Little Robot, by Ben Hatke

Little Robot, by Ben Hatke
Little Robot, by Ben Hatke

I’m using this book to check off the Graphic Novel space on my book bingo.

Ben Hatke’s new graphic novel Little Robot (First Second, 2015) is the innocent story of a girl who fixes things and her friendship with one of the fixed. After she accidentally powers up a baby robot lost off the back of a truck (botling? botito? robette?) the two of them strike up a tenuous partnership threatened by their differences and by giant robots who go CHOMP.

Like Hatke’s previous books (Zita the Spacegirl series, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures), this is the place to look for imaginative characters, creative visual storytelling, and casual diversity. It’s full of beautiful two page spreads and of course robots upon robots. Although it’s definitely a graphic novel, Little Robot often reads like a picture book. This would be a great book for early readers who can’t quite make out every word on the page but want the satisfaction of reading by themselves. In fact, all of the robots’ dialog is just machine noises. And isn’t that a fun thing for young readers, to get to decide what the words are? Overall I’m giving this three stars, and I’m eagerly awaiting Hatke’s 2016 graphic novel.

2016 Book Bingo

2016 challenge

Happy New Year everyone!

Have you already set a reading goal of some sort for 2016? Unfortunately, I have a confession. Last year despite my goal on Goodreads to finish 75 books, I only read 48. This year I’m shooting a little lower: I resolve to read 50 books and to complete this book bingo while doing it.

Over the year I will work steadily on this bingo (thank you Barnes & Noble) and every time I finish one of the squares, I’m going to post a review here. I’m counting on you to hold me to it.

And hey, if you haven’t already set a goal, maybe this will work for you too? Or pick one row, or even one category on here. Let me know which ones you pick and we can cheer each other on. Expand your horizons with me!

Book Review – George, by Alex Gino

George, by Alex Gino
George, by Alex Gino

George is a transgender fourth grader. She knows she’s really a girl, even though the people around her call her a boy. When she auditions to play the lead role in her class play Charlotte’s Web, her teacher suggests she play Wilbur instead. “You did a good job,” she says, “but I can’t cast you as Charlotte. I have too many girls who want the part.” Luckily, George’s best friend Kelly is a quick thinker so together they come up with a plan.

I have so many thoughts and feelings about this book, all positive, so brace yourself for a long review. There is so much to like about George I don’t even know where to start.

George already knows she’s a girl at the beginning of the book, so it’s not really a journey of self discovery. Instead, it’s about her ever-changing relationships with the people around her as she decides whether or not to come out to them, and her joy whenever she does. No one is perfect, and we see this with each successive person she trusts, but we also see them all working to support her in their own ways. On a side note, although it showed people like her mom trying to understand what George was saying, it never made their struggles more important than her story, which is huge.

Besides the obvious focus on transgender issues, the book also brought up a few interesting discussion points about safety, particularly for queer youth in general. It talked about staying away from people and situations where being out would be unsafe. More importantly, Gino shows George noticing a Safe Space for LGBT Youth poster on her principal’s wall early in the book and then (wonder of wonders!) the principal comes through by showing support for George.

I do have to say the beginning was a little rocky because Gino had so much information they needed to get across. However, it ended up being a good thing because it gave the reader and the author the same vocabulary. By the time the first few chapters were over, I can’t remember a single time the story had to stop so something could be explained. The information was all front-loaded so the story could move naturally.

By the end of the book, I was utterly absorbed. I couldn’t spare a thought for the mechanics of the writing because I was too invested in the story. George’s joy at the end is absolutely contagious. I was grinning like a fool for the last four chapters. It wasn’t a magical, too-happy ending where everything resolves perfectly, but it was uplifting and hopeful, and that’s exactly what I love seeing in books for queer youth.

