Book review: Sea Sirens, by Amy Chu and Janet K. Lee

Chu, Amy and Janet K. Lee. Sea Sirens. (A Trot & Cap’n Bill Adventure). Viking, 2019. 140 pages. $20.99. ISBN: 9780451480163. Ages 8-14. P8Q9

Vietnamese American surfer girl, Trot and her rescued cat Cap’n Bill live for riding the waves, but Trot’s grandfather suffers from dementia.  The day Grandpa wanders away from the beachwhile Trot is catching one last wave, Trot’s mother grounds everyone—Trot, Grandpa, and Cap’n Bill.  Disobeying her mother, Trot and the cat head for the beach for one last chance to surf, only to be caught in a monster wave which takes them into a fantasy kingdom under the sea.  When Grandpa follows Trot and Cap’n Bill under the sea, the three find themselves embroiled in a war between sirens—mermaids—and sea snakes.

Verdict: The full color cinematic illustrations of fantasy sea life and legendary creatures along with an unpredictable ending make this graphic novel especially appealing. The inclusion of Grandpa in the story shows not only a strong intergenerational relationship, but also demonstrates that people with dementia may still offer wisdom and creative solutions.  Recommended for middle school and public library collections.

June 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

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Book review: Captain Rosalie, by Timothée de Fombelle, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, translated by Sam Gordon

de Fombelle, Timothée. Captain Rosalie. Illus. by Isabelle Arsenault. Trans. by Sam Gordon. Candlewick, 2018. 60p. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-5362-0520-6. Ages 10+. P7Q10

As her father fights in World War I and her mother works in a factory, 5-year-old Rosalie believes she is on a secret mission spying on the enemy while disguised as a little girl. She goes to school early in her French village and sits in the back of the classroom with older children and listens to her mother read letters from her father in the evening. Rosalie’s life changes when her mother receives a blue envelope and the father’s letters stop coming. Determined to discover what has happened, she runs away from school to find the envelope and read the letters. Instead of the happy descriptions of life at home when her father returns her mother “read” from the letters, she finds the dirty, misery of her father’s life and the revelation that he has died. Watercolor and ink sketches accompany two-page spreads with dark backgrounds highlighted by Rosalie’s flame-colored hair or the blue ink of the letters.

Verdict: The grimness of war is relieved by the love of Rosalie’s mother for her daughter, the warm understanding by one of the older students for Rosalie, and Rosalie’s own resilience. A tremendously powerful story in quiet, spare tones.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Tamaki, Mariko. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me. Illus. by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. First Second, 2019. 289p. $24.99. ISBN 978-1-250-31284-6. Ages 14+. P9Q9

The on-again, off-again relationship between selfish classmate Laura Dean who keeps cheating on Frederica (Freddy), 16, and then pulling her back has formed a toxic cycle that Freddy doesn’t know how to break, but her communication with an advice columnist and help from best friend Doodle to see a psychic gives her a way out. Black and white panels infused with pink display a diverse, mostly queer, cast of characters in Berkeley and high school who are close to adulthood and searching for answers in both romantic and platonic relationships. Verdict: The realistic depictions of different kinds of love will ring true with readers whether straight or queer, and the illustrations expand the painful story of growing up.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Wild Weather: Storms, Meteorology, and Climate

Reed, MK. Wild Weather: Storms, Meteorology, and Climate. Illus. by Jonathan Hill. (Get to Know Your Universe! Science Comics series). First Second, 2019. 119p. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-62672-789-2. Ages 10-13. P9Q9

The 19th of this series picks up the pace of quirky comics to explain another facet of science. The narrator throughout the entire book is a curmudgeonly TV weatherman annoyed with his ignored colleagues as a giant snowstorm approaches the area. He launches into explanations of high and low pressures, types of clouds, formations of tornadoes and hurricanes, wind currents, the water cycle, jet streams—and the influence of climate change.

Verdict: This book may be more inviting than some of the others in the series because it uses less highly scientific terminology and the narrative is accessible. The interaction among protagonists is also highly amusing. Included are a glossary, weather tools, and debunking wild weather myths.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Supernova, by Kazu Kabuishi

Kabuishi, Kazu. Supernova. (Amulet series). Graphix/Scholastic, 2018. 197p. $12.99. ISBN 978-0-545-82860-4. Ages 10-14. P8Q8

After ten years, the epic Amulet series is one book away from its finale, and the eighth book sets the foundation for the culmination of Emily’s work to save worlds beyond the Earth. She returns to Alledia and frees the elves despite her lack of magic stone control and imprisonment in the Void throughout adventures showing personal growth, family, and courage. As in earlier books, brilliant color highlights the battles and fast-paced activity with strange creatures and vivid Gaboda trees. Kabuishi also transfers much of the plot to focus on Emily’s younger brother, Navin.

Verdict: Lovers of this series will continue to be fascinated with the ongoing saga; those who read this without the earlier books will return to pick them up.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Breakaways: Bad at Soccer, Okay at Friends, by Cathy G. Johnson

Johnson, Cathy G. The Breakaways: Bad at Soccer, Okay at Friends. First Second, 2019. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-250-19694-1. Ages 10-13. P7Q8

On the first day of a new school, Amanda, an older girl, recruits black fifth-grader Faith to the soccer team. The thought of being popular sends Faith over the moon with joy until two seventh-graders, Sodacan and Marie, explain that the three of them are at the bottom of C team while Amanda is on the A team. Faith works out her frustrations remembering dreams about Mathilda, the knight who helps her escape her reality. A Muslim girl saves the soccer season, Faith joins Sodacan’s all-girl band, a transboy comes out during a sleepover, and much more.

Verdict: The diversity can feel forced, and the crowded book that sometimes uses stereotypes attempts too many issues—sexual harassment, crushes, LGBTQ identities, ethnic differences, etc. Johnson has attempted to cover in one book what could be far more effective in three or four so that readers could get a better feeling of the different characters. Middle school readers will enjoy the speed and the struggles of the characters.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: New Kid, by Jerry Craft

Craft, Jerry. New Kid. Harper, 2019. 249p. $21.99. ISBN 978-0-06-269120-0. Ages 10-13. P9Q9

When Jordan Banks is sent by his parents from a Bronx public school to an prestigious private school, the black seventh-grader finds an almost totally white world of sometimes unintentional racism, where both black students and teachers are mistaken for others because of their color, classmates and teachers think that all black students need financial aid, and all blacks are seen as athletic. Even a teacher’s careful avoidance of appearing racist comes out tone deaf. Jordan’s mother, who works at a mostly white publishing firm, wants her son to deal with the white world; his father, a community center director, believes that Jordan needs to keep his connection with his Washington Heights home. Struggling with these different philosophies and just wanting to be an artist, Jordan looks to his grandfather for help in navigating his path with a mixed set of characters.

Verdict: Craft details the differences between Jordan’s worlds as he starts his daily bus ride in a hood and sunglasses, trades them for his sketchbook, and then puts away his drawing implements nearer the school so no one will think he’s a tagger. The character development shows Jordan moving from concentrating on a nonthreatening demeanor to standing up for another student, and the discovery of his wealthy white friend’s misery aids his education. Colored panels are accompanied by his black and white sketches expressing his feelings, and his empathy for a girl who uses puppets and silliness to hide hands that she thinks have ugly burns round out the understanding that Jordan—and Craft—display. A wonderful read to show how many young people are forced to live compartmentalized lives.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.