Review: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe

Review: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: May 8, 2018 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

All it takes is one: one coral gamete to start a colony, one person to make a difference, one idea to change the world. The ongoing efforts to save and rebuild the world’s coral reefs-with hammer and glue, and grafts of newly grown coral-are the living legacy of Ken Nedimyer, founder of the Coral Restoration Foundation. Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe tell the true story of the coral restoration pioneer in this brilliant tribute to the wonders of nature and the power of human hope.

Image from The Brilliant Deep via Matthew Forsythe’s website

Award-winning children’s author Kate Messner (The Seventh Wish) and acclaimed Canadian artist Matthew Forsythe (The Gold Leaf) have teamed up for the children’s non-fiction title, The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation. A pictorial biography as well an introductory examination into conservation efforts of coral reefs, The Brilliant Deep is a fascinating true story brought to life by beautiful artwork.

Image from The Brilliant Deep via Matthew Forsythe’s website

The Brilliant Deep begins in the water, with one coral illuminated and the words “It begins with one”. Messner takes readers on a brief look at the spawning of corals: how “corals begin to spawn- releasing first one, then millions of tiny lives”, and that if one “is lucky” and not eaten or washed away, it “lands in a place where it can grow…[beginning] a coral reef”. Messner then switches to a summarized look at Coral Restoration Foundation founder Ken Nedimyer’s childhood, and how his love of swimming and exploring the Florida Keys reefs spurned what would become his lifelong captivation and passion for protecting and restoring reefs. Messner balances some tricky work here: as the story turns to follow Nedimyer as an adult, there is a significant amount of terminology and (necessary) explication of Nedimyer’s experiments of growing and planting coral colonies. However, Messner makes it work smoothly, particularly with the repeated emphasis on how it takes just “one”, and the neatly woven narrative circle that the entire story makes from coral back to coral. It would be absolutely remiss not to mention how stunning Forsythe’s artwork is here, as his golden and blue/green-toned artwork masterfully captures Messner’s narrative and allows the reader to actually ‘witness’ steps involved in coral restoration. You can get a sense just from the selected images above and below how rich and ambient Forsythe’s illustrations are, whether invoking Nedimyer’s childhood seeing Jacques Cousteau on the television, with his array of aquariums or (not pictured) seeing hands gently apply glue on coral. The last few pages of The Brilliant Deep include links to organizations, books, and articles that readers can further explore; a succinct note about coral reef decline and protection; how to help/get involved; as well as a select set of vocabulary definitions.

Image from The Brilliant Deep via Matthew Forsythe’s website

Overall, a timely, mesmerizing and truly interesting non-fiction children’s title that has multiple ways of being enjoyed (and used!). Thinking of books like Hello Hello or Bloom, one can see that children’s titles (whether categorized as picture books or more strictly non-fiction) are exploring and offering up tremendous scope of topics for children (and adults). Children’s book efforts on conservation are blossoming and the possibilities for education and literacy (in schools, in libraries, at home, etc.) is exciting. Messner and Forsythe have, with The Brilliant Deep, added a very strong (and beautiful!) title to the booming roster of children’s biographical and science books- a title that might spark readers to learn even more about the Coral Restoration Foundation and Ken Nedimyer’s legacy of conservation.

News note: Here is a link to a May 16, 2018 news article about Ken Nedimyer stepping down from a leadership position with the Coral Restoration Foundation.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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Picture Book Review: Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Review: Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: May 22, 2018 by Candlewick Press
Book Description:

In an exuberant picture book, a glimpse of costumed mermaids leaves one boy flooded with wonder and ready to dazzle the world.

While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? Mesmerizing and full of heart, Jessica Love’s author-illustrator debut is a jubilant picture of self-love and a radiant celebration of individuality.

The picture book debut from author-illustrator Jessica Love, Julián is a Mermaid already has multiple starred reviews and critical praise to its name- from publications including The Horn Book and The New York Times Book Review. This picture book title had been on my must-read radar for a few months, after reading multiple rave comments from reviewers and bloggers on social media, and some sneak peaks- needless to say, I was eagerly anticipating this title. And readers, Julián is a Mermaid is a gorgeous, tender, outstanding reading experience.

Image from Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love via SLJ

Jessica Love’s debut is about a young boy named Julián who absolutely loves everything about mermaids. On the subway with his abuela, a book about mermaids open in his lap, he sees three women who are stunningly, amazingly dressed as mermaids- from the tips of their colourful hair to the tails of their gowns. Julián then imagines himself taken under the sea, swept up in a rush of sea life, transforming into a mermaid. He later gets the opportunity to actually turn himself into a mermaid- emulating the real-life mermaids he sees around him- while Abuela goes to take a bath. With great ingenuity, Julián uses various objects around their place- a willowy curtain, plant fronds, and more- to slowly transform himself into a stunning, unforgettable mermaid. Our protagonist’s joy is sharply faded, though, as he wonders and worries what Abuela might say as she sees the mess he has made while bringing his mermaid dream to life. The author takes the story in a truly wonderful direction after a moment of decision hangs in the air: how Julián’s Abuela responds to seeing the mess, and seeing him as a mermaid is something that embraces and touches the core of the heart. (I don’t want to reveal the ending here as I loved being surprised by it, but if you’re curious to read more about the finale, take a read through this wonderfully detailed look in School Library Journal by Elizabeth Bird that talks more in-depth about possible readings of the ending). I have returned to reading and poring over Julián is a Mermaid countless times since my first read. An exploration and deep celebration of a young person’s character, imagination and uniqueness, as well as love and understanding, Julián is a Mermaid is an exceptional read. Whether read aloud, used during storytime, recommended to mermaid enthusiasts, or finding its way to readers of any age who might just need to have Julián’s story in their lives, Julián is a Mermaid should be read, shared, and loved.

Image from Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love via SLJ

Overall, an incredible, radiant picture book. Jessica Love has done a tremendous job here with her debut: the illustrative work is stunning, so saturated and evocative and fluid, and the text is just light enough to let the art and beautiful story shine. I highly recommend taking a read of this title and spending time with Julián, Abuela, and his world. Be sure to take a look at the picture book’s page here, as you’ll be able to get a further inside look!

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Missing Mike by Shari Green

Review: Missing Mike by Shari Green
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Pajama Press. Thank you!
Publication: May 11, 2018 by Pajama Press (in Canada)
Book Description:

He’s a rescue, a mutt. Maybe there’s a little golden retriever in him, although he’s not exactly pretty. He’s had a run-in with coyotes and he’s missing an eye. But Mike is eleven-year-old Cara Donovan’s dog, and they love each other absolutely. Usually her pet follows Cara everywhere, but on the day the family first smells smoke in the air, Mike becomes anxious. Pine Grove is in the path of a wildfire, and the family is ordered to evacuate. In the ensuing chaos, Mike runs off. And then the unthinkable happens; there is no time to search for Mike. They are forced to leave him behind.

Shocked and devastated, Cara watches helplessly as the family drives through a nightmare, with burning debris falling from the sky and wild animals fleeing for their lives. Once in the city far from the burn zone, the Donovans are housed with a volunteer host family. Jewel, the hosts’ daughter, is nice, but Cara can only think about what she may have lost. What will happen if nothing is left? But as she reflects on what “home” means to her, Cara knows only one thing. She is not going to lose Mike. She will do what it takes to find him, even if it means going back to Pine Grove on her own.

The wildfires are bad this year
new ones popping up every day

It’s hard to tell how far away the smoke is
but the tightness in my gut
says it’s not far enough.

Canadian author Shari Green, author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel-in-verse Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess, returns with Missing Mike, a middle grade novel (also in free verse) about a young girl’s unbreakable bond with her rescue dog Mike and what happens to Mike, her family, and their community when a devastating, seemingly unstoppable wildfire hits their town.

That’s when I saw Mike.
He wasn’t a puppy
and he wasn’t cute
but I was pretty sure
he needed somebody to love him.

