Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Bigfoot Files searches for Bigfoot and even mother-daughter ground

The Bigfoot Files, by Lindsay Eagar, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763692346

Ages 10-13

Mirando Cho is tired of being the parent. The 12-year-old student council president is dead set on securing a spot in a leadership camp this summer that will get her out of the house and away from her cryptozoolist mom, Kat. Kat’s obsession with mythical monsters, especially the ever-elusive Bigfoot, has taken center stage in her life: bills have gone unpaid, the house is in danger of foreclosure, and neither her father nor her grandmother is interested in helping out. It’s time for Kat to grow up, and Miranda has a plan to make it happen. The two set off together for another Bigfoot hunt, where Miranda plans to confront her mother with everything; once she breaks her down, she’ll help her get back on track to being a responsible adult. But nature has a different plan, and Kat and Miranda end up lost in the woods together. Miranda may have a thing or two to learn about magic after all.

The Bigfoot Files is an interesting take on the “irresponsible single parent, stressed out smart kid” story. We’ve got a mom who still has that spark of magic in her, but she’s let it take over her life, to the detriment of her daughter and the family finances. She’s always ready for the big score: the picture of Bigfoot, the big research grant, the one moment where the proof will magically appear. Miranda has overcompensated for her mother’s flightiness by becoming an overachiever with compulsive tendencies – she pulls her hair out to soothe herself and obsessively focuses on her planning, research, and lists, lists, lists. Kat is frustrating, and Miranda isn’t always sympathetic, which – let’s be real – is spot on. Both parties need to give a little to get somewhere, hence the trip into the woods. And that’s where things get interesting. Miranda is the ultimate skeptic – and as readers, so are we – until a pivotal moment that threatens to turn everything upside down. We get a touch of the speculative in our realistic fiction, inviting readers to keep the faith; there is magic to be found out there, if you’re willing to find it. Ultimately, readers and our characters come to a compromise and understand that somewhere in the middle lies the best way to go: bills still need to be paid, and magic can still exist.

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Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A dad and son share special time during the Night Shift

Night Shift, by Karen Hesse/Illustrated by G. Brian Karas, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763662387

Ages 4-7

It’s a Friday night, and a boy and his dad head out at sundown for his father’s night shift as a school custodian. The pair ride to school on the boy’s father’s motorcycle, and as Dad cleans, the boy finds ways to himself busy; the two listening to a ball game on the radio. They eat their packed lunch together, and the boy reads to his father until he falls asleep on the couch. When Dad’s shift has ended, he wakes his son up, and they share a ride back home, where the boy cleans out his father’s lunch box, and curls up next to him on the recliner, drifting to sleep in his father’s embrace.

This gentle story shows a special relationship between father and son. The quiet blues and brows and mixed media are calming and provide a feeling that we’re getting a private glimpse into this family’s loving bond. The moment father and son unwrap their sandwiches and eat together is such a touching moment, the son genuinely happy to share this time with Dad as he leans into him, smiling; Dad smiling down on him. Dad gently puts his sleepy son into his jacket as they get ready to leave at 4 a.m. The boy curls into his father, head nuzzled into the crook of his father’s neck; his father’s head is turned away from readers, cheek on his son’s head. It’s a wonderful story that tells readers that quality time is what you make of it.

Narrated by the son, the prose shows a boy so aware of everything around him: the smell of the fish as they drive over the bay; the scent of the lilacs by the school; the sigh of the building as his father opens the door to the school; even what he imagines is the scene at the baseball game on the radio, “where the sun is shining on an emerald field”. Karen Hesse gives readers a feast for the senses and G. Brian Karas uses color to accent special moments throughout the text, be it the green couch that the boy naps on, his red sneakers, or the purple lilacs by the school building.

Night Job is a Junior Library Guild selection and has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Karen Hesse is a Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction winner. G. Brian Karas has illustrated more than 90 children’s books.

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

Guest YA Review: Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert

My colleague, Amber, is back with another YA review! Enjoy as she talks about Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Picture Us in the Light.

Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert,
(April 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726020
Ages 13+
I picked up “Picture Us in the Light” as an ARC at PLA last March. The cover popped, and I grabbed. I’m so glad I did. To my delight, just as I finished reading it, the finished copy showed up from central purchasing, all laminated and ready for my teen shelves!
 
The plot: Danny Cheng is the son of immigrant Chinese parents. His best friends, Harry and Regina, are dating. It’s a tad awkward because Danny has a secret crush on Harry. His parents are thrilled because Danny got into a prestigious art school, but Danny hasn’t been able to draw in a year. He’s harboring major guilt over his role in a tragedy that affected his whole friend group.  When Regina asks Danny to draw a portrait for the school paper related to the tragedy, Danny worries that his inability to do so will be seen as insult to those affected most. Then Danny finds a mysterious box of papers in his father’s things and his parents clam up when he asks about it.
It’s Danny’s senior year. He might not see his friends again because his college is across the country. Will he tell Harry he likes him? What about hurting Regina? Can he break his dry spell? What’s with that secret box of his dad’s? Why won’t his parents tell him anything? 
 
Review: This book made me feel so many ways. Kelly Loy Gilbert gets right to the heart of the teen experience. Her bio says she “believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to a complex, broken people.” That is certainly what happens here. While Danny is the center of the story, his parents are the heart. If anything, Danny’s position emphasizes how important he is to them and makes their sacrifices for him hit harder as they are uncovered.  Did they make the right decisions? Did their decisions hurt Danny? You decide. There are plenty of opportunities for debate in this book, which would make it a great choice for book club.  Here is a boy who deeply needs his parents’ open love and support, but because of secrets they are forced to keep from him, their relationship  with him, while loving and devoted, is not supportive in the way he needs.  Danny reflects that closed nature, keeping his own secrets from his parents and his friends. No one has any idea he hasn’t drawn in a year or why.
 
The best thing about “Picture Us in the Light”, in addition to the wonderful characters and how they are all real and recognizable, is the unfolding story. Mystery upon mystery come to light (yes, I did that, omg I just realized that ‘in the light’ here probably refers to the characters’ dawning awareness—look, I never claimed to be sharp about this kind of thing). OK, sorry. Had a moment there. I’m not going to name the mysteries because part of the joy is discovering them. If  you savor mysteries stemming from secrets so deep they can tear a family apart if they’re kept and might do the same if they’re discovered, you’re in for a treat. 
 
Recommended for teens 12 and up. Good for readers who enjoy: Mystery. Coming of age. LGBT. Personal relationships. Teen friendship issues.  Parent/child issues.  Chinese-American and Chinese immigrant experiences. Family secrets.
 
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Interrupting Chicken discovers The Elephant of Surprise!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise, by David Ezra Stein, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763688424

Ages 4-8

The current storytime favorite in my home is the newest one from David Ezra Stein! Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is the follow-up to 2011’s Caldecott Medal winner, Interrupting Chicken, and reunites readers with the dynamic duo of Chicken and his dad. In this outing, Chicken has learned about a valuable literary tool: the elephant of surprise. Papa tries to correct him, telling him that he must be referring to the element of surprise, but Chicken knows what he heard. He and Papa turn to the books for proof, and sure enough, through three classic fairy tales and one of Papa’s own stories – drawn by Chicken, naturally – darned if that elephant doesn’t show up at the most hilarious moments!

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise is laugh-out-loud hilarious. My 6-year-old and I cackle through each reading, especially when the delicious moment of suspense arises. We read the fairy tale excerpt. I give him the side eye as I linger over the page. He giggles uncontrollably, turns the page with me, and…

Just like that.

 

There’s everything to love about this story: the so-familiar feel of the dialogue between caregiver and child (especially when that child is convinced they are right), the fun of playing with language and following a kid’s thought pattern through storytelling, and the vibrant, fun artwork throughout the book, especially the handwriting dialogue fonts and the drawn-in, colorful elephant inserting itself right into those fusty, bland-colored classics.

Add this one to your shelves, right next to its companion book, Interrupting Chicken. It’s essential bedtime, storytime, anytime reading for kids, and would make a fun surprise guest in a creative writing program or ELA class. I think I may have to add this one to my Mock Caldecott list for 2018.

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

When Elephants Fly digs deeply into trauma and healing

When Elephants Fly, by Nancy Richardson Fischer, (Sept. 2018, Harlequin TEEN), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335012364

Ages 14+

Lily is a high school senior with a plan: she’s going to avoid stress, drugs, booze, and romantic entanglements; anything that can trigger a stressful episode. She’s in a race against time, because the odds are against her: her mother, and women in her family, have all developed schizophrenia. Schizophrenia most commonly manifests between the ages of 18 and 30, so for the next 12 years, Lily’s on guard. She even has her best friend, Sawyer, give her psych quizzes to catch any developing symptoms. Lily’s mother stopped taking her meds when Lily was a child, and during one episode, tried to kill Lily; she later committed suicide in prison, and Lily, who’s still dealing with the trauma, is getting no help from her father, who won’t discuss Lily’s mother or the incident.

Lily’s on a journalism internship when she witnesses the birth of a new elephant calf at the local zoo. When the calf’s mother tries to kill her calf, and a story goes out with Lily’s byline, she’s stuck with the story – and the fallout. A traveling circus enacts a claim on the calf, and the zoo director is furious with Lily’s betrayal. Swifty bonds with Lily, but the calf’s grief puts her health at risk. Lily’s determination to save Swifty is at odds with her resolve to stay away from stressful situations, but she’s committed to the calf.

