Book Review Tuesday

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


The Avant-Guards: Down to the Wire by Carly Usdin (graphic novel)
Gr. 6+. Everyone is examining their identity and where they feel like they belong–on the team and in the world–all while the final basketball games of the season approach. And the attendance at and the outcome of that final game will decide whether this basketball league ever gets another chance to play. No pressure?

The last Avant Guards book! (Though I hope there will be more!) A satisfying end to a goofy, fun, and explorative series about teamwork, perseverance, falling in love, and finding yourself.

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The Big Race Lace Case: Mack Rhino, Private Eye by Paul DuBois Jacobs (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3.Mack Rhino and his sidekick Redd Oxpeck run a detective agency in Coral Cove. Their morning quickly goes off the rails as they discover clues that might uncover a new case–someone is running off with everyone’s shoelaces, hours before their community’s Big Race! With prize money on the line, can Mack and Redd identify the thief before they get away with the big award?

A cute mystery series perfect for readers transitioning out of Beginning Reader books. This may appeal to fans of Inspector Flytrap or Investigators, though it isn’t quite as funny (or slapstick) as those books.


The Goblin Princess by Rebecca Elliott (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Bo the unicorn is excited to earn her Imagination patch! Bo needs to figure out how to solve a problem using her imagination. Bo and best friend Sunny stumble onto the Goblin Princess, sad that she isn’t able to fly yet, like her mom, the Goblin Queen. This will be easy! Bo will just use her wish-granting powers to make the Goblin Princess Queen for a Day, giving the princess all of the queen’s amazing powers. But when the Goblin Princess takes her new abilities a little too far, can the unicorns figure out how to save the day?

Another cute addition to the Unicorn Diaries series. I appreciate that the layout is similar to Owl Diaries, with a mixture of speech bubbles, illustrations, and patches of text. This will appeal to much of the same audience–and of course anyone who loves bright colors, glitter, and unicorns!


Maya and the Rising Dark by Rena Barron
Gr. 4-5. Maya is sure she is seeing things. First, the color seems to drain out of her classroom at school. Then there are the scary dreams about a man made of shadows. And soon, her Papa’s stories seem to begin to come to life around her, with magical–and very dangerous–creatures springing up in the streets and at school and threatening her family and friends.

Things grow worse when her Papa goes missing. He travels a lot as it is, but soon Maya learns that those weren’t regular business trips. Instead, her father protects the veil, or the barrier between our world and the Dark. The Dark is filled with an army of monsters, led by the Lord of Shadows, and he is determined to enter the human world and destroy everything in its path. Now that Papa is gone, the veil is failing, and Maya and her friends are going to need to do everything they can to save him and their home.

I wanted to like this book so much. Maya’s adventures are based on West African mythology, and she has quite the villain to fight. But something in the writing made this fall short for me. There was a lot of exposition. There has to be in order to build a new universe, but this felt like an extraordinary amount, especially for the first half of the novel. I just wanted the adventure to start, and instead, we spent a lot of time talking. The Comic Con connection also confused me–I knew the book took place in Chicago, but “Comic Con” is so associated with San Diego, and I’m actually a little familiar with the Chicago cons, and the larger ones are more generally known as C2E2 or Wizard World (not Comic Con). Even though there was a lot of exposition, I still felt like I didn’t know enough about the world–I’m not quite sure I could tell you what a darkbringer looked like or exactly how Maya and her friends kept defeating them. The villain dialogue also felt a little cheesy–I remember one line that made me cringe a bit that was essentially “what are you doing? get them you fools!”. It is hard to not compare this to other recent mythology tales, and, unfortunately for Maya and the Rising Dark, Tristan Strong and Paola Santiago are just stronger reads.

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The Missing Dragon by Ryan Estrada (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Joseph Bazan wins an essay contest, making him a “student ambassador.” He is just supposed to get a picture with the President of the United States, but Joseph’s keen abilities to listen and settle disputes give the President an idea–maybe the student ambassador could become a real ambassador, and help with a sticky situation involving a newly crowned king of a country across the world who also happens to be Joseph’s age.

Joseph isn’t so sure what he has gotten into, but the castle is cool even if the boy king seems like a bit of a brat. But nothing is as it seems, and soon the two boys are running for their lives, trying to figure out why everyone seems to be trying to capture a missing dragon (and not caring if the kids get caught in the middle). The two find themselves adventuring across South Korea and Japan, translating languages and piecing together a mystery along the way.

Lots of action and adventure, mixed in with a story about friendship and being a kid. The humor will appeal to many young readers, and this could work as a great readalike for a kid who has read all of the age-appropriate superhero comics.


Pepper & Boo: A Cat Surprise by Charise Mericle Harper (graphic novel)
Gr. 1-3. Dogs Pepper and Boo aren’t so sure about their housemate, Cat. Cat is happy to explain their preferences–such as how to find the best spot for nappingand the proper steps to taking a cat bath. When Cat decides to nap on Boo’s bed, Boo is afraid he may never get his bed back again.

A funny graphic novel, perfect for beginning readers. The text is large and fairly repetitive, with simple vocabulary and pictures that align with the words. A cute story that may appeal to Elephant & Piggie fans who want to start exploring graphic novels.

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The Secret of Bosco Bay by Zac Gorman (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-6. Allie is not looking forward to spending the summer with her cousin Jen. Allie and Jen haven’t hung out since they were really young, and things are even more tense now because Jen’s brother disappeared a few months ago. Everyone thinks he ran away, but Jen is convinced that something much more sinister happened at the last place he was seen–the fun house at the Bosco Bay amusement park.

That building, and the whole park, are about to be demolished, and Jen drags Allie along to explore the building and find proof of foul play. They discover more than they could have imagined, including the mysterious ride designer, Mr. Peterson, who has many secrets of his own.

I’m not familiar with the video game this is based on, and I don’t think I missed anything without that knowledge. This stands on its own as a well-written horror graphic novel with a lot of action and more than a touch of sadness. Allie and Jen are decently fleshed-out characters, each with their own motivations and struggles. The action was easy to follow, and I can see this pairing well with Black Sand Beach or any of the R.L. Stine graphic novels,


Survivors of the Holocaust: True Stories of Six Extraordinary Children by Kath Shackleton (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-7. Read the true stories of six Jewish children from Europe who survived the Holocaust, adapted into graphic novel format. These stories are each a little different. One child ends up in a concentration camp, but others have different journeys. Another child was a toddler in Paris when it was occupied and was sent to a farm in the middle of nowhere with no explanation. She didn’t know the war ended until two years afterward. Another family managed to escape Nazi-controlled countries just to be put in internment camps in the United Kingdom. Stories of escape, sometimes with families in tact, but more often alone, frame the rest of the book.

A fascinating, quick read examining these atrocities through the eyes of children. Zane Whittingham’s illustrations make each story stand out, and the format makes this book approachable to upper elementary school readers and appealing to middle school readers. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about this book.

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Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker
Gr. 4-6. Zenobia July used to live with her father in Arizona, where everyone told her she was a boy. But after her dad died, Zen moved in with her aunts, living as the girl she is. There are a lot of adjustments in Zen’s new life–her aunts are a lot different than her dad, and they aren’t used to having a kid. Zen has never been able to live as herself before, and dressing like a girl is an adjustment. Gradually, Zen navigates her new school, makes friends, and continues to excel behind a computer screen, with her amazing hacking skills.

But someone is posting horrible memes to her new school’s website–memes targeting Muslim and transgender kids. Zenobia knows she has the skills to figure out who is behind the hacks, but she may need the help of some of her new friends to figure out the exact culprit.

This book was wonderful! I love that this is an own voices trasngender story that has a solid plot beyond the main character’s identity. Zen’s identity is a major part of the story–as it would be a major part of a transgender kid’s life–but the computer mystery weaves throughout the book, holding various plot points together. It is also wonderful to see a school with so many kids thinking about gender–Zen is not the only trans kid at her school. Her best friend, Arli, is genderqueer. Zen’s guardians are gay. So many times, books seem to isolate these characters, but that is definitely not the case here. Excellent read.

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