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05Mar 24

Middle Grade Book Review – The Jake Show

THE JAKE SHOW Written by Joshua S. Levy (Katherine Tegen Books; $18.99, Ages 8-12) e     I deliberately avoided reading anything about The Jake Show by Joshua S. Levy before uploading it onto my iPad. I'd also committed to reviewing it for Multicultural Children's Book Day before it received its esteemed Sydney Taylor Honor. I had no idea what a treat was in store for me. The main character, seventh-grader Jake, is in a tricky situation at home or should I say homes since his parents are divorced and both have remarried. At his mom's place, he's called Yaakov and feels pressured to conform to her wishes. She is a religious Orthodox Jew and her husband is a Rabbi. When he's with his dad he's Jacob because his dad is a secular Jew, at one point even forgetting some Hanukkah details, and his second wife isn't Jewish. Readers will understand this boy's dilemma. Jake, the middle ground name he uses at school, must constantly perform to please each parent while not knowing what he truly wants, only that it's taking an emotional toll on him. It's one thing when you're in a film, TV show, or on stage; when the project is done you go home and cast aside your role. In Jake's case, that's when the acting begins. Jake starts a new school as the book opens and is quickly welcomed by two classmates, Tehilla and Caleb. Jake is pretty sure he'll be leaving this school since previously he's had to attend schools either only his mother wanted or his father wanted. So, why bother making friends when you're just going to leave because one parent is not happy? This begs the question of why the adults in Jake's life seem to have all the agency and Jake none. When Jake decides to attend Camp Gershoni for the summer at his friends' urging, he knows it's time to take matters into his own hands since neither parent will agree it's the suitable choice. I was happy Jake chose to go camp but I wasn't exactly thrilled about the myriad lies he tells. He concocts a wild plan straight out of an "I Love Lucy" episode. That airport scene, which includes outfit changing, is hysterical and I could see the entire scene playing out in my head as I cheered for him. All through his elaborate scheme, Tehilla is urging Jake to come clean but he's in too deep. Levy has infused The Jake Show with the perfect amount of humor to counter some of the serious issues presented. Much of the LOL moments are due to his friendship with Caleb and Tehilla who, outliers themselves, may understand Jake better than he can understand himself. I found myself eager to see what antics the trio would get up to next and that was facilitated by chapters that seemed to speed by. Secondary characters including Jake's stepparents feel well-developed and bring levity into his home life. Jake needed to be…

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22Feb 24

Nonfiction Picture Book Review – A River of Dust

  A RIVER OF DUST Written by Jilanne Hoffmann Illustrated by Eugenia Mello (Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 5-10)     ★Starred Review - Publishers Weekly A Junior Library Guild Selection An ALA 2024 Notable Picture Book   Before even opening up A River of Dust written by Jilanne Hoffmann and illustrated by Eugenia Mello, I was dazzled by the dusting of gold on the title that I hadn't noticed in photos. Told from an engaging personified point of view, this picture book's narrator introduces itself in the third spread. "I am dust, the dust of North Africa." Readers are told that this dust connects continents and I, for one, was eager to find out how. The concept fascinated me; dust describing what an important role it plays in the ecosystem as it makes its way from "a ribbon of land spread between the Sahara Desert, to the north, and tropical savanna, to the south. Land that stretches from the Red Sea, in the east, to the Atlantic Ocean, in the west." Wow! I never thought about dust this way before.       The flow of Hoffmann's lyrical prose shares just the right amount of information for young readers to absorb. The warm muted desert tones of Mello's illustrations rendered digitally and filled with flora and fauna, combine with the text to convey the importance of dust in our world. Each spread shows movement as the dust is carried across the pages. Older kids will pick up details that may not necessarily resonate with Kindergartners yet there is still so much for them to glean.     While all readers learn that much of the dust disappears in myriad ways along the journey from North Africa to the Amazon, they'll also find out how crucial the remaining dust is. Its cargo, precious phosphorus, is vital for the "rain-washed, depleted soil." It will nourish the trees and help maintain the ecosystem.     I wanted to know more about this layered, lush, and poetic picture book because of the wide age range. I asked Hoffmann how she feels the book can meet the differing needs and interests of the youngest to oldest audience members. What she told me would be helpful for parents, caregivers, teachers, and librarians to incorporate into any reading. Its broad reach is what makes the book so appealing. "I think that kindergarten through 5th grade can get things out of the book, at different levels of comprehension. When I read it to younger kids, I focus on how we're all connected, and how two continents maintain their connections, despite being separated for a LONG time, something that littles understand, because they miss people in their lives who may live far away, or they remember what it was like to be left by a parent on their first day of school. And how they stay connected through phone calls, or letters, or even Zoom calls. I also talk simply about phosphorus, and how dust carries it, and how…

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16Feb 24

Board Book Review – Pablo Dreams of Cats

  PABLO DREAMS OF CATS Written and illustrated by Timo Kuilder (Atelier Enfants; $18, Ages 2-5)       Publisher Summary: Pablo dreams of painting cats. But his pack doesn’t approve and the cats just dash away from him. Will this painter ever be able to make the art he dreams of? Dutch artist Timo Kuilder’s first children’s book introduces us to an imaginative dog who is infatuated with cats, celebrating diversity and inviting all animals to conquer their misconceptions, and embrace everyone. Review: This adorable board book, Pablo Dreams of Cats, the debut from Timo Kuilder, features the titular canine painter on its cover in elegant profile, wearing an artist's smock, with tools tucked securely into the pocket. And that beret he dons tilted just so, speaks volumes. I was Team Pablo there and then. But if that doesn't pull readers in, perhaps the appealing opening line, "Pablo is not a regular dog," will.   e Young readers soon learn that Pablo is a creator, passionate about painting. Using his paws and tail, he applies paint to the canvas while his pack prefers playing with bones. Kuilder introduces the tools of the trade that Pablo needs including a "sturdy brush, a painting knife, and a small wooden palette to mix his paints." The graphic-style art is easy on the eye and the warm palette is pleasing. Pablo is enamored with cats. They are his subject of choice though his fellow dogs find that hard to believe. How can a dog like cats? Don't they typically not get along? Still, Pablo persists, trying to capture their likeness in paint. Except the cats are scared of Pablo. I love that Kuilder's mentioned that often Pablo ends up only paining their behinds. That is sure to get laughs.       After the urging of his friends, Pablo gives up trying to paint cats and turns to birds instead. They do not cooperate either. Pablo tosses in his beret. No more painting. Then, one day, a cat appears, unafraid and willing to pose for Pablo. Pablo paints and paints, happy he has found his muse and it shows in his beautiful paintings. Even his initially reluctant pack cannot deny the "magnificent" works of art. It's great to find board books that inspire preschoolers to reach for some paint and brushes to try their little hands at art. I encourage parents, teachers, and caregivers to have some supplies close at hand after sharing this sweet story that challenges stereotypes and tips its cap at inclusivity and creativity. Reviewed by Ronna Mandel  

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