MG – Can You See Me?

Scott, Libby, and Rebecca Westcott. Can You See Me? Scholastic.2020. 978-1-338-60891-5. 358 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Co-authored by Rebecca Westcott and Libby Scott, an eleven-year old neuro-diverse girl, Can You See Me? uniquely captures the inner feelings of Tally Adams, an autistic British sixth grader. Through Tally’s eyes, the reader learns of the frustrations and perceptions an autistic person experiences navigating teachers, friends, and family while transitioning to the more sophisticated world of middle school. Luke, a classmate suffering from his own trauma, bullies Tally because he unwittingly views her autism as weird. Tally receives the brunt of Luke’s anger and loses her few friends when she tells the teacher Luke stole the answers to an upcoming quiz. As Tally tries to fit in at school and adjust her behavior at home, she finds comfort and courage in wearing a tiger mask and companionship in the old, three-legged dog the family is taking care of for their elderly, sick neighbor. Tally is a treasured part of a loving and supportive family, but she sometimes tries the patience of her father and older sister, Nell. Westcott and Scott do a fine job creating a window into the world of autism as well as providing tips for how to cope best with the autistic personality (both Tally’s mother and a sympathetic drama teacher are pros). After selected chapters, Tally as narrator relates excerpts from her journal which gauge her anxiety level and note the pros and cons of autism. Though the ending is somewhat abruptly idealistic–Tally’s fair-weather, catty friends proclaim that they need her and one even confesses she told the entire class Tally is autistic. Tally’s response to both, though, is authentic. She tells the girl that the information was not hers to share and she refuses to offer the girls the cookies her mother suggests she share. Overall, this book gives a particular view of autism not seen in other novels that can lead to understanding and rich discussion.

THOUGHTS: Mockingjay, A Boy and a Bat, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Rain Reign. . . no shortage of books featuring a person with autism. In Can You See Me? however, the reader can relate not only to the behaviors associated with autism, but also with the times any of us have been called out for our quirks or feeling different or not fitting in. This book is ideal for character studies, even for comparing it with R. J. Palacio’s format of Wonder: How does Tally’s sister Nell feel always sacrificing her needs for Tally? Why is it difficult for Tally’s friend, Layla, to stay loyal to Tally?, etc. The title and cover refer to the tiger mask Tally sometimes dons when she needs to face hard situations. The cover art is so busy, the background obscures the title of the book; though that may be the goal, the artwork looks amateurish and the result makes the cover forgettable.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Picture Books – The Road Home; Smoot; T. Veg; Windows

Cotton, Katie.   The Road Home.  Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781419723742. Unpaged. $15.95. Gr. K-2.

In this poetic and comforting tale, animals prepare for winter.  Each pair of animals has a goal in mind. The mouse builds a nest underground, and the bird and her chick fly off to a warmer climate.   On their journey, the rabbit and her kit find themselves in an alarming situation. They are being pursued by a wolf and cub who feel hunger or that “burning thing that settles like a stone.”  The author describes the rabbits’ fear as they try to outrun their predator. The reader is reassured to see that the pair have escaped the hungry wolves and have found safety in their leafy home as night falls. As spring arrives, all the animals return to the meadow, having survived the harsh winter. The illustrator Sarah Jacoby has chosen watercolors in a soft and muted color palette, which helps set the mood of the story.  Her engaging drawings take us through the seasons, as the tale begins in late summer and ends in spring. Most of the illustrations are full bleed and are done over a two-page spread. In the drawing of the fall leaves being blown about, one can almost feel and hear the wind. The winter landscape looks bleak and cold, with a blanket of snow topped by thorny bushes. The message here is that whenever parent and child are together, that place is home, no matter how difficult the road was to get there.  THOUGHTS: This lyrical story works well in winter-themed storytimes and would make a wonderful bedtime story.  Children will enjoy looking at the sweet drawings of the animals. A worthy selection for elementary collections.

Picture Book            Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

Cuevas, Michelle and Sydney Smith. Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow. Dial Books. 2017. 978-0-525-42969-2. $17.99. Unpaged. Gr. K-2.

A shadow’s job is typically to obediently follow you around, but “if life is a book, then Smoot the Shadow has been reading the same yawn-colored page for the last seven and a half years.” One day, Smoot has the chance to live out his dreams and wishes when he comes unstuck from his boy. As Smoot continues his journey, other shadows find courage and try their own fantasies. Smoot worries that this could get out of hand, so the rebellious shadow takes matters into his own shadowy hand, all within the curious eye of his boy. Will they find a connection? Sydney Smith’s gentle wwatercolorswith inky shadows make for an interesting contrast, and Michelle Cuevas keeps her text lyrical and well paced. The shadow of Smoot may just encourage more dreaming and action for other children who are stuck in a rut.  THOUGHTS: Smoot would make for a fun twist for science lessons or the old groundhog stories that primary teachers use every year.

Picture Book     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

Prasadam-Halls, Smriti. T. Veg. Abrams Books, 2017. 978-1-4197-2494-7.  $16.95. Unpaged. Gr. K-2.

