Monday, June 18, 2018

Review: Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds

Miles MoralesMiles Morales by Jason Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Miles Morales is torn between his sense of duty as Spiderman and his life as a teenager with a free room and board scholarship that hinges on a good academic performance and staying out of trouble. When trouble still finds its way to Miles he realizes he needs more than his spidey senses to straighten things up.
Jason Reynolds is a master of words. I laughed, worried and giggled with embarrassment right along with the characters. I am so grateful this book is all about the young man behind the mask. The young man with hope for a better future for himself, his complicated family, his friends and his community.
Miles Morales left me with a deep sense of family, the importance of valuing your roots, the essence of your individuality, and being there for the people you care about.
Being a fan of super-heroes is not needed to enjoy this book. I am going to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the book (no spoilers): "We are People."

Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: Nothing Left to Burn by Heather Ezell

The autumn morning after sixteen-year-old Audrey Harper loses her virginity, she wakes to a loud, persistent knocking at her front door. Waiting for her are two firemen, there to let her know that the moment she's been dreading has arrived: the enormous wildfire sweeping through Orange County, California, is now dangerously close to her idyllic gated community of Coto de Caza, and it's time to evacuate.

Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, as Audrey wrestles with the possibility of losing her family home, she also recalls her early, easy summer days with Brooks, the charming, passionate, but troubled volunteer firefighter who enchants Audrey--and who is just as enthralled by her. But as secrets from Brooks's dark past come to light, Audrey can't help but wonder if there's danger in the pull she feels--both toward this boy, and toward the fire burning in the distance.

I picked this book up because I thought the premise was intriguing. I admit I'm a sucker for any story set in a natural disaster. The first chapter starts off with a bang -- firefighters knocking on Audrey's door early in the morning. The pace of the book doesn't let up from there. It takes place over the course of one day, with every other chapter skipping back in time to fill in the story of Audrey and Brooks. The book has a very strong sense of place (something I always love!), great supporting characters (my favorite was Audrey's best friend),  a flawed main character, and secrets that'll keep you reading. Nothing Left to Burn is a compelling page-turner with a satisfying ending.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Reaching Readers with Diverse Books

Today we celebrate 10 Latinx books for children published this year.

When children see themselves in books, they’re better equipped to find solutions to everyday life; ways of coping, develop empathy and reading diverse books helps us step outside of ourselves into another’s life and world. Below are ten recently published books by Latinx authors. 

1. Lucky Luna by Diana López

Luna knows that every time she gets in trouble—and she gets in trouble a lot—one of her primas is responsible. “ In this funny and page-turning story, award-winning author Diana López reminds what it means to be a friend and a prima, and how to accept the things that make us truly unique.

2. Stella Diaz has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

“In her first middle-grade novel, award-winning picture book author and illustrator Angela Dominguez tells a heartwarming story based on her own experiences growing up Mexican-American.”

3. Flor and Miranda Steal the Show by Jennifer Torres

Enjoy carnival rides and deep fried pickles in this warm, funny middle grade novel about family and friendship.

4. Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition.

5. Tight  by Torrey Maldonado

A tween boy from the projects gets all wound up when he's constantly told he needs to be "hard" when he'd rather go with the flow and stay chill.

6. Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle by Hilda Eunice Burgos

“Her last name may mean "kings," but Ana Maria Reyes REALLY does not live in a castle. Rather, she's stuck in a tiny apartment with two parents (way too lovey-dovey), three sisters (way too dramatic), everyone's friends (way too often), and a piano (which she never gets to practice).”

7. ¡Celebración! by Susan Middleton Elya

“It's a sunny day and everyone is headed to the main plaza for the start of the town parade and summer celebration. Follow along the parade route with a family of six as the festivities unfold.  With engaging text and imaginative, whimsical illustrations, Celebracion! is the perfect way to enjoy a summer day and learn some Spanish too.

8. The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez

Guided by the classic works of F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada, Hernandez’s first book for young readers brings the sights and stories of Latin America to a new generation of graphic-novel fans around the world.

9. Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres

It's no fun being known as the "Taco Queen" at school. But just when it looks like Stef is going to get exactly what she wants, and her family's livelihood is threatened, she will have to become the truck's unlikely champion. 

*Reviewed on Kidliterati     

10. Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes

When twelve-year-old Izzy discovers a beat-up baseball marked with the words ‘Because magic’ while unpacking in yet another new apartment, she is determined to figure out what it means. Infused with the flavor of the southwest and sprinkled with just a pinch of magic, this heartfelt middle grade debut is as rich and satisfying as Nana's homemade enchiladas. 

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez (released in 2017)

*Guest Post on Kidliterati

“The real Malu loves rock music, skateboarding, zines, and Soyrizo (hold the cilantro, please). And when she assembles a group of like-minded misfits at school and starts a band, Malu finally begins to feel at home. She'll do anything to preserve this, which includes standing up to an anti-punk school administration to fight for her right to express herself!”


Please share a few of your favorites in the comments! Here’s a wonderful blog devoted to "Latinxs in Kidlit".

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha M. Clark

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha M. Clark
My rating: four out of five stars

A boy wakes up on a mysterious island. He can't remember his name or how he got there. Is it a nightmare? Did he ever have a home and family? And worse, can he ward off the hairy wolf-like beast and find his way off the island?

The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast will cause the reader to wonder all sorts of things: like, who is the narrator? (hint: it's not the boy) and how did the nameless boy get on the eerie island? I was eager to read to the end in order to find out, and Clark answered all this reader's questions in a satisfying way.  The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast is a story about facing one's fears and finding the truth, no matter how scary it is.

From Goodreads:

The Graveyard Book meets Hatchet in this eerie novel about a boy who is stranded on a mysterious beach, from debut author Samantha M. Clark.

A boy washes up on a mysterious, seemingly uninhabited beach. Who is he? How did he get there? The boy can’t remember. When he sees a light shining over the foreboding wall of trees that surrounds the shore, he decides to follow it, in the hopes that it will lead him to answers. The boy’s journey is a struggle for survival and a search for the truth—a terrifying truth that once uncovered, will force him to face his greatest fear of all if he is to go home.

This gripping adventure will have readers hooked until its jaw-dropping and moving conclusion. Samantha M. Clark’s first novel heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice.

Note: The reviewer was given an advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Review: DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland

Image result for dread nation justina ireland

Zombies permeate modern pop-culture. They have for a while. Since my salad days in college with the re-make of "Dawn of the Dead" and "28 Days Later" then "28 Weeks Later", and books like World War Z. Those works ushered in the seemingly endless "The Walking Dead" television series later accompanied by "Fear the Walking Dead", and so on and so on.
However when it comes to the category of Young Adult literature, there isn't much zombie fare to choose from. This isn't a bad thing, for I sincerely believe no other author could use the zombie archetype as effectively and flawlessly as Justina Ireland has. 

Dread Nation is a significant achievement. 
Some people might ask, "Why zombies?"
I have no idea regarding Ms. Ireland's personal motives for incorporating zombies in this gruesome, fast-paced, emotional saga, but I have a guess...

Zombies are often used as code for a hivemind devoid of any critical thinking.
George Romero used them as commentary on capitalism and consumer culture.
Stephen King used them similarly to highlight our society's dependence on modern technology (specifically mobile phones.) 
But Justina Ireland has gone a step further, and accomplished something breathtaking.

Dread Nation is an alternate history that takes place during the Civil War. Only this time, at the battle of Gettysburg, the dead rise and zombies make their first appearance in the world. 
The protagonist, Jane, is a biracial girl born shortly after the zombie uprising, and is sent to a combat school where minorities learn how to kill and fight the undead on behalf of white people. Through a series of mishaps and Jane's unyielding determination, she and her cohorts are sent to the great plains West of the Mississippi. This is the opposite of Jane's ultimate goal, which is reuniting with her mother and returning home. 

"Why zombies?" "Why the Civil War?" 
Ms. Ireland uses zombies to illustrate not consumerism, or over-reliance on technology...but racism. 
The zombies first appearing in the the battle that (in real life) turned the tide of the Civil war, not to mention involved the largest number of casualties is not a coincidence. The Civil war was about slavery, it was a war about the right to own another person and treat them as property. 
I perceive the zombies of Dread Nation as symbolizing ideas from the past that are thought to be - and should remain - dead. But they aren't are they? Those ideals and beliefs have been lurking in the dark corners of American consciousness for a while...shambling about hoping to happen upon the ignorant, unaware, or unprepared at the opportune moment.
The parallels drawn to American society today will not be lost on the conscious reader. We are heavily divided as a nation thanks to the events of very recent history, and there are those that are clinging to ideals and beliefs that are best left dead. There are those who blindly follow without thinking for themselves; they become tools and puppets, and unspeakably dangerous for those of us who do not look or live like they think we should.

Not only does Dread Nation tackle those weighty subjects, but Ms. Ireland also deftly handles passing privilege in the African American community. She briefly highlights the plight of Native Americans. There is even positive, asexual representation by a strong supporting character. 

Dread Nation does what all great fantasies do; it becomes a lens into the world just outside your window right now while showing you an entirely different time and place. It is the epitome artistic resistance. I daresay that it is the book of the resistance - YA historical fantasy edition.
This is a book that should be dissected in every book club, every reader-circle, and I'll go so far as to say it should be on some school reading lists. 
There's too much to unpack in a single, spoiler-free review, but suffice it to say that should you explore the alternate America envisioned by Justina Ireland you will walk away with a fresh perspective on a variety of topics - and you'll have a bloody good time in the process.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

K10: The Red Pyramid (Book 1 in the Kane Chronicles) by Rick Riordan

The Kidliterati Ten is an interview series with young readers. We ask them about a favorite book and hope that you enjoy their answers.
Tell us a little about yourself: what is your first name, how old are you, and what is your favorite flavor of ice cream? My name is Jace. I am 10 years old and my favorite flavor of ice cream is mint chocolate chip.

What book did you read and why did you choose it?  I read the first book in the Kane Chronicles, The Red Pyramid. I chose to read this book because I'm in to mythology like Egyptian and Greek. 

Can you describe this book in one word? Magical.

What was your favorite part of this story? My favorite part was when the Kane children found out that they were hosting gods because they had so much power. 

If you had a problem similar to the main character's problem, what would you do? If I had a similar problem that the main characters had, I would train as hard as possible to find the full extent of my magical powers.

What would you say to your best friend to convince them to read this book? "Dude, you've got to read this book if you like Egyptian mythology." 

What do you think about the book's cover? I think that the cover helps me picture when they found the Red Pyramid. 

Would you want to read another book about these characters?  Yes.

Can you name another book that reminds you of this one?  The Lost Hero in The Heroes of Olympus series. 

If you could ask the author one question about this book, what would it be? Why did you choose to write mythology? 

We found the answer to your question on Rick Riordan's website. He says that his son asked him to tell him some bedtime stories about gods and heroes. Mr. Riordan had taught Greek myths for many years as a classroom teacher. When he ran out of myths, he decided to make up some new ones with the same characters.

Thank you, Jace, for sharing this book with us!

Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane. One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe--a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family, and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of pharaohs.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Review: The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond, #1)The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"The day my parents got swallowed by a rakkhosh and whisked away to another galactic dimension was a pretty craptastic day."

Kiranmala is a normal New Jersey middle-schooler. Well, except when a demon kidnaps her mom and dad on her twelfth birthday. Maybe her parents weren't telling crazy stories about another world after all. Two princes show up on her doorstep, help her stop another rampaging demon, and fly her off on winged horses to rescue her parents.

Maybe Kiran isn't so normal after all.

THE SERPENT'S SECRET is a page-turning adventure. The voice is perfect middle grade. My favorite part was seeing this world and the other dimension through Kiranmala's point of view. She's brave and funny with all the insecurities of being a middle-schooler. The story blends Indian folklore with astrophysics. Einstein and string theory get a shout out.

THE SERPENT'S SECRET will draw comparisons to another well-known series based on mythology, but it is far more than that. Kiranmala, our new demon-slaying heroine, is an important new character for a generation of diverse readers.

View all my reviews


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