This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews (9781626720534)
At the Autumn Equinox Festival, the town sends paper lanterns down the river. Legend says that the lanterns will drift away and end up floating into the sky and become stars. Ben and his group of friends have a pact to follow the river and see if the legend is actually true. But as their bike ride in the darkness gets longer, the kids start to head back home one-by-one. Finally, it is just Ben and Nathaniel, a boy who has been hanging at the back because he doesn’t fit in. Little do both of them know that this is just the beginning of a huge adventure. It’s an adventure that will take them to meet a fisherman bear who is also following the glowing lanterns, to a potion maker who is having a very busy night, and into a cave that happens to be filled with starlight.
This graphic novel is amazing. It has a sense of wonder throughout from the very moment the lanterns are set afloat to the final pages of the book. One never quite knows what is going to happen next, which makes for an enticing read. The world building is well done, the different pieces of the story seeming to not fit until they click neatly into place. The characters are well developed and consistent throughout the book, their decisions making sense as the story progresses. The art is luminous and modern, inviting readers into a marvelous world.
A great graphic novel for elementary and middle grades, it is magical. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
Waiting for Chicken Smith by David Mackintosh (9781536207712)
A little boy waits for his friend, Chicken Smith, who usually stays at the same beach for the same week in the summer. The boy comes to beach every year and knows it very well, just like Chicken Smith does. Chicken can do all sort of things like ride his rusty bike without any brakes, just using his foot to slow down. As the boy thinks about Chicken Smith and anticipates his arrival, his sister starts to call him, but he is too busy waiting for Chicken to come. He looks forward to spotting whales together like they did last year. But his sister is still calling, so he heads up to the lighthouse to see what she wants. Out in the ocean, they can see a whale together. Maybe Chicken Smith won’t be coming this summer after all. But hanging out with his sister may not be so bad anyway.
This picture book is about a summer friendship and by exploring their connection with one another, the book also shares iconic summer moments at the beach. Finding a buoy, seeing a flying fish, swimming all day. Mackintosh has fully developed the voice of the little boy, who tells the story from his personal perspective. It is his voice that makes the book come alive and that tells of the ache of not knowing when or if a friend will arrive and what that might do to an entire summer vacation.
The illustrations are modern and move from white sand with a clearly hot sun to images of whales swimming in the sea. Macintosh plays with color, using reds, blues and greens to fill some pages while leaving others bleached out.
Ideal summer reading that mixes sunshine fun with summer friendships. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler (9781554989720)
A middle grade graphic novel that focuses on the power of music and opera? Yes please! This innovative graphic novel tells the story of Charlie, who has an assignment to find her own personal perfect song. Her music class listens to all sorts of musical genres but the one that resonates with Charlie (and no one else in her class) is the music of opera singer Maria Callas. As Charlie searches for her song, she is thinking of two classmates. There is Emile, who is quiet and intriguing. Then there is the empty desk left by Luka, who was targeted and bullied for his gender nonconformity. As Charlie finds her song, she also discovers her inner diva and the ability to empower those around her.
Maclear’s story is all about the impact that music, specifically the right music at the right time, can have on one’s life. She writes with a deep empathy for young people finding their own way through middle school, focusing on the importance of friends but also on reaching out to others and helping them too. The book is filled with emotion and connection that exemplifies youth and hope.
Eggenschwiler’s art is exceptional. He creates images that perfectly capture the emotions of have a crush on someone, or feeling certain ways in your group of friends. The illustrations move through various single-colors as their main palette from yellows to blues to reds and back. Filled with individuality and creativity, the illustrations are interesting and unique.
A great graphic novel for middle grades, this one speaks to each person being both an individual and a member of the community. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from library copy.
How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox (9780525554295)
Biz can float through her life, realizing that she is part of a larger universe and leaving her current troubles behind. But every time, she is drawn back to her body and back to her life. She does have great people in her life, including her mother and the twins. Plus her best friend Grace. She also has her father, who died when Biz was young, but stays with her, reminding her of his love for her. But when something happens on the beach, things start to spiral out of control. Grace loses her boyfriend over it, and they both lose their larger friend group. When Grace reacts with fury, her family moves her away. Biz’s father disappears and she stops being able to go to school, almost unable to leave her bed. When she eventually does get help via therapy, Biz doesn’t tell the entire truth, figuring out how to build bits of her life back until they tumble over once again.
This is a remarkable debut novel. Set in Australia, the book explores mental illness with a tenderness that is haunting. The beauty of the world Biz’s mind creates for her is a mix of tantalizing promises and real dangers. Even as readers know that Biz is unwell, they too will be caught up in her visions, understand her desire to keep floating, to enter the sea, to find connections. The setting of Australia is just as lovingly depicted with details of the landscape, the stunning coastline and a trip into the heart of the continent.
In Biz, readers will find a very intelligent teen who is struggling as her mental illness continues to impact her life in profound ways. Biz is warm and funny, a person first and her illness second. Her sarcasm draws people to her. After she loses most of the support structure in her life, she meets new people who love her, accepting her as she is, though she continues to search for what she has lost.
Aching and heart wrenching, this teen novel is an honest and profound look at mental illness and being human. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books.
Bikes for Sale by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Zachariah OHora (9781452159324)
Maurice has a bright yellow bicycle attached to his lemonade stand. He never lacks for customers even as he drives through town, into the park with best lemon trees, and then onward. Everyone wants to buy his lemonade. Lotta rides her red bicycle to gather sticks every day. She gave them away for free. The two of them never met, but one day Maurice’s bike crashed because of a stick and Lotta’s bike smashed because of some lemon peels. The two of them tried to move on past their ruined bicycles, but it wasn’t the same. Then one day, they both headed to the bike shop where they found a two-seated bike made from their two ruined ones. But can they share?
Higgins has written several books for children. This one is a dynamic story of two very similar and yet very different characters who both love riding bicycles for very different reasons. Still, one hopes through the story that they become friends. Their sadness at their lost bicycles mirrors one another and there is a chance for a lot of blame to ruin any chances they might have to be friends. But the love of bicycles shines through as the two of them come together to delight people in the parks once more.
OHora’s illustrations make this book a stand out. He uses an incredibly rich and saturated color palette filled with deep reds, gorgeous greens, lemon yellow and bright blues. The bicycles in the illustrations are wonderfully out sized for the characters, making them all the more important in the images.
A book built for two, or more. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.
The Line Tender by Kate Allen (9780735231603)
Released April 16, 2019.
An incredible debut novel, this is the story of Lucy, a thirteen-year-old girl who lives in Rockport, Massachusetts. Her mother, a shark biologist, died when she was seven of a brain aneurysm while out in a boat studying sharks. Lucy lives with her father, a diver who puts in lots of extra hours as he works to rescue or recover people. Lucy also lives next door to her best friend, Fred. Fred is a scientist while Lucy prefers art. Together during the summer, they are working on a field guide about wildlife in Rockport. So when Sookie’s nets bring in a great white shark, Lucy and Fred immediately head to the pier to see it. Fred begins to study Lucy’s mother’s proposals to study sharks in a new way. When tragedy strikes, Lucy must figure out how to navigate a new loss even as white sharks begin to appear along the coast, seeming to be a sign to follow a specific path to learn more about her mother.
The writing here is simply incredible. Allen invites you into Lucy’s world, showing how a community came together to help raise her when her mother died. The setting in Rockport is drawn with attention and love. From the wildlife and beaches the two friends explore to the community with its open doors, lifelong connections to one another, and always room for Lucy. The sheltering nature of the community make the deep loss all the more shocking and affecting.
It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel given its attention to detail, meticulous building of a story, and the immediate trust one has in the author. Lucy is an incredible character. She has overcome one loss already, so the next one could maybe break her. Instead, she copes in inventive ways, asks for help and pulls her friends and family closer to her side. The information and connection to sharks is an effective way to allow the story to move forward even as everyone is trapped in their grief.
A brilliant debut that is rich, layered and shows that connection to nature can allow one to weather new storms. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton.
Otto and Pio by Marianne Dubuc (9781616897604)
Otto the squirrel happily lives alone in the biggest tree a very old forest. One morning, he discovers a strange green ball outside his door. He steps over it and ignores it, but later the ball cracks open and a very furry creature emerges. The creature calls Otto “Mommy” and Otto decides to continue to leave the creature outside as night falls. But then later, he reconsiders and invites the small creature in. The creature says “Pio!” so that becomes his name. Pio begins to grow, doubling in size every night while he sleeps. Otto tries in vain to find Pio’s mother, but none of his neighbors know anything. Pio continues to grow as Otto tries different ways to find his mother: posters and visiting other trees. Pio takes care of the house while he is gone, making soup, sweeping and decorating. When Pio is too big to stay in Otto’s house anymore, Otto knows something must be done. So once again he heads out to try to find a solution. He is so distracted, he puts himself in danger. Perhaps one huge furry monster could be a help?
First published in Canada in French, this picture book is another charmer from Dubuc. She has a way of capturing changing deep emotions and emerging friendships that is gentle and filled with empathy. Here, Otto is often frustrated with being burdened with Pio, though Pio works hard to make life good for both of them. As Otto tries to get rid of Pio, his anger grows but then is refreshingly resolved when he understands what a loss Pio would be. The book builds to that new understanding, steadily increasing the pressure on the small squirrel.
Dubuc’s illustrations are very effective. She creates a grand tree for the pair to live in, huge and leafy. The prickly green ball that Pio emerges from is completely alien, and Pio himself looks rather like a very small abominable snowman with his white fur and rosy cheeks. Otto himself is busy and rushing, often avoiding really thinking about how he feels.
Another great read from Dubuc, this one is all about unlikely friendships and family members. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Princeton Architectural Press.
Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier (9781481499064)
This is a story of a boy and his dog. It starts simply enough with the boy issuing commands and the dog obeying. He sits, rolls over, jumps, fetches and… juggles! Then the dog makes them a meal and cleans the house. The two of them head outside where the commands become more like requests to have fun together and the pair head off on an adventure. It leads them to build a boat, find an island, build a rocket and then leave earth. They come to a lovely planet where they make new friends but soon miss home. Returning back, the two get ready for bed together and finally fall asleep side-by-side.
Ruzzier cleverly turns the relationship of owner and pet on its head in the book. He begins the book with the more traditional roles and then steadily makes their relationship one of equals and friends. By the end, the tone is entirely different from the beginning, something that is very impressive given that there are only one or two words on each page of the book. It is a beautifully structured book and very intelligently designed.
Ruzzier’s illustrations have his unique feel with surreal landscapes filled with sherbet-colored hills and a green ocean. The illustrations have a friendly cartoon style but also a sophistication that one expects from a book by Ruzzier.
A smart look at a boy and his dog and their adventures together. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri (9781626725355)
After dinner, Tiger takes an extra plate of food to share with her monster. Monster had been under Tiger’s bed, but they soon became friends. Now they spend time together playing games until bedtime when Monster scares Tiger’s nightmares away. All of Tiger’s family thinks she has an imaginary friend, but Monster is real. Monster fights all sorts of nightmares away until she encounters one that is too big and scary to chase off. As Tiger starts to have nightmares, she realizes that the two of them will need to work together to get rid of this huge nightmare.
Tetri, a cartoonist, has written a captivating graphic novel that is just right for the picture-book set. The pacing is brisk with a concept that shines. There is plenty of humor on the pages that sets off the more dramatic parts of the story. The art is done in watercolors, adding a wonderful traditional feel to the book. One of the more delightful parts is when Monster battles one nightmare after another. The pace slows beautifully in this part and mimics epic battle montages in comic books.
A tale of friendship and teamwork, this is a great early graphic novel. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by First Second.