Book Review Tuesday

Lots of great books this week! Read the book reviews below, and learn more about my favorite reads:

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Are You Afraid of the Light? by Richard Fairgray (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-5. Dash is bringing his best friend Lily along for his family’s summer vacation to the weird and creepy Black Sand Beach. There isn’t much to show off, however–the sand is black and magnetic, the house is a shack on stilts, and Dash’s relatives are very odd. Everything is strange, particularly the broken light house that occasionally flickers to life, calling to Dash. Soon, Dash and his friends discover ghosts haunting the lighthouse, mind-controlling zombie “cows”, and journals that make it seem like they have all done this before–even though they have no memory of being here for years.

So creepy! This series will appeal to young horror fans looking for something new. The characters are a bit two-dimensional, but the mystery will keep the reader engaged and constantly guessing what will happen next.


Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War by Jessica Dee Humphreys (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-5. In 1993, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, five-year-old Michel stays late after school to play soccer with his friends. Michel sees a group of trucks stop near their field, but he doesn’t think anything of it–until the gunshots. Suddenly, Michel and his friends are forced into vehicles, drugged, and thrust into a terrifying world of violence as they are turned into child soldiers.

Michel’s story is horrifying, but a necessary read because of its truth. I appreciate that this was adapted into a graphic novel to make it more accessible for kids around the world. While Michel’s story ends up all right–or as okay as it can–it shows the stark horror of the lives of many kids who never return home to their families. Back matter provides more information about Michel, child soldiers around the world, and ways to help.


Dave the Unicorn: Welcome to Unicorn School by Pip Bird
Gr. 2-4. Mira is SO EXCITED to start Unicorn School. Just like her mom and older sister, Mira will meet her unicorn best friend, go on magical quests, ride on her unicorn, and have a wonderful, magic-filled summer. All of her new classmates get paired with majestic, prancing unicorns with shimmering coats. Except Mira. Mira gets assigned to Dave.

Dave is the opposite of a majestic unicorn. He is physically small, so when Mira sits on him, her knees are by her chin. He absolutely loves donuts. He also loves to nap…a lot. All the time actually. Including in their classes. Even his poop isn’t dainty and glitter-filled like other unicorns–it looks like a pile of dog poop. And Dave poops (and farts) a lot. Dave keeps getting Mira in trouble, and soon they are both banned from the upcoming magical quest. Can Mira figure out why she and Dave are destined to be best friends? Or should she keep dreaming about a new unicorn?

Dave the Unicorn is a funny, lighthearted series that will appeal to kids who like the humor of Diary of a Wimpy Kid but might not be ready for middle school drama (or kids who are looking for a more text-heavy Dog Man readalike). When you think about the magical unicorn universe too much you are left with a lot of questions and some plot holes, but this series will be well loved by its intended audience.


The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith (graphic novel)
Gr. 6+. A political coup that leaves their beloved grandfather murdered causes twins Hawke and Grayson to run for their lives. They hide among the new trainees in the Communion of Blue, taking on new identities as Hanna and Grayce. While they try to piece together what atrocities led to their home burning to the ground, the twins also learn more about themselves. Hawke longs to return to his old life, but Grayce realizes she wants to stay in this world that lets her be herself.

I love, love that this is a fantasy graphic novel with a transgender lead. While Grayce’s understanding of her gender is part of the plot, it isn’t the only or even central storyline–there is political unrest and a mystery to unravel. I do wish there was a bit more worldbuilding here. I wasn’t confused, but I didn’t really understand anyone’s motivations or the real power of the Communion of Blue. (Are they the only ones who can do magic? Why are some of them attached to the homes of nobles? Is their magic all encompassing?) I’m hoping for more stories that further explore this world.

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Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton (picture book)
Gr. PreS-1. Little Crab and Very Big Crab live in a tiny tide pool, but today they are going to explore the big ocean. Little Crab is excited until Little Crab sees the big waves. Suddenly the ocean seems very big, and little crab is very small. Little Crab is nervous about going any farther, but Very Big Crab convinces Little Crab the giant waves will be worth it.

This was really cute! A great story about conquering our fears and trying something new. A good choice for the beginning of the school year. The illustrations do a particularly amazing job highlighting the ocean with lots of layering and unique shapes. A fun storytime choice!

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Flamer by Mike Curato (graphic novel)
Gr. 7+. Aiden is just trying to survive another summer camp with his Boy Scout Troup. It’s the summer between middle school and high school, which is a particularly big jump for Aiden, because he decided to leave his Catholic middle school to attend public high school (his first time attending a public school). Aiden got picked on a lot at his old school and by his fellow Boy Scouts here at summer camp. They call him gay–among other terms–because his voice and behaviors often seem feminine. But Aiden is confident he isn’t gay because gay boys like other boys. Plus, gay boys get made fun of. Gay boys can’t serve mass in Catholic church. Aiden can’t be gay because being gay is unsafe.

This is a rough read, but it is a must read. While the book is based on author Mike Curato’s real experiences, including his childhood experiences at Boy Scout camp in the 1990s, these experiences still continue today, especially in rural areas (but really everywhere). The book directly shows how other people’s words and actions hurt Aiden, and the mental consequences that unfold as Aiden doesn’t see any way to move forward. A must read.


The Little Mermaid by Jerry Pinkney (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. Melody is the youngest and smallest mermaid princess. She loves sneaking away from her princess duties to explore the ocean floor and catch glimpses of the world above. When she finally breaks the surface one day, she discovers a girl standing on the beach waving at her. Melody longs to become friends, but she returns home saddened that she can never walk on the beach. After a tempting offer from the sea witch, Melody agrees to give up her voice for a chance at legs and making a new friend. But after spending some time with her friend (and drawing out her story in the sand since she can’t talk), Melody realizes that the sea witch has used Melody’s voice to rise to power, and it’s up to Melody to save the day.

This is such a wonderful, amazing adaptation of The Little Mermaid story. In addition to Pinkney’s gorgeous illustrations, the story takes on its own life while essentially eliminating the plot holes of the original tale and also giving Melody a sense of identity and purpose not attached to a love story. Melody wants to explore, and her curiosity leads to her deal, not a desire for love with a stranger she has never met. A beautiful, diverse adaptation that, for me, stands above the original.


Monster and Boy by Hannah Barnaby
Gr. 2-3. The monster under the bed loves the boy who lives in the world above. The monster listens when the boy plays, when his mom reads him bedtime stories, and when the boy softly snores while he sleeps. After the boy’s mother tells the boy that monsters aren’t real, the monster is determined to do something about it-so he reveals himself to the boy. The boy is understandably shocked and possibly about to scream…so the monster eats him.

The monster isn’t so sure about this outcome, as he really just wanted to be friends, but he isn’t sure how to get the boy back out now that the boy is in his monster tummy. The monster decides to sleep on it, rather liking the idea that the boy is with him always, but when the monster wakes up, he discovers the boy is no longer inside him. The monster starts to cry, and suddenly he coughs up the boy, who is now very, very small. Can they return him to his original size?

This is a charming, humor-filled story that took many unexpected turns. Told from the perspective of the monster under the bed, the book adds an extra level of humor by letting the narrator add their own commentary throughout (such as explaining why the monster and boy are never given names). Lots of fun, including little-sister antics and the budding friendship between the monster and the boy. This would be a great story to recommend a caregiver and child read together before bedtime.

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The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert
Gr. 4-6. Alberta is used to being the only black girl in her grade in her small ocean town in California. Alberta loves her life–surfing most days, enjoying delicious breakfasts with her two dads, and eating ice cream with her best friend Laramie. But when the bed and breakfast across the street is bought by a black family with a daughter her age, Alberta is thrilled.

Alberta is sure that she will be best friends with Edie, but Edie misses Brooklyn and isn’t so sure about small town life. While their friendship isn’t as immediate as Alberta dreamed, they still bond, especially after discovering a box of journals in Edie’s attic. Who do they belong to? Why were they left behind?

The Only Black Girls in Town was a ton of fun with the perfect mix of small town life, friendship drama, questions about growing up, and mystery. While a lot happens to Alberta over the book, nothing ever felt rushed and each plot element wove together with the next (much like how life works). Will be book talking and recommending.


Our Favorite Day of the Year by A.E. Ali (picture book)
Gr. PreS-1. Musa’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. Gupta, proposes a yearlong show and tell, where each child shares with their classmates about their favorite day of the year. This way, the whole class will celebrate these important holidays all together. Four children present their favorite holidays throughout the rest of the book, emphasizing Eid Mubarak, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas (with some Latinx cultural elements), and Pi Day. Other holidays are shown in the back of the book.

I love this approach to celebrating holidays and important celebrations. Each student, and each student’s family, is different, and this activity celebrates those differences. Beautiful illustrations (and endpapers in particular) help each holiday jump off the page. Pi Day is a unique inclusion, but it is wonderful to see a non-religious holiday celebrated with the same level of excitement.

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