“She had mocked the children as batty and delusional. But in the end, they had known what she didn’t – that the line between stories and real life is very thin indeed.” page 72
The School for Good and Evil (#1) by Soman Chainani, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. HarperCollins, New York, 2013. Fantasy novel, 488 pages. Lexile: 830L . AR Level: 5.2 (worth 16.0 points) .
Sophie cannot wait to be stolen from her village and attend the mysterious School of Good and Evil. She’s been doing everything she possibly can to prepare – an intensive beauty regime, rigorous fashion design, and of course good deeds such as befriending the town witch. Agatha has no interest in getting kidnapped, but when her best friend is taken, she just has to intervene. But then Agatha finds herself on the Good side, and Sophie is attending Evil classes…
Not sure how I missed this series for so long. Perhaps since all the main characters are so clearly white, I overlooked that the author is Indian American. But these have been fairly popular.
Chainani’s plotting and characterization, as well as his detailed fairy-tale-based world, truly impressed me. For the last few years, I have been reading a LOT of fantasy novels for young people while working on my first diverse fantasy booklist. Particularly in middle grade fantasy, by now I can often guess what is coming next. This book was gripping because Chainani managed to continually take the plot and characters in new directions while still keeping the developments believable.
“I do not like waste and destruction. I do not want an enemy. If I must have an enemy, I do not want to seek him, and find him, and meet him. … If one must hunt, the prize should be a treasure, not a detestable thing.” page 113
The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle #3) by Ursula K. LeGuin. My edition Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2001. Fantasy, 260 pages. Lexile: 920L . AR Level: 6.1 (worth 10.0 points) . NOTES: Please see review for age appropriateness. See my other posts under the Earthsea tag for more information on this series.
Arren travels with his idol Ged to solve the mystery of why magic is slowly disappearing from the islands of Earthsea.
The Farthest Shore is not without problems. Female characters continue to be minor or even unnamed. One secondary character suffers from mental illness and I had so many thoughts on that subplot they might not all fit in this post.
Parents and teachers should be aware of several aspects before handing this to a child. First, Arren has a crush on Ged. I read this as the sort of schoolchild hero worship that many children experience during puberty, but other readers have seen an unrequited romantic love. The text supports either interpretation. Ged absolutely does not have romantic or sexual feelings towards Arren, and their slightly forced companionship grows into mutual respect and esteem as events progress.
“Though the distance from cabin to gangplank wasn’t more than twenty feet, I was protective of the ship. Slate had told me from a very young age not to talk to strangers about Navigation.” page 168
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig.
Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2016.
Speculative fiction, 454 pages.
Lexile: 750L .
AR Level: 5.2 (worth 13.0 points) .
NOTE: This book is not suggested for MG readers despite the reading level.
Nix’s father is a Navigator who can travel to any place, real or imagined as long as he has a map for it, but he’s only obsessed with getting back to the one place he cannot reach – 1868 Honolulu, where Nix’s mother died.
Now having read this book, I can finally fully appreciate why all of the reviews were so maddeningly vague. This is, unfortunately, the type of book that you can’t discuss with any real depth unless you’ve read it, because to discuss anything interesting is to give away part of the action.
So I apologize in advance that you might find this review to also be maddeningly vague. In a book where the majority of the setting and even the time frequently changes (and further changes amongst real and imagined places), the focus is rather on both the characterization and the action. Both are fast-paced!
“Worm loves Worm. ‘Let’s be married’ says Worm to Worm. ‘Yes!’ answers Worm.”
Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato.
Balzer + Bray imprint, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2016.
Picture book, 28 pages.
Lexile: not yet leveled
AR Level: 2.0 (worth 0.5 points) .
Worm loves Worm. So Worm proposes. They want to be married. But then Cricket and Beetle and the rest all have their own ideas about what a wedding should look like. Will Worm and Worm ever be able to just be married?
This book got a lot of attention while marriage equality was still in the news, but the buzz has died down. Although immigration has replaced marriage equality as the hot topic of the moment, Worm Loves Worm is still a valuable addition to your library.
Our 35th board book was enjoyable, but would read better in a larger format.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole.
Little Simon, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2015, orig. pub. 2005.
Picture book converted to board book format, 32 pages.
The true story of two male chinstrap penguins at the Central Park Zoo who became a family, and their adopted daughter Tango.
This is a picture book converted to a board book. Such conversions are always tricky. Some cut valuable information and lose the meaning of the story or the grace of the illustrations. Others simply shrink down the size of the book and create a hybrid that might not work for either the original picture book audience or the babies and toddlers that typically use board books.
“Even here things are pretty divided. Except that the breakdown is different. The aunties hang out with the aunties and the uncles hand out with the uncles.” page 53
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2011.
Illuminated realistic fiction, 247 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 3.0 points) .
NOTE: This is a YA book, not intended for younger children.
Tina Malhotra is the youngest in a family of five and a sophomore at the mostly white Yarborough Academy. She’s taking an Honors English elective course in existential philosophy, and has taken on an assignment to write letters to Jean-Paul Satre about the process of discovering who she is and who she is becoming.
The format of this book was different to any I’ve read before. I hesitate to call it a graphic novel (although the dust jacket does so) because large portions of the story were carried through text only. Neither was it an illuminated work because whole pages at a time would be done in a comic style relying on both text and illustrations.
Between a rambunctious good morning to adoptive parents to a good night to everyone, our 39th board book manages to show a wide variety of families.
Good Night Families by Adam Gamble, illustrated by Cooper Kelly.
Good Night Books, 2017.
Board book, 20 pages.
A showcase of a wide variety of families going through their days.
This book is a bit of a mixed bag. First, let’s get some of the negatives out of the way. The font is awful – a dead giveaway that this wasn’t produced by a regular publishing house. There also isn’t a great flow to this book, it’s a series of vignettes that at times feels choppy and awkward.
“He is an award-winning bound book, / where I am loose and blank pages. / And since he came first, it’s his fault. / And I’m sticking to that.” p. 99
The Poet X: A Novel by Elizabeth Acevedo.
HarperTeen, HarperCollins, New York, 2018.
Novel in verse, 378 pages.
Lexile: HL800L ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level: not yet leveled
Dominican-American teen Xiomara Batisa is one half of a pair of miraculous twins – their birth to older parents caused her philandering father to change his ways and reaffirmed their mother’s devotion to her Catholic faith. Her genius brother Xavier skipped a grade and is living up to their miracle status, while she defends his comic book collection and feels inadequate.
Target seems to be shelving more and more diverse novels that I’m interested in reading. There’s been some buzz about this one, but I didn’t know many details. I think because of the title, I assumed it had to do with Malcolm X and just wasn’t interested. But that’s not what this book is about at all. This book is about poetry and love and family and the power of being who you really are.
But let me back up a bit. There is a love story in this, but don’t get turned off by the heavy romance early on, because this is not a love story. Rather, this is about Xiomara’s sophomore year of high school, and how she learned to be more confident in herself, and how her family relationships completely changed.