Review of If You’re a Kid Like Gavin, by Gavin Grimm and Kyle Lukoff, illustrations by J Yang

If You’re a Kid Like Gavin

The True Story of a Young Trans Activist

by Gavin Grimm and Kyle Lukoff
illustrations by J Yang

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2022. 36 pages.
Review written October 25, 2022, from a library book.
Starred Review

This colorful and informative picture book tells the story of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy who went to court to be able to use the boys’ restroom at his high school.

The book is framed in a way kids can understand, talking about choices you can make and choices you can’t make.

Here’s how they explain that Gavin is transgender:

And if you’re a kid like Gavin Grimm,
you don’t choose if you’re a boy or a girl.

But if you’re transgender like Gavin Grimm,
you might choose to talk about it.

To tell your family, “I know you thought I was a girl,
but I’m really a boy on the inside.”

To say, “I can’t keep the name you gave me. We have to pick a new one.”

To be honest about who you are.

But then Gavin faced another choice: What to do about the bathrooms at school. He went to school as a boy, and no one bothered him. But they had him use a restroom in the nurse’s office. After a while, he started using the boys’ bathroom.

The principal said it was okay, and that should have been the end.

But the book portrays that there were some who didn’t like it, starting with a teacher, who told people that he was really a girl. That started everyone talking about him. Other kids bullied and laughed at him. And they made him a topic of a school board meeting. Gavin then had another choice.

Gavin chose to speak up for himself. He went to the meeting at his school and told them where he belonged. He tried to make them see that he was just a kid, not a problem to be solved.

It didn’t work.

But he still had a choice. He could have used the girls’ bathroom, which didn’t feel right. Or he could have used the bathroom his school put into a closet, one that no other kid was forced to use.

And he could have chosen to stay quiet.

The spread with his choice has a wonderful sky at sunset behind Gavin — with the colors of the transgender flag.

But when you’re a kid like Gavin Grimm, you know the only choice you have is to fight back.

To stand up for yourself.
And your right to use the bathroom as yourself.
And your right to be in school as yourself.

Then it talks about how Gavin worked with the ACLU to continue to fight his own case and to try to help other transgender kids, too.

I wish that this book were only of historical interest! It helps kids understand why transgender kids want to be who they know themselves to be. And it encourages kids to make the choice to stand for what’s right. Even while acknowledging they shouldn’t have to.

harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Dancing at the Pity Party, by Tyler Feder

Dancing at the Pity Party

A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir

by Tyler Feder

Dial Books, 2020. 202 pages.
Review written July 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I like the way Dancing at the Pity Party gives you full disclosure in the subtitle. Yes, this is a graphic memoir about the author’s experience with her mother’s death from uterine cancer that happened when Tyler was 19 years old and a sophomore in college.

The book is really well done. It’s a wonderful tribute to her mother and the relationship they had. It tells the story of how the cancer unfolded and the horrible and strange things that did to her emotions. And it explores the mess of grief and the strange things people say.

I probably should not have read this book only eight months after my own mother died. One of the things people do that’s insensitive is compare grief. I can’t fully understand what Tyler went through, because my mother was 78, not 47, and had Alzheimer’s, so by the time she died, it seemed horrible that she’d been alive so long. But I found myself saying, “Yeah, but my father died, too!” – because my father died unexpectedly two months before my mother finally passed. And that has nothing to do with Tyler’s experience – but for me it pointed out that all grief is sadly individual. You can find people who understand certain aspects of what you’re going through, but each one of us has our own journey.

And that’s what’s brilliant about this book. It portrays Tyler’s individual journey with grief. It makes a beautiful tribute to her mother, and it’s a wonderful story about human emotions.

I especially liked her fantasy Deadmom App. Among other things, it mutes all Mother’s Day social media and looks up any movie to find out if the mom dies in it. (I went to see the Mister Rogers movie with Tom Hanks when my Mom was dying in another state. I didn’t know the other main character would be dealing with the deaths of his parents.)

She thinks of so many aspects of the experience of losing someone so important, things that you don’t necessarily think of when you think about loss.

