MG – All Four Quarters of the Moon

Marr, Shirley. All Four Quarters of the Moon. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-543-38886-1. $17.99. 247 p. Grades 5-8.

Peijing Guo has a perfectly happy life in China. She is a good student who is popular and well liked at school. She loves living with her extended family. Peijing is care-taker by nature and believes honoring her parents is her duty. She loves to draw. Peijing’s five year old sister, Biju, is a wonderful storyteller. The sisters create a secret “Little World” of handmade paper cutout animals designed from Biju’s imagination and interwoven with bits of Chinese mythology. The sisters spend hours together playing in their imaginary world. When Ba Ba gets a new job, Peijing, Beiju, Ma Ma, and their grandmother Ah Ma immigrate to Australia, where the family quickly begins to fall apart. Newly settled in a gorgeous and large new home, the family begins to change. Ah Ma, who spent her days in China with friends playing games and exercising in the park, now only sits in front of the television. Ma Ma, who was once social and stylish, dresses in sweatpants, and refuses to leave the house or to learn to speak English. The sisters struggle to improve their language skills and do well in a school where everything is completely different from anything they ever experienced in China. Only Ba Ba seems to be happy in Australia. Ba Ba slowly begins to relax and participate in household chores. He seems determined to develop a relationship with his two young daughters. Peijing is confused and miserable until she befriends an outcast classmate named Joanna. Scruffy and tough, Joanna is often hungry, exhausted, and bruised. Peijing, always caring for others before herself, tries to help Joanna. Peijing brings Joanna food, encourages her artistic abilities, and defends her friend from classroom bullies. Joanna helps Peijing understand life in Australia. The two become the best of friends, each bolstering the other’s confidence. When a caring teacher intervenes to help get Joanna out of her abusive home, the two friends fear their friendship will be over. The characters in this middle grade novel are beautifully drawn. The Chinese mythology woven throughout the development of “Little World” provides a gorgeous backdrop to a story about understanding humanity, and the changes we encounter in life. 

THOUGHTS: This is a warm and thoughtful middle grade novel that depicts an immigrant experience with great respect and care. The bond between sisters Peijing and Biju is wonderfully delightful. The inner-conflict Peijing experiences as she becomes a tween trying to assimilate into a culture with different values is both heartbreaking and empowering. Readers will cheer Peijing on as she discovers who she is meant to be and how she can fit into her changing, yet traditional, family. 

Realistic Fiction          Anne McKernan, Council Rock 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

MG – The Shape of Thunder

Warga, Jasmine. The Shape of Thunder. Balzar & Bray, 2021. 978-0-062-95667-5. $16.99. 275 p. Grades 5-8.

Cora Hamid and Quinn Macauley are next door neighbors and inseparable friends all their twelve years of life–until they are not. Quinn’s older brother, Parker, takes his father’s hunting guns to his high school one November morning and shoots Cora’s sister, Mabel, a teacher, another student, and himself. The two families’ approach to grief could not be more different. Abandoned as a baby by her mother (the reader never discovers why), Lebanese-American and Muslim Cora has the nurturing support of her biologist dad; thoughtful, maternal Gram; and the professional support of a trained therapist. Quinn’s family buries the issue. Told in alternating voices, the reticent and less academic Quinn has difficulty expressing her thoughts and guilty feelings. Her workaholic father is against any outside help to ease the family’s suffering, and her mother hides in the house cooking and baking. Longing to reconnect with Cora, Quinn delivers a box to her doorstep stuffed with articles about time travel and wormholes on Cora’s birthday. She knows Cora well enough to appeal to her scientific nature. Perhaps the two of them could find a wormhole and travel back in time to stop the tragedy of that fateful day. As the pair work through the logistics of approaching a huge tree in the forest for the site of their wormhole/time traveling, they each experience the pain of regret and the insistence on holding fast to the memory of a loved one. While Cora has made new friends on her Junior Quizbowl Team and excels in her studies, Quinn has felt shunned. She longs to be on the soccer team, but is too ashamed to try out. Her art gives her some pleasure, yet not even drawing can remove the heavy weight of a secret she knows about her brother, the possibility that she could have prevented the circumstances. After she confides in the school librarian her remorse, she resolves to confess this awful secret to Cora. Though the revelation breaks their renewed bond, Cora devotes more time to her plan to make the impossible possible. When she questions her father about time travel, she is encouraged and inspired by his answer. He tells her that her absent mother had a theory comparing the shape of time to the shape of thunder: “impossible to map” (p. 213). When both Cora and Quinn are coaxed by different people to attend the traditional Fall Festival at their middle school, the rumble of thunder pulls the two estranged girls to the woods to prove Cora’s theory. The hopeful resolution of the story, despite the sadness surrounding it, gives the reader relief. Quinn’s and Cora’s relationship see-saws throughout realistically. After all, Quinn reminds Cora of the unspeakable thing Parker did. Quinn’s strained home life with her parents who refuse any kind of self-reflection or examination of the devastating action of their son is painful.  Minor situations like the jealousy of Mia, another friend of Cora’s, toward Quinn; the snide remarks of Quinn’s former teammate and friend; the growing crush Cora has with her classmate, Owen (a Japanese-American character), will resonate genuinely with middle school readers. The Shape of Thunder is a tough read, but one that confirms that happiness can co-exist with grief, and friendships can be mended.

THOUGHTS: This novel is full of emotion and rich in language and characterization, but not so intense that a sensitive middle grade student would be put off. Cora is a thinker and an intellectual. Throughout the novel, students will find themselves entertained by the interesting facts Cora spouts (“…cows kill more people than sharks each year…”). The images Warga uses to describe different feelings are unique but spot on (the “fizziness” Cora feels in her tummy when talking to her crush, Owen, etc.). She also makes dialogue very interesting. Quinn has a hard time speaking; her brain freezes and she can’t say the words. When she finally gets angry enough to spill over her feelings to her buttoned up family, it is heartbreaking. The conversations between Cora and her father and grandmother also are authentic and tell the reader so much about the characters. What the reader must conjecture about are Parker’s reason for the shooting and the absence of Cora’s mother since her father seems to have no obvious vices. Ms. Euclid, the school librarian and art teacher, is a heroine for Quinn. This book should be issued with a box of tissues.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Dumplings for Lili

Iwai, Melissa. Dumplings for Lili. Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-00342-7. Unpaged. $17.95. Grades K-3.

Lili is excited to help her grandmother make baos, her favorite type of dumplings. When they discover they are out of cabbage, however, Lili goes to see if an upstairs neighbor has any cabbage they can use. The neighbor gives her cabbage, but in return, asks for some potatoes for her pierogies. This leads Lili to another neighbor’s apartment, and so the process continues. Finally, everyone has what they need to make all of their favorite kinds of dumplings. This culminates in a big dumpling party, during which Lili’s parents return with a sweet surprise. A charming celebration of food, family, and multiculturalism, this is an excellent addition to any elementary collection.

THOUGHTS: I just love how all of the grandmothers in this book represent different cultures, as they are all making dumplings from different regions. There are pierogies, tamales, raviolis, fatayers, and more. I could see this book being used in a world cultures class, and it would be especially fun to assign students or groups of students each a different culture from the book to study. Perhaps they could even make the dumplings from their respective cultures, and then the class could try them all. The recipe and instructions for Lili’s grandmother’s baos is already included in the back matter. There definitely are plenty of opportunities for extension activities with this book!

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

MG – Soul Lanterns

Kuzki, Shaw. Soul Lanterns. Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-593-17434-0. 162 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Each August, Nozomi and her family release lanterns on the river to guide the souls of lost loved ones. The year she turns twelve, an unsettling encounter with a stranger at the ceremony makes Nozomi wonder about her mother’s past, and about the stories of other adults who lived through the Hiroshima bombing of 1945.  Nozomi likes art, and for an upcoming art showcase, she and three school friends ask relatives and community members to relate heartbreaking stories from “the flash” that they lived through before the children were born. This school project prompts the friends to create moving works of art to remember those that were lost. Ultimately, their works of art help the children to better understand the significance of the lantern ceremony. As Nozomi’s art teacher says at the end of the book, releasing the lanterns helps those in the community not only remember lost loved ones from the tragedy of the bomb, but also “remember the question of why such an awful thing happened.”

THOUGHTS: This story is told from the fascinating perspective of Hiroshima children who do not fully grasp the significance of the Hiroshima bombing because it occurred before they were born, and considerable character growth occurs when they find out through stories and family members what really happened on that terrible day. Many cultural references and Japanese words throughout the book make for a rich reading experience. Although there are descriptions of death and suffering which sensitive students may find disturbing, the author does an excellent job of describing the tragedy of the Hiroshima bomb with sensitivity and respect. This book will inspire readers to look more deeply into the history and ethics of nuclear warfare. Translated from Japanese.

Historical Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – Our Table

Reynolds, Peter H. Our Table. Orchard Books, 2021. 978-1-338-57232-2. $17.99. 48 p. Grades Pre K-3.

This sweet story is about a young girl who notices that her family is spending less time together, being pulled in various directions and being lured away from each other by technology. The dining room table represents the family being pulled apart by slowly shrinking, and eventually disappearing all together. So the little girl uses technology to bring her family together, by building a new table as a family.

THOUGHTS: Peter H. Reynolds never disappoints. This sweet story is a reminder of what is truly important.

Picture Book         Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

Elem. – Memory Jars

Brosgol, Vera. Memory Jars. Roaring Book Press, 2021. 978-1-250-31487-1 48 p. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Freda is disappointed when she cannot eat all the blueberries that she picked with her grandmother. Blueberry season is over, and she has to wait an entire year to eat them again! Gran reminds her that she saves blueberries in a jar by turning them into delicious jam. What a delightful idea! Freda begins to wonder- if she can preserve blueberries in jars, why not everything else in her life that are her favorite things? Things such as warm cookies, poppies (her favorite flower), her neighbor’s beautiful singing voice, her best friend that is moving away, or the full moon. Only after she bottles everything up in mason jars does Freda realize that saving everything also means she cannot enjoy those very same things. Memory Jars, a picture book written and illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Vera Brosgol, is the perfect story to remind readers that some things are best saved as beautiful memories.

THOUGHTS: Memory Jars is written as a fable, complete with a satisfying lesson and delicious blueberry jam recipe at the end. The story is clever and charming as Freda learns that enjoying the moment is the best way to make memories. This book would be a perfect way to walk down memory lane to remember fun memories from a summer break, remember a loved one, or remember memories from a fun school year.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Watercress

Wang, Andrea. Watercress. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-446247 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Watercress is a quiet yet profoundly moving picture book by the award-winning duo, Andrea Wang and Jason Chin. A young girl, traveling with her immigrant parents in rural America, is confused when her parents stop abruptly to collect wild watercress growing on the side of the road. Then a pair of rusty scissors and a brown paper bag are found in the depth of their old Pontiac trunk. The young Chinese girl and her brother have no choice but to roll up their jeans and follow their parents into the mud to gather the watercress. Later that evening, the dinner table holds a dish of watercress soaked in garlicky oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds, peppered with unanswered questions and confusion. At first, the little girl is angry and even embarrassed. Why didn’t her family get food from the store? But when her mother shares a story about her family and heritage in China, the girl learns to appreciate the incredible journey her family endured many years before. The beautiful watercolors and poetic text are about the power of memories, even the ones that are so difficult to share.

THOUGHTS: It is common for children to be unaware of their parent’s stories and culture. But it is also imperative to understand how we have arrived at this very moment. Watercress is a beautiful nod towards healthy communication between generations and an exploration into forgiveness and empathy. It is explained in the author’s note that this semi-autobiographical story is both a love letter and an apology letter to her parents- with an emphasis on how essential it is to share our stories.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Ho, Joanna. Eyes that Kiss in the Corners. Harper Collins for Children, 2021. 978-0-062-91562-7 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

This is a heartfelt and breathtaking portrait of a young Asian girl drawing strength from the women in her family. In the story, a girl notices that her eyes seem different from her friends’. Most of the friends have “big round eyes and long lashes”; where she has eyes that “kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” With pride and confidence, the girl shares with the reader that her eyes resemble her mother’s, her amah’s, and her little sister’s! With each turn of the page, the girl (and the reader) learn less about physical appearances and more about the legacy of family, relationships, history, and heritage. Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is a vibrant celebration of self-discovery and love! The brilliant illustrations and poetic words will resonate with readers of any age.

THOUGHTS: Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is a must-have picture book for home, classrooms, and school libraries! I appreciate that there is no bullying, teasing, or conflict with the characters in the story. Instead this title is written as a lyrical celebration with a tender message: to love oneself.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD