Far Apart, Close in Heart: Being a Family When a Loved One is Incarcerated by Becky Birtha, illustrated by Maja Kastelic

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Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature, picture book

Synopsis: Not everyone’s families look the same.  Sometimes, parents are imprisoned–and there’s a load of emotions that need be explored when such an event happens.

Review: There are lots of different ways for families to look when a parent is incarcerated.  Sometimes, the child is with foster parents, or with another parent who isn’t incarcerated.  Sometimes that child is angry, or gets silent, or gets sad, or acts out at school.  These are all normal things, and there are plenty of ways to cope, is what this book is saying.  With beautiful illustrations that show the diverse families struggling with this–without placing any judgement–Far Apart, Close in Heart suggests that there can be normalcy found in even the most difficult parts of one’s life, and even within a situation that can be judged harshly by others.  Really, truly, this is a beautiful book that can help children understand that what happened was not their fault, and that families can look all sorts of ways.  Great for grades K-2.

The Painted Forest by Krista Eastman

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Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Essays, anthology, memoir

Synopsis: With a fantastical look at her own memories, Krista Eastman discusses the ways in which location and community have influenced her and her ways of viewing the world.

Review: In the midst of discussing the Wisconsin landscape, a frozen Antarctic job opportunity, and tourism, Eastman adds a touch of surrealism and fantasy to the everyday banalities that arrive in even the most bizarre places.  An Antarctic job opportunity sounds incredible, but when you’re scooping food and doing dishes seven days a week, it leaves something to be said–even when an unexpected film director makes an appearance.  And spouting the same tourist spiel and using the same one-liner jokes becomes strange when she discovers that she suddenly can’t remember the next bit of her script–and when she makes an off-color joke to one of the audience members.  And the Painted Forest, a large piece of artwork filled with history and culture.

The Painted Forest is an essay collection and memoir a little left of plum–both essays, memoir, and fiction all wrapped up into one.  Needless to say, I’m into it.  Definitely worth a read at dusk with a warm mug of tea as you enter the twilight.

The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter by Shabazz Larkin

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Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature, picture book

Synopsis: Bees do so much for us, from pollinating to giving us honey to having a helping hand in the fruits that we all enjoy.

Review: There are very few picture books that I’d purchase for myself on account of loving so many of them and not having enough money–but this is one book that I would purchase for myself, my friends, children, newcomers to the family…basically anyone.  It’s so sweet, and beautiful, and well-intentioned, and it made me cry at work.  With incredible painted illustrations and the most darling rhymes, The Thing About Bees is a book to keep with you at all times.

Coming from a father who didn’t want to pass down his fear of bees to his children, he researched our buzzy friends and passes on the reasons why they are just so important–after all, knowledge is power!  But narrated to his own children, he brings out tear-jerkers such as “You’re my cold watermelon / at a picnic in the park / You’re the avocados on my tacos… / You’re my strawberry heart”.  Even typing that out, I’m tearing up.  It’s just so sweet!!!  I’m not lying, either, here I am, at work, typing this review, and my eyes are glossing over.

But it isn’t just my emotions that make me want to purchase this book and reread it a million times and give it to others–it’s the tone of voice, it’s the love that shines through the illustrations, it’s the powerful and enchanting illustrations, its the backmatter explaining the different sorts of yellow-and-black buzzers.  This is great for the young child, perfect for a summer afternoon, incredible for a bedtime story.  You won’t want to miss out on this book.

Warriors, Witches, Women: Mythology’s Fiercest Females by Kate Hodges, illustrated by Harriet Lee-Merrion

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Rating: ★★★1/2

Genre: Anthology, non-fiction

Synopsis: With a variety of countries, mythologies, and cultures, Warriors, Witches, Women offers a varied and multi-faceted look at the different female figures that permeate stories today.

Review: With beautiful, delicately-lined illustrations and a plethora of historical and modern information, Warriors, Witches, Women proves to be the multi-cultural and multi-faceted look at women in mythology for the decade.  I appreciate the introduction of each personnage, what with an illustration, quotation, name spellings, and culture they’re from, and I even more appreciate the two pages filled with information on these women.  However, I have to say that as much as I enjoy the information and illustrations, the humor and examples are very modern–oft referencing Game of Thrones and other like media to make a point–which makes me wonder whether this book will be as long-lasting as I hope it will be.

Besides that, I do think that it’s funny, and I do think that this is a great look at famous mythological women throughout cultures and centuries.

Snow Globe Wishes by Erin Dealey, illustrated by Claire Shorrock

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Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature, picture book

Synopsis: A terrible winter storm causes one little girl and her family to stay indoors.  There’s only one thing she wants more, and she wishes upon it–for everyone to enjoy each other the following day.  And she means everyone.

Review: With the current state of the world where we’re so divorced from each other and are so busy, it shouldn’t surprise me that so much of children’s literature is focusing on entire families, blocks, communities coming together.  But every time a book focuses on such an idea at its core, I’m always so pleased and surprised.  When one young girl makes the wish for everyone to come together in the midst of a snow day, the following morning she gets her wish and families call out from work, kids stay home from school, and everyone enjoys the fresh snow.

With homey illustrations and a soft touch of cold colors, this book makes for the perfect wintertime story.  Great for a bedtime story and perfect for the cold months.  Great for grades K-2.

Accept, Value and Empower Yourself: A Practical Guide to Building Self Esteem by David Bonham-Carter

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Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Self help, non-fiction

Synopsis: Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as his guide, Bonham-Carter introduces ways to up one’s self esteem and to combat the intrusive, self-deprecating thoughts that occasionally plague one’s mind.

Review: This was literally like therapy, but free.  So, if you’re thinking about making some serious changes in your life, have the need to start reconstructing the ways in which your mind filters thoughts and applies them.

Divided between five sections, Bonham-Carter offers various studies, anecdotes, and worksheets for the reader to work on.  So much of it really did remind me of what I’ve been working on myself in therapy, so I found this to be a great reinforcement, especially as it suggests many different ways to begin anew and to start trying to really break displeasing thoughts to their bare bones.

Overall, certainly a good read, and well worth the time spent.

Greta and the Giants by Zoe Tucker, illustrated by Zoe Persico

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Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature, picture book

Synopsis: Greta and her friends live in the forest where everything is nice and peaceful–that is, until the giants begin tearing everything down in their pursuit of more.  How will Greta be able to stand up to those that are destroying her home?

Review: Easily identified as a parable for the current state of affairs and Greta’s hard work, Greta and the Giants serves to educate children as to what’s going on in the world today, the optimism they need to have to help the earth, and the ways in which they might stand up and take a change.  The illustrations are beautiful, and the text is relatable and understandable–yet I can’t quite shake the wonder that I have in regards to making corporations and adults giants.  I mean, of course it makes for a more fantastical world, and it makes sense that corporations are indeed “giants” of a sense and adults are quite large when you yourself are quite small.  Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I do have faith in younger folks to understand that sometimes there are big bad regular folks out there.  Then again, maybe I’m being too curmudgeony, and need to just realize that this is a great teaching tool for allegory and parables!  Definitely a great introduction to climate change and making a difference, and perfect for showing that anyone–at any age–can make a difference.

Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin

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Rating: ★★★★1/2

Genre: Essays, anthology

Synopsis: Since her first essay dissecting Twin Peaks as the beginning of the “dead girl” trope in modern media, Bolin has been intrigued in the ways which mystery surrounds the dead girl, and more importantly, the men and society who have created such intrigue.

Review: Filled with essays about books, characters, and pop stars, Bolin expertly analyzes the ways in which the “dead girl” trope has infiltrated not only our media, but our society and our selves.  Where does Laura Palmer end and we begin?  Are we separated entirely by screen when men take it upon themselves in murder mysteries and true crime to use women’s deaths to absolve their own guilt?  Are we separated when the death of the girl comes internally as well?

Bolin explores the ways in which the “dead girl” trope expresses itself beginning with Twin Peaks and the way it permeates through figures such as Britney Spears, and even herself as she uses personal anecdotes to assert the ways in which this trope can be internalized.  With quick wit, a plethora of quotations, and Joan Didion opinions, this book easily makes for a fun and refreshing read in the midst of so many other harsh and all-too-depressing reads.

Great for those who are interested in feminism but need something a little lighter, and perfect for those who love media and the ways it intersects with our personal lives.

You Are New by Lucy Knisley

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Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s literature, picture book

Synopsis: Weeds are just as much a part of nature as anything else.  They pop up everywhere, with beautiful colors, in the middle of the woods or in the midst of a cracked sidewalks.

Review: Bright, joyful colors signal that Lucy Knisley is back and is venturing into parenthood!  Though she usually works on graphic novel memoirs, she has tried her hand at a picturebook–and succeeds.  Told in rhyme and illustrated with thick lines and bold colors, this makes for the perfect bedtime story to your newborn, and a great gift for the new parent.  It’s an all-babies sort of book, filled with babies of all sorts of personalities, genders, and races.

There’s a lot to process when you are new, Knisley says.  When you’re new, everything else is new, too, and that sometimes causes a lot of frustration, tears, and giggles!  Certainly worth a read, as it brings out good feelings and optimism for all the little ones out there.  The world is so big and wonderful, and experiencing it for the first time is utterly magical.

Girl Town by Carolyn Nowak

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Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Graphic novel

Synopsis: A collection of anthologies that explores various facets of young adulthood, from robot boyfriends to magical fruit to podcasts.

Review: I’m so happy that I finally got to read this–I had no idea that it was an anthology of short story comics, but it all fits together so nicely.  Nowak explores different illustration styles as well as color theory, and it works out to make a fantastic and fun romp through young adulthood.

The stories are a little weird, from robot boyfriends, mechanical tongues, and podcasts about movies nobody has ever seen.  And, of course, the budding romance between warring households of women.  These stories are fun, bright, and positively larger than life.  This is a graphic novel collection you won’t want to miss out on, especially as Nowak continues to grow as a storyteller and artist.