Review: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky

“The far wall of the glade exploded in a shower of broken branches and fetterlings. More butterflies took to the air as the largest fetterling I could’ve ever imagined tried to squeeze through a gap like a T. rex.” page 181

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Tristan Strong #1) by Kwame Mbalia.
Rick Riordan Presents, Disney Hyperion, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 484 pages.
Lexile: HL680L ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 15.0 points) .

Tristan Strong’s lost his first big match as a boxer and is sent to stay with his grandparents in Alabama. His deceased friend Eddie’s journal, with a mysterious glow only he can see, keeps ending up in his bag although he didn’t pack it. When a strange thief tries to steal the book, Tristan fights back… even if it means disturbing a bottle tree, unleashing an ancient evil, and falling into the land of Alke.

Confession: I liked this book very much, but didn’t love it, and can’t quite figure out why. Perhaps I’m burnt out on MG fantasy? Over the past three years, I’ve read more than a hundred, so MG fantasy has taken up a larger than normal portion of my free reading lately. So many aspects I loved, somehow didn’t quite coalesce for me. Three times I put this down to finish reading another book that felt more compelling. Yet at the same time, I kept coming back and wanting to finish. I’ll definitely get the next book in the series.

Mbalia’s worldbuilding is excellent. His villains in particular strike the perfect balance for middle grade – the stuff of nightmares but not invincible, firmly grounded in myth, history, and real fears, and many with complex backstory or growth patterns. I loved the endpaper maps of Alke and want a poster for my wall!

Also, I appreciated that he didn’t follow the RRP template. This far in to the imprint, plus reading widely in the genre, there is definitely a difference between those who write a Riordan-style series with different cultural trappings, and authors with their own unique ideas. Both are important but the latter tend to have more longevity.

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Review: You Can Fly

“The sky’s no limit if you’ve flown / on your own power in countless dreams; / […] / not if you’ve gazed at stars / and known God meant for you to soar.” page 1

You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers Imprint, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2016.
Second person historical novel in verse, 80 pages including timeline and notes.
Lexile:  910L .
AR Level:  6.0 (worth 1.0 points) .
NOTE: I would consider this book for about 4th grade through adult reading.

This story told in the second person vividly delineates the journey of a black airman during WWII through sparse poems and black and white images based on historic photographs.

You Can Fly cover
You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jeffrey Boston Weatherford.

I did not expect to like this book.  A novel in verse – already something I feel ambiguous about.  Then you add the fact that this is in second person, which I tend to dislike even when it’s done well.  Finally, I was under the misapprehension that this was a work of non-fiction about the Tuskegee Airmen.

Yet this book which I should have disliked actually captivated me.

First, let’s discuss the illustrations.  There is one illustration on almost every other page.  A few are full page, but most are half or less.  They interact nicely with the text.  Some scratch into the page, and in other cases there’s white text on black background so the words flow into the illustration.  At a casual glance some of the illustrations look like photographs.

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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!

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Board Book Review: Little Trailblazer

The 41st board book in our collection ultimately underwhelms.

This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer by Joan Holub, illustrated by Daniel Roode.
Little Simon, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
Nonfiction board book, 24 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Reader: 4.6 (worth 0.5 points)  .

A board book about ten empowering women’s lives.

This Little Trailblazer cover resized
This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer by Joan Holub, illustrated by Daniel Roode.

This has been one of the most difficult board books for me to review.  For many I have a fairly strong opinion, or at least one of our children does, so there is a bit of a guideline.  If this was one of our first board books, I might have liked it better.  But this is our 41st board book, and the general reaction of our family has been indifference.

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Review: All the Women…

“All the Women in My Family Sing is a tribute to the many voices of women in a chorus of cultural refrains.  Each essay is a personal story about the victories and challenges women face every day as innovators, artists, CEOs, teachers and adventurers.  All of the essays reveal how glorious it is to live authentically in our identities.”
p. ix-x, Foreword by Deborah Santana

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.

All the Women In My Family Sing
All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World – Essays on Equality, Justice, and Freedom.

The essays and poems in AtWiMFS are roughly grouped into 8 categories, each containing between 7 and 10 pieces.  Most are quite short, but I do like to comment briefly on each one, so I’ve decided to break this up so it’s not excessively long.

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Review: Art from Her Heart

“In the middle of her hundred years, Clementine Hunter had decided to paint.” page 5

Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Shane W. Evans.
Putnam, Penguin Young Readers, New York, 2008.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
Lexile:  AD870L  ( What does AD mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  5.3 (worth 0.5 points)  .

The life story of noted American folk artist Clementine Hunter, 1886/7-1988.

Art from Her Heart cover resized

This book is part of our picture book artist biography series of reviews.  Descended from slaves, Clementine Hunter was a folk artist who was a manual laborer on a Louisiana plantation known for attracting writers and artists.  From the 1940s when she attracted the attention of patrons at the plantation until the late 1980s, she gained in popularity until she was able, at the end of her life, to live independently from the sale of her artworks.

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Review: Clean Getaway

“And that guy’s not the only one: bouncing his eyes around the room, Scoob realizes a bunch of people are looking at him and G’ma funny. One lady he makes eye contact with openly sneers at him like he’s done something wrong.” page 19

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone.
Crown Books for Young Readers, Random House Childrens, Penguin, New York, 2020.
MG fiction, 227 pages.
Lexile:  780L .
AR Level: not leveled

When William’s grandmother proposes a little trip, he’s all too happy about the loophole in his strict father’s grounding.  But as they get further and further from home, and G’ma is acting stranger and stranger, he begins to believe that there is more to this unexpected road trip than he realized.

Clean Getaway resized
Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile.

I hovered over this book a while, confused about the premise, because this doesn’t easily conform to a synopsis.  So much happens without  ever feeling overwhelming.  The main characters are elderly white G’ma and William, who’s Black, eleven, and on spring break.  Normally his father would take him on vacation, but some trouble at school led to the trip being cancelled and him grounded.  It’s also been part of a larger miscommunication with his father.

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Review: Civil Rights in America

“In 1960, few Americans could have predicted that within 10 years the civil rights movement would dismantle a century-old system of social, political, and economic controls that had condemned millions of black Americans to second-class citizenship.” page 12

Civil Rights in America by Rick Beard.  (America’s National Parks Press Series)
America’s National Parks Press, Eastern National, Fort Washington, PA, 2016.
High school informative non-fiction, 24 pages.
Not leveled.

This is a short little book, almost a pamphlet, giving an overview of the Civil Rights Movement from the Declaration of Independence to the 2008 election of Barack Obama.

Civil Rights in America cover resized
Civil Rights in America by Rick Beard.

Before we get into the review, let me explain how I came across this book.  Teachers will already be well aware of the wonders of Dollar Tree.  Some time ago I came across a nifty little book about Black Soldiers in the Civil War there, and ever since I’ve been looking out for more diverse titles in the National Parks Service series.

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Reivew: Hoodoo

“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 cover

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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Review: Fire from the Rock

“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.

Fire From the Rock cover resized

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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