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I began reading Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go with my adoptive mother and adult adoptee eyes. As I read, I thought often of my pre-teen daughter who is adopted from Haiti. Although the author, Laura Wagner, does not write into the adoption conversation per se, she offers a story of Haiti and its people developed with respect and beauty.
Many people outside Haiti can only see the country through the perspective of “other”, but Wagner does the excellent work of telling the country’s story of difficulties, danger, and poverty alongside stories of humanity, hope, and strength.
When I heard Sita Brahmachari had written a sequel to Artichokes Hearts (Mira in the Present Tense) I could not wait to get my hands and eyes on it. Like a memorable character does, Mira had gone on living in my mind and I was excited to see where her creator had taken her. But while Brahmachari’s second novel does continue to focus on Mira and includes character references from her previous book it did not feel like a sequel or a continuation from the first novel. So while it did not satisfy my curiosity, it does mean this book can stand on its own. A reader can begin with Jasmine Skies and not feel lost.
Jasmine Skies reintroduces the reader to Mira Levenson at the age of 14. After the passing of her grandfather, family ties were tenuously rekindled and Mira is on the way to Kolkata, India to meet her grandfather’s side of the family for the first time. In her bag she has letters taken without permission from her mother. Mira believes these letters hold the clues to discover the reason her grandfather never returned to India and why Mira’s mother and her same aged cousin, Anjali, stopped speaking. Despite the strained relationship, Mira is excited to be staying with Anjali and her daughter, Priya for three weeks. She is excited to meet members of her family for the first time and to get to know Kolkata, the place her grandfather told her stories about all her her life.
In Lulu and the Duck in the Park, Lulu and Mellie’s adventure begins when two dogs become unleashed at the park during their class trip. Admist the foray, ducks’ nests were disturbed and eggs were broken—except one egg in particular that Lulu whisks into her pocket to protect it. She carries the egg back to school with her and tries her best to keep it a secret—for a short while, even from her friend Mellie. Her secret becomes too difficult to withhold as the egg slowly begins to hatch under her sweater which sets off a series of peculiar and laughable antics from Lulu.
The main character, LuLu, has an audacious personality and knack for mischief that is reminiscent of protagonists like Amber Brown and Junie B. Jones; but, instead of having a penchant for bubblegum, she loves animals and, notably so, she is a little brown girl. Readers who were acquainted with Lulu in the Lulu board books will remember that Lulu’s parents are a white mom and brown-skinned father of African Descent. These books are a fun read, the plots are humorously suspenseful, and the narratives are written seamlessly in age-appropriate language that I think will captivate young readers’ attention. I would highly recommend both of these books for boys and girls who are being introduced to longer texts and building their endurance for following a more complex narrative; surely, they will not have a problem with “seeing” themselves in gutsy, little Lulu.
Reviewer: LaTonya R. Jackson
If your readers like the Magic Tree House series, they will probably be interested in Nina and the Traveling Spice Shed. Nina is a British Indian, who really would like nothing to do with India. At school, Nina’s class is doing projects on foreign countries and despite her parents’ strong suggestions she wants to report on any country BUT India. Yet, she arrives late to school and the only country left is India. Not able to face her parents and her disappointment after school, Nina visits her eccentric Aunt Nishi. Aunt Nishi sends her to the spice shed in her backyard and that is where Nina’s traveling adventures begin. Nina’s first stop—there are more books to come—is predictably India. She discovers India is more than “hot weather and poor people”. (more…)
This book, written by husband and wife team Rick Noguchi & Deneen Jenks, is a real gem. It tells the story of a young Japanese American girl, Mariko, and her family as they return to California after being imprisoned in American concentration camps (also known as internment camps or relocation centers; simply referred to as ‘Camp’ by Japanese Americans of that time) during World War II. An authors’ note provides additional context at the end of the book.
I found this book to be excellent in several ways. To begin with, the artwork of Michelle Reiko Kumata is a revelation. It is apparent that the illustrations were based on actual black-and-white photos from the 1940s, but Kumata’s pictures bring the story to life in beautiful full color. Drawn with bold outlines, her pictures are full of patterns and textures from period fabrics, shadowing that adds depth to every scene, and subtle, authentic details such as the furoshiki-wrapped bundle that one woman carries on her way to Camp. Though the story’s subject matter is far from uplifting, it was still a joy to gaze at every page of this book. (more…)
Mariko Nagai’s Dust of Eden is a lovely, spare story told by a young Japanese American protagonist who goes by both her American name, Mina, as well as her Japanese name, Masako. This book is a series of images and scenes that tell how a young girl in the United States in the 1940s navigates being both Mina and Masako, both American and Japanese, both feeling at home and feeling alien.
