Monthly Archives: December 2020

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.

Double Review: U.S. Myth-Busting Books

Plymouth Rocks! The Stone-Cold Truth
by Jane Yolen

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I was surprised to see a Jane Yolen book get a lukewarm Kirkus review, even moreso when I read the title and synopsis. Americans are in need of some serious history myth-busting, particularly around Thanksgiving. So I requested a copy to see for myself. It turns out that I do not happen to agree with that particular reviewer and I’m glad I bought a copy for my library. Yolen’s anthropomorphized rock, and the historian (appearing to be a woman of color) correcting the rock, delve into some of the myths around its history as an American symbol and readers learn new facts (I even learned some new-to-me myths, that were then busted). The pair don’t get too far into the myth of the first Thanksgiving, disappointingly – maybe Yolen thought the full gory truth a bit much for a book aimed this young (2nd-3rd grade).

The Statue of Liberty Wasn’t Made to Welcome Immigrants
by Therese Shea

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Short text and wide spacing make this accessible to readers who have recently gotten the hang of it – probably best for second grade and up. Shares a myth about each of 11 different US landmarks and then shares the truth. Some myths I wasn’t even aware of! Included in information about Mount Rushmore is the fact that in 1980, the land was deemed stolen from the Sioux nation.

The Popper Penguin Rescue by Eliot Schrefer

by Eliot Schrefer
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I loooooooved Mr. Popper’s Penguins as a kid. I believe it even fueled me and my sister pretending our stuffed penguin was alive, putting it in a box and “feeding” it torn up construction paper, on an Antarctic twist on proving responsibility to our parents to get a real pet. I haven’t re-read the book as an adult, mostly out of fear that it won’t have aged well.

The Popper Penguin Rescue features descendants of both Mr. Popper and his penguins. His distant relations, Nina and Joel and their mom, move back to town and into one of the old Popper penguin attractions and promptly find two mysterious eggs, about to hatch. They eventually decide to reunite the two chicks with the other Popper penguins, who had been rehomed on an arctic island. With the unquestioning help of an Inuit sailor, they take off from school to make the trip.

While on the island, they realize that the penguins don’t belong there, and are in fact having a devastating effect on the native puffins, who no longer have enough fish to eat. So they get Yuka, their Inuit guide, to take them and all the penguins to Antarctica. Once they get there they realize that the two chicks are a totally different species and should be somewhere else. In fact, because they have imprinted on Joel and Nina, they won’t survive in the wild at all, so the family decides to keep them in the end and use them to tour and educate people on penguins and climate issues.

This story is a lovely adventure for young children but requires a lottttt of suspension of disbelief that older readers might find frustrating. In particular, the family’s reliance on others – in particular a Native person for his labor and time, but also the Popper Foundation for funding – not to mention just dropping everything and going off on an adventure. But probably similar things happened in the original book and I was probably just fine with it, which makes me wonder if it holds up, both culturally and in my estimation as an adult.

Turning Point by Paula Chase

by Paula Chase
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

13-year-old Rasheeda is not looking forward to this summer, her first without her best friend, Monique, since moving in with her aunt in The Cove. Though the take ballet together, only Monique and Jamila, the best in their class, were selected and given scholarships to attend Ballet America, a 3-week intensive in another city. That leaves Sheeda home with just Tai, Mila’s best friend, and her church friends, a group which is splintering for different reasons. Oh and Mo’s brother Lennie, who is flirting with Sheeda like crazy.

Sheeda struggles with her precarious placement on the edge of adulthood, chafing against her aunt’s strict rules, but also seeing that they are there for a reason. There is an incident when an older boy, Lennie’s cousin, touches her in a way that she doesn’t like, and Lennie doesn’t stand up for her. He says, “I wouldn’t have let him hurt you,” and internally her response is, “He did hurt me, though.” Chase stops just shy of making explicit the connection: emotional harm IS harm. Harm doesn’t need to be physical or visible to be harmful. I think for 6th-8th grade readers, it might have been worthwhile to have stated this. But either way, that scene is very important and I’m glad it’s in there. It would be a great example to male readers of why consent is so important – and so murky sometimes.

The other important storyline is Mo and Mila off at the ballet intensive. They are grateful to have each other, and especially be roommates, because they are the only two Black girls there. (Curiously, their identities are not held up against anyone else marginalized, like say any boys, for comparison, but the storyline is rich enough on its own.) They share a bathroom with Katie and Brenna, who are White, and of course race, and racism, comes up. Mo is cast in the “angry Black woman” role and explains very clearly why she is frustrated by Katie’s and Brenna’s actions and words. Unfortunately, this does put her, and Mila to a lesser degree, in the role as Katie and Brenna’s teacher, but I think the microaggressions are very well shown. In a somewhat parallel situation to Sheeda’s, Mo is hurt by Katie’s failure to come to her defense in a hurtful situation – again, one that the other person didn’t recognize as hurtful.

I could go on and on about this book and the other relationships in it, but the only other one I want to mention is the one touched on most briefly: Sheeda’s relationship with her mother. I think the most telling way that Sheeda grows up is that she wants to hear her mother’s voice just to comfort her, and her mother is unable to give her any genuine attention. From the moment she answers the phone, it is all about her and her problems and her anger at Rasheeda’s aunt (her sister). Sheeda hangs up after a while, and seems to understand that her aunt is who she has, who will care for her in all the ways. Even if they don’t always agree, she’s her mother now.