James, Simon. The Boy Who Went to Mars. Candlewick Press, 2017. $16.99. ISBN 9780763695989. Unpaged. Ages 6-10. P7Q8.
When Stanley’s mother has to go away overnight for a short business trip, Stanley climbs in a box to voyage to Mars. Upon the return to earth, a little Martian is exchanged for Stanley. The Martian explains that he doesn’t wash his hands, brush his teeth, or have a bedtime. All is working well for the little Martian until his best friend argues that he isn’t convinced with the Stanley replacement. The upset Martian responds by shoving and consequently has to spend the remainder of the morning at the principal’s office thinking about his behavior.
Verdict: the pen and watercolor illustrations complement the imaginative playing well.
May 2019 review by Penny McDermott.
McKissack, Patricia C. What Is Given from the Heart. Illus. by April Harrison. Schwarz & Wade, 2019. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-375-83615-2. Ages 5-8. P8Q8
In McKissack’s last book, published posthumously, James Otis, living in poverty with his single mother in a small Southern town after his father dies, ponders over a gift for Sarah, a little girl whose family has lost everything in the family. His attempt to make a decision shows his simple treasures such as a rock, but his mother insists that he find something for her because “what is given from the heart reaches the heart.” James’s choice reaches the Sarah’s heart when he gives her a book that he writes himself.
Verdict: This last work from the three-time Coretta Scott Award winner and Newbery Honor author pairs well with the picture book debut of an illustrator using mixed-media images of collage, acrylic, and found objects that give the feeling of stained glass. The beautiful gesture of a James’s mother making an apron from her best tablecloth for someone who has even less than she does is matched by the touching scene when she and James return home to find a “love box” of donations from the church.
January 2019 review by Nel Ward.
Trimmer, Christian. Teddy’s Favorite Toy. Illus. by Madeline Valentine. Atheneum, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4814-8079-6. Ages 4-7. P9Q9
Although the cover reveals that the boy’s favorite toy is a doll, beginning images show that he appreciates a diversity of entertainment—blocks, puzzles, firetrucks, etc. Yet Teddy is distraught when Bren-Da, Warrior Queen of Pacifica, loses one of her legs. After trying to mend her before he goes to school, Teddy returns home to discover that his mother had accidentally thrown way the toy. His accepting mother exhibits great athletic ability in her attempts to rescue Bren-Da from the garbage truck, who is reunited with a joyful Teddy. Gouache and pencil digitally composed illustrations on a white background display Teddy’s play with the doll from its “best manners” to the “sickest fighting skills” as well as the energy displayed by the mother in her fiercely comical romp to find Bren-Da.
Verdict: Trimmer’s mother and son interactions show the value of her acceptance of her son’s choice of an unconventional toy as his favorite and her resistance to gender stereotyping in a humorous way.
March 2018 review by Nel Ward.
Out of his many cool toys, Teddy’s favorite is a doll named Bren-da. She not only has an amazing fashion sense, but also fierce fighting skills. When a particularly fierce battle results in her broken leg, Teddy tries to bandage her, but cannot fix the leg. He leaves her wrapped tenderly in a makeshift bandage. When Teddy’s mother comes to clean up the room, Bren-da ends up in the trash, leading to a crisis when Teddy returns and cannot find the doll. Teddy’s mother comes to the rescue with cool moves of her own and saves the day.
Verdict: Tony and his mom are portrayed with warm, brown skin tones and the book includes references to Mexican culture making this an engaging picture book welcoming for children who may not often see themselves in books. It also shows a boy whose favorite toy is a female doll and does not make this a point of gender based bullying or other problem behavior. Highly recommended for preschool and public libraries.
May 2019 review by Jane Cothron.
Green, Tim. Lost Boy. Harper Collins, 2015. $16.99 ISBN 9780062317087 299pgs. Grades 5 and up, P7Q7
Ryder’s mom is struck by a truck and ends up in the hospital with little chance of living. Ryder must figure out who his dad is and hope that his dad can help save his mom’s life. This was a heart wrenching story and believable. Ryder does find his dad, who happens to be a pitcher for the Braves, but instead of a happy reunion between father and son, we find that Ryder’s father is shocked over even having a son and initially doesn’t want to help. This plot makes the story believable. Ryder’s dad does provide the money that helps save his mother’s life, but also tells him that he can’t be his father. There is no happy ending with Ryder’s biological dad, but other characters in the book step up to the plate to be Ryder’s father figure. This book doesn’t have a fairy tale ending, but a believable ending. May 2015 review by Jo Train.