"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend

{picture book} wonder-full

Just in time for a baby shower gift, one of my favorites (I have a print on my wall) came out with a new book: not that I wouldn’t have gifted the recently released board book version of Dream Animals (my review).

The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin 

Random House, 2015.

Emily Windfield Martin’s latest opens with:

When I look at you

And you look at me,

I wonder what wonderful

Things you will be.

before the narrator begins to speculate what this new child will be. Later in the book, the reader will wonder aloud as to what the child will do:

This is the first time

There has ever been a you,*

So I wonder what wonderful things

You will do.

There are some things that will go without wondering. There are some things the narrator knows about the child, can anticipate.

I know you’ll be kind…

and clever…

The sentiments are more than wonderful and I had a customer (an aunt buying for a niece) admit to becoming verklempt before hugging it to her chest and walking toward the registers with it. Natalya is still in a stage of deep-sighing when I hand her sentimental things like this to read. Fortunately, there is humor; also, she has a fondness for Martin’s art as well.

I love love love the words and pictures on the spread where a boy sitting at a sewing machine holds up tiny pants for a squirrel. Natalya recommends the one below, the one with the band (which Martin admits is a favorite).

The Wonderful Things You Will Be has a page that reads:

When nights are black and

When days are gray—

You’ll be brave and be bright

So no shadows can stay.

The image is a girl in a red coat, hood back, contemplating the red balloon stuck in the branches of a tree at the edge of a wood.

I think the endpapers are pretty sweet, too.

I mentioned the male tailor, but Martin always features a diverse population unusual to most picture books. I adore the details and I love the charmingly peculiar she includes in her books, though it makes sense if you consider successfully writing for an audience with such charming peculiarities within their own imaginations. Martin is well-suited to picture book creating.

The Wonderful Things You Will Be is a lovely, serious yet playful addition to the family library. You can’t start too young with this one, nor can you out-grow it.

——

of note: Martin fans will recognize and smile at the appearance of the Kitten Bandit among others. also, fans, check out RandomHouse’s cool little option to send e-cards!

If I’d done some real planning, I would have hunted down a red/white striped footie-pjs to pair with the book.

*a line reminiscent of Nancy Tillman books of the same genre. I’m pleased to have word-choice and image aesthetic options in these books.

{All images are Emily Winfield Martin’s; do check out her work at ‘the black apple’. You can see great spreads of the book here.}

 

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · series

{comic} a secret worth sharing

Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

First Second, 2015

My copy was an Advanced Readers Copy thanks to First Second & NetGalley

Welcome to Stately Academy, a school which is just crawling with mysteries to be solved! The founder of the school left many clues and puzzles to challenge his enterprising students. Using their wits and their growing prowess with coding, Hopper and her friend Eni are going to solve the mystery of Stately Academy no matter what it takes!–publisher’s comments

In short, this book is fantastic!

The images and paneling are straightforward cartoon expositions. The reader can relax into the non-threatening artistic rendering and engage with the energy of the image and dialog. Hopper is a firework and Eni is smooth. Yang has a great sense of comedic timing and manages a pleasing plot revelation now and again. Secret Coders is smart in that it is educational and—super important—entertaining.

In his closing note to the readers, Gene Luen Yang writes:

“Coding is creative and powerful. It’s how words turn into image and action It truly is magic. Mike Holmes and I made the book you now hold in your hands because we want to share a bit of that magic with you, and maybe inspire you to become a magician—a coder—yourself.”

Yang and Holmes provide puzzles and the space to solve them without their feeling out of place in the narrative. The code-work builds in complication, leaving the last as an aspect of the cliffhanger. I’m looking forward to volume 2 for the sake of not only the mystery laid out in the story, but I want to know if my solution is correct.

—-

recommendation: for lovers of sports and/or math, mysteries and humor. an easy sell for STEM, so gift this one to the classroom and school library, friends.

 

"review" · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · series · Uncategorized · wondermous

{book} never a nothing girl

Icebreaker by Lian Tanner

Feiwel and Friends, 2015 (orig. 2013).

Hardcover 304 pages

“Twelve-year-old Petrel is an outcast, the lowest of the low on the Oyster, an ancient icebreaker that has been following the same course for three hundred years. In that time, the ship’s crew has forgotten its original purpose and broken into three warring tribes. Everyone has a tribe except Petrel, whose parents committed such a terrible crime that they were thrown overboard, and their daughter ostracised.

But Petrel is a survivor. She lives in the dark corners of the ship, speaking to no one except two large grey rats, Mister Smoke and Missus Slink. Then a boy is discovered, frozen on an iceberg, and Petrel saves him, hoping he’ll be her friend. What she doesn’t know is that for the last three hundred years, the Oyster has been guarding a secret. A secret that could change the world.

A secret that the boy has been sent to destroy, along with the ship and everyone on it…” –Publisher’s comments

I hugged the book before I read it, and you can be sure I hugged it afterward. Why? Because Lian Tanner has written one of my favorite Juvenile Fiction Series (The Keeper Trilogy) and she did not let me down in Icebreaker.

Tanner creates rather than contrives her characters and their conflicts. It takes reading the novel to realize what I mean by that difference between the creating and the contrivance. The characters experience real, important change, within the boundaries of their personality. You labor alongside them in those pivotal moments.

Icebreaker is not for those who like to anticipate the story and control every outcome. Tanner doesn’t make her adventures easy on the characters, why would she make it easy on the reader? Tanner’s characters earn their stunning heroism and heart. That Petrel would arrive to a transformative state is perhaps expected, but what of the others, and what of the winding series of events that traverse the massive and entangle innards of the Oyster? There are clues to mysteries (Crab) for the reader to guess successfully, but the overall the sensation of honestly not knowing what is coming next is marvelous.

Tanner complicates her otherworldly stories in painfully realistic ways. Both Petrel (aka Nothing Girl) and the strange boy she rescues have internalized the beliefs of their respective adult worlds—and they have to push back for the sake of everyone. Theirs is a violent and devastated world. The different factions are rational outcomes and hauntingly familiar, yet there is a fine and cutting edge of ridiculousness in the situation. So much of the violence is situated in willful ignorance and incredible egoism. Squid is a still, quiet breath of fresh air.

The presence of tribal leaders’ children in the story is notable; especially the handling of daughters (like Squid) as game-changers. The offspring represent the attitudes of their tribes as well as the opportunity for change. The Braids’ leader, Orca’s daughter, is a horrible fascination and was no doubt one of the most tenuous to write. How to convincingly affect change in relatively few pages, and can we trust it going forward? Nothing Girl and the “rescued boy” (who represent two sets of “others” or factions) are convincing actors, posing in alternate versions of themselves, playing the role survival requires of them. The reader is helped to understand that there is a lot at stake when it comes to who and when to trust—and how to prioritize needs and wants. From the get-go, the question of whether a Nothing Girl should have rescued the boy on the ice haunts the story: Is he worth it? Is she?

The harsh setting is fraught with the kind of danger that inspires courage and resourcefulness, though the survivalist Petrel would downplay such aggrandizement of her reality. Yet while she may not find herself exceptional or worthy of manning the story, the reader will see what her few friends do, worth the risk-taking. She is so earnest, so damned determined and requiring of love. She is so damned familiar.

How Tanner manages to make such a horrible moment near the end, the realization of Nothing Girl as Petrel, to be also humorous… She has great storytelling instincts. Tanner is thought-provoking in unexpected ways, reminding the reader always of perspective (that there is always more than one at play).

Icebreaker combines the most appealing traits of juvenile fiction: an exhilarating imagination and an increasingly necessary imperative: empathy.

I wrote this of Museum of Thieves way back when: “Tanner created a cast and setting of delectable proportions for which I found I was ravenous in Museum of Thieves and will sure to be again in City of Lies.” Go ahead and transpose Icebreaker and Sunker’s Deep; Tanner is a satiating must-read.

——-

Of note: Perfect for tracing the pathways of character development over the course of a plot, no “convenient” gaps to leap over here.

My reviews of Museum of Thieves and City of Lies

 

 

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · short story

{comic} BFFs

little robot cover

Little Robot by Ben Hatke

First Second, 2015.

Advanced Reader Copy (thank you First Second/Net Galley) in exchange for a fair review.

When a little girl finds an adorable robot in the woods, she presses a button and accidentally activates him for the first time. Now, she finally has a friend. But the big, bad robots are coming to collect the little guy for nefarious purposes, and it’s all up to a five-year-old armed only with a wrench and a fierce loyalty to her mechanical friend to save the day!–Publisher’s comments

LittleRobot-combined-100-25

As observed of his Zita Spacegirl series “Hatke does really good robots—seriously, spaceships, gear, and really great robots.”* So when I heard First Second was publishing his Little Robot, I was super geeked.

little robot 43

Little Robot is deceptively simple in presentation. Unlined panels, a lot of white space, silence for pages, uncluttered or uncomplicated compositions. The first text is “tap,” a sound effect on page 25. The first spoken text is on 27. The story is quiet yet brimming with expression. The reader is like the cat licking the robot, there is an initial zing, as well as a residual. We cannot remain unaffected.

little robot 45

Like other Hatke heroines we’ve met, this little girl is beautifully determined and resourceful. She is alone and capable, lonely and courageous, and likes it that way. What is awesome about the story: its point is not whether the little girl will prove acceptable or not when human children arrive at the end of the book. When the human children do arrive, she runs off with her already true friend, the little robot she fought so hard to befriend/rescue. True, she needed a friend–and she’d found one.

Little Robot is very much a story of daring, of tenacity, of not letting a monster robot get in the way of a friendship you’ve invested in, one you’ve been waiting for.

The subject of life and death is hardly subtle, and in that way, it is accessible. The Little Robot is as animated and unnamed as the Little Human protagonist. They also seem to be subject to a greater machine at work, one that leaves her to her own devices, sneaking into the yards of others’ to play—an older white male watching her from the window. What is equally left unsaid is whether the man is malevolent. “ROM!” takes on a different affect at the end of the story after the mechanism is re-adjusted, can we infer the same of its human counterpart (if said man is, in fact, its counterpart?); Industry is.

I love the juxtaposition of Machine and Nature. I love the delightful experiences of those a forming friendship. I love that the last image brings to mind Castle in the Sky (Miyazaki, 1986)… Hatke is artful in his use of of panel, in the reaches across. He is judicious in breaking the reverie of the image with text. He’s playful. And he writes the best female characters and their adventures in such a way that it makes it difficult to understand just how rare their portrayals and their settings actually are.

14240601._SY540_

Ben Hatke’s work is worth the anticipation it builds, not just the robots, but the girls, their adventures, their courage, their heart. I can’t wait to meet his next adventure, but in the meantime, I’ll indulge a few re-reads.

——-

recommendations: emerging readers through grade-school, and adults. STEM kids, and artists. Those needing greater diversity in their library/repertoire. lovers of robot art.

*Legends of Zita Spacegirl review. Here is one for Zita Spacegirl.

{images belong to Ben Hatke}

"review" · Children's · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · Tales

{comic} revealed

Hidden : A Child’s Story of the Holocaust

Written by Loïc Dauvillier; Illustrated by Marc Lizano

Color by Greg Salsedo; Translated from the French by Alexis Siegel

First Second Books, 2014.

Ages 6-10; Grades 1-5.

 Encouraged to talk about her evident sadness, a grandmother shares her memories long hidden about her experience as a child in 1942 Paris. Opening in the late hours of evening (the dark) in the privacy of a home, steeped in themes of hiding and silence, the novel will eventually affect a catharsis that moves the reader to compassion and tears. And yet, it will be a story the reader will loathe to tuck away and forget.

The continual exchange between grandmother and granddaughter Elsa escapes the contrived as the young Elsa struggles to understand how a young Dounia Cohen’s life is upended by the horror of a mass eradication of Jews in Paris. Elsa alongside Dounia wonders at the lies adults will tell, the sudden cruelty of her neighbors or their heroics, the loss of a parent, the importance of a courageous community. The gently told story does not skirt the horror and sorrow. The portrayal of the injustice Jews and their sympathizers faced honors the intellect of a grade-schooler. The sequences are those Hidden’s young audience would understand, the fear and heartache of losing their parents, schoolroom humiliations, inexplicable displays public violence… They will find contemporary relevance in subjects of honesty, loyalty, identity, bullying, and loss. I was struck by how contemporary the novel makes the holocaust–how present. I was moved by the silence after that final narrative line at the bottom of page 68; how its said into the quiet; how Elsa sleeps in innocence.

One of the marvels of Diary of Anne Frank is how the reader connects with her youth. Elsa’s sympathies reflect her youthful audience. Dounia as young and old help them cope. She is the wise grandmother and the child witness. She shows fear and regret and incredible courage. The story reinforces what is right and good without the heavy-handed messaging.

Dauvillier understands the power of the oral historian in couching his story. He creates a connection to the present and the past not only through a framework and a paced movement from one to the other, but in reemphasizing the connections visually. Elsa is the unfreckled version of her grandmother when young. And while the story is told, Elsa is safe in the arms of the older Dounia/Simone. Hidden closes out of doors in the daylight in a tender exchange of reconciliation that forgives the silence and celebrates sharing the unspeakable.

I admit to being uncertain about the art when the book first came out, and I did find following the text a bit tricky at first. I appreciate, however, the accessibility of the cartoon work. Lizano manages the expressive without unbalancing the gentility in the narrative. He provides meaningful settings even when the image shouldn’t be rendered in anything more than words. He provides meaningful renderings when the language for child-audiences are inadequate. A lot of frames are close-ups, emphasizing subjectivity and a sympathy with the character and situation. The viewer is just as often cast as an observer of distances and emptiness, of the foreign. Lizano and Salsedo are fearless with darkening tints and shadows.

 

I was deeply impressed by Hidden. It approaches a difficult narrative with a caution that does not underestimate its young readership*. It leaves an impression that is empowering and interventionist, rather than crippling—an impression not only meant for the youngest of us.

Hidden would be a great graphic novel for intergenerational story time, and I shouldn’t think it only for educational venues or historic commemorations. Put this one on the any-day shelf.

——–

*something I see more in translated European texts.

{images belong to Marc Lizano}

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · recommend · young adult lit

{comic} this one summer

If the summer narrative isn’t your glass of lemonade, it isn’t mine either, but I had to see what all the raving was about and I was very pleasantly surprised. Make it your book club read. Make it the first comic you’ve decided to read if you have been harboring a mistaken belief that comics can’t be accessible, female-friendly, and/or literary.

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki. First Second 2014. Hardcover, 319 pages.

This One Summer has the cinematic quality of classic Summer films like Stand By Me, but it has the added bonus of escaping the sentimental or the nostalgic.

Rose returns to Lake Awago as she does every summer with her family. Her sisterly friend Windy returns as well. But unlike the seemingly carefree summers of earlier years, Rose’s parents are fighting and soon she and Windy are as well. Circling the adolescent turning point is a crush, pregnancy, and classic horror films–which makes sense.

this-one-summer-art-excerpt

The publisher describes the book as an “ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of her teen age—a story of renewal and revelation.” “Ultimately” is a key term. The novel left me on the brink of despair for the increasingly irritating protagonist. Why did she seem so familiar? She is a naïve preteen whose imagination is limited by any number of things. She ignores realities that stare her in the face, or accompany her every day in the form of a best friend. She’s pretty much everyone.

The Tamaki’s infuse their summer drama with plenty of humor and charmingly odd relatives. Windy is a spirited girl you hope will be spared from the typic behaviors the more seriously matured Rose begins to express.

I appreciated the pop culture references and the game playing of M.A.S.H–that took me back to my youth. That Rose’s mother wears a Bikini Kill t-shirt was unexpectedly characterizing. Rose’s mother isn’t apparently going through something quite deep and distracting until the last portion of the novel. Initially, she just comes off as unpleasant, especially in juxtaposition to the fun father figure. Yet there she is appearing to be a fan of a late grrrrl! punk band. There is a feminist appeal in This One Summer, but more: a definite female appeal to the complexities of the body and the body politic.

this one summerBeing a girl is complicated business, and while boys have their own things going on (which the book alludes to), there is a female-centricity that should be unsurprising and anticipated in a book by two female creators.

A lot of secrets are simmering in This One Summer. And it is a lovely aspect to the novel that not all secrets are revealed before the Summer (and thus the novel) concludes. Even so, Rose has to come to grips with their consequences, even if the consequences indirectly affect her. The novel questions whether we have to know the details to afford someone the grace they need. It questions why we tend to favor one person in a scenario over the other; why do we jump the conclusions we do, side with/defend the people we do. Windy’s confrontations with Rose are beautiful.

The strangeness of This One Summer is the kind of cultural discussions one can arrive at without the book directly engaging the reader in it. The narrator, Rose, introduces us to summer traditions and observable changes and the like, but really we are reading an indie film about a summer vacation at the lake. You can run with the symbolic nature of summer or of a body of water and the female body if you want. But the profound effect of the novel is in the culmination of both the mundane and the emotionally charged moments.

thisonesummer_sm-26

 

The novel needn’t be too heavy to threaten an easy recommendation. This One Summer does not close with a lengthy voice-over by Rose, summarizing her journey in a deeply contemplative gesture, but a clever youthful quip, a ticking of a clock, and a series of images that close a chapter and leaves a pile of symbols on a summer cot once occupied by a young girl-on-the-cusp.

Between the artwork (love the hue of the ink, the dimensions, movements) and the content, This One Summer is one to buy for any adolescent-upwards female in your life.

