A Wish in the Dark

All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

Beautiful imagery and compelling characters bring the world of Chattana into clear focus. While the story focuses on Pong, the supporting characters add interest and depth. Pong, who was born and raised in prison, believes that his only chance of living a happy life is to flee Chattana. With the help of Father Cham, Pong realizes that he cannot run from his problems. Father Cham explains, “You can’t run away from darkness. It’s everywhere. The only way to see through it is to shine a light.” Because of Father Cham’s wise words, Pong has the strength to stand up for justice and change his world for the better.

A Wish in the Dark shines a light on social issues such as protest, privilege, and justice. However, the book does not preach a particular doctrine. Instead, Pong’s experiences lead him to understand that one mistake or misfortune does not define a person. For example, Pong sees firsthand how people who have been in prison face discrimination. Once they are released, they find it difficult to find jobs and provide for their families. Because Father Cham lives a life dedicated to helping the poor, Pong learns compassion for those who are poor and downtrodden. Father Cham teaches that “desperate people deserve our compassion, not our judgment.”

As a Newbery Honor Book, A Wish in the Dark will leave readers thinking about many of society’s problems. While the story shows the glaring disparities between the wealthy and the poor, it does not give unrealistic solutions. Instead, readers see how “wealth can be as much a curse as a blessing and no guarantee of happiness.” The conclusion doesn’t end with a perfect happy-ever-after, but instead shows that there is hope for the people of Chattana. The story also leaves readers with this question: “Which is better: being safe or having freedom?”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While in prison, two girls beat up Somkit because he won’t give them a mango. Later, “Somkit touched his bruised cheek and winced.”
  • When the mean girls throw Somkit’s food on the ground, Pong “stomped on her bare foot.”
  • Nok, Somkit, and Pong are held captive in a stable. When the guards catch them trying to escape, Nok, “brought the end of it [her staff] down hard on the stable floor. . . The ground shook like an earthquake. . . All four guards lay on their backs on the floor, twitching like fish in the bottom of a boat.” All three run.
  • When a group of over 1,000 peacefully march over a bridge, the Governor orders his men to arrest everyone. “In the Governor’s right palm, a huge ball of light began to swirl, as blindingly bright as the center of a star. It swelled, bigger and bigger. People in the crowd cried out. . .The Governor reared his arm back, as if getting ready to hurl the enormous mass of light forward . . . Pong knew what to do . . . Pong seized the Governor’s wrist and held on. . . As soon as he grabbed the Governor’s wrist, the raw light swirling in the Governor’s right hand went out.”
  • Angry, the Governor “growled like a beast and raised his other fist to strike Pong. As he brought it down, a streak of jet black shot out from the crowd. Nok flew to Pong’s side and crossed her forearms in front of her, blocking the Governor’s fist.” The Governor flees. The protest and the supernatural events (see below) are described over 14 pages.
  • The Governor grabs Pong. “Two hands gripped his shoulders. The last thing Pong saw was the rage in the Governor’s eyes as he yanked Pong toward him, and then hurled him over the side of the bridge.” Someone jumps in after Pong and saves him.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A girl calls her brother a dummy.
  • Somkit tells Pong, “Don’t be a jerk.”
  • A man calls a group of kids “lazy brats.”
  • Crap is used three times. For example, Somkit calls a boat “a piece of crap.”
  • Heck is used five times.

Supernatural

  • Chattana used to have vendors who “sold all manner of magical treats: pears that made you fall in love, cakes frosted with good luck, even a rare fruit shaped like a sleeping baby that would let you live for one thousand and three years if you ate a single bite.”
  • The governor is the only one who can create light that powers the city.
  • Pong is thrown into the river and is drowning when he has a vision. Then, “The white wispy shape formed the body of a man. . . It was Father Cham. . .Pong turned to follow Father Cham’s gaze and saw a pulsing orange glow hovering on the northern horizon. He knew he was seeing another vision from the past: The Great Fire.” In the vision, Father Cham imparts wisdom to Pong. The vision is described over seven pages.
  • During the protest, Pong grabs the Governor’s wrist and “the Gold light flowed into his palm, down his left wrist and into his arm . . . A liquid Gold light flowed, trapped beneath Pong’s skin . . . The lines of light streamed out of his prison mark.”
  • Trying to help his friend, Somkit grabs Pong. “Light flowed from Pong into Somkit’s hand. The same streams of Gold light poured form Somkit’s crossed-out tattoo.”
  • Somkit, Nok, and Pong were “glowing like human lanterns on the dark bridge.” The people come forward and hold hands. “Each person felt the surge of light flow through them and burst out into the darkness.” By the next morning, everyone’s light had disappeared.

Spiritual Content

  • Father Cham, a monk, puts bracelets around Pong’s wrist. As he does, he gives blessings such as, “May you never get food poisoning from a raw chicken” and, “May wasps never sting the palms of your hands or the bottoms of your feet.”
  • Father Cham blesses a baby and says, “may you walk in peace wherever you are in the world.”
  • When Father Cham dies, a monk tells Pong, “You know that Father Cham is merely leaving this life behind and going on to the next.”
  • After Pong leaves Somkit, “not a day had passed at the temple that Pong hadn’t prayed for his friend and wished he could know what he was doing.”

 Hunt for Jade Dragon

After sinking the Ampere, the reunited Electroclan travels to Taiwan to rescue an autistic savant named Jade Dragon, who has solved the Elgen formula for replicating the electric children. The Elgen want to use the formula to create a race of electric superhumans, enslaving the normal human population to do their bidding. Jade Dragon is heavily guarded within the most secure Starxource plant in the world, and the Electroclan has lost their element of surprise. Hatch knows the Electroclan plans to rescue Jade Dragon and has concentrated much of his force in Taiwan to combat them.

Yet, the most challenging aspect for Michael in this book is the repercussions of fighting an all-out war against the Elgen. Sticking to the right choice isn’t so easy when other lives become casualties—like Wade and the crew of the Ampere who died when it sunk. Despite the Electroclan’s efforts to stop Hatch’s evil schemes, they have been branded terrorists. Simon, one of the resistance’s leaders, reminds Michael of a difficult lesson, “As you saw in Peru, you were not celebrated for liberating their country—you were demonized. That is often the way of heroes. Heroes are heroes precisely because they are willing to do what everyone else won’t—oppose the popular voice. But we will know what you have done. And in your heart, so will you.”

Hunt for Jade Dragon is not as action-packed as the previous books. Most of the novel covers the logistics of traveling to Taiwan and rescuing Jade Dragon. The focus on the capture and backup plans may be hard to follow at times. The book takes on a more “war-like” feel as the Electroclan use their powers to take down Hatch’s vast network of soldiers and artillery. This book moves the Electroclan’s battle from a personal scale to a global one, which may make it less relatable to readers.

Nevertheless, the story deepens the character development as the characters continue to reflect on Wade’s death. In addition, the Electroclan makes a stop in California to bring Nichelle with them. Most of them hate her due to the way she used to torment them in the academy, but their willingness to forgive her shows how two enemies can become allies against a greater evil. While Hunt for Jade Dragon can feel like a repeat of the break-in, rescue, break-out plot from the earlier Michael Vey novels, the character development that Michael and the rest of the Electroclan undergo is the true heart of this story.

Sexual Content

  • After they have a makeshift prom, Taylor and Michael kiss. “She leaned forward and we kissed. We must have kissed for a long time because Mrs. Ridley came to the door and neither of us even noticed her until she cleared her throat.”
  • After Jack saves her when she is shot, Nichelle kisses Jack on the cheek.

Violence

  • Jack reflects on a time he went to Wade’s house. “I didn’t get along with his father, so I usually just went around the back and climbed in through Wade’s window. This time, after I climbed inside, I couldn’t find Wade. Then I heard him. He was in his closet. There was blood all over the floor and his face and his eyes were nearly swollen shut. His father had almost beaten him to death.”
  • After Wade’s father beats him, Jack “went out looking for his dad. His father was a little man. He was drunk, sitting on the floor in the hall. The dude came at me with a bottle. I was crazy mad. I knocked him down, then started wailing on him. Then, Wade shouted, ‘Stop! Please stop.’ He had crawled out of his room to save his father. If it wasn’t for Wade, I might have killed that drunk. I was so pumped with adrenaline that I lifted the guy with one hand and shoved him against the wall. I told him if he ever touched Wade again that the next time I wouldn’t stop.”
  • The kids still loyal to Hatch, Torstyn, Bryan, Quentin, and Kylee, talk about the next time they meet Michael. Bryan says, “I’m going to melt his brain into a little puddle that drains out his ears.”
  • Later, the same kids use their powers on innocent people. Kylee sees an overweight man. “The man set his tray on the table, then pulled out a chair to sit. As he began sitting, Kylee reached out. She magnetized, pulling the chair out from under the man. He fell back onto the ground, hitting his head on the chair and pulling the tray on top of himself. The teens laughed.”
  • Trying to one up Kylee, Tara “held up her hand, her palm facing the man, who was now standing back up, his face bright red with embarrassment. Suddenly several women standing next to the man screamed. One fainted. Almost everyone around him ran except a few who held chairs up, as if warding him off. Then people began pelting him with trays and food. The confused man ran from the courtyard.” People were afraid of the man because Tara “made everyone around him think he’s the thing they fear most.”
  • After someone talks with Tara, Torstyn uses his powers on him. “The redhead took one step toward Torstyn, then froze. His mouth fell open and he grabbed his head, which was turning bright red. Then the blood vessels in his eyes began bursting. . . The kid fell to his side, convulsing. Kylee grimaced as the kid vomited.”
  • Elgen soldiers capture the kids with Nichelle’s help. She uses her powers against the kids. Michael and Ian are the first to feel her sapping their energy. Michael fights back. “I began pulsing and pushing against Nichelle until I heard her scream.” Then, the guards tell the kids that they’re going to kill them, starting with Mckenna, because the guards are holding a gun to her head.
  • Guards restrain Michael. “A guard grabbed my wrists and pulled them up while another guard handcuffed me, then strapped a RESAT over my chest and turned it on. So much pain shot through my body that I fell to my side, unable to breathe.”
  • Jack tries to punch Nichelle. “As we walked past Nichelle, Jack lunged at her. One of the guards caught him and slugged him in the stomach. He fell to his knees, gasping for breath.”
  • Taylor’s sister, Tara, takes Taylor to be tortured for information. Taylor reboots her and attempts to escape, but the guards turn on Taylor’s RESAT to stop her. “While Tara was still confused, Taylor lunged at her, pushing her up against the wall. Then they both fell to the floor, wrestling… Taylor suddenly screamed as she fell back from Tara. Her RESAT was squealing and the lights were flashing in rapid succession…. Tara stood, wiping her face. There was blood on her hand. She walked out of the cell, leaving Taylor screaming in pain.”
  • A doctor tortured Michael with needles. “He poked another needle into the skin between my neck and clavicle. It felt as if a live high-voltage electric wire had been inserted through my body. I screamed. The man seemed intrigued by my reaction. . . He inserted another needle near my groin. The electricity created a triangular current that contracted my stomach muscles. I felt as if I was going to vomit. Sweat streamed down the sides of my face, and my hair and skin were completely drenched. My eyes felt locked shut.”
  • When they rescue Jack, it’s evident that he’s been beaten by the soldiers. Michael says, “I was horrified. From my glow I could see that the Elgen guards had severely beaten him. Both of his eyes were swollen and he had a huge contusion under his left eye.”
  • While escaping, Nichelle is shot but survives. “Just then a bullet burst through the center of the boat, grazing Nichelle. She fell down into the water. Jack grabbed her and lifted her as the water around us began to darken with her blood.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

 Language

  • Quentin calls Michael “a twitching little dork.”
  • Ian uses his powers to monitor Nichelle’s heartbeat. Because he can see through her body, Nichelle says, “You watch everything, you pervert.”

 Supernatural

  • There are seventeen electric children in the series. Each one has a different electricity-related power including the ability to create light, heat, magnetism, or lightning. Others can interfere with electrical equipment. Some of the kids can manipulate electrical signals within the body that allow them to read minds, take away pain, and create emotional responses such as fear.

 Spiritual Content

  • Ostin says to Michael, “Something’s really been bothering me. . . I know Hatch is a demon and all that, but what if he’s right about making an electric species. . . Everything evolves. That’s how nature survives. What if an electric species is the natural evolution of humans? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we didn’t have to worry about electricity anymore?” Afterward, Michael wonders, “What if the devil was right?”
  • Hatch says that their global Starxource operation will reduce the population by “biblical proportions.” He continues to describe the plan with this metaphor. “We are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse prophesized to bring about the end of man’s history.”

by Madison Shooter

Cinder

For Cinder, a reluctantly adopted half-cyborg, daily life has always been a constant struggle toward belonging and acceptance. Inside her home, Cinder is nothing more than the orphan she was as a child, though she can never forget the scientist that rescued her. However, his untimely death has left her with little knowledge of her former life. Unable to know the motivations of the person who initially saved her, Cinder now faces the wrath of a stepmother who uses her as a common mechanic and breadwinner for Cinder’s two stepsisters. Outside her home, Cinder faces an entirely different sort of ill-will; as part-cyborg, Cinder faces endless forms of discrimination from her community in the Eastern Commonwealth of New Beijing, a society that is more than willing to give up any of their cyborg citizens for the purposes of scientific experimentation.

New Beijing faces its own onslaught of problems. Once a powerful and prosperous development, the royal state now faces threats of war from the Lunars, a magical dictatorship residing on Earth’s moon.  Crippled under the wrath of a plague known as letumosis, New Beijing fears that its only hope of survival may rest in its Prince Kai’s ability to marry the Lunar Queen Levana—or else find a cure for the disease that currently holds a 100% casualty rate.

Cinder gratefully avoids both issues of the letumosis plague and New Beijing’s political instability, focusing instead on her own efforts to escape her present living conditions. However, when Cinder’s stepsister, Peony, falls to the disease, Cinder is opted up for a cyborg draft that aims to find a letumosis cure, and is thus driven into the conflicts of her nation head-on. In facing experimentation, Cinder finds not only a connection with Prince Kai, but also faces the truth behind her childhood. In encountering her past, Cinder must now ask: does she think she can change the fate of her world? And, if she loves and accepts herself—her own power—will others accept her as well?

Cinder is a sci-fi fantasy that works to retell the classic story of Cinderella from the lens of an imaginative society filled with political intrigue and social commentary pertinent to our community today. In weaving together the personal struggles of Cinder, the strategic plans of Prince Kai, the wrath of the Lunar population, and the welfare of New Beijing as a collective, Meyer presents a story that keeps readers on the very edge of their seats. Though there are subtle nods towards Cinderella throughout the narrative, Cinder is presented as her own, dynamic character with unique conflicts and struggles.

As a longer narrative with more complex diction, Cinder is a story for junior high and high school readers. It is also important to note that, as a narrative that presents explicit descriptions of death and disease, the narrative may not be suitable for younger readers, particularly considering our present struggles with the COVID pandemic. However, for those readers wanting a thrilling, action-packed, and innovative piece of speculative fiction that works to bring real world conflict to an imagined world, this is the perfect book! Cinder will especially capture the attention of any readers looking to dive into sci-fi fantasy for the first time, as the narrative holds an easily digestible, yet intricate, world that serves as a perfect introduction to the genre. In following Cinder’s journey, readers can also truly see the way invented worlds speak to issues of discrimination, classism, ethics, and power within our present world.

By confronting New Beijing’s societal conflicts as the result of a history that speaks to her own past, Cinder also rises to accept where she has come from—as both New Beijing citizen and cyborg mechanic power—to sculpt her own path in the world with newfound agency. When fate arises, and the wellbeing of a community rests in her hand, Cinder truly shows all readers that empowering themselves is the first step towards empowering their surroundings.

