RIVERLAND Written by Fran Wilde (Amulet Books; $17.99, Ages 10-14)
★Starred Review – Booklist, Shelf Awareness
In Riverlanda debut (older) middle grade novel by Fran Wilde, Momma promises everything will be all right, but sisters Eleanor and Mike know better. Things aren’t OK, no matter how hard they try to be good. The girls weave stories about how “house magic” will fix whatever’s wrong this time. When Poppa breaks the family heirloom (a glass witch ball), a river appears in their secret hiding place and the girls venture to a place where dreams grow in reeds.
A heron made of metal, glass, and driftwood explains that nightmares are made of “failed dreams, smoke, and the river mist” and that “the same magic that kept dreams and reality apart also held back the nightmares.” Anassa, a snake-headed monster, upsets the balance. As the damage in one world seeps to the next, the sisters try to understand their family’s guardian’s agreement while facing new kinds of danger and the possibility of never returning home. Sisterly love fiercely connects them, yet Eleanor worries her temper dooms her to become like Poppa.
Lines between fantasy and reality blurred long before the enchanted river. The girls and their mother live fearfully in denial, unwilling to admit Poppa’s abusive nature. Though Eleanor’s new friend Pendra and Pendra’s mom (school guidance counselor) surmise something’s wrong, Eleanor keeps up the façade and her friend at arm’s length; without confirmation others are powerless to help.
Riverland depicts children trapped in a dysfunctional home and the ways in which they escape reality. This important book shows a family’s coping mechanisms for domestic violence. Older middle graders and YA readers may be best suited to recognize and process the nuances of this story.
FIVE FEET APART Written by Rachael Lippincott With Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis (Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)
In Rachel Lippincott’s superb novel, Five Feet Apart, with its PG13 film version releasing in March (starring Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson), we’re introduced to the growing love story of two teen cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Stella has been a CF patient for most of her life. She seems complacent and at ease from knowing all the nurses, every corner of the hospital, and having a precise routine and arrangement for her medical cart. Her habits at the hospital seem invulnerable to change until she meets Will, a reckless newcomer who also has CF.
As is the rule, CFers must stay six feet apart from each other to avoid contamination. For Stella, being close to Will could cost her the new set of lungs she’s awaiting on the transplant list and the promise of a new life. However, with the couple spending more time together, the six-foot apart rule becomes challenging to maintain, even for rigid, routine follower Stella. But if they can never touch, can they still love each other from a set distance? Or can they safely bend the rules, take away one foot but maybe tread in dangerous territory? Will it make a difference?
Lippincott’s novel is an exciting emotional rollercoaster with elements of hope, fear, and love that intertwine seamlessly. Lippincott does a great job conveying the longing between the two patients. She also includes diverse characters and family relationships that are not usually portrayed in novels that I read. If you loved books like The Fault in Our Stars or Everything, Everything, then you will want to read Five Feet Apart. Maybe, like the main characters, you too will find it hard to remain five feet apart from this great read.
Reviewed by Rachel Kaufman
Rachel Kaufman is a current sophomore studying communications at the University of Southern California. She’s passionate about books and hiking with her dog, Scout. Rachel enjoys how books reshape her imagination of the world around her. Rachel knows firsthand how important books are in aiding children’s futures, working with a reading program, Reach Out and Read, by reading, organizing, and donating over 200 children’s books. In her free time you can find her either reading or thinking about what she might read next.
Drawn Togetheris one of my favorite picture books of 2018 and not just because it has a clever title. Lê’s spare text perfectly captures the tale of a boy and his grandfather who are separated by words but find a way to connect through drawing—a feel-good story that crosses cultures and time.
Santat’s gorgeous art alternates between vivid modern color for the grandson’s images and a black-and-white traditional style when the grandfather draws. The book’s beauty will move you. The publisher includes clever details such as a sharp pencil on the spine and a surprise image beneath the cover; the two characters’ contrasting art styles serve as lovely bookends.
This book would make an ideal gift for that special child in your life who speaks a different language than you do, although any child will find it speaks to them about connectivity and family ties. It is also befitting for kids who love to draw because the book shows how pictures open up worlds.
★Starred Review – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
The Day You Begin isn’t about the day you’re born. Instead, this heartening 32-page picture book invites you to make a space for yourself in the world. Woodson grabs the reader from the empathetic first line, “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” Those words give voice to the uneasiness we all experience. Yet, to forge connections we must learn to take a chance and open up. López takes the story beyond the words. His colorful artwork imaginatively captures the emotional tone, showing conflicting feelings of hope and despair, isolation and togetherness.This lovely tale reaches hearts of all ages. The Day You Begin would be an ideal gift for graduates, people seeking to begin anew, or anyone who needs a nudge to remember that life is a beautiful blend of our differences.This story was inspired by a poem in Woodson’s New York Timesbest-selling memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness,School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid is THE book for that kid on your holiday shopping list who loves extraordinary facts. Who knew there was a school in Iceland dedicated to the study of elves, or that fireflies in Tennessee blink in sync with one another?Travel to destinations in forty-seven countries on every continent in this entertaining journey to 100 real places. The book opens with a clever Packing List and Adventure Plan (Table of Contents). Readers can randomly choose places to explore, or read the book straight through. Each two-page spread highlights segments that are stand-alone entries, yet there’s a teaser at the end connecting a topic from that country to the next one. For example, after reading about how Cambodians built their own bamboo trains called “norries” (when the war damaged their rail system), you’re invited to read about another do-it-yourself system of transportation in Colombia—homemade zip lines! Parents who find themselves unable to put this book down can ask Santa for the adult version: #1 New York Times best-seller, The Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. Whether young or old, the Atlas Obscura books take you on a fascinating spin around the globe delivering strange facts in the most delightful way.
HEY, KIDDO BY JARRETT J. KROSOCZKA (Scholastic; $14.99, Ages 12-18)
A REVIEW & BRIEF INTERVIEW COURTESY OF HILARY TABER
“It must be hard to write a graphic novel about one’s own childhood,” I thought to myself as I opened the book Hey, Kiddo. I remembered meeting the author, Jarrett Krosocszka, years ago in California. He was a bright, sweet man with an open demeanor and ready smile. He reminded me so much of my own brother. I had put that memory right next to his Lunch Lady books in my mind, and they sat on the shelf of memory happily together, side by side. I remember hearing about his forthcoming book, Hey Kiddo, and I knew both the writing about a troubled youth and the reading about it would be a challenge.
As it turns out, Jarrett has written so beautifully about that time that I could not be prouder of him if he had been my own family. Jarrett’s mother, Leslie, suffered from a heroine addiction. She was in and out of jail, and in and out of Jarrett’s young life. He never knew who his father was until he was older. His amazing and often exasperating grandparents stepped in as true parents. This book feels close to home in my heart because it’s about family. It’s Jarrett’s grandparents that I wanted to hug for all the sweet things they did for him. And at times I wanted to sit them down for a good talk! Still, how wonderful they were to him. Wonderful because they loved him deeply and it showed. For all that they smoked, drank, and quarreled all the while they loved Jarrett with a heart and a hat.
Hey, Kiddo sometimes reads as though Jarrett has written it from the perspective of a loving investigator of his own childhood. The author includes small and intimate touches like an image of the actual wallpaper pattern from his grandparent’s home. As we read we step into his childhood world. Also included are photographs of the family along with letters from his mother, Leslie, originating from her time in prison. There are drawings by Leslie just for Jarrett. It’s those letters that show how much she loved him and missed him. I read the book in one sitting, and when I put it down, I thought of Jarrett’s grandparents, Joe and Shirl. I thought that for all that Jarrett had been through, Joe and Shirl were always there for him. Actually, they still are in the way that love can never pass from us completely when it is given with such readiness and generosity. That kind of love death cannot touch. So, now on that same shelf of memory I have about Jarrett are his endearing personality, his ready smile, the Lunch Lady books, a difficult childhood and right beside that childhood is a place for Joe, Shirl, and their Love for him. That was, and is, a love with a capital “l” for sure.
Hey, Kiddo was a finalist for the National Book Award and is a highly recommended graphic novel for teens and grownups.
HT:This is perhaps less of a question and more of an opportunity to tell us why author/illustrator visits to schools are so important. Clearly, a school visit from an illustrator changed your life. What would you say to a debut author or illustrator about what that school visit meant to you?
JJK: Yes, I vividly remember being a third-grader and sitting on the creaky, wooden floor of my school’s auditorium and listening to Jack Gantos talk about writing. While he said, “Nice cat,” to me that day, I have since had so many opportunities to say, “Nice Lunch Lady,” to many young artists. When I was in college, working towards a BFA in Illustration, none of my professors taught me about school visits. From a business perspective, it is a great way to promote your book, but it runs so much deeper than that. To newly published authors I would say:
Work on an engaging presentation to keep the students’ attention.
Enjoy the quiet moments where you can connect on a more one-on-one with the students.
Make sure you bring hand sanitizer. There’s always that one kid whose finger is up their nose throughout the entire presentation. That kid is going to want a high five. Just sayin’…
HT:I think what I learned from reading your book, and reading in general, is that when we feel alone in a painful situation we seldom are. I think this book will resonate with so many readers. Thank you for it. It’s beautiful. To a kiddo who identifies with you while reading your book, who struggles with a parent who suffers from addiction, what would you tell them?
JJK: For those readers, I left a little something for you in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. I hope that you take solace in those words.
Writing transparently is cathartic but self-care is paramount—so write within your comfort zone but push yourself when you are ready.