Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, by Leslie Connor

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

by Leslie Connor

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 326 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 4, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 National Book Award Finalist
2019 Schneider Family Award Winner
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

Okay, I love this book, and I love Mason Buttle! I’m writing this at the beginning of my Newbery reading year. I may read many more books I love this year, and I may be the only person on the committee who loves this book – but I am so encouraged that such a wonderful book exists.

Mason Buttle is the biggest and tallest kid in seventh grade. And he has a disorder, so he sweats. A lot. And he has dyslexia, so he’s not very good at reading or writing.

As you may guess, a kid like that with a last name like “Buttle,” will get teased a lot, and bullied. But Mason takes it matter-of-factly.

His family’s gone through a lot lately. Mason’s grandpa died. Then his mother was killed in an accident, so only his grandma, Uncle Drum, and Mason are left. And then Mason’s best friend Benny died.

Benny died after he fell from their tree fort when the top rung of the ladder broke. The sheriff keeps wanting to talk with Mason about it. But he interrupts Mason, and it’s hard for Mason to get his words out. Mason has told the sheriff everything he knows.

But there’s a wonderful teacher at school named Mrs. Blinny. (Mrs. Blinny, too, is quirky and wonderfully described.) She’s got a new machine that Mason can talk into – and it will write down his words for him. Now at last, Mason can write his story.

Meanwhile, Mason makes a new friend, Calvin Chumsky. Calvin gets bullied, too. But the two together start a project together and become friends.

That’s only the bare bones of how the book begins. There’s a lot more going on – things with Mason’s family, things at school, the bully’s nice mother and the bully’s nice dog that Mason dog-sits, the family orchard that Uncle Drum has been selling off, and of course the mystery of what really happened when Benny died and why do so many people in town give Mason a sad-to-see-you look?

But Mason isn’t the type to feel sorry for himself. I challenge anyone to read this book and not just love this kid. Here he is in the very first chapter after he misspelled stopped as STOOPID in a spelling bee and someone put a t-shirt with the word STOOPID in his locker.

Matt Drinker loves when something like that happens. That’s why I’m guessing he put this STOOPID shirt inside my locker. He must have picked my lock to do it. Funny thing is I knew what the shirt said because of the two Os in the middle. I knew in two blinks.

Matt doesn’t know it but he did me a big favor. I always take two shirts to school. Unless I forget. I change just before lunch. This is because of how I sweat. It is a lot. Can’t stop it. Can’t hide it. I need to be dry at the lunch table. Otherwise I’m a total gross-out of a kid.

Well, today was a day that I forgot my extra shirt. So I’m wearing this one that says STOOPID on it. It’s big and it fits me. It’s clean and dry. I’m going to keep moving. Maybe nobody will see what it says.

And if they do, well, tell you what. Plenty worse has happened.

leslieconnor.com
harpercollinschildrens.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 Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Dreamers

by Yuyi Morales

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2018. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 6, 2018, from an advance F & G.
2019 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 General Picture Books

Oh, this is such a gorgeous and timely book.

Mixing English and Spanish (without a glossary), Yuyi Morales tells her immigration story with glorious paintings and collages loaded with symbolism. A note at the back fills in the details.

She came to America with her baby, to get married. She felt bewildered and an outsider. She didn’t understand the language.

But almost the very center spread of the book is the place that changed both her and her child’s lives – the public library.

We see specific books on the shelves, but also wonders pouring out of the books she opens. All the rest of the spreads are about libraries and the wonders of books.

Thousands and thousands of steps
we took around this land,
until the day we found . . .

a place we had
never seen before.
Suspicious.
Improbable.

Unbelievable.
Surprising.

Unimaginable.

Where we didn’t need to speak,
we only needed to trust.
And we did!

Books became our language.
Books became our home.
Books became our lives.

We learned to read,
to speak,
to write,
and
to make
our voices heard.

The text alone doesn’t do this book justice. The joy of the mother and child as the world and imagination opens up is glorious to behold.

In the note, where she fills in details of her story, she explains that her child was not a Dreamer in the political way the word is used today, about undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Kelly and I were Dreamers in the sense that all immigrants, regardless of our status, are Dreamers: we enter a new country carried by hopes and dreams, and carrying our own special gifts, to build a better future. Dreamers and Dreamers of the world, migrantes soñadores.

Now I have told you my story. What’s yours?

She includes a list of books that inspired her at the back.

Oh, such a lovely book! And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a song of thanks to libraries.

HolidayHouse.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 Merci Suárez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Merci Suárez Changes Gears

by Meg Medina

Candlewick Press, 2018. 355 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 27, 2018, based on an advance reader copy I got at ALA Annual Conference.
2019 Newbery Medal Winner!

Note: This review was written after my first reading of the book, before I had discussed it with any committee members. The views are mine alone – and I gained yet more appreciation for this book when rereading and discussing it. And today I’m completely thrilled that this is “our” Newbery winner!

(That’s fun! I just remembered when looking up my review of her earlier book, Mango, Abuela, and Me that I was on a Cybils Picture Books committee that chose her book as one of our Finalists. Now I’m on another committee that chose her book!)

This is another book about navigating middle school, this time from the perspective of sixth-grader Merci, who attends Seaward Pines Academy on a scholarship since her father does maintenance there. Merci lives with her extended family close by:

How we live confuses some people, so Mami starts her usual explanation. Our three flat-top houses are exact pink triplets, and they sit side by side here on Sixth Street. The one on the left, with the Sol Painting van parked out front, is ours. The one in the middle, with the flower beds, is where Abuela and Lolo live. The one on the right, with the explosion of toys in the dirt, belongs to Tía Inéz and the twins. Roli calls it the Suárez Compound, but Mami hates that name. She says it sounds like we’re the kind of people who collect canned food and wait for the end of the world any minute. She’s named it Las Casitas instead. The little houses. I just call it home.

Merci’s got some of the normal middle school pressures. She’s been assigned to be Sunshine Buddy to a new student who’s a boy, and the most popular girl in the school is jealous. But on top of that, she wants to be on the soccer team, but she’s expected to babysit the twins after school. And her grandfather Lolo, who has always been her confidant, is beginning to act very strangely. And through it all, she’s hoping to earn enough money to buy a better bike than the old rickety one she rides now with Lolo.

Merci’s a very likable heroine and her conflicts and friendships feel organic and not stereotyped. Author Meg Medina reminds us that middle school comes with lots of changes, and some of those changes – like a grandparent getting dementia – aren’t good changes. But with the help of family and friends, we believe Merci’s conclusion that she’ll be able to switch to a more difficult gear and ride on.

megmedina.com
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 Next to You, by Lori Haskins Houran and Sydney Hanson

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Next to You

A Book of Adorableness

by Lori Haskins Houran
pictures by Sydney Hanson

Albert Whitman & Company, Chicago, 2016. 32 pages.

I was recently asked what would make a good baby shower gift, if you didn’t want to buy a pink fluffy outfit. Naturally, being a librarian, I suggested a book.

Next time I’m on the spot like that, I will think of this book. Yes, it’s designed to be a gift book and has a place for an inscription at the front. It’s designed to be read by a parent or doting relative to a small child.

I’m resistant to such blatant design lures. But even I have to admit – this book is utterly adorable!

Here’s how it begins:

Next to you,
the softest puppy in the world
is only kind of cute.

Two kittens with a ball of yarn?

A line of fuzzy yellow ducklings?

A squirrel eating a doughnut
with his tiny hands?

Adorable, sure.
But next to you?
Meh. Just OK.

Naturally, there are big-eyed, sweet pictures to accompany this catalog of cute creatures. At the end, after saying all these critters are nothing next to you, the reader emphasizes that where they like to be is next to you, and we’ve got a cozy picture of all the adorable animals cuddled up next to each other.

Grandmas, do you have the cutest grandchild ever? This book will be a lovely welcoming gift to read to them over and over again.

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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 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 Frank and Lucky Get Schooled, by Lynne Rae Perkins

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled

by Lynne Rae Perkins

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled is a story about a boy and his dog – and how everything a boy and his dog do together is educational.

That doesn’t sound as charming as it is. I’ll give some examples. Imagine detailed and bright pictures with word bubbles for Lucky’s thoughts.

Lucky could always help Frank with his homework, because Lucky did a lot of learning on his own.

For example, Lucky was very interested in Science. Who isn’t?

Science is when you wonder about something, so you observe it and ask questions about it and try to understand it.

Lucky wondered about ducks.

He wondered about squirrels and deer and bees and porcupines and little birds. He observed snow and rain, mud and grass, ponds and streams. He asked questions….

The time Lucky wondered about skunks, they learned about Chemistry, which is Science about what everything is made of, and how one kind of thing can change into another kind of thing.

It’s very fun the way the boy and dog look at different subjects. Math involves what fraction of the bed belongs to Frank and what fraction to Lucky. (It changes throughout the night.) History involves the question of what happened to the cake on the table when a chair was accidentally left pulled out.

They look at Art, Composition, Astronomy, Geography, even Foreign Languages when they find a friend.

This book is charming all the way along.

And the whole wide world with Lucky was the subject Frank liked best.

lynnerae.com
harpercollinschildrens.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 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 Not-So-Faraway Adventure, by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

The Not-So-Faraway Adventure

by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher

Kids Can Press, 2016. 32 pages.

This picture book charmed me. Here’s how it begins:

Theo’s Poppa was an explorer.
He had been everywhere.
He kept an old trunk packed with the pictures, postcards, maps and menus that he had collected on his adventures.
Whenever Theo looked inside the trunk, she found something interesting.

Theo, a little girl, shows us some of the things. The art is simple drawings combined with collage for some authentic-looking souvenirs. Theo wants to be an explorer like Poppa when she grows up.

But now it’s almost Poppa’s birthday, and Theo doesn’t know what to get him. When she asks him, he reminisces about how he used to go to a restaurant on the beach with Nana.

That gives Theo an idea. She went to a beach on a streetcar with her class last year, and there was a restaurant there.

It wasn’t long before Theo and Poppa were sketching a map.

“This is where we are,” said Poppa, marking an X on the page.

“And this is where the streetcar goes,” said Theo, drawing a long line from where they were to where they wanted to go. “Here’s the way from the streetcar to the beach.” She made a dotted line, like footprints. “And the restaurant is right here!” She marked another X on the map.

“And there’s you, and there’s me,” laughed Poppa, drawing two smiling faces. “We’re happy because we’ve just discovered something delicious to eat.”

The rest of the book is their adventure. They ride on the streetcar and play on the beach and take pictures of each other and eat at the restaurant.

When they come back, Theo’s Mom and Dad and little brother have a surprise party for Poppa. And Theo puts their map into Poppa’s trunk, remembering a wonderful adventure.

This book seems suitable for early elementary school kids, with the mapping and planning and riding the streetcar (with Poppa). However, I thought Theo looks younger than that. (But that just may be me.) There are a lot of words on each page, so I’d think twice about using this in preschool storytime.

But here’s a cozy inter-generational story of the perfect gift for grandpa — complete with mapping and planning and documenting their wonderful time together.

kidscanpress.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 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 Airport Book, by Lisa Brown

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

The Airport Book

by Lisa Brown

A Neal Porter Book (Roaring Brook Press), 2016. 36 pages.

Having just taken a plane trip a couple days before I read this book, it struck me as especially useful for a family planning a flight with preschool children. Having done that many times in my life, I wish this book had been around then.

And this is a modern airport. The pictures match my experience of airports well.

There are lots of people
saying lots of goodbyes.
Sometimes they hug.
Sometimes they cry.

They have big bags on wheels and smaller bags on their shoulders and backs.

Sometimes you can tell exactly what is packed inside the bags.
Sometimes it is a mystery.

Inside the airport you stand in lines.
You stand in lines to get your ticket.
You stand in lines to check your bags.
There are lines for the restrooms.
There are lines to go through security.

The text tells you all that goes on, but the real treat is in the pictures. They’re not as crowded as a Where’s Waldo book, but there’s plenty of things to see on each page, with many side stories.

We watch the little sister’s monkey make its way (with the tail sticking out of the luggage). Various other passengers set out and journey as well.

The featured family has an interracial couple, and there are an abundance of families on the flight itself. You’ll see more details about the other passengers with each pass through the book.

Planning a flight with young ones? This book provides perfect preparation. Your child will know what to expect and what to watch for. Interested in talking with your little one about a trip they’ve taken or that you’ve taken? This book also provides a lovely jumping-off point for that. I hope this one gets displayed prominently in airport bookstores.

mackids.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 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 Among a Thousand Fireflies, by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

Among a Thousand Fireflies

poem by Helen Frost
photographs by Rick Lieder

Candlewick Press, 2016. 28 pages.

This story is simple. What makes it amazing are the photographs.

We meet one firefly among thousands. She finds her match by the pattern her lights flash.

Across a distance
wide and dark,
she looks out from
her flower
and sees –

Light. Dark.
Light. Dark.

Inside the flower,
her light flashes back,
pulsing through the night.

Here I am. She sends a silent call.
Over here.
Look! I’m here.

As I said, it’s a simple dramatization of a firefly finding its mate through the pattern of its flashes. But who knew that pictures of fireflies could be so stunning? I especially like the way her light lights up the flower she’s sitting on.

It’s simple. It’s short. But it will make you look twice. And it will help you notice the wonder of fireflies on the next summer night.

Mind you, kids are already good at noticing such things. I think this book will validate their wonder. And it may start a conversation about the science of fireflies, with some simple notes (so parents will know what they’re talking about) at the back of the book.

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 Apples and Robins, by Lucie Felix

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019

Apples and Robins

by Lucie Felix

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2016. First published in France in 2013. 52 pages.

Here’s a simple picture book by a graphic designer. I was surprised by the high page count when I counted the pages – there are only a few words on each page, so it goes quickly. The point of the book is the art, not the words.

This book is done with simple shapes and cut-outs and bright colors. It shows how simple shapes can make recognizable things.

The book begins, “All you need for apples are circles and the color red.” On a red page, there are three white circles, but two of those circles are made from cut-outs. When you turn the page, the circles become red apples in a tree, with leaves and stems.

The next interesting transformation is this one:

All you need for a ladder are six rectangles: five short and one long.

When you turn the page, sure enough, the long rectangle cut-out turns the short rectangles into the spaces between the rungs of a ladder.

And the shapes and cut-outs get more complicated. My favorite is the robin, made from a circle cut-out placed around “three bright triangles like the robin’s whistle and a red oval like its round red breast.”

We’ve got a little bit of drama with a storm blowing down the bird house and later the arrival of Spring. But the point of this book is the fascinating transformations.

It will get kids thinking, seeing things from a new perspective, and perhaps trying out this kind of art themselves. This is a lovely and surprising picture book.

chroniclekids.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 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 Home at Last, by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Home at Last

by Vera B. Williams and Chris Raschka

Greenwillow Books, 2016. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2016

I read about the creation of this book in Horn Book Magazine, so I was predisposed to like it. Vera Williams wrote the text many years ago, but set it aside until last year, when she felt the time was right. But she knew she was at the end of her life, so she’d need some help to finish the book, and she asked Chris Raschka. The result was that they collaborated on the book, and Chris completed it after she died on October 16, 2015.

The story might have been trite – an orphan child living in a home is being adopted – but this particular story is told with depth and warmth and love that makes it anything but typical. It’s also a long text for a picture book, so it’s not exactly a storytime selection, unless it’s for an elementary school classroom, but it would make lovely cozy family reading.

The book opens as Lester is waiting eagerly for the arrival of Daddy Albert, Daddy Rich, and their dog Wincka, who are going to finally adopt him.

When Lester moves in with them, they give him his own room. Lester needs his suitcase filled with action figures to protect him.

But every night, Lester wakes up in the night and stands by his daddies’ big bed, with Wincka sleeping at the foot. Every night, they wake to see him standing over them.

What Lester wanted was to climb into his parents’ bed, too. More than anything, he longed to wriggle right into the middle of that bed, with Daddy Rich on one side and Daddy Albert on the other side and fat old Wincka at his feet, and to have his action figures in their blue suitcase right on the floor beside them. That way he knew he would be safe from everything bad in the whole world.

Lester never told Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert about this. But every night, as though he had an alarm clock ringing in his belly, he grabbed his suitcase and made his expedition down the hall and through the door to the side of the bed.

Lester’s daddies have trouble with this. I appreciated the paragraph that expressed their thinking.

Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert had decided, long before they finished adopting Lester, that it was important for their new little boy to have his own room and his own bed. They had spent many weekends painting the room and finding the right bed for the boy who was coming to live with them. And they surely knew, from living with Wincka, how impossible it was to get a creature out of your bed once you have let that creature in, if only in an emergency . . . if only for a few nights.

The problem goes on though. The daddies try to help. They do lovely things together with Lester. They look forward to him settling in to school and feeling at home in the neighborhood. They do have some setbacks as well, but it’s clear they love Lester and want to do what’s best for him.

Finally, the solution – and a lovely one – comes from Wincka.

And I like the way the book doesn’t end with that solution – that’s only a part of Lester feeling at home. First, it talks about Sunday mornings when things are relaxed and everyone cuddles in the big bed and sleeps late and has pancakes together. The final spread goes further:

But he also loved when his new cousins – all four of them – stayed over on Saturday nights. They laughed and jumped around and played and played so much that they hardly slept a wink.

And at first light, they piled right on top of Daddy Rich and Daddy Albert.

“Help! We’re being attacked!” the daddies shouted, dashing through the house chased by cousins and Lester and Wincka and even Silver. And then it was pancakes for everyone. And then an entire day of more games and walks and snacks and fun together.

Lester was truly home at last.

Here’s a lovely warm book about a little lonely boy who needs a family – and finds one. I like the way it tackles head-on that he needs extra reassurance, and it isn’t easy – but he does find a home. And that reassurance.

This book is a lovely legacy for an outstanding picture book creator. I also love the way the pictures are a wonderful blend of her style with Chris Raschka’s, creating something new.

harpercollinschildrens.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 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 book?