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Three New Children’s Passover Books for 2024

 

 

NEW CHILDREN’S PASSOVER BOOKS

Passover Clip Art

 

 

 Afikoman Where'd You Go cover kids in treehouse afikoman on roofAFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO?:
A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure
Written by Rebecca Gardyn Levington
Illustrated by Noa Kelner
(Rocky Pond Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)
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There’s a mischievous personified piece of matzoh on the loose in the pages of Afikoman, Where’d You Go? and I got such a kick out of looking for him. Your kids will too! This picture book is not only written in well-crafted rhyme, it’s also relatable to anyone who’s ever attended a Seder, Jewish or not.
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At the Passover seder, youngsters are always eager to start the traditional search for the afikoman which happens halfway through the meal. The Glossary, helpfully included at the start of the story, defines the afikoman as “The piece of matzoh that is symbolically broken and then hidden, as part of a ritual during the seder.” Children hunt for him around the house or in a particular designated room. The process varies from house to house. In this tale, the kids check out every place indoors with no luck. The wily matzoh, like the Gingerbread Man, is one step ahead. Next up, the backyard.
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Part of the fun is searching every single spread to see where Afikoman is hiding. I have to admit there was one spread where I could not locate the clever cracker! That’s the bathroom scene which I’ve checked multiple times. And when I did spot him, I laughed out loud a few times. The catchy refrain, “Is he hiding somewhere high? Is he hiding somewhere low? Afikoman? Afikoman? Afikoman? WHERE’D YOU GO?” adds to the read-aloudability.
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When the afikoman is finally found, it’s time to return to the table and continue the seder. Here’s where the author and illustrator have included a satisfying surprise ending. The detailed artwork (created using pencil, ink, and Photoshop) includes a determined family dog who, along with a diverse group of kids, team up to track down Afikoman and enjoy themselves the entire time. One of my favorite illustrations is the children’s messy bedroom. It’s hard to know if the kids did that or if it was like that already! Sure to invite multiple readings for the holiday, Afikoman, Where’d You Go? easily gets a thumbs up from me.

 

Everybody's Book cover hiding Haggadah in Mosque bookcase.EVERYBODY’S BOOK: 
The Story of the Sarajevo Haggadah
Written by Linda Leopold Strauss
Illustrated by Tim Smart
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

A richly recounted nonfiction story as colorful as the history of the titular Sarajevo Haggadah, Everybody’s Book is an enlightening read. I had the good fortune to visit Sarajevo at the end of 1989 before the city was ravaged by war but hadn’t heard about the famous Haggadah. I’m happy to have had the chance to learn. If the topic is of further interest, parents can also learn more by reading Geraldine Brooks’ The People of The Book.

The book opens with an introduction explaining how the storied Sarajevo Haggadah was first given to a bride and group circa 1350. Readers then learn that in “the late 1400s” the expulsion of Jews during the Spanish Inquisition was a scary time. In Spain, Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or leave. Lives were upended and never the same. Many families fled with nothing but the family that owned what became known as the Sarajevo Haggadah took it with them when they escaped. Over time the Haggadah changed hands multiple times eventually landing in Italy to a new generation of owners and ultimately to Bosnia where it continued to be used “during Passover Seders.”

“By 1894, the family that owned the Haggadah had fallen on hard times …” Alas the treasured family heirloom was sold. It was bought by the National History Museum of Sarajevo, a religiously diverse and mostly tolerant city where it was revered. The museum managed to keep the Sarajevo Haggadah safe until WWII broke out.

When the Nazis tried to get their hands on it, the fast-thinking museum director fabricated a web of lies but that didn’t stop the Nazis from searching the museum albeit to no avail. It is said that the curator then took the Haggadah to “a remote village, where an imam of a small mosque hid it among sacred Islamic texts.” When the war ended the Haggadah was returned to Sarajevo but peace there remained fragile.

After WWII, “Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats became part of unified Yugoslavia under one leader.” Following his death in 1980, tensions that had been simmering over the years reached a climax, and fighting among the three groups began. “In 1991, Serbs attacked Bosnia.” Another war threatened the safety of the Sarajevo Haggadah. When the museum was bombed the following year, a Muslim university professor helped rescue the book once again. This new war saw the destruction of the National and University Library of Sarajevo though citizens “formed a human chain to save whatever books they could. By this time, not just Bosnians knew about the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, and the world worried about this treasure.

One of my favorite spreads is the one that depicts a Passover Seder in 1995, in the midst of the war. “Christian, Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim leaders joined Jews at Sarajevo’s only remaining synagogue …” During the Seder, the Bosnian President, a Muslim, arrived with the Haggadah to assure all those in attendance that it was safe. When the war ended and the Bosnian National Museum was constructed, the Sarajevo Haggadah was restored and placed among other historic treasures for all to see. Everybody’s Book could now truly be enjoyed by everybody. Tim Smart’s watercolor art has a sketch-like, loose quality showing the flow of time and the ever-changing circumstances the Sarajevo Haggadah endured. This picture book is an important one that emphasizes how the power of people from all religions and walks of life can make a difference when they find common ground. How lucky we all are that this marvelous book from a marriage over 670 years ago has survived. Oh, the stories its pages could tell!

ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS:
A
PASSOVER CELEBRATION IN 14 STORIES
Edited by Chris Baron, Joshua S. Levy, and Naomi Milliner
Illustrated by Shannon Hochman
(Amulet Books; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

While there could be a plethora of themes for a Passover anthology, selecting the 14 steps of the Seder as an entry point is perfect. It’s what drew me to this book in addition to the title. It did not hurt that a host of bestselling and award-winning authors and one author-illustrator embraced and wrote about one particular step. Their instructions were only to approach the topic in any way they desired. This made for a fascinating and engrossing read. If I had the time, upon finishing my first read-through, I could have started all over again. It’s just that good!

As I dove in, I never knew what type of story would greet me, and that’s only one part of the magic of this holiday collection. Whatever way you choose to read On All Other Nights, you will be treated to a variety of top-notch middle-grade voices, approaches, plots, and characters. You can read it all in one sitting, devouring every delicious and meaningful step, or take it one short story at a time, savoring each one slowly like the Seder meal itself. At the start of each story, there is a brief, helpful description of the step. I was impressed at how creative the stories tackled each subject. Apropos of the title are also four thoughtful questions (the Four Questions being an important element of the Seder which generally the youngest asks) tweens can contemplate or parents and teachers can use for discussions.

Just like there are many kinds of Jewish ethnicities around the world (e.g. Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, and more) and different branches of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and more), there are many different stories in this collection. Each story has a unique style and appeal. I loved the story featuring an Autistic character, Myra, who could not stand the smell of gefilte fish. It especially resonated with me having a son with sensory processing disorder for whom certain smells can drive him out of a room as it did for the girl in this story. Another story that’s stayed with me is the one about a family of Romanian immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side. In it, the brother and sister are tasked with getting the maror (bitter herb) for the Seder from their father’s pushcart. At his sister’s behest, the brother retells a fairy tale about a witch and a memory spell. This relates to the brother’s annoyance that his sister does not seem to remember much of their life in Romania before emigrating. Later on, the younger sister cleverly and courageously helps her brother rescue a new Polish immigrant being beaten up, revealing some surprising truths.

The fourteen On All Other Nights contributors include: Chris Baron, Ruth Behar, Adam Gidwitz, Veera Hiranandani, Amy Ignatow Sarah Kapit, Joshua S. Levy, Mari Lowe, Naomi Milliner, Soifya Pasternack, R. M. Romero, A. J. Sass, Laura Shovan, and Laurel Snyder.

Black and white art accompanies every chapter and the captivating cover invites children to think about their own role in the Seder. Readers are treated to tempting recipes in the backmatter from celebrated chefs and professionals. Contributor bios and acknowledgments can also be found there. At a recent signing event, editor Joshua S. Levy explained that the anthology is a mirror and window book. It communicates core human values to a wide audience with universal appeal. And that same evening, Chris Baron said the challenge with the anthology was “How do you breathe life into these steps?”  To which I say “Exactly like On All Other Nights did. Brilliantly!”

Click here to read last year’s roundup.

Also Recommended:

Why_on_This_Night_cover_Jews_and_Red_Sea_partingWHY ON THIS NIGHT?:
A Passover Haggadah for Family Celebration
Written by Rahel Musleah
Illustrated by Louise August
(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 7-11)

Publisher Description:

The rich traditions of Passover come alive in this contemporary family haggadah. Updated from the original 2000 edition, this holiday favorite is available again for families to treasure. As children and adults gather at the seder dinner to remember the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom, this creative, yet authentic haggadah will guide and engage them. Lushly illustrated, with blessings and text of every major section of the haggadah in Hebrew, English translation, and transliteration, the welcoming and accessible style of Why On This Night? will make it a treasured seder companion year after year.

 

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review for Women’s History Month – Chef Edna

 

 

CHEF EDNA:
Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis

Written by Melvina Noel

Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

(Cameron Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Chef Edna cover queen of southern cooking edna lewis.

 

This mouthwatering, treat of a book introduces readers to Edna Regina Lewis, with illustrations that pair deliciously with the prose. I was ready to book a trip to the South to sample all the tasty cuisine mentioned in Chef Edna written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. Just look at that inviting cover! It speaks to exactly what this picture book is all about.

 

Chef Edna int1 when Edna grew up on a farm.
Interior spread from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

Growing up on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, Edna was one of six children. She spent her childhood “cooking with her mother, Mama Daisy.” Life on a farm offered fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, and fish year-round as well as the opportunity for young Edna to learn every recipe. She made her mama’s biscuits “so many times she could make them by heart.” That and other tricks, such as listening to a cake to know whether it’s done (A bubbling sound meant it needed to cook more. No sound meant it was done.) became ingrained in Edna.

 

Chef Edna int2 making biscuits
Interior art from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

When Edna’s father passed away, she left home at age 15 to work to help support her mother and the family. She headed to New York and did a host of jobs. Her seamstress skills brought her to the attention of celebrities and soon she was “making clothes for movie stars.” One of my favorite illustrations not shown here is of Edna strolling down a Manhattan street wearing one of her own designs with African motifs and “bright, bold colors.” And, while this brought in much-needed money, Edna still yearned for the farm in Freetown, being with family, and enjoying all the delicious Southern food she was raised on.

Edna met many people through her seamstress work. She “catered events and threw dinner parties for her new friends.” Everyone appreciated her scrumptious cooking infused with a love of the South. Demand grew. It’s easy for us to forget that today, with such a variety of food available that, in late 1940s New York, a female chef, let alone a Black female chef, serving up flavors of her hometown down south, was not common on the Upper East Side where she opened a restaurant with a partner. Famous people including poets, playwrights, and even a First Lady flocked there to see for themselves what Southern cuisine was all about.

 

Chef Edna int3 simple pure ingredients.
Interior spread from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

With New York now her home, Edna continued to seek out “fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish. Fresh seasonal farm-to-table ingredients for Southern cooking,” at Union Square Green Market. When I was growing up that market had long disappeared but it’s back again which I know would make Edna smile. Cabrera’s artwork in muted tones with brush strokes showing, conveys a thriving market of a bygone era.

In her lifetime, Edna the granddaughter of formerly enslaved people, worked at many different jobs where her creativity was put to good use whether as a window dresser, a seamstress, a cooking teacher, a cookbook author, or a chef. This “Grand Dame of Southern Cooking” worked in her later years to preserve Southern food, and was honored not only with numerous awards, but was featured on a U.S. Postal stamp in 2014! Since dates are not mentioned, readers may not always get a clear sense of the timespan in this biography but it’s clear from the art and backmatter that Edna never really slowed down noting that Edna worked “well into her early seventies.” The author has chosen an inspiring subject for this picture book that might even influence young readers to pursue a career as a chef.

After you finish the book, be sure to read Noel’s interesting Author’s Note and try your hand at Edna’s “Biscuits for Two or Three.” I know I will! Don’t forget to look under the book jacket for a sweet “undies” surprise from Cabrera.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Want to read more for Women’s History Month? Click here.

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Seven New Halloween Books for Kids

 

 

HALLOWEEN BOOKS 2023

~ A ROUNDUP ~

 

 

 

PEEKABOO PUMPKIN
Written by Camilla Reid
Illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Candlewick Press; $9.99, Ages 0-2)

The eight pages of this adorably illustrated interactive board book will easily entertain little ones. On their own or with a parent’s help, children will find the bright, bold Halloween-themed graphics irresistible. Slide the tab and a mouse emerges from a grinning grandfather clock. Friendly-looking flames light up a candelabra and a ghost greets a black cat from behind a door. The text is spare but gently rhymes so a read-aloud is ideal to accompany the fun activity for busy little hands. More books are available in this popular series.

• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

FIRST NIGHT OF HOWLERGARTEN
Written and illustrated by Benson Shum
(Penguin Workshop; $18.99, Ages 4-6)

What’s Halloween without werewolves? The story opens with an invitation “to your first night of Howlergarten.” Children are told they’ll transform into their true were-selves for the first time making me curious to see how Shum would depict this. He does so by introducing readers to Sophie, a sweetly drawn biracial main character worried she won’t transform despite assurances from her parents that they’ll love her no matter what.

The clock on Sophie’s nightstand shows 6 p.m. “Good evening, Sophie.” Her teacher welcomes her to class where she soon meets Emma, an overly confident classmate not concerned in the least about transforming, unlike Sophie. When werewolf skill practice begins, Sophie doesn’t excel at anything. Did this mean she was destined to remain human? Sophie makes new friends and finds the training that follows improves her outlook. But her fears return as the full moon rises. Buoyed by her buddy Teddy, the kids clasp hands and countdown to transformation time. When, in a clever twist, things don’t turn out as expected, the werewolf pack shows empathy and accepts everyone, bushy tails, padded paws or not.

This heartwarming picture book can also be read when starting school for the first time, moving up to a new year, or for its SEL elements about acceptance.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Skull cover girl holding skullTHE SKULL:
A Tyrolean Folktale

Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 6-9)

Starred Reviews: Booklist, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Horn Book, Kirkus,
Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness

This eerie tale begins before the title page when we find that, one night, “Otilla finally ran away.” And run she does, into the forest, until she’s someplace unfamiliar and (maybe) someone is calling her name. Coming upon a “very big, very old house,” her knocking is answered by a skull! From there, the story unfolds—but I can’t tell you how, you have to read the book. Let me just say that Jon Klassen’s creepy, unexpected reimagined version of this folktale has crept onto my Top Ten favorite Halloween books. It has heart. It has twists. It has a talking skull!

Klassen’s art feels familiar in Otilla’s wide-eyed expression, yet there’s enough new to keep his illustrations fresh. In one of my favorite scenes, Otilla and the skull don decorative Tyrolean masks (after the skull says they’re just for show!) and dance in an empty ballroom.

I appreciate the craftsmanship of his writing with the parallels he alludes to between the two main characters. This book will be one I return to for many Halloweens to come.

It’s written as a chapter book of sorts with sections and clever subheadings, but the book will also appeal to picture book readers. It’s flawlessly executed, an example of an author-illustrator at a career peak.

After the story, Klassen explains the history of how he came to write this story and how tales evolve in the telling.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Scariest. Book. Ever. cover haunted castle flying bat skullSCARIEST. BOOK. EVER.
(Goosebumps House of Shivers #1)
by R.L. Stine
(Scholastic Paperbacks;  $7.99, Ages 8-12)

If anyone knows how to tell a scary story, it’s R.L. Stine. Scariest. Book. Ever. grabs hold of you from the first page when the twins, Billy and Betty, are left in the remote Wayward Forest where their Uncle Wendell (probably) lives. They have no memory of him but hear he’s quite the storyteller of strange and frightening tales. When he finally shows up and says he’s got the scariest book ever they don’t quite believe him until they come face-to-face with nightmarish creatures and must help their uncle keep the book out of the wrong hands lest true terror be unleashed.

This book is like a roller-coaster ride: once you turn that first page, you’re along until the end, holding your breath, wondering what’s around the next turn.

As a kickoff for Stine’s new Goosebumps House of Shivers series, Scariest. Book. Ever. does not disappoint. It has frightful creatures, plot twists, fast-paced action, and, in true Stine fashion, humor. I’m a fan of his books but was still impressed that he can keep conjuring intriguing tales to scare us with.

There’s a reason this best-selling author is one of the most popular children’s authors in history. Pick up this book; you won’t be able to put it down.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Crimson Twill Witch in the Country cover Crimson frog apple treeWITCH IN THE COUNTRY|
(Crimson Twill series)
Written by Kallie George

Illustrated by Birgitta Sif
(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 7-9)

Crimson Twill is a likable young witch who does very non-witchy things from the way she dresses to brewing lemonade in her cauldron. In Witch in the Country, the latest installment in the series, Crimson’s friends Mauve and Wesley and Dusty the broom are coming to visit her from New Wart City. Crimson has everything planned, a list of her favorite things from ripening rotten apples and gathering broom straw to croaking the frogs (to catch their misty, green frog breath!). When things don’t work out, Crimson is disappointed until she remembers something important.

As with the other books in Kallie George’s beloved series, the stories are heartfelt and fun. Crimson’s unique witchiness is adorable and she’s a likable character that I will keep following as the books explore more of her world.

The evocative black-and-white illustrations throughout give us a thorough glimpse into Crimson’s country lifestyle. Can I come visit and croak frogs too?

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

The Cursed Moon cover scary tree and kids riding bikeTHE CURSED MOON
by Angela Cervantes
(Scholastic Press; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

Sixth-grader Rafael “Rafa” Fuentes loves writing and telling ghost stories but when his strange cat-lady neighbor begs him not to do so on the night of the eerie, blood moon, Rafa doesn’t listen to her. He soon realizes her crazy warning may be true when his tale about The Caretaker (who drowns unsuspecting kids in the pond) seems to come true.

Beyond this, we learn about Rafa’s family and how he doesn’t really feel like he fits in at school. Telling terrifying tales has gotten him a tiny bit of social status but, at best, it’s wobbly.

I like how Angela Cervantes develops the connection and community of Rafa’s family, friends, and neighbors. That Rafa’s mom is finally coming back from being incarcerated adds a unique angle as we see the complex (and opposite) emotions he and his sister have about this homecoming.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Nightmare King cover very scared looking ShaneNIGHTMARE KING
by Daka Hermon

(Scholastic Press; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

The nightmares Shane’s been having make him not want to sleep, but he can only do that for so long. As he fights with the scary images in his mind, he begins to wonder if the Nightmare King will capture him in this winner-takes-all game of tag. Dream scenes become increasingly scary and it seems there’s no escape for Shane the next time he slumbers.

Daka Hermon accurately shows us Shane’s love of playing basketball. Since his recent near-death accident, he wants nothing more than to get back to the top of his game and avoid butting heads with the bully who’s more than ready for Shane’s permanent removal.

Just as in Hide and Seeker (Scholastic, 2020), Hermon takes a seemingly fun game and imbues it with sinister twists and turns.

 

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS:

Check out this interview about The Book Crew Needs You!, another great new Halloween book.

Happy Halloweenie cover vampire hot dogHAPPY HALLOWEENIE
Written and illustrated by Katie Vernon
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5 )

Cute or Scary? All Black or All White? Weenie is trying to decide what to wear for Halloween in this adorably illustrated board book with spare text.

 

 

 

 

Lila and the Jack-O'-Lantern cover girl observing glowing pumpkin in windowLILA AND THE JACK-O’-LANTERN:
Halloween Comes to America
Written by Nancy Churnin
Illustrated by Anneli Bray
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

“An Irish immigrant moves to America bringing a now beloved Halloween tradition.”

 

 

 

How to Spook a Ghost cover kids in Halloween costumesHOW TO SPOOK A GHOST
(Magical Creatures and Craft series)
Written by Sue Fliess
Illustrated by Simona SanFilippo
(Sky Pony Press; $19.99, Ages 3-6)

Brave kids investigate a strange noise and make a new ghostly friend.
A rhyming picture book with added Halloween history, puppet craft, and costume-making tips.

 

The October Witches cover witches flying over treeTHE OCTOBER WITCHES
Written by Jennifer Claessen
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

“Practical Magic meets Hocus Pocus in this sweet and enchanting middle-grade fantasy novel about a young witch who must uncover the secrets of her family’s past to end their longstanding internal feud.” A debut novel ideal for the Halloween season.

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An Interview by Maria Wen Adcock with Night Market Rescue Author Charlotte Cheng

AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLOTTE CHENG

AUTHOR OF NIGHT MARKET RESCUE

ILLUSTRATED BY AMBER REN

(ROCKY POND BOOKS; $18.99, AGES 4-7)

 

Night Market Rescue cover night market dog GoGo lanterns family

 

 

INTRO:

Charlotte Cheng is the author of NIGHT MARKET RESCUE [Rocky Pond Books], illustrated by Amber Ren. Her picture book was released to the world on May 2, 2023. In this interview conducted by Maria Wen Adcock, author of IT’S CHINESE NEW YEAR, CURIOUS GEORGE and founder of the parenting blog BiculturalMama.com, Charlotte discusses her inspiration for the book, Taiwanese traditions, and more.

INTERVIEW:

Maria Wen Adcock: What inspired you to write Night Market Rescue?

Charlotte Cheng: My family comes from Taiwan, and although I was born in the US, we made trips back to Taipei as often as we could to visit family. Each time we visited, my parents brought me to famous Taiwanese night markets so I could soak in the tastes and joys of their childhood.  To this day, I can still recall the smells of sizzling sausage and the sights of colorful goods. I wanted to share these fond memories with others and chose to do so by writing Night Market Rescue!

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MWA: Why did you decide to use a stray dog as the main character? How did you come up with his name? 

CC: I was struggling to figure out how to write Night Market Rescue with an interesting perspective. A few years ago, we also learned that some street dogs rely on night markets to survive. I started exploring how a night market could be seen through the eyes of a street dog. In fact, during one of our family trips to Taiwan, I spent time taking photos of night markets from a dog’s perspective. I then chose to name the dog GoGo as the word “gou” is also the Chinese word for dog.

At the same time, we started helping rescue organizations and fostered a few dogs. Eventually, we decided to rescue one ourselves. His name is Waldo, and he is a proud and integral member of our family. In fact, GoGo might look a little like Waldo because we shared photos of him with Amber Ren, the talented illustrator for Night Market Rescue.

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Night Market Rescue int1 stray GoGo finds new place page 03
Interior art from Night Market Rescue by Charlotte Cheng with illustrations by Amber Ren, Rocky Pond Books ©2023.

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MWA: What Taiwanese traditions did you want to make sure you featured in the book?

