Reviews

Sunshine and rainbows: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Holm, Jennifer L., & Holm, Matthew. Sunny Side Up. Graphix, 2015. 216 pages. Hardcover $20.44, ISBN 978-0-545-74165-1; PLB $17.56, ISBN 978-1-48988-011-6; TR $11.09, ISBN 978-0-545-74166-8

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Genre: Realistic Fiction (Graphic Novel)

Part of a Series? No.

Plot Summary:

Sunny Lewin is sent to spend August with her grandfather in a retirement community. This shatters Sunny’s summertime dreams of beach lounging and fun having. Instead, her grampa’s “big plans” for each day tend to include going to the post office or the grocery store. Only one other person at the community is her age, and while Buzz and his comics are a fun distraction, they aren’t enough to stop Sunny from thinking about her big brother Dale. What is happening with Dale, and is it Sunny’s job to fix it?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is a super sweet and poignant story. The material is a bit intense, but it’s written well for a third through seventh grade audience. Some kids don’t know how to respond to the reveal, but I don’t think this is necessarily a problem.

Trigger Warnings:

  • substance abuse

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

n/a

Grade Level: 3-7

Awards and Starred Reviews: n/a

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Reviews

Mermaids! Aquamarine

Hoffman, Alice. Aquamarine. Scholastic, 2001. 105 pages. Tr. $5.99, ISBN  978-0-439-09864-9; PLB $12.41, ISBN  978-1-41552-455-8

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes.

 

Genre: Fantasy

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Claire and Hailey (a timid girl and her fearless best friend) are drawing out summer as long as they can, for at the end of the month, their favorite summer spot will be closing forever, and Claire will be moving away to Florida. They are afraid of what the future holds and sad about the upcoming changes. What does it mean when, in the last week of the Capri’s last season, a mermaid is washed into the swimming pool? Will Aquamarine get to meet the human teen who works at the Capri snack bar? Will Claire and Hailey help her?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is a very short book, but it had a sweet story. This is a great pick for the reluctant reader as there’s plenty of white space on the page. One downside (also noted in Publishers Weekly) is that this book is so short that we are left with some questions (What? Mermaids? Who else is out there? What’s Aquamarine up to usually? What are the “rules” of being a mermaid?) that it could leave a reader used to the depth of other fantasy books (i.e., Land of Stories) wishing for more and feeling like they haven’t had much of a read. Readers who are looking for a nice short read, however, will enjoy this book about friendship and the magic of belief.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This novel has a movie adaptation  which may sweeten the reading deal; we could read the book as a group (or alone!), and I can recommend the film version to students looking to get to know Claire and Hailey a bit more. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Reviews referenced:

Anonymous (screen name). (n. d.). Aquamarine by Alice Hoffman (Review of the book Aquamarine). Teen Ink. Retrieved from http://www.teenink.com/reviews/book_reviews/article/763617/Aquamarine-by-Alice-Hoffman/

Kirkus Reviews. (2001, Feb. 15). Aquamarine (Review of the book Aquamarine). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/alice-hoffman/aquamarine-2/

Publishers Weekly. (2001, Feb. 19). Aquamarine (Review of the book Aquamarine). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-439-09863-2

Reviews

Music and more: After Tupac and D Foster

Woodson, Jacqueline. After Tupac and D Foster. Puffin Books, 2008. 153 pages. Hardcover $13.64, ISBN 978-0-399-24654-8; Tr. $5.19, ISBN 978-0-14-241399-9; PLB $13.01, ISBN 978-0-329-77678-7

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Genre: Historical Fiction

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

This middle grade novel explores friendship, family, and what it means to be “lucky” in the mid 1990s. Our unnamed narrator and her friends Neeka and D navigate life on the block (or, as only D is allowed to do, “roaming”) as well as topics such as having a (gay) brother in prison, dealing with when your favorite rapper (or any person on the street) says homophobic things, and what it means to really know someone.

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This novel is a great read for many reasons. Not only does Woodson incorporate elements such as LGBTQIA characters, incarcerated family members, missing parents, and foster care, but she does so in a way that does not unnaturally highlight any of those plot elements. They are realistic elements of our narrator’s life, not “after school special” type inclusions.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This book would be a great choice for any music fans. Readers could think about a musician who really speaks to their own feelings, and they can share some of that musician’s work with the class, describing why that musician’s work is so important to them. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Library Media Connection starred 10/1/08

Newbery Honor 2009

Publishers Weekly starred 12/17/07

School Library Journal starred 4/1/08

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 2/1/08

 

Reviews referenced:

Berman, M. (n. d.). After Tupac and D Foster (Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/after-tupac-and-d-foster

Bird, E. (2008, Feb. 19). Review of the day: After Tupac and D Foster (Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster). School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2008/02/19/review-of-the-day-after-tupac-d-foster/

Kirkus Reviews. (2007, Dec. 1). After Tupac and D Foster (Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jacqueline-woodson/after-tupac-and-d-foster/

Publishers Weekly. (2007, Dec. 10). After Tupac and D Foster (Review of the book After Tupac and D Foster). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-399-24654-8

 

Tags: Rap, Tupac Shakur, historical fiction, 1990s, lgbtqia, incarcerated people, HIV/AIDS, friendship

Reviews

Rock and Roll! Roller Girl

Jamieson, Victoria. Roller Girl. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015. 239 pages. Hardcover $17.89, ISBN 978-0-525-42967-8; Tr. $11.09, ISBN 978-0-8037-4016-7; PLB $17.06, ISBN 978-1-48988-662-0

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? YES ABSOLUTELY

 

Genre: Sports story (Graphic Novel)

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

Once again, I find myself wishing that I could do roller derby (alas, I am terrified of falling over and breaking my glasses, and my balance on skates of any kind is laughable). Jamieson’s protagonist Astrid discovers roller derby one night when her mother takes her and her best friend Nicole out for an Enlightening Cultural Experience (ECE). Unlike previous ECEs when Astrid has been forced to watch an opera, go to a modern art museum, or otherwise improve herself, Astrid instead gets to watch women on roller skates slam into each other to win points. She immediately plans to attend the Rose Bud roller derby summer boot camp with her best friend Nicole … until Nicole’s dance class friend (and Astrid’s number one enemy) Rachel starts talking about plans for dance camp. Confident in the knowledge that Nicole won’t desert her for Rachel, Astrid is shocked when Nicole ditches her and roller derby for a summer of dancing on pointe. Astrid’s summer doesn’t get much better when she finds out that roller derby is HARD … falling more often than she actually skates, Astrid feels lost, until her favorite jammer Rainbow Bite replies to her anonymous notes asking for advice. Could Astrid make new friends? Can she become a superstar roller derby girl? Or is she just a Rose Dud?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I could not put this graphic novel down. I raced through it, eager to read more roller derby names, follow more plays, and get to know Astrid and Zoe (her musical-obsessed roller derby friend) better. I further appreciated Jamieson’s nod to the intense athleticism required for ballet, too. While it is awkward that Nicole chose Rachel and dance over Astrid and roller derby, Nicole’s preferred activity is not painted with the “girly girl” brush that her other choices are. Instead, Jamieson shows the painful side effects of dancing on pointe — bloody toes and bandaged feet, not unlike Astrid’s roller derby injuries. While Nicole’s interest in boys and shopping are more typically feminine than Astrid’s pursuits, their sports are not as different as one might assume. Readers will also appreciate the diversity on the page and the excitement of the sport.

 

Note: This didn’t affect my reading of the graphic novel, but one parent reviewer on Common Sense Media was appalled by the use of profanity in the rude nickname Astrid is given by the school bully (who refers to her as “Ass-Turd.”) While I didn’t find this to be a huge problem, it might be for some folks, so I should remain aware of the potential reactions to the nickname.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

A fun book club activity for this book could be designing a roller derby team — names for players, team names, and a logo. We could also potentially watch clips on YouTube from a roller derby bout, after I’ve had a chance to preview some to ensure there aren’t any inappropriate signs in the crowd or language caught on the microphones. (Ideas from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books starred 4/1/15

Horn Book Guide starred 10/1/15

Horn Book Magazine starred 3/1/15

Kirkus Reviews starred 12/15/14

Newbery Honor 2016

Publishers Weekly starred 1/26/15

School Library Journal starred 12/1/14

 

Reviews referenced:

Beach, A. (n. d.) Roller girl (Review of the book Roller Girl). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/roller-girl

Natsmom22 (screen name). (2016, Feb. 12). Profane and inappropriate for its target audience (blog comment). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/roller-girl

Kirkus Reviews. (2014, Dec. 6). Roller girl (Review of the book Roller Girl). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/victoria-jamieson/roller-girl/

Publishers Weekly. (2015, Jan. 26). Roller girl (Review of the book Roller Girl.) Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8037-4016-7

 

Reviews

Aca-Awkward

Chmakova, Svetlana. Awkward. Yen Press, 2015. 210 pages. Hardcover $20.45, ISBN 978-0-316-38132-1; Tr. $9.40, ISBN 978-0-316-38130-7

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes!

 

Genre: School story (Graphic Novel)

 

Part of a series? No.

 

Plot Summary:

This graphic novel explores what it is like to be new in school, how to make friends, and how to cooperate. Peppi is new in school, and when she accidentally runs into a nerdy boy (making her drop all of her things), the popular kids refer to her as “Nerder’s girlfriend” as he helps her clean up. She is later mortified by the fact that she shoves him away and runs. As a member of the Art Club, her mortification increases when Jamie (“Nerder”) turns out to be a really good guy … and a member of the Science Club. These two clubs hate each other, and when a competition to earn the last spot at the school’s club fair gets ugly, due to an awkward circumstance, Peppi might ruin everything!

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I have not said “Squee!” out loud since high school, but here I am, squeaking (or should that be “Squee-king?”). The characters in this book are well-rounded, realistic, and diverse. Ms. T is a fantastic science teacher (I wish I had had her class!), and the background cast includes some well-defined nerds, popular kids, and artists.

 

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a fantastic book club book, and it could be used to start a multi-club collaboration. Perhaps the book club could, for this unit, partner with a sports team to create a multimedia arts project (so, rather than “scientists working with artists,” this could be a “bookworms working with athletes” collaboration). (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-8

 

Awards and starred reviews:

School Library Connection starred 4/1/16

 

Reviews referenced:

Pawuk, M. (2015, July 20). Review of the day: “Awkward” by Svetlana Chmakova (Review of the book Awkward). School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/goodcomicsforkids/2015/07/20/review-awkward-by-svetlana-chmakova/

Vail, A. M. (2015, June 20). Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward is anything but, and you need to read it (blog post). The Mary Sue. Retrieved from http://www.themarysue.com/awkward-comic-review/

 

Reviews

Running with Rat: The Nameless City

Hicks, Faith Erin. The Nameless City. First, Second, 2016. 232 pages. Hardcover $18.74, ISBN 978-1-62672-157-9; Tr. $12.79, ISBN  978-1-62672-156-2

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Genre: Fantasy (Graphic Novel)

Part of a series? Yes — The Nameless City series

Plot Summary:

Kaidu is a brand-new trainee in the Nameless City (aka Daidu, aka Yanjing, aka Monkh, aka DanDao, and so on, as each conquering group has renamed the city as they go). Kaidu, a Dao teen, has finally made it from his tribe at home to the city where his father works. He is excited to finally meet his father, but he is not looking forward to fighting. When he meets Rat, a Named girl who lives in the city, he sneaks out of the palace so that she can teach him how to run. Rat refuses to befriend or trust him because the Dao are not to be trusted, and the Dao traditionally view all non-Dao as Skral, “anyone not Dao […] anyone not a person” (36). Kaidu, however, does not share this view. Will he be able to get to know Rat and the city? Or are the Dao truly in for the end of their time ruling the Named?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This was a really cool graphic novel, and the theme of judging Other people rather than getting to know them ran strong in the text. The Dao characters judge the Named, and the Named judge the Dao just as harshly. Including a tomboyish girl and a bookish boy help to make this readable for all readers, and Hicks’s action scenes are gorgeous.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a fantastic book circle book. Just as Rat reaches Kaidu to run, members of the book club could take turns teaching each other a skill that they are proud of (i.e., how to draw a face, how to make an origami figure, how to tie a certain knot, etc.). (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred 3/15/16

Kirkus Reviews starred 2/15/16

Publishers Weekly starred 1/11/16

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) starred 4/1/16

Reviews

Super Adventures: The Adventures of Superhero Girl

Hicks, Faith Erin. The Adventures of Superhero Girl. Dark Horse Books, 2013. 106 pages. Hardcover $14.49, ISBN 978-1-61655-084-4

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes, for older kids (6th-8th)

Genre: Superhero (Comic Strip Compilation)

Part of a series? Not at this time.

Plot Summary:

This book appears to be a compilation of comic strips into a “trade” paperback. I had gone into this one anticipating a graphic novel, so I was a little bit disappointed to lack a cohesive storyline, but Superhero Girl is readable enough that I wasn’t too badly upset. (I would love to follow her in a long-form arc, though!)

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Superhero Girl definitely skews on the older side; I was surprised that it was so readable and that it’s picked up by young kids due to Superhero Girl’s focus on finding a job, leaving college, and trying to attend parties or date. I don’t think it’s kid-unfriendly, but it does include things such as alcohol, dating, and the like.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

If a superhero unit was already in place, I would add this in as recommended reading. Otherwise, I would perhaps have students study a few panels of Hicks’s work and create a comic imitating her style in terms of art and tone. This way, Superhero Girl could be a library-only unit or get incorporated into an art class. (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: 5-8

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

Reviews

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Hale, Shannon. Princess Academy. Bloomsbury Press, 2005. 314 pages. Hardcover $15.34, ISBN 978-1-58234-993-0; Tr. $6.84, ISBN 978-1-61963-613-2; PLB $13.71, ISBN 978-1-48986-273-0

 

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

 

Part of a series? Yes — Princess Academy series

 

Genre: Fantasy

 

Plot Summary:

Miri is nervous. Will her Pa just let her work in the linder quarry? She feels useless and knows her town agrees with her — she’s too small to mine linder, so what’s the point of her? When it’s announced that the prince’s bride will come from remote Mount Eskel and that the girls must attend a Princess Academy in preparation, Miri’s world is opened. Learning to read gives Miri pathways to a new world and new understandings. Will she gain confidence and learn that she is not useless?

 

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

I thought this was a really sweet fantasy novel about confidence, empathy, bravery, and even prejudice. As “lowlander” after lowlander assumes the Mount Eskel girls to be stupid (and the Mount Eskel girls assume the lowlanders are weak), each group gets to know the other and realize that they are not as different as they seem.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This novel really packages discussions about empathy and bravery well, too, so this would be a great book club pick or reading circle choice. Readers could discuss different ways that parents or other adults show that they care for others. They can talk about what it’s like to feel different. Perhaps I could steer the conversation eventually towards a conversation of what it means to have different abilities and strengths, and then I could give the kids time to discuss their own cool skills. (Idea from myself)

 

Grade Level: 5-9

 

Awards and Starred Reviews:

n/a

 

Review referenced:

Plevak, L. L. (2005). Princess academy (Review of the book Princess Academy). School Library Journal, 51(10), p. 161.