Mom Read It

If the kids are reading it, chances are I have, too.

Dance like your life depends on it: Spin the Sky March 17, 2017

Spin the Sky, by Jill MacKenzie, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510706866

Recommended for readers 14+

Eighteen year-old Magnolia Woodson and her older sister, Rose, have to live with the sins of their drug addict mother, who abandoned them after a tragedy a year before. Living in a small clamming town in Oregon, everyone knows who they are and what happened; the only folks who seem to think differently are Magnolia’s childhood best friend, George, and his mother, who’s taken care of the girls whenever their mother fell short. To change the way the town sees Magnolia and her sister, she decides she need to win the reality dance show, Live to Dance. She and George head to Portland to audition, but they make it! Now the real work begins: will the competition be too much for Mags? Will her friendship with George survive the stress of the show, and will she be able to live in the fishbowl that is reality television, especially with a secret she doesn’t want made public?

Spin the Sky has a strong premise that isn’t afraid to tackle some hot-button topics like drug addiction, sexuality, abortion, and miscarriage. Some of your more conservative readers may shy away from this one; steer them toward books like Sophie Flack’s Bunheads, Lorri Hewett’s Dancer, or Sarah Rubin’s Someday Dancer. Magnolia is a tough character to crack: she’s consumed with what other people think of her, and obsesses over winning the competition, seemingly just so that the town will accept her and her sister. She has a complicated love-hate relationship with her mother (understandably), and she has an unrequited crush on George, who she thinks is gay – and is really upset when it seems that isn’t the case. The other contestants all have their own issues that the author briefly touches on throughout the novel.

If you have readers who love reading about dance and are interested in reality television, Spin the Sky is a good backup for your shelves.

 

The Well of Prayers continues the Temple of Doubt series November 28, 2016

well-of-prayersThe Well of Prayers, by Anne Boles Levy, (Aug. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781634501934

Recommended for ages 13+

The second book in Anne Boles Levy’s Temple of Doubt series picks up soon after the events of Temple of Doubt. Hadara, now 16, works as a healer’s apprentice. Her father has been promoted to portreeve, a local official. The Azwans are keeping an eye on Hadara and her family, and they’re also cracking down on the community. Homes being searched for heretical items – strictly in the eye of the beholder – and anyone branded a disbeliever is punished severely. Hadara is horrified when she sees one of her neighbors in custody, and tries to think of ways to hamper the culling and mass punishments.

She also discovers that Valeo, the guard she thought dead, is very much alive; it brings up feelings that she thought she successfully pushed down. This, mixed with her continuing suspicion of the god Nihil, and her own concerns about the demon they may or may not have destroyed at the end of Temple of Doubt help set plans in motion that could put Hadara, her family, and possibly all of Port Sapphire in Nihil’s sights.

I really enjoyed the second book in the Temple of Doubt series. I felt more comfortable with the characters, the setting, and the overall faith structure running throughout the book, something that confused me a bit in the first novel. The continuing struggle over who decides what is “faithful enough” vs. “sinful” is all too relevant today; teens will be sucked right in, particularly with Hadara’s mixed emotions about herself and her place in this world, her feelings for Valeo, and her questions about her faith. Give this series to your high fantasy fans and booktalk Hadara with other positive female protagonists like Katniss, Celaena (from Throne of Glass), and Greta from Scorpion Rules.

 

What was your Worst Breakfast? October 14, 2016

worstbreakfastThe Worst Breakfast, by China Miéville/Illustrated by Zak Smith, (Oct. 2016, Black Sheep/Akashic), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1617754869

Recommended for ages 3-8

Two sisters sit down one morning to talk about the worst breakfast they’ve ever had. It gets progressively worse, from burnt toast, to unbaked, uncooked, unclean baked beans, a steaming, slick tomato hill oozing into rancid swill. Can it get worse? It has to get better… doesn’t it?

This book is just too much fun to read by yourself or a room full of kids, who will squeal with awful glee as the awful breakfast the two sisters describe gets grosser and grosser. Award-winning author China Miéville, best known for his fantasy and science fiction tales, is brilliant as he constructs a hilarious, rhyming tale, told as a conversation between two sisters remembering the worst breakfast ever made. Building on each other’s memory, the sisters one-upping each other and – illustrated in full repulsive glory by Zak Smith – create a mountain of food so terrifying and awful that you have no choice but to squeal and giggle uncontrollably at memories of terrible meals past. And then… a glimmer of hope? Maybe breakfast can be saved, after all.

I love this book. I hope Miéville and Smith have more stories to tell, because this will be a storytime mainstay for me. This would be great for a food storytime. Pair this one with Kate McMullan’s I Stink!, where a garbage truck narrates a stomach-churning alphabet of the “food” he eats on his shift. I’d also pair this with Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen for a surrealist story session; I was reminded of Sendak’s book often as I read The Worst Breakfast. I enjoyed the back and forth between the sisters, and the different British-American references, like the differences in the pronunciation of words  like tomato and bravado: “You can’t rhyme TOMATO and BRAVADO!” “I can if we’re English. Almost. Tu-MAH-toe, bruh-VAH-doe.” I love the pictures that Miéville paints with his words and Zak Smith’s wild interpretations that give the words life on the page.

worstbreakfast_4

This is a fun tale that’s sure to get the kids interacting during a storytime. If you’ve got readers who enjoy gross humor – and who doesn’t? – this will build their vocabularies and make them howl with disgusted delight. The Worst Breakfast has received a starred review from Kirkus.

worstbreakfast_3

worstbreakfast_2

 

Soldier Sister, Fly Home is quietly powerful August 30, 2016

soldier sister_1Soldier Sister, Fly Home, by Nancy Bo Flood/Illustrated by Shonto Begay, (Aug. 2016, Charlesbridge), $16.95, ISBN: 9781580897020

Recommended for ages 10+

Thirteen year-old Tess is struggling with her identity. As someone who’s part white and part Navajo, she feels too white when she’s on the rez, but she’s called “Pokey-hontas” and “squaw” at the white school she attends in Flagstaff. Her older sister, Gaby, whom she adores, has joined the military in order to get money for college; when she comes home to tell Tess that she’s being deployed – shortly after Tess and her family have attended a memorial service for Lori Piestewa, a member of their community and the first Native American woman to fall in combat – Tess is devastated. Gaby asks Tess to take care of her stallion, Blue, while she’s gone; it’s a challenge, to be sure, as Blue is semi-wild and doesn’t gel with Tess, but over the course of the summer, Tess learns more about herself from Blue than she could have imagined.

Soldier Sister, Fly Home is a quietly tender novel about family, identity, and loss. Lori Piestewa, whose memorial service opens the story, was a real-life soldier who was killed in Iraq and was a member of the Hopi tribe. From Lori’s tale, Ms. Flood spins the story of Tess and Gaby and Native American identity. Their grandfather is a veteran, a World War II Code Talker; they live in a community of proud warriors, descended from warriors. Tess is frustrated as she tries to embrace a cultural identity: but which culture to identify with? Her grandmother is a guiding force here, as is Gaby, who loves and reassures her younger sister, even from a world away. Blue, the stubborn and half-wild horse, teaches Tess patience and helps her recognize her own inner strength throughout the book.

The book includes notes and a glossary on the Navajo language, a note honoring Lori Piestewa and her service, and a reader’s group guide. Writing prompts are available through the publisher’s website, as is a link to a seven-page excerpt.

Soldier Sister, Fly Home has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. It is a beautiful story and an important addition to all bookshelves.

Nancy Bo Flood was a research psychologist and studied brain development at the University of Minnesota and the University of London before writing books for children. Additional books include recognized and award-winning titles, such as Warriors in the Crossfire (Boyds Mills) and Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo (WordSong).

 

The Lost Twin: A boarding school whodunit July 5, 2016

the lost twinScarlet & Ivy: The Lost Twin, by Sophie Cleverly, (May 2016, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492633396

Recommended for ages 9-13

Ivy is still grieving the death of her twin sister, Scarlet, when the letter from the school comes: a spot has opened up, and she can expect to be picked up immediately. Ivy is indignant – how rude and cold, to be referring to her sister’s death as an “opening” – and it only gets worse once the imperious headmistress, Miss Fox, comes to collect her. Miss Fox tells her that Ivy’s expected to become Scarlet – a face-saving measure for the school. Once at the school, Ivy finds herself in the thick of a few mysteries, all having to do with Scarlet and her disappearance from the school. Can Ivy unravel all the mysteries surrounding the school and learn what really happened to her sister?

Scarlet and Ivy: The Lost Twin is a well-paced, consuming boarding school mystery, set in 1935 England. The characters are interesting and the intrigue keeps pages turning, while getting readers riled up at the injustices Ivy endures. There are so many little mysteries entwined with larger ones – once a thread gets pulled, you’ll be consumed with following it to see where it goes. Fox is an awful human being that loves corporal punishment a bit too much to be in charge of children; Ms. Cleverly has given us a truly hissable villain here (she and Professor Umbridge would get along swimmingly). You’ll root for Ivy and her friend, Ariadne, and the ending leaves you bouncing up and down with the knowledge that we’ll be getting more adventures in the future.

According to Sophie Cleverly’s Twitter, the third Scarlet & Ivy book is out – pretty sure it’s only out in the UK, but let’s be really, really nice to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Ms. Cleverly, so they’ll bring the further adventures of Ivy, Ariadne, & Co. to us here in the States.

The Lost Twin is a good summer reading choice for middle grade readers who enjoy a good mystery with a few well-placed plot twists. I’ve got a lot of kids asking me for good mysteries, so I’ll add this one to my booktalks, along with The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee and Audacity Jones.

 

The Seven Princesses: A fairy tale about sisters and your own space May 21, 2016

seven princessesThe Seven Princesses, by Smiljana Coh (May 2017, Running Press), $16.95, ISBN: 9780762458318

Recommended for ages 4-8

Once upon a time, there were seven princesses, all with diverse interests, who did everything together. But one day, they had the biggest fight in the entire history of princess fighting, and they all decided to build their own towers and be on their own. But that wasn’t the answer, either; the princesses really missed one another. What’s a princess to do?

Smiljana Coh’s book about sibling rivalry is a great story for preschoolers to early school-age kids, because it gets to the heart of sibling arguments: sibings are largely together day and all night, and space eventually gets tight, no matter what the living situation. Arguments are bound to happen; kids are all too quick to say things like, “I never want to see you AGAIN!”, but eventually, love wins out, and things get smoothed over. She also captures the feeling everyone around kids feel when there’s sibling unrest: the palette goes from soothing, happy pastels to washed out, sad, sepia-toned art, and she addresses how painful the sound of silence can be. When the princesses reunite, there’s joy in the kingdom again!

I also love that the princesses are such great girl-power figures for younger readers: the multi-ethnic princesses are interested in math, building, music, fashion design, gardening, animals, swimming, and the arts; one princess creates the blueprint for a grand castle layout. The royal parents show up in the beginning and end of the book; other than looking lovingly at one another and their kids, there’s not much of a role here, except to show a beautifully diverse family.

I can’t wait to put this into storytime rotation, especially since princess books are aces with my crowd. I’d spotlight this with both Kate Beaton’s Princess and the Pony and Andrea Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer; let girls see how amazing they are with these fun and fabulous role models.

Smiljana Coh is a Croatian author and illustrator. You can follow her on Facebook or check out her author website for more information.

Follow the Seven Princesses blog tour!

5/18 Anastasia Suen

5/20 Kid Lit Frenzy  

5/21 Mom Read It

5/23 Reading Through Life

5/24 Unpacking the POWER of Picture Books

 

Ruby Lee and Me looks at friendship and social change April 21, 2016

ruby leeRuby Lee and Me, by Shannon Hitchcock (Jan. 2016, Scholastic), $16.99, ISBN: 9780545782302

Recommended for ages 8-12

In 1969, a segregated North Carolina town is facing integration, and not everyone is happy about it. Set against this backdrop is the story of 12 year-old Sarah Beth, who is plagued with guilt when her younger sister is hit by a car while under her watch. Sarah’s family moves to a house on her grandparents’ property to save money, which means a new school – one that’s about to undergo integration. On the plus side, that means that Sarah will be able to go to school with her friend, Ruby Lee, an African-American who will be a student at the integrated school. Enthusiastically, the girls decide that they will be best friends in public – something not very common in the area – just like the Freedom Riders; but the girls have a falling out, leaving Sarah feeling more alone than ever. She’s lost her best friend, she’s facing a new school alone, and she’s certain her sister’s accident is her fault.

A work of both historical and realistic fiction, Ruby Lee & Me is a good coming-of-age story set against a time of huge social change.While this is Sarah’s story, first and foremost, friendship and integration amidst the upheaval of segregation and prejudice is a strong subplot. An upsetting incident involving the school’s first African-American teacher is a powerful moment in the story.

The history of race relations speaks volumes in the relationship between Sarah’s and Ruby’s grandmothers: they “gossip like best friends” when they’re together on the farm, but merely nod politely to one another in town; Sarah’s grandmother says, “The creek don’t care what color feet wade in it, but the town pool surely does. It’s easier to be friends away from wagging tongues”. Sarah’s ambitious daydream of she and Ruby being public friends sends both grandmothers into a tizzy; they discourage the girls from inviting trouble into their lives. Ruby Lee is annoyed when she sees her grandmother “trying too hard” around whites; Sarah sees Ruby as trying to be “the boss of her” in their interactions, yet always seeks her out when she needs someone to talk through a problem with.

A note from the author on historical accuracy briefly explains her connection to events in the story and points out little bits of tweaking made for creative license.

Ruby Lee and Me received a starred review from Booklist. The author’s website offers discussion questions for educators.