Monday, October 26, 2015

Book of the Week: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

by Patrick Ness
Published by HarperCollins, 2015
317 pages pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-240316-2
Age 13 and older

Mikey, his sister Mel(inda), and their friends Henna and Jared, are about to graduate high school. Mel has anorexia and Mikey lives with severe anxiety and OCD, neither fitting the image their high-aspiring politician mother wants their family to project. Henna’s parents plan on taking her to the Central African Republic to do missionary work, despite the war there. Jared feels the weight of being an only child on the verge of leaving his single-parent father. Jared is also a god. Well, technically a quarter-god. And there is the delicious twist in this emotionally rich story about facing a time of transition and uncertainty: The otherworldly is real. When indie kids (it’s always the indie kids) in the foursome’s small community begin disappearing, it isn’t the first time. In the past the culprits were vampires and soul-sucking ghosts; now it’s aliens. Mikey and his friends aren’t indie kids (despite Henna’s name) but are aware of the danger, which plays out in hilarious chapter openings chronicling the indie kids’ efforts to combat the threat, making for a merry satire on countless young adult novels. But the heart of this novel is the reality of change—in relationships, in circumstances, in what we understand; imperfect families; and the sustaining power of friendship. As a narrator, Mikey is real and complex, and a little bit heartbreaking. As a work of fiction, Ness’s book is funny and tender and true, and a little bit dazzling. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book of the Week: The Book Itch

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore

by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Published by Carolrhoda, 2015
36 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7613-3943-4
Age 8 and older

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson revisits the topic of Lewis Michaux and the National Memorial African Bookstore that were the subject of her singular young adult novel No Crystal Stair, here introducing her great uncle and his Harlem store in a picture book told in the engaging fictionalized voice of Lewis Michaux’s son. Young Louie shares the history of the store, which his father could not get a bank loan to open because the banker believed “Black people don’t read.” And he shares a sense of the vibrant, vivid gathering place the store is, with its “zillion books” by Black people—African Americans, Africans—and others who aren’t white; with its many visitors from the famous (Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X) to the anonymous (the boy who spends every Saturday reading at the store); with its readings and rallies; a place of activism and action. Read to learn, his father tells him, and to learn how “to figure out for yourself what is true.” In the aftermath of Malcolm X’s death, Louie is comforted by his father’s reminder that “His words will never leave us.” And Louie thinks about the importance of words, and the importance of their bookstore as a place to find them in a picture book strikingly illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Nelson tells more about the store, which closed in 1975, and her personal connection, in end material that includes photographs and a bibliography. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 12, 2015

Book of the Week: All American Boys

All American Boys

by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Published by Atheneum, 2015
320 pages
ISBN: 9781481463331
Age 13 and older

Authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely put the issues of police bias and violence against Blacks and white privilege front and center in this novel that alternates between the voices of high school students Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins. African American Rashad is brutalized by a white police officer who makes a snap judgment of a scene and assumes Rashad was harassing a white woman and stealing at a neighborhood store where he’d gone to buy potato chips. Quinn, who is white, shows up as handcuffed Rashad is being pummeled by the cop on the sidewalk outside. The officer is his best friend’s older brother, a man who has been like a father to Quinn since his own dad died in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of the beating, hospitalized Rashad deals with pain and fear, and his family with fear and anger and tension, especially between Rashad’s older brother, Spoony, and their ex-cop dad. As the story goes viral, Quinn is feeling pressure to support Paul but can’t stop thinking that what Paul did to Rashad is wrong. He begins to realize that saying nothing—he slipped away from the scene before he was noticed—is also wrong. Silence, he realizes, is part of the privilege of being white, and it’s part of the problem of racism, something too few are willing to acknowledge, including school administrators and some teachers in the aftermath. Rashad and Quinn and their classmates are singular, vivid characters—kids you feel you might meet in the halls of just about any school in a novel that is both nuanced and bold as it explores harsh realities and emotional complexities surrounding race in America. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 5, 2015

Book of the Week: Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats

Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats

by Alicia Potter
Illustrated by Birgitta Sif
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-385-75334-0
Ages 3-7

“When Miss Hazeltine opened her Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, she didn’t know if anyone would come. But come they did.” They come with all sorts of problems—fear of mice and birds; inability to pounce or purr. And then, there is Crumb, who stands out even among the shy and fearful for his timidity. Miss Hazeltine gives lessons: Bird Basics, Climbing, Scary Noises, Meeting New Friends, “How Not to Fear the Broom.” She also tells Crumb she’s afraid too, of mushrooms, and owls, and the dark. So when Miss Hazeltine trips on the way home one evening and ends up with a twisted ankle in a dark woods full of mushrooms and owls, she tries to think positive thoughts. So do the cats, who are waiting for her back home, alone and afraid. It is Crumb who rallies them all leading the no-longer-shy-and-fearful-cats on a rescue mission. Alicia Potter’s superb storytelling is laugh-out-loud funny but also offers a sensitive look at anxiety and shyness. Birgitta Sif’s marvelous illustrations range from full page to spot (on) and delightfully expand on the story’s humor and warmth. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center