Tag: families

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

me-and-marvin-gardens-by-amy-sarig-king

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (InfoSoup)

Everything has changed for Obe over the last few years. His family’s farmland has turned into a housing development. His best friend is now friends with the kids living in the new development. He has constant nose bleeds caused by something he doesn’t like to talk about, but it has a lot to do with his ex-friend and the new development. Obe spends a lot of time at the creek on his family’s remaining property, cleaning up the trash left by others. Then he meets an unusual animal. It is an odd mix of pig and dog and it eats plastic. Obe names the animal “Marvin Gardens” and knows that he has to keep it a secret from everyone. But when his ex-friend discovers the animal too, Obe has to decide who to trust and who can help Marvin Gardens survive.

A.S. King is best known as a writer for teens. She has made a lovely transition to middle-grade writing here in a novel of environmentalism and self-acceptance. King wrestles with the problems of middle-grade friendships, the loss of green space, and the question of how one kid can make an impact on climate change or even on his local environment. Throughout, her writing is a call for action, for personal responsibility and for staying true to what is important to you as a person.

Obe is a fascinating protagonist. At first, he seems young and naive, but as the book progresses, one realizes that he is simply interested in the environment, understands deeply changing friendships, stands up for others, and speaks out for the rights of animals and nature. King manages this without giving Obe a major shift or change, rather it is the reader who grows and changes and understands the character in a different way. It’s all thanks to King’s skill as an author, her way of showing adults as fools at times, and her willingness to allow Obe to simply be himself.

A strong book about the environment and a rousing call to be responsible for your own patch of earth, this will be a joy to share aloud in a classroom or with children who love nature and don’t mind a bit of muck on their shoes. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

 

Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

life-in-a-fishbowl-by-len-vlahos

Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos (InfoSoup)

When Jared Stone discovers that he has terminal brain cancer, he decides to sell his life to the highest bidder on eBay. He gains the attention of a nun, a psychologically-disturbed man of leisure and wealth, a video-game playing teen, and a TV producer. When his posting is pulled down on eBay, only one person is left, the TV producer. So Jared and his family become the focus of a reality TV show and lose their privacy entirely. Jackie, Jared’s 15-year-old daughter, will not willingly participate in the show, figuring out how to avoid the crew and the cameras. But perhaps there is even more that she can do as she starts her own behind-the-scenes YouTube show that tells the truth about the editing and manipulation of her family by the reality show.

Vlahos tells a story of our time, about the dangers of believing in what we see on TV, of the siren call of money and the problems and advantages that come with using the internet for connections. Told from a variety of points of view, including Jared’s tumor, the book has a dark sense of humor throughout. Despite that humor, there is a sense of claustrophobia that pervades the novel as well, one that is built on the invasion of privacy from the TV cameras and then exacerbated by the manipulation and deviousness that surrounds the family.

Still, there is not despair here, even with a terminal illness as a central theme. It is instead a book about fighting back, being true to yourself and finding a way forward against the odds. A large part of that is Jackie, a girl who doesn’t fit in at school and appreciates her privacy. This is her nightmare scenario as the TV cameras roll and it forces her to reach out for help to people who are like her and can aid in fighting back. Through Jackie, we see how the Internet is more than darkness, it is also a source of hope and connection. It is both things at the same time.

A book of complex issues, the fakery of reality TV, and the dual sides of the Internet, this is a riveting read. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

 

 

Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh

flying-lessons-and-other-stories-by-ellen-oh

Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh (InfoSoup)

This is a simply incredible collection of stories that feature middle-school children from a variety of diverse backgrounds. The authors of the stories are the best in the children’s book business, including Kwame Alexander, Tim Federle, Matt de la Pena, Tim Tingle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, and Jacqueline Woodson. The stories feed into one another, creating a quilt where the patches are of different colors and textures but the quilt is one unified structure. The stories feature children of color, children who are LGBT, and those who are differently-abled. It is a book about our differences and our similarities, a book about what makes each of us fly.

There are several stories that will stick with me. The one by Matt de la Pena has a gorgeous tone to it, almost oration where the reader is being spoken directly to about opportunities, hard work and taking risks. It’s all about basketball, the art of the game and the willingness to put yourself out there and play. Grace Lin’s is an wonderful mix of humor and drama, showing reading as a way forward into a life of adventure and individuality. Woodson’s story is spare and lovely, looking directly at racism and staring it down with friendship. The others are marvelous too, I could write about each of them in turn, each just as special and jeweled as the last.

This is a book that should be in all libraries, it speaks to the power of diverse books in our communities, their ability to transform all of us no matter what our background or color. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Crown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley.

 

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

the-wardens-daughter-by-jerry-spinelli

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli (InfoSoup)

Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli tells the story of a girl who lost her mother as an infant and grew up as the daughter of a prison warden. Cammie isn’t a girl who is silly and lots of fun. In fact, she is fast moving and fast talking, exactly why she has the nickname Cannonball Cammie. Cammie is actually angry most of the time. Her best friend has developed faster and seems to be 17 instead of 13 sometimes. She wants to get on Bandstand and be famous. Cammie though is more interested in riding her bike around town and playing baseball. Cammie thinks that her life would be better with a motherly figure, so she begins to try to get the prisoner assigned as their housekeeper to be more like a mother to her. Then there’s Boo Boo, the prisoner who acts motherly towards Cammie but hides a dark secret. Her father too is a mystery, both present and not there, sometimes at the same time. It’s all a confusing mix of emotions for Cammie, who will need to deal with her own grief both past and present before she can do anything but be angry at the world.

