All Together Now by Hope Larson (9780374311629)
This sequel to All Summer Long continues the story of Bina and her band. This new graphic novel shows the drama of middle school friendships and how that can be made even worse by adding in band dynamics. At first, Bina loves being in a band with her best friend, Darcy. But when Enzo joins them, she starts to feel like she’s being pushed out of her own band! It gets even worse when Darcy and Enzo become romantically involved. As they try to change Darcy’s music, Darcy decides to leave the band. Meanwhile, she is realizing that her next-door neighbor and friend, Austin, has a crush on her. Bina though doesn’t feel the same way. It’s a lot to navigate as a middle schooler and it leads to one epic punk reaction that results in Bina starting to speak out for herself.
So often sequels are not as good as the first. Here, the story gets even stronger as we get to see Bina grow into her own voice and her own musical stance. The addition of band drama into the huge changes already happening in middle school makes for true drama that is not overplayed here, but creates moments for growth and self-reflection with some rock and roll thrown in.
Larson’s art is as great and approachable as ever. Done in a limited color palette of black, white and a dusky purple. The art invites readers right into Darcy’s private world, her music and the band.
A rocking sequel that will have fans of the first happily dancing along. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.
Wink by Rob Harrell (9781984815149)
Ross desperately just wants to be normal, but that isn’t working out for him. After being diagnosed with a rare eye cancer, he has a permanent wink. He goes for treatments each week, making friends with an old guy who is always there as well as with one of the technicians who is desperate to improve Ross’ taste in music. Meanwhile at school, he is steadily becoming stranger as his hair starts to fall out in clumps, he has to use gloppy creams, and he starts to wear a hat all the time. He’s the opposite of normal and the bully in his class definitely notices. But even as he gets further from normal, he starts to figure some things out, like how great it feels to play the guitar even if your fingers are ready to bleed, how amazing it is to play in a band, and how a ton of humor can get you through almost anything.
Based on the author’s personal story, this book takes a unique look at a cancer journey. Harrell’s book is downright hilarious, never allowing the book become too full of the harrowing nature of having a rare cancer and the impacts of the treatment. Ross and Rob are too funny to let that happen, incorporating the adventures of Batpig to help. Through all of the humor a poignancy shines through, allowing those moments of serious crisis to really stand out with their importance and yet also their impermanence.
The book is filled with comic pages, art, and notes. It has hair clumps, face goop, music mixes and more. These graphic elements help to break up the text but also really demonstrate Ross’ skill with art and his quirky sense of humor as he deals with his cancer.
Funny, sarcastic and honest, this is a cancer book with laughter and head-banging music, not tears. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Double Bass Blues by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez (9781524718534)
Nic plays cello at school with a zip and a hum, filling the room with his solo. Then he heads home, climbing over fences, rushing past dogs, to get on the bus. It takes him to another part of town where people make fun of his school uniform and wonder what his cello is. As rain falls, the mocking follows him all the way home until he reaches his granddaddy’s apartment that is filled with other musicians all ready to play along with his “bull fiddle.”
Loney celebrates the transforming power of music in this picture book. Her text is very simple, filled with sounds like clapping hands, musical zips and swoops, and noises of rain, buses, and crowds. Then he takes those noises and the stress of the ride home and turns them into music to share. This book also explores the life of a child straddling two communities, demonstrated by one trip home, with music anchoring both parts of his life.
The illustrations are done in acrylic paint. They incorporate strong lines and bright colors. The faces of Nic and other people are done in great detail, contrasting with the world around him which is done in a more stylized feel.
A marvelous musical picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Knopf.
Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe (9781481480390)
Pokko’s quiet frog parents had made a big mistake giving her the drum. When they tried to discuss it together, they couldn’t hear themselves. So Pokko’s father sends her outside with the drum, asking her to play quietly and not draw attention from anyone. So Pokko heads out quietly. The forest is very quiet, too quiet. So Pokko starts to play her drum. Another animal joins in and follows Pokko. More animals join until they have a parade of music. Back home, it’s lunch time. Pokko’s father listens for her and faintly hears music that is coming closer. He’s about to discover that Pokko can really play that drum!
Forsythe has created a book that is a complete delight. While telling the story of the rather loud and very brave Pokko, he also gives readers moments where the story pauses. These are moments like seeing other gifts Pokko’s parents have given her, like the slingshot and the llama. Forsythe isolates these moments giving them entire pages and time to have real impact. The same happens when Pokko must confront the fox who is eating others in the band. The overall storytelling is just as strong, offering a folktale feel with a modern twist.
The illustrations are done in watercolor, gouache and colored pencil. They have a gorgeous sunlit quality to them that is saturated and rich. They use patterns and colors to great effect as well.
Unique and lovely, this is one to beat the drum for! Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler (9781554989720)
A middle grade graphic novel that focuses on the power of music and opera? Yes please! This innovative graphic novel tells the story of Charlie, who has an assignment to find her own personal perfect song. Her music class listens to all sorts of musical genres but the one that resonates with Charlie (and no one else in her class) is the music of opera singer Maria Callas. As Charlie searches for her song, she is thinking of two classmates. There is Emile, who is quiet and intriguing. Then there is the empty desk left by Luka, who was targeted and bullied for his gender nonconformity. As Charlie finds her song, she also discovers her inner diva and the ability to empower those around her.
Maclear’s story is all about the impact that music, specifically the right music at the right time, can have on one’s life. She writes with a deep empathy for young people finding their own way through middle school, focusing on the importance of friends but also on reaching out to others and helping them too. The book is filled with emotion and connection that exemplifies youth and hope.
Eggenschwiler’s art is exceptional. He creates images that perfectly capture the emotions of have a crush on someone, or feeling certain ways in your group of friends. The illustrations move through various single-colors as their main palette from yellows to blues to reds and back. Filled with individuality and creativity, the illustrations are interesting and unique.
A great graphic novel for middle grades, this one speaks to each person being both an individual and a member of the community. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from library copy.
Music for Mister Moon by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (9780823441600)
A collaboration between the Steads is always reason for joy. This picture book explores the imagination of Hank, a young cellist who simply wants to play all alone. When her parents suggest that she play in public, she doesn’t think that sounds good at all. So she imagines them as penguins and heads for her room which she imagines is an isolated warm room. But just as she starts to play, an owl hoots outside. Hank eventually tosses a teacup at the owl but then her cozy home starts to fill with smoke. She discovers that the moon has been hit by her teacup and fallen down to sit atop her chimney. Together, Hank and moon have a series of adventures from buying the moon a warm hat to taking a boat ride. Will Hank play her music for the moon? And how will the moon return to the sky again?
This story is intensely whimsical and lovely. From the very first page, the tone is set and readers will realize they are in a different world. This is partly because of the lightness and ethereal beauty of the illustrations. Filled with chalky color, their fine lines show a world populated with animals, coziness and quiet.
The writing is equally delicate, moving through the tale and inviting readers to linger a while and hear the cello music too. Hank is an intriguing character, a girl who loves music but not performing. She is also a girl with an intense imagination, creating teacups and flinging them high enough to tap the moon. She allows her emotions to become items she places around her, and so the journey with the moon becomes all the more beautiful.
A bedtime story that is beautiful, moonlit and filled with music. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Neal Porter Books.
A Story Like the Wind by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Jo Weaver (9780802855145)
A haunting look at the plight of refugees, this short piece of fiction will work well for children and adults alike. Rami floats in the water in a small dinghy with seven other people. All of them are fleeing their homeland in the hopes of finding shelter elsewhere. But the boat motor has broken down and they are now adrift. Rami is alone except for his violin, and he begins to weave a tale filled with music to keep their spirits up. It is a tale of a young man who rescues an orphaned colt from the snow and grows to be able to ride the stallion because he respects the horse’s freedom. As the tale is woven, it is not just a story about horseriding, but also one about power, brutality and the cost of freedom.
Lewis has written a book that dances the line between children’s book and adult book very nicely. It can also seem almost a picture book as the illustrations sweep across the pages. Lewis’ writing is beautiful and filled with emotion. The dangers of the refugee experience are shown tangibly on the page, as are the stories of what they have lost from war. The story of the stallion is given equal weight in the book, rounding out the book and offering another angle from which to view the same story in the end. It is a story that arcs around and creates a whole out of two separate tales wrapped in song.
The illustrations by Weaver are breathtaking, woven from blues and whites. They fill with light and dark, playing against one another and revealing images built from luminescence, music, and wind. The illustrations suit the dark tale so perfectly that the book is one cohesive story.
A dramatic and human look at the refugee crisis and its many victims. Appropriate for ages 9 and up.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers.
The Dam by David Almond, illustrated by Levi Pinfold (9780763695972)
Based on a true story, this is the tale of the Kielder Dam which when finished would flood the valley where there were farms, homes and a school. Musicians had played throughout the area, so right before the valley was to be flooded, Mike Tickell took his daughter Kathryn and her fiddle into the dam to play music there for the final time. They enter each boarded-up house and Kathryn plays music. They played all day long, one home and structure after another, filling the spaces with music. Now the area is a lake, a lake that contains music.
Almond’s writing is so incredibly beautiful here. He takes the haunting story of a musician saying farewell and welcome at the same time. He tells the story with poetry and awe, a hushed beauty filling the pages as he explains the wonder of the music that still lives within the lake. In his note at the end, Almond explains about the Tickells and Kathryn Tickell’s career as a well-known folk musician.
The illustrations by Pinfold are equally haunting. The lone stone buildings with their boarded doors and windows stand as witnesses but also ghosts on the landscape, soon to be covered by water. There are ghostly figures on the pages, swirling with the music and poetry, saying goodbye to the world they knew.
A gorgeous picture book that looks at the power of music and the wonder of a place. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
All Summer Long by Hope Larson (9780374304850)
Bina’s summer has just started, but it’s already going wrong. Her best friend, Austin, is heading to a month-long soccer camp. He’s also acting strangely and has decided that they are too old for some of their regular summer activities. Once he’s left for camp, Bina finds herself watching too much TV and just hanging out alone. Then she bumps into Austin’s older sister who turns out to be into music just like Bina is. The two of them start hanging out but when Austin returns things stay just as strange. Bina has to navigate her way through new friendships and old ones as she also grapples with her love of music and what that means for her friendships too.
Larson is the author of several graphic novels for children and teens. Here she tackles middle-school summers with a focus on music and individuality. Bina’s summer will feel familiar to readers, a stretch of time that is meant to be the best but ends up being time that needs filling with more than binge-watching TV. The incorporation of a friendship between a boy and a girl that does not involve romance or attraction is great to see. Readers will fret that Austin’s strange attitude means he “likes” Bita, but the truth makes sense and fits the story well.
The art is friendly and approachable. Done in a limited orange and black palette, it speaks of summer heat and sun. Bita herself is lanky and tall, her angles oozing with middle-school gawkiness in an appealing way. Her parents are just involved enough but also absent in a way that shows trust too.
A graphic novel perfect for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux.