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Young Adult Book Review – How We Became Wicked by Alexander Yates

HOW WE BECAME WICKED
By Alexander Yates
(Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

How We Became Wicked cover

 

In the dystopian YA novel, How We Became Wicked by Alexander Yates, an insect-borne plague called the Wickedness has swept the planet. The people who remain are either wicked (infected), true (untouched), or vexed (immune). Three sixteen-year-olds survive the devastation.

Astrid and Hank reside in Goldsport, an enclosed community of elderly inhabitants; their world exists within its walls, a sanctuary founded by Astrid’s Grandpa Gold (now dead for twenty years). When the lighthouse on Puffin Island inexplicably turns on again, Astrid’s unanswered questions push her to find out all she can from the wealthy investors who built this safe place and now spend their days sporting their finery, comfortable with their stockpiled supplies.

On Puffin Island, Natalie’s life seems as barren and rocky as the island itself. Her mischievous and malicious grandfather remains locked away for safety’s sake. When Natalie and her pregnant mother have to deal with his shenanigans, their days ahead take an alarming turn.

I liked How We Became Wicked’s dual-perspective story from the insinuating title to the thoughtful story line. The wicked are an interesting lot, seemingly normal and almost childlike until their murderous intentions arise, reminding me a bit of zombies (when zombies are depicted with comical elements yet remaining relentlessly lethal). This book kept me hooked through its fast-paced chapters. My favorite part was the clever conclusion.

 

Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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Middle Grade Book Review – The Echo Park Castaways

THE ECHO PARK CASTAWAYS
by M.G. Hennessey
(HarperCollins Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages8-12)

 

The Echo Park Castaways Cover

 

Angelenos will home in on The Echo Park Castaways for its title—Echo Park—because we know that place! This neighborhood is where the story’s characters converge in their latest foster-care home. Quentin, a boy on the autistic spectrum, is the newest addition to Mrs. K’s house. Though almost nonverbal, he clearly communicates his desire to go home to his mom. Nevaeh, Vic, and little Mara may be veterans of the system but they understand Quentin’s need.

The reader is shown how each character struggles to get by since the story is told in three viewpoints. “Loud Boy” Vic lives in a fantasy world where he’s a superspy spinning tales about his father’s absence—anything is better than accepting the fact he was deported to El Salvador. “Quiet Girl” Mara barely speaks English but can get through to Quentin. As Vic plots how to reunite Quentin with his mom, “Tall Girl” Neveah has to put aside her already too-full workload of chores and college prep to keep the younger kids out of trouble; she’s their caretaker, like it or not.

Circumstances beyond their control bring these kids from different walks of life together. Though obstacles face them in everyday life, they forge connections and make a family for themselves. This fast-moving story illuminates how children with limited options adapt to a flawed system.

The Echo Park Castaways is a deeply personal book for the author, M.G. Hennessey, who volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in the L.A. foster care system. In that position and as a youth mentor for the Lifeworks program, Hennessey has witnessed the system responsible for society’s most vulnerable children. The book presents characters based on case stories that illustrate the very real challenges foster children face every day. There are 30,000 kids in L.A.’s child welfare system—the largest in the nation.

Follow M.G. Hennessey:

Twitter: @mg_hennessey
Instagram: @m.g.hennessey
Facebook: @mghennesseyautho
www.mghennessey.com

 

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Middle Grade Book Review – Beach Battle Blowout by Chris Grabenstein

BEACH BATTLE BLOWOUT
WELCOME TO WONDERLAND #4
by Chris Grabenstein,

Illustrated by Kelly Kennedy,
(Random House BYR; $13.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

If you’re looking for an upbeat beach read or a book that keeps the summer feeling going strong as back-to-school time begins, Beach Battle Blowout is it. The fourth installment in the Welcome to Wonderland series continues with fast-paced silliness. Likeable main character P.T. Wilkie lives in “the funnest place on Earth” (a funky motel) with his mother and his grandfather who is Florida’s “other Walt.” P.T.’s best friend, Gloria Ortega, lives there too because her sportscaster dad moves around a lot for TV gigs.

Previous books focused more on P.T. wondering about the identity of his father; here, his questioning is mentioned in passing but with significance. Dad or no Dad, something exciting is brewing again. This time, the Hottest Family Attraction contest, hosted by Florida Fun in the Sun magazine, focuses on smaller attractions like the Wonderland Motel. To find winning strategies, Gloria serves as the brains and financial whiz, while P.T. follows in his grandfather’s footsteps weaving wacky stories that entertain the guests. Their competitors have larger, newer, and fancier offerings, but the Wonderland has heart.

Short chapters and 70+ comic-style illustrations engage even reluctant readers. Mix a cast of friendly characters—and maybe a few “villains”—with adventure and mystery and you get this middle-grade page-turner. Don’t miss the funny and spot-on Storytelling Tips at the end.

The first book in the Welcome to Wonderland series is a New York Times best-seller, a winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, and on the Sunshine State Young Readers Award list. Chris Grabenstein is also author of the successful and popular Mr. Lemoncello series.

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Kids Book Review – United Tastes of America by Gabrielle Langholtz

UNITED TASTES OF AMERICA:
AN ATLAS OF FOOD FACTS
& RECIPES FROM EVERY STATE!
Written by Gabrielle Langholtz
Drawings by Jenny Bowers
Photos by DL Acken
(Phaidon; $29.95, Ages 7-10)

United Tastes of America bk cvr

 

Take a road trip with the United Tastes of America: An Atlas of Food Facts & Recipes from Every State! by Gabrielle Langholtz, a gorgeous cookbook for ages seven and up. Regional recipes are listed in alphabetical order by state (Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC, are included). Each location begins with two pages of fun facts surrounded by vibrant art; a full-color photo and clearly explained recipe follows. Because we had freshly picked blueberries, we tried Maine’s Blueberry Muffins recipe. It was delicious, and a good base recipe for swapping in other kinds of fruit.

 

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United Tastes of America, An Atlas of Food Facts & Recipes from Every State! by Gabrielle Langholtz, Phaidon; Eating in New York, drawings by Jenny Bowers (pages 144-145)

 

United Tastes of America interior photo pgs 146-147

United Tastes of America, An Atlas of Food Facts & Recipes from Every State! by Gabrielle Langholtz, Phaidon; New York: Quick-Pickled Cucumbers, drawing by Jenny Bowers, photo by DL Acken (pages 146-147)

 

It’s fun to look up the dish from your state—California is Cobb Salad—or explore new places. I really liked the US Virgin Islands entries featuring information about Dumb Bread, Jerk Chicken, Rødgrød, Fungi (not a fungi!), and Goat Water (a hearty stew made of goat meat, pawpaw, bread fruit, and Scotch bonnet peppers). The diversity of our country is wonderful: Green Jell-O Salad (Utah), Oven-Fried Chicken (Kentucky), Norwegian Meatballs (South Dakota), Jambalaya (Louisiana), Chicken Bánh Mì (DC). While expanding your culinary skills, you’ll also learn something about that region’s history, geography, and people.

 

United Tastes of America interior spread pgs 192-193

United Tastes of America, An Atlas of Food Facts & Recipes from Every State! by Gabrielle Langholtz, Phaidon; Eating in Texas, drawings by Jenny Bowers (pages 192-193)

 

United Tastes of America interior photo pgs 194-195

United Tastes of America, An Atlas of Food Facts & Recipes from Every State! by Gabrielle Langholtz, Phaidon; Texas: Potato, Egg and Bacon Breakfast, drawing by Jenny Bowers, photo by DL Acken (pages 194-195)

 

The recipes are indexed by level of difficulty as well as in a standard index where you can search for ingredient (potato), cooking term (braising), or meal category (desserts, snacks). This handsome book would be an ideal gift for your foodie relatives and friends who live in other countries, or a lovely addition to your cookbook collection.

I agree with author Gabrielle Langholtz that, “Food is one of the best ways to learn about a place—its harvests, its history, and its people.” Langholtz was the award-winning editor of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn, the head of special projects and publicity at the NYC Greenmarket, and authored The New Greenmarket Cookbook (2014), and Phaidon’s America: The Cookbook (2017). She lives in Pennsylvania (state recipe, Soft Pretzels). Take this book on tour with you the next time you travel!

Jenny Bowers
DL Acken

 

 

Love cookbooks? Find another one reviewed here.

