Dating Makes Perfect

The Tech sisters don’t date in high school. Not because they’re not asked. Not because they’re not interested. Not even because no one can pronounce their long, Thai last name—hence the shortened, awkward moniker. But simply because they’re not allowed.

Until now.

In a move that other Asian American girls know all too well, six months after the older Tech twins got to college, their parents asked, “Why aren’t you engaged yet?” The sisters retaliated by vowing that they won’t marry for ten (maybe even twenty!) years, not until they’ve had lots of the dating practice that they didn’t get in high school.

In a shocking war on the status quo, her parents now insist that their youngest daughter, Orrawin (aka “Winnie”), must practice fake dating in high school. Under their watchful eyes, of course—and organized based on their favorite rom-coms. Because that won’t end in disaster…

The first candidate? The son of their longtime friends, Mat Songsomboon—arrogant, infuriating, and way too good-looking. Winnie’s known him since they were toddlers throwing sticky rice balls at each other. And her parents love him. If only he weren’t her sworn enemy.

Winnie is tying to figure out family difficulties, first kisses, and who she is, all while trying to be an obedient daughter. But following her parents’ rules isn’t easy, especially when it means putting her own dreams aside. Winnie is an adorably cute and relatable character who deals with typical teen problems. While the story’s conclusion is predictable, Winnie’s journey through dating her sworn enemy is full of fun misunderstandings, near disasters, and inner turmoil. However, Winnie’s life isn’t just about romance, it’s also a sweet story about family, love, and acceptance.

Throughout her journey, Winnie must learn to trust herself as well as take risks when it comes to sharing her feelings. In the end, Winnie realizes that her parents’ love isn’t determined by her obedience. Instead of trying to fit their mold, Winnie finally discusses her true feelings. To complicate matters, Winnie’s confession is mixed in with her sister’s announcement that she is bisexual. The ending is a bit unrealistic because her parents readily accept the idea of her sister having a girlfriend, and they have more difficulty accepting the fact that Winnie wants to date Mat “for real.”

Dating Makes Perfect is the perfect book for readers who want a fun romance that revisits American rom-coms. The cute story is entertaining and has plenty of swoon-worthy moments that will make readers’ hearts sing. Plus, Dating Makes Perfect has a positive message about being brave enough to give voice to your dreams. In the end, Winnie gets the guy, and learns that “words do count. They can hurt, and they can heal. . . Maybe it’s neither words nor actions alone that have an impact. Maybe we need both.” Readers who enjoy Dating Makes Perfect should step into the world of two teens from feuding families by reading A Pho Love Story by Loan Le.

Sexual Content

  • Several times, Winnie thinks about kissing Mat. For example, when Mat is being snarky, Winnie is surprised by her reaction. “For one ridiculous second, an image of us, intertwined, flashes through my mine.” Later she is upset when she has a kiss dream about Mat.
  • Mat tells a boy that he has seen Winnie naked. He leaves out that they were babies at the time.
  • Winnie’s sisters are decorating for a bridal party and they make a game of pin the penis on the groom. Winnie thinks, “my sisters are preoccupied with penises. Gummy ones, cardboard ones. Penises that may or may not be an accurate representation of the real ones.”
  • Mat tells Winnie that he can be attracted to her, even though she is his enemy. Winnie trails her “fingers up his neck, and he sucks in a breath. He settles his hands hesitantly over my hip. . . I move forward backing him up until he’s against the chair in the corner. . . I want to kiss him. This guy. My sworn enemy.” Before Winnie can kiss him, they are interrupted.
  • While at a frozen yogurt shop, Winnie sees a couple who “have given up all pretense of cheesy coupledom and just attack each other’s lips.”
  • Winnie’s best friend tells here that, “First kisses pretty much suck—and not in a good way. Too much slobbering. Too much thrust.”
  • Winnie asks her sister, “How do you make someone fall for you?” Her sister’s advice is to “send nude pictures.” Instead, she takes a picture of a crumpled-up dress and sends it to Mat.
  • Winnie asks her sisters for advice because “they’ve been in college seven whole months, without parental supervision. . . I know of at least four kissing sessions—and those are the ones they bothered to share with me.”
  • While talking about a rom-com, Winnie’s friend asks, “Isn’t that the scene where she tells him that she has insane, freaky sex with Keanu Reeves?”
  • Winnie tells her mother that she hasn’t kissed a boy “yet.” Her mother asks, “Do you need any contraceptives?”
  • While at a party, a drunk boy goes to kiss Winnie. “One hand cradles my neck, while the other one is splayed on my hip. My hands are still hanging by my sides.” When Winnie smells alcohol, she pushes him away.
  • Once Winnie and Mat decide to date for real, they kiss a lot. The first time Winnie wonders, “I’ve kissed exactly nobody in my life and he’s tongue-wrestled with how many? Twenty? What if he thinks I suck? Or worse yet, don’t suck. Are you supposed to do that in a first kiss?”
  • Winnie and Mat skip class and make out. Mat “scoops me up and lays me across his lap. My skirt hikes up a few inches. He glances at my bare legs and seems to stop breathing. . . Wow. Okay. This is a kiss. Lips moving. Slowly. Sweetly. So hot, this give-and-take. A hint of teeth. Oh, hello, tongue. I could do this all day.” A student finally interrupts them. The scene is described over four pages.
  • Mat sends Winnie a picture of him without a shirt. When she doesn’t reply, he asks, “Have you fainted from all my hotness?”
  • Winnie and her mother have a short conversation about When Harry Met Sally. Winnie tells her, “Meg Ryan—well, she was faking an orgasm.”
  • After a date, Winnie and Mat kissed “walking to the car. Up against the car. Inside the car. Once I gave in to temptation, it was impossible to resist him.”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Winnie attends a party where the teens are “drinking spiked punch and some guys are downing Jell-O shots.”
  • One of Winnie’s friends gets drunk at a party. Afterward, he tells her, “I stumbled into the bathroom and went to sleep. . . My first party at Lakewood, and not only did I get trashed, but I wasn’t even awake long enough to enjoy it.”

Language

  • Profanity is used often. Profanity includes ass, damn, crap, freaking, and hell.
  • Winnie thinks Mat is a “dirty, rotten rat bastard.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • In an embarrassing situation, Winnie thinks, “now would be the perfect time for the gods to conjure up a conch shell for me to hide inside.”
  • Winnie thinks that Mat is probably “a preta, which is a spirit cursed by karma and returned to the world of the living, with an unquenchable hunger for human waste.”
  • Winnie and her friend go to the wat. “We slip off our shoes . . . Seven Buddha images line the hallway, one representing the god for each day of the week. . . After a quick prayer over clasped hands, I pick up the ladle and pour water on the Buddha’s forehead.”
  • Winnie’s father tells her about immigrating to America. He says, “You know, when we first came to this country, I stood on the steps of Widener Library and prayed that one day my children would attend school there.”
  • Several times Winnie prays to the pra Buddha cho. For example, when asking Mat for help, Winnie says he should help because “you like me.” Then she prayed “to the pra Buddha cho that I’m right.”

Some Penguin Problems

When Kate learns that her class is going on a field trip to the aquarium, she is thrilled that she’ll get to see the penguin exhibit! The rockhopper penguins are her favorite. To prepare, Ms. Eberlin assigns the class a project: each student has to do a report about a different animal at the aquarium. Even though Kate gets assigned sea lions, she’s still thrilled to go. Kate, Birdie, and the rest of the class excitedly prepare for their projects until it’s finally Aquarium Day! But then a huge snowstorm threatens to ruin the class’s field trip. Will the snow and ice force the school to cancel the field trip?

When the teacher announces the field trip, she explains the need to have volunteers to chaperone. The lack of volunteers and the weather forecast drive much of the plot. However, Kate’s desire to report on penguins instead of sea lions also adds conflict, partly because Kate wants her classmate to switch topics with her. At times Kate seems like a know-it-all because she uses her knowledge of penguins to prove that she should be doing her report on them. However, in the end, Kate learns to appreciate sea lions and apologizes to her classmates.

The book’s short chapters all begin with definitions of science words such as statistics, sodium, and convection. Simple black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 3 pages. While the illustrations help break up the text, they will not help readers understand the plot or visualize the characters. The book concludes with a recipe to make chocolate-covered pretzels. The last pages of the book show Biberdorf’s other books, The Big Book of Experiments and The Awesome Book of Edible Experiments for Kids.

Some Penguin Problems is an entertaining book with a main character that isn’t perfect but strives to do what is right. In this book, Kate is presented with a dilemma, and in the end, decides to keep a promise even though it means giving up something she really wants. Plus, Kate’s story is packed full of science and animal facts. Biberdorf uses kid-friendly examples and explanations to explain how chemistry is used in everyone’s daily lives. The story also depicts healthy family relationships through Kate’s interactions with her brother and parents.

Science and animal-loving readers will enjoy Some Penguin Problems because of the relatable conflicts and the interesting facts. Through Kate’s experiences, readers will learn the importance of being able to adapt and change. Kate explains, “It was sometimes important to adapt. Even if some of the changes weren’t what you wanted.” Despite the book’s positive aspects, readers who are not interested in science might find the focus on science a little overwhelming. Readers who want to expand their science knowledge should also read the Girls Who Code Series by Stacia Deutsch.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • At the aquarium, the students see a blind sea lion that “had shrapnel in his eyes because he had been shot.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Much Ado About Baseball

Twelve-year-old Trish can solve tough math problems and throw a mean fastball. But because of her mom’s new job, she’s now facing a summer trying to make friends all over again in a new town. That isn’t an easy thing to do, and her mom is too busy to notice how miserable she is.

But at her first baseball practice, Trish realizes one of her teammates is Ben, the sixth-grade math prodigy she beat in the spring Math Puzzler Championships. Everyone around them seems to think that with their math talent and love of baseball, it’s only logical that Trish and Ben become friends, but Ben makes it clear he still hasn’t gotten over that loss and can’t stand her.

Ben hasn’t played baseball in two years, and he doesn’t want to play now—but he has to, thanks to losing a bet with his best friend. Once Ben realizes Trish is on the team, he knows he can’t quit and be embarrassed by her again. To make matters worse, their team can’t win a single game. But then they meet Rob, an older kid who smacks home runs without breaking a sweat. Rob tells them about his family’s store, which sells unusual snacks that will make them better ballplayers. Trish is dubious, but she’s willing to try almost anything to help the team.

