Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of A Home for Goddesses and Dogs, by Leslie Connor

Saturday, October 31st, 2020

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs

by Leslie Connor

Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 385 pages.
Review written August 17, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs is another heart-warming story by the author of The Truth According to Mason Buttle, a book I read during my Newbery year and loved in so many ways.

As the book begins, Lydia Bratches-Kemp, an eighth grader who’s been home-schooled, is setting out for a new home after her mother’s death. She gets to stay with her Aunt Brat and her wife Eileen on a farm in Connecticut owned by Elloroy, who had gotten too old to keep up with things. To add to her new family, shortly after Lydia arrives, Brat and Eileen decide to adopt a dog. Lydia’s not a dog person, so it takes her some time to get accustomed to the unruly and exuberant yellow dog they choose.

The book is about making friends, making a home, and making a new family. Lydia also has things to deal with in her memories of her mom, and about her dad who left them when her mom got sick. Lydia’s mom was an artist, and used to make goddesses when something came up they had to deal with, such as the Goddess of the Third Heart, made when her mom got passed up for the third time on the heart transplant list.

Lydia’s new school is small. She’s skeptical, but some girls offer to show her around the neighborhood, and she makes some connections that surprise her.

This is a feel-good story about finding home.

leslieconnor.com
harpercollinschildrens.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 Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away, by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

Thursday, October 22nd, 2020

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away

by Meg Medina
illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

Candlewick Press, 2020. 32 pages.
Review written September 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Full disclosure: I was privileged to be on the Newbery committee that chose Meg Medina’s book Merci Suarez Changes Gears as our winner and thus changed her life forever. After an amazing dinner with her and with the rest of the committee and our big celebrations together, she has a special place in my heart and I will always think of her as a friend. So I was predisposed to love this book.

Though at the same time, I have read a zillion picture books about a child moving away or arriving in a new place, so I wasn’t completely sure this one would stand out. And since I only review a small percentage of the picture books I read, I thought I could just quietly enjoy this book and let it go by without notice.

But this book is marvelous. I am confident I would love it even if I didn’t already love the author. And let me also add that the illustrations are stunning – and I have no connection to the illustrator, so there’s clearly no bias there. I’ve read the book a few times, and each time the words and pictures go straight to my heart.

Here’s how the book begins:

Evelyn Del Rey is my mejor amiga, my número uno best friend.

“Come play, Daniela,” she says, just like she always does.

Just like today is any other day.

The two girls are pictured with different shades of dark skin. Evelyn is peeking in the window of the apartment. On the next page, we see a big truck with boxes ready to go inside surrounded by bright orange and yellow fall leaves – still on the trees, but also on the street and on the sidewalk. Some of the items ready for the truck are named in the text – “Evelyn’s mirror with the stickers around the edge, her easel for painting on rainy days, and the sofa that we bounce on to get to the moon.”

The painting is so evocative of a dark and damp day in late Autumn, still with dazzling leaves, and Daniela has lonely eyes as she looks at Evelyn’s things, ready to go.

But that changes when she gets inside, with Evelyn waiting for her. We see the girls running upstairs with grins on their faces.

We learn that the girls’ apartments are mostly the same except for things like the color of paint and the furniture, just like the girls are mostly the same. But as Daniela talks about what a great friend Evelyn is, we see packing going on behind them and around them.

We find a still-empty box near the door. In no time, I am a bus driver steering us all over the city. We play until the tables that were bus stops are gone and the beds that were skyscrapers have vanished, too.

When we look around, everything has disappeared except us.

They make plans to talk every day after school, to visit in the summer, but Daniela knows it won’t be the same.

And it turns out not everything is gone. Daniela sees some sparkly stickers in a corner, and they wear them on their cheeks as they say good-by.

Finally as the actual good-by happens, the girls’ faces crumple. Their mothers try to comfort them, though Daniela knows that Evelyn will always be “my first mejor amiga, my número uno best friend…”

And where tears came to my own eyes was when I turned to the last page and saw a much older adult Daniela smiling and looking through a box of letters containing a picture of Evelyn, with the words:

the one I will always know by heart.

My own best friend moved away after sixth grade. And yes, we are still best friends today. In fact, when I was 42 years old, I moved to the town where she lives, on the other side of the country from where we were friends as children.

I’ve read quite a few books lately about kids who have moved to a new town and have to face that their old friendships have dissolved. So I actually wasn’t prepared to see in this story a friendship like the ones I’ve been privileged to have – friendship that sustains you for your entire life.

Here’s to friends we know by heart.

candlewick.com

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Source: This review is based on a book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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 Fighting Words, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Thursday, October 8th, 2020

Fighting Words

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. 259 pages.
Review written September 19, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Wow. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is better than any writer I know at instilling in my heart a fierce, compassionate love for girls who have come through abuse. That may sound like it’s a sordid, gritty story – but she manages to write about such things in a way that’s full of light and beauty.

I’m thinking of her Newbery Honor-winning book The War That Saved My Life along with this one. The books are totally different, but they both have beautiful young girls trying to make the best of things who don’t even realize that what they’ve been through is not normal and is not what they deserve.

Wait a second. I’m afraid that telling you that might put you off. So before I get into what this book is about, I need to tell you that you need to read this novel! And that your children older than 4th grade or so should read this novel! And that you and they will love it and you will love the characters and you will come away with a better understanding of how to stand together with anyone who’s being treated badly. This book has gotten SEVEN starred reviews – that’s every major book review publication. It’s that good.

Yes, Fighting Words deals with sexual abuse – but it happened in the past. When it comes out what happened, the description is not graphic or detailed at all. The fact is, it’s unfortunately true that one in ten children will be sexually abused before they are eighteen. So even if your child is not, they may have a friend who is. And although you might want to protect your child from even thinking about this, instead you can let them read about it in a beautiful context of love and grace through the safe pages of a book that shows a kid coping with it as best she can and with the help of supportive grown-ups.

Della (short for Delicious) is telling her story in this book. The author nicely gets around the problem of being realistic while not including lots of swear words by having Della say this at the beginning:

Suki says whenever I want to use a bad word, I can say snow. Or snowflake. Or snowy.

There’s a lot of snow in this story.

As the story begins, 10-year-old Della and her older sister Suki are in a new foster home in Tennessee, and Della’s starting at a new school. Their mother is incarcerated in Kansas, after having a psychotic break from overuse of meth. They can’t visit her and she wouldn’t recognize them if they did. But Suki has always taken good care of Della, especially in the five years since her mother was arrested.

During those years, Della and Suki were staying with Clifton, who was their mother’s current partner before she was incarcerated. But for some reason, they fled Clifton’s place. Now they’re in foster care and Della’s starting a new school and they’ve been sent to therapists, and Della’s writing out her story.

Della’s teacher isn’t very happy with Della and her frequent use of snowy language. Suki gets a job at the local grocery store and Della ends up having to go to an after-school program most days, and hangs out at the grocery store deli on Friday nights. But Della does make friends with some other girls in her class.

I’m going to talk about a truly wonderful scene toward the end of this book. I don’t think it’s really a spoiler, because this is only a subplot, but if you don’t want to hear about anything except the beginning of a book, stop right here.

There’s a boy in their class who copied an older friend by snapping girls’ bra straps. But fourth grade girls mostly don’t wear bras, so instead he gives the girls a hard pinch in the middle of their backs and calls them babies. This makes Della angry. When she responded by swearing at him, she got in trouble. When she responded by punching him, she got in trouble. But in a lovely scene later in the book, after she’s had some sessions with a therapist, here’s what happens:

I jumped to my feet. I spun around and stepped forward so my entire body was about an inch away from Trevor’s. I pulled my fist back to punch him.

And then I didn’t.

I didn’t punch him.

Instead I looked him straight in the eye. I said, loud and clear into the silence that had fallen on the class, “You just pinched me, and you need to stop. Never touch me again. Never touch me or any girl in this class without permission ever again.

At first, the teacher just wants Della to sit down. But one by one, six other girls stand up and back Della up. The teacher finally has to take it seriously. And she does affirm what Della said, that no one is allowed to touch anyone else without permission.

The whole series of incidents seems so much more realistic than if Trevor just reformed. We do get some insight into what he’s dealing with, but also that what will keep him in line is that he won’t get away with it. I loved the way Della found her pack and when she spoke up, her friends had her back. The book also acknowledged that everybody any of the girls had mentioned it to before this had not taken it seriously. But that this, too, is an issue of consent.

So yes, this book models good behavior learned from therapists – but it doesn’t feel canned and doesn’t feel trite. You see a girl with a fighting spirit trying to deal with awful things that have happened to herself and her sister. The overall message is that they will come through.

There’s an Author’s Note at the back, and it begins like this:

The first thing I want you to know is, it happened to me.

The second thing is, I was able to heal. It took time, and work, and I did it. People can always heal.

kimberlybrubakerbradley.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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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.

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 Darius the Great Deserves Better, by Adib Khorram

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

Darius the Great Deserves Better

by Adib Khorram

Dial Books, 2020. 342 pages.
Review written August 31, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I was delighted when I heard this book was coming out. Its predecessor, Darius the Great Is Not Okay came out during my Newbery year, when I was reading everything, so I compared it with lots of other books, and still named it my #3 Sonderbooks Stand-out in General Teen Fiction for that year. In the first book, Darius is dealing with depression in the context of bullying and trouble getting along with his father. Then the family makes an extended trip to Iran to see the grandparents he’s never met, because his Babou is dying of cancer. In Iran, he feels like he fits in even less, but makes his first true friend, ever.

In that book, the reader is pretty sure Darius is gay, but it’s never explicitly stated, and Darius hasn’t put it into so many words. This book begins as Darius is with his boyfriend getting a haircut to match the other guys on his soccer team.

So Darius came out as gay in between books, though he hasn’t told his grandparents in Iran. Relationship issues are a big part of this book, and Darius’s boyfriend wants to have sex, but Darius isn’t ready. This involves discussion of body parts that I don’t even have, so I didn’t relate to it quite as much as the first book, but I still love Darius and his over-willingness to examine his feelings. Because a book narrator who examines his feelings makes the reader realize their own feelings are not so unusual.

Darius is getting along better with his father, but his family is under stress because of the money they spent to go to Iran, and they’re working extra hours. So they decide to have his father’s parents come stay with them – Oma and Grandma. Darius hoped they would have some insight into being queer, but they aren’t very forthcoming. I was interested when I found out that Oma is a transgender woman, and she didn’t come out as transgender until after her grandson Darius was born.

It’s hard to explain why these books are so heart-warming. Darius is someone I can’t help caring about. He’s so authentic, and cries much more often than he’d like to. In this book he’s dealing with romantic problems, which are perhaps more typical problems for an American teen. He handles them with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, but also enough mistakes that you root for this kid.

The cover does give away that there will be some romantic decisions to make, but they didn’t show up in the way I expected. And it does point out that romantic quandaries are universal, whether you’re gay or straight. I hope this isn’t the last book about Darius the Great.

adibkhorram.com
PenguinTeen.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.

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 I Can Be Anything, by Shinsuke Yoshitake

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

I Can Be Anything

by Shinsuke Yoshitake

Chronicle Books, 2020. Originally published in Japan in 2016. 52 pages.
Review written July 8, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

When I saw this book, I expected a trite message trying to be inspirational about how a child can be anything they want to be. That’s not what this book is about.

No, this is a story of an imaginative little girl putting off bedtime despite her very tired mother.

As the book begins, we see the girl jumping up and down.

Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!

I have a really good idea!

Oh, really? It’s time to go to sleep.

I’ll pretend to be something and you’ll guess what it is!

OK . . . Now don’t get angry if I make a mistake.

The little girl proceeds to pretend to be various things. From a pot and a clothespin to a overcooked broccoli and various kinds of aliens. The mother doesn’t get any of them right. And the choices are so random, and the drawings of the little girl so silly, they make me laugh.

The mother doesn’t get even one of her guesses right, and the girl does eventually get cross about it.
How does it end? The girl falls asleep while pretending to be something. We never do find out what she was that time.

This is a delightfully particular story completely the opposite of the generalized pablum I expected from that title. It might just kick off a game with your own imaginative preschooler, and at least the mother in the book gives you cover if you’re not very good at guessing.

chroniclekids.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 the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of We Used to Be Friends, by Amy Spalding

Friday, August 21st, 2020

We Used to Be Friends

by Amy Spalding

Amulet Books, 2020. 362 pages.
Review written March 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is ultimately a sad book. It’s about the Senior year in high school of two lifelong best friends and how by the end of the year, they weren’t friends any more.

However, although I’m not generally a fan of sad books these days – I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this one. The story is gripping and you get to understand who the girls really are and how this could have happened, even though it wasn’t what either of them wanted.

I hope that a lesson readers will take away from the book is that people who love you can’t read your mind if you don’t tell them what’s going on, but also that you probably need to be receptive. Anyway, it’s not a book about lessons – but it’s a book with friendship dynamics that seem very real, so don’t be surprised if readers pick up some insights.

The story is told out of chronological order, in a way that makes you very eager to know how each part happened. The chapters alternate the perspectives of the two girls, and the book opens with James (one of the girls) headed off to college, wishing Kat were there to say good-by. And then we scoop back to the beginning of the year, when Kat found out her boyfriend had slept with another girl. It’s not too many chapters in when Kat replaces him with a girlfriend.

The skipping around keeps things intriguing. I was honestly amazed that the author pulled off the non-chronological order. I did go back and read the first chapter after reading the last one. Right at the beginning, James mentions that they wrote letters and put them in a time capsule four years ago – “back before Kat’s mom died, or my mom left.” We find out more about those things later in the book.

This is a novel about friendship in high school. And life. And pressures. And secrets you never meant to be secrets. And popularity. And how you care about people. It’s refreshing and it’s fun, besides being touching. And Amy Spalding tells a really good story.

theamyspalding.com
amuletbooks.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 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 Madame Badobedah, by Sophie Dahl, illustrated by Lauren O’Hara

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Madame Badobedah

by Sophie Dahl
illustrated by Lauren O’Hara

Walker Books, 2020. First published in the United Kingdom in 2019. 52 pages.
Review written August 8, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Madame Badobedah (rhymes with ooh-la-la) is a picture book, but it’s on the long side and has three parts, so it’s more for young elementary school students than the usual preschool picture book crowd. Those who can settle into the story will be completely charmed, as I was.

Our narrator, a little girl named Mabel, lives in a Bed and Breakfast, the Mermaid Hotel. The book begins on a day when they get a new guest, an old lady who comes with two dogs, two cats, a tortoise on a cushion, and 32 suitcases. She gets installed in the Mermaid suite on the top floor.

Mabel, who likes to do a little spying, quickly determines that Madame Badobedah (the name Mabel has for her) is a villainess on the run after her jewel heists. After all, the bag Mabel carried for her was so heavy, she knew it contained gold bars. Madame Badobedah doesn’t go out much, and Mabel does some surveillance through the keyhole.

But one day, Madame Badobedah invites Mabel in, and they have tea together. These visits become more common, until Mabel is even willing to share the secret of the Mermaid Room.

We end up with a charming and imaginative story about an intergenerational friendship, one which brings joy to both participants.

walkerbooksus.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 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 One and Only Bob, by Katherine Applegate

Saturday, July 25th, 2020

The One and Only Bob

by Katherine Applegate
read by Danny DeVito

HarperCollins, 2020. 4 hours.
Review written July 25, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

The One and Only Bob is a sequel to Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan. It doesn’t pack as much of a punch as the first book, but I’m glad it doesn’t. Because the first book had the characters fighting a bad situation, and I don’t want these beloved characters up against injustice again.

