Thursday, August 9, 2018 | | 0 comments
Here is my truth: I don’t read poetry often, but I wish I did. I want to be that person who reads poems and religious texts and essays on important cultural topics regularly. And it’s not because I think that sort of person is better or more serious. No, I just know that when I read more widely, because I had to (school, for so many years), I was a more interesting on the inside. I absorbed it all and tried on different ways of thinking and my dreams were varied and colorful.

So every now and then I try to make myself into that person again. I try. I read poetry, I linger on a prayer, and I purchase a book of essays. And when I do, I sometimes come across a text that is… abstruse? I can’t get into it at all, though I enjoy the language and drink in the words with my eyes. They just end up traveling right through me without leaving a permanent mark. When I read novels, if they are any good, they scoop out my feelings with a spoon, and that is its own delightful pain/pleasure. I return to that over and over. Lighting up my brain with poetry takes more effort (usually), and I am loath to loan myself the time if the pleasure is fleeting. In this case I took as long as I needed to. And my reading experience turned into something meaningful.

I asked my library to order Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s volume of award-winning poetry, Cenzontle, because I read a lovely review of it in Shelf Awareness. And then, because I kept it so long, the library declared it lost (don’t worry, I eventually returned it). I finished it, and though I don’t think I “got” all of it (poetry is hard), I enjoyed it. I tried. I am maybe becoming the person I want to be. I adored the way Hernandez Castillo’s words made me play with mine (even here in this “review”), and I’ll be amazed by the vivid dreams I’m probably going to have for the next few weeks because those words painted the inside of my brain in electric neon.

Hernandez Castillo writes about growing up, and sex, and birth and death, and birds and honey and words and dreams. He writes about having a brown body, and sorrow (unrelated)(?), and being an undocumented immigrant. His poems are peppered with prayers, and internal/external juxtapositions. Maybe I didn’t absorb it all, but I could appreciate the lyricism and flights of fancy and maybe I understood a few metaphors. I understood enough to like, to keep reading. I think it was beautiful. I kept rereading one line here, maybe two, pondering if that one or this one was something I’d copy down and keep. Okay, I know it was beautiful.

God, I don’t have anything else to say. Read that Shelf Awareness review. Read the book yourself (it’s compact). Let me know what you think of it. I am going to work on reading more poetry and I plan to come back to Cenzontle again. I’ll even buy my own copy this time so that the library doesn’t think it’s lost.

cenzontle by marcelo hernandez castillo book cover
In this lyrical, imagistic debut, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo creates a nuanced narrative of life before, during, and after crossing the US/Mexico border. These poems explore the emotional fallout of immigration, the illusion of the American dream via the fallacy of the nuclear family, the latent anxieties of living in a queer brown undocumented body within a heterosexual marriage, and the ongoing search for belonging. Finding solace in the resignation to sheer possibility, these poems challenge us to question the potential ways in which two people can interact, love, give birth, and mourn―sometimes all at once.

ice wolves

I have, for the past several years, considered myself a dragon person. Not that I am personally a dragon (though I admit to entertaining thoughts about books as a hoard in place of gold), but that I will read practically any book that contains dragons. So along came this middle grade fantasy Ice Wolves by an author I already admired (Amie Kaufman), combining both shapeshifting dragons and wolves, and I knew it would be just my sort of comfort reading. And it was, along with fun, readable, and a solid start to a series with an interesting premise.

ice wolves by amie kaufman book cover
Everyone in Vallen knows that ice wolves and scorch dragons are sworn enemies who live deeply separate lives.

So when twelve-year-old orphan Anders takes one elemental form and his twin sister, Rayna, takes another, he wonders whether they are even related. Still, whether or not they’re family, Rayna is Anders’s only true friend. She’s nothing like the brutal, cruel dragons who claimed her as one of their own and stole her away.

In order to rescue her, Anders must enlist at the foreboding Ulfar Academy, a school for young wolves that values loyalty to the pack above all else. But for Anders, loyalty is more complicated than obedience, and friendship is the most powerful shapeshifting force of all.

Anders and Rayna are twins surviving on the streets of Holbard, the biggest city in Vallen. Holbard’s harbor is famous for being protected by magic, and so it has a diverse populace from all over the (fictional) world. Anders and Rayna steal to eat, run across the city’s rooftop meadows, and rely solely on one another – the only way of life they’ve ever known. As orphans of a dragon fire fight that destroyed part of the city when they were very young, they must make it on their own – coexisting with other street kids, but never joining them. When the city’s typical trial for twelve year olds to see if they can manage a wolf transformation upends their lives, Anders will have to step out of his more independent sister’s shadow, make his own way, make new friends, and concoct a daring rescue/escape plan.

Ice Wolves is an action-packed adventure with plucky orphans, a wolf school, mysteriously failing magics, secretive enemies, kidnappings, ice and fire fights, and scorch dragons and ice wolves. It’s definitely an electric mix, and the plot is fast-moving to match the subject matter. Anders is the focal point, and his frustrations and explorations introduce the reader to a world full of contradictions.

Anders himself is the typical unlikely hero who discovers something remarkable about himself, but cannot capitalize on it (and is the weakest link in his new environment). Meanwhile he’s trying, for the first time in his life, to be the twin with initiative and rescue his savvier sister. It’s a fairly standard setup for the middle grade fantasy genre, and I would not say it is groundbreaking…

EXCEPT, Kaufman’s writing is solid and the concept (dragon- and wolf-shifters at war!) is terrific. Ice Wolves will introduce young fans to a cool fantasy world based a bit on Norse history (marked by Holbard’s turf roofs, runic magic, and location far enough north that there’s plenty of snow). Kaufman also has Anders mull the moral quandaries of stealing to eat, saving and acknowledging society’s most vulnerable, his city’s class hierarchy, the divide between magical and regular humans, and misinformation campaigns spread by those in power. In addition, Anders and Rayna are brown, which challenges the white-as-default stereotype I read as a young fantasy fan (and which still pervades today). All while keeping the plot moving and including plot twists!

In all, Kaufman’s execution, world-building and attention to detail in Ice Wolves generate something out of the ordinary. The Elementals series is sure to make new fans of fantasy, dragons, and werewolves, and delight current ones.

Recommended for: fans of dragon books, those who like middle grade fantasy and science fiction along the lines of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy or the How to Train Your Dragon films, and anyone with a soft spot for shapeshifting and adventurous orphans.

hortense and the shadow

For as long as I can remember I’ve been an admirer of things whimsical and/or strange, especially when it comes to books and art. When I saw the cover for sisters Natalia and Lauren O’Hara’s picture book collaboration Hortense and the Shadow, I thought, “That looks like my kind of book.” And when I read it all these months later, I realized I was right! Love when that happens.

hortense and the shadow by natalia and lauren o'hara book cover
A haunting, original fairy tale from two dazzling debut picture book talents, in the spirit of Neil Gaiman and Carson Ellis.

Hortense is a kind and brave girl, but she is sad–even angry–that her shadow follows her everywhere she goes. She hates her shadow, and thinks her shadow must hate her too. But one cold, dark night, when bandits surprise her in the woods, Hortense discovers that her shadow is the very thing she needs most.

This stunningly illustrated story stirs the soul with its compelling, subtle exploration of self-esteem, self-identity, and finding inner strength.

Hortense lives in a large house deep in the snowy woods, but she’s sad because she hates her shadow. It follows her everywhere! One day, she becomes so upset that she cuts her shadow off. Then! Well, then she sings with happiness. Until… something terrible arrives in the night. Hortense learns that her shadow, like her sometimes sad, mad, and wild feelings, is another part of herself.

Hortense and the Shadow is a wintry sort of book, with a bit of a contrary personality. Hortense herself is a singular, stubborn figure: she’s kind and brave, and at the same time deeply unhappy with a part of herself. There are sinister forces at work, as well as magical. Hortense acts – in what adults might label a foolish way. Overall the book is a bit odd, a lot creative, with a dash of menace mixed in (like a proper fairy tale).

While the prose is lovely (“sad as an owl” is my favorite new simile), the art is, hands down, the best part of this book. The cover has rose gold foil detailing on the dust jacket and the boards themselves are a light peach. Inside, Lauren O’Hara has created beautiful, muted watercolor illustrations full of Eastern European-style buildings, gingerbread-like detailing, and woodland creatures. Eagle-eyed readers will also notice menacing men hiding in margins, adding to the juxtaposition of beauty and darkness throughout.

All in all, Hortense and the Shadow a delightfully dark fairy tale of a book in a charming package.

Recommended for: fans of fairy tales – all ages, anyone who has enjoyed Bethan Woollvin’s picture books, and those looking for magical stories no matter the time of year.

cece loves science

I’ve had a copy of Kimberly Derting, Shelli R. Johannes, and Vashti Harrison’s picture book Cece Loves Science sitting by my desk at work for a few weeks now. Whenever anyone sees the title, they smile and ask 1) if I love science, and/or 2) if I know the authors (Cece is one of my nicknames). That in turn makes *me* smile, and the circle is complete. I’ve found that the combination of cute cover and title make this book nearly irresistible for adults to page through, and I think kids will enjoy it as well.

cece loves science by kimberly derting, shelli r. johannes, illustrated by vashti harrison book cover
Cece’s parents say she was born curious. She asks: Why? How? What if? When her teacher, Ms. Curie, assigns a science project, Cece knows just what to ask—do dogs eat vegetables? She teams up with her best friend, Isaac, and her dog, Einstein, to discover the answer. They investigate, research, collect data, and analyze, using Einstein as their case study. Their final conclusion is surprising, and a lot of fun!

Illustrated by Vashti Harrison, whose Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History is a New York Times bestseller and an NAACP Image Award winner. Cece Loves Science is just right for fans of Rosie Revere, EngineerWhat Do You Do with an Idea?; and anyone who loves learning.

Cece loves to ask questions about the world, to find out how and why things work. When her teacher asks students to try an experiment and record their results, Cece and her friend Isaac brainstorm ideas. Are bears ticklish? Do pigs know that they are smelly? But eventually Cece and Isaac decide to test if animals eat vegetables, and experiment on Cece’s family dog Einstein. Through the process Cece and Isaac learn about observing, asking the right questions, thinking outside the box, and never giving up.

Cece Loves Science is a charming, informative picture book featuring a curious scientist-in-training as main character. Cece's questions, frustrations and discoveries will please teachers, librarians, parents and kids (especially those learning about the scientific method for the first time). This title is a great candidate to read aloud during science- and STEM-related classroom units. Cece’s teacher Ms. Curie assigns a project worksheet that is very similar to ones found in most science lesson plans, and the folks at HarperCollins have created a fun tie-in activity kit for download as well.

A couple of other things that stand out: Cece is biracial girl from a blended family, and it’s great to read about her and her friend Isaac carrying out their experiments creatively in a supportive family environment. I also appreciated the final page of the book, which is a glossary of terms, or “Cece’s Science Facts” – this will prompt further interest in famous scientists and branches of science. Finally, I think this would be a fun read-aloud book or even a good candidate to act out – there’s dialogue assigned to each character that would be ideal for doing voices with.

Let’s talk about Vashti Harrison’s art! Harrison’s illustrations were created in a digital medium, and the effect overall is colorful and soft (not line-heavy) – with cute human figures and the feel of a well-drawn animated short. In addition, the book design pops – I loved the endpapers and the softer crayon-drawn figures on some pages that represented Cece’s internal thoughts. Great art to match a good book, in other words!

In all, Cece Loves Science is a fun science-laden adventure that will appeal to 5-8 year olds and pair well with Izzy Gizmo and Ada Twist, Scientist.

Recommended for: parents, teachers, and librarians looking to beef up their STEAM- and STEM-related libraries for kids, and any child that likes to ask “How?” “Why?” and “What if?”

Fine print: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.
Older Posts Home