The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse

by Charlie Mackesy
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Content: It’s a short book, and there’s nothing objectionable. The cursive writing might be difficult for young children to read, though. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This was the “it” book at Christmas; everyone was calling and ordering it; we were actually surprised that the publisher managed to get copies out before the holiday. And since then, every time we get copies in they sell out. I’ve also had a handful of people tell me I MUST read it, so I picked myself up a copy.

And… well, let’s just say it reminded me of Winnie the Pooh, but without the plot. It’s a series of musings about life and friendship and belonging starring a boy and three charming animals, all accompanied by some amazingly beautiful art. (I do want some of the spreads as pictures to hang on my wall!) It’s one of those books that makes a perfect gift (it will be perfect for graduations!) because there’s nothing offensive. It’s sweet and sometimes poignant and sometimes funny.

But that’s really all there is to it. I’m not sure I will reread this many times, but I am not sorry I have a copy to keep.

The Authenticity Project

by Clare Pooley
First sentence: “She had tried to return the book.”
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Release date: February 4, 2020
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It will be in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

It starts with a green notebook, with the words “The Authenticity Project” on it, that gets passed from one person — a depressed former artist named Julian — to another — a stressed cafe owner named Monica. From there, we learn their stories, their fears, and as they form a friendship and pass the book to other anonymous people, a community of people. The plot is simple: everyone needs friends, but we don’t really know how to Truly make them anymore, and maybe being honest about our Truths will help.

I’m not making it sound all that exciting, but honestly? I loved this one. I was thoroughly charmed by the relationships and the community that grew because of this book, by the lives that were changed by friendship. And yes, there is a romance in it (which I kind of called from the beginning, but was still satisfied to see happen), but mostly it’s a relationship — all kinds of relationships! — book.

It’s sweet and charming and I loved every minute of reading it.

A High Five for Glenn Burke

by Phil Bildner
First sentence: “Let’s do this, Silas,’ I say to myself.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: February 25, 2020
Content: There are some awkward moments. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Sixth-grader Silas Wade has a loving family (though his parents work too much and his younger sisters are sometimes annoying), and a great best friend in Zoey. He loves playing baseball with his team, the Renegades, and and his coach, Coach Wade, is the best. But Silas has a problem: he has realized that he is gay, and doesn’t quite know how to tell everyone.

Enter a report on Glenn Burke: a real-life professional baseball player (and the inventor of the high five!) in the 1970s who was run out of the major leagues after he came out as gay. Learning about Burke gives Silas the courage to come out to Zoey and then to Coach Wade. It’s not all roses, however. There are ups and downs to this process as Silas figures out how to be his authentic self.

This is a really good book as well as being an Important One. I think there needs to be more sports-oriented books that have LGBT themes, partially because I think there still is a stigma about being LGBT and playing sports. (It’s probably less than it was, but it’s still there, I think.) It’s good to have a book — and one that is written so that kids can grasp what’s going on — that shows that an LGBT kid can play ball well and be gay. And not necessarily fit all the stereotypes that normally come with being gay. I also appreciated Silas’s growth arc; he starts out terrified that people will find out his secret, but as the book goes on, he becomes more and more comfortable with himself.

Bildner knows how to write for kids in a way that makes all of this make sense. And perhaps that’s the most important thing.

Look Both Ways

by Jason Reynolds
First sentence: “This story was going to begin like all the best stories.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some tough subjects, like bullying and parents with cancer. It’s in both the YA (grades 6-8) and the middle grade (grades 3-5) sections of the bookstore.

The format of this book is really the highlight: it’s a series of ten interconnected short stories, based out of a school, and following kids as they go home after school one day. One story for either one kid or a group of kids per block.

It’s a clever premise, and one that shuns the large (a school bus fell from the sky is the underlying “What?” of this story) in favor of the small stories. It’s the story of a girl writing in a notebook, observing things and collecting data on the way home (and a side note in another story about how she is “mysterious”). It’s about the troublemakers who are always stealing loose change, and where they go after school and what they do with the money. It’s about older siblings who have died, or kids getting beat up for defending a boy-on-boy not-quite kiss. It’s simple and deep and profound and lighthearted all at once. Which is why, I think, Reynolds is one of the brilliant writers out there.

Will kids read it? I don’t know. I hope so. It would be perfect for school book groups, and for parent-children discussions. And it’s a good reminder that everything — and everyone — isn’t always what it looks like.

Kiss Number 8

by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw
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Content: There’s swearing, including multiple f-bombs, plus depictions of teenage drinking and smoking. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Mandy has been best friends with Cat for forever; through all of Cat’s ups and downs, and dates, both good and bad. Though Cat hasn’t had much luck in the dating arena. Most of her kisses happened when she was younger, and most of them were really kind of lame. Though, as they are in their junior year at Catholic school, things are beginning to change. Not the least a mysterious phone call that makes her dad angry, and sets off a chain of events that reveals a deep family secret.

This was an interesting graphic novel. I don’t want to spoil everything (though the tag kind of gives things away), but it’s dealing with the LGBT community and religion, or at the very least, religious people. But the story was a bit of a mess. As were Mandy and Cat (and I felt really bad for the third wheel, Laura). I kind of get why Venable and Crenshaw were framing this story through kisses, but I’m not entirely sure it worked really well. I did enjoy it when Crenshaw’s art told more than the words, bringing more depth to the story, the way graphic novels should.

It wasn’t my favorite I’ve read, but it was an interesting story.

Guts

by Raina Telgemeier
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Content: There is a lot of talk about bodily functions — throw up, diarrhea, puberty, among others. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

My first reaction to finishing this book? My gosh, Raina had a childhood. All of these books (Smile and Sisters as well) are loosely based on her childhood. And if that’s the case (and I don’t know why it wouldn’t be), then wow, Raina’s childhood was something.

This one deals with her issues with stomach aches and throwing up and anxiety and the reactions of her classmates and family surrounding it. In fourth grade, Raina developed a fear of throwing up, which made her want to throw up, and so she developed a phobia around food and being sick because of that. There’s anxiety wrapped up in there as well: when she was nervous, it manifested physically. And there’s a subplot with a girl in her class who made fun of Raina because of her issues. It all turns out happily in the end.

Telgemeier is a fantastic artist; there are a few spreads where I think she nails what anxiety feels like in images. And one where she depicted the passing of time in a single image that is just amazing. And I appreciate that she’s telling these sorts of stories. There has to be kids out there who experience the same feelings — or just the ones with anxieties! — who need this book to feel seen and understood.

It may not be my favorite graphic novel this year, but it’s another solid entry from Telgemeier.

Stargazing

by Jen Wang
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Content: There are some awkward moments, and a bit of violence by one of the characters. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section at the bookstore.

Christine is an Asian-American girl, who lives a very stereotypical Asian-American life: she plays the violin, her parents expect her to get good grades, she takes Chinese class on Wednesday nights, and so on. And then she meets Moon, the daughter of a single mom who comes to live in the small house behind Christine’s. Moon is unlike everyone Christine knows: impulsive, loud, creative, outgoing, and most of all, seemingly unstoppable.

They become best friends, but when Moon seems to move on from Christine, she gets jealous, and then Moon ends up in the hospital. Is there any way Christine can salvage their relationship?

I adore Jen Wang’s books, and this is no exception. She’s tackling immigrant issues, but they’re not at the forefront. Christine and Moon’s friendship is, and the conflict between their families. It could be because Moon’s family is a single mom or Buddhist, or because Christine’s parents are strict. I liked that they were both part of the Asian community, but the story is universal. There are some absolutely perfect art spreads — I liked it, especially, when the girls went to the planetarium on a field trip — and I think Wang tackled the issue of friendship, especially new friendship, perfectly.

Oh, and bonus points for including K-Pop as part of this! A really good graphic novel.