YA – Lia and Beckett’s Abracadabra

Parks, Amy Noelle. Lia and Beckett’s Abracadabra. Amulet, 2022. 978-1-319-75344-2. 296 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

Lia is delighted when she receives a letter from her missing grandmother, inviting her to compete in a stage magic competition to be held in Mirror Lake, a retreat for magicians where her grandmother resides. Over the protests of her mother, who wants Lia to do something “meaningful” with her summer, Lia eagerly escapes to Mirror Lake, to practice the tricks her magician grandmother has taught her. Lia is determined to win the competition, make her grandmother proud, and take the prize, the small theater her grandmother has owned for years. Lia definitely wants to keep it out of the hands of the Blackwell boys, grandsons of her grandmother’s ex-husband and magic partner. Lia has been warned to stay away from the Blackwell boys, but while Lia may be great at counting cards and sleight of hand, she wasn’t counting on Beckett Blackwell being so cute, and nice, and good at magic, even though it clearly is not his passion. However, as the competition progresses, Lia realizes there is more at stake than the theater. Additionally, Lia and Beckett team up to exact revenge on Beckett’s cousin, Elliot, a talented mentalist who uses his gifts for nefarious purposes. This addictive rom-com is entertaining from the start. Readers will root for Lia to follow her muse, despite the pressure from her mother, as well as for Lia and Beckett to (inevitably) find each other. The amusing con Lia sets up to crush Elliot adds spice to the pot, and the story rounds out with a feminist punch, as the reparations for the historic dismissal of female magicians ties up the plot. Readers will be left with a big grin on their faces and warm fuzzies in their heart.

THOUGHTS: This delightful book contains everything a good romance should, and makes a solid purchase where romance is popular.

Romance          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Nana, Nenek & Nina

Ferneyhough, Liza. Nana, Nenek & Nina. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-35394-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Nina loves visiting her grandmothers, one who lives in Malaysia and one who lives in England. Nina goes back and forth between each grandmother explaining the different and similar things that she does with them. Each grandmother has a garden, each visits the market, and each one cooks dinner but each one is slightly different based on where they live. Nina has a little dinosaur that she brings with her, so the reader can have fun finding the dinosaur hidden in each illustration. The text can be complicated to follow at times, but the journey of watching Nina visit each grandmother is wonderful to follow along with.

THOUGHTS: This would be a great book to share for a grandparents day event; however, it might not be the best read-aloud with extremely young children as it can be complicated the way the text is set up. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – The Katha Chest

Chowdhury, Radhiah. The Katha Chest. Salaam Reads, 2022. 978-1-665-90390-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

The Katha Chest follows a young girl named Asiya who loves to visit her Nanu’s house because she gets a chance to go through the katha chest. Each quilt tells a story, and Asiya loves learning about her family in this way. The illustrations are beautifully done, and when Asiya is looking at each quilt there is a spread of pages that just show the woman from the family who is attached to each quilt. On those pages, the illustrations demonstrate and show more about each woman from the family without having any words to describe them. At the end of the book, there are both author and illustrator notes delving more into the katha chest and what that means to each of them. 

THOUGHTS: This book is a beautifully done story about the katha chest, as well as what each woman in Asiya’s family means to her. A great story for a read aloud that will cause readers to want to know more about this skill of making the katha quilts.

Picture Book           Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Tags: Quilts, family, grandmothers, mothers, authors, Bangladesh, saris. 

YA – Pretty Dead Queens

Donne, Alexa. Pretty Dead Queens. Crown, 2022. 978-0-593-47982-7. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Moving to a new town to live with her estranged grandmother is not the senior year Cecelia Ellis had in mind. Her mother’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing have forced Cecelia on a new path, but her plan is to graduate and get out of town just like her mom did. In the meantime, she’s living at the top of creepy Victorian mansion with Maura Weston, her famous mystery writing grandmother. Though a small California coastal town, Seaview was put on the map years ago with Maura’s first book, a fictionalized version about the of death of one of Maura’s classmates. Later turned into a movie which was filmed in Seaview, the town now has its own unique traditions, like a murder tour given by two of Cecelia’s classmates and Weston-Con, a weekend retreat for fans of Maura’s thriller books. When one of Cecelia’s classmates is found dead under eerily similar circumstances to one of Maura’s books, Cecelia distracts herself from her grief by trying to solve the murder and determine if a copycat killer is loose in Seaview – or if someone was wrongly convicted years ago. As Cecelia learns about the history of Seaview and about animosity among her new friends, she’s convinced there’s more to the story. Will Cecelia make a connection before the police solve the case, or will she be the killer’s next victim?

THOUGHTS: Knowing all that Cecelia has overcome, readers will root for her to uncover the truth behind two crimes that are decades apart. Fans of fast-paced mystery/thrillers (like Donne’s The Ivies and Henry’s Two Truths and a Lie) will enjoy this whodunit.  

Mystery          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – The Year We Learned to Fly

Woodson, Jacqueline. The Year We Learned to Fly. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022. 978-0-399-54553-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Stuck inside on a rainy day, an African American brother and sister follow their grandmother’s advice to let their imaginations take them away to another place. Soon, they are able to use their minds to fly away from all of the challenges life throws at them. When they’re mad, they fly away from the anger. When they move away and their new neighbors look at them funny, they fly away from the judgment and skepticism. Their grandmother tells them this ability to free their beautiful, brilliant minds and rise above adversity comes from their ancestors who, many years ago, overcame the challenges of slavery in a similar manner. 

THOUGHTS: This is a remarkable story about strength, resiliency, and the power of one’s imagination. An author’s note honors the ancestors who suffered through the horrors of enslavement and acknowledges the influence of Virginia Hamilton in this story (and other stories). This would make an excellent introduction to a unit on slavery, or it could be paired with Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985). It can also be given to children who lack confidence to encourage them to believe in the power of their dreams. An uplifting and inspiring story, this book belongs in every elementary library.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – A Gift for Nana

Smith, Lane. A Gift for Nana. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-0-593-43033-0. Unpaged. $18.99. PreK-2.

Rabbit is on a quest to find the perfect gift for his Nana. He travels through the forest, across a lake, onto rocky shores, and up a mountain. Along the way, he meets other creatures who make suggestions for a perfect gift, all of which Rabbit turns down with reasons why Nana wouldn’t like them. The journey is long and arduous, but Rabbit eventually discovers the perfect gift and returns to his Nana’s house with it. An endearing story that showcases the unconditional love between grandchildren and their grandparents, this book would be perfect for a read-aloud or a heartwarming bedtime story. 

THOUGHTS: I adored this sweet story! The mixed media illustrations by award-winning illustrator Lane Smith manage to evoke a variety of feelings and emotions throughout the story. More muted tones at the beginning of Rabbit’s long journey give way to brighter, more comforting tones by the time he returns home to Nana. An element of humor is also embedded in the story, as Rabbit eats some of his gift before he even makes it back to Nana. Any library that serves young children would not be disappointed with this title.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

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. – My Hands Tell a Story

Lyons, Kelly Starling. My Hands Tell a Story. Reycraft Books, 2022. 978-1-478-87061-6. 36 p. $17.95. Grades K-3. 

When Zoe’s grandmother waves her into the kitchen so they can bake bread together, Zoe is mesmerized by the magic and power in her grandmother’s hands. Grandma’s hands knead, push, and pull the dough until it’s just right. Grandma gently guides Zoe’s hands through the motions as well. While they wait for the dough to rise, the pair sit and talk. Readers learn about Grandma’s past and all the things her hands have done: Raised children, planted gardens, typed and filed. Zoe wonders what she might accomplish with her own hands someday, considering possibilities like drawing, building, writing, making music, and baking. When she and Grandma high-five to celebrate the first bites of their freshly-baked treat, Grandma notes that although Zoe’s hands are similar to her own, they will go places Grandma has never been. This inspiring, intergenerational story is rooted in love and celebrates the strong bond between grandmother and granddaughter. Vibrant, oil-painted illustrations beautifully capture heartfelt moments and the closeness these two share. The endpapers include a recipe for the same cinnamon bread Zoe and her grandma bake together in the book. 

