Elem. – Long Goes to Dragon School

Wu, Helen H. Long Goes to Dragon School. Illustrated by Mae Besom. Yeehoo Press, 2023. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

As the title implies, Long is a dragon-in-training that attends a school with dragons from all over the world. An interesting map on the endpapers shows each dragon’s location. Unlike the other dragons, however, the Long’s type of dragon does not breathe fire, but water. In back matter, the author explains that Chinese dragons are more like water sprites. Professor McKay leads the class in breathing fire exercises and encourages them to practice. The goal is to have a wonderful picnic with foods the little dragons have roasted. Of course, Long tries in vain to follow his teacher’s directions. The illustrations and text show Long practicing and failing, then trying again. Long listens to Professor McKay’s advice to “find your own path” and to pursue one’s “unique talents.” The story ends on a positive note as Long discovers at the promised picnic that it can boil the water to steam the food. The pastel watercolor washes enhance this simple, modern-day fable. Teachers can use this picture book to encourage resilience, show differences, and point out each one’s special talents.

THOUGHTS: This picture book can be used as a mentor text to introduce differences or highlight the importance of practicing a skill. At first, I thought struggling readers could use this book independently because it included some rhyming and onomatopoeia, but the words became more difficult as the story progressed. At its core, it is a fable only. The illustrations are pretty but fuzzy and there are tiny little dragon comments above the characters’ heads, making it hard for students to see in a read aloud setting. The comparison of different kinds of dragons around the world is interesting and noteworthy. If you are looking for a book that shows young students everyone has their own special talent if they only try hard enough to look, Long Goes to Dragon School, may be a good choice for your school collection.

Picture Book

MG -Finally Seen

Yang, Kelly. Finally Seen. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-534-48833-5. unpaged. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

When her parents emigrated to the United States with her young sister Millie, Lena Gao stayed behind in the “waiting city” of Beijing with her beloved lao lao (grandmother). In the opening pages of Finally Seen, Lena is on a flight to Los Angeles to be reunited with her family! But five years is a long time, and Lena has a lot to learn about her own family, not to mention the English language and American culture. Lena quickly realizes that nothing has been perfect for her parents in California either. Her dad works very long hours on an organic farm, back rent will be due in a few short months when COVID-19 rent relief expires, and their green cards are hung up in red tape. To make ends meet, Mom and Millie make bath bombs to sell on Etsy, and Lena happily joins in the family business. At school, Lena begins to learn English with the help of an empathetic ELL teacher and Flea Shop, a graphic novel that offers Lena a mirror of her own life. But Lena’s joy at being “finally seen” in a book also finds her caught in the midst of a culture war over what books are appropriate for students to read. 

THOUGHTS: Kelly Yang delivers another charming and relatable middle grade novel rooted in the real experiences of so many young people in the United States and beyond. Her Author’s Note describes the impact of attempts to ban her novel Front Desk, and her steadfast belief in the freedom to read books that offer windows, mirrors, and sliding doors.

Realistic Fiction

Elem. – The Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chan

Giang, Kristen Mai. The Rise (and Falls) of Jackie Chan. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-12192-4. $18.99. 40 p. Grades PK-3.

Cheng Long, or Jackie Chan as he is more commonly known, was born in China to poor, hard-working parents. Jackie’s father tried to instill the values of discipline and hard work into his young son, but Jackie struggled as a student and often found himself in trouble. When his parents were forced to find work in Australia, Jackie was enrolled in the China Drama Academy where he studied martial arts, acting, singing, and acrobatics for the next ten years. The training was often brutal and other students bullied Jackie, but with hard work and persistence he became one of the Academy’s premier performers, traveling throughout China. As Chinese Opera fell out of popularity, martial arts movies became all the rage. Jackie worked as a stuntman, eventually meeting Bruce Lee. As his career took off, Jackie developed his own style of martial arts stunts infused with a great deal of physical comedy. Illustrated by Alina Chau, with amusing onomatopoeia action words scattered throughout the story. Includes a Glossary of Chinese characters with Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciations, Bibliography, and Author’s Note, which further explores Jackie Chan’s extensive career.

THOUGHTS: This delightful picture book biography has a number of wonderful messages. Hard work and persistence are important, but so are staying true to yourself and sticking up for your friends. A wonderful selection for fans of martial arts, physical comedy, and movie legend Jackie Chan.

Picture Book Biography           Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Pangolina

Goodall, Jane. Pangolina. Minedition. 2021. 978-1-6626-5040-6. $17.99. Gr. K-4.

Pangolina grew up with a loving mother that took care of her everyday. As Pangolina grows older, her mother takes her out to explore the world, showing her all of the things she needs to know to eat and be safe. Pangolina is curious, learning about the different animals around her, even the humans that can sometimes be scary. As Pangolina grows even older, mother tells her it is time to leave so that she can find a mate and have her own baby. One night as Pangolina sleeps in her burrow, a scary man grabs her and puts her into a cloth bag. She is put into a cage where there are other scared and crying animals. Pangolina is about to be sold away, when a young child from the village saves her, as it is illegal to hunt and sell pangolins. Pangolina is sent to a sanctuary where she is safe, able to be with other pangolins, and be cared for.

