The Sea in Winter by Christine Day

by Christine Day
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Adding my positive review to that of <a href="http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p>by <a href="https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2020/09/highly-recommended-sea-in-winter-by.html">Christine Day</a><br>Overall: 5 out of 5 stars</p> Dr. Debbie Reese! 12-year-old Maisie is still recovering from her ballet-related knee injury when we meet her. She is also not responding to her best friends, who are fellow ballet dancers and one of whom she blames for her injury. Mostly taking place over the course of a week in February, the story revolves around Maisie really hitting rock bottom about the injury and also [SPOILER ALERT] re-injuring her knee while on vacation with her mom, stepdad, and half-brother.

Maisie has two very insightful parents: her mom and stepdad, who are both Native (her biological father was also Native, and was in the Army; killed in Afghanistan when Maisie was a baby) and who speak to her gently and frankly about her mental health and about depression and therapy. At that point, the narrative zooms forward four months to where Maisie has found other interests besides ballet and has an idea of the future that doesn’t really involve ballet, along with friends at her own school. Her ballet friends go to different schools, so she was very unmotivated at school for a few different reasons. Jack, her stepfather, was determined to make her succeed in school unlike Jack and her father.

I loved that the story was infused with Native terms and ideology, but never felt didactic. (Instead of “See-yah means grandfather,” Maisie says “Jack wasn’t allowed to call his see-yah ‘grandpa,'” for example.) Maisie and her family live in the Pacific Northwest, which is her mom’s and Jack’s people’s homeland, and some places are referred to by their Native names. Day gives an Author’s Note at the end about some of her choices, and there is a note from Cynthia Leitich Smith about the book and about the imprint, which is Heartdrum (HarperCollins).

Three Keys by Kelly Yang

by Kelly Yang
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Three Keys is the sequel to Front Desk, and Mia Tang and her crew are back. Her best friend, Lupe, is an undocumented immigrant, and this story revolves around the election of Governor Pete Wilson and his Proposition 187 which had devastating effects for undocumented immigrants (and even documented ones – there was a palpable fear in the air, lots and lots of racism and plenty of hate crimes). With their various gradations of immigration status, Lupe, Mia (who has a green card), and Jason (who was born in the US to naturalized-citizen parents) struggle to figure it all out. (Well, Jason does, and Mia helps him. Jason’s parents are still terrible and his dad even votes for Prop 187, even as their own money troubles are escalating and they downsize to a smaller home.)

On a personal level for Lupe, her mom returns to Mexico voluntarily (because her mother has died) and then is unable to cross the border again. Her father becomes worried about her and goes to the border to find her, but gets detained by immigration police. Lupe comes to stay with the Tangs at the motel for months and there are some really heart-wrenching scenes about their separation. Hank and Mia find an immigration lawyer to take the case pro bono. There are scenes of rallies and protests and the fear calculus of attending them for the various characters. The economics of the weeklies’ finances is not explored at all but rather they are made to seem financially comfortable, which is far from realistic.

Mia’s teacher is another person whose mind she helps to change, through her writing as in Front Desk. Mrs. Welch shows some racism toward Mia at the beginning of the school year, and wears a Pete Wilson pin. However, she comes to visit Mia and Lupe at the motel one day and sees the “Welcome to America” classes for immigrants that some of the motel’s weekly residents teach and starts to listen more and more to Mia. Mia also writes a letter to the editor of the newspaper and gets published. Mrs. Welch tutors Mia in writing, teaching her grammar formally which helps Mia greatly. When Prop 187 passes, Lupe leaves school, being tutored by Mia’s mom in math. This also sets Mia’s mom on a path to becoming a teacher, and there’s a sweet moment between her parents about her dad enabling her mom to pursue her dreams.

Wait, What? by Heather Corinna and Isabella Rotman

by Heather Corinna and Isabella Rotman
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

The subtitle of this book is “A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up” and that’s basically what it is. The first half of the book, the puberty / bodies part, dragged a little for me, but the second half, which talked about gender, sexual attraction (or lack thereof), and especially consent, was great. There were some really clear metaphors for understanding, again especially about consent (including one that even might bump the tea metaphor out of first place!). The book is sort of narrated by five teens of different races, genders, and sexualities, but who don’t really have distinct voices and sometimes come off as really didactic.

Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright

by Varian Johnson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Maureen and Francine Carter are starting sixth grade. Suddenly Francine wants to be called Fran by their friends, and is trying to be her own person, which makes Maureen feel left behind and sad at the loss of their previously close bond. She and Francine are not in all the same classes and she was even signed up for Cadet Corps, which her parents think would help with her self-confidence. But she’s so bad at marching that she’s in danger of her first non-A report card grade ever – unless she runs for sixth grade student council. The only other person running for president is, of course, Francine. Fighting and smear campaigns ensue and their parents try to find ways to end the rivalry, but in the end the girls have to get to a place of apology and forgiveness on their own. 

For fans of: Raina Telgemeier (Sisters, Drama, Smile)

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity by Amy Alznauer

by Amy Alznauer
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Alznauer, herself a mathematician, portrays this 19th century math genius growing up in India. She tells of his family, how he didn’t speak until he was 3, how school bored him and he went to a new one each year until finally a teacher saw his potential and encouraged his brilliant questions about math and numbers. Somehow he was able to connect with professors at Cambridge and trade ideas with other fine minds of his time. Daniel Miyares’ beautiful illustrations more than do the story justice – they bring it to life.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

by Louise Fitzhugh
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I read this one as a kid and boy did I not remember most of it! The scene where she climbs into the dumbwaiter and spies on her neighbor was the one that mostly stayed with me, but even that lacked a lot of details. I remembered nothing about Harriet having a nanny, who plays a huge role in the story, or the main plot of how Harriet’s spying loses her her close friendships as well as even her enemies among her classmates, few as they are. Overall I’d say it holds up better than a lot of children’s books.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

by E.L. Konigsburg
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I remembered loving this one as a kid and the re-read did not disappoint. I was a sucker for kids running away and specifically their economy (The Boxcar Children, My Side of the Mountain, and even on the economy side, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, were in this category). I loved Claudia and Jamie’s story, and remembered it better than I did Harriet the Spy, but still forgot details like the fact that they had two whole other brothers. (I also didn’t remember how well Claudia and Jamie complement each other, but that’s sort of beside the point.) I loved especially how they hid in the bathroom stalls after the Metropolitan Museum of Art closed and then slept in the antique beds. They were very clever and I also loved the mystery of the angel statue and how Claudia and Jamie eventually figure it out, though I have to say that I did not recall them taking a taxi to Mrs. Frankweiler’s house and basically accosting her. But overall, except for a few things, it holds up well and is clearly a classic for a reason.

Second Dad Summer by Benjamin Klas

by Benjamin Klas
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Jeremiah is spending the summer with his dad in Minneapolis, as usual. This time, though, there’s another man in the picture: his dad’s boyfriend, Michael. Jeremiah met Michael last year but thankfully didn’t have to spend too much time with him. This summer, though, he’s still there. Jeremiah finds Michael’s flamboyance and interest in being his parent annoying. Dad and Michael have moved in together to a new apartment and Jeremiah makes friends with Sage, a girl about his age (12) with two moms and a bicycle, and they spend a lot of time riding around together. They also manage to befriend Mr. Keeler, the resident curmudgeon. By the end of the summer, Jeremiah has come around to Michael, partly because of Mr. Keeler, whose passing plays a role in Jeremiah and Michael bonding.

A coworker recommended this one to me, but wasn’t sure who to give it to. Normally the font size and protagonist age match up but this book might be a case of a hi-lo book (high interest level – of interest to a middle schooler – paired with low reading level, indicated by the larger font size and presence of pictures as aids). It’s also a great show of bisexuality and bisexual acceptance; Jeremiah’s dad (and mom) have known that he’s bi all along and no one has any lingering issues about him dating both men and women. Sage has two moms and that’s partly why they bond; she is cued as Black and all other characters are cued as white (except for one of Sage’s moms who is identified as Hmong). It’s also worth noting that the author does a great job of showing how Jeremiah feels about Michael and how it changes gradually over the course of the book.

“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses

by Beth Anderson
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars 

Illustrations by Jenn Harney really make this book, especially providing clarity in a couple of spots where the text is a bit confusing. They evoke the 1930’s and 1940’s, when James “Smelly” Kelly was at his prime in working for the New York City subway system, walking miles of track and fixing leaks (an average of 8 a day!). He used his super sense of smell to do the job, but also learned that listening well and using inventions he made were also crucial. Another winning picture book biography in a banner year!

Illustrations like: Day-Glo Brothers

Two Picture Books: Turtle Walk and Louis

Turtle Walk by Matt Phelan
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

A group of turtles goes on journeys each season. Repeating text is enhanced by the changing backgrounds, and then the very last one introduces a delightful change and the turtles go sledding down a hill on their tummies, then cuddle up in a big turtle pile and fall asleep. Completely adorable.

Louis by Tom Lichtenheld 
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Louis the teddy bear is NOT happy with the little boy who drags him around. Evocative of Daywalt’s quitting crayons, his story is a rant about how he’s so out of here – as soon as the tea party is over, and the show and tell about how brave he was when the boy left him on the bus. But then the boy falls asleep hugging him tightly, and all’s well. Louis’ scowls – as only a teddy bear can – are priceless and made me giggle, falling in love with Louis immediately. I understood the indignities he suffered, and was also glad when he stayed in the end.