Sunday, January 19, 2020

MMGM (1/20/2020): Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! For MMGM, I am recommending the graphic novel Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis.




         Queen of the Sea is a historically inspired graphic novel set in the 1500s on an island off the country of Albion (loosely based on the U.K.). The book's protagonist and narrator, Margaret, is a child who lives on this island, a remote convent populated only by six nuns, a priest, and three staff. Margaret does not know who her parents were or why she has come to live on the island; she only knows that she was brought to the nuns aboard the Regina Maris (a ship that visits the island twice a year) and has lived with them ever since. Margaret has not left the island since arriving, but she has grown accustomed to the island's unaltered beauty and her life at the convent, ultimately preparing to become a nun as an adult. When a boy her age named William and his noblewoman mother arrive on the island, she becomes even happier finally having a friend her own age. But then another woman arrives on the island: Eleanor, once the queen of Albion until her half-sister Catherine sent her away to claim the crown for herself. As Margaret gets to know both William and Eleanor, she learns surprising information about the island and becomes involved in the treacherous drama of royalty.

          I have reviewed many books in the three years I have been blogging, and I have recommended many of these. However, with many books that I recommend, I feel that they are a great book to add to the bottom of your to-be-read pile if they sound like something you would enjoy. With Queen of the Sea, I feel that it is a book to put at the very top of your to-be-read pile regardless of if it sounds like something you would enjoy. Frankly, this book is one of the best books I have ever read!

         One of the best parts of Queen of the Sea is what a vivid picture it paints of life in the 1500s. I have always wondered how anyone lived happily in a time when there was virtually no entertainment and countless chores (drinking a glass of milk was far harder than just running to Walmart and grabbing a gallon), not to mention confining social norms (especially for women). After reading Queen of the Sea, I understand how people found joy in their lives during such a time. Whether keeping busy with chores, exploring the island and its many beautiful locations, playing games, or finding solace in religious customs and stories, Margaret makes a pleasant, vividly depicted, and fascinating life for herself. (I also appreciate that the setting of a convent allows for female independence that likely was not prevalent in other facets of society at the time.) Queen of the Sea is filled with information about what life was like at the time, especially on a convent: you will never have to wonder what each nun did, when people prayed, how a convent was set up, or what being a Christian was generally like at the time. Author Dylan Meconis has clearly done a near-ridiculous amount of research to make Queen of the Sea accurate (albeit with some fictional elements) and truly realistic, and every page of exposition needed to accomplish this feeling is worth it. (You can read more about how Meconis balanced extreme accuracy and fiction in this interesting NPR article.)

          Of course, every book needs an interesting plot and compelling characters, and Queen of the Sea does not disappoint in those regards either. Margaret is a fabulous narrator and protagonist. She is exceedingly brave and clever, never afraid to stand up for what she believes in and who she cares about or to think up and execute an ingenious plan. Margaret is curious and adventurous, but she also finds satisfaction in the calm, isolated lifestyle of the island and convent, which make her especially realistic: no one is always content with their current life, but characters who despise the way they live now often end up bitter and unlikeable. Meconis balances Margaret's contradictory character aspects in a way that makes her seem far more realistic than the one-note protagonists that pervade many books today. The nuns and convent staff are also fascinating characters: although character development largely centers around the prioress, Sister Agnes, every character has a fascinating backstory and a role that makes them seem real. Although we do not see quite enough facets of Eleanor (though she is more mysterious than underdeveloped), the glimpses we get of her feelings about the royal life and slowly developing fondness toward Margaret are wonderful (plus, the clear setup for a sequel leaves room for far more development). Finally, the book's plot balances calm, beautiful moments to savor with exciting action and plenty of emotion and humor: although the logic of the plot gets a bit muddled at points regarding who knows what and how that puts them in danger, those few points are easy to overlook in the context of everything else's excellence.

          The last attribute of Queen of the Sea I want to discuss is the art and format. This book is a graphic novel, and it has an entirely unique and beautiful art style characterized by surprisingly detailed faces and lush, watercolor-like backgrounds. (Many panels are so stunning that one could frame them.) The book has many comic-style panels and many illustrated sequences of prose narration, and these sequences are often characterized by inventive layouts: at one point, when Margaret learns to play chess, each chess piece is depicted as a real person or structure like its inspiration, flanked by a clever explanation of the piece's backstory and movement (for instance, the rook is a tower filled with troops on wheels that will only roll in straight lines). The book is also a fabulous example of how metaphors can be visual, not just written: when complex and fraught royal decisions have to be made, chessboard backgrounds or depictions of characters as chess pieces compare the thought and intentionality of the situation with that of chess. By combining flawless execution of the traditional graphic novel format with new and inventive pages and features, Queen of the Sea stands out from other graphic novels.

