The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat

The Last Mapmaker

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 12, 2022

Pages: 368

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Fantasy, Mapmaking, Explorers, Ship, Adventure, Dragons

Book Jacket Synopsis:

In a fantasy adventure every bit as compelling and confident in its world building as her Newbery Honor Book A Wish in the Dark, Christina Soontornvat explores a young woman’s struggle to unburden herself of the past and chart her own destiny in a world of secrets. As assistant to Paiyoon, Mangkon’s most celebrated mapmaker, twelve-year-old Sai plays the part of a well-bred young lady with a glittering future. In reality, her father, Mud, is a conman.  In a kingdom where the status of one’s ancestors dictates their social position, the truth could ruin her.

Sai seizes the chance to join an expedition to chart the southern seas, but she isn’t the only one aboard with secrets. When Sai learns that the ship might be heading for the fabled Sunderlands—a land of dragons, dangers, and riches beyond imagining—she must weigh the cost of her dreams. Vivid, suspenseful, and thought-provoking, this tale of identity and integrity is as beautiful and intricate as the maps of old.

Why I like The Last Mapmaker:

Set in a Thai fantasy world, The Last Mapmaker is a suspenseful and thrilling high-seas adventure that will captivate readers, It will introduce them to some history of early colonizers exploring uncharted countries and staking their claims. And sometimes there are environmental consequences that are detrimental to the country.  

Soontornvat’s richly textured novel is original, fast-paced and tightly plotted with surprise twists, secrets, and betrayals that will keep readers engaged. Her prose is lyrical and visual. Readers will experience both the beauty and wrath of the sea, deal with sea sickness, smell the salty air, and enjoy the time in ports.

The diverse cast of characters are complex, messy and real. Sai is a determined and resourceful character who dreams big. She gets her chance when the aging mapmaker, Paiyoon, invites Sai to assist him on expedition to chart and discover the fabled Sunderlands for the Queen. His handwriting has become shaky and Sai can duplicate his writing without anyone knowing — their secret. He is somewhat fatherly toward Sai. The Captain of the ship is a female war hero, Anchalee Sangra, who is professional and aloof. Sai connects with the Captain’s friend Rian Prasomsap, who takes her under her wings, but she has her own agenda. Readers will enjoy seeing women in leadership roles.  Sai recognizes a crew member on the ship, Grebe, who could reveal some of her own secrets. And Sai’s relationship with with a colorful pickpocket/stowaway, Bo, could get her in a lot of trouble. 

When the Captain suddenly falls ill, the voyage takes a dramatic turn and the captain’s friend, Rian takes command of the ship. She convinces the crew to chart a course for the fabled Sunderlands, a place thought to be beseeched by dragons. 

This story deals with some serious themes written in a way that is relatable to middle grade students. It has a contemporary takeaway for readers about being true to yourself and charting the right course in your life when others disagree — much like navigating a course through an unmapped ocean.  It is easy to lose yourself in The Last Mapmaker. I highly recommend this story to those who enjoy fantasy, adventure and history. I will be reading this gem again!

Christina Soontornvat is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books for children of all ages, including A Wish in the Dark and All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, both of which received Newberry Honors. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two young children and one old cat.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

Who Are Your People? by Bakari Sellers

Who Are Your People?

Bakari Sellers, Author

Reggie Brown, Illustrator

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Jan. 11, 2022

Suitable for ages: 4-9

Themes:  African Americans, Family, Ancestors, Pride, Community, Dreams

Opening: When you meet someone for the first time, they might ask, “Who are your people?” and “Where are you from?”

Synopsis:

In these pages is a timeless celebration of the individuals and experiences that help shape young children into the most remarkable and unique beings that they can be.

New York Times bestselling author and CNN analyst Bakari Sellers brings this inspiration, lyrical text about family and community to life with illustrations from Reggie Brown.

Why I like Who Are Your People?

Bakari Sellers’s beautiful picture book celebrates who we are and the people we become. It depicts an African American father who encourages his two children to know their descendants and be proud of the things they accomplished as great activists who struggled for justice, equal rights, voting rights and the hope for a brighter future.  Sellers’s prose is eloquent and it beautifully transitions from the past to the present community that shapes us and encourages dreams. Reggie Brown’s richly textured and vivid illustrations carry the story. Lovely collaboration. Be prepared to read this uplifting book again and again. It is a perfect class read aloud. 

Resources: Although this book is for Black children, it really is a book for ALL children.  We all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and do the best we can to make a contribution in the world.  So challenge kids and ask them what they dream about and what they want to do to make their world better. Encourage them to interview their grandparents and family members.  Ask them to draw pictures or share their stories. 

Bakari Sellers made history in 2006 when, at just twenty-two years old, he defeated a twenty-six-year incumbent state representative to become the youngest member of the South Carolina state legislature and the youngest African American elected official in the nation. He has been named to TIME’s 40 Under 40 list the The Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans list. Sellers is the author of the New York Times bestseller My Vanishing Country. He practices law, hosts The Bakari Sellers Podcast, and is a political commentator at CNN. Visit Sellers at his website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

Over and Out by Jenni L. Walsh

Over and Out

Jenni L. Walsh, Author

Scholastic, Historical fiction, Mar. 1, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Family, Cold War, Berlin Wall, Secret police, Oppression, Family Escape

Synopsis:

Sophie has spent her entire life behind the Berlin Wall, guarded by land mines, towers, and attack dogs. A science lover, Sophie dreams of becoming an inventor… but that’s unlikely in East Berlin, where the Stasi, the secret police, are always watching.

Though she tries to avoid their notice, when her beloved neighbor is arrested, Sophie is called to her principal’s office. There, a young Stasi officer asks Sophie if she’ll spy on her neighbor after she is released. Sophie doesn’t want to agree, but in reality has no choice: The Stasi threaten to bring her mother, who has a disability from post-polio syndrome, to an institution if Sophie does not comply. 

Sophie is backed into a corner, until she finds out, for the first time, that she has family on the other side of the Wall, in the West. This could be what she needs to attempt an escape with her mother to freedom — if she can invent her way out. 

Jenni L. Walsh, author of I Am Defiance, tells a page-turning story of a young girl taking charge of her own destiny, and helping others do the same, in the face of oppression.

Perfect for fans of Alan Gratz and Jennifer A. Nielsen, a gripping and accessible story of a young girl from Cold War East Berlin who is forced to spy for the secret police… but is determined to escape to freedom.

Why I like Over and Out:

Over and Out is a courageous and suspenseful tale that has many heart-stopping moments. Expertly researched, Jenni L. Walsh’s story is based on the true stories of real people. Their stories are woven together into a fictionalized tale that involves danger and a desire to save human lives at the risk of losing their own.

Sophie’s story is set in East Berlin around 1973, during the Cold War. The wall was erected in 1961 and came down in 1989. Readers will get a good glimpse of what life is like for those living there. The government provides/owns everything. Luxuries like cars must be requested. People wear what is available in stores. Food is rationed and people stand in long lines daily to get their allowance. People can’t choose their own jobs, they are assigned. Only one middle-class job is permitted in a family. Mail is opened and read. There are listening bugs planted everywhere. Those living in East Berlin can never visit West Berlin, but the same isn’t true for West Berliners. 

The story is driven by a cast of young and brave characters who are multi-layered. Sophie is smart and clever, and loves science and inventing things. She was born in East Berlin — the day the wall went up — even though her family lived in West Berlin. She and her mother are trapped and assume new identities,  so they can fly under the radar for 12 years. Her mother has polio and uses a wheelchair. Her best friends are Katrina and her babysitter, Monika,18. 

Sophie is approached by by the Stasi (secret police) to spy on her friend, Monika who doesn’t like the job she’s been assigned. Sophie is threatened by the Stasi that if she doesn’t co-operate, her disabled mother will be sent to an institution to live. The Stasi uses psychological mind games on children to get them to spy on teachers, family, and friends. This is the turning point for Sophie and she knows she needs to find a way to escape. 