CC: I focused a lot on sounds, tastes, and textures. I wanted people to feel like they’re with GoGo as he explores the night market. Some specifics I made sure to include were the scooters (one of Taipei’s preferred modes of transportation), sizzling sausage (a famous Taiwan treat), and haggling grandmas (a staple of any Asian market).

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MWA: Why did you think it was important to write a book highlighting Taiwanese culture? 

CC: Taiwan is a small island packed with a fascinating history. From Dutch castles to lantern festivals to marble canyons and mountains that rise above the clouds, my parents devoted a lot of time sharing their culture with me. I now have a young daughter and hope stories like Night Market Rescue will be an opportunity for me to do the same. Furthermore, Taiwan is a place that many people don’t have a chance to visit. I hope Night Market Rescue will be a way for them to learn about this special island.

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Night Market Rescue int2 Taipei market GoGo and lanterns Page 04
Interior spread from Night Market Rescue by Charlotte Cheng with illustrations by Amber Ren, Rocky Pond Books ©2023.

 

MWA: What was the process like working with the publishing team?

CC: I’m a collaborative creature at heart, so working with the publishing team was a dream come true! Lauri Hornik is the President of Rocky Pond Books, a new imprint at Penguin. The moment Lauri acquired Night Market Rescue, she immediately began working with me to refine the manuscript. The book is in rhyme, so revisions were a little tricky, but the story is so much stronger now!

I then got to see this story come alive through the talented hands of our illustrator, Amber Ren. It began with character designs and pencil sketches. Then she added vibrant colors that brought movement and energy to each page. Throughout each stage, the Rocky Pond team invited me to provide feedback and suggestions. Sometimes, I even sent specific photos of my dog Waldo to help highlight how Taiwanese street dogs behaved in different scenarios! It was a pleasure witnessing the images transforming into the final illustrations that are now found in the book.

There are many others at the Rocky Pond team that have contributed to making Night Market Rescue as well: from art direction and book design to marketing and publicity. I’ll be collaborating with Lauri and her team on four more books over the coming years. I’m greatly looking forward to working with them all again, and I’m so grateful to be a part of the Rocky Pond family!

 

MWA: What did you and your publishing team love the most about the illustrations? 

CC: Amber Ren is such a creative and detailed illustrator! She captured the sights and sounds of a Taiwanese night market with vibrant and colorful images that just jump from the page. There are so many details that I hope readers will catch. Someone is drinking boba in the background because the beverage was invented in Taiwan. Even my Ama makes an appearance as she briskly bargains with a vendor! Amber also hand-wrote each vendor sign in traditional Mandarin, and she even incorporated feedback from my parents on the exact phrasing of some of the vendor names. Most of all, Amber managed to illustrate the full spectrum of GoGo’s emotions – from curiosity to loneliness to joy. You root for GoGo because he’s so charming and eager when exploring the night market. I could not imagine working with a better illustrator than Amber, and I hope we can work together again!
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MWA: Do you have any books or projects coming up? If so, please describe them.

CC: I actually have several books coming out over the next few years! In 2024, Roar Choo, illustrated by Dan Santat, will be published by Rocky Pond Books. It’s a story of how a dragon recovers from a cold through the help of a phoenix friend. In the same year, A Name for Sister, illustrated by Sophie Diao, will be published by HarperCollins. It’s a magical new sister story inspired by a centuries-old naming tradition from China. In 2025, Rocky Pond Books will also publish two more of my stories: I Miss You Most (2025), illustrated by Xindi Yan, and Icy Fruit (2025), illustrated by Vivian Mineker. Both of these books are inspired by my two grandfathers. You can sign up for my newsletter or follow me on social media to stay updated about these books.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Charlotte’s local indie store:

https://www.thereadingbug.com/book/9780593531723

IndieBound:

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780593531723

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/charlottedraws

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charlottemakesbooks

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charlottechengdesigns

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Charlotte Cheng Photo Credit Airecel Brady
Charlotte Cheng Photo Credit: Airecel Iris Brady

ABOUT AUTHOR CHARLOTTE CHENG:

Charlotte has written and illustrated a variety of books, including Explore China: A Mulan Discovery Book and BoBo Loves Dumplings. With over 20 years of EdTech experience, Charlotte has also written and published K-12 curricula for a variety of companies, including CodeCombat, Disney, and Wonder Workshop.

You can learn more about Charlotte’s work at: www.charlotte.art. You can also find her social media sites above.

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ABOUT INTERVIEWER MARIA WEN ADCOCK:

Maria Wen Adcock is the author of It’s Chinese New Year, Curious George [January 2023], published by Clarion Books/Harper Collins. Maria is a first-generation Chinese-American writer and founder of the award-winning multicultural parenting blog www.BiculturalMama.com. She has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Bloomberg News, Newsday, and Huffington Post. Maria is a board member of Multicultural Kid Blogs, an organization supporting diverse parenting bloggers, and co-host of the annual event Multicultural Children’s Book Day.
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FIND OUT MORE ABOUT AMBER REN, THE ILLUSTRATOR:

https://www.amber-ren.com

https://twitter.com/AmberRenArt

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https://www.linkedin.com/in/amber-ren-1921a092

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Three Middle Grade Fantasy Book Reviews

 

MIDDLE-GRADE FANTASY NOVELS

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

The Ghost of Midnight Lake coverTHE GHOST OF MIDNIGHT LAKE
Written by Lucy Strange

(Chicken House; $17.99, Ages 8-12) 

Starred Review – Kirkus

The spooky middle-grade novel, The Ghost of Midnight Lake by best-selling author Lucy Strange, stands out because of its interesting and unpredictable riches-to-rags plot. Set in 1899, the story opens with twelve-year-old Lady Agatha Asquith’s world falling apart after her father, the Earl of Gosswater, dies. Cruel cousin Clarence (who inherited everything) states that since Agatha’s not really an Asquith she must get out. Shocked, Agatha struggles to come to terms with this news as she’s abruptly moved in with her possible biological father, a poor goose farmer, and (maybe) thief. Though Agatha yearns to hear the truth from him, he’s closed-lipped.

At the Earl’s funeral on Skelter Island, Lady Agatha realizes there is no going back and decides to try embracing her new life, renaming herself Aggie. She soon makes her first-ever friend—Bryn, a boy who works on this cemetery island—but cannot find the words to tell him her real identity.

As Aggie tries unraveling her history, she begins seeing a female spirit. Is this her past self? The ingenious plot shows Aggie’s growth from pampered to strong-willed where she bravely takes charge, seeking answers and forging her path forward. Gosswater’s a place with harsh contrasts between the aristocrats and the peasants. In this small community, the paths people live (determined mainly by their social status) differ dramatically.

Aggie and Bryn are very likable characters and their bumpy road as friends feels truthful. Some of my favorite elements include the presence of geese throughout and the contradicting information that Gosswater is either named after the geese there or after the ghosts! Susan the goose is quite a character, playing a significant role in this thrilling story.

Whether it’s a real ghost haunting Aggie or merely her past, this fascinating story about family, friendship, and self-discovery is one that will keep you enthralled as you follow Aggie into the uncertain future filled with lies, secrets, and one charming goose!

 

Secret of the Storm coverSECRET OF THE STORM
Written by Beth McMullen
(Aladdin BYR; $17.99, Ages 9-13))

In Beth McMullen’s middle-grade fantasy, Secret of the Storm, twelve-year-old Cassie King has lost everything lately: her father’s sudden death turned her mother into a shell of herself, and Cassie’s BFF now hangs with the cool girls. The future seems hopeless until some freaky weather, a scraggly kitten, and the school outcast, Joe Robinson, set Cassie on a new trajectory.

A mystery begins to unfold as the kitten, Albert, shows some decidedly un-catlike traits. During Cassie and Joe’s after-school volunteer duties at the town library, they suspect their beloved librarian may be hiding information related to recent, unusual activities. (Take a peek at the cover image for a clue about Albert’s secret!)

Beth McMullen accurately captures Cassie’s pain as well as the relief in her developing friendship with an unlikely classmate—depicting how a person’s perceptions can change. Still, Cassie struggles with whether to be a bystander or to do something when popular kids pick on individuals who don’t fit in. Woven in with the fantastic upheaval brought on by her unusual kitten are realistic friendship and family problems.

Short chapters with lots of action make this an ideal book for young middle-grade readers. Older kids will enjoy this story as well; even if they clue into the “secret of the storm” early on, the book is heartfelt and unpredictable enough to provide engagement throughout.

 

The Mirrorwood coverTHE MIRRORWOOD
Written by Deva Fagan

(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 10-12)

I had to read Deva Fagan’s middle-grade fantasy, The Mirrorwood, because of the back-jacket blurb: “I was wearing my sister’s face on the night the hunters came to our cottage.” Awesome, right?! The Mirrorwood is an enchanted land sealed in with a wall of thorns where the inhabitants are locked in time under the rule of a demon-prince—kind of a twisted Sleeping Beauty. The main character, twelve-year-old Fable, has been cursed by magic that leaked from the Mirrorwood and does not have a face of her own; to stay alive, she needs to take faces from others.

Luckily, her loving family hides and helps her but there’s only so much they can do before hunters arrive to eradicate people like Fable (who are called “blighted”). Vycorax, an apprentice near Fable’s age is charged with destroying Fable, however, circumstances set these adversaries on a path where they seem to share the goal of freeing the Mirrorwood from its curse. The dynamics between these two girls are tensely portrayed.

One of my favorite characters is Fable’s fearless cat, Moth, who accompanies her into any situation, able to communicate with her telepathically. Cat people will appreciate Moth’s perfectly catty lines as he adventures along with Fable and Vycorax.

Strong female lead characters, friendship, family, coming-of-age, and adventure make this a well-rounded book that will keep you guessing who’s the bad guy and whether Fable’s wish to have her own face will ever come true. Fagan does an excellent job portraying realistic, dimensional characters in a familiar yet modern fairy tale. I would happily follow Fable onto more stories. This book may be better for older middle-grade readers because of the plot turns and creepiness of face-stealing.

 

 

 

 

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Middle Grade Graphic Novel – The Legend of Auntie Po

THE LEGEND OF AUNTIE PO

Written and illustrated by Shing Yin Khor

(Kokila; $22.99, Ages 10-14)

 

 

The Legend of Auntie Po cover

 

 

Finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. 

Starred reviews – Horn Book, Kirkus, School Library Journal

 

 

A re-imagined Paul Bunyan legend gives one Chinese American girl
the courage to face adversity. 

 

Thirteen-year-old Mei lives and works in an 1885 Sierra Nevada lumber logging camp in the graphic novel, The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor. Her father, Hao, cooks for the workers, and Mei is famed for her pies. Mei, unlike the other women in the camp, does not wear a dress and is conflicted about her budding sexuality and her feelings towards Bee Anderson, the camp foreman’s daughter.

Within the camp, racial tensions simmer and the Chinese workers face discrimination and violence. Abusive behavior towards women in the camp also adds to an increasingly hostile environment. Camp foreman Hel Anderson, Bee’s father, turns a blind eye to all that is happening.

To help her and the other women and children cope with these injustices, Mei invents a Bunyanesque character, Auntie Po, only she can see. The stories she spins about Auntie Po and her blue water buffalo, Pei Pei, give courage and hope to the others.

