Here to Save the Day: A Review of The Last Last-Day-of-Summer

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer cover imageThe Last Last-Day-of-Summer
Lamar Giles, illustrated by Dapo Adeola
Versify, April 2019
Grade 5-7

The Last Last Day of Summer, by Lamar Giles, introduces us to two lovable cousins, Sheed and Otto, aka the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County, a magical place where banshees, monsters, and robots need managing—managing the boys are happy to provide. Indeed, the boys’ long history of town-saving adventures shines through the pages. It may be our first time joining Otto and Sheed, but they’re old pros at saving the day. Only the twin sisters, the Epic Ellison’s, give these two brave, clever boys a run for the money … or, rather, a run for the keys to the city. When the last day of summer starts with a headline, informing Sheed and Ollie that the Ellison girls have earned a third key to the city—one more than the boys have—the Alston boys are determined to catch up. It doesn’t take long for them to run into a mysterious stranger with a curious camera. A click and a clack later, Logan County is frozen in time, leaving only the boys and a bevy of unexpected visitors to figure out how to reverse the damage and free the town and its zany cast of character. The story is deeply grounded in family and gently explores themes such as loss and fear, confidence and insecurity, and the ups and downs of friendship. In the end, our imaginative heroes must work through their differences; think creatively about which moves from their long list of Maneuvers will help them solve their pile of problems; and tap strange people, unexpected creatures, and even a few frenemies to unfreeze Logan County.

Many thanks to local author, SCBWI-IL member, and guest reviewer, Malayna Evans. Malayna has used her Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago to write a three book series featuring two South Side Chicago siblings stuck in ancient Egypt. Her debut novel, JAGGER JONES & THE MUMMY’S ANKH, will be released in spring of 2019. She lives in Oak Park with her two kids, a rescue dog, and a hamster. You can learn more about Malayna and her work here, http://malaynaevans.com , or follow her on Twitter, https://twitter.com/Malayna , or Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/malaynaevans/.

 

Sharks Find Their Way Home: A Review of The Line Tender

the line tenderThe Line Tender
By Kate Allen, Illustrated by Xingye Jin
Penguin
April 2019
Grades: 5 and up

 Lucy and Fred are lifelong friends, and as they work on their animal field guide over the summer, it looks like they may become something more. When local fisherman and family friend Sookie catches a great white shark, Fred and Lucy set out to learn more about great white sharks by reading an old research proposal written by Lucy’s mother—an accomplished shark biologist before her untimely death when Lucy was 7 years old. Tragedy strikes when, after sharing her first kiss with Fred, he drowns in a quarry accident. Lucy is then left trying to find meaning in her friendship to Fred and wondering what could have been, while still struggling with the grief of her mother’s passing. By dedicating herself to her mother’s shark research and Fred’s field guide, and with the help of her Father, Sookie, and neighbor Mr. Patterson, Lucy is eventually able to come to terms with the deaths of her mother and Fred.
The Line Tender by Kate Allen is an emotional coming-of-age story that follows Lucy Everhart as she grapples with the loss of her mother and her best friend Fred. Allen thoughtfully ties Lucy’s attempts to find meaning in her friendship with Fred to her attempts to better understand the sharks her mother and Fred loved so much. The Line Tender is beautifully written and is both heartfelt and heartbreaking in the ways that it deals with community, friendship, and tragedy. Xingye Jin’s shark illustrations for each chapter title are stunning, adding yet another layer to the book as it shows Lucy slowly learning how to draw sharks as she learns more about them.

Chicken Killer: A Review of Bone Hollow

91gp8+kYlxLBone Hollow
Kim Ventrella
Scholastic, January 2019
Grades: 5-8

Did you ever think you’d die trying to save a chicken? Yeah, well, neither did sixth-grader Gabe, in Kim Ventrella’s forthcoming Bone Hollow. Except Gabe is only half dead–and he discovers this when he shows up at the town candlelight service for him. Gabe is on the run from the town, when he meets Wynne, the embodiment of Death. Wynne helps people pass into the light, and she wants Gabe to take over this job. Over the course of the novel, she and Gabe become friends, and, under Wynne’s mentorship, Gabe eventually accepts the responsibility of helping people cross over. Gabe is a lonely and humorous kid, and his voice is authentic, for a sixth grader which makes his processing of dying and death compelling to the reader. The narrator describes Gabe’s new perspective on Death: “Sad, sure, but also happy and kind and vast, like the ocean he and Gramps used to imagine. A deep, endless ocean, with rushing waves and a surface that reflected back each and every star” (222). Ultimately, this book might help adolescent readers recognize that death is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be painful. Like Gabe, the readers might understand that Death is more of a transition than an ending.   

 

Maybe Today or Maybe Tomorrow: A Review of Maybe Tomorrow?

maybe tomorrow

Maybe Tomorrow?
By Charlotte Agell, illustrated by Ana Ramírez

Scholastic
March, 2019
Grades: Pre-K — 2

 

 

 

Elba the hippo spends her days dragging around a heavy, black box. One day Elba meets an alligator named Norris who is upbeat and surrounded by butterflies. The two become friends, and as they grow closer, Elba reveals to Norris that she is mourning the loss of her friend Little Bird. Norris tells Elba that although he did not know Little Bird, that he can help Elba mourn her. Elba and Norris then notice that her box has shrunk and become much lighter and easier for Elba to carry. Elba tells Norris that she will always have her box, to which Norris responds, “Yes, maybe you will… But I will help you carry it sometimes.”

Agell’s text is thoughtful and poignant, gently teaching children not only that it is okay to be sad, but also how to help those who are feeling sad. Agell makes a point of showing that there is no simple solution to sadness and that some people may always carry some sadness with them. The text encourages the reader, via Norris, to be empathetic and patient with those who are feeling sad. Agell shows that grieving is part of the healing process and cannot be rushed. Ramírez’s beautiful digitized watercolor drawings perfectly complement Agell’s text. The soft pastel colors convey a hopeful mood and bring gentle, understanding energy to accompany the text.

Benefits of a Bossy Butler: A Review of Pay Attention, Carter Jones

carter jones

Pay Attention, Carter Jones
Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, February 2019

The Butler in Gary Schmidt’s Pay Attention, Carter Jones shows up at the perfect time. Carter’s father is deployed in Germany when Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick arrives on the Jones’s family’s front porch, his service an inheritance of sorts from their recently passed grandfather. Carter’s mother, struggling to care for four and mourning the loss of a fifth, is all too happy to accept free help, but Carter doesn’t appreciate Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick’s insistence on speaking “the Queen’s English” or his tips on gentlemanly behavior. The two bond, however, when the butler teaches Carter to drive a car that will one day be his own and introduces him to the intricacies of Cricket. When Carter finds out his father is not returning from Germany, he starts to suspects the butler knows more about his family than it seems, and that the butler’s unsolicited guidance may help him sort the fragments of his family currently spinning out of control. The Butler is appropriately irritating and loveable all at once, striking a perfect balance of affection and frustration as his central relationship with Carter blooms. Carter is both stubborn and sympathetic as a middle schooler confronting the loss of a sibling and his father’s abandonment in a touching and realistic way. A hilarious and heartfelt book that will have readers laughing between tears and “remembering who they are.”

Many thanks to local author, SCBWI-IL member, and guest reviewer, Mike Grosso. Mike is an author, musician, and middle school math teacher who always keeps a guitar in his classroom. Mike writes books and records music at his home in Oak Park, Illinois, where he lives with his son and a drum set he plays much too loud. I AM DRUMS is his first novel, and his rock album, SILENT EXPLOSION, was funded via Kickstarter in early 2018. You can find him at mikegrossoauthor.com.

 

 

 

 

The Wild City: A Review of Animal City

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Animal City
Joan Negrescolor
Chronicle Books,
November 2018

Animal City depicts a place overrun by unrestrained animals and plants, which Nina explores. Each day she returns to tell the animals their favorite stories. Some animals love to hear tales about myths and monsters or traveling to outer space while others prefer poems about sailors. The story shows Nina traveling through the forgotten city, emphasizing themes of curiosity and exploration of nature. Negrescolor’s text is simple, yet conveys a powerful message that stories have the ability to enthrall and capture the attention of anyone or anything. The digitally-created illustrations use vibrant and bold shades of red, blue, yellow, black, and green to create their jungle. By using digital art in this medium, Negrescolor depicts a chaotic wilderness, reflecting the mood of the story. The book simulates our curiosity because it is not clear what happened to humanity. The narrative allows for imagination to fill in the missing pieces here. Since there is not a lot of writing, this gives an opportunity for the pictures to tell the story and fully represent this ruined city.

Duty, Loyalty, Love: A Review of Empress of All Seasons

 

Empress of All Seasons

Empress of All Seasons
Emiko Jean
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 2018

As per tradition, when the land of Honoku needs a new empress, a competition is held. All eligible women are invited, and the one who survives each of the four enchanted seasonal rooms is deemed worthy of the title of Empress of Honoku and position next to Taro, the prince next in line to be emperor. Mari has trained for this competition since childhood, though as yōkai she is technically ineligible to compete. Yōkai, supernatural beings, are under threat and enslaved by the current emperor. But Mari cares little about the rules or the prince – she competes for the power of being empress, and to bring change to Honoku from within. Taro himself doesn’t enjoy being a prize to be won, and cares little about his power – he would rather spend time in his lab with his mechanical inventions. Akira, another yōkai and friend of Mari, works to overthrow the Emperor from the outside while Mari keeps her true identity hidden to join the competition. Taro may just become their greatest ally, if they can learn to trust each other when their identities and motivations are revealed.

A detailed world and political structure along with multiple perspectives gives this fantasy novel depth and puts the reader at the immediacy of the action. Inspired by her Japanese heritage, Jean has created an escape for readers that questions the sacrifices made for duty and love, and challenges the notion of tradition as a value to be upheld.