The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

An illustration shows a raggedy spit of land above a blue sea, with a red house with lots of windows at its very edge. Windswept trees and a blue and pink sunset sky frame the house.

by Sarah C.

Have you ever read a book that feels like a warm hug? Not just certain scenes either, like the entire story overall, start to finish, feels…happy. Comforting. Wholesome. And despite containing a large variety of themes, concepts and emotions, highs and lows, and a bit of magic, the book still manages to wrap itself around you like a soft, well-loved quilt?

Me neither…until now! To be fair, my preferences are usually hard-hitting realistic teen fiction with some fantasy and sci-fi thrown into the mix, and I tend to avoid gentler, softer stories. Maybe that is why this particular book was so surprisingly engaging for me. Regardless, let me tell you about this charming modern fairy tale of a novel that I had the absolute pleasure of reading.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (also available in eBook and eAudiobook format from Libby/OverDrive) was recommended by a colleague who is always on point with their choices, so I assumed I’d enjoy it, but was not prepared to fall in love like I did. Utterly and completely head over heels in love. After staying up late on a weeknight to finish this page turner, I then re-read it slowly over the weekend to savor it…then demanded my friends, my book club, my social media groups, my co-workers, and my family read it. Then I bought it, AND I requested it again from the library because at this point there was a decent waiting list but my copy was almost overdue. I proceeded to suffer greatly waiting for the copy I bought to arrive, so I began reading it yet again, together with my 11-year-old in the evening..and so on and so forth.

Perhaps you might like to hear about the actual book at some point, as opposed to my swooning?

Right, well this is the story of a group of misfit children with different special abilities and backgrounds, and the “normal” adults who play certain roles in their lives. Some try to raise and protect them, some try to control and contain them, while others fear and scorn them. Our main character, Linus Baker, is confused by them but curious and good-hearted, and throughout the book learns to see them for who they truly are and love them more for it. A lonely, rule following caseworker for the Department In Charge Of Magical Youth, Linus lives a dull and dreary life, until he is given a mysterious assignment to investigate the “dangerous” children being cared for at the Marsyas Island Orphanage and identify their threat levels. Without much information to go on, Linus embarks upon what becomes a life-changing adventure, filled with unexpected beauty and memorable characters. There might also be a sassy and insufferable pet cat, which is an added bonus.

Themes include found family, celebrating differences, facing bias and prejudice in ourselves and others, accepting help and love, and recognizing true bravery and learning that it’s never too late to start over or discover something new, with many parallels to today’s world. Darkness lurks around corners in Cerulean Sea as well as our own lives, and the author skillfully acknowledges this, lest the story become too unrealistic.  

As I finish this book for the third time, I am left with a renewed sense of hope for the future. I invite you to fall in love as I did with this intergenerational “must read” for 2021.

While you will have to request the title because it’s so popular right now, the wait will be worth the while!

Sarah is the Teens’ Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch, where she can be found geeking out over new graphic novels, spotting rainbows and drinking day-old coffee.

Rainbow Reads for Children, Part Two

The cover shows two pairs, each with a rabbit and a chick. The chick in the most prominent pair is vocalizing the word "Neither" in a speech bubble, referring to the baby animal in the foreground, who is "neither" rabbit nor chick. but a blend of both, with the legs, beak, and wings of a chick and the ears and tail of a rabbit.

 Reviews by Laci R.

Welcome back! It may be July but I’m still thrilled to share some more of my favorite LGBTQ+ picture books with you. Please be sure to check out Part One of my suggestions so you can enjoy the full list.  

Maiden & Princess by Daniel Haack is a modern fairy tale about a strong and brave maiden invited to attend the Prince’s royal ball. She isn’t terribly excited about attending, but with a little nudging from her mother, she decides to go. The maiden makes quite the impression on the guests and even finds love when she meets the Princess. One of my favorite things about this book how it truly celebrates lesbian love, as none of the characters respond with “it’s forbidden” rhetoric. This bedtime favorite offers a lovely alternative to the predictable royal courting fairy tales. Pair with Prince & Knight by the same author.

We Love Someone We Sing to Them / Cuando Amamos Cantamos by Ernesto Martinez offers a heartwarming, bilingual story of a young boy who loves another boy. He shares this with his father and together they write the young boy’s crush a traditional serenata. The lyrical prose and whimsical art made me cry with beautiful depictions of supportive family relationships, cultural traditions, and falling in love for the first time. The lyrics to the songs are words you feel deep in your soul, as they solidify the undeniable power associated with expressing love through music (a personal safe haven of mine). “He says that gardens like mine, even through droughts, have persisted. He says that gardens like mine have always existed.” 

I’m always drawn to stories that celebrate not fitting into a certain mold based on societal views and perceived norms. A few great examples include: 

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall tells about a crayon who was labeled incorrectly at the factory and so is mistaken for the wrong color. This label confuses the crayon in question as he clearly draws every picture in blue. Many other crayons try to help him be red, but no matter how creative a suggestion, it doesn’t work. After a new friend arrives, things start to feel different for Red as he realizes he’s been blue all along and can live a fulfilling life just the way he is. A life where he doesn’t have to force himself to be something he’s not, just because of the packaging he was given. A great look at gender identity.  
 
Neither by Airlie Anderson takes places in the land of This and That, where the only two things that exist are blue bunnies and yellow birds. What happens when a green egg hatches revealing a new friend who isn’t quite a bunny or a bird? After struggling to fit in with each group, Neither decides to journey to find a new home and happens upon the Land of All – a place with many colors and shapes representing creatures of all kinds. This book does a great job at promoting diversity and teaching that differences can unite us. It’s also a wonderful way to introduce the topic of being non-binary.  

Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian features two worms who are in love and excited to get married. As they plan the wedding, all the other bugs and insects in town are ready to help and give their opinions. They offer endless suggestions based on tradition. Who will wear the dress? What about the tux? It’s quickly decided that those details don’t matter. All that matters is that worm loves worm and, in their love, they create a new way of having a wedding that is right for them. Seeing a child cheering for these worms through the light in their eyes, alone, makes it worth reading aloud.  
 
I hope these titles help to introduce or continue the conversation about the LGBTQ+ community and all the reasons they should celebrate and be celebrated this month and always. Books that show LGBTQ+ characters in everyday settings diversify your reading collection while teaching compassion and love. I certainly wish more books like this were around when I was a kid, but I’m thankful to report that some of the mentioned books have helped me, as an adult, solidify layers of my own queerness. I’m learning every day how to embrace who I am and what it means to be me. I see myself in these books, and that is invaluable. There is so much joy to be found in being true to oneself, which is always something worth celebrating.  

Laci is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS. They love a wide variety of music, spending time in the garden, Halloween, cats, and crafting. Their “to read” list is always full of graphic novels and picture books.