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Showing posts from May, 2022

Review: The Topsy-Turvy Bus

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The Topsy-Turvy Bus by Anita Fitch Pazner, illustrated by Carolina Farías Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Karin Fisher-Golton   Buy at Bookshop.org A bright yellow bus—with wheels on its top as well as its bottom—gives The Topsy-Turvy Bus its name and is also the perfect metaphor for the ideas its operators demonstrate on field trips, like the one described in this picture book. Young riders of the bus and readers of this book will learn that we can help the earth by thinking about familiar tasks a little differently—such as using cooking oil for fuel, powering a blender with a bicycle, and making soil by feeding worms. The Topsy-Turvy Bus is a much-needed addition to the literary offerings that engage children in thinking about how people can find creative solutions to make our regular activities easier on our planet. Kids will enjoy Anita Fitch Pazner’s lyric language and Carolina Farías’s warm, colorful illustrations

Review: Frank, Who Liked to Build

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Frank, Who Liked to Build: The Architecture of Frank Gehry by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Maria Brzozowska Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Belinda Brock Buy at Bookshop.org FRANK, WHO LOVED TO BUILD introduces us to the iconic architect Frank Gehry. As a young boy, he spent most of his time dreaming and playing despite his parents’ disapproval, although he found support from his grandmother. We follow him through his life as he continues to dream and play, achieving success as an architect. The author’s descriptive, lyrical style fits well with her subject. The language used is appropriate for young readers. I have always thought that an extra burden is placed on illustrators of books about artists. After all, they have to evoke the spirit of the art without actually replicating it. Brzozowska is able to accomplish that here with her striking, brilliantly-colored art. Of course, she focuses on the shapes and curves

Review: Ellen Outside the Lines

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Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz  Buy at Bookshop.org As A.J. Sass’s new middle grade novel, opens, Ellen Katz is getting ready to go on a huge adventure: a special school trip to Barcelona with a class of students studying Spanish. Joining her on the trip are her abba, who is one of the parent chaperones, her best friend Laurel, and an assortment of other students, including a new, nonbinary student named Isa. When everyone arrives in Spain, the kids are split into small groups to complete a series of tasks throughout the week, and Ellen finds herself in a group without Laurel but with Isa and a couple of boys she doesn’t know well. As the week goes on, Ellen must navigate the twists and turns of middle school friendships while dealing with the sights and sounds of a totally new environment. All of it can be overwhelming for Ellen, who is autistic. She is also just beginning to discover h

Review: Detour Ahead

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Detour Ahead by Pamela Ehrenberg & Tracy López, illustrated by Laila Ekboir PJ Publishing, 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Judith S. Greenblatt “Someone fell off a bike,” yells Gila. Thus starts the friendship between Gila and Guillermo, each different and extraordinary. We have been inside Gila’s head, so we know her approach to the world is not the usual; she is on the autism spectrum. Guillermo, we find out, has recently moved to Washington D.C. from rural Virginia: his family is from El Salvador. This coming of age story focuses on Gila’s bat mitzvah and Guillermo’s poetry. Gila sees her bat mitzvah as marking the beginning of adulthood, and to achieve greater maturity she needs to be able to handle detours. Guillermo needs to find his identity in a new place, to acknowledge how important writing poetry is, and to overcome his fear of exposing his poetry and his vulnerability in public. Both Gila and Guillermo are well-rounded characters. The point of view of the story mo

Review: Once More with Chutzpah

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Once More with Chutzpah by Haley Neil Bloomsbury YA, 2022 Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Evonne Marzouk Buy at Bookshop.org Tally and Max are eighteen year old twins recovering from a tough year. Max was involved in a tragic car accident, in which he survived but the drunk driver did not. Will a winter youth trip to Israel through their synagogue help them get back on track? Narrator Tally is intending on it. Her goals for the trip include helping her brother out of his grief-stricken depression and supporting him to apply to attend Boston University with her. As the story progresses, Tally begins to accept her own grief as it relates to Max’s accident as well. Tally is introduced to Israel through the iconic moments of most Israel teen tours: a swim in the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, a kabbalistic lesson in Tzfat, the Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem, camel-riding and camping in a Bedouin tent, climbing Masada at sunrise, and putting notes in the Western Wall. The participants also

Review: Sammy Spider's First ABC

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Sammy Spider's First ABC by Sylvia A. Rouss, illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Emily Roth Buy at Bookshop.org From apple to mitzvot, the latest entry in the Sammy Spider series provides a lovely introduction to the English alphabet. Each page features a new letter and an accompanying Jewish concept, as Sammy Spider and his friend Josh celebrate holidays, visit the synagogue, and eat a lot of delicious food. Sammy Spider's First ABC can be read as a straightforward alphabet book for little ones, but the humorous and insightful asides from Sammy Spider on each page make this a satisfying read aloud for older kids as well. Eclectic, collage-style illustrations create a pleasing contrast to the simplicity of the text. Each concept in the book is presented by a rhyming couplet, and as a result the text only provides a very basic overview of each concept presented. Some of the concepts

