Love and Loss: A Review of Things We Couldn’t Say

Things We Couldn’t Say
Jay Coles
Scholastic Press
September 21, 2021
Ages 12+

For 17-year-old Giovanni “Gio” Zander, life has been an emotional rollercoaster. At age 9, his mother abandoned him and his younger brother. Then, at 16, he knew without a doubt he was bisexual. Now, in his junior year of high school, he is struggling with how to be out and comfortable, while also keeping his feelings of grief about his mom at bay. However, when his mother reaches out, wanting to spend time with him, his whole world collapses. Gio grapples with his newfound feelings of anger at her sudden reappearance. Plus, new kid David, who just moved across the street, is stirring up feelings in Gio that he’s finding hard to walk away from. Gio must find the strength to face his mother and learn why she left him so long ago. Maybe this will help him follow his heart, be free, and live in his truth.

Through characters’ personal experiences, past and present, Coles dives deep into the complexities of love, loss, abandonment, family, race, and LGBTQ relationships. As David (a white teenager) and Gio explore their feelings for each other, and Gio and his family deal with the return of Gio’s mother, we see how these themes intertwine and affect everyday life. The story reads as a cathartic dropping of thoughts, unfiltered and raw. Gio’s narration is not neat or grammatically correct, with slang throughout. This catharsis illustrates how complicated Gio’s feelings are as he struggles through hardship. His constant fear of someone finding out how he feels about David shines a light on the fact that even though we have come a long way, LGBTQ kids still have a hard time accepting themselves and gaining acceptance from others. Black Culture is well-integrated into the story through the personalities of the Black characters and the neighborhood in which Gio lives. Coles shows the vibrant environment of the Black church with descriptions of songs played, and language used by pastor Charles Zander, Gio’s father. He demonstrates the differences between Gio and his white friends and relays how important it is for white people to be allies when people of color are wrongfully accused. Coles’ Things We Couldn’t Say is a timely story packed with conversations that we all need to hear.

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf you will find summer stories! One in particular that we can’t wait to dive into is Best Day Ever! by Marilyn Singer and Leah Nixon. A young puppy is having the best day digging for bones, chasing cats, and stealing frisbees. She is so happy to be out with her boy that she doesn’t realize her playfulness is on the border of breaking the rules. Her boy scolds her for being naughty and suddenly it’s the worst day ever. Will the boy and puppy be able to make amends and end the day joyfully? For more great titles, check out the list below!

My Nana’s Garden
Written by Dawn Casey and Illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Published by Candlewick Press/Templar Books
Available now!

Sophie’s Seashell Scramble
Written by Educational Insights and Illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti
Published by Candlewick Press/Candlewick Entertainment
Available now!

The Infamous Ratsos: Ratty Tattletale
Written by Kara LaReau and Illustrated by Matt Myers
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now!

The Little Blue Bridge
Written by Brenda Maier and Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez
Published by Scholastic Press
Available now!

Nina Soni: Master of the Garden
Written by Kashmira Sheth and Illustrated by Jenn Kocsmiersky
Published by Peachtree
Available now!

Best Day Ever!
Written by Marilyn Singer and Illustrated by Leah Nixon
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion Books
Available now!

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. 

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf you will find Noah’s Seal by Layn Marlow! Come along with Noah and his Nana as they prepare to sail the sea and spot some seals along the way. While Nana repairs the boat, Noah waits on the beach, sculpting his own seal out of sand and pebbles. But when a storm rolls in, Noah is forced to take cover and leave his seal behind. Will Noah’s seal survive? To find out, check the list below for this book and more amazing titles!

Too Small Tola
Written by Atinuke and Illustrated by Onyinye Iwu
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now!

An Occasionally Happy Family
Written by Cliff Burke
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Available now!

Before They Were Artists: Famous Illustrators as Kids
Written and Illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Etch
Available now!

Noah’s Seal
Written and Illustrated by Layn Marlow
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now!

Mindi and the Goose No One Else Could See
Written by Sam McBratney and Illustrated by Linda Ólafsdóttir
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now!

Made in Korea
Written by Sarah Suk
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Available now!

A Tool for Tomorrow’s Activists: A Review of This Book is Feminist

This Book is Feminist: An Intersectional Primer for Next-Gen Changemakers 
Jamia Wilson 
Illustrated by Aurélia Durand 
Quarto/Frances Lincoln Children’s Books 
August 3, 2021 
Ages 10-14 

A continuation of the series Empower the Future, which began with This Book is Anti-Racist and its journal companion, This Book is Feminist aims to describe intersectional feminism in ways that are understandable to young people. Intersectional feminism is explored through a mixture of the author’s personal anecdotes and statistics. The book is divided into chapters by concepts such as identity, justice, and power. Vibrant illustrations feature most prominently on the title page of each chapter along with art of important figures and quotations relevant to the chapter. Beyond these full spreads, nearly every page of the text is accompanied with bright illustrations highlighting diversity. Most of the chapters close with a “Call to Action” section, inviting readers to ponder how the concepts covered can be applied to their own lives. These prompts, along with the closing chapter, “What Does Feminism Mean to YOU?”, are sure to get young readers thinking about power imbalances that exist around them, not only regarding gender but also regarding the multitude of other aspects of identities covered under the umbrella of true intersectional feminism. The back matter of the book includes additional notes, a list of further readings, and a glossary of terms that are bolded throughout the text for greater understanding. This comprehensive text has something for both those who are new to the concept of intersectional feminism and for those who are familiar with the topic as it provides additional resources and lists of organizations working towards positive change, inviting those inclined to do so to research further and become activists themselves. 

Butler Bookshelf

It’s time to celebrate America! The United States is a country made up of immigrants seeking independence and the promise of a better life. Our country is a place where people can dare to dream and fight for their beliefs. What better way to celebrate this legacy than by reading Zara Hossain is Here by Sabina Khan–a story of an immigrant’s struggle to fight for justice and prove that she too is an American. Check out the list below for more titles featuring immigrant stories, stories of independence, and information on the intricacies of our democracy!

Joe Biden: Our 46th President
Written by Beatrice Gormley
Published by Aladdin
Available now!

Zara Hossain is Here
Written by Sabina Khan
Published by Scholastic Press
Available now!

Barakah Beats
Written by Maleeha Siddiqui
Published by Scholastic Press
Available October 19, 2021

Baby Loves Political Science: Congress!
Written by Ruth Spiro and Illustrated by Greg Paprocki
Published by Charlesbridge
Available now!

Baby Loves Political Science: The Presidency!
Written by Ruth Spiro and Illustrated by Greg Paprocki
Published by Charlesbridge
Available now!

Room to Dream
Written by Kelly Yang
Published by Scholastic Press
Available September 21, 2021

Coming of Age in a Time of Civil Unrest: A Review of Why We Fly

Why We Fly
Kimberly Jones & Gilly Segal
Sourcebooks Fire
October 5, 2021
Ages 14+

At the end of the summer of 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia, two of Franklin High’s most talented cheerleaders are preparing to enter their senior year. Chanel “Nelly” Irons and Eleanor “Leni” Greenberg have been inseparable since the age of four. But that all changes when Leni becomes captain of the cheerleading team—an honor Nelly has worked hard for, leading the team while Leni was on the sidelines last year recovering from a severe concussion. When the squad takes a knee during the national anthem at the school’s first football game of the season, chaos and drama ensue. The squad gains national attention, receiving support from some and opposition from others, including the school administration. As Nelly and Leni both deal with the fallout of the protest, they grow further and further apart. Will they be able to mend their friendship, fight for a cause they believe in, and become the leaders they are meant to be?

Jones and Segal bring us an honest coming of age story focused on how our decisions now affect our future. With chapters that alternate between Chanel and Eleanor’s perspectives, and the use of language indicative of Generation Z, Jones and Segal open up the conversation on the work that needs to be done to end racism in an unintimidating way. They illustrate a realistic view of the Black community, describing skin color, the language used by younger generations, the importance of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and the differing opinions amongst the community in regard to kneeling. Themes of courage, friendship, civil unrest, and harsh realities are ever present as Nelly and Leni struggle to face the consequences of their actions. But through self-reflection and the guidance of others, Nelly and Leni come to a better understanding of themselves and the world around them. They realize that growing up sometimes means growing apart from the people closest to you; that standing up for yourself is always right even when adversity comes from those that love you; and that fighting for equality doesn’t always have an obvious path.

Butler Bookshelf

This week, the Butler Bookshelf features All Kinds of Other by James Sie. Follow the coming of age love story of Jules and Jack. Jules has just come out as gay and wants to remain under the radar while he tries to understand his new identity. Jack, a transgender male, is still reeling from the lost of his best friend and is not ready to open himself up. However, when the two boys meet, sparks fly. Now they must choose whether to play it safe, or take a risk and face the world together. For more LGBTQ themed titles, check out the list below!

Sharice’s Big Voice: A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman
Written by Sharice Davids & Nancy K. Mays
Illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley
Published by HarperCollins
Available now!

Choose Your Own Adventure: Eighth Grade Witch
Written by Andrew E.C. Gaska, E.L. Thomas, & C.E. Simpson
Illustrated by Valerio Chiola
Published by Oni Press
Available August 24, 2021

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating
Written by Adiba Jaigirdar
Published by Page Street Kids
Available now!

Both Can Be True
Written by Jules Machias
Published by Quill Tree Books
Available now!

All Kinds of Other
Written by James Sie
Published by Quill Tree Books
Available now!

No Way, They Were Gay?: Hidden Lives and Secret Loves
Written by Lee Wind
Published by Zest Books
Available now!

How Do You Feel?: SEL Picture Books for All Ages

Managing emotions can be hard, whether you’re 4 or 44, but successful social emotional learning can help all of us learn how to identify and express our feelings, and support others in handling theirs. Fortunately, 2021 picture book authors are here to help with this roundup of titles just waiting for their chance to shine in an SEL themed story time or a lesson for older kids.

A Cat with No Name: A Story About Sadness
What a Feeling Series
Kochka, Illustrated by Marie Leghima
Parent notes by clinical psychologist Louison Neilman
Quarto/words & pictures
Ages 3-6

Olive cares for a lost kitten that she quickly comes to love. When he doesn’t return one day, a neighborhood search proves he’s been reunited with his owners. Olive’s dad helps her realize that it’s ok to be sad about missing him and how to find peace in remembering. Originally published in France, the line drawings limited color palette have a European sensibility. End notes from a psychologist provide information and tips on recognizing and supporting a child handling sadness.

Big Feelings
Alexandra Penrose, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
Penguin Random House/Alfred A. Knopf
Ages 4-8

A diverse group of children have big plans for the day, but when things don’t go as planned, frustration, anger, and fights get in the way. As they work through their differences and work together on a new plan, respect, kindness, and excitement bring them together as a team. Bright mixed media illustrations and expressive little faces show a range of emotions and illustrate some great ways to express them in healthy and productive ways.

How to Apologize
David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Candlewick
Ages 3+

It’s not always easy to say “I’m sorry,” but this sweet instruction manual is a specific and silly how-to guide. Whether you’ve made a mistake, been mean to a friend, or had an accident, this step-by-step guide shows the do’s and don’ts of apologies. Hilarious illustrated oops-moments help soften the instructions on how, when, and why we should all learn to apologize.

It Could Be Worse
Einat Tsarfati, translated by Annette Appe
Candlewick
Ages 4-8

Albertini and George have been shipwrecked. Albertini is upset, but George keeps looking on the bright side and after each new misadventure (storms, flying fish, ghost pirates, and a hungry whale) declares “It could always be worse!” Vibrant digital illustrations and outrageous situations provide levity in this silly series of catastrophes, proving that attitude is everything and even a bad day can feel better when you face it with a friend.

The Power of Yet
Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Abrams/Appleseed
Ages 3-6

A small piglet knows the frustration that comes with being a kid. You’re not big enough, strong enough, experienced enough—yet. But trying and growing and practicing leads to learning and success. Pen and ink drawings with pastel watercolors gently follow piglet’s persistence and celebration as yet turns to now.

The Smile Shop
Satoshi Kitamura
Peachtree
Ages 3-6

The market is an exciting place when there is pocket money just waiting to be spent. When a sudden collision sends a small boy’s change down the drain, his hopes of a treat are dashed. But in the Smile Shop, the kindness of a shopkeeper proves that money can’t buy happiness, but human connection sure can. Soft-focus line and watercolor illustrations shift palettes as the boy goes from excited to despondent to hopeful and finally cheerful as he discovers all the smiling faces that surround him.

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf you will find The Girl from the Sea, a graphic novel by Molly Knox Ostertag. We are eager to dive into the story of 15-year-old Morgan, a young girl with many secrets and an itch to leave the island where she lives and start a new life. However, when a mysterious girl named Keltie saves her from drowning one night, Morgan begins to feel that the island is not so bad. The two girls become friends and soon fall in love–their deep dark secrets bubbling to the surface along the way. For more LGBTQ themed titles, check out the list below!

Love is for Losers
Written by Wibke Brueggemann
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers
Available now!

The Ghosts We Keep
Written by Mason Deaver
Published by PUSH
Available now!

Llama Glamarama
Written by Simon James Green and Illustrated by Garry Parsons
Published by Orchard Books
Available now!

This Little Rainbow: A Love-Is-Love Primer
Written by Joan Holub and Illustrated by Daniel Roode
Published by Little Simon
Available August 31, 2021

All Our Hidden Gifts
Written by Caroline O’Donoghue and Illustrated by Stefanie Caponi
Published by Walker Books US
Available now!

The Girl from the Sea
Written and Illustrated by Molly Knox Ostertag
Published by GRAPHIX
Available now!