Thursday, April 23, 2015

YA Book Review: Tomboy by Liz Prince

Prince, Liz. Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir. San Francisco: Zest, 2014. Print. Grades 9+

This brutally honest, funny, and sometimes agonizing graphic memoir provides insight into the raw emotions experienced by Liz Prince, a self-identified tomboy.  As early as the age of two, Prince would cry hysterically when she was forced to wear dresses and, like many girls, became ashamed of her body as she got older, even covering herself with a t-shirt as she went swimming at summer camp.  “I was suddenly aware that I was under-performing in ways I didn’t even know existed. From then on, I always showered in my swimsuit, I changed clothes in the out-house (which defeated the purpose of showering) and worst of all, I developed the habit of SWIMMING IN A T-SHIRT.” Tomboy is also a timeline of Prince’s evolving thoughts about her own sexuality and gender identity as she lived through years of bullying and rejection from boys. “Dear God, I won’t pretend to know what your plan is for me, but please don’t make me be a girl. So, can you make sure I never get boobs or have my period?” Her unique perspective on the gender stereotypes deeply embedded in American culture is refreshing, empowering, and very genuine. Throughout the story, Prince eventually discovers a community of like-minded nonconformists, interested in comics, punk music, and zines, and transforms herself into a strong young woman who is comfortable with her identity as a tomboy.  This message of self-acceptance will likely strike a chord with young adult female readers who have struggled with bullying, body image issues, or concerns about gender-identity. The black and white artwork in Tomboy is very reminiscent of the raw style of Jeffrey Brown (Author of Clumsy and Funny Misshapen Body) and delivers a touch of casual charm.  Prince’s clean trademark artwork is child-like but authentic which perfectly supplements the text that evokes so many emotions.  Prince also exaggerates many of the facial expressions of the characters in her book, making her character one that readers will likely sympathize with. Ultimately, Tomboy is the perfect coming-of-age tale for any teen who considers themselves an “outcast” as it provides an honest message that it is absolutely possible to eventually gain self-acceptance, despite the heart-wrenching agony of childhood traumas.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book Review: Thirteen Chairs

Shelton, Dave. Thirteen Chairs. New York: Scholastic, 2015. Print. Grades 6-12. 
Jack is a curious boy who decides that he has to know what is inside a nearby house which is rumored to be haunted. Upon finally entering the supposedly haunted house he has walked past for several years of his childhood, he encounters a room filled with unusual characters telling ghost stories by candlelight: “The only light comes from the candles on the table, one for each of those seated there, casting shifting, looming shadows onto the crumbling plaster of the walls.” Stories are told from the perspectives of each unique character sitting in the room, bringing readers a very diverse mix of paranormal stories. Jack takes notice of one peculiar man in particular: “[Piotr] is enormous. He looks as if he might have been carved from a mountain. From within his extravagant rust-and-ashes beard there appears a wide and welcoming grin of crooked teeth”. Piotr shares his own tale, The Red Tree, in which a woodcutter is strangled to death by the limbs of a tree. Shelton writes the story as though it is really being told aloud by a non-native speaker: “And woodcutter feel blood is all spilling out, running down his body, running down onto tree…. [blood] is making red tree.” Thirteen Chairs seamlessly intertwines thirteen distinct stories into a single narrative reinforced by the author’s mysterious black and white ink drawings shown at the beginning of each story, giving a glimpse into the terror contained in the consecutive pages. Ultimately, Shelton brings us a creatively organized collection of short tales to chill the bones of middle and high school readers. Fans of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark will likely be thrilled by the horror contained in this book and the short story format may delight reluctant readers. Thirteen Chairs will also be the perfect recommendation for those who are constantly pestering the Youth Services Librarian for “something truly spooky."

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Each year the month of April is set aside as National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate poets and their craft. This is a great time to introduce children of all ages to the power of poetry and show them how fun creative writing can be. Whether you’re a teacher or a parent/guardian, you’ll find several poetry books at your local library to help you and the child in your life celebrate poetry during the month of April. Here are a few of my favorite poetry books to get you started!

Janeczko, Paul B., and Christopher Raschka. A Kick in the Head: an Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2005.

A Kick in the Head is a fun collection of poems written in several different forms selected by Paul Janeczko. After reading this book, young readers will be surprised to learn that there are so many different forms of poetry in the world! Each poem in the book has a short description of what the form entails, providing readers with the chance to gain insight into the art form known as poetry. The illustrations in blue, red, yellow, and green are very inviting and also help bring the fun poems to life. Best suited for children grades 3-8.

Lobel, Arnold. (1983). The Book of Pigericks. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

This charming book consists of many funny limericks ("pigericks") alongside amusing illustrations depicting the funny scenes in the poems. The book begins with a limerick of "an old pig with a pen, who wrote stories and verse now and then..." and ends with the same mustached pig who "...sat quietly with his comfortable cat... while he rested his brushes and pen."  Some of the poems and illustrations also include pigs with long necks, a pig with 16 coats on, and even a pig nightly slumbered with eggs on his head. Despite this book being 30 years old, Lobel's limericks are sure to amuse children and adults of all ages in 2014.

Sidman, Joyce, and Rick Allen. Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010.

This is a beautiful book of poetry by Joyce Sidman, Illustrated by Rick Allen, and is best suited for children grades 3-8. The eloquent poems contained in this book describe the magic of nocturnal animals while detailing the fascinating sights seen in nature at night. In addition to the poems, the book provides a wealth of factual information regarding the scene described in the poem, such as facts about the world of mushrooms. The illustrations, made by a process of relief printing, result in beautiful multicolored illustrations that exceptionally complement the theme of nocturnal animals. Overall the book is well written, designed, and organized while being very aesthetically pleasing.