I’m not really sure what to say about the political events of this past week, in my country. It’s been one of the more shocking experiences for the United States (and that’s really saying a lot, considering the last few months). The division is unnerving, and I’m not certain our wounds will fully heal any time soon. But my hope is that the coming months will bring optimism, empathy, and peace all across our nation as we look for common ground.
On a positive note, I finally read my very first books of 2021, this week. The novels I chose were the perfect start to the new year as they both dealt with questioning life choices and having a fresh start. Overall, it was a really great reading week, so hopefully you’ll find something of interest in this post to add to your reading list.
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!
The Midnight Library
August 20, 2020
I’ve had this one on “hold” for a while and was surprised when it became available this last week. With the discussion of regrets and life decisions, it ended up being an excellent first adult novel to kick off my new year of reading. Nora Seed’s life hasn’t ended up where she’d hoped. And today is an exceptionally bad day. So Nora decides she’s had enough and she attempts suicide. When she wakes up, she discovers she’s arrived at The Midnight Library — a timeless space between life and death where she must face her personalized Book of Regrets. The bookshelves appear to go on forever, and every other book in the library allows her to visit a parallel universe where she’s made a different choice at some point in her life.
“Doing one thing differently is often the same as doing everything differently.”
Some choices landed her in vastly different places in the world with different careers, friends, partners, work associates, and even children. Some are incredible experiences for her. Some not so much.
“Sometimes the only way to learn is to live.”
The librarian explains that once she finds a parallel life that she loves and accepts completely, she can stay there.
“…a pawn is never just a pawn. A pawn is a queen-in-waiting. All you need to do is find a way to keep moving forward. One square after another. And you can get to the other side and unlock all kinds of power.”
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I really enjoyed The Midnight Library and am not surprised, at all, that it won the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction. I still find it very hard to believe this book was under 300 pages because it packed a whole lot of lives in a very small space. I picked up a number of beautiful quotes and the story made me think a lot about life choices and the small things we can do in the ‘here and now’ to impact our lives later.
“The thing that looks the most ordinary might end up being the thing that leads you to victory.”
Awards: Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction (2020)
May 30, 2017
I decided to make Restart my first middle grade novel of 2021. It was published back in 2017, but seemed an appropriate read this month, considering this time of new year’s resolutions and the opportunity to consider what we’d like to change about our lives. Chase Ambrose is a school bully. There’s really no way around this fact. He and his buddies pick on the little guys. As football heroes of the school, they’re given a lot of grace, and they lie their way through most of the poor decisions they make to avoid punishment. One day, while climbing across his roof, Chase falls on his head and is diagnosed with amnesia. The only thing he remembers is a girl dressed in white with ribbons in her hair. Therefore, when he heads back to school, he has to slowly discover who he is — who his friends are, what he likes to do, and what is most important to him. It’s a full restart of his life, which means he must decide whether to take advantage of the opportunity to change or to assume the role of being the person he was, before the fall.
The story had laugh-out-loud scenes, so well described that I could see it all happening perfectly. For example, when Chase’s new friend Brendan (who he used to bully, pre-amnesia) is trying to get his Youtube channel to go viral, he concocts a number of crazy stunts to film, like: riding his tricycle through a carwash (HILARIOUS!!), jumping into a pile of leaves while covered from head to toe in pancake syrup, and “one man band,” where Brendan plays all the instruments of the band at different times, but edits them together where he’s playing the entire piece at once. But there were also heartfelt moments, like when Chase is meeting a “Dumbledor” (the word bullies use to identify the elderly — a pop culture reference from Harry Potter) from WWII who is incredibly grumpy and mean-spirited. However, in time they quickly discover he won the highest honor for his actions in the war. Gordon Korman is an amazing writer for the middle grade crowd. He “gets” the complications of this age and so eloquently relates those coming-of-age feelings of confusion, devastation, and even humor.
AWARDS: South Carolina Book Award Nominee for Junior Book (2020), Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee for Sundogs (2019), Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award Nominee (2020)
August 4, 2020
Is your shadow trapping you? Does it prevent you from soaring? Luci was born without a shadow, so she hid herself from the sunlight so as not to be ridiculed. But once she stops caring about having no shadow and what others think, she find her super power. The very last page depicts Luci staring directly at the reader, challenging them to stop looking at what’s missing to find their strength. I really liked the artwork in this book and am disappointed that I couldn’t find out how it was created. Portions look like charcoal was used as everything is in black and white until Luci discovers her strength.
July 28, 2020
What a wonderfully creepy little story! Squids need a space to let out their creativity (because it won’t stay in the water), so in rhyming text, we learn about how the squids creep into a child’s house at night, leaving doodles and notes all over the place. When the parents wake up, they believe their child did it and so the clean-up begins throughout the house (except for one special spot that the child leaves hidden behind stuffed animals). I LOVE that Jonathan Fenske dedicates the book: “For those who draw on walls.” The artwork for this book was created on illustration board with #2 pencil and India ink.
Dozens of Doughnuts
Brianne Farley, illustrator
July 21, 2020
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
In rhyming text, we hear the story of LouAnn the bear, who is preparing for her winter hibernation. She’s just baked up a batch of a dozen doughnuts when her doorbell rings. So she splits the batch with her first friend, Woodrow. But pretty soon, the doorbell rings again. And again. And again… LouAnn begins mixing up batch after batch to feed all her friends, until she runs out of ingredients and there’s no doughnuts left for her. But never fear, there’s a sweet ending to this one! And I think it would pair nicely with The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins. The artwork for this book was done in gouache, colored pencil, and charcoal, with some help from Photoshop.
Tara J. Hannon, illustrator
July 21, 2020
Grosset & Dunlap
In this simple board book, each page spread depicts scenes from different famous cities in the USA. Readers will witness planes passing through New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Phoenix, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The artwork is bright and bold — sure to keep the attention of young readers.
First Day Critter Jitters
Liz Climo, illustrator
July 7, 2020
Hey kids, guess what! EVERYONE is nervous on the first day of school! Sloth is super slow and may not make it on time, snake can’t get a backpack to stay on his back, mouse is extremely small, kangaroo isn’t used to being out how mama’s pouch, parrot tends to repeat things, mole has poor eye sight, bear is sleepy, and rabbit is full of energy. In fact, there’s an adult in your classroom that may be just as nervous as you are! But in this cute little book, classmates figure out how to work together as a community to meet everyone’s needs. Lots to discuss in this book, so it will be a wonderful start-of-year read aloud. The illustrations in this book were done with digital magic.
Hey, Who Made This Mess?
June 30, 2020
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Someone walked through a pail of purple paint and made a MESS! They did something to disrupt all the animals at the zoo, so it was probably a monster — a sleepy, thirsty, stinky, scratchy, hungry monster! P.S. If you look closely on most pages, you’ll figure out who the culprit is before the zoo keeper does! 🙂 The art was done in gouache, watercolor pencil, ink, and Photoshop.
June 30, 2020
Viking Books for Young Readers
Young Lily has an imaginary friend named Tiger. Any time something bad happens, she tells Penny (her older sister?) that Tiger did it. After painting the furniture, eating the special strawberry Fairy cakes, and unraveling Penny’s knitting, Tiger is sent to his room until he is ready to apologize. Instead, Lily and Tiger run away to be wild and free. But when Penny arrives to take Lily back home, Lily admits that she shouldn’t have left the house without asking permission and that she’s sorry for having been “naughty,” too. In the end, we learn that she never again left without permission, but that sometimes Penny went to “the wild” with Lily and Tiger so that she could also be “wild and free.” There’s a lot to discuss, here. I definitely wouldn’t just hand this off to a child without having a chance to discuss hidden meanings, but overall it’s about personality, creativity, and feelings. However, it’s also about taking responsibility and being safe. I’ll provide one page spread as an example of the artwork, below:
This little book (it really is very small) is all about becoming the best you can be and pushing limits and not letting anyone stop you. If you’re not yet familiar with Sky Brown, she’s a skateboarder from Japan who took part in the Vans US Open at the age of 8 and became a “professional” athlete at the age of 10. Today, she rises at 5am to surf, has won Dancing with the Stars Juniors, and is now dabbling in music (see her video, below). She is represented by Nike and appears to truly believe the Sky’s the Limit!
The artwork throughout the book appears to all be edited photography of Sky Brown. Every page spread has text on the left-hand side and a photo on the right side. I’ll provide one page spread as an example, below:
This fourth book in the Max and Marla series is definitely all about living in the moment. Max wants to take photos of everything, but when he can’t get the lens to focus or when his camera gets jammed, he misses some of the best sights. Eventually, his camera fall off their little boat. And from that time on, he is an active participant and doesn’t miss anything. The artwork for this book was rendered in watercolor and ink on Fabriano paper, then scanned and further overworked in Photoshop by adding spot textures and colors.
A Family for Louie
June 1, 2020
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
This debut picture book is all about little Louie and his hunt for a new family. His life seems pretty perfect in the beginning as he gets delicious foods all day, a nice daily bath, and a hot cocoa before bedtime (please don’t give your dog cocoa!!). Yet, as soon as he realizes what is missing, he goes on the hunt. It turns out that it’s not easy finding the right family, but it’s well worth the wait. The sweet artwork was done digitally. I’ll provide one page spread as an example, below:
To Be Read:
I am currently finishing up The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung and I’ve just started reading Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, after Earl of The Chronicles of a Children’s Book Writer shared the title a couple weeks back. And I’m still working on a small stack of picture books, primarily from 2020.
Reading Challenge Updates:
Goodreads Challenge: 12/200