Monday, June 19, 2017

Book of the Week: The Harlem Charade

The Harlem Charade

by Natasha Tarpley
Published by Scholastic Press, 2017
297 pages
ISBN: 978-0-545-78387-3
Ages 9-12



The rich past and present of Harlem is central to this lively, Balliett-esque mystery featuring three diverse young detectives. When Korean American Jin first pairs with African American Alex for a school assignment to explore some dimension of Harlem history, she’s challenged by Alex’s brusque and secretive manner. The two unite over shared interest in the recent discovery of a painting by a Black woman activist artist of the 1960s. African American Elvin, who’s been living on his own after his grandfather’s recent attack and hospitalization, is drawn into their search for the woman’s other paintings—whereabouts unknown. The three 7th graders begin to unravel the intersecting paths of the recovered painting, the missing art, the attack on Elvin’s grandfather, and the plans of a shady councilman who wants to create Harlem World, a cultural amusement park that will severely impact the lives and livelihoods of many Harlem residents. Their connection deepens as they reveal private concerns: Alex is ashamed of her family’s wealth, Jin fears her grandparents’ bodega is threatened by the proposed amusement park, and Elvin worries about his ill mother. This satisfying mystery also illuminates controversy surrounding an actual Museum of Modern Art Exhibit on Harlem in the late 1960s and spotlights the timeless and timely question at the intersection of cultural identity and art: “who gets to tell our stories?” (MVL)  ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book of the Week: Away



Away

by Emil Sher
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Published by Groundwood, 2017
24 pages
ISBN: 978-1-55498-483-1
Ages 5-8


Skip does not want to go to sleep-away camp, and in the busy days before she leaves she maintains her stance of resistance through a series of sticky notes left for her mom, even as she resignedly proceeds with getting ready. Meanwhile, Skip’s mom is a gentle, steady front of consistency in notes of her own as she shepherds Skip through the necessary preparations and packing. The notes comprise a spare written narrative that reveals satisfying details of their lives and relationship (“I bought you bug spray. Bring math homework to laundromat. I quiz, you fold.” “Bigfoot last seen under your bed.”), while expressive ink and watercolor illustrations show brown-skinned Skip and her white mom navigating the days leading up to their separation. Skip’s mom reassures Skip that Lester the cat will be alright without her, and that her own memories of sleepaway camp are “warm as biscuits” in spite of an old picture showing her in tears on the day she left. As for Skip, by story’s end she’s ready to admit, in a (sticky note) letter home, that “Next year’s goodbye will be easier!” ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, June 5, 2017

Book of the Week: Exo



Exo

by Fonda Lee
Published by Scholastic Press, 2017
384 pages
ISBN: 978-0-545-93343-8
Age 12 and older

 

Teenage Donovan is a member of the security forces keeping the peace after years of war that followed the invasion of Earth by the Mur zhree. Although the war has ended, an active human resistance remains. “Hardened” with zhree biotechnology as a child, Donovan can activate a protective exoskeleton, but it can’t prevent him being kidnapped by the Sapience resistance when a raid goes awry. When the resistance learns Donovan is the son of the Prime Liaison—his father is the highest ranking human in their district and works closely with zhree leaders—he’s taken to a Sapience hideout as a pawn. Although Donovan has personal issues with his demanding father he’s loyal to the zhree and, especially, his fellow security officers. But the identity of the principal Sapience propaganda writer turns everything upside down: It’s turns out to be his mother, who left when he was six. She couldn’t save Donovan from the Hardening his father volunteered him for and she believes it means Donovan isn’t really human anymore, even as Donovan knows it’s his humanity that makes him feel so conflicted upon seeing her—both hungry for and resistant to her love. A fast-paced, compelling work of science fiction with strong world-building deftly addresses the logistical and emotional complexities of political conflict and change through intriguing characters—human and nonhuman alike.©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, May 29, 2017

Book of the Week: Baby's First Words

Baby's First Words

by Stella Blackstone and Sunny Scribens
Illustrated by Christiane Engel
Published by Barefoot Books, 2017
20 pages
ISBN: 978-1-78285321-3
Ages 6 months - 3 years

 

A toddler’s day provides the story arc of a board book that offers engagement, affirmation, and delight, showing a mixed-race, gay-parented family. “Good morning!” reads the primary text on the opening page spread. The colorful scene includes word labels for “baby” (the girl), “bed,” “blocks,” “clock,” “laugh” (she’s all smiles as she greets one of her dads), “woolly mammoth” (a stuffed animal), and more. Objects, actions and emotions are labeled throughout as the little girl gets dressed, plays outside, eats lunch, plays inside, and, over the course of the day, experiencing a range of emotions, engages with a variety of vehicles, and encounters an array of animal toys before being given a bath and going to bed. The pleasing illustrations are punctuated by humor (e.g., the woolly mammoth is often shown doing something funny for a woolly mammoth—coloring with a crayon, brushing its teeth) and full of warmth. One dad, home with her throughout the day, is Black, the other is light-skinned, like the little girl.  “Night night!”  ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book of the Week: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora



The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

by Pablo Cartaya
Published by Viking, 2017
236 pages
ISBN: 978-1-101-99723-9
10-13 years


Arturo lives in an apartment complex in Miami along with most of the rest of his extended, close, chaotic Cuban American family. At the center of their lives are Abuela and La Cocina de la Isla, the restaurant she began with Arturo’s late grandfather. With Abuela’s health in question, no one wants to tell her about the threat to the proposed expansion of the restaurant into the empty lot next door: a new, buffoonish developer in town has plans for an upscale high-rise. At the heart of this lively story are important questions: How do communities shape and value individuals; how do individuals shape communities? How do differing ideas of what constitutes “progress,” including gentrification, impact community, and the family that community can be? They are explored in a blithe narrative featuring a slightly lovesick middle schooler (Arturo is trying to figure out if visiting Carmen likes him the same way he likes her) trying to help his family convince the city council to vote in favor of their restaurant’s proposal. Arturo finds inspiration for both his ideals and love in the poetry of Jose Marti, the Cuban poet and activist whom, he learns, his late grandfather loved (and Carmen does, too).  © 2017 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, May 15, 2017

Book of the Week: Not Quite Narwhal



Not Quite Narwhal

by Jessie Sima
Published by Simon & Schuster , 2017
32 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4814-6909-8
Ages 3-8


Kelp knew early on that he’s different from other narwhals. His tusk is short, he doesn’t like typical narwhal food, and he isn’t a very good swimmer. When Kelp is caught in a current and swept far from home, he sees land for the first time. High on a cliff he spots “a mysterious, sparkling creature” and feels an immediate affinity. Kelp swims ashore, finds his land legs, and sets out in pursuit. “Land narwhals!” Kemp cries in delight when he spots an entire group of them. “Actually, we’re unicorns. And, by the looks of it, so are you!” Kelp learns his tusk is a horn (complete with cascading rainbows) and the legs with which he couldn’t swim well are excellent for galloping. He loves every minute of his life with the unicorns, until he remembers his narwhal friends. Will the narwhals still love him once they learn he’s a unicorn? It turns out they knew it all along. Will he have to choose between narwhals and unicorns? Never. Rainbows and unicorns and sparkles (and narwhals) serve a genuine purpose in this winsome tale of identity, self-discovery, and acceptance. Clever humor in the appealing art, created in Photoshop and incorporating cartoon elements, punctuates a story overflowing with warmth. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, May 8, 2017

Book of the Week: Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together

by Renée Watson
Published by Bloomsbury, 207
264 pages
ISBN: 978-1-68119-105-8
Age 13 and older


A scholarship student at a private high school, Jade misses having her neighborhood friends at school but the private school offers an international volunteer opportunity. This year she hopes to be chosen. In the meantime, Jade’s school counselor encourages her to participate in Woman to Woman, a community-based mentoring program for African American girls. Jade is paired with Maxine, an African American alum of her school. Jade also become friends with Sam. Like Jade, Sam rides the bus to school—a rarity. But Sam, who is white, has never stepped foot in Jade’s neighborhood. It all has Jade thinking about how people perceive her, and her community. Then she is not chosen for the volunteer trip to Costa Rica, despite tutoring fellow students in Spanish. The reason? Jade already participates in the mentoring program and her teacher feels other students deserve opportunities, too. Jade’s frustration is further fueled by the assault of a young Black woman by police in a nearby community. For Jade, the beating is too close, too personal, intensifying her sense of disquiet and disconnect with her school community, including Sam. Why, she finally challenges her teacher and her mentor, does everyone assume that because she's young and Black and poor she only needs help and "opportunities" but has nothing to offer, anything to give? Jade knows she has plenty to give in this vivid, poignant novel featuring a cast of singular characters; complex, authentic relationships; and a young woman voicing a critical truth. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Book of the Week: A Perfect Day



A Perfect Day

 

by Lane Smith
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2017
32 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62672-536-2
Ages 2-6


Cat, Dog, Chickadee, and Squirrel are all relishing a perfect day, although the perfection differs for each of them: The warm sun in a flowerbed (Cat), a cool pool (Dog), birdseed (Chickadee), and a corncob (Squirrel). Enter Bear, who disrupts everyone’s moment of bliss. Each of the animals hastily abandons their prized spot or snack when Bear lumbers near. It turns out Bear, whose massive presence can barely be contained on the page, is having a perfect day too. His is comprised of a composite of comforts: “The warmth of the sun. The cool of the water. A belly full of corn and seed. A flower bed for a nap.” A simple text showcases repetition and predictability, while the dynamic mixed-media illustrations command attention with changes of scale and perspective. (MVL) ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 24, 2017

Book of the Week: Star-Crossed



Star-Crossed

by Barbara Dee
Published by Aladdin, 2017
277 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4814-7848-9
Ages 9-12


There’s drama on and off the stage in this middle-school romance in which shy 8th grader Mattie decides to try out for Romeo and Juliet. She’s thrilled to be cast as Paris. Although it’s a small part, it allows her to swoon over her secret crush, Gemma, who is playing Juliet. At 12, Mattie is just beginning to figure out her own sexuality and Barbara Dee perfectly captures the awkward passions of a first crush, made all the more challenging by Mattie’s uncertainty about how any advances she might make will be received, not just by Gemma but by all the other kids at school. The director, Mr. Torres, notices Mattie has an affinity for Shakespeare and asks her to run lines with dreamy Liam, the reluctant Romeo, who needs extra help. When Liam suddenly drops out of the play due to a hockey injury, Mattie is tapped to take his place since she already knows the part so well. Now she gets a rare chance to act on her feelings, at least on stage, playing Romeo to Gemma’s Juliet. The chance to kiss Gemma/Juliet? Excruciatingly thrilling, and it fills Mattie with so much anxiety that it’s all she can do to remember her lines. And will she ever be able to tell Gemma how she really feels? It all adds up to a surprisingly tender coming out story with subtle parallels to the original star-crossed lovers. (KTH)  ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 17, 2017

Book of the Week: Niko Draws a Feeling



Niko Draws a Feeling

by Bob Raczka
Illustrated by Simone Shin
Published by Carolrhoda, 2017
32 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4677-9843-3
Ages 4-7


Niko loves to draw. His pictures, inspired by what he observes, are abstract images of the in between—the feeling or action or intent—of a situation. He draws the “ring-a-ling” of the ice cream truck, not the truck or the ice cream; the hard work a mother bird building her nest, not the bird or nest. Friends and family don’t understand his pictures. Believing that no one will ever understand his art, Niko expresses how he feels in a picture he tapes to his door. When new neighbor Iris learns Nico draws she asks to see his pictures. Looking carefully at each one, she doesn’t ask what they are. When she gets to the one on his door she says, “It looks like how I feel. You know, sad because I had to move.” Niko knows he’s found someone who understands him: A new friend. A straightforward yet thoughtful narrative touches on abstract art, the complex experience of creative inspiration, and the emotions of being misunderstood. Mixed-media illustrations provide a winning accompaniment, conveying the concrete of Nico’s world, including his multiracial family, and his abstract art. (EMT) ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 10, 2017

Book of the Week: Out of wonder

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and
    Marjorie Wentworth
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Published by Candlewick Press, 2017
52 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-8094-7
Ages 8-13



Twenty sparkling, original poems each celebrate a specific poet in a terrific collection that also serves as an introduction to the poets honored. The opening poem by Kwame Alexander, “How To Write a Poem,” celebrates Naomi Shihab Nye (“Let loose your heart— / raise your voice. … find / your way / to that one true word / (or two).” The final offering, also by Alexander, celebrates Maya Angelou (“Rise / into the wonder / of daybreak. … Know your beauty / is a thunder / your precious heart unsalable. ...Shine on honey! / Know you / are phenomenal.” In between are poems paying tribute to Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Bashō, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Walter Dean Myers, Emily Dickinson, Terrance Hayes, Billy Collins, Pablo Neruda, Judith Wright, Mary Oliver, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sandra Cisneros, William Carlos Williams, Okot p’Bitek, Chief Dan George, and Rumi. The poems, varied and wonderful, skillfully reflect their subjects thematically and stylistically. Additional information about each of the 20 poets is found at book’s end. A singular, beautifully composed illustration serves as a perfect accompaniment for each poem, complementing but never competing with words that will open eyes, and minds, and hearts to these writers. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 3, 2017

Book of the Week: Vincent and Theo



Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers

by Deborah Heiligman
Published by Henry Holt, 2017
464 pages
ISBN: 978-0805093391
Age 14 and older



As a young man, Vincent Van Gogh worked at an art auction house but was neither happy nor successful. He turned to God and ministered to the poor with great humility and an unsettling passion for self-denial until he was asked to leave his post. At 27, he returned home and began to draw and paint with purpose, relentless in the desire to improve. His brother Theo, two years younger and a successful art dealer, was his greatest critic and staunchest supporter financially and emotionally. Excited by the new style called Impressionism, Theo encouraged Vincent to use more and more color in his work. There had been signs for years that Vincent could be unstable, sometimes subject to deep sadness and withdrawal, sometimes frenzied. Theo, too, battled despair. A narrative that quotes liberally from their prolific correspondence details their individual struggles, while the devotion between them is its heart and soul. This exquisite, remarkable book told in the present tense positions readers as intimate observers of Vincent and Theo’s lives. Two portraits emerge in rich detail: a deep-thinking, gifted artist who was a troubled, gentle, compassionate man; and an insightful critic who recognized his brother’s brilliant mind and work, devoting incredible energy and resources to nurturing and supporting him. Uplifting, poignant, and tragic by turns, the brothers' lives, so very human, unfold in a work of exceptional literary nonfiction weaving scholarly research (further detailed in ample end matter) into a vivid, immersive accounting. ©2017 Cooperative Children’s Book Center