Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of Outside, Inside, by LeUyen Pham

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

Outside, Inside

by LeUyen Pham

Roaring Brook Press, 2021. 44 pages.
Review written January 28, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

It gives me pause that the pandemic has been going on long enough for a top-quality illustrator to have a wonderful book about it published.

Here’s the text for the first several spreads:

Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed.

Everybody who was OUTSIDE . . .

. . . went INSIDE.

Everyone.
Everywhere.
All over the WORLD.

There are lovely spreads about the people inside and outside hospitals, as well as talk about the empty parks, playgrounds, and schools, and the animals that came out to play.

It talks about the many things we did inside while waiting.

It talks about WHY we did this. “But mostly because everyone knew it was the right thing to do.” According to the Author’s Note, the images on this page are of actual people who died of Covid-19, along with people who love them.

I got to hear the author speak about this book at ALA Virtual Midwinter meeting, and she couldn’t talk about the hospital pages without crying. Though the book itself comes across as full of hope. There’s a black cat on each page, leading the reader through the book – the perfect choice, because cats can go anywhere.

I love the spreads at the end that bring it home:

On the OUTSIDE,
we are all different.
[Here the image is of many homes, in architectural styles from all over the world, and children from all ethnicities looking out the windows.]

But on the INSIDE,
we are all the same.
[Now the sun is setting and the silhouetted, happy children all have red hearts radiating out from them.]

The final metaphor is that Spring will come soon. There’s a wonderful spread of people outdoors, close to each other, and featuring a child giving an older relative a huge hug.

May that day come soon indeed.

This is a lovely book about hard things that fills the reader with hope. There’s lots to talk about, but the actual text is simple enough for a very young child. The book feels universal, featuring people all over the world, and it will still make for lovely reading even when this pandemic is long past.

leuyenpham.com
mackids.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 Twins, by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright

Friday, February 19th, 2021

Twins

written by Varian Johnson
illustrated by Shannon Wright

Graphix (Scholastic), 2020. 252 pages.
Review written January 26, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Maureen and her twin Francine have reached middle school, and Maureen’s dismayed that they only have two classes together. But Francine starts going by Fran and seems to be relishing doing things apart from Maureen. She’s getting new friends in chorus and even decides to run for class president.

Maureen is nervous about doing so much on her own and finding her own way. Then in Cadets, Maureen learns she can get extra credit by running for office. Francine doesn’t even seem to care, so she impulsively decides to run for president, too. Will that finally get her twin’s attention again?

There are plenty of excellent graphic novels about navigating the way friendships change in middle school. This one has the additional spark of dealing with a friendship between twins. Varian Johnson is a twin himself, so even though the story isn’t autobiographical, he knows how to capture the connection between twins. This book is sure to be wildly popular, and deservedly so.

varianjohnson.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 Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Saturday, February 13th, 2021

Mañanaland

by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Scholastic Press, 2020. 247 pages.
Review written March 6, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#11 Children’s Fiction

This lovely book tells the story of a boy growing into the legacy of his family of helping people in need.

Here’s how the book begins:

Somewhere in the Américas, many years after once-upon-a-time and long before happily-ever-after, a boy climbed the cobbled steps of an arched bridge in the tiny village of Santa Maria, in the country of the same name.

He bounced a fútbol on each stone ledge.

In the land of a hundred bridges, this was his favorite. When he was only a baby, Papá, a master stonemason and bridge builder, had carved his name on the spandrel wall for all to see

MAXIMILIANO CÓRDOBA

Max is twelve years old and ready this year to join Santa Maria’s famous fútbol team. He also ready for more responsibility and more freedom, like going to another town for a free fútbol clinic with his friends, but his Papá is overprotective and won’t let him go. Papá is also full of secrets, and never talks about Max’s mother, who left when Max was a baby.

In this book, Max discovers many family secrets and is placed in a situation where he must rise to the occasion and follow the family tradition of helping others.

I like the little blend of fantasy in this book, with a beginning like a fairy tale. The setting is fictional, but there’s a country troubled by war and oppression over the nearby border. Max and his grandfather like to tell stories, though his Papá is more of a realist and doesn’t seem to believe in happy endings any more. But Max discovers that some of the stories are hiding important truths.

I also like the tower standing over the town, a tower like a giant queen from a chessboard. The picture on the cover added to Max’s thinking of her as a giant lady watching over the town and its people.

This book had just the right blend of mystery, danger, adventure, and hope.

scholastic.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 This Is My Brain In Love, by I. W. Gregorio

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

This Is My Brain in Love

by I. W. Gregorio
read by Diane Doen and Zeno Robinson

Hachette Audio, 2020. 9 hours, 30 minutes.
Review written November 16, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2021 Schneider Family Award Winner
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#9 General Teen Fiction

This book begins at the start of summer before Jocelyn Wu’s Junior year of high school. Her father tells her that their family restaurant is failing and they will have to move back to the big city where he worked for her uncle. Jos has finally made friends in Utica, and she is not ready to uproot everything and move back. She asks her father to give her a chance. If they can establish an internet presence and advertise at events, maybe they can turn things around.

Jos doesn’t think she has the expertise to turn things around by herself, so she convinces her dad to advertise for a summer intern. When Will Dominici applies, she doesn’t expect an attractive boy her age whose mother is Nigerian and father Italian. As they work together, they are more and more attracted to one another – which doesn’t go over well with Jos’s dad.

This is a delightful teen romance. The two narrators alternating Will’s and Jocelyn’s perspectives add to the fun. Something distinctive about this book is that both teens are dealing with mental illness. Will has been seeing a therapist for anxiety disorder since he was eight years old. He notices that Jos is awfully hard on herself and starts showing warning signs of depression, though she’s resistant to that idea. But the love story ends up being a natural frame for talking about mental illness and how it’s hard – but necessary – to ask for help.

I listened to this on eaudiobook, so I couldn’t renew as easily as a physical copy. But I didn’t even resent cramming in the last three hours to get it finished before it expired. Maybe it was a little unrealistic that two teens could turn the business around, and throwing in sinister developers who wanted to replace the family restaurant felt a little less realistic, but it’s actually kind of easy to believe that teens know more about internet advertising than immigrant adults. And it all adds up to a feel-good listening experience.

The narrators were excellent, and I appreciated that the narrator for Jocelyn’s viewpoint could quote her parents and Amah speaking Mandarin without missing a beat.

This book made me want to try some Potstickers.

theNOVL.com
LBYR.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 Stepping Stones, by Lucy Knisley

Sunday, February 7th, 2021

Stepping Stones

by Lucy Knisley

RH Graphic, 2020. 218 pages.
Review written July 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#10 Children’s Fiction

It’s a winning formula: A graphic novel about a kid navigating middle school, based on the author’s own life. After all, there’s so much material in our lives at that age for humor and pathos.

Stepping Stones doesn’t include any scenes at school, but it’s based on what the author went through at that age. Jen’s parents have split up. Jen’s mom is following her dream and moving to a farm in the country with her boyfriend. The author sets us up concisely by showing Jen in a room surrounded by boxes making a list of things she misses about the city and things she HATES about the farm.

The number one thing Jen hates is the chores. And right away we see the adults telling her how much they expect as they set up a chicken coop and get ready for their order of chicks to arrive. They’re going to be Jen’s responsibility. And at the Farmer’s Market booth, she’s expected to help – even though doing the calculations to make change is a challenge.

But things get extra interesting when Jen’s mom’s boyfriends’ two daughters start coming to the farm every weekend. Andy, the girl who’s Jen’s age, is a big know-it-all and bosses Jen around. When Jen complains, she’s called a Drama Queen.

The summer goes on and we watch a family forming before our eyes. Everyone does have their annoying quirks, but they find ways to connect and come together, and they all have contributions to make for the success of the farm.

I hope that the kids who’ve loved Raina Telgemeier’s and Victoria Jamieson’s and Jerry Craft’s books will find Lucy Knisley’s as well. It’s a warm and humorous graphic novel about farming and stepfamilies and new experiences.

lucyknisley.com
RHKidsGraphic.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 Swashby and the Sea, by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Monday, February 1st, 2021

Swashby and the Sea

by Beth Ferry
illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 32 pages.
Review written July 7, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Standout:
#8 Fiction Picture Books

Swashby and the Sea is a charming story of an old sea captain who likes living alone, by his friend the sea. His little boat is even called El Recluso. But when neighbors move in, a little girl and her granny, the girl doesn’t respect Swashby’s boundaries. She climbs on his deck and spreads out on the beach near his house.

Swashby knows what to do.

Swashby battened down the hatches,
hid when the doorbell rang, and fed their oatmeal cookies to the gulls.
He didn’t need neighbors.
He didn’t want neighbors.
Neighbors were nosy, a nuisance, annoying.
So, in return, he left a message written clearly in the sand,
NO TRESPASSING
which the sea fiddled with, just a little bit.

“SING,” the girl read.
And did just that.
She sang every song she knew while dancing up and down Swashby’s deck.

There are more messages in the sand, and the sea keeps fiddling with them. Something I like about this book is that I didn’t figure out how the sea would transform the message – but then when I saw it, it was perfect.

There’s maybe a predictable adventure that gets Swashby finally truly committed to friendship, but the whole thing is a charming story of an old crusty sailor and a little Black girl bubbling with joy. I should add that the pictures are consistently wonderful and convey the characters’ personalities and the magic of the sea.

bethferry.com
juanamartinezneal.com
hmhbooks.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 The Edge of Anything, by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

The Edge of Anything

by Nora Shalaway Carpenter

Running Press Teens (Hachette), 2020. 362 pages.
Review written December 21, 2020, from a book sent by the publisher
Starred Review
2020 Cybils Finalist
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 General Teen Fiction

The Edge of Anything is a friendship story, and a powerful one. Len has never really had friends, except her sister, and now she’s avoiding calls from her sister after something terrible happened. She’s finding herself extra sensitive to dirt and germs, and kids at school think she’s a freak.

But when Sage’s life turns upside-down, Len is the person who sees what she’s going through. Sage faints after a volleyball game, and thinks it was low blood sugar. But it turns out to be something that can keep her from playing sports ever again. Volleyball was her passion and her whole life.

It turns out that Len is dealing with something that’s also huge, but the reader and Sage don’t find out what that is until well into the book. But we do come to understand why Len is better at understanding what Sage is going through than her other friends.

That’s the skeleton of what happens in this book, but the beauty is in the carrying it out as Len and Sage become friends and figure out how to be good friends to each other, when neither one wants to face what’s going on.

This book gives a good look at mental illness as an illness, not something you can shake by being strong.

noracarpenterwrites.com
runningpress.com/rpkids

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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 Before the Ever After, by Jacqueline Woodson, read by Guy Lockard

Friday, January 29th, 2021

Before the Ever After

by Jacqueline Woodson
read by Guy Lockard

Listening Library, 2020. 2 hours, 15 minutes on eaudio
Review written January 4, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2021 Capitol Choices selection
2021 Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Children’s Fiction

This is a novel in verse written from the perspective of twelve-year-old ZJ, talking about his Dad, a professional football player.

His Dad is a star, with a Super Bowl ring. Or at least he was – before. When ZJ goes through his memories, we learn that his Dad was also a wonderful, active, loving father. He did lots of things with ZJ and ZJ’s friends.

But then one day, he didn’t play a game they expected him to play. He started getting awful headaches, forgetting their names, and acting strangely. And they didn’t know what was going on. Different doctors had different ideas, but nothing was working.

The way the book covers “Before,” your heart breaks with ZJ when his Daddy starts to change.

Normally, I think I enjoy novels in verse more by seeing the poetry with my own eyes. It’s easier to catch what the author’s doing. In this case, I did enjoy listening to the warm voice of the narrator, and I did figure out it was a novel in verse before I looked at the book.

This is a heartbreaking tribute from a kid to his dad.

jacquelinewoodson.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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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 Even If We Break, by Marieke Nijkamp

Sunday, January 24th, 2021

Even If We Break

by Marieke Nijkamp

Sourcebooks Fire, 2020. 306 pages.
Review written December 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Teen Fiction

Even If We Break is a Then There Were None-style thriller for teens. As the book begins, five teens are making their way to a high-tech mountain cabin owned by one of them. There was a storm the day before that blocked the path for the car and boulders on the path still make it difficult for the two who have mobility issues.

We get the perspective of different teens in each chapter. Finn and Ever are transgender, with Ever using they/them pronouns. Finn uses crutches and Maddy, who is autistic, has been in an accident recently that changed her from a star lacrosse athlete to someone whose knee hurts when she walks, especially over boulders. Liva is the one whose parents own the cabin, and Carter works for her father’s company.

They are all high school students, but Liva, Carter, and Finn have graduated and will be going off to college at the end of the summer. So their three years of playing a role-playing game together will come to an end. They’re going to have one last immersive game experience in the mountain cabin first. Even though Finn hadn’t been joining them as often lately, and even though Liva’s ex-boyfriend Zac had stopped altogether.

There are stories that the mountain is haunted, and Ever, the gamemaster, weaves that into their adventure. Every adventure started with a murder, as the group are Inquisitors from the land of Gonfalon, and the Council hires them to use magic and skills to solve crimes. For this adventure, a councilor herself (represented by a pile of blankets) is dead.

But as the adventure begins, things begin to become all too real. The power goes out. They hear a music box, just like the story of the haunted mountain. Then bloody handprints. And yes, there’s murder. And that high-tech cabin? It’s hard to get out when it locks.

Never mind solving the murder – the teens who are left want to escape with their lives.

The author pulls the story off well. I’m tempted to say more, but won’t for fear it will give you clues. I did love the central role of the transgender teens and enjoyed that all the characters had emotional depth.

And I was very glad I had a chance to finish it in one sitting! This is not a book you want to set aside.

mariekenijkamp.com
FIREreads.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 The Blue House, by Phoebe Wahl

Friday, January 22nd, 2021

The Blue House

by Phoebe Wahl

Alfred A. Knopf, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written September 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Standout:
#8 Fiction Picture Books

Here’s a picture book about having to move from a much loved house. It’s done with sensitivity and particularity that’s just lovely.

We meet Leo and his Dad. I like that Leo is a boy with long hair. They live in an old blue house with leaks and creaks. They like to dance and make music together.

Leo loved the blue house in winter, with its hiding places and cozy spaces.

When the old heater broke, they would bake a pie just to warm up the kitchen.

But the neighborhood is changing. Leo’s dad tells him that their house is going to be torn down and they will have to move.

Leo doesn’t respond well at first. But eventually, they use music to express their anger.

They shredded on guitar, and Leo did a special scream solo. It made both of them a little less mad.

They do further things to adjust, like painting on the walls of the empty house before it’s torn down. Even after they’ve moved, they find ways to remember the old blue house. And ways to make their new house feel more and more like home.

This is a lovely story of a small family dealing with something hard and making a new home together.

rhcbooks.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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