GN LAR (Reviewing “All My Friends”)

So… a long break from reading for me. Mostly because I’m also running a small business on the side. Sewing took over for the last few months as I figured out what market season looks like as a vendor. I have a better idea of what my year will look like in the future from that side of things. So back to reading once in a while for me. I have a large list of books to chew through before September, so you might find that some of my posts for the foreseeable future will feature older texts. I wish I could do more “new” reading, but I have to power through the WEMTA Battle of the Books 2023 Middle School Division list, first.

A quick new-ish book for this post, though! “All My Friends” by Hope Larson is a quick, simple story following a young girl band called “Fancy Pink”.

Purple and pink cover with text "All My Friends". In center, girl with long black hair plays a electric guitar while a crowd beneath her lifts her up.
Cover for “All My Friends” by Hope Larson

The three girls in the band, Bina, Lora, and Kesi are 8th graders and have landed their first big gig opening for another band called Anne Surly. While the gig doesn’t go off without a hitch (broken guitar string and a fried distortion petal), they do well enough to get noticed and things start taking off for them – they land a deal to license one of their tracks for a streaming network show and then get offered a record deal, but just when everything looks like they’re taking flight, their parents squash their dreams, citing that they’re so young and everything is happening a little too fast. With their record label deal killed, the girls decide to record their first album on their own behind their parents backs. The one problem? Making an album costs money. Money that they definitely don’t have. So what do you do when the only thing standing in your way is cash? You find a way to get it. Oh, and there’s a little romance along the way. 🙂

3 Defects

  1. A negative as much as it is a positive, this story is simple and focused. If you’re hoping for a story with a lot of depth and deeper thinking, this isn’t the one you’re looking for. But I’ll praise the simplistic story in the delights part of this post, too, so to be clear, it’s only a defect if you’re looking for a more complex story.
  2. I feel like I’m missing juicy bits of the story because there isn’t as much detail as I would like. The plot is told almost exclusively through dialogue – there isn’t a whole lot of inner character thought throughout the book and I wish I had a little more.
  3. The story is all illustrated in shades of pink, white, and black. While this has a really interesting vibe, I would have loved more color like there is on the cover.

3 Delights

  1. Like I said up above, this story is simple and focused, which is both a negative and positive. If you’re looking for a book that focuses on the music and the band relationships, this is the one! While there are a couple of romance side angles, they don’t pull the story away from music driven plot.
  2. This is a girl power book with a girl centric story line and I’m here for it, especially in graphic novel format! Super appropriate for readers the same age as the main characters, but also great for younger readers, too! Solidly middle grade/middle school. Also features a diverse cast of characters.
  3. I appreciate that the graphic novel was easy to read – so many graphic artists will go for more eccentric layouts that can sometimes make their graphic novel difficult to read for someone who is new to the format. Larson layouts are varied enough to keep the story visually interesting, but simple enough to follow that the book could easily be someone’s first foray into the world of graphic novels.

All said and done, a solid, uncomplicated story that’s appropriate for middle grade to middle school readers.

FIC FEL (Reviewing “Wishing Upon the Same Stars”)

We changed our family schedule and it has led to the loss of reading time for me. It’s not a bad thing, it just means that it takes me a long time to get through a book now. So a book that would take me a couple days is now taking me a couple of weeks. I’m working to figure out how to regain the reading time I lost, but it will take me a bit, so bear with me!

This week’s read was “Wishing Upon the Same Stars” by Jacquetta Nammar Feldman. A great middle-grade text, this story touches deeply on the themes of family, friendship, community, and diversity.

In foreground, two girls hold hands while walking through a field of flowers. In the background is a river and hills and a night sky filled with stars. The text "Wishing Upon the Same Stars" is at the top of the image.
Cover of “Wishing Upon the Same Stars”

Twelve-year-old Yasmeen Khoury is the eldest child in her Palestinian-American family, living in Detroit, Michigan. When she learns that her family will be moving to San Antonio, she wishes for nothing more than to fit in, but she quickly realizes that unlike her Arab neighborhood in Detroit, she’s the only Palestinian girl in her new school and feels like she doesn’t really fit in. Yasmeen tries to navigate making friends at school, but finds herself the target of a group of mean girls. She also is forced to hide her budding friendship with her classmate and neighbor, Ayelet Cohen because Ayelet’s family is Israeli-American and both of their families still carry the pain and devastation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict they experienced in the Middle East before they moved to America. Yasmeen must navigate not only the tension of this new friendship and the lies she’s keeping from her family, but must also navigate the expectations placed upon her by her family and what home and heritage mean to her now that she has been displaced herself.

Feldman’s text is autobiographical adjacent – her father was a Christian Palestinian raised in Jerusalem who immigrated to the United States. And like Yasmeen, she made a Jewish best friend at 18 years old (who later became her husband). Feldman’s deep connection to the story can be seen and felt in the text – it makes the world Yasmeen is experiencing rich and filled with detail and emotion.

3 Defects

These are going to be nit-picky. The book was really excellent and these are SMALL defects. The first of these small defects is that

  1. I felt like there was a little TOO much happening in the story – dance lessons, math competitions, mean girl drama, friendship crossing cultural borders, grandma moving in, keeping in touch with old friends, budding romances, etc. MAYBE some of the smaller side stories could have been cut down to focus the story a little more? It would have strengthened an already great book.
  2. Sometimes the 12-year-old characters describe or explain things in a very “grown up” way. One of the students refers to themselves as a Dreamer (as in Hispanic/Latinx Dreamer), another deeply describes traditions, etc. While the explanations are needed, especially in a book for middle grade readers, these explanations coming from student to student seem… “beyond their years” wise.
  3. Lots of mini climaxes in the book leading up to the big one – while this keeps the story moving, some younger readers may have trouble following along with the story, especially in exposition periods between the peaks.

3 Delights

  1. The level of “world building” that Feldman has done is fantastic! I feel like I’ve walked into Yasmeen’s house and I’ve met her family members just based on the level of description laid out in the story.
  2. I really appreciate how well all of the conflicts and deeper issues were described and dealt with in a middle grade appropriate way. The novel touches on a HUGE range of social issues in a way that the average middle schooler or upper elementary student can understand. The novel would be a great jumping off point for non-fiction pairings or a social issues unit. The novel has SO many possibilities social issue discussions!
  3. The story and characters are just so SOLID and beautifully written. I appreciate how deeply I could connect to what Yasmeen was thinking and feeling and how lovely the conclusion of the story was – sometimes it’s just really nice to read a novel that has a happy ending (even though some people might find it too idyllic). The novel ends in a place of hope and community and it’s great.

FIC PER (Reviewing “Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms”)

So I’m not sure if it was a change in schedule/routine around our home, my anxiety brain, or the book itself, but I had a really difficult time finishing “Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms” by Jamar J. Perry. The book itself was wonderfully middle grade and features an all Black cast of characters, which seems to be unusual for currently published middle grade fantasy novels (which SHOULDN’T BE THE CASE). I’ll lay down a quick summary and then give you my disappointments and delights as always.

Book cover with purple background with magical window of a city with flying creatures over it. In foreground, a boy stands with a floating, glowing, magical book. Gold text reads "Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms by Jamar J. Perry".
Book cover of “Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms”

Cameron Battle grew up reading and treasuring The Book of Chidani, a storybook about an African kingdom that removed itself from the world to save its people from the transatlantic slave trade (think Wakanda vibes, but magic instead of tech). The Book, passed from generation to generation in Cameron’s family, is precious to him as it’s one of the few reminders he has of his parents, who disappeared and were considered dead two years ago. Since their disappearance, his grandma has kept the book locked away in the attic. But during a thunderstorm, the power goes out and he and his friends Zion and Aliyah open the attic to find the electrical panel, but instead find themselves sucked into the book and transported to Chidani, where they learn that the kingdom is in grave danger and that Cameron is the last Descendant, brought to Chidani by the Book to save the kingdom (and the wider world) from destruction. Cameron and his friends find themselves set on a quest to recover the Queen’s three gifts from the Gods, stolen by her own sister, who wants to remove the barriers surrounding the timeless kingdom of Chidani.

