Poignant Intros to Immigration and Transgender Issues | SLJ Sneak Peek

Jairo Buitrago’s spare picture book presents a gentle portrayal of a family’s struggles with immigration. Alex Gino’s middle grade novel sensitively depicts George’s desire to identify as a girl even though her family and friends see her as a boy. Check out these advance reviews and more in this sneak peek of titles reviewed in SLJ’s July 2015 issue.
Jairo Buitrago’s spare picture book presents a gentle portrayal of a family’s struggles with immigration. Alex Gino’s middle grade novel sensitively depicts George’s desire to identify as a girl even though her family and friends see her as a boy. SLJ's review editors selected a small handful of excellent and buzz-worthy titles to highlight in advance—you'll find these titles and many more reviewed in our upcoming July 2015 issue.

Picture Books

two white rabbitsredstarBuitrago, Jairo. Two White Rabbits. tr. from Spanish by Elisa Amado. illus. by Rafael Yockteng. 32p. ebook available. Groundwood. Oct. 2015. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781554987412.

K-Gr 3 –A young girl and her father face challenges together as they move from place to place. They travel by foot and by train and are happy to catch a ride with passersby when they can. Sometimes their journey is delayed (or derailed) when they must stop because of soldiers or if father has to earn more money to continue along their way. Told entirely through the sensibility of the child, the narration informs readers that “the people who are taking us don’t always take us where we are going.” The young girl passes the time by counting the interesting items she sees such as animals, people, clouds, and stars. She is very curious about where they are headed, but never receives an answer to her query. Yet, she is content because she has her daddy and her two white rabbits. This simple, yet poignant picture book beautifully illustrates the life of one migrating family. Set in Central America or Mexico, it shows the arduous journey north to the United States in search of a better life. This book is a great tool for introducing immigration, and can be appreciated on many levels. The digitally created illustrations are detailed and full of expression, telling a story of love, struggle, and determination. VERDICT An important and timely picture book for every library collection.–Amy Shepherd, St. Anne’s Episcopal School, Middleton, DE

lenny and lucy_redstarStead, Philip C. Lenny & Lucy. illus. by Erin E. Stead. 40p. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. Oct. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781596439320.

PreS-Gr 2 –Peter and his dog Harold are unhappy to find themselves on a journey with their dad through the dark woods on their way to a new home. Peter thinks the move is a terrible idea and if Harold weren’t a dog, even he would do something about it. However, the decision has been made and Peter strongly dislikes the ominous looking trees that sit waiting darkly across the wooden bridge by the new house. The woods could be filled with terrible creatures. That first night, Peter and Harold cannot sleep. The next day, Peter takes action by creating a watchman, Lenny, out of pillows and blankets to guard the bridge. This is better, but something is still not quite right. Lenny needs a friend. So Peter and Harold create Lucy and the four become fast friends, making the home by the woods not so bad after all. Then they welcome Millie, who lives next door and likes looking for owls. This timeless story of a boy using his imagination to cope with loss and acclimate to a new environment is sure to draw in readers of all ages. The text is wonderfully imaginative and the mysterious nature of the woods lends feelings of excitement and intrigue. The illustrations perfectly match the mood of the tale, with the backgrounds created in cold grayscale and the characters popping to life with warm oranges, greens, and blues. VERDICT A wonderfully creative story of resilience and friendship.–Amy Shepherd, St. Anne’s Episcopal School, Middleton, DE

Middle Grade

Fic-MiddleGr-Gino- GeorgeredstarGino, Alex. George. 240p. Scholastic. Sept. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545812542; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545812580.

Gr 4-6 –Before her mother and older brother Scott come home, George has a few, treasured moments to experience life as she’s always wanted to live it. She looks in the mirror and calls herself Melissa, combs her hair over her forehead to mimic the appearance of bangs, and reads glossy magazines full of ads for lipstick, perfume, and tampons. Once her mom and brother come home, however, the magazines must go back to their secret hiding place. While George has no doubt she’s a girl, her family relates to her as they always have: as a boy. George hopes that if she can secure the role of Charlotte in her class’s upcoming production of Charlotte’s Web, her mom will finally see her as a girl and be able to come to terms with the fact that George is transgender. With the help of her closest ally, Kelly, George attempts to get the rest of the world to accept her as she is. While children can have a sense of their gender identity as early as the age of three, children’s literature is shockingly bereft of trans* protagonists, especially where middle grade literature is concerned. George offers more than the novelty of an LGBTQ coming-out story, however. Here, what is most remarkable is the use of pronouns: While the world interacts with George as if she is a boy, the narrator only refers to her with female pronouns, which gives her girl-ness a stronger sense of validation. In addition, George comments on the fact that, in past years, gays and lesbians have achieved a certain amount of visibility and acceptance, while the trans* community is still largely ignored and misunderstood. George’s mother remarks that while she can handle having a gay child, she simply can’t accept her as “that kind of gay.” For George, as is the case for many LGBTQ youth, coming out is a process that she must repeat until she is properly recognized. There is pain in George, but not without the promise of a better tomorrow, even if tomorrow doesn’t arrive as soon as it should. VERDICT A required purchase for any collection that serves a middle grade population.–Ingrid Abrams, Brooklyn Public Library, NY

redstarHaydu, Corey Ann. Rules for Stealing Stars. 336p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Sept. Fic-MiddleGr-Haydu- Rules for Stealing Stars2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062352712.

Gr 4-7 –Silly’s family is in distress. Moving to their New Hampshire summer house, which was supposed to help, has only exacerbated her mother’s drinking problem. Silly’s father finds refuge in his academic study of fairy tales, leaving 11-year-old Silly and her three sisters to fend for themselves. Silly resents the fact that her siblings view her as the baby, and exclude her from the secrets they hide behind their bedroom doors. But the day their mother finally turns her wrath on Silly, the bedroom door cracks open and Astrid pulls Silly into the room to share their secret: the bedroom closet is a magic portal that allows the girls to escape to worlds of their creating. “We let the closet take care of us” Astrid explains, “and it always does.” Silly soon discovers other closets are magical as well, feeding what each girl needs. Not all the girls’ desires are benevolent, however, and as the summer wears on, the seductive alternative worlds begin to separate the sisters. Silly realizes the siren call of the closets may soon cause irreparable damage. Haydu masterfully portrays the stress of living with an alcoholic parent. While narrator Silly is most fully voiced, all four sisters are well developed and readers share their pain as they search to fill the void left by their mother, creating a pattern of ever-shifting alliances as they seek balance. But when one of the sisters gets trapped in a closet, the sisters must find the strength to break down doors, both literal and metaphorical. VERDICT A well-crafted blend of realism and fantasy. Give to fans of Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting By 7s (Dial, 2013) and Sarah Weeks’s So B It (Harper, 2004).–Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District, Lancaster, PA


state of graceBadger, Hilary. State of Grace. 352p. ebook available. Capstone/Switch. Jul. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781630790158.

Gr 10 Up –Wren lives in paradise, where every day is a perfect mix of swimming, relaxing, eating luscious fresh fruit, and hooking up with her latest love interest. There is no shame and body image is appreciated, with clothing being optional. Thanks to Dot, Wren’s Creator, Wren believes that her world is perfect, and has no negative feelings. However, the teen begins to see cracks in her Creation as she experiences visions and conjures up memories, words, and images. These visions cause her to feel confusion and intense guilt. They occur more frequently when she meets Dennis, a regular boy who enters into Dot’s Creation. Wren and her friends work together to keep Dennis hidden from others and to find out why he was sent, in the process finding out much more than they bargained for. Badger crafts a beautiful dystopian world in her YA debut. The author dives deep into the soul of a teenager, providing an up-close look at guilt, depression, and crime. Badger creates a thought-provoking work, complete with riveting suspense, a fast pace, and a touch of romance. The line between truth and reality is often blurred, leaving readers questioning themselves, the belief system they were raised in, and the power of choice and their own voice. This novel sheds light on realistic issues that impact teens. VERDICT An excellent addition to young adult collections.–Erin Holt, Williamson County Public Library, Franklin, TN

Kagawa, Julie. Rogue. 464p. (Talon: Bk. 2). ebook available. Harlequin Teen. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBNKagawa_Rogue 9780373211463.

Gr 8 Up –This modern-day fantasy picks up right where Talon (Harlequin Teen, 2014) left off. Ember must convince Cobalt to help her rescue Garrett from what she believes will be his certain death. These three unlikely allies find themselves running from Talon and St. George operatives and fighting for both their lives and those of others. Told from multiple perspectives, this narrative will give readers more insight about the mysterious rogue dragon Cobalt, and will have them connecting with Dante (Ember’s twin) as he rises through the ranks in the very organization Ember repudiates. With romance taking a backseat to action and character backstory, this is a sequel that will leave readers waiting impatiently for the third installment. VERDICT A worthwhile read for fans of Talon and Kagawa’s other action-packed and satisfying fantasies.–Stephanie DeVincentis, Downers Grove North High School, IL


NFic-MiddleHS-Montgomery-The Octopus ScientistsredstarMontgomery, Sy. The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk. photos by Keith Ellenbogen. 80p. (Scientists in the Field). bibliog. ebook available. index. HMH. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544232709.

Gr 6-9 –Searching for octopuses along the coast of Moorea in French Polynesia might sound like a dream assignment. However, these elusive mollusks are master of deceptive camouflage: boneless wonders that can ooze into impossibly small spaces and that tend to change their locations abruptly, leaving merely a tidy stack of emptied shells from past meals. Montgomery and Ellenbogen join psychologist Jennifer Mather and her team as they methodically explore Moorea’s fringing reefs, recording finds of octopus dens and middens on geographic grids, meeting octopods here and there that peer curiously from their hiding places. Interspersed with this logical, systematic investigation is a series of fascinating asides: discussions of the Centre de Researches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement de Polynésie Française, of the intelligence of these evasive creatures and their amazing capability to change the color and texture of their skin, and of the coral habitats they select as dwelling places. Through sharply crafted text, Montgomery shares her enthusiasm with readers, and Ellenbogen’s vibrant color photos allow a crystalline window into a very special environment. This glimpse into an alien world and mind combines biology and psychology: an exciting pairing. VERDICT Another enticing entry in a series devoted to highlighting enthusiastic scientists hard at work in the fields they love.–Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. The Call of the Osprey. photos by William Muñoz. 80p. (Scientists in theNFic-MiddleHS-Patent-The Call of the Osprey Field). bibliog. index. HMH. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544232686. LC 2014016090.

Gr 5-8 –Patent’s lucid prose and Muñoz’s clear color photos work together to document the efforts of the Montana Osprey Project, which studies the negative effects of toxic metals released into the environment during mining operations on these raptors. The book follows three scientists—Erick Greene, Heiko Langner, and Rob Domenech—as they study established pairs during the nesting season. They band osprey chicks, take blood samples and feather clippings for chemical analysis, fit birds with electronic transmitters to follow their wanderings, scoop silt from riverbeds to check for pollutants, and focus two webcams on osprey nests to check on parenting skills and chick development. The trio also talk with wildlife biology students and cooperate with locals who are fascinated by ospreys. Sidebars abound on a wide variety of topics, many pertaining to the ospreys: their biology, food, nesting behaviors, and migration patterns. Others include biographical background on the three scientists, an article on a young student and her experiments on fish in metal-contaminated waters, and information about the use of mercury in mining operations and the dangers that baling twine poses to nest building ospreys. An extensive author’s note describes Patent’s experience with some very far-flung pollution. VERDICT An exciting addition to a stellar series.–Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY

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