Mini-reviews of some of the books we recently checked out of the library.
Lissy's Friends. One of Grace Lin's early works, it employs her trademark folk-art style. The main character, an Asian girl, is at a new school and is having trouble making friends. She makes her own friends - origami animals - which, in the end, bring real friends to her. Charming and sweet but not a must-read.
The Quarreling Book. Charlotte Zolotow's understanding of childhood and family dynamics is pitch-perfect as always in this story of how one person's bad mood is contagious... until a change of heart has the opposite ripple effect.
My First Day: What Animals Do on Day One. Steve Jenkins has done it again! This lovely non-fiction book about newborn animals is utterly fascinating as well as beautiful. From the ways mothers recognize their new babies (zebra mommies memorize the pattern of their babies' stripes, while others know them by their voices or scents) to the way they are born (the Darwin frog is held in a pouch in its father's throat) to what they can and can't do on their first day (some can't even see while others walk within hours of birth), this book is perfect for the young animal lover and for a big-brother-or-sister-to-be. The language is simple but the text is supplemented at the end with additional information about each animal which is especially helpful as some are rather obscure - and interesting.
Rickshaw Girl. This illustrated chapter book for those on the younger end of the middle-grade spectrum is tells the story of Naima, who lives in Bangladesh, seeks to help her poor family earn money, but feels constrained by the fact that she's a girl. In the end, another woman acts as a role model and Naima uses her artistic skills to help her family financially. Each chapter heading is decorated with an alpana, the traditional Bengali designs painted on homes for special occasions. A wonderful portrait of how things are changing in many Southeast Asian and other traditional societies, as well as an introduction to the ideas of micro-loans and women's investment banks. This book is great for second and third graders, an audience for which I can't think of any other chapter books set in this part of the world (can you?). The glossary at the end is a helpful addition.
The Center of Everything. Linda Urban's most recent novel has won rave reviews and talk of a Newbery already, but I was not as enamored. While it was certainly enjoyable, and its references to A Wrinkle in Time and When You Reach Me and its incorporation of a donut motif were clever, it does not live up to either of those predecessors and the main plot of a girl regretting something she did or didn't do before the death of a grandparent was not treated in a particularly fresh way. However, the ending was satisfying by virtue of the very fact that it was unsatisfying, just like life.
Young Adult Fiction
Eleanor and Park. Rainbow Rowell's story of love between two misfits is appealing and realistic. Eleanor, the oldest of 5 children with an emotionally abusive stepfather (who is also physically abusive to their mother), reminded me of Cynthia Voigt's Dicey Tillerman, a reference to which Eleanor herself makes toward the end of the book. I particularly liked that both Eleanor and Park wanted to take the physical part of their romance rather slowly and that the descriptions of "mere" handholding conveyed that such simple physical acts can have a romance and eroticism all their own.
Young Adult Poetry
Think Again. The perfect gift for the angst-filled teenager in your life. Poems like: "Sit still said her father - / Quiet said her mom:/ So she sat still and quiet/ As an unexploded bomb." capture the essence of adolescence. The illustrations by Julie Morstad, the reason I picked up this book in the first place, complement the poems perfectly.
Have you read any of these? What did you think?