The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Confession: I read The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart in May of 2019. I loved this book so much that I couldn’t think of how I could adequately do it justice in a blog post. To the point that I went through a freeze in writing any blog posts at all.

I still feel this way. So rather than share a synopsis, I want you to know this book has all the feels and moved me in a way no other novel has. Readers will find hope, despair, adventure, intense friendship, humor, community, and even a goat on a bus. Most of all, they will find love. Love for those we have lost and love for those we have now.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If it were up to me, I would cover it with every award sticker for which it is eligible. This middle grade novel is probably best for ages ten and up, and I do mean “and up” – this one is for readers of all ages.

The Bridge Home

Padma Venkatraman’s The Bridge Home is both beautiful and heartbreaking. This book confronts the difficult realities of poor, homeless children in India, much as Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water did for showing readers the lives of young people who don’t have access to clean water.

Main character Viji persuades her disabled sister Rukku to run away with her, in order to escape their abusive father. With nowhere to go and no one to run to, they are homeless children in a big city and face dangers at every turn. After befriending a loving, stray dog, the girls look for shelter. They have the good fortune of bumping into Arul and Muthu, two young boys in circumstances similar to theirs, but who have more knowledge about the workings of the big city.

The four children and the dog quickly unite to become their own family. They work together, often scouring for recyclables in the city’s massive trash heaps. Loyal to one another, they pool their resources together and share all their earnings, food, and supplies. I appreciated how Venkatraman highlights the children’s pride in earning their keep – they don’t want charitable handouts from anyone.

The Bridge Home is ultimately an urban survival story for a middle grade audience. Venkatraman masterfully portrays the atrocities of the children’s lifestyle while also making it appropriate for younger readers. Though fictional, elements of the novel are based on true stories, and this book could be used to initiate discussion about how many children around the world live incredibly difficult lives. I think The Bridge Home is probably best for ages 10-14, due to the difficult life circumstances of the children, but mature eight- and nine-year-olds may handle it all right.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Jonathan Auxier’s Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is my favorite book of 2018 (adult or children’s), and one of my favorite children’s novels of all time. The themes are timeless, the story is riveting, and the writing is beautiful. I believe this book will stand the test of time – a modern classic indeed.

Nan Sparrow is a chimney sweep in Victorian London. Although she is old by chimney sweep standards (not yet a teenager), she is one of the best in the business. She knows how to navigate the treacherous flues in London homes, and has managed to stay unscathed in a profession that regularly claims the lives of its young workers. Until the day she gets stuck.

When a fellow sweep uses the “Devil’s Nudge” tactic of lighting a fire in the chimney to, shall we say, encourage her to break free, Nan finds herself trapped in a chimney fire and figures death is imminent. She blacks out, and when she wakes, she is not injured … and not alone. A creature made of ash and soot, called a golem, has rescued Nan, and is, in fact, her monster.

As others have noted, Sweep has a Dickensian feel to it, highlighting the terrible and brutal conditions that children endured as chimney sweeps. I honestly had no idea that children were used in this way,  and I suspect many contemporary readers share this ignorance. I commend Auxier for not shying away from the disturbing truth, but rather mining for the glimmer of hope in a hopeless existence.

Sweep received a lot of accolades, and it deserves every one. I would have gladly bestowed all the stars and awards it could possibly earn. I highly recommend this book for ages 10 and up, though 12 and up may be more appropriate for sensitive readers.

Hey, Kiddo

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka is both easy and hard to read. Easy because Mr. Krosoczka’s writing and art propel the story forward in a seemingly effortless way. Hard because the content forces the reader to confront the difficult reality that many children grow up in less than ideal circumstances.

The story is autobiographical. Krosoczka’s mother was a heroin addict, and at a young age, Jarrett is taken from her custody to live with her parents. While his grandparents love him, they are somewhat gruff and jaded, so it isn’t the most cozy environment for a young child – especially one that has already experienced a fair amount of trauma. Coupled with the fact the his mother is in and out of rehab centers and prisons, it’s easy to understand how young Jarrett experiences nightmares and anxiety. What’s most amazing is how Jarrett rises above it all to become a talented artist and family man.

Both inspiring and sobering, Hey, Kiddo is a graphic novel that is best for ages 14 and up. It contains mature content of drug use, suggestions of Jarrett’s mother’s sexual encounters, themes of abandonment, and disturbing images pertaining to Jarrett’s nightmares. The book may be helpful and appropriate to readers younger than 14 if they are experiencing similar life circumstances themselves, but otherwise, I would say it’s best for teens and adults.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay

The title alone enticed me to read Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, and I’m so glad I did. I was happy to get my hands on my library’s copy before the post-award rush, as Darius won the Morris Award and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature.

Darius is a teenager growing up in Portland, Oregon. Son of a Caucasian American father and an Iranian-American mother, Darius feels like he never fits in anywhere. Too Persian to be perceived by others as all American, but too American to be considered truly Persian, Darius struggles to find his place. As if this wasn’t enough, he’s also been medically diagnosed with depression, just like his father, and Darius battles to keep his mood swings in check.

When Darius’s maternal grandfather’s health declines due to his progressing dementia, Darius’s family visits his mother’s family in Iran. Darius has only seen his extended family in video calls – he and his little sister have never met their Iranian grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. In Iran, Darius feels even more out of place than he did in Portland. He cannot speak the language (though his little sister can), he doesn’t practice the same religion as his relatives, and just like any other traveler, he isn’t always sure about cultural practices.

All this changes when Darius makes a friend. Sohrab is Darius’s first true friend, and Sohrab helps Darius gain confidence in himself. As they spend time together playing soccer, eating Iranian food, and touring local attractions, Darius learns more about his Persian heritage while also discovering the joys and trials of friendship.

There’s much to like about this book. I appreciate how Khorram integrated mental health issues into the narrative without making them the front-and-center focus of the plot. I found the relationships between Darius and other characters to be developed and complex. I also loved the setting for this story, as I didn’t have much previous experience or knowledge of Iranian culture.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay is not just okay, but is in fact, great. I highly recommend this book for readers 14 and up, though I do think readers as young as 12 might enjoy it as well.

 

The Book With No Pictures

This book makes kids laugh. Hysterically. Or maybe that’s just mine. Over the last week, the best part of my day has been reading this book to my kids before bedtime. I think multiple readings have only increased the giggles, since my kids laugh in anticipation of what they know is coming next. For me, this makes The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak a worthy addition to our home library.

I love how this book promotes the importance of words in the most jubilant, undidactic way. It’s a great read aloud for children of all ages, for the littlest will giggle uncontrollably and even teens will be hard pressed not to smile. TIP: An exuberant performance is sure to bring the most laughs, which makes it most fun for the reader!

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown is an excellent book for teens who want to know more about the refugee plight. Brown uses the graphic novel format to provide historical context and address current issues involving Syria and its people.

The book opens with a brief history of how the political situation escalated in Syria, which led to the outpouring of refugees. After setting the scene, Brown then follows various refugees trying to escape the war-torn country. We follow them on foot to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and we follow them on sea, across the Mediterranean into Greece and other European nations. We see the whole spectrum of young and old, male and female.

Brown does justice to his subjects by not avoiding difficult material. We’re faced with cold facts: some will not survive. They will die from starvation, exposure, and drowning. Although a graphic novel, Unwanted is not explicitly graphic, though scary scenes certainly are depicted in the illustrations. Due to this difficult content, I recommend The Unwanted for ages twelve and up. I believe it would be a compelling read to build empathy and compassion for those enduring this nightmare.

Rivers: A Visual History from River to Sea

“Geography” and “amazing” may not be two words commonly used in the same sentence when talking about books for young people, so let’s change that. River: A Visual History from River to Sea by Peter Goes is indeed an amazing book of geography for young readers. And old readers. Everything about this book, from the oversize pages and format to the detailed illustrations surrounded by interesting facts, says, “Read me! … Read me again!”

As one would deduce from the title, Goes uses the rivers of the world to relate geographical, historical, cultural and even biological information. Rivers are grouped together by continent, and then each major river has its own two-page spread. Each spread has a solid color background with Goes intricate black-and-white illustrations on top. Readers are given a wealth of information that all pertains to the river. For instance, on the spread for the Thames, we learn the river once was also called Isis, the Thames tunnel was built between 1825 and 1843, the kingfisher likes to live near running water, and the Thames Barrier protects London from high tides. And that’s just a small sample of interesting tidbits.

Rivers has a way of making non-fiction readily accessible to a younger audience, but it is so engaging and sophisticated that it in no way seems juvenile. I suspect teens would pore over these pages. I highly recommend this book for all ages, though I suspect ages eight and up will enjoy it most. Goes also authored the book Timeline, which I’ve not yet had the pleasure to read, but can’t wait to get my hands on if it’s as good as Rivers.

Louisiana’s Way Home

I am convinced that Kate DiCamillo is a writing genius. DiCamillo tackles weighty topics while using half the words that others would use, and her word choice is deceptively simple. Her characters are well formed and memorable, and they weave together in beautiful storytelling.

Louisiana’s Way Home is DiCamillo’s first novel sequel, and it follows Louisiana Elefante, who we first met in Raymie Nightingale. The book starts with Louisiana embarking on a traveling adventure with her grandmother. Not long after they drive across the Florida-Georgia border, the grandmother has a dental emergency, requiring an unexpected stop in a small Georgia town. Things quickly unravel from there, and Louisiana must confront her past and determine who she wants to be going forward.

The book deals with heavy themes of loss, abandonment, and forgiveness, but DiCamillo frames them in a hopeful light. While the reading level isn’t too advanced, the emotional content may be too intense for sensitive readers. As such, I recommend this book for ages 10 and older.

Drawn From Nature

Drawn From Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri is an exquisite picture book that will delight nature lovers, young and old. Ahpornsiri expertly uses real leaves, flowers, and other plant-derived items in collages that then create illustrations of animals and landscape. The intricate work demands a second look. And a third. And a fourth. And, well, you get the idea.

The stunning artwork alone makes this book superb, but the accompanying non-fiction text is also engaging and informative. We start by looking at the natural world during the spring season, and then follow the natural trajectory through the seasons all the way through winter. A glossary at the end is helpful for defining the more scientific terms that appear in the text, such as fungus, nocturnal, and photosynthesis. Curious artists will also appreciate Ahpornsiri’s note in the back that gives a little more information on how the art was created.

I highly recommend Drawn From Nature for all ages, but I think it would be best for ages eight and older. Although a picture book, it is in no way too juvenile for teens and adults. In particular, I suspect artistic and/or nature-loving teens will love this book and spend hours poring over its content.