3 Defects

  1. For me, the text moved both too slowly and too quickly. Too slow in the beginning – the exposition, which I usually don’t mind in a book, was longer than I felt it needed to be, but also sometimes too fast – sometimes I wanted more depth to the challenges they faced along the journey and more thought into what happening to the characters and their feelings and emotions.
  2. There was a lot of repetition in this book, to the point where some of the ideas/facts were hammered in so often, it became annoying to me as an adult reader. It was a similar feeling to the one I experienced when reading “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” where I kept saying “Okay, Harry, I get it. Draco’s horrible and he’s doing something bad”. I felt like saying to Cameron during this book “Okay, Cameron, I get it, your parents are dead, you don’t want to be here, you don’t want your friends in peril, etc.” But for a pre-teen reader, this may not bother them in the same way. If they’re an avid fantasy reader, though, and they enjoy tackling things like Riordan or Rowling novels, this may lead to them feeling #3.
  3. The story felt “awkward” to me sometimes – the action didn’t flow in the way that I want a fantasy novel to flow. Sometimes things felt stilted or you weren’t sure what the POV was or where the magic was happening. And this might also be impacted by too many characters and/or world building that felt “unnatural” or rushed in some ways.

3 Delights

  1. A full Black/African cast of characters in a fantasy novel! Whooo! It’s sad that this is unfortunately an “oddity” and not a norm, but for a kid who’s looking to see a representation of themselves in a fantasy novel, this is fantastic!
  2. West African mythology is represented in a way that makes me want to learn more outside of the text on my own, but presented with enough information in the text that I know enough of the mythology that I can understand the gods/goddesses in the way the novel needs me to.
  3. Magical fighting styles, physical trials, special powers, hero’s journey type trials are all there. It makes the book rather action packed and would be a good hand off to readers who enjoy Rick Riordan or CS Lewis.

FIC PAU (Reviewing “Northwind”)

So traditionally, a Gary Paulsen novel wouldn’t be the first thing I reach for to read. I reach “Hatchet” in 5th grade (like so many millennials did) and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t overly enamored with it. Fantasy and sci fi are wicked temptresses that always pulled me away. But THIS book….

Cover of "Northwind" by Gary Paulsen, looking into a fjord with rocky cliffs. In the water, a small one-man canoe paddles away, closely followed by a small ground of orca whales.
Cover Image of “Northwind” by Gary Paulsen

I read most of “Northwind” by Gary Paulsen in the school pick-up line (like parents do) and I cried quietly in my car. Multiple times. Thinking about it now while writing this, I’m STILL getting choked up. And it’s not even a “sad” book (although it does contain sad things). If anything, the book is filled with hope, longing, self discovery, peace, and a greater understanding of one’s place in this greater world we live in. Drive. Purpose. Remembering. Storytelling. Perhaps the thing that makes me MOST choked about this particular read is that I’ll never get to thank Mr. Paulsen for the impact that the book had on this 30-something mother of two who needed the message and catharsis provided by this novel. Sure, it’s written for young adult/old middle grade readers like all of Paulsen’s other books are, but this book definitely hits different if you’re a grown up. Honestly, this book felt so different than a typical Paulsen text in some ways and I wonder if it was because this was a world Paulsen so intimately knew (based on the author’s note at the end), or if it was because Paulsen tried his hand at ambiguous historical fiction, or if it was some grander combination of both.

Okay, after all that emotional spew, onto a brief summary & some defects and delights. Phew.

The book starts with The Saga of Sea Child, a viking-esque saga/poem that provides the exposition for our main character, Leif, who’s mother died bringing him into the world and who’s father had “passed to Valhalla fighting a whale” and was, as the saga tells, “was born an orphan. Alone.” Leif, going into the story, knows no other life than the one handed to him by fate – a life of hardship and work, taken onto the hunting/whaling boats as soon as he was able to walk, growing up to know nothing but the sea. When the story begins, Leif (now a young teenage), along with a few other older men and a little orphan boy, have been left ashore by their larger ship to catch salmon and process them into preserved rations for the whole company when they return to pick them up. But the larger vessel never returns for them, likely lost to the sea, and the small company of men & boys realizes that they’ve been left and they need to figure out how to survive. Things are going well for this small group until, as the saga says, “death found them”.

A large unpiloted ship, filled with the smell of death and “men who have lost their shadows” washes ashore. These men bring disease and all of men start to become gravely ill and die horrible deaths. Hoping to keep the disease from the two young boys and save them, Old Carl, the de facto leader of Leif’s group, loads a large canoe the group has managed to create with supplies he’s able to gather quickly, and he pushes Leif and Little Carl (the little boy) out to sea, telling Leif to “go North… keep going North and never come back. Never come back to this place. Never.” And thus begins Leif’s journey to find himself and survive along what I can only believe takes place in Scandinavia, particularly the coast and fjords of northern Norway.

3 Defects

  1. The book doesn’t shy away from the grittiness of real life. The men are dying of cholera (we learn this in the author’s note) and that death is filled with constant vomit and diarrhea. Paulsen didn’t shy away from the descriptions of this. Fish and other animals are killed and gutted. The men are hunting whales and seals. Orca’s eat salmon… in the way that orcas are sometimes known to “play” with their food. It’s gritty.
  2. SPOILER (skip to #3 if you want to avoid this): The little boy placed in Leif’s care dies from the sickness (and Leif very nearly does, too). Leif very matter-of-factly cares for and buries the little boy’s body. But for a reader who has lost a parent or sibling or who has lost a child (if an adult reader), I can imagine that this book would be very difficult, especially because Leif fondly remembers the boy throughout the novel.
  3. Readers (particularly lower-level readers) may struggle with the saga/poetry interspersed throughout this novel. I LOVED it, but I could imagine a young teen reader instantly being turned off by the exposition of this story because it’s tricky to follow for someone who may not have really read or experienced poetry/sagas.

3 Delights

  1. This book is BEAUTIFUL. The descriptions of the world that Leif is experiencing are deep and filled with a musical, magical quality. It’s obvious to the reader that Paulsen experienced this world of being on the water in a northern/artic climate and that he must have had a great fondness for it.
  2. This is a novel that’s going to mean different things to you, depending on when you come to it. My theatre teacher in high school always said that the best plays could be revisited at different times in your life and they would have completely different meanings based on where you were in your growth, and I think this novel is definitely that kind of text. You could visit this as a pre-teen/teen and the book would have one meaning. Visit it again as a 20-something and the book would speak to you differently. As a 30-something who is a stay-at-home mom currently drifting a little, this book speaks differently again. I look forward to revisiting this one as a 50-something woman and seeing how it speaks to me then.
  3. The vast number of deep themes you could talk about in this book, man. I highlighted one phrases in the text that I thought summarized the book well:
    “But you faced those things as they came and either were successful or you went to Valhalla. That simple. You lived or you died. And in between the two, if you kept your mind open and aware and listened and smelled and watched… In between you learned.” This book is about learning and finding yourself and a million other affirming messages and ideas. Mr. Paulsen will be truly missed – he crafted a beautiful final opus.

FIC VED (Reviewing “The Bone Spindle”)

So… this post isn’t going up on a Sunday. Oops. Blame the 100+ assignments I graded and the Benadryl I took.

This week’s read was the genre where my heart and soul lie: YA fantasy! “The Bone Spindle” by Leslie Vedder is a gender-bent, queer positive retelling of Sleeping Beauty that’s mixed with a little Noah Wyle “The Librarians” style magical archeology/anthroplogy.

Gray background covered in thorns and roses. In foreground, two young women, one in a white shirt with braided hair holding a large ax over her shoulder and the other, in a sleeveless blue shirt, has her short hair pulled back and a leather messenger style bag slung over her shoulder. Text in fron of them reads "The Bone Spindle" in gold lettering.
Cover Image of “The Bone Spindle”

In Vedder’s twist, 100 years have passed since the Kingdom of Witches, Andar, fell to the Spindle Witch, one of the Four Great Witches who was spited by the royal family. In order to try and prevent the complete collapse of the kingdom, the other three Great Witches placed Prince Briar Rose (and the entire court) under a sleeping spell until the Spindle Witch’s curse could be broken. Since Andar’s fall, witches have been hunted and persecuted (and as we learn, hidden by those who are sympathetic to them) and treasure hunters, witch hunters, and anthropologists/archeologists have rifled through witch strongholds, preserving and/or destroying the books, treasures, and magical artifacts found within.