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Board Books – Seek and Count by Yusuke Yonezu

SEEK AND COUNT
Written and illustrated by Yusuke Yonezu
(MineditionUSA/Michael Neugebauer Publishing; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

 

Seek and Count Book Cover

 

If you’re looking for an original counting book, I recommend Seek and Count by Yusuke Yonezu. This 20-page board book’s bright graphic art will engage young hands. Each page’s number is accompanied by an image under the flap, a pleasant surprise the reader will enjoy repeating.

 

Seek and Count int1

Interior illustration from Seek and Count written and illustrated by Yusuke Yonezu, MineditionUSA ©2019.

 

Seek and Count delights while teaching young children their numbers from one to ten. I appreciate clever details such as how the egg on the cover is pictured inside with a crack; when you peek under the flap, a chick emerges. Other images are a bit of a game: number seven could be a wild hairdo but turns out to be an anemone with seven clown fish swimming nearby.

 

Seek and Count int3

Interior illustration from Seek and Count written and illustrated by Yusuke Yonezu, MineditionUSA ©2019.

 

Author-illustrator Yusuke Yonezu was born in Tokyo. As a child he loved to draw and make toys out of paper and boxes. Later, he studied design. He is the creator of The Rainbow Chameleon, Five Little Apples, Moving Blocks, the Guess What? series of board books, and Yum Yum!

 

 

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Middle Grade Fiction – I’m OK by Patti Kim

I’M OK
Written by Patti Kim
(Atheneum BYR; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

I'm OK book cover

 

In the middle grade novel I’m OK by Patti Kim, twelve-year-old Ok Lee’s world begins to fall apart when his father dies suddenly. Even though his mother works three jobs, they barely get by. To help out financially, Ok starts braiding girls’ hair at school and resolves to win the talent show’s $100 prize—though he doesn’t have a talent in mind.

The flawed characters in I’m Ok weave together realistically in a story about the imperfect lives of recent immigrants and middle schoolers. Ok’s unwitting sidekick is Mickey McDonald, a girl with the biggest hair and a personality to match. Her family’s also poor but she doesn’t care what other people think. Mickey adds a lively, funny element to a story that also depicts race and social class discrimination. Set at an indeterminate time, Americana details such as Enjoli perfume or the TV shows “Charlie’s Angels” and “MacGyver” will resonate with older readers.

The ending feels genuine and opens the door to talking about why life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect or want. Ok is bound to his mother, and her decisions direct their future.

This was June’s book-of-the-month at Chevalier’s Books’ middle-grade book club in Los Angeles. I’m Ok was well liked by all. The animated discussion considered many interesting elements of this novel including nice story-writing details such as how the story is bookended by two similar yet quite different scenes.

 

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Young Adult Fiction – The Lovely and the Lost

 

THE LOVELY AND THE LOST
Written by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
(Freeform Books; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

the lovely and the lost book cvr

 

 

In the YA book, The Lovely and the Lost, teen Kira was found alone in the woods years ago by Cady (the woman who is now her stepmom). Since then Kira has been training with Cady’s elite search-and-rescue dogs. When a young girl goes missing in the immense Sierra Glades National Park, they are called in to the search. Kira needs to help this girl but becomes entangled with flashbacks of who she once was; regression into suppressed memories begins to overwhelm her.

Cady’s easygoing biological son, Jude, and their wild neighbor, Free, comprise a group the three teens call The Miscreants. Eclectic and passionate, they love one another and their dogs fiercely. When asked to put their tracking skills to use, they’re in.

With The Lovely and the Lost, Barnes has written a page-turner just perfect for summer or anytime reading. Short chapters race forward through layers of mysteries. Finding the lost girl is just as important as self-discovery. The flawed characters have dark pasts, yet find hope in one another. Even the dogs have well-developed personalities.

This story about family, secrets, and canine companions will tug at your heart and raise your pulse as you feel the clock ticking in the 750,000-acre wilderness area where the search takes place. Once you get to the end, you’ll want to read this clever book again to see what you missed the first time through. I like that some tangents are left open for interpretation or, possibly, a sequel.

 

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Middle Grade Nonfiction – We Are The Change

WE ARE THE CHANGE:
WORDS OF INSPIRATION
FROM CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS
With an Introduction by Harry Belafonte
(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 9-12)

 

we are the change book cvr

 

Middle-grade nonfiction book, We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders, beautifully weaves together quotations with evocative imagery. Harry Belafonte’s* powerful introduction encourages future leaders to remember that “in citizenship [resides] a profound majesty, an individual dignity, and a lifelong responsibility of each man and woman to one another.”

 

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Interior artwork by Lisa Congdon from We Are The Change, Chronicle Books © 2019.

 

Sixteen award-winning illustrators have selected and depicted quotes from leaders past and present. Eleanor Roosevelt’s statement “universal human rights begin in small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map” is expanded by artist Molly Idle: “lines drawn on maps to divide us into nations, states, and towns are only imaginary.”

Sonia Sotomayor hopes we fix a broken system rather than fight it. Illustrator John Parra adds that “we can accomplish much by reframing our goals of working toward what we believe in, instead of what we are against.”

 

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Interior artwork by John Parra from We Are The Change, Chronicle Books © 2019.

 

Raúl the Third’s moving image accompanies Dolores Huerta’s wish that “[people’s] differences should not turn into hatred.”

 

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Interior artwork by Raúl the Third from We Are The Change, Chronicle Books © 2019.

 

Khalil Gibran believes “[our children’s] souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.” Artist Innosanto Nagara reminds us “the choices we make today must protect our children’s rights.”

Additional spirited civil rights quotations paired with original artwork by Selina Alko, Alina Chau, Emily Hughes, Molly Idle, Juana Medina, Innosanto Nagara, Christopher Silas Neal, Brian Pinkney, Greg Pizzoli, Sean Qualls, Dan Santat, Shadra Strickland, and Melissa Sweet make this a must-read for tweens.

We Are the Change is a call to action and an opportunity for thoughtful conversation.

 

*Harry Belafonte is a Jamaican-American singer, songwriter, actor, and social activist. He has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1986 and is now the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.”

 

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Kids Book Review – My Heart by Corinna Luyken

MY HEART
Written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

my heart book cover art

 

Author-illustrator Corinna Luyken’s rhyming picture book, My Heart, about perseverance through difficult emotional times, will resonate with readers. The spare lyrical text explains what can happen to a heart: “some days it is cloudy and heavy with rain” or “it’s a whisper that can barely be heard.”

 

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Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

Details make this book special. On the cover, a golden heart-shaped flower glows hopefully as a girl tends it. The story’s carefully chosen evocative words and yellow-accented black-and-white images set the differing moods. Kids of varying ages and backgrounds depict our universal feelings.

 

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Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

If you look closely, each page has hidden heart-shaped images. From a playground slide and a puddle, to constellations and leaves. Love Luyken’s stunning artwork? Check under the cover for a bonus illustration.

 

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Interior spread from My Heart written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken, Dial Books for Young Readers © 2019.

 

This book can cheer someone up or just let them know you love them. A heart can experience myriad things, and “a heart that is closed can still open again.”

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

 

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Self-Improvement Book: 52 Small Changes for the Family

52 SMALL CHANGES FOR THE FAMILY
by Brett Blumenthal and Danielle Shea Tan
(Chronicle Books; $18.95, Adult Nonfiction)

 

52 small changes for the family book cover

 

Internationally best-selling author Brett Blumenthal’s newest book, 52 Small Changes for the Family is the third in her series that helps you make a small change each week. This time she teams up with Danielle Shea Tan, a functional nutritionist, certified holistic health coach, and corporate wellness consultant focused on family health.

Since it takes an average of sixty-six days to learn a new habit, no wonder breaking out of ruts can be challenging. Making small changes over the course of a year is a simpler and more realistic way to improve our family’s health and happiness. Four categories—sharp mind, healthy spirit, resilient body, and deep connections—are interspersed to keep things interesting. Increased thoughtfulness in any of these areas is sure to have positive benefits.

I like that each week’s chapter opens with a quote and that a diverse range of topics are covered. Ones which resonate with me include “Toss Plastics” (such an important issue), “Enjoy Healthy Fats” (algae oil, who knew??), and “Have Real Conversations” (a reminder to talk daily with every member of your family about topics that matter).

The book’s weekly program can be adapted to whatever best fits your lifestyle. It all comes down to the relationships we maintain with ourselves and our world. The quote in the “Be a Good Friend” chapter sums it up: “I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why” (John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men).

Why wait until the new year? Start June with 52 Small Changes for the Family. It’s a book you’ll keep on hand with pages flagged and lines highlighted. It also makes a wonderful gift.

 

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Kids Book Review: Nature’s Incredible Power – Trees: A Rooted History

TREES: A ROOTED HISTORY
by Piotr Socha + Wojciech Grajkowski
Translated from Polish by Anna Burges
(Abrams BYR; $24.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Trees: A Rooted History book cover art

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

Large-format middle-grade nonfiction book, Trees: A Rooted History, will engage readers with stunning full-page illustrations and fascinating information. Trees are the largest living things on Earth showcasing nature’s incredible power. They can be seen as sacred but also have practical purposes such as being used for wood or to make paper.

 

Interior illustration from Trees: A Rooted History

Interior spread from Trees: A Rooted History by by Piotr Socha and Wojciech Grajkowski, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

Leaves, roots, seasons, seeds—this we know. But what about tree eaters, tree dwellers, and the animals using trees for camouflage? We learn that the largest-diameter tree is a Montezuma cypress in Santa Maria del Tule, Mexico—so wide that not even twenty adults could link hands around its trunk. And that a quaking aspen in Utah, estimated to be at least 80,000 years old, is both a tree and an entire forest because it originated from a single seed and its root system has formed a 106-acre colony of trees.

 

interior spread of bonsai from Trees: A Rooted History

Interior spread from Trees: A Rooted History by by Piotr Socha and Wojciech Grajkowski, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

int illustration from Trees: A Rooted History from Abrams BYR

Interior spread from Trees: A Rooted History by by Piotr Socha and Wojciech Grajkowski, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

There is much to consider in this book. For example, a tree can withstand the rise and fall of several civilizations, or may grow alongside as works of art are created or important inventions are made. It’s fascinating that a 400,000-year-old wooden tool (the sharpened end of a wooden spear) was found in the British town of Clacton-on-Sea and that countless legends and fairy tales are set in forests.

 

int illustration from Trees: A Rooted History Abrams BYR

Interior spread from Trees: A Rooted History by by Piotr Socha and Wojciech Grajkowski, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

This beautiful book of discovery invites you to flip through its pages, stopping wherever your eye leads you.

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Kids Book Review: National Dinosaur Day – When Sue Found Sue by Toni Buzzeo

WHEN SUE FOUND SUE:
SUE HENDRICKSON DISCOVERS HER T. REX
Written by Toni Buzzeo
Illustrated by Diana Sudyka
(Abrams BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

When Sue Found Sue book cover illustration

 

Starred Review – Booklist

We may not be able to find which date is the real National Dinosaur Day (dates online vary), but what we have found is a really great new picture book reviewed today by Christine Van Zandt!

 

Toni Buzzeo’s nonfiction picture book, When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex, centers around how childhood curiosity can launch a life of discovery. As a girl, Hendrickson was good at finding things; in 1990, searching for dinosaur fossils in South Dakota, she unearthed the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, distinguished for being exceptionally well-preserved and more than 90 percent complete. Aspiring paleontologists will appreciate the facts of the dig—both the excitement and the toiling excavation itself.

int artwork by Diana Sudyka from When Sue Found Sue

Interior spread from When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex written by Toni Buzzeo and illustrated by Diana Sudyka, Abrams Books for Young Readers, ©2019.

 

Diana Sudyka’s colorfully engaging water-colored art offers a glimpse of Hendrickson’s life, often with a pet at her side (a detail sure to appeal to kids). Peek under the cover for a bonus illustration.

 

int illustr by Diana Sudyka from When Sue Found Sue

Interior spread from When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex written by Toni Buzzeo and illustrated by Diana Sudyka, Abrams Books for Young Readers, ©2019.

 

In the back matter, we learn about the dispute over ownership of these magnificent bones—a fight between several parties but not involving Hendrickson herself. Hendrickson’s amazing life included working as a professional diver, specialist in paleontology fieldwork, specialist in fossil inclusions in amber, and long-standing member of the Franck Goddio marine archaeology team.

 

int art by Diana Sudyka from When Sue Found Sue by Toni Buzzeo

Interior spread from When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex written by Toni Buzzeo and illustrated by Diana Sudyka, Abrams Books for Young Readers, ©2019.

 

 

Self-educated and adventurous, Hendrickson shows where life will lead if you’re open to following your interests. The story reinforces that our innate talents and fascinations stay with us and can develop into rewarding lives. Hendrickson’s T. rex fossil resides in The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, a place where she spent much time as a child.

 

CLICK HERE FOR A REVIEW OF ANOTHER BOOK BY TONI BUZZEO.

 

 

 

 

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Kids Book Review: A story with heart and humor – Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

INKLING
Written by Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

 

bk cover art from Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

 

• A New York Times Notable Book
• A New York Public Library Best Book of the Year — top ten selection
a
As a fan of Kenneth Oppel’s middle-grade book The Nest, I was just as pleased with Inkling, a lighter, funnier tale with lots of heart. The likeable Rylance family consists of sixth-grade Ethan, eight-year-old Sarah (who has Down syndrome), their famous graphic-novel author-illustrator father, Rickman the cat, and Inkling, the inkblot from Dad’s sketchbook who came to life. Inkling provides the Rylances with what they need—and they each need something different. If you find it farfetched for a main character to be an ink splotch, read this book. The characters have emotionally relatable depths.
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INKLING by Kenneth Oppel int illustr by Sydney Smith

Interior artwork from INKLING written by Kenneth Oppel and illustrated by Sydney Smith, Knopf BYR ©2019.

 

I enjoy stories without obvious plots and Inkling is just that. Typical middle-grade characters are rendered with fresh perspectives. Ethan struggles to complete the illustrations for his group’s class project, but, unfortunately, he can’t draw; no one knows this, though the class bully Vika Worthington suspects. She’s the best artist in their grade and the daughter of Ethan’s dad’s boss. Throughout, Ethan relives the day Vika tornado-kicked him into a garbage can.

int art by Sydney Smith from INKLING by Kenneth Oppel

Interior artwork from INKLING written by Kenneth Oppel and illustrated by Sydney Smith, Penguin BYR ©2019.

 

Sydney Smith’s illustrations intersperse the text, adding depth and delight. Vika’s furrowed brow is perfectly sinister. Graphic-novel images complement the story line.

Inkling resonates with the underlying grief Ethan’s family is trying to process; unspoken words cloud their days. Adults can appreciate the pressure of raising kids alone, having a special-needs child, or watching their creativity come to a grinding halt. Oppel’s clever plot will make you fall for Inkling and keep you hooked until the end.

If you liked The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole (written and illustrated by Michelle Cuevas, Dial/Penguin, 2017), Inkling hits some similar notes, check it out.

 

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Tween Book Review: Where Will Your Secrets Take You?- Riverland by Fran Wilde

RIVERLAND
Written by Fran Wilde
(Amulet Books; $17.99, Ages 10-14)

 

cover illustration from Riverland by Fran Wilde

 

Starred Review – Booklist, Shelf Awareness

In Riverland a 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.

 

 

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Picture Book Review – A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park

A GREEN PLACE TO BE:
The Creation of Central Park

Written and illustrated by Ashley Benham Yazdani
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-10)

 

book cover illustration from A Green Place to Be by Ashley Beham Yazdani

 

Ashley Benham Yazdani’s A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park shines a light on a familiar subject in a new way. This historical nonfiction picture book gives a glimpse into 1858 New York City when the park’s design contest was held. Architect Calvert Vaux and park superintendent Frederick Law Olmsted teamed up to win.

Yazdani’s images capture the vast undertaking as Vaux and Olmsted draft the layout, called Greensward. I like the spread of the ten-foot-long drawing envisioning what could be done with the land. Though their design was entered after the deadline, they won but had to change the name to New York City’s Central Park.

Olmsted planned ahead—about 100 years ahead—using “the color and shape of each plant to create illusions in the landscape” so nature would be the focus for generations yet to come. “Amenities such as the Dairy were specifically built to help those living with less, and Olmsted’s and Vaux’s compassion for others is shown by their determination to create a park that welcomed all social classes.” The men were early environmentalists striving to conserve this patch of parkland in Manhattan.

Kids who like construction-type books will appreciate that boulders were blasted to bits. Nearly every piece of the swampy, sharp, and foul-smelling land was raised or lowered, rocks were relocated and reused. Thought was given on how to best move people through the park without disturbances from carriages.

The end matter sums up the lives of Olmsted and Vaux. A page of interactive questions with items kids can search for within the book adds an element of interactive fun. More detail is given on Seneca Village, the area of land which had to be cleared for the park. The freed African-Americans who lived there were first offered money, then forced out—a sad beginning to this story.

 

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