Saturday, November 3, 2018

Finding Langston

Finding LangstonFinding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Langston doesn’t like much about his new life in Chicago – not the small apartment he shares with his father, or the noisy streets and sidewalks, and definitely not his new school, where classmates call him “country boy” and make fun of how he speaks. Langston misses Alabama, where his mother died and where his Grandma still lives, though his father sends her part of his paycheck each week in the hopes of helping her move up north with them. It’s only when Langston discovers George Cleveland Hall Library, open to all Chicago residents, that he starts to feel at home.

In the safety of the library, Langston also discovers his namesake, a poet who seems to have inspired a few of the love letters written by young Langston’s mother to his father. Reading the poetry of Hughes helps Langston work through his grief at losing his mother, but it’s a new friend who recognizes that reading poetry “is a way of putting all the things you feel inside on the outside” (p 99).

Cline-Ransome mixes poetry and history in this slim fiction novel for elementary and middle school children. The post World War II era of the Great Migration is explored through the story of one family, and Langston (the character) also learns a great deal about Langston Hughes and other African American poets and writers of the time. Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood and Chicago Public Library’s Hall Branch are both highlighted and given extra detail in an Author’s Note at the end of the book. Told with heart and thoughtfulness, Finding Langston belongs in personal libraries and on classroom shelves alike.

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Saturday, October 27, 2018

2018 Middle Grades Graphics

I had a lot of fun reading these brand new graphic novels, all written for a middle grade audience. From awkward summer vacations and back-to-school blues to falling in love and learning how to best be yourself, there's a lot to learn from these stories and plenty to laugh at too.

Be PreparedBe Prepared by Vera Brosgol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happens if you beg to go to summer camp, and then you hate it (and it hates you)? Brosgol creatively remembers a summer of her youth with all its ups and downs in this funny and bittersweet graphic novel for middle grades and up.

All Summer LongAll Summer Long by Hope Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Bina’s best friend, Austin, goes to soccer camp for the summer, she’s left to befriend Austin’s older sister and fears growing apart from Austin. A love of listening to and creating music keeps Bina occupied, but when Austin returns, things don’t go back to normal. This middle grade story of the growing pains of friendship hits all the emotional notes without getting melodramatic, and a bright color palette and bold artwork keep it fresh and fun.

Making FriendsMaking Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dany is a seventh grader now, and all of her friends ended up in a different cluster – together, without her. In need of a few friends, and armed with a magic sketchbook, she literally makes new friends without worrying about the consequences. With anime and other tongue-in-cheek pop culture references on every page, Making Friends charms and delights.

The Cardboard KingdomThe Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This graphic novel was a complete joy to read. Over the course of a summer, neighborhood kids explore and create their own superhero/supervillain personas using cardboard boxes, paint, and plenty of imagination. Each kid gets their own "origin story" chapters, but the entirety of the novel tells a cohesive story as well. Chad Sell's bold illustrations call to mind classic comic books with striking characterizations and vibrant colors, which allow the emotions and interactions on the page to shine.

Fake BloodFake Blood by Whitney Gardner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nia Winters likes vampires. AJ likes Nia, but since he isn’t a vampire, he can’t seem to catch her attention – until he decides to become a vampire himself. Then he realizes it’s not that Nia likes vampires – she slays them. Suddenly his great idea could be the death of him, if he can’t convince Nia it was all a ploy, and that a real vampire of Spoons Middle School is still out there. This graphic novel is more silly than scary, with all of its parodying of other well-known vampire tales. The illustrations add a level of fun, and the relationships between AJ and his sister and AJ and his friends are sweet with plenty of goodnatured needling. For readers who would rather laugh at monsters than be terrified by them, Fake Blood will satisfy.

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Darius the Great is Not Okay

Darius the Great Is Not OkayDarius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Darius Kellner, named after Darius the Great, doesn’t always feel great, and he and his family know that. Darius’s father also has Depression, and while he struggles to vocalize his love for Darius, does not shy away from tougher conversations about his own mental health and the importance of both therapy and medication. These conversations happen against the backdrop of a rough patch for Darius – he is bullied at school, not appreciated at his part time job at Tea Haven, and feels distance growing between himself and all of his family members: dad, mom, and younger sister, Lelah, who he sees as a replacement for himself.

As a narrator, Darius is not without faults – he routinely gets in his own way, and many times would rather remove himself from a situation or conversation with an “Um” and redirection towards the nearest tea kettle – but his character does learn and grow in his own way. During a family trip to Iran, where his mother grew up, Darius begins to recognize and find his place in his family as son, brother, and friend, though not without mistakes, painful conversations, and learning how to advocate for himself. This young adult novel, told from the perspective of an awkward but earnest narrator, is a testament to the importance of open and honest conversations around mental health. Aspects of daily life in Iran, from religious customs to food preparation rituals, add depth and interest to the characters and give the story a firm sense of place and nuanced secondary characters allow for a reader to see multiple facets of Darius as a protagonist.

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Tokyo Neighborhoods

For my final honeymoon photo recap, I'll be sharing a few of our adventures from our last few days in Tokyo. We had no set schedules on these days - Jesus picked out a few neighborhoods he wanted to explore, I told him things I'd like to see, and we wandered all day long. We stayed in a wonderful hotel that featured breakfast each morning, a glass of beer along with a bowl of yakisoba at night, and coffee and hot chocolate all day. By this point, the time change was only slightly confusing, and it was fun to think about how we were ending our days as our families were starting theirs. We had mostly figured out traffic patterns, how to work public transportation, and other common cultural norms regarding being out and about in public. And finally, we had been married for over a week!

Day 1

Photos aren't allowed in Tsukiji Fish Market (several AMERICAN tourists disregarded this and got dirty looks from me and some choice words from Jesus - why are we (Americans) the worst when traveling?), but here is the view outside the market, and looking down onto a tiny tiny portion of it.
 We took a lovely stroll through the Imperial Gardens:

Then we boarded a water bus to float down the Sumida River towards Odaiba, a man-made island built for shopping and entertainment.
Rainbow Bridge (photos at night show why it has this name!)
Our spaceship-style water bus, and Rainbow Bridge in the background.
Did you know Tokyo has their very own Lady Liberty?
This is the Ferris Wheel that's visible from Disney!
A Venice-themed mall (reminded me of The Venetian in Las Vegas)!
Bedtime Beer!
Day 2

In what was not our best decision of the day, we visited a virtual reality "park" in the morning of day 2. Via a headset and a few key atmosphere-creators (fans, sound effects), we explored a haunted house, swam underwater, escaped a building onto a helicopter, and bounced around a jungle on a swing (that's what Jesus in doing in the photos below). While a fun time, doing this the first thing in the morning meant we both felt a delayed motion sickness in the afternoon.
We also learned we have zero crane game skills between us.
Forest Library was a relaxing (and quiet) spot for us to grab some lunch, do a little reading, and even take a short nap!
Then we ventured back out, taking our time to maneuver Shibuya crossing, wander Nezu Museum, and visit Roppongi Hills before ending our day at Tokyo Tower and getting a view of the city from above.
That's Tokyo Tower in the background!
Who needs the Eiffel Tower?
Can you see Rainbow Bridge and the Odaiba Ferris Wheel way back there?
(a zoomed-in shot)

Day 3

We started this briskly chilly day at Meiji Shrine before heading to Harajuku, the cute/hipster/art & fashion neighborhood of Tokyo.
Yes, we got their Chicago mix. Yes, it was amazing.
Jesus has most/all of our photos from Kawaii Monster Cafe. I was a bit overwhelmed by it all and spent most of our quick lunch there staring at the ceilings, walls, tables, and overall atmosphere. We got to see a short song & dance show after we ate, which was really fun to watch. This is one of those super touristy things that basically all American visitors to Japan do, but you really can't get this kind of experience anywhere else!
Renovations for the 2020 Summer Olympics were well under way!
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden reminded me a lot of Garfield Park Conservatory. The indoor was a welcome respite from the cold, but walking around outside was super lovely - the trees were all sorts of yellows, oranges, and reds.
The face of a man about to see the famous Toho Godzilla.
We ended our tours of Harajuku and Shinjuku at the Toho Building, where Godzilla (or at least his head) lives. This area of Shinjuku is very metropolitan and commercial - lots of lights, billboards, and nightlife - and is most definitely an entertainment district. These lights are what many people picture when they picture Tokyo, which made it strange for us to see on one of our final nights. We had already seen so many other sides of Tokyo, seeing the "popular" Tokyo felt surreal.

Day 4

Our final (full) day in Japan consisted of sleeping in, revisiting a few of the neighborhoods near our hotel, packing (!!), and ending the night with our traditional last-night-on-vacation Domino's Pizza. Yes, Tokyo has Domino's, and yes, we got something you can't get here!

We ended our trip with one last interactive activity in the airport: woodblock printing (many thanks to the women who guided us through the process!):