This wise book starts off reassuring readers that when you go out into the world, you may have questions about what you see, and that is okay. People live in many different ways. It goes on to give an example of a kid walking to school and seeing a man sleeping on the street. The child asks "Why would he sleep outside?" The book answers with matter of fact, developmentally-appropriate language and continues to other questions from what is poverty to what is a fundamental human right to how can I help. This book is an excellent resource for parents or educators looking for language and advice on how to broach this topic with children. You could even just sit down with a child and read the whole book together. I love that the book comes from a place of curiosity and compassion. It doesn't talk down to the reader or make them feel bad for asking perfectly natural questions. Illustrated with a mixture of watercolor and photographs, this approachable book is a must-read.
Fly With Me is a masterpiece of transdisciplinary study. The book examines birds from every possible angle: biological, historical, conservation, art, and stories. Poetry is peppered throughout complementing the other information. It's a National Geographic book, so you can trust that the photography throughout is stunning. Perfect for bird enthusiasts and curious minds.
A young boy is less than excited to spend time with his grandpa. They don't eat the same food. They don't watch the same shows. They don't even speak the same language! The boy soon grows bored and takes out some paper and markers to entertain himself. When his grandpa sees, he excitedly takes out his ink pot and brush. They have finally found a common language! Together, they go on an adventure combining their styles.
The way Santat combines the grandson and grandfather's styles is simply breath-taking. The format goes from comic panels at the beginning to show time passing to full-color spreads in a more traditional picture book layout. I love the way the characters choose to draw themselves and that they exchange their preferred drawing implement at the end. The end papers bring it all together with the front displaying the grandson's style and the back the grandfather's. A sweet, inter-generational tale.
iNelle has lived in Monroeville, Alabama her whole life, so she knows how people there expect her to behave. But she's never felt comfortable in the frills and dresses other girls wear and would much rather climb trees or play with her slingshot than stay clean indoors. Tru is staying with relatives when he comes to town. With his fancy, big city fashions and high voice he is instantly marked as an outsider. The impeccably dressed boy and tom-boy find something in common in their love of Sherlock Holmes. Before long their pretend game of Sherlock and Watson turns into a real investigation when someone is falsely accused of a crime.
This book, based on the real-life friendship of Truman Capote and Harper Lee, contains so many gems that it's hard for a brief description to do it justice. Tru and Nelle (as they were called as children) instantly bond over their outsider status. They investigate cases while pretending to be Sherlock and Watson, hang out at the court house, write stories, and put on a memorable Halloween party. The book doesn't gloss over anything and racial prejudices, the Klan, depression, and abuse are all mentioned. These details help create an authentic sense of place. The book takes its structure from Capote and consists of a novel with a set of related short stories afterwards. Even those unfamiliar with Capote and Lee will be drawn into this story and find them easy to relate to as outsiders.
Tue & Nelle by G. Neri
Erica's Picks 4th & up Tags: biography, character driven, family life, friendship, historical fiction, issues fiction, LGBTQ, mystery, social justice, summer vacation
Stealing is a way of life for Kyra, and she doesn't have much pity for the corrupt, rich people that she steals from. So when she gets a job offer that will pull one over on them, she takes it. But when she discovers the hidden motivations behind the job, she starts to question everything. Tristam is a loyal knight who is willing to sacrifice himself for the realm. He's always had faith in the palace and the unwavering moral rightness of his cause. But when he witnesses the brutal death of his best friend, it sets him on a path to discover the hidden corruption and brutality at court. A thief and a knight may make a strange pair, but in a world that no longer makes sense unlikely alliances may be the only answer.
Blackburne does a wonderful job painting a portrait of a complex world where there aren't a lot of clearly good choices. Characters make mistakes and allegiances change as first impressions turn out to be wrong.
Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne
Erica's Picks 7th & up Tags: adventure, crime caper, fantasy
The Barrel is the part of town controlled by warring gangs. The part people avoid if they can afford to, unless they have illegal tastes and nefarious intentions. Kaz came to the barrel as a broken child, but now he practically rules it. His path to the top wasn't pretty and he's done a lot to earn his reputation as a monster. When a richly rewarding job is offered to him, he sees the possibility not just to become wealthy enough to leave the barrel behind, but to slake his long-nursed thirst for revenge. The job is impossible, of course, so if he has any chance of succeeding and surviving he'll need a crew that's the best of the worst: “A gambler, a convict, a wayward son, a lost Grisha, a Suli girl who had become a killer, a boy from the Barrel who had become something worse.” “Six people, but a thousand ways this insane plan could go wrong.”
I loved everything about this book from the rag-tag crew of misfits to the daring heist plot. The characters were fully developed and diverse including different races, sexual orientations, and physical abilities. The shifting perspective really allowed me to get a sense of each character and their struggles and made them feel very real and dear to me. It also helped create suspense because each character's knowledge was incomplete so seeing who knew what allowed me to piece together the plot in a way that was fun.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Erica's Picks 8th & up Tags: adventure, crime caper, fantasy, LGBTQ, people of color
Ballet is a delicate and graceful dance, but the dancers are strong, hard, and fiercely competitive. Nowhere is this more true than at the American Ballet Conservatory. The top ballet academy attracts dancers that are more concerned with being the best than being happy. They will push their bodies and their relationships to the limits to get the lead, and if they have to take someone else down to get to the top, so be it.
This is high drama full of frenemies and betrayal. The characters are well-rounded though. An entertaining read.
Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
Erica's Picks 8th & up tags: contemporary fiction, issues fiction, mental illness, people of color
A city of millions cut off from the rest of the world and left to starve. People killing for ration cards, which provide a mere 125 grams of bread made with sawdust mixed in to the flour. Desperate people resorting to cannibalizing the plentiful corpses lining the street. It sounds like the premise for a YA dystopian novel, but it really happened. In 1941 Nazi forces blockaded the city of Leningrad in a siege that would last two and a half years and result in the deaths of over a million people. One of the people trapped in the city was composer Dmitri Shostakovitch. When he escaped the city, he wrote a symphony that would commemorate those lost and give hope to those still trapped. This is his true story.
This thick, nonfiction tome should have taken me ages to slog through, but instead I tore through it like it was the latest sci-fi thriller. The story is at turns moving, disturbing, and triumphant. It is a prime example of the power of narrative nonfiction.
Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson
Erica's Picks 8th & up Tags: biography, dystopian, global perspectives, history, nonfiction
The harmonica is a humble instrument, but in the right hands its music can uplift the spirit and connect people. This harmonica more so than most. It all starts with Otto who gets lost in the woods and meets three magical sisters who prophesy "Your fate is not yet sealed. Even in the darkest night, a star will shine, a bell will chime, a path will be revealed." This magical instrument travels through the ages connecting people suffering through their darkest moments: a disfigured boy in Nazi Germany, an orphan during the Great Depression, and a farmer's child during World War II. Open your heart to their stories, and the harmonica will connect you to them too.
This is a well-written novel that reveals the patterns of history and breaks your heart only to stitch it back together and leave it warm and hopeful. It tackles some big issues, at a level that is accessible and engaging.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Erica's Picks 5th - 7th Tags: historical fiction, people of color
When Hitler invaded Denmark, the adults reluctantly accepted the occupation, too terrified of the overwhelming Nazi forces to fight back. But teenagers rose up to spark a resistance. Knud Pedersen founded the Churchill club with other students and together they started to sabotage the occupying Nazi forces. When the members were finally caught and it was revealed that the brave resistance fighters were teens, it sparked the Dutch resistance among adults. Read the history of the Churchill Club in their own words in this thrilling nonfiction account.
This is an inspiring true story of teenagers organizing themselves in a fight against overwhelming evil. The book is meticulously researched and quotes extensively from interviews the author conducted. A great choice for narrative nonfiction.
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose
Erica's Picks 7th & up Tags: biography, history, nonfiction