Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne (9781534441538)

Beetle longs to be a sorceress but instead she is a goblin and learning magic from her grandmother at home. Her best friend is Blob Ghost, who she visits in the failing mall. When an old friend returns to ‘Allows from going to sorcery school, Beetle is smitten and intimidated. Kat is everything that Beetle wants to be. Kat’s teacher has targeted Blob Ghost’s mall for demolition in the near future. But Blog Ghost can’t leave the mall, tied to it by an unbreakable force. As the demolition is suddenly moved up, it’s up to Beetle and Blog Ghost to free them before they are destroyed along with the building. Beetle is going to have to find the magic inside of her and fight for those she loves.

Layne has created a graphic novel for middle schoolers and teens that is an intoxicating mix of magic, goblins and love. The book looks at being left out and left behind by people you thought were your friends. It also explores the impact of family ties, of destiny and how those elements can be used for good or evil. Best of all, it’s a book that embraces an LGBTQ+ relationship that blossoms right in front of the reader. And don’t miss the pronoun used by Blob Ghost. It’s a treat to see someone referred to so easily as they/them/their.

The art in this graphic novel is just as exceptional as the story itself. Filled with colors that change from one page to the next, teals to purples to blob pink to goblin greens. Layne beautifully shows the ties and impact of magic on those who use it, turning Beetle into a floating witch of power at times. Kat with her skeletal aspect is a marvelous visual foil for the green and orange of Beetle, the two of them forming a full Halloween together.

Here’s hoping for more dangerous broom flights alongside Beetle! Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

 

A Bunch of Board Books

Here are some great recently-released board books to embrace this summer:

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky (9780593110416)

To raise an antiracist baby, you must understand that’s it’s all about showing them that society can transform. This is not a space to be neutral, but one to be an activist. This board book explores what it takes to raise a child who is not racist in our society. First, see all skin colors, don’t be artificially color-blind. Second, talk about race. Third, politics are the problem, not people. Fourth, there is nothing wrong with people, no matter their race, sex, gender, orientation or faith. Fifth, celebrate differences. This book continues through number none which is believing that we can overcome racism. With bright illustrations, this book takes a firm stand of hope and optimism as long as hard work is done and children are raised to see themselves as part of the solution.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kokila. 

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten

Pride 1 2 3 by Michael Joosten, illustrated by Wednesday Holmes (9781534464995)

Join in the happiness of a pride parade in this counting board book. There is one parade in June with two DJs playing music. Three families, four activists, five motorcycles. Six floats go by with seven divas posing. Eight signs are held high with nine people standing together in unity. The final ten are people waving a variety of pride flags. Incredibly inclusive, this board book welcomes everyone to pride parades and celebrations with open arms. The illustrations are bold and bright, featuring all sorts of characters and families who are part of the LGBTQIA+ family.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little Simon. 

Wake Up, Let's Play by Marit Tornqvist

Wake Up, Let’s Play by Marit Tornqvist (9781782506263)

This dreamy board book invites children to join in the fun that two friends find together. They play all sorts of things, like birthday party and restaurant. They build sandcastles and play stormy seas in the bath. Busy towns with wooden tracks fill the room, and sometimes art wanders onto the walls. They play through snow and even into the night. Then it’s time to figure out what to play tomorrow! Told in very simple sentences, this board book has marvelous illustrations that are quirky and fantastical. At the same time, these are exactly the games that small children play, so it is rooted in reality. A marvel of a little book.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Floris Books.

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert (9780316456388)

Alberta has lived in the small town of Ewing Beach her entire life. She’s one of the only Black kids in the entire middle school, so when another Black girl just her age moves into the old bed and breakfast in her neighborhood, Alberta is thrilled. Alberta does have a best friend, but Laramie doesn’t understand some of the things that Alberta experiences, particularly with Nicolette, a bully who makes sly comments that imply that Alberta is different or gets special treatment due to her race. As seventh grade starts, Laramie gets closer with Nicolette and the popular group of kids while Alberta finds herself spending more time with Edie, the new girl. When Edie and Alberta discover a series of old journals in the bed and breakfast, they find themselves untangling a mystery that reveals haunting secrets about race and identity.

This is Colbert’s first middle-grade book and she brings the skill she has shown in her award-winning novels for teens to this new audience. The book embraces difficult subjects but also shows how having a strong family and sense of identity eases even hard conversations and situations. The book deals very directly with race and racism, having gay parents and a complicated family structure, and divorce. It also explores middle grade friendships and their tensions with empathy and solid advice.

Through the two main characters of Alberta and Edie, readers get to experience different sorts of Black girls. Alberta wears bright colors and loves to surf, spending lots of time at the beach. Edie who is from Brooklyn, wears black goth clothing and loves to read. They are both far from being stereotypical in any way, something that shouldn’t need to be said about today’s books but is also still noteworthy. The adults in the book show the same differences and exude a sense of warmth and support.

A great middle grade read about family, friendships and race. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

2020 Lambda Literary Award Winners

Vanity Fair has the news of the winners of the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards. The awards are given in a wide variety of categories, one of which is specifically for children’s and YA books. You can see all of the finalists in my previous post about the award. Here are the winners in the youth category:

CHILDREN’S MIDDLE GRADE WINNER

Hazel’s Theory of Evolution by Lisa Jenn Bigelow

YOUNG ADULT WINNER

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta (9780062990297)

This award-winning teen verse novel deals with gender, identity and fabulous drag performances. Michael’s father is entirely absent in his life, leaving the room when they are in the same house together. Michael does have a connection with his father’s Jamaican family, receiving gifts from them and time spent together. He lives with his Greek-Cypriot mother in London; she accepts Michael entirely, from the time he was a small boy wanting to play with Barbies to college as a gay man. Along the way, Michael must deal with racism, of not being black enough and assumptions being made about him by society. He doesn’t know any other gay black people, forging a path on his own that leads him to university and a club that does drag where he finds his voice and a stage persona too.

Atta is a poet and this is his debut YA novel which has already won the Stonewall Book Award. Just starting reading, it is clear that the poems are done by a master storyteller. They allow readers to deeply understand the struggles of Michael from his family life to friendships that come and go to coming out and then performing. There is a valuable evolution on the page where Michael comes out and yet doesn’t quite become himself fully for several years, until he finds a place to belong.

Atta’s writing is beautiful. He mixes his own poetry with that of Michael the character, moving gracefully between the two. Somehow they are distinct from one another, the voices similar and still separate. The use of poetry to tell such a personal and deeply-felt story makes this really work, as poetry and verse are a fast way to allow readers to see the heart and soul of a character.

Brave, beautiful and deep, this teen novel is masterful. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead (9781101938096)

When Bea’s parents got divorced, they gave her a list of things that they promised would never change. Since then, that list has grown to include new things that Bea has added to it herself. A big change is that her father is getting remarried to Jesse, the guy he’s been dating for awhile. Bea loves Jesse and is ecstatic when she finds out the Jesse has a daughter just Bea’s age. Bea is convinced that they will be the best sisters ever. Meanwhile, Bea is navigating living in two houses, going to see her therapist for anxiety, and finding a theme for her dad’s wedding. It all becomes a lot to handle when Sonia, Jesse’s daughter, isn’t quite as eager as Bea to become sisters. Still, Bea knows how it feels to need to be forgiven and offered more than one chance to become part of someone’s life.

Stead’s writing is deft and clever. She writes with so much empathy for children and a deep understanding for the puzzling situations they face in their lives. Stead creates incredible moments in the novel that offer wonder and refrain through the book like a catchy bar of music. I must mention that it is great to see the marriage of a gay couple handled with such joy, such acceptance while also addressing the bigotry society still has.

Bea a great character, complicated and yet easily understandable. She is enthusiastic but also at times quiet, defying labels as we get to know her better. That alone is a remarkable achievement as an author, just allowing this girl to be herself on the page. The secondary characters are all robustly depicted with no one become stereotypical and everyone showing heart.

Two things that will not change about this book. One, it’s wonderful. Two, it is full of love. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Wendy Lamb Books.

 

Rick by Alex Gino

Rick by Alex Gino

Rick by Alex Gino (9781338048100)

The author of award-winning George returns with another story that explores identity and what it takes to be a good friend. Rick’s best friend Jeff is someone that makes rude comments, makes others the butt of his jokes, but is still pretty nice to Rick most of the time. Now that they are in middle school, Rick is noticing new opportunities. He is drawn to the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club and lies to Jeff about where he is going once a week. In the club, Rick discovers a space where everyone is welcome and accepted. He also learns a name for his own identity which lets him realize that there is nothing wrong with him. As he makes new friends in the club, Jeff starts to target their  posters for his bullying and hate. It’s up to Rick to decide if he can stand up to Jeff, his best friend, or if he will continue to stand by and stay silent.

Gino’s writing is a delightful mix of depth and lightness. They keep their tone light throughout the book and yet explore deep subjects of bullying and identity. Gino incorporates so many different characters who identify as part of the LGBTQIAP+ community. It is lovely to see so many different representations in one book, while insisting on using inclusive terms and respect for everyone’s identity. There is even the surprise of Rick’s own grandfather and how he identifies himself, deftly showing that this community has existed for some time.

Rick is a great protagonist, exploring his own identity as someone who doesn’t relate to others falling for girls or boys that they have never really met. He explores the possibility of being asexual or ace, demonstrating on the page what questioning looks like.

Another winner of a rainbow book from a great middle-grade author. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

The Deep Dark Blue by Niki Smith

The Deep Dark Blue by Niki Smith

The Deep Dark Blue by Niki Smith (9780316485982)

When their family is killed in front of them in a political coup, twin brothers Hawke and Grayson are forced into hiding. They become initiates into the Communion of Blue, a society of women who weave the blue thread of reality and can control the strings of power. Disguised as girls, the two must learn new ways of life, including battling unarmed rather than with swords and learning the spinning skills that girls are taught by their mothers. The siblings create their own plan to take back their royal home, using old and new skills. But Grayson, who has hidden as Grayce, is unwilling to leave the first place she’s been allowed to live as a girl.

Smith’s graphic novel has a wonderful edge to it in both story and imagery. The tale is timeless as is the need for vengeance. Yet Smith makes it modern with her art but also the inclusion of a transgender character as one of the main protagonists. Grayce’s identity is handled clearly and with sensitivity, allowing her to become fully herself as the story unfolds.

The art is spectacular, using a palette of blues, purples and pinks, this kingdom comes alive. The Communion of Blue is fascinating to learn more about, visually as well as in the story. The cast of characters is racially diverse as well.

A graphic novel full of magic, familial honor and LGBTQ representation. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Portrait in Poems by Evie Robillard

Portrait in Poems The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas by Evie Robillard

Portrait in Poems: The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas by Evie Robillard, illustrated by Rachel Katstaller (9781525300561)

Enter the marvelous world of Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas in France in the middle of the 20th century. Stein created an art gallery in her home after moving to Paris with her brother. They purchased from many incredible artists of the time, including Picasso. In fact, Picasso was so taken with Stein that he had her sit for a portrait which he then gave to her as a gift. Saturday evenings, they opened their home so that others could see the art. Stein was both a writer and a genius, working on capturing her world in words for both adults and children. Stein and Toklas purchased a dog they called Basket, that was featured in Stein’s work, including the “autobiography” she wrote about Alice. 

Robillard captures the essence of the life that Stein and Toklas created together, one of acceptance and adoration for one another. Her author’s note speaks to the complexity of their life in World War II France as well as their relationships with those who conspired with the Germans, which likely allowed them to keep their collection of masterpieces safe during the invasion. These elements are not referred to in the body of the book, instead focusing on the art collection, the world they built for themselves, and Stein’s writing and ideas.

Fitting nicely with the clever writing, the illustrations are playful and jovial with a great quirkiness as well. The images depict Gertrude and Alice together, their garden, their home and Basket as well in a color palette that feels timely and modern. 

A lovely picture book biography that celebrates an iconic lesbian couple in history. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Kids Can Press.