Tag Archives: reading

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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Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon (teen)
Gr. 9+. Liliana Cruz knows she won’t fit in at the white school her parents want her to go to. She didn’t even know her parents sent in an application for her–she just got called to the principal’s office one day and told she was accepted into the METCO program and would now be bussed to a different school with more funding. Liliana is sure she won’t go, but when she finds out that her dad ran off again, she finds herself accepting to make her mom happy.

Liliana is one of only a few kids of color at her new school, and she doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. The other METCO kids laugh at her, and the white kids ignore her–well, all of them except for one really cute boy. Liliana is sure she will drop out of this program and just go back to her old school, but then she learns that her dad isn’t off doing his own thing–he got deported, and he can’t come home because he is undocumented. Suddenly, her classmates and teachers racist remarks sting more than ever before, and Liliana decides she is done making everyone else comfortable at her own expense.

Fantastic! Liliana’s journey of self-discovery felt real. While there was a lot going on, it all felt genuine–from the at home struggles to the micro and macro aggressions at school. Powerful, enjoyable, and an easy one to recommend.

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When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller
Gr. 4-6. Lily, her mother, and her older sister Sam move in with Lily’s sick grandmother. As they drive into town, a giant, magical tiger from one of her Halmoni’s stories arrives–a tiger only Lily can see. Halmoni tells Lily that a long time ago she stole something important from the tigers, and now the tigers want it back. Lily manages to talk to one of the tigers, and it offers her a deal: return the stories that Halmoni stole, and the tigers will return Halmoni’s health. Lily knows she has to take the tiger up on its bargain–but tigers are known for not quite telling the truth. And can quiet, invisible Lily ever really be brave enough to trick a tiger?

This was beautiful and brimming with strong feelings of love and family, weaving together culture and magical realism in a quiet but yet still suspenseful fashion. The depth of the side characters really stands out to me–Halmoni’s journey towards acceptance, Sam’s fear of being left behind, Ricky’s want for a real friend who gets it, and Lily’s mom in particular, trying to hold everyone together. I see why this won the Newbery

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 Coldfire Curse (Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly Book 1) by Jordan Quinn (graphic novel)
Gr. 1-3. Enter the kingdom of Wrenly in this dragon-filled graphic novel. Young Ruskin loves his life as the pet of the prince of Wrenly, but when another young dragon, Cinder, tells him that it is his destiny to save the kingdom, Ruskin reluctantly agrees to help. He wants to do his part–he just isn’t so sure he is the dragon everyone has been waiting for.

This was fun! I struggled with some of the other Little Simon graphic novels, but this felt fresh, with a good plot, interesting characters, and a simple enough story and vocabulary to still appeal to first and second graders. Dragons are always in demand, so this series will not struggle for readers.

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Don’t Hug Doug by Carrie Finison (picture book)
Gr. PreS – Gr. 2. Doug just doesn’t like hugs. No particular reason–he just doesn’t like them. And that is okay. But how do you know if someone is like Doug and doesn’t like hugs? You ask!

I see you Doug. I feel seen by you Doug. Some people love hugs and some people don’t, and I am so glad to see a book that says this is okay. A great starting conversation about consent.

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Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho (picture book)
Gr. PreS – Gr. 2. A young East Asian girl notices her eyes look different than her friends’ eyes. Instead of being big and round, her eyes kiss in the corners. But her eyes are just as special–they are her mother’s eyes, her Amah’s eyes, and her Mei Mei’s eyes–they are powerful and wonderful and beautiful.

A lovely, gorgeously illustrated book with lyrical, perfectly paced text. A must-read and recommend book that needs to be on your shelves.

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From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Gr. 4-5. Zoe Washington just wants to succeed at her new baking internship, so she can audition for the cooking show, Kids Bake Challenge. But her priorities shift when she checks the mail on her twelfth birthday and discovers a letter from her birth dad–someone she has never met because he has been in prison for murder. Zoe doesn’t know what to think, but eventually she decides to write back. She discovers a kind man who wants to get to know her–and who says he is innocent. How is that possible? Aren’t people who go to prison guilty? And if he is innocent–what is Zoe going to do about it?

I feel like everyone I know has read this book already and rightfully so–it was a delightful read. Zoe is such an honest character, feeling genuinely 12, trying to balance her knowledge that she is not a kid anymore with her nerves about lying and sneaking around behind her parents’ backs (for a good cause!). Author Marks also touches on prejudice and racism, particularly in the legal system, in a way that would easily lend itself to discussion and research in a classroom. A great read for fans of Three Keys, A Good Kind of Trouble, or The True Definition of Neva Beane.

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Give It a Try, Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi (beginning reader)
Gr. 1-2. Yasmin is back for more fun! This collects four beginning reader book into a longer chapter book: Yasmin the Librarian, Yasmin the Scientist, Yasmin the Recycler, and Yasmin the Singer.

Yasmin the Librarian: Yasmin is so excited to help in the library this week that she even brings in her favorite book from home to share with the librarian. But when her book goes missing, Yasmin has to quickly retrace her steps to track it down. Bonus points for showing a Black librarian.

Yasmin the Scientist: Yasmin has to make a project for the science fair, but sometimes science can get a bit too messy for Yasmin. Can she make her project work before the deadline?

Yasmin the Recycler: Yasmin’s school is starting a new recycling program! Yasmin is excited to help, but her classmates don’t seem to care. How can she make them just as excited as she is?

Yasmin the Singer: Yasmin gets to attend a very special party! Everyone is dressed super fancy, and suddenly Yasmin feels shy. Can she move past her nerves and let her singing voice shine?

As always, Yasmin’s adventures are sure to delight. More please!

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A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong (graphic novel)
Gr. 7+.Luna returns to Ren’s life, acting like Luna didn’t just vanish after one amazing summer years ago. This isn’t just Ren and Luna’s story–soon five girls, Ren, Luna, Jetta, Neil, and So-Young, are brought together due to a common goal: making their new women’s high school basketball team a success.

This one meanders a bit, touching on many tough issues including self harm, death, toxic family relationships, racism, drug addiction, and more. The coloring sometimes added to the story, but other times made characters or plot points fade into the background (intentional, I’m sure, but it left me having to super-focus to keep up).

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Milo Imagines the World by Christian Robinson (picture book)
Gr. K-2. During a long subway ride, young Milo draws pictures of the imagined lives of his fellow riders. Milo is sure the boy who got on with his dad is off on a grand, fancy adventure, but when that boy gets off at Milo’s stop and heads to the same place as Milo, Milo begins to realize that maybe other people’s lives aren’t what we assume.

A powerful book about assumptions that makes you think about what we presume about others–and how little we really know about them.

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Pup Detectives by Felx Gumpaw
Rider Woofson and his team of sleuths are on the case to discover the conniving Lunchtime Bandit. Can they solve the case?

Super Turbo by Edgar J. Powers
Super Turbo, the pet in Classroom C at Sunnyview Elementary, teams up with other class pets to make a formidable superhero team that saves the school from evil.

I wasn’t thrilled with these, though I am wondering if I am struggling more with the direction of Little Simon graphic novel line than these particular novels. I’m glad to see more graphic novels for younger students, but this felt like it was filling off a checkmark of tropes that are deemed “popular” with kids rather than writing a fun, original, engaging novel. I’ve enjoyed other more recent graphic novels for young kids more, including Pizza and Taco, Beak and Ally, and Pea Bee and Jay. It feels like this might be aiming for Dog Man fans, but the humor in Max Meow, InvestiGators, and even Agent Moose does a better job for that audience.

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A Sled for Gabo by Emma Otheguy (picture book)
Gr. PreS-2. Gabo is so excited for the snow, but he doesn’t have all of the clothes and toys the other kids from his new school have. His socks aren’t wool, and his shoes aren’t waterproof, but his Mami helps him figure out ways to make what they have stretch. But, even once he is outside, Gabo still doesn’t have a sled of his own. Can someone in his neighborhood help?

