Review of Borders, by Thomas King and Natasha Donovan

Borders

story by Thomas King
illustrations by Natasha Donovan

Little, Brown and Company, 2021. 184 pages.
Review written October 22, 2021, from a library book

This short graphic novel is presented as a boy remembering what happened when he was twelve. He and his mother set out from their home in Canada to visit his sister in Salt Lake City, who had moved away some years before.

But when they cross the border and get to the United States entry point, the guard asks their citizenship. His mother answers, “Blackfoot.”

No matter what the guard asks and how they explain, his mother doesn’t claim any nationality except Blackfoot. Finally they’re turned back.

But when they try to get through the guard station to go back to Canada, the same thing happens.

And so they’re stuck in the small area between the borders with the food they brought with them plus what they can find at the duty-free shop.

The story is simple, but thought-provoking. It was adapted from a short story published in 1993, and I think the graphic novel format makes it even more engaging, especially for kids.

lbyr.com

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Review of The Bread Pet, by Kate DePalma, illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff

The Bread Pet

A Sourdough Story

by Kate DePalma
illustrated by Nelleke Verhoeff

Barefoot Books, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written October 2, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review

Here’s a fun story about a girl who’s given sourdough starter and told to feed it. They explain that the “bread pet” is alive and gets hungry twice a day. The friend forgot to tell her she could slow down the growth by putting it in the refrigerator.

So the bread pet grows and grows. She has to measure carefully to give it the right amount of flour and water. But soon there are more bread pets all over the kitchen. Time to bake some bread.

When even that doesn’t reduce the bread pet enough, the family thinks of a clever way to let the community center help spread the love.

The interracial family featured in this book has two moms and the illustrations are fun and whimsical with smiling bread pets taking over the kitchen. There’s a recipe for sourdough starter and sourdough bread at the back. There’s lots of math behind the scenes in this story and a graphic illustration of how doubling can quickly get out of hand.

barefootbooks.com

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Review of The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, by Ashley Herring Blake

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

by Ashley Herring Blake

Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 370 pages.
Review written January 22, 2020, from a library book
Honor Selection of the City of Fairfax Regional Library 2020 Newbery Book Club

I read this book in January 2020 because one of the girls in my Newbery Book Club nominated it as a contender. I was sorry I hadn’t read it sooner.

The book begins as Sunny St. James is ready to have her heart transplant. She has plans for her new life with a new heart: Do awesome amazing things she could never do before; find a new best friend; and find a boy and kiss him.

Well, the first two things are easy enough. Though Kate, her guardian since her mother gave her up when she was four, is very cautious about what she will allow Sunny to do. She’s so used to being worried about Sunny’s heart.

Then Sunny meets Quinn, a girl on the beach who’s visiting for the summer. She will make a wonderful new best friend. She doesn’t know that Sunny’s old best friend told the whole swim team that Sunny sometimes wondered about what it would be like to kiss a girl. Quinn doesn’t know about that, and Sunny makes it clear she’s looking for a boy to kiss. It doesn’t help that the first time Sunny gets near a boy that summer, she accidentally breaks his nose.

But Sunny’s mother also comes around for the first time in eight years when she learns about Sunny’s heart transplant. She wants to get to know Sunny, and Sunny’s not sure about that. But it turns out that her mother isn’t nearly as cautious about what she’ll allow Sunny to do as Kate is.

In tone this book reminded me very much of the author’s recent book, Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, so I wasn’t at all surprised that Sunny might rethink her plan to kiss a boy. So I didn’t get a surprise, but I did like the way the story was carried out with some realistic ups and downs among fallible people trying to love each other well.

This book is the story of a middle school girl trying to figure out life with a new heart. Like Sunny, the book shines.

lbyr.com

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Review of Nigeria Jones, by Ibi Zoboi

Nigeria Jones

by Ibi Zoboi
read by Marcella Cox

Balzer + Bray, 2023. 9 hours, 50 minutes.
Review written March 22, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
2024 Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner
Starred Review

I wanted to read this book from the minute the publisher sent me an advance reader copy last year. But I was on the Morris Award Committee, so I wasn’t able to fit in very many books that weren’t debut books. When it won the Coretta Scott King Author Award, I was reminded I’d been meaning to read it and got it in my eaudiobooks queue.

Nigeria Jones is a 16-year-old girl who’s been brought up in her father’s Black Liberation Movement. The book opens on July 4th, her baby brother Freedom’s first birthday, and the movement is having a gratitude celebration marking the one-year anniversary that Freedom Sankofa Jones chose them as his family.

Nigeria loves her baby brother, but she wonders if Mama will come to Freedom’s celebration. She left them a year ago, but Nigeria keeps getting glimpses of her. And the movement and life in the Village House has not been the same since Mama left.

When Nigeria learns that her Mama had made plans and filled out an application for Nigeria to attend a private school, Philadelphia Friends School, she knows her father won’t like it. Her father essentially cut off his own sister when she sent her son Kamal to that school. Her father says that schools and hospitals are all run by white supremacists, and they should have nothing to do with them. Nigeria has been home schooled all her life and has rarely been around white people at all. She knows her people’s history, and she knows about oppression, so why is she so fascinated by the thought of going to this school? But if Mama wanted her to go there….

This book is a fascinating and nuanced look at a girl reclaiming her freedom and exploring what freedom even means. She doesn’t condemn her father or even disagree with everything he says. But what does freedom and revolution mean for her as her own person?

This book surprised me at every turn. No stereotypes here, and plenty of hard truths, but along with Nigeria, the reader gets a chance to look beneath the surface. A powerful story.

ibizoboi.net

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Review of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin

Version 1.0.0
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

by Gabrielle Zevin
read by Jennifer Kim and Julian Cihi

Random House Audio, 2022. 13 hours and 52 minutes.
Review written May 3, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

I’m behind everybody else on reading novels for adults, but not being on an award committee right now, I’m trying to catch up on some of the titles that are popular at Fairfax County Public Library. (I can see how long the Holds lists are.)

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is the story of Sadie and Sam, both video game designers who treat their work as art. The book covers decades of their lives, as their friendship – and their art – evolves and changes over time.

They first met when they were kids. Sadie’s sister was in the hospital with cancer, and Sam was in the hospital having his foot put back together after a devastating car accident. They used to play video games together for hours. Sam’s parents were excited because Sadie was the first person Sam had talked to after the accident, and he’d been in the hospital for weeks.

But the book doesn’t start there. It begins when Sam and Sadie spot each other at a subway station in Boston, where Sadie is attending M.I.T. and Sam is at Harvard. Sam hadn’t spoken to Sadie in years – and we find out their history as back story.

Eventually, Sam and Sadie make a video game together and go into business together. And this book is far more interesting than that summary sounds.

There were times when I didn’t like the characters and thought about quitting reading the book, but was just a little too invested. Then later, I was mad at the author because I thought she’d completely cheated to resolve a love triangle.

But it turned out that wasn’t what was happening, and the event I thought was a cheat led to some innovative storytelling as the book went on and the characters were dealing with some tough things.

In a lot of ways, this author was like the characters: Trying to tell a story in innovative and creative ways, going beyond entertainment into art. I think she succeeds.

gabriellezevin.com

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Review of You’re SO Amazing! by James & Lucy Catchpole, illustrated by Karen George

You’re SO Amazing!

Being Singled Out Doesn’t Always Feel Amazing.

by James & Lucy Catchpole
illustrated by Karen George

Little, Brown and Company, 2024. Originally published in 2023 in the United Kingdom. 36 pages.
Review written April 19, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review

Yes, it’s a message book. But like the message delivered in the author’s earlier book, What Happened to You?, this message comes wrapped in an engaging story about a sweet kid who just wants to play pirates.

In What Happened to You?, Joe made friends with the other kids on the playground. We can see from the pictures that Joe has only one leg. That doesn’t have anything to do with his enjoyment of playing on the playground.

But while Joe is playing pirates with his friend Simone, we can see that some grown-ups and bigger kids are watching him. After a kid calls him “Amazing!” Joe reflects that he knows he’s amazing because people keep calling him that. When he slides on the slide or swings on the monkey bars…

Joe was even amazing when he was doing ordinary things,
like waiting in line for ice cream . . .
or eating ice cream . . .
or just scratching his bottom.

“People need to relax,” said Simone.
“I know!” said Joe.

Next, Joe tries to be invisible, so people can see how amazing his friends’ running and jumping can be. Instead, a grown-up finds him hiding while they are running and jumping, feels sorry for him, and encourages him to try it, too.

But the book winds up with the big brother of one of his friends helping Joe practice shooting a soccer ball at the goal. And most of Joe’s shots aren’t great, but some are amazing.

And the book winds up by reflecting that he likes playing with his friends who know him.

With them, Joe wasn’t Amazing Joe,
and he wasn’t Poor Joe.

He was just Joe.

There’s a note at the back for adults, accompanied by a picture of the authors with their happy family. You can see in the photo that they’re disabled. So I hope it’s okay to say I love this amazing book. It effectively and simply shows a kid what it feels like to be singled out over and over again. Nicely done!

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Review of Coyote Lost and Found, by Dan Gemeinhart

Coyote Lost and Found

by Dan Gemeinhart

Henry Holt and Company, 2024. 275 pages.
Review written April 29, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review

This book is a follow-up to the amazing and wonderful book The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, and the sequel is equally amazing and wonderful. I think you can enjoy the second book without reading the first, but why would you? If you have not read the book that introduces us to Coyote and her dad Rodeo, please do so as soon as possible!

As this book opens, Coyote and Rodeo have been settled down in a small town in Oregon for about a year. Coyote hasn’t exactly fit in well at her new school. And in her spare time, she likes to hang out in their old bus, Yager.

Then, one day, Coyote makes a momentous discovery. Fallen behind a bookcase, she finds a special box. And that box has her mother’s ashes in it. Coyote’s mother and her big sister and little sister all died in a car accident before the events of the first book, and those deaths were what prompted Rodeo to hit the road with Coyote. When Coyote confronts Rodeo with her discovery, he said that yes, they buried her sisters, but her mother had wanted to be cremated, and she had told Rodeo the location where he should bury her ashes in one of her favorite books.

But when Coyote goes to find the book — it isn’t there. She’s sure it was one of the books she dropped off at a thrift store somewhere on their journey last summer. But she doesn’t have the heart to tell Rodeo. One thing leads to another, and they set out again in Yager. Rodeo thinks that Coyote’s mom set them a journey, but Coyote is going back to the thrift shops from last summer, particularly the four she wasn’t able to reach by phone.

And the journey is much like the first one. Again, they pick up fellow travelers along the way. Again, they get into adventures both humorous and poignant. And again, they’re dealing with the past, but learning to look forward to the future.

This book wrenched my heart in all the best ways. You can’t find better travel companions anywhere than Coyote and Rodeo.

dangemeinhart.com
mackids.com

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Review of Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim, narrated by Greta Jung

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

by Jessica Kim
narrated by Greta Jung

Penguin Random House Audio, 2020. 6 hours, 57 minutes.
Review written July 4, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

Yumi Chung hoped to spend her summer working on her comedy routines, studying her favorite YouTube star, Jasmine Jasper’s directions. Instead, her parents’ Korean Barbecue restaurant is struggling, and they want Yumi to win a scholarship to stay at her private school, even though Yumi isn’t happy there. So they sign Yumi up for an intensive study class and tell her to go straight to the library after class.

But a new comedy club has opened up across the library parking lot. When Yumi peeks inside, she sees Jasmine Jasper herself! And she’s leading a summer camp to train kid comedians – and thinks that Yumi is the missing Kay Nakamura who didn’t show up the first day.

What’s a girl to do? If Yumi goes along with it, she gets to learn about comedy in person with her hero. She also makes new friends at the camp. But are they really friends if you don’t tell them your real name?

Yes, things do fall apart for Yumi before the end of the book. A strength of the book was how she dealt with it and her relationships. I thought the original coincidence – that Yumi’s YouTube hero would show up in person and be running a camp – was way too big for my personal suspension of disbelief. But I did like the characters and that Yumi’s parents, while being overly pushy immigrant parents, did show more depth when Yumi took the time to talk with them.

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Source: This review is based on an eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

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Review of Where Lily Isn’t, by Julie Paschkis, illustrations by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Where Lily Isn’t

by Julie Paschkis
illustrations by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Godwin Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2020. 32 pages.
Review written March 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a simple but beautiful book about loss. I wouldn’t use it for storytime. But I think it would be appreciated if you read it with a child who’d lost a pet. It leaves room for sadness, but has a message of hope that transcends being trite because the weight of this beautiful book is behind it.

Lily was a loving, happy dog. Here’s how the book begins:

Lily ran

and jumped and barked and whimpered and growled and wiggled and wagged

and licked and snuggled.

But not now.

And then the book catalogs all the places where Lily isn’t now, places like “beside my chair, waiting for some food to fall” or “waiting just inside the door.” At the park now, the bushes are unsniffed. And when the letter carrier puts letters through the slot, they just fall to the floor, with no barks.

The book ends with the sentiment that Lily will always be in the girl’s heart, and shows her drawing many pictures of Lily in places we’ve already discussed.

This book wouldn’t have to be as nice as it is. But the pictures go beautifully with the words, and thinking about all the ways Lily interacted with her owner as she went through her day makes the reader feel the loss, too.

juliepaschkis.com
chodos-irvine.com
mackids.com

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*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books.

Review of The Reappearance of Rachel Price, by Holly Jackson

The Reappearance of Rachel Price

by Holly Jackson
read by Sophie Amoss

Listening Library, 2024. 16 hours, 34 minutes.
Review written April 22, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.

The Reappearance of Rachel Price is by the author of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, so I knew to expect a thriller where you couldn’t count on police to do the right thing and there’s going to be scary danger by the end.

The book begins with Bel Price being interviewed for a documentary about her 16-years-missing mother, Rachel Price. In the context of the documentary, we learn that Rachel Price disappeared twice, first in a mall when she vanished from the cameras with Bel (who was then two years old), and second from a car off the side of a road, where baby Bel was found in the back seat, with the door closed and the heater running, but Rachel completely gone.

Bel’s father Charlie went on trial for Rachel’s murder, but he had an alibi and was acquitted. Now Bel relies on him as the only person who will never leave her.

But then, as they’re filming a reenactment of the event, Rachel Price returns. She says she’s been held in a basement all that time and the guy finally let her go.

But things aren’t as Bel dreamed they would be when her mother came back. And her mother doesn’t tell her story the same way each time. What if Rachel Price is lying? But why would she lie? And what actually happened to her? And why won’t she leave Bel alone so she can get back to her normal life?

To me, this book dragged a bit in the middle. I wasn’t completely tracking with Bel’s suspicions. I was also taken out of the story by the time they played a video of two-year-old Bel, because she was babbling like a not-quite-one-year-old, only able to say “Mama,” which isn’t consistent with a two-year-old at all.

However, as usual with a Holly Jackson book, by the time we started finding out what actually happened, it didn’t drag a bit. In fact, I turned on the audiobook as I was working on a jigsaw puzzle and when the audiobook finished, it was fully two hours later than I’d thought it was.

Holly Jackson doesn’t go for realism, but she does go for pulled from outrageous headlines, and she did surprise but satisfy me with the outcome of this twisty thriller.

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