Friday, February 24, 2017

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

“It took seven years to get the letter right.”

This is the first line of Carval, the enchanting and mysterious Y.A. novel written by Stephanie Garber.

Every year for seven years, Scarlett writes a letter to the master of Caraval, Master Legend. She begs him to visit the Isle of Trisda, so that she can give her sister Donatella the best birthday present ever: a ticket to Caraval. Scarlett and Donatella grew up listening to their grandmother’s stories of Caraval. And on the eve of her marriage, Scarlett writes one last letter to Master Legend, telling him she’s given up, and that it will be the last letter she writes. And in return, she receives tickets to attend Caraval with her sister and her fiance, a man she has never met.
Caraval is both spectacle and dangerous game. Nothing is as it seems in the world of Caraval, and nobody is to be trusted. Scarlett has decided that going to Caraval is too much of a risk, and would ruin her chances of escaping a brutal father. So her sister arranges for Scarlett to be kidnapped, with the promise that she will be returned before her wedding in ten days time. When Scarlett arrives at Caraval, she learns that this year’s game at Caraval is to find Donatella, who has gone missing.

Luscious description, funny and vibrant characters, and a mystery at every turn, readers will find themselves sucked into the world of Caraval that Garber has created. For fans of The Night Circus, readers will not be able to put Caraval down.

Stephanie Garber, author of Caraval

Fish Girl by David Wiesner & Donna Jo Napoli

Fish Girl is an incredible collaboration between Donna Jo Napoli and David Wiesner. A modern-day fairy tale told as a graphic novel, Wiesner’s illustrations show the reader a house that is also an aquarium, known as “Ocean Wonders,” and inside Ocean Wonders lives Fish Girl. Napoli’s words accompany the illustrations, giving the glimpse into the mind of Fish Girl, who cannot talk. There is a room, perfectly preserved underwater, and visitors to the aquarium try to catch a glimpse of the elusive mermaid while “Neptune” swings a trident that controls the waves, calling out:

“The Fish Girl! She is the mystery that lives in that lovely room. Look at her beautiful dresses and jewelry--all underwater! The Fish Girl! What is she? Is she fish or is she girl? You are fortunate to be here, for she is the last of her kind, and she can be seen only at Ocean Wonders!”

This is the only world that Fish Girl has ever known. Her only friends are the other fish in the aquarium, and an orange octopus. If, during visiting hours, she does a good job swimming around so that she’s not seen, but gives curious visitors a glimpse of her tail, Neptune rewards her with a story of how he rescued her when she was a baby. When Livia, a girl about the same age as Fish Girl goes to the restricted area of the aquarium, she actually sees the mermaid. Fish Girl is also curious about the human girl, and Livia gives her a name: Mira. Mira and Livia become friends, and Mira starts to see Neptune for who he really is: a fraud. How can she escape her house tank, when Neptune controls the air filter, the water, and her food? Mira starts to yearn for real friendships after meeting Livia, and begins to take her destiny in her own hands.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

I knew as I saw this cover I was in for a treat: a little unicorn floating underwater, wearing an oxygen mask, with the words, “Not Quite Narwhal.”

Kelp was born deep in the ocean, but he isn’t exactly like the other narwhals. He is very clearly a unicorn, and kids will find this fact amusing--after all, a unicorn living with narwhals isn’t something you see everyday in a picture book. Yes, Kelp also has a “tusk” but it wasn’t as long as the other narwhal’s tusks. And he wasn’t the best swimmer, as is shown by him wearing yellow floaties. But one day, when the current whisks him to the surface, he sees a majestic creature standing in the moonlight--and this creature looks just like Kelp! Kelp is frightened of walking on land, and it isn’t easy, but he perseveres. He journeys through a dark forest, worried he will never find the majestic, sparkling creature he saw from the ocean.

In perhaps one of the cutest and funniest scenes, Kelp happens upon a field of creatures just like him and yelps, “Land Narwhals!” To which a unicorn replies, “Actually, we’re unicorns. And, by the looks of it, so are you!” But can Kelp be both a land narwhal or a sea unicorn? Will he have to choose?

Jessie Sima’s precious illustrations and delightful characters, and the fact that the children reading this story are complicit in the secret that Kelp is a unicorn, not a narwhal, will delight young readers ages 4 to 7.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Love Is by Diane Adams, illustrated by Claire Keane

How do you explain the concept of love to a child? There are many ways to say what love is, and Diane Adams’ picture book Love Is explains love to children in a way that they can understand. Claire Keane’s illustrations are bright and full of childhood whimsy. In Love Is, a little girl learns what love is by caring for a duckling that has escaped from a park.

“Love is holding something fragile,
tiny wings and downy head.
Love is noisy midnight feedings,
Shoe box right beside the bed.”

"Love is waking up together,
side by side, and beak to nose."

Eventually, the duck grows larger and must leave the shoebox beside the little girl’s bed and return to the pond. And the little girl learns that sometimes, that’s what love is too.

This is the perfect little story for Valentine’s day around the corner, but will work year-round as well.

