Add a pinch of belly button lint: A Review of Boo Stew

Boo Stew
Donna L. Washington
Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
Peachtree
Available September 1, 2021
Ages 3-7

Curly Locks, the most disgustingly imaginative cook in Toadsuck Swamp, just hasn’t found the right audience for her culinary creations. When a group of spooky Scares (one larger than the last) make their way out of the swamp and into the mayor’s kitchen, the townsfolk are scared silly. Only Curly Locks knows what to do—cook for them! She whips up the best batch of Boo Stew east of the Mississippi and lures the Scares right back to the swamp with promises of feasts to come and satisfaction at finally finding those that appreciate her cooking.

In this twist on the Goldilocks tale, Washington’s background as a traditional storyteller shines through in the structure, repetition, and the Southern vernacular that bring the inhabitants of Toadsuck Swamp to vivid life. Her heroine breaks the mold of the most Goldilocks’, with a bolder personality, grand self-confidence, and belief in her ability to make a difference. The text is based on an oral telling from her 2006 recording Angels’ Laughter. Jeffrey Ebbeler has created a diverse cast of hilariously terrified townsfolk that help to highlight Curly Locks’ gumption and bravery, further setting her apart from the often insipid traditional Goldilocks. His sepia toned illustrations and shadowy, bear-like Scares lend a suitably spooky setting and some Southern gothic flare to this fine addition to both folktale and Halloween collections. 

Destination India: A Review of Word Travelers: The Mystery of the Taj Mahal Treasure

Word Travelers: The Mystery of the Taj Mahal Treasure
Raj Haldar
Illustrated by Neha Rawat
Sourcebook Kids
October 5, 2021
Ages 7-12

When best friends Eddie and MJ’s Super Saturday Sleepover goes from blanket forts and movies to magic books and teleportation, they are totally up for the adventure. At mom’s suggestion, they open Eddie’s etymologist grandfather’s Awesome Enchanted Book (AEB). Whisked away to India by the AEB, they help Dev, grandson of the maharaja of Jaipur, find a hidden treasure and rebuild the local school. Using creativity, curiosity, and the AEB, they race a comically sinister mustache-twisting villain to solve the maharaja’s clues and find the treasure before the school is replaced with a department store.

This fast-paced and adventure-packed early chapter book (first in a series) is equal parts Magic Treehouse and National Treasure. Raj Haldar (No Reading Allowed: The Worst Read Aloud Book Ever) brings his signature wordplay with a twist—exploring the derivation of some common (and not so common) words. The Mystery of the Taj Mahal Treasure focuses on Indian origins (Hindi, Sanskrit, Tamil, and Marathi), while future installments will explore other places and languages. Some holes in the plot and inconsistencies between the text and art are minor enough not to detract from the fun. Neha Rawat’s delightful and architecturally detailed illustrations, coupled with a map and full glossary of highlighted words, make for a well-rounded adventure, sure to appeal to word nerds and world travelers alike.

Review based on Advanced Reader’s Copy.

Pass or Play?: A Review of The Passing Playbook

The Passing Playbook
Isaac Fitzsimons
Dial Books, Penguin Random House
June 1, 2021
Ages 12 and up

After transitioning at his old school leads to threats, Spencer Harris gets a second chance at a progressive, private (read: expensive) school. Thinking things will be easier if he can just pass; he plans to keep his head down and make his family’s sacrifice worth it. But when his teenage temper flares, an errant kickball to the head of the soccer team captain gets the attention of the head soccer coach. Spencer gets recruited for the team and develops a relationship with rival, turned boyfriend, Justice Cortes. All his under-the-radar plans may be for naught, when paperwork reveals the F (for female) on Spencer’s birth certificate. Sharing his identity risks his status on the team, his budding romance, and possibly his safety. But maybe being true to himself, and standing up for other trans kids in the process, is worth the risk.

This #OWNVOICES title by debut author (and soccer fan) Isaac Fitzsimons is a fun and complex illustration of a biracial, queer, trans boy who is also a soccer star, fantastic big brother, and irrational teenager (not always in that order). And an exploration of how he balances those identities with the consequences of not being himself. Spencer knows he’s “had it pretty easy, all things considered” with supportive family and friends who try, despite not always getting it right (265*). His support system stands in grave contrast to Justice’s ultra-religious and homophobic family. Secondary characters like sweet, but closeted Justice; snarky, but supportive best friend Arden; and tough, but tender Coach Schilling add balance and complexity to the cast and layers to the plot. But Fitzsimons truly let’s Spencer shine—as a soccer star, queer advocate, and thriving teenager.

*Quote from ARC.

Adventure Awaits: A review of Sydney & Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World

Sydney & Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World
Jacqueline Davies
Illustrated by Deborah Hocking
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Kids
Available February 2, 2021
Ages 6-9

Sydney the skunk and Taylor the hedgehog are roommates in a cozy burrow under an enchanting backyard garden. When Taylor yearns for excitement and adventure, Sydney grudgingly agrees to explore the Whole Wide World, despite the fact that “exciting is… exhausting.”  And exciting it is as they make their first foray out of the yard and into the unknown to explore, hunt for food, and battle foes both wild and motorized. Anxiety often overwhelms Taylor, but Sydney’s gentle encouragement and stalwart friendship see the pair through their frightening encounters and safely home to the burrow and their comfy armchairs. In this first installment of the early chapter book series, Jacqueline Davies (Lemonade Wars series) brings these lovable characters to life with sweet humor and honest emotions. Their explorations gently illustrate that fear and bravery go hand-in-hand, with both characters exhibiting courage and trepidation in turn. Deborah Hocking’s gouache illustrations add delightful detail, perfectly enhancing the text and portraying the excitement and anxiety adventure can hold. A delightful escapade that proves true friendship is worth its weight in tuna fish sandwiches!

The Power of Invulnerability: A Review of Quincredible

Quincredible Vol. 1: Quest to be the Best
Written by Rodney Barnes, illustrated by Selina Espiritu, colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick
Published by Oni Press
Available on February 23, 2021
Ages 13+

Quinton West may have invulnerability as a superpower, but he sure doesn’t feel invulnerable—not when he’s getting picked on by Caine and his buddies, or when he finds out his crush Brittany has a new boyfriend. But like it or not, Quin has a superpower, or “enhancement,” that he has worked hard to keep hidden from everyone, especially his parents, no matter how understanding and supportive they are. Ever since his hometown of New Orleans was struck by a meteor shower, he and other everyday folks have been blessed-or cursed-with superpowers. In the aftermath of the natural disaster, many new superheroes leaned into their new powers by fighting crime. After a chance encounter with superhero Glow, Quin learns to embrace his invulnerability superpower and becomes Quincredible. With Glow as a mentor, Quin uses his powers and joins his fellow superheroes in restoring justice to the community. However, not all community members support their efforts; Quin and his “enhanced” friends are the target of a sinister plot. As a marked young man, Quin will need to confide in his friends and family; he cannot fight injustice alone. Rodney Barnes’ new graphic novel is a powerful, heartwarming, and exciting read. Barnes’ savvy investigation into the tension between superheroes and the New Orleans Police Department correlates to current events, and invites readers to consider the real aim of justice. Quin’s strong relationship with his mother and father allow for conversations about goodness and perspective; these conversations surface again as Quin and Brittany discuss new ideals offered by a local organizer. Quin’s father asks his son to consider what good is. Barnes and illustrator Selina Espiritu do not shy away from tackling the institutional racism within the justice system. Espiritu’s images run the gamut of emotions: powerful and jarring panels of police brutality following a community rally to Quin’s amusing attempts to learn Parkour. During action scenes, the panels often shift to become more dynamic and reflect the energy of the encounter. Backstory concerning villain Alexandre Zelime’s rise to power is depicted in panels superimposed on Zelime himself, making for an eerie origin story. Colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick infuses images with vibrancy; the illustrations featuring Glow’s superpower are iridescent and spectacular. This #OwnVoices graphic novel mirrors reality and “enhances” it, making for a wonderful addition to any teen library. 

Faults and Aftershocks: A Review of Odessa

odessa-9781620107898_lg.jpgOdessa
Written and illustrated by Jonathan Hill
Published by Oni Press
Available November 10, 2020
Ages 13+

Eight years ago, Vietnamese-American Ginny Crane’s earth shattered—and not just because an earthquake ripped the West Coast apart, tearing apart the land and communities. No, Ginny’s world was shaken when her mother left her family, taking off without a word. In the years that followed, Ginny and her dad took care of her two kid brothers, acclimating to a new way of life. Now, on her eighteenth birthday, Ginny receives a package from her mother, Odessa. Ginny knows this is her chance to find her mother. Ginny takes off in the middle of the night, leaving her family behind. Her brothers, Harry and Wes, however, tag along on her journey; they miss their mother, too. As the trio bushwhack their way through a post-apocalyptic America, they struggle with who they can and cannot trust. They encounter rival gangs—all bent on keeping their territory intact—and join forces with an enigmatic man called Four Dollars. Jonathan Hill’s images in Odessa are salmon-saturated and filled with exquisite detail. The landscape is decimated, and the population is weary. Hill’s drawings capture the fatigue and manic energy that is integral to their survival. The Crane family is full of love and secrets: the mysterious Four Dollars is actually the siblings’ long-lost Uncle Hank. Uncle Hank, in turn, is deeply connected to the warring factions that plague the Crane’s journey. As family mysteries are unearthed, the Cranes encounter violence and death. Hill ends the story with a new beginning: the remaining Cranes must set forth into Middle America to find the truth. This new #OwnVoices graphic novel from Oni Press is a taut and exciting exploration of perseverance, truth, and unbreakable bonds.

