Waking Brain Cells
The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg
This Australian award winner is the story of 12-year-old Candice who is completing a school project that is supposed to be a paragraph for each letter of the alphabet that reveals something about her. But Candice can’t keep it to one paragraph, so she begins to do chapters for each letter and the words she chooses for each letter are unexpected too. As she writes, Candice is telling the story of her family and her pet fish. She worries about her family falling apart, since her mother is still grieving the loss of Candice’s baby sister Sky to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Her father is working on software in his spare time to prove that he can be as successful as his brother, Rich Uncle Brian, or flying his toy plane. Either way, both parents are self-absorbed rather than paying attention to Candice. She also doesn’t have any friends, until an unusual boy comes to school, a boy who believes that he’s traveled to another dimension and spends his time trying to get back home by falling out of a tree. It seems to Candice that it’s up to her to fix a lot of what’s wrong, but how can she?
Jonsberg has crafted a unique character in Candice. She may or may not be on the autism spectrum, but it is clear that she is different from the others in her grade and that they know it. Yet Candice functions fully, just in her own way. She loves her family, makes connections with others, and cares deeply about what is happening around her. She just does it in her own way, one that makes sense and that shows just how smart she is.
The book is wonderfully funny, with situations that are almost slapstick at times and others that are cleverly worked. The scene where Candice forces herself to get on her uncle’s boat to talk about the problems between him and her father is classic nausea humor that is done to perfection. Yet the book has plenty of depth too, with the deep depression that her mother has fallen into and even a little romance.
Strong writing keeps this complex book from tangling into knots and a strong protagonist gives it a unique and smart voice. A great Australian import that is ideal for middle grade readers.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Chronicle Books and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Middle School Tagged: Australia, bullying, friendship, humor, school
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Frida Kahlo is one of the most celebrated female artists in the world. This picture book is less a biography and more a celebration of her life and art on the page. Written in brief sentences, the book shows her unique perspective on the world. It pays homage to the rich love she had in her life, her pet monkey, and all of the inspiration she found around her. In a world that needs more diverse picture books, this is one worth celebrating.
The book is told entirely in short sentences from Frida Kahlo’s point of view. Cleverly done, the sentences are done in English and Spanish, the Spanish almost a bright floral note next to the black English words. It is the illustrations here that are exceptional. Morales is known for her paintings but her she chooses a different medium entirely. Kahlo is shown as a doll and the illustrations are photographs of that doll as she moves through her day. Kahlo retains her distinctive single brow as well as her signature beauty.
Using a doll in this way plays directly against the blonde bombshell beauty of Barbie. With the same plastic structure, this Frida Kahlo doll with her black hair, warm brown skin and intelligent eyes shows a much richer form of beauty. The images are cleverly photographed, showing Kahlo from different and interesting angles and moving into a dream sequence where the illustrations turn to paintings.
A dynamite addition to any library, this is a necessary purchase that speaks to why diverse picture books are needed for all children. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: artists, biographies, Frida Kahlo, hispanics
2014 Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Judges | Cybils Awards http://buff.ly/1qYTZ53 - Thrilled to be part of the Cybils again!Enchanted Lion: A Visit with the Brooklyn-Based Indie Publisher http://buff.ly/1qLKkjw #kidlit
Filed under: Recommended Links
My Heart Is Laughing by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Dani has always been happy, but now that her best friend has moved away to another city, she is unhappy sometimes too. But Dani tries not to think about being unhappy. Dani didn’t know anyone in her class when she started school, but now she does. When two girls in her class both get a crush on the same boy and ask him who likes best, they are amazed when he shows that he’s much more likely to like Dani. Dani tried to keep being friendly with the girls, but neither of them wanted anything to do with her. Dani sat by herself at lunch, but she didn’t mind because she just thought about all of the fun she had visiting her best friend. But then her teacher moved her between the two girls, and Dani was cruelly pinched by them. Dani finally had enough, and reacted by squirting them (and then the teacher accidentally) with sauce. Now it is up to Dani to tell the truth about what happened and to figure out how to find happiness without her best friend at her side.
