YA – Punching Bag

Ogle, Rex. Punching Bag. Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01623-6. $17.95. 217 p. Grades 9-12.

As with his debut memoir, Free Lunch, Latinx author Rex Ogle is honest and sensitive in his recounting of his high school years with his volatile mother, Luciana, and abusive stepfather, Sam. At the book’s opening, Rex’s mother reveals that she has lost an infant girl, Marisa, while seven-year-old Rex was visiting his paternal grandparents. In front of her sensitive son, she is distraught with grief and places the blame at his feet. Ogle carries that guilt with him as he navigates his teen-age years protecting his half-brother, Ford, from the chaos erupting from domestic violence in their tiny Texas apartment. At times, this guilt is assuaged with the remembrance of Marisa, giving him the encouragement and strength not extended by other adults. Though his alcoholic stepfather beats his mother regularly, Rex’s mother refuses to press charges or escape. In fact, in a brief stint when Sam leaves her, she picks on Rex, goading him to hit her. Rex acts as the parent here. He has the maturity to see their household is toxic and to recognize his mother’s mental health issues. From conversations with family members, he gets an insight into the root causes of his mother’s and stepfather’s behaviors. However, he feels responsible for the safety of his younger brother and the financial stability of the family. He receives some emotional support from his grandmother and his mother’s sister; he is able to confess to his stepfather’s brother the physical abuse suffered in their family. Nevertheless,with little adult support from teachers or neighbors, young Ogle is out there on his own with the lone comfort of Marisa’s ghostly voice convincing him her death was not his fault. When Luciana and Sam repeatedly wind up together with little improvement, Ogle has to value his own life and aim for his own dreams to keep him resilient and hopeful. This memoir is an excellent example of bibliotherapy. Ogle does not gloss over the brutality and the bewildering reality of domestic violence and the devastating effect of a parent’s untreated mental health issues on her children. Ogle acknowledges this in the book’s preface with a disclaimer emphasizing his purpose for writing his story is to show that it is possible to survive. Students suffering the same trauma will appreciate his frankness. Contains an informative Q & A with author.

THOUGHTS: The account of domestic abuse as well as physical and emotional child abuse is constant, but Ogle is a talented narrator and compels the reader to endure it. Rex Ogle himself stands out as an exceedingly mature, resilient, compassionate person, despite a lifetime to being put down, parentified, terrified, neglected. It prompts the thought, where was this behavior learned. He records little resentment of being the person in charge of his younger brother. He willingly shoulders adult responsibilities around the house with hidden resentment and–mostly-controlled anger. The book delivers an important message to any students in similar circumstances.

Memoir          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
362.7 Child Abuse

Elem. – The Three Little Yogis and the Wolf Who Lost His Breath

Verde, Susan. The Three Little Yogis and the Wolf Who Lost His Breath. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020. $16.99. 978-1-419-74103-6. Grades K-3. 

In this fractured fairy tale, the wolf has a habit of huffing, puffing, and blowing things down when he feels angry. Before long, the wolf realizes he feels worse when he sees how his behavior frightens others. There are so many things to huff about like sharing, trying difficult things and feeling hungry that the wolf runs out of breath. Turning his frustrations toward the three little yogis, he is met with compassion. Instead of running away, they teach him to mediate, breath, and pose. Readers are reminded that everyone gets angry sometimes. Belly breathing, butterfly breaths and supported breathing techniques help the wolf finally feel relaxed. Common terminology from sun salutation to savasana is introduced. A few yoga poses such as downward dog and half-moon are sprinkled throughout. Social emotional learning themes are present as the wolf becomes aware of his behaviors, reflects on his feelings and practices new techniques in lieu of huffing and puffing. Pencil and digitally colored illustrations fill the pages with a healthy dose of tranquil whimsy. Backmatter includes a few brief but useful tips for budding yogis.

THOUGHTS: This book is a must-have for libraries looking to develop their lower elementary collection of books about breathing, meditation, and yoga. A great picture book to pair with an interactive yoga storytime for young learners.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elem. – Ravi’s Roar

Percival, Tom. Ravi’s Roar. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-547-60300-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Ravi is having a bad day. Nothing is going his way! There are no seats for him on the bus, he’s too short to reach the monkey bars, and he’s too small to go on the big slide. The final straw is when the ice cream vendor runs out of ice cream, and Ravi doesn’t get any. This prompts him to lose his temper; he turns into a tiger and lets out a huge roar. He stomps around the playground roaring at others and doing whatever he wants. He soon finds, however, that his actions are only making matters worse, as no one wants to play with him. Ultimately, he apologizes and makes amends. A very relatable story about losing one’s temper, this book conveys some important messages about working through one’s feelings.

THOUGHTS: This book would make an excellent resource for anyone who teaches young children about feelings, coping mechanisms and emotional health. It is the perfect segue into a discussion about healthy methods of dealing with anger. An author’s note at the end of the book even provides questions to ask when one is mad. As an added bonus, there is a degree of diversity in this book, as the main character and his family are dark-skinned, and the only parent present in the story is the father. This is definitely a solid purchase for any collection serving young children.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member