The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis (9780545156660)

When Charlie’s father is killed in a freak accident, he and his mother are left destitute and unable to repay his father’s debt to their landlord. The two of them try to flee, but they are caught by Cap’n Buck, the overseer on the local plantation and a man who terrorizes people just for fun. To pay off part of his father’s debt, Charlie joins Cap’n Buck has he journeys north from South Carolina to Detroit to catch some thieves. At twelve-years-old, Charlie is as large as a grown man and no stranger to hard work. But the trip ends in a situation that Charlie was not expecting, with escaped slaves who have built a life in the north. Charlie doesn’t have a lot of choices in life, but perhaps one last decision will make all the difference for him and others.

The Newbery Award winning Curtis writes with such skill that it is impossible not to fall deeply into his stories and become immersed in the world he builds. Here, the strong South Carolina dialect that Charlie and Cap’n Buck speak in helps to strengthen that world building, creating a strong tie to the region and historical setting with language alone. The historical setting is clearly drawn, including the city of Detroit as well as the communities in Canada. These elements are critical because of the slave laws between the United States and Canada that are such an important part of the story.

I fell hard for Little Charlie, a boy who has no education, lives in dire poverty, and whose family has steadily lost everything. There is something about him, about the way he sees the world. He has an optimism that carries him forward each day, not one that is blind or overly ambitious, but a cautious optimism that things can be different. It’s that nature that allows what he does in the book to make sense and not be out of character. Curtis has drawn a character who is an unlikely hero unless you know him well.

Beautifully written and structured, this middle-grade novel is an important look at personal choices and the power of doing what is right. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Scholastic and Edelweiss.

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott

The Summer of Owen Todd by Tony Abbott (9780374305505)

Owen and his best friend Sean are looking forward to the perfect Cape Cod summer spent playing baseball, driving go-karts at Owen’s family’s business, and just messing around. But then Sean’s mother hires a babysitter for him for the summer even though he’s eleven years old, because she has a new job out of town and Sean has diabetes that she worries about. She also won’t let Sean head to the go-karts anymore. Owen tries to spend a lot of time with Sean anyway, but their summers steadily head in different directions. When Sean tells Owen that his babysitter is treating him strangely, Owen can’t tell how serious the problem is. Sean swears Owen to secrecy and seems fine a lot of the time. But other times, when Sean shares more of what is happening, Owen can’t tell if Sean is lying or not. When Owen realizes that it is all true, it may be too late to save his friend.

Abbott has created a book about the beauty of summer as a kid. That theme contrasts with the darkness of sexual abuse that is also central to the story. It’s a book about friendship and what it takes to be a best friend, break a confidence, and tell. It’s also a book about being a kid, the epic nature of summer break and growing up. Abbott beautifully contrasts Owen’s experiences with the trauma that Sean is going through.

This book simply because of its theme may be too mature for some readers. The way the abuse is dealt with offers just enough details for young readers to understand the seriousness of what is happening but not too much to overwhelm them. This is a book that demands to be discussed and will leave readers feeling shaken. There is no simple happy ending here, which speaks to the damage and complexities of sexual abuse.

Strong writing combines with a harrowing story to create a book about what it means to really be a best friend. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

3 Graphic Novels with Girl Power

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All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (9780525429982)

The author of the popular Roller Girl returns with a book about Impy, a girl who has been homeschooled until this year. Impy has grown up with her parents working at the Renaissance Faire and this year she is also starting work as a squire at the faire for the first time. Public school though is different than Impy thought and though she quickly makes friends, they may not be the right group for her. As Impy starts to make bad decisions at school and at home, her life starts to fall apart. Still, Impy is a knight in training and has people around her to help put her back on the path to being a hero! Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Dials Books)

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Spinning by Tillie Walden (9781626727724)

This memoir graphic novel shares a look at a girl’s life in ice skating, moving to a new city and discovering oneself as an artist. It is also a look at knowing that you are gay and finally coming out to those around you. But most of all, it’s about loneliness and the need to connect and find people around you who love and support you. Throughout the book there is an aching loneliness that pervades the story. The memoir is beautifully unstructured, events passing the way that days in a life do. They are filled with moments, some small and some critical. Walden shares them all, showing an incredible skill for storytelling and art as a young author. Get this into the hands of Lucy Knisley fans. Appropriate for ages 12-15. (Review copy provided by First Second)

Swing it, Sunny

Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9780545741705)

Sunny is headed for middle school in this graphic novel that shows her returning home after her summer with Gramps in Florida. Her older brother Dale is now at boarding school and Sunny can’t figure out how to connect with him at all even when he comes home to visit. Set in the mid-1970’s, the book is filled with the pop culture of those times like Jiffy Pop popcorn, the Six-Million Dollar Man, Gilligan’s Island and TV dinners. This second book in the Sunny series tells the story of a family struggling with handling drug abuse but also the small moments that make up a life. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Scholastic.)

 

 

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick (9780545863209, Amazon)

Released August 29, 2017.

Maverick knows that sixth grade is going to be his year. This year he’s going to make a difference. He’s going to help those smaller than him, if he can find anyone shorter than he is. He’s going to stand up to bullies, particularly Jamie and Bowen, who have tormented him for years. But being a hero is not as simple as carrying the plastic badge that his father left him. Every time that Maverick tries to help, things turn out worse, often for him. He can’t stand up to his mother’s abusive boyfriend, can’t get his mother to stop drinking so much, and can’t seem to stop ending up in the assistant principal’s office. Can you be a hero when your own life is endless trouble?

Sonnenblick’s take on sixth grade is wonderfully dark and funny. He looks straight at bullying in middle school and clearly understands it. This book grapples with serious subjects such as physical abuse, abandonment, alcoholism and the loss of a parent. Happily, Maverick is a character who somehow manages to look at these troubles with a sarcastic wit that allows readers to cope as well. When looked at without Maverick’s lens on things, his home life is not only terrible but dangerous as well. Sonnenblick manages to use humor not to minimize these issues but to allow readers to see them clearly without pity but with lots of empathy.

Sonnenblick’s take on school administration is equally successful. He creates a pair of horrors for students: The Bee who is the terrifying assistant principal and The Bird who is the awful school nurse. The Bee turns out to have a heart of gold and to be aware of what is happening in the halls almost before the students are. The Bird on the other hand wields Lysol spray as antiseptic for cuts.

A triumphant story of a young hero who finds help in unlikely places on his journey. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Super Slug of Doom by Matty Long

Super Slug of Doom by Matty Long

Super Slug of Doom by Matty Long (9781338054354, Amazon)

This is the second picture book in the Super Happy Magic Forest series. This book has the same tongue-in-cheek humor as the first as it once again laughs at fantasy tropes. In this second book, our heroes (the same ones as in the first book: a unicorn, gnome, centaur, fairy and mushroom) must face a new danger. Zorgoth, an evil slug who has been trapped under a rock (and accidentally released by one of our heroes), heads out to destroy the forest by drinking the Potion of Power. Our heroes must journey through different fantasy landscapes and eventually defeat Zorgoth, who is munching his way across them leaving a trail of slime. How can our hapless heroes succeed?

Long’s writing is over the top and great fun. He frames the book with a Prophecy at the beginning that predicts Zorgoth’s emergence and ends it with what has become the Legend of the heroes, which doesn’t quite match what the reader just saw happen. Throughout the book, there is humor sprinkled everywhere. Speech bubbles and labels add to the fun, mixing modern-day with fantasy world in a gloriously haphazard way.

The illustrations are bright and colorful. Entire worlds of fantasy are depicted in double-page spreads that contrast with one another. There is a dragon world of fire (filled with fire puns), underground chambers of jewels where readers can try to find the missing rainbow jewel, and ogres doing yoga and trying to eat our heroes too.

This is another wild and very successful romp through fantasy in a picture book. Share it with individual kids or very small groups so that the pictures can be searched for small details. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

10 Great Picture Books on Heroism

On the eve of inauguration day, I hope that we all have the courage to be the heroes and heroines that our nation needs right now. Here are 10 picture books to inspire young ones and you too!

dare the wind emmanuels dream

Dare the Wind: The Record-Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

hidden how-to-be-a-hero-by-florence-parry-heide

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo

How to Be a Hero by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Chruck Groenink

little dog lost Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith

Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic by Monica Carnesi

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith

Luna and Me by Jenny Sue Kostecki Shaw malala iqbal

Luna & Me: The True Story of a Girl Who Lived in a Tree to Save a Forest by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

Malala, Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter

princess in black price of freedom

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery by Dennis Brindell Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

How to Be a Hero by Florence Parry Heide

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How to Be a Hero by Florence Parry Heide, illustrated by Chruck Groenink (InfoSoup)

Gideon is a boy who knows exactly what he wants and that is to be a hero. So he reads a lot about heroes and looks forward to having his picture in the newspaper. At first he thinks that in order to be a hero you need to be strong, brave and clever. But then as he reads more stories, he realizes that a lot of heroes just happen to be in the right place at the right time. So Gideon starts walking around looking for opportunities to simply step in and be the hero. One day at the grocery store, Gideon is shopping for candy when something happens. Will Gideon be the hero he hopes to be?

There is something delightfully irreverent about this picture book. It shows glimpses of fairy tale heroes and princes who all become heroes via no skills of their own. Then there is Gideon, a boy in search of fame and acclaim. He is not driven at all by hopes of helping someone, making his search for heroism all the more cynical. As readers watch the opportunity for real heroism literally pass Gideon by, they will realize that it is those who are not searching for fame who are the real heroes. Still, Gideon gets his own taste of fame in the end.

Groenink’s illustrations add to the story. He has small touches in the book that add real life and dimension. While the real life images are more muted, the heroes in the stories are boldly colored and fill the page. That same feel is echoed again in real life when heroism happens at the grocery store. Breaking that moment into steps allows the readers to mistake what is happening at first, deepening the truth about heroism.

A mix of fairy tale heroes, one hero in waiting and one true hero, this picture book is impressive for its tone and attitude, setting it apart on the crowded library shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

 

Review: Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter

malala iqbal

Malala, Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter

This nonfiction picture book celebrates the accomplishments of two young heroes from Pakistan.  Told side-by-side, in a book that flips over, the two young people both managed to make real changes in their country.  Malala Yousafzai is a very well-known heroine who fights for the rights of young women in Pakistan to have an education.  Iqbal Masih has also won human rights awards and fought for the end of child slavery in the carpet industry.  Both of them were shot as a result of their efforts to change their country.  Tragically, Iqbal was killed while Malala survived and continues to inspire people around the world.  These are examples of children who created the change their country was desperate for, changing the lives of other children through their efforts.  True heroes in every sense of the word!

Winter begins each of these nonfiction stories with an Author’s Note that explains in detail the life of the young person.  The story parts are told in spare text that shows on every page the ferocious pride that Winter has for their work.  There is an anger on the page, one that is exactly the right tone for what is happening in their stories.  While Iqbal may be lesser known to American children than Malala, their stories are so supportive of one another that the pairing strengthens both their stories.  Readers may pick up the book for Malala and along the way learn of this boy whose efforts were just as amazing.

Winter’s illustrations have the feeling of framed artwork on the page.  Done in strong colors, they have a beauty and straightforward nature that works well with the subject.  There is a directness here that you will also feel in the writing, the two combining to make a book that hits hard at what injustice there is in the world but also at how important children can be in realizing change.

A beautiful and inspiring picture book that adds diversity and true child heroism to your shelves.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

Review: Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson

emmanuels dream

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

Emmanuel was born in Ghana, West Africa, with a deformed leg.  His father left the family but his mother continued to encourage Emmanuel to make something of himself.  Emmanuel taught himself to crawl and hop, so he was able to hop the two miles to school and then hop all the way back home at the end of the day.  At school kids would not play with him at first, so he saved up his money to buy a new soccer ball that he shared with the others as long as they let him play too.  Soon he was playing soccer using crutches to get around.  It was at school that Emmanuel also taught himself to ride a bike.  Then his mother fell ill and Emmanuel had to leave school to support his family.  He headed for the big city of Accra where he looked for a job.  It took time, but he started working as a shoe shiner and for a restaurant that also gave him a place to stay.   He sent money home and two years later returned home because his mother’s health was failing.  After her death, he decided to follow his dream to bike around Ghana.  He worked to get help with his dream, becoming a spokesperson in his country for people with disabilities.  He completed his journey of 400 miles in just ten days, an amazing journey that proved that one person’s dreams could deeply change a culture.

Thompson’s writing is in stanzas and moves between feeling like poetry and prose.   This fluidity makes the book very readable, it also lets her make her points with a grace and brevity that is purely poetic.  Thompson’s text shines with her appreciation for Emmanuel and his achievements in life.  Where his culture told him that he was cursed and unworthy, he has become a hero.  It is also a sort of tangible heroism that children will completely understand.  They will know what his achievement is and how difficult it would be to accomplish.

Qualls’ illustrations are incredible.  Filled with beautiful people, strong color, patterns and light, the illustrations let the backgrounds fade to white and black and the people come forward and shine.  Bright colors ripple across skin, fill cheeks, and color the air around people.  There is a sense of life within these illustrations, one that can’t be contained.

A truly inspiring story that shows the creation of a national hero from his infancy through his achievements.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.