“I can still be sorry that you had to experience that. No child or woman should ever be treated like you, Suzie, and your mom were. It helps me understand a little bit why you think you wouldn’t be any good at fancy dancing.” page 9
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Heartdrum, HarperCollins, New York, 2021, my edition 2022. MG short story anthology, 312 pages including back matter. Lexile: not yet leveled AR Level: 5.0 (worth 9.0 points) . NOTE: This review is longer than usual since I discuss each piece and the book as a whole. Also see note on accent marks.
An anthology of pieces centered around one powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Despite having left school library life some time ago, I still get excited to see new collections and anthologies like this one published, because they are such important additions to the classroom. Ancestor Approved manages to take this to the next level by having the stories and poems all connected, despite most being by different authors. If it’s difficult as a reader to wrap your head around the many linkages and connections, just imagine the work Cynthia Leitich Smith did to bring this book together!
There are 18 different pieces by 16 different authors (and Nicole Neidhardt who contributed the excellent cover illustration is also rightfully acknowledged). Most are short stories although the book closes and opens with poems. There’s also considerable supportive matter, including a foreword, glossary broken down by story, notes, acknowledgements, and brief biographies of all contributors. As is my custom for anthologies and collections, I’ll discuss each of the individual pieces briefly before returning to the discussion of the work as a whole.
“Ling goes into a bookstore. She looks at all the books. She sees a book that she wants to read. / ‘I will buy this book for Ting,’ Ling says. ‘Maybe she will share it with me.’ ” page 12
Ling & Ting: Share a Birthday by Grace Lin. Little, Brown, and Co., Hachette Book Group, New York, 2013. Early chapter book, 48 pages. Lexile: 320L . AR Level: 2.0 (worth 0.5 points) . NOTE: This is part of the Ling and Ting series.
Six birthday short stories from the life of Chinese-American twins Ling and Ting.
My children were so enamored with the first book in the Ling and Ting series, and read it so many times, that I went ahead and purchased the rest of the books. There isn’t really a clear indicator of order in this series, and I don’t think that the order really matters to most readers, but I like to know.
So extrapolating from the publication date the series is:
Again, you could easily read these out of order though, as there is no numbering to the series. Some books do make reference to others, but there definitely isn’t a strict chronology to this particular series, which is great for young readers who tend to pick things up randomly, or teachers who would like to break students up into groups that read different-but-similar materials.
“We could have plenty of fun then, except that now we have two grown-ups telling us no instead of only one.” page 7
A Wave in Her Pocket: Stories From Trinidad by Lynn Joseph, illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Clarion, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1991. MG stories, 52 pages. Not leveled.
A collection of Trinidadan stories tied together by the narrator Amber, and her incredible Tantie who tells these tales to her and her cousins.
First I must make a note on the classification, because these books are the sort that would wake me in the middle of the night back when I did cataloging for school libraries. Joseph is retelling 6 different Trinidadan stories, but she uses the conceit of a first-person narrator, and formats them similarly to short stories. This method is very effective, but much like Kadir Nelson’s famous Heart and Soul, raises the question on where they should be shelved.
In fact, I am not the first librarian to feel conflicted by this dilemma, as the copyright page has the Library of Congress suggesting PZ for juvenile fiction, and a Dewey Decimal Classification of 398.2 under folklore. One can make a reasonable case for this book either way, so if you happen to be a librarian Googling, shelve this wherever you think it’s likely to circulate best, and don’t hesitate to recatalog if needed!
Luckily, I no longer have to worry about how to catalog these types of books and can shelve items wherever I please in my home library. This book contains fantasy, horror, and historical fiction within a realistic fiction framework, although most likely to appeal to students who like speculative fiction or mythology with some creepiness.
“The video shows me shot in the back. People knew. This is the first time the lawyer has said it, but everyone knew this moment would come.” page 131
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2018. Middle grade fiction, 214 pages. Lexile: HL360L ( What does HL mean in Lexile? ) AR Level: 3.0 (worth 3.0 points) . NOTE: this is a work of historical/fantasy fiction, not to be confused with the 2013 disability memoir Ghost Boy. Also, this review deviates somewhat from my usual style as I found this novel difficult to unpack.
Ostensibly the story of twelve-year-old Jerome, an unarmed Black boy shot in the back by a white police officer while playing with a toy gun – but really the story of Sarah, the police officer’s daughter and the only one who can see Jerome’s ghost. The ghost of Emmett Till also plays a peripheral role.
This is the fourth book by Jewell Parker Rhodes that I’ve read, and while each of the previous books I liked more than the last, unfortunately this one sorely disappointed me.Sugar was not my favorite on initial reading, but over the years has truly stuck with me and is now one I regularly recommend. The historical fantasy and ghosts of Ninth Ward wasn’t my cup of tea, but I adored Bayou Magic and included it on my first list of diverse middle grade fantasy novels. Ghost Boys returns to ghostly visitation, and I suppose I should have been prepared to dislike this given that her previous ghost story was my least favorite of her books.
“Hector took the curve, tilting his body to the same side, and twisted his wrist back, accelerating. The engine hummed, and they passed between the idling buses, making obscene gestures to the drivers waiting to be dispatched to their routes.” page 93
The Immortal Boy by Francisco Montana Ibanez, translated by David Bowles. Levine Querido, New York, 2021. Billingual fiction, 154 pages English, 154 pages Spanish. Not yet leveled.
Two stories in Bogota, Colombia: five siblings try to stay together in their father’s absence, and a girl left in an orphanage follows a child called The Immortal Boy.
After rejecting the overwhelming stereotypes of Villoro’s The Wild Book, I was still searching for a Latine youth fantasy novel in translation. I respect David Bowles and had seen this mentioned without a clear age range, so hoped it would work for my diverse MG fantasy booklists.
Alas, it would be a stretch to consider this MG, although it may be suitable for individual readers. The Immortal Boy is disturbing and morbid… but still good? A difficult book to put down and also an emotionally challenging read. The story is one of nearly unrelenting misery, yet paradoxically beautifully written.
“It wasn’t my job to provide food, toys, or dress-up clothes for my sisters, but I felt ashamed that someone ended up giving them what my mom never could although she worked so much.” page 212
On These Magic Shores by Yamille Saied Mendez. Tu Books, Lee and Low, New York, 2020. MG fantasy/contemporary, 278 pages. Lexile: not yet leveled . AR Level: 4.8 (worth 8.0 points) .
Minerva Soledad Miranda (call her Minnie, please) just wants to fit in as much as possible, but it’s not easy to keep up with seventh grade, let alone audition for the school play, when she has to watch her sisters while her mom works two jobs. It’s hard to focus when they are crying from hunger. And it’s especially difficult when Mama suddenly doesn’t come home.
As soon as this book arrived, it stood out because of the unusual format. I bought the hardcover, but it’s smaller than any other MG fantasy on my shelf, sized more like a softcover novel. The blurbs were also impressive for a first edition of a new author’s book from an imprint with less than 50 releases.
Tu books is a MG/YA focused imprint of Lee and Low which publishes mainly genre fiction. Their historical fiction has a good reputation, but they’ve only published one other middle grade fantasy novel so far. However, they have a schedule of intriguing books coming up over the next few years, starting with this story of fairies and hardship.
First, just a note to apologize. I’m aware that the author’s last name includes an accent, but with the new version of WordPress, I have not been able to type special characters. No disrespect intended, simply a technical failure here.
…and a (partial) list of his many works by genre and series.
These posts always tend to stem from a review that gets far too long and I just want to talk about something. In this case it’s my experience as a reader, educator, librarian, and finally just a reader again encountering Laurence Yep. In case you are new here (and how did you land on this post first, go read my reviews or booklists first, they’re better), I’ll mention that I do enjoy and often recommend his books, although they have sometimes caused me some hassle.
I have a long, often fraught relationship with the works of Mr. Yep. He has written a lot of books, and is probably best known for either his Golden Mountain historical fiction series or his fantasy novels. He worked with major publishers so his books could be found at the library. The major pre-internet problem we had, though, was that many of his historical fiction works have dragon in the title. And some of his magical books give no indication that they are magical. And he also has historical fantasy. And sometimes the books would randomly get retitled.
A plethora of problematic details ultimately ruin this widely hyped pro-dyslexic novel. See review for quotations.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
Puffin, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015.
MG realistic fiction, 276 pages + sketchbook of impossible things and excerpt.
Lexile: 550L .
AR Level: 3.7 (worth 7.0 points) .
NOTE: This review is a lot longer than my usual. If you’d just like a general opinion, scroll down to the final paragraphs.
Ally’s been to half a dozen different schools. With a military dad and working mom, it’s easy to hide things from teachers, like not being able to read. If trouble arises, she just goes with the laughs and builds on her trouble-making reputation. But the new teacher is bringing light to her gifts and might illuminate her struggles also, if she lets him.
I wanted to love this book. It’s been on my wishlist for ages and I hoped this would be a good book to share with the kids. Instead, I feel ambivalent. None of the individual issues alone were major enough to ruin it; some parts I liked, but many aspects were problematic.
“A culture defines its virtues and vices within its folktales.” page 69
The Rainbow People by Laurence Yep, illustrated by David Wiesner. HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 1989. (See review.) Short story/folklore collection, 194 pages. Lexile: 680L . AR Level: 4.8 (worth 6.0 points) .
Twenty stories drawn from the most common area of Chinese-American immigration, streamlined and retold for younger audiences.
So I’m pretty sure my copy is a knock-off. The cover is the 1992 version, although on close examination it’s subtly off, but the interior copyright page is taken from one of the early 1989 printings. The margins aren’t set correctly and vary too much, and while harder to quantify, the paper and bindings don’t feel right compared to other books from this time period from this publisher that I’ve handled.
I purchased this book online, ostensibly new. After investigation, I don’t believe that the seller of this was aware then that it might be a printing violating copyright, so I won’t mention them specifically. Normally I would get a copy from the library to check if this version is accurate, but in Covid times, that is easier said than done. Perhaps some kind person who has access to a proper version of this book will comment if my citations are correct. I decided to still write this review because I’ve been wanting to talk about Laurence Yep and this book is particularly interesting.
Turning now to this specific volume, it’s a unique work. While I’ve seen many volumes of, or including, Chinese folklore, this book by Yep is the first I’ve seen that suggests a uniquely Chinese-American variety of tall tales. He points out that since the majority of early Chinese immigrants to America came from a specific province, the stories of that region have greater significance than more general Chinese or Asian proverbs.
“… 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?
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.