The adventure starts when the two main characters, Lady Filore Nenroa (called Fi) and an ax-wielding hunstwoman named Shane, meet over an ancient map that shows the location of a witch’s sanctuary that hasn’t yet been discovered and destroyed by Witch Hunters. But when Witch Hunters overhear and then target the two young women, it forces them to flee through the wilderness. When they eventually reach the witch’s stronghold on the map, it proves to be more than meets the eye and Fi finds herself pricked by the same Bone Spindle that cursed Briar Rose, setting into motion her Fate to be the one to wake Briar Rose from his sleep. Although Fi is determined to take on the journey on her own, Shane (prompted by the Paper Witch, a character who helps Fi and Shane after their experience at the witch’s stronghold goes wrong) demands that she accompany Fi and remain her loyal partner in this new mission set upon the two of them. The rest of the novel is a twisting and turning adventure to reach Briar Rose and wake the sleeping prince.

This book is definitely a YA novel, but is definitely appropriate for a 7/8 grade YA reader.

3 Defects

  1. Like many fantasy novels, this book has a lengthy exposition. This may be a turn off for readers not accustomed to a longer build up to the main action of the story.
  2. IT’S A SERIES (okay, so this is a delight, too, but I wasn’t expecting to start a brand new series and now need to wait a significant period of time for a 2nd novel). I wasn’t expecting a cliff hanger until I realized how few pages were left in the novel for a potential wrap up.
  3. The book bounces between characters and time periods. While this isn’t a problem for more advanced readers, this may make the novel more difficult to follow and understand. I found the chapters labeled appropriately and was able to tell the difference between past/present flashbacks, but a more novice reader may not.

3 Delights

  1. It’s a series! I’m excited to read the next parts of this story (and I hope they’re published sooner rather than later).
  2. It has queer characters! While one of the main love interest stories is F/M, the other story (Shane’s story) is a F/F pairing and it’s not considered “weird”, or “different”, or a “problem” or questioned in any way in this world and it causes no “weirdness” between Shane and Fi being partners. It just *is*. It’s normal. It’s mundane. And that’s wonderful.
  3. Details, details, details! Like so many of the fantasy novels I love, this novel brings on the details in the setting descriptions, the character descriptions, the characters’ thoughts and feelings, etc. I’m a fan of deep detail in fantasy novels and this one did it! (It also helps that once the story breaks free of the exposition, this book MOVES and is action packed).

SC SER (Reviewing “Serendipity: Ten romantic tropes transformed”)

So this is the PERFECT time of the year (just before Valentine’s Day hits) to pick up a book of love stories and “Serendipity: Ten Romantic Tropes Transformed” edited by Marissa Meyer did NOT disappoint from the Young Adult side of the aisle. This book includes short stories from a star studded cast of Young Adult authors including:

  • Julie Murphy (author of “Dumplin'” and “Ramona Blue”)
  • Leah Johnson (author of “You Should See Me in a Crown”)
  • Abigail Hing Wen (author of “Loveboat, Taipei”)
  • Caleb Roehrig (author of “Last Seen Leaving” and “White Rabbit”)
  • Marissa Meyer (author of “The Lunar Chronicles” and “Renegades”)
  • Sarah Winifred Searle (author of “The Greatest Thing” and “Sincerely, Harriet”)
  • Elise Bryant (author of “Happily Ever Afters”)
  • Elizabeth Eulberg (author of “Better Off Friends” and “The Lonely Hearts Club”)
  • Anna-Marie McLemore (author of “When the Moon was Ours”)
  • Sandhya Menon (author of “When Dimple Met Rishi”)
Cover image is has a blue floral background with pops of red, peach, and purple flowers that form the shape of a heart behind the text "Serendipity: Ten Romantic Tropes Transformed, Edited by Marissa Meyer"
Cover image of “Serendipity”

The book’s stories were beautifully diverse not just in race, culture, and socioeconomic status of their characters, but also had stories that broke away from the heteronormative, cis stories that you’d expect in a love anthology. The book also featured a short story in graphic novel format, which was a lovely surprise in what I thought was going to be an all-text anthology! Honestly, my “defects” on this book are going to be really tiny, nitpicky kinds of things because this was a beautifully pieced together work. Meyer really chose the best of the best for this anthology and it shows in just how lovely it was to read!

