Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014)


All night, every living thing competes
for a chance to be heard.
The crickets
and frogs call out.
Sometimes, there’s the soft
who-whoo of an owl lost
amid the pines.
Even the dogs won’t rest until
they’ve howled
at the moon.

But the crickets always win, long after
the frogs stop croaking
and the owl had found its way home.
Long after the dogs have lain down
losing the battle against sleep,
the crickets keep going
as though they know their song
is our lullaby.

BGDTo date, I consider this the most distinguished children’s book of the year. Woodson’s biography captures with lyricism and poignancy the delicate early years of her life as well as the environs of three different American locations – Columbus, OH, Greenville, SC, and New York City, NY – during the civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s.

It’s pacing is perfect, every word is essential, each character is vibrant and the perspective never wavers. I was entranced and delighted and moved throughout. Highly recommended.


Weasels by Elys Dolan (2014)

Weasels. What do you think they do all day? Eat nuts and berries? Frolic in the leaves? Lurk in the dark? … What they really do is plot world domination!

WeaselsI love this hilarious book about a group of weasels who plan to rule the world with the help of a big machine and a little white mouse. When their big machine breaks, various strategies are employed to fix it but some weasels have divergent ideas while others are easily distracted. Chaos ensues until one curious weasel solves the mystery. Brilliant.

Here is a clip from inside the book. As you can see, one little weasel’s attempt to improve the tense work atmosphere goes awry.WeaselsFire


Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin (2013)

When I first heard Gayle, I couldn’t tell if she was a bird or a girl. All I knew for sure was that the music she made wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard before. It was magic.
Even a kid like me could recognize that (p 1).

NightingaleLittle John first hears Gayle, an orphan being fostered by the town’s poor widow and her bully son, singing as he and his father are pruning pecan trees for the richest man in town. He finds her perched in a nest snug in the branches of a sycamore tree that abuts the Emperor’s property. Gayle, who reminds John of his deceased younger sister, becomes the catalyst to John’s much needed healing.

With an undercurrent of subtle magic that harkens to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Nightingale, this is an enchanting and thoroughly delightful story with deftly drawn characters and sparse, lyrical language. Highly recommended.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)

This is a book I’ve had on my to-be-read list for about 6 years, ever since I started working in a public library. It took a movie trailer to finally pick it up and, boy, am I glad I did! This gem is told through a series of letters written by Charlie and spanning his first year of high school. An observant introvert, Charlie is taken under wing by two free-spirited upperclassman, Sam and Patrick. Experiences are had, feelings are explored and drama ensues. It’s all very poignant and veracious and absorbing. It’s a quick read and I’m delighted that Chbosky has written and directed the movie adaptation. Charlie will be played by Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson, The Three Musketeers), Sam by Emma Watson (Harry Potter), and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin) will play Patrick. I’m very excited!


Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (2012)

The boy and girl glanced at each other and, because the adults were not paying close attention, they did not see the girl reach out to clasp the boy’s hand or the look that passed between them. The Duke would have recognized that look. He spent long years on the ravaged northern borders, where villages were constantly under siege and the peasants fought their battle with little aid from the King or anyone else. He had seen a woman, barefoot and unflinching in her doorway, face down a row of bayonets. He knew the look of a man defending his home with nothing but a rock in his hand (p 6-7).

The prologue, told in third person, grabbed me immediately. Two orphans, raised on a Duke’s estate with other orphans, form a close bond. One of them is special, gifted with a power that must be suppressed if the pair are to remain together. They enter adulthood in the army. When their unit is assigned a trip across the Fold, a barren, dark stretch of land separating their kingdom from the coast, they know it will be dangerous. It is inhabited by vicious, man-eating volcra who thrive in the Fold’s magical darkness. What happens next changes the course of their lives.

While the first person narrator occassional slips into the cliche and melodramatic (“The moment our lips met, I knew with pure and piercing certainty that I would have waited for him forever.” p 299) and I would have preferred a third person narrated story, this was a highly enjoyable story with enough plot twists and magical elements in a balanced world to keep me reading straight through. There’s certainly more to this world than what was revealed in this debut novel. I look forward to the next.


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Humans speak too much. They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say.

It took me some time to recognize all those human sounds, to weave words into things. But I was patient.

Patient is a useful way to be when you’re an ape.

Gorillas are as patient as stones. Humans, not so much (p 3).

Ivan is a mall/video arcade attraction. He and Stella (an elephant in the adjacent cage) and Bob (a free and wild little dog) are a little family, finding comfort from their dreary lives in each other. When Ruby, a baby elephant is purchased by Mack, their owner, Stella’s spirit breaks and she extracts a promise out of Ivan before she dies – get Ruby out.

With help from Julia, the custodian’s daughter, Ivan sets out to get Ruby placed in a Zoo, the “place where humans make amends” (p 166).

Through Ivan’s strong, clear narrative voice, Applegate crafts and straight-forward and highly readable animal rights novel. Intermittent pictures compliment the artistic theme. Ivan is an artist and it is through his pictures that he liberates Ruby and himself, though he doesn’t focus on his own fate. Bob is the spunky comic relief. A book that many children will enjoy.

It reminded me of Ishmael by Daniel Quinn… but for kids. It will poke at them and challenge their perception of themselves (as humans) and animals but in a very basic way. I’m including it in my Mock Newbery 2013 discussion.

Read other reviews: Fuze #8 Production, 100 Scoop Notes, Publisher’s Weekly, and Kirkus (starred)


The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (2011)


Some of us left weeping. And some of us left singing. One of us left with her hand held over her mouth and hysterically laughing. A few of us left drunk. Others of us left quietly, with our heads bowed, embarrassed and ashamed (p 105).

The Buddha in the Attic begins with boat full of Japanese women making their way to California to be wives. The husbands, misrepresented to their brides, await them at the docks. The white community never truly accepts them. Their meager wages and accomodations endured without complaint. The pride and self-respect exuded. The few who found easier lives, in brothels or with generous employers. In the end, all are forced to leave as World War II casts suspicion on anyone of Japanese decent living along the coast. By framing her sotry thus, Otsuka brings her readers fill circle.

With sparse and rythmic prose, Otsuka gives readers a glimpse into another time. In just a handful of words she conveys much, sets the tone, and hoks readers into continuing.

This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong (p 18).

One of my favorite books of 2011, I highly recommend it!

Library copy | August 23, 2011 | Alfred A. Knopf | ISBN 978-0307700001 | Adult | 144 pages | $22.00