Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

A mother’s love letter to her daughter: When I Carried You In My Belly

When I Carried You In My Belly, by Thrity Umrigar/Illustrated by Ziyue Chen, (Apr. 2017, Running Press Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7624-6058-8

Recommended for readers 3-7

A mother explains where all of her daughter’s wonderful qualities were born: as she grew in her mother’s belly. Her mother laughed so hard that baby laughed, too; that’s why she has a great laugh today. Her grandmother’s loving hands built her crib, and grandfather made sweets to eat; that’s why she dreams softly at night and is so sweet. Her mother sangs joyful songs in different languages, and that’s why the girl feels at home anywhere in the world. It’s a sweet love story between mother and daughter, but also illustrates the love and importance of family.

This is a first picture book for author Thrity Umrigar, who hopes that children will come away understanding the importance of family and the importance of being kind and generous. Her text – a mother lavishing praise on her daughter while reminiscing about her pregnancy – combined with Ziyue Chen’s joyful illustrations featuring multicultural characters, invites children to laugh and play together, part of a world community.

This is a great baby shower gift: the story embraces motherhood, empowers mothers to love their bodies (mom happily belly dances with a beautiful bare midriff), and encourages mother-child interaction from the womb. I remember the little tickles and wiggles I felt with each of my boys even now. I remember playing with them, pushing on my belly in one spot and the delight in seeing a little hand (or foot) push back in response. It’s also a good reading choice for a discussion group, to get moms talking with one another, and their children, about their own pregnancies and what they love about their children. When I Carried You in My Belly is a love letter from mother to child, and a love letter to mothers everywhere.

Display this with books on family and individuality. I like Mary Ann Hoberman’s All Kinds of Families, Everywhere Babies, by Susan Meyers, The Family Book, by Todd Parr, and What I Like About Me, by Allia Zobel-Nolan.

Thrity Umrigar is the bestselling author of a memoir and six novels, including The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and The Story Hour. Her books, articles, and more information is available via her website. Ziyue Chen’s work has been recognized in the 3×3 Picture Book Show (2014), SCBWI’s SI Scholarship (2013), the Society of Illustrators’ Student Scholarship Show (2013), and Creative Quarterly (2012). You can see more of her illustration at her website.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Middle grade paranormal thrills: Future Flash

Future Flash, by Kita Helmetag Murdock, (Jan. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510710115

Recommended for readers 10-14

Laney has the ability to “future flash”: she often gets glimpses of the future when she makes physical contact with someone for the first time. She’s spent her life knowing Walt, who claims to be her dad, found her as an infant, in a car seat and wrapped in a blanket. She knows Walt isn’t telling her the whole truth when he talks about being her dad and about her mother, who died when she was a baby. She meets Lyle, a new kid in school, and flashes on him covered in blood and engulfed in flames. She tries to stay away from him, but unfortunately for both Laney and Lyle, the school bully has them both in his sights. As Laney tries to keep Lyle safe from both Axel, the bully, and from the future she saw in her flash, she will discover much more about the circumstances of her birth than she ever expected.

It’s not often you get a middle grade character with these kinds of circumstances – this tends to be more of a YA situation, so I happily tore through Future Flash. It’s a page-turner with a solid female character dealing with some way out-there circumstances. I have to wonder why Lyle kept coming back for more after their first meeting, but I did enjoy the development of their friendship. Things wrap up neatly enough that a sequel isn’t likely. Discussion questions are available at the end of the book.  Kita Murdock’s got a writing style that will keep you turning pages and in the action. Give this to your thriller and mystery middle graders, and your reluctant and struggling YA readers.

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

Historical middle-grade fiction: Snakes and Stones

Snakes and Stones, by Lisa Fowler, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-1031-3

Recommended for readers 9-12

The year is 1921, and Chestnut Hill, a 12 year old girl, travels with her father and 7 year-old triplet siblings (also named after nuts) across the American south, putting on medicine shows so her daddy can sell his elixir. Daddy’s a snake oil merchant, and Chestnut is sick and tired of living in a cramped wagon, wearing clothes to rags, and going to bed with a rumbling stomach. She’s mad at Daddy from stealing her and her siblings away from their Mama, who must be out of her mind with grief right now. Even when the Hill family meets up with Abraham, a friend of her father’s, who tells her that there’s a lot Chestnut doesn’t know about her Daddy, she refuses to believe it and decides to take matters into her own hands, setting off a chain of events that will change her and her family.

I was happy to see a middle grade historical fiction piece take place in the early ’20s – it’s an interesting time that hasn’t seen a lot of middle grade storytelling just yet. Lisa Fowler has several strong characters here, most notably, Chestnut, who narrates the story. Her father is a seeming ne’er do well, a con man with a heart of gold, who just doesn’t know how to take care of his family; Abraham, an African-American character, allows for a look at the everyday racism and segregation in the South. Readers may get tired of Chestnut’s firm belief that her father’s the bad guy, especially when there’s clearly more to the story that Abraham knows but won’t discuss. While Abraham is a potentially strong character to highlight the racial issues in the Southern U.S., readers may be put off by the way his speech is written, which can be construed as negative stereotyping rather than striving for historical accuracy.

Overall, it’s a story that means well but gets caught up in melodrama and possibly troubling characterization.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

A modern twist on Cinderella: It Started With Goodbye

started-with-goodbyeIt Started With Goodbye, by Christina June, (May 2017, Blink Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780310758662

Recommended for ages 12+

Tatum Elsea’s not having a great summer. Accused of a crime she didn’t commit – she was trying to get her best friend away from her sleazy boyfriend, to add insult to injury! – she’s under her step-monster’s house arrest for the entire summer, AND her best friend won’t speak to her. She’s working on pulling invasive plants as a community service during the day, and at night, quietly launching a design business to keep from going crazy. Things start looking up when she gets a few nibbles for her design business, including a flirty exchange with a musician who needs a portfolio made to submit to colleges. Her stepmother’s mother is also staying with them for the summer while Tatum’s dad is away on business, and she brings got just a little bit of fairy abuela magic with her, whether it’s a little extra money from her bunco winnings to help Tatum out, or warming up the relationships in the house. Maybe Tatum’s summer will end on a high note, after all.

This is a very sweet, very fun, modern take on Cinderella. Tatum’s stepmother isn’t really evil, she’s just really, really strict; her stepsister is a ballet dancer that’s not as uppity as Tatum thinks she is; her fairy godmother plays bunco and watches Golden Girls while dispensing real talk. There’s a music fest instead of a masked ball, and a cute take on the glass slipper. I had a great time reading this; you’ll just feel better when you’re done. It’s very clean – my conservative readers and my tweens will absolutely embrace this – and the characters are all very likable, even if they are in need of some serious loosening up in the beginning.

A fun, light romance to add to your collections or pass along to teen romance readers. There’s some fun content coming down the pike from author Christina June, including a graphic design contest, playlists, and launch party in the DC area. Keep an eye on Christina’s author page and Blink’s webpage for updates.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

When activism goes too far? Flip the Bird, by Kym Brunner

flip-the-birdFlip the Bird, by Kym Brunner, (Noc. 2016, HMH Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544800854

Recommended for ages 11+

Issues with hunting, falconry, and animal rights activism all come together in Kym Brunner’s Flip the Bird. Fourteen year-old Mercer Buddie wants two things out of life right now: he wants a girlfriend, and he wants to be a falconer, like his father and brother. He’s training as an apprentice to his father, a master falconer, but feels like his dad favors his jock of an older brother and is too critical of him. He captures a red-tailed hawk that he names Flip – to show his dad that falconry doesn’t always have to be a Very Serious Business – and has a few short weeks to train him for the big falconry meet; he’s got his eye on the Best Apprentice Award. Then he meets Lucy, who’s gorgeous and has a great personality and seems to be just as interested in him; the only problem is that she and her family are part of a fanatical animal rights organization called HALT. Mercer tries to play both sides to stay in Lucy’s and his family’s good graces, but sooner or later, the two halves of his life are going to converge. His mother is a scientist at a university lab doing medical research, and his father has a raptor rehabilitation center in addition to being a falconer – which means, a hunter. There are a lot of difficult choices in Mercer’s immediate future.

Flip the Bird brings together a lot of hot button topics to create a moving story about family and going with the crowd. Told in the first person by Mercer, the narrative is humorous while discussing the frustrations of being the little brother; the struggle to be treated like a responsible young adult, and the difficulty in making decisions that may be unpopular with the people you want to impress the most. To impress Lucy, Mercer joins the HALT collective she forms at school, but this puts him at direct odds with his family, and they let him know it. There are consequences to his actions, and we see Mercer grow as he faces those consequences. There’s interesting information about falconry and raptor rescue here, which will appeal to fans of animal fiction and birds. While the author gives a shout-out to some of her research sources in her acknowledgements, and does emphasize the extreme commitment that falconry requires, I’d have liked to see links to information about raptor rescue at the end of the book. I did some quick searching and came up with a quick list for anyone interested: The Raptor Trust, Wild Bird Fund, and A Place Called Hope. PBS’ Falconer’s Memoir page offers a map of states permitting falconry and links to classroom activities for using “A Falconer’s Memoir” in the classroom. The World Wildlife Fund is an organization that works with wildlife conservation and endangered species, and most large zoological preserves pioneer conservation and rehabilitation practices for animals in the wild. Kym Brunner is also a seventh grade teacher, and her author website offers presentations that you can use in the classroom.

I enjoyed the book and the characters. I’ll be adding this to my shelf; if you’ve know realistic fiction, animal fiction, or middle schoolers looking for something new and different to read, add this one to your shelves and shopping lists.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Gifted versus Ashkind: Helena Coggan’s The Catalyst

catalystThe Catalyst, by Helena Coggan, (Oct. 2016, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763689728

Recommended for ages 12+

A dimensional cataclysm on our world turned the human race against one another: some are green-eyed Gifted, who wield magical powers; others are dark-eyed, non-magical Ashkind. A fragile peace is in place after a great war between Gifted and Ashkind, but there seems to be signs that something’s brewing again. Rose is a 15 year-old girl whose father, David, is in charge of the Department, a brutal law enforcement agency. David and Rose are gifted, and something… more. Something they must keep others from finding out. A mysterious murder suspect knows their secrets, though, and he’s blackmailing Rose into helping him – putting her loyalty to her father, and the Department, to test.

Helena Coggan was 15 years old when she wrote The Catalyst, and that alone makes it pretty darned impressive. She’s got some solid world-building in this first book (the second, The Reaction, has already been released in the UK), and I liked a lot of her character development. The action is well-paced, and the dystopian elements of the individual leading a group against the shadowy government is tweaked to include magic elements, a nice update to the genre. There was quite a bit to keep sorted for me at first, especially with the introduction of other groups like the Host; it took me a few re-reads of some pages to set them within the frame of the book. All in all, a good addition to dystopian/sci fi collections for those with strong readerships.

Helena Coggan’s got a WordPress site that has a nice photo and description of The Reaction, for anyone who wants to know more about the Angel Wars series.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

My Dad is a Clown heals bodies and souls

my-dad-is-a-clown-coverMy Dad is a Clown/Mi papá es un paysaso, by José Carlos Andrés/Illustrated by Natalia Hernández, (Jan. 2017, NubeOcho), $14.95, ISBN: 978-84-944137-6-6

Recommended for ages 4-8

A boy with two dads is proud of what they do for a living, and wants to be like them both when he grows up. Both of the boy’s dads are healers: one dad, Pascual, is a doctor and heals his patients’ bodies; his other dad, whom he refers to as simply “Dad”, is a clown, and heals people’s souls. Pascual and the boy sneak into Dad’s rehearsal one day, where the boy realizes the hard work that goes into being a performer, and decides that he will combine the best of his fathers’ professions when he grows up.

This is a sweet story about a boy who loves and is proud of his parents. We also see a loving relationship between the boy’s parents, who happen to both be men. The cartoony two-color art, primarily black and white with reds added for visual interest and emphasis, is both sweet and dramatic. The family is tender with one another, unafraid to show affection. It’s a gratifying, emotional read, particularly when the family reunites after Dad’s rehearsal and they share happy tears.

This third edition of the story is a bilingual edition, translated into English and includes the Spanish text directly beneath the English text, both featured in a highlighted typewriter font that makes for easy independent and cuddle time reading. It’s good for English and Spanish language learners, and is a sweet story about family love to add to your bilingual collections and your storytime rotation. Put this 0ne on your shelves: there are families out there who need and deserve to have their stories told.