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: The Serpent’s Secret

“There are only so many years you can fool your friends – or yourself – into thinking you are a real Indian princess, banished from your fairy tale and hiding out in a suburban split-level in northern New Jersey. No matter what your crazy parents insist.” page 3

The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani Dasgupta, illustrated by Vivienne To.
Scholastic, New York, 2018.
MG fantasy, 358 pages.
Lexile: 730L .
AR Level: 5.2 (worth 10.0 points) .

Kiranmala is so over her parents’ stories and dressing up like “a real Indian princess” for every birthday – they’re already overprotective and weird, do they have to keep lying about a magical land too? Then they go missing, and a rakkhosh shows up at her house closely followed by two princes. Kiranmala will have to draw on every bit of help, magic, and story to figure out how to save her parents, herself, and maybe a few others too.

Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1: The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta, illustrated by Vivienne To.

Dasgupta focuses on Bengali stories as her main inspiration, and it definitely gives the fantasy a fresh slant. But the writing truly brings two places to life – The Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers and Kiranmala’s home in Parsippany, New Jersey – and while most of the magic happens in the Kingdom, Dasgupta manages to make New Jersey surprisingly compelling.

In particular, I was very impressed with the mix of science into the story. Science fiction and fantasy are distinct genres (along with horror and the less popular science fantasy) under the speculative fiction umbrella. Although a lot of people enjoy both, many readers don’t like to mix these two, especially in the MG range. Dasgupta takes an interesting approach – magic is fully magical and has its own internal logic, but science is also real and has parallels and applications within the story. Kiranmala discusses how astronomy and physics relate to her quest without ever losing the magic, thanks to a deft narrative hand.

Continue reading “Review: The Serpent’s Secret”

Review: Us In Progress

“Her choice to flee the United States and spare her sons further repercussions, rather than tell her story, left me unsettled. I firmly believed this story needed to be told.” page viii

Us In Progress: Short Stories about Young Latinos by Lulu Delacre.
Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2017.
Realistic fiction, 242 pages.
Lexile:  740L  .
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 5.0 points)  .

A collection of stories about young Latinos from various backgrounds.

Us In Progress cover
Us In Progress: Short Stories About Young Latinos by Lulu Delacre.

This is a unique collection in many ways.  One is that the author is also the illustrator.  Delacre’s Introduction is an important part of the book as it explains some of the nuances behind the artwork and writing, including the three layers used on each piece.

Continue reading “Review: Us In Progress”

Review: Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

“One of the things I hate most in life is people telling me to calm down, as if I’m some out-of-control lunatic who isn’t entitled to have feelings.” page 160

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez.
Ember, Random House Children’s Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
YA fiction, 362 pages.
Lexile:  HL730L
AR Level:  4.7 (worth 12.0 points)  .

Julia is not the perfect Mexican daughter.  That was her sister, Olga – until she died in a tragic accident that left everyone reeling.  Now her already strained relationship with her mother has shattered, her father is a lump, and Julia is obsessed with investigating her sister’s life, trying to get to know the sister who was ignored when she was alive.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter resized

Because the majority of this book is about the unfolding drama of Julia’s quest to understand her sister Olga’s life, it’s incredibly difficult to discuss this book in any depth without spoilers.   The action spans a space of just about two years, from a few months after Olga’s death, through Julia’s high school graduation.

Continue reading “Review: Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”

Review: Left in America

“I guess associating with Black culture felt safer to me. They weren’t in danger of being told to go back where they came from or of anyone saying they didn’t belong.” page 110

Left in America: The Story of Juan Terrazas by Sally Salas.
Left in America Organization, Dallas, Texas, 2015.
Biography, 219 pages.
Not leveled.

The story of an undocumented child who was left behind when his parents were deported at 14 years old, including his struggles with homelessness and journey to Christianity.

Left in America cover resized

The book is clearly self-published but a good effort was made to make it standard.  My copy had a few formatting errors, and some photos were blurred or pixelated, including the back cover.  The back matter consists of one quote which might be about the book (it isn’t quite clear) and lacks a standard blurb.

Continue reading “Review: Left in America”

Review: The Magic Paintbrush

“When Steve grasped the painting, it tingled against his fingertips. He felt as if he had rubbed his shoes fast over a carpet.” p. 19

The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep, illustrated by Suling Wang.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 2000.
Historical fantasy, 90 pages.
Lexile:  530L  .
AR Level:  3.8 (worth 2.0 points)  .

Eight-year-old Steve’s parents and all of his belongings are gone after a tragic fire, and now he shares a single room in Chinatown with his grandfather and Uncle Fong (no relation but a childhood friend of Grandfather’s).  They are so poor that after his paintbrush split in art class, he’s afraid to go home and tell his Grandfather, knowing that a new one is not possible.

The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep cover resized
The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep, illustrated by Suling Wang.

For a book with magic in the title, this book takes a while to get to the fantasy part.  The first chapters are all about establishing the setting – early 1960s San Francisco – and characters.  The tale of a magic paintbrush given to a poor boy who uses it to spread happiness is a Chinese story that has been retold many times, mostly in picture books.  Yep has a unique historical Chinese-American spin to his version though.

Continue reading “Review: The Magic Paintbrush”

Review: Giving Thanks 1621

Some thoughts on a slightly controversial children’s book.

Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast by Kate Waters, photographs by Russ Kendall, in cooperation with the Plimoth Plantation.
Scholastic, New York, 2001.
Picture book, 40 pages.
Lexile:  620L  .
AR Level:  3.9 (worth 0.5)  .
NOTE:  There is another book by the same title but subtitled “A Native American Good Morning Message.”

A 1621 harvest feast as seen through the eyes of two boys, reenacted at Plimoth Plantation.

Giving Thanks 1621 Harvest Feast

I feel it’s important to note that this book is on the former Oyate’s List of Thanksgiving Books to Avoid.  That’s part of why I checked it out from the library instead of buying.  However, I couldn’t find any in-depth reviews, so I decided to look through it myself to see how suitable, if at all, this would be for teaching about the holiday.

Because this is one of the Oyate Books to Avoid, the format of this review will look rather different than most.  I decided to use the 11 Myths about Thanksgiving template to consider this book.  My overall thoughts will follow.   Continue reading “Review: Giving Thanks 1621”

Review: Forever Mom

“Kids may need years of consistent, loving care before they begin to trust, and they may resist trusting even in the face of much love and care from new parents.” page 107

Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting by Mary Ostyn.
Nelson Books, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Tennessee, 2014.
Nonfiction, 241 pages.
Not leveled.

Mary Ostyn shares her experiences as a mother of ten, six adopted, children.

Forever Mom

I’m always interested in reading books about adoption and foster care.  Initially when I got this, I thought it would have more about fostering or domestic adoption.  While Ostyn did go through the initial process of domestic adoption, in the end all of their six adopted children were foreign adoptions.

This is part memoir and part advice book.  Ostyn writes from a Christian background so there are scripture quotations and references to Jesus and prayer.  I didn’t realize before reading this book that like many international adoptive parents, she feels particularly called by Jesus to adopt the children who ended up in her home.

Continue reading “Review: Forever Mom”

Review: Being Mortal

“Nursing homes have come a long way from the firetrap warehouses of neglect they used to be. But it seems we’ve succumbed to a belief that, once you lose your physical independence, a life of worth and freedom is simply not possible.” p. 75

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.
Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt & Co, New York, 2014.
Nonfiction, 282 pages.
Not leveled.

Because his parents both immigrated to America from India, Gawande didn’t have much first-hand experience with aging or mortality – the elderly members of his family were a continent away, being cared for by others.  He certainly didn’t learn much about it from his medical school classes.  Then he came face-to-face with the reality of American aging through his grandmother-in-law and patients, and decided to raise some questions about end of life-care and the meaning of life, and death.

Being Mortal resized

Gawande has an interesting perspective on mortality and his second-generation-immigrant perspective gave him an insight into other methods of dealing with age that helped him turn a critical eye on how we deal with it here in America.  This book reminded me of Another Day in the Death of America in that way – it takes a subject that most Americans wouldn’t even think twice about, and presents it to everyday readers.

Continue reading “Review: Being Mortal”

Graphic Novel? Review: Tina’s Mouth

“Even here things are pretty divided. Except that the breakdown is different. The aunties hang out with the aunties and the uncles hand out with the uncles.” page 53

Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2011.
Illuminated realistic fiction, 247 pages.
Lexile:  not leveled
AR Level:  4.7 (worth 3.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is a YA book, not intended for younger children.

Tina Malhotra is the youngest in a family of five and a sophomore at the mostly white Yarborough Academy.  She’s taking an Honors English elective course in existential philosophy, and has taken on an assignment to write letters to Jean-Paul Satre about the process of discovering who she is and who she is becoming.

Tina's Mouth resized
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki.

The format of this book was different to any I’ve read before.  I hesitate to call it a graphic novel (although the dust jacket does so) because large portions of the story were carried through text only.  Neither was it an illuminated work because whole pages at a time would be done in a comic style relying on both text and illustrations.

Continue reading “Graphic Novel? Review: Tina’s Mouth”