Review: Into the Tall Tall Grass

“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…

Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon.

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.

Continue reading “Review: Into the Tall Tall Grass”

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.

Continue reading “Review: Sarai & the Meaning of Awesome”

Review: A Properly Unhaunted Place

“Rosa said nothing. She said it loudly. Rosa was not impressed with the basement apartment, or the library above it, or the town of Ingot. She missed their old place in the city.” page 1

A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander, illustrated by Kelly Murphy.
Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017, my paperback edition 2018.
MG fantasy, 184 pages plus excerpt.
Lexile: 640L  .
AR Level: 4.6 (worth 5.0 points)  .

Rosa Diaz has been training her whole life to one day be a librarian specializing in ghost appeasement, so she’s disgusted when her mother moves them to the only unhaunted place in the world.  Jasper Chevalier has always lived in Ingot and never seen a ghost, so when one appears his world turns upside down.  Can these unlikely friends solve the mystery of their oddly unhaunted hometown before it turns on them?

A Properly Unhaunted Place cover resized
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander, illustrated by Kelly Murphy.

The mythology and worldbuilding of this is extensive.  Alexander has imagined an entire alternate universe where ghosts are a normal part of everyday life and always have been, outside of Ingot, at least.  The way he uses Ingot to introduce us to this world is clever – Jasper gasps at everything and Rosa is constantly annoyed or saddened by the small differences between Ingot and the properly haunted places that she’s used to living.  This then gives Alexander a reason to constantly be telling us all those little details that build up into a coherent alternate world.

Both kids have unique family situations.  As the only child of two founders, Jasper is the lead of the ren faire kid pack.  Rosa is something that doesn’t quite exist in our world, perhaps a cross of homeschooled and army brat?  She’s comfortable with every kind of ghost, but less familiar with people.  Her knowledge is excellent but scattered, based on the books she’s been reading and had interest in.  As the child of appeasement librarians, she has always lived in libraries and had a much different upbringing than Jasper. Continue reading “Review: A Properly Unhaunted Place”

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.

Continue reading “Review: Mixture of Mischief”

Review: The Wild Book

“In that neighborhood, some of the houses had been knocked down to construct modern buildings, others were about to fall apart all by themselves, and some had their balconies strapped firmly to their walls lest they drop off and split open the heads of passerby on the street.” page 22

The Wild Book by Juan Villoro, illustrated by Eko, translated by Lawrence Schimel.
Yonder, Restless Books, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy, 234 pages.
Lexile: 750L .
AR Level: not leveled
*The Spanish-language version has an AR of 4.8, worth 7.0 points.
NOTE: This Mexican novel was first published in 2008, my review is of the 2017 translation.

Juan’s father is building a Parisian bridge, and his distraught mother is finding a new home. While his sister gets to spend the summer with her best friend, Juan’s shipped off to his strange uncle who lives within a labyrinth of books. There he learns that he’s got an unusual power to make books magically respond to him.

The Wild Book by Juan Villoro, translated by Lawrence Schimel, Illustrated by Eko.

I’ve been searching and searching for MG fantasy novels set outside the US or in translation. Several are available from Asia, few from Africa, and I’ve found some great works by American authors of Latinx heritage, but mostly still set in the US. After finally finding this book and waiting some time for the mail, I immediately started reading. Unfortunately I didn’t end with the same enthusiasm.

Continue reading “Review: The Wild Book”

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.

Continue reading “Review: A Sprinkle of Spirits”

Review: Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken?

“And sometimes people aren’t used to being friends with someone whose life was kind of different than theirs. But Lupe also reminded me that I don’t have to give up being friends with anyone to make someone else happy.” page 130

Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath.
Borzoi, Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House, New York, 2018.
Speculative/realistic fiction epistolary novel, 312 pages.
Lexile:  840L  .
AR Level:  not yet leveled.
NOTE:  Sequel to Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer.

Sophie is back! and now using email, receiving chicks and eggs by mail, and facing the Unusual Poultry Committee.  Can she hatch the new chicks, pass her inspection test, and help everybody get along?

Unusual Chickens 2

If you read my review of the previous book, or the post where I wished for a sequel, then you can guess that we preordered this book as soon as I knew of its existence.  We loved the first book, and I’m thrilled that this book, unusual both in concept and format, has now become a series.

This book brings several changes.  Sophie is now corresponding by email, although she still writes long, heartfelt letters to her beloved Abuelita and other physical correspondence and ephemera are still an important part of the novel.  The previous book took place over the summer, but this one involves school.  Which means, of course, a whole new round of microaggressions as Sophie meets new teachers and students.  They are handled just as deftly as in the previous book.

Continue reading “Review: Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken?”

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: Us In Progress

“Her choice to flee the United States and spare her sons further repercussions, rather than tell her story, left me unsettled. I firmly believed this story needed to be told.” page viii

Us In Progress: Short Stories about Young Latinos by Lulu Delacre.
Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2017.
Realistic fiction, 242 pages.
Lexile:  740L  .
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 5.0 points)  .

A collection of stories about young Latinos from various backgrounds.

Us In Progress cover
Us In Progress: Short Stories About Young Latinos by Lulu Delacre.

This is a unique collection in many ways.  One is that the author is also the illustrator.  Delacre’s Introduction is an important part of the book as it explains some of the nuances behind the artwork and writing, including the three layers used on each piece.

Continue reading “Review: Us In Progress”

Board Book Review: Little Trailblazer

The 41st board book in our collection ultimately underwhelms.

This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer by Joan Holub, illustrated by Daniel Roode.
Little Simon, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2017.
Nonfiction board book, 24 pages.
Lexile: not leveled
AR Reader: 4.6 (worth 0.5 points)  .

A board book about ten empowering women’s lives.

This Little Trailblazer cover resized
This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer by Joan Holub, illustrated by Daniel Roode.

This has been one of the most difficult board books for me to review.  For many I have a fairly strong opinion, or at least one of our children does, so there is a bit of a guideline.  If this was one of our first board books, I might have liked it better.  But this is our 41st board book, and the general reaction of our family has been indifference.

Continue reading “Board Book Review: Little Trailblazer”