We meet Cara Donovan and her dog, Mike (full name Mike Wazowski, after the famous monster), shortly before she and her family have to evacuate their home of Pine Grove (hours north from Vancouver) due to rapidly-spreading wildfires. In first-person narrative, Cara takes readers through the terror she, her older sister Sloane, and their mom and dad feel as they are faced with ten minutes to vacate their house. In the immediate sharpness and disorientation of the moment, Cara and her family quickly pack, taking their pre-prepared ‘just in case’ bags with whatever they think their must-have items could be. Cara, in the middle of brushing her beloved one-eyed rescue mutt, leaves Mike in their backyard, with the plan to take him to the car promptly after packing. The only thing is, when Cara goes back to their fenced-in backyard, Mike is gone: “Mike’s not in the yard / probably jumped clear over the lousy fence / searching for a cool spot / a not-so-smoky spot / a safe spot”. Cara pleads with her family to let her search for her best friend, but the utter urgency of their evacuation orders overrides everything. Even looking for a much-loved family member. We follow Cara and her family as they are taken in by a well-meaning, hospitable couple and their child Jewel, who becomes a friend and ally when Cara attempts, multiple times, to locate her dog. Woven in Missing Mike is Cara’s exercise- stemming from her love of crossword puzzles- in figuring out different words for home…and what ‘home’ really means in the midst of tragedy and displacement, while feeling and receiving kindness and warmth from strangers brought together in crisis. The main thread in Missing Mike, though, is that of Cara’s unyielding quest to, beyond all hope, find her much loved dog. Never resting, Cara is proactive in her multiple searches, helped by Jewel and even her strangely distant sister, providing readers with just enough small rays of hope to believe that her resilient dog Mike might just be out there, facing down coyotes and fires, waiting for his best friend to come back.

Overall, Missing Mike is a touching, lyrical story with the beautiful, boundless relationship of Cara and Mike as its core and achor. Shari Green’s writing style is effortless and candid, a perfect match for Cara’s natural and appropriately trusting, childlike narrative. Readers who love stories about human-animal bonds, children’s novels told in free verse, or middle grade titles that explore family dynamics and strength in facing adversity might find much to love about Missing Mike. Those who enjoy the writing of authors such as K.A. Holt, Katherine Applegate, Barbara O’Connor, Beth Vrabel or Alison Hughes might also want to check this moving middle grade novel out.

I received a copy courtesy of Pajama Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Blog Tour Stop: Claire Legrand’s Furyborn!

Welcome to one of the stops for Raincoast Books blog tour for Claire Legrand’s Furyborn! Read on for my thoughts on the book as well as a short Q & A with Claire!

Review: Furyborn (The Empirium Trilogy #1) by Claire Legrand
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: May 22, 2018 by Sourcebooks Fire
Book Description:

The stunningly original, must-read fantasy of 2018 follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world… or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing herself as one of a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light, and a queen of blood. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven elemental magic trials. If she fails, she will be executed… unless the trials kill her first.

One thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a fairy tale to Eliana Ferracora. A bounty hunter for the Undying Empire, Eliana believes herself untouchable-until her mother vanishes. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain and discovers that the evil at the empire’s heart is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world-and of each other.

Claire Legrand has critically acclaimed children’s fiction titles to her credit, including Some Kind of Happiness and The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Furyborn, book one in the planned Empirium Trilogy, is young adult fantasy title with a deeply intricate, wondrous and explosive story.

With an opening chapter that is absolutely fierce and spellbinding in its mystery, Furyborn starts off with quite a bang and continues in this propulsive manner for the duration of its course. Post-opening, Furyborn is told in two alternating third-person narratives: one being that of Rielle Dardenne in the Second Age; the second being that Eliana Ferracora, of the Third Age. Rielle’s and Eliana’s stories are 1,020 years apart, but readers will come to know their exact bind by the end of the novel. Rielle’s life in the land of Celdaria is that of veneration to elements (sun, air, fire, shadow, water, metal, and earth), where casting of the elements (magic) is practiced and the long-dismissed prophecy of two human queens- one good and one evil- comes to light. Long foretold, it was thought that a Sun Queen and a Blood Queen- each with all the elements of magic- would rise and predict the future or end of the world. As we follow Rielle’s storyline, we’re taken along an unsettling journey as it is revealed that Rielle may hold the magic of all seven elements and will thus have to endure- i.e. survive- seven trials that the King and his advisors have created. With her extraordinary claim of being the prophesied Sun Queen- the good Queen that will protect the world from the savagery and vengeance of banished angels- Rielle’s life is forever altered, as are the lives of her best friends- the King’s heir Audric, and his bride-to-be, Ludivine. Eliana’s world, millenia after Rielle, is one where magic, prophecy and angels and the stories of the prophesied queens are thought of as mere remnants of old tales- completely fictitious. In contrast with Rielle’s life, Eliana’s is perhaps even more disturbing and dark. Making her living as an bounty hunter by working for the terrifying ruling Empire and ratting out supposed traitors to the Empire, Eliana’s life is completely derailed when a man named the Wolf traps her and forces her hand to join forces against the empire. As the two narratives get deeper and deeper, the relationship between Eliana’s present and Rielle become clearer- as do the seemingly gossamer connections between the two protagonists inexplicable, leviathan powers, the banishment of and venom against angels, and the catastrophic battles that have attempted to forever keep angels away from human life.

Legrand has carefully built up a pretty incredible world here especially given the fact that our main characters live in the crafted world of Avitas millennia apart. From dress, armor, weaponry, geography, not to mention the details of the seven elements, their respective saints and casts…there is so much to awe over and ingest here. Legrand also does a solid job in maintaining tension between Rielle’s and Eliana’s storylines; as the reader, we know we’re going to come to a massive reveal as to how they are actually connected (and why that has somehow survived centuries of time!). While readers might immediately or in short course of time figure out the exact link between Rielle and Eliana, the journey to get to the ultimate end (at least end of book one!) is fascinating. I would argue that Eliana’s storyline, and perhaps even her character, is the more nuanced and complex protagonist, especially as Eliana’s story with the Wolf moves forward and her loyalties and love for her beloved brother Remy and her mother Rozen are tested time and time again. Rielle’s storyline reminded me, in some capacity, of the trails and tribulations that Katniss goes through in the first of The Hunger Games– but it did not make it less intense. With so much packed in Furyborn, not everything is made sense of nor entirely cleared; some major questions are left unresolved, plot points left uncertain, and character choices left vague, but I was nonetheless held captive with the story start to finish (…I also imagine that the second and third books will illuminate any unanswered questions and issues!).

Readers who adore the work of authors such as Leigh Bardugo, Stephanie Garber, Laini Taylor, or Kendare Blake might especially love all of the elaborate world creation, character dynamics and sheer ferocity of Furyborn. Fans of Claire Legrand’s previous titles, even those not so familiar with fantasy, might also want to check this book out, as Legrand’s writing is graceful and fluid no matter what genre she is writing in; the novel simply flies by. Look forward to two more books to come in the Empirium Trilogy!

 

Q&A with Claire Legrand

Q: Big congratulations on Furyborn! On your post for Furyborn on Goodreads, you note that it has been thirteen years that you have been working on the books- and that they are “the books of your heart”. Since 2012, when The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls came out, you have been busy with other multiple book releases. How was your work on The Empirium books impacted by experiencing the release of your other titles and/or with the changing receptiveness to young adult fantasy series?

Claire Legrand: Yes, Furyborn—and the Empirium Trilogy overall—is the story of my heart. I’ve been working on the series off and on since I was eighteen years old. During that time, there were sometimes months-long stretches when I wouldn’t even look at my Furyborn notes because I was busy with other projects. But it was always there, in the back of my mind, waiting patiently for my return. Each book I’ve written has taught me many new things about myself, both as a writer and as a person, and I don’t think I would have been able to make Furyborn the book it is now without the experiences of creating my other books.

Thank you so much for your time!

 

Be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour:

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog post. All opinions and comments are my own. Author interview was arranged by Raincoast Books.

Graphic Novel Review: Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable

Review: Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths (Peter & Ernesto Volume 1) by Graham Annable
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 10, 2018 by First Second
Book Description:

Peter and Ernesto are sloths. Peter and Ernesto are friends. But Peter and Ernesto are nothing alike. Peter loves their tree and never wants to leave, while Ernesto loves the sky and wants to see it from every place on Earth. When Ernesto leaves to have a grand adventure, Peter stays behind and frets. The two friends grow even closer in separation, as Peter the homebody expands his horizons and Ernesto the wanderer learns the value of home. With ridiculously cute art and simple, funny text, their reunion is even more adorable than you are imagining.

Laika Studios superstar artist, writer, and director Graham Annable brings all his significant powers to bear on this timeless friendship story for the youngest graphic novel readers.

Grickle creator and Oscar nominated animator and cartoonist Graham Annable debuts on the children’s graphic novel scene with Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths. A simultaneously funny, dry and sincere read, this graphic novel is about the deep friendship between the titular two sloths, and what happens when one breaks away from their safe space and goes exploring.

From the images taken from A Tale of Two Sloths above and below, you get a definite sense of the art, style and narrative approach that Annable takes. Straightforward storytelling style, concise and leaner text, clean lines, strong and bright illustrations…and, may I say, two of the quirkiest looking (yet very cute!) sloths I have had the pleasure of reading about. As we learn from the description, Ernesto surprises his best friend Peter with the news that he has to go out on an adventure: “I want to see all of the sky!”, he exclaims to Peter. As Ernesto sets out with a brilliantly optimistic and happy attitude, Peter quivers for a short time on his tree, completely fretting about what misfortunes could befall his friend. Readers get to see one storyline of Ernesto’s pretty awesome and serendipitous adventures in meeting helpful animal friends, and getting a chance to wander and wonder at all the world has to offer. The second storyline follows Peter as he- very bravely- and very cautiously attempts to set out to make sure his friend returns home safely. As Ernesto and Peter go their separate directions, readers can see how their different approaches to facing roadblocks provide varying results- offering some great visual gags and fun plot turns. At its heart, A Tale of Two Sloths is about these two great friends, how much they care about each other and how their adventures expand their understandings of home, making their respective plans for a safe homecoming even sweeter (and very funny, too!).

Sure to delight fans of James Burks’ Bird & Squirrel series, Ben Clanton’s Narwhal and Jelly books, and Dana Simpson’s Phoebe and Her Unicorn series, I can see Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths being a big hit for graphic novel readers and/or perhaps more hesitant chapter book readers. Moreover, with summer reading coming up, I know from experience how much graphic novels circulate (even more!) over the summer, so this might be a great one to check out- especially as there are plans for further series entries! All around funny, genuinely sweet, with a helping of eccentricity and wit, Peter & Ernesto is terrific fun. I’ll be looking forward to reading book two! Be sure to check out Graham Annable’s fantastic post on his blog all about the details of making of Peter & Ernesto and the inspiration of Arnold Lobel’s classic Frog and Toad series.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Recently Read: Great Picture Books (15)!

A look at some wonderful picture books that I have had the pleasure of reading lately! All are titles I have read and enjoyed. On this installment of Recently Read, we have a few titles that my three year old has requested multiple read alouds of including Nobody’s Duck from Mary Sullivan, which is a totally entertaining, witty and sweet story. Sullivan has authored and illustrated numerous wonderfully funny titles including Treat and Ball. Nobody’s Duck is great- visual gags and kookiness abound. My daughter, after our first read aloud said- (while giggling)- ‘That was really funny!’ Fans of Ame Dyckman, Jan Thomas and Keith Graves might like this one! Next we have Steve Antony‘s Unplugged, about an adorable robot named Blip who, after a blackout, finds herself unplugged- literally and figuratively. Unplugged is another one my daughter loves having read to her. The title is strong on the message about making sure we all unplug and be with friends, and find our own adventures away from screens- but, honestly, it is a timely point and the text is so genuine and wonderfully illustrated. Unplugged would pair nicely with Matthew Cordell‘s hello! hello!. Other great picture book picks include: Yellow Kayak, a visually arresting, melodic, rhyming title from Nina Laden with artwork by Melissa Castrillón; Jessixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley‘s charming and heartening Vincent Comes Home; All the Animals Where I Live, by Philip C. Stead, uncommonly told and structured, but what a wondrous treat; and the utterly heartwarming and surprising The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling – another fantastic and unusual title from Timothy Basil Ering.

Review: Knockout by K.A. Holt

Review: Knockout by K.A. Holt
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 6, 2018 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

Levi just wants to be treated like a typical kid. As a baby, he had a serious disease that caused him respiratory issues. He’s fine now, but his mom and overprotective brother still think of him as damaged, and his schoolmates see him as the same class clown he’s always been. He feels stuck. So when his dad-divorced from his mom-suggests he take up boxing, he falls in love with the sport. And when he finds out about a school with a killer boxing team and a free-study curriculum, it feels like he’s found a ticket to a new Levi. But how can he tell his mom about boxing? And how can he convince his family to set him free?

Surprise!
I make them laugh.
I make them point.
That way
the tightrope is mine
to control.

