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Young Adult Book Review by Ronda Einbinder – Once More With Chutzpah

 

ONCE MORE WITH CHUTZPAH

 Written by Haley Neil

 (Bloomsbury; $17.99; Ages 12 and up)

 

 

Once More With Chutzpah cover

 

When Tally’s twin brother Max is the passenger in a tragic car crash with a drunk driver, who is killed, Tally decides a winter break trip to Israel will be the remedy to get him back on track in Haley Neil’s debut YA novel Once More With Chutzpah.

High school senior Tally seems to have her life in order. The plan is to attend Boston College with Max, where their non-Jewish mother teaches religion, and share a dorm room with her best friend Cat. But life doesn’t always go as planned, especially since the car accident six months earlier. Her father’s side of the family is Jewish, and her uncle lives in Israel, so Tally sees the exchange program as the perfect getaway for Max to reenergize so they can follow the plan she always had for them.

The story begins at the airport, saying goodbye to mom and dad, where the reader feels Tally’s anxiety about traveling by plane for the very first time and going far from the comforts of home. She is grateful she has Max. As the story unfolds, Tally meets new people, experiences the history of her Jewish family, begins to question her sexual identity, and begins to realize her brother may not be the only one struggling.

This heartfelt come-to-age novel brought me back to swimming in the Dead Sea, eating hummus and falafel in the Shuk in Tel Aviv, and visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Tally also sadly learns what camp her father’s family was taken to during the Holocaust. Tally’s anxiety and confusion about life are relatable for many teens. A mid-novel surprise takes the reader off-guard as we travel, courtesy of Neil’s transportive prose, on an unexpected journey.

Once More with Chutzpah tackles the conflicts in Israel, the challenges that teens experience while discovering themselves, and the power of friendships both new and old. This original Israeli-focused YA novel introduces the reader to LGBTQ, mixed religions, feminism, and native Israelis, and gives teens a quick background on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. These thought-provoking topics are written beautifully for teens grappling with their own identities. Available in paperback in February 2023.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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Young Adult Fantasy Book Review – Stalking Shadows

 

STALKING SHADOWS

Written by Cyla Panin

(Abrams; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

 

Stalking Shadows cover

 

 

 

If you’re drawn to imperfect main characters in complicated situations, seventeen-year-old Marie in Cyla Panin’s YA fantasy, Stalking Shadows, certainly has stuff to deal with. Set in a small eighteenth-century French town, Marie mixes and sells perfumes at the market to earn a little money and, hopefully, survive another winter. However, some of her concoctions are used to mark victims for her sister, Ama (who slays them when the moon changes her into a beast). Marie doesn’t want to do this, but choosing who dies dispels the suspicions a bit. Sometimes, to spare the townsfolk, she chains Ama up for the night, feeding her rabbit.

As it becomes more difficult for Marie to control the beast, she sets out to discover what happened to Ama. It happened when their drunkard father sold her into servitude at Lord Sebastian LaClaire’s mansion. Ama left as a girl and returned home a monster.

Beyond the fascinating story, the slashed cover art pulled me in with a girl peering out from beneath an intriguing-looking animal that seems to be a lion mix. Just as Ama is many things, this story is too: a fantastical fairy tale with hints of historical fiction. While it’s hard to avoid comparisons to Beauty and the Beast, Panin’s book has more depth. In addition to the expected possible romance, you’ll find fierce sisterhood and fractured families. Layers of secrets and intrigue make this a page-turner that will keep you guessing until the end. The paperback will be available this August and can be pre-ordered here now.

 

 

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Young Adult Book Review – Horror Hotel

 


HORROR HOTEL

Written by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren

(Underlined; Trade Paperback $9.99, Ages  12+)  

 

Horror Hotel paperback cover
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Get ready to be scared from the moment you peek between the pages of Horror Hotel by the award-winning cowriting duo Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren. What would the teen foursome who calls themselves the Ghost Gang do to reach one million YouTube subscribers? Maybe push some boundaries, maybe break some laws, and hopefully not get killed in the process!
Chase knows they need more than their usual documentary-style paranormal huntings, so he seeks something spooky but seemingly harmless. The plan he proposes involves sneaking out to spend the night at an infamous Los Angeles hotel. Once there, they’ll secretly film after dark, investigating the unsolved death of Eileen Warren. The Ghost Gang hopes to have it all covered: Chrissy sees ghosts, Kiki is TikTok famous, and Emma brings her skepticism. However, they soon discover their talent and experience may not be enough to survive the evildoings that await.
The fast-paced suspense will keep you turning pages. Told in short chapters, viewpoints alternate between all four teens. Eileen Warren’s blog posts (leading up to shortly before her body was found in the elevator shaft) are interspersed, adding another element of intrigue.
While romance surfaces throughout the story, the importance of true friendship anchors the story—captured in all of its imperfections. Chrissy can also sometimes hear people’s thoughts, which adds an interesting element when those moments of unfiltered honesty surface. Yet, as cool as her abilities seem to others, Chrissy often feels they are a curse because, “spoiler alert—there’s no otherworldly psychiatrist to help your cope with all the dead people.”
I like how the Ghost Gang comes to realize that “sometimes, it’s the dead who need our help—and the living we should fear.” So dim the lights and channel your inner sleuth to see if you can solve this gruesomely fun whodunit.
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Gift Books for the Whole Family

GIFT BOOKS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright! coverTIGER, TIGER, BURNING BRIGHT!
An Animal Poem for Each Day of the Year

Selected by Fiona Waters
Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
(Nosy Crow; $40, Ages 3-7)

Louise  Bolongaro, Head of Picture Books at Nosy Crow, describes poems as bite-sized worlds that can be snacked on word by word or swallowed whole in one big gulp. I could not agree more. That’s why this new collection of poems for each day of the year is indeed a treat to be savored whether read daily, weekly, monthly, or whenever the mood strikes you. There are recognizable names such as Emily Dickinson, Russell Hoban, Mary Ann Hoberman, Myra Cohn Livingston, Ogden Nash, Jack Prelutsky, Christina Rossetti, Judith Viorst, and Jane Yolen, but there are many others to discover. One morsel of an author’s words may introduce a delicious poetry experience for children (or parents), much like trying a new food. Though in this case, it’s all fabulous food for thought!

Take for example the poem presented for February 17th, “The Platypus” a whimsical ode to the creature by Oliver Herford who notes that “The scientists were sorely vexed/To classify him; so perplexed/Their brains, that they, with Rage, at bay,/Called him a horrid name one day, — …” Then leave winter and head to spring for poems about bears and bats, coyotes and crows, goats, gorillas, and seagulls. In summer, fall, and back again to winter days, hundreds of poems showcase a rich selection of animals from aardvark to scorpions, and from swans to swallows not to mention bees, butterflies, parrots, and hippos. Waters has curated this excellent anthology with a mix of poems that is as varied as the animals themselves.

Fans of nature will delight in Britta Teckentrup’s lush illustrations that bring texture and soft tones to every expansive page. This must-read 328-page picture book will likely turn youngsters into poetry lovers. I recommend seeking out a poem for a child’s birthday as one fun way into the book or searching in the index for their favorite animal and starting from there. As you can tell, there are myriad ways to enjoy this unique and inviting book, but the most important thing is to simply see for yourself.

 

The Big Book of Amazing Lego Creations coverTHE BIG BOOK OF AMAZING LEGO CREATIONS
WITH BRICKS YOU ALREADY HAVE: 75+ Brand-New Vehicles, Robots,
Dragons, Castles, Games and Other Projects for Endless Creative Play
by Sarah Dees
(Page Street Publishing; $21.99, Ages 6-12)

Here’s a book to keep the whole family busy this holiday season and beyond. I used to spend hours with my son coming up with new designs from his box of Legos and perhaps you’ve done the same. Page Street says that “This time around, Sarah includes chapters for mini projects and LEGO art, both of which have been popular categories on her blog but never explored in her previous books.” In other words, you’ll likely want her to check out her blog (Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls) and get a hold of her other books in this series after you’ve finished with this one. However, The Big Book of Amazing Lego Creations seems like a super place to start especially given the 75 projects in this book alone!

I love a book designed to inspire new creations your kids might have never considered. And, given the success of her previous books, Dees has definitely found a brilliant way to make use of the bevy of bricks your kids have accumulated that you’d ordinarily never think twice about except when you step on one in your bare feet!

The book opens with two pages suggesting how to best use this book. Get your children to think about what they’d like to build so they know how to proceed. Then organize bricks (darn, we never did that and it makes perfect sense), and take advantage of the step-by-step instructions and full-color photos. I wouldn’t be surprised if many kids reading the book figure out even more ways to craft something after being inspired by Dees’ projects. I found the “Brick Guide” section very helpful. If your children have the wherewithal, they can even divide up the pieces by color, too.

The book is cleverly divided into categories so choosing what to make is easy. There’s “Amazing Vehicles,” “Living in Lego Town” (my favorite), “Fairytale Chronicles,” “Tek Agents and the Villain Bot,” “Vacation by the Sea” (second fave), “Awesome Mini Builds,” and “Play and Display.” I got so excited when I saw there was a School Classroom creative challenge on page 80 in the “Living in Lego Town” section. My son and I always improvised when building rooms, but this detailed project makes me wish he were eight again so we could try it out because it is so cool. Instructions on how to assemble a Tiny Car can be found on page 89.  Dees writes that “This petite sedan might just be the cutest car made out of bricks,” perfect for minifigures to drive and ideal to color customize. The Miniature Golf Course creative challenge on page 244 is also quite cool. All you need are a few marbles and the pieces described to set up your own at-home activity!

No matter what your child’s level, this accessible book will entertain and engage them (and hopefully parents too) for hours on end.

Relics coverRELICS: A History of the World Told in 133 Objects
 Written by Jamie Grove, Max Grove, Mini Museum
(Weldon Owen; $30, Ages 12 and up)

Since I am an armchair time traveler, the idea of this book appealed to me so I had to see for myself what looking at these 133 relics would reveal. The folks who comprise Mini Museum state their mission “is to share the love of science and history with the world! We do this by creating collections of rare and unique objects from across space and time.” What better way to explore history when it’s been lovingly curated by individuals committed to sharing their passion?

Whether you’re interested in some or all of the following categories “Earth Before Humans,” “The Ancient & Early Modern World” or “The World As We  Know It,” the sections conveniently and colorfully put “Four Billion Years in the Palm of Your Hand.” I used the handy table of contents to find objects that interested me and went from there.

As an L.A. resident, I was immediately drawn to page 92 to read about the La Brea Tar Pits, a place we take all out-of-town guests. The specimen photo is of a fossil excavated from the petroleum seep that has become “lake-like” and where, over the millennia, animals have been trapped providing scientists with a rich and sometimes surprising selection of remains. In addition to the photo page, the second page of background info dives deeper for those seeking more than a brief explanation.  Jumping ahead to page 232, I was curious about the Soviet Spy Button, a specimen that “is a spy camera disguised as a button used by the Soviet agents in the Cold War.” A fact box further explains that “Spy camera technology came in many forms: Television sets, cigarette boxes, ties, rings, alarm clocks, and pens. At one point, the CIA even planted a microphone within the ear canal of a cat!” It’s info about specimens such as this one, or about a piece from the first transatlantic cable or the fragment of Libyan desert glass that may have formed over 28.5 million years ago (a piece of which has been found in King Tut’s tomb), that you and your teens will find fascinating, making Relics hard to put down. This packed-to-the-brim coffee table book, a certain conversation starter, will be a welcome gift for family and friends.

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Young Adult Fiction Review – Fade into the Bright

 

FADE INTO THE BRIGHT

Written by

Jessica Koosed Etting

+

Alyssa Embree Schwartz

(Delacorte Press; $17.99,  Ages 12 and up) 

 

 

 

 

“Would knowing how you were going to die change the way you choose to live?” That question drove coauthors Jessica Koosed Etting and Alyssa Embree Schwartz to write their YA, Fade into the Bright. From the opening pages, eighteen-year-old Abby’s voice pulled me in: “Obviously, it happened right before Christmas. Because don’t all extremely shitty things happen right around the holidays?” This refers to the news Abby and her older sister Brooke receive from their estranged father. In his brief letter, they discover he’s tested positive for Huntington’s disease. The girls have a 50/50 chance of also carrying the gene for this fatal degenerative brain disorder (described as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS all rolled into one). Typical onset happens between your thirties and fifties.

Both sisters decide to undergo the required six-month pre-testing genetic counseling. Older sister Brooke tests negative, but Abby’s not so lucky. Suddenly, her plans to attend college—and do pretty much anything else with her life—seem futile; Abby escapes to a remote part of Catalina Island to stay the summer with her aunt. (Though I live in Los Angeles and have visited Catalina, the book’s setting provided me with scenery I had not experienced: “rugged and rustic, completely removed.”)

The story unfolds, alternating between chapters in the present day and those flagged as “before.” I like the designation of “before” because it’s true, when something life-changing happens there is that moment before it happened, then everything else follows. Abby’s ups and downs feel real as she wonders what to do while she waits for symptoms to appear. A job at the beach keeps her busy enough to keep panic mostly at bay, but brings with it the complications of whether she should (or could) tell her new friends about all of this, and what to do when she starts falling for her charismatic and attractive coworker, Ben.

The heart of this story revolves around family and how this disease brings people together, pulls them apart, and how to live with everyone’s results. Sister dynamics can already be complex; add in Huntington’s and a layered, emotional story is born. As Abby says about this disease, “It tells you your ending, but leaves out the important parts, like the how and the when.” Still, the characters choose to move forward and, overall, the book feels inspirational.

Jessica Koosed Etting and Alyssa Embree Schwartz know a thing or two about relationships since they’re probably as close as sisters, having been BFFs for more than twenty years and cowriters for most of that period. Their seamless process works; Fade into the Bright is a beautifully written book about such a difficult topic. Huntington’s is near to Jessica because she has watched her family deal with similar situations to those depicted in the book. I’m thankful these writers brought awareness to this disease and the far-reaching impact of a diagnosis.

 

 

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Pride Month Book Review – No Way, They Were Gay?

NO WAY, THEY WERE GAY?:

Hidden Lives and Secret Loves

by Lee Wind

(Zest Books; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

No Way They Were Gay book cover

 

I knew I was going to love No Way, They Were Gay? when I first got the inside scoop about it during author Lee Wind’s book launch earlier this year. But I’d like to add that while I’m sharing my review during Pride Month, it should not by any means be read just in June.

Wind’s excellent young adult nonfiction book is clearly a labor of love and a book that will launch myriad meaningful conversations as it has done in my home. Top on the discussion list is how the history we learn is created by those in power. Wind reminds us that, as educated and questioning readers, we have to always carefully consider any historical information presented, its sources, along with motivations and biases. Were certain details related to certain historical figures’ gender identity, romantic and/or love interests withheld from public accounts to protect a person’s image or reputation such as that of English poet and playwright William Shakespeare, President Abraham Lincoln, India’s independence proponent, Mahatma Gandhi, or First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt? Were there other reasons influencing the decision to downplay, edit, or hide these and others’ true stories? This book delves deep and wide into the “why” and makes us rethink our knowledge of the people Wind has selected.

 

NoWayTheyWereGay Shakespeare int
Interior design and image from No Way, They Were Gay? by Lee Wind, Zest Books ©2021.

 

The exhaustive research collected and carefully conveyed in this book speaks volumes to Wind’s commitment to speaking truth to power while reaffirming respect for and the importance of the individuals included. Would Shakespeare’s sonnets be any less powerful and passionate if they were dedicated to a man? No. Does Gandhi’s relationship with another man mean he was any less of a leader? No. Does Roosevelt’s enduring relationship with Lorena Hickock detract from her contributions to society during an especially trying period in our history? No? So why then do the facts about who these people loved remain disputed or concealed? Wind presents his take with compelling proof and winning arguments, and then asks teens what they think.

 

NoWayTheyWereGay QueenAnne int
Interior design and photograph from No Way, They Were Gay? by Lee Wind, Zest Books ©2021.

 

 

No Way, They Were Gay? is divided up into three parts: “Men Who Loved Men,” “Women Who Loved Women,” and “People Who Lived Outside Gender Boundaries.” There’s an excellent and comprehensive Introduction, a Conclusion as well as an Author’s Note, Source Notes, Recommended Resources, and an Index. What I appreciated the most about the intro was that Wind included explanations about gender identity, the acronym LGBTQ and LGBTQIA2+, and labeling in a way that makes them easily understood. The book’s design, featuring fact bubbles, news clippings, images, photographs, and letters, adds to the ease of reading. Throughout the book, primary sources are presented in bold, another great idea. Additionally, there’s a suggestion at the end to read the book chronologically for those who prefer this approach. (See page 251)

Wind’s book is a great jumping-off point for further reading (which he provides) because after finishing each part readers may find themselves asking more questions. In fact, I love that Wind encourages them to. Speaking of further exploration, do not miss a visit to his website which is another helpful resource for tweens and teens. Though the suggested age range by the publisher is ages 12 and up, many 10- and 11-year-olds will welcome the information. I came away from my read of No Way, They Were Gay? both grateful that a thoughtful light has been shed on the lives of so many notable people in the LGBTQIA2+ community throughout history, and happy that Wind has written an indispensable book on queer history that will be embraced for years to come.

 

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Young Adult Fiction – Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour

WATCH OVER ME

By Nina LaCour

(Dutton BYR; $17.99, Ages 12 and up) 

 

Watch Over Me cover

 

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

Sometimes I just want to read something different. I was in that kind of mood when coming across Nina LaCour’s YA, Watch Over Me. The striking cover caught my attention: a photo of a girl with downcast eyes and floating hair. When I opened the book, the image had altered slightly, showing her eyes and evoking an unsettling feeling. I couldn’t wait to get reading!

The story begins with Mila leaving her kind (but, having-their-own-baby-now) foster home. She’s found a job on an unconventional farm in Northern California. The couple running it has, over the years, adopted dozens of kids and taken in teens, like Mila, who aged-out of the system, assigning them as teachers for the little ones. Mila’s first student, Lee, is also a troubled outcast. Mila wants to reach him, but struggles to understand her new environment which is both welcoming and excluding.

Along with this self-chosen family comes a land filled with ghosts who dance and play in the distance when Mila returns to her cabin at night. The foggy, rocky coast’s strong atmospheric presence wraps around Mila’s pain. Flashback chapters give glimpses of her life before foster care as the loneliness, trauma, and guilt of Mila’s past escalate into inevitable confrontation.

LaCour’s spare, beautifully written, first-person chapters infuse flashbacks, allowing the reader’s immersion to slowly build in this moving, cerebral story. The dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, revealed in fragments, is emotionally jarring. Yet, Mila’s resilience provides promise for redemption. Conventional lines of reality bend, perfectly suiting the blurred mindset of the plot.

 

 

Click here to read another YA review by Christine.

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Five Recommended Reads for Kids – Black History Month 2021

 

FIVE CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH

∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

BlackHistoryMonthgraphic clipart

This year choosing books to include in our Recommended Reads for Kids – Black History Month Roundup has been more difficult than ever because there are dozens of excellent ones being published and more on the way. Here is just a small sample of great reads, from picture book to graphic novel to young adult fantasy that are available for kids and teens to enjoy.

 

 

TheABCsofBlackHistory cvrTHE ABCs OF BLACK HISTORY
Written by Rio Cortez
Illustrated by Lauren Semmer
(Workman Publishing; $14.95, Ages 5 and up)

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Starred Review – Kirkus

The ABCs of Black History is the kind of inspiring book children and adults will want to return to again and again because there is so much to absorb. In other words, it’s not your mother’s ABC book. Written in uplifting rhyme by Pushcart Prize-nominated poet Rio Cortez, this gorgeous 60-page picture book is at once a look back in time and a look to the future for young Black children. However it is recommended reading for children of all races and their families.

Cortez has shined a lyrical light on places, events and figures familiar and less familiar from Black history with comprehensive back matter going more in depth. Take H for example: “H is for Harlemthose big city streets! / We walked and we danced to our own jazzy beat. / When Louis and Bessie and Duke owned the stage, / and Langston and Zora Neale Hurston, the page.” J is for Juneteenth and S, which gets double coverage, is for scientists and for soul. Adding  to the hopeful tone of Cortez’s rhyme are Semmer’s bold and vibrant graphics which jump off the page. The dazzling colors pull you in and the variety of composition keep you hooked.

The ABCs of Black History is a book you’ll want to read together with your young ones and let your older children discover and savor on their own. It’s not only a visual and aural treat, it’s a sweeping celebration and exploration of Black culture and history that is beautiful, compelling, thought provoking and thoroughly unputdownable!
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

WE WAIT FOR THE SUN
Written by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe

Illustrated by Raissa Figueroa  
(Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly

Adapted from the final chapter of Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s autobiography Mighty Justice, We Wait for the Sun is an intimate look at a tender moment in Dovey’s childhood. The book opens with a preface about the main character, Dovey, who grew up to be a legendary figure in the fight for racial equality-all through the influence of her beloved grandmother, Rachel Bryant Graham. Dovey loved to share stories of Grandmother Rachel; this book is the story she loved best. 

In “the midsummer night” when it’s “dark and cool,” Dovey and her grandmother walk “through the darkness toward the woods” to pick blackberries. Lyrical language and textural illustrations awaken the senses and draw us into their adventure.

Other women join in and the trip goes deeper still into the forest. Staring at Grandma’s shoes, Dovey is literally following her grandmother’s steps into the darkness. But Grandma Rachel provides comfort and reassurance. “If you wait just a little, your eyes will learn to see, and you can find your way.” 

Through such examples of wisdom and encouragement, it’s clear to see why Grandma Rachel was such an inspiration to Dovey and her later work as a civil rights lawyer. As they sit in the forest and listen to its  “thousand sounds,” a double page spread shows an aerial view of their meditative moment, immersed in the magic of their surroundings. 

And when they reach the berries, they’re every bit worth the wait-plump, juicy, and sweet-like the lush layers of purple, blue, and pink illustrations that display a beautiful berry-colored world as dawn, bit by bit, turns to day. Wrapped in each other’s arms, Grandma and Dovey watch the sun rise in its golden splendor. Grandma’s steadfast waiting for the light, despite the present darkness, is a moving message of hope, resilience, and bravery.

