Here are two very funny and fast-moving books – one more realistic and the other fantasy – certain to draw young readers in. I read Ben Yokoyama based on a recommendation from Alison L. Morris on the Book Friends Forever podcast (a year or two ago *cough*), while Winnie Zeng was a Cybils nominee.
Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Doom
by Matthew Swanson
and Robbi Behr
Read from a library copy.
8-year-old Ben, whose father is Japanese-American and whose mother is white, is having dinner at a Chinese restaurant with his aunt when he is stunned by the fortune in his fortune cookie: “Live each day as if it were your last.” He takes this very literally and makes a list of goals for his potential last day on earth, and then gets his best friend Janet involved. Soon they are racing around the neighborhood trying to accomplish their goals, including eating forbidden cake from the freezer and racing to finish a complex latch hook project. Behind the humor, though, is some serious heart as Janet deals with the loss of her dad and their entering into a scary backyard leads to befriending an elderly neighbor. The book is filled with copious notebook-style drawings, some of the actual happenings and some metaphorical, like one of an aardvark eating noodles when Ben is described as eating noodles like an aardvark. I promptly went out and bought this for my nephew, as the over-the-top humor and fun illustrations make it perfect for elementary kids who are bridging between early chapter books and middle grade fiction. This is the first of five books in the Cookie Chronicles series.
Unleashes a Legend
by Katie Zhao
Random House, 2022
Read from a library copy.
11-year-old Winnie is as prepared for middle school as she can get: she’s studied anime and manga and her older sister. Though her dance moves are polished, she wasn’t prepared to be in school with her long-time Chinese school rival, David Zuo. When she tries to find a recipe to beat his class in a bake-off, she opens her family cookbook – which turns out to be magical. Before she knows quite what’s happening, the spirit of her grandmother has taken over her pet rabbit as she’s trying to figure out how to bake mooncakes. When a demon invades her house, the only way she has to defend herself is by using the mooncakes as weapons. And as more and more demons start appearing, she has to work with her grandmother – and very unfortunately, David as well – to learn how to be a shaman to send the evil spirits back where they belong.
This is a funny and fast-paced contemporary fantasy adventure that deals with Winnie trying to find a balance between fitting in and being herself both in middle school and in her family. Bonus points for magical mooncakes, and some sneaky Michigan references.