Sophie narrates the story. Her voice is believable and she is very brave. I loved how the author weaves Sophie’s love of science and invention into her escape plan, along with the help from her best friend, Katrina. Together they have to figure out precise distances, gravity, tension, and torsion for their escape.  And they have to find right light-weight materials that are strong enough to carry them to freedom. Sorry, but I won’t divulge her escape plans. You’ll have to read the book. 

Over and Out begs the question for readers — would you have the courage to plan an escape, knowing the odds are against you? Well many did, as the author shares other escape attempts throughout the book — digging underground tunnels, walking tight ropes, derailing a train, flying an ultra-light plane, hiding in a truck of a car and flying homemade hot-air balloons. 

This riveting and fast-paced adventure is a great addition to any classroom and is a timely and important discussion book.

Jenni L. Walsh is the author of the companion to this book, I am Defiance: the She Dared books: Bethany Hamilton and Malala Yousafzai; and many other books for young readers and adults. Her passion lies in transporting readers to another world, be it in historical or contemporary settings. She is a proud graduate of Villanova University and lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband, daughter, son, and a handful of pets. Learn more about Jenni and her books at her website http://jennilwalsh.com,  and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @jennilwalsh.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

Out on a Limb by Jordan Morris

Out on a Limb 

Jordan Morris, Author

Charlie Mylie, Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Feb. 15, 2022

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Broken bones, Cast, Injuries, Healing, Patience

Opening: “Lulu surveyed her sympathy trove and smiled. Two new games, three good books, six cards, a dozen daisies, a slew of balloons, and a matching yellow cast for Bonnie Bear. So far, Lulu mused, this broken leg isn’t so bad.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Lulu’s leg is broken, but she’s OK. Bonnie Bear has a matching yellow cast. Well-wishers deliver new books, sweet cards, and happy daisies. She finds new ways to do ordinary things—like taking a bath or wearing her favorite pants.

As time wears on, the newness of the cast wears off and the weariness sets in. Lulu grows bored and grumpy by day. Her cast becomes itchy and twitchy at night. Eventually, it’s time to get the cast off, but Lulu’s not ready. What if her leg can’t do all of the things it used to do? What if it breaks again? A visit from Grandpa, a well-timed letter, and the power of healing help get Lulu back on her feet.

Why I like Out on a Limb:

Jordan Morris takes readers on a realistic journey of what happens when Lulu breaks two bones in her leg and deals with her emotions. It concludes when Lulu’s cast is removed and she’s challenged to find the courage to run and play without being afraid she’ll hurt her leg again.  The story line is educational, hopeful and entertaining, 

There is another intriguing journey taking place in Out on a Limb, with a mysterious letter that patiently takes it’s time to reach Lulu. Make sure you look at the endpapers where the letter first appears and follow it’s journey in the story as it reaches Lulu at the perfect moment. Clever addition to the story.     

Charlie Mylie’s predominantly black and white illustrations with splashes of yellow, are expressive and capture Lulu’s emotions, caution and courage.

This is a perfect book to gift any child that is wearing a cast. It’s a great book to read in the pediatrician’s office. And good for teachers who might want to educate primary school children on why another child is in a cast.  

Resources: Many kids will identify with Lulu, so this is a perfect resource book to add to home and school book shelves. Parents will also identify with this story. Good time to share experiences.

Jordan Morris is a designer and creative director in Kansas City, Missouri. A long time ago, she fell off a trampoline and broke her arm. This is her debut picture book.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.
 
*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Monster in the Lake by Louie Stowell

The Monster in the Lake, Vol. 2

Louie Stowell, Author

Davide Ortu, Illustrator

Walker Books US, Fiction, Feb. 8, 2022

Pages: 197

Suitable for ages: 7-9

Themes: Wizards, Spells, Libraries, Dragons, Magical creatures, Evil curses, Diversity

Opening: “In the Book Wood beneath the library, Kit Spencer was practicing spells. She was a stock girl, with red hair, pale skin, and more mud than you’d usually see on a person who wasn’t a professional pig wrestler…Her goal was to raise the fireball above her head, the lower it to the ground. Faith was guiding her through the spell.” 

