Review: Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

Snow Lane by Josie Angelini

Snow Lane by Josie Angelini (9781250150929)

Annie doesn’t live in the type of family that lets them take tropical vacations during school breaks like some of the kids she goes to school with. She is the youngest of nine children in her family and money is tight. Her father works so much that she barely sees him at all unless it is while she is helping out at their family farm picking berries. Her mother doesn’t pay much attention to any of the children except the two talented ones. As Annie returns to school for a new year, she realizes that she is very different than the other kids and it goes a lot deeper than her having to wear hand-me-downs from her older brother and wait to get new shoes that don’t have a huge hole in them. Annie is consistently resilient and cheerful in the face of everything she has to deal with, something that is all the more impressive as her family secrets are revealed.

Angelini has drawn from her own family history to create one of the most heart-wrenching books of the year. Readers will immediately know that there is something wrong in Annie’s life as they witness her older siblings being cruel to Annie and her closest sister. Annie struggles with dyslexia and one older sister who is physically violent and also emotionally abusive, telling Annie that she is stupid all the time. As the book steadily reveals the truth about the family, things fall into place and leave Annie to find a way forward using her optimism and intelligence.

Angelini writes beautifully here. She allows the story to play out in front of the reader with Annie herself living in denial about what is actually happening in her family. That denial is even explained clearly towards the end of the book, which gives readers hope that Annie will not just survive but start to thrive. Angelini gives Annie two critical friendships at school that allow her to be successful. Both friends clearly have some ideas of what might be happening to Annie, but neither push that too hard, offering instead friendship, food, and safety.

Heartfelt and painfully honest, this book will speak to so many children living in similar circumstances and allow them to know they are not alone. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena

Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson (9780399549045)

When Carmela woke up on her birthday, she knew that she was finally old enough to accompany her older brother as he did the family errands. The two headed out into their bustling urban neighborhood, passing shops, a nursing home, and street vendors. Her big brother though wasn’t as happy to have his little sister tagging along. He ignores her as much as possible, even as she jingles her bracelets and tries to get his attention. When Carmela discovers a dandelion growing in the sidewalk, she learns about making a wish before blowing on it. After a tumble though, it is smashed on the ground. Her brother though knows just what to do to make it better.

De la Pena and Robinson are the two that created Last Stop on Market Street together. In this second book, they tell the gentle story of a young girl reaching an important milestone in her life. The story is complex, revealing that her father has been removed from their home because he didn’t have the right papers. The relationship between the siblings is deftly shown, the older sibling not having much patience until something bad happens. Then his care demonstrates clearly his love for his little sister and leads to a culminating moment in the book.

Robinson’s art is wonderful. Done in painted collage, the illustrations have a warmth to them that works particularly well in this tale. He excels at showing relationships in his art, in creating special moments. The Valentine-like cut paper pages that show Carmela’s possible wishes are beautiful moments on the page.

Another gorgeous and diverse picture book from two masters, this one belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Bunches of Board Books

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep by Katrina Charman

Car, Car, Truck, Jeep by Katrina Charman, illustrated by Nick Sharratt (9781681198958)

Sung to the tune of “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” this board book will quickly become a favorite for any little one who loves vehicles. The book is filled with all sorts of cars, trucks, boats, and planes. Each one carries a rhyme with it and creates all sorts of motion on the page. The illustrations are bright and friendly, inviting the littlest readers to explore their thick lines and bold shapes. This is one beeping good board book.

Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A Pile of Leaves by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin

A Pile of Leaves by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin (9780714877204)

Just right for fall reading either one-on-one or with a small group, this board book offers a unique experience. With only a preface containing words, the book opens to reveal see-through pages that form a leaf pile. Readers turn the pages, removing one layer of leaves at a time and discovering interesting things hiding in the leaves. There is a worm, ants, a mitten, a key, a grasshopper and more. Beautifully, the leaves continue to pile on the pages to the left, creating a new pile to explore. Clever and a delight to explore, this board book is like breathing crisp fall air in book form.

Reviewed from library copy.

You and Me by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

You and Me by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Susan Reagan (9781568463216)

This exceptional board book tells the story of an older sibling with a very adorable new baby in the house. Sharing time with Grandma isn’t easy,  but the older sibling is patient. The baby has lots of cute things that they can do, but so does the older sibling. In the end, the baby finally goes down for a nap and it’s time for the older child to be paid a lot of attention. The poem in this board book is gentle with rhymes that sway. The illustrations are truly amazing, filled with eyes alight with joy and both siblings wonderfully androgynous as well. These are images of a loving African-American family that celebrate being an older sibling.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Mia Moves Out by Miranda Paul

Mia Moves Out by Miranda Paul

Mia Moves Out by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Paige Keiser (9780399553325)

When Mia moved into her house, she had a lovely room all to herself. She hung stars from the ceiling and it was perfect. Then her baby brother Brandon arrived, and Mia had to share her room. At first it wasn’t so bad, they had lots of fun together. But the toys piled up until Mia couldn’t even recognize her room anymore. So she made a decision, she would move out! She tried moving into the bathroom, but it was too gross. She tried the basement, but there were scary things in boxes. She tried all sorts of places until she built a space near the books. But something wasn’t quite right. That’s when she found out that Brandon had moved out too. Perhaps they could move out together!

This picture book perfectly captures the give and tug of being siblings. On one hand, they can be maddening while on the other hand, they are important to your life. It also shows the way that children “run away” or move out from their homes, how spur of the moment it is, how built on emotion, and how regretful it eventually becomes. The parents here deal with it well, guiding gently from the sidelines and allowing Mia to make her own decisions.

The illustrations are funny and warm, just like the story line. They show the growing pile of toys overtaking the entire room and the entire page. One can completely understand Mia’s frustration. As Mia searches for the perfect spot to move to, the illustrations play large part in conveying her responses to each.

Clever and funny, this is a warm look at siblings. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf. 

3 Picture Books Featuring Families

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (9780763693558)

Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela had a very long name, one that wouldn’t fit nicely on paper. So her father told her the story of her name. Sofia was her grandmother who loved flowers and books just like Alma. Esperanza was her great-grandmother who longed to travel the world. Jose was her grandfather who was an artist. Pura was her great-aunt who gave Alma her red thread bracelet. Candela was her other grandmother who stood up for what was right. When Alma asks about her first name, she is told that that is her name only so she can become whatever she wishes to be.

Ending with Alma feeling very proud and connected to each of her names, this picture book celebrates connections to family through naming traditions. It is lovely to see Alma identify with each of the family members and find aspects that are similar to her. I also appreciate having a father have this conversation, strengthening the paternal aspect as well. The illustrations are soft greys and blacks with pops of blues and reds that make the images come alive. A great picture book that will speak to many children. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)

La Frontera My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva

La Frontera: My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva, illustrated by Claudia Navarro (9781782853886)

This bilingual picture book tells the story of a young boy who goes with his father north to cross the border and enter the United States illegally. From a small village in central Mexico, they left a place where their family had lived for over 100 years. When food got scarce, they headed north, leaving the boy’s mother and siblings behind. They traveled with “Coyote,” a man who helped them go north. Reaching the Rio Grande, they tried to cross but lost contact with Coyote. Now the boy and his father were alone. They walked and walked, hungry and tired. Even when they reached the United States though, things were not easy. The boy started school and time passed, until they could be reunited with their family again.

Set in the 1980’s, this book tells the story of Alva’s family with the Spanish and English side-by-side on the page. Written with the help of his neighbor, Mills, the book is filled with the harrowing dangers of border crossing. There are times when the two characters are clearly near death, exhausted and starving. By the end of the story though, hope fills the pages and a better future is clear. The illustrations are filled with rich gem colors. There are sapphire blue nights, emerald grass, and topaz land. The illustrations capture the drama of the story and also the closeness and love of the family.

An important book that tells the story of immigration to the United States for a new life. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from copy provided by Barefoot Books.)

Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo

Little Brothers & Little Sisters by Monica Arnaldo (9781771472951)

This picture book is a celebration of siblings and shows perspectives of both older and younger siblings spending time together. Throughout the book, the older siblings get the best of the younger ones. The older ones have a treehouse while the younger ones spy on them. The older ones get the couch and the younger ones the floor. The book then moves to the more private relationships of pairs of siblings, of mistakes and apologies. It shows how the older siblings help, how they lend a hand, give a boost. How they are best friends, after all.

The text in this picture book is very simple with much of the story being relayed through the illustrations. Filled with pairs of siblings, the book has a diverse cast of characters who show the universal complicated relationships of siblings. The illustrations are friendly and bright, filled with a jolly humor at the roles of older and younger siblings. A great pick for sharing with the siblings in your life. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from library copy.)

3 New Picture Books for Siblings to Share

Bamboo for Me Bamboo for You by Fran Manushkin

Bamboo for Me, Bamboo for You by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Purificacion Hernandez (9781481450638)

Amanda and Miranda are pandas who live with their parent in a zoo. They love to eat bamboo for all of their meals, frowning at the meat that the lions eat. The two siblings frolic around in the bamboo, playing peek-a-boo, taking tumbles, and fighting with one another sometimes. When the fight becomes more serious, the two little pandas stop playing together until they realize they are much more unhappy apart than they ever are together. Besides, there’s more bamboo to eat together too! This book is filled with merry rhymes and a galloping rhythm that preschoolers will adore. They will also recognize the complicated relationships of siblings who fight and make up, share and then squabble some more. The illustrations are large and bright, making this a good choice for sharing with a group of little ones. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Review copy provided by Aladdin.)

The Littlest Viking by Alexandra Penfold

The Littlest Viking by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Isabel Roxas (9780399554292)

Sven was the littlest Viking and also the loudest. He could pillage food from anyone and had the fiercest bite too. But one thing could distract Sven: stories! Eventually he learned to tell great stories too and all of the Vikings loved to stop and listen to them. Then one day, everyone was distracted by something. It was a new little Viking, a warrior princess who was very loud and very sad. No one could get her to stop crying, but Sven had an idea! This picture book is full of humor and parallels modern parenting with the equivalent in Vikings like taking a crying baby on a great ship ride to calm down, rather than in a car. The illustrations are equally funny with very grumpy tiny children insisting on their own way and finding storytelling just the ticket out of the grumps. It is also appreciated that Sven enjoys his new role as big brother too. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)

Snow Sisters by Kerri Kokias

Snow Sisters by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White (9781101938843)

Two sisters enjoy a snowy day in very different ways in this picture book. One sister is always on the left page and the other on the right. The red-headed sister immediately heads outside into the snow to play while the brown-haired sister stays inside with her books, blankets and cocoa. They both stay busy throughout the day, one outside throwing snowballs and building forts, the other baking in the kitchen. Then the sister who has been playing outside gets chilled while the one indoors has noticed the animals outside her window. The two switch places and do similar things but each in their own way. Written with very simple wording, it is the twist in the middle of the book that makes it work so well. The repetition of each sister doing the “same” things is cleverly drawn in the illustrations that show how each still does it quite differently than their sibling did. The illustrations are bright, their world inviting and the entire book feels like a cup of cocoa on a snowy day. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (9780316349000)

Suzette has been in New England at boarding school for the last school year. Now she has returned back home to her family in Los Angeles. She has missed the city itself, but even more so she has missed her stepbrother, Lionel. Lionel has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and during the summer decides to stop taking his medication. He starts dating a girl that Suzette also finds compelling and interesting, but Suzette worries that the girl isn’t good for Lionel. Meanwhile, Suzette is dealing with discovering that she is bisexual, having had her first relationship with a girl while at board school that did not end well. Back at home, she begins to date Emil, a longtime friend of her family. Suzette is the only one who knows of Lionel stopping his medication and the secret becomes a problem as Lionel reaches a crisis.

Colbert has created a beautiful novel that speaks to the complexities of mental illness. The reaction of friends is well drawn, showing how people pull away from those diagnosed with mental illness and yet want to talk about them too. Lionel is a great character, someone the reader and Suzette gravitates to and yet someone who is battling a mental illness profoundly and pushes people away. He is in turns riveting and maddening.

Suzette’s character is the center of the novel and she is wonderfully crafted. An African-American protagonist who has converted to Judaism when her mother married Lionel’s father, she is someone who has to make choices about what she shares about herself and what battles she decides to engage in. Suzette is just discovering her bisexuality and even hesitates to label herself that way at first. The depiction of sexuality in the book and sex is handled with honesty and without bias. It’s lovely to see it handled that way with both girls and boys.

A very special book for teens, this book is diverse and filled with moments of triumph and pain. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Patina by Jason Reynolds (9781481450188, Amazon)

Released August 29, 2017.

This book follows Ghost in Reynolds’ popular and amazing Track series. In this book, the focus is on Patty, another member of the newbie group on the track team. Ghost is still in the book, shown as a member of the team and the book begins where Ghost’s story left off. Patty lives with her godparents and her little sister, since her mother lost her legs to diabetes and can’t take care of them. They still see their mother on Sundays for church and Patty has to follow certain rules about the way she dresses and what makeup she wears to meet her mother’s expectations. Patty takes care of her little sister, making sure that she does her homework, eats enough, and has her hair braided neatly with 90 red beads. Still, Patty struggles with the changes in her life and moving away from her neighborhood and friends and into a fancier school. It is on the track that she feels most like herself, even as she learns to run relay where she has to learn to trust her teammates entirely.

The first book in the series set a high level of expectation for the second and fans will not be disappointed with this second book. Readers will enjoy getting to know Patty better and her family situation. Patty has a lot of anger inside her, something that she internalizes and struggles with. At the same time, she is strongly caring and loving of her family, trying to hold them all together and do as much as she can. This complexity in a middle grade novel is what makes this series so special.

The focus on teamwork in this second book echoes throughout the novel not just on the track and relay team. As Patty learns to trust her teammates, she also becomes more open to help from others in different settings like her classwork and new friends. Her family is complicated and strong, stepping up when necessary. The theme of legs resonates throughout the book as well, Patty carrying her mother’s legs with her on the track even as her younger sister imagines them touring the world and having adventures.

Every public library should have this series on their shelves. It will run right off the shelves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Atheneum.

 

It’s Great Being a Dad by Dan Bar-el

It's Great Being a Dad by Dan Bar-el

It’s Great Being a Dad by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by Gina Perry (9781770496057, Amazon)

One by one, mythical creatures appear and tell the reader how great a life they have. The unicorn loves prancing and their gorgeous horn, but the horn does make it very difficult to eat, particularly if you get a table stuck on it. Bigfoot has a great time being strong and helping his friends, but his big feet can be a problem. The robot loves his flashing lights and memory, but rain is an issue. Then there is the Loch Ness Monster and the “fairy queen ballerina doctor” who help the others. But there are always problems like the sneaky flying alligator pirate. Who can help all of these mythical beasts? Dad, that’s who.

This book embraces the idea of creative and imaginative play completely as the children first introduce themselves as the characters they are pretending to be. Steadily though, the illusion breaks a bit as each new character is introduced and their personas get more complicated. Bar-el does a lovely job of allowing the fantasy to fracture steadily and then break altogether as Dad enters the picture.

Perry has created first a lovely fantasy world with rainbow colors, deep forests, lochs and castles. She then goes on to morph that into a multicultural family filled with children of all ages who are trying to play near one another if not together. The connection between fantasy and reality is strong in the illustrations and children will love seeing the ties.

A warm look at imaginative play and great parenting, this picture book is a celebration of dads. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.