Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Hello, Universe

by Erin Entrada Kelly
performed by Ramon de Ocampo and Amielynn Abellera

HarperAudio, 2017. 5 ¼ hours on 5 discs.
Starred Review
2018 Newbery Medal Winner

I was disappointed when I hadn’t read this year’s Newbery Medal Winner before it won – though not too disappointed, because now I had a good book to read! The only problem: When to read it? I need to be reading books eligible for the 2019 Newbery Medal.

However, our committee is trying to avoid listening to eligible books, since a good or bad narrator can influence your opinion of a book – so when the library purchased this book in audio format, I knew what my next commuting book would be.

It’s a quirky story. One thing I like about it is that it stands a writing rule on its head: Don’t use coincidences to move the plot. But in this case, coincidences are used repeatedly – and it’s perfect for this story. It reminds me of the old book by Edward Eager, Magic Or Not? — you aren’t sure if the things happening are coincidences or magic. In Hello, Universe you aren’t sure if events are coincidences or fate.

Among the characters, though, Kaori Tanaka is absolutely sure it’s a fateful day. She says over and over: “There are no coincidences.”

Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic. Her little sister follows her around and helps, in a gratifying and subservient way. Kaori has one client so far, Vergil Salinas. Vergil is very shy, and he feels like a complete failure because middle school ended, and he never said one word to that nice girl he saw in the resource room every Thursday, Valencia Somerset. Valencia is deaf, and she’s recently learned that the girls she thought were her best friends are tired of making the effort to communicate with her. She’s started having the same nightmare every night.

But after Kaori asks Vergil to post her card at the grocery store – with the line “no adults” – the one who picks it up and makes an appointment is Valencia. She hopes to get help with those bad dreams. But the day that Valencia makes an appointment to see Kaori is the same day that Vergil has not shown up for his appointment. What could have happened to him? And will the Universe help them find him?

I like the way the apparent coincidences combine to help each character make some changes.

It’s fun to get a peek when fate brings people together. But then, I was also pretty sure in the Edward Eager books that magic was involved.

harperaudio.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 audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

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 Bumpety, Dunkety, Thumpety-Thump! by K. L. Going, illustrated by Simone Shin

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Bumpety, Dunkety, Thumpety-Thump!

by K. L. Going
illustrated by Simone Shin

Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), 2017. 44 pages.
Starred Review

Ah! Here’s a lovely new book just right for toddler story time. The words sing, and point out the sounds a child might hear as they go about their day.

Here’s how it begins:

Wagon on gravel goes bumpety-bump.

Pebbles in the pond fall dunkety-dunk.

Toes in the grass go thumpety-thump.

Bumpety, dunkety, thumpety-thump.

The above takes up a two-page spread for each line.

Then the action continues: The children pick berries. When plopped into the bucket, they go plunkety-plunk. They take them home and make a pie with their parents, with more onomatopoeia happening.

Then there’s washing up – both dishes and children.

The final set of the day goes like this:

Nose taps nose with a bumpety-bump.

Snuggle in the blankie in a lumpety-lump.

Hearts beat close with a thumpety-thump.

Bumpety, lumpety, thumpety-thump.

Like all good bedtime books, this one ends with children asleep in bed – but there is enough action and rollicking rhyme going on, that it can be read any time of the day.

This sweet book begs to be read aloud.

klgoing.com
simoneshin.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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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 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 We Are Okay, by Nina LaCour

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

We Are Okay

by Nina LaCour
read by Joyeana Marie

Listening Library, 2017. 5.5 hours on 5 compact discs.
Starred Review
2018 Printz Medal Winner

While I’m reading for the Newbery, I’m trying not to listen to any audio versions of eligible books – since we don’t want to bias our opinions by good or bad readers. This leaves my commute time open to listen to the award winners from last year that I didn’t get read.

We Are Okay begins with Marin saying good-by to her roommate for Christmas break. She’s about to be the only person in the dorm for a few weeks – in a cold part of upstate New York. But she’s expecting a visitor – Mabel, her long time friend, has told Marin that she’s coming – and didn’t give her a chance to refuse the visit.

We gradually find out why Marin is there alone, why she would plan to be all by herself when everyone else has gone to visit family. We learn what happened to Gramps, whom she used to live with. We learn that Marin ignored hundreds of texts from Mabel – but that now Mabel has come to see her anyway.

Once there, the girls get caught in a snowstorm that puts the power out, but they aren’t in danger, since the groundskeeper, who was meant to keep an eye on Marin, helps them out. Something about the snow and the situation help Marin start to open up about what happened.

We also find out that Marin and Mabel were more than friends. The memories of that aspect of their relationship are woven into all the feelings about Marin’s disappearance and Mabel’s search for her. (I always feel I should warn audiobook listeners that there are some sexy times. Why is it more embarrassing to listen to sexy passages than to read about them? Well, at least you wouldn’t want anyone else to be in the car.)

When I was almost to the end of this audiobook, I had almost decided that the whole book was far, far too sad. That I would not be able to recommend it because the situation Marin had come through was almost too much to bear.

However, to my surprise, the author pulled off a happy, tear-jerking ending. With just the right touch, she brings great big hope despite and even because of all that went before. By the time I finished, I’m a huge fan of this book – a tender and compassionate story about fragile people and family and belonging.

Just beautiful.

ninalacour.com
listeninglibrary.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 audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

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 Crown, by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James

Saturday, April 7th, 2018

Crown

An Ode to the Fresh Cut

by Derrick Barnes
illustrated by Gordon C. James

Bolden Books (Agate Publishing), Chicago, 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Newbery Honor Book
2018 Caldecott Honor Book
2018 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book
2018 Capitol Choices selection

It’s not often that a picture book wins Newbery Honor. Because the Newbery is given specifically for the text. In this case, we can’t write it off as a fluke, because not only did the 2018 Newbery committee think the text of this book was worthy of honor, the 2018 Coretta Scott King committee singled it out for the author’s work. Mind you, it also got honor from the 2018 Caldecott committee and from the 2018 Coretta Scott King committee for the illustrator’s work. So this picture book garnered a truly amazing four Honor awards.

This book is about a black boy getting a haircut. But also about a black boy feeling great about himself.

Here’s what the author says he was trying to do in a note in the back:

Mr. Tony was my barber in the sixth grade. To get to his chair, I rode the Prospect southbound Metro bus to 63rd St. every Thursday, the day of the week my mother would leave eight dollars on the kitchen table so that I could get my hair cut. Walking out of that shop, I never felt like the same kid that went in. I couldn’t wait for Friday morning so that Carmella Swift, my girlfriend, could see how perfect my box was shaped up. I knew she’d bug out about the two parts on the right side of my head, which, in my mind, made me look like Big Daddy Kane. There was no way she’d resist my ruler-straight hairline, a precise frame for my smiling, brown, 11-year-old face. That fresh cut made you more handsome. It made you smarter, more visible, and more aware of every great thing that could happen in your world.

With this offering, I wanted to capture that moment when black and brown boys all over America visit “the shop” and hop out of the chair filled with a higher self-esteem, with self-pride, with confidence, and an overall elevated view of who they are. The fresh cuts. That’s where it all begins. It’s how we develop swagger, and when we begin to care about how we present ourselves to the world. It’s also the time when most of us become privy to the conversations and company of hardworking black men from all walks of life. We learn to mimic their tone, inflections, sense of humor, and verbal combative skills when discussing politics, women, sports, our community, and our future. And really, other than the church, the experience of getting a haircut is pretty much the only place in the black community where a black boy is “tended to” – treated like royalty.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut focuses on the humanity, the beautiful, raw, smart, perceptive, assured humanity of black boys/sons/brothers/nephews/grandsons, and how they see themselves when they highly approve of their reflections in the mirror. Deep down inside, they wish that everyone could see what they see: a real life, breathing, compassionate, thoughtful, brilliant, limitless soul that matters – that desperately matters. We’ve always mattered.

All the honor this book earned is testimony that the author and illustrator pulled this off with flair.

Every person in the shop will rise to their feet
and give you a round of applause
for being so FLY!
Not really . . . but they’ll look like they want to.

You’ll see it in their eyes.

The first time I read this book, I wasn’t sure who I’d recommend it to besides black and brown boys. But this book is a celebration! It’s going to uplift anyone who reads it. And I, for one, am now in a position where it’s just a little easier to see that kid coming up to the information desk as the living, breathing, compassionate, thoughtful, brilliant, and limitless soul he is.

As with all picture books I review, you really need to check out this book yourself and enjoy the pictures to get the full experience. This one’s highly recommended.

agatepublishing.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 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 ABCs from Space, by Adam Voiland

Friday, March 23rd, 2018

ABCs from Space

A Discovered Alphabet

by Adam Voiland

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017. 40 pages.

The author of this book is a science writer for a website called NASA Earth Observatory. He found the shapes of all the letters of the alphabet – in satellite images of the earth!

Some of the images look more like the letters than others. This would be an excellent book for a child who already knows their letters, but might be more difficult for one just learning the shapes.

But there’s more fun at the end. He gives details at the back of where and when each picture was taken and what type of image was used, whether Natural-color or false-color. A map shows the locations on earth that are covered. There are FAQs about the images and about the science (weather and geology, especially) at the back.

Mostly, I couldn’t stop looking at this book because it’s gorgeous and amazing. We have a beautiful planet!

adamvoiland.com
earthexplorer.usgs.gov
earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/FalseColor/
science.nasa.gov/ems
earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/ColorImage/
simonandschuster.com/kids

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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 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 Dad and the Dinosaur, by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Dan Santat

Friday, March 16th, 2018

Dad and the Dinosaur

by Gennifer Choldenko
illustrated by Dan Santat

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Nick wants to be brave like his dad. And people think that he is when he goes rock climbing and faces down a big, tough goalie on the soccer field.

But what other people don’t know is that the reason Nick can be brave is because of his companion, a toy dinosaur that goes with him everywhere. The dinosaur gives Nick the courage of a dinosaur.

So when the dinosaur falls out during a soccer game, Nick loses all his courage.

But it turns out that Dad knows exactly what to do.

This is a charming story of a kid who admires his father and wants to be like him – and a father who knows how to treat his son’s feelings with deep respect.

The illustrations are perfect. While Nick is holding his dinosaur, we see a shadowy dinosaur in the background, big and bold and brave. When Nick has lost the dinosaur, the world is a scarier place, with tentacles coming up from under a manhole cover ready to pull him down.

Together the story and illustrations hit just the right note. We see a kid who’s brave like his amazing dad, with the help of his friend the dinosaur.

gennifercholdenko.com
dantat.com
penguin.com/children

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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 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 Peas and Carrots, by Tanita S. Davis

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Peas and Carrots

by Tanita S. Davis

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2016. 279 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a contemporary novel about a teen in foster care. It’s been years since Dess has lived with her baby brother. She got kicked out of her last foster home and has been in group homes ever since. But now, when she asks to see her brother – she ends up getting placed in the home he’s in. There’s even a sister who is fifteen, just like Dess.

Just because two teens are the same age doesn’t mean they’ll get along. The book alternates perspectives between white-skinned Dess and African-American Hope, her new foster sister.

Here’s their meeting from Dess’s perspective:

The girl looks right at me, and her eyes get all wide. She’s darker than Foster Lady and shorter, but thick like her, with a crinkly mess of puffy hair in a sloppy bun. She’s all baby fat and big cow eyes, which I’m about to slap out of her damn head if she doesn’t stop staring at me.

“What are you looking at?” I snarl at the same time that she blurts out, “Um . . . I’m Hope. Hi.”

And here it is from Hope’s perspective:

So this was Austin’s real sister – his birth sister. This girl, with her pale-blue eyes and dragon-lady nails, looked nothing like Austin, whose skin was a sandy brown, whose eyes were a dark hazel, and whose hair was tightly furled golden-brown curls. Hope searched for any trace of resemblance to Austin’s sharp-chinned, round-headed adorableness in the single wary eye, ringed hard with liner, that glared out at her from beneath the sweep of stiff, blond bangs. Half siblings could still look alike, but . . . no, nothing.

Dess isn’t used to a loving family, and is skeptical of the “rule” of acting with kindness. Hope isn’t used to having a foster sister her own age who isn’t, actually, very nice to her. Then at school, Dess seems to be able to make friends more easily than Hope, which is completely disorienting for Hope.

But eventually, through the ins and outs of everyday life, the girls learn to care about even someone so different.

This story had me reading until far too late in the night. Your heart goes out to Dess, with her tough family situation, but also to Hope, just trying to be kind but also wanting to be noticed in a family that is so much about service, sometimes Hope gets overlooked.

The people, the friendships, and the school situations felt true to life. You’re pulled into caring about these girls. The reader gets to see both perspectives, and it’s beautiful to watch them slowly inch toward each other.

TanitaSDavis.com
randomhouseteens.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 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 Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package, by Kate DiCamillo

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package

Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume Four

by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Candlewick Press, 2017. 101 pages.
Starred Review

Tales from Deckawoo Drive is a spin-off from Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series, telling stories about the other people who live on Deckawoo Drive. I haven’t read them all, but I wasn’t lacking any knowledge I needed to thoroughly enjoy this one.

Eugenia Lincoln is an elderly lady who lives down the street from Mercy Watson, with her sister, Baby Lincoln. Here is how she’s described when the book opens:

Eugenia Lincoln was a practical person, a sensible person. She did not have time for poetry, geegaws, whoop-de-whoops, or frivolity.

She believed in attending to the task at hand.

Eugenia Lincoln believed in Getting Things Done.

Baby Lincoln, Eugenia’s younger sister, loved poetry, geegaws, and whoop-de-whoops of every sort and variety.

She was especially fond of frivolity.

“We are diametrically opposed,” said Eugenia to Baby. “You are woefully impractical. I am supremely practical.”

But then, one day, an unexpected package arrives with Eugenia’s name on it.

Naturally, there’s plenty of fuss and bother and speculation about opening the package. Inside is an accordion! Baby Lincoln has heard that they can be a pathway to great joy.

But Eugenia wants none of it! She tries to send the accordion back with no luck. She places an ad to try to give it away. Instead, a colorful character comes to her door planning to give her accordion lessons.

One thing leads to another – all in very silly ways – and it turns out that Eugenia Lincoln has a natural gift for accordion playing.

This is a wonderful beginning chapter book with an engaging story that rewards discovery, not too many words on a page, and plenty of pictures throughout. And it’s always a delight to read about a curmudgeon set on a pathway to great joy.

candlewick.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 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 The Thank You Dish, by Trace Balla

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

The Thank You Dish

by Trace Balla

Kane Miller (EDC Publishing), 2017. 28 pages.

This is a sweet little story of a dinnertime conversation between a girl and her mother.

It starts when Mama says thanks to the rain, the soil, and the sunshine. Grace follows up:

“And thank you, kangaroos,” said Grace.

(Yes, this book was originally published in Australia.)

When Mama asks why Grace would thank kangaroos, she answers, “Well, I’m thanking the kangaroos for not eating all the carrots.”

So begins a progression of people and animals to thank for the various parts of their meal.

For example, an alpaca is thanked for providing the wool that Auntie Amber used to knit a scarf that kept Uncle Fred from freezing when he caught the fish they’re eating.

Road workers are thanked for fixing the path so they could ride their bikes along the creek all the way to Suki’s stand to buy some corn and kale.

And so it goes.

The result is a warm and cozy reminder of how many people and animals helped bring them their delicious meal.

And the book just might provoke a new dinnertime game of long involved thank yous. And what could be better than that?

Thank you, Trace Balla, for writing such a warm and joyful book!

kanemiller.com
edcpub.com
usbornebooksandmore.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 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 Long Way Down audiobook, by Jason Reynolds

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

Long Way Down

by Jason Reynolds
read by the author

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2017. 2 hours on 2 discs.
Starred Review
2018 Odyssey Honor

I already wrote about how amazing this book was in my review of the print version. I found new levels of amazing by listening to it.

Jason Reynolds reads his own poetry, so he knows exactly how each line was intended. I noticed details I didn’t notice when I read it myself.

This audiobook is about a kid in a situation where what he thinks he needs to do is kill the person he’s sure murdered his brother. And then on each stop of the elevator someone gets on who was a victim of the same rules Will is trying to live by.

There’s whole new power in listening to Jason Reynolds read the words himself.

It’s a short book in either form, but it’s not one you’ll easily forget.

jasonwritesbooks.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 audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

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.

What did you think of this audiobook?