We Can Do Hard Things: A Review of The Struggle Bus

The Struggle Bus
Julie Koon
Kind World Publishing
March 8, 2022
Ages 4-8

Sometimes, when life gets really hard, the Struggle Bus shows up at the door. It grumbles and rumbles and seems completely hopeless. Lost in the fog and frozen by indecision and on its way up the mountain, the Struggle Bus breaks down. It is only with the help of friends that it can be set back on its way. And even then, it’s a hard and bumpy journey, but eventually, it finds the path, and arrives at the top of the mountain.

The Struggle Bus is a gentle rhyming story acknowledging big feelings and encouraging readers to never give up. Koon’s illustrations, a mixture of simple line drawings and watercolor, are rendered in soft, soothing colors that complement the supportive message of the text. Even amidst fog and uncertainty, the struggle bus continues on, reminding readers to feel their feelings but not let those feelings stop them from moving forward. With rhythmic text and onomatopoeia sprinkled throughout, this book is ideal for young people who need a little help to understand big emotions. At the end of the book, there are reflection questions and ideas for calming behaviors to utilize when “your bus breaks down” (p. 37). A diverse cast of characters and buses of all shapes, sizes, and colors let readers know that everyone rides the Struggle Bus sometimes, and that even the tallest, foggiest mountains are not insurmountable.

Butler Bookshelf

With the holiday season incoming, this week’s Butler Bookshelf showcases books about food! The selection includes both fiction and nonfiction as well as books about families and communities of various types. In A Feast for Joseph, Joseph must adjust to his new lifestyle as he was used to eating with many people when he lived in a refugee camp in East Africa. Now, he is only accompanied by his mother and his neighbor. He must learn that a feast can still be enjoyed, even on a smaller scale. Check out this week’s titles for more food related readings, including inspirational, informational, and humorous selections!

Bake, Make, & Learn to Cook: Fun & Healthy Recipes for Young Cooks
Written by David Atherton and Illustrated by Rachel Stubbs
Published by Candlewick Press
Available December 7, 2021

A Feast for Joseph
Written by Terry Farish & OD Bonny and Illustrated by Ken Daley
Published by House of Anansi Press
Available now!

Feast Your Eyes on Food: An Encyclopedia of More than 1,000 Delicious Things to Eat
Written by Laura Gladwin and Illustrated by Zoë Barker
Published by Magic Cat Publishing
Available now!

The Cookie Maker of Mavin Road
Written by Sue Lawson and Illustrated by Liz Anelli
Published by Candlewick Press
Available December 7, 2021

Our Table
Written and Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Published by Orchard Books
Available now!

Interrupting Chicken: Cookies for Breakfast
Written and Illustrated by David Ezra Stein
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now!

Self Discovery Through Lack of Effort: A Review of The Year I Stopped Trying

The Year I Stopped Trying
Katie Heaney
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
November 16, 2021
Ages 12 and up

Mary has always been a good student and never gotten into trouble. One day she forgets to do a history assignment. She prepares herself for the worst, yet, nothing happens. This leads her to reflect on the purpose of doing her assignments. Has she been doing so well in school simply because she is supposed to? What does she even want for herself in life? Intentionally, she does as badly in school as she can, skipping assignments and classes. She also begins a romantic pursuit of Mitch, hoping his bad boy reputation will aid her in her “self-deterioration project.” As she gets to know Mitch, she is unsure if she truly wants to date a boy, sensing that just like with the schoolwork, she has always thought about boys simply because that was what was expected of her. Mary’s experimentation leads her to realize how preoccupied she was with how others perceived her. She ultimately comes to terms with the fact that she is not completely sure what she wants, and that is okay.

Heaney writes in a very casual, first-person style. Mary’s narration is often humorous and blunt. While she cannot express herself well to others early in the story, her character comes through in the narration style filled with inner thoughts. The setting of a suburban high school in the Midwest allows for diversity in the supporting characters, though this is not a focal point of the storytelling. The discoveries Mary makes as she tries to find herself and her purpose are ones that have value for any young person, overachiever or not. The straightforward style makes this an easy read, making the theme of self-discovery easily accessible to readers transitioning from middle grade to young adult fiction.

Butler Bookshelf

November is a busy month! It is Picture Book Month as well as Nonfiction November. In celebration of both of these, this week’s Butler Bookshelf features nonfiction picture books. These include the upcoming ¡Mambo Mucho Mambo! The Dance That Crossed Color Lines by Dean Robbins with illustrations by Eric Velasquez. This books tells the true story of how the fusion of Jazz and Latin music created mambo, popularized by a multiracial band led by Machito. The music’s popularity despite continued segregation in dance halls at the time led Palladium Ballroom to open its doors to all, truly showing how music has the power to transcend boundaries. Check out more nonfiction picture book titles below!

