Jamila is living in a new neighborhood where she doesn’t have any friends. She wants to spend her summer playing basketball in a park nearby, but her mother doesn’t want her out alone. So when Jamila meets Shirley, they come up with a new plan for their summer. Shirley will come with Jamila to the basketball courts and then Shirley will do her thing too. But Shirley is more than a little strange and a lot secretive. Jamila figures out that Shirley helps children in the neighborhood solve small mysteries that arise. Soon the two of them are on a case together, helping Oliver figure out where his gecko went. It’s a case with many possible suspects. Jamila discovers she has detective skills herself and becomes a full partner. But does Shirley really see her that way? When their friendship and detective service falls apart, can they sleuth out how to get it back on track?
Goerz has created an engaging graphic novel that centers on solving a mystery. Readers will love the characters in particular, Shirley and Jamila are very different from one another, but find ways to connect. After all, Shirley’s work is fascinating and the way her mind works is impressively different and more like a young Sherlock Holmes. Goerz creates a mystery where all of the elements snap into place by the end and it also becomes about more than punishing a culprit, ending with new friendships and greater understanding.
The art is engaging and the story is full of diverse characters. The pages are filled with people from different races and cultures. Readers will love the look at a vibrant urban neighborhood where mysteries abound.
Ideal reading for fans of Raina Telgemeier who are looking for a diverse and mysterious read done right. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Bruno and Julie aren’t really friends anymore, but in the small town of Belle Beach, Long Island, they still see one another. That’s how Bruno sees Julie discover the baby that was left on the steps of the new children’s library. Julie carries the baby off, leaving Bruno to discover the note that Julie never found. Bruno though is on a mission for his brother who is overseas fighting in World War II, and he must decide if he will miss the train to New York or not. Told through flashbacks that show the story of Bruno, Julie and Julie’s little sister, Martha, this book explores the impact of the war on families and also how one complicated situation can somehow tie their entire summer together.
Hest creates a marvelous story told in brief chapters by each of the three characters. Their perspectives are beautifully individual, filled with misunderstandings about one another, views that are entirely their own, and opinions that they form along the way. The book is almost a puzzle, where one must figure out what is actually happening through these independent lenses that show a fractured image of the truth.
Each of the three characters has their own personality, deftly created and shown by Hest. Her writing is brief and clear, allowing each character’s words to stand strong as their own. It is the quality of her writing and the profound respect she shows her young characters that really let this delight of a novel work, revealing the moments and experiences of a single sun-drenched summer on the beach.
Ideal for summer reading, this work of historical fiction is masterful. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Prairie Days by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Micha Archer (9781442441910)
The master of prairie-based books offers this picture book glimpse of life on the prairie. It is a land of huge skies that change color at dawn. It smells of “cattle and bluegrass and hyssop” with wild roses too. There are small towns with fascinating names, filling stations with cold drinks, and farm horses to ride. There are all sorts of prairie birds and creatures. There are farm dogs to cuddle and admire, rides on grain carts heading to the mill. There are trips to town and in the summer, swimming in the pond. Games at dusk and into the dark until you are called in to bed. As the huge sky changes colors once again.
Newbery medalist MacLachlan’s text captures the beauty of growing up on a working farm in the prairie states. Through a series of small moments, she shows the incredible beauty of the land and sky. She also shows how these small moments string together to form a day, a summer, a life. It is a quiet picture book, with glimpses of wildlife and time spent on horseback or snoozing on a porch.
Archer’s illustrations are deep and beautiful. They are done in collage with acrylics and inks combined with handmade papers. They fill the pages with the textures of grasses, the epic sight of sunrise and sunset, the golds and greens of summer, and the deep blues of the sky.
So many of us will recognize our own childhoods here on the page, whether we grew up on the prairie or in another sort of farming community. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Welcome to your new day. The sun invites you to play when you wake up, creating a square on your pillow. Creatures are up and moving, snails scribbling across the sidewalk, inchworms measuring out their paths, and tadpoles punctuating the streams. There are things to find: leaves with paths imprinted on them, pebbles smoothed by the water. Then a storm arrives with lightning and thunder, rain pounding down. Mud is created to wriggle your toes in. Long shadows capture the approaching evening until night falls with a sky of stars and the voice of a cricket thrumming you to sleep.
Portis creates quite an invitation to head outside and experience nature with all of your senses from touching stones and leaves to feeling the rain to hearing the thunder and seeing the stars. It is all an immersive experience for the reader. Portis’ text is deceptively short and simple. Yet within each four-line verse she creates almost haiku moments of discovery.
The art was done in brush and sumi ink, leaf prints, and vine charcoal with the lettering done by hand. The illustrations are large and bold, offering a book that will work well shared with a group. They have a wonderful natural feel to them, tactile and warm.
Ideal for a summer day. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Neal Porter Books.
Jasper and Ollie are best friends. At breakfast, Jasper wants to go to the pool and Ollie agrees. Jasper, the fox, wants to race to get there and runs out of the house. Along the way, he pull on his swimsuit, blows past the mailman who dumps his letters, jumps over a turtle painting a fence, and hustles past the ice cream truck. Now Jasper has to wait for Ollie though. And Ollie, the sloth, has a very different approach. He watches butterflies, smells the flowers, picks up the spilled mail, gets a drink, helps paint the fence, and gets an ice cream cone. Meanwhile Jasper is rushing around trying to see if Ollie is somewhere at the pool and manages to get himself thrown out. Luckily, that is just when Ollie arrives with ice cream cones for both of them.
Willan tells this story solely in speech bubbles. He uses framing techniques from comic books to great effect here. On the larger upper frame, he shows Jasper in his speedy desperation to find Ollie. Below, Ollie moves along quietly enjoying his walk to the pool. Jasper is often accompanied by a dashed line showing his movement over and under and around people and obstacles and usually accompanied by chaos in his wake.
The illustrations are brilliantly done with plenty of humor too. It has a wonderful aesthetic to it where the pattern of Ollie’s swimsuit is repeated on various things at the pool that Jasper searches. The illustrations are worth looking closely at to catch all of the funny moments and small touches along the way.
A combination of speed and sloth that makes for a great friendship and plenty of laughs. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Doubleday Books for Young Readers.
A little boy waits for his friend, Chicken Smith, who usually stays at the same beach for the same week in the summer. The boy comes to beach every year and knows it very well, just like Chicken Smith does. Chicken can do all sort of things like ride his rusty bike without any brakes, just using his foot to slow down. As the boy thinks about Chicken Smith and anticipates his arrival, his sister starts to call him, but he is too busy waiting for Chicken to come. He looks forward to spotting whales together like they did last year. But his sister is still calling, so he heads up to the lighthouse to see what she wants. Out in the ocean, they can see a whale together. Maybe Chicken Smith won’t be coming this summer after all. But hanging out with his sister may not be so bad anyway.
This picture book is about a summer friendship and by exploring their connection with one another, the book also shares iconic summer moments at the beach. Finding a buoy, seeing a flying fish, swimming all day. Mackintosh has fully developed the voice of the little boy, who tells the story from his personal perspective. It is his voice that makes the book come alive and that tells of the ache of not knowing when or if a friend will arrive and what that might do to an entire summer vacation.
The illustrations are modern and move from white sand with a clearly hot sun to images of whales swimming in the sea. Macintosh plays with color, using reds, blues and greens to fill some pages while leaving others bleached out.
Ideal summer reading that mixes sunshine fun with summer friendships. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Cat and Chicken live in San Francisco with their mother who works several jobs, but one is to be a children’s book author with books that feature Cat and Chicken as a caterpillar and chicken. When they head across the country for a summer job, their plans suddenly fall through. Now Cat and Chicken must stay with grandparents they have never met before while their mother works in Atlanta. Their grandparents live on Gingerbread Island, a place their mother hasn’t returned to since before Cat was born. Lily, their grandmother, is warm and maternal, quickly adapting to Chicken’s special needs. Macon, their grandfather, is more distant and gruff, working in his workshop and going on long walks alone. As Cat and Chicken get to know them, they find a wonderful pair of grandparents who love them immensely, so Cat tries to figure out how to bring her family back together again. She hopes that entering a fishing contest, a sport her mother used to love, with give them an opportunity to bond. But things don’t quite work out as planned, just like in her mother’s books.
McDunn has written the ideal summer read. It has a lightness to it that is pure summer sunshine, one that invites reading with sand between your toes or a flashlight in a tent. At the same time, the characters and story wrestle with larger issues of what family means, how a family can form a rift, and how the pressure of having a little brother who is neurodiverse can be challenging for an older sibling. I deeply appreciated Chicken as a character. He is not labeled in any way in the story but shown as having specific challenges that make looking after him different from other children.
Cat herself is a very strong young woman who holds her family together. Her grandmother recognizes that and helps Cat understand better what she is doing. As her grandparents step in to allow Cat to have a summer as a child, she fights them, trying to retain her role as Chicken’s caretaker. That process of letting go is beautifully shown, given time and patience. Throughout the book, nothing is simple, not even Cat’s enemy on the island, whose own story provides reasons for his actions.
Richly drawn and yet still summer light, this novel is a delight. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
After moving to a new city with her parents, Harriet is stuck sitting around their new apartment alone while her parents start new jobs. She is missing camp back in Indiana and writes her camp friends postcards about sightseeing in Chicago, even though she hasn’t gone anywhere. She starts to pretend that the mailman is sinister, that the third floor of the house is haunted and that the kind owner of the house, Pearl, is a murderer. Pearl though continues to try to connect with Harriet during her long summer, using books and stories as a way to relate to one another. As the book steadily reveals, Pearl’s son had polio while Harriet herself has MS. This book beautifully portrays a teen’s long summer and dealing with a chronic illness.
Set in the 1990s, this graphic novel depicts a Latinx family as they move closer to Harriet’s doctors in Chicago. The family is warm and lovely, connected to Harriet but not hovering or overly worried about her. The graphic novel uses warm colors, sultry breezes and just enough mystery about what the truth of the house could be to keep the pages turning. The focus on books and reading is conveyed through the eyes of a teen who doesn’t really enjoy reading her assigned books. Filled with diversity, there are lots of people of color as well as people experiencing disabilities in this graphic novel.
Harriet herself is a rather prickly character, so I loved when she faked reading The Secret Garden, saying that she didn’t really like the main character that much. Readers will develop a sense of connection with Harriet as her vivid imagination comes to life, even though she may have misled the readers as well as herself at times. There are few graphic novels that have characters with invisible disabilities who sometimes need mobility aids and other times don’t. This is particularly effective in a graphic novel and portrayed with grace and gentleness.
A quiet graphic novel for tweens and teens that is just right with some lemonade and pizza. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Graphic Universe.
After brothers Caleb and Bobby Gene get into trouble for trading their baby sister for a bag of fireworks, they are sentenced to a summer of labor alongside the boy who traded with them. Caleb is determined not to be an ordinary person in life, something his father seems obsessed with him staying at all times, even calling him extra-ordinary! So when Styx Malone enters their lives and offers them a way to trade the ill-gotten fireworks for something even better, the two brothers eagerly join him. But Styx is not telling them the whole truth about his life or even about the trades they are making. As the boys are pulled farther into Styx’s world, Caleb worries that it will all fall apart and that he will be left being just ordinary again.
Magoon has created a story that reads smooth and sweet, a tale filled with adventures and riotous action. At the same time though, she has also created a book that asks deeper questions about family, the foster care system, children in need, and what makes a good friend. Readers may not trust Styx as quickly as Caleb does, so the book also has a compelling narrative voice that is naive and untrustworthy. Even as Caleb, in particular, is drawn firmly into Styx’s plans, readers will be questioning what they are doing. It’s a great book to show young readers an unreliable narrator who is also charming.
The book has complex characters who all rise beyond being stereotypical. Even the adults in the book show glimpses of other sides that create a sense of deep reality on the page. Styx himself is an amazing character. He is clearly doing things on the edge of the law, hustling for deals and acting far tougher than he actually is. The moments where Styx shows his softer side are particularly compelling, like the hotdog cookout and seeing him interact with a father figure. Beautifully nuanced, these moments take this book from a madcap summer to a book that speaks deeply about being a child.
A top read of the year, expect to find incredible depth in this novel about friendship and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12.