3 Defects

  1. So… IDK if they REALLY “transformed” the romantic tropes, so much as they messed with the possible outcomes of the trope, or they messed with the gender or sexuality of the characters to mess with the trope. Some stories played with it more than others and some followed the predictability of the trope entirely.
  2. This definitely felt like it fell on the younger side of YA. While this isn’t REALLY a defect, it might definitely turn off some readers, who, seeing the list of authors, might be expecting something slightly different (or something more “mature” in content). This is ALSO one of my delights… so… *shrug*
  3. This one is likely to become dated quickly, based on some of the social media/meme/etc. references, but it’s a price that must be paid to be relevant NOW.

3 Delights

  1. I love me YA romance that’s appropriate for slightly younger YA fans! This definitely would be appropriate for 7th/8th graders, as well as older readers. The language is pretty tame throughout the book (a couple of minor swear words here and there, but barely enough to mention), there is no “hard and heavy” physical romance, and even the few instances of the word “crotch” or a character being partially nude (some after hours swimming in a pool in their underwear), it’s honestly really tame. The biggest “controversy” is going to come from the LGBTQA+ relationships.
  2. YAY! Not just gender and hetero normative relationships! While I would have loved a deeper dip into more variations on sexuality (cuz teens have a wider variety than this text), for a short story anthology, I’m pretty happy.
  3. Short and sweet. Each of the stories is an appropriate length and keeps things just long enough to keep you interested, but just short enough you get the feel good fuzzies of the love story in a 10-15 minute window of reading. This was my school-pick-up-line read this last week and I could finish 1-2 stories during each 20-25 minute wait.

Secret add on delight? I love that there’s a Wisconsin girl in the mix of authors! Elizabeth Eulberg might be living in New York now, but she’s a self described “Proud Cheesehead” from Portage, WI who’s mom was her high school librarian… and that makes me so happy.

FIC RHU (Reviewing “Operation Sisterhood”)

I’m finally back to reading and reviewing books! I took a long break after leaving my job, starting a new job, and launching a small business (I’m not even joking) and now that 2022 is here, I’m jumping back on the reading horse, so to speak.

My goals are to read new books in the month that they are released, trying to hit at least one middle grade and one young adult novel each month (and then just picking what looks interesting). My goals are to write at least once a week (likely Sunday nights) for the WHOLE YEAR (eek!).

The first book off the list for January 2022 was “Operation Sisterhood” by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.

Cover image of “Operation Sisterhood”

In “Operation Sisterhood”, 11-year-old Bo, short for Tokunbo, and her mom (who she calls “Mum”) have always been each other’s everything – they relied on each other through thick and thin. But when her mom’s boyfriend, Bill, proposes marriage, Bo and her Mum leave their tiny 1-room apartment and move to a large Harlem brownstone that houses not just Bill and his daughter Sunday, but also identical twins, Lil and Lee, their parents, Hope and Charles, and a whole assortment of animals (chickens, cats, dogs, lizards, etc.). Thrust into instant sisterhood after being an only child for 11 years, Bo struggles to adapt to free-schooling, shared spaces, constant noise, and having to share her Mum with others. Bo must find herself and where she belongs in her new, vibrant “patchwork family”.

I felt like this novel was a love story to both New York City and Black girls everywhere. Rhuday-Perkovich fills this book with humor, Black history, and a whole lot of positivity and love. Even though Bo struggles to find herself and her role in her new family, she learns lessons about love, sisterhood, strength, and unapologetically being who you are along the way. While the book definitely falls on the younger side of middle grade readers (probably most appropriate for 4th-6th graders), it was lovely to read as a grown up!

3 Defects

  1. This book has a LOT of characters. For a younger reader, this may prove problematic, as tracking all of those characters can be difficult! While all the characters are lovely and “real”, some readers will struggle with the myriad of names and remembering how everyone is related.
  2. So many details! While this is ALSO one of my Delights about this book, the depth of detail in the description may be confusing for some readers who would like or need a faster paced read.
  3. There are many side stories/small climaxes on the way to the larger climax of the book. While this sometimes builds suspense, these side stories also slow the pace of the book. As a reader who prefers high action novels (I’m sorry, I just like fantasy/science fiction/dystopian novels…), this book felt a little “slow”, pace wise. I didn’t have cliff hanger moments with the title, or pieces of the story where I felt like I couldn’t put it down.

3 Delights

  1. This story discusses the Black Lives Matter movement, the importance of learning and knowing Black history and culture, and understanding African diaspora in a way that is appropriate for mid/upper elementary students. Bo’s blended family (and Bo’s family friends) has a wide range of cultural heritages and Rhuday-Perkovich depicts all she can with love and understanding. There is so much to be learned from the novel – I was looking up new songs, books, and historical figures as I read, learning parts of Black American and African history that I never touched before!
  2. This book is gentle. So often what I read is not (remember, fan of dystopian lit?). Sometimes it’s nice to have a book that doesn’t have swear words, jokes made by one character at the expense of another character, or any sort of violence. It would be easy to recommend this book to a teacher who is looking for a gentle social issues text!
  3. The writing is beautifully detailed, making the story feel rich and real. I can distinctly picture the family brownstone (inside and out) and its surrounding Harlem neighborhood. Rhuday-Perkovich doesn’t shy away from filling the page richly, and as an adult reader, this was really nice coming from a middle grade book (sometimes I find description lacking in lower level texts).

E MEL (Reviewing “A New Day”)

I’m long overdue for a picture book review! It’s gonna be a short one since picture books, by the nature, are short, too, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have things to say about this particular book!

In “A New Day” by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Dan Santat, Sunday is feeling underappreciated and over worked and has decided to quit being a day of the week in order to find herself (she says she has things she wants to learn… like sugar art). After she quits, the remaining days decide to go looking for a replacement for their friend Sunday and they go out, putting up posters to find a new day of the week. And the auditions for the role… well… they get a LITTLE out of hand, ESPECIALLY after Friday posts the auditions online. Will the days find someone to be the new Sunday amongst the chaos of the audition process?

Cover image of “A New Day”

As a grown up, I particularly LOVED Meltzer’s and Santat’s cheeky references to pop culture that were interspersed throughout the text – off brand super heros, Shark Week, zombies, puns, a random references to the book “Caps for Sale’, and even a character locked in a block of gelatin that looked slightly Dr. Who dalek-y to me. I also loved the ALMOST “I’m Batm–” with Monday interrupting to remind them that they’ll get sued! Santat gives each day of the week a unique look and personality (in rainbow format) and I know that me and my girl Thursday could hang out anytime. A great book for the elementary aged crew and up (although may of the pop culture references may go over most kiddo’s heads).

3 Defects

  1. Funny references might be missed by the younger crowd… but this could also be seen as a delight? I like them, but just know that what an older reader may find funny a younger one may not.
  2. Following the text may be harder on younger readers to are trying to go it solo. There’s a mix of speech bubbles and traditional paragraphs and while Santat has done a good job making them fairly clear in what order to read them, some are going to struggle.
  3. I wish I got MORE from the other days of the week as far as character and personality. Santat has done what he can, but I wish there was more story for them!

3 Delights

  1. Pop culture references are on point.
  2. The chaos, as illustrated by Santat, is a wonderful cacophony of weird day day suggestions that start pretty normal and then veer off to the absurd. I love a good diverse side character hustle and Santat delivers a huge variety of people (and animals) in vivid color illustrations.
  3. And Meltzer stops the crazy soon enough that we still get a good moral message about kindness, appreciation, and togetherness at the end of the book.

FIC STR (Reviewing “It’s Not Me, It’s You”)

Dumped publicly right before her senior prom, Avery Dennis decides that she needs to understand what happened – she’s always been the one to dump her significant other, NOT the other way around. So Avery swears off dating and decides that in order to better understand why all of her relationships have ended, she’s going to interview ALL of her previous boyfriends to collect data. Every single one of them, starting with her first “boyfriend” in kindergarten. And Avery won’t be doing this alone – she’ll drag her friends along for the ride, especially her best friend Coco Kim and her trusty science lab partner, James “Hutch” Hutcherson. Each chapter focuses on one of Avery’s many failed conquests and as she examines each one, she realizes something new about herself that starts to reform the way she thinks about what makes a good partner and a good relationship.

3 Delights

  1. I could tell that the author is a fellow “old millennial”, because while most of the pop culture references will be recognizable by the modern teen, there’s definitely a lean toward adults who are young vs. young adults. This could also be considered a defect, but as an “old millennial” reader, I loved it. It also means that the novel will appeal to both your average high schooler or upper middle schooler, as well as adult readers.
  2. The failed romances are 100% relatable, especially the middle school romances and how both parties thought about what dating was supposed to be. Older teens are sure to feel the same horror/angst/embarrassment that Avery does in reliving each experience (heck, I sure did).
  3. I personally love when a book breaks the fourth wall – this book is written as if Avery is giving her interviews/writing to her social studies teacher, but this format gives it the feeling of breaking the fourth wall and that Avery is actually talking to the reader.

3 Defects

  1. The characters might be a little unrealistic or perhaps a little stereotypical – but no more so than any other humorous high school romance novel. There were points when I felt that the characters were a little over the top… but so are the characters in every other teen and adult romance novel I’ve read. I’ll put it as a defect, but maybe that’s just the genre.
  2. There are a lot of characters. A lot of named characters that you sometimes have to remember who they are and why they’re important to the story. This may be hard to track for some readers. I read novels with extreme amounts of named characters (LOTR, Game of Thrones, Dune, etc.), so this felt like a cakewalk, comparatively.
  3. The humor DOES lean a little “adults who are young” vs. young adults. So… 20/30 somethings may appreciate the pop culture references in this book more than some modern teens. Although I know PLENTY of high schoolers who are into the same stuff as the character in the book, so the cross over power of this one is there for sure. These references WILL make this book “dated” in a shorter span than others, though.

796.522 OLS (Reviewing “Into the Clouds: The Race to Climb the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain”)

“Into the Clouds: The Race to Climb the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain” by Tod Olson follows the three attempts made by Charlie Houston and his team in 1953 to climb K2, a mountain with a 29% fatality rate for the climbers who attempt to summit her (compared to Everest’s 6.5%). Houston headed an 8-man British-American expedition to summit K2 that ultimately ended in disaster. Olson’s book covers the horrific situations that faced the men on the mountain as weather pinned down the expedition for days. From destroyed tents, blood clots, frost bite, missteps that led to parts of the team nearly falling off the mountain, delirium, and an avalanche that ultimately led to the death of Art Gilkey, Olson’s book expertly blends science, history, and real life survival and horror for a middle school audience.

3 Delights

  1. Olson’s text is descriptive and SUPER engaging. When things are exceptionally bad for Houston’s team, Olson’s text has the reader on the edge of their seat.
  2. The text doesn’t shy away from some true horror – Olson navigates the brutality of the mountain and the “ick” factor of things like frost bite without getting TOO gross for a middle school reader. But he doesn’t pull punches either (see Defect #1)
  3. Readers will walk away with a better understanding of: 1) the Himalayas and their diverse geography, 2) mountaineering (and how expeditions are sometimes YEARS in the making and not just something that people do on a whim), and 3) teamwork and the demands of leadership in death-defying situations.

3 Defects

  1. This book may gross out or freak out some readers. Olson keeps the horror middle school appropriate, but for some readers, it may be too much.
  2. Occasionally, as an adult reader, I wanted more information about certain things. I’m unsure if this would be true for the average middle school reader, but for lovers of adventure and/or climbing, they may wish for more “in depth” coverage. I feel like Olson aimed for the average middle schooler, though, which is where it SHOULD be focused.
  3. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me that this book was talking about a 1953 story – I don’t know if I just missed the date when reading (entirely possible), but it took me longer than it should have to realize how LONG ago this expedition was!

Overall, this was a great, well rounded story!