Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Review: Yak and Dove

Yak and Dove Yak and Dove by Kyo Maclear
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A picture book with three different stories, Maclear’s Yak and Dove represents his traditional simplistic and moralistic style of storytelling paired with sweet water-colored and colored-penciled illustrations. Similarly to Shireen’s Neti and the Bird, Yak and Dove are unlikely friends and the theme of embracing indifferences stays consistent throughout the plot. Hilariously, Yak and Dove begin their story by contemplating what it would be like if they were twins, concluding in an obvious fight that is soon resolved in the second story. Yak wants a new friend who above all values fine music and furriness but learns to appreciate the friend he already has. The plot changes directions, ending with a contemplative, quiet garden chapter--another modern and relevant theme of turning off technology and all of life’s static. Maclear always intuitively incorporates subtle commentary on humanity, and in another pre-school to 3rd grade read, maintains his authenticity and heart-felt interconnectivity.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada/Tundra Books for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Yak and Dove by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Esme Shapiro (Penguin Random House Canada/Tundra Books, 2017)

Review by Christine F.

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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! 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: Lemons

Lemons Lemons by Melissa Savage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lemonade’s mother dies, and she finds herself in Willow Creek, a small Bigfoot-obsessed town, with her grandfather, Charlie. Her new friend, Tobin, owns a Bigfoot detective agency and “hires” Lem to help him sort through and document Bigfoot sightings. Like Lem, Tobin has also lost a parent; his dad went MIA during the war and although brought back alive, has mysteriously disappeared in transit. The two friends struggle together through their losses and grief as they begin to uncover a few surprises. Lem must also reconcile the meaning of home as she decides whether or not to stay with her grandfather or return to her old home via a well-intentioned adoption. A book that questions the boundaries of family, friendship, and heartbreak, Lemons is a beautiful middle grade read for third to seventh graders. Well-written, Savage does not begin the plot heavy with backstory. Instead, she jumps headfirst into Lem trying to honor her mom’s character by embracing the world around her—with a few hesitations. From lonely old ladies, who bake the best cookies, to single parents and grandparents trying their hardest to raise children, fall in love with these small town characters with one Twinkie-loving, hairy obsession. Savage knows how to build strong characters and make them feel like your best friends. Such a feel-good read with one of my favorite beasts.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Crown Books for Young Readers for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. Lemons is set to publish May 2, 2017.

Review by Christine Frascarelli

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Review: Spork

Spork Spork by Kyo Maclear
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Spork is the hybrid of a mother spoon and a father fork. This marriage is rare in the utensil world, as cutlery remains segregated. With his points and roundness in conflict with each other, Spork does not fit in with the other spoons or forks. He attempts to artificially change his appearance but fails. Useless and lonely, Spork contemplates his existence on the dinner table. One day, a messy creature struggles to use the other utensils, and Spork seizes the opportunity to shine. Unafraid, he rushes in to save the meal. This “messy thing” turns out to be a baby, and Spork is just what this infant needs—a little bit of everything—to eat.

Maclear notes that she too is a “Spork,” coming from a biracial household with a British father and Japanese mother. A story about interracial relations and fitting in, Spork is a unique way to explain acceptance, differences, and loving oneself. For preschool to second grade, the text is simple and powerful. Arsenault’s metallic-colored illustrations complement the silverware theme but are also a bit disturbing. Whether meant to be humorous or just some spaghetti sauce, the red liquid bursts look like a bloody massacre. Some of the utensils’ faces are slightly creepy as well as the headshot of the infant, with a bib covered in red splotches. I would have loved this book so much more with cuter faces for the utensils and different coloring for the food.

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

Review by Christine Frascarelli

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Review: North of Happy

North of Happy North of Happy by Adi Alsaid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Late one night, Carlos and his older brother, Felix, decide to taste test their way through the food stands of Mexico City in search of the perfect taco. In a tragic accident, stray bullets kill the free-spirited, nomadic Felix, leaving Carlos with his brother’s ghost and the desire to recover his own happiness. During Carlos’ high school graduation party—faced with a well intentioned but uninspiring predetermined future with the family business—Carlos runs away from his privileged life to a small island off of Washington state. With no plans except to visit Provecho, a bucket list restaurant in his brother’s diary, Carlos must find a place to sleep and a way to earn a living. In a matter of luck or fate, Carlos begins working as a dishwasher at Provecho and is taken under the wing of the master chef with the threatening promise of termination if he does not stop dating her daughter, Emma. Carlos must learn to fit in and earn his keep while navigating mental exhaustion and new love.

