Review: The Blind Side

“The holes in his mind were obvious enough. He was still working well below grade level. He would probably never read a book for pleasure.” page 211

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis.
W.W. Norton and Company, New York, orig. pub. 2006, my edition 2009.
Adult nonfiction, 340 pages.
Lexile: 980L .
AR Level: 7.2 (worth 19.0 points) .

The story of how the blind side revolutionized football, and a personal story giving one example of the new kind of recruit who is most highly sought after these days in American football.

The Blind Side (movie tie-in cover) by Michael Lewis.

Before getting into the review, I’ll tell you that I’ve read some of Michael Lewis’ other books – a relative is a fan.  This one deals with race and adoption, which is part of why I’ve chosen to review it here.  I was given a free copy of this book and decided to read it in part because of the sport enthusiasts I know who enjoyed it, but I myself am not much of a sports fan, which surely colors my opinion.

I think the major problem I had with this book was that Lewis starts out from a white perspective, and really never leaves that viewpoint, even when he’s purportedly trying to get into the minds of his POC characters.  The point where this was startlingly clear to me was the first paragraph of Chapter Three, where Big Tony is dramatically driving the boys out of poverty.

Lewis states “Memphis could make you wonder why anyone ever bothered to create laws segregating the races.  More than a million people making many millions of individual choices generated an outcome not so different from a law forbidding black people and white people from mingling.” (page 45).  The ignorance is startling – clearly Lewis has never heard of redlining and didn’t bother to do even basic research on Black history before writing a book where race has a major influence!

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Review: She Came to Slay

“With no promise of a pension, Harriet and her friends began the planning of her memoir, a narrative that would be printed and sold with the hopes of finding a large readership that could generate significant income.” p. 116

She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman by Erica Armstrong Dunbar, illustrated by Monica Ahanonu.
37Ink, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2019.
Nonfiction, 162 pages.
Not yet leveled.

A unique biography of the FULL life of Harriet Tubman.

She Came to Slay resized
She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman by Erica Armstrong Dunbar.

I ordered this sight unseen because we had the ability to buy a certain amount of books and there wasn’t time to do a deep dive into each one before the gift card and sale expired.  So literally my only knowledge about this was 1) the cover and blurb, and 2) that Dunbar had written Never Caught, which I’d heard good things about but had yet to read.

Honestly I didn’t even know what age level it was for.  Never Caught is available in both adult and YRE versions.  I’m still not sure what age this was intended for, but it could work from middle school all the way up to adult readers.  Dunbar doesn’t avoid the difficult parts of Harriet Tubman’s life, but she doesn’t dwell on them either.  Remember that Minty was beaten, permanently injured, cheated on, and witnessed extreme systemic racism from Northern “allies”, among other things.  For younger or family use, I’d suggest pre-reading it first to see if it would fit your particular classroom or personal situation. Continue reading “Review: She Came to Slay”

Review: Arrow Over the Door

“Samuel tried to remember what his father had told him about Indians. The Light of God was in them too. He struggled to keep that in his mind, but it did not ease his fear.” page 66

The Arrow Over the Door by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by James Watling.
Puffin, Penguin Random House, New York, 1998.
Historical fiction, 104 pages (including excerpts).
Lexile: 810L .
AR Level: 5.2 (worth 2.0 points) .

Set in 1777 and told in alternating views from the perspectives of Quaker boy Samuel Russell and Abenaki teen Stands Straight, this novel is based on real events during the American Revolution.

Arrow Over the Door by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by James Watling.

Joseph Bruchac, although not without error, is one of the handful of Native authors consistently writing historical fiction for children. (Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series is another notable example; Eric Gansworth and Tim Tingle have also written more than one book each. At the time of this writing, any others I know of only have one.) Also, I have so far been able to find only one work of children’s historical fiction by another Native author set before 1800. I hope others exist and are published set in all time frames, especially given the promising new Heartdrum imprint.

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Review: Double Trouble

“I didn’t answer. I couldn’t. Because as soon as her hand touched me, I was plunged into another vision.
Real Lavender faced away. Overlaid on top of her was a brighter version of Lavender, this one dressed in a a white polka-dotted two-piece swimsuit.” page 111

Double Trouble (Twintuition #2) by Tia and Tamera Mowry.
Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy, 202 pages +excerpt.
Lexile: 590L .
AR Level: 4.2 (worth 4.0 points) .
NOTE: Review contains mild spoilers for the previous book in the series.

As identical twins Caitlyn and Cassie get closer to their twelfth birthday, their unexpected visions of the future are only getting stronger. Can it have something to do with the father who died when they were young? In Double Trouble, the girls have reconnected, made peace with their new hometown and between their two very different friend groups, and are now planning their birthday party. They receive a strange package that seems to have something to do with their powers…

Twintuition: Double Trouble by Tia and Tamera Mowry.

True confession: after finishing my review of the first book, I originally accidentally picked up the third book instead of this second installment. It was slightly confusing but I was excited that the plot moved forward so vigorously… until noticing the 3 on the spine. My main complaint here is the same as the previous book – the pace is incredibly slow and the plot oversimplified. I’ve been struggling to get a handle on what the intended age range for these is – the stories seem a bit simple even for lower MG, but I don’t see elementary students wanting to read about football games, crushes, and tween interpersonal drama. Maybe hi-lo readers?

The two voices didn’t bother me as much in this book. It’s still not my favorite, but at least I can tell the twins apart now. Caitlyn also stopped being quite so saccharine and showed her opinions. While most kids this age would probably have more interest in the friendship drama, I’m more interested in the fantasy aspect, which only mildly develops in this particular installment.

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Review: Double Vision

“I had a feeling I wasn’t going to have much of a social life in this remote town. This did not look like a place fun ever visited.” page 5

Double Vision (Twintuition #1) by Tia and Tamera Mowry.
Scholastic, HarperCollins, New York, 2016.
Tween fantasy novel, 204 pages.
Lexile: 690L .
AR Level: 4.6 (worth 5.0 points) .

Identical twins Cassie and Caitlyn Waters are both struggling with their mom’s sudden move to small town Aura, Texas. Nerdy Caitlyn’s eternal optimism is strained, while pessimistic, fashion-conscious Cassie is trying both to break in to the popular crowd and to convince their mom to move back to the big city. But as their twelfth birthday nears, both girls start having strange visions of the future…

Twintuition: Double Vision by Tia and Tamera Mowry.

We first got this book when it was released, around when I started this blog. This review was challenging. You all know how I feel about novels in two voices. I have loved some, but those tend to be few and far between. While I intellectually understand the need for shared narration, it just didn’t work for me here. The story moves back and forth between the two twins who have some commonalities (family, love of music, having strange visions) and many differences (messy vs. clean, nerdy vs. fashionista, optimistic vs. pessimistic). Yet I never felt like the two voices were fully distinguished and was constantly checking to see whose viewpoint we were in. Thankfully that was announced in the header of each chapter – I just wished the main characters had more specific voices.

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Review: Silverworld

“She couldn’t hear anything, not the wind or the crickets of the distant thunder. It was silence almost more than silence because, for the first time since she’d gotten to Silverworld, she couldn’t hear the thoughts of the Flickers.” page 119

Silverworld by Diana Abu-Jaber.
Crown Books for Young Readers, Penguin Random House, New York, 2020.
MG portal fantasy, 294 pages.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: not yet leveled.

Sami’s family has recently moved, her beloved Teta is speaking gibberish, and there’s a plan to put her in a nursing home. In desperation, Sami tries finding and reciting something from her grandmother’s spellbook, even though she doesn’t believe magic is real – right until she falls through the portal into Silverworld.

Silverworld by Diana Abu-Jaber.

Many aspects of this will resonate with readers beyond the Lebanese-American children for whom this book is a mirror. Sami feels stuck between two cultures: her family’s traditional Lebanese culture, and the American lifestyle that surrounds her. To her, the closest connection to her culture is her grandmother’s stories and precious artifacts (although her family also has other aspects, such as her mother’s cooking). Although I am not Lebanese, that aspect of the book rung very true to my own life experiences. Parents and other community members play an important role, but the wisdom of elders and bond between a child and their grandparent is stronger than most other forms of cultural transmission I’ve seen.

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Review: Making Your Human Smarter

“But when you’ve ridden a dragon, had lunch with Nessie, and fought monsters, it would take more than a fussy hotel clerk to scare me away. I gave him my best imitation of Miss Drake’s glare.” page 249

A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter (Dragon’s Guide #2) by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, illustrations by Mary Grandpre.
Yearling, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 296 pages + exerpt.
Lexile: 790L .
AR Level: 5.4 (worth 9.0 points) .
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for the previous book.

Miss Drake’s training of her pet human is starting to pay off. Winnie has been accepted into the local magical school and seems like she is starting to enjoy life. Miss Drake and her magical friends will take any precaution to keep her beloved pet from harm. But Winnie seems to think Miss Drake is her pet!

A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Mary Grandpre.

I wasn’t sure what to expect – the last book was good but not overly compelling. One of my biggest concerns was if the series was sustainable. The idea of a dragon and her pet human is a fun take on a fantasy trope, but not enough for a whole series.

Yep and Ryder get around that in two ways for this second book. First, this is a novel in two voices. Regular readers will recall I generally prefer books written in the third person or with a single narrator. The authors here make it bearable several ways: clear plot reasons necessitate the two voices; rather than always alternating chapters, the two trade off as needed (headers indicate the switch); our narrators may share many common events, but generally have distinct voices.

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Review: One Shadow on the Wall

“After he finished his prayers and left the mosque, he headed father away from the noise of the market. He was excited to spend the rest of the day with Oumar and his other friends, kicking the soccer ball and forgetting all he had to do – at least for a couple of hours.” page 228

One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson.
Antheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2017.
MG contemporary/fantasy, 442 pages.
Lexile: 760L .
AR Level: 4.9 (worth 15.0 points) .

Orphaned Mor is a little concerned when he starts hearing the voice of his deceased father and seeing visions of his deceased mother, but he’s got bigger worries. His paternal aunt wants to take him and his two sisters away from their village and separate them, but she’s given him just three months to prove he can care for them all. Unfortunately, the Danka Boys also have their eye on him and will stop at nothing to get him to give up his family and join their gang.

One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson.

I saw this book while compiling my first diverse middle grade fantasy novel list – the synopsis caught my eye but I mistakenly assumed the author was white. When later reading a review for The Magic of Changing Your Stars, the reviewer mentioned that it was ownvoices so I gave Henderson a second look, thankfully! True, this book is light on fantasy, with only one fantastical element, but that aspect is strongly present throughout and the book as a whole is gripping.

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Review: Betty Before X

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson.
Square Fish, Macmillan, New York, 2018.
MG historical fiction, 250 pages.
Lexile: 810L .
AR Level: 4.9 (worth 5.0 points) .

The life of one preteen girl in Detroit in 1945 – who later become the wife of Malcolm X. Betty wants nothing more than to be loved by her biological mother, but they disagree at every turn. She believes strongly in justice and fair treatment for all, but not everyone will stand with her.

Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Renee Watson.

So much is happening in this book yet all balanced very well. Reading the prologue introduces several of the issues that will become themes throughout. When just five pages in, first-person narrator Betty tells us about seeing a lynching as a young girl in Georgia, it is immediately clear that this book will be sensitive but not dishonest.

The fostering/adoption/kinship narratives are also handled well. The prologue briefly covers Betty’s early life. At one year old, she was taken from her teenaged mother by her grandmother, and raised lovingly by her aunt. After her aunt’s sudden death, she moved in with her biological mother and learned that she has three half-sisters and two step-brothers.

Her role ends up being more like a caretaker to the seven other members of her family; she constantly feels unappreciated and faces harsh punishments and constant misunderstandings. Church is a source of hope and light for Betty – her Christian faith and involvement with various activities at Bethel AME specifically are a major part of the book.

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Review: On These Magic Shores

“It wasn’t my job to provide food, toys, or dress-up clothes for my sisters, but I felt ashamed that someone ended up giving them what my mom never could although she worked so much.” page 212

On These Magic Shores by Yamille Saied Mendez.
Tu Books, Lee and Low, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy/contemporary, 278 pages.
Lexile: not yet leveled .
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 8.0 points) .

Minerva Soledad Miranda (call her Minnie, please) just wants to fit in as much as possible, but it’s not easy to keep up with seventh grade, let alone audition for the school play, when she has to watch her sisters while her mom works two jobs. It’s hard to focus when they are crying from hunger. And it’s especially difficult when Mama suddenly doesn’t come home.

On These Magic Shores by Yamile Saied Mendez.

As soon as this book arrived, it stood out because of the unusual format. I bought the hardcover, but it’s smaller than any other MG fantasy on my shelf, sized more like a softcover novel. The blurbs were also impressive for a first edition of a new author’s book from an imprint with less than 50 releases.

Tu books is a MG/YA focused imprint of Lee and Low which publishes mainly genre fiction. Their historical fiction has a good reputation, but they’ve only published one other middle grade fantasy novel so far. However, they have a schedule of intriguing books coming up over the next few years, starting with this story of fairies and hardship.

First, just a note to apologize. I’m aware that the author’s last name includes an accent, but with the new version of WordPress, I have not been able to type special characters. No disrespect intended, simply a technical failure here.

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