When a mysterious booklet of math puzzles claiming to reveal the “ultimate answer” arrives in her mailbox, Trish and Ben start to get closer and solve the puzzles together. Ben starts getting hits, and their team becomes unstoppable. Trish is happy to keep riding the wave of good luck . . . until they get to a puzzle they can’t solve, with tragic consequences. Can they find the answer to this ultimate puzzle, or will they strike out when it counts the most?

Much Ado About Baseball is a fast-paced story that teaches about friendship and fitting in using baseball as a backdrop. The story is told from both Ben’s and Trish’s point of view. The alternating points of view allow readers to see how Ben and Trish struggle with conflicting emotions. Middle grade readers will relate to Ben and Trish, who both are trying to fit in with their new baseball team. While the two are often at odds, they learn to work together. As a result, Ben realizes that friendship is about “arranging things so they’re best for the group, and not just for one person.”

While the story has plenty of baseball action, math puzzles also take center stage. Readers will enjoy trying to solve the puzzle before the answer is revealed. In addition, Much Ado About Baseball has a Shakespeare quoting character and magical fairies that need a lesson in cooperation. By combining baseball, puzzles, and Shakespeare, LaRocca creates an imaginative and engaging story that is full of suspense. While the story focuses on friendship, it also shines a light on the importance of honesty and forgiveness. The story’s conclusion is a little too perfect and cheerful. Everything is wrapped up in a positive manner which causes the ending to sound a little preachy. Despite this, Much Ado About Baseball will appeal to sports fans and non-sports fans alike. If you’re looking for another book full of baseball excitement, grab a copy of Soar by Joan Bauer.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Several times someone is referred to as a jerk. For example, Trish thinks a boy is a jerk.
  • Heck is used occasionally.

Supernatural

  • Both Ben and Trish get a magical math puzzle book. When the right answer is written down, “the entire grid turned bright green. . . Then, under the puzzle, a sentence appeared.” The sentence gives help with a problem.
  • After using the magical math book, Ben tells the baseball where to go. The ball, “seemed to slow down. . . it was surrounded by sparkling green light.” Because of this, Ben is able to hit a home run.
  • Ben thinks eating the Salt Shaker snacks makes him better at baseball. His team eats the snacks before every game. “But the kids kept having weird reactions. . .breaking out in purple blotches that disappeared after a few minutes; hiccupping intermittently for an afternoon; even growing fuzzy hair on our forearms that resembled a donkey’s fur.”
  • In Ben and Trish’s world, fairies exist “as much as magic math books and lucky coins.”
  • Ben and Trish go to a part of the forest where fairies are. After a brief conversation, “The mouths surrounded us like a green cloud. When they finally flew away, we were back in my yard.”

 

Spiritual Content

  • None

Horse Girl  

Wills is a seventh-grader who’s head-over-hoof for horses, and beyond excited when she gets the chance to start training at the prestigious Oakwood Riding Academy. But Amara—the queen of the #HorseGirls—and her posse, aren’t going to let the certifiably dork-tagious Wills trot her way into their club so easily. Between learning the reins of horse riding, dealing with her Air Force pilot mom being stationed thousands of miles from home, and keeping it together in front of (gasp!) Horse Boys, Wills learns that becoming a part of the #HorseGirl world isn’t easy. But with her rescue horse, Clyde, at her side, it sure will be fun.

Wills’s embarrassing father, sensitive sister, and the members of the riding academy combine to make her story relatable and humorous. Every preteen will understand Wills’s desire to make friends as well as the embarrassing moments Wills suffers through. While Horse Girl has plenty of funny moments, readers will connect to Wills and understand her desire to find a place where she belongs. In addition to girl drama, mystery is added when someone begins leaving Wills encouraging notes and Wills begins investigating the members of the riding team.

Wills’s relationship with her parents is another positive aspect of the story. As Wills is trying to navigate life, she often thinks about her mom’s words of wisdom: “she says that whether you’re riding or flying or even just brushing your teeth, you have to be ready for surprises—the happy kind or the sad kind or the refreshingly minty kind. She says if you stop looking for surprises, they’ll stop looking for you—and what fun would life be then?”

The short paragraphs, text bubbles with emojis, and the list of Oakwood friend suspects makes the story engaging and fun. Plus, the text has footnotes that explain the horse terminology. The footnotes also include references that preteens may not know. For example, when Wills compares a rider to the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the footnote says, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a movie from a million years ago (aka 1961) starring actress Audrey Hepburn wearing a little black dress and pearls.”

Horse-loving readers will enjoy Horse Girl because horses are a pivotal part of the plot. However, Horse Girl will also appeal to a wide range of readers because of Wills’s relatable conflicts, friendship worry, and embarrassing moments. Wills isn’t afraid to embrace her dorkiness, her frizzy hair, or her love of horses. And in the end, she learns a valuable fact about friendship; “Your friends—even the least expected ones, even the ones you thought were out to get you, and especially the ones with four legs—will be there to help pick you up.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • OMG and OMGE are used occasionally.
  • Holy smokes and holy cow are both used as an exclamation once.
  • Heck is used five times.
  • Wills’s father says, “Dang it” once
  • Wills’s sister calls her a weirdo.
  • When Wills is feeling sorry for herself, her dad says, “But you’re behaving like an immature, whiny, selfish. . . brat.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Before Wills’s competition, she takes “a deep breath and says a silent prayer to the #HorseGods.”

 

Page by Paige

New city. New friends. New Paige?

When Paige’s parents move her family from Virginia to New York City, Paige doesn’t know where she fits in anymore. At first, the only thing keeping her company is her notebook, where she pours her worries and observations, and experiments with her secret identity: ARTIST. With the confidence the book brings her, she starts to make friends and shake up her family’s expectations. But is she ready to become the person she draws in her notebook?

Paige tells her own story, which allows readers to understand her insecurities and struggles. Paige is an extremely likable and relatable main character who worries about many typical teenage problems such as making friends, having a boyfriend, and becoming more independent. As Paige matures, she learns to be comfortable in her own skin and she becomes more confident in sharing her artwork.

Throughout the story, Paige’s doubts and insecurities are shown in thought bubbles. When it comes to her art, she questions herself and thinks, “You’re going to fail, so why even try? What if I have nothing to say? No good at all?” Paige’s self-doubts continue when she begins to make friends. Paige thinks, “I’ve always been scared of revealing too much, saying the wrong thing, screwing up. . .” Paige is tired of always feeling “awkward, behind, sheltered,” so she begins a journey of self-growth and starts to stretch herself and be more open.

One of the best parts of Page by Paige is the black and white illustrations which are beautiful and interesting. Instead of just relying on facial expressions, Paige’s emotions come through her own artwork. For instance, when Paige is afraid of expressing herself, the illustration shows Paige’s mouth sewn shut. The imaginative artwork gives Paige’s emotions a life of their own and the pictures will help the reader understand Paige’s inner conflicts.

Readers can learn a lot about self-acceptance from Paige. At the beginning of each chapter, Paige writes a rule she wants to live by. For example, “Figure out what scares you and DO IT and let yourself FAIL. Don’t take it all so personally.” When Paige allows these rules to guide her behavior, she learns more about herself and begins to overcome her fears. As Paige matures, she realizes, “Bad experiences are like bad drawings. They stay in our sketchbooks. They stay a part of us. You can’t erase your past or who you are. You have to deal with it, I suppose.”

Page by Paige’s format will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. The story includes list and thought bubbles that use simple but expressive vocabulary. Some pages have no words, but allow the illustrations to express Paige’s complex emotions instead. While a few pages are text heavy, most pages have one to eight short sentences. Even though Paige’s struggles are typical, her illustrations elevate the graphic novel’s ability to express emotions.

Page by Paige will appeal to a wide variety of readers because it focuses on issues that most teens face. While the story gives readers a lot of good advice, the story never feels like a lecture. Instead, the graphic novel focuses on Paige’s personal growth. If you’re looking for an engaging graphic novel with interesting artwork, then Page by Paige is the perfect book for you.

Sexual Content

  • When meeting kids at her new school, someone asks Paige, “Are you Irish?” Then the kids tell Paige what their diverse heritage is. Paige says, “Me, I’m just like if all the pale countries got together and had a big orgy.”
  • A boy teasingly tells Paige, “I’ll try not to pop your cherry.”
  • The illustrations show Paige kissing her boyfriend twice. This is her first kiss.

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Crap is used four times.
  • Damn is used twice.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Mirror Magic

Do you believe in magic? Mia and her friends do! And when they meet the Star Animals, a whole world of magical adventures unfolds in this new chapter book series, accompanied by black and white illustrations throughout.

Mia and her Star Animal, a fox named Bracken, must use their special powers to stop the forces of dark magic. Mia’s older sister has started acting strangely and the Star Animals sense dark magic is at work. Soon Mia discovers that the new compact mirror that her sister, Cleo, has been using must be to blame. Can the girls use their newfound Star Magic to help make things right?

Mirror Magic will appeal to young readers who love animals and magic. The story focuses on Mia, but it also revolves around her two friends, Lexi and Sita. Most of the story centers on the girls meeting the magical animals and learning how to use their own magic. However, Mia’s sister, Cleo, adds suspense and mystery to the story and in the end, the girls discover that a Shade has been manipulating Cleo.

In the story’s climax, the Star Friends and their animals, fight with the Shade. The scene with the Shade is scary and may upset some readers. Despite this, Mirror Magic does an excellent job of introducing the main characters, the magical animals, and the conflict with Violet, who turns out to be a Star Friend too. Mirror Magic sets up a world that is slightly predictable, but also full of mystery and adventure.

Mirror Magic is the first in a chapter book series that focuses on three friends—Mia, Lexi, and Sita—who are illustrated with different skin tones. The cute black and white illustrations appear every two to seven pages. Even though Mirror Magic will appeal to readers who are six and up, younger readers may have a difficult time with the more advanced vocabulary.

