Posts from the ‘Children’s Literature’ Category

The Road to Epoli

Since I can’t draw, in honor of Inktober I searched out a graphic novel to fit each daily theme presented. Now that October is over, I finally have a chance to catch up on my blogging. Here’s my submission for Oct. 22nd’s theme: trail.

Road to Epoli.jpgTitle: The Road to Epoli
Series: Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo (#1)
Authors: Ben Costa & James Parks
Illustrator: Ben Costa
ISBN: 9780399556135
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2017.

Rickety Stitch is a revived skeleton. Although like most of his kind he has no physical brain, his personality pegs him as an anomaly. Working several dead end jobs with his friend The Goo gets him nowhere, as Stitch strums on his lute, trying to capture the song that haunts his dreams. En route, The Goo gets captured and Stitch gets pressed into service of capturing a gnome for a giant ogre-spawn as the only way to rescue his friend. With the help of an imp with questionable motives and morals, a naive gnome, and a no-nonsense unicorn, Stitch discovers that this might be the first step of an epic story, one he will no doubt be singing about when it finally ends.

The vibrant colors used in the illustrations remind me of Princeless or Nimona, inevitably appealing to a broad teen audience. I also feel like this might provide an introduction to the idea of D&D, if only because it feels like multiple campaigns might be in the works, and there are plenty of incidents where readers might questions motives and actions of the characters. Will he or won’t he? The humor inside the story also appears to be aimed at older audiences, as Rickety Stitch is continuously seen drinking in taverns, complaining about job politics, and waxing existentially about his identity and purpose. Whether being stabbed or scorched, Rickety Stitch seems immortal in his ability to avoid any permanent damage. By the end of the book, the plot seems to have been one long set-up for future tales, as Stitch is still struggling to remember the song that plagues his dreams and seems no closer to his vaguely determined destination, although he does finally receive a map for guidance. The characters are more memorable than the story, and I’d be curious to see how that translates for future installments. I feel this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Rickety or The Goo.

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The Pants Project

Pants Project.jpg

Title: The Pants Project
Author: Cat Clarke
ISBN: 9781492638094
Pages: 267 pages
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. c2017.

Bankridge Middle School had a strict uniform policy, unlike nearly every other school I could have attended. […]
Sexist. Dumb. Unfair. Even the moms agreed with me. […]
“Girls must wear a black, pleated, knee-length skirt.”
I bet I read those words a hundred times during summer vacation. I stared at the computer screen, willing them to morph into something sensible.
The problem wasn’t the last word in that sentence. Skirt wasn’t really the issue, not for me. The issue was the first word. Girls.
Here’s the thing:
I may seem like a girl, but on the inside, I’m a boy. (6-7)

A point of clarification seems necessary, because the only time that Liv is identified with the “he” pronoun is on the book jacket summary, since throughout the book most people are uninformed of Liv’s transgender status and it’s told in a first person perspective. I’m going to try to honor what is obviously the author’s choice to have Liv use “he” pronouns.

Olivia “Liv” Spark is starting middle school with best friend Maisie, but Liv already feels out of place. The dress code requires girls to wear a skirt and boys to wear pants, but while Liv might have been born a girl and looks like a girl, Liv definitely feels like a boy. Nobody knows though, and it’s hard enough to be the new girl in school, much less the outcast that the class bullies Jade and Chelsea are routinely ridiculing about everything, including the too short haircut, lesbian parents, and attempts at making the skirt more bearable. Liv knows that this rule needs to change, and isn’t afraid to start that fight, even if it costs friendships.

This impressed me as a very well written novel. It allowed for some thought-provoking reflection and relayed Liv’s plight with sensitivity but without becoming didactic and was age appropriate in it’s portrayal of a transgender person. Refreshingly unromantic in nature, Liv makes friends with both guys and girls by the end of the book and his struggle to find himself runs parallel with efforts to change the dress code. He’s a nuanced character, with one action at his previous school hanging over his head, making him fearful that he’s been pegged for life with labels (that have nothing to do with his gender) that don’t match how he sees himself. The bullies actions are accurately portrayed both for their spite and pettiness, and the adults are clueless about the behavior, with Liv being reluctant to reveal the specifics because he knows their ability to stop the bullying is limited. The solution to this problem is idealistic at best, but nevertheless resolves the issue.

Liv shows several different ways of activism, including petitions and protests that could serve as a primer for young activists, but his efforts are not always successful. The principal’s initial refusal to hear Liv out seems intended only to drag out the plot, but his exasperation at Liv’s insistence is realistic to an overtaxed and ambitious adult who doesn’t see the priority in Liv’s problem. Liv’s overworked mothers are much more sympathetic to Liv’s feelings, but they are also willing to step back and let Liv work out his own problems and follow his lead. Engaged parents who listen to their children? What a novel idea that isn’t showcased often enough in books! Liv’s confusion about how he feels about them also provides a side of the family that most books don’t show, where children love their family but also want to protect them and themselves from scrutiny.

Highly recommended for collections and children and families seeking this sort of representation.

Parachute

Parachute.jpgTitle: Parachute
Author: Danny Parker
Illustrator: Matt Ottley
ISBN: 9780802854698
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (US), (First published by Little Hare Books an imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont (AU)) c2013.

Toby always wore a parachute.

Toby requires a parachute to accomplish his day-to-day tasks like getting out of bed, brushing his teeth, and playing on the playground, because it allows him to feel safe. When stranded in a treehouse without it, Toby takes it step by step to get to safety, and slowly grows our of requiring his safety net. Minimal text allow the digital graphics to show the reality of the situation alongside how Toby must see things with dizzying perspectives, bringing sympathy and understanding to his fear of heights. Whether it’s a real parachute is up for debate, but the fear is definitely real and the conclusion gives hope that someday readers might also overcome their own fears, whether it is of heights like Toby or of something else. Pair with Leslie Patricelli’s Higher! Higher! for two very different view points.

Ghost

Ghost.jpgTitle: Ghost
Series: Track #1
Author: Jason Reynolds
ISBN: 9781481450157
Pages: 181 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2016.

So on and on it went, the whistle blowing, one by one, boys and girls on the line, sprinting down the straightaway. Each of their times being recorded. Some were faster than others. Actually, most of the vets were pretty fast, but nobody was faster than the pretty boy, Lu. Nobody. And the coach kept saying stuff like, “Lu’s still the one to beat,” which was kinda pissing me off because . . . I don’t know. It just made me think about this kid Brandon at school, who always . . . ALWAYS picked on me. Not even just me, though. He picked on a lot of people, and didn’t nobody ever do nothing about it. They just said stupid stuff like, Can’t nobody beat him. Same kind of rah-rah this bowling-ball-head coach was kicking about this kid, Lu. It’s just . . . ugh. I mean, he was fast, but honestly, he wasn’t that fast. […] (15)

After challenging and holding his own against the fastest kid on the track team, Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw finds himself being recruited to that same team by Coach Brody. Ghost however isn’t used to running for anyone but himself. Training is difficult without the proper shoes, and his natural speed doesn’t always hold up against the training that the other athletes have received. If he keeps getting in trouble at school, he’s going to find himself off the team that he never dreamed he wanted to be a part of, much less stay on.

