Golden knows that this is the year that he will become captain of his school soccer team. He’s been working toward a goal of practicing ten thousand times in order to master the sport. After all, his father was a pro soccer player, though now he is battling ALS, a progressive disease that is stealing his ability to use his muscles. Golden believes that as long as his father keeps on trying, he can prevent the disease from worsening. And sometimes it even seems like it is working. Golden tries to keep control of everything, making sure that his year is as perfect as possible, but there are so many things outside of his control. The soccer year doesn’t work quite as Golden planned, one of his best friends plans to move away, and his father continues to decline. Golden may need a different approach to all of these things if he is to look after his family and friends well.
Makechnie is the author of The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair. In this second book, she writes a heartfelt story about grief and denial. While the book has soccer as a major focus, she writes it in a way that allows the games to make sense for those of us who may not know the rules. Even in the games, the clear purpose is teamwork and supporting one another, things that Golden needs to figure out in the rest of his life too. She creates amazing moments throughout the book of deep connection with one another, wise choices and intangible joys that appear out of nowhere. It’s a book about loss but also about life.
Golden is a remarkable protagonist. He is so deeply in denial that at first his rationales make sense to both him and the reader. As the book and his father’s ALS progress though, the reader steadily realizes that Golden is struggling more profoundly. It’s beautifully done with grace and with a deep empathy for Golden and his family. The secondary characters in the book are all richly drawn, including Golden’s two best friends who have struggles of their own and his family members.
A heart-rending look at grief, this book embraces the joy of life too. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Fred loves to be naked. He runs through the house wild and free. He thinks he may never get dressed, but then discovers the closet in his parents’ bedroom. First, he tries on his Dad’s clothes, including a shirt, tie and pair of shoes. But he has trouble putting them on and they don’t fit right. He looks at his mother’s side of the closet. He picks out a blouse, scarf and some shoes. He doesn’t have any trouble putting them on in an outfit. Now he needs some additional touches, like some jewelry and maybe some makeup. That’s when his parents come in the room. His mother shows him how to put the makeup on and how to do hair. Soon all of the family, even the dog, are all dressed up together in a marvelous mix of outfits.
Brown uses simple wording to show a young boy exploring with nakedness and then playing dress up. The parents he shows are clearly unconcerned with the naked child running all around the house. His merriment is wonderful to see as is their casual response. As Fred tries on his mother’s clothes and then gets “caught” the reaction of the parents is perfection as they join in the fun but also show Fred some new skills along the way.
Brown’s art is always marvelous. Here his palette is an unusual mix of greens, vivid pink and browns. The result is a modern yet classic feel.
A charmer of a picture book that celebrates freedom from gender norms. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.
Voya’s time to get her Calling has finally arrived. While she isn’t excited about the trial that she must undergo, she is thrilled that she will get her witch’s power. Voya hopes that her power will set the course for the rest of her life, likely keeping her close at home with her multigenerational family who live in a house that was magically moved to Canada. When Voya’s hesitation causes her to have to ask her ancestor for another chance, she is given an impossible task: to destroy her first love. If Voya doesn’t succeed, every witch in her family will lose their magic. It also means that Voya’s young sister will die since magic keeps her alive. As Voya tries to get her cousin a great internship, she also meets a boy who is the perfect genetic match for her. The trouble is, they don’t like each other at all and he has no interest in even meeting her again. As Voya struggles to solve the mystery of her Calling, she learns more about her family’s pure magic, the cost of darker magical power, and what duty to her family means.
This book is full of Black magic that is at once both powerful but also marvelously mundane. Sambury brings us into a family of witches who are coming to the end of their power and tied to being pure, meaning that they won’t kill or torture other people to gain power. The family dynamics are beautifully drawn, from divorced parents who are forced to live together under the same roof to a grandmother who controls them all to a group of cousins who are very different from one another but also watch out and help one another constantly. The dialog is well written, full of small touches that bring each character to life.
Voya is an unusual protagonist. First, she has not only her parents but a huge extended family around her all the time. Second, she has trouble making choices that impact her life to the point of grinding to a halt regularly. When given tasks that force her to make decisions, she falters but doesn’t give up. She finds other ways, other paths and asks for help. This is the opposite of a solo protagonist, as she is surrounded by people who love her even if they don’t trust that she will succeed.
Magical, powerful and unique, this novel is fantastic. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Bubbles…Up! by Jacqueline Davies, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez (9780062836618)
This picture book celebrates the joy of swimming in a pool on a hot summer day. Focusing on the bubbles created by heading underwater, the merry rhythms of the text bounce along like the bubbles heading to the surface. The bubbles capture the light of the sun until you follow them upwards, surfacing like a porpoise. You have a mom who stays at the side of the pool with your little brother who doesn’t swim yet. Interrupted by a thunderstorm, you huddle with the others in the shelter until it’s safe to return to the water with your friends. When your little brother loses his toy in the pool, you rescue it. You can’t stop for lots of mushy attention though, because you have to keep on swimming.
Sure to bring an immediate grin to kids who love to swim or play in the water, this picture book shares the small pleasures of swimming that make it such a treat. The bubbles heading to the surface, the jumping in, the floating, the diving, splashing and more. Davies’ writing is marvelous, full of repetition, rhythms and rhymes. Her words plunge, dive, swirl and create imaginary underwater worlds.
The illustrations are full of pool blues, sunshine and bubbles. Sanchez uses the words as part of her art, creating words that plunge down and float up. Her diverse cast of characters is delightful, everyone enjoying the pool together.
Dive into this summer delight of a picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.
This picture book biography looks at the country life of N.C. Wyeth and his family through the eyes of his artist daughter, Henriette. Henriette joins her father as he heads out into the countryside to paint. The two quietly go out, avoiding her talkative sister who is in the henhouse and her brother who is in his workshop building things. Her father greets the flowers along the way, finally stopping to paint the landscape before them. The two sense the world around them, draw the details they see, and smell the earth and plants, painting the sky. They paint together until it is time to head home, and even then Henriette stays behind to paint even more.
The author first discovered Henriette through N.C. Wyeth’s letters and then went on to learn more about her. The statements that the book has Wyeth say to his daughter are taken from his writing about art. The language in the book is poetic and rich, showing all of us how to look more deeply at the world around us and celebrate the small things we see and the large landscape and sky as well.
Bates was also taught art by her own father and notes in her Illustrator’s note that this book pays homage to the Wyeth’s and also to her own experience as she grew up. The illustrations are an engaging mix of watercolor landscapes and then also smaller drawings and paintings that Henriette would have made as they wandered from things she dreamt up and details she noticed.
A lovely look at the Wyeth family, the talented Henriette and how the artistic eye is taught. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
A girl and her little brother make their way through all of the seasons and all sorts of weather in this merry picture book. Told in rhymes, the book explores what makes each day special with a jolly sense of humor as things become soggy and froggy, or muggy and buggy, or ready and sleddy in the winter. The book centers on the warm relationship of the two children as they head outside no matter what the weather is doing and interact with the seasons.
Throughout the book, it’s the little girl who is always ready to go while her little brother is a bit more hesitant. Then he turns out to love it just as much as she does. Their shared rhymes add to the fun and bolster the clear connection between the two of them. The rhymes give the book a rollicking merriment that works particularly well as the seasons pass. It also works when the book gets quiet at the end and the rhymes continue but slow down.
The illustrations are done in pencil and mixed media and then finished digitally. The result is the warmth of the media and pencil lines combined with the dreamy digital backgrounds. They are inviting no matter the weather.
A cheerful book of rhymes, weather and seasons. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Ben lives with his father and his faithful imaginary dog, Sunshine. This summer, he’s going to spend an entire week with his mother, whom he hasn’t seem since he was three. She lives alone on an island in northern Minnesota. As he and his father journey to meet her, Ben struggles to ignore Sunshine, since his father thinks Ben is too old to have an imaginary friend. After journeying to his mother’s island home by canoe, Ben finds himself struggling with his anxiety and often unable to speak. He has so many questions he wants to ask her and has imagined many conversations together, but nothing comes out. He desperately wants to figure out how to get her to return to living with them. Instead of asking, Ben spends his days on the island, giving his mother time to read. After a disastrous expedition to see some bears and another harrowing solo journey in a canoe, a disaster hits the island and a path to forgiveness is formed.
Bauer is such a remarkable writer. Her books are invitingly brief for young readers and also offer real depth of emotion. In this novel, she shows the struggles of someone with anxiety who is often asking “what if” rather than diving in. She doesn’t allow it to be superficial, instead really exploring what it feels like. At the same time, readers will realize that Ben is incredibly brave and fueled by anger that he won’t acknowledge. His connection to Sunshine is fully realized, from the way they curl up to sleep together to her position in the canoe to their ongoing friendship in a new place.
Ben is a complex character and so are his parents. His father is fastidious, clearly anxious himself in ways that Ben can’t articulate. His mother is a remarkable character in children’s literature. A mother who left her child behind for reasons that are hinted at but not fully revealed until later in the novel. Yet she is given the space to be warm, kind and caring while also being rather distant and reserved. She is many things, and also far more than she realizes.
A book full of dangers, adventure and heart. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Sunrise Summer by Matthew Swanson, illustrated by Robbi Behr (9781250080585)
A family heads to Alaska for the summer, traveling 4000 miles to get there. This summer, the girl narrating the story will get to join the fishing crew for the first time. She will pull ropes, twist anchor poles and fetch water. The girl and her mother watch the river, waiting for the salmon to come. Meanwhile, the family keeps busy with necessary repairs, mending nets, and listening to the fishing reports on the radio. The tides say that fishing should start at 4 am, so the family gets up a 2:30 am to head out. They dress up in rubber waders, long gloves and woolly hats. They face wind, rain and high waves as they head out to fish. At 4 am, the nets are dragged into the water and it’s her job to tie the net to the rope, but it’s much harder with the tide pulling, a wet rope and slick mud underfoot. The whole crew helps out, until finally it’s time to remove the salmon from the nets by hand. Then they get shipped all over the world.
Based on Robbi’s own personal experience as a young girl spending summers in Alaska as part of a commercial fishing operation, this picture book is full of details that only someone who has lived it would know. From bumping into bears on the beach to the troubles of taut ropes to the immense pride in being included in the family business, all of this adds to the joy of a girl participating on a fishing team for the first time. The writing is focused and brief, making the book perfect for sharing aloud. The focus is on facing a new experience with family by your side and realizing with pride that this is what we do.
The art is digitally done with watercolor washes across the sky and collaged elements that have the characters popping with black outlines against the backgrounds. The depiction of the beauty of the Alaskan tundra is particularly of note as well as the clear family support among everyone.
A unique and fascinating lifestyle that is worth smelling like fish. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Jayne has moved from her Texas hometown to New York City to attend design school. Her older sister, June, lives in New York City too, but the two haven’t spoken in years. Jayne has spent a lot of time partying in clubs and bars and sleeping with boys. Now she lives in a horrible tiny illegally sublet apartment without running water or heat, but with a roommate who won’t pay rent, occasionally sleeps with her, and then ignores her. When Jayne and June get back in touch with one another, Jayne finds out that her sister has cancer. Even more, June has taken on Jayne’s identity in order to use her insurance for the surgery she needs. Jayne finds herself loving her sister’s fancy and safe apartment and basically moving in with her. Jayne has her own issues to confront, including her relationship with food, her hatred of her body, and the way she binge eats. As the two sisters grow closer, the truth must be shared between them in order for them both to recover.
Choi has once again created a novel that lays her characters bare before the reader. Jayne is so caught up in her own tragic life story, that it startles her and the reader alike when she must face a true tragedy, her sister’s cancer diagnosis. As Jayne obsesses about her classes, her future career, her awful apartment, her horrible roommate, and her family, she avoids thinking about her eating disorder or facing it at all. Readers will see the evidence of her imbalanced relationship to food, but the extent of the problem is only steadily revealed as the layers are peeled away.
Jayne is a captivating character, full of so much self doubt and self hatred. Her story is full of unflinching honesty paired with the poignant truth of a family who has immigrated to the United States and stands to lose one another along the way. Jayne’s relationships with her mother and sister are so beautifully crafted, they ring with such truth that they are frightening. Choi’s writing is masterful throughout, capturing the tragic, beautiful story of growing up as a Korean-American immigrant.
Heartbreakingly true, riveting writing and stellar characters. Appropriate for ages 14-18.