Book Reviews

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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Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros
Gr. 4-5. Efrén’s parents work hard to make a good life for their kids. Efrén is worried about them though–both of his parents are undocumented immigrants. One day, when his mom doesn’t come home from work, his worst nightmare proves to be true: his Amá was captured by ICE and deported to Mexico. It is up to Efrén and his dad to get her back, with Efrén now taking on a lot more responsibility taking care of his younger siblings, who just miss their mom.

I just want to give Efrén (and his whole family) big hugs. This book explores immigration laws, while also speaking about current events and the past and current political climate. Pairs well with Three Keys by Kelly Yang.

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Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh (teen)
Gr. 10+. Ada shares her story by moving back and forth in time: from her childhood to her current revelations during her first year at college. Ada captures memories from her childhood: being abused by her cousin, her mother’s addiction, her attempts to understand her body and where she fits in among her peers. In college, Ada is working to figure out who she is and where she belongs with a little more freedom–particularly when she is finally able to embrace dancing.

This felt quick, possibly due to being written in verse, but was packed with emotion and passion. I had to concentrate a bit more than usual to follow the time jumps, but that just made me more immersed in the work. Looking forward to reading more by this author.

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A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee
Gr. 4-6. Shayla just wants to make it through seventh grade with her best friends and maybe a new boyfriend. But everything is different. Julia is hanging out with a new group of girls (her “squad”), the boy she likes doesn’t seem to know she exists (and another, more annoying boy, does), her sister is wrapped up in protests, and now her gym teacher wants her to join the track team. Shay doesn’t want to make waves, but to keep moving forward, she is going to have to decide if, maybe, some rules are worth breaking and some things are worth standing up for.

I really appreciate Shay’s character development. She wasn’t my favorite character for more than a half the novel–her self-absorbed attitude was starting to grate at me. But her personality is honest and reflective in a way that may have felt fake if Shay came across as always kind instead. It allows for growth, related to Black Lives Matter and Shay learning why she needs to stand up for what is right, but also for those tween girl struggles (crushes, friendships, new hobbies).

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Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson (teen)
Gr. 9+. Enchanted Jones wants to be a singer. She has the voice for it, but she isn’t so sure her family can spare her so she can pursue a music career. She tries out for a singing show and is turned away–but legendary R&B artist Korey Fields is in the audience. And he thinks she has potential. Not just that–but he seems to like her. No matter that he is over ten years older than her–he is a star, and he could make her famous. Enchanted is pulled into his world, but she quickly discovers there is a dark side to Korey and all that he offers.

Wow, that was an experience! Told in alternating timelines, chronicling Korey’s horrifying manipulation of Enchanted (and eventual kidnapping and rape) and also a time in the future where Korey is dead–and Enchanted seems to be to blame. On the surface this is a mystery thriller, but there is so much more nuance here with twisting conversations about power dynamics, rape, the treatment of Black girls, the music industry, violence, and trauma. This one will stay with me for a while.

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Iggy Is Better Than Ever by Annie Barrows
Gr. 2-3. Iggy makes mistakes–sometimes those mistakes are bad decisions, but this isn’t one of those books where the main character is punished and learns a lesson. This is just a book about Iggy, some gardening tape, a basketball, and a bike. What could possibly go wrong?

Another fun Iggy adventure. I really appreciate the humor here–this would be well appreciated by both kids and adults during a family read aloud.

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The Magic Eraser by Aaron Starmer
Gr. 3-4. Carson Cooper discovers two things on his first day of fourth grade: a note claiming that Locker 37 at Hopewell Elementary is magical and a mysterious stain located in an unfortunate place on his pants. The note might solve his problem–inside Locker 37, Carson discovers an eraser that, when rubbed three times, makes anything disappear. Can Carson use the eraser to fix his pants? What happens when the rest of the fourth grade discovers the magic of the eraser too?

Another series I’ve read out of order, but I’m glad to have picked up Locker 37 simply for its readalike potential. I enjoyed the second book more than this one, but this is an easy readalike for fans of Wimpy Kid, Terrible Two, and even Klawde the Evil Alien Warlord Cat.

Book Review Tuesday

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

Camila the Star by Alicia Salazar (beginning reader)
Gr. K-2. Welcome to the world of Camila! I’m so happy with all of the own voices work done by Picture Window Books–these are all really needed, particularly among beginning readers, which are lacking in own voices titles. Camila is filled with spunk and heart that makes me want to read more, and the smattering of Spanish woven right into her stories is well done. Front matter includes a Spanish glossary, and back matter includes an activity idea, English glossary, and discussion questions.

Camila the Record-Breaking Star: Camila wants to make her mark on the world–by becoming a kid record breaker! But breaking a world record is tough. Will she ever achieve her dream?

Camila the Baking Star: Camila and her Papa are invited to perform in a parent-child baking competition. The winner gets to compete in Paris! But can Camila and her Papa win when Camila wants to do everything herself?

Camila the Stage Star: Camila is so excited to audition for a local play! She practices and practices and practices, but she gets assigned the role of the lead’s sidekick. Will Camila ever be able to play the lead?

Camila the Video Star: Camila has found another contest to enter–this time talking about her home city, Los Angeles. What makes Los Angeles special to her? She starts to list the famous landmarks everyone knows, but her sister asks her to stop and think. Does the Hollywood sign really mean that much to Camila? Why does Camila really like her home so much?

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Generation Brave: The Gen Z Kids Who Are Changing the World by Kate Alexander (nonfiction, biography)
Gr. 4-8. Learn about 27 young activists (or activist groups) stepping up and working to make the world a better place.

There have been a lot of these collective biography anthologies this year, but this one really stands out! The voices featured here were mostly new to me but particularly powerful because, unlike many of these types of books, these kids, teens, and young adults are making a difference now. Each passage contains a great overview of information on each individual and their chosen cause(s) in a fantastic, easy to read format, while also including information on how to personally get involved and follow the fight of each highlighted individual. An impactful book filled with plenty of immediate calls to action.

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Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer (teen)
Gr. 8+ Pru is always ready to cast judgement on her classmates, especially her annoying, perpetually late lab partner Quint Erickson. When Quint and Pru can’t figure out how to work together, their end-of-year project reflects their lack of teamwork–and so does their end-of-year grade. Pru is determined to earn extra credit, but their teacher is adamant that they must work together to earn extra credit–a project just from Pru will not improve her score. So Pru tracks down where Quint spends his time, and she strikes a deal. She will help out at the local animal rescue center for a month, if he will work with her on their project. The rescue center needs the extra hands, so Quint reluctantly agrees, but Pru has a lot to learn–about sea animals, about her town, about making a difference, and, perhaps, even about Quint himself.

And on top of everything, after banging her head at a local karaoke night, suddenly Pru has magical powers. Pru can cast instant karma–good or bad–on everyone around her. Well, everyone except Quint. Why does the universe favor him so darn much?

This felt like a much different vein from Meyer’s other work. I connected with the characters in a much different way than the Cinder team. I genuinely liked the cast of Cinder, and while I didn’t like Pru, I saw way too much of her in me at that age. Oh boy, this would have been an interesting book to have read in middle school or high school. I think this will be a hit with anyone looking for another cute realistic romance with a touch of environmentalism–and there may be some others who may find Prudence a bit tough to take (and, well, a handful of folks who may learn a bit from Prudence’s journey too).

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Karen’s Worst Day by Katy Farina (graphic novel)
Gr. 2-4. Karen’s day started off bad–she fell out of bed after a bad dream and then couldn’t find her sparkly new jeans. But things just kept getting worse! She can’t play with her friends because of her cast, the household pets keep running away from her, and even the ice cream truck is out of her favorite flavor. And no matter what she does, nothing gets better–she ends up having 14 bad things happen to her in just one day! That has to be a record, right?

I have to admit, at first I wasn’t feeling much pity for Karen, until we receive the reminder that she is just six. I associate the Baby-Sitters Club with 12-year-olds, so when I picture Karen, for some reason I imagine her closer to 9-10. While this is a quick read with a simple storyline, it may appease the constantly-growing desire for the next Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel (readers are always, always asking for more!).

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Mia Mayhem and the Super Switcheroo by Kara West (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Secret superhero Mia and her best friend (and regular kid) Eddie get caught in a strange thunderstorm that causes Mia’s powers to switch bodies. Mia no longer has powers, and Eddie is a superhero! Mia is nervous about whether she will get her powers back, but she embraces Eddie’s new skills and shows him the ropes, teaching him how to control his powers so he can keep his new identity a secret.

I adore the Mia Mayhem series SO MUCH. At their heart, these are well-written, fun first chapter books combining superhero antics with everyday elements of growing up, including friendship struggles, balancing home and school, overcoming challenges, wanting to win, and more. The diversity in our young superheroes is unparalleled, with Mia having close friends of not just different races, but a friend who is blind (with a super guide dog) and a friend who has two prosthetic legs. And its all so seamlessly included in the text that this series is far from issues books–they are just kids in everyday (superhero) situations.

I also really appreciate that, in this book, when the kids are faced with their superhero switcheroo, they talk to grown-ups about it, almost immediately. It is always frustrating when books and tv shows teach kids that they have to keep these big problems a secret–when, often, problems would be solved much faster with some adult intervention.

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Sparkleton #3: The Mini Mistake by Calliope Glass (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Sparkleton the unicorn is back with more magical adventures. Sparkleton really, really wants his unicorn magic to appear before the big talent show, but instead of getting wish granting powers, a run-in with a magical mushroom makes Sparkleton and his friends super tiny! While the world looks pretty exciting from this new perspective–who knew spiderwebs make great trampolines?–Sparkleton will never earn his magic if he can’t get back to normal size soon.

Another Sparkleton tale! I appreciate that these reflect the age of their readers–they feature unicorns, magic, and glitter, but the friendship dynamics here are more relatable to what a child may be experiencing in 2nd-3rd grade. Sparkleton isn’t a perfect unicorn (and neither is seemingly perfect Twinkle, as we discover in this book). Sparkleton is ready to grow up fast–a feeling shared by many 7-8-year-olds readers. Lots of fun with a good mix of humor.

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Song of the Court by Katy Farina (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Arietta is determined to sell her family heirloom, her precious violin, to buy seeds for the garden. But on her way to the music shop, she is stopped by Princess Cassia. Cassia loves music, and she is so thrilled to meet a violin player. Won’t Arietta play at Cassia’s upcoming birthday ball? Arietta isn’t sure how to say no, so she agrees, even though she has never played the violin before.

Her friend tries to teach her, warning Arietta how hard it can be to learn a new instrument, but Arietta seems to be a natural. Not only does she play well, but she absolutely loves playing. She spends all her time practicing, and soon her garden is left in shambles. Can Arietta figure out a way to do everything she loves?

A fun read with vibrant illustrations (same illustrator as the Baby-Sitters Little Sister graphic novels). Arietta’s frustration and depression get a little dark at times–they are portrayed in a realistic manner, and all ends up well in the end, but it did occasionally feel a little dark for some of the 2nd-3rd graders who I’m sure will be devouring this book. Still, the colors and characters are adorable, and more in this universe would be well loved.

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Three Keys by Kelly Yang
Gr. 4-6. Mia is excited to continue her family’s motel adventures, and this time her family owns their place of business! Mia is sure sixth grade will be the best year ever, but things don’t turn out quite as she expected. Mia’s new teacher is not impressed with Mia’s writing. Plus, she keeps saying bad things about immigrants, and she treats Mia differently than the other students (the white students). Also, the motel isn’t bringing in that much money, and investors are starting to ask about getting their money back. And, on top of all that, a new immigration law is on the ballot. If it passes, then kids of illegal immigrants will not be allowed to go to school–including Mia’s best friend, Lupe.

I appreciate the continuation of Mia’s story, with more of a political mindset. Three Keys gives a great view into immigration issues and the current political climate, while also showing realistic ways that small actions and words can change minds. Mia’s actions don’t change the outcome of an election, but her growing relationship with her new teacher helps open the eyes of one person–a person who has a particular impact on so many others. I’m hoping for more books featuring Mia!

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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Five Little Ducks: First Book of Nursery Games by Ailie Busby (board book)
Ages 1-5. A collection of rhymes, old and new, commonly used at library storytimes. I appreciate that this is not a collection of Mother Goose Rhymes, which, while developmentally appropriate, are often quite dated in vocabulary and content. This does feature old favorites, like Five Little Ducks and This Little Piggy, but also includes rhymes that feel a bit more modern like Zoom, Zoom, Zoom and I Had a Little Turtle (his name was Tiny Tim). A great companion book to send home with parents after a storytime.

I appreciate the diversity in the illustrations–there is even a little one in a wheelchair depicted. Except, the attempts at diversifying feel a bit pushed aside by the inclusion of “I Have Ten Little Fingers” — not all children do. Other words were changed throughout the book for a modern audience, and this rhyme could have benefited from a change of the word “ten” to the word “my.”

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I Love My Tutu Too! by Ross Burach (board book)
Ages Toddler-PreS. Ten animals are ready to show off their fantastic tutus in this funny, rhyming, counting book filled with wordplay fun.

Ohhh I liked this! I love any book with a rhythm, and this one has that, plus vibrant colors, so much wordplay fun, and counting on each page that will help toddlers stay focused during a storytime. I’m looking forward to using this one in a virtual storytime soon.

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Max and the Midknights: Battle of the Bodkins by Lincoln Peirce
Gr. 3-4. Max is back! Though, she isn’t so sure about knight school at the moment–everyone seems to be doing so much better than her, and her teacher definitely has it out for girls. Her friends all seem to be discovering their passions–Kevyn even started a library! But when Millie uses magic to make identical copies of Kevyn’s first book, one of those copies turns out strange–and releases an evil force into Byjovia! Suddenly evil twins–bodkins–are running rampant, and it is up to Max and the Midknights to sort out good from evil and once again save the day.

I needed a visit with Max and the Midknights! Not quite as fun as the first book, but still an enjoyable listen.

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My Friend! by Taye Diggs (picture book)
Gr. K-1. Two best friends celebrate their friendship with a secret handshake, playground games, music fun, and holding one another accountable.

I love the scene where one of our lead characters holds his friend accountable for purposely tripping another kid in gym class. That isn’t okay, and this book shows a great example of how to call out a friend.

