Monday, May 30, 2016

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse

I picked up In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall on the recommendation of several people in the kidlit community who insisted it needed more attention due to its being a much needed portrayal of Native/First Nations people. Now I have read it and I agree whole heartedly.

Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy despite his last name and lighter coloring (both due to his paternal grandfather). He is bullied at school for not being white and also for not being "enough" Lakota. Over his summer vacation, his grandfather takes him on a special road trip. Together they retrace the steps in the life of the famous Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. Through this journey Jimmy learns more about the past of his people and about himself.

In all honesty, the parts with Jimmy and his grandfather are not shining examples of excellent characterization and dialogue. However their part is just the frame for the bigger story. The main point of the book is to tell the story of Crazy Horse and life on the plains for Natives from a Native perspective. Marshall (a Lakota himself) uses Lakota storytelling traditions to tell of the journeys and life of Crazy Horse. Through these stories we see life on the plains from the perspective of the Natives. We also get to see the atrocities visited on the Natives by the US Army through the eyes of the people who suffered them. This book is incredibly important. It places Natives as a people who still exist very much in the present in their natural construct while also giving an insight into the past we rarely get. History is written by those who win after all. THERE ARE NO OTHER MG BOOKS THAT DO THESE THINGS. (Tim Tingle's excellent How I Became a Ghost deals with history, but I can think of no other that presents modern Natives to children.) That we have a book about Native people told by a Native is incredibly important.

The pacing of this story is quick and it is a short read. It is written at such a level that it would be easily accessible for the majority of elementary students studying US History. In addition there are details of exactly where Jimmy and his grandfather are going and how they are getting there. As I was reading, I was forming plans in my head for a historical road trip with this book when my son gets to this point in his history studies.

Despite some choppy writing here and there, I firmly believe this is book that needs to be in every elementary library and public library. Next step is getting publishers to publish more of a variety of books like this. It should not be the only one. We need books, both contemporary and historical, that cover all tribes and places.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Peas and Carrots

Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis is a wonderful book about life, family, friendship with two very different perspectives on both.

Hope is used to the revolving door of foster kids that go through her family's home. It's often hard on her because she wants to care for and protect those kids, but then they always have to leave. Dessa's presence in her house is hard on Hope for different reasons. This is first time her parents' have taken in a foster kid the same age as her. They share a bathroom, go to the same school, and Hope is supposed to stick by her and befriend her. But Hope and Dessa are like oil and water. Dessa is only there to make sure her younger half brother is being properly cared for. She's not there to make friends. She certainly isn't there to find a sister and a home. Her motto is if you don't own anything, they can't take it away from you. Dessa thinks Hope is spoiled, naive, and soft. If Hope is completely honest, she's a little resentful of Dessa who is blonde, pretty, breezily confident, and smart. But living together slowly brings Hope and Dessa closer, and shows them both their strengths, weaknesses, and that they might need each other more than they could have imagined.

Peas and Carrots is one of those books I enjoy for how realistic it is and how true to life the characters are. Hope leads a fairly privileged life. Her parents are do-gooders who have ingrained in her that they need to share their blessings in life with others. For the most part Hope is on board with this. She's a good, if fairly naive and oblivious, teen. Despite the revolving door of foster kids, she's still pretty sheltered about how truly terrible people can be and life can get. As most teens in her situation would be, at times she is resentful of the attention the other kids take away from her. But she genuinely loves the younger siblings that are in her home. I've worked with several foster siblings and this is a perfect picture of their complicated inner lives. Dessa, being the same age as Hope, brings her resentments out more. Dessa isn't cute and little. Dessa is competition in pretty much every area of Hope's life. For her part, Dessa is exactly as prickly and aloof as you would imagine a kid who spent several years in a group home would be. Her attitude toward her foster family is mockingly scathing. Dessa is also incredibly smart. She realizes how important school is so she does well. She often has an attitude, but she also knows how to adjust her personality to survive the situation she is in. She is always thinking ahead to the plans for when everything changes on her again. She is a talented designer as well.

This is a fast paced quick read that focuses on the two girls and their relationships with each other and the rest of the family. There is no drama for the sake of the dramatic. Dessa has a fair amount of legitimate fear about her felon father and what will happen to her family. There is also some typical school drama. What is important here is how the relationship between the girls changes over the course of the weeks the book takes place. It's a book that has a lot of really fantastic adult characters too, and I appreciated how they were portrayed. (Most especially Hope's parents. Yay for seeing upper middle class black families in a book!) The girls often think the adults are clueless to their true feelings. At times they are, but more often than not they are standing back and only intervening when necessary. Both Dessa and Hope have a lot of support when they need it.

I really liked how the book resolved too. Since the major conflict in the book was relational, I was wondering how Davis was going to bring it to a satisfying conclusion. I ended up really enjoying they route she took to get there.

Peas and Carrots is a YA book, but it's one that works well for upper MG too.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Birthday Books

It is birthday month in the Painter house. May is actually harder on our budget and time than December, if you can believe it. We have three birthdays and an anniversary. Two of those birthdays belong to my children, and I like to share what books I'm purchasing for them every year.

For LM (who turned 8 yesterday):

 For Bit (who turns 12 next week; no one tell her):

And a card that lets her know I've pre-ordered these for her:

If you are wondering why Bit has two more and thinking that is unfair, it is because she is my voracious reader. LM is harder to please.

I love giving books as gifts! What are some books you enjoy giving to others?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Shorter Musings MG Edition

Here are some shorter musings on some recent MG reads.

The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh
This is a story of a young orphan adopted and moved to a village where strange things happen and her guardian warns of tricksters. After making a new friend, Mary begins to wonder if she can trust her new guardian and what exactly is happening in the strange small village she now calls home. This is a lovely story reminiscent of many that have come before it, but that has its own special tone and feel. The characters are delightful and bring the tale to vibrant life. This is a great addition for any elementary classroom or library.

The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers
This is an incredibly well done story about a girl who falls into an old well during a mean club initiation orchestrated by girls at her new school. Once Kammie is in the well, she has a lot of time to think about her life, and Rivers balances what is happening in the now with flashbacks Kammie has to what brought her to the place she now finds herself. The plot is definitely not linear and jumps around a lot. This could be confusing but it should be because it is a perfect reflection of Kammie's turmoil as she waits for a rescue that may not come. It is a short read and I think it will be an easy sell with its target audience.

Sophie Quire and the Last Story Guard by Jonathan Auxier
Fans of Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes will most likely enjoy this companion novel. Full of Auxier's whimsical fun prose and adventures, the is a wonderful follow-up to the original story. Focusing on a new character, it still has plenty of familiar faces and fits into the world Auxier created in his first novel nicely. It is a tad too long which is not something I remember thinking when I was reading the first book. I think this could have been cut down a good 100 pages and been truly excellent.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Some Kind of Happiness

When I read MG, it is often a balancing act. I read MG as a teacher who wants to have great books to put in the hands of kids that will excite them about the world around them and what they can learn about it from books. I read MG as a mom with kids who I want to inspire and (at some times) protect. I read MG as myself just because it's some of the best literature out there and I love it. Sometimes the these three different roles of mine are in disagreement. More often than not they are in agreement. I usually am aware of all three roles whenever I am reading though. Rare is the book that comes along and makes me forget all of that and just live it. Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand was one of those rare books.

Finley Hart is spending the summer with father's family who she has never before met. Her parents are having problems and feel a couple of months to figure out their next step will be a good thing. Finley finds herself surrounded by cousins she has never met, aunts who say cryptic things, and grandparents who she feels distant from. Finley has always found comfort and solace in her writing. She has notebooks full of stories of the Everwood, but then she discovers the Everwood right there behind her grandparents' house. In the woods she discovers an abandoned house with a secret, a group of pirate boys she is not allowed to talk to, and freedom and joy with her cousins who she lets into her world. But something isn't right. Not in the Everwood. Not in Hart House. Not with Finley. To save the Everwood, Finley has to save herself, but she will need all the help she can get from the people who love her.

Some Kind of Happiness is an intense read. Legrand's prose pulls the reader in from the very first page and doesn't let go. I did not want to put this book down. There were times I had to out of necessity but I found my thoughts consumed by Finley and her world while I was away from it. This is a book where the character relationships are far more important than the plot (though the plot is important and fabulous too). Books like this are my favorite especially when the relationships develop organically. The book begins with Finley feeling abandoned and alone. She is scared and confused. Her world has become very small and it is almost claustrophobic. With each new human connection Finley makes both she and her world start to open up. The relationships with each of the family members is incredibly well done. Finley's adventures with her cousins closest in age to her are wonderful. Finley's growing closeness to her grandfather and the truly heartbreaking roadblocks that spring up in that is beautiful. Finley's relationship with Jack Bailey, a neighbor boy the Hart grandchildren are not allowed to associate with, is about as perfect a friend/crush relationship in a MG as I've seen. But my favorite is Finley's relationship with her teenage cousin Avery. Avery and Finley are incredibly similar and I adored what they did for each other. Finley's growing relationship with her grandmother is complicated and fraught. The strength of all of them is how realistically messy they all are. A major theme in this book is family love and bonds. The way those supersede a lot of awful aspects of people's personalities and pasts.

The story of the book is Finley's journey mirrored by the story of the orphan queen of the Everwood in Finley's stories. There is a mystery and secrets. Legrand hands the pieces of the main puzzle to the reader one piece at a time until the story culminates in a huge reveal. The reveal itself is not powerful in its shock value, but its emotional payoff. The way it makes all the complicated messy relationships and the darkness in Finley's mind come together in a beautiful hard cathartic moment. But nothing is ever as easy as that and there is fallout and problems still to be faced. The story of the dark secret in the mystery mirrors Finley's personal secret-the depression and anxiety she is fighting but can not control. The way Legrand built these two threads parallel to each other and then wove them together is noting short of genius.

Some Kind of Happiness is not a book that is going to hold universal appeal for all readers, though it does have a little something for everyone. It does add something to MG we don't have-an amazing in depth heartfelt look at childhood depression. I hesitate to say that because I'm afraid people will immediately think that dealing with depression equates with depressing. That couldn't be further from the case. There is hope, joy, humor and every human emotion imaginable in this book. It is LIFE and it is beautiful.

I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. Some Kind of Happiness is on sale May 17th.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Summer Days & Summer Nights

I throughly enjoyed My True Love Gave to Me, I have a thing for romance and holidays. When I found out that there was going to be a summer collection to accompany it, I was so excited. I was grateful to have an ARC as it was easy to pick up and put down in the busy week I was moving. I didn't enjoy Summer Days & Summer Nights as much as the holiday story collection. I expected it to be lighter and fluffier. (Look at the cover! Doesn't that cover scream fun, light, happy.  The cover vibe does not match vibe of many of the stories.)

"Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail" by Leigh Bardugo*
This is a lovely romantic tale where the real world meets the fantastical. It is a marvelous way to start the book. If the entire book had continued like this story, I would have enjoyed it far more. This is a story about the disconnect between summer and the school year. It's about late afternoon ice cream cones, sticky bike rides, lazy days beside a lake, and the mystery of a summer boy. This story made me want to try more of Bardugo's writing. (I wasn't a huge fan of her first novel, but may give her newer stuff a go.)

"The End of Love" by Nina Lacour
My initial reaction to this story was that it's not as strong as the one that comes before it and it was sort of boring. Having read the rest of the book, I still find it sort of boring but it actually stands out as one of the stories I liked more, which I wasn't expecting. The main character is taking a summer school class she doesn't need just to get out of the house as her parents divide up everything for their divorce. She reconnects with a group she knew as a freshman and an old crush she has rekindles. I liked how the friendship element in this story a lot. It was a stand out in that respect from the rest of the book.

"Last Stand at the Cinegore" by Libba Bray*
Kevin is working the last night the Cinegore, a horror film venue, will be open. He's working with his best friend and long time crush both of who will be moving on to college at the end of the summer and leaving him behind. Things take a turn for the macabre when the horror on the screen doesn't stay there and Kevin must be a hero in more than just his own mind. I LOVED this story. The characters were great and it was incredibly funny.

"Sick Pleasure" by Francesca Lia Block
This story is where things began to fall apart for me. First I was incredibly annoyed by the narrator's use of first initials for everyone and not actual names. I think this is meant to give it a sense of realism (protecting the innocent and all that). Heck, it's possible it IS a real story in the life of the author. What I know is that the characters didn't do much for me and I found it to be incredibly bleak. I really don't know what this story is even doing here. Some of the other stories have darker elements sure, but this isn't dark so much as lifeless.

"In Ninety Minutes, Turn North" by Stephanie Perkins
This is actually a sequel to the story Perkins included in the holiday collection. (Note: I REALLY liked that story.) Coming of the depression of the previous story and into this one, my mood was definitely not in a good place to be confronted with the problem facing Marigold. I was just annoyed. I was annoyed through the whole thing even when it ended well. Story placement is so important in a collection like this. The funk the Block story left me in tainted my entire reading of this.

"Souvenires" by Tim Federle
This chronicles the last day in a relationship between the protagonist and his summer boyfriend. It is their break-up day story-a day the agreed upon to say good bye as the summer ended. I enjoyed the realistic outlook of this story that didn't diminish the power of the feelings of the boys as they were happening. The inevitability of summer romance is that most end. Fedele manage to convey both the power of those summer feelings with this reality and stuck the ending perfectly.

"Inertia' by Veronica Roth
So, Much. Angst. That is going to be perfect for some. (Probably not the people reading this book, because a person looking for angst is not going to pick up this book with that cover.) I wasn't reading this for angst thought and this was the fourth story in a row stock full of it. My annoyance level at this point was skyrocketing. This takes place in an alternate reality where as you are dying you can have a connection through brain waves (or something) with people of your choosing while you are in the process of being operated on but the doctors don't think you'll make it. Yeah. While the ending is happy, my annoyance for most of the story didn't let me enjoy it. I was promised sunshine and brightness!!!! Where did it go????

"Love is the Last Resort" by Jon Skovron*
This is cute. This is exactly what I had in mind. It is a comedy in the same style as Oscar Wilde's plays: lively banter, people getting schooled, plots and schemes abound. It was so much fun. There is a huge disconnect between the form of the narrative and the modern setting, but I was willing to overlook that flaw because I finally had fun and sunshine and laughs.

"Good Luck and Farewell" by Brandy Colbert*
I admit there's a fair amount of angst in this too, but it was balanced by a hot guy and a truly fun summer night romantic connection. I love the way Colbert describes and portrays Chicago in this and how her prose made me feel the heat and sadness the main character was feeling. Overall this story was just a better balance of angst and hope than that long line of depressing stories earlier in the collection. And I just love how Colbert writes anyway.

"Brand New Attraction" by Cassandra Clare
This story is bizarre and kind of lame. Like Bray's story, it deals with the supernatural in the real world, but it takes itself waaaaay to seriously. Bray made her combination of the scary horror and darker forces work with her humor. Clare's story doesn't have any humor so the mix of the supernatural, romance, and horror doesn't work at all. As a result I was more bored than anything. That combined with the awkwardness of Clare's prose made this almost painful to read.

"A Thousand Ways This Could All Go Wrong" by Jennifer E. Smith*
This was a warm breath of summer air. It was cute yet serious in some places. I think Smith did a really fantastic job of portraying a character on the spectrum and making them a swoony romantic lead.

"The Map of Perfect Tiny Things"* by Lev Grossman
And we're back with the angst. And death. And tears. The premise is the same as Groundhog Day but minus all the fun.

*My Favorites

It's been a while since I've seen a cover so spectacularly fail at communicating what a book actually contains. Know if you are picking this up for a fun light beach read, you may want to rethink and save it for a rainy dreary day where your stuck inside. That way your mood when you finish most of the stories will match your surroundings.

I received an ARC from the publisher, St. Martin's Griffin, via Edelweiss. Summer Days & Summer Nights is on sale May 17th.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

WoW: Rose & Thorn

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

After the spell protecting her is destroyed, Rose seeks safety in the world outside the valley she had called home. She’s been kept hidden all her life to delay the three curses she was born with—curses that will put her into her own fairy tale and a century-long slumber. Accompanied by the handsome and mysterious Watcher, Griff, and his witty and warmhearted partner, Quirk, Rose tries to escape from the ties that bind her to her story. But will the path they take lead them to freedom, or will it bring them straight into the fairy tale they are trying to avoid?

Set in the world of Sarah Prineas’s Ash & Bramble fifty years later, Rose & Thorn is a powerful retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty tale where the characters fight to find their own Happy Ever After.

I loved last year's Ash & Bramble.  I have several Sleeping Beauty retellings that I am fond of, but none that is a favorite. I'm hoping Rose & Thorn changes that. I am excited to see what Prineas does with the fascinating world she created fifty years later. September 13th can't get here fast enough!