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Young Adult Fantasy – A Hunger of Thorns

 

A HUNGER OF THORNS

 by Lili Wilkinson

(Delacorte Press; $19.99, Ages 14+)

 

 

A Hunger of Thorns cover

 

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

Be swept away by a lush, witchy tale about forbidden magic and missing girls who don’t need handsome princes to rescue them. Perfect for fans of The Hazel Wood.

REVIEW:

Lili Wilkinson’s A Hunger of Thorns is a fairy tale and coming-of-age story for today’s teens. Maude, a daughter of witches, lost her magic four years ago when she got her period. She’s a talented storyteller: “telling a story felt exactly like doing magic—reaching for invisible threads and weaving them together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.” But now that she can no longer pull mettle and animate objects, the fragile hold she had over her unruly BFF, Odette, crumbles. When Odette goes missing, Maude knows how these stories work: she must be a hero and save her.

Though lovingly raised by her grandmothers, Maude still aches to know what really happened when her mother went “bad” and the details surrounding her death. Witches have their magic controlled, directed toward inane things like making enchanted stockings that will not run or self-heating instant dinners. Maude’s world, of course, has a handsome prince and a terrifying beast (the Tatterdemalion), however, both are reimagined into something unexpected.

In this carefully crafted story, females are told how to act, what’s right and what’s wrong, and what happens when you push or break those societal boundaries. Wilkinson’s characters are complex and likable which made me root for them as they’re pressured to be neat and presentable, to lead a mundane life seemingly for the greater good. But what of our true natures? As the dedication says, this book is for “every good girl who has a wild girl inside.” An amazingly creative tale about finding forgotten things and remembering who we once were.

Listen to a sample by clicking here.

 

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Young Adult Novel – Dear Medusa

 

DEAR MEDUSA

 by Olivia A. Cole

(Labyrinth Road; $18.99, Ages 14+)

Dear Medusa cover of mc teen Alicia

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

 

Olivia A. Cole’s YA novel in verse, Dear Medusa, shows what it’s like to be made into a monster when, in fact, you’re the victim—just as Medusa was. Sixteen-year-old Alicia Rivers dreads school where she’s branded the slut because she hooks up with random guys after being sexually abused by a popular teacher. This secret burns her up since she has no one to turn to: she’s quit the track team, her BFF dumped her, and her family is too self-involved. Avoiding where it happened leads to cutting classes which spirals into detention and thoughts of staying forever at a dead-end job; there doesn’t seem to be a way out.

Abuse is a tough subject to navigate but Cole captures raw, realistic feelings and offsets them with the beauty of hope as Alicia finds new friends and maybe even a girlfriend. Many issues are brought to mind, such as how we’re so connected yet can also feel hopelessly lonely, or how women sometimes tear one another down, then at other times choose to stand together.

This book examines what it’s like to be judged by how we dress or act. In the section titled, “Wolves love bus stops,” Alicia remembers what she was wearing the first time she took the bus alone and how men reacted: “Standing by the telephone pole that day, / staring at my phone, / I transformed without knowing. / Girl into rabbit, soft furred thing with belly / exposed, ripe for fangs.” Ultimately, it’s about accepting ourselves, rather than letting other people’s perceptions turn us to stone.

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More Awesome Asian Americans: 20 Citizens Who Energized America

 

MORE AWESOME ASIAN AMERICANS:

20 CITIZENS WHO ENERGIZED AMERICA

WRITTEN BY PHIL AMARA AND OLIVER CHIN

ILLUSTRATED BY JUAN CALLE

(IMMEDIUM; $17.95, AGES 12+)

 

 

 

More Awesome Asian Americans written by Phil Amara and Oliver Chin with illustrations by Juan Calle is an illuminating young adult anthology that pays tribute to 20 trailblazing Asian American men and women whose accomplishments have created role models for this and future generations.

In the past, I’ve reviewed books that are part of Immedium’s Chinese Zodiac series so I was eager to see what this 128-page biography compilation would be like. I was not disappointed. The other good news is that this is the second book of the duology, the first was Awesome Asian Americans published in 2020.

 

More Awesome Asian Americans int1 Actor Activist George Takei
Interior art from More Awesome Asian Americans written by Phil Amara and Oliver Chin and illustrated by Juan Calle, Immedium ©2022.

 

Of the 10 men and 10 women featured (for a total of 20 chapters), each bio sheds light on an important individual whether athlete or activist, author or actor. Kids can choose to read this paperback one bio at a time or sit down and immerse themselves in the impressive array of notable figures. While the book is described as a graphic novel, it’s more just a colorfully illustrated collection with vibrant full-page and spot art throughout that adds to the positive energy emanating from every profile page.

I like how the book was organized chronologically from oldest to youngest people. I also appreciated learning not only about Asian American luminaries such as I.M. Pei, Amy Tan, George Takei, Mira Nair, and Bruno Mars, but even more so about those who, though not household names, are outstanding in their fields. For example, I had no idea that Jensen Huang was responsible for a computer chip that revolutionized computer gaming making him a billionaire, or that Dr. Peter Tsai’s N95 mask was a life-saver during the pandemic due to “its technology.” I read in shock about humanitarian Channapha Khamvongsa’s harrowing childhood in Laos as a result of the secret series of U.S. bombings there to stop the rise of communism. I never knew that since “1973, UXOs [unexploded bombs] have harmed twenty thousand civilians, primarily children” and was what propelled Khamvongsa to create an NGO called Legacies of War to clean up the UXOs. Her campaigns have made the U.S. government commit millions toward the clean-up of the UXOs as she continues to work for the good of the Laotian community both in the U.S. and globally.

