Sunday, September 16, 2018

Grace Lin Fever!

I'm living a lot of reading lives right now: my present involves a lot of board books for my son, as well as parenting books. I am also thinking ahead and reading picture books to be prepared for when my son graduates to them. I continue to read middle grade and YA novels for when I return to the classroom, and I occasionally sneak in an adult book for myself.

I've added another facet to my reading life: early reader books. This is a huge gap in my repertoire and one I want to fill as my friends' children get older and my son ages. No matter where we are living when he reads on that level, I want to have a list of books I can find for him to read.

This brings me to Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin. I've been on a bit of a Grace Lin kick lately and this is a great start to my early reader list. The six stories are short and cute, and all tie together in the end. I marvel at how Lin was able to tell such fun stories in so few, simple words. It's a skill that earns her an immediate place on my new "Read All Early Reader Books By This Author" list. I'm really excited to delve into this new (to me) genre.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Dumpling Days

Dumpling Days is the perfect example of Rudine Sims Bishop's brilliant theory that books can be windows or mirrors into readers' lives. There is so much in Grace Lin's middle grade novel that I haven't seen elsewhere, which means that the young girls who resemble the protagonist, in this case, Taiwanese-American Pacy, probably haven't either.

Although there have been two other books written about this character, Dumpling Days was my introduction to Pacy. I don't feel that I missed anything by starting the series at the end, although there may be backstory that I didn't catch. In this novel, Pacy's family is traveling to Taiwan for a vacation and we get to see the country through her eyes. While the stories are tied together by some constants, such as the art classes that Pacy and her sisters take, many of the chapters could be read as separate vignettes (or mentor texts, thinks the teacher in me).

What was especially notable for me was that Dumpling Days discusses things I've never seen in a book before. For example, Pacy's older sister gets a makeover and photo shoot in Taiwan, and has stickers placed on her eyes to create folds. This was a very common plastic surgery at the middle school (!) where I taught in South Korea and was a fact of life for many young adults, but I have never read about it before. I love that young readers who are curious about it can see someone else's opinion in a novel; Pacy's sister likes the look but Pacy doesn't. There is no judgment, it is one small part of their trip, but could be so important for a young reader who is looking for that mirror in a book.

This book is fun and makes me want to check out the rest of the series, as well as making sure it's on the shelf in every classroom I teach in from now on.

Friday, August 31, 2018


The heft of Bolivar is going to intimidate some readers, which is a shame because it is an ideal book for developing readers who might be spooked by a 224 page graphic novel. Still, once they get started, readers will realize there is nothing to fear and that they will fly through Sean Rubin's love letter to New York.

Sybil seems to be the only one who notices the dinosaur living next door. Everyone else is busy with their New York lives, heads down in their phones or their food, so Bolivar the dinosaur is able to blend in. Sybil is intent on photographing him and proving to everyone that he is real. It takes awhile, but when Bolivar is finally revealed to the public, it does not go as expected.

After my class spoke with Rust author Royden Lepp, I try to slow down when reading graphic novels and truly appreciate the work that went into them. With Bolivar, it is essential, as there are so many gorgeous details. I reveled in the little things, like the pineapple logo on Sybil's mom's computer, and big details, like how spot on the illustrations are in the Museum of Natural History. In his acknowledgments, Rubin notes that it took five years to write Bolivar. It is obvious, and it was worth it. This is worth adding to your classroom library, nudging into the hands of a developing reader, and watching them blossom as they read such a big book.

Thursday, August 23, 2018


It's been a long time since I read Ann Aguirre's Razorland Trilogy, so I probably should have better prepared myself by at least reading my reviews. Oh well. I remembered loving the series and was pleasantly surprised by the companion novel, Vanguard. While I know I missed some references by not having the past books fresh in my mind, I still really enjoyed the latest addition to the saga.

Actually, it may be for the best that I don't remember the other books, as I am pretty sure they were very dystopian, while Vanguard is a straight up romance. Although it was obvious from the start how the novel would end, it was an enjoyable journey. I like the character of Tegan and appreciate that Aguirre didn't drag out the tension between her and Szarok for too long. They were obviously meant for each other, so it was more interesting to see what would happen once they were united.

I don't need another book about these characters; I think it all wraps up nicely, but I am happy that I read Vanguard.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Water Land by Christy Hale

Christy Hale's Water Land: Land and Water Forms from Around the World is a book that has me excited for social studies teachers.

Teaching physical geography can be dry and confusing for students. The clever cut-out design of this book can give students a visual representation of the different vocabulary they are learning. Even better, the characters in the illustrations are diverse and often in comical situations. At the end is a list of locations that fit each description and a fold-out world map that shows examples of each term.

This is a worthy addition to any classroom and a must for teachers of geography.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Caribbean Middle Grade and YA Books

Although I've shared a few Caribbean picture books before, as well as highlighting many novels on the blog, I've never done a post with all of the middle grade and YA Caribbean books I've read. I hope to keep adding to this post as I read more. Titles are linked to their reviews.

Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle

Serafina's Promise by Ann E. Burg

A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar

Dancing in the Rain by Lynn Joseph

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Flowers in the Sky by Lynn Joseph

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle

The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle

The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle

Hold Tight, Don't Let Go by Laura Rose Wagner

In Darkness by Nick Lake

Taste of Salt by Frances Temple

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Amal Unbound

Imagine if making one small mistake and insulting the wrong person could cost you your freedom. This happens to Aisha Saeed's heroine Amal, who disrespects the wealthy landowner in her Pakistan village and ends up an indentured servant to him indefinitely. Ripped from her family, Amal must learn who to trust and try to do her best in her new life, while keeping hope that she can someday be a teacher and return to her family.

I can't remember reading any other books set in Pakistan, so I was eager to learn more. The culture is incorporated really well; Saeed keeps it authentic without forcing translations upon her readers. If you don't catch what a word means, it's okay.

My only issue with the book is the extremely saccharine ending. I know this is a middle grade novel and needs to have a happy ending, but this was a bit much. I feel it was so unrealistic that it did a disservice to the young readers who are encountering situations like indentured servitude for the first time, as well as not honoring the many people who live like this.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Orphan Train Girl

There is always some hot book out that I never manage to get around to reading. For awhile, it was Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train, which was a bestseller for several years. I had seen it around but mentally put it in the pile of books I didn't have time to read. Until I saw the young readers' edition and realized I could do two things at once--become a late follower to a literary trend and read a book that I could possibly recommend to my middle school students. Win win.

And recommend it, I will. I flew through Orphan Train Girl. It alternates between the story of Molly-- an orphan who has to help an elderly woman, Vivian, as part of community service for stealing a book-- and Niamh, an Irish immigrant in the 1920s who is sent across the US on a train, hoping for adoption. I knew from the start that Vivian and Niamh were the same person, so I wonder when young readers will figure it out. Even if they figure it out immediately, they will enjoy the story and be rooting for things to work out for both girls.

I love that this is a light introduction to historical fiction. Orphan trains did exist and there is information at the back of the book, but kids who aren't fans of history will enjoy the plot, as well. It could spark an interest in readers and lead them to check out more weighty historical fiction. I love a good gateway book. Even though we are on summer vacation, I'm texting a few parents that have children who would love this book. I can't wait until the fall to share it.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

In Praise of Yusuke Yonezu

There are countless board books about shapes, but Yusuke Yonezu's are the absolute best.

I picked up his book, Triangles, on a whim from the library, then immediately ordered his entire oeuvre through interlibrary loan. Yonezu's books are so good. They feature die cut illustrations where a shape turns into an everyday object or an animal. The shape aspect isn't too didact or in your face, but it is repeated enough that my 1 year old runs for the correct book when I say the shape. My son also loves looking through the holes in the book. I'll be revisiting all of them when he is a bit older and able to identify the shapes "in the wild." In the meantime, I've got a new go-to baby gift: Yonezu's brilliant books.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Check out Kate Messner's Breakout on GoodReads and you will see a wall of 5 star reviews. Everyone loved this book.

Except me.

Nora lived a normal life until two inmates escape from the prison near her house and her summer is flipped upside down. Suddenly, she can't feel safe anywhere and she notices an ugly side to the people in her town. For extra credit, Nora compiles extensive notes (and I mean EXTENSIVE) on everything that happens in the summer, as part of a time capsule.

There are some good nuggets in Breakout and there need to be more books that address racism, but at 448 pages, there is a lot of unnecessary filler in this novel that makes it hard to sift through. I don't know many readers in the target audience who would slog through 200 pages while waiting for the plot to start. Even Messner admits it on p. 188, saying, "If I put everything, you'll be really sick of me by now." Yup.  I won't be recommending this book, nor will I add it to my library.