Archive for the ‘Children’s Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Front Desk, by Kelly Yang

Friday, March 20th, 2020

Front Desk

by Kelly Yang

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2018. 296 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 31, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2019 Winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Historical Children’s Fiction

My parents told me that America would be this amazing place where we could live in a house with a dog, do whatever we want, and eat hamburgers till we were red in the face. So far, the only part of that we’ve achieved is the hamburger part, but I was still holding out hope. And the hamburgers here are pretty good.

Mia’s parents were well-respected in China, but in America they’re having trouble keeping jobs. So when they get a job as motel managers – which comes with a place to stay, rent-free – they are excited. But the owner of the motel promises them one rate of pay – then changes the deal after they’re signed up. He makes them pay for any repairs needed out of their own pay, so what they take home becomes less and less. Since it takes all her parents’ time to clean the rooms, Mia ends up running the front desk.

Mia learns a lot at the front desk about how America works, especially from the regulars – the people who live in the motel long-term. But she also learns from her new best friend at school – Lupe, who is also a recent immigrant to America. Unfortunately, the son of the motel owner is also in her class. And he isn’t much nicer than his father.

When friends from China come by needing a place to stay, Mia’s parents are happy to put them up in an extra room – only Mr. Yao mustn’t find out.

When Mia sees injustices around her, she learns how to help – by writing. Her mother says she’ll never catch up with the native English speakers. Her mother was an engineer, so she wants Mia to focus on math, where she can help. But Mia dreams of helping her whole family with her writing.

Mia’s only ten, but she’s feisty and she’s friendly, and when she sees a problem, she doesn’t rest until she’s done something about it. Reading about Mia and her family was a delight.

kellyyang.com
arthuralevinebooks.com
scholastic.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/front_desk.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge, by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

by M. T. Anderson
illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Candlewick Press, 2018. 530 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 14, 2018, from an advance reader copy
2019 National Book Award Finalist
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy

Wow. This book is amazing!

It’s a story about a clash of cultures – elfin and goblin cultures, specifically.

Historian Brangwain Spurge has been sent to the land of the goblins – flying through the air in a barrel – to present to them an ancient artifact found that they believe was made by goblin ancestors.

Werfel the Archivist, goblin historian at the Court of the Mighty Ghohg, has been eagerly preparing for weeks to host the elfin scholar. He worries – are elves allergic to chocolate? Will the hospitality chocolates placed on his pillow be appropriate?

It was Werfel’s job to host the elfin emissary in the city, to take the scholar in as a guest in his own home. It was a huge responsibility. Elves were used to a certain luxury. Goose-down mattresses and stained glass windows. My poor guest will be joggled to bits after slamming into the ground like that, Werfel fretted.

And, goblins had a strong code of hospitality. Once a goblin invited someone across the threshold into their home, it was their duty to serve and protect their guest, no matter what. Hospitality was holy.

Werfel sat up. He had to get to work plumping pillows and stocking the fruit bowl. It was no use trying to sleep, anyway. He was too excited.

Unfortunately, it becomes all too clear that Werfel’s efforts aren’t being appreciated as intended. In fact, periodically we see a series of images. These are what Brangwain Spurge has been magically transporting back to those who sent him. His view doesn’t quite match Werfel’s eager ministrations.

And some things go sadly wrong. Spurge learns of the goblin habit of insulting their close friends and misunderstands when insults are actually intended as a mortal combat challenge. Werfel knows he will have to protect his guest with his life – but that devotion is completely unappreciated.

As one misadventure leads to another, the two come to understand one another better. I love the way the images change as Spurge’s perspective on the goblins changes. But can they survive their new level of understanding?

This book is a lovely look at cross-cultural misunderstanding – but in the goblin-elfin setting no human reading it will be offended. And the story (and the goblin and elfin cultures described) is a whole lot of fun, too.

M. T. Anderson writes clever books, and this one is no exception. It’s told with humor and compassion. I like it that the goblin host ends up being noble and self-sacrificing and kind, whereas the elves who sent Spurge on his mission are not folks you’d want to live among.

candlewick.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/brangwain_spurge.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Nowhere Boy, by Katherine Marsh

Monday, March 16th, 2020

Nowhere Boy

by Katherine Marsh

Roaring Brook Press, 2018. 362 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 18, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

Wow. This timely book shines a light on acting with compassion and asks when is it right to break rules for the sake of those in need.

