Book review: I Am Sonia Sotomayor, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

Meltzer, Brad. I Am Sonia Sotomayor. Illus. by Christopher Eliopoulos. (Ordinary People Change the World series). Dial, 2018. $14.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-7352-2873-3. Ages 4-7. P4Q4

The latest in this series continues to use cartoon illustrations and comic book bubbles, this time to tell about the life of a Supreme Court justice.

Verdict: Sotomayor’s autobiographical picture book, Turning Pages: My Life Story, illustrated by Lulu Delacre, is a better buy.

 

December 2018 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: The Wall in the Middle of the Book, by Jon Agee

Agee, Jon. The Wall in the Middle of the Book. Dial, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-525-55545-2. Ages 3-7. P9Q9

The acclaimed author/illustrator uses the image of a brick “wall” in the middle of two-page spreads to satirize the false belief that walls protect a person on one side from animals and an ogre on the other side. The protection for a knight disappears when a flood takes the military figure over to the other side where the feared ogre fishes him out and introduces him to the wonders of the other side. A clever ending shows a large sea creature menacing the knight from his former side of the wall. Watercolors of large figures looming over the tiny man are complemented by the huge sea creature on the “safe” side that slowly gobbles up everything else in the water.

Verdict: The clear message of how safety doesn’t come from a wall is delivered with humor and fun. Highly recommended.

 

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: I Am Gandhi: A Graphic Biography of a Hero, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by 25 artists

Meltzer, Brad. I Am Gandhi: A Graphic Biography of a Hero. [Ordinary People Change the World series]. Illus. by 25 artists. Dial, 2018. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-525-55272-7. Ages 8-11. P6Q7

Meltzer has taken his mediocre book about Gandhi, I Am Gandhi, and made it into a graphic narrative with the help of 25 different artists. The language expands the first book as Meltzer follows the life of the Indian man who developed a strategy of peaceful protesting during his 23 years in South Africa before he returned to India to lead a nonviolent revolution intended to free his country from British rule. The book covers key events in Gandhi’s life—his training as a lawyer, the Salt March to the ocean because the British forced Indians to buy the salt they produced, the British massacre of striking Indians, his fasts, and his years in prison. Proceeds to the book’s creators go to Seeds of Peace.

Verdict: Most of the artists’ illustrations work together well, but the narrative is disturbed by a young boy who frequently pops up and shouts, “Truth Force.” Because of the similarity of the books’ names, buyers should be sure to purchase the one with the subtitle, A Graphic Biography of a Hero. 

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: All’s Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson

Jamieson, Victoria. All’s Faire in Middle School. Dial, 2017. $20.99. 248p. ISBN 978-0-525-42998-2. Ages 10-13. P8Q8

The first graphic novel following this author’s Newbery Honor-winning Roller Girl deals with Imogen “Impy” Vega’s struggles in middle school after being homeschooled by immersion in Renaissance fair culture. Her parents focus on their participation in that world although her father has a job outside the fairs. During the 11-year-old girl’s early days at school she tries to understand how to make friends, dress, behave, and deal with an arrogant science teacher while she makes poor choices in all of these. Impy is a good-hearted person who has all the problems of her peers, including embarrassment about her father’s position as actor and her mother’s retail hut. The artwork uses medieval themes with faux illuminated manuscript beginning each chapter and borders using heraldic crests as well as dragons and bunnies.

Verdict: Throughout the book, Impy faces lessons—both academic and personal—with one of the best being her bad treatment of her young brother that she overcomes. Jamieson also communicates lessons from racist characters without being didactic. The large number of characters keeps the interest in all of Impy’s worlds—school, home, and the Renaissance fair. An enjoyable read.

January/February 2018 review by Nel Ward.

 

Second opinion:

Jamieson, Victoria. All’s Faire in Middle School. Dial Books, 2017. $20.99. ISBN 9780525429982. 247 pages. Ages 9-12. P7 Q7

How do you fit in with your peers when you have never attended school? Imogene, or Impy for short, starts middle school after she has been homeschooled all her life. Her parents work at the Renaissance Faire. Impy has always loved her involvement in the Faire until she starts middle school. She tries to fit in by copying the popular kids and gets caught up in trying to impress them. She thinks she has finally fit in when a popular girl starts making fun of her. Impy feels bad about her involvement in hurting a friend’s feelings and in the end, she stands up to the popular girl and celebrates her friend who was bullied. This graphic novel is broken up into chapters, each chapter starting with a page that introduces the chapter. The illustrations reflect the Renaissance theme and shows that Impy is not dressed as well as the peers she is trying to fit in with. The graphic novel includes information about various Renaissance Faire’s around the country.

Verdict: This graphic novel accurately portrays the challenges middle schoolers face, while focusing on kindness, standing up for others, individuality, and being true to yourself. It emphasizes that kindness is the truest form of bravery. When we make a mistake, even if others don’t forgive us right away, we can work to make it right. Children will be able to relate to the characters in this graphic novel. I highly recommend it for elementary and middle school libraries.

June 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Ordinary People Change the World series, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

Meltzer, Brad. Ordinary People Change the World series. Illus. by Christopher Eliopoulos. Dial, 2017. $14.99. 40p. Ages 4-7. I Am Gandhi. ISBN 978-0-7352-2870-2; I Am Sacagawea. ISBN 978-0-525-42853-4.

The series uses stereotyped illustrations and a sketchy narrative with comic book bubbles to depict the lives of famous people.

Verdict: A few photographs and a timeline are appended at the end of each book. The illustrations are culturally insensitive and the narration flip. The distortion of Gandhi’s quote “In a gentle way, you can shake the world” to “I will shake the world” belies the knowledge that Gandhi did not take credit for his work or claim that he could perform that action. In Sacagawea, a Native American holding a tomahawk is looking down on Sacagawea’s very short husband. Lewis and Clark are shown meeting Sacagawea in heavy snow at a fort, but she met them on November 11—before the snow and before the fort was built. Not recommended.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The War I Finally Won, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. The War I Finally Won. Dial, 2017. $16.99. 385p. ISBN 978-0-525-42920-3. Ages 10-14. P7Q9

In the sequel to Newbery Honor winner The War That Saved My Life, 11-year-old Ada has surgery to fix her clubfoot before she moves back to the English countryside, trying to avoid the bombing during World War II. Class issues arise as the recently orphaned girl who grew up in poverty lives with her younger brother, a young lesbian woman from the middle class and a privileged older woman from nobility. Bradley aptly depicts the struggles of Ada’s feelings about her mother, moving between gratitude that she is safe from the abuse and guilt at those feelings. Complicating the lives of the characters is a German Jewish refugee who is housed with them. Lady Thorton’s hatred for all Germans generates difficulty for everyone, but Ada’s patient guardian, Susan, gives Ada a sense of security. Sufficient information about the first book makes this book a read-alone, and the events surrounding Ada are tear-jerking.

Verdict: The development of all the major characters is realistic as is the depiction of deprivation and sacrifice during the war in England. Ada’s growth from a terrified girl to wisdom and understanding despite her physical and emotional pain makes the book a fascinating read.

November 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Book of Mistakes, by Corinna Luyken

Luyken, Corinna. The Book of Mistakes. Dial, 2017. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-7352-2792-7. Ages 4-7. P9Q9

“It started with one mistake,” begins the book begins, and the artist continues to repair those mistakes in illustrations, only to make more. With black ink, colored pencils, and watercolor on white pages, the illustrator starts with three marks inside a circle that becomes a face and moves to a highly complex illustration of a balloon-filled tree sheltering a group of frolicking children before returning to the circle. The debut picture book provides a valuable lesson for children who grow frustrated when they think they have ruined an art project. In lyrical text, Luyken admits her mistakes and notes changes that work for her.

Verdict: The author offers inspiration to young readers in the way, for example, the way that “the ink smudges scattered across the sky/look as if they could be leaves— / like they’d always wanted to be lifted up / and carried.” A bonus is the detail, often humorous, in the art.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.