YA – This Woven Kingdom

Mafi, Tahereh. This Woven Kingdom. HarperCollins, 2022. 978-0-062-97244-6. $19.99. 512 p. Grades 9-12.

In the fantastic world of Ardunia, humans and Jinn are allowed to live among each other, according to the Fire Accords set in place by the current king, as long as they don’t use their powers and lie low. Despite the accords, Alizeh keeps her Jinn identity a secret from everyone around her. Although Alizeh is a powerful Jinn with ice in her veins, she lives a lonely life as a servant, cleaning the home of a duchess and working as a seamstress on the side for extra money. When she accidentally crosses paths with Prince Kamran, both her world and his are turned upside down. Kamran can’t stop thinking about her, even when he discovers her true identity and the prophecy that predicts she’ll be the downfall of his royal family. As their lives continue to intertwine, Alizeh holds onto her secrets while Kamran discovers the ones lurking within his own palace. These two are destined to be enemies, but can they become allies – or something more?

THOUGHTS: This Woven Kingdom is based on Persian mythology; however, it still reminded me of the Cinderella fairy tale. Although Alizeh is working as a servant, she’s actually a princess in disguise. At one point in the story, she’s given an opportunity to attend a ball in honor of Prince Kamran, and Alizeh is dressed and disguised using magic. Alizeh still has a lot of secrets that have yet to be revealed, and I think readers will be waiting impatiently for book two after the cliffhanger ending!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – Tall Tales

Tall Tales. Child’s World, 2022. $19.95 each. $169.60 set of 8. 24 p. Grades K-3.

Dolbear, Emily J. Alfred Bulltop Stormalong. 978-1-503-85006-4.
—. Calamity Jane. 978-1-503-85004-0.
York, M.J. Casey Jones. 978-1-503-84999-0.
Dolbear, Emily J. John Henry. 978-1-503-85005-7.
York, M.J. Johnny Appleseed. 978-1-503-85000-2.
Dolbear, Emily J. Molly Pitcher. 978-1-503-85003-3.
York, M.J. Paul Bunyan. 978-1-503-85001-9.
—. Pecos Bill. 978-1-503-85002-6.

Traditional American tall tales such as Casey Jones and Paul Bunyan get a new look in this set aimed at early readers. The slim volumes are youngster-friendly; the large print, clean graphic design, and conversational text will draw readers into the story. The scope of the stories is necessarily pared down, but all the fun is intact. Readers learn how Pecos Bill got his name and became the best cowboy in Texas, and they are introduced to the early days of railroading in Casey Jones. Bold, full page illustrations add to the enjoyment. The “Beyond the Story” afterward clues readers into the exaggeration classic in tall tales, and offers insight into real-world connections.  

THOUGHTS: This set provides an abridged version of tall tales where the Steven Kellogg volumes may be too advanced. A good purchase if the collection is in need of such books. 

398.2 Traditional Literature        Nancy Nadig Penn Manor SD

YA – The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Oh, Axie. The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea. Hodder and Stoughton, 2022. 978-1-529-39199-2. 321 p. $16.99. Grades 9-12.

Every year in Mina’s town a maiden is sacrificed to the Sea God hoping to stop all the devastating floods and wars that the townspeople think is due to the Sea God being angry. Mina’s older brother Joon is in love with Shim Cheong, a beautiful girl from their village, and one year it is decided that she will be sacrificed to the Sea God. Joon decides to follow and interfere which Mina knows means that he will die. In a split moment decision, Mina throws herself into the water, saving her brother and hoping that she can be the Sea God’s “true bride” and stop all the devastation that is plaguing her town. But when Mina gets to the Spirit Realm, she finds that the Sea God is trapped in an enchanted sleep. Will Mina be able to wake him up and save her town? Or will she be trapped in the Spirit Realm forever?

THOUGHTS: This was a wonderful fantasy stand alone! There are several twists and turns which just add to the overall feel of the story making the reader need to keep turning the pages to see what happens. This book is a great addition to any high school collection!!

Fantasy            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Moon Pops

Baek, Heena. Moon Pops. Owlkids, 2021. 978-1-771-47429-0. Unpaged $19.95. Grades PreK-K. 

In Korean folklore, the full moon is associated with a rabbit pounding items with a mortar and pestle. Author and illustrator Heena Baek puts a unique spin on this folklore in her story Moon Pops (translated from the original Korean by Jieun Kiaer). One hot night, in a city populated by animals, the residents of an apartment building attempt to sleep and escape the heat. When a steady dripping noise is heard, Granny (a wolf) discovers that the moon is melting! She runs outside and catches the moon drops with her bucket. Back in her apartment, she ponders what to do with the moon drops, when the idea of making cool, refreshing moon pops (ice pops made with moon drops). When a power outage hits the building (due to too many folks running their air conditioning), Granny distributes her refreshing moon pops to her neighbors, who are refreshed and cooled by the icy treats. Later, a knock is heard at Granny’s door–it is a pair of rabbits, dejected by the loss of their now melted moon home. Thankfully, Granny has another idea up her sleeve that might just result in the restoration of the moon. The story is illustrated with photographs of mixed media 3D dioramas that give the setting and characters depth and make excellent use of the elements of light and shadow. Of special note are the moon pops themselves, which emanate a glowing light reminiscent of the moon. 

THOUGHTS: This title easily could be incorporated into units on folklore, Korea, or animal stories. After reading the story, students will want to enjoy an icy treat themselves–why not go out and enjoy popsicles as a class or create your own as a class project. Highly recommended. 

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – The Legend of Auntie Po

Khor, Shing Yin. The Legend of Auntie Po. Kokila, 2021. 978-0-525-55489-9. 290 p. $12.99. Grades 5-8.

The Legend of Auntie Po is a story about stories, specifically the legend of Po Pan Yin and her trusty blue water buffalo, Pei Pei, as told by 13-year old Mei. Mei lives in a Sierra Nevada logging camp with her father, Hao, who is the camp’s head cook. At night she gathers the little ones around the campfire and shares tales of Auntie Po, the matriarch of all loggers who “stood taller than the tallest white pine.” While gathering kindling in the forest, Mei bumps into Auntie Po and Pei Pei, and wonders if she can actually conjure the stories she tells. This magical revelation collides with the all-too-real anti-Chinese violence of 1885. When the camp manager is forced to fire all of his Chinese workers, Hao must move into town and leave Mei behind at camp. In the midst of this upheaval, stories about Auntie Po allow Mei to express her emotions, which include anger, frustration, fear, jealousy, and also wonder. In her Author’s Note, Shing Yin Khor writes that this graphic novel is, among other things, “about who gets to own a myth.” Some readers will recognize a reclaiming of the Paul Bunyan legend, while others will simply appreciate the stories and accompanying rustic pencil-and-watercolor illustrations.

THOUGHTS: This remarkable blend of history, legend, and art has multiple layers to explore and enjoy!

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

MG – Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

Mejia, Tehlor Kay. Paola Santiago and the River of Tears. Disney-Hyperion, 2020. 978-1-368-04917-7. 350 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Scientific Paola just eyerolls when her superstitious mother talks of spells, wards, and evil beings like La Llorona, the creature who roams the river stealing children to replace those she lost. But Paola and her friends Emma and Dante do respect the Gila River near their Arizona home. Several local children have drowned in the waters. Not that that stops them from lying to their parents and hanging out on the banks of the river. But when Paola repeatedly has dreams of a creature reaching out of the waters and grabbing her, and Emma disappears one evening, Paola begins to reconsider whether her mother’s superstitions are as ridiculous as she always assumed them to be. When the police refuse to listen to Paola, she and Dante decide to take matters into their own hands. Armed with support and advice from a most surprising source, they venture into a world of legendary monsters battled by lost children, shocked to discover their own roles in this world that shouldn’t exist. Paola Santiago, part of the Rick Riordan imprint, is a page turner from the very beginning. Pao is a delightful protagonist, supported by her two best friends. Scientific-minded, fascinated by space, she is stunned by the existence of magic, myth, and monsters. Dante and Emma are strong characters as well (in every sense of the word), and the various creatures they encounter don’t stand a chance against the combined wiles of the trio. But Pao also learns that there is more to life than what the power of physics can prove and becomes closer to her mother through the ordeal. Paola and Dante are Hispanic; Emma is white.

THOUGHTS: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is an exciting page turner that is hard to put down. Paola is a feisty heroine who is easy to love and is sure to gain legions of fans. Add this to your collection if other mythology-based books are popular.

Fantasy/Mythology          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – Elatsoe

Little Badger, Darcie. Elatsoe. Levine Querido, 2020. 978-1-646-14005-3. 368 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

In a world where paranormal activity is as normal as overpriced movie theatre popcorn, Ellie, who is able to summon the dead, is determined to solve the mystery of her cousin’s death. After Trevor appears in her dreams pleading her to keep his family safe from his murderer, Ellie and her friend Jay begin to investigate the strange town where he died and the circumstances surrounding his death. Using her mystical powers, passed on through generations of Lipan monarchs, Ellie uncovers the horrific truth of Willowbee’s origin and the connection between Willowbee’s founder and Trevor’s death.

THOUGHTS: A thrilling story for readers who love fantasy, mystery, and folklore. The story weaves elements of these three genres to create a unique and compelling story.

Fantasy     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

Elem. – The Fabled Life of Aesop

Lendler, Ian. The Fabled Life of Aesop. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-1-328-58552-3. 63 p. $18.99. Grades K-3.

The Fabled Life of Aesop follows the life of Aesop, as he began his life as a slave and ended up becoming free. All throughout Aesop’s life he told stories and tales to his different masters, so you see the tales that he told as well as what happened as a result of his telling those tales. In the middle of the story, there are nine of Aesop’s more famous fables; however, they are woven into the story of Aesop’s life. The afterword by the author goes into more detail about Aesop’s life as far as what is known, as well as more about the fables and how they came to be. The illustrations are absolutely stunning and add so much detail to the story, as well as making the fables come to life. This is a wonderful addition to any elementary school library collection, and gives new life into some of Aesop’s fables that you may have heard several times before.

THOUGHTS: I loved the illustrations and feel they really added so much to the story. The afterword was informative and made me feel like I got more information, even though there isn’t a lot known about Aesop himself.

398.24 Fables          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy Charter School

Scarlett Undercover…a new mystery

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Latham, Jennifer.  Scarlett Undercover.  New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2015.  978-0-316-28393-9. 310 p.  $18.00.  Gr. 7-10.

Sixteen-year-old Scarlett graduated high school two years early and opened her own detective agency in the city of Las Almas.  When a young girl named Gemma comes to Scarlett claiming that her brother may have had something to do with his friend’s suicide and asking her to look into it, Scarlett feels compelled to take the case.  As Scarlett begins to investigate the case, she is thrown into a world of ancient myths, conspiracies, and cults.  The case becomes personal when two girls begin trailing Scarlett, an ancient relic is stolen from the apartment she shares with her sister, and she begins to unearth secrets about her father’s murder.  The plot moves along quickly, as Scarlett must figure out who to trust and solve the case before anyone else she cares about gets hurt.

Mystery (Folklore)                    Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

Scarlett is a smart, sassy, and likeable narrator that readers will find themselves rooting for throughout the story.  The action, folklore, and ancient mysteries that are woven into the story will appeal to fans of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.  Because Scarlett is Muslim American, Muslim traditions are also woven into the story.  These, along with folklore about King Solomon, might also make this title appealing to history lovers.