Poetry is My Superpower: A Review of Isaiah Dunn is My Hero

41TdgcCewtL._SY346_Isaiah Dunn is My Hero
Written by Kelly J. Baptist
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers
Available August 18, 2020
Ages 8-10

Ten-year-old Isaiah Dunn loves to write poetry. He doesn’t anymore, though, not since his father passed away. Everything is different now that his father is gone. His mother, Lisa, stopped going to work and barely talks, and his little sister Charlie keeps calling their motel room “home.” The only thing Isaiah wants to do is spend time with his best pal, Sneaky, or read his dad’s journals. They are filled with stories about Isaiah Dunn, Superhero, who gets his special powers from eating rice and beans. He feels connected to his father when reading the stories and wishes he could be a superhero himself. Things are getting more complicated, though. Isaiah keeps getting in trouble at school for reacting to his classmate Angel’s name-calling. When he and Angel get paired up for a class project, it could not get any worse. Things start to improve when a school counselor mediates between Angel and Isaiah; Angel reveals that Isaiah hurt her feelings when he made fun of her hair. Angel and Isaiah discover they have a lot in common and create a poetry business together. After losing her job, Isaiah’s mom enters a rehabilitation program; while she is away Isaiah and his sister stay at a family friend’s home.  Isaiah spends more time at the library. He comes up with an idea to have a writing room in an old storage space, and the library approves the idea. Isaiah’s mother returns home and the family celebrates the Fourth of July all together. Kelly J. Baptist’s novel explores Isaiah as a budding young poet while struggling with the loss of a parent and home insecurity. Baptist breaks up the story by days, as if writing in a journal, and populates the middle-grade novel with poetry and snippets of short stories. Baptist depicts Isaiah’s and his family’s grief as the complex entity it is. Lisa’s grief-induced alcoholism and depression are layered and multi-dimensional. Sneaky and Angel are complicated individual characters who go beyond their supporting role. While this is a book about grief, this is a hopeful novel—and a great addition to a middle-grade collection.

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf, we’re eager to read a picture book on the Queen of Soul herself–Aretha Franklin! Author Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrator Laura Freeman take readers on a journey back to Aretha Franklin’s childhood and her rise to legendary status in A Voice Named Aretha. For more great reads, check out the list Below!

Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows
Written by John August
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Available now!

Machines in Motion: The Amazing History of Transportation
Written by Tom Jackson
Published by Bloomsbury
Available now!

Hop Little Bunnies
Written by Martha Mumford and illustrated by Laura Hughes
Published by Bloomsbury
Available now!

A Voice Named Aretha
Written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Laura Freeman
Published by Bloomsbury
Available now!

A Beginner’s Projects in Coding
Written by Marc Scott and illustrated by Mick Marston
Published by Bloomsbury
Available now!

A Way with Wild Things
Written by Larissa Theule and illustrated by Sara Palacios
Published by Bloomsbury
Available now!

 

Butler Bookshelf

Tensions are high on the Zero Local train, as riders deal with delays and frustrations. But a new passenger joins the daily commute, and passengers begin to practice gratitude. Ethan and Vita Murrow’s Zero Local: Next Stop Kindness picture book is next on our to read list. For more reads, check out the list below!

Portrait of an Artist: Georgia O Keefe
Written by Lucy Brownridge and illustrated by Alice Wietzel
Published by Wide Eyed Editions
Available now!

The Not BAD Animals
Written and illustrated by Sophie Corrigan
Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Available now!

Who Do You Think You Are?
Written by Alice Harman and illustrated by Blok Magnaye
Published by Wide Eyed Editions
Available now!

Alphonse, There’s Mud on the Ceiling!
Written and illustrated by Daisy Hirst
Published by Walker Books
Available now!

Zero Local: Next Stop: Kindness
Written and illustrated by Ethan and Vita Morrow
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Evonne Goolagong: Little People Big Dreams
Written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Lisa Koesterke
Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Available now!

A Sea of Memories: A Review of When Life Gives You Mangos

cover190381-medium.pngWhen Life Gives You Mangos
Written by Kereen Getten
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Ages 10-14
Available September 15, 2020

Clara lives in a small village on a tourist-destination Caribbean island, but to Clara, it’s not a destination—it’s just home. This summer, she is twelve, and she’s struggling. Her former best friend Gaynah does not want to play in their secret dugout anymore; she is more interested in Calvin and being grown up. Also, Gaynah teases her about last summer. Even though Clara tries, she cannot remember what happened. All she knows is that her parents will not let her surf anymore, and she can never go into the water alone. Sometimes she has nightmares that she does not understand. Her parents explain the imagery, but they tell her not to worry. Clara finds that she angers and frustrates easily, but she does not understand why. Now, a mysterious new girl named Rudy is living on the island and wants to be friends with Clara. But Rudy does not know the rules of the island, and what spots are off-limits. Clara does not want to lose another friend, so she follows along, even though she could get in trouble. Kereen Getten’s When Life Gives You Mangos begins slowly, unfolding the story of Clara’s memory loss. The calm pace and beautiful landscape exacerbate the scary and obscure reason behind the amnesia. The book takes time to reveal what happened, and the grief behind the loss is significant. Newcomer Rudy serves as a stand-in for the reader at times, as she is learning how the village of Sycamore operates. Religion is an important factor in how Clara’s memory loss is dealt with by the community; ultimately Getten reveals that pastors and bishops, no matter how well-intentioned they are, are ultimately human and can make mistakes. The reveal behind Clara’s amnesia involves grief, but also reconciliation as her family makes room for members that have been long shunned in the village. This read emphasizes the power of love and community.