Found Cryptid Family: A Review of Another Kind

Another Kind
By Cait May and Trevor Bream
HarperCollins/HarperAlley
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.

Baking with Pride: A Review of The Heartbreak Bakery

The Heartbreak Bakery
A. R. Capetta
Candlewick Press
October 12, 2021
Ages 14-17

After being dumped by a longtime girlfriend, Syd, who has always used baking to express feelings, bakes a batch of brownies that seem to magically break up everyone who eats them. This effect even reaches Vin and Alec, owners of the queer Proud Muffin bakery where Syd works and feels truly at home. With the owners’ relationship threatened, Syd worries that the Proud Muffin itself is in danger. Syd teams up with the Proud Muffin’s delivery person, Harley, to fix the mess, hoping to use newfound magical baking powers to bring all the broken-up couples together.

Told in the first person by Syd, who from time to time reflects on the experience of being agender, with a preference for no pronouns at all. There is additional representation of people from across the spectrum of gender identities. For example, Harley uses either he or they pronouns, depending on the day, with the day’s preference indicated by a pin. Syd and Harley have instant chemistry, leading Syd to open up about identifying as agender, despite an inability to express this identity to others. Capetta clearly incorporates personal experience into various aspects of the novel, describing its setting of Austin with love and delving into their baking experience by including recipes throughout the book. Filled with romance, heartache, and a touch of magical realism, The Heartbreak Bakery provides a chance for those with gender uncertainty to feel seen, a window into the agender experience, and a sweet treat for all.

Looking Towards Fall: A Review of The Leaf Thief

The Leaf Thief 
Alice Hemming 
Illustrated by Nicola Slater 
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky 
August 3, 2021 
Ages 4-8 

Squirrel wakes up one day to find that some of the leaves on his tree are missing. He concludes that there is a Leaf Thief on the loose and accuses other animals of having stolen his leaves. Over time, more leaves disappear, and Squirrel continues to panic, prompting Bird to show him the true Leaf Thief. Bird explains that the wind is taking the leaves, that this happens every year in autumn, and that the leaves will grow back in the spring, finally putting Squirrel at ease. 

Hemming primarily uses dialogue to tell the story, with different fonts used for each character. The text is laid out differently on each page, with large text used to accentuate Squirrel’s rising panic. He reacts dramatically to the situation, turning to his friend Bird for guidance. Despite the humorous nature of the situation, Bird takes Squirrel seriously, aptly explaining why the leaves are disappearing. Slater’s illustrations depict rich and vivid environments through a mixture of two-page spreads, single page spreads, and pages split into panels that make the storyline more dynamic. The colors of the autumn leaves are a focal point, though even the pages that do not depict leaves are full of vibrant colors. Paint and graphite textures scanned over the digital art give it a unique feel. Back matter further explains the changes that autumn brings. The Leaf Thief is a humorous story that will leave young readers amused while also providing information about a change they see around them in a straightforward and fun way. 

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. 

A Tale of Crossing Fates: A Review of The Other Side of Luck

The Other Side of Luck 
Ginger Johnson 
Bloomsbury Children’s Books 
July 6, 2021 
Ages 8-11

Una and Julien could not be more different. Una is a Princess while Julien is a pauper, barely getting by day to day with the profits made from selling plants he forages with his ailing father. Yet both have something the other lacks. Una, wealth and comfort that Julien could only imagine. Julien, his father’s love. Una longs for parental love after her mother’s death leads her father into a depressive spiral. Even after he remarries, he only seems interested in his male children, leading Una to resent her gender. Una’s father then decrees that anyone who can bring him the rare Silva Flower will get a grand reward. This sets the events of the story in motion, eventually leading Una and Julien to each other and ultimately to the Silva Flower. 

Johnson crafts her setting carefully, with the start of the book rarely featuring dialogue amidst lyrical prose. The setting has a medieval feel, though the descriptions focus more on the physical setting – wildlife and nature that the protagonists spend much of the story trekking through – than the time period. Alternating viewpoints focus on a variety of characters beyond Una and Julien, providing insight once multiple things are happening at once. Character names as chapter headings help to keep track of the shifting point of view. As the story progresses, Julien and Una’s goals change as Una comes to terms with the loss of her mother and focuses on the present, prompted by Julien to realize that she can use her talents to show her father what she can do, despite her gender. While at times plot points are conveniently resolved, the theme of luck interwoven throughout the text make this believable and it allows for the plot and goals of the protagonists to shift unpredictably, leading to great moments of suspense. 

Review based on Advance Reading Copy 

Beyond the stars: A Review of Lights on Wonder Rock

Lights on Wonder Rock
David Litchfield
Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 9, 2020
Ages 4-8

Heather was searching for something more—magic, friendship, adventure, and aliens! So she spends her nights at Wonder Rock, doing all she can to attract the attention of a spaceship. When she finally gets her chance to jump aboard, Heather realizes she doesn’t want to leave her family behind. She grows up, loses the wonder of childhood, and has a family of her own, but never gives up waiting for her alien friend. When at last they return, Heather once again recognizes that she might already have all she needs here on Earth.

Litchfield’s thoughtful story explores themes of longing, hope, and curiosity about what other lives may be out there for us. His use of dark and muted tones for the forest, juxtaposed with the colorful and sparkling pages where the spaceship appears, help to set off the difference between how Heather sees her life and her expectations about what might await her in outer space. Double-page spreads of wordless panels put a unique focus on the two most important relationships in the story, with her son and her alien friend, and explain the pull she feels between them. Throughout, Litchfield cleverly uses light—sun, moon, and flashlight beams—to focus on Heather’s emotions and the devotion she feels to both her family and her dreams.

Frankly Smart: A review of Frankly in Love

Cover Image Frankly in LOve

Frankly in Love
David Yoon
Putnam, September 2019
Grades 9-12

Frank Li is in love (see what they did there?)… with Brit, then with Joy. But it’s complicated by Wu (Joy’s ex), Q (his BFF), his immigrant parents, the Apeys (A.P./smart friends), and the Limbos (Korean friends)—the list is long. Love triangle or love nonagon? Frank would know, he’s studying for the SAT. Everything else is complicated by life as a teenager and his angst over who he is as a Korean, Korean-American, or just American; because people are complex and labels are limiting.

Under the thin veneer of a love story (do teenagers even fall in and out of love that fast?), David Yoon explores the much deeper and more interesting themes of racism, code-switching, and community. Frank is thoughtful, introspective, and nerdy-in-a-good-way, while still authentically awkward and impulsive. His well-rounded character is a much-needed counterpoint to the common teen stereotypes in YA lit. His internal monologue is both funny and perceptive and keeps the book from veering too far light or dark. With the exception of a slightly rushed resolution, the 400+ pages are an easy read that “manages to be a love story, treatise on racism, and welcome to Korean-American culture all at once.” And, yes, that is a quote from the author endorsement on the ARC cover, but Jodi Picoult has it right.


 

 

 

Book Reviewing Workshop

Book reviewing image

Curious about how to get your start in book reviewing? Looking to sharpen your current skills? Join professional reviewers Janice Del Negro (Associate Professor, Dominican University SOIS) and Hal Patnott (Library Assistant, Oak Park Public Library) for a discussion on the history of reviewing and current trends in the field, as well as the resources and skills required for professional reviewing of youth literature.

Who: Open to all teachers, librarians, students, and book-lovers (or any combination thereof)

What: Tips, tricks, lively discussion, and snacks– of course

When: Saturday, October 13, 2018 from 11am–1pm

Where: Butler Children’s Literature Center, Crown Library 214

Please RSVP to us at butler@dom.edu or whichever social media post you’re reading right now.

Hope to see you then!

 

Valuable Reminders: A Review of The Dollar Kids

dollar kids

The Dollar Kids
Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Illustrations by Ryan Andrews
Candlewick (August, 2018)
Ages 10-14

When his family wins the chance to buy a house for just $1, twelve-year-old Lowen sees it as a chance to hit the reset button — Mum can open her own restaurant, Dad can follow his dream of working in a clinic in an underserved community, his brother Clem can finally be the star athlete, and his sister Anneth — well, she’ll need convincing. And sensitive, artistic Lowen can work through his grief over the death of a friend and guilt over believing he caused it. But moving to a small town isn’t easy on any of them, leading everyone to question whether the Dollar House program was such a good idea after all. Dubbed the “Dollar Kids” by hostile new neighbors skeptical of the program and “whether it’s a help or drain on the town” (p. 328), Lowen and the other new kids in town struggle to make a place for themselves, rehab houses, and rebuild community.

The idea of home, be it a building, a community, a family, or a feeling creates a strong backbone for this plot, helping to pull the reader through the slightly slow start to the one year the book covers. By mid-book, the pace picks up in both action and time (the progress noted with each new chapter). While slightly awkward, the change of pacing mirrors the changes Lowen experiences as he processes his grief and settles into life in Millville. Scenes from Lowen’s comic book drawing layer in additional elements of his grieving process, questions of faith, and ultimately his healing.

Diversity (of age, gender, and cultures) among the characters in this story provide a varied range of coping mechanisms for dealing with uncertainty, insecurity, and change by both the new families settling in and Millville residents dealing with the decline of their small, but proud town. The inclusion of parents and other community members as active players in the story is a refreshing change from books that often leave you wondering “What happened to all the adults?” and provides a subtle reminder that communities need all types of diversity to thrive.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: A Review of Darius the Great is Not Okay

 

Darius the Great is Not Okay

Darius the Great is Not Okay
Adib Khorram
Dial Books, August 2018
Ages 14 and up

Darius Kellner, named after Darius the Great, doesn’t always feel great, and he and his family know that. Darius’s father also has Depression, and while he struggles to vocalize his love for Darius, does not shy away from tougher conversations about his own mental health and the importance of both therapy and medication. These conversations happen against the backdrop of a rough patch for Darius – he is bullied at school, not appreciated at his part time job at Tea Haven, and feels distance growing between himself and all of his family members: dad, mom, and younger sister, Lelah, who he sees as a replacement for himself.

As a narrator, Darius is not without faults – he routinely gets in his own way, and many times would rather remove himself from a situation or conversation with an “Um” and redirection towards the nearest tea kettle – but his character does learn and grow in his own way. During a family trip to Iran, where his mother grew up, Darius begins to recognize and find his place in his family as son, brother, and friend, though not without mistakes, painful conversations, and learning how to advocate for himself. This young adult novel, told from the perspective of an awkward but earnest narrator, is a testament to the importance of open and honest conversations around mental health. Aspects of daily life in Iran, from religious customs to food preparation rituals, add depth and interest to the characters and give the story a firm sense of place and nuanced secondary characters allow for a reader to see multiple facets of Darius as a protagonist.