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!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

MMGM (11/4/2019): Diary by Svetlana Chmakova

I'm back (again)! I hope to have some blog posts in the next few weeks about both graphic novels and regular prose novels. Today, I have a review of a (sort-of) graphic novel: Diary by Svetlana Chmakova.

          If this book looks familiar, that's because it is the fourth book in the Berrybrook Middle School series (the first three books of which are regular graphic novels Awkward, Brave, and Crush, with reviews linked). Diary is a bit more unconventional: it features a number of activities (such as, shockingly enough, diary pages) and three short stories. (Interestingly, the copy I have has a sticker on the front mentioning the three short stories, but none of the cover images have that same sticker.) Before I talk about the short stories, I do want to mention some of the book's other features:
  • Several activity pages (a self-profile at the beginning and pages after the first and third short stories)
  • An 18-month undated calendar with illustrations of the characters in the series
  • Four pages of basic drawing tips and a number of blank pages for people to practice their own drawings (some of the spaces have drawing prompts) (also, two pages of tips are at the end, after the blank pages)
  • Lined pages for use as a diary after the second short story
  • Four pages to write down/draw your favorite people
  • A super-adorable sticker sheet at the end of the book with characters from the series
  • An elastic band to hold the book shut (at least on my copy)
          I love all of the fun features in this book, but the main reason I bought it was to read the short stories. Two of the three short stories are drawn in graphic-novel format, just like the other books, while one is drawn to look like the diary entries of Jensen, a character in the series. The first short story (drawn like a graphic novel) is called "Time Capsule," and it centers around Penelope (or Peppi for short) and Jaime (both from Awkward) as they assemble a time capsule with help from the other clubs at Berrybrook Middle School. Even though Peppi and Jaime aren't dating, Jaime panics when it seems that Peppi has a crush on another person. The second short story, "The Captain's Log," is a series of journal entries by Jensen as he fantasizes about exploring other worlds with his classmates. The third short story, "New Girl," chronicles the experience of a certain character who moved away in Awkward and is now living in a spooky small town with a small school and super-cruel classmates.
          "Time Capsule" is an okay short story. I appreciate that it deals with the ways in which opposite-sex friendships (at least for straight kids) can be hard to navigate, and I also appreciated that a background character in the books was revealed to use they/them pronouns (that character even got a sticker on the sticker sheet). I also liked getting to see the ways in which Peppi and Jaime's friendship has developed after Awkward. On the other hand, the storyline is clichéd, I didn't like that the resolution involved Jaime overhearing something rather than just asking Peppi (that's a bad lesson for kids), and there wasn't enough time in the story for much to actually happen. "The Captain's Log" was better; it was a short but fun look into the mind of a beloved character (Jensen). It did feel even shorter than "Time Capsule," though, so be warned. "New Girl" was my favorite story, as I absolutely love the character from Awkward who acts as its protagonist. The story did a pretty good job of setting up the main character's struggles in her new home in a short amount of time, as well as showing how hard it can be for new students to make friends when students have formed into cliques. I do feel like the character deserved a few more pages for her previous struggles to be explored, but it wasn't a major issue.
          The best part of the Berrybrook Middle School series is the depth and realism with which middle school and character's lives and feelings are depicted and explored. Unfortunately, it does seem that such depth and realism is better suited to full-length graphic novels than to short stories. Regardless, for readers who are as big of fans of Awkward, Brave, and Crush as I am (they are some of my favorite books of all time, and I recommend them without any objections), Diary's fun activities, adorable stickers (I can't get over them), and resolution to some previous loose ends in the series make it worth a purchase!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

MMGM (9/23/2019): Guts by Raina Telgemeier

Sorry about not posting these last two weeks, and sorry that I'm still reading the novel I promised I would review a few weeks ago! I am back, though, and I have a review of the graphic memoir Guts by Raina Telgemeier.

          If you've read Telgemeier's previous two graphic memoirs, Smile (review here) and Sisters, you know that they're not just about one topic, but rather a range of different experiences and ideas. Guts is no different, but, again like Smile and Sisters, it has a topic that tends to appear a bit more than others. In Guts, that topic is anxiety. Guts revolves around fourth/fifth-grade Raina, who is dealing with a lot. After a bout with the stomach virus, Raina finds herself beginning to panic about the possibility of vomiting. That anxiety is soon followed by more worries about food, germs, and more, and, to top all of that off, Raina begins experiencing stomachaches and other unpleasant ailments. Of course, none of this is happening in a vacuum: Raina is also dealing with living in a crowded, small apartment; the stress of school, friends, and a mean girl named Michelle; and the relief/stresses/embarrassment of her therapy appointments. Raina has to figure out how to survive all of these stresses while dealing with her newfound anxiety, a task which seems impossible—but maybe it isn't.

          I don't tend to make dramatic superlative statements about books, because I've read a lot of them. That's why I need you to pay attention when I say that this is the best book I've read this year, and, if not the best book I've read ever, then close. There is so much to love about Guts! First off, it's rare to see books that deal with topics such as anxiety. It's even more rare to see books that deal with topics such as anxiety in a multifaceted way that gets not just to the heart of what anxiety is and feels like, but to all of the other organs (to continue the heart metaphor) regarding anxiety's other effects and impacts on daily life. This book has it all: the worries about food/germs/etc., the (sort of) physical symptoms, the crushing sense of utter panic, the therapy sessions, the love/hate relationship with therapy sessions, the embarrassment about needing therapy sessions, etc. I have never seen (I'm using a lot of italics today, aren't I?) a more complete, empathetic, and real depiction of anxiety in any book, which is why Guts is so amazing (especially to me, an anxiety sufferer, and to any other anxiety sufferers who choose to read it).