Reading this book will touch your heart whether you’ve ever experienced grief or not.

penguinrandomhouse.com

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Review of Choosing Brave, by Angela Joy, illustrated by Janelle Washington

Choosing Brave

How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement

by Angela Joy
illustrated by Janelle Washington

Roaring Brook Press, 2022. 64 pages.
Review written October 24, 2022, from a library book.
Starred Review

This powerful picture book biography tells the story of Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmett Till’s mother, and how she made hard choices so that the world would know about the terrible injustice that happened when her son was killed.

But that wasn’t the first hard choice she made. She faced bullying at school, though she graduated at the top of her class. Emmett’s father left her when Emmett was a baby, so she was a single mother. Polio left Emmett with a stutter, but she helped him and taught him to whistle to get through the stutter. That may have been why he ended up being accused of wolf whistling at a white woman. And murdered for it.

After Emmett’s death, Mamie paid a year’s wages to bring him north and used a glass-topped coffin to show the world what had been done to him.

Her brave choices helped start the Civil Rights movement, and even after Emmett’s murderers went free, she kept going to rallies, calling for justice.

Here’s how the book ends (before eight pages of notes at the back):

Yet still today, we whisper her name.

For lessons unlearned and hatred still living,
we whisper her name.
For strength to sow love in spite of our pain,
we utter her name.
For every son and every daughter who suffers still,
we cry her name.
For justice. For peace.
We shout her name.

A powerful and moving story, told in simple language and striking images.

AngelaJoyBooks.com
WashingtonCuts.com
mackids.com

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Review of Welcome to St. Hell, by Lewis Hancox

Welcome to St. Hell

My Trans Teen Misadventure

by Lewis Hancox

Graphix (Scholastic), 2022. 298 pages.
Review written October 2, 2022, from a library book

Memoirs in graphic novel format are the perfect way to capture all the emotion and angst of the teenage years. In Welcome to St. Hell, Lewis Hancox tells about how difficult life was for him in high school when his name was Lois and everyone thought he was a girl.

Lewis grew up in a small town in England, officially named St Helens, but known to locals as St. Hell. It wasn’t a posh town, and the book is peppered with British slang I had to get used to, but it gives the feel of the place where he grew up.

I like the way older Lewis ushers the reader through the book, assuring everyone that it’s all going to turn out okay. But he tells how uncomfortable he was in his own skin when everyone – including himself – thought he was a girl.

And yes, when he started making out with his first girlfriend, his dysphoria made him extremely uncomfortable getting intimate — and there’s a diagram showing his naked body as it was then, with all the things he was uncomfortable about highlighted.

Yes, current book banners are citing that page. No, it’s not pornography. It’s a cartoon, and it’s not going to titillate anyone. It’s demonstrating his extreme gender dysphoria.

And he went through extremes to try to get a body that looked more like a man’s. Extreme dieting followed by obsessive working out. When he finally got to go to a gender identity clinic, it felt like life was opening up for him. And calm and happy adult Lewis, who has been leading us through the book, shows that he did find the solution to his troubles.

So if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like for transgender teens, who may not know yet that they’re transgender, only that they’re different, I highly recommend this book. And it needs to be available to teens, so the transgender ones who might come across it will know they are not freaks and they are not alone.

If you think that teens are too young to know which gender they are, I offer this book as a counter example. Lewis may not have then known what his feelings meant, but he knew that something was wrong with the way people perceived him. Please have some respect for what people know about their own bodies. Please!

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Review of Sanctuary, by Christine McDonnell, illustrated by Victoria Tentler-Krylov

Sanctuary

Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place, the Nation’s First Shelter for Women

by Christine McDonnell
illustrated by Victoria Tentler-Krylov

Candlewick Press, 2022. 36 pages.
Review written August 5, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a picture book biography of a woman I’d never heard of before — who truly deserves to be celebrated.

Kip Tiernan grew up during the Great Depression and watched her grandmother serve soup to the line of men who came to their door. Later, as an adult in 1968, she sold her business and gave the rest of her life to serving the poor.

First, she worked in shelters. Kip noticed that women would disguise themselves as men to get help in the shelter.

She later opened the nation’s first women’s shelter. Her work was beautiful because she respected people’s dignity.

She wanted to open a sanctuary with flowers and music where women wouldn’t be reminded they were poor, a shelter with no chores, no questions asked, just good meals and warm beds. She hoped the volunteers at her shelter would listen to the guests. When you listen to others, you show respect; you learn who they are and what they need.

This beautiful picture book celebrates a woman who gave her life to helping others.

The author teaches English to immigrant women today at the shelter that Kip Tiernan founded.

wanderwomenproject.com/places/kip-tiernan-memorial
candlewick.com

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Review of All Boys Aren’t Blue, by George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren’t Blue

A Memoir-Manifesto

by George M. Johnson
read by the author

Macmillan Audio, 2020. 5 hours, 12 minutes.
Review written November 9, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

In this book, George Johnson talks about what it was like for him growing up Black and queer, even in a loving and supportive family.

His storytelling style is interesting and engaging, though a little repetitive in spots. He had me on the edge of my seat when I listened to him tell about getting his teeth kicked out when he was five years old. His stories of his family, especially his grandma, are warm and loving.

When he talks about sexual coming-of-age, he gets way more detailed than what this middle-aged heterosexual white woman wanted to hear. But this book isn’t written for heterosexual middle-aged white women. It’s written especially to other Black and queer folks to find out they aren’t alone. He even talks about how little information he had about gay sex and how he hopes he can help others go beyond trial and error with a few less errors.

I’m glad this book is out there, and even for those not in its target audience, it’s a story of a boy growing up as an outsider and finding his way with the help of community.

iamgmjohnson.com
us.macmillan.com/audio

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Review of Marie’s Ocean, by Josie James

Marie’s Ocean

Marie Tharp Maps the Mountains Under the Sea

by Josie James

Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt). 48 pages.
Review written April 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Dramatized in graphic novel format with speech bubbles, this book tells of the life of Marie Tharp and how she overcame prejudice against women and became the first person to map the ocean floor.

First it shows her childhood interest in science and beginning jobs, which were never as challenging as she could handle. But then everything came together when Bruce Hazeen, a graduate student at Columbia asked her to plot sounding data of the ocean floor from many ships going across the Atlantic Ocean, using sonar.

It goes on to show how Marie discovered something in common in the plots from the ships’ data.

And then I noticed something curious. A V shaped cleft ran through each of the profiles I had drawn.

Could there be a crack in the center of the mountains of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon?

It shows how this discovery supported the continental drift theory, which was considered scientific heresy at the time.

Then Bruce was asked to map the locations where transatlantic phone cables had broken due to earthquakes. When Marie plotted the earthquakes – they were all happening along the rift valley she had discovered in the middle of the ocean.

The scientific community was still skeptical of her work. Then Jacques Cousteau towed an underwater camera across the Mid-Atlantic Ocean floor and showed the world that Marie’s rift valley indeed existed.

Thereafter, scientists’ and the public’s opinion of the rift valley and Wegener’s theory of continental drift slowly began to shift. Opinion also began to change regarding women at sea. In 1965, after fifteen years working at my desk, Bruce offered me my first spot as a woman aboard a research vessel.

Marie Tharp continued working, mapping all the world’s oceans.

Heinrich, Bruce, and I continued to collaborate and produced an elaborate painting called the World Ocean Floor panorama in 1977. This glorious map depicts a one-world ocean whose hidden mountains and valleys, created by the immense forces of Earth, erupted off the canvas and dispersed the idea of a flat and featureless seafloor.

By dramatizing her story, this book brings you into the challenges Marie faced as a scientist and how completely she triumphed over them.

mackids.com

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Review of The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh, by Candace Fleming

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh

by Candace Fleming

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020. 372 pages.
Review written May 8, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh is a biography of Charles Lindbergh written for teen readers. As such, there’s a priority on being interesting and readable, but still a level of detail that gives you a complete look at his life.

She groups the book into two parts – the Rise and the Fall. He was only twenty-five years old when he made the transatlantic flight that propelled him into celebrity. He found a wife after that, and their first child was kidnapped, which made him again the focus of the whole nation. We learn all about his background, his upbringing, his ambitions, and his philosophy of life.

By the end of the book, I didn’t like the guy much, because of all I learned in the second half of the book. It tells about how he was duped by Hitler, but also how his own philosophy of life and belief in eugenics set him up to have sympathy with the goals of Nazism. He’d decided that fascism was a better form of government than democracy, because he thought white people with good genes should determine the direction of the country.

Candace Fleming does an excellent job of explaining his beliefs while pointing out problems with them. She shows the seeds of his ideas and how they developed over the course of his life.

She glosses over his life after World War II somewhat – but does mention that he had three other families in Europe, which he kept secret as long as he lived.

The Prologue is a striking way to start the book – at an enormous America First rally, where Lindbergh revved up the crowd. The author doesn’t give the name of the speaker running the rally when this paragraph comes up:

A couple of Firsters stepped assertively toward a reporter. Would the press cover the rally fairly this time? they wanted to know. Or would the newspapers be biased and inaccurate as usual? Many rally-goers believed the media couldn’t be trusted. Their hero, the face of America First and the man they’d come to hear speak tonight, had told them so. “Contemptible,” he’d called the press. “Dishonest parasites.” In a recent speech he’d even told supporters that the press was controlled by “dangerous elements,” men who placed their own interests above America’s. That was why he had to keep holding rallies, he explained. Someone had to tell it like it was. Someone had to speak the impolite truth about the foreigners who threatened the nation. It was time to build walls – “ramparts,” he called them – to hold back the infiltration of “alien blood.” It was time for America to close its borders, isolate itself from the rest of the world, and focus solely on its own interests. It was the only way, he claimed “to preserve our American way of life.”

Candace Fleming did her homework. There is a 6-page bibliography and 30 pages of source notes at the back.

candacefleming.com
GetUnderlined.com

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Review of Cubs in the Tub, by Candace Fleming

Cubs in the Tub

The True Story of the Bronx Zoo’s First Woman Zookeeper

by Candace Fleming
illustrations by Julie Downing

Neal Porter Books, 2020. 48 pages.
Review written August 19, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a completely charming picture book biography, packed full of pictures of baby animals. I dare you to read it without smiling!

Besides the pictures of baby animals, we get the story of Helen Martini, whose husband was a zookeeper for the Bronx Zoo. Helen very much wanted a baby, but they were childless – and then her husband brought home a baby lion whose mother had rejected it. Helen took tender loving and motherly care of the baby, whom she named MacArthur.

After MacArthur was sent to a zoo in another part of the country, there were three tiger cubs that needed care. When they got so big their home couldn’t hold them, Helen had to bring them back to the zoo. But they didn’t like being apart from her, and she didn’t like being apart from them. So she made a nursery at the zoo out of an old storeroom and spent the night with her tiger babies.

When the tigers outgrew even the zoo nursery, it wasn’t long before other animal babies needed care. And Helen got offered a job at a time when all zookeepers had been men.

This inspiring story is told in an entertaining way, with plenty of pictures of baby animals to warm your heart.

HolidayHouse.com

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Review of Alias Anna, by Susan Hood with Greg Dawson

Alias Anna

A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis

by Susan Hood
with Greg Dawson

Harper, 2022. 339 pages.
Review written August 19, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

The only sad thing about this book telling a true story is that I’m afraid kids looking for a gripping historical novel in verse may not find it in the nonfiction section, but it would give them that reading experience.

This is the true story of Greg Dawson’s mother Zhanna and how she survived the Holocaust. He’s written the story for adults in his book Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy’s Story of Survival, 1941-1946. Susan Hood took the story and put it into poetry and language for children the same age as Zhanna was when World War II began to impact her life.

Zhanna and her younger sister Frina were child prodigy piano performers in Ukraine, already having performed on the radio and concert halls throughout their country before World War II hit.

First Stalin came, causing their family trouble, and then the Germans, causing even more trouble. Zhanna was 13 years old when her family was part of a death march — marched into the countryside, where thousands of Jews were gunned down. But on the march, her father bribed a guard, and Zhanna escaped.

However, her old town wasn’t safe, because she was famous for her performing, and her neighbors knew she was Jewish. She changed her name to Anna and got a new passport with the help of kind strangers. This book tells the saga as Anna and her sister ended up in a troupe performing for the Germans during the war, winding up in Berlin and traveling through the German countryside. They were used to build up the spirits of the German people, but this way of “hiding in the spotlight” saved their lives.

This is a story I might not have believed if it were fiction, as there were definitely coincidences along the way that saved her life.

Because of being poetry, this book reads quickly — but that’s also partly because it’s hard to stop turning pages as Zhanna is surrounded by danger all along the way.

This is one where you’re happy to be told at the beginning that this story is someone’s memories — you’re so glad to know right up front that she survived.

I hope kids who enjoy historical fiction will find this book, because it fits right in with other World War II novels, with maybe a few more coincidences and narrow escapes!

susanhoodbooks.com

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