This is the second book featuring Dani, following My Happy Life, which tells the story of how Dani met her best friend and then how she had to move away. In this second book, the focus is on bullying and the author does a great job with it. As the situation escalates, Dani remains apart from the situation for awhile, then finds herself right in the middle of it. I appreciate that Dani is not faultless in the situation in her reaction, but also that she reacts humanly and believably to the situation.
Set in Sweden, the stories have a universal appeal but also are clearly not set in the United States. This is a gentle introduction to the subtle cultural differences and a great way to start a discussion about how people are both the same and different in other cultures.
Fans of the first book will love the next in Dani’s adventures. This will also find an audience as a read-aloud for teachers wishing to discuss bullying with elementary students. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Gecko Press and NetGalley.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Chapter Books, Elementary School Tagged: bullying, friendship, school, Swedish
The amazing Mac Barnett discusses how he makes a living lying to children. For the librarians in the audience, he even uses a Venn diagram! Funny, wonderful stuff.
Filed under: Authors
Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza by J.L. Powers, illustrated by George Mendoza and Hayley Morgan-Sanders
George loved to move, so he decided to be a basketball player. Then one day the world outside looked red to him and he started to see other colorful squiggles in the air and suffer from constant headaches. The doctor told him that he was going blind, but George didn’t lose all of his sight, instead he continued to see bright colors and flashing lights. He had to stop playing basketball because he could no longer see the basket. Eventually, George took up running, mostly because it made him so tired that he could forget being blind. He could run very fast, so fast that he went to the Olympics, twice. But George continued to see a world of colors that no one else could see. It wasn’t until a friend was killed that he started to ask himself why he was there, and George started to talk about being blind to groups and also to paint the world that he sees.
A truly inspirational story, Mendoza is an example of someone being incredible resilient in the face of a life-changing disability. The fact that he began to run after losing his sight is amazing and also inspiring. But it is his visions and his art that shine on the page, a world painted in colors that only he can see. The process of George becoming an artist is shown in all of its slow progression which also gives the sense that there is time to find your path, time to be the person you are meant to be.
Seeing his paintings on the page is immensely powerful. They are bold and bright, done in thick lines. They have a voice to them that shouts on the page and they tell the story of what George sees more clearly than any words can.
Highly recommended, this picture book biography is a powerful tale of resilience and overcoming barriers. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from pdf received from J.L. Powers.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Nonfiction, Picture Books Tagged: artists, athletes, biographies, blindness, disabilities
Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
After the Eiffel Tower stunned World’s Fair visitors in 1889, it was up to Chicago to impress people at their 1893 World’s Fair. So a nationwide contest was announced, but unfortunately many of the designs were just slightly-modified Eiffel Towers, so all of them were rejected. George Ferris was an American engineer who had already designed big bridges, tunnels and roads across the nation. He had an idea for a structure that would not just rival the stature of the Eiffel Tower, but would also move and be able to be ridden. The judges of the contest reluctantly agreed to let him try, but would not offer him a penny of funding. Ferris managed to find a few wealthy investors to help him and construction began on the huge project of creating a delicate wheel that would be strong enough to turn filled with people. The tale of the building and invention of this now iconic ride is rich with suspense and the delight of accomplishment.
Davis has written a very successful picture book biography on George Ferris and his delight of an invention. Occasionally in the text, there are sections in smaller font that offer more details and information. It is all fascinating and those sections will be enjoyed as much as the main text. Davis clearly explains differences between today and the late 1800s, such as the lack of Internet to carry ideas. The story has plenty of dangers, lots of action and the ever-present danger of failure to carry it forward and make it enjoyable reading.
Ford’s illustrations are filled with rich, deep colors that capture different times of day. They are a winning mix of straight, firm lines and hand-drawn characters and structures. The play of the two on the page makes for illustrations that are eye-catching and that draw you into the story and the time period.
This is a particularly strong picture book biography that children will pick up thanks to the everlasting appeal of the Ferris Wheel. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Nonfiction, Picture Books Tagged: biographies, engineering, ferris wheel, inventors
Three Little Peas by Marine Rivoal
Two little peas jump down from their pea plant to get some air. They head out on an adventure across the garden. They visit a cat, some snails, and even try out how it feels to be a flower or a different kind of plant. They go high and low, exploring together. But when they reach a frightening part of the garden filled with insects and animals, they try to run away. Then they find a safe place in the warm soil where they hide. Only to become a large pea plant of their own the next spring, and then one little pea jumps free, making it three little peas.
The story here is simple enough for a toddler to enjoy and they will love going on an adventure along with two charming green peas. The peas pop in their green on the page where everything else is black and white. But oh my, what a black and white world it is! Rivoal does her art using etching and the effect is beautifully layered, almost crystalline forms. The illustrations show below ground as well with rocks and other objects hidden there. Even the blades of grass are lovely in the attention to detail and their grace.
Stunningly lovely and unique illustrations elevate this simple picture book to something magnificent. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: gardens, peas, plants, toddlers
Vanilla Ice Cream by Bob Graham
This is a story of the journey of a sparrow from a rural truck-stop in India to a metropolis in the south. Told in simple writing, readers follow the sparrow as he tries to steal food from a customer of the truck stop. Then he flies aboard a truck carrying bags of rice. The rice is loaded aboard a ship and the sparrow follows the food aboard. They head south and he is able to find food and water on the long slow journey. When the sparrow arrives in the city, he spots Edie Irvine, a toddler walking with her grandparents. And so the two worlds of sparrow and child mash together in a wonderfully sweet way.
Graham has created a story built upon little moments and small decisions. Happily, the culmination of the story is not about all of those moments building to something monumental, but instead they lead to another small and lovely moment. In that way, the chain is continued rather than ended and readers can think about what might happen next to either the characters or to themselves.
As always, Graham has written this book with a gentle touch. His art reflects that as well with its soft color palette set against white backgrounds blushed with colors. Graham also uses art to allow moments to linger longer, to show their importance, and to create drama in his story.
A book of small moments that is certainly worth spending some time of your own reading. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: birds, travel
Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
Released September 23, 2014.
Filled with the stark, violent and frightening truths behind the fairy tales you loved as a child, this book of 50 poems is designed for teens ready to see beyond the beauty of a princess dress. The poems bring the fairy tales into the modern day, introducing us to the dirty side of the entire princess and beauty myth. Here are girls who are trapped in the stories society has sold them, girls who cannot eat, girls with no hope, girls who do as they are told, until they don’t. You will find all of the princesses on the pages here, by they are not who you think they are. There are poems told in their voices and others that are based on rhymes. They are all caustic, brave and vary from tragic to hilarious. I dare you to try to put this one down.
Brilliant. I read the first poem in this book and knew that I had found something entirely unique and amazing. Heppermann skewers the princess trope, firmly demanding that girls realize what is happening to them. That they recognize that it is built on them not for them, that they are all beautiful no matter what the ads say, and that if you listen too much your life becomes a mockery or a tragedy. This is satire at its very best, paying tribute to the fairy tales but savagely tearing them apart to form a new garment and march onward.
Get this one for your teen collections, hand it directly to girls who don’t like poetry because this will change their minds forever. This book will speak to every girl, because we have all been sold the same stories. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, poetry, Teen Tagged: advertising, beauty, fairy tales, myths
The National Book Foundation has announced the longlist for the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. The five finalists will be announced on October 15th with the winner named on November 19th at the National Book Awards ceremony. Here are the ten titles on the longlist:
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Girls Like Us by Gail Giles
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Noggin by John Corey Whaley
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steven Sheinkin
Revolution by Deborah Wiles
Skink – No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen
Threatened by Eliot Schrefer
Filed under: Awards
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