          But that's not all. You might expect that so much discussion about an inherently unpleasant topic might make a book depressing or upsetting. One of Telgemeier's strengths, just as in Smile and Sisters, though, is keeping the story upbeat and enjoyable to read. Guts pays a lot of attention to the good things in life, especially friends and family, and for every sad moment, there's a happier one to balance it out. Telgemeier's art style helps quite a bit: there are a number of drawings that are so expressive and exaggerated that they're hilarious. The art as a whole is another great thing about Guts: characters have expressive faces that tell readers exactly how they're feeling, and art is used in a number of creative ways throughout the book. There's one page (page 120) of four panels, arranged vertically, with each panel being a fourth of Raina's body in a different location, helping to convey how her anxiety follows her from place to place to place to place. Art is used to show how overwhelming anxiety can be—more successfully, I think, than words would be able to. Ugly waves of green, literal spirals of fear, spiderwebs, falling, being small, and other graphic devices all help to convey to readers what being anxious feels like. There's a page (page 149) that has a genius visualization of the 1-to-10 scale that therapists and other doctors use to evaluate anxiety or pain, and there's also a series of pages (pages 189-191) that show the contrast between what Raina thinks she should be feeling in one situation and what she actually feels. Even non-reviewers will realize the sheer amount of creativity and thought that went into the art of Guts.

          The last thing I want to mention about Guts is how much I love the different events and characters in the story. In Guts, Telgemeier tackles so many subjects, all with aplomb, that it's absolutely amazing. School drama, from teasing to lunch-sharing to puberty to friends making new friends to students leaving, is completely fleshed out—so much so, in fact, that it honestly could have been its own book if not for the fact that it's thoughtfully interwoven into the book's other topics, especially anxiety. Drama at home isn't left out either, whether it's sharing a room with two siblings, being unable to escape your family and find privacy, or having a relative move in with you (as if it wasn't crowded enough). The plot jumps effortlessly between every topic, staying interesting and never feeling disjointed throughout all 213 pages. The characters of Guts are also wonderful. Raina feels like a real person (likely because she is—which reminded me to write the footnote below), with a personality and interests that make her extremely likable. The other characters of Guts are great as well, from Raina's mother (who is instrumental in helping Raina get through her struggles) to her best friend, Jane, and excellent therapist, Lauren (I want to mention again how realistic the depictions of therapy are in the book).

          I want to end this review with one more thing (and one more thing after that—see the second footnote below). I have never related more to a book than I have to Guts. It really feels like my life has been put into 213 pages for me to buy at the bookstore (or for you to borrow at the library, if you prefer doing that). I never expected to see such a real, thoughtful, and genuine depiction of the struggles that people with anxiety go through, which is no doubt why I love Guts so much. If you choose to read just one book out of the many that I have recommended this year, I want you to read Guts. Whether you are an anxious person, want to understand others with anxiety, or just want an amazing read for 10-year-olds and 80-year-olds alike, you will not regret reading Guts, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if it, too, became one of your favorite books ever.

* I wanted to mention one thing about Guts without shoving it in the paragraphs above [the following also applies to Smile and to Sisters (which I've read but never reviewed)]. I know that many of my readers/fellow MMGMers mainly read fiction, not memoirs, and it occurred to me that some of you all might be wondering if Guts might seem too different. That's why I wanted to mention that Guts feels like fiction. It's not one of those memoirs that jumps from event to event, packaging them inside neat chapters; instead, it moves smoothly through events with traditional characters in traditional settings. And yet, it's better, in a way, that Guts is a memoir, because, being real, it feels real (shocker, I know). The lessons never feels half-baked, the plot never feels stitched together (which is all the more amazing because it is, in fact, stitched together out of real events), and the characters never feel shallow or fake. Guts being a memoir is in no way a problem, even if you are used to reading fiction.

** I also wanted to mention that Guts can be read before Smile or Sisters if you want to try it first. I love all of Telgemeier's books (my review of Smile is linked above, and my review of the fictional Ghosts is here), but you might not want to have to read two books before getting to this one. Guts actually provides a couple interesting bits of backstory for Smile, as a couple characters make reappearances in both books.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

MMGM (9/2/2019): Camp by Kayla Miller

Happy September (and happy Labor Day)! In case you haven't noticed, I've been reviewing a great deal of graphic novels lately. However, I just started a new prose novel, and I love it! The only problem is...I haven't finished it, and I obviously cannot review it until I have made sure that it doesn't fall apart halfway through. Thus, I quickly read yet another graphic novel to review today, and I aim to review the other book I am reading either next week or the next. Today, I am reviewing the graphic novel Camp by Kayla Miller (the sequel to Click, which I reviewed two weeks ago).

          Like Click, Camp's main character is middle-schooler Olive. In this book, Olive is headed off to summer camp, and one of her friends from school (and from Click), Willow, is accompanying her. Olive is excited to spend two weeks doing fun activities with Willow and new friends, but camp doesn't quite go as planned. Willow struggles with being away from her parents and stuck in a new environment, and she ends up unable (or unwilling) to make friends with the fellow campers, instead preferring to stay by Olive's side at all times. Olive is just as outgoing as she was in Click, however, and as she reaches out to the other campers and starts to have fun, Willow starts to feel left behind (even though other campers are trying to befriend her as well). In turn, Olive starts to get mad at Willow for constantly pulling her away from new friends and new chances to enjoy herself. As Olive and Willow's conflict grows, will either of them be able to enjoy their time at camp? Will their friendship even exist by the time camp is over?

          The main issue that Camp aims to deal with is what happens when one friend is ready to introduce others into the group, while the other still prefers the dynamic that the two of them have by themselves. This issue is not new to MG books, but the twist in Camp is that you can actually see the conflict occurring in the present. Readers can watch Willow as she starts to feel left out, and they can observe Olive as she begins to suffer from Willow's increasing anxiety of being left behind. However, the conflict is a bit awkward in the book, as Olive has no intention of actually leaving Willow out. Willow is the one who refuses repeated invitations to join Olive and the others in different activities; just like in Click, the conflict is more a product of the character's own head than it is a product of the behavior of others. My problem with this scenario is that, because the conflict is almost fabricated by Willow, Willow ends up turning into the villain of the story, a girl who intentionally avoids spending time with others in order to make them unhappy. The book does a poor job of exploring why Willow might not want to join these activities: does she think, due to a miscommunication, that they don't want her around? Is she too shy and a bit too overwhelmed to muster up the energy to meet new people? The book seems to imply the second option toward the beginning of the book (Willow begins to feel homesick and has an awkward moment during an icebreaker), but it ends up portraying Willow as a fun-hater who won't just get over herself. I do think that the lesson Olive learns at one point in the book (that it is not her job to keep Willow happy, and that she does not need to make herself miserable doing so) is an important lesson to learn, and I appreciated seeing it. Overall, though, I felt like Olive's feelings got much more attention than Willow's, and what could have been an interesting plot that explored why some people are shy was instead a one-dimensional conflict of good versus evil.

          At this point, you're probably wondering: "So why should I even read this book?" The answer is that, despite this flaw, Camp is still a fun and enjoyable read! Like in Click, Olive is still an extremely likable main character. She is friendly to everyone, considerate of others, and always ready to enjoy herself, regardless of what she is doing. Olive is the sort of person everyone wishes they could be, and it is fascinating to see how simple being a likable person is: just be nice and happy! Another character who I really liked is Laura, a camp counselor who is instrumental throughout the story in helping both Olive and Willow think through their feelings. In fact, virtually every character in the book is likable, which leads me into the next thing I like about Camp. Like with Click, author Kayla Miller imbues an infectious joy into Camp. Characters are always smiling, energetic, and ready to enjoy themselves, and the art style is extremely expressive and fun to look at. The story is also filled with all sorts of fun camp activities: characters play in a band, build a Rube Goldberg machine, record videos, and just sit around and enjoy themselves. Even after a sad moment, you'll come away from Camp feeling happy! I also want to mention that, like in Click, Camp does a good job of displaying real-world solutions for its major conflict. Readers can observe characters reaching out to each other, inviting others along or offering compliments, and see that making friends with anyone is really that simple.

          Finally, I want to mention one other small detail in Camp that I appreciated. At the beginning of the book, we learn that Willow has food allergies as her mom reminds her that she will have to stop by the nurse's office every day to take her allergy medication. I have seen virtually no representation of people with allergies (which annoys me as a person with many of them) except in Swing It, Sunny, so I was happy to see a character like Willow for me and others to relate to. I also appreciated that no one made a big deal of her allergies or antagonized her for them; there is one moment where camp counselor Laura offers Willow a sunflower-butter sandwich (implying that she is allergic to peanuts), which warmed my heart.

          Ultimately, despite the issues with the novel's central conflict, Camp is a heartwarming and completely fun story that will leave readers feeling both enlightened and happy! I recommend it to anyone who has read Click (which I still maintain is fantastic!), and I remain excited for the third book in the series, the upcoming Act! Thanks for reading my long post, and stay tuned for my upcoming review!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

MMGM (8/19/2019): Click by Kayla Miller

For MMGM, I am recommending the graphic novel Click by Kayla Miller.

          The main character of Click, fifth-grader Olive, is friends with basically every kid in her grade. She can strike up a conversation with anyone in school, and she often spends time with her classmates outside of school as well. However, when Olive's teacher announces that the fifth-graders will be putting on a variety show, things start to go awry. All of Olive's classmates form groups and start planning their acts, but none of them ask Olive to join. Olive wonders if her friendships meant anything if none of her friends think to include her—but would she even want to choose some of her friends over others for an act, when she likes them all? Olive's mother, Lucy, wants to reach out to the parents of Olive's friends and see if they will include her, but Olive doesn't want to force her way into a group that doesn't want her. However, Olive and her aunt Molly come up with an idea for the variety show that just might solve all of Olive's problems.
          Click is absolutely fantastic! One reason why is that it delves into the dynamics of school friendships in a meaningful way. Many books attempt to teach children to reach out to the people they want to be friends with, instead of just waiting for friends to come to them, but Click puts a new spin on this lesson. It asks, after you have already reached out to numerous other kids and they still don't think to include you, if it is worth attempting to be the third wheel in a group where you may not be wanted. There's no great answer to this question, but Click lays out the issue in a three-dimensional way so that Olive can make the right choice.
          I also like that Click makes sure to show readers both that Olive has actually reached out to others (she is constantly chatting with her classmates even as she feels left out) and that her classmates are interesting enough and nice enough that it is all the more painful for Olive to feel left out. The likability of these classmates leads into another interesting question that Click poses: if only a few of your friends reached out to include you, would you want to isolate yourself from all of your other friends by joining their group? Again, there is not a fabulous universal answer to this question, but there is a completely satisfying answer for Olive's specific situation, making the end of the story fulfilling and worth the wait.
          Another aspect of Click that I love is its emphasis on family. Olive's mother Lucy and aunt Molly both try to help Olive with the variety show. Although her mother's method of reaching out to other parents is a bit misguided, she clearly means well and wishes the best for Olive, which is nice to see. Olive's aunt Molly also puts a lot of thought into how best to help Olive, and she even invites Olive to stay with her for the night so that they can consider her options. (The solution they come up with is a satisfying one, by the way, and despite some subsequent conflict, the book ends happily.) Olive's family isn't perfect; her mom and aunt get into an argument at one point that is related to their own experiences in a variety show as kids. However, her family is always there for Olive, and sweet family moments (of Olive talking to Aunt Molly in the car, of Olive watching TV with her mom and younger brother, Simon, and of Olive, her mom, her aunt, and her brother all cooking a family meal together) remind readers that, even when friends can't be there for you, family can.
          Finally, I want to mention the art in Click. I love author Kayla Miller's art style—characters have expressive, detailed faces, detailed hair, and stylish outfits, and the environments that the story takes place in are fully fleshed out, from the books on the back seat of a car to a coffee mug with a saying printed on it. The color in Click (which seems to have been done by Miller and colorist Katherine Efird) is fantastic as well; bright colors abound, keeping readers' attention and maintaining an upbeat feeling. All in all, with its thoughtful treatment of the hard-to-answer questions about friendship, its emphasis on looking to family when friends fail you, its abundance of happy moments with both friends and family, and its wonderful art, Click is a graphic novel I recommend to absolutely everyone!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

MMGM (8/12/2019): Just Jaime by Terri Libenson

I'm back again! Today, I am recommending the graphic novel Just Jaime by Terri Libenson (the sequel to Invisible Emmie, which I reviewed almost a year ago, and Positively Izzy, which I reviewed two weeks ago).

          Just Jaime, like all of the books in the "Emmie & Friends" series, switches between the viewpoints of two characters: Jaime (whose story is told in prose with frequent illustrations) and Maya (whose story is told in comic-book-style panels). Jaime and Maya are best friends, and they and another girl, Grace, are part of a friend group "led" by a girl named Celia. Celia is one of the most popular kids in school, and she leads her friends in making rude comments about other students behind their backs. (These students include characters from previous books in the series, such as Emmie and Brianna, making for an interesting tie-in to the previous books.) Eventually, Celia, Grace, and even Maya begin to turn on Jaime, who they feel still acts too childish; they judge her for not yet liking boys, wearing certain kinds of outfits, etc. When something happens that severely endangers Jaime's position in the group and friendship with Maya, both Jaime and Maya are faced with tough decisions about the people they care about and the ways they want to feel and be perceived.
          I love Just Jaime for so many reasons! One is that it tackles an exceedingly difficult subject matter with plenty of thought and insight. Many of us struggle to figure out how children and teenagers can be so cruel to each other, whether peers or even friends. Just Jaime gives us a look inside the minds of the children who do awful things to each other, and it shows us why they might do those things (especially as part of groups) and why they might struggle to leave those groups (even when it seems to us like the obvious solution). Readers will empathize with the characters of the story, even as they are appalled/horrified by their actions. Just Jaime also discusses the idea of forgiveness: should we forgive others for their wrongs and risk them hurting us again, or should we shut people out after they make mistakes, even though we might want them to forgive us if we made a mistake? How should we decide between these options? In the wrong hands, a book similar to Just Jaime could have been filled with incorrect assumptions and lacked empathy. Luckily, in author Terri Libenson's hands, Just Jaime is one of the most thought-provoking and fascinating books I've ever read.
          One thing I also love about Just Jaime is how it uses humor to stay lighthearted. Like in Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzy, many of the illustrations feature captions filled with gags. As an example, in one illustration, captions label all of the items a character is bringing to the pool, such as "towel" and "sunscreen," and one caption says "courage (not shown)". There are also some visual gags; for instance, there is a running gag (continued from Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzy) of a girl running frantically to the bathroom after eating some stomach-upsetting food. These jokes keep the book fun, even with such unpleasant subject matter. Yet another continuation from the previous two books in the series is the tradition of a twist at the end of the book. It's not as earth-shattering as the ones in the previous two books, but it is still exciting and ties up a minor plot line quite nicely. All in all, Just Jaime is a fantastic read that deals with a timely and important subject in an enjoyable, even fun way!

(P.S. I mentioned in my review of Positively Izzy that the books in the "Emmie & Friends" series could be read in any order. I do NOT recommend reading Just Jaime until after Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzy, however, as it features spoilers of the main plot lines of those two books. Positively Izzy CAN still be read before Invisible Emmie if so desired, however.)

(P.P.S. This past Thursday was the third anniversary of Completely Full Bookshelf! I am so grateful to all of you, my readers, for commenting on my posts, for entering in my giveaways, and for giving me a reason to recommend books! I also want to thank the authors of the books I have reviewed for providing wisdom, insight, and fun to children and teenagers. I'm excited for this next year!)

Sunday, July 28, 2019

MMGM (7/29/2019): Positively Izzy by Terri Libenson

I'm back (a week late—sorry!) with a review of the graphic novel Positively Izzy by Terri Libenson (a follow-up to Invisible Emmie, which I reviewed here).

          With her single mother at work every day, Izzy (one of two main characters of the book) finds herself constantly doing chores and being bossed around by her older sister, Danielle, who essentially runs the house when her mother is gone. Izzy finds solace in making up/acting out stories with her slightly younger sister, Ashley, and this passion prepares her for the upcoming school talent show, in which she is excited to perform a skit. However, when Izzy learns that she won't be able to perform in the show (I won't spoil why), she has to figure out, with Ashley's help, if there is any chance to fulfill her dream and act onstage.
          The other main character of the book, Brianna (who readers will recognize as Emmie's best friend from Invisible Emmie), is a confident, straight-A student who excels at tests and loves writing papers. However, Brianna is less enthused about being known as a stuffy brainiac, especially in comparison to her fun-loving mother, who is the beloved drama teacher at Brianna's school. When Brianna ends up as a performer in the school talent show, she thinks it could be a good opportunity to step out of the confines of her reputation. But performing is harder than it looks, and, with the help of a boy named Dev (her partner in the show), Brianna must overcome her nerves and her newness to performing in order to excel onstage.
          It's been just over a year since I read Greg Pattridge's review of Positively Izzy, and now that I've read the book, I wish I had sooner! There's so much to love about Positively Izzy, but I'll start with how well it depicts the many facets of Brianna and Izzy's lives. Both Brianna and Izzy wish they could be someone else; Izzy wishes that she could be smarter and do better in school, while Brianna wishes that she could be more multifaceted and not be thought of solely as good at school. So many books don't discuss the fact that many students are miserable in school simply because they can't keep up (as in Izzy's case), and I love that Izzy's struggles are a major part of the book. Brianna's jealousy of her supposedly-more-well-liked mother is also fascinating to see; it's the classic jealousy-of-the-popular-kids situation, but with a twist. Also, Brianna and Izzy are both extremely likable characters whose personalities and interests are visible in their alternating chapters (Brianna's are mostly in a comic-book style with panels, while Izzy's are prose with frequent illustrations).
          I also want to touch on how well Positively Izzy depicts nontraditional households. Brianna's parents are divorced, and it's interesting to see how Brianna maintains a sense of family throughout the book, even as custody of her is shared. The book also illustrates the struggles divorced parents might have after custody is shared; Brianna's mother struggles to connect with Brianna as a result of their separation every other week. Izzy's experience with a single mother is also well-depicted; I don't think I realized how children may have to "pick up the slack," so to speak, when their parent is working all day in an attempt to support his/her children.
          I love all of Positively Izzy, but my absolute favorite aspect is the twist on the very last page. If you have read Invisible Emmie, you know that it features a major twist at the end; Positively Izzy features a similarly executed twist, only far more genius. The twist is foreshadowed throughout the book, with ambiguous wording and clear parallels that I didn't even notice until I knew to think about them. The twist is the kind of twist that imbues the entire novel with a new meaning. If nothing I said in the last four paragraphs convinced you to read this book, please read it just for the twist at the end (which is part of a delightful epilogue, by the way). With excellent protagonists and a fascinating, enjoyable plot, I promise you won't be disappointed!

(P.S. Positively Izzy takes place in the same universe as Invisible Emmie, but later. However, it is not really a sequel, and it features no major spoilers of Invisible Emmie; author Terri Libenson even says on her website that the books, including the new novel Just Jaime, can be read in any order. If you want to start with Positively Izzy, which I personally like even more than Invisible Emmie, go ahead!)
(Update: I do not recommend reading Just Jaime until after Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzy, as it spoils those two books' plot lines. Positively Izzy can still be read before Invisible Emmie if so desired, however.)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

No post this Monday!

I will not have an MMGM post on Monday, July 15. I hope to have an MMGM post on Monday, July 22. See you soon!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

MMGM (7/8/2019): Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (update: plus giveaway winners!)

Update (7/8/2019): I have selected the winners for my giveaway! The winner of the signed copy of All Summer Long by Hope Larson is...


Congratulations! The winner of the unsigned copy of All Summer Long is:

Ms. Yingling!

Congratulations as well! My review for today is below.

For MMGM, I am recommending the graphic novel Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (the sequel to Sunny Side Up, which I reviewed previously).

          Sunny Lewin is not having a good time. She hates middle school, she has to get allergy shots every week, and her delinquent older brother Dale is now at boarding school, leaving her family down a member. Sunny tries to enjoy the things she usually loves: watching TV with her friend Deb, dressing up for Halloween, and talking on the phone with Gramps, her grandfather (a main character in Sunny Side Up). However, a shadow seems to be hanging over her entire life, and it certainly isn't helped when an angry, bitter Dale comes home for vacation. It's up to Sunny to come to terms with her new family situation and attempt to enjoy her year; with the help of Deb, Gramps, and new neighbor Neela, she just might be able to.
          I love Swing It, Sunny for several reasons. Sunny has a kind heart that will make any reader root for her, and anyone can relate to her feelings as she works through the stresses in her life. The book is set over the course of an entire school year (although school only plays a background role in the story), and the plot moves briskly through the different months, each bringing holidays, family visits, and more. Like Sunny Side Up, Swing It, Sunny is set in the 1970s, and it does a great job of staying grounded in the decade (pet rocks play a part in the story, for example, and having 4 television channels is considered amazing). The TV shows that Sunny and her friend Deb enjoy watching also play into the story in many ways: the idealistic family of The Brady Bunch contrasts with Sunny's imperfect one, the isolated Dale is compared to characters stranded on an island in Gilligan's Island, and (on a more superficial level) the nurses of General Hospital inspire Sunny and Deb's Halloween costumes. As a person who was born decades after the 1970s, it was fascinating to see such a vivid glimpse into the decade. Some of the other storylines in the graphic novel (such as a visit from Gramps or Sunny and Neela's budding friendship) are fun to read as well. Finally, the art style of the novel is unique as well; it is uniquely unkempt and very expressive, with a feeling of motion present in every panel. Readers who enjoyed Sunny Side Up will adore Swing It, Sunny's blend of meaningful struggles, humor, history, and excellent art, and readers who have not read Sunny Side Up should rest assured that the second book holds up to the high standard set by the original!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

MMGM (7/1/2019): All Summer Long by Hope Larson (plus giveaway!)

For MMGM, I am wholeheartedly recommending the graphic novel All Summer Long by Hope Larson.

          Bina, the protagonist of All Summer Long, loves listening to music and playing her guitar, but her plans for the summer consist mainly of spending time with her best friend, Austin. These plans are thrown into disarray when Austin leaves for soccer camp, leaving Bina alone to face summer boredom. She starts to sink into the inescapable spiral of binge-watching television, but her mom forces her to get out of the house, and she runs into Austin's older sister, Charlie. Bina and Charlie immediately start to befriend one another (they even like the same music), and Charlie invites Bina on trips to the local soda fountain or to the house where Charlie babysits. But nothing is perfect, and Bina struggles to enjoy her summer, especially once Austin returns from camp with a different idea of their friendship. It's up to Bina to balance her stressful friendships, her musical hobbies, a bit of family drama, and more in order to make the best of her summer.
          There are so many things I love about All Summer Long! The first thing I want to mention is that Bina is one of the most realistic and most interesting protagonists I have seen in a long time. Even when she isn't with her friends, Bina still finds pleasure in listening to music (she discovers a new band at the beginning of the book and becomes obsessed) and teaching herself to play that music on her guitar. Bina is often anxious about her friendships with Austin and Charlie, but she is also comfortable with herself and her own interests. Bina's relationship with Austin is great; their connection is visible from the very first pages of the book (see a preview here), and their conflict is never overly dramatic or one-sided (you can see where both characters are coming from). Also, Bina's relationship with Charlie, who is several years older (she has a driver's license, while Bina is not even in 8th grade), seems not just plausible, but likely; it never feels forced or weird.
          Another thing I love about All Summer Long is the sheer variety of the plot events. From binge-watching television to babysitting, from going to soda fountain to going to a concert, from seeing older siblings on social media to seeing them in real life, All Summer Long has it all, and its combination of idyllic summer activities and modern distractions makes the book that much more lifelike and irresistible. I also love author Hope Larson's art. Each panel of the novel uses orange as an accent color, bringing summer to mind subconsciously as you read each page. Larson's art is clean yet expressive, with detailed settings and faces that convey emotion. (See the preview linked above if you are curious.) I also love some of the more minor aspects of the novel, such as Bina's family; she truly loves her two older brothers (who have moved out), and she gets to spend time with her father and learn about her mother throughout the novel. Finally, I love that All Summer Long is nonchalantly diverse: Bina's family is biracial, one of her older brothers is adopting a child with his husband, and the child Charlie babysits (with Bina tagging along) was himself adopted. This representation is never made into a big deal, and it makes me happy that so many more books exist that are showing children through simple acceptance that they are normal.
          All Summer Long is a book that I would recommend to absolutely anyone; perhaps the best praise I can give it is that I will definitely read the first of two sequels (slated for release on May 5, 2020). If I have convinced you that it is as good as I think it is, then you are in luck, because I am GIVING AWAY two copies (one of which is signed)! The rules for the giveaway are below:
  • To clarify, I am giving away two copies of All Summer Long; one is signed by author Hope Larson, and one is not.
  • As with all of my giveaways, enter using the Google Form below, NOT the comments.
  • You must enter an email address so that I can contact you 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 unfortunately had to do during my last giveaway).
  • 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 Thursday, July 4, 2019, as I will close the form the morning of Friday, July 5, 2019.
  • You can only win one copy of the book, not both.
  • One last thing: I know that some people love getting signed books, and I know that some may want a free book but not care if it is signed. The form asks you if you want to be entered in the signed copy giveaway (although you may still win the unsigned copy) or if you want to be entered in the unsigned copy giveaway only. Please choose the latter option if you do not particularly care about having a signed copy, so that someone who really wants the signed copy can have it!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

MMGM (6/17/2019): Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson

For MMGM, I am recommending Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson.

          There are three important things to note about Tabitha Crum, the main character of Nooks & Crannies. One: she loves reading mystery novels, especially the Inspector Pensive series (you will see excerpts from this "series" at the beginning of each chapter). Two: she has no friends except her pet mouse/investigative companion that lives in her pocket, Pemberley. Three: her narcissistic, self-absorbed parents despise her and ensure that she knows it. Tabitha's life is quite miserable until she receives an invitation to meet the secretive, wealthy, and charitable Countess of Windermere at her home, Hollingsworth Hall. Once there, she meets five other children who were invited as well: Oliver, the kind child of a rich family; Viola, well-known for the charitable donations she has made using her family's money; Edward, whose mind is filled to the brim with random facts; Frances, who will stop at nothing to put down the other children and gain the Countess's favor; and Barnaby, the bully at Tabitha's school who may have more to him than he lets on. None of the children know why the Countess has invited them, but that soon becomes the least of their problems: there are strange noises, deaths, and an unsettling number of knives at Hollingsworth Hall, and it is up to Tabitha and the other children to figure out just what is going on before any of them go from victims.
          One of the best parts of Nooks & Crannies is Tabitha herself. She has numerous interests and a realistic personality; as with any good book, you can often predict how Tabitha will react in a situation because you know her so well. Tabitha's shyness and struggle having conversations with anyone is well-depicted, as is the inferiority complex she deals with that stems from her parents' constant shaming and berating. Author Jessica Lawson uses an interesting method to characterize Pemberley, Tabitha's pet mouse; much of what we would consider characterization is simply what Tabitha imagines him to be saying or thinking, but the actions we see him take line up with Tabitha's thoughts about him, allowing even the imaginary words and thoughts to contribute to what we think about Pemberley as a character. The mystery of the novel progresses quite nicely, with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the ending, which ties everything up in a wonderful little bow. I do wish that the book did a better job of reminding you of earlier plot points in the mystery when things are revealed; I often found myself thinking, "Wait, did we learn that earlier? I guess we did." I also think it is worth noting that the five other children in the novel act as more supporting characters than main ones; Nooks & Crannies is more interested in exploring Tabitha's inner thoughts and feelings than it is in fleshing out all six of the children (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but also isn't obvious from how the book is portrayed by the publisher). Despite these quirks, though, Nooks & Crannies is an extremely enjoyable read, with a main character you can root for, plenty of humor, and a mystery that will hold your interest until the very end!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

MMGM (6/10/2019): Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

I'm back! (With another graphic novel review—I promise I have at least one review of a book in prose coming up.) Today, I am reviewing one of the most bizarre books I have read in recent years: Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk.

          The first thing I want to mention about Making Friends is that the publisher's description is not a very accurate depiction of what the book is. The description explains that the novel is about 7th-grader Danielle (or Dany), who feels lonely when her friends are placed in other classes during the new school year. The description goes on to explain that Dany inherits a special sketchbook that causes anything Dany draws in it to come to life. Dany decides to draw herself a friend named Madison (hence the double entendre of the title), but the description points out that, even if Dany has made herself a friend, she may be unable to keep her. The book sounded pretty interesting to me from this description, but the problem is that there is a lot to this book that the description leaves out. Namely, at the start of the book, Dany accidentally draws something else: the floating head of a semi-evil manga character that then becomes a supporting character throughout the novel and wreaks supernatural havoc. Yes, it is as weird as it sounds. (And there is a whole short subplot about Dany trying to draw a body for this floating head that then ends up just being a headless corpse of a body that she has to bury in a grave—how is this appropriate for MG readers?)
          I didn't stop reading this novel despite the weird start—to be honest, I found it a somewhat refreshing twist on the clichés that usually plague MG novels. However, the book never really found its footing for several reasons. One big problem with Making Friends is that its main character, Dany, is quite one-dimensional. She is characterized only by her struggle to make friends, and her interests (such as drawing or watching anime) and conflict-ridden extended family are alluded to many times but never explored. Dany honestly seems like a plot device to explore the lives of the novel's other characters. Another problem with the novel is that the plotting and ending are messy. Dany starts to make friends with several kids but then unlearns the skills she has built up, succumbing to pressure and bullying others. The end of the book does basically nothing to resolve the conflict, instead being a weird supernatural battle built on that most awful of clichés: the power of friendship! The book uses this cliché as a joke, but why is the climax of the book built on a joke? The resolution to Dany's making-friends plot line is that she then makes friends with an entirely new group of kids at a temporary new school, but this resolution essentially renders all of the work Dany did befriending other kids moot. It also seems to show that the book only values Dany when she makes other friends, not when she develops as an actual person and becomes content with who she is. Dany never really does become content with who she is, remaining a one-dimensional, miserable (often for comedic effect), and even mean child who desperately needs to prove to herself that she can be popular. Dany's portrayal honestly seems dangerous to young children, who might take away that kids without friends have no real personality and will never truly become happy with who they are. To conclude this laundry list of complaints, I also want to mention that the whole struggle with Madison (the made-up best friend) possibly leaving Dany is actually built largely on Madison having an existential crisis about not having any parents and essentially existing as Dany's slave. This crisis is probably the most fascinating thing about the graphic novel, but it is symptomatic of the larger identity crisis of this novel: it cannot decide whether it is trying to be darkly humorous, existentialist, and supernatural or (as the publisher's description would indicate) a classic MG novel about the struggle of having friends. Both the publisher and the author seem desperate to shoehorn this novel into being something that it isn't.
          Now that I have drowned you all in an endless rant, I want to conclude this review with something this book made me think about. As a very young child, I was basically as shy as humanly possible. In 7th grade (coincidentally, the grade Dany is in in the book), I recall speaking one sentence to any other classmates the entire year. I had no friends in school or outside of it, mainly because I was too nervous/awkward to try to make any. I know that there are other people who struggled in the same way that I did (and honestly still do), which is why it makes me insane when books have a main character that is purportedly "totally and completely lost" (per Making Friends's back cover) yet already has a group of incredibly kind and devoted friends outside of school that the character takes for granted and then continues to take for granted as he/she makes even more friends by the end of the book. Call it my insecurities seeping into this blog post, but I want to see a book with a main character like me, who actually has no friends and has to deal with the struggle to even exist, let alone speak, in a room with anyone else in it. I get that having a miserable main character with no friends makes for an unpleasant book, but I (as well as other readers, I suspect) am tired of books that pretend to be about someone like me, but are not (especially since they cannot actually give me the friends that the main character just takes for granted). Perhaps more authors should try to write books that actually are friends for the reader, as that is probably the most help an author can give to a lonely child (reading novels is certainly the way I coped and stayed happy as a young child). Or authors should understand and attempt to show readers that shy children do have personalities and can be content with who they are! (One novel that accomplishes this task quite well is The Year of the Book, which actually is about a shy girl who seeks refuge in other novels but still manages to build up meaningful relationships with children and other members of the community! If anything I said above resonated with you, I highly recommend that you go read The Year of the Book now!)

Sunday, April 7, 2019

MMGM (4/8/2019): Smile by Raina Telgemeier (plus giveaway winners!)

First off, I have the winners of the Spring Signed Book Giveaway! The winner of the boxed set of Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzy, both by Terri Libenson, is...

Ben L.!

The winner of Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (author of the book I am reviewing today) is...


The winner of Spy School by Stuart Gibbs is...


Finally, the winner of both Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli and Dumplin' by Julie Murphy is...


Congratulations to all of the winners! Your books are in the mail. Unfortunately, I could not give books to everyone who entered, BUT... I decided to give a $15 Barnes & Noble eGift card to one lucky entrant! That entrant is...


Congratulations! Now for today's review. For MMGM, I am recommending Smile by Raina Telgemeier.

          It's hard to believe how popular Smile still is, even though it was published over nine years ago (in February of 2010)! Not only did Smile shoot its author Raina Telgemeier to fame (see my post about seeing her at NTTBF here and my ancient review of her newer book Ghosts here), but it essentially created the entire genre of slice-of-life graphic novels (which is now booming, as seen here, here, here, here, here, here, and here)! If you've somehow avoided reading Smile for nine years, you might have wondered if it actually holds up to the endless hype. The answer is a resounding yes!
          Smile is a memoir of Telgemeier's experiences in middle and early high school. Besides dealing with crushes and mean friends, Raina also experiences an unfortunate incident that damages her front teeth. Over the course of the novel, she deals with braces, fake teeth, and countless procedures and doctors' appointments (as well as the self-consciousness that comes with having damaged front teeth in middle school). Although most people may not have had the exact same dental issues that Raina has in the book, virtually everyone can relate to both endless doctor trips for an ailment and self-consciousness about having an ailment that no one else has (or at least, that you think no one else has). And yet, very few books actually deal with these all-too-common feelings. Telgemeier does a great job of making this childhood issue into something understandable, relatable, and even gripping for any reader. In addition, Telgemeier's depiction of her experiences in middle school are definitely all too familiar to readers who are/were in middle school, who will appreciate knowing that they weren't the only ones who were stressed.
          Smile benefits from an excellent narrator and main character, Raina, as well. Raina has a personality and interests that make her feel like a real person (which, of course, she is!). She makes mistakes during the book, but she also learns from them and grows throughout the story. Another thing that I love about Smile is how well-developed its setting is. Telgemeier includes all sorts of details that show readers what it was like to grow up when and where she did (such as getting to see The Little Mermaid when it was released or experiencing the 1989 San Francisco earthquake). Finally, Telgemeier's artwork is absolutely excellent. Just as in her newer graphic novels, the art in Smile is imbued with all sorts of emotions and feelings that instantly convey the mood of the story. If you have never read Smile, I implore you to pick up a copy. It is one of the few books that will leave a lifelong impact on any reader, just as it has on the massive numbers of children and adults that have read it over the years.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

MMGM (4/1/2019): Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (not an April Fools' joke!)

First of all, I would like to remind you that the Spring Signed Book Giveaway ends on Tuesday morning! Be sure to enter today (Monday) to ensure that you get in before the giveaway ends. Enter using the form at the bottom of the linked post.

For MMGM, I am recommending Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. Note that this review is NOT an April Fools' joke—I genuinely adore this book! (NOTE: If you have not read the first book in this series, read this review instead, as the below review contains some spoilers.)

          A little over a year ago, I wholeheartedly recommended the first book in this series, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, which has gained widespread acclaim and is even being made into a theatrical movie! In this second book in the series, Morrigan has finally gotten into the Wundrous Society, a prestigious school where children with unique talents learn how to harness and hone their skills. All is not well and good for Morrigan, however, as her talent, which has an unfortunate stigma, unnerves other members of the Wundrous Society, both in her year and in others. She is prohibited from taking nearly every class (except for one about how her talent is evil), and it doesn't help that she and the other members of her year are being blackmailed. To make matters worse, members of the Wundrous Society start disappearing, and all eyes are on Morrigan, who is forced to try and figure out the cause of the disappearances while proving that she was not involved.
          One of the best parts of Wundersmith is that author Jessica Townsend does a great job of putting her characters through the wringer while also giving them plenty of chances to have fun and enjoy themselves. Although Morrigan faces the enormous set of challenges mentioned above, she still has the company of her guardian, Jupiter North, and her best friend, Hawthorne. She is also just discovering the extent of the wonderful things throughout Nevermoor, ranging from fun holidays and yearly festivals to daily pleasures (such as traveling around the city by hanging off what is essentially a zipline). Townsend also gave Wundersmith great pacing: the plot moves quickly, with new challenges and developments constantly popping up during the novel. As I mentioned in my review of the first book, the characters are still awesome and weird (and there are some great new ones as well), and Wundersmith also ends with a one-two punch of twists, both of which will leave you thinking, "Of course! How did I not think of that?" While you should definitely read the excellent Nevermoor first if you are interested in the series, rest assured that Wundersmith is a fabulous sequel that only cements the excellence of this new series!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

My time at NTTBF 2019, and the Spring Signed Book Giveaway!

As happened last year, the second semester of school for me has been busier than I can even wrap my head around, meaning that I have been unable to post for about two months. I cannot guarantee a reasonable posting schedule until the summer (Two more months! Two more months!), but I do have a post for you today. I want to tell all of you about my experience at the North Texas Teen Book Festival (NTTBF) 2019, and I have a giveaway of FIVE signed MG and YA books for you all!

First, the festival. When I went to the Texas Teen Book Festival a while ago (which is a different festival, held in Austin instead of Irving), there were not many activities other than book signings to go to, and I ended up not staying the whole day. However, at NTTBF on Saturday, there were tons of speeches and panels to visit, booths to stop by, lines to stand in, etc. First, I stood in line for about 30 minutes to receive wristbands for the author signings of Raina Telgemeier and Becky Albertalli. (Only 5 authors required wristbands; the vast majority did not). Here are some photos of the wristband lines outside of the Irving Convention Center:

They were quite long, as you can see. Once volunteers started handing out wristbands, though, they moved quickly. I then went to the opening keynote for the day, which featured Raina Telgemeier and was therefore packed:

Here's Raina Telgemeier on stage (sorry for the blurry picture and weird cropping—my phone has an awful camera when zoomed in, and there were a ton of random heads at the bottom of the photo):

Raina Telgemeier's keynote was awesome! She started off by distilling the advice she usually gives people into three points: "Read books," "talk to people," and "tell your story." She had multiple slides about each of those, and she discussed the books that have inspired her, her earliest attempts at drawing and writing comics, and her own books (we even got to see some panels from/learn some details about her upcoming graphic novel, Guts!). At the end, she answered audience questions while drawing on her iPad (shown on the projector):

Once the keynote was finished, I attended several panels during the day. A couple of them really stood out. At the very beginning of the day, I attended a panel titled "Reading the Rainbow," about the importance of LGBTQIA+ themes in literature. The panel featured three YA authors, Sabina Khan, Julie Murphy, and John Corey Whaley, as well as a fourth author, Alex London, moderating. The panel took questions from the audience written on note cards (which allowed London to filter out repetitive questions), and Khan, Murphy, and Whaley thoughtfully talked about their experiences as LGBTQIA+ people (or parents of those people), gave advice to audience members about coming out, and discussed the importance of writing stories with LGBTQIA+ themes, regardless of backlash. The panel was heartbreaking, uplifting, and hilarious, and I am so glad that I had the chance to attend! Here's a blurry photo of the three authors on the panel (from left, Khan, Murphy, and Whaley):

I also attended a panel called "Getting Graphic," which featured 4 MG graphic novelists, Max Brallier, Jerry Craft, Terri Libenson, and Raina Telgemeier, who discussed their writing processes and experiences creating graphic novels. Libenson discussed the differences between writing her ongoing comic strip The Pajama Diaries and her graphic novels (which she said are more constrained to a plot and length than her comic strip is). Similarly, Brallier discussed his experience writing different series of graphic novels at the same time (he said that one of his series is third-person and the other is first-person, and he has, at times, written sections of each series in the wrong point of view). An audience member also asked Telgemeier an interesting question: if she ever got back in touch with Sean (a character in her autobiographical graphic novel Smile who she had a crush on for much of the book). She explained that, although he unfortunately passed away due to ALS, she did contact him before he passed, and he had always dreamed of being a character in a comic book (a dream which was now fulfilled). Here's a blurry photo of the panel (from left, moderator Shylo Brandenburg, Brallier in face paint, Craft, Libenson, and Telgemeier):

Finally, at the end of the day, I got to attend the book signings! I got three books signed to me, and, earlier in the day, I got 5 pre-signed books to give to you for the Spring Signed Book Giveaway! Because this post is dangerously long, I won't include publisher descriptions, but here are the books you have a chance to win:

First, you can win a signed boxed set of Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzy by Terri Libenson. Although I have not yet read Positively Izzy, I was a big fan of Invisible Emmie, which features a relatable main character (Emmie), a unique combination of comic panels and illustrated prose, and a great twist at the end (read my review here). Note that I am giving the entire boxed set to one person, since no one wants half of a boxed set.

Next, I have a signed copy of Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier! I love all of Telgemeier's graphic novels (don't be surprised if you see a review of Smile in the near future), but Ghosts is my favorite. It is one of the first books I ever reviewed (read my review here), but I still reread it due to its gorgeous artwork, its relatable, flawed, and admirable main characters (Catrina and Maya), and its masterful blending of topics such as cystic fibrosis and Día de los Muertos into a cohesive whole.

The only signed book in this giveaway that I've never read is Spy School by Stuart Gibbs. I remember that it was a favorite of other MMGM bloggers, though, so I grabbed a signed copy to give away.

I also have two signed YA books for this giveaway. One is Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. I love this novel (which happens to be massively popular and was adapted into a Netflix movie) for so many reasons. It features a diverse cast (people of all sizes, races, and orientations), thoughtful handling of topics such as obesity, a main character (Willowdean) that is simultaneously self-confident and insecure, and a fast-moving, exciting, and even shocking plot.

Finally, we have a signed copy of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. This novel also happens to be massively popular and was adapted into the theatrical movie Love, Simon. I adore this novel so much!  It deals with complex topics (the main character, Simon, is gay, closeted, and being blackmailed) thoughtfully but never depressingly, always keeping a positive outlook full of humor and hope. Simon is a fabulous main character, and his friends are awesome side characters (some of whom are featured in Albertalli's other books, The Upside of Unrequited and Leah on the Offbeat).

I hope all of you are as excited for this giveaway as I am! The rules are as follows:
  • Enter the giveaway using the form below. Do NOT enter in the comments.
  • My policies on email addresses and nicknames are listed in the form.
  • I will close the form on Tuesday, April 2. Since I must close the form manually, I cannot be sure at what time it will be closed, which is why I suggest that you enter earlier. I will accept any entries made before the form is closed, however.
  • To ensure that as many people win something as possible, if five or more people enter the giveaway, no person will win more than one item.
  • Do not select books in the form that you do not want (to allow those who do want the books to have a better chance of winning them).
  • When the giveaway is completed, I will email the potential winners and ask for a mailing address (check your spam inbox). If you do not respond to my email with a mailing address within 48 hours, I will select a new winner.