Tag: children’s literature and spirituality

Middle Grade Review (with donuts!): Absolutely Almost (2014) by Lisa Graff

Middle Grade Review (with donuts!): Absolutely Almost (2014) by Lisa GraffAbsolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
Published by Penguin on June 12th 2014
Genres: Family, Friendship, Middle Grade, Realistic, Social Issues, Special Needs
Pages: 304
Goodreads
five-stars

From the author of the National Book Award nominee A Tangle of Knots comes an inspiring novel about figuring out who you are and doing what you love. Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself. A perfect companion to Lisa Graff's National Book Award-nominated A Tangle of Knots, this novel explores a similar theme in a realistic contemporary world where kids will easily be able to relate their own struggles to Albie's. Great for fans of Rebecca Stead's Liar and Spy, RJ Palacio's Wonder and Cynthia Lord's Rules. (GoodReads)

Suggested age range: 9 and up

Illuminations of Spirituality:

“You couldn’t get where you were going without knowing where you’d been.”

Wow. Where do I begin with this one? Lisa Graff’s books are spiritually deep, in my opinion, but they aren’t religious in any way. The protagonist, native New Yorker, Albie, is figuring out who he is in the story, but this isn’t a typical “discovery of one’s identity story.” We watch Albie navigating his struggles in school, making new friends, and dealing with bullies. It’s through his relationships with others that he find authentic connection that ultimately affects the way he sees himself. Calista who watches Albie every day after school is fabulous! She lets Albie use his allowance to buy a donut every day, and donuts are near and dear to Albie’s heart. Just wait for the drawings of Donut Man towards the end of the story! Calista uses the figure of Donut Man to encourage Albie with a valuable message that ends up affecting him in a profound way.

The quote I included at the beginning of this section reflects a word of wisdom Albie receives in the story. We have to start somewhere to get to somewhere else, even if that place doesn’t seem very appealing or much to be proud of. These insightful quotes throughout Graff’s story are like little gems you want to highlight and hold onto.

Who Might Want to Read This Book:

If you read and loved any of Lisa Graff’s other books, like A Tangle of Knots, or books by Jennifer Holm, I think you’ll love this. Many of us know what it’s like to struggle with something, especially when it comes to academics, but how often do authors effectively represent the perspective of a struggling middle grade student? Graff has pulled this off flawlessly in my opinion, and the result is a refreshing and luminous narrative about Albie—honest and kind Albie, who is valuable because of who he is, and not what he can do. This is a good pick for struggling readers, but readers who appreciate an insightful realistic narrative would do well to pick this one up.

The Final Illumination:

As I read this book, it reminded me of how often I judge by appearances without reflecting on what might be going on inside a person. The interesting thing about the story is that we do know what’s going on inside Albie, but those around him often don’t. So WE understand why he acts the way he does, but many of the kids and adults around Albie don’t. It’s a good reminder of the way that people are quick to judge based on outward appearances, but if we take a step back and put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we often will respond differently. I loved this aspect of the story–the way it really made me think.

There aren’t a huge number of middle grade books that effectively pull off the perspective of the struggling student. After all, it is an adult author attempting to authentically represent the perspective of a person who is an age that the adult can no longer get back to. However, sometimes an author comes along who is able to do this very well. John Boyne is one who I think pulled it off with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Absolutely Almost is another pick—the adults in the story struggle to understand Albie and his way of thinking and navigating the world, just as Albie attempts to figure out why the people around him act and say things the way they do. Albie is honest and heartfelt, and like many readers, I suspect, I grew to love him as a character, and wanted to share some choice words with the bullies at school who made his life difficult. I cheered for him when things went well, and loved the way his babysitter, Calista, created a superhero just known for liking donuts. This is a humorous and authentic realistic read from Lisa Graff, and you may end up liking Albie just as much as I did.

“I’m Donut Man. I don’t have a superpower. I sure do like donuts, though. Yum!”

If you have a craving for gourmet donuts and you find yourself in Costa Mesa, CA (not the Brooklyn of the book), you should check out Sidecar Donuts. I’ll take a Huckleberry donut and a Madagascar Vanilla Twist!

Visit the 51st Kid Lit Blog Hop and discover other fantastic Kid Lit Blogs!

KLBH-Button-FINAL

five-stars
What Katie Read

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (2014) by Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano, & Greg Salsedo

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (2014) by Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano, & Greg SalsedoHidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier
Published by Macmillan on April 1st 2014
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels, Family, Historical Fiction, Holocaust, Middle Grade, Multigenerational
Pages: 80
Goodreads
four-stars

Suggested age range: 10 and up

“It was hard…but we were together.”

The Book:  When her granddaughter finds Dounia crying late one night, Dounia takes Elsa on her lap and begins to share her story. Hidden tells the story of Dounia, who was forced to hide from the Germans in France in 1942.What ensues is a touching, and at times saddening tale of one child’s experience during the Holocaust. Her parents do all they can to keep Dounia safe, even at the expense of their own lives. Originally translated from the French, Hidden underscores the bravery and courage of those who helped Jews during the Holocaugreek hiddenst, but also highlights the resilience of the very young during a terrible time in world history.

Spirituality in Hidden: Needless to say, there are several ways this story revealed a spiritual landscape. First, in the area of relational connectedness: I love the stronger connection that develops between Dounia and her granddaughter as she shares her past—including its joys and tragedies. Because Dounia is opening up about her history, she also develops a deeper bond with her son, and this is revealed visually at the very end of the story. That alone is a strong spiritual aspect of the story and could be a meaningful point for readers. Another spiritual aspect to highlight with any group discussion of the book is the bravery and sacrifice of those who risked their lives and gave of their resources to help hide children during the Holocaust.

A question for you to think about: What’s so spiritual about people helping others they don’t even know? And risking their lives for them? Both the textual and visual geography of this graphic novel further reinforce the potential spirituality of children’s literature.

Who Should Read This Book: Recommended for age 10 and up. This would be an excellent book for the classroom, and I think it’s a graphic novel that would be equally as meaningful shared between parent(s) and child reader. Just as the story opens with Elsa on her grandmother’s lap, hearing about her grandmother’s past and heritage, children and parents could talk about their own family background after the reading of this story. There’s a plethora of other types of discussions that groups of readers could dive into with this story, and I’m sure educators would see a lot of potential for curriculum development with this book related to both language arts and social studies curriculum.

The Final Word: The teamwork revealed through this book among author, illustrators, and translator is brilliant. I especially would look closely at the relationship between the words and the pictures. There are rich gaps within the story—pictures that extend the text, and text that fills in gaps in the pictures. This isn’t a simplistic graphic novel, but a rich and rewarding experience. This is another one that might require the tissue box, but it’s worth it.

Strongly recommended! I waited too long to read this one, and I read it all in one sitting. A fantastic addition to the already rich field of middle grade graphic novels for 2014.

Have you read it? What did you think? Are there other graphic novels set in this time period that you would recommend?

Check out the French cover below:

french hidden

four-stars
What Katie Read

The Rich Beauty of The Crystal Mirror by Tim Malnick & Katie Green

The Rich Beauty of The Crystal Mirror by Tim Malnick & Katie GreenThe Crystal Mirror on November 13, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Picturebooks
Pages: 96
Goodreads
four-stars

Suggested age range: 6 and up

I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Book: This is a delightful and thought provoking collection of beautifully illustrated stories that will keep readers thinking long after the last word is read. Just the kind of book we at Spirit of Children’s Literature appreciate! Not only are the textual parables enchanting and rich, but the visual stories provide a true feast of saturated colors, gorgeous backgrounds and borders, and fantastic details.

Here are just a few of my notes about several of the stories.

The collection opens with “The Cuddliest Monster in the World,” which might seem silly at first, but illuminates rich themes about getting lost on our way, compassion, and the strength of loving others. I adored the ending of this one! “The Master Painter” lauds the power of creativity and the endless beauty of the world around us. What happens when that is hidden from us? “Polly, the Girl Who Was Always Changing” reminds readers of just how tricky it can be to navigate the intricacies our own developing identity, and this quest to “finding oneself.” There are intriguing ideas in these tales.

Spirituality in The Crystal Mirror: Rich, spiritual themes abound in this collection! This isn’t a religious set of stories, however; these tales cross cultural and religious boundaries, reflecting the beauty of ideas that are relevant across people groups and countries. Malnick and Green showcase themes that young and old readers alike can understand such as searching for one’s identity, longing for the unknown and unexplored, or approaching the world with the freshness and vision of a child.

Who Should Read This Book: Both young and older readers alike would appreciate and find delight and wisdom in the pages of these stories. I think this book would especially be fabulous as a shared book or as a read aloud with a class. The stories beg to be discussed, and I could even see extension and arts-based response activities revolving around the text.

The Final Word: The Crystal Mirror is a book I’ll be returning to again. There were some stories that I though, “Wait! I want more!”, but at the same time, the gaps left open could generate interesting discussion. I see myself sharing it with young readers of all ages, and it would work well as a read aloud. Its visual aspect opens up the potential for all kinds of arts-based activities, and let me tell you—these illustrations are amazing! Tim Malnick and Katie Green have put together a gorgeous book with stories that don’t always get tied up neatly, but still work. I’d have to say my favorite story is “The Story of Oswald Bat.” Go check it out. Thank you, Vala Publishing, for sharing this book with me!

You can check out the website, www.thecrystalmirror.co.uk

four-stars
What Katie Read
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