Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of Darius the Great Deserves Better, by Adib Khorram

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

Darius the Great Deserves Better

by Adib Khorram

Dial Books, 2020. 342 pages.
Review written August 31, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I was delighted when I heard this book was coming out. Its predecessor, Darius the Great Is Not Okay came out during my Newbery year, when I was reading everything, so I compared it with lots of other books, and still named it my #3 Sonderbooks Stand-out in General Teen Fiction for that year. In the first book, Darius is dealing with depression in the context of bullying and trouble getting along with his father. Then the family makes an extended trip to Iran to see the grandparents he’s never met, because his Babou is dying of cancer. In Iran, he feels like he fits in even less, but makes his first true friend, ever.

In that book, the reader is pretty sure Darius is gay, but it’s never explicitly stated, and Darius hasn’t put it into so many words. This book begins as Darius is with his boyfriend getting a haircut to match the other guys on his soccer team.

So Darius came out as gay in between books, though he hasn’t told his grandparents in Iran. Relationship issues are a big part of this book, and Darius’s boyfriend wants to have sex, but Darius isn’t ready. This involves discussion of body parts that I don’t even have, so I didn’t relate to it quite as much as the first book, but I still love Darius and his over-willingness to examine his feelings. Because a book narrator who examines his feelings makes the reader realize their own feelings are not so unusual.

Darius is getting along better with his father, but his family is under stress because of the money they spent to go to Iran, and they’re working extra hours. So they decide to have his father’s parents come stay with them – Oma and Grandma. Darius hoped they would have some insight into being queer, but they aren’t very forthcoming. I was interested when I found out that Oma is a transgender woman, and she didn’t come out as transgender until after her grandson Darius was born.

It’s hard to explain why these books are so heart-warming. Darius is someone I can’t help caring about. He’s so authentic, and cries much more often than he’d like to. In this book he’s dealing with romantic problems, which are perhaps more typical problems for an American teen. He handles them with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, but also enough mistakes that you root for this kid.

The cover does give away that there will be some romantic decisions to make, but they didn’t show up in the way I expected. And it does point out that romantic quandaries are universal, whether you’re gay or straight. I hope this isn’t the last book about Darius the Great.

adibkhorram.com
PenguinTeen.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 I Can Be Anything, by Shinsuke Yoshitake

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

I Can Be Anything

by Shinsuke Yoshitake

Chronicle Books, 2020. Originally published in Japan in 2016. 52 pages.
Review written July 8, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

When I saw this book, I expected a trite message trying to be inspirational about how a child can be anything they want to be. That’s not what this book is about.

No, this is a story of an imaginative little girl putting off bedtime despite her very tired mother.

As the book begins, we see the girl jumping up and down.

Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!

I have a really good idea!

Oh, really? It’s time to go to sleep.

I’ll pretend to be something and you’ll guess what it is!

OK . . . Now don’t get angry if I make a mistake.

The little girl proceeds to pretend to be various things. From a pot and a clothespin to a overcooked broccoli and various kinds of aliens. The mother doesn’t get any of them right. And the choices are so random, and the drawings of the little girl so silly, they make me laugh.

The mother doesn’t get even one of her guesses right, and the girl does eventually get cross about it.
How does it end? The girl falls asleep while pretending to be something. We never do find out what she was that time.

This is a delightfully particular story completely the opposite of the generalized pablum I expected from that title. It might just kick off a game with your own imaginative preschooler, and at least the mother in the book gives you cover if you’re not very good at guessing.

chroniclekids.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 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 We Used to Be Friends, by Amy Spalding

Friday, August 21st, 2020

We Used to Be Friends

by Amy Spalding

Amulet Books, 2020. 362 pages.
Review written March 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is ultimately a sad book. It’s about the Senior year in high school of two lifelong best friends and how by the end of the year, they weren’t friends any more.

However, although I’m not generally a fan of sad books these days – I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this one. The story is gripping and you get to understand who the girls really are and how this could have happened, even though it wasn’t what either of them wanted.

I hope that a lesson readers will take away from the book is that people who love you can’t read your mind if you don’t tell them what’s going on, but also that you probably need to be receptive. Anyway, it’s not a book about lessons – but it’s a book with friendship dynamics that seem very real, so don’t be surprised if readers pick up some insights.

The story is told out of chronological order, in a way that makes you very eager to know how each part happened. The chapters alternate the perspectives of the two girls, and the book opens with James (one of the girls) headed off to college, wishing Kat were there to say good-by. And then we scoop back to the beginning of the year, when Kat found out her boyfriend had slept with another girl. It’s not too many chapters in when Kat replaces him with a girlfriend.

The skipping around keeps things intriguing. I was honestly amazed that the author pulled off the non-chronological order. I did go back and read the first chapter after reading the last one. Right at the beginning, James mentions that they wrote letters and put them in a time capsule four years ago – “back before Kat’s mom died, or my mom left.” We find out more about those things later in the book.

This is a novel about friendship in high school. And life. And pressures. And secrets you never meant to be secrets. And popularity. And how you care about people. It’s refreshing and it’s fun, besides being touching. And Amy Spalding tells a really good story.

theamyspalding.com
amuletbooks.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 Madame Badobedah, by Sophie Dahl, illustrated by Lauren O’Hara

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Madame Badobedah

by Sophie Dahl
illustrated by Lauren O’Hara

Walker Books, 2020. First published in the United Kingdom in 2019. 52 pages.
Review written August 8, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Madame Badobedah (rhymes with ooh-la-la) is a picture book, but it’s on the long side and has three parts, so it’s more for young elementary school students than the usual preschool picture book crowd. Those who can settle into the story will be completely charmed, as I was.

Our narrator, a little girl named Mabel, lives in a Bed and Breakfast, the Mermaid Hotel. The book begins on a day when they get a new guest, an old lady who comes with two dogs, two cats, a tortoise on a cushion, and 32 suitcases. She gets installed in the Mermaid suite on the top floor.

Mabel, who likes to do a little spying, quickly determines that Madame Badobedah (the name Mabel has for her) is a villainess on the run after her jewel heists. After all, the bag Mabel carried for her was so heavy, she knew it contained gold bars. Madame Badobedah doesn’t go out much, and Mabel does some surveillance through the keyhole.

But one day, Madame Badobedah invites Mabel in, and they have tea together. These visits become more common, until Mabel is even willing to share the secret of the Mermaid Room.

We end up with a charming and imaginative story about an intergenerational friendship, one which brings joy to both participants.

walkerbooksus.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 The One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate

Saturday, July 25th, 2020

The One and Only Bob

by Katherine Applegate
read by Danny DeVito

HarperCollins, 2020. 4 hours.
Review written July 25, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

The One and Only Bob is a sequel to Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan. It doesn’t pack as much of a punch as the first book, but I’m glad it doesn’t. Because the first book had the characters fighting a bad situation, and I don’t want these beloved characters up against injustice again.

This time, though, they’re up against a hurricane. The little dog Bob, wonderfully voiced with attitude by Danny DeVito, was with his humans visiting Ivan at the zoo when a hurricane and then a tornado struck. Bob didn’t stay with the humans – in fact, he flew through the air. In the story that follows, Bob is involved both in rescuing other animals and in being rescued. He also does some coming to terms with his past.

I thought the summary of what went on in the first book went on a little long. Surely it’s safe to assume that anyone reading this book has read the earlier book. However, once it got past that, Bob’s a fun dog to hang out with. There’s a glossary of doggy terms at the front which have a very believably doggy attitude. The fact that Bob and Ivan used to watch the Weather Channel on Ivan’s little TV at the mall means that Bob believably knows quite a bit about hurricanes.

There were some coincidences, yes. But it all makes for a fun story, and it’s great to spend time again with Bob, Ivan, Ruby, and their humans. We root for resourceful, though small Bob as he takes on a hurricane.

katherineapplegate.com

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Review of The Gravity of Us, by Phil Stamper

Friday, July 24th, 2020

The Gravity of Us

by Phil Stamper
narrated by Michael Crouch

Listening Library, 2020. 9 hours, 21 minutes.
Starred Review
Review written June 26, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

Here’s a story of Cal, a teen who already had a large social media following on “Flash Fame” and plans to be a journalist, who has his whole life uprooted when his father is chosen to be an astronaut for NASA’s mission to Mars.

The whole mission has its own reality show, Star Watch, which is basically responsible for the fact that the project got funding in the first place. But Cal is uneasy about their lives going under a magnifying glass when they have to leave New York City for his father’s opportunity and go to Houston.

Cal knew all about the other astronaut families from Star Watch, so he already knew that Leo was incredibly handsome. But he didn’t know that Leo’s sister follows his Flash Fame posts and Leo thinks he’s cute. Their romance makes Cal begin to think Houston might not be so bad.

But as Calvin comes into conflict with Star Watch and their coverage turns more negative, can Calvin use his own following to turn things around?

This story was engaging and wonderful to listen to. I enjoyed that nobody batted an eye or made a big deal about the boys’ gay romance, and it was a nice romance with believable obstacles and misunderstandings along with the excitement and joy. On the audio, the Star Watch portions had a full cast, which did make it sound like you were listening in on a professional show.

I was a little drawn out of the story because they used dates in the present for the Star Watch broadcasts. They started out at the end of 2019, and progressed to hearing a date in August 2020. I wish they had set it about five years in the future, so it would be easier to believe it could really happen. Since obviously, NASA hasn’t put any of this in place yet, and what’s more, the book of course made no mention of any pandemic. So that was a glaring reminder that this is fiction.

But as fiction goes, this story gave me realistic and thoughtful romance, a believable family situation with – this was a surprise – parents who fight a lot at the beginning who grow together when the father gets his dream-come-true job, and even inspiring thoughts about the space program. Add in a teen protagonist figuring out what he wants out of life and working to save the day, and this all came out to a wonderful listening experience.

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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 an eaudiobook 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 In My Garden, by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Philip Stead

Friday, July 10th, 2020

In My Garden

by Charlotte Zolotow
illustrated by Philip Stead

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2020. Text first published in 1960. 40 pages.
Review written April 21, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a perfect storytime book about changing seasons, beginning with Spring. The text is simple but lyrical, and I found myself reading it out loud, even though I was at home by myself. When the library starts doing story times again, I’m going to find a time to use this book.

The idea is simple. For each season, the girl speaking tells us what she loves best in her garden, and what she loves most to do.

The fun part, though, is that every time after she says what she loves best, she tells about other things she loves in that season.

Here’s one example:

In the fall what I love most to do is rake leaves.

Of course there are other things I like to do in the fall – buy new sweaters and skirts and pencil boxes for school, and pick the ripe golden pears from my tree.

But what I love most to do in the fall is rake leaves and jump in the big crackly golden piles of them.

Of course the natural thing to do after reading this book is talk about what you love best about the season you’re in.

charlottezolotow.com
philipstead.com
HolidayHouse.com

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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 Harbor Me, by Jacqueline Woodson

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

Harbor Me

by Jacqueline Woodson

Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin), 2018. 176 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 30, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#9 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

It’s unfortunate when you read as many children’s books as you can, all put out in the same year, when some of the books lose some of their impact because you’ve read a similar story already. Harbor Me reminds me of Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes. In both cases, you’ve got a group of kids from tough backgrounds coming to care about each other as they open up and share their stories. In Just Like Jackie, something similar happens. I’m a little tired of hearing about teachers pulling this off, because I’m starting to be skeptical – but at the same time, personal stories do have a powerful effect.

In the case of Harbor Me, it’s a group of six 5th and 6th graders in the same class. Every week, they get to meet for one hour in a room without a teacher and say whatever they want. They learn each other’s stories.

It begins with Esteban, whose father was taken away and put in a detention center. Esteban was born in America, but now his mother is afraid she’ll be taken, too.

And Haley, our narrator, who’s thinking back over the year, has a dad who was in prison. She’s lived with her uncle as long as she can remember.

This book isn’t poetry, but Jacqueline Woodson has a poet’s facility with language. This may also explain why my favorite parts of the book were Esteban’s father’s poems, which he wrote in the detention center and sent to his son, who translated them into English.

The book feels a little short – I’d like to know more about more of the kids’ stories – but it’s also refreshing to read a book for 5th graders that’s less than 200 pages long. This book is about kids on the margins, and it is short enough that kids on the margins themselves might not be intimidated by it.

The day I read this, I also reviewed Jacqueline Woodson’s new picture book, The Day It Begins — which is also about making friends by sharing your stories. We are all different, but we all have things in common. When we hear stories, we can find those things in common. The picture book tells about that, and the novel fleshes it out.

Yes. Let’s share stories. And then we’ll have people to harbor us when times are hard.

jacquelinewoodson.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher

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 We Are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade

Saturday, June 20th, 2020

We Are Water Protectors

written by Carole Lindstrom
illustrated by Michaela Goade

Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 40 pages.
Review written April 21, 2020, from a library book

The Author’s Note at the back of this picture book does tell us that her motivation to write it came from April 2016 when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe protested against a pipeline going through their sacred lands and were joined by more than five hundred Indigenous Nations. But the text is universal – about standing on behalf of water and the earth.

The paintings on the large spreads in this book are colorful, lush, and gorgeous. We see a Native American girl repeating to the reader what she’s been told about the importance of water. We come from water – from our mother’s womb to the nourishment of water on the earth.

We also hear of a prophecy of a black snake that would come and poison the water, plants, and animals.

Now the black snake is here.
Its venom burns the land.
Courses through the water,
Making it unfit to drink.

Our protagonist declares she’s going to fight the black snake, and here the book is beautifully inspiring.

We fight for those
Who cannot fight for themselves:
The winged ones,
The crawling ones,
The four-legged,
The two-legged,
The plants, trees, rivers, lakes,
The Earth.

We are all related.

The language is simple and the pictures are beautiful. The reader will learn about Native American culture in a way that invites them also to contribute to protecting the water.

At the very back of the book, there’s a pledge to be a steward of the Earth and a protector of the water, and to treat all beings on the Earth with kindness and respect.

www.mackids.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 The Doughnut Fix, by Jessie Janowitz

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

The Doughnut Fix

by Jessie Janowitz

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2018. 298 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 20, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

This book is a whole lot of fun to read. Doughnuts! What could be better?

Tristan and his two sisters get taken on a road trip one Saturday – and then told that they’re moving out of New York City to Petersville. Their parents have bought a ramshackle old house a bike ride away from the tiny center of town. His mother is going to open a restaurant.

When Tristan bikes into town the morning after they move, he spots a sign that makes him hungry – “Yes, we do have chocolate cream doughnuts!” Except the trouble is, the sign is a lie. Winnie, the lady in the general store says she quit making the doughnuts because they were so popular, it was too much bother to make them. They were so good, they were in the newspaper.

“Too much work. After that story, people came in here from all over, all hours of the day and night. Nearly drove me crazy. I really had no choice.”

Just in case you think you don’t get it, let me tell you, you do: the General Store’s chocolate cream doughnuts were so good, and people liked them so much, they decided not to make them anymore.

Tristan can’t stop thinking about those doughnuts. So when they’re told that they don’t need to start school until after Winter Break, and his parents tell them to work on a project – Tristan chooses to bring back the doughnuts to Petersville.

It’s not all that simple. He needs to get the recipe from Winnie, and then she wants him to make a business plan. He needs to negotiate a good price on the ingredients, and they have to get a business license, not to mention making the doughnuts and filling them with chocolate cream – despite his four-year-old sister’s “help.”

Maybe that all sounds boring, but the quirky characters in the town combined with Tristan’s unusual family and Tristan’s determination to get these doughnuts made – all add up to a funny and absorbing tale.

Of course, Tristan also needs to make a new friend – and he gains some insight about his former best friend. Meanwhile his gifted and talented sister Jeanine is having more trouble adjusting than he is, which comes as a surprise for him.

There are recipes in the back of the book plus tips on starting a business. The flap says that this is the first book in a series – that makes me happy, because these characters are a whole lot of fun.

Beware, though – This book will make you hungry.

jessiejanowitz.com
jabberwockykids.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 book sent by the publisher.

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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