Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction

A touching tribute to the fallen and those who stand guard: Twenty-One Steps

Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, by Jeff Gottesfeld/Illustrated by Matt Tavares, (March 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536201482

Ages 7-10

Told in the quiet, poetic voice of the Unknown Soldier, Twenty-One Steps is the story of the Unknown Soldier and of the soldiers who guard the Tomb through sun and rain. It is the most difficult post to earn, and the highest privilege for those who do. Every bit of each soldier’s appearance, every step they take, is in service to the Unknown Soldier. Jeff Gottesfeld and Matt Tavares create a moving tribute to the soldiers who have paid the ultimate price, and those who guard them in this flawless work. An afterword about Arlington National Cemetery concludes the book. The first soldier, a World War I veteran, was interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 100 years ago this coming November; make sure to have this in your collections.

Twenty-One Steps has starred reviews from The Horn Book and Kirkus.

Posted in picture books

An unexpected nature preserve crops up in the DMZ

When Spring Comes to the DMZ, by Uk-Bae Lee, (March 2019, Plough Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9780874869729

Ages 4-8

Established in 1953, The DMZ – the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea – has, over time, become a nature preserve, with plants and animals living and thriving amid the razor wire, soldiers, and military machines. When the Spring Comes to the DMZ introduces readers to the DMZ throughout the seasons, illustrating how wildlife lives almost effortlessly – razor wire ever-present in the background, husks of man-made machinery now home to animal families – and through the eyes of a boy and his grandfather, who visit the DMZ so grandfather can look out at his former home with bittersweet longing. It’s a reaffirmation that life goes on for some, but for others, that life is painfully halted in place, while years pass.

The artwork is beautifully subdued, with soft greens and browns dominating the pages. The story is told in simple, sweet, almost heartbreaking statements: “When spring comes to the DMZ, green shoots spring up in the meadows./But you cannot go there because the razor wire fence is blocking the way”. This spread, viewed as through a telescope, puts us in grandfather’s place, and communicates some of the heartache he must feel; having home be so close, yet unreachable.

When Spring Comes to the DMZ is a book that works for social studies and current events read-alouds, and would pair nicely with similar books about refugees and immigrants, including Anne Sibley O’Brien’s Someone New and I’m New Here and Bao Phi’s A Different Pond. Reading When Spring Comes to the DMZ alongside Nicola Davies’ When War Came allows for a discussion about the aftermath of war; while DMZ doesn’t mention the Korean War in the story itself, the back matter fills in necessary information, along with an exhortation for peace. There is little in print for children about the North Korea and the DMZ, making this an important book to include in social studies and current events collections.

When Spring Comes to the DMZ has a starred review from Kirkus. Shelf Awareness has a wonderfully detailed review.

 

Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

February Graphic Novels bring big feelings

PTSD, by Guillaume Singelin, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626723184

Ages 16+

A veteran home from an unpopular war, Jun is an outsider whose fate is similar to many of our own vets in the here and now. She’s mentally and physically broken, finding relief in the drugs she’s addicted to. When she connects with a single mom running a food booth, and a fellow vet and his dog, Red, Jun begins to heal and works toward helping her fellow vets heal.

Set in a fictional, Hong Kong-inspired city, PTSD chooses a gritty, urban futuristic landscape to tell the story of a veteran who went off to fight a war, and came home to indifference. Jun gives us a chance to glimpse into a vet’s psyche: beaten down, haunted by her memories, and physically broken, she’s been left behind by the people she thought she went off to defend. She’s angry, she’s in pain, and the only thing that seems to take the edge off is drugs. Basic human kindness angers her – she initially rebuffs the woman who runs a food stand, because she’s so unused to humane gestures. Readers will see our vets reflected in Jun and her fellow homeless vets.

The story is strong, although I struggled with the artwork. The manga-inspired artwork is dark and often muddy. It’s atmospheric, but often left me struggling to figure out what was going on and where. Manga fans will snap this up, and booktalk this with books like Elizabeth Partridge’s National Book Award nominee, Boots on the Ground. This is a young adult and up-level graphic novel with language and content that may be too rough for middle grade readers.

Bloom, by Kevin Panetta/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781250196910
Ages 13+

This YA/New Adult graphic novel is a gentle love story. High school is over, and Ari can’t wait to move out of his hometown. He and his bandmates are planning on a big move to the city, where they can get more gigs and make their names – now, all Ari needs to do, is convince his dad to let him quit his job at the family bakery. At the same time, Hector comes to town to wrap up his deceased grandmother’s affairs and sell her house. He loves to bake as much as Ari is sick of it, and he ends up being the perfect replacement for the struggling bakery: even Ari’s dad loves Hector! But as Ari works side by side with Hector, getting him up to speed on the bakery, the two fall in love… until disaster hits, in more ways than one. Can Ari’s family recover when their business and home burns to the ground, and can Hector and Ari ever work out their relationship?

Created with soft blue and white artwork, Bloom is a sweet story of first love, identity, and independence. Ari can come off as pretty whiny, but his friends are even worse. Hector is the strong, silent type that pulls Ari out of himself and helps him discover who he is – and that he doesn’t need his friends in order to give him an identity. Bloom also explores consequences: Ari has to make big choices in this book, and not every choice is going to be the best one for him. It’s part of growing up, and growing up can be painful. It’s how you work through it that matters. Bloom is a good add to your YA/New Adult graphic novel collections and a love story that will give readers the warm fuzzies.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Fablehaven Fans! The Dragon King will see you now.

The Wrath of the Dragon King (Dragonwatch #2), by Brandon Mull, (Oct. 2018, Shadow Mountain Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781629724867

Ages 8-12

If you’re a fantasy fan like I am, the first Dragonwatch book left you yelling at the pages, demanding more. That moment has arrived. Wrath of the Dragon King wastes no time in throwing readers right into the action, as Celebrant, King of Dragons, puts a terrible plan into motion that will put Seth and Kendra’s lives at risk. Celebrant first invites the siblings to his palace, insinuating that it would be an insult if they didn’t attend. Once they arrive, he declares war on Kendra and Seth, and anyone who supports them. Their griffin mounts are slaughtered, and they’re left to find their way back to Blackwell Keep alone in a land full of divided loyalties. Meanwhile, cousins Knox and Tessa have stayed behind, but are figuring things out pretty quickly and want to be where the action is – especially when a murderer is suspected among them. The two cousins discover the secret way to travel between preserves and head off in search of Kendra and Seth.

There’s more action, more battle, and more intrigue than ever in Wrath of the Dragon King. The stakes are high, and there are new players in the story, the most intriguing of which seems to be Ronodin, a Dark Unicorn that toys with his alliances and has his own agenda. I am thoroughly enjoying this series; it’s a more intense pace and story than the Fablehaven books, allowing readers to grow with the series. The Dragonwatch books can stand on their own, but reading them in order is suggested – most of Wrath of the Dragon King won’t work for readers who haven’t read Dragonwatch.

In short, Wrath of the Dragon King is nonstop fantasy, perfect for your dragon-loving fantasy, sword and sorcery, and magic-loving readers. Author Brandon Mull has an excerpt on his webpage, plus Dragonwatch downloadables that you can use to introduce the series to your readers. I’m already thinking of how to incorporate some of the happenings from Wrath of the Dragon King into my summer reading programming for next year.

Posted in Intermediate, picture books

The Day War Came, by Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb

The Day War Came, by Nicola Davies/Illustrated by Rebecca Cobb, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201734

Ages 6-9

A brown-skinned girl with black hair has breakfast with her parents and baby brother, sits at her desk at school, singing songs about tadpoles and learning about volcanoes, when war comes to her world. In an instant, everything she knows, everything she loves, is gone. She begins an arduous journey on foot, by truck, by bus, and by boat to a strange, new place; searching for a place where war can’t reach, she only encounters closed doors and hard faces. Even a school turns her away, telling her there are no chairs for her. As she loses hope, a boy finds her and brings her a chair so that she can come to school; his friends have brought chairs, too, so all children can come to school. Together, the children provide support for our protagonist, “pushing back the war with every step”.

This book is heartbreaking. The artwork, so childlike in itself, makes it even more powerful: the hunched over girl at her desk, braids blown back and artwork flying off her desk as the giant gray-black cloud envelops the facing page; the girl on her knees at the rubble of her home; the girl huddled under a blanket in an empty hut, turned away from a school for want of a chair. the our realization that she is the only survivor of that happy family eating breakfast together is almost too much to take. The pencil and watercolor art is stunning, using grays and blacks to communicate the horror. Orange flames compete with orange flowers in a destroyed city landscape. And the quiet gift from one child to another brings with it new color: green seats, red seats, blue and white striped seats. Color becomes hope.

The Day War Came is a poem Nicola Davies wrote after reading about a refugee child denied entry to a school because there was no chair for her. This gave birth to the #3000chairs movement, where thousands of people posted photos of empty chairs in solidarity with these children who had lost everything, including a chance at education. Nicola Davies’ poem is eloquent, heartbreaking, and ultimately, hopeful. Writing in the child’s voice brings home the impact of war on children.

She never names the child, nor does she name the child’s country of origin. The child is any refugee child from any number of countries where children are forced out of childhood far too soon. As the author says in her 3000 Chairs blog post, “In an ideal world there wouldn’t be children without parents. In an ideal world hospitals wouldn’t be bombed because they looked a bit like something else. In an ideal world everything would be sweet and smooth and we could all afford to be as selfish as we liked and it wouldn’t matter.”

An important addition to all collections. The Day War Came has a starred review from Booklist. There is a downloadable free discussion guide available through the publisher.

Posted in History, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Voices of the Second World War connects generations

Voices From the Second World War: Stories of War as Told to Children of Today, by Candlewick Press, (March 2018, Candlewick Press), $24.99, ISBN: 9780763694920

Recommended for readers 10+

As generations grow farther and farther from World War 2, we live in danger of losing the stories of those who lived through the conflict. Voices From the Second World War collects the stories of veterans and citizens alike into one volume, but what sets this book apart from other first-person anecdotes and memories is the bridge that Voices builds: the stories are told to children from this generation; family members and students alike. Originally published in Britain, Voices began as an initiative by the British Children’s newspaper, First News, where they published these collected accounts. There are accounts from military men and women, including the Enola Gay’s navigator, telling the story of how he dropped the bomb on Hiroshima; and there are stories from civilians who endured the conflict, like the 8-year-old boy who survived that bombing, lost his mother and baby sister, and saw his father and surviving sisters die from radiation poisoning. There are stories from concentration camp survivors and German citizens who lived in fear of the Russian troops coming in after the Allied forces left. Vintage photos run throughout the book, and an index and glossary make this a necessary reference for history readers and collections.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Non-Fiction

Children in Our World addresses racism, intolerance, and global conflict

Barron’s Educational’s Children in Our World series continues with the release of two more books: Racism and Intolerance and Global Conflict.

Racism & Intolerance (Children of the World), by Louise Spilsbury/Hanane Kai,
(Feb. 2018, Barron’s Educational), $9.99, ISBN: 9781438050225
Recommended for readers 6-10

As with the previous titles, Refugees and Migrants (2017) and Poverty and Hunger (2017), these titles provide smart, open social commentary on issues that face our kids every day, in a manner that’s factual, sensitive, and empowering. Illustrations provide examples of everyday intolerance, from someone refusing to provide a bouncy ball to a Jewish child to a group of people who refuse to give up their seats on a bus – or their bags’ seats – for an elderly woman with a cane. Global Conflict explores the reasons for conflict, and the violent ways that conflict can manifest: terrorism and war.

Global Conflict (Children of the World), by Louise Spilsbury/Hanane Kai,
(Feb. 2018, Barron’s Educational), $9.99, ISBN: 9781438050218
Recommended for readers 6-10

Each book also describes the aid efforts of individuals and charities who step into help others, and soothes children who may be afraid of what they see going on around them by encouraging them to talk to a grownup about their fears. Author Louise Spilsbury offers ways that children can help elevate the dialogue: by understanding one another, and by offering ways to help, whether it’s taking part in a bake sale fundraiser for charity or by writing letters to elected officials. There are additional books and resources for readers, caregivers, parents, and educators who want to learn more, glossaries of terms used, and indexes.

Hanane Kai’s artwork creates soft, muted pictures showing individuals working together to create understanding and, in turn, a better world for all.

Originally published in the UK in 2016 and 2017, these books – paired with the first two in the series – contribute to a strong current events shelf for elementary-age students, and a nice addition to collections for burgeoning activists. Add books like Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist and Counting on Community, and Maribeth Boelt’s Those Shoes and A Bike Like Sergio’s for a strong social commentary collection.

Posted in Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Children of Exile series heats up with Children of Refuge

Children of Refuge (Children of Exile #2), by Margaret Peterson Haddix, (Sept. 2017, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1442450066

Recommended for readers 10-14

The second book in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s new series, Children of Exile, is told from Edwy’s point of view. He’s Rosi’s friend and a fellow Fredtown refugee; brought home with the rest of the children and smuggled by his crime lord father into Refuge City to stay with his brother and sister while the violence in his hometown, the Cursed Town, settles down. His brother, Enu, and sister, Kiandra, have no interest in him: have no interest in anything other than the money their father keeps sending, so they can live as they please. Edwy tries to acclimate to life in Refuge City, but can’t get Rosi out of his mind. And when he discovers that Rosi – still stuck in Cursed Town – is in serious danger, he knows he has to act, and that he needs help from his siblings to save Rosi.

I loved Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children series; Children of Exile is every bit as compelling. I was drawn to the series by one of my library kids, who asked for Children of Exile shortly after it arrived at my library, and proceeded to tell me how amazing he heard it was from a friend. Haddix does middle grade dystopia well. She makes her societies uncomfortably believable, taking a hard look at current events and applying them to a darker future. Here, she explores race and war; a society so war-torn that an alien society intervenes, and the consequences.

If you haven’t read Children of Exile, I highly recommend it, but you can step into the world with Children of Refuge; it’s a different character’s story, and there is enough exposition to fill you in. With the Shadow Children series still showing up on reading lists, this is a good time to booktalk a new series by the same author. Make a great dystopian middle grade display with The City of Ember series, Lois Lowry’s The Giver books, and Marcus Sedgwick’s Floodland.

 

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Night Garden puts a little spark of magic into WWII-era Canada

The Night Garden, by Polly Horvath, (Sept. 2017, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374304522

Recommended for readers 9-13

Franny Whitekraft lives with her adoptive parents, Sina and Old Tom, on Vancouver Island while World War II rages overseas. They live a pretty quiet life until their neighbor, Crying Alice, shows up – crying – and asks to leave her three children with them while she goes to stop her mechanic husband, Fixing Bob – stationed at a military base – from doing something dumb. Zebediah, one of the children, knows what it is, but he’s not talking, and he’s not sharing the letters he gets from their father with his brother and sister, Wilfred and Winifred. Things take a sharp turn when Fixing Bob puts his plan into action, and The Night Garden seems to be everyone’s only hope in making things right. Can a garden really grant wishes? Franny and her friends are about to find out.

The Night Garden didn’t really come together for me. There are several plotlines that kind of wander in and out of the book, like Sina’s witnessing a UFO. Narrated in the first person by Franny, there’s humor throughout the novel, but overall, the story took a little too long to get there and meandering plots may keep some readers from fully committing to the book. I enjoyed the sense of humor that kept the book moving, and the characters, on their own, were a fun bunch that I enjoyed my time with. An additional purchase for collections where you have devoted magical realism readers.

Polly Horvath is the Newbery Honor and National Book Award winning-author of Everything on a Waffle. Her author website offers more information about her books, awards, and news.

 

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Lost Boys chronicles the Iran-Iraq War through a boy soldier’s eyes

Lost Boys, by Darcey Rosenblatt, (Aug. 2017, Henry Holt & Co), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627797580

Recommended for readers 9-14

Twelve year-old Reza is a musical prodigy living in 1982 Iran. He lives with his widowed, fundamentalist mother, and craves visits from his Uncle Habib; a member of the resistance, he also encourages Reza’s love of music by slipping him cassettes of artists from Stevie Wonder to Thelonious Monk. His mother pushes him to join the war effort, telling him she would be proud to have her son die in service of Allah. Reza wants nothing to do with the conflict, but when his uncle is killed and his best friend, Ebi, signs up to serve, Reza feels he has nothing left without his best friend, and signs on. He and Ebi receive their “keys to heaven” – plastic keys that serve as symbols that they will achieve paradise when they die in service to Iran and the Ayatollah – and are sent into battle. War is not the glorious battle that Ebi dreamed about; it’s not full of exciting moments like he and Reza have seen in the movies. The boys are fodder for the minefields – tied together and sent into battle to clear the way for older troops. Reza is injured and sent to a prisoner of war camp, where he meets other boys his age and desperately tries to learn Ebi’s fate as he endures abuse at the hands of a sadistic prison guard.

I couldn’t put Lost Boys down, choosing instead to disregard my normal sleep schedule until I finished the last page. Reza is a heart-achingly real character based on far too many child soldiers. He and his classmates are promised glory and fed lies; in the end, all he lives for is the hope that he’ll be reunited with his best friend and live to enjoy music again. Set in 1982, the story is more relevant now than ever, as children are still pressed into service all over the world. Booktalk Lost Boys with Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis for tween and teen readers; booktalk with Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine to illustrate the worldwide epidemic of using children as combatants. This article from Global Citizen shines a light on seven countries that still use child soldiers, and what we can do to help stand against the practice.

Lost Boys is an important book that sparks outrage and empathy, and is a must-add for collections. I’d love to see this on next summer’s reading lists.