What I liked most about this story was that it featured an African-American but the plot didn’t revolve around the fact that Ghost was African-American. It wasn’t a civil rights or slavery or gang story. It’s also an appreciated change of pace that we see a sports story that doesn’t revolve around basketball or football or even baseball, but a sport that doesn’t always get its due recognition. While yes, Ghost’s family is not perfect and he’s suffered some things that most families don’t have to face, it was primarily background and the main focus was on Ghost and the track team. His teammates suffer from a variety of issues in their home life, which are easily shared with the group during an intimate gathering, even though they are supposedly secrets that they keep hidden from everyone. Couch becomes a role model and big influence in his life with surprisingly little effort. For someone who never has played or even considered playing a team sport, Ghost also quickly acclimates to the idea of regular practices and following directions and decisions made by this guy he just met. While I can’t speak for the realism of the track meet scenes, I’m glad the focus was on the track practices and events directly related to Ghost’s membership on the team, instead of slowing the pace of the story with extraneous scenes in school or at home. I expected more attitude from Ghost, especially after we see how he and Couch are introduced. But that bravado falls away and never resurfaces to the levels we witnessed initially, which is slightly disappointing that we can’t see a person of color maintain his attitude and assured nature and still succeed. Supposedly the first book in a series, I wonder if future titles are going to focus on Ghost, his other teammates, or some so far unmet character. Overall, an engaging read if you’re willing to overlook the ease with which the characters come together.

The Hueys in the New Sweater

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Hueys in the New Sweater.jpgTitle: The Hueys in the New Sweater
Author/Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers
ISBN: 9780399257674
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., c2012.

The thing about the Hueys . . .
. . . was that they were all the same. (unpaged)

The Hueys, clumped like Minions but with pill shaped bodies and stick arms and legs, all look and act identical. Until Rupert decides to knit himself a sweater, punctuating the black and white illustrations with a spot of orange. His differences are first frowned upon but then everyone mimics him and all become different in the same way. Although younger readers might not get the joke, older readers could appreciate the tongue-in-cheek social commentary about trends and individuality in society, and it might lead to a thought-provoking conversation about what differences that are accepted, admired, and desired in society and which ones are not.

Geisel Awards 2017

WINNER

We Are Growing!.jpgTitle: We Are Growing
Series: Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!
Author/Illustrator: Laurie Keller (and Mo Willems?)
ISBN: 9781484726358
Pages: 53 pages
Publisher/Date: Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Winner (2017)

Possibly taking a page from Dr. Seuss’s Bright and Early Book Readers, Mo Willems has created Elephant and Piggie like reading. Maybe it’s because it’s difficult to determine how much Willems contributed to the story within, but I wasn’t impressed. Elephant and Piggie introduce and conclude the story of grass growing. Yep, you read that right. Each of the blades of grass can claim to be the most something, whether it be curliest, tallest, crunchiest, or pointiest… you get the idea. When a lawn mower removes some of their unique attributes, they are all reassured with a page turn and a rather abrupt ending that they will grow again. It’s unfortunate that they all had to be the best at something, although refreshing that not every attribute was physical in nature and that they were cut down to size (quite literally) during the telling and had to deal with their loss of individuality, however temporarily it might be. Obviously a necessity due to Willems’s association, but I had trouble finding the humor, charm, and character that made the originals so enjoyable.

HONORS

Infamous Ratsos.jpgTitle: The Infamous Ratsos
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Matt Myers
ISBN: 9780763676360
Pages: 59 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

The Ratso brothers live in the Big City. They live in this apartment with their father, Big Lou.
“There are two kinds of people in this world,” Big Lou likes to say. “Those who are tough, and those who are soft.” […]
Let’s do something,” Louie says to Ralphie. “Something to make us look tough.” (1-7)

Fifth grader Louie and his brother, third grader Ralphie, want to be tough like their father. Every time they try to be tough — including stealing hats to covering their neighbor’s windows with soap — their actions are mistaken for good deeds. Due to the length of the book, the brothers are basically interchangeable and the supporting cast is barely developed. However, the pranks pulled would make this a unique selection for April Fool’s Day, and are mostly harmless. It’s also an informal introduction to perspective and perception, as the brothers think they are being tough and bad, but everyone else sees them as being kind, generous and helpful. The illustrations reinforced this idea, with the opening page showing the brothers with armfuls of water balloons, and the very last page closing out the story with an image of how those balloons are used. Their father also offers a lesson that “Life is tough enough […]. We might as well try to make it easier for one another, whenever we can.” (55) Classroom connections like these make this a welcome addition.
Go Otto Go.jpgTitle: Go, Otto, Go!
Author/Illustrator: David Milgrim
ISBN: 9781481467247
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Simon Spotlight, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2016.
Awards: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

