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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Review: Sauerkraut

“Grace just looked at me and asked what I was waiting for. She says it doesn’t matter how old you are, or what you’ve learned – being a Black geek is about who you are, and what you’re interested in. Nobody gets to decide that but you.” page 75

Sauerkraut by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Paul Davey.
Knopf, Penguin Random House, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 280 pages.
Lexile: 750L .
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 7.0 points) .

A biracial Black/German-American boy clearing his uncle’s basement finds a sauerkraut urn haunted by his great-great-grandmother, who insists he help her make pickled ethnic food to enter into the county fair.  HD has to balance his own summer plans and responsibilities with his new ghostly relative’s goals.

Sauerkraut by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Paul Davey.

Reading this after the Unusual Chickens series might be unfair. We eagerly anticipate the next installment in that favorite series. Sauerkraut is a separate story with familiar modus operandi – biracial MC (white German-American and African American) lives in a mostly white, semi-rural area and has unusual hobbies (caring for goats, making things) runs into some strange magic (ancestor haunting the sauerkraut pot).

HD is established in his community, has a strong connection to both sides of his heritage (identifies more as Black), already has a best friend, and isn’t on a farm despite the goat subplot. And he’s a nerd who loves the library and comics and is very familiar with supernatural fiction, so after the original scare he copes with magic more easily.

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Review: Mixture of Mischief

“Leo opened her mouth to protest – closing down would mean losing a half day’s profit! – but her voice didn’t seem to be working, so all that came out was a squeak.” page 96

A Mixture of Mischief (Love Sugar Magic #3) by Anna Meriano.
Walden Pond Press, HarperCollins, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 292 pages.
Lexile:  not yet leveled
AR Level: 5.4 (worth 8.0 points) .
NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the previous books.

A mysterious new shop is opening that copies the menu as Leo’s family bakery, her friends are all gaga over her slightly older cousin, and her estranged paternal grandfather is trying to contact her. Meanwhile Leo is desperate to prove herself as both a baker and a bruja who can stand on equal ground with her older sisters. Can she figure out her birth order magic and master recipes for sugar and magic without whipping up a bunch of new troubles? Only with a heap of love from her family and friends, of course!

Love Sugar Magic #3: A Mixture of Mischief by Anna Meriano.

I wish this had been a quartet. While I enjoyed this final installment in the Love Sugar Magic trilogy, there were a few differences. The first two books didn’t exactly center on holidays but each included a specific celebration: Dia de los Muertos and Dia de los Reyes. This one encompassed Easter, but the celebrations around it were barely touched on.

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Board Book Review: Feast for 10

This classic board book follows a large family as they prepare a dinner for ten.

Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1993.
Board book, 28 pages.
Not leveled.

Follow one family from store to sitting down at the table as they prepare for dinner and count to ten – twice!

Feast for 10 cover resized
Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell.

This book mesmerizes my toddler who will sit and flip through the pages over and over again.  Our most recent pre-reader loves that she can participate by counting the numbers, and it’s been helping her recognize number words too.

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Review: A Sprinkle of Spirits

“A tiny voice in Leo’s head whispered to her to flip the book shut, to lie, to hope she had read everything all wrong. But more secrets and denial weren’t going to help anything, and tricks couldn’t get her out of this problem.” page 154

A Sprinkle of Spirits (Love Sugar Magic #2) by Anna Meriano.
Walden Pond Press, HarperCollins, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 314 pages.
Lexile: 820L .
AR Level: 5.2 (worth 9.0 points) .
NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the previous book.

Leo is very excited to learn more about magic, especially her special talent, but she doesn’t want to leave her friends behind. When a magical mystery occurs, of course everyone assumes Leo’s experimenting again – but if she didn’t do this, when who did?

Love Sugar Magic #2: A Sprinkle of Spirits by Anna Meriano.

The first book in this series takes place around Dia de los Muertos, and this second one is set around Dia de los Reyes. Both Latinx holidays that involve baking, and are important not only for Leo’s family, but also to the social lives of their small Texas town. I wonder when the next book will be set!

Dia de los Muertos is one of the most well-known Latinx holidays in the USA. White authors have done that holiday before (usually problematically such as Telgemeier’s Ghost) but most don’t step into less-pintrestable holidays. So this series is a great, visible example of why #ownvoices authors matter.

The magic system continues to be complicated compared to some other series but we get to learn a lot more about it this time, and it continues to be internally consistent, which is the first rule of good magic worldbuilding. An 11-year-old puzzling things out on her own with a book in a language she doesn’t know, compared to a young bruja apprenticing in her generational magic family, have very different levels of information access.

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Review: A Dash of Trouble

“Half worried from Caroline’s talk about secrets, half furious that she was being left out again, Leo felt her bad feelings swell like cake in an oven.” p 21

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic #1) by Anna Meriano.
Walden Pond Press, HarperCollins, New York, 2018.
MG fantasy, 314 pages.
Lexile:  850L  .
AR Level:  5.3 (worth 9.0 points)  .

Leonora Logroño is desperate to convince her mother that she’s old enough to finally help out at her family’s bakery as they prepare for the big yearly Dia de los Muertos festival.  She’s crushed to hear she’s still too young, but even more surprised to find out that the women in her family are secretly magical baking brujas.  She just has to tell her best friend, and that leads to just one tiny spell…

LSM1 A Dash of Trouble
Love Sugar Magic #1: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano.

These days I have an entire shelf devoted to diverse MG fantasy novels, and it brings me such joy to see titles and new series coming out every year.  Fantasy literature was a passion I discovered in elementary school, and a big disappointment as a school librarian was not being able to find books representing every student for genre literature.  Continue reading “Review: A Dash of Trouble”

Review: Bayou Magic

” ‘That’s part of who you are, Maddy. Not how your story ends.’ I’m listening hard to what Grandmere isn’t saying.” page 154

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes.
Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2015.
MG fantasy, 242 pages + excerpt from Towers Falling.
Lexile:  410L  .
AR Level:  3.1 (worth 4.0 points)  .

It’s finally Maddy’s turn for a bayou summer.  Her older sisters have each gone, one by one, but they saw only the problems of the bayou and didn’t seek out the wonders.  City girl Maddy is feeling enchanted by her new surroundings when she sees something gleaming below the boat – a girl underwater?

Bayou Magic cover resized

I’m always challenged by these sorts of books where any magic is not immediately apparent, because the conscientious reader has to go all the way to the end to determine if the book is truly a fantasy novel or whether mental illness, slight of hand, foolery, or some other element explains away the unexplainable.  Luckily this one is in fact a fantasy, even though the outright magic doesn’t show itself on the page right away.

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Review: Little Book of Life Hacks

“Getting your most important (or tedious) task out of the way will create a powerful momentum for the rest of your day.” page 187

The Little Book of Life Hacks: How to Make Your Life Happier, Healthier, and More Beautiful by Yumi Sakugawa.
St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2017.
Nonfiction, 200 pages.
Not leveled.

An illustrated guide to a wide variety of diys, life-hacks, how-tos, and helpful tips.

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It seems to be a pattern that I discover famous people and trends through reading.  This was a random pick at the craft store – however not chosen to be diverse (like my Target Picks), just a book I grabbed on a whim because the artwork was so cute.

The cover is really appealing although it doesn’t photograph well.  The gold elements are shiny and there is a lot of texture.  This book is easy to pick up, read a few pages, and put down, although I read through it traditionally the first time.  One element I disliked, is that while there are page numbers, only about half of the pages are numbered.  So it was difficult to refer to a specific page.

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Review: Yes, Chef

“When I had my own restaurant someday, I thought, I would never rule out someone based on race or sex or nationality. I wouldn’t do it because it was egalitarian, I’d do it because cutting people out meant cutting off talent and opportunity, people who could bring more to the table than I could ever imagine.” page 160

Yes, Chef: a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson.
Random House, New York, 2012.
Autobiography, 326 pages.
Not leveled.

The life story of Marcus Samuelsson, a chef across three continents.

Yes Chef cover resized

This was a random find that was enchanting.  I’ll admit that I was first drawn in by the appealing cover, and then after the generosity of the friend who gave this to me, I had to at least start reading it.  What I found between the covers kept me up all night until the book was finished.

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Review: The Shadow in the Moon

“I tell my family I am thankful for them, especially wise Ah-Ma. Maybe even for my little sister.” page 27

The Shadow in the Moon: A Tale of the Mid-Autumn Festival by Christina Matula, illustrated by Pearl Law.
Charlesbridge, Watertown, Massachsetts, 2018.
Picture book fiction, 32 pages.
Lexile:  640L  .
AR Level:  not yet leveled
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book from the author as a part of the 2019 Multicultural Children’s Book Day, in exchange for an honest review.

The story of a young girl in the modern day celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival, including her grandmother’s telling of the traditional story of Chang’e and Hou Yi.

the shadow in the moon cover resized

Our family loves learning about different holidays.  We are Christian and American so you can guess that we celebrate Christmas and Fourth of July.  We’ve been lucky enough to access community gatherings or have friends invite us to many other celebrations, including the Lunar New Year.  But none of us had ever heard of the Mid-Autumn festival before.

Looking for other books on the topic, I could only find a half-dozen books about this specific festival, some of which didn’t have reviews.  There were two by big-name authors – both Grace Lin and Amy Tan have written picture books on the topic.  All of which is a rather lengthy notice that this is a welcome addition to our holiday bookshelf, and sorely needed.

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