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Staff Picks Category: Families

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto []

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Eisner award winner Taiyo Matsumoto’s semi-autobiographical account of the Star Kids orphanage is hands down the greatest unsung hero of contemporary manga currently being published. Why this book has not shown up on more “Best Of” and “Required Reading” lists is a puzzle, and I can only hope that this small dispatch might somehow get these books into more hands. The 6 volumes of Sunny (5 currently available – part 6 to be published any day now!) follow the day to day happenings at the Star Kids home – with each chapter showcasing one of the disparate, displaced children and their caretakers. These are mostly simple stories: the new kid tries to settle into his new home, dinner time arguments about what to watch on t.v., the fallout from a white lie about a cup… but what makes them special is Matsumoto’s ability through his poetic mastery of the language of comics to instill something stronger than empathy – the reader is actually transported into the hazy logic of youth through the combination of pictures and words.

The following chapter titles, one from each volume, hint at the simple majesty at work:
Chapter 2: “Why’re Dracula’s fingernails so long?” “‘Cause he doesn’t cut ’em.”
Chapter 12: “The city always seems angry.” “Like it’s shoutin’ ‘HEY!’ or somethin’?”
Chapter 17: “If I had my own department store, I’d make every floor for toys.” “That’s just a big toy store.”
Chapter 24: “Auoooh.” “Waaaaa.”
Chapter 29: “You think a rainbow’s hot if you touch it?” “The blue part’s gotta be cold.”

These slice of life vignettes somehow manage to capture the elusive feelings and perspective of a child – treating all of their melancholy and frustration, as well as their elation, with an uncanny sympathetic tone – all through his evocative illustration style combining scratchy pen with spots of ink wash. The ambivalence of a runny nose, the proprietary daydream space of a broken down car (a Nissan Sunny 1200, for which the series takes its name), and the powerfully charged relic of a mother’s hand salve tin are all presented with what could only be considered magic. At some moment while reading (possibly during a characters’ first foray into shoplifting, or while everyone is scurrying to get out of an oncoming storm), through some sort of literary sleight of hand you’ll realize your heart has just been inextricably joined to the Star Kids’ lives and will potentially need some mending when you flip closed the last page.

Beautifully designed and printed as part of Viz’s Signature Editions, these small hardcovers are given the proper presentation to contain the deeply affecting stories held within.

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto

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Hidden by Loïc Dauvillier []

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Memories of being hidden, and keeping those memories hidden… A grandmother tells a special story from her childhood in this touching graphic novel about being young during World War II.

Douina’s lives with her mother and father in Paris. Her life is relatively normal until she is made to wear a star on her jacket. Her father had told her it was a sheriff’s star but everyone begins to treat her differently. Soon her parents are taken away to work camps and Douina is left to be cared for by neighbors and kind strangers. As she settles into her new life and new name, Simone, she can’t help but miss her mother and father. Once the war has ended and it is safe again, she travels back home and begins the search for her parents.

This book offers children a glimpse into the past- what it was like to be young during WWII and how some children and families were affected by the Holocaust in France. Words by Loïc Dauvillier and art by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo

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Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown []

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A wonderful book about self confidence and being an individual! The story centers around a young Scottish-Peruvian girl who is extremely creative, confident, and embraces her mixed heritage. Everyone in Marisol’s life tells her that she doesn’t match- her clothes, her name, even her red hair. Marisol tries to change her appearance and the way she acts but ends up very unhappy. Her teacher asks her why she changed and Marisol could not find a reasons. In the end she realizes that other people’s opinions don’t matter and she is happy to be herself.

 

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When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds []

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Award winning author Jason Reynolds is a masterful storyteller. Through his book, When I Was the Greatest, Reynolds shows us something of the nuances of family life in an urban African American community and exposes the spaces where love, family, and community are strong. Ali’s family is not typical, but there is no typical family. Ali lives in Bed Stuy, New York with his mother, Doris and his sister, Jazz. Jazz is famous for giving nicknames and she gave Ali his name after Muhommad Ali. Jazz also named Ali’s best friends and neighbors Needles and Noodles. Ali grapples with the complexities of life in Bed Stuy and knows he needs to keep on track and stay out of trouble because his mother Doris makes that very clear. This book is so engaging and authentic it will hook even the most reluctant teen reader.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky []

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Johnny Heller narrates exactly the way you imaged Charlie’s voice while reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Charlie’s matter-of-fact tone and use of direct language juxtaposes with the intensity of his experiences and the sometimes stunning depth of his observations. Anyone who has been 15 knows that navigating friends, family, and high school can run the gambit from terrifying to exhilarating. Charlie is figuring out how to be a person in the world. He is called a freak, he experiences pain and love and every emotion in between. I highly recommend both the print book and the audio book to adult and teen readers. And while I’m at it, the movie is pretty great too!

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell []

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Fangirl is about a young woman named Cath who leaves for her freshman year of college with her twin sister Wren. Both of them are obsessed with Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) and Cath writes fan fiction obsessively. Although Cath and Wren were extremely close, their new college lives get in the way of their relationship with each other, their father, and her fanfiction.

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One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia []

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One Crazy Summer tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl and her younger sisters who travel from Brooklyn to Oakland, California to live with their mother for the summer. Their mother is unapproachable and the girls have a hard time adjusting to the new atmosphere. The three sisters are eager to build a relationship with their mother and are intrigued by her involvement with the Black Panther Party. What little they know of the Black Panthers they learned from television, but now they have come face-to-face with party leaders as their tough-love mother sends them to the program for breakfast and lessons.

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Un regalo de gracias: La leyenda de la Altagracia by Julia Alvarez; illustrations by Beatriz Vidal []

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Maria is afraid that her family will have to abandon their farm after their olive crop fails. Then one night she dreams of a beautiful and mysterious lady. Maria and her family plant seeds to grow oranges. Soon they have an amazing orange grove. Maria wonders who the beautiful lady that came to her in her dream is.

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Coffee Will Make You Black []

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April Sinclair’s young adult novel tells the story of Stevie, a young black girl, living in Chicago in the late 60s/early 70s. Stevie has to deal with other people’s ignorance about race and sexuality as she comes into her own identity. Her mother wants her to use bleaching cremes to lighten her skin, but she’s becoming involved in the Afro-American Club at school and she begins to wear her hair natural. Stevie’s Grandma and her mama are strong influences on Stevie and she finds comfort with her Grandma and is often frustrated by her mama. This is a great book for adults, young adults, and teens.

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Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell []

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Set in the Ozarks in the unforgiving winter. Ree Dolly, a 16-year-old who is the de facto head-of-household, has taken on the responsibility of raising her two younger brothers and caring for her mentally withdrawn mother. A knock on the door informs her that her father has skipped bail, and she will lose the house that has been in her family for generations unless he is found, dead or alive. This book is very atmosopheric, with the winter hanging over the story. It has an older feel, partially because of the poverty and living conditions that are treated as commonplace, until you realize that Jessup Dolly had been arrested for running a meth lab. Ree Dolly is a strong girl, old beyond her years, trying to fight for her family in an unforgiving landscape.

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The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig []

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“Can’t cook but doesn’t bite.” So begins the newspaper ad offering the services of an “A-1 housekeeper, sound morals, exceptional disposition” that draws the hungry attention of widower Oliver Milliron in the fall of 1909. And so begins the unforgettable season that deposits the noncooking, nonbiting, ever-whistling Rose Llewellyn and her font-of-knowledge brother, Morris Morgan, in Marias Coulee along with a stamped of homesteaders drawn by the promise of the Big Ditch — a gargantuan irrigation project intended to make the Montana prairie bloom. When the schoolmarm runs off with an itinerant preacher, Morris is pressed into service, setting the stage for the “several kinds of education” — none of them of the textbook variety — Morris and Rose will bring to Oliver, his three sons, and the rambunctious students in the region’s one-room schoolhouse.
A paean to a vanished way of life and the eccentric individuals and idiosyncratic institutions that made it fertile, The Whistling Season is Ivan Doig at his evocative best.

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Little Miss Sunshine []

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This movie shows that life is an adventure. An imperfect, slightly dysfunctional family of six sets out on a road trip, and all their quirky personalities are crowded together in one bright yellow van that cannot hope to contain them. As they encounter ever more emotional and mechanical breakdowns the characters learn how to handle imperfection and failure. They encounter situations which are sometimes dark, yet still hilarious. With lots of situational irony and dry humor, Little Miss Sunshine is a story which will make life’s difficulties feel like just little bumps in the road.

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