Review of The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn, by Sally J. Pla, read by Gail Shalan

The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGinn

by Sally J. Pla
read by Gail Shalan

Quill Tree Books, 2023. 6 hours, 36 minutes.
Review written May 20, 2024, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2024 Schneider Family Book Award Winner, Middle Grades

Oh, I love this one! I’m so glad I finally got around to listening to this award winner — the Schneider Family Award is given annually to books with the best portrayal of a disability. Awards are given for three age levels, along with Honor books, and this one won the award for Middle Grades.

The featured character in this book is Maudie McGinn, a 13-year-old girl with autism. She’s supposed to spend the summer with her Dad in his cabin in northern California. But while they are out to dinner, a wildfire sweeps in, and they have to evacuate. They find a place to stay in the coastal town near San Diego where her Dad grew up, so they’re staying in a trailer in a campground on the beach.

But Maudie’s Dad has friends there, and Maudie begins to make friends there — something she didn’t do in Texas, where she lives during the school year with her mother and stepfather. Maudie has two terrible secrets, but everything with Dad and the ocean helps her relax and begin to understand her own value. Her father has many neurodivergent traits, like Maudie, and he never puts her down for them or scolds her for them. The fact that Maudie thinks this is of note makes us wonder about her life with her mother, and plenty of flashbacks round out the picture of how much better and safer she feels with her father.

But the ocean helps Maudie put all that out of her mind. She even starts learning to surf! And she decides to surprise her father by entering the beginners’ surf competition at the town’s big end-of-summer Surf Bash. Yes, I know that might sound unrealistic in a book summary, but it builds gradually, and yes, we’re with Maudie all the way. (Though as the reader, I did have reservations about her idea of surprising her Dad.)

Maudie’s neurodivergence is sensitively and beautifully portrayed from the inside. And the flashbacks about how her mother responds to her are viscerally painful. The narrator does a wonderful job with the audiobook, giving each person a voice that fits how they’re described in words.

The ending feels almost a little too tidy — but goodness, I would have been so angry if Maudie didn’t have happy times ahead to look forward to. And it wasn’t *every* single thing that worked out for them. I fell in love with this kid while I listened to her story, and I love how she learned that keeping secrets isn’t the road to happiness.

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Review of When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller

When You Trap a Tiger

by Tae Keller

Random House, 2020. 297 pages.
Review written July 17, 2020, from a library book
2020 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor
2021 Newbery Medal Winner

As the book opens, Lily and her big sister Sam are being taken by their mother to move to the Pacific Northwest to live with their Halmoni, their Korean grandmother. Lily and Sam aren’t thrilled about this sudden move, which changes all their summer plans. As they get near Halmoni’s house, Lily sees a giant tiger in the road, a tiger that looks just like the one that appeared in the tales Halmoni used to tell. Her mother and Sam don’t even see the tiger, and nothing happens when they drive through that part.

It isn’t too long living there before Lily learns Halmoni is very sick. And it turns out the tiger is willing to make a deal with Lily, in exchange for some stories Halmoni stole long ago. But Halmoni has taught Lily never to trust a tiger.

At the same time, Lily is trying to make friends in the new community, and Sami is sometimes nice, sometimes harsh, and she’s so worried about Halmoni.

I wasn’t crazy about the way the fantasy in this book was handled, because I could find logical holes. However, it does nicely leave you wondering what’s real and what’s Lily’s imagination. The overtones from Korean mythology, along with thoughts about the importance of stories, add richness to this book.

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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.

2024 Walter Awards Celebration

On March 13, 2024, I got to attend the Walter Dean Myers Awards Celebration at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, DC. The Walter Awards are presented by the organization We Need Diverse Books, begun ten years ago by Ellen Oh and other like-minded people.

Ellen Oh started us off, honoring ten years of the Walter Awards. The theme this year is: “There Is Work to Be Done.” I didn’t get the quote down exactly, but I believe she said that last year in children’s and young adult publishing, 45% of newly published books were diverse in some way. So yes! We have made great strides in having more diverse books available in our diverse country. But we all know that book banners are pushing back, and there is still work to be done.

Elizabeth Acevedo was the moderator this year. She’s a former Walter Award recipient herself, and she did a beautiful job moderating the discussion and giving out the awards.

But I was there to see Ari Tison and Hannah V. Sawyerr!

Why? Because they are two of “our” Finalists for the 2024 Morris Award, and I read their books two and three times and helped select them as Finalists. And love, love, love their books. Ari Tison, author of Saints of the Household, is pictured above. She was the winner of the 2024 Walter Award for Young Adult Literature, and as such she got to give a speech.

Highlights from Ari’s speech:

Of course, she first talked about how much she appreciates this honor and said that previous award winners were her mentor texts.

Life is sacred in a world with so much ugly. Her book is about art, family, monsters, brotherhood, and intertribal relationships. (I love this list, because I made a similar one on a sticky note when I was planning how to talk about this book with the Morris committee.) This book made her braver.

“Through books, we are woven together.”

“We write so young people can hold the world more fully.”

We see ourselves and the mosaic of life in books.

There are only five Bri Bri people (an indigenous group from Costa Rica) in the entire U.S. right now.

Diversity is reality. We (humanity) contain multitudes.

Keep going, so that the world of books looks like the world.

Next up was Jacqueline Woodson, who won the Children’s Literature Walter Award for her book Remember Us. First, Elizabeth Acevedo acknowledged that Jacqueline is the GOAT.

In Jacqueline’s speech, she spoke about her neighbor in Brooklyn, Walter Dean Myers’ granddaughter, Kazay. (I’m probably spelling that incorrectly.) She sees a future. She’s grinning, proud and grateful.

After that came a wonderful panel discussion moderated by Elizabeth Acevedo. The two winners were joined by the Honor Book Authors, Hannah V. Sawyerr (young adult) for All the Fighting Parts, and Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (children’s) as one of the four co-authors of Grounded.

The panel discussion was wonderful. I’ll repeat what I got written down in my notes.

The first question was in keeping with ten years of the Walter Awards, and was “Where were you ten years ago?”

Jamilah: She was the mom of a 4-year-old and a baby, and she was falling in love with picture books. But she wanted to see Black Muslim children. She started writing in 2015.

Jacqueline: She’d just won the National Book Award with Brown Girl Dreaming. It was time for change. She had a five-year-old. And people were taking a hard look at young people’s literature.

Hannah: She was a Senior in high school. She was annoyingly passionate, and always writing in the margins when in class. She was obsessed with open mics and really loved words and poetry.

Ari: She was also a Senior in high school and also annoying. [I got to thinking that 10 years from high school to award-winning debut novel is fantastic for both women.] Her reaction to difficulties was being an overachiever, after a scholarship to college. She bought herself a two-month novel-writing workshop. She had tenacity and annoyingness.

Next question: What do you hope this book shows readers and what did it show you?

Jacqueline: Her character loves basketball and gets bullied. We have so much more than what the world sees in us. It made her grateful for the past. This is a journey, a movement.

Ari: It’s important to have hope in books for young people. She learned about PTSD – wanted to show you can get past trauma. She showed opportunities for healing: Art, friendships, community.

Hannah: Her book is a Me, Too, novel. She’d experienced shame and self-blame. Her book is about believing: It was not your fault. She hopes that message gets to readers.

Jamilah: It’s an important book for their community, a fun book in a space (an airport) that’s often fraught for Muslims.

Elizabeth: Sometimes the way we define success is different than the world. How do you define success?

Ari: We all come from storytellers. Her people haven’t had their stories told. In Bri Bri, Story = History = Wind = Knowledge. It helps her get grounded. Everything is a gift. She’s here because of something beyond the physical.

Hannah: Her writing is selfish – to figure things out and address honestly. Writing is taking risks. Success is wrapped up in integrity. (But later she did say that her book is not Autobiography. It’s “Auto-fiction.” Her character is not herself.)

Jamilah: Success is feeling like her work is opening spaces for other authors. When others take inspiration from her writing, that feels very successful.

Jacqueline: Success is doing what she loves, and making that choice to do it, even though her family told her not to. (Because Black people don’t make a living writing books.) Mentors began the journey and many are no longer here. Folks of color don’t live as long as white folks. Still being here and doing the work is success. She loves her people and she loves writing.

Elizabeth (to Hannah): Part of the journey is passing it on. [Then Jacqueline made her tell the story of, as a teen, prompted by her middle school teacher Phil Bildner, writing a letter to Angela Johnson about the book Heaven. She didn’t get an answer — until the book The First Part Last came out, dedicated to her. It was the first time she saw her name in print.] Healing is also part of fighting back. How do you make space for the many definitions of it?

Hannah: Her journey in the court system was eight years long. She came forward about abuse her senior year of high school. For a long time she didn’t think she was a fighter, and felt very small. Her biggest accomplishment was finishing the first draft. Many times, she was tempted to drop out. She got the contract on her book before she got the verdict in court. You get so fed up with the process. She survived that event, but it doesn’t define her. She’s so much more than that and is carrying on. (And the secondary character, who didn’t take the abuser to court, was fighting, too.)

Elizabeth (to Jamilah): How did the story come together with four authors?

Jamilah: Lots of credit to Aisha Saeed – it was her original idea. She wanted representation of different Muslim voices. There’s lots of diversity within their diversity. They each took from their own communities. They wrote Grounded during the pandemic to help feel grounded. They met every couple weeks on Zoom, wanting to escape.

Elizabeth (To Ari): Some of the Bri Bri stories you used in your book had never been put into English before. How did you work them into your narrative?

Ari: There were three levels of colonization in Costa Rica. She also learned Spanish when there in their territory. For Native people, story is a big way they survived. She cited a study that if Native teens know their creation stories, they are less likely to self-harm. She was looking for ways to make the story bigger than hers alone. Her ancestors’ stories are there, too. Folklore gives us insight into our own lives, and it was important to include those, too.

Elizabeth (to Jacqueline): Why that neighborhood and background?

Jacqueline: Bushwick started out as Irish and German. When Black folks moved in, the landlords started setting fires to get insurance money. Now, it’s an artist-hipster neighborhood. Folks talk about “discovering” Bushwick, which erases the history that went before. There were no trees when she grew up there. Now destruction is still happening, but now it’s through unhousing people by building expensive housing. We don’t have to recreate the wheel for social justice.

Okay, after that the teens attending got to ask question. They had brought in students from local high schools, and it made my heart happy to see how excited they were about the books and to talk with the authors. After all our discussing the books on the Morris committee, I loved seeing that teens love the books, too.

After that was a signing. I was anxious by this time. I’d been told I could go to the Awards ceremony, but I should get back for our department staff meeting at 1:30.

But I had to meet Ari and tell her how much I loved the book! It made her smile to see the Morris Finalist sticker on the front of mine!

I got in Hannah’s line next, but finally had to give up. Both Ari and Hannah were spending time talking with each person (mostly teens) who got a signature — and that was beautiful to see, so I couldn’t begrudge them.

So I took a picture of the happy crowd before I left. Then I was late back (and Constitution Avenue was blocked off, so I had to take a detour past the just-beginning cherry blossoms of the Tidal Basin) — but the meeting had been cancelled! I wish I’d checked email before I left that morning – and stayed in Hannah’s line!

But the whole thing was a fabulous celebration of diversity in young people’s literature. May this legacy continue!

Review of The Isles of the Gods, by Amie Kaufman

Isles of the Gods

by Amie Kaufman
read by Nikki Patel, Homer Todiwala, Donnabella Mortel, Vidish Athavale, and Steve West

Listening Library, 2023. 12 hours, 49 minutes.
Review written February 14, 2024, from a library eaudiobook
2023 CYBILS Award Finalist, Young Adult Speculative Fiction
Starred Review

I listened to this book because it was a Cybils Award Finalist (even though I’m not on the panel this year), and I was mesmerized. In the first place, the production is very well done, with one of my favorite narrators, Steve West, reading a large portion. The book has five viewpoint characters, with a narrator for each one. This enhanced the experience and made it easier to realize when a different character was telling the story.

Our main character, though, is Selly. She’s a merchant’s daughter and has grown up on ships. Now, she’s gotten the disappointing news that her father isn’t coming back for her after a year apart. So she plans to sneak aboard the last boat heading north before winter. She plans to get her things off her assigned ship and go in the night. But before she can get off the ship, her captain tells her the whole ship is leaving quietly in the night. The prince, whom everyone thought was leading a procession of ships to various allies, is actually traveling undercover on their ship.

Every twenty-five years, the royal family of Alinor must make a sacrifice at the isle of their goddess, the Sentinel. Well, Prince Leander has been putting it off, and now he’s a year late — and war is brewing. He’s a powerful magician, but for this one important task, he’s been a slacker.

And it turns out there are people and powers who want to stop Leander so that Alinor’s goddess will not have power, and their own god can awaken and they can start a war.

Two of the five narrators are among the group trying to stop Leander. Let’s just say that the voyage does not go smoothly. There is plenty of danger, plenty of tension, and high stakes.

Because of the high body count in the other Amie Kaufman book I’ve read, Illuminae, I was not surprised that there’s also plenty of death in this book. Don’t get too attached to any character, because all lives are in danger and those who want to stop Prince Leander are ruthless.

I must admit, at the start I rolled my eyes a little, thinking it highly unlikely that our two main characters, Selly and Prince Leander, could fall in love with such dramatically different backgrounds. I wasn’t rolling my eyes at all by the end. Amie Kaufman pulls off a tender slow-burn romance based in character, and it’s exquisitely done.

Now, I’m not completely sure I wanted to know all the motivations of the people working to thwart Prince Leander, and maybe five different viewpoint characters wasn’t entirely necessary. But the other characters had short segments so I was never impatient to get back to the main story, and it did add depth to my understanding of the politics of the two countries and how much was at stake.

Though this book stops at a good place, there are some big loose ends that are not tied up, so I will be waiting impatiently for July’s release of the next book, The Heart of the World. It is already on a list to order for the library.

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Review of The Mona Lisa Vanishes, by Nicholas Day

The Mona Lisa Vanishes

A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity

by Nicholas Day
with art by Brett Helquist

Random House Studio, 2023. 276 pages.
Review written February 22, 2024, from a library book
Starred Review
2024 Robert F. Sibert Medal Winner
2023 CYBILS Award Middle Grade Nonfiction Winner

It’s easy to understand the awards this book won. Nicholas Day takes facts and gives us an entertaining and suspenseful story with a conversational tone.

Picture the Mona Lisa. I’m guessing you can easily bring her image to mind. This book tells the story of how she became so famous — by getting stolen in 1911.

Along the way he gives us the story of the life of Leonardo da Vinci and the story of Lisa Gherardini and how unlikely it was that he would ever paint her portrait. It also tells us about the thief who pulled off the heist, the detectives who utterly failed at finding him, and the stories and publicity that grew up around the theft — right before World War I started, so it wasn’t eclipsed in the press.

He weaves all this together skillfully, mixing chapters about Leonardo during the Renaissance with chapters about Paris in the early twentieth century, never leaving us hanging, but always leaving us wanting more.

You also learn about the background of both settings, with information given as it’s needed, never letting the story go slack.

Here’s an example about the newspapers of the day:

The Mona Lisa heist ran on the front page of Parisian newspapers every day for over a month. With each story, the painting grew more significant, the loss more tragic. It was no longer just another painting, or even just another great painting. It was a transcendent painting.

Over the next month, it was transformed into a painting that was beloved by all, that spoke to everyone, that moved everyone. In fact, it became less a painting and more an object of worship. It was a myth, a mystery, almost a living being.

