Tag: school

A Letter to My Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson

A Letter to My Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson

A Letter to My Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780375868450, Amazon)

The framework of this picture book is a thank you letter to a childhood teacher. Inside that framework, it is the story of a girl who is struggling to learn to read and the 2nd-grade teacher who taught patience and gave the little girl space and opportunity to bloom. Along with the little girl, there is also a gardening project in the classroom, one too that takes its own time to come to fruition though the hard work is done throughout the year. Through the year, there are learning moments, accidents, setbacks and leadership opportunities. It’s a year of inspiration that clearly lasted a lifetime.

Hopkinson’s words paint a vivid picture of a little girl who much prefers the out of doors over books and classwork. She is something of a loner, someone who learns to love books during the year and becomes much more part of the group by the end. Hopkinson shows a wonderful individual child who is still universal while being so specific. Hopkinson does the same with the character of the teacher, who is patient and yet has structure in her classroom and expectations. It is the story of all teachers who make a difference and see a child for who they can become.

Carpenter’s illustrations are also exceptional. They use color to keep the focus of the illustrations on the teacher and the little girl. The other child become part of the background at times, though they are still there. Carpenter also shows the relationship of teacher and child with a depth that is very effective, using expression on the characters faces to show the trust that is being built.

A perfect gift for teachers, this picture book is also full of hope and opportunity for children to notice how special their teachers are. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.

 

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

Aminas Voice by Hena Khan

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (9781481492065, Amazon)

Amina doesn’t like the spotlight. Her best friend Soojin knows that Amina can really sing, but Amina just won’t even try for the solo for the upcoming concert. Amina’s life is changing now that they are in middle school. Soojin has started being friendly with Emily even though Emily had helped bully them in elementary school. Amina just isn’t ready to forgive Emily so quickly. Meanwhile, Amina’s uncle comes to visit from Pakistan, bringing new ideas about what it means to be Muslim. He causes Amina to start to question whether she should even be singing or playing music at all. Amina feels pressured to change but in multiple directions at once.

Khan has created a book for middle schoolers that takes a quieter look at diversity, family and being true to oneself. It is a book that looks closely at what it means to be a Muslim girl in America and how to follow the values of your culture even as you are pressured to be more American. It is a book that looks at the power of voice, of music and of community to overcome hardship and to share emotions. It is a book that has a gorgeous warmth to it, a joy of family, friendship and diversity.

Amina is a very special protagonist. Rather than being the center of attention, she doesn’t seek it at all. Still, she is lonely or ignored. She has friends and is grappling with the normal changes that come during middle school. On top of that, she is also asking deeper questions about faith, culture and living in America that will ring true for all young readers. Amina’s quietness and thoughtfulness allow those questions to shine.

Filled with important questions for our modern world, this middle-grade novel sings with a voice all its own. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Salaam Reads.

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg (9780545858267, Amazon)

A follow-up novel to Openly Straight, this second book focuses on Ben. Ben comes from a conservative New Hampshire farming family and is at a prestigious all-boys boarding school on scholarship. His life is filled with pressures of hard work and high achievement. He is told he will be the recipient of the school’s annual college scholarship and that just heaps on more expectations as does his election to be the captain of the school’s baseball team. As school pressures build, Ben is also wrestling with his sexuality. He has met a girl who makes him laugh and is distractingly beautiful, but he can’t get his best friend Rafe out of his mind. Ben is pushed to his limits in this novel that shows the importance of being honest with ourselves most of all.

Konigsberg delights in this second novel about Rafe and Ben. The use of a different perspective is refreshing and smart. The novel takes place after the first in the series, continuing the story and moving it forward. Throughout the book, other aspects of sexuality and gender are explored. Two of Rafe and Ben’s closest friends are asexual and gender fluid. They too are discovering their own identities alongside Ben, making for a rich experience for the reader.

Ben himself is a robust character with so much going on. He’s a history geek, loves to read and enjoys learning. Still, he is struggling in calculus, working late into the night just to stay afloat. Questions about teen drinking and cheating are also woven into the story, alongside the importance of being true to yourself in a myriad of ways, even if that means standing up to those around you. This is one of the best teen books with a bisexual character that I have read, even if Ben himself would not use that label.

A powerful and wildly funny look at sexuality, this novel makes me hope that future books in the series will be told from the perspectives of the other friends in the group. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

piecing-me-together-by-renee-watson

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson (9781681191058)

Jade attends a mostly-white private school on scholarship, riding the city bus to and from school as her mother works multiple jobs just to keep a roof over their head. Jade is one of the best students in Spanish class and she looks forward to being selected to travel abroad. But a different opportunity arises as Jade is placed in Women to Women, a mentorship program for at-risk African-American girls. Jade’s mentor, Maxine, is often distracted or late, seemingly more interested in her love life than in Jade. Sometimes though, she is wonderful, paying attention to Jade’s collage art, talking about ways to get her art seen. Still, Jade is the one with things to show and teach even as she is learning herself to find her own voice in life.

Watson’s writing is superb. She captures the conflicting issues of being poor and African-American in today’s America. There are opportunities, yes, particularly for talented students. Still, those opportunities can come at the cost of other decisions and choices. There is the tension of being the one leaving poverty to another place and not wanting to lose family and friends along the way. Even neighborhoods and ways of life are sources of pain and emotions.