Poor Reginald the T. Rex just doesn’t fit in with his jungle friends. He is great at roaring and stomping, but come dinner time, he opts for carrot cake over steak. He attempts to convince his family and friends to try grapes, greens, avocado pie and smoothies, but they insist that a T. Rex should just eat meat, meat, meat. Eventually, the poor little dino, tired of being teased and tormented, packs his bag and runs away, looking to hang out with like-minded herbivores instead. But that proves to be challenging for a variety of reasons, leaving Reg frustrated and alone. However, his friends and family are missing him, too, and when Reg saves the clan from disaster, they finally appreciate the benefits of eating their fruits and veggies. The story is related in rollicking rhyme, and the palate of the  bold illustrations bring to mind carrots, peas and eggplant. THOUGHTS: A cute book to underscore the freedom to be different, or to encourage healthy eating.   

Picture Book     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Denos, Julia. Windows. Candlewick, 2017. 978-0-7636-9035-9. $15.99. Unpaged. PreK – 1.

Evening begins to fall and a young boy heads out into his neighborhood, taking his small dog for a walk. As the pair amble past homes and businesses, the boy notices the variety of activities taking place in the windows, eventually returning home to a familiar, welcoming warmth. The detailed illustrations will invite children to closely examine each page and each window to see what is happening.  THOUGHTS: Beautifully illustrated, this is a lovely book for one-on-one reading.  

Picture Book     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

YA Realistic FIC – When I Am Through with You; Thing with Feathers; St. Death; Sunshine is Forever

Kuehn, Stephanie. When I Am Through with You. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-101-99473-3. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

Unreliable from the start, Ben tells the story of what happened on the mountain in his own way, on his own terms, and apparently from his prison cell. So begins Ben’s story and how he got to be on the mountain to begin with.  Suffering from migraines and depression and being the only caregiver for his unwell mother, Ben feels trapped by his life in Teyber. He reconnects with former teacher Mr. Howe to help with the school’s orienteering (exploring) club.  Rose, Tomas, Avery, Duncan, Clay, and Archie join Ben on the first hike into the wilderness. Tense from the start, this group seems to be on a doomed trip. It’s not until the end that readers see just how doomed these adventure seekers are. THOUGHTS: Drinking, drug use, descriptions of casual sex, and violence make this a book for more mature teens.

Realistic Fiction, Adventure       Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

Hoyle, McCall. The Thing with Feathers. Blink, 2017. 978-0-310-75851-8. 304 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

Emilie is perfectly fine staying in the safety of her home with her mom and best friend (her seizure dog). She disagrees with her mom and her therapist: attending public school is not a good idea. She doesn’t want to be known as “that girl that has seizures.” When Emilie starts school, she makes a decision not to tell anyone about her epilepsy. As she gets closer to her friends and a boy she’s paired with her decision not to reveal her medical condition becomes more and more critical. But it’s been months since Emilie seized, so she’ll be okay, right?  THOUGHTS: Readers will fly through this light-hearted and realistic sweet novel about what it means to be different and what lengths we will go to hide our differences. With a compelling storyline – Will she or won’t she tell? Will she or won’t she seize? – readers will fall in love with Emilie as she experiences public school, friendship, and first love.

Realistic Fiction     Maryalice Bond, South Middleton School District

 

Sedgwick, Marcus.  Saint Death.  Roaring Brook Press, 2017 (1st American ed.).  978-1-62672-549-2. 227 p.  $17.99.  Gr. 9-12.

Arturo lives in a shack on the outskirts of Juarez, a Mexican city that butts up against the American border. One day, his childhood friend, Faustino, shows up begging for Arturo’s help. It seems that Faustino has joined a gang and has stolen $1,000 from his boss to send his girlfriend and her baby to America. He must replace this money by the next day or he will be killed. Arturo, a skillful card player, agrees to try to win the money back, but soon finds himself in even more debt. Now, Arturo’s life is also on the line. He scrambles to replace the money both he and Faustino owe before they are both killed by gangsters. Fast-paced and devastatingly honest, this title by Printz award winner Sedgwick is an excellent addition to high school libraries. THOUGHTS: Focusing on taboo topics like religion, illegal immigration, human and drug trafficking, and the exploitation of foreign workers by large corporations, this title is sure to spark a great deal of discussion and debate. Because violence is addressed in such an uncomfortable and unflinching manner, this title might be better suited for older, more mature readers. Pair this title with Linda Barrett Osborne’s This Land is Our Land for a unit on immigration or with Patricia McCormick’s Sold for a unit on human trafficking.

Realistic Fiction      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

 

Cowan, Kyle T.  Sunshine is Forever. Inkshares, 2017. 978-1-942645-62-7. $11.99. 282 p. Gr. 9 and up.

Hunter S. Thompson spends his days smoking pot with his only friend until a tragic “incident” changes everything. Desperate for acceptance and connection and wracked with guilt, he blames anyone else for the events in his past.  When he makes a couple of suicide attempts, he is sent to Camp Sunshine for depressed teens.  After being in therapy for months and on several medications, Hunter is not optimistic about the Camp Sunshine Program.  A few of the counselors and guards on staff are cruel and clueless,  though one or two seem genuinely interested and concerned for the kids.  But Hunter finds a real friend in his bunkmate Quint and a potential girlfriend in the charismatic but manipulative Corin. These connections and the questions of his therapist are helping Hunter make progress with his mental state, but when Corin convinces Hunter and a few others to join her in an escape plan, all of their chances for recovery are threatened.  THOUGHTS:  Sunshine is Forever is a raw and darkly humorous tale that tackles adolescent depression, suicide and mental health treatment in a believable way. A fast-paced read – a good choice for reluctant readers and for those who appreciate darker realistic fiction titles.   The mature themes and make it more appropriate for older teens.
Realistic Fiction            Nancy Summers, Abington School District