Recently Read: Kate Messner’s Breakout & Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise

Review posts featuring a children’s lit title and young adult lit title don’t often (if ever!) appear on this site. However, after reading Kate Messner’s Breakout (the children’s title) and Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise (the young adult title) in succession, I thought it might be interesting to pair them together in a review. Both titles deal with the criminal justice system (incarceration, punishment, and the complicated responsibility of prison wardens) albeit in different capacities, degrees and vantage points. While weighty and controversial issues surrounding the justice system and prison system are never off the grid, I feel as though these reads- and the subjects they proffer for sincere examination- might be considered even more timely and significant. (Just a warning, there are some plot spoilers ahead in the reviews!).

In Kate Messner‘s latest middle grade novel Breakout– already receiving a number of positive critical reviews- multiple middle school characters tell the complicated story of what happened over the course of a summer in which two prison inmates escaped a high-security prison located in the heart of their small town of Wolf Creek. Best friends Nora and Lizzie, along with new classmate Elidee, through journal entries, recorded conversations, text messages, posters, new clippings, and recorded morning announcements (and the addition of Nora’s younger brother’s comics), track the events, aftereffects, and transformations of their community after the breakout of two maximum security prisoners. Breakout tackles and confronts a number of heavy-hitting issues, including privilege, spreading of misinformation, prejudice and racism (in and out of the prison), and what foolishness and fear can breed- or inflame. Elidee’s narrative is a standout here: her being a newcomer to town, her being a racial minority in Wolf Creek, and the the fact that her brother is serving time in Wolf Creek’s prison works to highlight the biases of even the most well-minded and well-meaning children and adults. Moreover, through Elidee’s narrative, Messner rather wonderfully ties in the brilliant and influential voices of Jacqueline Woodson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Nikki Grimes (among others): as Elidee finds Wolf Creek and its residents increasingly stifling, explicitly and appallingly racist at times, her study of lyricists and poets inspires her to write and try to make her own breakout from Wolf Creek. Breakout is definitely a read to get dialogue and self-reflection going; I can see elementary classes getting their teeth into this layered read. Well-written, absorbing and truly substantial in terms of content and subject matter, Breakout is a read that offers much for serious consideration.

Sarah Crossan‘s newest young adult novel Moonrise is a read that moved me to tears, and like Breakout, one that I keep thinking back on. Crossan, author of the acclaimed novels One, Apple and Rain, and Ireland’s new Children’s Literature Laureate, has written a novel in verse about a seventeen year old whose older brother receives the date of his execution while on death row in Texas. There is, as one might expect, a tremendous amount of sadness and brutality in this novel, as well as the pervasive atmosphere of desperation and tension that threatens to overflow at every turn. When readers meet Joe, we learn that he hasn’t seen his older brother Ed in ten years- since Joe was seven years old. While Joe and his older sister Angela have never forgotten about Ed and his incarceration, the prospect of his being put to death- even while serving time on death row in Wakefield, Texas- seemed unreal. But when Ed receives his date of execution, and chances for appeal are almost out, Joe makes the difficult trip to Wakefield. The reason for Ed’s incarceration is a slow reveal: the exploration into his making a false admission of guilt and claim of innocence becomes almost secondary to Joe and Ed’s reunion; their remembrances of a childhood fraught with a terrible parent; Joe’s memories of some moments of true happiness with Ed; and how Joe, Angela and Ed come to fathom the looming possibility of saying a final goodbye. Crossan’s writing is deceptively smooth and effortless- so much profundity is imbued in Joe’s often stark narrative. As with Kate Messner’s Breakout, Moonrise offers so much for contemplation here regarding fallacies and serious fractures within the justice and prison systems (and regarding those who work on the inside). Moonrise is a potentread, where the knowledge of unalterable, irrevocable character decisions and repercussions make for a haunting, unsettling read. Readers who have previously read and appreciated Crossan’s affecting work, readers of novels-in-verse, and those searching for contemporary, weightier YA, might especially be interested in seeking Moonrise out.

I received copies of Breakout and Moonrise courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. Thank you! Both titles have been published and are currently available. All opinions and comments are my own.

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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.

Recently Read: Wishtree & The Exact Location of Home

I have had the pleasure of recently reading two children’s fiction titles: Wishtree, from Newbery Medal award-winning author Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan), and The Exact Location of Home from another award-winning author, Kate Messner (The Seventh Wish). Read on for my thoughts on the two middle-grade titles:

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, illus. Charles Santoso
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 26, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends
Book Description:

Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood wishtree” – people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood. You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

Funny, deep, warm, and nuanced, Wishtree is Newbery Medalist and New York Times -bestselling author Katherine Applegate at her very best – writing from the heart, and from a completely unexpected point of view.

Told through the first-person narrative of an old oak tree (a wishtree) named Red, Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree is compassionate story with overarching themes about the importance of kindness and of hope. The angle of the story being told from an ancient oak tree’s perspective is truly unique: like an omnipotent being watching over a neighborhood, Red tells us stories about one particular neighborhood they have been watching over for years. As Red witnesses unwelcome and outright cruel acts taken against a young girl named Samar (and her family) who have recently moved into the neighborhood, Red decides that the time for action has come. With the help of friend Bongo, a clever crow, and the slight interference of wildlife friends close by, Red takes on a daring mission to make Samar’s wish- for that of friendship- come true.

Readers who have previously enjoyed Katherine Applegate’s titles will undoubtedly enjoy this story; a story, at its core, about kindness, inclusion, and friendship. While I do think the story might have benefited from a longer finale and conclusion (certain facets to the story seemed a little rushed and/or solved too quickly!), it is nonetheless a moving tale. A beautiful, affecting story that reads almost like a parable, Applegate has another solid middle grade title here with Wishtree.

The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: September 12, 2017 by Bloomsbury USA*
Book Description:

Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people – especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo – a garage sale GPS unit – for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

An important story of love and hope that will capture readers’ hearts, The Exact Location of Home is another must read from beloved author Kate Messner.

Kate Messner, picture book writer and middle grade author of The Seventh Wish and All the Answers, returns to contemporary, realistic issues in The Exact Location of Home. Readers are taken into the changing and suddenly complicated world of protagonist and narrator Zig. As we soon learn, Zig lives with mom; his dad, Zig Senior, and mom are divorced, though Zig looks forward to his (increasingly sporadic) visits with his larger-than-life dad almost more than anything. After he learns from his mom that Zig Senior is not making his next planned visit and his mom remains tight-lipped about the reasons for the cancellations, Zig decides to investigate a little bit. While investigating, Zig and his two closest friends become ensconced in daring geocaching missions around his neighborhood- where Zig becomes utterly convinced his dad is leaving secret clues for him to track him down. Messner carefully balances plotlines that include serious financial strain, homelessness, parental lies, and possible romance. It’s a heavy load of subject matters, but Messner approaches all- especially that of sudden homelessness, fear, and shame (not often covered in middle grade)- with careful consideration and eloquence.

As with Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree, discussed above, Messner’s The Exact Location of Home touches upon realistic, seriously affecting issues that resonate and provide much for contemplation. Readers who are searching for a meaningful, contemporary title- with a tangible, complex young protagonist- might especially appreciate The Exact Location of Home.

(*It appears that The Exact Location of Home was first published solely in e-book format in 2014; reissued this past September 2017 in print format.)

I received copies of both of these titles courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.

Picture Book Review: Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner & Christopher Silas Neal

Review: Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, illus. Christopher Silas Neal
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: March 7, 2017 by Chronicle Books
Book Description:

In this gorgeous companion to the acclaimed Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal bring to life a secret underwater world. In this book, readers will discover the plants and animals that make up the rich, interconnected ecosystem of a mountain pond. Over the pond, the water is a mirror, reflecting the sky. But under the pond is a hidden world of minnows darting, beavers diving, tadpoles growing. These and many other secrets are waiting to be discovered… over and under the pond.

The water’s a mirror, reflecting the sky.
Sunshine and clouds- then a shadow below.
“What’s down there?” I ask.
“Under the pond?” Mom says.

Award-winning author Kate Messner has a number of writing credits to her name, including the Marty McGuire series and the highly-praised middle grade novel The Seventh Wish. Christopher Silas Neal is an award-winning artist, who has multiple- gorgeous- picture books to his illustrative credit, including Lifetime and two other picture books with Kate Messner. Over and Under the Pond is the third collaboration by Messner and Neal in a series of brilliant information-filled picture books: Over and Under the Snow (a personal favourite) and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.

As a big fan of the first two picture books in this sequence, I was delighted to get a chance to pore over (and I mean: pore over!) this latest entry. Over and Under the Pond is, as its companions, a wonderful experience in visuals and text. Poetic, lyrical and educational all at once, the splendid mix of Messner’s words and Neal’s full page colour illustrations- which are outstanding- take informational picture books to a place of excellence. In Over and Under the Pond, our guides for exploration are a young boy and his mother: paddling, lifting and dipping, and drifting in their canoe, mother and son survey the wide breadth of life found above the water of a pond and under the water of a pond. From cattails to tadpoles, herons to minnows and moose, Messner and Neal highlight the incredible scope of animal and plant life that can be found in a particular ecosystem. ‘An Author’s Note‘ provides even more information on a pond’s ecosystem,¬† and the inspiration behind this story; there is also a beautiful and convenient ‘About the Animals’ section matching animal image to descriptions; as well as a ‘Further Reading‘ recommendations list of print and online resources.

Overall, Over and Under the Pond is superb; another must-read collaboration from the author and illustrator. This title (as well as the others in the series), is a terrific picture book to use for a more specific environmental-themed storytime, or for any readers looking for a lovely, lyrical and educational picture book.

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