But, while I love the vibrancy of the illustrations, I am concerned about the skin color of the girl who appears of Asian descent (during the Chinese Checkers game scene (the only scene where this character appears in full (which also raises a question for me), though that skin tone is used elsewhere for hands reaching into a scene, for example)). The coloring is clearly yellow (with a white kid across from her with distinctly paler skin). I think much of this is due to the vibrancy of the color palette used throughout, but her skin color is really similar to the color of the Chinese Checkers board and even her bright yellow dress. While her eyes appear to be of the same shape as other kids on the page, her skin color makes me concerned. Yellow skin on Asian characters isn’t okay.

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Nico Bravo and the Cellar Dwellers by Mike Cavallaro (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Nico Bravo’s adventures continue as a returning visitor to Vulcan’s Celestial Supply Shop gets mixed up with a villain determined to steal a secret artifact. Suddenly, a “Misery”, with the ability to turn everyone to stone, has been released from the God of Misfortune’s pouch, and Nico has to adventure farther than ever before to try to save the shop (and the world). But with multiple universes colliding–will Nico discover an even bigger secret about where he came from?

A fun continuation of Nico’s adventures. There is a great pace to these books that will keep fantasy-loving readers engaged.

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Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham (picture book)
Gr. PreS+. “Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed. Everyone who went outside…went inside.”

The experience we are all living, pulled together in such a simple, beautiful book. The word virus isn’t used until the back matter–neither are the words “covid”, “quarantine”, or “vaccine.” But the message is clear and beautiful and–well it made me cry, and it will probably make you cry too. Wonderful recognition of and dedication to those first responders and essential workers whose sacrifices are always saving lives.

The hardest part of reading this right now is the clearly hopeful message at the end–where spring comes, and we can all be inside – and outside – together again. I hope this book sends us the luck we need that come springtime, this ending fold-out spread proves true. I’m saving this one for that first in-person storytime many months from now. <3

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Rise Up and Write It: With Real Mail, Posters, and More! by Nandini Ahuja (picture book)
Gr. 1-2. Farah wants to bring the butterflies back to her neighborhood. After some research, she learns that butterflies need flowers. Her neighborhood has lots of great people, and many great places to find food, but few flowers. Farah and her friends are determined to convince the city to turn the local lot into a community garden–and they work as a team writing letters, creating a petition, holding a community meeting, and more along the way.

I love this book, though, from a librarian perspective, it irritates me to no end. This is an excellent story and would be my go-to book for young activists. It has great examples of how a kid and a community can make change and physical pieces that show those steps–a sample letter, a sample petition, a flyer advertising a community meeting, a sign to hold at a protest. But the way these physical pieces are included–as lose items inside of “pocket” envelopes inside the book–makes this nearly impossible to circulate. Could this be re-printed with a library edition where those pieces are illustrations instead of lose parts?

I’m going to try to make it work for a program anyway, but it is frustrating that I can’t recommend it to patrons since they can’t check it out.

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Snap!: Stick Out Your Tongue by Bob Barner (board book)
Ages Toddler-PreS. Learn a simple fact about five animals who have unique tongues. Pull a tab to see the animal’s tongue and let the tab go for a satisfying “snap” back into place.

This is really cute and feels surprisingly durable. Filled with Bob Barner’s illustrations and vibrant colors, the board book on its own would hold a young child’s attention, but the unique snapping tabs make the book even more intriguing. Hoping for more in this format.

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Stella’s Stellar Hair by Yesenia Moises (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Stella’s hair just isn’t right. Today’s the Big Star Little Gala, and she needs her hair to look perfect. But…what can she do to fix it? There is only one thing to do: hop on her hoverboard and surf the solar system, visiting her aunties for some help finding a new hair style.

This book is gorgeous. Bright and vivid illustrations, a beautiful cast of characters, and an empowering message about loving your hair and yourself. And author/illustrator Moises goes even further above and beyond with back matter connecting each hair style with each planet Stella visits. This book sets high standards for all the picture books to come in 2021.

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Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Old Swashby likes his peaceful life by the sea, but when neighbors move in, they make noise. And want his attention. And they take up room on his beach. Can Swashby convince them to go away, so he can get his quiet back? Or does the sea have other ideas?

This is cute! Grisly Captain Swashby is quite a character, well matched with the young girl who slowly becomes his friend. Fun wordplay in the illustrations as the ocean meticulously deletes just a few letters from each of Swashby’s messages in the sand.

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Tiara’s Hat Parade by Kelly Starling Lyons (picture book)
Gr. K-1. Tiara’s Momma makes gorgeous hats, but when another hat store puts Momma out of business, Momma is determined to lock her dreams away forever. Can Tiara figure out a way to help her Momma make her dream a reality again?

Such a sweet story about the relationship between a mother and daughter as well as keeping hold of your dreams. Make sure to check out the author’s note and back matter for additional perspective and details on famous Black milliners.

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The True Definition of Neva Beane by Christine Kendall
Gr. 4-6. Neva Beane has a lot going on. First, she is twelve, and her body is changing. She has to wear a bra now, and while she is happy with how her body looks, she isn’t sure how she feels about how other people react to her as she gets older.

Second, her best friend Jamila is going on an amazing trip to see her extended family–all while Neva’s parents have left Neva and her brother with their grandparents while Neva’s parents travel internationally on a music tour. Also, her brother Clayton is busy with activist work that Neva doesn’t fully understand, and her grandparents don’t seem to support. Her grandparents aren’t much help generally–their old fashioned views seem to make it harder for Neva to find new friends and figure out where she belongs.

Neva has one thing to keep her grounded–her trusted dictionary, which helps her understand the new words and ideas always being tossed her way. Can Neva figure out how to be herself–and who she really is?

I really enjoyed this slice of life book about a budding young activist determined to understand the world around her on her journey of self-discovery. Author Kendall provides a great voice for Neva who struggles in ways that are honest but also not often discussed in kid’s lit–especially some of those realities of younger girls experiencing puberty. Will be looking for more!

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The Un-Fairy by Melody Mews (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Itty Bitty has a new friend to help: fairy Bree! All the fairies in Lollyland have very particular jobs, but Bree just isn’t enjoying her life in the kitchen. Itty Bitty is determined to help her new friend find the perfect job for her.

Another cute Itty Bitty adventure! This series is sure to please with its friendship-filled stories, messages about kindness, and kitty, unicorn, fairy, and glitter-filled illustrations.

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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Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins
Gr. 4-5. Hannah has the perfect life (on paper anyway): two loving parents at home, countless friends at school, and a possible future in professional gymnastics. But a few months back, her cousin, Cal, moved in. After Cal’s mom died, Cal’s dad went to prison, and Cal moved in with Hannah’s family. Cal is generally annoying, loves tall tales and pranks, and struggles to control the PTSD from his experiences growing up with his father.

Cal sort of likes living with Hannah’s family, though he wishes Hannah liked him a bit more. Cal tries to control his responses to some of the situations he is placed in–but he doesn’t always have those skills. But when his father is released from prison, will Cal be able to cling to this fragile happiness that he has found?

This was fine, though not something that stood out among my recent reads. The family dynamics were engaging as was the start of a conversation about privilege that revealed a lot about our society in Hannah’s simple, clueless responses: “We aren’t privileged! Dad works hard!” I much preferred Cal’s perspective to Hannah’s, though I understand the need for both. I appreciate that there is some reality behind this story–the author based this on raising a grandson suffering from PTSD due to similar childhood circumstances to Cal–but I’m still not sure this rings true for me.

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Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles by Michelle Meadows (picture book biography)
Gr. 1-2. Follow the childhood and gymnastic success of the amazing Simone Biles, from her time in foster care to her adoption by her grandparents and her perseverance as a gymnastics champion. By the same author-illustrator duo as Brave Ballerina–I’m looking forward to more from these two!

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The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
Gr. 4-7. Suraya is barely a few years old when the ghost first finds her. His old master, this small child’s grandmother, died, and the ghost is bound by blood to the family line. While the girl’s mother would be the obvious choice, this child seems to sing to him–clearly they are meant to be together. But this ghost is more than just a menacing, haunting form–it is a pelesit, or an otherworldly being capable of all kinds of magic. He will do whatever this young girl commands, but he has been used for dark purposes before, and those angry emotions are always just under the surface.

Suraya doesn’t see her ghost until she is about preschool age, and she finds him to be the funniest thing. Her new grasshopper companion just wants to be her friend, and she is much more concerned about his lack of a name than his surprise presence in her life. She gives him the very best name a very young child can grant: Pink.

The all-powerful Pink trails young Suraya, making sure she doesn’t get hurt even when she is being more adventurous than she probably should be, all the while noticing that his young charge doesn’t have many friends. Not only does she not have many friends, but the kids her age tend to be cruel–and Pink has no patience for it. He wants Suraya to tell him to hurt the cruel kids, but Suraya will do no such thing–instead making Pink swear that he will only do harm when she is in absolute, life-threatening danger. Pink tries to listen, but his emotions overwhelm him, especially as Suraya grows older and finally makes a friend–leaving Pink trapped in fits of jealousy that grow horrifically dangerous for everyone.

This was good. I think I prefer more psychologically creepy stories than books with descriptions of gore or supernatural grossness (this book has both of those things). I enjoyed the connections to Malaysian culture and myth, as well as the conversations about social class. I’m not sure how I feel about how Pink’s relationship with Suraya is depicted, through to the end. I’ve seen some conversation about the author rewriting an early part of the book where the language walked much too close to the abuser-groomer line, but I think some of that still remains in the final product. It is clear that everyone, including Pink, knows that his relationship with Suraya is toxic and bad for her–but making Pink a bit of a hero at the end doesn’t make up for what he put her through nor does it help Suraya unpack her attachment to him. However, the relationship between the two is so connected to the myth and culture around pelesits as well as the final reveal…but I still wish some of the side characters had made any attempt to correct Suraya’s extremely problematic line of thinking (“he does bad things because he loves me”). I’m going to be thinking about this one for a while.

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I Want to Ride the Tap Tap by Danielle Joseph (picture book)
Gr. K-1. Claude desperately wants to ride the tap tap alongside all of the other exciting, wonderful people in his community. But every day, his Manman says no–there is too much else for them to do. But finally – finally! – after church on Dimanch morning, Claude and his whole family ride the tap tap to the beach.

The illustrations here are particularly interesting, especially the mix of colors used on each person’s skin. I wish the text had been from an own voices author.

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Katie the Catsitter by Colleen A.F. Venable (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Katie isn’t going to be able to go to camp unless she can figure out how to earn the money herself. When Katie gets a job catsitting, she is sure her luck has changed…except these 217 cats are not, precisely, normal. And Katie is always called on to cat-sit at the exact same times that the supervillain Mousetress strikes. Could Ms. Lang be…a villain??! And, really, WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THESE CATS?

This book is wonderful and will absolutely be well-loved by young readers. Not quite a summer friendship story, not quite a superhero story, and not quite a mystery–but all of those things at once with so, so, so many cats thrown in. Will be recommending, will be book talking–and looking forward to more fun from Katie and company.

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Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes (poetry)
Gr. 5+. Nikki Grimes works wonders with words again, with a series of amazing poems from and about gifted women poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Each poem is paired with a gorgeous piece of art by an African-American female illustrator. Grimes original works are paired with each Harlem Renaissance poem using the Golden Shovel method–taking a word from each line of the original poem and using those words as the last word in each line in a new poem. Beautiful.

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The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (graphic novel)
Gr. 5-7. Oh my goodness. This book!!! I think we have a chance of getting a graphic novel Newbery winner two years in a row.

Tiế’s parents practice their English by reading fairy tales aloud with Tiế. Fairy tales don’t always have happy endings, and Tiế is pretty sure his life isn’t going to have a happy ending either. His mom is struggling with staying connected to her family back in Vietnam, and Tiế is trying to find the words to tell his family he’s gay. What is he to do when there isn’t a Vietnamese word for what he wants to tell his parents?

Wow. It took me a while to get started on this book, as, at first, it just felt like too many storylines at once. But once I gave the book my full attention, there was so much magic to be found. Gorgeous illustrations, and fairy tales that reflect and quietly comment on Tiế and Tiế’s family’s reality. And that wonderful message–that, no matter what is on the page or what the predictable ending might be–we all write our own stories. For such a small book, there is simply so much depth–this one will stay with me forever.

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Oh My Gods! by Stephanie Cooke (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Karen is just your everyday girl who moves to Greece to live with her odd, mysterious father who *whoops* is actually the Greek God Zeus. Now Karen is going to high school with gods and goddesses, and it is up to her to figure out what is going on when her classmates start to turn to stone.

With so many great mythology stories being told, this felt flat to me. The story is exactly what it appears to be, feeling fairly predictable and a bit stale compared to the Rick Riordan Presents books and the like (even when compared to the original Rick Riordan books). Do we need another young Greek Gods adaptation when there are so many other cultures to explore? I’m not convinced. This will be loved by its audience, but it doesn’t make me want to read more.

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Serena Says by Tanita S. Davis
Gr. 5-6. Serena is excited to have her best friend JC back at school, but JC and Serena seem to be growing apart. JC is becoming good friends with Lani–perhaps even best friends. JC doesn’t seem to care about plans that Serena and JC made months ago, and Lani seems to be taking over every part of Serena’s life. Not only did Lani steal her best friend, but after missing school for a few days due to a cold, Serena returns to find out that Lani has replaced Serena as student ambassador too.

Serena is more than a little frustrated when she is voluntold to be on the student senate, foregoing her student ambassador position, since Serena now has even less time with her ex-best friend, instead spending more time with the annoying Harrison. Group projects, more friendship drama, and secrets make Serena feel like she is being pulled every which way, with just her secret vlogs keeping her grounded.

This was a lot of fun! Serena is filled with a lot of heart, and this is another one of those tween books that feels like it honestly depicts the age of its characters. The friendship drama and Serena’s mistakes felt real (as did the group project frustration–especially when teachers impose those horrible rules about everyone’s behavior affecting the group grade). The vlogging is a fun addition that will appeal to this audience, especially since it doesn’t define itself by a platform (which would quickly date this book). A quick, uplifting read filled with that everyday middle school drama.

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There’s a Superhero in Your Book by Tom Fletcher (picture book)
Gr. Toddler-PreS. Instead of a monster or a dragon, this time there is a superhero in your book! And that superhero needs your help to save your book from…The Scribbler!

This is another fun read-aloud, though I sort of wish it just followed the same structure as previous books, without the addition of The Scribbler. I get the effort to make each book a bit different–but the simpler format of the dragon and monster books flows a little better. There is a lot happening on these pages, with more text, that will make it harder for a toddler to follow along (and harder for a preschooler to follow virtually). I look forward to using it, but I’m hoping future additions are a bit simpler.

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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13th Street: The Shocking Shark Showdown by David Bowles (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. This time, Malia, Dante, and Ivan are looking for a portal to 13th Street. They need to get back to help Mickey, the trapped boy they met there, find his way home. But when they do manage to re-enter the magical, creepy world, they find themselves underneath the city–literally! The sewers are filled with magical fiends, such as sharks that can shoot off an electric charge. Can the cousins figure out how to save Mickey without getting hurt themselves?

Another fun 13th Street adventure. While Desmond Cole is a little more my style, this series is a great next-step-up for fans of those books looking for a lot of adventure and something a little bit creepy. I’m looking forward to unraveling more of the mystery in the next book!

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Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon by Kat Zhang (picture book)
Gr. PreS-2. Amy is excited to design her very own dragon. Her dragon is long and thin with horns like a stag and claws like an eagle. But…her friends are sure that isn’t a real dragon. Where are its wings? Its fire? Its scales? Amy tries to make her dragon look more like her classmates’ dragons, but it just doesn’t feel right. Can she make a dragon that is perfect for her?

Amy Wu is back, and I couldn’t be more thrilled! While this didn’t hold quite as much charm for me as the original, I still love all of Amy’s adventures, and I am thrilled to share this one at storytime. I’m hoping for more!

Astrid and Apollo by V.T. Bidania (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. A fun new first chapter series featuring a Hmong family living in Minnesota. Astrid and Apollo go on everyday adventures that weave in elements of their culture (especially many yummy foods!). A glossary of Hmong words are included in the front, and backmatter contains facts about the Hmong people, popular Hmong foods featured in that book, a glossary of more challenging English words found in the story, and questions and activity ideas to continue learning.

Astrid and Apollo and the Happy New Year: Astrid and Apollo are ready for the Hmong New Year Festival–but they quickly get separated from their parents and little sister in the large crowds. Can they figure out how to get back to their family again?

Astrid and Apollo and the Soccer Celebration: Astrid and Apollo are excited for the Hmong July Fourth Soccer Festival! They get to try new foods, watch their dad’s favorite team triumph on the field….and babysit their little sister. Young Eliana just wants “yummy milk!” But regular milk and other sweet drinks aren’t stopping her cries. Can they figure out how to help her and also not miss the big match?

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Cat Kid Comic Club by Dav Pilkey (graphic novel)
Gr. 2-4. Li’l Petey, Flippy, and Molly are ready to teach their family of baby frogs how to make comics. But wait–some frogs don’t have any ideas! Others are sure they can’t draw well. What if they make a mistake?!?

While this book isn’t going to be the continuation (or even spinoff) of the Dog Man main series that fans may be looking for, it is a WONDERFUL companion read for teaching young kids how to draw their own comics, especially kids ages 6-8. The sample comics are similar to what kids would create and draw, and the chapters work well as a day-by-day schedule for a real life comics camp.

And Pilkey even has a fantastic chapter directed at those grown-ups that say that kids need to create “uplifting” stories that don’t “recklessly disregard the sanctity of life and stuff.” In Pilkey’s words: “Adults make up stories about that stuff all the time, and we call them artists and geniuses and visionaries! Look at Shakespeare: It’s all death and violence and fart jokes! If it’s normal and healthy for grown-ups then why not for kids? Are you seriously going to praise a grown-up and shame a child for the same darn thing?”

Ellie Ultra by Gina Bellisario (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Ellie is a cute, spunky young superhero. I prefer Mia Mayhem’s everyday adventures to this series, but, reading level wise, this is a good step up from the Mia Mayhem books. Lots of kid appeal, and I appreciate any diverse young superheroes.

Camp Hero Double Trouble: Ellie is so excited to meet some other kid superheroes during her week at Camp Hero! While her cabinmates have super cool freezing powers, twins Mona and Leona don’t seem to want to hang out with Ellie. Ellie uses her parents special hypnosis invention to reverse the girls’ feelings about Ellie–but she also reverses their love for each other. Soon the twins are fighting for Ellie’s attention, and Ellie realizes she may have made a huge mistake.

Mighty Pet Sitter: Young superhero Ellie Ultra has a more mundane task this weekend: she is watching the class hamster for her teacher. Surely watching such a small, cute animal won’t be too difficult? But when Squeak the hamster meets high-energy puppy, Super Fluffy, chaos ensues.

Superhero for President: Young superhero Ellie Ultra is excited to do her civil duty and run as class president! But she is running against future-supervillain Dex Diggs. Dex is determined to win by any means necessary, including making false promises. Ellie decides to beat Dex at his own game–making her classmate’s wishes come true with her parent’s new invention, the Ultra Genie! But when Dex gets his hands on the device and makes his own villain wishes come true, Ellie can barely recognize her old school anymore.

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I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. When asked to speak in front of his class, a boy struggles, his stutter making it hard for him to speak. His father picks him up from school, taking him to the river. His father helps him see that he talks like the river–with words sometimes flowing, bubbling, whirling, churning, and crashing.

A beautiful, poetic, hope-filled memoir reflecting on the author’s own experiences with a stutter. The words are poetic and the story is excellent, but everything comes together with the gorgeous watercolor illustrations, including that wonderful fold-out spread. Much to see here and definitely worth many a re-reading.

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Isadora Moon Gets In Trouble by Harriet Muncaster (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Isadora is so excited that her fairy-witch cousin is coming for a visit! But her cousin, Mirabelle, is a little bit older and a little bit more adventurous than Isadora. Mirabelle’s activities are a lot of fun, but soon Isadora realizes that maybe she shouldn’t have agreed to let her cousin magic a baby dragon into existence. Can Isadora keep the dragon a secret from her parents so no one gets in trouble?

Another great addition to the sweet Isadora Moon series. I enjoy the twist on the traditional realistic fiction first chapter book. The only difference between these titles and other everyday school adventures is that Isadora’s mom is a fairy and her dad is a vampire-but those changes are enough to make this series hold its own.

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Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum by Natasha Yim (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Luna’s family is going out to celebrate her birthday at a delicious dim sum restaurant. The three siblings are meant to share six pork buns, but when Luna accidentally drops one, suddenly there are only five left. Obviously the older brother deserves more–because he is the oldest! Though maybe the younger brother deserves more–because he is the smallest. But it IS Luna’s birthday, so surely she deserves more? Discover how the siblings figure out how to divide the remaining buns equally among themselves.

This was so cute! I like that Luna’s family is biracial, and, of course, pork buns = yum! The simple math and diversity of this new book series (story telling math) is much appreciated too.

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Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (teen)
Gr. 6-9. In Jam’s world, there are no more monsters. A series of horrible wars, before Jam was born, emptied the world of all those humans that were really monsters–those murderers, abusers, selfish billionaires, and more. Jam and her family and friends live happy lives in the city of Lucille, until Jam stumbles upon her mother’s newest painting–and accidentally brings it to life.

This new creation is the image of a monster, but Jam is confident that it isn’t one. This creature–named Pet–has come to hunt monsters. Because no matter what Jam’s parents have told her, there is a monster in Lucille, in the home of Jam’s best friend. While Jam becomes increasingly convinced that Pet is correct and something is wrong, she isn’t sure how to protect her friend or convince others to help. After all, “how do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?”

Ohhhh this book. There are so many layers to unpack here. I wish I knew more about the backstory of how Lucille came to be, though more knowledge was definitely not necessary for this book to succeed (in fact, more information would have probably weighed it down). I always have to give extra appreciation to a book where a main character is transgender and her sexuality isn’t a big part of the plot (plus even more love for this being written by an own voices black, non-binary, transgender author). This is filled with magical realism and hidden meanings, and it definitely won’t be for everyone–but it is a book that will stick with me forever.

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Super Sidekicks: No Adults Allowed by Gavin Aung Than (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. These young sidekicks are done with their days serving superheroes. They can do so much more than washing laundry and trying to clean up their superheroes’ messes. Junior Justice, Flygirl, Dinomite, and Goo are determined to form their own super team…but everything goes wrong when supervillain Dr. Enok realizes that Goo is missing from his laboratory! Soon Dr. Enok and all of their old superheroes are determined to track them down and put their sidekicks back to work–but the Super Sidekicks know that they have the power to save the day.

A cute, laugh-out-loud graphic novel that will appeal to all young superhero fans, especially fans of Max Meow or the Investigators. Looking forward to more!

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WolfWalkers by Tomm Moore and Samuel Sattin (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Lord Protector Cromwell is determined to rid the forest in Ireland of its wolves and “civilize” the country with more farmland. But the forest is filled with more than meets the eye, including the last of the legendary wolfwalkers, people that are human when awake, wolves when asleep, and have magical healing powers. Young Robyn comes to Ireland with her father, a soldier of Lord Cromwell, ready to hunt wolves. But when Robyn sneaks into the forest for her own hunt, and instead stumbles upon another girl–wild wolfwalker Mebh–she realizes that maybe hunting wolves isn’t the mission she and her father should be on.

There is a lot happening here, but, except for a very abrupt “epilogue” spread at the end, the fast pace works well for the format. I’m not familiar with the movie this is adapted from, and I don’t think I missed much. I think this might have benefited from less backstory–the whole Saint Patrick curse felt like an afterthought most of the time, and when it did come up it was more confusing than useful. The girls’ friendship was fun, and the action regularly propelled the story forward.

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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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.

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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!

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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.

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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,

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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.

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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The Alphabet’s Alphabet by Chris Harris and Dan Santat (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. The letters of the alphabet are each unique–but they have a lot of similarities too! Just like the way you might look a little like members of your family, all of the letters share some small details with other letters. After all, isn’t an A just a H that couldn’t stand up straight?

This is a cute book exploring shapes, lines, and letters. I wouldn’t give this to a child that isn’t completely confident in their ability to recognize and write letters, as the images morphing one letter into another are very likely to confuse a preschooler. I was a little disappointed with some of the examples–K felt a little hard for me wrap my head around, and S’s lack of a letter buddy felt a little disappointing. Older kids may explore making the letter comparisons, and this could easily evolve into an art lesson exploring the alphabet.

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Animals at Large by Patricia Reilly Giff and Abby Carter (first chapter book)
Gr. 2-3. Tori is excited to have her cousin, Sumiko, come to visit Tori’s home on Zoo Lane this summer. But things are getting a little strange at the zoo–there are rumors of a missing animal, but Tori can’t quite catch word of what, exactly, is on the loose. Combine a missing animal with strange noises coming from Tori’s backyard–definitely a friend pulling a prank–and there are plenty of mysteries for the local zoo kids to solve.

Another book in the Zoo Lane series. These books are a great fit for animal lovers just moving from beginning readers to first chapter books, with extra large text and black-and-white illustrations. The plot is a little tedious, especially with the “mystery” of what animal is missing from the zoo–a zoo with a real missing animal would send out a lot more notice than one posted flyer–and at any point Tori could have just asked any adult what was going on. Advanced first grade readers will enjoy the predictable quietness of this book, but I’m not sure the series will hold appeal with older readers.

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Attack of the Underwear Dragon by Scott Rothman and Pete Oswald (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Young Cole is thrilled to be a new Assistant Knight of the Round Table. When the mighty Underwear Dragon defeats every real knight, it is up to Cole to try to save the day.

This had the potential to be cute and funny (dragons! underwear!), but I feel like I was left with a lot of unanswered questions. Why was the dragon wearing underwear? Why did we focus on the fact the dragon couldn’t read but never return to that? If the princess could knock Cole out with one punch, why didn’t she fight the dragon? If the dragon defeated all the knights, including the one that trained Cole, how, exactly, was Cole able to use their training to save the day? I’m sure I’m reading too much into this, but I was left more puzzled after reading.

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Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann (nonficion)
Gr. K-2. Follow a summer honeybee through its 35-day lifecycle–from birth to helping the hive and finally flying, exploring the world, and bringing back the tools needed to produce honey for the colony.

Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann once again make an amazing team, creating an educational and visually engaging book through a story that would work well as a read-aloud. The oil painting illustrations almost make me want to look at bees more in nature (almost–bugs are definitely not my thing). The continued question about if the bee is ready for flying serves as a great hook to keep young readers and listeners engaged.

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I Like Animals … What Jobs Are There? by Steve Martin and Roberto Blefari (nonfiction)
Gr. 3-4. A fun exploration of twenty-five jobs involving working with animals. I appreciate the variety of jobs shared here. So many of these kinds of books focus on jobs that, in reality, are a bit more obscure–like puppy bowl referee or panda keeper. This collection spans from jobs a kid may be able to have right now (like dog walker or pet sitter) to jobs that are more common (pet vet, dog groomer, and pet adoption counselor) and still some jobs that are competitive but not quite as rare (pet portrait artist, animal actor agent, and wildlife filmmaker). Each page or spread contains a simplified “day in the life” of someone with that job as well as the best and worst parts of the selected career.

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If Your Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. A child writes a letter–a book–to invite aliens to come to earth and give them a glimpse of what they might encounter.

Sophie Blackall creates a beautiful summation of earth with her recognizable artwork. While the message is lovely, for something inspired by Blackall’s work traveling the globe, I wish there had been a bit more diversity present here. There are different cultures and races depicted, but the actions feel very white and western-centered (a picnic in a park, sitting around a dinner table, the clothing and structure of students in a classroom, and more).

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Kits, Cubs, and Calves by Suzie Napayok-Short (nonfiction)
Gr. 2-3. Akuluk visits her family in Nunavut off of the Arctic Ocean. While she doesn’t know what to expect at first, she is quickly swept away into the magic of nature, learning about beluga whales, polar bears, and even seagulls.

A beautiful book that follows a family as they teach about and discover a plethora of Arctic animals and talk about the need to respect nature. While the story is engaging, there is a lot of content here, making this a little long for a readaloud, but great for one-on-one reading with a child already fascinated by Arctic animals.

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Let’s Dance! by Valerie Bolling and Maine Diaz (picture book)
Gr. Toddler-Preschool. Groove along with young dancers showing off a variety of dance moves, often in culturally specific clothing. Try the moves yourself before learning more about each dance with details in the back of the book.

A good in-person toddler or preschool storytime pick. (I don’t think I could attempt some of these moves on camera with just the top half of my body showing in a virtual storytime.) I might choose to have separate notes from the backmatter to talk about while sharing the different dance moves to provide a little more context about what is going on in each spread.

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The Old Truck by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey
Gr. 1-2. Follow life on a small farm through the aging of a truck that is already old when our story begins. Over a lifetime of hard work, that truck, and the family who owns it, age, grow, and change. The weather and the increasing age of the young girl turned woman show the passing of time, but other details do as well–the size of the trees in the background, the seasonal yellowing of grass and plants, and the way the color of the wood of the barn fades over time. In addition to the simple story enhanced by the illustrations, it also breaks stereotypes by featuring a diverse family and a young girl who eventually takes over the farm. This is a gem I haven’t seen much buzz about, but I hope it gets some recognition come award season.

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The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam (picture book)
Gr. 3-4. A wordless picture book following a family escaping war-torn Vietnam through a small fishing boat. The family tale is woven together with a family of ants also making their own journey across the water in a paper boat.

While the illustrations are powerful, especially when examined again through the lens of the author’s note, this book didn’t speak to me quite as much as I had hoped. By transferring the illustrations to ants instead of people once they entered the boat, some of the harder parts of the journey may be easier for young eyes to examine. However, the shift in narration felt a bit confusing in the moment, until looked at again during a re-reading. For older elementary or middle school readers.

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Rent A Boyfriend by Gloria Chao (teen)
Gr. 10+. Chloe just wants her parents to stop trying to set her up with Hongbo–a very wealthy guy from their community who is also, well, quite an asshole. Her parents have taken wishes of a courtship a step further, regularly talking about Chloe’s marriage to a person she despises. Chloe has told them, again and again, how much she despises her supposed suitor, but no one will listen. So, she tries a new tactic. She hires a fake boyfriend through Rent for Your ‘Rents, a company specialized in providing fake dates to impress traditional Asian parents.

Drew’s parents cut him off after he dropped out of college to pursue his passion for art. Being a Rent for Your ‘Rents employee (or “operative”) keeps the bills paid while also letting Drew pursue his dreams while never having to do more than hold a stranger’s hand and say the right words (though those can be tricky depending the parent you are impressing).

Chloe meets Drew on the way to her parents’ house for Thanskgiving, prepared to use him to convince her parents that they can stop pressuring her to accept Hongbo’s proposal. Neither of them expects sparks to fly–or for them to want to get to know the person hiding behind each other’s mask.

This was fun! I’m always ready for a fake-boyfriend trope, and this one delivers that but also so much more. The romance is predictable (maybe a little too predictable in places), but there are some great conversations about toxic parent-child relationships, specifics to the Asian American immigrant parent-child relationship, and a lot of much-needed dialogue about how dropping out of college isn’t something to look down on. I wish Drew had a bit more personality? Dynamic? I love that he lets Chloe take the lead and recognizes that she doesn’t need saving, but he had a right to be very frustrated at multiple points, and instead his answer was always “I am here for you; how can I help.” That is wonderful–and something lacking in so many teen romance books–but there is also a point where it seems a bit over the top. No one in a relationship needs to be fully self-sacrificing. While their relationship sometimes felt one-dimensional, their text banter was always outstanding. I sort of wish the entire book had occurred via text. Will be loved by teen romance readers looking for more books with the energy of When Dimple Met Rishi or even new adult romance readers who don’t mind if their romance reads don’t contain much physical intimacy.

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Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin (picture book)
Gr. K-2. An eight-year-old is about five times as tall as this book–but an ostrich is taller than two eight-year-olds standing on each other’s shoulders! But of course an ostrich isn’t as tall as a giraffe, which isn’t as tall as an oak tree. But even the tallest tree–a redwood–is dwarfed by the Eiffel tower. The tallest skyscraper is tiny compared to Mount Everest–but even Mount Everest doesn’t reach outer space.

I’ve heard a lot about this book, and I understand why! Chin blends a picture book about size with an epic nonfiction story giving us a glimpse of our place in the universe. Make sure to read the whole thing before choosing this one for a readaloud–I thought about trying to make this work for preschool storytime, but it does get a little more dense once it enters the scale of galaxies, galaxy clusters, and the cosmic web (not a bad thing–just shows the intended audience of the book). Small factoids and labels add additional content to each page, and back matter extends the experience with even more details and a list of sources.

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!

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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.

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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).

Book Review Tuesday

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

Astrid and Apollo by V.T. Bidania (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. A fun new first chapter series featuring a Hmong family living in Minnesota. Astrid and Apollo go on everyday adventures that weave in elements of their culture (especially many yummy foods!). A glossary of Hmong words are included in the front, and backmatter contains facts about the Hmong people, popular Hmong foods featured in that particular book, a glossary of more challenging English words found in the story, and questions and activity ideas to continue learning.

Astrid and Apollo and the Fishing Flop: Twins Astrid and Apollo are camping for the first time! Apollo is thrilled to catch the biggest fish in the lake, but while Astrid keeps catching fish after fish, Apollo just manages to attract weeds and a shoe. When a storm rolls in, it looks like their fishing might be done for the day. Will Apollo ever be able to catch his dream fish?

Astrid and Apollo and the Starry Campout: Twins Astrid and Apollo are going on their first camping trip. Apollo is excited, but Astrid is nervous–about the dark, mosquitos, wild animals, and the horrors of a bathroom without a toilet that flushes. Once they arrive, things aren’t as bad as Astrid imagined–until they all turn off the lights and hear something crawling outside their tent.

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The Best of Iggy by Annie Barrows (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Iggy isn’t a bad kid–he has just done some bad things (which he is mostly, sometimes sorry for). Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances to consider when bad decisions are made…and sometimes poor decisions are just poor decisions. Get ready for three Iggy filled adventures:

  • one where we say we wish we hadn’t done a thing, but actually just wish we hadn’t gotten in trouble for the thing,
  • one where we wish we hadn’t done quite as much of the thing as we did, and
  • one where we really, completely wish we hadn’t done the thing we did.

This was surprisingly delightful! I meant to just read a few chapters but instead quickly read the whole book in one sitting. The story moves quickly and the humor in both the story and the narrator’s commentary made this so much fun. Hand to kids who love The Terrible Two (or kids who aren’t quite ready yet for The Terrible Two). Will be picking up the sequel soon.

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Corpse Talk: Groundbreaking Women by Adam & Lisa Murphy (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-6. Join your host (and author) Adam Murphy in a talk show starring the corpses of astonishing women throughout history. Each star receives a two-page spread following the style of a typical talk show (including the standard puns and bad jokes) before another spread or two detailing an element of their time or life, such as the layout of the building Anne Frank lived in, an overview of Mongolian wrestling moves, or an explanation of the golden ratio. Features 17 women from an Egyptian pharaoh to empresses, queens, pirates, con artists, and more.

This was fun! I enjoyed the unique approach to a collection of short biographies (and putting this in graphic novel format makes it all the more interesting). While some women were well known, others were not, making this a more engaging read. I’m excited to explore other books in the same series.

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Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol: Beware the Werewolf by Andres Miedoso (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Desmond and Andres are back with a furry adventure! There is something strange about the local dogcatcher–dogs seem to love being caught! Is he just a dog person? Does he have them under some kind of spell? Or is something spookier going on? This is Kersville after all, and supernatural things happen every day.

Another fun Desmond Cole adventure filled with lots of adorable (and some not so adorable) pups. This series is a perfect amount of text for kids just starting to move from beginning readers into longer chapter books, with quick stories filled with just the right amount of spook to keep young readers engaged (but not scared).

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Ellie Ultra: Super Spooked by Gina Bellisario (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Ellie is excited to go to a sleepover at her friend Hannah’s house. She is ready for all of the regular sleepover antics, but she has her own super secret–Ellie is afraid of the dark. Ellie’s parents give her a special bracelet to keep the darkness away, but the bracelet is no help when the evil super villain Fairy Frightmare stops by. She sprinkles the sleepover attendees in bad-dream dust, and suddenly the girls are trapped in their nightmares. The only way to escape? Conquer their biggest fears. Can Ellie help her friends and conquer her fear of the dark, all in one night?

Ellie is a cute, spunky young superhero. I prefer Mia Mayhem’s everyday adventures to this series, but, reading level wise, this is a good step up from the Mia Mayhem books. Lots of kid appeal, and I appreciate any diverse young superheroes.

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Kitty and Dragon by Meika Hashimoto (reader)
Gr. 1-2. Kitty just wants everyone to be quiet! So she goes exploring, looking for a new, quiet home that isn’t so noisy. She eventually finds the home of the silent dragon (who everyone is terrified of)–but the dragon just wants a friend. Soon the two become roommates and best friends, having everyday friendship adventures like helping one another when they are sick and balancing out their clean and messy tendencies.

This is ADORABLE! I really wish I had read this just a few days earlier, as it definitely would have made it onto my 2020 Favorite Beginning Readers list (I will need to go back and add it). Bright, colorful, kid-appealing illustrations, simple text and vocabulary perfect for a beginning reader, and sweet stories about two friends who don’t talk much, but still have a wonderful relationship. Will be recommending!

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Kondo & Kezumi Visit Giant Island by David Goodner (first chapter)
Gr. 1-3. Kondo and Kezumi are best friends who live on a lovely island together. They spend their days collecting fruit and exploring until one day something washes up onshore–a map! This map shows many other islands and a message: WE ARE NOT ALONE. After some convincing, Kondo joins Kezumi on an adventure in their makeshift boat to see what lies beyond their shores.

This is a pretty adorable story about friendship, adventure, and trying new things. Bright, colorful illustrations will help make this appeal to young readers just moving beyond beginning readers.

In the background of most images–on Kondo and Kezumi’s island and other ilsands–there are a lot of what appear to be abandoned human objects (a bathtub, a guitar, and what looks like an alien spaceship). Are these easter eggs to keep kids engaged? Or is there going to be some long term message that this is some post-apocalypse earth (maybe after an alien invasion)? I’m not quite sure how some of those themes would work in a series for this age, so I am going to assume these are easter eggs.

Regardless, this was still a surprisingly pleasant read, and I am looking forward to more books.

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The Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar
Gr. 4-7. Betita’s father doesn’t pick her up from her after school program one day. The principal is sure that he just got caught up, but Betita has a bad feeling that proves to be true–her father was arrested by Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported back to Mexico. Betita is left behind, with her pregnant mom, in Los Angeles. They aren’t happy, but they think things will turn out okay–until, on a trip to visit their father at a beach on the US/Mexico border, their driver accidentally misses the exit. Suddenly, her family is on the Mexican side of the border, desperately trying to re-enter the US. Their asylum paperwork isn’t considered enough for re-entry by border patrol, and Betita and her mom are sent to a detention camp. While Betita desperately tries to keep hope through her drawings, poetry, and stories, the inhumane treatment and abuse towards herself, her mom, and her new friends makes hope nearly impossible. Will Betita and her mother survive? And if they do, will they ever see her father again?

A heartbreaking novel in verse that captures the horrific conditions many families face in ICE detention camps. Beautiful writing by author Salazar keeps the reader immersed in Betita’s voice, feeling her emotions rise and sink with each new horror. While there is a bit of hope at the end, this is a hard, though necessary, read.

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Pavi Sharma’s Guide to Going Home by Bridget Farr
Gr. 4-5. Pavi Sharma has spent most of her life moving between foster families, and she puts her knowledge to good use, running a “business” where she teaches new foster kids her tricks while also digging up some research on their new foster families. Pavi is doing well with her current foster family, and she gets along well with her foster brother Hamilton–but then she learns about Meridee.

Meridee is just five-years-old and new to the foster system, but she got placed at Pavi’s first, horrible, foster home. Pavi still has nightmares about that place, and she can’t bare to have anyone else get sent there too. No one believes Pavi’s stories–the house has been reviewed multiple times and is deemed safe. With help from Hamilton and a few new friends, Pavi is determined to do whatever she has to do to keep Meridee safe.

I really appreciate that this features a foster kid–something that is definitely missing in middle grade fiction, and something I need to read more of. However, this is not an own voices novel (in Pavi’s Indian American identity or of being a foster kid, from what I can tell from the author’s regular references to her extended family on her website). This shows. Pavi’s culture may not be a big part of of her life with how long she has been in the foster system, but elements of the foster system seem forced. Would Pavi really be able to run her business? (Probably not.) Would none of the adults in this active and otherwise responsive facility remotely treat Pavi’s complaints seriously? (Maybe.) Are the colors of these kids’ skins used as manipulation techniques throughout the book? (It feels like it.) Foster kids are almost exclusively diverse–Pavi is Indian, Santos is Latinx, and Meridee is black. Meridee feels more like a plot device than a character. The foster parents are white. I want to like this because Pavi is a great character and the book will have a lot of kid appeal, but I can’t really recommend.

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Sofia Valdez and the Vanishing Vote by Andrea Beaty (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Sofia Valdez’s second grade class gets to choose a class pet! They will hold an election, and Sofia gets to serve as Election Commissioner. She needs to make sure that she doesn’t show any bias towards either of the final two candidates–Bird and Turtle–especially since her two best friends are campaigning against each other! Sofia makes sure the election is fair in every way, but when she counts the final votes, one vote is missing! Who could have stolen the vote? How will her class break the tie?

Another cute addition to The Questioneers chapter book series. This particular title was a fun look at elections and the importance of voting, though the teacher’s confusion was strange. After a while, I had to assume that she was faking her confusion to create a learning experience for her students, but that isn’t the way the story sells it? (She genuinely seems to think that if the class voted for a giant squid as a pet, they would get one? And she doesn’t think to set parameters on the type of pet until after the first round of voting has taken place?) Overall, however, this is a cute, fun read, especially before an elementary school class votes on their own class pet or student council representative.

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What Breathes Through Its Butt? by Emily Grossman (nonfiction)
Gr. 3-5. Learn the answers to all kinds of fascinating questions such as “What part of your body can’t feel any pain?”, “About how much does the internet weigh?”, “How much methane gas does one cow burp and fart in a day?”, and, of course, “Which of these animals can breathe through its butt?”. Each question presents four multiple choice answers, making it fun to guess before reading the entertaining explanations. Fun black-and-white doodles keep the reader engaged throughout.

This was so much fun! While I was initially disappointed this book wasn’t all about animal butts, the unique format and entertaining explanations kept me engaged. I learned a lot, and I would happily pick up more books in this format. Questions cover topics that are easy to include in a book talk, including a few questions that you could immediately test with a group of kids.

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When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (memoir)
Gr. 10+. Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ memoir (young adult edition). Khan-Cullors is one of the cofounders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. She shares her story–from her childhood experiences being raised by her mother and as a Jehovah’s Witness to watching her father and brother be arrested over and over and how her brother was even further tortured in prison due to the police and guard’s “treatment” of his mental illness. She lays out her experiences protesting, leading movements, and how she started the Black Lives Matter movement. Powerful, inspirational, hard to listen to, but necessary. I’m still processing this one, and I’m sure I will be for a long time.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.