 

More Awesome Asian Americans int2 Olympic Snowboarder Chloe Kim
Interior art from More Awesome Asian Americans written by Phil Amara and Oliver Chin and illustrated by Juan Calle, Immedium ©2022.

 

I am happy to recommend More Awesome Asian Americans because it honestly brings to the fore the lives and accomplishments of 20 extraordinary people who persevered despite facing challenges from war, poverty, business failures, their Asian heritage, and in some cases their gender. The book serves as a motivating and inspiring read for any teen who has ever considered giving up when the going gets tough.

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Young Adult Book Review – The Island

 

THE ISLAND

by Natasha Preston

(Delacorte Press; Paperback Original $12.99, Ages 12+)

The Island cover dark skies above rollercoaster on island

 

 

The Island is the latest YA thriller from New York Times’ best-selling author, Natasha Preston. Six teen influencers are invited to spend an exclusive weekend at a not-yet-opened amusement park island resort. The main character is seventeen-year-old Paisley who posts about crime; her knowledge of that topic may be helpful when, one by one, the eleven people on this remote island begin to disappear. Then a storm and power outage hit. The influencers are trapped there along with the island’s staff, the strange billionaire owner, and a killer. Spur-of-the-moment friendships and alliances form as the kids are chased through ghoulish amusement park rides. With links to the outside world broken, it’s all about surviving the weekend retreat when surely someone’s parents will realize these usually online kids aren’t just out of touch but in dire trouble.

This fast-paced read will keep you guessing who’s committing the gruesome murders. Being trapped on Jagged Island feels like the ultimate escape room—without any place to escape to! The Island was hard to put down because I kept trying to figure out the killer’s identity and motive, especially as fewer and fewer people were left. The conclusion surprised me.

 

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Best New Hanukkah Books for Children and Teens 2022

 

BEST NEW HANUKKAH BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS

~A ROUNDUP~

 

 

I’m happy to say this year I’ve received more review copies of new Hanukkah books for children than any previous year! Not only do these books approach the holiday from fresh new angles, but they’ve made the holiday more accessible for non-Jewish readers who want to learn about this joyful Jewish celebration. Enjoy the super selection and be sure to share these books with family and friends.

 

 

HANUKKAH NHanukkah Nights cover menorah picture child sleepingIGHTS
Written and illustrated by Amalia Hoffman
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $8.99, Ages 1-5)

I had a huge grin on my face as I read this beautiful board book because while the concept is so simple, it is gorgeously executed and a treat to read. Using bold black as the background like one of those scratch-away kits, Hoffman has cleverly employed a variety of techniques to depict the candle flames. These include drip, scrape, stamp, crisscross, sponge, spatter, doodle and brush. She shares a brief rhyming description along with a new color for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. A different night equals a different spread and flame style.
“1 light. Special night.”

“2 lights. Happy nights.”

Spare, stunning, and VERY shareable!  I hope your children love this as much as I did. If they feel inspired to reproduce the designs using the back matter spread, Hoffman describes how to achieve the looks so be sure to have plenty of Kraft paper available this Hanukkah.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

MENDEL’S HANUKKAH MESS UP
Written by Chana and Larry Stiefel
Illustrated by Daphna Awadish
(Kalaniot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

Star Review – School Library Journal

Things never seem to go as planned for Mendel despite loving the Hanukkah holiday. What can be botched up does get botched up. He’s kind of a mash-up of Amelia Bedelia and The Chelm stories. With this top of mind,  Mendel takes a back seat so to speak, and keeps out of harm’s way until his trusting Rabbi asks him to drive the Mitzvah Mobile. His job: spread the word about the big Hanukkah bash and perform “the greatest good deed of the holidaysharing the miracles of Hanukkah for all to see!”

Mendel manages quite well to start with and he’s overjoyed at his success. With his spirits soaring, he doesn’t see the bridge overpass and smashes the menorah, much to his dismay. “Oy! I’m stuck!” Mendel’s disappointment is palpable in a mix of humorous and meaningful text alongside charming and lively illustrations. Even though the police and the tow truck arrive on the scene, it is the reporter from the local news who gives Mendel a powerful platform. On the spot, he draws inspiration from his Rabbi’s words and explains the miracle of Hanukkah and how “we each have a spark to light up the world.” And miraculously, as the damaged truck is towed away, the lights from the menorah glow brightly. Back at his synagogue, Mendel’s congregation is exuberant and when he gets invited to light the giant menorah at City Hall, you can just imagine who at last feels proudest of all! If you’re looking for a timeless tale sure to bring smiles to the entire family, Mendel’s Hanukkah Mess Up delivers. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel 

 

Ava's Homemade Hanukkah cover girl making menorahAVA’S HOMEMADE HANUKKAH
Written by Geraldine Woberg
Illustrated by Julia Seal
(Albert Whitman & Co; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

In this unique artistic story that gave me ideas for making my own menorah, readers are introduced to a family whose tradition is to create their own menorahs each year. These aren’t just any menorahs. They are menorahs that say something important about each person. This year Ava is old enough to join in the fun, but she worries her ideas won’t measure up to the others.

