Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review of My First Day, by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huynh Kim Liên

Thursday, July 29th, 2021

My First Day

by Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huynh Kim Liên

Make Me a World (Penguin Random House), 2021. Originally published in Vietnam in 2017. 40 pages.
Review written May 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a mind-expanding book with lush paintings. This picture book doesn’t tell you what it’s the first day of until the end.

As the book opens, you see a boy come out of his house on stilts and get into a small boat on the big river. Every spread is entirely filled with one grand picture, and most of the pictures are mostly filled with the river, with the small boy in a boat somewhere in the spread. Here’s how the text begins:

Where the great river, mother Mekong, tumbles into the endless sea . . . that is where I live.

I wake up with the sun creeping into the sky and wait for tide and time to bring to me my little open boat.
Today is the first day.

This is the first time I’ve made this trip on my own, weaving through floodwaters and forests.
Mama said I’m big enough now to go by myself. Papa said to be careful because that’s what papas do.

The paintings make this trip into an epic journey. The boy goes through waves dwarfing his boat, rain and a dark forest all around, a crocodile and other creatures lurking in the water – and comes out to a bright sky with storks flying ahead of him, all manner of fish beneath him, and even a herd of water buffalo looking at him kindly.

Before he gets to his destination, we see many other kids in boats, traveling the same direction. “Hello, friends!”

And then with the final page of the story, we learn where this adventurous journey has taken him – to his first day of school.

Notes at the back set the story in the Mekong Delta and tell how the river is used as a roadway and in many other ways.

It’s a lovely starting-to-school story that shows children in another part of the world are the same – excited about starting school – but different in the way they get to school. Along with the stunningly beautiful pictures, this is a book you won’t forget. Because the book was originally published in Vietnam, it won’t be eligible for the Caldecott Medal, but the illustrations are so amazing, it would surely be in the running if that weren’t the case.

kaaillustration.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Allergic, by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

Allergic

by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter

Graphix (Scholastic), 2021. 238 pages.
Review written June 25, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Allergic is a sweet graphic novel about a girl who’s planning to get a dog for her tenth birthday – and breaks out in a rash after she’s given her heart to one. It turns out that she’s allergic to anything with fur or feathers.

This has repercussions. Maggie’s class can’t have a class pet. When her new friend who moved in next door gets a puppy, that means Maggie can’t come over any more.

She tries to cope in ways that turn out to be both bad and good. The idea of trying to secretly keep a mouse in her closet turns out to be not so great. Meanwhile, Maggie’s mom is expecting a baby soon, and Maggie’s feeling a little left out.

The pictures in this graphic novel are adorable, and the reader will love Maggie and her family. Her plight will capture the sympathy of readers, helping them see a perspective maybe different from their own. All while reading and viewing a great story with plenty of conflict in a popular format. This book will fly off the shelves, and deservedly so.

meganwagnerlloyd.com
michellemee.com
scholastic.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Red, White, and Whole, by Rajani LaRocca

Friday, July 9th, 2021

Red, White, and Whole

by Rajani LaRocca

Quill Tree Books (HarperCollins), 2021. 217 pages.
Review written April 28, 2021, from a library book

This is a novel in verse, so it goes quickly. Reha is telling her story and this is how she introduces herself:

I have two lives.
One that is Indian,
one that is not.
I have two best friends.
One who is Indian,
one who is not.

At school I swim in a river of white skin
and blond hair and brown hair
and blue eyes and green eyes and hazel,
school subjects and giggles about boys,
salad and sandwiches.

And on weekends,
I float in a sea of brown skin and black hair and dark eyes,
MTV music videos and giggles about boys,
samosas and sabjis.

In both places I have
gossip and laughter
music and silence
friendship.
But only in one place do I have
my parents.

I’ve read quite a few books set in middle school lately. As always, there’s plenty to navigate. Reha’s got her two lives, and at school is assigned to work on a project in English with a boy and wonders what that means. And she wants to go to the school dance, but will her parents let her?

Then her mother gets sick with leukemia, and all other concerns fade in comparison. This book is set in 1983 and reflects the treatments available then.

It’s a tough story, but I like the way Reha’s friends rally round. I also enjoyed the Indian folk tale Reha tells us about, regarding a princess who charmed Lord Death and won the life of her husband.

Reha’s mother’s red blood cells and white blood cells need to work together. She’s a hematologist, so she knows what’s going on with leukemia. Just as those blood cells need to work together, Reha wants the parts of her life to work together.

This novel is poignant and insightful, a quick read that doesn’t feel trivial.

rajanilarocca.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Garden of Small Beginnings, by Abbi Waxman

Wednesday, July 7th, 2021

The Garden of Small Beginnings

by Abbi Waxman
read by Emily Rankin

Penguin Audio, 2017. 9 hours, 51 minutes.
Review written June 15, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

I read this book after reading The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by the same author, because all of Abbi Waxman’s books had been recommended in my Silent Book Club Facebook group as feel-good reading. They were right! This is a nice happy story about a young widow named Lilian, the mother of two girls, who gets signed up for a gardening class by her boss – and the class is led by a handsome instructor from Europe with a marvelous accent (especially appreciated in the audiobook version) who is also attracted to Lilian.

But Lilian isn’t ready to date, even though it’s been four years. And she doesn’t believe her kids are ready either. So the book is about Lilian working through that, and the gardening class, and the friends she makes in the class, and the family and relationships around Lilian, including her wonderfully precocious kids.

I do have a caveat: I’m an older single and have my eyes open for a match – with very little luck. I recently told off a couple of married friends who implied that I was overlooking possibilities. Trust me, that’s not a thing! And this destroys my suspension of disbelief when it comes to reading a Meet-Cute story. There is no way I can bring myself to believe that in real life the instructor would be single and available, near her age, handsome, and a good match for her. It just wouldn’t happen. And they are not even the only couple that meets in this book!

So, I’m going to have to switch over and read some murder mysteries or nice tragedies or maybe a revenge novel. I’m still glad, though, I finished this book – sometimes fairy tales are nice to read. And if you’re looking for a happy and thoughtful romance-after-loss about some delightful people you’ll be glad to hang around, I do recommend this book. If you’re turning cynical, though, you might need to set it aside. This is a feel-good book for people who are already feeling pretty happy.

abbiwaxman.com
penguin.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Julián at the Wedding, by Jessica Love

Wednesday, June 30th, 2021

Julián at the Wedding

by Jessica Love

Candlewick Press, 2020. 36 pages.
Review written 10/20/2020 from a library book
Starred Review

It’s another picture book about gender-nonconforming Julián, from the lovely book Julián Is a Mermaid. What I love about both books is that this is a story about Julián and his vivid imagination. He happens to enjoy pretending in ways that don’t strictly follow gender norms. That’s who he is, and that’s celebrated – but the point of the book is Julián and his imagination, not his gender-nonconforming.

In this book, Julián and his abuela are going to a wedding, and Julián is in the wedding, dressed in a snazzy purple suit that isn’t strictly masculine or feminine. Two women are joyfully getting married, and we’re told, “A wedding is a party for love.”

At the dinner after the ceremony, Julián makes friends with Marisol, the flower girl. They go to play in the “fairy house” made by the leaves of a weeping willow tree. When Marisol plays with a dog and gets her dress all dirty, Julián has a solution, and both kids get to pretend to be fairies.

In both books, I love the way the adults appreciate Julián’s and now Marisol’s antics, rather than scolding. It’s another celebration of the power of imagination.

candlewick.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Amina’s Song, by Hena Khan

Friday, June 25th, 2021

Amina’s Song

by Hena Khan

Salaam Reads (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing), 2021. 280 pages.
Review written April 28, 2021, from a library book

Amina’s Song comes after the events of Amina’s Voice, but I hadn’t read the first book and did not feel lost during this one, so I think it’s okay to read them out of order.

As Amina’s Song opens, Amina is visiting her family in Pakistan and having a wonderful time. Though she would like to fit in better and understand the language better, she’s going to especially miss her cousin Zohra, who doesn’t understand why she’d want to live in America.

But Amina has to go back to America to start seventh grade. Seventh grade has new challenges. She doesn’t have many classes with her friends. And when they have a living history project, she chooses Malala, from Pakistan, only to have her classmates react that Pakistan must be a terrible place to live, where women don’t have rights. How can she show them how beautiful Pakistan is?

Meanwhile, there’s a boy who’s becoming her friend and everybody – including Amina – wonders what it means when a boy is your friend. He’s showing her how to make digital music. And her beloved uncle back in Pakistan is very sick. Altogether, the book communicates the joys and conflicts and challenges of middle school in a lovely way.

HenaKhan.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Unmarriageable, by Soniah Kamal

Wednesday, June 16th, 2021

Unmarriageable

Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan

by Soniah Kamal

Ballantine Books, 2019. 342 pages.
Review written June 1, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

I’ve signed up for a virtual Jane Austen Summer Program happening in June, and Soniah Kamal is one of the speakers, so I wanted to read this book in advance, and I was delighted when I did so.

This is a pretty straight retelling of Pride and Prejudice, following fairly closely parallel scenes and conversations, only this time set in modern-day Pakistan. But let’s face it: Pride and Prejudice tells a wonderful story, so this version was wonderful, too.

One nice twist is that our heroine, Alysba Binat, teaches English Literature at an international school. So in the first chapter, we see her going over an assignment with a class of ninth-grade girls: to rewrite the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice. The one the author chooses to begin the book is this:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl can go from pauper to princess or princess to pauper in the mere seconds it takes for her to accept a proposal.

As in the original, Alysba is the second of five sisters, and her mother is very concerned with them grabbing husbands. Especially when the event of the season is coming up – a major wedding celebration. At the first event of the wedding, Alys’s sister Jena meets a rich man “Bungles” Bingla, who seems quite taken with her. Now her mother is determined she must get him to propose. Meanwhile, Bungles has a proud friend, Valentine Darsee, and Alys overhears him saying that he is particularly unimpressed by her.

This continue as we know they will – and it’s wonderful. Something I particularly liked about this retelling is that everybody’s drawn a little more sympathetically. We see that Mrs. Binat simply wants the best for her daughters. Dr. Kaleen is honestly helpful to Annie dey Bagh, and we see that Alys’s friend Sherry honestly does find happiness by marrying him. Even the awful proposal and later reversal is as realistic and believable in this story as it is in the original.

Darsee and Alys talk in this novel about literature and how Pakistan adopts literature from all over the world, as well as writing some that is uniquely Pakistani – and I liked that touch, showing deep appreciation for Jane Austen and her universal themes, while giving those themes a new setting.

randomhousebooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Jane Anonymous, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Sunday, June 13th, 2021

Jane Anonymous

by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Wednesday Books (St. Martins), 2019. 306 pages.
Review written December 21, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Jane Anonymous is a thriller for teens about a girl who was taken captive for seven months.

The story flashes between “Now” as she’s trying to recover and “Then” when the kidnapping unfolded. The book would be too intense done any other way, because it would be unbearable to think she never escaped. As it is, you can’t stop reading to find out what happened to mess with her head so badly and how she did get out of it.

Here’s how the book begins, in a Prologue with the heading “Now.”

Dear Reader(s),

Before ten months ago, I didn’t know that the coil spring from a mattress could be used as a makeshift weapon, or that the rod inside a toilet tank worked just as well as the claw of a hammer.

Before ten months ago, I never imagined that the sense of smell could be so keen – that the scent of my breath, like rotten fruit, could wake me out of a sound sleep, or that cooked rice carries a distinct aroma, like popcorn kernels heating.

Before.

Ten months.

Ago.

I’d never considered the power of light – that when one is deprived of it, illogical thoughts can gnaw like rats at the brain, keeping one up, driving one mad.

Nor had I any reason to predict how intimately I’d come to know myself: the oily stench of my own hair, the salty taste of my own blood, and the touch of my unbathed body (the scaly layer of scabbing that would form all over my skin, and the fire-ant sensation that would crawl up and down my limbs.)

By telling the reader what’s going to happen, the author grabs our attention right away. By weaving together the two timelines, we come to understand that a trauma like that doesn’t get all better simply by escaping the situation.

This powerfully written thriller will have you on the edge of your seat.

wednesdaybooks.com

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Review of Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laura Viera Rigler

Wednesday, May 19th, 2021

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict

by Laura Viera Rigler
read by Kate Reading

Tantor Audio, 2009. 9 hours.
Review written May 17, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

I’d already read and reviewed the companion to this book, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, where Courtney Stone from modern-day Los Angeles gets transferred to the body of Jane Mansfield, a young lady who lived in Regency England. This book gives us the flip side of that exchange, and tells us what it’s like for Jane Mansfield to wake up in modern-day Los Angeles, in Courtney’s body.

I enjoyed this story more. I’m sure it was partly that I’d gotten used to the premise and didn’t get bogged down on the fantasy of the mechanics and how it wouldn’t really work to switch bodies. I was used to the idea and just went with it.

And the challenges of a young lady from the past trying to deal with present-day technology are astounding! She didn’t even have the vocabulary to know what things were called. The author did make use of “cellular memory” – the body itself knew how to do things, just as Courtney was remarkably good at embroidery when she was in Jane’s body. So Jane in Courtney’s body could quickly navigate using a computer, once somebody showed her what it was. She used her concussion as a reason to need a lot of things explained to her.

It was a lot of fun seeing the modern world through a 200-year-old consciousness. When she arrives and Pride and Prejudice is playing on Courtney’s TV, Jane is astonished, wondering how the actors got into the box, and she definitely recognizes the scene, for she, too, is a Jane Austen addict – but didn’t even know the name of the author of Pride and Prejudice. She’s delighted that there are four more novels by this same author on the shelves of her modern-day apartment.

I still wasn’t exactly happy about how each woman was trying to straighten out the other’s love life. Because who is really in love with whom if it’s a different person in that body? And then the author fudged the ending a bit, so it didn’t end exactly as I expected it to. Did I misunderstand the ending of the other book? All the same, it seems everyone will live happily ever after. What more could you ask for?

This set of books is a lot of fun, and the more so the less you get bogged down in trying to figure out how it would work. Don’t try; just enjoy it. After all, it would take a little magic for someone to live and learn to thrive in a life 200 years in the future.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Zonia’s Rain Forest, by Juana Martinez-Neal

Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

Zonia’s Rain Forest

by Juana Martinez-Neal

Candlewick Press, 2021. 40 pages.
Review written May 18, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Zonia’s Rain Forest tells about a young Asháninka girl who lives in the rain forest with those she loves. (Her mother and infant brother are pictured.) It’s a simple story. Every day, Zonia likes to go greet her friends, and we see beautiful active paintings of Zonia with various creatures found in the rain forest (with a guide in the back as to what they are), with a blue morpho butterfly accompanying her on every page.

Some of the animals, such as the jaguar and the spectacled caiman look dangerous to this mom for a little girl to be cavorting with them, but it’s a child’s fantasy adventure, and Zonia is friends with the rain forest and with its inhabitants. I love the way Zonia is pictured always happily in motion.

The book ends with a frightening bare patch in the forest. Encouraged by her mother, Zonia purposes to answer the forest’s call to help. The final words of the book are, “We all must answer.”

In this beautiful and inviting book, every reader will feel Zonia’s kinship with the rain forest.

The five pages of back matter include, besides an identification of the animals pictured, a translation of the text into Asháninka, some facts about the Amazon, and a list of threats to the Amazon. It’s a call to protect the world given in a way that children can understand.

juanamartinezneal.com/zonia
candlewick.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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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