The three rancheros

91ayjzgyg0lRaymie Nightingale, by Kate DiCamillo (2016)

Opening line: “There were three of them, three girls.”

There were once three of us, three girls. We didn’t come together quite like Raymie and her three rancheros came together, but were pushed together more due to having the same teacher and liking to play make-believe games on the playground. Raymie Clarke, Louisiana Elefante, and Beverly Tapinski come together at in a slightly more unique situation, at the home of their baton twirling coach at their first baton twirling lesson. The lesson fails to proceed, however, after Louisiana faints at the thought of performing, and their coach declines to put up with “this nonsense.”

Raymie is learning to twirl in order to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition. She has a plan. Three days ago, Raymie’s father ran off with a dental hygienist and Raymie is convinced that if she wins the competition, her father will see her picture in the paper and have to come home. Everything rests with her winning the competition. She soon finds out that Louisiana, who dons lucky bunny barrettes in her hair and flashy sequined dresses, wants to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition also, but she is more interested in the $1975 prize money in order to buy food for her and her granny and perhaps turn the electricity back on at home. Beverly, a scrappy girl with a chip on her shoulder and a bruise on her face, is just entering in order to sabotage the competition, for no reason in particular.

This is the story of the magic that can turn three strangers into best friends over the matter of a few days, at an age where empathy and compassion seem as natural as breathing. As Louisiana tells Raymie, “no matter what, you’re here and I’m here and we’re here together.” And often, that is enough to get through just about anything.

Delightfully honest and touching, 2.5 stars

Holy Mae Jamison!

71aw5whc8el81cs5miglxlLumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy and Lumberjanes Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max  by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen (2015)

Oh my gosh, you guys. These GNs are the best.

Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types is the summer home for the five best friends in the Roanoke Cabin. Things are hunky dory with a variety of summer camp activities. That is until monsters show up. That’s basically the extent of this series… summer camp activities, friendship, and monster-fighting. And I couldn’t ask for more.

The dialogue is smart, hilarious, and perfectly pre-teen. The pro-feminist attitude and she-ro exclamations (“oh my Bessie Coleman!” “Where the Phyllis Wheatley were you?”) are perfection (even if they may be lost on a younger audience). AND it quietly references A League of their Own, only the greatest movie ever!

Seriously, these are so much fun and made me laugh out loud many times. 3 stars.

Slapstick and Watercolor: a Match Made in Heaven

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton, by Matt Phelan (2013)

Opening line: “Life in Muskegon, Michigan was quiet. Ordinary.”

Anyone who knows me can probably guess why I picked this one up. Because it has an elephant on the cover, right? WRONG.

Okay, partially right. But also because it was featured in a Best of Middle School hour long book talk I went to last year! I remember the book-talker mentioning the beautiful watercolor illustrations that accompany this graphic novel, and boy, was he right. They are GORGEOUS. (My instagrammers might have seen my grams.) The colors make you long for midwestern summers on the lake.

Bluffton starts in the year 1908 when young Henry Harrison notices a train full of vaudeville performers arrive in his sleepy town. One of the vaudeville families are the Keatons, one of the premier performing families in the country. The oldest son’s name is Buster. (For old Hollywood fans, this name is probably familiar to you. For those who it is not, no worries.) The Keaton family act is known for their slapstick comedy, and Buster is the best at it. Later, he would go on to become one of the greatest silent film actors ever known, including his film The General, which AFI ranked #18 in their list of 100 greatest American films ever made.

A lot of readers on Goodreads gave this just an okay review. They said that the intended audience wouldn’t appreciate it, that today’s kid readers don’t even know who Buster Keaton is, etc., etc. I however, disagree. Frankly, as a junior high librarian, I had a hard time not selling any graphic novels to kids. They fly off the shelves no matter the subject matter. Attach a good recommendation to it, and I’m likely to have a hold list on it for weeks. Plus, a lot of kids, at least my students, loved seeing glimpses into “things that were real.” They think non-fiction graphic novels are awesome, and while this is historical fiction, I think it would have the same appeal. Lastly, the ART IS AMAZING. The watercolor work is just beautiful, regardless of the story. And actually lastly, who cares what the “intended audience” was? I’m a 27-year-old non-Buster Keaton fan, and I enjoyed it! In fact, it made me want to check out some of his films! Honestly, I’m guessing that is much more the intention of the author — to get a new generation interested in something he finds wonderful.

Lovely. Plus, there’s an elephant on the cover.

2.5 stars

The lazy hazy days of summer

This One Summer, story by Jillian Tamaki, art by Mariko Tamaki (2014)

Opening line: “Okay. So. Awago Beach is this place.”

When I was a kid, my parents took us on these wonderful camping trips across the country, visiting all the national parks, monuments, and seasides along the way. I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time (I’m particularly remembering a visit to the Badlands that I did not appreciate), but I feel incredibly lucky to have seen and experienced all the things that we did. However, in the “grass is always greener” sense of things, I always kind of wished for a vacation more like the one Rose’s family goes on each year in This One Summer. 

Each year, Rose’s family goes to a cottage on Awago Beach for the summer. It’s a lazy summer town, with nothing to worry about besides collecting firewood for beach bonfires and figuring out the best snacks to take with you on the tubes that won’t get wet. Rose has a best friend on Awago Beach, too, Windy, whose mom and grandma also have a cottage they visit each year.

This year seems different, though. Windy and Rose are approaching their teenage years, and are suddenly thinking about bra sizes, horror movies, and the drama of the older kids at the convenience store. This story tells of that one summer when the girls lives are changing, balancing between digging just-because holes in the sand and thinking about teen pregnancies and broken hearts. Through beautiful artwork (even earning a Caldecott nod) and conversations that feel very authentically tween and teen, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki let us remember just how strange and unique that time was for all of us, figuring out where we belong, who we are, who we want to be. By the end of the summer, as Windy and Rose head their separate ways, nothing monumental has changed. And yet, everything has.

A beautiful and delightful way to spend a Sunday morning on the front porch. 2.5 stars

Trying too hard in Mississippi

Glory Be, by Augusta Scattergood (2012)

I somehow read two middle grade books about Southern race relations right in a row, which may be why this one won’t get as good of a review.

It’s the summer of 1964, and Glory is anxiously awaiting awaiting her 12th birthday, which she plans to spend as she does every year: at a pool party with her family and friends. But this summer is different from summers past, because there are some new folks in town who are making certain people very nervous. The Freedom Fighters, as the new folks are called, are making a stand for racial equality and integration, and those who disagree with their views become defensive. Before Glory fully realizes what is happening, the town council has closed the pool in an effort to keep it from becoming integrated. And the changes keep going from there.

I have to tell you, this book didn’t do it for me. There were some good parts, but mostly, I felt like it was just trying too hard. Glory is too earnest, writing a powerful letter to the editor of the town paper about her disgust about racial segregation, when really her motivation seems almost entirely directed toward getting the pool reopened for her birthday party. Sometimes Scattergood writes her characters’ dialogue with elements of Southern speech, sometimes she doesn’t. Glory’s father is almost non-existent except for when he all of a sudden stands up for her in a moment of heartfelt pride. Glory’s friendship woes don’t seemreal. None of it did, to be honest.

Which is why I was surprised when I read the author’s note at the end, in which she explains that large parts of  the novel she pulled from her own personal history growing up in Mississippi. I’m wondering if this was the book’s downfall. Maybe  Scattergood had these memorable experiences of her childhood that she felt would make a good story and she just tried too hard to get all the parts to fit, rather than allowing the story (and its characters) to become its own.

One perk: since Scattergood herself is a former children’s librarian, the public library plays a pivotal role in the novel and the librarian is the only one who truly sticks to her guns in terms of what is right. Obviously, I’m a fan of this.

Fine, but not fully convincing: 1 star