Tag Archives: genre:family stories

Ghosts Review

ghosts_telgemeierGhosts by Raina Telgemeier, colors by Braden Lamb

Graphix, 2016. 978-0545540612

Synopsis: Sisters Catarina and Maya are leaving their Southern California home and relocating to the Northern California coast in hopes that the sea air will help with Maya’s cystic fibrosis. As Cat reluctantly explores Bahìa de la Luna with her sister, the girls become aware that the town is full of ghosts. Maya wants to meet them, Cat does not; but as the day for honoring the dead, Dia de los Muertos, approaches, Cat must learn to embrace the town’s culture and help her sister make the most of her own life while she has it.

Why I picked it up: Raina Telgemeier is another one of those authors that I will read anything she writes forever.

Why I finished it: Telgemeier has a unique ability to take sensitive subjects and situations and create stories about how we can muster the courage to take the next step forward and recover from our own shortcomings. Ghosts deals with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that can cause a buildup of mucus in the lungs which can lead to other serious respiratory problems. Telgemeier takes us inside the lives of these two fictional sisters to explore the very real issues that individuals and families with loved ones batting cystic fibrosis must be aware of on a constant basis. It’s a struggle for Cat to have to share her life with her sister, but she has also taken on the role of protector which perhaps prevents her from having to deal with her own fears. The festival of Dìa de lost Muertos that the town participates in each year (and is celebrated worldwide, usually around the same time as Halloween) helps Cat begin to put some perspective about how we celebrate life and how to live her life to the fullest. She knows Maya’s cystic fibrosis will only get worse as she gets older, and at one point Maya asks her parents why she shouldn’t make the most of the time she has now while things aren’t too bad. Death is a weighty subject to be sure, but Telgemeier seems to arrange the notion in a context that is perhaps not so scary and foreboding to the reader. Thanks to the softness of her art style and the wonderful colors by Lamb, the story still has a lighthearted, wholesome feel to it – like having a conversation with a close friend. Ghosts is a story about how we connect with our family both in life and in death, and how they can give us the courage to keep going when the odds are against us.

Other related materials: Smile by Raina Telgemeier; Sisters by Raina Telgemeier; Drama by Raina Telgemeier; Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm; House Arrest by K.A. Holt; Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper; Paperboy by Vince Vawter; El Deafo by Cece Bell; Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine; Rules by Cynthia Lord; Wonder by R.J. Palacio; So B. It by Sarah Weeks; Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr; Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret; Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston and Jeanette Winter; Dìa De Los Muertos by Ann Heinrichs and Mernie Gallagher-Cole

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Molly and the Bear Review

cameron-company-molly-and-the-bear-soft-cover-1Molly and the Bear by Bob Scott

Cameron & Company, 2016. 978-1937359850

Synopsis: When pan phobic Bear moves in with Molly and her family, life becomes anything but ordinary. But with a lot of patience and understanding, Molly gradually begins to help Bear outside of his shell…even if there is some crying and whining along the way.

Why I picked it up: I am a huge fan of quirky animal stories, strong female protagonists, and family comics.

Why I finished it: It takes a special sort of person to handle a 900-pound pan phobic grizzly, and Molly happens to have the right personality. Despite the fact that some of Bear’s trivial idiosyncrasies leave Molly scratching her head, she is (to a point) happy to oblige to his requests. It’s not that she’s being dismissive; she merely wants to find a way to relieve some of Bear’s anxieties: his fear of cats, his worry that the air isn’t safe to breathe when they land after a plane flight, the stress of whether or not Molly is going to leave the house when she puts her socks on (sometimes she just has cold feet), and how to get her father to warm up to him. Originally published as a webcomic, Bob Scott has collected the most comprehensive collection of his strips to give the reader a little bit of a taste as to what Molly and the Bear is about. As previously stated, it’s easy to  get drawn in to the comic not only because of the characters, but because Scott’s art pays such a loving homage to the Golden Age comics of which we are so fond. There is a playfulness to the art and the writing that shows the reader just how much fun Scott has writing and drawing the strips. I thought it was particularly clever that he’s thrown in a few artist gags into the mix – they might go over some reader’s heads because they seem somewhat out of context, but I think it’s a way for Scott to poke a little bit of fun at himself. It’s a funny, heartwarming comic about just being yourself and the joys of friendship. For more of Molly and Bear, check out the comic here.

Other related materials: Garfield comics by Jim Davis; Snoopy: Contact! (A Peanuts Collection) by Charles M. Schulz; Woodstock: Master of Disguise: A Peanuts Collection by Charles M. Schulz; Charlie Brown and Friends: A Peanuts Collection by Charles M. Schulz; Beginning Pearls: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan T. Pastis; The Croc Ate My Homework: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan T. Pastis; Skip School, Fly to Space: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan T. Pastis; When Crocs Fly: A Pearls Before Swine Collection by Stephan T. Pastis; The Mutts Diaries by Patrick McDonnell; The Mutts Winter Diaries by Patrick McDonnell; AAAA!: A FoxTrot Kids Edition by Bill Amend; Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce; Oh, Brother! Brat Attack! by Bob Weber, Jr. and Jay Stephens

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Feature Presentation: Finding Dory

Finding_DoryFinding Dory starring the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, and Dominic West

Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures, 2016. Rated PG

Synopsis: Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is a Blue Tang that suffers from short-term memory loss, something that is somewhat of a conundrum to her other fish companions. So when Dory remembers her family, she becomes convinced that she must cross the ocean to find them. Reluctantly accompanied by Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory journeys to the Marine Life Institute in search of the mother and father she left behind.

The internet memes weren’t lying when they joked about just how much non-Millenials have been waiting for this film. To really truly appreciate this movie, you had to have seen Finding Nemo, and I’m not just saying that because portions of the film are highlighted in Finding Dory. Finding Nemo is when we are introduced to and fall in love with Dory. Yes, she is forgetful; yes, she is somewhat naive; but despite her flaws, she heart and the creativity to be able to keep Marlin going as he searches for Nemo. She applies this same tenacity to her own search for her family after suddenly being able to recall portions of her younger years. Dory’s ability to consistently recall anything is something of an anomaly (“P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way Sydney” being the only other thing she has been able to recall to date, aside from names of her fish companions), and the disjointed nature by which she is recalling things at first seems like a reinforcement of her memory issues. But as the film goes on, we see that there is a sort of puzzle that Dory is solving as she searches through the Marine Life Institute for her parents and begins to recall the circumstances by which she was initially separated from them. There are a few scary moments, one in particular involving a giant squid in a field of sunken ships and another in which the characters are going through a rather perilous path of pipes. While I enjoyed the film, my one criticism is that it seemed to lack the emotional punch of its predecessor. There are a lot of heightened emotions involved with Dory’s search for her family, but for some reason it didn’t grab at my heartstrings the same way. Despite the lack of tear-jerking moments (for my part), it’s a fun, humorous story about the meaning of family and being able to find your way home.

 

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Review

absolutely_true_diary_of_a_part_time_indianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, art by Ellen Forney

Little, Brown books for Young Readers, 2007. 978-0316013680

Winner of the 2008 National Book Award

Synopsis: Junior isn’t like most people. Born with water on the brain, Junior often suffers from seizures; he wears glasses that don’t fit his face, his feet are too big for his body, and he speaks with a lisp. The one thing he seems to have going for him is his art. It’s how he makes sense of the world. It’s how he’s staying even a little bit sane when he becomes the only Indian at a high school full of white kids, when his best friend won’t speak to him, when his sister runs away to live the life of a romance novel. It’s what gives him hope during a year that seems hopeless.

Why I picked it up: This is another title that came highly recommended to me by my librarian colleagues and I thought it was time I pulled it off my shelf.

Why I finished it: I found out in the first few pages that Alexie wasn’t going to be pulling any punches. He told it like it was, and he didn’t shy away from any of the scary, awkward, gruesome details that come with growing up on an Indian reservation. In a lot of ways, Junior is a stereotype, and he’s willing to acknowledge this to a point. When it is proposed he leaves the reservation, it’s not only a way for him to help fight the stereotype, but a chance for him to make something better than himself, to be the person his parents could have been had someone believed in them. And really, I think everyone needs that: one person in our lives that is willing to believe in us, to help push us away from our comfort zone into the breech. And yet, Junior still feels as though he is living two separate lives, one much more surreal than the other. But despite the tragedies he faces and the challenges he overcomes, Junior finds a way to make sense of it all…well, mostly. Forney’s art is a delightful mix of realism and cartoonish humor, largely to reflect Junior’s mood or state of mind while he is drawing. It’s a way for the reader to truly experience how Junior is making sense of the world and how he is perceiving those around him. It’s a funny, heartbreaking story about how we face life’s challenges and how we learn to control the elements we can while coping with those we cannot.

Other related materials: Flight by Sherman Alexie; If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth; Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Lori Earley; Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell; My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson; Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sàenz; Winger by Andrew Smith, illustrated by Sam Bosma; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; El Deafo by Cece Bell; Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine; American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang; Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina; The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina; Mexican White Boy  by Matt de la Peña; When I Was Young and Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago; Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa  Abdel-Fattah

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Murder at the Oaklands Mansion Review

murder_at_the_oaklands_mansionMurder at the Oaklands Mansion by Melinda Richarz Lyons, illustrations by Charisse Richarz

TreasureLine Publishing, 2012. 978-1617521317

Synopsis: Brooks Martin and his Aunt Mandy love having adventures – the more wild and daring the better! They also love history and trivia, especially about their hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When a Civil War reenactor is shot and his last words are to Brooks, Brooks and Aunt Mandy find themselves determined to solve the mystery of his death and his incoherent mutterings. Can they get to the bottom of the case or will they be dismissed as “just a kid and an old lady”?

Why I picked it up: The combination of historical fiction and murder mystery was something I didn’t want to pass up.

Why I finished it: This is a delightful read for both middle graders and their families. It highlights the strong bond between a young boy and his eccentric great aunt, and the love that they have for pushing themselves to be better and better. They have a thirst for knowledge that sometimes leads them into super crazy situations. I was instantly endeared to these characters and the relationships that continue to build as the plot moves along. I liked that the story kept up a steady pace throughout that made it easy to follow along and put together the clues alongside Brooks and Aunt Mandy. And I loved that Lyons devotes a couple of chapters to a research session in the library. Plus, it highlights the fun of knowing local history and exploring the towns in which we live, even if they might not be as historically exciting as Murfreesboro. The book may seem somewhat simplistic, but this makes it ideal for reluctant and struggling readers to read by themselves or out loud. It’s an intriguing, nail-biting read that will keep readers hooked and hoping for more.

Other related materials: Cynthia’s Attic series by Mary Cunningham; The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin; Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol; Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene; Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew book by Carolyn Keene, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan; The Hardy Boys books by Fanklin W. Dixon; The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner; Nate the Great books by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, illustrated by Marc Simont; The Samantha Wolf Mysteries series by Tara Ellis, illustrated by Melchelle Designs; Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein; Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein; The Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

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Feature Presentation: Inside Out

mv5botgxmdqwmdk0of5bml5banbnxkftztgwnju5otg2nde-_v1_sx640_sy720_Inside Out starring the voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MachLachlan, and Richard Kind

Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios, 2015. Rated PG.

Synopsis: Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school. – from IMDb

This is one of those movies that my coworkers kept telling me to see and for some reason or another, I kept putting it off. And then, of course, after I saw it, I was sorry it took me so long. This is a family film with a wide appeal that will take you on an emotional roller coaster and make you think about how you process your own thoughts. It puts a different spin on what goes on inside your head as you go through your day and how you handle the changes in your life. It personifies the science, in a sense, and it makes sense. It makes sense that there would be these little people in our heads that help us process our thoughts and emotions. It shows what happens when there is an absence or suppression of emotions, what drives us to make the decisions we do. The premise is surprisingly believable for being a film largely ground in fiction. I loved Poehler as Joy and Smith as Sadness and the two women play off of each other very well. Smith (whom older viewers may recognize from The Office) has a delightfully melancholy voice that gives Sadness a bit of humor, though it typically represents a very low emotion. I also loved the fact that Black (who is an angry comedian) is Anger. Even though the actors aren’t actually physically interacting together, the cast feeds into each other and really bring each of the emotions to life. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t going to cry during this movie, but I have a feeling even the most stone cold of persons may shed a tear or two remembering their own childhoods and their own lost/faded memories. It’s a fun, funny, and thought-provoking film that is sure to please the crowd.

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Kira-Kira Review

kira_kiraKira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004. 978-0689856402

Winner of the 2005 John Newbery Medal

Synopsis: Katie Takeshima has always looked up to her sister, Lynn, and the way she makes the world seem kira-kira: glittering, shining. Katie relies on Lynn to help her make sense of the world: their move to Georgia, the reason people stare at them, why it’s important for her to go to school. But when Lynn gets sick, Katie is forced to begin to make sense of things on her own and to make the world seem kira-kira again.

Why I picked it up: I snagged it at a used book store in Newport, Oregon while I was on vacation.

Why I finished it: The two very strong themes that run through this book are the strength of family bonds and the power of positive thinking. Katie and Lynn have a friendship that is unique to sisters, and the ways in which they support one another have a lasting impact on the characters and the reader. Katie might not be as smart as her sister, but Lynn knows that if she works hard and applies herself that Katie can succeed, an idea that becomes more apparent to Katie as she watches her sister decline. Speaking from experience, it can be hard to see the world as kira-kira when everything around you seems so dark and desolate; it can be hard to move on even when it feels like the world is stopping or speeding ahead without you. But what Katie and the reader slowly begin to realize is that Lynn desires for Katie to make her own magic. Katie has the potential to make the world kira-kira for her younger brother and her family in the same way Lynn made the world kira-kira for Katie. Yet, Kadohata’s story runs deeper, mixing grief and helplessness with humor and the special brand of drama that is specific only to families. The first-person narrative gives us a window into one family’s struggle to keep themselves together even though their lives as they know them are changing in ways they could have never imagined. It’s a sweet and heartbreaking story that will leave a lasting impression on the reader.

Other related materials: The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata; Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata; Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata; Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata; Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff; Penny From Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm; Criss-Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins; Under the Mesquite by Guadaulpe Garcia McCall; The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; Sweetgrass Basket by Marlene Carvell

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