Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

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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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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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 Fly on the Wall, by Remy Lai

Saturday, March 13th, 2021

Fly on the Wall

by Remy Lai

Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 332 pages.
Review written March 6, 2021, from a library book

Henry Khoo has figured out the perfect way to prove to his family that at twelve years old, he is not a baby. He has laid a plot to spend the first day of school break, not at his former friend Pheeb’s house as his family thinks, but on an airplane flying from Australia to Singapore where his Dad lives.

I thought of course this plan would fail spectacularly. But no, this book is the story of that flight. (And the book does convince me he could have pulled it off. It turns out that twelve is the age that kids are allowed to travel unaccompanied. Tickets were on sale, and he memorized his mother’s credit card number to get the ticket.)

Henry and his big sister Jie usually spent every school break at their Dad’s house anyway. But this year, Jie is going to be looking at universities, and Jie and Mom and Popo scoffed at Henry’s idea that he should go on his own. He will show them.

This book is liberally sprinkled with cartoon drawings, because Henry likes to draw, and this book shows us what he puts in his absolutely private notebook. We learn that Henry draws an anonymous internet comic that spreads gossip about kids at school, “Fly on the Wall.” But the principal is going to “appropriately deal with” the author of “Fly on the Wall” when he finds out who it is. Can Henry keep his secret? And he’s starting to have second thoughts about some of the things Fly on the Wall posted.

And then a classmate shows up on the very same flight — a classmate who knows Henry’s secret identity. Can Henry make it into Business Class to confront him?

The epic adventure of Henry Khoo is going to have some lessons along the way.

remylai.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 Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

Into the Water

by Paula Hawkins
read by Rachel Bavidge with a Full Cast

Penguin Audio, 2017. 12 hours.
Review written March 8, 2021, from a library eaudiobook

I decided I’d been reading too many children’s books and I was ready for a thriller, so I checked out this book by Paula Hawkins, who wrote the incredibly suspenseful The Girl on the Train. This one does have suspense, with danger and mysterious deaths.

The setting is an important part of the book. It all happens in Beckford, at the Drowning Pool part of the river that runs through town. Years ago, they used to use the pool to put accused witches through their ordeal and end up drowning them. In more recent years, it’s been the site of multiple suicides.

Nell Abbot has always been obsessed by the Drowning Pool and those who died there. She used to terrorize her little sister Jules with stories of the little boy who saw his mother jump to her death. She was working on a book about the “troublesome women” who died there. But now Nell Abbot is dead, having jumped off a cliff into the river. Or did she jump?

Her fifteen-year-old daughter Lena is convinced she did, and is devastated because of the argument they had shortly before. Jules has been called back to Beckford to care for Lena, and Jules has her own guilt because she’d refused to talk to her sister for years, and had been convinced the urgency in her voice on the phone recently was just a bid for attention.

All of Jules’ narrated sections are in the style of her talking to Nell. She thinks she hears Nell’s voice, and she sees Nell in everything, in all the memories of being in the same house where they grew up, and looking at Lena, who looks so much like Nell when they were young.

But it turns out that the little boy of of Nell’s old story is Sean Townsend, the detective in charge of her case. He didn’t actually see his mother jump into the river so many years ago, but he was at the river, and his mother’s death in the same way brings extra emotion to the case. And there was another death in the river only a few months before Nell, when Lena’s best friend Katie jumped to her death. Katie’s mother can’t forgive Lena for still being alive, and she couldn’t forgive Nell for being so obsessed with women drowning in the river that she surely gave Katie the idea.

But that’s just the beginning of this complicated story. We’ll find out more about all those recent deaths – from Sean’s mother to Katie to Nell. And to do it will take many perspectives. I wish I had paid attention and realized when I started listening that it was a full cast production. At first, I quickly lost track of who was who in the many voices I heard. It helped when I realized my eaudiobook showed the name of the current narrator on my phone screen, and I think if I’d read the book in print, that would have been easier to follow. There were so many characters, the different voices didn’t help me keep track of who was who.

It’s a sordid story. It seems like almost everyone in it was having sex with someone they really shouldn’t have had sex with. And I’m not talking merely adultery. There’s an awful lot of death, too – though we know that right from the start. Let me just say that not all the deaths in this book turn out to be suicide, which is also not a surprise. Who is responsible for different deaths is more of a surprise.

The characters also aren’t tremendously likable. Though by the end, I was especially rooting for Jules and Lena to make a family relationship with each other and find peace.

So it’s not exactly a pleasant story – but it’s certainly suspenseful and engaging. I stayed up an extra hour to finish it when I got to the end because I didn’t want to put off finding out what happened. Paula Hawkins does know how to weave a suspenseful story and feed us bits of what happened in a way that realization gradually dawns on us how much is at stake.

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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 List of Things That Will Not Change, by Rebecca Stead

Friday, March 5th, 2021

The List of Things That Will Not Change

by Rebecca Stead
read by Rachel L. Jacobs

Listening Library, 2020. 5 hours.
Review written January 26, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
A 2020 Capitol Choices selection

When Bea’s parents got divorced, they gave her a green notebook with a list of things that will not change. The first two things on the list are that her parents will love her more than anything, always. Bea goes back and forth between their homes in a regular schedule, knowing she’s always got a home with each of them. The list has grown in the years since then.

Now her dad and Jesse are getting married, and Bea gets to help plan the wedding. What’s more, Jesse’s daughter, who is Bea’s age, is coming out from California to visit. The wedding means that Bea will finally get to have a sister! But is her new sister as excited about that as Bea is? And why do some friends and relatives seem so upset about the wedding?

This is a sweet story of a loving family from the eyes of a ten-year-old navigating changes, while still being secure in the knowledge that some things will never change.

rebeccastead.com
rhcbooks.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 Sugar in Milk, by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Khoa Le

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021

Sugar in Milk

by Thrity Umrigar
illustrated by Khoa Le

RP Kids, Philadelphia, 2020. 48 pages.
Review written January 9, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Capitol Choices selection, age 7-10.

This gorgeously illustrated and lyrical picture book contains a story-within-a-story.

It begins with a spread of a girl alone in a snowy city, pulling a suitcase behind her.

When I first came to this country,
I felt so alone.

Although the girl knows her aunt and uncle are happy to have her and try to be welcoming, she misses her parents and her family and even her cats, Kulfi and Baklava.

Then her Auntie tells her a story, and that part is set off with decorated borders that get gradually more elaborate. The story tells of a group people long ago who had to leave their home and travel to a distant land.

But the local king did not want to let them in.
“Our land is too crowded,” he grumbled,
“with no room for others.
Besides, these visitors look foreign
and speak a strange and different language
I do not understand.”

But when the travelers don’t understand him (because they speak a strange and different language), he shows them they have no room, by filling a royal cup with milk, all the way to the brim.

But a wise man among the travelers took out a spoon and mixed sugar into the milk. And I won’t spoil the lovely way the lesson is presented, but it’s done lyrically, fittingly accompanying the beautiful pictures.

And the girl’s Auntie doesn’t have to tell her the moral of the story, but it changes everything for her.

I began to smile at the people we passed,
and they returned my smile.
Everybody I said hello to said hello back to me.
Even the dogs seemed friendlier
and wagged their tails faster.

I love the way this book tells a simple story that’s so rich with application – but leaves the application to the children who hear the story. It’s a good story for someone who’s lonely as well as for someone who’s not but who needs to have compassion on those who are.

And the artistry of this book is lovely for the eyes and fingers both. And for the ears, it’s written in the musical language of legends.

Umrigar.com
runningpress.com/rpkids

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