Category Archives: April 2019

The Girl King by Mimi Yu

The Girl King by Mimi Yu. January 8, 2019. Bloomsbury YA, 481 p. ISBN: 9781681198897.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Two sisters become unwitting rivals in a war to claim the title of Emperor in this richly imagined, Asian-inspired fantasy for fans of Renée Ahdieh and Sabaa Tahir.

Sisters Lu and Min have always known their places as the princesses of the Empire of the First Flame: assertive Lu will be named her father’s heir and become the dynasty’s first female ruler, while timid Min will lead a quiet life in Lu’s shadow. Until their father names their male cousin Set his heir instead, sending ripples through the realm and throwing both girls’ lives into utter chaos.

Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu has no choice but to go on the run, leaving Min to face the volatile court alone. Lu soon crosses paths with Nokhai, the lone, unlikely survivor of the Ashina, a clan of nomadic wolf shapeshifters. Nok never learned to shift–or to trust the empire that killed his family–but working with the princess might be the only way to unlock his true power.

As Lu and Nok form a shaky alliance, Min’s own hidden power awakens, a forbidden, deadly magic that could secure Set’s reign . . . or allow her to claim the throne herself. But there can only be one emperor, and the sisters’ greatest enemy could very well turn out to be each other.

This sweeping fantasy set against a world of buried ancient magic and political intrigue weaves an unforgettable story of ambition, betrayal, and sacrifice.

Part of Series: The Girl King(Book #1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Grotesque imagery, Mild sexual themes, Violence

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 5))
Grades 7-10. Princess Lu has trained since birth to become empress after her father’s passing, but he names her cousin his successor instead. When she challenges Lord Set to a contest to determine the rightful heir, she is ambushed and flees north to find an army to reclaim her kingdom. Instead she finds Nokhai, one of the few remaining shapeshifters in the empire and a former friend from her childhood, and although Lu was the reason for some of Nok’s scars, they journey north together. Meanwhile, Set marries Lu’s younger, submissive sister, Min, who has hidden magical abilities, and the four are on a collision course that could destroy everything they hold dear. First-time author Yu has ably crafted a fast-paced, seamless fantasy adventure full of action, mysticism, and female empowerment. Indeed, the women in the story are, with one exception, much more interesting than the men. Give this to fans of Cinda Williams Chima’s Shattered Realms series, Lauren DeStefano’s The Glass Spare​ (2017), or Susan Dennard’s Witchlands series.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2018)
Two sisters—and the fate of an empire between them. Lu eagerly anticipates being appointed the next empress of the Hu dynasty. She has been training her body for battle since the age of 7 and at 16 is planning her first decree. Also known as the Small Princess, Minyi admires and resents her hotheaded sister. Lu’s plans go awry when the ailing emperor betroths her to Lord Set, naming him the successor. Plotting, scheming, and assassination attempts drive the sisters in different directions. Lu seeks to raise her own army with the help of the surviving Gifted Kith, shape-shifters, and the Yunians, magic users. Meanwhile, caught between the manipulations of Set, a monk, and her mother, Min awakens to a power she struggles to understand and the mean pleasure she derives from using it. Neither Min nor Lu are particularly likable characters: Lu’s arrogance is clearly displayed, while Minyi is emotionally self-flagellating at every opportunity. They are relatable, however, in terms of living in a sibling’s shadow and redefining the person you wish to be. The worldbuilding in this Asian-inspired setting is strong as the author slowly uncovers the empire’s origins, and the characters transform in surprising ways. Other than the gray eyes of the Hana family, most characters have dark brown eyes, black hair, and brown or tawny skin. Recommended for readers who enjoy imperfect characters and complex plots. (Fantasy. 14-18)

About the Author

Mimi Yu was born and raised in rural upstate New York. Her hometown is the site of both the Women’s Rights Convention (1848) and the largest active landfill in New York State (ongoing).

She currently resides in the SF Bay Area of California, and soon she will live near Chicago. She has never been a midwesterner before, but she does enjoy a good casserole.

Besides books, Mimi likes quilting, gardening, drawing, picking up heavy weights, and pop music. She has four planets in Aquarius. She knows a little bit about a lot of animals, and far too much about cats.

Her website is www.mimiyu.info

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This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy. January 8, 2019. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 320 p. ISBN: 9781681198521.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.3.

In 1956, one year before federal troops escorted the Little Rock 9 into Central High School, fourteen year old Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve African-American students who broke the color barrier and integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee. At first things went smoothly for the Clinton 12, but then outside agitators interfered, pitting the townspeople against one another. Uneasiness turned into anger, and even the Clinton Twelve themselves wondered if the easier thing to do would be to go back to their old school. Jo Ann–clear-eyed, practical, tolerant, and popular among both black and white students—found herself called on as the spokesperson of the group. But what about just being a regular teen? This is the heartbreaking and relatable story of her four months thrust into the national spotlight and as a trailblazer in history. Based on original research and interviews and featuring backmatter with archival materials and notes from the authors on the co-writing process.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racism, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 5))
Grades 5-9. Students of school-desegregation history know of the Little Rock 9, but probably fewer are familiar with the Clinton 12, who integrated a Tennessee high school a full year earlier, in 1956. Boyce, one of the 12, recounts her story in a series of moving narrative poems that detail mid-twentieth-century segregation practices in the South; introduce her family and their place in the town; describe the early, relatively civilized integration of the school; and explain how the introduction of outside agitators heightened tensions and led to violence. Boyce’s positive attitude about her experiences invites reader identification. Yes, she and others endured unrelenting pressure and threats, but the cause was important and the results worthwhile. The poems (mostly free verse with a sprinkling of other forms) personalize this history, and interspersed newspaper headlines and quotes situate the response of the larger world. Generous back matter includes additional information about the Clinton 12, a time line, period photos, sources, and further reading. Engrossing, informative, and important for middle-grade collections.

Kirkus Reviews starred (October 15, 2018)
An autobiographical account in verse of a teen pioneering school desegregation in the South. Jo Ann Allen lives up on a hill with the other black residents of Clinton, Tennessee. They travel to Knoxville to attend the black schools, but in 1956, two years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, a judge in Knoxville tells Clinton officials that they must integrate immediately. Jo Ann is one of 12 black students who enroll in the all-white Clinton High School. With co-author Levy, she tells her story of that year in poems grouped by her relationship to her town (“Mine, Theirs and Ours”; “Fear,” etc.). Most of the white people who support the black students do so only out of civic duty to obey the law. Still, there are moments of hope, as when her white classmates elect her vice president of their homeroom; it seems she might make friends. But then hatred and violence overtake the town of Clinton, necessitating federal law enforcement to keep the peace. Readers will empathize with Jo Ann’s honest incredulity: “Mouths spewing insults. / (Do these mouths sing hymns on Sunday? / Do they say ‘I love you’?)” One timely poem remembers a local election in which “every single / white supremacist/ segregationist / candidate / lost.” Such gems relevant to today’s politics, along with the narrator’s strong inner voice, make this offering stand out. Powerful storytelling of a not-so-distant past. (epilogue, authors’ notes, photos, timeline, sources, bibliography, further reading) (Verse memoir. 9-14)

About the Authors

Jo Ann Allen Boyce was one of 12 students to desegregate Clinton High School in 1956. She has worked as a professional singer and a nurse. She lives in Los Angeles.

 

I (Debbie Levy) write books — nonfiction, fiction, and poetry — for people of all different ages, and especially for young people. Before starting my writing career, I was a newspaper editor; before that, I was a lawyer with a Washington, D.C. law firm. I have a bachelor’s degree in government and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and a law degree and master’s degree in world politics from the University of Michigan. I live in Maryland with my husband. We have two grown sons. Besides writing, I love to kayak, boat, fish, and otherwise mess around in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Her website is www.debbielevybooks.com

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The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay

The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay. February 12, 2019. Algonquin Books, 288 p. ISBN: 9781616207922.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The winner of the NBCC Award for Poetry offers up a spirited collection of short lyric essays, written daily over a tumultuous year, reminding us of the purpose and pleasure of praising, extolling, and celebrating ordinary wonders.

In The Book of Delights, one of today’s most original literary voices offers up a genre-defying volume of lyric essays written over one tumultuous year. The first nonfiction book from award-winning poet Ross Gay is a record of the small joys we often overlook in our busy lives. Among Gay’s funny, poetic, philosophical delights: a friend’s unabashed use of air quotes, cradling a tomato seedling aboard an airplane, the silent nod of acknowledgment between the only two black people in a room. But Gay never dismisses the complexities, even the terrors, of living in America as a black man or the ecological and psychic violence of our consumer culture or the loss of those he loves. More than anything other subject, though, Gay celebrates the beauty of the natural world–his garden, the flowers peeking out of the sidewalk, the hypnotic movements of a praying mantis.

