Review: Stories Julian Tells

“If she was laughing at me, I was going to go home and forget about her. But she looked at me very seriously and said ‘It takes practice,” and then I liked her.” p. 62

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The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Ann Strugnell.
Random House, New York, my edition 2006 (originally published 1981).
Realistic fiction, 71 pages.
Lexile:  520L  .
AR Level:  3.4 (worth 1.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Julian series.

Six first-person short stories revolving around Julian Bates.

The Stories Julian Tells resized
The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Ann Strugnell.

I’ve already reviewed two later books in this series, Gloria Rising and Gloria’s Way.  Series order isn’t strictly necessary, although a few things change as the series progresses (new characters are introduced, the boys get a dog).  At this point, the main characters are just Julian, younger brother Huey, and their parents.  Gloria is introduced in the final story of this book.

First, I’d like to give some credit to Ann Cameron.  It was unusual in 1980 for a white woman to chose to write a book about middle class black children.  (Keep in mind this was less than 20 years since The Snowy Day.)  And generally speaking, her books still hold relevance today and I haven’t spotted any major issues in the ones I’ve read.

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Graphic Novel Review: Good As Lily

A graphic novel that uses an unusual conceit to discuss coming-of-age and self-growth.

Good As Lily by Derek Kirk Kim, illustrated by Jesse Hamm.
MG/YA fiction (mostly realistic fiction, but with a speculative fiction aspect), 150 pages.
Minx, DC Comics, New York, 2007.
Lexile:  Not leveled.
AR Level:  3.0 (worth 2.0 points)  .
NOTE: While the text is a third grade level, this is written for older children.

On Grace Kwon’s 18th birthday, things get a little weird.  Friends whisk her away, guitar strings break, and a strange accident with an unwanted pinata leads her to leave her favorite present behind in the park.  And when she meets versions of herself at ages 6, 27, and 70, it gets a whole lot weirder.

Good As Lily Cover resized

This is a special review.  See, this is a re-read, but it’s also a book I first read in 2007.  At the time I was devouring graphic novels as fast as I could get them.  However, unlike most of those quick reads, the plot of this one stuck with me for the past decade.  I couldn’t remember the title for a long time, just that it was a Minx book.   After seeing ReGifters on this great list, I suddenly recalled that Lily was in the title, and was able to find the info.  Lily is not the main character’s name, which made it more difficult for me to remember.

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Graphic Novel Review: Monster

If the play didn’t work for you, give this graphic novel a try.

Monster: A Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile.
Amistad, HarperCollins, New York, 2015.
Graphic novel, 153 pages.
Lexile:  GN420L  ( What does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  not yet leveled

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Monster.  I’ll repeat my summary of the novel:

Monster is a complicated novel of a story-within-a-story.  At first glance it is the straightforward tale of a boy who is accused of assisting in a murder during a robbery-gone-wrong, mostly expressed through his recreation of the trial as a screenplay and his diary notes from prison.  But it is also the story of a criminal justice system where the mostly white cast assumes all the power over the mostly black “monsters.”  Then there are also flashbacks that add more information about Steve Harmon and the other characters which call into question his real role in the murder.  Meanwhile, we are seeing all of this through the lens of one desperate young boy – what is the truth?

Monster graphic novel

You might recall my review of the novel Monster, which took me more than six months to read and review (thankfully it was checked out from a library I work at, so I could keep renewing it).  In contrast, this graphic novel took me a few hours to read and is being reviewed instantly – because I can certainly recommend it.

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Review: President of the Whole 5th Grade

“I have BIG plans. I’m going to be a millionaire with my own cooking show on TV. Cupcakes are my specialty.” page 1

President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston.
Little, Brown, & Co., Hachette Book Group, New York, 2010.
My edition Scholastic, 2012.
Middle grade realistic fiction, 276 pages.
Lexile:  730L  .
AR Level:  4.8  (worth 6.0 points)  .

Brianna Justice may only be in fifth grade, but she’s already planning for her future as a famous chef with her own baking show.  Last year her idol, Miss Delicious, spoke to their class and laid out a roadmap… and it all starts with being president of her fifth grade class.  Only this year the rules have changed – there’s going to be just one class president over all the fifth grade classrooms.  Can Bree still win the new, tougher, competition?  Can she keep her integrity and friends while doing it?

President of the Whole Fifth Grade cover

Brianna Justice is not the most likable character.  In fact, in the beginning I was a bit worried because she is downright mean at times.  In some ways she’s very mature and dedicated to planning for her future, with a hefty savings account and a step-by-step life plan.  However she gets wrapped up in her own plans to an extreme, loosing balance in her life and neglecting her friendships.  Although this worried me, Bree does experience consequences for most of her actions.  Because she starts off as not so likable, she’s able to show a lot of character growth in a short period of time.

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Review: Gloria’s Way

“My dad was supposed to take care of me, but I didn’t know if he could.” page 83

Gloria’s Way by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Lis Toft.
Puffin, Penguin Putnam books for Young Readers, New York, 2001.
Realistic fiction short stories, 96 pages.
Lexile:  600L  .
AR Level:  3.1 (worth 1.0 points)  .
NOTE: Technically part of the Julian/Huey/Gloria series, but could stand alone.

Six short stories about Gloria, best friends with Julian Bates and his little brother Huey.

Gloria's Way

Some of the stories in this collection include Julian, Huey, their dog Spunky, or new friend Latisha while others focus on Gloria.  As I usually do with short stories, I’ll briefly discuss each individual story.

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Review: Saints and Misfits

“I stand and cringe at the sucking sound as my swimsuit sticks to me, all four yards of the spandex-Lycra blend of it.” page 2

Saints and Misfits: a novel by S.K. Ali.
Salaam Read, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
YA contemporary, 328 pages.
Not yet leveled.

Janna just wants to live her life – hang out with her friends, study, work her very part-time jobs, pray, and maybe dream a little about her secret haram crush.  But something has changed her world, something unthinkable, horrible, and so big she doesn’t know what to do.

Saints and Misfits resized

For some reason I thought this was a light and fluffy read.  However, I completely misunderstood, because by chapter two we’re reliving one of the worst moments of Janna’s life, when she is assaulted by a man who is supposedly holy, the man she calls the Monster.

Indeed, the title of each short chapter (Saints, Misfits, or Monsters) relates to how she sees the main people she’s interacting with in that chapter.  Some chapters contain more than one category, or a comment as she begins to realize that some of those she sees as Saints are really Misfits, etc.

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Review: Flygirl

“Sure, they’d only been around a few years, they were dangerous, and quite frankly, only a handful of colored people knew how to fly.” page 29

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith.
Scholastic, New York, 2008.
YA historical fiction, 275 pages.
Lexile:  HL680L  ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 11.0 points)  .

Ida Mae Jones just wants to fly.  But her mother’s dead set against her even going North to get her pilot’s license.  So using her light skin color to join the WASP shouldn’t even be an option, but Ida will do anything to get in the air and help her military brother.

Flygirl

Those of you who have been reading for a while will recall that I’m pretty tough on historical fiction.  I want it to be inclusive of diverse characters and perspectives, but also realistic.  (A character might be targeted with hateful language, but the author should also make clear that those words are wrong.)  Depending on the grade level, I’d also like it to be appropriate for the age recommended, not too graphic nor too idealistic for young readers.  And, of course, it should be well written and have an interesting plot and intriguing characters.

I’m happy to share that Flygirl succeeds on every count.

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