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Showing posts from May, 2020

The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America's Presidents by Kate Messner, illustrated by Adam Rex

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The Next President:The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America's Presidents by Kate Messner illustrated by Adam Rex Review Copy from Chronicle Books Messner adopts an innovative, engaging perspective on American History, starting with her title: The Next President. While this is absolutely a non-fiction picture book packed with facts on about the last forty-five presidents, Messner's divides them, not by terms, but by how many were alive at the same time, reminding readers on the first page that, "no matter who holds the job right now, the presidents of tomorrow are always out there somewhere." Rex's illustrations are filled with diversity and humanity, from the bookends of the scenes in the museum to the presidents' pages, where African Americans can be seen painting Washington's portrait and building the capitol. Rex brings expression and humanness to past presidents, whether portrayed as children or young men, in action or in portrait, illust…

Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War by Duncan Tonatiuh

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Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War by Duncan Tonatiuh Purchased from FirstBook

Teacher, father, soldier, translator, organizer, shiner of "light on the injustices that the people of Mexican origin" living in America experienced: Luz Sáenz was all of these things, and more. Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War is yet another superb picture book biography about an important American civil rights activist. Tonatiuh is a talented artist and author who has a gift for bringing context to his non-fiction picture books. José de la Luz Sáenz, or Luz, which is how his family and friends referred to him, was born in South Texas on May 17, 1888. A Tejano, a Texan of Mexican or Hispanic descent, Luz experienced prejudice and racism from an early age. Forced to attend separate and inferior schools, bullied, beaten and kept out of stores and restaurants by signs that read NO MEXICANS ALLOWED, Luz let his father's advice, "don't l…

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge, 192 pp, RL: Middle School

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The Dark Matter of Mona Starr by Laura Lee Gulledge Review copy from Abrams Kids As Mona, Gulledge's main character/alter-go says toward the end of The Dark Matter of Mona Starr, "I'm a writer. I can speak story." Not only is Gulledge a writer who can speak story (see below for links to my reviews of her previous graphic novels), she is an artist who can communicate abstract emotions in concrete ways. The Dark Matter of Mona Starr joins a growing shelf of superb graphic novels for young readers addressing emotional health, as well as physical, mental and emotional challenges, spearheaded by Raina Telgemeier. And, like many of these excellent works, Gulledge's book draws on her personal experiences, adding a layer of depth and authenticity. Unlike many of these, Gulledge's graphic novel is best suited toward middle grade and teen readers, not for content appropriateness, but for the reader's ability to understand and most benefit from the experience and wisdo…

Dandelion's Dream by Yoko Tanaka

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Dandelion's Dream by Yoko Tanaka Review Copy from Candlewick Press Dandelion's Dream is a wordless, wondrous, magical journey that is challenge capture with words. In the dark of night, in a meadow dotted with flowers, Tanaka transforms a dandelion into a "dandy lion." There are very few picture books that employ predominately black negative space (Jon Klassen's superb This Is Not My Hat comes to mind) and the experience of turning the dark pages, entering a night aglow with the expressive, ebullient lion, is completely transformative. 
A dandelion, one large bud and a smaller one near the roots, curved like a tail, along with three spiky leaves, blooms with a page turn. Another page turn, and this cheerful weed becomes a lion with a boisterous grin, looking ready to play. The view across the dreamlike meadow, dotted with dandelions, some of which look realistic, some of which look like, (surprisingly, considering it is the dark of night) floating sunshine, shows a …

The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box: The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer by Marcie Wessels, illustrated by Beatriz Castro

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With The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box, Wessels introduces readers to the amazing life and inventions of the unstoppable Ralph Baer, the man widely acknowledged as the "Father of Home Video Games." The task of taking the events of a life as rich with accomplishments and as long as Baer's (Baer died in 2014 at the age of ninety-two) and refining it into a thirty-two page picture book is an ominous one, but Wessels' creative use of the "think outside of the box" metaphor works perfectly to streamline events and remind readers of Baer's perseverance and imagination.
Born in Germany in 1922, Baer became an autodidact when was kicked out of school at the age of fourteen because he was Jewish. He taught himself English and helped his family secure the visas that allowed them to immigrate to New York. As a teen, Baer learned to repair radios, and, after being drafted into the Army during WWII, he enrolled in the American Television Institute of Technology and…