THOUGHTS: Many students will make connections to the idea of cooking or baking a favorite food with a grandparent. This will also be a perfect choice for Grandparents’ Day read-alouds. Additionally, this title can be used as a discussion starter about things students hope to accomplish with their own two hands. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – A Grandma’s Magic

Offsay, Charlotte. A Grandma’s Magic. Illustrated by Asa Gilland. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-37600-3. $17.99. Unpaged. Grades K-3.

This large picture book opens with the tender lines, “When a child is born. . .a grandma is born, too.” Bathed in shades of pinks, teals, and apricots, A Grandma’s Magic shows a diverse array of grandmothers and their grandbabies doing what stereotypical grandmas do: baking, gardening, playing, hugging, comforting in both urban and rural settings. Popping in vivid colors from the white background are intergenerational pairs engaging in activities that teach and enchant. With simple strokes, illustrator Asa Gilland conveys the characters’ surprise, delight, sadness, and warmth. These poignant drawings convince the reader of author Charlotte Offsay’s words that grandmothers do indeed conjure magical times that linger long after their visits are over. The book is ideal for a reading aloud on Grandparents’ Day or as a story starter to describe one’s grandmother. However, the story only reflects the families where grandmothers are living independently and can come to visit. Other situations where grandmothers are raising their grandchildren or where grandmothers live with the family are not considered. If reading or shelf-talking this pretty book, know your audience.

THOUGHTS: This feel-good book is so delightful to look at and emanates a real warmth in pictures and words. It lends itself to intergenerational units (perhaps coupled with Mem Fox’s Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge, if you can get your hands on it–it is not out of print), and character description–maybe even people poems. Grandmothers of all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities show up in this book, but the author still focuses on the healthy grandmother whom the child will visit or be visited by. In some communities, that vision of a grandmother may not be the one the young child actually has. A book early with diversity on a similar theme is the late, great Vera B. Williams’s More, More, More Said the Baby.( I guess I am dating myself with the mention of two old –and perhaps better-books.)

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Ten Beautiful Things

Griffin, Molly Beth. Ten Beautiful Things. Charlesbridge, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-580-89936-9. $16.99. Grades K-2.

Lily and her grandmother are driving to Iowa, which now will be the young girl’s home. As Lily sits in the back of the car watching the scenery, she feels an empty place and an anxious feeling in her stomach. Seeing her granddaughter’s sadness, Gram suggests they play a game and look for ten beautiful things during their journey.  Their trip begins in darkness and then suddenly an amazing sunrise comes into view and becomes the first beautiful thing. As they travel on, Gram and Lily find other marvelous things, like a windmill farm, a red-winged blackbird, the sound of a gurgling creek and the earthy smell of mud. When they are nearly at their destination, a powerful thunderstorm appears with lightning, winds, and heavy rain. Lily realizes that just as this storm seemed to fill up the whole world, the empty places within her are now filled by Gram and her new home. The downpour has stopped, the sun is shining, and all will be well. Lechuga’s digital illustrations are charming, and she skillfully depicts the young girl’s anxiety in the drawings.

THOUGHTS: Children experiencing a life changing event will find a connection with Lily. By not revealing the reasons, the author has created a touching story that will apply to a number of situations, such as death, deployment, imprisonment, abuse, or custody issues. Guidance counselors and caretakers will find this book a valuable tool to promote discussion. A worthwhile purchase for all elementary libraries.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member