Nancy Richardson Fischer brings together a fantastic amount of elements to create When Elephants Fly: trauma; mental illness; the animal captivity debate, and journalistic integrity, for starters. Lily is a fascinating and complex character; she may not always be sympathetic, but she is empathetic. She’s not always likable – she’ll admit it – but readers will always feel for her, because she’s facing down a very real monster and fighting it every step of the way. Swifty is as a strong supporting character in the book, too; she brings out the vulnerable, human side of Lily that she tries to push down. Before Swifty, Lily seems determined to barrel through the next 12 years as mildly and quietly as possible: Swifty makes her engage with her surroundings and with people other than Sawyer.

When Elephants Fly is a strong, moving story that allows for big discussions. A must-add to YA collections; a must-read for caregivers and educators that know tweens and teens dealing with trauma.

Posted in Teen, Tween Reads

An Odyssey of Her Own: Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy

Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy, by Douglas Rees, (May 2018, Running Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780762463039

Ages 13+

Sixteen-year-old Elektra Kamenides was happy. She had a happy, secure life in the Mississippi college town where her father worked as a scholar on ancient Greece, and her mother, Helen, was an aspiring author. When her mother whisks Elektra and her 13-year-old sister, Thalia, out of Mississippi and away from their father, to go live on a roach-infested shack that alleges itself a houseboat in an area of California called Guadalupe Slough, Elektra is furious. Who wouldn’t be? The entire rug of her life has been pulled out from under her, and she can’t even get her father to return her calls. What is going on? Not even her sister Thalia’s endless optimism can shake Elektra, who decides she’s going to make like Odyseuss and get back to Mississippi. But like her Greek hero counterpart, the gods have other plans in store for Elektra.

Elektra’s Adventures in Tragedy peeks into the end of a marriage, a coming of age, and the strength of community. With distance, Elektra sees that the hero she made her father out to be was not necessarily the case; an emergency serves as her wakeup call to make the most of the present, and she discovers that she can survive and thrive in her new community, surrounded by her supportive neighbors. There’s good and colorful character development, including a veteran with PTSD and a Latinx family whose San Jose roots go back for generations. The cast of characters are primarily white and Latinx. There are amusing interludes at the local library, where a neighbor – and later, Elektra – takes out hundreds of books a week to keep circulation numbers strong, for the sake of keeping the library open.

I enjoyed the pace of the storytelling, the characters, the situations, and the relationships between the characters. This one is a good add to your realistic fiction collections.

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

Grief and conflict collide in The Girl with More Than One Heart

The Girl with More Than One Heart, by Laura Geringer Bass, (Apr. 2018, Amulet), $16.99, ISBN: 9781419728822

Ages 10+

Briana is starting her eighth grade year when her father dies of a sudden heart problem. Her mother spirals into grief, leaving Briana with the responsibility of caring for her 5-year-old brother, Aaron, who’s on the autism spectrum. Briana thought of her father as “her” parent and her mother as “Aaron’s parent”, which introduces frustration and resentment on top of her own grief. Briana feels a “second heart” form in her stomach, which communicates to her in her father’s voice, telling her to “find” her mother, and to “let go”.

Told in the first person in Briana’s voice, this novel is a touching, sensitive look at the complicated grief process: it’s messy, frustrating, and filled with mixed emotions, especially when thrown into the volatile mix of adolescent emotions. The writing is so believable, so real, that I felt overwhelmed by both Briana’s and her mother’s grief at points. Readers receive a wealth of information through Briana’s “Before Aaron” flashbacks, back to when her mother had as much time for her as her father; back when they were a cohesive, whole family. This process also helps Briana become a more present sibling to Aaron, and to reach out to new friends when the opportunities present themselves. We get a glimpse of what grief can do to a parent, and the effect of that grief on a child, and we see how the extended family – in this case, Briana’s grandfather – have to take on roles that they may be unprepared for.

The Girl with More Than One Heart is a must-add to your realistic fiction collections, and keep this one in your booktalking pocket for books on grief and loss.

 

Readalikes:

 

Never That Far, by Carol Lynch Williams: Twelve-year-old Libby and her father work through their grief after her grandfather dies.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, by John David Anderson: Three school friends give their dying teacher the best day ever.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness: Thirteen-year-old Conor’s mother is fighting cancer and losing; at the same time, a yew tree tells Conor stories and expects him to tell his.

The Haunted House Project, by Tricia Clasen: Andie tries to hold onto her mother’s memory by having her “haunt” the family home.

Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan: Twelve-year-old Willow loses both parents in a car accident, leaving her to find her place in the world.

Teen Librarian Toolbox and Pragmatic Mom have additional choices, all excellent reading.