“Piecing Me Together” Renee Watson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Bloomsbury. 260 p. To be published February 14, 2017.

piecingmetogetherJade is starting her junior year at a very exclusive high school located on the other side of her neighborhood. She did not want to leave her old school or friends, but accepted a scholarship because she wanted to learn Spanish and travel with their study abroad program.

As one of a handful of black students at the school, Jade finds that because she is black and poor she is expected to act, speak and think a certain way. She is even expected to participate in a mentorship program offered only to African American girls, causing her to feel that her classmates and teachers disregard her, and are unable to understand why their expectations are hurtful. Prejudices and stereotypes at school as well as in the news cause Jade to create beautiful artistic collages from her self-examinations, as she reflects upon the state of the world for herself and other blacks.

Watson’s thoughtful observations about a young girl finding her voice, while telling her story about what it means to be black, will be an eye opener to many who don’t understand white privilege. I especially loved her poem “Things that are Black and Beautiful” on page 136. I can’t quote it here, because this is an ARC and the author/publisher might choose to change it for the final version of the book, but it is lovely. The beautiful cover art is also striking, while the title of the book excellently conveys Jade’s talent and her actions as she seeks to express herself.

I predict “Piecing Me Together” will win the Coretta Scott King Book Award at the American Library Association’s annual Youth Media Awards, as well as a few other book awards.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

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“Olinguito, from A to Z! /Olinguito, de la A a la Z!” Lulu Delacre

Rated 5 stars ***** 2016. Illustrated by Lulu Delacre. Children’s Book Press (Lee & Low). IncludOlinguitofromAtoZOlinguitoDelaAalaZes descriptive narratives on the Discovery of the Olinguito, The Cloud Forest and The Illustrations. Also includes ways readers can become explorers within the pages of the book as well as through online activities. The book also includes a detailed Glossary of scientific names of plants and animals in the cloud forest, complete with illustrations of each one, a list of More Helpful Words, and a detailed list of the Author’s Sources.

This amazingly detailed, well-researched and beautifully illustrated bilingual picture book for older and younger readers is more than an A to Z book of plants and animals found in the Ecuadorian Andes cloud forest. Used in conjunction with the very detailed Glossary, each page unveils unique and varied life forms found in this fascinating cloud forest.

Readers will learn about unusual creatures such as the tanager, quetzal, barbet and, of course, the olinguito. Not to be outdone, reading about vegetation with interesting sounding names like the Bomarea flower, passiflora, wax palm and epiphytes will also pique their curiosity. Each page contains rich stores of knowledge waiting to be explored. Each of the more than 40 plants and animals in the book have a story to tell, and can easily become extensive research projects for its elementary and middle school readers.

Well known author and illustrator Lulu Delacre has outdone herself with her latest book. I expect “Olinguito, from A to Z! /Olinguito, de la A a la Z!” will create quite a stir at next year’s American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards. I consider it a candidate for the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, as well as for the Pura Belpré Author Award. Remember that you read it first here!

Highly recommended for ages 7-14.

“If you find me” Emily Murdoch

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. St. Martin’s Griffin. 248 pp.

IfYouFindMeAfter 10 years of living in a camper without water or electricity in the middle of the woods with her meth addict mother and six-year-old sister Janessa, fifteen-year-old Carey knows how to hunt for food, how to teach herself and Janessa their schooling, how to play the violin, and how to survive. Carey has always taken care of Janessa, but now that Mama hasn’t come home in two months she’s worried because they are running low on food.

When a strange man claiming to be her father and a social worker show up, the girls are taken back to civilization. Janessa has never lived outside of the woods, but takes happily to her new life. Despite the love Carey feels from him and his wife for Janessa, she finds it hard to believe they love her. She had to do bad things to survive, and one of those big secrets has kept Janessa from speaking for over a year.

High school is awful; with her stepsister Delaney making sure it gets worse every day. Everything having to do with civilization is new to Carey and she is overwhelmed, wanting to run away to the woods. Her new friend Ryan was trying to be helpful when he showed her a flier saying Mama kidnapped her when she was five years old, but Mama had always said her father beat them so she had to run away.

Carey doesn’t know what to believe and, because of her big secret, is unsure of her place in this new world. She is certain everyone will hate her when they find out what happened that night. As Carey remembers what she had chosen to forget, she realizes she will have to tell the secret that bound her and Janessa together and kept Janessa from speaking. Their future depends on letting go of the past.

Emily Murdoch does a wonderful job drawing readers into the mind and heart of a young girl forced to grow up in the harshest of circumstances. Her use of flashbacks as Carey remembered Mama and their years in the woods had me on the edge of my seat as I walked through Carey’s pain with her. The rawness of those years comes out in Carey’s violin playing, and will necessitate that readers have a box of tissues at the ready as they read. I finished the book in one sitting, and know it will mesmerize others as it did me.

Highly recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

“A Trick of the Light” Lois Metzger

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins). 196 pp. Includes “Author’s Note” and a list of books on eating disorders.

ATrickOfTheLightMike and his friend Tamio enjoyed watching Ray Harryhausen movies, discussing his stop-motion method of filming and the many creatures he brought to life using this technique. When his mother began to spend her days sleeping and his dad left home after he found a young girlfriend, Mike’s life started to go downhill. Keeping his problems at home a secret from Tamio, Mike began to listen to the voice in his head telling him to reinvent himself.