“What audacious criminal,” asked the magazine L’Illustration, “what mystifier, what manic collector, what insane lover, has committed this abduction?”…

It was the perfect story at the perfect time. Why? Because all of a sudden, people could read.

For centuries, literacy had been a specialized skill. That was changing fast. More people were going to school; more jobs required reading. The result was a surge in literacy.

The side effect was the golden age of newspapers.

In 1870, over one million newspapers were sold every day in Paris. By the time the Mona Lisa was stolen, that number was up to almost six million — in a city of less than three million. The price of a daily paper was half what it once was. Mass media had arrived.

Read this book for a rip-roaring story (with wonderful illustrations by Brett Helquist), and you will end up learning all kinds of things about Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance, the Louvre, early criminal science, and even fake news.

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Review of Houses with a Story, by Seiji Yoshida

Houses with a Story

A Dragon’s Den, a Ghostly Mansion, a Library of Lost Books, and 30 More Amazing Places to Explore

by Seiji Yoshida
translated by Jan Mitsuko Cash

Amulet Books, 2023. Originally published in Japan in 2020. 124 pages.
Review written February 26, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review
2024 Mildred L. Batchelder Award Winner

When this book came in to the library we had quite a discussion with the Cataloging department about where it should be shelved. The houses and buildings pictured are clearly imaginary — but they’re given serious treatment. Pictures and diagrams show how they’re built, with details pointed out on each spread. The book doesn’t tell a story, but it suggests a multiplicity of stories. Someone looking for a novel wouldn’t find it in this book, and in size and style it fits much better with nonfiction. And yet all the buildings are fictional. What to do?

And our head cataloger came to the rescue. It turns out there’s a specific call number — 720.22 — for the architecture of imaginary buildings. Perfect!

I had already dipped into it with delight, and then this book won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award, which is given to books originally published in another country in a language other than English. The award is given to the publisher to encourage them to find international gems like this one.

And the book is so much fun! Most of the imaginary buildings are presented along with their inhabitants, and you get hints of their stories and their lifestyles. On one side of each spread is an exterior view of the building in its landscape. The other side shows a cutaway interior view, with an introduction and arrows to details. There’s often a floor plan as well. Some of the places are “Mischievous Bridge Tower Keeper,” “World-Weary Astronomer’s Residence,” “Reserved Mechanic’s Cottage,” “An Eccentric Botanist’s Laboratory,” “Methodical Witch’s House,” and “Forgotten Orphan’s Castle.” Here’s the short introductory text for that last one:

This old castle has watched over the land through several centuries. Following the loss of its original inhabitants, a lord and lady, the castle was left abandoned and became the target of robbers. Rumor has it an orphan has recently taken up residence there. The lord and lady of the castle had a young child who died, so it is also said that the orphan is actually a ghost.

There are more notes at the back about each place, including where and when it’s intended to be, at least if it’s supposed to be in our world at all.

Check out this book and take some time to pore through it. This book can send your imagination flying. Here’s how the author puts it in his Foreword:

You may find houses that feel as though they’ve come straight from certain books you’ve read in the past, while other abodes may be so peculiar that you’ve never encountered anything like them before, even in your own imagination. The tale you weave for each house is entirely up to you, and nothing would give me greater pleasure than you finding yourself immersed in a wonderful story.

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Review of 100 Mighty Dragons All Named Broccoli, by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Lian Cho

100 Mighty Dragons All Named Broccoli

written by David LaRochelle
illustrated by Lian Cho

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2023. 36 pages.
Review written January 29, 2024, from a library book
Starred Review
2024 Mathical Book Prize Honor Book, Grades K-2

This book has grown on me as I read it multiple times for the Mathical Book Prize. First, I didn’t like that you don’t see all 100 dragons on the first page. But then I noted they’re spread out over the title spread and the first page, and the 100 different dragons are each given a distinctive appearance, so you can follow each dragon for however long they last with the group through the rest of the book.

It’s not really a counting book… but come to think of it, early elementary kids don’t really need a counting book. They’re ready for slightly more sophisticated operations and number sense, and this book delivers, in a delightfully silly package.

Here’s how the book begins:

High on a mountain near a deep dark cave lived 100 mighty dragons.
They were all named Broccoli.

One blustery autumn day a tremendous wind blew half the dragons away.

This left. . .

50 mighty dragons, all named Broccoli.

10 dragons sailed away on a cruise ship and became professional surfers in Hawaii.

This left. . .

40 mighty dragons, all named Broccoli.

The oldest dragon and the youngest dragon took a train to New York City and started their own heavy metal band.

This left. . .

So, yes, it’s a counting down book, but it doesn’t change by the same number each time. You have to think a little bit if you want to follow along. Sometimes you have to observe. (“All the dragons wearing sunglasses flew to France.”) And just when kids think they have the pattern down — some dragons come back.

So this is a book that reinforces some basic math, but it’s not about math, it’s about these silly dragons and what they’ll do next.

And at the end, there are 100 new baby dragons — and they are not all named Broccoli. In fact, each baby dragon is pictured, with its name. It reminds me very much of Dr. Seuss’s silly story “Too Many Daves,” but there were just 23 Daves.

And although we’re giving this book a Mathical Book Prize Honor for Kindergarten through 2nd grade, preschoolers will enjoy it, too. They might not be able to do all the math yet, but being exposed to math never hurt anybody, and kids who love detailed illustrations will get hours of fun out of looking at the pictures of these mighty dragons. A whole lot of silly fun!

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Review of Elf Dog and Owl Head, by M. T. Anderson

Elf Dog & Owl Head

by M. T. Anderson
illustrated by Junyi Wu

Candlewick Press, 2023. 232 pages.
Review written February 21, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review
2024 Newbery Honor Book

Oh, I loved this book so much! It reminded me of the Edward Eager magic-filled books I read and loved as a kid.

But this is a modern take on magic. Clay is stuck doing school at home because of a global pandemic. Everyone in his family is getting on each other’s nerves. But his house is next to the woods. He goes out walking in the woods, thinking how stupid it is to carry a Frisbee by himself, when he sees a white dog with strange red ears. The reader knows she is a dog from the hunting pack of the Kingdom Under the Mountain, who didn’t go back to her den under the mountain quickly enough. But Clay only knows that she enjoys catching the Frisbee.

Clay notices right away that something’s off about the dog. When she fetches, she seems to use some kind of teleporting magic. When she follows him home, the family puts out notices, but no one seems to be missing a white dog with red ears. She settles in and finds that she likes playing with the boy instead of working all the time, and she likes sleeping on his bed instead of in a den.

And so Clay’s magical adventures begin. It turns out that his elf dog can easily take paths between worlds and take Clay to magical places he’s never seen before — with some interesting magical consequences. He even makes a new friend from a village in a parallel world — a boy with an owl head.

Clay has two sisters — one older teen sister and one younger tag-along sister. Even his sisters get some adventures. In fact, I especially like the older sister DiRossi’s encounters with magic. When she meets a depressed giant, the author makes gentle fun of her teenage angst in a way I thought was hilarious while also being spot-on. But a scene later in the book gives even DiRossi a nice dose of magical wonder and joy.

So this is a book about magical adventures, playful and joyful. Sometimes things go wrong, and they have to fix them. And there’s quite a bit of danger at the end.

It’s also a book about family and friendship and the magical bond between a boy and his dog.

I love that the Newbery committee this year chose some books that are fully children’s books, not even “middle grade” books — though middle graders will enjoy it, too. But Clay’s concerns are a kid’s concerns, with none of that burgeoning middle grade awareness of the opposite sex. And it’s refreshing that these younger kids get such distinguished books, too.

I said that I hope the Newbery winner, The Eyes and the Impossible, will get read in classrooms across America. I wish that for this book, too. But what this book really made me think of was back in the day when my husband and I read books at bedtime to our two kids, who were six and a half years apart. We looked for books with a wide age range to appeal to them both — and this book makes me wish for those days again, because this kind of family story with magic would have exactly filled the bill.

Oh, and spoiler alert: It’s an award-winning book with a dog on the cover — Yet no animals die!

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Review of The Eyes and the Impossible, by Dave Eggers

The Eyes and the Impossible

by Dave Eggers
illustrations of Johannes by Shawn Harris

Alfred A. Knopf, 2023. 256 pages.
Review written 2/4/24 from a library book.
Starred Review
2024 John Newbery Medal Winner

This book is told by a dog who lives in a park. He introduces himself:

I am a dog called Johannes and I have seen you. I have seen you in this park, my home. If you have come to this park, my vast green and windblown park by the sea, I have seen you. I have seen everyone who has been here, the walkers and runners and bikers and horse-riders and the Bison-seekers and the picnickers and the archers in their cloaks. When you have come here you have come to my home, where I am the Eyes.

Three Bison live in an enclosure in the park. They rule over the park, but can’t leave their enclosure, so they appointed Johannes to be their Eyes. He has Assistants who help, and together the Bison keep the Equilibrium.

But as the Equilibrium gets upset, the animals devise a plan to do the Impossible.

Meanwhile, Johannes is delightful company.

I have seen all of you here. The big and small and tall and odorous. The travelers and tourists and locals and roller-skating humans and those who play their brass under the mossy bridge and the jitterbug people who dance over that other bridge, and bearded humans who try to send flying discs into cages but usually fail. I see all in this park because I am the Eyes and have been entrusted with seeing and reporting all. Ask the turtles about me. Ask the squirrels. Don’t ask the ducks. The ducks know nothing.

I run like a rocket. I run like a laser. You have never seen speed like mine. When I run I pull at the earth and make it turn. Have you seen me? You have not seen me. Not possible. You are mistaken. No one has seen me running because when I run human eyes are blind to me. I run like light. Have you seen the movement of light? Have you?

But some new things come into the park that Johannes has not seen before. Mysterious rectangles with things inside that are Impossible. And new animals that eat even the prickly grass that took over the tulip field. And thus new adventures and plans begin.

I like it that the Newbery this year went to a book that is truly for children — not even a middle-grades book. Now, like most great books, everyone in a wide age range will enjoy it, including this old person, but this would make a fabulous read-aloud even for young elementary school children. In fact, I hope that winning this award will make The Eyes and the Impossible the read-aloud choice for classrooms across the country.

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Review of All the Fighting Parts, by Hannah V. Sawyerr

All the Fighting Parts

by Hannah V. Sawyerr

Amulet Books, 2023. 387 pages.
Review written October 2, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review
2024 William C. Morris Award Finalist
2024 Waler Award Honors
2023 Cybils Novels in Verse Finalist
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 More Teen Fiction

[Note: This review was written after my first reading. I read it again, and saw even more on rereading. A marvelous novel and one of our Morris Finalists!]

All the Fighting Parts is a novel in verse about a teen dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault.

Amina’s mother died when she was five years old, and she’s been told that her mother was an activist and a fighter, and that Mina inherited all the fighting parts from her. Her father doesn’t really know how to relate to her, and has taken refuge in the church. When Mina’s teacher calls after she fought back in class, his suggestion is to do some volunteer work at the church as a penalty.

The book interweaves what led up to the assault with the police report about the assault and dealing with it afterward. At first, Mina pushes her friends away and won’t talk to anyone. That felt authentic and realistic. But I also like the way Mina is portrayed grappling with healing. Her boyfriend is almost too good to be true in his understanding – but as a reader, I definitely wanted that for her.

There’s another person abused by the same perpetrator, a respected member of the community, and she has a different way of dealing with it. But this is a sensitive and powerful portrayal of a teen trying to do what’s right and getting her trust betrayed. Then having to figure out it wasn’t her fault what happened.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

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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