May 17, 2018

Mental Health Awareness Month: A Review Roundup

Source: Mental Health America

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we've reviewed a number of titles over the years that we thought were exceptional portrayals of the experience of mental illness and related difficulties. As we all know, reading a good book can make us feel less alone--and, honestly, sometimes that's the one thing you need in order not to go over the edge. So here, in no particular order, is a by no means exhaustive list of recommended reads for Mental Health Month:

The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard

100 Days of Cake by Shari Goldhagen

Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos

This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn

Define "Normal" by Julie Anne Peters

First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Nice Girls Endure by Chris Struyk-Bonn

These Gentle Wounds by Helene Dunbar

May 11, 2018


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

It's another E.E. Kelly book, which means there's going to be a lot of heart, and a lot of funny. Erin Entrada Kelly is a Filipino writer, so include this book in your list of titles for the Asian American Heritage Month celebration this May.

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Charlotte has something important to say, only, right now, it's sticking in her throat. Her best friend, Bridget, knows. Her mother knows. The teacher and the school counselor knows... but Charlotte, who is brilliant and articulate and knows the name of more rocks than you do; Charlotte can hardly say it out loud. Her father, who had a stent put into his heart, whose difficulties sent Charlotte down the rabbit hole of open-heart surgeries and knowing more about hearts than probably any other kid in junior high, Charlotte's father has had a heart attack. And it feels like the end of the world.

What's worse is that, in a way, it's only the beginning of the end. If nothing else, at least Charlotte can distract herself playing a good word on her online Scrabble game.

Ben wishes that people would take recycling more seriously. He wishes that people knew the impact of all of the plastic and paper that gets into the ocean, and harms dolphins, turtles, and fish. He wishes that people really cared about how species evolved, and he also wishes he weren't so furious with his father. If he'd paid attention to his life - and not spent so much time in his head - maybe he'd have friends. Maybe he'd be better equipped to survive middle school. Maybe all of his current difficulties wouldn't be so hard to get through.

But, right now, Ben can't even think of who he'd call if he won the lottery.

It's a good thing he plays online Scrabble with a girl called Lottie. At least he knows he can call her.

Observations: Two gifted and talented kids with the tiny bit of myopia all kids have, Ben and Charlotte are only able to see the world right in front of them, in terms of their friends, their concerns, their hobbies. Their bright minds only make their socializing challenges all the more difficult, and when there's a challenge to their families and home lives they are abruptly forced out of their unseeing days into a confusing, painful world where they question not only what they're looking at, but how they could have missed so much. Charlotte, through her father, is realizing her mortality -- and HIS. Now the times she's brushed him aside rise up, and she feels so guilty she's paralyzed - and later, as she questions her social behavior, she's paralyzed by horror and shame. Ben is furiously ignoring the chaos outside his bedroom, and is determined to evolve past the quiet, inward-turning boy who drifted along through elementary school. However, with the active pushback of some of his classmates, it seems that it may be too late for him to turn into a different kind of bird than he's always been. It's a troubling, difficult time for both tweens. Told in alternating voices, we see where both Charlotte and Ben use words to conceal and reveal the ragged edges of honesty and pain now informing both of their lives. There's a lot of emotion, a little humor, and a few hard knocks, but in the end, readers will be relieved as both Ben and Charlotte find a tiny bit of land under their flailing feet, and begin the long process of standing tall.

Conclusion: Middle school is an intense time of transition, and this seems to be one of Erin Entrada Kelly's "big idea" truths. I appreciate the realism that Ben and Charlotte do not confide in each other; they're virtual strangers, literally. While we trust each other with playing a game online, and while Charlotte and Ben share the occasional brief phone conversation, they're not emotionally equipped to use each other to lean on in the traditional sense of friendship. However, their isolation allows them to be helpful to each other at key points. This book will resonate with the emotionally intelligent tween who is looking for the truth in the statement that we're all alike, under the skin, and no one suffers alone.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my public library. You can find YOU GO FIRST by Erin Entrada Kelly at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

May 08, 2018

2♦sdays@the treehouse: Challenge Five: May

Welcome back to our monthly Second Tuesday writing challenge!

From January - June, every second Tuesday of the month, we're going to post an image here on Wonderland of a Creative Commons licensed Flickr picture to which you can respond - with poetic, prose, or whatever kind of writing - and hopefully, you'll share a link in the comments below, so that we can visit your site, read your work and respond. No genre or style limit - just come and join the fun!

Welcome to May!

I think we're over it with the May showers, but we're just getting started with Asian Pacific Heritage Month, and Mental Health Awareness Month. This month, it's time to celebrate National Salad Month, which, likely, features women laughing. Alone. With Salad. As they so often do. Additionally, May is National Bike and Barbecue Month as well, and extra points if you can celebrate these holidays simultaneously. This month's image comes from Flickr user Stefano Arteconi of Bologna, Italy:


I have... so many questions, don't you? Just leave your link in the comments below, and we look forward to reveling in your inspiration! Happy writing!

May 01, 2018

Turning Pages Reads: SONG OF BLOOD AND BONE by L. Penelope

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Synopsis: Earthsinger Jasminda ul-Sarifor has always wished she things were diferent - that she had greater magic, a better relationship with the xenophobic Elsiran village in which she lives, and fewer Lagrimaran features than her father's ancestry has left her. But, alas, things are as they are, and she stubbornly persists in ekeing out a living on the side of the magical barrier that separates these two very different kingdoms, in a place that doesn't love her... until one day, a beaten scrap of a man falls into her path, and everything changes.

It's easy to want to trust Jack, because he's clearly honest - he's in dire straits, and not afraid to say so. It would be stupid to help Jack -- he's an Elsiran spy who was dropped into the midst of Lagrimaran soldiers. There's no real reason for Jasminda to help him - it looks better if she doesn't, after all - but what Jasminda sees of his treatment, and later, what Jack has to say about his mission leaves Jasminda horrified. The barrier - the wall that keeps the kingdoms apart - is about to fall. And when it does, the Lagrimaran religious zealot called True-Father who began the violence between these two countries will come roaring through, in full power, and begin a 'cleansing' of Elsira, and millions of innocent will die...

Jasminda doesn't want to believe this - doesn't want to change her whole world... but it's already changing. Refugees are flooding through in places where the barrier is thin, and it is clear that there is nowhere for them to go -- there's destruction and murder on both sides. Jasminda can't just sit around wishing things were different and better anymore - things aren't, they won't be, and she cannot simply hide. Furthermore, Jack is becoming way too important to her, and Jasminda is beginning to have a fearfully important reason ti want the world to continue...

Observations: Isn't this a beautiful cover?

It's always delightful when a self-pubbed book is picked up by a traditional publishing house. (Or, it's delightful to me, anyway; it might be really fraught and scary for the author, but my joy is more readers for that book.) L. Penelope is a black writer who majored in film AND computer science and who first published this book in 2015.

This book was described in marketing materials as "Romeo & Juliet meets The Return of the King," which is an awkward juxtaposition, to my mind (it read more like a rewritten piece of Greek mythology to me), but it is very high fantasy, with the romance of danger and heightened everything - and also features star-crossed lovers, insofar as Jack and Jasminda are from warring countries and do not share a skin color. Readers will enjoy this novel not because of the love story - which I didn't entirely need, but they will enjoy that this is "just" a fantasy story, of the sort which has a big, sweeping cinematic drama between warring nations, and doesn't attempt to parallel any true history, or anything else. It's actually a bit of a quiet story, for all of its scope, and readers who go in looking for a major war or magic being thrown around will at first have to adjust their expectations.

This is a new volume in the Heroine's Journey, and while the path is somewhat familiar, this is such a beloved tale that many readers will be sucked right in. The first volume in L. Penelope's duology is mostly scene-setting and lining up allies v. enemies. I look forward to how it all ends.

Conclusion: A sweeping romance of warring nations, a mysterious Queen Who Sleeps, and a black girl poised to save the world through her personal brand of magic - which she believes to be insufficient and unimportant. A good starter book for young fantasy readers who aren't as familiar with the genre, the writing is clear, and the pacing is at times a little slow, but engaging.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. As of TODAY, May 1, 2018, you can find SONG OF BLOOD AND BONE by L. Penelope at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

April 30, 2018

Monday Review: THE QUEEN OF SORROW by Sarah Beth Durst

Synopsis: I loved the first two books in Sarah Beth Durst's Queens of Renthia trilogy, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read a review copy of the upcoming third book, The Queen of Sorrow (out on May 15th). If you haven't read the first two, you might want to skip this review in case of spoilers!

Right, on to the good stuff. In this last installment of the trilogy, we pick up where the second book, The Reluctant Queen (reviewed here), left off. The forested land of Aratay is settling into having two queens: the young Queen Daleina, left in power after the violent slaughter of the other potential heirs; and Queen Naelin, a mother of two who possesses more raw power over the land's spirits than just about anyone. But while the two queens of Aratay have been figuring out how to rule in tandem, the ambitious Queen Merecot of Semo, to the north, has been making some plans of her own in order to deal with her country's excess of spirits. When two strange, foreign spirits swoop in and steal Queen Naelin's children, Merecot is the natural suspect…

Observations: Fans of the first two books will find this a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, continuing the complex and believable character development of the first two as well as the action, adventure, and intriguing setting. Naelin and Daleina are both very relatable characters, with flaws and quirks that balance out their strength and power. They have love lives and families, feelings and interests beyond the paths that have been chosen for them, and they struggle to maintain normality and humanity in the face of challenges ranging from the everyday to the wondrously, frighteningly magical.

There was also a twist toward the end of the book that I loved. I could sort of see it coming, but not in the sense that it was predictable—just in the sense that that was the choice *I* would have made if I'd been writing, and it was what I really WANTED to see happen. It felt very RIGHT. As someone currently struggling with some plot dilemmas, I really appreciated seeing the story build toward what felt like a natural, inevitable conclusion.

Conclusion: What more can I say? A strong, exciting, page-turning conclusion to the trilogy, and another wonderfully unique world from an always imaginative author.

This review is based on the advance review copy, which I received courtesy of the author and publisher. Starting on May 15th, you can find THE QUEEN OF SORROW by Sarah Beth Durst at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

April 27, 2018

The Return of Five & Dime Friday: my five cents

What? I haven't done one of these Friday roundups since, like, 2015? Yeah, I know. Mainly it was because I felt like I was rounding things up everyone already knew, but the more I'm on Twitter (which, granted, is not very much) the more I realize that there's a LOT of things announced and discussed, which, with the firehose stream of information pelting us, are missed by quite a few folk, thanks to social media algorithms... so here I am again, talking about what was significant this week to me, if no one else... So, without further ado:

Okay, wait, Taco Bell, what? - Travis side-eyes a questionable read-aloud choice. Who knew, librarians have a panic room. Apparently.

Duologies are the new trilogies, and that is all things wonderful.

Lee Wind has finished serializing QUEER AS A FIVE DOLLAR BILL, which I still cannot believe did not find a traditional publisher out of the gate, but ANYWAY - and now he's doing behind-the-scenes on the research and inspiration for it. If you haven't had a chance to read this book, do.

Meanwhile, some are still not sure quite what sensitivity readers are supposed to do for them... while others love having them, so they feel justified with whatever they do. Hm.

A lot of people didn't understand when the mother of the little boy who modeled the "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle" shirt didn't get what the drama was with H&M. However, she's Kenyan, and lives in Sweden. Edi highlights the problematic in BABY MONKEY, PRIVATE EYE, while walking us through the historical ties of anthropomorphism and black people in America. Art is never apolitical, is it?

Randomly: Ladies and gents, origami pasta that folds itself.

The Edge of the Forest, back in the day was one of the kidlit blogosphere's earliest academic-style journal for readers and creators, about readers and books. I'm grateful The Book Smugglers has taken up the gauntlet and fulfilled the idea's promise with their Quarterly Almanac. Last September's piece by Mimi Mondal on the poor apology that Hermione Grainger's sudden blackness is for the ingrained racism that infests the Potter books (something which is still being discussed,, now that "Cursed Child" is on Broadway) is both a boldly unpopular opinion and a brilliant essay, giving readers something to chew on. DO read it if you've not seen it (especially if you're asking yourself, "Wait, what racism!?).

I'm thrilled when children's lit rises above the level of fangirling and gushing (although that definitely has its place) to really engaging deeper with literature, tropes, and representation. I'm sad to say I've not been very timely about reading the Almanac, but after seeing the discussion springboarding from Zetta Elliot's essay, Minstrelsy is the New Black in Volume 3, I'm definitely intrigued. Zetta takes on book packaging as cosmetically "correcting" books by black people into something more "acceptable" - another wildly unpopular take, but again, well-written and thought-provoking. These are the discussions we should be having.

Happy Weekend.

April 23, 2018

Cybils Review Roundup: 2017 Graphic Novel Finalists

Here in a handy list is a set of links to all of my reviews of this past year's Cybils finalists for Graphic Novels. As always, it was a privilege and a pleasure to be a Round 2 judge and get to choose from the best of the best in terms of kid appeal and literary merit (the main Cybils criteria). Without further ado, here you go!

Young Adult

WINNER: Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld, ‎ illustrated by Alex Puvilland
Buddha: An Enlightened Life by Kieron Moore; Illustrated by Rajesh Nagulakonda
New Super-Man Vol. 1: Made in China (Rebirth) by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Viktor Bogdanovic
Soupy Leaves Home by Cecil Castellucci, illustrated by Jose Pimienta
Spinning by Tillie Walden
Diesel: Ignition by Tyson Hesse

Elementary/Middle Grade

WINNER: Where's Halmoni? by Julie Kim
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Real Friends by Shannon Hale, ilustrated by LeUyen Pham (check out Tanita's take on it, too!)
Suee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly, illustrated by Molly Park
The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner
The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi