Healer of the Water Monster

The prospect of spending his summer in Phoenix with his father and his new girlfriend, Leandra, makes Nathan feel sick to his stomach. Still unsettled by his parent’s impending divorce, Nathan decides to spend his summer with his grandmother, Nali. At her mobile home, away from cell service and the luxuries of modern technology, Nathan starts a summer project to keep him busy that involves growing corn in his grandmother’s garden.  

However, his summer gets off to a more exciting start than Nathan bargained for when his corn seeds start going missing. While trying to catch the thief in action, Nathan stumbles across a water monster named Pond, a creature from Navajo legend that can control the water. However, Pond’s lake is dried up and his power is fading, rendering him unable to sing the water monster songs that bring rain to the area. Nathan learns that Pond has been poisoned by radiation from a nearby excavated uranium mine. To save Pond, Nathan needs to go to the Third World and get medicine from Mother Water Monster, the strongest of all water monsters. 

Meanwhile, Nathan’s Uncle Jet is struggling with his alcohol addiction. Nali wants Uncle Jet to have an Enemy Way Ceremony, a cleansing ritual that will help Jet on his road to recovery. However, Uncle Jet is against the ceremony since he is depressed and doesn’t believe it will work. Nathan discovers that an Ash Being is clinging to Uncle Jet, a dark creature who is increasing Uncle Jet’s feelings of hopelessness.  

After learning a few water monster songs to protect him in the Third World, Nathan unites with other Holy Beings, such as Wind and Darkness, to meet Mother Water Monster. They solve a series of puzzles in the Third World before meeting her and getting the medicine for Pond. Nathan returns home to discover that Mother Water Monster did not give him medicine, but a rock instead, and Pond passes away. Nathan feels all his work was in vain, but Changing Woman, a Navajo Holy Being, reassures him: “You gave Pond a great pool of hope, for his own health and for the return of the rains. Hope is a very powerful medicine and can give every minute we have alive a great deal of meaning and worth.” 

Nathan realizes that he has someone else who needs hope – his Uncle Jet. He rushes to be present at Uncle Jet’s Enemy Way, in which the Ash Being is successfully expelled. The story ends as Nathan discovers that the rock is actually a water monster egg, which is now his duty to care for and continue Pond’s legacy.  

The main theme of Healer of the Water Monster, as Nathan learns, is hope. Nathan feels hopeless for various reasons: he struggles to learn the water monster songs, his parents are unhappy, and he’s losing his friend, Pond. However, by relying on others and asking for help when he needs it, he is able to prevail. The other characters, such as Uncle Jet, learn this valuable lesson too.  

Readers will find that Nathan is a relatable character due to his insecurities. He admits that he is afraid of the journey to the Third World and doubts that he is the right person to make such a dangerous and important journey. However, with reassurance from his friends, Nathan accepts that it’s his duty to help the water monsters. At the end of the story, Nathan also takes the responsibility of passing on the water monster’s songs to the baby water monster, who is a symbol of hope. 

This story, the prequel to Heroes of the Water Monster, is easier to read than the second book. There are only two main plots in this story, while the second book is difficult to follow due to its much larger scope. Thus, in Healer of the Water Monster, the reader is able to learn about Nathan in more detail. The inclusion of Navajo culture is interesting and straightforward, and it doesn’t overshadow the plot of Uncle Jet and his struggles with alcoholism. Uncle Jet’s dark thoughts brought on by the Ash Being and his PTSD from serving as a marine are heavy topics for this story but mentioned sparingly. Healer of the Water Monster focuses more on spreading hope, overcoming insecurities, and looking to the future than it does on the fantasy action which makes it more thoughtful – but not any less worthwhile – than its sequel. Readers who want to connect with other Indigenous characters should also read Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac and When the Butterflies Came by Kimberley Griffiths Little.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Nathan accidentally gets hurt while trying to pass by a fight and gets knocked out. “Two big men [were] fighting each other in the middle of the cars and trucks. They were cursing and saying many things that would make his mom mad. Their fists and knees slammed into each other’s bodies. . . They both fell to the earth, and a large dust cloud bloomed around them. Some dust flew into Nathan’s eyes. As he was rubbing his eyes, Nathan felt the full weight of two massive bodies pushing him up against the car. . . Nathan fell to the earth. Last thing he remembered, he heard a loud smack and then a lightning-like flare of pain made his vision blurry, then go dark.” 
  • Darkness uses its powers on a man who steals. “Darkness wrapped the shadows around the man. The man knelt down. His screaming was muffled, as if his head were under a pillow. The man screamed and writhed. It was kind of terrifying, and Nathan hoped the man wasn’t in pain. In seconds, the shadows unraveled, and like black ink slipped off the man, who was sound asleep.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Uncle Jet smokes once. “When [Uncle Jet] noticed Nathan was heading toward him, Uncle Jet quickly put out his cigarette.” 
  • Devin, a medicine man that Nathan and Nali visit, smokes tobacco. “Devin lit the tobacco with a lighter and puffed on it.” 
  • Uncle Jet is an alcoholic. This is mentioned multiple times in the story, but there are only a few instances where the reader sees him drinking. For example, Nathan finds Uncle Jet sleeping after many drinks. “The stench of alcohol crept up Nathan’s nostrils.” Nathan leaves him to rest. 
  • Uncle Jet takes Nathan to a party where people are drinking and he has a few drinks. “A crowd passed brown bottles and silver aluminum cans around. . . Uncle Jet chugged a can.” 

Language   

  • Nathan calls someone “stupid.” 

Supernatural 

  • The Water Monsters are a group of Holy Beings that play a central role in the story. They are creatures of legend from Navajo stories that inhabit bodies of water and look like lizards. They have many powers, including controlling water, turning it to ice, using it to travel long distances, and more. Other than Pond, Nathan’s water monster friend, Nathan also meets Mother Water Monster. “Far in the distance, a creature of titanic proportions rose from the water. Waterfalls cascaded from its scaly body. . . Water cleared from the face of the creature, and a pair of bloodred eyes stared at Nathan.” 
  • To control water, water monsters sing songs. Nathan learns some of these water monster songs; this allows him to freeze water and control it. Nathan freezes a water bottle to prove to his father that the water monsters, and their songs, are real. “Nathan stopped singing in his mind. . . [he] handed his father the water bottle that he had frozen completely solid. Both his father and Nali looked at the bottle in utter surprise. Tiny frost crystals had formed on the outside.” Later, Nathan uses the same song to freeze a lake in the Third World. 
  • Nathan discovers that a horned toad-looking creature is stealing his seeds. This creature, Seed Collector, is a being from the Third World. He can speak and stand on two legs. “Shocked, [Nathan] froze in place when he saw the large horned toad standing on its hind legs and holding a glowing quartz crystal. Atop its head was a tiny, horizontally striped turkey feather. A turquoise necklace dangled around its thorny neck. . . a trail of cactus flowers followed it, hovering right about its shoulder area.”  
  • Nathan has a turquoise stone that allows him to communicate with all beings. He uses it to speak to the water monsters and Holy Beings.  
  • Nathan befriends a spider. Nathan uses his communication stone to talk to Spider. She comes with him on the journey to the Third World, spinning webs for him so that Nathan can find his way back to the Fourth World. 
  • An Ash Being is a shadow-like creature that feeds on one’s fears and worsens feelings of anxiety and depression. Nathan notices that an Ash Being has latched onto his Uncle Jet. At one point, it latches onto Nathan, calling him “worthless” and making him feel depressed for a short time until the Holy Beings scare it away. 
  • A butterfly with rainbow wings called Changing Woman – a Navajo Holy Being – congratulates Nathan on his return from the Third World.  

Spiritual Content 

  • This story centers around Navajo beliefs, which are mentioned frequently. The main focus is the Holy Beings who help Nathan rescue Pond, including Wind and Darkness, figureless beings that are the personification of wind and darkness. The Navajo language is also used frequently, which can be translated with the glossary in the back of the book.  
  • The Third World and Fourth World are mentioned in the story multiple times. Humans occupy the Fourth World, while Holy Beings such as Water Monsters and more live in the Third World. A large part of the story is Nathan’s journey to the Third World to meet Mother Water Monster. 
  • The story describes these different worlds and how they came to be. “Ages before humans lived in our current Fourth World, it has been said that the ancestors of the Navajo left the mists and clouds of the Second World for the shimmering waters of the Third World. First to crawl onto the land were the beings of thought, First Woman and First Man. Second were the beings of land, Coyote, Turkey, Deer, Turtle, Cougar, Bear. . . ” This Navajo creation story spans four pages and describes how Coyote steals a baby water monster, enraging Mother Water Monster who attempts to destroy the third world, prompting the First Man, First Woman, and creatures of land into moving to the Fourth World where they now reside.  
  • An Enemy Way is a Navajo ceremony that people undergo when they experience trauma in their lives and undergo a spiritual cleanse to aid the process of recovery. A large aspect of the story is Uncle Jet undertaking this ceremony to start his road to recovery. In this multi-day ceremony usually for warriors who have returned from war, singing and other rituals are used to combat the dangerous effects of ghosts. 
  • A few times in the story, sweetgrass is discussed. The Navajo use sweetgrass as medicine that they burn and inhale the smoke of to purify the spirit and energize the body. Pond uses his sweetgrass to prolong his life and inhales it a few times. Two times, he lets Nathan do it too. “Nathan picked up the sweetgrass and held it in front of the water monster’s nose. The water monster blew upon it and small embers ignited. Soon, a sweet smoke wafted through the air and into its nostrils. Some of the smoke entered Nathan’s nose, and in an instant, he was no longer tired. He was alert, like he had awakened from the night of great sleep, though he was still hungry and thirsty.” 
  • Other sacred objects include corn pollen and turquoise; both of which are mentioned a few times in the story.  

Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth

It’s a big weekend for Jasmine Toguchi! She’s excited to celebrate Girl’s Daya Japanese holiday honoring women and girlswith her sister, mother, and best friend, Linnie.  

On Friday after school, Linnie comes over to plan their outfits for the Girl’s Day celebrations, and Jasmine’s neighbor, Mrs. Reese, lets them search through her old clothes for the perfect accessories. But the clothes are in her dark garage, which is kind of scary. And then Linnie decides to go home early, which is kind of weird. Plus Jasmine’s big sister, Sophie, doesn’t seem to want to join in the Girl’s Day fun this year, which is kind of confusing. WHAT is going on?

As her big weekend plans start to unravel, Jasmine must use her sleuthing skills to spot the clues around her. Then maybe, just maybe, she can put everything back in order before Girl’s Day is over! 

Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth explores the topic of friendship with a relatable conflict between Jasmine and her best friend, Linnie. Jasmine and Linne play dress-up at their neighbor Mrs. Reese’s house. Afterward, they do not have time to properly clean up. Jasmine tells Mrs. Reese that it was Linnie’s fault that the clothes weren’t put away right. This upsets Linnie, who then tells Jasmine’s mom that she wants to go home. When Linnie explains why she is upset, Jasmine thinks, “Linnie was snitching on me! She was not a good friend at all.”  

After Linnie goes home, Jasmine “was afraid Linnie would be mad at me forever. I was afraid she would not be my friend anymore. I needed to make things right.” Jasmine realizes that even though she tries to be a super sleuth, she “missed some important clues” that prove Linnie is a super friend. In the end, even though it’s difficult, Jasmine apologizes and the friendship is repaired.  

The story is accessible to fluent readers who are ready for a book with multiple plots. Black and white illustrations appear every two to three pages and show Jasmine’s daily life. Many of the illustrations show the characters’ facial expressions, which will help readers understand the characters’ emotions. Another positive aspect of the story is that difficult words are explained within the text. For example, Jasmine’s teacher asks the class what a detective is. Jasmine answers, “A detective is someone who solves mysteries by using clues. Another word for detective is sleuth.”  

Even though Jasmine Toguchi is a series, the books do not need to be read in order because each book focuses on a new storyline. And for even more fun, the back of the book has directions on how to make origami paper dolls. 

Young readers will enjoy the engaging plot of Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth. With relatable conflicts, positive adult role models, and a kind protagonist, Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth will please young readers and their parents. One of the best aspects of the story is how Jasmine uses her powers of observation to solve a mystery and understand others. In addition, the story has positive life lessons about friendship, communication, and dealing with changes. Jasmine’s mom says, ”Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Growing up. . . is a part of life. Just make sure you’re doing things because you want to, not because of what others might think.” Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth will appeal to many readers, especially those who love to imagine themselves as super sleuths. For another educational and entertaining mystery, check out King & Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code by Dori Hillestad Butler. 

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Jasmine’s friend, Linnie, celebrates Hanukkah. However, the holiday is not described. 

Pippa Park Raises Her Game

Pippa Park’s seventh-grade year is looking bleak. With her failing math grade, Pippa’s older sister Mina is thinking about restricting her from trying out for the basketball team. However, a scholarship allows Pippa to reinvent herself by transferring to the prestigious Lakeview Private (as long as she keeps her grades up).  

At first, everything seems to go smoothly; she makes new friends, establishes herself as a star player on the basketball team, and even improves her math grade through tutoring sessions with the school’s resident jock, Eliot Haverford. Pippa has officially invented herself as “cool.” But the cost of her newfound popularity is her family and former friends. Pippa starts to ignore her best friend Buddy, who is “uncool” by her new friends’ standards. Most of her friends come from privileged backgrounds, so Pippa feels pressure to hide the fact that she’s being raised by her sister, Mina, who owns a laundromat. In addition, Pippa absolutely can’t let anyone know about her crush on Eliot Haverford, or that she hails from Victoria Middle School, the public school that is Lakeview Private’s number one enemy.  

Soon, Pippa’s lies start to catch up with her, and an anonymous cyberbully starts to send her threatening messages online, exposing the truth of Pippa’s past. Her friendship with Buddy is ruined, her new “friends” turn against her due to her interest in Eliot, and her scholarship falls into jeopardy when her math grade plummets. Additionally, her desire to learn more about Eliot has caused a rift in his family.  

Overnight, Pippa’s life falls apart. Pippa says, “I got caught up in this idea that I could be someone different . . . I kept thinking that if I just made myself into someone else, then one day I would become [popular]. I would be Eliot’s girlfriend. I would belong at Lakeview. But I never will. It’s not my world.” Mina’s husband, Jung-Hwa, reassures Pippa by saying, “Everyone makes mistakes. . . This will pass eventually.” This advice, though simple, helps Pippa reassess the situation and start to make amends for the things she can change, like apologizing to Buddy. Soon, she is able to embrace her past, repair her friendships, and start anew – this time, as her true self – at Lakeview Private. 

Pippa Park Raises Her Game is a story about self-acceptance. Middle school is a trying time – both an opportunity to reinvent oneself and a challenge to figure out who you are. Pippa believes that trying to be cool will make her happy. But she discovers that accepting herself, her background, and her flaws gives her more happiness than trying to fit the mold of a typical Lakeview Private student. Pippa is a relatable character because she’s similar to middle school kids who are trying to find their identity, and caving to societal pressures. Pippa is a bit impulsive, which gives the story more action than a typical middle school novel. The overall plot is simple but has enough layers to be interesting and keep readers guessing until the end. Pippa’s love for basketball (and her knack for getting into trouble) makes this story entertaining.  

Pippa is also Korean American, and her family occasionally speaks in Korean, which is Romanized from the Korean alphabet in the book. The language makes sense in context and is paired with Pippa referencing Korean cultural touchpoints, like snacks, Kpop, Kdramas, and Chuseok, which Pippa explains is like a Korean Thanksgiving. Other characters do occasionally commit microaggressions against Pippa, making comments on various aspects of her Korean identity. For instance, one of Pippa’s teammates smells the kimchi that Pippa brings for lunch. When Pippa explains what it is, the girl says, “I was wondering what that smell was.” In the text, it is not meant kindly, and it deters Pippa from bringing her family’s leftovers for lunch in the future. Although these moments aren’t the focus of the text, they present a real battle that Pippa must deal with at her new, upper-crust, and presumably white school. 

Pippa’s shame and acceptance of her culture is another point of contention with her Lakeview identity. She says, “The shame I’d felt about Jung-Hwa’s homemade lunches, irritation at his clumsy gestures of affection, and embarrassment at his grimy clothes – they all sent a wave of guilt over me. He was the kindest man I’d ever known. Why did any of the rest of it matter?” Pippa thinks that being cool means not associating herself with her family or her origins, but ends up wondering why she should have to be ashamed of her family to fit in. Overall, Pippa ends up being a layered, yet relatable narrator who learns that embracing her identity – not running from it – leads to more genuine happiness.  

Pippa Park Raises Her Game is good for basketball fans and students who are looking for more than a novel that’s sole focus is basketball. Pippa’s story is not uncommon, and it’s important that young readers learn to recognize and empathize with these themes. Although the dialogue sometimes feels a bit young for middle schoolers, the story doesn’t lose impact because of it. Young readers will be able to take away many lessons from this book, especially about staying true to oneself and improving self-esteem. If you’re looking for a book with similar themes, check out I’m Ok by Patti Kim and The Comeback: A Figure Skating Novel by E.L. Shen. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Eliot’s grandfather and grandmother died in a car accident. Eliot’s grandparents’ car “ran off the road” leaving “their little baby son an orphan.” It’s described once briefly, “some maniac ran their car off the road.” This is mentioned a few times. 
  • Mina is Pippa’s older sister who raised her. In many ways, Mina is like Pippa’s parent. Mina is angry at Pippa one day and says, “I have half a mind to really bring you up by the hand… The tips of Mina’s fingers twitched, like she was thinking about giving [Pippa] a good slap.” 
  • Jung-Hwa, Mina’s husband, brings news that Pippa’s mom has been in a car crash in Korea. Jung-Hwa says, “She’s in the hospital, in critical condition.” Mina explains later that, “She ran a stoplight. Another car slammed right into her. After it hit the passenger side, her car spun out of control, and she had a head-on collision with a light pole.” Pippa’s mom survives the crash. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language   

  • Pippa calls herself an “idiot” for telling her name to a stranger, “Oh man! I definitely wasn’t supposed to tell him my name. I wanted to hit my palm against my forehead. Idiot!”  
  • Light language is used occasionally throughout the book. Terms include: lousy, stupid, and jerk. 
  • Pippa is Korean American, and some of the people she meets are openly racist towards her. For instance, Pippa struggles with math and one student in class says to her, “Aren’t Asians supposed to be good at math?”  
  • Pippa mentions other backhanded racist comments that people often say. For example, Pippa is talking about Disney movies and mentions that most people think that Mulan is her favorite because they say, “You look just like her!” 
  • A classmate of Pippa’s, Caroline, makes a comment on Pippa’s skin tone, inadvertently being racist. Caroline says to Pippa, “You do look a little sick. Or maybe you’re always this washed-out.” The other girls reprimand her, but don’t address why what Caroline said was rude. 
  • Another girl comments on the medical care that Pippa’s mom is receiving in Korea. She says, “I’m sure there are really good doctors in Seoul. My dentist is Korean —  he’s great.” 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Hero Two Doors Down

This book is based on the true story of a boy in Brooklyn who became neighbors and friends with his hero, Jackie Robinson. 

Stephen “Steve” Satlow is an eight-year-old boy living in Brooklyn, New York who cares about only one thing: the Dodgers. Steve and his father spend hours reading the sports pages and listening to games on the radio. Aside from an occasional run-in with his teacher, life is pretty simple for Steve. 

But then Steve hears a rumor that an African-American family is moving to his all-Jewish neighborhood. It’s 1948 and some of his neighbors are against it. Steve knows this is wrong. After all, his hero Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball the year before. 

Then it happens — Steve’s new neighbor is none other than Jackie Robinson! Steve is beyond excited about living two doors down from the Robinson family. He can’t wait to meet Jackie. This is going to be the best baseball season yet! How many kids ever get to become friends with their hero? 

Steve’s childhood is chronicled in the first five chapters of The Hero Two Doors Down. While this allows readers to understand Steve’s behavior, the story has a slow start. Much of the story focuses on Steve’s inner thoughts and lacks actions. Despite that, anyone who admires Jackie Robinson will enjoy the story.  

Since Jackie Robinson is the main character in The Hero Two Doors Down, readers might expect a story about baseball. However, there is little baseball action because the story focuses on Steve’s relationship with Jackie. This gives readers an inside look into Jackie’s personal life and highlights his positive attributes. Jackie’s influence changed Steve from an angry boy who used his fist to solve problems to a boy who understood that “punching someone who has verbally attacked you will only make things worse.” 

The Hero Two Doors Down illustrates important life lessons including the importance of self-control. At times the adults are preachy, but this makes the message impossible to miss. By reading the book, readers will learn positive ways to interact with others, even when they both disagree. Jackie helped Steve learn that “You’ll become your best self if you stay focused, set goals, and don’t let anyone stop you from making your dreams come true.” While the story lacks baseball action and has a slow pace, the book’s message makes it worth reading. Readers who want to learn more about Jackie Robinson should also read Play Ball, Jackie! by Stephen Krensky. Readers looking for more baseball action can find it in The Contract Series by Derek Jeter and Prime-Time Pitcher by Matt Christopher. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Steve gets into trouble after school. He hears that his teacher, Miss Maliken, plans to make a home visit. Steve and his best friend, Sena, try to stop her. “Sena’s hand reached toward Miss Maliken, but I followed her lead. Together we pushed Miss Maliken, then watched in shock as she toppled over the hedge. The air filled with her screams. . . Women scrambled to help her.” Steve is suspended from school. 
  • Steve’s grandparents “fled Russia, along with two million other Jewish families, hoping to find freedom to practice their religion . . . In Russia, Jews were treated very badly. . . There was a lot of violence against them, and many men, women, and children were hurt or killed simply because they were Jewish.” 
  • Some players are upset that Jackie is playing baseball. “He’s been hit six times by pitchers and been insulted plenty just because he’s a black man in a previously all-white game.” Some of the players also tried to “slide into second base with their cleats pointing forward. It was dangerous and could lead to a serious injury for the second baseman.”  
  • When Jackie was in school, he joined a gang. He said, “We didn’t do anything really bad. . . stole some golf balls and sold them back to the golfers. . . took fruit from stands.”  
  • During a pick-up game, Steve drops a ball. Afterwards, “Several boys on our team ran over to me.” When they started calling Steve names, he “jumped up from the ground. . . and got in their faces. . .” Sena tried to drag Steve away, but Steve “pulled [his] arm away and jammed it into the belly of one of [his] attackers instead of retreating. The boy punched [him] hard in the gut. [He] dove into the other boys.” Sena and Steve finally run away. 
  • Steve has some anger issues and he “was sent to the principal’s office because [he] bloodied a classmate.”  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Some boys call Steve a sissy and a liar. 
  • Someone calls Steve a chicken. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Steve and his family are Jewish and occasionally pray, but no actual prayers are included. 
  • Steve’s family celebrates Hanukkah. On the first night, “when your father lights the first candle, he will say a special prayer asking for peace in Israel . . .” 
  • Jackie gives Steve a Christmas tree. Steve’s parents want to return the tree because “it is a symbol of a Christian holiday. Like Hanukkah, Christmas is part religious holiday and part tradition.” 
  • Steve’s favorite part of Hanukkah is “watching my father pray for peace, understanding, and friendship . . . I learned that whether you are Christian or Jewish, we both pray to God.” 

The Tiger Troubles

Someone is blackmailing the Detroit Tigers’ famous slugger, Tony! They’ve stolen his favorite trophy, and unless he fills a tiger-shaped bag with signed baseballs, he’ll never see the trophy again. Luckily, all-star sleuths Mike and Kate are ready to pounce on the case. Can they track down the thief in time to save Tony’s treasure? 

Mike and Kate are eager to explore the Detroit ballpark and find the many fun tigers throughout the park. When the kids see Tony hide a tiger stuffed animal, they can’t help but investigate. Soon, they’re on a mission to find and follow the tiger stuffed animal in the hopes that it will lead them to the blackmailer. While Mike and Kate investigate, they use their powers of observation and knowledge of the baseball park to find the blackmailer. 

Readers will love exploring the Detroit ballpark with Mike and Kate. The entertaining book is easy to read because it uses short sentences and dialogue to keep readers interested. Black-and-white illustrations appear every three to five pages. Most of the illustrations are a full page and they help readers visualize the characters and understand the plot. The book ends with “Dugout Notes” which define baseball sayings and give more information on the Detroit ballpark. Even though The Tiger Trouble is the eleventh book in the series, the books do not build on each other so they can be read out of order. 

Sports-loving readers will enjoy The Tiger Trouble because of the baseball-related mystery. When Mike and Katie discover the culprit, they learn that the person was blackmailing Tony in order to help others. However, Tony tells the blackmailer, “You meant well, but taking my trophy and blackmailing me is still wrong, even if you’re doing it for a good reason.” In the end, Tony Maloney forgives the blackmailer and comes up with a unique way to solve the problem. With its blend of mystery, baseball, and positive role models, the Ballpark Series hits it out of the park. Readers who want to explore other baseball-related books should check out The Zach and Zoe Mystery Series by Mike Lupica and The Ballgame with No One at Bat by Steve Brezenoff. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Baseball’s Best: Five True Stories

Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and Hank Aaron—five amazing baseball legends. From the first black man to play major league ball to the longest hitting streak ever, these are some of the game’s most inspiring stories. Find out what unforgettable feats won each player a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Baseball fans who want to meet some of the players who helped shape baseball should put Baseball’s Best: Five True Stories on their must-read list. Each chapter focuses on one player’s career, his accomplishments, and how the player changed baseball. The stories are motivational and most of them show how a player had to overcome obstacles along the way. While the book has a lot of baseball statistics, they are balanced with personal stories about the players. Some readers might be surprised by the pressure each player faced. For example, when Henry Aaron became the home run champion, he said, “I just thank God it’s over. I feel I can relax now. I just want to have a great season.” 

As part of the Step Into Reading 4 books, Baseball’s Best: Five True Stories is intended for readers in grades 2 – 4 who are proficient readers. The book includes large black-and-white pictures of the players as well as full-color illustrations that show the players in action. Illustrations appear every 1 to 3 pages and some pictures fill an entire page. The book’s oversized text, large illustrations, and short chapters will appeal to younger readers.  

Baseball’s Best: Five True Stories brings baseball history to life in an appealing format. Since the non-fiction book is all about baseball, it is best suited for readers who already know and love the sport. One chapter focuses on Babe Ruth; readers can learn more about him by also reading Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse by David A. Kelly. Readers curious about Jackie Robinson should also read Play Ball, Jackie! by Stephen Krensky and Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • During a game, Babe Ruth “trots out to the left field to warm up, the fans hurl lemons at him. ‘Get off the field, old-timer!’ they shout.” 
  • When Jackie Robinson played baseball, he had to deal with prejudice. “Some opposing players shout curses at him from the bench, while others threaten to strike if Jackie takes the field. . . Pitchers hurl fastballs dangerously close to his head. Runners slide with the spikes of their shoes aimed at his legs.” 
  • Jackie also had to deal with segregation and “hate mail. Some letters even threaten his life.” 
  • After an earthquake struck Nicaragua, Roberto Clemente got on an airplane heading to Nicaragua to distribute supplies. “Clemente’s plane takes off. Moments later one of the engines explodes and catches fire. The plane plunges into the ocean.” Roberto’s body is never found.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Nic Blake and The Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy

Nic Blake has a secret to keep from the rest of the world—she has a magical power called the Gift. This makes her, like her father, a Remarkable. Nic explains her life as a Remarkable in an Unremarkable world, “an Unremarkable . . . doesn’t have the Gift or any supernatural ability.” Nic knows that the majority of people in her town are Unremarkables and that “a majority of Unremarkables don’t know about the Gift or know that Remarkable creatures exist. Though Nic knows she has these powers, she still does not know how to use them. As she is about to have her twelfth birthday, Nic is excited that, “My dad’s gonna teach me how to use the Gift so I can finally be a real Manifestor.” Nic reveals, “Although we Manifestors are born with the Gift inside of us, we still have to learn how to use it, and there are lots of ways to use it, too.”

In Jackson, Mississippi, Nic is happily living with her father, Calvin, and hanging out with her best friend, JP. Her world is about to change, however, when Nic’s mother, who Nic has not seen since she was a baby, suddenly reappears in her life—along with a twin brother, Alex, whom Nic didn’t know she even had. Nic’s twin brother Alex and Nic’s mom reveal that they had to find Nic because her father has been accused of stealing a magical weapon by the Remarkable government. Nic’s mom and her brother have come all the way from the land they call home, Uhuru, a super technologically advanced city where only Remarkables live, to find Nic.

When Nic’s dad is accused of stealing a dangerous, magical weapon, Nic, JP, and Alex must set out on a quest to find the magical weapon and prove that Nic’s father is innocent. Along the way, Nic shows herself to be an extremely insightful Manifestor, even though she doesn’t know how to control the Gift. Throughout the novel, Nic learns more about her powers as well as how they connect with her ancestry. For instance, Nic recalls a story about how some of her ancestors who were caught by slavecatchers were freed by a Manifestor who “whispered ancient words to them, and they remembered who they were . . . They flew off like birds to freedom.” Nic recognizes that the Gift “helps us when we need it,” and gradually learns how to use her powers.   

Nic is an extremely empathetic character, who struggles to comprehend having a mom and brother enter her life unexpectedly. Nic explains, “It feels like my world was made of sand and I didn’t know it, and a gigantic wave has crashed in, wiped it out, and left me with something that doesn’t resemble my life.” Readers will appreciate the sacrifices Nic makes to prove her father’s innocence, even though her family dynamic is completely uprooted. Nic thinks, “I never would’ve thought that my dad would be a wanted criminal . . . it’s hard to believe this is my life.” Nic’s father admits his mistakes in keeping secrets from her. Nic’s dad says, “No matter my reasoning, I kept you from an amazing mom and brother.”  

Another reason readers will love Nic is that she is a very open-minded character and treats each new person she meets with respect, Remarkable or not, because her father has taught her that “some Manfestors like to make sure other Remarkables know that [Manifestors] are the most powerful Remarkables. Dad says it’s silly; that as Black folks we’ve seen people like us get treated as inferior and we shouldn’t do that to others.”

A major theme in Nic Blake and The Remarkables is reconnecting with estranged or lost family. Nic is dealing with a lot: “finding out I was kidnapped, that my dad may be a criminal, and that I have a mom and a twin brother.” Throughout the novel, Nic has to learn to trust and rely on Alex to help her navigate through Uhuru. Alex shows Nic how to use Uhuru’s technology. But Nic also helps Alex by demonstrating bravery, such as when she approaches a dragon for help, while “Alex whimpers.” In this way, both Nic and Alex bring something to the table and help each other on their journey. Alex and Nic’s relationship adds a great deal of heart to the story, as they realize that they actually have a lot in common, they even begin to call this “twin telepathy.”

