by Dana Alison Levy
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
Oh, I love this family. I’m so glad they’re back, with all their boys and animals and noise! Delightful. This time they’re off to Rock Island off the coast of Maine, to their summer home that’s been in one of the dads’ families for ages. They are trying to figure out the fishy feeling they get from the rich man who has put in an offer to buy the old lighthouse next to their property. On top of that, they’re making new friends, joining drama clubs, teaching the cats to swim, and generally having a grand – and clumsy – old summer.
Interesting contextual notes include: In this installment, the boys’ skin color – all four are adopted, and two are not white like their dads – becomes part of the plot (in the midst of Black Lives Matter and racial profiling). I loved the frank discussion that Jax and one of the fathers has, though it should be noted that Frog is also not-white (if memory serves he is Indian) and also deemed too young to be part of the conversation, and the other boys are also not included in that conversation, though it surely impacts – and implicates – them. Also Eli’s new best friend, Alex, turns out to be a girl who dresses and looks like a boy (in the midst of an anti-transgender bathroom bill and general uptick in interest in transgender issues in general and in kids’ books in particular).
One final note: It occurred to me that the Fletchers remind me a lot of the Penderwicks, and as soon as I had that thought I couldn’t stop thinking it: four children, all of the same gender, the first three close in age and one much younger, very funny, sibling. This book especially drove it home, since it closely parallels the first Penderwicks book in being away at their vacation home. But it’s not a huge problem, mostly because I love both families just so, so much.
by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Rose returns every summer to the same lakeside cottage with her parents, only this year, her parents won’t stop fighting and her mom can’t relax. It turns out that they were trying to have another baby and not succeeding. Rose escapes to her summer friendship with a younger girl named Windy, and they get caught up in the drama of the town’s teenagers, two of whom have a pregnancy scare.
Windy’s annoying and immature character comes across clearly (and honestly, is the reason for the half-point deduction, otherwise this would be a four-star). Rose is maybe in seventh or eighth grade, and Windy is a year or two younger. They spend a lot of time watching horror movies and getting scared. They also spend some time trying out the word slut and one of the girls’ moms puts her foot down on that, though they continue to hear it from the teenagers, especially in light of the drama. Spoiler alert: the teen girl who is pregnant is harassed by the teen boys who make it seem like her fault and tries to drown herself, but Rose sees and gets her mom to rescue her. Also Rose’s dad leaves for a bit, she is angry at him for leaving her with her mopey mother, and counts the days until he reappears. It reminded me a little of Sunny Side Up, only not quite as good. The art is all in purplish-blue tones and it’s just right for the seriousness of the topics (and earned a Caldecott Honor and Printz Honor).
by Angelica Banks
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
Tuesday McGillycuddy’s big secret is that her mother is the famous children’s writer Serendipity Smith. After waiting all day for her to finish her final novel in the Vivienne Small series, Tuesday discovers the open window in her mother’s empty writing room and embarks on an adventure (along with her faithful dog, Baxterr) to find her.
This book is pretty imaginative for the “being literally sucked into a story” genre (see also: Story Thieves; Land of Stories; etc) but overall wasn’t a standout for me, though it is solid. I’m not sure how many kids are really serious about writing and will understand the metaphors, but it’s still a fun read. There’s a bit of deus ex machina to get Tuesday and co. out of a scrape but it works because she’s the author of her own story, etc. Also the mom is a thinly veiled J.K. Rowling, but again, fun. (Oh, also: as a librarian I was not fond of the portrayal of my kind in here!)