Review: The Savage Fortress

“The air turned foggy, and Ash’s sweat turned to ice. He sank to the ground, his body wracked with pain.” page 164

The Savage Fortress (Ash Mistry #1) by Sarwat Chadda.
Arthur A. Levine, Scholastic, New York, 2012.
MG fantasy, 292 pages.
Lexile:  660L  .
AR Level:  4.6 (worth 10.0 points)  .

Ash Mistry is the pudgy video-game-loving Indian mythology nerd we never realized we needed to save the world.  Spending the summer with his sister visiting his aunt and uncle, he gets caught up in a strange archaeological dig, which leads to even stranger events.

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This past year, two debut MG fantasy series drawing from Indian culture have gotten a lot of buzz – Aru Shah in the Rick Riordan imprint, and Scholastic’s Kiranmala Chronicles.  But those series are only releasing about one per year, so what’s a fantasy lover to do in the meantime?  Binge this already-completed trilogy, of course!

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Review: Miracle’s Boys

“Ever since I could remember, Ty’ree had sat with Mama at the table, the dim light from the floor lamp turning them both a soft golden brown. While Mama filled out the money order and figured out how to pay some of the other bills, Ty’ree made grocery lists and school supply lists and added and added the cost of everything.” pages 29 and 30

Miracle’s Boys by Jacqueline Woodson.
My edition Scholastic Read 180, originally published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, New York, 2000.
MG/YA realistic fiction, 133 pages.
Lexile: 660L  .
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 3.0 points)  .

Ever since Mama died, Lafayette and his brothers have been struggling to come together as a family.  Oldest brother Ty’ree had to give up his dream to keep the family together, middle boy Charlie is consumed with guilt that he was away when she died, and Lafayette is engulfed by grief and trauma.

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This was a free book choice I made a while ago, knowing nothing about the title (I didn’t even have time to read the blurb) but simply trusting Jacqueline Woodson as a consistently excellent author.  She did not disappoint.

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Review: Starry River of the Sky

“Just like that, Rendi became the chore boy at the Inn of the Clear Sky. He was not used to doing chores, so when he found a broom in his hand, he had to watch Peiyi to learn how to sweep.” page 20

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2014.
MG fantasy, 289 pages + extras.
Lexile:  810L  .
AR Level:  5.4 (worth 7.0 points) .

Runaway Rendi seems to be the only one who noticed that the moon is missing above the village of Clear Sky!  He’s aching for someone to visit this remote village so he can stow away and leave again, but while he’s stuck here, can he unravel the peculiarities of this very odd village?

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I was very uncertain about how this read would go (the first book in this series was a 2017 favorite) but Grace Lin has delivered another superb MG fantasy.  One of the fascinating aspects of this series is that so far each book focuses on a different character and has an independent plot, although set in the same world.

The previous book was all about journeys.  Both the exciting physical journey that Min-li went on, and to a lesser degree, the emotional journey that her parents take as they are left at home without her.  In contrast, this book is remarkably stable.  The cast of characters is noticeably smaller (although used to full effect) and the setting limited – most scenes take place in one small town and its bizarre surroundings.

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Review: Away West

“Everett had been wandering around for almost an hour. His body ached from the cold, and he had no idea where to go.” page 19

Away West (Scraps of Time 1879) by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Gordon James.
Puffin Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, New York, 2006.
Elementary historical fiction, 121 pages.
Lexile:  510L  .
AR Level:  3.4 (worth 1.0)  .

The Scraps of Time series is built around the idea of a grandmother and three grandchildren building a scrapbook about their family from items kept in their grandmother’s attic.  One of the children finds something and asks Gee about it, and then the story proper begins as she tells them the story behind that item.

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Scraps of Time 1879 Away West by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Gordon C. James.

In this case the item is a Civil War army medal, although the story does not deal directly with the Civil War.  Instead, Gee tells them about her grandfather, Everett Turner.  The youngest of three brothers, he was determined to find his place in the West.

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Review: Code Talker

“But I had no idea, even in my wildest dreams, that the very language those bilagdanaa teacher tried to erase – the way you wipe words from a blackboard – would one day be needed by important white men.” page 27

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac.
Speak, Penguin Group, New York, 2005.
Historical fiction, 231 pages.
Lexile:  910L  .
AR Level:  6.4 (worth 9.0 points)  .

This novel follows fictional narrator Ned Begay through his life, focusing particularly on his experiences as a Navajo code talker.

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The framework of this story is that it is a story that a grandfather is telling to his grandchildren.  This idea is presented in the introduction and mentioned sporadically throughout the novel as well as in the final chapter.  I was a bit iffy about this device, but Bruchac used it beautifully.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Shark King

This slim early-chapter-book graphic novel retelling of a traditional Hawaiian story will appeal to adults as well.

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson.
TOON Books, New York, 2012.
Graphic novel, 40 pages.
Lexile:  GN410L or GN380L ?   ( Also what does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  1.6 (worth 0.5 points)  .
NOTE: I have some disagreement with these levels, see review for details.

This is the story of Nanaue, from the day his parents met onward.

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Most graphic novels I’ve reviewed here so far fall into the middle school, teen, or adult categories.  While some might be appropriate for younger MG readers, most were not.  This book is aimed at elementary students – although I wouldn’t hesitate to add it to a middle school library or even a high school if high-low books were needed.  The age of the characters is not specified, and while Toon Books specializes in elementary graphic novels, they do also make some for older readers.

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Review: Seedfolks

“All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me.” page 3

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Judy Pedersen.
Scholastic, New York, 1999 (first published HarperCollins 1997).
Adult realistic fiction, 69 pages.
Lexile:  710L  .
AR Level:  4.3 (worth 2.0 points)  .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would not recommend this to middle grade readers.

Seedfolks is a collection of 13 short stories by different first-person narrators, all revolving around the first year of a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Normally with short story collections, I comment on each story and then give thoughts on the whole.  Because these stories are so short, I’m going to write two or three sentences about each one and then give my general thoughts at the end.

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