Illustration by Claire Keane from Love Is

Friday, January 27, 2017

Interview Session with Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give

In August of 2015, I met Angie when she had just signed with her agent. She was excited, hopeful, but also nervous. She didn't know how a book influenced by Black Lives Matter would work for a YA story. Over a year later, The Hate U Give is going to be a movie (starring Amandla Stenberg as Starr), and Angie (and T.H.U.G.) are getting ready to take the world by storm. Angie was kind enough to answer some questions before embarking on her tour! Here is a review of The Hate U Give.

Where are you from? Tell me about the journey that led you to where you are now.

I was born, raised, and still reside in Jackson, Mississippi. I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember—I used to write Mickey Mouse fanfiction when I was six. But I never thought that I could be an author until I was in college, studying Creative Writing. I actually wrote the short story that became The Hate U Give while I was in my senior year. It took me a few years after college though to decide to make it a novel. Even after I wrote it, I was afraid that the topic may not be appropriate for YA. So when a literary agency held a question and answer session on Twitter, I asked if the topic was appropriate. An agent not only responded and said yes, he asked to see my manuscript. A few months later, I signed with him, and a few months after that we were in a 13-publishing house auction.

When did you know you needed to write this book?

Like I said, I first wrote it as a short story during my senior year of college, back in 2010/2011 after the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California. Like my main character, Starr, I was living in two different worlds—my neighborhood that most people called “the hood” and my upper class, mostly-white college. By being in these two different worlds, I heard two very different takes on the case. At my school, he was seen as a thug who deserved what he got, but in my community he was one our own. My anger, fear, and frustration led me to write the story. I put it aside after graduation, but as more of these cases continued to happen, I found myself angry, afraid, and frustrated again. So I did the only thing I knew how to do – I wrote.

Black Lives Matter is…

An organization and a movement. I don’t think a lot of people realize there’s a difference between the two. (And for the record, I’m not affiliated with the organization). It’s also a statement. It is not saying that only black lives matter or that black lives matter more. All lives should matter, indeed, but we have a systemic problem in this country in which black lives don’t matter enough. Black lives matter, too.

Tell us a little bit about Starr. Why did you use her voice to tell the story? She starts out so unsure of herself, and it was amazing watching her grow and come into her own.

I know plenty of Starrs in my neighborhood; I was a bit of a Starr myself growing up. She’s in two different worlds where she has to be two different people, and she’s still trying to figure out which one is truly her. I think a lot of people can relate to that. Also, there is this stereotype that black women, especially young black women, are loud and harsh, and I wanted to crush that stereotype with this character.

There is a moment where Starr is in the car with Chris, and she says to him, “I don’t need you to agree...Just try to understand how I feel. Please?” And I felt like this was a powerful line that white people need to hear from black people.

That’s one of my favorite lines, actually J. I think if more people understood why black people are so upset when another unarmed black person is killed, it would help bring about change. These cases always become political, but for so many of us they are personal. They need to become personal for all of us.

Another moment that I felt was really powerful is between Ms. Ofrah (Starr’s attorney) and Starr.
“Who said talking isn’t doing something? [Ms. Ofrah] says. “It’s more productive than silence. Remember what I told you about your voice?’
‘You said it’s my biggest weapon.’
‘And I mean that.’”

That’s another one of my favorites J (Is it ok for an author to like something they wrote? Haha.) I hope that more people realize just how powerful their voices are, especially in our current political climate. Fighting is not always about violence; sometimes it’s about speaking out. Our voices can change things.

This story is fiction, and yet, it is a real look into casual racism, blatant racism, and both sides of the police equation (Starr’s uncle is also a policeman)—and this is just the tip of the iceberg. In many ways, Starr’s story is not fiction. It is the story of every black person who has been a witness to injustice, time and time again.
What is your hope for The Hate U Give?

My ultimate hope is that it will help people realize that empathy is stronger than sympathy.

Author Angie Thomas
photo by Anissa Hidouk

Thanks for stopping by, Angie!

Mark your calendars for February 28th and pre-order a signed (and personalized!) copy of The Hate U Give from Lemuria Books.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Crack in the Sea by H.M. Bouwman

Perhaps with the New Year you have resolved to read more books. A great book to start with would be H. M. Bouwman’s new novel, A Crack in the Sea. Told in eight parts, Bouwman blends fantasy and true-historical events to create a shimmering story that revolves around siblings. There are three pairs of siblings: Kinchen and Pip, Venus and Swimmer, and Sang and Thanh. Kinchen and Pip live in the second world, the world where Pip has the gift of speaking to fish underwater. When he is kidnapped by the Raft King, his older sister Kinchen, along with Caesar, a girl who can walk along the ocean’s floor, must find a way to get to Raftworld, a whole village built atop floating rafts in the middle of the ocean. Sang and Thanh are orphans trying to escape war-torn Vietnam in 1978, in a small boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And Venus and Swimmer are twins who have the gift of walking on the ocean floor without having to take a breath. Their story takes place 200 years earlier on a slave ship sailing west from Africa.

Bouwman does a magical job of combining all three of these storylines with a crack in the sea: a portal that opens from the first world, the world of slavery and of war, into the second world, where it is not unusual for children to have magical water gifts. Illustrated with beautiful ink drawings by Japanese artist Yuko Shimizu, A Crack in the Sea is lyrical and spell-binding: the perfect first book to read in 2017. 

This review originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger.