Wednesday, March 27, 2019

MG Speculative Fiction Review of Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu


Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher:  Katherine Tegen Books
Number of Pages:  328
Published:  February 12th, 2019
Source:  Library

Opening Line:  "Jenny Horowitz likes horses and the color pink and asking lots of questions about things I don't want to talk about." 

It's the middle of the school year and Elodee and her twin sister are moving from Juniper to Eventown for their mom's new job.  It's the families chance at a fresh start from an event that occurred that changed the family, brought on an incredible sadness and a considerable amount of pain.  Which they now refer to as "The Before."  Eventown is to be their after, a new beginning, an opportunity to leave their sadness behind.  

At first glance, Eventown is slightly quirky but also an idyllic place, there's no cars, television or computers.  Everyone walks to school or work.  The houses are identical, including the rose bushes out front.  Their new home even comes with a box of recipes for Elodee, gymnastics for Naomi and everyone they meet is nice and friendly.  

Shortly after their arrival, Elodee and Naomi participate in an orientation where they learn  Jasper Plimmswood founded Eventown after the town he lived in was destroyed by a major hurricane.  As a part of orientation for new members of the town, they're encouraged to relate six stories from their past.  Naomi completes the orientation process, but Elodee's is interrupted leaving her with three untold stories.   Something that seems to separate her from her sister and causes them to begin to drift apart.   

In Juniper, Naomi was really good at hiding her sadness, behaving in ways considered "normal."  She had a public face for her friends and family,  and a private face that she only shared with her twin.   She's concerned about what other people might think and so she tries hard to fit in, not to stand out.  Whereas, Elodee carries her worries and concerns with her.  She's been considered "loud, a weirdo."  And in my opinion very brave.  She's sort of Naomi's protector the loud to Naomi's quiet to draw the attention to herself and away from Naomi.  Elodee also uses cooking and baking as a way of processing or expressing her feelings.  A vanilla cake with confetti sprinkles on top might signify a celebration, but with a strawberry, raspberry, peanut butter center to show her confusion about moving.  She makes apology cookies with bitter coffee bits for calling someone a bad word and adds just the right spices and heat to her angry pasta when she feels left out.  Naomi desperately wants the kids in Eventown to like her and goes to great lengths trying out things that she would never do before, like playing the cymbals while Elodee plays the triangle.          

When Elodee avoids telling her three last stories, she also begins to realize that Eventown isn't as idyllic as she first thought.  For one creativity and experimenting aren't encouraged.  Before she could create dishes that were messy and bizarre but now she is only encouraged to use the recipes from the box at home.  There are only three flavors of ice cream ever and smores never have peanut butter on them.  Traditions are followed.  And being inquisitive or asking questions about why things are the way they are is discouraged.   When the families presence begins to have an impact on Eventown, changing the town,  Elodee comes to the realization that the price her family paid to live in Eventown is too high.  She also resolves to show her family that their shared memories, even the difficult, sad, messy ones are better than not having the shared knowledge of their happy memories. 

Eventown is an interesting place where life appears to be perfect.   So why did I keep having this niggling feeling, a persistent, annoying discomfort that something was about to happen?  Because it's an idealistic place with a flaw, giving up all your sad, angry,  lonely, joyful memories to live in a community free from creativity, inspiration, and the stories that connect you to your past.  Maybe you gave up the pain of those past memories, but you also lose the connection with your family over those shared memories.  I really commend Elodee for wanting to hold on to all of her memories as unpleasant as they might be and helping her family to heal from them too.  In terms of what the precipitating event from before was, it's slowly revealed toward the end of the story.  I think it's probably the first time I've wanted to jump to the end of the book to read ahead, I didn't and am glad I didn't because it's really worth it to read it all the way through, but have a tissue handy.          

Monday, March 18, 2019

Graphic Memoir review of Hey, kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka
Format:  Ebook
35794239Publisher: Graphix
Number of Pages: 320
Published:  September 25th, 2018
Source: Library 

Opening Lines: "Cmon, get behind the wheel."

Summary from Goodreads:  "In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka's teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett's family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett's life. His father is a mystery -- Jarrett doesn't know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents -- two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.
Jarrett goes through his childhood trying to make his non-normal life as normal as possible, finding a way to express himself through drawing even as so little is being said to him about what's going on. Only as a teenager can Jarrett begin to piece together the truth of his family, reckoning with his mother and tracking down his father."
When I first heard of Hey, Kiddo it was in connection to it being nominated as a Goodreads Choice Award, and then later from members of MGBookVillage via Twitter.  It's a story that really piqued my interest not only because it was a personal account of Krosoczka growing up with his grandparents due to his mother's heroin addiction, but also because it's something I see affecting my community.  In my state, the number of alcohol-related deaths is higher than the national average and the number of meth users is climbing.  It's concerning the amount of pressure and outside factors that can get in the way of children's ability to learn at school and I wanted to read this personal account, to educate myself.  

