Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni

It's always impressive when you read a story you know and still gain something from it.  The story of Rosa Parks and her bus seat is inextricably tied to the history of 20th century America.  The bravery of her non-violent resistance and the bus boycott that followed led to this humble seamstress meeting presidents.  So, it is truly noteworthy that a story in many history textbooks could be told in a fresh way but Rosa is -- and it is in Nikki Giovanni's telling that so much can be learned.  Giovanni is an author and poet and her text to this story strikes a balance between historical fact and artful flourish.  The story needs no gilding and she does not go for the ostentatious, she simply finds the best place for each word and then the best word to follow it.  I would liken it to subtle shading which is appropriate given the artwork that accompanies her prose.

Bryan Collier's artwork is clear and insightful, often showing faces or actions up close, leaving the focus immensely clear.  Many of the pages would not look out of place in a portrait gallery, particularly the four-page spread showing the protests of the people of Montgomery.  The colors are warm and suit the mood of each scene depicted.  Collier's illustrations are so engrossing that I had to go back and read through the book again, taking time to look at each page and really take in what was being said.

For another biography illustrated by Bryan Collier you can try Between the Lines or for another historical work by Nikki Giovanni you can check out Lincoln and Douglass.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio

Jimi:  Sounds Like a Rainbow details (then) Jimmy Hendrix discovering his love for music and art.  It can be difficult to describe sound with pictures and text but Gary Golio and illustrator Javaka Steptoe have done a marvelous job with this book.  Golio chooses not just pertinent but interesting moments from Jimmy's young life to highlight.  He describes the sounds of the natural world and shows their musicality.  It's inspiring to read about a kid plucking a one-string ukulele to imitate the sound of rain droplets hitting different surfaces and to know that that kid became one of the most influential guitarists of all time.  This short biography provides a small outline of Jimmy's life from his talented visual arts ability to discovering music and combining those loves by painting pictures with sound.

Golio's writing perfectly suits the uninhibited style of Jimi's playing.  The story isn't very wordy but the meaning is imparted with artistic flair.  Steptoe's illustrations provide just as much to the experience as well.  Each page could be a standalone painting or concert poster of colorful collage.  Steptoe explains in a note at the end that he chose one medium to show Jimmy and other media for his surroundings to demonstrate how he stood out.  Anyone who has ever heard Jimi's music will find the illustrations to be a perfect representation.  In the world of biographies for kids, it is tough to find books that aren't just a rote recitation of name/place/date.  Jimi is a welcome breath of very fresh air.

If you like this book, you could try Bird & Diz also by Gary Golio.

Monday, January 21, 2019

I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. paintings by Kadir Nelson

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

In honor of the holiday, all of the books I will review this week are Coretta Scott King Award winners or honors.

"I have a dream" is a phrase that has permeated the American consciousness.  As a key line in one of the most famous and powerful speeches in American history, it continues to enliven and inspire.  I have trouble thinking of anything else to say about "I have a dream" as a speech which is why I Have a Dream as a book is so brilliant.  Renowned author and illustrator, Kadir Nelson, lets the speech stand on its own.  Each page includes a short excerpt from the speech with no other commentary other than Nelson's beautiful paintings.  The entire speech is included at the end as well.

Nelson has won multiple awards for his illustrations and artwork and I Have a Dream is among his best work.  The paintings are large, bright, and colorful.  The choices made in what to depict make this book what it is.  Some pages show Dr. King on the steps in D.C., others focus on the crowd who had joined the march, and still others show representations of some of the themes mentioned in the speech itself.  This book is a marvelous way to introduce young children to one of the key moments in the struggle for civil rights in the United States.

For more of Kadir Nelson's work, try Heart and Soul:  The Story of America and African Americans previously reviewed here.

Friday, January 18, 2019

How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder

Beginning with nursery rhymes like A-Hunting We Will Go, we celebrate the challenge of pitting our wits against the wily fox.  And when the hunter has a camera and the trophy is a photograph, the fox can enjoy it too.  The hunter in How to Find a Fox is you, a curly-haired, brown-skinned child.

In brief, simple text, our hunter tries bait and patience, tracking, chasing, fox calls, rolling down hill, and even deep calming breaths before giving up.  And that, of course, is what the fox was waiting for.  A bemused woodpecker, mockingbird, mice, rabbits, raccoon family, and other wildlife watch the hunt.  All the animals and the child are depicted in a manga-influenced style and the uncluttered, colorful pages are ideal for sharing with a group.

I was reminded of the comical hunters in Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton and the grass-stalking and tree climbing in Michael Rosen’s Going on a Bear Hunt. Jonathan London’s Little Fox in the Snow is a realistic, and somewhat scary, day in the life of an animal that is both predator and prey.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, MSLS, retired from VBPL

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

As Dunkin watches a man unload groceries, “A girl rushes down the path toward him. He’s probably her dad. I wish he were my dad. I know that’s dumb, but if he were my dad, my life would definitely be different. Easier. Infinitely better.” Haven’t you ever wished for someone else’s life?

Dunkin has no idea that Lily is transgender, or that her father doesn’t accept this and won’t let her get hormone blockers. All Dunkin knows is, because of his father, he and his mother left New Jersey, moved in with his grandmother, and now he’s going into 8th grade at Gator Lake Middle in South Florida. 

Lily offers Dunkin friendship, but so do the basketball players because he’s tall. Dunkin is tired of being a misfit, but joining the b-ball guys comes with a price - they bully Tim, as Lily is known in school. As they struggle to get their lives together, Lily and Dunkin show readers the difference between having a gender identity that’s different from the one on the birth certificate and having an illness that changes a person’s behavior. 

Lily is a few years older than Alex Gino’s George, who faces similar challenges. In Rose Kent's Rocky Road, 12 year old Tess copes with her mother's mood disorder and their ice cream shop. 

Review by Carolyn Caywood, MSLS, retired from VBPL

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh

When a popular author dies, especially leaving unfinished manuscripts, both readers and the publisher are tempted to ask another writer to pick up the fragments and recreate the deceased author’s appeal. And yet, how can a literary pretense of being someone else replace an authentic voice? I remember how disappointed I was by P. D. James’ attempt at Jane Austen in Death Comes to Pemberley.

So when I saw that Jill Paton Walsh was writing sequels to Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, I resisted temptation. And when I finally succumbed, I chose a later book rather than the one that Sayers began and Paton Walsh finished. In the first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery by Sayers there is mention of an earlier case involving the Attenbury emeralds. Paton Walsh has created a story to explain that mention and used it as the foundation for a case thirty years later.

The result is that The Attenbury Emeralds is an enjoyable crime novel in the British drawing-room tradition. The characters of Lord Peter and Harriet seemed more subdued than in Sayers’ books, but that was a plausible result of their years together. The layers of mystery kept me guessing and the solution was satisfying, not contrived. Paton Walsh has shed the casual bigotry that unfortunately flavored Sayers’ writing in the 1920s. For those readers who cannot set aside an author’s failure to rise above the common prejudices of her time, Paton Walsh will be the better choice. 

The BBC television series Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries also presents Sayers’ mysteries in the best light. Readers who want all the Lord Peter mysteries by both authors can find them with a catalog search on the character: Wimsey, Peter, Lord. (Putting fictional characters in the catalog is one of the kindest services provided by the Virginia Beach Public Library to avid readers.) My other favorite mystery from the British Golden Age is Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time.
Review by Carolyn Caywood, MSLS, retired from VBPL

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Teenage Priyanka lives with her mother in California, but wonders about their family back in India, especially about her father. Her mother refuses to tell her anything about him. Then Pri discovers a beautiful woven scarf, a pashmina, in an old suitcase. The pashmina transports Pri to a storybook India with Hindu deities and a lurking shadow that seems to have a message for her.

When Pri wins a cartooning contest, she wants to use the prize money to visit India. Like an answer to her prayers, her mother’s sister calls after 15 years without contact and invites Pri to visit. On that journey, Pri comes to understand her mother’s decisions and to find her own mission.

I learned about Pashmina when the book received the Virginia Library Association’s Graphic Novel Diversity Award this year. Nidhi Chanani uses the comic book format beautifully to tell her story and to show readers how it feels to be an immigrant person of color, to be poorer than classmates, and to hold Hindu beliefs in America. The consequences of family secrets reminded me of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, MSLS, retired from VBPL