With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (9780062662835)
In her second novel, Acevedo cements her place as a master author for teen readers. Emoni’s life has not been easy, getting pregnant as a freshman in high school was not part of her plan. Now as a senior, her life is filled with work, caring for her daughter, and taking care of her Abuela. There is room too for her love of cooking, but not enough room for big dreams for her future. When a culinary class is offered for the first time at her school, Emoni hesitates to apply even though she longs to. The class includes a trip to Spain, which Emoni knows she will not be able to afford, nor could she leave her daughter or ask that of her grandmother. Still, she signs up for the class. It’s not easy, learning to not improvise in the kitchen but follow the rules and recipes. She can’t add the small touches that make her cooking magic. As Emoni opens herself up to new experiences, her life begins to open in other ways too, allowing herself to find romance and new connections.
In this novel, Acevedo gifts us with a story in prose where you can see her skill as a poet shining through often, taking words and making them dazzling. The fierceness of her first book is still here, with some of the short chapters taking on issues like racism and poverty. The entire work is such an incredible read. Emoni takes up a place in your heart and mind, insisting on being heard and believed.
The portrayal of a young mother who is ferociously caring and loving of her daughter, is something not seem often in our society. Emoni stands as a character speaking for women, a teen caring not only for her daughter but also standing alongside her grandmother as they care for one another. Throughout the book, there is a strong sense of community and extended family that are supportive of Emoni and her dreams.
A stellar and important read, let’s hope this one wins more awards and attention for Acevedo. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperTeen.
Awâsis And The World-Famous Bannock by Dallas Hunt, illustrated by Amanda Strong (9781553797791)
When Awâsis accidentally loses her grandmother’s world-famous bannock as she is taking them to a relative, she starts to cry. When a duck hears her crying, the duck offers to help and gives her some tohtosapopimehkan or butter. A rabbit in the woods offers her some flour or askipahkwesikan. As Awâsis walks on, more animals offer her ingredients to make the bannock again. Readers will see a bear lingering nearby and wonder about what he is up to. When Awâsis returns home to her grandmother, she is still missing one key ingredient for the perfect bannock. Who will provide it?
Hunt skillfully integrates Cree words into his tale about a Cree girl, her grandmother and the animals who help her. In the author’s note, he also mentions that the story celebrates traditional indigenous storytelling methods and readers will notice the strong structure of the story and the way it reads aloud beautifully. A pronunciation guide and glossary of Cree words is provided as well as the recipe for world-famous bannock. The illustrations have a lovely softness to them that invites readers into a forest filled with helpful animals.
A marvelous picture book celebrating the Cree language, storytelling and food. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Highwater Press.
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.
When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L. B. Deenihan, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha (9781454923817)
A little girl had made a list of what she was hoping to get for birthday gifts. On the list were items like a phone, a computer and a drone. But her grandmother got her a lemon tree. In this twist on the adage that when given lemons you should make lemonade, the narrator of the book offers the girl some advice on how to handle her gift. The advice includes what face to make when given the gift and details on how to care for her lemon tree including cautioning her not to hurt it. As the girl follows the advice, she discovers a connection to her lemon tree even before it bears its first crop of lemons for her. As she literally makes and sells lemonade from her lemons, the girl now has to decide how to spend her cash. She returns to the original list, but adds a new number, one that the lemon tree has taught her all about.
The clever twist on the adage is well done, creating a scaffold for the entire story. While the narrative of the book focuses entirely on advice, the illustrations show how the girl chooses to follow it. The narrative is humorous and offers choices for the main character in how she can react to options in her life. Throughout, as is appropriate for a book based on making lemonade, the spin is to be more positive and never sour.
The illustrations are fresh and funny. The family is depicted as African-American and the story is set in an urban area. This gives the lemon tree a great canvas to offer change and the main character a great place to offer lemonade. The illustrations are funny and bright.
A great spin on an old saying, this book is a breath of positivity. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Sterling Children’s Books.
