Monthly Archives: July 2020

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare Le Zotte

by Ann Clare Le Zotte
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

11-year-old Mary Lambert is growing up on Martha’s Vineyard in 1805, the height of the famous Deaf society there. Her friends and neighbors are all bilingual, it seems, and town meetings are conducted in both Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL) and English. Mary can read and write in English, but not read lips, and her main language of communication is MVSL, which was a precursor to American Sign Language (ASL).

Mary’s family is still reeling from the loss of her beloved older brother, George, in a horsecart accident 8 months before. Mary is blissfully unaware that Deafness is highly misunderstood in much of the rest of the world, at least until a stranger comes to research her community. [Spoiler alert] At first the stranger seems benign, but then he abruptly kidnaps Mary and sails with her to Boston, where he keeps her as a domestic slave and a research subject. Mary is able to escape and return to home to her parents, who are beside themselves. She is certainly traumatized by the physical abuse she endures, but the major effects soon wane and she and her family are able to start to heal.

I give away the plot because it takes a while to get there, and without it, the plot is a bit slow. I thought the whole story was about her life on the island and her family’s loss of George, which is cool and all, but once this plot started, it really picked up and Mary became more interesting as a character. I loved her growth over the course of the story. The author’s note at the end explains more about the community and why the author chose to portray some signed dialogue in the grammar and motions of MVSL but the majority of the signed dialogue in English grammar, and I agree with her that it was just enough to get a feel for how it works without distracting too much from the story. The historical details were also great – I had no idea it would take 10 days to sail from the Vineyard around Cape Cod to Boston! These days it’s just 45 minutes by high-speed ferry from Woods Hole. This is also a great local historical fiction book for those in New England!

This is a Dog by Ross Collins

by Ross Collins a dog
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I will admit that I was skeptical when my coworker handed me this one, proclaiming it’s hilarious. The first several pages are fairly benign, with simple text reading “This is a [animal]” and then a picture of that animal. But the dog on the cover gets increasingly bold and chases the other animals away or making their page say “This is a dog.” He even dresses up like an elephant on the elephant page, which made me laugh out loud. The text follows as the antics veer off into “this is a chase” and “this is a trick” and ends with the dog having eluded the others and curls up to sleep. (One note to those who try to stay away from potty humor is that one spread has the dog peeing on a giraffe.) This book would be a great Kindergarten read-aloud, plus the large type and repetition of “This is a” on every page would make it a good early reader too! Very reminiscent of Kelly Bingham’s Z is for Moose and Circle, Square, Moose – but this dog is less obnoxious than Moose.

Rick by Alex Gino

Rick by Alex Gino
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

6th grade is full of changes for Rick. His beloved older sister is off to college, Rick starts visiting his Grandpa Ray for some one-on-one time, and he’s coming to terms with how he feels about his best friend, Jeff, who he’s realizing is kind of a jerk. At first, Rick judges Jeff on past behavior and on comparing him to others, but eventually realizes that he needs to look at Jeff’s behavior on its own.

6th grade also introduces Rick to the Rainbow Spectrum, an after-school group of LGBTQIAP+ kids and allies, including Melissa, the heroine of Gino’s novel George. (The cover is also similar to George’s, so I knew at a glance this would be a similar, if not companion, book to that one, and was pleased to see Melissa here.) Jeff is pretty vocal about his disdain for the Rainbow Spectrum, and at first Rick doesn’t say anything, even while standing as lookout for Jeff to deface the group’s posters. But eventually he comes into his own, with some subtle peer pressure from another kid in the Rainbow Spectrum and some good advice from Grandpa Ray. Rick also, importantly, learns about asexuality and is sure that he is ace too, even while others tell him he’s too young to know. Grandpa Ray and the Rainbow Spectrum’s advisor, Mr. Sydney, reinforce that the Q means both queer and questioning, especially in kids that age. Rick asks, “what if it changes and I like girls at some point? Or boys?” and Grandpa Ray responds, “Then it changes and you like girls at some point. Or boys. Or both. Or other people too” (p144-145).

Grandpa Ray has his own gender identity stuff going on, which I’ll let you discover on your own. I loved his and Rick’s relationship and Rick’s overall character development. I really liked that Rick didn’t just think (or be told) that Jeff is a jerk and dump him. Rather, we get to see him be an accomplice to bullying / hate crime and struggle with not speaking up, and then get the courage to actually speak up. I think that could be really powerful for kids to see their own struggles modeled, even if they don’t recognize them at first, and take the next step to speaking up.

Stories about ace characters are so few and far between and I’m so glad this one exists! I also loved that even Rick’s beloved older sister isn’t perfect and dismisses his sexuality questioning based on his age. I too would be tempted to tell a 6th grader, especially a boy, that they might just be a late bloomer, but after reading this story I will be more careful about validating them. As Grandpa Ray says, you know yourself best!

President of the Jungle by André Rodrigues, Larissa Ribeiro, Paula Desgualdo, and Pedro Markun

President of the Jungle
by André Rodrigues, Larissa Ribeiro, Paula Desgualdo, and Pedro Markun

The jungle animals are upset by Lion’s selfishness. They hold a demonstration and then decide they want to be a democracy so that they can elect a new leader. Lion must run against Monkey, Sloth, and Snake. Lion runs on a platform of tradition; Monkey runs on a smear campaign that promises no more lies, Snake on being an everysnake, and Sloth on patient reform. The candidates campaign, rally, and debate and then everyone votes. Lion is disqualified for cheating and Sloth wins. In Sloth’s victory speech, they vow to make a team to work together.

Originally published in Portuguese (in Brazil), it’s easy to see how this book would be translated into 6 other languages, including English. It’s not just a good story that shows how elections work in a very general way; it also feels particularly apt right now in calling out selfish world leaders and increasing election turnout.

The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee

by Helena Ku Rhee
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

A young boy goes with his parents to their night job cleaning an office when his usual babysitter can’t make it. He is skeptical at first but his parents make the experience magical by spinning a tale about how the office is a paper kingdom, complete with kings and queens and dragons. The drawings are as fantastic(al) as the story; overall a delightful read for bedtime or otherwise.

Parker Looks Up by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry

by Parker Curry and Jessica Curry
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This book made me teary-eyed! 4-year-old Parker goes to the museum with her mom, little sister, and friend. While running amok, she sees one portrait that stops her in her tracks. It turns out the museum is the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, and the portrait is of Michelle Obama. Parker, a little Black girl, is mesmerized, and “in that moment, Parker saw more than just a portrait – she saw a road before her with endless possibilities.” That page is filled with pictures of Parker painting, dancing, playing basketball, being a scientist and chef, playing the violin.

Based on a true story; the moment was captured by a passerby and went viral. Parker and her family got to meet the First Lady and go on the Ellen DeGeneres show.