The excellence of middle grade literature continues! So far this year, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a number of terrific, moving, unique children’s fiction titles, and that train of awesome continued with my back-to-back reading of K.A. Holt’s House Arrest and Knockout. A companion novel-in-verse to 2015’s House Arrest, Knockout tells the story of twelve-year-old Levi Davidson as he begins a tumultuous and audacious year.

Knockout is told in the first-person narrative of Levi. We are introduced to Levi and his world as he sets himself up to begin grade seven alongside his best friend Tam. Levi and Tam met back in kindergarten and discovered commonalities: both were born premature at two pounds and required an inhaler. However, as Levi tells us, the differences are vast. Levi had a trach as a child; his life has been in and out of hospitals, with him still having to go for major annual checkups. His mom (divorced from his dad) and Timothy continue to hover and set boundaries, watching, warning, and pleading with Levi to be careful. To always be safe. When Levi’s dad suggest that Levi try a sport, he doesn’t expect to fall in love with boxing, but he does. Levi discovers a raw aptitude for boxing; surprising everyone with tenacity and lightening speed that make up for his lack of height and slight build. As Levi’s year marches on, he continues to hide boxing from Tam, his mom and brother-who would be terrified for his health- until one boxing accident lands him in the hospital, injured, vulnerable and with lies unveiled. As with House Arrest, Knockout is utterly compelling from opening to ending- Holt’s writing is beautiful and seamless. Levi’s voice is unforgettable here, and readers get to experience his fears, his mistakes with Tam, his highs, and hopes for a more independent future at a sports-focused school through dynamic and heartbreaking verse. Especially moving throughout the novel are the extraordinary moments and reveals between Timothy and Levi, which we get to read via their written exchanges to one another.

I take out an earbud
offer it to Timothy
and we listen together
head to head,
song after song,
the same music as always, and yet…
different now.

Overall, Knockout is terrific- profound, wise and funny, told in a blistering pace that wonderfully allows for both consequential and quiet moments to permeate. Readers who previously read and loved K.A. Holt’s House Arrest might definitely be itching to read more about the Davidson boys- and to find out what Timothy is up to in his twenties! It is probably not necessary to have read House Arrest prior to Knockout, though I personally loved having read Timothy’s story first and having been introduced to Levi when he was a baby. It’s a win either way to get to read two tremendous, affecting and memorable books! Readers looking for more novels in verse in the vein of Kwame Alexander, or those who like authors such as Kate Messner, Beth Vrabel, Leslie Connor or Lisa Graff might especially love K.A. Holt’s Knockout.

I received a copy of Knockout courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Blog Tour Stop: If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales

Welcome to one of the stops on the blog tour for author Leila Sales’ latest young adult novel, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say! Read on for my thoughts about this timely novel…

 

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. Thank you!
Publication: May 1, 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Book Description:

A novel about public shaming in the internet age, the power of words, the cumulative destructiveness of microaggressions, and the pressing need for empathy.

Before we go any further, I want you to understand this: I am not a good person.

We all want to be seen. We all want to be heard. But what happens when we’re seen and heard saying or doing the wrong things?

When Winter Halperin—former spelling bee champion, aspiring writer, and daughter of a parenting expert—gets caught saying the wrong thing online, her life explodes. All across the world, people know what she’s done, and none of them will forgive her.

With her friends gone, her future plans cut short, and her identity in shambles, Winter is just trying to pick up the pieces without hurting anyone else. She knows she messed up, but does that mean it’s okay for people to send her hate mail and death threats? Did she deserve to lose all that she’s lost? And is “I’m sorry” ever good enough? Decide for yourself.

“It was just a stupid joke!”

In this era of social media, how easy is it to declare hatred for someone for something they’ve posted? Or to dismiss them outright as an evil person unworthy of another chance? And just how easy is it to compose a post on social media that might inadvertently change the course of your life forever?

“You probably shouldn’t have posted it online, though…”

In If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, the latest contemporary young adult title from Leila Sales (Tonight the Streets are Ours), the author explores the breakneck speed and magnitude of internet shaming and the repercussions of a teen posting something gone unintentionally, horribly viral.

“…I’m asking, why did you put it up on the internet?”
And this was the humiliating part. Because there was no good reason for it. “I just hoped people might think it was funny,” I mumbled.

The morning after posting a comment online regarding the Scripps National Spelling Bee and the recently-announced winner, high school senior Winter Halperin wakes up to online pandemonium. Winter’s posted comment- just shared to her relatively small group of followers (i.e. mostly friends)- has gone viral thanks to an influencer’s share. Overnight, Winter Halperin has gone from (self-described) good girl, good student, good daughter, proud past winner of the National Spelling Bee, to a nationally known, supposedly evil, racist, thoughtless, spoiled individual who is now at the center of a maelstrom. An individual who is now at the receiving end of internet strangers making threats to her life, threats that she should be raped, threats that she should burn in hell. Winter has become, within a span of hours, a public disgrace and subject to a spectrum of harassment. As Winter tries to process what has even happened, and her parents and older sister try to assess and help, Winter’s previously comfortable life and life plans take one major hit after another. Winter experiences just how quickly the general internet public (as well as some friends) are able to vilify, condemn, and name-call (whether justified or not). The extent of the social media furor and outrage at Winter reaches a boiling point, leaving her college plans, and thus future plans, in relics. This is when Winter, to the initial skepticism of her parents, turns to Revibe, a ‘reputation rehabilitation retreat’ in Malibu, that seeks to help ‘victims of public shaming’.

“Here’s why [your apologies] didn’t work: because none of you were really apologizing. Or, I should say, you weren’t just apologizing. You were also explaining and defending yourselves. You were saying, ‘I’m sorry, but I didn’t mean to do it, and it’s not my fault, and it’s not as bad as you think it is.'”

I would argue that the character of Winter might incite feelings of deep discomfort, anger, bewilderment, sympathy and intense dislike. The character’s course of actions, especially in the last third of the novel, are, shall we say, surprising. Sales has written a complex story here, and how the reader processes Winter herself is also complex. Intention is a core concept of this story: Winter expresses multiple times that she didn’t mean her comment to come across as racist or mean-spirited in any way, she just meant to be funny- and Sales offers no simple truths or answers on whether the lack of intent is enough. Is the fact that Winter claims she didn’t mean any harm enough to excuse her? Does her comment- argued by a journalist to be “pretty thoughtless” but not “outright malevolent” – warrant the backlash, threats, public vitriol, and major fallout? Is her feeling and saying sorry enough?

While it is made clear that Winter is indeed sorry for her comment, how Sales writes and leaves Winter’s apologies and final actions makes for fascinating, if not vexing, reading. We are left, in the end, with a feeling of unease. Is Winter’s forever-changed life warranted given her course of actions post-Revibe rehabilitation? Sales does not necessarily excuse or forgive Winter, nor does she make her out to be irredeemable and contemptible, leaving everything uncomfortably unsettled…which I suppose, in the end, might have been what the author was aiming for!

“…It will keep happening forever, as long as there are humans and the internet and anonymity…”

Sales is at her best in the novel when combing the grey, often difficult and fraught areas that Winter has to wade into- especially notable during the course of Winter’s time at Revibe.  The discussions and arguments involving intention, inherent privilege and internalized prejudice, sincerity behind apology, justified punishment and penance, etc.- all wrapped up in the chaos of social media fallout- are very well done and the standout here. The material is absorbing, quite compelling, and it is clear that Sales herself has spent much time thinking about these issues. In her acknowledgements, the author gives thanks to Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, YouTubers, writers and podcasters “who informed the ideas that appear in this novel”. Sales also makes it clear that “issues of privilege, microaggressions, and culpability are nuanced and complicated”, and recognizes that she “did not get everything right” in the novel. On the whole, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say proffers thought-provoking, if not sometimes contentious, subject matter up for discourse. Readers interested in exploring these topics further in a complicated, reflective, contemporary YA novel, or those who have previously read Sales’ other titles, might want to check this novel out.

Blog Tour Schedule!

April 29th- Page Turners Blog

April 30th- Books and Ladders

May 1st- Who Ru Blog & Evie Bookish

May 2nd- Fab Book Reviews

May 3rd- Good Books and Good Wine & Across the Words

May 4th- Alexa Loves Books

May 5th- The Book Bratz

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Bloom by Kyo Maclear & Julie Morstad

Review: Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear & Julie Morstad
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada & Tundra Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Here is the life of iconic fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who as a little girl in Rome, was told by her own mamma that she was brutta. Ugly. So she decided to seek out beauty around her, and found it everywhere. What is beauty? Elsa wondered. She looked everywhere for beauty until something inside of Elsa blossomed, and she became an artist with an incredible imagination. Defining beauty on her own creative terms, Schiaparelli worked hard to develop her designs, and eventually bloomed into an extraordinary talent who dreamed up the most wonderful dresses, hats, shoes and jewelry. Why not a shoe for a hat? Why not a dress with drawers? And she invented a color: shocking pink! Her adventurous mind was the key to her happiness and success–and is still seen today in her legacy of wild imagination. Daring and different, Elsa Schiaparelli used art to make fashion, and it was quite marvelous.

Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad, the dynamic duo who created the critically acclaimed Julia, Child, team up again to bring to life the childhood memories and the inspiring milestones of the legendary Elsa Schiaparelli. With its warm, lyrical text and enchanting illustrations, Bloom shows readers how ingenuity, vision and self doubt all made Schiaparelli truly beautiful. A gift for her older fans and younger audiences who have yet to discover her genius, Bloom is sure to be an enthralling classic.

Bold beauty. Quiet beauty. Hidden beauty.
By the age of seven, I wonder: What makes something beautiful?

Canadian author and artist duo Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad have worked together previously- on the delightful and beautiful picture book Julia, Child– and return here in glorious , vibrant and poetic fashion with Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli. A biographical picture book about the life of the illustrious, rule-breaking and rule-bending designer Elsa Schiaparelli, Bloom takes readers through major moments, breakthroughs, and legacies in the designer’s life.

Bloom is told in the first-person narrative of Elsa, and opens to a scene in which a newborn Elsa looks up to frowning parents who, we are informed, had been hoping to have a boy. As we soon learn, Elsa’s older sister Beatrice- apparently favoured by their mother- is recognized as the bella in the family, while Elsa is called brutta- ugly.  This harsh judgment of ugliness by her own immediate family seems to remain a relatively constant cloud in much of Elsa’s early (and perhaps later) life. It is through a failed experiment involving flower seeds, as well as the encouragement from an innovative and kind uncle, that ‘a seed of wild imagination’ and artistry is planted in Elsa- something that moves her and propels her life and life’s work to be ‘daring, different, and whole…[to] plant a new seed of beauty’. With Maclear’s beautifully melodic, empathetic storytelling style leading the way, Morstad’s incredible, meaningful illustrations follow to highlight just some of Elsa’s significant moments: her stirring time with artists such as Picasso and Dahli; her Trompe l’oeil design breakthrough; the mixing and making of her signature shocking pink; and ‘why not’ approach to making fashion for women extravagant, unusual, bold, colourful, talked-about- and unforgettable.

Overall, Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli is a gorgeous work that balances biography, lyricism, and art in picture book format. For readers who adore biographical picture books, or simply love Kyo Maclear’s and Julie Morstad’s respective (or joint!) work, Bloom is a sensorial feast whether read quietly or shared aloud. Those both familiar and unfamiliar with Schiaparelli’s life and continuing influence in fashion will likely find something- or many things!- to appreciate and savour about Bloom. At the back pages, A Note from the Author and the Illustrator mentions that ‘it is difficult to express everything [Schiaparelli] was and did in such a short book’; Maclear and Morstad have added a concise yet rich catalog of the designer’s contributions, as well as a list of Sources and Further Reading for those interested.

 

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I received a copy of this title courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada/Tundra Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Coming Up: Blog Tour for Leila Sales’ latest YA & more!

The blog tour for Leila Sales’ latest young adult title, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, begins on April 29th and it will be stopping here on May 2nd! Do stop by and check out my thoughts on Sales’ contemporary, timely story.

I have had such a string of wonderful- truly excellent- reads lately: P.S. I Miss You; Be Prepared; Speak: The Graphic Novel; the picture book Petra. It’s looking like the streak might just be continuing! I recently finished reading K.A. Holt’s terrifically moving House Arrest, and am diving into the follow-up Knockout. Look forward to a new great picture books round-up post, as well as review posts talking about the latest books from Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe, David Wiesner, Kyo Maclear & Julie Morstad, and more!