Archives for posts with tag: friendship


Holly Black’s Doll Bones (Margaret K. McElderry, $16.99) and Jerry Spinelli’s Hokey Pokey (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $15.99) both deal with the transition from childhood to adulthood, but are very different in their approach to the process. Hokey Pokey imagines an almost idealized world of childhood, where the rules are a little less formalized that the wild frontier. Kids rein bikes like horses; they move in packs, and there is a clear distinction between boys and girls. This world is filled with candy, games, and not a little recklessness. It doesn’t quite fit with my own memories of childhood and I do wonder how kids under 12 will respond to it. Do they recognize their own world in this book? Is it only possible to see childhood, once you’re looking back? The biggest problem I had, though, was the insinuation that the the border between childhood and adulthood was both abrupt and definitive. Once you leave Hokey Pokey, or ‘grow up’, there is no going back. One day you’re a kid. The next day you’re an adult, which doesn’t seem very realistic to me. I don’t know any kids who make the transition easily and singularly. I certainly didn’t.

Alternatively, Doll Bones also narrates the transition from childhood to adulthood, but despite the fantastic elements this book feels more realistic. First, the transition isn’t so abrupt, but rather happens over a journey. Also, there is a significant internal conflict about the change for each character, that varies from character to character. Zach’s dilemmas are different than Alice’s, who again is struggling with different things than Poppy. Finally, by the end of the book, although Zach, Poppy, and Alice have grown up, there is a clear sense that they each have more growing up to do and that on occasion, they might even ‘relapse’ and not grow up at all. Doll Bones is described as “spooky” and “scary”, which I didn’t find when reading it. I liked the ambiguity, even at the end (and I don’t think this is a spoiler) about whether the game was a game or the game was real. Because games are always real. And reality is a game. And I see no reason to make a distinction. Is Doll Bones a ghost story or a growing up story? Well, yes. Also, Black demonstrates that gender is just as fluid as ‘growing up’. Zach enjoys playing imagination games with dolls in the afternoon with Poppy and Alice. He also likes playing basketball. He doesn’t switch from boy to girl. He’s a boy who likes a variety of things. He doesn’t broadcast his afternoon games — he knows that some of the other boys wouldn’t approve — but he doesn’t feel the need to stop either. Doll Bones is ultimately about the between spaces. Maybe it is a ghost story after all.

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Jenny Lee puts a canine spin on the value of friendship — or finding your pack — in Elvis and the Underdogs (Balzer + Bray, $16.99). Sure Benji has friends: the doctors and nurses at the hospital where he spends most of his time, the librarian, since he eats alone in the library when he is at school, and his mom, who fiercely watches over him. However, when he has a seizure and his doctor tells him he either has to wear an extraordinarily ugly helmet to school or get a therapy dog, Benji opts for the dog. Upon arrival, the dog, Parker Elvis Pembroke IV, emphatically informs Benji that he was meant to be the President’s dog and there has clearly been a mix-up. Benji can understand Elvis — everyone else hears barking or growling — and Elvis is worth listening to: “Benjamin. I’m not going to eat in the library. Maybe you can eat neatly enough to be allowed to do so, but I cannot. I’m a dog. I eat off the floor, when I think about food, I produce a large quantity of saliva. It’s a physiological response that is Pavlovian and is a long story that I can’t get into right now, especially when I’m hungry”. Elvis is a therapy dog with the personality of Frazier Crane. He’s serious about his duty to protect Benji, but Elvis also knows a little something about the importance of having a pack and he’s determined to help Benji create his own.

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Dan Yaccarino’s new picture book, Doug, Unplugged tells the story of Doug, a robot, who learns his daily lessons by downloading data and information (Knopf, $16.99). When he finally notices a pigeon on his windowsill, he knows all sorts of facts, but those facts haven’t told him that pigeons make a funny cooing sound. What else could Doug learn about the city, were he to unplug? Doug ventures outside (!) to find out. His adventures augment his factual understanding with sound, smells, and experiences that he can’t download. He plays with friends, admires the views, but most of all learns to appreciate his family. Doug, Unplugged, contains bright, vibrant illustrations, that convey Doug’s delightful facial expressions as he explores his environment. Technology isn’t absent in Doug’s adventures and the book conveys a balance between the information that Doug has access to via computers and the experiences he acquires when he steps away.

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In Bill Konigsberg’s Openly Straight (Arthur A. Levine Books, $17.99, out in June), Rafe is tired of being ‘the gay kid’. He lives in a supportive home with parents who are activists on his behalf and for community in general. His school has protected him, and he regularly speaks at organizations about diversity and education. But he needs a break. He needs a change. He needs to feel like he can be himself without constantly working for ‘the cause’. Rafe applies to a boarding school out East and figures that going there will be his chance to not exactly go back into the closet, but maybe not be so publicly out of it. This isn’t the first YA book to deal with an openly gay teenager, who tries to put on a mantle of not being an openly gay teenager. Pink, by  Lili Wilkinson (winner of a Stonewall ALA honor award), tells a similar story about a girl who changes schools for similar reasons. Ava, however, spends more time questioning her sexuality and the ending leaves her story somewhat ambiguous. In Openly Straight, Rafe never doubts that he is gay. It’s not his sexuality that’s in question, it’s his identity. This story will appeal to anyone who has experienced feeling reduced to one facet of themselves, whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’ : ‘the honor student’, ‘the athlete’, ‘the Asian girl’, ‘the popular one’, ‘the band geek’, ‘the fat guy’, ‘the new kid’, ‘the singer’, ‘the . . .’. We are all complex individuals. But as much as Rafe wants to be more than a label, he slowly realizes that denying part of himself turns him in to something else entirely: ‘the liar’.

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9781935954231I discussed Mies van Hout’s Happy not long ago and am delighted that she has a second book now available in the US, entitled Friends (Lemniscaat, $17.95). This book utilizes a similar structure as Happy; the double-page spreads feature an illustration of two monsters and one word of text. The oil pastels on black paper once again create vibrant and engaging illustrations. The words in the text identify different aspects of friendship and there is an overarching narrative, which starts with “play” moves quickly to “bore” and then all the problems that can sometimes arise in friendships: tease, fight, cry. The monsters soon start to recognize the error of their ways and experience embarrassment and hope, eventually leading back to laugh, trust, and finally cuddle. Despite the seeming simplicity of the one-word text, the subtleties of this narrative might be beyond a younger child, although they will probably appreciate the fun illustrations. I would recommend this book for ages 4-6, when kids really start experiencing the highs and lows of friendship. You might even want to read it with middle-school kids, when they feel like they’ve been abandoned and need to remember that true friends come back.

9780545326995I don’t often read graphic novels. Not because I don’t respect them; quite the contrary, actually. I think comic books and graphic novels are a great medium for reluctant and avid readers, but I do often recommend them to adults who are buying for a reluctant reader. Even as I say that, I realize that it sounds like I think graphic novels are easier or something. I don’t. It takes a lot of skill and patience to read text and illustrations, which is why I don’t often read graphic novels myself. Moreover, I think they are accessible to reluctant readers and are often overlooked, so I like to encourage people to consider them as a viable and respectable genre.

I’ve had the ARC for Drama, by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic, $10.99) sitting on my bookshelves for a while now, but haven’t read it out of laziness. When it won a Stonewall honor award for the ALA recently, I was intrigued, especially since there is nothing on the cover or in the blurb that made that connection. What a surprise! First, I loved the reading experience. I think you have to get in the rhythm of graphic novels and because I don’t read a lot of them, I forget how to read them. But it didn’t take long before I got swept away. I’m sure I missed a lot of crucial parts of the illustrations, but I got better about taking the time to read them along with the text. Second, I was really taken aback by the pragmatic inclusion of the LBGTA plot lines. Callie loves theatre, but she’s discovered that she’s better behind the scenes than on the stage. She builds sets and props for her school’s drama productions. When she meets twins Jesse and Justin, she discovers two new recruits for the department. Justin craves the limelight and Jesse is perfectly happy to help Callie on the crew. When all the drama starts, during the final performance, Jesse shows that he is just as talented as Justin and also brave enough to push the boundaries of acting. Justin is relatively open about his sexuality. Jesse is more ambiguous. Callie stays pretty cool even in the midst of all the drama and by *not* turning this story into a romance, Telgemeier manages to focus the attention on Callie, her passion for theatre, and the value of friendship.

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Holiday titles can often be quite hit and miss. There is an undercurrent of commercialism that drives a lot of the books published around each holiday and is reflected in the quality. Fortunately, there are always a few books that offer redemption. For Valentine’s Day,  one of those books is i haiku you! by Betsy E. Snyder (Random House, $9.99). There are a few others; expect to see them mentioned here over the next couple of weeks. I was delighted to see Snyder’s new book, because I think her Haiku Baby book is absolutely adorable. i haiku you! contains a variety of haikus about different kinds of love. The haikus themselves are very sweet and well written, demonstrating creativity and insight. I also appreciate the variety of relationships demonstrated throughout the book: friends, kid/dog, kid/popsicle. There are loves thwarted and loves lost, loves reciprocated and loves found. It’s the kind of book I wanted to send to my best friend, with a note: “see that little girl mailing a letter? the one with this haiku?”

while we are apart,

stars wink a message to you

i (twinkle) love you

“yeah, that’s totally how I feel. miss you.”

And then there is the kid home sick in bed:

noodles so yummy,

love letters for your tummy —

warm alphabet soup

I appreciate so much that this little book contains a love poem dedicated to alphabet soup. The dog who has to watch his friend ride away in a school bus is heartbreaking, but *spoiler alert*, true love always returns.

i haiku you! is a delightful book because it can be shared with so many different loves in your life. Read it to your kids, send it to your parents, give it to your partner, your best friend, or one of your siblings. Snyder’s haikus celebrate the variety of love. Something the Valentines’ Day industry often forgets.

9780763660604I’ve been debating with myself whether it’s worth writing about a book that I didn’t like, given that the point of this blog is to make book recommendations. Well in this particular case, I read a book last night that I have actually recommended on several occasions. We do that sometimes, recommend books we haven’t read. I usually try to be honest about it. “Have you read it?” “Well I’ve read the back.”

The book in question is Liz Kessler’s A Year Without Autumn (Candlewick, $6.99). I wanted to like this book, not least because it has a great cover. It also has an interesting description. I like books with a little time travel, especially when it’s handled well (see Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me). I also thought this book looked like it would be a good step forward for fans of Emily Windsnap. It is a little more serious, has complex themes, and in general just looks really good. But it was boring. There is a lot of unnecessary description of things that had little to do with the story. And I don’t think the girls sound very realistic. There is something about their conversation that feels stilted to me. Many of the word choices seemed particularly British, so I assumed the whole time I was reading that the book takes place in Britain. At the end, however, it becomes clear that the girls are supposed to be American. By that time I was just confused because they really didn’t sound like American pre-teens. Anyway, the book has an interesting premise and would probably even generate some thought-provoking questions about fate, friendship, and what you can and cannot control in your life. I just wish that there was more to help me connect with the Jenni and Autumn or at least care what happens to them. I don’t think I’ll start steering people away from it (I do that sometimes, too), but I’m taking it off my list of books to recommend.

9781402277405A Flower in the Snow, by Tracey Corderoy and illustrated by Sophie Allsopp (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99), is a delightful winter picture book about friendship. Luna and the polar bear are the best of friends and quite devoted to each other. When they find a golden flower growing in the snow, the polar bear gives it to Luna. The flower fades, as flowers do, and the polar bear is distressed to watch Luna fade as well. In an attempt to make her happy, the polar bear sets out to find another golden flower. Both Luna and the polar bear eventually learn that being with the one you love is far better than any gift they could ever give you.

It’s a sweet book — perfect for reading while cuddled up by the fire with cup of cocoa — but it has just enough humor to keep it from becoming overly sappy. The illustrations inspire wistful smiles. I went ice skating in Central Park last weekend, and I can assure you that I am not as graceful a skater as Luna, let alone the polar bear. The polar bear travels far and wide to find a golden flower, but these pages are great because of the jarring disjunct between the polar bear and the surrounding environment. It’s not every day you see a polar bear navigating through the tropics. I can’t say that I laughed out loud — it’s not that kind of book — but my heart smiled. And I was a little jealous, because everyone needs a polar bear to cuddle up with in the winter.

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Don’t you love it when you read a book by one of your favorite authors and it turns out to be Just As Good as all the other books you’ve loved that were written by that author? It’s so satisfying. I bought David Levithan’s Every You, Every Me (Ember, $8.99) a few weeks ago, and finally read it over the weekend. I think there is always that slight trepidation when reading a book by an author you like because the expectations are high. I am fully aware that the driving force behind reading this book was the knowledge that I like Levithan’s books, not so much that I wanted to read this book in particular. The text is by Levithan and the photographs are by Jonathan Farmer. I’m better at reading text than images and I’m going to admit up front that I don’t think I got a lot out of the images. I appreciated them, however, and I did enjoy trying to see if I could find connections between the story in the images and the story in the words. I’d love to know what other people thought of the photographs and of their contribution to the book.

As for the text, I hate to ruin some of the central questions in the narrative, so forgive me for being rather obscure here. Especially since I’m going to discuss the ending. I did enjoy this book all the way through. It had some great lines that made me want to cry simply because I was shocked at how precisely someone I don’t know could express feelings that I’ve had and could never talk about. But the ending. wow. Three teenagers get into a debate about the Ariel, the central character in this novel. You must understand, that although Ariel is a central character, she is absent. They are arguing over what she wants. or wanted. or should want. arguing about what’s best for her. who knew the truth about her. the real her. whether Ariel should have been supported. or protected. then the conversation turns. it’s not just about one girl but about being a girl:

She isn’t crazy, . . . She sees through all the phoniness. She sees what the world is really like. And the world can’t stand girls like that. The world has to put them in their place, put them away. You wanted her to be this uncomplicated girl, but by trying to force her to be that girl, you unraveled her.

This is a novel about depression, mental illness, and suicide. but ho-ly crap. that is deep. Really deep. And that paragraph stopped me in my tracks. Where does the novel go from here? Who is right? The boys who tried to protect Ariel? Or a girl who thinks Ariel should be free, even if freedom means death? Because in nineteenth-century literature that’s exactly what freedom means for women. The choice is a stark one: learn to submit and live within the patriarchy or die. That choice sucks. And here is a YA novel taking on this literary conundrum. My heart stopped because I know from studying literature that there is rarely a satisfactory resolution. Literary women often stand at the brink with a choice: step back into the fold and lose yourself or step outside and lose everything else. When reading Every You, Every Me, my heart started racing because I suddenly knew there was no way for this story to end well. I knew that I was going to be disappointed and heartsick. for Ariel. for women. for me.

About two pages later, another female character, someone who had been rather quiet for most of the argument, speaks up. Her words, which I will refrain from quoting here, blew me away. Because she says the one thing that could make everything ok. The one thing I didn’t even know was possible because it’s so rarely spoken in literature.

As a woman, I often think “we’ve come so far, but we’ve got so far to go”. And then I read this book and all I feel is awe because we’ve come so far.

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