Here are two funny and heartwarming books for the not-quite-middle-grade to middle grade set. Accidental Danger Magnet by Zanib Mian is from my official #CybilsReadDown pile; The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin was purchased afterwards.
Planet Omar: Accidental Danger Magnet by Zanib Mian. Illustrated by Nasaya Mafaradik. UK 2019; US Putman, 2020. 978-0593109212. Ebook on Libby.
I discovered this author through Middle Grade Magic (still free online!). Zanib was so upbeat and engaging that I immediately checked to see if her book was available through my library’s digital collections, and it was!
Omar’s family is moving to a new house in London, and Omar isn’t excited about the new school. Fortunately, he makes friends with freckled Charlie right away, but unfortunately, there’s also a bully, Daniel, who won’t leave him alone and tells him that all the Muslims are going to be made to leave the country soon. Can Omar find a way to make school not torture? Meanwhile, there are plenty of other things to do, including Science Sundays with his scientist parents and seeing if he’s ready to try fasting for Ramadan, so he can earn extra credit with Allah.
I really enjoyed moments like Omar thinking that his mother, dressed in black, looks like a witch. Little diagrams with arrows show how a witch is ugly because of wicked thoughts, where his mother is beautiful because of her lovely thoughts. Happily, both Daniel and Omar’s grumpy neighbor are eventually won over by kindness and friendliness. This book was originally published in the UK as The Muslims, as that’s what the grumpy neighbor calls them when they first move in. But, as in the Sadiq series, while we learn about some holidays, Omar’s experiences of trying to keep his little brother quiet during services or praying when he needs help and no adults are nearby are ones that kids of any faith should find relatable.
This is a book that’s a little long side an early chapter book and on the younger side for middle grade. The frequent illustrations and big, cartoon-style exclamations make this great for fans or proto-fans of notebook-style novels. Despite the serious issues of prejudice and bullying, Omar’s humor and good spirits are irrepressible, making this a very entertaining read. I hope there are many more books in this series!
Year of the Dog by Grace Lin. Little, Brown 2005. 2018 paperback ISBN 978-0316060028
In trying to support my local bookstore, I decided to fill out my Grace Lin collection. I’d never read this, her first novel, and so bought it as well as a couple other books of hers that I had read and loved but didn’t own. I was happy but very surprised when my daughter, who has a strong preference for graphic novels and fantasy, put this in her “want to read” pile and a fantasy graphic novel I’d purchased with her in mind in the “just for mama” pile.
In this novel based on her own childhood, Grace Lin tells the story of a girl named Pacy Lin as her Chinese-American family welcomes the Year of the Dog. Dogs are for loyalty and friendship, so Pacy hopes to meet her best friend and “find herself” – whatever that means. And as she goes back to school (sleepy from trying to stay up for Chinese New Year), there’s a new girl at school – Melody Ling, making Pacy not the only Asian-American girl in her grade for the first time! Though Pacy still maintains her friendship with her European-American best friend, Becky, she and Melody find many things in common besides both being Taiwanese-Americans.
As Pacy deals with the ups and downs of friendships, the drama of school musical try-outs and the science fair, and a writing contest, her mother shares family stories that relate to Pacy’s dilemmas. The mostly episodic stories are united by the theme of the Year of the Dog, as you might guess from the title, and illustrated with Grace Lin’s own drawings. The story is relatable and touching in much the same way as Ways to Make Sunshine. My daughter is now on her third time through, and still hasn’t tried that graphic novel.