As part of MLIS courses, I wrote reviews for books for ages 0-18. Some sample written book reviews are included below.
Katz, Karen. Where is Baby’s Belly Button?. Little Simon. 2000.
Karen Katz’s lift-the-flap board book includes illustrations of babies of different ethnicities hiding simple body parts. Each span of pages includes one page stating a basic question about the location of a certain body part, such as, “Where are baby’s eyes?” in large, easy to read text on a bright, solid-colored background. The second page includes an image of one baby with that body part hidden, such as eyes behind a hat. A flap can be lifted to reveal the body part as well as text stating where the body part was located, such as “under the hat.”
This book works well for babies, particularly those ages 6 to 24 months. The simple, hand-drawn artwork uses bright, primary colors, simple lines, and one focus point per page (either the one sentence question or the baby), making this book an excellent selection for older babies and young toddlers who will enjoy the simple repetition of each set of pages. The flaps on each page appeal to older babies and young toddlers’ new understanding of object permanence, creating the peek-a-boo effect. The basic content of the book, body parts, will include easy words that the young toddler will already be growing familiar with and may be able to say once speech begins.
Since babies enjoy looking at other babies, these simple illustrations of other children will also make this book appealing to this age group. Each page also shows a baby with an object they could be familiar with from their daily routines, such as a shirt and a cat, which may appeal to babies and toddlers who recognize these objects. Finally, the physical structure of this book, a board book with rounded corners, provides a sturdy, physically-safe tool for babies and young toddlers to pick up, chew on, and even throw without damaging the book or themselves.
Thomas, Jan. Is Everyone Ready for Fun?. Beach Lane Books. 2011.
Jan Thomas’s humorous book tells the story of three cows who do various activities on Chicken’s sofa, such as jump, dance, and wiggle. Chicken gets angrier and angrier, demanding they stop playing on his sofa. After Chicken has gotten very angry, the cows all decide to take a nap in a heap on the smashed sofa. Chicken joins them.
Thomas’s illustrations are ideal for preschoolers as well as younger two and three-year-olds due to the large cartoon-style images. Each animal and speech bubble is outlined by a thick black line, making every aspect of the picture easy to see. The backgrounds of each page are plain shades of blue or green. All words are included in speech bubbles pointing to the character doing the speaking, and all action words like “dance” are in red text instead of black text. The simple, easy-to-understand illustrations that depict what the text describes make this book easy to follow.
This book is developmentally appropriate for four and five-year-olds because children this age are active and eager to participate. The book follows a repetitious format that children this age can follow to predict what is going to happen next. In addition, the activities described in the book can be easily transferred to the child hearing the story. When the cows jump, dance, and wiggle, a four or five-year-old will be eager to jump, dance, and wiggle as well. All of the movements described are simple enough that children this age will not have a problem imitating the behavior. Chicken’s anger and the cow’s sly thought process—“we won’t JUMP on your sofa anymore, but now we will dance!”—will be humorous to children these ages who may have had a similar exchange with their own parents.
Juvenile Chapter Books
Gaiman, N. (2008). The graveyard book. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers. 307 pages. Illustrated by D. McKean.
Recommended Age: 9-12
Young Nobody “Bod” Owens stumbled into the local graveyard the night his family was murdered. After being adopted and protected by the ghosts inhabiting the cemetery and the graveyard’s vampire guardian, Bod quickly adapts to his new home, learning from teachers hundreds of years old, discovering an evil spirit buried in a hill, and befriending a witch and many other long-dead children. As Bod grows older, however, he longs to leave the graveyard and explore the world beyond, but when he does, he attracts the attention of the man who killed his family and the group of men still hunting him.
This excellent fantasy story creates a believable world hidden inside a universe that mimics our own. Bod’s character development carries the story; the reader watches his attitudes and behaviors grow as he gets older, contrasting sharply with the dead characters surrounding Bod who never change. While the story focuses heavily on Bod’s growth, it never feels slow; each chapter tells its own self-contained story that builds on past experiences to lead to the climatic moments where Bod’s original mystery—who killed his family and why—comes to light.
Stead, R. (2015). Goodbye stranger. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books. 287 pages.
Recommended Ages: 11-12
Three seventh grade best friends are trying to survive middle school, but each is dealing with her own problems. Bridget has made a new friend—a boy named Sherm—who is definitely (probably) not her boyfriend, Emily’s new figure is attracting attention from a boy who wants a picture of her in her underwear, and Tabitha is becoming a human rights activist who always knows the truth about everything. Meanwhile, Celeste, Tabitha’s older sister who is in high school, struggles with the choices she has made.
This outstanding middle-grade contemporary realistic fiction novel perfectly captures the voice and conflicting emotions of middle school. While the story is only told from the perspectives of Bridget, Sherman, and Celeste, each character’s emotions, confusion, and reasoning resonate with the reader, making the plot seem completely believable. In the midst of emotional turmoil and a sprinkling of humor, Stead also manages to touch on thoroughly modern issues, such as social media, texting, and cyberbullying, without ever sounding preachy.
Young Adult Books
Wilson, G. W., & Alphona, A. (2015). Ms. Marvel v. 1 no normal. New York, NY: Marvel.
Recommended Age: 14-15
Kamala Khan struggles with balancing her identity as a Muslim and being a normal teenager growing up in Jersey City. After sneaking out to a party, Kamala gets caught in a strange mist that grants her wish to be like the superheroes she reads about, giving her superpowers and turning her into the new Ms. Marvel. Kamala explores her new size- and shape-shifting powers while saving a local girl from drowning. In the process of trying to save her friend’s brother from a local gang, Kamala hones her skills, creates her new costume, discovers her purpose to protect her home, and makes her first nemesis: the mysterious Inventor.
Ms. Marvel creates a new generation of superheroes that will appeal to traditional comic book fans and a new group of young, female readers looking for a strong role model. While following some traditional comic book tropes, Wilson allows new superhero Kamala to tell her own story with a focus on what it is like to be a diverse, Muslim teenager in modern-day society. Kamala’s thoughts about her religion and superhero origin story make her a well-rounded character, but the other characters who appear periodically remain flat, stereotypical cardboard-cutouts without any personal development. No Normalprovides a great start to a future of diverse, female superheroes and a good origin story for Kamala, but it will take a few more volumes of Ms. Marvel before the story reaches the depth that this new superhero deserves.
Sáenz, B. A. (2012). Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe.New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Romance/LGBT
Recommended Age: 15-17
When Aristotle (Ari) and Dante meet at the swimming pool, they have nothing in common but immediately become best friends. A few months after their friendship begins, Ari saves Dante’s life by pushing him out of the way of an oncoming car. Ari ends up in the hospital with two broken legs, and their friendship is strained due to both Ari’s refusal to talk about the accident and Dante’s family’s move to Chicago for the school year. While writing letters to Ari, Dante admits that he is gay, and, eventually in person, tells Ari he loves him. Ari remains Dante’s best friend but tells Dante he does not return his feelings. After Dante gets beat up for making out with another boy in an alley, Ari becomes furious, tracks down one of the perpetrators, and breaks his nose. Ari’s parents sit down with him and force him to talk about his feelings. Ari finally admits to himself and later Dante that he has been in love with Dante since they first met.
Sáenz’s rich poetic prose captures the emotions of a teenage boy struggling with his identity both culturally and sexually. The book does not have a central plot, but rather focuses on Ari’s journey to learn to love others and let other people love him. The sometimes light and humorous dialogue is balanced by the sad emotions and events underlying what is being said (or often not said). While the book was slow paced, the beauty of the text and the realistic feel of the characters still make the book a page turner. Aristotle and Dante is a perfect read for any teenager struggling with identity, trying to grow up, or just looking for a beautiful read.
Van Wagenen, M. (2014). Popular. New York, NY: Penguin.
Recommended Age: 13-14
Maya Van Wagenen tells her story about challenging the boundaries of popularity throughout her eighth grade year at a middle school with gangs and drug dogs on the U.S. Mexico border. Van Wagenen follows Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide, a book written by a 1950s model on how-to attain popularity. She focuses on a chapter or two each month, taking one month to focus on applying makeup, another to focus on her clothes, and another to focus on becoming more outgoing with her peers. Van Wagenen wears a girdle, dresses in calf-length skirts, and forces herself to sit at every table in her cafeteria, from the gangsters to the most popular teens in school. In the end, Van Wagenen concludes that real popularity is more than clothes and good posture—it is kindness to others, acceptance of who you are, and confidence in yourself.
Van Wagenen’s memoir about her eighth grade year elegantly depicts the realities of always being the last person picked in gym class. Throughout the text, the reader watches her grow from a shy social outcast to a thriving teenager who looks out for her wallflower peers, brims with self-confidence, and is described as popular by her peers. Van Wagenen’s book is more than just a story of a girl’s quest for popularity—it is a real-life coming-of-age story about an average middle school girl trying to figure out her place in the world. While her story is inspirational, Van Wagenen’s writing sometimes comes across as a bit too sweet—Van Wagenen must be the nicest teenager on the planet (never having a negative thought about anyone) and her peers are some of the most accepting middle school students in the United States, causing some readers who may try to emulate Van Wagenen’s attempts at popularity to fall disappointingly short in their own schools. Outside of Van Wagenen’s sugary-sweetness, Popular is still an inspiring read for teen girls, a must read for any girl struggling through middle school feeling bullied and alone.