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The Legend of Auntie Po int1
Interior art from The Legend of Auntie Po written and illustrated by Shing Yin Khor, Kokila ©2021

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Following the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Chinese workers are forced to leave the mill. Mei stays with Bee’s family, but Hao and the other Chinese workers leave to find work in San Francisco. When camp conditions severely deteriorate, Anderson travels to Chinatown to persuade his former workers to return. Hao, mindful of Anderson’s acceptance of the discriminatory conditions, negotiates a better deal for the Chinese workers. Anderson agrees and Hao and the others return to the camp. Father and daughter are reunited.

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The Legend of Auntie Po int2
Interior spread from The Legend of Auntie Po written and illustrated by Shing Yin Khor, Kokila ©2021

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Author/illustrator Khor’s colorful illustrations authentically capture 19th lumberjacking life, demonstrating the amount of research she did to convey the details of daily life and conditions experienced by the workers and their families. In addition, this graphic novel highlights the art of storytelling and how each story can be shaped or reimagined by the experiences of the teller and the listener.

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The Legend of Auntie Po int3
Interior spread from The Legend of Auntie Po written and illustrated by Shing Yin Khor, Kokila ©2021

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As the story concludes, Mei and her father decide it’s time for her to go away to school. Mei has also resolved some of her identity issues: 

 

 “I know who I am. I am a good cook.  I have good friends, I have the best pa in the world” (p. 272).

 

The author’s endnote and her bibliography contain valuable information, as does her video on how this book came about for anyone who wants to learn more about the legends and history behind this engaging graphic novel. This is truly the middle-grade at its finest.

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Middle Grade Fiction Review – Race to the Sun

RACE TO THE SUN

Written by Rebecca Roanhorse

(Disney-Hyperion; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Race to the Sun cvr

 

In Race to the Sun seventh grader Nizhoni Begay can see monsters—such as Mr. Charles, the tall, skinny, blond man who may become her dad’s new boss. This, obviously, is a problem, especially when Mr. Charles tries to kill her the first time they’re alone together! As if that day wasn’t crazy enough, one of Nizhoni’s favorite stuff animals, Mr. Yazzie, a horned toad, comes alive and explains that her coming-of-age ceremony awakened her monster-slaying powers.

When her father disappears, Nizhoni, her younger brother Mac, and her best friend Davery set out on an adventure that calls on their Navajo heritage. On their perilous quest, the kids encounter many obstacles. As Nizhoni embraces the power within, she also begins to understand the mysteries of her family.

I enjoyed learning about some traditional Navajo stories in this fast-paced, suspenseful book that couples humor with deeper subjects such as the importance of heritage and respect for each other and our land. Mythology with exciting action scenes are an appealing combination for middle-graders who enjoy quest novels. If you like Percy Jackson and Aru Shah books, read Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun.

Click here for an event/activity kit.

Don’t forget to visit ReadRiordan.com to find out more about the Rick Riordan Presents series.

  •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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Let’s Talk Time Tales – Wednesdays With Once Upon a Time

WHAT WE’RE READING
WEDNESDAYS 
WITH ONCE UPON A TIME

Always Time for Books –
A Roundup of Time Related Reads

Books have a way of making time do funny things; slowing us down as we settle into the story and speeding up whenever a clue is about to be revealed. And of course, there is never enough time to read all the books we want to read. There is so much power in the way that books and readers interact with time and we wanted to highlight some of our middle grade favorites here at Once Upon A Time.

 

cover illustration from Saving Winslow by Sharon CreechThe slow and careful buildup of love and trust is the star in Saving Winslow (HarperCollins) by Sharon Creech. A delightful family read-aloud that skillfully weaves empathy, compassion and family into a beautifully realized story, universal, timeless and, dare I say a new classic, in the mold of Charlotte’s Web (without the talking animals). Ten-year old Louie is determined to save a sick miniature donkey even though his past animal endeavors haven’t turned out well. His parents caution him but Louie names his new charge Winslow as a sign of faith and determination in the small creature’s survival. Louie uses his plight as a way to connect with his brother’s absence while serving in the Vietnam War. Saving Winslowcaptures an innocence and steadfast belief in miracles that are real and close at hand. ★Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal.
Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9780062570703

 

 

 

cover illustration from Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak SpanishEverything can change in just a few days. In Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish (Viking BYR), Pablo Cartaya shows how much time and place impact who you are. Marcus Vega may look like the average bully—large, silent, and overwhelming—but inside he is just a boy too big for the quiet kids and too small to fill the shoes of his absent father. Marcus is suspended from school for protecting his brother from a bully and decides his time off would be better spent searching for answers from his father in Puerto Rico. With his mother and brother in tow and only a few days to accomplish his goal, Marcus goes down a path of misadventure leading to understanding. A fast-paced journey of self-discovery about the role of family, friendship, and home. Perfect for readers ages 10 to 14. ★Starred Review – School Library Journal. Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9781101997260

 

 

 


cover illustration from Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the VastlanticFor fantasy adventure readers that want to be blown away, Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic (HarperCollins) written and illustrated by Armand Baltazar is for them. First, the physical book is 400+ pages and weighs a massive 2.5 lbs! But that’s because there are over 150 full color illustrations throughout which pull the reader along the fast-paced story. And second, the premise—our world is 300 years in the future, has collapsed for a minute, and in that time reconfigured with past, present and future worlds meshed all together – without cell phones, electricity. “Diego’s middle school hallways buzz with kids from all eras of history and from cultures all over the world.” Dinosaurs are with robots (mechanical) and tall ships, sort of steam punk but not.

 

Diego is 13 and a mechanical whiz. He and his family live near the coast in New Chicago, a reimagined Chicago and its waterways. Diego has concocted a cool mechanical submarine in order to go to school! The plot goes crazy when Diego’s dad is kidnapped by a villain from Roman times. He’s aware that Diego’s dad is a mechanical genius who can help mechanize the robots and turn the world back to the proper time. Diego’s friends go with him as he tries to find his father. Help from his pilot mother and the Rangers set up this first in a series. I LOVED the vast world building, fast pace and those one-of-a-kind illustrations. Truly, this is what I think could be the next Harry Potter type series which will capture the imaginations of adventure fans all over and for years to come. Best for ages 9 and up. ★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly. Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9780062402363

Looking for a good way to spend your time in addition to reading? Meet Armand Baltazar, creative mind behind Timeless on Friday, October 19th at 7 pm for a special book signing and costume contest.