Sexual Content

  • When Dr. Erland praises Cinder for the way her technology falls perfectly in line with her central nervous system, Cinder sarcastically replies, “I’m sure I’ll feel much more grateful when I find a guy who thinks complex wiring in a girl is a turn-on.”
  • Fascinated by Queen Levana’s projected beauty, Kai hesitates when meeting her. Instead, he stares “at the pale, translucent skin, wondering if just touching her was all it would take to destroy a man’s mind.”
  • To stop Prince Kai from announcing his marriage to Queen Levana, “Cinder wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him . . . Though Cinder had intended for it to be a short kiss, she found herself lingering. Hot tingles coursed through her body, surprising and scary but not unpleasant, surging like electricity through her wires . . . the desperation melted and, for the briefest of moments, the ulterior motives were gone. She found herself kissing him for no other reason than she wanted to.”
  • After seeing Cinder kiss Prince Kai, Queen Levana says, “You must misunderstand my culture. On Luna, we consider monogamy to be nothing more than archaic sentimentality. What do I care if my husband-to-be is in love with another . . . woman?”

Violence

  • At the beginning of Cinder, Cinder watches as a baker named Chang Sacha realizes that she has caught the plague. As a result of this discovery, Chang Sacha’s son is taken from her, and a screaming Chang Sacha is led to quarantine by officials. Following this, Cinder realizes that officials are “going to burn Chang-ji’s booth.” Authorities burn the booth until “The baker’s booth had been reduced to rubble and the skeleton of a portable oven.” The scene is described over five pages.
  • While introducing Queen Levana, the queen of the Lunar race, it is mentioned that the queen “murdered her older sister, Queen Channary, so she could take the throne from her. [Rumors from the Eastern Commonwealth community] said [Queen Levana] had her own husband killed too so she would be free to make a more advantageous match. They said she had forced her stepdaughter to mutilate her own face because, at the sweet age of thirteen, she had become more beautiful than the jealous queen could stand. They said she’d killed her niece, her only threat to the throne. Princess Selene had only been three years old when a fire caught in her nursery, killing her and her nanny.” This is the extent of the description concerning the violence incited by Queen Levana.
  • Cinder’s youngest stepsister, Peony, catches the disease that is described when Cinder finds, “a splotch of red, rimmed with bruise purple” on Peony’s collarbone. Peony screams, and cries, before an emergency hover and med-droids take her away to quarantine. At this time, a med-droid tests Cinder for the disease by inserting a needle in her right wrist and drawing blood.
  • In light of Peony’s sickness, Cinder’s stepmother Adri donates Cinder to the cyborg draft (a system where a family’s cyborgs can opt themselves up, or have their family guardians donate them, as bodies for plague testing). In an argument with Cinder, Adri slaps Cinder’s cheek with the back of her hand. In order to escape the droids trying to take her, Cinder swings her toolbelt—known as a magbelt—“against the android’s cranium.” Cinder then smashes the lens of the second android. The last android finally catches Cinder before she escapes and electrocutes her until she falls to unconsciousness. This scene lasts five pages.
  • When unconscious, Cinder has a dream described as this: “Flames. Smoke. Blisters burbling across her skin. Her leg and hand were gone, leaving stumps where the surgeons had attached her protheses. Dead wires dangled from them. She tried to crawl but was as useless as an upended turtle . . . she was surrounded. Other crippled victims writhed among the coals, moaning, begging for water. They were all missing limbs. Some were nothing more than a head and a torso and a mouth, pleading.” This image is described over two pages.
  • Against her will, Cinder is tested at the king’s hospital. In this scene, an android pins her head to the side of a stretcher she is strapped to and uses prongs at the back of her neck to scan her system and note the percentage of “machine” Cinder truly is. The android then proceeds to inject Cinder with the plague. This scene lasts six pages. After being given the virus, a description of the android drawing Cinder’s blood lasts two pages.
  • Attempting to escape the testing lab, Cinder tries to attack the leading scientist on the royal letumosis research team, Dr. Erland. Cinder raises a wrench at his temple, but after speaking to the doctor, she decides against this action.
  • To test Cinder’s system, Dr. Erland pinches a vertebra above her shoulders. At this moment, “Fire and pain ruptured her spine, flooding her veins. She cried out and fell off the table, crumpling to the floor.”
  • Cinder visits her sister Peony in the quarantine section. The setting is described with “the stench of excrement and rot.” Flies fill the room with buzzing, while the patients are “sleeping or staring blankly up at the ceiling, their skin covered in a blue-black rash.” Peony is described with “purplish blotches” all over her arms, “just this side of death.”
  • In the hospital, Cinder also sees Chang Sacha again. Sacha has bluish pigment and a pungent odor. She grasps Cinder’s hand with yellowed fingernails. She asks Cinder to look for her son Sunto, before “the life dulled in Sacha’s black eyes.” Sacha’s death is described over two pages.
  • Following Sacha’s death, Cinder watches as a med-droid arrives and pulls out a scalpel. “Cinder watched, mesmerized and disgusted, as the android pressed the blade into Sacha’s wrist. A stream of blood dripped down Sacha’s palm . . . The med-droid traded the scalpel for tweezers, and Cinder heard the subtle click of metal on metal. She grimaced as the android extracted the small chip. Its protective plastic coating glistened scarlet.”
  • Dr. Erland warns Cinder that she must leave the royal research lab as “Queen Levana will stop at nothing to ensure her control, to terminate any resistance. That means killing those who could resist her—people like you. . . If she were to see you, she would kill you.”
  • Dr. Erland speaks on the murder of his daughter at the hands of Queen Levana. None of the details are described, except that she was killed because she was a “shell,” a Lunar without magic.
  • Cinder returns to quarantine to visit Peony. During this visit, Peony’s “face was ashen, her lips peeling. The dark splotches on her neck had begun to fade to lavender beneath the surface of her ghostly skin. Eyes on Cinder, she pulled her arm out from beneath the blanket and spread out her fingers, displaying their blue-black tips and the yellowish tinge of her nails.” When Cinder tries to raise Peony to administer an antidote, her body goes “limp,” and Cinder “stared into Peony’s empty eyes. Eyes looking past her, through her.” The description of Peony’s death lasts four pages.
  • To stop a med-droid from taking Peony’s ID chip, Cinder “wrenched the scalpel from [the med-droid’s] glove and jammed it into the android’s sensor. . .Cinder barreled over the bed and slammed her fist into the android’s head.”
  • Cinder pulls the chip from her sister herself. Cinder “asked for hurried forgiveness while she grasped her sister’s fragile wrist. She spliced the scalpel into the soft tissue. Blood dribbled out of the wound and onto her glove, mixing with years of grime. Peony’s fingers twitched when Cinder hit a tendon, making her jump. When the cut was wide enough, she peeled it open with her thumb, revealing bright red muscle. Blood . . she dug the tip of the blade in as carefully as she could, easing up the square chip.” This description lasts a page.
  • In a tense conversation with Queen Levana, Kai tries to loosen his grip on a chopstick, “lest he accidentally leap across the table and jab a chopstick into the witch’s eye.”
  • After assuming she was disrespected by a server, Queen Levana orders the servant to turn a blade towards herself, aiming it at the corner of her eye. This interaction ends here, as Kai stops the Queen before she can force the servant to hurt herself.
  • Angered by the new income Cinder has gained from the royal research department, Adri violently mangles and dismantles one of Cinder’s droid friends, Iko. She also asks Cinder to take off her new, machine-made, foot as payment for Peony’s funeral. This interaction lasts two pages.
  • Upon seeing Cinder at the ball, Adri raises a hand over her shoulder to strike Cinder, but Kai stops her with a hand firmly wrapped around her wrist.
  • Knowing that Cinder is Lunar, Queen Levana orders her arrest. A “Lunar guard stepped out of the crowd . . .Without warning, he grasped Cinder’s wrists, pinning them behind her.” Queen Levana then forces Cinder to lift the barrel of the gun to her own temple. When Cinder’s finger pulls down on the trigger, she manages to evade the Queen’s brainwashing just enough to force the gun away from her head. The gunshot shatters a chandelier above. Cinder then pulls the gun at the Queen and pulls the trigger, but a red-haired guard steps up to block the blow. This scene lasts about 15 pages.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Cinder’s stepmother Adri maintains full, albeit reluctant, guardianship of Cinder following the death of her husband. As a cyborg, Cinder faces cruel discrimination and punishments under her stepmother’s control. For instance, Adri often threatens to sell Cinder off “as spare parts.”
  • Pearl, Cinder’s stepsister, also throws cruel taunts Cinder’s way. For instance, on mention of the cyborg draft, Pearl says, “I know a cyborg who could volunteer for plague testing . . . They reimburse the volunteers’ families, wire-head.”
  • In a discussion on whether to marry Queen Levana, the prince of New Beijing, says, “My plan is to not marry her. Diplomacy be damned.”
  • Following Peony’s death, Cinder shouts into her body, “Dammit. Dammit. Peony!”
  • Angered by the fact Prince Kai gifted Cinder a pair of white gloves, Pearl says, “Did you think the prince—no– the emperor would find it in his heart to overlook all your. . . ‘shortcomings’?”
  • One of the girls working for Queen Levana’s attendants, upon meeting Cinder, exclaims, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m an evil, worthless, wretched girl.”

Supernatural

  • At the beginning of the novel, another society known as the Lunars are introduced, with the line, “everything about Lunars was eerie and superstitious.” According to Cinder, Lunars were a society that evolved from an Earthen moon colony, but no longer became human. They contain supernatural powers that allow them to be able to “alter a person’s brain—make you see things you shouldn’t see, feel things you shouldn’t feel, do things you didn’t want to do. Their unnatural power had made them a greedy and violent race.”
  • Describing the Lunar people further, Dr. Erland says, “Lunars have the unique ability to not only detect bioelectricity in others, but to also control it. They can manipulate it so that people see what the Lunar wishes them to see, and even feel what the Lunar wishes them to feel. A glamour is what they call the illusion of themselves that they project into the minds of others.”
  • Upon Queen Levana’s arrival to Earth, an angry protest goes to the palace, but as soon as Queen Levana steps upon the balcony, they quiet. “Slowly, as if sleepwalking, the crowd began to depart . . . So, this was the effect of the Lunar glamour, the spell to enchant, to deceive, to turn one’s heart toward you and against your enemies.”
  • During a discussion about Queen Levana building an army, Prince Kai is given a picture taken on the moon, showing rows of creatures with wide hunched shoulders described as “a cross between man and beast. Their noses and jaws protruded awkwardly from their heads, their lips twisted into perpetual grimaces. White spots erupted from their mouths—Kai could not see them clearly, could not tell for sure, but they gave him the distinct impression of fangs.” These creatures are also thought to hold magic.

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Maya and the Rising Dark #1

Maya believes herself to be an ordinary middle-schooler, until she witnesses a tear in reality. Suddenly, the stories her father tells about his travels across the world come true. Maya dreams of a man encased in shadows and is attacked by mythical creatures. In addition, her best friend Frankie discovers she has superpowers.

Maya learns that her father is an orisha, a divine spirit being. Beyond that, her community is a secret haven for orishas, meaning that she, Frankie, and their friend Eli, all have orisha powers. But, the one person Maya wishes to tell about the magic world – her Papa – disappears while repairing the veil, the magical barrier between Earth and the Dark. In his absence, Maya learns from the orisha council that her father is the guardian of the veil, which was created to separate Earth from the Dark and its master, The Lord of Shadows. This evil being with similar orisha-like powers wants to use the tears forming in reality to break through the veil once and for all.

As attacks in the human world become frequent, the orishas prioritize the community instead of sending out a rescue mission for Maya’s father. Maya, Frankie, and Eli decide to take matters into their own hands using Papa’s staff to open a magical gateway into the Dark at Comic-Con. Even though the plan is just as crazy as it sounds, Maya is able to open the barrier, and the three friends journey through the Dark. This sparse and dangerous landscape is populated with creatures of legend and beings called darkbringers, who serve the Lord of Shadows. When the group is forced to fight their way through, Maya realizes the danger that they face. She says, “I hadn’t thought through the consequences of our actions… I knew that our parents would ground us for sneaking out. But that was minor compared to the real consequences. That I might have to hurt many people to get Papa back.”

Before Maya reconnects with her father, she is tested when she is forced to part with her friends, who sacrifice themselves so she can go on. Maya says, “Every kid should be so lucky to have friends who believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself. Friends who accept you exactly the way you are. And help you be brave when you don’t know that you can.” Maya is able to manifest her orisha powers and distract the Lord of Shadows long enough to free her father and return to the human world, where she finds that Eli and Frankie escaped alive and unharmed. But, the crisis is far from over. With the Lord of Shadows still at large, the orisha council declares that Maya will be trained by her father to be a guardian of the veil, marking the beginning of her next journey.

Maya and the Rising Dark is an action-packed fantasy story with diverse characters. The principal at Maya’s school goes by they/them pronouns and Frankie has two moms. Maya’s story is laced with themes of community and sacrifice. While constant fighting scenes can distract from the main plot, Maya is a resilient and thoughtful main character to follow throughout this adventure. There is reverence for the divine orishas, and even for the Lord of Shadows; when he is about to kill Maya’s father, she displays sympathy for his motives, showing her maturity. Maya has to grow up fast when the responsibility of saving the world falls on her shoulders, but she does so while keeping her rebellious personality and her kindness. The story blends the African heritage of the author into a modern-day tale about a girl from Chicago’s south side. Readers that enjoyed Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi and stories blending cultural legend into modern adventure, should pick up this book! Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston is another amazing story that is perfect for readers who love action and adventure.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Maya’s father, Papa, tells her a story about elokos – mythical creatures who eat people they lure in with magical bells. Papa describes his encounter with the creatures. “I didn’t come out of my trance until they stopped ringing their bells, but by then, they had strung me up between two trees and lit a fire. They were preparing to cook me with my clothes and all. No matter how much I pleaded, they wouldn’t let me go.” He escapes them by singing, which distracts them.
  • While searching for her father, Maya encounters the Lord of Shadows, who intends to kill her. “The shadows pressed in around me and felt slick against my face. . . When I backed away, something reached out of the dark and grabbed my wrist. Cold seared into my skin. I tried to free myself, but the thing only tugged harder. Shadows like writhing snakes crawled up my arm—and I knew it was him. The man from my nightmare. Come to make good on his threat to kill me. I clawed at the shadows with my other hand, only they slithered up that arm too. I screamed, and the darkness muted my voice. When I kicked, my foot connected with air. Pain shot up my arms. My hands had gone numb. Frost started to creep across my skin. I wriggled my stiff fingers, and the ice crystals cracked and shattered. Then, with all my strength, I closed my hands around the shadows, which felt like thick ropes. I was sure they would turn me into an ice cube, but I gritted my teeth and jerked my arms back even harder. This time it worked. . .” Maya escapes the shadows.
  • Frankie and Maya are attacked by shadows. Maya “jerked back, but not fast enough. The shadow slashed against my cheek. ‘Ahhh,’ I screamed and stumbled out of reach. Frankie wasn’t so lucky. The shadow snapped around her wrist. She shrieked . . .More shadows grabbed Frankie from behind, dragging her away from me. . .” Maya hit the shadows and they “hissed, low and menacing. I kept swinging until they let go and Frankie crashed into my shoulder.”
  • While running from werehyenas, Maya and Frankie are magically protected by a barrier. Still, Frankie gets hurt. “In one quick swipe, [the werehyena] scraped his claws against the force field that separated us from certain death. The noise was sharp, and sparks shot out. Thankfully, the barrier held, but Frankie stumbled back a few steps. She folded over like he had punched her in the belly.”
  • A group of darkbringers disguise themselves as school bullies and force Maya, Eli, and Frankie into a fight. “Winston charged first, and I sprang to action. With Papa’s staff, I blocked his path. Something happened then that I didn’t expect. The staff started to glow, and a warm tingling shot up my arm. The glowing shocked the bullies too because they froze for a moment. . .Winston shoved me in the chest so hard that I almost lost my balance. I twirled the staff fast and hit him across his knuckles. He yelped and drew his hand back . . . even with Papa’s staff, I got kicked and punched more times than I cared to admit. . . I attacked again with the staff, batting away barbed tails that stung when they tore into my skin… I slammed the staff into shoulders, chests, and ribs to keep them back.” No one dies, and the fight is described over two pages.
  • A tear in the veil causes massive panic and destruction on Maya’s street. “Outside was complete chaos. People I’d known my whole life tried to free themselves from writhing shadows. My ex-babysitter, Lakesha, dodged a shadow only to have another one rope around her ankle. She fell down, and LJ, her cousin, stomped the shadow over and over until it let her go. He helped her up, and they ran away. They were the lucky ones. Some shadows wrapped people in cocoons and dragged them toward the tear in the veil—toward the Dark.”
  • During this chaos, a darkbringer attempts to hurt Maya’s mother. “Looking down at Mama, he smiled, revealing pointed teeth. His razor-sharp, barbed tail whipped around in a flash, cutting through the air, aimed straight for her. . . Before the darkbringer knew what hit him, I cracked the staff against his tail. He fell back, howling in pain. . . I barely ducked out of the way as the darkbringer’s claws swiped within striking distance of my face. Going on the offense, I angled the staff up and slammed it into his chest. A burst of light came from Papa’s staff, and the impact sent the darkbringer hurtling through the air.”
  • The Lord of Shadows invades Maya’s dreams and tries to kill her. The Lord of Shadow’s “ribbons snapped at me, and I batted them away with the staff. When the staff connected with the Lord of Shadows, magic jerked me back into the human world. . .My wrist burned where one of his ribbons had touched my arm. It happened on the crossroads, but the pain was real.”
  • Maya suspects that a gateway to the veil will open at Comic-Con, so she goes there with Frankie and Eli to open a portal and find her father. While there, they are attacked by darkbringers. Maya “dodged darkbringers left and right, sweeping the staff along my body in a wide arc. I knocked down two who tried to double-team me. . . The sound of bones breaking made my stomach flip-flop, but I kept pushing. Eli ducked under my staff and rammed his shoulder into a darkbringer. He headbutted another one, and punched a third.” As the fight continues, “Maya caught a blow on my shoulder. Sharp pain shot down my spine, and I bit the inside of my cheek until I tasted blood. My knees shook. . .Then I rammed my staff into [the darkbringers’] stomach. When he bent over, that was the end of it. I knocked him out cold.” The fight is described over four pages.
  • After entering the Dark, Maya, Frankie, and Eli find magical birds called impundulus. After they destroy their nest by accident, “the birds tucked their heads between their hunched shoulders and charged. They ran straight for us, their wings fluttering wildly and their bloody spines fanned out for maximum damage. . . We dove out of the way, and only two of the impundulu collided. . . My stomach lurched seeing the birds tangled up like that. Each impaled on the other’s spines. There was so much blood . . . The two tangled birds fell into a heap of twisted spines and feathers and blood while the other two took to the sky.”
  • During the fight, “an impundulu’s talons raked across my shoulder, and I bit back a scream as searing pain brought me to my knees. The bird shrieked, coming at me again, and I rolled out of the way. I fell on my back and slammed the staff into the impundulu’s side. The impact sent the bird tumbling into a cornstalk.” Maya and her friends knock the birds unconscious. The scene is described over two pages.
  • While in the dark, vines erupt from the ground. “Vines covered in thorns shot up from the ground and whipped around Frankie’s feet. She cried out as she hit the dirt. More vines were sprouting up everywhere, thrashing and wriggling toward us. I slammed the staff into the ground, giving it the order to burn the vines. . . fire flared to life on top of a vine writhing toward me. Before long, the fire had grown into a full raging inferno that burned across the cornfield.” Maya accidentally sends the fire towards a group of darkbringer children. The kids throw stones at them, but none of them hit, and Maya and her friends escape.
  • Maya thinks about how Frankie’s first mother died, implying that something bad happened. Frankie “once told me about her first mom—how one day she’d gone to the store for groceries and never returned. The police said that her mom had died in a car accident. Now that I thought about it, that didn’t add up, especially since she was an orisha. She was immortal—no accident could’ve killed her.”
  • Eli inadvertently kills a darkbringer who was inside a bug-like helicopter. Eli “whipped out the prods he took from the darkbringer at Comic-Con and slammed them into the glass dome. An electrical current flickered down the length of the prods, then shot through the craft. Long cracks spread across the glass. . . The pilot yanked at the controls as the wings flapped wildly. He pulled up but didn’t get very far before the craft crashed a few feet away.”
  • Nulan, the darkbringer army commander, kills one of her men for disobeying her. “Nulan reached into her black vest and removed a slim knife of her own, her eyes on Papa’s staff the whole time. She flipped her wrist so fast that the knife was a silver blur. . . Nulan had aimed the blade for the darkbringer who went against her order. He stumbled and fell to his knees with the knife lodged in his chest. She’d killed him—one of her own men.”
  • Nulan also tries to kill Frankie. “Nulan removed another slim knife from her vest and sent it flying straight for Frankie’s heart. . . Just as the knife was inches from my friend, I leaped in front of her. Everything was a blur as I raised the staff to deflect the knife, but before I could, the ground shook hard beneath our feet, then it opened up and swallowed us whole.” Maya opens a portal and saves her friends before Nulan’s knife hits Frankie.
  • After returning to the Dark, Frankie and Eli sacrifice themselves in a fight with Nulan so Maya can find her father on her “Flashes of light crackling like electricity shoot out of Frankie’s hands. . . The darkbringers broke their flight path to get out of the way. Most moved in time, but two of them got caught in her blast and spiraled out of control… Frankie sent another blast, knocking the fire-breathing darkbringers to the ground. . . But as soon as she said it, Nulan sent a knife straight through Frankie’s shoulder.” Eli stays with Frankie and tends to her while Maya leaves.
  • Later, Nulan confronts Maya as she’s trying to free her father. She tells Maya that she killed her friends and insults her father. Maya lashes out. “I knocked my staff against the gym floor, and a streak of white light shot out. It hit Nulan so hard that she slammed into the line of darkbringers standing behind her. They crumped to the floor in a heap.”
  • Nulan orders her soldiers to attack. Maya and her father then fight the darkbringers. Maya “ducked to miss a club aimed straight for my face. Before the darkbringer could swing again, I cracked the staff against her knees. When she dropped to the ground, I landed another thrash across her head, knocking her out cold. . .Three darkbringers swung their battleaxes, and I thrust out the staff to catch the blows. . . Something as slippery as a snake lashed around my waist and jerked me backwards. My staff fell and hit the floor, then the thing lifted me up high in the air. I clawed at what turned out to be a darkbringer’s tail. . . As the barb drove toward my heart, I grabbed the darkbringer’s tail, stopping it from striking. The tail slammed me into the ground, and pain shot through my body. . .” Papa kills the darkbringer.
  • The fight against the Lord of Shadows is at first a long conversation, but it comes to a climax when he grabs Papa with the ribbons that make up his being. “Some of his ribbons had grabbed Papa by the ankle and dangled him upside down like he was a child. Papa clawed at the shadows, but the color was draining from his face fast. The Lord of Shadows was absorbing him, killing him.” Maya is then attacked by him, but escapes by shining light on him, distracting him until Papa and Maya escape.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • After seeing many strange occurrences, Frankie suggests that they are under the effect of a hallucinogen. Frankie says, “Maybe there was some mind-altering drug in the vanilla pudding at school today. My moms say that the government performs secret experiments on people all the time.”

Language

  • Eli and a high schooler have a verbal altercation where the bully raises their middle finger.
  • There is some name-calling such as fiend, half-breeds, and beanstalk.
  • Frankie breaks a twig, giving away the group’s hiding location to the darkbringers. In response, “Eli mouthed a curse that would’ve gotten him grounded for a month had Nana been here.”
  • When the Lord of Shadows appears at the story’s climax, Maya says, “Crap.”
  • The Lord of Shadows attacks Maya, and Maya’s Papa starts to curse at him using “some words I had never heard.”

 Supernatural

  • One of the main conflicts in this story is the rift between the real world and the Dark, a different plane of existence filled with creatures called darkbringers. A veil separates these two worlds, which is frequently damaged. Maya’s father fixes these “tears” in the veil.
  • Magic exists, as well as people who can wield magic. Papa describes this world to Maya, revealing that he is the guardian of the veil. He describes the veil between the worlds. “Think of it as an invisible barrier that keeps our world safe from creatures much worse than werehyenas.”
  • Papa also tells Maya that she encountered the Lord of Shadows in a dream. He father says, “He’s as real as you or I,” Papa explained. “He’s trapped in the Dark, but he can enter our world through dreams—which are crossroads between our two worlds.”
  • Maya’s favorite comic book is about an orisha named Oya. Orishas are spirit beings that have a variety of dominions and powers. Oya has these powers too. “Oya wasn’t like most superheroes. She wasn’t from another planet, and she didn’t have fancy gadgets. She was a spirit goddess, an orisha. She controlled wind, lightning, and storms, and never lost a fight.”
  • Eli, Maya’s friend, is obsessed with ghosts and talks about them often “Did you feel a cold spot?” Eli asked. “Like when there’s a ghost around.”
  • Eli also tells facts about ghosts. “Sometimes ghosts can inhabit the bodies of the living.” Eli believes that ghosts are responsible for many of the strange things happening before he learns about the Dark.
  • Eli also suggests that people’s strange behavior is a result of possession. “Maybe they’re possessed by evil spirits,” Eli offered. “One day they’ll try to turn us into zombies, and we’ll have to spray them with ketchup to snap them out of their trance.”
  • The book deals with a variety of other mythical beings and creatures such as elokos, orishas, and darkbringers. Shadows have the ability to attack. There are also creatures such as werehyenas and giant bugs.
  • Maya talks about kishi in reference to her dad’s stories. “I told Tisha Thomas that my father fought a kishi, a creature with a human face on the front side of his head and a hyena on the back side.”
  • Maya’s father also tells her stories of impundulu, magical birds. Impundulu “were magical giant birds that had sharp spikes like fishbones on their bellies. They hardly ever flew, but when they did, their wings sounded like helicopter blades.” Later, Maya, Frankie, and Eli fight multiple impundulus.
  • Maya and Frankie are cornered by were-hyenas, humanoid hyenas similar to werewolves. “It wasn’t until they stepped out of the shadows that I realized the hyenas had grown bigger. They stood on their hind legs, and their claws looked like curled knives. Their torsos stretched into a shape that was unmistakable and impossible. These were werehyenas, like from Papa’s stories, half hyena, half man.”
  • Maya’s Papa gives her a staff that has magical powers, which she uses to defend herself.
  • Maya learns that she is a “godling,” someone that has the blood of an orisha. This enables her to use magic. Frankie and Eli have orisha blood too. Frankie’s power is to create bursts of light, while Eli’s power is to turn invisible. Maya is unsure of her power until later on in the story where she creates a portal between the Dark and Earth.
  • Maya learns that her neighbor is an orisha when the neighbor saves them from being kidnapped by darkbringers. “A giant bird made of blue light circled the edges of the vortex. It was fast—too fast, enough to make my head spin. From what I could tell, it was causing the disturbance. Some of the darkbringers tried to escape, but it was no use. . .”
  • Maya learns that many people in her community are orishas or their descendants, as it is a secret orisha community. Miss Lucille, Maya’s neighbor, explains that humans don’t know of the existence of the orishas and magical beings because they are kept secret. “The orishas decided that the magical species must keep themselves hidden from humans. Among them are the aziza, woodland fairies wary of outsiders. The elokos, who are forest-dwelling elves with an insatiable appetite. There are also the trickster kishi, with their two faces, and the adze, who are fireflies that feed on blood. And of course, the werehyenas, who, as you’ve seen, can be unpredictable. There are countless more. It’s the orishas’ job to keep magic from interfering with human development, as the universe intended.”
  • A girl in Maya’s town opens a portal by snapping her fingers.
  • Maya attends an orisha meeting that happens in outer space.
  • The commander of the darkbringer army, Nulan, is an aziza. Maya reacts to her in awe. “The commander moved like she owned the sky, and even a flock of birds got out of her way . . . She was brown . . . She was golden. It took me a minute to figure out that she was from the aziza. . . The aziza were faeries notorious for not interacting with outsiders.”
  • Maya thinks about grootslang, a creature from one of her father’s stories. Grootslang “looked like a cross between an elephant and a snake. It had leathery black skin and ivory tusks that were venomous.”

Spiritual Content

  • Orishas are both supernatural and spiritual beings. One can pray to an orisha for good luck or wealth. When Maya attends a council meeting of the orishas, she describes them in detail. “A light flashed in front of us, and high-back golden thrones shimmered into existence. The council members sat on them in their semidivine state. . .”
  • The Lord of Shadows is considered a divine being of similar class to the orishas.
  • After learning that she, Frankie, and Eli, are descendants of orishas, Maya wonders if this gives them divine status. “I thought about how the leader of the werehyenas had called us godlings and wondered what it meant. Was it like being a god, but not? Like a pretend god?”
  • Maya is shocked when she learns that her father is a full-blooded orisha named Elegguá. “My father was an orisha—a spirit god, a celestial, and not human.”
  • Maya’s neighbor, another orisha, explains how the universe began. “The universe started as a vast blank slate. It existed without space, time, mass, or depth. It was endless and boundless and void. No one can say how long it remained that way before becoming aware, but soon after, it grew restless. Once the first sparks of matter and antimatter cropped up, the universe found its purpose. It would create. The universe birthed planets, moons, comets, asteroids, black holes, and stars. The things it made hummed with energy, and in their song came the universe’s first and oldest name, Olodumare…” The story continues for a few pages, but the most important part is that Maya’s father created the veil.

by Madison Shooter

 

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Born in Ghana, West Africa with one deformed leg, Emmanuel was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Even though Emmanuel only had one good leg, he was determined to do what the other children did—go to school, play soccer, and ride a bike. Unlike most children today, Emmanuel also had to work shining shoes and selling vegetables to help support his family. Because of his disability, people told him to “go out and beg, like other disabled people did.” However, Emmanuel refused to give up, and his experiences led him to ride 400 miles across his country to show that “being disabled does not mean being unable.”

Even though Emmanuel’s Dream is a picture book, most young readers will not be able to read the book independently because of the advanced vocabulary and text-heavy pages. Each page has 2 to 4 sentences and many of the sentences are long and complex. The simple illustrations use bright colors and show Emmanuel’s world. Through the pictures, readers will get a brief look at Ghana’s culture.

Because of his disability, Emmanuel faced many hardships and discrimination. However, his story focuses on how he overcame each difficult situation. Emmanuel’s Dream will entertain readers as it teaches them the importance of perseverance and hard work. Because of Emmanuel’s dedication, he was able to succeed in spreading his message. “He proved that one leg is enough to do great things—and one person is enough to change the world.”

If you’re looking for more inspiring sports related books that focus on people overcoming difficult situations, pick up a copy of She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton and Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • When Emmanuel was born, most people thought he would be “useless, or worse—a curse. His father left, never to return.”

Spiritual Content

  • Emmanuel was given his name because it means “God is with us.”
  • Emmanuel asked the king of his region “to give him a royal blessing.”

 

Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1

When Bella’s mother gets remarried, Bella leaves her home in sunny Phoenix and goes to live with her father in the perpetually rainy town of Forks, Washington. Forks is a tiny, gloomy town and Bella is fully prepared to be miserable for her final two years of high school. She doesn’t expect anything interesting to happen in Forks. That is, of course, until she meets Edward Cullen.

Something is different about Edward. Breathtakingly beautiful and from a wealthy family, he baffles Bella with wild mood swings. When they first meet, he instantly despises her to the point of frightening her. Then—after disappearing for a week—he appears perfectly cordial. But it’s not until Edward saves her life in a feat of superhuman strength that Bella realizes the Cullen family is guarding a dangerous secret.

It would be smarter to walk away. Edward is unsure if he will be able to resist his thirst for Bella’s blood. But by the time she realizes the danger she is in, it’s too late. Live or die, Bella has fallen in love with Edward. She can’t walk away, even if her relationship with Edward costs her entire life.

Twilight is an epic story of love overcoming all challenges. In this graphic novel, Kim does a wonderful job bringing the characters and the storyline to life. By breaking the first book into segments, Kim ensures none of the essential story points are missing. For those who have not read Twilight and for avid fans alike, this graphic novel is an enjoyable escape into the Twilight universe.

Twilight, The Graphic Novel, Volume I uses soft shades of grey to bring its beautiful illustrations to life. The characters are all drawn to be beautiful, which is aesthetically pleasing if not the most accurate. Occasional splashes of color emphasize important moments and the characters’ expressions are easy to understand, which adds depth to the story. The graphic novel format manages to capture the essence of the original Twilight book without losing any of the essential aspects of the original story, an impressive feat that makes this a wonderful choice for reluctant readers.

Bella is not an overpowering heroine; she is quiet and clumsy to a fault, but she is fiercely loyal and brave. Bella risks everything for love, a choice that not all adults will agree with, but that most readers will understand as they follow Bella’s journey. Twilight is a wonderful story that swept through a generation of young readers like wildfire. Now in graphic novel form, it will continue to be picked up by even the most reluctant readers in years to come.

Sexual Content

  • When Bella and Edward kiss for the first time, Bella describes, “Blood boiled under my skin, burned in my lips.”

Violence

  • A van skids on ice in a parking lot and almost hits Bella. Edward pulls her out of the way. She is not injured, though the driver of the van is later shown in the hospital with bandages on his head.
  • Bella researches vampire legends online, including the Slovakian Nelapsi, “a creature so strong and fast it could massacre an entire village in the single hour after midnight.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • A legend of the indigenous Quileute people, “claims that [they] descended from wolves – and that the wolves are our brothers still.”
  • Edward and his family are vampires. They have super speed, strength, eyesight, etc. Unlike most vampires, Edward and his family survive off the blood of animals, so they do not have to murder people.
  • Some vampires have special abilities. Edward can read minds.

Spiritual Content

  • At first, Edward tries to stay away from Bella because he thinks it would be safer for her. Then he decides “as long as I was going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly.”

by Morgan Lynn

Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment

Young Parker Curry loves to dance. But one day, instead of going to dance classes, Parker’s mother takes Parker and her younger sister Ava to the museum. Parker, Ava, and their friend Gia, walk with their mothers through paintings that make them gasp and giggle. However, it isn’t until the end of their trip that Parker Curry looks up to see something which truly makes her dance inside—a portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama. Viewing the beauty and strength of a figure that looks like her family—like herself— Parker Curry begins to dream of all she can become. Listening to her mother list everything that Michelle Obama has inspired in society, Parker sees not just a portrait, but all the exciting new possibilities set before her. She sees the potential she holds to learn how to paint, play sports, practice musical instruments, cook new foods, advocate for others, volunteer, mentor, write, or dance, and dance, and dance.

Parker Looks Up is the true story behind the moment Parker Curry first saw the portrait of Michelle Obama, painted by acclaimed artist Amy Sherald. The portrait is on display in Washington’s National Portrait Gallery. Each page of Parker Looks Up displays Parker’s journey towards Michelle’s portrait in vibrant, colorful, digital animation. Readers follow Parker, her sister Ava, and their friend Gia through wide-framed, animated replicas of paintings from the gallery— artwork depicting prancing horses, blooming flowers, jeweled necklaces and bushy mustaches. Each painting Parker passes fills the page with vibrant detail that will be sure to engross young readers.

The amount of text on each page ranges anywhere from 1 to 9 sentences. Young readers will need help to understand some of the diction, such as words like “advocate,” “spellbound,” or “easel.” However, varied font sizes, bolded descriptions above each replicated painting, and brightly colored bubbles of exclamatory dialogue help readers stay engaged while working with their parents to understand the association between the images displayed on the page and the words used to describe them. For instance, following a full-page image of Michelle Obama’s portrait, words like “courageous,” “inspirational,” “volunteer,” and “mentor” float in pink font around Parker, thus providing an opportunity for readers to understand these words in connection to Parker, Michelle, and even themselves.

Parker Looks Up demonstrates to readers the power behind actively celebrating the beautiful diversity that exists in the art and leadership communities that inspire us daily. In writing Parker Looks Up, Parker Curry and Jessica Curry also provide readers with an avenue to feel that they, just like Parker, can do anything they set their minds to. Michelle Obama inspires Parker to see “a road before her with endless possibilities.” Parker Looks Up encourages all young readers to look to themselves when searching for a path that makes them feel like they, just like Parker, are dancing on the inside. If you’re looking for other picture books that use real people to inspire, add Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, and the Amazing Scientists Series by Julia Finley Mosca to your must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

 

 

 

 

I Am Alfonso Jones

Fifteen-year-old Alfonso Jones has had an interesting life. His class plans to put on a hip-hop rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Alfonso starring as King Claudius and his crush, Danetta, as Queen Gertrude. Danetta is also Alfonso’s best friend, and he wants to let her know how he really feels about her.

To complicate matters, Alfonso’s father is in prison after being wrongfully accused of murdering and raping a white woman. But now his father is finally being released from prison after being proven innocent! Alfonso’s mother sends him to buy a suit for his father’s return.

While shopping and changing jackets, a police officer fatally shoots Alfonso, thinking the coat hanger was a gun, despite the two objects having no similarity in appearance. Alfonso is transported onto a ghost train where he meets victims of police brutality. In the world of the living, Alfonso’s friends, family, and classmates struggle to come to terms with his death, and his death sparks massive protests throughout the world.

I Am Alfonso Jones is a touching novel about the Black Lives Matter movement and why the movement matters. The graphic novel uses a striking art style and simple, but effective prose, that allows the point to come across well; black lives do matter, and the loss of black life is a human rights issue. The novel also shows the different realities black people, especially boys and men, face. A mundane activity, such as buying a suit for a special event, can instantly turn into another death plastered all over news media outlets.

In America, there are unwritten rules for black people to follow. This is depicted in a scene where Alfonso’s grandfather, Velasco, gives his grandson “the Talk”—a conversation about race. Velasco tells Alfonso, “Son, this ‘talk’ is not what you think it would be. This is not about birds—or bees—flowers or any of that mess! This is about what it means to be black in America. You have to learn how to conduct—I mean, protect—yourself, especially in the presence of police officers. This is not a country that values black boys, men—women or girls, for that matter. Too many of our people are getting vacuumed into the prison industry or killed for no rational reason whatsoever but the skin they’re living in….”

I Am Alfonso Jones is told from the perspective of Alfonso and readers follow his daily life up to his death and beyond into the afterlife. The reader will experience the stories of other victims of police brutality from their point of view. The reader also sees the world of the living through the perspectives of Alfonso’s friends and family, most notably Danetta and his mother, as they struggle to get justice for Alfonso in a system that is rigged against them. They become organizers for Black Lives Matter, showing that the foundation of BLM is BIPOC women.

Because the story is told from the perspective of the BIPOC characters, the reader gets to see firsthand how the justice system fails marginalized groups. The plot even showcases the demonization of BIPOC for the system’s own failings and its ways of upholding white supremacy.

The graphic novel’s art uses black and white. The lack of color minimizes the violence committed by the police to prevent readers from seeing any real blood or injuries. The lack of color, however, centers the narrative and the violence toward black people. The character’s faces are expressive. The prose and emotional dialogue are easy to understand because it appears in speech bubbles, while the character’s thoughts are in air bubbles. The pages are heavy with words, averaging about 300 words per page.

I Am Alfonso Jones is a quick read that holds a lot of emotional weight. It encompasses why the Black Lives Matter movement is extremely important, especially in America, where massive injustices have been carried out to victims of color. If readers are confused as to why Black Lives Matter is an important movement, then I Am Alfonso Jones will answer that question.

Sexual Content

  • Alfonso and Danetta almost kiss once. Danetta wants Alfonso to make a move, while Alfonso is worried about getting rejected. Eventually, he thinks, “Oh, forget it! I’m just gonna do it —” before he’s interrupted. He doesn’t kiss Danetta because of being interrupted.

Violence

  • The book displays multiple events of police brutality, which usually end with the deaths of black people. Alfonso is shot and there are multiple flashbacks dedicated to what happened to him. One ghost was also shot by the police, and another was beaten to death. These scenes don’t last for more than four pages. The book opens with a page showing Alfonso running away from the bullet and the bullet eventually hitting him in the back. He shows a strong expression of intense pain. Unlike the other scenes, this is the most brutal because it was done to Alfonso, who is 15 years old.
  • Alfonso’s dad, Ishmael, returns home from work and is beaten by a police officer because he’s the main suspect for the rape and murder of a white woman. The scene lasts for a page. The officer slams Ishmael to the ground after Ismael saves his wife, Cynthia, from a fire in their apartment complex. After being slammed onto the concrete, Ishmael cries out, “Wait a minute! Wait! That’s my wife! That’s my wife! And my baby! My baby!”
  • During a peaceful protest, police throw tear gas into the crowd and the tear gas affects Alfonso’s classmates and Danetta. The scene lasts for two pages and shows police in full body armor, throwing the canister of tear gas. Panels show shots of Alfonso’s friends, who are teenagers, being hurt by the tear gas and punched by police. Danetta yells out, “My eyes are burning! I can’t breathe!” The police are attempting to take in some of Alfonso’s friends amidst the chaos.
  • An arsonist sets the store Alfonso was shot at on fire with a molotov cocktail. The scene lasts for a page and shows the lit bottle in midair before progressing into a panel with an explosion. A reporter recounts the incident, saying, “Markman’s department store, where African American teen Alfonso Jones was shot and killed, was the scene of a fire. Fire department officials suspect arson.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When he was a child, Alfonso smoked a cigarette which quickly caused an asthma attack.

Language

  • Danetta calls the character of Gertrude from Hamlet “a skank” twice.

Supernatural

  • Alfonso is turned into a ghost who rides on a train with other ghosts – all victims of police brutality. A few times he travels to the world of the living to check on his family and friends.

Spiritual

  • Alfonso’s grandfather, Velasco, is a reverend.

by Emma Hua

Parker Shines On: Another Extraordinary Moment

As she grows older, Parker Curry puts her whole heart into the art of ballet. At home, this passion manifests through silly dance moves Parker performs with her younger sister Ava and her younger brother Cash. These “dance parties” bring the whole family together.

In ballet class, Parker focuses more seriously on the movements of her teacher and vows to practice her skills more adamantly in the hopes of becoming a soloist like her friend Mira, or a professional dancer like those she sees featured on posters in the dance studio. With newfound determination, Parker waves away her sibling’s silly dances, instead dedicating herself to long hours in front of her mirror alone, practicing ballet steps over and over. “Becoming a real dancer is a serious business,” Parker thinks to herself. It isn’t until the day of her recital that Parker notices their soloist, Mira, is nervous. In this moment, Parker realizes it isn’t always practice, but the joy in the practice, that makes a performance beautiful. This realization, along with Ava and Cash’s encouragements to form a “Dance party!” help Mira and Parker showcase their hearts onstage.

The sequel to Parker Looks Up, Parker Shines On, is a true story from Parker Curry’s life, and works again to display the way powerful role models and positive experiences can shape a child’s life. Parker Shines On has dynamic and eye-catching digital illustrations by artist Brittany Jackson. On each page, readers follow Parker as she gathers dancing guidance from the posters of famous ballet icons, the movements of her best friend Mira, and the silly shenanigans of her siblings Cash and Ava.

Each illustration contrasts Parker’s carefree adventures at home — reading books, playing piano, dressing up, eating the last slice of cake, holding dance parties on the bed — with the precise and structured dances of Parker’s ballet classroom. With this contrast, readers can quickly see the way these two environments impact Parker’s approach to dancing. This adds an interesting tension to the story by displaying the way in which influences can negatively impact a person if they cause that person to pull joy away from their passions. In resolving this conflict in the end, Parker Shines On exemplifies how one can balance the structure and fun of life to not just improve on a skill, but also enjoy the process of that improvement. Each page holds scattered sections of text ranging from two to five lines and a simplistic vocabulary perfect for emerging readers.

In addition, the end of Parker Shines On is followed by Jessica Parker’s story behind the story, a note from famous ballet dancer Misty Copeland, and a biography for each dancer illustrated on the posters Parker sees throughout her practicing. These additions add another interactive piece for the readers of Parker Shines On, as these sections grant parents an opportunity to discuss real-life role models with young readers.

Though Parker Shines On will mainly appeal to those with a passion for dancing, it aims to truly capture the attention of all young readers looking for inspiration while practicing a new hobby. In showing the way Parker celebrates her own unique way of dancing, all readers are encouraged to express creative endeavors on the outside in the exact way they feel on the inside.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Firefly Hollow

There are certain things that are taught to the young fireflies and crickets of the Hollow. But Firefly doesn’t only want to learn how to fly—she wants to fly to the moon. And Cricket doesn’t only want to sing about baseball games—he wants to play in one.

Their dreams seem too big for the Hollow, and as Firefly and Cricket chase them beyond the trees, they stumble upon a giant, like the ones they have always been warned about. But this giant is different—he’s miniature, and his name is Peter.

Peter is in need of friends, even small ones, even if his dad thinks they are imaginary. But Firefly and Cricket are actual, not imaginary. And so are their dreams. And sometimes dreams, like friendships, lead to something extraordinary.

In the Hollow, both fireflies and crickets have been warned to stay away from humans, who are dangerous. “The worlds of tiny creatures and humans were unbridgeable, or at least that’s what crickets and fireflies were always told. But every once in a while, there was one—sometimes two—who ventured out of firefly nation, out of the cricket nation, to test the waters on their own.” Despite their fear, Firefly and Cricket leave the hollow and become friends with Peter. In the process, they learn that friends—no matter how small—can come in unlikely places.

Firefly Hollow shows how dreams can come true in unexpected ways. Unlike most of the Hollow’s creatures, Peter doesn’t make fun of Firefly’s and Cricket’s dreams. Instead, he helps them achieve their goals through encouragement and advice. Through the three friends’ experiences, readers will learn that true friends are kindred spirits who accept you as you are. As Vole says, “A kindred spirit is someone who understands the deepest dream of your heart.”

The Hollow is portrayed in a magical way through beautiful illustrations. Both black and white drawings and full-color illustrations appear every 3 to 7 pages. Most of the black and white illustrations focus on the characters. The colored illustrations show the beautiful light from fireflies as well as the scale of Firefly and Cricket compared to their surroundings. While younger readers will love the story, they may need help with the book’s advanced vocabulary which includes words like carapace, heedless, disintegrate, circumnavigated and kindred.

Firefly Hollow is a must-read because it is a beautiful story about friendship that shows the importance of determination, preservation, practice, and trying new things. The story also explores the idea of death by focusing on how people are missed after they die. Even though Firefly and Cricket are bugs, they are completely loveable and relatable. Readers will fall in love with the two friends who remind us that dreams are never too big.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The Museum of Giant Artifacts has items from the human world. In the museum, “the Jar that was especially horrifying to the firefly nation. The Jar! It contained actual firefly corpses!”
  • A cricket named Gloria is injured by a human. “One lollipop stick flung carelessly from the hand of a miniature giant and now there she is—one front leg and one wing permanently damaged.”
  • Vole’s nation was washed away. “The giants who lived upstream had struck down a beaver dam. This caused the river to rise up in fury, swamping the fishing boats of the river voles and sweeping both boats and voles downriver, never to be seen again. All except one. Vole.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Many think that Cricket and Firefly are “nuts” or “crazy.” For example, when Cricket says he’d like to catch a baseball, someone asks, “Are you nuts?”
  • At one point, Peter’s father says that Firefly is insane.
  • A cricket is talking about Cricket when he says, “He’s weird and he’s a pain, but we miss him anyway.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • An elder asks Firefly, “Did you know that when fireflies get very old, they turn into stars? And what that means is that if the day ever comes when I’m not here, I’ll be up in the sky. . .Just remember that,” he said. “Remember that one of the stars in the sky will be me, and I’ll be watching over you.”
  • After crickets die, they “turn into music and we are everywhere. . .They turned into the sound of the wind, rustling the leaves on the trees. The crunch of an acorn in the fall.”

The Firefly with No Glow

Luke is a firefly who lives in a garden, but unlike his friends, Luke doesn’t have a light and “no light means no glow.” As Luke and his friends explore the world, Luke’s friends help him. But one night, a boy catches Luke’s friends and puts them into a jar. None of the other fireflies can help, but because Luke doesn’t glow, the boy doesn’t see him. Luke frees his friends. While he doesn’t have a light that glows, after he helps his friends, Luke is glowing with pride.

By reading The Firefly with No Glow, children can fly into the world of the fireflies and explore. Every page has illustrations that show the adorably cute fireflies who live in a beautiful world full of creatures—an owl in a tree, ladybugs on a leaf, and crickets playing a song. Young readers will have fun trying to find all the creatures in the illustrations. Most of the full-page illustrations show the dark blue night sky which allows the fireflies light to shine bright. When the fireflies are trapped in a jar, their frowns are evident, but the scenes are not scary.

The Firefly with No Glow is part of the Step into Reading level two, which is geared toward preschool through first grade readers. With large font and 1 to 2 short sentences per page, young readers will enjoy the simple story. However, some readers will need help sounding out unfamiliar words.

The story focuses on Luke, a firefly who is different than the other fireflies. However, it is Luke’s difference that allows him to save his friends. While Luke doesn’t have a light that glows, he is portrayed in a positive light. The Firefly with No Glow highlights how one firefly’s difference makes him the perfect firefly to help his friends. The cute, engaging story will leave readers with a warm glow and help them understand that being unique is a good thing.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A boy “catches a few of Luke’s friends. They are trapped in a jar.” Every firefly that tries to help, gets caught by the boy.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

I Believe I Can

From the moment she starts her book, I Believe I Can, Grace Byers writes a dedication of encouragement to her readers: “There will always be one person who might not believe in you; let that person never be you.” These words set off a first-person narrative of “I can” affirmations.

As the reader dives into the pages of I Believe I Can, they are sent into the narrative as the first-person character; a character with the imagination to accomplish a list of feats including sailing, stretching like the Alps, igniting like a rocket, or building the world up, brick by brick. The narrative describes all the extremes that a person can be: grounded, boundless, brave, loud, right, wrong, and strong. Through these adjectives, the reader understands that they may encounter stumbles along their path and that they may not always be perfect, but that ultimately, believing in oneself is the key to getting up and trying again whenever one falls down.

I Believe I Can by Grace Byers is a book of empowerment for young readers at the very beginning of their road towards understanding themselves and accomplishing new feats. In colorful penciled drawings by Keturah A. Bobo, readers follow along with a diverse cast of children dancing ballet, playing in pirate ships or astronaut helmets, dressing up in silly costumes, planting greenery, and decorating cakes. The book even shows the children making mistakes—like drawing in crayon on their house walls— to relate to the mistakes readers themselves may have experienced.

Byer’s diction is simple, the sentence length is short (at most five sentences per page), and most pages are a set of two-sentence rhyming couplets. There is no complicated plot to follow, as the story is more focused on accumulating powerful “I” statements that readers can use throughout their daily lives. In addition, Bobo’s drawings often add animation to the subjects described in Byer’s phrases. For example, when a rocket is mentioned, there is a drawing of a rocket made from building blocks. In this way, the powerful encouragements and detailed drawings will be suitable for any reader looking to study new words and rhyming sentences on their own.

After reading this book, all youngsters will feel encouraged to dive into the activities they love and believe in themselves as they tackle new things in their life—including reading. I Believe I Can by Grace Byers ultimately shows readers the importance of lifting yourself up, and the way believing in yourself can lead to a power you never knew you had.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Tristan Strong Destroys the World

Tristan Strong has returned to his normal life, away from the mythological worlds of Alke and MidPass, where he just helped save African American and African folk heroes and gods from the malevolent King Cotton. But Tristan is suffering from PTSD, and trying to acclimate is more difficult than it looks. Unfortunately for Tristan, his troubles are far from over. A cloaked entity kidnaps Tristan’s Nana in the middle of the night, forcing Tristan to descend back into the world of Alke and MidPass while dealing with his past trauma.

United by new and old characters, Tristan Strong Destroys the World is a solid sequel to the first installment, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. Tristan’s adventures in this book build nicely on the historical and mythological references that Kwame Mbalia established previously. The references to King Cotton, Brer Bear, and the impending doom hanging over Alke and MidPass are meant to reflect on the real-life consequences of the effects of the Atlantic slave trade on African traditions and culture.

Tristan’s role as the Anansesem, or magical storyteller, quite literally brings these folktales to life. The book emphasizes the power of stories and story-keeping as a method of preservation and healing. Although these themes are similar to the previous book, this time Tristan must deal with a new kind of trauma. After watching many of his new friends in Alke and MidPass get injured or die in the previous book, Tristan now faces the aftermath. Tristan’s reckoning with his mental health is mirrored in the villain Brer Bear, who is also dealing with loss but in a much more destructive way than Tristan.

Kwame Mbalia does an excellent job conveying the connections between Tristan’s world and the worlds of Alke and MidPass. When Alke suffers, so does Tristan’s world. The connection emphasizes the historical and mythological links to Tristan’s life and his grandparents’ lives. Tristan’s grandparents, especially his Nana, take on a larger role in this book. When Tristan’s Nana was younger, she frequently traveled to Alke, so she knows many stories and helps Tristan collect folktales.

The events of Tristan Strong Destroys the World lead to a cliffhanger, leaving the reader wanting to discover the next part of the story. The violence shown in this book is not gory, but certain scenes may scare some younger readers. The next book, Tristan Strong Keeps Punching, should continue these adventures and Tristan’s journey through understanding his trauma. Tristan’s story may be based on the folklore and stories that people share, but there is always a seed of truth in these fictitious tales.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Tristan practices boxing with his grandfather, who is much better than Tristan. As a result, Tristan occasionally gets “punched in the face” during bouts.
  • Through his phone, Tristan sees into Alke, the mythological land where the previous book took place. Tristan sees John Henry, one of the legendary folktales, talking to a mysterious figure, who attacks John Henry. Tristan describes, “The monster swung the hammer down in a vicious arc, and the screen went black.” Nothing else is described, and at this point, it is unknown if John Henry survives.
  • Tristan boxes a local boy named Reggie and beats Reggie. Later, Reggie and Tristan argue, and Tristan gets mad. He “shoved the larger boy in the chest with one hand.” But because Tristan is wearing John Henry’s magic boxing gloves, Reggie flies “backward across the barn . . . a dozen yards” away.
  • Tristan and his grandmother freeze time by accident. Tristan realizes that his grandmother is weaving a magical tapestry, while two large cats try to attack her and Tristan. As they are the only two that can move and defend themselves, Tristan tries to stop the cats while his grandmother finishes her tapestry. When Tristan is too late to stop one of the cats, his grandmother throws the tapestry over the cat to kill it. As a result, Tristan’s grandmother is injured. Tristan describes, “She dropped back onto the ground, sending torn pieces of quilt scattering like dead leaves as she clutched her chest.”
  • A monster known as the Shamble Man kidnaps Tristan’s grandmother. The Shamble Man “tossed her over his shoulder like she was as light as a pillow. She fought him. Somehow she’d grabbed her quilting bag and was smacking the Shamble Man upside the head with it.” Unfortunately, the Shamble Man succeeds in kidnapping Tristan’s grandmother, and Tristan must travel to save her.
  • Tristan interrupts the legendary Keelboat Annie while she’s speaking. In response, Tristan’s friend Ayanna “shut [him] up by jabbing [his] foot with her staff.”
  • Ayanna’s friend, Junior, throws a rock at Tristan’s head. Tristan describes, “Something flew through the air and beaned me in the back of the head.”
  • Tristan fights a giant vulture named Kulture Vulture. Tristan describes that he “threw a flurry of punches. Several connected. Kulture Vulture’s bald pink head snapped back, and flecks of mud went flying.” This scene lasts for a few pages.
  • Tristan, trying to distract and humiliate Kulture Vulture, “slapped the giant bird.” This scene is played as a comedic moment, as Kulture Vulture is trying to eat Tristan and Tristan switches fighting tactics. Tristan uses this moment to signal for Ayanna and Junior to throw rocks at Kulture Vulture. This scene lasts for a few pages.
  • The Shamble Man is Brer Bear in disguise. Tristan discovers this, and Brer Bear attacks Tristan. Tristan says, “The giant grizzly exploded across the dance floor, one massive paw lifting me off the ground by the throat and slamming me against the wall behind me, driving the breath out of my lungs and causing pain to shoot through the back of my skull. Ayanna screamed and Junior was knocked aside by Bear’s other paw.” A fight scene ensues for several pages.
  • A final fight ensues between Tristan and his friends against Brer Bear, who is trying to destroy MidPass, Alke, and Tristan’s world. Brer Bear has John Henry’s magical hammer and uses it to attack Tristan. At one point, Tristan “ducked, but the hammer clipped the side of [his] shoulder and sent [him] tumbling head over heels into the waves.” The fight lasts for a couple of chapters.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Light language is used somewhat often. Language includes: loser, trash, butt, loudmouth, clown, stupid, jerk, and fool.
  • Tristan’s friend Ayanna makes a joke about Tristan’s fear of heights. Tristan replies, jokingly, with “a rude gesture.” They both laugh afterward.
  • Tristan’s favorite exclamation is, “Sweet peaches!”
  • Keelboat Annie yells for Ayanna and Tristan to hold onto their “dirt-loving derrieres.”
  • Tristan calls the Kulture Vulture a “foul-mouthed birdbrain.”
  • Tristan and his friends call various monsters names while fighting them. For instance, Tristan and Gum Baby fight a giant called Big Big. Tristan yells at Big Big and calls him “Butt Butt.” Gum Baby has a slew of nicknames for Big Big, including “Bing Bong.”
  • Ayanna calls Brer Bear a “mangy-furred cretin.”
  • Gum Baby spends lots of her time yelling creative insults at her companions. Gum Baby calls Tristan and the others “bumbletongues” and “dunderheads,” for instance.

Supernatural

  • Tristan explains that in the previous book, he punched a hole into a different realm where “Black folktale heroes and African gods walk around like you and me . . . I accidentally brought a diabolical haunt with me, stirring up an even more ancient evil . . . I caught Anansi trying to use all the confusion to gain power for himself instead of helping the people, and this was his punishment.” Many of the folk heroes and gods from the previous book return in this installment, including legends such as John Henry.
  • Tristan explains his role as an Anansesem, “a carrier and spreader of stories,” which is his magic power. Tristan can bring stories to life.
  • Anansi, the mythological spider, makes ghosts appear in Tristan’s grandparents’ barn. All the spirits are from Alke, the mythological land where Tristan’s adventures in the previous book took place. Tristan explains that Alke is “the realm of stories where Black folk heroes and African gods coexisted—peacefully now, I hoped.”
  • Tristan returns to the lands of Alke and MidPass. In these worlds, Tristan is surrounded by magic creatures and magic itself. For instance, Tristan reunites with the “winged goddesses,” Aunt Sarah and Aunt Rose.
  • Tristan’s Nana tells him a story about boo hags, who are “creatures who slip their skin off at night” and “sit on your chest and suck the air from your lungs” while you sleep. Tristan discovers that boo hags exist in Alke and MidPass, and he helps one named Lady Night steal her skin back from a giant named Big Big. Nana also tells Tristan that one way to keep away a boo hag is to call upon a root witch to make a ward to keep boo hags away.
  • Lady Night turns Big Big into a “large wrinkly-skinned weasel” with her magic.
  • Mami Wata, a water goddess, shows Tristan a vision. Mami Wata shows Tristan MidPass as it once was and declares, “It is as it should be.” The vision lasts for a couple of pages.
  • The malicious entity fueling Brer Bear’s hatred is King Cotton’s mask, from the previous installment in the series. It’s a magical mask that “glows green” and feeds on negative emotions already within the being.

Spiritual Content

  • Tristan remembers the words to an “old spiritual” tune as he faces Brer Bear in a final showdown. The song goes, “Who’s that young girl dressed in blue?/ You don’t believe I’ve been redeemed/ Just so the whole lake goes looking for me . . .” These are the lines that Tristan tells the reader.

by Alli Kestler

The Heart and the Bottle

A young girl, much like any other, finds herself fascinated with the world surrounding her. From the sea to the sky and everything in between, the young girl finds herself continuously curious about everything the world carries—that is, until the world no longer carries something very important: a loved one who has recently passed away.

To reconcile the emotions that come with this passing, the young girl decides her best option is to bottle away her heart. But as she grows older, the girl quickly finds that lugging her heart around in a bottle is not just cumbersome, but it also drains the girl’s ability to stay curious about the world.

When the girl finally feels that it is time to free her heart from its bottle, it will take another curious, young girl to help her find the solution to freeing her heart.

The Heart and The Bottle tackles the complicated topic of grief through a touching metaphor. Bright illustrations show what words find hard to describe. For example, the passing of the main character’s loved one is not told explicitly through the story. Rather, it is conveyed through an illustration of the girl looking at an empty chair that the loved one sat on earlier in the book. In this way, the illustrations of the book capture the inarticulable moments in a child’s life, whether it’s a trip through their wide-reaching imagination or an attempt to conceptualize grief and death in a healing way.

Even though The Heart and The Bottle is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. The writing itself contains some larger words that may be harder for a young reader to work out on their own, but the number of words per page is sparse, averaging about one to eight sentences per page. Additionally, a number of pages in this narrative do not rely on words at all, but instead communicates the relationship with the young girl and her loved one through text bubbles filled with illustrations of plant life, galaxies, bees, whales, and other compelling aspects of the world.

The sparse text and elaborate illustrations show the ways in which this book seems to be a space for conversation; the illustrated pages without words grant room for parents and their children to talk about the images on the page. In so doing, The Heart and The Bottle gives all readers the chance to understand a way to move through grief while maintaining a fervor and love for the surrounding world.

Though perhaps a heavier read, The Heart and The Bottle tackles the difficult topic of grief in a kid-friendly manner. In addition, it gives a vital message to young readers experiencing grief for the first time. The Heart and The Bottle lets all readers know that it is okay to feel things intensely, it is okay to take time to heal, but most importantly, it’s okay to allow yourself to stay vulnerable and curious to the surrounding world despite the events that may come your way.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • There is no violence, but it should be noted that there is a reference of a family’s members death that is illustrated through an empty chair and the words, “She took delight in finding new things . . . until she found an empty chair.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Sophie’s Squash

One fall day, Sophie makes a surprising friend during her family’s sunny trip to the local farmers’ market. The friend just happens to be a squash. Sophie calls her Bernice. At first, Sophie’s parents let Sophie care for and love Bernice—taking her to storytime at the library, introducing her to the other squash at the market, practicing somersaults in the garden, and tucking baby Bernice into a crib at night with a bottle. “Well, we did hope she’d love vegetables,” Sophie’s parents humorously justify. However, as Bernice begins to get older and rot, Sophie’s parents try to convince Sophie to cook Bernice, or send her to a food donation site. Even the other children during library storytime look down on Bernice as she ages. However, Sophie is not ready to ever give up her perfect friend—so when Bernice begins to soften and can no longer do somersaults, Sophie makes the difficult decision to put her in a bed of soft soil and wait for Bernice to grow again.

Sophie’s Squash is a wonderfully gentle tale that not only teaches children how to care for the things that they love, but also shows readers how letting go can sometimes lead to new possibilities. Miller thoughtfully weaves her story of Sophie and Bernice alongside whimsical watercolor illustrations in which illustrator Anne Wilsdorf fully showcases Sophie’s somersaults, Bernice’s baby carriage rides, and multiple family trips to the farmers’ market. Even though Sophie’s Squash is longer than most picture books, two or three illustrations sit on each page and break up the text so that there is no more than five to ten lines between each image. The watercolor illustrations also work to bring the entire narrative to life, so viewers still gain a complete grasp of the story by looking only at the pictures. This, coupled with the digestible nature of Miller’s prose, makes Sophie’s Squash perfect for new and learning readers.

Throughout all the quirky shenanigans of Sophie’s Squash, Sophie’s character shines with a heroic agency and independence. Sophie’s care towards Bernice turns this silly story about a girl and a squash into a truly heartwarming story about friendship, care, and even environmentalism. By exemplifying the new path Sophie must take in order to regrow her friend Bernice, Sophie’s Squash creates a powerful metaphor demonstrating the wondrous things that can come from putting something else’s needs— particularly the needs of nature— before your own.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • One of the children at the library points and stares at Bernice, saying to Sophie, “What’s that spotty thing?” In the narrative, this question takes on a teasing tone that may be hard for some children to read.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

Willodeen

Eleven-year-old Willodeen adores creatures of all kinds, but her favorites are the most unlovable beasts in the land; strange beasts known as “screechers.” The villagers of Perchance call them pests– even monsters– but Willodeen believes the animals serve a vital role in the complicated web of nature.
Lately, though, nature has seemed angry indeed. Perchance has been cursed with fires and mudslides, droughts and fevers, and even the annual migration of hummingbears, a source of local pride and income, has dwindled. For as long as anyone can remember, the tiny animals have overwintered in shimmering bubble nests perched atop blue willow trees, drawing tourists from far and wide. This year, however, not a single hummingbear has returned to Perchance, and no one knows why.

When a handmade birthday gift brings unexpected magic to Willodeen and her new friend, Connor, she’s determined to speak up for the animals she loves, and perhaps even uncover the answer to the mystery of the missing hummingbears.

Willodeen is a wonderfully relatable character who feels as if she’s odd and unlovable because she would rather spend time in nature than with people. Like many middle school readers, Willodeen is often self-conscious and struggles to find her voice. Many people make fun of Willodeen’s love of screechers because they don’t understand why she loves the ugly, smelly creatures. However, when Willodeen meets Connor, they connect over their love of all creatures. In the end, Willodeen becomes the heroine of the story when she uses her power of scientific observation to solve the town’s problem, saving the screechers in the process.

Through Willodeen’s experiences, readers will learn about the importance of community. When the town is threatened by fire, everyone joins in to help put the fire out. The theme is developed further when Willodeen and Connor go to the city council meetings—where both Willodeen and Connor find the bravery to speak up for the detested screechers. Readers will love how Mae, Birdie, and Connor’s father stand up for Willodeen and encourage her to “be what you are meant to be.” Even though Willodeen is different than others, the story shows that she has value and can contribute to her community in her own unique way.

Willodeen is also a story about caring for all nature—even the animals that aren’t adorably cute like the hummingbears. The story shows how all of nature is interconnected and how each animal has an important role in the ecosystem. Readers will love discovering how the screechers and the hummingbears are interconnected. In the end, the town learns to appreciate the screechers. And when tourists “complained about the horrible beasts stinking up the village, we learned to simply shrug and say, ‘when screechers were invented, Mother Nature made them scented.’”

Appplegate creates another beautiful story that advanced readers and middle school readers will love. The short chapters, loveable characters, and a bit of magic will captivate readers and leave them contemplating ways they can use their voice to impact their community.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Willodeen and her family are caught in a fire. Her father, mother and little brother died in the fire. Willodeen has a nightmare about the “flames grabbing for me like a hungry monster. The soles of my feet blistering. The poisonous smoke scorching my lungs.” Willodeen wonders why she “made it out” when her family didn’t.
  • Willodeen is looking at a screecher curled in a nest, when she “heard footsteps, movement. Thwap. The arrow hit with such force that the nest seemed to explode.” The screecher runs, but Willodeen sees “a thick trail of blood leading into the trees.” Later she finds the animal dead. “His eyes staring at nothing. His white snout was covered in blood.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Every year Perchance has a fair where “ale and trinkets” are sold.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Birdie tells Willodeen “angry tears have magic in them. . . There’s magic in all of us. Just a bit. You’re born with it, like fingers and toes and fuzzy baby hair. Some of us make use of it. And some do not.”
  • A screecher magically comes alive. “The creature has a maker, a boy with nimble fingers and a tender heart. He’s spent hours weaving weeds and thistledown in the milky moonlight, spinning her into existence.” The creature began as a screecher, made from weeds, wood, and other materials. But then Willodeen cried “for myself because I was alone and lonely on my birthday. And because I was odd and unlovable. For a long time, I let myself weep. . .” Willodeen’s “angry tears” had the magic to make the screecher alive.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Peter and the Sword of Mercy

Life on the island has continued peacefully for many years. With fallen starstuff in the island’s water supply, no one gets sick and no one ages. So Peter is very surprised when Wendy—Molly’s daughter—shows up on the island in desperate need of help.

Wendy grew up with no idea that the starcatchers existed. After Peter and Molly’s adventure in Rundoon, starstuff stopped falling and it was thought that no more of the Others existed. So the starcatchers stopped recruiting new members and faded to a tiny group of mostly elderly members. Needless to say, the starcatchers are not prepared when trouble brews anew. After both of Wendy’s parents disappear, Lord Aster—elderly and bedridden—tells Wendy there is only one person who can help: A very special boy on an island that is very hard to find.

For fans delighted with the Starcatcher series, as well as the fans who were disappointed with the first two sequels, this final installment ends the series with a flourish! Harkening back to the glory of the first book, Peter and the Sword of Mercy has action and mystery galore. Readers will be shocked when encountering old friends who are twenty years older than in the last book. An elderly Lord Aster and a fading starcatchers’ society are a shock to Peter, as is learning that Molly married George and had a daughter named Wendy.

The mix of old and new characters carries the story along at a breakneck pace. Rather than the fractured storylines that made the last installment difficult to relate to, this book returns to the original book’s more streamlined approach. Readers still follow events from several character’s points of view, but by focusing largely on Peter’s point of view. Peter and the Sword of Mercy succeed in emotionally engaging readers. The shifts in point of view are well-done, are never confusing, and allow readers to view events happening with Peter’s friends as well as the events put in motion by the Others.

With non-ending action, a broadcast of colorful characters, and the emotional rollercoaster ride of returning to London after twenty years, Peter and the Sword of Mercy is a glorious ending to a beloved series.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • In the year 811 A.D., two warriors battle. “Charlemagne drew his sword, known as Joyeuse. Both men grunted as they swung their weapons, the blades glinting in the firelight, the clash of metal echoing off the chapel’s stone walls . . . Ogier swung his sword, just missing Charlemagne’s jaw but slicing off a piece of the king’s beard.” The fight is described over two pages.
  • When a bobby tries to grab Molly, “she drew back her right foot and kicked him hard on the shin. As he bent over in pain, she yanked her arm free with all her strength, ripping her sleeve but freeing herself. She ran.” She gets away unharmed.
  • A character named the Skeleton is able to cause excruciating pain with the slightest touch. “The Skeleton’s claw-hand moved, ever so slightly. The priest screamed as his body was wracked with searing pain, starting at his neck but suddenly everywhere at once.”
  • Wendy crashes a flying machine called an ornithopter. “Wendy felt a stab of pain as her head struck the ornithopter frame. Before she could hold her breath she was dragged underwater.” She is rescued by porpoises.
  • Peter is hurt when his ship crashes. “Peter and Wendy were hurled sideways, slamming into the passageway wall. Peter’s head hit something, and he fell to the floor, dazed.”
  • A bad man threatens to burn his henchmen. The henchmen obey him immediately because “one time he’d pulled out most of a man’s hair by the roots. He’d reached into another man’s mouth and yanked out a gold tooth. They figured he was perfectly capable of using their bodies as fuel for smoke signals.”
  • A crewman tries to stop Wendy from escaping. She “drew back and kicked out with all her strength. Suddenly her shoe came off in his hand and she fell backward over the railing.”
  • Peter and his friends set off an explosion as a distraction. “Fortunately for them, none of the bobbies were directly in front of the door when it blew, although all of them were thrown violently backward and onto the ground.”
  • Peter pushes a bobby as they try to escape. “The three bobbies, yelping in pain and fear, tumbled after her. Peter had shoved the first from behind; he had taken the other two down, like bowling pins. They sprawled onto the floor, moaning.”
  • The Skeleton hurts Peter with his touch. “And then he [Peter] screamed in pain. Without knowing how he got there, he realized he was on his knees. The awful pain had receded from his body, but it had left him too weak to stand.”
  • The Skeleton hurts a prisoner. “He reached out his claw and touched the shoulder of the man next to James. The man screamed and fell to the floor.”
  • Von Schatten, one of the Others, attacks James. “Von Schatten spun, bringing the sword around. The flat side caught James in the forehead with a sickening sound. James fell to the ground, blood gushing from his head.”
  • James electrocutes von Schatten. Afterward Peter “screamed at the ghastly sight only inches from his face: Von Schatten lay twitching on his back, smoke pouring from his clothes as his flesh burned with a stomach-turning stench. The worst was his face. His eyeglasses had melted, forming two back rivers down his gaunt cheeks. Left exposed were the eyes, which were not eyes at all, but two gaping holes in the center of his skull, revealing nothing inside but a red glow. Wisps of smoke drifted upward from the holes.”
  • As a tunnel collapses, “huge chunks of earth and rock began to fall from the tunnel roof. A roof beam fell on George, knocking him to the ground.”
  • Hook attacks Peter. “He brought the sword down . . . but Peter’s hand was just quick enough as he brought the sword tip up to meet Hook’s downward thrust . . . [then] the porpoise, having launched himself from the water on the starboard side, slammed into Hook’s body, sending him sprawling on deck.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Two ships crash because “the helmsman of the Lucy had also had a bit too much to drink this night. He was half asleep at the wheel.”

Language

  • Imbeciles is used a few times.

Supernatural

  • Starcatchers are “a small group of people . . . There have been Starcatchers on Earth for centuries, Peter. Even we don’t know how long. But our task is always the same: to watch for the starstuff, and to get to it, and return it, before it falls into the hands of the Others.” The Others misuse starstuff to gain power.
  • Starstuff is golden dust that sometimes falls from the sky as meteors and “has amazing power . . . Wonderful power. Terrible power. It . . . it lets you do things . . . It’s not the same for everybody. And it’s not the same for animals as for people.” Starstuff can heal, can make people fly, can make people strong. Larger quantities are more dangerous and can kill a person, or turn a fish into a mermaid, horses into centaurs, and other transformations.
  • Starcatchers have learned the language of some intelligent animals, including bears, porpoises, and wolves. They work together often to find any starstuff that falls. Wendy speaks with a porpoise several times, in their language of clicks and squeaks.

Spiritual Content

  • In a flashback to 811 A.D., a king “prayed for the peace to continue. And, as always, he prayed for forgiveness for his son, now forty, but still a boy in his father’s eyes . . . [he] bowed his head, his lips moving as he recited the Scripture.”
  • During a sword fight, the king from 811 A.D. sees a “face smiling at him, shimmering through the smoke with unearthly beauty.” He thinks it is an angel. The being saves the man’s life, then disappears.
  • The queen of England is sick; a man by her bedside “murmured a prayer.”
  • When the Skeleton tortures a priest for information, the priest’s “lips began to move. He spoke in Latin, praying.”

by Morgan Krueger

Ophie’s Ghosts

Ophelia Harrison used to live in a small house in the Georgia countryside. But that was before the night in November of 1922, and the cruel act that took her home and her father from her– which was the same night that Ophie learned she can see ghosts.

Now, Ophie and her mother are living in Pittsburgh with relatives they barely know. In the hopes of earning enough money to get their own place, Mama has gotten Ophie a job as a maid in the same old manor house where she works.

Daffodil Manor, like the wealthy Caruthers family who owns it, is haunted by memories and prejudices of the past and, as Ophie discovers, ghosts as well. It is filled with ghosts who have their own loves and hatreds and desires, ghosts who have wronged others, and ghosts who have themselves been wronged. And as Ophie forms a friendship with one spirit whose life ended suddenly and unjustly, she wonders if she might be able to help—even as she comes to realize that Daffodil Manor may hold more secrets than she bargained for.

Ophie’s Ghosts pulls the reader into the story from the very first page and will keep readers engaged until the very end. While Ophie’s tale shows the harsh realities of living in the 1920s, the story is spun using kid-friendly descriptions. However, younger readers could be disturbed by Ophie’s encounters with ghosts, many of whom died tragically. The ghosts are from every walk of life and include people of all ages and races. While Ophie interacts with many ghosts, none of the ghosts try to harm her. For Ophie, the danger comes from the living.

Readers will empathize with Ophie, who is thrown into servitude at a young age. Through Ophie’s experiences, readers will come to understand the difficulties African Americans faced during the 1920s. The story gives many examples of discrimination and explores the topic of passing as caucasian. In the end, Ophie cries because “girls who believed in happily ever afters could be murdered in attics, and because men who just wanted to have their voices heard could have their words choked off forever.”

Throughout the story, Ireland references people and events of the time. However, the text doesn’t explain the references and most readers will not understand their significance. For example, Ophie’s mother makes several comments about bootleggers, but the term is never explained. In addition, the story uses some difficult vocabulary such as irksome tomes, incandescent, tincture, fluffing, and blotto. Despite this, most readers can use context clues to understand the term.

Through Ophie’s point of view, Ophie’s Ghosts paints a vivid picture of life in the 1920s. Ophie points out the unfair circumstances that rob her of her childhood. However, despite the hardships Ophie faces, she is never bitter. Instead, she thinks about her Daddy. “Daddy had often said that when presented with two choices, a hard thing and an easy thing, the right thing was usually the more difficult one.” Because of her Daddy’s words, Ophie has the courage to listen to the ghosts and help them move on.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction, should also read Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxie and The Player King by Avi. For readers who want to learn about history, but aren’t ready for more mature books, Survival Tails by Katrina Charman and American Horse Tales by Michelle Jabés Corpora would be good choices.

Sexual Content

  • Ophie asks Cook about a woman she saw. Cook replies, “Sometimes Mr. Richard likes to bring home . . . a bit of company, but those girls are not business of yours.”
  • Ophie likes to read romance books. “Mama would have had a fit if she knew her daughter was reading such things, stories of girls who were compromised, whatever that meant, and kissed boys who left them heartbroken.”
  • Sophie asks Clara, a ghost, about her beau. Clara said, “A lady never kisses and tells.”
  • A woman in a dressing room goes into the kitchen. Ophie wonders, “Did Clara know that Richard was having friends over, friends who walked around the house half-dressed after sleeping in most of the day?”

Violence

  • Ophie’s father is murdered because he voted. His death is not described.
  • After killing Ophie’s father, a group of men burn down Ophie’s family home. Ophie and her mother hide from the men. “The snap and crackle of fire slowly grew louder than the voices of the men, a roar of consumption, followed by thick smoke that twined sinuously through the treetops. . .”
  • When a group of men are standing around talking, Ophie thinks, “The men who were in her yard, yelling and laughing, were the kind of white men who had beat up Tommy Williams just because he accidentally looked the wrong way at a white lady from Atlanta. After they’d pummeled Tommy, they’d dropped him off in the woods near Ophie’s house, most likely because they’d figured no one would find him.”
  • Even though Ophie is young, she still understands that “Colored folks who’d broken some unspoken rule, gotten uppity and acted above their station, paid the price for such an error with their lives.”
  • Sophie meets a ghost who is just a boy. He has “bloody welts crisscrossing his back.”
  • When Ophie tries to help her cousin with her homework, “the result had been a vicious slap without any kind of warning.”
  • Caruther tells about a boy who was whipped “until the white meat showed.”
  • A man is hit by a trolley. “He boarded the trolley right through the closed door, his suit torn and bloody, his hat missing entirely. . . his gray suit and pale skin made the blood dripping from his head all the more vivid.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses Penelope’s body. Clara goes after Penelope’s murderer with a pair of scissors. To prevent another death, Ophie throws salt. “The container burst into a shower of salt as it hit the girl in the chest. There was a sound like the room was inhaling, the air grew thick . . . Clara crumbled to the floor.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Ophie sees a ghost who was “still wearing his service uniform and drinking to numb the pain of a heart broken by a war fought in trenches.” Later, Ophie finds out that the ghost died because of his drinking.
  • After Mrs. Caruther has a “fit,” “the doctor gives her laudanum.”
  • A ghost asks Ophie, “Do you think you could get your hands on a bottle of gin. Spirits for the spirit!”
  • One of Mrs. Caruther’s servants “snuck drinks from a flask tucked into her garter when she thought no one was looking.”
  • Caruther’s son has friends over to the house and they “spent most of their time all blotto.”
  • When Mrs. Caruther’s son announces his engagement, he serves champagne. One of the guests has red wine.

Language

  • Ophie’s cousins call her stupid and “a dope.”
  • Caruther calls a servant a “jigaboo.”
  • Ophie’s mother says she misses her husband “every damn day.”

Supernatural

  • Ophie and her aunt can both see and communicate with ghosts.
  • Ophie’s Aunt Rose tells her not to trust the dead. “You keep iron and salt in your pockets at all times. That way they can’t take hold of your body, which some of the more powerful ones will try to do.”
  • Aunt Rose educates Ophie about ghosts. Aunt Rose says, “Ghosts are attracted to feelings—sadness and happiness, and all the other betwixt and between.”
  • Ophie wonders if ghosts are “too terrible for Heaven.”
  • Aunt Rose tells Ophie about a ghost who was “stealing her husband’s breath, using it to make her stronger.”
  • The ghost of Clara possesses a young woman.
  • To keep a ghost out of a room, “someone had placed a thick band of salt across the threshold just inside the bedroom door.”

Spiritual Content

  • While at church, Ophie likes to watch the pastor and his wife. “It made Ophie feel that maybe some of those Bible words were actually true, even if she didn’t entirely believe they were meant for her.”
  • After Ophie’s father dies, the pastor tells her, “Your daddy has gone to heaven to be with Jesus.”
  • Ophie says a quick prayer several times. For example, when Ophie and her mother take a trolley car, Ophie “prayed for the trolley to hurry.”
  • Ophie wonders why Mrs. Caruther is so mean. Ophie thinks about the pastor’s wife who “once talked about sin as a heavy burden that folks carried around: ‘When you carry that sin around, when you let it weigh you down, you want to make sure that everyone around you is suffering as well . . .let Jesus take it and hold that burden so that you can carry on as a light in the world.’”
  • Ophie’s father told her, “The good Lord is always testing us, Ophie, in big ways and small. You do the thing you know to be right, always, no matter what.”
  • Ophie’s teacher told her that it was “the Christian thing to do to turn the other cheek.”
  • When someone steals, Ophie’s mother tells the lady, Jesus will give you yours.”

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Twelve-year-old Coyote Sunrise and her dad, Rodeo, have lived in an old school bus named Yager for five years—the same amount of time it’s been since her mother and two sisters suddenly died in a car accident. Coyote and Rodeo haven’t gone back home since the accident. They’re only looking forward and never turning back. Then, Grandma calls Coyote and tells her that the city is tearing down the park in Coyote’s hometown—the same park where Coyote, her mom, and sisters buried a treasure chest.

Coyote devises a plan to trick Rodeo into driving home to Washington State to get the treasure chest. Along the way, Coyote and Rodeo pick up an eclectic cast of characters, all with their own stories and destinations in mind. Coyote and Rodeo both learn that to move forward, sometimes you must go back.

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is a funny, touching book that explores themes of grief and love. After the tragedy that strikes their family, Coyote and Rodeo never allowed themselves a moment to process their grief. They go so far as to pick new names for themselves, and they consider going back to their home in Washington State to be a major “no-go.”

When Rodeo figures out that Coyote has tricked him into taking them back, they must face each other not as companions on a school bus adventure, but as a father and daughter who lost the rest of their family. Coyote demands of him, “Why can’t you be my dad?” Coyote and Rodeo’s relationship is one of the most interesting dynamics because so much goes unsaid between them. Although Coyote helps explain certain rules and turns-of-phrase for the reader, Coyote and Rodeo’s relationship is more complicated than what’s initially expected.

Coyote is the narrator of this book, and she has a unique way of speaking to the other characters and to the reader. Coyote is funny and expressive, but much like with her relationship with Rodeo, there are certain things that are left unsaid until she’s comfortable thinking about them. For instance, she doesn’t even think about her sister’s names until late into the book. Through Coyote’s narration, the reader can see her complexity.

The supporting characters are striking and dynamic, and Rodeo and Coyote embrace their new friends with open arms. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is as much about putting the past to rest as it is about a found family. In the end, Coyote and Rodeo are happy to remember their loved ones while embracing their found family. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise is for readers of all ages and is a must read because it handles the universal themes of grief, love, and family with an intelligent and kind hand. This isn’t a journey to miss.

 Sexual Content

  • Lester needs a ride to Boise, Idaho, to get his kind-of-ex girlfriend Tammy back. She wants him to get a “real job” while Lester wants to play in his jazz band. Lester tells Coyote, “If I get a real job, she’ll marry me.” This spawns a conversation between Coyote and Lester about love that lasts for a few pages.
  • Salvador asks Coyote why she’s really headed north, and Coyote responds, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” Salvador’s “face flushed deep red” and then Coyote clarifies, “Geez. I mean, I’ll tell you where we’re going if you tell me why your mom and aunt lost their jobs.”
  • Salvador’s mom and aunt tell Coyote funny stories from their childhood. According to Coyote, one of the stories was about “something about their mom walking in on Salvador’s mom with a boy. They wouldn’t give [Coyote] all the details on that one, but the embarrassed blood running to [Salvador’s mom’s] face pretty much told [Coyote] what [she] needed to know.”
  • On their journey, Coyote and Rodeo pick up a girl named Val. Val tells them that she was kicked out of her parent’s house because she’s gay. Coyote relates that her mom’s sister, Jen “is gay, and her wife Sofia, is [Coyote’s] very favorite aunt-in-law, and the thought of having someone hating on them for who they love made [Coyote] want to put on boxing gloves.”

Violence

  • Coyote explains, “My heart stopped short like a motorcycle slamming into the back of a parked semi (which I actually saw once outside Stevenstown, Missouri . . . not a sight you’re likely to forget, I promise you).”
  • Coyote’s cat, Ivan, is startled when he wakes up on Rodeo’s neck. Ivan sinks “all ten of his razor kitten claws” into Rodeo’s neck. Eventually Ivan lets go, though Rodeo is bleeding a bit.
  • When her new friends ask where Coyote’s other family members are, Coyote responds, “They’re . . . they’re dead, ma’am. They were killed in a car accident five years ago.”
  • Salvador admits that his dad physically abuses Salvador and his mom. Salvador tells Coyote, “Sometimes he . . . hits.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Coyote describes the gas station’s contents, noting that beer is one of the drinks lining the coolers along the walls.
  • Rodeo buys a six-pack of beer at a gas station and sits out back, drinking it.

Language

  • A variety of creative language is used to show displeasure. Only adult characters use words like hell, badass, and damn. Everyone often uses words like darn, weirdo, freaky, heck, wimpy, holy heck, dang, crazy, idiots, stupid, shut up, morons, jerk, pee, crap, pissed, and freaking.
  • Coyote sometimes refers to Rodeo as “old man.”
  • While telling a story about two animals, Rodeo refers to the crow in the story as an “ornery old cuss.”
  • One girl at a campground says, “Oh. My. God” in response to how cute Ivan is.
  • The girl from the campground mentions that she’s reading Anne of Green Gables and Coyote responds, “Oh, lord, I love Anne of Green Gables!”
  • Coyote once uses the phrase “how on god’s green earth” as an exclamation.
  • When Rodeo and Lester accidentally leave Coyote behind at a gas station in Gainesville, Florida, Coyote says, “Oh god” and “Oh, lord.” Coyote and Lester use these sorts of exclamations often.
  • A few years back, Rodeo installed an old bell in the bus. Rodeo and Coyote named it the “Holy Hell Bell on account of if you really put your arm into it, that old bell made a holy hell of a racket.”
  • Coyote stands in a river and pees. She says, “if you’re already standing in a river and you’re getting out to go pee, you’re doing it wrong.”
  • When the brakes give out on Yager, Lester “said a couple words [Coyote] won’t repeat, but with which [Coyote] totally agreed.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Coyote and Rodeo have a ceramic pug that sits on the dashboard of their bus. They call him the “Dog of Positivity, and Rodeo insisted he was a sort of canine guardian angel, keeping us happy.”
  • Coyote explains her beliefs just before a miracle happens. She says, “Now, here are some things I generally don’t believe in: fate, astrology, angels, magic, or the mystical power of wishes. Sorry, I just don’t. So there ain’t no easy explanation for what happened next. But that’s all right, ‘cause not everything in this world needs to be explained. We can just chalk it up to luck and call it good.”
  • Coyote mentions her mom on the bus. Coyote says that doing this is like “farting in church,” as in deeply inappropriate.
  • According to Coyote, Rodeo is “always saying how the universe seeks balance.” Coyote isn’t sure what this means.
  • Coyote says that “Rodeo says that anywhere outside can be a church, ‘cause anytime you’re in nature you can feel God.”
  • Rodeo, Coyote, and other characters say, “Help me, Jesus,” and other similar phrases.
  • Ms. Vega prays when the bus’s brakes give out.

by Alli Kestler

The Forest of Stolen Girls

1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister Maewol went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.

After five years, Hwani reunites with Maewol on Jeju island. Hwani has crossed the sea to find her father, Detective Jeewoo Min, after he has disappeared while investigating the disappearance of thirteen other girls. She is the older sister whose life plans—to get married and bear children—have come to a halt.

Maewol was called to be a shaman and train under Shaman Nokyung. Unlike Hwani, Maewol despises their father and does not wish for him to be found. When the body of one of the girls is discovered, Maewol and Hwani get sucked into the mystery of the disappearance of the young girls. The sisters realize there’s a possible correlation between the disappearances and their own Forest Incident, an event that left Hwani and Maewol completely changed. As Hwani and Maewol investigate further into the disappearances of the missing girls, they encounter a formidable enemy, the Mask, and the sisters learn that evil comes in different forms.

The entire story of The Forest of Stolen Girls is told in a prose narrative style, in the first person point of view. The story follows Hwani and her turbulent investigation into her father’s disappearance and, into the disappearance of thirteen young girls between the ages of eleven and eighteen. As the reader follows Hwani’s investigation, they will feel what Hwani feels and suspect who Hwani suspects.

The story displays a realistic sisterly relationship. The two sisters they, but are also kind to one another. A majority of the story is spent on the obstacles Hwani and Maewol face as sisters. Hwani is more logical and calculated while Maewol is impulsive and acts upon instinct. Maewol despises her father while Hwani idolizes him; this creates the central conflict. Hwani discovers her father is not as good as he seems and learns to be there for Maewol. Maewol, in turn, learns to forgive her sister even when Hwani has wronged her. At the end of the story, their sisterly bond is what saves Maewol and Hwani.

The Forest of Stolen Girls deals with the brutal history of China’s imperialism over the Korean peninsula. The core of the story relies on the historical fact that in Joseon, Korea, over 2,000 girls were kidnapped from their homes and sent to China as “tribute girls.” The story deals with this intergenerational trauma gracefully and brings to light atrocities committed by both Chinese and Joseon officials alike. The taking of tribute girls results in characters committing heinous actions for the sake of their own daughters. In order to prevent Gahee from being taken as a tribute girl, her father sliced up her face. Though her father did it to protect her, this actions permanently disfigured her and made her an outcast among her own people.

The Forest of Stolen Girls shows class strife and how it correlates with the missing girls. Rich officials of the Joseon government use bribes to keep their daughters from becoming tribute girls. But because the officials need new girls to take the place of their spared daughters, they kidnap girls from poverty.

The story shows the desperation of the poor, such as Convict Baek aiding in the kidnapping of girls in order to feed his daughter. The Forest of Stolen Girls shows readers that no one is truly bad and no one is truly good. It is the system in place that pressures people into continuing this cycle of grief and trauma.

The Forest of Stolen Girls is a beautiful novel that centers around a story of Asian women and the trauma they’ve endured for centuries. The mystery is beautifully woven, with every event, fight and conversation is meant to either aid the investigation, provide a red flag, or add to the characters’ stakes in the mystery. The twist is pulled off excellently and shows realistic motives that reveal the monster in people. The Forest of Stolen Girls is for readers who like murder mysteries, historical fiction, or would like to learn more about East Asian history.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • After discovering the body of one of the missing girls, Hwani asks the victim’s older sister, Iseul, some questions. Iseul implies that Hyunok was not raped while captured. Iseul says, “The midwife is my aunt. We knew Magistrate Hong would have her buried without an examination; he is like that. We examined Hyunok, and my aunt concluded that my sister hadn’t been harmed in…that
  • While exploring the forest, Hwani is chased by a man in a white. “The blade flashed as he swung the sword, and I squeezed my eyes, waiting for the slash of pain.” Maewol saves her.
  • While treating her wounds, Hwani recounts how her aunt used to beat her with a stick, thus leaving thin scars on her legs. Her aunt uses corporal punishment as a form of discipline. Her wounds “stung, yet the pain was a mere inch compared to Aunt Min’s beatings. When she was upset, she would wait for Father to leave before striking my calves with a thin stick, and the humiliation of it had made the cuts all the more excruciating.”
  • Maewol tells Hwani that one of their possible suspects, Convict Baek, “ sliced up his daughter’s face when she was only twelve, and no one knows why.”
  • Hwani confronts Convict Baek. Convict Baek shoves Hwani, causing her to fall and hit her head against a low-legged table, hard enough to draw blood. “He took another step and with his large hand he shoved at my shoulder with such strength that I went toppling. My head hit the corner of the low-legged table, my hair coming undone and falling over my face.”
  • After Hwani finds her father, Inspector Yu tells her his cause of death was not poison. “He was stabbed.”
  • Seohyun wants to kill the person who forced her to become a tribute girl. “There was murder in my daughter’s eyes. She told me in riddles what had happened. She and many other girls had been given to Emperor Xuande for her imperial harem. She also told me she was going to kill the person responsible, that she’d found out who it was but she wouldn’t give me a name.”
  • Hwani fights Village Elder Moon in a cave where he was keeping all of the stolen girls. The scene lasts for about three pages. “With all my strength, I continued to cling to the village elder’s robe as we thrashed in a blackness that seemed to leak through my eyes, surging fear into my soul. The village elder’s hands, too, turned desperate. Fingers grappling for anything, grabbing strands of my hair, wrapping tight around my throat as I struggled to hold on. My limbs felt numb and frozen, about to shatter as the cold deepened.”
  • Convict Baek and Village Elder Moon are sentenced to be executed. “Weeks later, when the verdict was made in accordance to the Great Ming Code, Village Elder Moon accepted his fate with a stare as blank as that of the dead. He was to be decapitated for having committed murder. Convict Baek, his accomplice, was to be punished by strangulation.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • There are multiple mentions of poison, as well as incidents of poisoning. Poisoning was a common method of execution in Joseon, Korea.
  • Hwani gets poisoned twice, once with a poison called kyeong-po buja that Hwani ingested herself, and the second time with arsenic from Village Elder Moon.
  • Hwani’s father is revealed to have been poisoned with arsenic as well. The poison did not kill him.
  • Village Elder Moon’s daughter, Chaewon, commits suicide by poisoning herself because she cannot live with her father’s actions.
  • Hwani pours a bowl full of rice wine onto her father’s grave.

 Language

  • None

 Supernatural

  • None

 

Spiritual

  • There are multiple mentions of spirits and the spirit world. For instance, Maewol describes what she sees when Hwani asks her if she can really communicate with the spirits from the spirit world. “I can’t hear what they say…I can’t really see or hear anything clearly. It’s like seeing shadows through the fog. A very thick
  • Maewol is a shaman, someone who communicates with the spirits.
  • Hwani and Maewol say “gods” rather than God because their religion is polytheistic.
  • There’s a brief mention of witchcraft when the body of Detective Min was discovered in a pristine condition. Village Elder Moon said, “No corpse could be in such a condition, not with the humidity of Jeju. It has to be witchcraft.”

by Emma Hua

 

Salt to the Sea

Set during the end of World War II, Salt to the Sea follows the story of four refugees seeking shelter from the rampages of war. With the rapid advance of Soviet forces against Hitler’s Reich in Poland, Latvia, East Prussia, and Lithuania, thousands of refugees flood toward the port of Gotenhafen with the dim hope of escape. For these thousands, Gotenhafen is a chance to flee the inevitable onslaught and destruction created by the oncoming Soviets. Amidst this hurried procession of souls are four teenagers who witnessed the innumerable tragedy wrought by war. Each teen is from a different homeland and has a different background, yet all have equally dangerous secrets.

Joana is a nineteen-year-old Lithuanian expatriate who previously spent the entirety of the war as a conscripted nurse, tending to wounded and dying soldiers. Florian is an eighteen-year-old Prussian thief and forgery master wanted by the Nazis because of his shameful past. Alfred, also referred to as “Frick”, is a delusional seventeen-year-old Nazi Kriegsmarine soldier who is attempting to overwrite his troubled past through enlistment. Emilia is a fifteen-year-old Polish refugee running from the destruction of her homeland as both the Nazis and Soviets hunt her and her countrymen. Each character carries their own mysteries, whether shameful or perilous.

Salt to the Sea is told in first person point of view, with the main narrative being split between the four characters. Each chapter shifts from one character’s point of view to another, creating a cleverly knitted narrative that explores the ongoing tumult of their lives. Although each of our four protagonists have their own agendas, the audience can sympathize with each character as they struggle to not only survive but to also find themselves.

Salt to the Sea is a fast-paced, intense, and emotional story that will have readers gripped to the very last page. Sepetys does an incredible job weaving multiple narratives into one effortless adventure. Each chapter provides the reader with an increasingly dark understanding regarding the horrors of war and the vast challenges that refugees must overcome. As this book follows the inevitabilities of war, there are distinct violent moments and deaths which Sepetys has written to be intentionally jarring.

Although distressing and dark, Salt to the Sea tells the hopeful story of refugees fighting for a better future and their personal growth along the way. Salt to the Sea is a must-read for all those interested not only in history but also in the human condition as Sepetys colorfully illustrates the horrors of war.

Sexual Content

  • There are references to rape or other non-consensual sexual content. A passing elderly refugee asks Joana if she carries any poison. The woman says “I understand. But you are a pretty girl. If Russia’s army overtakes us, you’ll want some [poison] too.”
  • While on the boat, Joana kisses Florian. “She stood on her toes, took my face in her hands, and kissed me.”
  • When she was fifteen, Emilia became pregnant when she was raped.

Violence

  • While fleeing through a snow-laden forest, Florian kills a Russian soldier who was harassing Emilia. Florian “stood in the forest cellar, my gun fixed on the dead Russian.” The killing was not described.
  • Multiple references are made to Hitler’s Final Solution. “Hitler aimed to destroy all Poles. They were Slavic, branded inferior. . . Hitler set up extermination camps in German-occupied Poland, filtering the blood of innocent Jews in the Polish soil.”
  • While fleeing westward, Soviet planes drop bombs on top of forests which poses an immediate threat to Joana, Emilia, and Florian. “The bombs began falling. With each explosion, every bone in my body vibrated and hammered, clanging violently against the bell tower that was my flesh.”
  • Joana mentions the wartime atrocities committed by the Soviets. “Women were nailed to barn doors, children mutilated.” In addition to such terrors, Soviet soldiers were infamous for raping and pillaging entire villages, which involved the wholesale slaughter of male populations and the rape of a village’s women.
  • Eva, another refugee, references the potential violent fate of Emilia’s father. Eva says, “The senior professors in Lwów, they were all executed.”
  • While fleeing, Emilia saves Florian by shooting a wandering German soldier. The soldier “had a gun. He was pointing it. [Emilia] jumped up and screamed. Bang.”
  • Joana and a group of refugees stay at a deserted manor. Prior to this, soldiers brutally slaughtered the residents in their sleep. As Joana explores the rest of the manor, she discovers the house’s previous tenants and exclaims, “Dead in their beds. They’re all dead in their beds!” The bodies are not described in detail.
  • On their way to Gotenhafen, another refugee laments that the Soviets “shot his cow.”
  • While approaching the Frauenberg, the Soviet air forces shell the road. “A cluster of human beings behind us exploded with a bomb.”
  • As Joana and her group of refugees cross an icy river, one refugee falls through the ice and joins other unfortunate souls trapped beneath the frozen surface. “The ice in front of Ingrid was red, frozen with blood.”
  • Sepetys makes multiple mentions of refugees and their suffering, such as parents missing their children, or the children being abandoned.
  • Joana, a nurse, cares for the wounded on the Wilhelm Gustloff. Joana “would get these wounded men on the big ship.”
  • The Wilhelm Gustloff is struck by three Soviet torpedoes causing the ship to sink, killing thousands of refugees, including children. As the ship tilted deeper into the water, a passenger said, “The woman was right. We were all going to drown.” As the ship sinks, the ocean is strewn with dead bodies floating amidst the wreckage. “Thousands of dead bodies, eyes wide, floated frozen in life vests.”
  • A mother attempts to throw her child to a lifeboat, yet the baby tragically drowns. “The dark air was full of screams” of thousands of drowning men, women, and children.
  • Alfred attempts to throw Emilia off the raft, yet in doing so accidentally he kills himself. Alfred slams his head against the metal raft and falls into the freezing depths of the surrounding water. “Alfred was sent tumbling, crashing his head against the metal raft with a deafening scream”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Before the start of the book, Florian is wounded with shrapnel which he sterilizes using vodka. Florian “turned the top of the soldier’s flask and raised it to my nose. Vodka. I opened my coat, then my shirt, and poured the alcohol down my side.”
  • Joana and Florian share cigarettes in a moment of respite from danger. Joana “pulled out a cigarette and ran it through my fingers, trying to straighten it.”

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Daniel Klein

 

Amari and the Night Brothers

Amari Peters’ brother Quinton is missing. Without tax records or a single piece of evidence to use, authorities look at the Peters’ family address in the Rosewood low-income housing projects and prematurely chalk the disappearance up to “illegal activities.” Then, Amari gets into a fight with bullies at her school. This leaves Amari without a scholarship and without a sense of belonging, but a ticking briefcase in Quinton’s bedroom closet quickly instills tangible hope that Quinton will return. The briefcase leads Amari to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, a secretive organization tasked with hiding all the magicians, fairies, and supernatural creatures of the world. When Amari joins the organization, she again feels like she doesn’t belong among classmates who already have extensive knowledge of magic. Even more intimidating is the fear and bias that her classmates hold towards Amari’s supernaturally enhanced talent—an ability for magic that has commonly been deemed evil in the supernatural world. Will she find friendships here in this other world, or will she again be judged and half-seen?

It is only through battling bullies, outsmarting Junior Agent Tryouts, and overcoming powerful magicians that Amari can find her brother Quinton and regain confidence in her uniquely beautiful power. Even in the midst of facing all of these obstacles, Amari is eventually able to say proudly, “I’m not the girl who gives up. I’m the girl who tries. The girl who fights. The girl who believes. My eyes open with a burning realization. I’m unstoppable.

Amari and The Night Brothers follows Amari’s entertaining, witty, and strong perspective as she contemplates what it means to belong in a community that continually sets out to ostracize her. While the plot is an action-packed, engrossing story of every magical creature you have ever heard of (from magicians to mermaids, to golden lions and Bigfoot), this intricate plot also works to explore issues of race and class discrimination. In defining Amari’s supernatural power of being a “magician” as illegal and dangerous, this story aims at bringing to light the way that prejudices act to divide our society, as well as how we can aim to overturn them. The result is an empowering and wonderful story of power, love, friendship, and the ability to overcome.

Throughout its narrative, Amari and the Night Brothers addresses issues of racism, classism, and prejudice in an easily digestible ways for young readers. Additionally, this book presents captivating scenes and vivid settings which weave together to create a tangible fantasy world filled with every type of supernatural creature that an imaginative kid could hope for. Dragons, vampires, magical forests, and funny dialogue all paint a narrative that stays action-packed, captivating, and evocative until the end. The story ends in a moment of triumph and reaffirmed empowerment for Amari, while also leaving things open for the potential of a sequel. Amari and the Night Brothers is the perfect book for any elementary to junior high fantasy and action fanatic who is searching for a meaningful and magical story.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Early in the novel, Amari gets sent to the principal’s office for giving a classmate “a tiny shove.”
  • Later in the book, Amari tries to shove another bully, Laura, but Laura twists and pushes Amari to the ground instead.
  • In an act of revenge, Laura attacks Amari at a festival. Amari describes this scene by saying, “Laura dashes forward and kicks out her leg. It’s so fast I don’t even have time to react. I just feel my legs get knocked from under me and land hard on my side. Next thing I know, she’s on top of me, pinning both my wrists above my head with one arm. That means she’s still got one hand free.” Amari escapes after this moment.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • One of the Bureau agents tells Amari that the hotel she stays at has a “killer cigar selection.”

Language

  • In a moment of cyber bullying, Amari’s classmates celebrate the loss of her scholarship by writing comments such as, “We finally took out the trash at Jefferson. Never wanted her here. I heard she used to steal from the lockers. All it took was her dumb brother to drop dead.”
  • In another bullying incident, Amari’s bedroom at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs is vandalized. Someone paints an image of “a Black girl with two X’s for eyes and a stake in her heart NO MAGICIANS ALLOWED is written just below it.”
  • At one point, another peer from the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs calls Amari a freak.

Supernatural

  • The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs covers living beings “passing off as myths.” This includes “trolls and sphinxes, mermaids and oddities you could see with your own eyes and still not believe.” Mainly, the term supernatural covers fantastical creatures and magic, thus a lot of the narrative focuses on supernatural elements. This also applies to a group of hybrids (part-human, part-creature) who invade the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs.
  • Amari is deemed a magician when she places her hand on a Crystal Ball and “a plume of black smoke appears, swirling and filling the ball completely. A crack reaches across the surface.” As Amari stands back, a screen behind the Crystal Ball says, “Talent Enhanced to Supernatural Ability: Dormant Magic to Active Magician (Illegal).” It is in this way that Amari realizes that she is a magician, a role that is considered dangerous in the supernatural world.
  • After she touches the Crystal Ball, the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs has Amari step on what they call a “Magic-Meter,” which looks like a small scale. When Amari steps on the Meter it says that she is at 100 percent, meaning that “every drop of this girl’s blood is magical.”
  • When Amari grows angry at being bullied, “anger surges through me. And then, suddenly, a swirling blaze of fire erupts on the table between me and Laura.” Amari creates the fire with her magic.
  • Amari’s best friend, Elsie, is a weredragon (part-human, part-dragon), and can therefore read auras. Because of this, Elsie can read Amari’s emotions based on the color of Amari’s aura.
  • Amari’s classmate explains that there is another type of magician known as the technologist, which is a magician that can manipulate electronics like phones or security devices. The classmate also describes a Weaver, which can weave together new spells.
  • Amari is given a book of spells called The Spells and Musings of Madame Violet, Foremost Illusionist of her Era. This allows Amari to learn how to practice the Dispel spell, which allows a magician to erase any illusions set by other magicians. Among the other spells in this book is also the Solis spell, which allows a magician to create a ball of light with their hands and the darker, Magna Fobia spell, a spell from the “Magick Most Foul” section of Madame Violet’s spell book, which allows the magician to pull the “very darkest fears from an opponent’s mind to craft an illusion around them that they believe is real.”
  • During her final trial in the Junior Agent Program, Amari shows her illusions to the Bureau, and she creates an illusion of the street in her neighborhood. Then she also creates the illusion of a cloudless, starry night sky and the aurora borealis on the ceiling.
  • A boy shows Amari a whole forest that he created as an illusion using magic. Amari creates her own illusory blossom to this forest that they call the “Amari Blossom.”
  • In order to trick the dangerous plant known as “a Mars mantrap,” Amari uses her magic to create an illusion in which she duplicates herself. This becomes Amari’s tactic in fighting powerful magicians later in the novel.
  • Amari’s brother Quinton and his partner at the Bureau are put under a spell which is said to extract someone’s “life essence,” causing them to suffer “a very slow death.”
  • In order to defeat the magicians that have her brother, Amari sends a spell that not only duplicates herself but also puts a cage of lightning around her attackers.

Spiritual Content

  • At one point, Amari goes to visit the Department of Good Fortunes and Bad Omens, and the director of the Department reads the constellations for her. In this scene, the director plucks stars from the sky to place in Amari’s hands, and then has Amari scatter the stars again in order to tell her future based on her unique constellation. The director also speaks to the “spirit” of the stars, stating, “Every natural thing exists in two places, both here and there. If we are physically here, then we are spiritually there. Likewise, if the stars are physically out there, then it only makes sense for them to be spiritually here.”

by Hannah Olsson

Danbi Leads the School Parade

Danbi is thrilled to start her new school in America. But a bit nervous too, for when she walks into the classroom, everyone goes quiet. Everyone stares. Danbi wants to join in the dances and the games, but she doesn’t know the rules and just can’t get anything right. Luckily, she isn’t one to give up. With a spark of imagination, she makes up a new game and leads her classmates on a parade to remember!

Throughout Danbi’s school day, Danbi feels sad because “no one played with [her].” During lunch, Danbi tries to teach a girl how to use chopsticks. This doesn’t work, but it gives Danbi an idea and soon the classroom is full of noise—Ting! Ding! Ti-Ding! Boom Boom Boom Tap Tap Tap! Even though the class gets “a little wild,” the teacher doesn’t discipline the students; instead, she allows Danbi to lead everyone outside so they can continue their musical play.

Unlike most picture books, Danbi Leads the School Parade starts on the back of the front cover and continues all the way through to the back cover. Danbi’s story begins with her hugging her grandmother goodbye and traveling far away on an airplane. All readers will be able to relate to Danbi who is excited, but nervous to start school. Danbi’s feelings are described in ways that young children will understand. For example, on the first day of school in America, Danbi’s heartbeat goes “Boom. Boom.”

Each illustration is full of bright colors and movement. Each child is adorably cute and the classroom shows a diverse group of students. Young readers will enjoy exploring every picture and finding the small details that make each illustration fun. Danbi and her classmates’ emotions are clearly portrayed through the illustrations. Each page has 1 to 4 short sentences full of fun onomatopoeias that make the story fun to read aloud. Even though the picture book has a simple plot, readers will be enthralled with Danbi’s story.

Danbi Leads the School Parade won an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Book. Anna Kim immigrated to American when she was young, and she used her experience to create a heartwarming story about friendship. Danbi Leads the School Parade shows that friendships can bloom even if you are from different cultures and speak different languages. In addition, Danbi Leads the School Parade encourages acceptance, kindness, and trying new things. Parents who want to encourage these traits should add All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold to their children’s reading list as well.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Tune It Out

Lou has the voice of an angel, or so her mother tells her and anyone else who will listen. But the two of them have been performing the country fair and street circuit for so long that Lou can hear only the fear in her own voice. She’s never liked crowds or loud noises or even high fives; in fact, she’s terrified of them, which makes her pretty sure there’s something wrong with her.

But when Child Protective Services separates the mother-daughter duo after a snowy accident, Lou is forced to start all over again at a fancy private school far away from anything she’s ever known. Lou had never had a friend before, apart from her mother. After being sent to live with her aunt and uncle, Lou realizes most people don’t live like her—moving from place to place, unsure of their next meal, and not going to school. But Lou worries she will “freak out” at her new school because of her sensory disorder, neuroatypicality.

Luckily for her, she meets Well, an outgoing sixth-grade actor extraordinaire. With the help of Well, her aunt and uncle, and the school counselor, Lou begins to see things differently. A sensory processing disorder isn’t something to be ashamed of, and music just might be the thing to save Lou—and maybe her mom too.

Lou’s compelling story has a cast of complex characters who help Lou along her journey. As Lou navigates through life, she is reluctant to allow the school counselor to “label” her. However, Lou finally realizes that she must learn coping mechanisms so she doesn’t continue to “freak out” due to loud noises and light touches.

Many students will relate to Lou who doesn’t feel like she is “normal.” Tune It Out highlights the fact that most people have difficulties to overcome, no one is perfect, and people must learn from their mistakes in order to live their best life.

Tune It Out will entertain readers of all ages because it draws readers into Lou’s world from the very first page. The diverse cast of characters that surround Lou adds interest and depth to the story. In addition, the engaging story shows the importance of speaking up for yourself. Tune It Out will help readers understand Lou’s sensory disorder as well as teach them the importance of empathy. Readers who are interested in reading more books about overcoming obstacles should add Almost Home by Joan Bauer and Wish by Barbara O’Connor to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • Lou’s mother “wasn’t sure who [Lou’s] daddy was, and she didn’t want to be sure either.”
  • During play practice, one of the girls makes out with someone in the costume closet.

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lou misses living in Biloxi and “the casinos with their jangling noises and bright lights and carpet that smelled like beer and cigarette ash.”
  • Once when Lou “freaked out,” some people wondered if she was on drugs.
  • After a car accident, a doctor tells Lou to take Tylenol or ibuprofen for the pain.

Language

  • Lord and oh God are both used as an exclamation once.
  • Hell is used once.

Supernatural

  • Lou knew a woman who “used to read tea leaves.” The woman would “tell you whether you’d meet the love of your life, or if a big change was coming, or if you should buy that alligator purse on sale.”

Spiritual Content

  • One of Lou’s friends is large, and his mother is upset when he starts drinking SlimFast. She says, “Son, you don’t mess with the body the good Lord gave you. God made you to be a man of stature. You better figure out how to use it, not lose it.”

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