Sunday, September 16, 2018

Tight, by Torrey Maldonado -- real boys, navigating emotionally complex decisions (ages 8-14)

I've been thinking a lot about how we show our boys different ways to handle emotions, so that we are breaking the expectations of acting tough and macho. In Tight, by Torrey Maldonado, Bryan must navigate making friends, controlling his temper and choosing the right path. Hand this to young readers who loved Jason Reynolds' Ghost, who want a book that feels real, and a character that is believable and emotionally honest.
Tight
by Torrey Maldonado
Nancy Paulsen / Penguin, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Google Books preview
ages 8-14
*best new book*
I wonder what kids will think about the cover of Tight. Which train is Bryan going to get on? Is he struggling with a decision? Is he in a tight place? How do you feel if you're tight? What other meanings does it have? Whenever I'm showing a student a book, we spend some time wondering about the cover and thinking about its meanings.

Bryan, an Afro-Puerto Rican sixth grader, lives in the projects in Brooklyn and generally keeps to himself, heading to his mom's office after school to do his homework, read comics or draw. His mom likes it that way, wary that he might fall in with a bad crowd. So Bryan is surprised when she encourages him to get close with Mike, a slightly older boy in their neighborhood who seems like a good kid.

Soon Mike and Bryan become close friends, but Bryan realizes that Mike isn’t as good as Ma and others think. Bryan can't stand the way his dad and sister tease him for being "soft," and he likes some of the ways that Mike encourages him to break the rules, throwing rocks at cars from rooftops and skipping school.

Bryan realizes that he's following Mike into more and more dangerous situations, and his honest, internal dialog shows how difficult it is to dothe right thing. When Mike asks Bryan to tell Little Kevin how great train surfing is (holding onto the outside of the train as it speeds through the tunnels), Bryan follows along even though he has misgivings:
"I start doing that, and the whole time I wonder why I don't just say what I really feel. Now it's like I'm two people. On the outside I'm promoting train-surfing so hard. On the inside, I'm like, Why am I being Mike's hype-man with this?"
Torrey Maldonado skillfully creates a believable, real character facing his vulnerabilities, figuring out what it means to be a friend and how to make the right decisions. I especially appreciate the way that Bryan and Mike bond over superhero comic books and television shows. Bryan's voice is authentic, filled with slang that rings true. This is not a simple morality tale, but rather one that peels back the complex, contradictory currents that make these decisions difficult.

Torrey Maldonado crafts such an authentic voice because it's coming from his own experience. He's a middle school teacher who "still teaches in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was born and raised" and uses his students’ & his experiences to shape his stories and characters.

I highly recommend Tight for a wide age range. Although this is clearly a middle-grade novel, I think that many 13 and 14 year olds will be drawn to the emotional complexities and authentic voice that Maldonado creates. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen / Penguin Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Dactyl Hill Squad, by Daniel Jose Older -- historical fiction with social justice and dinosaurs! (ages 10-14)

I'm really excited to share Dactyl Hill Squad with my readers--my first copy went out today to a reader who loves Percy Jackson fantasies. Dactyl Hill Squad is a terrific mix of historical fiction, action-adventure and fantasy--with a strong underlay of social justice themes. Hand this to readers who want high energy books and a critical look at race relations.
Dactyl Hill Squad
by Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Google Books preview
ages 10-14
Magdalys Roca chafes at the rules imposed at the Colored Orphan Asylum in Civil War era New York. Above all else, she cannot stand it when the matron calls her Margaret, instead of Madalys, her real name. Right from the opening page, readers know that Magdalys is strong-willed and proud of her Afro-Cuban heritage. But she also really wants to see the play at the colored theater, so she complies with the matron's demands.

Magdalys discovers that she has a special connection with the dinosaurs that are part of everyday life in this alternative history. She discovers that she can communicate with them mentally: they hear her wishes, and she knows how they are feeling. Dinosaurs and pterodactyls are both wild and tamed, serving people as beasts of burden and roaming free.
"It was only a few years ago that New York had passed a law granting black citizens the right to dinoride, and white people in Manhattan still bristled and stared when they saw someone with brown skin astride those massive scaly backs."
While Magdalys and her friends are seeing the play, riots break out on the streets and their orphanage is burned down. These riots are based on the Draft Riots of 1863. The children flee to Brooklyn, in a neighborhood called Dactyl Hill for all of the pterodactyls that fly over the homes. They find refuge with the Vigilance Committee, which, as Miss Bernice explains, "helps fugitive slaves make it farther up north and works to stop the Kidnapping Club from sending our folks south to bondage."

Once safe in Brooklyn, Magdalys and her friends form the Dactyl Hill Squad and set out to foil the Kidnapping Club, find Magdayls's brother and protect their friends. There's plenty of dinoriding, battles and near-escapes.

I especially appreciate how Daniel José Older weaves together complex topics such as race, power and gender in the Civil War in the framework of an action-packed, fantastical story. He provides fascinating historical background information in his author's note.

Given this, I do think that this story is best appreciated by kids who already understand some of the complexities of the Civil War and race relations in US history. My first reader who loved it had just finished reading Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains with his class, and this made a perfect follow-up. I wonder if the cover looks a little young--I imagine this working more with a middle school crowd.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 9, 2018

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Wade Hudson & Cheryl Willis Hudson -- inspiring, beautiful & uplifting (ages 8-13)

As the news inundates us with the harm caused by divisive politics, institutional racism and prejudice, and angry civic discourse, what do we tell our children? How do we help give them hope, help empower them during these difficult times? We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices is an inspiring new anthology that asks 50 of the foremost children's authors and illustrators to share their love, concern and experience with the next generation.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices
edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
Crown Books, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Google Books preview
ages 8-13
*best new book*
Dedicated to "those who advocate for and pursue a just society and basic human rights for all people," this anthology presents an inspiring collection of poetry, essays, short stories and art designed to give children hope during difficult times, especially children from traditionally marginalized communities. As Ashley Bryan writes in the forward:
"Having a safe space to imagine and dream and (re)invent yourself is the first step to being happy and successful, whatever road you choose to pursue."
This beautiful collection provides children (and the adults in their lives) this safe space. Authors ask questions, share wisdom and provide support. By doing so, they open the window to talking about these difficult times. In the opening poem, Wade Hudson asks:
"What shall we tell you when our world sometimes seems dark and uninviting?
What shall we tell you when hateful words that wound and bully are thrown like bricks against a wall, shattering into debris?"
Other authors share their fears, their worries. Kwame Alexander, in his poem "A Thousand Winters," writes about when his daughter worried that the police would take him away if he was driving too fast. Our youngest children hear the news, see the reaction of adults around them, and they have questions. We must be honest with them, and yet we must also find ways to protect our children and give them hope -- for, as Kwame writes, "if we can't survive this storm, how will our children?"
"A Thousand Winters," by Kwame Alexander, illustration by Eukua Holmes
I especially appreciate the variety in this collection. These are heavy topics, and yet readers turn the pages and find so many different approaches. Jacqueline Woodson writes a letter to her children, reminding them to be safe and be kind as they walk in the world. Joseph Bruchac gives advice about choosing a friend who "sees how beautiful you are, even on days when you're sad." Zetta Elliott reminds children that "You Too Can Fly." The illustrations move from painting with deep hues, to drawings with soft warm touch, to photographs showing children of different races and ethnicities.

Above all, this collection leave me with the feeling that there are caring adults who truly see children, who know how difficult these times can be, and who admire all the ways that our children walk in this world. I'd like to leave you with a bit of Sharon Flake's letter:
"How are you, my love? Well, I hope. I've been thinking about you lately. So, I wanted to check in, to make sure you're okay. I see you...draped in confidence, walking like you own the world, looking fine, skateboarding, protesting injustice, helping out friends. My heart sings at the thought of what is possible for us here on earth because you exist."
I definitely recommend this collection for every elementary and middle school library. I'll be bringing it to my new high school library to see what our students think of it. I purchased the review copy from my local independent bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Ivy & Bean One Big Happy Family, by Annie Barrows -- interview with Mia, age 8

I am so happy to share the newest installment of Ivy + Bean, one of my all-time favorite series of chapter books. I love these two friends; they are goofy, full of mischief, and remind me of all the things I almost did!

This series is perfect for readers new to chapter books. Pictures on every page help readers build a movie in their mind and keep the pacing going. Humor and friendship drama make these stories relatable and funny. The Ivy + Bean series fills a perfect spot in children's literature: between longer Early Readers like Mercy Watson and novels like Ramona the Pest.

Bay Area friends: You'll definitely want to see Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall on Saturday, September 8th at 10am at the Elmwood Theater in Berkeley, organized by Mrs. Dalloway's Books. Get your ticket here and save your spot!
Ivy + Bean One Big Happy Family
by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Chronicle, 2018
Amazon / Public library / Google Books preview
ages 6-9
*best new book*
When I showed the newest installment to one of my favorite readers, she was thrilled to revisit her favorite book friends. So instead of a review, I'd like to share my conversation with Mia, age 8.

Mary Ann: Hi Mia! Why were you excited to read the new Ivy & Bean?

Mia: I really like the series. I like that they're funny and silly. I also like that they're about real kids.

Mary Ann: Can you tell me a little bit about this new book?

Mia: Someone in their class says that only children are spoiled, and Ivy worries about this. So she tries to do lots of things to make sure she isn't spoiled. She gives away her clothes. Then she says they should get a new baby, so she won't be an only child. But the baby ends up crying and fussing so much! Then Ivy & Bean decide that they should actually be twin sisters, so that Ivy isn't an only child.

