The Prince and the Dressmaker (paperback)
by Jen Wang
I really enjoyed The Prince and the Dressmaker, a graphic novel about a girl who makes dresses for rich women, but isn’t able to show her true skills, until a prince hires her to make dresses for him. He doesn’t want anyone to know his secret, so he keeps his female persona a secret and flaunts Frances’s designs as a woman. He finds himself torn between his need to be who he really is, and his duty to his country and his family.
What I liked about this story is more than I can write without giving everything away. The climax will leave you giggling, and the pictures are stunning. I saw this on many Mock Caldecott lists, and I can see the merit in the illustrations. However, I also have to say that I’m thrilled there is a book about a man who wants to dress as a woman, because it is something I haven’t read in a book suitable for children. It is a complicated topic, but this story addresses the issue with likable characters who show acceptance.
There was nothing I didn’t like about this story!
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World (ebook)
by Ashley Herring Blake
Ivy Aberdeen is a seventh grader and she’s facing many conflicts, both internally and externally. First of all, her house was just leveled due to a tornado, and her family is forced to live in a hotel room- Ivy, her sister Layla, her twin brothers, and her parents. They lost everything. Second of all, she is upset with Layla over a conversation she overheard between Layla and her best friend Gigi. Ivy also loses her notebook with all of her intimate and personal drawings, and it is being held for emotional ransom. To top it all off, Ivy is having feelings for one of her friends, and this really throws off all of her relationships, because she can’t deal with it herself. Like most stories, everything hits the fan and Ivy is forced to deal with her feelings.
What I liked about this book is that it’s another great coming of age story about a girl who is learning more about her own sexuality. I am so happy more books are being written about LGBTQ kids around my students’ age that are appropriate. Not that YA aren’t appropriate, but the content isn’t always age appropriate. I have not had a sixth grader who was “out” but I have had many that were possibly questioning or coming to terms with their feelings, and books like this will help them, I believe. Even for those who aren’t LGBTQ, this book will build empathy and understanding.
What I didn’t like about this book was how mad I was at Ivy’s family. It really upset me- even when I had my last child, I couldn’t just ignore my other children. They are all important, even if a baby and family crisis take over.
Book 85 of 2018
Knock Out (paperback)
by K.A. Holt
I loved House Arrest, and Knock Out was a great way to continue the story of Timothy and Levi. This time, it is 12 years late. Levi is in middle school living his best life after his surgery as an infant, despite his mom and Timothy being incredibly overprotective (rightly so- he was so sick!). He has a best friend (who seems to be drifting more towards another friend), and he feels the need to make up for his small stature by being a class clown. Then his dad tells him to choose a sport, and Levi finds himself into boxing. Not only is he interested, but he’s good at it! Levi becomes more and more into boxing, and he discovers a boarding school for boxers that he is desperate to attend. He just needs to convince his mom and Timothy!
What I liked about this book was that I got to see where Timothy went with his life. I loved Timothy’s story in House Arrest, and I wanted the best for him. While he is still angry with his father, he does make good choices about his future. He is still fiercely protective of Levi, but does advocate for Levi’s needs.
What I didn’t like was that I wanted to smack Levi in the head a bunch of times for being a selfish brat, but then again, he didn’t know how much Timothy did for him. In the end, I think it worked out. Levi learned how important Timothy was to him.
The Red Pencil (paperback)
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Red Pencil was chosen for 2019 March Book Madness, which meant I had to read it. (Side note: March Book Madness is a really cool concept, so I encourage all educators or lovers of children’s, middle grade, and young adult literature to check it out.) It follows Amira, a girl living in rural Sudan with her family. She longs for an education, but her parents don’t feel it is necessary since living on a far, she will get married and have her own children. She has a special stick that she uses to draw in the dirt. When her village is attacked, she is forced to flee to a refugee camp, and learns there is more in the world that she wants to know. Amira is given a red pencil, which combined with living in the camp, opens her eyes to what she wants for her future.
What I liked about this book was the perspective it gives to student and adult readers (like myself) who might know little to nothing about the Janjaweed militia or refugee camps. What I know about the plight of Sudanese and other war-torn communities, I have learned primarily from books. I love that this broadens the perspectives of my students, who have a very limited perspective and almost no experiences. Also, the language! The poems roll off your tongue. Even if I couldn’t follow the story, I would grow in my ability to translate metaphors and imagery. I really enjoyed the language she used.
What I didn’t like about this book was the end. I really wanted to know that she went on to become an author or reporter or teacher somewhere. I needed more!
Book 82 of 2018
Squish: Fear the Amoeba (hardcover)
by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Squish is an amoeba who loves reading comics. He has friends and a family and lives like your average child. In this book, he is afraid to tell his friends that a certain movie scares him. They are really into the movie, but after watching it, he is scared of everything, and more afraid to tell them, because he doesn’t want to be made fun of. It is funny and relatable for kids.
What I loved about this book is it is another series by Jennifer L. Holm and her brother Matthew Holm, creators of Babymouse. I am a huge fan of Babymouse, because they are the way my oldest daughter learned to love reading. The short graphic novels are engaging and easy to read, and teach some sort of lesson or moral. If you have a first grader (or somewhere in the range) who is learning to read, or even a child who isn’t loving reading, definitely pick up Babymouse or Squish.
What I didn’t like about the book was that it took me a few minutes to read (and not much longer for my 8 year old). I love that my kids love the series, but it won’t last them very long!
Book 81 of 2018
by Jason Reynolds
Lu is the fourth and final book in the Track Series by Jason Reynolds. It is about a boy named Lu who runs for the same track team as his friends Ghost, Patina, and Sunny. Lu is albino and has insecurities because of his white skin, but he runs track to help with his self-esteem. Lu finds out that his mom is pregnant and he is put in charge of naming his new brother or sister, a job he takes very seriously. He also helps his mom with her fruit art business, making deliveries for her. When Lu learns something about his father that disrupts his thinking about him being a role model, Lu is very disturbed and finds a way for it to be made right.
What I liked about this book was that a lot of my questions were answered. I was wondering about Coach, and this book gave me more insight into his past. I was also happy that Lu was made a more likable character. In the other books, he wasn’t my favorite person. Each book really goes into detail about each person, and it’s clear that Reynolds had them all thought out well before writing, because they are consistent and well-written. I read somewhere that Lu was the favorite book of the person writing (was it a tweet? An article? I can’t remember). I have to say that Ghost is still my favorite, but I think this book comes in second.
What I didn’t like about this book is that it is the end of their stories. I tried to savor it, but I am still holding out for another book or series so I can see where their lives took them.
Book 80 of 2018