Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Look Both Ways, by Jason Reynolds

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Look Both Ways

A Tale Told in Ten Blocks

by Jason Reynolds

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2019. 4 CDs.
Starred Review
2019 National Book Award Finalist
Review written November 22, 2019, from a library audiobook

This book is a set of overlapping stories about lots of kids, all of them walking home from school. The audiobook version is read by too many people to list at the top of this review, so I’ll list them here: Heather Alicia Simms, Chris Chalk, Bahni Turpin, Adenrele Ojo, Kevin R. Free, JD Jackson, Guy Lockard, January LaVoy, David Sadzin, and Jason Reynolds. Something odd that all the stories have in common is the mention of a school bus falling from the sky.

School’s important in this book, because the kids are leaving school, but our heroes and heroines are walkers. They do get passed by buses and talk about buses and think about school buses falling from the sky, but most of the action happens once school gets out, in the ten blocks near the school.

I think it was a little more difficult to notice details that overlapped between stories when listening. If I’d had the print book in front of me, I would have leafed back to make sure I remembered when a name popped up again. But I did enjoy the variety of narrators, so I think it was worth listening. I may not be sure if there was a big picture in this book, but I do know I enjoyed each individual story.

The stories include things like buying penny candy from a lady in the neighborhood after scrounging change; planning to outwit a new fierce dog that’s popped up on the route home from school; preparing to talk with someone you like; navigating hallways; and figuring out how to protect your mother who’s there to protect others – and who got hurt doing that.

These are slice-of-life stories about a lot of different kids, and there’s something here for everyone to like. Some of the stories do have hard things, but through all the stories, there’s an infusion of joy and a splash of friendship. Everybody’s got someone looking out for them.

As usual, Jason Reynolds is writing about a black neighborhood, and that makes me happy – but there’s nothing here that kids of any ethnicity won’t enjoy. I’m also glad that this isn’t an issue book. It’s a book about kids being kids together during that daily activity – walking home from school.

jasonwritesbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Is for Elizabeth, by Rachel Vail, illustrated by Paige Keiser

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

A Is for Elizabeth

by Rachel Vail
illustrated by Paige Keiser

Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan), 2019. 121 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 21, 2019, from a library book

I picked up this new book because I didn’t have very many beginning chapter books to talk about when booktalking in the local elementary schools this year for the Summer Reading Program. This one is exactly what I was looking for.

Elizabeth is starting second grade at the start of this book, so it’s perfect for the rising second graders. She has her first homework assignment – to make a poster about her name. She doesn’t think this is fair, since ELIZABETH has so many letters.

To be even more unfair, the posters will be presented in alphabetical order. That means Anna is going to go first. But that doesn’t seem right. After she makes the poster, she talks with her brother Justin:

“Sometimes the name Elizabeth starts with the letter A,” I explained to Justin.

“No it doesn’t,” he said.

Justin is in fifth grade, so he thinks he knows everything.

“Sometimes it does,” I said.

“Never,” he said.

“Haven’t you ever heard of sound it out?” I asked.

Justin looked confused. Ha! Even fifth graders don’t know everything.

Annoying. Amazing,” I said. “Sound it out. What letter makes the uh sound at the beginning?”

“An A,” Justin said.

“AHA!” I said. “And my name starts with the same sound! A-lizabeth!”

As a mother, I especially enjoyed the part where Elizabeth tells her parents that she needs poster board for a project due tomorrow.

There is a rule in our family that I forgot all about.

It is:

No saying the words Poster Board after 6:00 p.m.

“You said it, too,” I told Mom.

“Said what?” she asked me.

“The words that rhyme with toaster sword . . .

“Toaster sword?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

I whispered the words poster board.

“You said those words at least five seconds later in the night than I did, Mom.”

Mom shook her head.

Dad shook his head.

They both did loud breathing.

That is what they do when I make a good point and win the argument.

A Is For Elizabeth is a fun look at the challenges and triumphs of second-grade life. It has fifty very short chapters and illustrations on every spread. Reading this book will not be daunting, but will give a sense of accomplishment.

rachelvail.com
paigekeiser.com
mackids.com

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Review of Rabbit & Bear: The Pest in the Nest, by Julian Gough & Jim Field

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

Rabbit & Bear
The Pest in the Nest

story by Julian Gough
illustrations by Jim Field

Silver Dolphin Press, 2018. First published in Great Britain in 2017. 102 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 30, 2019, from a library book

This second book about Rabbit and Bear finds continued humor in Rabbit’s grumpiness – and even has some practical lessons about finding peace.

