Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (9781250312846)
Freddy is dating the most popular girl at school. She is exactly the person you want to date, pretty, sexy, charming, and makes you feel like the center of her world. Until you aren’t, which happens pretty often. Laura keeps on cheating on Freddy, breaking up with her, and then asking Freddy to get back together. Freddy knows that it’s not ideal and so do all of her friends. When the two girls break up again, Freddy’s best friend Doodle encourages her to see a medium (who is also a great dungeon master too) to get advice. The medium agrees with all of Freddy’s friends, break up with Laura Dean. But it’s not that easy and as their relationship heats up again, Freddy risks her friendships to continue to be with the intoxicating Laura Dean.
This graphic novel beautifully captures a captivating but toxic romantic and sexual relationship. Tamaki has created several brilliant characters who avoid any kind of stereotype and are written as individuals. In particular, I appreciated Doodle, one of the only teen characters I have seen in a novel that avoids using a cell phone. As a parent of this type of teen, it is refreshing to see a character do this so organically. Fans of Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop gaming will love the DM as a medium and the use of gaming as a way to connect on multiple levels.
The art is a great complement to the story line. Filled with touches of pink, the art takes small moments and tiny focal points to tell a robust story. Just the images of Freddy’s shoes walking alone after a break up speak so beautifully of loneliness. The characters themselves are also vividly depicted in the art, from Freddy alone on her rumpled sheets to Doodle’s body language when she is being neglected.
An exceptional LGBTQ graphic novel that talks openly about toxicity in relationships and the importance of friendships. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg, illustrated by Kristin Lidstrom, translated by Eva Apelqvist (9781773061498)
Adrian doesn’t fit in at school. Bullied by some of the kids in the schoolyard, he spends his time in class hoping not to be called on. When he is, his heart pounds and his mind goes blank. He can’t answer even the easiest of questions out loud. He spends lunch alone and his recess dangling from tree branches. On his way home, he does head stands and walks on his hands. At home, his father works early and his mother works late, Then Adrian meets Heidi, a large wolfhound, who bonds with him immediately. The two of them spend all of their time together, she even goes with him to school. With Heidi at his side, Adrian doesn’t need to worry about bullies and he can focus in class and answer questions. But Heidi was someone else’s dog, and eventually Heidi found her owner again. Adrian was left alone again, missing Heidi dreadfully. Until Heidi found him again too. Adrian got to meet Heidi’s owner, and discovered a world of tightropes and performances.
This unique and fascinating book explores the life of a lonely boy who is different than the other children. He is quiet, unpopular and prone to anxiety, and yet he is also brave as he swings from tree branches and does hand stands on ledges. The text in the book is minimal with many of the pages showing only the illustrations and not having any words on them. The words often downplay the emotions that Adrian is feeling, though after he loses Heidi, his grief is palpable in both words and illustrations.
The illustrations are truly the heart of the book. They move from multi-paneled pencil drawings to full two-page paintings. The pencil drawings show Adrian’s everyday life while the large illustrations capture his emotions with a lush clarity. The small moments captured in Adrian’s day make up his life, one after another, small and yet also meaningful.
An incredibly moving graphic novel that invites readers to see beyond a person’s surface. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.
Motor Mouse by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard (9781481491266)
The beloved author of many easy readers returns with the first book in a new series. Done in a larger picture book format, the book still has three short chapters inside. The first story focuses on the joy of having cake every Friday for our Motor Mouse and Telly. When they discover that their cake shop is closed one Friday, what will they do? Perhaps another sweet treat can save the day thanks to a friendly hedgehog. In the second story, Motor Mouse decided he’d rather look around than drive. He takes a cab but can’t quite figure out what he wants to see. In the end though, he moves from memory lane to a bowling alley to making a new friend. The last story takes Motor Mouse to the movies with his brother, Vincent. Vincent always orders one large popcorn and doesn’t quite manage to share it. So when he does the same thing, Motor Mouse insists on being the one to hold the bucket this time. But sharing can be really hard!
Told with Rylant’s beautiful writing that sets just the right curious tone on each of the short chapters, this is a fantastic picture book. With a look towards dealing with expectations, managing friendships, and learning to share and appreciate one another, the themes are universal for small children who are trying to navigate similar situations. The stories are gentle but also profound.
Howard, who has collaborated with Rylant on the Mr. Putter & Tabby series as well as the Gooseberry Park books, returns with his signature style. With clear black lines, the illustrations are bouncy and friendly even when situations get a little problematic. There is a constant optimism about Howard’s work that is particularly effective here.
A great start to a new series that is sure to be popular. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane.
Focused by Alyson Gerber (9781338185973)
Clea loves to play chess; it’s her favorite thing to do. She likes it a lot better than her classes at school where she struggles to pay attention and follow directions. She’s also having a lot of emotional outbursts now that she’s in middle school. Clea knows that it’s because she’s just stupid and that she doesn’t try hard enough. She thinks that no one around her wants to tell her the truth. Then Clea gets tested for ADHD, and she discovers the reason for her issues at school. Still, it isn’t as simple as just taking medication and having a written schedule. In fact, before she realizes it, Clea has managed to drive her best friend away with her behavior. Clea must start figuring out how to manage her ADHD, her personal life and keep her schoolwork in hand, all while trying to be chosen for chess tournaments on the weekends.
Gerber has once again created a female protagonist who struggles with something beyond their control. I deeply appreciated Gerber’s focus on Clea finding a voice to ask for what she needed and her ability to fall down and get back up again. The book also shows ADHD not as something to blame but as a true issue that a person must manage and deal with on a daily basis. Gerber writes with a sensitivity about ADHD that comes from experiencing the issues herself.
As with her first book, readers will discover a lot to relate to with Clea. Simply understanding invisible disabilities more clearly is helpful for all readers. Those who face similar challenges will find a main character worth cheering for on these pages. Clea works incredibly hard even when she fails, thinks of others often, is a great sister and friend, and still can’t fix this issue on her own. It’s a testament to the power of getting help on a variety of levels.
A personal look at ADHD, this novel is a compelling and thought-provoking read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail Shepherd (9780525428459)
Lyndie is definitely not a good Southern girl, much to her grandmother’s despair. She tends to find trouble easily and not make friends quickly. When her father loses his job, they move in with his parents. Lady, Lyndie’s grandmother, has specific ideas of how Lyndie should act and even creates a strict schedule for her that gives her no free time. But somehow on Lyndie’s first day of school, she finds an injured fawn on the way to school and ends up not making it to school that day. Lyndie’s best friend is a do-gooder whose family takes in a boy from a local juvenile detention facility. As Lyndie gets to know him, they become friends and share secrets with one another. When Lyndie chooses to put family before friends, she could lose everyone.
The voice in this novel is unique and confident. Set in 1985, the characters are grappling with the impact of the Vietnam War on the men in their community. The book looks at the results of the war and how one suicide can ripple through several families. Shepherd does not make this simple or easy, she allows it to stand in all of its complexity and gives us a young history buff to explore it with.
Shepherd creates an entire world in her writing, one that invites readers in to deeply feel for and cheer for Lyndie even as she makes plenty of mistakes and missteps. Lyndie is a champion though, and readers will completely understand her motivations as she chooses one direction or another. Happily, Lyndie is her own person, filling her days with the history of the region, exploring news on microfilm, and finding ways to live in a new home with rigid expectations.
An exceptional debut novel that invites readers to care just as deeply as Lyndie does. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Kathy Dawson Books.
Sweety by Andrea Zuill (9780525580003)
Sweety is a naked mole rat, though fortunately for the pictures in the book mole rats like to wear clothes. But Sweety is not like the other naked mole rats. She loves to spend her time identifying fungi and does her school book reports in interpretive dance. She doesn’t have any friends because as her grandmother tells her, she’s a “square peg” and she doesn’t fit in. Happily, Sweety has her Aunt Ruth, who also didn’t fit in as a child. Ruth encourages Sweety to just be herself and that eventually she will find other like her who are different too. Sweety wonders how to find others without being too desperate, and in the end, she manages to do exactly the right thing.
Zuill has created a picture book that is entirely heart warming and charming. Sweety is a marvelous character, someone who is not only different in her interests but also looks different than the others around her. The large headgear that she wears adds to that as well as her bald head. My favorite part of the book is the wry look at popularity and the literal single hair that separates beauty from being different. These moments appear throughout the book and encourage readers to see Sweety as an individual.
A great picture book with one big personality. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord (9780545914246)
Emma is about to start public school for the first time as a fifth grader after being home schooled. On the evening before her first day of school, her father, a game warden, gets a call about a rabbit stuck in someone’s fence. Emma goes with her father on the call and discovers that it’s not a wild rabbit after all, but a domesticated bunny. Emma and her father take the bunny home and plan to turn it over to a shelter the next day. Then Emma must start school where she has plans to find the perfect best friend. However, things don’t go as planned and Emma is paired on a school project with Jack. Jack has problems paying attention in class, speaks when it isn’t his turn, and loves to talk about animal facts. Jack isn’t the friend that Emma is looking for. As Emma struggles to distance herself from Jack and get closer to the girls in her class, she is also learning more about herself along the way.
Lord once again has created a very readable book for older elementary readers. She perfectly captures the stress of going from a home-school environment to a public school classroom as well as the high expectations to find a best friend. As Emma works to manage her high expectations, she discovers that she is also being bullied by a girl in her class who is also mean to Jack. Still, it is not that simple to accept Jack as a friend, because he is different and has troubles, and yet, he may be the exact friend that Emma needs.
Emma is a complex character, which is very impressive given the short length of this novel. As she moves to a public school, she shows her gentleness with her rabbit, her love of family, and her deep longing for a true friend. She grapples with being pushed to work with Jack, being lied to by a classmate, and then finding herself being mean to Jack behind his back. Friendship is not simple!
An appealing read that will hop right into your heart. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic Press.
Dragon Night by J. R. Krause (9780525514244)
A boy who is scared of the dark night meets a dragon out of one of his story books who is scared of the knight too. The two set off on a flying journey to explore their fears together, thinking they are talking about the same thing. They find a carnival where night has been driven away but it has a castle. There is a city street with bright lights and no night, but there is a big king. The stadium even has a knight mascot. When the two realize they are talking about different fears, they work together to face them. The dragon helps the boy realize that dark brings the stars out. The boy then creates a new story for the dragon where the knight doesn’t try to hurt him at all.
Krause tells an empowering story of facing one’s fears with a friend in this picture book. His use of a homophone to start the misunderstanding adds to the fun of the story with an element of grammar and a reason for two unlikely beings to connect. Readers may expect the story to end when the boy begins to accept the night, but it continues with a more complicated solution for the dragon. The fact that the child thinks of the solution and creates it himself is a key to the success of this story.
Krause is an animator of shows like The Simpsons, so it is no surprise that the art in this book is compelling. Done in thick lines and limited colors, it has a vintage feel that makes for a great bedtime story. The art is deftly done, the illumination of the boy and the dragon throughout is skillfully and dramatically done.
Let your bedtime take flight with this winning read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Sweeping Up the Heart by Kevin Henkes (9780062852571)
Amelia is stuck at home during spring break while her best friend is off in France, probably forgetting all about Amelia. Amelia spends her time with Mrs. O’Brien, the neighbor who has helped care for her for most of her life. She also goes to the local art studio in her Madison, Wisconsin neighborhood and works on her pottery. When she is there one day, she meets Casey, a boy who is trying to rescue his parents’ marriage without much success. As Amelia and Casey start to become friends with a shared sense of humor and love of art, they notice a woman hanging around the area who looks a lot like Amelia, but Amelia’s mother died ten years ago. Is she a ghost? Has Amelia’s entire life been a lie? The two set out to discover the truth.
Henkes’ excels at both novels for children and picture books. His novels are like small gems. His writing is focused and lovely, exploring the intense emotions of childhood without mocking them at all. Instead, he endows them with a deep understanding and empathy, demonstrating how small untruths can turn larger in unexpected ways. Henkes looks closely at young artists in this book, exploring how art can convey emotions, serve as a release, and connect people to one another.
Amelia is a detailed character, a girl who is lonely in a very deep way. With a dead mother and a distant father, she is close to her babysitter, but missing her friends too. Casey is feeling a sorrow and grief for his parents’ dissolving marriage. Both children have a powerlessness to them as well that turns into action as they work together to solve who the unknown woman actually is. A warning, this is not a mystery story but instead a more quiet character study.
Henkes once again stuns with his deep connection to his characters and his skill as a writer. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books.