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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Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth (picture book)
Gr. K-2. Anjali is so excited for her new bicycle. She immediately rides it to the carnival with her friends, and they are all excited to buy matching license plates with their names on them. But none of the premade plates have Anjali’s name. An older boy starts making fun of her name, and other kids join in. Anjali runs home determined that she wants to change her name for good, until her parents teach her that her name was chosen especially for her.

While I don’t have the cultural attachment to my name, this book hit home because I was also one of those kids who never had a nameplate or keychain or gift store item that had my name on it. A lovely story that will speak to kids from many backgrounds.

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Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford (biography)
Gr. 3-5. Henry Brown faced countless atrocities as a slave. After watching as his family was sold far away, Brown felt that nothing else was left for him. He looked for a way to escape, but instead of running from place to place on the Underground Railroad, he packed himself in a box and shipped himself to freedom.

Carole Boston Weatherford’s beautiful poetry frames this story. Each poem is just six lines–each line representing a side of a box. Brown’s words and writings are scattered throughout, allowing his voice to shine through. The story continues after Brown’s box is delivered to a free Northern state, following his journey abroad to escape the Fugitive Slave Act. Wood’s mixed media illustrations make the reader want to keep turning the pages.

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Dave the Unicorn: Team Spirit by Pip Bird
Gr. 2-4. Mira has finally gotten used to Dave, her rather unusual unicorn best friend forever. Now it is time to return to Unicorn School for Field Day! Mira isn’t convinced that Dave is the most athletic unicorn, but she is determined to help her team achieve victory so they can go on the Magical Rainbow Quest.

But from the very beginning of the day, everything goes wrong. None of her teammate’s alarm clocks go off. Their rainbow track suits go missing. Banana peels randomly appear on the field, and their equipment is swapped out for candy substitutes. The school staff seem to think Mira is just making excuses, but she is convinced that someone is sabotaging them.

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.

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Dear Justyce by Nic Stone (teen)
Gr. 7+. Quan is in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. He isn’t too surprised he ended up there. After all, while he and his childhood friend, Justyce, weren’t that different, Justyce was always on a path to success at an Ivy League school while Quan was just doing whatever was needed to keep it together and take care of his mom and his siblings. Quan–feeling more than a little ridiculous–starts writing letters to Justyce, inspired by Justyce’s letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Just like Dear Martin, this is an outstanding book. It depicts the corrupt justice system, particularly in its treatment of black kids and teens. The story unravels through flashbacks and Quan’s letters to Justyce, as well as new scenes from Justyce’s point of view. Nic Stone’s reasoning for writing this story–after hearing from black teens about how Justyce’s story isn’t their story–makes this even more poignant.

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Finish the Fight! by Veronica Chambers (nonfiction)
Gr. 5-8. What names do you associate with women fighting for the right to vote? Susan B. Anthony? Elizabeth Cady Stanton? There were thousands of other women who often aren’t highlighted, but who fought, spoke up, marched, and led protests that led to women earning the right to vote.

Finish the Fight highlights the Haudenosaunee women who lived on the land of the Seneca Falls convention long before the town of Seneca was built–women who led a matrilineal society, who owned their own property, who led their clan. Finish the Fight shares the stories of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Elizabeth Piper Ensley, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, Jovita Idar, and more women who were instrumental in helping women gain the right to vote in territories, states, and across the United States. Finish the Fight also talks about the women whose fight for the vote continued long after the 19th amendment was passed–women like Susette La Flesche Tibbles and Litikala-Sa, who continued to fight for Native American voting rights and more.

An excellent compilation, highlighting women who aren’t often mentioned in history textbooks. Filled with more names to research on your own and detailed backmatter, this book would be a wonderful classroom companion. It also feels particularly hopeful that the very last entry in the backmatter–a comparison of 1920 vs. 2020 of Women by the Numbers–is no longer accurate, just a few months after publication. While there were, and still are, zero women U.S. Presidents, that Vice President tally can finally be changed to 1.

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The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol by Arthur A. Levine (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. Meet Nate Gadol, a magical Hanukkah hero who brings luck and generosity to those in need. Nate can’t make something from nothing, but he can help things stretch. Have just one piece of chocolate for a whole family? Nate can make that piece stretch for everyone. Need a little oil to last eight days and nights? Nate is there to help.

Nate takes a particular interest in the Glaser family, new immigrants to the United States determined to help their neighbors, even if that means that their Hanukkah might be a bit meager. Nate manages to help a struggling Santa, stretching Christmas joy to keep a sled flying high, in exchange for some presents that might make Hanukkah seem a bit more magical for everyone.

A beautiful new folk tale that will be a wonderful addition to Hanukkah collections for years to come.

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The Magnificent Makers: Riding Sound Waves by Theanne Griffith (first chapter book)
Gr. 2-3. Best friends and classmates Violet and Pablo are on a field trip to the City Science Museum! They can’t wait to explore the new exhibit all about the senses. When they get to the museum, they are excited to be partnered with Henry, a quiet boy in their class who is a little different than other kids. Henry has a sensory processing disorder. He struggles with loud noises and sometimes has a hard time paying attention in class.

Just like at school, Violet and Pablo discover a riddle that leads them to the Maker Maze. This time, Henry joins them, and the three work against the clock to complete three challenges in 120 maker minutes–learning even more about their senses and making sure they can beat the clock so that they can return to the maze for more science fun in the future.

Another Maker Maze book! This series does an excellent job combining science and friendship. The addition of a main character with a sensory processing disorder is a welcome addition. The eardrum challenge is particularly fun, especially since readers could replicate it at home. Looking forward to more!

My Furry Foster Family by Debbi Michiko Florence (first chapter book)
Gr. 2-3. Another wonderful addition in the My Furry Foster Family series. I love the simplicity, appeal, and diversity of this series. All of our young readers want more animal books, and this is a great introduction to a variety of pets (and fostering animals!). The everyday diversity in Kaita and her family plus small details, like taking your shoes off in the house, make this even more of a winner for me. Will be recommending to many young readers, though the books are already flying off the shelves.

Kingston the Great Dane: The Takano house has a new (GIANT) foster pet: Great Dane Kingston! Kingston looks a bit more like a cow than a dog, and he definitely doesn’t realize how big he is. He loves to copy everything the family dachshund does–like crawl under kitchen chairs, jump onto Kaita’s bed, and sit on Dad’s lap. Will the Takano family be able to find the perfect home for such a large dog?

Murray the Ferret: The Takano house has a new foster pet: an adorable, cuddly ferret! Kaita has done a ton of research, so she knows that ferrets can be fast and sneaky, but Murray is just adorable, floppy, and very friendly. But when things around their house start to go missing, Kaita realizes all the missing items can’t be due to bad luck…

Roo the Rabbit: The Takano house has a new foster pet: their first rabbit! Roo is absolutely adorable with his fluffy, floppy ears and always curious personality. Kaita can’t wait to cuddle with her new bunny–but Roo is super shy, and he doesn’t like to be pet. Will Kaita be able to teach him how to trust people, so they can find him his own forever home?

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The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents by Kate Messner (nonfiction)
Gr. 3-5. We know the name of the current President of the United States. We might, if the timing is right, know the name of the next President. But we don’t often think too far past that point. Did you know that when George Washington became the first president, there were nine future presidents living their lives? Some of them may have already been thinking about becoming president themselves, but three of those future presidents were still kids. Of course, this trend continues through to today. When John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president, the next ten (eleven, as we now know) presidents were alive too. Some were in politics, another running a peanut farm, another was hosting television, a few were in their teens, and another was just born.

This book takes a fascinating approach to U.S. presidential history, always thinking towards the future. While we make general comments to kids that they could be anything they want when they grow up–even president!–the reality is that, most likely, at least ten future presidents are alive today, and at least three of them are kids. Those kids might be running for student government–but they might also be coding or dancing or reading this very book.

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Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Gr. 4-6. Hanna has spent much of her life moving from place to place since her mom died. Wherever they go, no one looks like Hanna, and the townspeople eventually push Hanna and her father out of town. Hanna is half-Chinese, half-white. While everyone seems willing to accept her white father into their community, they are always weary of his Asian daughter. Hanna desperately wants to go to school and complete her education, become a dressmaker at her father’s clothing store, and make a friend. These dreams seem impossible as Hanna deals with the racism and prejudice in her new town in Dakota territory. Hanna starts school, but the rest of the townspeople pull their children from the classroom. Hanna’s father is adamant that he doesn’t want Hanna to work in his shop (and he doesn’t really want to sell dresses either). And every time Hanna almost makes a friend, their parents quickly whisk them out of Hanna’s life.

Hanna’s perseverance and endless strength make this book a winner. Author Linda Sue Park was inspired by the Little House books, and this is a great book to hand to readers who enjoy historical fiction and to families looking for those Laura Ingalls Wilder titles. It doesn’t hide the racism of the era, while also allowing readers to catch a glimpse of Native American people in a more natural and kind light than other books that take place in that time. I’m glad I read this one before awards season, as I think it will have a lot of stickers on the cover in just a few months.

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Score for Imagination by Jonathan Eig (nonfiction)
Gr. 2-3. Lola loves practicing soccer with her mom every Saturday. But Lola doesn’t just love the time with her mom–she also really wants to get better at soccer. She knows she isn’t very good, and the boys in her third grade class won’t let Lola and the other girls play. How can Lola convince everyone that playing as a team will make them all better?

A fun addition to the Lola Jones book series. Lola learns all about imagination, friendship, and teamwork in a sports-focused book that will appeal to young readers.

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Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong by A.J. Low
Gr. 3-4. Sherlock Sam loves Sherlock Holmes and solving mysteries around Singapore. Sherlock invents a robot to steal his favorite cookies from the top shelf. (The fact that the robot is named Watson was an accidental coincidence.) When Auntie Kim Lian’s family Peranakan recipe book disappears, Sam is determined to retrace her steps and find the family heirloom–after all, no cookbook means no more delicious ayam buah keluak! Soon he is leading his friends all across the city, from the bakery to the local antique shop, the library, a cooking studio, and a new restaurant.

A fun mystery series great for readers looking for something a little bit more advanced than first chapter books. This book was originally published in Singapore, and various Singaporean words and dishes are sprinkled throughout. While the volume of words in another language feels higher than in similar stories, since most of the new words are types of food, the story will still be easy for young non-Singaporean readers to follow. A glossary in the back helps introduce some of these terms to readers.

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This is Your Time by Ruby Bridges (biography)
Gr. 4-7. The words of a grown-up Ruby Bridges, the first black child integrated into an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. In a letter to today’s kids and teens, Bridges reflects on her childhood experiences and compares the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s to the Black Lives Matter protests happening today.

Bridges’ moving words are paired with equally moving black and white photographs, both from her childhood and from people protesting today. The juxtaposition is sometimes eerie, with the reader having to pay close attention to the captions to know the difference in date. An excellent, intimate reminder that the fight for racial equality is not new, and it is not over.

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While We Can’t Hug by Eoin McLaughlin (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Hedgehog and Tortoise are best friends who aren’t allowed to hug. But they still know ways to show their love for one another–from making silly faces and writing letters to dancing, painting, and just being near each other.

This book is particularly useful in COVID times, when hugging another person could make them sick, but I like that this book doesn’t particularly address the pandemic. There are kids with autoimmune diseases who haven’t been able to hug their friends, or sometimes even their family members, for a long time. Other kids (and grown ups) don’t like hugs. There is a lot of emphasis right now on the loss of human touch, but for some people, this isn’t new. I like that this book normalizes that without only focusing on the pandemic.

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