Spinelli has written a completely captivating story in this middle grade novel. The setting is richly created with the prison, a full city and community, and one moment after another where Cammie sets it all ablaze with her anger and acting out. Throughout though, Cammie is far more than just as angry person, she is humanity personified, a girl in search of herself even as she spends her time looking for solutions in others. It’s a compelling story, one that is filled with moments of joy and despair.

Spinelli writes like a wizard, unveiling truths slowly and beautifully. As Cammie storms through her life, she also reveals the truths of others around her. And without revealing the entirely riveting and humbling ending, she creates opportunities where others become more than they have ever been before. It is a staggeringly rich novel that is written with such skill that it manages to read in an accessible way.

A masterful book about loss, childhood and recovery by a master of books for children, this is a must-read and a must-buy for libraries. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Alfred A. Knopf and Edelweiss.

 

The Water Princess by Susan Verde

the-water-princess-by-susan-verde

The Water Princess by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (InfoSoup)

Gie Gie imagines herself to be a princess with a kingdom as big as the African sky. She can tell the wind when to blow, the grass when to sway. But she cannot move the water closer to their home. Every day, Gie Gie and her mother walk to get water, a walk that takes almost the entire day. As they walk, they sing and dance together, stop under the shade of a large tree for a snack. When they reach the water, others are there and Gie Gie plays with her friends as her mother waits in line. Soon it is their turn and they start their long walk back balancing the water in pots on their heads. Back home, Gie Gie finally gets a drink of the precious water and falls asleep, knowing she must make the same walk the next day.

This picture book is based on the childhood of supermodel Georgie Badiel, who has a foundation working to bring clean water to Burkina Faso and other African countries. Verde writes with a poetic touch throughout, the prose light as a breeze carrying the story forward. There is no lecture here about clean water, rather it is a look at the hard work and endurance it takes to bring clean water to African villages.

The illustrations by Reynolds are done in his signature style with a flowing beauty that works particularly well here. He uses deep colors that show the dry landscape in yellows and oranges that are occasionally punctuated with greens and blues, the colors of water and hope.

A light feeling picture book that has a deep story to tell, this is a compelling read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from GP Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

27 Magic Words by Sharelle Byars Moranville

27-magic-words-by-sharelle-byars-moranville

27 Magic Words by Sharelle Byars Moranville (InfoSoup)

Kobi knows that her parents are still alive. When they sailed off on a two month adventure five years ago and didn’t return, Kobi was still able to see them when she used the magic word “Avanti!” It is one of 27 words that her writer mother gave her when she was little and told her were magical. Kobi and her older sister lived with their grandmother in Paris but now are heading to Des Moines, Iowa to go to school for a few months and live with their Uncle Wim. As Kobi tries to adapt to her new environment, she finds herself telling lies defensively as her classmates ask her questions. As the lies begin to catch up with Kobi, she is forced to realize that she has been lying to herself as well.

Moranville has written a book that is a blissful read. She uses small moments to speak to larger issues, captures details that bring the world she has created fully alive. There is Norman who wears clothes to blend in and not be noticed. There is Kobi’s older sister who is struggling with OCD. The entire family fills the pages with art, gardens, food and color. It is a beautifully built world.

The writing throughout the novel is exceptional. There are paragraphs that are completely exquisite. This one appears on page 108 and is about a woman struggling with Alzheimer’s:

Ms. Hancock was like a beautiful picture that had been rained on, then driven over by a car, then left under a pile of leaves to be nibbled by squirrels, and the only beautiful bit left was a tiny patch of incredible blue in one corner.

A strong novel that blends grief, lies, loss and the potential for real magic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant

little-penguins-by-cynthia-rylant

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Christian Robinson (InfoSoup)

Five little penguin siblings head out into the snow on the first day of winter. There are many snowflakes in the air while they put on mittens, scarves and boots. The snow is very deep by the time they get dressed and outside. They play in the snow and then head back inside where they pull off their winter gear, put their pajamas on, have warm cookies and sippy cups. That night, they are warm in bed but one of them is still looking out the window at winter arriving.

Newbery Award winner, Cynthia Rylant has written this book with exactly the right amount of text for toddlers and young preschoolers. There is a lovely loose rhythm to the words, an excitement of new falling snow that is generated on the page. The rush to get ready, the enjoyment of their time playing outside and the warmth of returning inside to coziness is all nicely captured. Children who love snow themselves will recognize their days in these little penguins.

Robinson’s illustrations make this book very special. His bold colors, strong shapes and use of space create a lot of drama on the page. The way that each little penguin has their own color adds an element that parents and teachers can use to talk about the book. There is also the chance to count to five again and again. The huge flakes of snow are a delight to the eye, creating a feeling of joy and wonder on each page.

A toddler-friendly picture book, this is a cheery book celebrating the coming winter. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.