Monday, October 26, 2015

The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle

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By day, Charlie Han is a regular kid who despite his best efforts is rather clumsy. By night he is a delivery boy for his parents' Chinese takeout restaurant. He does have one secret however; and considering that his mom is a helicopter parent like no other (he's fourteen years old and there's still a baby gate at the top of his stairs) this secret could land him in big trouble- Charlie Han loves to skateboard and is actually quite good at it.

There is something else going on however. Charlie's mom is getting increasingly tired and Charlie suspects that it may be because those night classes that she signs up for may not be classes after all. What he finds out however may be more than he can handle.

Every family has secrets and skeletons in the closet but of course some are more serious than others. Secrets in and of themselves aren't bad but usually people are more annoyed that they haven't been told things. Charlie falls into this category and he must learn how to cope.

Coming of age novels can sometimes be very dark and heavy reading. Earle gets around this by starting off the book very lightly. I almost thought it would be one of the books with lots of shenanigans and cheap guffaws throughout and yes there are light moments but Charlies life definitely changes irrevocably by the novels end.

This book was written in England and has two covers, one for overseas and one for North America. I was amused when I saw the blue cover as it actually had a boy wrapped in bubble wrap. This book would be appropriate for ages 11+ as I think children of that age would be able to make sense of the many complicated emotions Charlie experiences and his evolving relationship with his parents and in particular with his mother.

Monday, October 19, 2015

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kelly

Recent events in our country have shown that despite the election of the country's first African-American President, the spectre of race still has not disappeared. The police are an important and necessary public institution but perhaps some of the methods used to police poor and minority communities need to be reexamined. One wonders also how many instances of police brutality would go unpunished if there were no such thing as camera phones. It is no wonder that police departments nationwide are adopting body cameras.

 All-American Boys is co-written by two authors, one African-American, one White and I think this lends some authenticity to the narrative. Cover images are so very important in attracting readers and this book does a good job in that regard with the novel's title in red and blue and a young man standing with his hands raised.

Told from two viewpoints, the young African-American youth Rashad is for all intents and purposes an All-American teen. He is active in sports, is gregarious and is enrolled in ROTC. His dad was both a former soldier and police officer and firmly believes in both institutions. The young white teen Quinn could also be described as an All-American kid as he also plays sports (on the same team as Rashad), is a dutiful older brother to his pesky brother Will and is a good son to his widowed mom.  Those similarities are the only things they have in common however.

In many senses this is a coming of age story because Rashad is forever changed (physically and mentally) and Quinn's relationship with his own friends and with Rashad is altered dramatically. The authors give a very accurate portrayal of the inner torment both characters experience as they begin to change their world view and alter their beliefs.

Some of the language and situations described are a tad graphic and for this reason I would recommend this novel for ages 13+. Some read alikes are How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon and Tyrell by Coe Booth. One quote from the novel resonated very deeply with me "If you are neutral in times of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Very true indeed.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Graphic novels for kids and tweens

There are some great reads out there with just enough action, heart and sensitivity to keep kids enthralled.  I searched various blogs and religiously checked the new books cart at my branch in order to find some of these. The books down the list are a little older but are still great reads.

Gene Luen Yang is the man behind some great graphic novels such as American Born Chinese, Shadows and Saints and The Shadow Hero. The book Secret Coders functions in two ways. First it is a classic story of middle school angst (fitting in, bullying etc.) but it is also a mystery story and the young protagonists have to use coding skills to figure it out.

Ben Hatke (Zita the SpaceGirl series) has come up with another book that sees people of different backgrounds working together for a good cause. Little Robot  sees a little girl encounter a strange, small robot who communicates with weird sounds. The two soon find themselves on the run from a huge, scary robot intent on recapturing the little robot.

The New York City subway is one of the largest in the world and can be crazy to navigate at times. Imagine if you have never done it before and you were on a class trip and got lost.  That is the premise of the book Lost in NYC: A Graphic Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman. Two classmates are separated from the rest of their class and must make their way back to the group or else they could find themselves in big trouble.

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick is another new book that caught my eye. I love the fact that the two earthlings are both minorities, that is very refreshing to see in a graphic novel.  A kid called D.J. finds a strange boy one day and then discovers that the boy is from another planet. Not only that but he has some strange powers. Life is not going to be boring any more.

Bird and Squirrel: On the Run by James Burks. Scholastic, 2012 ...Road trips are always cool especially when the road trippers are at opposite ends of the spectrum personality wise. When they are different species the trip can get really interesting and that is the basic premise of Bird & Squirrel: On the run by James Burke. Squirrel always wears his helmet and diligently stores food for the winter Bird on the other hand is a free spirit who soars around the forest without a care in the world. When Cat gets on their trail the two animals will have to cooperate or else...

His Amulet series is a masterpiece and Japanese writer Kaza Kubuishi's name has been placed on a variety of works. This compilation of short stories is called Undersea Explorers and all seven stories have something to do with the ocean in some form or the other. Many of the stories use various mythologies from around the world as a starting point and some of them have great lessons about friendship, conservation and teamwork.

As long as there are kids there will be bullies and conflicts with those of their ilk. Frank Cammuso explores this topic in a light-hearted way in his Knights of the Lunch Table series. A group of friends are knights, not in a sword and shield way but more in a band together, make good choices, save the day kind of way. There are some clever references to mythology (the main character's name is Artie King) and the teacher that helps them out is called Mr. Merlyn. These kids aren't the brawniest so they will have to use their smarts to save the day. I like this series a lot.

These are just a sampling but you can check here and here for more picks and reviews. Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments section. Til next time!

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall

Book JacketHistorical fiction reads for younger reads aren't always the most popular or entertaining reads I must admit. I can't remember the last time a young customer has requested one of them in the library. However, when one does find a book that is not only based on historical events but is also a transcendent story then it must be lauded. Shelley Pearsall's The Seventh Most Important Thing is one such book.

Set in a grittier part of Washington DC we meet young Arthur T. Owens just after he threw a brick at a man known as Young Man. Arthur's life changes after this not only because he has to work for the Junk Man (collecting various materials) but also because he has to report to a no nonsense probation officer called Officer Billie. Arthur's life at school changes as well when he befriends a strange kid called Squeak. True to his name, Squeak is small, mouse-like in his demeanor but he also proves to be a loyal and devoted companion.

The central theme of the book however is Arthur's relationship with the Junk Man. The latter harbors no ill will toward Arthur and instead is glad for assistance with his project which is complex in its execution and grand in its scope. Arthur's view of the world will never be the same after his experience with the Junk Man.

I recommend this book for ages 10+ due to some language and the content. It is a well-written book and one that made me feel very positive after reading it. I say this because there was no superhero or deus ex machina to save the day. Instead, introspection, personal growth and accountability were the powers used to solve problems.

Some read likes for this book are The Paper Cowboy by Susan Levine, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass and Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jerry Hanel Watts.