As the story begins, Ava tells her pet rabbit, Maccabee, named after the brave Maccabees and the oil that lasted eight nights, why Hanukkah is celebrated, and how the bunny got its name. Lined up on the table is a tin Hanukkah menorah that Ava’s mom was given by the army during her first Hanukkah away from home. Pop-Pop’s Hanukkah menorah has corks that float in jars of oil that he cherishes because he is proud that his traditions were different from his childhood friends. Author Woberg takes the reader through each family member’s story, while Seal’s warm illustrations show Ava and Maccabee listening.

The brown-haired pig-tailed girl gathers floor tile, green wire from flowers worn in her hair, and a small twig that fell from her special tree, all to be used for her menorah. She even gathers a friendship pin given to her by a friend. And the best item to be placed on her menorah is the toy rabbit resembling Maccabee. The menorah is complete when Ava uses markers to write the letters of her Hebrew name.

This is a great story to read to children at home or at religious school before beginning their own menorah creation. What a wonderful project for kids and a lovely tradition to begin! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Hanukkah in Little Havana cover with kids on car tripHANUKKAH IN LITTLE HAVANA
Written by Julie Anna Blank
Illustrated by Carlos Velez Aguilera
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $19.99; Ages 4-9)

A young girl narrator explains how each December a crate of fresh-picked oranges, plucked from her grandparents’ Miami backyard, is usually delivered as a Hanukkah gift to her family’s Maryland home. But this year no box arrives. Then, out of nowhere at midnight one December day, the girl and her younger sister are roused from their sleep by their parents in another strange occurrence. The sisters are tired and confused as they are placed in the backseat of the family car with their sweet dog and cat alongside them. When they wake at dawn to unfamiliar road signs and radio ads “Chile Today, Hot Tamale!” they wonder: Are they awake or dreaming? But their parents’ “laughing eyes” hold the exciting clue.

Julie Anna Blank’s first picture book takes the reader on an enjoyable Hanukkah journey to Miami’s Little Havana where the girls happily pick grapefruit, tangerines, and oranges with sun-kissed grandparents, Nonna and Nonno. Carlos Velez Aguilera’s colorful illustrations depict happy faces dancing the salsa and grating potatoes for homemade latkes. The parents’ surprise trip definitely replaced the sadness of not receiving the box of fruit, and the surprise was made better when they were able to spend it with the whole family.

This original take on the Hanukkah story teaches kids about almendrikas pastries and browned bunuelos. The smiles on the family’s faces beautifully depict the happiness of eight days of light and love. The back glossary breaks down the Spanish words. Bunuelo is a fried pastry and is a Hanukkah treat in South America and the Caribbean. Almendrikas is a little almond in Ladino. It was a fun read to learn about the diversity of the Jewish holiday and how it is celebrated with foods from different cultures. • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

 The Boston Chocolate Party cover children at HarborTHE BOSTON CHOCOLATE PARTY
Written by Tami Lehman-Wilzig and Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz
Illustrated by Fede Combi
(Apples & Honey Press; $17.95, Ages 5-8)

I adore historical fiction stories where I can learn something new and The Boston Chocolate Party is no exception. Not only does this story illustrate how hot chocolate became popular in America, but it also introduces readers to the Sephardim. These were Jews who fled persecution in Spain and Portugal and came to America via the Netherlands. Many settled in New York and in Newport, Rhode Island where they found religious freedom.

This interesting Hanukkah (or Janucá in Spanish) story introduces readers to Joshua and his father, a wealthy merchant. They await his father’s ship transporting chocolate beans that will be turned into hot cocoa. With the British taxing tea and making it unaffordable, hot chocolate will become a popular and affordable alternative. Meanwhile, at home, on the first night of Hanukkah, Joshua is missing his best friend Isaac. The lad’s mom, now a widow, has relocated the family to Boston to seek work. The artwork is richly detailed and helps bring this story to life. I especially liked Combi’s depictions of the old oil menorahs both Joshua and Isaac’s families had. The scenes of chocolate making and old Boston beautifully conveyed the era when the story took place.

Joseph’s father has plans to send his assistant to Boston with a bag of beans. “He’ll show shopkeepers how to make delicious
hot chocolate and let them taste it for themselves.” Of course, Joshua wants to go to visit Isaac, but his father lets him send a letter instead. Readers get a glimpse the next day of Joshua’s family making chocolate to be stored for the winter. Then the assistant returns with word that the chocolate was a hit. Joshua’s father must now go to Boston “with a supply of beans and chocolate-making tools.” Once again Joshua asks to accompany his father and, with support from his mother, gets the go-ahead. Father and son will travel to Boston and spend the final few nights of Hanukkah with Isaac and his family.

After celebrating Janucá with Isaac’s family and realizing their dire financial predicament, Joshua proposes that a shed outside could be turned into a chocolate house where locals could sample the delicious chocolate. As everyone prepares for opening day, another party is just getting underway— the Boston Tea Party. Angry colonists dump tea into Boston Harbor to protest the high taxes levied by the British. This historic event, we learn in back matter, occurred on the last night of Hanukkah, December 16, 1773. The significance of the Boston Tea Party taking place on the last night of Hanukkah brings to mind the fight for freedom centuries before by the brave Maccabees. Info about What Was the Boston Tea Party?, What Is Hanukkah?, Who Were America’s First Jews?, and two recipes shared in the back matter should not be missed. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Eight Nights of Flirting cover couple in snowEIGHT NIGHTS OF FLIRTING
by Hannah Reynolds
(Razorbill; $19.99, Ages 12 and up)

Star Review – School Library Journal

You definitely do not have to be Jewish to enjoy this irresistible young adult rom-com set in a snowy Nantucket during winter break. The main character, 16-year-old Shira Barbanel, is determined to make her great uncle’s assistant, Isaac Lehrer, her boyfriend. The only problem is she has no experience and is convinced everything, even kissing, requires practice. But how to get it?

