Waking Brain Cells
brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Told in verse, this is Woodson’s memoir of her childhood. Woodson shows the different influences in her life, from both South Carolina and New York City. There is the richness of southern life, from the heat to the food to the family. But it is not all sweetness as Woodson shows her family fracturing as she is raised by her grandparents for some of her childhood. She also shows the racism and discrimination clearly on the page, never flinching in her powerful verse. When Woodson and her siblings move to New York to live once again with their mother, the dynamic changes and the flavor is urban as the Civil Rights Movement becomes a focus in her life. Taking place in the 1960s and 1970s, this book captures a time of change in the United States and is also a compelling look at what forces build a writer.
Woodson’s poetry is a gorgeous and lush mix of powerful voice and strong memory. Her writing is readable and understandable even by young audiences, but it also has depth. There are larger issues being spoken about as Woodson tells about her own childhood and family. There are universal truths being explored, as this book is as honest as can be, often raw and unhealed too. It is a book that begs to be read, shared and then reread.
One of the things I always look for in a novel in verse is whether the poems stand on their own as well as how they combine into a full novel. Woodson manages to create poems that are lyrical and lovely, that stand strongly about a subject and could be read alone. As a collection, the poems are even stronger, carrying the story of family and iron strength even more powerfully.
Rich, moving and powerful, this is one of the best novels in verse available for children. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Middle School Tagged: 1960s, African-Americans, civil rights, families, historical fiction, poetry, verse novel
Telephone by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace
A mother bird wants her son Peter to come home for dinner, so she sends the message down the telephone line, literally. It moves from one bird to the next, but the message immediately gets garbled as each bird adds their own take. Readers will notice that each bird has its own interests that are added to the message and that the illustrations give hints about the topics that will be included that time. This is a clever twist on the children’s game of telephone, one that has hilarious results and a resoundingly satisfying ending.
Barnett takes a simple concept in this picture book and makes it extraordinary. His humor is great, making sure that each statement passed along by the birds rhymes but also taken huge liberties with the subject matter. When the ending comes with a silly bird where the message becomes much longer and incorporates all sorts of things from earlier messages, it makes for a brilliant break in the pattern that sets the final message up perfectly.
Corace’s art is wonderful. She shows the birds in silhouette on the wire, indicating early to readers what the story will be about. The illustrations range from close ups of the birds on the wire to more distant shots that show the human neighborhood beneath the wire. It is all done with great energy, humor and bright colors.
A winning picture book that is clever, funny and simply wonderful. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: birds, communication
Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf
Translated from the original Dutch, this book is the story of Fing and her family. Fing’s mother died years ago and since then her father and her grandmother have taken care of them. They are a big family, with Fing’s three older brothers and her two sisters, Muulke and Jess. Fing’s father has decided to start a cigar business, so they move out of town to a big old house that has something very strange about it that Fing can’t quite figure out. They call it Nine Open Arms, because that is how far across it is. The house is near a cemetery, the front door is at the back, and there is a bed in storage that looks like a tombstone. As the girls start a new school, they slowly begin to discover the secrets of Nine Open Arms and of their own community and family.
Delightfully wild and incredibly quirky, this book is one of a kind. From the family that moves constantly, to the cemetery next door where they go to get their water each day, to the crocodile purse that is used to tell family stories, to the controlling grandmother who is dominant but deeply loving in her own way, to the one old story that is the key to understanding it all. This is a richly rewarding read, one that you have to head out on before you even know what journey you are on. It is a book that meanders but each turn is essential to the book in the end, where it all clicks into place.
Told in the first person by Fing, the book unfolds before you, each reveal another piece of the family, another story, another moment that is meaningful. It is a perfectly crafted book that has a plot that moves in its own time, another time, a less modern pace. It ties to the pace of the family, one where things are revealed in their own space. It’s incredibly well done.
Beautifully written, magnificently crafted, this Dutch novel is like nothing you have read before, and that is wonderful! Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Middle School Tagged: Dutch, families, Netherlands, siblings, stories
Little Green Peas: A Big Book of Color by Keith Baker
The peas return for their third book, this time focusing on colors. Peas play on each page, surrounded by a specific color that also shows up in huge letters across the double page spread. Told in rhyme, the colors are named and objects that are that color are named too. Young readers can find those objects on the page. Turn to the next and you get to see even more little green peas enjoying themselves with that color. Then on to the next. This colorful read has a great playfulness to it that will keep the youngest readers giggling as they learn their colors.
Baker knows just when his rhyme and structure have reached their limit and then turns it just slightly to make it fresh again. His little peas are doing all sorts of things on the page and part of the fun of the book is lingering and just seeing what is happening to each little pea. The illustrations are big and bold, the colors deep and strong. Yet the little peas and their detailed big fun make this a book best shared one on one.
A great pick for learning colors, children will enjoy the little peas on each page. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: colors, concept books, peas, toddlers
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
The final book in the Grisha trilogy, this is an amazing ending to an incredible series. After her failed battle with the Darkling, Alina has been hiding in the White Cathedral, slowing healing from the damage of the fight. But Alina has lost much of her power and must rely on trickery to display the light of the Sun Summoner. She is surrounded by those who believe her to be a saint, but also by those who would control her for their own means. It is soon time for Alina to escape, but in her battered body and mind, planning such a thing is insurmountable. Luckily, she still has some of her faithful friends around her, who are only too pleased to free her and themselves from the protection of the Cathedral. Now Alina must figure out how to find the final amplifier that will allow her to complete the set and access her full power. But the Darkling is still hunting her, and he will not stop until she is under his control.
This is one of those books that you read at breakneck pace, turning the pages quickly. Bardugo has created such a rich world in this series that it is one that is hard to leave behind, and when you do it continues to call to you as a reader to finish the story. Mixing Russian aspects into the story makes this very unique, but she also has a world that has its own rules, ones that make sense and hold true throughout the books.
Rife with romance, the book also offers different choices in future lives to Alina. There is the ever-steady Mal who is the only one who can track the final amplifier for Alina. There is the prince who is charming and funny, giving Alina freedom but also making her a queen. And of course, there is the choice of the Darkling himself, destructive and evil but so alluring. Alina is a wondrous mix of delicacy and steel. She is a stunning heroine.
Make sure to start this trilogy from the beginning, but also make sure to read it through to this riveting, dark and sun-streaked ending. Pure bliss! Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: fantasy
Send a Question or Comment to Appleton Public Library.