2019 in Review: the Numbers

This is way past the time of year when I normally look back at my reading from the previous year.  Maybe we can pretend this whole first quarter of 2020 didn’t happen?  I’m still putting this up here, for my own feeling of completion and accountability if nothing else.

2019 Overview

I logged 235 books this year, finished 227, reviewed 58, and rated 15 9 or higher. All my numbers, especially books reviewed and rated 9 or higher,  are significantly down from last year.

Continue reading

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Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis

It’s been a surreal couple of weeks here! I meant to write this review a full six weeks ago, but was too busy organizing KidLitCon to get to it. Now KidLitCon and school and my regular work are all canceled, so I’m trying to figure out how to be a librarian from home while also homeschooling. Hats off to all those who’ve been working and caring for kids at home all along!

But in the midst of these stressful times, aren’t you in the mood for a nice quick comfort read?

Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis coverMoontangled: a Harwood Spellbook Novella by Stephanie Burgis. Five Fathoms Press, 2020. 978-1999725495 Review copy received from the author.

We met Miss Banks and Miss Fennel, a sweet young couple hobbled by strict social rules, back in the first book of the Harwood Spellbook, Snowspelled. Now it’s their turn for their own story.

If you’ll recall, the Angland of this book is ruled by Boudiccate, a group of powerful female politicians, all with magician husbands. The tables are turned as to which is considered the more emotional sex, but rigid expectations still don’t fit everyone. Caroline Fennell, rising political star, and brilliant young magician Juliana Banks fell in love years ago. The new and scandalous all-female Thornfell School of Magic was meant to be the ticket to their own version of the perfect power couple. But the events of Thornbound disgraced Caroline’s mentor, and she and Juliana haven’t seen each other in months.

As the novella opens, we see that Juliana has done a good job of making friends with the other young women at the school – a group both ethnically and economically diverse. They’re preparing to show off what they’ve learned for Angland’s most powerful, though Juliana is more worried about the cooling tone of the letters she’s been getting from Caroline than about the notables. 

She is right to be concerned. Before long, the two women, both distraught, are separated and wandering off the paths in the enchanted woods, easy prey for the fey who may or may not have their best interests at heart. This being a novella, it doesn’t take long for them to get back to a satisfying affirmation of themselves both as individuals and as a couple. It’s a kisses-only romance that hints at plenty of passion both in the past and to come. My biggest complaint was that it was over too soon – I’d be happy to read a full-length novel about these characters or in this Angland in general.

This would pair well with The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite for a straight-up historical romance, or The True Queen by Zen Cho for a historical fantasy with more emphasis on the politics.

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Sadiq series by Siman Nuurali for Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.  

Multicultural Children's Book Day

Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.

I was gifted four books in the Sadiq series to review for Multicultural Children’s Book Day.  Continue reading

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Love Sugar Magic: A Mixture of Mischief Blog Tour

200124-LSM3-blog-final

I was honored to be invited to participate in the blog tour for the third and sadly final book in the Love Sugar Magic series.  If you missed the first two, here are the reviews of Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble and Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits.  Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for a giveaway!  And the reason I’ve been so quiet the last month is that I’ve been busy planning KidLitCon.  Registration is open, and it’s free, so I hope to see you there!

ABOUT THE BOOK

Love Sugar Magic: A Mixture of Mischief by Anna Meriano. Walden Pond Press, 2020. Release date 2/4/20

“There’s power in something passed down through the generations.”

It’s spring break in Rose Hill, Texas, but Leo Logroño has a lot of work to do if she’s going to become a full-fledged bruja like the rest of her family.

She still hasn’t discovered the true nature of her magical abilities, and that isn’t the only bit of trouble in her life: Her family’s baking heirlooms have begun to go missing, and a new bakery called Honeybees has opened across town, threatening to run Amor y Azúcar right out of business.

What’s more, everyone around her seems to have secrets, and none of them want to tell Leo what’s going on.

But the biggest secret of all comes when Leo is paid a very surprising visit—by her long-lost Abuelo Logroño. Abuelo promises answers to her most pressing questions and tells Leo he can teach her about her power, about what it takes to survive in a world where threats lurk in the shadows. But can she trust him?

Love Sugar Magic: A Mixture of Mischief by Anna MerianoREVIEW

Even though Leo is finally really learning magic, she still feels that she’s not learning it quickly enough, and she still really, really wants to know what her unique birth order power will be.  Her mother and sisters telling her to be patient only makes things worse.

If you read the description above, you may have suspicions about Abuelo Logroño, and you would be right to do so.  When things suddenly start get worse for Leo’s family – right after Abuelo Logroño’s visit, Leo is suspicious, too.  And nothing is more frustrating for a smart kid than being told not to worry, the adults have everything under control – when they clearly don’t.  But between Leo, her sisters, and her friends Caroline and Brent, surely they can figure it out.  It’s not quite clear whether her cousin JP, who’s visiting for spring break and the first male relative of this generation in the book, can be trusted or needs to be kept in the dark.

This is still a delightful blend of magic, every day, and delicious baked goods (even some gluten free this time!) as Leo struggles to master both her magic and her social skills.  I really appreciated the contrast between the magic that Leo has been learning from her mother and her aunt – magic of mostly ordinary ingredients mixed with love and intention and amplified by the family heirlooms – and the magic that her abuelo wants to teach her, which he tells her properly only belongs to men (too bad none of his male descendants had the power!) and which relies on the name, black-and-white thinking and force.  It’s still clear from the characters here that the choice to work for love and community is open to everyone regardless of gender, in spite of Abuelo  Logroño’s choices. But most of all, I enjoyed spending time with Leo and her family and friends, watching her come into her own.  And though I’m very sad that this is the last book in the trilogy, I look forward to more from Anna Meriano – maybe a YA series starring Leo’s oldest sister at college?

 

ANNA MERIANOABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Meriano is the author of the books in the Love Sugar Magic series, A Dash of TroubleA Sprinkle of Spirits and A Mixture of Mischief. She grew up in Houston, Texas, and earned her MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in writing for children from the New School in New York. She has taught creative writing and high school English, and she works as a writing tutor. Anna likes reading, knitting, playing full-contact quid- ditch, and singing along to songs in English, Spanish, and ASL. Her favorite baked goods are the kind that open hearts. You can visit her online at www.annameriano.com.

 

MORE TOUR!!

GIVEAWAY

Walden Pond Press is kindly offering a giveaway of this book for my American readers.  Please leave a comment with a way for me to get in touch with you by February 2 for a chance to win this book! (If you’re not in the US and want to chat about the book, that would be great, too!)

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Real-Life and Realistic Early Chapter Books

Here are thoughts on some of the early chapter books I read this fall, any of which would make good gifts for the 7 to 9 year-olds on your holiday shopping list

My Furry Foster Book 1: Truman the Dog by Debbi Michiko Florence. Illustrated by Melanie Demmer.My Furry Foster Book 1: Truman the Dog by Debbi Michiko Florence. Illustrated by Melanie Demmer. Capstone, 2019. 9781515845607
From the author of the Jasmine Toguchi books comes a new series about a girl and her family’s experiences fostering pets.  Kaita is excited to foster the young, untrained dog Truman until he can find a new home. Even though he causes lots of problems, they are all very patient and positive with him.  This first book in the series had so much background information on how to be a good foster family that the rest of the book fell a little short for me, but I have hopes that the second book will be better, and young animal lovers may not notice in any case.  My personal favorite part was the afterward, which compared the real girl Kaita that the series is based on with her fictional character.  

Sarai in the Spotlight by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown. Scholastic, 2018. 9781338236699
Sarai and the Around the World Fair by Sarai Gonzalez and Monica Brown. Scholastic, 2109. 9781338260953
I read two of these books, a collaboration between established author Monica Brown (Lola Levine is Not Mean) and Sarai herself, a YouTube star (or so I hear.)  These stories are based on her life, and show her family – their mixed background from Peru and Costa Rica, and her younger sisters Lucía and Josie (who has cochlear implants).  In Sarai in the Spotlight, Sarai’s best friend has moved away and Sarai is having a tough time with some of the other girls at school.  She makes friends with a quiet new girl, Christina, but then has problems when she wants Christina to perform with her in the school talent show, but Christina isn’t comfortable performing.  In the second book, Sarai has outgrown her bike – but when her grandfather starts salvaging rusty old bike pieces to build into a new bike for her, Sarai really isn’t sure it will be good enough.  Also, since her family background covers multiple countries, which country should she talk about for her school’s international event? Sarai is a winning character with a warm family, showing lots of acceptance for Sarai and her siblings being themselves.  

EllRay Jakes is a Rock Star by Sally Warner and Jamie HarperEllRay Jakes is a Rock Star by Sally Warner and Jamie Harper. Viking, 2011. 9780670011582
This is a little bit older series.  The author is white, but it’s one of the few early chapter book series with an African-American boy protagonist.  (Boy protagonists in general are rare in the early chapter book world.) Here, EllRay wants to be popular and keep up with friends that have expensive things his family just doesn’t.  He sneaks some crystals from his geology professor father’s office while the dad is out on a business trip. He just means to show them off – but ends up giving them away. Uh-oh! EllRay’s family includes his mother, a fantasy author, and a younger sister.  There are realistic dilemmas and a good sense of humor for lots of kid appeal.

 

What are your favorite early chapter book series?

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Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

This year I finally read all the books in this series that are available in the U.S.  I may have read this one over the summer and saved the review until it was more seasonally appropriate… what could go better together than Cambridge at Christmas with a spot of murder?

Mistletoe and Murder. Wells and Wong #5 by Robin Stevens, US coverMistletoe and Murder. Wells and Wong #5 by Robin Stevens. Simon & Schuster, 2018. Originally published in the UK by Puffin Books, 2016. 

It’s Christmas in Cambridge with this fifth entry in the Wells and Wong (UK Murder Most Unladylike) series.  Hazel and her best friend Daisy are visiting Daisy’s Aunt Eustacia, who lives in the invented St. Lucy’s College for girls at Cambridge, where Daisy’s brother goes to the also invented Maudlin College.  There they meet Alexander, with whom Hazel has been corresponding since their train adventure together in a previous book, as well as his best friend, George Mukherjee, and several other acquaintances from the past.  There are pranks and Mistletoe and Murder. Wells and Wong #5 by Robin Stevens UK coveraccidents, and a very tricky murder, as well as the developing relationship between Hazel and Alexander and Daisy’s even more pronounced disinterest in boys. There is secret climbing on the buildings at night, the sadness of seeing the decided prejudice against women, even those bright enough to make it to Cambridge in the 30s, and Hazel not being the only person of color for the first time since she’s come to England – though she thinks of it as not being the only non-English-looking person.  This series is such a delight, combining great mysteries with astute observations on people. I only wish I could get more people at my library to read it.

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Celebrate Ramen with Magic Ramen and Let’s Make Ramen

My daughter and my love bond over a shared love of ramen.  Here are two books to celebrate it! 

magicRamenMagic Ramen: the Story of Momofuku Ando by Andrea Wang and Kana Urbanowica. Little Bee Books, 2019. 9781499807035
This picture book biography tells the story of Momofuku Ando, who invented instant ramen as a way to feed hungry impoverished people during the devastation in Japan  after World War II. It took lots of experimentation to make something that would be both tasty and nutritious (that was the goal, anyway!) but could be prepared quickly and easily at home by people with nothing more than hot water.  The expressive, cartoony art varies between outside scenes with detailed, full-color backgrounds, and the scenes of experimentation, shown with all-white backgrounds. This is at once a reminder of an important period in history and an ode to persistence and of course, delicious ramen.  

Let's Make Ramen: A Comic Book Cookbook by Hugh Amano and Sarah BecanLet’s Make Ramen: A Comic Book Cookbook by Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan. Ten Speed Press, 2019. 9780399581991

This beautiful graphic cookbook takes a much more gourmet spin on the instant ramen from the previous book, this time trying to replicate the ramen of the ramen shop at home. (There’s also a brief discussion of ramen-ya etiquette.)  It begins by explaining the different elements that belong in a good bowl of ramen and some basic styles of bowls before giving details and techniques on different kinds of broth, topping, and noodles. Start small, they suggest, maybe with homemade broth and store bought noodles (this would be my best option, as they only give instructions for wheat-based noodles.)  They suggest that one make a variety ahead and freeze them, then thaw and recombine, though it sounded like this would work better for singles or couples than for families. The ink and watercolor art gives mouth-watering close-ups on both food and techniques, but also some creative scenes, like an underwater world with fish explaining about gyokai broth. I enjoyed looking at the beautiful art and was impressed by the range of possibilities with ramen.  The recipes themselves feel solid, if not quite a fit for me right now. I could see this being truly inspiring for the right person.

Pair these with the movie Ramen Shop or another popular graphic cookbook, Cook Korean by Robin Ha.

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Finding the Best: the Good Luck Cat and Saturday

KidLitCon 2020 - Seeing Clearly - Ann Arbor, March 27-28Quick promotional announcement: registration for KidLitCon 2020 in Ann Arbor is now open!  And in case you missed the news, registration is free thanks to the generosity of the Ann Arbor District Library, so sign up today!

Here are two picture books –The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo. Illustrated by Paul Lee. one old, one new – that celebrate finding the best in misfortune.  

 

The Good Luck Cat by Joy Harjo. Illustrated by Paul Lee. Harcourt, 2000. 0152321977 

I found this book by our new national Poet Laureate via Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children’s Literature. She’s hoping for it to be brought back in print (I got it via interlibrary loan), and after reading it, I heartily agree.  The story tells of a contemporary Native girl who finds Woogie, a “stripedy cat with tickling whiskers and green electric eyes… When I pet her she purrs as if she has a drum near her heart.” But the poor cat – and our heroine’s heart – is put through the wringer as the cat suffers one misfortune after another, barely escaping with its life each time.  Can a cat have more than nine lives? Though this does require the reader to be hardy enough to make it through the cat’s harrowing escapes, the ending is worth it, and it’s all illustrated with beautiful paintings.  

Others recommended picture book stories of contemporary Native life include The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson and Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, while those looking for more stories of ups and downs with cats could try Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper

Saturday by Oge MoraSaturday by Oge Mora. Hachette Books, 2019.  9780316431279
I was one of many who loved Oge Mora’s debut, Thank You, Omu, which won gobs of awards, including a Caldecott Honor.  In her new book, Ava’s mother works six days a week, so Saturdays, the only day they get to spend all day together, are sacred.  They have a packed schedule that usually includes story time at the library, getting their hair done at the salon, and a picnic at the park.  Today they’re especially excited for a one-night only puppet show. But as one thing after another goes wrong, can they still preserve the magic of Saturday?  This story of love and resilience is illustrated with More’s signature cut paper collages, irrepressibly good-humored and expressive.

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Sweet YA: From Twinkle, with Love and The Last Beginning

Here are short reviews of two sweet romance-focused teen books – one contemporary with an Indian-American heroine, and one futuristic time travel with a same-sex romance.

From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya MenonFrom Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon. Simon & Schuster, 2018. 978-1481495400
This companion to When Dimple Met Rishi introduces us to high schooler Twinkle Mehra, an aspiring filmmaker.  She’s been having issues with her best friend, Maddie Tanaka, who’s been hanging with a way more popular crowd than Twinkle would ever want to, even if she could be accepted in it (which would never happen.)  And she has a crush on cute, athletic, and popular Neal, not realizing that his geekier twin Sahil has an equally unrequited crush on her. But when she has a chance to work with Sahil to make the movie of her dreams – a gender-swapped Dracula movie – Twinkle jumps at it, forcing her to take a fresh look at all of her assumptions.  Twinkle is a well-rounded character, with a house full of interesting characters, including a depressed mother, a dad who spends more time working at a teen center than with his own teen, and a certified hippie grandmother. This is a delightful book, focused on romance as part of self-discovery rather than as a goal in itself.  Fans of these books will also want to read There’s Something about Sweetie, which I will also get to someday.  

The Last Beginning by Lauren JamesThe Last Beginning by Lauren James. Sky Pony Press, 2016. 978-1510710221
I read this book based on Charlotte’s recommendation.  It’s the sequel to The Next Together, which I haven’t read, but as it has different main characters, I didn’t feel lost.  

The year is 2056, and 16-year-old Clove Sutcliff has a massive crush on her best friend Meg.  She’s mortified when Meg rejects her advances, but forgets her soon enough as she starts having time travel adventures, and meets a mysterious girl named Ella.  When Clove discovers that the people she’s been raised by aren’t her real parents, and that her parents are wanted fugitives who disappeared after disclosing a dirty government secret, she and Ella set out to find them, with the help of Clove’s AI Spart.  I didn’t really buy the science aspects of the science fiction – that cloning would work as reincarnation – but it was still a sweet romance, with bits of emails and text conversation between future Clove and Ella even as we’re watching the beginning of their relationship in the present, and the travel and puzzle solving were fun. 

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Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack

This is one that was on my want-to-read list this year, a fantasy from Kwame Alexander’s new imprint, Versify.  

Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya PasternackAnya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack. Versify/HMH, 2019. 9780358006077
Anya’s is the only Jewish family in her little Russian village of Zmeyreka.  Her grandmother fled from an Istanbul in flames years ago and thought that a small village would give them the best chance of acceptance.  Still, times are hard. Anya’s father has been conscripted, and now the magistrate is saying that because they’re Jewish, they will still have to pay the usual properties, though the father’s service should waive this.  

So when Anya runs into Ivan, seventh son of Ivan, and Ivan senior offers to pay her handsomely for helping them search for the dragon that’s rumored to live nearby, Anya jumps at the chance.  

But though magic has been outlawed and the tsar wants to wipe out magical creatures as well, the magical creatures that Anya knows aren’t the evil beings they’re told.  Their house domovoi might be temperamental, but it’s still helpful. Her Babulya tells her that fishing and crops were better when there were more dragons in the rivers, so that Anya is quite conflicted going into her new assignment. 

Things only get worse when Anya and Ivan cross paths with Sigurd, a cruel northern knight bent on killing the dragon for his own dark purposes, viewing the kids as obstacles to be pushed out of the way at any cost.  

The start of the book, where we meet Anya’s family (including her goat, Zvezda), some villagers, and a bunch of different magical creatures, felt a little slow to me. But things picked up quickly, and the book took some surprising and welcome twists. It’s clearly drawing on older epics, with which I am less familiar, but I still enjoyed it lots, and am looking forward to the next book in the series.  

There are so many great books about dragons for the middle grade reader, including:

Other middle grade fantasies with Jewish protagonists include:

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