Mary Ann: Was there a part that made you laugh?

Mia: It was funny when Ivy & Bean tried to become twins and tied their wrists together so their skin would grow together. It was so funny because we knew it wouldn't work and they kept bonking their heads when they tried to get out of their playhouse.

Mary Ann: Were there any other parts you liked?

Mia: It was funny when Nancy was doing yoga and in downward dog. When Bean sees this, she tells Nancy that isn't what a dog looks like. Bean is really funny when she starts barking at Nancy and showing her what a dog does.

Mary Ann: Do you think you're more like Ivy or Bean?

Mia: I am really like both of them! I love reading like Ivy. I also like running around, screaming and being crazy like Bean.

Mary Ann: Thanks so much, Mia. I really appreciate your sharing your thoughts with readers!

Enjoy this book trailer for Ivy & Bean, featuring real kids and what they think about the series:


The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Chronicle. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers : Celebrating animal underdogs, by Melissa Stewart (ages 4-8)

Young readers delight in learning about new animals. If you have animal lovers in your house or classroom, definitely seek out Melissa Stewart's newest picture book: Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating animal underdogs. She takes a fresh look at what makes an animal noteworthy--do we really want to focus only on the fastest animals? Or do we want to find out how animals survive and thrive?
Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating animal underdogs
by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
Peachtree, 2018
Amazon / Public library / Teachers guide
ages 4-8
Stewart's lively, playful voice draws readers right into her text. We start off looking at a pair of tiny critters, the Etruscan pygmy shrew and the Amau frog. I appreciate how Stewart and Laberis help readers envision just how small these animals are by comparing them to everyday objects.
"Let's start with this little critter--the Etruscan pygmy shrew.
It's a real pipsqueak. Look, it's name is longer than its body."
But the real question, as Stewart asks, is "How can these puny peewees survive?" Turn the page, and readers will see dramatic examples of how being tiny can actually help you hide from predators.
"Believe it or not,
size is on their side."
Stewart presents an engaging look at a range of animals, helping young children think about what characteristics might help animals survive. The backmatter includes more information, but she keeps it quite brief. Instead, she focuses on encouraging children to think about different animals. This would be a terrific discussion-starter for talking about habitats and animal characteristics.

I especially appreciate the gentle message Stewart provides throughout, that every animal has “its own special way of surviving" and we need to recognize the strengths each has just the way they are. Take special note of the dedication at the end of the book:
"For any child who is being bullied right now---
what others see as a weakness may actually be your strength.

Don’t give up."
I have long admired Melissa Stewart's nonfiction books for children and appreciated her thoughtful writing about the craft of writing nonfiction. She helpfully examines different types of nonfiction writing (see her recent article Understanding—and Teaching—the Five Kinds of Nonfiction, published in the School Library Journal). I encourage you to explore her helpful blog, Celebrate Science.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Stephanie Laberis, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Peachtree Publishers. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson -- giving voice and honoring identity (all ages)

"There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you."
Jacqueline Woodson begins her newest picture book--The Day You Begin--by giving voice to children who feel alone. She speaks directly to readers, honoring their individual stories while creating a book that speaks universal truths.
The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin, 2018
Amazon / Local library / Audiobook preview
all ages
*best new book*
Woodson and López directly address readers, honoring their worries and difficulties as they begin a new school year and feel alone. Perhaps no one looks like them or no one understands them.
"There will be times when the words don't come..."
"What did you do last summer?" can be a loaded question, as children share about summer travels. Angelina remembers the days spent at home caring for her little sister, but cannot find the words to describe them.

Woodson gracefully turns the story to talk to different children. Perhaps they are new to the school, or new to the country. Or maybe they want to start the year with a new beginning, a new group of friends.
"There will be times when the world feels like a place
that you're standing all the way
outside of..."
And yet...and yet, Woodson shows us that we can find our voice if we begin to share our stories. When Angelina tells her class about her summer, her voice becomes stronger. Her classmates listen. And notice.
"And all at once, in the room where no one else is quite like you.
the world opens itself up a little wider
to make space for you."
López's illustrations bring a tenderness to Woodson's text, helping young readers see themselves and their classmates in these stories. I especially appreciate the range of children's racial and ethnic backgrounds. The warm colors throughout create a reassuring tone to this lovely story.

Beginnings are not always easy. I so appreciate Woodson noticing this and naming it. With her grace and wisdom, she encourages all of us to find friends who will listen to our stories, a new friend who "has something a little like you--and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all."

I am beginning at a new school this year, as the librarian at Albany High School, and I can relate to many of my students who feel excited and anxious to begin a new year. This is a perfect way to begin the year, and is a book that belongs in every classroom for all ages. I will be sharing this with my high school students as we begin school this week.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Rafael López, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen / Penguin Young Readers Group. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2018 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books