Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt

Interstellar Cinderella

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook, fairy tale, retelling

Synopsis: Cinderella wants to go to the spaceball, so she does everything in her power to get there.

Review: Oh my goodness.  The rhymes.  The illustration.  The total rejections of the marital institution in favor of being a mechanic.  This book is so.  Good.  It’s just so lovely and a wonderful and honest reinvention and subversion of the original fairy tale.  I’m in love with this book, and I’ll likely buy it the next time I go to a store.

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This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

This One Summer

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: YA Fiction, graphic novel

Synopsis: Rose has always gone to Awago Beach during the summer for as long as she can remember, always reuniting with Windy, a friend who’s like a sister.  But this summer, things are different.  Rose’s parents won’t stop fighting, and Rose and Windy appear to be caught in a teen beach drama between the video rental boy and his girlfriend.  Growing up is never as easy as it seems.

Review: I’ve been wanting to read this for so long, so I was so pleasantly surprised when my professor assigned this graphic novel.  I mean, after all of its awards (and controversy in the Caldecott committee), who wouldn’t want to read it and see what the hype is all about?

I definitely felt that this book was both bildungsroman and slice of life, if it’s possible for those two genres to coexist in the same narrative.  There’s so much to be learned in this place that Rose visits only once a year.  And besides that, this book also creates an interesting dialogue between motherhood and childhood, and what it means when you’re not a mother but you’re also no longer a child.  However, despite the fact that it creates these dialogues, it doesn’t overtly critique or send a message about it–which is either great (depending) if you’re an academic, or somewhat disappointing if you’re a casual reader.  Still, that being said, I continue to believe that it’s a conversation that needs to happen regardless.

Also–the artwork.  I absolutely loved how the narrative and illustrations tied in together so wonderfully, and I adored the use of purple ink instead of the usual black.  This created such a distinct memory of this book in my mind, and created less of a contrast in the pages as it would have if it were black.

Overall, this book is definitely worth reading, even if it’s to simply form your own opinion on it, for I know that this was a bit of a hit or miss with some in my class.  But for me, it was a hit, and I’m glad I spent the time reading it while I could.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

The Art Forger

Rating: ★★★★1/2

Genre: Fiction, heist fiction

Synopsis: Claire is a reproduction artist, perfectly repainting pieces of art to sell to those rich enough who want actual paintings, but those not rich enough to buy the real paintings.  She’s getting along pretty well until Aiden Markel comes along, and asks her to forge a Degas, stolen from the Isabella Gardner Museum nearly 20 years prior.  She hesitantly accepts, but little does she know that she has just forged a Faustian deal that will lead to fame, fortune, and deceit.

Review: This was so good in a very unexpected way.  Though, in all honesty, it should have been expected.  Recently, I’ve been really interested in art forgeries and art heists.  Have I done any research on those?  No.  Have I sought out even the most basic information on this topic?  Nope.  Did I jump on this book when I saw it was on the return cart in my library?  You bet.  And gosh dang, was it great.

But what made it so unexpectedly great was that it was written by a professor at Northeastern, I believe–which is down the road from my school, and it deals quite a bit with the Isabella Gardner Museum–which is right across the street from my school.  And therefore, it takes place in Boston, which made it incredibly easy for me to imagine the neighborhoods, roads, and the dreaded silver line.  I was immediately captivated by Claire’s plight, having a man dub a work as his own, of having little money, of struggling make a name for one’s self in your circles.

And, I was enchanted by all that I learned about art forgery and art itself–not that I’m an artist by any means and could ever actually put that information to use, but the amount of research and dedication that Shapiro put into this topic is not only astounding, but also hugely encouraging.  I wanted to hold this book up Lion King-style to show how much I love it and how much it fits into my weird niches–I mean, my mom loves knitting murder mysteries, and I love art forgeries.

Truly though, overall this book was engaging, beautifully written, and a fantastic Bostonian adventure.

Whitewash by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Michael Sporn

Whitewash

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook

Synopsis: A young girl gets harassed by a racist gang, and she doesn’t know what to do.

Review: This book manages to be heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.  It showcases the cruelty of people, the empathy of others, and the frustration some feel when they are unable to do anything to prevent harmful things from happening.  The colors are striking and beautiful, and Shange and Sporn ultimately take a hopeful stance on a terrible hate crime.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House in the Big Woods

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Historical fiction, children’s literature

Synopsis: Laura and her sister Mary live in a little house in the big woods, and it’s all they’ve really ever known.  In the woods lurk bears, wolves, and other threats…but luckily, Ma and Pa are there to help keep her and her sister safe.

Review: This is one of those books that I remember absolutely adoring as a child, but now that I’m all grown up…it’s sortof lost its luster.  That isn’t to say, however, that it isn’t hugely nostalgic.  That, I enjoyed.  But hoo boy, is there a lot of description about churning butter and smoking meat.  Stuff that I loved as a child, but as an adult find a little boring and repetitive.  Luckily, this book’s audience isn’t necessarily a 23-year-old me, but more a 7-year-old me, so I can’t really bring myself to actually hold any of my critiques against this book.

