Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Pashmina is an Indian-American girl’s journey of self-discovery

Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani, (Oct. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626720879

Recommended for ages 12+

Priyanka is an Indian-American young woman, living with her single mom, in California. She’s got so many questions: Why did her mother leave India to raise her daughter in the States? What’s India like? Why doesn’t she ever talk about India? And the big question: Who’s her father, and why hasn’t she ever met him? For Priyanka’s mom, though, the topic of India is closed. She will only say that things were different for women in India, and that’s that. Left with her questions, and feeling emotional after her uncle – her only father figure – becomes a new dad, Priyanka stumbles across one of her mother’s old suitcases, containing a beautiful pashmina shawl. She wraps it around herself and is transported to a magical, beautiful place: India. She also meets two guides: Kanta, an elephant, and Mayur, a peacock, who show her a breathtaking India. Priyanka gets the feeling she may not be getting the whole story – especially when the two guides keep shooing away a mysterious shadow that lurks by them – but she’s determined to find out more about her heritage and her birth.

Priya gets the opportunity when her aunt calls to reconnect with her estranged sister. She’s pregnant, and Priya’s mom agrees to let her fly to India to spend time with her. Thrilled, Priya embarks on a journey that will provide more answers than she expected, and learn more about her mother – and herself.

Pashmina is brilliant, bold, and beautiful storytelling. It’s the story of a child walking the line between two cultures, and it’s a story about the search for identity. It’s also a powerful story of feminism; the goddess Shakti guiding women to choose their own paths and the women who are brave enough to answer the call. Nidhi Chanani creates breathtaking, colorful vistas within the pashmina’s world, making Priya’s everyday black-and-white world even more stark and humdrum. This is a must-add to graphic novel collections, particularly for middle schoolers and teens. Booktalk and display with Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, Na Liu’s Little White Duck, and Sarah Garland’s Azzi in Between.

See more of Nidhi Chanani’s art at her website.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Sugar and Spice and everything… Candy Pink?

candy-pink-coverCandy Pink, by Adela Turin/Illustrated by Nella Bosnia, (Nov. 2016, NubeOcho), $15.95, ISBN: 978-84-944446-7-8

Recommended for ages 5-8

A classic written 40 years ago with the goal to promote equality between boys and girls arrives in the United States for the first time. Candy Pink is written in the style of a folk tale, explaining how elephant all became gray. You see, male elephants were always gray, but female elephants were candy pink. To get that color, they ate only peonies and anemones, wore bibs and shoes, and stayed together in a little walled garden, while the boy elephants playing in the mud, eating yummy grass, and sleeping beneath trees. When one little elephant named Daisy doesn’t turn pink, her father is harsh and cruel, her mother, sad. They pressure her to eat more pink food and threaten her by telling her no one will want to marry her. When they finally give up, the girl elephant embraces her freedom, sheds her bib and shoes, and enjoys life – something that doesn’t go unnoticed by the other female elephants. And, well… you can’t tell the difference between boy and girl elephants anymore, can you?

I was taken aback the first time I read Candy Pink, because it seems harsh on a young girl: the emphasis on appearance and girlish pursuits, Daisy’s parents’ terrible reaction to her inability to fit their mold for her. A second reading put more in perspective for me – the little elephant embraced her uniqueness and wasn’t ostracized for it – the other female elephants flocked to her, and made a huge change that exists to this day. It’s a powerful little story for school-age kids that lends itself to some pretty big ideas. Originally published in Italian in 1976 with the title Rosaconfetto, Adela Turin tackled gender identity and the pressure society puts on appearances by using a parable that everyone could understand and that young girls could relate to. Forty years later, Candy Pink is just as relevant.

Award-winning illustrator Nella Bosnia’s artwork is beautiful. She uses shades of gray and pink against muted background colors for the world of the story; primarily greens, blues, and yellows for the assorted flora and fauna. The bibs, shoes, and bows on the elephants tails are frilly and exaggerated, even pinker than the pale pink elephants; against Daisy’s natural gray, it’s a true contrast.

An interesting and still-timely look at gender, society, and the expectations parents put on their own children. A good addition to bookshelves. Booktalk and display with self-esteem boosters like Karen Beaumont’s I Like Myself!, Peter Reynolds’ Ish, and Todd Parr’s It’s Okay to Be Different. Want another elephant fairy tale? Emma Dodd’s Cinderelephant is a light-hearted, fun take on the classic fairy tale.

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

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood is SO MUCH FUN – can we get a series?

18378827Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood, by Varsha Bajaj, (2014, Albert Whitman & Co.) $16.99, ISBN: 978-0807563632

Recommended for ages 9-14

Abby Spencer has been raised by a single mom for all over 13 years, and it’s been fine – until a health scare sends her to her mom, asking questions about her dad. She finds out that her father – a college romance of her mom’s – lives in Mumbai, India, and he’s a Bollywood heartthrob! When she finally gets in touch with her dad, he sends for her – for a kid who wanted some excitement out of life, even this may be over the top!