The situation Rabbit finds himself in might make anyone grumpy – there’s a woodpecker building a nest in a tree nearby, making a huge racket.

After Rabbit tells Bear that Woodpecker is driving him crazy, and then that Tortoise is driving him crazy, too, they have this exchange:

Bear thought about this. “So noisy, happy things drive you crazy?”

“Yes!” replied Rabbit.

“And quiet, sad things drive you crazy?”

“Yes! Yes!” said Rabbit.

“Bear thought about this some more. “But … the only thing those things have in common,” she said, scratching her head, “… is you.”

Rabbit gave Bear a Look. “So?”

“Well,” said Bear, “I think the creature that is driving you crazy isn’t Woodpecker. And it isn’t Tortoise. It’s …”

Hmmm. Bear didn’t want to say it. Rabbit had a FIERCE temper.

“It’s YOU, isn’t it Bear?” said Rabbit, and raised his right foot to kick Bear.

“Er, no,” said Bear. “It’s you.

But Bear thinks of a way to help Rabbit see the situation differently, and they end up making a new friend while they’re at it.

This book is the length of a beginning chapter book without actually having chapters. But young readers will enjoy being able to read it themselves, with plenty of pictures and lots of humor to speed them on their way. And they may pick up a little wisdom and ideas of things to do when they’re feeling grumpy.

I’m looking forward to more adventures with Rabbit and Bear.

silverdolphinbooks.com

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Review of Cinderella Liberator, by Rebecca Solnit

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Cinderella Liberator

by Rebecca Solnit
with illustrations by Arthur Rackham

Haymarket Books, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 10, 2019, from a library book

Oh, this is a marvelous retelling of Cinderella! Modifications have been made, with the result being a thing of delight even to the young feminist heart. No, Cinderella doesn’t marry the prince, but the prince gets a happy ending, as do the stepsisters. Everyone in the story gets to become their best selves.

She chose silhouettes done by Arthur Rackham in 1919 for the illustrations, which are exquisite and add to the fairy tale feeling – which is there all the way, even though the details are tuned to more modern sensibilities.

This is a story I’d love to read to an attentive audience. In fact, I will probably choose portions to read aloud when I’m doing booktalks in the local elementary schools. I’m going to quote here a few of the many passages that delighted me.

The beginning of Chapter 2, “Dresses and Horses”:

And then one day came the news that the king’s son, Prince Nevermind, was holding a great ball, which is what they called dance parties in those days. The stepmother made sure that Pearlita and Paloma were invited, and they spent days trying on clothes and ordering dressmakers to make them new dresses out of satin and velvet and glitter and planning how to put up their hair and stick it full of jewels and ornaments and artificial flowers.

Cinderella came upstairs to bring them some ginger cookies and saw all the piles of jewels and all the mirrors and all the fabric and all the fuss. Pearlita was doing her best to pile her hair as high as hair could go. She said that, surely, having the tallest hair in the world would make you the most beautiful woman, and being the most beautiful would make you the happiest.

Paloma was sewing extra bows onto her dress, because she thought that, surely, having the fanciest dress in the world would make you the most beautiful woman in the world, and being the most beautiful would make you the happiest. They weren’t very happy, because they were worried that someone might have higher hair or more bows than they did. Which, probably, someone did. Usually someone does.

But there isn’t actually a most beautiful person in the world, because there are so many kinds of beauty. Some people love roundness and softness, and other people love sharp edges and strong muscles. Some people like thick hair like a lion’s mane, and other people like thin hair that pours down like an inky waterfall, and some people love someone so much they forget what they look like. Some people think the night sky full of stars at midnight is the most beautiful thing imaginable, some people think it’s a forest in snow, and some people . . . Well, there are a lot of people with a lot of ideas about beauty. And love. When you love someone a lot, they just look like love.

This section comes after the ball:

The blue fairy godmother opened the door, and asked her if she’d had a good time, and she said Yes, and No, and It was very interesting to see all the fancy clothes and the fancy plates with fancy cakes and the fancy mirrors and the fancy lights. And then she said, It was even more interesting to see lizards become footwomen and mice become horses. The fairy godmother replied that true magic is to help each thing become its best and most free self, and then she asked the horses if they wanted to be horses.

Five of the horses said, in horse language, which fairy godmothers speak and most of us do not, that they loved running through the night and being afraid of nothing and bigger than almost everyone. The sixth horse said she’d had a lot of fun but she had mice children at home and wanted to get back to them. The fairy godmother nodded in understanding, and suddenly the sixth horse shrank, and lost its mane, and its shaggy tail became a pink tail with a fine fuzz like velvet. And there she was: a tiny gray mouse with pink feet, running back to her tinier pink children in the nest in the wall to tell them all about the enchantment that had made her a horse for a night.

And then the lizards said, in the quiet language of lizards, that nothing was better than being a lizard, being able to run up walls and to lie in the sun on warm days and to snap up flies in the garden and never worry about anything except owls and crows, and though they loved wearing silver satin, and going to parties, and they had been happy to help Cinderella, and they would tell all their lizard friends about it, they would rather be lizards again. And suddenly they were, running off toward the garden on their little lizard legs, trailing long lizard tails, the moon making the scales on their lean lizard bodies shine like silver.

If I copy out anything further in the story, I might give away too many crucial changes at the end, but I hope this gives you the idea. There’s an Afterword at the back that describes the author’s thoughts about the tale.

Here’s a retelling of Cinderella for our current times, and it is utterly delightful in every way.

haymarketbooks.org

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Review of To Night Owl from Dogfish, by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer

Monday, August 26th, 2019

To Night Owl from Dogfish

by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019. 295 pages.
Review written March 17, 2019, from a library book

To Night Owl from Dogfish is a sort of reverse parent trap story, or at least that’s how it begins. The story is told mostly in the form of emails between two girls, Bett Devlin and Avery Bloom. Here’s an excerpt from the first one from Bett to Avery with the subject line: you don’t know me.

So this is awkward but I’m just going to say it. Your dad + my dad met 3 months ago in Chicago at a “building expo,” which was at the downtown Marriott. I’m not going to explain how I know but THEY ARE NOW A COUPLE.

That isn’t my business, only it IS my business because my dad wants to send me to a place called CIGI this summer.

I never heard of CIGI. The website says: Challenge Influence Guide Inspire.

That was cut + pasted. Those words are how they got the name. CIGI is a SUMMER PROGRAM IN MICHIGAN FOR “INQUISITIVE TWEENS ‘N’ TEENS AGES 10-15.”

You could already be bored reading this email. But guess what? YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO GO TO CIGI, TOO.

At first, Avery doesn’t believe it. She’s always had her dad to herself. But when the girls figure out that their fathers are indeed planning to send them to camp to get to know each other and they can’t thwart that plan, they can at least refuse to speak to each other and absolutely not become friends. Perhaps they can even break up their dads.

What’s more, their dads are planning to take a trip together, and ride motorcycles across China. The girls feel abandoned. But at least that gives them an excuse to bring ipads to camp. They can keep emailing each other yet keep their pact not to talk to each other and absolutely not to become friends.

Let’s just say that absolutely nothing goes according to plan. In fact, hijinks ensue.

The two authors weren’t going for realistic in this book – but they did write a book that’s a whole lot of fun. This is one that goes quickly and you find yourself wanting to read just one more email.

hollygoldbergsloan.com
megwolitzer.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai

Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Pie in the Sky

by Remy Lai

Henry Holt, 2019. 380 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 5, 2019, from a library book

I only read this book because someone nominated it to Capitol Choices (a group of DC-area librarians who select what we think are the 100 best children’s book of the year), but I thought the cartoony cover and comic panels woven through the text meant it would be too much like the Wimpy Kid books for me. I ended up wholeheartedly loving it.

Now, there are lots of comic panels included, which I think makes the book all the more accessible. But the story goes a lot deeper than you might think.

Jingwen and his annoying younger brother Yanghao are moving with their mother to Australia. The book never tells which country they’re moving from, though the author was born in Indonesia, grew up in Singapore, and now lives in Australia. (So alas! It’s not eligible to win the Newbery.)

I like the way the comic panels show people talking with words Jingwen doesn’t understand as speech bubbles with strange squiggles. At first, he feels like he’s on an alien planet, and draws them as space aliens. But after awhile, he feels like he is the alien, and draws himself with six eyes and tentacles.

But this isn’t only about Jingwen and Yanghao adjusting to a new country with a new language while their mother works hard and leaves Jingwen to tend Yanghao much of the time. The book is also about Jingwen working through how much he misses his Papa, who died two years earlier.

Papa had talked about moving to Australia. He was going to open a fancy cake shop there and call it Pie in the Sky.

Papa’s English was only slightly less terrible than mine, but he knew a pie is not a cake. It’s just that he had a friend who spoke fluent English who told him the meaning of the idiom pie in the sky — an impossible dream.

