A Cool and Sweet Summer Treat: A Review of My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich

my life as an ice cream sandwich

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich
Ibi Zoboi
Penguin Random House, August 2019
Grades 5 and up

 My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, by National Book Award Finalist Ibi Zoboi, explores the imaginative world of Ebony-Grace Norfleet. While Ebony goes to Harlem to live with her father during the summer of 1984, her mother helps Ebony’s beloved grandfather back home. Her grandfather was a former NASA engineer, one of the first to be integrated into the NASA program in the 1960s. Ebony has followed in his footsteps with her fascination with space, spaceships, and science fiction. As the summer progresses, Ebony tries to adjust to big city life, a totally different world for her, coming from Huntsville, Alabama. From the start, readers will feel pulled into Ebony’s world, the sounds and excitement of New York City, and the 1980s.

Ebony battles the struggles in her life by seeing and experiencing everything as science fiction (Star Trek, Star Wars, and Wonder Woman). She then relates these challenges to the adventures she had with her grandfather (Sonic Boom, Captain Fleet, and many more) back home. It’s a summer of change for Ebony as she learns to make new friends and tries to fit in. She finds a new love and respect for her father and her roots, and she gains more self-awareness. Ebony discovers she can trust others, and most importantly of all, she learns to believe in herself. By summer’s end, Ebony realizes that she has other special people in her life besides her grandfather and that no matter what, his love will always be with her.

Zoboi’s use of space as a metaphor is effective and expertly crafted, drawing the reader more deeply into Ebony’s story. Her voice is exceptional, heartfelt, and stunning. Zoboi paints a setting that is real, palpable, and rich with imagery. She captures what it means to be at crossroads – the time when childhood and young adulthood eclipse, where dreams and reality clash, and when learning to let go is often the hardest thing of all, but a necessary part of growing up. My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich is a beautifully rendered story of identity, family, friendship, loss, and acceptance.

 

Many thanks to local author, SCBWI-IL member, and guest reviewer, Elizabeth Brown. Brown is the author of Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro, (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019) – a Junior Library Guild Selection. She has additional forthcoming picture books to release soon. Ms. Brown holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, and she is represented by Sean McCarthy Literary Agency.

 

 

Where Do You Fit In? A Review of Click

Click

Click by Kayla Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2019
Ages 10-13

In Kayla Miller’s Click, the variety show is coming up at school and outgoing Olive has not been asked to join a group. This leaves her feeling outcast and alone when she is unable to find her own “click.” Olive refuses her mom’s help to find a group, instead turning to her Aunt Molly. She decides the best choice is to become a host, the talent show announcer. In her words, “It would be a way that I could help all of my friends with their acts by introducing them” (p.132). This story was heartfelt and cute with bright colored pastel artwork which suggest that the tone is cheerful. The digital medium conveys the lively tone through expressive faces and flat simplistic backgrounds with bold highlight lines. The novel does a wonderful job touching on family relationships, specifically mother and daughter. At first, Olive’s mom oversteps her boundaries in trying to help her. By the end of the novel, a balance is achieved between allowing Olive to be independent and encouraging her to follow through. Olive also learns that, in friendships, growing apart and having different interests is okay. Her friends even encourage her in her choice to become a host. The novel has a solid plot portraying realistic issues for friendship and family. Miller shows these serious middle school themes in a lighthearted way that doesn’t take away from the tension.

One for the Murphys

One for the Murphys

One for the Murphys
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012

For a dog owner, it’s always a fascinating exercise to see what your pet notices. You pick up the house keys and she’s at the door; simply raise your eyebrows and her ears are pricked up in anticipation. A dog’s job is above all observing her humans, and we’re amazed by what she notices.

Yet nothing tops our own species as the reigning champions of observation. When we’re paying attention, we see everything: the slight tightness in a boss’s face, or the averted eyes of a suspicious stranger. The key is the paying attention part. In psychology experiments, a subject might be “primed” for a test by viewing significant words or images. In life, our past experiences teach us what to look out for.

One for the Murphys is a story about seeing. Twelve-year-old Carley Connors keeps much to herself, but the reader sees she’s a pro at observation, especially of her foster family:

“Michael Eric comes in with his hand tucked into his armpit. His mother drops to the floor like someone has kicked her behind the knees, but she lands gently, holding out her arms, and he melts into them.”

From smiling photos, neatly arranged pantry supplies, and especially the warm gestures and touches exchanged between the Murphys, Carley sees she doesn’t belong. She sees other things, too: moments of tension, worry, and anger. To another’s eyes, these might be normal moments of stress for a family, especially a new foster family. But to Carley, every frown is evidence that she is unwanted. Every hand reaching out is a potential slap, and she reflexively flinches. Although she has a keen eye for observation, her perception is skewed.

Through fragments of memory, the reader starts to see why: the last thing Carley saw before she woke up in the hospital was her stepfather raising his fists to beat her, and her mother holding her down. Carley, believing strength and emotion are mutually exclusive, doesn’t share this information readily with the people she encounters. Without all the facts, these other characters make their own judgments: a police officer sees her as an instigator; a classmate, seeing only the new clothes Mrs. Murphy has purchase for Carley, thinks she’s a mindless clone of any other kid. But the reader is granted the most accurate view. In seeing each person’s mistakes in perception, including Carley’s, we start to wonder about the people we see and the judgments we make. There’s almost always more to the story – in One for the Murphys and in life – and it isn’t always something that we great observers can clearly see.