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The Last Changeling by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple Book Review

The Last Changeling (The Seelie Wars #2) by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date: November 28, 2014

In book one of the Seelie Wars, Prince Aspen and midwife's apprentice Snail tried to prevent the Seelie War, not realizing that they were starting one instead. Chased by two armies, both of which will kill him, one slower than the other, Aspen and Snail are forced to seek refuge with Professor Odd's traveling troupe. However, safety is an illusion because trouble seems to find these two wherever they go. A hungry troll, Border Lord berserkers, drow, boggles, and a cloaked spy to name a few. As if those weren't bad enough, there is something rather odd about Professor Odd, something more than magic tricks and acting. Something that could be just as dangerous as an army.

What I love about this series is that the authors do not spoon feed their readers. Although a knowledge of Seelie and Unseelie mythology is helpful, this information is also slowly revealed throughout the books, making it a great introduction to the myths. Although it probably obvious to most readers even in the first book, Snail is a changeling, as if the title didn't already let us know. Snail is completely blindsided by this news too, although Prince Aspen is not at all and is rather miffed that Snail didn't know. Isn't she aware that no Seelie or Unseelie has red hair?

What I dislike about this series is the absolute volatile nature of both Snail and Prince Aspen. One wrong word and the two are at one another's throats. Their miscommunications were okay in the first book, but I expected a deeper connection to have formed by the second and was constantly surprised when Snail in particular, treats her companion so poorly. It made her a hard character to like. At least Prince Aspen is trying to learn and grow.

I also felt like the pacing was a bit slow on this one. Although a lot happens, there were sections that felt unnecessary and I wasn't rushing to finish it. In fact, I started and finished two other books while still reading this one because I needed more. I wasn't willing to give up on it completely though because I was intrigued enough to see where the plot was going. I am not sure when the third installment will arrive, but I am interested enough to want to finish the series in its entirety.

One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck Book Review

One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck
Illustrations by Yasmeen Ismail
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 16, 2015

Sophia wants a giraffe more than anything in the world. She only has four problems though. Mom, Dad. Uncle Conrad, and the very strict Grand-mama. Her arguments fall on deaf ears though. That is until she says the right word.

Can I tell you how excited I am when I get to read picture books before they have been released? Usually, like all of you, I must get in line for books at the library, reading and reviewing them within the first month or two of release. However, every now and then someone at book club brings in a pile of galleys and I can barely contain myself.

One Word From Sophia is my favorite picture book this year, by far. Sophia is absolutely adorable, wonderfully drawn by Ismail with her little pom pom hairdo and facial expressions. Her family, in a variety of flesh colored hues are smart and witty. Sophia presents her proposals to each family member using their terminology to try and get her way. To her mother, a judge, she tries to argue like a lawyer. She tries pie charts and discipline. What a fantastic early representation of various professions and how they work. Sophia may even have argued that a giraffe would be good for fertilizer. The word poop is used. This will of course make the young ones giggle, as that word is prone to do.

In the end, of course, the magic word is please. And yes, Sophia does actually get a giraffe in the end.

With bright illustrations that will draw in young readers, I definitely think this deserves a place on the bookshelf.


I Don't Want To Be A Frog by Dev Petty Book Review

I Don't Want To Be a Frog b Dev Petty
Illustrations by Mike Boldt
Publisher: Doubleday Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 10, 2015

Frog has decided that he doesn't want to be a frog. After all, frogs are slimy and wet. Perhaps a cat. Or a rabbit. Or an owl. All sound great, except for the fact that he is a frog. Turns out frogs do have their upsides though. Wolves don't like to eat them.

Be yourself. It isn't a subtle message, but it is told in a humorous and fun way. Sure to appeal to Mo Willems and Jon Klassen, I Don't Want To Be a Frog may just be one of those books that kids force their parents to read over and over and over and over again.





The Case for Loving by Selina Alko Book Review

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko
Illustrations by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: January 27, 2015

Mildred loved Richard. Richard loved Mildred. The only problem was that Mildred was black and Richard was white and until 1967 their love was illegal. Unable to get married in their home state of Virginia, Mildred and Richard Loving went to Washington, D.C. in 1958 and tied the knot. But they grew homesick. Returning home was dangerous though and soon Richard, despite the couple being legally married in D.C. and having three children, was arrested. The Lovings decided to fight. They took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, fighting an unfair love that told them that their love was wrong simply based on the color of their skin. They won.

Reminiscent of last years Separate is Never Equal, this book is a fantastic picture book about laws that to the modern generation will seem absurd. Alko and Qualls did a great job of really making these "characters" come to life, a difficult task in a small picture book. There is such warmth in the text and illustrations that leaves no doubt that these two people, despite all the odds, despite so many people being against it, were determined to love on another and be a family.

The way it is written, one can't help but see the parallels for marriage inequality due to sexual orientation. Understanding our history and these stories in their context helps create a dialogue about current issues and I see absolutely no problem with a book that will help provoke in depth conversations concerning equality, diversity, and love.

Gabi, A Girl In Pieces by Isabel Quintero Book Review

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Release Date: October 14, 2014

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn't want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it's important to wait until you're married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, "Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas." Eyes open, legs closed. That's as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don't mind it. I don't necessarily agree with that whole wait until you're married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can't tell my mom that because she will think I'm bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

One of the more interesting books I have read in a while, Gabi has made it onto my list of favorite characters. Even though she has a very unique situation and ethnic flavor, I found her voice strongly resonated with my former teenage self. As someone who has kept a journal since she was eleven, the journal/diary format was very familiar. Gabi acts and sounds like an authentic teenager. This is a remarkable achievement considering that the author is, in fact, an adult. 

Gabi is going through a lot. Her dad is addicted to meth, her aunt is devoutly religious, her best friend is pregnant, and her mother wants Gabi to stay close to home at all times...to protect her virginity. In the midst of all this craziness is one heavyset girl who hoards beef jerky, dreams of having a boyfriend, and is discovering her love of poetry. Sometimes Gabi feels like a spectator in her own life. All this crazy shit is going down around her and here is this Latina girl who is desperately searching for herself and a way out. This may not be our life, but there is something universally human in that. 

My only complaint is that on paper, if one were to make a list, this book hits all the "talking points" all the diversity issues. Mexican main character who is overweight, drug addict for a father, gay friend whose parents kicked him out of the house, pregnant best friend, abortion, rape, religious zealotry, sex education, dating, leaving home. All of this with a strong feminist slant, which doesn't bother me at all, but talk about not subtle.

Maybe it doesn't need to be either. Perhaps the beauty of a book like this is its lack of subtly. The understanding that although it is unlikely that all of this would happen to one person, it does happen. That there are teenagers out there dealing with some of this. It is one girl's story told with heartbreaking frustration and desire. Essentially, it is about finding oneself amidst turmoil. 

Wild Things! by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson & Peter Sieruta Book Review

Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson & Peter Sieruta
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: August 5, 2015

Did Laura Ingalls once cross paths with a band of mass murderers? Why didn't Maurice Sendak end up illustrating The Hobbit? Why was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory banned? This is a book for adults who love children's book and are seeking out the tidbits, the morsels, the gossip, and the anecdotes that surround the beloved genre.

When I was in grad school, Betsy Bird came and gave a talk about books and included a number of stories that she was already gathering for this book. I followed Peter Sieruta's blog religiously. Based on these two things along with my own knowledge of children's books and their history, there wasn't much that was surprising in this book. Those not familiar will find a treasure trove of information if they are patient enough to deal with the strange way in which this book is put together. There is a clear "agenda", for lack of a better word. The authors themselves have an idea of what they consider worthy children's literature and are quick to point out what they consider to be good both stylistically and morally. For example, an entire chapter praising LGBTQ literature and their authors, while poking fun at celebrity authors a few chapters later.

Missing from this book was a lot of psychology as well. The authors have a clear bias toward celebrity authors (I do too sometimes), but they don't delve any deeper than their opinions and that of other non-celebrity authors. I wanted to know the impact these stories and reading in general has on these children. Do more children read a book that has been banned? How did these books influence future generations? Are there titles in which a great deal of hoopla was raised about its moral superiority, only to never be heard from again? I imagine there are quite a few in that last category. The authors tell us about the conflict between good and bad fiction for children as perceived by critics and gatekeepers and not the children themselves, but as another reviewer put it "little exploration into the reasons why this dichotomy might exist."

To be clear, these three authors are experts in their field, well-versed in the way of children's literature and their histories. However, this book fails to do what it claims it will do, which is to reveal secret and sometimes naughty stories behind our beloved kids books. Instead, we are treated to three people's opinions in a book that keeps losing its focus. There's some good meat here, but there is also a lot of air, which made the book not very filling for me.

