Ruby on the Outside is a middle-grade novel about Ruby, who struggles to make friends in part because she doesn’t want anyone to know about her mother, who’s been in prison since Ruby was five. The novel thoughtfully explores Ruby’s feelings about the separation from her mother and her confusion about who her mother is and who that makes her. Well-developed relationships with her aunt, who is raising her, and with a new friend, Margalit, add to the interest of the story. Having a parent in prison is a topic that isn’t written about enough in children’s literature, and Baskin honors the dignity of Ruby’s mother and other women in prison.
Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker reminded me of Clementine crossed with Dory Fantasmagory plus something special of its own, though I don’t think it’s quite so sure of itself yet as those series. Beatrice is the odd one out wherever she goes: she has her own unique way of looking at the world–literally. The plot covers familiar friendship territory: after summer vacation, Beatrice’s best friend, Lenny, shows up at school with a different look and a different look, and the two girls begin to grow apart. But Beatrice’s solution–to befriend everyone–is pleasing, and there is a lot of charm in the writing and especially in the illustrations.
After falling in love with Katie O’Neill’s Tea Dragon Society, I had to read her Princess Princess Ever After, another children’s/middle-grade graphic novel, and it’s also wonderful. Princess Amira has no interest in being a princess and marrying a prince: she wants to be the hero, adventuring and rescuing those in distress. She starts with Sadie, who has been locked in a tower by an evil queen. Sadie isn’t so sure she wants to be rescued or have adventures, but she and Amira develop a close friendship that turns to love. It’s a quick read with many good messages about kindness and responsibility and figuring out who you really are.
Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook was a slow read over the month of April to support the April poetry writing challenge. It’s wonderful. I don’t know if it helped me write better poetry, but it certainly helped me become a better reader of poetry. I copied so many lines in my notebook that I sometimes felt like I was just copying the whole book. She is opinionated and bold and teaches with a clear, easy style. An excellent companion to understanding poetry.
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix is a quick nonfiction read about Chef Roy Choi and his taco truck, which reinvented street food in L.A. I liked Jacqueline Briggs Martin’s bigger theme here: food is deeply rooted in family, culture, and love. And I really liked the decision to have graffiti artist Man One illustrate the book.
Margartia Engle provides a fictionalized verse picture book biography of Cervantes as a youth in Miguel’s Brave Knight. Cervantes had a difficult childhood with a father who constantly gambled the family’s money away and spent significant time in debtor’s prison. The stories the boy told himself about a brave knight, who would later become Don Quixote, provided an escape. I have embraced the fact that most of the classics I have not yet read in my life will go unread, but I do still plan to get to Don Quixote someday, and this short biography made me consider trying it sooner rather than later.
Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word is really clever: a book of poetry where each poem is created from the letters of just one word and plays with images or actions associated with that word. The poems are pretty good given their extreme limitations, and they will definitely inspire young writers to write their own.
Festival of Colors is a vibrant picture book celebrating Holi, an Indian festival and holiday, written for the youngest readers to enjoy. A welcome addition to my diverse picture books shelf.
Somehow I missed Snail & Worm, but I’ll be fixing that problem this week, because the sequel, Snail & Worm Again, is hilarious. I snickered and snorted my way through this one and just might forego my usual end-of-the-semester inspirational read-aloud to share this one as the last book of my Children’s Literature course.