Kayla the Great and The Magic Red Dress
by Stephanie Davis; Illustrated by Robert Paul, Jr.
Kayla the Great and the Magic Red Dress is about a little girl named Kayla and what happens when she loses her favorite red dress. Despite the fact that I could tell this book was self-published from first glance at the cover, I was interested to read this book because it was the first picture book I’d been asked to review that featured a biracial child.
Both my kids liked the story. Pre-K monkey specifically told me, “I love this book!” when I asked for her opinion to put on my blog. However, after the first read, she wasn’t really interested in reading it again. Likewise, toddler monkey sat quietly when I read it to her, but the book was slightly too long to hold her interest. My impression was that neither the text nor the illustrations were as polished or tightened as they could’ve been, and the book design was very poor (especially the font choice).
However, this is an okay story with a simple, easy-to-understand storyline, and I have a feeling that families with a “Kayla” in their life may very well be happy with this one. The main character looks a lot like one of my friend’s daughters, and I do love that about this book.
Disclaimer: Review based on free copy provided by the author.
The Apple-Pip Princess by Jane Ray
Intricate illustrations combine with a gentle, earth-friendly storyline in this fairytale picture book.
I took this home from the library, figuring my Pre-K Monkey would be drawn to the pink cover and “Princess” title, and I also ended up falling in love with it myself. Sadly, this appears to be one that you’ll have to request from the library!
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Set in 1959 Virginia, this unforgettable novel tells the story of Sarah Dunbar, a member of the first group of African American students to integrate her town’s public high school. Extremely bright and ambitious, Sarah faces numerous threats, verbal abuse, and physical violence so she can further her education in one of the best schools in town. Complicating matters is the unexplainable attraction she feels for Linda Hairston, the daughter of one of the most vocal white segregationists in town, a girl who despises Sarah and her black classmates.
Told in alternating viewpoints, Sarah’s and Linda’s, the novel shows us how their romantic relationship grows despite racism and discrimination from their peers. Though the story is set in a fictional town, it feels unflinchingly true-to-life, as we see through Sarah’s eyes the fear and unreasonable hatred she faces from her fellow students. Sarah is a religious Christian, and because of this feels very confused about her sexuality and is unsure of what it all means. While the budding friendship and romance between Linda and Sarah feels realistic, I wasn’t quite sure I believed the love-at-first-glance chemistry that the two girls felt for each other. They meet on Sarah’s first day of school, and I had trouble understanding how Sarah, who was terrified for the physical well-being of herself and her sister, was even psychologically able feel attracted to anyone, much less one of the meanest girls at school. I also wished that we could’ve learned a little more about Sarah’s home life as there are so few stories about everyday life for African Americans in the 1950’s.
But those minor points aside, Lies We Tell Ourselves is an eye-opening and compelling novel. I am really in awe of Robin Talley’s bravery in telling this story.
My review is based on a free copy I received from the publisher, and now you have a chance to win your own! The winner of the Rafflecopter giveaway below will receive 1 free copy of Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley from the publisher. Click the “Terms and conditions” button on the Rafflecopter widget for more information.
Edited to add: This giveaway is open to US residents only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Zita the Spacegirl is a graphic novel for younger readers about a young girl named Zita who discovers an asteroid with a big red button. Despite her friend Jonah’s warnings, Zita pushes the big red button (as one does, right?) and it opens some kind of teleport gateway through which tentacles reach out and grab Joseph right before the gateway disappears. Determined to rescue her friend, Zita pushes the button again and leaps through the portal, launching herself into an adventure on an alien planet filled with funny creatures, mysterious gadgets, and a doomsday prophecy.
I love graphic novels and I love scifi. But somehow the first time I read this, a year ago maybe, I didn’t connect with it. I can’t explain why. Maybe because I’m working on my own space adventure novel and was nitpicking things that reminded me of my work-in-progress? Anyway, lately my 4 yo (formerly known as Preschooler Monkey, now Pre-K Monkey) has been into graphic novels too (she loved Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale), so I’ve been looking for more to share with her. I happened to see this one again on the library shelf and picked it up because Pre-K monkey is really into Star Wars these days.
Pre-K monkey LOVES this book. She LOVE LOVE LOVES this book. We had to read it every night for a week. We talked about it. Zita showed up in her drawings from school. Like really, she loved this book.
And now that I’ve seen the book through her eyes, I love it too!
Some picture books for Star Wars fans: I also bought these little picture books by Jeffrey Brown for my Star Wars fanatic husband. They’re fun to look at with kids but are filled with Star Wars jokes that adult fans will enjoy: Darth Vader and Son, Vader’s Little Princess, and Goodnight Darth Vader.
Nest by Esther Ehrlich
Nest by Esther Ehrlich is a literary upper middle grade to lower YA novel (read: “tween novel”) about a young girl named Naomi, or “Chirp,” living in 1970s Cape Cod and what happens to her family when her mother, Hannah, is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Chirp is obsessed with birds and copes with her family situation by birdwatching and through her growing friendship with Joey, a boy living across the street who also wants to escape his own trouble family life.
This novel does not hold anything back. Prepare to cry your heart out as I did when I read this. While it does end on a hopeful note, there are some terribly sad moments. Part of me was completely shattered for poor Chirp (and my gut reaction is always NOOOO!!!), but the realism of her situation and the author’s research into Hannah’s condition (mental and physical) made these events feel very authentic and necessary.
An additional layer to this is that Chirp and her family are Jewish. At the beginning of the novel, the Jewish information and moments felt added in–it felt like we were being told that Chirp was Jewish rather than being shown (the editor’s note at the start including Yiddish words also adds to this feeling). However, as the novel progressed and there are a few spot-on and humorous moments, her heritage begins to feel more organic. For example, Chirp isn’t sure if she’s allowed to say the word “Jesus” and feels strange seeing a bible in a motel room, things I could totally relate to having grown up Hindu in Arkansas.
However, the one issue for me in this book was the pacing. While this is a literary, character-driven novel and an action-packed plot would have been completely wrong for this book, I still felt there were times when I wasn’t quite sure where the story was going or what type of story I was reading. I loved the bird information and images (especially loved the Cape Cod setting), but these tidbits weren’t tied as closely as I’d expected to the storyline.
All in all, this is a heartfelt, thoughtful book that will speak to kids looking for a more serious read or are going through tougher issues in their own lives, but aren’t quite ready for the mature romances in many young adult novels.
Disclosure: Review of free ARC I received through NetGalley.