Book review: Roll with It, by Jamie Sumner

Sumner, Jamie. Roll With It. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781534442559. 250 pages. Ages 10+. P7 Q8.

Ellie is not only the new student; she is in a wheelchair and lives in a trailer park. When Ellie and her mom move to a new town to take care of her grandpa, she has to figure out how to maneuver around classrooms that are not set up for students in a wheelchair. Fortunately, Coralee, her new neighbor in the trailer park, befriends Ellie and becomes her first true friend. While Ellie engages in many of the same activities as other children, she shares her struggles with using the school bathroom, not wanting an aide to follow her around, and the awkwardness of people staring at her. Meanwhile, Ellie’s grandpa gets confused and puts himself in danger at times. Ellie’s mom wants to put him in a home for elderly people, but this makes Ellie fear that maybe her mom will put her in a home someday. Ellie’s favorite show is the Great British Bake Off and Ellie loves to cook, which may add familiarity for readers who enjoy the show. Readers will gain insight on what it is like to live with challenges while being inspired by Ellie, who does not let her disability define her or limit her. Sumner’s son has cerebral palsy, which inspired her to write this book.

Verdict: The message that children who are confined to a wheelchair can have just as meaningful life as children who can walk comes through loud and clear. Readers can relate to the issues that Ellie has to deal with. I highly recommend this book for all libraries.

October 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Bunny In The Middle,by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Christopher Denise

Denise, Anika Aldamuy. Bunny In The Middle. Illustrated by Christopher Denise. Henry Holt and Company, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781250120366. Ages 3-9. P8 Q9

Being in the middle isn’t so bad. A lovable story following a sweet little bunny family and the bunny in the middle. An inspiring and uplifting story for any child deemed the “middle child”. This book shows all the positives to being the child in the middle. Helping your siblings, problem solving and exploring are just a few of the things you can accomplish being the bunny in the middle.  Empowering for all children. Beautiful colorful illustrations full of detail and character help you feel like you are in the book itself.

Verdict: A must have for any library. Teaches self confidence, love and working together.  Illustrations are so full of detail you never get tired of admiring them.

November 2019 review by Melissa Roberts.

Book review: Leila in Saffron, by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova

Guidroz, Rukhsanna. Leila in Saffron. Illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova. Salaam Reads, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781534425644. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P8 Q9

Young Leila is off to Naani’s home for their weekly family dinner. Naani greets Leila with a compliment about the saffron beads on her dress, but Leila is not sure if she likes what she sees when she looks in the mirror. Leila uses the visit to look for things she likes about herself, and finds them in her family, in the beautifully decorated Pakistani home, the meal she helps to prepare, and in the special love a grandma has for her granddaughter.  The color visuals in the book are very eye catching and immerse the reader in Pakistani culture. A glossary at the back of the book gives both the pronunciation and definition of unfamiliar words used in the story.

Verdict: A beautiful multicultural book for both the library and the classroom with an important message of self-worth that all can benefit from.

November 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, by Karina Yan Glaser

Glaser, Karina Yan. The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. Harcourt, 2018. $16.99. 327p. ISBN 978-1-328-77002-8. Ages 9-12. P7Q8

The lovable family and neighbors of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street return in this sequel about creating a garden and a community to help elderly Mr. Jeet, who is in the hospital with his second stroke and to give a job to Mr. Beiderman, who refuses to leave his apartment since his wife and daughter died six years earlier. One of the five biracial Vanderbeeker siblings living in Harlem has gone to an orchestra camp, leaving the other four to break into the lot next to the church where they want to put the garden, arrange for everything they need, and thwart the efforts of a church member to sell the lot to a developer.

Verdict: The delightful warmth and growth of characters and their relationships skillfully combine a style of youth fiction from the mid-20th century with contemporary socio-economic issues. The children—ages 5 through 12—are realistic in their disagreements and antics, but they ultimately show respect and kindness for each other as do the adults.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Hidden Witch, by Molly Knox Ostertag

Ostertag, Molly Knox. The Hidden Witch. Scholastic, 2018. $12.99. 202p. ISBN 978-1-338-25375-7. Ages 10-14. P8Q8

In the sequel to The Witch Boy, Aster joins girls in classes for witchery after his struggle to gain permission for training allocated only to females, but he needs to catch up with the lessons he has missed. His grandmother offers to tutor him but only if he helps cure his great-uncle, Mikasi, who almost destroyed the family after he was taken over by dark magic. Aster’s friend, a distrustful foster child suffering from bullying, is also beset with the dark magic by a new student at school, Ariel, who doesn’t understand that her new protector is actually a harmful shadow form. To save his friends, Aster needs to face the Mikasi’s black magic. Forced to face their fears, characters in this graphic novel make their own decisions—Aster breaks gender stereotypes, his cousin stops shapeshifting in defiance of the family pattern, and Ariel develops faith in others.

Verdict: This second novel is even stronger than the first, continuing with excitement while confronting problems of bullying and personal growth in a warm family setting depicted by rich, bright colors.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Lotterys More or Less, by Emma Donoghue, illustrated by Caroline Hadilaksono

Donoghue, Emma. The Lotterys More or Less. Illus. by Caroline Hadilaksono. Arthur A. Levine, 2018. $17.99. 285p. ISBN 978-1-338-20753-8. Ages 9-12. P7Q8

The family of 11 plus a grouchy grandfather that includes a gay couple and a lesbian couple, first seen in The Lotterys Plus One, has returned in a Christmas adventure when the loss of electricity, first for their neighbors and then for themselves, mixes with the need to care for a visitor from Brazil who damaged his eye while sledding behind a car. In this book about a diverse group, two are missing–one of the fathers and the older son are trying to trying to return from a visit to India in the midst of the storm.

Verdict: Since the first book in the series, Donoghue has found a voice and direction, and the author spends less time working with the introduction of the characters. With less wordplay, the narration moves more smoothly, and the nine-year-old narrator shows how a disaster can result in the building of a community.

February 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Day at The Beach, by Tom Booth

Booth, Tom. Day at The Beach. Aladdin, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781534411050. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P6 Q7

Every summer Gideon and his sister, Audrey make a sandcastle together. This year, Gideon plans to make a sandcastle by himself. His first castle gets squished by a ball, the next castle is smashed by a kite, the third castle is swept away by the tide, the fourth is a casualty of a passing shower, the fifth flies away with a strong breeze, and the sixth castle? His dog! Looking for a new place where nothing can interrupt him, he finally builds a beautiful castle that everyone loves. It is then that he notices his family building a castle together and he feels lonely. He joins his family and helps them finish their not perfect castle. Beach themed story of relationships being more important than perfection. The illustrations are colorful and match the text. The scenarios depicted in the story are realistic and could easily happen at the beach. Children who have tried to make a sandcastle and have been had various catastrophes can relate to this story. Children want to pull away from their families and make something that is great and their own, but in doing so, they may miss out on working together with others.

Verdict: A warmhearted story that emphasizes the importance of family and that things do not have to be perfect. I recommend this book for libraries serving young children.

June 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: A Werewolf Named Oliver James, by Nicholas John Frith

Frith, Nicholas John. A Werewolf Named Oliver James. Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, Inc., 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781338254334. Unpaged. Ages 6-8. P8Q8

Oliver James is going home from band practice as usual when something strange happened- he discovered that he was a werewolf! The purple and brownish illustrations give a nice feeling of early evening as Oliver learns that while being strong and fast and having super-senses is fun, scaring everyone he meets isn’t so much. He hesitates before going in his house as he considers the idea that his parents might be afraid of him. But everything turns out okay when he finds that his parents are werewolves too (there’s no explanation of why he never noticed this before…) I loved the quirky humor in the illustrations, and liked that Oliver and his parents are African American (when they aren’t werewolves).

VERDICT: Younger readers will like this fun, lively story, especially around Halloween.

November 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: It Is Not Time for Sleeping (A Bedtime Story), by Lisa Graff, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Graff, Lisa ; Lauren Castillo (illustrations). It Is Not Time for Sleeping (A Bedtime Story). Clarion Books, 2016. Unpaged. $16.99. ISBN 9780544319301. Ages 4-6. P8Q7

A child, dog, mother and father go through evening rituals in this cumulative repetitive story, with the refrain, “It is not time for sleeping.” Then, a final hug brings this bedtime story to a close.  As the evening advances from sunset skies during dinner to the moon shining through a window, the clear, warm watercolor illustrations gather more and more shadows, though even the darkened rooms have warm colors in the darkness.

Verdict: This is a comforting bedtime story, reflecting evening rituals in a nuclear family.  Nothing in the text of the book indicates the child’s gender.  Unfortunately, the jacket blurb refers to the child as “he”, limiting the appeal of the book to little boys.  I think it’s a poor choice on the part of the publicity team.  Also, the book is text heavy and does not rhyme, though cumulative repetition does make it accessible for small children.  Recommended for public library collections.

March 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Greetings from Witness Protection!, by Jake Burt

Burt, Jake. Greetings from Witness Protection! Feiwel and Friends, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9781250107114. 359 pages. Ages 10-14. P7 Q7

Trying to outwit the criminals and do something different, the witness protection decides to add a family member to a family they are hiding. Nicki who has spent most of her life in foster families and a group home finds herself with the opportunity to use her street smarts to help a family. The federal agents want the family to appear “normal” and have a plan for them to follow. Along the way, Nicki makes friends, but will she lose them in the end? Does she have the wit to outsmart the criminals? The brother-sister rivalry and family life is believable. Her dad, who she thought was in jail, shows up towards the end of the story and Nicki has to decide to whom she will be loyal. You root for the girl, hoping through the adventure she will find a permanent home.

Verdict: Middle school libraries and public libraries will benefit from this engaging, quick paced chapter book. Tweens and teens will relate to Nicki and what she goes through with her new-found friends.

February 2018 review by Tami Harris.