Monday, November 27, 2017

Swing It, Sunny

Sometimes books don't need to have massive plots to be enjoyable. I think the best word for Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm's Swing It, Sunny is 'serviceable'. It will be popular because it's a graphic novel about a middle school student, but it isn't going to win any awards or blow anyone away.

In the first book, Sunny Side Up, our main character's older brother is constantly in trouble. In this sequel, Dale has been sent to military school, but he has a large presence in the house. Sunny and her parents tiptoe around discussing him, although at times it seems like there is a spotlight on Dale's empty chair, as depicted in the illustrations. I think this will be so relatable to many readers who have family members that aren't in the house. There are no easy solutions in the book, which is also realistic. The big lesson seems to be that life carries on, no matter what. For middle grade readers (and all of us), this can be an important reminder.

Monday, November 20, 2017

American Street

Now that I have access to an awesome interlibrary loan system, I set the goal of reading all the 2017 YA National Book Award finalists. First up: American Street by Ibi Zoboi. What's fun is that I am going into these books with no background, so I didn't even realize it was about a Haitian teenager. I have an affinity for books about Haiti, so was excited to dive in.

Fabiola and her mother left Haiti for a better life with their family in Detroit, but when her mother is detained at the airport, Fabiola must continue on her own. Thrust into a life with three wild older cousins, she must quickly adjust to American life. Soon, she is over her head and willing to set someone up for a crime in order to protect her family. But all actions have consequences.

I enjoyed American Street and was happy that Fabiola wasn't a saint; at times Haitian protagonists are written as too innocent and good. I liked how she stayed true to her Haitian roots, but thought there was less focus on her mother than one would expect. I was left with questions about her aunt, about how much the girls knew about their father's death, and about what happened at the end. Still, it was a worthwhile read and a good start to my National Book Award readathon.

Monday, November 13, 2017

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World

I would have been obsessed with This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World when I was a kid. I still love poring over the various online slideshows of what food families buy in a week, what toys kids play with, and where people live. Matt LaMothe has taken that concept, simplified it for early readers, and beautifully illustrated it. 

In the book, we meet Romeo (Italy), Kei (Japan), Daphine (Uganda), Oleg (Russia), Ananya (India), Ribaldo (Peru), and Kian (Iran). We follow them through a typical day and learn about their lives. The layout of the book is brilliant, with all seven different kids' lives on the same spread. It's fun to look at what they eat and see what is appealing, to look at where they sleep and compare it to ourselves, and to look at their hobbies and see what we have in common. 

The book ends on a beautiful note about how we all have certain things in common. I do wish that there was more diversity in the families presented. It was surprising to be that they all had two parents and there weren't extended family members living under the same roof as them. That was a missed opportunity to show some more ways that families can look different. Despite that, I believe this book belongs in every classroom and library. Excellent.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Wordless Picture Books

Boat of Dreams is a puzzle and the fact that it is wordless leaves much to the interpretation of the reader. Rogerio Coelho's book lets readers wonder what is happening and how the two main characters are related to each other.

The illustrations in this book (I'm having a hard time deciding between calling it a picture book and a graphic novel, because it is longer) are beautiful. They're a bit dark, but that adds to the moodiness of the story. There is a steampunk feel to the book that will appeal to people who like the work of Shaun Tan, and the plot would appeal to fans of The Little Prince.

This would be a great book for discussions about what is happening. I can imagine students poring over the illustrations to support their ideas with evidence.

I don't know how much kid appeal Jeannie Baker's Mirror will have, but I certainly enjoyed it. With its unique layout, readers can simultaneously follow a day in Morocco and in Sydney, Australia.

The main characters go about their days, spending time with their family, shopping, and eating meals. While they may look very different at first, closer inspection reveals a lot of similarity between the two lives.

Special mention should go to the detailed mixed media artwork in the book. It is truly detailed and gorgeous (see below).

This book could be a great provocation for a unit on cultures or on consumerism. I think it's a worthwhile addition to a school library, although not essential for a classroom or home library.