MMGM and #IMWAYR: When You Reach Me, five Kyo Maclear picture books, and more!

It's been off-the-rails in my personal life lately, but amidst the mess is exciting news:

I GRADUATED COLLEGE!!!

I can't believe it. The ceremony is coming up soon, but all the assignments are done, and my grad school program is on the horizon. So that's an exciting thing!

And now it's summer, which means the most important thing: BOOKS! So many books. I've already devoured some picture books, and I have some semester reading to report on as well. So let's dive in!

Picture Books

Kumo: The Bashful Cloud

Written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Nathalie Dion
2022

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

The uplifting journey of a bashful cloud ("kumo" in Japanese) who discovers the rewards of feeling seen.

Kumo is a cloud whose only wish is to float unseen. When she’s assigned cloud duty for the day, she feels overwhelmed by self-doubt and her fear of being noticed. But after learning that closing your eyes isn’t a good solution to your troubles, Kumo pulls her fluff together and does her duties — drifting, releasing rain and providing shelter — meeting some new friends along the way and inspiring the imagination (and capturing the heart) of a small daydreamer like her. 
 
Kyo Maclear’s sweetly humorous and lyrical parable about shyness, vividly brought to life by Nathalie Dion’s ethereal illustrations, is an affirmation of the pleasures of community and the confidence that can arise from friendship and visibility.

· · · · · ·

I read five Kyo Maclear picture books this week, and I have to say, they’re so good, y’all. Maclear takes the dichotomy of artistry and child-friendliness and shatters it by equating the two—for her, a rhythmic line, a funny moment, or a clear and childlike mindset are exactly what we should be striving for, in life and in books. She has a gift with words that seems to inspire the illustrators she partners with to go above and beyond, creating gorgeous work. And she challenges herself to create books that are never exactly alike—she does not rest on her laurels.

This particular book is such a beautiful ode to what happens when quiet souls like Kumo allow themselves to be seen—kids are inspired, friendships are made, and lives are touched in everyday yet meaningful ways. Any shy kid will be able to relate to Kumo’s fears, and will rejoice for the things she adds to her world—they will know how much they bring to the world too.

The story is so peaceful, with Nathalie Dion’s illustrations like staring up at the sky in quiet contentment. And there’s cloud puns too, so you literally have no reason not to read this.

The Good Little Book

Written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Marion Arbona
2015

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

While banished to a dusty study one day "to think things over", a boy pulls a book off a shelf and with great reluctance begins to read. As the afternoon passes, the story nabs him and carries him away. Before long, this good little book becomes his loyal companion, accompanying him everywhere ... until, one day, the book is lost. Will this bad little boy get back his good little book? Will the good little book survive on its own without a proper jacket? A quirky, enchanting tale of literary love and loss -- and love found again -- that will win the heart of even the most reluctant reader.

· · · · · ·

OK, so why is this the best book ever?! Geez. We’re 2 for 2 so far, y’all, and spoiler, we’ll be 5 for 5 by the end. This book is an ode to books that aren’t about being thought-provoking or wise or insightful—it’s an ode to books that are pure escapism, and that touch the lives of slightly chaotic kids like our protagonist who normally wouldn’t pick up a book in their life. Maclear reminds us that simply being transported to a world other than our own is valuable in and of itself, regardless of what “lessons” or “development” happens once we get there.

And also, I feel called out in the best way by this book’s reminder that even books without a “proper jacket” (like both the good little book in the story and The Good Little Book in real life) can fend for themselves and find the readers who will love them. I like to mentally turn myself into some kind of book savior, but really, any good book can save itself—I can just stand by and be like, “Wow.”

Also, Marion Arbona’s illustrations are so good—colorful and absurdist and energetic and just endlessly delightful. And Maclear writes with such a sense of humor—she finds the perfect spots to catch you off-guard with silly jokes that kids and adults will both adore.

Please read this good little book.

The Liszts

Written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Júlia Sardà
2016

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

The Liszts make lists. They make lists most usual and lists most unusual. They make lists in winter, spring, summer and fall. They make lists every day except Sundays, which are listless. Mama Liszt, Papa Liszt, Winifred, Edward, Frederick and Grandpa make lists all day long. So does their cat. Then one day a visitor arrives. He's not on anyone's list. Will the Liszts be able to make room on their lists for this new visitor? How will they handle something unexpected arising? Kyo Maclear's quirky, whimsical story, perfectly brought to life with the witty, stylish illustrations of Júlia Sardà, is a humorous and poignant celebration of spontaneity.

· · · · · ·

As someone who makes lists, I couldn’t not read this book. And we could all use a gentle, non-pedantic reminder that as fun as planning and chronicling can be, just going with the flow and noticing new opportunities is so important too.

And the idea of a family that makes lists (except on Sundays, which are listless) is just so endlessly funny and brilliant and amazing that I can’t get over it. And Júlia Sardà’s illustrations are delightful—they bring the family to life as such an eccentric, fascinating bunch.

Also, the balloon scene is gorgeous—I’d frame it on my wall.

If You Were a City

Written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Francesca Sanna
2022

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

A colorful celebration of cities and the people living in them.

Just like people, there are so many ways a city can be. And this lively picture book explores all of them. From quiet and dreamy to bright and buzzing, the magnificent diversity of our world is celebrated by connecting the uniqueness of its places with the people who live in them. Wild, gritty, bookish, or sheltering—if you were a city, how would YOU be?

· · · · · ·

HOW is this book so good?!?! Illustration after illustration of gorgeous, colorful cities and diverse, hopeful kids—maybe the cities parallel the kids’ lives, maybe the kids are learning to live in the cities and form communities, or maybe this is all just an excuse to draw beautiful cities (which I don’t mind). This book alludes to creativity, environmentalism, compassion for migrants, personality, and (of course) the value of books. And Maclear takes the time to bask in language—her use of rhyme is never clunky and instead gallops along, pairing beautiful words in unexpected ways. I think this book and The Good Little Book are my two top picks of the five.

Julia, Child

Written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad
2014

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

Julia and Simca are two young friends who agree that you can never use too much butter -- and that it is best to be a child forever. Sharing a love of cooking and having no wish to turn into big, busy people who worry too much and dawdle too little, they decide to create a feast for growing and staying young. A playful, scrumptious celebration of the joy of eating, the importance of never completely growing up and mastering the art of having a good time, Julia, Child is a fictional tale loosely inspired by the life and spirit of the very real Julia Child -- a story that should be taken with a grain of salt and a generous pat of butter.

· · · · · ·

This is not a biography of Julia Child, even though Maclear and Julie Morstad have cowritten two simply gorgeous picture book biographies (It Began With a Page and Bloom). Instead, it’s an ode to the unhurried delight of childhood, as told through the perspective of two budding chefs cooking for grown-ups who have lost their way. There’s something about the simplicity and layering of Julie Morstad’s illustrations that always makes me stare at every single craft choice she makes. And I imagine Julia Child would approve of the repurposing of her last name to tell a story of calming down, letting go, and finding joy in a good meal.

Middle Grade

When You Reach Me

Written by Rebecca Stead
2009 · Re-review (see original review)

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

This Newbery Medal winner that has been called "smart and mesmerizing," (The New York Times) and "superb" (The Wall Street Journal) will appeal to readers of all types, especially those who are looking for a thought-provoking mystery with a mind-blowing twist.
 
Shortly after a fall-out with her best friend, sixth grader Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes, and she doesn’t know what to do. The notes tell her that she must write a letter—a true story, and that she can’t share her mission with anyone.
 
It would be easy to ignore the strange messages, except that whoever is leaving them has an uncanny ability to predict the future. If that is the case, then Miranda has a big problem—because the notes tell her that someone is going to die, and she might be too late to stop it. 

· · · · · ·

We all know how much I adore Rebecca Stead’s novel Goodbye Stranger, but When You Reach Me is a favorite as well—it was actually the first book I ever reviewed on this blog, which is no accident.

I finished re-reading this book a couple of weeks ago, so rather than writing a coherent review, I figure I’d just highlight some new (and renewed) observations from what I believe was my fifth or so read-through.

There’s like four written works on the planet with foreshadowing as intricate as in this book. Way back when I first read this book, I never expected the twist, but every time I read it, I see more and more evidence that makes all the pieces fit together. I can only imagine how much brainstorming and drafting and revising it took to turn practically every sentence into a clue to the ending.

And speaking of every sentence, Stead’s word economy never fails to blow me away. This is a short book, but you read it slowly because each sentence is worth savoring. Miranda, the protagonist and narrator, isn’t pretentious or whimsical or anything like that—she’s telling a story, for a reason, and she stays focused.

I love, love, love Miranda’s mom, a paralegal and single mother with only enough income to rent a shabby apartment. Miranda’s mom is like every good mother—part superhuman, and part regular human. She demonstrates to Miranda, through volunteering and conversations, the importance of social justice, and there are moments where Miranda notices just how hard her mom works to support her. And there’s also moments where both Miranda and her mom get frustrated, or worn down—there’s one particularly powerful plot thread where Miranda’s mom tries to teach Miranda not to look down on a homeless man, then panics for her safety when Miranda intentionally strikes up a conversation with him. There’s a kind of clash between the idealism of Miranda’s mom’s philosophy and the reality of the danger her daughter faces, like when walking to school alone, and it makes me wonder how to balance myself if I were ever a parent. I do just want to give Miranda’s mom a hug and tell her she’s doing great, though.

And then I also feel like mentioning that you could basically rewrite the story from any character’s perspective and have a truly incredible book all the same. Like Julia, who is trying to navigate friendship challenges with a brilliant mind but greatly misguided intentions, or Marcus, whose brother is caught up in a situation Marcus cannot understand, as perceptive as he is.

There is also a scene where Miranda tries to reconcile the gravity and scale of the world and its problems, with her own personal relationship with Sal. I read that scene, and I felt like Stead could have just plucked it out and published it as a poem and totally gotten away with it. It’s beautiful.

Did I mention there was a twist? I did, but did I mention it’s the best twist ever? Seriously, just try to get to the end of the book without flipping back to the beginning to see the foreshadowing. Try it. I dare you. (I actually don’t dare you, because it’s so much more fun to look at all the foreshadowing!)

Oh, and one more thing: I have a Rebecca Stead-related blog post coming on Thursday, so stay tuned!

Adult Books

The Ballad of Black Tom

Written by Victor LaValle
2016

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn't there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father's head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

· · · · · ·

I read this for a class this semester and it was fantastic—I'm too tired to write a review of it, but I will just note that it's basically a far-more racially conscious retelling of a terribly racist H.P. Lovecraft story called "The Horror at Red Hook." We got to read both in class, so seeing such a dramatic reinterpretation of a completely flat and un-inclusive story was really cool!

The Last White Man

Written by Mohsin Hamid
2022

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

From the New York Times-bestselling author of Exit West, a story of love, loss, and rediscovery in a time of unsettling change. 

One morning, a man wakes up to find himself transformed. Overnight, Anders’s skin has turned dark, and the reflection in the mirror seems a stranger to him. At first he shares his secret only with Oona, an old friend turned new lover. Soon, reports of similar events begin to surface. Across the land, people are awakening in new incarnations, uncertain how their neighbors, friends, and family will greet them.Some see the transformations as the long-dreaded overturning of the established order that must be resisted to a bitter end. In many, like Anders’s father and Oona’s mother, a sense of profound loss and unease wars with profound love. As the bond between Anders and Oona deepens, change takes on a different shading: a chance at a kind of rebirth--an opportunity to see ourselves, face to face, anew.
 
In Mohsin Hamid’s “lyrical and urgent” prose (O Magazine), The Last White Man powerfully uplifts our capacity for empathy and the transcendence over bigotry, fear, and anger it can achieve.

· · · · · ·

Same thing as above—I read this for a class, it was excellent (if maybe not as good as The Ballad of Black Tom), and I don't have the energy to review it!

Bookish thoughts:

I've decided I'm going to try The StoryGraph as a way of tracking my reading and TBR list! I had switched to Goodreads about two years ago, partially because my Apple Notes app TBR list was a pain in the neck, and partially because I thought a Goodreads account would be publicity for my blog. Well, it turns out that Goodreads is also a pain in the neck, and did not serve as publicity at all. (And frankly, I don't really care, because I like my small and familiar blog audience very much! 😊)

So I created a private StoryGraph profile, and it's SO COOL!!! They have really detailed tags on every book describing its pacing and moods, so you can filter by those tags or let the AI suggest books similar to what you like. I can't give a verdict on the AI recommendations, but even just the basic UI changes make it so much easier than Goodreads. You can filter your TBR list by genre without having to tag each book manually—imagine that! AND you can browse the catalog of books by filtering with more than one genre (e.g., "Graphic Novel" and "Middle Grade"). It also lets you mark books as owned, or DNF, or up next!

I'm not planning to make my profile public right now, but I'll let you know if that changes. In the meantime, though, I probably won't update my Goodreads account, so keep an eye on this blog for my latest picks! And feel free to try The StoryGraph out—it can import all your Goodreads history in just a few steps.

On an unrelated note, I mentioned above that I read some great novels in one of my classes, and I also read two short stories in that class that I wanted to give a massive plug for—"Americca" by Aimee Bender and "Lull" by Kelly Link (that latter one is not appropriate for young readers, just FYI). I really did have fun reading things totally unlike what I usually do!

That's all, y'all—happy reading! ✨✨

Comments

  1. Congratulations! Graduation from college is such a big step and I am so excited for you! What graduate program will you start in the fall (teaching? library?).

    I loved When You Reach Me, it's a book I still think about 10 years after I read it (can it really be that long?!)

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, Helen—they are appreciated! I'd rather not share which grad program, since I always get a little anxious about Internet privacy, but I'm having the usual mix of total anxiety about starting it and excitement that an intriguing new stage of my life is beginning!

      And I totally love that you still think about When You Reach Me—there's always more to unpack and dissect from the story, so much later! And it is wild that it's been out for so long—time flies! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  2. Congrats on graduating! That's a huge accomplishment. I loved When You Reach Me too.

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    1. Thank you, Natalie—I really appreciate that! And I'm so glad you enjoyed When You Reach Me too—I feel like it's impossible to not enjoy it! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  3. Congratulations on your graduation! When you Reach Me sounds interesting, have to give it a look. Happy MMGM

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    1. Thank you so much! And When You Reach Me is a wonderful story—I hope you get the chance to try it!

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  4. Congrats on graduation accomishments. And great insights on your reading list.

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    1. Thank you, Antoinette, and I'm glad you found some new books to read here!

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  5. Congratulations on your graduation! I hope you enjoy a summer of reading! If You Were a City sounds great. You have introduced me to a new author.

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    1. Thanks so much, Lisa! And that's so exciting—I've devoured so many Kyo Maclear picture books (and one graphic novel, Operatic), and they pretty much never fail to be enjoyable!

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  6. A big congratulations on your upcoming graduation. You are paving a path for an even more successful future. Keep up the great work.
    Fantastic set of reviews today. Of course, I focused on Rebecca Stead and this engaging story that first got me hooked on her writing. Thanks for featuring on MMGM. Looking forward to more of your reviews this summer.

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    1. Thank you, Greg! I'm definitely trying to set myself up for a fulfilling future, whatever that might look like! And definitely feel free to focus on the MG reviews in my posts—I'm glad you got to remember When You Reach Me for a little while!

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  7. Congratulations, Max, for the coming big, big ceremony. It must be a relief, big sigh! But also a joyous time. Thanks for all the books. I love Kyo Maclear, too, and Rebecca Stead shocked the lit world when she won the Newbery for When You Reach Me, at that time, many had not heard of it or put it on the list. I remember many of us scrambling to get a copy. I enjoyed The Things That Will Not Change, too. And thanks for the final two adult books, on my list!

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    1. Thank you, Linda! It's definitely both a relief and very exciting—knowing I managed to finish college without failing anything is very reassuring!

      And I was young when When You Reach Me won the Newbery, so I didn't realize it was so shocking—that's so fun to hear, that the medal introduced everyone to Rebecca Stead's writing! I appreciate you telling me that, since I would never have known it otherwise!

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  8. Congratulations Max! That's fantastic news, and best of luck with the next phase whatever that might be! Thanks for all the super reviews - I must check out When you reach me. The picture books sound fabulous too (and I have a young niece and nephew so I must see if they are available this side of the Atlantic!)

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    1. Thank you, Valinora—I appreciate your kind words! When You Reach Me is definitely worth a read, and I hope you can track down the picture books as well!

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  9. Congrats on your graduation! That's awesome. I hadn't heard of the picture book author, but I'm definitely checking my library to see what's on shelf here for my daughter. I bet she'd love any of those. The MG book sounds really cool, too. I'm really interested in your descriptions of the plot and foreshadowing. Gonna have to check that one out, too! Thanks so much for sharing these. :)

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  10. Congratulations on graduating. That's a great accomplishment. I've added some picture books to my TBR list. I LOVE When You Reach Me. Maybe I will find time to read it again. And I will be on the look out for The Ballad of Black Tom. It sounds, really, really good. Thanks for all the info! Now go enjoy your summer.

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  11. Congratulations! Exciting news!

    And good luck with The Storygraph. I hope you navigate it better than I did.

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  12. Congratulations on graduating! And best of look with your next endeavor.

    I love picture books about books so I am definitely getting The Good Little Book. And maybe a few others...

    I like storygraph, but I fell back into Goodreads. I also have LibraryThing, and that can do all the cool database stuff.

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  13. I also love that When You Reach Me is an ode to Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, which was an absolutely formative book to me as a writer.

    Enjoy your graduation! It's a real achievement. I hope you will spend lots of time reading whatever you want to this summer.

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Please feel free to leave a comment—I always love reading them! ✨✨

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