Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Best Books of 2018 According to Me: Young Adult

24 Dec

Here we go…installment number three of the best books of the year…according to me. I read these, I loved these, and I think you should read them too.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

I read this early in the year because my library was fortunate enough to host Dhonielle Clayton last February (she’s delightful, by the way). OH MY GOODNESS what a story. What a setting. I wanted to be in the palace with Camellia, experiencing all the beauty and opulence. I wanted my mail delivered by tiny dirigible. I wanted a teacup elephant. But then I wanted most definitely NOT to be there because that princess is…creepy and awful. This is the best kind of fantasy – incredible world-building and a story that will keep you glued to the pages. Meanwhile it’s also a commentary on the commerce of beauty. I can’t wait for the sequel!

Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Darius Kellner struggles with social norms. He doesn’t fit in anywhere. He doesn’t relate to his father, whom he describes as “the ubermensch”, even though they share a diagnosis of depression. He feels he’s not Persian enough to fit in with his mother’s side of the family either. When his parents decide to take a trip to Iran to see his grandparents, Darius feels even more disconnected to his family. Until he meets Sohrab, a neighbor boy, who might just be the first person Darius connects with – and his first real friend.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

It’s easy to see why this book was a finalist for the National Book Award – it’s heartbreaking, hopeful, and beautiful. Krosoczka tells the story, through words and pictures, of his own youth. Raised by his grandparents as his mother was in and out of jail dealing with a heroin addiction, he found solace and comfort in art. His tough-but-loving grandparents supported him completely, and this really is a love letter to them – and to his mother, with whom he maintained a written relationship. The story includes artwork and letters from his youth.

Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

I absolutely adored Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue and this, a continuation of Felicity’s story, I think I love even more. Set a year after the first adventure, Felicity has been struggling to make her dream of studying medicine come true. When the opportunity arises to meet her medical idol, she jumps at the chance – albeit under false pretenses. From Zurich to Algiers to a secret island, this story is filled with adventure, drama, badass women, and mythical creatures. Oh – and for those concerned, Percy and Monty make an appearance too.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

This tale told in verse most deservedly won the National Book Award. Xiomara pours her feelings into poetry, which she writes only for herself. But when she struggles with the wishes of her traditional Dominican parents, the Church, and a burgeoning (but secret) love life, she finds an outlet in the school’s poetry club.  If you have the opportunity, listen to Elizabeth Acevedo read her story – it’s infinitely more powerful when read in the slam poetry style Acevedo speaks so well. This book will lodge itself in your heart.

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

This retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, tackles issues of racism, classism and gentrification in one really engaging story. When Darius Darcy and his family move into a renovated brownstone on Zuri Benitez’s block, Zuri is absolutely sure they have nothing in common. Darius is haughty, wealthy, and and doesn’t fit in their close-knit community of families who have lived there for years. When thrown more and more together, however, they just might find some common ground.

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Stevie, a true crime aficionado, gets the chance of a lifetime when she’s accepted into Ellingham Academy, a boarding school where, years ago, one of the greatest unsolved mysteries happened. Stevie is, naturally, determined to solve the crime. And then one of her classmates ends up dead. Told in two time periods, we (and Stevie) must determine – are the two crimes related? This is book one of a trilogy and I absolutely CANNOT WAIT for the next installment.

Well, there you have it. In three posts, my favorite kids’ and YA books of the year. What were your favorites? What are you looking forward to in 2019?

 

Best Books of 2018 According to Me: Middle Grade (Plus One Early Reader)!

21 Dec

It’s part 2 of “books I think are completely awesome that happened to be published in 2018!” Up now: middle grade fiction

For those not as immersed in the book world as I am, “middle grade” means fiction for elementary school-aged kids who are confident readers. So – no controlled vocabulary, just really great stories.

However, I’ve included one early reader because it’s awesome and needs to be recognized. It’s not for brand new readers, but for those gaining confidence who are ready for short chapters and a full story.

Enjoy!

EARLY READER

Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly

Yasmin is a 2nd grader with spirit! At school or at home with her Pakistani-American family, she finds creative solutions for her challenges. Newly independent readers will find much with which they can relate!

MIDDLE GRADE

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Amal dreams of being a teacher. But when an accidental run-in with the her small Pakistani village’s corrupt landlord occurs, she must become his servant in order to pay off her family’s debt. Life on the landlord’s estate is difficult, but soon Amal becomes aware of dealings that may enable her and others to bring about the landlord’s demise. At once heartbreaking and hopeful, this is a story that will leave you cheering.

