Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of The List of Things That Will Not Change, by Rebecca Stead

Friday, March 5th, 2021

The List of Things That Will Not Change

by Rebecca Stead
read by Rachel L. Jacobs

Listening Library, 2020. 5 hours.
Review written January 26, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
A 2020 Capitol Choices selection

When Bea’s parents got divorced, they gave her a green notebook with a list of things that will not change. The first two things on the list are that her parents will love her more than anything, always. Bea goes back and forth between their homes in a regular schedule, knowing she’s always got a home with each of them. The list has grown in the years since then.

Now her dad and Jesse are getting married, and Bea gets to help plan the wedding. What’s more, Jesse’s daughter, who is Bea’s age, is coming out from California to visit. The wedding means that Bea will finally get to have a sister! But is her new sister as excited about that as Bea is? And why do some friends and relatives seem so upset about the wedding?

This is a sweet story of a loving family from the eyes of a ten-year-old navigating changes, while still being secure in the knowledge that some things will never change.

rebeccastead.com
rhcbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Solving for M, by Jennifer Swender

Sunday, February 28th, 2021

Solving for M

by Jennifer Swender
illustrations by Jennifer Naalchigar

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 243 pages.
Review written January 27, 2021, from a library book
2020 Mathical Book Prize Award Winner, Ages 8-10

This book begins with Mika starting middle school in 5th grade and wondering why her math teacher insists on them keeping a math journal. She doesn’t think of herself as a numbers person, but as an art person. Still, her art teacher tells them “Drawing isn’t in the 5th grade curriculum” and instead they make collages from found objects. She does more drawing in math class than in art class.

And the book takes us through Mika’s year with the unconventional math teacher, new friends, and pages from Mika’s math journal, which mostly give a nice visual explanation of math concepts. Mika’s mother, unfortunately, has a medical incident and may have cancer, and then that cancer may have spread, so when Mika thinks about probability, that’s what’s on her mind.

I’m not sure I would have liked having to do a math journal instead of just solving problems when I was in 5th grade. But this makes a nice book for kids who don’t, actually, think of themselves as numbers people. It shows how much math is part of life. And Mika’s story is a good one, trying to cope with her mother’s diagnosis and make new friends with her former best friend assigned to a different pod.

There is, alas, one error in the portrayed journal pages! The book is so good except for that!

When the class is talking about subsets, Mika draws pictures of various sets and subsets. These are shown on pages 135 and 136. In the first one, she’s got a picture of her Mom in a Melanoma Support Group. Set A = Mom, old guy 1, old guy 2, old guy 3, old guy 4. Then she’s got new brackets around the picture of her mother and says Set B = Mom.

But alas! In the subset notation, it says that A is a subset of B, instead of what it should be, the other way around! This has strong potential to confuse lots of kids. It’s the *only* math mistake in the book, and not a major plot point, and I really really really hope they will fix it in subsequent printings. Once that mistake is put right, it’s a wonderful book that kids will enjoy and that might open their minds about math!

I admit, I’m surprised it won a Mathical Prize with that error in there. Though the library tends to buy early printings, so maybe it did get fixed? And it’s one tiny error and they shouldn’t hold against it the beautiful demonstration of how math is part of life and artists can help make that understandable. Also, I’m sure the committee appreciated the bigger picture that this book shows that it doesn’t take some kind of natural-born genius to enjoy and appreciate math.

jacobsandswender.com
rhcbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Black Brother, Black Brother, by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Thursday, February 25th, 2021

Black Brother, Black Brother

by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 239 pages.
Review written January 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Donte and Trey are brothers in a biracial family. Trey has white skin and looks like their dad. Donte has black skin and looks like their lawyer mom. They both attend a Middlefield Prep, with Trey a couple years ahead of Donte, who’s in middle school. Trey is far more popular than Donte.

As the book opens, Donte is sitting in the principal’s office, waiting to be punished for something he didn’t actually do. When they won’t even listen to his side and he gets angry, the police are called and Donte is arrested and taken from the school in handcuffs.

Donte’s mother is a lawyer. She’s going to go farther with his case. But Donte is especially angry at Alan, the kid who threw the pencil, a kid who’s blatantly racist. That kid is also the star of the fencing team.

Then Donte learns that a black Olympic fencer lives nearby and works at a Boys and Girls Club in Boston. Donte decides to learn to fence, in hopes of beating Alan at his own game.

The book is good at explaining the art of fencing to the reader – the mind game aspects as well as the physical aspects. We’re rooting for Donte as he learns to look beyond personal vengeance and think about how to work for justice.

It’s not a long story, but it grips the reader, and points out some contemporary issues. In a note at the back, the author mentions some awful stories of black children being arrested at school for minor offenses. I hope the book itself will help open eyes and open hearts.

lbyr.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Echo Mountain, by Lauren Wolk

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

Echo Mountain

by Lauren Wolk

Dutton Children’s Books, 2019. 356 pages.
Review written January 9, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Set in Maine in 1934, about a family who left to live on Echo Mountain after their money ran out in the Great Depression, here’s how the book begins:

The first person I saved was a dog.

My mother thought he was dead, but he was too young to die, just born, still wet and glossy, beautiful really, but not breathing.

Ellie ended up plunging the puppy into a barrel of water, and he revived and she gave him back to his mother. But that puppy had a special place in her heart.

So after that success, Ellie starts getting ideas about how she could wake up her father, who has been in a coma for months, after a tree fell on him. They had a doctor come, but the doctor offered no help. Ellie thinks that quiet and lullabies are the wrong approach. Maybe a shock, like the cold water on the puppy, will do the trick.

She doesn’t consult with her mother or big sister in this planning, and when she starts carrying out her plans, they aren’t too happy. At the same time, when she ventures up the mountain, she meets someone else who needs help – but who also knows a thing or two about medicine.

A fun part of this book was the different remedies Ellie and others try. It turns out I didn’t know much about medical knowledge in 1934. I had no idea that honey helps a wound to heal – or how you would get honey if you needed it, on a mountain without any money.

It was also a lovingly drawn picture of a poor community, using barter and ingenuity to get along, but the toll it took on a woman to run a home while her husband was unconscious. And then her daughter tries crazy ideas to help! (One of Ellie’s ideas was to put a non-poisonous snake in her father’s bed. She figured when he heard her sister scream, he’d want to help her so much, he’d wake up.)

This book did remind me of Lauren Wolk’s other books. They all have quirky, thoughtful characters that you come to love.

penguin.com/middle-grade

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Twins, by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright

Friday, February 19th, 2021

Twins

written by Varian Johnson
illustrated by Shannon Wright

Graphix (Scholastic), 2020. 252 pages.
Review written January 26, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Maureen and her twin Francine have reached middle school, and Maureen’s dismayed that they only have two classes together. But Francine starts going by Fran and seems to be relishing doing things apart from Maureen. She’s getting new friends in chorus and even decides to run for class president.

Maureen is nervous about doing so much on her own and finding her own way. Then in Cadets, Maureen learns she can get extra credit by running for office. Francine doesn’t even seem to care, so she impulsively decides to run for president, too. Will that finally get her twin’s attention again?

There are plenty of excellent graphic novels about navigating the way friendships change in middle school. This one has the additional spark of dealing with a friendship between twins. Varian Johnson is a twin himself, so even though the story isn’t autobiographical, he knows how to capture the connection between twins. This book is sure to be wildly popular, and deservedly so.

varianjohnson.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Saturday, February 13th, 2021

Mañanaland

by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Scholastic Press, 2020. 247 pages.
Review written March 6, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#11 Children’s Fiction

This lovely book tells the story of a boy growing into the legacy of his family of helping people in need.

Here’s how the book begins:

Somewhere in the Américas, many years after once-upon-a-time and long before happily-ever-after, a boy climbed the cobbled steps of an arched bridge in the tiny village of Santa Maria, in the country of the same name.

He bounced a fútbol on each stone ledge.

In the land of a hundred bridges, this was his favorite. When he was only a baby, Papá, a master stonemason and bridge builder, had carved his name on the spandrel wall for all to see

MAXIMILIANO CÓRDOBA

Max is twelve years old and ready this year to join Santa Maria’s famous fútbol team. He also ready for more responsibility and more freedom, like going to another town for a free fútbol clinic with his friends, but his Papá is overprotective and won’t let him go. Papá is also full of secrets, and never talks about Max’s mother, who left when Max was a baby.

In this book, Max discovers many family secrets and is placed in a situation where he must rise to the occasion and follow the family tradition of helping others.

I like the little blend of fantasy in this book, with a beginning like a fairy tale. The setting is fictional, but there’s a country troubled by war and oppression over the nearby border. Max and his grandfather like to tell stories, though his Papá is more of a realist and doesn’t seem to believe in happy endings any more. But Max discovers that some of the stories are hiding important truths.

I also like the tower standing over the town, a tower like a giant queen from a chessboard. The picture on the cover added to Max’s thinking of her as a giant lady watching over the town and its people.

This book had just the right blend of mystery, danger, adventure, and hope.

scholastic.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Stepping Stones, by Lucy Knisley

Sunday, February 7th, 2021

Stepping Stones

by Lucy Knisley

RH Graphic, 2020. 218 pages.
Review written July 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#10 Children’s Fiction

It’s a winning formula: A graphic novel about a kid navigating middle school, based on the author’s own life. After all, there’s so much material in our lives at that age for humor and pathos.

Stepping Stones doesn’t include any scenes at school, but it’s based on what the author went through at that age. Jen’s parents have split up. Jen’s mom is following her dream and moving to a farm in the country with her boyfriend. The author sets us up concisely by showing Jen in a room surrounded by boxes making a list of things she misses about the city and things she HATES about the farm.

The number one thing Jen hates is the chores. And right away we see the adults telling her how much they expect as they set up a chicken coop and get ready for their order of chicks to arrive. They’re going to be Jen’s responsibility. And at the Farmer’s Market booth, she’s expected to help – even though doing the calculations to make change is a challenge.

But things get extra interesting when Jen’s mom’s boyfriends’ two daughters start coming to the farm every weekend. Andy, the girl who’s Jen’s age, is a big know-it-all and bosses Jen around. When Jen complains, she’s called a Drama Queen.

The summer goes on and we watch a family forming before our eyes. Everyone does have their annoying quirks, but they find ways to connect and come together, and they all have contributions to make for the success of the farm.

I hope that the kids who’ve loved Raina Telgemeier’s and Victoria Jamieson’s and Jerry Craft’s books will find Lucy Knisley’s as well. It’s a warm and humorous graphic novel about farming and stepfamilies and new experiences.

lucyknisley.com
RHKidsGraphic.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Before the Ever After, by Jacqueline Woodson, read by Guy Lockard

Friday, January 29th, 2021

Before the Ever After

by Jacqueline Woodson
read by Guy Lockard

Listening Library, 2020. 2 hours, 15 minutes on eaudio
Review written January 4, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2021 Capitol Choices selection
2021 Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Children’s Fiction

This is a novel in verse written from the perspective of twelve-year-old ZJ, talking about his Dad, a professional football player.

His Dad is a star, with a Super Bowl ring. Or at least he was – before. When ZJ goes through his memories, we learn that his Dad was also a wonderful, active, loving father. He did lots of things with ZJ and ZJ’s friends.

But then one day, he didn’t play a game they expected him to play. He started getting awful headaches, forgetting their names, and acting strangely. And they didn’t know what was going on. Different doctors had different ideas, but nothing was working.

The way the book covers “Before,” your heart breaks with ZJ when his Daddy starts to change.

Normally, I think I enjoy novels in verse more by seeing the poetry with my own eyes. It’s easier to catch what the author’s doing. In this case, I did enjoy listening to the warm voice of the narrator, and I did figure out it was a novel in verse before I looked at the book.

This is a heartbreaking tribute from a kid to his dad.

jacquelinewoodson.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Catherine’s War, by Julia Billet and Claire Fauvel

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

Catherine’s War

by Julia Billet and Claire Fauvel
translation by Ivanka Hahnenberger

HarperAlley, 2020. Originally published in 2017 in France. 168 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 5, 2020, from a library book
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Children’s Fiction

Catherine’s War is a graphic novel about a Jewish girl living in France during World War II. Rachel lives at a progressive school where she gets a wonderful education and discovers a passion for photography.

But rules change in France, and Jews are ordered to wear a yellow star. The teachers in the school tell the Jewish children that they’re getting new names. Rachel becomes Catherine Colin. And then the school is no longer a safe place for them, so Catherine and her Jewish classmates are sent out to families in France who will hide them.

But that is one of many escapes Catherine must make, going from place to place, trying to keep from being detected by the Nazis. But through her entire journey, she brings the camera given to her by the man who taught her photography.

Notes at the back talk about Occupied and Free France and about the Resistance. The entire book is based on the experience of the author’s mother during the war, and some actual teachers at her mother’s school are named in the book, with photos at the back.

This graphic novel is lovely to look at, too, and gives a memorable and moving reading experience.

harperalley.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Wink, by Rob Harrell

Thursday, January 14th, 2021

Wink

by Rob Harrell

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. 315 pages.
Review written July 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Children’s Fiction

Wink is about a middle school kid named Ross who’s dealing with cancer in his eye. And believe it or not, the author makes that funny.

Ross has a rare type of cancer that matches the kind the author himself dealt with. He has a series of treatments that means he has to wear hats and gooey ointment and of course start losing his hair. And that starts happening when he’s holding the cafeteria tray of the girl he has a crush on.

There’s definitely a very serious side to this book, but Ross does find ways to cope with the help of friends old and new, with cartoons, and then with music, as he learns to play the guitar and finds an unlikely person to make music with.

I’ve got a little four-year-old niece with leukemia who just lost her hair. She’s going to be okay, but after reading this book, I found myself extremely glad that she’s not in school yet. Let alone in middle school. Ross’s humiliations and difficulties are so relatable in this book, because going through middle school is hard enough, but dealing with cancer treatments, too, gives you all kinds of sympathy – which makes you relate to another problem he has of being completely tired of everyone’s sympathy and attention.

Ross’s mother died of cancer years before this book. (Really? Did the author have to pile on like that? But like I said, Ross has all our sympathy.) He’s got a stepmother who does her best to be loving and supportive. Everyone, in fact, is trying to be helpful and supportive. But sometimes Ross wants to be left alone. And then his best friend has some problems of her own and Ross doesn’t even notice at first.

I didn’t make this book sound as funny as it manages to be. It’s a light-hearted look at a very serious situation. And pulls that off with flair.

robharrell.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?