Review: The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly (9780316519007)

This picture book by Olympic medalist Muhammad tells the story of two sisters going to the first day of school as the older sister wears a hijab for the first time. Faizah has a new backpack and new light-up shoes for her first day of school. Asiya looks like a princess though with her blue hijab as they walk to school together. When some of her classmates start asking questions about the hijab, Faizah gets worried and heads over to check on Asiya. Faizah watches her sister handle bullies with calmness and certainty, standing strong and continuing to inspire her little sister with her royal bearing.

There are several picture books about family members wearing hijabs, usually mothers. This one directly takes on the confusion and hurt of hateful reactions. Laced with quotes and insights from their mother, the book offers wells of strength, confidence and self-esteem to the girls that they carry with them.

The illustrations by Aly move from the straight-forward school images of the girls together to more dramatic depictions from Faizah’s imagination about the beauty of the blue of her sister’s hijab. The book also shows the determination and resilience of the girls in their facial expressions as well as sharing their special bond with one another clearly.

This is a book that clearly is both a window and a mirror and one that will offer opportunities for conversations too. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh

Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh

Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh (9780062447814)

Plum could not be more different than her excitable sister, Ginny. Ginny has a group of friends at their private school, while Plum doesn’t have any at all. She’d much prefer to do advance reading for her classes than engage with others her age. Ginny is about to graduate from high school and longs to get accepted into her university of choice, but it’s not that simple. First, she has to be accepted and then she needs enough financial aid to attend. While they may live in a large home, it’s filled with clutter and day-to-day life rather than being a show piece. Feeling more and more distant from her ever-more-agitated sister, Plum finds herself in a position to help, but only because of a secret romance. Now Plum has her own life, but it may take her away from her family right when they need her.

This is a contemporary tale with a classic heart. Riffing on Sense and Sensibility, this  novel for teens takes one rather old-fashioned young lady and her sister who is her opposite and flings at them the trials of modern life. There are the costs of living when their mother loses her royalty payments, the grueling college application and financial aid process, bullying, and of course, kissing too. It’s a book that offers two great female characters. Plum is introverted, wildly funny and wise. Ginny is anxiety-ridden, loud, dramatic and loving. The two together make an ideal look at sisterhood.

Thornburgh writes with a specific style here. It even more tightly ties the story to classic literature and also reveals Plum’s thoughts and her own way of thinking. The story never drags, instead it is filled with drama and disasters large and small. The writing is a delightful mix of classic and modern with plenty of humor too.

A deep look at sisterhood that is funny and rich. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperTeen.

Review: Planet Earth Is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

Planet Earth Is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

Planet Earth Is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos (9780525646570)

Nova’s big sister, Bridget, taught her all about space exploration and the planets. She is the person who has protected and defended Nova all of her life, from when they entered foster care to when people at school think that Nova is not smart. Nova finds talking difficult, so she doesn’t speak much at all, something has has gotten her labeled by their social worker as not understanding anything at all. But Nova understands a lot. In her new foster home and new school, her sister is not with her. Bridget promised that the two of them would watch the launch of the space shuttle Challenger as it takes the first teacher into space. But as the countdown of days to the launch comes to a close, Bridget has not yet appeared.

In this debut novel, Panteleakos gives readers insight into the mind of a non-verbal, autistic girl who struggles to express herself to the world though she is intelligent and full of potential. The author tells the story from Nova’s point of view which creates a real bond between protagonist and reader. Readers will find themselves wanting to protect Nova as she works through testing, new friends and a new family.

The novel is full of hope, offering a new sense of safety for Nova and potentially ways to communicate that she has never been taught before. The connection between the two sisters is also beautifully shown. The final scenes contain a revelation about what has prevented Bridget from coming to see Nova. These wrenching moments bring a new clarity to Nova’s experience in life and still result in a hope that she can move forward.

Beautifully written, this big-hearted story is a poignant tale of families and strength. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Wendy Lamb Books.

Review: The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu (9780062275097)

The author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs returns with a new marvelous read for middle graders. Lark and Iris are twins. It’s the thing that everyone notices about them. They are very different underneath their physical similarities. Iris is rational, protective and always willing to argue. Lark is dreamy, creative and sensitive. When the two girls are separated for the first time into different classrooms at school, Lark retreats into herself. She has several humiliating experiences that Iris can’t find a way to help with. Meanwhile, Iris finds herself being quieter without Lark to speak up for and has difficulty finding her own way. She is drawn to a strange new antiques shop and begins to spend time there reading old books that belonged to a mysterious “Alice.” The man in the shop is extremely odd, talking about magic and collections. Other odd things are happening as well with art disappearing around the city and crows gathering in the trees. When Iris finds herself in real danger, the mysteries begin to make horrible sense, but she isn’t sure that anyone will even care she is gone.

Ursu once again weaves an incredible tale of magic. This one is set in Minneapolis and Ursu beautifully shares elements of the northern Midwest and the Twin Cities in the story. The setting of anchors this tale in reality which works particularly well as the reveal of the magical part of the book is so gradual. The book is nearly impossible to summarize well or concisely because there are so many elements to the story. As you read though, it is a cohesive whole, a world that Ursu builds for the reader with real skill where the elements click together by the end of the book.

While the book is about both Lark and Iris, the focus is primarily on Iris, the more prickly and outspoken sister. Lark is seen through the lens of Iris’ concern for her and Lark’s opinion of her own role with her sister isn’t shared until towards the end of the book. That reveal is one of the most powerful elements of the book, demonstrating how Iris has not been seeing things clearly at all. The narrator voice is just as well done, creating a feeling of a tale within a tale, where magic is real all along.

A grand adventure of a book full of magic and girl power. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Walden Pond Press.

 

 

Review: One-Third Nerd by Gennifer Choldenko

One-Third Nerd by Gennifer Choldenko

One-Third Nerd by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans (9781524718886)

Released January 29, 2019.

The award-winning author of the Al Capone series returns with a book for younger children. Liam is a fifth grader whose life has gotten complicated. He lives with his mother and two younger sisters in a basement apartment near San Francisco. Fifth grade isn’t the same as younger grades and Liam is concerned with appearing to not be as poor as his family actually is. Even worse, their dog, Cupcake, has started having a peeing problem and they don’t have the money to get her special tests done. Meanwhile, Dakota, one of Liam’s sisters is trying to make enough money to save Cupcake, since if she doesn’t stop peeing on things they will need to get rid of her. Unfortunately, it involves selling some of Liam’s favorite things and conducting some wild science experiments. Then you have the youngest in the family, Izzy a child with Down syndrome, who makes friends easily and gives great hugs. Can this family of nerds, jocks and friendliness come together and save Cupcake?

The writing here is just right for younger readers who will love the brisk pace mixed with with madcap humor. Liam is a strong protagonist who is starting to become more aware of social standing and how others perceive him, and being a big brother to the disruptive Dakota is not helping matters. Even when he is exasperated with his sister though, he tends to be calm and show a great deal of maturity in each situation.

I love that this book is not focused on big issues. There are several that could have been the focus in a more dramatic book, such as poverty, Down syndrome, and divorce. Instead Choldenko tells the story of a family facing a variety of challenges and weathering them together, several of the obvious challenges actually turn out to be strengths along the way. The light tone is also conveyed in the illustrations with their light touch and humorous takes on the scenes.

This funny wild romp will be enjoyed by elementary readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Wendy Lamb Books.

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (9780062499684)

Released May 15, 2018.

Newbery-Medal winner Perkins returns with a charming story of a summer vacation on the beach. Alix and Jools are heading out with their parents for their first beach vacation ever. It means leaving Alix’s best friend behind as well as their dog for a whole week. Both Alix and Jools are nervous about the trip, but they soon discover the many pleasures of being on a beach: sandcastles, long walks on the shore, bike rides, a local bakery, and maybe even a new friend. There are also surprises for them like eating periwinkles they gather themselves, seeing horseshoe crabs, and making a connection with a wounded falcon. It’s a week they will never forget and one that they hope to repeat again.

Perkins writes with a light hand for young readers. There is a sense of adventure on the pages and yet the discoveries and experiences are wonderfully mundane and things that children might experience themselves. The two sisters are quite different with Alix being a person who jumps in and tries things and Jools being more mature about things and less likely to take risks. As their vacation week progresses, they both learn that the other sister wishes they had some of the same qualities.

The art in the book breaks the text up nicely for young readers and also invites the reader to better understand what is happening the story. From horseshoe crabs to the landlady to releasing a falcon, the images are sand-filled and merry.

A great summer read for younger readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.

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.

 

Poppy Louise Is Not Afraid of Anything by Jenna McCarthy

Poppy Louise Is Not Afraid of Anything by Jenna McCarthy

Poppy Louise Is Not Afraid of Anything by Jenna McCarthy, illustrated by Molly Idle (9780385390866, Amazon)

Poppy is not scared of anything at all. She likes spiders and snakes; she has monsters as imaginary friends; she loves the dark and scary stories. Her sister Petunia is seen as the more careful one. When Poppy is asked what kind of pet she’d like she thinks of tarantulas, sharks, or bears! Petunia tries to scare Poppy, but nothing seems to work. Sometimes, Petunia finds Poppy’s bravery handy like when she needs something out of the basement. Then one day, Poppy suddenly discovers that there are things that make her scared and she needs Petunia’s help to overcome it.

McCarthy’s writing is light and playful. She has created two very different siblings who manage to support one another even though they tease each other too. It’s a natural sibling dynamic that is neither overly sweet or too cantankerous. The story has plenty of action and moves ahead swiftly as Poppy’s bravery is shown again and again, though she has friends and family who also help keep her safe.

Caldecott Honor winner, Idle has illustrated this in her signature style. There is a lovely merriment in the illustrations. I particularly enjoy the boredom of Poppy on the children’s roller coaster as others are cheering, frightened or ill. It captures the entire book quite nicely.

A jolly picture book about bravery, sensibility and personal limits, this picture book is great fun. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Random House Books for Young Readers.

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost

When My Sister Started Kissing by Helen Frost (9780374303037, Amazon)

Sisters Claire and Abi have been going to their family’s lake house since they were born. After their mother died, her things were kept just the way she had left them at the lake house: her chair at the window, books on the shelves and a painting on the easel. Now everything is different. Their father has married Pam and their mother’s things have been moved from the house. Pam is pregnant and the baby should come during their time at the lake. Claire discovers that Abi is changing too. Abi is interested in boys and starts to sneak off to meet them, involving Claire in her lies. Claire finds herself alone on the lake often, trying to figure out what all of this change means for her family.

Frost is a master of the verse novel, and this book is a great example of her skill and heart. She plays with formats for her poetry, using different types of poems and different structures for the various voices. The book is told not only by Claire and Abi but by the lake itself, and those poems are my favorites. They have embedded sentences using the bolded letters either at the beginning or ends of the poetic lines. It turns reading them into a puzzle that leads to discovery, rather like Claire’s summer.

The two sisters are dynamic characters. Abi’s interest in boys is seen as natural and normal, and so is her pushing the boundaries. Organic progression is made in Claire’s relationship with Pam, positivity slowly moving in to replace the wariness. Claire is a girl who is brave and wonderfully written. She has fears but overcomes them and never stops trying.

A beautiful verse novel that captures summer days on a lake and a family becoming stronger. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.