Are We Pears Yet? by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Carin Berger

Are We Pears Yet

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook, non-fiction

Synopsis: Two pear seeds are waiting until they can finally become what they’ve always longed to be…pears!

Review: Are We Pears Yet? is a fantastically punny book about two seeds waiting to become pears.  Illustrated as though they’re on stage and acting out what’s to come, Paul’s and Berger’s work makes for a hilarious way of learning more about pear growth cycles.  It’s informative, funny, stylistically chic, and overall one of the best non-fiction books for children I’ve read this year.

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Skellig by David Almond

Skellig

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Middle grade lit, fantasy, magical realism

Synopsis: Michael is excited to live in a new house.  That is, until his baby sister gets sick.  And when he finally sees the new house, he realizes that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.  It’s a “fixer-upper”, it needs repairs, it needs paint, it has…a man in the garage?

Review: I’d read part of this when I was younger, but I couldn’t remember anything about it.  So reading it as an adult was absolutely wonderful.  It’s eerie, mystical, weird–all of the things that I want in a story.  Skellig was unlike anything I remembered or thought it would be, and I absolutely loved it.

Between the struggle that Michael has with his new home life and wondering whether his little sister will be okay and learning more about his new friend Mina, Skellig is easily one of the most interesting books that I’ve read this year, and is perfect for fans of The Nest by Kenneth Oppel–which is just as weird.

David Almond is overall just a fantastic writer who knows his craft.  He knows how to hook us into his stories and knows how to keep us there.  If you remember this book from childhood, I definitely suggest reading it again.  You will not be disappointed.

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

The Other Side

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook

Synopsis: Clover’s mom says to not go near the fence.   There’s white folk over there.  But every now and then, a girl hops onto the fence and waves to Clover.  What would happen if she were to say hello back?

Review: This was an incredible book about segregation and how it might seem to a child.  The fence divides Clover’s family and the white family on the neighboring property, but neither go near each other until a white girl extends a friendly hand.  Soon, all the girls are together hanging out on the fence, breaching the (at the time) social norm in favor of friendship and happiness.

And E. B. Lewis’ illustrations are just so fantastic as well.  It’s clear to see why he’s partnered up with Woodson more than once–his illustrations are realistic and wistful and just downright beautiful.  Overall, this is just a great book and I can’t wait to recommend it to others.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

The Wild Robot

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Middle grade lit, science fiction

Synopsis: When Roz is accidentally turned on, she doesn’t know where she is.  After exploring, she discovers that she’s on an island inhabited only by animals–and the animals don’t necessarily like her.  But with a little tenderness and caring, she creates her own rules and learns how to get along with those native to the island.  And all seems fine until the company that made her wants her back…

Review: Roz wakes up on an island inhabited only by animals.  There are two things she’s built to do: help others and survive.  Slowly but surely, she acclimates to the varying surfaces of the island, gaining animal friends through trial and error—until the company who made her wants her back.  A surprisingly emotional book, The Wild Robot is perfect for children who enjoy science fiction or for children who enjoy books with a man versus nature theme, though perhaps it’s best for those who aren’t quite ready to try something entirely different.  Its chapters are short enough for wandering attention spans, and its illustrations helps anchor the story in something visual.  Great for grades 5 and up.

A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis

A Penguin Story

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook

Synopsis: Edna the penguin knows only three colors: the white of the snow, the blue of the sea, and the black night.  But surely there must be something more?

Review: A Penguin Story is a tale that describes the joys of exploring and questioning and finally being rewarded with answers and new experiences.  As Edna searches for a color different than the three she’s always known, she makes a choice between the unknown and social standards.  And when she does find that new color, she celebrates with her friends, and she goes looking for the next exciting thing.  Overall, this is a solidly inspiring book for children that affirms the notion that their questions do indeed have answers.

Julia Redfern #1: A Room Made of Windows by Eleanor Cameron, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

A Room Made of Windows

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Middle grade lit, realistic fiction, historical fiction

Synopsis: Julia lives in a room filled with windows, where she watches her neighbors and writes.  But when she encounters Rhiannon Moore, her elderly neighbor, on an off chance, a friendship blossoms amidst the post-World War I struggles and Julia’s mother’s new boyfriend.

