Sunday, September 15, 2019

Juliet Takes a Breath, by Gabby Rivera: a vibrant new queer coming of age story (ages 14 and up)

My high school students are asking for books that show complex, nuanced characters of color who show a range of experiences. I'm excited to share with them Juliet Takes a Breath, a vibrant new queer coming of age story by Gabby Rivera.
Juliet Takes a Breath
by Gabby Rivera
Dial / Penguin; 2019
Amazon / your local library
ages 14 and up
Juliet Palante is leaving her home the Bronx, heading for a summer internship in Portland, Oregon with her favorite feminist author. She just came out to her family, and it was full of drama. Her little brother is totally supportive, but her mom won't talk to her.

Juliet explores her understanding of freedom and identity, pushing readers to embrace the power of one’s own voice and being true to yourself. I especially appreciate the way she talks about the tensions between white feminists and women of color, and the importance of listening to each other's stories. Even more, I appreciate the way Juliet wrestles with uncomfortable situations, finds true friends and reaches out to her family to support her.

Gabby Rivera is funny, fresh and full of wisdom. We are beyond excited that she's coming to Albany High. If you have a chance go see her on tour (details here)!
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Dial / Penguin. 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.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You -- by Sonia Sotomayor (ages 4-10)

With positive energy and affirmation of kids' identities, questions and curiosity, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor encourages readers to accept people's differences and disabilities in her wonderful new picture book, Just Ask!
Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You
by Sonia Sotomayor
illustrated by Rafael López
Philomel / Penguin; 2019
Google Books preview
Amazon / your local library
ages 4-10
Beginning with a personal letter to readers, Sotomayor explains that she was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 7, and how she sometimes felt different because of that. Every day she gives herself a shot of insulin, the medicine she needs to stay healthy. Other kids were curious, but they never asked her about it. And yet, if we can ask why someone is doing something different, we can understand each other more fully and appreciate our differences.

Young Sonia and 11 friends gather together to plant a garden, celebrating the magical diversity of plants. Each child introduces their own disabilities and chronic illnesses—ranging from diabetes to deafness—explaining how this is part of who they are and how they do things. As each finishes, they turn to the reader to ask a question, like "Do you use a tool to help your body?" or "How do you use your senses?"

I especially appreciate how each child speaks for themselves, explaining what makes them unique and how they want to be understood.
"For me listening comes more easily than talking--and I'm a really good listener. My  name is Anh and I speak with a stutter, so I sometimes repeat a word or get stuck when I try to say it. It may take me a little longer to express myself, and sometimes I'm too shy to talk, but I understand everything that's going on. Do you ever wonder if people understand you?"
As Sotomayor told NPR, she hopes that readers can understand that our differences make us each special and interesting. "I want every child to understand that whatever condition they bear in life, they are special in a good way."

This affirming book will make a lovely read-aloud for families and classrooms, encouraging children to think about our differences, what makes us special, and how important it is to learn about each other.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Philomel / Penguin. 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.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Monday, September 2, 2019

Queen of the Sea, by Dylan Meconis (ages 10 - 14)

As a child, I often felt alone, trying to figure out the world--I think that's why orphans appeal to young readers so much. Queen of the Sea draws on this appeal, bringing readers into the isolated world of a young girl raised as the only child on an island convent in Tudor England. This richly illustrated graphic novel pulled me in, with its historical reimagining of the struggle for the royal succession after Henry VIII's death. I found it engrossing and rewarding and look forward to sharing it with students this fall.
Queen of the Sea
by Dylan Meconis
Walker Books / Candlewick, 2019
Google Books preview
Amazon / your local library
ages 10-14
As the story opens, young Margaret introduces us to her world on an isolated island raised by nuns. Margaret is not satisfied with the nun's answers about her parents and heritage, and readers wonder how the preface about the queen escaping into exile will be worked into Margaret's story. Meconis introduces elements of the Tudor world with ease, helping young readers develop a sense of how self-sufficient the nuns on this isolated island were.

When Lady Cameron and her son William arrive, Margaret finally has a new friend her own age. She does not ask many questions about why they are in exile, or what political turmoil is engulfing the kingdom of Albion. Margaret slowly discovers how this turmoil impacts her isolated existence when another visitor, the former Queen Eleanor, is banished to the island and kept under constant watch.

The intriguing plot and complex characters kept me reading, and I especially appreciated the way Margaret’s character develops, as she discovers her heritage and voice. While this is text-heavy for a graphic novel, the expressive illustrations helped me imagine Margaret's world, both physically and emotionally. The New York Times review captured it well:
"Meconis’s drawings, full of heart and humor, beautifully evoke Margaret’s many moods, and the rhythms and routines of life in an island convent... They enrich the reader’s understanding of Margaret’s bygone world, and of Margaret herself."
You'll get a sense with this preview from Google Books:


Hand this to readers who like historical fiction, royal intrigue, plucky heroines, and long graphic novels. Here are some other favorite graphic that combine these elements:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Walker Books / Candlewick. 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.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books