Back matter includes an in-depth note from co-author Katie McCabe chronicling Dovey’s fight against barriers in the law, military, and ministry. For anyone interested in the powerful ways family and history intersect, We Wait for the Sun is a must-have in every library.  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Opening the Road coverOPENING THE ROAD:
Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book
Written by Keila V. Dawson
Illustrated by Alleanna Harris
(Beaming Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

While white Americans eagerly embarked on carefree car travel around the country, in 1930s Jim Crow America the road was not a safe or welcoming place for Black people. In Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, Keila V. Dawson explores the entrepreneur Victor Green and his successful The Negro Motorist Green Book which was borne out of dire need.

Young readers will learn about the limitations that were in place restricting the freedoms of Black Americans to have access to the same conveniences whites did due to segregation laws. For instance, a road trip for a Black family meant bringing food, pillows, and even a portable toilet since most establishments along a route were for whites only. The same applied to hotels, service stations, auto-mechanics and even hospitals. And in “Sundown” towns, where Blacks could work but not live, those individuals had to be gone by sunset or risk jail or worse.

In this fascinating 40-page nonfiction picture book, Dawson explains in easy-to-understand prose exactly what obstacles faced Black travelers and why Green, a mail carrier, together with his wife Alma, decided to publish a directory. Inspired by a Kosher guide for Jews who also faced discrimination, Green began collecting information from people on his postal route about where safe places were in New York.

Eventually, with word-of-mouth expanding interest in Green’s book, he began corresponding with mail carriers nationwide to gather more recommendations for The Negro Motorist Green Book on more cities. Soon everyone from day-trippers to celebrities were using the Green Book. Green even made a deal with Standard Oil for the book to be sold in Esso gas stations where it “flew off the shelves.” Harris’s illustrations take readers back in time with colorful, realistic looking scenes of big old cars, uniformed service station attendants and locations in Black communities that opened their doors to Black travelers. Apart from a break during WWII, the book was sold until the need for it finally ended with the last edition in 1966-67.

Equality both on and off the road was the ultimate goal for Black Americans. That may have improved somewhat from when the first Green Book was published in 1936, but Victor did not live to see the Civil Rights Act of 1964 enacted, having passed away in 1960. However there is still a long road ahead because, unlike Victor’s Green Book, racism has not disappeared and being Black while driving can still be dangerous, even deadly.

Dawson dives into this in her five pages of back matter that include a clever roadway timeline graphic from the beginning of Green’s life in 1892 until the Green Book ceased publication. This is a helpful, thoughtfully written book to share with children to discuss racism, and a good way to begin a discussion about self-advocacy, ingenuity, and how to treat one another with respect. It’s also a welcome example of how Green channeled his frustration and dissatisfaction into a guide that ultimately changed people’s lives for the better. Click here for an essential Educator’s Guide. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

black cowboys cover origBLACK HEROES OF THE WILD WEST
Written and illustrated by James Otis Smith
with an introduction by Kadir Nelson
(Toon Books; HC $16.95, PB $9.99, Ages 8+)

Junior Library Guild Selection
Starred Review – Booklist

Kadir Nelson, in his interesting introduction to James Otis Smith’s graphic novel Black Heroes of the Wild West points out that cowboys, ranchers, homesteaders and other people from the Old West (west of the Mississippi River “during and after the American Civil War”) were historically portrayed in books, movies and TV through a white lens. In reality up to “a third of the settler population was African American.” I couldn’t wait to find out more about Mary Fields, known as “Stagecoach Mary” in her day, Bass Reeves, the first black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi, and “mustanger” Bob Lemmons, perhaps the original Texas horse whisperer.

All three individuals were forces to be reckoned with. First there’s Mary Fields, born into slavery in Tennessee. In her lifetime, she maintained fierce loyalty to friends, loved children, was generous to a fault, and had strength and energy second to none. She’s most noted, however, for her reputation as a banjo strumming, card playing, first African American female stagecoach driver who never missed a delivery and was not easily thwarted by wolves or bad weather.

I was blown away learning about Bass Reeves’s bravery in outwitting some murderous outlaws on the Most Wanted List. In the account Smith shares, Reeves single-handedly put himself into a dangerous situation by turning up as an impoverished loner looking for any kind of work to earn his keep. By cleverly offering up his services to the mother of the villains, earning her trust, and ultimately that of the bad guys too, he was able to capture them completely off guard. This plus thousands of other arrests cemented his place in history. The best part was how Smith’s illustrations conveyed Reeves in the particular scenario of capturing the outlaws by surprise which in turn surprised and satisfied me immensely.

Last but definitely not least is Bob Lemmons who was hired to corral wild mustangs and whose humane technique was not deadly to any of the horses, something other mustangers had not been able to manage. Smith takes readers on a journey of the senses along with Lemmons as he follows a group of mustangs he intends to wrangle, and details in both art and text how eventually Lemmons becomes one with the stallion leading the “manada” (mares and colts). “Bob knew their habits, their body language, their sounds. Like them, he flared his nostrils sniffing for danger.” You don’t have to be a horse lover to be impressed how Bob’s slow and steady approach made the mustangs think he was one of them.

Eight comprehensive pages of fascinating back matter round off this excellent middle grade read that will no doubt have tweens eager to find out more about these and other Black heroes. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Gilded Ones coverTHE GILDED ONES
by Namina Forna
(Delacorte Press; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

Starred Review – Booklist
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The Gilded Ones is book one of a West African-inspired epic fantasy series that will grab you from its first page. When girls turn sixteen, they must undergo The Ritual of Purity where they are bled to see if they can become a member of their village. However, if a girl’s blood runs gold, then she’s found impure and faces a fate worse than death. If Deka’s father had the money, he would have sent her to the House of Purity the year before the ritual, keeping her protected from sharp objects. Instead, Deka must be careful while she worries and prepares.

When Deka fails, she’s tortured until a mysterious woman she names White Hands offers an option out. The empire’s being attacked by seemingly invincible Deathshriek creatures. Deka becomes an alkali soldier fighting alongside other girls like her with powers that make them nearly immortal.

Namina Forna says, “The Gilded Ones is a book about my anger at being a woman. Sierra Leone was is very patriarchal. There were things I was expected to do as a girl because I was a girl.” This emotion is harnessed into the story, revealing societal inequities in an intricately woven plot that will surprise and enflame you.

Deka has the best “sidekick” ever—a shapeshifter called Ixa. Though there are elements of romance, it’s strong females who rule the plot. This book provides a fresh look at the “gods and goddesses” trope. The Gilded Ones is fierce, brutal, and relevant. Read it. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Click here to read another Black History Month review.
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Additional Recommendations:

Ruby Bridges This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges (Delacorte Press)
The Teachers March! by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace w/art by Charly Palmer (Calkins Creek)
Stompin’ at the Savoy by Moira Rose Donohue w/art by Laura Freeman (Sleeping Bear Press)
Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome w/art by James Ransome (Holiday House)
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford w/art by Frank Morrison (Atheneum BYR)
Finding a Way Home by Larry Dane Brimner (Calkins Creek)
Changing the Equation: 50+ Black Women in STEM by Tonya Bolden (Abrams BYR)

 

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Young Adult Novel – The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

 

THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES:

A Hunger Games Novel

Written by Suzanne Collins

(Scholastic; $27.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

TheBalladofSongbirdsandSnakes cvr

 

 

Coriolanus Snow: Anyone who has read or seen The Hunger Games knows this man. Yet, who was he before becoming the evil overload of Panem? In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, we meet Snow at age eighteen. His cousin, Tigris—yes, that Tigris—and his Grandma’am are all he’s got. They haven’t had enough food in ages and aren’t far from losing their once-luxurious housing. Facing an uncertain future upon graduation, Snow must achieve personal recognition at school, in hopes of being awarded funds toward University tuition.

It’s reaping day again and this year the kids from Snow’s class are assigned tributes to mentor as their final project. His District 12 girl is quite a letdown at first. Yet, once she’s in the spotlight, Lucy Gray proves to be a charmer and that may get her through for a while. Snow, at first, sees Gray’s performance in the Games merely as an assignment to score highly on but, soon, a complex relationship builds.

Suzanne Collins reveals the surprising origin of the Games. The book, as expected, is fast-paced with many plot twists. Snow and his classmates who are also assigned tributes are drilled by Dr. Gaul, the wonderfully creepy Head Gamemaker (who may just lock you in a cage in her lab for fun). She prods kids with questions such as what the Capitol’s strategy should be now that the war is over but may never truly never be won. When questioned whether there is a point to the neon colors of her snakes, she answers, “There is a point to everything or nothing at all, depending on your worldview.” These moments with Gaul reveal the book’s deeper messages about power, whether wielded with a weapon or a rose.

I’m a fan of the trilogy and very much enjoyed this glimpse into what happened decades before the girl on fire burst onto the scene and the screen. I would be happy to continue along with Snow, filling the gap, until the day he sees Katniss Everdeen become District 12’s first volunteer for the 74th Annual Hunger Games. The folk tune, “The Hanging Tree,” reaches across the years, uniting the stories.

 

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New Halloween Books for Kids 2020

NEW HALLOWEEN READS

A ROUNDUP

 

pumpkin freeclipart

 

 

This seven-book roundup covers wickedly wonderful Halloween season reads. From a gentle book about the fall season to spooky ghouls, goblin-witches, ghosts, vampires, a witch’s hut, and a haunted house, we’ve got you covered.

 

The Little Kitten coverTHE LITTLE KITTEN
Written and illustrated by Nicola Killen

(Paula Wiseman Books; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Starred Review – Kirkus

With whimsical art in blacks, whites, and grays offset with oranges and foil accents, The Little Kitten embodies the spirit of autumn. Leaves blow across the pages, bringing movement that propels Ollie on her adventure. As promised by the title, there is a little kitten, but also Ollie’s cat, Pumpkin. Nicola Killen’s art and storyline

beautifully convey the playful, loving spirit of this book. It’s a pleasure to see a gentle story that’s engaging and fulfilling—it even has a surprise ending, shh!

She Wanted to be Haunted cvrSHE WANTED TO BE HAUNTED
Written by Marcus Ewert
Illustrated by Susie Ghahremani

(Bloomsbury; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

I’m a sucker for a great book title and just had to read Marcus Ewert’s She Wanted to Be Haunted—plus, what a great idea! As promised, Clarissa, an “adorable and pink” cottage finds herself disappointed with her appearance. Her father is a castle and her mother a witch’s hut, but Clarissa got the short end of the broomstick with her undeniable cuteness. “Daisies grew around her, / squirrels scampered on her lawn. / Life was just delightful! / —and it made Clarissa yawn.”

What kid hasn’t felt bored when things were mellow and nice? Susie Ghahremani’s hand-painted artwork brings Clarissa to life in (dreaded!) upbeat colors. Inside, on Clarissa’s fuchsia, wallpapered walls, we sneak a peek at her family’s photos and, yes, she’s surely the oddball of the bunch. My favorite scenes involve the surprise ending. If you want to know if Clarissa’s attempts to gloom-down her appearance work, you’ll have to read the book. Trust me, the ending is awesome! Click here for a coloring page.

Scritch Scratch coverSCRITCH SCRATCH
Written by Lindsay Currie
(Sourcebooks; $16.99, Ages 9-12)

Scritch Scratch—the title of this middle-grade novel by Lindsay Currie will get under your skin as all good spooky books should. Because, of course, this sound is made by the ghost haunting Claire. Prior to this, science-minded Claire absolutely did not believe in ghosts and found her Dad’s ghost-themed bus tour and book embarrassing. So why did this ghost choose her? Claire’s too afraid to sleep and should have plenty of time to solve this mystery. However, since her BFF’s hanging around with the new girl, Claire may need to figure it out alone.

I’ve never been on a haunted bus tour, but, after reading this book I want to if they’re all as interesting as the one in this story. “Forgotten” facts about Chicago are cleverly woven in—what a great way to sneak in a history lesson! Click here for a discussion guide.

Embassy of the Dead cvrEMBASSY OF THE DEAD
Written by Will Mabbitt

Illustrated by Taryn Knight
(Walker Books US; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

This book opens with a warning from the Embassy that “[b]y signing, you hereby accept all responsibility for any death, dismemberment, or condemnation to the Eternal Void that results from reading.” How irresistible! When Jake Green receives a kind of creepy package in error, a fun adventure ensues dodging bonewulfs and their master Mawkins (a grim reaper). Accompanied by ghosts Stiffkey, Cora, and, an adorable fox named Zorro, the unlikely group tries to avoid being sent into the Eternal Void—a fate worse than death.

Will Mabbitt’s well-developed characters are very likable and Taryn Knight’s art plays up the humor. I appreciate the Embassy of the Dead’s new ideas about ghosts and their companions such as Undoers (someone who helps a ghost trapped on the Earthly Plane move on to the Afterworld). Mabbitt nails a perfectly written ending. I’ll gladly follow Jake and his friends onto the next book in the series. Click here to read a sample chapter.

Ghostology coverGHOSTOLOGY: A True Revelation of Spirits, Ghouls, and Hauntings
Written by Dugald A. Steer; Lucinda Curtle
Illustrated by Anne Yvonne Gilbert; Garry Walton; Doug Sirois
(Candlewick Press; $27.99, Ages 10+)

Fans of the beautifully made Ologies series won’t be disappointed in the latest addition, Ghostology. Packed full of stories, this book will keep you haunting its pages because there’s so much information from psychics and mediums, to fakes and frauds. Want to know what’s in a ghostologist’s field kit (sketchbook, accurate timepiece, and, of course, a ghost-detecting device, just to name a few items), or how to hunt ghosts? You’ve come to the right place. Pay attention to the “Types of Ghosts” chapters.

Beyond reading, the book is a sensory experience with its sealed pages, official documents envelope, flaps, and textures. If there’s such a thing as a coffee table kid’s book, this is it. The icy blue color scheme of the cover is offset by a large faceted red “gem.” Raised letters just beg you to run your hand over them and invite you to look inside. The thought and detail in this book are phantom-astic!

beetleandthehollowbone cvrBEETLE & THE HOLLOWBONES
Written and illustrated by Aliza Layne
Coloring by Natalie Riess and Kristen Acampora
(Atheneum BYR; $21.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

In Aliza Layne’s middle-grade graphic novel, Beetle & the Hollowbones, Beetle is a twelve-year-old goblin-witch being homeschooled by her gran. Beetle, however, would rather hang out with her current BFF Blob Ghost at the old mall (where they are inexplicably trapped). When Beetle’s previous BFF, Kat Hollowbones, returns home after completing her sorcery apprenticeship at a fast-track school, their friendship isn’t the same. Kat’s aunt Marla is the wonderfully drawn skeletal antagonist.

With well-developed characters and plenty of action, this fast-paced book will bewitch you. The struggles of moving through school and friendships falling apart are accurately depicted. The panels, grouped into chapters, capture your attention with their fantastic illustrations, engaging colors, and lively text. I like how Layne includes some concept art at the end, inspiring other artists with a behind-the-scenes peek.

vampiresnevergetold cvrVAMPIRES NEVER GET OLD: Tales With Fresh Bite
Editrixes: Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker
Other authors include Tessa Gratton, Rebecca Roanhorse, Julie Murphy, Heidi Heilig, Samira Ahmed, Kayla Whaley, Laura Ruby, Mark Oshiro, Dhonielle Clayton, and Victoria “V.E.” Schwab
(Imprint/Macmillan; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite is a YA short story anthology with the goal to “expand on and reinvent traditional tellings.” How awesome is that?? Editrixes Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Porter’s story, “Vampires Never Say Die,” is a suspenseful, modern tale about a teen and vampire who meet online. They also provide the introduction and insightful commentary after each piece, delving into the many areas of the vampire myth. There are so many wonderful things in this collection; I’ll give you a few nibbles to whet your appetite.

“Bestiary” by Laura Ruby is set in a near dystopian future; Jude works at the zoo and has a special connection with animals. This story stood out for me because the reader must piece together the truth. It’s quite a different twist on thirst and the theft of blood and humanity.

“Seven Nights for Dying” by Tessa Gratton opens with the line, “Esmael told me that teenage girls make the best vampires” (because they’re “both highly pissed and highly adaptable, and that’s what it takes to survive the centuries”). We follow Esmael’s chosen girl through a week of uncertainty as she considers joining the undead. This cleverly layered story demands to be reread to truly appreciate Gratton’s well-crafted words.

Weaving in old superstitions, “The Boy and the Bell” by Heidi Heilig expands upon the Victorian tradition of burying their loved ones with a bell (allowing them to call for help if mistakenly buried alive). Set at the turn of the century, Will is a graverobber for all the right reasons—he wants to become a doctor, and “acquiring” freshly buried bodies allows him to trade for a spot at the back of the amphitheater where dissections take place. With only a few glimpses at Will’s thoughts, we find out volumes about his struggles.

This anthology breathes life into the short story and lets readers appreciate the many perspectives and styles from a very talented array of writers. My favorites tend to have unexpected endings. There’s something for everyone. Just read it already!

 

  •  ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS FROM RONNA
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    IT’S HALLOWEEN, LITTLE MONSTERIts Halloween Little Monster cvr

    Written by Helen Ketteman
    Illustrated by Bonnie Leick
    (Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
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    When I began reading It’s Halloween, Little Monster, one of the Little Monster series of picture books, I thought I was reading about the first time I took my son out trick-or-treating 15 years ago. All he had to do was see one or two kids in scary costumes and he hightailed it home before anyone could say boo! I’m so glad Helen Ketteman wrote this picture book because I’m sure it’s going to help make the first Halloween experience for reluctant little ones a lot easier.

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    In this gentle rhyming story, Little Monster heads out for Halloween accompanied by his dad. The reassuring presence of a parent sets the tone. Dad will be right there to calm Little Monster’s fears no matter who or what they encounter. “Don’t fret Little Monster. / See there in the street? / That’s not really a ghost / it’s a kid in a sheet!”
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    Together the pair see all kinds of spooky creatures while trick-or-treating, but the dad anticipates what might frighten his child and is always one step ahead. I like how the papa monster not only comments on assorted pirates, witches, and vampires but scary sounds, too. Leick’s muted blue and purple toned palette of the detailed illustrations will only add to the enjoyment of this charming Halloween read. It’s an enjoyable pairing of prose and art. By the time the surprise ending happens, Little Monster’s smiling just like the children having this story read to them.
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  •  OTHER RECOMMENDED HALLOWEEN SEASON READS:
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    CHRISTOPHER PUMPKIN by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet with art by Nick East
    (Board Book for Ages 0-3, Little Brown BYR)
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    THAT MONSTER ON THE BLOCK by Sue Ganz-Schmitt with art by Luke Flowers
    (Picture Book Ages 4-8, Two Lions)
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    THE REVENGE OF THE WEREPENGUIN by Allan Woodrow with art by Scott Brown
    (Middle Grade illustrated novel for Ages 8-12, Viking BYR)
  • Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
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    Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/26/20

 

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Young Adult Graphic Novel – The Dark Matter of Mona Starr

THE DARK MATTER OF MONA STARR

Written and illustrated by Laura Lee Gulledge

(Amulet Books; $22.99, Ages 12+)

The Dark Matter of Mona Starr cvr


Starred Review – School Library Journal

 

Laura Lee Gulledge’s YA graphic novel, The Dark Matter of Mona Starr, opens with Mona Starr’s best friend, Nash, moving to Hawaii. Mona must now tackle high school alone and, though her family cares about her, she feels like the “creative oddball” in their midst. Mona struggles with depression, calling it the “Matter.” Through the help of a therapist and a new girl, Hailey, Mona begins to notice what starts her spiraling downward and how to catch herself before it becomes all-consuming. Chapter titles such as “Notice Your Patterns,” “Break Your Cycles,” and “Replace What You Can’t Erase” reinforce the steps Mona needs to take to cope.

 

DarkMatterMonaStar INT3
Illustrations and text from The Dark Matter of Mona Starr © 2020 Laura Lee Gulledge. Used with permission from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

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The book presents depression in a realistic manner, showing the back-and-forth struggle that isn’t solved but, rather, managed. While the insightful text tells a compelling story, Gulledge’s art is a showstopper. In a scene where Mona’s overwhelmed by too many choices, her Matter has a hold of her arms and legs, pulling her to the edges of the page while whispering such things as, “You have nothing to offer” and “You are not good for ANYTHING,” inciting our universal search for meaning in our lives.

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DarkMatterMonaStar INT4
Illustrations and text from The Dark Matter of Mona Starr © 2020 Laura Lee Gulledge. Used with permission from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

 

I’m blown away by the depth in the images (the art is black and white with hints of yellow) throughout the book. After Nash encourages Mona to write about her confusion, the full-page illustration features Mona as a shadowy outline with little Monas picking away (literally) at her brain, digging deep until she reaches her deepest thoughts. Eventually, with the help of friends, therapy, her art, and writing, Mona finds her way toward a hopeful future.

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DarkMatterMonaStar INT7
Illustrations and text from The Dark Matter of Mona Starr © 2020 Laura Lee Gulledge. Used with permission from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

 

Make this powerful book an addition to your high school’s library and provide a helping hand to someone battling with their own dark matter. The insightful and heartfelt advice is based in part on Gulledge’s own struggles.

 

• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Click here to order a copy of The Dark Matter of Mona Starr or visit your local indie bookstore.
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Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!

Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/28/20

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Young Adult Nonfiction – Alphamaniacs

 

ALPHAMANIACS:

BUILDERS OF 26 WONDERS OF THE WORD

Written by Paul Fleischman

Art by Melissa Sweet

(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

Alphamaniacs book cover

 

 

Starred Reviews – Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Kirkus

Paul Fleischman’s Alphamaniacs: Builders of 26 Wonders of the Word is a witty YA book about people who have done crazy things with words. Organized like an ABC book, each chapter features something unique. Words can be art such as the poet Mary Ellen Solt who worked closely with typesetters to produce visual poems shaped like flowers.

 

Alphamaniacs int1
ALPHAMANIACS. Text copyright © 2020 by the Brown-Fleischman Family Trust. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Melissa Sweet. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

At opposing ends of the “size-matters” spectrum were David Bryce and Robert Shields. Bryce, a micromaniac, produced the smallest full miniature Bible, 876 pages but only 1 13/16 by 1 ¼ inches, bound in gilt-edged leather. Whereas the diarist Shields typed the longest known diary in human history, describing his day in five-minute increments and waking every two hours at night to continue recording.

 

Alphamaniacs int3
ALPHAMANIACS. Text copyright © 2020 by the Brown-Fleischman Family Trust. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Melissa Sweet. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

My favorite funnyman in this group of twenty-six amazing stories is Dan Nussbaum who used the letters and numbers on California’s vanity license plates to retell stories from Genesis to Shakespeare. Nussbaum’s shorthand of Romeo and Juliet: “GESSWAT! BE4 HEE SPLIT, ROMEO KISTME! HESSOQT! BYGTME! ISWEAR!

In the 1960s, David Wallace launched a new field called stylometry wherein computers applied statistical analysis to literary style to prove (or disprove) authorship. Ludwik Zamenhof created Esperanto, a universal language, in hopes of uniting the world linguistically. While Jessie Little Doe Baird brought back Wôpanâôt8âôk, the dead language of her people the Wampanoag. After a gap of seven generations, her daughter became its first native speaker!

Throughout, Melissa Sweet’s bold full-color illustrations add another level of enjoyment to the text. An ideal book to read a chapter at a time, marveling at our wonderful words and the people who’ve made magic with them.

Click here to find out more about Paul Fleischman.
Click here to find out more about Melissa Sweet.

 

•Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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Three Children’s Books for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

A ROUNDUP OF RECOMMENDED READS

FOR

ASIAN/PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

 

 

tiny feet between the mountains cvrTINY FEET BETWEEN THE MOUNTAINS
Written and illustrated by Hanna Cha
(Simon Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

Author-illustrator Hanna Cha’s debut picture book, Tiny Feet Between the Mountains, tells the tale of Soe-In, the smallest child in a Korean village. But, being little doesn’t slow her down. Soe-In manages burdensome chores using wit and perseverance. When the sun disappears and the chieftain needs a volunteer, only Soe-in steps forward.

In the forest, she finds the spirit tiger is real, and in really big trouble—he’s swallowed the sun! Like the villagers, the spirit tiger first discounts Soe-In’s ability to help. However, brave, imaginative Soe-In saves the day.

Cha’s art shows the movement and mood of this powerful story. I enjoyed the images of the tiger because feline fluidity is difficult to capture. Her Author’s Note explains tigers are revered by Koreans; their country is shaped like one. The tiger as their spirit animal appears in countless Korean stories as a symbol of respect, strength, and dignity, both as a deity and a threat.

bilal cook daal coverBILAL COOKS DAAL
Written by Aisha Saeed
Illustrated by Anoosha Syed
(Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2019
Starred Review – Kirkus

An Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Book 2019

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed is an upbeat picture book about friendship and cooking. When Bilal’s friends wonder why it takes his Pakistani family all day to make daal, he introduces them to the process, letting them choose the color of lentils for the stew they will enjoy together at dinnertime. As the day goes by, Bilal worries a bit that his friends won’t like the taste, but the delicious dish pleases everyone, demonstrating how food brings people together.

Anoosha Syed’s art focuses on the kids enjoying their day of play, a variety of emotions clearly captured. The daal’s vivid descriptions (“small like pebbles, but shaped like pancakes”) come to life through the illustrations. Close your eyes and let the simmering daal awaken your senses.

The Author’s Note explains daal is a staple food in South Asia, but lentils are enjoyed in many other places. Saeed’s recipe for Chana Daal is similar to what I grew up with in my household, bringing back warm memories. In these months of the pandemic where many of us are cooking wholesome meals, this hearty and healthy dish will please while filling the house with amazing aromas all day long.

summer bird blue cvrSUMMER BIRD BLUE
Written by Akemi Dawn Bowman

(Simon Pulse; $18.99 HC, $12.99 PB, $9.99 eBook, Ages 12+)

A Junior Library Guild Selection
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman opens with a car crash. Seventeen-year-old Rumi Seto loses her only sister Lea, who’s also her best friend. Their mother, unable to deal, puts Rumi on a plane to Hawaii for an indefinite stay with Aunty Ani, their Japanese-Hawaiian side of the family.

Lea, two years younger, was the outgoing, happy-go-lucky sister. Rumi, the opposite personality type fits her “ruminating” name; often, she’s stuck in her head, turning things over, unable to step forward into everyday life. Though quite different, the sisters, shared a love of music, playing instruments together. They would randomly come up with three words, then write a song about it. (Summer Bird Blue, refers to the unwritten song that haunts Rumi after Lea dies.)

Rumi suffers in the angry and depressive stages of grief, vacillating between lashing out and crawling into bed for days on end. Her new surroundings include neighbors Mr. Watanabe (a grumpy octogenarian who becomes an unlikely companion) and Kai (the too-handsome, too-cheerful boy next door). As Rumi becomes closer to Kai, they go on a date, but kissing surfaces her confusion over her possible asexuality. Believing other teens have easy crushes and romance, Rumi’s self-doubt compounds after losing Lea.

The story’s lovely scenes centering around Rumi’s deep bond with music resonated with me. The moving descriptions include Rumi’s regard for Lea’s guitar, and Mr. Watanabe’s piano and ukulele. When transported into this world, Rumi’s passion ignites. However, anything musical involves Lea, and Rumi cannot process what to do without her sister, which furthers the painful introspection and turmoil.

I appreciate Bowman’s choice to spotlight a troubled, roughhewn protagonist struggling with a complexity of issues. Writing about grief, sexuality, and trying to understand life itself are ambitious undertakings, yet Bowman succeeds in weaving a truthful, heartfelt story that includes both honestly bitter moments and lyrically beautiful ones.

 

Find out more about Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month here and here.

 

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YA Book Review – The Blossom and the Firefly

THE BLOSSOM AND THE FIREFLY

Written by Sherri L. Smith

(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99 HC,
available in Ebook, Audio, Ages 12+)

 

 

The Blossom and the Firefly cvr

 

Starred Reviews – Horn Book, School Library Journal

Sherri L. Smith’s YA book,The Blossom and the Firefly, depicts an interesting slice of Japanese World War II history. Hana, assigned fieldwork is, one day, buried alive during an air attack. After she is dug out, Hana feels a part of her died in that bombing. Adding to her despair, she is reassigned as a Nadeshiko Tai girl—a handmaiden to the dead—serving tokkō, the special attack pilots also known as kamikaze. When each group readies to leaves, she must smile and wave as they take their last flight hoping to honorably body-crash into enemy battleships.

I appreciate the unique story structure, based on the Eastern style of storytelling called kishōtenketsu. Instead of a plot with conflict, kishōtenketsu revolves around contrast or juxtaposition. In The Blossom and the Firefly, Hana’s first-person chapters are in the “now,” while Taro’s (her love interest) third-person chapters begin in 1928 during his childhood. About halfway in, the narratives synchronize. Utilizing these time lines, we are shown Taro’s backstory without relying on flashbacks.

The story questions whether it’s possible to live and love during wartime. Hana keeps coolly distant until stumbling upon a special connection with Taro. After the war ends, rebuilding entails mending emotionally and moving forward to embrace what’s left. Readers will feel what it was like to be a teen caught in a war-torn land, where it’s not whether you have lost a loved one, but, rather, how many. This young adult novel about a little known aspect of the war is both heartbreaking and uplifting.

• Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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Best Health and Well-Being Books for Tweens and Teens

A ROUNDUP OF NONFICTION BOOKS

ABOUT GROWING UP, FRIENDSHIPS & FEELING GREAT

 

Bunk 9's Guide to Growing Up cvrBUNK 9’S GUIDE TO GROWING UP:
Secrets, Tips, and Expert Advice on the Good,
the Bad and the Awkward
Written by Adah Nuchi
Illustrated by Meg Hunt
Vetted by Dr. Meryl Newman-Cedar
(Workman Publishing; $12.95, Ages 8-12)

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

Bunk 9 at Camp Silver Moon is traditionally a bunk for 12-year-old girls who experience their first kiss or get an unexpected visit from their first period. But this summer the Silver Moon Sisterhood, 16-year-old C.I.T.s (Counselors in Training) take over their former bunk and are reminded of what it was like to be twelve. Bunk 9’s Guide To Growing Up written by Adah Nuchi and illustrated by Meg Hunt, with medical supervision from Dr. Meryl Newman-Cedar, takes an innovative approach to answering age-old questions about puberty.

“While there are a whole lot of changes that happen on the road to womanhood, they’re all leading somewhere completely wonderful. (And once you get the hang of them, tampons aren’t scary at all),” inspiring the teens’ idea for a book because the Sisterhood says, WE’RE HERE TO HELP.

The girls of Bunk 9, I mean young women, leave behind “the book” that contains magical and non-magical secrets, tips and expert advice for girls on the good, the bad, and the awkward, for the next groups of girls the following summers. Each girl has her own unique personality from Brianna the social butterfly, Emma L. the science wiz and Makayla the expert bra shopper.

The composition style book begins remembering Week One when the C.I.T.s were a mere twelve. It was the fourth Summer the girls would spend together, and they were anxious to meet each other as they were dropped off. But when Abby runs to meet Brianna she discovers that her old friend towers above her. Abby looked like a stick figure. As they unpacked their belongings, Emma R. displayed a stick of deodorant, while Emma L. had a little razor. As the reader turns page after page, she learns about the very beginning of puberty through a drawing of a real-life girl whose body changes as her hair starts to grow in new places and her hips begin to widen.

Hunt brings the reader into the story with colorful comic book art depicting the first time caring for your hair entirely on your own; saying no to zebras and getting white marks on your shirt (or how to put on a shirt without getting deodorant on it) with drawings of a zebra and a girl struggling to put her shirt on over her head. The drawings allow the reader to see pictures of women’s breasts and men’s unclothed bodies without feeling embarrassed seeing real life photographs.

Each C.I.T. journals her own tips. Abby tells the reader what it’s like to be a late bloomer and we learn about the disastrous results of Grace stuffing her bra. With sticker art of cacti, butterflies and rainbows you would place on a school book, the reader encounters real-life stories that all tween and teen girls will eventually experience. The reader learns about pads and tampons; cramping remedies; and various diets and feelings.

One of my favorite chapters is Week Six where the 16-year-olds discuss health. The reader learns that “staying healthy is about more than eating right; it’s also about getting regular exercise.” And as we encounter Jenna and Grace not getting along, we see that young bodies aren’t the only thing that changes during puberty― feelings and emotions change too. Explained in a way that all preteen girls can relate to, these not so easy topics are discussed in a manner that allows the parent to teach these necessary topics while the girls see that they may have differences but they should never allow them to tear them apart. Girls will walk away feeling like they, too, are part of the Silver Moon Sisterhood.

All About Us book coverALL ABOUT US:
Our Dreams, Our World, Our Friendship
Written by Ellen Bailey
Illustrated by Nellie Ryan
(Andrews McMeel Publishing; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

There’s nothing better than sharing your most precious thoughts, feelings, and dreams with your best friends. Writer Ellen Bailey with illustrator Nellie Ryan, have created a wide variety of games, quizzes and questionnaires to play along with your BFF to find new ways to discover why your friendship is so special in All About Us, a companion book to All About Me.

Ryan’s illustrations welcome the reader to two diverse teenage girls surrounded by water colored painted red, pink and blue hearts who are happily asking and answering questions on knowing me and knowing you; special memories of when they met; and what does the future hold for them.

Friends are asked to individually make a playlist of their top ten tunes marking Hit or Miss on the side, letting the BFF choose if your songs are a hit or miss, and the BFF gladly does the same for your list. Daydreaming about your future children wouldn’t be fun without listing your top boy and girl names, and seeing if your pal and you will both have daughters named Emma!

With hours of questions displayed on lavender and white pages to keep best buds occupied, tween readers can complete the questions page by page or skip around to find what interests them. From drawing silly sketches of your friend to choosing their top movie choices for movie night, the reader creates a lasting record of their friendship. Ryan allows plenty of space to complete quizzes and fill-in sections. Knowing that girls will find a page that fits the mood and moment, each page ends with date, time and place and completed by which is a great way for friends to remember the day with fondness.

Bailey gives preteens a chance to walk away from the computer screen and spend time together learning things they never knew about their BFF, while rediscovering new details of what they already know. This is a great book to bond girls together and use their imaginations by exploring their artistic and writing skills.

Project You Book CoverPROJECT YOU:
More Than 50 Ways to Calm Down, De-Stress and Feel Great
Written by Aubre Andrus with Karen Bluth, PhD
Illustrated by Veronica Collignon
(Switch Press/Capstone; $14.95; Ages 14 and up)

Starred Review – VOYA

Growing up is hard and learning to feel good about yourself under everyday stressors is something everyone needs tools for to lead a happy, healthy life as broken down by children’s book author Aubre Andrus with Karen Bluth, PhD in her latest book Project You, with a mix of photos, and illustrations by Veronica Collignon.

Andrus breaks down 50 ways to simplify life for the young adult reader, acquainting them with concepts of mindfulness, breathing, healthy eating and finding balance. Chapters such as the physical practice of yoga, demonstrates photographic poses for relaxation and stretching. Photos of young girls journaling in foreign cities and then a drawing of a girl holding a gratitude journal gives a wide assortment of visuals to reach various moods. The reader is given ideas on ways to de-stress with recommendations for happy music from the ’60s to present to change your mood, and finding a new hobby such as photography or learning a new tune on the guitar.

“The more you stay in the present moment, the more you’ll let go of stressing about things that may happen in the future or things you might regret about the past. This is why a lot of research has shown that people who practice mindfulness are less depressed, less anxious, and less stressed.”

This book lists activities, exercises, crafts and recipes that can help all ages transform their mindset and their emotions. Mindfulness tips are displayed throughout the book, such as in the chapter “Find A Furry Friend”, Andrus says, “Whether it’s your pet or an animal in a petting zoo or park, take time to just observe the animal. If you notice that your mind starts to drift as you are watching, gently bring your attention back to that animal.” As I read through the book, I skipped chapters then returned to them later; checked out the songs she suggests to uplift my mood and put ingredients on my shopping list for her smoothie recipe.

Adults can read the book and make suggestions to their teens, or teens can read and create their own gratitude journal. “The Wellness Check” was a great way to review what may need improvement and how you can make these changes. The last chapter “How To Ask For Help” gives the reader resources she can turn to whether it’s a doctor, social worker or school counselor she knows asking for help makes you stronger, not weaker. It’s a great book to keep on the bookshelf and return to when you need that extra support.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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