Front Desk by Kelly Yang – A Not-to-be-Missed Debut Novel

FRONT DESK
Written by Kelly Yang
(Arthur A. Levine Books; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

cover art for Front Desk by Kelly Yang

 

Starred reviews – Booklist, Kirkus and School Library Journal

Where do I possibly begin with Kelly Yang’s FRONT DESK?

FRONT DESK is a timely and needed narrative for so many reasons. And Yang, as demonstrated in her debut novel, is one heck of a storyteller. She’s destined to be an author that kids and adults clamor to meet so they can soak up her pearls of wisdom. Drawing from firsthand experiences and keen insights from when she arrived in America as a Chinese child immigrant along with her parents, Yang’s tale provides many kids a chance to find themselves and find hope inside the pages of this moving middle grade historical novel.

It’s 1993 when we meet our heroine Mia Tang. At 10-years-old, Mia is one of the most empathetic, intelligent, persevering characters of this age I have seen in a long time. The truth is there are so many like her whose voices deserve to be heard. I am grateful to Yang that tweens now have a chance to get to know this plucky protagonist and her struggles. Mia’s family are employed at a hotel with unpleasant owners after working for a short time at a restaurant where they were taken advantage of, then fired shortly after. While the hotel seems like a dream come true at first with free rent, the negatives and danger of managing the hotel take their toll on the family.

One of the moments that broke my heart is when Mia is sitting with one of the “weeklies” at the motel she helps run with her parents. The “weeklies” stay at the hotel for a week at a time, paying a lump sum. An older Black gentleman, Hank, is sitting slumped over, defeated by yet another instance in his life where he is targeted for a crime he did not commit simply because he isn’t White. He’s been labeled for so long that at this point he has no more will to fight. He exposes this vulnerability to Mia, and it is a powerful and haunting exchange. Hank isn’t feeling sorry for himself, nor is he bitter or angry when he has every right to be. He’s just tired, the kind of tired you cannot possibly understand unless you’ve been judged by the color of your skin your whole life. Mia later advocates for him and shows us how you are never too young or too old to stand on the side of justice and equality for all.

Resiliency. Mia and her family, along with the “weeklies” and some other friends, have this in abundance. Even when their own families decline to help them in their hour of need, their community rallies around them so they can take control of their destinies.

I dog-eared many pages to go back and look over for this review, and I’m still at a loss as how best to describe my favorite parts because there are so many. I’ve also purchased more than one copy of this book to give to others. It is one of those stories that will creep into your heart and linger there for quite a while.

FRONT DESK needs to be in every school library and as many homes as possible.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

Read another recent review by Ozma here.
Check out Kelly Yang’s new global issues video series for teenagers: www.facebook.com/kellyyangproject or www.youtube.com/kellyyangproject.

Two Dogs In a Trench Coat Go To School by Julie Falatko

TWO DOGS IN A TRENCH COAT
GO TO SCHOOL

Written by Julie Falatko
Illustrated by Colin Jack
(Scholastic; $9.99, Ages 8-12 )

 

Cover illustration from Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go To School

 

Julie Falatko’s new chapter book, TWO DOGS IN A TRENCH COAT GO TO SCHOOL with pictures by Colin Jack and edited by the incredible Matt Ringler at Scholastic, is a book you will want to hug after you finish howling with glee.

int art of dog and kids in cafeteria from Two Dogs In a Trench Coat Go To School

Interior artwork from Two Dogs In a Trench Coat Go To School written by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Colin Jack, Scholastic ©2018.

I know this book is MEANT for kids (8-12) but I would hand this book to anyone: The Bus Driver. Grandpa. Children of all ages (I understand the audio version is hilarious, making it perfect for summer road trips). Squirrels. Okay, maybe not squirrels, because, as the story’s heroes, Sassy and Waldo, know—like good dogs do—squirrels are unpredictable to say the least. In fact, in TWO DOGS IN A TRENCH COAT GO TO SCHOOL, the squirrels that drive Sassy and Waldo to extreme lengths to protect their home remind me of how many other unpredictable areas of life tween-aged kids go through.

int illustration from Two Dogs In a Trench Coat Go To School

Interior artwork from Two Dogs In a Trench Coat Go To School written by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Colin Jack, Scholastic ©2018.

We can’t predict what goes on around us in the world all the time or even half the time. And, if you’re like me, you’re a parent who has no idea when the next bought of tears or drama will unfold at your child’s school. Well, this is a book you can confidently and lovingly put into their hands to give them a break from the intensity the world so often places on their young shoulders.

Meet the doggedly delightful Sassy and Waldo. They’re on a mission to help their boy, Stewart deal with stuff at school. The evil overlord (aka The Dreaded Information Sheet and Big Project Coming Up At School) is causing undue anxiety for their beloved kid. How can they help? When Waldo stands on top of Sassy and covers them with a trench coat, they turn into Salty, a new student at Bea Arthur Elementary School where Stewart is enrolled.

The side-splitting, laugh-out-loud dialogue alone will keep you and your kids eagerly flipping pages and ready for book two in the series so I won’t overshare. This is definitely a book that should be enjoyed to the fullest with fresh eyes.

int art of dog chasing squirrel from Two Dogs In a Trench Coat Go To School

Interior artwork from Two Dogs In a Trench Coat Go To School written by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Colin Jack, Scholastic ©2018.

I will tell you though that Sassy and Waldo have already secured a place in my heart, being the incredible doggy heroes many of us need right now. They deserve all the meatballs they desire and will probably share them with the author of this brilliant new series. Reminiscent of HANK THE COWDOG by John R. Erickson, only instead of two cowdogs from the South caring for a ranch, here we have two dedicated pups keeping their home and favorite human safe.

Julie Falatko’s TWO DOGS IN A TRENCH COAT GO TO SCHOOL will melt your heart. Unless you’re a squirrel just trying to get by in a world that is nuts.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

Look for Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Start a Club by Accident (book #2 in the series) due out early 2019.

Ozma Bryant dog Rugged and plush toy photo

Reviewer Ozma says ”Here is Our family dog, Ruggedo, with a plush co-conspirator ready to save the day should my own child ever need it at school.”

Visit Julie Falatko’s website here.

Visit Colin Jack’s website here.

See the book trailer here.

Read Ozma’s review of another Julie Falatko book here.

 

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders

PRIDE:
The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
Written by Rob Sanders
Illustrated by Steven Salerno
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

A Junior Library Guild Selection
Starred review – Shelf Awareness

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag book cover

The rainbow is arguably one of the most well known symbols representing “hope” and PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk And The Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders with illustrations by Steven Salerno, shares that message beautifully. I whole-heartedly recommend this 48-page picture book that’s geared for elementary school-aged children.

After 40 years it’s about time we have a children’s book that captures the glorious strength of social activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, as well as Gilbert Baker, the man behind the internationally renown Rainbow Flag. PRIDE: The Story of Harvey Milk And The Rainbow Flag is a wonderfully written, honest introduction to the LGBTQ movement and offers the chance for all kids to understand its history.

In clear and direct prose, PRIDE takes readers up to Milk’s death, stating that his assassination came at the hands of people who, “Did not think like Harvey, or feel like him, or love like him.” Then the story continues and shows that Baker remained a gay rights activist helping others reclaim hope and pride with the Rainbow Flag for the rest of his life. My favorite moment in the book is a glorious two-page spread, see below:

interior artwork from Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

Interior spread from Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno, Random House BYR ©2018.


PRIDE
conveys an important, timely message that we all have the power to give hope, spread love, and reach places that may seem unimaginable to us, especially when things seem so dark in life. That’s when we need symbols of hope more than ever, and the Rainbow Flag is a strong reminder and nod to inclusivity that we all need, regardless of sexual orientation. The helpful back matter includes a great timeline, reading recommendations and photographs.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

Read another recent LGBTQ themed picture book review here.

 

Can World Cup Aspirations be Found Here? The Field by Baptiste Paul

THE FIELD
Written by Baptiste Paul
Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

 Cover illustration from The Field

 

“is a debut masterpiece of collaboration and skill,” says reviewer Ozma Bryant.

In a friendly game of soccer (futbol), the magic of not only the sport but the players involved, comes into brilliant light splayed across the pages of The Field, a debut picture book by Baptiste Paul.

 

The Field written by Baptiste Paul int. art by Jacqueline Alcántara

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

With a tropical rainstorm threatening the game, the players band together, solidifying their connection through love of playing ball and sportsmanship. Challenges such as the weather won’t intrude on this precious time together. The story, I might add,  is really about a group of kids—the “main character” is never mentioned by name but she’s on all the pages.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

My favorite moment is when one of the opposing players is knocked down, and our main character, in her white jersey #3, reaches her hand out to him on the muddy ground asking, “Ou byen? You okay?” He responds, “Mwen byen. I’m good.” You can practically reach out and touch the splattered mud and rain that splashes across the pages as the players muscle on through, seeing the game to completion.

The sun creeps back out as the game continues, even as Mamas call the players home. Hearing a firm command “Vini, abwezan! Come now!” the children end the game then go their separate ways to rest up and rejuvenate for a new day of play.

 

Int. illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara from The Field written by Baptiste Paul

Interior artwork from The Field written by Baptiste Paul with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara, NorthSouth Books ©2018

 

Caked with mud and filth, children slip into tubs of warm water, smiling …  reveling in the magic that is a game well played. Dreams of new games and friendship forming float overhead, as the field lingers even in sleep.

Alcántara’s gorgeous art propels the reader forward with spare language infused with Creole words from the author’s native home in the Caribbean. The author of this amazing story explains in the back matter that Creole is rarely written, mostly spoken, and so new words are constantly being added or old ones modified in this language. A Creole Glossary is also included.

One of my dear friends hails from Haiti, and speaks Creole. He was the initial reason I was excited to read this book and learn from it. One of the first things I learned from him was that soccer was also ‘futbol’. When I saw the young girl on the cover, I wanted to put this book into his young daughter’s hands immediately. I must ask if she plans to watch the FA Cup this weekend!

I am so thankful for this incredible book and hope to share it with many readers who can also identify with its themes of friendship, connection, teamwork and not giving up in the face of adversity.

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus

Click here for educator and librarian resources.

Read another review by Ozma Bryant here.

 

Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima

HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY
Written and illustrated by Jessie Sima
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Cover image from Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie SimaHarriet … oh, amazing and wonderful Harriet, the star of HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY along with her two incredible dads, will make readers all Sima fans if they aren’t already!

My students couldn’t get enough of this brilliant 48-page story … from Harriet’s desire to dress-up no matter what the occasion to her phenomenal imagination and charm, they were hooked.

Harriet is SO excited about her upcoming dress-up themed birthday party, and the task at hand is to venture into the city with her dads to buy party supplies since everything else has been taken care of. One stipulation: She’s asked not to “get carried away” when searching for birthday hats at the store. But in Harriet’s world getting carried away comes easy and she soon finds herself wandering off in her penguin costume with real life penguins. She becomes stranded on an iceberg and realizes she must make her way back to her dads at the store and find the party hats before it’s too late.

Interior artwork from Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers ©2018.

When her attempts at leaving the penguins don’t pan out, Harriet’s helped by an orca and some delightful pigeons. Harriet returns to her dads and has the best dress-up birthday party ever … with only ONE of her party attendees getting carried away!

This is one of those stories that will be requested numerous times since it provides a unique, yet fully relatable, experience for youngsters. The writing is quick to action and paced beautifully for children to silently take in every delicious illustration that accompanies the beautiful prose. My favorite moment is when a penguin tells Harriet to “lose the bow tie” she has proudly put on over her penguin costume. Instead, she adjusts her fabulous red bow tie and does things her own way.

Interior artwork from Harriet Gets Carried Away by Jessie Sima courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers ©2018.

Read HARRIET GETS CARRIED AWAY and delight in her message of inclusivity, imagination and pure joy

All interior artwork from Harriet Gets Carried Away by
Jessie Sima courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers ©2018.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant
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