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. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site.

©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. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site.

©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. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Finding great comic books for kids: Eisner Awards 2019 (ages 6-16)

If you're looking for great comic books and graphic novels to share with kids, definitely check out the Eisner Awards, the most prestigious comic book award in the industry. Named in honor of the pioneering writer and artist Will Eisner, voted on by comic book professionals and presented at the annual San Diego Comic-Con. I pay particular attention to three categories: best comics for Early Readers (up to age 8), for Kids (ages 9–12), and for Teens (ages 13–17).  Here are this year's winners (check out the full list here):

Early Readers (up to age 8): Johnny Boo and the Ice Cream Computer, by James Kochalka. Energetic little ghost Johnny Boo creates an incredible Ice Cream Computer that turns anything into ice cream -- but what happens when Johnny's best friend Squiggle decides to turn into ice cream?!? He pops out with hundreds of Squiggle clones, only to have the Mean Little Boy try to capture him for his butterfly collection. With simple dialog and goofy plot twists, young readers will eat this up.

Kids (ages 9-12): The Nameless City #3: The Divided Earth, by Faith Erin Hicks. This is an exciting conclusion to a terrific series -- the series opener (The Nameless City) is a favorite at my school. In an ancient city, Kaidu, son of the ruling army Dao, and a native city girl named Rat form an unlikely friendship and alliance. In the series conclusion, Rat and Kai must infiltrate the rogue ruler's palace and steal back the deadly weapon of mass destruction. With action-filled battle scenes, a complex fantasy world and strong friendships, this series appeals to a wide range of readers.

Teens (ages 13-17): The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang. Prince Sebastian feels comfortable identifying both male and female, often wearing dresses and going out as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia. When he hires Frances, a young seamstress, to make him a wardrobe of boldly beautiful, dazzling dresses, Frances hesitates at first, but they soon discover a shared passion for fashion. Incorporating the feel of classic fairytales, Wang creates a story that revolves around friendship, following your dreams and speaking your truth.

I especially happy that Jen Wang also won the Eisner Award for Best Writer/Artist. The Prince and the Dressmaker is an outstanding book that draws readers in with its beauty, heart-felt characters and coming-of-age story.

One of the interesting things I find is how graphic novels can appeal to a wider age range than publishers and reviewers often note. For example, The Nameless City series is very popular in my high school. I'd also highly recommend The Prince and the Dressmaker for ages 11 and up.

For more outstanding graphic novels, explore previous winners of the Eisner Award (by category, via Wikipedia). The review copies came from my school library. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Comics make the best camp packages! (ages 8-11)

Getting packages at camp is great. My niece & nephews (ages 8-11) are away at camp for a month, so I just sent them a care package with comics. With rest hour every day, it's great to have some new comics. I thought I'd share what's headed their way.

Hilo #3: The Great Big Boom
, by Judd Winick:
 This series is one of my nephew's favorites, and I hope I've sent the right one for him! In the series opener “The Boy Who Crashed to Earth,” D.J. Lim’s life turns from ordinary to exciting when he discovers Hilo, an extraterrestrial boy wearing nothing but silver underpants. This story is full of action and humor, as Hilo and D.J. battle robots and giant insects intent on destroying Hilo’s home planet. In Hilo #3, DJ has to find his friend Gina after she was swallowed by a mysterious portal. My note to my nephew says,
"Hilo is the best! And DJ reminds me of you -- such a good friend and always ready for adventure!"
Stone Rabbit: BC Mambo, by Erik Craddock:  Stone Rabbit's boring life suddenly changes when he finds a time portal in his bathroom and he falls into the land of dinosaurs. Non-stop action ensues, as Stone Rabbit is captured by a crazy monster and has to figure his way out if he can escape and save the day. If you're looking for high-action and silly humor, without a lot of words, this is a great series.

Squish #1: Super Amoeba & Squish #2: Brave New Pond, by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm: I especially think my youngest nephew will connect with Squish -- he loves reading comics, he sometimes feels little but tries to stand up for himself when he's pushed around. Squish is full of laughs, but he has a really soft heart.