Review: When Lightnin' Struck

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When Lightnin' Struck by Betsy R. Rosenthal Kar-Ben Publishing (imprint of Lerner Publishing Group), 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org James Aaron (“Butch”) Ridgely doesn’t have it easy. His father died after being struck by lightning, his depressed and alcoholic mother is in jail, and his abuela, his paternal grandmother, a healer who could not heal herself, recently passed away. Now being raised by his grandfather, Pappy, James struggles to figure out his place and purpose in the world, how to stand up to his bully, and the meaning of a mysterious “charm” left him by his abuela. Helped along by a cast of characters including a Jewish friend whose family immigrated to Odessa, Texas because it was the name of their hometown in Ukraine and the local oilmen who eat at his Pappy’s diner, James makes his way. Texas on the verge of the Great Depression comes to life in Struck by Lightnin’ , tumbleweeds, dust storms, and all. Does the book have s

Review: You Are A Star, Ruth Bader Ginsburg!

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You Are a Star, Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sarah Green Scholastic Press an Imprint of Scholastic Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Rachel J. Fremmer Buy at Bookshop.org This picture book biography of the famed jurist is told in the first-person. With its short punchy phrasing and relatively large sans-serif font, it is aimed at slightly younger audiences than its predecessors, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg:The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter and I Dissent!: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy. It is also the only picture book biography of her written since her death. With sentences like, “Would you believe that my school even banned women from the library?” and attention paid to Ginsburg’s other interests, like Greek mythology (when she was a child), dancing, and opera (throughout her life), and others, this biography makes Ginsburg relatable. The realistic illustrations which include Ginsburg enjoying her many hobbies, holding a d

Review: Boys of the Beast

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Boys of the Beast by Monica Zepeda Tu Books (imprint of Lee & Low), 2022 Category: Young Adult Reviewer: Heidi Rabinowitz Buy at Bookshop.org The familiar theme of growth and bonding during an American road trip gets a fresh treatment in Boys of the Beast . Three estranged teen cousins from a mostly Latinx family meet up at Grandma Lupe's funeral and then drive her inherited car, nicknamed "the Beast," from Portland, OR back to Albuquerque, NM, with side adventures in Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA and Phoenix, AZ. While three first-person voices can be a lot for readers to keep track of, nerdy gay Jewish Ethan, sincere evangelical Christian Matt, and traumatized stoner Oscar are well-rounded and sympathetic characters, all worth rooting for. Each boy is on a quest, though they may not realize it at first. Ethan's quest takes them to San Francisco where he can finally meet the boy he's fallen in love with through texting; Matt wants to see USC where he dreams of

Review: Tía Fortuna's New Home

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    Tía Fortuna's New Home by Ruth Behar, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth Alfred A. Knopf, 2022 Category: Picture Books Reviewer: Shirley Reva Vernick   Buy at Bookshop.org   In Miami, Estrella loves to visit her elderly aunt, Tía Fortuna, and explore their shared heritage as Sephardic Jews. Fortuna had fled her home in Havana during the Cuban Revolution, bringing only a mezuzah, her memories, and the key to her Cuban home. Now Fortuna has to move again – into an assisted living facility – because her beloved Miami apartment building is slated for demolition. On moving day, Estrella is surprised that her aunt seems happy instead of sad or frightened. Over the course of the day, though, Fortuna shares her optimism, the stories from her colorful life, and the history of their ancestors. Estrella learns that goodbyes lead to new beginnings, and that changes can be weathered if you hold onto family memories, traditions, and a spirit of hopefulness.    The narrative integrates Ladino w

Review: Ripped Away

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Ripped Away by Shirley Reva Vernick Regal House, 2022 Category: Middle Grade Reviewer: Leah Cypess Buy at Bookshop.org It's just an ordinary day for Abe Pearlman: he's leaving school, head down, "not exactly frowning but not looking delirious with life either." He's braced for his usual daily routine, the highlight of which is being ignored by his crush. Then, on a whim, he steps into a fortune teller's shop... and next thing he knows, he is waking up in the body of a Jewish boy in Victorian London, where Jack the Ripper's victims are being left in the streets. Thanks to the fortune teller's cryptic warning, Abe knows he has been sent to the past to save someone's life. But is it the life of one of the Ripper's victim? Or is it someone closer to home... like his neighbor, who has been arrested because of the public suspicion that Jack the Ripper is likely a Jewish shochet (ritual slaughterer)? Abe's engaging voice, and the author's deft