Himawari House, by Harmony Becker, (Nov. 2021, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250235572
A glimpse into the lives of three exchange students living in Japan, Himawari House is about the friendships, frustrations, and adjustments that come with living in a new country: in this case, Japan. Nao, Hyejung, and Tina all move into Himawari House and attend the same Japanese school, but have different reasons for being there. Nao wants to reconnect to her Japanese heritage and worries about fitting in with Japanese culture. “Too Japanese” for her American life and “Too American” to Japanese classmates, she struggles with cultural identity. Hyejung, is Korean and moved to Japan to escape her overbearing parents and their unrelenting focus on her academic success. Tina is from Singapore and struggles with connection, preferring to lose herself in fandom. Although Nao’s story is the main driver, Hyejung and Tina have fully realized, moving backstories, all explored here, along with their roommates, two Japanese brothers with widely differing personalities. The group all come together and live here at Himawari House, and the story is a slice of life look into a year in their lives, as they all live and work side-by-side, eat, fall in and out of love, go to school, and talk late into the night. The language barriers are expertly illustrated here – largely bilingual, Japanese characters appear in many word bubbles; the dialogue has a blend of English, Japanese, Korean, and Singlish (the English Creole spoken in Singapore), with a brilliant explanation of the use of accents in the story at the end. Black and white artwork is largely realistic, with Chibi renderings to communicate extreme emotion. It’s a well-done character study and will be popular with teens and young adults.
Himawari House has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal.
Two blog tours in one day, you ask? YES! That’s whatcha get when a cranky summer storm wrecks your Internet for a day. But look – a new Kathi Appelt book is always cause for celebration, especially one as good as…
Once Upon a Camel, by Kathi Appelt/Illustrated by Eric Rohmann,
(September 2021, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534406438
Newbery Honoree and National Book Award Finalist Kathi Appelt delivers an heir apparent to Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan
(2015) and Sara Pennypacker’s Pax
(2016). Set in Texas 1910 Texas, an aging camel named Zada has a life lived: she’s won camel races in Turkey for a high-ranking Turkish officer; she’s felt like she was flying across the fields and led army missions with her best friend, Asiye; she’s outsmarted lions and befriended birds. Now, protecting two baby kestrel chicks during a sandstorm, she keeps them entertained in an escarpment as she reflects on her life and hopes that she’ll find the chicks’ parents when the storm breaks… and before the lion returns. It’s an adventure with a heart as big as the desert, and with moments that will have readers enchanted and white-knuckled. Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann’s gorgeous oil painting, rendered here in blacks, greys, and whites, show sweeping sea voyages and cuddly camels and chicks; thrilling escapes and affectionate moments that give texture and life to Kathi Appelt’s sweet, funny, and bittersweet words. Once Upon a Camel
is a gentle story of found family and survival, separation, and reunion. Animal fiction fans and fans of Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate will love this story.
If you don’t trust me, trust Richard the Camel, seen here with author Kathi Appelt during what appears to be an impromptu storytime. Look at Richard’s smile! He’s a member of the Texas Camel Corps
– maybe a descendant of Zada’s?
Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award Finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swap. Some of her award-winning books include Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and Max Attacks, to name just a few. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, visit her website at Kathi Appelt.com.
The Accursed Vampire, by Madeline McGrane, (July 2021, Harper Alley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062954343
Dragoslava is a vampire kid who works for the mean witch who cursed him ages ago. The witch wants her stolen grimoire back, so she dispatches Dragoslava and their two friends, Quintus and Eztli, to a town called Baneberry Falls, where the kids discover life in a small Michigan town around Halloween, and befriend Ayesha, the witch who has the grimoire in her possession – and her vampire partner, Sara. Posing as travelers interested in learning magic, Dragoslava wants to gain their trust and grab the book, but Quintus and Eztli are enjoying their new surroundings and suggest that maybe Dragoslava cut ties with the witch making their life miserable? The book, however, is too powerful to be contained, and there’s another being in Baneberry Falls keeping an eye on Dragoslava and their friends. A fun story with a few thrills and lots of adventure and humor, The Accursed Vampire will appeal to readers who like their spooky books on the funny side. It’s a story about found family and learning to stand up for oneself, with a diverse cast: Dragoslava is nonbinary, referred to with “they/them” pronouns; Quintus is a male child of color, from vampire society; Eztli is a Latinx female, likely from Mesoamerican mythology: the bird feet bring to mind the feathered serpent, quetzalcoatl, and the name Eztli originates from the Aztec word for “blood”.
The Accursed Vampire has a starred review from School Library Journal. Find more of Madeline McGrane’s artwork (and more Dragoslava!) at her website.