I'm planning a change to the ol' blog. Instead of having individual reviews for each book I read, I'm going to group them together in "Recent Reads Roundup." So, onward we go!
The Romeo and Juliet Code
Oh, THAT COVER. It's received quite a bit of talk in the blogosphere and on Goodreads. Looks like a light little YA summer romance book, eh? Wrongo. It's a mystery-ish novel set in Maine during World War II. Surprise!
But to paraphrase Marc Antony (not the singer; he's an Anthony), I come to praise The Romeo and Juliet Code, not to trash the cover. Covers can be changed. Let's deal with the story.
For it is a lovely story. It's very much a homage to The Secret Garden. There's a little bedridden (sort of) boy, a young girl sent to live with her mysterious uncle, etc. There's spy intrigue (well, that part not so much a homage), humor, and NO CUDDLING ON A BLANKET (sorry....that cover!).
There's also a huge reveal that I figured out fairly quickly, and kept waiting for it to surface. If I have one criticism, it's that Felicity deals with this reveal awfully, awfully well.
Warning: This is an emotionally difficult read. A worthwhile read, but an emotionally difficult read. Nothing Frances does is ever good enough for her mother. If she gets an A-, her mother scolds for not getting an A+. Her SAT scores aren't good enough. If she wants to get into the Ivy League or Berkeley, she needs to take calculus.
A scheduling mixup lands Frances in speech class instead of calculus; finding that she enjoys the class, she joins the speech team. Knowing that her mother would never approve, she keeps her speech activities a secret for as long as possible.
Frances's mother is a hard, mean, and occasionally abusive mother. There's no huge happy ending here, even though Frances manages to find freedom. It's an intriguing read, but a depressing read.
Ella is the only African-American girl in her suburban Las Vegas high school. Cruely called "Camo Girl" due to her vitiligo and distant from her best friend from elementary school, Ella's main friendship is with Zachariah, who usually lives in his own little fantasy world. Everything changes when Bailey James comes to town; Bailey is also African-American, but he's charismatic and instantly popular. Moreover, he forms a friendship with Ella, which complicates her friendship with Zachariah.
This is an outstanding read; it's emotionally difficult at times, but there's humor and hope as well. Kekla Magoon understands high school culture very well (do you go with the popular crowd or not?); many teens will be able to identify with Ella, regardless of their background.
Honda: The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars
This has been quietly popular among patrons, and I'm so pleased; biographies don't always circulate very quickly, yet this comes and goes fairly regularly. Young car enthusiasts enjoy this; it's also a story of persistence, perseverance, and good work.
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave
Dave the Potter is one of the 2011 Caldecott Honor books; it certainly deserves the honor. This gorgeously illustrated and beautifully written picture book tells the story of an enslaved potter named Dave. Dave often inscribed bits of poetry on his creations; his artistry and literacy made him unique among slaves, for most slaves often worked in the fields or in the house, and were illiterate. Appendages to the story include photographs of Dave's pottery and an essay further explaining what we know of his life. A stunning contribution to picture book biographies.
The Secret River
Aaaand here's my first pick for the 2012 Caldecott. Oh, this is SUBLIME. It is beautiful. And it is absolutely eligible for the Caldecott, even though it was first published in 1955 (the artwork is new). Calpurnia is worried about her family; it's the Depression, and times are hard. There's not much food, not much money, and not much catfish for her father to catch and sell. A secret river produces a magnitude of fish, but when Calpurnia returns a second time, she finds that it's not there anymore. This is a lovely story, both in words and illustrations, of family and hope. I love it, love it, love it.
Medikidz Explain Autism
I'm so happy I finally bit the bullet and ordered this; it's a kid-friendly and interesting way to explain autism. Each Medikidz specializes in a different part of the human body; together, they explain the situation at hand. In Medikidz Explain Autism, the Medikidz help a young girl understand her younger brother's autism. Happily, there are a ton of Medikidz titles; from depression, breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, even H1N1, the Medikidz have it covered.
Ballet for Martha
Ballet for Martha is one of the 2011 Sibert Honor books, and a brilliant choice at that! Ballet for Martha tells the creation of Martha Graham's most famous piece, Appalachian Spring, composed by Aaron Copeland. Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan briefly explain Graham's background and her unique choreography (which wasn't initially popular). As Graham explained to Copeland and her set designer, Isamu Noguchi, she wanted Appalachian Spring to be an homage to the American pioneers.
We see the strenuous rehearsals and the creative process of all three artists; finally, we see the ballet, which is set at a pioneer wedding. Brian Floca's illustrations perfectly capture the dancers' movements and each aspect of the ballet story. We also see a multicultural dance troupe performing the ballet, which is cool. Photographs and further explanation of the ballet and the creative team round out this fantastic nonfiction picture book. This has also circulated quite well in our libraries.
Do you love Youtube? I do. You can watch Martha Graham dance the part of the pioneer bride (she was 65 when this was filmed) in these clips: