Review: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (9780062795250)

When Arthur and Ben meet for the first time, it’s perfect. However, neither of them get each other’s numbers. With Arthur in New York City for just the summer, they have a limited time find one another again in a huge city. Thanks to some expert sleuthing online by friends, a flyer in a specific coffee shop, and the universe helping them out, they manage to meet once more. But what if it’s not actually meant to be? Arthur has never had a boyfriend before, and Ben has just broken up with his first serious boyfriend. Arthur tries a little too hard, and Ben doesn’t quite try hard enough particularly when it comes to being on time. Could it be that they just aren’t mean to be together after all?

The pairing of these two master authors is beautifully done. There is no clear line where one author’s voice begins and the other ends, instead the voices of the two characters meld and create a cohesive experience. The humor in particular is skillfully done with both Arthur and Ben having distinct personalities, voices and senses of humor. New York City itself is a backdrop to their summer together and becomes almost a character of her own. From subway rides to tourist traps to Broadway shows to coffee shops, the city shows her own magic throughout the book.

The entire novel reads like a movie with scenes playing out visually and the dialogue snappy and quick. The book has strong secondary characters as well who are vibrant and entirely their own people. In particular, the two sets of parents are well drawn and it’s great to see everyone supporting their gay kids. Additionally, the depiction of gay sex focuses on consent, pleasure and is entirely positive.

A humorous, honest and heartfelt novel that offers a gorgeous look at the ups and downs of relationships through the eyes of a gay couple. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC provided by HarperTeen.

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers (9781452162812)

This book on the Statue of Liberty could not be more timely for our world today. The book first looks at the French origins of the statue made to celebrate the centennial of the United States. From small renderings to large pieces of the full-sized statue, Bartholdi, the artist shipped the statue to New York City in 214 crates. Statue assembly in New York took 17 months. The copper statue was originally copper brown, but aged to the green lady we know today. The book then focuses on the statue’s right foot, a foot that is moving rather than standing still. This symbol of our nation welcoming refugees and immigrants from around the world is stepping forward, just as we must to welcome new people to our shores.

This book is a lovely cross between a picture book and a nonfiction read. Shaped as a book that is shorter and thicker than most picture books, it offers illustrations on all of the pages. The text length is welcoming for younger readers and will also work as a read aloud.

The book moves from being a factual read about the statue itself and how it was built and came to America. It transforms into a call for our nation to live up to that symbol, to step forward as well. It becomes something more than the facts, more than the details. It brings the statue and our values to life.

Rumbles of awards surround this title. It deserves all of them. Unique and fabulous. Appropriate for ages 5-9. (Review copy provided by Chronicle Books.)

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby (9780062306937, Amazon)

This first book in a series introduces readers to an alternative New York City, filled with amazing machines built by the Morningstarr twins in the 1800’s. There are servant robots, skyscrapers, elevators that don’t just go up and down, beetle-machines that clean the roads, and many more. The Morningstarrs left behind a cipher to be solved that would lead to treasure, and even though people have worked for cipher for over fifty years, no solution has been found. Tess, Theo and Jaime live in one of the Morningstarr buildings that is unfortunately slated to be torn down. While their families scramble to find somewhere new to live, the three of them discover a potential new cipher that may lead them to the treasure and save the building they love. Now they just have to solve it.

Ruby has beautifully weaved an alternative New York City in this novel. She imagines it filled with amazing technology that has a magical element to it. It’s rather like magic-powered steampunk. She combines this with riddles and ciphers, puzzles to work out and then provides distinct villains to fight as well. The result is a book that is entirely delightful to read and impossible to put down as one new discovery immediately leads to another.

The three main characters are strongly written and offer a diverse cast. Tess keeps up and surpasses the boys at times, offering a strong feminist take on events as she does so. All of them are exceedingly bright in their own way, from being logical and sometimes robotic to looking at the world through art. There is a celebration of different intelligence types here that is great to see.

This mix of magic, technology, mysteries and ciphers is exceptional and just right for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Walden Pond Press.

