Cattywampus and Cinders and Sparrows

Every year I participate in the Cybils Awards, I read books more quickly than I can review them. Here are a couple of the books I’d wanted to share with you since the fall. 

Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo.

Scholastic, 2020.

ISBN 978-1338561593.

Read from library copy.

In the Appalachian town of Howler’s Hollow, the women of two magical families, the McGills and the Hearns, have been rivals for generations.  Delpha McGill has been secretly learning magic from her mother’s spell book, but isn’t sure of her skills.  Meanwhile, Katybird Hearn, who is intersex, has magic welling up inside her, making her hands glow and even hurt with magic she doesn’t know how to use.  Still, she’s not sure that the magic will see her as enough of a girl to let her use it properly.  When Delpha and Katybird clash, everything goes wrong – a walking outhouse and a graveyard of witch grannies come back to life just for starters- both girls will have to work together to find a solution.  Other memorable characters included Tyler, a geeky, overenthusiastic weredog with two mamas, and Katybird’s pet racoon, Pudge.  While there’s no racial diversity, there’s a range of LGBTQ and economic experiences, with some good friendship building wrapped up in the over-the-top magic.  

Cinders and Sparrows
by Stefan Bachmann. Read by Justine Eyre.

Greenwillow Books, 2020.

Print ISBN 978-0062289957. Audio ASIN B07YN584DZ.

Listened to audiobook on Libby. 

I hadn’t read any Stefan Bachmann since The Peculiar back in 2013, so I was very happy to see this. 12-year-old orphan Zita is shocked when she inherits Blackbird Castle.  She quickly finds out, though, that all is not well.  Her family is frozen in the dining room, and the guardian who is supposed to be teaching her to use her magical powers considers yelling good teaching.  While she befriends the only two servants, Minifer and Bram, they must keep this secret from the guardian and the pair are clearly magically prevented from telling her anything useful.  (All the human characters here read as white.) She also gains the companionship of a raven and a ghost dog.  As the house gives her clues and she starts to regain foggy memories of her kidnapping as a very young child, she becomes more and more convinced that whoever cursed the rest of her family is after her as well.  There are numerous monsters, both new and familiar, including triggles, fangores, and ghosts galore.  This doesn’t feel like it breaks terribly new ground, but it was well done fantasy with a classic gothic feel.  I really enjoyed the audiobook, read with a British accent and with beautiful classical interludes reflecting the mood of that part of the book.  

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Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

I had worked closely with Angeline Boulley on putting together the Decolonizing Libraries panel for the KidLitCon 2020 that never happened, so naturally between that and being a book set in my home state, I went out and bought my own copy.  Trigger warning: this book contains scenes of murder and rape, as well as drug use. 

Firekeeper’s Daughter
by Angeline Boulley.

Henry Holt, 2021.

ISBN 978-1250766564.

Read from purchased copy.  

Daunis Fontaine starts every morning giving an offering of semaa and praying to the Creator for a specific one of the Grandfathers – the values of the Anishinaabemowin – before running to visit her grandmother in the nursing home where she’s been since her stroke.  It’s the summer after high school, and Daunis is still trying to decide whether to go to the University of Michigan in the fall, or to stay home and go to the local college with her best friend, Lily, where she can also continue helping with her grandmother.  

Her white mother got pregnant with her in high school, but due to drama and the prejudice of her own parents never married Daunis’s father, nor put his name on her birth certificate.  That last has meant that though Daunis is still close with her paternal aunt and her half brother Levi, she isn’t enrolled with the tribe.  

Early in the book, Daunis is witness to a murder, and all around her people – her own uncle, other girls her age – turn up dead.  None of them appear to have been murdered, but there are still too many people. When the FBI turns up asking her to help, Daunis has to decide if cooperating with them will help or hurt the community she loves. 

Things that I really enjoyed here: the magic of coming onto Sugar Island, the place that feels most like home for her; the inclusion of her dreams; the many included Ojibway words; the hard work she does with both family and romantic relationships and especially the way the romance wrapped up and the balance of beauty and ugliness of spirit in people and communities.  There’s also a lot of hockey, which feels right, even though it’s not an area of expertise for me.  

This is being billed as both a thriller and as a Native Nancy Drew.  There is certainly plenty of tension, good friendship, and a little romance.  But the strongest thread that comes through is Daunis herself, her confidence in the ways of her people, her respect for her elders, and her love for the land.  Her spirit and that of her people shines through the darkness of the corruption and pain at the heart of the string of deaths.  It is a stunning book, and I am so very glad it’s getting the attention it deserves.  

You can watch a conversation between Angeline Boulley and Louise Erdrich on YouTube.  

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More Modern Adventures with Gods: Girl Giant and the Monkey King and City of the Plague God

Here are two new contemporary fantasy adventures, both with enough action and introspection to satisfy an array of readers.

Girl Giant and the
Monkey King
by Van Hoang.

Roaring Brook Press, 2020.

ISBN 978-1250240415. 

Read from library copy. 
Ebook available on Libby.

Eleven-year-old Thom Ngo’s mother has recently moved them from California, where Thom had friends and was a key player on the soccer team, to Georgia, where she has no friends, can’t play well, and there aren’t even any bubble tea shops close to their house.  She’s recently become strong, so strong that she’s always breaking things like doorknobs accidentally.  When she actually tries to play soccer well, instead of avoiding the ball, she knocks out the rival goalie.  On top of that, she’s gone from being one of many students of color to being one of two Asian-American kids in her class.  So when her mother spots the Culture Day flyer Thom had hidden in her backpack, Thom is horrified at her mother’s suggestion that she dress in traditional Vietnamese clothing for it.  Thom has learned never to ask questions about the father she never knew, and is used to being a team with her mother – but this seems so potentially humiliating that it’s worth disappointing her mother.  

When her mother takes her to a local temple to reinforce her cultural pride, she winds up with – the Monkey King of Vietnamese legend?  He is very impressed with her strength, and soon has her skipping class and sneaking out at night to practice her skills.  Then, a new and effortlessly cool Vietnamese boy, Kha, appears at her school wanting to be friends with her.  He tells her that the Monkey King is a trickster and can’t be trusted.  Can Thom really trust either of them?  And will she have the time to make a thoughtful decision when she’s being whisked away to adventures in multiple magical realms?  This story of modern-day kids interacting with gods will appeal to both Percy Jackson fans and those looking for stories of the struggles of finding a place in middle school, an aspect of the story that made it feel much more fleshed-out to me than many similar stories.  

City of the
Plague God
by Sarwat Chadda

Rick Riordan Presents, 2021.

ISBN 978-1368051507.

Listened to the audiobook on Libby. Ebook also available.


Sikander Aziz has never been to Iraq.  All he knows are the stories his parents told him of their life there before war forced them to emigrate to New York City. His brother, Mo, traveled there doing charity work and botany before his death a few years earlier, though he told Sik stories both of modern-day Iraq and the legends of Mesopotamia, most especially the epic of Gilgamesh.  Now that Mo is gone, though, Sik spends all his free time helping to run his family’s deli.  That is, until the deli is invaded by two horrible, pestilent demons, who demand that he give “it” to them, because Nergal wants it.  Sik knows that Nergal is the Mesopotamian god of war and plague – but he has no idea what “it” is.  A mysterious person rescues him from the demons… but unless he can figure out what the MacGuffin is and get to it before Nergal, plague will keep spreading through New York.

The rescuer turns out to be Belet, the prickly and super-competent adopted daughter of Ishtar, goddess of love, war, and cats.  Soon Sik is hanging with Ishtar and Belet – and somehow Daoud, Mo’s best friend, whom Sik sees as mostly nothing but hopelessly narcissistic, committed to his acting career even though he’s only being cast as a terrorist over and over again.  And then the adventure is off for real… one that mixes a hefty dose of reality, like anti-Arab sentiment and the horror of hospitals overflowing with plague victims, with magical cats, flying chariots, and a snarky and bloodthirsty talking sword, as well as Nergal, Ishtar, and of course Gilgamesh (now a gardener in Central Park, refusing to fight but baking excellent cookies.)

The plague hits very close to home (even though it was written before Covid-19), but the fantasy aspect could be just the angle to make the pandemic more bearable for you or the young reader in your life.  I was very amused that all through the book, Sik finds himself in the presence of lots of weapons and people who know how to use them, but when he asks for a weapon for himself, he is consistently – realistically, but very atypically for the genre – told that he hasn’t had time to train properly and is more likely to hurt himself or a companion than to help.  That means that he has to use what he already has to win the day: his wit, the stories from Mo, and the skills he’s learned from working with cranky NYC customers.  Can I say how much I love having an adventure story where violence isn’t the answer?  I also really appreciated seeing him volunteer at the charity meals his Islamic center put on, sharing the delicious food from multiple cultures.  Also, characters like Belet and Daoud that initially appeared one-note develop into much more rounded characters over the course of the book.  

