Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Stop, Go, Yes, No!: A Story of Opposites by Mike Twohy -- terrific fun for youngest readers (ages 3-6)

As a school librarian, I delight in sharing books that make kids laugh and want to read more. Stop, Go, Yes, No! is just this sort of book -- our youngest kids will love reading this together again and again. It's funny, full of energy and utterly relatable. The icing on top is that it helps little ones learn about opposites and develop early reading skills.
Stop, Go, Yes, No! -- A Story of Opposites
by Mike Twohy
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2018
Amazon / Public library / preview
ages 3-6
*best new book*
A grey cat peacefully sleeps on the opening page, and the word "Asleep" is written in large, clear letters. Turn the page, and the joyful dog from the cover shouts "Awake!" jolting the cat from its nap.
Twohy keeps a steady rhythm of paired opposites, as the dog chases the cat and tries to convince it to play. Happy-go-lucky dog just wants to play, but the cat clearly wants to be left alone.
With just 28 words, Twohy builds a story that pulls readers in, makes them laugh and want to find out what happens next.
I appreciate the way Twohy keeps plenty of space around each word, encouraging young readers to look at the picture and then the word. Using these picture clues is an important part of reading development.

Twohy masterfully creates two distinct characters. Try asking young readers how the cat and dog are feeling at different moments. Then have fun role-playing these two characters, or making up your own pairs of opposites. Also be sure to check out Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! Twohy's previous book with this lovable dog.

Illustrations copyright ©2018 Mike Twohy, shared by permission of the publisher. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins. 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 12, 2018

Heretics Anonymous, by Katie Henry -- teen angst, student activism and personal reflections (ages 13-16)

As a teen, I bristled against rigid authority and strict policies--I wanted to understand why rules were made, and insisted that they were fair. As a teen, I would have fit right into Heretics Anonymous, the secret club at St. Clare's in Katie Henry's debut novel. Henry weaves together a story full of teen angst and student activism as she presents a multifaceted look at religion in a Catholic prep school.
Heretics Anonymous
by Katie Henry
Katherine Tegen / HarperCollins, 2018
Amazon / public library / Google Books preview
ages 13-16
*best new book*
Michael resents moving once again, having to start a new school a month and a half into his junior year of high school just because his dad has a new job. Now he finds himself struggling to fit in at St. Clare's Preparatory School, even though he doesn't believe in any kind of God. How is he going to make friends here, with "a bunch of mindless Catholic sheep people"?

Fortunately, Michael soon meets a group of St. Clare's students who question the school's rigid policies and dogma: Lucy, a feminist  Colombian-American who's a devout Catholic determined to reform the church; gay, Jewish Avi; Eden, a self-described pagan; and Max, a Korean-American Unitarian. At their secret club meetings of Heretics Anonymous, they share their grievances about St. Clare's.
We believe in one fundamental truth:
That all people, regardless of what they worship, who they love, and what they think,
Have a right to exist, and a right to be heard.
(from the Heretics Anonymous Creed)
Michael urges his new friends to do something to change St. Clare's, to go public to make it better for everyone. In a series of hilarious episodes, they take on the school administration, first by annotating the school's outdated sex-ed DVD to make it more accurate, informative and entertaining. Then they create an alternative newspaper to challenge the dress code. But Michael's family tensions impact his judgement and he rashly carries his mission to change the school too far.

I especially appreciate how Katy Henry develops her characters' friendship and respect for each other, even though they are all so different. Through their relationships, they begin to reflect on their own beliefs and accept each other. And in doing so, Henry invites her readers to do the same.

Personally, I identify more with Michael's world view, but I found myself appreciating Lucy's perspective the most. She's a fierce feminist, and she's also a committed Catholic--and both sides fit together in her well-rounded character. Religion can bring comfort, faith and support to people, and Michael sees this in Lucy. But religion has also been used throughout history to enforce social norms and uphold the existing power structures. Above all, I appreciate how Henry asks readers to separate these two strands and think about what they value.

Full discloser: Katie Henry writes in her acknowledgements about her childhood church, Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish in Berkeley, California. This was also my childhood church (although in different decades). She tells Kirkus how this liberal Catholic upbringing was so different from what she discovered when she went to college. While this novel stems from Henry's attempt to create a space for kids to think about the complexities and nuances of religion, she keeps it grounded in humor and everyday relationships.

Hand this to teens who want a heartwarming story with characters who question the rules and fight to make the world better for all of us. I purchased the review copy for my school library. 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 8, 2018

After the Shot Drops, by Randy Ribay: authentic, relatable & fast-paced -- a great combination for teen readers (ages 12-16)

When high school basketball star Bunny Thompson transfers to a private school to play ball, his best friend Nasir feels betrayed and left behind. In this powerful dual-narrative, readers hear from both boys as they struggle to repair their friendship. Randy Ribay creates relatable characters, authentically capturing the teens’ voices and struggles. Hand this to teens who loved Kwame Alexander’s Crossover and Jason Reynold’s Ghost.

After the Shot Drops
by Randy Ribay
HMH, 2018
Amazon / public library / Google Books preview
ages 12-16
During the summer after freshman year, Bunny Thompson transfers from Whitman High, his neighborhood public school, to St. Sebastian’s, a private school in the suburbs. It’s a difficult transition—he misses his friends, struggles to fit in, and knows his old friends don’t understand.
“Pride in Whitman High’s basketball team runs real deep around our way, so a lot of people didn’t like that one bit. My main man, Nasir, straight up stopped talking to me.”
Nasir feels left behind and betrayed. Bunny was so focused on himself that he didn’t even tell Nasir about his decision to leave Whitman. Nasir hangs with his cousin Wallace, and is concerned when Wallace tells him he’s about to get evicted from his apartment because they’re behind on rent. Wallace fuels Nasir’s anger at Bunny:
“Wallace lets out a sarcastic laugh. ‘He ain’t your friend. He up and left you to go play ball with some rich-ass white boys. He doesn’t care about you. Bunny Thompson’s looking out for Bunny Thompson. That’s it, Nas.”
Wallace’s anger and resentment build, and he turns to betting against Bunny in order to make rent money. Readers will relate to Nasir’s difficult decision whether to support his cousin’s reckless behavior and how to walk away.

Race and economics play an explicit part of this story, although in a nuanced way. Whitman is a primarily Black community in Philadelphia, and Bunny’s parents work long hours to make ends meet. Nasir’s family is Filipino and Black, providing an alternative to the reductive black/white tropes of urban life. I appreciate how supportive both Nasir and Bunny's families are.

Teens will appreciate the fast pace of this story and the tense climax as Wallace pulls a gun on Bunny. I also appreciated the layered themes of friendship, identity and loyalty. Plus, I’ve got to give a big shout-out for Keyona, Bunny’s girlfriend. She’s a great character, who’s never afraid to set Bunny straight.

For more about After the Shot Drops, check out Rand Ribay's 5 Questions over at the Horn Book. Randy Ribay now teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read in The Horn Book about his experience teaching in Philadelphia, and why school libraries are so important.

The review copy came from my local library. 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 5, 2018

Meet Yasmin, by Saadia Faruqi -- outstanding new early reader (ages 6-9)

Beginning readers seek out funny stories they can relate to. Even with unlikely situations and over-the-top humor (Fly Guy, I'm looking at you), kids want to be able to imagine that they are the main character in the story. That's precisely why representation matters so much.

I'm thrilled to introduce you to Yasmin, the Pakistani-American main character in Saadia Faruqi's debut series Meet Yasmin! Young readers are going to relate to many of the situations that Yasmin finds herself in--getting lost, wanting to win the art contest, making a mess at home. Many readers are also going to appreciate the cultural details that Saadia seamlessly weaves into her story.
Meet Yasmin!
by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly
Capstone, 2018
Google Books preview / Amazon / your library
ages 6-9
*best new book*
Yasmin is a vivacious second-grader who's always looking for ways to solve problems she gets into. Her multigenerational Pakistani-American family is supportive, giving her the space to figure things out and also offering some help along the way.
Yasmin's family: Mama, Baba, Nani and Nana (via CapstoneKids)

Meet Yasmin! is a short chapter book with four separate stories within it--these help keep the pacing moving quickly for young readers new to chapter books. Each story is divided into three short chapters. You can also purchase the stories individually, as short beginning readers. Katie Woo and Sofia Martinez, two of our favorite series, are also available in this way--providing flexible formats for new readers.
  • Yasmin the Explorer – Yasmin wants to be a brave explorer after she draws a map of her neighborhood, but gets scared when she gets lost at the farmer's market.
  • Yasmin the Painter – Worried about an art contest at school, Yasmin doesn't have any idea what to paint. Luckily, inspiration comes from the mess she makes.
  • Yasmin the Builder – When her class starts building a city, Yasmin doesn't know what she'll build. In a delightful twist, she decides to make bridges and paths that connect everyone else's buildings together.
  • Yasmin the Fashionista – Yasmin is so excited to play dress up with her mother's clothes, but she and Nani accidently rip Mama's satin kameez and must figure out how to fix it.
Yasmin is a happy child with a loving family. Students from many backgrounds will relate to her multigenerational family. Muslim students will especially notice the cultural details. The review at MuslimReads summed it up:
The fact that her mom grabs her purse and her hijab when she’s getting ready to leave the house and that her dad calls her jaan are just normal parts of Yasmin’s life and a normal part of the fabric of American life.
"Don't forget your map!" Baba said. "Every explorer needs a map."
Notice in these illustrations that Mama is not wearing her hijab at home, but puts it on as they're leaving the house for the farmer's market. This small detail is important to weave into the story. Hatem Aly does a wonderful job of keeping the illustrations fun and lively, and also keeping them culturally specific.

Saadia Faruqi decided to write children's books, especially for beginning readers, because her own children did not have books they could relate to. Her heartfelt post in NerdyBookClub explains how her children struggled as first generation Muslim Americans, and how "books – the one thing that should have helped them deal with all this – didn’t have any answers. There were no beloved Muslim characters with the same problems they had."

Read more about Saadia's vision and journey:
Meet Yasmin! is well crafted for beginning readers, with a crisp focus on problem and resolution, a small cast of characters for new readers to learn, and an engaging main character. Hand this to readers who like relatable, funny stories with short chapters.

Many thanks to Saadia Faruqi and Capstone for sharing the review copy with me. 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