Waking Brain Cells
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub
Saya’s mother has been taken to an immigration detention center and held for three months. Saya misses her a lot, spending time at night listening to her mother’s voice on the answering machine. Her Papa spends his evenings writing to judges and the media to find help, but no one ever responds. Every week, Saya and Papa go to visit her mother, but it is always hard to leave her behind again. Then Saya’s mother starts to record stories for her, all based on Haitian folk tales, some sad and some happy. Saya decides to write her own letter to the media and gains their attention. Soon Mama is brought before a judge due to the pressure brought by the media and viewers. The judge allows her to return home until her papers arrive.
Danticat is a National Book Award winner for her adult books. In her Author’s Note she speaks to the impact of immigration and separation in her own childhood. In the United States in recent years, over 70,000 parents of American-born children have been jailed or deported. This is an issue impacting every community in our country. Danticat offers not only a view of how this separation affects a child, but also a way forward for both children to feel they are doing something to help and parents who are jailed to stay in touch with their children through stories from their heritage. Beautifully written, this picture book sings the message of diversity, inclusion and humanity.
The illustrations by Staub are lush and colorful. They show the power of the human voice and shared stories in a visual way, swirling the page with images of Mama as well as from the stories being shared. The colors of joy infuse the pages just as the colors of sorrow appear on others. It is a very effective way to show the myriad of emotions that Saya is feeling.
An important book that is beautifully written and illustrated, this picture book belongs in every library. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: African-Americans, diversity, families, immigration, mothers
In short poems in both Spanish and English, animals are explored in the way that they move and live in their habitats. The book begins with a slithering snake poem that hisses on the page. Other poems include black crows hopping and cawing, the slow movement of a black cow in a golden field, fleeting glimpses of a deer, and the shine of an owl at night. Still other poems focus on domestic pets like dogs and cats who fill the page with their personalities captured in verse on the page.
I was surprised to read in the Author’s Note at the end of the book that Paschkis is not a native Spanish speaker nor a poet. It was Spanish that allowed her to find her poetic voice, which is just as special as her art. She effectively uses her verse in both languages to convey the essence of the animal, celebrating what makes them unique. The poems are stand alone and strong, easily adapted to the classroom for specific units and subjects.
As always, Paschkis’ illustrations are gorgeous. They have a folkart flair about them and have words in both Spanish and English woven into them that let the words become part of the art in a very concrete way. It also gives these bilingual poems a new way to convey the dance of the two languages next to one another.
A dazzling collection of poems, it is welcome both for its bilingual elements and the alluring combination of words and art. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, poetry Tagged: animals
Explore a world of lost items that when lost change and grow and become something else. Figure one is a roller skate, laces flying that was last seen in the basement. Turn the foldout page to see it become something ethereal and unreal. The visor on the next page that was last seen on the lawn grows into something organic and living. One-by-one objects change into a landscape of imagination, becoming something far different than where they began but still having connections to the original object in form and color.
Done with almost no text except a description of the original items and where they were lost, this book is all about the incredible illustrations. Done in 3-D paper art, Young created not just the original object and the final transformation, but several stages in between where you see the clear connection between where we began and what it became. Part way through the book, readers will start to notice an underwater theme to the transformations, as we see coral, jellyfish, fish and anemones. There is a delicacy and luminous quality to the entire book, showing both the lack of permanence and the power of imagination.
Brilliant, surreal and completely amazing, this picture book is an inspiring look at creativity and imagination. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: creativity, imagination, objects, transformation
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
The town that Mikey lives in has been hit by more than its share of strange things. There were the vampires, soul-eating ghosts and the zombies. But Mikey isn’t one of the kids who would get caught up in those situations. He’s not an indie kid, just a normal kid who wants to graduate from high school in a few weeks, maybe kiss one of his closest friends, go to the prom, and just spend time together with the people he loves. But life isn’t that simple and strange things are happening around the town with blue lights glowing, angry cops with blue glowing eyes, dead deer that come back to life, and much more. Mikey is all ready to blame the new kid for everything, including his own inability to date Henna. And Mikey is having to deal with his own OCD returning, unable to stop washing his hands until they are bleeding. Then there’s the problem of his dad’s drinking and his mother’s inattention as she runs her new political campaign. Even Mikey’s older sister is struggling again with her eating disorder. As graduation nears and the town gets even more unstable, Mikey must learn more about himself and his friends before he can realize just how amazing life really is.
Ness adroitly combines several genres in this novel for teens. There are the real-life teen elements of parental dysfunction and mental illness. Those are cleverly combined with a fantasy novel that has children of cat gods, magical elves, and bodies that are used as vessels. And finally, there is the perfect ironic twist of being a parody of popular teen novels like Twilight. Ness does this final piece by having the events of a Twilight-like novel happening around the characters but rarely to them, the story of those events is told in quick manner at the beginning of each chapter and then left aside as Mikey and his story takes center stage with its brilliant mix of magic and normal.
It is that delightful genre bending that makes this book so special. But it is also the fact that though Ness is poking fun at some of the more popular genre tropes, he is also writing a great book that will please fans of those books too. The parody is there yes, but underneath that is a novel that has truly human characters who love one another, struggle with their own failings, yearn for more in life, and work hard to make sure that those they love are protected and cared for. It’s a novel with a true heart, one that is not ironic in any way, but gorgeous and honest.
A fascinating read, this teen novel will have you laughing at the parody while all the time enjoying the real depth of its characters. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from HarperTeen.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: eating disorders, fantasy, mental illness, parodies
Stillwater, the giant panda, returns for another picture book filled with Buddhist wisdom. The book takes a look at different ways to reach wisdom. The first section of the book looks to sharing a story as a way to learn. It’s a story about learning too, about the importance of patience, practice and hard work. The next story focuses more on action as a learning tool, about being a bad guy and being a good person, and more positive ways to manage conflict. The final part of the picture book is about taking action to help even if you think your small action won’t make any difference to the world.
The entire book shines with Stillwater’s quiet and wise presence. His guidance is done with subtlety and kindness, modeling the way that parents can inspire different ways of thinking in their children. The stories while based on old tales are also effortlessly modern in their presentation here. These are lessons that transcend any age and remain all the more true in our current world.
Muth’s illustrations are luminous and lovely. They are filled with light and humor, inviting children outdoors to play and explore without ever mentioning it as a goal. As in all of his Zen books, Stillwater is a major presence that demonstrates the importance of having a child’s mind in his playfulness and also being engaged in his community as he teaches the children new ways to see the world.
Another brilliant Zen book, this picture book will be embraced by Buddhists and others looking for some quiet wisdom in our busy world. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: buddhism, kindness, pandas, resilience, wisdom
In, Over and On the Farm by Ethan Long
Following his Geisel Award-winning Up, Tall and High, Long returns to prepositions. Four animals friends have adventures on the farm in this easy reader. Broken into three short stories, each story focuses on one pair of prepositions. Chicken can’t get in the coop, so she is left out in the rain, until she realizes that everyone else is warm and dry in there, so she orders them to get out. In the next story, Chicken can’t get over the fence or go under it either. Luckily Cow has another solution for her, go around! In the last story, Pig is on the tractor and Cow and Goat join him there. When they are all on the tractor though, it starts to roll away and soon they are all thrown off. But they want to go on it again.
Long is a very prolific author and excels at creating books for beginning readers which are a winning mix of humor and simplicity. It also helps that he is a natural storyteller and so his short stories in the book have the feel of being complete tales despite their brevity. His characters are also universal, in their group and individual dynamics. The book is entirely relatable by children and will be enjoyed in classrooms looking at prepositions as well as by individual readers.
Long’s illustrations are funny and filled with a cartoon appeal. The colors are candy-bright and even gray rainy days are tinged in lavender. The incorporation of a few flaps to lift is also very appealing for young readers who will enjoy that the twist for each story is revealed in a physical way.
Silly and very easy to read, these stories have massive appeal. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Easy Readers Tagged: animals, chickens, cows, farms, goats, pigs
When Meredith comes home with a mysterious box, Buddy just can’t quite manage to stay on his bed. Soon he is exploring the box and discovers a strange creature named Earl inside, who claims to be a giraffe, though Buddy is sure that he isn’t and Earl’s not a sea urchin either. When Earl tries to guess what Buddy is, he never guesses that Buddy is a dog. Earl announces that he is a pirate, and Buddy finds himself called a pirate too. The two of them start to play together, sailing the couch into a storm. They are interrupted by Mom, who scolds Buddy for being on the couch and for playing with Earl. But when her back is turned, Buddy is right there near the box again, announcing that he knows exactly what Earl is: a friend.
This little picture book has a lot of depth to it. The simple story is given details thanks to the conversational tone of the text that is focused on allowing children to understand how this unlikely friendship develops. The two animals explore one another but are also figuring out one another’s personalities, something that proves much more interesting to them both rather than labeling their species. Playing pretend together seals the friendship, but then it is made even stronger when Earl tries to take the blame for Buddy being on the couch.
The illustrations nicely break the text into manageable chunks. The illustrations are simple, done in thick black lines and washes of subtle color. They have a pleasing roughness to the edges that offers a modern feel.
Friendship in a nutshell, this picture book offers an adventure for new friends. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: dogs, friendship, hedgehogs, pets
The Nest by Kenneth Oppel
Steve’s new baby brother isn’t healthy, so his parents keep having to meet with doctors and specialists to see if they can help. Steve struggles with worries much of the time and now it is getting worse. He worries about the baby, about his parents, about his little sister, about the odd man who drives the knife sharpening cart, and about the wasps. Steve doesn’t like wasps and when he is stung out in the yard one day, he discovers that he is allergic to them too. So Steve has to carry an Epi-pen to keep safe. As the summer continues, Steve begins to have weird dreams. It seems that the queen of the wasp nest outside under the eaves is communicating with him. And she is steadily explaining something horrible and tantalizing, promising that she can help his little brother by fixing him. But it takes Steve saying “yes” and helping them get the new baby in the house. As the pressure mounts, Steve is told by his doctor that dreams are only in his head and not reality. But what happens when your dreams actually start coming true?
Oppel has written a spectacular horror book, combining a fear of bees and wasps with the myths of changelings. The way that Oppel incorporates the science of reason and has adults dismissing Steve’s dreams and concerns makes for a horror book that uses parents and polite adult sensibility as the way the main character is isolated. This benign busyness of the parents though they care deeply will be something that most modern children will recognize. It’s far more effective than having no parents at all.
The queen wasp in the story is a brilliant villain, attractive and kind. She offers Steve attention when he is getting none, plenty of praise, and the sweetness of power in a situation where he has no control. It is an irresistible mix and a trap that Steve realizes far too late. Readers too will tell themselves that this is all in Steve’s head, just pretend, only a dream. But Oppel does not let that happen, taking it all the way through to its horrific conclusion.
Frightening, magical and impossible to stop reading, this horror novel for older elementary children is one of the best. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Simon & Schuster.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Middle School Tagged: changelings, horror, wasps
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh (InfoSoup)
Award-winning author and illustrator, Tonatiuh brilliantly tells the story of Jose Guadalupe Posada. Called Lupe by his family, he showed artistic promise early in life. At age 18, he went to work in a print shop where he learned lithography and engraving. Lupe starting doing drawings for the small local paper, including political cartoons. Lupe eventually opened his own print shop and starting to create illustrations for books and pamphlets. After his shop was ruined in a flood, he moved with his family to Mexico City where he opened a new shop. Lupe began creating broadsides and that is where he started creating his calaveras or skeletons. Some have specific meanings while others are unknown, many of them make political commentary on Mexican society. Lupe was soon recognized for these prints more than any of the rest of his work. Posada continues to be known for these images thanks to other Mexican artists like Diego Rivera who investigated who had drawn the etchings.
Tonatiuh does a great job of telling the story of the full life of Posada while focusing on making it accessible to children and also making it a compelling tale. Readers will recognize some of the images in the book, creating a firm connection between the artist and the images. The story of Posada’s life is a mix of tragedy and accomplishment, rather like the images he created. The Author’s Note at the end of the book adds details to the story of Posada and his art.
Tonatiuh’s art is as unique and marvelous as ever. He uses his stylized characters, usually shown in profile. They have a wonderful folk-art feel to them and work very nicely with Posada’s own skeletons. His illustrations are a rich mix of collage and line drawings, mixing textures and colors very effectively.
A great book to share for Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead, this will be a welcome addition to all public library collections, but particularly those serving Hispanic populations. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Nonfiction, Picture Books Tagged: artists, biographies, Day of the Dead, Dia de Muertos, Mexico
Filed under: Recommended Links
Send a Question or Comment to Appleton Public Library.