Friday, January 17, 2020

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship:
Stories from India
by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy
Candlewick Press, 2018, 192 pages

I love reading folktales from other countries and so when this one came my way, I was very excited. And what a pleasure it is to read. Originally published as two separate books with four stores each under the titles A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom and A Jar of Pickles and a Pinch of Justice, they have been combined in this volume of eight stories altogether.
The stories center on Prince Veera, the son of King Breema, who ruled over his small Indian kingdom with fairness, kindness, and wisdom, and Suku, the son of a farmer who had won a scholarship to study with Prince Veera. Naturally, the two 10-year-old boys have become the best of friends.

As a kind and just king, the people in his kingdom knew they could come to King Breema with their problems and disputes and he would always find a way to help them. One day, when the King falls ill, Prince Veera and Suku ask if they may hold court that day instead of sending the people away. The first few cases they hear are simple and easy for the two boys to resolve, but as the day goes by they become more difficult. Once case involves a maker of sweet treats who wants to charge the man who stands outside his shop smelling the delicious scent of his sugary, buttery treats but who never buys anything. Another case involved a man who sold his well to another man, but now wants to charge the buyer for the water in the well.

Prince Veera and Suku both enjoy running the court whenever King Breema allows it, and the King is quite impressed with their collective wisdom. But when the Prince Veera's strict, elderly granduncle Raja Apoorva comes to visit, he is not impressed and thinks it is wrong from his young grandnephew to hold court, and especially with Suku, the lowly son of a farmer. When granduncle, who doesn't like crows one bit, puts their talent to the test challenging them to count the number of crows in the kingdom, have Prince Veera and Suku been outsmarted or can they outsmart the old uncle?

The eight stories included in Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship are basically light and easy, told in a very straightforward way and each has a simple moral that never feels preachy. The relationship between Prince Veera and Suku is one of affectionate companionship and respect, and although Suku is the son of a farmer, class isn't an issue here. Prince Veera loves to visit Suku's welcoming home as much as Suku loves going to the palace. This is a lesson we could all use.

Although there are not any notes about these stories and where they came from, they still have an authentically Indian quality to them culturally, and that is supported by the wonderful black and white spot illustrations by Uma Krishnaswamy.

Young readers will certainly enjoy these trickster tales and seeing how the two young friends deal with the often cunning disputes brought to them. Additionally, all the stories stand alone, making this a useful book for some great read alouds.

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship is a solid collection of folktales that are sure to please young readers who are already enjoying chapter books. 

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was gratefully received by me from the publisher, Candlewick Press

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Blog Tour: Fly, Fly Again by Katie Jaffe and Jennifer Lawson, illustrated by Tammie Lyon

Fly, Fly Again by Katie Jaffe and Jennifer Lawson,
illustrated by Tammie Lyon
Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2020, 32 pages

Jenny has always wanted to fly but all her attempts have so far ended in failure. Then a red-tailed hawk befriends Jenny and as he flies around, she begins to figure out how it is done. But could she invent something that would actually take-off and fly just based on what she observes? 

Meanwhile, Jenny's neighbor Jude is studying his best friend Kitty, to learn all about speed and control in order to improve his skateboarding. Jude is also interested by the tiny plane Jenny has built and although it lifted off the ground, she has no way to control where the plane went and it crashed. Could Jenny and Jude put their heads together and figure out what they needed to do to actually get off the ground and control how and where Jenny's plane would fly?

If the title Fly, Fly Again makes you think of the old adage try, try again, that is not a coincidence. Jenny learns that sometimes success comes only after failure, but to never give up on her dreams. Along the way, Jenny also learns all about the mechanics of flight, thanks to teamwork and determination, as well as a cat named Kitty and a bird named Hawk. So really, how could she miss? 

Fly, Fly Again! is also a wonderful way to introduce kids to some basic aeronautical concepts like lift, drift, pitch, roll and the importance of a rudder, and perhaps instilling an interest in engineering.    

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was sent to me by the authors and I thank them for the opportunity to read and review it. 

Fun Facts about Flying 
  • The foreword for the book is from Buzz Aldrin. The 50th anniversary of the lunar landing of Apollo 11 is July 20, 2019.
  • There are over 600,000 pilots in the world. Someone/something inspired their love of flight.
  • The book teaches perseverance and teamwork and that you can be an inventor at any age; with some determination and creativity, anything is possible
Important #STEM Dates to Remember
  • December 17th - Wright Brothers Day
  • January -
    • National Mentoring Month: Buzz Aldrin wrote the foreward to Fly, Fly Again
    • Brainteaser Month:  Liftoff Learning Studios exists to encourage learning among kids
    • Creativity Month:  How do we get our kids to think outside the box?
  • January 17th – Kid Inventors’ Day
  • February 21st - Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day
  • March 4-10 - Women of Aviation Wordwide Week
  • April 30-May 6 - Children’s Book Week
  • Second Week in April - National Robotics Week 
  • June 23rd - International Women in Engineering Day 
Meet the Authors
Katie Jaffe: With a passion for children’s causes, Katie has committed herself to several charities, helping children around the world.  As Creative Director and Design Consultant of Aviation for Spectre Air Capital,  Katie has aided in the design of several high profile aircraft.  Currently, she is leading the marketing and design effort of an overseas airline.  She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband–who is a pilot– and their three children who like to fly. 
Jennifer Lawson: Lifelong educator and advocate of the Childrens’ Literacy Program.  Jennifer seeks to bring knowledge to students through creative curriculum and technology on a global level.  As Owner and President of Decision Tree Technologies, she is currently endeavoring to teach using technologically advanced solutions that excite today’s students. She lives in Austin, Texas with her family.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Two for Thursday: Lucy and Douglas written and illustrated by Randy Cecil

Lucy written and illustrated by Randy Cecil
Candlewick Press, 2016, 144 pages
Every morning, in the town of Bloomville, a little stray dog named Lucy wakes up and runs through the streets until she comes to an apartment building with a red door. There, a young girl named Eleanor Wische, who  lives on the second floor with her father, opens her bedroom window and lowers a bit of sausage on a string for the little stray dog. Meanwhile, in another room, her father Sam Wische, practices juggling before heading off to work as a grocery clerk.  More than anything, Sam wishes for a vaudeville career as a juggler, since he is a juggler of exceptional ability. That is, until evening when he is onstage in front of a live audience at the Palace Theater. There, his stage fright paralyzes him and he ends up always gets the hook. With little variation, except in the street scenes, this is pretty much how each day goes for Lucy, Eleanor and Sam.

But one day, there is no tidbit waiting for Lucy from Eleanor's window. Eleanor is watching her dad practice juggling. Without realizing it, as an audience of one, Eleanor seems to instill a confidence in Sam that he's never had before while juggling in front of someone. Excited, Sam goes out and successfully starts practicing on the street, even as more and more people begin gathering to watch him. Meanwhile, Eleanor has missed Lucy, who is in the park napping and dreaming about her old life when she belonged to someone, and wishing she belonged to someone again. Missing the little dog whom she wishes were her own, Eleanor takes the sausage bit and goes out to find Lucy.

Later that day, Eleanor finds her dad sitting in the park, and not far away, Lucy is awakened from her nap by the faint scent of sausage. As Eleanor and her dad head to the Palace Theater, Lucy follows the scent of the sausage bit Eleanor has in her pocket. When the three characters finally come together in the theater, will the wishes of the two Wisches and one little dog be granted? After all, they have been giving each other what they needed all along.

Though Lucy feels a bit slow for today's kids living a more fast-paced life, it is still a very satisfying story. It is written in four acts in the third person, and though the duotone oil painted illustrations are simple, they are loaded with wonderful details throughout. The first three acts are told from the perspective of either Eleanor, her dad, or Lucy, while the fourth act belongs to all three. There is also a definite old fashioned feeling of the vaudeville theater in the simple, straightforward text, and while somewhat repetitive for plot purposes, not a word is wasted or gratuitous. Young readers will immediately be drawn to Eleanor's kindness, and relate to her father's wish to succeed at what he loves to do, and cheer for Lucy as she looks for food scrapes and a new home. Pair this with Douglas to use as a picture book for older readers or for your transitional readers.

Douglas written and illustrated by Randy Cecil
2019, Candlewick Press, 120 pages
Once again we return for more thrilling adventures in Bloomville in this companion to Lucy. Every Saturday afternoon, Iris Espinoza puts on her sister's blue sweater and, following the tantalizing scent of fresh popcorn, heads to the Majestic Theater for the matinee movie. On her way to the theater, Iris passes a big cat with six toes on each paw lazing on one stoop, and a boy named Everette, who wants nothing more than to have a nice pet, stilling on another stoop.

Arriving at the Majestic, Iris buys a bag of popcorn and a theater ticket, then heads to her favorite seat in the front row. As she watches the film and eats her popcorn, she's joined by a little mouse, who also enjoys popcorn, and who decides to take a little nap in the pocket of the sweater Iris is wearing.

When Iris gets home and discovers the little mouse has come home with her, she decides to name it Douglas, after her favorite actor, Douglas Fairbanks, not knowing the mouse is female. But when Iris hears her sister coming, she quickly hides Douglas in the sweater pocket, the very sweater Adriana has decided to wear to meet her boyfriend's parents. On her way to his house, she is followed by the six-toed cat, a champion mouser who has caught Douglas's scent. Imagine everyone's surprise when it is discovered that Adriana has a mouse in her pocket, including Douglas. She now has to escape the boyfriend's apartment, and find her way back to the Majestic Theater, facing all kinds of perils and even more cats besides the six-toed mouser.

Organized into four acts, written in the third person, and each presenting a characters point of view, this book's story and format echoes the old silent movies Iris loves to watch. Like the movies, there is no dialogue, and the oil painted illustrations are done in black and white, with the exception of the two-page spread that introduced each act. These are done in a circle that has the sense of looking through a camera lens. Sandwiched within the story are entertaining subplots and astute readers will recognize people and places from Lucy. And the ending...well, who knows what further adventures Douglas will have after she and the new friends she meets along the ways, and whom Iris names Pearl after a favorite actress, Pearl While, both decide to take a name in the pocket of the sweater Iris is wearing. Pair this with Lucy to use as a picture book for older readers or for your transitional readers.
Two for Thursday: Lucy and Douglas
Lucy and Douglas are recommended for readers age 6+
Both books were ARCs provided by the publisher, Candlewick Press

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Christine Hong is a quiet, reserved Chinese American girl concerned with her grades, church, going to Chinese school, and playing the violin, who nevertheless always feels inadequate in her more traditional Chinese family where hard work and doing well are so highly valued.

When her parents learn that a single Chinese American woman, YuWen Lin and her daughter Moon, are having money problems, they offer them their extra apartment. Moon is Christine's age but the two girls couldn't be more different. Moon is confident, loud, loves listening to K-pop, is vegetarian and Buddhist, and does not attend Chinese school. Moon is also quick with her fists when someone gets in her face. At first, Christine tries to keeps her distance from Moon. Yet, despite their differences, the two girls become best friends and little by little Moon begins to broaden Christine's interests, interests that Christine gladly embraces.

Now that Moon is going to the same school as Christine, she soon begins to make other friends and becomes quite popular. Still, the two friends hang out together, listening to music and dancing. Then, one day, Moon confides in Christine that she believes she is actually a celestial being who doesn't belong on earth and that someday the angel people she constantly draws are going to come for her. Christine seems to accept this but when her grades slip, she starts to distance herself from Moon again. Now, Moon's popularity is causing Christine to feel jealous and at a birthday party for one of the other kids, she leaves Moon's private notebook with her angel people drawings in it for the other kids to see. When they make fun of Moon, she settles things with her fists. Leaving the party, Moon collapses and ends up in the hospital with a serious illness requiring brain surgery.

While Moon is recovering in the hospital, Christine has a lot to think about, including her own feelings and actions. But after all is said and done, is it possible for these two girls to remain friends?

There are a number of things in this graphic novel that I really liked:

First, the illustrations are very appealing. They are simple  and clean and capture the different characters personalities and emotions with clarity, and there is no mixing up characters, which can sometimes happen in graphic novels. Perhaps all this is due to Wang using pencil and ballpoint pen to draw the illustrations, then coloring them in digitally. What do you think?
The first time Christine sees Moon at a church recital
I think that Wang has created a Chinese American community that is very true to life and that by creating such different girls, one raised traditionally, one raised more unconventionally, she is able to show some of the difficulties kids like Christine have navigating their lives as second generation kids and coming to terms with who they really are.

Ultimately, though, Stargazing is a wonderful example of the ups and downs of middle grade friendships and how volatile they can sometimes be. Incorporating Moon's brain tumor creates a really transformative event for both girls as they become their more authentic selves. This is a poignant, realistic story that should appeal to all middle grade readers.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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

Friday, January 3, 2020

The 2019 Cybils Award Middle Grade Fiction Finalists

For the past two years, I've had the honor of being the category chair person for the Cybils Award for Middle Grade Fiction. The Cybils Awards are given in 10 categories and every nominated book is read by all the Round One panelists in each category. This year, Middle Grade Fiction had a total of 102 books nominated. That's a lot of reading to do between October 1st and the middle of December, but the dedicated Round One panelists read and read and finally came of with the seven books that they felt were met the combined Cybils standards of "highest literary merit and popular appeal."

First, I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate the authors of these seven finalists. They are

Barbara Dee - Maybe He Just Like You
Sarah Scheerger - Operation Frog Effect
Lindsey Stoddard - Right as Rain
Jamie Sumner - Roll with It
Lynne Kelly - Song for a Whale
Padma Venkatraman - The Bridge Home
Dan Gemeinhart - The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

(I've included their Twitter handles so you can get to know these authors and their work better.)

Next, I'd like to thank the Cybils Round One panelists for all their hard work. They are

Shannon who blogs at Picture Books to YA
Brenda who reviews on Goodreads
Pamela who blogs at Young Adult Books - What We're Reading Now
Julie who blogs at Reading by the Pond
Stacy who blogs at It's All About the Journey
Genevieve Ford who talks books on Twitter
Rae Longest who blogs at Powerful Women Readers

(I've included their links so you can get to know these readers/reviewers better.)

Now, it's time for the Round Two judges to read and decide. The winner will be announced on February 14, 2020. And I can't wait to see what they decide.

FYI: If you are someone who likes to review children's literature from board books to young adult, perhaps becoming a Round One or Round Two judge is something you might like to do. If so, please feel free to visit and explore the Cybils website for more information. BTW, the call for judges goes out in mid-August (and that's a only mere 8 months away).

Have you read any of the Middle Grade Fiction finalists? What do you think about each one? I'd like to know.

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