Rosie Loves Jack – YA Book Recommendation

Title: Rosie Loves Jack

Author: Mel Darbon

Publisher: Peachtree Publishing, March 1st 2021

Ages: 13+

Genre: contemporary YA fiction

Note: adult themes: ableist behavior/language, taking advantage of young women, discussions of rape, sex trafficking, mentions of alcohol and drug abuse, & other scenes of a sensitive nature

Themes: romance, Down’s Syndrome, cognitive disability, innocence, abuse, human trafficking, fatphobia, love, determination

Quote:
Mum told me, ‘Above everything Rose, you are a human bean…. we love the same…. we think the same… and we are as important as each other.’ The words in my head are the same as yours. Sometimes they just come out wonky.

Synopsis:

Rosie loves Jack is the story of a teenage girl in the UK called Rosie. Rosie lives with Down syndrome and has a boyfriend called Jack whom she loves. Jack has problems of his own though which means he can get quite violent. After Jack goes too far one day he’s taken away to attend an anger management course in Brighton. Rosie’s parents think she should forget him. Rosie resolves to find Jack herself, taking the train to London alone by public transport. As she copes with transportation setbacks, she encounters assorted strangers—some kind and some with unsavory intentions.

Why I like this book:

Rosie’s first person POV expresses her determination, frustration, and innocence, as well as sadly others’ patronizing and rude reactions to her disability that are no doubt realistic. Rosie is probably one of the most determined YA protagonists I have read in a while. Utterly single-minded and brave in her resolve. I think most people would have given up on a journey when all their trains would have been cancelled, after they lost all their money, but she didn’t. She had to find Jack because what they had together was meaningful and she couldn’t give it up due to her father’s concerns.

This portrayal of Jack and Rosie’s love felt very authentic. For several years when I live din London, I lived next door to a young couple with Down’s syndrome and they were one of the most devoted couples I knew. I think Rosie Loves Jack is especially important because it shows how people that suffer from Down’s Syndrome can still have a normal life, Rosie goes to college, she has a healthy and supportive relationship, she has great friends and a family that are looking out for her. And while she is taken advantage of, she ultimately shows herself capable of taking care of herself. I loved how Rosie stood up for herself in all the situations when people looked down on her or assumed things about her based on her disorder. It was also a huge feat to navigate public transport, given that many teens who have only been driven everywhere would struggle with this.

Her positive outlook of life is admirable and inspirational. Because of her empathy and kindness she makes friends easily, though I would like to have seen the secondary characters a little more developed. While the people she encountered had back stories of their own, struggles, and thus the book this book touches on lots of important subjects from bullying to fatphobia, human trafficking and homelessness, sometimes I felt these stories merited more depth to add to their credibility.

I personally would have liked to have seen more interaction between Rosie and Jack, not just flashbacks and perhaps a little less of the subplot of the less likely dark travel encounters though I realize people with intellectual disabilities can be targets of abuse.

I love that there is no happy neat resolution and I also love that Rose states at multiple times throughout the story that she isn’t Down’s syndrome, she is Rose. What a terrific mantra for anyone. There are not so many YA novels with representation of teens with cognitive disabilities and I think this is a strong addition with two well-represented neurodivergent characters. Rosie’s voice rings true with, for example, how smells have colors and busy places with light, color, sound and movement make her head buzz and interrupt her internal monologues.


Mel Darbon spent a large part of her childhood inventing stories to keep her autistic brother happy on car journeys, and brings years of experience to Rosie’s very authentic voice. I do think this is a good addition to our diversity shelves.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Last Tree – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: The Last Tree

Author & Illustrator: Emily Haworth-Booth

Publisher: Pavilion, 2020

Ages: 4-8

32 pages. 

Genre: fiction

Themes: hope, rebellion, environment, trees, conservation, problem-solving, harmony

Opening:
Once Upon a time , a group of friends were looking for a place to live.

The desert was too hot.

The valley was too wet,

and the mountain too windy.

Nowhere was quite right until they saw the first tree…

Synopsis:

Once upon a time a group of friends were seeking a place to call home. The desert was too hot, the valley was too wet and the mountain was too windy.

Then they found the forest. It was perfect. The leaves gave shelter from the sun and rain, and a gentle breeze wound through the branches.

But the friends soon wanted to build shelters. The shelters became houses, then the houses got bigger. All too soon they wanted to control the environment and built a huge wooden wall around the community.

As they cut down the trees, the forest becomes thinner, until there is just one last tree standing.

It is down to the children to find a solution.

Why I like this book:

A beautiful book about how young people have agency and can make a real difference.

The author begins by introducing a harmonious relationship between nature and humans by using soft, gentle language and positive imagery – “and came to the forest, where dappled light fell through the leaves and gentle breeze twisted the branches.” She highlights the use nature can have for humans but also the danger in exploiting this as well. Her language becomes harsher as she describes this new relationship, “In time they started to forget their games and songs, and soon the happy village had grown cold and hard, for now the villagers had walls around their hearts.”