Find event details here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/event/book-signing-and-costume-contest-armand-baltazar

  • Reviewed by Jessica Palacios

NOTE: Good Reads With Ronna makes no commission or profit from the sale of any book in this post. Our goal is to encourage the love of reading great books.

 

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The Dragon Slayer: Folktales From Latin America by Jaime Hernandez

 

THE DRAGON SLAYER:
FOLKTALES FROM LATIN AMERICA
By Jaime Hernandez
with an introduction by F. Isabel Campoy
(Toon Books/Toon Graphics; $16.95 Hardcover, $9.99 Paperback, Ages 8 and up)

 

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales From Latin America cover illustration

 

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America, a 48-page middle-grade graphic novel, gives modern readers a way to explore timeless tales. F Isabel Campoy’s Introduction, “Imagination and Tradition,” explains Latin American heritage is “richly diverse, a unique blend of Old World and New, spanning a continent across many geographic boundaries and cultures.”

A “recurring theme in the Latino experience is a celebration of strong women.” In “The Dragon Slayer,” one of three tales in the graphic novel, the youngest daughter is cast out, but her generosity brings her good fortune and, ultimately, a chance to conquer the fearsome seven-headed dragon. In the next story, “Martina Martínez and Pérez the Mouse,” Martina (a human) marries Pérez; soon after mishap befalls him but Doña Pepa’s quick thinking saves the day.

“Tup and the Ants” finishes the trilogy with moral and practical lessons. When three brothers are sent to clear the land for cornfields, lazy but clever Tup enlists the leaf-cutter ants to do his chores.

int spread from The Dragon Slayer by Jaime Hernandez
Interior illustrations from The Dragon Slayer: Folktales From Latin America by Jaime Hernandez, Toon Books ©2018.

 

Noteworthy back matter provides insight into each tale, explaining its cultural significance.

Jaime Hernandez’s illustrations will beguile new generations with humor, memorable characters, and fabulous monsters. This comic is well-suited for visual readers. Released simultaneously in English and Spanish, in hardcover and paperback, Toon Books aims for inclusion. Now celebrating their tenth anniversary, the publisher has over 1.3 million books in print.

Read more about Jaime Hernandez and Dragon Slayer’s special features at Toon Books here.

 A New York Times Editors’ Choice
★ Starred Review – Kirkus

       Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Click here for a review of another Toon Book

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The Sword of Summer: Book One of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan

THE SWORD OF SUMMER
Book One of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
by Rick Riordan 
(Disney Hyperion; $19.99, Ages 9-12)

The_Sword_of_Summer_Magnus-Chase

Welcome to the first book in Rick Riordan’s new series,
The Sword of Summer: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.

Imagine this: it’s your 16th birthday. You wake up on a cold Boston street, your friends tell you this evil dude is looking for you … and not because he wants to bring you a birthday present. Your untrustworthy uncle reveals that you are the son of the Norse god, Frey, god of fertility of the land, peace and prosperity. Yeah, right. As the son of Frey you have the power to summon an ancient, long lost sword. Apparently, whoever wields it can do some pretty cool stuff with it. Some pretty scary stuff, too. And just think, all this time it’s been sitting at the bottom of the Charles River. Nasty.

Oh, and that evil dude looking for you? He’s the god Surt, Lord of Muspelheim, the realm of fire. He wants that sword, too. And not just to polish it up. See, he’s got this plan (or maybe it’s something like his destiny) to use the sword to free the wolf Fenir and set doomsday into motion. Wolves … dude, you hate wolves!

Someone has to stop him.

Could this be your destiny?

Ready to romp through the nine worlds of Asgard to prevent the end of the world? Well, before you take off, there’s just one. small. thing.

First, you gotta die.

Whew! So, are your ready for the The Sword of Summer, the first book in Riordan’s new series? I’ve got a feeling you’re hooked! From cold Boston streets, where the homeless (and not so prosperous) Magnus Chase lives, to the halls of Valhalla (the realm of the fallen heroes), prepare yourself for a wild and exhilarating ride through the many strange, wonderful, and sometimes frightening worlds of Asgard. Magnus and his friends, who include a snappy-dressing dwarf, a deaf elf, and a Muslim ex-Valkyrie, race against the clock to prevent a cataclysmic war.

Pursued by Valhalla heroes, giant wolves, and monsters, Magnus and his team bargain with powerful beings and magical creatures in order to prevent Surt from obtaining Frey’s sword, Sumanbrander. Whoever wields it has the power to bring about Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle between the forces of the gods Odin and Loki.

Percy Jackson fans will snap up this latest series (I can’t keep it on my library shelves). Using his now familiar model, Riordan has readers take a look at an unlikely hero struggling to understand who he is and the events swirling around him. Like all great heroes (Hercules, Gilgamesh, and yes, Percy Jackson), Magnus’ journey throughout the worlds of Asgard bring him a deeper understanding of self and greater empathy for his companions, who have sacrificed much to support him.

Riordan has inventively created a world blending Norse mythology with contemporary culture and peopled it with diverse characters in positive roles. In doing so, he shines a spotlight on contemporary issues such as Muslim culture, homelessness and people with special needs. Filled with nail-biting and dramatic action, it has the same irreverent humor found in Riordan’s earlier series.

Not familiar with Norse mythology? No problem, Riordan provides a handy glossary and other back matter materials to enhance the reader’s understanding of the ancient Norse world.

Visit all the worlds of Rick Riordan for more information on this and his other series.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

 

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