I LOVED this book from the first page. Told in the first person, I loved the way the author gave Abby her voice. She is a fun, excitable teen who loves her family and feels conflicted about her feelings for the father she only just met over Skype. I love the way the author gives readers an eye-opening view of India, from the overwhelming spectacle of Bollywood to the families that live in squalor. Her descriptions, told through a 13 year-old’s voice, were spot-on and evoked a range of reactions for me: joy, uncertainty, sympathy, even frustration. This is one of those books that I want to buy five copies of and hand them to kids in my library, yelling, “READ THIS AND TALK TO ME ABOUT IT!”

#WeNeedDiverseBooks? You’re darn right we do, and with a biracial lead character who heads to India to see her dad on a Bollywood set, we’ve got a great one, right here. Ms. Bajaj, PLEASE tell me we’re going to see more adventures with Abby, her family, and her friends!

This book is a Cybils Middle Grade Fiction first round nominee, and I’m thrilled to have shortlisted it.

Posted in Fantasy, Tween Reads

Book Review; Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu (Erin McGuire, ill.) (Walden Pond Press, 2011)

Recommended for ages 9-12

Fifth graders Hazel and Jack are best friends until the day Jack decides he wants to be around boys more than a girl. Hazel is miserable at the loss of her friend, but when Jack disappears, she is the only one who ventures into the mysterious woods to find him, and get him back from the White Queen – whether or not he wants to come home.

Breadcrumbs is a trip through fairy tales and middle-grade stories that many readers will be familiar with, all surrounding a retelling of the classic tale of the Snow Queen. The characters are fifth graders who actually act their age; they are fully fleshed out with backgrounds that touch on issues that many readers will be familiar with – multiculturalism, adoption, divorce and remarriage, depression, and the pain of loss and how to move past it. There is a little bit of magic in every world, and Breadcrumbs brings that to life in the form of the main characters’ imaginations and in the more literal, magical forest sense. Erin McGuire’s black and white illustrations bring the chill of the cold forest, particularly the Snow Queen, to life and enhance the text. Compulsively readable, the book also provides numerous opportunities to enhance classroom discussions on topical issues or on a fairy tale unit.

Breadcrumbs is a 2011 Cybils award nominee for Middle Grade Science Fiction/Fantasy. Author Anne Ursu’s webpage offers information about Breadcrumbs and all of Ms. Ursu’s books, plus updated news and appearance information and links to social media.

Posted in Fantasy, Tween Reads

Book Review: The Summer of Moonlight Secrets, by Danette Haworth (Walker Books, 2010)

Recommended for ages 9-12

Eleven year-old Allie Jo lives with her mother and father at The Meriwether, a Florida hotel that they help manage. She doesn’t have many friends, and the mean girls at school call her a “hotel rat”. The summer of 1987 changes things for Allie Jo, though – she meets Chase, a fourteen year-old guest traveling with his journalist dad and who’s working through some issues of his own, and they both meet Tara, a mysterious girl who appears one day and says she’s run away. As Allie Jo and Chase learn more about Tara, they’re split as to what they believe – is she a troubled teen, or is her fantastic story true?

A fantasy substory taking place within a realistic fiction plot, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets is great fun with a few big issues going on – there is some minor bullying, the issue of an absentee mom, and a runaway whose stories all intertwine here. Ms. Haworth’s story is evenly paced with well-developed characters. Chapters are narrated in each of the three main characters’ voices, so the reader truly gets a glimpse into each character’s mind and point of view in addition to how each perceives the others. The big reveal is also a pleasant surprise, as Ms. Haworth almost leads to reader to one conclusion to reveal another, more interesting one. Overall, an enjoyable read about friendship that will make readers feel good when they’re done – and leave them with some interesting things to consider.

Danette Haworth’s website offers information about all of her books, her biography, and contact information.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, mythology, Tween Reads

Book Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One: The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan (Miramax, 2005)

Recommended for ages 10-13

The first book in the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series, The Lightning Thief introduces readers to Percy Jackson, demigod son of Poseidon, and his friends at Camp Half-Blood.

Percy, a sixth grader who’s been kicked out of several schools, suffers from dyslexia and ADHD; he’s never met his real father; and his mother, whom he adores, is married to a jerk who verbally abuses Percy and his mother. When monsters start coming after Percy and he discovers that his best friend isn’t exactly what he seems, his mother helps him escape to Camp Half-Blood in Long Island, where he finds out the missing information about his past and a great deal more. The Greek gods exist, and they have a lot of children populating the earth; Camp Half-Blood is a safe haven for them. Because he is the son Poseidon, of one of the “Big Three” – Zeus, Poseidon and Hades – he is hunted even more than the children of the other gods and goddess. He also learns that someone has stolen Zeus’ master lightning bolt and Zeus think it’s him.

 Charged with finding the bolt and returning it to Mount Olympus in just 10 days, Percy heads out on his quest with his best friend, the faun Grover and Annabeth, daughter of Athena. Getting the lightning bolt back is just part of the puzzle: Percy must also learn who was really behind the theft, and in doing so, will uncover a plot to bring down Mount Olympus.
The Percy Jackson series was hugely popular with middle grade readers with good reason: it’s a well-written, exciting series with plenty of monsters, mythology and quests to keep boys and girls alike turning pages. There are well-fleshed, strong male and female characters alike throughout the series and familiar monsters like Medusa and the minotaur make appearances throughout. Bringing mythology to life is a great way to make these stories accessible to a new generation, and giving these demigods learning disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia makes them relatable to a wider audience of readers who may be coping with these issues and rarely get to read about characters who also deal with them.
The Lightning Thief is the first of five books in the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series. Riordan’s newest series, The Heroes of Olympus, follows new heroes from Camp Half-Blood but has references to the original Percy Jackson characters.
The Lightning Thief received several honors, including designations as a New York Times Notable Book of 2005, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and VOYA Top Shelf Fiction List for 2005. It was made into a movie in 2010. The author’s website offers information about all of his books, a link to his blog, and extras including a map of the Underworld and a Greek mythology guide. A Camp Half-Blood wikia offers exhaustive information created by Mr. Riordan’s fan community on all of his books, his characters, and the mythology that breathes life into his series.
Posted in Humor, Middle School, Tween Reads

Book Review: Bindi Babes, by Narinder Dhami (Delacorte, 2004)

Recommended for ages 8-12

The Dhillon sisters – Amber, Jazz, and Geena – are perfect. They are perfect students, perfectly dressed, and perfectly popular. Their teachers always look to them for help with their classmates and for the right answers, and the girls never disappoint. The girls keep their act airtight so no one will sense the pain they are in from losing their mother the year before. The sisters will not even talk about her at home for fear of letting loose all the emotions they have bottled up.

Escaping his grief through work, their father is rarely home and when he is, rarely speaks to them other than to indulge them in nearly everything they ask. When he announces that their Auntie is coming from India to live with them and take care of the girls, they are furious – they certainly do not need anyone to babysit them! When Auntie arrives and starts interfering in their lives – especially when their father starts saying no to new clothes, sneakers and pierced ears – they decide she’s got to go. Marrying her off would be the best way to benefit everyone, but who to choose, and how to do it?

The book is ‘tween chick lit; it is an easy read with little emotional depth or character examination. The ending is predictable but satisfying, and leaves the family’s story open to a sequel. In fact, the book is the first in a 4-book series. Ms. Dhami provides a glimpse into Indian culture which has doubtlessly introduced many girls to a new culture in our increasingly diverse society.

Narinder Dhami has also written the popular film Bend it Like Beckham. Her website offers links to her books, author facts, and a link to Amber’s blog, where the Bindi Babes narrator keeps readers up on the latest gossip. Random House provides a teachers guide complete with discussion questions and links for further reading on diversity.

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead (Yearling, 2010)

Recommended for ages 10-14When You Reach Me is a science-fiction novel set in a realistic fiction setting. It received the Newbery Award in 2010.

Miranda and Sal are best friends of the same age who live in the same building and both have single mothers. They spend all off their time together until the day when Sal is inexplicably punched in the stomach by a boy on the street. From then on, he shuts Miranda out of his life, leaving her hurt and confused. At about the same time, Miranda begins receiving strange notes from someone saying they are coming to save her friend’s life and his or her own, but that Miranda must write a detailed letter as the author will not be himself when he reaches her. She tries to figure out whether the notes or real or a joke as she navigates her situation with Sal, amkes new friends, and preps her mother to be a contestant on a game show, The $20,000 Pyramid. The notes continue to arrive, each with future predictions that come true, until the day Miranda witnesses an awful accident and brings the truth home: the notes are no joke.

The book is wonderfully addictive, with interesting characters and a realistic, New York in the 1970s setting. Ms. Stead layers plot upon plot, drawing the reader in and dropping little clues throughout the story to guide the reader along while never giving away the surprise until the climax of the story. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time figures heavily into the story both as Miranda’s favorite book and a device to further the plot and is woven beautifully into the fabric of the story. Older readers will be better able to sit down and spend some time with this complex book and have great discussions afterwards.

In addition to winning the Newbery, When You Reach Me has received numerous awards and honors including designation as a New York Times Notable Book and an American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Book; it has also won School Library Journals’ Best Book of the Year (2009) and Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Book of the Year (2009).

The author’s website provides information and reviews on her books, a link to her blog, and contact information for libraries and schools that wish to host her.