Archive for the ‘Starred Review’ Category

Review of Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth, by Sheila O’Connor

Friday, April 3rd, 2020

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth

by Sheila O’Connor

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018. 356 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 24, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Historical Children’s Fiction

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth is a story told through letters. The setting is 1968 in a small town named Lake Liberty. Reenie Kelly is staying at her grandmother’s house with her big brothers Billy and Dare. She has just gotten a paper route and she’s determined to show that an eleven-year-old girl can do just as good a job as any boy. She wasn’t able to meet Mr. Marsworth, since he didn’t come to the door, but she puts a friendly note in his milk box.

Mr. Marsworth answers with a friendly note in the milk box back to her. He doesn’t want to meet her, but says, “Any child of Betsy Kelly’s will be a perfect papergirl, I’m sure.” He sends a P.S. with his sympathy about her mother’s recent death from cancer.

I know it’s been some time since your mother passed away, but she was among the best this world has known. Such a strong young heart. How terrible that she left this earth too soon.

So begins a wonderful correspondence. Reenie is nothing if not loquacious, and she doesn’t have friends yet in Lake Liberty, so she pours out her thoughts to Mr. Marsworth.

She does already have another pen pal – a soldier named Skip fighting in Vietnam. But she doesn’t like to send him any bad news. And some bad news like trouble with bullies does start to come up.

But Reenie’s biggest worry is that her oldest brother Billy has turned 18 and that he’ll get drafted. She is trying to save money on her paper route so that he can afford to go to the University of Missouri. If he doesn’t go to college, surely he’ll get drafted. She doesn’t realize that their family is bankrupt because of paying for her mother’s cancer treatments.

Mr. Marsworth agrees with her that she should try to keep Billy from being drafted. It turns out that he was a conscientious objector during World War I and spent time in prison. The town still dislikes him for that. Reenie gets Billy to go to Minneapolis to talk to the folks at the Draft Information Office about how to become a conscientious objector. But when Billy writes a letter to the Tribune, the whole town turns against them and their troubles with bullies get much worse.

So that’s the basic outline of how things begin. But leaves out the charm, the life and spunk of Reenie’s letters, and the gentle wisdom coming from Mr. Marsworth. You fall in love with both of them. I was moved to tears before the book ended, and in a good way.

sheilaoconnor.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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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 Pride, by Ibi Zoboi

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

Pride

by Ibi Zoboi

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2018. 289 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 15, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 General Teen Fiction

This is a Pride and Prejudice “Remix,” set in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. I have lost count of how many Pride and Prejudice tributes I have read (Actually, that’s not quite true, since you can find links to all the ones I’ve reviewed on the page when I post this.) – and honestly, I’ve loved them all. This is no exception.

Zuri Benitez and her four sisters watch as a new family moves into the house across the street. It used to be run-down, but they’ve been renovating it for a year, and now it’s a mini-mansion. Ainsley and Darius Darcy are fine – but who are they to come strutting into the neighborhood thinking they’ll help it out? You guessed it – older sister Janae and Ainsley hit it off right away, but there are fireworks first between Zuri and Darius.

I got to thinking about Pride and Prejudice. It might seem obvious, because it’s right there in the title, but isn’t it all about respect? When someone smart, good-looking, and yes, rich, moves into town – who is he to think he’s better than the rest of us? The Elizabeth Bennets of the world – highly intelligent themselves and with a loving, close-knit family – deserve respect, too.

But maybe they’re a bit quick to believe they’re not getting it from the Mr. Darcys of the world.

The Pride and Prejudice story is universal because it’s about earning respect – and discovering that good-looking, rich man who has the world’s respect might actually be kind and sensitive and doing good things that go beyond the externals – he might actually deserve Elizabeth Bennet’s respect, too.

It’s also about culture clash. The guy who has made it in the predominant culture moving in near the metaphorical peasantry – and needing to learn to appreciate that their lives, too, have rich community around them.

Pride tells that universal story in a new setting, with a great big helping of delight. Zuri is an Elizabeth Bennet with attitude. She’s a poet, and I’m guessing she’s going to make it into Howard. Here’s a window into her process of discovering that Darius Darcy is more than externals, too.

ibizoboi.net
epicreads.com

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Review of Playlist, by James Rhodes

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

Playlist

The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound

by James Rhodes
illustrated by Martin O’Neill

Candlewick Studio, 2019. 68 pages.
Review written April 1, 2020, from a library book
2019 Cybils Award Winner, Senior High Nonfiction
Starred Review

This book is visually stunning as well as audibly stunning (more on that in a minute). It’s oversized, but many will realize it’s the same square shape and size as a record album.

Once inside, every spread is a presentation. This is an author who loves classical music and is excited about it. If anyone can communicate that love and excitement to a young reader, this would be the person.

Here’s an excerpt from his Introduction:

I’ll be honest with you: classical music is not usually seen as riveting material for a book. I know that. You know that. It is thought of as dull, irrelevant, belonging to other (usually old) people, and about as interesting as algebra. I will say this though: classical music saved my life when I was a kid. And even today, many years later, every single time I listen to it, it makes me feel amazing.

Classical music has a bad and, in my mind, unfair reputation. Those composers with the white curly wigs, such as Bach and Mozart, might seem super old-fashioned now. But they were the original rock stars. They changed history, inspired millions, and are still listened to and worshipped all around the world today. So I hope you’ll leave behind your preconceptions: even if you think you hate it, give it an hour or two of your time and then decide.

It does have to be said that there are a LOT of classical composers, and it can be quite overwhelming to decide where to begin. I have chosen seven composers to get us started. For each composer I have selected two pieces to discuss and listen to. I’m also going to explain a bit about the lives of the composers. (You won’t believe some of their stories. Did you know Beethoven peed into a chamber pot he kept under his piano and Bach had twenty children?) I’ve chosen Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel: the perfect introduction to classical music.

So that gives the format of what follows: We’ll have a spread for each composer, then a spread telling about his life, then a spread for each of the two pieces of music that James Rhodes analyzes for us. And that’s what makes this book extra vivid: At the front he’s got a playlist of all the music. You put tinyurl.com/jamesrhodesplaylist into a browser, and you’ll get to listen to all the pieces on Spotify. So you get to listen to the music as he describes it.

And his enthusiastic descriptions help you appreciate and understand the significance of the pieces he chooses.

All of his descriptions ring with his love for the pieces. Here’s an example taken from the spread about Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Finale:

As we know, Rachmaninoff was a giant, and this concerto requires really, really big hands. He asks the pianist to play enormous chords and super-fast runs of notes and jumps from the bottom of the keyboard to the top and back again. The last movement, which we’re going to focus on here, is my favorite, for reasons that will become obvious as you listen to it. It has everything that any music fan could ever want – incredible, unforgettable melodies, insane piano pyrotechnics (I mean just listen to the first time the piano enters!), excitement, melancholy, heartbreak, and heroism, all in eleven minutes. There are giant cymbal crashes, sweeping romantic tunes with the entire orchestra and solo piano playing at full volume, and an electrifying ending. But it’s the big tune, perhaps his most famous melody, that really does it for me. It starts at 1’47, and Rachmaninoff, knowing how special it is, repeats it three times during the course of the movement, each time adding little touches and making it fresher and more magnificent until the very last time (9’55 OMG), when it becomes this enormous, grand, sweeping melody that has inspired dozens of Hollywood composers and would feel right at home in one of the Jurassic Park, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, or Incredibles movies.

Speaking of movies, in the section on the composer’s life, he always includes some movies that use music by the composer.

There are some additional spreads with musical terms and a timeline of Western Classical Music, and absolutely nothing in this book is remotely boring. It gives the reader a nice background of classical music, and a wonderful audio sampling of the riches you can find there.

At first when I opened this book, I was reluctant to go to the trouble of listening to the playlist. By the time I was done, I was eager to hear and notice the things James Rhodes pointed out.

As he says to finish his Introduction:

So, this is my plea: give this music a chance. Read the book, listen to the pieces in the playlist I’ve built for you (turn the page!), and then, if you want, NEVER listen to it again, safe in the knowledge you’ve given it a go and hated it. But maybe, just maybe, it’ll blow your mind and improve your life a little bit, and you’ll want to send me a giant box of cookies as a thank-you. (I’m not even joking – send as many as you like.)

Enjoy. Take it slowly. Allow yourself to experience something magical.

