The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (9780062498533)

This teen novel has more buzz than any I’ve ever seen. Happily, it is all entirely justified and I’ll join the crowd in singing its praises and looking forward to the upcoming film!

Starr is sixteen and witnessed a friend killed in a drive-by shooting when she was a child. Now she finds herself witnessing another killing, this time another friend who is shot in the back by a police officer during a traffic stop. Starr already lives in two worlds, the poor neighborhood where her family lives and her father has a store and the private prep school she attends in the suburbs. Now she must walk an ever more razorsharp edge, figuring out the dangers of the truth and the equally harsh dangers of staying silent.

Thomas takes on racism in modern America head on and without flinching. She paints a picture of poor African-American communities that looks beyond the poverty into the heart of the community itself. Still, this is not a picket fence world but one that is complex, riddled with gang activity, but still has a heart and a culture that sings. Thomas also shows the choices that African Americans must make in staying in a crime-filled community to help or moving away for safety of their children. It is not simple, nothing in this novel is, thank goodness.

The characters are incredibly rich and complicated as well. Starr is a wonderful heroine, grappling with grief, the situation of being a witness, and the knowledge that even telling the truth may not make a difference. She is wise, young, hopeful and jaded all at once. She is a face for what is happening in this country and a way that white teens can understand the issues and black teens can see themselves portrayed beautifully in a novel.

I must also mention the incredible African-American fathers shown in the book. Yes, there are men who are awful here too. But Maverick is a complicated father with high expectations for his children who cheated on Starr’s mother and also did jail time for his gang activity. That doesn’t mean he isn’t there for his family or loves them any less. Again, it’s complicated. Add to that Uncle Carlos who is a police officer and who stepped in to help raise Starr when Maverick was in jail. He is a crucial character to the story, and also a critical figure in Starr’s upbringing and her strength.

This debut novel is breathtakingly honest, searingly angry and exactly what we need right now. I can’t wait to see what this author does next! Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

bear ate your sandwich

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

Released January 6, 2015.

This picture book tells the story of exactly what happened to your sandwich.  See, it started with the bear.  He was having a great warm, bright morning when he smelled berries.  He found a pickup truck filled with berries, which he munched and then fell fast asleep in the back of the truck.  When he woke up, he was riding towards a huge city.  Now he was in a new forest, but a very different one.  He climbed, he scratched, he squished his toes in mud, he investigated.  He found a park and that is where he discovered your sandwich sitting on a park bench.  He then ran off, scared by the dogs around, climbed aboard a boat and returned to his own forest.  It’s all true you see, I saw it all.  Don’t you trust me?

The merriment in this picture book is pure joy to share.  And the voice that it is written in is so very earnest and honest, willing you with their very words to really believe them.  It’s so earnest that you immediately know that this is a voice not to be trusted.  But you won’t completely understand who is talking until the very end of the story.   The timing of the humor is impeccable, the writing is wonderfully strong and lovely, evoking a forest in an urban setting and letting the bear discover it. 

The illustrations have a richness to them.  The opening scenes of the bear in the forest play with light and shadows, greens and browns, dappling and shining.  It’s all lush and green and beautiful with the black bear anchoring the beauty around him.  Along the way there are other moments, particularly the ones where the bear investigates the city and then the lingering moments of him discovering the sandwich, approaching the sandwich, longing for it.  It’s all strikingly rendered.

Lush, strong and very funny, this picture book is a delight and just as satisfying as a sandwich for a hungry bear.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.

Review: Peanut by Ayun Halliday


Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe

When Sadie heads to a new school once again, she comes up with a grand plan.  She orders a medical bracelet online and pretends to have a severe peanut allergy.  Using this strategy, she does make some friends, including finding a boyfriend.  However, the fake peanut allergy continues to be a problem, especially if she slips up and just eats a chip cooked in peanut oil.  As it becomes more and more a focus of her life, she thinks about telling the truth to her friends.  But it’s too late to come clean, because they would hate her for lying to them.  This graphic novel steadily counts down to the disaster that readers will know is coming, creating tension laced with humor.

Halliday has created a character that we can all relate to.  Sadie lies to make friends, her strange solution to being the new girl actually works.  Sadie is insecure and as she grows in self-esteem the trap she finds herself in starts to tighten.  She is a wonderful imperfect character, scolding her new boyfriend, lying to her mother, and of course lying to everyone at school.  But through it all, she is likeable and universal.

Hoppe’s illustrations are done in black and white lines with Sadie’s sweater being a pop of red against the more subtle coloring.  His drawings are fresh feeling and dynamic, often going for the laugh especially when the drama gets thick. 

Perfect for those teens who enjoy Raina Telgemeier’s books, this graphic novel is filled with humor and tension.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.

Review: Betty Bunny Didn’t Do It by Michael B. Kaplan

betty bunny didnt do it

Betty Bunny Didn’t Do It by Michael B. Kaplan, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch

I’m a Betty Bunny fan, since I enjoy protagonists in children’s books who have a feel of being a real kid.  Betty Bunny in this third book in the series breaks a lamp when her siblings refuse to play with her.  When she is asked about it, she blames it on the Tooth Fairy.  Betty Bunny thinks this works so very well that she’s surprised it hadn’t occurred to her to try it before.  But things quickly unravel when her mother asks if she’s telling the truth.  Betty admits to telling an “honest lie” and is sent to her room.  Later, when a vase is broken, everyone in the family automatically blames Betty Bunny, but she really didn’t do it this time! 

Betty Bunny is precocious for a four year old.  I enjoy the way that Kaplan explains what Betty is thinking about her new ideas.  Also, the family dynamics ring very honest with older siblings unwilling to play but all too willing to offer witty advice. 

Jorisch’s illustrations have a great modern vibe to them.  The bunny family is active and they dynamic lives appear clearly on the page.  This has the trademark style of the earlier books with zingy writing and a naughty but quite charming little bunny at the center.

Fans of the earlier books in the series will find more to love here.  This series is not for every reader or family as some will find the naughtiness less funny and more problematic.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

Review: The Market Bowl by Jim Averbeck

market bowl

The Market Bowl by Jim Averbeck

Mama Cecile taught Yoyo to make bitterleaf stew, the same stew they sold at the market.  But Yoyo thought that the entire process took too long, so she took some shortcuts herself.  Then she snuck her batch of stew along with them to the market.  Mama Cecile warned Yoyo that they must always accept a fair price for their stew, otherwise Brother Coin, the Great Spirit of the Market, would remove his blessing from their bowl.  After selling all of Mama Cecile’s stew, there was still one customer left, so Yoyo pulled out her own stew and tried to sell that.  But she rejected his small offer for her stew.  Thunder rolled and through the next days, no one came to their staff at the market.  Now it was up to Yoyo to fix what she had done.  That would take traveling to see Brother Coin in person.

Set in modern-day Cameroon, this story skillfully blends folk elements as it talks about the culture as well.  The book will make a great read aloud thanks to the ease of the language used and the natural rhythm of the storytelling.  It would also be a great candidate for storytelling for those reasons too.

Averbeck’s art has a strong modern edge to it.  He shows the gorgeous textiles that people wear.  Additionally, he uses textures and patterns to create other objects as well, such as the shanty houses and details of interior scenes.

A modern-day folk tale, this is a rich glimpse into Cameroon.  The book ends with a recipe for bitterleaf stew too!  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Review: Bluefish by Pat Schmatz


Bluefish by Pat Schmatz

Travis misses his home after moving with his grandfather but even more, he misses his dog.  He used to have lots of room to roam in the country, but he’s stuck in a small house with his alcoholic grandfather.  At his new school, he is nearly silent but loud Velveeta will not allow him to withdraw far.  She joins him at lunch after seeing Travis help out a boy being bullied, firmly adopting him and filling his silence with all of her words.  The two unlikely friends are both hiding secrets.  As the story progresses, the secrets are shared with the reader first and then with each other.  This story explores the meaning of friendship and how we can all be friends that help one another in our own unique way.

Schmatz’s writing is clean and clear.  She doesn’t fill the story with flowery language, instead exploring the story alongside the reader.  The book is filled with characters who are struggling, including both Travis and Velveeta.  Another example is Travis’ grandfather who is battling his addiction and trying to be a parent to Travis.  There is nothing perfect here, and the message is clear that perfection is not something that is necessary or needed.  It is the striving, the doing that matters.

The two main characters are well drawn and intriguing.  They are very similar to one another in many ways and yet so different in others.  Their struggles may not be the same, but the two definitely need one another to get through.  There are also other adults who help, including one incredible teacher and a librarian.  It is a joy to see two adults helping children written free of any didacticism. 

This powerful read offers great characters, no easy answers, and no grand solution of an ending.  It’s a book that is about the journey.  Appropriate for ages 11-14.

Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.

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Book Review: Little Croc’s Purse by Lizzie Finlay

little crocs purse

Little Croc’s Purse by Lizzie Finlay

This little morality story features Little Croc who found a purse one day.  He had to decide if he was going to return the purse with its money or keep it all for himself.  He decides to return the purse, but on his way to the police station, he meets with several temptations.  He manages to avoid spending any of the money and once he’s at the police station finds out that the woman who owns the purse wants to meet him.  When she arrives, she checks for a special locket in a hidden pocket and then leaves the entire purse and the money for Little Croc.  Little Croc doesn’t spend it all in one place either, leading to a very satisfying conclusion to this book.

Finlay manages to make not only a morality tale, but a picture book that works as a story as well.  While there is definitely a moral about honesty here, the story is about more than that.  Her writing is light-toned and even the moment with the bully is brief and easily handled.  This helps lift the tone of the entire book. 

Her whimsical illustrations also do that with a tiny crocodile lugging a very large, very flowery, rather pink purse.  Even better, when Little Croc does buy something for himself, it is a pair of very red boots.  He also never shrinks away from carrying the purse and owning it as his own after it has been given to him. 

A book about honesty, thoughtfulness and caring for others, this book is sweet and jolly.  Keep it in mind for parents looking for books about manners and honesty for preschoolers.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

The King and the Seed

The King and the Seed by Eric Maddern, illustrated by Paul Hess

King Karnak has no heir and is coming to the end of his reign.  So he puts out a call for anyone who wants to be king to come and join in a competition.  Knights come from across the land, ready for the battle to begin.  But the king surprises them all by handing each one of them a seed and asking them to bring it back in six months to show what they have grown.  A boy, Jack, who came only to witness the competition, gets a seed for himself.  Jack tries and tries to make his seed grow, but nothing works and six months later he heads back to the castle.  There he finds the knights with armloads of plants, huge flowers, all different from one another.  Jack doesn’t want to admit his defeat to the king, so what’s a boy to do?

Maddern’s storytelling has a great flair, filled with small touches and humor that really bring the story to life.  The book has a strong message that is not overdone.  It also has a classic folk tale format that is mixed with a modern storytelling style, creating a very engaging book.  Hess’ illustrations are bright-colored and offer interesting perspectives on the action.  They will work well with a group.

Ideal for reading aloud, this book is a great modern folktale that emphasizes the importance of honesty.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from library copy.