Posted in Teen

Wild Beauty – beauty can hide ugly secrets

Wild Beauty, by Anna Marie McLemore, (Oct. 2017, Macmillan), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250124555
Recommended for readers 13+

Teen Estrella Nomeolvides and her cousins live on the beautiful Californian garden property, La Pradera, for generations. Known as “las hijas del aire”, they are bound to the land, forming beautiful flowers that create breathtaking gardens, but the gift is a curse: every man loved by a Nomeolvides woman disappears. Just… dissipates. The cousins are all in love with the same woman, Bay Briar, and pray to the gardens to keep her safe from vanishing; instead, a young man they call Fel appears, thrust forth by the garden. Fel has choppy memories of his past, and Estrella takes it on herself to help him recover his memories. What none of them realize is that Fel’s memories – Fel’s past – is inextricably linked to the ugly truth behind a Pradera.

There is a lot going on in Wild Beauty. There are several subplots that intertwine with the main story, all moving toward the revelations at the end. Beautifully written, with fully realized characters, Wild Beauty can be confusing – there were characters and subplots that took me a few re-reads to fully get my head straight – and the story tends to meander, which may frustrate some readers. Readers familiar with magical realism will recognize this and press on. There’s beautiful imagery, gender identity and fluid sexuality, and a respect for Latinx heroines and matriarchal family structures.

Wild Beauty has starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. Bust Magazine has a great write-up on the book and the author.

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Posted in Preschool Reads

Pepper’s perfect pattern

A Pattern for Pepper, by Julie Kraulis, (Aug. 2017, Tundra Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1101917565

Recommended for ages 4-8

A young girl needs a dress for a very special occasion; her mom takes her to a dressmaker to have one specially made, and together, Pepper and the dressmaker search through patterns until they find the perfect one for Pepper’s dress.

This fun story about the search for a perfect fabric pattern also provides some background on patterns both popular and exotic; from Houndstooth to Ikat, Seersucker to Argyle, Pepper relates each pattern’s history to her own life: Seersucker, for instances, comes from the Persian words for milk and sugar, to describe the bumpy textures; Pepper prefers her tea strong, without milk or sugar, so she passes. When she finally finds her perfect pattern, the dressmaker allows her to help out, and we get a glimpse at the pattern-making process; pieces pinned onto fabric to be cut out and sewn together. Pepper’s dress is done, and we learn the special occasion: tea with her grandmother, who is wearing a dress made from her own perfect pattern.

The oil and graphite art, rendered on board, gives a textured feel to the story. Subdued colors make this a relaxing read, and visuals related to each pattern’s history – a bagpiper for Tartan, a hound and his Houndstooth-wearing master, a photograph of Pepper’s grandmother in her Dotted Swiss wedding dress – are superimposed over each fabric, provide further meaning and connection to each pattern’s history.

This is a sweet, beautifully rendered book about fashion and history, and a loving multigenerational tale, woven through the main story.  Extend a storytime by adding a textile component; bring in different fabrics to have kids look at, touch, and identify, like cotton t-shirts, fake fur, wool, and denim; if you have any patterned fabric, bring them in to let the kids get an up-close look at them, too, and ask them what patterns are familiar to them.

 

Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A spooky Book Birthday to Spirit Hunters!

Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh, (July 2017, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062430083

Recommended for readers 9-13

Harper Raine is not happy about her parents’ decision to move them from New York to Washington, D.C. She can’t stand the creepy house they’ve moved into, especially when she hears the rumors about it being haunted. When her younger brother, Michael, starts talking about an imaginary friend and undergoes a radical personality change, Harper knows she has to act, even if no one else believes her. The thing is, some of Michael’s behaviors ring familiar bells for Harper, but she can’t put her finger on why. She’s missing chunks of memory from a previous accident – can things be connected?

Ellen Oh’s the founder of the We Need Diverse Books movement, and Spirit Hunters gives readers a wonderfully spooky story, rich in diversity. Harper and her siblings are half Korean; as the story progresses, subplots reveal themselves and provide a fascinating look at Korean culture, and the conflicts that can arise between generations. Harper’s new friend, Dayo, and a helpful spirit named Mrs. Devereux are African-American; Mrs. Devereux in particular provides a chance for discussion on race relations, and how racism doesn’t necessarily end with one’s life. Told in the third person, we also hear Harper’s voice through her “stupid DC journals”; journal entries suggested by her therapist, to help bridge her memory gaps, that show up between chapters. The characters are brilliant, with strong backstories, and two mystery subplots emerge that come together, with the main story, to give readers an unputdownable story that will dare them to turn the lights off at night.

I can’t say enough good things about Spirit Hunters, and neither can other reviewers: the book has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

 

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Picture Book Party! Potties, Pirates, Grandmas, and more!

It’s a picture book roundup of Spring and early Summer!

I’ve Got to Go, by Guido van Genechhten, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373379
Recommended for readers 2-5

Doggy has to go. It’s urgent! But his sister is sitting on his potty, because Mouse is on her potty… and so goes this sweet, cumulative tale. As Doggy runs by each animal friend taking up potty real estate, Doggy’s situation is becoming dire – until he reaches the big toilet! Endpapers introduce kids to synonyms for “being used”: “full”, “taken”, “busy”, “occupied”, “in use”, and engaged”, all of which show up throughout the book as Doggy makes his run to the big boy toilet. There’s an array of animal potties on the final endpapers, so kids can point out whose potty belonged to whom. The art is fun and tongue in cheek; kids will squeal with delight at Zebra “doing his business” and Giraffe sitting on the potty while reading a book. It’s a fun book that shows the transition from potty to big kid toilet that toddlers and preschoolers will love.

Sarah at the Wedding, by Pauline Oud, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373317
Recommended for ages 3-6

The latest in Pauline Oud’s Sarah and Ian series has the two friends playing a big part in Sarah’s Aunt Olivia’s wedding! The flower girl and ring bearer get dressed in their party clothes, watch Aunt Olivia marry William, and enjoy the celebration; blowing bubbles, posing for photos, and making their own veil and top hat at an arts and crafts table. This would make a great gift for any bride or groom to give to their flower girls or ring bearers, and is a nice addition to collections on friendship and special events. William, the groom, is a person of color, as is the celebrant and a handful of wedding guests. The bridal veil looks like photographed lace incorporated into Oud’s artwork for a nice, textured feel. Front endpapers feature illustrations of different clothes and activities for a wedding, along with some comprehension questions about the story for older audiences. Back endpapers include fun make your own veil and top hat crafts. Sarah at the Wedding was originally published in Dutch in 2015 and is a sweet addition to Pauline Oud’s collection; I love her art and her short sentences are great for younger readers gaining more confidence in reading independently.

The Only Way I Can, by Bonnie Grubman/Illustrated by Carolien Westermann, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373393
Recommended for readers 4-7

A Rabbit sees Bird flying; he wants to fly, too, and asks Bird for help. Despite Bird’s misgivings, he tries to help Rabbit; from making wings of feathers and string, to training exercises, to running into the wind, but nothing works. Rabbit decides to soar in his own way – the only way he can – and uses his imagination. The Only Way I Can is a story of self-acceptance and imagination, with beautiful backgrounds and warm colors. The illustrated endpaper spreads bring readers into the story setting and gently let them leave when the book ends. A good storytime book about accepting oneself and one’s limits while celebrating the bravery of taking chances.

My Good Morning!, by Kim Crockett Corson/Illustrated by Jelena Brezovec, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373423
Recommended for readers 3-6

A little girl wakes up, ready to start her day; can her Mommy and Daddy keep up with her as she gets ready for school? This is a fun, rhyming tale about getting ready for school in the morning, with a little girl that’s raring to go, and her parents, who are… a little less energetic, at first. We follow the girl through her morning ritual: going to the bathroom, washing up and brushing teeth, getting dressed, and out the door. Mom and Dad are there to help, but our girl wants to do things by herself, making for fun moments with mismatched socks, uneven buttons, and more milk for the cat than the little girl. When she gets to school, there are no tears: there’s too much fun to be had! Dad is a person of color, and the little girl is biracial; classmates form a diverse group. The rhyming text is fun, with short sentences that allow for interactivity by asking kids about what they see in each spread. Ask kids about their morning rituals and notice how different each person’s morning routine is. Pink argyle endpapers match the wallpaper in the family’s home. This is a fun read for storytime, be it a back-to-school storytime, a family storytime, or a storytime about being brave. My Good Morning! was originally published in Dutch in 2016 and is a nice addition to collections.

Pirate John-Wolf, by Natalie Quintart/Illustrated by Philippe Goossens, (July 2017, Clavis Books), $18.95, ISBN: 978-1605373300
Recommended for readers 4-7

John-Wolf feels weak and afraid most of the time. The only time he feels brave is when he’s alone in his room, singing songs about pirates like Blackbeard and Captain Hook. But one night, pirates kidnap John-Wolf and take him to their ship! Captain Drake demands that he sing some heroic deeds about him; and when John-Wolf finds his voice, he breaks into a loud and funny song about how weak and boring the pirates are. As he sings, he finds his bravery and impresses Captain Drake, who invites him to stay on board as John-Wolf the Pirate Singer. When John-Wolf returns to school, after his adventure, he has a different outlook and his classmates notice it. He’s more self-assured, more comfortable in his own skin. Pirate John-Wolf is a fun pirate story about finding your voice and self-confidence. The book says that John-Wolf’s adventure is a dream, but it’s not communicated as clearly in the story itself – not that it’s a big deal, just worth mentioning. The story has fun, with emphasized words and fonts throughout, and the art is cute and cartoony, with pirate animals and skull and crossbones endpapers. Originally published in Dutch in 2015, Pirate John-Wolf is a cute add to collections where pirate stories are popular.

What Can Your Grandma Do?, by Anna Sawan/Illustrated by Sernur Isik, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373324
Recommended for readers 4-7

There’s a grandparents’ talent show coming up at Jeremy’s school! All of his friends talk about their grandparents’ special talents: there are doctors and artists, bakers and dancers; Jeremy starts to worry, because his grandmother doesn’t have any special talents like that. He and Grandma decide to go shoot some hoops while they think about a special talent, and then Jeremy realizes that his Grandma has a special talent of her own after all! What Can Your Grandma Do? takes a fun look at breaking the mold – Grandma can slam dunk in her coiffed hair and pearls. Grandparents are doing fun, exciting things in this story, which fits nicely with a more active generation of Baby Boomer grandparents, who will get a kick out of this story. Cartoony artwork and fun fonts, plus little details that enrich each spread, make this a good storytime choice and a great classroom choice when grandparents are in attendance. Talk to kids about their own grandparents’ special talents, and use the book as an opportunity to talk about how we all have our own special abilities. Pair with Rock Away Granny for a Grandparents Day storytime.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Jasmine Toguchi is determined to make mochi!

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, by Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic, (July 2017, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $15.99, ISBN: 9780374304102

Recommended for readers 6-9

Jasmine Toguchi is an 8 year-old dynamo. She’s funny, smart, and loves her family, especially during the holidays, when Obaachan, her grandmother,  flies in from Japan and the family begins their mochi-tsuki ritual: mochi making!  – a Japanese rice cake, made from pounded rice. The whole family gets involved in the process – except, that is, for Jasmine, who’s still too young to help out. Her older sister, Sophie, helps the women by hand-rolling the mocha balls. Her mean, older cousin, Eddie, helps the men pound the mochi with the super cool mochi hammer. But Jasmine is not yet 10, so she has to wait. In the meantime, Sophie and her mother order her around, and Eddie mercilessly teases her. So Jasmine comes up with a plan: it’s time to break tradition! She’s going to convince her family to let her pound the mochi this year! But first, she’s got to build up her arm strength — that mochi hammer is heavy!

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen is a fun early chapter book for readers who are moving up from Easy Readers. We meet Jasmine, a spunky, Japanese-American girl who loves her family tradition of making mochi, but feels like it’s time for a change. She’s tired of her older sister getting to be the first to do everything, and she’s tired of her obnoxious cousin. She wants to make her own statement, her own mark in the family, and when she sets her mind to it, there’s no stopping her. Kids will enjoy learning about Japanese traditions and relate to the frustration that comes with being told “you’re too young”, when they feel perfectly ready and able to pitch in. An author’s note explains mochi-tsuki, and provides a microwave mochi recipe for kids and their adults to try together. Black and white illustrations bring Jasmine and her world closer to readers. There’s a second book coming in July, with  more activities at the end of the story.

Jasmine Toguchi is a good, new series to add to your intermediate collections – there’s some lovely diversity available for readalikes, including the Ruby Lu and Alvin Ho series, by Lenore Look; the Clara Lee series by Jenny Han; the Katie Woo and Pedro books by Fran Manushkin, and Ellray Jakes, by Sally Warner.

Get an early peek at the next Jasmine Toguchi titles (and covers) by navigating over to author Debbi Michiko Florence’s site, where you can also find info about author visits, with programs she conducts for each grade.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Isabella’s for Real – Honest!

isabellaIsabella for Real, by Margie Palatini/Illustrated by LeUyen Pham, (Oct. 2016, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780544148468

Recommended for ages 9-13

Isabella Antonelli has a BIG problem. Her cousin made a documentary about her real, slightly wacky, New Jersey Italian-American family for a class. He uploaded it to YouTube, and it’s become a viral sensation. The problem? Isabella’s friends at her new school have heard a very different story, and she’s about to be exposed, BIG TIME.

The book goes back and forth between past and present to give readers the full story, narrated by Isabella. It’s a quick read, a fun, often cackle-worthy, comedy of errors with family members you’ll love as much as your own crazy family. LeUyen Pham’s black and white graphic novel-type interludes take the story off the page, giving us visuals for some of the most hilarious interactions between Isabella, her friends, and family.

This one’s a fun read for middle graders who love some good, humorous writing, and who enjoy a gentle, loving poke at our quirky families. I’d booktalk this with Emma Shevah’s books, Dara Palmer’s Major Drama and Dream On, Amber, which also have fun, dramatic main characters and their multigenerational, multicultural families.

Margie Palatini’s got a fun author website with information about her books, some activities, and contact info.