Posted in Toddler Reads

Board Books that celebrate Jewish life and community

Shabbat Shalom!, by Douglas Florian/Illustrated by Hannah Tolson, (July 2021, Candlewick Press), $7.99, ISBN: 9781536204490

Ages 0-3

An sweet, rhyming story about celebrating the Sabbath, Shabbat Shalom! shows a family heading home as the sun sets, and prepares to celebrate the Sabbath together. Wearing their best clothes and lighting the white candles, the family gathers to sing, pray, and eat dinner together. Details make this a delightful read for families, from the embroidered challah cover, with pomegranate detail and matzoh ball soup at the table, to the room the three children share, with toys strewn about the floor and art taped to the walls. A wonderful explanation about Shabbat as both family time and time for prayer.

 

We Go to Shul, by Douglas Florian/Illustrated by Hannah Tolson, (July 2021, Candlewick Press), $7.99, ISBN: 9781536204506

Ages 0-3

It’s Saturday, and this rhyming story follows a family as they head to synagogue, or shul. A family gets dressed and heads to shul, where the greet other families in their religious community, and their rabbit. Once assembled, the Torah is read, the congregation sings, and when services conclude, the family heads home to eat together. The story shows the celebration of community that attending shul brings, with families hugging and greeting one another, body language close and full of friendly affection. Boys wear kippahs and yarmulkes; some women wear head coverings and some men wear prayer shawls. A warm and inviting look into the Jewish faith.

Posted in Science Fiction, Steampunk, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Delightfully eldritch, creepy storytelling from Frances Hardinge: Deeplight

Deeplight, by Frances Hardinge, (Apr. 2020, Amulet), $13.99, ISBN:  978-1509897568

Ages 12+

(This review and ISBN are the paperback version. The hardcover was released in October 2019.)

Taking place in a time and world where gods were earthbound monsters who killed themselves in battle, Deeplight is set on an island named for one of these gods, Lady’s Crave, where the inhabitants scavenge the waters for pieces of the gods, referred to as “godware”, imbued with small but noticeable power. Hark, a 14-year old orphan, and his best friend, Jelt, are petty crooks who get involved in schemes of varying illegality. Hark is caught and sold to a godware “expert’, Dr. Vyne, as an indentured servant; she puts him to work in a home for the aging priests, to find out what he can about the gods and where key pieces and archives remain. Meanwhile, Jelt hasn’t let go of his hold on Hark, and convinces him to go on one more expedition, where Hark discovers a pulsing piece of godware that has healing powers. But nothing comes without a cost, and healing Jelt sets events into motion that will have huge repercussions.

I love Frances Hardinge’s work. She creates wonderfully creepy stories; Deeplight adds a level of eldritch horror with a dash of steampunk and takes the conversation to a new level, throwing in themes of idolatry, greed, and the part fear plays in holding onto belief. Each character is fully realized, with backstory and motivation; whether or not they’re likable is entirely up to you – but you will never forget them. I’ll be gushing about this book for a long time. Frances Hardinge is the author you give your Mary Downing Hahn fans when they’re ready for more. Give this to your horror fans, your steampunk fans, and slide it in front of any HP Lovecraft fans you may have come across.

Deeplight has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

JULIE MURPHY NEWS FROM VALIANT!

I just got this email, and literally dropped what I was doing (scheduling a dentist appointment, but still) to get this post out. See, I’m not at New York Comic Con this year (waving at my friend, Esti, my son, and his girlfriend who braved the morass of the Javits Center today), so I’m living for everyone’s e-mails, tweets and Facebook posts. THIS email from comics publisher Valiant made me SO HAPPY: Julie Murphy, author of one of my fave YA reads, Dumplin’, is writing a YA novel about Faith, a character from the Valiant Universe that I absolutely love. Check out this gorgeous cover!

From Valiant:

Valiant Entertainment and HarperCollins Publishers imprint Balzer + Bray announced today a new series of young adult novels featuring Valiant comics characters, kicking off in Spring 2020 with FAITH: Taking Flight by #1 New York Times bestselling author Julie Murphy.

“We are always looking for masterful storytellers to bring our stories and characters to life in new and exciting mediums,” said Russell Brown, Valiant President of Consumer Products, Promotions & Ad Sales. “Julie Murphy is one of the best. Having read several of her previous YA novels, we knew she was the perfect author to write about one of our most popular characters, Faith Herbert. Through this and more Valiant YA novels to be announced, we can’t wait to introduce a new generation of fans to the Valiant Universe.”

Julie Murphy is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the books Side Effects May VaryDumplin’Ramona Blue, and Puddin’Dumplin’ was recently adapted into a Netflix original movie starring Danielle MacDonald and Jennifer Aniston.

“Collaborating with Valiant on FAITH: Taking Flight has been such a thrill! I’ve been able to write what I love—body positive stories about young people on the brink of self-discovery—while getting to stretch my legs and play in the world of comics and superheroes,” said Murphy. “Faith has come to mean quite a great deal to me as a plus-size icon and I’m so excited for longtime Faith fans to meet teenage Faith and for a whole new crop of readers to discover Faith and her world for the first time.”

FAITH: Taking Flight is the story of Faith Herbert, a regular teen, who, when she’s not hanging out with her two best friends, Matt and Ches, is volunteering at the local animal shelter or obsessing over the long-running teen drama The Grove. So far, her senior year has been spent trying to sort out her feelings for her maybe-crush Johnny and making plans to stay close to her Grandma Lou after graduation. Of course, there’s also that small matter of recently discovering that she can fly… and a super cool (to say the least!) new girl in town, one who Faith never in her wildest dreams ever thought she would get to meet.

“Julie Murphy’s books have helped change the conversation around body positivity in the YA industry,” stated Alessandra Balzer, VP, Co-Publisher, Balzer + Bray. “We are excited to partner with Julie and Valiant to bring this groundbreaking superhero’s story into the world.”

Faith, first created by Jim Shooter and David Lapham in 1992 for Valiant, received her first solo comic book series in January 2016 from writer Jody Houser and artists Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage and became an instant success, earning an Eisner Award nomination and praise from The Atlantic, Vox, NPR, Cosmopolitan, and many more. Today, she is one of Valiant’s most recognizable characters, and her adventures are published worldwide, available in 47 countries in 27 languages. Faith is also a key character in the Harbinger comics, a series about a group of enhanced individuals who band together to avoid being persecuted by government officials and exploited by large corporations. A Harbinger feature film is currently in development at Paramount Pictures under producers Neal H. Moritz and Toby Jaffe of Original Film and Dan Mintz, CEO of DMG Entertainment, the parent company of Valiant.

Valiant’s slate of forthcoming YA novels intend to feature younger versions of classic Valiant heroes as they learn to control their superpowers, battle evil elements, and deal with the trials of growing up. More announcements of the next books in the series will be made soon!
About Valiant Entertainment
Valiant Entertainment, a subsidiary of DMG Entertainment, founded by Dan Mintz, is a leading character-based entertainment company that owns and controls the third most extensive library of superheroes behind Marvel and DC. With more than 80 million issues sold and a library of over 2,000 characters, including X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Harbinger, Shadowman, Archer & Armstrong, and many more, Valiant is one of the most successful publishers in the history of the comic book medium. For more information, visit Valiant on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and ValiantEntertainment.com. For Valiant merchandise and more, visit ValiantStore.com.

HarperCollins Children’s Books is one of the leading publishers of children’s and teen books. Respected worldwide for its tradition of publishing quality, award-winning books for young readers, HarperCollins is home to many timeless treasures and bestsellers such as Charlotte’s Web, Goodnight Moon, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Hate U Give; series including The Chronicles of Narnia, Ramona, Warriors, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Pete the Cat, Fancy Nancy, Divergent, and Red Queen; and graphic and illustrated novels such as Nimona, Invisible Emmie, and New Kid.  Consistently at the forefront of digital innovation, HarperCollins Children’s Books delights readers through engaging storytelling across a variety of formats and platforms, including the largest young adult (YA) book community, Epic Reads.  HarperCollins Children’s Books is a division of HarperCollins Publishers, which is the second largest consumer book publisher in the world, has operations in 17 countries, and is a subsidiary of News Corp. You can visit HarperCollins Children’s Books at www.harpercollinschildrens.com and www.epicreads.com and HarperCollins Publishers at corporate.HC.com.

 

FOLKS, I AM BEYOND EXCITED. I love Julie Murphy’s writing style and her body confident characters. This is going to be a novel I keep an eye out for!

 

Posted in Preschool Reads

Little Sid – Meet the Buddha!

Little Sid, by Ian Lendler/Illustrated by Xantha Bouma, (Jan. 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626726369

Recommended for readers 3-8

This adorably illustrated story of the Buddha’s childhood is both a nice introduction to Buddhism for younger readers, and a meaningful fable about valuing connections over possessions.

Little Sid is Siddhartha, a little prince who gets everything he could ever want, except for time with his parents. They’re always running off to some grand event or monarch duty, leaving Sid to be raised by an army of handlers who all fawn over him. He isn’t happy. He takes off to find the secret to happiness and meets a wise man who confuses him, a tiger who terrifies him, and a mouse who makes it all come together for him. When he comes back, he’s a changed kid, ready to put what he’s learned into practice: starting with his parents.

Xanthe Bouma’s artwork is adorable and bright, lively and bold. Sid’s face is filled with expression, whether he’s happily greeting readers on the opening page or reveling in the joy of a ripe strawberry. Ian Lendler’s text weaves a story of a child who has everything he could want, but wants only his parents’ time. It’s a story of mindfulness and gratitude, and that’s something every child should know and every family should embrace. My favorite lesson? That being happy isn’t permanent, but neither is being sad. It teaches kids that life comes in ebbs and flows, and to go with those ups and downs. A brief biography of Siddhartha Gautama closes out this volume.

Booktalk or display Little Sid with one of my favorite books, Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth; together, the two books present a starting point to discover different cultures and faiths, all while delivering solid messages about awareness and resilience. Talk about the religions that inspire these tales; introduce your readers to Buddhism and Hinduism. It’s a great way to make their worlds a little bigger.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen

The Well of Prayers continues the Temple of Doubt series

well-of-prayersThe Well of Prayers, by Anne Boles Levy, (Aug. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781634501934

Recommended for ages 13+

The second book in Anne Boles Levy’s Temple of Doubt series picks up soon after the events of Temple of Doubt. Hadara, now 16, works as a healer’s apprentice. Her father has been promoted to portreeve, a local official. The Azwans are keeping an eye on Hadara and her family, and they’re also cracking down on the community. Homes being searched for heretical items – strictly in the eye of the beholder – and anyone branded a disbeliever is punished severely. Hadara is horrified when she sees one of her neighbors in custody, and tries to think of ways to hamper the culling and mass punishments.

She also discovers that Valeo, the guard she thought dead, is very much alive; it brings up feelings that she thought she successfully pushed down. This, mixed with her continuing suspicion of the god Nihil, and her own concerns about the demon they may or may not have destroyed at the end of Temple of Doubt help set plans in motion that could put Hadara, her family, and possibly all of Port Sapphire in Nihil’s sights.