Adding to the frustration of her novice status in the romance department, Shira and her ex-crush, dreamy Tyler Nelson, also on the island, are thrown together during a snowstorm. This sets the titular eight nights of flirting in motion when in exchange for giving shelter to Tyler at her grandparents’ Golden Doors estate, Shira makes a bargain with him: flirting lessons for her from Mr. Popularity in exchange for an introduction to her media mogul great uncle for him.

Not only do romantic tensions run high between Tyler and Shira as she begins to learn what it takes to win a heart, but Shira also gets more than a glimpse of the real Tyler Nelson. Turns out he’s not just the blonde hair, blue-eyed pretty boy she thought was so shallow. As their friendship develops, they find a box hidden under a loose attic floorboard that may be a clue to a Barbanel ancestor’s secret passion.

With Tyler seeming to be more of a hook-up type of guy and Shira looking for something more committed, can Isaac fit the bill? Or was he someone she pursued for all the wrong reasons? When at last Shira realizes that being true to herself attracts friends and makes a former foe fall for her, readers will feel as happy as the new couple. Engaging and visually rich, Eight Nights of Flirting—I can easily see this as a filmwill lift your spirits and warm your heart on even the coldest winter nights so grab a hot cocoa and indulge. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Reads for Hanukkah

J is for Januca coverJ IS FOR JANUCÁ
Written by Melanie Romero
Illustrated by Cassie Gonzales
(Baby Lit/Lil’ Libros; $19.99, Ages 4-10)

From the Publisher:

Introduce your little ones to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, or Janucá, and how illuminated candles remind us of miracles!

Grab your dreidels and start frying your latkes – the Festival of Lights is fast approaching!

This alphabetical hardcover delves into each letter of the Spanish alphabet to bring to life the many items – from aceite and bendiciones to kugel and tierra – that shed light on the miracle of Hanukkah. Observe families lighting the menorah, spinning the dreidel, hearing the Hanukkah story, and indulging in latkes and sufganiyot for eight precious nights.

This holiday hardcover is Cassie Gonzales’s debut as a children’s book illustrator; her colorful illustrations honor the palette and importance of Hanukkah. Parents will appreciate this bilingual English-Spanish hardcover due to the celebration of Hanukkah, but also for the cultural, religious, and historical symbolism behind the Jewish holiday that occurs around the same season as Christmas and holds a special meaning in the multicultural Latin-Jewish community.

 

 Ruby Celebrates! The Hanukkah Hunt coverRUBY CELEBRATES! THE HANUKKAH HUNT
Written by Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

From the Publisher:

Ruby and her family celebrate Hanukkah in a brand-new way.

Ruby’s cousin Avital is sad because her mom is going to be away on a work trip during Hanukkah. To help make sure Avital still has a happy holiday, Ruby plans an enormous eight-night treasure hunt. But will she be able to think up a good enough surprise for Avital to discover on the final night?

 

Tizzy the Dizzy Dreidel cover spinning dreidel on keyboardTIZZY THE DIZZY DREIDEL  
Written by Allison Marks and Wayne Marks 
Illustrated by Francesca Assirelli 
(Kar-Ben Publishing; $19.99, Ages 4-9)

From the Publisher:

Tizzy the dreidel has a problem. Spinning makes her dizzy. But with encouragement from a little girl, Tizzy bravely sets out on an eight-day spinning Hanukkah adventure all around the house!

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YA Novel Review – Like Other Girls

 

 

LIKE OTHER GIRLS

Written by Britta Lundin

(Disney-Hyperion; $17.99, Ages 14-18)

 

Like Other Girls cover

 

I don’t like sports books. At all. But I read the first few pages of Britta Lundin’s Like Other Girls and was hooked. We meet Mara as her angry outburst gets her kicked off the basketball team. Mara’s world has a lot of imperfections, but those flaws make it real.

The cast of characters has strong voices and distinct personalities. While the story is about a girl on the high school football team, this coming-of-age story is about so much more. We see the challenges and obstacles females face. Best friends part ways and new relationships are tested out. Families fight. There are no easy answers.

Though Mara knows she’s gay, she’s waiting until college to come out. Strong female role model, Jupiter, is yet another well-developed, likable character. Throughout, there are many funny moments as well as heartbreaking ones.

I may know a bit more about football after reading this (or maybe not) but I certainly know that I’ll be looking for Lundin’s book. She tells a difficult story with compassion, bringing in problems that need our attention while also showing the everyday issues that teens today struggle with.

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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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13+ New Halloween Books for 2021

 

 

BEST NEW HALLOWEEN BOOKS

A ROUNDUP

 

 

 

 

 

Spookytale coverSPOOKYTALE (An Abrams Trail Tale)
Written by Christopher Franceschelli

Illustrated by Allison Black
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, Ages 0-3)

Christopher Franceschelli’s latest book in his Abrams Block Book series is Spookytale, an interactive board book. We travel along with a boy, girl, and dog to their far-off destination: a haunted house. This journey takes them through the woods, across the bridge, and so forth. Each scene has die-cut pieces that lift to reveal fun Halloween-themed surprises. Fun hole-punched areas add textural interest.

The simple text is offset with rich illustrations by Allison Black. Pages have a lot going on; in subsequent readings, kids will find something new. Done in autumnal tones with pops of bright colors, costumed kids and smiling monsters are equally cute. The final scene is a dramatic quadruple gatefold that reveals all the festivities inside the house.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zant

 

TrickorTreat Bugs to Eat coverTRICK OR TREAT, BUGS TO EAT
Written by Tracy C. Gold
Illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff
(So
urcebooks Explore; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

I love Halloween books and Tracy C. Gold’s Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat is one of my favorites to date. The words are set to the “Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet” rhyme: “Hear my calls / bounce off walls, / echoing as darkness falls.” From there, Gold has gotten clever by presenting a story about a bat out trick-or-treating, weaving in lots of animals facts. For example, we learn bats are nocturnal, use echolocation, and they sure eat a lot of bugs—up to a thousand insects each night!

Coupled with the exceptional text is Nancy Leschnikoff’s outstanding art. I don’t know how many times I exclaimed, “It’s so cute!” while I read this book, but the expressive bat really is that adorable. Surrounding scenic art is just as great (love the raccoon!). The nightscape is rendered in appealing shades of blues and purples.

At only eight-by-eight inches, this 32-page picture book fits well in small hands. Between the engaging story, excellent art, and informative back matter, this book’s got it all.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Poultrygeist coverPOULTRYGEIST
Written by Eric Geron
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Kids will cluck out loud upon reading this chicken-centric ghost tale children’s book. In a nutshell (or should I say eggshell?), the story opens with an unsuspecting chicken getting run down by a massive truck and becoming a ghost. I mean, why was he crossing the road in the first place, right?

Soon, all the other local animals that have been hit by vehicles gather around the newly dead chicken to explain the ropes. The humor in this fast-paced read is that they want the newly deceased fowl to begin haunting, only this “spring chicken” has no desire to frighten others. In fact, at one point he turns to the reader and asks, “Pssst? Are you OK?” The sweet surprise is when the fryer asserts himself, accidentally scaring off the troublesome spirits.

The story comes hilariously full circle when the scene switches from the pleased poultrygeist to a squirrel crossing the same dangerous roadway. Pete Oswald’s expressive art in Poultrygeist adds another fun layer to this dark and delightful Halloween story that perhaps unintentionally and hilariously drives home the point to look both ways when crossing

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

How to Haunt a House coverHOW TO HAUNT A HOUSE
Written
by Carolyn Crimi
Illustrated by Edward Miller
(Albert Whitman; $16.99, Ages 4-8) 

Carolyn Crimi’s rhyming picture book, How to Haunt a House, features ghosts in a classroom being taught the teacher’s “special ghost technique” for haunting. Groana, Moana, and Shrieky are assigned three houses; all goes well until the last one which proves to be a challenge. The ghosts must figure out something new that will scare the ghouls who live there. It’s got to be tough when, instead of fleeing, “the small girl kissed those scrawny rats.”

Comical illustrations by Edward Miller enhance the text’s humor. His evocative characters are a kick; I especially like the skulking, glaring black cats. The book’s underlying message, “Do not give up! You’ll find a way!” is tackled lightheartedly yet still shows how, sometimes, you need to come at a problem from a new direction in order to solve it.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

If You Ever Meet a Skeleton coverIF YOU EVER MEET A SKELETON
Written by Rebecca Evans
Illustrated by Katrin Dreiling
(Page Street Kids; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

I never thought I would want to meet a skeleton until I met the adorable protagonist in If You Ever Meet A Skeleton written by Rebecca Evans, who was inspired to write this story after meeting a skeleton in a museum.

Sleeping underground with other skeletons and a few bugs, Skeleton climbs to the surface looking for a friend. He finds three kids dressed in costumes on Halloween night. Dreiling illustrates the skeleton with a piece of blond hair giving the reader a feel for what he looked like before his demise. Evans’ rhyming words take what could be a scary topic and turn it into a humorous read. “Skeletons might seem spooky—white bones without the skin, no eyes, no ears, no lips, just one big toothy grin.”

Children dressed as witches, pirates, and ninja warriors with round faces and toothy grins are not sure what to make of this unusual creature, but Evans takes the reader through a wonderful understanding of how a skeleton, thought different from themselves, can be friend material. “Skeletons have no guts, so they aren’t brave like you. They’re scared of nighttime shadows and owls that say ‘whoooo.’”

This is a great addition to the fall reading list for the school classroom. And how great it is to have a friend who will go “trick-or-treating with you then share their chocolate bar, just like best buddies do.”

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Boo Stew coverBOO STEW
Written by Donna L. Washington
Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
(Peachtree; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

A little girl named Curly Locks who loves to cook is the heroine of Boo Stew, a Goldilocks and the Three Bears fractured fairy tale. This Halloween story features food that won’t tempt your taste buds but just might be the right food to feed a scary soul or three.

It seems the Scares of Toadsuck Swamp might be hungry and while they’re invading homes to steal food, they’re causing chaos, especially at the mayor’s house. After they chase him out with an ominous “Gitchey Boo, Gitchey Bon! Gitchey Goo, Gitchey Gone!” the blacksmith, and the chicken rancher also try to vanquish the scary villains with no luck.

Curly Locks, fearless and clever, steps up and entices the Scares with her Boo Stew. With its moose ear broth, toenail clippings, and gnat juice, Boo Stew does the job. A deal is struck and the creatures head back to the swamp. The townsfolk get a Scare-free Toadsuck and Curly Locks … well she gets to prepare all sorts of concoctions for the appreciative Scares since no one else will eat her cooking anyway! Washington has taken the Goldilocks tale and spun a unique, engaging Halloween story. Ebbeler’s colorful, detailed, and dynamic illustrations set a tone that’s just right for this humorous picture book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Ghouls' Guide to Good GrammarTHE GHOULS’ GUIDE TO GOOD GRAMMAR
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Mary Sullivan
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 4-8)

Learning proper grammar can be quite daunting for young kids, especially for those still learning over Zoom, but Leslie Kimmelman has created a fabulous storytime picture book that can be read during the Halloween season or any time of the year. The Ghouls’ Guide To Good Grammar is a hilarious take on how different a sentence can read if a comma is misplaced or other grammar isn’t correct. Sullivan’s illustration of a sweet young girl holding a bowl of cat food for Sylvester reads “Time to eat, Sylvester.” But when the giant ghoul with sharp teeth peeks around the corner with all eyes on the little grey and white cat he thinks “Time to eat Sylvester.” A very different and dastardly meaning when the comma is removed!

Turning the page, the reader learns that “contractions are two words shortened and combined with an apostrophe to make one word.” This sounds confusing until the reader visually sees Sullivan’s colorful drawing of six ghouls surrounded by bugs and spilled soda in “Ghouls’ really gross bedroom.” Kimmelman changes the location of the apostrophe to read “Ghoul’s really gross bedroom” and now we see it was one mischievous ghoul who made the mess all on his lonesome.

This treat of a story concludes with a Ghoul Grammar Quiz asking the reader which of the sentences shown has no mistakes. The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar is an ideal teaching tool for a parent or a teacher to use to transform the often tough topic of punctuation into a frightfully fun learning experience.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

There's a Ghost in this House coverTHERE’S A GHOST IN THIS HOUSE
Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
(Philomel Books; $27.99, Ages 4-8)

I may not be the target age range for this creative book but I had a blast reading it. First of all, There’s a Ghost in this House is less a straightforward picture book―although Jeffers has illustrated it with a little girl, some adorable (and giggling in places) ghosts, and lots of striped clothing―and more a seek-and-find interactive story so children can be in control of how many ghosts they’d like to discover over the course of 80 pages.

Jeffers has taken found black and white photos of an imposing 18th-century mansion and then brought in bits of color with the addition of the young girl narrator/guide. Readers join her to tour the house as she looks for ghosts which are printed white on transparent vellum paper throughout the book and appear when the paper is placed against the b+w house interiors. That’s such a fantastic idea because I never knew what poses the ghosts would be in and where exactly they’d show up each time. 

Since the ghouls are not menacing in the least, children can enjoy this book without fear. Parents and caregivers can admire the cleverness of the presentation while also deciding how many ghosts to expose.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Brains! Not Just a Zombie Snack coverBRAINS! NOT JUST A ZOMBIE SNACK
Written by Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Matthew Rivera
(Henry Holt BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

Matthew Rivera illustrates a green zombie girl with a red scar across her forehead seeking brains to eat in Brains! Not Just A Zombie Snack. Focusing on the fascinating science of the body, STEM picture book author Stacy McAnulty teaches the reader about the importance of the brain and how, without it, reading a picture book would be impossible. This educational read breaks down the five senses of touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste and how the brain receives messages from these senses. What better time than Halloween to explore this subject?!

Zombie Girl is desperate for some brain to eat and in her search for this delectable snack, the reader discovers “Neurons! They do the work, and you have about 86 billion of them.” Zombie holds up two cans of Neurons and Glial Cells with anxious eyes ready to eat. “When you learn something new, like how to add numbers, play the piano, tie up a zombie, you aren’t making more neurons—you’re making new and stronger pathways.”

My brain took in a whole lot of information that I was not aware of such as a 75-year-old human’s brain is 10 percent smaller than max size (so 2.7 pounds-ish) instead of 3 pounds in a grown-up human. The best advice the reader learns is that “if you want to run away from a zombie later. You’ll want your cerebellum.”

The helpful back matter includes Brain Facts such as A human brain is only about 2-3 percent of an adult’s body weight, but it uses almost 20 percent of the body’s energy. I also was surprised to learn that Albert Einstein’s brain was stolen by Dr. Thomas Harvey and cut into 240 blocks to be studied upon his death. This is something I would like to learn more about!

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Poison for Breakfast coverPOISON FOR BREAKFAST
by Lemony Snicket

Chapter Spot art by Margaux Kent
(Liveright; $17.95, All Ages)

Lemony Snicket’s Poison for Breakfast will certainly be a hit with his fans because the author’s style is quite unique, a word which here means “weird in undefinable ways.” Though marketed to older MG and YA readers, this book appeals to adults as well. This true story begins when Mr. Snicket (as he prefers to be addressed) finds a bewildering and frightening note under his door that reads, “You had poison for breakfast.”

We go along with Mr. Snicket as he reviews each item consumed for breakfast to uncover the culprit. He meanders to locations where the breakfast items originated. Though we eventually discover what’s behind this mystery, the pleasure is in the circuitous journey told in a way that only Lemony Snicket can, complete with endnotes elaborating topics touched upon.

I enjoy the distinctive structure, odd tidbits, and repetition. So, make yourself a poached egg as Mr. Snicket recommends, and settle in for a fun read. A list-maker myself, I find Mr. Snicket’s lists particularly amusing. And, as a writer, knowing the three rules of writing will undoubtedly help me better my craft. They are: (1) Include the element of surprise, (2) Leave something out, and, (3) Well, no one really knows the third rule.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

The Ghoul Next Door coverTHE GHOUL NEXT DOOR 
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Cat Farris
(Harper Alley; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Get your ghoul on with The Ghoul Next Door, a terrific new middle-grade graphic novel featuring just enough ghouls, ghosts, and atmospheric underworld to make you read it in one sitting and then start all over again.

Welcome to Anders Landing, est. 1692, a place sought out by accused witches to avoid the witch hunts and trials of Salem taking place the same year. Things go downhill quickly for main character Grey who, after picking up an unlucky penny, takes a shortcut to school through the local cemetery. Grey doesn’t want to lug his bulky Salem Witch-themed school project the long way like his superstitious friend, Marshall. When Grey trips on an open grave and drops his project in it, he panics. Looking down he sees his cemetery project grasped by a monster-ish hand. Then, it’s gone.

That evening something enters his bedroom and begins leaving gifts, not the birthday present sort, but finger bones, a doll of his likeness, and assorted other items that freak him out. This creature clearly likes Grey and replaces the original cemetery model with an even better one. Grey may score points in class with the new project, but Marshall thinks it’s best to tell some adults about all the creepy goings-on. While he initially didn’t believe Grey, he’s now changed his mind after a trip to the cemetery where he gets a glimpse of the ghoul. Lavinia, as she’s called, saves Grey from an army of rats and a friendship begins. In foreshadowing the story’s conflict, she warns the two humans to keep mum about what they know or they risk the ire of those underground and put her in jeopardy.

Readers learn that the ghoulish creatures that live below the surface (Grey and Marshall are considered human surface dwellers), aside from enjoying eating the newly dead, greatly dislike and mistrust humans and fear discovery. As payback, they kidnap Marshall leading Grey and Lavinia on a dangerous mission underground to rescue him before he’s killed. What ensues is a page-turning adventure with the right mix of dialogue, fantastical and haunting art, and heart, although technically I don’t think a ghoul has one. The friendship of Lavinia and Grey challenges the ‘no contact with humans’ rule laid out by Lavinia’s community and feels satisfying and fresh (although using that word here feels kind of ghoulish). She risks everything for Grey while he also puts his life on the line to help both his old and new friends and ultimately himself. Read this in the daytime if you live anywhere near a cemetery.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

THE HALLOWEEN MOONThe Halloween Moon cover
Written by Joseph Fink
(Quill Tree Books; $16.99, Ages 10-13)

What if time stood still and it could be Halloween forever? The candy part is tempting, but if everyone you loved had fallen into a deep, otherworldly sleep, it might not be so sweet. That’s exactly what 13-year-old protagonist Esther Gold is dealing with in Joseph Fink’s imaginative novel, The Halloween Moon. Blending fantasy and magic in a contemporary Southern California setting, Fink opens the book with a prologue detailing a robbery of something seemingly quite small which proves to have huge significance in the story. 

Esther lives for Halloween but her best friend, Agustín, does not. So when Esther’s parents announce she has aged out of trick-or-treating, having become an adult at her bat mitzvah, she realizes she’ll have to circumvent this new rule. When that plan involves Agustín, he seems game. Did he agree a bit too easily? Did she like that he did? Those are just a few of the questions Esther faces on this very long Halloween night set under a huge orange Halloween moon. 

Odd goings-on occur as Esther and Agustín notice only a motley crew of trick-or-treaters with shadowy faces are out and about. Their clicky sounds are creepy too. Plus all the people usually into the holiday aren’t answering their doors. The pair soon discover that a sleeping spell has been cast over the community. An urgency hits when Esther realizes her little sister has gone missing. That’s also what brings Esther together with bully Sasha Min who has often lobbed anti-semitic and other hurtful insults her way. But since Sasha’s distraught over her kidnapped brother and unwakeable mother, she agrees to team up with the other two intrepid trick-or-treaters to find out what’s going on. Along the way, the teens take the rare awake adult, next-door neighbor, Mr. Gabler, onboard as they try to reverse the spell and bring the interminable Halloween nightmare safely to an end 

I enjoyed this book because, in addition to the mystery the teens hope to solve, readers get inside Esther’s head and learn that she’s been having difficulty accepting change in her life. Whether the change is about her giving up trick-or-treating, her changing feelings for Agustín, watching Grandma Debbie getting older and frailer, or about what might happen when she moves up into high school the following year, Fink ties Esther’s growth into the Halloween adventure in a satisfying way. The dynamic shared between Esther and Sasha as they try to resolve past conflicts is also one that should resonate with readers. Horror fans will note references to John Carpenter and the horror film genre in general.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

HAPPY HOWL-O-WEEN MAD LIBS  
by Mad Libs

(Mad Libs; $6.99, Ages 8-12)

Mad Libs are one of those things: we all know and enjoy them. As a parent, I wholeheartedly encourage playing Mad Libs whenever a boring moment strikes. Yes, they’re hilarious and spark the imagination, but also (secret parent trick) drill home the parts of speech: adverb versus adjective and so forth. And if you’re a little rusty, no fear. Following the instructions, there’s a “quick review” that easily explains that, for example, when an exclamation is called for, they mean something like “Wow!” “Ouch!” or “Ick!”

The Happy Howl-o-ween version takes all the best stuff about this holiday and mixes it up with the fill-in-the-blank fun of Mad Libs. There are 63 themed stories to create in three categories: Monster Mash, Trick or Treat (both by Tristan Roarke), and Day of the Dead (by Karl Jones).

Whether you’ve done these a million times or are just introducing them to a young child, pick up a copy for your car as a way to pass some time with laughs and learning.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

vampires hearts other dead things coverVAMPIRES, HEARTS, & OTHER DEAD THINGS
by Margie Fuston
(Margaret K. McElderry; $18.99, Ages 14 and up) 

Instead of celebrating her senior year, Victoria won’t give up on her terminally ill dad—even when her family is told there are no treatment options left to pursue. Her mom and sister seem better at letting go. Victoria, instead, turns to the passion of all-things-vampire that she shares with her father and decides it’s up to her to save him. Ten years ago, a vampire announced himself to the world, but, after some mishaps, the vampires went back into hiding. Victoria takes that trip to New Orleans she’d planned on doing with her dad and, while there, vows to find and get bitten by a vampire so she can save her father by turning him into one too.

The grief Victoria struggles with is realistically handled, as is the complex connection she has with Henry (her neighbor, former BFF, and maybe boyfriend). As in all good love stories, a bit of a love triangle comes into play, but the heart of the story involves Victoria’s relationships with her family and Henry. Messy emotions are laid bare in a hauntingly beautiful setting. I like how Victoria’s quest leads her through ever-increasing challenges that test her resolve to follow through with this plan.

A new, vital addition to the vampire lore. Not only does this story add its own flair, but it explores previous books and movies—a pleasing touch for vampire aficionados.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED HALLOWEEN READS 

 

BOO! BAA! LA LA LA!
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Little Simon; $5.99, Age 0-5)

 

 

Vampenguin coverVAMPENGUIN
Written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

The Haunted Mustache coverTHE HAUNTED MUSTACHE: Book #1 Fright Nights
Written by Joe McGee
Illustrated by Teo Skaffa
(Aladdin; $6.99, Ages 7-10)

 

 

 

 

What Lives in the Woods coverWHAT LIVES IN THE WOODS
Written by Lindsay Currie
(Sourcebooks; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GHOSTLY TALES OF THE QUEEN MARY
by Shelli Timmons
(Arcadia Children’s Books; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

 

 

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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 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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Young Adult Book Review – Elysium Girls

ELYSIUM GIRLS

Written by Kate Pentecost

(Little Brown Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 14+)

 

Elysium Girls cover

 

Kate Pentecost’s YA novel has the wonderfully ironic title, Elysium Girls. There’s nothing paradisal about Elysium, Oklahoma, during the 1930s Dust Bowl. One moment it’s a regular town, the next, the goddesses Life and Death use it to play a decade-long game: from next to nothing, the citizens must build a city and a society which is good and responsible, setting aside one-third of all crops as a Sacrifice. If the Elysiums do this, at the end of ten years, their society will continue; if not, everyone perishes. Dust Sickness soon begins to claim lives.

Seventeen-year-old Sal Wilkerson loses her mother and doesn’t fit in, overcome by unfulfilled predictions. As the game’s conclusion draws near, the town’s self-declared witchy leader, Mother Morevna, chooses Sal as the Successor. Finally, it seems Sal’s time has come, but an outsider named Asa arrives and unintentionally upsets things. For me, Asa stole the show as much for his charming personality as for the fact that, even though a nonhuman character, he’s so very relatable. Over the course of the book, his life changes dramatically as he deals with one unknown after another.

Outside the Elysium walls, a band of kick-butt girls survives fire coyotes and other wicked things by using their ingenuity. The different realities are fascinating: inside the walls, outside, above, and blips from the real Depression-era world. In addition, there are many appealing character elements including friendship, girl power, and family. Romance isn’t limited to boy and girl, or human and human. Put it all together and you’ll see why Elysium Girls is as hard to shake as a dusty Oklahoma day.

Read about author Kate Pentecost here.

Read an excerpt here.

 

Click here to order a copy of Elysium Girls.

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 10/12/20

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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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Young Adult Book Review – Have a Little Faith in Me by Sonia Hartl

HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME
Written by Sonia Hartl
(Page Street Kids; $17.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

Have a Little Faith in Me book cover

 

Starred review – BookPage

Have a Little Faith in Me, the YA debut from Sonia Hartl, hooked me with its opening line: “If I hadn’t made such a big deal about my virginity, I might not have spent a valuable portion of my summer checking nosebleed tissues for images of Jesus.” Have a Little Faith in Me is a funny, honest YA romance. Soon-to-be-senior CeCe was recently dumped by Ethan, her nice Christian boyfriend, because he must restore his virginal heart. To bridge the religious gap between them, CeCe secretly signs up for the same three-week Jesus camp, knowing their love will conquer all. Her best friend and next-door neighbor, Paul, thinks otherwise so he accompanies CeCe to this “faraway land, a dark place with no Wi-Fi.”

Though CeCe is out of her element, she finds that questions and uncertainty about sex unite her with the other girls. At the same time, CeCe’s relationships with her ex-boyfriend and her best friend take unexpected turns.

Have a Little Faith in Me is ideal for a teen who wants real-world advice about navigating the sexual and emotional aspects of relationships—a book I’ll set aside for our daughter. While scenarios of intense moments not quite going as planned are humorous, the story seriously examines what consent means. I like that LGBT sex is also addressed as a viable option. Reading this book felt like confiding with close friends who don’t hesitate to share intimacies. The bottom line: figure yourself out before you hookup with someone else.

 

Click here to read another YA book review from Christine.

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