Book review: Little Bot and Sparrow, by Jake Parker

Parker, Jake. Little Bot and Sparrow. Roaring Brook Press, 2016. Unpaged. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-62672-367-2.  Ages 3-6. P7 Q8.

When Little Bot is discarded, he has nothing to do. Fortunately, along comes a sparrow who decides to take him under her wing. They explore the forest together and Little Bot learns about many new things, including bees, bears, and caves with beautiful secrets. When Sparrow must fly south for the winter, Little Bot learns that he can do impossible things in his dreams.

The illustrations in this tale of friendship are detailed and funny. The text is simple, and the illustrations fill in the rest. Children reading this story may be reminded of friends or relatives who have gone away, and the message that we keep our loved ones in our hearts.

VERDICT: A sweet tale of friendship with illustrations that will entertain little ones.

May 2018 review by Sudi Stodola.

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Book review: Santa Rex, by Molly Schaar Idle

Idle, Molly Schaar. Santa Rex. Viking, 2017. $17.99. Unpaged. ISBN: 978-0425-29011-8. Ages 4-8. P6 Q7.

This charmingly illustrated book is has a sweetly nostalgic feel, as the young brother and sister prepare their home for Christmas with the help of their three dinosaur friends. The text is short, and the illustrations show the humor, as the group attempts to bake cookies, hang stockings, and decorate the tree, but the dinosaurs can’t help breaking things as they try to help. In the end, though, the dinosaurs find a way to make Christmas magical, because the holiday is really about being with the ones you love.

This is a fun read for younger children because the text is minimal and the pictures are funny. The book includes page-sized illustrations, pages with three illustrated panels, and a fold-out poster, and each picture includes funny details that the reader can look for.

VERDICT: The message of being together for the holidays, paired with the pastel-colored illustrations gives the story a heartwarming feel.

May 2018 review by Sudi Stodola.

Book reviews: The Big Bed, by Bunmi Laditan, pictures by Tom Knight

Laditan, Bunmi, and Tom Knight. The Big Bed. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. ISBN: 978-0-374-301231. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q7

In this charmingly illustrated story, a young girl presents her father with a proposal as to why he must vacate the “big bed” and allow her and Mommy to sleep together. She offers evidence for her argument; he is not afraid of the dark; there are benefits to her “accidents,” and how uncomfortable it is for him to have to scrunch down into the corner to give her and Mommy enough room. She even offers him an alternative sleeping arrangement. In the end, we see the three of them together, but we don’t know how convincing her argument was.

This is a cute story for children who still seek out the comfort of sleeping with their parents in the “big bed.” The arguments the little girl presents are humorous and the illustrations are colorful and add flavor to the story. The faces of the characters add to the humor.

VERDICT: This is a fun book for younger children and would make a humorous read aloud. It would also serve well in a classroom as a mentor text for how to write an argument.

May 2018 review by Sudi Stodola.

Book review: Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Latham, Irene, and Charles Waters. Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship. Illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Carolrhoda Books, 2018. 39 pgs. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-5124-0442-5. Ages 8 -12. P7 Q8

This collection of poems encapsulates the interactions that happen between a pair of middle schoolers – a white girl and a black boy. The freestyle poems capture a variety of moments from each child’s point of view, from attending church, to dealing with other students on the bus, to incidents on the news, and dinner with the family. The poems capture the complex feelings of the children, from wanting to fit in, to different ways our parents try to protect us, and forgiving our friends for their misunderstandings as we learn to navigate the issue of race.

This collection reads more as a series of single-page journal entries than as poetry, but the dichotomies that are introduced are important. The POV approach to discussing different experiences around similar topics works well to highlight how different people have different understandings around similar topics. The illustrations are simple and the text is the central focus on each page.

VERDICT: A strong choice for discussions about race in a way that allows for personal interpretation.

May 2018 review by Sudi Stodola.

Book review: Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds

Reynolds, Jason. Long Way Down. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2017. 320p. $17.99.  ISBN: 978-1481438254. Gr.9-12.  P8 Q9

This book is written in verse, and it is really easy to read and get into.  The message here – that violence only gives way to more violence – is dramatically portrayed during a seven-story descent in an elevator, where the ghosts of friends and family talk to the leading character, Will. Will gets in the elevator with a gun, ready to revenge his brother’s killing.  He comes out of the elevator – 200 or so pages later in the book, but only a minute later in reality – a changed man.  The story is told through Will and his ghosts, and even though it portrays a gang life I have never experienced, the characters were very real to me.  I got interested in the author after reading it and found out that this was the life he had experienced.  He wanted to bring a message to kids who might not read well or want to read a lot of boring words.  He did a great job of telling a complicated story and making it be real.

April 2018 review by NHS student.

[Editor’s note: 2018 awards: Coretta Scott King Author Award, John Newbery honor book, Michael L. Printz honor book.]

Book review: Words on Bathroom Walls, by Julia Walton

Walton, Julia. Words on Bathroom Walls. Random House, 2017. 304p. $17.99. ISBN: 978-0399550881. Gr. 8-12. P7 Q8

This book reminds me a lot of Neil Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, mostly because the lead characters are going through the same sort of schizophrenic struggles.  However, this book is a lot more humorous and easier to read because Adam, the main character, is very sarcastic and funny. There are unfortunately a lot of clichés in this book that make it not so great: the popular kids, bullies, hot guys, sexy chicks and shallow characters.  Of course, a lot of that is due to the fact that the whole story is told through Adam’s journal entries, so it’s a lot of teenage prattle and wanting people to relate to HIM, so it’s forgivable.  What is wonderful is that the author doesn’t stereotype Adam; there’s no miracle, cure-all drug for his schizophrenia. The big thing that bothered me about this book is that I found myself eating WAY too much when Adam takes up cooking to help him deal. The story is just that real.

April 2018 review by NHS student.

Book reviews: Bad Girls with Perfect Faces, by Lynn Weingarten

Weingarten, Lynn. Bad Girls with Perfect Faces. Simon Pulse, 2017. 304p. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1481418607. Gr. 10-adult. P8 Q6 

This psychological thriller combines elements of romance, reality, humor and horror. Even though it’s not as good at the author’s previous novel, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls, it’s an engaging read for more mature high schoolers.  There are a lot of twists and turns to this complicated story that is told from multiple perspectives, and even though their dialog is at times a bit cliché, it reminds readers of people they might’ve known, making it even more relatable.  Criminal activity, substance abuse, sex, and violence make this a book that appeals to older high schoolers and adults.  The ending of the book is a huge surprise, despite how dysfunctional everyone is.

April 2018 review by NHS student.