I really enjoyed the second book in the Temple of Doubt series. I felt more comfortable with the characters, the setting, and the overall faith structure running throughout the book, something that confused me a bit in the first novel. The continuing struggle over who decides what is “faithful enough” vs. “sinful” is all too relevant today; teens will be sucked right in, particularly with Hadara’s mixed emotions about herself and her place in this world, her feelings for Valeo, and her questions about her faith. Give this series to your high fantasy fans and booktalk Hadara with other positive female protagonists like Katniss, Celaena (from Throne of Glass), and Greta from Scorpion Rules.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Temple of Doubt brings fantasy, magic, and a struggle with faith

temple of doubtThe Temple of Doubt, by Anne Boles Levy (Aug. 2015, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781632204271

Recommended for ages 13+

A falling star crashes into the marshes on a planet called Kuldor and a young woman’s life is forever changed. Fifteen year-old Hadara is the wilder child of her parents’ two daughters, the “natural” to her younger sister’s “pious”. Living under a strict religious rule, where medicine is heresy and only magic provided by their god, Nihil, is acceptable, Hadara longs to join her mother, who clandestinely gathers herbs and plants to keep handy for quiet requests.

The star brings religious leaders and soldiers to Port Sapphire, where Hadara and her family live. The leaders insist that a demon inhabits the star, and they must go into the marshes to retrieve it: and Hadara and her mother are pressed into service to lead them there. Hadara, whose faith has already been tested by the priests and the soldiers’ presence, finds herself chafing under the continued requests put upon her and the behaviors she witnesses, but this is only the beginning. The things she will discover on her journey will throw everything she’s ever been taught to believe into chaos. Is she strong enough to emerge unscathed?

The Temple of Doubt is sci-fi/fantasy, but readers will find many parallels to our current religious and socio-political climate today. The reliance on a deity to heal – but only if you have enough faith – versus faith in medicine and nature; the right of the religious right to tread wherever they feel is necessary to root out evil, and the struggle of a young woman dealing with coming of age and questioning her faith and beliefs are all very familiar scenarios that will draw readers into Ms. Levy’s story.

There is a great deal of world-building that will appeal to some readers, but may not catch reluctant or struggling readers.  Focus on the teenage aspects of the story – rebellion, frustration, sibling rivalry, and questioning – to spark a lively booktalk. The Temple of Doubt an interesting first book in a series that should appeal to sci-fi and fantasy readers.

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle School, Puberty, Tween Reads

Book Review: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume (Yearling, 1970)

Recommended for ages 9-12

This Judy Blume classic follows sixth grader Margaret Simon, whose parents move her from their home in New York to the suburbs of New Jersey, and her search for an identity as she goes through puberty. The book has received numerous awards, including the New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year (1970). In 2005, the book made Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels List.

Margaret meets new friends and they quickly form a secret club called the PTS’s – Pre-Teen Sensations. They have to wear bras to their meetings and they talk about boys, school, and most importantly, when they’re getting their periods. Nancy, the ringleader, makes Margaret uncomfortable with her superior attitude and concern over these things; she’s afraid she’ll be the last to get her period and be made fun of.

Raised without organized religion, Margaret has a very personal relationsihp with God and talks to him whenever she needs a comforting ear. She tells him her insecurities about puberty and her frustration with her family. With the other kids in her neighborhood identifying as either Christian or Jewish, Margaret struggles to know God in one of these faiths, but comes up empty; she asks him, after visiting both a synagogue and a church why she can’t “feel him” the way she does when she talks to him.

I loved this book when I was in sixth grade and re-reading it now, it holds up, mainly because the heart of the story still exists. Mean girls may appear bigger than life now, but Nancy was definitely a pioneering mean girl; Margaret is the Everygirl that we all identified with – insecure about ourselves, insecure about our place in school and our families, and just trying to figure it all out. Blume weaves all of Margaret’s insecurities together to create a solid, realistic character that girls can all identify with. Nobody does puberty like Judy Blume.

Judy Blume’s website features the usual author fare; there is a bio, interview questions, even autobiographical essays. She offers advice on writing and has a section on censorship – she is a very well-known advocate for the freedom to read – and her “Reference Desk” section provides interviews and an index of articles and information about Blume.