Becoming Muhammad Ali

Before he became the legend, Muhammad Ali, young Cassius Clay learned history and card tricks from his grandfather, hid report cards from his parents, and biked around Louisville with his pals. But when his bike is stolen, Cassius decides there’s something else he wants: to be able to fend off bullies by becoming a boxer.

Cassius has a best friend, Lucky, who sticks by him whether his fists are raised in victory or his back is against the ropes. Before long, Lucky is cheering Cassius on in his first amateur fight. With the support of all his friends and family, will Cassius make it to the top?

Becoming Muhammad Ali focuses on Cassius’ younger years and highlights the importance of his family and his community. Cassius’ story is told from both his point of view and his best friend’s point of view. When Cassius is telling his own story, the words appear in poetry format. This narrows the story and allows Cassius’ swagger to shine. When the story shifts to Lucky’s point of view, the text appears in paragraph structure that uses a conversational tone. Lucky’s perspective allows the reader to see Cassius’ intense training schedule and shines a light on Cassius’ fear. The joint perspectives give a well-rounded picture of Cassius’ bold personality and personal struggles.

Because the story begins in the late 1950s, Cassius’ story isn’t just about boxing. The biographical novel delves into the racism prevalent during this time period. Each example of racism is described in a kid-friendly manner that allows the reader to picture the events. The descriptions all focus on events that affected Cassius. He explains the events in a way that shows the unfairness of the situation without sounding bitter or preachy. However, some readers will not understand the correlation between racism and Cassius’ desire to change his name to Muhammad Ali and “use his time to focus on black pride and racial justice.”

Becoming Muhammad Ali is an entertaining and engaging biographical novel that will inspire readers to fight for their dreams. Through Cassius’ actions, readers will see the hard work and dedication that allowed Cassius to become one of the best boxers in history. However, Cassius’ story isn’t just a boxing story, it’s a story about family and friends. Cassius’ story doesn’t gloss over some of the unfairness in life. Instead, Cassius shows how he overcame obstacles and, in the end, realized that there are some things that are more important than boxing.

When a reporter asked what Cassius wanted to be remembered for, he said, “I’d like for them to say, he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, one teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, and then he mixed willingness with happiness, he added lots of faith, and he stirred it up well. Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime, and he served it to each and every deserving person he met.”

Cassius’ story comes to life in easy-to-read prose and includes full page, black and white illustrations that are scattered throughout. Becoming Muhammad Ali is a must-read because it highlights how hard work and dedication allowed Cassius to achieve his dreams. Readers who want to read another inspirational sports book should check out The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, which has also been made into a graphic novel.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Since Cassius watched boxing matches and later fought in them, there are some descriptions of the matches. For example, Cassius describes a fight when Frank Turley “broke a guy’s nose with a left jab, then smiled when the joker went tumbling outta the ring, blood spurting everywhichaway.”
  • Cassius and his friends were walking along the street when a “car filled with men. White men” drove by. One of the men “flashed a knife—a switch blade. [Lucky] saw the guy with the knife say something to the driver. The car engine stopped. Then all four car doors opened at once.” Cassius and his friends ran away from the men and were safe.
  • Cassius tells a story about “how Tom the Slave escaped freedom by hiding in a casket on a ship of dead bodies on its way to London, England, and how when he got there he became a famous bare-knuckle boxer. . . the Brits rushed the ring in the ninth round, clobbered Tom, and broke six of his fingers.”
  • A kid from the neighborhood, Corky, bullied Cassius and his friends. Corky “stepped on my sneaks, and bumped Lucky with just enough force to make him lose his balance, and knocked Rudy backwards like a domino into a couple. . .” then Corky wandered off.
  • During a match, Cassius landed “a series of short pops to his head, one right below his left ear that makes him stumble into the ropes. . .” Cassius wins the match.
  • Cassius’ father showed him “a gruesome magazine photograph of a twelve-year-old faceless boy who was visiting family. . . when he was shot in the head, drowned in the river, and killed for maybe whistling at a white woman.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Darn is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Cassius’ mom didn’t like him betting “on account of God not liking ugly, and all gambling is ugly.”
  • When Cassius says that the Bible didn’t get him and his brother into the whites’ park, his mother says, “Boy, don’t you dare blaspheme the Good book.”
  • During one match, Cassius “recited the Lord’s prayer.”
  • Cassius’ mother prays, “we gather together to send this boy out into the world, and ask that you hold his dreams tight, let them rocket to the stars and beyond.”
  • Cassius “joined the Nation of Islam—a movement that was founded to give black people a new sense of pride. A week later, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali.”

 

Ty’s Travels: Lab Magic

Corey and Ty take an exciting trip to the museum, where they get to be scientists. First, they study bugs. Then, they study the wind. Ty is disappointed when he discovers that he is too little to do science experiments at the museum. But Ty doesn’t let that spoil his day.

Once Corey and Ty get home, Momma helps them set up a science experiment that is perfect for younger kids. Before they begin, Corey and Ty make sure they are safe by putting on a lab coat (Dad’s shirt), goggles, and gloves. With their parents’ help, Corey and Ty learn that they like being scientists.

Lab Magic is part of the My First I Can Read Series, which uses basic language, word repetition, and illustrations that are ideal for emergent readers. Each page has one to four simple sentences with large, brightly colored illustrations. The illustrations will introduce different types of science such as using test tubes or learning about butterflies. Plus, the pictures will help young readers understand the plot.

Young readers who are learning how to read will enjoy Lab Magic. The short sentences and large illustrations make the story accessible to emergent readers. Like the other books in Ty’s Travels Series, Lab Magic shows Ty’s two-parent family in a positive light. Readers will enjoy learning about Ty’s adventure and all of the different ways science can be studied. For more science fun, check out Cece Loves Science by Kimberly Derting & Shelli R. Johannes.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

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.”

 

Hello Goodbye Dog

For Zara’s dog, Moose, nothing is more important than being with his favorite girl. So, when Zara has to go to school, WHOOSH, Moose escapes and rushes to her side. Hello, Moose!

Unfortunately, dogs aren’t allowed at school and Moose must go back home. Goodbye, Moose.

But Moose can’t be held back for long. Through a series of escalating escapes, this loyal dog finds his way back to Zara, and with a little bit of training and one great idea, the two friends find a way to be together all day long.

Hello Goodbye Dog is a super-cute picture book full of fun illustrations that show Moose repeatedly escaping his house and running to Zara’s classroom. The brightly colored illustrations are often humorous. The characters’ faces are expressive and show a wide range of emotions. Another positive aspect of the illustrations is that the children and staff are a diverse group, including Zara, who uses a wheelchair. Each page has two to four short sentences that use easy-to-understand language.

Young readers will laugh at Moose’s antics as he continually runs to Zara’s school because he enjoys being with Zara and the other children. The conclusion shows a unique solution to the problem when Moose attends therapy dog school. Once Moose graduates from therapy dog school, he is welcomed to Zara’s classroom by everyone, including the adults who once chased him out.

Dog-loving readers will love Hello Goodbye Dog and will want to read it again and again. If you’re looking for another fun dog-related book add Shampoodle by Joan Holub and Marley Firehouse Dog by John Grogan to your reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs

Mia Mayhem is learning to control her x-ray vision! She can’t wait to see through walls and crack secret codes. There’s only one problem: her glasses are way too big, clunky, and totally not cool! But she knows that if she wants to keep up with her classmates, she’ll have to adjust quickly. Will Mia be able to look past her obstacles and see things through?

A large part of the storyline follows Mia and her classmates as they try their supervision. Mia doesn’t want to admit that she doesn’t have x-ray vision. Instead of being truthful, she lies and says she sees “an elephant with a hot dog.” In the end, Mia learns that she “should have never guessed during the eye exam and pretended to know something when [she] didn’t.”

Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs has a diverse cast of characters which includes a girl who wears prosthetics. In addition, Ben and his seeing-eye dog, Seeker, make an appearance, which gives an added dose of interest. Readers will note how Seeker assists Ben. The story also shows how Ben’s blindness helps him hone his other senses, which in turn helps him with this supervision.

Young readers will enjoy the book’s format which has oversized text and black and white illustrations on every page. The large illustrations are often humorous, and they also help readers follow the story’s plot. Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs has an easy-to-understand plot that is perfect for emerging readers. However, some readers will need help with some of the advanced languages, with words such as connection, recognize, squinting, and officially.

Readers who are ready for chapter books will enjoy the silly storyline in Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs. Mia’s enthusiasm and friendliness make her a fun and likable protagonist. Even though Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs is part of a series, the books do not need to be read in order. While the story doesn’t have any life lessons, the Mia Mayhem Series will make emerging readers excited to see what type of mischief Mia gets into next, and with 12+ books in the series, readers will have plenty of adventure to look forward to.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A boy yells at Mia, “Nice job using your loser vision.”

Supernatural

  • Mia finds out that “super-sight usually kicks in at age eight. . . You’ll soon be able to do awesome things like x-ray through walls and see in absolute darkness.” Later, she stares at a wall and then “a blast of heat lasers came out of my eyes! In just one shot, I burned through five walls. . .”
  • Because Ben is blind, he uses his other super senses such as being able to feel vibrations that lead him to his seeing-eye dog. Ben says, “I may not have regular vision like you, but I’m sensitive to echoes.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Brown Boy Nowhere

Sixteen-year-old Angelo Rivera is from the bustling city of San Diego where his parents owned a Filipino restaurant. Now, Angelo has moved across the country to Ocean Pointe where Angelo and his family are the only Asian people in the entire town. He’s left behind all of his friends, and his girlfriend Amanda, so his mom and dad can run a new restaurant called Sloppy’s Pit Stop. To make everything worse, Angelo wants to participate in a skateboarding competition in California, but the only way he can go is if he pays for his own plane ticket by working at Sloppy’s. But Angelo has a plan: Convince his aunt to let him stay in California so he can be with his friends and Amanda. He’s determined to leave Ocean Pointe behind for good.

Angelo’s plans go awry when he meets fellow outsiders Kirsten and Larry. All three of them are seen as outcasts by the students at Ocean Pointe High School where football players and cheerleaders are at the top of the social hierarchy. Kirsten abandoned cheerleading for art and Larry is the grandson of a known drug dealer. Both ask Angelo to teach them how to skate, boosting their self-confidence and creating a small group of friends for Angelo. After Amanda breaks up with Angelo over the phone, he begins to grow closer to Kirsten. As a result of bonding with Kirsten, a fight breaks out at OPHS that results in Angelo being more seen than ever.

Brown Boy Nowhere is a prose-style novel that is told from Angelo’s first-person perspective. As a result of being told in Angelo’s perspective, the reader will experience the same prejudice and violence Angelo does. This allows readers who aren’t Asian to understand the unique situations Asian people face in a racialized society. The story hits close to home for many Asian readers who understand what it’s like to be the only Asian person in a majority white town, school, or area.

Readers who aren’t Asian will also learn that some “jokes,” such as Asian people eating dogs and cats, are microaggressions that create lasting scars for their Asian peers. Even simple questions can be microaggressions depending on the person to whom they’re directed. For example, when Angelo first meets Larry, Larry asks Angelo where he’s from. When Angelo says he’s from California, Larry responds with, “No. I mean, where are you really from?” Such a question insinuates that Asian people do not, and will never belong in America and isolates Asian peers from their white peers.

Angelo also does his best to educate his new friends Kirsten and Larry on anti-Asian racism and microaggressions, calling them out on their blanket statements about Asian people. Angelo even tells Kirsten that saying, “I do not see race” is a microaggression and explains to her why. Angelo says, “I get that some people who say it mean well. But saying you don’t see race disregards my identity. I’m Asian. I’m proud of it. If you don’t see race, then you’re ignoring that part of me.”

Brown Boy Nowhere is a fascinating novel that tells a story about an Asian teenager finding himself in a town where he feels like he does not belong. The book has many early 2000s references, such as Angelo comparing Kirsten to actress Kirsten Dunst, and even has the feel of a 2000s teen movie. The book is not set in the early 2000s, but it provides Angelo with another interest and supplements his thoughts. It also tackles the incredibly complex issue of anti-Asian racism and the unique experience of a member of the Asian diaspora. Some events in the novel, such as the star football player named Grayson, vandalizing Sloppy’s, feel unrealistic and have unrealistic consequences. However, the novel is a perfect read for people who like coming-of-age dramas and want to learn more about the challenges Asian teenagers face in a world that expects them to be invisible.

Sexual Content

  • Angelo recalls that on his last night in San Diego, he had sex with his girlfriend Amanda. “Heat creeps into my cheeks. I don’t know what I expected losing my virginity would be like, but my fantasies certainly didn’t include me blubbering like an idiot, telling her how much I’d miss her.”
  • After Angelo saves Kirsten from being hit by a car, she gives him a kiss on his cheek. “I frown curiously as she takes a giant step toward me, letting out a soft gasp when she presses her soft lips against my cheek.”
  • While in the warehouse together, Angelo expresses a desire to kiss Kirsten. “My gaze flits down to her bottom lip. I want to kiss her. I want to kiss her more than anything in the world. More than skate competitions, burger patties, and even plane tickets to California.”
  • When Kirsten takes him to the beach, Angelo finally kisses her. “Pushing all second-guessing aside, I finally lean forward. I press my lips against hers. She takes a sharp breath against my mouth, stiffening for a second. Quickly, she relaxes and kisses me back, raking her fingers through my wet hair, tugging at the ends lightly.” They continue to make out for a page.
  • Angelo’s ex-girlfriend, Amanda, accidentally sends him a sext which includes “a photo of her chest with nothing but a tiny bikini top covering her, um, assets.”
  • After clearing up the misunderstanding because of the sext, Angelo and Kirsten kiss again. “Kirsten opens her mouth to speak, but before she can say anything I reach over and cup my hand over the back of her neck, pulling her into me. I press a kiss into her lips, quieting any lingering doubt she might have about me. My feelings for her. Us.”

Violence

  • Angelo decides to skate away from a group of boys who are harassing him. One of the boys throws a rock at Angelo which results in him falling off his skateboard. “The next thing I know, something jams against my front wheels. Before I can react, I’m flying off my board. On instinct, I stick my hands out to stop my fall, but I’m at a weird angle and land cheek first into the parking lot.”
  • When Grayson learns that Angelo and Grayson’s ex-girlfriend are friends, Grayson punches Angelo in the school hallway. Angelo tells Grayson he’s being racist. The scene lasts for 8 pages. Angelo doesn’t “even get to finish my thought. A blinding pain hits me square in the jaw. Sharp and intense. I stagger back, gasping for anything to hold on to, only to smack my open palms against the cold locker . . . Grayson keeps his fist up to my nose. His knuckles are bright red.”
  • To prevent Kirsten from being seen by the Sheriff, Angelo tackles her onto the grass. “Without thinking twice, I push off my board and tackle Kirsten onto the grass lining the street. We crash and find ourselves rolling into a ditch.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When exploring Ocean Pointe, Angelo ends up at the high school where he sees a group of guys holding cigarettes. “Cigarettes glow from between their fingers as they stare me down, scanning me from head to toe.”

 Language

  • The word “shit” and other variations of the word are used frequently.
  • The words “ass” and “asshole,” along with their variations, are used often.
  • “Bitch” and “bitchy” are used often in the novel, typically in relation to female characters.
  • “Fuck” is thrown around a lot by the characters in the story.
  • Angelo faces multiple microaggressions from his white peers, many of them relying on the racist stereotype of Asian people eating cats and dogs. A football player even says, “Guess that makes this here brown boy the dog, huh? You are what you eat.”
  • The football players who bully Angelo often call him “brown boy” as an insult due to Angelo being Filipino and having brown skin.
  • Angelo calls his friend from San Diego, Mackabi, a “dipshit” affectionately.
  • Angelo says he “feel[s] a bit dickish” for objecting to teaching other students how to skate.
  • When Kirsten implies that Angelo’s bullies confront change by being aggressive, Angelo says, “That’s bullshit. Being scared isn’t an excuse to be racist. That’s just damn ignorant. You don’t call someone ‘brown boy’ or say he eats dogs just because he’s new to town.”
  • When Grayson says he isn’t racist, Angelo calls Grayson a “delusional dick”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

Elizabeth Cotten was only a little girl when she picked up a guitar for the first time. It wasn’t hers (it was her big brother’s), and it wasn’t strung right for her (she was left-handed). But she flipped that guitar upside down and backward and taught herself how to play it anyway. By the age of eleven, she’d written “Freight Train,” one of the most famous folk songs of the twentieth century. And by the end of her life, people everywhere—from the sunny beaches of California to the rolling hills of England—knew her music.

Libba’s story, which conveys her love of music, is both beautiful and motivational. As a child, “Libba Cotton heard music everywhere. She heard it in the river when she brought in water for her mother. She heard it in the ax when she chopped wood kindling.” Libba grew up in a poor neighborhood in the segregated South, but she still found the time and the scarce resources to teach herself how to play the guitar. To buy herself that guitar, she swept floors, picked vegetables, and set the table to earn money. Readers will admire Libba’s hard work and perseverance.

As Libba became older, she stopped playing music to work and care for her family. It wasn’t until Libba was in her sixties that she began to record and tour through the United States and Europe. Her story shows that the true beauty of music has no age. “Libba believed that people could accomplish anything at any age.” Even though Libba is known for her music, the story also focuses on her kind and caring personality.

Libba’s story comes to life in muted illustrations that show her day-to-day life. Even though Libba 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. Each page has 3 to 7 sentences and some of the sentences are complex. The book repeats part of Libba’s most famous song “Freight Train.”

While Libba’s story will appeal to music lovers, it is also an important story to read because it highlights the importance of never giving up on a dream. Despite growing up poor, Libba’s positive attitude carries her through life. Libba’s story teaches young readers that dreams can come true with a good mix of work and dedication. If you’re looking for another motivational biographical picture book, add Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker to your must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Dang is used four times. For example, when Libba broke a guitar string, her brother said, “Dang. She’s done it again.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The author’s note explains that “the pastor at [Libba’s] church urged her to give up playing guitar, saying it was ‘the Devil’s music.’”

 

Long Road to Freedom  

Ranger is a time-traveling golden retriever with search-and-rescue training. In this adventure, he goes to a Maryland plantation during the days of American slavery, where he meets a young girl named Sarah. When Sarah learns that the owner has plans to sell her little brother, Jesse, to a plantation in the Deep South, it means they could be separated forever. Sarah takes their future into her own hands and decides there’s only one way to escape – to run north.

Told in third-person, Long Road to Freedom includes the inner thoughts of both Ranger and Sarah. Sarah’s thoughts add suspense by focusing on her fear of being caught and sent back to her master’s plantation. Ranger perceives other characters’ emotions through smell, which conveys people’s feelings to the reader in a non-scary way. For example, when Jesse runs into the forest alone, Ranger goes to look for him. “Jesse’s scent was still there, with a mix of new smells that make the hair on Ranger’s neck stand up. Deer. Blood. And wolves.” Unfortunately, Jesse is snotty and stubborn. His behavior almost attracts the attention of slave hunters. Jesse’s attitude is annoying, and readers may wonder why he isn’t willing to save himself.

Long Road to Freedom explores the Underground Railroad in kid-friendly terms. As they run north, Sarah and Jesse find safe passage with people who are willing to hide them. When a group of men tries to bully their way into a barn where the two children are hiding, Ranger alerts the neighbors. When the bad men are surrounded, they back down. Ranger thinks, “They didn’t have tails to lower, but Ranger understood that they were submitting. The challenge was over.”