This time, though, they’re up against a hurricane. The little dog Bob, wonderfully voiced with attitude by Danny DeVito, was with his humans visiting Ivan at the zoo when a hurricane and then a tornado struck. Bob didn’t stay with the humans – in fact, he flew through the air. In the story that follows, Bob is involved both in rescuing other animals and in being rescued. He also does some coming to terms with his past.

I thought the summary of what went on in the first book went on a little long. Surely it’s safe to assume that anyone reading this book has read the earlier book. However, once it got past that, Bob’s a fun dog to hang out with. There’s a glossary of doggy terms at the front which have a very believably doggy attitude. The fact that Bob and Ivan used to watch the Weather Channel on Ivan’s little TV at the mall means that Bob believably knows quite a bit about hurricanes.

There were some coincidences, yes. But it all makes for a fun story, and it’s great to spend time again with Bob, Ivan, Ruby, and their humans. We root for resourceful, though small Bob as he takes on a hurricane.

katherineapplegate.com

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Review of The Gravity of Us, by Phil Stamper

Friday, July 24th, 2020

The Gravity of Us

by Phil Stamper
narrated by Michael Crouch

Listening Library, 2020. 9 hours, 21 minutes.
Starred Review
Review written June 26, 2020, from a library eaudiobook

Here’s a story of Cal, a teen who already had a large social media following on “Flash Fame” and plans to be a journalist, who has his whole life uprooted when his father is chosen to be an astronaut for NASA’s mission to Mars.

The whole mission has its own reality show, Star Watch, which is basically responsible for the fact that the project got funding in the first place. But Cal is uneasy about their lives going under a magnifying glass when they have to leave New York City for his father’s opportunity and go to Houston.

Cal knew all about the other astronaut families from Star Watch, so he already knew that Leo was incredibly handsome. But he didn’t know that Leo’s sister follows his Flash Fame posts and Leo thinks he’s cute. Their romance makes Cal begin to think Houston might not be so bad.

But as Calvin comes into conflict with Star Watch and their coverage turns more negative, can Calvin use his own following to turn things around?

This story was engaging and wonderful to listen to. I enjoyed that nobody batted an eye or made a big deal about the boys’ gay romance, and it was a nice romance with believable obstacles and misunderstandings along with the excitement and joy. On the audio, the Star Watch portions had a full cast, which did make it sound like you were listening in on a professional show.

I was a little drawn out of the story because they used dates in the present for the Star Watch broadcasts. They started out at the end of 2019, and progressed to hearing a date in August 2020. I wish they had set it about five years in the future, so it would be easier to believe it could really happen. Since obviously, NASA hasn’t put any of this in place yet, and what’s more, the book of course made no mention of any pandemic. So that was a glaring reminder that this is fiction.

But as fiction goes, this story gave me realistic and thoughtful romance, a believable family situation with – this was a surprise – parents who fight a lot at the beginning who grow together when the father gets his dream-come-true job, and even inspiring thoughts about the space program. Add in a teen protagonist figuring out what he wants out of life and working to save the day, and this all came out to a wonderful listening experience.

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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 an eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

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 In My Garden, by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Philip Stead

Friday, July 10th, 2020

In My Garden

by Charlotte Zolotow
illustrated by Philip Stead

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2020. Text first published in 1960. 40 pages.
Review written April 21, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a perfect storytime book about changing seasons, beginning with Spring. The text is simple but lyrical, and I found myself reading it out loud, even though I was at home by myself. When the library starts doing story times again, I’m going to find a time to use this book.

The idea is simple. For each season, the girl speaking tells us what she loves best in her garden, and what she loves most to do.

The fun part, though, is that every time after she says what she loves best, she tells about other things she loves in that season.

Here’s one example:

In the fall what I love most to do is rake leaves.

Of course there are other things I like to do in the fall – buy new sweaters and skirts and pencil boxes for school, and pick the ripe golden pears from my tree.

But what I love most to do in the fall is rake leaves and jump in the big crackly golden piles of them.

Of course the natural thing to do after reading this book is talk about what you love best about the season you’re in.

charlottezolotow.com
philipstead.com
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 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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