Princeless #1: Save Yourself & Princeless #2: Get Over Yourself  by Jeremy Whitley, illustrated by M. Goodwin: When Princess Adrienne’s parents lock her away in a castle guarded by a dragon to await rescue by a prince, she decides to take matters into her own hands. My niece loves princess stories, and I love this feisty heroine and this story that upends so many stereotypes and tropes.

Guts, by Raina Telgemeier: “Smile” and “Sisters”--Raina Telgemeier's graphic memoirs--are absolute favorites, and I'm sure that my niece is going to be thrilled to see the advanced copy for her newest book (out September 17th). Raina draws readers in with her relatable situations and humor, creating a real bond as she reflects on the pressures tweens face at school and at home. Raina's worries about school, friends (and not-friends), and getting sick just keep making everything worse. As I wrote my niece, Raina's story "feels so real."

Hope you're having a fun summer and finding some time to read! The review copy of Guts was kindly sent by the publishers, Graphix / Scholastic. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Forward Me Back To You, by Mitali Perkins: touching story of teens finding their way through trauma, identity and friendship (ages 13-17)

Mitali Perkins' newest YA novel, Forward Me Back To You, pulled me in with characters navigating their way through trauma and secrets. It is a book that wrestles with many heavy topics, yet the story shines with sweet moments and fully developed characters. 
Forward Me Back to You
by Mitali Perkins
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan, 2019
Google Books preview
Amazon / your local library
ages 13 - 17
*best new book*
The core of the story takes place in Kolkata, India as three teens travel to spend the summer helping an organization supporting survivors of human trafficking. And yet each of them realize that their personal stories, their backstories, impact the way they walk through the world.

As the story opens, Katina King struggles to recover from a sexual assault at school by a popular boy. Although Kat fought him off using her training in martial arts, the school authorities don't believe her. In order to help her heal and move forward, her mother sends her to Boston to finish the semester with a family friend, Grandma Vee.

I so appreciate the way Perkins brings readers into Kat's point of view. Right from the beginning, she introduces the way Kat sees people classified into types -- canines, felines and birds -- based on the way they act, react and treat others.
"Katina King classifies herself as a mountain lion.

She might have become a tame cat in a safer world. But when she was eleven, her body changed so fast it turned her into prey. Nothing she could do to stop luring canine eyes, so she’d put on a feral mask since then to prowl the hills of Oakland.

Fangs, claws, snarl.

They should have kept wolves away, but they didn’t."
In Boston, Kat meets Robin (Ravi) Thornton, who's struggling with his own past. Adopted from an orphanage in India, Robin numbs himself to his own pain by keeping the world at a distance. When his church group leader suggests a summer service trip to Kolkata, Robin decides to take the opportunity, in part to see if he can locate his "first mother." Once they are in India, Robin asks to be called Ravi, his original name.

The second half of the novel takes place in Kolkata, as Ravi, Kat and Gracie, Ravi's long-time best friend, work to support survivors of human trafficking. Kat and Gracie work in a shelter, while Ravi helps with data entry and trains with a local policeman. Perkins shows the complicated aspects of volunteer-tourism, and yet she also shows clear love for the city of Kolkata and the value of connecting across cultures.

Perkins excels at weaving together characters. Main characters and secondary characters have full backstories that create multidimensional, relatable people. The characters of Bontu, Miss Shireen, Kavita and Grandma Vee will stay with me. Perkins explores heavy, important issues of identity, trauma, international adoption and human trafficking, yet the characters' journeys and growth remain central.

I especially think teens will be drawn to the way Kat and Ravi move through their pain. They both find it hard to share their stories, and both more naturally retreat within themselves; yet it is through sharing, feeling and connecting that they are able to move forward. I absolutely agree with the way Barbara Moon describes this novel:
"This search for identity and recovery is a sweeping saga that explores the serious problem of international human trafficking. Gripping storytelling, eye-opening adventure in a faraway city, Forward Me Back to You packs an emotional gut punch that lingers long after the final page. A story not to be missed."
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site.

©2019 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books