 

The Secret Subway by Shana Corey

The Secret Subway by Shana Corey

The Secret Subway by Shana Corey, illustrated by Red Nose Studio (InfoSoup)

Released March 8, 2016.

This amazing nonfiction picture book takes a look at New York in the 1860s and the lack of options for transportation on the crowded and dirty streets. Everyone knew that something needed to be done, but no one could agree on exactly what that was. Then Alfred Ely Beach had an idea to build a railroad powered by forced air. Beach knew though that he couldn’t propose to create a railroad under the streets, so instead he proposed that he’d build a tube to carry mail. Even Boss Tweed agreed with the plan. So Beach set to work creating a railroad to carry people and not mail. But it was not going to be as easy as just building the machine. He still had Boss Tweed and above ground politics to deal with!

Corey writes with great energy in this picture book. While nonfiction and historical, the book is fascinating and one immediately roots for Beach as he begins to plan and then dig under New York City. The slow digging under the earth is tantalizingly told. Then the rush of opening and the speed of the train are offered with a breathless tone and fast pace. The ending is sad but also hopeful, since everyone knows that air-driven trains are not the way subways were designed. There is a feeling of remembrance at the end, of one man’s amazing dream that led to other opportunities to tunnel under New York City.

It is always a joy to see work by Red Nose Studios. The book opens with a look at how the illustrations are done with figures made from wire and foam and then polymer clay for the faces. There is such attention to detail throughout with the gorgeous tube-shaped subway car appearing like magic. Done with serious flair for the dramatic and a great sense of style, this picture book’s illustrations are noteworthy and wonderful.

A great pick for fans of machines and inventions, this is also a book just right for dreamers of all sorts. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Penguin Random House and Edelweiss.

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano, illustrated  by Marjorie Priceman (InfoSoup)

On their first Christmas Eve after moving to the Bronx from Puerto Rico, things are just not going well. Their tree is tiny and now the holiday roast is too big to fit in their tiny oven! So Jose and his father head off to find an oven large enough for their big roast. As they leave their apartment building, they bump into neighbor after neighbor, each having a bad holiday too. The children are too noisy, an older couple won’t be seeing their family this year, and others are having money troubles. They head to the local pizzeria where the Ray lets them put the roast in his huge pizza oven. On the way back home with the meal, the smell of the roast tantalizes everyone they pass, making their day better. And best of all is the sharing of the roast and the sharing of the holiday with everyone.

Manzano played Maria on Sesame Street and has been creating marvelous books for children for the last few years. In this picture book, she captures the diversity of a Bronx neighborhood and the way that you can be neighbors but not know one another well. Then she turns it all around and shows how community can suddenly be created by acts of caring and generosity and how those choices can impact everyone around you.

Caldecott-honor winning, Priceman has brought the urban Bronx neighborhood to vivid life here. The buildings sway, bright colored against the dark night sky that is alive with stars and the milky way. The snow shines on the ground. All is filled with spicy colors that fill the holiday with a unique feeling of a diverse community.

A great pick for holiday reading, this picture book has the rhythm of different languages on the page, the joy of diverse holiday traditions and the beauty of a community coming together. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon

Oskar and the Eight Blesssings by Richard Simon

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel (InfoSoup)

Oskar survived Kristallnacht in Nazi Europe and has been sent by his family to live with his aunt in New York City. When he arrives, he has to walk over 100 blocks down Broadway to reach her, hopefully before she lights the menorah at sunset. Along the way, Oskar is reminded again and again about looking for blessings in life. He is given bread by a woman feeding the birds, a comic book by the man who runs the newsstand, mittens by a boy in the park. But most of all in his long walk in the cold, he is given hope once again that he is somewhere safe.

The authors have created a picture book that speaks to the horrors of the Holocaust only in passing. Instead it is much more focused upon feeling embraced by a city even as a newly-arrived immigrant. It is about the small things that we do in kindness each day and the way that those small things build to something larger and more important for someone. This book celebrates New York City and the shelter and home that can be found there.

The illustrations are interesting for a book set in the past. They incorporate comic-like panels on the page that really work well. The illustrations have a sense of wonder about them. They capture small pieces of New York, allowing the snow and city to swirl around the reader just as they do around Oskar himself.

A lovely holiday book that is about more than either Christmas or Hanukkah but about home and hope. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Little Humans by Brandon Stanton

little humans

Little Humans by Brandon Stanton

The photographer behind Humans of New York brings his talent to a children’s book.  Using photographs taken on the streets of New York, this book speaks to the power of children.  Children may fall down, but they get back up, because they are tough.  But they still need love and friends.  Children are helpful, playful and talented.  They learn and grow.  They also know how to ask for help when they need it.  And they do so very much so well that they just might insist they are are not little after all, they are big!

On each and every page, Stanton celebrates urban culture and diversity.  There are children of every color here, each with their own unique sense of style and and distinct personality that pops on the page.  His photographs speak volumes beyond the text that does little more than support the gorgeous, hip photographs. 

A dynamic and diverse book that can be enjoyed by the smallest of children.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

she is not invisible

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

Released April 22, 2014.

Laureth keeps tabs on her famous father’s emails, making sure that his fans are responded to in a kind and timely way.  But one day, she gets an email from someone claiming to have her father’s writing journal.  The problem is, her father is supposed to be in Europe, but this person is in New York City.  Laureth’s mother doesn’t seem to care about her father being missing, so it is up to Laureth to figure out how to reach him and find out what happened.  But Laureth has an additional obstacle to her rescue mission: she is blind.  So she must fool her 7-year-old brother into joining her on a flight across the Atlantic Ocean to a huge city to find her father.  This is a quest unlike any other, written by a master.

Sedgwick’s writing is beautiful and effortless.  He has created a truly incredible character in Laureth, a girl who doesn’t even realize how brave she is.  Her blindness is both a huge factor in the novel but also never a factor in Laureth’s self perception.  She tries to pass as sighted throughout the novel, managing it at times and failing at others.  There are frightening encounters, moments of disorientation, and other times where blindness is the reason she survives. 

Sedgwick’s book is about far more than a girl who is blind making a quest.  It is about moments of coincidence too.  Sedgwick works this theme in by pulling quotes from Laureth’s father and his research into coincidence.  But it is also a large theme of the book itself, those breathtaking moments where the universe seems to be speaking just to you.  And it is those moments that make the connections we have with others stand out clearly.

A remarkable protagonist in a magical book, this is another winner for Sedgwick.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from digital copy received from NetGalley and Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

herman and rosie

Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

Herman is a crocodile who lives in New York and finds it very lonely.  He loves playing his oboe in his apartment.  His job selling things on the telephone, makes his life less lonely because he can talk to people, but doesn’t make him very good at his job.  Rosie lives in the building next door to Herman and she loves to sing.  She has a job washing dishes but loves most of all her singing lessons and performing in a little jazz club on Thursday nights.  The two are lonely but fairly happy because both of them hear great music floating into their windows from time to time.  Then one day Herman loses his job and Rosie discovers that the jazz club is closing.  The two of them head home and don’t make any music for a long time.  Until they wake up one morning and things have changed.  They are craving their favorite food and want to make music. 

Gordon has written a picture book ode to big city living, particularly New York.  He incorporates the potential loneliness of urban life but also praises the bustling, the music, the lifestyle.  The characters are quirky and believable.  They are the sort of characters who make perfect sense, whose actions are credible, reactions ring true, and they make the entire book work. 

Gordon writes and illustrates with a playful tone.  His illustrations are done in mixed media, including photographs, paint, and pencil.  The different media are worked together so thoroughly that at times you never notice the photos mixed in.  They are so cleverly done that it all forms one unified piece until something catches your eye.

Two musical souls in one big lonely city where they live next door to one another.  It’s a combination just as exquisite as New York itself.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.