Review: Amal Unbound

“This is what I now remember most about my last afternoon at school – the smell of the dusty chalkboard, the sound of the students lingering outside the door, and, mostly, how easily I took my ordinary life for granted.” page 4

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Amal Unbound: A Novel by Aisha Saeed.
Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2018.
Realistic fiction, 234 pages.
Lexile:  HL600L  ( What does HL mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 6.0 points)  .

Twelve year old Pakistani Amal dreams of being a teacher someday.  When family circumstances force her, the oldest daughter, to stay home for a while, she is disappointed but finds a way to go on learning.  But when an incident at the market leads to indentured servitude, are her dreams lost forever?

Amal Unbound resized

As soon as I saw the ARC review over at Huntress of Diverse Books, I knew I’d be buying this book.  The gorgeous cover was a lure, of course, but also I was extremely curious how Saeed managed to write a book about indentured servitude appropriate for middle-grade readers.

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Review: The Shadow in the Moon

“I tell my family I am thankful for them, especially wise Ah-Ma. Maybe even for my little sister.” page 27

The Shadow in the Moon: A Tale of the Mid-Autumn Festival by Christina Matula, illustrated by Pearl Law.
Charlesbridge, Watertown, Massachsetts, 2018.
Picture book fiction, 32 pages.
Lexile:  640L  .
AR Level:  not yet leveled
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book from the author as a part of the 2019 Multicultural Children’s Book Day, in exchange for an honest review.

The story of a young girl in the modern day celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival, including her grandmother’s telling of the traditional story of Chang’e and Hou Yi.

the shadow in the moon cover resized

Our family loves learning about different holidays.  We are Christian and American so you can guess that we celebrate Christmas and Fourth of July.  We’ve been lucky enough to access community gatherings or have friends invite us to many other celebrations, including the Lunar New Year.  But none of us had ever heard of the Mid-Autumn festival before.

Looking for other books on the topic, I could only find a half-dozen books about this specific festival, some of which didn’t have reviews.  There were two by big-name authors – both Grace Lin and Amy Tan have written picture books on the topic.  All of which is a rather lengthy notice that this is a welcome addition to our holiday bookshelf, and sorely needed.

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Review: Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon!

“The softball he couldn’t find / Last Saturday, / One toothbrush, one helmet… / He put them away.” p. 18

Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon! by Pat Cummings.
Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon and Schuster, 1991, my edition 1994.
Picture book, 32 pages.
Lexile:  not yet leveled
AR Level:  3.3 (worth 0.5 points)  .

The story of one boy with a very messy room and the Saturday morning he spent cleaning instead of watching cartoons.

Clean Your Room Harvey Moon Cover resized

I’m always delighted when I find books about various life skills featuring children of color.  If diverse children are unrepresented in books in general, they are even more invisible in educational books, whether it’s word problems in the math textbook or “soft” life skill texts like this funny book about cleaning your room.

Harvey is settling down with a snack and getting ready for a Saturday of all his favorite cartoons when his mom walks in and tells him no TV until he cleans up his room!  Amidst moans and groans, Harvey starts cleaning.  The entire book is in loose rhyme and the funniest parts are about the items he finds in his room, both good and gross.

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Graphic Novel? Review: Tina’s Mouth

“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.

Tina's Mouth resized
Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrated by Mari Araki.

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.

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Review: The Poet X

“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.

The Poet X by Acevedo

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.

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Review: Mochi Queen

“In the kitchen, the rice cookers set on timers were already steaming, filling the kitchen with the smell of rice. My mouth watered.” p. 53

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (Jasmine Toguchi #1) by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic.
Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillian, New York, 2017.
Elementary fiction, 115 pages.
Lexile:  560L  .
AR Level:  3.6 (worth 1.0 points)  .

Jasmine and her Japanese-American family are getting ready for the New Year.  That means lots of cousins, mochi-tsuki, Obaachan coming to visit, and two more years before Jasmine is old enough to make mochi with the women.  Rather than wait two whole years, she has an idea…

Jasmine Toguchi 1 Mochi Queen

In the last few years we’ve been seeing a big rise in the number of early elementary chapter book series featuring diverse characters, and I am over the moon about it.  As you’ve heard me rant before, it’s crucial to have diverse books at every reading level, including the very earliest.  Working a little understanding of different cultures, cuisines, and lifestyles into early fiction also helps students out when they later encounter the same topics in middle school or high school, and it sets a foundation for tolerance and acceptance.

Series like this one are particularly great because they can be read aloud to children over a range of ages, and information about Japanese-American culture is seamlessly woven into the storyline.

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Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

“It would be easier to be a criminal fairly prosecuted by the law than an Indian daughter who wronged her family. A crime would be punishable by law rather than this uncertain length of family guilt trips.” p. 29

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal.
William Morrow, HarperCollins, New York, 2017.
Realistic fiction, 298 pages + 14 pages of extras.
Not leveled.

Nikki is a modern British girl, but financial troubles lead her back to the gurdwara, where she takes on a job teaching English classes to widows at the community center.  Kulwinder is working hard to be accepted as an equal by the male leaders so she can advocate for other women, especially the widows who have little voice in the community.  Both run afoul of the conservative group the Brothers, who feel it’s their duty to keep rebellious women in line.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

First don’t worry, I will be returning to my normal reviews!  The title of this book didn’t interest me, but Wendy listed it as a 2017 favorite, so I chose this as one of my targetpicks.

Before we get to the book itself, the reaction people had to this cover was intriguing.  Everyone seemed to assume it was very raunchy.  Even at the cash register, this book merited a double take and pursed lips as I purchased it together with our normal family groceries (although no kids were with me).  People had so many surprised or negative reactions that eventually I hid it in our room rather than face more awkward conversations.

Despite the title, this is not proper erotica.  It’s highly literary, dark, yet comedic, with elements of the mystery and thriller genre along with a touch of romance and some steamy scenes.  Or rather, it’s a book that’s likely to get typecast but difficult to classify.

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