Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of Efrén Divided, by Ernesto Cisneros, read by Anthony Rey Perez

Friday, April 30th, 2021

Efrén Divided

by Ernesto Cisneros
read by Anthony Rey Perez

Harper Audio, 2020. 4 hours, 33 minutes.
Review written March 30, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
2021 Pura Belpré Author Winner
2020 Capitol Choices Selection

Efrén Divided is the story of a kid born in America whose parents are undocumented immigrants from Mexico. He’s in middle school, and has normal middle school concerns, such as his best friend deciding to run for A.S.B. President in order to attract girls. His family lives in a small studio apartment – his parents and his younger siblings, who are twins in Kindergarten – and they aren’t wealthy but have lots of love and an Amá who takes good care of them.

Then Efrén’s Amá applies for a better job – and gets picked up in a raid and deported to Mexico. Efrén’s troubles begin. His Apá takes overtime hours to try to raise the money for Amá to hire a coyote and get home. But even getting the money to her is fraught with difficulty.

And meanwhile, Efrén needs to care for the twins and keep things going at home, never mind getting his homework done and supporting his friend David running for President. Efrén can’t even bring himself to tell David about Amá’s deportation, he’s so torn up inside.

When it comes time to get money to Amá to get home, Efrén is the one who needs to go into Tijuana to take it to her, since Apá is undocumented.

This book is gripping and powerful and makes the reader burn with the injustice of it all.

I wasn’t completely on board with how luck was handled, especially the good luck. Efrén has a lucky encounter in Tijuana, which completely saves the day, and he and Apá have other luck, too – which Amá does not have. That’s probably a lot of the point of the book – even that Efrén is lucky to have been born in the United States – but it put me off a tiny bit. I very much wanted Amá to have better luck, for sure – which is definitely a big part of the point of the book, to get the reader where we don’t think it’s right what happens to her.

So it’s a hard read, but a good one. It will get readers wanting to see things changed.

ernestocisneros.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of Too Small Tola, by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu

Sunday, April 18th, 2021

Too Small Tola

by Atinuke
illustrated by Onyinye Iwu

Candlewick Press, 2021. First published in the United Kingdom, 2020. 89 pages.
Review written April 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Too Small Tola is a short chapter book about a small girl named Tola, who lives with her older brother and sister and their Grandmommy in an apartment in Lagos, Nigeria. This is a brilliant chapter book, with a girl not wanting to be thought of as small navigating a very interesting setting.

I like the way this book, as good beginning chapter books do, is full of everyday concerns of a child the same age as a beginning reader. But the everyday concerns of a child in Lagos, Nigeria, are super interesting for an American child.

There are three stories in the book, with plenty of illustrations along the way. Here’s how Tola is introduced at the start:

Tola lives in a run-down block of apartments in the megacity of Lagos, in the country of Nigeria. She lives with her sister Moji, who is very clever; her brother, Dapo, who is very fast; and Grandmmommy, who is very-very bossy.

Tola is the youngest in her family. And the smallest. And everybody calls her Too Small Tola, which makes her feel too-too small.

In the first story, Tola goes shopping with Grandmommy. What makes it extra interesting is that she carries what they buy in a big basket on her head. But they end up with heavy loads for both of them and need lots of rest along the way – rest that comes with treats.

In the second story, “Small but Mighty,” their apartment doesn’t have water, so they must go fill their big jerry cans with water from the pump outside the apartments. But there’s a line, and Tola doesn’t want to be late to school, but she has to stop and help Mrs. Shaky-Shaky. That story has a wonderful reversal after a bully is mean to Tola, but Mrs. Shaky-Shaky thwarts the bully.

The third story has Tola helping their injured neighbor, a fine tailor, get measurements all over the city so he can make fine clothes for Easter and Eid. Tola is as good at taking measurements as the tailor himself, and the story tells about her brother taking her on his bike to different parts of Lagos, meeting many different people.

It’s all about a relatable kid in a wonderfully interesting setting. Tola is indeed small, but mighty!

atinuke-author.weebly.com
candlewick.com

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Review of The Little Blue Bridge, by Brenda Maier, pictures by Sonia Sanchez

Friday, April 16th, 2021

The Little Blue Bridge

by Brenda Maier
pictures by Sonia Sanchez

Scholastic Press, Spring 2021. 40 pages.
Review written March 8, 2021, from an advance reader copy sent by the publisher
Starred Review

The Little Blue Bridge takes the pattern from the Norwegian folk tale, The Billy Goats Gruff, and puts a maker twist on it.

Ruby is always full of ideas. When she sees blueberries across the creek, she suggests to her brothers that they go across to pick some and make blueberry pie. But they leave without her.

However, the only way across the creek is a plank bridge that a bully, Santiago built. He tells the brothers they can’t cross unless they give him a snack, but one by one they promise better snacks in the sibling to come.

Ruby doesn’t have any snacks, so Santiago won’t let her cross. But she’s prepared for that! Ruby competently builds a much better bridge with blue planks.

And the story ties up in a delightful way, with the small sister getting her due and showing up everyone with her ingenuity.

The pictures are full of exuberant action and it all adds up to an utterly delightful story I hope to get to use in story time some day.

brendamaier.com

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Review of Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, by Meg Medina

Wednesday, April 14th, 2021

Merci Suárez Can’t Dance

by Meg Medina

Candlewick Press, 2021. 372 pages.
Review written April 13, 2021, from an advance reader copy sent by the publisher
Starred Review

Merci Suárez is back! Now she’s thirteen years old and in seventh grade, having navigated everything life threw at her in sixth grade in Merci Suárez Changes Gears. I was super excited when I heard about it, because I was on the committee that chose the first Merci book to win the 2019 Newbery Medal!

Meg Medina is a master of her craft. Like the first book, it’s not a flashy story, but good solid writing about a seventh-grade girl from a Cuban American family negotiating a school where most of the other kids are from richer families than hers, negotiating changes in her family, and figuring out this thing about how everyone around her seems suddenly interested in romance. By the time you’re through the book, you realize Merci’s been dealing with a whole host of issues with grace and nuance. You’ll rejoice with her.

She’s up against her nemesis again, Edna Santos, but I like the way Edna isn’t portrayed either as a simple bully or as someone who suddenly reforms and is shown to have a heart of gold. She’s real – with some annoying traits that last, but Merci also discovers some good things about her.

But there’s a boy who comes into Merci’s life at the beginning of the book, and her feelings about him are confusing. Here’s how the book begins:

It was Miss McDaniels’s idea for me and Wilson Bellevue to work together in the Ram Depot, a job that nobody wants. For the record, I applied for an anchor spot on the morning announcements with my best friend Lena. But wouldn’t you know it? Darius Ulmer’s parents decided it was time he addressed his “shyness issues,” so he got the job instead.

I like the way Wilson, too, is presented as a real person. While the reader is pretty sure he’s going to be important in Merci’s thinking, we aren’t told simply that he’s good-looking, and Merci doesn’t lose her ability to speak when he looks at her. Here’s how he’s described on the next page:

I only knew him from PE and earth science, the quiet kid with freckles across his nose and reddish hair he wears natural. I had noticed his walk, too. He swings one hip forward so his right leg can clear the ground. He says it doesn’t hurt or anything. He was born that way, he told us last year during one of those annoying icebreaker activities we’re all subjected to on the first day of school. Anyway, we hadn’t really talked much this year. The only other intel I had was that his family is Cajun and Creole from Louisiana. He told us that when he brought gumbo to the One World food festival when we were in the sixth grade, and it was pretty good, if you didn’t mind breaking into a full-body sweat from the spices.

Merci and Wilson work well together in the student store, getting good ideas to make it start being profitable for a change.

I thought the not dancing would be all about the Heart Ball, pictured on the cover, which is organized by Edna, and where Merci agrees to be the official photographer at the photo booth to get out of dancing. But that’s halfway through the book. As things go on, her Tía decides to open a dance studio, and she needs all the family to help make it a success. Can even Merci learn to dance?

It was a treat to spend time with Merci again. Like the first, this is a solid school story – with lots of creativity and personality and nothing stereotypical. I can’t help loving Merci, who’s never going to fit into anyone else’s mold.

candlewick.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 Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo

Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy

by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo

Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 256 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 11, 2019, from a library book

This graphic novel is a modern retelling of the children’s classic Little Women, and it’s wonderfully done. It takes only the first book of the two parts of the original book – up to the point where the girls make some life-changing choices. Let’s just say that the modern versions of the girls choose differently, and I like the update.

This time the March family is a blended family. Meg’s father married Jo’s mother and then they had Beth and Amy together. Instead of the Civil War, their father is off fighting in the Middle East. And the book opens with the girls facing that they won’t be able to expect presents for Christmas and they want to give their mother a surprise. Instead of going out to help the poor, they go work at a soup kitchen on Christmas and a kindly rich neighbor across the street invites them over for Christmas dinner, where they meet Laurie, his grandson who has just moved in.

I’ve read the original novel Little Women many, many times since I was in about sixth grade. I loved the way the scenes in this graphic novel parallel the scenes in the original book.

Jo still loves to read and wants to be an author. Beth loves music – but it’s a guitar that she gains from their neighbor rather than a piano. Amy still loves art – she wants to draw comics. Meg still wants to marry a rich man – but that’s one of the choices that end up getting changed. We do get to enjoy familiar-but-new scenes of Meg feeling out of place at a party with girls who have much more money than their family does.

I don’t want to give away the changes at the end. If they write a second book, matching the second half of Little Women, it won’t be able to parallel the scenes as closely. But I do appreciate the changes for these modern times.

Like the original, this is a story of four sisters navigating life, each dealing with their own burdens, but ultimately facing it together.

LBYR.com

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Review of Furia, by Yamile Saied Méndez

Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

Furia

by Yamile Saied Méndez

Algonquin Young Readers, 2020. 357 pages.
Review written October 17, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Cybils Award Winner
2021 Pura Belpré Young Adult Author Medal Winner

Furia is set in Argentina, telling the story of 17-year-old Camila, who dreams of being a soccer star. Her father played soccer until an injury stopped his career, and her older brother has recently gone professional. But her family doesn’t think that girls should play soccer, so she has to keep her play secret. However, when they win their league championship, she’s going to need her parents’ permission to play in the South American tournament.

Meanwhile, her childhood friend Diego has come back to town. Her family doesn’t know that things got romantic between them before he joined an Italian professional soccer team. That spark is still there. Diego, and apparently everyone else, thinks that she should give up her own dreams and go back with him to Italy. But even though Camila cares about him, she’s got a fire inside and wants to follow her own path.

Along with that story, there are undercurrents about women’s rights in Argentina, domestic violence, and expectations for women. Camila has to navigate all of this while trying to get attention for her skills. She dreams of going to America, where women can play professional soccer.

But meanwhile, how does she navigate all the secrets she’s keeping?

I love the way the book starts, setting up the framework of the setting and Camila’s people:

Lies have short legs. I learned this proverb before I could speak. I never knew exactly where it came from. Maybe the saying followed my family across the Atlantic, all the way to Rosario, the second-largest city in Argentina, at the end of the world.

My Russian great-grandmother, Isabel, embroidered it on a pillow after her first love broke her heart and married her sister. My Palestinian grandfather, Ahmed, whispered it to me every time my mom found his hidden stash of wine bottles. My Andalusian grandmother, Elena, repeated it like a mantra until her memories and regrets called her to the next life. Maybe it came from Matilde, the woman who chased freedom to Las Pampas all the way from Brazil, but of her, this Black woman whose blood roared in my veins, we hardly ever spoke. Her last name got lost, but my grandma’s grandma still showed up so many generations later in the way my brown hair curled, the shape of my nose, and my stubbornness – ay, Dios mío, my stubbornness. Like her, if family folklore was to be trusted, I had never learned to shut up or do as I was told.

yamilesmendez.com
AlgonquinYoungReaders.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 This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel

Wednesday, March 31st, 2021

This Is How It Always Is

by Laurie Frankel
read by Gabra Zackman

Macmillan Audio, 2017. 11 hours.
Review written March 29, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

I heard about this book from my Facebook group of mothers of transgender kids. I have a transgender daughter, though she came out at 27 years old, when she had grown up and moved out long before. This is a book about a family with a young child who doesn’t follow gender norms, and how the whole family navigates that.

I tend to not like “issue” novels, because they can make things work out for their protagonists in ways the real world wouldn’t. But I loved this. In the featured family’s quirky particularity, we don’t feel like they’re trying to speak for every transgender child. But the author is telling us about this particular family, and how they in particular dealt with things when their youngest son told them he wanted to be a girl scientist when he grew up.

Rosie and Penn have an unusual family. She’s an ER doctor. He’s a writer who’s been working on his novel for a long time. They have five children, all boys – or so they thought. As the book begins, we’re told how much Rosie wanted that last child to be a girl. (I like that touch. A mom does wonder if there’s something about their pregnancy that “caused” their child to be transgender.) When she birthed a boy, they thought that at least they knew how to handle boys by now.

But Claude is not like the others.

Back when they were dating, writer Penn won Rosie over with a fairy tale. And as their boys grow, he continues the fairy tale in bedtime stories to them, stories of Grumwald, a prince. But their youngest, Claude, is tired of Grumwald and wants to hear about Princess Stephanie. The stories begin to change, and so does Claude.

After Claude is so clearly happier wearing dresses and growing his hair long and being called Poppy, the family lets it happen. But after some negative encounters, they decide to move somewhere more accepting – and then why bother telling anyone what is in Poppy’s pants? Why not simply present her as a girl?

But that decision, and that deception, gets bigger than the family can handle and leads to things blowing up. I won’t say more about how the big crisis is handled except to say that it’s believable and gracious, while hitting your emotions hard.

I love the perspectives. I love the way fairy tales shine light on their situation. I love the flawed humans in this tale. I love the way the older brothers love their youngest sibling but still have to deal with wanting their own needs met. I love the way this family loves each other, but doesn’t always know how best to show that.

True stories of bringing up a transgender child are valuable and have their own insights. I appreciated that in a novel, the author can let us know what all the different people in the family are thinking and feeling, rather than only what the writer of the memoir knows first hand. This book showed how the youngest child being gender nonconforming affected all the members of the big and quirky family.

This book doesn’t claim to have easy answers, and it does show the parents’ struggle to do what’s best for their child – and how even that brings some problems. This is a compassionate and nuanced look at a quirky and loving family trying to support their child and help that child be the person they were born to be.

lauriefrankel.net

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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 Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum, by Natasha Yim, illustrated by Violet Kim

Monday, March 29th, 2021

Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum

by Natasha Yim
illustrated by Violet Kim

Charlesbridge, 2020. 32 pages.
Review written March 23, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s another wonderful book for exploring math with young children in the “Storytelling Math” series from Charlesbridge. It’s perfect, in fact, for my new Sondermath page.

In Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum, Ma Ma and Ba Ba are taking Luna and her two brothers to a dim sum restaurant for a special birthday lunch. They order two baskets of three pork buns each, and plan to eat two each.

Then Luna accidentally drops one on the floor. So they have five pork buns. How will they divide them up? Or should someone get more than everyone else? After all, Luna is the birthday girl.

This kind of problem – dividing up food – is near to kids’ hearts. And it’s told in a story form, so their attention won’t lag.

There are notes in the back about Dim Sum and the Chinese Zodiac, with ideas for exploring the math.

I’m enjoying this series, where kids engage with math concepts in real-life ways.

natashayim.com
violet-kim.format.com
terc.edu
charlesbridge.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 Punching the Air, by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Friday, March 26th, 2021

Punching the Air

by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
read by Ethan Herrise

HarperAudio, 2020. 4.5 hours on 4 discs.
Review written December 28, 2020, from a library audiobook
2020 Cybils Finalist: Young Adult Fiction
Starred Review

Punching the Air, is a novel in verse about a teen who is wrongfully convicted of a crime. The coauthor, Yusef Salaam, is one of the “Exonerated Five,” who spent years behind bars after being wrongfully convicted of assaulting the Central Park jogger.

Amal Shahid is the character in the book in this position. He’s long been a poet and an artist, though he didn’t fit the boxes of the art school he attended. He’s having a much harder time with the box of juvenile detention.

The name Amal means hope, and the authors work to make this ultimately a hopeful book. Though it also shines light on injustice, on expectations, and on the system trying to fit people into boxes. It also looks at the way people are called to account for their actions depending on the color of their skin.

This novel is in verse and includes artwork on some of the pages. The narrator did a fine job, but I think I might have appreciated it more if I had read the whole thing and enjoyed it visually.

Either way, this book brings you into that cell and helps you feel the confinement, the injustice, the weight of judgment.

ibizoboi.net
yusefspeaks.com
epicreads.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 Lia & Luís: Who Has More?

Sunday, March 14th, 2021

Lia & Luís

Who Has More?

by Ana Crespo
illustrated by Giovana Medeiros

Charlesbridge, 2020. 32 pages.
Review written February 26, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Mathical Book Prize Winner, ages 2-4

This picture book from Charlesbridge’s “Storytelling Math” series is a lovely way to get small children thinking about quantity, and it’s cross-cultural, too.

Luís often brags to his sister Lia. When they each choose their favorite Brazilian snack from their Papai’s store, Luis is quick to brag that he has more. His bag is bigger.

But what if you count what they have? What if you count something different?

When Lia finally comes up with the idea to measure the treats, she can make a strong case that she has more – and a way to make them equal.

This puts the simple idea of measurement and quantity into a situation that small children will find compelling. Because you always want to have more than your brother. It’s an important early math concept, and it’s a good story.

anacrespobooks.com
giovanamedeiros.com
charlesbridge.com

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