Review: Operatic by Kyo Maclear

Operatic by Kyo Maclear

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.

Review: It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book about Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn

It Feels Good to Be Yourself A Book about Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn

It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book about Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn, illustrated by Noah Grigni (9781250302953)

With a diverse cast of children, this picture book deftly explains gender identity. Ruthie, the first character we meet, is a transgender girl. Identified as a boy at birth, she explained to everyone that she was actually a girl. Her little brother is a cisgender boy, and the book explains that term as well. Transgender and cisgender are explained frankly with neither given extra weight in the text. The term non-binary is then explained with two of its variants shown by characters in the text. There is Alex, who is both a boy and a girl, and JJ, who is neither boy nor girl. The book goes on to explain that even with all of these terms, some people don’t feel they fit in any of them, and that feeling that way is just fine.

The emphasis here is on children being allowed to be themselves, no matter what that means. Feelings about gender are real and valid. Families shown in the book are accepting and supportive of their children, no matter what gender they may identify as. The tone of the text is frank and friendly, explaining the terms and offering immense support for all children. It is positive through and through.

The art is great with skies filled with watercolor washes of blue. The cast is diverse in many ways including race, faith, sexuality, and a person who uses a wheelchair. The art is filled with color, evoking the same positive feel as the text.

A great book to use to explore children’s own gender identity or introduce gender identity concepts to young children. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt & Co.

Review: When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff

When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (9781620148372)

At birth, everyone thought Aidan was a girl. But as Aidan grew up, he didn’t like his name, the way his room was decorated, or wearing girl clothes. Aidan cut his hair off, realizing that he was a boy. He told his parents, and they learned from other families what having a transgender child is all about. Aidan picked his new name, they changed his bedroom into one that felt right, and he liked his new clothes. Then Aidan’s mother got pregnant. Aidan loved helping pick clothes for the baby, paint colors for the nursery, and even the baby’s name. But when people asked Aidan if he wanted a little brother or little sister, Aidan didn’t know how to answer. As the big day approached, Aidan worried about being a good big brother. Happily, his mother was there to explain that no matter who the new baby turned out to be, they would be so lucky to have Aidan as a brother.

Lukoff has created an #ownvoices picture book that truly celebrates a child who deeply understands their gender identity to be different from the one they were assigned at birth. The reaction of the supportive parents is beautiful to see in a picture book format as they work with Aidan not only to be able to express himself fully but also to be able to work through natural fears with a new baby. Those fears and the inevitable discussions of gender of a baby are vital parts of the story and allow readers to realize how deeply ingrained gender is in so many parts of our lives.

The illustrations by Juanita are full of energy and show a child with a flair for fashion who expresses himself clearly as a boy. His facial expressions change from his deep unhappiness when he is being treated as a girl to delight at being able to express himself as the boy he truly is. The depiction of a loving family of color handling these intersectionality issues so lovingly is also great to see.

As the parent of a transgender person, this is exactly the sort of picture book our families need and other families must read. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lee & Low Books.

Review: I Love My Colorful Nails by Alicia Acosta and Luis Amavisca

I Love My Colorful Nails by Alicia Acosta and Luis Amavisca

I Love My Colorful Nails by Alicia Acosta and Luis Amavisca, illustrated by Gusti (9788417123598)

Ben loves to paint his nails in cheery colors. He loves looking at the bright colors on his hands. His mother shares her nail polish and so does his friend Margarita, they both have large collections of colors. One morning, as Ben headed to school with red nails, two boys started teasing him, telling him that nail polish is for girls. Ben felt very sad and a few days later, he told his parents about it. His father immediately asked for orange nail polish for his own nails. At school though, more boys started to tease him. Soon Ben was only wearing nail polish on the weekends, removing it for school. His dad though, wore bright nail polish every day, even when he picked Ben up from school. As Ben’s birthday arrives, he gets the best present ever! What could it be?

This picture book offers a very approachable way to talk about gender expectations and how even small expressions of difference are important. The parents in the book are both tremendously warm and encouraging of their son, but the book accurately shows how school can be very different for children who are not conforming to societal norms. The use of nail polish is clever, adding a colorful element to the tale as well as something that Ben’s father can embrace himself.

Gusti’s illustrations are marvelous. Filled with warmth and humor, they celebrate the bright colors of nail polish on each page. Ben’s emotions are shown through the set of his shoulders and his entire posture. When he is sad, he droops over and when he’s happy he bounces on the page.

A great book about gender nonconforming behavior in children and how a school can be a place of safety. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Nubeocho.

Review: Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley

mary wears what she wants by keith negley

Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley (9780062846792)

Based on the real-life story of Mary Edwards Walker, who turned heads and drew ire when she dressed in pants mid-1800’s. This picture book shows a little girl of that time deciding to wear pants herself. The book firmly sets itself in the time period by explaining about societal expectations and the limitations that dresses placed on girls. The strong reaction of the townsfolk makes Mary question whether wearing pants is worth their anger. With her father’s support, she decides to continue wearing the clothes that make her happy. It turns out, she started a new trend!

Negley includes an author’s note that explains the story of the incredible Mary Edwards Walker who was also one of the first female doctors in the United States. The picture book focuses on gender expectations and how dressing as yourself is an important decision to make even if others in society don’t appreciate it. This is a strong statement for all youth and particularly for children who are gender nonconforming or transgender.

The art by Negley lifts the book into the modern era. Filled with bright colors and patterns, the illustrations have a great edge to them and a strong graphic quality. There is a playfulness to the illustrations that matches the tone of the book overall as well.

A great pick for discussions about gender expectations and clothing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review:The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

The Moon Within by Aida Salazar (9781338283372)

Celi loves to dance, especially when her best friend is drumming. She’s danced since she was a toddler, but now everything else seems to be changing. Her body is changing into a woman’s body. She has a crush on a boy. She has to figure out how to support her best friend being genderfluid. Meanwhile, her mother is pressuring her to have a moon ceremony when Celi gets her first period. Celi can’t imagine anything more embarrassing. Celi has some difficult decisions to make, and she makes mistakes along the way. As Celi pushes people she loves most away, she will need to figure out how to be the person she wants to be before she loses her best friend forever.

Written in verse, this novel is dazzling. Salazar combines themes of feminism, connection to one’s culture, self expression, and gender fluidity into one amazing novel. Her verse is well written and just right for young readers without being overly simplistic. Comparisons to Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret are apt with its focus on menstruation and growing up as a young girl.

Celi is a marvelous character. She is a character who makes mistakes that are bad enough that readers will get angry at her as she makes certain decisions in the novel. Still, she is always likable and the book shows the flawed reasons she has for making the choices she does. Celi’s connection to her mother is strained in most of the novel and one of the most important parts of the novel is when they finally start communicating and working together.

A great verse novel for middle grade readers that takes classic themes and makes them fresh again. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

3 Swimmingly-Good Picture Books

The Brilliant Deep by Kate Messner

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding The World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe (9781452133508)

All his life Ken Nedimyer was fascinated by the ocean. He would dive in the Florida Keys to see the coral reefs and wonder at how they grew. Then he started to notice that the reefs were losing color and dying. Ken placed rocks in the ocean and then took them back to use in saltwater aquariums. One of his rocks happened to have a staghorn coral emerge on it, something that was illegal to remove from the sea unless it was growing on a live rock collector’s site. Then Ken had an idea, using this first piece of coral to grow more and more of them. He took those corals back to the dying reef and planted them there, not knowing if they would grow. It was a beginning, one that would show how reefs could be helped to recover, one coral at a time.

This inspirational nonfiction picture books shares the way that one person can help the environment by taking a risk and doing the work. The end of the book shares ways that children can help the coral reefs, with more articles and organizations to explore. The text of the book celebrates the wonder of the ocean and still explains the environmental crisis. That tension between the two makes for a compelling story. The illustrations glow on the page, lit by sunlight filtering through the water. They are luminous and hauntingly beautiful, even the images outside of water carrying a strong sense of place and the ocean.

A great picture book biography to share aloud or give to children who love water themselves. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

Dude By Aaron Reynolds

Dude! By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat (9781626726031)

This one-word picture book is a delight in different emotions. Two friends head to the beach together for a day of surfing and sun. Platypus and Beaver head into the sea, greeted by a soaring pelican who dips down to the water and back up again, but not without a little humor on the way. Then a shark shows up! But he just wants to join in the surfing fun. When a big wave crashes them onto the beach and ruins their boards, it’s good that they have made a new friend so that the fun can continue.

The use of just one word works brilliantly here. Sharing it aloud is great fun, though those reading aloud will have to look to the pictures for how that particular “Dude!” should be said. It is used for joy, panic, fear, dismay, sadness and much more throughout the story. Thankfully, the illustrations are done by master of humor, Santat. His bright palette and combination of comic panels and large two-page spreads make for a dynamic combination just right for this story.

A bright sunny summer read, dude! Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (9780763690458)

Julian and his abuela take the subway home. On the subway, Julian notices three mermaids riding with them. Julian loves mermaids and daydreams about swimming in the deep and turning into a mermaid himself. When they get home, Julian mentions that he’s a mermaid too, but his abuela is busy heading for her bath. While she is bathing, Julian finds flowing hair for himself and a crown, a gown made of a curtain and some lipstick. When Julian’s abuela sees him, she gets dressed and then gives him a necklace. They head out of the house and off to a parade of other mermaids where Julian fits right in.

There is so much to celebrate in this picture book. Julian is an amazing example of a young person expressing their gender identity in a very direct and yet imaginative way. His grandmother is an even better image for people to read about, a grandparent who accepts a child for who they are without question and offers a way forward hand-in-hand. Told in very simple terms, this story is approachable for all ages, even parents and grandparents.

The illustrations are rich a beautiful. On light brown backgrounds, the illustrations are bright and shining. They are filled with body positivity in a variety of ways both subtle and direct. Perhaps the most successful part is Julian’s transformation into a mermaid in a way that still shows the costume and how it was created but also turns Julian’s dream into reality right before the readers’ eyes.

This one belongs in every library, it is sublimely diverse and accepting. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (9781626723634)

Released February 13, 2018.

While Prince Sebastian’s parents are busily searching for a bride from him, he is hiding a secret from everyone. He hires a dressmaker, Frances, to make his wardrobe for him, including dresses that are stunning creations. They allow him to become Lady Crystallia, who soon becomes a Paris fashion icon herself. As Frances gains fame as the Crystallia’s dressmaker, Sebastian’s secret becomes much harder to hide and soon the two have to choose between keeping the secret and allowing Frances to follow her dreams.

This graphic novel by Wang, who did In Real Life with Cory Doctorow, has created a graphic novel that embraces people exploring their gender identity while also incorporating a beautiful romantic nature to the entire book. Throughout there is a feeling of connection between Frances and Sebastian, one that goes beyond fashion. The fashion adds a layer of self expression for both of them, of triumph and discovery as well.

Wang’s art captures Paris at the dawn of the modern age. Filled with gowns, horse-drawn carriages and grandeur. It also has a humor in it, one that allows readers to chuckle at absurd situations and one that creates truly human characters for readers to connect with deeply.

Beautiful, layered and modern, this graphic novel embraces gender identity and gorgeous dresses. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe

big-bob-little-bob-by-james-howe

Big Bob, Little Bob by James Howe, illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson (InfoSoup)

When Big Bob moves in next door, Little Bob’s mother is happy that he will have a friend so close by. But the two boys are very different in more than just their size. Big Bob likes to roughhouse, play sports, and zoom trucks around. Little Bob likes to spend time quietly reading, play with dolls, and sometimes wears girl clothes. Big Bob teases him for a lot of these things until a new girl moves into the neighborhood and tells Little Bob that boys don’t play with dolls. Big Bob stands up to her and soon the three of them are playing in whatever way they like best, because both girls and boys can play with whatever they choose.

While the message here can get a little heavy handed at the end, this is an important book. It shows that gender norms are a spectrum, that boys who play with dolls don’t have to be given any additional labels unless they identify in a different way. It also embraces that girls too sometimes prefer playing games or choosing toys that are traditionally masculine. There is a broad acceptance here with children being given the space and time to realize that they were viewing the world through a limiting lens.

Anderson’s illustrations are playful and bright. The neighborhood is quirky and welcoming with plenty of place to play separately and together. The use of wild colors adds to the appeal with trees of tangerine and lemon/lime and garlands of flowers and hearts dangling from them.

A book about accepting differences, learning to get along and finding new friends, this picture book is strong pick for library collections. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.