See Otto go.
Bye-Bye, Otto! (unpaged)

Author and illustrator David Milgrim returns after a decade-long hiatus for a sixth adventure featuring his little robot named Otto. Otto yearns to return to his home among the stars, but the rocket he builds takes him “up, up, up” and then develops a glitch, redirecting him down, left and right, and here and there. Finally depositing him back where he started, Otto realizes that this is his home, surrounded by all his friends. Extremely reminiscent of the old Dick and Jane stories, the repetition of the simple text (only one word has more than one syllable) should encourage beginning readers.

Good Night Owl.jpgTitle: Good Night Owl
Author/Illustrator: Greg Pizzoli
ISBN: 9781484712757
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group.
Award: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

Owl was settling into bed when he heard a noise.

A baby blue owl with a heart-shaped face and pink bathrobe is preparing for bed when hears a “SQUEEK!” (which is never detailed in the text but solely in the pictures). After searching outside, in the cabinet, and under the floorboards. When he eliminates those possibilities, his blame turns to the house itself, tearing down the roof and walls before finally learning the cause of the noise is a mouse, which readers have seen as he hides around the house. What starts as an amusing game escalates quickly, and while the owl doesn’t seem phased by the destruction of his house, you can see by the mouse’s sliding smiles that he at least is getting concerned. Owl though seems content to sleep under the stars (aren’t owls nocturnal?) and even invites the mouse up into his bed to spend the remainder of the night (don’t owls eat mice?). Regardless of what adults might see as inconsistencies, children will love knowing before Owl the cause of the noise, the repetition, the building suspense, and the over the top actions that Owl takes. The pictures include nods to previous works by Pizzoli, and the only reason I didn’t miss the beautiful cross-stitched cover underneath the jacket is because Rotem Moscovich’s work was referenced on the copyright page.

Oops Pounce Quick Run.jpgTitle: Oops Pounce Quick Run!: An Alphabet Caper
Author/Illustrator: Mike Twohy
ISBN: 9780062377005
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2016
Award: Theodor Geisel Award Honor (2017)

Asleep
Ball
Catch
Dog

So starts the adventures of a mouse, who wakes up from his nap when a dog’s ball bounces into its whole in the wall. The dog scrambles, the mouse skitters, and the chase is one through the house until the dog recovers his ball. Cleverly bookended with sleep (Asleep followed by “ZZZZZ”), the story is told primarily in pictures with one alphabetically appropriate word or phrase per page accompanying them. The accompanying background is minimal, with almost no color and the focus is squarely on the participants and the ball. A missed opportunity might have been using “victory” instead of “very cool,” but all of the words are ones children would use and hear in daily conversation.

Snow White: A Graphic Novel

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Snow White Graphic Novel.jpgTitle: Snow White: A Graphic Novel

Author/Illustrator: Matt Phelan
ISBN: 9780763672331
Pages: unpaged (216 pages)
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2016.

Mostly monochromatic watercolors with selected highlights of red and blue and sparsely phrased supplemental text retells the story of Snow White set during the Great Depression. Samantha White’s father suddenly passes and bequeaths his fortune to her. On the run from a murder attempt by her jealous stepmother, she encounters a gang of seven children, who come to her aid. I see allusions to West Side Story in the gang’s movements and Wizard of Oz when the happy ending finally opens into technicolor drawings. It’s a nit-picky point to wish the text had been hand lettered instead of jarringly added in obviously computerized font, especially when period details were so seamlessly incorporated into the plot. This winter themed adaption is a solid addition to graphic novel collections.

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