Review: Li on Angel Island

“The dinner hour started, and Hon never came. Sitting next to Mother, Li ate her mushy rice and vegetables in silence. An uneasiness washed over her. It wasn’t like Hon to miss out on food.” page 45

Li on Angel Island (Smithsonian Historical Fiction) by Veeda Bybee, illustrated by Andrea Rossetto.
Stone Arch Books, Capstone, North Mankato, Minnesota, 2021.
Elementary chapter book historical fiction, 72 pages.
Lexile: 600L .
AR Level: 4.3 (worth 1.0 points) .

In 1921, a ten year old Chinese girl is traveling with her mother and brother to join their father in San Francisco.

Li on Angel Island by Veeda Bybee, illustrated by Andrea Rossetto.

I ordered this book for two reasons: I’m trying to read at least one book from a variety of historical fiction series for an upcoming project, and have been looking for more Asian American read alouds (we’ve been enjoying Laurence Yep, Grace Lin, and Andrea Cheng but would like more variety).

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Review: Sarah Journeys West

“A man named Mr. Adams was the only one who didn’t shake Daddy’s and Mr. Tucker’s hands. I hoped he wasn’t about to spend the next six months hating us for being Negro.” page 31

Sarah Journeys West: An Oregon Trail Survival Story (Girls Survive) by Nikki Shannon Smith, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio.
Stone Arch Books, Capstone, North Mankato, Minnesota, 2020.
Elementary historical fiction, 112 pages including back matter.
Lexile: 610L .
AR Level: 3.9 (worth 2.0 points) .

During the California Gold Rush, twelve year old Sarah’s family is venturing West on first the Oregon Trail, and then the California trail. But the 1851 trail is difficult and hostile even without facing prejudice from other party members – can Sarah and her family survive the trip?

Sarah Journeys West: An Oregon Trail Survival Story (Girls Survive) by Nikki Shannon Smith, illustrated by Alessia Trunfio.

I like the premise of this as a series for elementary readers. With the title Girls Survive, we always know that at least the main character will make it through the difficult events, which keeps it from being too scary. That doesn’t mean these are necessarily great for sensitive readers, though – in the books from this series I’ve read so far, at least one side character always dies and many get into some life-threatening peril. The characters tend to be aged older but act a bit young, so it could also work for some middle grade readers too.

It’s also really nice to see this series working to use #ownvoice authors and highlight characters of color, which has been a problem with Capstone in the past. In this particular volume, I was also impressed by Shannon Smith’s sensitivity towards recognizing that westward expansion, even by settlers who have no desire to stop on tribal lands, was a negative for the peoples whose land they passed through (and eventually settled on after all).

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Review: She Dared – Malala Yousafzai

“The girl stretched her arm, her large belly getting in the way. From the girl’s young age, Malala guessed it was her first child and she hadn’t been married long.” page 3

She Dared: Malala Yousafzai by Jenni L. Walsh.
Scholastic, New York, 2019.
Elementary/MG biography, 120 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 2.0 points) .

A highly problematic youth biography of Malala Yousafzai.

She Dared: Malala Yousafzai by Jenni L. Walsh.

It’s rare that by the third chapter of a children’s book I’m continuing to read only for due diligence. I tend to avoid or delay negative reviews – it’s more fun to write about wonderful books, or try to analyze the ones I feel lukewarm about. Since leaving daily school librarianship in a slight (and given the pandemic, well-timed) rerouting of my career, I haven’t followed Scholastic as closely. It’s no longer part of my professional duties to coordinate book fairs and Scholastic purchases, and in my personal and blog life, I prefer to focus more on smaller publishers and lesser known authors. One of my kids still orders from them though, which is how this book ended up in our house.

A quick glance at the series and it’s obvious that this was an attempt by Scholastic to capitalize on the success of female biography series such as Rebel Girls. Even the name here is a rip off of the She Persisted books. But being derivative isn’t always bad in children’s literature – while these books are less fun for adults to read, simplified plots and repetitive sentences can also help early readers in some circumstances.

What bothered me most about this book is that it was very clearly written for white readers (although it doesn’t state that openly) and panders heavily. If you read Malala’s own books, her perspective involves criticism of her culture – but from a place of deep love, respect, and understanding. For her as a cultural insider to denounce the Taliban and some aspects of traditional life, involves very different nuance than what Walsh uses here.

Continue reading “Review: She Dared – Malala Yousafzai”

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: 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: 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: The Dragon of Ynys

“Of course the dragon would try to distract him if it really was guilty. But Violet wouldn’t let it. He was a professional, specialised in dragon crimes. This dragon’s crimes.” page 15

The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen.
Atthis Arts, Detroit, Michigan, my edition 2020, originally published 2018.
All ages fantasy, 132 pages including back matter.
Not leveled.

Sir Violet’s duties as knight have fallen into a familiar pattern – he goes to the dragon’s cave, and after some banter a missing item is returned. Until instead of his morning cinnamon roll, he finds the baker’s wife distraught – Juniper is missing! This sends Sir Violet on a quest for not only the missing baker, but a few other things he didn’t know he was missing.

The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen.

I bought this book entirely because of a post; I didn’t realize the age level until it crossed my feed. Not that this is only for kids, it’s especially written as All Ages – a rare find!

Much like the dragon, I’m a collector, only my hoard is books. I like the collection to fit together in various pleasing ways and am always looking for new releases that fit categories seldom seen in diverse MG fantasy. Three areas have been elusive -stories set in South America or Australia, LGBTQ+ representation, and indigenous stories. We are finally seeing movement on the latter two, so I have high hopes for more English-language South American MG fantasy in the next five years.

I was initially disappointed at the length. The main story is only 118 pages with generous spacing. MG fantasy novels (which this isn’t, but is the comparative genre I’ve been most heavily immersed in lately) tend to run longer, so on my first reading this was at the back of my mind… until the fairly detailed back matter. Knowing that the $13 list price goes towards fair payment for editors, sensitivity readers, and others made me much happier about the price versus length.

Although the book is smaller, it’s well formatted. The cover, while not especially exciting, conveys the gist and is nicely laid out. Simple works better than wrong! As someone who personally and professionally handles dozens to hundreds of books daily, I can tell it’s not from a mainstream publisher – but nowadays well made titles aren’t obviously POD to most casual readers.

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Review: Children of the Longhouse

“Suddenly he heard a sound like pebbles being shaken in a hollow gourd. His heart leaped into his throat as he threw himself to one side to keep from stepping on the huge rattlesnake that was coiled in the middle of the trail.” page 78

Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1996.
MG historical fiction, 154 pages.
Lexile:  950L  .
AR Level:  5.5 (worth 5.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.

Follow twins Ohkwa’ri and his sister Otsi:stia as they navigate peers who are trying to break the peace treaty, coming of age, and a sacred game of lacrosse.

Children of the Longhouse cover resized
Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac.

It’s worth noting that this is NOT an #ownvoices book.  Bruchac is Abenaki, a neighboring group to the twins – but the main characters are all Mohawk, members of the Iroquois League of Peace.  This book was originally included in a 2006 recommendation list on AICL, but I noticed that as of this writing, Bruchac was conspicuously absent from the August 2020 list of historical fiction recommendations on AICL.  This makes sense given that AICL has recently had several neutral or negative reviews of his work, especially when working outside of his own nation.  However, given the glowing reviews some of his books have previously gotten, it’s hard to know if he’s still a generally suggested author or not. Continue reading “Review: Children of the Longhouse”

Review: The Dragon Thief

“We’re almost the same shade of brown, but Aunty’s wrinkly skin is a bit darker than mine. I reach up and tug at one of the tightly coiled curls that frame her face.” page 23

The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B.
Penguin Random House, New York, 2019.
Elementary/MG fantasy, 170 pages.
Lexile:  700L  .
AR Level:  not yet leveled  .
NOTE: The review of this direct sequel contains spoilers for the ending of Dragons in a Bag.

Kavita has a dragon now, and Jaxon is desperate to get it back. But with Ma out of commission, Kavita gone missing, and a magical trickster interested in that dragon, it won’t be easy for the children or any of their new friends.

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The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliot, illustrated by Geneva B.

I was happy to see Kavita featured in this, but less thrilled about a novel in two voices. Regular readers will recall that multiple voice novels are not my favorite – too difficult to balance and often unwieldy. Luckily Elliott is strong enough to carry two voices.

Kavita considers her actions in the last book and feels remorse over stealing the baby dragon. Aunty sort of supplies the grandmotherly role in this book, although not a biological relative – she was Vik’s father’s ayah, or nanny, when he was growing up in India. As such, she’s able to give us a little bit of history – specifically about the Siddi people who were enslaved and brought to India. I had never heard of this and appreciated Elliott including it.

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Review: Dragons in a Bag

“I stare at the box so my grandmother won’t see that I’m annoyed. People never expect a kid like me to know anything about anything. I’m used to it, but it still bothers me sometimes.” p. 9

Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B
Penguin Random House, New York, 2018.
Elementary/MG fantasy, 154 pages.
Lexile:  740L  .
AR Level:  4.7 (worth 4.0 points)  .

It’s bad enough that Jaxon’s mother dropped him off with a stranger who she calls Ma, but then it turns out Ma is a real witch…

Dragons In A Bag 1 cover resized
Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B.

Zetta Elliott is finally getting some long-deserved recognition, and it’s nice to see her promoted through a major publisher.  I’ve marked this book with both middle grade and elementary because it fits that tricky in-between stage.  This is definitely interesting enough for MG readers, especially in the 4th to 6th range, but it’s also a book that you could read aloud to a much younger group, even as low as kindergarten.  Continue reading “Review: Dragons in a Bag”