Review:  Okay, so I just read on a GoodReads review that this book takes place post-WWI, though this book distinctly felt like the 70s to me.  Maybe I’m bad at placing time, maybe I don’t know my history, but that just goes to show just how more relatable and contemporary this novel is.

Julia loves to write, and she hates her mother’s boyfriend, and she admires Rhiannon Moore.  She’s an observer, a listener, a tender person at heart.  Yet her world seems to be crumbling as her mother continues to date a new man after the death of her husband who served in the war, as she lies to her best friend, as she struggles to be accepted as a writer.

Cameron does a distinctly fantastic job of characterizing all of her players, of individualizing them and making them wistful and longing for various wants.  I loved the friendship that blossoms between Julia and Rhiannon–it reminded me of so many friendships I’ve had, of other books I’ve read and adored.  There’s something to be said about tweens and elderly neighbors, though I’m not quite sure what.  It’s nostalgic.  Hopeful.  And that’s what this book is for me.  If not a coming of age story, it’s a coming of understanding, and I’d highly recommend this to those who want to read books from a different time.

Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Scott Magoon

Ugly Fish

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook, humor

Synopsis: Ugly fish is ugly and big and mean.  He doesn’t like the new fish that come to live with him.  But one day, he gets a taste of his own medicine…

Review: This was such a funny, laugh-out-loud book.  From the illustrations to the text, this is just absolutely wonderful, especially in regards to the come-uppance of bullies and the like.  Overall, this is great for grades 1 to 3, and just perfect for reading out loud to a bunch of youngsters.

Hush by Jacqueline Woodson

Hush

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Middle grade lit, realistic fiction

Synopsis: When Evie was Toswiah, she used to live in Denver, go to school with her best friend, and live in (mostly) harmony with her family.  But after her father stands up against his coworkers, two white cops, about their shooting of a black boy, Toswiah’s family must go into witness protection.

Review:  Evie is no longer who she used to be.  She used to be Toswiah, living in Denver, until her father witnessed two white cops shooting an unarmed black boy.  Unable to stay silent, her father speaks up and the results forces their family into witness protection.  As her family is falling apart at the seams, Evie tries to make some sense of what is happening to her and why.  Jacqueline Woodson’s Hush illuminates the importance of family secrets, the importance of keeping quiet, and the importance of speaking up.  Woodson complicates the relationship a young girl may have with herself and her family by adding a thrilling layer of having to erase all of who one used to be in order to survive.  Told with an honest and provocative voice, this book is certain to please given its timely significance.  Great for grades 5-8.

Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome

Sky Boys

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook, nonfiction

Synopsis: A young boy views the ongoing construction of the Empire State Building and visits it with his impoverished father when the building is finally unveiled to the public.

Review: This is a sweet book whose inner story details the work of the construction men who built the United States’ tallest building (at the time).  The outer story certainly appears to be an “in” into the construction men’s working lives rather than an important part of the story, but it still manages to be sweet and heartwarming.  The illustrations, at times, felt a little oddly structured at time, but the beautiful lyricism of the text (“canyons of Manhattan,” “steel forest”) certainly made it up to me.  Overall, this is an informative book, and perfect for a young one who loves construction sites, skyscrapers, or New York City.

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

Swimmy

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Children’s lit, picturebook

Synopsis: Swimmy used to love swimming with his school of fish.  But as a tiny fish in the sea, there’s sure to be predators out there, lurking…  But with the help of some newfound friends, Swimmy learns how to take charge and use teamwork to fend off any hungry enemies…

Review: Swimmy is a nice book with a somewhat startling sweep-over of Swimmy’s family’s deaths.  Though perhaps that sweep-over is good, given the audience that Lionni writes for.  Otherwise, this book does a great job reinforcing positive notions about teamwork, and has absolutely stunning illustrations.  This would be best, probably, for a smaller child with a good vocabulary and an eye for detail.