The author of Fake Blood returns with another fantastical graphic novel. Vega’s parents have moved her from Portland to Seattle, leaving behind her best friend. Vega loves astronomy, something she shared with her best friend. She still has her telescope, but no one to watch the stars with. To help her transition to her new home, Vega’s parents send her off to a summer camp designed to help her make new friends. Vega isn’t interested in making new friends, so she is stand offish to the other kids. As things around camp get stranger, including a camper who changes his appearance regularly to try to make friends, rocks that are speakers, no cellphone service, and really strange food, Vega must join forces with the other campers to figure out what is actually going on.
Gardner’s middle-grade graphic novel is a genuine look at moving away from friends and the struggle to regain your footing and make new ones. Gardner though takes it much farther explaining the weirdness of all summer camp experiences in a fresh way. When all is revealed at the end of the book, readers will have the satisfaction of having figured it out along with Vega and the other characters. The pacing of the different elements is nicely done as is the consistent look at loneliness and friendship throughout.
Gardner’s art style is bold and clear. She offers readers a diverse cast of characters, including Vega herself who is a character of color and also has two fathers for parents. The format feels larger than most with some of the images taking up the entire page with great impact. The entire book feels effortlessly modern.
A perfect summer read, particularly for those who have done summer camps. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Sunrise Summer by Matthew Swanson, illustrated by Robbi Behr (9781250080585)
A family heads to Alaska for the summer, traveling 4000 miles to get there. This summer, the girl narrating the story will get to join the fishing crew for the first time. She will pull ropes, twist anchor poles and fetch water. The girl and her mother watch the river, waiting for the salmon to come. Meanwhile, the family keeps busy with necessary repairs, mending nets, and listening to the fishing reports on the radio. The tides say that fishing should start at 4 am, so the family gets up a 2:30 am to head out. They dress up in rubber waders, long gloves and woolly hats. They face wind, rain and high waves as they head out to fish. At 4 am, the nets are dragged into the water and it’s her job to tie the net to the rope, but it’s much harder with the tide pulling, a wet rope and slick mud underfoot. The whole crew helps out, until finally it’s time to remove the salmon from the nets by hand. Then they get shipped all over the world.
Based on Robbi’s own personal experience as a young girl spending summers in Alaska as part of a commercial fishing operation, this picture book is full of details that only someone who has lived it would know. From bumping into bears on the beach to the troubles of taut ropes to the immense pride in being included in the family business, all of this adds to the joy of a girl participating on a fishing team for the first time. The writing is focused and brief, making the book perfect for sharing aloud. The focus is on facing a new experience with family by your side and realizing with pride that this is what we do.
The art is digitally done with watercolor washes across the sky and collaged elements that have the characters popping with black outlines against the backgrounds. The depiction of the beauty of the Alaskan tundra is particularly of note as well as the clear family support among everyone.
A unique and fascinating lifestyle that is worth smelling like fish. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
On their annual beach vacation, a teen and her family experience an unusual summer. It’s a summer of time spent sailing and swimming. A summer full of competitive tennis games, shared meals, and naps. It was also a summer of new love, hot crushes, and strange boys. It was the summer when the Godden brothers arrived. Kit was the golden brother, impossibly handsome and entirely intoxicating when he turned his attention on you. Hugo was the darkness to his brother’s shine, the surliness to his charm. As the narrator watches, her sister and Kit become involved, flirting at first and then becoming more and more. What should be just a summer fling has an underpinning of unease and manipulation, just in time for Kit to turn his attention to the narrator who by now should know better. But even then, he has more chaos to create.
Printz Medal winner, Rosoff has created a slim volume that is impossible to put down. It has the languid and flowing feel of Kit himself, drawing readers in with promises of summer fun and then turning into something quite unusual, dark and menacing. The book is a great coming-of-age story where readers get to see a young woman realize what is happening around her and yet not quite be able to stop it from engulfing her as well. The narrator is never named, but all is seen and felt through her own experiences, making it an intensely personal read.
The writing is exceptional. Rosoff quietly and carefully seeds doubts with the words she chooses to use in describing the characters, the things that the narrator sees, and the questions that she has deep down. Rosoff situates us all with a rather unreliable narrator, who sees her siblings and family in a specific way, then along with the reader has new realizations about them and what that means.
Sun drenched, threatening and vibrantly feminist this is a triumph of a book. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
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.