Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi.
Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 404 pages.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.5 (worth 12.0 points) .
Alice Alexis Queensmeadow lives in the rather dull (at least by her standards) town of Ferenwood. She doesn’t quite fit in, partly because she is nearly colorless, and partly because of her quirky, temperamental personality.
Mafi has an unusual writing style – you are likely to either love or hate it, and it’s difficult to describe, so I’d highly suggest reading an excerpt from this book to see if her method will be a good fit for you. Much like her unique setting and eccentric protagonist, she writes with a blend of humor, sarcasm, drama, and pragmatic melancholy. Even on the chapters that proceed the main adventure and are mostly worldbuilding, really, everything moves at a breakneck pace.
In the hands of another writer, any one of the many places and magics that Mafi describes could be its own story, but much like Alice in Wonderland, this Alice is focused on meeting her goals. Her beloved Father is missing, former classmate Oliver is a thorn in her side, and her mother is cold and dismissive.
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“Off they headed to the shoreline. Putuguq led the way as the two walked quickly across the melting snow of the tundra to meet up with Kublu’s friend Lisa.” page 9
Putuguq & Kublu and the Qalupalik! by Roselynn Akulukjuk and Danny Christopher, illustrated by Astrid Arijanto.
Inhabit Media, Iqualuit, Nunavut, Canada, 2018.
Early reader graphic novel, 40 pages.
Annoying little brother Putuguq, his dog, and big sister Kublu are on their way to meet her friend Lisa. On the way they meet Grandpa who tells them a little about Qalupaliit and before they know it they might even meet one…
This is the second book of a graphic novel series called Putuguq & Kublu. We hadn’t read the first one since I wasn’t aware it existed until the final page of this book, so I can attest that it’s possible to read these out of order!
I’m always excited to find early readers and early chapter books with diverse characters. It’s particularly important to me that a variety of indigenous cultures are represented in our family’s library because our kids will have the opportunity to interact with people from every continent and most ethnicities. They know many people from the LGBT community, differently abled kids and adults, and people with a variety of religious beliefs.
But even though we actively seek out opportunities for our children to learn about our area’s indigenous culture and those of other regions we travel to, realistically there are some areas we may never visit. I’d prefer that as much as possible, we learn about those areas through #ownvoices representation rather than through white people’s books.
Which is a long winded way of saying books like this, or Shark King, are so important.
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“It felt like the world was spinning and I was hanging on, hoping I wouldn’t get thrown off and fall into darkness.” page 155
Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith.
Clarion books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2015.
MG historical fantasy/horror, 214 pages.
Lexile: 600L .
AR Level: 4.2 (worth 6.0 points) .
In small-town 1930s Alabama, Hoodoo Hatcher is an unmagical twelve year old born into a folk magic family. It’s embarrassing enough to not be able to do a simple spell when your name is Hoodoo, but it could be downright dangerous when the Stranger comes to town looking for a boy with that name.
Hoodoo is an incredibly unique book. Which makes it memorable and interesting, but also a bit challenging to discuss. How do you classify it? Hoodoo is decidedly set in the past, and some elements are very evocative of the time and place. But it’s also definitely a magical book. The magical elements are not simply magical realism – spells have effects (although not flashy ones) and the existence and efficacy of hoodoo are generally accepted in the town.
There are many creepy aspects. Astral projection occurs a few times, and messages and items are sent from beyond the grave. Lives are in danger, people are possessed, cemeteries are dug up. I find it challenging to classify MG horror since it’s so much less scary, but my sense is that this would mainly fall into horror, with aspects of historical and fantastical fiction that make it a good entry point for readers of those genres.
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Recently I read and reviewed a book called Hoodoo, and the blending of Christianity with folk magic fascinated me. I’m familiar with blending of Buddhism, Native American religions, and other beliefs, but was not familiar with this form of religion. Living in the American Midwest, I’m not familiar with any practitioners and information online was all over the place.
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“Though the distance from cabin to gangplank wasn’t more than twenty feet, I was protective of the ship. Slate had told me from a very young age not to talk to strangers about Navigation.” page 168
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig.
Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2016.
Speculative fiction, 454 pages.
Lexile: 750L .
AR Level: 5.2 (worth 13.0 points) .
NOTE: This book is not suggested for MG readers despite the reading level.
Nix’s father is a Navigator who can travel to any place, real or imagined as long as he has a map for it, but he’s only obsessed with getting back to the one place he cannot reach – 1868 Honolulu, where Nix’s mother died.
Now having read this book, I can finally fully appreciate why all of the reviews were so maddeningly vague. This is, unfortunately, the type of book that you can’t discuss with any real depth unless you’ve read it, because to discuss anything interesting is to give away part of the action.
So I apologize in advance that you might find this review to also be maddeningly vague. In a book where the majority of the setting and even the time frequently changes (and further changes amongst real and imagined places), the focus is rather on both the characterization and the action. Both are fast-paced!
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“I have to suck up as much pride and dignity as I can while it’s there for me.” page 200
Fire from the Rock by Sharon Draper.
Speak, Penguin Group, New York, 2007.
YA historical fiction, 231 pages.
Lexile: 760L .
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 9.0 points) .
Sharon Draper detours from her usual realistic fiction for a historical novel set in 1957 during school integration at Little Rock.
The novel opens with a bang as a white man’s vicious dog is turned loose on Sylvia’s 8-year old sister. Several incidents throughout give a realistic portrayal of what it was like to live during that time period. For example, although Sylvia takes great pride in her mother’s sewing ability, it’s also a practical necessity since she explains that at the time only white people were allowed to try on clothes in department stores or return them if they didn’t fit. The nature of historical fiction also makes these glimpses more interesting and memorable to the reader than say, a textbook. I think this book would work well in a high school history course.
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“Ling and Ting are twins. They are not exactly the same. Now when people see them, they know it too.” page 8
Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin.
Little, Brown, and Co., Hachette Book Group, New York, 2010.
Early chapter book, 48 pages.
Lexile: 390L .
AR Level: 1.8 (worth 0.5 points) .
Six short stories from the life of Chinese-American twins Ling and Ting.
It’s extremely difficult to find suitable early chapter books at all, let alone diverse and culturally appropriate ones. While the availability of novels and picture books are slowly improving, these essential early reader and early chapter book categories remain ridiculously white, able-bodied, etc.
I’ve written about a few we tried back when my last reader was transitioning, but got away from this series of reviews as he turned toward more complex books. Now that my next child is ready to make this transition, I’m going to try a few new-to-us series (and hopefully complete reviews for the ones we bought last time around).
Continue reading “Review: Not Exactly the Same!”