Kagawa, Julie. Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl. Disney-Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-06819-2. Grades 4-7.
Shinji, a 13-year-old orphan, is being raised by his globe-trotting Aunt Yui, who is constantly searching for unique artisan products for her store, Lost River Outfitters. While aimlessly wandering a marketplace in a corner of Africa along the Zambezi River, he comes across an unusual, snake-like statue that calls to him. Literally. Shinji no sooner takes possession of the Coatl idol when trouble starts. Armed men attempt to force the Mezoamerican figurine from Shinji, eventually kidnapping the boy and taking him to the headquarters of the Hightower Corporation. There, Shinji makes an ally in Lucy, a computer prodigy his own age and they begin to unravel the mystery of the Coatl, which has turned into a tattoo on Shinji’s arm. They plot their escape and form an alliance with the mysterious Society of Adventurers and Explorers to complete the mission of the Coatl before it drains Shinji’s life away. This action-packed middle grade adventure holds its own in the increasingly crowded field of mythology-based series. Shinji is a relatable character, who wise-cracks at the wrong time and frequently allows his frustration to get the better of him. Lucy provides a cool foil to Shinji, with secrets of her own that propel the story forward. Kagawa deftly spreads suspicion among all the adults, leaving Shinji and the reader not sure who to trust, keeping up the suspense until the end of the book. While the story does have a Disney tie-in, it is minimally invasive. The characters are widely diverse, with Shinji being Asian; Lucy white; and the members of the Society of Adventurers and Explorers cueing as Black, Indian and white, and include a wheelchair Explorer who flies drones.
THOUGHTS: If you don’t object to the minor Disney plug woven into the story, this is a solid choice for a magic-based action/adventure story. Not as heavily immersed in mythology as Percy Jackson, it should entertain readers just looking for a fun story that is hard to put down. Sequels would seem to be forthcoming.
Bryant, Jen. Fall Down Seven Times. Stand Up Eight: Patsy Takemoto Mink and the Fight for Title IX. Quill Tree Books, 2022. 978-0-062-95722-1. $17.99. 48 p. Grades K-4.
Patsy Takemoto was born in the Territory of Hawaii in 1927. Her Japanese-American family taught her about the customs of her heritage. “Fall down seven times, stand up eight” is a traditional Japanese saying. Patsy understood the importance of persevering from a young age. Always eager to learn, Patsy graduated at the top of her high school class and hoped to become a doctor. She attended college at the University of Nebraska, and was shocked to find that although she was born in the United States, she was housed in the dormitory for international students along with other students of color. Patsy advocated for integrated housing and was successful in convincing the University to make a change. Upon graduation Patsy applied to medical schools, but was rejected because she was a woman. The University of Chicago accepted her into their Law School. Patsy graduated and became a lawyer. After marrying and starting a family of her own, Patsy returned to Hawaii and began her career in politics, eventually being elected to the US Senate. Here she co-sponsored Title IX legislation, which gives equal access to federal funded education for women and men throughout the United States. This book is illustrated by Toshiki Nakamura.
THOUGHTS: Patsy Takemoto is an often overlooked American hero. Young audiences may not realize that women have not always been allowed to receive an education. This is an important story that is told in easy to understand language for younger students. The picture book format would work well as a read aloud for secondary students studying the history of our country and women’s rights. The themes of persevering and working hard for equality are prevalent throughout the story.
Picture Book BiographyAnne McKernan, Council Rock SD
Tokuda-Hall, Maggie. Love in the Library. Candlewick Press, 2022. Unpaged. 978-1-5362-0430-8. Grades 2-4. $18.99.
In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which “relocated” Japanese-American citizens to internment camps. Inspired by a true family story, Tokuda-Hall has written a fictionalized account of her grandparents’ experience in such a camp. Tama was in college when she was abruptly placed in Minidoka Camp in Idaho. The conditions were harsh, with very cold winters and very hot summers, and an entire family was forced to live in one room. Tama’s only solace was working in the library. She loved the way books magically took her to other worlds. A camp resident named George became a daily library visitor, checking out several books and returning them the next day. One day, Tama is overwhelmed by the injustice and begins to cry. George comforts her, and Tama realizes why George comes to the library so frequently. The couple marries and has their first child in the camp, demonstrating the power of love and resilience in overcoming prejudice and hate. The author’s note includes more of Tama and George Tokuda’s story along with a photo. Imamura’s gouache and watercolor drawings help readers understand more about this unjust time in American history.
THOUGHTS: This text can be used as an introduction to World War II units about the home front. Like Say’s Music for Alice or Mochizuki’s Baseball Saved Us, Love in the Library promotes discussion about prejudice, racism, and stereotyping. Highly recommended for elementary collections.
Picture Book Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member Historical Fiction
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.
Hughes, Kiku. Displacement. First Second. 2020. 978-1-250-19353-7. 274 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.
Two of the most acclaimed books of 2019 were They Called Us Enemy by George Takei and Internment by Samira Ahmed. Readers seeking an exceptional read-alike will find one in Displacement by Kiku Hughes. In this debut graphic novel, a Seattle teen (also named Kiku) experiences “displacements” to other places in time. The first time, she is on a trip to San Francisco with her mom, who is exploring her own mother’s former neighborhood in Japantown. Ernestina and her parents, immigrants from Japan, lived there until 1942, when they were relocated to incarceration camps along with 120,000 other people of Japanese descent (“nikkei”). After brief displacements to her grandmother’s violin recital and to a line at a transportation center, Kiku experiences a longer displacement to the camp at the Tanforan Racetrack. There, she’s assigned to a stable next to Ernestina and her parents. Kiku’s roommate, Aiko, guides her through the long lines, mess hall, roll call, and day-to-day life in the camp. After a transfer to the more permanent Topaz camp in Utah, Kiku experiences firsthand the traumas, divided loyalties, and resistance that will continue to be felt for generations among the nikkei. When, or even if, Kiku will return home lends suspense to this beautifully rendered story of intergenerational memory.
THOUGHTS: Kiku Hughes writes in her Author’s Note, “History and memory have tremendous power to heal us and give us the tools we need to know ourselves and navigate the world.” This very accomplished story is definitely one of these tools; its readers will learn from and about the experiences of Japanese Americans.
Note: In her Glossary of Terms, Kiku Hughes explains her decision to use “incarceration camp” instead of “internment camp” or “American concentration camp” throughout Displacement.
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 FictionMelissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD