Review: Captain’s Log: Snowbound by Erin Dionne

Captain's Log Snowbound by Erin Dionne

Captain’s Log: Snowbound by Erin Dionne, illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler (9781580898256)

All set to give his presentation on Ernest Shackleton, a boy is instead stuck at home due to a major snowstorm. The boy chronicles his adventure using journal entries like Shackleton’s to tell the tale. It all starts out fine with lots of food to share and a light heart. Then items begin to disappear and as the food dwindles, the boy must find out who the thief is before he ruins them all. Along the way, there is sledding, clearing the deck of snow and other merriment. Yet it may all lead to mutiny in the end.

Based on the author’s Facebook posts during the Boston snowstorm in 2015 that dumped 95 inches of snow, this book’s wry take on being stuck at home moves from being a joyous look at a snow day to a possible mutiny and lack of food. Still, the voice is always funny and the look at being a family stuck with one another for a length of time with resonate with children stuck home due to a storm or because of a holiday.

The illustrations are funny and detailed with cross-sections of the home, glimpses into windows, and vintage images from the Shackleton crew as well as objects of the time. The entire book cleverly plays on the Shackleton experience for laughter and context.

With a voice that makes for a great read aloud, this one is ideal to read with snow falling outside. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Charlesbridge.

Review: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

genesis begins again by alicia d. williams

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (9781481465809)

Genesis keeps a list of things that she hates about herself. Some of it is the color of her skin and the way that others tease her about how dark she is, unlike her light-skinned mother with good hair. Some of it is about the way that their family keeps getting kicked out of the houses they live in because they don’t pay the rent. Some of it is the way her father speaks about her when he is drunk. Some of it is based on her grandmother’s hurtful comments about Genesis. So after being kicked out of yet another house, Genesis’ family moves to a more affluent neighborhood outside of Detroit. Genesis discovers that she likes her new school and even finds herself making real friends for the first time. The house is the nicest they have ever lived in too. But other things aren’t any better. Her father keeps on drinking. Genesis is still as dark-skinned as ever, but she has plans to try to lighten her skin, thinking that will make her entire life better. As Genesis discovers her own talents, she must learn that learning to accept herself is a large piece of moving forward in life.

In this debut novel, Williams writes with a strong voice, taking on difficult topics including verbal abuse, racism, skin tone, alcoholism and co-dependency in an unflinching way. Williams reveals the deep pain and lasting scars that cruel words and verbal abuse can have on a young person, particularly when it is about a physical characteristic that is beyond their control. With Genesis’ parents caught in a marriage filled with anger and substance abuse, Williams offers other adult figures and also young peers who model a way forward for Genesis.

Genesis’ growth is organic and well paced. She learns things steadily but has set backs that end up with her damaging herself. She is a complicated character who looks at life through a specific lens due to her upbringing. She is constantly judging others before they can judge her, placing distance where there could be connections, and making poor decisions when offered compliments. Still, she is a good friend, someone willing to look beyond the surface and see what others can’t. But only when she allows herself to do that. Her complexity is what makes this book really shine.

Strong and vibrant, this book takes on the subject of skin tone in the African-American community as well as other heavy topics. Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Atheneum.

Review: One-Third Nerd by Gennifer Choldenko

One-Third Nerd by Gennifer Choldenko

One-Third Nerd by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans (9781524718886)

Released January 29, 2019.

The award-winning author of the Al Capone series returns with a book for younger children. Liam is a fifth grader whose life has gotten complicated. He lives with his mother and two younger sisters in a basement apartment near San Francisco. Fifth grade isn’t the same as younger grades and Liam is concerned with appearing to not be as poor as his family actually is. Even worse, their dog, Cupcake, has started having a peeing problem and they don’t have the money to get her special tests done. Meanwhile, Dakota, one of Liam’s sisters is trying to make enough money to save Cupcake, since if she doesn’t stop peeing on things they will need to get rid of her. Unfortunately, it involves selling some of Liam’s favorite things and conducting some wild science experiments. Then you have the youngest in the family, Izzy a child with Down syndrome, who makes friends easily and gives great hugs. Can this family of nerds, jocks and friendliness come together and save Cupcake?

The writing here is just right for younger readers who will love the brisk pace mixed with with madcap humor. Liam is a strong protagonist who is starting to become more aware of social standing and how others perceive him, and being a big brother to the disruptive Dakota is not helping matters. Even when he is exasperated with his sister though, he tends to be calm and show a great deal of maturity in each situation.

I love that this book is not focused on big issues. There are several that could have been the focus in a more dramatic book, such as poverty, Down syndrome, and divorce. Instead Choldenko tells the story of a family facing a variety of challenges and weathering them together, several of the obvious challenges actually turn out to be strengths along the way. The light tone is also conveyed in the illustrations with their light touch and humorous takes on the scenes.

This funny wild romp will be enjoyed by elementary readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Wendy Lamb Books.

Review: All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins

All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (9780399554193)

Based on the series by Sydney Taylor, this new picture book gives a warm look at a beloved family celebrating Hanukkah. Set in New York City in 1912, both fans and new readers alike will find themselves immersed in this family of five girls, all of a kind. Gertie, the youngest of the five girls, knows about latkes but can’t remember what they taste like since Mama only makes them on Hanukkah. All of the girls help Mama make the meal except for Gertie who is too little to help. The potato peeler is too sharp, the onions make you cry, the shredder is even sharper than the peeler, and the grease in the pan could burn. When Gertie discovers there isn’t a job she can do, she throws a tantrum and is sent to her room. It isn’t until Papa comes home that Gertie gets her own special job, lighting the menorah’s first candle.

I adored this series as a child, loving the depiction of an immigrant family. I’m so pleased to see it return in a new format that brings the stories to a new generation in need of positive immigrant tales. As always, this family is filled with warmth and the picture book just like the series focuses on small moments in a family’s life that speak to their values, their deep love for one another, and their customs. The writing here is deft and focused just right for the picture book format without losing any of that special “All-of-a-Kind” feeling.

Zelinsky’s illustrations carry that same warm feeling. Done in rich colors, the pages are full of the bustling family working together in the kitchen. Even Gertie’s time alone in the bedroom under the bed has warm wood tones. The final pages of the book are all the more rich and warm as the family comes together for the meal with the lit menorah.

Exactly what our world needs right now, a celebration of immigrants and faith. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Mallko and Dad by Gusti

Mallko and Dad by Gusti

Mallko and Dad by Gusti (9781592702596)

This autobiographical picture book takes a raw and impassioned look at fatherhood and unconditional love. It is the story of the author and his son who was born with Down Syndrome. Mallko was not what his father was expecting, and Gusti did not accept his son at first. Steadily though, he quickly realized that Mallko was complete and fine as he was. Mallko’s mother and older brother accepted him much faster, showing Gusti the way forward. The book explores Mallko, his humor and his life. His art is shown side-by-side with his father’s on the pages. This is a book that is a clarion call for parents to realize that their children don’t need to change to be loved, they are worthy of it always.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this book is Gusti’s willingness to be this open about his hesitation of having a child who is different than he was expecting. Gusti does not try to rationalize his response or make apologies for it. It is clear he is pained by how he first reacted and is making up for those days of doubt. The rest of the book simply celebrates Mallko and exactly who he is. He is captured in a rainbow of images, cartoons capturing his activities, playing with his family, and simply being a child. It is a breathtaking display of love and feels like Gusti put his heart on every page.

An incredible book that is a picture book, but as thick as a novel thanks to the quantity of images crammed inside waiting to inspire you to love. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion Books.

 

 

Review: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty (
9781338255843)

Bronte has been raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler since she was a tiny baby. Still, it’s a shock when she discovers at age 10 that her parents have been killed by pirates. Her parents send her on a journey with strict rules and a tight schedule where she will meet all ten of her aunts and then everyone will come together for a party in her parents’ honor. Bronte may even get to meet her maternal grandfather, who lives near where the party will be held. As Bronte sets off on her travels though, they become more and more unique and strange. There are fairies, magicians who can whisper directly into your brain, potions, and spells. Then there is the question of who Bronte herself actually is and whether she will ever discover the truth about herself. 

I am not one for travel stories where the protagonist takes all sorts of conveyances through a magical world, and yet this one is so very charming with pieces that click together so beautifully that I could not put it down. Nicely, Moriarty minimizes the travel pieces by often skipping them altogether, something that is downright applause-worthy on its own. Moriarty sets just the right tone here, allowing readers to gather that they are in a magical world slowly and then explore what that means alongside Bronte. Her world building is complex and yet also compact, keeping the story very tightly focused and enjoyable.

Bronte is a marvelous protagonist mostly because she is not the adventurous type and has spent much of her life alone with adults. Moriarty writes her like that throughout the book. She enjoys the company of other children, and yet has a wariness that makes sense given her upbringing and recent loss. As Bronte and the reader slowly piece together the full puzzle, this book really comes into its own, ending up being a grand and magical adventure where each element was necessary and important. 

A marvelous fantasy for young readers, this journey is one worth taking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

Review: Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr

Astrid the Unstoppable by Maria Parr (9781536200171)

Astrid loves living in her tiny village in the mountains. The only problem is that no other children live nearby. She does have a best friend, Gunnvald, a neighbor in his seventies who loves to play the fiddle and can be rather grumpy. Astrid spends her time playing outside, building prototype sleds with Gunnvald, and bothering the owner of the wellness retreat nearby. When some children do come to the retreat (where children are forbidden) Astrid becomes friends with them despite having a fight first. Astrid’s world is idyllic, but something is about to change. When Gunnvald has an accident and has to have surgery, the secret he has been keeping from Astrid is revealed. Could it be that nothing will ever go back to normal again?

This Norwegian book has been translated into languages and sold around the world. It’s wonderful to see it on American shelves. Parr writes with a delightful sense of merriment throughout her book. She speaks to the importance of children having freedom and an ability to make choices in their life (even if one of those choices can’t be missing school all the time). She also demonstrates what a life lived outdoors looks like and the importance of loving a place and identifying with it.

The book uses the story of Heidi as a central plot point, which is very interesting since I had been thinking of how much this tale was like Heidi from the start. It is partly the setting itself of a mountaintop with an older man who is grumpy yet warm. But another large component is the character at the heart of both stories. Astrid, like Heidi, is fiercely independent and loves with all her being.

Richly told, this book is a delightful wintry read that feels like a long-lost classic. Get it into the hands of fans of Heidi and Pippi Longstocking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.

Review: Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

Snow Lane by Josie Angelini (9781250150929)

Annie doesn’t live in the type of family that lets them take tropical vacations during school breaks like some of the kids she goes to school with. She is the youngest of nine children in her family and money is tight. Her father works so much that she barely sees him at all unless it is while she is helping out at their family farm picking berries. Her mother doesn’t pay much attention to any of the children except the two talented ones. As Annie returns to school for a new year, she realizes that she is very different than the other kids and it goes a lot deeper than her having to wear hand-me-downs from her older brother and wait to get new shoes that don’t have a huge hole in them. Annie is consistently resilient and cheerful in the face of everything she has to deal with, something that is all the more impressive as her family secrets are revealed.

Angelini has drawn from her own family history to create one of the most heart-wrenching books of the year. Readers will immediately know that there is something wrong in Annie’s life as they witness her older siblings being cruel to Annie and her closest sister. Annie struggles with dyslexia and one older sister who is physically violent and also emotionally abusive, telling Annie that she is stupid all the time. As the book steadily reveals the truth about the family, things fall into place and leave Annie to find a way forward using her optimism and intelligence.

Angelini writes beautifully here. She allows the story to play out in front of the reader with Annie herself living in denial about what is actually happening in her family. That denial is even explained clearly towards the end of the book, which gives readers hope that Annie will not just survive but start to thrive. Angelini gives Annie two critical friendships at school that allow her to be successful. Both friends clearly have some ideas of what might be happening to Annie, but neither push that too hard, offering instead friendship, food, and safety.

Heartfelt and painfully honest, this book will speak to so many children living in similar circumstances and allow them to know they are not alone. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson (9780399549045)

When Carmela woke up on her birthday, she knew that she was finally old enough to accompany her older brother as he did the family errands. The two headed out into their bustling urban neighborhood, passing shops, a nursing home, and street vendors. Her big brother though wasn’t as happy to have his little sister tagging along. He ignores her as much as possible, even as she jingles her bracelets and tries to get his attention. When Carmela discovers a dandelion growing in the sidewalk, she learns about making a wish before blowing on it. After a tumble though, it is smashed on the ground. Her brother though knows just what to do to make it better.

De la Pena and Robinson are the two that created Last Stop on Market Street together. In this second book, they tell the gentle story of a young girl reaching an important milestone in her life. The story is complex, revealing that her father has been removed from their home because he didn’t have the right papers. The relationship between the siblings is deftly shown, the older sibling not having much patience until something bad happens. Then his care demonstrates clearly his love for his little sister and leads to a culminating moment in the book.

Robinson’s art is wonderful. Done in painted collage, the illustrations have a warmth to them that works particularly well in this tale. He excels at showing relationships in his art, in creating special moments. The Valentine-like cut paper pages that show Carmela’s possible wishes are beautiful moments on the page.

Another gorgeous and diverse picture book from two masters, this one belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.