Monday, December 3, 2018

Book of the Week: The Patchwork Bike



by Maxine Beneba Clarke
Illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd 


Published by U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2018
36 pages

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0031-7


Ages 5-8


A girl enthusiastically describes her antics with her brothers, with riding the bike they built themselves her favorite of all they do. The bike is comprised of found objects: “handlebar branches that shicketty shake … tin can handles and wood-cut wheels…and a bell that used to be Mum’s milk pot.” That it is handmade out of economic necessity, sometimes requiring repairs relying on more ingenuity, is something that readers and listeners can infer, but it has no relation to the siblings’ pleasure and delight, which is absolute. Set in a village on the African continent, “at the edge of the no-go desert,” under the “stretching-out sky,” the story featuring a Muslim family celebrates creativity, imagination, and universal joy in play. The fresh, playful use of language is perfectly suited to its theme. The same is true of the acrylic-on-recycled cardboard art, in which the use of shadow and light suggests the hot sun on every page. Informative notes from both author and illustrator speak more to the story’s themes, and intentional connections the artist made between the African setting and characters and African Americans in the United States, including a “BLM” license plate. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 26, 2018

Book of the Week: Hearts Unbroken



by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Published by Candlewick Press, 2018
289 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-8114-2

Age 13 and older


Lou starts senior year feeling protective of her little brother Hughie, an incoming freshman, but Hughie fits right in among theater kids. Lou joins the school paper, and soon is crushing on a fellow journalist, Lebanese American Joey. Burned by her last boyfriend’s unexpected racism, she is hesitant to tell Joey that she is Muscogee Creek, even after it’s clear he likes her, too. Meanwhile, inclusive casting of The Wizard of Oz at their predominantly white suburban Kansas high school has a parent group up in arms: the actor playing Dorothy is Black, the Scarecrow is a Latinx student, and Hughie is the Tin Man. The administration, and staff on the paper, face pressure not to support the play, while anonymous racial slurs are sent to the three actors. Racism and school politics, social relationships and romance converge in this lively, illuminating novel. Lou is appealing and fallible, self-absorbed and genuinely caring; her relationships, with Joey and with extended family members and friends, are wonderfully realized. Coming to terms with her anger at what is happening, and her own missteps (including mis-assumptions about Joey because of his Arab heritage, and blindness to her economic privilege), Lou discovers Hughie is torn about his role after reading Oz author L. Frank Baum’s hateful writings about Native peoples in a story that explores difficult truths and hard decisions even as it entertains. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 19, 2018

Book of the Week: A Big Mooncake for Little Star



A Big Mooncake for Little Star

by Grace Lin

Published by Little, Brown, 2018
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-316-40448-8

Ages 3-6


Little Star’s Mama takes the Big Mooncake out of the oven and lays it onto the night sky to cool. “Can you remember not to touch this Big Mooncake until I tell you to?” Little Star says yes, and she does remember until the middle of that night. Then all she can think about is that Big Mooncake. “Pat Pat Pat.” She tiptoes out and takes a tiny nibble. Trailing crumbs, she flies back to bed. But the next night she does it again. And again the night after that. Slowly the Big Mooncake gets smaller, it’s shape gradually changing from round to crescent to nothing at all. Grace Lin’s enchanting original story inspired by the Chinese Mid-Autumn (Moon) Festival features luminous gouache illustrations in beautiful black and gold showing Little Star, Mama, and the deep night sky in which the Big Mooncake wanes, crumbs sparkling as stars. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 12, 2018

Book of the Week: Blood Water Paint



by Joy McCullough

Published by Dutton, 2018
289 pages
ISBN: 9780735232112

Age 14 and older


In early 17th-century Rome, Artemisia Gentileschi, 17, has surpassed her father’s skill as a painter but gets no credit for her work because she is a woman. Artemisia’s late mother told her about the Biblical figures of Susanna and Judith, wanting Artemisia to understand the struggles of the two women—the things they suffered simply for being women—as well as their courage and bravery, none of which Artemisia sees reflected in the work of men who’ve painted them. When her father hires Agostino Tassi to tutor her in perspective, Artemisia is happy to learn from a better teacher, and their mutual attraction leads her to believe he may propose. Then he rapes her. Artemisia makes the decision to publicly charge him. The burden of proof placed on her by the court is emotionally and physically brutal, and it is visions of Susanna and Judith that she draws upon for strength. This extraordinary, enraging, astonishing story based on true events is told primarily in verse, with stories about Judith and Susanna interspersed in prose. McCullough’s research included over 300 pages of transcripts from the 1611 trial. Artemisia won her case (although the sentence for Tassi was laughable), but her true triumph, more fully documented in an author’s note, is in what came next: A career as a painter—more than 50 of her works survive. “I will show you / what a woman can do.” ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 5, 2018

Book of the Week: Small Spaces

by Katherine Arden

Published by Putnam, 2018
216 pages
ISBN: 978-0-525-51502-9


Ages 9-12


Ollie, 11, stays up late one night reading a book called Small Spaces. Published in 1895, it tells of a woman whose husband made a deal with the devil to bring his brother back to life. The next day, Ollie’s class takes a field trip to a local sustainable farm. The farm’s history has elements that match the story—long-ago disappearances and rumors of ghosts—while the owner turns out to be the woman Ollie got the book from under strange circumstances, although the woman shows no signs of recognizing Ollie. On the way back to the school at the end of the day, the bus breaks down on a darkening road. Heavy mist and no cell service send Ollie’s teacher in search of help, while the driver, with an eerie smile and flicking red tongue, tells the kids, “At nightfall, they’ll come for the rest of you.” With two of her classmates, Ollie bolts from the bus in fear. Ollie, who's been a loner since her mother’s death months before, has been dismissive of Coco, who cries a lot, and Brian, a jock, but the three work together to evade capture from whatever is out there, coming up with a plan to save their classmates. This genuinely scary novel features terrific character development, which is why it also succeeds as a satisfying, surprisingly warm story about family, loss, and friendship. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 29, 2018

Book of the Week: Front Desk

by Kelly Yang

Published by Arthur A. Levine / Scholastic, 2018
304 pages
ISBN: 978-1338157796


Ages 8-11


Nine-year-old Mia Tang’s immigrant Chinese parents manage the Calivista Motel in Anaheim. Because the job comes with a room to live in, and because her family has been homeless on and off since coming to the United States, Mia’s parents won’t complain to Mr. Yao, the owner, about his unfair labor practices. Outgoing Mia likes helping out at the front desk. She checks short-term guests in and becomes friends with the “regulars,” customers who live there, while unofficial guests—Chinese immigrants her parents occasionally let stay for free when Mr. Yao isn’t around—give her an even deeper understanding of how immigrant workers can be threatened and exploited. Mia’s English is more proficient than her parents, although, her mom cautions, not good enough to be a writer. Mia’s dream. It’s a remark made out of love and concern that Mia be realistic, but it cuts deep, undermining Mia’s confidence. Mia is a natural optimist, however. She’s also precocious and determined, whether entering an essay contest to win a hotel in Vermont, fighting back against racism faced by an African American resident, or pulling off an incredible organizational coup. The results of her efforts are not only satisfying, but firmly grounded in this upbeat, engaging novel’s realm of possibility. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 22, 2018

Book of the Week: Stumpkin



by Lucy Ruth Cummins


Published by Atheneum, 2018
48 pages pages
ISBN: 9781534413627

Ages 4-9


On the sidewalk outside a city shop is a cheery display of bright orange pumpkins. As Halloween approaches, the pumpkins are chosen one by one and taken away, only to appear in windows of apartments across the street with triangle eyes and friendly, toothy grins. The pumpkins left behind long to become jack-o-lanterns like their friends. But one pumpkin knows he’s different. He’s a stemless pumpkin. A stumpkin. The shopkeeper’s black cat likes Stumpkin, but no one else seems to want him. When even a gnarled yellow gourd is taken home to be transformed into a Halloween visage before the shop closes up on Halloween night, Stumpkin knows his chances are gone. (“The gourd?? thought Stumpkin. I guess that’s that.”) In fact, his future looks pretty grim... Humor and pathos are perfectly balanced in a picture book that is also a masterful pairing of words and pictures. The illustrations, rendered in goache, pencil, ink, and brush marker, are black-and-white on cream-colored pages, with pumpkin-orange (of course) and hints of green for stems (or stump) as accent. The humans are all faceless silhouettes, the pumpkins incredibly expressive. The narrative is perfectly paced, guileless, and open-hearted—of course we care about Stumpkin, whose story is poignant, and sweetly triumphant. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center