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Fans of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series will love meeting Aru! In fact, this book is one of the new “Rick Riordan Presents” imprint titles! When Aru accidentally frees the Sleeper, whose job it is to awaked the God of Destruction, she must find a way to trap him before the world ends. She is joined in her search by a new friend, and the two discover that they are both destined for the task. Filled with quirky characters and Hindu mythology, this story will keep you turning pages!

Breakout by Kate Messner

Life in Wolf Creek centers somewhat around the prison. Many of the town’s inhabitants work there. So when two prisoners escape into the woods around town, everyone’s on edge. Nora Tucker planned to spend her summer working on her journalism, and now she has something to write about she hadn’t planned on. Through her writing and that of Elidee, a new classmate who’s only recently arrived in Wolf Creek, we learn how their lives are upended by the escape – in completely different ways. Contains themes of friendship and injustice that middle grade readers will understand.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

I received an ARC of this at ALA Annual and I couldn’t wait to start reading it. It hit all the right “quirky girl sets off on unexpected adventure” notes for me! Bronte, upon learning her absent parents have died, must set off to fulfill the terms of their will in order to inherit their fortune. She has been tasked with visiting all of her aunts in far-flung parts of the country and delivering gifts left to them by her parents. She soon finds, however, that these gifts, and her travels, might have more meaning than originally though. Contains dragons, evil kings, water sprites, and more!

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Based on the author’s personal experience, Front Desk tells the story of Mia Tang, who moves to the United States with her parents from China. When her parents take a job managing a motel, Mia becomes the de-facto front desk attendant as her parents are busy cleaning rooms. Secretly her parents are also hiding other immigrants who have no where else to go – and hoping that the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, won’t find out. Mia faces additional challenges at school, where she wants to be able to write well, but struggles with English. Mia is a fighter and a creative thinker, though, and through her hard work and determination she finds solutions.

Harbor Me by Jaqueline Woodson

When six children of diverse experience are left alone in a classroom for one hour every Friday afternoon, what might happen? In the case of these six, honesty, growth, understanding, and friendship happen. While it takes them time to trust, eventually, they talk about their fears, hopes, and challenges and discover that each one can be a harbor for the others.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Merci Suarez is having trouble fitting in at her private school. Edna Santos keeps picking on her and as a reluctant member of the Sunshine Buddies she has to help a new boy settle in to the school. She’s also feeling out of control at home, where her grandfather has started acting strangely. In this engaging and real story of family and friends, Merci navigates change and challenges with determination and heart.

Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Caught between two newly-separated countries, India and Pakistan, and two religions, Nisha is forced to leave her home with her father and brother and make the long difficult trek to safety. This is a part of history I know little about, and their harrowing journey, as described in letters Nisha writes to her deceased mother, was heart-wrenching. This book, and Nisha, will stick with you for a long time.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

If you love mysteries mixed with some history, this book is for you! Candice’s grandmother once had a tennis court dug up in search of a treasure – and now her granddaughter is following in her footsteps. Candice, staying in her grandmother’s house for the summer, finds a letter that contains information about a family that was long ago run out of the small town of Lambert, South Carolina. A mysterious person has left clues to help Candice and her friend Brandon unravel the truth about what happened to the family, and if they do, they’ll win a fortune! Meanwhile they learn some dark truths about past injustices while facing their own challenges with bullying and racism.

Sanity and Tallulah by Molly Brooks

A graphic novel about best friends, living on a space station, with a pet three-headed kitty named Princess, Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds. When kitty escapes, can the friends find him again before he destroys there home? WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED IN A STORY? NOTHING.

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

Our story begins when Caleb and his brother, Bobby Gene, swap their baby sister for a bag of fireworks. This sets in motion their extraordinary summer spent with Styx Malone, a boy in the foster system whom they happen to meet in the forest behind their house. Styx introduces them to the “elevator trade”, in which the boys make increasingly larger trades. Their ultimate goal? A grasshopper green moped. Styx is older and wiser, and the boys can’t believe their good fortune in finding a friend like him. But what if Styx needs the boys as much as they need him?

Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

A girl growing up in New Jersey has been told by her parents her whole lift that she’s a princess, and she never believes it – until, on her 12th birthday, her parents disappear and two princes come to take her to the Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers to fulfill her destiny and rescue them. On their adventure they’ll meet the demon queen, a snarky talking bird, the Serpent King (who has a giant python from whom they must steal a gem), and cross a river made of rubies. Oh, and there are flying horses and baby stars, too. If you’re a fan of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson or Magnus Chase series, you’ll love meeting Kiranmala!

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Nan Sparrow has always been a climber – a child who climbs into and cleans chimneys. It’s a difficult life, especially after her guardian leaves mysteriously when she is very young. When a suspicious accident happens, she’s almost killed but survives thanks to a golem – a “monster” and protector who becomes her friend. Set in Victorian England and filled with historical references, this tale of survival and true friendship will warm your heart like a freshly-stoked fire.

Sometimes it just takes One.

20 Oct

I want to share a story with you. When I was in 6th grade, I was a geeky, gangly kid who read a lot, had unruly red hair, and did well in school.  I remember one particular day walking to school, and as I crossed the playground a girl yelled at me from the other side. That girl’s name was Heather. I remember very specifically what Heather said to me: “Hey Mary, why are you so ugly?”

I was a bullied kid.  Not physically, and not so much that I didn’t want to go to school.  But enough so that by the time I was in 8th grade, I had pretty low self-esteem and was pretty shy.  Being smart was not cool, and while I had friends, I still didn’t feel very good about myself.  My parents worried about me, and, fortunately for me, took steps to help me, which included offering me the chance to go to a private school.  I was lucky.

I’ve come a long way since then.  I worry a lot less about what others (well, others that I don’t know) think of me.  I think I’ve figured out who I am and I really like the person I’ve become.   But I still think about what that girl said to me, and I still have some self-esteem issues.

Given some of the terrible, tragic events that have resulted from school

One by Kathryn Otoshi

bullying lately, I have been especially motivated to share a particular book with my preschoolers.  I wasn’t sure they’d be able to sit through it, as it’s kind of abstract, but the kids I’ve read it to have been transfixed.  It’s called One, and it’s by Kathryn Otoshi.

The premise of One is this: Blue is happy to be Blue – a quiet color, who likes looking at the sky, and occasionally, when he’s feeling bold, splashing in puddles.  The other colors, Yellow, Purple, Green and Orange, like Blue also, and tell him so. Sometimes, Blue wishes he had more of their traits, but mostly, he’s happy being Blue.

Except when he’s around Red. Red is “a hothead”. Red shouts things at Blue, like “Red is HOT. Blue is NOT.” This, obviously, makes Blue feel sad.  The other colors reassure him, but when Red is around, they do not stand up for him. They do not tell Red NO.

Then 1 arrives. 1 is bolder, and brave, and when Red tries to tell 1 what to do, 1 says NO. He refuses to let Red bully him.  This causes the other colors to become brave, and so, Yellow becomes 2, Green becomes 3, and so on.  It takes Blue a bit longer, but with a little more bullying from Red, Blue stands up for himself and says NO! He becomes 6.

Red feels left out. He tries to skulk away, but Blue sends out an olive branch, by saying “Can’t Red be hot, AND Blue be cool?”. Red becomes 7.

This is such a simple, yet powerful,  story about standing up for yourself, but also about standing up for others. While I’m not sure the kids got the WHOLE message, they did understand that Red was not being nice. They didn’t like his behavior.

Obviously it takes more than one story to stop bullying.  But I think that planting the seeds of tolerance and acceptance in preschool is a good thing. I’m trying to do my part.

Sometimes, it just takes 1.

And the Caldecott goes to: In my completely uneducated, non-humble opinion

21 Dec

Children’s book award season will soon be upon us.  On January 18, 2010, librarians, authors, and children’s literature enthusiasts will be glued to their computers (those of us not lucky enough to attend the announcements in person) to find out the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpré and other youth media awards bestowed by the American Library Association.  As I am both a librarian and an enthusiast, I thought I would share with you my completely non-scientific, uneducated, random, gut-feeling picks for two of the awards:

When You Reach Me

  • Newbery Medal:  Stead, Rebecca.  When You Reach Me.  I would have LOVED this book as a girl.  As an adult, I loved it.  Miranda, a New York City 6th grader, relates certain incidents in her life after being asked to do so in four strange anonymous notes.  Who’s sent the notes, why do they want her to write a letter, and why does this person know things about Miranda’s life, her friends, and the future?  The story is like nothing I’ve ever read before, and yet, I felt something warm and familiar about the characters and story.  Confusing, heartwarming, realistic and fantastical all at the same time.  Read it, and see if you can figure it out.

The Lion and The Mouse

  • Caldecott Medal:  Pinkney, Jerry.  The Lion and the Mouse.  In a nearly wordless picture book, Pinkney retells the Aesop’s fable about a mouse who returns a lion’s favor when the lion finds himself trapped in a net.  The gorgeous watercolor illustrations give us all the information we need without words, and as the Caldecott medal is all about the illustrations, this one should be a shoe-in for at least an honor.  It’s simply a beautiful book, one of those that you’d buy for your kids and hang on to for years, even after they’ve long grown up.  It’s a share-with-your-grandkids kind of book (which I will share with mine, if I ever have any).  Oh, and as there are so few words, it’s a great one for a child to “read” to an adult (hello, narrative skills!).

I’m often completely off base, nor have I read all of the books that are getting awards buzz, so by no means should you go to Vegas put any wagers on my picks.  This is just what I liked best.  What are your picks?  I didn’t do the Printz because I haven’t read enough YA (I’m still waiting on my copy of Catching Fire), but I’d be interested to hear what you think!

The Sleepy Little Alphabet: A Bedtime Story from Alphabet Town by Judy Sierra

24 Nov

When planning an early literacy storytime, letter knowledge is the hardest skill match up with books that work in a group setting.  Alphabet books often lack a cohesive plot, and are better for one-on-one sharing than as storytime fare.  Enter Judy Sierra’s The Sleepy Little Alphabet.  This darling book, with energetic mixed-media illustrations by Melissa Sweet, tells the story of the lower-case letters of the alphabet (the upper case ones are the parents) getting ready for bed.  Each letter’s activities are described in rhyming sentences that include the letter sound at least once (and sometimes more often): “f is full of fidgety wiggles.  G has got the googly giggles.” The text is printed in a bright color that contrasts the background (making it easier to see and reinforcing print awareness), and the letters themselves are printed in a larger size than the rest of the text.  Every child can relate to the nighttime activities happening in this book, and will have tons of fun learning about letters and their sounds.  I, personally, am just so excited to have an alphabet book to add to my bedtime stories theme!  Judy Sierra, the amazing author of such wonderful book treats as Wild About Books and Preschool to the Rescue, gives us another reason to snuggle together and read!

The Great Nursery Rhyme Disaster by David Conway

21 Aug

Miss Muffet is bored: bored of curds and whey, bored of the scary spider, bored of being in the same old nursery rhyme.  So what does she do?  She goes off to find another rhyme to try, of course!  She tries out “The Grand Old Duke of York”, but doesn’t like all the marching (and she completely messes up the rhythm of the rhyme).  Jumping into “Hey Diddle Diddle” is treacherous, as she greatly angers the dish when she tries to run away with the spoon herself.  She feels completely silly climbing up a clock in “Hickory Dickory Dock”.  Soon, the entire nursery rhyme world is in chaos.  Whatever will Miss Muffet do?  Melanie Williamson’s bright, silly, stylized illustrations create just the right chaotic tone. Reciting nursery rhymes is a great way to reinforce phonological skills (the ability to hear the little sounds that make up words, including rhyming sounds).  Little listeners can help the reader with the rhymes, and perhaps play at inserting Miss Muffet into other rhymes not in the story.  “Mary had a little Miss Muffet, its fleece was white as snow…?”  While the ending is a little abrupt and unsatisfying, this is, overall, a delightfully creative story.

Conway, David.  The Great Nursery Rhyme Disaster.  Wilton, CT: Tiger Tales, 2009.  ISBN: 9781589250802

Tiny and Hercules by Amy Schwartz

20 Aug

Tiny (an elephant) and Hercules (a mouse, natch) are the best of friends.  In this collection of 5 short stories, Tiny and Hercules try new things, conquer fears, and solve problems in creative ways.  Tiny is invited to an ice-skating party, but doesn’t know how to skate (and Hercules lives up to his name).  Hercules’ Uncle Roy is turning 103 and so the mouse decides to throw him a party, complete with a large cake with 103 candles.  The friends set up a lemonade and cookie stand, but Tiny is discouraged when a customer complains.  Reader and listener might want to talk about how to solve the problem before turning to the last page of the story to see what Tiny and Hercules have done.  The ending of four of the stories is told by illustration only, providing another chance at conversation: “what did they do?”  “How does this solve the problem?”  These are delightful stories of a cooperative friendship, and I have already added this to my list of friends-themed storytime books.  My one quibble? An art teacher who declares: “Art is GRAND.  Art is BIG.  Art is STUPENDOUS.”  Says who?  Art is subjective.

Schwartz, Amy.  Tiny and Hercules.  New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2009.  ISBN: 9781596432536

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