Star Friends will appeal to readers who enjoyed The Rescue Princesses Series and The Rainbow Magic Series. The story portrays Mia’s family in a positive manner, and while Mia and her friends are kind, they are not perfect. The girls clearly want to help others and they are even planning a baked food sale with the proceeds going to help an organization that protects endangered animals. The simple plot and sweet characters will appeal to animal loving early elementary readers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mia’s sister had a magical compact with a Shade trapped inside. When Mia looks into the mirror, “The handsome face and sympathetic brown eyes melted away under her gaze, becoming a gray skull with glittering red eyes.” Mia throws the compact on the ground and “gray smoke started to seep out through the cracks in the broken glass. . . The smoke swirled together and formed a very tall, thin figure with gray skin, a skull-like face, and ragged clothes. The figure’s slanted eyes glowed red in his bony face.”
  • When the Shade is set free, he steps towards the Star Friends. Bracken (a magical fox) “growled. . . Darting forward, he grabbed the Shade’s leg with his teeth. At the same moment, Willow [a magical deer] charged and butted the Shade.” The Shade swiped “at them with his long nails.”
  • Mia jumps in to help the animals fight the Shade. “She threw herself at the Shade. He stood his ground and, as she hit his chest, he threw her backward as easily as if she weighed no more than a piece of paper.” The Star Friends and the Shade’s fight is described over four pages.
  • Violet captures the Shade in her phone. “The Shade’s face pulled into a grimace as the camera on her phone flashed. With a scream he dissolved into smoke and was sucked into the screen of the phone.” Violet sends the Shade back into the shadows.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • OMG is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • Magical animals from another world come into the human world looking for a Star Friend. Each animal must “find a human child to be your Star Friend—a child who is kindhearted enough to use magic for good and brave enough to defeat someone using dark magic. When you meet a child. . . speak to him or her with your thoughts. If they are open to magic, they will hear you.”
  • The magical animals can appear and disappear. They also each have a unique magical ability.
  • Dark magic also exists in the world. “It comes from the ground, and it is magic that can be used to hurt people and make them unhappy.”
  • Cleo has a mirror that has a Shade in it. “Bad people can conjure Shades—evil spirits who exist in the shadows.” It brings misery and unhappiness. “It can also be trapped inside an object, like a necklace, book, or toy that the person using the dark magic will give to someone they want to harm in some way.”
  • The Shade in Cleo’s mirror pretends “to be that person’s friend, but then they start twisting their minds, making them jealous and angry.”
  • Mia’s magic allows her to “see what’s happening elsewhere really clearly, and you’ll be able to hear what’s being said and look at the details of a scene.” She can also see the past and future.
  • Sita has the ability to “comfort people and heal them.”
  • Lexi’s magical abilities have to do with agility. “She’ll be able to do things a normal human couldn’t.”
  • Violet is a Spirit Speaker who has “the magic ability to command spirits.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Just Roll With It

As long as Maggie rolls the right number, nothing can go wrong…right?

Maggie just wants to get through her first year of middle school. But between finding the best after-school clubs, trying to make friends, and avoiding the rumored monster on school grounds, she’s having a tough time . . . so she might need a little help from her twenty-sided dice. But what happens if Maggie rolls the wrong number?

Maggie struggles with OCD and feels compelled to roll a dice before she makes any decisions. Soon, Maggie is rolling dice to decide if she should have lunch with a friend, if she should let a friend borrow a book, and other everyday decisions. Maggie’s OCD begins to interfere with her daily life. At the beginning of the story, the reader sees Maggie rolling the dice, but a lack of explanation makes the dice rolling confusing. However, later in the book, OCD is explained in kid-friendly terms that are relatable.

In English class, the students are reading The Crucible, which ties into Maggie’s life. For example, Maggie’s friend, Clara, says, “I think it must be really hard for Sara. She knows she’s not a witch, but when everyone is saying that kind of stuff to you, sometimes it’s hard to remember they are wrong.” Likewise, Maggie wonders if others think she is crazy, because of her OCD.

Maggie’s story unfolds with quick looks at different aspects of her life. While this allows Maggie to be well-developed, the constant change of scene may be confusing for some readers. In addition, part of Maggie’s emotions are shown when she talks to an imaginary dragon. The dragon doesn’t hesitate in making Maggie question her abilities. At one point the dragon tells her, “Every time you forget your homework, or are afraid to ask a question, and even when you’re not sure if you want seconds at dinner? That’s me, reminding you that you’re weak. You’re shy. You’re nothing.”

Just Roll With It has several positive aspects, including Maggie’s relationship with her family and her friend, Clara. Maggie’s sister encourages Maggie that “fear and pain can’t be avoided, no matter how much we try. Coming out to mom and dad was really scary for me. But I’m glad I did it. A lot of the worries I made up in my head ended up not coming true. So I put myself through a lot of heartache for nothing.” With her family’s reassurance, Maggie agrees to see a therapist in order to deal with anxiety. Middle grade readers will relate to Maggie who worries about what other people say about her, forgets to do her homework, and struggles with figuring out what clubs she wants to join.

Maggie’s story comes to life in brightly colored panels. When Maggie is feeling stressed, the pictures use a darker hue to illustrate her anxiety. The illustrations mostly focus on Maggie, her friends, and her family. When Maggie is at school, the students are a diverse group including a girl in a wheelchair and a Muslim. The story also includes Clara’s two moms and Maggie’s sister’s girlfriend. Reluctant readers will enjoy Just Roll With It because it uses easy vocabulary and has a fast pace. Each page has one to seven simple sentences, which make Just Roll With a quick book to read. Readers interested in exploring the theme of anxiety should also read the graphic novel, Guts by Raina Telgemeie.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A boy shoves Maggie’s friend Clara twice, knocking her to the ground.
  • When a boy goes to hit Clara, Maggie steps in and hits him across the face with a fat book.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck, darn, and OMG are used several times.
  • Crap is used once.
  • There is some name-calling including jerk, snake bait, and babies.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Run

Bo Dickinson is a girl with a wild reputation, a deadbeat dad, and a mama who’s not exactly sober most of the time. Everyone in town knows the Dickinsons are a bad lot, but Bo doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

Agnus Atwood has never gone on a date, never even stayed out past ten, and never broken any of her parents’ overbearing rules. These rules are meant to protect their legally blind daughter, though protect her from what, Agnus isn’t quite sure.

Despite everything, Bo and Agnus become best friends. It’s the sort of friendship that runs truer and deeper than anything. So, when Bo shows up in the middle of the night, with police sirens wailing in the distance, desperate to get out of town, Agnus doesn’t hesitate to take off with her. But running away and not getting caught will require stealing a car, tracking down Bo’s dad, staying ahead of the authorities and – worst of all – confronting some ugly secrets.

Bo and Agnus are unlikely friends mostly because of Bo’s bad reputation. Everyone in town believes that Bo is white trash, who drinks too much and sleeps around with anyone and everyone. Even though Bo has done nothing to earn this reputation, she does nothing to dispel it either. Unlike Bo, Agnus is resigned to live a boring life in her hometown that she will never leave. Because of her disability, her parents are overprotective, but Agnus never talks to them about how she feels trapped. The two girls form a strong bond, and readers will enjoy seeing how their friendship progresses and changes them.

Run alternates between Bo and Agnus’s points of view; it also jumps from the past to the present. Bo and Agnus’s voice are very similar, so readers will need to pay attention to the name that appears at the beginning of every chapter. Despite this, the story’s plot is easy to follow. However, while Bo and Agnus are interesting characters, they are not necessarily relatable.

Unfortunately, the girl’s relationship doesn’t necessarily make either one of them better people. Once Agnus begins spending time with Bo, she begins lying to her parents, using profanity, and even drinking beer a couple of times. Although Agnus’s parents come to like Bo, when Bo’s mother is thrown into jail, Agnus’s parents do nothing to help her.

Run will appeal to teenagers because it deals with many teenage issues such as false rumors, gossiping, parent disapproval and trying to find your way in life. However, at times the frequent profanity is distracting and Bo’s unwillingness to correct false accusations is unbelievable. Despite this, Run is an entertaining story that teenagers will enjoy.

Sexual Content

  • Someone tells Agnus that over the weekend, Bo “went down on him in the hayloft at Andrew’s party Friday night.” Later, Agnus wonders if she should be friends with Bo because “Bo was the kind of girl who cussed in front of teachers and stole her mama’s whiskey to bring to parties and went down on other girls’ boyfriends.”
  • In the middle of the night, Agnus’s sister invites a boy into her room. The story implies that they have sex.
  • When Agnus and Bo run away, they are looking for a hotel that will rent to underage teens. Bo knows they can find one because “too many girls get pregnant on prom night, and I know they ain’t doing it in their parents’ house.” They find a hotel that looks like “a lot of drug deals have gone down in [it].”
  • Agnus’s friend can’t take her home from school. Her friend says, “I think today’s the day. I think we’re going to . . . you know.”
  • While at school, a boy asks Bo, “Wanna hang out? I’ll give you ten bucks and some whiskey if you’ll come over and suck my dick. . .. What’s the problem? You do it for every other guy in town. Why not me? Is my dick too big for your mouth?”
  • After dancing with Colt, Agnus thinks about kissing him. “I’d laid in bed remembering the way his hands felt on me and trying to imagine what it would feel like to kiss him.”
  • Agnus goes to Bo’s house. When Bo’s mother comes home, she yells, “Is that why she’s here? You fucking her too? Gone through all the men in town, so you gotta start sleeping with the girls too?”
  • Bo tells Agnus about being in foster care. The dad “was always walking in on the girls while we were changing or. . .”
  • Agnus and Colt start kissing. “He kept kissing me, and eventually, I picked up the rhythm and followed his lead. . . I’m not sure how we ended up lying down, twisted together on top of his bed. Or how my shirt and bra ended up on the floor. . .” The two have sex, but the act isn’t described. Later Angus thinks, “Sleeping with a boy who wasn’t my boyfriend, who’d be gone by the end of the week—it sure hadn’t been part of my plan.” However, she doesn’t regret her choice.
  • On New Years, Bo and Dana “made out in the car.” The two won’t date because, “Her daddy’s a deacon at the church down on Peyton Street.”

