Spine-chilling hauntings, nods to true crime, a puzzle-like plot… I. Eat. That. Ish. Up. When 18-month-sober, Mallory Quinn, lands a much-needed nanny job to get back on her feet, she starts to question what she’s just gotten into when 5-year-old, Teddy, begins to draw creepy things during quiet time. As the drawings begin to evolve well beyond the abilities of any five-year-old, shit starts to go down. If Teddy doesn’t remember drawing these masterful yet alarming artworks, then who drew them? Mallory must figure out what exactly is ailing this little boy she’s grown so fond of before his parents question her sanity. The synopsis I’ve just given is only the very surface of what you will encounter in Hidden Pictures. I wish I could spill every hair-raising haunt, every startling realization, every piece of the puzzle as I did when thoroughly explaining it to my boyfriend-held-hostage, Kevin. HE even loved it and only heard the story through my rough explanation. If you still don’t believe me about how great this horror novel is, then believe Kevin.
If you had one opportunity to seize the life and the version of yourself that you have always dreamt of, would you capture it? What if that opportunity is fighting for survival with strangers on a new reality TV show? Mara and the five strangers endure the perils of survival for money, fame, or personal fortitude to transform their lives. Soon they find themselves completely submerged in a far more sinister danger than they signed up for. Braverman flawlessly juxtaposes the deteriorating hope spreading throughout the group psyche with the placebo effect that the responsibility of teamwork induces as a false sense of safety. Small Game is a stomach-turning, spine-shivering, shoulder-tensing experience that wrings the reader’s anxieties as they trudge through every obstacle alongside each character, all of whom we ultimately root for until the end. Braverman had me believing that I could survive in the wilderness based purely on the in-depth knowledge of survival she weaves throughout the pages; this unearned confidence is dangerous in itself.
Life without listening is just noise. We learn to differentiate sounds in our surroundings like a dog’s bark, the back-up beeps of a moving van, or the chime of the doorbell at the entrance of the Asian seafood market. These sounds contribute to the symphony of everyday life. Similarly, we learn to experience words by how they sound and how we say them like how “soar” floats and “sink” is heavy. Listen helps build intuition and recognize empathy for others. It is also a vital form of self-care to listen to one’s own body and mind. This book navigates all of these various forms of listening to establish children’s awareness beyond the noise to focus on their own surroundings, care for those around them, and understand themselves.
Stormy days threaten to stifle the outdoor adventures of our brother and sister protagonists when Grandma calms their anxiety (and the reader’s mind) with a soothing remedy. Close the eyes and open the mind to infinite possibilities. With this advice, brother and sister fly through familiar everyday surroundings with absolutely surreal atmospheres. This book touches on children’s receptiveness to controlling emotions after feeling them while exercising empathy in the process. Even beyond emotions, Woodson opens the minds of the children and adult readers alike to imagine an existence that is better and more inclusive for everyone. Woodson draws from her influence from The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton with a direct correlation to ancestor’s who were physically bound but mentally flew towards what could be and what now is, but what should be better. We thank them both for this culmination of childlike imagination, open-minded activism, and a call for social justice
The first day of school is hard enough, but especially when Layla has to leave the comforts of the Overlook Woods to study at Unicornia where other unicorns aren’t so friendly upon her arrival. After accidentally popping a ball with her unihorn at recess, getting chewed gum in her tail, and being alone, Layla has had a tough first day. Layla is determined to let her true self shine through on the second day so she adorns herself with a braided mane embellished with flowers and powders glitter on her hooves to sparkle as bright as she does. However, the other unicorns at school humiliate her for the look and start calling her “woodsy” to shame her for who she is and where she comes from. Layla refuses to return to school until her caretaker, Trevin Troll, mends her troubled mind with an affirmation, “Just be ready, and I promise, your time to shine will come.” With replenished self-love in her heart, Layla joins her class on a field trip into the woods when her class faces a series of trials like their teacher getting caught in a Devil’s Shoestring bush. No one knows how to handle these woods, but Layla does. Using her woodland smarts, Layla frees Mrs. Carasom from the bush gets her class through the thick of the woods and they arrive safely back at school. Her class calls her a hero, but Layla responds, “It’s just how I am.” Definitely a perfect book, not about “fitting in,” but about being yourself no matter what anyone else may think.