{images belong to Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki}

amdu150

this read is a part of the “A More Diverse Universe” event.

concenter · fiction · Lit · music · recommend · wondermous

{book} the colorless

When Tsukuru first hears Haida’s recording of Franz Liszt’s ‘Le mal du pays,’ from the Years of Pilgrimage suite ‘Year 1: Switzerland,” it is described as “a quiet, sorrowful piece that began with a slow, memorable theme played out as single notes, then proceeded into a series of tranquil variations” (68). Tsukuru asks Haida about it. Haida says, ‘Le mal du pays’ is French and is “usually translated ‘homesickness,’ or ‘melancholy’, or as precise a translation as can be managed ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape’” (69). Tsukuru adds that the piece evokes “a calm sadness without being sentimental.” This section describes Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. Murakami transcribes a quiet sorrowful piece replete with tranquil variations.*

a delightfully well-designed cover.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: a novel

By Haruki Murakami

Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel

Knopf 2014.

In High School Tsukuru Tazaki used to be part of a group comprised of five. He was one of three boys and the only of the five whose name did not include a color. The latter wasn’t the only thing to make him different, but the balance had already been struck. Like the trait that decides 5 fingers make the most harmonious human hand, the five young people found a miraculous society within and between themselves. But perhaps what they had was not as true a harmony as first believed (322).

“I’ve always seen myself as an empty person, lacking color and identity. Maybe that was my role in the group. To be empty.” […] “An empty vessel. A colorless background. With no special defects, nothing outstanding. Maybe that sort of person was necessary to the group.” (179).

Moving away  for college shouldn’t have changed things as dramatically as it had, yet suddenly Tsukuru was shut out. It is a long sixteen years later that Tsukuru is tasked with finding out why.  Murakami writes a deeply compelling mystery—in Tsukuru Tazaki.

The mystery as to what Tsukuru could have done and how all might finally find resolution is the spine and is much like rails drawing the reader along, yet Murakami is building a station with Tsukuru Tazaki that is rife with such beautiful complexity the “colorless” becomes riveting. Murakami must take pleasure in his ability to move readers through the most ordinary sequences of life in pursuit of the most poetic; and he uses the most ordinary of characters to do it.

The novel is one of those places where the figurative can be rendered quite literally, and unreality resides in simultaneity with reality. It is the perfect space, other than the dreaming and memory, for Murakami to explore his preoccupations with the waking, conscious existence of liminal spaces. Can a desire become strong enough to knock on a door an impossible number of miles away? Are evil spirits merely psychic projections? Can a mild-mannered handsome boy harbor a violent, ugly aspect and not recall it? Can he harbor a intimate desire so deep, he could mistake the real for a fantasy (and vice versa)?

Tsukuru Tazaki learns that all number of paradoxes exist, some of which are comforting, others disturbing. We can die and be regenerated inside these vessels that refuse to pass away. A musical score can transport the most vivid recollections into the present, even the presence of persons long lost (258). And we wonder at whether differences between our existence and absences are substantial enough to matter.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki also understands that some explanations are never found, sorrows never redeemed, conflicts never resolved, and there are apologies made that shouldn’t satisfy forgiveness but will—because we cling to life, stupidly, dangerously, and with a profound love for it. A few readers who are going to hate this book.

Murakami can be infuriating in the way he allows characters and storylines to drift off into inexplicable disappearance. But none of it is wasted in its contribution to the whole. His novels are annoyingly coherent. The rewards just come in unexpected ways—which is a reward in and of itself.

Murakami’s genius is in that ending. He draws us out of another one of Tsukuru’s fugue-like states, this one listing among his lovely self-reflections, when he perches us once more on that brink between life and death. Murakami presents us with a character no one should have ever doubted, not even Tsukuru himself. It is quite brutal. It is perfect.

———-

*Here is one variation, when Tsukuru is contemplating his self-characterization of an empty vessel.

“Maybe I am just an empty, futile person, he thought. But it was precisely because there was nothing inside of me that these people could find, if even for a short time, a place where they belonged. Like a nocturnal bird seeks a safe place to rest during the day in a vacant attic. The birds like that empty, dim, silent place. If that were true, then maybe he should be happy he was hollow.” (258)

When Natalya was reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, she found ‘Le mal du pays’ and played it for us. You’ll want to do the same.

RIP IX's Lavinia by Abigail Larson———–

of note: a Reader’s Imbibing Peril (RIP) read, there is mystery, melancholy, and allusions to devilry.