Of course, the use of the wall seems very topical and highlights the danger of creating barriers between people as this only encourages distrust and discrimination. This shift in warmth and sensitivity comes through strongly with the illustrations that become darker and more linear without the soft curves and colors of nature. The daunting wall that overlooks the settlement blocks out all the light and color which seeps into the emotions and lives of the people living there.

The children rediscover the importance of nature and slowly revive the heart of the community. “As they planted seeds and tended the saplings, they talked and sang and as their children grew, a new forest grew with them.” This idea of regrowth in both nature and the lives of the children brings the story full circle and leaves readers with an invitation to embrace a balanced relationship with nature, where humans do not destroy or take for granted the joy of trees.

Resources/Activities:

I would use this with young students looking at nature and the environment and link this to science and biology as well. We could also discuss the idea of the wall and how creating divides and barriers between people tends to encourage distrust and division. The illustrations felt very British to me, and because of their almost childlike quality, I think they will inspire children, and lots of art projects that could be centered around ‘The Last Tree’.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Posted in children's books, conservation, Perfect Picture Book Friday, resources & activities for elementary school teachers, Resources for children's writers and illustrators | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Unspeakable, The Tulsa Race Massacre – PPBF & Black History Month

Title: Unspeakable, The Tulsa Race Massacre

Author: Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrator: Floyd Cooper

Publisher: Carolrhoda Books, Feb 2nd, 2021

Ages: 4-8

32 pages. 

Genre: nonfiction, history

Themes: African Americans, racism, violence, white supremacy, black history month, systemic racism, suppression of history, Tulsa massacre

Opening:
Once Upon a time near Tulsa, Oklahoma, prospectors struck it rich in the oil fields. The wealth created jobs, raised buildings, and attracted newcomers from far and wide, seeking fortune and a fresh start.

Synopsis:

A powerful look at the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in US history. The book traces the history of African Americans in Tulsa’s Greenwood district and chronicles the devastation that occurred in 1921 when a white mob attacked the Black community. Black Wall Street. That was the name of the area of Tulsa, Oklahoma where wealthy, prominent, and talented black folks lived and thrived. That was until the massacre, all because one white teenager accused a black teenager of assault during an elevator ride. 

News of what happened was largely suppressed, and no official investigation occurred for seventy-five years. This picture book sensitively introduces young readers to this tragedy and concludes with a call for a better future.

Why I like this book:

I think this is about as bearable and accessible of an account of the Tulsa Race Massacre as could possibly exist. It manages to convey the events in a very clear-eyed way, while still allowing space for the raw emotion of it. 

Many pages at the beginning of the book are given to descriptions of the beauty of the community of Greenwood as it was before May 31, 1921, the achievement and perseverance of this group of people of color who were determined to pull together and form a nurturing, thriving society on their own terms, segregated by law from the whites.

When we get to the events leading to the massacre itself, we have a deep sense of what was lost– the people, the businesses, the homes, the ability to build and thrive, the hope that the contributions that Black citizens had made to that point would lead to more respect or better treatment, especially just after WWI and many of the black men returning from serving their country. Yet the storytelling is never heavy handed and handled in a way to make it very receptive to young readers without watering down the horror. Massacre is the only apt word, and UNSPEAKABLE, a very apt title. This history cannot be ignored, and must be explained. This story looks at that truth unflinchingly yet tells it with as soft a hand as possible.

I only learned of this horrific event in US racial history maybe two years ago. Here I learned much I didn’t not know, and I wept over the depth of the betrayal and injustice. It’s a hard story, but one that definitely needs to be remembered and discussed.

I think it’s a particularly important story for understanding the very concrete ways in which white supremacy and institutionalized racism have worked over and over throughout history to try and prevent Black people from succeeding. This important piece of history was whitewashed until this century!

In the end notes, we read that illustrator Floyd Cooper grew up hearing stories of his own grandfather’s childhood in Greenwood, and this closeness to the subject feels evident in every page. The subtleness and breadth of humanity he paints here is breathtaking. The illustrations are gorgeous. The beautiful soft glow of Greenwood quickly turns into muted spreads that capture the gravitas and pain of the massacre. The author and illustrator notes are a must read and complete this slice of history. I think it is one of many picture books that could be used in tween and teen classrooms too.

Resources/Activities:

This is a perfect book for any historical unit or celebration of Black History Month, and with older children can be a great springboard to talk about systemic racism.

Floyd Cooper talks about his grandfather’s stories of this history on the  Brown Bookshelf

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Posted in Black history Month, Book recommendation, children's books, Children's literature, Diverse Children's Books, nonfiction, Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments