Summer of Sisterhood: A Review of the Summer of Impossibilities

The Summer Of Impossibilities cover art
The Summer of Impossibilities
Rachael Allen
Abrams/Amulet
May 12, 2020
Ages 14-18

Spending the summer at a lake house may sound idyllic, but its anything but for four girls forced into it by their mothers—best friends since college. Each girl is hiding something—Skyler (her worsening arthritis pain), Scarlett (cutting and rage at her parents’ broken marriage), Ellie (confusion about her multicultural identity, body image issues, and bullying), and Amelia Grace (her sexual identity)—and more in need of the others than she realizes. Forging an uneasy alliance, the girls make a pact to each do something impossible with their summer: Skyler (return to playing softball), Scarlett (build a healthy relationship with her (totally unworthy) boyfriend), Ellie (turn the other girls into her BFFs) and Amelia Grace (be accepted and reinstated as a youth minister at her church). Gradually, and sometimes grudgingly, they build a friendship that turns them into family.

Told in chapters that alternate in perspective between the girls, Rachael Allen makes the leaps skillfully, using their differing points of view to explore events from multiple angles and create strong and distinctive personalities. Allen balances the story between the vibrant, volatile, emotional, and evolving characters that fight with and for each other and their families. She tackles tough topics in an honest, but not overly dramatic fashion. And while the setting of the lake, parties, and a summer-long slumber party could be over-the-top fluff, the idyll is a strong counterpoint to the girls’ turmoil, reflection, and growth. A valuable addition to the coming-of-age-story canon, with struggles that will resonate with a wide audience.

Beyond the Ice and Snow: A Review of The Barren Grounds

51ptXY7Wl5L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The Barren Grounds
Written by David A. Robertson
Published by Penguin Random House Canada
Available September 8, 2020
Ages 8-12

Morgan’s latest foster family isn’t so bad, even Eli, the new foster kid is okay. He’s indigenous, like her, but he never raises his voice or gets angry like Morgan. In fact, he hasn’t said much since he arrived at the foster home in Winnipeg, and he stays quiet at their middle school, too. The only thing he does is draw in his giant artist notebook. But at least Eli shows her his drawings—they’re layered and mysterious and incredible. But when one of his drawings opens up a portal in their attic, the children find themselves transported to Misewa. There they meet creatures, like Ochek, a talking fisher, who introduce them to traditional ways to survive. The community of Misewa, Ochek explains, has been locked in a forever winter following an encounter with a duplicitous man. The community is struggling, and soon food supplies will run out. As conditions worsen, the children and Ochek set off to save Misewa from perpetual ice.

Author David A. Robertson connects Morgan, and the reader, with her Cree heritage, blending difficult truths about First Nations history with middle-grade fantasy. Morgan and Eli, like so many other First Nations children, have been separated from their biological parents and placed in the foster care system. Morgan’s struggles and mistrust of her foster parents come with good reason; she’s been neglected and discarded before. Despite this trauma, Morgan is able to connect with Ochek and Eli. And as her trust in them grows, so do her snappy comebacks. Robertson’s depiction of Morgan’s emotional and cultural journey is compelling, with occasional humorous outbursts. Whether it’s her skepticism with new friends or with her white foster mom’s cringeworthy cross-cultural attempts to make her feel at home, Morgan’s reactions are captivating. Readers do not uncover the whole mystery behind Morgan’s and Eli’s backgrounds, but there will be plenty of opportunities to learn more: The Barren Grounds is Book 1 of Robertson’s Misewa Saga.

Eid Mubarak: A review of Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices

Once Upon an Eid cover

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices
Edited by S.K Ali and Aisha Saeed
Amulet/Abrams
May 5, 2020
Grades 3-7

Celebration, joy, family, traditions—Once Upon an Eid is a powerful collection of short stories from a group of the most talented voices in literature for young people. And the stories are as interesting and diverse as the writers they come from, with portraits of plenty and scarcity, heartache and love, prose, verse, and even a compact graphic story.

Editors S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed have succeeded in curating an engaging collection for middle-grade readers (but accessible for older readers as well) that both celebrates the traditions of the two Eid holidays (Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha) and respects how those traditions differ by culture, community, and family. The cast of characters is a well-drawn assortment of young people and families learning, growing, and celebrating their faith in a way that appears as a reminiscence for those that celebrate and a welcoming window into the celebration for those that don’t.

 

Butler Bookshelf

We’re eager to read Nelly Buchet’s picture book Cat Dog Dog: The Story of a Blended Family, with charming illustrations by Andrea Zuill. It’s about what happens when families come together–all the messiness and the joys. For more great reads, check out this week’s Butler Bookshelf below!

The Water Bears
Written by Kim Baker
Published by Wendy Lamb Books
Available now!

Cat Dog Dog: The Story of a Blended Family
Written by Nelly Buchet and illustrated by Andrea Zuill
Published by Schwartz & Wade
Available now!

A Girl in Three Parts
Written by Suzanne Daniel
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Dirt Cheap
Written and illustrated by Mark Hoffman
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Available now!

The Lucky Ones
Written by Liz Lawson
Published by Delacorte Press
Available now!

Bedtime Bonnet
Written by Nancy Redd and illustrated by Nneka Myers
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers
Available now!

The More The Merrier? A Review of Alya and the Three Cats

51YQcMBalhL._SX388_BO1,204,203,200_Alya and the Three Cats
Written by Amina Hachimi Alaoui, illustrated by Maya Fidawi, and translation by Mehdi Retnani
Published by CrackBoom! Books
Available June 16, 2020

Minouche, Pasha, and Amir have the perfect, lovely life. They are three cats who live a pet-filled life with Maryam and Sami. But one day, Maryam’s belly begins to grow, and soon there is a new addition to the family. What will the cats do with the arrival of a new baby?

This darling picture book by Amina Hachimi Alauoi is filled with specificity: in the personalities of cat trio and the particularities of their worries and adjustment to life with a newborn. These specifics are matched by Maya Fidawi’s intricate illustrations, which have soft and appealing cats as well as beautiful textiles and architecture. The author and illustrator depict the fear and unknown that can accompany a new sibling: parental time can be focused elsewhere, there are new sounds and people afoot, and unexpected changes can disrupt routines. This delightful read reassures even the most fretful mind, “to love is to share.”

Butler Bookshelf

It’s the little things, isn’t it? What I Like The Most singles out life’s small pleasures:  apricot jam on toast, the mailman on the street. We’re thrilled with this new picture book, written by Mary Murphy and illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang, which celebrates daily life and all its changes. For more great reads, check out the list below!

Molly’s Moon Mission
Written and illustrated by Duncan Beedie
Published by Templar
Available now!

Not Playing by the Rules: 21 Female Athletes Who Changed Sports
Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Happy: A Children’s Book of Mindfulness
Written by Nicola Edwards and illustrated by Katie Hickey
Published by Caterpillar Books
Available now!

William Shakespeare’s The Tempest
Retold by Georghia Ellinas and illustrated by Jane Ray
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

Alphamaniacs: Builders of 26 Wonders of the World
Written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Published by Candlewick Studio
Available now!

What I Like The Most
Written by Mary Murphy and illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang
Published by Candlewick
Available now!

 

Exploring Boundaries: A Review of Hug?

51Dkz+OwGfL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgHug?
Written and illustrated by Charlene Chua
Published by Kids Can Press
Available September 1, 2020
Ages 3-7

Sometimes a hug makes everything feel better. After a girl’s cat suffers from a gnarly hairball and falls ill, the girl offers a hug, and everything improves! But then one by one, more animals come by for a hug. First, a dog asks politely. Next, a pair of flapping ducks arrive. Third in line is a stinky skunk. And that’s just the beginning! This humorous tale asks, “How many hugs are too many?”

This charming picture book is filled with a delightful menagerie of creatures. Each scene sets the stage for the next potential hug confrontation to come. As the demands increase, so does the girl’s weariness. With each new hug, which demands more of the girl, the reader gets an opportunity to laugh – hug a porcupine?! – and see the girl’s reactive emotions. The images take center stage here, and oversized visual cues about emotions and feelings are both silly and educative. Charlene Chua’s expressive illustrations lay the foundation for conversations around boundaries and empathy. In these socially distanced days where hugs can be few and far between, this book is a timely, lovely addition to a collection.

 

Opposites Attract: A Review of 10 Things I Hate About Pinky

10 things I hate about Pinky

10 Things I Hate About Pinky
By Sandhya Menon
June 30, 2020
Published by Simon & Schuster
Grades 7 and up

Fans of Menon’s previous works (When Dimple Met Rishi, There’s Something About Sweetie, and From Twinkle, With Love) will be excited to read her latest work, 10 Things I Hate About Pinky. Pinky is proud to be a social justice warrior, but her mother doesn’t feel the same way. After another fight where Pinky’s mother unfairly judges her, Pinky makes up a perfect fake boyfriend that her mom would love; but now Pinky must find this perfect boy. Enter Samir. A friend of a friend, Samir is stuck in D.C. after an internship with a coveted law firm falls through. When Pinky reaches out to him to be her fake boyfriend, Samir sees his chance to get an in with Pinky’s respected, lawyer mom. Although they start fake dating for their own reasons, they soon find that there might actually be something between them. Lines between fake and real begin to blur, and they both have to decide if this is what they want.

Told in alternating voices, Menon transitions seamlessly between the two. Menon leaves no loose ends, resolving all major and minor conflicts neatly. Clearly inspired by the movie 10 Things I Hate About You—which in turn was inspired by Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew—Menon makes the choice to keep the romance in the forefront but also explore issues of identity, environmentalism, familial discord, and more. All of this make for a refreshing take on a well-known and beloved story. A funny and charming book that will pluck at the heartstrings of many a rom-com lover.

Don’t Trust Your Cravings: A Review of When We Vanished

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When We Vanished (Call of the Crow Quartet, Book One)
Written by Alanna Peterson
Published by Rootcity Press
Available June 2, 2020

After Andi Lin’s family record store goes bust, her dad enlists in a clinical trial run by food corporation Nutrexo that promises big bucks. But when Andi cannot get in touch with him, she starts to worry—especially when she learns that Nutrexo’s involved in a harmful research study. Andi’s next-door neighbor Cyrus is also wary of Nutrexo; his mom worked for them years ago, and he knows she’s keeping secrets from her family.

Alanna Peterson writes a complex and compelling mystery that indicts the U.S. food industry. Even the most innocent-seeming things take on a scary new meaning in When We Vanished. Take Blazin Bitz, that delectable chip from Nutrexo: no one can resist them! And soon enough Andi, Cyrus, and Cyrus’ siblings know why when the break into SILO, Nutrexo’s  top-secret research facility. What they discover there is not for the squeamish. These instances of violence, medical experimentation, and animal cruelty—while crucial to the plot—may upset readers. But there is also plenty for readers to enjoy: wonderful recipes and food imagery, teenage crushes, and unyielding family bonds. These enjoyable parts don’t play second fiddle to the action—the relationships and personalities that make up the characters’ world drive this thriller into unexpected places. With so many overlapping plots, even one concerning the main villain’s background, you’d think the reader would lose track. Not so—every single story sucks you in. Good thing When We Vanished is the only the first installment of the Call of the Crow Quartet. There is plenty of material here for a series.

 

The Great Pet Escape: A Review of The Barnabus Project

barnabus project butler

The Barnabus Project
By Terry, Eric, and Dan Fan
September 1, 2020
Published by Tundra
Grades K-2

Underneath the Perfect Pet story lies a huge laboratory where people in green rubber suits make the perfect pets. Pets that aren’t perfect, like Barnabus, are known as failed projects. Failed projects are placed in bell jars where they stay until the green rubber suits are ready to recycle them. Worried that being recycled will mean that Barnabus will no longer be himself, he escapes his bell jar and helps the other failed projects escape the lab. Though they may not be perfect, the failed projects have each other, and they learn to be happy with the things that make them unique.

A sci-fi pet adventure that shows that it’s okay to be different. Where similar stories end with characters being accepted by the group that had previously rejected them, The Barnabus Project makes the interesting choice have the characters be accepted. Instead, the book shows that the failed projects never needed to be accepted in the first place. They just needed each other. Gorgeous illustrations help bring the story to life. A touching story about cute and loveable, misfits that reassures readers that no one has to be perfect.