The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty (9781524767587)

When Lucy was struck by lightning as a child, she gained the ability to do genius-level math problems. She has other impacts from the lightning strike, including some OCD that has her tapping her feet three times and sitting three times before she can settle. Lucy has been homeschooled by her grandmother since the incident but now she is twelve and her grandmother wants her to go to middle school rather than college (like Lucy would prefer.) They make a deal that Lucy has to try middle school for one year, make one friend, join one activity and read one book that is not about math. Lucy decides not to tell anyone about her math skills and lowers all of her grades to make herself seem more normal. Lucy’s new class has to do a service project and she has to work with two other people. But how can she help if all she has to offer is a love of numbers that she is trying to hide?

For being such an extraordinary girl, Lucy is someone that everyone in middle school will be able to relate to. Issues starting a new school, making new friends, and finding a way to be yourself all make this middle school novel classic. Add in the math skills, lightning strike and Lucy’s need for cleanliness and her other quirks and you have a book that is something special. Throughout McAnulty makes sure that readers deeply understand Lucy at a variety of levels. Lucy is a protagonist who discovers a lot about herself in the course the book. As Lucy grows and changes, it feels entirely organic and natural.

At its heart, this book encourages us all to be our unique and quirky selves in middle school and beyond. The writing is accessible and the novel is a joy to read. The book is written with all numbers in numerical format, a clue that Lucy sees the world a bit differently. As she counts and calculates her way through her day, Lucy shows everyone that there are ways forward where you don’t want to pretend to be normal.

A stellar read, this middle school book is a book that is hard to sum up, but one you can count on. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Random House Books for Young Readers.

3 New Picture Books with Everyday Heroes

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss

Grace for Gus by Harry Bliss (9780062644107)

This is one delightful graphic novel picture book that is almost wordless, making it a great pick as an early graphic novel experience for little children. When Grace is told that the class will contribute to a fund to get their class pet, Gus, a new friend, she decides that she has to help. She heads home through an urban landscape, filled with nods to iconic New York people. Once her fathers are asleep, she heads out into the nighttime city and in one scene after another raises money uses her special talents, each of which is a nod to the vibrancy of arts in urban settings.

Lovers of New York and classic cartoons will have lots to spot in the illustrations. Even children who don’t know the references though will get the feeling of New York and its vibrancy from this graphic novel. The use of images to primarily tell the story invites children to fill in the tale themselves and makes the book all the more engaging and uplifting. An empowering read that makes the quiet child the hero and the star. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Islandborn by Junot Diaz

Islandborn by Junot Diaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa (9780735229860)

When Ms. Obi told Lola’s class that their assignment is to draw a picture of the country they are originally from, Lola is very worried. She doesn’t remember the Island at all, since her family left when she was only a baby. Ms. Obi suggests that Lola talk to others who might remember more. Soon Lola is speaking to lots of people in her neighborhood from the Island and they each have a favorite memory. For some it is the music, for others it’s the colorful homes, others miss the fruit. When Lola asks Mr. Mir about what he most remembers, he is gruff and won’t answer. Lola’s grandmother though wants Lola to try to ask him again, since Mr. Mir knows so much about the Island. What Mr. Mir tells Lola though is about a monster that came to the Island and was turned back only when heroes stood up to the darkness. It’s a history that Lola has never heard before, but is proud to include in her drawings of the place she was born.

Diaz’s text is rich and invites readers into visualizing the Island for themselves with its lush foliage, colorful homes, beautiful beaches and much more. The book depicts an urban neighborhood filled with echoes of the Island, a community built from the heroes who fought back. The illustrations are bright and cheery, filled with Lola’s imaginative take on what she is being told. Children may need more explanation about “the monster” if they are interested, but this book firmly celebrates resistance and standing up to those who would take your rights. Timely and important, this picture book celebrates where children came from and what it took to survive. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.)

Teddy_s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer

Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine (9781481480796)

Teddy has lots of toys he likes, but only one favorite one: Bren-Da, the Warrior Queen of Pacifica. They have tea parties together and she has great manners. They fight battles together and she does a wonderful kick. She can dress up in different styles. But then one day, when Teddy is playing with her, Bren-Da’s leg snaps off. Teddy tries to fix her, but has to leave for school and he keeps her wrapped up in bandages until he can return. Unfortunately, Teddy’s mom cleans up his room and accidentally throws Bren-Da out with the trash. What can they do? It’s up to Teddy’s mom to become a Warrior Queen herself.

There are several book out there about children playing with toys that may be seen as unusual for their gender. This one though has a great twist and really is about far more than just playing with a doll as a little boy. Instead it’s also about heroism, favorite toys and the ability of a mom to become a hero. The book is told simply but without any bit of didacticism. The illustrations are bright and friendly, offering great moments of play that are then mirrored by the rescue mission. A great picture book that breaks gender stereotypes in more than one way. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.)

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (9781524715663)

With Mr. Neely as her very enthusiastic science teacher, Natalie can’t get out of asking a scientific question and exploring it using the scientific method. But Natalie would much rather get answers about her family, about why her mother won’t leave her bedroom anymore and how her father can stop being in therapist mode all the time. So when Mr. Neely encourages Natalie to compete in an egg drop competition, she knows that if they can win, things will change. Natalie’s best friend Twig is on their team, offering creative solutions for the egg drop and they also become friends with the new kid, Dari. As the three become closer, Natalie continues to try to figure out how to help her mother, putting together a plan for the prize money that they hope to win that will inspire her mother and get her back to normal. But life doesn’t always go to plan and neither do science experiments as Natalie soon discovers.

Keller writes with a lovely mix of humor and science throughout this novel. She looks directly at the subject of a parent’s chronic depression and shows the impact of that on a child and a family. Natalie steadily learns to find her voice in the novel and express her own pain about the situation. Science is used throughout the novel as a bridge between people, a way forward and a solution to problems.

Natalie as a character is beautifully conflicted. While she yearns to have her mother back she is also very angry about the situation, something that she has trouble expressing. Even with the friends she has, she worries about Dari joining her and Twig at various times particularly as Twig and Dari seem to have a special connection with one another. None of this is overly dramatized, but feels natural and emerges as convincing times of emotional stress.

Smartly written and filled with glowing characters living complicated lives, this middle grade novel unbreakable. Appropriate for ages 9-13.

(Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

Can I Touch Your Hair? by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Can I Touch Your Hair by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (9781512404425)

This book of poetry for children is written by two authors, Irene Latham who is white and Charles Waters who is African-American. The two create a fictional setting where they attended school with one another and were assigned to be partners in a poetry-writing assignment. The poems here explore hair, families, church, shoes, and hobbies but most of all they explore race in America. Told in alternating voices, the poems show  each of the authors as children and are based on real childhood experiences.

In this book, there is a feeling of safety to explore difficult subjects that the poetry itself creates. The characters are not perfect, sometimes saying the wrong thing or reacting the wrong way. Their trust in one another builds and readers can see that through their growing friendship they are learning to reach out to other children who are different from themselves too. The writing in each voice is exceptional, the two authors are clearly different but also work together to create a unified whole for readers to enjoy.

The illustrations by Alko and Qualls are wonderful, offering just the right details to support each of the poems and reflecting the emotional quality in the poem they accompany. Done in acrylic paint, colored pencil and collage, the illustrations are rich and organic, filled with dancing words and swirls.

A book that invites conversation, this one belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Netgalley and Carolrhoda Books.

3 Graphic Novels with Girl Power

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All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson (9780525429982)

The author of the popular Roller Girl returns with a book about Impy, a girl who has been homeschooled until this year. Impy has grown up with her parents working at the Renaissance Faire and this year she is also starting work as a squire at the faire for the first time. Public school though is different than Impy thought and though she quickly makes friends, they may not be the right group for her. As Impy starts to make bad decisions at school and at home, her life starts to fall apart. Still, Impy is a knight in training and has people around her to help put her back on the path to being a hero! Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Dials Books)

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Spinning by Tillie Walden (9781626727724)

This memoir graphic novel shares a look at a girl’s life in ice skating, moving to a new city and discovering oneself as an artist. It is also a look at knowing that you are gay and finally coming out to those around you. But most of all, it’s about loneliness and the need to connect and find people around you who love and support you. Throughout the book there is an aching loneliness that pervades the story. The memoir is beautifully unstructured, events passing the way that days in a life do. They are filled with moments, some small and some critical. Walden shares them all, showing an incredible skill for storytelling and art as a young author. Get this into the hands of Lucy Knisley fans. Appropriate for ages 12-15. (Review copy provided by First Second)

Swing it, Sunny

Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9780545741705)

Sunny is headed for middle school in this graphic novel that shows her returning home after her summer with Gramps in Florida. Her older brother Dale is now at boarding school and Sunny can’t figure out how to connect with him at all even when he comes home to visit. Set in the mid-1970’s, the book is filled with the pop culture of those times like Jiffy Pop popcorn, the Six-Million Dollar Man, Gilligan’s Island and TV dinners. This second book in the Sunny series tells the story of a family struggling with handling drug abuse but also the small moments that make up a life. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (ARC provided by Scholastic.)

 

 

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick (9780545863209, Amazon)

Released August 29, 2017.

Maverick knows that sixth grade is going to be his year. This year he’s going to make a difference. He’s going to help those smaller than him, if he can find anyone shorter than he is. He’s going to stand up to bullies, particularly Jamie and Bowen, who have tormented him for years. But being a hero is not as simple as carrying the plastic badge that his father left him. Every time that Maverick tries to help, things turn out worse, often for him. He can’t stand up to his mother’s abusive boyfriend, can’t get his mother to stop drinking so much, and can’t seem to stop ending up in the assistant principal’s office. Can you be a hero when your own life is endless trouble?

Sonnenblick’s take on sixth grade is wonderfully dark and funny. He looks straight at bullying in middle school and clearly understands it. This book grapples with serious subjects such as physical abuse, abandonment, alcoholism and the loss of a parent. Happily, Maverick is a character who somehow manages to look at these troubles with a sarcastic wit that allows readers to cope as well. When looked at without Maverick’s lens on things, his home life is not only terrible but dangerous as well. Sonnenblick manages to use humor not to minimize these issues but to allow readers to see them clearly without pity but with lots of empathy.

Sonnenblick’s take on school administration is equally successful. He creates a pair of horrors for students: The Bee who is the terrifying assistant principal and The Bird who is the awful school nurse. The Bee turns out to have a heart of gold and to be aware of what is happening in the halls almost before the students are. The Bird on the other hand wields Lysol spray as antiseptic for cuts.

A triumphant story of a young hero who finds help in unlikely places on his journey. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Lily’s Cat Mask by Julie Fortenberry

Lily's Cat Mask by Julie Fortenberry

Lily’s Cat Mask by Julie Fortenberry (9780425287996, Amazon)

When Lily and her father go school shopping, Lily isn’t sure she wants to go to school at all. When she asks her father to buy her a cat mask, he agrees and Lily wears it right out of the store. Lily wore the mask all the time, whether she wanted to be noticed or invisible, with friends or with strangers. She wore it to the first day of school, but her teacher only let her wear it at recess. Then one day at school, they had a costume party and Lily discovered another cat in her class!

This picture book tells the story of a little girl who uses the cat mask in order to cope with new situations. While she struggles with starting school, her mask gives her courage. It’s lovely that the book also depicts her wearing it at home whether she is happy or grumpy and in a wide variety of situations. The book also depicts a very understanding and loving single father who doesn’t push Lily to change.

The illustrations are filled with diversity in a very natural way. When Lily and her father are shopping, Lily is almost boneless in the illustrations, clearly being dragged along until she discovers her cat mask. Lily may be shy but she is also clearly imaginative, curious and silly. She is far from a one-dimensional quiet child.

A great look at a quiet child who faces school in a clever way. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

A New School Year by Sally Derby

A New School Year by Sally Derby

A New School Year: Poem Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby, illustrated by Mika Song (9781580897303, Amazon)

Six children, ranging in age from kindergarten through fifth grade, tell the stories of their first day of school. Each of them begins with the night before where readers will see that even children who are older worry about school and who their teacher will be. Arriving at school is busy and quick, though some have time to say hello to old teachers or to be the first to arrive and meet the class pet. They meet new teachers, say hello to old friends and make new ones too. Finally, they all head home to tell their families about their day, even if some aren’t home right away.

Derby writes in poems that wonderfully universal to the school experience. She moves this from being about starting kindergarten or starting a new school to a wider subject of returning to school and the fact that everyone feels similarly. Still, in making this a universal story, Derby makes sure to also speak to children of different backgrounds and races, children with different sizes of families and latchkey children.

Song’s illustrations highlight the individual children, moving with them through the day, each both a part of the overall school but also entirely themselves as well. The illustrations are simple and will work well shared with a class.

A great book to start the new school year with poetry. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Super Manny Stands Up by Kelly DiPucchio

Super Manny Stands Up by Kelly DiPucchio

Super Manny Stands Up by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (9781481459600, Amazon)

Manny has a collection of superhero capes that he wears to fight different foes. He wears his blue cape to fight sea creatures, his red cape to battle zombie bears, and his yellow cape to bring down cloud monsters. Manny always wore his top secret cape to school. It was invisible and he wore it on the playground to fight the monsters there. When a big kid starts to pick on a smaller child in the lunchroom though, Manny didn’t do anything at first. Then he remembered that he was wearing his invisible cape and stood up. It let all of the other children in the room also remember that they could be heroes too!

As always, DiPucchio writes with the ease of a master storyteller. Manny is a delightful new character whose imaginary world also bridges into the real world in tangible ways. His capes are an inventive way of showing this, including his invisible one for school. The scene with the bully is powerful as is the way that the other children stand up once Manny does. It is with one simple protest that bullies are stopped, something we all need to remember.

Graegin’s illustrations create a visible imaginary world for readers to share. The villains that Manny battles in his capes match color with each cape. Manny as a raccoon is a very friendly protagonist and one that children will relate to easily. Make sure to check out the end pages too for even more Manny (and friend).

A heroic new book that will fly off library shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books.