Sunday, September 20, 2020

MMGM: Not Your All-American Girl by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Welcome to 1984. Lauren Horowitz and Tara Buchanan have always been best friends and lucky enough to be in the same class. But now they are in middle school and the only period they share is lunch. So Tara gets the idea that they should both audition for the school musical Shake It Up, set in 1958 and involving lots of hula-hooping. And although they both want to play the part of lead, Brenda Sue Parker, it goes to Tara. Why? Because Tara is the picture of an all-American girl - reddish brown hair, blue eye, milky skin and a dusting of freckles across her nose. And despite giving a better audition than Tara, Lauren, who is Jewish and Chinese, has dark eyes, dark straight hair and no freckles, ends up in the ensemble. Or as Mrs. Tyndall, the play's director, explains it: "When people see [Tara], they won't have a hard time imagining she's an all american girl from Pleasant Valley." (pg 24)

After breaking the news to her family - dad, mom, brother David, and her two grandmothers - Lauren discovers what she thinks is a kindred soul on the radio, and decides to call the DJ, Nashville Nick, to find out who the singer is. When he tells her it's Patsy Cline, Lauren immediately thinks Klein, believing her to be a Jewish country western singer whose music about loneliness and longing she instantly connects to. 

As rehearsals get underway, Lauren and Tara begin to drift away from each other. And as Lauren spends more time sitting with the other kids in the ensemble and getting to know them, she finds herself liking their company. Lauren is even doing things separate and apart from Tara. Like the singing gig her grandmother got for her at the mall and starting a button business with her button-making machine. 

But when her mother announces that she has decided to go to law school, Lauren learns one of the reasons motivating her is the murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, who was beaten to death by auto workers mistakenly believing he was Japanese and blaming him for the loss of auto jobs in Detroit. Vincent Chin becomes "like a ghost in my head, darting in and out." (pg.106) Thinking about Vincent together with the realization that she is not Mrs. Tyndall's idea of an all-American girl, causes Lauren to question just the idea of what, exactly, is an all-American. And she promptly discovers that she can no sing because it no longer makes her happy. 

Will Lauren ever be able to find her voice again and speak out about the insults and the macro- and microaggressions she experiences, even from her so-called best friend Tara?

Let me begin by saying that this is a sequel to This Is Not A Test a story that focuses on Lauren's brother David and which I did not read (but which is now on my TBR list), so I can say unequivocally that Not Your All-American Girl is a great stand alone novel. 

I was in college when this story takes place so I really enjoyed all the cultural references and details about daily life at the time (including the allusion to the very popular Jane Fonda workout video and leg warmers), and I am also a big Patsy Cline fan. Interestingly, I haven't watched Pretty in Pink since the 1980s and had completely forgotten about the racist references to Long Duk Dong. I can't blame Lauren for her reaction to the kid making fun of her after the movie. 

I liked that Lauren had the support of her family no matter what, especially her trivia-loving brother. Both grandmothers, one Jewish, one Chinese, were very competitive where Lauren was concerned, and they both offered lots of good humor throughout the story, which it sometimes needed. I am glad the story didn't focus on what was happening on the stage as much as behind the scenes where the real and more important action was taking place. Interestingly, for all this is a story about being seen for who you are, Mrs. Tyndall never really came together in my mind, but her preconceived notions of what an all-American looks like certainly did.  

Not Your All-American Girl is an serious exploration of one girl's awakening regarding friendship, race, and identity with some fun subplots readers will definitely find amusing. 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Scholastic

If you would like to know more about Vincent Chin, offers a succinct article about it HERE

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, 
now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Virtual Blog Tour: Short & Sweet (Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast Book 4) by Josh Funk

Short & Sweet (Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast Book #4)
by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendon Kearney
 Sterling Children's Books, 2020, 40 pages

Hi and welcome to my stop on the Short & Sweet Virtual Blog Tour. Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are back with a brand new adventure and my young readers couldn't be happier. After All, they are all fans of the first three books about this sweet duo. Their latest adventure begins as they are preparing for a tea party with Baron von Waffle. As they finish though, Lady Pancake feels achy and Sir French Toast looks pale. Are they going stale?

Luckily, Baron von Waffle has just what they need - a visit to Professor Biscotti's lab for a little despoiling. The three friends go off down Artichoke Road to Professor Biscotti's lab, where they are strapped into her despoiling machine:  

But when things don't go as planned, and Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are turned into children, the two of them take one look at Baron von Waffle, whom they now think is a giant scary monster Waffle wanting to eat them and take off, running for their lives. 

Can Baron von Waffle and Professor Biscotti figure out how to get Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast back to the lab so they can be changed back into themselves?

This book is, exactly as the title says, short and sweet. And told in a rhyme scheme that works all the way to the end, paired with a fun vocabulary and some very clever puns. I read this to my young readers, who are, as I've said, big fans of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. And Short & Sweet has already become an instant new favorite. One of my kiddos did comment on Baron von Waffle telling his friends they looked gruesome and hideous and what a mean thing that was to say to them. So it's no wonder Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast thought he was a big scary monster after they had been turned into children. Another kiddo thought it was cool that they ended up in the library reading books at one point and enraptured by stories (but what does enraptured mean? they asked). And that is one of the things I liked about this book. There were vocabulary words to learn that were not usual to children's picture books.

Brendan Kearney's humorous illustrations are the perfect compliment to the story, done in a palette of warm colors, often slightly reminiscent of maple syrup. In fact, I was sure I smelled maple syrup each time I read this story. Which, by the way, is a perfect read aloud.

All in all, Short & Sweet is another successful addition to the Lady Pancake/Sir French Toast body of work and is sure to be a hit with all young readers.

Don't forget to read and reread the earlier adventures of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast and all their friends:

Be sure to visit all the other stops on the Long & Savory 5-week Virtual Tour for Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast's latest adventures:

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was gratefully received from the author, Josh Funk

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Cover Reveal: Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi, illustrated by Bev Johnson

2020 got you down? Here is something to look forward to in 2021 - a new Middle Grade fantasy novel by a debut author. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi is the 18th book and the first middle grade novel EVER published by @mangoandmarigoldpress and it's a good one. The novel tells the story of Rea Chettri, a 12-year-old girl living a simple, if boring, life on the tea plantations of Darjeeling, India. Without warning, Rea's life gets turned on its head when her twin brother goes missing. Determined to save him, Rea embarks on a secret, thrilling adventure into the enchanted world of Astranthia. There, Rea will make new friends, grapple with dark truths, and learn the meaning of family and friendship, and discover her true self. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is the first book in the series The Chronicles of Astranthia.

So, without further ado, I present... 

Now, meet the Author:
Payal Doshi has a Masters in Creative Writing (Fiction) from The New School in New York City. Having lived in the UK and the US, she noticed a lack of Indian protagonists in global children's fiction and one day wrote the opening paragraph to what would become her first children's novel. Payal was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two-year-old daughter. When she isn't writing or spending time with her family, you can find her nose deep in a book with a cup of coffee or daydreaming of fantasy realms to send her character off into. She loved the smell of old, yellowed books. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, the first book in The Chronicles of Astranthia series is her debut middle grade novel.
You can find Payal on Instagram @payaldoshiauthor
and on Twitter @payaldwrites

But wait, there's more...
With this launch, @mangoandmarigoldpress is also continuing their #1001DiverseBooks program to help them bridge the diversity gap but also the accessibility gap in children's literature. With each new book launch, Mango and Marigold Press is committed to also raise the funds to donate 1001 books to literacy and advocacy nonprofits that are working across the country to help those in need.

They need your help to make their vision a reality. Will you be a part of the change to end the diversity gap AND accessibility gap? When you pre-order your copy of Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, you can also sponsor a copy for their nonprofit partner for only $10! 

For all pre-orders placed between September 15 through September 22, 2020 you will have an exclusive chapter to read as a sneak peek into Rea's adventure as well as receive limited edition character buttons, a bookmark, sticker, and signed bookplate from the author! 

Monday, September 14, 2020

A Journey Toward Hope by Victor Hinojosa & Coert Voorhees, illustrated by Susan Guevara

A Journey Toward Hope 
by Victor Hinojosa & Coert Voorhees, 
illustrated by Susan Guevara
Six Foot Press, 2020, 40 pages
It's sometimes hard for Americans to think about allowing their children to travel unaccompanied by an adult through their own and neighboring countries, but that is exactly what sometimes happens when kids lives in countries where they are no longer safe. And that is the story of the four migrant children in this book. 
Alessandra, 10 leaves her home in Guatemala, hoping to reunite with her mother; Laura, 13, and her brother Nando, 7, must leave El Salvador and live with their aunt and uncle in the US; 
Rodrigo, 14, is leaving his home in Honduras where things are no longer safe for him, and joining his parents in Nebraska. 
As they journey toward the United States, they meet and form themselves into a protective little family. Their journey is long and often perilous. At one point, Laura falls out of the boat to Mexico and Rodrigo loses a shoe and must go barefoot until he is given shoes at a shelter. 
The children are often hungry, but sometimes find kindness among strangers in shelters where they can sleep and among other who give them food. They must travel by foot and by boat, but once they are in Mexico, they can jump La Bestia, a series of connecting trains where they must ride atop the cars, the most dangerous part of the trip, but one that will take them closer to the U.S. border. 

Though the story ends before they do reach the United States/Mexico border, their journey is always a journey of hope - each child has a dream for their future that they hope can be fulfilled in America. 

This is an excellent picture book for older reader for introducing them to what is going on in the world today, particularly at the border between American and Mexico, and generating some informative discussions. Each child's story is simply told in accessible language. The illustrations are bright, done in a palette of soft pastels. Readers will also notice that each child has a lightly drawn animal by him or her. Be sure to read the Illustrator' Note to discover the meaning behind these animals. There is also more information in the back matter about the reality of life for migrant children as well as ways to get involved and help. Though I have reviewed the English edition of this book, there is a Spanish language edition available as well: Una jornada hacia la esperanza.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was gratefully received from Casey Blackwell at Media Masters Publicity 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

😷2020 Back to School Picture Book Roundup

"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address."

Nora Ephron had it right. I do love fall and back to school time. It always makes me think of going shopping with my mom for a new dress and shoes for school, and school supplies from the dime store. And I found myself doing the same with my Kiddo - well, not the dress and shoes part, that was more like jeans and sneakers. But the feeling of excitement and possibility was the same. The start of the school year may not be like another other we've ever had, but that's no reason not to enjoy some great school picture books now.
We Will Rock Our Classmates (Penelope Series #2)
written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins
Disney-Hyperion, 2020, 48 pages
Now that she's learned not to eat her classmates, Penelope the dinosaur loves playing with them. The only problem is that no matter what they play, she's always the dinosaur. Which is too bad, because Penelope loves to do all kinds of things, especially making rock and roll music with her guitar. So when Mrs. Noodleman announces a class talent show, a very excited Penelope is the first to sign up. Here's a chance to rock and roll her classmates with her musical talent. But when her classmates begin to question whether dinosaurs can even play guitar or rock and roll, Penelope's joy is replaced with self-doubt and she freezes. The next day, she removes her name from the talent show. Can her father convince her to try again? Though there's plenty of humor in this second installment of Penelope the dinosaur's school days, the story also has a very important, serious side to it, showing how easy it is for kids to have their confidence shaken and the seeds of self-doubt planted when they are stereotyped. Penelope's class is wonderfully diverse, yet they only see her as a dinosaur, as expressed in their belief that dinosaur's can't rock and roll or anything else. Higgins has really captured Penelope's excitement and disappointment perfectly, and those nascent feelings that she can't be anything other that a dinosaur. Luckily, she has a dad that sees things differently, but I wondered about all those kids in school who are also stereotyped and who don't have an adult in their lives who can support and encourage their talents. This is a book that should begin much needed discussions in the classroom (in whatever form that make take right now) and at home.

Pearl Goes to Preschool
written and illustrated by Julie Fortenberry
Candlewick Press, 2020, 32 pages
Pearl's mom is a ballet teacher, and Pearl, who loves everything about dancing, and her stuffy Violet go to dance class everyday with her. So when her mom suggests that she might want to go to preschool, Pearl isn't too keen on the idea. After all, she can already count - 1st position, 2nd position, 3rd position. Pearl and her mom talk about preschool and all the things Pearl could do there as they go about their day - riding home on the subway, getting dressed up and going to the ballet, and later while reading a bedtime story. The next morning, Pearl and Violet are ready to give preschool a try. And it's everything her mom said it would be - there are other kids, and there's all kinds of things to do, like painting, building blocks, making music, dressing up, and making a new friend. Not surprising, all Pearl's activities revolve around ballet. And her favorite part of the day - dancing, of course. If you are looking for a book that explores preschool anxiety and jitters, this is not it. Pearl seems pretty open to new thing and her adjustment to preschool goes smoothly. It simply explores all the different things kids can do in preschool that make it a fun place to be without having to give up other favorite things. I really liked a number of things about this book. First, the way Pearl's mom didn't force preschool on her, but gently led her to accepting the idea of going to school. Second, the way Pearl held on to her love of ballet and incorporated it into her day, while learning new things at the same time. Third, I liked that there are two boys in her ballet class instead of all girls in pink leotards. And finally, that the dancer who is the Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker, " the ballet Pearl and her mom go to see, is a dancer of color. The soft, digitally painted illustrations are as sweet and gently as the story itself. 

I'm Afraid Your Teddy is in the Principal's Office
written by Jancee Dunn, illustrated by Scott Nash
Candlewick Press, 2020, 40 pages
He's baaack! That's right, that trouble-making teddy has returned and, no surprise, he's making trouble again. After causing all that ruckus at home, teddy has made his way to school by hiding in his child's backpack. But not for long. Teddy and all the other stuffies who have secretly come to school via backpacks, wait until the kids were at assembly and make their escape. Beginning at the cafeteria, followed by a trip to the gym, and the music room, then into the teachers' lounge, and finally the art room creating havoc everywhere they go. The stuffies try to make their escape from school via pipe cleaners, but end up in the principal's office instead and in big trouble...maybe. The story and the stuffie crimes are narrated by the principal while addressing the owners of the naughty toys. But, let's face it, stuffies are really cute and it turns out this principal has a soft spot for stuffed teddies. This book is laughs all the way though. I especially liked the portrayal of the teachers' lounge - would that they were really like that. The digitally created illustrations are fun and colorful and really manage to capture the glee on the faces of the stuffies as they create mayhem and mess (I may never eat sloppy joes again). I zoom read this to my young readers and they loved it. 

Play Day School Day
written and illustrated by Toni Yuly
Candlewick Press, 2020, 32 pages
It's the day before the first day of school and older sister Mona is excited to be going back, while younger brother Milo wants to know just what she does there. Playing in the backyard, their little red wagon becomes a pretend school bus as Mona describes the things she does in school, and Milo uses nature to imagine doing the same things. He write his names by connecting flowers on the fence when she says in school, they practice reading and writing. Milo counts birds to simulate math, and science becomes the plants and insects in the yard. They practice music, and sitting quietly and listening carefully, then running around and being noisy with friends. In the end, Milo says school sounds like fun, and Mona tells him that playing school with him is fun, too. This is a sweet story about what a younger child can expect when they finally begin school. It isn't about anxiety or jitters, but a straightforward description of Mona's school day, which is pretty typical. Older and younger siblings often play school based on experience of one of them and is a really common form of pretend play. My Kiddo, an only child, played school with her dolls. This would be a great book to incorporate into that kind of playing, so when the older sibling heads off to that first day, the younger one can continue playing. The illustrations, created with ink, pencil, pastel, cut and torn paper and digitally collaged, are simple, bright and colorful, and mainly in a palette of primary colors. This will probably appeal to the preschool set, but kindergarteners will benefit from it, too. 

Ollie and Augustus
written and illustrated by Gabriel Evans
Candlewick Press, 2020, 40 pages
Ollie is a small and Augustus is his very large pet and companion. Despite the disparity in size, the two do 'most things' together. although Ollie prefers digging while Augustus likes to collect sticks. And sometimes Ollie is annoying to Augustus, and other times, Augustus can be irritating, but even when they get mad at each other, they usually make up by lunchtime. Now, however, it's time for Ollie to begin school and he worries that Augustus might be lonely with him gone all day. The solution - advertise for a companion for Augustus. But none of the dogs who show up are just what Ollie is looking for. On his first day of school, Ollie spends time sad and worrying about Augustus. And Augustus? How does he spend Ollie's first day of school? Well, not the way Ollie thought he would, that's for sure. This is an amusing look at separation anxiety and school, and shows readers that even if circumstances change, best friends are always there. The visually pleasing pencil, watercolor, and gouache illustrations are done in a palette of earth tones, and each one compliments the spare text, capturing all aspects of Ollie and Augustus's days together. A perfect book for helping sooth first day of school jitters. 

When My Brother Gets Home
written and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
HMH Books, 2020, 40 pages
It's hard on younger siblings when their older brother or sister goes off to school, especially after having them home for the summer, or in our new reality, since last March. In this story, a young girl and her dog imagine all the exciting, fantastic adventures they will have once her brother comes home from school. There are a few things I really like about this book. One involves imaginative play. As the girl imagines what they are going to, the reality of how it happens is illustrated. Climbing up Mount Kilimanjaro is really climbing up the slide, exploring the rainforest in exploring a local creek, build a castle is done with a bunch of different sized cardboard boxes. Given that the girl isn't in school yet, it is clear some of these ideas came from a very companionable big brother. The other thing I liked is that every time she says "When my brother gets home..." the illustration over the words shows the school bus leaving school and getting closer and closer to home, building the excitement. And kids can trace the route on the end papers. The illustrations were done with pencil, watercolor and colored pencil, then digitally enhanced making them as sweet and warm as the story itself.   

Whether you go to school in person or remotely, I hope it's a great year for everyone.
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