Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez (9781536207040)

Evelyn and Daniela are best friends. Evelyn tries to act like today is just like any other day, but it’s not. Daniela goes across the street to find a big truck getting filled with boxes and their furniture. The two climb the stairs two at a time, the way they always do. They go past Evelyn’s neighbors who they know so well, into the apartment which is a twin of where Daniela lives across the street. The furniture is all packed and just a few boxes are left, so the girls play in an empty box until it is time for Evelyn to go. In the empty apartment they spin together, then discover stickers to share. A heart pressed to a cheek to seal the promise of a future visit together. Then it is time to go, knowing they will always be best friends.

Medina proves here that she can write just as beautifully for preschoolers and elementary age as she does for older readers. Focusing on the long goodbye, this picture book shows how farewells can be done with smiles and promises. Medina invites us into their shared imaginative play, the joy of big empty boxes, the pleasure of hiding from adults together, and finally the sadness of goodbyes. The twinning of the two girls with their similar apartments and attitudes works so well here, showing their connection in a physical way.

Sanchez’s art is glorious. Full of the deepest of colors, saturated reds and oranges, cool blues and greens. They are paired with textures of wallpaper, cardboard corrugations, red bricks, and floorboards. This is an entire world of apartments and friendship.

A great picture book with an empowering final page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis

This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso (9781419742064)

Open Bud Ranch is a place that took in all kinds of animals. When Jack the goat first arrived, it was clear to all of the other animals that Jack liked his space. But Charlie the horse didn’t even see Jack, since he was getting used to being only able to see from one of his eyes. After getting stepped on, Jack made sure to keep an eye on Charlie at all times. That’s when he noticed that he and Charlie liked a lot of the same things like sunlit pastures and smelling the honeysuckle. But Charlie often got turned around and had to move really slowly. One day, Jack decided to help and led Charlie to the best place to graze and then down to the river. Soon the two went everywhere together. Then Charlie lost the sight in his other eye, leaving him entirely blind. Jack still liked his space, so when a storm blew in, Charlie left the warm barn to protect Jack from the rain. After an argument, Charlie got in an accident and that left Jack the only one to save him, even though it meant talking to the others on the farm.

Levis offers a rich story arc in this picture book that tells a full tale and also manages to be a great read-aloud. The tale of these two unlikely friends is based on the true story of Charlie and Jack. The book gently shows that animals have value even if they aren’t technically productive in a farming sense, and that they have emotions and the ability to help one another when they are in need.

Santoso’s illustrations beautifully show the farm with glowing pages of sunlit pastures. He moves easily into action and drama as the story demands it with the same animals distraught or scared. The illustrations capture the personalities of Charlie and Jack.

An engaging and warm look at animal rescue and friendship. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne (9781534441538)

Beetle longs to be a sorceress but instead she is a goblin and learning magic from her grandmother at home. Her best friend is Blob Ghost, who she visits in the failing mall. When an old friend returns to ‘Allows from going to sorcery school, Beetle is smitten and intimidated. Kat is everything that Beetle wants to be. Kat’s teacher has targeted Blob Ghost’s mall for demolition in the near future. But Blog Ghost can’t leave the mall, tied to it by an unbreakable force. As the demolition is suddenly moved up, it’s up to Beetle and Blog Ghost to free them before they are destroyed along with the building. Beetle is going to have to find the magic inside of her and fight for those she loves.

Layne has created a graphic novel for middle schoolers and teens that is an intoxicating mix of magic, goblins and love. The book looks at being left out and left behind by people you thought were your friends. It also explores the impact of family ties, of destiny and how those elements can be used for good or evil. Best of all, it’s a book that embraces an LGBTQ+ relationship that blossoms right in front of the reader. And don’t miss the pronoun used by Blob Ghost. It’s a treat to see someone referred to so easily as they/them/their.

The art in this graphic novel is just as exceptional as the story itself. Filled with colors that change from one page to the next, teals to purples to blob pink to goblin greens. Layne beautifully shows the ties and impact of magic on those who use it, turning Beetle into a floating witch of power at times. Kat with her skeletal aspect is a marvelous visual foil for the green and orange of Beetle, the two of them forming a full Halloween together.

