So - I'm going to consider the past couple of months a hiatus.
Sometimes life just takes over. It happens. Whatchagonnado?!
I'm posting three wonderful books that were reviewed by Lynn Becker and I offer my two cents on the first one. The second and third books were originally published in Shelf Awareness. Everything Lynn reviews, I always want to read!
Then I will get back on track with writing exercises and I also want to post about the incredible writing retreat at Asilomar I recently attended. First, book reviews.
LONG WAY DOWN, by Jason Reynolds
LONG WAY DOWN was recently named a Newbery Honor Book, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, and the audio (narrated by the author) won an Odyssey Honor at the ALA Awards this year.
LONG WAY DOWN tells the story of fifteen-year-old Will, whose brother Shawn has just been shot. The sadness feels like a tooth, “somewhere in the back,/ one of the big/ important ones,” has been ripped out and now there’s a “new empty space,/ where you know/ a tooth is supposed to be/ but ain’t no more.” After all the screaming, and the sirens, and the questions, Will knows that it’s up to him to follow The Rules: no crying, no snitching, and, finally, “[i]f someone you love/ gets killed/ find the person/ who killed/ them and/ kill them.” Will finds his brother’s gun, and gets on the elevator to look for the kid he’s sure is responsible for his brother’s death. But on his way down to the lobby, Will is joined by some very important ghosts who make him question everything he thinks he knows.
I think the form of the novel is pretty brilliant. Telling it in free-verse and, for the most part, during a one minute elevator ride allows the author to cut straight to the heart of his story. The riders who join Will form a chain of violence, and readers will feel all the pain, panic, and despair that drive him to believe he must follow the same Rules that got these ghosts from his past killed. The ambiguous finish hints at a possible end to the seemingly inevitable cycle of violence. Hope is good.
Such a beautiful book. The words are so perfect. When I read verse like that I want to have all those incredible phrases written where I can see them all the time. But there’s so many!
I wondered if he would not go and shoot the person he “thought” did it. I reread the last part of the book looking for definitive answers.
I saw a lot of press and hype for the story and definitely wanted to read it.
I found it interesting that there was quite a bit of story at the beginning before he gets to the elevator. I originally thought the entire book took place in it.
MG Review: Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Originally begun as a social media project during Black History Month, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History highlights courageous African American women who broke new ground by following their dreams--women who persevered, didn't listen to "no" and found success despite overwhelming odds. Bessie Coleman was denied entry to "every aviation school in America," so she moved to France and "became the first African American woman in the world to receive her pilot's license." Phillis Wheatley was "the first African American woman poet ever to be published." Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who attended "a private school in Massachusetts," became "the first African American woman physician in the country." And, at 80 years of age, Alma Woodsey Thomas had her colorful paintings exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "the first-ever solo exhibition of an African American woman artist at one of America's most important art museums."
The short, engaging biographies are accompanied by charming portraits. Each woman, depicted in clothing and costumes reflective of her time and vocation, seems to be looking within, mustering the strength necessary to persevere in the face of daunting odds. Backgrounds are minimal, rendered mostly in pale shades, which leaves the focus on the women and helps ground them in history. Debut author Vashti Harrison created Little Leaders with her younger self in mind, but she hopes readers of every background will find these stories compelling. Little Leaders will undoubtedly inspire a new generation of high achievers.
PB Review: A Couch for Llama by Leah Gilbert
This charming and silly picture book begins by announcing that "[t]he Lago family's couch was very well-loved." But now, after playing host to many cozy activities, including "snuggling... fort building, and hiding and seeking," it's clear that the couch has seen better days. The family decides it's time to replace it. After trying a couch that is "too big" and one that is "too small," the Lago family happily finds a replacement that is "JUST RIGHT." They pack their perfect new couch on top of their car and head home. Unfortunately, before they get there, the new couch flies off the car and into a field, where it lands at the feet of a rather startled llama.
Llama is intrigued. He sniffs and brays and tries to share his lunch, but the couch doesn't say anything or seem very hungry. It doesn't taste good either, so Llama concludes the couch is useless. But, just as the Lago family discovers their couch is missing, Llama realizes his new couch is not as boring as it seems.
The illustrations showing Llama making friends with the couch are not to be missed. Llama has a big round belly and teeny-tiny legs, making his jumping and twirling very comical indeed. He exudes plenty of emotion, moving from a "stubborn, couch-loving kind of llama" to a dejected, couch-less llama in a jiffy as the family takes away his "smooshy-mooshy, fluffy-puffy cushions" that he "completely" loves. A Couch for Llama manages to be both tender and action packed, and shows the rewards of spreading the happiness around. It's a thoroughly entertaining read, especially while ensconced on a suitably comfortable couch of one's own. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.