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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