Waking Brain Cells
Dasha is twelve when her mother leaves Moscow to go to school in America. Dasha is left in the care of her grandparents. It is the early 1990s and things are changing in Russia. Dasha though is more interested in her first crush on a boy, her friendships, and her trip to Germany for Christmas. She misses her mother terribly and has to figure out how to have a life without her there. Dasha’s life reaches a crisis when she fails an important test because she is having problems with the boy she likes and her friends. When spring comes, Dasha’s life changes again with her mother returning and deciding to take Dasha back to America with her.
This autobiographical graphic novel is something unique and very special. Tolstikova tells a story that is both universal and also very personal. She speaks of liking boys, struggling with friends who are changing, lives changing due to parents leaving, and the strength of family. She also tells her specific story of living with her grandparents, growing up in Moscow, and the self-imposed pressure of getting into a better school.
The graphic novel is illustrated with outstanding and quirky illustrations that are effortlessly modern. Done in primarily black and white line, subtle colors are also on the pages to lift it from any dreariness. Pages are dynamically different from one to the next both in size of the illustrations to using only words in large fonts when someone is yelling.
Beautiful and haunting, this graphic novel captures a time in the author’s life that is fleeting and special. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Graphic Novels, Middle School Tagged: families, friendships, Russia
Over the River and Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Kim Smith (InfoSoup)
This modern take on the classic holiday song has family members from around the nation traveling to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the holidays. One family traveling by car comes with 2 dogs, 2 pies and one enormous teddy bear. When their car runs out of gas, they are rescued by a horse and sleigh. The next family, a gay couple with older daughter and baby, travel from a major city via subway and then train. They discover there aren’t any rental cars, but again they are rescued by the same sleigh. Two more families join the pattern, both with diverse family members, and all needing the rescuing sleigh in the end so they can all make it to Grandma’s house by night.
I love the jaunty rhyme here. While it can seem stilted when read silently, once you try to read it aloud it is magically fun and the rhyme works to create a real rhythm to the story. The repetition for each family no matter how they are traveling to Grandma’s house makes for a book that even small children will enjoy. Each meets with a disaster and then is rescued by that same sleigh. Hurray!
The diversity on the page here is especially welcome. Nothing is mentioned in the text, it is the illustrations that bring this large family filled with different types of families together. There is the gay couple, the multiracial family, and one family that may or may not have adopted children. Staying open to interpretation also means that many families will see themselves reflected here.
A great addition to holiday book shelves, this take on a classic song adds a modern sensibility to heading to Grandma’s house. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Sterling Children’s Books.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books, Uncategorized Tagged: diversity, families, holidays, LGBT
Diva is a little white dog who lives in a grand apartment building in Paris. She is so small that she is smaller than a foot, which makes her run whenever she hears footsteps of strangers coming. She loves to spend time in the apartment courtyard, though even there she is often startled or scared. Flea is an alleycat who spends his time moving from place to the place in Paris. He has had a lot of adventures throughout the city and has many tales to share. This unlikely pair meet when Flea unintentionally upsets Diva by hanging around her courtyard. Diva teaches Flea about things like going inside for breakfast while Flea teachers Diva about exploring out in the public streets and learning to meet people rather than running away.
Willems was living in Paris when he discovered this story right at his own apartment building, a little dog who was friends with a stray cat. He has taken that initial inspiration and created two outstanding characters in Diva and Flea. The combination of being pampered and frightened is quite clever and a much more creative choice than being pampered and spoiled rotten. Flea too is not stereotypical. He has a very metropolitan flair rather than being uncouth and rude. Their friendship develops right on the page, each of them learning from the other and seeing one another in a new way with each encounter.
The art by DiTerlizzi is gorgeous. He captures the compact vigor of Diva and her panic attacks. Then there is the rangy motion of Flea, where you can almost see him move on the page with his shifting muscles under his fur. Paris too is captured along with them as they look at the Eiffel Tower. I was grinning ear-to-ear to see Willems himself pop onto the page as the person that Diva first attempts not to run away from. Clever indeed.
Another winner from Willems, this book offers his fans a new chapter book with some grand new characters. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Easy Readers, Elementary School Tagged: cats, dogs, friendship, Paris
The winners of the National Council of Teachers of English Children’s Book Awards have been announced. Below are the two winners of the awards and there are honorable mentions and recommended books in each category as well.
Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown
Filed under: Awards, Uncategorized
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Emily prides herself on being a leader in a group at her high school that promotes good causes and explains larger issues. So she is very ashamed when she freezes in the middle of a crisis. When she witnesses Belinda, a developmentally disabled classmate, being assaulted at a football game, she does nothing to intervene. Now she and Lucas, a boy who also failed to come to Belinda’s rescue, have to do community service at a center for people with disabilities. As work at the center, they start to realize the damage that they did through their silence. They search for ways to also directly help Belinda, but Belinda is no longer at school. It will take one big idea that will stretch all of their abilities to start to see serious healing.
McGovern has written an amazing book here. The narration in the novel switches between Emily and Belinda, so readers are able to see the true impact of the assault on Belinda as well as the repercussions in Emily’s life. The book moves readers from the drama of the assault to focus much more on the aftermath and the need for understanding and advocacy.
Belinda is a great character. Her point of view is such an important piece of this novel, showing a bravery after taking time to simply disappear into Pride and Prejudice and Colin Firth for awhile. Her disability is never hidden and yet also not exploited in any way. The way she is shown honors the way her brain works and the intelligence that she clearly has. I also appreciate that Belinda is far from perfect. She is demanding of others, often rudely criticizing them in public, and is not subtle at all. Again, this rings very true and honest. She is not a victim but a survivor.
An important teen novel about stepping up and taking action and responsibility but also about the lives of people with disabilities and the place they deserve in our communities. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from ARC received from HarperCollins.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: disabilities, friendships, romance, sexual assault
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