“Up until now, we hadn’t told anyone about the Sight – at least not anyone who hadn’t already known about it.” page 59
Double Cross (Twintuition #4) by Tia and Tamera Mowry. Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2018. MG fantasy, 202 pages. Lexile: 600L . AR Level: 4.2 (worth 5.0 points) . NOTE: Review will contain spoilers for previous books in the series.
The final installment of a quartet about tween twins with visions of the future.
I’m glad I persisted with this series as this last book was definitely the best of the four. Honestly, if the social hijinks of sixth graders don’t highly interest, an older reader could probably skip ahead and read just this book without missing too much. All the major plot points important to this finale are summarized within the text somewhere anyway.
“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.
“I could still feel my sister glaring at me. But I forced a smile as Ms. Xavier patted my shoulder, thankfully without bringing on a vision this time. I mean, what was I supposed to do?” page 75
Double Dare (Twintuition #3) by Tia and Tamera Mowry. Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2017. MG fantasy, 204 pages + excerpt. Lexile: 610L . AR Level: 4.4 (worth 5.0 points) . NOTE: This review may contain spoilers for previous books in the series.
Twins Cassie and Caitlyn Waters can see into the future, but they never anticipated a surprise grandmother showing up or a classmate taking on a life-or-death prank. Can they balance foretelling training, using their visions to prevent disasters, and their schoolwork without becoming social pariahs?
Finally some action. Although some MG fantasy novels appeal to a wide range and can be enjoyed by older readers or read aloud to younger children, this is definitely meant to be read alone by the target audience.
After being teased about the family legacy for two whole books, there are finally some answers (and more questions, there’s still another book). The future visions this time were showing a legitimately dangerous possibility and had real consequences while also feeling like something that could happen in middle school.
This book ends on what I’d normally consider a pretty heavy cliffhanger… if the result hadn’t been so heavily foreshadowed that it’s inevitable.
“For me the worst part, especially about young kids being racially profiled in school, is that they can’t be expected to understand that what’s happening to them is not their fault.” page 49
My Seven Black Fathers: A Young Activist’s Memoir of Race, Family, and the Mentors Who Made Him Whole by Will Jawando. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 2022. Memoir/autobiography, 232 pages. Not yet leveled.
The story of one man’s early life through the lens of seven essential mentors.
Jawando begins by comparing his own life to a childhood friend, Kalfani, who didn’t have the same kind of mentoring available to him. Indeed, this is Jawando’s central theme throughout – the importance of community.
I’m not sure what my expectations were – perhaps something like Misty Copeland’s personal reflections on a variety of related figures. My Seven Black Fathers reads more like a hybrid biography/memoir. Jawando tells the story of his life in roughly chronological format, only occasionally needing to use the subject emphasis and timeline jumps characteristic of memoir.
“It was meant to help other children experience the joy of magic. To guide them. The book finds those with true hearts. Hearts that love. Souls that are kind. Minds that believe.” page 156
The Way to Rio Luna by Zoraida Cordova. Scholastic, New York, 2020 MG fantasy, 238 pages. Lexile: 710L . AR Level: 5.0 (worth 10.0 points) .
Danny Monteverde has been in foster care for as long as he can remember, but it’s been much worse since his older sister Pili ran away. For years he took comfort in the book she left him, but since losing that he’s felt like giving up on fantasy.
I first came across this book through a review on Charlotte’s Library, and was intrigued as there aren’t many fantasy novels about children in foster care (enough to make a short list, but certainly nowhere near the level or quality of representation one could wish for). Thankfully, in most respects this book solidly delivers!
“School buses disgorged students at the front entrance. Rosa and Jasper kept to the very back of the crowd, and the crowd moved to keep well clear of them. No one wanted to be knocked over by the inhospitable door.” page 173
A Festival of Ghosts (Ingot #2) by William Alexander, illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2018, my paperback edition 2019. MG fantasy, 264 pages plus excerpt. Lexile: 610L . AR Level: 4.5 (worth 6.0 points) . NOTE: This book is a direct sequel to A Properly Unhaunted Place and this review will contain major spoilers for that novel. FURTHER NOTE: Pictures on this review are part of the pink posts.
The continuing adventures of Rosa Diaz, from a family of librarians who specialize in ghost appeasement, and Jasper Chevalier, native to the unhaunted town of Ingot and the son of two Renaissance Faire leaders.
We enjoyed the previous book, so I was happy to continue this story, although it wasn’t immediately obvious where this one would go. After all, I felt the previous book worked well as a stand alone novel. However there was one thread left unteased, and of course that was pulled in to this new story, along with a number of new problems.
“I didn’t answer. I couldn’t. Because as soon as her hand touched me, I was plunged into another vision.
Real Lavender faced away. Overlaid on top of her was a brighter version of Lavender, this one dressed in a a white polka-dotted two-piece swimsuit.” page 111
Double Trouble (Twintuition #2) by Tia and Tamera Mowry. Harper, HarperCollins, New York, 2017. MG fantasy, 202 pages +excerpt. Lexile: 590L . AR Level: 4.2 (worth 4.0 points) . NOTE: Review contains mild spoilers for the previous book in the series.
As identical twins Caitlyn and Cassie get closer to their twelfth birthday, their unexpected visions of the future are only getting stronger. Can it have something to do with the father who died when they were young? In Double Trouble, the girls have reconnected, made peace with their new hometown and between their two very different friend groups, and are now planning their birthday party. They receive a strange package that seems to have something to do with their powers…
True confession: after finishing my review of the first book, I originally accidentally picked up the third book instead of this second installment. It was slightly confusing but I was excited that the plot moved forward so vigorously… until noticing the 3 on the spine. My main complaint here is the same as the previous book – the pace is incredibly slow and the plot oversimplified. I’ve been struggling to get a handle on what the intended age range for these is – the stories seem a bit simple even for lower MG, but I don’t see elementary students wanting to read about football games, crushes, and tween interpersonal drama. Maybe hi-lo readers?
The two voices didn’t bother me as much in this book. It’s still not my favorite, but at least I can tell the twins apart now. Caitlyn also stopped being quite so saccharine and showed her opinions. While most kids this age would probably have more interest in the friendship drama, I’m more interested in the fantasy aspect, which only mildly develops in this particular installment.
“One melancholy voice rose in the air and he smiled. It was his mum, singing a sad sea ballad, one that she had sung to him when he was a child, and he knew the tune well” page 25
Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith. Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York 2020. MG fantasy, 274 pages. Lexile: 650L . AR Level: 4.7 (worth 7.0 points) .
Rory’s mother has two jobs, is taking as much extra work as she can, and living cheaply, but they still have simply run out of money. With the landlord taking their last cash and still threatening eviction, it’s clear that the only choice left is for Rory to work – but town rules won’t allow him in a seafaring job for another two years. So when a position at Lord Foxglove’s creepy mansion is advertised, he doesn’t see any option but landing the position, even if it turns out to be not quite what he thinks.
I’ve reviewed just one of Smith’s books before, Hoodoo. That one takes place in the American South in the 1930s, so I was mildly surprised, and impressed, to find that this book takes place in an atmospheric near-Britain seaside town in a vaguely Victorian (but more progressive) time. Most of the women in this novel work in some form or another. Some wear skirts while others choose pants, and women are aboard ships at the harbor. In fact, while Rory is certainly capable himself, his friend rescues him from physical danger multiple times, in a pleasant turn on the normal damsel in distress storyline.
Smith has certainly worked out the bumps in his writing now – this is his fifth novel, and clearly I need to go back and read the other three. His format here is many relatively short chapters, exactly the style my sons most enjoy. While some segments understandably have more action than others, none felt slow or irrelevant.
“Harper didn’t realize she’d walked into the room to take a closer look until she heard the door slam shut behind her. She whirled around, her heart beating loudly in her ears.” page 73
Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh. Harper, HaperCollins, New York, 2017 (my edition 2018). MG horror, 280 + excerpt. Lexile: 680L . AR Level: 4.7 (worth 7.0 points) .
Harper Raine is getting some seriously bad vibes from the creepy old house her family just moved into. She’s already upset about moving from NYC to DC, but now their house gets cold or hot in weird spots, has a haunted reputation, and her little brother is acting seriously weird…
Much better than The Dragon Egg Princess – some parts still didn’t work for me, but overall I enjoyed this much more.
I’ve written before about how important it is to see realistic microaggressions in children’s literature, and here Oh does that well. A mere 20 pages in, an old white lady does the “no, where are you really from?” routine and brings in some Asian stereotyping too. Her mom intervenes in a politely passive-aggressive way that gets the point across.
An unusual thing Oh does though, is that later a neighborhood kid asks “where are you from?” in an innocent, where’d you move from, way – and Harper still braces herself until the meaning is fully clear. While I don’t love that this happens, I very much appreciated seeing it in a children’s novel. Oh makes it clear how that woman’s racism was not only harmful in their encounter, but also impacts Harper’s self esteem and her future meetings with others.
“Ann also had a certain Javanese sense of propriety, which Holloway went so far as to describe as prudery. It surprised him, because most of the Americans he knew were the opposite.” page 210
A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother by Janny Scott. Riverhead Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2011, my edition 2012. Biography, 386 pages. Not leveled.
A biography of Barack Obama’s mother.
Barack Obama led a unique and fascinating life long before he ever went into politics. A great deal has been made of his father, including his now famous first book, Dreams from My Father, but much less has been said about his mother, a white woman from Kansas. After Barack’s father returned to Kenya, she married a man named Lolo and moved to Indonesia, where Maya was born. Eventually they split up too, and Barack then lived with his grandparents.
There might be other details depending on which book you’re reading, but little insight into who she was or why she made the choices she did, although those choices were so formative for a man so many have opinions about. Janny Scott was different – she saw Stanley Ann Dunham* from the beginning and wanted to know what her life was like.
The result is this fascinating biography which will probably be little read and even less appreciated. Yet the story of Dunham’s life holds merit alone, even though it probably never would have been written without her famous son’s accomplishments drawing intense public scrutiny to their family. She was surprisingly countercultural yet drew from certain deeply conservative attitudes.