October 2019

October 2019 Stars & Big Picture

Starred titles are books of special distinction. See the archives for selections from previous months.

Cooper, ElishaRiver; written and illus. by Elisha Cooper. Orchard/Scholastic, 2019 [48p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-338-31226-3 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-338-56647-5 $11.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 3-7

Donnelly, RebeccaCats Are a Liquid; illus. by Misa Saburi. Godwin/Holt, 2019 [32p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-250-20659-6 $17.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 2-4

Florence, Melaniekimotinâniwiw itwêwina/Stolen Words; illus. by Gabrielle Grimard; tr. into Cree by Dolores Sand and Gayle Weenie. Second Story, 2019 [28p]
Paper ed. ISBN 978-1-77260-101-5 $14.95
Reviewed from galleys   R* 5-8 yrs

Grimes, NikkiOrdinary Hazards: A Memoir. WordSong/Boyds Mills, 2019 [332p]  illus. with photographs
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-62979-881-3 $18.99
Reviewed from galleys   R* Gr. 8-12

See this month’s Big Picture (below) for review.

GuojingStormy: A Story about Finding a Forever Home; written and illus. by Guojing. Schwartz & Wade, 2019 [38p]
Library ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-7177-5 $20.99
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-7176-8 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-7178-2 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* 4-7 yrs

Jarrow, GailThe Poison Eaters: Fighting Danger and Fraud in Our Food and Drugs. Calkins Creek, 2019 [160p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-62979-438-9 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-68437-895-1 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 6-12

King, Amy SarigThe Year We Fell From Space; illus. by Nina Goffi. Levine/Scholastic, 2019 [272p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-338-23636-1 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-338-23646-0 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 4-7

Mbalia, KwameTristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. Rick Riordan/Disney Hyperion, 2019 [496p] (Tristan Strong)
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-368-03993-2 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-368-05441-6 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 4-7

Mitchell, SaundraAll the Things We Do in the Dark. HarperTeen, 2019 [304p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-06-285259-5 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-06-285261-8 $8.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 9-12

Newman, CareyPicking Up the Pieces: Residential School Memories and the Making of the Witness Blanket; written by Carey Newman and Kirstie Hudson. Orca, 2019 [180p] illus. with photographs
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4598-1995-5 $39.95
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4598-1996-2 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 8-12

Reynolds, JasonLook Both Ways; illus. by Alexander Nabaum. Dlouhy/Atheneum, 2019 [208p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-3828-5 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-3830-8 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 5-8

Ruby, LauraThirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All. Balzer + Bray, 2019 [384p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-06-231764-3 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-06-231766-7 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 7-10

Sepetys, RutaThe Fountains of Silence. Philomel, 2019 [512p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-399-16031-8 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-698-17451-1 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 8-12

Walden, TillieAre You Listening?; written and illus. by Tillie Walden. First Second, 2019 [320p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-62672-773-1 $24.99
Paper ed. ISBN 978-1-250-20756-2 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-250-75444-8 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 9-12

Wenzel, BrendanA Stone Sat Still; written and illus. by Brendan Wenzel. Chronicle, 2019 56p
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4521-7318-4 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4521-7913-1 $11.99 R* 3-7 yrs

Yoon, DavidFrankly in Love. Putnam, 2019 [432p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-9848-1220-9 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-9848-1221-6 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 9-12

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir

by Nikki Grimes

Celebrated poet Grimes turns here to her own life, making it clear from the start of this free-verse memoir that it’s a work of “imperfect memory” in which “informed imagination” fills the gaps. Even the name by which she’s known is a self-given name, and right from the opening poem that explains her self-naming, she creates an irresistible storytelling persona of strong self-definition and a blend of confessional sharing and fierce privacy.

Her account covers her life from her birth in 1950 to 1966, and there’s a strong focus on her struggles with her alcoholic, schizophrenic mother. After Child Services intervenes, Nikki bounces from an initial foster placement to a reluctant grandmother to another foster home (“Did we do something wrong?/ Is that why no one wants us?” she thinks). That foster home is actually a stable respite, but she eventually returns home to live with her mother and her new stepfather, who sexually assaults her. Along the way she’s separated from her adored older sister, threatened by gangs, and devastated by the death of her loving if inconsistent father, but she also finds kindness and support from friends and teachers.

Throughout, the voice of the storyteller rings clear; a theme of the narrative, in fact, is the creation of memoir when trauma means that memory is “scraps of knowing/ wedged between blank spaces”; life has meant so much forgetting as well as remembering. Yet the past is still searingly and emotively evoked, whether she’s talking about the underlying rage that led her to avoid bullies for fear of what she’d be provoked to do, or the value of a lifesaving friendship (“I believed in Jackie,/ and she believed in me./ Funny how far/ that can take you”). She also shines the spotlight on golden moments that buoy her amid her travails, such as meeting James Baldwin or just hearing a friend’s mother offer loving words of support at a moment when it’s needed.

Characterization is potent as well, whether it be herself in a teenaged moment (“nearly fifteen-going-on-/ you-couldn’t-tell-me-nothin’”), the mother who even sober has sympathy for strangers but indifference for her daughter, or the demanding Holocaust-survivor teacher who pushes Nikki to fulfill her true potential. None of them overshadow young Nikki, however, who is the most compelling character of all—furious and flinty, loving and longing, talented and curious. She is deservedly proud of her resilience while abhorring its necessity.

Comparisons will inevitably be made between Ordinary Hazards and Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (BCCB 9/14), another verse memoir of a readerly young Black girl who became a writer, and indeed, both are superlative works that testify to the glory of words. However, young Nikki’s writing, like her name, is clearly an act of self-definition in a world miserly in its nurturing: she makes herself; she names herself; she writes herself. Grimes potently conveys the way reading and writing can become ways not just to express oneself but to construct oneself, to articulate one’s identity, to map one’s mental and emotional territory. Readerly readers will find young Nikki inspiring company and agree with her that “surviving is almost easy/ if you have a strategy/ and a copy of/ A Wrinkle in Time. A concluding gallery of photographs brings key characters to vivid life.

—Deborah Stevenson, Editor

Cover art from Ordinary Hazards © 2019. Reproduced by permission of Boyds Mills & Kane.