“They got only this one egg a year even though the children’s mother tended chickens and ducks that produced seven or eight eggs a day right there in the front courtyard. But the eggs weren’t for the family. They were a small business that Gao Xiuying ran to earn a little bit of extra money.” page 49
A Girl Named Faithful Plum: The True Story of a Dancer from China and How She Achieved Her Dream by Richard Bernstein. Originally Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, New York, 2011. My edition Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2012. Middle grade (YA?) nonfiction, 272 pages. Lexile: 1080L . AR Level: 6.6 (worth 11.0 points) .
In 1978, an eleven year old girl traveled from her small town on the northern border of China to the Beijing Dance Academy for their open auditions, along with sixty thousand other applicants. Against all odds, she managed to be one of the twelve girls chosen – but that was just the start of her troubles.
Zhongmei spent years in training, and had a long career, but this story focuses mainly on preparing to audition and her first year at school. About half the book focuses on her journey to even make it to auditions and then her progress through the seven layers of audition. The second half covers her first year at the school, and finally an epilogue tells what happened to her after.
Bernstein employs a number of timeline skips to maintain the pacing, although he’s not always successful. His most frequent device is the letters sent back and forth between Zhongmei and her beloved da-jie Zhongqin. He also occasionally has Zhongmei think back on past events. At some points there are skips forward, when reasonable within the story.
“The ‘ohana felt a deep loyalty to their ahupua’a. It was their ‘aina, their homeland. ‘Ai means ‘to eat.’ ‘Aina, the word for homeland or birthplace, means ‘that which feeds.’ It was the ‘aina that nourished, or fed, the ‘ohana. This made it the responsibility of the ‘ohana to take care of their ‘aina.” page 87
From the Mountains to the Sea: Early Hawaiian Life by Julie Stewart Williams, illustrated by Robin Yoko Racoma. Kamehameha Schools Press, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1997. Middle grade non-fiction, 178 pages. Not leveled. NOTE: I read a physical copy of this book, and this review is based on the print book. However, it is also available as a free ebook, currently at this link: https://ulukau.org/ulukau-books/?a=d&d=EBOOK-ENGLISH.2.1.1&e=——-haw-20–1–txt-txPT———– .
A classic school text on early Hawaii.
I came across this text some time ago through the acquaintance of a friend who was offloading some books before moving back to the islands. My friend generously passed many books that her family had read or weren’t interested in to us. I’m always interested in titles from small presses or exploring cultures I don’t know too much about, so this was fascinating to me even though it was dry at points.
This particular book was also especially interesting because I’ve always heard that there aren’t accessible texts for young readers about indigenous life pre-European contact. This is an area I’ve been actively seeking out books on, so it was rather shocking to find one that was not only published in the 1990s, but is part of a series. Indeed, after exploring the ulukau.org link above, I’ve discovered that several books from Kamehameha Schools Press are available there, and hope to review some others which would be cost-prohibitive to have sent to the Midwest.
“Hard to think that there might someday be a time when everyone could go back to ordinary things, like mending a torn undershirt.” page 22
Beast of Stone (Wing & Claw #3) by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by James Masden. Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2018, my edition 2019. MG fantasy, 360 pages. Lexile: 700L . AR Level: 5.3 (worth 9.0 points) . NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for previous books in the series.
Raffa finds himself imprisoned and separated from his friends – even worse, his parents are frustratingly close but in danger. Feeling alone except for his beloved bat friend, Raffa wonders how he could possibly escape in time to prevent the Chancellor from using botanicals and wild animals to attack the people of Obsidian, let alone figure out why she’s doing such evil deeds.
Linda Sue Park sets the standard high for what a fantasy trilogy should be. The first book was very good, the second stronger than most mid-series installments. I didn’t love that Cavern of Secrets ended with a cliffhanger, but after reading this book I can understand why Park ended at that point.
“Raffa couldn’t help laughing. He didn’t know why he felt so joyful; there was nothing the bat could do to help. Maybe, he thought, maybe people just don’t like to be alone when they’re in trouble.” page 55
Cavern of Secrets (Wing and Claw #2) by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by James Madsen. Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2017. MG fantasy, 312 pages + excerpt. Lexile: 700L . AR Level: 5.3 (worth 8.0) . NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the previous book in the series.
Having narrowly survived the adventures of the last book, Raffa and his human and animal friends now have important decisions to make about what to do next – about the Chancellor and her animal captives, about the families waiting for them, and about their own relationships.
Park wisely skips over the grim struggle for survival over the winter the three children spent in the mountains and opens her story as most of the trio’s animal menagerie are awakening from hibernation. Echo does not, which propels Raffa to consider returning home.
I was very impressed with how Park wrote Garith’s hearing loss. At the end of the previous book, we weren’t certain yet how permanent it was, but now we know that it’s long-term if not forever, which means writing a newly Deaf character. And Park does that amazingly well, from Raffa’s irritatingly slow and overly loud talking, to Kuma’s recognition that Garith can still do everything but hear and needs to have tasks and agency just like before.
“It wasn’t that the Forest was a perilous place so much as it was utterly unpredictable.” page 29
Forest of Wonders (Wing & Claw #1) by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by James Madsen. Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2016. MG fantasy, 332 pages + excerpt. Lexile: 700L . AR Level: 5.3 (worth 9.0) .
At twelve, Raffa Santana is already a gifted apothecary and finds himself increasingly frustrated with his father’s strict rules. First he can’t make his own herbal cures or enter the forest unsupervised, then his father doesn’t want him to go to the city of Gilden, and of course experimentation is not allowed. But treating a severely injured bat leads Raffa to a series of discoveries about his family, his country, and even the natural world around him that soon have him making his own choices… and dealing with the consequences.
It wasn’t until trying to review this book that I realized just how many characters and how much plot Park manages to fit into this standard length fantasy -she does it so seamlessly. I’ve read and enjoyed several of her novels before but they were all historical fiction, which made me nervous about how she would do in a fantasy novel. Luckily her experience creating an immersive world in the past translates well to fantastical worldbuilding.
“Good morning salmon swimming up the stream.” page 7
Good Morning World by Paul Windsor.
My edition Native Northwest, Vancouver, Canada, 2018. (Originally published in 2011.)
Board book, 24 pages.
Good morning greetings to various parts of the Pacific Northwest world, with local indigenous artwork.
This was, as near as I can recall, one of the earliest board books ever printed by Native Northwest. Some of the early versions appeared to have trouble with the printing, but by now that’s all sorted and my copy is full of vibrant color.
“Yolanda squeezed Rosalind Franklin to her chest and nuzzled her nose in the dog’s fur. She was not going to get rid of her dog, and she and Sonja were not going to foster care. There was no way she was going to let any of that happen.” page 59
Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster Children’s, New York, 2020. MG fantasy, 330 pages. Lexile: 660L . AR Level: not yet leveled.
All the women in Yolanda’s family have some sort of magical gift, including her twin sister, but not her. Her father is away in the military, she’s become estranged from her best friend and her twin, her grandfather has died, and her ailing grandmother asks Yolanda to take her to the only pecan tree left standing on their property after the grass starts growing taller and taller…
Occasionally I run into a book that seems to be severely underhyped. Sometimes, like with The Secret of the Blue Glass, I can look objectively at the book and see why it might have trouble finding an audience or why it might not appeal to everyone even if I personally loved it. Others I can’t understand why it hasn’t been popular! My only thinking for this one is 2020, or perhaps that some readers disliked the lesbian aspect which is not immediately apparent.
I’ve written about “diverse-adjacent” books before; this one is more stealth diverse. The cover is gorgeous and represents the characters well, but even reading the synopsis, other than the names Yolanda Rodriguez-O’Connell and Wela, nothing that stands out as Latina, and particularly not LGBTQ.
“Every day you should fill this glass with milk and put it on the windowsill for them. You mustn’t forget now. The Little People cannot live unless humans do this for them.” page 15
The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. Pushkin Children’s Books, London, UK, 2015. Historical fantasy, 188 pages. Not leveled. NOTE: Reviewing the 2015 translation of a 1959 Japanese novel.
Although the little people first came to Japan in the 1890s, this unique story covers the time from 1913 until World War II when they were in the care of the Moriyama family.
I finished my first read-through thinking I must review this, and immediately after wondered how I was possibly going to review it. How does one review a book they personally loved, but know won’t work for everyone?
When reviewing books for this blog, I do my best to consider the book through multiple lenses. I adored this book and sincerely hope more of this Inui’s books are translated. But… I can also see why other people might not adore it.
” ‘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?
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.
“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.
An illustrated guide to a wide variety of diys, life-hacks, how-tos, and helpful tips.
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.