Back home, Jingwen’s parents worked in his grandparents’ bake shop. But on Sundays, Jingwen’s Papa used to bake fancy cakes with Jingwen, cakes they planned to sell in their future Pie in the Sky cake shop.

Jingwen decides that what he needs to do to make life go better in Australia and to properly honor his Papa is bake all twelve of the Pie in the Sky cakes. Never mind that their mother doesn’t want them to touch the oven while she is not home.

They buy ingredients and he makes a list of rules for Yanghao to follow so he doesn’t cause trouble and give everything away.

But the plan isn’t simple to carry out. And meantime, he’s trying to adjust to a new country and a new language, which his annoying little brother picks up much more quickly.

This book with comic panel illustrations has an amazing amount of depth and poignancy.

“When someone is feeling sad, they can’t help but smile at the sight of a cake.”

remylai.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Golden Road, by L. M. Montgomery

Tuesday, August 13th, 2019

The Golden Road

by L. M. Montgomery

Bantam Books, 1989. First published in 1913. 213 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 17, 2019, from my own copy

The Golden Road is a continuation of The Story Girl, so they should be read in order. It’s more antics and adventures of several children living in a village on Prince Edward Island more than one hundred years ago. Put that way, it’s maybe surprising how enjoyable the stories still are today.

The tone is nostalgic. Beverley King is an old man telling about a beautiful season of his childhood, when they were on “the Golden Road.” Like the first book, it’s an episodic tale, though this one doesn’t have quite as many stories told by the Story Girl. But we get more encounters with the local “witch,” Peg Bowen, and Felicity finally makes a mistake in cooking, and we find out about the mystery of the Awkward Man.

Summarized, there’s not a lot that stands out, but this is one of those books with characters who are delightful to spend time with. And the setting of Prince Edward Island pervades the book, making me all the more eager to see it for myself later this year.

This is a book that had me reading with a smile on my face.

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Review of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, read by Gemma Whelan

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Nevermoor

The Trials of Morrigan Crow

by Jessica Townsend
read by Gemma Whelan

Hachette Audio, 2017. 11 hours on 9 discs.
Starred Review
Review written July 1, 2019, from a library audiobook

Big thanks to my co-worker, Amanda Snow, for recommending this audiobook! I didn’t have time to read it while I was on the Newbery committee because the author is Australian (and therefore not eligible), but I’m so happy to make up for lost time.

Morrigan Crow was born on Eventide, which means she’s under a curse and bad luck for everyone she encounters. Her father has to pay constant claims for damages because Morrigan was around when something bad happened, so clearly it was her fault.

It also means that she will die the next time Eventide happens. So when it happens on her eleventh birthday, her family spends the day preparing for her death. Then a surprising stranger with a contract appears. His name is Jupiter North and he takes her into the “free state” of Nevermoor, outrunning the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow who want to track her down and kill her.

The trouble is, Morrigan’s presence in Nevermoor is illegal, and those in charge of border security plan to deport her. However, Jupiter has entered her into the trials to become a member of the Wundrous Society, along with hundreds of other children from whom only nine will be chosen. As long as Morrigan is in the trials, she’s under the protection of the Wundrous Society and can’t be deported.

And Nevermoor is full of wonders. There’s a Magnificat (a giant talking cat) who helps run the Hotel Deucalion where Morrigan now lives. Strange and magical things happen all the time.

But Morrigan must undergo four trials to get into the Wundrous Society, the fourth one being to display her talent. Jupiter refuses to tell her what her talent is. If she is not selected for the society, she will have to leave Nevermoor, and she’ll be killed by the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow, so the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The comparisons to the Harry Potter books are obvious, and normally I roll my eyes when people make that claim. But in this case, the comparison is actually not bad! Morrigan has discovered a magical world; she gains friends and companions as she explores the new world; and she must learn how it all works. There’s a sinister shadowy figure in the background and Morrigan has some sort of special calling, despite a wretched home life where she was not appreciated. Author Jessica Townsend even has an amazing imagination like J. K. Rowling and comes up with delightful magical details.

This book would make wonderful family listening. Great accents, lots of humor, and magical adventures! How could you go wrong?

lbyr.com
HachetteAudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Story Girl, by L. M. Montgomery

Friday, July 12th, 2019

The Story Girl

by L. M. Montgomery

Bantam Books, 1987. First published in 1910. 258 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 5, 2019, from my own copy

It’s really happening! My two childhood friends and I are going to Prince Edward Island this coming September, during the week when all three of us are 55 years old. We first conceived this trip when we were 50, but decided to put it off – and now our rooms are booked!