The Book of Delights is about our shared bonds, and the rewards that come from a life closely observed. These remarkable pieces serve as a powerful and necessary reminder that we can, and should, stake out a space in our lives for delight.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Strong language, Strong sexual themes

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 8))
On his forty-second birthday, poet Gay (Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, 2015) began a yearlong project to write, every day, about something that delighted him. The 100 of these “essayettes” shared here in chronological order—and which are most delightfully read that way—consider things as contained as a high five from a stranger and concepts as vast as existence itself. The longhand in which Gay first wrote these (one of the project’s rules) seems to uncurl on the typed page, in winding meanders and meaningful digressions that share a life-spanning spectrum of emotions and experiences. Gay discovers that his delights begin to compound and embed in one another. Stacking delights, saving up several to write about another day, is technically against the rules, but he does it anyway; and occasionally blowing off the project is its own delight. While Gay’s delights embrace the darkness of racism and death, en masse they share a profound capacity for joy and belief in humankind. This stunning self-portrait of a gardener, a teacher, and a keen observer of life is sure to inspire.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2019)
A collection of affirmations, noncloying and often provocative, about the things that make justice worth fighting for and life worth living.Gay—a poet whose last book, the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, bears the semantically aligned title Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (2015)—is fully aware that all is not well in the world: “Racism is often on my mind,” he writes by way of example. But then, he adds, so are pop music, books, gardening, and simple acts of kindness, all of which simple pleasures he chronicles in the “essayettes” that make up this engaging book. There is much to take delight in, beginning with the miraculous accident of birth, his parents, he writes, a “black man, white woman, the year of Loving v. Virginia, on a stolen island in the Pacific, a staging ground for American expansion and domination.” As that brief passage makes clear, this is not a saccharine kind of delight-making but instead an exercise in extracting the good from the difficult and ugly. Sometimes this is a touch obvious: There’s delight of a kind to be found in the odd beauty of a praying mantis, but perhaps not when the mantis “is holding in its spiky mitts a large dragonfly, which buzzed and sputtered, its big translucent wings gleaming as the mantis ate its head.” Ah, well, the big ones sometimes eat the little ones, and sometimes we’re left with holes in our heads, an idiom that Gay finds interesting if also sad: “that usage of the simile implies that a hole in the head, administered by oneself, might be a reasonable response.” No, the reasonable response is, as Gay variously enumerates, to resist, enjoy such miracles as we can, revel in oddities such as the “onomatopoeicness of jenky,” eat a pawpaw whenever the chance to do so arises, water our gardens, and even throw up an enthusiastic clawed-finger air quote from time to time, just because we can. An altogether charming and, yes, delightful book.

About the Author

Ross Gay is the author of three books of poetry, including Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Catalog was also a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, the Ohioana Book Award, the Balcones Poetry Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call It Ballin’ and founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a nonprofit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. Gay has received fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He teaches at Indiana University.

His website is www.rossgay.net

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Milo on Wheels by Elizabeth Gordon

Milo on Wheels by Elizabeth Gordon. August 1, 2019. West 44 Books, 88 p. ISBN: 9781538382387.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 3.9; Lexile: 450.

Milo has never fit in with kids his own age. He’s often bullied for the crutches he uses to walk. When he first shows up at the Club, he sits by himself and draws plants and animals. The annual go-kart rally is coming up, and Milo starts to feel like it’s one sport he could excel at. Can Milo step outside of his comfort zone to make new friends and try something new, or will he be stuck on the sidelines?

Part of series: The Club (Book #1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Milo refers to himself as a “cripple”

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2018)
An aspiring biologist who’s bullied because of his disability finds friends when he enters a go-kart competition. When middle schooler Milo Braverman enters a new after-school program in a new city, he braces himself for a new round of jokes, pity, and names like “bug-boy” and “cripple.” Milo, who walks with forearm crutches due to an unspecified congenital disability, cocoons himself in his field-guide sketchbook to avoid attention. But soon, some kids at The Club admire his sketches: Broadway musical aficionado Javi; accident-prone “Hurricane Addy;” artistic Noah; and Noah’s athletic sister, Zoe. In spite of himself, Milo gradually warms to them. When Miguel, the kindly director, announces the annual go-kart team rally, Milo is determined to race and prove he belongs. As the kids combine their various skills and endeavor to build an adapted go-kart in time for the rally, their enthusiasm feels natural, as does Milo’s anxiety. Obstacles arise, and Milo’s anger and mistrust sympathetically illustrate bullying’s lasting effects. Though a tad heavy-handed, Milo’s identification with a “brave” oak tree that “had overcome everything standing in its way” feels apropos; the optimistic, open ending implies that Milo’s growth, like the resilient oak’s, is an ongoing process that’s “hard, but not impossible.” Javi is from Guatemala; Milo and the other kids are ethnically ambiguous, though descriptions of Addy’s red hair, Noah’s “dreadlocks,” and Zoe’s braids will probably have readers imagining the former as white and the latter two as black. Nondescript, uncredited line drawings dot the margins. A realistic, hopeful take on meeting challenges and making friends. (Fiction. 7-12)

About the Author

Elizabeth Gordon has a master’s degree in children’s literature from Hollins University. She was a finalist for the Hunger Mountain Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, the winner of the Hollins University Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Scholarship, and winner of the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant. She has published nine middle grade books so far, including a five-book superhero series.

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Lizzy Legend by Matthew Ross Smith

Lizzy Legend by Matthew Ross Smith. January 8, 2019. Aladdin, 240 p. ISBN: 9781534420243.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.6; Lexile:.

A basketball-loving girl makes a wish to never miss a basket in this charming middle grade novel that pushes girl power to the max!

Lizzy Trudeaux loves basketball. She doesn’t have much by way of money, but she has access to the community court, a worn ball named Ginger, and she practices constantly. After fighting to join the boy’s team at her school, Lizzy is finally given the opportunity to show off her hard-earned skills.

When she answers what she believes is another bill collecting phone call, Lizzy receives a magical wish: the ability to sink every shot. Pure Swish. Now eviscerating the competition in the boy’s league is small potatoes—she has the skills to dominate in the NBA. With the help of her BFF Toby and some viral video action, Lizzy goes all the way to the Philadelphia Bells’ starting lineup, making history and taking names. Then, just as she’s about to go face to face with her hero, the best player on the planet, things begin to fall apart. But Lizzy isn’t a quitter and she’ll play her hardest for the love of the game.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Fart shaming

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 5))
Grades 4-7. Eighth-grader Lizzy Trudeaux falls asleep beneath a poster of LeBron James every night, and she never dreamed in a million years that she’d ever be able to actually play against him. But when a strange phone call prompts her to make a wish, she’s suddenly trading the blacktop near her home for the bright lights of a real basketball arena. She can’t miss a single shot—not even if she tries. Debut author Smith firmly roots this story of wish fulfillment in the contemporary basketball world, with all of the fast-paced excitement and chance for individual glory. Though tales of fame and fortune all too often pit BFFs against each other, Lizzy’s best bud Toby is instead along for the ride, nearly stealing every scene he’s in with his comic banter. Documentary-style cutaways to interviews with key players, along with short chapters and a balance of well-paced action and heart, give this sports story wide appeal. Hand to the kids who can’t stop arguing over Steph versus LeBron.

Kirkus Reviews (October 1, 2018)
Lizzy Trudeaux is the best basketball player in middle school. Unfortunately, the boys’ coach denies her the chance to play with the boys because coed teams are against the rules. Lizzy and her father live under a mountain of debt and unpaid bills, but she practices on the trash-strewn court near their home every chance she gets. Collections agents call Lizzy daily (they don’t care that she’s only 13), but one odd robocall changes her life: “You have been pre-selected for one free wish.” Rather than hang up, Lizzy blurts out her secret fantasy: never to miss another basketball shot forever. After that, every shot is a “pure swish”—made without touching the net—even from 30 feet with her back turned. Her best friend, Toby, an enterprising “Buddha-shaped black boy,” fast-talks their way into the Mack Center, home of the Philadelphia Bells, where Lizzy shows off her new skills for the coach. Before she knows it, she signs a 10-day contract (she is only 13) and becomes Lizzy Legend. The narrative, broken into four “Quarters,” takes place in the not-too-distant past, with Lizzy narrating engagingly from the present. It’s ludicrous—and a whole lot of fun, with memorable secondary characters filling out the cast. The book subscribes to the white default; aside from Toby, the only people of color seem to be a Sudanese pro ball player and Spike Lee, who has a cameo. Not quite a slam dunk but an enjoyable sports fantasy nonetheless. (Fiction. 8-13)

About the Author

Matthew Ross Smith is an author and writing professor from Philly. His debut novel, Lizzy Legend (Aladdin Books/Simon & Schuster), will be published in early 2019. His second novel is forthcoming in 2020.

When not writing, he’s also the Founder and Executive Director of The Spaces Between Your Fingers Project, a nonprofit that provides free biographers for people with Alzheimer’s.

Her website is matthew-ross-smith.com/books

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Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar & Kathleen Van Clive

Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. January 8, 2019. Aladdin, 272 p. ISBN: 9781534416178.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.0.

In this incredible narrative, Erica Armstrong Dunbar reveals a fascinating and heartbreaking behind-the-scenes look at the Washingtons’ when they were the First Family—and an in-depth look at their slave, Ona Judge, who dared to escape from one of the nation’s Founding Fathers.

Born into a life of slavery, Ona Judge eventually grew up to be George and Martha Washington’s “favored” dower slave. When she was told that she was going to be given as a wedding gift to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Ona made the bold and brave decision to flee to the north, where she would be a fugitive.

From her childhood, to her time with the Washingtons and living in the slave quarters, to her escape to New Hampshire, Erica Armstrong Dunbar (along with Kathleen Van Cleve), shares an intimate glimpse into the life of a little-known, but powerful figure in history, and her brave journey as she fled the most powerful couple in the country.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racism, Violence

 

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Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 15, 2018)
A young enslaved woman successfully escapes bondage in the household of George and Martha Washington. Ona Judge was the daughter of a white indentured servant, Andrew Judge, and an enslaved woman, Betty, on the Mount Vernon plantation, growing up to become Martha Washington’s personal maid. When George Washington was elected president, it was up to Martha to decide who among their enslaved would go with them. “The criteria were clear: obedient, discreet, loyal slaves, preferably of mixed race.” After the seat of government moved to Philadelphia, the Washingtons were subject to the Gradual Abolition Act, a Pennsylvania law that mandated freedom for any enslaved person residing in state for more than six months. The Washingtons chose to rotate their enslaved out of the state to maintain ownership. In 1796, Martha Washington decided to give Ona as a wedding present to her granddaughter—but Ona made her escape by ship to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, setting up years of attempts by allies of Washington to return Ona to slavery. Despite poverty and hardship, Ona Judge remained free, thwarting the most powerful man in America. Dunbar, whose adult version of this story was a National Book Award finalist, and co-author Van Cleve have crafted a compelling read for young people. Ona Judge’s determination to maintain control over her life will resonate with readers. The accessible narrative, clear context, and intricately recorded details of the lives of the enslaved provide much-needed understanding of the complexities and contradictions of the country’s founding. Necessary. (Biography. 9-13)

School Library Journal (January 1, 2019)
Gr 5 Up-This young readers edition of Dunbar’s National Book Award-nominated title details the account of Ona Judge, who ran away from the household of George and Martha Washington. Born into slavery at Mount Vernon, Judge began working directly for Martha Washington by the age of 10. When the Washingtons left Mount Vernon for George’s political career, Judge was chosen to make the trip north, visiting and eventually living in Pennsylvania and New York. Away from the sheltered world of Virginia, Judge encountered free black people for the first time and learned about laws such as the Gradual Abolition Act in Pennsylvania. The Washingtons went to great lengths to prevent those they enslaved from benefitting from this law. In May of 1796, then 22-year-old Judge walked out of the Washington’s mansion in Philadelphia and onto the deck of a ship that would take her to New Hampshire. Although she was never able to live comfortably, she refused to go back to a life of slavery-no matter how determined George and Martha Washington were to reenslave her. This well-written story has been skillfully reconstructed from the sparse historical record available and delicately adapted for middle schoolers. Dunbar and van Cleve effectively and consistently convey the realities of being enslaved-and invite readers to empathize with Judge. VERDICT A brilliant work of U.S. history. Recommended for all collections.-Kristy Pasquariello, Westwood Public Library, MA

About the Author

Erica Armstrong Dunbar is the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University. She also serves as Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Her first book, A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City was published by Yale University Press in 2008. She is also the author of Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge.

Her website is ericaarmstrongdunbar.com

Kathleen Van Cleve teaches creative writing and film at the University of Pennsylvania. She has written three books, including the award-winning middle grade novel Drizzle and lives in Philadelphia with her husband and sons.

Her website is www.kathyvancleve.com

Teacher Resources

Never Caught Curriculum Guide

Never Caught on Common Sense Media

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The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman. February 5, 2019. Nancy Paulsen Books, 208 p. ISBN: 9781524738112.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.0.

Four determined homeless children make a life for themselves in Padma Venkatraman’s stirring middle-grade debut.

Life is harsh in Chennai’s teeming streets, so when runaway sisters Viji and Rukku arrive, their prospects look grim. Very quickly, eleven-year-old Viji discovers how vulnerable they are in this uncaring, dangerous world. Fortunately, the girls find shelter–and friendship–on an abandoned bridge. With two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, the group forms a family of sorts. And while making a living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to laugh about and take pride in too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves and no longer dependent on untrustworthy adults. But when illness strikes, Viji must decide whether to risk seeking help from strangers or to keep holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Negative attitudes toward differing mental abilities, Violence

 

Book Talk

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 11))
Grades 5-7. In India, 11-year-old Viji and her 12-year-old sister, Rukku, run away to Chennai after their violent father strikes out at them. Unprepared for living on the streets, they befriend two homeless boys: Arul, who lost his family in a tsunami, and Muthu, who escaped from a so-called school where he was confined and forced to work. Together they pick through garbage dumps for glass and metal scraps to sell, sleep on an abandoned bridge, and form their own family. Rukku’s intellectual disability has made her dependent on Viji, who gradually learns that her sister is more capable than she had thought. When Rukku and Muthu fall ill, Viji makes tough decisions in hopes of saving their lives and later must cope with her grief before she can move on. The four children and their tight-knit relationship are portrayed with conviction and finesse. Written in the form of a letter from Viji to her sister, the affecting narrative transports readers to a faraway setting that becomes vivid and real. Although the young characters face unusually difficult challenges, they nevertheless find the courage they need to move forward. The author of A Time to Dance (2014), Venkatraman offers an absorbing novel of love, loss, and resilience.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 15, 2018)
Venkatraman’s middle-grade debut tackles sisterhood, chosen families, and loss. Eleven-year-old Viji and her sister, Rukku, flee their abusive father after he breaks Amma’s arm and kicks Rukku. They find themselves, overwhelmed, in the big city of Chennai, where they are temporarily employed by kind Teashop Aunty, who offers them bananas and vadais, and fall in love with a puppy, Kutti, who becomes their constant companion. The sisters meet Muthu and Arul, two boys who live under an abandoned bridge, and join them; Viji tells Rukku elaborate stories to reassure herself and her sister that they will be OK. Soon, Viji finds herself telling the young boys her stories as well; in return, the boys show the girls how to earn money on the streets: by scavenging for resalable trash in a very large garbage dump Muthu calls “the Himalayas of rubbish.” When tragedy strikes, it is this new family who helps Viji come to terms. Craftwise, the book is thoughtful: Venkatraman employs the second person throughout as Viji writes to Rukku, and readers will ultimately understand that Viji is processing her grief by writing their story. Viji’s narration is vivid and sensory; moonlight “slip[s] past the rusty iron bars on our window”; “the taste of half an orange…last[s] and last[s].” The novel also touches on social justice issues such as caste, child labor, and poverty elegantly, without sacrificing narrative. A blisteringly beautiful book. (Fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Padma Venkatraman was born in Chennai, India, and became an American citizen after attaining a Ph.D. in oceanography from The College of William and Mary. She is also the author of A Time to Dance (IBBY selection, ALA Notable, CCBC Choice, Notable Books for a Global Society winner, and South Asia Book Award Honor Book), Island’s End (ALA Best Book of the Year, ALA/Amelia Bloomer List selection, and CCBC Best Book), and Climbing the Stairs (Julia Ward Howe Award, Bank Street Best Book, YALSA BBYA selection, Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, and CCBC Choice).

Her website is www.padmavenkatraman.com

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Following by Jeffry W. Johnston

Following by Jeffry W. Johnston. February 5, 2019. Sourcebooks Fire, 256 p. ISBN: 9781492664611.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Rear Window meets Serial in this riveting new thriller from Edgar Award-nominated author that follows Alden as he tries to solve a crime only he believes was committed.

Alden likes to follow people. He’s not trying to be a creep, he just wants to be an investigator someday, and it’s good practice.

But spying on people comes with risks, like when Alden sees popular Greg Matthes seemingly murder his girlfriend, Amy, one night in the bad part of town.

But the facts aren’t adding up, especially because Amy may be alive. Now Alden has to figure what he could have seen… and what secrets Greg is hiding.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 9-12. High-school junior Alden has always fancied himself an amateur detective: “It’s important work. You never know about people; what they show on the outside is often not what’s on the inside. You’ve gotta watch for those brief moments when the hidden part slips out.” After Alden’s parents are killed during a mass shooting, investigating suspicious leads is all he can think about. Curiosity gets him in hot water when he follows popular senior athlete Greg to a secluded area behind the high school and witnesses what he thinks is Greg murdering his girlfriend, Amy. When Amy turns up at school unmistakably not murdered, Alden has to reshape his theories. Guided by his best friend (and daughter of the local police chief) Charlie, Alden walks a fine line between sticking to his convictions and making a false police report. Johnston’s (The Truth​, 2016) latest is a slow-burn thriller that veers in surprising directions, with a final twist no one will see coming. Teasing chapter endings and engaging characters will propel readers forward.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2018)
Practicing his investigative techniques, aspiring detective Alden follows golden boy Greg to an abandoned ball park at the edge of town where he believes he witnesses a murder. In an update to the fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” Alden is the guy spotting crime and anonymously informing the police in order to assuage the guilt he feels around the death of his parents during a mass shooting at a fair. He is obsessed with the need to prevent the mayhem he feels exists around him. But is this crime real? Greg, a senior and popular athlete at their high school, is dating pretty, red-haired Amy—and now Alden thinks he has murdered her. Alden’s best friend, Charlie, is the daughter of the chief of police and for a time becomes involved in trying to prove or disprove the crime that Alden believes was committed. A junior, Alden lives with an uncle who is trying to be a parent but lacks experience; this side plot adds to the overall picture of Alden’s isolation. There are minimal physical descriptions beyond hair color, and main characters follow a white default. Little in the characterization or writing make this stand out, but Alden’s motivation rings true, and his vulnerability is appealing. A twisty mystery. (Fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