When I first put together a list of Rick Riordan read-alikes back in 2014, there were just not a lot out there, and it was especially difficult to find them about non-European cultures. Now the category is joyfully exploding, with many excellent books coming from lots of different publishers and authors, as well as the Rick Riordan imprint. Here are a few recent ones:

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Food, Friendship, and Immigration – Measuring Up and A Place at the Table

Here are two and a half reviews of books for middle grade readers that combine cooking (or eating together) with making friends and the immigrant experience. What could be yummier?

Cover of Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu.

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu.

Harper Alley, 2020.

ISBN 978-0062973863.

Read from my daughter’s library-sponsored Comic Book Club copy.

12-year-old Cici has just arrived in Seattle from Taiwan, heartbroken that they had to leave her beloved grandmother, Am-ma, behind.  Cici enjoyed cooking with Am-ma, and now takes over the family cooking as her parents are both working.  She’s also making her first friends, and while Jenna seems very nice, Cici is self-conscious about her own home and her own parents don’t understand the importance of American friendship rituals like sleepovers. When Cici discovers a cooking contest that would earn her enough money to bring Am-ma over to visit, she decides to enter.  At first, she’s partnered with Miranda, the daughter of a chef, who isn’t impressed with her skills being only in Taiwanese food.  Meanwhile, she has to keep the contest secret from her parents, who would be angry at her not putting all her energy into school. Cici starts reading and cooking her way through The Art of French Cooking, trying to find a way to impress the contest judges while still staying true to her Taiwanese roots. 

The thin, slightly angular line work has a nice juvenile feeling, a distinct departure from the polished lines of the popular Telgemeier-style artwork. It felt expressive and immediate, as if Cici were drawing her own story.  The mix of the new immigrant experience with the excitement of a cooking contest and the everyday struggles of middle school friendship make for a winning combination.  

Cover of A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan

A Place at the Table
by Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan.

Clarion, 2020.

ISBN 978-0358116684.

Read from library copy. 

Sara has just started middle school at the local public school, instead of the private Muslim school she’d gone to all her life.  She’d like to stay invisible, but this is impossible when her mother – with her accent, wearing her hijab – is teaching a Pakistani cooking class at her own school and Sara has to wait with her.  Even though she knows everything being taught, sshe’d rather just sit in the corner and draw.  Sara is really not interested in making new friends, but video chats with her bestie just aren’t the same as being together in person (we can all relate to this now!)  

Elizabeth was looking forward to middle school with her best friend Maddy, but Maddy seems to be changing into someone she doesn’t recognize.  Elizabeth’s mother has been depressed ever since her own mother died back in England earlier in the year, and her father is almost always traveling for work, meaning also that they’re not making it to Shabbat services at their temple as often as Elizabeth would like.  But Elizabeth loves cooking, especially the Pakistani cooking videos she watches on YouTube.  

It’s not until they’re forced to start cooking together that they realize that they are both stressed because their mothers aren’t US citizens and won’t take time to study for the test.  Maybe this could be the solution?  As we read their stories, narrated separately, we also see that both girls are old enough to start noticing their parents’ problems, but are frustrated by parents who tell them that they’re taking care of things.  Both girls, too, find comfort in their different religious communities, and have to decide what to do about racist comments directed mostly towards Sara’s mother.  There are a lot of issues, but they are presented in a way that feels real rather than like a laundry list, and the problems are offset by the fun of cooking and of inventing a new recipe for the cooking contest, as well as the genuine joy of new friendship and some fun sibling hijinks.  

When I first heard about this book, I thought it would make a great pairing with Save me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan, which I had been meaning to read for a few years.  I’ve now read both – I still think they feel similar, and yet quite different.  Save Me a Seat is a much shorter and tighter book. It focuses much more on the two boys’ situation at school and their personal issues, and takes place over the course of a single week.  I really enjoyed them both, but Save Me a Seat could work better in a classroom setting because of those factors. There is definitely room for both on the shelf – and even more stories of cross-cultural school friendships.  

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One Long, Two Short: The City We Became, Remote Control, and The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water

If you have been following me for any length of time, you will have noticed that most of the books I read, I get from the library.  (I think that at my daughter’s current rate of reading, we would be buying upwards of 500 books a year if we bought everything just the two of us read ourselves, and who can afford that? )  But here, dear readers, are three recently-read books by authors that I trust enough to buy them to be part of my personal home library.  

The City We Became
by N.K. Jemisin.

Orbit, 2020.

ISBN 978-0316509848. 

Read from purchased copy. 

New York City is awakening – and as it does, one person from each of its boroughs can suddenly sense what is going on in their borough, the other avatars, and the struggling person who’s meant to unite New York City as a whole.  Manny, a soon-to-be graduate student of indeterminate ethnic origin, forgets his own name as his whole consciousness is filled with Manhattan.  Brooklyn is represented by a former hip-hop star turned politician, also named Brooklyn, while the Bronx is represented by Bronca, a Lenape art director.  In some, the instinct to find the others is strong, while others resent the other boroughs.  But even as they aren’t getting along with each other, New York himself is in danger, and an ever-shifting Woman in White is making her way around, leaving waving white tentacles in her wake.  Paulo – the avatar of Sao Paolo, the most recently awakened city – is there to help, but even he can only do so much…

I admit when I read this, after finishing her Inheritance trilogy, I was rather afraid that it would require more brain power and emotional strength than my pandemic-addled brain and heart have.  Happily, even though the stakes are great, I was able to keep track of all the characters and enjoy the epic struggle against Cthulu-woman.  When, oh when is the next book coming?

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor.

Tordotcom, 2021.

ISBN 978-1250772800.

Read from purchased copy. 

Once upon a time, a girl named Fatima in Ghana climbed a tree and read the messages in the stars.  When a mysterious box fell from the sky, she took it and cared for it in secret – until both the government and powerful international tech companies came looking for it, willing to do anything to get it.  In the explosive incident that follows its theft, leaving her family dead, the girl forgets her name and becomes Sankofa, the adopted daughter of death, feared by all as she wanders the earth following the pull of the box and tries to avoid using her powers.  This book combines a mythic feel with descriptions that bring Ghana to life.  It’s a short, sad and powerful reflection on the meaning of life, and who has or does not have power.  

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water
by Zen Cho. 

Tordotcom, 2020.

ISBN 978-1250269256.

Read from purchased copy.  

A too-handsome stranger walks into a coffeehouse and starts a brawl in his efforts to protect the waitress, obviously a nun by her shaven head, from a handsy patron.  As Fung Cheung, said stranger , is enjoying his martial prowess, his much less beautiful companion, Tet Sang, comes in to save the day. Drawing attention by starting fights and taking souvenir copies of one’s own wanted poster is exactly the opposite of what one should be doing when one is an “independent contractor.” Though they leave the town immediately to complete their current mission (multiple layers of smuggling), the nun, Guet Imm, follows them and begs to join them.  Her tokong has burned down, she’s been fired from her job, and she has nowhere else to go.  This innocent helpless front hides a stubborn character and the magical skills that come only from deep faith and long practice in the service of the Pure Moon.  

This is a short book set in a magical historical Malaysia that packs in an enormous amount of both character and world-building – even though our main point of view character is hiding a lot of secrets himself, things we only learn as Guet Imm figures them out.  It starts off with the feel of a classic wuxia movie, and while the action remains through the book,, the focus on faith, compromise, and survival in a world at war told through the eyes of characters left out of most stories even today makes it exceptional.  Also, lots of laugh-out-loud funny moments.  I’ve now bought two copies of this – one for my goddaughter and one for myself. And since I was slow getting to it, her new book, Black Water Daughter, is coming out later this month.   

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Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston.

Balzer + Bray, 2021.

ISBN 978-0062975164. 

Read from library copy. 

It’s been six months since middle schooler Amari’s adored older brother Quinton disappeared.  Since then, the cops haven’t really looked, telling their mother that he probably just got involved in something bad.  At the private school she attends on scholarship, Amari is constantly in trouble as she lashes out physically whenever other kids make fun of her for living in the projects or for having a missing brother.  Only Amari still believes he’s still out there somewhere, and she’s determined to find him and bring him home.

Then, after a vivid dream of him, she’s delivered a briefcase that contains an invitation to a magical summer camp, where she can be trained to be an agent. Her brother was part of famous agent duo VanQuish with Maria Van Helsing, the oldest daughter of the director. But just as it feels like this might be a wonderful arrival at Hogwarts-type moment comes the let-down – Amari doesn’t come from a legacy family, and her particular magical specialty makes people assume she’s evil.  Only her roommate and new best friend Ellie, who’s hoping that her were-dragon powers will show up soon, seems to be truly on her side.  Meanwhile, attacks against the Agency by truly evil magicians are escalating, so that Amari has very little time to figure out what’s going on and find her missing brother before things fall apart completely.

Despite the darkness and threat, there’s a lot of humor and charm here, with a wide array of fantastical creatures, talking elevators with distinct personalities, and fun technology.  Some of the trainers are described with Southern or Scottish accents, but white is still the default, with Amari (and previously her brother) being the only characters of color I noticed.  And while Amari is yet another main character more talented than even the other magical kids around her, she has enough grit and gumption and such an uphill battle that I was rooting for her instead of rolling my eyes as I sometimes do at this trope. This is a fantastic option to give to kids looking for a more modern take on the magical school story

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Interwoven Stories: The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book and Ancestor Approved

Here are two books, both filled with interwoven stories, and both of which made me sigh with pleasure and the just-rightness of the perfect book for that moment

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book
by Kate Milford.

Clarion, 2021.

ISBN 978-1328466907.

Read from library copy. 

The waters are rising outside the inn (a different inn, not Greenglass House) in 1930s Nagspeake.  (The time is only mentioned in the afterward.)  As is traditional, the diverse group of people there decide to tell stories to pass the time.  Most of the characters are adults, some familiar from other Milford books, though many of them are especially protective of the one child there, Maisie, who is being cared for by the innkeepers while waiting for her aunt.  The tales range from funny to scary to romantic, all with beautiful illustrations, and it’s not until the end that it’s clear how tightly they are all linked.  There were so many characters that I got to know them only gradually, through their stories, but I didn’t mind.  This return to beloved characters and place was such a balm.  I found myself wanting to reread many of the older books just to better be able to recognize returning the characters.  

Here are two of my favorite quotes from the book: 

“If you succeed…you will discover something about yourself that you will be glad to know. You will find that you are brave.  And not because you had to become brave, but because you were brave all along.”

p 93

“Love can hurt. Love can be one-sided. And sometimes love requires sacrifices, too. But love is not predatory.  Wherever you go from here, please be wary of anyone who demands to be given your heart rather than asking to be invited into it.”

p 171

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Heartdrum, 2021.

ISBN 978-0062869944.

Read from library copy.

17 authors, including familiar to me names Tim Tingle, Rebecca Roanhorse, Traci Sorrel, Dawn Quigley, Joseph Bruchac, and Carole Lindstrom, join to tell this story of people from many Native Nations traveling and meeting at the (real) Dance for Mother Earth Powwow at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Although the stories are written individually, major characters from one story often appear as side characters in another, and the star of one of my favorite stories, Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Rez Dog Rules”, a free-spirited, owned by no-one dog who decides to help sell t-shirts, appears in all of them.  Other highlights include the very funny story of a kid named Luksi escorting a bus full of outspoken seniors from Oklahoma in “Warriors of Forgiveness” by Tim Tingle.  “Little Fox and the Case of the Missing Regalia” by Erika T. Wurth is light, but hints at more serious problems.  I also really enjoyed “Joey Reads the Sky” by Dawn Quigley, in which a boy who has difficulty reading English has no trouble reading the patterns in the sky, which speaks to him in Ojibwe.  Though no one’s lives are too happy to be believable, the overall feeling is warm and happy, filled with the warmth of family, heritage, discovered connections, and fresh fry bread. 

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The House That Wasn’t There BLOG TOUR

Today I’m honored to be participating in the blog tour for Elana K. Arnold’s latest book, The House that Wasn’t There.


Alder has always lived in his cozy little house in Southern California.

And for as long as he can remember, the old, reliable, comforting walnut tree has stood

between his house and the one next door.

That is, until a new family—with a particularly annoying girl his age—moves

into the neighboring house and, without warning, cuts the tree down.

Oak doesn’t understand why her family had to move to Southern California. She has to attend a new school, find new friends, and live in a new house that isn’t even ready—her mother had to cut down a tree on their property line in order to make room for a second floor. And now a strange boy next door won’t stop staring at her, like she did something wrong moving here in the first place.

As Oak and Alder start school together, they can’t imagine ever becoming friends. But the two of them soon discover a series of connections between them—mysterious, possibly even magical puzzles they can’t put together.

At least not without each other’s help.

