Archives for posts with tag: parents

Woo hoo! Sara Pennypacker’s latest book in the Clementine series is now available (Hyperion, $14.99)! These books, illustrated by the incomparable Marla Frazee, are my top recommendation for any early reader, who is ready for chapter books. Clementine and the Spring Trip is the 6th book in the series and there is due to be one final installment. Clementine, the first volume, is still my favorite, but this new one had me giggling all the way through. Clementine has the most delightful perspective on the world around her and I love love love that the adults in her life (parents, teachers, even the principal) recognize her uniqueness and support her, even when she’s challenging them. As many times as she has been sent to the principal’s office for not paying attention, the principal pays close attention to Clementine. Her parents encourage her to expend her energy in constructive venues (art, building projects, growing a garden) and never try to stifle her creativity. Her mother, the artist, and father, the building superintendent, have found happiness in their own lives and therefore are comfortable helping Clementine find her happiness. I admire the lack of DRAMA in these books, even as they are delightful to read and filled with clever stories and narratives. Pennypacker is excellent at recognizing the priorities of a third-grader (spring trip? great! but, not on bus 7, it smells!) and Frazee adds a tremendous amount of insight as well as humor into her illustrations: the image of the class gagging at the mere thought of riding bus 7 is perfect! Can’t wait for the final book. No! Stop! I don’t want this series to end!

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9781442408920I’m slowly working my way through the recent ALA Youth Media Award winners. I’m moderately embarrassed at how many winners had completely escaped my notice. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Simon & Schuster, $17.99) received both a Prinz honor and the Stonewall prize so it immediately went to the top of my list of must reads. Of course, as any bookseller knows, it becomes difficult to get your hands on winning books (unless you already have them in stock) after the award show since all the *other* booksellers are all scrambling to get the books in their store. Insider info: booksellers totally watch the awards with the order window open so that they can put in requests as the winners are announced. Seriously. One minute late and you don’t get any of the books : ) Anyway, I put in a request for Aristotle and Dante with our store owner and waited for the book to arrive. This past weekend I was pulling books for our annual sale, and the book was on our sale list! What!?!?! Not only had the book arrived and I hadn’t noticed, but it accidentally made it on the sale list! My special order! I was shocked. SHOCKED. And thrilled because now I could finally read the book. All’s well, so they say.

As for the book. YES! yes, yes, yes. So good. Narrated by Aristotle, the story chronicles the friendship of two boys who meet at the pool in El Paso during the summer of 1987. Aristotle, who can’t swim, is floating around thinking about how most high-school guys are tools. My word, not his; it is 1987. Dante offers to teach him how to swim. Naturally, if your name is Aristotle and you meet a kid whose name is Dante, you are going to have to be friends with him. Fortunately, Dante isn’t a tool. He’s smart, well-read, funny, thoughtful, artistic. I want to be friends with him myself. Aristotle and Dante debate what it means to be a real Mexican. Dante teaches Aristotle about literature. Aristotle saves Dante’s life. Dante’s family moves away for a year.

Aristotle struggles with the silence surrounding his brother’s absence, that his parents refuse to discuss. He struggles with understanding his father, back from Vietnam, who can’t seem to talk about anything. He struggles with his own nightmares. He has a great relationship with his mother, which is one of the things I really loved about this book. Parents in YA novels are often absent or horrible, and that sort of makes sense from a teen’s perspective. But in this book, both Dante’s and Aristotle’s parents are lovely. Not perfect. Not idealized. But lovely, supportive, and smart. Smart enough to know their sons even better than their sons do. I respected both sets of parents in this story and appreciated that Sáenz gave all four of their characters so much depth without distracting from the two boys.

Although Dante is more confident and outgoing than Aristotle, he has his own struggles, namely his feelings for Aristotle. I’m a fan of narratives that rotate between different characters and in some ways I would have loved this story to move between Dante and Aristotle so I could have heard more of Dante’s thoughts. But of the two, it’s Aristotle who struggles with expressing himself. We need him to narrate because otherwise he’d be as much of a mystery to us as he is to Dante. Besides, he has a biting outlook on life that I really liked: “Reading my own words embarrassed the hell out of me. I mean, what a pendejo. I had to be the world’s biggest loser, writing about hair, and stuff about my body. No wonder I stopped keeping a journal. It was like keeping a record of my own stupidity. Why would I want to do that? Why would I want to remind myself what an asshole I was?” He has a soft side though: “My mother and father held hands. I wondered what that was like, to hold someone’s hand. I bet you could sometimes find all of the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand”. I bet you could, too, especially when your best friend is Dante.

 

9780545416771While I don’t have exact statistics, it’s pretty safe to say that the Christmas books still significantly outnumber the Hanukkah books. A few years ago, when I was working at another children’s bookstore, a woman saw the Fancy Nancy Christmas book and was severely disappointed. She and her family were Jewish. Her daughter loved Fancy Nancy, but the existence of a Fancy Nancy Christmas book, even if the mother didn’t buy it herself, still made a statement about Nancy’s religious affiliations and that alienated her. Many popular book characters do have their own Christmas volume, Nancy, George, Judy Moody, Olivia. The list goes on. That’s why, this year, it was so nice to see Jane Yolen, Mark Teague, and Blue Sky Press release two holiday volumes: How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? AND How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? ($16.99 each) The structure for the text is similar to all the other “How Do Dinosaurs” books. The book sets up several bad behavior possibilities and then resolves 9780545416788with a string of good behaviors. The illustrations are what really make this series. The dinosaurs all live in rather suburban settings with two human parents. Small enough to live in houses, the dinosaurs are much bigger than the parents and implicitly reflect the enormous havoc even the smallest children can cause. The dinosaurs’ behavior is so outlandish that it’s humorous, but there is a toddler truth to everything they do: “On Christmas Eve, does a dinosaur sleep? Does he go up to bed without making a peep?” (modeling good behavior) “Or does he sneak out to check what’s to see?” (addressing bad behavior). The Hanukkah book sold out in our store before I had a chance to gather quotations, but it follows a similar pattern. For such prescriptive books, this series is quite fun and whether or not kids actually learn any behavioral lessons, they’ll still enjoy reading the books. 

Also new this year is Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko (Knopf, $16.99), in which the child narrator joyously celebrates the dual traditions in her family. Her parents participate in their respective holidays, but also cross-over and actively engage with each other’s. I believe Seth Cohen immortalized Chrismakkuh back in 2003 and now we finally have a picture book that reflects both traditions. In the back of the book, there is a timeline of holidays from a variety of cultural traditions that occur throughout the year. 9780375860935

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