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Halloween Picture Book Review – So Not Ghoul

 

SO NOT GHOUL

Written by Karen Yin

Illustrated by Bonnie Lui

(Page Street Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

So Not Ghoul cover

 

 

Rod Stewart’s “You Wear It Well” is the song that crossed my mind as I read So Not Ghoul, the multi-layered picture book written by Karen Yin and illustrated by Bonnie Lui where the main character Mimi learns to embrace her uniqueness and cultural identity.

 

So Not Ghoul int1 school ghoul girls gang
Interior spread from So Not Ghoul written by Karen Yin and illustrated by Bonnie Lui, Page Street Kids ©2022.

 

Mimi is a Chinese American ghost who haunts a school but feels constrained by the outdated demands of her ancestors. “Good Chinese girl ghosts must cover their faces with their hair,” says Baba, her father. Her other ancestors say, “They must stick out their tongues,” and the list goes on, much to Mimi’s dismay. She knows she must abide by their restrictions but …

 

So Not Ghoul int2 ancestor rules
Interior spread from So Not Ghoul written by Karen Yin and illustrated by Bonnie Lui, Page Street Kids ©2022.

 

what they all add up to is one “So not ghoul” ghost girl. Her ghoulmates seem to have what it takes to scare school kids. Mimi, on the other hand, dressed in an old Chinese gown from her great-great-great-great-great-ghost grandmother is told by the others she “couldn’t scare a scaredy-cat.” In an attempt to fit in, Mimi’s idea for a new look fails miserably. At school, she is bullied by the ghoul gang and the outfit also offends her ancestors.

The next day, the biggest ghoul bully, Lisette, appropriates Mimi’s original antique gown look, hoping she’ll be told she wears it better. Readers will cheer when the bully’s plan backfires. Not only does Mimi call Lisette out, but her ancestors “glow with pride” after she speaks up. She’s found more than her voice.

A happy ending ensues when at last Lisette looks inward (is that possible for a ghost?) and apologizes for her ghoulish behavior. Mimi and Lisette call a truce and now the new friends can focus their attention on the school’s open haunted house. Yin has filled the story with engaging wordplay and with conversation starters at many different levels. So Not Ghoul can be approached for bullying and prejudice, culture appropriation, diversity and bicultural pride as well as multigenerational families or simply a rewarding girl-power ghost story. Lui’s jewel-toned and textured art colorfully conveys Mimi’s moods, ideal for this spirited story!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

A VERY LARGE EXPANSE OF SEA
by Tahereh Mafi
(Harper Collins; $18.99, Ages 13+)

 

cover art from A Very Large Expanse of Sea

 

 

National Book Award Longlist
Starred Reviews – Booklist, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

 

 

In Tahereh Mafi’s riveting YA novel, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Shirin, a 16-year-old Muslim girl living in post 9/11 America, has moved from town to town her whole life. She is constantly berated with judgmental stares and back hand comments from her peers at school no matter what school she attends. When she moves to yet another school, she finally feels able to channel her frustrations through breakdancing, a club her brother, Navid, formed.

Unlike Shirin, Navid tends to become popular in whatever school they go to. Shirin believes the reason she is an outcast is because of her decision to wear a hijab. The siblings bond over their love of break dancing as a way to express themselves. Shirin was impressed that Navid created the club as they had both talked about when they were younger. For Shirin, joining the club allowed her to have a support team during her period of debating whether or not to have a relationship with a boy named Ocean James.

Usually Shirin keeps her head down and never tries to make friends, that is until she meets her lab partner, Ocean.. Shirin does not want to look at people because she knows everyone is looking at her. She believes that if she looks back at them it is an invitation for them to ask her questions which will either be dumb or offensive. On top of that, because she is always moving, she feels that it is hard to form lasting relationships anyway. In the past, she claims she would have friends but would lose contact with them over time, and it was emotionally draining for her to make and lose friends. Ocean feels drawn to Shirin and hopes to start a romantic relationship with her. He finds her different and beautiful. But she is apprehensive that she will draw attention to him, especially because she’s Muslim. “But the harder I fell for him, the more I wanted to protect him.” Will Shirin ignore Ocean’s advances in order to protect him or will she give in to his pursuit?

Mafi perfectly conveys the emotions and complicated personality of Shirin through her writing. As a Muslim Iranian-American herself, she can identify with Shirin’s struggles and authenticate the experiences within the story. This novel deals with the harsh realities of discrimination and racism towards Muslims, heightened to scary proportions following 9/11 yet still present today. The relevance, detailed descriptions of events, and Shirin’s choices certainly enticed me to continue reading. It’s no surprise this gripping story won numerous accolades and I can easily add mine to the long list.

Click here for a reading guide.

  • Reviewed by Rachel Kaufman


Rachel Kaufman is a current sophomore studying communications at the University of Southern California. She’s passionate about books and hiking with her dog, Scout. Rachel enjoys how books reshape her imagination of the world around her. Rachel knows firsthand how important books are in aiding children’s futures, working with a reading program, Reach Out and Read, by reading, organizing, and donating over 200 children’s books. In her free time you can find her either reading or thinking about what she might read next.

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