THOUGHTS: A beautiful book about pangolins, an interesting animal, as it is the only mammal with scales. Pangolins are endangered and are a protected species. This book provides a heartwarming and suspenseful story about a pangolin, all the while providing information about this unique animal. The back of the book contains more information and resources to learn more about pangolins.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

One…Night in Shanghai


Mones, Nicole. Night in Shanghai. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.  978-0547516172. 288 p. $25.00. Gr. 9+

Night in Shanghai tells the story of expatriate Jazz musicians living in China prior to the start of World War II and life in Shanghai before and after the Japanese takeover of the city. The story begins with African American piano player Thomas Greene arriving in Shanghai after being recruited by Lin Ming to lead a Jazz orchestra that plays in a club owned by Lin’s father Du Yuesheng, a notorious crime boss in Shanghai. Soon, Thomas becomes enamored with the lovely and passionate Communist Song Yuhua, who was sold to Du to repay her father’s debts. As long as Song is still a possession of Du’s, however, Thomas cannot be seen with her. Surrounding their love story is the contentious atmosphere in China during the Japanese invasion and the beginning of Hitler’s conquests in Europe. Many musicians begin to flee as the Japanese take over, but they are replaced by Jews fleeing from Nazi controlled countries in Europe. This story of star-crossed lovers gives an interesting and sometimes little known (to American students) depiction of the turmoil in China during the 1930s and 1940s. The cosmopolitan and diverse city of Shanghai is highlighted throughout, and some of the most enjoyable scenes are in the Jazz nightclubs and hotels, where the music is given center stage. The novel also provides a non-Western view of the Holocaust, since the author includes real events and people in her novel, and describes in detail the actions of one Chinese diplomat who risked his life to save many Jews. Recommend this story to young musicians who enjoy historical novels, or those who want to know more about the influence of the Holocaust in non-European countries.

Historical Fiction (China WWII)        Lindsey Myers, Peters Township HS

I picked up this book for two reasons: one, because it was a historical fiction and this genre is generally my go-to for summer reading; and two, because it incorporated an area of history that I am not that familiar with, that of the lives of Jazz musicians in China during the 1930s. I absolutely love getting lost in an historical fiction book during the summer, and flying away to different eras and times. While this title was not the best book I read this summer, it is definitely an interesting story that should appeal to a variety of students. It is not marketed as a YA book but has clear appeal to this population.

The story does start off a little slow, but once WWII begins and the main characters have more contact with each other and we learn more about each of them, about their hopes and dreams, and passions, the plot moves quickly. I have to note that my favorite parts of the book involved references and stories relating to the Holocaust. It was interesting to learn how the Jewish population was assisted by some Chinese diplomats and how many Jews were actually saved. The author includes an afterword detailing historical moments and characters, and the extensive research that she completed for the novel.

Our Honors English 10 students must all read one historical fiction novel as an independent reading selection, and I am excited to share this title with them. I often have musicians asking for interesting stories that incorporate music or depict the lives of famous musicians, or students interested in learning more about the Holocaust. And, this novel is not as lengthy as many historical fiction novels, so that is a big bonus with students as well! I look forward to reading other titles by this author.

New YA Nonfiction…Historical Disasters and Art


Goldsmith, Connie. Bombs Over Bikini: The World’s First Nuclear Disaster. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2014. 978-14677-16123 88 p. $26.00 Gr. 7-Adult.

Post-World War II, in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the race was on to increase scientific knowledge of nuclear bombs and radiation, and to outmaneuver enemies with the knowledge.  Plans were made, locations investigated, and the Marshall Islands were deemed the ideal locale for detonations.  “Would you be willing to sacrifice your island for the welfare of all men?”  So asked a Commodore of the U.S. Navy of the Bikini Islanders in 1946.  The answer was yes, and the people left with hopes of returning.  But it was not to be.  Author Connie Goldsmith investigates these events and details in-depth how three bombs in particular were detonated, how the islands and people were affected, and how the government either knew very little or kept it hidden or both.  She presents A-bombs Able and Baker, detonated in 1946, and H-bomb Bravo, detonated in 1954.  The immediate devastation was powerful, and the long-term hazards of radiation were staggering.  In the 1980s the Marshallese were promised compensation but have received very little.  This is a powerful look at a tumultuous time, and students can weigh the moral and military, ethical and scientific.  Well-written, with engaging sidebars and purposeful black-and-white photos and an intriguing title, this book will pull in readers.  Source notes, Glossary, Selected Bibliography, Further Information, Index.

623.4; Disasters                      Melissa Scott, Shenango High School



McMullan, James. Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014. 978-161620-2522 113 p. Gr. 7-Adult.

James McMullan today is a distinguished artist, designer and children’s book award winner (for I Stink! with wife Kate), but his early life was wonderfully complex.  Born in 1934, McMullan lived the early years of his life in Cheefoo, China, as a privileged, hesitant (much to his father’s distaste) boy.  The grandson of missionaries who built a successful orphanage and resultant fabric business, his parents continued the work—and lifestyle—as esteemed foreigners.  That is, until World War II, when the Japanese took control of China.  His parents hoped to stay in the life they knew, but with increasing loss of freedoms and increasing fear, his parents opted for a dangerous leave.  In order to freely go, they left the vast majority of their material wealth and, importantly for James and his mother, any sense of stability.  While James and his mother returned to her Canadian family, but eventually skip-hopped the globe (Shanghai, San Francisco, Darjeeling, and so on), his father devoted himself to soldiering with the Allied Forces and for three years did not see his wife or son.  James artfully recalls standout memories of his life from 1934-1946 on double-page presentations, an exquisite watercolor opposite the description of the event and emotions.  He shows many ups and downs, from stability with his aunt and uncle, to the humiliation of “failing” at being the strong, sturdy son his father clearly wished him to be.  The striking artwork conveys both the preciseness and ethereal quality of a life lived learning to enjoy space and place, when neither was guaranteed.  A treat for budding artists or anyone interested in the worldwide effects of World War II.

741.6 Art; Autobiography                Melissa Scott, Shenango High School