Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: Pashmina

Pashmina Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Priyanka or “Pri” lives in a world where she does not fully understand who she is or where she came from. Her mom mysteriously left India and hasn’t spoken to their family in over a decade. Whenever Pri inquires about her Indian father, her mother changes the subject. Both mother and daughter fail to understand each other’s motivations, creating an angsty relationship. While struggling with her identity, the sphere of Pri’s family also starts to see cracks. Her Uncle Jatin, a father-like figure that picks her up from school and takes her on special Indian foodie adventures, and his wife are having their first baby. With her world falling apart, Pri prays to the goddess Shakti, a silent wish that changes her outlook on life and current and almost self-destructive course. With such serious tones, add in a magical pashmina made from Indian golden thread, and Pri finds herself on a more whimsical journey of self-discovery. Pri visits the fantastical, idealist, and tourist version of India as well as the realistic homeland, ultimately returning to America with a new sense of culture and self.

A tale of South Asian diaspora and non-traditional families, Pashmina is a perceptive graphic novel for middle grade students and mature elementary school aged readers. With First Second Books, reviewers and readers can count on a well-written and researched as well as sensitive and intuitive story. The black and white comic strip graphics juxtaposed with the Bollywood colors beautifully portray this “otherness” and sense of a globalizing falsehood about imagined tourist India, similar to Kincaid’s experiences in Antigua in A Small Place. As Pri’s classmates call her “Thrift Store,” readers witness racism and classism. Chanani has created a unique multicultural story that works for reluctant readers and those struggling with heritage and family. Most notably, Priyanka is a fearless female protagonist who has faults of jealousy and immaturity but also thrives artistically and in her convictions. The pairing of fantasy and realistic fiction via graphic novel format brings this story home, literally and figuratively.

I would like to thank NetGalley and First Second Books for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. Pashmina is set to publish October 3, 2017.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani (First Second Books, 2017)

Review by Christine F.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review: Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power!

Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power! Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power! by Mariko Tamaki
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Based on the popular graphic novel series, Lumberjanes has decided to take these hardcore ladies into novel format for another round of friendship to the max. The Roanoke Cabin is working on their plant badges. Having stumbled across a magical field of unicorns and a mysterious mountain, the girls are determined to climb and explore this new territory since April has decided that like Rosie, the fearless camp director, she wants to earn the Extraordinary Explorer medal. Of course, if you know these talented and intelligent ladies at all, you understand that they will find themselves trapped in one crazy and heartfelt adventure with cloud people, smelly unicorns, clingy vine, and disappearing mountains. With the dangers that come with being bold and their friendships and interests tested to the max, these ultra-femme scouts must figure out who they want to be while also escaping a cloudy future.

The Lumberjanes series usually resides in YA shelving but this title is more for the middle grades, especially with the sporadic illustrations. Like the artwork, Tamaki successfully maintains the cute, quirky plot of the graphic novels, and I would have sworn Ellis and Stevenson wrote this book—the voice is on point. The feminist appeal with Rosie the Riveter and famous women shouted out in expressions is inspiring. These girls represent a mix of fortes and weaknesses without the stereotypes. Their friendship is supportive and realistic. As with the graphic novels, there is appropriate diversity representing the LGBTQA+ community, with a gender binary character and scouts with two fathers. Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power is a fun and spunky fantastical read for any feminist-minded tween.

I would like to thank NetGalley and ABRAMS Kids/Amulet Books for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power is set to publish October 10, 2017

Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power (Lumberjanes #1) by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Brooke Allen (ABRAMS Kids, 2017)

Review by Christine F.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: The List

The List The List by Patricia Forde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Ark, where only 500 words exist, Letta is an apprentice to the wordsmith. All other words are illegal and forgotten, and the residents speak in garbled sentences. The police strictly monitor this bubbled, alleged Utopia, and all aspects of life, including meals, are regulated. Letta loves her words and buys into this society until she meets Marlo, a resister who lives self-sufficiently in the outskirts of town—a place where music, art, and language still exist. As Letta’s master suspiciously goes missing, Letta begins to realize that this world is not as safe and happy as it seems, and she is the only member who has the ability to save the words from an evil dictator with misguided politics, John Noa. Noa is relentless in his convictions and actions, and the future of the world relies on the thwarted flick of a canister and a heartfelt revolution.

A middle grade dystopian scifi thriller, The List, has unexpected twists and turns and speaks to today’s modern issues of global warming, the power of language, and possibly brilliant and powerful but destructive authoritarian leaders. Well written with a unique take on tween dystopian literature, The List will appeal to strong readers through its themes of love, language, family, history, and power. Letta is strong, feminist character with equally dynamic male and female antagonists. My only qualm is that the middle of the story loses its momentum; there is an excess of drawn-out, unnecessary details. With tighter, more succinct writing, I look forward to seeing what else Forde has to offer as an author.

I would like to thank NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS Jabberwocky for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Review by Christine F.

The List by Patricia Forde (SOURCEBOOKS Jabberwocky, 2017)

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Zoo Zen: A Yoga Story for Kids

Zoo Zen: A Yoga Story for Kids Zoo Zen: A Yoga Story for Kids by Kristen Fischer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Geared toward pre-k to third grade, join Lyla as she embarks on a yoga journey with the help of the zoo animals. Each pose is paired with brightly colored mixed media illustrations and numbers as the story also reinforces counting. The animals gently encourage Lyla and give her practical tips to make the most of each pose. Small details, such as Lyla’s hair falling loose, warm this instructional story and make Lyla relatable to any young reader. The story ends with a page of smaller text explaining to parents how the poses work, which is a great aid just in case the illustrations are not enough. The rhyming adds to the cadence and flow of story, making this a relaxing and informative read. If only my yoga instructor was a dolphin.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Sounds True Publishing for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Zoo Zen: A Yoga Story for Kids by Kristen Fischer and illustrated by Susi Schaefer (Sounds True Publishing, 2017)

By Christine F.

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Review: The Big Bad Fox

The Big Bad Fox The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fox is terrible at being an intimidating and terrifying carnivore, which is unfortunate because his appetite is insatiable. His frequent trips to the farm annoy the mother hen and prove the guard dog’s nonchalant laziness. The wolf suggests that fox stealthy steal some eggs and hatch them into plump and tasty meals. A first seemingly brilliant idea, the chicks hatch and assume fox is their momma. Reminiscent of Mother Bruce, fox raises the chicks, engaging in fantastical play such turnip tea parties and role-playing about the big bad fox. Predictably when dinnertime arrives, fox realizes that he loves his little chicks, and he must seek sanctuary at the farm since the wolf has his own plans for chicken dinner.

Comical and sweet, The Big Bad Fox is a juvenile graphic novel for second to fifth graders. Renner reinvigorates a classic tale and relies on muted watercolors, white backgrounds, and shaded illustrations that are as simple and funny as this tale. Perfect for reluctant readers, school-aged children can welcome wolf into their imaginations and families.

I would like to thank NetGalley and First Second Books for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner (First Second Books, 2017)

Review by Christine F.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: Saints and Misfits

Saints and Misfits Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

During a heated political time, Ali has created a story for all cultures meant to explain the values and customs of what it means for one Muslim community and Muslim woman in America. Growing up with a more traditional Muslim family, Janna has to reconcile crushing on a non-Muslim boy, high school bullies, unsupportive friends, and conflicting emotions about being sexually assaulted by a monster—a covert monster who receives high praise in the Muslim community. Those who seem pious are anything but, and while Janna battles contradictions in her faith, she must also struggle with everyday life of being a teenage girl, including a nosy mother and annoying older brother. An honorable multicultural high school read, I have to admit that this story lost its momentum. I found myself skimming through dialogue. This slow pace fails with the quickened and perfect ending—unrealistic in its perfection. Blink and all of the angst and struggle disappears. The saints, misfits, and monster analogy/chapter labeling makes the novel more juvenile in this teen world. Amina’s Voice and It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel possess more poignancy tied in with historical value. I did enjoy Mr. Ram’s secret handshakes and Janna’s duty to correct her uncle’s overly formal responses to Muslim-American questions; the relationships Ali builds are solid, endearing, and relatable. Saints and Misfits is a commendable debut novel but one that I hesitate to recommend, even though I have seen great praise thus far.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Salaam Reads/Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali (Salaam Reads/Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, 2017)

Review by Christine F.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

It's Memorial Day!  

I am continually grateful for the sacrifice, honor, and love for country of our soldiers.  
Memorial Day is a lovely reminder to say it out loud! 

I am grateful for the many freedoms we enjoy and our soldiers protect.   Here at The Literacy Alliance, we are particularly thankful for our right to read, to write, and to learn!  As we visited daycares and schools this season with our Book Buster program, we shared our love of learning through books, puppets, science, and song!  As I watched our audiences, filled with smiling, laughing, and motivated children, my heart swelled.  

Thank you to all who protect our right to provide these programs!