Starfish by Lisa Fipps

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Starfish by Lisa Fipps (9781984814500)

Ellie loves to swim in the pool in her backyard. It makes her feel weightless and strong. It’s kind of ironic, since a swimming pool is where she was first bullied about her weight, earning her the enduring nicknames of “Splash” and “Whale.” Her mother has made it clear that she hates how Ellie looks, constantly posting articles on the fridge in the kitchen about calories and weight loss. She portions Ellie’s food, forces her to weigh herself every day, and is the source of all of Ellie’s Fat Girl Rules that Ellie tries to live by. Ellie is about the collapse under all of the expectations in middle school, from her mother, and from the entire society about how fat people should be invisible and yet easily mocked. When Ellie starts to see a therapist with the help of her supportive father, she begins to see that she has every right to take up space in this world. She may not be able to fix everything all at once, but she can start with what she says to herself and what she allows others to say about her.

In her verse novel, Fipps achingly captures the experience of being a fat person in today’s society, and even harder, a fat middle-school girl. She writes the bullying words from classmates, showing how each one takes aim and tries to hurt. Yet Fipps also shows beyond the bullies to the pain they are hiding too. Ellie’s family is beautifully contrasted with that of her new best friend, where no one tells Ellie to stop eating or to be ashamed. Her own family experience is one of drastic differences with her mother and older brother unable to even look at Ellie while her father adores her and supports her exactly the way she is.

Ellie is a great character, full doubts about herself and in need of real help to negotiate her family and society. Her internalization of all of the negative messages is deftly shown by the author and then transformed into a platform for advocacy and self respect. The entire book is full of truth about how fat people are treated and then an honest look at moving beyond that into fighting back.

A middle-grade novel that shows how self worth is created despite what others may think. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.

Love Is a Revolution by Renee Watson

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Love Is a Revolution by Renee Watson (9781547600601)

Nala plans to spend her summer sampling new ice cream flavors and bingeing on Netflix. Since it’s her cousin’s birthday, she agrees to go to an open mic night for Inspire Harlem, a local teen activist group that her cousin is part of. The MC at the event is Tye Brown, who is handsome and funny, just the type of person that Nala wants to have as a boyfriend. Unfortunately, Nala starts off by telling him a few small lies, like that she is an activist too, that she works at a nursing home and that she’s a vegetarian too. As Nala and Tye spend their summer together, growing closer together, Nala’s lies become larger. Tye tries to help Nala with her nonexistent job at the nursing home her grandmother lives in. He also tries to change her even further, giving her gifts to help with her presentation skills and a water bottle so that she can be more green. Can lies turn into love? Can Nala find a way to be herself before she loses everything?

Watson once again writes a book that reads beautifully and easily while grappling with real issues. Here she focuses on what happens when a girl is willing to not be herself for a guy. While Nala’s lies are concrete, young women will also recognize how they may have disguised their true selves for a boy to like them more. The book is about liking yourself enough to stand in your own truth, not hide, and to be that person no matter who you are with. And if it doesn’t start that way, how to get back to that strong center and let it guide you.

Beautifully, Nala is a plus-sized girl who is not ashamed of her size, who likes cheese, meat and ice cream, and who is able to gain the attention of the cutest guy in the group. Time is spent thinking about her makeup and hair, but not her weight. It’s vital for Nala to be a strong person in this book, a girl you would not think would lie to get a boyfriend. She must find her way back to pride in herself, love for who she is, and a sense that she deserves the best.

Big-hearted, this novel tells the deep truth to young Black women through a series of lies. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.

The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez

Cover image of The ABCs of Black History

The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez, illustrated by Lauren Semmer (9781523507498)

Offer even the smallest children a look at Black history in the United States with this alphabet book. Told in rhyming stanzas, this picture book invites exploration beyond its covers. It begins with A is for anthem, a call for voices to rise in song and to call for freedom. B is for beautiful, with that and other letters, the book speaks to the importance of not listening to voices that put you down. B is also for bright, bold, brave, brotherhood and believing. That use of multiple words continues through the book, offering a feeling that there is so much to say with each letter, so much to do, so much left to accomplish together.

This alphabet book is several things at once. It’s a call to action for people of all ages to vote, to protest, to be heard. It is also a look at history, so there are letters that focus on artists, writers, teachers, scientists, and more. It is also a statement for self-esteem for Black children, to see themselves as valued, beautiful and able to bring change. It’s a book about how much has been accomplished, but also how much is yet to be done. The end of the book is filled with additional information on the people depicted under each letter as well as resources for further exploration.

The art is filled with bright colors. The images are flat, hearkening back to folk art even as it looks forward to the future and change happening. The art is filled with Black people, unknown and famous, full of urban setting and farms, protest signs and portaits.

A colorful and optimistic look at Black history and a call for Black lives to matter in the future. Appropriate for ages 3-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Workman Publishing

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes

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I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, Gordon C. James (9780525518778)

From the team that created Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut comes a new picture book that speaks in the voice of a Black boy about who he is. He is a leader, thanks to his endless energy. He is every good thing in the world, good to his core, “like the center of a cinnamon roll.” He is skinned knees and getting back up again. He is a scientist exploring his world. He is polite and ready to learn. He is wildly creative, exploring and absorbing information. He is laughter and smiles, the perfect beat and rhyme. He is an athlete, a brother, a son, and much more. He is hugs, support and love. He is not what people call him, but what he knows himself to be inside, sometimes a superhero, and always worthy of love.

This is a book all about empowerment, of seeing your own identity and holding it clear against what society may say about you. It’s a book that all children need, but Black boys most of all, as they are targeted and threatened by the world they live in. It is a book that insists and demands that Black children are every sort of wonderful thing, all wrapped into one person. The text is a poem, playing out across the pages, reminding and telling readers that they are valued and important.

The art by James is gorgeous, centering on the main protagonist in the story, but also showing many other Black boys on the pages with different skin tones, hair and emotions. There are several breathtaking pages, including the final smile on the last page that will stick with readers as he looks right into your eyes.

Another amazing picture book from this team. This book belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.

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.

Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders

Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders

Love Your Body by Jessica Sanders, illustrated by Carol Rossetti (9780711252424)

With a clear focus on self-acceptance and body positivity, this nonfiction picture book celebrates all girls and young women. The book is filled with images of girls of all sizes, races, religions and abilities. Readers are told to start loving their bodies now, not waiting. Bodies are more than just there to be admired: they are strong and active no matter their size or shape. The book encourages readers to make a list of what they appreciate about their body, offering help and ideas. The book then recommends that if that did not help it might be a good idea to seek help from an adult or organization. Self care is also emphasized along with dressing your body the way it feels best to you. Self-love is a process, and this book shows a clear way forward.

Sanders’ text is clear and fierce. She demands that readers take action, not see themselves as objects, and deeply understand that no matter our size, race or ability that our bodies are ours to treasure and celebrate. The focus on self kindness and self care is an important one, nicely moving readers away from perfectionism towards habits that will serve them well for their entire lives.

The illustrations are tremendous. I particularly love the groups of girls and young women gathered together in their underwear and fully clothed. It’s a visual sisterhood, a commitment to loving ourselves and one another. The girls throughout the book are diverse and active. I particularly appreciate that it is often the larger girls as well as those of different abilities who are doing the activities.

Fierce, kind and compassionate, this book insists that all girls are valued. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Frances Lincoln.

Grandparents by Chema Heras

Grandparents by Chema Heras

Grandparents by Chema Heras, illustrated by Rosa Osuna (9781771645669)

When Grandfather hears an announcement of a party in the main square, he knows just who to invite. He rushes home to ask his wife, Manuela, to join him. But Manuela isn’t quite as eager as he is to head to a party. Grandfather picks Grandmother a flower and tells her how beautiful she is. Grandmother heads inside to put on eyeliner, then mascara, then skin cream, but each time Grandfather tells her that she is lovely just the way she is and to hurry up so they can go dancing! Lipstick, hair dye and a change of clothes are the next delays, but Grandfather is ready to cajole Grandmother along. Finally, the two of them go dancing together, and Grandmother realizes that Grandfather is just as beautiful as the moon too.

First published in Portuguese, this charming picture book explores the power of love and of being oneself. Heras uses a series of metaphors to describe Grandmother’s beauty. Her eyes are “as sad and beautiful as stars at night.” Her white hair is like “a midsummer cloud” and her skin is wrinkly like “nuts in a pie.” Grandmother herself uses negative metaphors to describe herself, but those are all countered by Grandfather’s love and adoration for her.

The illustrations are quirky and interesting, filled with surreal combinations of spaces and objects. As they are together in the house, the couple sometimes appear sideways or upside down as well as right-side-up nearby.

A warm and lovely look at love and self-esteem. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greystone Kids.

You Matter by Christian Robinson

You Matter by Christian Robinson

You Matter by Christian Robinson (9781534421691)

Master picture book author and illustrator Robinson returns with a book just right for our pandemic situation. The book moves in a complete circle, beginning and ending with the same phrases. It starts with the importance of things that are too small to see with the naked eye. The book expresses that you matter whether you are first or last, go with the flow or go your own way. You matter if you fall down, if others are too busy to help, or even if you have to start all over again. You matter if you are far from home and feel alone. Whatever your age, you matter.

This picture book demands that readers see themselves as vital and important in their world regardless of status, situation or mood. It insists from a deep and powerful place that everyone matters, with no caveats at all. Robinson’s warmth exudes from the page even with such simple language and brief lines. That works to make this book accessible to even the youngest of children.

The art is great, adding humor to the book as one part focuses on mosquitoes and dinosaurs, comets and restarting the entire world. It also embraces diversity, showing people of different races, faiths and abilities.

An anthem for all of us to hold in our hearts. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

The Box Turtle by Vanessa Roeder

The Box Turtle by Vanessa Roeder

The Box Turtle by Vanessa Roeder (9780735230507)

When he was born, Terrance came out without a shell. So his parents gave him a box instead. Terrance loved his box shell. It fit just right, kept him dry, safe and protected. He could even share it with his best friend, a hermit crab. But when Terrance met some other turtles, they mocked his box. So he set out to find a better shell option. He tried all sorts of new “shell” like mail boxes, window boxes, a jack-in-the-box, a boom box, and even a treasure chest, but nothing worked. When his best friend offered up his own shell, Terrance realized that everyone was more than their shells. So he went back to his beloved box, which had seen some wear and tear itself. With some help from his friends and family, they transformed it into exactly what Terrance was looking for. 

Told with plenty of humor, including some bare turtle bottoms, this picture book embraces being different. It also looks at how casual cruel statements can impact a person, until their self-esteem repairs enough to stand strong once again. The art is done with speech bubbles and some framing that makes it feel a bit like a graphic novel but with a softness and pastel colors that keep it very friendly for small children. 

Full of resilience and tenacity, this picture book will have you thinking inside the box. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

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