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.

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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.

Posted in Preschool Reads

A mother’s last love letter: A Bubble, by Geneviève Castrée

A Bubble, by Geneviève Castrée, (June 2018, Drawn & Quarterly), $12.95, ISBN: 9781770463219

Ages 4+

Artist and musician Geneviève Castrée passed away in 2016 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. This last project, a board book for her 2-year-old daughter, is at once a celebration of parental love and a comfort to anyone moving through grief and loss. Maman loves her daughter, but has been encased in a bubble since before the little girl can remember. She and her mother spend time in the bubble, eating together, playing together, and napping together; when daughter goes out exploring with Papa, she comes back to share what she’s done and seen with Maman, who cannot leave her bubble. As the story unfolds, we see the family’s activities change as Maman’s illness progresses; the story ends with hugs, kisses, and going for ice cream: a last, loving moment between mother and daughter.

The Bubble is simple and exquisite. I ache reading every page of this brief book and the final note from Castrée’s singer-songwriter husband, Phil Elverum. The artwork is focused on Castrée and her daughter; their loving relationship, the bubble, and the intrusion of the outside world. Narrated by the child, each page has 1-3 sentences, describing her relationship with her mother. It’s a comfort to children coping with loss and a testament to the everlasting love between a parent and child. I’ve read this book at least 5 times now, each time with a lump in my throat and an ache in my chest. It’s beautiful, and a good book to give to children – and parents – dealing with grief.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Tale of Angelino Brown will make you happy cry.

The Tale of Angelino Brown, by David Almond/Illustrated by Alex T. Smith, (Feb. 2108, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763695637

Recommended for readers 8-12

Bert Brown is a tired school bus driver who’s burned out on his job. When he starts feeling chest pains behind the wheel one day, he’s sure he’s having a heart attack – but no! – there’s a little angel in his pocket! The sweet little angel shows a liking for gumdrops, offered by one of the kids on the school bus who notices the little visitor, and Bert brings the angel home to his wife, Betty, who’s thrilled. They name the angel Angelino and Betty sets to work finding foods that he likes, and making clothes for him. Betty decides that Angelino needs to be in school, and since she’s the school cook, he tags along with her for a school day, where he enchants (most of) the teachers and students around him, particularly the expressive art teacher, Ms. Monteverdi. Everyone is just happier, better, when Angelino is around, but two shadowy figures are keeping an eye on Angelino. When the time is right, they kidnap him, hoping to sell him off; what even they don’t realize is Basher, a lifetime bully, is coming for Angelino, too. Can Bert, Betty, and Angelino’s schoolmates save the day?

This story just made me feel happy inside, and not in a goofy, syrupy way. Angelino appears into the lives of a married couple who’ve been going through the motions for a long time, bringing joy to them after a tragedy of their own seems to have had a hand in closing them off. Everything he touches is filled with good and happiness – he’s an angel, complete with little wings, and happy little farts (my kids do love a good fart joke) that will give readers the giggles. The baddies here aren’t completely bad – there’s some interesting character study here for all involved – and the humor takes some amusing pot-shots at the Seriousness of the Education System, which is always good for getting a laugh out of me. Angelino has no memory of who he is and indeed, must learn how to speak, read, and write, but he’s up to the challenge and even advocates for himself when the chips are down. Black and white illustrations throughout add to the fun.

This one is a win for summer reading kids who “don’t know what to reeeeaaaaaad”.  A gentle, sweet fantasy with just a hint of flatulence. The Tale of Angelino Brown has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

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

Never That Far: They never really leave us

Never That Far, by Carol Lynch Williams, (Apr. 2018, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62972-409-6

Recommended for readers 9-12

Twelve-year-old Libby is devastated when her best friend, her grandfather, dies at home. Crippled by grief, her father can barely get out of bed to work in the family’s Florida orange groves. On the night of Grampa’s funeral, though, Libby has a visitor: Grampa’s spirit shows up in her room, telling her that “the dead ain’t never that far from the living”, and that she has to search the lake for something he left for her. Sadly, he tells her that her father can’t see him; he doesn’t believe. To him, “the Dead are dead”. Libby joins forces with her friend, Bobby, to discover the treasure at the lake, but her father spirals further into grief and depression and threatens to derail Libby’s entire mission.

Never That Far has a touch of the supernatural set into a realistic fiction about grief, loss, and family. The Sight, Libby’s family gift, allows her to see and speak with dead family members. Her father has been worn down by grief, enduring the deaths of his siblings, wife, mother, and now, father; he has spent years arguing with his family about their “gift”, refusing to accept it for what it is. Libby’s revelation is unbearable to him, threatening an even greater rift between father and daughter when he tries to stop her from her mission. Together, Libby and Grampa, with some help from Bobby, work to save Libby’s father, who’s in danger of becoming a shell of a person and leaving Libby alone in the world.

The characters are gently realized, revealing themselves to readers little by little over the course of the book and packing powerful emotional punches as they come. Libby witnesses her grandfather’s grief at not being able to connect with his son in a scene that will have readers reaching for tissues. Taking place in the late 1960s in rural Florida allows the plot to remain character-driven. This is a moving story of grief, loss, and renewal that will appeal to certain readers: it’s a good book to have handy for your tough times lists, and for comfort reading. It’s spiritual, rather than overtly religious, and is soothing for readers experiencing loss and moving on.

 

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Mama’s Belly has a sister growing in it!

Mama’s Belly, by Kate Hosford/Illustrated by Abigail Halpin, (Apr. 2018, Abrams), $16.99, ISBN: 9781419728419

Recommended for readers 3-7

A young girl feels excitement and trepidation at the upcoming arrival of her new baby sister. The text’s language is just beautiful, beginning with the sentence, “Mama has a belly rising up, like a wave. Inside is my sister, waiting to meet me.” The girl talks to Mama’s belly, sings to it, hugs it; she dreams of holding and caring for her baby sister, but she’s also nervous: does she have to share her blanket? Will Mommy ever have a lap again, and will she still have space for her? Will Mama have enough love for both siblings? With gentle text and soft, illustrations, Mama’s Belly is an empathetic, loving story that assuages children’s concerns and warmly welcomes a new family addition.

I love that Mama gets some storytime here, too: as her pregnancy progresses, we learn that it’s not easy carrying a baby! “Mama’s belly is making her grumpy. I haven’t seen my toes in weeks!” Mama’s also tired and achy, laying down on the couch with a tender back while the girl draws for her. It helps explain why pregnant moms and caregivers may not always be able to play as baby gets closer to being born, and it models wonderful behavior: when Mama can’t see her toes, the girl counts them for her, letting her know that she still has 10. When tired Mama asks for a picture, the girl draws a multi-page “magic energy machine” to invigorate her. Papa and Mama love their little girl, and let her know that she’s an important part of their family, and that’s the most important part of getting a new sibling-to-be ready for baby. This is a nice addition to new baby collections, and a great baby shower/big sibling gift idea.

 

Want to see a little more? Enjoy the book trailer.


Kate Hosford is the author of several picture books, including Infinity and Me, which was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book award winner and named an ALA Notable Children’s Book. Her books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, French, and Romanian. Kate lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. You can visit her author website and follow her on Instagram @katelhosford.

Abigail Halpin is the illustrator of many children’s books, including Finding Wild. She lives in Southern Maine. Visit her on the web or on Instagram @abigailhalpin.

 

Want a chance to win your own copy of Mama’s Belly? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway! (U.S. addresses only, please!)

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Art takes on a new dimension in The Maker

The Maker, by D.F. Anderson, (Jan. 2018, Underdog Books), $14.95, ISBN: 9780991800346

Recommended for readers 9-13

Thirteen-year-old Nate loves to draw. It’s one of his lasting connections with his father, who’s been gone for months, with no word. His mother’s boyfriend, Ted, goes at Nate whenever he gets a chance, insulting his artwork and attacking his grades; his mother is no comfort. Things change rapidly for Nate when a group of aliens show up at his window one night, telling him that he and his father are Makers: artists with the talent to bring their drawings to life. Nate’s father hasn’t abandoned them, he’s been kidnapped, and the aliens from the planet Meer are relying on Nate to help them save his father and the other kidnapped Makers before a cruel alien race wipes them out – and then heads for Earth.

The Maker has a great concept: using living beings as 3-D printers, when you think about it. By channeling their talents, Makers can give life to their drawings to create starships, cities… the sky’s the limit. The Makers connect with an energy source, mica, to give shape to their ideas; they can collaborate on large projects, or work individually to create small, detailed pieces. Readers will get into the sci-fi adventure story and relate to Nate, a kid who’s been put down to the point where he doesn’t believe in his own talent until put to the test – and then exceeds his wildest dreams. The evil parent/boyfriend situation is addressed in a neatly wrapped-up plotline. There are warring alien races, planet-eating machines to stop, and strong relationships that sci-fi and fantasy fans will enjoy, plus some moments of humor, including an evil alien who can be tortured… by pulling on his toe. Made you smile!

Add this to collections where you have sci-fi readers. Display this with some maker titles, and have a booktalk ready when kids come over and ask why it’s there.