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Middle Grade Book Review – Starfish

STARFISH
Written by Lisa Fipps
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal

 

I soaked up every last word of Starfish, the Printz Honor-winning debut by Lisa Fipps, and could easily dive back in and read it all over again because I felt such a strong connection with the main character, Ellie. This moving middle-grade novel told in verse takes us inside Ellie’s head as she navigates life at school and at home where she is not only bullied by classmates for being overweight but by her mother as well. 

Early on readers learn that Ellie lives by her Fat Girl Rules (e.g. Make yourself small; If you’re fat, there are things you can’t have), finding refuge in her pool at home “starfishing” as she spreads out freely claiming her space. She also finds comfort in the company of her BFF, Viv, who moves away, but remains an ally from afar. Ellie’s father is a psychiatrist, compassionate and loving. On the other hand, Ellie’s mother is a writer whose harsh “words gut me like a fish.” She is always after Ellie to diet, and presses her to consider bariatric surgery, even going so far as to take her to doctors for evaluation. I ached along with Ellie as her mom mistreated her by constantly focusing on the bad rather than loving the good. Home should be a safe place for Ellie but it isn’t. It’s a constant reminder of how she is not meeting expectations between her demanding mother, her insulting older brother, and her non-supportive older sister who dubbed Ellie “Splash” at her fifth birthday party following a cannonballing incident. Tensions spill over into everything Ellie does.

With Viv gone, Ellie and her neighbor Catalina become fast friends with Catalina’s parents and siblings offering her the kind of family life and acceptance she wishes she had at home. A therapist Ellie begins to see, referred to as Doc in the book, provides the kind of insight and strategies Ellie can use to approach the bullies who think nothing of fat-shaming this bright, beautiful adolescent. Doc helps Ellie learn to appreciate herself and her gifts, reminding her that “No matter what you weigh, you deserve for people to treat you like a human being with feelings.” This sentiment will resonate with many young readers who can use so much of what Fipps writes as a reassuring resource for any bullying and self-doubt they may be experiencing.

The intimacy of this book comes from the verse and Ellie’s powerful voice. It’s as if we’re living each experience with her and cheering for her as she takes on the bullies and turns the tables on them without having to compromise by losing a single pound. Fipps drives home the point that bullies are the ones with the issues, not those being picked on. She shows how kids, whether big or small, tall or short, can embrace their uniqueness and love themselves for who they truly are not just how they appear. It’s no surprise how much praise this novel received. I hope you’ll share it with kids you know so they can walk in Ellie’s shoes and understand what size-based discrimination feels like and how to be a part of the change needed.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Link to Teachers Guide here.

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Picture Book Review – The Struggle Bus

 

THE STRUGGLE BUS

 Written & illustrated by Julie Koon

(Kind World Publishing; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Struggle Bus cover

 

 

From the publisher: Sometimes things are really tough. It’s just too hard. You’ve had enough. Grumble, rumble, bump and roar, the struggle bus is at your door. [The Struggle Bus] is a must-have picture book for any reader struggling with new experiences and managing emotions … Incorporating her experience as an elementary school counselor, Koon uses the accessible theme of vehicles to make this social-emotional concept perfect for the preschool and early elementary crowd. It’s also a great tool for caregivers to start conversations with children about acknowledging difficult feelings and facing fears.

 

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Interior art from The Struggle Bus written and illustrated by Julie Koon, Kind World Publishing ©2022.

 

From the inside of a grumbly-rumbly bus, readers travel through the process of helpless overwhelm to joyous triumph in this rhyming, growth-mindset picture book from debut author-illustrator, Julie Koon.

 

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Interior spread from The Struggle Bus written and illustrated by Julie Koon, Kind World Publishing ©2022.

 

Koon’s muted color palette soothes as she tackles the unsure (and at times overwhelming) feelings a child encounters when facing new challenges and learning we all “have what it takes to do hard things.” A repeated refrain invites the youngest listeners into the storytelling while ample back matter offers teachers and caregivers more information to use during classroom or at-home discussions. A delightful debut for both author and publisher, The Struggle Bus is a wonderful addition to the school SEL library.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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Kids Picture Book – Bella’s Recipe for Success

 

BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

Written by Ana Siqueira

Illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

 

Bella's Recipe for Success cover

 

 

It only takes a quick glance at the title to know that we’re in for a treat! In Bella’s Recipe for Success, the debut picture book by Ana Siqueira, we can assume that Bella, the Latina main character, will be engaging in disastrous recipes, resulting in a delicious and successful outcome.

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Interior art from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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The story begins with Bella and her Abuela in the kitchen. As her siblings brag about piano playing and cartwheeling, Bella wonders about herself. She attempts to discover her own talents but loses hope and resigns herself to not being good at anything. Taking comfort with her Abuela, she asks to make polvorones con dulce de leche. To Bella’s surprise, her brother and sister make mistakes too. So she persists. Sometimes the dough is hard as a rock. Other times it crumbles apart. But Bella keeps trying. She beats, blends, stirs, and bakes her way to success! In the end, she realizes that she is good at more than baking polvorones!

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Interior spread from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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Ana Siqueira does a great job writing language that reads quickly and light in the spirit of cheering Bella up. She creates delightful similes comparing her somersaults to jirafas rolling downhill and dulce de leche to cocodrilo skin. Spanish words are easily understood through context and round out the setting in the Latinx, intergenerational home. Playful images by illustrator Geraldine Rodriguez also capture Bella’s emotional journey making this an engaging book for young readers.

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Interior spread from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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This book reinforces that everyone makes mistakes and that they are okay and even necessary to achieve success. It is el perfecto libro for kids who might need a little boost in confidence.

A sweet bonus: The polvorones con dulce de leche cookie recipe at the end of the story. Are you ready to put your baking talents to the test?

BUY THE BOOK

Order signed copies of BELLA’S SECRET FOR SUCCESS here.

or from the publisher here: Bella’s Recipe for Success | Beaming Books

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Find more about Ana and her books at: https://anafiction.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SraSiqueira1307

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiqueira1307/?hl=en

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20267025.Ana_Siqueira

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/asiqueira1307/_saved/

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

Twitter:  @GeryRdz
Instagram: @geryrdzart
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The Bad Seed written by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald

THE BAD SEED
Written by Jory John
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Harper Collins Children’s; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Starred Review – School Library Journal

After reading The Bad Seed  written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald, I truly appreciated its deep message about the value we place on ourselves and others based on behavior.

Here’s where the review gets interesting though; while this is a children’s picture book geared towards ages 4-8; I feel it’s also a great book for older kids and even adults!

Younger kids, especially in the world we live in today, know the power words hold over someone. When reading to a younger crowd, as a teacher, I would explain that words like “bad” and “good” are labels. We all make mistakes sometimes. Why is the seed labeled this way? For older children the book serves as a reinforcement of what they hopefully know to be true, there’s always room for self-growth.

The story follows a little sunflower seed who loves his family dearly on their Sunflower head home. As the seeds scatter when it’s nature’s time for them to drop off the beloved plant, they become separated.

 

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The Bad Seed Text copyright © by Jory John 2017 Illustration copyright © by Pete Oswald 2017

 

Our once loved and happy seed protagonist quickly becomes traumatized by events beyond his control (such as a man at a baseball game nearly swallowing him and then being spit out- with a permanent crack in his once whole shell!) The seed isn’t so happy anymore and is convinced that he is bad (something anyone with trauma in their life can relate to, as it is often the victim left feeling at fault).

He begins to act out by deciding “not to care anymore” which he does by not listening to others, lying, and not washing his hands, among other things. But what our dear seed needs desperately, is for someone to connect to. To see his cracks and accept him, showing him that he can be whole again from the inside out. Children often act out when they need help, and our little seed is a perfect example of someone needing intense care.

He eventually tires of his “bad” behavior and starts working on being “good” again. I say these words in quotes because the truth is none of us lives in a world of black and white/good or bad people. It requires constant awareness to make positive choices to be your very best self and not let a label define you.

We never know someone else’s background- their own unique make-up and history, so labeling them as “bad” or “good” means that we miss out on why they are behaving that way to begin with. With children especially, curiosity goes a long way in sorting out behavior that doesn’t work. We are all moving through each moment trying to meet needs. Some strategies we try are better than others, and The Bad Seed, through both its humorous art and prose, illustrates that beautifully. Pete Oswald’s expressive and whimsical illustrations truly capture the emotions of this little seed in a way many children can relate to so they can instantly guess at how he is feeling.

I recommend this book as a tool to show that we never know what someone else has been through. Being curious, asking questions, and offering kindness before judging and criticizing would be best whenever possible in life.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

 

 

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