¡Mambo Mucho Mambo! The Dance That Crossed Color Lines
Written by Dean Robbins and Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Published by Candlewick Press
Available November 23, 2021

The Message: The Extraordinary Journey of an Ordinary Text Message
Written and Illustrated by Michael Emberley
Published by Atheneum
Available now!

Penguin Journey
Written by Angele Burke Kunkel and Illustrated by Catherine Odell
Published by Abrams Appleseed
Available now!

What’s in Your Pocket?: Collecting Nature’s Treasures
Written by Heather L. Montgomery and Illustrated by Maribel Lechuga
Published by Charlesbridge
Available now!

Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories
Written by Annette Bay Pimentel and Illustrated by Magaly Morales
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Where Do Creatures Sleep at Night?
Written by Steven J. Simmons and Illustrated by Ruth Harper
Published by Charlesbridge
Available now!


When Creativity Meets Office Supplies: A Review of Off-Limits

by Helen Yoon
Available November 9, 2021
Ages 3-7

No “OFF-LIMITS” sign can stop a curious child from exploring the shadowy world of Daddy’s office and the excitement of discovering—oh joy!—office supplies. But what starts as an “I’m just looking” visit quickly escalates to an extravaganza of scotch tape and sticky notes. With delight that dances off the page, the child gets carried away with song, dance, and crafting galore until reality sets in—uh oh—and she sneaks back to her room only to discover that mischievousness and joyful abandon must run in the family. Yoon’s mixed media illustrations and color choices move deftly from the muted organization of Daddy’s office to the vibrant personality and exuberant creativity of a child lost in her imagination. Well-paced text and dramatic page turns add depth to this light and hilarious story, making it a brilliant choice for both storytimes and on-on-one reads. The child’s self-talk, both silly and insightful, follows her on the slippery slope from curiosity to joy to regret. And a last wordless page models forgiveness as parent and child sit down to a costumed tea party while wearing each other’s imaginative finery. Off-Limits is a love letter to office supplies and a celebration of indulging our curiosity and living in the moment.

Butler Bookshelf

This week, the new titles on our Butler Bookshelf celebrate individual journeys and the things that make us all unique. In Circle Round, a counting picture book, readers are encouraged to welcome new friends of all types. In Set Me Free, Mary Lambert travels to a manor house outside Boston to teach a young deaf girl how to sign, healing her own relationship with her deafness in the process. In Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World, the sequel to a well-loved teen novel, young lovers Aristotle and Dante must discover what it means to build a relationship together, long after the initial infatuation has passed. Find these titles and more in the list below!

Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab
Written and Illustrated by Priya Huq
Published by Amulet Books
Available November 16, 2021!

Little Pea’s Great Journey
Written by Davide Cali
Illustrated by Sebastien Mourrain
Published by Milky Way
Available November 30, 2021!

Circle Round
Written by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Illustrated by Hanna Cha
Published by Charlesbridge
Available Now!

Set Me Free
Written by Ann Clare LeZotte
Published by Scholastic Press
Available Now!

Beyond the Blue Border
Written by Dorit Linke
Translated by Elisabeth Lauffer
Published by Charlesbridge Teen
Available Now!

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World
Written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Available Now!

Be Marvelous: A Review of The Big Reveal by Jen Larsen

The Big Reveal
by Jen Larsen
Henry Holt and Co.
December 7, 2021
Ages 14+

All high-school senior Addie Grant wants to do is dance, and when she is accepted to her dream dance program in Milan, it seems like all her dreams are coming true. The world comes crashing down around her when she learns that while she was accepted; she did not win the scholarship, and raising the $6,000 she needed to attend feels like an impossible goal. With the help of her friends, Addie hatches a plan: to put on an underground invite-only burlesque show to raise the money. Ticket prices are calculated, names and costumes are chosen, dance routines are choreographed, and spirits are high. But when word gets out, Addie and her friends are faced not with excitement but with slut-shaming, body-shaming, and a sexist administration. At the end of it all, though they may not have gotten what they set out for, the determination and perseverance of Addie and her friends pays off in the way of self-realization and confidence, surprise dance school admissions, and the creation of the Adeleina Elizabeth Grant Dance Scholarship Fund.

“Don’t shape yourself to fit the world. Make the world shape itself to fit you,” is the mantra that Larsen weaves throughout this love letter to body positivity and modern feminism (pg. 573). Featuring a plus-sized protagonist and an LGBTQIA+ multiracial supporting cast, Larsen creates an inclusive narrative that does not shy away from the reality of sexism, fatphobia, ableism, and homophobia while still providing likable characters and a satisfying ending. Written in simple, casual prose interspersed with relevant colloquial phrases, detailed metaphors, and quippy humor, Larsen’s story is an honest and straightforward look at issues of body narratives and sexuality. Reminiscent of Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, The Big Reveal is a celebration of counterculture, and encourages readers to embrace everything they are, regardless of what other people may think.*

* Reviewed from an Advanced Readers’ Copy

Butler Bookshelf

It’s the spookiest week of the year! As we enter into the week of Halloween, our Butler Bookshelf is full of magic, ghosts, monsters, and more! Join the Widdershins Sisters in A Sprinkle of Sorcery as they embark on a ghostly quest. Or explore the world’s kindest haunted house in Hardly Haunted. In A Dark and Starless Forest, a girl with incredible powers lives on the edge of a forbidden dark forest, hiding her magic from the world. But when her sisters start to go missing, Derry must venture into the forest, facing the darkness around and within her. For more magical titles, check out the list below!

Don’t Tell a Soul
Written by Kirsten Miller
Published by Delacorte Press
Available Now!

The Threads of Magic
Written by Alison Croggon
Published by Candlewick Press
Available Now!

A Sprinkle of Sorcery (A Pinch of Magic)
Written by Michelle Harrison
Published by Clarion Books
Available Now!

My First Pop-Up: Mythological Monsters
Written and Illustrated by Owen Davey
Published by Candlewick Studio
Available Now!

A Dark and Starless Forest
Written by Sarah Hallowell
Published by Clarion Books
Available Now!

Hardly Haunted
Written and Illustrated by Jessie Sima
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Available Now!

Found Cryptid Family: A Review of Another Kind

Another Kind
By Cait May and Trevor Bream
October 26, 2021
Ages 10+

This graphic novel centers on six not-quite-human kids who initially live in the safety of a secret government facility nicknamed the Playroom until a security breach disrupts their lives. They are forced to go on the run, fleeing from a mysterious being known as the Collector. While on the run, they meet other “irregularities” who live hidden from society. They realize, too late, that a sanctuary many irregularities have headed towards is a trap set by the Collector and come face to face with him. The group and their new allies must find a way to overcome the Collector’s leech-like powers. In the end, the group prevails, making a new home for themselves in a safe place they had been searching for all along.

Readers are sure to appreciate the diversity of the cast as characters come from different ethnic backgrounds and LGBTQ+ identities. Additionally, there is a great diversity in the types of cryptids depicted, with the main cast featuring a half-Yeti, a will o’ the wisp, a bear shifter (Nandi Bear), an alien (Reptilian), a selkie, and a sea monster. A varied cast of secondary characters includes other types of creatures which are sure to appeal to readers interested in the supernatural. The art highlights the diversity of the cast with the use of a broad range of colors. Various paneling and lighting styles efficiently show off action and shifting moods as certain parts of the story touch on darker themes. While the backstories of central characters include dark moments, yet they overcome past hardships by sticking together. The moments the young characters spend together feel authentic as they banter. The two older members of the group face the responsibility of caring for the rest, particularly the youngest, who is 6 years old. At times, she takes childish actions that jeopardize the group, yet those around her show her nothing but love and support as she struggles to fully understand why she must hide what makes her different from “normal” people. The primary messages of embracing one’s differences and the importance of found family are ones that every reader is sure to learn from.

Butler Bookshelf

Welcome to Butler Bookshelf’s mid-October spectre-cale! This week, we have collected a handful of spooky titles rife with ghosts and illusions. Ideal for elementary school readers, step into the world of The Nightmare Thief . Sisters Maren and Hallie work in their family’s dream shop. When Hallie gets into an accident that puts her in a coma, Maren breaks one of their most explicit rules: she slips Hallie a flying dream. A mysterious customer notices what Maren did, and blackmails her into creating nightmares. As the scheme gets more and more elaborate, Maren must make a choice: protect her town from the magic, or protect the magic itself. For more spectre-tacular titles, see the list below!

This Book Can Read Your Mind
Written by Susannah Lloyd
Illustrated by Jacob Grant
Published by Francis Lincoln Children’s Books
Available Now!

No Place for Monsters: School of Phantoms
Written by Kory Merritt
Published by Clarion Books
Available Now!

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Adapted by Georghia Ellinas
Illustrated by Jane Ray
Published by Candlewick
Available Now!

Written by Claire McFall
Published by Walker Books US
Available Now!

The Nightmare Thief
Written by Nicole Lesperance
Illustrated by Federica Fenna
Published by Sourcebooks Young Readers
Available Now!

Curse of the Divine
Written by Kim Smejkal
Published by Clarion Books
Available Now!