Book review: Sea Sirens, by Amy Chu and Janet K. Lee

Chu, Amy and Janet K. Lee. Sea Sirens. (A Trot & Cap’n Bill Adventure). Viking, 2019. 140 pages. $20.99. ISBN: 9780451480163. Ages 8-14. P8Q9

Vietnamese American surfer girl, Trot and her rescued cat Cap’n Bill live for riding the waves, but Trot’s grandfather suffers from dementia.  The day Grandpa wanders away from the beachwhile Trot is catching one last wave, Trot’s mother grounds everyone—Trot, Grandpa, and Cap’n Bill.  Disobeying her mother, Trot and the cat head for the beach for one last chance to surf, only to be caught in a monster wave which takes them into a fantasy kingdom under the sea.  When Grandpa follows Trot and Cap’n Bill under the sea, the three find themselves embroiled in a war between sirens—mermaids—and sea snakes.

Verdict: The full color cinematic illustrations of fantasy sea life and legendary creatures along with an unpredictable ending make this graphic novel especially appealing. The inclusion of Grandpa in the story shows not only a strong intergenerational relationship, but also demonstrates that people with dementia may still offer wisdom and creative solutions.  Recommended for middle school and public library collections.

June 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: What Is Given from the Heart, by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison

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.

Book review: The Girl in Between, by Sarah Carroll

Carroll, Sarah. The Girl in Between. Kathy Dawson Books, 2017.  ISBN 978-0-7352-2860-3. $16.99.  251 pages. Ages 12+.  P7Q9

The main character, a young nameless girl, becomes homeless with her mother when her mother decides she’d rather live on the streets than live with her mother.  She and her mother struggle to survive on the streets until her mother finds a place for them to stay, becoming “squatters”.  Once they have a consistent place to live the mother starts to homeschool her daughter and tries to create a life of security for her.  Through all of this the daughter is constantly aware of something lurking within the mother which drives her to drugs and alcohol, and this worries her daughter.  The mother has succumbed to the abbreviated relief of drugs and alcohol before, but why is she now?  The daughter has to delve into her own past to determine what ails her mother’s heart.

The story is told from the daughter’s perspective and the author is able to capture the fear of a parent unable to care for her daughter through the daughter’s eyes.  Additionally, the author is also able to capture the fears and insecurities of the daughter caused by a mother who hasn’t always been reliable and has made choices not in the best interest of her daughter.  The entire story is told in the daughter’s “voice”, which threw me off at the beginning, but then grew on me as my appreciation for the daughter and my interest in the story increased.  The author, Sarah Carroll, weaves the story’s past and present to guide the reader to an ending that had me in tears.  Interestingly, you never know the main character’s names, or any character, for that matter.  The mother calls her daughter a term of endearment and the daughter always calls her mother “Ma”.  All other characters are known by descriptive: Gran, Caretaker, Short Guy, and Red Coat.  Again, highlighting that the story is from a young girl’s perspective.

Verdict:  This book is one of the saddest stories I’ve read in a while.  I have only admiration for an author who can accurately capture the feelings of one through the observations of another, especially an adolescent.  Recommended for middle school, high school, and public libraries.

September 2018 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: When I Am With Dad, by Kimball Crossley, illustrated by Katie Gamb

Crossley, Kimball. Illustrated by Katie Gamb. When I Am With Dad. Two Little Birds Books, 2016.  ISBN 9780991393575. $17.95. UNP. P5 Q5

Elizabeth is a young girl who likes things tidy. Her father can’t make a proper bed and eats cold pizza for breakfast. When she and her little sister stay at their dad’s house, Elizabeth struggles to acclimate to his laid-back lifestyle. When I’m With Dad discusses the difficult reality of adjusting to time split between parents’ houses. Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s dad is quite helpless. All he seems to do is look at baseball stats and lounge about the house all day. By the end of the book, Elizabeth comes to the important conclusion that family is more important than structure and square meals. The artwork is very well done; each page is covered with pleasant, full colored illustrations. However, the negative “single dad” stereotype is a little ridiculous.

Verdict: This book might be a good resource if a child is in this particular situation. Although, I’m not sure who would purchase it. The topic of non-traditional families is an important one, but I find this book to be lacking creativity.

September 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.