And this time I’m getting serious about rereading my L. M. Montgomery books. This time, I decided to reread them in the order they were published. I have already reread Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Kilmeny of the Orchard. Now it was time for The Story Girl.

The Story Girl is about the children of the village of Carlisle on Prince Edward Island. It’s told from the perspective of Beverley King, looking back as an old man on the joys they had as children.

[Incidentally, I have learned from L. M. Montgomery’s books that if a man’s name ends in Y, women will eventually steal it. All of these names appear in her books as names for boys: Beverley, Shirley, Lindsay, and Hillary.]

When I was a young adult reading L. M. Montgomery’s books, I preferred the ones that had romance. But now as I myself am “old” (by her standards – I’ve been shocked that “old” characters in her books are only in their forties!) – I’m reading these books with my own nostalgia.

The Story Girl was one of L. M. Montgomery’s own favorites. I think she liked to think of herself as a sort of Sara Stanley, who was called by everyone “the Story Girl.”

Maud Montgomery did her apprenticeship writing short stories and selling them to magazines. I think as a consequence, short stories are her natural form. And she does a nice job of weaving them through this book, with the Story Girl telling them family stories about objects in their home or stories about people from their village or fairy tales about something that happened.

There’s a lot that’s old-fashioned in this book. Sara and her cousin Felicity are fourteen and twelve years old, but they seem younger by today’s standards. And they have different abilities from children today, with Felicity completely able to run the house while the grown-ups are away for a week, including having baked all afternoon so their pantry is “well stocked with biscuits, cookies, cakes, and pies,” so that she is able to entertain an influx of visitors, as is proper.

Cecily set the table, and the Story Girl waited on it and washed all the dishes afterwards. But all the blushing honours fell to Felicity, who received so many compliments that her airs were quite unbearable for the rest of the week. She presided at the head of the table with as much grace and dignity as if she had been five times twelve years old and seemed to know by instinct just who took sugar and who did not. She was flushed with excitement and pleasure, and was so pretty that I could hardly eat for looking at her – which is the highest compliment in a boy’s power to pay.

I was amused how often the episodes between the children had to do with church and the Bible. When the paper reports that someone in the States has said the day and time for Judgment Day, they all get into a tizzy. Another time, they have a preaching contest (boys only, of course) with very amusing results. And there’s an incident with a picture of God and the question of praying for their cat to get well. Did prayer end up healing him – or was it their request to the local woman they all think is a witch?

All in all, it was delightful to be transported back into L. M. Montgomery’s world. This one doesn’t have romance, but it does have two other things L. M. Montgomery did exceptionally well: short stories plus the escapades of children.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of We’re Not From Here, by Geoff Rodkey

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

We’re Not From Here

by Geoff Rodkey

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 250 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 19, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a tremendously fun and creative science fiction book for kids, with plenty to seriously think about as well.

Set in the future, the book begins with Lan and his friends on Mars, talking about rumors that the colony has found a new planet where humans can live.

Humans made earth uninhabitable a year before, but many escaped to a colony on Mars. However, the air processors were wearing down, people’s clothing was ragged and stinky, and the only food they had to eat was something called Chow manufactured by the Nutrition department. So humans needed a new place to live.

They found a planet called Choom with an atmosphere that will support human life. What’s more, Choom had taken in alien refugees before. There were already four species of aliens on Choom, three of which originally came from different planets. The main species, the Zhuri, look like giant mosquitoes. After some negotiating, they get an invitation to come to Choom as refugees. They go into bio-suspension for twenty years to make the trip. But when they wake up, the government of Choom has changed, and humans are no longer welcome.

In orbit around Choom, the humans who are left do not have enough fuel to go anywhere else. If Choom doesn’t take them, they’ll die. But the Zhuri now believe that humans are too warlike. After much negotiating, since they did invite the humans to Choom, the Zhuri agree to take one human family. If they can live in peace, all the humans can come, but if there are any incidents, the whole human race will have nowhere to go.

Lan, his sister, and their parents are the family chosen to represent humans. Lan and his sister must navigate going to school on an alien planet and trying not to cause any trouble – without knowing how anything works.

And they soon realize they have been set up to fail. Movies about World War II (from earth transmissions) have been playing on Choom television, showing how violent humans are. The Zhuri swarm in protest. Do Lan and his family even have a chance of saving the human race?

That makes the story sound grim, but it’s full of humor – because natural misunderstandings have plenty of food for humor. In fact, humor may be the key to saving the day.

This one takes the new-kid-at-school story and makes it intergalactic.

geoffrodkey.com
rhcbooks.com

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