Nao grew up not fitting in in the United States, hoping to find a place that felt more like home in Japan. She had visited as a child, but now was going to be attending Japanese cram school. She moved into Himawari House, a house shared with several other students, all attending the school but at different levels. Nao discovers that fitting in isn’t as simple as a shared language, especially when she doesn’t speak it as well as she thought. Two of the girls who also live in the house have left their own countries to study in Japan. They all learn to find a way to connect with both Japanese culture and their own. Whether it is through shared food, watching shows together around a laptop, or reconnecting with family they left behind.
This graphic novel is wonderful. There is so much tangled in the stories of the three girls. Each of the teens is a unique person with specific experiences that led them to come to Japan, whether it was well-planned or almost a whim. They all face difficulties and handle them in their own ways, which tell the reader even more about who they are. Add in a touch of romance and their search for a place to belong becomes painfully personal and amazingly universal at the same time.
The art is phenomenal. From silly nods to manga style to serious moments that shine with a play of light and shadow to character studies that reveal so much in a single image of one of the characters, the illustrations run a full gamut of styles and tones. The language in the book is also fascinating, sharing the English mixed with other languages, changes in linguistic formats and the blank moments that happen when learning a language. It’s all so cleverly done.
A great graphic novel that explores finding a place in the world to belong. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Joy has had to move with her family from their beloved house into an apartment, since her father lost his job. Other things have changed too, like sharing a room with her little sister and being able to hear her parents argue clearly through the thin walls. Joy also had to give up her piano lessons, since they can’t afford them any more. So her plans to be a composer for movies have been put on hold. She also has to start a new school, but luckily she meets a very friendly new neighbor who goes to her school too. Nora also shares the secret Hideout that all of the kids in the building use to escape their small apartments. It’s top secret and no adults even know the room exists. Joy and Nora also start their own dog walking business for residents of the apartment. But when disaster strikes, Joy may lose it all: the business, the hide out and all of her friends.
The author of From the Desk of Zoe Washington returns with her second book. This novel explores socioeconomic layers from the point of view of a girl caught in the midst of difficult life changes that she has no control over. Written with a deep empathy for young people and the difficulties they face, the book also mixes in humor and a strong sense of larger community that keeps it from being overly dark. The book offers a couple of moments of mystery, where Joy must figure out what happened to one of the dogs and another where she has been exchanging messages with someone who may be in trouble.
Throughout it is clear that even though some things may be outside of Joy’s control, she has agency to make some changes and choices. Joy is a great character, one who could have become sullen and shut down in the face of the situation, but instead makes new friends and finds a way forward. She is a character full of caring for others, always helping out her sister, trying to fix friendships, and in the end solving the mysteries and finding a solution for a hideout that works for the adults too.
Friendship, families and finding your way are central in this middle grade novel. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.
A master children’s book author takes readers on a journey to medieval times in her new middle-grade novel. Answelica, the goat, has long terrorized the monastery, butting everyone she can and biting them too. So when Brother Edik finds a young girl asleep and feverish next to Answelica, he is alarmed for her safety. As the girl cared for and recovers, the danger mounts. Beatryce doesn’t have any memory of her previous life, but it is clear that she is being sought by the king’s guards for some reason. The monastery sends her away, leaving Brother Edik to return to his solitary work illuminating manuscripts. Beatryce must face the unknown as she journeys disguised as a small monk, her head full of stories. Soon she has others who follow her, including Answelica the evil goat, a boy who longs to be able to read, and a man who had once been king. Perhaps Beatryce is as dangerous as the current king fears after all.
Two-time Newbery Medalist DiCamillo once again provides a unique and compelling book for young readers. Here readers are taken on a medieval journey that doesn’t shy away from the darkness of the time, the bloodthirsty nature of kings, and the way that the lower classes are kept subservient. DiCamillo gives space for her characters, young and old, to make critical decisions and move the story forward. Full of humor to offset the darkness, terrible swords that return old memories, and one ornery goat, this novel is amazing for what it packs into its small number of pages.
The illustrations by Blackall are pay homage to illuminated manuscripts of the time period. With several large format illustrations, Blackall captures the seminal moments of the story. Readers will also appreciate the small illustrations that adorn the pages.
A must-read novel from a master storyteller that can be shared aloud or read curled up with your favorite goat. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Iris loves to pick up the treasures she discovers near the river and under rocks. Usually it’s bent forks and spoons, but Iris sees them as special. After all, there’s not much to do in their tiny town of Bugden and nothing special ever happens there. Then one day, the river dries up, exposing new treasures for Iris and her friend Sam to discover. The two follow the dry river bed and make the discovery of a lifetime. There is an entire town that is usually underwater! Sam is reluctant to explore the forgotten city, but Iris refuses to leave. When Sam get lost on his way back, he is saved by an old man who has ties to the forgotten town. Meanwhile, Iris is making discoveries and meeting an unusual girl who lives in the normally underwater city.
In this graphic novel, Pamment shows the amazing way that hidden cities can be discovered. He shares at the end of the book facts about real underwater towns. In his novel, he shares his excitement and wonder at these lost towns through Iris, a girl who is brave and resourceful, determined to see all of the treasures before her. Sam, on the other hand, is content in their small town, eager to see the new statue in the town square unveiled, and also a true friend to Iris, who often pushes him away. Their friendship is complex and marvelous to see in a graphic novel format.
The art in this graphic novel is full of wonder and connection. When Iris finds a strange object, it is echoed later in the town she discovers. The town is falling apart from being underwater. This is captured in small and big details in the illustrations, that show the beauty of the elements of the town and all that was lost when water covered it over.
Based in real drowned towns, this graphic novel is a treasure worth seeking. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
This second Skunk and Badger story returns us to the cozy world of rocks and chickens that the two unlikely friends have created together. Badger is enjoying exploring his rocks again, but the loss of his Spider Eye Agate as a youngster still saddens him. It was stolen by his cousin, Fisher, long ago. Meanwhile, Skunk is trying to stop fretting about the New Yak Times Book Review being stolen by Mr. G. Hedgehog, who seems to have discovered where Skunk is living now. Skunk and Badger set off on a camping trip to find a replacement agate. Complete with overfilled packs, lovely meals, firelight, dark adventures, and arch nemeses, this book is all one could ask for those who love these characters, and chickens!
Timberlake is creating a series with a strong vintage vibe that feels like classic children’s literature. She uses a lot of humor, varying from near slapstick to subtle commentary. Along with the humor, she offers two characters with lots of heart, who care deeply for one another while still having their own passions and interests. There are so many lovely moments of connection, realization and great lunches. Add in a weaselly Fisher who has even bigger thievery plans, and this is a warm and rollicking look at a growing friendship.
Klassen’s illustrations break up the text nicely for young readers, offering occasional full-page images in black and white. He captures seminal moments in the story, such as Skunk and Badger on their porch watching the rain fall down and the dark and brightness of a newly discovered cave.
A winning second book in a great series for children that is perfect to share at bedtime. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Algonquin Young Readers.
Two people meet and miss one another again and again in these short chapters that move through time. The stories are interconnected and yet also separate images and spaces. They are bound together by the characters themselves and also the themes that cross from one to another. There are butterflies, gardens, and gates among many other images that carry across the entire book. The characters must face their fears, reach across darkness, and grapple with grief and loss. Each chapter is a gem of a story, a short story that threads through to the others in ways that astonish, creating a true kaleidoscope of fractures and wholeness.
Few books are this impossible to summarize. Selznick, who already has written remarkable works, writes a complex book for young readers that is one where themes and metaphors are waiting to be explored. The relationship between the two characters is fascinating, one who is named James and the other who is the narrator, seeking and finding, losing and searching. The emotions in each of the stories change and wrap around one another, creating a pattern of grief, sorrow, love and joy.
It wouldn’t be a book by Selznick without his illustrations. Here he takes an illustration and turns it first into a kaleidoscope image, only revealing the actual image after the page turn. The skill here, done in charcoal gray and white, is dazzling. The images are filled with light, form and are recognizable in the kaleidoscope image. I found myself lingering between the two, flipping back and forth before reading each chapter.
Complex, fractured, and resoundingly gorgeous. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Cash doesn’t have much in his small Appalachian town, but what he does have, he loves. He loves spending time with his Papaw on the porch even as Papaw struggles to breathe due to his emphysema. He loves time out on the water in his canoe, which is how he helped his best friend, Delaney, make a scientific discovery of a lifetime. Delaney uses that discovery to secure them both full scholarships to an elite prep school in Connecticut. Cash agrees to go with her, knowing that he will struggle to keep up and will feel entirely out of place among the rich students. Cash doesn’t count on the power of words and poetry to keep him afloat as well as new friends. But even they may not be enough when Papaw takes a turn for the worse.
Zentner is an award-winning author and his writing here is truly exceptional. In Cash, he gives us a natural poet who looks at the world through metaphors and connects readers directly to the beauty of Appalachia. Both settings, Appalachia and Connecticut, are captured with such astute clarity and powerful wording that readers feel as if they are there seeing the light, the trees, the weather, and feeling it all in their chests. There is also a direct emotionality to the writing that reveals Cash’s struggles, his self doubts, his loves and allows readers to see his path forward long before Cash allows himself to.
The characters push back against every stereotype. Cash is a deep thinker, connected viscerally to the place where he came from, and a deep feeler who connects directly to those he cares for. It is easy to see why Delaney wants him with her. Delaney herself is a scientific genius, full of sarcastic wit and a directness in her speech that offers just the right amount of offset to Cash’s rich language. The two best friends that they meet offer diversity to the story and also a clarity that prep schools can be full of interesting people worth loving too.
Brilliantly written, full of great characters and insisting that poetry changes lives. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.
Dragoslava is a kid and also a vampire. Born in 1460, Drago has seen a lot of Halloweens and history. They live with their two best friends Eztli and Quintus who are also vampires. Long ago, Drago made a witch angry and now has been cursed to be her servant. When she calls on them to retrieve her grimoire, Drago has to set off on the quest to Baneberry Falls. As the three little vampires reach the Midwest, it’s Halloween, a holiday that they excel at since they don’t need costumes. Plus they get to scare some of the older bullies who are out stealing candy. The three friends reach a creepy mansion, perfect for the local witch to live in. But it turns out that she lives with a vampire too. Now they just have to figure out who took the grimoire, who to trust, and who is out to get them.
This graphic novel is full of humor and just enough blood to be spooky but not frightening. The dynamic mix of witches and vampires adds to the fun with magical and undead powers on display. The characters are all interesting with full backstories, some of which is shared with the readers. The book offers a fully realized world where the characters feel like they have been living for some time and you have just popped into their lives. The characters are interesting and not stereotypical. There are lovely LGBT moments in the book too with lesbian couples and Drago themselves using they/them/their pronouns.
The illustrations are a marvelous mix of homey mundane and fang-filled spookiness. Drago pops on the page with their bald head and black cloak. The colors are rich, including poisonous greens, autumnal oranges, and dark blues and purples.
A spooky and funny graphic novel full of friendship and fiends. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Quill Tree Books.
Golden knows that this is the year that he will become captain of his school soccer team. He’s been working toward a goal of practicing ten thousand times in order to master the sport. After all, his father was a pro soccer player, though now he is battling ALS, a progressive disease that is stealing his ability to use his muscles. Golden believes that as long as his father keeps on trying, he can prevent the disease from worsening. And sometimes it even seems like it is working. Golden tries to keep control of everything, making sure that his year is as perfect as possible, but there are so many things outside of his control. The soccer year doesn’t work quite as Golden planned, one of his best friends plans to move away, and his father continues to decline. Golden may need a different approach to all of these things if he is to look after his family and friends well.
Makechnie is the author of The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair. In this second book, she writes a heartfelt story about grief and denial. While the book has soccer as a major focus, she writes it in a way that allows the games to make sense for those of us who may not know the rules. Even in the games, the clear purpose is teamwork and supporting one another, things that Golden needs to figure out in the rest of his life too. She creates amazing moments throughout the book of deep connection with one another, wise choices and intangible joys that appear out of nowhere. It’s a book about loss but also about life.
Golden is a remarkable protagonist. He is so deeply in denial that at first his rationales make sense to both him and the reader. As the book and his father’s ALS progress though, the reader steadily realizes that Golden is struggling more profoundly. It’s beautifully done with grace and with a deep empathy for Golden and his family. The secondary characters in the book are all richly drawn, including Golden’s two best friends who have struggles of their own and his family members.
A heart-rending look at grief, this book embraces the joy of life too. Appropriate for ages 9-12.