Book review: A Drop of Hope, by Keith Calabrese

Calabrese, Keith. A Drop of Hope. Scholastic Press, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781338233209. 305 pgs. Ages 8-12. P8 Q8

Ernest, Ryan and Lizzy are middle school students in a small, struggling town in Ohio. When they learn about local folklore describing a “wishing well,” they find it and things begin to change! Calabrese does a great job of capturing the ambiance of a small American town, its school, and its diverse inhabitants. The story’s theme is how small actions can make change in ways we don’t even think of. The kids realize that people they know need help in various ways; they don’t know exactly how to approach the problems, but their good intentions and small actions do help greatly in the end. I liked that it isn’t clear if there is some magic going on or not (at least at first), that there is an old mystery that gets solved, and that odd combinations of characters end up developing positive relationships.

VERDICT: This is a wonderful book for readers who need to read something hopeful, kind and uplifting. I think we could all use more of this these days.

January 2020 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Tow Truck Joe, by June Sobel, illustrated by Patrick Corrigan

Sobel, June. Tow Truck Joe. Illustrated by Patrick Corrigan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. Unpaged.  $17.99. ISBN 9780358053125. Ages 4-8. Q7P8

Welcome to Drivedale, a town of colorful anthropomorphic cars and trucks that live happily together as they zoom around town. That is until a crash between a milk truck and a cookie cart bring traffic to a standstill. Tow Truck Joe knows just what to do, and several others jump in to help including the cement mixer, the bulldozer, and the grocery truck. In addition to all the vehicles, Tow Truck Joe’s pup, Patch, a kitty who comes to lap up the spilled milk, and a cookie loving pigeon are also featured in the story. Together they all pitch in to keep the town running smoothly.

Verdict: This rhyming picture book will be a favorite at the library and in young classrooms. A great book for story time, it is even better read one on one when time can be spent looking at all the puns featured on town billboards and signs. With a theme of teamwork, it is a great book for little ears.

October 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: Night Windows, by Ziggy Hanaor, illustrations by Aart-Jan Venema

Hanaor, Ziggy. Night Windows. Illus. by Aart-Jan Venema. Cicada. 2019. $16.95. unp. ISBN 978-1-908714-56-5. Ages 4-7. P9Q9

Lonely after his family’s move to a city, a boy seeks solace from what he perceives as an angry place by sitting outside his apartment building. At first, he thinks about running away but starts watching the people through the windows and sees “A writer, a cook, five kids/And – look! Here cats, a net/A sparkling chest, a girl who sews….” Each night he returns to his bench and sees more and more. His sojourn becomes less lonely as a cat perches on the back of the bench and the writer joins him to talk about his writer’s block. The boy’s surroundings become occupied by more people, and he ends up organizing a party. Highly detailed and quirky colorful illustrations come from the adventures of the illustrator from his everyday life in The Hague, Netherlands.

Verdict: Excellent pacing begins with a young person lost in new surroundings who makes a home for himself by observing and accepting the diversity of people around him. Following the action from one two-page spread to another can give hours of delight.

April 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Get on Your Bike, by Joukje Akveld, illustrated by Philip Hopman, translated by Laura Watkinson

Akveld, Joukje. Get on your bike. Illust. Philip Hopman. Trans. Laura Watkinson. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2018 (org. 2014). $18.00. ISBN 9780802854896. Ages 4-8. P7 Q7

Get on your bike is an English translation of Ga toch fietsen! Originally published in Dutch, the story centers around William and Bobby (org. Willem and Boese), an argument, and how one of the characters finds a constructive way to burn off steam and gain perspective when he’s angry. Hopman packs plenty of activity into his detailed, page-filling illustrations à la Richard Scarry. The peripheral characters often look and gesture at the reader, acknowledging our presence. Get on your bike will be appreciated by young wheel enthusiasts and features charming European cultural objects and architecture.

Verdict: The story depicts a healthy way to process negative feelings, promotes outdoor activity, and provides examples of fossil fuel free transportation. It could accompany a unit on relationships or emotions.

April 2019 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: Phoebe Will Destroy You, by Blake Nelson

Nelson, Blake. Phoebe Will Destroy You. Simon & Schuster, 2018. 246. $18.99. ISBN 9781481488167. 14+. P8Q7

What’s a teen to do when he has a successful mom, an author and a college professor, who struggles with alcohol addiction and despite serious professional mistakes, keeps getting another chance?  Nick has been in therapy and has a father who supports and loves him.  When his mother returns from yet another stint in rehab, the stress in their house prompts his father to send Nick to spend the summer with his Aunt Judy, Uncle Rob, and cousins, Kyle and Emily, in the small beach town of Seaside, Oregon. His dad is trying to help, but Nick has a lot of unresolved feelings about his mom and uncertainty about what his senior year will bring. Seaside is a sleepy town, unlike Eugene, and Nick’s job at his uncle’s car wash, the Happy Bubble, is a routine that gets old. Nick becomes a willing chauffeur for his younger cousin Emily and her friends.  At a beach party he sees Phoebe, and his feelings change about what this summer might bring.  Phoebe has a reputation among the locals, but that just makes Nick all the more intrigued. He’s going to find out for himself what lies behind this enigmatic young woman.

VERDICT: Blake Nelson creates realistic characters and setting.  Nick is someone high school readers will appreciate, understated and earnest, even as he becomes involved with someone who is clearly “wrong” for him. He is no saint, but he’s trying to be righteous through the confusion of change. Nelson depicts the poignant foible of the smartest people to see only what they want to see as opposed to what is true. Even those with Nick’s advantages are not immune. Heartbreak is difficult to write well, but Nelson succeeds.

November 2018 review by Patricia Emerson.

Book review: The Orphan Band of Springdale, by Anne Nesbet

Nesbet, Anne. The Orphan Band of Springdale. Candlewick Press, 2018. $18.99. ISBN 9780763688042. 435 Pages. Ages 9-14. P7 Q8

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an orphan back in 1941? With the Second World War looming and tough times in New York, Gusta’s mother is not able to keep her. Gusta is put on a bus by her German born, labor activist, fugitive father and sent to her grandmother who runs an orphanage in Maine. Gusta brings along a suitcase and a much-loved French horn. When she arrives at the orphanage, she meets Josie, the first and oldest orphan in the house. Gusta and Josie become friends and have adventures. Their grandmother values things that receive a gold ribbon, so Gusta and Josie decide to start a band so they can enter a contest and win a gold ribbon. This historical fiction is an easy read, full of adventure, family, secrets, bravery and standing up for others. Nesbet wrote this story based the stories her mother told about her life growing up. To make the fiction as true as possible, she spent some time at the Sanford-Springvale historical Society in Maine and read through old issues of the local paper. This book is true to life in the 1940’s.

Verdict: I recommend this book for public libraries. Readers will learn what life was like in the 1940’s along with teaching one to be brave, to include others, to stand up for themselves and the importance of kindness and family.

April 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Cycle City, by Alison Farrell

Farrell, Alison. Cycle City. Chronicle Books, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781452163345. Unpaged. Ages 2-7. P7 Q7

If you like all types of bicycles, this is the book for you! A parade committee made up of five pigs need to deliver invitations for the Starlight parade. The Mayor, a snail, offers to deliver the invitations. As the Mayor delivers the invitations, questions in the text invite the reader to find animals and items on each page. The Mayor travels from the train station to downtown, in the park, by food bikes, at the canal, and over the bridge. This book features colorful illustrations of animals riding different types of bicycles as they gather to ride in the parade. The end pages label many types of bicylces, giving the reader additional knowledge. This is Farrell’s first book, she lives in Portland Oregon.

Verdict: The first word that enters my mind with this book is engaging. Children can spend a lot of time looking at each page. I do not recommend it for a read aloud to a group of children due to the speaking bubbles on the pages, busy illustrations, and things to find, but it is ideal for reading one on one with a child. Children will notice new things each time they read the book.

April 2018 review by Tami Harris.