Saturday, March 19, 2022

Isla to Island; Paws: Gabby Gets it Together

Castellanos, Alex. Isla to Island
March 15th 2022 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this mostly wordless graphic novel, we meet Isla's parents, who marry in 1945 and are living in Cuba. When Isla comes along, the family is closely knit. They go to parks together and press flowers when they return home, and seem to have a good life. In 1960, after Batista and Castro, their neighborhood becomes dangerous. A window in Isla's room is shattered, and the family is scared. The parents decide to send Isla to New York City with Operation Pedro Pan. Isla arrives to the US alone, but is fostered by a very caring and concerned older couple who do what they can to make her comfortable, but who find it hard to discern exactly what she needs. Isla goes to a Catholic school where many of the children are mean to her, and she struggles with learning, since her command of English isn't good. Her world is portrayed as predominately gray. She eventually discovers books, and through these shares with her foster parents her love of plants and flowers, and color slowly returns to her world. Her foster parents take her to parks and greenhouses, school becomes a bit easier, and she gains enough confidence to make friends. A series of snapshots show her life after her school years when she is able to reunite with her parents and have a family of her own. 
Strengths: This was a very beautifully done graphic novel that managed to convey a huge amount of information with very few words. There are some song lyrics, signs, and labels on pictures. Isla's emotions are deftly conveyed through facial expressions and body language, and the device of having her arrival in the US be portrayed in black and white, with just the red flower in her hair put there by her father was very powerful. The frustration she feels, and the frustration her foster parents feel in not being able to help her more is palpable, and it was a huge relief when she discovered books and was able to feel more comfortable in her new home. This was a fascinating look at one Pedro Pan experience, and done in a particularly effective way. 
Weaknesses: Operation Pedro Pan is such an interesting historical event that readers may find themselves wanting more details. It's amazing the details that are conveyed, and there is a selected reading list and some explanation at the end, but many readers will want to investigate some further resources. 
What I really think: This would be a bold but not unwarranted choice for the 2022 Newbery Award. I will buy a copy, especially for our English Language Learners.  

Fairbairn, Nathan and Assarasakorn, Michele. Paws: Gabby Gets It Together
March 8th 2022 by Razorbill
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel, Gabby and her friends Priya Gupta and Mindy Kim LOVE animals, but can't have pets because of family allergies or living arrangements. They decide that watching YouTube videos of animals isn't enough, and they need to try to intereact with real animals. They try searching their neighborhood for animals who need to be rescued, to no avail, are turned away from volunteering at a shelter because they are too young, and decide that volunteering at a vet practice is too sad. When they see a dog peering at them through the windows of a house, they are enthralled, and very glad to make the acquaintance of Pickles' owner, a woman who works long hours at her tattoo parlor. She agrees to pay them $10 a day to walk Pickles, and the girls decide to develop a business. They put up flyers and get a number of dogs to walk, but run into a variety of problems. One of the mothers is allergic to dog fur, which leads to a whole process of changing clothes, and at one point, the girls go to a thrift store to obtain "uniforms" for their dog walking. (I'm with you, Mindy! I get all of my clothes from the thrift store, too!) There are also scheduling problems, and the girls find that they don't get to spend as much time together since the dogs have different needs and can't be walked together. School and sports schedules interfere as well, and there are some difficulties with people feeling underappreciated that lead to some fights. Will the girls be able to figure out their business model and make PAWS succeed?
Strengths: This is set in Vancouver, and has a nice neighborhood feel to it. I liked the brief descriptions of the girls' families and different parenting styles, and the parents show up just enough to offer support in a realistic way. The girls truly love animals and want what is best for them, but struggle to balance this with their own needs. The illustration style will be popular with fans of Jamieson and Holms, and the Canadian setting is great to see, and will delight fans of Goerz' Shirley and Jamila. I did especially enjoy that Priya was a soccer player and cross country star. (And yes, those two are hard to schedule at the same time!)
Weaknesses: Children setting up a dog walking business has gotten a lot of coverage in middle grade literature, but almost always with female entrepreneurs, so the plot was fairly standard. 
What I really think: This is a good graphic novel to go along with Venable's Katie the Catsitter, Lloyd and Nutter's Allergic, Miller's Besties: Work it Out or Lai's Pawcasso.

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