Roll With It by Jamie Sumner

I quite enjoyed this but simply cannot believe that in the past week I read three children’s books in a row and they all featured grandfathers with Alzheimer’s disease!

Ellie is a middle schooler with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. She really doesn’t have any friends and doesn’t especially like school. When her mom decides they will extend their visit to her parents (in Oklahoma) to the whole spring semester it means a lot of changes for Ellie. Starting a new school stinks and living in a trailer with her grandparents isn’t great simply because it is not outfitted as well as her house at home. But on the other hand, she makes actual friends, which is awesome.
What I especially liked about the story was that Ellie loves to bake and references cooks I like and talks about what she makes. I just realized I added the new category “recipes included” but in fact, no actual recipes are included. Oh well. Close enough.

Ellie is sad about her grandfather, but I wouldn’t say that is the absolutely main plot point. I look forward to recommending this to students in the fall.

Just like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard

Another book I put off and read it in a day and just loved it. Much like Merci Suarez it a. made me tear up and b. had a grandfather with Alzheimer’s. This book is another good example of why I became a children’s librarian and always like children’s books best–in the first few chapters alone I immediately got on Robinson’s side and hated the bully kid and was so mad at the the teachers and administration for completely ignoring what was going on.
I do think it was slightly trite that the terrible bully had such a big family problem, but it definitely helped to get the point across that people have things going on in their own lives that you might not know about.

I really liked the guidance counselor a lot. In general, all the adults were so warm and loving. The family history and racism are so mysterious/vague that I have to wonder if, as a child, they might have gone over my head.

Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Here’s another book to file under the “why did I wait so long to read this? There’s a reason it won an award-it’s fantastic!”  I suppose, like a lot of good books, there’s nothing amazing sounding about it. I wasn’t dying to read it. I got myself to read it by picking it for my faculty book club and honestly, one I started I couldn’t stop. (In other good news, I got my reading mojo back!) Really, I read this most of the day Saturday.
Merci lives in a little house right in the middle of two other little identical houses and all together her whole family lives there: her mother and father and older brother, Roli; her grandmother and grandfather; her aunt and her little twin cousins.  They live in Florida and Merci and Roli both attend a private school on scholarship.  6th grader Merci feels pressure from her parents to make sure she’s an extra valuable student to the school. There are some mean girls at school but in one of the most mature and frank understandings at the end of the novel, they acknowledge that sometimes you just don’t like everyone or some people as much as other people.  There were a lot of threads here that were all woven together nicely: school, friendships, some boys and girls beginning to feel different about boy/girl friendships, family, family expectations, and her grandfather’s failing memory. [It was pure coincidence that I read two books this weekend and both featured grandfathers with Alzheimer’s disease.]
The whole story just felt so real to me. I loved it.

Out to Get You: 13 Tales of Weirdness and Woe by Josh Allen

A perfect book to give to kids who want spooky! Or, a perfect book for adults like me who don’t really like to be scared. The weirdness is reminiscent of David Lubar, but I have to say I much preferred these. There’s certainly a lot of similarity in the stories in this collection -in general you can tell what bad things might happen and there’s a lot of revenge. Despite that I think this is a great collection for kids. I’m pretty sure this is a book I would have enjoyed reading over and over, and as for me I can see a few stories I might like to read aloud to my classes. They are just right for being spooky and creepy but not terrifying or violent.  I especially liked “The Vanishers” and the classic Devil story.

Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

This was absolutely terrific. I liked it so much and I know that my past self in 5th or 6th grade would also have liked this and reread it several times.
Ari and her brother Gage are determined to stick together, after all it was their mother’s dying wish (their father died before Ari was born.) Since she died 3 years ago they have lived with their mother’s friend, Janna, who is their guardian. We can quickly tell that it hasn’t been great. Janna seems kind of mean and unfeeling and strict. (She says a lot of things to them that, as an adult, I thought, “how could you say that to these motherless children?!”) After one too many fights Gage says they are moving out on their own. He is old enough to be able to do that and Ari is excited to move into an apartment for just the two of them. The thing is…Gage doesn’t actually have a place lined up. He just doesn’t have enough money to rent a place and they are going to have to rely on moving around to different friends’ apartments and a homeless youth shelter. I thought the story did a great job of explaining to kids how impossible it can be to find housing–finding out that low income housing requires paperwork and waiting, needing first and last month’s rent, jobs requiring experience but how can you get the job if you don’t have experience?, the cost of a cell phone, etc. It was heartbreaking to watch Gage try to navigate all that while also trying to keep his sister safe and able to keep going to school.  It was equally heartbreaking to see Ari try to act like everything was fine and to complete her schoolwork when she was so tired from sometimes walking around for hours, definitely didn’t have enough to eat, and the girls at school were making fun of her for having greasy hair and smelling because she didn’t get to bathe often enough.
This story completely tugged at all of my heartstrings.

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

I read this for my faculty book club, of which there are three of us. We all liked it, though possibly the others even more than me. One of them was especially moved by the concept of never really knowing what’s going on with a child at home, the other said she couldn’t put it down. I did not particularly feel either of those things, though I liked it. I kept referring to this book as Rear Window but with OCD/Agoraphobia. And then, when I thought the plot was going a certain way I called it Rear Window + My Ellen. [“My Ellen” was an episode of Little House on the Prairie I especially enjoyed. It’s a classic. And creepy as heck.]
The story takes place all in a “close”, or as American readers would call it, a cul-de-sac. The mentally ill child in question, trapped by his increasing ocd and fear of germs in the outside world, watches the neighborhood action from his window. Therefore, when a toddler next door disappears, he is the one most likely to have seen important details. There’s a lot going on here and it is not all satisfyingly dealt with. For example, at one house live a pregnant woman and her husband, who happens to be a bully of a gym teacher. But what of that? Why introduce what a bully he is and then not follow that through? Another house has an older couple whose children don’t visit; another house has an old lady on her own with a sad past, and then there’s next door where the toddler vanished. The toddler and sister were staying with their grandfather, who was not the best supervising adult.