Count me as someone whose mind was blown. Though in lieu of sending cookies, I’m writing this review.

candlewickstudio.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 The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett

HarperCollins, 2019. 337 pages.
Review written March 29, 2020, from an advance reader copy signed by the author
Starred Review

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book at the Public Library Association Member Welcome Breakfast at which I received the 2019 Allie Beth Martin Award. Ann Patchett spoke at the breakfast, and she did talk about the book. She said it was the book about one of her deepest fears – becoming a horrible stepmother. After her talk, she signed the advance reader copy to me, including “Congratulations!”

It took me almost a year to actually get around to reading the book. Not because I didn’t want to! Ann Patchett’s writing is amazing! Mainly it was because I owned a copy, so it wasn’t a library book and didn’t have a due date. I was trying to read all of L. M. Montgomery’s books last year, too.

But when I did read it – as always I was amazed by Ann Patchett’s writing ability. Yes, there is a terrible stepmother in this book. A lot of the book focuses on the Dutch House – a mansion on the outskirts of Philadelphia where the narrator and his sister grew up. Their father had bought it, with all its contents, after the VanHoebeeks had all died and it was sold off.

The VanHoebeeks weren’t the story, but in a sense the house was the story, and it was their house. They had made their fortune in the wholesale distribution of cigarettes, a lucky business Mr. VanHoebeek had entered into just before the start of the First World War. Cigarettes were given to soldiers in the field for purposes of morale, and the habit followed them home to celebrate a decade of prosperity. The VanHoebeeks, richer by the hour, commissioned a house to be built on what was then farmland outside of Philadelphia.

The stunning success of the house could be attributed to the architect, though by the time I thought to go looking I could find no other extant examples of his work. It could be that one or both of those dour VanHoebeeks had been some sort of aesthetic visionary, or that the property inspired a marvel beyond what any of them had imagined, or that America after the First World War was teeming with craftsmen who worked to standards long since abandoned. Whatever the explanation, the house they wound up with – the house we later wound up with – was a singular confluence of talent and luck. I can’t explain how a house that was three stories high could seem like just the right amount of space, but it did. Or maybe it would be better to say that it was too much of a house for anyone, an immense and ridiculous waste, but that we never wanted it to be different. The Dutch House, as it came to be known in Elkins Park and Jenkintown and Glenside and all the way to Philadelphia, referred not to the house’s architecture but to its inhabitants. The Dutch House was the place where those Dutch people with the unpronounceable name lived. Seen from certain vantage points of distance, it appeared to float several inches above the hill it sat on. The panes of glass that surrounded the glass front doors were as big as storefront windows and held in place by wrought-iron vines. The windows both took in the sun and reflected it back across the wide lawn. Maybe it was neoclassical, though with a simplicity in the lines that came closer to Mediterranean or French, and while it was not Dutch, the blue delft mantels in the drawing room, library, and master bedroom were said to have been pried out of a castle in Utrecht and sold to the VanHoebeeks to pay a prince’s gambling debts. The house, complete with mantels, had been finished in 1922.

This book is the story of the life of Danny Conroy – but perhaps more ends up being the story of the life of his older sister Maeve. And even though they get thrown out of the Dutch House by their stepmother after the death of their father, the Dutch House pervades their lives.

This is a story about a family, and a story about complicated relationships. This is no typical family at all, but somehow the emotions and relationships ring true. The people seem all the more real because, not in spite of, the fact that people with this particular life story surely never existed.

This is a book for people who like character-driven novels. There’s not a lot of dramatic action, and the story covers decades – but we get to know who these people are. There’s a mother who left her family to serve the poor, a father absorbed with work, a stepmother obsessed with getting the house, a little brother who does what he’s told, a big sister who misses her mother and hates her stepmother, and a dutiful wife who doesn’t realize what she’s getting into. Through all of it, the Dutch House represents all that Danny and Maeve lost.

In her talk, Ann Patchett said that when she told Kate DiCamillo what the book was about, Kate gave her the ending. I highly approve, for I especially loved the ending.

I finished the book happy for the time I’d spent with these people.

annpatchett.com
harpercollins.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 Knights vs. Dinosaurs, by Matt Phelan

Saturday, March 28th, 2020

Knights vs. Dinosaurs

by Matt Phelan

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 150 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 27, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy

This one is silly fun with speculation: What would happen if knights had to fight dinosaurs?

Erec is a knight in King Arthur’s court, and he’s been bragging. The truth is, he’s never seen even one dragon. But all the knights start bragging when they get together, and he got carried away and claimed he’d defeated 40 dragons.

That gave Merlin an idea. He suggested that Erec go defeat a “Terrible Lizard” in a cave the next morning – Merlin would give him a map.

It’s probably just as well that some other knights didn’t want Erec to get all the glory. Because it turned out that Merlin put a time-traveling spell on the cave – and sent them all back to the time of the dinosaurs.

(Okay, the truth is that not all the dinosaurs that appear in this book lived at the same time. But that’s admitted at the back of the book and kind of beside the point. We’ve got knights fighting dinosaurs and living to tell the tale.)

There’s a nice twist that it turns out the strongest knight of them all is female. It’s a lot of good-hearted fun, including battles with dinosaurs.

This is an early chapter book and includes plenty of Matt Phelan’s illustrations. Some of the battles are told with panels, in fact.

Knights fighting dinosaurs and realizing they’re going to have to work together. What could be more fun?

mattphelan.com
harpercollinschildrens.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 Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

Thank You, Omu!

by Oge Mora

Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 3, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Picture Books – Silly Fun
2019 Caldecott Honor Book

Here’s a contemporary story with a folk tale feel about a friendly elderly lady who makes a delicious big fat pot of thick red stew and shares with everyone who asks. A note at the front tells us that “Omu” is the Igbo term for “queen.”

As the thick red stew simmered on the stove, its scrumptious scent wafted out the window and out the door, down the hall, toward the street, and around the block, until –

KNOCK!

Someone was at the door.

Here’s the first encounter, with a little boy:

“Little boy!” Omu exclaimed. “What brings you to my home?”

“I was playing with my race car down the hall when I smelled the most delicious smell,” the little boy replied. “What is it?”

“Thick red stew.”

“MMMMM, STEW!” He sighed. “That sure sounds yummy.”

Omu thought for a moment. She was saving her stew for dinner, but she had made quite a bit. It would not hurt to share. “Would you like some?”

The little boy nodded.

And so Omu spooned out some thick red stew from the big fat pot for her nice evening meal.

“THANK YOU, OMU!” the little boy said, and went on his way.

A progression of people show up at Omu’s door, smelling the delicious stew. She gives to all – and then when she’s ready for her delicious dinner, there is nothing left!

But that is not the end of the story. Everyone who received from Omu that day comes back in the evening with something in return – and there’s a happy celebration.

I’m going to try to use this one in storytime and get the kids to call out “Thank you, Omu!” every time a character says that. This is a happy story about the joy of sharing.

ogemora.com
lbyr.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 My Father’s Words, by Patricia MacLachlan

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

My Father’s Words

by Patricia MacLachlan

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 135 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 29, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

My Father’s Words is a stunningly beautiful book.

It’s a beginning chapter book about the death of a father. But it’s beautiful.

Fiona and Finn’s father Declan was a psychologist, gentle and wise. The book begins with him making omelets for his kids, and on page 7 he’s killed in a car accident.

The book is about dealing with his death.

Their mother and their friends gather round. Even one of their father’s patients helps Fiona. But the biggest help, especially for Finn, is when they go to an animal shelter and spend time with the rescue dogs.

Their father’s will said not to have a funeral, but to have a party.

The party for my father was somehow both joyful and sad, with laughter and tears all mixed up. Finn and I were confused at that. My grandparents were ill and far away and couldn’t come. My mother spoke to them every day on the phone. But cousins and aunts and uncles came. And friends.

The book is full of memories. Those are set apart in a different font. And from their father’s patients, we learn many wise things that their father said. And those wise things help them heal as well as show love and receive love from the rescue dogs.

It’s hard to explain how beautiful this little book is. But I was thoroughly blessed and uplifted by reading it.

It’s hard to recommend to young readers a book about a father dying. But this lovely book is about healing, and I think kids will respond to it. After all, they know more about sadness than we realize – so why not read about dealing with sadness?

Note: I ended up posting this review exactly six months after my own father died. When I read it, I had no idea it would so soon be so applicable. Yes, it’s good to read about dealing with deep sadness and appreciating those you’ve loved who are no longer here.

harpercollinschildrens.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 Strange Planet, by Nathan W. Pyle

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

Strange Planet

by Nathan W. Pyle

William Morrow Gift Books, 2019. 144 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 26, 2019, from my own copy, signed by the author and purchased via premierecollectibles.com

I’m a big fan of Nathan Pyle’s comics posted on Facebook with smooth-bodied aliens living the lives of humans but describing what they are doing in very basic terms that highlight the absurdity or simplicity.

I’ve decided that the alien way of speaking reminds me of nice logical German word construction when the aliens called an umbrella a “sky shield,” because the actual German word for umbrella is Regenschirm, which broken down translates as “rain shield.”

Many of the words make you look at the things in a different way, such as the aliens calling a vacuum cleaner a “rollsuck” which has “the filth window.” Or honey, which is called “plant liquid partially digested by insects and then stolen.” Or balloons, which are “elastic breath traps.” Coffee is “jitter liquid,” and a vase is a “death cylinder” for holding “dying plants.”

Names for things are fun, but the interaction between people and between people and animals can be wonderfully touching. I think my favorite is the one that begins with one of the aliens crying. Their friend says, “Why does your face malfunction? Request mutual limb enclosure.”
“Permission granted.”
As they hug, the crying friend says, “You are absorbing my face fluids.”
“Let me absorb.
Let me absorb.”

I also love the one where one alien is on the phone, saying:

“Hello we do not want to make sustenance.
We will literally pay a being to come here with sustenance.
Please pile edible items onto a vast dough circle.
OK Gratitude. We will stay here and do nothing.”

There are certainly days I would pay a being to come to my home with sustenance.

I find myself Sharing Nathan Pyle’s comics often, so when he was promoting a special on autographed copies of his new book, I thought it would be a great way to support an author and pick up some Christmas gifts. I’m happy to say that the unsigned one I’d previously preordered for myself (had to hit the dollar limit) was a maximum-traded item at the staff Christmas party this year!

If you haven’t seen Nathan Pyle’s work, try this out. If you have: There’s a book out!

hc.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 Prairie Lotus, by Linda Sue Park

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

Prairie Lotus

by Linda Sue Park

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2020. 261 pages.
Review written March 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Prairie Lotus is a beautiful story of a half-Chinese girl, Hanna Edmunds, settling with her Papa in a town in Dakota Territory in 1880. They plan to open a dress goods shop. Hanna had learned to sew from her Mama, who died back in California, and dreams of also sewing dresses for the ladies of the town.

But Hanna encounters lots of prejudice for being a “Chinaman.” The people of the town don’t want to send their children to school with her, and even people who seem nice ask terribly ignorant questions. So besides trying to make friends in a new town, missing her Mama, and trying to make the shop a success, Hanna hopes that people will even allow her to live there.

Hanna has some encounters with some Indian women and children. She sees the settlers’ attitudes toward Indians with the perspective that these are people who look like she does, with black hair and dark eyes.

I couldn’t help but love Hanna, with her passion for making beautiful dresses, her willingness to think the best of people, and her determined spirit. Here’s a book that all children can picture themselves as being part of, experiencing a town on the frontier.

Prairie Lotus is written as both a tribute and an answer to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. The author notes in the back that she grew up loving those books.

Even at the height of my passion for those books, there were parts that I found puzzling and distressing. The character of Ma was most problematic. Her values of propriety and obedience over everything else seemed to me both misplaced and stifling.

And Ma hated Native Americans. In several episodes throughout the series, she expresses that hatred. While I could not have articulated it at the time, I harbored a deeply personal sense of dismay over Ma’s attitude. Ultimately it meant that she would never have allowed Laura to become friends with someone like me. Someone with black hair and dark eyes and tan skin. Someone who wasn’t white.

I appreciated that she did a lot of research to make sure she gets the encounters with Native Americans right.

I also chose to include a few lines of Dakota dialogue. I felt strongly about including those words in an effort to counteract previous generations of innumerable children’s books that have never depicted or even acknowledged Native languages, and the stereotypes of Hollywood that reduced Native communication to grunts and pidgin.

She concludes the Author’s Note like this:

Prairie Lotus is a story I have been writing nearly all my life. It is an attempt to reconcile my childhood love of the Little House books with my adult knowledge of their painful shortcomings. My wish is that this book will provide food for thought for all who read it, especially the young readers in whose hands the future lies.

She has not only succeeded in this goal, but she’s also written a main character her readers will love. They will imagine themselves back in LaForge, wanting to be Hanna’s best friend. But children won’t feel cut off from that imagination by the way they look.

lspark.com
hmhbooks.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 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.

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