Review: Little Fires Everywhere

“Moody never thought much about money, because he had never needed to. Lights went on when he flipped switches; water came out when he turned the tap.” p. 13

Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel by Celeste Ng.
Penguin, Penguin Random House,  my edition 2019 (originally published in 2017).
Fiction, 338 pages plus Reader’s Guide.
Lexile:  1000L  .
AR Level:  6.8 (worth 18.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not posting it on Fiction Friday.

A tense novel about the unexpected connections between two families, which change all of their lives.

Little Fires Everywhere cover

Well.  Sometimes I hesitate to review a book because it feels like everything there is to be said about that work is already out there.  While I don’t mind reviewing popular works, especially if my opinion differs vastly from the usual, sometimes it simply doesn’t seem like there is much for me to add to the discourse.  That is the case with this novel, which seems to have been generally well-reviewed, and which I generally agree with other reviews I’d seen prior to reading the book. Continue reading “Review: Little Fires Everywhere”

Review: Amari and the Night Brothers

“Still, I’m pretty surprised at how easily moving in the Sky Sprints comes for me. After about an hour, I’m keeping pace with the legacy kids as we race along the walls and take turns avoiding the obstacles…” page 171

Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations #1) by B. B. Alston.
Balzer & Bray, HarperCollins, New York, 2021.
MG fantasy, 410 pages.
Not yet leveled
NOTE: I received a free Advance Reader Edition of this book from a publicist. The artwork and other details were not finalized yet.

Amari is floundering at school and home without her brother Quinton who has been missing, presumed dead, for the past year. Since he disappeared without a trace, even her mother is starting to believe he was mixed up in something criminal – not unusual for their neighborhood, but definitely unexpected for her prodigy older sibling. Amari is determined to find him without any clear idea how to do so when she starts seeing odd things, then finds a ticking briefcase with an invitation that will change her life.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston.

The tagline for this is “Harry Potter meets Men in Black with #blackgirlmagic.” That’s a weighty blurb to live up to, but Alston generally delivers. Potter for the magical (summer) school and hidden world alongside our own mundane reality. Men in Black for the investigations, competition, technology, and… hidden world alongside our own mundane reality.

A decade ago, students were much more specific in their genre requests. They liked fantasy or they liked science fiction and usually they didn’t like the other one. These days I have been seeing more and more genre-bending, -blending, or -blurring stories, especially in the middle grade market. Are young readers these days more open to multi-genre novels? I have long loved both, so it didn’t much matter to me which side this story ended up on.

I’ve written before about how important it is to see microaggressions appropriately portrayed in middle grade fiction, and that was an excellent aspect of this novel. Alston takes the popular fantasy trope of a “chosen one” and wonders – what if the chosen one was still Black and poor and feeling like an outsider? How would someone navigate those different realities – being different and exceptional and special, but doubly despised for being those things while also a different race or class or background than most around her?

Continue reading “Review: Amari and the Night Brothers”

Review: Children of the Longhouse

“Suddenly he heard a sound like pebbles being shaken in a hollow gourd. His heart leaped into his throat as he threw himself to one side to keep from stepping on the huge rattlesnake that was coiled in the middle of the trail.” page 78

Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1996.
MG historical fiction, 154 pages.
Lexile:  950L  .
AR Level:  5.5 (worth 5.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.

Follow twins Ohkwa’ri and his sister Otsi:stia as they navigate peers who are trying to break the peace treaty, coming of age, and a sacred game of lacrosse.

Children of the Longhouse cover resized
Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac.

It’s worth noting that this is NOT an #ownvoices book.  Bruchac is Abenaki, a neighboring group to the twins – but the main characters are all Mohawk, members of the Iroquois League of Peace.  This book was originally included in a 2006 recommendation list on AICL, but I noticed that as of this writing, Bruchac was conspicuously absent from the August 2020 list of historical fiction recommendations on AICL.  This makes sense given that AICL has recently had several neutral or negative reviews of his work, especially when working outside of his own nation.  However, given the glowing reviews some of his books have previously gotten, it’s hard to know if he’s still a generally suggested author or not. Continue reading “Review: Children of the Longhouse”

Review: School for Good & Evil

“She had mocked the children as batty and delusional. But in the end, they had known what she didn’t – that the line between stories and real life is very thin indeed.” page 72

The School for Good and Evil (#1) by Soman Chainani, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.
HarperCollins, New York, 2013.
Fantasy novel, 488 pages.
Lexile: 830L .
AR Level: 5.2 (worth 16.0 points) .

Sophie cannot wait to be stolen from her village and attend the mysterious School of Good and Evil. She’s been doing everything she possibly can to prepare – an intensive beauty regime, rigorous fashion design, and of course good deeds such as befriending the town witch. Agatha has no interest in getting kidnapped, but when her best friend is taken, she just has to intervene. But then Agatha finds herself on the Good side, and Sophie is attending Evil classes…

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.

Not sure how I missed this series for so long. Perhaps since all the main characters are so clearly white, I overlooked that the author is Indian American. But these have been fairly popular.

Chainani’s plotting and characterization, as well as his detailed fairy-tale-based world, truly impressed me. For the last few years, I have been reading a LOT of fantasy novels for young people while working on my first diverse fantasy booklist. Particularly in middle grade fantasy, by now I can often guess what is coming next. This book was gripping because Chainani managed to continually take the plot and characters in new directions while still keeping the developments believable.

Continue reading “Review: School for Good & Evil”

40+ Diverse Middle Grade Fantasy Novels

Lately I’ve seen several of those “What to Read After Harry Potter” type booklists*, mostly aimed at parents of middle grade readers who zoomed through that intense seven book series and are now voracious readers who aren’t quite ready for the heavier content in YA fantasy novels yet.

However, scanning through list after list, I quickly noticed few of those lists had even a single book with a character of color, let alone diverse authors.  In some ways, that makes sense.  While we’ve seen some improvements in children’s literature lately, genre fiction can be slower to change, and the “classics” haven’t caught up to new tastes in reading.  But there ARE amazing diverse fantasy novels, many by #ownvoices authors, some that have been around for decades, and I was incredibly sad that those weren’t better known.

So this is one librarian mama’s list of diverse fantasy novels.**  I considered these to be appropriate for middle grade readers, so generally not too much romance or graphic violence, but please click on the title of any book to read my full review including length, reading level, and age appropriateness – a few do skew towards older or younger MG readers.

Continue reading “40+ Diverse Middle Grade Fantasy Novels”

Board Book Review: Feast for 10

This classic board book follows a large family as they prepare a dinner for ten.

Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1993.
Board book, 28 pages.
Not leveled.

Follow one family from store to sitting down at the table as they prepare for dinner and count to ten – twice!

Feast for 10 cover resized
Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell.

This book mesmerizes my toddler who will sit and flip through the pages over and over again.  Our most recent pre-reader loves that she can participate by counting the numbers, and it’s been helping her recognize number words too.

Continue reading “Board Book Review: Feast for 10”

Review: …Sing (CONCLUSION)

Final thoughts on the book All the Women in My Family Sing, an essay collection most suitable for current times.

All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom, edited by Deborah Santana.
Nothing But The Truth, San Francisco, CA, 2018.
Adult anthology, 365 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTES: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  Because this book contains 69 pieces, I decided to review it in three parts.

Well, we made it to part three of this review!  Many thanks to all those who read through all three sections.  I debated a lot on the wisdom of continuing my habit of reviewing separate contributions as well as the entire book, but each author put so much work into their piece, I felt it was appropriate to say at least a bit about each selection.

Continue reading “Review: …Sing (CONCLUSION)”

Review: Uncensored

“My studies had taught me that there were many ways to create change. Protests and activism were important and meaningful ways of applying social pressure. But I also felt that when we began to fear our ability to bring people to some truth, there was a problem.” page 234

Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America by Zachary R. Wood.
Dutton imprint, Penguin Random House, New York, 2018.
Adult memoir, 238 pages.
Lexile: 1040L .
AR Level: not yet leveled.

The story of a young man who moved between abusive and loving but impoverished home life and mostly-white educational institutions that gave him access to another world but rejected or exceptionalized his race.

Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America by Zachary R. Wood.

I picked up this book with only the vaguest idea of who Zachary Wood was, perhaps having read one of his articles but not yet having cemented the name and the ideas together in my mind. After all, in 2020 most of us are focusing on hate speech rather than free speech, when we aren’t simply trying to stay alive.

Honestly, the main reason I grabbed this was because I assumed the subtitle indicated a biracial author. Wood is African American or Black, not biracial – he has spent much of his short life moving between black and white environments though.

Continue reading “Review: Uncensored”

Review: The Dragon Thief

“We’re almost the same shade of brown, but Aunty’s wrinkly skin is a bit darker than mine. I reach up and tug at one of the tightly coiled curls that frame her face.” page 23

The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B.
Penguin Random House, New York, 2019.
Elementary/MG fantasy, 170 pages.
Lexile:  700L  .
AR Level:  not yet leveled  .
NOTE: The review of this direct sequel contains spoilers for the ending of Dragons in a Bag.

Kavita has a dragon now, and Jaxon is desperate to get it back. But with Ma out of commission, Kavita gone missing, and a magical trickster interested in that dragon, it won’t be easy for the children or any of their new friends.

Dragons in a Bag 2 cover resized
The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliot, illustrated by Geneva B.

I was happy to see Kavita featured in this, but less thrilled about a novel in two voices. Regular readers will recall that multiple voice novels are not my favorite – too difficult to balance and often unwieldy. Luckily Elliott is strong enough to carry two voices.

Kavita considers her actions in the last book and feels remorse over stealing the baby dragon. Aunty sort of supplies the grandmotherly role in this book, although not a biological relative – she was Vik’s father’s ayah, or nanny, when he was growing up in India. As such, she’s able to give us a little bit of history – specifically about the Siddi people who were enslaved and brought to India. I had never heard of this and appreciated Elliott including it.

Continue reading “Review: The Dragon Thief”

Review: Rise of the Jumbies

“Only when they had little air left did Mama D’Leau let the water spit them out on the sand, where they crawled, sputtering, feeling lucky – grateful even – to touch the gravelly earth beneath their fingers, until Mama D’Leau sent another wave to scoop them back into the water, where they struggled again.” p79

Rise of the Jumbies (Jumbies #2) by Tracey Baptiste.
Algonquin Young Readers, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2017.
MG fantasy, 266 pages.
Lexile: 690L .
AR Level: 4.5 (worth 7.0 points) .
NOTE: This will contain spoilers for the first book in the series.

Corinne LaMer might have defeated Severine, but things aren’t quite back to normal. If she wants to save the families of her island from a jumbie fate under the sea, she’ll have to work with powerful jumbies to restore the balance.

Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste.

Even though she fought against her aunt’s wicked plan in the last book, as soon as something goes wrong people instantly assume it’s Corinne’s fault. This does pick up pretty soon after the previous book, so her father, and their home island, are still reeling from everything that’s happened. With grace and a little help, Corinne manages to handle it pretty well, which is good because she’s going to need all the help she can get!

Continue reading “Review: Rise of the Jumbies”