As far as the ideal reading age goes, I have conflicted feelings. While I don’t think there’s any content in the book too mature for a fourth grader, I wouldn’t pitch it to every fourth grader. There are too many kids who have only ever heard the word transgender in a tone of scorn, and I would worry their questions stemming from this book would go to people who can’t answer them. To be clear, I also wouldn’t steer any kids away from it. Any kid who stumbles onto this book would surely finish it with a broader understanding of LGBT issues and a warm fuzzy feeling. I don’t know what the answer is here. Is this the first thing to give a kid with no previous knowledge on this topic? Maybe. Do you give this to kids after they’ve asked you what transgender means? Maybe. I just don’t know.

Regardless, George is sweet through and through. There’s a lot of worthwhile stuff here that we should see more often in books. We get to watch George come out to the people closest to her and it’s a display of strength and vulnerability anyone can learn from. Also, how great that there’s multiple examples for kids to see how to be supportive when someone comes out to you!

Lessons learned in this book:
-You can be brave by yourself…(George)
-…but it’s okay to ask other people to help you be brave. (Kelly)
-People’s actions can be different than what’s in their heart. Maybe they don’t mean to hurt you. (Rick)
-It’s okay to do a little research when something scares you. (Mom)
-You’ll be surprised who your best support is. (Scott)

Read this book. Every adult out there, please read this book. It’s poignant and joyful and honest and respectful of the intense inner world we sometimes forget kids have. Read it.

Liz’s 2015 Best Books List

book-pile

Hello readers,

Way back in the spring my aunt asked me if I had any book recommendations to share with my little cousins. Luckily, I get to be surrounded by great books every day at my job, so I definitely have a few ideas. I put together a list of my favorite books from the last five years, sorted by intended readers’ ages and summarized in one sentence. Picking my favorites ended up being a lot of fun, so I think I’m going to do a new list at the beginning of every summer. And by all the saints was it difficult to keep these lists under control, even with only five years of books!

I’m posting them individually by category, so if you don’t want to scroll through all of them just click on the one you’re interested in. Also, I know I have missed some really good books in these lists. The only items on here are books I’ve actually read and even then I really cut down the list, so you’ll notice some striking gaps. If you have recommendations for me, leave it in a comment or get at me on twitter and I’ll try to get it read before next year’s list. Links are below to each individual post.

(At the bottom you’ll see the key I’m going to use for all these lists.)

Elementary Readers

Middle School Readers

High School Readers

Graphic Novels (all ages)

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

2015 Best Books – Elementary

The Princess in Black, Shannon Hale.
The Princess in Black, Shannon Hale.

Here are my picks for the best elementary level books of the last five years.

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

Early Elementary (K-2) – Beginning readers.

These kids are heavily reliant on pictures to tell the story, and although they can read anywhere from key words to full sentences they need pictures to follow the story. Answering questions about what just happened and what might happen next really helps these readers’ comprehension. They are probably excited to read on their own but it’s still a challenge.

The Princess in Black. (featured image) Shannon Hale. 2014.

Princesses aren’t supposed to wear black, but they also aren’t supposed to fight dragons during tea time.

🏰❤

Mercy Watson series. Kate DiCamillo. 2006 (Book 6 released 2010).

Mercy Watson is a talented problem solver, a loyal family member…and a hungry pig.

😅

Fly Guy series. Ted Arnold. 2006 (Book 15 released 2014).

Can a fly really be a pet? Buzz is determined to prove it can by winning the Amazing Pet Show.

🌍😅

Elephant and Piggie series. Mo Willems. 2007 (Book 23 to be released 2015).

Piggie is crazily optimistic and Elephant is overly cautious, but together they’re the perfect team.

😅

Late Elementary (3-5) – Partner readers.

Although their ability to read is growing, they still need you to ask them questions about their books in order to comprehend subplots or larger themes. They will begin to distinguish character’s choices as part of a character and not just part of the story, which is important to future reading abilities. Some illustrations will help reluctant readers stay invested in the story. Books for this age group should stay fairly short to mid length so they can feel like they’re making progress in it.

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness. Tricia Springstub, Eliza Wheeler. 2015.