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky, color by Geov Chouteau, 208 pp, RL 4

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Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky color by Geov Chouteau Published by RH Graphic Purchased from Barnes & Noble
With Witchlight, Zabarsky creates a compelling world where matriarchal communities thrive and nature is an integral part of life for humans and witches, with prejudice and ignorance hovering at the edges. There is much to love aboutWitchlight, but it is the immersive landscape that Zabarsky created that stands out and stays with you. Nature is everything in this world, from the open air market where we first meet Sanja, selling tubers at her family's stall, to the woods where Lelek takes (kidnaps...) Sanja to hideout. As their bond forms, Sanja and Lelek travel on foot from town to town. Panels are dedicated to scenes of walking through meadows, peering through tall reeds, rain falling on leaves and hands picking fruit and flowers. The world of Witchlight is lush and bountiful, accepting. Even the magic practiced by Lelek flows through nature. Hoping to make a living by challe…

Kaia and the Bees by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Angela Dominguez

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Kaia and the Bees by Maribeth Boelts,  illustrated by Angela Dominguez Review Copy from Candlewick Press
Kaia and the Bees does something really wonderful - it manages to be a book that shows readers how to face your fears while also educating them about the importance of bees and the work that they do. And Boelts, who has been a beekeeper and written picture books that capture, with authenticity and clarity, the emotional lives of children, is perfectly positioned to create a book like this. Best of all, this story is not set on a farm or even in the country. It is set in a city, letting readers know that beekeeping can happen (almost) anywhere!
Kaia is brave, "hottest-hot-pepper brave" and "furry-spider-in-the-basement brave." There is only one thing that "SUPER scares" her - bees. Unfortunately for Kaia (but fortunately for bees and the rest of humanity) her father is a beekeeper! He has two hives on the roof of their apartment and he "reads bee books…

Redwood and Ponytail by K. A. Holm, 424 pp, RL Middle School

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Redwood and Ponytail by K. A. Holt Review Copy from Chronicle Books
K.A. Holt delivers an unforgettable verse novel that perfectly captures the confusion, awkwardness and electricity of first love and the way that it can open your world to new experiences and ideas. Set in the hallways of middle school with a Greek Chorus (Alex, Alyx, Alexx) watching on and commenting, Redwood and Ponytail alternates narrators and is much an LGBTQIA+ story as it is a visceral experience of the electricity and excitement of first love. Especially because I choose to forget my middle school experience, I am always deeply impressed by writers, Holt particularly, who can reconnect with those emotions and moments, remember first times and translate it into words on the page - and Holt does this all in verse, with considerably fewer words.
Redwood and Ponytail are tall, volleyball star Tam and petitely perfect cheerleader Kate, and they give each other those nicknames at their first meeting, which is not the fi…

Peter & Ernesto: Sloths in the Night by Graham Annable, 124 pp, RL 3

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Peter & Ernesto: Sloths in the Night by Graham Annable Review Copy from FirstSecond


In my review of Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths, I noted that opposites make for great characters, especially in books for younger readers. While Peter's caution and concern is marvelously countered by Ernesto's buoyant embrace of experience and adventure, what I love most about these characters is their care for each other and the thoughtful language they use to express it. And, of course, the crazy escapades the two get caught up in, together and alone, are a delight. 
In Sloths in the Night, Ernesto is excited to learn that a dragon is living in the old temple by the river in their forest and he wants to head over to meet him. But, his news is overshadowed when Peter and the rest of the sloths realize that their friend Bernard is missing - and it's almost night time! Sure that Bernard heard about the dragon and headed to the temple on his own, Ernesto convinces Peter and their …