“In the kitchen, the rice cookers set on timers were already steaming, filling the kitchen with the smell of rice. My mouth watered.” p. 53
Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (Jasmine Toguchi #1) by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic.
Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillian, New York, 2017.
Elementary fiction, 115 pages.
Lexile: 560L .
AR Level: 3.6 (worth 1.0 points) .
Jasmine and her Japanese-American family are getting ready for the New Year. That means lots of cousins, mochi-tsuki, Obaachan coming to visit, and two more years before Jasmine is old enough to make mochi with the women. Rather than wait two whole years, she has an idea…
In the last few years we’ve been seeing a big rise in the number of early elementary chapter book series featuring diverse characters, and I am over the moon about it. As you’ve heard me rant before, it’s crucial to have diverse books at every reading level, including the very earliest. Working a little understanding of different cultures, cuisines, and lifestyles into early fiction also helps students out when they later encounter the same topics in middle school or high school, and it sets a foundation for tolerance and acceptance.
Series like this one are particularly great because they can be read aloud to children over a range of ages, and information about Japanese-American culture is seamlessly woven into the storyline.
“By now the name of the cafe was written on the walls of hundreds of boxcars, from Seattle to Florida.” page 30
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg.
Random House, 1987. My edition McGraw-Hill, New York, 1988.
Adult fiction, 403 pages including recipes.
Lexile: 940L .
AR Level: 5.6 (worth 15.0 points) .
NOTE: Although the reading level is low, this is an adult novel.
This is going to be a complicated review. There are two main threads to the storyline, which covers events in the fictional town of Whistle Stop, Alabama (just outside of Birmingham) between the early 1920s and the late 1980s.
The story is told through four different elements. Evelyn Couch is struggling with her weight, her marriage, menopause, and an inevitable feeling of doom. She accompanies her husband on visits to his mother’s nursing home every Sunday, but can’t stand to sit and watch TV, so she finds herself in the visitor’s room with Ninny Threadgoode. At first she just wishes the old lady would shut up so she can eat her candy bars in peace, but then she gets interested in the stories and they forge an unlikely friendship. When the novel was first published, these scenes would have been roughly contemporary – it’s now historical fiction.
“Trying different foods is a bridge into the many food cultures that make us collectively American.” page 28
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One.
Readers to Eaters, Bellevue, Washington, 2017.
Picture book biography, 30 pages.
Lexile: 710L .
AR Level: 4.0 (worth 0.5 points) .
This is the story of Chef Roy Choi, who’s best known for his Kogi food trucks that combined traditional Korean food with popular street foods like tacos or barbecue in a unique and delicious way.
It’s kind of funny that I found this book through the Diverse KidLit linkup. Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table has been on my wishlist for some time. But honestly, neither of these books would have been on my radar at all without the internet.
“I have BIG plans. I’m going to be a millionaire with my own cooking show on TV. Cupcakes are my specialty.” page 1
President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston.
Little, Brown, & Co., Hachette Book Group, New York, 2010.
My edition Scholastic, 2012.
Middle grade realistic fiction, 276 pages.
Lexile: 730L .
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 6.0 points) .
Brianna Justice may only be in fifth grade, but she’s already planning for her future as a famous chef with her own baking show. Last year her idol, Miss Delicious, spoke to their class and laid out a roadmap… and it all starts with being president of her fifth grade class. Only this year the rules have changed – there’s going to be just one class president over all the fifth grade classrooms. Can Bree still win the new, tougher, competition? Can she keep her integrity and friends while doing it?
Brianna Justice is not the most likable character. In fact, in the beginning I was a bit worried because she is downright mean at times. In some ways she’s very mature and dedicated to planning for her future, with a hefty savings account and a step-by-step life plan. However she gets wrapped up in her own plans to an extreme, loosing balance in her life and neglecting her friendships. Although this worried me, Bree does experience consequences for most of her actions. Because she starts off as not so likable, she’s able to show a lot of character growth in a short period of time.
“I had loved myself at 500 pounds. I loved myself now, even with my loose skin.” page 203
An XL Life: Staying Big at Half the Size by Big Boy (Kurt Alexander).
Cash Money Content, 2011.
Autobiography/memoir, 237 pages.
The autobiography of Los Angeles radio personality Big Boy, once known for his size as much as the music he played.
This book opened with Alexander talking about the father he never knew and how he didn’t feel that contributed to his weight at all. It’s a marked contrast to the last biography of a black man I read, Un-Ashamed.
On the other hand, Alexander was greatly impacted by constantly moving around as a child. His stories about homelessness and frequent moves reminded me more of Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness, although he wasn’t moving from relative to relative. His mother must have been truly remarkable, because his six siblings stayed with the family through various moves and hardships, even after they were adults.
“It’s pretty. ‘Til you get close. Then sugar gets nastier than any gator. Sugar bites a hundred times, breaking skin and making you bleed.” page 6
Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes, illustrations by Neil Brigham.
Originally published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Hachette, New York, 2013.
My edition is Scholastic, New York, 2015.
Middle grade historical fiction, 272 pages + author’s note.
Lexile: 430L .
AR Level: 2.9 (worth 4.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the second book published (chronologically the first) in the Louisiana Girls Trilogy.
The ten-year-old narrator of this novel is named after the type of plantation she works on: Sugar. Slavery ending doesn’t seem to have changed much, other than all of her friends moving away. Orphaned Sugar doesn’t have the resources or family to leave. But she does have spirit and dreams – dreams of playing all day, going to school, and even of making new friends. When the plantation owner decides to bring Chinese workers in, are they competition or potential allies?
Since I’ve been complaining about historical fiction featuring black characters, I decided to try to find some good examples, so we took a trip to the used bookstore. This historical novel takes place over the course of a year, measured by the different seasons of the sugarcane cycle. It starts with winter in 1870 and moves through planting and then harvest in 1871. The epilogue takes place in spring of that year. Continue reading “Review: Sugar”
An original, #ownvoices can’t-miss middle grade graphic novel.
Malice in Ovenland by Micheline Hess.
Rosarium Publishing, Greenbelt, MD, 2016.
MG speculative fiction, 126 pages including extras.
Not yet leveled.
Lily Brown is not going to camp this summer, or on a fancy vacation. She’ll be staying home, eating her mom’s new ‘healthy’ organic cooking, caring for their plot in a community garden, and doing extra studying. Her mom goes away for a weekend and Lily’s almost done with her chore list when she loses an earring inside the oven and discovers a magical world where they aren’t too happy about the sudden lack of grease in her family’s kitchen.
There’s no way that my summary has done this book justice. There are so many things going on here, and everything is wonderful. This is a book that kids love to read, and that parents can feel good about their kids reading.