Cody’s summer is full of ups (the fountain of happiness) and downs (the dreaded whim-whams.)

🌍

Flora and Ulysses. Kate DiCamillo. 2013.

When Flora performs CPR on Ulysses the squirrel, he comes back to life with superpowers.

😅🌟❤️

I’ve Lost My Hippopotamus! Jack Prelutsky. 2012.

A collection of poetry in the footsteps of Shel Silverstein, with new jokes for a new generation.

😅

Spirit Animals Series. Various Authors. 2013.

Four kids summon Great Beasts instead of regular spirit animals and must work together with the mystic Greencloaks to defeat a great evil.

🏰

Wonderstruck. Brian Selznick. 2011.

The stories of two deaf kids weave together through time and across cities into modern day NY.

📆🌍🌟

Fortunately, the Milk… Neil Gaiman. 2013.

Dad has a perfectly good reason why it took him so long to get milk from the corner store.

🏰😅

Janitors series. Tyler Whitesides. 2011.

When Spencer can suddenly see monsters at every turn, he learns what janitors really do.

🏰

The Candy Shop War. Brandon Mull. Book 2 released 2012.

Could candy that gives the eater magical abilities possibly have a downside?

🏰

My Sister the Vampire. Sienna Mercer. Book 16 released 2014.

Olivia is surprised to find Ivy, an identical twin, in her new hometown. Well, not exactly identical.

👻

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series. Brandon Sanderson. Book 5 expected 2016.

Breaker-of-stuff Alcatraz Smedry must face a cabal of librarians bent on hiding the truth.

🏰❤️

Wonder. R.J. Palacio. 2013.

August wants a normal 5th grade year, but that’s unlikely considering his 27 past surgeries.

🌍🌟

Beast Quest. Adam Blade. Book 82 released 2014.

Tom is sent on a quest to save his town, but it turns out his isn’t the only city that needs saving.

🏰

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

2015 Best Books – Middle School

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, Julie Berry.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, Julie Berry.

Here are my picks for the best middle school level books of the last five years.

Key
🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Fave

Middle School (6-8) – Independent readers.

They no longer need illustrations to keep their attention or draw them in, and they are less likely to share what they are reading with you. Their reading vocabulary has expanded enormously and their comprehension no longer relies on questions. Stories should move quickly to keep their interest and they will become easily frustrated with main characters they can’t see themselves in. They are unlikely to be interested in literary or thematic experimentation, but they will enjoy more serious themes and situations.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Catherynne M. Valente. 2011.

September hitches a ride on the wind out her kitchen window and into a new world.

🏰❤️

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. (featured image) Julie Berry. 2014.

Sure, the girls could report the mysterious murders, but that wouldn’t be as fun, would it?

📆👻

Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline Woodson. 2014.

Jackie tells the story of how she became who she wanted to be despite all the odds.

📆🌍🌟

Museum of Thieves. Lian Tanner. 2010.

Goldie runs away and discovers her seemingly perfect city has a dark side hidden in a museum.

🏰

Ranger’s Apprentice series. John  Flanagan. Book 12 released 2013.

The story of Will’s training to become a Royal Ranger, protector of the kingdom and its people.

🏰

The Kane Chronicles Book 1: The Red Pyramid. Rick Riordan. 2010.

Sadie and Carter face down angry Egyptian gods in a battle to save the world.

🏰

W.A.R.P. Book 1: The Reluctant Assassin. Eoin Colfer. 2013.

It’s not Riley’s fault he’s an assassin, but he’s in real trouble when he accidentally time travels.

🏰📆

Monstrous. MarcyKate Connolley. 2015.

Kym’s father created her from human and animal parts to save Bryre, but is she just a monster?

🏰👻❤️

All The Wrong Questions series. Lemony Snicket. 2012.

For anyone who didn’t want SOUE to end, Snicket himself recounts his childhood in the VFD.

🌍😅

The Menagerie. Tui Sutherland. 2013.

Logan discovers a refuge for mythical creatures that aren’t so mythical after all and must protect them.

🏰

N.E.R.D.S. Book 1: National Rescue, Espionage, and Defense Society. Michael Buckley. Book 5 released 2013.

They might look like outcasts, but they’re actually inside agents, running a spy network in school.

🌍😅

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Chris Grabenstein. 2013.

In a competition for the prize of a lifetime, Kyle must battle his way out of the new library.

🌍

The Crossover. Kwame Alexander. 2015.

Josh and Jordan are both basketball stars, but they aren’t so good at being brothers.

🌍🌟

The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister. Collection. 2014.

A collection of short stories from twisted minds that are sure to leave you shivering.

🏰👻

Key
🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Fave

2015 Best Books – Graphic Novels

Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke
Zita the Spacegirl, Ben Hatke

Can we talk about graphic novels for a second? This is kind of a sore spot with me. Graphic novels get a bad rap for two reasons. First of all, they’re called graphic novels. Do you know how many parents balk when I show their kids the graphic novel section and then whisper to me “Wait, but aren’t they…graphic?” Yes! Yes they are! Because “graphic” means “giving a clear and effective picture! vivid! of, relating to, or expressed by writing! depicted in a vivid manner!” And sure, the actual dictionary uses semicolons instead of exclamation points to separate those definitions, but I feel exclamation-pointy about graphic novels. The second reason people tend to look down on graphic novels is that they don’t consider it reading, or real reading. Here’s the thing: fewer words DO NOT equal fewer brain cells being stimulated. Graphic novels, like comic books, are packed with brilliant cover-to-cover art. They’re loaded with symbolism, art history, and creative genius, as well as basic storytelling techniques and literary themes. Trust me, you want your kids reading graphic novels.

Anyway, here they are, my picks for the best graphic novels of the past five years.

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

Late Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels

Cleopatra in Space. Mike Maihack. 2014.

Young Cleopatra is needed for an intergalactic war, so aliens time-kidnap her from Egypt.

🏰😅

Cardboard. Doug TenNapel. 2012.

What started as a simple birthday gift turns out to be a fantastic adventure with hidden dangers.

📆🏰👻

Meanwhile. Jason Shiga. 2010.

Chocolate or Vanilla? That’s the first choice of many in this choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel.

🌍😅

Zita the Spacegirl. (featured image) Ben Hatke. 2011.

Zita jumps into a portal to save her friend and ends up fighting her way through a different planet.

🏰❤️

Hazardous Tales series. Nathan Hale. 2012.

Real history meets graphic novels in these exciting tales of America’s most unbelievable stories.

📆

El Deafo. Cece Bell. 2014.

Starting school is scary, even if you’re not deaf. Luckily Cece is secretly…El Deafo, a superhero!

📆🌍🌟

LumberJanes. Grace Ellis. 2014.

Eight friends earn merit badges by protecting the Lumberjanes camp from mythical creatures.

🏰🌟❤️

High School/New Adult Graphic Novels

This One Summer. Mariko Tamaki. 2014.

Two best friends deal with issues new to them after growing up during their year apart.

🌍🌟

Ms. Marvel. G. Willow Wilson. 2015.

Kamala Khan thought high school was hard enough before she suddenly became a superhero.

🏰🌟

Persepolis. Marjane Satrapi. 2000.

On the verge of revolution, Marjane is sent from her home in Iran to boarding school in Paris.

🌍📆🌟❤️ *2000? Am I even trying to follow the 5 year rule???

Key

🏰Fantasy

📆Historical

🌍Realistic

👻Spooky

😅Funny

🌟Award Winner

❤️My Faves

There are also countless graphic novel adaptations of classic literature, fairy tales, mythology, operas, and even ballet. These are usually easy to get sucked into, which is great for reluctant readers, and a great way to understand difficult stories. I’d recommend the graphic novel adaptations of A Wrinkle in Time, The Graveyard Book, George O’Connor’s Olympians series, and the Graphic Spin adaptations published by Stone Arch Books.