MG – Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend

Zhao, Katie. Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend. 978-0-593-42657-9. Random House, 2022. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Winnie Zeng has enough pressure: starting middle school, as well as her Chinese parents constantly nagging her to get better grades, practice the piano more, and to always beat her nemesis, David Zuo. She really doesn’t need her pet rabbit, Jade, to start talking to her. Not to worry, says the rabbit, it’s the overspirit of her dead grandmother, Lao Lao. When Winnie uses her grandmother’s old cookbook to bake mooncakes, she unknowingly activates her own shaman powers (which summons Lao Lao), as well as unleashes a class one spirit who promptly possesses her older sister’s boyfriend. Lao Lao explains to Winnie that shaman are responsible for protecting the human world from malevolent spirits that escape into the world. Great! Now she has a supernatural grandmother nagging her as well! What’s a good Chinese daughter to do? Practice the piano for the upcoming competition (and beat David) or practice her shaman skills with her grandmother? To make things even worse, Winnie discovers David is also a shaman-in-training (but doing better than her, of course.) With spirit activity increasing as the Mid-Autumn Festival approaches, Lao Lao and David pressure Winnie to step up her training, but even an obedient Chinese-American daughter can only do so much. Will Winnie choose to save the world or ace the piano competition once and for all? Zhao uses Chinese mythology to frame the plot, but the heart of the story is Winnie’s need to find herself amid the constant drive to please her parents. Winnie is an appealing, laugh-out-loud funny narrator. Students definitely will relate to her exasperation at being expected to do so much at a very high level, and the feeling of never being quite good enough.

THOUGHTS: Readers looking for a humorous book with a likable protagonist definitely will enjoy  Winnie Zeng. While they may not understand her (temporary) choice to focus on school and turn down being a spirit-catching, world-saving shaman, most will relate to her stressed-out feeling of being over-scheduled with activities and expectations, and look forward to the next book.

Fantasy (Mythology)                Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Eyes that Speak to the Stars

Ho, Joanna. Eyes that Speak to the Stars. Illustrated by Dung Ho. Harper Collins Childrens, 2022.  978-0-063-05775-3. Unpaged. $18.99.  Grades K-3.

By the same author of Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, Eyes that Speak to the Stars follows a young boy whose friends point out that his eyes are different that theirs, and the family members:  Baba, Agong, and Di-Di who help him embrace this difference and realize that his eyes reflect those he loves. The use of a father, grandfather, and younger brother makes the book multi-generational in words and illustrations and both celebrate the roots and loves shared by the book’s family. Dung Ho’s realistic illustrations are highly accessible to the young audience.  

THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this book. Its illustrations are accessible and beautifully rendered, celebrating a contemporary boy and his family roots. The writing presents strong, positive, and loving male characters to the audience with a rhythm that encourages re-reading and opens discussion between readers.  

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

Realistic Fiction, Diversity, Self-Acceptance, APPI, Imigration, Family, Tradition.

MG – Maizy Chen’s Last Chance

Yee, Lisa. Maizy Chen’s Last Chance. Random House, 2022.  978-1-984-83025-8. 276 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Maizy and her mother decide to return to Last Chance, Minnesota for a couple of weeks while Maizy’s grandfather gets better. However, things don’t go as planned, and they end up spending more time in Last Chance. At the family restaurant Golden Palace, Maizy learns a lot about her family history and the people that frequent the Golden Palace. As the story progresses, Maizy and her family deal with support from the community as well as racism, added onto the family struggles that Maizy’s mother and grandmother are dealing with. When a family treasure is stolen, the community rallies around Maizy and her family to help them.

THOUGHTS: This is a heartwarming story that deals with many different issues so easily the reader doesn’t feel that those issues are the prominent part of the story. The relationship with Maizy’s mother and grandmother was hard to read at times as they clearly do not have a great relationship, but the overarching theme in their relationship is their love for each other and Maizy’s grandfather.  This is a great addition to any middle school collection.

Realistic Fiction          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped this Country

Yang, Kelly, and various illustrators. Yes We Will: Asian Americans Who Shaped this Country. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-46305-5. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Yes We Will, a picture book biography by acclaimed middle grade and young adult author Kelly Yang, explores the many ways that Asian Americans have found to belong and thrive in the United States. Yang opens with a little information about the Transcontinental Railroad and the Chinese Exclusion Act, establishing some essential historical context. She then transitions to spotlighting individuals and their accomplishments. Very spare text accompanies showstopping illustrations by fifteen different artists. For example, “We’ll soar to new heights” is paired with Dan Santat’s two-page illustration of NBA player Jeremy Lin flying toward the hoop. Featured individuals include I.M. Pei, Kamala Harris, Vera Wang, Sunisa Lee, Yo-Yo Ma, and many others. Each illustrator’s style is perfectly matched to their subject. An Author’s Note provides more detail on each luminary, including notable quotes, firsts, and awards.

THOUGHTS: While this inspiring book can be read in minutes, it’s worth rereading to fully appreciate the stunning and varied artwork, as well as the range of achievements. Yes We Will is also a great way to kick off biographical research on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from the past and the present.

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi

Yang, James. A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi. Viking, 2021. 978-0-593-20344-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Author/illustrator Yang introduces readers to a quiet, introverted boy named Isamu. Born to an American mother and Japanese father, Isamu was an outsider in both cultures, alone, but never alone. Instead, Isamu found comfort in nature, fascinated by the color, shape, texture, and pattern he found all around him. Stones were particularly special. A day spent in the company of the trees, the sand, the rocks, and the sea was a day well spent. This observant, thoughtful boy grows up to be a renowned sculptor, combining geometric shapes and natural elements like granite into stunning artwork. This stunning, Caldecott honor book gives readers a moment in the life of Isamu Noguchi, perhaps the day he became captivated by the elemental world around him. An author’s note gives further details into Noguchi’s life as a sculptor. The digital artwork enhances the gentle feel of the narrative, emphasizing Noguchi’s delight in being alone with nature.

THOUGHTS: The beautiful text and illustrations will send readers to learn more about this fascinating artist.

Picture Book           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD
Biography

YA – Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Lo, Malinda. Last Night at the Telegraph Club. Dutton Books, 2021. 978-0-525-55525-4. 409 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Lily Hu has always been the ideal Chinese-American girl: She does well in school, she has nice Chinese-American friends, and she never disobeys her parents. She never stands out except that she wants a career in space – not appropriate for a young lady in the 1950s. And lately, there is something else stirring inside her that Lily can’t quite put her finger on, but she knows it will not please her parents. At school, Lily starts hanging out with Kath, a fellow aviation enthusiast. After seeing an enticing ad in the newspaper, Lily desperately wants to go to the Telegraph Club, a nightclub in San Francisco that features a singer by the name of Tommy Andrews. Tommy is a female performer who impersonates a man on stage, and while Lily doesn’t quite understand what this means, she is intrigued. Kath has visited the nightclub before, so she and Lily sneak out to watch Tommy perform at the Telegraph. After a few late night visits, her relationship with Kath grows much deeper. Lily realizes what was stirring in her all along: She is a lesbian, and she loves Kath. Lily does not want to hide who she is, but she must figure out how her new, true identity coincides with the identity her parents have wanted for her since birth. 

THOUGHTS: Malinda Lo’s novel has many intricate layers to it. In the 1950s, many Chinese-Americans were forced to denounce Communism or risk deportation. At the same time, many young ladies were trying to figure out if there was more to life after high school than marriage and children. These events are happening in the background of Lily’s story along with the discovery of her LGBTQ identity, a taboo topic in the 50s. The events in this novel circle around the stigma of bucking against conventional society, and this still rings true even 70 years later. A must-have for high school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem./MG – Living with Viola

Fung, Rosena. Living with Viola. Annick Press, 2021. 978-1-773-21548-8. 267 p. $22.95. Grades 3-7.

Many people have experienced an occasional internal voice saying: You are weird, bad things happen because of you, no one likes you … for Canadian 6th grader Olivia, this anxiety manifests as a shadowy “twin” named Viola who hovers nearby, pulling Livy out of the moment with reminders that validate her deep self-doubts. Livy worries that her lunch smells strange, that she’s “too Chinese” or not Chinese enough, and that she is a disappointment to her family (her parents are immigrants). As Viola gains strength and volume, the negative dialogue seriously affects Livy’s confidence and friendships. It also undermines her enjoyment of her hobbies, including drawing, reading, and making dumplings with her mom. Fortunately, with a solid support system, Livy learns that “sometimes, the very strongest and bravest thing you can do is to ask for help.” Debut author Rosena Fung depicts Livy’s anxiety, depression, and panic attacks through dusky, bruise-purple panels and flowing rivers of negative thoughts. Happier, lighthearted moments and school scenes occur in a warm, autumnal color scheme.

THOUGHTS: This excellent middle grade graphic novel creatively delivers the most important message of all for young readers: You are not alone! Livy always may have anxiety, but she also can thrive. Fans of Guts by Raina Telgemeier will love it!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – A Taste for Love

Yen, Jennifer. A Taste for Love. Razorbill, 2021. 978-0-593-11752-1. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

Liza is a free-spirited, Taiwanese-American teen who likes to rebel against her mother’s wishes. With a “perfect” older sister off following her dreams and a meddling mother always on Liza’s case, she doesn’t have to try too hard to go against her mother’s wishes. And dating unsuitable boys has been number one on Liza’s list. Mrs. Yang, co-owner of the Yin and Yang restaurant and bakery with her chef husband, has a plan to get Liza on the right path. Using Liza’s love of and skill for baking, Mrs. Yang convinces her to serve as a guest judge in the bakery’s annual junior competition (think Great British Baking Show). It doesn’t take long for Liza to recognize that she’s been set up by her mother. Not only is each contestant male, each also is Asian American. What follows is a fun battle between mother and daughter, as Liza also fights her feelings for one contestant specifically. Mothers might know best, but Liza is her own person, and she won’t give up easily.

THOUGHTS: As a fan of The Great British Baking Show, I adored this sweet romance. Filled with delicious descriptions, readers will be rooting for Liza from the beginning. Pairs well with other YA “food titles” such as A Pho Love Story, The Way You Make Me Feel, and so many others (just google it!). Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries looking to add representation to their romance sections.

Romance          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Nina Soni: Master of the Garden

Sheth, Kashmira. Nina Soni: Master of the Garden.  Peachtree, 2021. 978-1-682-63226-0. $7.99. 179 p. Grades 2-4.

Fourth grader Nina is very excited to finally get a warm and sunny Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day in frigid Wisconsin.  This means she and her sister and friend will get to plant a garden with her Landscape Architect mom! Nina has dreams of starting her own business with all of the extra produce their garden will grow. But gardens take time to grow, and a lot of work as well.  Throughout this illustrated novel, challenging words are defined to help promote unfamiliar vocabulary words.

THOUGHTS: Kids who enjoy outdoor activities and gardening will enjoy this read.

Realistic Fiction           Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

YA – From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: the Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement

Yoo, Paula. From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement. Norton Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-00287-1. $19.95. Grades 9 and up.

Journalist Paula Yoo employs the device of Jarod Lew’s connection with the brutal murder of Chinese-American Vincent Chin in 1982 Detroit to reveal the timeline and details of the landmark event. Lew discovers his mother was the grief-stricken fiancé of Chin, and Yoo uses his discovery as a way to connect the reader with the present—another time where racism against Asian-American/Pacific Islanders (AAPI) has surfaced. Lew’s narrative appears intermittently while the remainder of the narrative non-fiction work lays out the altercation, aftermath, and legal ramifications between the groom-to-be Chin and Ronald Ebens, an autoworker supervisor and his adult stepson, Michael Nitz. The only son of Chinese immigrants, twenty-seven year old Vincent Chin was a go-getter out for a bachelor party with his pals before his June wedding to Vikki Wong when he encountered Ebens and Nitz at a strip bar. The two groups exchanged heated words and engaged in a brawl that got them ejected from the bar and continued into the night. Ebens retrieved a baseball bat from the trunk of his car, searched with his stepson for the group, and eventually ambushed Chin and beat him to death. Though Ebens and Nitz were arrested and tried for second-degree murder, they received the light sentence of only a $3,000 fine and probation, shocking Chin’s widowed mother, Lily Chin, the Asian American community of Detroit, and many others. Yoo recounts the original hearings, the court proceedings, the arguments of both the defense and the prosecution, and the observations of the young police officers first on the scene. Though Ebens and Nitz could not be tried a second time for the same crime, the mishandling of justice empowered the Asian-American/Pacific Islander community to form the American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) and take a firm stand protesting for their civil rights to be upheld. Their efforts instigated a federal grand jury to indict the pair with interfering with Chin’s civil rights. Told in straight-forward style, Yoo maintains her objective view, balancing the outrage AAPI felt about what they perceived was a hate crime with the protestations of the accused to the contrary. The context of the murder is the fallout from a once prosperous city decaying chiefly because its main, lucrative industry—cars—has been usurped by Japanese companies. The particulars of the initial dispute between Ebens and Nitz and the victim, Chin, may never be known; but Yoo records all the iterations as the years go on and memories shift. Even the perpetrators admit it was a senseless act, fueled by drunkenness and intense anger. The author makes clear the murder and what followed was instrumental in making AAPI stand up for their rights, but whether or not the attack was racially motivated can be sorted out in the readers’ minds. Includes timeline, extensive notes, index, photographs.

THOUGHTS: Written in narrative non-fiction style, From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry. . .reads like a court drama. Yoo provides background on the major players, but is true to the script. She is even-handed giving both profiles of Chin, Ebens and Nitz, and the involved legal teams from both sides. The handling of the case from the beginning smacks of white privilege, but Yoo just lays out the facts and remains unbiased. The facts, too, shift depending on who tells them and what year they are told (the murder happened in 1982 but appeals lasted until 1987). This important book contains plenty of material for discussion; but for personal reading, the heavy topic may make the book more suited for more sophisticated readers.

305.895 Ethnic and National Groups           Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

On June 19, 1982, in Detroit, Michigan, Vincent Chin, an Asian American, was beaten by Ronald Ebens, a white man, with a baseball bat. Chin died from his injuries. This is a fascinating look at the time and place surrounding this event and their impact on the reactions of the people and the community involved. This book takes readers through the event and the trials following. It also describes the impact on the Asian American community and their reaction. The despair, the outrage – and ultimately, the activism that developed as the Asian American and Pacific Islanders Communities found their voice and their purpose. Wrapped around this story is the tale of Jared Lew, his discovery of the event and his connection to Vincent Chin. This is Jared’s tale of how he found out the story of the cataclysmic event that triggered the voice of the Asian American community and how this event connected him to his family and his heritage. The book presents an in-depth look at the people affected by Mr. Chin’s murder and the fallout in the community and across the nation.

THOUGHTS: This is a fascinating look at a time period and a set of events that are not well known to most people but are pivotal for the Asian America and Pacific Islanders Community. Recommended for high school libraries who want to broaden their appeal to minority groups.

305.895 Racism.  Susan Kidron, Lebanon SD