Review: Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Juana & Lucas Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina (9781536201314)

The first book in this series won the Pura Belpre Author Award in 2017. This second book continues to use the author’s own childhood in Bogota, Colombia as inspiration. Juana’s life is wonderful. She has her dog, Lucas, and her mother. But lately, her mother has been making some changes. Her hair is different and she has a boyfriend. Luis is nice and kind to Juana, but it’s a lot of change to deal with. When the two decide to get married and move to a new home, Juana is brokenhearted. But even though things are changing, some things will always be true, like how much Juana is loved.

Medina shares how traumatic major life changes can be to children without minimizing their emotional strain. At the same time, Juana is a resilient child, who is constantly facing life with an inherent optimism that pays off. Medina focuses on hope and love throughout the book, never allowing it to bog down and keeping the pace brisk.

Throughout this early chapter book, Spanish words are sprinkled in a way that makes sense to English-speaking readers. The setting is used nicely in the story and factors heavily into the illustrations which are friendly and have a warm cartoon feel.

Another winner from Medina! Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Best Man by Richard Peck

The Best Man by Richard Peck

The Best Man by Richard Peck (InfoSoup)

Released September 20, 2016.

Archer recounts the two weddings that he has been in, one really bad and the other really good and all of the time in between. The first was a wedding where he was in first grade and the ring bearer. He tried hiding in the bushes and only managed to get his outfit full of mud and to rip a hole in the too-tight cloth. The best that can be said is that it made a popular YouTube clip. Archer also managed to make a new friend that day, a friendship that would carry through his grade school years. As grade school progresses, Archer tries to figure out what type of person he wants to be. He knows that he wants to be like his grandfather, his father and his uncle. He also wants to be like his fifth-grade student teacher too, a handsome veteran who turns school into a media frenzy. It is the wedding of his uncle to his teacher that is the best wedding ever. As Archer matures, he shows the men around him what means to be the best kind of man too.

Peck is a Newbery Medalist and this one of his best ever. Peck takes the hot topic of gay marriage and makes it immensely approachable and personal. Archer is a wonderfully naive narrator, someone who isn’t the first in the room to figure things out. That gives readers space to see things first and to come to their own opinions on things. Then the book offers insight into being human whether gay or straight. There is no pretense here, just a family living their lives together and inspiring one another to be better than they are.

Peck’s lightness throughout the book is to be applauded. This is not a “problem” novel that grapples with the idea of gay marriage and debates it at length. Instead it is a book filled with laugh-out-loud humor and lots of delight. Alongside that is a great deal of poignancy with aging grandparents, the ins and outs of love, and the growth of characters throughout.

Entirely engaging and immensely readable, this is one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.

 

Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian

Worm Loves Worm by JJ Austrian

Worm Loves Worm by JJ Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato (InfoSoup)

Two worms have fallen in love and decide to get married. They get lots of advice from other insects. Cricket offers to marry them. Beetle insists on being the “best beetle.” The Bees want to be the bride’s bees. Cricket tells them that they need rings for their fingers, but they don’t have fingers so they wear the rings as belts. There has to be a band and a dance even though the worms don’t dance, they just wiggle. Then come the clothes and the cake. But which worm is the bride and which is the groom?

Austrian has created a completely fabulous picture book. What starts as a look at weddings and marriage broadens to become about the ability to marry whomever we love. By the end, the gender of either worm stays completely ambiguous and all that matters is that they can be married to one another because they love each other. The message is simple and creatively shown. The gender-free worms are a perfect pick for the main characters, offering lots of personality without committing to either gender.

Curato’s illustrations are wonderfully jolly. They capture the rather sanctimonious Cricket and the stuffy beetle with their conservative dress and attitudes. The merry bees are more friendly, but also help insist on a bride and groom. The worms themselves contrast with the others in their plainness and joy in one another. While they are unruffled by the rules of being married, their take on love wins in the end.

A celebration of the freedom to marry, this picture book is sure to cause a new stir among the same crowd bothered by And Tango Makes Three. Enjoy! Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Balzer + Bray.

Review: The Case for Loving by Selina Alko

case for loving

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

This nonfiction picture book tells of a history that will surprise modern American children. It is the story of love and one family that was brave enough to stand up to a racist law. Mildred and Richard Loving fell in love in the small town of Central Point, Virginia. They had different colored skin and so they were not allowed to get legally married in Virginia. So they crossed state lines into Washington, DC and got married there. When they returned to Virginia though, they were arrested for violating the state law against interracial marriage. The two moved to Washington DC and raised their children there. Things started to change in the 1960s and the Lovings took their case all the way to the Supreme Court to win the right to marry one another in the state of Virginia.

This book is strikingly beautiful with a rich warmth that flows directly from the story and art. The author and illustrator are a husband wife team who are also interracial. Their passion for this subject shines on the page. Alko explains that subject matter with a vibrancy, offering information on the laws in a way that is suitable for small children. The drama of the arrest is also clearly captured, exposing the ludicrous law to today’s perspective.

The art of the book was done by both Qualls and Alko. Their styles marry into a beautiful richness that fills the pages. They are filled  will playful hearts and flowers that add a lighter note to the images. At the same time they have detailed paintings filled with texture and power at their center. The combination of both has created a stunning beauty of collage and painting.

An important piece of our civil rights history as a nation, this picture book documents one family willing to take up the fight for themselves and others. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

Review: Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons

Ellens Broom

Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter

After slavery ended, Ellen’s parents’ marriage would finally be recognized by law.  Until then, no slave marriages were seen as legal.  The broom had always hung over the fireplace mantel in their home and all of the children knew the story of their parents jumping the broom and becoming man and wife.  When the family set off to make the marriage legal, all four children came along and Ellen was honored to carry the broom.  As their parents were about to be married, Ellen and her sister ran outside and decorated the plain straw broom with flowers and her mother carried the broom as a bouquet.  When her parents were married, Ellen knew that the ceremony wasn’t complete until they had once again jumped the broom together as a couple. 

This lovely picture book looks at Reconstruction, a period not often featured in picture books.  The depiction of a loving family who have survived slavery and are rejoicing in their new rights and freedoms is the center of the book.  Lyons does not shy away from showing the lingering shadows and effects of slavery, though they are shown more as memories and concerns, making them appropriate for the young audience.

Minter’s illustrations have such a delicate line that at first they do not seem to be block prints, but they are.  The bright colors and play of light and shadow make for a vivid read.  The wood grain of the walls alone are a masterpiece of line and color.

This picture book embraces family, tradition and looks to the future.  It is a gorgeous book that addresses a time in history that is often overlooked for young readers.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

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