Review: Singin’ and Swingin’ and…

“Paris was not the place for me or my son. The French could entertain the idea of me because they were not immersed in guilt about a mutual history…” p. 165

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Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou.
Bantam, New York, 1977 (originally published 1976).
Adult autobiography, 242 pages.
Not leveled.

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Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou.

In a funny coincidence, I gave away Angelou books (not even read yet… but better loved by someone else) and then a month later came across this in the free books.  Of course I started reading this one immediately and it was fascinating.  I’ve read quite a bit of her poetry before, but never one of her autobiographies.  Upon reading this one I realized that they are probably best read chronologically.

This title is the third, and covers the time when she lived in San Francisco after her son was born, worked a wide variety of jobs, spent a few years married to a white man, and eventually found herself with an entertainment career that took her all over the world, but sadly separated her from her son.

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Review: American Panda

“Each ball she threw into the pile further pounded into my head that my mother’s demands, her criticisms – they were because she wanted better for me. I tried not to think about the fact that she was so unhappy.” p. 96-97

American Panda by Gloria Chao.
Simon Pulse, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2018.
YA Contemporary, 310 pages.
Not yet leveled.

Mei Lu might be only 17, but she’s also a college freshman at MIT, as per her parents’ ambitious plans.  And she’s the only hope for them to fulfill their legacy, since they cut off her older brother years ago.  There’s just one problem: Mei loves to dance (no longer allowed since she doesn’t need it for college applications anymore) and is absolutely terrified of blood, guts, and germs.

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This was a targetpick.  I wasn’t intending to be trendy and pick it up on the release date, but apparently did so by accident.  The publisher lists it as suitable for 12+, but it really occupies a middle ground between young adult and new adult fiction.  Mei is still a teen just learning about the world, but the book is also about her gaining her independence and in many ways she’s very mature and responsible.  Some books in a middle space like this are challenging for either group to read, but I think this one will appeal to both.

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Graphic Novel Review: Emiko Superstar

While it definitely shouldn’t be shelved in the children’s section, this coming-of-age graphic novel will appeal to YA readers.

Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Steve Rolston.
Minx, DC comics, New York, 2008.
Graphic novel, 150 pages.
Not leveled.

This is the story of one summer in the life of Emiko, a summer that changed her life.  It starts out like a normal summer.  A coffee shop job doesn’t last, so her mom signs her up for babysitting work.  She meets a girl named Poppy and finds herself strangely drawn to Poppy’s mesmerizing, frenetic, artistic life.

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Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Steve Rolston.

There is a lot going on in this graphic novel.

I want to caution readers that this is definitely for teens.  We found it at the used bookstore in the kids section, and I assumed that it would be okay for N based on other Minx books I’ve read, which were fine for middle grade readers.  Nope!

This is a great book, but the content is intense, and middle schoolers should be discussing it with a parent or teacher.  Mariko Tamaki is better known for Skim, an intense YA graphic novel.

The dramatic opening is a little confusing.  An edgy, artistic girl with one shoe is coming home late at night.  She’s texting her friend and narrates as the images go from her to old photographs.  Chapter two backtracks to early summer.

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Review: A Time to Dance

“There are no dancers / on this temple’s walls. / Here, even Shiva / stands still.” page 99

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman.
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2014.
Novel in verse, 307 pages.
Lexile:  720L  .
AR Level:  4.8 (worth 5.0 points)  .

Veda is a classical dance prodigy starting out on a glorious career in Bharatanatyam when her leg has to be amputated.  But dance is her life and the center of her being.  Can she forge a new life?  Can dance be part of it?

A Time to Dance

Pretty sure this is going on my favorite 2017 reads list although the competition will be steep this year.  Not what you expected me to say about a novel in verse, right?

My biggest problem with novels in verse is that they are incredibly difficult to balance.  I love novels, and I love poetry, but inevitably most novels in verse lose out either in plot or in poetry.  This book has ample plot and appropriate narrative arc, while still having generally gorgeous poetry.  I’m in awe of how Venkatraman pulled this off, because it is very, very difficult to do.

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Board Book Review: Baby Dance

The diverse characters in our sixth board book will get you and baby dancing!

Baby Dance by Ann Taylor, pictures by Marjorie van Heerden.
HarperFestival Devision, HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999.
Board book, 14 pages.

Baby is crying and Mom and the cat are napping, so Dad takes baby for a movement-filled dance that dries up the tears until the happy, well-rested family reunites on their couch.

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I absolutely loved the swirling movement of the illustrations, and the way that the background subtly moved through the rainbow from a calm purple to an energetic yellow.

I wasn’t keen on the depiction of the hair.  We meet three characters – mother, baby, and a man presumably father, but not named, so he could also be an uncle, stepfather, or other relation.  Mom’s hair is long and curly/wavy.  Baby’s hair appears in some pictures to be in twists or short braids, but in others to be loose with bows on it.  Dad’s hair is equally ambiguous.  In this case I would have liked a little more definition for the hair.

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Baby Dance pages 13 and 14 depict the family reunited on the couch.

Again referring to the art, I was a bit confused by how baby was drawn.  Were the pictures intending to depict an older child, or did the illustrator just not have much experience drawing babies?  Since father and child are continually in motion, the art is much more difficult to execute, and the child looked adult or awkward on some pages.

However, I did enjoy the shading, interesting backgrounds, and portrayal of dad.  I’m curious what medium was used (chalk? pastels?) to get the layered swirls of color on the backgrounds.  The balance of text/picture was perfect for a board book; there is never more than a sentence on each page spread.

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Baby Dance pages 9 and 10 show dad dancing with baby.

The text is based on a poem from the 1800s – I assume white South African illustrator Marjorie van Heerden did the adaption, although perhaps it was the publisher.

Probably the aspect of this that annoys me the most is the spine.  This is part of the Harper Growing Tree line, so the spine is red to correspond with the level and the logo takes up half the space.  It doesn’t connect with the book at all, and since the book is rather slim, this makes it quite hard to pick it out off the shelf when I want to read it.

Rated for Newborns and up, this certainly is interactive to read to a wee baby and dance along.  However, the size is a bit big for Baby to play with, so we mainly use this as a lap book.  I think it will be more intriguing to a toddler, and the text, despite a few difficult words (ceiling), could be deciphered by an early reader.

I did have some qualms about a few aspects of this book, but overall the dancing and portrayal of a caring, involved father figure won me over.