Award-winning author Elana K. Arnold returns with an unforgettable story of the strange, wondrous threads that run between all of us, whether we know they’re there or not.


Elana K. Arnold is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels and children’s books, including the Printz Honor winner Damsel, the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of, and Global Read Aloud selection A Boy Called Bat and its sequels. Several of her books are Junior Library Guild selections and have appeared on many best book lists, including the Amelia Bloomer Project, a catalog of feminist titles for young readers. Elana teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets.


The House That Wasn’t There by Elana K. Arnold. Walden Pond Press, 2021. ISBN 978-0062937063. Review copy kindly provided by the publisher.  

Alder and his mother have lived alone in their cozy house in southern California ever since his father’s death years earlier.  His father was a famous folk singer, nicknamed Canary, and he and his mother still enjoy listening to the records (yes, on vinyl) of him singing, the record player kept under a picture of the family under the walnut tree that divides their property from the house next door.  He is convincing himself not to be worried that his best friend hasn’t contacted him all summer, but is convinced that things will be all right again as soon as they start sixth grade together. 

The house next to his has always been empty, but that soon changes as a new family moves in. 

Oak is very unhappy that her family is moving from San Francisco, leaving their home and all her friends behind.  Even her father has stayed behind to wrap things up there before joining them.  She is angry with everyone, and especially so when her mother has the walnut tree cut down to make room for an addition to the house.  

Naturally, none of this puts Alder and Oak on an obvious path to friendship – but rocky though their start is, the book chronicles their path to friendship.  It is filled with many believable struggles, like Alder’s pain when he realizes that his best friend has truly moved on and Oak’s resentment at her mother not treating her feelings as needing to be part of family decision-making.  But there is also the charm of kittens, a goofy stuffed opossum named Mort, and a house in between Alder and Oak’s that is only sometimes there.  I also loved that Alder is a knitter (even if he seems to knit at superhuman speed) and that he grows more comfortable with claiming that publicly.  

And since I often review fantasy books, let’s take a little time to talk about the magic in this story. It is the subtle kind, only sometimes there if you happen to catch it in the right light, rarely or never there if you look at it straight on.  It is never explained outright and only rises to the surface a few times.  It’s neither the full-on definable magic system of a traditional fantasy nor the subtle but ever-present magic of magical realism.  Still, it adds a lovely sheen, definitely pulling moments of the story out of the everyday and helping the characters to see the miraculous in everything.  

This heartwarming story of friendship and family is perfect for those who are open to the magic of the everyday.

Tour Stops:

March 28 Nerdy Book Club @nerdybookclub

March 29 YAYOMG @yayomgofficial

March 30 Unleashing Readers @UnleashReaders

March 31 Teachers Who Read @teachers_read

April 2 Maria’s Mélange @mariaselke

April 7 Bluestocking Thinking @BlueSockGirl

April 10 A Library Mama @alibrarymama

April 12 Storymamas @storymamas

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Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

This book was on my radar even before it was a Cybils finalist, won the Golden Kite award, and turned up on over a dozen “best of” lists last year.  I was so excited when I finally got my hands on it, and it did not disappoint.

Cover of Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, Illustrated by Rovina Cai.

by Darcie Little Badger. Illustrated by Rovina Cai.

Levine Querido, 2020.

ISBN 978-1646140053.

Read ebook on Libby.  Audiobook also available.

Elatsoe – Ellie for short – is a Lipan Apache girl growing up in the present day in a world just slightly different than ours.  School, cell phones, cars – check.  But she, like her Six-Great Grandmother whose name she shares, can raise the spirits of dead animals.  Modern-day Ellie’s near-constant companion is her dog, who died several years ago.  Her best friend Jay is distantly related to Oberon, with the pointy ears to prove it, even if he hides them, and having some family troubles being stuck in the middle as his older sister is dating a vampire.  

When Ellie’s dog wakes her with his howling one night, she knows something is wrong.  She finds out what it is later that night when she dreams of her cousin Trevor, telling her that he was murdered, by whom, and where.  The police, though, think it was a simple car accident.  This is the part where I’d expect her to go off and investigate on her own without telling her parents.  But Ellie has been raised to respect her elders, so when she starts investigating, it’s with the full support of her parents – even if they do urge her to be very careful.  

What Ellie and her team uncover is not simple murder, but a twisty mystery with roots tangled in centuries of white supremacy…

I loved so very much about this story, from its grounding in Lipan Apache culture to the easy way that Ellie states that she can’t see herself ever being interested in dating and proceeds to have a romance-free adventure.  Her relationships with her parents, Jay, and the interesting dynamic with her cousin’s young widow, Lenore, who is Mexican-American and unknowingly violating important Apache traditions around death.  Also, a baby and an adorable ghost dog!  Ellie’s ties to her namesake Six-Great Gran are also very important, shown through many conversations about her and stories of her life, illustrated in pencil at the beginning of each chapter.   I read this with a great deal of enjoyment, and passed in on to my mother, who was delighted.  

Other exciting, modern-day fantasies that confront racism include Legendborn by Tracy Deonn and A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline is a post-apocalyptic Native thriller, while Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith is contemporary Native teen fiction.

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Knitting Detour

In times of stress – this certainly counts – I often turn to reading or just flipping through books of things I could do if I had more time.  When my son was a tiny baby and I couldn’t clean the house at all, it was Home Comforts. I turned to it again at the beginning of quarantine, to help the newly emphasized cleaning seem calming and restorative.  Now what I’ve been craving is knitting, and most especially knitting in bright colors.  Since I have more reading than knitting time in my day, it’s very satisfying to look at the beautiful things I might choose to knit next, or just enjoy that someone came up with the idea, even if I may never knit it myself.  

Operation Sock Drawer
by the Knitmore Girls.

Interweave, 2020.

ISBN 978-1632506962. Received as a gift. 

What sock knitter doesn’t dream of a drawer full of hand-knitted socks?  The Knitmore Girls and their friends are here to help you, with this book that contains some answers to common sock-knitting problems, different ways to knit those tricky heels and toes, darning instructions, and encouragement for those aspiring to that full sock drawer.  But the heart of this book is the collection of 20 new patterns from a variety of different designers. Many of these patterns use bold colorwork to make eye-poppingly bold patterns, like Funhouse by Lisa K. Ross.  I Scream by Caitlin Thompson uses tan yarn and a waffle pattern on the foot and stacked colors with wavy borders so that the whole sock looks like an ice cream cone.  But there are also some nice textured and cabled socks, like the Gentle Drizzle socks by Emily Kintigh.  So very fun, and so much inspiration! 

Knit Happy with
Self-Striping Yarn
by Stephanie Lotven.

Page Street, 2020.

ISBN 978-1645671824.
Read from library copy. 

More bright knitting, even without needing to do colorwork!  Why hide your beautiful self-striping yarn projects inside your shoes? asks the author, and provides a whole book of patterns for accessories – hats, mittens, fingerless gloves – as well as larger shawls and sweaters – all using beautiful self-striping yarn.  Most of the smaller projects are relatively simple, though one of the mitten patterns used an intellectually fascinating but somewhat intimidating center-out technique to make a rainbow curve around the outside edges of the hand.  Happily, she also includes thoughts on matching solids to your self-striping yarn for larger projects, and how to swatch to see if your yarn will work for any given project.  If I had the stamina for large projects, I’d happily knit and wear the Sock Arms cardigan, the Drop a Rainbow pullover, or the Daring Double shawl – but feeling mostly up for small projects right now, I’ll see if the new yarn I bought will work for the Wave at the Rainbow cowl and knit the Rainbow Adventure fingerless mitts (pictured on the cover) if not.  Or maybe socks after all, or as well if there’s enough yarn?  The dilemma is real!  

Seasonal Slow Knitting by Hannah Thiessen.

Abrams, 2020.

ISBN 978-1419740435.
Read from library copy. 

Too much of modern craft culture encourages crafters to work at a frantic pace to be able to work on the latest hot projects and be able to make things for gifts, too, the author asserts.  But much of the value in knitting is allowing yourself to slow down and enjoy the process, the connection to your local yarn stores and/or creators, fellow crafters, etc.  There are many essays on the particular tasks and types of knitting the author associates with each season – the loving washing and putting away of handknits in the spring, attending yarn festivals in the summer, digging into knitting in the fall and winter.  And there are ten different projects, including knitting, sewing, and general body care, a couple for each season.  I am by nature a very slow knitter already and have never been able to keep up with the knitting speed, but I enjoyed her meditations on season and craft nonetheless.  My favorite pattern from this book was the Friendship Bracelet cardigan, knit in the round in moss stitch, with charming Latvian braid trim around wrists and hem to look like friendship bracelets.  

Here are some other knitting books I’ve reviewed: 

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