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.)
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (9780062662804)
Released March 6, 2018.
Xiomara feels completely unheard and smothered by her mother’s high expectations, particularly those around church and confirmation. She knows how to use her fists to settle arguments, often coming to the defense of her twin brother. She ignores the lewd glances of the men around her who react to her curves far too often. Xiomara’s mother refuses to allow her to date, so when she catches her daughter kissing someone, there are real consequences. Still, Xiomara continues to find her voice. She asks questions at confirmation and eventually joins the school’s poetry club. Xiomara’s passion for words, slam poetry and speaking out won’t stay hidden from her mother for much longer.
Written by a famed slam poet, this book is ferociously written, taking life and putting it on the page with an honesty that almost hurts. The entire verse novel is beautifully written and each poem is a study in how to capture a moment in time with clarity. There are some poems that shine, the anger burning so brightly that they can’t be ignored. They beg to be read aloud into a microphone.
Xiomara’s character is complex and amazing. She is a girl just finding her voice, emerging from the huge shadow her mother has cast and finding her own way forward. She is a mix of sensuality, verse and anger that is completely intoxicating.
One of the best verse novels I have ever read, this one deserves a standing ovation. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.
Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins (9781484731628, Amazon)
Rupert the mouse has decided to create a wordless picture book. Unfortunately though, his friends just keep making noise and ruining everything. The two other mice even talk about not talking and keeping the book wordless. They try to help make strong illustrations, but don’t quite understand the concept. Then they start bringing new ideas into the illustrations: vegetarian vegetables, potatoes, superheroes, and even some high brow art. They try miming because they know that is silent, but it still doesn’t stop them chatting. Rupert finally loses it in the end with hilarious results.
This book is so funny that it will have readers laughing out loud. Higgins, author of Mother Bruce, has a great sense of comedic timing, adding just the right commentary by the mice at the best moments. The series of different illustrations is wonderfully funny as are Rupert’s reactions to the other mice. There is a natural quality to their conversations that make it all the more believable that they simply are unaware they are still talking to one another.
The illustrations are exactly what one would look for in an artistic picture book that is wordless, which makes the premise all the more funny. Set in a lush natural area, there are woods, running brooks and other elements. The three mice are cleverly drawn, each distinct from one another in color and attitude.
This is a natural read aloud that will be a wild one to share with a preschool group. Brace yourself for lots of laughs. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Dear Dragon by Josh Funk, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo (InfoSoup)
At two different schools, two boys are assigned to be penpals with one another. Their letters have to be written in rhyme. The boys start by talking about the assignment and school and then quickly move on to what they enjoy doing and their families. What the boys don’t know though is that George is a human and Blaise is a dragon. As each boy misinterprets the clues that the other is giving them about how different they are, a picnic approaches where the penpals are going to meet. What happens when the class of humans and the class of dragons finally meet one another? Success!
Funk cleverly uses fantasy to speak about how we see differences between one another. His use of dragons and the intelligent way that he hides the truth while all the while revealing it too makes for a fun book to share. This would be a great book to offer to children who are starting their own penpal assignments and also offers an opportunity for any child to see how things can be misunderstood even when they are stated clearly. It also speaks to our ability to think that people are just like us and the ability to see beyond physical differences and to the person (or dragon) inside.
The illustrations are playful and bright. They capture the ways that the two boys are meaning their messages. So one image is the way that the writer intended the message to be read and the other is thought bubbles for how the message is being interpreted by the reader. There is plenty of action and drama imagined about simple messages and then in reverse there are dramatic scenes that are completely misunderstood and downplayed.
Funny and clever, this picture book demonstrates that humans can see beyond green scales to the pal underneath. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (InfoSoup)
Finley’s parents are having trouble, so they decide that it is best that she spend the summer with her grandparents even though Finley has never met them before. Something happened that made her father leave the family and not speak to his mother again. Finley struggles with “blue days” where she can barely get out of bed and doesn’t have any energy at all. Other days, she spends writing about Everwood, an imaginary land that has parallels to the real world. When she arrives at her grandparents’ home, she realizes that Everwood is a real place and it is right behind their house, complete with a half-destroyed house, villainous pirates, and a trustworthy knight to share her adventures. As Finley and her cousins go deeper into the fantasy world, the truth begins to surface about what happened years ago to their parents and grandparents.
Legrand has created an intensely gorgeous book here that is complex and multi-layered. Finley’s writing about Everwood is interspersed throughout the book so readers can see the detailed and wondrous world she has created. Readers will also clearly see the ties between Finley’s life and what is happening in Everwood. The whole book is a testament to writing that balances strength of vision with a delicacy of execution that allows those ideas to grow and come alive. The relationships of the adults in the book also supports this with various personalities stepping out at different times. There is a humanity to the adults here, a fragility that lets young readers glimpse the truth in pieces before it is revealed.
Finley’s depression and anxiety in particular are captured with sensitivity and grace. It is shown as a part of her personality, not the only characteristic and not one that overwhelms her constantly. Rather it is a factor in her life, one that doesn’t stop her from bonding with her cousins or being creative and imaginative. This is a book that shows that mental illness may impact your life but not destroy it and that there is power in honesty and getting help.
A deep book filled with the magic of imagination, new-found family and one large woods. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead (InfoSoup)
Stead captures a day in search of a story to write. He takes a walk with his dog named Wednesday since it’s a sunny day. They greet Frank, a turtle who lives near the bridge. They wave to Barbara a neighbor who owns the home where the author used to live and where he dropped blue paint in the shape of a horse. Ducks float by. Trains rush past. They walk through town and listen to the birds and watch the blue sky. Wednesday chases a squirrel back to Barbara’s house where they have coffee together. And soon a story has been found.
This is a treasure of a picture book. It offers a glimpse into the writing process, into the importance of getting outside and taking a walk. It shows how little things turn into stories and become big ideas. It also shows the author as a product of his personal landscape, whether that is filled with a story based firmly in reality like this one or one that is more fantastical or whimsical.
Stead’s illustrations are a rich mix of media. There are photographs of Wednesday combined with collage, painting and printed words. Some of the paintings have gorgeous textures that remind me of stencils or the roughness of stamping. The entire book sings with invention and inspiration.
A perfect leaping off point for young writers, this book shows that not only can any idea become a story but ideas can become great picture books too. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers
Released September 29, 2015.
A new book from the author of The Big Wet Balloon, this graphic novel for young readers encourages creating your own books. Henrietta has a new box of colored pencils and sets out to create her own book with help from her cat, Fellini. It becomes a tale of a brave girl named Henrietta who discovers a three-headed monster in her wardrobe. The wardrobe turns out to be a magic one, leading to a labyrinth filled with clothes. They search for a hat for the one head of the monster that doesn’t have one to wear. But when they find a hat they also discover another monster, this one has one head and three hats. How will they escape?
Liniers is a well-known Argentinian cartoonist. This book embraces the creative work of children, nicely capturing the simple story arc of a child as well as the colorful and loose art style. The creative process is also captured with asides from Henrietta to Fellini that show her having problems at times coming up with new ideas and at other times having problems with the continuation of the story line after something dramatic happens. It’s a clever way to demonstrate the hurdles of creativity and story writing without lecturing.
The art is wonderful. Linier uses two clearly different styles in the book, one for Henrietta’s real world and the other for her written story. The real world ones are quieter and more realistic while the story is zany. It is filled with scribbles, colors, and really looks as if a creative child could have done it. The result is a book where the real world pieces are clearly different than the story, avoiding any confusion at all.
A solid graphic novel for young readers, children with dreams of writing their own books will love this journey through creativity. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from TOON Books.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate
Released September 1, 2015.
George’s family were slaves in North Carolina. Though he loved words, George was not allowed to learn to read. But he listened when the white children did their ABCs and then got himself an old spelling book along with a book from his mother and taught himself how to read. He read everything that he could find, but loved poems most of all. He spent his workdays composing poems in his head, though he didn’t know how to write them down. Soon after, his family was split apart and he was sent to live on another farm. He worked in the fields and was sent to Chapel Hill to sell fruit and vegetables to the students. While there, he started to share his poetry aloud. The students loved his words and helped him by giving him more books to read and paying him to write poems for them. He was also taught to write his poems down and soon had his writing published in newspapers. George could then negotiate with his master to pay him for his time away from the farm where he could write. As George created the best life he could while still living a slave, the country was changing and a war for freedom was about to be fought. It was a war that would free George finally and allow him to continue writing but this time a free man.
Tate captures the life and times of this remarkable man with a tone of wonder at times. What Horton managed to do in his lifetime under slavery is amazing and a sign of the quality of the words he wielded so well. As readers watch Horton grow up and then fight for his freedom in his own way, with words, they will be devastated when he continues to be a slave despite his best efforts. Even the work of others on his behalf could not get him free.
Tate’s illustrations are exceptional. One can see the yearning for education on Horton’s face as he watches the white children learn to read. Tate also makes sure that Horton’s image shines on the page. He is regularly lit from outside lights of candles and the sun, creating a light around him. The illustrations also show North Carolina in the mid-1800s and Chapel Hill in particular. Tate also incorporates some of Horton’s poems into the illustrations, allowing them to flow past visually.
This is a choice nonfiction picture book that shows the strength of one man, his intelligence and the power of his words. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Peachtree Publishers and Netgalley.
Billy’s Booger by William Joyce (InfoSoup)
This memoir in picture book format celebrates the creativity of a child destined to become an author. William has trouble at school. He wishes math were as much fun as the comics in the newspaper. He wants to play invented sports in gym instead of the normal ones. Notes are sent home from school. Then along comes a creative writing contest and William is very excited. He works and works on his entry. It’s title is Billy’s Booger and it’s all about a booger in his nose that gets super powers. But when the prizes are given out, Billy doesn’t win any of them, not even honorable mention. He is devastated and starts to act like everyone else. When he’s returning all of the book he used for research for his own book, he hears laughter in the library and heads over to investigate. A group of kids is reading his book and the librarian tells him that out of all of the entries in the contest, his is the most popular! He may not have won the actual prizes, but got something even better.
Joyce tells the story with a wonderful tone. He explains the earlier time when he grew up and children played outside rather than at playdates, when there were only three channels on the TV, and when funnies in the paper were a huge part of your day. It is a memoir about a kid who doesn’t quite fit into the school mold. It’s less about the grownups and how they dealt with him, though that is there in the background and more about him as a child and what he loved to do even then. It’s a testament to following your dream, to doing what you love and what you have always loved.
The illustrations are done in Joyce’s signature style, one that embraces vintage elements but also shines with a modern feel too. My favorite part of the book was the insert with William’s book in it. Happily, the pages are made from construction paper that feels so different in your hand. When I turned the page and saw it I cheered aloud. It is such a change from the finished and lovely illustrations in the rest of the book to move to these rougher drawings and paper. What an important element to embrace.
Fans of Joyce will love this glimpse of him as a child and it may inspire children to try their own hands at writing. Get this funny book out when creative writing projects are coming to help inspire really creative responses. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.