I write young adult mysteries and thrillers. My first two novels, FRAGMENTS and THE TRUTH, were both Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers selections by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). FRAGMENTS was also a 2008 Edgar nominee by the Mystery Writers of America for Best Young Adult Mystery and THE TRUTH was a 2017 In the Margins Top 10 Book Award winner. My new teen thriller, FOLLOWING, is out in 2019. Besides also publishing numerous short stories and articles covering various genres and subjects, I have been a film and theatre reviewer.

His website is jeffrywjohnston.com.

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Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams. January 15, 2019. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 384 p. ISBN: 9781481465809.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.8.

This deeply sensitive and powerful debut novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old who must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.

There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.

What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Criminal culture, Discrimination, Mild language, Racism, Adult alcohol abuse

 

Book Talk

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 8))
Grades 4-8. Her dad is an alcoholic with a gambling problem who never pays the rent, so her family keeps getting evicted from their homes. But that’s not the only reason Genesis hates herself. Mostly it’s because she is dark-skinned, and she wishes she were lighter. Genesis tries multiple ways to lighten her skin and help her family, both with disappointing results. Only after she learns to appreciate herself for who she is does everything else starts to fall into place. The “year in the life” style of this story gives readers an opportunity to look into someone’s day-to-day, observing experiences that might be quite different from or similar to their own. This lengthy debut includes many common tropes—the inspirational teacher, the group of best friends, the mean girls—but its final message is powerful and challenges Genesis to define her life on her own terms, not society’s. Genesis comes out stronger in the end, and the reader who sticks with her story will hopefully feel the same.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2018)
Thirteen-year-old Genesis Anderson is a black girl who has been dealt a heavy hand in life. She’s had to move several times because her family keeps getting evicted thanks to her alcoholic, gambling father, who defaults on the rent. Genesis hates her circumstances, and even more, she hates the skin she’s in. Dark-skinned like her father—who takes no pride in their resemblance, especially when he’s drunk and mean—Genesis wants nothing more than to look like her light-skinned mother. With kids calling her names (Charcoal, Eggplant, Blackie) and a chiding grandmother who spouts backward colorist ideologies, it’s no wonder. Genesis desperately wants to be accepted, even causing herself physical pain to change the look of her skin and hair in order to attain it. But Genesis has a talent that demands that she stand out. With the help of her chorus teacher, Genesis discovers a way to navigate the pain she carries. With smooth and engrossing prose, debut novelist Williams takes readers through an emotional, painful, yet still hopeful adolescent journey. Along the way she references accomplished black activists, athletes, artists, and, notably, musicians such as Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Etta James, all in a way that feels natural and appropriate. This book may bring readers to tears as they root for Genesis to finally have the acceptance she craves—but from herself rather than anyone else. It’s a story that may be all too familiar for too many and one that needed telling. (Fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Alicia Williams is a graduate of the MFA program at Hamline University. An oral storyteller in the African-American tradition, she is also a kindergarten teacher who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Genesis Begins Again is her debut novel.

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A Second Kind of Impossible by Paul J. Steinhardt

A Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter by Paul; J. Steinhardt. January 8, 2019. Simon Schuster, 400 p. ISBN: 9781476729923.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

One of the most fascinating scientific detective stories of the last fifty years, an exciting quest for a new form of matter. The Second Kind of Impossible reads like James Gleick’s Chaos combined with an Indiana Jones adventure.

