Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is an ode to loving yourself

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, by Joanna Ho/Illustrated by Dung Ho, (Jan. 2021, Harper Children’s), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062915627

Ages 3-7

This gorgeous book is an ode in verse to loving oneself and the connection to one’s heritage. A little girl notices that some of her friends have blue eyes and long lashes, but she looks different. She has “eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea”, and they look just like her mother’s, her grandmother’s, and her sister’s. The love and hope and history in these eyes are carried from generation to generation, and they communicate volumes. Not for one moment does our little protagonist worry about not having “sapphire lagoons with lashes like lace trim on ballgowns”, because her eyes “find mountains that rise ahead and look up when others are shut down… lashes like the swords of warriors..” Each page reveals beautiful determination, self-love, and self-worth, and Dung Ho’s digital illustrations are warm, yet powerful, with strength through grace. Touches of Chinese history unfold through the spreads, with references to the Chinese culture and mythology; clothing, and imagery.

This book is breathtaking, and I can’t wait to read this at storytime. Add this to your shelves, your storytimes, and your collections.

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus. It was also one of the top ten picks for the Winter 2020-2021 Kids’ Indie Next Great Reads.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

The Great TBR Read-Down Continues: Squint and Pie in the Sky

My middle grade TBR read-down continues with two more great books, both realistic fiction: Squint, by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown, the duo that gave us Mustaches for Maddie; and Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai. Let’s dive in!

 

Squint, by Chad Morris & Shelly Brown, (Oct. 2018, Shadow Mountain Publishers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1629724850

Ages 9-13

Flint is a middle schooler who loves to draw and loves superheroes. He’s creating a comic starring his kinda sorta superhero alter ego, Squint, who fights the villains who used to be his buddies, with the help of his rock dog. Flint’s been nicknamed Squint by his former best friend, because he has keratoconus, an eye disease that could leave him blind. Raised by his grandparents, Squint copes with his frustration through his comic, but when he meets McKell – a Filipina with a terminally ill brother who puts up YouTube challenges, daring others to live the life that he can’t – he may just have made a real friend again, after all.

Squint is a beautifully written book of grief, loss, and coping. It’s as much McKell’s story as it is Flint’s, and Chad Morris and Shelly Brown have created another sensitive, compelling story about kids coping with illness, and about the adults who are there to shepherd these kids through the heavy stuff. Flint’s grandparents have had to raise their grandson because their daughter couldn’t; they’ve given Flint the best they could with what they’ve had, and they’ve been the ones to see him through the multiple doctor appointments, and, now, surgery. McKell’s parents are working through grief and loss, and sometimes, that takes a toll on their daughter. Flint and McKell find in each other someone who may not understand, but who gets it, if that makes sense. They push each other to be their best, and when they combine their talents – Flint, with his art, and McKell, with her rhyming and songwriting – they shine.

Squint is a great addition to your middle grade fiction collections. It’s got realistic characters with strong backstories, and deals with real world issues like abandonment, grief, loss, illness, and navigating the aggravations of middle school.

 

Pie in the Sky, by Remy Lai, (May 2019, Henry Holt & Co), $21.99, ISBN: 978-1-250-31410-9

Ages 8-12

Twelve-year-old Jingwen, his younger brother, Yanghao, and his mother leave China for Australia, but this wasn’t the original plan. They were supposed to move to Australia with Jingwen’s and Yanghao’s father, so he could open his dream bakery, Pie in the Sky. But Jingwen’s father died in a car accident almost two years ago, and Jingwen is wracked with guilt over events leading up to his father’s death. When they arrive in Australia, he feels like everyone around him is speaking Martian, but that he’s the alien – especially with little Yanghao seems to fit right in, quickly learning English and making friends. To deal with his grief and his frustration with his new life in Australia, Jingwen decides he’s going to make all the cakes he and his father talked about making for Pie in the Sky. Yanghao is only too happy to have cake every night, and Jingwen sets to work while his mother works. After all, cake makes everything better, right?

I LOVED Pie in the Sky. It’s a graphic novel within a novel, with 2-color illustrations on almost every page, that keep the action moving and keep readers invested in the story. When Jingwen tells readers he feels like an alien, we see that he’s an alien! He’s drawn as an alien for every time someone can’t understand him; on the occasions where he successfully speaks a word or two of English, a fourth eye will disappear, or something else will make him slightly more human. But all around him, people speaking English – including his brother and mother – may as well be an alien language, something we see as Remy Lai brilliantly illustrates a single word here and there, surrounded by alien glyphs in speech bubbles. Remy Lai creates a moving story about a family working through grief and loss, but each seem to be in isolation, when they need to come together to move on. Jingwen’s fear and frustration at being in a new country, speaking an unfamiliar language, comes across through prose and illustration, making him even more likable and empathetic. Jingwen and Yanghao have an realistic sibling relationship, with ups and downs, general silliness, and the love the always manages to shine through. Kids will love how they call each other – and anyone who annoys them, really – a “booger”.  Pie in the Sky works as a humorous and touching look at a family working their way through a tragedy. The tasty recipe at the end encourages families to bake together – because cake really does make everything better.

Pie in the Sky has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Can our favorite Book Scavengers figure out The Unbreakable Code?

The Unbreakable Code (Book Scavenger #2), by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, (April 2017, Henry Holt & Co. BYR), $16.99, ISBN: 9781627791168

Recommended for readers 8-12

The sequel to Book Scavenger (2015) continues the adventures of friends, code breakers, and bookworms Emily and James. Emily’s parents have put a hold on their state-hopping, giving Emily a feeling of permanence she missed terribly. She and James find themselves in the middle of another mystery when they notice their teacher, Mr. Quisling, acting strangely; they follow a trail of encrypted messages in Book Scavenger-laid Mark Twain books. The messages are an attempt to break a legendary, historic puzzle known as the Unbreakable Code, which leads to either a treasure or a curse. As mysterious and suspicious fires pop up around them, Emily and James are worried that Mr. Quisling is the arsonist – unless they can figure out who his mysterious Book Scavenger messenger is.

The Unbreakable Code is loaded with the adventure, mystery, and code-breaking fun that made the first book so enjoyable. There are mysteries within mysteries, and a real sense of urgency as the tweens try to get to the bottom of the arsonist on their trail. There’s a very good subplot about the history of Chinese immigrants during the California Gold Rush that shines a light on a part of history that doesn’t get as much discussion as it should. Ms. Chambliss also presents a very different Mr. Griswold, changed by the events in Book Scavenger. He’s withdrawn, hesitant, apprehensive; his buoyant style is toned down, and he surrounds himself with his assistant, Jack, and the company of dogs to guard him. Emily and James’ secondary mission is to nudge Mr. Griswold back to his former self.

A fun follow-up and a fun accompaniment to coding and spy programs. Introduce kids to coding with Book Scavenger and Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders! Kids can play their own game of Book Scavenger at the Book Scavenger website and sign up for the newsletter.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Mysterium #1: The Black Dragon has suspense, magic, and mystery

black dragonMysterium #1: The Black Dragon, by Julian Sedgwick/Illustrated by Patricia Moffett (Mar. 2016, Carolrhoda Books), $18.99

Recommended for ages 10-14

Danny Woo didn’t have the most traditional upbringing. As the child of circus performers in a traveling circus, he learned a great deal from his death-defying parents, until a suspicious fire left him an orphan in the care of his journalist aunt, Laura. When an explosion at Danny’s boarding school closed the school while repairs are made, Laura swept him off to his mother’s homeland, Hong Kong; she’s researching a dangerous triad gang known as the Black Dragon, but Danny feels like she knows more than she’s letting on. After his aunt is kidnapped, Danny and his old circus friend, a dwarf named Major Zamora, are left to save Laura – and themselves – using every trick they learned at the circus.

The Black Dragon is the first book in a new series. Mysterium follows the adventures of Danny Woo, a tween who survived the fire that killed his parents. Brought up in a traveling circus, Danny has some tricks up his sleeve and knows that his remaining family – his aunt Laura and his friend, Zamora – knows more about his parents’ deaths than they’re willing to let on. Previously published outside the US, there are three books in the series (so far); I hope they’ll also be published in the U.S., to give audiences a chance to read the whole series.

I liked what I’ve read so far. There’s a lot of action and intrigue, with some questions posed and just enough answers given to tease readers into getting the next book. Danny is a smart, capable kid who uses the hypnosis and sleight of hand techniques he learned from his dad to aid his own investigation. He tends to go with his gut feelings on things, because he’s good at “reading” people – another talent he picked up from his father. His friend Zamora is a loyal friend who acts as Danny’s partner and protector. We’ve got good exposition, interesting characters with talents not usually explored by tween fic, and multi-ethnic, diverse characters that make this a good choice to add to reading lists. I’d pair this with Simon Nicholson’s Young Houdini middle grade series for a nice display on magic in fiction.

Check out the Mysterium webpage for more information on the rest of the series, which you can also buy for your reader if you can’t wait for them to be published stateside.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Book Review: Dim Sum for Everyone, by Grace Lin (Dell Dragonfly, 2003)

Dim-Sum-for-EveryoneRecommended for ages 2-5

A child describes her dinner at a dim sum restaurant with her family, explaining what dim sum is – little dishes of different foods – and what each member of her family chooses from the little carts that bring food to the tables. Perspective changes to feature each family member as they choose a different food. Multicultural audiences will appreciate learning about new and different foods, and many families will identify with the experience. The illustrations are brightly colored, with the restaurant’s red carpet serving as the background for each spread; the bright silver carts and vibrantly colored foods and clothing add to the visual interest. The front endpapers feature food, condiments and tableware against a bright green background and the back endpapers illustrate almost two dozen dim sum dishes.  The bright yellow font creates a nice contrast from the red background, and occasionally, the text curves around the picture, adding to the visual appeal.

dim sum image

This would be a strong addition to a multicultural read-aloud or a Chinese New Year read-aloud. Preschoolers will be intrigued by the bright colors and names of the characters (Ma-Ma, Ba-Ba, Jie-Jie, Mei-Mei); the interesting new foods could start a fun discussion on other types of ethnic foods. If space permits and the food is available, perhaps there could be a small selection of foods available for audiences to sample. A Chinese New Year read-aloud could also offer printables of the Chinese astrological signs, with explanations for each sign.  Oriental Trading’s website offers many affordable Chinese New Year crafts for little hands, and there are free lantern crafts available online that parents/guardians could help children create.

The author’s webpage offers printables, crafts, Chinese lessons, and recipes.