Monthly Archives: November 2017

I’m Not Scared… I’m Prepared! by Julia Cook

9781937870287

by Julia Cook

4.5 out of 5 stars

We have many books by Cook in our nonfiction collection but this is the first one I’ve sat down and read cover-to-cover. Having had an active shooter / ALICE training in my public library recently, I found this book about what to do if an intruder comes to your school both comprehensive and non-scary. The main character is an ant and their teacher teaches them about the “Sheep, Shepherd, and Wolf” way to respond to a bad guy in the school. She makes it into a sort of game that the little ones can understand, and they practice climbing out a window and running to a designated tree, running zig-zag down the hallway, and throwing toys and paper wads at the custodian (who is dressed as a wolf). The teacher is also careful to say that they just need to do what they’re told the first time and not ask why; that there is no reason to feel scared; and that they should not wait for her to run to the tree. The only detractor for me was some proofreading errors, but overall this book is solid.

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange

9781338157475

by Lucy Strange

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Ok, this one comes with some caveats. Yes, it was very well written, but OH MAN am I not sure this is a book for kids. It is super dark in terms of mental health stuff and asylums. But let’s back up a sec.

Henrietta and her family move from London to a small town in 1911 after a tragic incident in which her brother died. The nanny takes care of Henry’s baby sister, born just after, when neither of Henry’s parents can deal with life. Mama has never held the baby and slowly goes down a dark spiral in her own mind, overcome with grief and unable to heal. Father just plain leaves, escaping to Italy and his work. Eventually the sinister-seeming doctor manages to wrest Mama away from the house and up to the asylum; he then sets his sights on Henry and the baby, whom the family calls Piglet because she accidentally got named Roberta after her brother, Robert). Dr. Hardy takes Piglet to his house for safety and then seems to indicate he would like to sedate and lock up Henry, too. But before he can, she calls on the mysterious woman living in the woods behind the house for help.

I liked that there were a lot of layers to this story, and lots of bits of information to put together, some doable, some not. The upsetting, more adult-oriented, nature of the story reminded me strongly of Nest, though I think the historical aspect (of both stories but especially this one which feels much more dated) helps to temper it a bit. People are generally not sedated and carted off to asylums in straitjackets anymore, so this seems a bit more far-fetched and not quite as “gonna happen to me” scary. I also like that Henry saves the day in a more or less believable way. I also loved the relationship between her and the cook and her husband, and the lawyer handling the rental of the house they’re staying in. All sorts of help from good grownups to balance out the bad few.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

9780385755559

by Kelly Jones

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Sophie Brown and her parents have just moved from Los Angeles to a farm in the country following her father’s job loss. They are taking over the farm that belonged to her father’s Uncle Jim, who apparently used to have some unusual chickens on it. Between finding the chickens, discovering their unusual qualities (one lays glass eggs, one has chicks who can turn animals to stone, one can turn invisible, etc), and learning to care for them, Sophie also has to fend off a would-be chicken thief, a feat she manages with considerable grace given the circumstances. She even makes some new friends along the way which will ease her transition to her new school in the fall. My favorite thing is her friendship with the mailman, Gregory, which reminded me a bit of my favorite mailman, Donald, when I was a kid. But I digress.

This was a solid story. It’s epistolary, and sometimes the letter format seemed a bit clunky, like when Sophie wrote several letters to the same person in one day, because so much happened (near the denouement), or when she really needed an answer by the next day but mail takes a bit longer than that, even in Gregory’s speedy and capable hands. I did not suspect the twist until pretty close to its reveal, which is always satisfying. And I liked that the evil grownup got what she deserved – but also that she seemed more complex than just pure evil. Sophie’s mother is of Mexican descent and her father is white, and she mentions race quite a bit. She says people are always assuming her family works on a farm, like as harvesters or migrant farmworkers, and how that hurts to hear over and over. Also it’s a small town and people are always surprised and confused that she’s Jim Brown’s great-niece, and then someone explains that she’s half Mexican, and that also seems to not sit well. But meanwhile, Sophie’s mom is a writer and keeps the family afloat, and the whole family has fun singing and dancing one night, and she makes migas with some of the eggs they get from Uncle Jim’s chickens, even providing the recipe and a non-didactic description of what they are that makes them sound as delicious as they are in real life!

Double Review: YA Graphic Novels (Jane and A Year Without Mom)

Jane, by Aline Brosh McKenna and Ramon K. Perez; Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

9781608869817

This graphic novel is based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, but Brosh McKenna took some liberties with the story in making it believable for a modern era. Jane is orphaned and raised by her aunt, but very few pages are dedicated to this. A modern Jane would not write away for a job as a governess, take the job and move away sight unseen, so in this telling she just moves to New York City for art school. Upon registering she is told that she must acquire a job by the end of the week in order to keep her scholarship, so she takes a mysterious job as a nanny for a wealthy single father. She is told never to go to the third floor, which is where the “single” father’s wife is in a coma, but their daughter, who is 6, doesn’t know. Jane falls in love (and sleeps) with the father, but it turns out that the wife’s brother is out to get the father because he’s in love with his own sister and wants her husband dead. So that was weird. But ultimately it gets the essence of Jane, an orphan who finds a place in another family. The art is incredibly well done and easy to follow and I enjoyed most the relationship between Jane and Adele (the little girl) and the twist at the end.

A Year Without Mom, by Dasha Tolstikova; Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

9781554986927 Dasha (yup, it’s memoir time) was 12 the year her mom went to the United States from Soviet Russia to get her master’s degree, leaving her to live with her grandparents. This graphic novel chronicles the ups and downs of her friendships and romantic interests that year, and ends with her going to the U.S. to be with her mom for the second year of the program.

Fellow book clubbers liked this one overall, though there were some in my camp who didn’t really get why it was written. One book clubber had studied abroad in Russia and gave us a little background. The spare use of red tended to highlight the perpetually-embarrassed cheeks of middle school girls. I suggested it would be good for kids who might not want a story with any conflict in it. That’s about all I’ve got for you. I didn’t love it.

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

9780316363181

by Svetlana Chmakova

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Chmakova has done it again! We are back in the universe of Awkward, with a different focus this time. It’s Jensen’s turn to tell his story, and it focuses mainly on bullying. He is sort of peripherally part of the Art Club crew, but isn’t really included on stuff like their preparations for a school Art Fair, with graphic novel authors he’s never heard of. He is intrigued by the newspaper crew and tries to join them but mostly gets used, at least by Jenny who’s in charge. Jenny’s best friend is Akilah who is actually much kinder and gentler than Jenny. The two of them are doing a research project for which they want to interview Jensen, who gamely agrees without actually reading the preparation handout they give him. So when he shows up for the on-camera interview and discovers it’s about people who have been bullied, he has the very natural reaction of “but that’s not me.” As he continues through his day, he thinks of the checklist Jenny and Akilah have given him, and comes to realize that almost everyone, from his two actual bullies (who turn out to be bullied themselves) to Tessa in Art Club, puts him down in one way or another. It’s actually the teacher he hates the most, his math teacher, who turns out to be helping him by requiring him to go to after-school tutoring (where the bullying continues, but at least he’s no longer failing math). The other bright spot in his day, aside from Art Club, turns out to be English, where he’s doing a group project with a big jock-looking kid named Jorge who ends up being really nice.

My one complaint was that I didn’t really like Jensen as a person. He lives in his head and loves video games, imagining himself to be a hero but really doing very little to achieve hero status. He really half-heartedly does nearly everything – he wants to be an astronaut but can’t get into math even though he knows it’s important; he wants to be accepted by the other art club kids but can’t follow-through to read the graphic novels whose authors are coming to the art fair. You can sort of see him wishing he had more motivation, but it was frustrating to watch him. In the end, though, he does get some help with the bullying and it starts a school-wide conversation that changes the culture of the school.

The third book in the series is Crush and apparently it focuses on Jorge. Can’t wait to read it!

Was the Cat in the Hat Black? by Philip Nel

9780190635077

by Philip Nel

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I would give this book 5 stars but he was seriously preaching to the choir and in a much wordier way than necessary. It took me a long time to read this book, partly because I’m not used to such academic writing anymore. (Also, non-fiction just takes me a long time.) I did learn a few things about racism in children’s books, such as that the Cat in the Hat was based on a lot of racist, minstrel stereotypes, which modern readers wouldn’t necessarily know anymore. The other points he made include: Publishing is too white and the people making decisions on what should be published are too quick to tell POCs their story isn’t relatable before checking their privilege; there is some significant editing-out of people of color in books like William Joyce’s Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore; whitewashing covers is also a terrible thing that not only tries to trick white readers but, even worse, doesn’t get books with main characters of color into the hands of readers of color; and finally, that people of color are excluded from certain genres such as fantasy. There was also a good list of ways to be not just a good ally, but a good accomplice. Overall, a solid, important read, though I suspect that many of the readers will again be the choir he’s already preaching to.