Violence

  • When a boy calls Agnus a “fucking fat bitch,” Bo hits him. “So, after I get a few good punches and kicks in, he gets his senses together and shoves me on my back. My head hits the concrete, and for a minute I see stars. . . I might have a black eye, but he’s gonna be missing a tooth.” At one point, Agnus hits the boy with her cane. The fight is described over two pages.
  • While in foster care, Bo saw, “The older kids were always fighting. I saw one of them pull a knife on the other. But the foster parents didn’t do nothing about it.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Bo’s family has a bad reputation and many of them are known to be drunks.
  • Before Bo’s father took off, she remembers him drinking. “Then, usually, both my folks would end up getting drunk and yelling at each other.”
  • Bo and Agnus go to several parties where kids are drinking. Bo says that at one party, a boy “spilled beer down the front of my white shirt, too. Still ain’t convinced that was an accident. Kinda a waste, though. Not like I got the boobs to rock a wet T-shirt.”
  • Bo’s mother uses meth.
  • While hanging out by the river, Bo gives Agnus a beer. Agnus said, “It’s kinda what I’d imagine pee tastes like. Why do people drink it?”
  • When Agnus and Bo go to a party, Agnus drinks a beer.
  • When Bo’s father won’t let her stay at his house, she steals a bottle of alcohol and “the first drink burns. The second not so bad. And by the fourth or fifth, I don’t feel a thing.” Bo gets so drunk that she begins throwing up. Despite the rumors, this was the first time Bo had drunk alcohol.

Language

  • Profanity is used in excess. Profanity includes: damn, hell, piss, fuck, shit, goddamn, and holy shit.
  • There is frequent name calling including bitches, asshole, fucking redneck, fake motherfuckers, prick, harlot and dyke.
  • Jesus, Jesus Christ, and Oh my God are used as exclamations a few times.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Agnus’s grandmother thinks the Dickinsons are “dirty drunks and thieves. And godless, too. None of them stepped foot in a church in generations. Probably get stuck by lightning if they did.”
  • Christy, Agnus’s friend, calls Bo a slut. Christy says, “God thinks she’s a slut, too.” Bo overhears part of the conversation and Christy says, “Jesus loves you, Bo.” As Bo walks away Christy calls her a “whore.”
  • Bo is bisexual. Agnus thinks, “I’d grown up my whole life in the church, been told it was only all right for girls to like boys. Anything else was wrong.”
  • While at church, Agnus and Christy have a mean conversation about a girl who was a sinner. When Agnus refuses to stop talking, the Sunday school teacher kicks her out of class.

El Deafo

Starting at a new school is scary, especially with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here, she’s different. She’s sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then, Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom but anywhere her teacher is in the school—in the hallway . . . in the teacher’s lounge . . . in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even a superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different . . . and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most… a true friend?

Through Cece’s experiences, readers will come to understand how Cece uses visual clues, context clues and gestural clues to understand what others are saying. Often, Cece can’t understand what someone is saying; this is indicated through text boxes that have gibberish inside of them. Cece is also frustrated by others who don’t understand her disability. For example, while at a sleepover, one of the girls asks, “Can people who wear hearing aids also wear makeup?” Once the girls turn off the lights and start talking and laughing, Cece can’t read their lips and she worries that they are talking about her, so she decides to go home.

Some people who are trying to be helpful make Cece feel worse. Sometimes, people would try to talk to her in sign language, but “some people put on a real show when they start signing—almost like mimes.” Events like this make Cece feel worse because she doesn’t want others to focus on her. One of Cece’s coping mechanisms is to daydream about being El Deafo. Pretending to be El Deafo allows her to process her feelings and voice opinions that could not be said aloud.

El Deafo is based on Bell’s own childhood and her complex emotions about her hearing impairment. While Cece’s emotions shine, readers may have a difficult time relating to the Phonic Ear because of advancements in technology which doesn’t require wires that lead from the device to the ear. However, Cece’s struggles will be relatable. She worries about being different, making friends, having people stare at her, and having a crush. One downside of the story is that Cece’s peers do not embrace her until they realize that Cece can use the Phonic Ear to warn them when the teacher is coming back into the room.

In the author’s note, Bell explains the different ways people become deaf or hearing impaired as well as the different ways people cope with their disability. She also explains that she learned to view her deafness as a gift. “And being different? That turned out to be the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.”

The graphic novel’s format and rabbit characters will appeal to readers. Each page is divided into panels and has 5 to 11 sentences. While the characters’ words appear in text bubbles, the narration appears in yellow boxes at the top of a frame. When Cece takes on the personality of El Deafo, the frames are surrounded by green which makes it easy to distinguish between fact and fantasy. El Deafo will help readers understand what if feels like to be hearing impaired, which makes it an excellent book to add to your child’s reading list.

Sexual Content

  • At a slumber party, one of the girls talks about “Mary kissing that boy from Ms. Huffman’s class. All this mwah mwah mwah.”
  • Cece has a crush on a boy, and she thinks about kissing him.

Violence

  • Cece gets angry at her mother and kicks her.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Heck is used twice.
  • Dang is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Snail Crossing

Snail sees a plump, crisp cabbage across the road. Determined to reach the tasty snack, Snail starts sliding across the road. A group of ants are trying to cross the road too. But when the rain comes, the ants are fearful they will drown! So, Snail invites the ants into his house and serves them tea.

When the rain stops, Snail and the ants are excited to continue on their way. But with cars whizzing past and a hungry bird swooping by, is there any way Snail will reach the cabbage?

Snail Crossing is an adorably cute story about friendship. At first, the ants just want Snail to get out of their way. But once Snail saves them from the rain, the ants apologize for being rude. An ant says, “We’re sorry. Terribly sorry. Sometimes we get a bit antsy.” In the end, Snail gets the cabbage in a surprising way that reinforces the importance of helping each other.

Snail’s adventure is illustrated with large, colorful pictures that will help readers see the scale of the world compared to such a tiny creature. Snail’s trip across the road may seem daunting, but he never stops moving towards his goal. The snail’s pink shell is the focal point of each illustration, and readers will grin in delight when they glimpse the inside of Snail’s shell.

Even though Snail Crossing 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 1 to 6 simple sentences that are easy to understand.

Snail Crossing is a humorous story that young readers will enjoy. The relationship between Snail and the ants is unexpected and wonderful. Whether you’re looking for a quick bedtime story or a silly adventure, Snail Crossing is sure to delight readers both young and old. If you’re looking for more fun stories that focus on a snail, add The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson to your reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A hungry bird tries to eat Snail for lunch.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Soul Riders: The Legend Awakens

According to ancient myths, when the Soul Riders and their horses are gathered together, they will be able to defeat the evil that threatens the island. But Lisa and her friends don’t quite understand this yet. And now that Lisa’s horse, Starshine, has been stolen from Jorvik Stables and her father has disappeared, there’s no time to think about old stories. Together with Alex and Linda, Lisa embarks on a dangerous journey into Jorvik’s magical landscape to save Starshine, and to find the answers they are searching for.

At the same time, Anne is on her own mission. She must find her horse, Concorde, who seems to have been transported to the strange and dangerous world of Pandoria. But someone keeps whispering dark lies into Anne’s head that make her doubt if there’s any hope at all for the four girls. . .

The Legend Awakens explores the nature of good and evil; however, after the four Soul Riders realize they have powers, they are confused as to how to use them. The girls do not understand the mythology of Jorvik, yet they are committed to defeating Garnok. Even as the girls fight Mr. Sands—who Garnok has granted eternal life—they don’t understand who Garnok is. Plus, there are several evil beings who serve Garnok, but it is unclear exactly what they are. While the magical world has some interesting elements, the character’s confusion and lack of knowledge will frustrate readers.

The adults helping the soul riders continuously remind the girls about the importance of working together. Despite this, the girls quickly go off on their own mission and lose touch with each other. The multiple viewpoints, along with the quickly changing perspectives gives the story a fast pace. However, some readers will have a difficult time keeping track of the various plot threads.

The story’s complicated plot, unexplained concepts, and lack of character development make The Legend Awakens a confusing story. Nevertheless, readers who are interested in the supernatural may enjoy The Legend Awakens. If you’re looking for an entertaining series about horses, The Legend Awakens will leave you disappointed. Horse-loving readers who want a fast-paced story that revolves around horses should add The Rose Legacy Series by Jessica Day George to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sands steals Starshine and puts him in an electrified cage. The horse “was tied in place with heavy chains and a shiny stainless steel halter.” When Lisa tries to rescue Starshine, Mr. Sands locks her in a cage next to her horse.
  • Meteor is horse-napped. When Lisa first sees him, she wonders if he is dead. “The crane with Meteor’s lifeless body dangled from the end rolled slowly along. . . He was alive! But he was badly injured. At least one of his hind legs looked broken, and his skin was covered in deep sores.” Lisa uses her magic to heal Meteor.
  • One of the spirit’s horses, Khann, tries to stop Alex and her horse Tin-Can from fleeing. Alex uses her power. Alex “let a bolt of lightning flash out of her and land near him. He whinnied and his black eyes almost rolled into his head. Then he galloped into the woods. . .”
  • When Sabine tries to hurt Linda, Alex attacks with lightening. “The lightning bolts were accompanied by a rumbling noise and a sharp flash of light. . . the lightning hit Sabine but bounced off her like a rubber ball. . . Sabine lifted Linda up by her long, thick braid and spun her around in the air, grinning.” Eventually the lightning effects Sabine and she “fell over the stair railing. Alex heard Sabine curse angrily before she hit the floor with a hard thump, then silence.” The battle is described over three pages.
  • Shadows attack Anne and her horse Concorde. “Concorde whinnied, a prolonged and tormented sound . . . Then came the shadows. They coiled their way around her like a wreath. She realized that the shadow creatures had arms, legs, and big heads that slowly swayed back and forth as they took everything from her that made her who she was. . . And now they were upon her, arms growing, menacing shadows. They tugged at her legs now, groping at Concorde, who desperately tried to rear up and get free. . .” Ann stops fighting and expects to die. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Later, Anne defeats the shadow people. “She took control of the sun, of the clear pink water, of the slowly swaying vines that had made her dizzy before. It all became hers. The ground and the air, and the strange statues that whispered that the world was bigger and more amazing than could have ever suspected.” Anne creates a portal like a “reddish-pink tornado” and leaves the Pandoria and the shadows.
  • Evil beings, including Ketja, chase the four friends into the mountains. Ketja says an incantation and then, “the boulders on the slope were rolling downhill, heading straight for them. . . When the first boulder was only a few seconds away from smashing into them, it exploded. [Anne] closed her eyes and screamed in fear, loudly, a scream that echoed throughout the entire forest.”
  • To escape Ketja and her evil friends, the girls make a bridge collapse. “Anne turned to look back and saw the horses’ legs moving, the riders’ shocked faces as what was left of the bridge gave way underneath them and they all fell, plunging downward along with fragments of the collapsing bridge.” Their pursuers disappear into the ravine. The scene is described over four and a half pages.
  • An owl attacks Anne “ripping at Anne’s hair. . . A big tuff of her long, blonde hair ripped out, caught in the bird’s claws, and she screamed in pain.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Oh my God is used as an exclamation three times.
  • Linda thinks that the people who lived in the 1800s were idiots.
  • Heck and darn are both used once.

Supernatural

  • The Soul Riders are told about Aideen, who “brought light to the island, and life and hope poured forth out of the cold emptiness.”
  • Pandoria is a “world that co-exists with ours. Pandoria’s unreality seeps into our reality and vice versa. That is the essence of magic.”
  • The soul riders are “chosen girls who share a special bond with their horses. Through that bond, they acquire special powers to help them fight against evil.”
  • The girls discover that Mr. Sands has been alive for hundreds of years. Mr. Sands “had met Garnok several hundred years ago and had been granted eternal life then so that he could successfully accomplish just this: the liberation of Garnok.” Garnok is evil; however, it is unclear who or what Garnok is.
  • Jessica is an evil spirit, who has taken a human body. “She hated being stuck in this body. When Garnok was finally set free, she needed to be as well. . . Jessica longed to return to the dark star, back to her life beyond a body, beyond the earth.”
  • One of the girls finds a book titled “Garnok: Truth or Myth.” The book says that Garnok is “a sea monster” that “steals the sailors’ souls.”
  • Later, someone tells the girls that “Garnok is all that is evil. He comes from a place where chaos reigns, and he wants to return there. But before he returns, that chaos and destruction would also be spread through our world.”
  • One of the evil spirits uses the power of her mind to speak into Anne’s consciousness.
  • When an evil spirit chases Linda, Linda hides. “The moonlight flowed into her now and she disappeared in the shade of the far side of the moon. The moon had a back side, and that is a perfect hiding spot.”
  • Fripp is a “cosmic being” that looks like a squirrel. “If you can imagine a blue, slightly overgrown squirrel.”
  • While in Pandoria, Anne uses the sun to help her horse Concorde. “And Anne reached out her hands and took the sun and moved it even deeper into Concorde’s slumbering soul. It was hers to take. She knew that now. It was hot, but it didn’t burn. Nothing could hurt her as long as she had the sun on her side.”
  • While in a swamp, a bright light uses Lisa’s mother’s voice to call to her. “Then she heard it again, the summoning voice. It embraced her heart. She was bewitched by the flickering white flare of light over the dark water. It was so beautiful . . .” Lisa goes into the water. Before she can drown, Alex “shot lightning at the swamp, but the bolts rebounded, veering around in the air with the will-o’-wisps.” Lisa’s friends save her. The scene is described over four pages.
  • Later in the swamp, the horse Calliope falls into the mire. All of the girls “screamed for Calliope now. . . Her legs flailed in panic, creating big ripples in the water, and she screamed, screamed louder than they were screaming, pleading to be rescued.” When Calliope gives up, she “vanished below the surface.”
  • The girls are sent to find a magical apple.

Spiritual Content

  • Linda tries to escape from Sabine, an evil spirit. As she runs, “she locks the door behind her and said a grateful prayer for those extra seconds” which allowed her to avoid Sabine.
  • After being injured, Linda sees Alex and says, “I prayed you would come and you did!”

 

Firefly Hollow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

Once Upon a Camel

Zada is an achy, old camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the ruling Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new lands, led army missions, and outsmarted a pompous mountain lion.

But these stories were before. Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears and a dust storm the size of a mountain take Zada on one more grand adventure – and it could lead to Zada’s most brilliant story yet.

Readers will fall in love with Zada as she protects two kestrel chicks from a windstorm. Zada’s patience is never-ending, and she uses beautiful stories to keep the chicks occupied. However, some readers may become annoyed by the chicks’ constant chirping and complaining. Despite this, the relationship between Zada and the birds is super sweet, and readers will relate to the chicks who are anxious about being separated from their parents.

The wind, which attacks Zada and her friends, is described as a living beast. For example, “As if they were waiting to grab one of the chicks, the willy-willies and the dust devils, the samiels and simoons, danced all around Zada. They swiped at her ankles, raced ahead of her, rose and fell, then rose and fell again, reminding her of ocean waves.” Through the story, readers learn about the weather, which adds depth to the story.

Once Upon a Camel is best suited for advanced readers because of the constant back and forth between present day and the past. Each chapter begins with the name of a place and the year, which will help readers know if the events are one of Zada’s stories or not. Some readers may be confused by the advanced vocabulary and the Turkish words, such as simoons, samiels, muster, escarpment, festooned, denizens, and dissipate. Detailed black and white illustrations appear every 8 to 16 pages, and a one-page glossary appears at the end of the book.

Each story Zada tells is full of magic. Zada demonstrates how stories can help us deal with an array of emotions. Zada’s love for her original country shines, and readers will catch a glimpse of Turkey’s culture through her stories. Even though Zada was born into a caravan of prized racing horses owned by a Turkish pasha, in 1857, she sails the seas and lands in Texas, where she discovers she will be a pack animal for the U.S. Army. Some readers may be disappointed with the lack of details about how the camels helped the army.

While Once Upon a Camel highlights the magic of storytelling, younger readers may struggle with the constantly shifting time period, advanced vocabulary, and Turkish words. By the end of the story, the chicks’ “tap-tap-tap-KICK, tap-tap-tap-KICK,” and “peeppeeppeeppeeppeeppeeppeepeep” becomes frustrating. However, Zada’s point of view is interesting and unique, and she isn’t afraid to jump in a potentially dangerous situation to help those in need. In the end, no matter how difficult a situation is, Zada is determined to “become the brightest star.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Like human siblings, the two baby chicks argue and peck at each other.
  • When the camels traveled to Texas, they upset the horses. “The combination of hollering and gamboling set the resident equines into a frenzy of bucking and snorting. They reared up onto their hind feet, kicked each other, even cracked a bunch of teeth and jawbones.”
  • Pecos de Leon, a mountain lion, would hunt for prey. “He would spot an unsuspecting pack rat from ten feet away, then boom! Four paws off the ground and no more pack rat. Even snakes weren’t safe from his stalking prowess. He liked their spicy flavor.”
  • A group of boys sees Zada and her friend. “The boys and horses surrounded the camels, and for no reason whatsoever, started pelting them with rocks. Whap, whap, whap! Ouch ouch ouch!”
  • A flock of Kestrels attacks a coyote puppy. The puppy “was trying to tuck itself underneath a mesquite bush. Its front paws were covering its eyes, and it was shaking from nose to tail. . .[the birds] swished by and scraped the coyote’s ears with their sharp little talons. The coyote kept yipping and yapping and whimpering. The kestrels kept dive-bombing.” Zada chases the birds away.
  • The birds attack the coyote puppy because it ate some kestrel eggs. “They made a quick breakfast for the hungry pup.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Zada goes to the races and sees amazing things, including travelers who carried wine.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When the birds get separated, the bird’s father Pard thinks his family will be at the mission. Pard “was praying that Perlita [the bird’s mother] was already there.”

Bo’s Magical New Friend

Bo Tinseltail loves going to Sparklegrove School with the other unicorns. Every unicorn has magical power. Bo is a Wish Unicorn with the power to grant wishes. Bo has lots of friends, but one thing Bo wants more than anything is a best friend. When a new unicorn named Sunny Huckleberry pops into the forest, will Bo’s big wish finally come true? And what will Sunny’s unicorn power be?

Young readers who are ready for a glittery-good new series need to check out Bo’s Magical New Friend. The first installment of The Unicorn Diaries Series introduces all the unicorns and their magical powers. As part of the early chapter book line, Branches, the text is aimed at newly independent readers. Bo’s Magical New Friend is told in a blend of diary entries and speech bubbles. The blended text makes each page manageable for young readers. Plus, some of the words appear in bright pink text for added emphasis.

Bo wants a best friend, so he’s especially happy when Sunny appears. To earn a patch, all of the unicorns need to use their magical power to help someone. Bo really wants to use his power to help Sunny. However, Sunny gets upset because he thinks Bo is pretending to be his friend to earn a patch. In the end, Sunny and Bo talk about their conflict and discover that friendship is more important than badges.

Bo’s Magical New Friend is packed full of magic. However, in the next book, Bo and the Dragon-Pup, the unicorns are able to problem solve without relying on magic. Readers will fall in love with the unicorns’ world which comes alive in brightly colored illustrations. Bo’s world is “glitterrific,” and readers will happily imagine a place where sunbeam ice cream, dream dust, and twirl drops are served for dessert.

The story revolves around a relatable conflict and fun characters—Sunny and Bo. When Mr. Rumptwinkle introduces Sunny, he reminds the class, “I’m sure you remember how scary everything was when you were new. So please be kind to Sunny and help him find his way around.” Even though Sunny has a hard time discovering his magical power, he always looks on the bright side and makes others laugh. If you’re looking for a book series that will captivate readers, The Unicorn Diaries will not disappoint.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Trolls capture Bo and Sunny. “We got swept up in a net.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • All the unicorns have a special power. Bo is a Wish Unicorn that “can grant one wish every week.” The other unicorns have powers such as flying, healing, shapeshifting, size-changing, etc.
  • Unicorns do not have parents. “We’re not born like other creatures are. We just pop into the world on really starry nights.”
  • Rumptwinkle turns into a mouse.
  • Sunny discovers that his unique power is turning invisible.

Spiritual Content

  • None

I Am Not Starfire

Mandy Anders is the daughter of Koriand’r/Kory Anders, otherwise known as the superheroine Starfire from Teen Titans. For most of her life, Mandy has lived in the shadow of her mother’s fame as a superheroine, and Mandy’s lack of superpowers only enhances her stress. Kids at school constantly pester her for information on her mom. They look for Mandy’s superpowers. They even theorize about her online. Combine that with high school and it’s easy to say Mandy’s life is a bit of a disaster.

Mandy’s only real friend is a boy named Lincoln, she has a crush on popular girl Claire, and she walked out on her S.A.T which her mother is completely unaware of. After walking out on the test, Mandy has become more distant with her mom. What appears to be a normal, yet rocky mother-daughter relationship devolves into a massive fight over Mandy’s future and her life.

I Am Not Starfire is told from the perspective of Mandy and follows her life at a normal high school in Metropolis until it is upended by the arrival of Blackfire, Starfire’s sister. Readers get to follow Mandy’s emotions as the story progresses, as well as experience her relationship with her mother from her point of view. Mandy’s story centers on learning to not take her mother for granted, understanding the importance of her connection with her mother regardless of her being Starfire the superhero, and taking risks in all manners of life.

Some readers may relate to Mandy’s struggles with school, college, being unsure of what she wants to do in the future, as well as her rocky relationship with her mother. Queer readers will especially relate to Mandy as she has a crush on a female peer, Claire, and her attraction and eventual relationship to Claire is presented as normal– not something that requires a grand “coming out of the closet” moment. However, some may find Mandy’s dialogue and thought process too edgy and sometimes misogynistic. For example, Mandy makes a comment about her mother’s outfits: “She wears less than a yard of fabric to work every day, yet somehow, I’m the one who’s dressing weird.”

I Am Not Starfire has beautiful art that readers will find attractive. The character’s faces are expressive, and the color composition of certain scenes highlights the emotions Mandy feels in that particular moment. Readers may also appreciate the outfits in I Am Not Starfire. Starfire and Blackfire’s outfits are modern, the kind that the targeted audience would recognize, but they are presented in a way that will make them timeless.

I Am Not Starfire is a quick read with simple vocabulary and pretty pictures. Each page has about fifty or fewer words, all of them either in speech bubbles for dialogue, boxes for the characters’ thoughts, or rounded rectangles for text messages. However, I Am Not Starfire doesn’t have a good plot or good character development. While the graphic novel provides a good entrance to the DC universe, it falls flat on its message: the people around you don’t define who you are, and you can be whoever you want to be.

Anyone who is looking to get into its massive and ever-expanding universe will find I Am Not Starfire entertaining. New fans will be incentivized to investigate DC as a whole and learn more about Starfire and the Teen Titans. However, readers who are already fans of DC comics will find this graphic novel very disappointing as it has inaccurate information on Starfire’s powers, goes against DC’s established lore, and overall is written poorly. If you’re looking for a fun, well-written graphic novel with a positive message and an LGBTQ character, Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell & Faith Erin Hicks would be a good choice.

Sexual Content

  • A guy at school yells from the background, “Hey Mandy! Like your mom’s tits.”
  • Mandy recalls a summer camp romance experience where she kissed a girl. “I did have this girl who kissed me at camp one summer.”
  • In a two-page spread, Mandy and her crush, Claire, kiss for the first time.

 Violence

  • When Starfire tells Mandy about her past on Tamaran, she brings up that her sister killed their parents. Their death is not shown. “Our parents…were killed by The Citadel.”
  • Blackfire and Starfire battle against each other to determine Mandy’s fate. However, Starfire loses to her sister which causes Mandy’s powers to awaken. Mandy fights Blackfire in her mother’s place and wins. The fight lasts for about 16 pages. The illustrations are kid-friendly, and the characters end up with a few scratches and cuts with a little bit of blood.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Lincoln calls a group of Teen Titans fans assholes for not respecting Mandy’s boundaries.
  • Multiple characters often use the word “shit” and other variations of the word. For example, Lincoln says Claire’s friends “are shitty but [Claire] seems okay.”
  • When Mandy’s mom wants to talk about Mandy’s college plans, Mandy says, “Fuck.”
  • After Blackfire has knocked out Starfire, Mandy says, “Why don’t you just fuck off and die?!”

Supernatural

  • While not exactly supernatural, the story features aliens; Starfire is an alien from the planet Tamaran and thus, Mandy herself is an alien. Starfire’s sister, Blackfire, also appears in the book.
  • The Teen Titans make brief appearances in the book. Beast Boy is a green metahuman (human with powers) who can turn into any kind of animal and Raven is a superheroine who is a Cambion (half human and half demon).

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Emma Hua

Soul Riders: Jorvik Calling

Soul Riders tells the heroic tale of four young girls who have been chosen by destiny to save the world from the ancient demon, Garnok, and his band of dangerous Dark Riders. Lisa is a teenage girl coming to terms with the tragic loss of her mother in a riding accident, who has sworn never to go near a horse again. That is, until she met Starshine, a mysterious blue-maned steed who comes to her in dreams.

New on the island of Jorvik, Lisa befriends Alex, Linda, and Anne. Under the guidance of mystical druids, they discover they each have a special bond to their horses that gives them magical powers. While trying to balance school, family, and friendships, they have to figure out what it means to be a Soul Rider. They are attacked by the Dark Riders and the mysterious Mr. Sands and discover that their horses are in danger. Instead of relying on their combined strength, they decide to split up on their quest to find answers. Will it be too late before they realize their mistake?

Jorvik Calling has a unique premise, but the worldbuilding is choppy and confusing. The story focuses on Lisa. However, the story is told in the first-person point of view, but it jumps from each girl’s perspective. Even though there are four narrators, the girls’ voices are not easy to distinguish from each other. In addition, the perspective often changes within a chapter. The change in perspective adds confusion, breaks up the action, and makes the overall story disconnected.

Even though the book is based on the Star Stable video game, readers who haven’t played the game will enjoy the book. However, the video game players will instantly connect with the book because it gives insight into the lore of Jorvik and the myth of the Soul Riders.

All the girls—Lisa, Alex, Linda, and Anne—are unfamiliar with Jorvik’s lore, which allows the reader to learn about the ancient myth. Because of this, the girls are confused when magic begins coursing through them. Despite this, the girl’s supernatural abilities will capture readers’ attention. The unique blend of horses, magic, and the fight between good and evil will make readers curious about what will happen in the next book in the series, The Legend Awakens.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Some boys were bullying Alex’s brother. One day, “she found her brother tied to one of the goal posts with jump ropes.” When Lisa saw a bigger boy, she gestured to him to stop. “The moment Alex raised her hand, she felt a burst of energy, there was a bright flash and the guy staggered back as though he’d been pushed.” The boy falls, and when he gets back to his feet, he runs away.
  • A man in a van chases Anne and her horse Concorde. “The headlights shone like death rays in her eyes. . . The terror at the thought of being run over had left her numb. She saw a pink glow behind her eyelids. It was seeking her out, that light.” Anne embraces the light and then, “the SUV ran through her and Concorde—but she wasn’t there. It was as though she was standing outside herself, looking on.” Anne and Concorde are able to escape.
  • Lisa’s dad, Carl, eavesdrops on his boss. Then, “Carl could see two long shadows. . . And then they were on top of him. Two burly men grabbed him by the arms and dragged him toward the ramp. . .” Carl’s whereabouts are unknown, but Lisa just thinks he is working on an important project.
  • When Derek was going home, a girl on horseback tries to ride him down. Derek realizes “she was in fact aiming to force him off the road . . .He could feel the horse’s searing heat against his leg.” Alex appears and Jessica grabs her arm. “Lightening exploded from Alex’s palm and hit Jessica, who collapsed on the ground.” Alex is left with a bleeding arm.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • “Oh my god” is used as an exclamation three times. For example, Lisa’s father almost hits a girl on a horse. The girl says, “Oh my god, I’m sorry. I didn’t think there would be any cars out this early!”
  • God is used as an exclamation once.
  • A man uses “by the light of Aideen” as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • The book begins with a creation story about a girl on horseback. “As she rode slowly across the sea, her horse’s hooves tamed the wild waves beneath her. . .She lay the light down on the island, and life and hope poured out of the cold nothingness.” The island had both light and darkness. “A great darkness hides in the depths of the ocean, biding its time, waiting just a little longer.”
  • Pandoria is a “world that co-exists with ours. Pandoria’s unreality seeps into our reality and vice versa. That is the essence of magic.”
  • The soul riders are “chosen girls who share a special bond with their horses. Through that bond, they acquire special powers to help them fight against evil.”
  • Sabine puts a spell over Herman, who owns the stable. Then Sabine “murmured something, and Lisa’s horse, Starshine, collapses.”
  • When Lisa’s horse, Starshine, collapses, Lisa heals him by placing her hands on him. “She placed them on his clammy neck and lay down with her face next to his. . . The birthmark on her cheek prickled and burned. A melody, at once strange and familiar, flowered through her like a trickling brook.” As she sings, Lisa feels an energy that “shimmered blue, pink and purple.” The energy heals Starshine.
  • Starshine breaks his leg. Lisa thought about calling for help, but “then a glow began to fill the air. . . The strange glow slowly rose through the air in twisting tendrils.” The lights dance in a pattern. “Now a strong light was shining from the palm of her hand. . . Beneath her hand, she could feel Starshine’s leg aligning. There was crackling, trembling, and dancing underneath his skin.” Starshine is completely healed. The scene is described over two pages.
  • Lisa meets a woman in the woods. Afterwards, Lisa hears a voice say, “This is your gift. To heal and care for the injured and sick. Use your gift well.”
  • An evil man can speak to Garnok directly through a portal. The man “wants to see those miserable horses (the Soul Rider’s horses) devoured in the eternal prison of Pandoria.” It is not clear who Garnok is.
  • Lisa and her friends take a night ride where they “were going to ride in Aideen’s footsteps and seek the Flame of Jor, the spark that, according to legend, brought life to the island.” The girls talk about the legend. “During an excavation in the Northern Mountains, carvings showing four riders were found on the cave wall . . . a local historian at Jorvik University later identified [the symbols] as a sun, a star, a moon, and a lightning bolt. The symbols are thought to be the source of the Soul Riders’ power and strength.”
  • Lisa sees a vision of her dead mother. “Lisa ran as fast as she could, but she saw her mother fade away before her very eyes.”
  • Linda, one of the Soul Riders, “had known things she shouldn’t have been able to know. . . [Her aunt] called it a premonition, a gift from the gods.” Later, “a darkness spread through Linda. Suddenly, she was no longer in the warm club room . . . but far out to sea. It was dark and cold.” When her friend calls her name, Linda snaps out of the trance.
  • Alex’s horse, Concorde, becomes transparent and slowly fades away. Later, Alex learns that he is in another realm.
  • Anne meets Fripp. “The creature’s fur was blue and shiny; its eyes were large and almost entirely black. Its tail was big and fluffy. If she had to describe it, she would have said it looked like an unusually big squirrel.”
  • Anne discovers that she can create a portal to Pandoria.
    Spiritual Content
  • The Soul Riders are told about druids. “They’re called the Keepers of Aideen and are philosophers, you might say, with a close relationship with the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. . . They live in the service of the goddess Aideen.”

 

Fair and Square

In Chapter 1, Unicorn and Yeti talk about their favorite shapes—stars, squares, and circles. Using these shapes, the two friends create a village in the snow. Yeti likes triangles because “lots of my favorite things are triangles, like trees and ice cream cones.”

In Chapter 2, Unicorn and Yeti are both painting, but they paint differently. Yeti looks at Unicorn’s picture and feels bad about his own paintings because he thinks they look messy. But Unicorn likes Yeti’s paintings. She says, “My paintings only look like what we see. Your paintings are fancy. They look like magic!” Even though the two friends paint in different ways, both of their artwork is beautiful.

In Chapter 3, Unicorn and Yeti are sharing a pie. Yeti cuts the pie in half, but Yeti cannot eat all of his pie. Yeti offers the rest to Unicorn, who is hungry. Unicorn worries that “I will get more pie than you. That will not be fair.” In the end, Unicorn eats the rest of the offered pie because, “If I eat your pie, then we will both be full. Fair and square.”

Children who are learning to read will enjoy reading about Unicorn and Yeti’s adventures, which teach about friendship. The text is easy to read and when each character talks, their words appear in different colored quote boxes. Each page has a full page of illustrations and contains three or fewer sentences. Beginning readers should be able to read the text alone and will enjoy flipping through the story multiple times to look at the colorful pictures.

The Unicorn and Yeti Series is perfect for all young readers, even the ones that become a little bit wiggly after a short time. Each book shows readers how to be a good friend, and encourages readers to embrace their own uniqueness. Fair and Square will introduce shapes, sharing, and show that things do not need to be the same to be beautiful. The story uses simple language to introduce important topics and each story is so much fun that readers won’t get bored.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Blue Moon

Bobbie Jo didn’t set out to buy a limping blue roan mare—she wanted a colt she could train to barrel race. But the horse is a fighter, just like Bobbie Jo. Now all she has to do is train the sour, old mare whose past is unknown. While she nurses the horse back to health, Bobbie Jo realizes that the horse, now called Blue Moon, may have more history than she first thought. With the help of the enigmatic Cole, she slowly turns the horse into a barrel racer.

From the very first page, Blue Moon sets up the conflict in a fast-paced story. Bobbie Jo clearly loves horses and readers will quickly be pulled into her world. Even though Bobbie Jo isn’t well developed, readers will be interested in her life. When Cole begins working on her family’s ranch, Bobbie Jo doesn’t trust him. When the two are forced to work together, Bobbie Jo realizes that Cole’s bad attitude hides his true nature. Bobbie Jo and Cole’s relationship adds interest to the story and readers will enjoy watching their friendship grow.

Blue Moon is specifically written for teens who want to read short, interesting novels. The book has large font and short chapters which will appeal to reluctant readers. The easy-to-read story revolves around Bobbie Jo’s horse and family which makes the story relatable to many teens.

The story is told from Bobbie Jo’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand her thought process. Her relationships with her family, Cole, and her horse give the story enough depth to keep the reader turning the pages. The ending has a surprise that emphasizes doing what is right. More advanced readers may be disappointed in Blue Moon because of the simple plot and lack of character development. However, both struggling readers and horse-loving readers who want a quick read will enjoy Blue Moon.

Sexual Content

  • Bobbie Jo and Cole are in a truck talking. Bobbie Jo’s sister taps on the window and then says, “you guys steamin’ up the windows in there or what?”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Bobby Jo and her parents have a conversation about Cole’s father. Afterward, Bobby Jo wonders, “Why didn’t anybody ever see this Mr. McCall around? Maybe he was a hopeless drunk who just sat home drinking up the grocery money. . .”
  • Cole’s family was in a car accident. Cole says, “One night we were comin’ home for the city in a thunderstorm and a drunk driver hit our truck. We all got hurt.”

 

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Winter Wonders

It’s Christmas time at Whispering Pines, and everyone is buzzing with excitement—especially since Cat and Mr. Henry are getting married! Delia and Willow have been appointed junior bridesmaids, and there’s a flurry of things to do.

The counts are whipping up a sweet feast of desserts, and they’re determined to top it all off with an extra-special gift for the couple. Meanwhile, Delia can’t wait to share Saugatuck’s festivities with Willow. But when the wedding treats go missing and a blizzard collapses the Food Pantry roof, can Willow and Delia keep Christmas from snowballing into a disaster?

Bake delicious recipes alongside Delia and Willow, as the entire Bumpus clan teams up to save the day in the final installment of this scrumptious series.

Delia and Willow want to give Cat and Mr. Henry the perfect gift, but they just can’t seem to agree on anything. Most of the story comes from this conflict, in addition to Willow being afraid to cook because of a previous disaster. While their family makes quick appearances, readers who have not read the previous books will not connect with them. Unfortunately, most of the family’s appearances do very little to move the plot forward.

Winter Wonders shows the importance of helping those who are less fortunate. Delia and Willow both help at a food pantry and are eager to make Christmas treats to share with those in need. However, their young age makes some of the events unbelievable. For example, the two girls make enough food for a hundred guests.

Cheerful black and white illustrations appear every 2 to 5 pages. While the illustrations focus on Delia and Willow, they also include many of the family members. One character uses several puns and Cat uses fun sayings such as, “I’ll be back, quick as a snowman on ice skates.”

Young readers who love to cook will find Winter Wonders interesting and will enjoy learning new recipes that celebrate winter. However, the slow pace and lack of conflict may cause readers to become quickly bored. If you’re looking for some winter fun, Diary of an Ice Princess by Christina Soontornvat will take you to a magical world while it teaches positive lessons.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The girls wanted to make a lobster dinner for Cat and her fiancé, but when the lobsters arrive, the girls didn’t expect them to be alive. Willow’s dad explained, “They’re supposed to be alive before we cook them. Then when the pot is nice and hot, we drop them into the boiling water.” The girls decide not to cook the “creepy crawlers.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Out of Place

Cove Bernstein’s life has gone from bad to worse. After her best friend Nina moves from the island of Martha’s Vineyard to New York City, Cove is bullied more than ever by her classmates, Amelia and Sophie.  Without Nina, Cove has become the center of a bullying campaign. Cove tries to find a way to leave the island, but her mother refuses to leave, saying places outside of Martha’s Vineyard have “the never-ending pressure to be a certain person.”

Cove finds the chance of a lifetime to visit New York by entering herself in a kids-only fashion competition. Cove has little experience in sewing, but her friend in the retirement home, Anna, teaches her the basics. The plot thickens when Jack, a boy from her school, starts appearing wherever she goes. Then, she makes a terrible mistake – one that she thought she could not undo.

Told in an easy-to-read fashion, Out of Place truly captures a long-distance friendship as well as a friendship found in an unexpected place. Many readers will relate to Cove as she starts the school year without many kids to call friends. Despite their distance, Cove and Nina remain friends by writing letters to each other. The letters between Cove and Nina show their enduring friendship and summarize the events in their respective lives, which helps the reader understand the effort needed to keep a long-distance friendship.

Nina is less developed since she primarily appears through letters, but the letters about her life in New York City allow the reader to take a break from Cove’s days at school and to later reengage in the happenings of Cove, back at Martha’s Vineyard. Black-and-white spot art appears at the start of each chapter. The illustrations in Cove’s letters show the influence of the island’s residents on her, which is contrasted by Cove’s desire to leave the island through any means while dealing with Amelia and Sophie’s bullying. The theme of friendship holds stronger than the theme of bullying because the story focuses on Cove’s development into a more self-assured person. One instance of her development is when she wins a “stuffed scarecrow contest” and makes the scarecrow in the art room. As she looks at the finished product, Cove says to herself, “The letters are wobbly and Anna would never approve of the stitches—they’re way too uneven—but the message is clear. Anyone who wants to sit next to [her] scarecrow is more than welcome.”

Unlike many stories, Out of Place deemphasizes the bully’s mean behavior. Cove becomes invested in her passions, not as an escape, but to figure out her place in her hometown. Through the story, readers will come to a better understanding of a subtle approach to standing up against bullies, all while being one’s true self. Out of Place does end with a hopeful happily-ever-after, but perhaps most importantly, the story shows how friends — old and new – can make a difference in a person’s life.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Nina splashes dirty water onto Sophie and Amelia, who have been taunting her and Cove. “There is a moment when the foamy, dirty water floats in the air. Then it lands in Sophie’s and Amelia’s laps. And all I [Cove] hear are screams.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Sophie refers to Cove as “Rover” because Sophie had decided that Cove “looked like a dog.”
  • Many characters use the word “stupid” to describe an unlikable person or situation. For example, in a letter to Cove, Nina writes about the people and situations that she considers “stupid.”
  • Jack helps the art teacher and another classmate stuff straw into a scarecrow’s body. Jack says, “Horses must be pretty freaking tough.”
  • Cove’s mother yells at Cove’s stepfather. She calls him “naive. . . and stupid. And irresponsible.”
  • Cove tells Jonah, a college student, about her bullying. He says, “Damn. . . I forgot how tough growing up can be.”
  • Cove’s stepfather is late to meet Cove’s mother. He says “crap.”
  • Nina writes that the shirt design for Amelia and Sophie’s shirts “totally stinks.”
  • When Cove is practicing her sewing, she says it “stinks.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Cove’s mother believes in spiritual things, mostly that people have a “spirit” and that the events that happen in life affect them. Additionally, she believes in karma and fate.

by Jemima Cooke

Cheer Up

It’s winter and Unicorn and Yeti want to spend time together because they are each other’s best friend. When Unicorn gives Yeti a gift, Yeti wants to give Unicorn a gift too! Then, after Yeti is crunching icicles, Unicorn decides to eat icicles too! The icicles are yummy, but they make Unicorn so cold! Yeti has a solution—he’s going to knit Unicorn a hat, a scarf, and leg warmers for a gift. After Unicorn is warm, the two friends take a walk in the forest.

Unicorn and Yeti is a fun series designed for children who are learning to read. Cheer Up contains easy-to-read text. Each page has a full page of illustrations and contains no more than three sentences. When each character talks, their words appear in different colored quote boxes. Beginning readers should be able to read the text alone and will enjoy flipping through the story multiple times to look at the colorful pictures.

Cheer Up is the perfect book for all young readers—even the ones that become a little bit wiggly after a short time. As the fourth installment in the series, it can be read as a stand-alone story. Unicorn and Yeti show how friends can be different from each other and still enjoy a special friendship. The two friends react to things in different ways and their friendship helps them see another side to the situation. If you’re looking for a fun book that shows the importance of friendship, Cheer Up is a winter-themed book that will warm readers’ hearts.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

After the Shot Drops

After the Shot Drops follows the story of a friendship between two high school sophomores, Bunny and Nasir. Although they have been best friends since childhood, their friendship begins to deteriorate after Bunny transfers from Whitman High to a private, affluent, less-diverse school. Bunny, a rising star in high school basketball, has a dream for making it to the NBA. He is noticed for his athletic prowess, but the path to making his basketball dream may lead him to losing Nasir as both a friend and confidante.

Besieged with problems of his own, Nasir must prevent his impoverished cousin, Wallace, from becoming homeless. Wallace is in debt and on the verge of homelessness. In order to make money quickly, Wallace bets against Bunny’s team in the upcoming basketball state championships. However, thanks to Bunny’s amazing basketball skills, this plan quickly falls apart with terrible consequences for Wallace, Nasir, and ultimately Bunny.

After the Shot Drops is told in an alternating pattern of first-person accounts, thus weaving together a narrative about the lives of both main characters, Bunny and Nasir. Each chapter shifts between both characters, which allows the audience to create a sympathetic connection to each of them. Each character must find themselves amidst their drama making their struggles highly relatable. Although Bunny and Nasir become increasingly distant, the audience is treated to both the joys and sorrows from each of their perspectives.

Through the lens of basketball, Ribay demonstrates the awesome, yet sometimes divisive power of competitive ambition. In this touching story of friendship, readers will learn about the difficulties facing people of color in America. While the book does not directly address racism, certain instances and scenes poke holes in prevailing stereotypes in order to defy them. While there are a few violent scenes and swear words, Ribay strategically uses these devices to intensify the story’s drama.

After the Shot Drops is a face-paced, intense, and often empathetic story that highlights the difficulties of balancing friendships. Ribay’s exciting descriptions of basketball games and character building lead the audience towards forging a real and very moving connection with each character.

Sexual Content

  • Bunny and his girlfriend, Keyona, exchange intimate kisses while standing next to traffic. “Some passing car beeps its horn, and then another car honks at us, and then another like it’s become a thing everyone’s doing. We start laughing even as we’re still kissing”
  • While at the victory party, Bunny fantasizes in a direct, suggestive manner about his new friend Brooke. “To be honest, I try to not look at her butt, but it’s right there and it’s looking real nice in those jeans”

Violence

  • In an act of revenge against Bunny’s betrayal, Wallace convinces a hesitant Nasir to paint the front of Bunny’s house with a smattering of eggs. Wallace “cocks his arm back and chucks the egg. It hits the brick of the Thompsons’ row house with a small but oddly satisfying ”
  • After making a few bad bets on local sports, Wallace is punched in the face at a party by one of the gamblers as a warning. “[The stranger’s] fist cracks into the side of Wallace’s jaw, and Wallace drops to the ground like a sack of bricks”
  • To sublimate his guilt, Nasir plays a shooting video game in which he kills Nazi zombies. “I pull the trigger the moment the Nazi zombie shambles out of the darkness and into my crosshairs. Head shot. Blood, brain matter, and skill fragments spray the wall.”
  • After falling further in debt with the gamblers, Wallace tells Nasir that he faces pretty fatal consequences unless he is able to pony up the money. Specifically, Wallace reflects on the story of a former late classmate as he says, “Word on the street is that the bullet he caught by accident was meant for someone who fucked with these guys.”
  • During the heat of the third quarter in the state championship game, Bunny takes an elbow directly to the face. The opponent “looks to the outside like he’s going to pass but then pivots, swinging his elbows—clocks me right in the nose.” He was knocked unconscious with a nearly broken, bleeding nose.
  • A heated shouting and punching match begins between Bunny and Wallace. Bunny sees “Wallace standing there, holding something and pointing it at me – he shifts, and it glints, catching the light from one of the faraway streetlamps. It’s a gun.” Wallace aims and shoots Bunny straight in the chest. Bunny is quickly rushed to the hospital after massive blood loss but eventually makes a full recovery.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • While skipping out on class, Bunny’s peers at St. Sebastian’s attempt to get him to smoke weed for his first time.
  • After going to the movies with Nasir, Wallace lights up a joint. Wallace “fishes a blunt from his pocket and lights up right there in front of the theater.”
  • Nasir and Wallace attend a house party in which many guests are using drugs and alcohol. “Most [people here] look like they’re college age, and most have a drink in one hand and a cigarette or blunt in the other.”
  • After winning a game without Bunny playing, the St. Sebastian’s team celebrates by throwing a classic high school party laden with cheap alcohol and drugs. “There are red cups arranged in a triangle at either end. Two guys are trying to toss a Ping-Pong ball into the cups on the opposite end.”
  • After winning the state championship, Nasir and Bunny catch up in their neighborhood but are approached by a drunk Wallace, who is brandishing a gun. Nasir notices Wallace approaching “… as soon as I see his tall figure making its way toward us, kicking up the snow like a playground bully kicking over some kid’s block city, I know something’s not right. He’s swaying, clutching a bottle in a paper bag in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other.”

Language

  • While Nasir and Wallace are at the cinema, they encounter Bunny and his girlfriend Keyona, whom Nasir had a crush on. Wallace finds Bunny, Nasir and Keyona and says “There you are, Nas. Shit, I thought you abandoned my ass.”
  • After coating Bunny’s house with eggs, Wallace tells Nasir to “[g]et this shit out of your system, or I’ll empty the rest of this carton on his house myself.”
  • Inside the Thompsons’ row house, Bunny and Keyona are studying while they hear the muted thumping of eggs against the side of the house. Keyona says, “I’m sorry that people can’t let it go. That you have to deal with this ignorant shit.”
  • Wallace rebukes Bunny in an attempt to further ingratiate himself with Nasir. “Wallace spits. ‘Man, fuck Bunny.’ And even though he’s expressed similar sentiments before, his words feel laced with a new level of malice.”
  • While driving Nasir to a party in their neighborhood, Wallace colorfully expresses his frustration with the lack of available parking. “Wallace slams his fists on the steering wheel. ‘Goddammit, motherfucking, bitch-ass, motherfucker,’ he mutters around the cigarette.”
  • Wallace tries to convince Nasir to befriend Bunny again in order to make him lose an upcoming game as he says “I know this isn’t easy for you, Nas, and I know I can be a dickhead some of the time – okay, a lot of the time – but I appreciate you trying to help out me and G[randma].”
  • With words flitting through his anxious mind, Nasir reflects on his plan to force Bunny to sit out for the rest of the season. “ Fearful. Friendless. Fucked.
  • After a string of seemingly unfair calls made by a basketball referee, one of Bunny’s teammates exclaims loudly, “Bullshit!”
  • In the state championship game, Bunny believes the referee is making unfair calls and cries, “Bullshit!”
  • At the park, an inebriated Wallace confronts Bunny saying, “Fuck you.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • To renew their friendship, Bunny takes Nasir to St. Sebastian’s and to the school’s library, which is large. Nasir says, “What’s up there. . . God?”

 by Daniel Klein

 

Danbi Leads the School Parade

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Roll with It

Ellie’s a girl who tells it like it is. That surprises some people, who see a kid in a wheelchair and think she’s going to be all sunshine and cuddles. The thing is, Ellie has big dreams. She might be eating Stouffer’s for dinner, but one day she’s going to be a professional baker. If she’s not writing fan letters to her favorite celebrity chefs, she’s practicing recipes on her well-meaning, if overworked, mother.

But when Ellie and her mom move so they can help take care of her ailing grandpa, Ellie has to start all over again in a new town at a new school. Except she’s not just the new kid—she’s the new kid in the wheelchair who lives in the trailer park on the wrong side of town. It all feels like one challenge too many, until Ellie starts to make her first-ever friends. Now she just has to convince her mom that this town might be the best thing that ever happened to them!

The story’s plot has three main threads: Ellie’s cerebral palsy, Ellie’s grandfather’s dementia, and Ellie going to a new school. All of these events are told from Ellie’s point of view. Like most teens, Ellie just wants to be “normal.” However, because of her disease, she will never be like everyone else. However, Ellie has great talent in the kitchen. Ellie loves cooking and often writes to famous chefs. The letters give the reader an opportunity to understand Ellie’s feelings.

Roll with It shows how cerebral palsy affects Ellie on a daily basis and will help readers understand the hardships of living with a disability. While the story has many unique characters, Ellie is the only one who is well-developed. Many readers may have a difficult time relating to Ellie and her friends, who are outcasts at school; the story implies that Ellie and her friends will always be looked down upon because they live in a trailer park. In addition, the divergent plots do not meld well together and are underdeveloped. Because of these issues, Ellie and her story will be quickly forgotten.

One positive aspect of the story is that it teaches that “the best plan is the one you don’t make for yourself.” However, if you’re looking for a story that shows the difficulties of living with a disability, you may want to skip Roll with It and instead read Sumner’s more engaging book Tune It Out.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Ellie’s grandfather is in the hospital, Mema says, “Lord, the amount of smoking that goes on outside this hospital, mind you, makes you wonder all over again at the state of our health care.”

Language

  • Lord is used as an exclamation twice.
  • One of Ellie’s friends has birds in the house and “they crap on the furniture.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Ellie thinks about God and “what it means to ‘live a life according to your convictions,’ as my grandma’s pastor would say.” Ellie contemplates God over two pages. During her musings, she thinks, “I like the idea that baking can be another way of talking to God. So maybe when I bake, it counts as praying and God understands where I’m coming from.”
  • When Ellie’s grandparents began dating, Mema thought “he looked like ‘God or the devil’ when he rode up to her dressed all in black from head to toe. . .”
  • Ellie’s friend is upset. She tells Ellie, “You do not get to pull the cripple card. I am singing the national anthem in front of God and the entire middle school, and I want my best friend there to witness.”
  • Ellie’s grandparents go to church.
  • When Ellie’s grandpa gets in an accident, Ellie “prayed for Grandpa to be healed and for Mom to settle down. . .”
  • When Ellie wakes up in a hospital, she prays, “Please, God, don’t let it have been a seizure.”
  • Ellie’s mother is looking at a retirement home. When Ellie sees the brochures, she wonders if her mother would ever get sick of her and put her in a home. Ellie says, “God wouldn’t want you to give up on me.”
  • Ellie wants to win a baking competition, but she has no idea what to make. She prays, “Please help me find the perfect pie, that one that’s most me.” Her prayer lasts for a page.

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