Elem. – Home is in Between

Perkins, Mitali, and Lavanya Naidu. Home is in Between. Farrar, Straus, Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-374-30367-9. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Shanti is a sweet girl who says goodbye to her village in Bengal and moves with her parents to America. She keeps a curious and positive attitude through the cultural shifts of home and school and town and activities while trying to help her parents and keep their cultural identities intact. But all of this code switching takes a toll on Shanti, as she finds herself occasionally worn down and exhausted trying to keep up. The resolution of a social gathering to share the space between cultures is perhaps a simplified ending to what is surely an ongoing process for adapting and adopting to a new home, but readers will feel and empathize with Shanti’s dilemma. Mitali Perkins keeps the story relatable and mixed with personal experience and plenty of Hindi words and Indian customs. Lavanya Naidu shines as the illustrator who creates the family dynamics and emotional changes through the story with colorful expressions and emotional details. While the journey to a new home is not easy, this tale will help readers see that the ‘in between’ brings needed value to feeling at home.

THOUGHTS: The idea of code switching for young children from other countries and cultures has rarely been illustrated as well as this book. Perfect for classrooms who are welcoming ELL students or libraries looking for demonstrations of social emotional skills. Highly recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Elem. – Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey

Kelly, Erin Entrada. Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey. Greenwillow Books, 2021. 978-0-062-97042-8. $16.99. 160 p. Grades 3-6.

Newbery Award winning author, Erin Entrada Kelly, delivers the first in a new series with character Marisol Rainey. Marisol is a Filipino American living in Louisiana with her family. She and her best friend Jade are enjoying the start to the summer vacation by playing lots of games, using their imagination to create their own fun, and climbing the tree in Marisol’s backyard. Except, Marisol is petrified to climb the tree. Not being brave enough to climb the tree in her backyard is just one of Marisol’s many fears. There are plentiful illustrations throughout the book, drawn by Kelly herself.

THOUGHTS: This engaging book has everything a popular series needs to be a hit with readers. Marisol’s anxieties make her very relatable and the humor laced through Kelly’s writing will entertain even the most reluctant readers.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, PSLA Member

Elem. – Watercress

Wang, Andrea. Watercress. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-446247 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Watercress is a quiet yet profoundly moving picture book by the award-winning duo, Andrea Wang and Jason Chin. A young girl, traveling with her immigrant parents in rural America, is confused when her parents stop abruptly to collect wild watercress growing on the side of the road. Then a pair of rusty scissors and a brown paper bag are found in the depth of their old Pontiac trunk. The young Chinese girl and her brother have no choice but to roll up their jeans and follow their parents into the mud to gather the watercress. Later that evening, the dinner table holds a dish of watercress soaked in garlicky oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds, peppered with unanswered questions and confusion. At first, the little girl is angry and even embarrassed. Why didn’t her family get food from the store? But when her mother shares a story about her family and heritage in China, the girl learns to appreciate the incredible journey her family endured many years before. The beautiful watercolors and poetic text are about the power of memories, even the ones that are so difficult to share.

THOUGHTS: It is common for children to be unaware of their parent’s stories and culture. But it is also imperative to understand how we have arrived at this very moment. Watercress is a beautiful nod towards healthy communication between generations and an exploration into forgiveness and empathy. It is explained in the author’s note that this semi-autobiographical story is both a love letter and an apology letter to her parents- with an emphasis on how essential it is to share our stories.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Ho, Joanna. Eyes that Kiss in the Corners. Harper Collins for Children, 2021. 978-0-062-91562-7 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

This is a heartfelt and breathtaking portrait of a young Asian girl drawing strength from the women in her family. In the story, a girl notices that her eyes seem different from her friends’. Most of the friends have “big round eyes and long lashes”; where she has eyes that “kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” With pride and confidence, the girl shares with the reader that her eyes resemble her mother’s, her amah’s, and her little sister’s! With each turn of the page, the girl (and the reader) learn less about physical appearances and more about the legacy of family, relationships, history, and heritage. Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is a vibrant celebration of self-discovery and love! The brilliant illustrations and poetic words will resonate with readers of any age.

THOUGHTS: Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is a must-have picture book for home, classrooms, and school libraries! I appreciate that there is no bullying, teasing, or conflict with the characters in the story. Instead this title is written as a lyrical celebration with a tender message: to love oneself.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

YA – Super Fake Love Song

Yoon, David. Super Fake Love Song. G.P. Putnam & Sons, 2020. 978-1-984-81223-0. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Asian-American Sunny Dae is a nerd, into Dungeons and Dragons with his best buddies, Jamal and Milo and anticipating multiple followers when they broadcast an interview with the much admired Lady Lashblade. Then he meets Cirrus Soh, the daughter of a Japanese couple who do business with his own workaholic parents. To impress Cirrus, he takes on the persona of his rocker-brother, Gray. His older brother has returned from his Hollywood pursuit for fame with his tail between his legs. Depressed and disillusioned, Gray succumbs himself to his basement room only to be drawn out to mentor the fledgling band Sunny and his pals have formed as they rehearse for the annual high school talent show. As Sunny’s feelings for Cirrus deepen, he becomes more conflicted about his duplicity: he is pretending to be a rocker and gaining Cirrus’s admiration and the longer he pretends, the more he likes the confidence and attention he is getting from others, including Gunner, his former bully.  When the day for the show comes, the Immortals pull it off, until a drunk Gray interferes. Author David Yoon has a knack for clever dialogue. His narrator, Sunny, weaves DnD references with contemporary situations that are fun for teens. Sunny is wealthy and lives in a posh area of Rancho Ruby in California. Though he is intelligent and good-looking, he still deals with insecurities and feelings of being a loser. However, the charmed life he leads refutes that claim. For those looking for a light romance enhanced by good writing, Super Fake Love Song may be just the thing.

THOUGHTS: Dungeons and Dragons fans will appreciate Sunny’s obsession. Romance fans will like the different male perspective. Though the genre is realistic fiction, the circumstances and events that occur in this book are fantasy to many of the teens who may pick up this book. In one section Sunny gives his take on the extravagant party Cirrus throws when her parents leave her home alone: “Such phenomena occurred solely on insipid television shows written by middle-aged hacks eager to cash in on the young adult demographic” (224). This comment may be a prediction for Super Fake Love Song.

Realistic Fiction/Romance          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – Anna K

Lee, Jenny. Anna K. Flatiron Books, 2020. 978-1-250-23643-2. $18.99. 374 p. Grades 9-12.

Anna K. has the perfect life. Although she comes from a wealthy, Manhattan family, she prefers to spend the majority of her time in Greenwich with her NewFoundland show dogs and horses, and has been in a picture perfect relationship with her boyfriend, Alexander, for years. Anna tends to stay away from drama, but her family and friends cannot. Anna’s brother Steven and his girlfriend Lolly are trying to repair their relationship after Steven was unfaithful, Lolly’s sister Kimmie is trying to find her place after an injury prevents her from competitive ice skating, and Steven’s friend’s Dustin wants to find love before heading off to college. On her way to help Steven and Lolly with their relationship troubles, Anna meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky in the Manhattan train station, and a spark ignites between the two. Vronsky, who has quite the reputation when it comes to women, has never been in love, but he can’t stop thinking about Anna. Although Anna knows it’s wrong, she cannot stay away from Vronsky. The two begin a secret relationship, and Anna’s perfect life slowly starts to unravel around her.

THOUGHTS: I loved this modern adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina! Like the classic, this novel explores the lives and social pressures of a large cast of characters, introduced at the beginning of the book, each dealing with their own personal and family issues. Lee changes the setting, and rather than a focus on the Russian nobility of the late 1800s, Anna K. is set in modern day New York City and follows the social lives of the city’s wealthiest young elites. Fans of the classic will notice the similarities between characters and recognize key plot points, especially the ones that take place in train stations or on the train from Manhattan to Greenwich. However, readers unfamiliar with the classic will still enjoy this story of drama, passion, scandal, betrayal, heartache, and love and may find themselves checking out the original after finishing this modern adaptation.

Realistic Fiction          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – Keep It Together, Keiko Carter

Florence, Debbi Michiko. Keep It Together, Keiko Carter. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-60752-9. 293 p. $15.67. Grades 3-6.

Keiko Carter likes her friendships like she likes her chocolate—high quality, sweet, and smooth.  Unfortunately, as Keiko and her two best friends start seventh grade, their friendship is anything but. Audrey joins the Fall Ball committee and declares that they need to find boyfriends, so they can all go to the dance together. The problem is, the boy Audrey has set her sights on is the boy Jenna has been texting all summer. Plus, Jenna is not sure she wants to continue letting Audrey always get her way, and now they aren’t talking to each other. Keiko finds herself caught in the middle between her feuding friends, and she has no idea how to keep the peace. Tensions at home add to her problems, not to mention her feelings for a boy that Audrey will never approve of and a new boy who gets between Keiko and Audrey. Should Keiko compromise her needs to bring her friends back together, or will Keiko find that standing up for herself is the sweetest treat of all?

THOUGHTS: Middle school girls will recognize Keiko’s friendship struggles, but there are lessons about relationships and knowing yourself that are appropriate for boys as well. This is a good story about finding your voice.

Realistic Fiction        Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

MG – Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

Kim, Jessica. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Kokila, 2020. 978-0-525-55497-4. 306 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

A sleek pixie cut is just the change Yumi Chung needs to start seventh grade. What she gets, instead, is the perm her mother wants. Such is the life of Yumi Chung–overruled by the adults in her life at every turn. So when she hears her family can no longer afford to send her to her private school, Yumi is elated. But her thoughts of freedom are short lived as her mother informs her that she will have to ace the Secondary School Admission Test in two weeks in order to get a scholarship. Instead of the summer Yumi had planned–watching Youtube videos of her favorite comedian, Jasmine Jasper, and writing jokes in her Super-Secret Comedy Notebook–she will now have to attend tutoring sessions in order to pass the test. One afternoon as she is leaving tutoring, she stumbles upon a new comedy club in her neighborhood, and it is offering a comedy camp for teens taught by none other than Jasmine Jasper. A case of mistaken identity finds Yumi attending the camp and having the time of her life. But when she is found out, how will Yumi explain to her parents, her fellow comedy campers, and Jasmine Jasper? Will shy Yumi Chung finally find her voice and stand up for herself?

THOUGHTS: Middle grade students will sympathize with Yumi. She is picked on at school, she has an older sister who is an actual genius who she is always being compared to, and her parents refuse to listen to what Yumi wants. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! is an Own Voices novel about family and friends that stands out in the crowd.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Yumi Chung’s goal in life is to become a stand-up comedian. That vision does not fit with her traditional Korean-American family who value hard work (see their struggles to maintain their Korean barbeque restaurant in a gentrified neighborhood) and education (see their older, more perfect daughter who excelled at school and now is on track to becoming a doctor). Yumi sees her family’s financial difficulties as a way out of attending the posh private school where she has no friends and finally being able to reinvent herself. No such luck! Mrs. Chung persuades the principal of Winston Preparatory Academy to give Yumi a chance at winning a scholarship. She only has to cram for it at a Korean prep class with Mrs. Pak. Turns out the hogwon is right near a comedy class for young people hosted by Yumi’s Youtube  idol, Jasmine Jasper. Yumi inserts herself into the class through a case of mistaken identity. Author Jessica Kim blends just the right amount of pathos and humor to make Stand Up, Yumi Chung! a entertaining read. Drawn by her desire to make people laugh and perform, Yumi gets sucked into a web of lies that are difficult to unravel. While she is busy making a mess and cleaning up after herself, she forms a stronger bond with the sister she used to envy and a clearer understanding and appreciation of her parents’ sacrifices and efforts. She also is able to make her dreams come true by boosting the business at her parents’ failing restaurant with a series of schemes to promote it, including a comedy night. Lots of lessons threaded throughout this story make it endearing to a wide audience: self-identity, problem solving, appreciation of family, and the importance of trying after failing.

THOUGHTS: The hunt for a solid story that infuses humor­­­­­­­ is hard to find (Front Desk by Kelly Yang and It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel! by Firoozeh Dumas comes to mind). Stand Up, Yumi Chung! can be in that category. A reader doesn’t need to be Korean-American to appreciate the pressure to fulfill a parent’s dreams, but the Asian references will resonate with Asian-American students and educate non Asian-American ones. The rabbit hole Yumi falls down is relatable to any middle school student floundering with being impulsive and making decisions.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – When You Trap a Tiger