Truly though, I love this series despite all of what critical theory might suggest.  I love the way Ma is depicted as holy and angelic, and love Pa’s rustic tales.  It’s my hope that this book will remain popular even for today’s children.

Ooko by Esme Shapiro

Ooko

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook

Synopsis: Ooko has everything a fox could need.  A stick.  A leaf.  Well, almost everything.  He needs a friend, too.

Review: This book is so cute, and I can’t help but have the feeling that I’ve read it somewhere before…but, deja vu aside, this is a great book about finding people who like you for you, and who have common interests.  It’s drawn in a style that I’m inexplicably drawn to, Shapiro’s storytelling skills are wonderful, and this book overall leaves me with a nice, happy feeling in my heart.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down

Rating: ★★★★1/2

Genre: Fiction, multicultural lit, YA lit, poetry

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Will’s brother has just been murdered, gunned down by someone they both knew, once upon a time.  And so he takes his brother’s gun and makes his way to get revenge.  He hops onto an elevator, waits to get to the correct floor.  But on each floor, Will is visited by someone who knew him in the past.  By someone who’s dead.  And he gets a much bigger picture of what’s really going on.

Review: This was a beautiful book, juxtaposing the softness of poetry with the harsh reality of black on black, gang-related violence.  This story is teased apart, as though it were a knot with a few loose threads, and at the climax, the knot comes loose, allowing us to see just all of the background that makes up what happened on the fateful day that Will’s brother was murdered.

Reynolds does a wonder with the emotionality of this book, and of the harsh content that comes with it.  There’s anger, sadness, resentment, desperation, and so much more, and he does an amazing job sifting through it all.

This book was originally recommended to me by a friend practicing her booktalk, and so when I got to read this for a different class, I was so excited.  Her booktalk was spot on, and this book was an incredible recommendation.  I’d definitely read this if any of you had the spare time of a couple days (though likely less).  It’s amazing, awesome, and the ending will absolutely give you chills.

I Don’t Care by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, illustrated by Lillian Hoban

I Don't Care

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook

Synopsis: A young boy loses his balloon one day and must deal with the consequences.

Review: Normally when I write reviews, I try to think of how children would like it, whether my mom’s classroom would enjoy it, or my nephew or nieces.  But truth be told…this is the best hecking picture book I’ve ever read.  It is such a MOOD.  Just, little boy losing something important to him?  “I don’t care (:” and just continuously trying to convince himself he doesn’t care…until he gets so upset he just screams at the sky Zuko-style.  This is just.  It’s so good.  And the illustrations.  It’s all just great.  I love it so much.  If you’re in college, or high school, or grad school, I definitely recommend this book.

Our Blood by Andrea Dworkin

Our Blood

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction, feminist literature

Synopsis: Our Blood is an anthology of speeches that Andrea Dworkin gave to universities across the span of many years, some speeches even predating that of her first-published book, Woman Hating.

Review: I would have loved to hear Dworkin share these speeches.  In fact, I think that there’s a Youtube hunt about to happen once I have the time to do it…Dworkin never fails to be convincing, compelling, and all-around magnificent and magnanimous.  Dworkin is a force to be reckoned with, and her speeches in this anthology reflect not only her empathy, but her radical nature as well.  She will not be defeated, and her ideas, through this book, will continue to survive.

Rainbow Jordan by Alice Childress

Rainbow Jordan

Rating: ★★★★1/2

Genre: Fiction, middle grade lit, ethnic lit

Synopsis: Rainbow has been placed with Miss Josephine while her mother is away.  Again.  As if she doesn’t have enough to deal with, like saving up for a new hairdo, writing about black activists, and boys.  But how can she focus on herself when she’s constantly being brought down?

Review: I recently finished this book for a class I’m in, and wow is it something.  I’ll be up front and honest, I was a little speculative about beginning this, not really sure what it was going to be like, having only read adult black literature, but it’s something to behold.  It’s constantly in conversation with the idea of the black aesthetic, and remains to me as a definition of Afrocentricity.

This book finds ways to discuss aging and getting older, becoming a woman, from topics such as beauty, school, friends, boys, and trust.  As Rainbow grows both further and closer to Miss Josephine, her struggles get harder as well–the more she comes to terms with Miss Josephine, the more she comes to the realization that she has no idea where her mother could possibly be.  Even so, she remains as positive as she can, though that positivity looks like trouble in some adults’ eyes.

Alice Childress has mentioned before that she doesn’t write about the entirety of the ‘black experience,’ but can only write about one experience at a time.  I think she does that especially well here in Rainbow Jordan, as she doesn’t make anything too overbearing or too heartwrenching.  It just is, and I appreciate that.