Wednesday, November 21, 2018

(Belated) Reads for Young Readers Week

Once upon a time, I was going to read some J Fiction for National Young Readers Week. The calendar I used said it is this week. However, the interwebs have informed me that it was actually last week. Regardless, I read three new children's books and a throwback, and I'm going to tell you about them now. Also, did y'all know Pizza Hut BOOK IT! sponsors this week?!? I'm now craving a personal pan pizza as I type this.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate was incredible. Regardless of age, Katherine Applegate (who also wrote the phenomenal The One and Only Ivan) knows how to make her readers feels all the things in the most unique of ways. This story focuses on Jackson. Jackson's family has encountered significant financial struggles in his life. When his family falls on hard times yet again, Jackson's invisible friend/cat Crenshaw shows up. Jackson is confused by his re-appearance and tries to figure out what it could mean. He does find comfort in his old friend as he navigates the newest hardships his family has encountered. This book is amazingly powerful as it is the struggles of poverty told through a child's eyes. It's full of Jackson trying to understand why and wanting to help, especially as his family must resort to living in their mini van. For a fiction read, this was an authentic read on the tolls of poverty. I kid you not that I'm tearing up as I write this review as I reflect on the depths of emotion in this one. This is true beauty in words y'all.

Read this book if - You want a book that explores poverty and the emotions of family through a child's eyes. You want a book that introduces a unique element to explore emotion.

Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Vardarajan is the story of two boys struggling at Albert Einstein Elementary School in different ways. Also, let me just say before I review the book that this cover is one of my favorites of the year. It's just perfect! Ravi has recently moved from India to the United States. He is anxious about his new school and hoping to quickly find his place. Meanwhile, Joe has been at this school for some time. He's never quite found where he fits in, and he struggles with relentless teasing mostly from Dillon Samreen. Ravi's plans to find his place don't go as planned, especially his plans to buddy up to the other Indian in his class - Dillon. Told in alternating chapters, Joe and Ravi find their paths crossing more than expected in the course of a week of school. They come to realize that a common foe and want to find a friend are causes they can get behind. This book did a great job of talking about the realities of the social dynamics of an elementary school. Being both a new kid and an "old" kid who doesn't quite fit can be tough, and I appreciated how this book explored the perils of both situations. This was another book that was full of all kinds of emotion as being a kid can be so hard, but finding your people can be a gamechanger.

Read this book if - You want a book that reminds you of what it's like to be the new kid. You want a book that reminds you of what it feels like to want to fit in. You want a book that honestly explores the emotions of relationships in elementary school.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell was a book I'd read before, but it's been a legit 25 years. Y'all, this was way more intense than I remembered. First off, Karana loses her dad. Then, she stays behind with her brother on the island only to have him killed by wild dogs?!? Karana is then alone to make her life on the island. She builds her own shelter, finds her own food, befriends a wild dog, and she just does all the things. As a kid, I don't remember truly processing what a feat this all was! As an adult, I definitely did not dig the ending though. White dudes show up, Karana puts the unmarried mark on her face, and she's off the island just like that. For all the independence she had, that was just a "Really?!?" kind of bummer ending for me. 

Read this book if -You want to revisit a book from your childhood - assuming you've read this before? You want a book that explores a true independent woman. . . until the end.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson was SO. MANY. FEELS. I know, I know, I mention "feels" in reviews a lot, but this one was so much beautiful and tragic emotion. Ms. Bixby is a beloved teacher, especially by Topher, Brand and Steve. The boys and all her students are stunned when Ms. Bixby announces she is sick and cannot continue teaching. The boys make it their own mission to let Ms. Bixby know just how special she is to them. With chapters narrated by each of them, the boys share just how Ms. Bixby has changed their life for the better. They have each found some struggle, and there are little things Ms. Bixby has done to help and support them when they most needed it. This book was just incredible, and I forgot I was reading a children's book as the storytelling of what Ms. Bixby meant to the boys and how they were seeking to honor her was so well done. This story is just masterfully told. It weaves humor and love and sadness and joy in a way that's hard to do. Regardless of age, this is a book that's worth finding your way to. It makes you think of who the Ms. Bixby in your life might be, and it's also a beautiful ode to the teachers who take the time to put their whole heart into the work they do each day.

Read this book if - You've ever had a teacher who's changed your life. You want to read a book about the power of people to change lives. You want a book that will make you feel all the feels and then some.

Y'all, these three new reads brought such unexpected emotion to my reading. I've not read J Fiction (or any fiction really!) that's hit me in this way in awhile. I'd highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend finding your way to these soon-ish.