Fitting In – The Power of Belonging in Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared

BE PREPARED
Written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol
(First Second; $12.99, Ages 10-14)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

book cover illustration from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

 

Be Prepared, a middle grade graphic novel written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, is the book I needed in middle school. Aside from the fact that I never actually got to go to summer camp, I imagine my experiences would have been eerily similar to the protagonist’s trials and tribulations, including the torture of the unknown when it came to outhouse bathrooms. (I did go camping a lot and have never met a Port-a-Potty I liked, but then, who has?). The expressive and verdant illustrations truly capture the specific tumultuous emotions of tweens and beyond and captured my heart with the integrity and honesty given to this age group.

int artwork by Vera Brosgol from Be Prepared

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

Even though your kids are back to school with visions of summer lingering in their heads, Brosgol’s novel will help quell some of those summer pangs. Written from the perspective of a young Russian girl named Vera who is trying to fit in with her peers, Be Prepared simultaneously pulls the reader into an immediate place of recognition as well as a fresh perspective from a Russian family. 

int art from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

While her friends have big houses and to-die-for birthday parties, Vera struggles to gain acceptance in her smaller home she shares with her Mom and little brother. When Vera finds out from a Russian friend at Temple that a special summer camp exists geared towards Russian kids, she almost explodes with delight at the thought of going to a camp where she can relate to her peers and make some new friends. Since her school peers have been to sleep away summer camps and trips all over the world, Vera listens intently and absorbs information as they talk extensively about it all, hoping that following this summer she’ll have camp stories to share as well.

Int artwork from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

Vera and her brother have never been to summer camp, and she is determined to convince her mom that they should both go. And they do. As the first day of camp approaches, Vera is bursting at the seams. Her younger brother remains apprehensive. Thrown into the midst of a tent with two older campers who are seasoned participants, Vera’s welcome is not what she had in mind. Initially frowned upon for being so young, Vera’s artistic skills impress the older campers and they start asking for drawings. In return, Vera is suddenly at the center of attention she always thought she wanted. But giving away her art quickly turns into giving away her contraband candy stash as well as turning a blind eye to other campers she might have a genuine connection with. When Vera is caught with candy in her shared tent by the camp counselor, every bunk is raided until all the candy is gone, and Vera’s popularity with the older girls plummets. Adding to Vera’s stress and dismay is the fact that her younger brother seems to be enjoying camp just fine and isn’t anxious to leave as soon as possible like she is.

int artwork from Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Interior illustration from Be Prepared written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, First Second Books ©2018.

 

The turning point for Vera is her camp counselor encouraging her to find friends that don’t ask for something in return for “friendship.” Soon Vera finds out that a young camper with a missing guinea pig is an interesting and fun person to hang out with. At the end of camp both Vera and her younger brother come to terms with some of the pros and cons of summer camp on the drive home and, in a tender moment of sibling connection, find out that they have both struggled. 

Check out Be Prepared and feast your eyes on the amazing artistry and storytelling skills of Vera Brosgol, an author your kids are sure to want more of.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

Can World Cup Aspirations be Found Here? The Field by Baptiste Paul

THE FIELD
Written by Baptiste Paul
Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 Cover illustration from The Field

 

“is a debut masterpiece of collaboration and skill,” says reviewer Ozma Bryant.

In a friendly game of soccer (futbol), the magic of not only the sport but the players involved, comes into brilliant light splayed across the pages of The Field, a debut picture book by Baptiste Paul.

 

The Field written by Baptiste Paul int. art by Jacqueline Alcántara

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

With a tropical rainstorm threatening the game, the players band together, solidifying their connection through love of playing ball and sportsmanship. Challenges such as the weather won’t intrude on this precious time together. The story, I might add,  is really about a group of kids—the “main character” is never mentioned by name but she’s on all the pages.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

My favorite moment is when one of the opposing players is knocked down, and our main character, in her white jersey #3, reaches her hand out to him on the muddy ground asking, “Ou byen? You okay?” He responds, “Mwen byen. I’m good.” You can practically reach out and touch the splattered mud and rain that splashes across the pages as the players muscle on through, seeing the game to completion.

The sun creeps back out as the game continues, even as Mamas call the players home. Hearing a firm command “Vini, abwezan! Come now!” the children end the game then go their separate ways to rest up and rejuvenate for a new day of play.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

Caked with mud and filth, children slip into tubs of warm water, smiling …  reveling in the magic that is a game well played. Dreams of new games and friendship forming float overhead, as the field lingers even in sleep.

Alcántara’s gorgeous art propels the reader forward with spare language infused with Creole words from the author’s native home in the Caribbean. The author of this amazing story explains in the back matter that Creole is rarely written, mostly spoken, and so new words are constantly being added or old ones modified in this language. A Creole Glossary is also included.

One of my dear friends hails from Haiti, and speaks Creole. He was the initial reason I was excited to read this book and learn from it. One of the first things I learned from him was that soccer was also ‘futbol’. When I saw the young girl on the cover, I wanted to put this book into his young daughter’s hands immediately. I must ask if she plans to watch the FA Cup this weekend!

I am so thankful for this incredible book and hope to share it with many readers who can also identify with its themes of friendship, connection, teamwork and not giving up in the face of adversity.

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus

Click here for educator and librarian resources.

Read another review by Ozma Bryant here.

 

Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias

SNOW SISTERS!
Written by Kerri Kokias
Illustrated by Teagan White
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Cover image from SNOW SISTERS! Written by Kerri Kokias with art by Teagan White

 

When swirling snowflakes fill the morning sky, two creative, independent Snow Sisters! react in unique and complementary ways throughout author Kerri Kokias’s debut picture book.

The title page, a peek into their cozy shared bedroom, hints at the distinctive personalities of each sister. One girl lies sprawled across her bed with toys and clothes strewn about, while the other sleeps tucked in tight with toys in a row and an alarm clock nearby. After they wake, the first sister, on left hand pages, dresses in snow gear and rushes outside. She throws, builds, and tracks alongside a fluffy squirrel. Her sister, on right hand pages, opts for indoor comforts. She keeps busy with books, baking and snowflake making.

 

Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias Interior artwork by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

Kokias’s clever parallel text draws us into their individual worlds right up until an exciting mid-book switcheroo. When the outdoors becomes too cold and wet for one sister, the second is drawn outside after spotting a chubby bunny from the window. “Bye!” the sisters greet one another as they trade indoor and outdoor delights. Each embarks on re-visiting fresh interpretations of the words we heard in the beginning: baking, making, throwing, building, etc. The short, simple, active verbs make this book a reading experience that is very accessible for young ears and eyes.

 

Interior artwork from Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias illustrated by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

White’s homey illustrations utilize a purple-pink palette for one sister, and orange-peach tones for the other, complementing their respective brunette and auburn hair colors. Interior scenes are accented with mellow teal greens, contrasting with the beautiful outdoor images glowing with purple and pale grey snow. Young readers will enjoy discovering amusing repeated details from scene to scene, whether it be favorite stuffed toys or paper snowflakes.

 

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! by Kerri Kokias illustrated by Teagan White

Interior spread from Snow Sisters! Written by Kerri Kokias with illustrations by Teagan White, Knopf BYR ©2017.

 

The final spread repeats the book title, Snow Sisters!, and shows us how the two have found a time and place to come together and share their snowy fun. Readers young and old, with or without siblings, will appreciate the abundant and inclusive approaches for having fun and celebrating snow in this delightful, cheery debut.

Click here for author tour dates.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

 

Where obtained: I reviewed a copy from my local library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

How to Behave at a Tea Party by Madelyn Rosenberg/Book Giveaway

WIN A SIGNED COPY OF HOW TO BEHAVE AT A TEA PARTY
Written by Madelyn Rosenberg & Illustrated by Heather Ross
(Katherine Tegen Books, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

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REVIEW:

I LOVE all things tea party and Madelyn Rosenberg’s How To Behave at a Tea Party is no exception. I found myself itching to know how this adorable and entertaining picture book ended because its premise – not all tea parties go according to plan – is such fun! The cover, with the tea party hostess’s younger brother under the table reminded me of the numerous of tea parties my daughter threw many years ago. I recall running interference for her as my son’s trains and web of tracks seemed to always wind their way towards her precariously arranged party table.

Julia, the picture book’s narrator, is determined to show her little brother Charles the ins and outs of hosting a tea. Naturally you start by creating unique invitations, hand delivering them to the guests. Charles, contentedly playing with toys alongside his dog and pet frog, has a look of apprehension on his face, as do the pets. Julia’s instructions continue,

Next, you put on fancy clothes.
Wear a fancy hat.
Underwear does not count as a hat.

and though Charles and company try their best to cooperate, the results of their efforts (or lack thereof) are hysterical as witnessed in the illustration of the frog with undies covering one eye looking very much like ’40s film star, Veronica Lake. And let it be known, big sis does NOT want the McKagan brothers invited to tea, “Or the frog.” But it’s obvious from Rosenberg’s succinct and spot on prose along with Ross’s humorous illustrations that Julia is not getting her way, warranting her to “take deep breaths and count to seven.”

 

HowToBehave-int.jpg

Interior artwork from How To Behave at a Tea Party by Madelyn Rosenberg and illustrated by Heather Ross, Katherine Tegen Books, ©2014.

 

The juxtapositioning of Julia’s attempts to remain calm and in control of her tea party while watching its decorum slowly go downhill after a series of colorful mishaps is a big part of this book’s appeal. Another is watching the chaos ensue and seeing all the kids’ (and animals’) reactions as depicted so perfectly by Ross. This “Manners! What manners?” tea party provides a great jumping off point for discussion about appropriate and inappropriate behavior while at the same time demonstrates that it’s okay if things go off course. In fact, many times it’s actually a lot more fun!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

GIVEAWAY:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Author Carol Weston is Our Guest Blogger Today

Good Reads With Ronna is thrilled to share today’s guest post from Carol Weston.

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Author Carol Weston
Photo Courtesy of
© Linda Richichi

Weston is the author of the popular Melanie Martin novels, AND the woman behind the “Dear Carol” advice column in Girl’s Life magazine! Weston joins us as part of her Ava and Pip (her latest tween book) Blog Tour. If you didn’t read Rita Zobayan’s review of Ava and Pip, here’s the link to bring you up to speed. Also, be sure to scroll down all the way for our giveaway details.

“Have you ever done something you never wanted anyone to know about?  Quirky word-obsessed fifth grader Ava did, and now she’s about find out what happens when you let things get too far. Get ready to have fun with Ava who’s ready to do anything to help her older sister Pip finally come out of her shell.”

But now, without further ado, Carol Weston shares her thoughts on a topic confronting many kids, tweens and teens today, and yes Virginia, even when we were growing up in the Dark Ages before social media!

GRWR asked Carol Weston a question and here’s what she wrote.

“As for your tough question …

– ‘Have you ever done something you wish you could take back?'”

Oh man, haven’t we all? That said, while Ava and Pip is about a good kid who does a bad thing, I myself am not racked with guilt about having been a bully or committed any crimes. This is not to say I was a goody goody as a child. I was not, and I will now tell a story I’ve never told before.

minicopyWhen I was in fourth grade, I was a Girl Scout. One day, a dozen of us in forest green dresses and dark green sashes went on a Girl Scout field trip. I’m not sure what badge we were off to earn, but we all arrived at the police station in Westchester, north of New York City, where I grew up. A policeman met us and showed us around.

I was not a little klepto. But apparently back then, I did have a thing for thumbtacks. Not the flat silver kind. The colorful plastic pushpin kind. Yellow! Red! Green! Blue! Well, that day the policeman showed us a giant bulletin board dotted with bright pushpins. I was dazzled. When the policeman started leading our troop into the next room, I lingered behind, looked both ways, and pocketed a few. I truly did. I stole thumbtacks from a police station while wearing a Girl Scout uniform! Was it a bulletin board that showed crime scenes? If so, after I’d done my deed, it may have seemed like there was less crime in Scarsdale, New York, when in fact a little criminal was right in their midst!

Soon afterward, my young friends and I got into making phony phone calls and ringing doorbells and running. In math class, if we were taking a hard multiple choice test, I sometimes took a seat by a math whiz so I could compare my answers with his or hers. And when I worked at a drugstore for minimum wage, I’ll confess that I pocketed a lipstick. Maybe even two. (Three?)

(more…)

Ava and Pip by Carol Weston

Ava and Pip by Carol Weston is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan.

Enter the giveaway, too! Tomorrow we’ll be sharing a guest post by Carol Weston.

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Ava and Pip by Carol Weston, Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, © 2014.

Ava and Pip(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $15.99; ages 8-12), is a book rich with characters, storylines, and themes. It is simultaneously a word nerd’s vocabulary haven, a parent’s guide to sibling dynamics, and a cautionary (and ultimately uplifting) tale about the power of words.

Enter to win a copy of the book by clicking here. Please include your name and address and write Ava and Pip in the subject line. Giveaway ends at midnight PST, on March 13, 2014. Entrants from US and Canada only. Winner selected and notified on March 14th. Please like us on Facebook for an extra entry. Good luck!

Ava Wren is an outgoing ten-year old whose world is full of words. Her father is a playwright, and the whole family constantly plays palindrome and homonym word games. She even has a special souvenir pen that her father brought from Ireland. As full as Ava’s life is, all is not well. Ava loves her older sister, Pip, but is frustrated by Pip’s introverted nature and the resulting attention Pip receives from their parents. When a new girl, Bea, throws a party on the same night that Pip does, Ava decides to “help” her sister by submitting a story about a mean new girl who steals other people’s friends. What Ava doesn’t realize is that people aren’t always what they may seem and that her story is about to have bigger consequences than she imagined. Carol Weston does a wonderful job of seeing the world from a young female’s perspective. That’s no surprise, as Ms. Weston is an advice columnist for Girl’s Life. This insight allows her to present the situations, feelings, and vernacular of both the adults and adolescents authentically.

“Fine,” I said. But it wasn’t fine. Sometimes it seems as if Mom cares more about Pip than about me. Pip, her precious firstborn. Here are three pieces of evidence:

1. Mom always buys Pip her favorite snacks (like pretzels and mangoes), but doesn’t buy me mine (like grapes and cheddar cheese).

2. Mom gives Pip an allowance, but I have to take the garbage out for nothing.

3. Mom praises Pip’s sketches more than my writing—not that I ever show her my writing, but still.

I didn’t even tell Mom that I got another 100 in spelling (or that I got a 79 on the math quiz).

Told in a diary form, Ava and Pip explores many dynamics: parent-child, siblings, friends, enemies, and even first crushes. Even words have a life of their own, which is what Ava discovers when her story gets more attention and not in a positive manner. This is an excellent book for children to read by themselves or for parents to read along with their children. Teachers and counselors can use the book as a discussion builder on the power of words and of misinterpretation. I give a Y-A-Y for Ava and Pip.

AVA AND PIP by Carol Weston – YouTube

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