The Terrible Two by Jory John & Mac Barnett Book Review

The Terrible Two by Jory John & Mac Barnett
Illustrations by Kevin Cornell
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: January 13, 2015

Miles Murphy is not happy to be moving to Yawnee Valley, a sleepy town that's famous for one thing: cows. In his old school, he was known as one of the town's best pranksters, but at his new school, Miles soon learns that Yawnee Valley already has a prankster and boy is he is good. The mystery kid offers to work with Miles, to combine their pranking skills, but Miles refuses. Thus begins the prank war where epic trickery that forces both boys to up their pranking games.

Mac Barnett writes some funny stuff. Jory Jon writes some funny stuff. The two together is just scary. This early middle grade reader is almost perfect in its conceit and wonderfully executed. The pranks are epic, with just enough fantasy adventure thrown in to not offend adults. The Yawnee Valley prankster is rather obvious, (not only because the cover gives it away) but one feels that Miles might actually deserve to have a couple of pranks played on him for once. He is so assured of his pranking genius, but what happens when you meet the ultimate prankster? Miles seeks glory, but his enemy seeks only the genius of the prank. I laughed out loud a number of times and would be perfect for the kid who may be a little too young for the Wimpy Kid series. I am not sure if this is a planned series, but I look forward to more pranks from Miles and Niles.  


Blown Away by Rob Biddulph Book Review

Blown Away by Rob Biddulph
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: January 20, 2015

A brave young penguin take an exciting kite flight to a tropical paradise, but quickly realizes that what he really wants is home.

I have to admit, I wasn't blown away by this book. (heh heh, blown away...get it?) The illustrations with their bright colors, particularly the use of blues and oranges, flowed well throughout. There is a wonderful sense of movement. However, the story wasn't very inspiring with the usual cast of characters and a few that just didn't make sense. Where did the polar bear come from? The haiku like rhymes worked to move the story along, but again, it just felt like too much of the same. I always add this caveat though when I mention this "same" idea: Young children are usually not aware of what came before, not do they care if books repeat similar storylines or subjects. For them, everything is new and so I do see this book having a strong audience, particularly children with penguin obsessions.




The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill Book Review

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: September 16, 2014

When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging river, only Ned survives. Barely. Villagers are convinced that the wrong boy was rescued, the wrong boy lived. His mother, keeper of an ancient magic and the local witch, saves Ned's life by sowing the soul of his dead brother into him. Perhaps this is the reason why Ned grows up weak and slow, unable to read, with a terrible stutter. While his mother is away, after saving the life of the Queen, bandits come for the magic. Not knowing what else to do, Ned takes all the magic into himself. He is sure that it will kill him and is a bit surprised when it doesn't.

Meanwhile in another kingdom, separated from Ned's village by a magical forest, a terrible boy King has decided that he wants the magic. He hires bandits to do the job, not knowing that the Bandit King he hired has some magic of his own and he wants more. Áine sees what the magic has done to her father though, so when Ned turns up, magic rippling on his skin, she is determined to get Ned as far away from her father as possible. Together they set out to return Ned to his kingdom, unaware of an even older magic and a prophecy that is already changing them.

From the moment Ned's brother's soul was stitched into him, I was hooked. The consequences of this magic are huge and dark. Despite warnings of what the magic can and can't do, should and shouldn't, those ideas quickly become twisted in this world where magic must be bent by will to do good. Once Ned takes the magic into himself, he finds that it has many voices and they aren't all good. Some encourage him to kill while others say to flee. Magic is dangerous and old.

The characters felt a bit archetypal at times, full of fairy tale tropes, but I found myself warming to them as the story progressed. I especially like Áine who is clever and no-nonsense in a way that made her relateable to me. Ned was a bit more of a silent (literally) mystery for a while. I was never entirely sure what his feelings were in regards to his brother or Áine or how he felt to be the vessel for such powerful magic. Frustrated to be sure, but his main goal was simply to return home with little thought of what he will do once he gets there. We were already in his head, I just wish we could have gone a little deeper.

There is a lot of great back story here too that the main characters never really know about. The Bandit King has no idea where his magic pendant comes from, only that it helps him and he wants more power because of it. It twists him. Stones, ancient and old, whisper of the wrong boy who is coming to free them. Although there was a lot of foreshadowing and it was predictable in nature, I never found myself frustrated by it. We know the Stones will take back their magic. It has been prophesied. The reader doesn't know however, how that will happen. Like a true quest story, it is the journey that matters.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd Book Review

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: February 25, 2015

Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. but that was long ago, before the curse drover out the magic. Felicity knows all about the curse, because her mama has it, cursed with a wandering heart that never lets then stay in one place for long. But Felicity has some magic of her own, able to see shining words hovering over everything from people to the church eves. Although she wants to stay in Midnight Gulch, Felicity can feel the curse already working, but she isn't sure if she can break it before her mother decides to leave again.

For all that talk about magic and curses and words hanging in the air, this was a decidedly non-magical book. Don't get me wrong, everything is this book is adorable, cute, southern sweet. The characters all have names like Felicity, Berry Weatherly, Day Grissom, Florentine, Divinity Lawson, as if everyone southerner in a small town is named these odd supposedly "southern" names. For the record, I live in the south and have for quite some time now and I don't know anyone by any of those names, not even nicknames. Let's also add in some odd bits like non-melting ice cream and the use of spindiddly throughout the entire book. Neither of which was very cute after a while.

I was also never quite sure if the magic that was mentioned was actual magic or simply tall tales and myths that people talked about, but only children would believe. The only real magic seemed to be Felicity synesthesia, in that she sees very accurate words everywhere she goes, but since she never mentions it being a magic-like thing and no one else seems to think so either, I took to be either a) another sickly sweet cutesy thing or b) a neurological phenomenon like synesthesia. Things like the non-melting ice cream were strange sure, but is it really magic? 

The amount of dramatic storytelling exposition was almost maddening. Why is everyone from this town sitting around listening to stories about their own hometown? Stories they already know? The answer is simple, for the sake of the reader. This comes off as a bit of lazy writing because surely there is a better way of giving the reader backstory without having the children gather together on the carpet (figuratively) to tell them a story that they already know. 

Pulling on the Three Times Lucky and Savvy traditions, A Snicker of Magic was trying too hard to be cute and magical, and it ended up feeling a bit more like syrup poured on an ice cream cone, creating a sticky mess. 

Snoozefest by Samantha Berger Book Review

Snoozefest by Samantha Berger
Illustrations by Kristyna Litten
Publisher: Dial Books
Release Date: January 22, 2015

Bedtime meets Coachella in this book about a sloth who, once a year, packs up his pajamas to attend a festival for all the sleepyheads of the animal kingdom. There are bands like the Nocturnal Nesters and the Quiet Quartet. Warm milk and honey is served. And if one isn't careful, they may sleep through the whole thing.

Although I thought the idea of a sloth attending a weekend sleep/music festival was adorable, I honestly think this is one of those books that appeals more to adults than kids. The very conceit of the book are those huge outdoor weekend concerts, the kind of which most people leave their kids at home. The kind that usually include massive amounts of unwashed people and equal portions of alcohol and drugs. Thus, I find it an interesting setting for a children's book.

Perhaps I should have watched the book trailer first because it is far cuter to listen to than to read. Seriously, the song by Chubb Rock is great and kids are going to love it. Not exactly a bedtime lullaby, but I suspect the kids will have fun memorizing this one. So basically, this picture book works better with the added media, despite the idea of it being a bit adult.




Gingerbread for Liberty! by Mara Rockliff Book Review

Gingerbread for Liberty!How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff
Illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 27, 2015

Christopher Ludwick was a German-born American patriot who loved to bake and loved his country. When American decides to revolt again the British, Christopher is determined to help General George Washington. Not with muskets or cannons, but with his baked goods.

In interesting biography of a little-known patriot in the Revolutionary War, Ludwick's story is both sweet and simple. Probably a bit too simple, based on the extended biography in the back of the book, but one that fits well into a picture book format. What the simple story fails to convey though is that Ludwik (who is never named in the text) spent a good deal of his own money feeding the soldiers. It doesn't mention that although he fed a lot of people, starvation, particularly in the winter, was a huge problem during the Revolutionary War. There was nothing in the text about him baking for captured British soldiers either.

What it does include though is Ludwick's patriotism. His generosity. He was also incredibly good at convincing those in the Hessian army, to convert to the American's cause. It also shows that our strengths, whatever they may be, can be of use no matter the situation. One may not be able to fight, but the soldiers still have to eat, right?

