Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

9781626721623by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks
Overall: 4 out 5 stars

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends – only for two months in the fall when they both work at the pumpkin patch together. On their last night working there before they go off to college, Deja decides that it’s time for Josiah to tell the girl he’s liked for four years how he feels. They go all over the park to try and find her and have adventures along the way that make them realize that they actually like each other (and Josiah finally talks to the girl and realizes that she’s pretty terrible). It reminded me in some ways of Sorry For Your Loss. I also liked that Deja is bisexual because there aren’t too many bi characters out there.

Guts by Raina Telgemeier

guts_cover_shadowby Raina Telgemeier
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Another autobiographical story by the fabulous Telgemeier. At first I wasn’t sure how relatable Raina’s story of her anxiety and obsession with food was, but by the end, when she shares at a sleepover that her “deepest, darkest secret” is that she goes to therapy, her friends’ reactions convinced me otherwise. Her eventual friendship with the mean girl showed that she too had her struggles that were similar in their own way to Raina’s. Raina’s story also included a friend who was stressed about moving to a neighboring town. The friend is also teased for bringing “weird” food (I think she is Korean and brings things like kim chi for lunch) and Raina and her friend stand up to the teasing. Overall, a solid story about an unpleasant aspect of growing up. I could see this story helping other kids with anxiety feel less alone, and kids without it feel more empathy toward their classmates. It kind of reminded me of Because of Mr. Terupt┬áin that way.

Sorry For Your Loss by Jessie Ann Foley

sorryforyourlosshccby Jessie Ann Foley
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

16-year-old James “Pup” Flanagan is the youngest of 8 in a close-knit, Catholic, Chicago family. His oldest sisters are referred to as “the sister-moms” and his oldest nephew is also a junior at the same high school (though the two don’t get along at all and Pup’s nephew teases him for being a poor student). Pup is closest with his sister Annemarie, and the whole family is still reeling from (but not dealing with or discussing) the death of his next-oldest brother, Patrick, from meningitis three years before. His brother Luke has failed out of law school and become a full-fledged alcoholic and drinking himself nearly to death, leading to a scene of domestic violence and an even more harrowing scene where Pup goes and drags him out of a dingy basement and gets him to the hospital. With Pup’s help, the family starts to heal together.

On the cheerier side, what gets Pup through the end of his junior year is photography, a Hail Mary (if you will) to save his failing art grade, which he turns out to be a natural at. He also happens to spend a lot of time with Abrihet, a classmate he vaguely knew but never interacted much with. Pup finally lets go of his longtime best friend and crush, Izzy, whose skeezy boyfriend pushes Pup’s crush into the open. As Pup gets closer to Abrihet, he realizes that what he has with Izzy is superficial and, worse, one-sided, and what he has with Abrihet is real and powerful. Even when Izzy finally gets wise and dumps Brody’s cheating butt, and comes to Pup for solace, he finds he doesn’t even want what he thought they had. Through it all, the metaphors of photography and what he is able to learn about himself through compiling a portfolio at his art teacher’s urging is quite moving and lovely.

A librarian friend recommended this one to me, selling it by saying that it’s the best first kiss ever and the last several pages blew her away, and I have to agree. (Well, to be fully honest, I was a little distracted when reading the kiss but upon rereading, it was delightful.)

For fans of: I’ll Give You the Sun (or maybe the other way around – if they read this, they’ll like Sun)

Middle-eastern Picturebooks

by Rukhsanna Guidroz
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Leila is from Pakistan and takes us on a very sensory visit to her Naani’s (grandmother’s) house, with smells of curry, the clink of bangle bracelets, and the lovely soft feel of her grandmother’s many vibrantly colored scarves. Leila isn’t sure she likes her knobby knees and skinny arms, but she loves how being with her family makes her feel about herself.

a1l-cwaki-l-663x800by Mina Javaherbin
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Mina and her grandmother are inseparable and this autobiographical picture book is just one big love note to her grandma. In addition to describing the basket delivery system they rigged up from their third-floor apartment and helping her grandma make her chadors, Mina also remembers their neighbor Annette and her grandma, who are not Muslim, but who are great friends to them. Mina and Annette also discover that their grandmas pray for each other.

screenshot_20190521-130345_chromeby Supriya Kelkar
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Harpreet loves his colorful patkas (cloths used to make Sikh turbans) – until his family moves across the country, away from the beach and to a place where it snows. Now all he wants to wear is his white patka because he doesn’t feel like celebrating or having courage. But when he makes a new friend, he returns to his old self, and his old interest in expressing himself through his patka’s color.

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai

9781250314093by Remy Lai
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Eleven-year-old Jingwen moves with his mother and little brother to Australia from an unspecified Asian country (Singapore? China?) and he feels like he’s moved to Mars. Moving to Australia and opening a bakery (called Pie in the Sky) had been a family goal for a long time, but a year after his father’s sudden death in a car accident, Jingwen’s mother decides to take the plunge anyway. As a single mother, she can’t open the bakery her husband had dreamt of, but she works in one with a very compassionate boss who lets her change her schedule as her parenting needs evolved. This is partly because, despite stern warnings not to use the oven, Jingwen and Yanghao find loopholes and use it anyway, because Jingwen is convinced that if he can only make the twelve cakes his father wanted on the menu at Pie in the Sky, everything would be all right. He also struggles with learning English and making friends, though those turn out all right in the end. There’s also a nice elderly neighbor who is sometimes drafted into helping watch the boys who Jingwen hates at first but comes around to in the end.

We have this one in our graphic novel section even though it’s one of those hybrid books and it’s actually more paragraphs than panels. The author made good use of the dual formats most of the time, especially by using aliens to show Jingwen’s gradual turning into a Martian (I mean getting used to Australia), exaggerating the drawings and using dead-on facial expressions to great effect. I was very surprised at how long Jingwen went in school without getting additional help due to his lacking language abilities, but maybe that is a difference between Australia and the US. Jingwen and Yanghao would have immediately been assessed and placed in an ELL class before even being put into their regular classrooms to make sure they had enough English to understand their classes, but in this book they are in their regular classrooms right away and Jingwen goes months not understanding a thing before he finally realizes that his teacher wants him to stay after school for tutoring help.

I loved the relationship between the brothers. Yanghao is only a year behind Jingwen in school, but two years in age, and is so much less mature. Most of the time he sounded six instead of nine, bouncing off the walls and being impulsive and getting them both into trouble. Jingwen is definitely the more responsible of the two, far beyond his eleven years, and resists learning English (finding his brother’s ability to pick it up annoying) and mourning his father. There are some tender moments between the two and it just felt like a very realistic relationship to me. Also, I really wanted cake at the end of this book.

One more note – it’s unclear where the family is from, but it’s possible that they are from Singapore or Indonesia, and/or the story is based loosely on Lai’s upbringing, which would make this book #ownvoices so I’ve included that tag just in case.

Baking like: the Dirt Diary series
Sibling relationships like: Sisters and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

Lety Out Loud by Angela Cervantes

lety-out-loud-image_1by Angela Cervantes
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Lety and her best friends Brisa and Kennedy, rising 6th graders, are doing a special summer program volunteering at the local animal shelter. To Lety’s annoyance, their classmate Hunter is also there, and he scowls a lot and is rude to Lety about her not being a U.S. citizen or being fluent in English. They both want to be “shelter scribe,” the person who writes the profiles of the animals for the website, and get in trouble for developing a contest to determine who gets the honor. Over the course of the story, however, he opens up to Lety and the two become friends – and maybe someday will be more than friends?!

There’s also the sort of opposite storyline that happens with Brisa. While out shopping with her family and Lety, they encounter an angry white man who yells at them to learn English and “go back to Mexico” (Brisa’s family is from Peru, and even inserts a phrase in Quechua, the language of her grandparents, which was very cool). Brisa is scared and decides to leave the shelter camp to go to ESL summer school, but Lety comes up with a plan to get her back. She also comes up with a plan to get Hunter’s dog back for him, and to be able to adopt a dog herself.

This is not the first book in this series but it works quite well as a stand-alone read, and I learned about it because a fellow children’s librarian chose it for her 4th and 5th grade book club. I think it raises a lot of really great, topical issues and would be great for a book club, even if things get resolved very (too) neatly to be entirely satisfactory to me as an adult reader. I also suggested it to a fellow children’s librarian who writes animal profiles at a shelter! (I also especially love the word play because when this title is read aloud, it sounds like “let it out loud”!) There is some Spanish in here, and it is handled very well and not at all clunky.

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar

9780399546457by Ruth Behar
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

When she was ten, Ruth Behar broke her leg in a bad car accident and was laid up for almost a year in a full body cast. This is a fictionalized account of that time, mostly made of her fuzzy memories and some embellishing to make it a slightly happier story than it was. (Reading the author’s note was very interesting!) Most interesting to me were how much she changed as a result – when she finally gets to go outside, she’s not soaking it in and begging to stay out, she is begging for the safety of her room and her bed. When she finally finally finally gets the cast off (after a couple of false starts that extend her time laid up by more than double), she is too scared to try to walk again. Her process of overcoming that fear was also fascinating.

Ruth describes her various friends, including Ramu (whose kid brother falls out of a window to his death and the rest of the family, overcome with grief, moves back to India) and Chicho, a lovely and possibly gay artist from Mexico, who is very kind to Ruth and her family. She describes Danielle from France who appears to be a fairweather friend but in the end comes through and they become quite close. Ruth’s mother sacrifices the most for her and bears the brunt of the emotional toll, which was also quite interesting to read (as an adult; I don’t think that would hold much interest for kids). Ruth and her brother Izzie (Isaac) are quite close as well and rarely fight, and she gets a teacher/tutor who not only helps her not fall behind, but with whom she advances to a 10th grade reading level after just graduating from the ELL class.

The other interesting thing to note is that Ruth and her family are Jewish and Cuban, the history of which plays a decent role in the story. I’m glad to encounter more books of Jewish people of color because theirs are narratives that outsiders don’t get to encounter too often and which are quite different from the white/Ashkenazi Judaism as most Americans probably think of it. Through Ruth’s healing, you can see the seeds of anthropology starting to grow; she is now an anthropology professor and has explored her own “Juban” roots through work like the documentary Adio Kerida and the book An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba.