moved to another foster family. This time, she is taken in by Eleanor, a women with a large garden, bird feeders, bird baths, and who works in an animal rehabilitation center. Eleanor’s quiet and loving approach starts to work on December, much as it does on her wounded birds. As December starts to trust, her desire to be separate from humans and different from them ebbs away. But could she ever give up her desire to fly?
Stark-McGinnis has written a startling debut novel for middle graders. December’s belief that she is a bird is at first alarming as she jumps from a tree, then rather odd, but the author leads readers to deeply understand the injury and damage done to December by first her mother’s violence and then her foster parents. It is a slow and haunting journey as December begins to trust others. Tying her own personal journey to that of a wounded hawk relearning to fly, the book creates a path for December to come alive again.
The journey to trust also includes a wonderful secondary character, Cheryllynn, a transgender classmate of December’s. As both girls steadily learn to stand up to the class bullies, they also learn that doing it together is easier and has a bigger impact. The two girls accept one another exactly as they are, something one doesn’t see enough in books about young girls and their friendships.
A heart-wrenching novel of abuse, recovery and learning to fly. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks (9781626723641)
When Miriam meets Weldon at her bookstore job, she doesn’t realize at first who he is. The grandson of the creator of the TomorrowMen comic book empire, he is wealthy and lives is California. Miriam on the other hand comes from a family without a lot of money and is trying to figure out how to leave her small town to go to college. The two of them have a connection though since it was Miriam’s grandfather who drew the first TomorrowMen comics. As the two of them navigate the perils of two families who have battled one another in court, Miriam becomes more sure of what she wants from her life. Weldon, stuck in rural Canada to get his life back on track, tries his best to be more stable and less impulsive. The two teenagers drift in and out of connection with one another but can’t seem to quite leave one another entirely. It’s Romeo and Juliet reworked to focus on modern comic geeks.
This is Hicks’ first novel, having created several comic books for children and teens. Readers who themselves identify as being “geeks” and in particular comic book geeks, will thoroughly enjoy the banter about comics, the obsessive nature of geek love, and the beauty of two geeks finding one another despite the world trying to keep them apart. The book is filled with humor and yet still offers deep emotions and a look at how one generation’s decisions echo forward to their offspring.
The book takes a look at growing up in rural Canada and has quite a few nods to Canadian life throughout the text. The desire to get out of a rural setting and move to a new place where you don’t know everyone is also an emotion that a lot of rural teens will relate to easily. Add in the appeal of comic books and a visit to Comic-Con and this is a book with a large audience who will root for the two teens.
A funny and warm look at geek love, this is a charming teen novel. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail Shepherd (9780525428459)
Lyndie is definitely not a good Southern girl, much to her grandmother’s despair. She tends to find trouble easily and not make friends quickly. When her father loses his job, they move in with his parents. Lady, Lyndie’s grandmother, has specific ideas of how Lyndie should act and even creates a strict schedule for her that gives her no free time. But somehow on Lyndie’s first day of school, she finds an injured fawn on the way to school and ends up not making it to school that day. Lyndie’s best friend is a do-gooder whose family takes in a boy from a local juvenile detention facility. As Lyndie gets to know him, they become friends and share secrets with one another. When Lyndie chooses to put family before friends, she could lose everyone.
The voice in this novel is unique and confident. Set in 1985, the characters are grappling with the impact of the Vietnam War on the men in their community. The book looks at the results of the war and how one suicide can ripple through several families. Shepherd does not make this simple or easy, she allows it to stand in all of its complexity and gives us a young history buff to explore it with.
Shepherd creates an entire world in her writing, one that invites readers in to deeply feel for and cheer for Lyndie even as she makes plenty of mistakes and missteps. Lyndie is a champion though, and readers will completely understand her motivations as she chooses one direction or another. Happily, Lyndie is her own person, filling her days with the history of the region, exploring news on microfilm, and finding ways to live in a new home with rigid expectations.
An exceptional debut novel that invites readers to care just as deeply as Lyndie does. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Kathy Dawson Books.
Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange (9781338353853)
Released April 30, 2019.
Pet lives with her family in a lighthouse on the southeast coast of England just as World War II is coming to England’s shores. The daughter of a German immigrant and a lighthouse keeper, Pet loves the wildness of the coast, the way they can see long distances from the pinnacle of the lighthouse, and the warmth of their family. But as the war progresses, things change. Mutti is taken to an internment camp for being German and in the process is accused of espionage and sending messages to the Germans. Pet knows that her kind and gentle mother hasn’t done it, and sets off to find out what actually happens. There is the strange man who lives in a shack nearby or it could even be Pet’s older sister, who is always disappearing and doesn’t seem to be actually working on her boat the way she claims. As the war gets closer, Pet must work to untangle who is an enemy in their small town and who she can trust as her family crumbles around her.
I was entranced with the writing of Strange’s first novel, The Secret of Nightingale Wood, and this one has the same strong and stirring writing laced with touches of magic and wonder. In both of her books, Strange makes young women the heroines of their own stories even as they struggle to figure out what is going on around them. The setting here is almost another character in the book, depicted with glowing terms and a love of the sea. The perspective of the lighthouse is used throughout the novel and aspects of the structure help our young heroine discover the truth, even when it is hard to hear.
Pet is a unique heroine. She is not particularly brave since she tends to freeze at signs of trouble and be unable to move even when in physical danger. That continues to be true throughout the book. Yet at the same time, Pet also shows what bravery truly is and works with desperation and determination to discover the truth.
Another brilliant read from a gifted author, this one offers an extraordinary perspective on World War II. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
Mike by Andrew Norriss (9781338285369)
Floyd is a tennis star, destined to become one of the great British tennis players. At age thirteen though, something changes. He starts to see “Mike” a person whom only he can see. Mike first appears at tennis matches and gets steadily more involved, even stopping Floyd from playing physically at one point. Floyd’s parents, who are both very much supportive of his tennis, take him to a sports injury clinic where he is placed in therapy. Floyd learns that Mike is a projection of something that Floyd is repressing. To Floyd’s horror though, it seems that Mike won’t let him keep playing tennis and Floyd will need to admit his own deep desire to do something else. But what?
Norriss has created a short and focused novel that is entirely marvelous. He writes with a playful nature that allows readers to really cheer for Floyd as he navigates his own desires and figures out what will actually make him happy. Nicely, Norriss allows the entire story to be told and readers stay with Floyd and Mike for some time, experiencing all of the times that Mike appears in Floyd’s life. By the end, Mike is the hero of the story, or is it Floyd all along!
A great main character gives this teen novel real heart. Floyd is a tennis prodigy, but completely at the mercy of his destiny when we meet him. He isn’t questioning what he really wants to do, whether tennis is still fun, or why he works so very hard to be the best. The pace of his training is beautifully offset by the slow pace of Floyd’s therapy and navigating life afterwards. Still, that rich sense of humor keeps the book moving and the unique perspective of who Mike really is offers a refreshing take on life.
A fresh sports novel filled with fish, invisible friends, and frankness. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC provided by David Fickling Books.
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw (9781250196934)
Mads has two best friends, Cat who drags her to hear bands that she’s never heard of, and her father. Every Sunday, Mads joins her father for minor league baseball games and other evenings they watch their favorite TV shows together. Mads’ mother is often left out of their father-daughter time together and as the book progresses, it looks like Mads may be headed for her parents divorcing. But it’s all about a secret that her father is keeping from her, something to do with a large check sent to Mads and a grandfather she never met. As the secrets start to be revealed, Mads begins to learn more about herself as well and just who she really wants to kiss.
This graphic novel is amazing, particularly when one sees it was written by one person and drawn by another. The entire book is one cohesive whole with art that is both playful but also emotionally rich when the story calls for it. The writing is strong and the story is complex. Venable includes religion throughout the book, allowing space for questioning beliefs, particularly around LGBTQ issues. Those themes enrich the entire graphic novel, creating tension in the family, offering honesty to replace secrets, and giving sources of pride rather than disdain. Venable doesn’t offer easy resolution to these issues and the way that they impact generations of a family.
A stellar graphic novel for teens that is filled with LGBTQ pride. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
Otto and Pio by Marianne Dubuc (9781616897604)
Otto the squirrel happily lives alone in the biggest tree a very old forest. One morning, he discovers a strange green ball outside his door. He steps over it and ignores it, but later the ball cracks open and a very furry creature emerges. The creature calls Otto “Mommy” and Otto decides to continue to leave the creature outside as night falls. But then later, he reconsiders and invites the small creature in. The creature says “Pio!” so that becomes his name. Pio begins to grow, doubling in size every night while he sleeps. Otto tries in vain to find Pio’s mother, but none of his neighbors know anything. Pio continues to grow as Otto tries different ways to find his mother: posters and visiting other trees. Pio takes care of the house while he is gone, making soup, sweeping and decorating. When Pio is too big to stay in Otto’s house anymore, Otto knows something must be done. So once again he heads out to try to find a solution. He is so distracted, he puts himself in danger. Perhaps one huge furry monster could be a help?
First published in Canada in French, this picture book is another charmer from Dubuc. She has a way of capturing changing deep emotions and emerging friendships that is gentle and filled with empathy. Here, Otto is often frustrated with being burdened with Pio, though Pio works hard to make life good for both of them. As Otto tries to get rid of Pio, his anger grows but then is refreshingly resolved when he understands what a loss Pio would be. The book builds to that new understanding, steadily increasing the pressure on the small squirrel.
Dubuc’s illustrations are very effective. She creates a grand tree for the pair to live in, huge and leafy. The prickly green ball that Pio emerges from is completely alien, and Pio himself looks rather like a very small abominable snowman with his white fur and rosy cheeks. Otto himself is busy and rushing, often avoiding really thinking about how he feels.
Another great read from Dubuc, this one is all about unlikely friendships and family members. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Princeton Architectural Press.