Skeleton Tree

I thought this book was a bit too dark for the middle-grade audience that it is going for. You've got an absent parent and the difficult financial situation that goes with that. Add in a dying sibling, and I just wish they had bumped it up to YA. That said, young fans of sci fi may love this. 

Without too many spoilers these are my questions-  Is the skeleton an angel, the grim reaper or a welcome playmate? Is death an evil thing or simply a necessary part of life? 

I'm a Neil Gaiman fan so this sort of stuff usually doesn't phase me, but in this case, I just didn't like it.

If you think this is the kind of discussion you want to have with your middle grader than have at it. In our case, I gave the book away.

Skeleton Tree By Kim Ventrella September 26, 2017

Rise of the Jumbies

I haven't read the first book in this series, so I'm not sure if I missed any deeper meanings, but I didn't feel confused like you sometimes do jumping into book 2. 

You can't go wrong with a fairy tale, and this Caribbean fairy tale is exciting.

Corine is part jumbie (which my spell check is also distrustful of), and so the townspeople don't trust her. There is an earthquake and when some kids go missing some townspeople blame her.  She meets with Mama D'Leau (a scary sea witch), who tells her what she should do, and so Corinne embarks on a long trip with some mermaid friends. On their way, they come across a wrecked slave trading ship and realize that the mermaids used to be girls from Ghana. This story is well written, and the pace is just fast enough. I liked that it kept me guessing and that there were larger themes woven into the plot like slavery, chosen family vs. the family you are born with and what happens when fear and hatred take root in people. 

I could see pairing this with some nonfiction on the slave trades and make a mini unit study out of it. I'd suggest Shackles from the Deep By Michael Cottman. For some reason my review didn't carry over from my old blog but here it is on Goodreads.

Rise of the Jumbies By Tracey Baptiste

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers

Oh, my heart. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This story is heartbreaking and yet families even today are touched by mental illness and the themes play out the same. I will not be able to look at Vincent's art the same way again. 

The Van Gogh family story especially the relationship between Vincent and Theo was messy. Large, close families are not immune to petty squabbles, jealousy, and all the daily nonsense that we humans put each other through. The story gets into some adult themes, and I'd save this for older teens. The only thing that stood out as YA were the short chapters- which I enjoyed. 

I'd not read much about Van Gogh. I learned quite a lot when the Art Institute had a dedicated exhibit to him, but even if you read all the displays as I did- much of the book will be completely new information to you. The letters that provided much of the research for this book are an invaluable treasure. I wonder if we aren't headed into another dark age as all our records and interactions are now digital?

I thought the simplicity of the text struck just the right tone- direct, honest, and original, much like Vincent's own paintings. What a surprise to find I came away from this book with a deeper understanding of Vincent and his art and the love the Van Gogh brothers had for each other. I found it telling that when Theo was about to be engaged he wrote to his fiance and told her, " I have a brother." Much like you would tell anyone of a lifelong commitment. 

I wish I had a high school student now because the rabbit trails off this book could take months. You've got art, history, medicine, mental health, so much to springboard off of. It's in my top five books that I've read in 2017.

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers By Deborah Heiligman