Review: Circles of Hope

“Facile had no gift for his baby sister. No tikado at all. He ate a juicy sweet mango, licked his sticky fingers, and thought.” p. 7

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Circles of Hope by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Linda Saport.
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005.
Realistic fiction, 32 pages.
Lexile:  AD590L ( What does AD mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  3.9 (worth 0.5 points)  .

Facile’s is excited about his new baby sister, Lucia, but he doesn’t have a gift for her.  When he was born, Papa planted a mango tree for him, but now Papa is working in the city.  Can Facile plant a tree for Lucia?

Circles of Hope cover
Circles of Hope by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Linda Saport.

First I want to note that this book was published in 2005, so it’s that rare children’s book about Haiti that has nothing to do with the earthquake.

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Review: The Red Pencil

This illuminated novel in verse tells a story of internal displacement for middle grade readers.

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2014.
Middle grade novel in verse, 331 pages including extras but not excerpts.
Lexile:  HL620L  (What does HL mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 3.0 points)  .

Amira is a young village girl who dreams of going to school and learning to read the Koran.  But her mother desires a more traditional life for her.  Then the Janjaweed attack, and it seems like all dreams, and words, are gone forever.  Can a gift restore hope?

The Red Pencil cover resized

This one was a bit of a gamble.  I have yet to dislike a book by any of the Pinkneys – individually and collectively they are so talented that the name alone can sell me on a book.  Plus I have loved Shane Evans’ work, and the kids find his illustrations appealing too.

But.  This is a novel in verse.  I wasn’t actually aware that it was illuminated until after purchasing, and Shane Evans’s illustrations did take the edge off.  But as I’ve said before, novels in verse rarely work for me.  I love poetry and novels, but feel that the combination usually loses something.  For this reason, I don’t often seek those books out unless they come highly recommended or with an author/illustrator team I can’t ignore.

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Review: JoJo’s Flying Side Kick

Brian Pinkney tackles bravery and Tae Kwon Do in this picture book about a girl with two big problems.

JoJo’s Flying Side Kick by Brian Pinkney.
First published by Simon and Schuster, 1995.
My edition Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Picture book, 32 pages.
Lexile:  590L  .
AR Level:  3.2 (worth 0.5 points)  .
NOTE: This is a work of fiction, although I’m not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.

JoJo’s happy living with her mother and grandfather and practicing Tae Kwon Do with her friends.  But she has two big problems.  The first is the scary tree at the end of her driveway, and the second is her yellow belt test, where she needs to break a board with her foot.

JoJo's Flying Side Kick cover resized

Pretty much I have the whole Pinkney family on auto-buy because there hasn’t been one of their books I’ve disliked yet.  They are usually a hit with students as well.  This is not the most popular one but a very solid addition to the Pinkney canon.

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Review: Only One Year

” ‘We have to go to work, go to school. We cannot pay so much attention to our little boy.’ Her voice cracks. ‘We have to do what is best for Di Di,’ she whispers, ‘not what is best for us.’ ” p. 8

Only One Year by Andrea Cheng, illustrations by Nicole Wong.
Lee & Low Books, New York, 2010.
Elementary realistic fiction, 97 pages.
Lexile:  620L  .
AR Level:  3.3 (worth 1.0 points)  .

Di Di is leaving to spend a year in China with his grandparents and extended family, but Sharon and middle sister Mary aren’t so sure about that.  A year is a long time, and they miss him at first, but then get busy with their own lives.  When Di Di returns, it is a difficult adjustment for everyone.

Only One Year cover

I actually was familiar with this idea through friends of mine, who lived in their family’s country of origin from the time they were weaned until preschool and then flew back each year to live there over the summer.  However, for many readers it will be new.  This topic is also briefly explored from a different perspective in American Panda.  In that book, the father decided to send the children to his family in China against their mother’s wishes, and it was challenging for the family.

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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.

Seedfolks cover resized

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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Review: American Panda

“Each ball she threw into the pile further pounded into my head that my mother’s demands, her criticisms – they were because she wanted better for me. I tried not to think about the fact that she was so unhappy.” p. 96-97

American Panda by Gloria Chao.
Simon Pulse, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2018.
YA Contemporary, 310 pages.
Not yet leveled.

Mei Lu might be only 17, but she’s also a college freshman at MIT, as per her parents’ ambitious plans.  And she’s the only hope for them to fulfill their legacy, since they cut off her older brother years ago.  There’s just one problem: Mei loves to dance (no longer allowed since she doesn’t need it for college applications anymore) and is absolutely terrified of blood, guts, and germs.

American Panda resized

This was a targetpick.  I wasn’t intending to be trendy and pick it up on the release date, but apparently did so by accident.  The publisher lists it as suitable for 12+, but it really occupies a middle ground between young adult and new adult fiction.  Mei is still a teen just learning about the world, but the book is also about her gaining her independence and in many ways she’s very mature and responsible.  Some books in a middle space like this are challenging for either group to read, but I think this one will appeal to both.

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2017 Favorites – Fiction

Favorite fiction reads of 2017, from picture books to adult novels.

Yup, I’m not posting this until well into 2018.  In 2017 I reviewed 98 books (plus 10 board books) and so many of them were so good.  It took me a month just to narrow it down this far…  I just love all the books!

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