The Ranger in Time Series format will appeal to young readers. The book has large text and full-page, black-and-white illustrations that appear approximately every six pages. The author’s note includes information about the historical people and places in the book, as well as a list of resources for readers who want to learn more about the Underground Railroad.

Even though readers will learn many facts about the time period, the facts are integrated into the plot, so the book never feels like a history lesson. Readers will fall in love with Ranger, who loves squirrels, his family, and helping people in need. Long Road to Freedom uses a lovable dog and a unique premise to teach readers about history.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sarah and Jesse are hiding in a barn when a group of men appears, demanding to see what’s behind the stacked hay. The farmer tries to stop the men but is unable to. Ranger knows the kids are in trouble so he “leaped out at him. The man started and fell. Ranger stood over him, barking his toughest bark. He turned and saw another big man holding Mr. Smith with his arms pinned behind him.” Ranger jumps on the man holding Mr. Smith, who manages to free himself from the man’s grasp.
  • Ranger wakes up the neighbors, who come to Mr. Smith’s aid. “Men and women streamed into the barn, carrying farm tools—axes and hoes and pitchforks.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Ranger travels through time with the help of a first aid kit. When the first aid kit hums, Ranger puts the strap over his head. “The box grew warm at his throat. It grew brighter and brighter… He felt as if he were being squeezed through a hole in the sky. . .” When Ranger opens his eyes, he is in the past.

Spiritual Content

  • Sarah heard stories about the Quakers helping runaway slaves. “But when Master Bradley brought Reverend Hayworth to give a sermon on the plantation, he preached how slaves ought to obey their masters. He said those who didn’t would see the wrath of God along with the overseer’s whip.”

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

 

 

 

 

Not Quite Snow White

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted nothing more than to play Snow White in her school’s musical.

Excited, Tameika dances and sings her way through the halls. But on the day of auditions, she overhears some kids suggesting that she is not princess material. Tameika suddenly doesn’t feel quite right enough to play a perfectly poised princess.

Will Tameika let this be her final curtain call?

Readers will instantly connect with Tameika, who loves all types of dance including “a hip-rolling happy dance. . . A stomping mad dance. And a hair-flicking just-because-she-felt-fabulous dance.” At first, Tameika feels confident, until she overhears her peers talking about her. The other kids make comments like, “She can’t be Snow White. She’s too tall! She’s much too chubby. And she’s too brown.” Hearing these words makes Tameika feel self-conscious and doubt her ability.

Not Quite Snow White shows how Tameika’s peers’ whispered words affect her. Tameika’s mother encourages her by saying, “You are tall enough, chubby enough, and brown enough to be a perfect princess.” Parents may want to use Not Quite Snow White as a discussion starter. They could talk about Tameika’s facial expressions and how it feels to be the subject of mean words.

Tameika’s love of dance and music comes to life in adorably cute illustrations that use bright colors.  Some of the illustrations focus on Tameika and her family, who are African American. At school, the children and teachers have a variety of skin tones. Each page has 1 to 4 sentences. Even though the vocabulary isn’t difficult, young readers will need an adult to read Not Quite Snow White to them.

Not Quite Snow White will engage young readers while it teaches the importance of loving yourself. Any child who loves Disney will relate to Tameika, who does not look like the stereotypical Disney princess. Despite what others say, Tamika realizes she can still be a “perfectly poised princess.” Not Quite Snow White reinforces the idea that “you’re just enough of all the right stuff.” Not Quite Snow White may become one of your child’s favorite books not only because of the fun illustrations but also because of the feel-good message.

Parents and teachers who would like to read more books that build a child’s self-confidence should add I Am Enough by Grace Byers and Angus All Aglow by Heather Smith to their must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

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

Ty’s Travels: All Aboard

Ty is ready to play, but everyone is busy. Daddy is cooking. Mommy is folding clothes and brother is doing homework. Even though no one can play with him, Ty decides to use his imagination and take a trip on a train. Soon, everyone is jumping into the fun.

Ty’s Travels is part of the My First I Can Read Series, which uses basic language, word repetition, and illustrations that are ideal for emergent readers. Each page has 1 to 4 simple sentences with large, brightly colored illustrations. Ty’s imagination comes to life in illustrations that look like crayon drawings. Plus, the cute illustrations will help young readers understand the plot.

Ty’s Travels is perfect for young readers who are learning a new skill. Readers will enjoy the repeating onomatopoeias such as chugga-chugga-chugga and clickety-clack. The repetition, onomatopoeia, and short sentences make the story fun to read out loud. Another positive aspect is that Ty’s two-parent family is shown in a positive light. The simple plot and relatable conflict will capture young readers’ attention as they learn to read on their own. Best of all, the story will encourage readers to use their imagination.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

I Will be Fierce!

It’s a brand new day, and a young girl decides to take on the world like a brave explorer heading off on an epic fairytale quest. From home to school and back again, our hero conquers the Mountain of Knowledge (the library), forges new bridges (friendships), and leads the victorious charge home on her steed (the school bus).

I Will Be Fierce is a powerful picture book about courage, confidence, kindness, and finding the extraordinary in everyday moments. Young readers will relate to the girl who uses her imagination in every aspect of life. For example, she pretends that her backpack is a treasure chest and the neighborhood dogs are monsters. The text and illustrations combine to show the girl’s varied emotions such as fear, wonder, and happiness.

At the heart of I Will Be Fierce is the idea that every day, we can choose to either be kind or cruel. When the girl sees a classmate eating by herself, she chooses to sit by the girl and become a friend. Instead of following the crowd, she charts her “own course.” While going against the crowd requires the girl to “be fierce,” it is important for her to “conquer” her fears and make her “voice heard.”

The bright and cheerful illustrations allow readers to understand the girl’s imagination. For example, when she looks at the school bus with kids hanging out the windows, the girl knows she must “charge the many-headed serpent.” Most of the story takes place in school and portrays a diverse group of children. Each page has one simple sentence and “I will be fierce” is repeated throughout the story.

I Will Be Fierce incorporates lively illustrations, lifelong lessons, and a relatable main character. Because of the story’s lessons, I Will Be Fierce would be an excellent book for parents to read and discuss with their child. However, I Will Be Fierce is also the perfect book to use as a quick bedtime story. Another picture book that encourages children to be kind is The Power of One: Every Act of Kindness Counts by Trudy Ludwig.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Ty’s Travels: Zip Zoom

Ty’s excited to try out his new scooter, so his parents take him to the park. As Ty attempts to ride, he imagines crowds watching him. Ty imagines that riding a scooter would be easy, but he wobbles. He doesn’t zip and zoom. However, Ty’s family encourages him to keep trying. Ty’s just about to give up when a girl stops her scooter and offers to help. With the help of his new friend, Ty learns how to zip and zoom on his scooter.

Young readers will relate to Ty, who tries hard to ride his scooter, but fails at first. Ty’s experience shows how learning a new skill can be difficult, but with practice, anyone can achieve their goal. The story blends Ty’s experience with his imagined experienced which allows readers to understand Ty’s goal. The conclusion shows Ty and his new friend racing together.

Ty’s Travels is part of the My First I Can Read Series, which uses basic language, word repetition, and illustrations that are ideal for emergent readers. Each page has 1 to 4 simple sentences with large, brightly colored illustrations. Plus, the cute illustrations will help young readers understand the plot.

Ty’s Travels is perfect for young readers who are learning a new skill. Ty’s two-parent family is shown in a positive light. As Ty struggles to ride his scooter, his family cheers him on and encourages him to keep trying. The story’s message is clear: Don’t give up. The simple plot and relatable conflict will capture young readers’ attention as they learn to read on their own.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 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

I Want to Be a Doctor

Jack jumps off the bed and breaks his foot. His whole family—dad, mom, and sister—go with him to the emergency room. While Jack and his mom go into the exam room, his dad and sister go on a field trip through the hospital. In the process, his sister learns about all kinds of doctors.

Young readers will enjoy exploring a hospital and meeting friendly doctors who want to help people feel better. The story blends narrative and nonfiction elements to create an educational story perfect for young readers. Readers will learn about nine different types of doctors including, a dentist, a physical therapist, and a pediatrician. The last page of the book has an infographic listing the different types of doctors and what they do.

I Want to Be a Doctor is part of the I Can Read series that introduces young readers to important community helpers. Another positive aspect of the book is the brightly colored illustrations that show a large cast of hospital employees who are diverse and friendly. Each page has four or fewer sentences typed in oversized text. The short sentences and familiar words make the book perfect for children learning to sound out words and sentences. I Want to Be a Doctor will delight little readers who are curious about hospitals and doctors. Readers who want to learn more about doctors should check out the picture book, The Doctor With An Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath by Julia Finley Mosca.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Bird Boy

Nico is the new kid at school. With that title comes a lot of uncertainty, and for Nico, a new nickname: “Bird Boy.” At first, the nickname is an attempt to tease Nico for his ability to befriend a couple of birds on the playground, but Nico quickly makes the name his own. Instead of letting the monomer “Bird Boy” put him down, Nico uses the new name as a chance to explore his imagination– becoming an eagle over the forest, a diving penguin, or an agile hummingbird. It isn’t long before other classmates take notice of Nico’s unique ability to become “Bird Boy,” and they begin to admire his confidence. In the end, Nico finds a way to connect with others simply by being who he wants to be.

Matthew Burgess’s Bird Boy introduces readers to the wonderfully imaginative, kind, and sweet, Nico. Each page is 1-2 paragraphs of around 1-6 lines of text with occasional parentheses that leave space for Nico to describe his initial feelings about a situation through a third person narrator. For instance, through lines such as, “with a backpack full of stones. (That’s how it felt.),” or “he turned the name over in his head a few times and smiled (It surprised him, too.),” readers get a very personal and present idea of how Nico encounters and overcomes feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Bird Boy does have some more complex vocabulary that could be challenging for new readers. However, words such as huddles, side-curved, aquamarine, and nectar-filled would be great for young readers looking to take their first flight into some new diction. Parents could also easily read this engrossing narrative to a child of any reading level. The vibrant illustrations of watercolor and graphite transform the school’s playground into chaotically beautiful, bird-filled scenes that are sure to captivate all readers.

Whether listening to it read aloud, or reading this narrative themselves, readers will discover the inspirational message at the heart of Bird Boy: the understanding that true friends come to you when you choose to confidently love everything that makes you uniquely yourself. While it should be made clear that not all name calling should be as easily accepted as the way Nico accepts the name “Bird Boy,” Bird Boy shows how Nico uses this monomer to find a new form of strength, agency, and even love for the outdoors. The book demonstrates to readers that sometimes it’s about how you choose to view yourself in an uncomfortable situation that makes the real difference, rather than anything anyone else chooses to say about you.

Ultimately, in Bird Boy friendships and community come after one discovers the power and comfort that comes from being who they want to be and standing by that decision with their head held high. If you’d like to explore other picture books that help children accept themselves, check out Angus All Aglow by Heather Smith and I Am Enough by Grace Byers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • The term “Bird Boy” is a name initially used to tease Nico, before he transforms it into a description that he finds empowering.

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

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.”

Annie John

Annie John is a young, genius schoolgirl who wants to grow up to be just like her mother. Annie finds her mother beautiful – physically and internally – and her greatest wish is to stay forever with her, in their matching dresses, repeating their familiar daily routine of preparing dinner and washing clothes. They even share the same name: Annie. However, as young Annie starts to come of age, she is hit with the realization that she and her mother are not so similar after all.  When Annie points out a fabric to make a pair of dresses for them both, her mother replies, “You are getting too old for that . . . You just cannot go around the rest of your life looking like a little me.”

Annie’s world crumbles. As she advances to a new school, the differences between Annie and her mother become more apparent. Annie likes girls – especially those who don’t have to bathe and comb their hair every day like Annie is forced to. She likes to play marbles – even though her mother forbids it, since it isn’t ladylike. And Annie steals. To have what she wants, Annie is forced to steal things like trinkets, money, and marbles. She begins to resent her mother’s strict ways and desires her own, free existence.

When Annie falls ill for a long time, she is nursed back to health by her mother. After which, she leaves her family in Antigua behind to go to England to become a nurse, since she “would have chosen going off to live in a cavern and keeping house for seven unruly men rather than go on with [her] life as it stood.”

While Annie’s young teenage rebelliousness sounds familiar to many, she struggles deeply with the divide between the life she wants and the life her mother wants for her. Annie says, “In the year I turned fifteen, I felt more unhappy than I had ever imagined anyone could be. My unhappiness was something deep inside me, and when I closed my eyes, I could even see it . . . It took the shape of a small black ball, all wrapped up in cobwebs. I would look at it and look at it until I had burned the cobwebs away, and then I would see the ball was no bigger than a thimble, even though it weighed worlds.”

Annie John is not a difficult story to read in terms of language or length, but as a story it is tough to swallow since it is about growing up, which comes with the heavy realization that you must become your own being. Mostly, the story focuses on events from Annie’s life that are narrated rather than her depression and related illness. These topics are not discussed in detail, rather left open for the reader to think about.

Annie John is not told chronologically, which can be confusing at times. This story is historical fiction and showcases some of the culture of Antigua, an island in the Caribbean, whose native population has been impacted by colonization. This is most apparent in the strict gender norms emphasized by Annie’s mother and the teachings in Annie’s school. This story is wonderfully crafted. While these issues seem like major ones, they are carefully blended into Annie’s life so subtly that the reader can fully understand what it’s like to live as Annie John. The events of the story are personal to Annie’s life, however, the sadness that comes with growing older is universal. Because of that, this story is timeless and a must-read for those who seek to understand a genuine, flawed character, as she escapes from her restrictive past and sails to a new future.

Sexual Content

  • The schoolgirls wonder when their breasts will grow larger. Annie tells the reader, “On our minds every day were our breasts and their refusal to budge out of our chests. On hearing somewhere that if a boy rubbed your breasts they would quickly swell up, I passed along this news. Since in the world we occupied and hoped to forever occupy boys were banished, we had to make do with ourselves.”
  • Later, Annie thinks about spending time with her friend, Gwen, who she is in love with: “Oh, how it would have pleased us to press and rub our knees together as we sat in our pew . . . and how it would have pleased us even more to walk home together, alone in the early dusk. . . stopping where there was a full moon, to lie down in a pasture and expose our bosoms in the moonlight. We had heard that full moonlight would make our breasts grow to a size we would like.”
  • The Red Girl, one of Annie’s crushes, pinches her, then kisses her. “She pinched hard, picking up pieces of my flesh and twisting it around. At first, I vowed not to cry, but it went on for so long that tears I could not control streamed down my face. I cried so much that my chest began to heave, and then, as if my heaving chest caused her to have some pity on me, she stopped pinching and began to kiss me on the same spots where shortly before I had felt the pain of her pinch. Oh, the sensation was delicious – the combination of pinches and kisses. And so wonderful we found it that, almost every time we met, pinches by her, followed by tears from me, followed by kisses from her, were the order of the day.”

Violence

  • Annie torments a girl she likes. “I loved very much – and used to torment until she cried – a girl named Sonia . . . I would pull at the hair on her arms and legs – gently at first, and then awfully hard, holding it up taut with the tips of my fingers until she cried out.”
  • Annie recounts an incident with one of her friends. “In a game we were making up on the spot, I took off all my clothes and he led me to a spot under a tree, where I was to sit until he told me what to do next. It was long before I realized that the spot he had picked out was a red ants’ nest. Soon the angry ants were all over me, stinging me in my private parts, and as I cried and scratched, trying to get the ants off me, he fell down on the ground laughing, his feet kicking the air with happiness.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • After Annie’s mother sees her talking to boys, she calls Annie a slut. Annie narrates the event like this: “My mother said it had pained her to see me behave in the manner of a slut in the street and that just to see me had caused her to feel shame. The word ‘slut’ was repeated over and over until suddenly I felt as if I were drowning in a well but instead of the well being filled with water it was filled with the word ‘slut,’ and it was pouring in through my eyes, my ears, my nostrils, my mouth. As if to save myself, I turned to her and said, ‘Well like father like son, like mother like daughter.’”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The kids sometimes go to choir and church on Sunday, and carry bibles, but this is rarely described, only referenced. For example, Annie’s mother “checked my bag to make sure that I had my passport, the money she had given me, and a sheet of paper placed between some pages in my Bible on which were written the names of the relatives with whom I would live in England.” Annie does not discuss God or her beliefs.
  • When Annie is sick, an obeah woman from her family tries to help her by giving her herbs and using other remedies, although Annie is too sick to note them.
  • The obeah women of Annie’s town believe that Annie falls ill because of a “scorned woman” from her father’s past. There is no further elaboration on this topic.

by Madison Shooter

 

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

The Word Collector

Some people collect stamps. Some people collect coins. Some people collect art. And Jerome? He collects words. Jerome discovers the magic of words all around him—short and sweet words, two-syllable treats, and multi-syllable words that sound like little songs. Words that connect, transform, and empower.

As Jerome collects words, he writes them on strips of yellow paper and organizes them in a way that makes sense to him. One surprising aspect of the story is that Jerome “slipped and his words went flying!” This accident allows Jerome to find new connections between words. The words allow Jerome to write poems and songs. Jerome also uses words to give encouragement and to tell someone that he is sorry. Another positive aspect of the story is that Jerome acknowledges that he doesn’t know the meaning of all the words. He doesn’t know what “aromatic, vociferous, and effervescent” mean, but they are still good words to add to his collection.

The Word Collector is a must-read because it shows the importance of words. “The more words he [Jerome] knew the more clearly he could share with the world what he was thinking, feeling, and dreaming.” In the end, Jerome shares his word collection with others, and “he saw children in the valley below scurrying about collecting words from the breeze. Jerome had no words to describe how happy that made him.”

Jerome’s story comes to life in simple full-page illustrations that focus on Jerome and his words. Most pages have one sentence in addition to a list of words. Readers will need help pronouncing some words like kaleidoscope, guacamole, and torrential. Most of the book’s appeal comes from the fact that The Word Collector teaches vocabulary as well as positive life lessons.

As Jerome collects words, he realizes that “some of his simplest words were his most powerful.” The Word Collector is a sweet story that highlights the power of a person’s words. At one point, Jerome shows how simple words such as “I’m sorry” or “thank you” can have a tremendous impact. Whether you’re looking for a story to use as a teaching tool or just want a quick bedtime story, The Word Collector would make an excellent addition to your book collection.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

I Got the School Spirit

Summer is over, and this little girl has got the school spirit! She hears the school spirit in the bus driving up the street—VROOM, VROOM!—and in the bell sounding in the halls—RING-A-DING! She sings the school spirit in class with her friends—ABC, 123!

The school spirit helps us all strive and grow. What will you learn today?

In this picture book, an African American girl celebrates going to school. The vibrant oil-painted illustrations focus on one girl. When she gets to school, her classmates are a diverse group of children. Several pictures show students who are worried about going to school, which causes tears. However, in the end, all of the students are happy to be in school. From storytime to the bus ride home, the school day isn’t complete until the girl gets a big hug from her mother.

Each two-page spread has one illustration that takes up both pages. Each page has one short sentence that ends with a few words that are in big, bold text. Many of these words are onomatopoeias such as “crunch, munch, sip.” Whether your child is getting ready for their first day of preschool or their first day of kindergarten, I Got the School Spirit will help younger readers feel more confident about going to school.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

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