Albert’s Very Unordinary Birthday by Daniel Gray-Barnett (9781525301186)
Albert lives a very ordinary life and even his birthday is just an ordinary day. No parties for him, instead he got birthday socks as his gift and plain toast for breakfast. All he could do was imagine that he had a candle to blow out on his piece of chocolate-cherry-ripple cake. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door and when Albert answered it, there stood his Grandma Z. She told his parents that they were just going to do ordinary birthday things, but their day together was anything but ordinary! They explored the woods, climbed a huge rock, looked at a dragon’s tooth, visited a palace, rode a roller coaster over and over again, and finally had a big slice of chocolate-cherry-ripple cake.
This import from Australia is an entirely energizing read. Nicely, the text doesn’t rhyme but instead holds together with its structure and tone. Told in a breathless voice once the fun starts, the book moves from its staid and dull beginnings into a hurtling pace of doing all sorts of marvelous things over the course of one amazing day. The text and illustrations work together well, showing them flying with birds, a dragon asleep in a cave nearby, and horses riding the coaster with them.
A wild ride of a birthday book, expect requests for chocolate-cherry-ripple cake in the future. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.
Red by Jed Alexander (9781944903114)
A wordless riff on the traditional Little Red Riding Hood tale, this picture book offers an initial title page that will show immediately that it’s a different sort of story. With a huge wolf holding wrapping paper in his mouth and Grandma waiting for him arrive, the tale then moves to a very little Red Riding Hood being stopped by the large wolf on her way in the woods. Other animals appear with presents, ribbons and even a cake. The wolf delays Red until the other animals and Grandma are ready and they surprise her with a birthday party! The day ends with Red riding off on the wolf merrily.
The illustrations use pops of red and pink to show the elements of the party and Red’s cloak. Otherwise they are filled with black and white ink drawings featuring a grinning rather devious wolf, rabbits and badgers, and one determined little girl.
A winning new take on a traditional story. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Cameron Kids.
The Best Tailor in Pinbaue by Eymard Toledo (9781609808044)
Edinho’s uncle is the best tailor in the small town of Pinbaue in Brazil. He used to make bright-colored and beautiful clothes and costumes for the villagers, but now he just makes uniforms for the factory where almost everyone in town works. Edinho’s father doesn’t work for the factory either, he still keeps fishing though the pollution from the factory has impacted the quality and quantity of the fish. Then the factory decides to import their uniforms and suddenly Uncle Flores doesn’t have any work to do. When Edinho discovers bright fabric in storage, he has an idea that just might help the entire village. The text of this picture book is sprinkled with Portuguese words. The writing is clear and very readable, offering a fictional village that speaks to the plight of real small villages across Brazil and other countries.The illustrations are fascinating collages worth poring over. Fine details, textured papers and lots of patterns create a rich world. A compelling look at the impact of large factories on villages and how children can make a difference. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Grandma’s Purse by Vanessa Brantley- Newton (9781524714314)
An African-American little girl’s grandma Mimi is coming to visit and she lets the little girl look at what she carries in her purse! There is a mirror for putting on lipstick, perfume, earrings, hairpins, candy, and much more. Larger things include her phone, a scarf, glasses, and a coin purse filled with coins and memories. The two of them talk about each thing and then the little girl gets to try some of it out, including the lipstick, hairpins, scarf and glasses. Then they look at pictures from the grandmother’s purse that show Grandma Mimi as a little girl. There is one last thing way at the bottom of the purse, and it’s just for Mimi’s granddaughter this time! Told with an eye to explaining what the grandmother is carrying and why, this exploration of a purse is pure joy. The connection between the girl and grandmother is tangible on the page and celebrated in each illustration. I particularly love the messy lipstick on the little girl and her joy at each discovery. A winning look at a special relationship. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.)
Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Priscilla Burris
Grandma is getting ready for a party. With two turkeys already baked, the neighbors start to show up. Three of them bring four dishes to pass. Five family members come with six dozen biscuits and jam. The counting continues through the story with lemonade, cheesecakes, sweet-potato pies, and honeydew melons being brought by more and more people. When the party starts, the house is too full for people to move. One little granddaughter has the solution and the party moves outside to the big backyard. While this is clearly a counting book, the story of a warm and large family is really at its heart. The illustrations by Burris are welcoming and warm. Readers will want their own outside party filled with great food, friends and family. Expect lots of watering mouths as you share this book. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Where, Oh Where, Is Baby Bear? By Ashley Wolff (9781481499163)
This picture book continues Wolff’s series on Baby Bear and his explorations of his habitat. Here, Baby Bear and his mother head out to look for food. But every time his mother looks for him, Baby Bear has disappeared. Again and again she has to call out “Where, oh where, is Baby Bear” and then her little bear responds. Readers will enjoy spotting where Baby Bear is heading and then where he is hiding as the pages turn. The repetition is handled nicely, giving the book a lovely rhythm when being read aloud. The illustrations are crisp and filled with details of their forest home. A great read aloud pick. Appropriate for ages 1-4. (Review copy provided by Beach Lane Books.)
Where’s Halmoni? By Julie Kim (9781632170774)
This picture book is done in a full-color graphic-novel style that will be appealing to children even beyond picture book age. It is the story of Korean-American siblings who head to their grandmother’s home to find her missing. They discover a magical passage in her home that leads to a world filled with creatures from Korean folklore. There is Tokki (the rabbit), Dokkebi (the goblins), and Horanghee (the tiger). As the children figure out how to get past each of the creatures using snacks and games, they come close to learning their grandmother’s secret. Sharp-eyed children will realize what happens to the fox at the end of this Korean adventure. The appeal of folklore combined with a modern graphic-novel style makes this book a winner. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)
The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
When a mouse is gobbled up by a wolf, he discovers there is life after being eaten. Inside the wolf’s stomach, a duck is already living. The duck has a bed, a table, tablecloth, chairs and much more. The duck likes being inside the wolf, because he no longer has to worry about being eaten, since it’s already happened. Soon the mouse has decided to stay and the two have a dance party to celebrate. Unfortunately, this makes the wolf’s stomach hurt. He is spotted by a hunter and soon all three animals are in danger as the hunter takes aim. What can be done to save them all? It will take all three to save the day. Barnett has the perfect rather dark humor to work with Klassen’s illustrations. The story has a mix of fun and fate that will have readers guessing right up until the end. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (9780062414151, Amazon)
Four middle schoolers start their summer vacation and steadily their lives begin to come together. There is Virgil, a quiet boy who lives in a family of loud, boisterous people. Except for his grandmother who understands him and tells him stories from her village in the Philippines. Valencia is a girl who is deaf and wears hearing aids to help her lip read. She used to have close friends but enjoys spending her days outside in the local woods where she takes care of a stray dog. Kaori believes that she has psychic powers and is helping Virgil gain the courage to speak with a girl he wants to be friends with. Finally, there is Chet who bullies Virgil and Valencia. He starts problems one day in the woods and Virgil finds himself in real danger. But can Kaori and Valencia figure out what has happened before it’s too late?
Kelly’s novel is rich and riveting. She writes about children who are lonely and interesting. The book speaks to children who don’t fit in, who are bullied, and who are unique in some way. It’s about staying true to yourself and not trying to be someone else. Important subjects weave throughout as well, including deafness and diversity. These enrich the novel even further, making it a book that grapples with important topics and yet stays entirely accessible and filled with plenty of action.
The characters are what make this book sing. Each of them is more than what could have been a stereotype. From the mystical Kaori to shy Virgil to Valencia and her hearing aids, each child has a full personality and plenty to offer the reader. Each is grappling with loneliness and unable to move forward though they know they need to. There is a beautiful theme of folktales and myth throughout the novel with the grandmother’s stories forming a basis for the coincidences and fate that brings our young heroes together.
An intelligent adventure of a book that is about friendships that seem impossible but happen anyway. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins Publishers.