Book Jacket Synopsis

Kit Spencer may be the youngest wizard ever, but she sure doesn’t feel like the best wizard. Her magic keeps going wrong, and other weird stuff is happening: talking animals, exploding fireballs, and a very strange new arrival in the local park pond.

She sets off with her two best friends, Alita and Josh and Faith the librarian to investigate with wild magic that’s causing so much commotion. Joining them is a half dragon, half dog named Dogon who breathes fire and loves to be petted. But something is effecting Dogon too. 

Their journey takes them to Scotland, where they meet a loch-full of cranky mermaids, but the danger is greater than they imagined. Will they be able to set things right before the wild and dangerous magic spreads further?

Why I like The Monster in the Lake:

What fun it is introducing this wizarding series to emerging readers who aren’t ready for Harry Potter and other MG fantasy books. In the Monster in the Lake, (Book 2), Louie Stowell creates an exciting and appealing adventure-packed story with magical creatures, diverse characters, and an engaging and suspenseful plot with unexpected twists. The storytelling is straightforward and the pacing is fast and humorous. 

The three diverse friends are lovable characters, but have very different personalities. Kit is a spirited character who is reckless and makes a lot of mistakes. She’d rather play outdoors than read a book. Josh and Alita aren’t wizards, but they both have their own unique talents and are smart, and avid readers. Josh is always taking notes and keeping things straight. This book begins with a letter he writes to his “future self,” which gives a readers a a peek into the first book, A Dragon in the Library. Alita is good at organizing and has a special way with animals. An unlikely group of friends, they do support each other and work well together. Faith, the wizard librarian, is believable and grounds the story. There are many laughable moments. 

I really like this charming and humorous chapter book series. There is a quiz at the end of the book that can be used to launch a discussion about the story. There is a third book in the works and the author leaves room for adventure and Kit’s character growth as she slowly learns to control her magic. I think Kit’s going to be an amazing wizard. This is the perfect summer adventure for young readers looking to escape into a world of magic, libraries, spells, a dragon-dog, and an unseen ancient evil presence trying to regain it’s power!

David Ortu’s pen and ink illustrations are playful. They capture the characters personalities, their reactions to stepping into the pages of a book to transport themselves to far off places, and their encounters with magical creatures. Ortu shares just enough art to spark readers imaginations! 

Louie Stowell started her career writing carefully researched books about space, ancient Egypt, politics and science, but eventually lapsed into making things up. She likes writing about dragons, wizards, vampires, fairies, monsters and parallel worlds. Stowell lives in London with her wife, Karen; her dog, Buffy; and a creepy puppet that is probably cursed. Visit Stowell at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Walker Books US in exchange for a review. 

Papa, Daddy and Riley by Seamus Kirst

Papa, Daddy, & Riley

Seamus Kirst, Author

Devon Hozwarth, Illustrator

Magination Press, Fiction, 2020

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Families, Love, Diversity, Gay fathers, LGBTQ+

Opening: “On the first day of school, my parents walked me to my classroom. My friends were being dropped off by their families, too….I was with my dads.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Riley is Papa’s princess and Daddy’s dragon. She love her two fathers! When Riley’s classmate asks her which dad is her real one, Riley is confused. She doesn’t want to have to pick one or the other.

Families are made of love in this heartwarming story that shows there a lots of ways to be part of one.

Why I like Papa, Daddy, and Riley:

Seamus Kirst has written a sweet story about different families that is both contemporary and realistic. It is an important book for young children as it demonstrates how curious, open and honest kids are with each other. When Olive sees Riley’s two fathers on the first day of school, she asks, “So, which one is your dad dad? And where is your mom?” The question confuses and upsets Riley. She has to choose? Both Daddy and Papa reassure Riley that she doesn’t have to choose and tell her that “Love makes a family.”

This is the first time I’ve seen the expression “belly mommy” in reference to the woman who gives birth to Riley. This is a nice inclusion. Riley even has a picture of her. (This meant a lot to me because we adopted two children and I always wished we had photographs of their birth mothers.) 

The different family representations throughout this book, will suit many families. Some kids have one parent, some have two. Some families have stepparents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who care for them. Some kids have foster parents. Kids need to see their families represented in books. That is why this book is so important.

Devon Holzwarth’s beautiful illustrations are rendered in bright pastels and watercolors. The children’s facial expressions and body language are spot on and so truth to life. The pages are filled with different family representations. I love the diversity.

Resources: This book is a resource. It will prompt many interesting discussions among many different or diverse families.  

Seamus Kirst is a writer who work has been published in The Washington Post, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, Forbes, The Advocate, and Vice. He has always loved reading picture books and is still in slight disbelief he has published one of his own. He is absolutely honored to be able to contribute to LGBTQ representation that he wished he could have read and seen when he was young. He lives in New York with his two cats, Sugar Baby and Bernie Sanders.  Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @SeamusKirst or on Facebook @seamuspatrickkirst. 

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.
 
*Copy provided by Magination Press in ecchange for a review. 

 

 

Omar Rising by Aisha Saeed

Omar Rising

Aisha Saeed, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Feb 1, 2022

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Pakistan, Family Life, Education, Boarding school, Dreams, Courage, Social Injustice

Synopsis:

In this gripping companion to New York Times bestseller Amal Unbound, Amal’s lifelong friend Omar shows the world that he’s not going to accept being treated like a second-class citizen at an elite boarding school.

When Omar is chosen for a scholarship to the prestigious Ghalib Academy Boarding School, it is a game changer. It  will give him, the son of a servant, a once-in-a-lifetime an opportunity for a better future — and his whole village is cheering him on.

Omar can’t wait to dive into his classes, play soccer, and sign up for astronomy club — but those hopes are dashed when he learns first-year scholarship students can’t join clubs or teams. Instead, they must earn their keep doing menial chores. Even worse, it turns out the school deliberately “weeds out” scholarship kids by requiring them to get grades that are nearly impossible — better than kids who can pay tuition — making it almost impossible for scholarship students to graduate.

While Omar is devastated to find such odds stacked against him, the injustice of it all motivates him to try to do something else that seems impossible: change a rigged system. He and the other scholarship students begin to study and work together, forming their own study group and “family.” There is power in numbers. 

Why I like Omar Rising:

Fans of Aisha Saeed’s Amal Unbound, will eagerly devour Omar Rising, a courageous and hopeful story about believing in yourself and finding courage to change an unfair educational system. Saeed’s rich and bold storytelling, coupled with a complex look at the social injustices between classes, makes this story an uplifting contemporary tale for middle grade readers. And look at that beautiful cover!

The all-Pakistani cast of characters is authentic. Omar has his turn in the spotlight when he’s accepted to Ghalib Academy, Omar has the support and pride of his village cheering him — a lot of pressure for this serious and diligent and “stubbornly optimistic” 12-year-old.  Omar’s is pleased that his Ghalib roommate is fellow scholarship student, Kareem. He also makes friends with Naveed, a star scholarship student ready to graduate, who advises the boys throughout the year. The threesome will come to depend upon each other if they are going to survive.  When other students learn about the unfair treatment of the scholarship students, they want to help. With the support of all the students, they may have a chance to make real change for themselves and others. 

The chapters are short, with 4-5 pages. With such a compelling and suspenseful plot, it is a real page-turner. This book belongs in every school, and home library. It is a thought-provoking story that will lead to some very interesting discussions among readers. It’s important that readers learn about the educational barriers other kids face globally.

Aisha Saeed is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Amal Unbound, also and Indie Next Pick and a Global Read Aloud selection, and Yes No Maybe So (co-authored with Becky Albertalli). Her other highly acclaimed books include Written in the Stars, and the picture book Bilal Cooks Daal. As one of the founding members of the much-talked-about #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, she is helping change the conversation about diverse books. Aisha lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and sons. Visit Aisha at her website

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

Dear Reader: A Love Letter to Libraries by Tiffany Rose

Dear Reader: A Love Letter to Libraries

Tiffany Rose, Author and Illustrator

Little Bee Books, Fiction, Feb. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Diversity, Representation in books, Libraries, Call to action, Make a difference

Opening: Dear Reader, do you see that little girl down there? That’s me with the big hair, the one surrounded by all the books. Look!

Book Jacket Synopsis:

A voracious young reader loves nothing more than going to the library and poring through books all day, making friends with characters and going off on exciting adventures with them. However, the more she reads, the more she notices that most of the books don’t have characters that look like her, and the only ones that do tell about the most painful parts of their history. Where are the heroines with Afros exploring other planets and the superheroes with Afros saving the day?

Why I like Dear Reader:

Wow! I really love this powerful picture book by Tiffany Rose! And it includes one of my favorite themes: kids making a difference. The illustrations are vibrant, expressive, colorful and deliver the message of the importance of representation of people of color in books.

A spirited brown-skinned girl devours books of all sizes and topics, She vicariously sees herself as a heroine who saves the day and goes on many adventures with the characters who become her friends. But, not one character looks like her. Yes, she finds stories about historical characters who deal with struggle, hardship and pain. But she wants to see herself in characters who do magic, fight villains and dragons, 

She invites readers to join her in her call to action to get more diverse books in the hands of readers. She wants to see books that represent people of all color. She urges them to write their own books with the characters and adventures they want to read.  This is a perfect home or classroom read aloud!

Resources: Encourage kids to write and draw a simple picture book where they see themselves represented in adventure stories and as superheroes. There are crayons of different skin tones available now.  Grab a box so kids of all ethnicities can match their own skin tones. 

Tiffany Rose is a left-handed illustrator and author who’s currently living and working in China. She’s a lover of coffee, wanderlust, massive curly Afros, and children being their imaginative, quirky, free selves. She is a full-time teachers, part-time author/illustrator, and world traveler. Rose remembers what it was like as a brown child not seeing herself reflected in the books and characters she loved so dearly, and has been inspired to create art and meaningful stories, like this book and her debut, M is for Melanin, so that underrepresented children and see themselves in books. Pencil in hand, she’s changing that percentage one illustration at a time.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

I Am Courage: A Book of Resilience by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

I Am Courage: A Book of Resilience

Susan Verde, Author

Peter H. Reynolds, Illustrator

Abrams Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 7 2021

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Courage, Challenges, Resilience

Opening: “When there are challenges in front of me, when I feel unstable, like I might fall…and I think about turning back or giving up.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

When we picture someone brave we might think they’re fearless, but real courage comes from feelings scared and facing what challenges us anyway. When our minds tell us “I can’t,” we can look inside ourselves and find the strength to say “Yes, I CAN!”

From the New York Times bestselling team behind the I Am Series comes a triumphant celebration of everyday courage: Believing in ourselves, speaking out, trying new things, asking for help, and getting back up no matter how many times we may fall.

Grounded in mindfulness and awareness, I Am Courage is an empowering reminder that we can conquer anything.

Why I love I Am Courage:

Susan Verde’s beautiful prose and timely message is empowering for young children who may be a little anxious about trying something new, but bravely push through their fear and try anyway. In doing so, they build courage and resilience. Readers will see themselves in the main character, who rides his bike through a scary forest, crosses a bridge and takes a few tumbles along the way.  He gets up and faces his challenges, even more determined to succeed. He’s not afraid to ask for support and he’s there to help and encourage others. 

Reynolds’s engaging illustrations are rendered in ink and watercolor and set the mood for the  story. I have really enjoyed their collaborative I Am Series. The series really helps children discover and use the important tools within themselves that will last a lifetime. Follow Verde  and Reynolds  online at their websites.

Resources:  Make sure you check out the Author’s Note and extensive backmatter, which includes special yoga poses and breathing and mindfulness techniques to help readers feel confident.  

Susan Verde is the bestselling author of I Am Yoga, I Am Peace, I Am Human, I Am Love, I Am One, and The Museum, all illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, as well as Rock ‘n’ Roll Soul, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. She teaches yoga and mindfulness to children and lives with her three children in East Hampton, New York.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

Dream, Annie, Dream by Waka T. Brown

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – May 1 – 31, 2022

Dream, Annie, Dream

Waka T. Brown, Author

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Feb. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Japanese Americans, Differences, Diversity, Middle School, Theater, Racism, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis:

You can be anything you want to be.

Armed with her sixth-grade teacher’s parting words of encouragement, incoming seventh grader Annie Inoue was ready to take on the next year of her life doing just that: following her dreams.

As seventh grade unfolds, so do the opportunities for dreaming. There are basketball tryouts, Annie’s first  crush, and most importantly, auditions for a huge middle school production of the The King and I that Annie is dying to be in. So when she lands a prominent role in the play, she’s ecstatic…until she hears murmurs around school that she only got the role because it’s an Asian play with Asian characters. Then, she’s stunned. This was her dream, and now her classmates want to take it away from her? 

Devastated but determined, Annie channels her hurt into a new dream: showing everyone what she’s made of.  

Waka T. Brown, author of While I Was Away, delivers an uplifting coming-of-age story about a Japanese American girl’s fight to make space for herself in a world that claims to celebrate everyone’s differences but doesn’t always follow through.

Why I like Dream, Annie, Dream:

Waka T. Brown has written a captivating book that is so full of heart and big dreams. But it also tells a story of how American Asians are stereotyped and diversity is not necessarily welcome — an important theme running throughout the story. Set in 1987, there weren’t many people of color in movies, on TV or in books at that time.

I fell in love with Annie (Aoi Inoue) right away. Like Annie, I loved theater, music and the arts in middle grade and high school, so it stirred up many fond memories. I believe her big dreams will appeal to students who love the theater. Annie also loves playing on the basketball team, even though she’s short. Readers will love her spirit, enthusiasm and work ethic. They will identify with her dreams of being on Broadway or playing in the NBA.  But middle school is tough, especially when her best friends, Jessica and Ben unfairly turn on her because of the racism present. But this talented 12-year-old is determined to remain true to herself no matter what others think. The author nailed the middle school drama. 

I enjoyed how the director, Sam, involves both the middle school and high students in The King and I. It allows the students to bond and Annie learns a lot about high school dances, Homecoming, and Friday night football games.  They end up idolizing some of the high school actors. Well done.

Annie’s family is strict, but loving and supportive in an interesting way. They understand what Annie is up against and are concerned that her aspirations are a dead end for her. Her father is a mathematics professor and and her mother is a stay-at-home mom, who isn’t comfortable socializing.  Readers will learn learn a lot about Annie’s culture. I enjoyed the role Annie plays in inspiring her mother to pursue her own dream of becoming a nurse.

Dream. Annie, Dream is a delightful read that will also open readers to many interesting discussions that impact our world today. I also recommend you read the Author’s Note at the end of the book. It will give readers insight into the story.

Waka T. Brown was the first American born in her family. She is a Stanford graduate with a master’s in secondary education. With her background, she’s worked to further US-Japan relations and promoted cultural exchange and awareness. She’s currently  an instructor at Stanford Program on International and Cross Cultural Education (SPICE), authoring curriculum on several international topics and winning the Association for Asian Studies’ Franklin R, Buchanan Prize. Waka’s also been awarded the US–Japan Foundation and Engage Asia’s 2019 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award for her groundbreaking endeavors in teaching about US–Japan relations to high school students in Japan. While I Was Away was her debut memoir and is followed by Dream, Annie, Dream, her first work of fiction. She lives with her family in the Portland, Oregon area. To learn more about Waka, visit her website

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.