The book opens in 2015 with Ahmed a refugee from Syria on an overcrowded dinghy in the Aegean Sea. His father is the only member of his family left alive, and when the boat is in danger of sinking, his father is the first one to jump into the water to pull the boat and keep it moving. This works for a long time until the wind picks up and the rope breaks and his father is lost.

The next chapter shows us Max Howard, whose family has moved to Brussels, Belgium, for his father to work at NATO Headquarters. Max has just learned that his parents are sending him to the local Belgian school to repeat sixth grade and focus on learning French. He is not happy about this decision, made without consulting him. His older sister is going to an American high school, but Max has to go to the school right around the corner.

The new school doesn’t go well. He doesn’t understand a lot of things, including writing with a fountain pen and spelling tests in French.

But the two stories collide after Ahmed, who has come to a refugee encampment in the middle of Brussels, tries to get a ride with a smuggler to Calais, but ends up needing to jump out of the van – without his phone or any money. He ends up hiding in the wine cellar in the back of the basement in Max’s family’s home. One thing leads to another… and he stays.

When Max eventually finds Ahmed, again one thing leads to another, and they develop a scheme to enroll Ahmed at the same school Max attends. I like the way that helping Ahmed means Max has to deal with the bully who’s been bothering him.

I love the way Max was inspired by Albert Jonnart, the man his street was named after – who lived there during World War II and ended up dying because he hid a Jewish boy. But the boy got away, fleeing across the rooftops. Now Max is hiding just one person himself.

The book is based on the author’s own experience living in Brussels on the same street as Max. The setting portrays the fear and mistrust of Muslim refugees and the terror attacks that happened in Paris and Brussels at that time. In that context, it’s all the harder to protect Ahmed, but Max and his new friends from school learn to see him as the kind person he is.

I love the message of this book and the gripping story. As unlikely as it sounds on the surface, the author made me believe this could have actually happened. I’m sure that the many details from her own and her children’s time in Brussels help give it the ring of truth. The fact that I have lived in Europe myself made it all sound very familiar. I also enjoy the way the book challenges your thinking and makes you ask what you would be willing to do in order to show kindness, even to just one person.

katherinemarsh.com
mackids.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/nowhere_boy.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Stargazing, by Jen Wang

Sunday, March 8th, 2020

Stargazing

by Jen Wang
color by Lark Pien

First Second, 2019. 218 pages.
Review written January 11, 2020, from a library book
2020 Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature Winner

Stargazing is a graphic novel about middle school friendship. As the book opens, we see Christine in her Chinese American family, performing in a concert, taking part in a big church activity. Her parents are told about a mother-and-daughter family that needs some financial help, and Christine’s parents decide to clean out her grandfather’s apartment behind their house and let this needy family live there.

The daughter of the family is Christine’s age. She’s also Chinese American, but very different from Christine. Her name is Moon, and she’s Buddhist, and doesn’t seem to follow as many rules as Christine does. Moon likes to make art and says she gets visions of celestial beings, that she doesn’t really belong on earth.

Christine and Moon become friends, but as Moon becomes more popular than Christine, some jealous feelings start creeping in.

This is a story of friendship and being yourself, as well as looking at what can happen when you let down your friend. And it’s all in a bright and colorful graphic novel format. The drawings of the kids dancing to K-Pop are especially fun.

jenwang.net
Firstsecondbooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/stargazing.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Other Half of Happy, by Rebecca Balcárcel

Friday, March 6th, 2020

The Other Half of Happy

by Rebecca Balcárcel

Chronicle Books, 2019. 317 pages.
Review written January 9, 2020, from a library book
2020 Pura Belpré Author Honor

Quijana has a Guatemalan father and an American mother. Her parents never taught her Spanish because they said English was more important. But now Quijana is starting seventh grade and going to a new school without her sixth grade best friends. People think because of her name that she should speak Spanish. Then her Guatemalan cousins move to town, and Quijana feels even less like she belongs.

Meanwhile, her little brother isn’t talking like other kids his age, and her American grandmother is sick. Her father has started wanting her to embrace her Guatemalan heritage, but she feels like he’s taking over. And now the family is planning to take a trip to Guatemala, so Quijana will have to face two weeks where she doesn’t understand what anyone’s saying.

Meanwhile, at school Quijana does make some new friends, and she hopes one of those friends will end up being something special. Her friends might even help her figure out a way to escape the family trip to Guatemala.

The author navigates all these different issues, carrying us with Quijana as she figures out who she is and where she belongs and how she can make music that is all her own.

I especially like the list of Quijana’s grandmother’s sayings at the back of the book. Quijana has some good people in her life to help her get through the many confusing aspects of seventh grade.

chroniclekids.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/other_half_of_happy.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Genesis Begins Again, by Alicia D. Williams

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

Genesis Begins Again

by Alicia D. Williams

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum), 2019. 364 pages.
2020 Newbery Honor
2020 John Steptoe New Talent Author Award
2020 William C. Morris Award Finalist
Review written February 1, 2020, from a library book

This book begins as thirteen-year-old Genesis Anderson walks home with the popular girls – to see all her family’s possessions on the front lawn. They’ve been evicted from their apartment again.

But after dealing with that, her father takes them to a fancy new home in the suburbs. Genesis starts at a new school, and she wants things to go well there. She starts singing in the choir and even thinks about auditioning for the talent show. And has she finally made some real friends?

But her father isn’t exactly being honest about things. Her mother’s thinking about leaving, and Genesis isn’t ready to leave again. Time with Grandma confirms that everyone’s disappointed that Genesis ended up with dark skin like her father and not light skin like her mother. Genesis is willing to do anything to make her skin lighter. Then she’ll be beautiful and maybe her father can love her.

I’m going to be watching this author, because even in this debut novel she pulls us into Genesis’ world and all the different pressures surrounding her. It doesn’t all wrap up in a tidy bow, but Genesis is starting to learn to love herself, and the book ends with the reader reasonably hopeful that Genesis is going to deal with whatever the future holds.

simonandschuster.com/kids

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/genesis_begins_again.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker

Friday, February 21st, 2020

Scary Stories for Young Foxes

by Christian McKay Heidicker

Henry Holt and Company, 2019. 314 pages.
Review written November 26, 2019, from a library book
2020 John Newbery Honor

This is a book of an old fox telling scary stories to a family of young foxes. One by one, the kits are too scared and leave the storytelling, until only one is left. The storyteller is correct – it’s worth staying to hear the end of the stories.

But these are truly scary stories – too scary for me! There’s an abusive fox-father in a really disturbing situation, and there’s the “yellow smell” that infects foxes so they go crazy and attack other foxes, spreading the “yellow smell.” We follow the stories of two young fox kits in particular who lose the protection of their mothers.

One story made me laugh, though – because the truly horrific villain of that story is – Beatrix Potter!

That’s right, it turns out that Beatrix liked to paint woodland creatures from life. We all knew that, right? Well, according to this author, after she’d finished her paintings for a story, she didn’t set the animal free. No, she’d kill it with ether, then skin it and eat the meat. She’d stuff the skin and keep the stuffed creature in her home. All that is truly horrific for a young fox trapped in a cage in her house who witnesses what happens to a rabbit she’s been painting. So when Beatrix begins painting the fox, she has reason to be afraid!

But I will never look at Beatrix Potter books the same way again!

This is a well-written book. And lots of kids love scary stories. I never happened to be one of them, but next time a kid asks me for a scary book, I have another option. And I was very glad I read all the way to the end.

Added note after learning this is a Newbery Honor book: I approve! The book really is well-crafted, and it’s distinctive and unusual. I still say it’s a better choice for kids who like scary stories than it would have been for me as a child. But I agree that it’s distinguished.

cmheidicker.com
mackids.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/scary_stories_for_young_foxes.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga

Monday, February 17th, 2020

Other Words for Home

by Jasmine Warga

Balzer + Bray, 2019. 342 pages.
Review written January 13, 2020, from a library book.
2020 John Newbery Honor

Other Words for Home is the story of Jude, who lives in a tourist town on the coast of Syria, but leaves with her mother to go to America for the sake of safety.

Jude’s father and older brother stay in Syria, and her brother is active in the resistance, so Jude worries about him especially. She doesn’t want to go and leave her friends and home behind, but her family insists that it’s for her safety.

Jude and her mother stay with her Uncle Mazin and his family. Jude’s cousin Sarah is in seventh grade, just like Jude, but at school Sarah doesn’t have anything to do with Jude. Sarah doesn’t want to look like an outsider. Jude does make friends and learn about strange American customs in her ESL class.

When Jude tries out for the school musical, everyone thinks she’s crazy. How can someone get a part who isn’t even an American?

This novel is written in verse, so it reads very quickly. There are more issues than I’ve mentioned here, but it still tends to be a sweet and simple novel about an immigrant trying to fit in. Jude especially enjoys surprising Americans, who really don’t know that much about her home.

jasminewarga.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/other_words_for_home.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, by Dan Gemeinhart

Saturday, February 15th, 2020

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

by Dan Gemeinhart

Henry Holt and Company, 2019. 344 pages.
Review written January 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
Honor Selection of the City of Fairfax Regional Library 2020 Newbery Book Club
2019 Cybils Award Winner Middle Grade Fiction

I wish I’d read this book months ago when my coworker first told me how much she loved it! Instead, I read it in January 2020 because it was selected by my library’s Newbery Book Club members as one of their contenders – and I’m now a fan myself.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is about a twelve-year-old girl, Coyote Sunrise, and her father, Rodeo, who live in an old converted school bus traveling around the country. The story opens as Coyote adopts a cat, whom she names Ivan after her favorite book, The One and Only Ivan. (It’s always fun when a Newbery winner references another Newbery winner! I would be happy if this were such a case.)

Coyote has to manage Rodeo – she knows he won’t approve of her getting a pet. So she sneaks Ivan onto the bus, and then convinces Rodeo about a trial period of 500 miles. Sure enough, Ivan wins Rodeo over before the time is up.

But other things are trickier. Coyote has a weekly talk with her grandmother, and soon after adopting Ivan, she learns that a park in the town where she used to live is going to be demolished and replaced with housing. But five years ago, Coyote and her mother and two sisters buried a time capsule in that park and promised to return in ten years and dig it up. But a few days after they did that, Coyote’s mother and sisters were killed in a car crash. That was when Rodeo took Coyote on the school bus road trip, saying that it was too painful to look back.

So Coyote is determined to get to that park in one week. Trouble is, they are currently on the other side of the country. If she tells Rodeo, he’ll refuse – so she has to figure out another way to get him going that direction.

And so the journey begins. Along the way, they take on passengers, and those passengers get on board with Coyote’s quest. But the obstacles she faces get bigger and bigger. Coyote’s actions get more and more outrageous, but the reader still isn’t sure she’ll be able to pull this off.

This is a book with heart. The characters are wonderful, each one well-drawn and contributing to the story. The tension builds as Coyote’s deadline gets more and more impossible to meet and at the same time obstacles mount.

The back story is horribly tragic – Coyote’s mother and sisters dying – and yet this is a book full of humor and sheer joy. It walks the balance of dealing with a serious subject in a meaningful way without ending up with an unbearably sad book.

dangemeinhart.com
mackids.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/coyote_sunrise.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, by Anna Meriano

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Love Sugar Magic

A Sprinkle of Spirits

by Anna Meriano

Walden Pond Press, 2019. 309 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 11, 2019, from a library book
2019 Cybils Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Finalist

This is the second book in the Love Sugar Magic series, and I liked it even better than the first one. Leo discovered in the first book that she’s from a family of brujas and their family magic is concentrated in the things they bake in their bakery. She’s been studying the principles of magic to try to keep any more disasters from happening.

But despite Leo’s efforts to do everything right, something huge happens – Her abuela comes back to life and shows up in Leo’s bedroom. And so do several other once-dead people from the whole town. What’s going on? And more important, how can Leo help these spirits in the flesh get back to the other side of the veil before it’s too late?

You’ve got to admit – that’s a big problem. I liked the way this book kept the action going and didn’t pause with too much soul-searching. We learned more about the family business, and I loved the way Leo was able to turn to her friends for help.

There was a big coincidence with Leo’s best friend Caroline, but that coincidence caused a lot of trouble. In books, coincidences that cause trouble are infinitely more palatable than coincidences that solve problems. All the characters gain some depth in this installment, and I am now more convinced that I want to keep reading the series.

Some on our Cybils panel hadn’t read the first book, but still enjoyed this one. It’s not absolutely necessary to read them in order, though you might as well.

harpercollinschildrens.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/sprinkle_of_spirits.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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.

What did you think of this book?