Watson doesn’t shy away from directly addressing racism in the book. She gives Jade a new best friend who is white and who doesn’t understand the racism that Jade is experiencing and can’t support Jade in the way that she should. This is handled with sensitivity but also clarity, about what the role of white friends should be in our world. Jade herself is learning that she needs to speak up for herself, insist on fairness, and continue to push. Black Lives Matter is clear on the pages too, showing the violence of society, the murders by police and the impact that has on everyone in a community.

Powerful, strong and filled with writing that calls for action, this book is simply stellar. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

 

27 Magic Words by Sharelle Byars Moranville

27-magic-words-by-sharelle-byars-moranville

27 Magic Words by Sharelle Byars Moranville (InfoSoup)

Kobi knows that her parents are still alive. When they sailed off on a two month adventure five years ago and didn’t return, Kobi was still able to see them when she used the magic word “Avanti!” It is one of 27 words that her writer mother gave her when she was little and told her were magical. Kobi and her older sister lived with their grandmother in Paris but now are heading to Des Moines, Iowa to go to school for a few months and live with their Uncle Wim. As Kobi tries to adapt to her new environment, she finds herself telling lies defensively as her classmates ask her questions. As the lies begin to catch up with Kobi, she is forced to realize that she has been lying to herself as well.

Moranville has written a book that is a blissful read. She uses small moments to speak to larger issues, captures details that bring the world she has created fully alive. There is Norman who wears clothes to blend in and not be noticed. There is Kobi’s older sister who is struggling with OCD. The entire family fills the pages with art, gardens, food and color. It is a beautifully built world.

The writing throughout the novel is exceptional. There are paragraphs that are completely exquisite. This one appears on page 108 and is about a woman struggling with Alzheimer’s:

Ms. Hancock was like a beautiful picture that had been rained on, then driven over by a car, then left under a pile of leaves to be nibbled by squirrels, and the only beautiful bit left was a tiny patch of incredible blue in one corner.

A strong novel that blends grief, lies, loss and the potential for real magic. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan

the-friendship-experiment-by-erin-teagan

The Friendship Experiment by Erin Teagan (InfoSoup)

Maddie isn’t looking forward to middle school. Her grandfather died over the summer and they are clearing out his house to prep it for sale. Her best friend has changed schools too. Maddie enjoyed writing Standard Operating Procedures for her grandfather, helping him cope with his dementia as his Alzheimer’s progressed. So she continues to write SOPs in her lab notebook and carry it with her all the time. She brings it to middle school and starts to document ways to cope with middle school and with the kids she eats lunch with. Meanwhile, middle school becomes a mix of good and bad. Maddie is allowed to work in the college’s science lab with her father. But her blood clotting disorder starts to flare up more, though not as much as her older sister’s. Maddie gets into a serious fight with her best friend, and manages to anger the new kids she has just started to become friends with. It’s clear that middle school is going to take a lot more experimenting to get right.

Teagan writes with a solid and consistent tone in this middle grade novel. Her touch is light and filled with humor, offering a way to see past the disasters that Maddie is facing in middle school. She weaves Maddie’s interest in science throughout the story. It is more than a hobby for Maddie, it’s a way of life. From her swabs of bacteria to the way she looks at projects, Maddie faces it all as a scientist.

Maddie is a warm and wonderful protagonist, still she is also entirely human. She makes plenty of mistakes in this novel, managing to lose all of her friends at once through actions all her own. She can be angry, impulsive, and inflexible and still readers will enjoy the time they spend with her and her scientific mind. The topic of hemophilia and the way the disorder is used in the novel is intelligently done, creating yet another source of angst and separation for Maddie.

A strong STEM novel that deftly shows that girls and science mix very well. No experiments needed to prove that hypothesis. Appropriate for ages 10-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

 

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

gerties-leap-to-greatness-by-kate-beasley

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley (InfoSoup)

Gertie doesn’t know her mother at all, since she left Gertie and her father behind. Gertie lives with her aunt and father, who is often gone working on an oil rig. But when a For Sale sign goes up on her mother’s home and she expects to leave town soon, Gertie discovers that she wants to prove to her mother that she should never have left. So Gertie goes on a mission to become the best fifth-grader in the universe. When school starts though, there is a new student in her class, Mary Sue Spivey, who seems to be a lot more likely to be the best. She gets perfect grades, their teacher loves her, and even Gertie’s best friend befriends Mary Sue. When tryouts for the play come though, Gertie is selected as the lead, but can she actually become the perfect fifth grader and get her mother to witness it?

Beasley has created a story filled with characters who are vastly human. Gertie herself struggles with success, has trouble keeping her strong personality under wraps, sets herself immense goals through her missions, and yet has a huge heart and a desire to do the right thing. That right thing though is often warped under her reasoning into something that many people might see as overtly wrong.

The book has plenty of twists and turns, all based on Gertie herself and what she is creating around her. Sometimes that is good things and other times it is pure trouble. She also discovers that young people can be “fickle” and uses that word to keep herself from being too overly concerned when they turn against her and also too caught up in when they like her again.

Ideal for children who enjoyed Clementine, this book has humor, pizzazz and one great heroine. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.