Review: Mangoes, Mischief & More

“King Bheema was a kind and just ruler. Every day he held court at the palace. Rich or poor, tall or short, man or woman – anyone could walk in with a problem.” page 1

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy.
My edition Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA, 2019.
MG fiction, 180 pages.
Lexile:  600L  .
AR Level:  4.4 (worth 3.0) .
NOTE: this is a compilation of two books:
> A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom (2010)
> A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice (2016)

Prince Veera and his best friend Suku decide to hold court and resolve disputes when his father King Bheema is not available in this collection of eight interconnected short stories.

Mangoes Mischief and Tales of Friendship cover resized
Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy.

I came across this charming book looking for our next family read-alouds after we finished the Anna Hibiscus series.  Since there are only two volumes, the American publisher has decided to combine them into one book.  It was considerably cheaper to purchase the collected hardcover volume than to buy the two paperbacks separately, although I’m not sure how much that has to do with import costs.

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Review: The Immortal Boy

“Hector took the curve, tilting his body to the same side, and twisted his wrist back, accelerating. The engine hummed, and they passed between the idling buses, making obscene gestures to the drivers waiting to be dispatched to their routes.” page 93

The Immortal Boy by Francisco Montana Ibanez, translated by David Bowles.
Levine Querido, New York, 2021.
Billingual fiction, 154 pages English, 154 pages Spanish.
Not yet leveled.

Two stories in Bogota, Colombia: five siblings try to stay together in their father’s absence, and a girl left in an orphanage follows a child called The Immortal Boy.

The Immortal Boy by Francisco Montana Ibanez, translated by David Bowles.

After rejecting the overwhelming stereotypes of Villoro’s The Wild Book, I was still searching for a Latine youth fantasy novel in translation. I respect David Bowles and had seen this mentioned without a clear age range, so hoped it would work for my diverse MG fantasy booklists.

Alas, it would be a stretch to consider this MG, although it may be suitable for individual readers. The Immortal Boy is disturbing and morbid… but still good? A difficult book to put down and also an emotionally challenging read. The story is one of nearly unrelenting misery, yet paradoxically beautifully written.

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Review: A Festival of Ghosts

“School buses disgorged students at the front entrance. Rosa and Jasper kept to the very back of the crowd, and the crowd moved to keep well clear of them. No one wanted to be knocked over by the inhospitable door.” page 173

A Festival of Ghosts (Ingot #2) by William Alexander, illustrated by Kelly Murphy.
Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2018, my paperback edition 2019.
MG fantasy, 264 pages plus excerpt.
Lexile: 610L .
AR Level: 4.5 (worth 6.0 points) .
NOTE: This book is a direct sequel to A Properly Unhaunted Place and this review will contain major spoilers for that novel.
FURTHER NOTE: Pictures on this review are part of the pink posts.

The continuing adventures of Rosa Diaz, from a family of librarians who specialize in ghost appeasement, and Jasper Chevalier, native to the unhaunted town of Ingot and the son of two Renaissance Faire leaders.

A Festival of Ghosts by William Alexander, illustrated by Kelly Murphy

We enjoyed the previous book, so I was happy to continue this story, although it wasn’t immediately obvious where this one would go. After all, I felt the previous book worked well as a stand alone novel. However there was one thread left unteased, and of course that was pulled in to this new story, along with a number of new problems.

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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: Care and Feeding of Humans

“Ah, dear Winthrop! I called him Lucky, because that was what he was, after wandering away from his father’s hired riverboat and into the Malaysian jungle.” page 11

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans (Dragon’s Guide #1) by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Mary Grandpre.
Yearling, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015.
MG fantasy, 152 pages + excerpt.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.6 (worth 5.0 points) .

Ms. Drake is mourning the loss of her beloved pet Fluffy when a near-feral new critter barges rudely into her den. She’d planned to spend a few decades in retirement before getting a new pet, but will Winnie convince her otherwise?

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Mary Grandpre.

So, first I need to clear up a mistake I made back in my review of Dragon of the Lost Sea. That book is the first in the Dragon Quartet, and at the time I reviewed it, I’d started this trilogy but hadn’t decided whether to review it for this blog. The voice of the dragon Shimmer from that book, and Miss Drake in this story, were so markedly similar that I thought they were the same character in two different stories. However, upon rereading this book it’s clear that couldn’t be the case – because they are different colors!

For the record, I still think it would have been neat if this was the same character appearing across different settings and time periods. Even the naming (Ms. Drake is basically a word for dragon with an honorific) led me to think these were the same characters, and that would have been a nice nod to his previous work. However, it’s also understandable that across publishers and editors, Yep may not have been able to include the same character even if that was his desire.

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Review: When You Trap a Tiger

“I feel for the mugwort in my pocket, but it’s gone – and in a flash of orange and black, the tiger disappears, too.” page 147

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller.
Random House, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 298 pages.
Lexile: 590L .
AR Level: 4.1 (worth 8.0 points) .

Lily, her older sister Samantha, and their mother have left California to live with Halmoni (grandmother), which Sam resents and Lily quietly accepts.  But as they arrive, Lily begins to see something nobody else does – a tiger who can talk and walk through buildings and strike bargains, who wants something from her family.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller.

I had gotten this book, read and enjoyed it, started a review, and was in my second reading when… it won the Newberry. All of a sudden everyone was reading and reviewing it! I frequently am surprised by, or disagree with, the Newberry awards – but it isn’t often my reaction is disbelief that others chose a book I personally loved.

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Review: Arcade & the Triple T Token

“My cousin is the same age as me, and we’ve been best friends pretty much since birth. And that’s another reason why I hated this move to New York.” page 48

Arcade and the Triple T Token (Coin Slot Chronicles #1) by Rashad Jennings, illustrated by Alan Brown.
Zonderkidz, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2019.
MG Christian fantasy, 254 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Level: 3.7 (worth 7.0) .
NOTE: Despite the low AR level, there is enough peril and plot complexity that I wouldn’t generally suggest this for children below third grade.

Eleven year old Arcade Livingston just moved from Virginia to New York City and is struggling to fit in and avoid the class bullies when a woman in the library gives him a mysterious token – that lets him time travel! But his teenaged sister wants him to stop, or at least take her along.

Arcade and the Triple T Token by Rashad Jennings, illustrated by Alan Brown.

For several years I’ve been avidly seeking diverse fantasy books, but surprisingly had never heard of this series before. After reading, it was clear why – it’s Christian. (I could have figured this out sooner if I’d been paying attention; Zondervan is an explicitly Christian publisher although some of their titles appeal to a broader demographic.)

Although Narnia is probably what most people think of when they consider Christian fantasy, there’s more available. For children especially time travel stories seem to be popular. But I’ve never reviewed a Christian fantasy on this blog before because most tend to be very white.

Returning to this specific title, their family moved so Mr. Livingston can pursue a career as a set designer. It’s a big adjustment for the kids to both move to a big city and go from having a stay-at-home parent to being more personally responsible for things like getting themselves to school. Arcade handles the transition by finding the closest library and spending all his time there.

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Review: Into the Tall Tall Grass

“Yolanda squeezed Rosalind Franklin to her chest and nuzzled her nose in the dog’s fur. She was not going to get rid of her dog, and she and Sonja were not going to foster care. There was no way she was going to let any of that happen.” page 59

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon.
Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster Children’s, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 330 pages.
Lexile: 660L .
AR Level: not yet leveled.

All the women in Yolanda’s family have some sort of magical gift, including her twin sister, but not her. Her father is away in the military, she’s become estranged from her best friend and her twin, her grandfather has died, and her ailing grandmother asks Yolanda to take her to the only pecan tree left standing on their property after the grass starts growing taller and taller…

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon.

Occasionally I run into a book that seems to be severely underhyped. Sometimes, like with The Secret of the Blue Glass, I can look objectively at the book and see why it might have trouble finding an audience or why it might not appeal to everyone even if I personally loved it. Others I can’t understand why it hasn’t been popular! My only thinking for this one is 2020, or perhaps that some readers disliked the lesbian aspect which is not immediately apparent.

I’ve written about “diverse-adjacent” books before; this one is more stealth diverse. The cover is gorgeous and represents the characters well, but even reading the synopsis, other than the names Yolanda Rodriguez-O’Connell and Wela, nothing that stands out as Latina, and particularly not LGBTQ.

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Review: Rainbow People

“A culture defines its virtues and vices within its folktales.” page 69

The Rainbow People by Laurence Yep, illustrated by David Wiesner.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 1989. (See review.)
Short story/folklore collection, 194 pages.
Lexile: 680L .
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 6.0 points) .

Twenty stories drawn from the most common area of Chinese-American immigration, streamlined and retold for younger audiences.

So I’m pretty sure my copy is a knock-off. The cover is the 1992 version, although on close examination it’s subtly off, but the interior copyright page is taken from one of the early 1989 printings. The margins aren’t set correctly and vary too much, and while harder to quantify, the paper and bindings don’t feel right compared to other books from this time period from this publisher that I’ve handled.

I purchased this book online, ostensibly new. After investigation, I don’t believe that the seller of this was aware then that it might be a printing violating copyright, so I won’t mention them specifically. Normally I would get a copy from the library to check if this version is accurate, but in Covid times, that is easier said than done. Perhaps some kind person who has access to a proper version of this book will comment if my citations are correct. I decided to still write this review because I’ve been wanting to talk about Laurence Yep and this book is particularly interesting.

Turning now to this specific volume, it’s a unique work. While I’ve seen many volumes of, or including, Chinese folklore, this book by Yep is the first I’ve seen that suggests a uniquely Chinese-American variety of tall tales. He points out that since the majority of early Chinese immigrants to America came from a specific province, the stories of that region have greater significance than more general Chinese or Asian proverbs.

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Review: Sarai & the Meaning of Awesome

“… but our whole family lives in New Jersey now. So we are really, truly Americans – North, South, and Central!” page 7

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown, illustrated by Christine Almeda.
Scholastic, New York, 2018.
Realistic fiction, 108 pages.
Lexile: 690L  .
AR Level:  3.8 (worth 1.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Sarai series.

Sarai Gonzalez is awesome.  She can do anything she sets her mind to, right?  But when her grandparents are about to lose their home, can she solve that problem?

Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome cover resized
Sarai and the Meaning of Awesome by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown, illustrated by Christine Almeda.

I absolutely adored this book and am looking forward to reading more in the series.  Sarai is like a modern-day, Latina Pollyanna without the syrupy sweetness.  She radiates positivity and a can-do attitude, but also makes mistakes and sometimes meets problems she can’t solve (yet).

A large part of my love for this book was due to the incredibly appealing artwork, which brings me to the biggest problem, which is that the artist is not appropriately credited.  Christine Almeda’s name appears only on the back cover and copyright page, and that in small print.  Since this is a book with two co-authors (teen Sarai on whose real life the series is based and experienced author Monica Brown), it would be easy for young readers to mistake the cover credits for author and illustrator.

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