Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen

Cover image for Survivor Tree.

Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Aaron Becker (9780316487672)

On a bustling street in New York City, a small tree grew along the tall steel buildings. It was there for almost thirty years, marking the seasons. Then one September day, there were explosions and buildings fell to rubble, crushing and burning the tree. The tree was found in the wreckage with a few green leaves and taken far away to fresh soil. For several seasons, the tree stayed bare, then one day blossoms and buds arrived. For ten years, the tree grew there until it was time to return home. Home to a newly empty sky, where people stopped and wept, and where the tree with its burns and scars offered a way to bridge past to present.

This picture book is based on the true story of the tree that survived the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. Through seasons of bustling city streets to the attack itself to seasons of healing afterwards, the tree shows an inspiring resilience for us all. Using delicate prose, the author writes of the beauty of the tree even when people were not stopping to notice it. The survival of the tree is told with a gentle admiration for its very survival.

Becker beautifully captures the New York City setting of the tree as it changes from before the attack and afterwards. He offers not just a story of the tree itself but an accompanying story in the illustrations about a family growing up alongside the tree and then there loss and memories after the attack. It is this subtle human connection of people to the tree that add much to the book.

A haunting and beautiful look at 9/11 and the tree that survived it and continues to inspire. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.

Blackout by Dhonielle Clayon, et al.

Cover image for Blackout.

Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon (9780063088092)

In New York City in the heat of summer, there is a sudden blackout citywide. Caught in the darkness are several groups of Black teens who all find themselves heading to the same party. There are couples who have already broken up and find themselves the only safe way to get back home. There are pairs who are not yet together but find themselves trapped on the stopped subway system. There are people in one relationship and longing for a new one that is right there. Told in loosely-linked short stories, these stories all tell the joyous tale of young Black love in the dark.

Written by six award-winning Black female authors, these stories are a summer delight to read. The authors have their own unique voices that all come together into a single book that really sings. Cleverly, one story bridges across the entire book, following one couple’s long walk across the city together. Each story shows romance in a different light and different stage, showing how even waning romance can be the beginning of something new and amazing.

In all of the stories, the characters are interesting and well written. They have personalities that stand out against the crowd of characters, taking the spotlight for a time and then allowing it to move on. The writing throughout is skilled, creating a book that is romantic, funny and a tribute to New York City herself.

A testament to the talent of the writers, this book is a great summer read. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Keeping the City Going by Brian Floca

Keeping the City Going by Brian Floca (9781534493773)

This picture book by Caldecott Award winner Floca explores the Covid-19 pandemic. Through New York City streets, the book shows how most people were forced to stay indoors and watch the streets go quiet. But the streets never emptied entirely, since there were people working at essential jobs. People were still out and about using all sorts of vehicles. There were people delivering mail and packages, people heading to work in hospitals, others making food deliveries on their bicycles, still others picking up trash, and police and fire protecting everyone. Then every night, the windows opened and people shouted and banged their appreciation for these people who kept on working through the danger and the emptiness to keep everyone safe, fed and looked after.

The text in the book is simple, explaining what happened to cause the streets to empty as people took refuge in their homes to stay safe. The book shows vehicles of all sorts but also shows lovely moments of connection, of toys being delivered or taxis stopping to get someone with lots of grocery bags.

Floca tells us in his Author’s Note that he created these images during the pandemic’s height in New York City. As the streets emptied, he found solace in drawing the vehicles that continued to move through the city. He then took those images and made them into this book, which explains the aching melancholy of some of the images as they show the empty streets and the vast change to a normally bustling city.

A beautiful yearning look at New York City in 2020 with plenty of interesting vehicles to explore. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

Yolk by Mary H. K. Choi

Yolk by Mary H. K. Choi (9781534446007)

Jayne has moved from her Texas hometown to New York City to attend design school. Her older sister, June, lives in New York City too, but the two haven’t spoken in years. Jayne has spent a lot of time partying in clubs and bars and sleeping with boys. Now she lives in a horrible tiny illegally sublet apartment without running water or heat, but with a roommate who won’t pay rent, occasionally sleeps with her, and then ignores her. When Jayne and June get back in touch with one another, Jayne finds out that her sister has cancer. Even more, June has taken on Jayne’s identity in order to use her insurance for the surgery she needs. Jayne finds herself loving her sister’s fancy and safe apartment and basically moving in with her. Jayne has her own issues to confront, including her relationship with food, her hatred of her body, and the way she binge eats. As the two sisters grow closer, the truth must be shared between them in order for them both to recover.

Choi has once again created a novel that lays her characters bare before the reader. Jayne is so caught up in her own tragic life story, that it startles her and the reader alike when she must face a true tragedy, her sister’s cancer diagnosis. As Jayne obsesses about her classes, her future career, her awful apartment, her horrible roommate, and her family, she avoids thinking about her eating disorder or facing it at all. Readers will see the evidence of her imbalanced relationship to food, but the extent of the problem is only steadily revealed as the layers are peeled away.

Jayne is a captivating character, full of so much self doubt and self hatred. Her story is full of unflinching honesty paired with the poignant truth of a family who has immigrated to the United States and stands to lose one another along the way. Jayne’s relationships with her mother and sister are so beautifully crafted, they ring with such truth that they are frightening. Choi’s writing is masterful throughout, capturing the tragic, beautiful story of growing up as a Korean-American immigrant.

Heartbreakingly true, riveting writing and stellar characters. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Review: Bodega Cat by Louie Chin

Bodega Cat by Louie Chin

Bodega Cat by Louie Chin (9781576879320)

Explore the life of a New York City bodega cat in this picture book. Chip is the cat who lives in the Matos family’s bodega. He keeps an eye on everything from the breakfast rush, where he knows everyone’s orders, to the stock on the shelves, that he loves to hide and sleep in. He helps with deliveries too. In the evening when Damian comes home, they play superheroes together, dashing through the neighborhood along with the cat from the grocery store across the street. Dinnertime comes with a Dominican meal shared with neighbors and friends. The bodega never closes, so Chip’s job never ends!

Chin, a native New Yorker, pays homage to his city through the lens of the importance of bodegas and small grocery stores in neighborhoods throughout the city. He cleverly uses the iconic bodega cat as the perspective from which to view the store. Chip is a delight of a character, offering pride, a knowledge of his neighborhood, and a dedication to the people they serve.

The illustrations are done in a comic-book style that works particularly well. They are bright, busy and filled with the bustle of a store. Chip himself hides around the store, offers help, and is in the midst of everything.

A great book about a vital part of New York City. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson (9781681191089)

When a project about family is assigned at school, Amara realizes that there is a lot she doesn’t know about her own family. Her mothers’ parents are both dead and she had no siblings, but her father’s side lives across the country in Harlem. Amara asks if she could travel to Harlem to see her grandfather whom she only knows from phone calls and cards, since her father often goes there on business. Her parents refuse for some time, then agree to allow her to go. It will be the first time in twelve years that her father sees his own father. Now it is Amara’s job to complete her school assignment by interviewing family members, explore New York City and also bring her family back together, all in a single week!

Newbery Honor winner, Watson brings her considerable writing skill to a fractured family. She captures how forgiveness is difficult even though love is still there and allows the connection between father and son to organically rebuild. All of this is seen through Amara’s eyes as she discovers that her family is different than she realized and that her father has a surprising history she knew nothing about.

Setting is so important in this novel with Harlem and New York City becoming characters in Amara’s story. Many important places in African-American history are explored including the Apollo Theater and the Schomburg Center. Murals and sculptures that feature African-American figures in history are also featured in the story. Readers will want to explore these streets themselves.

A warm and rich exploration of complicated family relationships and love. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

Review: All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker

All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker (9780451479532)

This superb middle-grade novel introduces readers to a young artist who finds herself at the center of a mystery. Ollie’s parents are both artists. Her father and his partner Apollo restore art work and her mother creates sculptures. But then one night, her father leaves for France with his new French girlfriend and her mother won’t get out of bed. Ollie fends for herself, eating apples and peanuts, meeting Apollo for meals out, and protecting the secret of her mother’s depression. She spends time with her two best friends, Richard and Alex, throughout their Soho neighborhood. Ollie discovers that there is more to her father’s disappearance than she thought and is determined to find out what is truly going on.

Filled with compelling characters and a mystery worth sleuthing, this novel is a delight of a read. Tucker uses the setting of New York City as a vivid backdrop to the tale. Soho itself serves as almost another character in the book with its lofts for artists, empty buildings, and occasional illegal poster hanging. When Ollie and Alex head to an island getaway, that setting too is beautifully depicted as a foil to the city and is equally celebrated too. Her writing is deft and nicely keeps the pace brisk and the questions about Ollie’s parents fresh.

All of the young characters in the book are fully realized and each have a distinct personality that makes sense and carries through the title. Apollo, a giant of a man who serves as a rock for Ollie in this tumultuous time, is also a well depicted character. Ollie’s mother is an important character whose depression keeps the reader from knowing her better. The subject of parental mental illness is handled with frankness and the book concludes with a sense of hope.

A fresh mix of mystery, art and secrets, this book is full of vibrant colors and not just Greys. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking.

 

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.)