After he adds being rejected by a pretty girl at school to his list of problems, Mike is sure becoming fit and having a strong mind will be the answers to everything that ails him. The voice in his head urges him to become friends with Amber, a girl going through her own problems, and she gives him tips on how to shop for food and how to eat less.

Mike loves his new body and how running and exercising make him feel. He shuts himself off from everyone except Amber, and revels in his new powers of self-control. Unfortunately Mike’s new body begins to betray him, and he will have to learn to silence the voice in his head before it’s too late.

“A Trick of the Light” enlightens readers that males also suffer from eating disorders, and offers insight to this hidden population.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

NEW UPDATE!: Lois Metzger was kind enough to let me know that the paperback edition of this wonderful book will be published on September 23. It will include a new section called “10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Eating Disorders.” She also noted the book was listed on ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults (compiled by YALSA) and was also on the Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year list. Congratulations, and thanks Lois!

“Paper Valentine” Brenna Yovanoff

Rated 1 star * 2013. Razor Bill (Penguin Group). 304 pp.

PaperValentineHannah misses her best friend Lillian. Hannah was always the shy one of their group, with brave Lillian having no problem telling everyone else what to do and how to do it. With Lillian dead, Hannah feels small, alone and cowardly. She fills her days thinking of Lillian and her struggles with food which, ultimately, caused her to die. Before long Lillian’s ghost joins her, and the two girls are reunited in a strange friendship between a ghost and her former best friend.

Death comes again to her small town when several young girls are murdered, surrounded by toys and paper valentines. Lillian is sure Hannah can help find the serial killer, but Hannah is too afraid. She’s too shy to talk to Finny, a hulking young delinquent with a heart of gold, and is sure she has nothing to add to the police investigation.

Once the ghosts of all the dead girls begin to haunt her, Hannah wills herself to uncover the mystery of the paper valentines before someone else gets killed. Hannah has spent her life drifting in the shadow of others, and will have to step out on her own to take charge and help others so she can help herself.

I found “Paper Valentine” to be very slow, and almost stopped reading it several times due to boredom.

Therefore I will leave it up to you to decide if You want to Read It or Not.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

“Prisoner B-3087” Alan Gratz, Ruth Gruener, and Jack Gruener

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Scholastic Press. 260 pp. (Includes “Afterword”).

PrisonerB-3087In 1939 Krakow Poland, Yanek Gruener lived a good life with his parents in their small apartment on Krakusa Street. He was just 10 years old, and loved entertaining his aunts, uncles and cousins with made up stories from watching American movies. When the German army invaded Poland that year, his life changed forever.

Change began with small things such as being ostracized at school but, gradually, the changes got worse and worse. Soon, Yanek and his family were hiding out in a pigeon coop on the roof of their building to avoid night raids and beatings by the Nazis. They managed to stay together for 3 years, before Yanek lost his entire family and was sent to the first of 10 concentration camps.

In one of the camps Yanek was tattooed with the number B-3087 and, in chronological order, Gratz takes readers to all the places where Yanek was sent when he was just 13 years old. These camps included Plaszow (1942-1943), a barracks at the Wieliczka Salt Mine (1943-1944), Trzebina (1944), Birkenau (1944-1945) and Auschwitz (1945).

With the Allies approaching the Nazis forced their prisoners on two different death marches, which ultimately led Yanek to spend time at Sachsenhausen (1945), Bergen-Belsen (1945), Buchenwald (1945), Gross-Rosen (1945), and Dachau (1945). Along with his hopes and fears Yanek tells of the beatings, starvations and other horrors he endured in these camps and on the forced marches, while the goal of survival kept him alive.

“Prisoner B-3087” is based on Jack Gruener’s life, and is an important look into the dark past of World War II. We need to remember what happened during the Holocaust while never forgetting those who died, and those who survived.

Recommended for readers aged 12 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

“The Tragedy Paper” Elizabeth Laban

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Alfred A. Knopf (Random House). 312 pp. (Includes “Mr. Simon’s tips on avoiding a tragic ending to your Tragedy Paper” and “A conversation with Elizabeth Laban”).

TragedyPaperTim was a senior transfer at the Irving School in Westchester, New York. On his way there he was snowed in at the airport where he met Vanessa, a senior who also attended Irving. They quickly bonded and he fell in love with her, but knew their involvement would be short-lived because her boyfriend Patrick was jealous and because he was an albino.

When the school year started Duncan was not happy to be given the room in which Tim had spent his senior year. He was also not happy that the treasure each senior was supposed to leave behind for the new occupant turned out to be a bunch of CD’s.

Duncan knew Mr. Simon assigned the seniors in his English class a type of thesis called a Tragedy Paper where students had to define a type of tragedy. When he read Tim’s note referencing Mr. Simon’s upcoming paper, he was ready to listen to the CD’s knowing he had no idea what to write for his paper.

Through Tim’s and Duncan’s alternating voices, readers learn of Tim’s love for Vanessa, his troubles as an albino, problems with Patrick, and how much he wanted to be “normal.” The terrible, real-life tragedy in which he found himself also involved Duncan as intertwined with Tim’s past was Duncan’s present troubles with Daisy. He loved her but was afraid to approach her, plus he had problems trying to continue the senior tradition that went so badly for Tim last year.

Just as Tim’s story kept Duncan glued to his earphones, “The Tragedy Paper” will keep readers glued to its pages. I couldn’t put it down, and read it in one sitting.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).