Here’s hoping for more dangerous broom flights alongside Beetle! Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

 

This Is Gus by Chris Chatterton

This Is Gus by Chris Chatterton

This Is Gus by Chris Chatterton (9780593097366)

Gus is the sort of dog that doesn’t like much. He doesn’t like being petted, going on walks, playing fetch, or making friends. He doesn’t like birthdays either. Then a little dog enters his life. The little dog explains that once he arrived, Gus started liking all sorts of things like baths together and hugs. But the one thing that Gus really loves is sausages. He loves everything about sausages. So does the little dog! But Gus doesn’t like to share. But there just might be one thing that Gus likes more than sausages.

Chatteron’s humor is marvelously deadpan. His timing is impeccable throughout the book, particularly the reveals. At first the book seems to not have a specific narrator but that reveal of the little, perky dog speaking about Gus is a delight. The ending too has a well-timed and touching moment that is simple but perfection.

The text is very simple, so the illustrations carry much of the story. They are particularly important to capture the neutrality of Gus with his natural frown. Big and bold, the illustrations work well for sharing the book aloud.

Hilarious and just as satisfying as a sausage feast. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Penguin Workshop.

Finding Francois by Gus Gordon

Finding Francois by Gus Gordon

Finding Francois by Gus Gordon (9780525554004)

Alice Bonnet loved living with her grandmother in their French town. She loved baking together and also loved making lists on her own. But sometimes Alice was lonely, like when she felt small or didn’t feel brave or when her grandmother was napping. So one morning, she decided to try to find a friend. So she wrote a letter, put it in a bottle and threw it from the bridge. The bottle floated into the ocean, was handled by several different creatures, and eventually found its way to an island where Francois the dog lived with his father. Soon the two were writing back and forth, sending the bottle across the ocean again and again. But when Alice suffered a loss, it was hard for her to write letters or make lists or plan any more. So she stopped writing to Francois for some time. Eventually though, Alice began to plan again, make lists and write letters. And soon a big plan came together!

There is such magic about sending messages in bottles and what an idea that you could throw a message into the water and it would go and back and forth forming a true friendship. That underlying magic is a huge part of the charm of this book, though the characters and the French setting have their own magic about them as well. Alice’s optimism and creativity shine in the story, offering hope even when she is terribly sad.

The art in the book is done in watercolor and pencil. It also incorporates clippings from old paper that fill the pages with old-fashioned objects. Some of the illustrations also appear to be done on postcards, which matches the mailing of messages in the story.

Warm and endearing, this picture book looks at new friendships across wide distances. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée (9780062836717)

Jenae goes through life being invisible. It’s her own superpower, just like her favorite show, Astrid Dane. At school she is entirely ignored, and she prefers it that way. Her family is different, though with her mother always rushing, her brother’s injury and her grandfather’s health problems, Jenae can end up invisible there too. So it’s very strange when the new boy at school notices Jenae immediately. Aubrey is also different from the other kids. He too loves Astrid Dane. But Jenae isn’t looking for a friend at all. She keeps pushing Aubrey away, but Aubrey just keeps coming back. Soon Jenae realizes that she has found a friend. It’s too bad that circumstances are creating a time when she will have to ruin their friendship to avoid having to do the thing she fears most, giving a speech in front of a crowd.

There is so much to love in this book. The warm family that Jenae comes from gives the book a wonderful heartbeat, including a brother who won’t really talk to her after his accident and his return home from college. Her grandfather is full of advice, pushing Jenae to face her fears head on. Jenae blames herself for much of what happens in her family, including her brother’s accident. She deeply believes that she can think strong thoughts and make things happen.

Still, that’s not true when it comes to Aubrey, a new friend who brings lots of mixed feelings for Jenae. Jenae with her unique view of the world, her ability to be alone and not lonely, and her independence is also full of fears at times. She’s marvelously complex, geeky and individual. Aubrey is much the same, yet where Jenae is quiet, Aubrey always has something to say.

Full of fascinating characters, this book is about finding your voice, standing up and insisting on being heard. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon (9781534449671)

Yolanda’s family has lived on the pecan farm for generations, but they aren’t accepted by the townsfolks who call the brujas, or witches. Yolanda herself seems to have not gotten a magical gift though. Her younger sister has hers, with bees flying around her head and the ability to make plants grow and flower. It’s similar to her Wela’s gift with butterflies. Now though, Yolanda’s family is dwindling with only her sister and grandmother left. As her grandmother falls into a strange sleep, Yolanda sets out on a journey across their property. Joining her is her ex-best friend, her sister whom she also isn’t really speaking to, and a boy who may have a big crush on Yolanda. The grass has magically grown over the last few days, obstructing the view across their land, lengthening the journey to several days rather than hours, and putting real dangers in their path. They must all work together, Wela included, to complete the journey and find the answers to their family puzzle.

Impossible to summarize in any way that makes sense, this novel is a marvel of natural magic, connection to a place, and an in-depth exploration of a family. The connection to nature is evident throughout the novel both in the way that characters can work their magic with insects and plants but also through the grass that grows and the way the land stretches to create a world to explore. Throughout the book there is an intensity, a focus that allows the strange world to become solid and real.

A large part of that intensity is Yolanda herself, a character who holds grudges and demands to walk her own path, even if it’s foolish. She has lost contact with the people she had been closest to in the world, her best friend and sister, and had also lost connection with her grandfather before his death. The journey is just as much about her finding a way back to these people as it is about solving the larger family puzzle.

Strange and unique, this magical realism novel is an enticing summer read. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by McElderry Books.

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert (9780316456388)

Alberta has lived in the small town of Ewing Beach her entire life. She’s one of the only Black kids in the entire middle school, so when another Black girl just her age moves into the old bed and breakfast in her neighborhood, Alberta is thrilled. Alberta does have a best friend, but Laramie doesn’t understand some of the things that Alberta experiences, particularly with Nicolette, a bully who makes sly comments that imply that Alberta is different or gets special treatment due to her race. As seventh grade starts, Laramie gets closer with Nicolette and the popular group of kids while Alberta finds herself spending more time with Edie, the new girl. When Edie and Alberta discover a series of old journals in the bed and breakfast, they find themselves untangling a mystery that reveals haunting secrets about race and identity.

This is Colbert’s first middle-grade book and she brings the skill she has shown in her award-winning novels for teens to this new audience. The book embraces difficult subjects but also shows how having a strong family and sense of identity eases even hard conversations and situations. The book deals very directly with race and racism, having gay parents and a complicated family structure, and divorce. It also explores middle grade friendships and their tensions with empathy and solid advice.

Through the two main characters of Alberta and Edie, readers get to experience different sorts of Black girls. Alberta wears bright colors and loves to surf, spending lots of time at the beach. Edie who is from Brooklyn, wears black goth clothing and loves to read. They are both far from being stereotypical in any way, something that shouldn’t need to be said about today’s books but is also still noteworthy. The adults in the book show the same differences and exude a sense of warmth and support.

A great middle grade read about family, friendships and race. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson (9781338580839)

The author of The House with Chicken Legs returns with another clever novel based on Russian folklore. Yanka is a girl who hasn’t stopped growing, even though she is much taller than her Mamochka and her best friend, Sasha. She loves the stories Anatoly brings from the Snow Forest, tales of greed, transformation, magical trees, and a fiery dragon. After falling from an ice fort, Yanka is carried back home and awakens to discover that she has grown bear legs overnight. While her Mamochka wants to take her to a doctor, Yanka is certain that the answer lies in the stories she loves and the Snow Forest itself. So she sets off into the woods to find out how she fits into the tales and how they fit her. She is accompanied by Mousetrap, a house weasel, who she can now understand when he speaks. Along the way, she gathers new friends including an elk, a wolf, and even a house with chicken legs! Now she just has to find her grandmother, a Bear Tsarina, who may have the answers Yanka needs. 

This novel is so satisfying to read, rather like sipping on sbiten around the fire. The settings are beautifully captured without lingering on too much description: from the lovely village that Yanka and her adopted mother live in, to the glory of the Snow Forest. Fans of the first book will cheer when the Yaga and her house appear in the story, nicely pairing the two novels together. The lessons of working together to solve problems, accepting help when it’s offered, and depending on others in a community (or herd) are graciously offered to readers and shown effectively in the story itself.

Yanka herself is a heroine worth championing. Her struggles with fitting in at the village, even before her bear legs appeared, make sense to her, but from the beginning readers will see the truth of how she is adored and appreciated in her community. Numerous tales are woven throughout the book, told aloud by different characters. They become more than just tales as elements are shown to be true as Yanka’s adventures continue. She is always brave, willing to sacrifice herself, but also independent to a fault with lots to learn about friendship and community. 

Deep, fascinating and warming, this children’s novel is honey and an herbal salve for its readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.