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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American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar
Gr. 4-6. Lekha is one of few diverse kids in her small Detroit suburb, and one of even fewer Indian kids. And she was born with a birthmark right in the middle of her forehead–a birthmark that makes it look like she is wearing a permanent bindi, leading to regular bullying from her classmates. Lekha’s parents want her to embrace her Desi culture at home, but at school Lekha is determined to do everything she can to blend in.

Lekha has always had her best friend and neighbor Noah by her side, but things change when Avantika moves in across the street. Her new neighbor is also from India, but she just moved here. Avantika doesn’t put up with bullying like Lekha though–Avantika stands up to their classmates. Lekha can’t believe Avantika’s courage, but Lekha isn’t so sure about acting more like Avantika. After all, Lekha just made it onto the competitive swim team, and she just wants her teammates to like her. If that means ignoring their racist remarks and doing small things her parents wouldn’t want her to, that is okay, right? At least she’ll finally fit in.

But school isn’t the only place where Lekha is faced with questions about her culture. A state election for a new senator is taking over the news. The politician is running a campaign on the idea of “us” vs. “them” — and the “them” are people that look a lot like Lekha and Avantika. Soon neighbors grow increasingly hostile with a lot of people repeating the campaign slogan: “Don’t Like It? Leave.” Lekha just wants to keep things as they are, but her friend Noah is determined that someone needs to speak up.

This book was wonderful! I’ve read a lot of modern-day, realistic fiction school stories dealing with racism and microaggressions this year, and American as Paneer Pie definitely stands out. Lekha’s character is refreshingly honest. Her emotions around her identity and peer pressure are very real and reflective of her age and experiences. She isn’t perfect, but she tries to be a good person as she discovers her voice. It also presents national politics through a local lens particular to the story, showing how these issues play out in a neighborhood and suburban community. I really hope to see more of Lekha in the future.


Bips and Roses (Zoey & Sassafras) by Asia Citro (first chapter book)
Gr. 2-3. Zoey and Sassafras are back! After a series of magical grasshoppers decimates all of the rose bushes, the forest creatures are panicking. The hippogriff babies are expected to hatch any day now, and the magical roses help their wings grow. Talking frog Pip recruits Zoey and her cat Sassafras to help. The only way to restore the eaten rosebushes is to help tiny bugs–bips–reproduce. Quickly. Can Zoey and Sassafras use the scientific method to save the day?

Another wonderful addition to the Zoey & Sassafras series. I particularly liked the detailed experiment charts and write-ups in this book–they felt a little more nuanced than previous novels. Looking forward to more!


Farah Rocks Summer Break by Susan Muaddi Darraj
Gr. 3-5. Farah Hajjar (aka Farah Rocks) just graduated fifth grade. She will be starting at the exclusive Magnet Academy Middle School in the fall, but, first, she learns about Camp Crystals, an exciting summer camp just for Magnet Academy students. All of her friends seem to be going, and Farah wants to go as well–until she learns that the camp costs $1000. Even with the $400 scholarship from the PTA, Farah’s family can’t afford to send her to the camp.

Farah is disappointed, but then she gets an idea: she can earn the money herself! Farah starts out selling items at a garage sale and working odd jobs, but soon she discovers a better plan, starting her own tutoring business. But even as Farah gets more and more appointments, things start to go wrong: someone is tearing down her flyers, a rival tutoring business starts to take away potential clients, and the family car is barely chugging along. Can Farah earn enough money to attend Camp Crystals with all her friends?

I enjoyed the first Farah Rocks book, but I think I might like this one a little more. Farah does everything right, doing her best to earn enough money to send herself to camp, but I think Farah’s words towards the end really hit home for me: “To tell you the truth, I think if a camp is going to charge a thousand dollars for a week, then they don’t really want kids like me there anyway.” Farah continues, talking about how she has the skills, grades, and passion for this camp–but “This is not a camp for kids who deserve it. This is a camp for kids who have money.” As that kid who couldn’t attend a lot of opportunities like Camp Crystals for that very reason, these words really hit home.

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Frankenstein Doesn’t Wear Earmuffs by John Leron (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. A young child is ready for Trick or Treat with the PERFECT Frankenstein Halloween costume. He is ready to stomp out the door and haunt the night when his caregivers keep stopping him. Hold it! Put on these galoshes. It’s wet! And add a scarf. Some mittens! A parka. Before he knows it, his Frankenstein costume can hardly be seen beneath all of the extra layers. Frankenstein can’t take it anymore! Off with all of the extras. But when he ventures outside he discovers that it might be a little colder and a little wetter and a little darker than he first thought…

Such a cute Halloween story that is quite appropriate here in the midwest, where it could very easily be snowing, raining, storming, and freezing on trick or treat night, leading to many costumes getting covered in warmer accessories. Adorable endpapers preview what happens before and after the story, including the hard work our young character put into his costume.

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I Will Dance by Nancy Bo Flood (picture book)
Gr. PreS-2. Eva longs to dance. But Eva is in a wheelchair because she has cerebral palsy. While she stares longingly at other kids and professional dancers on the stage, she can’t imagine she will ever be able to join them. But one day, she finally can, when she learns about the Young Dance Company, a dance studio for young people of all abilities (and a real organization).

A beautiful story adding some much needed cerebral palsy representation to children’s literature (plus the visual representation of many kids of different abilities).

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Nico Bravo and the Hound of Hades by Mike Cavalaro (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-5. Nico Bravo, sphinx Lula, and unicorn Buck have the answers to your magical problems at Vulcan’s Celestial Supply Shop. They are used to serving gods, heroes, and magical creatures every day–but Nico’s world changes when a wannabe hero comes striding in the door. Eowulf, descendant of Beowulf, is determined to slay her own monsters. She buys the most powerful sword they have and leaves on a mission to slay Cerebrus, the three-headed hound of Hades. But Cerebrus is the only thing stopping hordes of evil dead creatures from leaving the Underworld. Eowulf can’t be persuaded to not go through with her plan, so Nico sets off after her, determined to stop the impending apocalypse.

This was fun! Lots of humor and mystery, tossed in with many mythology references. A fun series for fans of Percy Jackson (or any Rick Riordan titles–all of your mythical worlds are a bit jumbled here). Looking forward to the sequel.


Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo
Gr. 1-3. Hedgehog lives with his best friend, Mutty, on a tiny island. Everything is swell, until a storm comes and blows poor Mutty away. Hedgehog is distraught, but determined to do what she can to find her friend. After adventuring across the river, Hedgehog meets some new friends on her quest: tunnel-loving Mole trying to keep leaks out of her home, sharp-eyed and word-loving owl, grumpy beaver determined to build the best house the river has seen, treasure-hunting hen guarding her runaway chicks, and, eventually, a girl who just moved into the old house: Annika Mae.

So many Winnie the Pooh and Peter Rabbit vibes here. It’s a gentle, lyrical story of friendship and courage that creates a magical wood filled with new friends ready for small, but grand, adventures. Will be recommending.

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Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
Gr. 4-6. Jingwen’s family moves to Australia, but his new home feels a lot more like Mars. Jingwen doesn’t speak English, meaning he doesn’t understand anything at school or on the bus or much of what his neighbor says either. Even more frustratingly, his brother Yanghao and his mom seem to be picking up the new language much faster than Jingwen.

Jingwen has more to think about than how no one understands him. He also misses his dad. While his dad died a few years before they moved, it was his dad’s dream to open a bakery in Australia. Pie in the Sky Bakery would serve delicious cakes–cakes that Jingwen and his dad used to make together. Jingwen is convinced that if he and Yanghao make the same cakes together, then everything will be okay again…but they will have to keep their cake making a secret from their mom.

This was so much fun! Lots of sibling humor with a story that felt refreshingly emotionally appropriate. So many of the immigration stories I’ve read lately focus on a main character that feels very mature for their age. While those books are great and represent a certain type of kid, Jingwen felt a little more like many of the 11-year-olds that I meet at library programs (lots of humor, emotions, and so much use of the word “booger” or similar terms). Listening to this book was another great experience–really listening to how Jingwen hears English–with all of the bits he doesn’t understand garbled–puts you in his shoes in a way the print book can’t. You really feel his frustration, and you hear his struggle. Will be recommending, and I’m looking forward to picking up Fly on the Wall.


The Rewindable Clock (Locker 37) by Aaron Starmer
Gr. 3-4. Keisha prides herself on being the perfect student, but, after a butterfly, triple rainbow, and a nosy younger brother create some mild chaos, Keisha realizes that she forgot to do her science homework the night before. There is only one solution–visit the magical Locker 37 at Hopewell Elementary School. Locker 37 only works for fourth graders, and it only produces one magical item a day–but that item is guaranteed to solve your problems (though, maybe not in the way you imagined).

When Keisha visits the locker, it gives her a clock. Not just any clock–a clock that lets Keisha travel back in time over and over again on the day she received it. This gives Keisha just enough time to finish her homework, but little things keep getting in the way: Carson’s stained shirt, Bryce’s gummy bear questions, and Riley’s need for fish sticks. Nothing goes according to plan…

Humorous anecdotes from the all knowing narrator combine with regular school shenanigans and quite a bit of magic. Fun and silly, this series will be well loved at elementary school book talks. Give to fans of Wayside School and Babymouse.


Turning Point by Paula Chase
Gr. 5-7. Monique is thrilled to be accepted to an exclusive summer ballet intensive. But when she gets there, she discovers that she is one of only two black girls. Many of the other girls have been dancing at programs like this one for years, and Mo isn’t feeling as prepared as she did before she left home. Life at the camp is an adjustment–from the things the other girls talk about and the food in the cafeteria to passing remarks that feel…racist.

Rasheeda is stuck at home all summer while her best friend, Mo, is away at her ballet program. Sheeda is lonely. She wasn’t good enough to get into the ballet intensive program, and she isn’t thrilled about being stuck at home all summer with her church-going aunt watching her every move. When Sheeda starts texting with Mo’s older brother, Lennie, she knows she will have to keep it a secret to preserve her limited summer freedom and her friendship with Mo. But secrets are never good–and can lead to bad situations.

So good! I loved getting to know Mo and Sheeda, who we only got to see in the background in So Done. (I have to read Dough Boys still, so I’m not sure how much they are in that book.) Author Paula Chase does a phenomenal job making her characters feel raw and real. Mo and Sheeda aren’t perfect, and their emotions and choices seem brutally honest because of that. Touches on racism (in and out of ballet), sexual harassment, consent, relationships, friendship, and more.

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