Tag: grandmothers

A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts

A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts

A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts, illustrated by Hyewon Yum (InfoSoup)

Hee Jun loved living in Korea where he fit in with his classmates at school and his grandmother was a respected teacher. She was also able to have an extraordinary garden there. When his father moves them to West Virginia, everything changes. Hee Jun does not fit in with his classmates due to the way he looks and the way he talks. His grandmother too is different, her inner spark gone. His little sister has problems at school too, taking out her fear physically on her teacher. So their grandmother is asked to go to school with her. Slowly, the family begins to find their place in West Virginia, even discovering a beloved flower with a new name.

Watts tells the story of immigration with an eye towards giving people time to adjust and find their footing both with a new language and a new culture. The sense of loss for the characters is palpable on the page, eliciting a real understanding of the immense change they are undergoing. The little sister’s violent reaction to school is handled with sensitivity and understanding, offering the grandmother a chance to connect with her new surroundings. The entire book is filled with deep emotions combined with a gentle nurturing attitude.

Yum’s illustrations are done in watercolor. They show a loving family that manages to thrive despite the changes. The differences between their lives in Korea and West Virginia are shown on the page, particularly with regards to the grandmother and her vibrant life in Korea compared to her lonely existence in the first weeks in the United States.

A strong and thoughtful look at immigration that beautifully explains the huge changes children undergo as they move to a new country. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds

As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (InfoSoup)

Genie and Ernie are heading to Virginia to stay with their paternal grandparents for the very first time. Though they have met their grandmother before, this is the first time that Genie has met him. The difference between their lives in Brooklyn and their grandparents’ home in rural Virginia are huge. But that’s not the only thing that surprises Genie. He is shocked to find out that his grandfather is blind. Genie is a kid who is full of questions to ask all of the time and so he immediately asks his grandfather questions about his blindness. Genie knows that his older brother Ernie is braver than he is, always taking up fights for Genie and protecting him. He also knows that his grandfather is immensely brave too. When something goes wrong though, Genie will have to rethink what it means to be brave.

Reynolds is so amazingly gifted as a writer. He astounded me with this departure from his more urban writing. He captures the rural world with a beautiful clarity, using the natural world around as symbols for what is happening to the humans who live there. It is done both subtly and overtly, creating a book that is multi-layered and gorgeous to read. Throughout Reynolds speaks to real issues such as guns and disabilities. They are dealt in their complexity with no clear point of view stated, giving young readers a chance to think things through on their own.

Reynolds has created a fabulous protagonist in Genie, a boy filled with so many questions to ask that he has to write them down to keep track of them. He is smart, verbose and caring. Yet at the same time, he agonizes over mistakes, trying to fix them on his own and thus creating a lot of the tension of the book. The depiction of the grandparents is also beautifully done, allowing them to be far more than elderly figures. They are often raw, sometimes wise, and also dealing with life.

A brilliant read for the middle grades, this book is filled with magnificent writing and great diverse characters. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

 

 

Review: North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette

North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette

North Woods Girl by Aimee Bissonette, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (InfoSoup)

A girl tells about her grandmother who is not like other grandmas. She dresses in Grandpa’s old flannel shirts and she’s bony. She doesn’t bake cookies or pies, but she does take long walks out in nature. With her trusty walking stick, the two of them explore the little paths near Grandma’s house. Every season there are new things to see, things in the garden to do. The two love winter best of all, especially winter nights with a full moon when they explore the snowy woods. Grandma may not be like other grandma’s but she’s pretty special and a north woods girl to the quick.

Bissonette captures the spirit of a north woods woman beautifully in her picture book. From the no-fuss long grey braid, the flannel shirts, the stout boots to the way that nature speaks to her and that she knows it so well. This book is a celebration of the north woods too, the ways that the woods changes in different seasons, the animals that fill it, and the glory of a winter woods.

McGehee’s scratchboard illustrations have a rustic beauty. The colors are deep and lovely, and they capture the spirit of the woods. In fact, there are moments when you can almost smell the pines and the grass. There is a subtle multiculturalism here too with the little girl’s darker skin tone and curly hair. The pages are crowded with details of the woods, filled with animals and insects.

A lovely look at the northern woods, this picture book celebrates unique grandmothers living in a unique place. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Review: Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina

Mango Abuela and Me by Meg Medina

Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina, illustrated by Angela Dominguez (InfoSoup)

Mia’s abuela has come to live with Mia and her family in the United States. She can’t speak English and Mia can’t speak Spanish, so the two of them spend time together in silence, feeding the birds and watching TV. Mia’s mother reminds her of how a classmate learned to speak English and Mia starts to work to teach her abuela the new language. They point at things and share the English and Spanish words. Mia labels items around the house with their English names. Then when Mia and her mother go to the pet store for treats for her hamster, Mia sees a parrot that she knows will remind her abuela of the home she left. Mango, the parrot, starts speaking both languages and helps Mia’s abuela connect with both her past and her granddaughter.

Medina has written this picture book with a lovely clarity of voice. The first person narrative is told from Mia’s point of view and shows the growing relationship with her grandmother, from the first shy days to the later part of the book where they are happily chatting and reading together. The book speaks to the importance of family and also to the ways that language can be learned and shared. It is particularly important that Mia learned Spanish too.

The illustrations are simple and colorful. They show the limited space that the family has, so Mia and her grandmother share a room together. The urban setting is shown with a bright friendliness that captures a vibrant community. The chronicling of the growing relationship is shown very effectively in the images.

A strong picture book that celebrates families and new language learners. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

last stop on market street

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Take a ride across town on a bus with CJ and his grandmother. Every Sunday after church CJ and his grandmother get on a bus and take a long ride. Along the way, they meet all sorts of people on the bus. There is a man who is blind, a busker who plays the guitar, teenagers who listen to music on their iPods. CJ longs for some of the things he sees, like his friends who have cars to drive places, the iPods the teens have, and the free time his friends have on Sunday afternoons. But his grandmother sees the beauty in the ride, in the other passengers and in the time they spend together. At the end of the ride, they get off in a poorer section of town and head to the soup kitchen which is ringed by a rainbow in the sky. CJ is glad that they made the trip once they are there.

De la Pena is best known for his young adult books.  This is the second picture book he has written.  One would never know that this is not his specialty.  His wording is just perfect for preschoolers, inviting them along on the journey to discover new things on each page. His words form a tapestry of a community, diverse and dynamic. The journey is about more than just seeing new things though, it is also about seeing them differently and in a positive way. From the rain falling to the poor section of town, they are all reframed by CJ’s grandmother into something beautiful.

Robinson’s illustrations are done in acrylic paint and collage.  They are bright, vibrant and filled with people of different colors living happily side-by-side. They capture the busy urban setting with a sense of community that is warm, friendly and fun.

A great journey to take any preschooler on, this picture book celebrates making a positive difference in your community.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Review: Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

listen slowly

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Born in California, Mai has grown up as a beach girl in Laguna.  So she has big plans this summer to spend time at the beach and time with a boy she’s interested in. But her plans have to change when her parents force her to accompany her Vietnamese grandmother back to Vietnam to see if rumors of her grandfather still being alive after the War are true. Mai hates Vietnam immediately, while the food is good and there’s so much of it, it’s also hot, smelly and filled with mosquitoes who love to bite Mai more than anyone else. Mai hides the fact that she can understand the language even if she won’t try to speak it at all. Now she is stuck alone with her grandmother in a tiny village filled with her extended family, dial up Internet access, and a grumpy cousin who seems to only care for her pet frog. Yet as time passes, Mai discovers the beauty of Vietnam, of slowing down and of taking care of family.

Lai has created another wonderful read, this one almost a love letter to Vietnam. She takes readers into the country side and village life, showing first the oppressive heat and lack of modern conveniences, but then revealing in a beautifully natural way that there is much to value perhaps because the days are filled with extra time to be together. The changes in Mai happen organically as she slowly acclimates to her new surroundings and the new society. Nothing is rushed here, even the storytelling is gently done though never dull.

Mai makes a great lens to see Vietnam through, both outsider and relative. Her struggles with the language are cleverly portrayed along with some details about pronunciation in Vietnamese. When she begins to try speaking, the words move to broken English on the page, indicating her troubles speaking the language. At other times, it is Vietnamese on the page. Mai’s growing friendship with her cousin also happens at its own pace and with its own blend of English and Vietnamese.

Rich in details and completely immersive, this novel will inspire travel dreams in those who read it, perhaps to discover their own family roots. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

Review: The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

secret hum of a daisy

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

Grace can’t stand being near the river, because that’s where she found her mother’s body.  It was right after they had argued about moving once again.  Grace wanted to stay where she finally felt at home, but her mother wanted to move again.  Now Grace has been sent to live with her mother’s mother, a grandmother she has never known.  She only wants to return to the family she and her mother had been staying with last, but she has to come up with a plan to escape.  In the meantime, Grace starts to find clues to a treasure hunt, similar to the ones her mother did for her every time they moved to a new town.  Is it her mother creating a final path for her daughter to find a home?  Or could it be that Grace is just seeing patterns where there are none?

Holczer shows great depth and richness in this her first book.  In this character-driven novel, she excels at the relationships she builds between her vividly drawn characters.   Grace is a character in search of a place to call home, but unable to see a home when it is right in front of her and unable to register the love being shown her.  She is complicated in a very organic way, her reactions honest and true.  The same is true of the grandmother character who radiates frankness but also regret for what happened over the years with her daughter.  She is a very complex adult character, particularly for a book for middle grade students. 

Holczer’s writing itself is straight-forward, allowing a sturdy framework for these character to relate to each other within.  The writing rings with confidence and Holczer asks deep questions about death, what dead people can communicate to the living, and what makes a family.  The answers are not simple and are not easily arrived at.  They come about very naturally and one must wait to see what the truths are and where the characters will arrive in this beautifully paced novel.

Rich, organic and special, this middle grade novel offers us all a view of what a second chance at family can be.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.