Addie is neurodivergent just like her older sister. She has had good luck with teachers at school until she gets Ms. Murphy, who clearly doesn’t appreciate having Addie in her class. Meanwhile, Addie’s previous best friend has found someone else to be friends with, a girl that bullies Addie constantly. The new girl in class though clearly wants to be Addie’s friend and is also willing to stand up and defend her. As Addie navigates friendship and school, she learns of her village’s history of witch trials and the women who were killed. She is determined to have a memorial created for the women who were killed, many of whom were likely different from the norm, just like Addie and her sister.
Written by a neurodivergent author, this middle grade novel won the Peter Blue Book Award for Best Story of the Year. It is clear to see why. This portrayal of being autistic is filled with compassion and empathy, but also doesn’t apologize for being different instead pointing out how important different perspectives and voices are. Written in the first person from Addie’s point of view, readers get to understand how it feels to need to control autistic behaviors and the toll it takes.
Addie explains directly how it feels to be autistic, how it is to have to suppress stimulation behaviors, and what having a meltdown feels like to the person having one. This book offers everyone a way to see underneath autistic presentation to the person underneath who has so much to say and contribute. This is done simply by allowing us inside Addie to deeply understand her as a human.
A compelling look inside autism and activism. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.
I Can Help by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Mikela Prevost (9780802855046)
Zahra loves to volunteer to help a boy in her class. Kyle has problems with reading, writing, cutting and gluing. Kyle is great at drawing and other things though. As Zahra helps him, she discovers that he is generous, funny and kind too. Then one day, when Zahra is swinging high on the swings and seeing the new colors of the leaves, she overhears some girls saying mean things about Kyle. She stops swinging and one girl asks her why she volunteers to help Kyle anyway. The next day, the girls stare at Zahra as she is asked to help Kyle cut some paper. Zahra makes a poor choice and stops helping Kyle, telling him to do it himself. Zahra has become a mean girl that she doesn’t even recognize. The next year, at a new school, Zahra has a chance to make different decisions and do better, and that’s just what she does.
The author of Amira’s Picture Day returns with a book based on her own experience as a child. It’s a look at a child who longs to be helpful but allows peer pressure to lead her away from who she sees herself being. The bullying nature is written so accurately, not overblown into something but kept slick and insidious. Zahra’s own response is honest and real, the shame of acting that way and not seeing a way forward. This book could have turned didactic very quickly and nicely shows a child making her own decisions and coming out of it having learned something about herself and who she intends to be.
The illustrations offer a diverse classroom. They use plenty of white space while expanding to larger images at times too. The children’s faces are done very effectively, showing a wide range of emotions.
Sure to create opportunities for discussion, this picture book gives space for children to make mistakes and recover from them. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Cash doesn’t have much in his small Appalachian town, but what he does have, he loves. He loves spending time with his Papaw on the porch even as Papaw struggles to breathe due to his emphysema. He loves time out on the water in his canoe, which is how he helped his best friend, Delaney, make a scientific discovery of a lifetime. Delaney uses that discovery to secure them both full scholarships to an elite prep school in Connecticut. Cash agrees to go with her, knowing that he will struggle to keep up and will feel entirely out of place among the rich students. Cash doesn’t count on the power of words and poetry to keep him afloat as well as new friends. But even they may not be enough when Papaw takes a turn for the worse.
Zentner is an award-winning author and his writing here is truly exceptional. In Cash, he gives us a natural poet who looks at the world through metaphors and connects readers directly to the beauty of Appalachia. Both settings, Appalachia and Connecticut, are captured with such astute clarity and powerful wording that readers feel as if they are there seeing the light, the trees, the weather, and feeling it all in their chests. There is also a direct emotionality to the writing that reveals Cash’s struggles, his self doubts, his loves and allows readers to see his path forward long before Cash allows himself to.
The characters push back against every stereotype. Cash is a deep thinker, connected viscerally to the place where he came from, and a deep feeler who connects directly to those he cares for. It is easy to see why Delaney wants him with her. Delaney herself is a scientific genius, full of sarcastic wit and a directness in her speech that offers just the right amount of offset to Cash’s rich language. The two best friends that they meet offer diversity to the story and also a clarity that prep schools can be full of interesting people worth loving too.
Brilliantly written, full of great characters and insisting that poetry changes lives. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Crown Books for Young Readers.
A grandfather gives his red hat to his granddaughter. He explains the amazing things that the hat is capable of. It can make you stand out in a crowd or blend right in. It can keep you warm and dry or keep you cool in the sun. It can be used for serious and silly reasons. Wearing the hat, you can go anywhere you like: low, high or on real adventures, until you are ready to come back home again. It is your hat.
Stubbs takes a very simple and familiar event, the gifting of a hat into a level of wonder and dreams in this picture book. Using very simple language, she has created a book that reads aloud brilliantly. The pace manages to be both fast and rather dreamy, revealing new opportunities that the hat provides at each turn of the page. It is the relationship between grandparent and grandchild here that is beautifully portrayed while never being overtly discussed in the text.
The illustrations are done in a limited color palette with teal, red and pink the primary colors. On each page, the red pops out, focusing on the hat itself. The illustrations have enough details to linger over, particularly the crowd scenes that fill double-page spreads.
A warm look at the role of grandparents to inspire discovery and self-esteem. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
All Maisie has ever wanted to do is ballet. All of her friends are in ballet with her, rather than attending her school. But Maisie hurt her leg a few months ago and has been unable to dance. She goes to school, spending all of her time alone there. She gets texts from her ballet friends, but often doesn’t feel like responding to them. Now her family is planning a trip to the coast, near the Makah community where her mother was raised. Maisie’s doctor has agreed that since she is healing so well, she can hike the wintry forest with her family, in fact, she may be able to start dancing soon! Spending the days together with her mother, little brother and stepfather though makes it tough. Maisie is optimistic that her leg will get better, but tired of being asked about it, especially as her leg starts to twinge more and more as the trip goes on. Maisie must face the question of what she is if she cannot be a dancer after all.
Day’s book is quiet and thoughtful. She builds a supportive family for Maisie, blended out of her mother and a loving stepfather who is unfailingly kind but also willing to set boundaries too. Her little brother serves a critical role in the book, often being the only person who can bring Maisie out of her sadness and focusing on her leg. The deep conversations Maisie has with her parents come naturally as part of the story and serve to reveal the adults’ backgrounds, Native history and give context to what Maisie is going through.
Maisie herself is a protagonist who is deeply focused on herself. She finds herself saying things to her parents that she regrets, treating her little brother poorly at times, and then trying to remedy it. She is full of a deep sadness and anger, even when she is optimistic about her future. The book is a study of a girl suffering a real loss of her dreams and coming to terms with that.
Wintry yet full of warmth and self discovery. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Mila has aged out of the foster care system and has found a job teaching at a remote farm in Northern California. The farm is owned by a couple who have taken in over 40 foster children over the years as well as offering internships, like the one Mila has gotten. Mila finds herself on a beautiful farm and warmly welcomed by the owners. She only has one pupil, 9-year-old Lee, who comes from a traumatized background just as Mila does. But no one told Mila about the ghosts on the farm, about how they would fill dance across the fields and play games together at night. As Mila gets more involved with helping on the farm, learning about the flowers and crops, and helping Lee face his trauma, she finds that her own memories are threatening to overwhelm her as her past continues to haunt her.
This new book from the Printz-award winner is another dynamite read. It’s a novel with such an unusual setting, haunting and remote. It echoes with elements of Jane Eyre and Rebecca while standing completely modern and unique. It may not be classically gothic with its warm and sunny rooms, merry meals together, and companionship, but other moments are pure gothic with the sea, the cliffs, and the ghosts. It’s a tantalizing mixture of sun and shadow.
Mila is a character to fall hard for. She is clearly traumatized by what happened to her before she entered the foster care system, setting herself apart from others even as she longs to be closer to people. She is careful, conscientious, and amazingly kind, everything that her past has her thinking she is not. She is a marvel of layers that the novel reveals with gothic precision at just the right times.
Gorgeously written and filled with icy darkness and glowing warmth, this novel is a triumph. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
My Rainbow by Trinity and DeShanna Neal, illustrated by Art Twink (9781984814609)
A mother-daughter team tells this story of being a transgender Black girl. After playing dolls with her sister, Trinity started to think about the doll’s long hair. Trinity had short hair because due to her autism she struggled with how itchy it got as it grew longer. Trinity also knew though, that as a transgender girl she needed long hair. Her mother was at a loss until her older brother had an idea. Visiting a beauty parlor, they browsed the wigs, but none of them were quite right. That’s when they decided to create Trinity her own rainbow wig. Her mother spent the night creating the wig, the first one she had ever made. Using strands of purples, pinks and blues, she created a one-of-a-kind wig with lots of spring. It was a rainbow just for Trinity.
The creators of this book are advocates for black and transgender rights. This book is about a little girl who clearly knows who she is. I appreciate that it is not a coming out story, but instead continues the story of one child’s transition to who she is, giving her the space to speak for herself and also a way forward supported by her entire family. The book exudes acceptance, warmth and love.
Twink’s art is bold and bright. They have included a family pig, who joins the family in all of the brainstorming and shopping, even trying out some nail polish in the store. This added touch of whimsy joins a strong Black family depiction full of modern elements and a real sense of home.
A great picture book that demonstrates intersectionality, acceptance and love on every page. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Swift Fox is nervous. Her father is taking her on a long drive to meet her aunties, uncles and cousins. She will learn more about being Mi’kmaq. Her father assures her on the drive that she has all she needs already inside her; she is already Mi’kmaq. It’s how she walks, talks and thinks. Swift Fox just gets even more nervous. Swift Fox is greeted warmly by her family. They unwrap a red bundle, preparing to smudge, but she doesn’t know how to. They assure her that she does know, since it’s part of who she is. But it’s all overwhelming for Swift Fox, who bursts into tears and runs outside to hide. She keeps hidden until she starts to smell the familiar smell of the bread her father makes. Then another cousin arrives, he is just as scared as Swift Fox is. Suddenly Swift Fox can help someone else, and it gets her to go back inside with her cousin and show him things as she learns too.
Thomas has written a very personal book that reflects her own upbringing off of the reservation. In her Author’s Note, she explains the impact of the residential schools on Native cultures and languages. Still, their identity survived. Just like Swift Fox, Thomas continues to learn about her Mi’kmaq identity. Readers of all backgrounds will be inspired by Swift Fox and her transformation of her fear into an energy to help someone else.
McKibbin’s illustrations center on the warmth of Swift Fox’s two families, both her mother and sister and then her large extended family through her father. She captures the characters’ complex emotions on the page, allowing readers to really feel Swift Fox’s butterflies, her fear, and then her inspiration to move ahead.
A powerful book about identity and family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Based on the author’s own childhood, this picture book explores the life of a boy with a stutter. The boy wakes every day surrounded by words, many of which he can’t say aloud. They tangle his tongue and stick in his throat. So every morning, he stays silent. He’s quiet at school too, hiding in the back of the class and hoping not to be asked to talk. After a particularly hard day, his father picks him up from school and takes him to the river. After seeing how upset his son is by his “bad speech day,” his father points to the river and says that how the water moves is how his son speaks. The river runs over rocks, bubbling and churning, but it also goes quiet and still after the rocks.
Scott is a poet and his skill with words is on full display here. He uses gorgeous metaphors throughout, including the connection to the river. The words around the boy in the morning connect with his inability to speak at times, the pine trees sticking out from his lips, the crow cawing from his throat, the moonlight shining from his mouth. Each of these gives readers a new way to experience a stutter, each beautiful and haunting.
Smith’s illustrations are done in watercolor, ink and gouache. They capture both the quiet of not being able to speak as well as the connection between father and son. When they go to the water of the river, the illustrations show the bubbling and crashing, taking the boy into the river as he swims to the calm open water. They are exquisite.
A marvel of a book that beams with empathy and understanding of stuttering. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Neal Porter Books.