We’ve had a fantastic Christmas holiday and have been snacking, playing games, and watching movies nonstop! We even had a nice dusting of snow two days before Christmas, so there was still a wee bit of white on the ground. I’m excited that my husband has another full week off work and our 17-year-old daughter was able to take a few days off, too. There’s something so comforting about being able to stay in our PJs and not leave the home for anything. In fact, that only thing I’m aware of us having to leave the house for was taking care of our neighbor’s cats (since she’s out of town). YAY!
I hope everyone has a very HAPPY NEW YEAR! As this is the last #imwayr post of 2020, I’ll share that I’ve been having great difficulty reading over the last few months. My eyes would constantly feel gritty and my vision seemed far worse than usual. I’ve been depending on more audiobooks than usual and hoped it was just a passing phase. However, I visited my eye doctor this week and my astigmatism has gotten so bad in recent years that I can no longer use traditional reading glasses. So, he’s fitting me for a special pair of reading glasses that includes both types of correction with all the necessary filters and the full range of vision. I’m very hopeful this will help me get back into the reading groove for 2021.
Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers and Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts decided to give Kathryn’s (at Book Date) “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” meme a kidlit focus, reviewing books in children’s literature (picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, or anything in the world of kidlit). If you enjoy this type of reading, join us every Monday to share what you’ve been reading!
When Life Gives You Mangos
October 20, 2020
This story, written by debut author Kereen Getten, truly blew me away!! From the beginning we understand that something happened to 12-year-old Clara last summer, but that she cannot remember any details. She lives in a small, cozy village in Jamaica where everyone knows everyone, including the blind neighbor (who all the kids avoid because she puts them to work around her house) and Clara’s uncle (who has a mysterious past that has lead the community pastor to refer to him as a witch doctor). All these details brought life to the story and made me feel as if I was there. But lately, Clara and her best friend, Gaynah, seem to constantly be arguing. Clara is angry with everyone — like a loose canon for no apparent reason. And why does she seem so terrified to go into the water?
A new girl visits from New York and she’s so down-to-earth, helping to lighten the tension at all the right times. Her openness allows Clara to take risks she might not otherwise take and it’s a relief to see her finally have someone on her side, so to speak. But none of this, I repeat, NONE OF THIS prepared me for the plot twist that practically made me gasping aloud while sending chills all over my body.
I don’t re-read many books, but I’m quite certain this one will be a re-read in 2021 — possibly as a read aloud with my own children. I just love it when a middle grade book is only a little over 200 pages, but still provides such well-developed characters and engaging plot line. The story has themes of friendship, community, grief, religion, family, and trauma. I can’t wait to see what Kereen Getten writes next! My thanks to Netgalley for approving an Advance Readers Copy of this book so that I could provide my honest review. I’m very happy to recommend When Life Gives You Mangos for the middle grade crowd!
What an adventure! Filomena is a reader. She’s eagerly anticipating the last book of a fantasy series that she has read so many times, she cannot count. On the day the last book is scheduled to be released, her parents allow her to travel to the bookstore after school to get her copy. But when she arrives, she learns the book wasn’t released and no one even knows where the author is! While she’s reeling from this news, she notices someone following her around. And when she learns that her stalker is THE Jack Stalker from the favorite book series, she realizes life will never be the same. He desperately urges her to come with him to save his kingdom. Suddenly she’s coming face-to-face with various characters, both good and evil, and realizing her role in saving the world. Wow, does this book pack a lot into a very small space. It’s the first in the series and I’ll definitely be reading book #2 when it’s released!
The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars
November 17, 2020
HMH Books for Young Readers
I’ve been thinking about how to write a short summary of this story, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to begin. The whole thing was such an experience with some terrifying scenes, plus moment that made me want to cry. It will speak to more than just children and it made me think of books like The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier and even a little similar to the feeling of The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (or perhaps LOTR due to the long, detailed journey). So… from the Goodreads synopsis: “Long ago, the land of Ulv was filled with magic. But that was before a wolf ate all the Stars in the night sky, ridding the world of magic and allowing Shadow Creatures, beasts made of shadow and evil, to flourish. Twelve-year-old Bo knows the stories but thinks the Stars and the wolf who ate them are nothing more than myths—until the day Bo’s guardian, Mads, is attacked by a giant wolf straight from the legends. With his dying breath, Mads tells Bo that Ulv is in danger and the only way to prevent the Shadow Creatures from taking over is to return the Stars to the sky.” There were twists and turns, but the character development and relationship building was truly outstanding.
Once Upon a Winter Day
November 24, 2020
Margaret Ferguson Books
For some reason, the cover art to this book didn’t initially grab me. But I thought the story was quite inventive. A young boy named Milo asks his mom to read him a story. However, she’s busy with another project — very realistic and she’s not unkind, so lets not be judgy here. 😄 Milo grudgingly heads outside and is quickly distracted by clues found in the snow everywhere. Each time he find a new track, feather, hole, or some other unusual clue in the snow, he wonders what happened there. After each new discovery, there’s a wordless page spread showing the reader what occurred in that spot before Milo arrived. Once Milo has already happened upon a number of mysteries, he hears his mom calling him back and he heads home (NOTE: He says, “Darn!” as he’s heading back home, which I realize some families may not appreciate). As they sit at the table to eat a yummy soup, his mom asks him if he’d like her read him some stories after dinner. But he says that he now has stories to tell HER. The cozy artwork for this book was created with mixed media: watercolor, pan and ink, colored pencil, and Photoshop. I’ll provide one page spread as an example, below:
Brenda is a Sheep
November 17, 2020 (republished)
Random House Books for Young Readers
What an odd little book. Brenda is a sheep, even though she looks, dresses, talks, and acts like a wolf. The sheep become enamored with Brenda the woof-sheep. Even when Brenda does things that will seriously injure the sheep (trying to shoot them with arrows, trying to cook them, etc.), they still think Brenda is the best thing since sliced bread.
The sheep think Brenda is probably
the best sheep they have ever met…
All the sheep want to be just like Brenda.
I’m not sure exactly what to make of this book. If you go to Goodreads and see the large number of 1-star ratings, along with all the negative comments, you’d think it’s downright terrible. And perhaps it is. But as I was reading it, I began wondering if it’s intended to be commentary on the current state of US politics (since it was first published in 2019 and slightly altered and republished in 2020). Many of Hood’s stories concern relationships, prejudice, and inclusion, so I don’t know — if you read this one, let me know what you think.
A Story for Small Bear
Alice B. McGinty
Richard Jones, illustrator
October 13, 2020
Schwartz & Wade Books
This book is STUNNING! As soon as I finished reading it, I looked it up to see if I could find a nicely-priced copy to purchase for my home library. Some pages have a large picture spread across both pages while others have multiple images. In fact, one spread must be turned on its side to view. It’s so gorgeous! In short, a young female bear, known as Small Bear, is out preparing for their long winter hibernation. But Mama told her not to dilly or dally if she wants to have story time before they sleep. So every time Small Bear gets excited about something she finds during hibernation preparation, she reminds herself not to get distracted because she really wants to have story time. This is pretty much the story of my life with five Littles — bedtime is so much work, but it’s worth it in the end to have that precious times together before sleeping. The illustrations for this book were rendered in acrylic and watercolor paint and edited in Adobe Photoshop.
Rain Before Rainbows
David Litchfield, illustrator
October 6, 2020
With dreamlike artwork in fantastical color combinations, rhyming text showcases the cycles in life from night before day, clouds before sunshine, sowing before reaping, etc. As I was reading this one, I was thinking about how appropriate this book would be as a graduation gift for someone heading off into the world. There will definitely be hard days and difficult work, but we can find that silver lining in the end. The illustrations were done in ink and paint and rendered digitally.
The Most Beautiful Thing
Kao Kalia Yang
Khoa Le, illustrator
October 6, 2020
I loved this beautiful story about the love grandchildren have for their grandmother. She struggled through the worst of times, losing her parents, facing hunger, and ending up with only one tooth. They carefully tend to her needs, from bathing to nail clipping to feeding. As the granddaughter yearns for braces and ice cream, she’s satisfied with her life by coming to better understand what her grandmother has endured. The deep bonding and adoration jumps from these pages! The illustrations in this book were created with mixed media and Photoshop.
All Because You Matter
Bryan Collier, illustrator
October 6, 2020
What a beautiful book, both with artwork and text. Throughout it notes how all young black and brown children matter, while also drawing attention to some of the ways society has misunderstood and mistreated them. For example, the names of Trayvon, Tamir, and Philanda are mentioned, as well as the mention of classmates giggling over the pronunciation of an unusual name.
Or the first time you opened
like a mirror staring back at you,
and really saw yourself…
I love this one and hope it will be found in schools and libraries everywhere! The art for this book was created with collage and Winsor and Newton watercolor paint on 300lb. Arches watercolor paper.
Girl on a Motorcycle
Julie Morstad, illustrator
September 8, 2020
Viking Books for Young Readers
In this nonfiction picture book, we witness a girl riding her motorcycle all over the world, having big and small adventures and finding ways to pass the time when she’s stalled by flat tires, non-working engine, and unexpected opportunities to talk with others and tour historical places. The text is written mostly in English, with sporadic words and phrases written in French, the rider’s native tongue. The Author’s Note explains that Girl on a Motorcycle is based on a real-life girl named Anne-France Dautheville, who was the first woman to ride a motorcycle around the world, alone. I really enjoyed the small details shared in the text as it must have been difficult to pick what to emphasize after riding for so long. And it definitely made me want to pack my bags and travel overseas again — it’s been a looooong time. The artwork was created using pencil, ink, and digital means.
Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away
Sonia Sanchez, illustrator
September 8, 2020
Evelyn Del Rey is my mejor amiga, my número uno best friend.
In this touching picture book, two young girls are having to say goodbye. The good news is, they get this one last day to play in all their familiar places, running and swinging and being as silly as ever. But eventually, all Evelyn’s belongings are loaded up and it’s time to say goodbye. Such a sad experience, but this story ends on a very hopeful note. ❤ The illustrations were created digitally.
Over and Under the Rainforest
Christopher Silas Neal, illustrator
August 11, 2020
In this picture book, a young child is hiking with an uncle (Tito) through the Costa Rico rainforest, which is on the way to Grandmother’s (Abuelita’s) house where supper awaits. There’s both fear and fascination in this journey and just enough detail to make a young reader interested in learning more about each animal. In an Author’s Note, Kate Messner shares that of all her travels for researching books, her visit to the tropical rainforest of Costa Rica has been her very favorite. She visited twice and this book was based on the animals and experiences she had. The back matter also shares more information about each animal and creature featured in this book as well as where to go to find out more about the rainforest. The illustrations in this book were rendered in mixed media.
Ibram X. Kendi
Ashley Lukashevsky, illustrator
June 16, 2020
This board book takes a no nonsense approach to what it is to truly raise your baby to be antiracist. There is no neutrality. A child will either be raised to be racist or antiracist. And to be antiracist requires knowledge and action. Kendi outlines 9 steps to follow stating immediately in step #1 that “If you claim to be color-bling, you deny what’s right in front of you.” While this is clearly a book intended for the younger crowd, I hope these messages continue to make it out to the general populations of adults!
To Be Read:
I would like to start reading Return of the Thief (The Queen’s Thief #6) by Megan Whalen Turner, but no promises since we’re enjoying so much family time this week. And I still have a pile of picture books checked out through Interlibrary Loan. Since I’ve hit my 350 goal, I think I’ll try to round out my year by increasing my goal to 365 with this latest stack. Only four days left…
Reading Challenge Updates:
Goodreads Challenge: 350/350 – I’ll raise this to 365 this last week…