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.   

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Where Do You Fit In? A Review of Click

Click

Click by Kayla Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2019
Ages 10-13

In Kayla Miller’s Click, the variety show is coming up at school and outgoing Olive has not been asked to join a group. This leaves her feeling outcast and alone when she is unable to find her own “click.” Olive refuses her mom’s help to find a group, instead turning to her Aunt Molly. She decides the best choice is to become a host, the talent show announcer. In her words, “It would be a way that I could help all of my friends with their acts by introducing them” (p.132). This story was heartfelt and cute with bright colored pastel artwork which suggest that the tone is cheerful. The digital medium conveys the lively tone through expressive faces and flat simplistic backgrounds with bold highlight lines. The novel does a wonderful job touching on family relationships, specifically mother and daughter. At first, Olive’s mom oversteps her boundaries in trying to help her. By the end of the novel, a balance is achieved between allowing Olive to be independent and encouraging her to follow through. Olive also learns that, in friendships, growing apart and having different interests is okay. Her friends even encourage her in her choice to become a host. The novel has a solid plot portraying realistic issues for friendship and family. Miller shows these serious middle school themes in a lighthearted way that doesn’t take away from the tension.

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.