I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman

I Was a Rat!

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, humor, fantasy

Synopsis: Roger was a rat.  No, really.  Now he’s a human–what can he do about that?  All he wants to do is chew on some string and some dirty food, but winds up being adopted by a nice, though very confused, couple.  Is there any way he can turn back into a rat?

Review: What a delightful little book!  Filled with good humor and just the right amount of intrigue, I Was a Rat! details the aftermath of the “happily ever after”.  When Roger isn’t turned back into a rat after a Cinderella-esque plot, he’s a little beside himself with what to do.  How can he be human when he’s only three weeks old?  And people keep expecting him to act a certain way that’s completely different to what he’s known for his entire life.

His new foster parents don’t know what to do either–there’s no missing children in the kingdom, the police don’t want him, the hospital doesn’t want him, the school doesn’t want him, and they certainly don’t want to bring him to the orphanage where crying and screams can be heard from a mile away!  But when Roger gets caught up in some trouble, his foster parents realize that they rather like their weird, deranged boy.

Every few chapters are intercepted by a front-page newspaper similar to that of The Sun or The Enquirer in nature.  And boy, is it funny, the mob mentality, the celebrity culture, the absolute dismissal of all experts.  This book is so different than what I’m used to Pullman writing about (ie: The Golden Compass), but it was fun all the same.  This is great for kids who love fairy tales, humor, and want to start branching out into reading books with longer chapters.

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Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Last Night I Sang to the Monster

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: YA lit, realism

Synopsis: Zach is eighteen.  He’s also an alcoholic.  And he’s in a rehabilitation center, for reasons he can’t remember.  Not that he wants to remember, that is.  But when the monsters of his past close in on him, he must face the memories he’s pushed away.

Review: My coworker: Hey, this is a heavy book, don’t read it before bed.

Me: Ooh, okay, gotcha.

Me, at 10 pm: /finishes the entire book

This was a book I didn’t expect to absolutely love.  It’s filled with unfamiliar territory for me, such as boy main characters, rehabilitation centers, addiction.  And yet the unfamiliar was made familiar the more that Zach dealt with and learned to understand his emotions.  This is just a hugely touching, shocking, tormented, lovable book.  How can it be all those things at once?  I’m not sure, but it is.

In this rehabilitation center, there are other addictions that others face, there are roommates, counselors, therapists, friends.  There’s pain and sadness and anger, but there’s also peace, adjustment, forgiveness.  People leave when they feel ready.  People leave because they don’t feel ready.  Hellos and goodbyes are equally heartbreaking.  But oh, my god, will this book tear you apart.  The first few chapters left me in a state of shock.  The rest of the book had me sobbing in bed.

The slow reveal to Zach’s past appeared to me to be incredibly well done–the not wanting to remember to finally being ready enough to confront the past, the reason why he was found drunk, passed out on the side of the road, why he’s afraid to ever ask about his family, why some things make him dissociate.  And the friends he makes along the way, Adam, Sharkey, and Rafael–RAFAEL, WE MUST TALK ABOUT HIM.  I love him so, so much.  Not all men–you’re right, Rafael would NEVER.  He is too sweet, caring, kind to ever let anything bad happen.  I feel conflicted calling him a perfect man, given spoiler reasons, but he is truly one unforgettable character.

Last Night I Sang to the Monster is really something else.  It’s along the lines of It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Vizzini, but with a much different tone.  If you’re looking for a book that will completely wreck you, this is it.

Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black by bell hooks

Talking Back

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction, feminism

Synopsis: In this compilation of essays, hooks analyzes what it means to talk back as a black woman and an academic.  Where do men fit in?  How do movies fit in?  And students in the classroom?  She critiques intimate relationships, racism, feminism, and the intersections where they collide.

Review: This is a book I’ve been interested in reading for quite some time, and it paid off!  My only regret is that I didn’t purchase my own copy, because alas, I couldn’t bear to mark up a library book.  bell hooks is an utterly necessary author to read in expanding one’s knowledge about feminism and how it intersects with race, gender, sexuality, and class.  She critiques mannerisms of talking, analyzing, critiquing, and what it means both in and outside her classroom, and what it means for one’s self.

Her essays in this collection are just so incredibly powerful and meaningful–it’s no wonder that they’re a keystone of feminist literature.  What I took away from this book was her urging to critically think and analyze one’s own feminism, as well as to identify just exactly what is meant by “the personal is political”, a catchphrase that has resurfaced in recent years (though this book was published 20 years ago!).

I find that this book is necessary to educate one’s self, and it is so well-worth the read.  Just don’t forget your highlighter!

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Hepperman

Poisoned Apples

Rating: ★★★1/2

Genre: Poetry, YA lit, retelling

Synopsis: This compilation focuses on various fairy and folk tales and how beauty- and male-centric they are.

Review: When read with an analytical, folk and fairytale critiquing lens, this book packs a punch.  With poems such as “A Brief History of Feminism”, this collection becomes razor-sharp, ready to fight back against the narratives imposed on us and by us.  When read for fun, this collection might be best for a younger version of me–which is certainly not to say that it still doesn’t pack a punch, I just think it would align much better with my interests from a few years ago.

That being said, I still really appreciate the photographs taken by various photographers that are featured in this collection, and how well they tie in and highlight exactly what Hepperman critiques.  Overall, it’s a dang good collection that is a must-read if you’re interested in fairy tales.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Girls Made of Glass and Snow

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: YA lit, lesbian lit, fantasy, retelling

Synopsis: Lynet is the spitting image of her mother, and her father, the king, will not let her forget that.  In trying to forge a new image for herself, she finds solace in her stepmother, Mina, who hails from the south, whose heart is made from glass.  But as Mina realizes that her reign as queen will soon end when Lynet is ready to step to the throne, she decides to utilize Felix, her huntsman, to do some dirty work.

Review: Me: Hey, favorite reference librarian, I think this book is gay.

Fave reference librarian: Oh, nice, lemme know.

[5 minutes later]

Me, running to her desk, posing, shouting: IT’S GAY

FRL: NICE

Other librarian in vicinity, whose conversation I completely interrupted: What’s happening

Oh man, ohhh man.  What a retelling of Snow White.  Filled with magic, deceit, lying, love, families, friends, and more, this book packs a one-hit KO of a punch.  I had the absolute pleasure of reading this for a folk/fairy tales class, and it provoked such an incredible discussion–which in my opinion, means that it’s a great book.

This book offers discussions  based on feminism, power dynamics, identity politics, coerced choices…not only that, but it provokes thought on nature versus nurture, about breaking free from expectations, about using your talents for survival.  It takes so much of what we know about Snow White–the evil stepmother, poison, death, the mirror, beauty–and recreates it into something similar but not quite but also definitely is (almost as though it’s a reflection of Snow White…get it?)

We’re welcomed into Mina’s backstory as she grows up a tumultuous relationship between her and her father, a tumultuous relationship between her and the north, a tumultuous relationship between her and the king, a tumultuous relationship between her and her self worth.  What does magic even matter when it can’t get you want you want?  What does conniving and restraint mean when it offers little in return?  UGH.  SO GOOD.

And not only that, but we’re swept up into Lynet’s world full of dispelling the notion that she’s a delicate flower, full of disobeying orders, full of escape and betrayal and deceit.

There’s so much to say about this novel because it inspires so much conversation, but I don’t think that even the longest essay could do it justice.  Basically, if you like fairy tales, if you like retellings, if you like taking steps to dismantling power imbalances, this is the book for you.

If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed by Denise Vega, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora

If Your Monster Won't Go to Bed

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook, humor

Synopsis: If you have a monster that won’t go to bed, there’s a couple tips and tricks that you can try to get him to settle down…

Review: When your monster won’t settle down, there’s a few things that you can try, like giving him warm spoiled milk, cleaning his teeth with garbage-flavored floss, and reading him the scariest story you can find.  Filled with good humor and bright, fun illustrations, this picturebook turns the monster under your bed into a lovable friend.  This is just perfect for the little one who doesn’t like bedtime, and great for kids K-2.

Scorpions by Walter Dean Myers

Scorpions

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Middle grade lit, African American lit, realism

Synopsis: Jamal’s brother went to jail a while ago, and now the Scorpions, a notorious Harlem gang, are without a leader…until Jamal is inducted.  But Jamal is only twelve, and must deal not only with this new responsibility, but with school, bullies, and making sure his family doesn’t find out…

Review: Walter Dean Myers does it again.  Scorpions is a moving, rich book filled with friendship, violence, and family dynamics.  What does it mean to be a man?  A good father?  A good best friend?  A gang leader?  How does it feel when it looks like there’s only one way to be masculine, when expectations continue to rise?  All of these questions are explored with Myers’ knack for realism and empathy, especially as tensions rise.

At home, Jamal must balance his self between his mother and his sister, Sassy, and at school, he must deal with the consequences that come along with how his life simply is.  And now, he must satisfy his brother from afar, and satisfy his new gang from up close all the while trying to maintain his friendship with Tito.

Rife with inadvertent references to other texts such as Monster and HoopsScorpions really goes to show just another facet of black boyhood in the midst of a city where masculinity and violence are intertwined.

This book is absolutely amazing, stunning, and timeless.  It doesn’t feel dated one bit, and based on a conversation I had on the metro, it evokes a sense of nostalgia for other adults.  It’s an absolutely perfect book to keep on your bookshelves, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh

Danza!

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook, biography

Synopsis: Amalia Hernandez has always love dancing–so after taking lessons from some of the best dancers in the world, she creates a troupe and performs dances based on various Mexican regions.  Before she knows it, her troupe has taken off and has taken the world by storm.

Review: Whenever I read one of Duncan Tonatiuh’s books, I always learn something new, fascinating, and exciting.  This book was no exception.  In Danza!, he biographies Amalia Hernandez, the creator and choreographer of the most successful and world-renowned dance troupes in Mexico.  With his usual charming illustrations and tone of voice, he creates a world for us to dive into and to learn from.  Not only do we get to learn about Hernandez, but we get to learn about different regions and dance styles in Mexico, too.  His overarching narrative has lots of subtle learning moments.

Overall, this text is deserving of a place on your bookshelf, and is absolutely perfect for the child who loves to dance.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet S

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Novel in verse, YA lit, multicultural lit, realism

Synopsis: Xiomara finds her voice through poetry.  But as her life seems to explode, she realizes that her voice can be used for other things: expressing love, asking questions, and taking a stand.

Review: What an absolutely stunning book.  Acevedo’s style and range are encapsulating, the words she uses absolutely necessary and poignant.  To fall in love with Xiomara is to fall in love with this book, to try to understand the struggles which affect her life.

This book brought me into her world, helped me understand lifestyles that were unlike my own, helped me understand the difficulties of attempting to live up to extremely high, impossibly set standards.  Xiomara’s tale is one of both bravery and rebellion, an admirable combination given what it takes to stand up to not only one’s parents, but one’s culture as well.

It’s a beautiful book filled with friendship, romance, poetry, agnosticism, family, and more.  The Poet X absolutely deserves a space on your bookshelf, and a space in your heart.

I Want to Be in a Scary Story! by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Jean Jullien

I Want to Be in a Scary Story

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook, humor

Synopsis: This little monster wants nothing more than to be in a scary story–but wait, no, not like that!  He wants to be doing the scaring!

Review: What a cute book!  With cartoony illustrations that would beckon to even the most mature of toddlers, this is a book that plays on children’s lit horror tropes and uses humor to diffuse them.  It’s perfect for fall, what with its creepy house and haunted woods, and it’s absolutely great for children ages 3-6.  It breaks the fourth wall, and is perfect for helping your child learn how to read with the dialogue between the narrator and the monster.  This picturebook definitely will not disappoint!