There was so much in this story that had me saying “Really? That would go unnoticed or unremarked upon?” but then on the other hand, yeah, sometimes it’s easier to look the other way or be involved in our own problems and not notice others. For example-his parents ignore/enable their son’s mental illness and lie to school about his many months absence. They are either blissfully ignorant or in super denial. The boy who is a bit of a bully has a backstory for why he’s that way, but I felt that was unsatisfyingly resolved. Then there’s Melody, a quirky girl who gives us some thoughtful insight into loss. And that’s something we all agreed was very interesting in this story, even if it wasn’t the central theme-each of the neighbors in the close (or almost all) has some connection to loss. And our main character (obvs. I forgot his name)’s loss is that he is an only child as his infant brother died at birth.

One thing that bugged me in this story is something that is super common. It’s so common in stories that I now expect fictional characters to be well enough acquainted with this phenomenon to not fall prey to it themselves. That is-a child behaves in some manner that is out of the ordinary, and sometimes for years, and the child carries with them an unspoken secret burden of guilt for something they believed they did. And usually it is a belief that they caused something to happen and they were very little and so would make ridiculous leaps like “I wished they didn’t have to go to work so we could go to the movies and that’s why they died!”. And the adults never ask the right questions or guess and the child (who may even be much older at the point of the story) never confesses it and we end up with years of poor mental health or weird behavior. It’s so common that I think at this point in real life or a fiction an adult should catch on to it quickly. “Oh, our dog died a couple weeks ago and now you won’t eat pears? Do you think that eating a pear made the dog die and you want to keep everyone safe? Let me assure that’s not why the dog died and please continue to eat pears.” That’s what should happen.

Anyway, I digress. And despite those criticisms, I enjoyed this story and I think a lot of kids would, too.

Explorers: Lost Islands, ed. by Kazu Kibuishi

I love the Explorers graphic novels and often recommend them to students who love graphic novels and just want more, more, more. Each book has a theme, this one is “lost islands” and then different graphic novel writers and illustrators create a short story based on that theme. Like with any short story collection the results are varied. Having it be a graphic novel collection means that just flipping through it you can immediately see how very different each one is.
For the most part I thought they were all good! My favorite story was Carapace by Jason Caffoe (an author I was not familiar with.) I liked his style and color and the story itself, about a boy on an island and the ghost of a giant crab that is stuck on the island. This was a clever and sweet story.

Mac Undercover and Impossible Crime (Mac B., Kid Spy #1 and #2) by Mac Barnett

Mac Barnett is one of my favorite go-to funny authors and these are the first two in his new series, which is all about when he himself was a kid in the 1980s and how he was a Kid Spy.  His tone of stating that directly to the audience is hilarious. There are abundant illustrations in cartoon style.  The hilarious initial premise is that Queen Elizabeth calls on him to be a spy. There are corgis galore, the Queen is a hoot of a character, Mac has a nemesis, Derek, and his mom has a boyfriend, which very much reminded me of Rick, the jerk, in the Brixton Brothers books.

The first book sets up Mac getting called in as a spy, with a focus on his stolen Game Boy. The second one has Mac solving an Impossible Crime, the kind where something happens in a locked room.

All in all, great fun, highly recommended.

Restart by Gordon Korman

Hooray! A book finally capture my attention and I read it and enjoyed it very quickly. This has been on my to-read list for quite a while. Kids at school have really enjoyed it and I have a copy on hand at home because we gave it to one of our kids at Christmas.

Anyway, this story very much played to my, I want to refrain from prejudices, but there you have it. The main character has a restart because he fell off a roof and got amnesia. Like What Alice Forgot he figures out that maybe the person he was wasn’t so great. Except in this case, he was really terrible. Like a top notch, grade A, stereotype of a horrible bully complete with being a football player with a raging a-hole of a dad who believed that they were the top of the food chain and should have whatever they want and be total jerks to everyone. I can’t even tell you how angry it all made me. Only consolation was that I knew Korman would be able to pull together a nice happy redemption type story.

I really appreciated the quick pace of this story (very similar to The Unteachables). Chase, the new Chase, is naturally inclined to be nice. He figures out that he was not nice (though has no idea of the depths) from the reactions of people around him–they are literally frightened of him. I loved how he became good friends with the elderly man at the nursing home.
Overall, I just really enjoyed this story. Of course, if I were the parents whose child was run out of town by bullies I would have straight up sued that school district that did nothing to protect him.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

I’ve read this books so many times and really don’t have much to add for this time around except:

This was my first time listening to it on an audiobook. The voices didn’t sound like they do in my head, but frankly that’s too be expected. This book is part of my very being. I feel like it’s an integral part of me, read so many times in my childhood. I was very excited this time to be listening to it with my daughter (sneaky: I’ve been desperate for her to read it and this was the only way to make it happen! Fortunately she liked it.)

What I said this time still holds true.

This remains a perfect book to me.