Archives for posts with tag: Tammie Benham

Reviewed by Tammie Benham

February ijazzbabys Black History Month.  Introducing the accomplishments of some of our descendants to children when they are very young is a good way to honor these extraordinary Americans.  I took a look at offerings from the Children’s Department at Joplin Public Library and chose some old and new favorites to consider using.

 

Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler is a rhythmic, melodic romp through a day with a baby not yet old enough to walk.  “Mama sings high.  Daddy sings low.  Snazz-jazzy Baby says, ‘Go, Man, Go!’”  The story is written almost as a lyric and captivates young audiences, which is magnified by the energy of the reader.

 

specialWhat’s Special About Me, Mama? By Kristina Evans features a young child who sees himself in the faces of his family and wants to be told what makes him special.  His questioning is answered in a loving way by his mother, who reminds him that all the little things about  him add up to the special person he is.

 

hey.jpgHey Black Child, by Useni Eugene Perkins reminds children that being who they want to be is within their reach, that perceived limits are meant to be surmounted and it is within the power of every child to make the world into a better place.

 

mayaLittle People, Big Dreams: Maya Angelou, by Lisbeth Kaiser introduces the life of Maya Angelou in straight forward age-appropriate prose.  The books touches on her accomplishments, highlighting the impact she had on the world through her perseverance and unrelenting hope.

 

jazzThis Jazz Man, by Karen Ehrhardt plays with the rhythm and sounds of jazz, translating music into sound so that read aloud, the story becomes music.  The accompanying CD for this book features performance from legendary Jazz Men, who are also featured in the end pages.

 

nightA Night Out with Mama, is written by Quvenzhane Wallis, who is written also the main character in the book.  Quevenzhane is the youngest person ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.  This multi-talented young woman wrote of her experience attending the Oscars with her mother. Her fresh, authentic voices comes roaring through in this simple story of accomplishment and celebration.

 

Want more ideas for pictures books to share during the month?  Check out Scott Woods list at his blog, “Scott Makes Lists,” at https://scottwoodsmakeslists.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/28-more-black-picture-books-that-arent-about-boycotts-buses-or-basketball-2018/

 

 

 

 

 

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cycloneCyclone, by Doreen Cronin

Reviewed by Tammie Benham

Doreen Cronin author of “Click Clack, Moo! Cows That Type,” among other popular story books, has launched her debut Juvenile Fiction novel, “Cyclone.”  Set in what appears to be present day, the story revolves around a central character, Nora who is in her early teens, and Nora’s feelings of responsibility for a stroke experienced by her teenage cousin, Riley.

Nora and Riley are best friends and best cousins.  When Nora answers Riley’s phone during a summer vacation sleepover and hears an older man’s voice, her suspicions that Riley is hiding an older man as a boyfriend spark an argument.  After a tussle for the phone in which Nora is knocked to the floor, she confronts Riley, who refuses to provide any information regarding the caller.  The two quickly move forward, now with a shared secret.

The next day Nora is scheduled to ride the Cyclone at Coney Island to finish a summer homework assignment.  Riley is the only family member that will entertain the idea of riding the coaster with Nora.  When Riley gets cold feet and backs out, Nora uses the “secret boyfriend” as blackmail to ensure she doesn’t have to ride the coaster alone. Despite Riley’s increasing anxiety and obvious panic, she rides the coaster in order to keep her secret.

The two exit the ride and are taking a selfie when Riley collapses with what we later learn is a stroke due to a heart condition.  Nora carries the guilt of the incident throughout the story.  Along the way we see her growth as she contemplates her unwillingness or inability to actually listen objectively to those in her life.

With Riley now having challenges with speech, Nora struggles with what to do with her knowledge of the secret boyfriend. During the climax of the novel, we learn that things aren’t always as they appear and listening to someone deeply helps build two way communication in relationships.

To successfully portray the challenges, anxiety, and confusion of an early teenage girl going through a traumatic event such as the one portrayed, Cronin uses Nora’s summer homework assignment, in which she has to write a school paper that includes footnotes.[1]  Cronin uses the report, and the footnotes, throughout the book as a device to explain medical terminology.

My respect for Ms. Cronin’s picture book talent led me to pick up this book.  The characters are believable and their voice becomes stronger as the novel progresses.  However, the use of footnotes to explain the medical terminology feels a bit patronizing and there are times when the characters seem overly emotional.  This book may appeal to those who are experiencing a medical situation or those curious about the medical field.

[1] Footnotes are an extra bit of information about something typically printed at the bottom of the page-like this footnote.

ocdaniel

Reviewed by Tammie Benham

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), rules Daniel’s life.  When the “zaps” hit, he gets stuck in a self-destructive pattern that can last for hours.  The zaps are particularly relentless at bedtime when he believes if he doesn’t complete his “routine,” he will die.

In this coming-of-age story, Daniel’s best friend since grade school, Max is the star quarterback for the Erie Hills Elephants.  Daniel spends most of his time as the Substitute Kicker trying not to be noticed and arranging cups of water for his team mates.

Despite his many idiosyncrasies, Daniel is a typical middle-school aged boy.  There is a girl he likes who may like him back.  Max encourages Daniel’s blossoming friendship with Raya while holding off the less-than-nonchalant advances of Clara.

Just when things between Daniel and Raya are beginning to turn into the possibility of something more, Psycho Sara, who talks to no-one at school and doesn’t even speak to her own mother, starts to talk to Daniel.  Daniel might have ignored Sara if not for her cryptic naming of him as a fellow, “Star-Child.”

Afraid that he may be just as crazy as Sara has been labeled, intrigued that Sara isn’t nearly as crazy as everyone believes her to be,  and feeling a strong sense of belonging with Sara that he doesn’t feel as strongly with Raya, Daniel is caught between what’s familiar and what might be an exciting adventure.

As the state football finals approach, Daniel is caught in another dilemma.  The starting Kicker is suddenly ill and he is placed into the spotlight.  Through a series of events, the pressure and expectations on Daniel continues to increase, along with his anxiety.  Finding it more and more difficult to hide his “zaps,” he wonders how long he can keep his craziness hidden.  The only person who seems to see the hidden Daniel is Psycho Sara.

OCDaniel is an interesting look into the world of someone suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Anyone who is not familiar with how debilitating OCD can become will have their eyes opened by this inside look.  Children wondering about their inability to control certain patterns in their behavior may see themselves.  Ultimately, this is a book for those who are feeling different and looking for a place to belong.

flyingThis anthology of short stories is edited by Ellen Oh, author and President of the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) movement.  Oh has gathered an impressive group of authors who each present a vivid and memorable voice.  Each story allows the reader to immerse herself in a different cultural experience.  A true representation of the melting pot that is the United States of America, readers may see themselves in these stories, or have the opportunity to peek into the lives of individuals who may be vastly different than their own.

 

From Kwame Alexander’s “mostly true” memoir of a young man in an Honor’s English class, to Soman Chainani’s bittersweet tale of a young boy’s journey of enlightenment, to the childhood grief of losing a parent projected so perfectly in Kelly Baptist’s chronicles, this book is full of tales that are sure to captive a wide, and hopefully diverse, audience.  The star-studded list of authors are impressive in their own right and Oh ensures their work continues to be read with the inclusion of an “About the Authors,” appendage.  The quality you’ll find inside these pages is inspiring.

 

However different the scenery in each story, some common themes emerge.  The varied experiences of children leave their mark, no matter in which culture they happen.  At the end of each story, I found myself wanting to know what happens next, always a sign of an excellent reading experience.

girlReviewed by Tammie Benham

Xan the Witch doesn’t understand why the population of The Protectorate leave a baby all alone in the forest each year.  Still, she travels to the other side of the forest to rescue each baby, finding them homes in other towns with loving families.  Yes she wonders, “What kind of people would leave a baby to fend for itself in a dangerous forest?”

The people of The Protectorate understand that for hundreds of years the baby born closest to the Day of Sacrifice must be left in the woods so that the witch who lives on the other side of the forest won’t attack and destroy them all.  Each year the (all male) members of The Council take the chosen baby from his family and form a procession that ends deep in the forest under a sycamore grove, where they leave the child.

One year, the mother of a young girl baby refuses to quietly give up her daughter. She screams and fights The Council members until they call in The Sisters, a group of all-women who live together in a tower fortress, grow things, cook, and train to be assassins. The Sisters lock up the woman in the top of their tower and feed on her sorrow as she slowly goes insane.  “Magic and madness are linked after all.”

Xan the Witch rescues the madwoman’s daughter of course, as she has all the other children.  However, this time she falls deeply in love with the dark headed girl and decides she will raise her with the help of Glerk the Swamp Monster, who was there at the beginning of time, and Fyrian, the Perfectly Tiny Dragon.

Xan runs out of goat’s milk to feed the baby on her journey back across the forest to her home which necessitates the baby being fed starlight and moonbeams.  When Xan accidentally feeds the baby too many beams from the full moon the baby becomes enmagicked and gains her name, Luna.

Xan quickly discovers that raising a baby with too much magic inside and no ability to control the magic is impossible.  And so, she gathers all the magic inside the girl and locks it up until Luna’s thirteenth birthday.  With each passing year Xan becomes weaker, finally understanding that Luna is unknowingly siphoning off her magic and when Luna’s own magic is released, the five hundred year old Xan will die.

Meanwhile, Antain, a young boy who witnessed Luna being stripped from her mother and the imprisonment of the madwoman, has been trying to come to grips with what he saw.  In the course of his angst, he discovers that things are not at all what they seem with The Sisters, the Council, and with the witch.  Will Luna and her mother ever be reunited?  Will Antain be able to stop the baby sacrifices before his own son is left in the woods?  Will Xan have to give her life when Luna’s magic is released?

This second novel from award-winning writer, Kelly Barnhill has many twists and turns.  The prose is repetitive in spots, dragging out the story.  The overall tone of the book is dark with very few light spots.  This book might be an appealing read to those who loved the last three Harry Potter books.

 

el chapoAuthor/Illustrator Cece Bell has penned a delightful semi-autobiographical graphic novel about her experiences growing up with hearing loss.  After losing her hearing as a result of a childhood illness, Cece has to learn to adjust to living in a non-hearing world.

Cece soon learns about having ear molds made and ends up with wires coming out of her ears!  Being able to hear again only mildly makes up for how different she looks compared to other children her age.  She worries about going to school and the reaction of her classmates, not realizing she will have more indignity to come in the form of the enormous, “Phonic Ear,” which must be worn under her clothes.

Having the Phonic Ear does help Cece hear everything in school which in turn helps her concentrate and improves her grades.  Suddenly school is easy for Cece.  She also learns the Phonic Ear is powerful enough to hear the bathroom habits of her teachers!

As Cece progresses through grade school, she learns to be choosy in making friends and also that her hearing loss doesn’t need to dictate her friendships.  She finds a best friend in a neighbor who treats her like she’s “normal,” meaning her friend refrains from stereotypical behaviors including speaking loudly, slowly, or using exaggerated sign language, despite knowing about Cece’s hearing aids.

When a very cute boy named Mike moves in next door, Cece is awe-struck.  Her reaction is very typically portrayed for a young girl her age, helping the reader understand she truly is just another child who happens to have lost her hearing.

One day, Cece decides to trust Mike with the knowledge she can hear their teacher everywhere she is in the building.  Mike is fascinated with the power of the Sonic Ear and decides to put the device to good use.  When the teacher leaves the room, Cece listens for the class while they engage in all the things children do when the teacher is out of the room, without and of the consequences.  Cece is suddenly the class hero.

The author’s notes provide insight into the world of non-hearing individuals and communicate some of the differences among individuals with hearing loss.  This book handles the subject matter in a fresh way, making for an enjoyable reading experience.

Advertisements searching for those who wish to become Witch-fighting Princesses and Dragon-slaying Knights at Pennyroyal Academy have been spread far and wide. The war with Witches and Dragons has so consumed the current royal-blood population that Pennyroyal is now willing to accept anyone, even those born “common.”

For a young girl who does not remember her own name, the journey to Pennyroyal is not an easy one.  After fighting her way through an enchanted forest where the trees try to kill her (especially the Beech trees), she finds herself in a witches cottage.  When the witch returns with the handsome Remington in tow, the girl discovers the courage to rescue the boy and herself from being made into candy.

Once safe, she and Remington discover they are headed in the same direction, Pennyroyal Academy.  Remington is the object of much attention from the other Pennyroyal Princess candidates, whereas the girl attracts an entirely different kind of attention, possibly because she is clad only in spiderwebs.

The girl enlists at Pennyroyal but is promptly shunted to the infirmary for a course of medicine designed to restore memories of her name and the name of her mother.  However, she insists she is not under a spell.  She has reasons for not wanting to share her history, such as being raised by Dragons.  Until she can recall her true name, the girl is dubbed, “Cadet Eleven,” by the staff of Pennyroyal, which her newly found friends quickly change to Evie.

The Fairy Drillsergeant in charge of Evie’s training is tough, though tiny.  She warns the girls in her charge there is very little chance they will make it through their training to attempt the culminating Helpless Maiden challenge, the only way to gain an invitation back for Year Two of the Academy.

Complicating matters is Malora, another Princess Cadet who does not seem to have any of the virtues of a true Pennyroyal Princess: Courage, Kindness, Compassion, and Discipline.  Her animosity toward Evie escalates as the story and the relationship between Evie and Remington progresses.

This middle-grade story is an enchanting mix of fairytales reimagined and message that love is the only thing that can truly conquer evil.  The story is thankfully not telegraphed and there are quite a few twists and plot turns along the way, keeping things lively.

If you like fairytales and magic, add Mark Twain Award nominee, “Pennyroyal Academy,” to your summer reading list.