Keller, Tae. When You Trap a Tiger. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-524-71570-0. 287 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Lily, known as Lily Bean to her mom, and Eggi in her Halmoni’s stories, and her family suddenly pack up and move to Washington one rain soaked evening. They are moving in with her Halmoni, a storyteller, and the story she shares with Lily from many years ago is about how she stole the stars from the sky and bottled up the bad stories which angered a tiger. Lily is intrigued by her story, and when a tiger suddenly appears in the middle of the road one rainy night, Lily is convinced everything is real. But time is of the essence, as Halmoni is showing signs of illness – could it be a consequence of her stealing the stars? With the help of Ricky, a boy Lily meets at the library across the street, the two devise a “hypothetical” tiger trap. Little did Lily know that the Tiger would make her an offer that can help her Halmoni, but with consequences. Lily wants answers and to find a way to help her Halmoni before it’s too late. But can a QAG, short for quiet Asian girl, really find the truth? Can she rescue her family before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will not be disappointed with the characters in this book – they are full of heart, determination, love, and curiosity, even if one of them is a tiger. This title is perfect to add to your collection of diverse books, as it shows the struggle of an Asian family and how their history and heritage affect their lives today. I truly enjoyed reading this story and believe it is the perfect story to capture how storytelling and reading books can truly be art.

Fantasy          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Change is happening in Lily’s life. With little notice, her mother has uprooted her daughters from their California home to their halmoni’s (grandmother’s) home in Sunbeam, Washington. Lily does her best to be the invisible, accommodating, “QAG” (quiet Asian girl) while her older sister, Sam, finds every reason to voice her displeasure to their mother and often rebukes Lily. Lily both chafes under and finds comfort in her invisibility. Lily’s many worries worsen when she (and only she) sees a tiger in the road as they approach their halmoni’s home. Her grandmother has shared countless Korean folktales with Lily and Sam, often with a dangerous tiger involved. When Lily discovers that her grandmother is ill and facing death, she’s determined to convince the tiger to use its magic to cure her grandmother, despite admonitions from her mother and sister that dissuade her from believing the “silly” stories have any power in their lives. The library across the street provides hope and friendship for Lily, who teams up with Ricky to build a tiger trap in her grandmother’s basement. Can she convince the tiger to help, and can she convince her family that the stories are real and useful?  Will the stories save her grandmother and her family?

THOUGHTS: This is a tale of a young girl growing up and deciding who she will be, while she comes to terms with death. The targeted age level seems to increase through the story as Lily matures, and this may not quite work for readers. The grief, anger at moving, and the sister difficulties between Lily and Sam smooth a bit too perfectly by the story’s end. I found myself wishing for more scenes with the interesting, enigmatic tiger.

Magical Realism          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Korean Folktales

Upper Elem/MS Fiction – Beyond the Bright Sea; Crooked Sixpence; Amina’s Voice; Thick as Thieves

Wolk, Lauren. Beyond the Bright Sea.Dutton: 2017. 978-1-101-99485-6. 304pp. $16.99. Gr 4-7.

Twelve-year-old Crow is an islander through and through. She knows how to harvest mussels and lobsters, how to navigate a skiff through choppy water, and how to coax garden vegetables from rocky, sandy soil. But Crow is also full of questions, and none of them have simple answers. Why was she abandoned as a newborn and sent to sea alone in a small boat? Where did she come from, and why did she wash up on the shores of Massachusetts’ Cuttyhunk Island? Who were her parents, and where are they today? When curiosity gets the best of her and Crow investigates a fire burning on a nearby deserted island, she sets into motion a chain of events that takes her on an incredible, and at times dangerous, journey as she begins uncovering answers to her heart’s deepest questions. At her side are her adoptive father, Osh, and their kind-hearted neighbor, Miss Maggie, both of whom offer wisdom and advice as Crow pieces together her personal history.   THOUGHTS:  This title will satisfy fans of Wolk’s Newbery Honor-winning Wolf Hollow. It is also beautifully written, and it’s elegantly crafted sentences, perfectly sprinkled foreshadowing, and well-placed clues make it a good choice for a read-aloud.

Historical Fiction    Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

 

Twelve-year-old Crow is happy living on an isolated island off the coast of Massachusetts with her wise and loving foster father, Osh, who has taught her everything she needs to know: how to fish, how to set a lobster trap, how to garden, how to cook, how to row.  But, she still yearns to learn the story of her own life. Crow knows she washed up on the island on a skiff as a newborn babe, but no one knows for sure where she came from.  Like Osh, and unlike their close friend and neighbor, Miss Maggie, she isn’t white. People think she might have come from the deserted nearby island of Penikese which used to harbor a leper colony. As a result, most of the other islanders, fearing Crow may be contagious, won’t get close to her. Crow struggles to reconcile their hurtful behavior with the many good qualities she sees in them. Despite Osh’s misgivings, Crow is determined to visit Penikese and learn the truth about her past. Crow’s search for her heritage leads her little family straight into danger, and she, Osh, and Maggie all must wrestle with the problem of whether some questions are better left unanswered.  Hidden treasure, coded messages, and a terrifying villain all play a role in the story, and the stakes grow higher and higher as the pages are turned. THOUGHTS: Wolk’s writing is unbelievably gorgeous; the book is worth reading simply for the pleasure of enjoying her finely crafted sentences. The story starts out slowly, but soon the pace picks up. By the middle it becomes a page-turner, and the ending is truly heart-pounding. A must-buy for middle school libraries, and a more-than-worthy follow-up to Wolk’s Newbery-honor book Wolf Hollow.  

Historical Fiction     Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Bell, Jennifer. The Crooked Sixpence. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-553-49844-8. 309pp. $14.59. Gr 4-7.

After their grandmother takes a tumble and ends up in the emergency room, eleven-year-old Ivy and her fourteen-year-old brother Seb’s world is turned upside down. They are whisked into a secret underground city called Lundinor that is hidden beneath the streets of London. Lundinor is filled with enchanted “uncommon” objects that have special powers. Colanders filter the air, bike bells chime navigational directions, and carrying a candle makes a person invisible. Lundinor is filled with traders, both living and dead,  who barter with each other, trying to acquire the most useful objects. When Ivy and Seb are arrested and their parents are abducted, they learn some important family history involving their grandmother’s unexplained disappearance from Lundinor more than forty years earlier. They also learn about the most valuable uncommon object of them all, something called The Great Uncommon Good. Ivy and Seb are in a race against the clock, trying to locate this mysterious, powerful object before time runs out and their parents are lost forever. Readers will immediately be drawn into this adventure-filled fantasy, and they will root for Ivy and Seb as they try to clear their family name and hunt for one of the most powerful uncommon objects of them all. This is the first in a planned trilogy, and readers will be excited to hear how this fast-paced adventure continues in the story’s next installment.   THOUGHTS: This title will be popular with both girls and boys who enjoy fast-paced action fantasy that is a little on the scary side.

Fantasy      Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Khan, Hena. Amina’s Voice. Salaam Reads, 2017. 978-1-48149-206-5  197pp. $16.99  Gr. 3-7.

Twelve-year-old Pakistanti-American Amina Khokar has a beautiful voice, but stage fright keeps her from sharing her gift. When her uncle insists she take part in a Quran recitation competition, Amina is petrified. Meanwhile, Amina’s best friend, Korean-American Soojin, tells Amina she is thinking of “Americanizing” her name to “Susan,” which leads Amina feeling threatened and unsure of her own cultural identity. Soojin’s new friendship with a girl Amina dislikes doesn’t help matters between them, especially when Amina makes a serious, though unintentional, mistake that further threatens their bond. However, when the local Islamic center is vandalized, Amina finds support where she least expects it, and discovers wells of courage within her she hadn’t known existed.  THOUGHTS:  Amina is a charming, empathetic heroine dealing with growing pains that will be familiar to many middle schoolers–all told through the lens of a Pakistani-American/Islamic experience.  A delightful, not-to-be-missed read from a much-needed viewpoint.

Realistic Fiction           Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Turner, Megan Whalen. Thick as Thieves. Greenwillow Books, 2017. 978-0-06-256824-3. $17.99. 337 p. Gr. 6 and up.

Turner returns to Attolia and the world of the thief Eugenides with this stand-alone novel. Kamet is an ambitious slave in the court of Mede. He has position and power and enjoys both. The beatings by his master are an unfortunate price to be paid, and when a shadowy stranger offers him the opportunity to escape, Kamet indignantly turns him down. However when Kamet learns his master is dead, poisoned, he knows suspicion will fall on him and he flees. He accepts passage with the stranger , the Attolian, planning on parting company at the first opportunity. However, Kamet has never experienced life outside the palace and is poorly equipped to survive on the run.  He realizes he must depend on the Attolian to stay alive.  At the end of their journey, Kamet not only learns why the King of Attolia, Eugenides, desires his presence, but also discovers that the Attolian has become a friend.   THOUGHTS:  The joy of this book is the journey, both for Kamet and the reader. Turner’s world-building is exquisite (and the thoughtful map on the endpapers is delightfully useful) and writing lovely. The reader knows no more than Kamet as to why the King of Attolia wishes to steal Kamet away from Mede, and what awaits him when he arrives in Attolia.

Fantasy    Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD