Elem. – Jeanie & Genie: The First Wish

Granted, Trish. Jeanie & Genie: The First Wish. Little Simon. 2021. 978-1-5344-7466-6. $17.99. Grades K-4.

Jeanie Bell likes things to be simple, logical, and easy to understand. It makes life, after all, simple, logical, and easy to understand! All is well until there is a new girl at school, Willow Davis, who is the exact opposite of those things! Willow, while nice, is more free-spirited and creative while Jeanie likes to follow the rules. The girls become unlikely friends, which only becomes more amazing when Jeanie finds out that Willow is a genie and can grant wishes! Willow hopes to become an amazing genie and does not wish to lose her powers, so she is training to be the best genie she can be! Can these girls have a magical friendship or is this secret too big to hold onto?

THOUGHTS: A delightful beginning to a fun reading series. For readers who may want to start a fantasy novel, but may not be sure how to, this is a nice beginner book with fantasy-elements!

Fantasy          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

MG – The Year I Flew Away

Arnold, Marie. The Year I Flew Away. Versify, 2021. 978-0-358-27275-5. 285 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Marie Arnold establishes herself as a gifted storyteller, weaving realistic setting with a magical tale involving a talking rat, wishes, and witches. Ten-year-old Gabrielle Jean’s Haitian family sends her to live with her uncle and aunt in Flatbush, a busy neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, until they can save enough funds to join her. She looks forward to the American Dream, but it doesn’t take long before it is shattered. Classmates make fun of her accent; she feels strange and left out. Though Carmen, a Mexican-American girl, is anxious to be her friend, Gabrielle still feels incredibly lonely and unmoored from her friends and immediate family in Haiti. These bleak feelings motivate her to make a deal with the witch, Lady Lydia, in Prospect Park. Lady Lydia gives Gabrielle three magic mango slices. Each one represents a wish; each wish granted brings Gabrielle closer to Lady Lydia capturing her essence. With the first mango slice, Gabrielle loses her accent, making her better understood and accepted by the other students. The second mango slice is even more powerful. After eating it, Gabrielle not only erases her memories of Haiti but also entails the added consequence of losing her entire Flatbush family. Seemingly, Gabrielle’s wishes have been fulfilled. Her classmates believe they have known Gabrielle forever and believe she was born in America, but, of course, she cannot be happy without her aunt, uncle, the toddler twins, and teen-age cousin. It troubles her that she can no longer communicate in Haitian Creole. Rocky, a rat Gabrielle encounters on the street, nicely translates for her and helps Gabrielle problem solve how she will outwit Lady Lydia (though Rocky has its own unfulfilled wish to be a rabbit). As the school looks forward to Culture Day, Gabrielle tries to resist the last mango and still save her family. She knows she needs the help of a good witch to counteract this bad witch who desires a homogenous Brooklyn where perfection is everyone is the same. Arnold whips up a twenty-first century fairy tale to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion that blends American patriotism, pride in and acceptance of differences, and appreciation of one’s heritage.

THOUGHTS: If Kate DiCamillo is an author who demonstrates the beauty of language, then Marie Arnold is an author who demonstrates the beauty of storytelling. Accessible, genuine, and creative, Ms. Arnold weaves an unusual tale (sometimes I had to stretch my believability especially when Gabrielle cozies up to vermin who wishes to be a rabbit) that builds to a crescendo of patriotism, pride in one’s culture and heritage. Realistically, most sixth grade students may not have the ability to wax eloquently about their backgrounds, yet Arnold has Gabrielle come to the realization that a person can be an immigrant loyal to the country of one’s birth and equally be an American, loyal to a new country. An added bonus is the character of Mrs. Bartell, the solicitous school librarian who happens to be Haitian-American and helps Gabrielle every step of the way.

Fantasy          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Magic Realism

Elem. – The Perfectly Perfect Wish

Mantechev, Lisa. The Perfectly Perfect Wish. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-40619-3. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-2.

When a young girl finds a wish in grass, will she wish for something for herself?  As she asks her teacher and her friends what they would wish for, and as they share their wishes with her, the girl realizes that she can achieve her own wishes with hard work and patience. In the end, the girl wishes that everyone else’s wishes come true … which is the perfectly perfect wish.

THOUGHTS: This sweet little book relays the importance of thinking about the bigger picture and of others. It also is a good reminder to appreciate all of the things you already have.

Picture Book          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy