Tag: families

Home at Last by Vera B. Williams


Home at Last by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka (InfoSoup)

Lester is adopted by Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert, who pick him up with their dog Wincka once the adoption is formalized. They head home, put Lester’s new clothes away. But when Daddy Albert tries to put Lester’s suitcase in the attic, Lester shows them that it is full of his action figures and insists that they have to stay right in the suitcase in his room. Lester is happy during the day, playing with his toys and spending time with his new fathers. At night though, he packs up his suitcase and stands near his fathers’ bed. This happens night after night, despite cocoa and toast, singing songs, and explanations that Lester is safe. Finally, one of the fathers loses his temper with the situation and then Lester really opens up about what he is worried about. A solution to the problem is found by Wincka, the dog, who was listening to Lester’s story too.

This was the book that Williams was working on when she died. Raschka had been involved from the beginning with the book and completed the vision that Williams had shared with him. Williams captures the deep-seated fear that adopted children can have, the understanding at one level of newfound family love but also the change that comes at night where fears become larger. Williams also shows two loving gay men, both delighted to be fathers and each different from the other. The two of them together parent Lester with kindness and concern and deep love.

Raschka finished the book, basing his art on sketches by Williams. His large colorful illustrations have a loose feel that ranges across the page, capturing both the mayhem of a family short on sleep but also the warmth of that family too. His watercolors convey deep emotions from the frustrations of sleepless nights to the power of coming together afterwards. All is beautifully shown on the page.

A tribute to adoptive families, LGBT couples who adopt and the importance of love and patience, this picture book is a grand finale to the many books by Williams. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.



Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick (InfoSoup)

Claire isn’t having a good year. She is being teased at school by not only a mean girl but by a boy who has been picking on her for years. She loves her dance classes, but her friends are moved into high school classes while she is left behind with the little kids. Her brother is perfect in every way, so Claire has to disappoint all of the teachers that had him once they see her work. Then Claire’s life really turns upside down and sideways when her father collapses at home. Claire is the only one there and has to call 911 and get him help, riding along in the ambulance. Suddenly the father who was always dancing, singing and joking can’t do any of those things anymore. As Claire’s life really starts to fall apart, Claire has to figure out how to see the humor in it all again for both herself and her family.

Sonnenblick has returned with another of his amazing teen novels. As always, it is written with incredible skill. He manages to take tragic scenes and make them very funny, even those in emergency rooms. He also takes great moments of humor and gives them incredible heart as well. Throughout, there are tears and laughter that mix in the best possible way. The writing is intelligent and screamingly funny, giving readers the chance to see the humor in it all long before Claire realizes that it is still OK to laugh.

Claire is a very human protagonist with her own sense of humor and ability to laugh at herself. She is also flawed, sometimes self involved and other times seeming to be selfish just because she is protecting herself from hurt. Her relationships with family and friends are richly drawn in the novel, including those with people she is figuring out how to deal with. While things aren’t magically fixed (thank goodness) Claire herself manages to solve many of the problems herself.

A pure joy of a novel filled with pathos, tears and lots of laughter. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.


What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A. Levine

What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A Levine.jpg

What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A. Levine, illustrated by Katie Kath (InfoSoup)

When Noah visits his grandparents, Noah and his grandfather start the day with a song. They head outside with the dog even if its raining, singing all the way. At breakfast they made plans for the day. But lately, Grandpa has been forgetting to ask about making plans. Then one day when Noah woke him from a nap, Grandpa didn’t know who he was. His Grandma explained that sometimes Grandpa got confused and that it was better to focus on what he still had rather than what he lost. So Noah set out to do the things alone that he had done with his grandfather, until he discovered that Grandpa still responded to music and songs. It was a way to start once more having special mornings together.

This book is so beautifully done. It is about the very special relationship that children have with their grandparents, the delight of staying with them, and how each morning can be special just because someone cares for you and spends time with you. It is also about the power of music to connect people and experiences as well as its special quality with those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Throughout, the character of Grandma is there, at first secondary to the strong relationship between grandfather and grandson and then stepping up to fill some of the gaps left behind. She is warm and loving and very special.

Kath’s illustrations are bright colored and friendly. When Grandpa is confused or feeling separate, she uses a visual device to indicate the change by having his face lose color. If he is particularly confused, the colorlessness spreads on the page, taking up his entire body. In this way, children will see visually the change coming over Grandpa and understand that it is deeply affecting him and his personality.

It is rare that I tear up when reading a picture book, but this book is particularly moving. Have tissues ready. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina


Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina (InfoSoup)

Juana lives in Bogotá, Colombia with her family. She loves things like reading, drawing, Brussels sprouts, and Astroman. She also loves living in Bogotá and in particular having a best friend like Lucas, her dog. Still, there are some things she doesn’t like. She doesn’t like the school uniform she has to wear, doing classwork, and in particular she doesn’t like learning “the English.” When Juana complains about having to learn English and how hard it is, the adults around her encourage her to keep trying. She is also told about a special trip that her grandparents are planning to the United States and Juana will get to meet Astroman there! But in order to be allowed to go, Juana has to do better in her classes, particularly English.

Filled with lots of pictures and even some infographics, this book is particularly approachable for children. With the same humor and heart as series like Clementine, this picture book offers a glimpse into another culture as well as a smart and independent heroine. Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the text, making it just challenging enough that readers will understand how hard it is to decode a different language and yet how rewarding it is too.

The illustrations are bright and cheery. The infographics, used to label different characters with their unique characteristics are funny and nicely designed for clarity. The city of Bogotá and the people in Juana’s life are shown in bright colors with lovely humorous touches.

The first book in a new series that offers diversity, Spanish and lots of heart. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

The Best Man by Richard Peck

The Best Man by Richard Peck

The Best Man by Richard Peck (InfoSoup)

Released September 20, 2016.

Archer recounts the two weddings that he has been in, one really bad and the other really good and all of the time in between. The first was a wedding where he was in first grade and the ring bearer. He tried hiding in the bushes and only managed to get his outfit full of mud and to rip a hole in the too-tight cloth. The best that can be said is that it made a popular YouTube clip. Archer also managed to make a new friend that day, a friendship that would carry through his grade school years. As grade school progresses, Archer tries to figure out what type of person he wants to be. He knows that he wants to be like his grandfather, his father and his uncle. He also wants to be like his fifth-grade student teacher too, a handsome veteran who turns school into a media frenzy. It is the wedding of his uncle to his teacher that is the best wedding ever. As Archer matures, he shows the men around him what means to be the best kind of man too.

Peck is a Newbery Medalist and this one of his best ever. Peck takes the hot topic of gay marriage and makes it immensely approachable and personal. Archer is a wonderfully naive narrator, someone who isn’t the first in the room to figure things out. That gives readers space to see things first and to come to their own opinions on things. Then the book offers insight into being human whether gay or straight. There is no pretense here, just a family living their lives together and inspiring one another to be better than they are.

Peck’s lightness throughout the book is to be applauded. This is not a “problem” novel that grapples with the idea of gay marriage and debates it at length. Instead it is a book filled with laugh-out-loud humor and lots of delight. Alongside that is a great deal of poignancy with aging grandparents, the ins and outs of love, and the growth of characters throughout.

Entirely engaging and immensely readable, this is one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.


The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan

The Poets Dog by Patricia MacLachlan

The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan (InfoSoup)

Released September 13, 2016.

Newbery Medal winning author Patricia MacLachlan returns with a gorgeous little book. Two siblings, brother and sister, are trapped in a snowstorm. They had been left with the car when their mother went for help, but were warned that if the car was entirely covered with snow, it might be a dangerous place to stay. Nearby lives Teddy, a dog raised by a poet, so a dog who understands words and can even speak. However, only two kinds of people understand him, poets and children. Teddy discovers the children and brings them back to the poet’s home, a home that he hasn’t entered since his beloved human companion died. Soon the children are making the house into a different kind of home, but no less filled with the beauty of words and the feelings of love.

MacLachlan has created a lovely short book that wraps readers in warmth. It is as if readers too have been rescued from the cold and the dark, welcomed into a place of firelight and sustenance. It is an enchanting book that brings back the feelings of being at home during a storm and knowing you are safe and secure. MacLachlan’s writing is assured and masterful. She is so succinct and deft in her storytelling that she manages to offer a full story in less than fifty pages and even make it feel leisurely and special.

Throughout the book, Teddy the dog explores what it is to be special to someone, loved by someone and then to lose that person. Through his memories readers see how Sylvan, the poet, died and how Teddy has managed to stay on the property. As he works through his grief with the children near him, there is a strong sense of the importance of poetry and words and expression.

A very moving and noteworthy addition to MacLachlan’s exceptional body of work, this book is exquisite. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Katherine Tegen Books and Edelweiss.

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LeFleur

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LeFleur

Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LeFleur (InfoSoup)

Released September 13, 2016.

In a country at war, even children are not safe. Sofarende is being bombed, including the town where 12-year-old Mathilde lives. There isn’t enough food, the sirens sound often, and then there is the destruction and people dying. Mathilde does have her best friend Megs who lives only a few doors away. Now the government has started recruiting children into service. It offers families a chance to have enough food and enough money to survive. The children have to pass a test. Mathilde knows that if Megs takes the test, she will be taken into service since Megs is top of their class. Mathilde takes the test as well, realizing that she too can change the way her entire family survives and lives though recognizing that she isn’t as gifted as Megs in school. But this test isn’t like any other they have ever taken, so the results aren’t either.

LeFleur has written a haunting look at war and the way that it impacts families and children. She presents us with a society that is already battered by the conflict and facing serious shortages. Into that angst and fear, she introduces a way forward, sacrificing children to the effort. It is that moment that mirrors so many choices that families must face in war, sending children to safety, sacrifice in order to find hope, becoming refugees. It is a powerful moment that LeFleur allows to stand and lengthen beautifully.

In the latter part of the book, the children’s efforts at war are meticulously written, yet there is a lovely lack of clarity as well. There is hope in what they are doing, a sense that children see the world very differently from adults and that that is important and valid. At its heart is hope for the future, an end to the conflict and an ability to look beyond today. This too is a powerful time, where conversation and humanity could win over war and despair.

This is the first in a series and I look forward to the next installment. The combination of skillful writing and a powerful scenario with a dynamic and unique heroine creates a series that is very special. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Wendy Lamb Books and Edelweiss.