A Sweet Story to Tackle a Tough Topic: A Review of The Remember Balloons

The Remember BalloonsThe Remember Balloons
Jessie Oliveros
Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
Simon and Schuster, August 2018
Ages 5-9

James has a handful of colorful balloons, reminders of his most important days. His parents and grandfather have even more balloons. His dog has one! Each bright balloon holds a special memory—birthdays, weddings, fishing trips—a lifetime of extraordinary moments. As Grandpa’s balloons begin to float away, Mom and Dad help James understand memory loss and how he can help keep Grandpa’s stories alive.

A gentle metaphor for aging, memory loss, and dementia to help young readers process what’s happening to a loved one. Oliveros doesn’t shy away from the anxiety, confusion, and anger in James’ reactions; validating those feelings in young and old alike. The black and white pencil drawings of this close-knit, mixed-race family provide an understated counterpoint to the vibrant balloons and the memories within. The subtly in both text and art work well together in handling such an emotional topic and put the focus on the joy of remembering shared experiences.

New Children’s Fiction Alert!: Tight by Torrey Maldonado

Tight by Torrey Maldonado

Tight
Torrey Maldonado
Nancy Paulsen Books, September 2018
Ages 8-12/Grades 3-7

If Bryan could be any superhero, he’d be Batman. Or Black Panther. They’re smart, they think 10 steps ahead, and they’re tough. Bryan’s dad and his older sister, Ava, both say he should be tough: “don’t be soft” they tell him, but his mom keeps him cool and level-headed. She also introduces him to Mike, who is in 7th grade – one year older than him in school – and Bryan thinks he’s pretty tight. Mike loves comics and drawing superheroes just like Bryan, and he doesn’t let school get in the way of having fun.

Slowly, Mike starts asking Bryan to take more and more risks: climbing up to the rooftop of a neighborhood building, ducking the subway turnstiles to take the train for free, skipping school to get the newest Luke Cage comic. Bryan doesn’t feel so good about lying to his parents, especially his mom, but he loves the feeling of freedom that comes with hanging out with Mike.

Bryan’s internal struggle to make the right choices is grounded in Tight’s contemporary Brooklyn setting and in his genuine interactions with strong secondary characters. He genuinely wants to do the right thing, while also wanting to give his friend a chance to choose better as well. Maldonado’s dialogues present a variety of perspectives on peer pressure and the difficulties of navigating friendships as a young person, making it easy to empathize with Bryan.

Back to School with Historical Fiction: A Review of Finding Langston

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Finding Langston
Lesa Cline-Ransome
Holiday House, August 2018

Langston doesn’t like much about his new life in Chicago – not the small apartment he shares with his father, or the noisy streets and sidewalks, and definitely not his new school, where classmates call him “country boy” and make fun of how he speaks. Langston misses Alabama, where his mother died and where his Grandma still lives, though his father sends her part of his paycheck each week in the hopes of helping her move up north with them. It’s only when Langston discovers George Cleveland Hall Library, open to all Chicago residents, that he starts to feel at home.

In the safety of the library, Langston also discovers his namesake, a poet who seems to have inspired a few of the love letters written by young Langston’s mother to his father. Reading the poetry of Hughes helps Langston work through his grief at losing his mother, but it’s a new friend who recognizes that reading poetry “is a way of putting all the things you feel inside on the outside” (p 99).

Cline-Ransome mixes poetry and history in this slim fiction novel for elementary and middle school children. The post World War II era of the Great Migration is explored through the story of one family, and Langston (the character) also learns a great deal about Langston Hughes and other African American poets and writers of the time. Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood and Chicago Public Library’s Hall Branch are both highlighted and given extra detail in an Author’s Note at the end of the book. Told with heart and thoughtfulness, Finding Langston belongs in personal libraries and on classroom shelves alike.

Picture Book Review: Geraldine

 

Geraldine by Elizabeth Lilly

Geraldine
Elizabeth Lilly
Roaring Brook Press, June 2018

Sometimes being yourself is difficult, especially when there doesn’t seem to be anyone who looks like you. Geraldine the giraffe can relate to this feeling: her family is moving and it is the Worst Thing Ever. She has no friends at her new school, and worse, she is the only giraffe there. Now everyone knows her as That Giraffe Girl. Then Cassie comes along – Cassie is that girl who wears glasses – and she and Geraldine become friends who fit in by standing out. Whimsical pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations add humor to this charming story about boldly being who you are.

2018 Graphic Novels and Nonfiction

Consider this your periodic reminder that graphic novels, graphic memoirs, and other graphic nonfiction are 100% real books! We think that if you enjoy them, you should keep on reading them, and if you are a caring adult (teacher, parent, librarian), you should encourage the kids in your life to read them as well. Visual literacy is an important and valuable skill to have, and reading graphics helps foster it. Plus they’re just plain fun to read.

 

The City on the Other Side

City on the Other Side
Mairghread Scott & Robin Robinson
First Second, April 2018

Isabel learns the strength of her convictions in this human world/fairy world adventure set in early 1900s San Francisco. This was a beautiful and beautifully told tale of friendship, loyalty, and doing what’s right, even if it scares you. Full page maps and detailed and vibrant illustrations elevate the story. Ages 8 and up.

 

Be Prepared

Be Prepared
Vera Brosgol
First Second, April 2018

What happens if you beg to go to summer camp, and then you hate it (and it hates you)? Brosgol creatively remembers a summer of her youth with all its ups and downs in this funny and bittersweet graphic novel for middle grades and up.

 

Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter

Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter
Marcus Sedgwick & Thomas Taylor
First Second, April 2018

Part Sherlock Holmes-ian detective, part Lara Croft action-adventure hero, and all quippy one-liners, Scarlett Hart doesn’t shy away from danger as she follows in her late parents’ footsteps. With the help of Napoleon and Mrs. White, she tracks down and hunts various monsters – from gargoyles springing to life to zombies terrorizing the theatre – hoping to catch them before the conniving Count Stankovic catches her. Ages 10 and up.

 

All Summer Long

All Summer Long
Hope Larson
Farrar Straus Giroux, May 2018

When Bina’s best friend, Austin, goes to soccer camp for the summer, she’s left to befriend Austin’s older sister and fears growing apart from Austin. A love of listening to and creating music keeps Bina occupied, but when Austin returns, things don’t go back to normal. This middle grade story of the growing pains of friendship hits all the emotional notes without getting melodramatic, and a bright color palette and bold artwork keep it fresh and fun.

 

Animus

Animus
Antoine Revoy
First Second, May 2018

A haunted playground in Kyoto, Japan seems to hold the key to the mystery of missing schoolchildren. Sayuri and Hisao, themselves children, follow the clues they discover to find their classmates, and to hopefully return “Toothless,” the boy haunting the playground, back to where he belongs. Echoing the atmosphere of the story, Revoy’s illustrations are haunting and fantastical.

 

Making Friends

Making Friends
Kristen Gudsnuk
Graphix, July 2018

Dany is a seventh grader now, and all of her friends ended up in a different cluster – together, without her. In need of a few friends, and armed with a magic sketchbook, she literally makes new friends without worrying about the consequences. With anime and other tongue-in-cheek pop culture references on every page, Making Friends charms and delights. Ages 10 and up.

 

Hey, Kiddo

Hey, Kiddo
Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Graphix, October 2018

With stark honesty and a muted palette, Krosoczka tells the story of his upbringing through his high school years. Raised by his grandparents and never quite sure of his place in his family, or how to mix his school life with his home life, Krosoczka leans into his artistic interests and finds his place in the world. This graphic memoir for young adults echoes themes from Krosoczka’s TED Talk in 2012.

Summer STEM Reads

In honor of National Summer Learning Day here’s a roundup of some new STEM based fiction and picture books guaranteed to spark interest in a deeper dive into their subjects.

stemcrash

Crash! Boom!

Crash Boom: A Math Tale – Robie H Harris, illustrated by Chris Chatterton (Candlewick, 2018)

Elephant wants to stack his blocks as tall as, well, an elephant. He’ll count, stack, evaluate, and build his way to success. With introductory concepts in math, problem-solving, construction, and good old-fashioned perseverance this a great tale for future engineers.

 

stemjamie

The Jamie Drake Equation

The Jamie Drake Equation – Christopher Edge
(Delacorte Press, June 2018)
Jamie Drake knows that each of his family members are like stars, keeping each other in orbit. He’s worked out the equation, and especially with his dad 400 kilometers away on the International Space Station, Jamie needs to make sure everyone and everything is in the right place to keep the Drake family intact. Christopher Edge brings math and science to life in this middle grade novel, giving them heart without sacrificing the integrity of the very real formulas and equations that make space travel possible. A bonus “The Science of The Jamie Drake Equation” chapter goes into more detail about the real-life science in the story, making this an easy tie-in to a solar system or space travel unit.

stempotions

Potions & Parameters

Secret Coders: Potions & Parameters – Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes
(First Second, March 2018)
Hopper, Eni, and Josh are back in the 5th installment of the Secret Coders series, which picks up where Robots & Repeats left off: continuing their battle against the evil Dr. One-Zero as he  tries to control their town with his “Green Pop” potion. Luckily, they have Professor Bee and their coding skills to help them. Gene Luen Yang (National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature) and Mike Holmes continue to entertain with their fun characters and comic-style illustrations. Readers interested in basic coding and logic puzzles will want to start this series at the beginning, since both the plot and the concepts build off previous books!

stemnebula

The Nebula Secret

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret – Trudi Trueit (National Geographic, 2018)

Cruz Coronado and his classmates will travel the world using science, exploration and conservation practices while training to be the next generation of National Geographic Explorers. All the while trying to evade a secret society that may be the cause of his mother’s mysterious death. The series (launching in September) will be supported by a digital extension (available now on the National Geographic Kids site) with games, videos, and “truth behind” content revealing the science behind the story.

stemmortification

The Mortification of Fovea Munson

The Mortification of Fovea Munson – Mary Winn Heider (Disney-Hyperion, 2018)

Fovea Munson is NOT interested in dead bodies! But spending the summer working in her parents’ cadaver lab is not helping convince her classmates she is NOT gross. While this sweet and funny story isn’t based in fact (have you ever met a partially-frozen, singing head?), there is just enough medical science to get the curious doing their own research into dissection and maybe even medical school.

Small & Mighty: A Review of Front Desk by Kelly Yang

front deskFront Desk by Kelly Yang
Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books
May, 2018

Mia and her parents, recent immigrants from China, are managing a California motel in the early 1990s. It’s a family affair, as ten-year-old Mia finds herself responsible for checking in motel guests while her parents tend to the rooms and motel maintenance – though it sometimes feels like it’s Mia against the world. After a rough start including washing machine mishaps, bad grades, and arguments with her mother (who wants Mia to stick to math, something she considers Mia to be a “native” in), Mia hits her stride when she realizes the power of using her ever-improving English to help others, especially the motel guests she considers family.

Adventurous subplots and dynamic secondary characters add to the appeal of this compelling middle grade novel. Mia believes in herself and wants what is best for her friends and family, and though her quick thinking sometimes gets her in trouble, at the end of the day she is a force for good in her community. This book is fun, yet thoughtful, and shows that there’s no age requirement for taking action against injustice.