        Queen of the Sea is more of a commitment than other graphic novels: it is 394 pages with much prose, and fascinating exposition at the beginning means that, if you are only interested in the plot, you will have to wait around 100 pages. However, the commitment is absolutely worth it, as Queen of the Sea is one of the most exquisitely crafted, absorbing, and fun books I have read (graphic novels or not) in a long time. I promise you that, if you try this book, you will be captivated from beginning to end and left thrilled at the prospect of a sequel (even if it means a wait of a few years)!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

MMGM (1/13/2020): Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, with illustrations by K.G. Campbell

I hope everyone is enjoying 2020 so far! For MMGM, I am recommending Newbery Medal-winner Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, with illustrations by K.G. Campbell.




          Several weeks ago, I was discussing this book's upcoming movie adaptation here, and I realized that, although I had read it and enjoyed it, I had never reviewed it. I am finally rectifying that mistake! Here's the publisher's description of the book (I think it describes the book better than I could):

**********

It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences.

The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart.

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format—a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by artist K. G. Campbell.

**********

          Very few authors could write a story about a superpowered squirrel and turn it into a heartfelt story about love and friendship, but Kate DiCamillo has done it! Flora & Ulysses has so many wonderful elements that I hardly know where to begin. I'll start with this novel's comic-based inspiration. Flora loves reading comics (much to the chagrin of her romance-novelist mother), from stories of the superhero Incandesto (which she used to read with her father before he moved out post-divorce) to admittedly-less-healthy stories about what to do if someone chokes/you ever come in contact with an electric chair/you get stuck in the South Pole/etc. Flora's interest ties in perfectly with the Mad-Libs superhero plot: after a terrifying incident with a _____ (vacuum cleaner), a regular _____ (squirrel) gains the powers of _____ (flying), _____ (lifting heavy objects), and _____ (typing)! Flora and Ulysses does not make fun of comics, however: with its well-drawn comic book panels (which are pretty occasional, taking up maybe 10% of the book), catchphrases, and demonstration of the hope and excitement present throughout comics, I can start to see comics' appeal!
          There's so much else to love about Flora & Ulysses, however. The cast of characters is delightfully varied, from Flora's somewhat-unloving mother (who often adores a tacky shepherdess lamp more than she does her daughter) and her much-more-loving father (who has a tic of introducing himself even when no one is there) to side characters such as the poetry-loving Mrs. Tickham (who accidentally vacuums the squirrel up in the first place), her great-nephew William Spiver (who insists on being called as such and has declared himself temporarily blind after a trauma), and a strange older neighbor named Dr. Meescham (who tells stories of growing up in Blundermeecen with the trolls). The plot of the story is beautiful as well: Flora begins to see the joy and hope in the world, Ulysses (the squirrel) notices the beauty around him for the first time, and Flora begins to reconnect with those around her. The book depicts divorce, remarriage (not with Flora's parents), and even mourning (with side characters) very well, yet this book is not even remotely close to being sad. If you somehow missed Flora & Ulysses when it won the Newbery Medal and still haven't read it, I urge you to do so immediately—you won't be disappointed!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

No post this week!

I'm taking a break for the holidays, so I will not have an MMGM post this week. I hope to have one next week. See you soon!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

MMGM (12/23/2019): Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

For MMGM, I am recommending Wishtree by Katherine Applegate.




          I've enjoyed several of Katherine Applegate's books through the years, such as Crenshaw (see my review here) and Newbery-Medal-winning The One and Only Ivan (learn about the movie adaptation here), which is why I was excited to read this novel. In addition, it seems that I am not the only one who enjoyed Wishtree, as Stephanie Robinson reviewed it for MMGM just a few weeks ago (her review is here).
          Most middle-grade novels are from the perspective of a middle-grader. Wishtree is from the perspective of a tree. The tree, a 216-year-old red oak named Red, spends their days housing a variety of animals (from opossums and owls to their best friend, a crow named Bongo), sharing semi-irritating wisdom and terrible jokes with Bongo, and observing the people in the neighborhood where they live. Red is more than a regular tree, though; they are a wishtree. Every year, on Wishing Day, people in the neighborhood write their wishes on cloths or scraps of fabric and tie them to Red's branches. The tradition of Wishing Day has always brought Red's neighborhood together, but, when a Muslim girl named Samar and her family move into the neighborhood, some people's attitudes begin to break the neighborhood apart. As Samar, who is already lonely, has to deal with hate speech and cruelty, Red, who likes Samar, begins to wonder how to help her. And it doesn't help that a neighborhood woman named Francesca wants to cut Red down. Red wishes they could help Samar and feels resigned to their fate of being chopped down, but they're just a tree: they can't do anything about either issue. Right?
          I loved this book for so many reasons! One of the best parts of Wishtree is just how interesting it is to have a tree as a protagonist. Red's life as a tree is very different from the life of a human, and Applegate does a fantastic job of noticing and writing about all of the interesting aspects in trees' lives: hollows, roots, pruning, etc. Red also acts as a sort of parental figure in the story, providing shelter (and some companionship) to all sorts of animals, all of whom put aside their competitive/angry/hungry instincts to live together in semi-harmony. Seeing the animals, with their families, personalities, and fears, was a reminder that humans are not the only species with interesting lives that should be valued and protected. Red is a shining example of this as well, having accumulated enormous amounts of wisdom both from living with countless animals over the years and from observing humans, their communities, and, of course, their traditions (such as Wishing Day). This novel is an excellent reminder of the beauty that can be found in the plants and animals of nature
          Wishtree has more excellent themes than just the beauty of nature. Discrimination has remained a common theme in our society, and discrimination against Muslim people has only grown in recent years. Thus, it is always good to see a book that explores this topic, and I found one detail of the book interesting: a boy named Stephen in the story becomes friends with Samar over time, in spite of his parents' avoidance of Samar's parents. Perhaps, like in the novel, young people will learn tolerance and kindness and avoid the mistakes/cruelty of those before them. Another theme of the book that I liked is the importance of community and tradition. Red explains how the tradition of tying wishes to trees traveled from Ireland through a neighbor long ago, and it is fascinating to see how such a tradition continues to bring people together even in modern times. Again, a strong community can also be seen in the animals that live under/in Red; they are an excellent example of a community whose members put their differences aside to keep each other safe. Although such a close-knit community of different animals does not tend to occur in real life, it is still a great ideal that humans should attempt to emulate. Finally, I enjoyed getting to see Red's dilemma about helping Samar, despite her being human; Applegate does an excellent job of allowing Red to have an impact on the human aspect of the story without having so much of an impact as to make the ending unrealistic or unsatisfying.
          With such an interesting protagonist, so many great themes, and such excellent, distinctive writing, Wishtree is a fantastic novel that readers of all ages will enjoy!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

MMGM (12/16/2019): Six Movie Adaptations of MG Books to Watch Out For (plus giveaway winners!)

I have an unconventional post today, but, before I get to that, I have the winners of the 2019 Holiday Book Giveaway to announce! The winner of The Raymie Nightingale Three-Book Collection by Kate DiCamillo is...

Rosi!

The winner of the signed copy of The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz, with illustrations by Hatem Aly, is...

Ravenita!

Finally, I also decided to give away a Barnes & Noble e-gift card! The winner of the gift card is...

Danielle!

Congratulations to all of the winners, and thanks so much to everyone else who entered!

Now, on to my post. I don't know how many of you like to watch the movie adaptations of MG books, but I figured that at least some of you must, so I decided to post about some of these upcoming movie adaptations. (And before anyone asks, I swear that this post isn't paid for by Disney—Disney just seems to be doing a lot of MG book adaptations.)

The One and Only Ivan
Based on the novel by Katherine Applegate
Release date: August 14, 2020
To be released theatrically

Katherine Applegate is a fabulous writer: I loved her novel Crenshaw and am currently loving Wishtree (which I hope to review next week). Although I've never reviewed it, I love The One and Only Ivan as well (as did many people, considering it has a Newbery Medal). If you're unfamiliar, The One and Only Ivan revolves around a gorilla named Ivan who lives in captivity and on display inside of a mall, alongside an elephant named Stella and a dog named Bob. Ivan is content with his life until a young elephant named Ruby is added to the display, Ivan begins to reconsider his stance on life. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures is adapting the novel into a movie that will use a combination of live-action and CGI (which sounds pretty cool, considering how realistic CGI has become recently). The movie is being directed by Thea Sharrock and written by Mike White. Live-action stars include Bryan Cranston as Mack, Ramón Rodriguez as George, and Ariana Greenblatt as Julia; voices include Sam Rockwell as Ivan, Angelina Jolie as Stella, Brooklynn Prince as Ruby, Danny DeVito as Bob, and Helen Mirren as an unspecified voice. Learn more on official Disney blog Oh My Disney and on Wikipedia.

Artemis Fowl
Based on the first novel by Eoin Colfer
Release date: May 29, 2020
To be released theatrically

Bizarrely, I haven't read Artemis Fowl, even though I've had plenty of time: it was released 18 years ago! Since I haven't read the novel, I'm going to copy-and-paste Disney's synopsis of the film instead of trying to write something myself:

"Disney’s Artemis Fowl, based on the beloved book by Eoin Colfer, is a fantastical, spellbinding adventure that follows the journey of 12-year-old genius Artemis Fowl, a descendant of a long line of criminal masterminds, as he seeks to find his father who has mysteriously disappeared. With the help of his loyal protector Butler, Artemis sets out to find him, and in doing so uncovers an ancient, underground civilization—the amazingly advanced world of fairies. Deducing that his father’s disappearance is somehow connected to the secretive, reclusive fairy world, cunning Artemis concocts a dangerous plan—so dangerous that he ultimately finds himself in a perilous war of wits with the all-powerful fairies." 

The film is directed by Kenneth Branagh and written by Conor McPherson. It stars Ferdia Shaw as Artemis Fowl, Lara McDonnell as Holly Short, Judi Dench as Commander Root, Josh Gad as Mulch Diggums, and Nonso Anozie as Butler. Watch the teaser trailer on YouTube, read about the cast and crew on Screen Rant, and read about the changes of the film adaptation on Bustle.

Flora & Ulysses
Based on Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
Release date unannounced
To be released exclusively on Disney+

I adore many of Kate DiCamillo's novels (see my review from just last week), and Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures is a great one! Readers loved it as well, considering it is a winner of the Newbery Medal. I have noticed that so much of DiCamillo's style leaks into her book synopses that they are a better image of the book than my own synopses, so here's the one from her website:

It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences.

The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart.

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format—a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by artist K. G. Campbell.  

Disney has decided to adapt this book into a movie as well, although the movie will not get a theatrical release: it will instead launch solely on Disney's one-month-old streaming service, Disney+. The movie is being directed by Lena Khan and written by Brad Copeland, with a cast including Matilda Lawler as Flora, Alyson Hannigan as her mother Phyllis, Ben Schwartz as her father George, Danny Pudi as Miller (an animal-control officer who did not appear in the book—it looks like the movie may have some plot changes), and Benjamin Evans Ainsworth as William, a friend of Flora's. Learn more on Oh My Disney and D23 (another official Disney website).

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
Based on the novel by Jessica Townsend
Release date unannounced
Method of release unannounced

I was actually inspired to write this post because of my excitement for the upcoming movie adaptation of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (see my review of the book here). The first book in a series (the third book comes out in August), I was captivated by Nevermoor's vivid setting, fast-paced plot, well-developed and likable main character, and balance of fun and action (just look at the cover—and yes, that is a giant cat in the window). There are very few details about the movie adaptation besides that it will be produced by Drew Goddard and developed by 20th Century Fox (not Disney, for once—except that, of course, Disney bought 20th Century Fox). Fascinatingly, 20th Century Fox purchased the movie rights to the book over a year before it even came out, showing how much they thought the book would succeed as a movie. Indeed, if there was just one MG book to make into a movie, this one is it. One last thing: I assume that this movie will be released theatrically, especially since 20th Century Fox did not have its own streaming service when the movie was announced; however, post-Disney-acquisition, there is a small chance that the movie might end up as a Disney+ exclusive (although I doubt it—this movie will likely have quite a bit of mainstream appeal). Read more about the movie on Variety.

The Witches
Based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Release date: October 9, 2020
To be released theatrically

I'm not entirely sure how, but I've only reviewed one Roald Dahl book before (Matilda), even though I've enjoyed many of his classics, such as James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (all of which have received movie adaptations—two for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I've never read The Witches, but it received its own adaptation in 1990 that was a box-office disaster, grossing just $15.3 million. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures is trying again with a new adaptation of the novel, which revolves around a boy (who apparently is not named) who tries to (along with his grandmother) defeat several child-murdering witches—a goal that is complicated when they turn him into a mouse. Although some of the following details are unofficial, it seems that the movie is being directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Zemeckis and Kenya Barris; stars include Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch, Jahzir Bruno as the boy, Octavia Spencer as his grandmother, and Stanley Tucci, Chris Rock, and Codie-Lei Eastick in other roles. Read more in Town & Country, Variety, and Wikipedia.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made
Based on the novel by Stephan Pastis
Release date: sometime in 2020
To be released exclusively on Disney+

Another Disney movie! This time, it's an adaptation of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, the first book in a series of younger middle-grade novels by Stephan Pastis. Years ago, I read several of the books in this series, and I can see many younger readers (maybe more elementary school than middle school) enjoying the humorous writing and numerous illustrations. Here's the description from the website of the first book (which the movie is based on):

“MY NAME IS FAILURE. TIMMY FAILURE. I AM THE FOUNDER, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF THE BEST DETECTIVE AGENCY IN TOWN, PROBABLY IN THE WORLD. TIMMY FAILURE: MISTAKES WERE MADE IS A HISTORICAL RECORD OF MY LIFE AS A DETECTIVE. IT HAS BEEN RIGOROUSLY FACT-CHECKED. ALL THE DRAWINGS IN HERE ARE BY ME. I TRIED TO GET MY BUSINESS PARTNER TO DO THE ILLUSTRATIONS, BUT THEY WERE NOT GOOD.”

Take Timmy Failure—the clueless, comically self-confident CEO of a budding investigative empire. Add his impressively lazy business partner, a very large polar bear named Total. Of course, his plan does not include the four-foot-tall female whose name shall not be uttered. And it doesn't include Rollo Tookus, who is so obsessed with getting into “Stanfurd” that he can't carry out a no-brain spy mission. Or Molly Moskins, who smells like a tangerine and is crazy about Timmy, making her his obvious (and only) prime suspect.

The movie is being directed by Tom McCarthy and being written by McCarthy and Pastis (the book's author). The cast includes Winslow Fegley as Timmy Failure, Ophelia Lovibond as his mother Patty Failure, Kei as Rollo Tookus, Chloe Coleman as Molly Moskins, and Ai-Chan Carrier as Timmy's nemesis Corrina Corrina. Read more on Variety, IMDb, and Wikipedia.

And that's all! I hope you found some movies to look forward to! Let me know in the comments if there are other MG-book movie adaptations you're looking forward to that I missed or that you enjoyed in the past (the 2018 adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time is one of my favorites—see my review here). I hope to be back next week with a review of Wishtree by Katherine Applegate—I'll see you then!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

MMGM (12/9/2019): Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

As promised last week, for MMGM, I am recommending Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. Before I do though, I want to remind everyone that the 2019 Holiday Book Giveaway has not ended yet! Enter on or before Wednesday, December 11, 2019 for a chance to win (1) a boxed set of the very book I am recommending and its two companion novels and (2) a signed copy of The Inquisitor's Tale! Enter using the Google Form at the bottom of the linked page.




Louisiana's Way Home is the second in a series of three books: the first is Raymie Nightingale (see my review here) and the third is Beverly, Right Here. This book does spoil some pretty significant parts of Raymie Nightingale, but, to be honest, I enjoyed this book far more than Raymie Nightingale, so readers may want to start with this one despite the spoilers (it still makes complete sense, especially considering I forgot almost all of the plot of Raymie Nightingale before reading it). Here's the publisher's description of Louisiana's Way Home:

***

“Louisiana, with her quick, insightful takes on everyone she meets, grabbed readers’ hearts in Raymie Nightingale, and in this book she isn’t about to let go.” — The New York Times Book Review

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for goodbyes. Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by the New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale. Now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.

***

         Kate DiCamillo is well-known as one of the best middle-grade novelists ever. She has received two Newbery Medals and one Newbery Honor and even served as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature (as selected by the Library of Congress). With all of those accolades, one could only expect the very best of her books, and Louisiana's Way Home does not disappoint.
          The quote from the New York Times Book Review above about Louisiana immediately getting readers' attention in Raymie Nightingale is absolutely true. More than just the strange, quirky sidekick, Louisiana had a depth that I wanted to see explored when I read Raymie Nightingale, and I could not have hoped for her character to be better explored than it was in Louisiana's Way Home. Louisiana's delicate-seeming manner (including her "swampy lungs" and propensity for fainting) belies her immense strength, which is best showcased by an event at the beginning of the book. When her Granny begins to suffer from an extreme toothache, Louisiana takes over and drives her Granny's car (with no driving experience, in a scene reminiscent of Walk Two Moons) to find a dentist, whose receptionist she ends up tricking to get her Granny treated despite them having no money to pay with. Besides being an exciting series of events, this occurrence shows that Louisiana is stronger and braver than her demeanor would suggest (and than her own perception of herself suggests). This event does not come without guilt and stress for Louisiana, but it also tells readers from the beginning that, with Louisiana, there is more than meets the eye.
          Louisiana's Way Home does more than just explore a character, though, or even explore a world: it explores life. Author Kate DiCamillo has a knack for finding the beauty, joy, irony, and sorrow hidden in places where one might not think to look, and Louisiana has a knack for looking in those places. In one scene, Louisiana stops at a gas station where a kind owner gives her as many bags of peanuts as she wants (which she practically inhales); in another scene (actually, in several other scenes), Louisiana is bothered by motel curtains in Georgia covered in palm trees (almost as if they aspire to be in Florida, where she is from). These moments seem random on the surface, but if you choose to look deeper (as Louisiana does in her narration), you can see the significance of the small things in real life as well. Louisiana's voice also deserves mention: her tangential way of speaking (even from sentence to sentence) as she discusses small things and life-changing events alike, as well as the repetition and old-fashioned diction in her sentences, give her a voice so distinct that it could be used to teach other authors about voice. If Louisiana was real and I overheard her talking, I would know who she was.
          To conclude this review, I want to praise this novel's plot and other characters. I love books in which characters journey through different places and meet different people, and Louisiana meets no shortage of strange characters in strange places. Some characters appear again and again (such as Miss Lulu, the rude church organist), while others appear for no more than a few pages (such as Carol Anne, a kind grandmother who Louisiana meets at the dentist), but all are quite memorable. Louisiana makes wonderful new friends and some new enemies, and, refreshingly, there is no effort to redeem some of these enemies: some people are just mean, plain and simple. Finally, Louisiana's Granny, who is also central to the story (I'm honestly not sure how I spent so long not talking about her), is a memorable character fleshed out both by the impact she has had on Louisiana over the years and by the split-second, rash decisions she makes in the events of the book. Granny's assertive, secretive personality does not always please Louisiana (who is more of an open book—literally), which is why seeing their similarities and love of each other is even more interesting.
          Louisiana's Way Home should be at the top of your reading list (even before the preceding book Raymie Nightingale, if I'm being honest) thanks to its spectacular protagonist, eventful plot, interesting characters, gorgeous writing, and unique perspective on life. This book would be a fabulous holiday gift for a loved one or a wonderful treat for oneself—you will not be disappointed!
          (Again, don't forget to enter the 2019 Holiday Book Giveaway, featuring a boxed set of this book and its two companion novels! Enter using the Google Form at the bottom of the linked page.)

Sunday, December 1, 2019

MMGM (12/2/2019): Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (plus the 2019 Holiday Book Giveaway!)

For MMGM, I have a review of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. I am also holding the 2019 Holiday Book Giveaway; information is at the bottom of this post.




         I really don't know how to describe this book in a way that does it justice, so I'm starting with the publisher's description (I know the font is all weird—sorry!).

*****

Jacqueline Woodson is the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award Winner


Jacqueline Woodson, the acclaimed author of 
Another Brooklyn, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse. 
 
Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
 
A National Book Award Winner
A Newbery Honor Book

A Coretta Scott King Award Winner


*****


          If you aren't already swayed by the National Book Award, the Newbery Honor, the Coretta Scott King Award, and Jacqueline Woodson's position as the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, then read on. Brown Girl Dreaming is one of the best books I have ever read. A memoir written in free verse, it is different from other books in that it does not simply spotlight a particular point in a character's life. Brown Girl Dreaming instead takes on the complex task of illustrating and exploring Woodson's entire childhood and how it shaped who she is today. It is astounding how many topics Woodson fleshes out in this book: segregation during the time of the civil rights movement and how it affected her as a child, the significance of family and the lessons and joys that family can provide, the effects of religion and Woodson's Jehovah's-witness upbringing on her perspective on life, the different ways that children can grow and develop, the journey from struggling in school with apparent dyslexia to becoming an award-winning author, and more.
          Brown Girl Dreaming is filled with some of the most beautiful poems I have ever read. More than just prose split into lines, these poems pull the reader along with pauses, repetition, and a wonderful rhythm. Each poem is its own world, whether that world features dancing to the radio, playing outside, listening to stories, or writing them. Unlike many books, which put their characters in unique and sometimes unrealistic situations to get readers' attention, Brown Girl Dreaming attracts readers' attention simply by reminding readers of the wonders and beauty of everyday life. If you ever feel like there is something missing in life, read this book.
          Brown Girl Dreaming is a book that any reader will both relate to and learn from. This book taught me so much about what it was like being an African-American in the segregated South during the civil rights movement, balancing the need to join the movement and fight for equal rights with the need to live in one's own city without inciting violence and hatred against oneself. I could also relate to many different aspects of Woodson's life; several poems about noticing the strengths and powers of her siblings stood out to me (that has become a theme in my life for the last few months). As I become older, I absolutely expect to find even more beauty in Brown Girl Dreaming, because it depicts the lives of Woodson's family with as much tact and thoughtfulness as it depicts Woodson's own.
          I cannot recommend Brown Girl Dreaming enough. It shows readers the beauty in everyday life, it has something for every single reader to enjoy, and it illustrates another time period vividly. Young children, middle-graders, teenagers, and adults from their twenties to their nineties and beyond will all find Brown Girl Dreaming as beautiful, as impactful, and as thoughtful as I did!

          And now for the giveaway! For the 2019 Holiday Book Giveaway, I am giving away two items. I have recently been reading Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. It is an absolutely spectacular book, and I plan to recommend it wholeheartedly next week. The book is a sequel to a previous book by DiCamillo, Raymie Nightingale (my review is here), and there is a third book in the series called Beverly, Right Here (Raymie, Louisiana, and Beverly are all characters in the first book). When I was at Barnes & Noble recently, I was thrilled to find a boxed set of the three books! The set, which I am giving away, is called The Raymie Nightingale Three-Book Collection, and it features the hardcover editions of Louisiana's Way Home and Beverly, Right Here, as well as a new hardcover edition of Raymie Nightingale with what seems to be an exclusive cover that matches the beautiful covers of the sequels (the image at left features this cover). This boxed set is not signed; I am just giving it away because I thought it was awesome. The set also features a note from the author.
          The other item that I am giving away is a signed hardcover copy of The Inquisitor's Tale, a Newbery Honor book by Adam Gidwitz with illustrations by Hatem Aly. I meant to give this book away some time ago, but it just recently resurfaced in my bookshelves, so here it is now! To be clear, the book is signed by author Adam Gidwitz, not illustrator Hatem Aly. You can read about this book on the publisher's page for it here.
          Here are the terms of the giveaway:

  • Enter using the Google Form below, NOT the comments.

  • You must enter an email address so that I can contact you via email for a mailing address if you win. I will not keep or share your email address.
    • Please, please, PLEASE give me an email address that you check regularly (including spam/junk), as I will choose a new winner if you do not respond within 48 hours (which I have unfortunately had to do during several giveaways).
  • You must also enter a nickname for me to post on my blog if you win; it does not need to be your real name (although it can be if you want).
  • The last full day to enter this giveaway is Wednesday, December 11, 2019, as I will close the form the morning of Thursday, December 12, 2019.
  • You can only win one of the two items in the giveaway. To help ensure that you get the item you want, I have allowed you to indicate which item is your first choice and which item is your second choice. If you are not interested in an item, please choose the "Not interested" option so that you will not be entered in the item's drawing and someone else can win the item.
  • If you respond promptly to my email asking for a mailing address, I will be able to ship your item to you so that it should arrive before Christmas.
Enter below!