16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “the Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Jean Rogers, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (9781524720179)
This nonfiction picture book explores the inspiration behind Williams’ most famous poem as well as the life of the poet who wrote it. The book begins with Williams on his doctor’s rounds, noticing the red wheelbarrow that belonged to Mr. Thaddeus Marshall, who works harvesting and selling vegetables in Rutherford, New Jersey. Williams uses his spare time at work writing poems and noticing small things around him. He types between office visits and takes notes as he walks through the town. Then one glimpse out of a window on a rainy day created a moment that inspired one of the greatest poems.
Rogers writes a biography focused on Williams himself and on the inspiring white chickens and red wheelbarrow. She takes time to not only capture that iconic image once but several times on the page, showing how inspiration lingers and returns. She also makes sure to linger on how Williams works writing into his role as the town doctor and how he notices small things that inspire him.
The illustrations are done digitally and feel very organically with pencil and brush lines on each page. The colors are pastel and gentle, encouraging readers to look more closely and linger just as Williams himself was doing.
A nonfiction picture book about writing, poetry and life. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes (9781629798813)
Grimes writes a searing verse memoir of her years growing up with a mother suffering from alcoholism and schizophrenia. Removed from her mother at a young age and separated from her older sister, Grimes found a loving foster family where she discovered the power of writing her feelings and experiences out on paper. She visited her mother occasionally during that time and they were eventually reunited when her mother got sober and remarried. But it wasn’t that simple or easy. Grimes was trapped in a home filled with a cycle of addiction, mental illness and sexual abuse from her stepfather. Told with a strong sense of hope and resilience, this book is a brave look back into a traumatic childhood.
Grimes has created a book that carries readers back into her previous experiences, showing how she survived, how writing helped, and how she found hope and strength in people other than her mother. Grimes has recreated some of her childhood and teen journals which were destroyed. In these small glimpses told in the voice of her youth she shows her confusion and strength vividly.
Throughout the book, Grimes mentions that she doesn’t have clear memories of much of her youth due to the trauma that was inflicted upon her. Her willingness to explore such painful subjects even though her memories are incomplete or entirely gone is a concrete example of her resilient spirit and hope.
A powerful and poetic look at trauma and the building of a new life. Appropriate for ages 16-adult.
Reviewed from ARC provided by WordSong.
Look! I Wrote a Book! (And You Can Too!) by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Neal Layton (9780399558184)
A little girl explains to readers what it takes to write a book. First, you need a “Good Idea” that you can get from all sorts of places, including your own brain or staring out of the window. You have to know what you are talking about in your book and also know who you are writing it for. Grandmothers are a very different audience than kids who like dump trucks. Books for babies should not be incredibly scary. Then you must concentrate and create a plan for your book. A good title is necessary too. Start strong and then fill in the middle. The ending comes last. Share the book with friends, revise as necessary. Create a cover and an “About the Author” page. Then start selling your book, perhaps with cookies as an incentive and if that doesn’t work tying a person to a chair. Maybe it’s time for a sequel?
The best part about this book is that it is a combination of complete silliness and also good information about the steps in writing a book. Lloyd-Jones uses zany humor to really get her point across about writing taking time, creativity and a willingness to revise. Still, the book is also about frightening babies, boring grandparents, tying people up, and being interesting along the way.
The illustrations help tell the story with their clever depictions of the little girl’s imaginative stories. Using a mixture of textures and patterns, they also incorporate collage elements as well. The result is a modern and silly mix that suits the book nicely.
Silly and serious all at once, this really is a book about writing a book where you will giggle along the way. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Grandpa’s Stories by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Allison Colpoys (9781419734984)
A little girl visits her grandfather all through the year. In the spring they walk together in the garden. The girl thinks of replanting her grandpa’s birthdays so he won’t get old. In summer, the two of them play together with a secondhand racing track. The cars fly off into space and the girl thinks of their laughter being like shooting stars. In autumn, her grandpa gives her a book he’s made for her to draw in. She’d like to capture all of her bright feelings about him there. In winter, the two stay inside and Grandpa shares his stories with her. But then her Grandpa dies. While cleaning out his room, she discovers reminders of their time together as well as a new blank notebook that he made her for spring. She fills it with her memories of her Grandpa.
The writing in this book is exceptional. Coelho captures seasonal moments of the pair together, weaving in the joy that they feel, the connection that is being maintained and built. He uses imagery of the little girl’s thoughts to really create sincere memories for her to have that are compelling for the reader as well. When the death in the book happens, it is to be expected as one can feel some sadness in the book throughout as Grandpa ages more. It is a gentle moment, one done with care and thoughtfulness.
The illustrations by Colpoys depict a family of color joyfully spending time together and then experiencing and processing their loss. She uses amazingly bright colors on her pages, incorporating neon-poppy red, zinging sunshine yellow, waves of water blues and many more. Those colors never dim throughout the book, offering hope in their cheerfulness even during times of loss.
A beautifully written and illustrated picture book of love and loss. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.
Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan (9781547600083)
Even though they attend a high school focused on social justice, best friends Chelsea and Jasmine are sick and tired of the way that women are treated there. The two decide to start a Women’s Rights Club that focuses on girls, race, and speaking out. They convince a teacher to be their advisor and are given a school club blog to post to. They post all sorts of things online. Chelsea is a poet who loves to perform in front of audiences. Jasmine writes essays and short pieces on intersectionality and being a black girl of size. Their club starts getting attention both in and outside of their school. But the principal has some issues with their approach and the response of other students to their message. When the club is shut down, the two friends continue to raise their voices together.
Watson and Hagan have created an incredible feminist book for teens. They have incorporated the names and stories of feminists whose writing is worth checking out too, so young people inspired by this book can look further and learn more. The writing is exceptional, particularly the poetry and essays attributed to the two main characters. They cry out for justice on so many fronts that it is entirely inspiring to read.
The authors created two inspiring young women. There is Jasmine, who is grappling with being a large black girl and the constant microaggressions she faces for both her race and size. Her father is dying of cancer while she may be falling for her best male friend. Chelsea is a white girl who stands up for others, calls out for justice, but also makes big mistakes along the way. She is struggling with being a feminist but also being attracted to a boy who is paying attention to her while dating another girl officially. The two grapple with the ideals they hold dear and not being able to attain them, allowing readers to see two human teens doing their best.
Powerful and engaging, this feminist read is written with strength and conviction. Appropriate for ages 12-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Bloomsbury.
King Alice by Matthew Cordell (9781250047496)
Home on a snow day with her family, Alice declares herself “King Alice” and demands that her father plays with her. They settle on making a book together, a story about King Alice and her royal knights. At first, the book is really short, just one chapter. But after her parents suggest that there may be more to the tale, Alice has more ideas. She occasionally takes a break to play with toys but is soon back again creating more chapters. After lunch, the idea is a Unicorn Party in the book but when King Alice gets too enthusiastic and hits her father with her unicorn toy she has to sit in time out. With apologies made, the book and the story continue with new ideas all the way through dinner, bathtime and in bed.
There is such honest on the pages of this picture book. From parents who are loving and also set limits and consequences to Alice’s attention span for a large project like this. It is delightful to have a creative process documented with new ideas taking time but also being immensely exciting. Alice’s parents are involved, but it is also her book done with her father’s support. It’s great when he is caught up in the project and Alice is ready to walk away.
The illustrations are loose and flowing. They show an active family willing to make messes with their daughter. Alice’s book is shown in crayon illustrations and neatly written words by her father.
A creative and imaginative picture book sure to be king of the shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Feiwel and Friends.
For Every One by Jason Reynolds (9781481486248)
This book is a single poem, one that is a clarion call for young creatives to continue their work. Originally performed at the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and then again as a tribute to Walter Dean Myers, this poem is striking and powerful. There is no claim here that Reynolds has the answer to make money at your dream, to be successful at your dream, but there is a demand that you continue to dream and create as a young person. That it is important for you and for the world.
Reynolds shares personal set backs as a young adult, showing how hard it can be to stay on course when your work is not being noticed. Still, he continued and he asks that everyone continue to speak, to share, to be out there and demand to be heard and seen. It is a book about perseverance and resilience, a poem about life, hard knocks and getting up and continuing onward.
This one belongs in every library and every creative writing and art room. It is inspiring and beautiful. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.
Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera (9781536201406)
From the first Mexican-American Poet Laureate of the United States comes this call to become a person who can write and walk at the same time. It’s a book that demands that you record your thoughts, messy and wild and raw. That you use documents to find words, that you draw ideas while on airplanes, that you walk a lot, think a lot, write a lot. That you embrace the voice that is inside you and create. Whatever that creation looks like in all of its “fuzzy, puffy, blue-cheesy, incandescent, brave Jabber!”
Looking for a straight-forward and rule based book on being a writer or creative person? This is not the book you are looking for! Instead this is a book that shows raw creativity, using inspiration from Lewis Carroll and the Jabberwocky, this is a book filled with emotion, encouragement, and acceptance about the way that our human brains work best when creating. It invites readers into a playful world where words are toys, content is loose, and ideas flow freely.
The writing here could initially be seen as too loose and raw. But as you read more and more of the book there is a gorgeous continuum of content throughout the chapters. Soon blue-cheesy starts to make sense and jabberwalking is all you want to do for awhile to see what comes out of your brain too.
Inspiring and incredibly joyous, this book about writing is entirely unexpected. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.
Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge (9781626725003)
The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist author, Mary never knew her mother except through her writings. Sent away as a child to live in Scotland, Mary eventually returned to her family where her stepmother rejected her. Believing firmly in free love and the right for a woman to choose her own life, as a teenager Mary ran off with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who left his wife behind to be with her. But things are not that simple and their lives were filled with Percy’s madness and womanizing. Soon Mary is a pregnant teen, unmarried and disowned by her family. But she does not give in and begins to write her masterpiece of a novel, Frankenstein. She pours all of her grief of losing several children, her love for a man who is unable to commit to anyone, and the wound of the loss of her mother.
This verse novel is pure wonderment. Judge illuminates each page with her illustrations, capturing the emotional anguish that filled many of Mary’s days. A few of the pages are voiced by the monster himself, the typeset crooked and voice uniquely that of the creature. It is beautifully handled, the words crafted to evoke emotion and to show the desperate choices that Mary was forced to make.
In my undergraduate thesis, I read the works of the early feminists and Mary Wollstonecraft was one of those writers. It is fascinating to see how her ideals shine in Mary’s life and yet played out into tragedies at times. The fact that Judge read Mary’s diaries is evident on each page of this book, since Mary’s voice rings so clearly on them and her passion for change, love and creativity shines through the darkness of her life.
A masterful look at one of the greatest works of literature and the woman behind it. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
(Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)