A story about romance, trust, maturity, and ambition, North of Happy makes readers feel like they are experiencing life for the first time. As stars and lakes ignite in the moonlight, Alsaid envelops readers in his enchanting backdrops and heartfelt, raw emotions. A beautifully written title for young adults looking ahead to the future, North of Happy inspires and awakens questions about the meaning of our existence. Although a somewhat clichéd plot, Alsaid adds poignant commentaries on grief and love that add an entirely fiery yet visceral quality to the story. Recipes introduce chapters to exemplify the all-pervasive passion for food and need for a fulfilling career. Days later, I find myself wondering about a conclusion and writing my own ending for Carlos, Emma, and the entire restaurant family as they touched my heart and stayed in my mind.

North of Happy is set to publish on April 25th, 2017. I would like to thank NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. Review by Christine Frascarelli

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Review: Who Was Anne Frank?

Who Was Anne Frank? Who Was Anne Frank? by Ann Abramson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An illustrated, easy read with difficult content, Who Was Anne Frank is a juvenile biography about the short life of Holocaust victim, Anne Frank. Beginning with her death at age 15, Abramson places Anne’s tragic end at the forefront of the book, exemplifying this honest and non-sugar coated account. Once the reader is prepared for Anne’s death, Abramson moves chronologically from Anne’s birth and happy childhood to the rise of a powerful and terrible leader. As Hitler takes power, Anne’s previously patriotic and loyal family moves to Amsterdam where they later make the fatal decision not to relocate as Hitler and his troops begin invading the rest of Europe. The family hides in the annex of her father’s factory, Anne begins her diary, and the story ends with the family, with the exception of Otto, dying in concentration camps. Like a history textbook, the chapters have boxes with helpful and relevant historical information inside that affect the Frank family but are not always directly related to them; readers learn briefly about World War I and the Warsaw Ghetto resistance. Some of these boxes contain more personal details of Anne’s love for movie stars and Miep’s and Jan’s special annex sleepover. Although Abramson has a lot to cover in a short amount of pages, she manages to add personal touches such as how Anne names her Ping-Pong club “Little Bear Minus 2” because she has 5 members and thinks the constellation consists of five stars instead of seven. Such vivid details humanize Anne, making her real and relatable for her third to sixth grade audience. The black pencil illustrations do not enhance the text nor are they necessary, but the sketches may appeal to the younger readers who have a lot to take in and comprehend. The incorporation of how Anne Frank’s story becomes a commercialized entity—in a positive way—is also an informative addition that is not always discussed. Review by Christine Frascarelli

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every year, the Protectorate holds the Day of Sacrifice where one baby is given to the evil witch in the woods in return for leaving the villagers in peace. This day causes great sorrow in the town as children are ripped from parents’ arms and a constant fog looms over the isolated and dreary residents. The Elders who rule the Protectorate do not believe that a witch exists and uses the story and sacrifice as a way to manipulate and rule over the townspeople. Xan, an ancient but kind witch, does in fact live in the forest and rescues these abandoned babies, giving them new homes in the Free Cities. One baby, who Xan names Luna, accidentally becomes “enmagicked” when Xan feeds her from the moon instead of the stars. Xan decides to raise Luna with the help of a gentle and naïve dragon and large but softy swamp monster. Luna must learn how to use her magic as well as figure out who she really is just as the townspeople must discover the real witch and open their eyes to sunnier skies. With the threat from an active volcano, a tiger-hearted woman, a woman gone completely mad, attacking paper birds, and a father with a knife ready to kill in order to protect his baby, The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a suspenseful, fantasy read for fourth to sixth graders. A 2017 Newbery Award winner along with a large list of honorable mentions, this title will not disappoint with its unique plot, well-developed and lovable characters, vivid and sometimes complex language, and building climax with everyone’s stories coming together. Have your tissues ready and expect your heart to radiate love—a constant theme in this story. My only complaint is that this title seems a bit lengthy for juvenile fiction at 400 pages. Not that page length should matter all that much, but I can see more reluctant and even busy readers struggling to pick up or get through some of these longer Newbery titles, including the equally as engaging Honor book, Echo. Review by Christine Frascarelli

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Review: Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt

Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although comprised of five short stories, the overlying theme is that Narwhal wants to be a superhero and must determine his super ability. Paired with his loyal jellyfish sidekick, this waffle-loving Narwhal saves a shooting star from being grounded, combats bullying, and learns that sometimes superpowers are more than just magical tricks. The kind-hearted duo’s adventures are creative and wholesome. A great early reader graphic novel for first to fourth graders, Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt is the second in the series. Adorable and funny with upbeat blue, white, yellow, and gray-colored illustrations, the plot is laced with positive messages and witty, comical puns. This title is a super endearing and engaging read.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Review by Christine Frascarelli

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Review: Where Will I Live?

Where Will I Live? Where Will I Live? by Rosemary McCarney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where Will I Live? is an extremely timely nonfiction title for kindergarten to third graders about refugees fleeing their homes for safety and a better life. Readers learn how refugees travel—walk, run, ride on the backs of trucks, and trek through the desert—and where they are running to geographically and structurally, which is sometimes unknown. Will they live under a staircase, along the travelled roads, or in a tent? Even the climate makes a difference. Each question or set of questions is paired with a picture and its respective country. Refugees are not just one culture, religion, group, or ethnicity. After all of this dangerous and indeterminate traveling, McCarney ends with the notion of hope: hope that someone will welcome these children and their families into their homes, communities, neighborhoods, and countries. Hope for friends, shelter, and a better quality of life.

The first person narration humanizes the children seen in pictures, making them relatable to readers. The questions asked throughout the book emphasize the uncertainty and severity of refugee children’s situations while also demonstrating that like everyone else, they just desire basic needs such as food, shelter, and love. While the words on the page are seemingly less serious, each picture tells its own story. Simple yet packed with meaning and at times, heart-wrenching, each picture leaves a lot to be discussed and read into. Readers see a small child sleeping on the street, boys peering out from a rudimentary tent, and a boy warming his bare hands from the cold. Readers stare back at faces through a fence and watch as families struggle to traverse across the barren desert. In a time where the United States, especially, is revising and reevaluating its immigration and travel policies, Where Will I Live? addresses discrimination and intolerance head on with the innocent and beautiful faces of refugee children who need help, support, and resources. I would recommend this title for any parent looking to explain the hardships families face all over the world and how refugees are people just like everyone else; this is reason enough to show understanding, open our arms, and embrace humanity.

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

Review by Christine Frascarelli

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Review: All Birds Have Anxiety

All Birds Have Anxiety All Birds Have Anxiety by Kathy Hoopmann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A kindergarten to third grade nonfiction read, All Birds Have Anxiety describes the debilitating and all-pervasive nature of severe anxiety, juxtaposing emotions with beautiful yet telling pictures of birds. Hoopmann explains how everyone feels anxiety at some point in their lives and why certain anxiety can be good for achieving goals and working harder and faster when needed. Unfortunately, others have more anxiety, even when everything is going well, that prohibits everyday functioning. Negative and even frightening anxiety, as Hoopmann writes, is when nothing gets done, we want to be left alone, we cancel plans, and we feel as though everything is out of control. There are coping mechanisms such as cuddling with a pet, exercise, eating well, and going for walks, and Hoopmann ends on an optimistic note with a variety of solutions. Medication and therapy are not discussed.

As other critics have mentioned, the text in All Birds Have Anxiety is a bit long and complex for younger readers. However, the book is well researched, and the pictures, each credited to different photographers, are crisp and gorgeously paired with the more serious descriptions of anxiety: A pelican is captured with its mouth wide open as anxiety is like being filled with a scream, a potoo hilariously has incredibly broad eyes when it cannot sleep, and readers see a page full of penguins when crowds fill us with fear. All Birds Have Anxiety is a solid title for children and parents wanting to learn more about and discuss anxiety.

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

Review by Christine Frascarelli

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: The Awakening of Sunshine Girl

The Awakening of Sunshine Girl The Awakening of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Awakening of Sunshine Girl by Paige Mckenzie is a mix of a ghost story and love story. Sunshine is trying to save the world from dark spirits, but she doesn't know how. In the meanwhile she is in love with her protector. But every time she touches him, she gets a weird feeling. I enjoyed this book because most kids can relate to the way Sunshine feels. A lot of kids know what they should do and what everybody expects from them, but they don't know how to do it. Sunshine knows that she has to save the world, but yet she doesn't how. I would rate this book 4 out of 5 stars because it was a great book, but I feel that the author could have made a little more characters other than just six. I would most likely recommend this to a friend.
Student Reviewer, Neema Owji, 7th Grade Student

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Review: Frozen Charlotte

Frozen Charlotte Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book Frozen Charlotte did not seem very interesting to me at first because I'm the person that judges a book by its cover. When I began reading it, the whole Ouija board experience interested me and I was hooked to read and find out what happens. I usually am not into these type of mystery books. However, Frozen Charlotte was different. I was spooked by the book but not to the nightmare stages. I loved that the author made it so the dolls were practically the murderers. Also, I really loved how when piper was first introduced she seemed all sweet and Cameron was perceived as the bad guy, but eventually we figured out Cameron was right all along. Except, when Sophie was first getting driven home by her cousins dad I did not really see why the ride was so awkward. But throughout the book I started understanding it. Overall, Frozen Charlotte was a great book. Student Reviewer, Nikki Owji, 7th Grade Student

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Book Review: No Such Person
Student Reviewer: Neema Owji, 7th Grade Student
Author: Cooney, Caroline B.
Publisher: Random House
"No Such Person by Caroline B. Cooney is an incredible mystery book. Lander, a perfect student at a medical school starts to date a boy named Jason, whom her younger sister, Miranda, deems suspicious due to a boating accident. A few days later when they were on a date Lander is found by herself with a dead body, a gun, a boat, a bag full of a white substance, and no sign of Jason. Miranda knows her perfectionist sister would never do something like this, so it is up to her prove it. I enjoyed No Such Person because of how the author makes sure you never know what happens, even though she gives hints that you didn't realize until you read what happens. I would give this book 5 stars for the way the author was always able to keep me in suspense."
--SEBCO Student Reviewer, Neema Owji, 7th Grade Student, The Literacy Alliance, Oviedo, FL

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Review: Argyle Fox

Argyle Fox Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Argyle Fox just wants to play outside. As he heads out the door, he grabs his cards. Unfortunately it is quite the blustery day, and Argyle’s card house and even the tiny birds are blown away. Not deterred, Argyle returns home and gathers up more toys. Armed with a fake spider, he makes a giant web even though the squirrels warn Argyle that it is too windy. As predicted, Argyle’s web topples over into a giant mess. Over and over again, the wind foils Argyle’s fun plans, but he persists, ignoring either arrogantly or optimistically the advice of the other woodland creatures. Eventually heading home in complete frustration, Argyle’s mom gently tells him to think a little harder. Inspired and not yet defeated, Argyle builds a kite that perfectly compliments this windy day. In what can only be an act of contrition, he also builds all of his little forest friends kites too.

Argyle Fox is a sweet read that is playfully illustrated. The word “Woosh” swirls in the gusty and destructive wind. Small details such as the castle made from a recycled box with “this end up” written on it and the little tree house bed with gold string lights make the story relatable and cozy, even on this gusty day. The soft, gentle colors and row of argyle scarfs lined up on the wall complete this feel good story. Perfect for preschool to second grade, Argyle Fox exemplifies perseverance and imagination. In a world that is becoming more and more digitized, I appreciate that Argyle spends his day outside with staple toys while his mom knits an argyle scarf. I love that Argyle wears argyle patterns—but I would expect nothing less.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Tanglewood Publishing for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. Review by Christine Frascarelli

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Review: Amina's Voice

Amina's Voice Amina's Voice by Hena Khan
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Amina is a Pakistani-American who has just started middle school with her best friend, a Korean-American, Soojin. Soojin is applying for American citizenship and has decided to change her name to sound more American. Soojin’s sudden refutation of identity causes a rift between the friends, which is further widened as Emily, a student who used to make fun of their cultural differences, tries to befriend the girls. As if Amina does not face enough stress and new feelings of jealously already, her strong-willed uncle from Pakistan decides to visit, her teacher pressures her to sing in the school concert—Amina never sings in public—and her Sunday school teacher and parents force her to enter a Quran competition for the local Islamic Center. Just as things cannot get any worse, Amina accidentally shares Emily’s secret crush, causing a trivial fight with her friends, and the local Islamic Center and mosque is vandalized. Similar to the hate crime in It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel, Amina’s community, family, and friends are forced to reconcile their differences and pull together to physically and emotionally rebuild their home.

A middle grade read for fourth to seventh graders, Amina’s Voice addresses modern day issues about what it is like to grow up Muslim in America. Amina faces criticism from all sides, including her Pakistani relatives. As she continuously fights cultural barriers, she learns that she must also be more accepting and brave. Amina has her own flaws, which she must overcome. Similar to It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel, Amina’s Voice pulls readers into the story. How can you not cheer them along and want to embrace this supportive and tolerant community? The well-rounded characters face major personal growth, and although the plot slows for just a moment, collections can benefit from this multicultural read. I hope to see this new Muslim imprint publish many more timely, intuitive, and relatable novels for school-aged children and tweens.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. Review by Christine Frascarelli

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Review: It Ain't So Awful, Falafel

It Ain't So Awful, Falafel It Ain't So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zomorod (Cindy) has moved from place to place in America and back and forth between America and Iran for her father’s work. With a mother suffering from relocation depression, who refuses to learn English, and the hardships of making friends each year as a foreigner, Zomorod is determined to embrace America and American culture. She reads Good Housekeeping to learn about Thanksgiving, dresses up for Halloween, and makes new, curious and empathetic friends who have similar interests. Just as life is full of water balloon fights and Bonnie Bell lip-gloss, though, Iran starts a revolution. Americans living in Iran are taken hostage and the new regime implements strict rules on women. With the changing relationship between Iran and America, Zomorod’s dad is fired from his job. Anti-Iranian sentiment and hate crimes envelope Zomorod’s world, and her family fears for their family’s safety back in Iran as well as their own. With no income, they find themselves wondering if they will have to return to an even more dangerous Iran. A Booklist Editors' Choice 2016 and rated as a Kirkus Best of 2016, It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel is based loosely on Dumas’ personal life. As a middle grade read, the title is suitable for fourth to seventh graders who are interested in multicultural history. As Dumas states in her “Author’s Notes,” she hopes that readers will learn that history is more than just memorizing facts. Zomorod’s story exemplifies the sentiment that history is about people and their stories. It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel is highly informative in regards to Iranian politics during the late 1970’s into 1980’s and effectively examines themes of prejudice, racism, corruption, relocation, family, and identity. I just want to hug Zomorod’s entire circle of supporters in the end. Review by Christine Frascarelli

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: Liam Takes a Stand

Liam Takes a Stand Liam Takes a Stand by Troy Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lister and Lester are identical twins, who like typical brothers, copy and compete with each other. Their younger brother, Liam, is of course left out and just wants to play. The first day of summer, Lister and Lester open rivaling lemonade stands and spend all of their earnings on gimmicks to appeal to their respective customers. The twins eventually go into debt, even owing their parents money. Although little, Liam is an opportunist and opens a cost efficient, specialty apple juice stand. In exchange for playtime, Liam hires his twin brothers to come work for him to help pay off their debt. Opening a business is tough.

Suitable for kindergarten to third graders, Liam Takes A Stand is a picture book about family and hard work mixed in with a little youth entrepreneurship. Although I am not a huge fan of the disproportionate body parts—big ears, overly skinny legs, too long arms—nor the mismatched colored illustrations, children can enjoy this true to real life story about siblings. At times, the plot is humorous and the outcome realistic—after all, brothers will always compete and play.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: The Dance of the Violin

The Dance of the Violin The Dance of the Violin by Kathy Stinson
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Joshua loves making music, even with everyday household items. His parents feed into his passion, buying Joshua a violin. Deciding that he wants to play a difficult piece in a Kalamazoo competition, Joshua practices with his teacher to perfect his performance. Joshua chooses this song because he can hear, see, and feel its captivating story. Once at the competition, Joshua stumbles on his first try, tumbling an imaginary dancer onto her face. The piece falls flat. Not yet defeated and determined, a brave Joshua asks the judge to try again. The music comes alive in his mind, the room disappears, and although the reader never learns the outcome of the competition, the actual winner is irrelevant. Joshua has achieved his goal and demonstrated his enthusiastic talent for music.

Joshua’s ambition and story is based on a real person, Joshua Bell, who is now a talented classical violinist. The Dance of the Violin is an entrancing depiction of his childhood and represents music, beauty, and art with the utmost precision and care. Perfect for kindergarten to third graders, readers can relate to what it is like to feel so strongly about a hobby, topic, or interest and work hard to succeed. Petričić’s illustrations enhance this vibrantly and musically charged story. Pencil sketches paired with watercolors add emphasis to key moments. Although Joshua is mostly painted with white coloring, his golden, spikey hair and pink cheeks suggest that he is a ball of energy. In another scene, the imaginary orchestra is gray and black against Joshua’s full coloring, and as he speeds up his learning, he becomes a colorful blur. The passion in this picture book is contagious and uplifting.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Annick Press for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. Reviewed by Christine Frascarelli

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: Star-Crossed

Star-Crossed Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Eighth-grader Mattie is struggling through the school year. Unlike her friends, Tessa and Lucy, she is not invited to Willow’s party. In an act of rebellion, Mattie disguises herself as Darth Vader and decides to attend anyway. Even though the night ends in disaster, Mattie begins to realize that she enjoyed her time with a girl, Gemma, more so than if she was with a boy. Mattie begins to spend more time with Gemma as they are cast together in the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Although Mattie initially tries out for the part of Paris, she eventually finds herself as Romeo with Gemma as Juliet. The play as well as the upcoming Valentine’s Day dance forces Mattie to reconcile the unease she feels about her sexuality and decide whether or not to come out to her friends and Gemma.

With heartfelt, realistic characters, Star-Crossed is a well-written and engaging romance for fourth to eighth grade readers. Even though the characters are thirteen and fourteen, the vocabulary and LGBT and friendship themes are designed for upper elementary school-aged students into the middle grades, not quite yet transgressing into the young adult arena. With a complete cast of tween characters--Willow as your typical mean girl, popular boys who are trying so hard to be jocks, emphatically, frazzled teachers, and caring yet angsty family members—Star-Crossed poignantly and accurately depicts solid relationships worthy of LGBT realistic fiction. Mattie is just a girl with a sweet crush, and she is portrayed as an intelligent, strong (although confused) lead. Fall in love with Mattie who dresses as literary characters for Halloween, Tessa who uses hilarious Shakespearean insults when she is mad, and Mr. Torres, a charming English teacher who refers to his students as “humans.” Dee takes on gender roles, love, friendship, and family in this cozy read. Reviewed by Christine Frascarelli

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

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review: The Fog

The Fog The Fog by Kyo Maclear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warble the warbler lives in Icy Land where he loves to people watch. One day, a dense fog rolls in but none of the other inhabitants seem to notice or care. Soon, Icy Land becomes Fog Land, and everyone falls into a new pattern of blindness, forgetting how visible life used to be. Deteriorating into the same disinterested haze, Warble is awoken from his stupor by the sound of a singing child. Together, the pair decides to reach out to the rest of the world using little origami boats to see if anyone else is conscious of the fog. As the duo receives more and more responses, the fog begins to lift.

Award-winning Maclear creates a beautifully messaged tale about environmental conscious, friendship, connectivity, and humanity. Although a slightly more abstract concept for younger children, The Fog is a great lap-read for preschool-aged children to third graders. Paired with Maclear’s simple yet meaning-packed text, Pak’s gentle watercolor illustrations elevate the story’s power. The initial icy white and gray colors against a bright yellow, thumbprint-sized warbler set the tone for Warble’s inner and spirited self and world awareness. Children can laugh as Warble uses a fan to try to blow away the dense, all-invasive fog and feel soothed as the warbler and his new friend watch the stars over the incandescent ocean.

I would like to thank NetGalley and Tundra/Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. Reviewed by Christine Frascarelli

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Review: Goodbye Days

Goodbye Days Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

The book, Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, is the story of a boy named Carver Briggs who had a fatal accident that killed his 3 best friends. All of this happened because of a text message and to make things even more stressful the police is doing an investigation on their deaths. The name Goodbye Days comes from the fact that one of his friends’ grandmothers asks Carver to help her remember her grandson through a goodbye day together. With this he start to also help the other families with their own memorial day. The book was a heavy read and it got me crying through most of it. Zentner does an awesome job at expressing the fear, stress and despair that came with the accident. Not only Carver’s despair but also that of all of the families. With this situation being one that could happen to any of us and has happened to many it made it even more real and emotional to me. Student Reviewer, Dayana, 12th Grade Student

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