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: Dream Magic

“He nocked an arrow. Their armor looked good, but there were gaps he could aim at. Except he’d never shot at a man before. He wasn’t sure he could.” page 197

Dream Magic (Shadow Magic #2) by Joshua Khan, illustrated by Ben Hibon.
Disney Hyperion, New York, 2017, my edition 2018.
MG fantasy, 340 pages.
Lexile: 580L .
AR Level: 4.5 (worth 12.0 points) .
NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the previous book.
FURTHER NOTE: Pictures on this review are part of the pink posts.

Lily and Thorn are back in the gloomy sequel, with added trolls and spiders and sinister intent!

Dream Magic by Joshua Khan, illustrated by Ben Hibon

While we were teased a lot about Lily doing forbidden magic, it didn’t really have any consequences in the first book – she was easily able to pretend it wasn’t her and the focus was more on the murders and political intrigue. This time around, there’s still plenty of court politics (now with actual courting, since Lily’s assumed to be available again) and a few murders (which sort of have the edge taken off by Lily’s ability to revive the dead). But Lily is also properly studying magic, and Thorn is doing more regular squire work, and the social mores and consequences of their situations start to catch up with them.

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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: 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: 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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