When leading Princeton physicist Paul Steinhardt began working in the 1980s, scientists thought they knew all the conceivable forms of matter. The Second Kind of Impossible is the story of Steinhardt’s thirty-five-year-long quest to challenge conventional wisdom. It begins with a curious geometric pattern that inspires two theoretical physicists to propose a radically new type of matter—one that raises the possibility of new materials with never before seen properties, but that violates laws set in stone for centuries. Steinhardt dubs this new form of matter “quasicrystal.” The rest of the scientific community calls it simply impossible.

The Second Kind of Impossible captures Steinhardt’s scientific odyssey as it unfolds over decades, first to prove viability, and then to pursue his wildest conjecture—that nature made quasicrystals long before humans discovered them. Along the way, his team encounters clandestine collectors, corrupt scientists, secret diaries, international smugglers, and KGB agents. Their quest culminates in a daring expedition to a distant corner of the Earth, in pursuit of tiny fragments of a meteorite forged at the birth of the solar system.

Steinhardt’s discoveries chart a new direction in science. They not only change our ideas about patterns and matter, but also reveal new truths about the processes that shaped our solar system. The underlying science is important, simple, and beautiful—and Steinhardt’s firsthand account is an engaging scientific thriller.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 7))
Two centuries after the French priest René-Just Haüy launched the science of crystallography, Steinhardt and a resourceful support team retrieved from the tundra of Kamchatka astonishing meteorite samples compelling researchers to rethink the fundamental principles of that science. As Steinhardt explains, the samples he helped discover reveal that in the astral fires of the Big Bang, nature created strange quasicrystals manifesting symmetries long thought to be utterly impossible. Readers see the culmination of years of arduous labors—conceptual, professional, legal, and logistic—as they learn how Steinhardt and a savvy research assistant transgressed the limits of the possible by imagining the radical structure of hypothetical quasicrystals, how Japanese researchers actually synthesized such quasicrystals in the laboratory, how an Italian scientist triggered an international debate by identifying a museum sample as a naturally occurring quasicrystal, and, finally, how that Italian scientist joined Steinhardt and other intrepid scientists to visit one of the planet’s remotest regions, there to verify their hypotheses about such quasicrystals and their origins. Cutting-edge science as high adventure.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2018)
An admirable popular account of the quasicrystal, an oddball arrangement of atoms that seems to contradict scientific laws. Steinhardt (Physics and Astrophysical Sciences/Princeton Univ.; co-author: Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang, 2006), a pioneer in the field and a fine writer, makes a mighty effort to describe a complex chemical phenomenon; he mostly succeeds. Readers should carefully read his explanation of how pure substances such as minerals form periodic, symmetric arrangements of atoms called crystals, which must fit together with no gaps into which other atoms can squeeze. Only three forms qualify: the tetrahedron, the triangular prism, and the parallelepiped (six-sided box). Popular writers use the tiling analogy. To install a bathroom floor, only square, triangular, or hexagonal tiles fit perfectly. Just as you can’t fit pentagonal or octagonal tiles into the floor, no crystal can have five or eight or any larger-sided symmetry. This was the rule—not really a formal law—until Roger Penrose invented Penrose tiles in the 1970s. These can fill any room despite having bizarre shapes. Intrigued, scientists began producing five, eight, and other many-sided “quasicrystals” by heating and rapidly cooling metals in the laboratory. Thankfully, Steinhardt turns his attention from crystal theory to chronicle a gripping scientific quest. He and his colleagues searched the world’s mineralogical collections, drawing a blank until minuscule specks from Italy showed promise. Proof required finding similar pieces in a natural location, an exhaustive 10-year process that began with frustrating detective work to discover the specimen’s source, followed by an expedition to Siberia and success in 2009. Scientists figured out that natural quasicrystals form through temperatures and pressures that don’t exist on Earth; they’re found in meteorite fragments. The research continues, and it will hopefully produce technological marvels (or maybe not). Meanwhile, readers will enjoy this enthusiastic introduction to a weird but genuine new form of matter.

About the Author

Paul J. Steinhardt is the Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton University, where he is on the faculty of both the departments of Physics and Astrophysical Sciences. He cofounded and directs the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science. He has received the Dirac Medal and other prestigious awards for his work on the early universe and novel forms of matter. He is the author of The Second Kind of Impossible, and the coauthor of Endless Universe with Neil Turok, which describes the two competing ideas in cosmology to which he contributed. With his student, Dov Levine, Steinhardt first invented the theoretical concept of quasicrystals before they were synthesized in a laboratory. More than three decades later, with Luca Bindi, he guided the team that led to the discovery of three different natural quasicrystals in the Kamchatka Peninsula. In 2014, the International Mineralogical Association named a new mineral “steinhardtite” in his honor.

His website is paulsteinhardt.org

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