The illustrations were absolutely fitting, done in an almost gingerbread man motif, made me hungry for some German gingerbread.

Worst in Show by William Bee Book Review

Worst in Show by William Bee
Illustrations by Kate Hindley
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: January 6, 2015

It is time for the annual Best Pet Monster in the World Competition. Albert can't wait to enter his pet monster, Sidney. Albert is sure that Sidney is a winner, but as far as monsters go, Sidney is just a little too clean, too parasite-free, and too well-behaved. How will he ever win?

This is the kind of book that I lovingly like to refer to as a chuckler. It isn't laugh out loud funny, but each spread would produce a bit of a chuckle, a smile, and a feeling of good fun. I love the play on a dog's best in show contest, with typical things you would expect from a monster contest. Most parasites, smelliest farts, loudest burps. It's good old silly fun.

Teddy Mars by Molly B. Burnham Book Review

Teddy Mars: Almost World Record Breaker by Molly B. Burnham
Illustrations by Trevor Spencer
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: March 24, 2015

Teddy Mars is the second to youngest in a family of seven and he is sick and tired of it. He is tired of The Destructor (his four-year-old brother) destroying his things and getting away with everything. He is tired of his oldest sister's singing, of his other sister always stomping on his toes, the constant noise. All he wants to do is break a world record, preferably one that was never attempted in The Guinness Book of World Records, which he practically has memorized. That isn't easy though when everyone is always wrecking Teddy's record-breaking plans.

The first time I was away from my family, really away, was when I went to Europe at fourteen. When I called my mother from Hungary and she asked how things were going, I joyfully exclaimed that it was awesome because I didn't have to buy anything for anyone else. Yes, I was in Europe and the best part of the trip was that I didn't have to share. So is the life of someone in a big family. Obviously, I found myself relating to Teddy in many ways. Although I was the oldest child, there were some of the same frustrations I had. Don't get me started on the time that my brothers utterly destroyed the dollhouse furniture that my great-grandmother made and gave to me along with a dollhouse, which was also damaged.

Teddy is a normal child with normal obsessions who really is trying to find his place in the midst of all the chaos. In frustration, he ends up moving into a tent in his back yard, tired of sharing a room with his younger brother who doesn't know the meaning of the words, do not touch. I love how determined he is, even when the weather turns cold, to stay in that tent simply because it gives him the personal space that he desperately needs. He also gets his own job feeding pigeons next door, which gives him an additional boost of confidence and independence. The facts from the Guinness Book of World Records added some fun metaphors and parallels. It would be a great gift idea to pair the World Records book with Teddy Mars.

What I disliked was the fact that the parents really do allow their youngest child to get away with extremely bad behavior. It is one thing to not fight with him about sitting at the dinner table, it is quite another to allow him to destroy his siblings things without repercussions. He is never disciplined for his actions, even when they cause serious disruptions of things like soccer games. I get that this family has seven kids, but the reason their youngest son does the things he does is because there are zero consequences for his actions. If I was this kids older sibling, I would be upset too. Even more upset if my parents invalidated my feelings by saying, "he doesn't know any better" when he is clearly old enough to know better.

That said, this story really is about Teddy and it is a good story. The reading level is perfect for kids who have outgrown chapter books, but may not be ready for Harry Potter yet. There is plenty of humor, cute illustrations, and a ton of facts that keep the story interesting and fresh. A great read for any kid who loves facts or is looking for their place in the world.


Advanced Reader Copy provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins Book Review

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins
Illustrations by Sophie Blackall
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Release Date: January 27, 2015

Four families. Four different cities. Four Centuries. One recipe. A richly detailed story that not only shows the endearing beauty of one simple dessert, but also a visual guide to how the preparation process of food has changed over four hundred years. 

Carefully researched, this story was simply delightful. The illustrations had a very classical feel that was in keeping with the tone of the book. Even as an adult, I was fascinated by the processes of making food from other time periods. I was especially impressed by the way the author included the topic of slavery in a way that can create dialogue but was still in keeping with the lightness of a story about a dessert. 

Inspired by the book and the recipe included at the end, I decided to make my own fool, a raspberry one. Simple to make, perfect for children, with only four ingredients, it was in a word--delicious. It is a light dessert, apéritif for some, but I was impressed. I would include my own picture, but am afraid that it tasted much better than it looked and my garnishing skills leave much to be desired. Note: Best served after only a few hours in the fridge. Serving it a day or two later will result in the whipping cream losing some of its spring.

Dear, Mr. Washington by Lynn Cullen Book Review

Dear, Mr. Washington by Lynn Cullen
Illustrations by Nancy Carpenter
Publisher: Dial
Release Date: January 8, 2015

Charlotte, James, and baby John have promised to be on their very best behavior for when George Washington comes to have his portrait painted by their father, Gilbert Stuart. But, it seems like every time George Washington comes to visit, Charlotte has to write another apology letter, even when they try to follow George Washington’s Rules of Good Behavior. If these whippersnappers want any dessert, they are going to have to learn some manners—and fast! What results is a hilarious chain of events, a giant mess…and a painting that will be remembered for centuries to come.

A fictional tale surrounding a real life event, Dear, Mr. Washington was cute although a bit wordy. Full of pen and paper, acrylic paint on canvas, and digital media artwork, the illustrations were wonderful to look at. There is so much going on in each page, but nothing felt too busy or overdone. It reminded me a lot of Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine in this respect. The baby eats everything and one can see how hard the children are trying to behave as the story progresses. All the while, there is poor Gilbert Stuart trying to paint a portrait with the president who refuses to smile, only growing animated if one should mention horses in his company. I imagine Mr. Stuart and Mr. Washington talked a lot about horses. Again, it is a bit text heavy, which would make the book more appropriate for 2-4 graders, but it was very entertaining. 


Around the Clock by Roz Chast Book Review

Around the Clock by Roz Chast
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 13, 2015

Do you ever wonder what your friends, enemies, brothers, sisters, and parents are doing at all hours of the day? Well, From 12 to 1/ Lynn eats baloney/With her imaginary friend, Tony. And From 1 to 2/in his fanciest pants/Don is digging a hole to France. A very silly 24-hour round-the-clock look at all the silly things people do throughout their day.

I originally picked up this book because I love Roz Chast's illustrations. I think I fell in love with her completely when I picked up a copy of Cold Comfort Farm with her illustrations on the cover. (Someone has my copy of this book by the way and I want it back) That said, this book was a bit of a disappointment. Although her illustrations are there with their usual playful pizazz, the story itself was lacking. The poems were rudimentary and boring. There was no throughline or shtick that made the story feel circular, like a clock. We weren't following one family or making our way around the world. It was just very random things happening at times that may or may not be random. I still love Roz Chast, but I don't think this is one of her best.




Revolution by Deborah Wiles Book Review

Revolution by Deborah Wiles
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: May 27, 2014

It's 1964, and Sunny's town is being invaded. Or at least, that's what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi are saying. Sunny is surprised to discover that the invaders aren't aliens though, but rather students who are coming to help register black voters. Dealing with her own problems back home with a stepmother, step siblings, a new grandmother, and a baby on the way, Sunny finds herself caught between her own selfishness and the complexities of the world outside her family.

As with her previous book in this 1960s series, Revolution is full of photographs, quotes, song lyrics, speeches, and biographies. This aspect of the book created a narrative all its own, spelling out the struggles going on in the black community in 1964. It is a visually stimulating reminder of what people went through to obtain voting rights and equal rights in the Jim Crow south.

The problem is that with such a rich historical backdrop, Sunny's personal story was simply mundane. Not quite a child, not quite a woman, Sunny is stuck between her childish obsessions, her desire for her mother's return, and a new understanding of race relations in her hometown. Now, although I understand that for a certain time we are all a bit naive in the way the world works and runs, it is like Sunny is absolutely clueless. As if she has never really noticed black people, that no one has ever talked about them in her home and if they have it has always been in a benevolent way. Even though violence is rippling in the air, she spends a good deal of her introspective time worrying over the absence of her mother who left when she was very very young.

The second narrator, an African American boy named Raymond would have done the story far more justice. I wanted to see more of the Freedom Schools, to really understand them. (something I ended up doing myself through a bit of internet research and youtube videos) Raymond was caught up in the moment, with Freedom Riders living in his own house. His parents didn't seem to agree on how to handle the whole registering to vote thing and Ray's very life is in danger. Instead though, Ray is only seen through the lens of a little white girl who lives across town. The few parts where he speaks are done in a voice that made him feel a bit ignorant and a lot impulsive. All Ray was, was a foil for Sunny to understand what is going on.

As stated earlier, the problem with writing about big historical events is that in fiction it is imperative that the event not overshadow the characters, otherwise you end up with a plot that lacks any kind of compelling narrative. Sunny's life simply wasn't interesting enough and it did make me wonder often, why this girl? Why her life? What makes her the most important person in this entire town to tell this story? Her step-brother, who is a bit older and a lot wiser, would have made a more interesting character to follow.  I found myself looking forward to those parts. Bored by Sunny's story, I also wished that the book itself had been a bit tighter, more compact. For all that though, Revolution was good in bringing life to the movement, especially through the documentary style pages.


Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena Book Review

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
Illustrations by Christian Robinson
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Release Date: January 8, 2015

Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. CJ wonders out loud though, why they don't have a car, why he doesn't have an iPod, and how come they always get off in the dirty part of town? His grandmother offers him sage advice, patiently explaining that if they had iPods, they would not be able to hear the musician on the bus. If they had a car they would not get a magic trick from the bus driver. As the bus travels down the street, CJ begins to see the beauty of the things around him, even the dirty old street. He sees the beauty in the people they are going to serve to, at the local soup kitchen.

This book absolutely deserves any and all accolades that it gets. The illustrations are bright, bold, and as beautiful as the character of the grandmother. She is a person who is living through example, taking her grandson each week, across town, to serve at a soup kitchen. He is still young, so he doesn't completely understand, but she is setting the example nonetheless. His questions of why they don't have more, or better, are met with love and a call for understanding. I think there are many many children who will be able to relate to CJ. Perhaps they too don't have cars, or the newest electronic gadget. Perhaps they, and their parents, need to be reminded of the beauty in the people and things around them.

As a child I remember being embarrassed when my mother would stop and ask if people needed rides home. She was a grown up. Didn't she know picking up strangers was dangerous? What I didn't realize or even think about was that my mother was smart enough and careful enough to know who to pick up. She offered an old woman a ride home from the grocery store as she pushed her cart down the sidewalk. Our mentally disabled neighbor often had a seat in our van. The same went for hospitality. We didn't have a lot of money, but there was always room on our floor for a band that was passing through. There was always some extra lemonade for the door-to-door salesman in the middle of July. My mother taught through example about hospitality and generosity and always patiently explained why whenever I questioned why we were picking up another stranger. By the time I was a teenager, I got it.

I don't think this one book is going to shape young people into caring individuals. That happens through example. But it is the answer to some questions and a jumping off point for deep discussion. I think it may be my new "birthday gift" book.

My Name Is Truth by Ann Turner Book Review


My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner 
Illustrations by James Ransome
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: January 20, 2015

This is the true story of Isabella Baumfree, a former slave who later became known as a preach and orator named Sojourner Truth. An iconic figure of the abolitionist and women's rights movements, this story tells her story through her own words from the beginning to end.

This subject matter is an important part of our  American and particularly African-American history. It highlights are the important areas of Sojourner Truth's journey from being a young girl sold away from her parents to running away with her baby in her arms to preaching across the United States. However, I am going to have to agree with the Kirkus review here that states, "As a read-aloud, the text is strong and effective. As part of a curriculum, there are concerns. The first-person narrative can be mistakenly taken as an autobiography, which it is not, and quotations are not sources." Throughout the entire book I kept wondering how much was Sojourner Truth's actual voice and how much was the author taking creative license?

When writing a book about any true story one must take great care not to make up words or thoughts that no one (including the author) could possibly know. The difference being something like "Albert Einstein thought no one liked him..." as opposed to the more truthful "Perhaps Albert Einstein thought no one liked him..." It is such a subtle difference, but what the author would be doing with the second sentence is admitting that he or she does not actually know what Albert Einstein would be thinking. Unless they have a direct quote, it would be wrong to include such a thing in a biography. By suggesting that he could have thought something though, that is where the difference lies. Because there was no sourcing at the end of the book, I, the reader, have absolutely no idea how much of the book is Sojourner's actual words and what is made up. Since it is told in her voice and I am aware that she wrote an autobiography, I am going to assume that some of what is said is either exact quotes or paraphrasing. However, one should never assume. I made that mistake with Primates, which had a whole lot of made up things just so the author could create an interesting story. Whether that is the case with this book remains to be seen, but I definitely wouldn't recommend for schools and teaching until that issue is cleared up.