Rain Reign | Ann M. Martin
Summary: Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different―not her teachers, not other kids, and not her father. When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and all her safe places to search.
Gush Sesh: Rose depends on order, rules, routine – they comfort her when her environment seems overwhelming. These are things most fifth-grade girls don’t have to worry about much, but Rose is a little different. She gets help from her teacher, Mrs. Kushel, and her aide, Mrs. Leibler; these encouraging figures are nearly the only ones that provide support for the young girl with Asperger’s Syndrome but for Uncle Weldon, brother to her single father. As mom ‘ran away’ when Rose was two, Rose lives alone with her dad, an uninspiring man who drinks and yells too much. Then comes Rain, the dog, a saving grace for Rose’s loneliness. When a hurricane nudges the area and the dog gets loose, the storm’s damage makes looking for Rain impossible. Rose develops a plan to hunt for Rain and learns more about her expanding capabilities. Along the journey, we, too, learn about the way she thinks and adjusts to life, showing herself to be brave, creative, honest, and empathetic. New support systems and friendships allow her to blossom making this a favorite to read – I highly recommend this work.
Ribbons | Laurence Yep
Summary: No one seems to understand that ballet means everything to Robin; not her parents, who can no longer afford ballet lessons because all of their money is going toward bringing Robin’s Chinese grandmother to America and not her grandmother, a demanding woman who can barely walk. Now, Robin is even losing touch with her ballet friends, who are moving on without her. It’s hard for Robin to hide her resentment of this foreign grandmother who’s changed her whole life. Then Robin uncovers a secret that leads to a new understanding of the many ways in which she and her tough old grandmother are alike.
Gush Sesh: Yep’s introduction to the family is a slice of life story with no real antagonist. It presents many points of view from different members of this multigenerational, multicultural family. There are jealousies, regrets, lies of omission, confusion, judgement, and the awkwardness of marital strife making this setting extremely relatable. Robin is a great example of an American girl who happens to be part Chinese and yet doesn’t get why the past was so important to mom. If Robin’s mother had been more open to talking about her role and family history with her daughter, I feel there would have been less strife and more understanding – a realistic and enchanting story.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon | Grace Lin
Summary: In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life’s questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family’s fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest for the ultimate answer.
Gush Sesh: Lin took the myths she heard and read as a child and has transformed them into a mélange of new origins and adventures in this story-told-within-a-story. Her ability to write these anecdotes as appropriate dialogue for the characters and as smoothly told as they are to keep from disrupting the narrative is a gift. In fact, Lin accomplishes this many times, all of the tales being ‘told’ by a character that Minli knows or meets. Having illustrated the work herself with cheery framed scenes, Lin discusses her inspirations at the end in a Behind the Story section along with a 10-point Reader’s Guide.
P.S. Be Eleven | Rita Williams-Garcia
Summary: Returning home to their father and grandmother, the three Gaither girls (introduced in One Crazy Summer) sport new ideas and language evolving from their summer away in California. While respectful of the way of things and inspired to rock the norm by challenging viewpoints and arguing for independence, we see Delphine apply the things the girls learned in school, at home, and among friends. Why is becoming twelve so much harder than being eleven? How hard will being ‘grown’ get anyway? Readers of any age might need some reminders of the world events in this setting (understanding who the Black Panther Party was at that time, who Huey Newton and Robert Kennedy and Shirley Chisholm were) to comprehend the period.
Gush Sesh: The language used is musical in nature – the most obvious strength of this work is the ‘voice’ that Williams-Garcia gives to her individual characters. While nearly all are African American from the Bed-Stuy area of Brooklyn in the mid to late 1960s, they are genuine and different from each other in many facets. Some are clean spoken while others use the vernacular of the time; some are lazy-sounding or uncaring about their messages while others are just as confused and thoughtful as Delphine is herself. Add to this that the audio version is beautifully rendered and you have a book that demands hearing.
Mister Orange | Truus Matti
Summary: When his eldest brother, Albie, enlists to fight in Europe, twelve-year-old Linus takes up the job of delivering the groceries around his N.Y.C. neighborhood. Linus is proud of his brother for taking on the evil Nazis, but sees a different reaction in his parents – fear. The comic books make out war to be spies and battles and heroes triumphing over bad guys. What happens in a real war and will Albie return home safely? Befriending an oddball artist known as Mister Orange (Piet Mondrian), Linus listens to his stories of escaping persecution and loving New York, the ‘city of the future’, as art is redefined all around him.
Gush Sesh: Originally written in the author’s native Dutch, this translation is very convincing – I felt like I was seeing through the eyes of an American boy of the time. It is both a fictional account of Mondrian’s last days and a coming of age story where Linus gets his education on what war means and gains a helpful amount of optimism to dilute his worry. You might not think of visual arts or music as giving the observer hope, but ‘Mister Orange’s’ stories are both fantastic and rational. He teaches that “Imagination isn’t only about things that don’t really exist. Imagination is exactly what you need to make real things.” In this time of change and stress, everyone could use an uplifting bit of hope – exactly what Linus encounters upon seeing Mondrian’s last painting on display.