Krosoczka is an excellent storyteller and the images in Hey, Kiddo really capture the environment that he grew up in and does a remarkable job of bringing to light what it felt like growing up with a mother who was addicted to heroin.  He doesn't hold back and it is a very personal and heartfelt story.  The artwork is excellent and I especially liked the author's note at the back of the book describing the details and planning for the story.  All of the sketches were done by hand using traditional methods of pencil and paper and then made to fit the page via computer.  The amount of time it must have taken for each page, and then to go back and add the watercolors and other touches.  Impressive.  Another aspect of Hey, Kiddo that I enjoyed was the inclusion of letters he had received from his mother and samples of his early artwork.  He even managed to find a way to include his grandfather's art and incorporated some of the pineapple wallpaper his grandmother was so fond of into the book. Makes me wish that I had kept some of my father's drawings that he made for me when I was a kid.  From the story, you can really tell how much he must have loved his grandparents, and how much they loved him.   A must read and as  Krosoczka has previously stated will "hopefully help kids who are going through a similar situation to feel less alone." 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Graphic Novel review of New Kid by Jerry Craft

36005510New Kid by Jerry Craft
Format:  Hardcover
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of Pages: 256
Published:  February 5th, 2019
Source:  Library

Opening Line: "This is how I feel every single day of my life, like I'm falling without a parachute."

Jordan is disappointed to learn his parents have chosen to send him to a private school in Riverdale, rather than the art school that he wanted to attend.  He'd much rather spend his time drawing cartoons and hanging out with his friend in Washington Heights, then going to some prestigious school where he'll probably only have a few kids that he can relate to anyway.  Despite his protests, each day Jordan takes the bus from his home in Washington Heights to the Riverdale Academy and as he suspected, he starts to feel like he doesn't fit in.  On his first day of school, Jordan experiences students making racist comments, teachers who refer to some of the students of color by their former student's names, and witnesses microaggressions directed toward other students he meets at school.  The whole experience leaves him feeling lost and alone and uncertain that his new school is where he really wants to be.  

I'm pretty sure that I heard about New Kid from Jarrett Lerner's tweet about it and the #MGBookMarch's prompt for Your Favorite MG Graphic Novel.  The responses were overwhelmingly positive and I can certainly see why.  I'm fairly certain that this will be a very strong contender for many book awards, and will be making its way into classrooms and libraries.    

One of my favorite things about reading this book was the artwork.  How real to life these kids look, and I loved that Jordan's own comic book illustrations from his sketchbook were included in the story.  I also loved the realistic, honest way that it portrayed racial bias, privilege, and microaggressions through the telling of Jordan's story.  I'm sure many people can relate to that feeling of being the new kid at school, but this story is about so much more than being a new kid.  It's a glimpse into how racial bias, privilege, and the use of stereotypes make the person of color feel.   I so enjoyed the inclusion of Alex, who was sweet, wore hand puppets and made silly voices, who others thought was "weird," but never took the time to understand why she chose to wear the hand puppets.  

Even now there are kids who are struggling, trying to navigate their way through a school where daily other kids are bullied and there are people making racist comments, there are even teachers who are oblivious to the fact that they are doing the same thing when they single out kids, make assumptions or can't even get their students name right as happened with Jordan.  You just have to look at recent events at a prestigious high school in the Bronx  (The Ethical Culture Fieldston School) where students staged a sit-in in response to a racist video that had been circulating, making this story even more relevant, necessary and one I hope many children get the opportunity to read.  

As a side note, I read an interview by CrazyQuiltEdi where Craft talked about his hopes for New Kid:

 I have so many goals for New Kid. For one, I would love to create characters that mean as much to kids of color as Wimpy Kid, or Percy Jackson or any other books that you see kids carry around. I’d like them to think of this as a book that made them laugh, and also challenged them to think. But I would also LOVE for this to have the same effect on their teachers and their parents. There are so many microaggressions and some that are not so micro, that our kids face on a daily basis which can undermine the biggest reason why they’re in school in the first place, which is to learn! "  

I too hope that New Kid will be as popular and that he will write many more stories to come.  And that school in the Bronx, well those kids successfully achieved their goal of getting the school administrators to listen to their demands.    

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hello There, I'm Coming Home! (Book #3 in the Hello There series) by Laurie B. Arnold

42747167Hello There, I'm Coming Home by Laurie B. Arnold
Format:  Paperback
Publisher: Prospecta Press
Number of Pages: 215
Publishing:  April 1st, 2019
Source: Rebecca Grose from SoCal Public Relations   

Opening Lines:  "The New Mexico sun blazed hot through my window, spotlighting my mostly packed suitcase on the floor."  

Hello There, I'm Coming Home is the third book in the Hello There trilogy.  I've had the pleasure of reading the second book Hello There, Do You Still Know Me
but have not read the first book.  Although each book involves a new adventure for Madison and her friends, to completely enjoy the series I'd recommend starting with the first book, Hello There, We've Been Waiting For You!   I'm Coming Home appears to draw together all three of the books and ends with a wonderful heartfelt conclusion.   

In book one,  Hello There, We've Been Waiting For You! Madison moved in with her grandmother, Florida Brown, in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico after her mother died.  In the second book of the series, Madison and her friends used the MegaPix 6000, a magical T.V., to portal back in time to search for a cure to save her grandmother from an unexpected illness.  In the newest addition to the series, Madison is headed to Bainbridge Island, in Washington State to see her hometown and visit with her best friends Noah, Violet, and Rosalie Claire.  Meanwhile,  her grandmother Florida is headed to Florida with Grandpa Jack for a little R&R.  On the morning of her trip, Madison finds a mysterious photo in her magic fanny pack.  There's something about this sad looking boy wearing a hoodie that makes her feel like he is in trouble and could really use her help.  If only she could see his face in the photograph.  Once Madison is reunited with her friends, she gets the first hint to the boy's identity when she glimpses an iconic symbol from Pikes Place Market in the photo, so staking out the Market is their first order of business.  

The story is also about Madison coming back to her hometown after being gone for a while.  It captures that feeling of coming home or seeing the places you remember again for the first time.  Sometimes with fresh eyes.  Madison reminisces about moments she shared with her mother, the stores they frequented,  street signs she recognizes and ventures to her childhood home, a place she hasn't visited since her mother died.  All aching reminders of how much she misses her mother.  You feel Madison's grief over her mother's death, how being here is difficult for her.  Bringing up old memories is hard.  There's a really sweet moment when Madison looks up and sees the clouds and she can't help thinking of her mother up there watching down on her.  It reminded me that I feel the exact same way every time I see a train, how simply seeing that object causes me to smile and fondly remember a person who was so important to me.      

When the boy from the photograph turns out to be Madison's estranged father now turned teenager, she is thrown for a loop.  For the longest time, she had thought she was an orphan.  Then to find out that her father is stuck as a sixteen-year-old kid because his magical shapeshifting amulet was stolen, is a lot to digest.  Plus who wants their dad to be stuck close to their age?  And it also brings up some interesting questions, like if her dad becomes an adult again how will that change her life?  On the one hand, Madison really wants to reconnect with him and get to know him better but finds herself struggling to reconcile what her father is telling her about mother with who she knows her mother to be.  Can she believe him?  

As I said in my review of book two, I really like the premise of using the MegaPix 6000 to portal into a T.V. show, it makes the magic system relatable and entertaining.  I've often wondered myself what it would be like to step into a painting or to travel back in time, but a television show also sounds like a lot of fun to me.   Madison teleported into a magician's televised magic performance, but me,  I'd love to step into Downtown Abbey or maybe even Happy Days if I had the chance.   I also really liked that Madison couldn't alter the past or undo her dad being transformed into a kid. That she had to bring the events into the present to fix the mistake.  The characters are easy to relate to and their emotions and actions seemed natural.  For example, the way Madison felt awkward when Violet started to have feelings for Noah and she wanted to know if he felt the same way.  Plus, I'm a sucker for a happy ending and especially love how the series felt complete.  

Favorite Line:  "Magic is like life.  It doesn't come with guarantees.  But it always comes with possibilities." 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Review of Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson

22833005Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson 
Format:  Ebook
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC
Number of Pages: 225
Published:  September 2nd, 2014
Source:  Library

One day while Phoebe was innocently skipping a rock across a pond, she accidentally hit a unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils with a rock.  Now normally the response to being struck in the face with a rock would be to get really angry, but this rock broke Marigold free from her trance of staring at her reflection in the pond.  Happy to be free at last,  Marigold grants Phoebe one wish in return.  After some prompting to keep her wish "realistic," Phoebe wishes for Marigold to become her best friend.  With her wish granted, Phoebe and Marigold set out on some fun adventures.  

I'm not quite sure what initially prompted me to look for this at my library, I'm guessing I was in the mood for something light and entertaining to read.  That it was written in a comic book style, was even more of a treat. The pink cover brought the Rainbow Fairies Series to mind, but I'd agree with the reviewers on Goodreads, it's more like Calvin and Hobbes.  Maybe that's what prompted me to check this out.  Phoebe and Her Unicorn is the first of nine books in the series, with other titles that include Unicorn on a Roll and Unicorn vs Goblins.  It's a highly entertaining story and I'm pretty sure that I'll check out the next one as well.      

Phoebe is such a likeable character, she's into videogames, has a huge imagination, is witty, sarcastic, slightly lonely but actively trying to make friends.  She knows that part of her personality sets her apart from others, and despite her classmate Dakota teasing her by calling her "Princess Stupidbutt," she doesn't let it get her down.  She still actively tries to befriend Dakota.  Now Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, she's quite something, and that name, oh my goodness, but she does seem to complement well with Phoebe.  Marigold is confident, arrogant, and well kinda vain.  But 100% lovable and together they are hilarious and oh so entertaining.  I found myself laughing out loud quite a few times at some of their antics.  Especially as Phoebe's attempts to learn how to play the piano.  And although I might not agree with some of Marigold's tactics to help Phoebe deal with her bully, she was instrumental in getting Phoebe to recognize the good things that she had to offer to others.  Plus there were some fun activities to teach kids how-to-draw Phoebe and Marigold, to make a stick puppet, instructions to make a flip book, a comic strip and even a recipe for a slumber party snack mix included at the back of the book.  Such fun!!