A fun, family-filled book that touches on childhood shyness and socio-economic realities while telling a story of a boy who just wants to play in the snow. An adorable winning book that begs to be snuggled with on a cold winter day

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Time for Kenny by Brian Pinkney (picture book)
Gr. Toddler-PreS. Follow Kenny’s adventures in four simple, repetitive stories as Kenny gets dressed, Kenny defeats the vacuum cleaner, Kenny learns to play soccer, and Kenny eventually heads to bed.

Short and simple, but this one stands out in its simplicity and vibrant illustrations. Looking forward to more like this.

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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For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
Gr. 5-7. Makeda loves her family, but she doesn’t always know if she fits in. Makeda is Black, and she was adopted by a white family as a baby–and her family members don’t always seem to understand some of Makeda’s questions. When her family moves to New Mexico, Makeda leaves behind her best friend, and the only girl she has ever met who is just like her. Makeda can’t seem to make friends at her new school, and her mom’s moods seem to change every day. Her dad isn’t around much anymore, and her sister is too busy–can Makeda hold everything together?

There are so many layers to this one–it touches on different particulars than many of the recent upper elementary realistic fiction reads focusing on racism and/or social justice. The own voices exploration into Makeda’s life as a Black girl adopted into a white family is wonderful, with the added layer of Makeda’s mom’s mental health. The mental health storyline does seem to get pretty heavy fairly quickly–moving beyond mood swings to depression and attempted suicide in what feels like just a few pages (it isn’t that fast, but the story moves quickly). I wish some elements of that storyline were own voices too–overall there is a lot happening here with these two very strong storylines (plus additional smaller plot points).

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Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit
Gr. 4-6. Vivy wants to pitch on her local baseball team, just like her hero, Major League pitcher VJ Capello. After one of his games, he taught her how to throw a special knuckleball pitch, and Vivy has been practicing. But, Vivy is a girl, she has autism, and her mom is very protective of Vivy and Vivy’s activities. Everyone wants her to try softball, but Vivy knows you can only throw a knuckeball with a baseball. Vivy doesn’t think her dream will ever come true when two incredible things happen: a local Little League coach spots her throwing with her brother and invites her to join his team. And legendary VJ Capello actually responds to Vivy’s fan letter. Soon, Vivy is pitching on a real team, while also making friends with her hero through their letters.

THIS BOOK! Vivy is a wonderful, fleshed-out character, made so much more real because this is an own voices autism novel. I don’t like sports or sports books, and by all definitions I should have not enjoyed this–but I loved it. The dynamic between Vivy and VJ is fantastic and such a great example of a positive adult relationship outside of your immediate family. Vivy’s choices always feel honest, as do her emotions, frustrations, and passion for pitching. I’ll never understand the joy some people find in watching or playing sports, but I can understand Vivy’s passion, determination, and love for all things baseball. Buy this for your library and book talk it to everyone.

*I do wish the audiobook had been recorded by an own voices narrator.

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I Love You, Baby Burrito by Angela Dominguez (picture book)
Gr. Baby-Toddler. Adorable story following a family bringing their new baby home. Includes Spanish words throughout, with a glossary on the back end papers. Encourages some body part identification that would be useful in a storytime setting.

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Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan (picture book)
Gr. K-1. Carol Olivia misses her parents, but she loves her Mama Rose. While Carol Olivia would love if they could all live together, Mama Rose is everything Carol Olivia needs–kind, strict when needed, and, of course, full of love.

I’m not sure how this one slipped past me last year, but it is a wonderful story with a non-traditional caregiver. A must for your collection.

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This Place: 150 Years Retold by Various
Gr. 8+. A collection of short stories, told by Indigenous creators, chronicling the last 150 years. Some are stories passed down from generation to generation, reading as magical realism, others are rooted in Canadian historical movements and protests, and another ends with a time-travel-filled look into the future. Particular to communities across Canada.

This was fascinating, though I struggled with it a bit, in the way I struggle with many anthologies. Some of these stories held my interest more than others, but I think that was much more my passing interest at the time than anything to be said for the strength of one story over the next. The connecting timelines and history held this one together for me–particularly the returned focus to the idea that for the last few hundred years–since Contact–while much of the world would claim humanity has “flourished”, Native people have literally lived through an apocalypse–of their land, their people, their culture, their civilization. Indigenous people have been trying to survive in this post-apocalyptic world.

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.

2020 Reading Review & 2021 Reading Goals

It is officially 2021, so I’m back to take another look at what I read in 2020 and figure out what I want to focus on in 2021. Until 2020, I hadn’t really thought that much about what I read, beyond recognizing that I read a lot and the occasional passing personal thought, such as not being very familiar with first chapter books (something I noticed in January and was able to do something about in March). In July 2020, I decided to really look at what I was reading. I was confident that my nonfiction reading would be abysmal (it was) but equally confident that the amount of diverse books I read was high (it really wasn’t).

I looked at a lot of numbers in July and created the tables below to compare data now that the year is over.

For the first few tables below, “diverse” means the main character is diverse (in race, ethnicity, religion, ability, etc.). This also includes biographies about diverse people.

Later tables break down my reading with an eye for just having a diverse main character, a diverse author, and an own voices authors.

I read 1745 books this year, 720 from January-July, 1025 from July-December.

Format/Age + Diversity

Jan.-July 2020July-Dec. 2020ChangeJan.-Dec. 2020Change
Picture Books329 (46%)706 (69%)+23%1035 (59%)+13%
– % of PB, Diverse129 (39%)415 (59%)+20%544 (53%)+14%
Beginning Readers50 (7%)45 (4%)-3%95 (5%)-2%
– % of BR, Diverse20 (40%)21 (47%)+7%41 (43%)+3%
First Chapter Books80 (11%)76 (7%)-4%156 (9%)-2%
– % of FC, Diverse45 (56%)50 (66%)+5%95 (61%)+5%
Graphic Novels191 (27%)112 (11%)-16%303 (17%)-10%
– % of GN, Diverse44 (23%)51 (45%)+22%95 (31%)+8%
Kids Chapter Books34 (5%)37 (4%)-1%71 (4%)-1%
– % of KC, Diverse13 (35%)34 (92%)+58%47 (67%)+32%
Teen Chapter Books8 (1%)15 (1%)23 (1%)0
– % of Teen, Diverse4 (50%)12 (80%)+30%16 (70%)+20%
Adult Books4 (0.5%)0-0.5%4 (0.2%)-0.3%
– % of Adult, Diverse0 (0%)00

2020 Review: Format/Intended Audience

This was a fun category to track this year, as I’ve never looked at my reading in this kind of detail before. That said, I’m probably not going to do a full stats breakdown for this every year, as I don’t think these numbers are going to drastically affect my reading habits. My format preferences vary based on a lot of outside factors, mainly how much time I have for reading and my patience for longer books at that moment.

I sometimes feel like my reading numbers are “inflated” because I include picture books and readers, and it is cool to see that I still read 615 “longer” books (first chapter, graphic novels, kids chapter, teen chapter, adult books). That number isn’t going to impact how many picture books I read–books are books after all, and a picture book can hold just as much value as a teen novel–but it is still interesting to see the breakdown.

I am reading the least diversely in beginning readers and graphic novels. I think both of these reflect those formats: overall, they are some of the least diverse areas of children’s publishing, especially when looking for own voices titles. Next year, I’ll make more of an effort to do my small part in changing that by reading and promoting every own voices beginning reader book and graphic novel I can find.

Finally, when looking at this breakdown, I want to increase my number of teen chapter books next year. This is harder simply due to length (they take me longer to read). It is also harder because I more regularly provide reader’s advisory and book talks to ages 6-11, and I want to keep up with my knowledge for those ages. I read a lot of teen graphic novels–but not many chapter books, and I am missing a lot of great titles because of that. I need to be more familiar with titles for teens, so bring on #TeenReadingGoals2021.

2021 Reading Goals:

  • Actively look for more diverse beginning readers and graphic novels (carried over from 2020).
  • Read more teen chapter books in 2021 (at least 35 books).

Fiction/Nonfiction

Jan.-July 2020July-Dec. 2020ChangeJan.-Dec. 2020Change
Fiction653 (91%)807 (79%)-12%1460 (84%)-7%
– % of Fiction, Diverse231 (35%)466 (58%)23%697 (47%)12%
Nonfiction66 (9%)218 (21%)12%284 (16%)7%
– % of Nonfiction, Diverse29 (44%)130 (60%)16%159 (56%)12%
Biographies*19 (3%)125 (12%)9%144 (8%)5%
– % of Biographies, Diverse14 (74%)92 (74%)0%106 (74%)0%

*Biographies also included in nonficiton.

2020 Review: Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

This statement still holds true from my 2020 mid-year reading review: “I don’t like non-fiction. Sorry world. I never enjoyed reading non-fiction as a child, and I very, very rarely do as an adult.”

However, I am happy to see that, with some effort, my nonfiction reading did increase, with 16% of my total reading being nonfiction books. I made an effort to read more biographies, and while the percentages didn’t change drastically, I know I read more biographies than I would have if I hadn’t set this as a goal. I know this is a hard area for me. But, I don’t think my nonfiction/fiction balance is as important as diversity in my reading, so I’m not going to set any goals for 2021 related to these numbers, though I am going to continue to collect them.

Diversity

Jan.-July 2020July-Dec. 2020ChangeJan.-Dec. 2020Change
Diverse Main Character260 (36%)595 (58%)22%855 (49%)13%
Diverse Authors153 (21%)354 (35%)14%507 (29%)8%
Own Voices Authors132 (18%)269 (26%) 8%401 (23%)5%
LGBTQIA+ Main Character28 (4%)49 (5%)1%77 (4%)0%

2020 Review: Diversity

Finally, onward toward the most important question: how diverse is my reading, really?

I set some goals for myself in July 2020:

  • Increase Own Voices reads to 25% of my total reading. = Not met. (23%, +5%)
  • Increase LGBTQIA+ main character reads to 8% of total reading = Not met. (4%, no change)

I made some growth, but I did not meet either of my goals.

I definitely read more diversely. Nearly half of the books I read in 2020 had a diverse main character. However, more than half of those diverse books were not by own voices authors. I want both of those numbers to be higher.

Between my job requirements, professional development commitments, the volume of my reading, and the need to keep reading everything I love during these stressful times, I know I won’t stay committed to a goal to read only own voices books in 2021. And I don’t want to create goals I know I won’t work toward (because then you start down the slippery slope where you wonder if you really need to work toward any of your goals).

I’m going to continue with both of these goals in 2021, with the new reminder that I need to make more of an effort to meet both of these goals. This is why I pull stats: I feel like I am reading more and looking harder, but the numbers show I am not where I would like to be.

One new addition: I want to start sorting my reading by diversity experience (Black experience, Indian American experience, Muslim experience, Autistic experience, etc.) instead of just generally categorizing these books as “diverse.” I’m going to start with a series of new Goodreads shelves to see what I tend to read (and, more importantly, what I’m missing). I pulled out LGBTQIA+ characters last year, and I set a goal for them in 2020 and 2021. What other types of experiences are missing from my reading?

2021 Reading Goals:

  • Sort my reading by diversity experience (type of diversity), and re-examine in mid-2021 what diverse experiences I read the most.
  • Increase the amount of books read by own voices authors to at least 30% (carried over from 2020, increased).
  • Increase the amount of books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters to at least 8% (carried over from 2020).

Final Thoughts

There is a lot to unpack here, but I’m glad to write out some reading goals for 2021. This is my first time starting a new year with clear, written reading goals–will this post keep me accountable? I think a lot of that answer will depend on what 2021 brings.

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.