Twins by Varian Johnson

Cover image of Twins

Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright (9781338236132)

Maureen and Francine are twins who have always been in the same classes, participated in the same activities and had the same group of friends. But sixth grade is different. The girls are in different classes and don’t even spend a lot of time together after school any more. Maureen finds herself hanging out with their friends at the mall but not with Francine, who’d rather be called Fran now. Maureen is struggling with marching for the cadet troop she is part of, so in order get extra credit for her grade, she is encouraged to run for a class office. Fran too is planning to run for president. So the battle grounds are set when Maureen decides to run for president too to prove that she can be just as brave and outgoing as Fran. The problem is that she might not be after all!

In this graphic novel, Johnson, himself a twin, captures the dynamics of close siblings perfectly. The two sisters go back and forth between adoration, supportiveness, strife and anger. It makes for a dynamic book that really looks at the differences between twins, the way feelings get hurt and how that can play out in larger decisions. That difference between the two girls is explored throughout the book, giving it layers and eventually showing how differences can make them both stronger for each other too.

I reviewed this from an unfinished galley, so my copy did not have full-color images throughout. The art throughout the graphic novel shows the relationship between the two girls and their emotions clearly. The pages are filled with diverse characters.

Sure to be popular, this graphic novel appears light but has lots of depth to explore about sisterhood. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner

Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner

Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner (9781534457003)

Lou loves to sing, but she hates to perform. Truly hates it, complete with panic attacks. A large part of it is that she doesn’t deal well with loud noises, so applause causes her real distress. But Lou’s mother insists that Lou is their way out of the financial problems they are in. Currently living in their truck, Lou and her mother look for her big break when Lou performs at a local coffee shop. Just as things seem to be going their way though, an accident leads to social services discovering how Lou and her mother have been living. Soon Lou is being sent across the country to stay with an aunt and uncle she hasn’t seen since she was a young child. Enrolled in a fancy school, Lou misses her mother horribly even though she now has her own room, plenty to eat and adults who love her. With a new friend who insists she joins theater, Lou starts to see a new future for herself, though she’s not sure where her mother fits in.

The author of Roll with It returns with another story about a child with special needs. Lou’s sensory processing disorder plays a large role in the story and in the way that she feels about herself, too. From riding on planes to appearing on stage to letting her voice be heard, it is all more difficult for Lou. Lou’s special need is portrayed with empathy as is the homelessness that Lou and her mother experience and the other struggles that her mother faces.

Throughout the book there is a sense of hope, a feeling that there are adults around to help. Whether it is social workers, school counselors, teachers or relatives, Lou is surrounded by adults willing and able to help her move forward and make big decisions about her life. Still, while they lend a supportive hand, it is Lou who makes her own decisions, challenges herself, and finds her own unique path.

A deep look at a child with a disability, poverty and community. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

All Together Now by Hope Larson

All Together Now by Hope Larson

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

Wink by Rob Harrell

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.

Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (9781943147724)

A little girl tells her mother that she won’t be going back to school because no one could say her name, not even her teacher. So her mother explains that names are actually songs, and offers various examples, each accompanied by phonetic help in pronouncing them. The little girl goes on to explain the bullying behavior of some of the other students, pretending to choke on her name. Her mother explains that some names are not pronounced in the throat, but in the heart. Some of the children at school were scared of her name too, but her mother explains that certain names contain fire because they are so strong. What about the children who said her name was made up? Names come from dreamers who create new names when old ones were stolen, explains her mother. The next day, the little girl heads back to school, ready to sing her name for her teacher and class.

This picture book is completely inspiring, both for children with unique or unusual names but also for teachers and classmates to help lead everyone to inclusion of diversity in their classrooms. I love the help in pronouncing the rainbow of names shared in the story, particularly when that same pronunciation help extends to names that are not unusual such as Benjamin, Olivia and Ms. Anderson. It’s a clever way to show that we all have interesting names and we have learned to pronounce them all.

The illustrations show a diverse class of children in an urban setting as the little girl and her mother walk home together. As her confidence in her name grows, the world around becomes filled with colors, streaks of pinks and golds, clouds of pastel. These same bursts of cloud and fire return when she goes to school, declaring her griot-inspired name for everyone: Kora-Jalimuso.

A book that shows how powerful inclusion is, simply by saying someone’s name with care and conviction. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Innovation Press.

The Word for Friend by Aidan Cassie

The Word for Friend by Aidan Cassie

The Word for Friend by Aidan Cassie (9780374310462)

Kemala, the pangolin, loved everything that was new and different when they moved. There were new foods, new smells, new clothing to admire. But there was also a new language to learn. When Kemala headed to school, she realized that no one could understand her. So she curled into a ball in dismay. She stayed that way until recess, when she climbed high in a tree to get away from everyone. She sat on a branch cutting animals out of leaves, until Ana found her there. Kemala showed Ana how to cut leaves too, and Ana loved it even though she made a big mess. While Kemala didn’t want to go back to school at all, she steadily found herself learning a new language with Ana’s help, particularly through animals they cut out. Until finally, Kemala is brave enough to try talking to the entire class.

Cassie has written a universal book about friendship, belonging and learning a new language. She wisely chose Esperanto as Kemala’s new language in the book. Esperanto is not associated with a specific country, so Kemala could be moving anywhere in the world. Cassie gives the entire story room to breathe a bit, offering time for Kemala to relax and start to learn in a very believable way. The connection with one specific kind friend is also great to see, as well as a tactile way for them to connect with one another without speaking at first.

The art is welcoming and friendly with all sorts of unusual animals in the class that Kemala joins. The choice of pangolin as a main character works particularly well, both her connection with her mother but also when she gets overwhelmed, the ability to just curl up protectively.

A great book to talk about language learners and welcoming new students to school. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali

Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali

Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali, illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell (9781481485630)

When Musa started kindergarten, his teacher explained that the other children around him would become his new friends. Musa wasn’t sure about that, they were strangers! His teacher also said that her favorite day of the year was the first day of school and that show-and-tell that year would center around each child’s favorite day of the year. Musa was thrilled, he knew that everyone would pick Eid along with him! Musa soon found out that the other children celebrated different holidays. A few weeks later, Musa and his mother brought in food and told the class about Eid. On Mo’s turn, he talked about celebrating Rosh Hashanah. Moises explained that his family celebrated Los Posadas on Christmas. Kevin’s family of scientists enjoyed celebrating Pi Day with plenty of pie. Each child had their own celebrations and all the children got to learn about one another’s cultures in a very celebratory way.

Ali’s story is focused on inclusion and demonstrates how that can look in a classroom filled with children from various cultures, countries and faiths. The story is straight forward and powerful, clearly showing that not all children celebrate Christmas and even when they do, it may not look the same. Readers will enjoy seeing not only the celebrations shared in the story, but others shown on the class calendar.

Bell’s illustrations are done digitally but also incorporate handmade textures, giving them a marvelous organic quality that warms them. The children and families here are diverse with multiracial families, grandparents raising children, and gay parents represented in the story.

A beautiful look at diversity and inclusion through family celebrations and holidays. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Salaam Reads.

 

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée

Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée (9780062836717)

Jenae goes through life being invisible. It’s her own superpower, just like her favorite show, Astrid Dane. At school she is entirely ignored, and she prefers it that way. Her family is different, though with her mother always rushing, her brother’s injury and her grandfather’s health problems, Jenae can end up invisible there too. So it’s very strange when the new boy at school notices Jenae immediately. Aubrey is also different from the other kids. He too loves Astrid Dane. But Jenae isn’t looking for a friend at all. She keeps pushing Aubrey away, but Aubrey just keeps coming back. Soon Jenae realizes that she has found a friend. It’s too bad that circumstances are creating a time when she will have to ruin their friendship to avoid having to do the thing she fears most, giving a speech in front of a crowd.

There is so much to love in this book. The warm family that Jenae comes from gives the book a wonderful heartbeat, including a brother who won’t really talk to her after his accident and his return home from college. Her grandfather is full of advice, pushing Jenae to face her fears head on. Jenae blames herself for much of what happens in her family, including her brother’s accident. She deeply believes that she can think strong thoughts and make things happen.

Still, that’s not true when it comes to Aubrey, a new friend who brings lots of mixed feelings for Jenae. Jenae with her unique view of the world, her ability to be alone and not lonely, and her independence is also full of fears at times. She’s marvelously complex, geeky and individual. Aubrey is much the same, yet where Jenae is quiet, Aubrey always has something to say.

Full of fascinating characters, this book is about finding your voice, standing up and insisting on being heard. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by April Harrison (9780525581130)

When Zura’s teacher announces that next Monday is Grandparent’s Day, Zura isn’t as enthusiastic as her classmates about her grandmother visiting the class. Her grandmother, Nana Akua, is one of her favorite people on earth, but Zura was worried that the other children and families might laugh or be mean. Her grandmother looks different than most people in the United States. She has marks on her face representing her tribal family as well as beauty and confidence. When Zura admits to being worried for her grandmother, the two work together on a plan which involves bringing Zura’s quilt with its Adinkra symbols from Ghana. Monday arrives quickly and several other grandparents do their presentations. Zura introduces her grandmother who explains the marks on her face and the important tradition they represent. Then it’s the class’ turn to do their own marks in removable makeup.

Walker explains in her author’s note how she learned about the Adinkra symbols and the tradition of facial marks in Ghana. She uses these elements to tell the universal story of children of color whose parents or grandparents immigrated from another country and whose culture carries through in stories and traditions to the present day. Walker shows how such visible differences can cause pain and worries but also how they serve as a bridge to a deeper understanding as long as we take the time to listen and learn.

Harrison’s art is beautiful. She fills Zura’s classroom with children from a variety of races and cultures. She uses patterns and colors, almost creating the effect of stained glass on the page. The faces of her characters shine, sometimes looking right at the reader, as Nana Akua does when explaining her marks.

A celebration of diversity that show how openness to being different creates community. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.