Tag: families

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

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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

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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

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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

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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.

 

The Bossier Baby by Marla Frazee

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The Bossier Baby by Marla Frazee (InfoSoup)

Caldecott Honor winner, Frazee has returned with a sequel to Boss Baby. Unfortunately for Boss Baby, things in his corporation have started to change. His staff isn’t treating him the same way and suddenly there is a new CEO! She first restructures the organization, and then does the seemingly impossible: she’s even bossier than her big brother. She manages to get better perks than he ever got too. Boss Baby has had enough and starts to display outrageous behavior and then he just gave up. But luckily, his new CEO knows exactly how to handle a crisis like this.

All of the wonderful mix of babyhood and the corporate mix of the first book returns in the second. It’s a winning combination where corporate take over feels exactly the same as a new baby in the house. While the first book had a lot of parental perspective, this second one is all about the older siblings and his feelings of displacement. Told with plenty of humor, the book is hilarious and oh so true.

Frazee’s illustrations are exceptional, of course. They have a wonderful mix of page designs from montages of images to full double-page spreads. Each has a specific perspective that heightens the emotional feel of the story as well. Just look at the long shadow thrown by the new CEO, or the disruptive behavior which is sure to get children giggling.

A delight of a sequel, this book is ideal for children who have been the Big Boss in their family but are now dealing with their own takeover. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

 

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

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Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley (InfoSoup)

Gertie doesn’t know her mother at all, since she left Gertie and her father behind. Gertie lives with her aunt and father, who is often gone working on an oil rig. But when a For Sale sign goes up on her mother’s home and she expects to leave town soon, Gertie discovers that she wants to prove to her mother that she should never have left. So Gertie goes on a mission to become the best fifth-grader in the universe. When school starts though, there is a new student in her class, Mary Sue Spivey, who seems to be a lot more likely to be the best. She gets perfect grades, their teacher loves her, and even Gertie’s best friend befriends Mary Sue. When tryouts for the play come though, Gertie is selected as the lead, but can she actually become the perfect fifth grader and get her mother to witness it?

Beasley has created a story filled with characters who are vastly human. Gertie herself struggles with success, has trouble keeping her strong personality under wraps, sets herself immense goals through her missions, and yet has a huge heart and a desire to do the right thing. That right thing though is often warped under her reasoning into something that many people might see as overtly wrong.

The book has plenty of twists and turns, all based on Gertie herself and what she is creating around her. Sometimes that is good things and other times it is pure trouble. She also discovers that young people can be “fickle” and uses that word to keep herself from being too overly concerned when they turn against her and also too caught up in when they like her again.

Ideal for children who enjoyed Clementine, this book has humor, pizzazz and one great heroine. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught

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Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught (InfoSoup)

Dani’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s and is slowly reaching the end of her life cared for by Dani and her parents. So when her grandmother sends Dani on a mission to find a letter and key, Dani isn’t sure that it’s real. She discovers both the letter and key, then has to follow the trail of clues her grandmother left in her writing to discover the truth of a feud that her grandmother had with Avadelle Richardson, a novelist who wrote about a riot that happened at Ole Miss. It’s a riot that both Dani’s grandmother and Avadelle actually were caught up in. As Dani gets closer to the end of the trail, she finds more and more secrets and history and modern life begin to collide.

Vaught has written a taut novel that takes readers on a journey through Civil Rights history in Mississippi. Told through the eyes of Dani, the book is accessible to modern children and shows that racism is far from over. With our recent election, it is also a timely book that speaks to the deep-seated racism still at work in our country today. Vaught uses excerpts from Avadelle’s fictitious novel to show the historical context that the riot took place in. It does show how far we have come, but also speaks to how far we have to go.

The complex friendships of middle grade children are captured here, with Dani and her best-friend Indri sharing the adventure while her “not-friend” Mac, grandson of Avadelle continues to also be a part of it though at times the two are not speaking, just like their grandmothers. This modern division is a clever way to show how friendships change, shift and fall apart, something that mirrors what is seen in the novel and in the grandparents’ relationship.

A rich look at Civil Rights, racism and the decisions too big to be unmade, this novel is a timely look at today and our shared past. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.