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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Cubs in the Tub by Candace Fleming (nonficiton)
Gr. K-2. Explore the life of Helen Martini. She longed to be a mother, and her dreams came true in a way she didn’t expect–when her husband, a keeper at the Bronx Zoo, returned home with a tiny lion cub who had been abandoned by its mother. Helen immediately bonded with the cub, raised it, and sadly watched it return to the zoo–but soon more animals came home needing her care. She became tired of losing animals to the zoo, so she insisted her husband take her to work, and she secretly installed an animal nursery at the zoo–eventually leading to her being offered a job.

I appreciate the back matter that explains why Helen was allowed to raise baby animals at home at the time, and why that would not happen now (and also the emphasis on Helen helping women break into the male-dominated zoo workplace).

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Every Little Letter by Deborah Underwood (picture book)
Gr. PreS-1. All of the letters live in their own cities, walled off from the cities of all of the other letters. One day, a young “h” gets curious. She finds a hole in one of the city walls, and on the other side, she discovers a small “i”. Together they form something new (hi!). But soon all the grown-ups find out and try to keep them apart until, gradually, the little letters show the grown ups how to reach out to one another.

Wow! This is a winner for sure that I wish I had read earlier this year. This can be treated on a surface level as a conversation about letters and wordplay, but there is also so much more depth about kindness and compassion.

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Every Night Is Pizza Night by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (picture book)
Gr. K-1. Pipo knows one thing for sure: pizza is the BEST FOOD EVER! Pipo can’t imagine eating anything else. But after getting annoyed by her parents’ complaints, she decides she can try other foods. For science. To prove that pizza is, ultimately, the best. But some of these other foods, like bibimbap, tagine, red beans and rice, dumplings, and more, might prove to be better than Pipo could have imagined. Can there be more than one BEST food?

This was delightful! Lots of wonderful foods, so much diversity, and bright, colorful illustrations that try to capture the essence of the delicious treats highlighted on the pages.

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The Fighting Infantryman: The Story of Albert D.J. Cashier, Transgender Civil War Soldier by Rob Sanders (biography)
Gr. 2-4. The fascinating story of transgender Civil War solder Albert D.J. Cashier. Cashier spent most of his life identifying, living, and working as a man, until an illness made local doctors (and eventually the national news) aware that Cashier had been been born a woman.

This was an entirely new story for me, and a part of history I am excited to learn more about. It doesn’t shy away from the difficulties faced by a transgender individual during Civil War times, and it would be a great story to share with elementary school students.

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Nita’s Day by Kathy MacMillan (board book)
Gr. Baby-Toddler. Follow along with Nina’s daily activities, learning sign language along the way using pull tabs.

This book is so inventive! I will admit that I was a bit confused at first–it took me a few seconds to realize that the sides of the pages pulled apart to show a hidden tab with an ASL sign (and then another few seconds to realize that there was a sign on both sides of each pullout!). Great colorful illustrations, a great way to include sign language (or not–it is easy enough to not use the tabs), and a blended family too. Will be recommending!


A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan
Gr. 4-5. Sara isn’t used to her public middle school. She is one of the only Pakistani American kids at the school, and it is nothing like the private, religious elementary school she used to attend. Sara doesn’t really have friends here, her teachers can’t be bothered to pronounce her name right, and now her mom will be at school all the time now, leading a new South Asian cooking club. Sara just wants her parents to support her art, her mom to pass (or just show interest in!) her U.S. citizenship test, and she wouldn’t mind a new friend of two.

Elizabeth has convinced her best friend, Maddie, to attend the new South Asian cooking club with her. Elizabeth is so excited to learn to cook, especially since her mom is struggling with depression after Elizabeth’s grandmother died. Elizabeth really needs her mom to care about, well, anything, but especially about Elizabeth’s commitments at synagogue, her mom’s U.S. citizenship test, and cooking a homemade meal once in a while. It would also be great if her dad was ever around to help.

Sara and Elizabeth aren’t friends, exactly, but when Elizabeth needs a new cooking partner, Sara steps in to make sure her mom’s class is a success. They gradually realize they have more in common then they might have first thought, starting with their need to convince their moms to take the U.S. citizenship test seriously. Soon, they are planning their dish for the end of year cross-cultural cooking competition–and maybe even becoming real friends.

This was so much fun! Having two authors really helped with the voicing and authenticity. The diversity and cultural touches are excellent, and the books also carries strong themes of friendship (and food!) that will resonate with all young readers. I especially appreciate that Maddie had a small bit of character development (even if it did feel a little sudden). Also, how is Saadia Faruqi writing all of these awesome books? I just finished A Thousand Questions (which is new!), and it feels like there are a handful of new Yasmin titles each year.


A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi
Gr. 4-5. Mimi is not excited about her summer vacation with her mom in Karachi, Pakistan. Other than stilted phone calls around the holidays, Mimi has never met her grandparents or any of her mom’s extended family. She would much rather be visiting her dad, who left when she was really young. She plans to write to him in her journal, writing down all of the questions she never got to ask him in person.

Sakina works in the household of Mimi’s grandparents, and she isn’t that excited about the new guests coming to visit. Mimi seems all too American–with her t-shirts with silly sayings, her poor manners, and her inability to understand basic Pakistani culture, from prayer times to why Sakina, a girl Mimi’s age, is working in a kitchen all day instead of going to school. Sakina would love to go to school, but most kids her age from her background don’t, and, before she would even be considered, she would need to improve her English test score. Even if she gets accepted, she can’t imagine that her family can afford to lose her income.

The girls strike a deal–Mimi will help Sakina with her English, as long as Sakina hangs out with Mimi, giving Mimi someone to talk to. They quickly become close friends, discovering that they have more in common than either initially thought, and, maybe, they also have ways to help one another achieve their dreams.

This was so much fun! I loved the friendship between Mimi and Sakina. I learned a lot about Pakistan right alongside Mimi, falling in love with Karachi along with her. (I had a reaction embarrassingly similar to Mimi’s at the mention of the local KFC.) Sakina is such a strong, resilient character filled with more snark than Mimi (not that you would expect it at first, particularly with Sakina’s harsh judgement of Mimi’s t-shirts and how Mimi sticks out her tongue out at grown-ups). I’m not entirely thrilled with how the situation with Mimi’s parents played out–there was a lot of blame placed on Mimi’s mom that wasn’t resolved, and Mimi essentially let her dad off for having abandoned them (with what feels like a mistaken hope that their relationship will continue). I hope some of that might get wrapped up in a sequel…perhaps where Sakina visits Mimi in Houston.

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When Charley Met Emma by Amy Webb (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Charley sometimes feels different from his classmates because he would rather be quiet instead of loud and ready to play. His mother reminds him that being different is okay, but when he gets to the park, and notices Emma–in a wheelchair and missing her hands–Charley forgets to be kind and loudly asks his mom why Emma looks weird. His mom explains that Emma is just a little different too–and that is okay. Charley and Emma talk about what makes them both special, but how they are also the same, eventually becoming friends.

A sweet story about kindness and recognizing and accepting differences. It is good to see picture book representation of a child with limb differences (as well as some background illustrations of a girl helping her blind caregiver and a child with a walker).

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