The novel is a set of poems from Mina’s point of view interspersed with letters to and from her best friend in Seattle as well as short personal essays Mina writes for school. These lyric pieces are arranged chronologically and geographically, with the first poem of the book titled “Seattle, Washington October 1941,” and the last poem called “Epilogue December 1945.” In the span between, Mina details her life in Seattle right before Pearl Harbor (a life filled with her parents, grandfather, brother, best friend, and school), and she writes us through her father’s unjust imprisonment in Montana after Pearl Harbor and her family’s internment first in Washington and then in Idaho, ending with her brother volunteering to fight for the Allies and her family finally being allowed to return to their Seattle home after the war is over.
Varsha Bajaj’s novel, Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood presents the story of a bi-racial Indian-America girl who’s never met her father. She’s spent her life living in Houston, Texas with her mother being a happy, well-loved American girl who only knows one thing about her father: he is from India.
The story opens with Abby having an allergic reaction to coconut. After having to admit she knows nothing about the medical history of the father of her child, Abby’s mother realizes she needs to attempt to contact him, something she has not tried since she found out she was pregnant. After a very small window of waiting, she is finally able to contact her ex-boyfriend and as it turns out, he never received the registered letter she sent all those years ago explaining Abby’s existence. Abby not only has to deal with the shock that her father never knew about her—up until this point she believed he simply didn’t want to be a part of her life—but she also finds out he is a huge Bollywood star. The rest of the novel revolves around Abby traveling to Mumbai to meet her father and the other half of her ethnicity.
Due to unfortunate zoning laws, Reyna Fey becomes the new girl at school and misses her old life dearly. While at her old school she was not part of the most popular crowd, she did have a core group of friends who’d been BFFs most their lives. Reyna makes for a relatable teen character in that she has a lot of drama going on at home and school. Her mother was killed in a car accident 7 years ago and since then her father has been raising her by himself. But, his most recent girlfriend, Lucy, is becoming a permanent fixture in their household and Reyna is not coping well with that scenario. Reyna finds Lucy particularly intolerable because a few months prior to the beginning of the story, Lucy’s reckless driving caused a wreck that severely injured, and almost killed, Reyna’s dad.
Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom written by Lisa Tucker McElroy and Illustrated by Diane Paterson, tells a story written entirely in epistolary form in which nine-year-old Lizzy writes letters to her mother, who is deployed and fighting in a war overseas. In Love, Lizzy, Lizzy asks hard-hitting questions about patriotism and “how long does defending freedom take?” The reader follows Lizzy’s letters from June to May of the following year as Lizzy deals with missing her mother for holidays, her birthday, and school activities like Lizzy’s soccer tournament. Each letter feels personal to Lizzy’s character, but also resonates with the universal difficulties that any child missing a military parent would endure: the normalcy of their previous parent-child relationship changed into more complex feelings of uncertainty and anxiety over their parent’s safety.
Lizzy’s letters feel more intimate due to Paterson’s illustrations featuring pictures of Lizzy engaged in the activities of her daily life about which she is writing. There are also photos and doodles from Lizzy to her mother included in the letters that make Lizzy’s character more dynamic. The most interesting of these doodles are the maps that Lizzy draws, which start out small, showing the private space of her bedroom, and eventually grow broader and more global—until they feature the town, the United States, and a map of the entire globe. These illustrations make Lizzy’s story feel all the more personal by adding complexity to her character.
Love, Lizzy can be an important resource for any parent who is missing a loved one due to their military service. Not only is the story relevant to many American children, but the book also contains practical advice for military families whose children are dealing with the separation of a deployed parent.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended Ages 6-11
Reviewer: Erin Koehler
You’ve heard of Helen Keller, but do you know Belle? Helen Keller’s Best Friend Belle by Holly M. Barry is a furry tale (tail?) about Helen’s adventures with her childhood friend, an old setter named Belle. This children’s book is basically a diluted version of Arthur Penn’s 1962 biopic, The Miracle Worker. The readers are introduced to Helen at birth and quickly learn that an illness leaves her completely deaf and blind before she reaches her 2nd birthday. From that point on, her world is filled with soundless darkness that only her dogs can comfort her in for the next few years.