Tag: friendship

Ghost by Jason Reynolds


Ghost by Jason Reynolds (InfoSoup)

Ghost learned to run fast thanks to running away from his abusive father who is now in jail. Still, Ghost keeps on running to escape the memories of his final night with his father and the truth of his family. When Ghost sees a group of teens running track, he thinks that he can outrun even the fastest of them. He races alongside the track and finds himself invited to join the team. Ghost through can’t afford the gear the other kids are using and also can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble long enough to focus on running at all. When Ghost makes another mistake and steals silver track shoes from a store while he is cutting class, he finds himself with yet another secret to keep bottled up. You can’t keep running away from problems and trouble though and soon they catch up with Ghost.

From the co-author of All American Boys and author of The Boy in the Black Suit comes this first book in a series about teens and the way track and being on a team affects their lives. This is a book that shines with hope throughout, even as Ghost is making the worst of his mistakes, there is still hope there. That hope comes from Ghost’s mother and from his new coach who gives him chances but also clarifies the new expectations that Ghost has to meet. It is that structure that allows readers to hope and root for Ghost as he negotiates his complex life.

This is a book that will be enjoyed by many children, not just those who enjoy sports or track. It will speak to them about transformation in their lives, opportunities that appear, and the hard work it takes to change and to trust. It is a book about friendships that deepen over time driven by becoming a new team together. It is a book about the power of positive adults in a child’s life and the power of belief in that child or teen.

Beautifully written, this is an accessible and powerful book about running towards the life you want. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.


My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison


My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison (InfoSoup)

Maggie and Paula have been friends since they were babies. Maggie, an elephant, is great at a lot of things like splashing in puddles and reaching apples on the tree. But when Veronica tells Paula that she thinks Maggie is too big, Paula starts to notice things about Maggie. She sees that Maggie is clumsy, can’t hide during games, and her clothes are snug. Paula knows that she should stand up for Maggie, but instead Paula starts to pretend she doesn’t see Maggie at all, something that is particularly hard with an elephant. When Veronica starts to pick on Paula for her teeth and the way they stick out, Maggie is the first to defend her, showing exactly how a friend should act.

Harrison tells the story of a little problem in a strong friendship, a situation that will be very familiar for young children who are just figuring out how to be friends and what that means. Children will feel for Maggie and the way she is shunned but thanks to Harrison having the voice of Paula tell the story, they will also understand Paula’s point of view and even see how they themselves could make the same choice.

Harrison’s art shines as always. Her detailed artwork shows Maggie in all of her size and also captures her friendly spirit as well. Throughout the book, you can tangibly feel the emotions of the characters. Maggie’s ears alone do a great job of conveying how very sad and hurt she is by the way she is being treated. And look out when Maggie is angry!

This is a beautiful picture book about a cherished friendship that stumbles and then rights itself. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.


Moo by Sharon Creech


Moo by Sharon Creech (InfoSoup)

Reena and her little brother, Luke, move to the Maine countryside with their parents. At first they spend their summer riding their bikes around the area, loving the freedom that comes with it. But then their parents “volunteer” both of them to help out on a neighbor’s farm. Mrs. Falala is unusual to say the least. She has all sorts of animals on the farm, including a pig, a cat and a snake, but the one that she needs Reena’s help with most is Zora, a grumpy cow. Slowly, Reena gains Zora’s trust and starts to understand what she needs to be happier. Just as slowly, Luke begins to bond with Mrs. Falala as he works on his drawings alongside her. As these new friendships emerge, new opportunities arise to form connections, learn from one another, and delight in the antics of one ornery cow.

Creech uses a glorious blend of prose and poetry in this novel. The poetry takes concrete form at times but usually is free verse and flows in the way summer days do. The prose reads like poetry at times, blending the two formats even more closely together. The rural Maine setting comes alive in the book, the children experiencing it with great delight that readers will share. Creech captures the emotions of a major move and the wonders and fears of being from the city and landing firmly in farm country.

This is a book with plenty of large characters. Mrs. Falala is a wonderful character, isolated and lonely, she is by turns prickly and warm, a conundrum that also makes perfect sense. From her use of music to express emotion to her willingness to learn to draw, she is an older character with plenty to still learn and even more to share. Then there is Zora, the cow, a creature with more than enough attitude and chutzpah to carry the novel. She is very much an animal version of her owner, though she tends to use hooves and head butts to show her feelings.

A rich narrative and plenty of amazing characters, this novel in prose and verse enchants as it demonstrates the importance of connections and community. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.


Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands


Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands (InfoSoup)

This is the second book in the Blackthorn Key Adventure series. Christopher Rowe survived his first adventure but now London has been hit by the Black Death, with thousands dying every week. As a young apothecary apprentice with no master, he is barely making ends meet since he is not allowed to sell any cures. Christopher discovers that his master left him some treasure, but first he must follow the clues to it and unravel the codes that it is in. Meanwhile, Christopher’s workshop is broken into yet nothing is taken. As the plague worsens, news of a prophet who can predict who will die from the plague arrives as well as an apothecary who claims to have a cure that truly works. As Christopher tries to puzzle through his master’s clues, he is also drawn into a dangerous situation of plague, death and lies.

I enjoyed the first book in this series with its 17th century London setting, the details of the apothecary trade and the focus on codes and secrecy. This second book in the series continues what I enjoyed so much about the first as well as continuing the broad humor that Sands use to offset the darkness of the subject matter. Still, this second book does have a one sophomore issue where the plot drags in the middle as the codes are working on being solved and the true nature of some of the characters are about to be revealed.

Some of the best characters from the first book reappear while new characters emerge as well. One of the most enjoyable new characters is Sally, an orphan who has escaped the orphanage due to the plague. Once again, people in poverty and orphans are shown as those with strong characters. Sally herself proves herself to be brave and strong immediately when we meet her, then she also shows how very useful she can be. It is her resilience that is remarkable, mirroring what readers will have seen in both Christopher and his best friend Tom.

A worthy second title in this winning series, take a journey into plague-ridden London for an adventure filled with humor and heroism. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Aladdin Books.


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.

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.


The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (InfoSoup)

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles lives in a small house on a hill near the sea where he watches for the glint of glass in the waves. It is his job to deliver any messages found in bottles to their rightful owner. Sometimes that means walking only a short distance and other times he must go on a long journey to deliver them. He wishes that one day he would find a message in a bottle that is meant for him, but he never does. One day though, he does find a message with no recipient mentioned. It is an invitation to a party on the beach. He heads into town and asks person after person if this is their message, but it doesn’t belong to any of them. He decides he must go to the party to apologize for not delivering the message to the right person. But what he finds there shows him that some messages are meant for him after all.

Cuevas writes with real poetry in this picture book. Her prose captures the essence of moments with gorgeous descriptions like, “Sometimes the messages were very old, crunchy like leaves in the fall.” The book celebrates the connection that letters bring each of us and takes readers back to a time when messages were written by hand, even if rarely placed in bottles. It is also a book that speaks to the importance of community and feeling like you belong, but also the vitality that can be found in taking the first step towards making that connection.

Stead’s illustrations are dreamy with their pastel colors and fine lined details. Some of them are almost like looking through a keyhole and watching while others encompass the page. There are pages filled with the water of the sea that show both the difficulty of the job and the loneliness of it too. Moments looking alone out of a window capture the isolation the Uncorker is feeling. The colors too add to the emotions of the images both during the isolation and later at the party.

A poetic and beautiful picture book that looks at letters, community and connections in a memorable way. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.