Nic Blake and The Remarkables ends on a cliffhanger, with Nic receiving a threatening message from an anonymous source because she has found and returned the magical weapon. The threat tells Nic, “You think you’re gonna get away with finding what I hid?” This ending will certainly keep readers on their toes and excited to read the next book. Readers who enjoy stories with fantasy, action, and family will find this book absolutely delightful. Nic’s journey leaves readers with an amazing message about trusting in your own abilities. As Nic says, “The power to save myself, it lies within me.” 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Nic’s powers accidentally knock out her Uncle Ty. Nic explains, “Our hands touch, and everything happens in a flash. Uncle Ty’s Glow goes out like a fire doused with water, and a jolt shoots through my palms, making my own aura glow so bright, it blinds me . . . [Uncle Ty] hits the ground with a thud.” Uncle Ty recovers quickly, but Nic feels extremely worried that she accidentally hurt someone.  
  • Nic and her dad visit a Civil Rights Museum when her dad tells her what happened to Emmett Till. Nic explains what her father taught her about the event, saying, “[Emmett] was accused of whistling at a woman. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but Dad said that back then because Emmett was Black and the woman was white, some people did think it was a big deal. The woman’s husband and brother-in-law kidnapped Emmett in the middle of the night and killed him. [Emmett] was fourteen; a kid like me.” 
  • Nic and JP encounter a Boo Hag, which Nic explains is like a vampire except that these creatures “live off breath instead of blood. They climb on victims at night and suck the oxygen from their bodies, and sometimes they steal the person’s skin.” 
  • Nic and her friends encounter a ghost-like creature called a haint. JP asks the haint how he died: “[the haint] points at a tree, hangs his head, and holds his hand up as if it’s a rope. ‘Oh,’ JP murmurs. ‘You were lynched.’” 
  • Based on his interpretation of a prophecy, Uncle Ty believes that he is meant to defeat Nic and attacks her. Nic says, “My brain doesn’t process what he’s said until the lightning bolt whizzes straight for me.” Nic is able to escape Ty with her mom and dad’s help.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Nic’s father gets her a hellhound as a birthday present: “The woods dissolve, revealing my backyard, and that fire-breathing, gigantic hellhound is a tail-wagging little hellhound pup.” 
  • Nic explains the difference between the Gift and magic. “The Gift is an innate power that lives in us Manifestors. Magic, on the other hand, is a corrupt form of the Gift. It’s hard to control and super destructive. Also, magic in real life can only be performed with a wand, and the magic in wands runs out after a while. We Manifestors don’t need wands.” 
  • While Nic is in the kitchen, “a deep growl rattles the door to the basement.” Nic asks, “Is that the demon you caught at the governor’s mansion?” Nic’s dad explains that it is a demon, saying, “I swear, demons can’t stay away from that place.” 
  • Nic can identify other Remarkables. Nic says, “the Remarkables light the place up a bit thanks to the Glow, different-colored auras that tell you the kinda Remarkable they are.” 
  • Nic’s dad creates an illusion of stars on her ceiling. “With the wave of his hand, my ceiling disappears and a night sky takes its place.” 
  • Nic’s father’s best friend, whom she calls Uncle Ty, gives Nic a G-Pen. Uncle Ty explains that the “Gift-Infused technology” can only be bought in Remarkable cities. The G-Pen allows Nic to “write to any [Remarkable person] with it, and they’ll see it wherever they are . . . You simply think about the person and write to them in midair.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • JP has very religious parents. JP’s parents tell him, “Phones are quick access to the Devil.”  
  • Nic’s neighbor, Mr. Zeke, takes a trip to “a Remarkable city or historic site” each year, and this year “he went to Africa to see the Garden of Eden.” 
  • Nic and her friends encounter a woman named DD, but they realize something about her real identity. Nic says, “You’re the Devil’s daughter,” and then Nic hears, “Countless voices wail as a cackle echoes in the distance, sounding as evil as the Devil himself. That’s because it is the Devil himself.” 
  • JP saves Nic from the Devil’s daughter by chanting “Jesus” and “holding a cross made of forks, spoons, and rubber bands like a shield. [JP] points it in DD’s direction. ‘Jeeee-suuus!’ The skeletal hands explode into dust, freeing [Nic].” 

Like Lava In My Veins

Bobby Beacon has fire flowing through his veins, and he’s psyched to attend a new school that’ll help him get a better grip on his powers! But right off the bat, his new teacher is not too welcoming. That causes Bobby’s hot temper to land him in the principal’s office. It isn’t easy to stay calm when people don’t seem to understand you and are always pushing you to the edge. Good thing Bobby gets moved to a class with an understanding teacher who teaches him ways to calm himself. Bobby’s new teacher also shows him that caring for others is its own kind of superpower. With her help—and some cool new friends—Bobby just might be on his way to becoming the best version of himself. 

Bobby learns that “as long as you have someone who believes in you and appreciates everything from your toes to the tiny flames on the tip of your hair, you can become anything in this great big world. And most of all, you are needed, you are loved.” 

Anyone who has ever felt invisible will connect with Bobby, who struggles with keeping his temper under control. Bobby tries to stay out of trouble but his teacher gets angry when he fidgets. When Bobby switches to a different classroom, he connects to his new teacher, who is kind and encouraging. When Bobby starts to get angry, his teacher guides him through breathing exercises. Finally, Bobby’s heroic characteristics come out during an assembly when a supervillain breaks into the school and Bobby has to use his superhero powers to save the school. 

Like Lava in My Veins contrasts two classrooms—one with a critical teacher and the other with an encouraging teacher. With the help of the encouraging teacher, Bobby gains self-confidence. In the end, Bobby’s experiences highlight the importance of giving someone a second chance. The book also shows how easy it is for a student to be sent to the Institute for Supervillains. While Bobby’s story ends on a happy note, Like Lava in My Veins shines a light on society’s tendency to punish Black children harshly.  

Using a graphic novel format, Like Lava in My Veins has the feel of a superhero comic with bright colors, large quote bubbles, and expressive faces. Each page has one to seven sentences printed in large font. The short sentences use easy-to-read vocabulary that makes the book accessible to struggling readers. Even though the recommended reading age for the book is 5 – 8 years old, Bobby is in the fifth grade which gives the book a more mature tone.  

Superhero fans will enjoy Like Lava in My Veins because of the relatable protagonist and the fast-paced action sequences. Readers will cheer when Bobby defeats a supervillain. While the story shows the importance of having an encouraging teacher, it doesn’t give readers advice on what to do if they have a teacher who is critical of them. Despite this, readers will enjoy seeing Bobby gain confidence and use his powers for good.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When the bus driver doesn’t stop to pick up Bobby, Bobby “placed my palms on the ground. The road ripped open, and a tidal wave of molten lava formed a wall in front of the bus. . . Guess what? The driver slammed his boot on the brakes and then let me in, like he should’ve done in the first place.” No one is injured.  
  • Pause, a black student “got expelled for turning a teacher into a statue. . . All she did was sing. Just floated a couple of sweet notes in the air that landed softly in the ear of a fifth-grade teacher named Mr. Remington—he was frozen solid.” 
  • In class, Bobby gets upset that his teacher won’t call on him to answer questions. Bobby “started to feel invisible, like I wasn’t even there. . . I had accidentally melted my chair down to the floor like candle wax.” Bobby is sent to the principal’s office. 
  • During an assembly, the headmaster from The Institute for Supervillains “blasted a hole in the wall with his enormous stone fists. With him was his new star pupil—Pause.” Pause freeze the audience. “Their bodies were motionless, but their eyes reached back and forth in their heads like they were watching a tennis match. It was creepy.” 
  • The headmaster and Pause try to convince Bobby to join their team. When he refuses, “Pause cupped her hands around her mouth and tried shooting more of those hypnotic notes at me. . .” Bobby uses a “shield made of hardened lava which bounced the sound right back to her. . .She instantly froze.” 
  • To defeat the headmaster, Bobby aimed “an enormous beam of golden lava shot at his stone fist and welded them together. He couldn’t do anything but to drop to the cold, hard floor.” The full battle with the headmaster and Pause is illustrated over eight pages.  

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • Bobby goes to school with others who have special powers. For example, one student can make others tell the truth. “All he has to do is touch you, and the truth just comes pouring out of your mouth like Niagara Falls.” 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Why We Fly

From the New York Times bestselling authors of I’m Not Dying with You Tonight comes a story about friendship, privilege, sports, and protest. 

With a rocky start to senior year, cheerleaders and lifelong best friends Eleanor and Chanel have a lot on their minds. Eleanor is still in physical therapy months after a serious concussion from a failed cheer stunt. Chanel starts making questionable decisions to deal with the mounting pressure of college applications. But they have each other’s backs—just as always, until Eleanor’s new relationship with star quarterback Three starts a rift between them. 

Then, the cheer squad decides to take a knee at the season’s first football game, and what seemed like a positive show of solidarity suddenly shines a national spotlight on the team—and becomes the reason for a larger fallout between the girls. As Eleanor and Chanel grapple with the weight of the consequences as well as their own problems, can the girls rely on the friendship they’ve always shared? 

Why We Fly was inspired by real people who took a stand against racism. John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their Black power fist at the Olympics in 1968. Similarly, Collin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem in protest of the treatment of Blacks. Why We Fly explores the idea that players should “shut up and play” and the consequences athletes face if they voice their opinions. The story’s message is clear—athletes and others should not be punished for peaceful protest. However, the main characters’ experiences also highlight the importance of having a plan before you protest. In addition, the story reminds readers that no one should be forced to support a cause. By reading, Why We Fly today’s readers will gain insight into effective activism and be encouraged to explore ways they can help others. 

The chapters alternate between Eleanor’s and Chanel’s points of view. Since the girls are of different races, readers will begin to understand how race and wealth affect a person’s experiences. While the story explores important themes, the main characters are difficult to relate to. Even though Eleanor and Chanel have been best friends most of their lives, neither one is a good friend. For example, after Eleanor is voted captain of the cheerleading team, Chanel ghosts her. In addition, Chanel is critical of Eleanor’s relationship with star quarterback, Three. Many readers will dislike Eleanor’s and Chanel’s behavior and thus will have a hard time relating to them. 

On the other hand, Eleanor has a difficult time considering things from other’s point of view. When she is voted cheerleading captain, she accepts the position and never considers how it will affect Chanel. As cheerleading captain, Eleanor doesn’t show positive leadership skills and Chanel eventually has to jump in to unite the team. Then, when Eleanor encourages the cheerleaders to kneel during the national anthem, she doesn’t think about the consequences or how it would affect others. Eventually, she goes to talk to a rabbi who says, “Living up to a legacy doesn’t mean celebrating it. It means we pick up the baton and keep running the race. It also means we need to check ourselves and our assumptions about how far we’ve come, or haven’t.” Eleanor learns that when protesting, having good intentions is not enough—she should have also considered different people’s points of view and the consequences others would face if they protested.  

While many books have imperfect characters, Why We Fly’s characters are unlikable because they are self-centered and have unhealthy relationships. Despite this, readers who are interested in activism can learn important lessons about effective protest. In addition, readers may want to research some of the influential people the story mentions such as Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson, President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Readers who want to explore issues of discrimination and wealth should also add these books to their reading list: Jackpot by Nic Stone, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Kimberly Jones & Gilly Segal. 

Sexual Content 

  • After physical therapy, Three and Eleanor are talking. “He leans closer, and I freeze, dying for him to kiss me and feeling ridiculous that I’m so desperate for him to kiss me that I’m willing for it to happen in this doctor’s office. . . I lift my face, and his lips brush mine gently at first, and then he presses closer, and we fall over a cliff into the kiss.” The doctor interrupts them. 
  • One of the characters wears a shirt that reads, “Woke Up Lesbian Again.” 
  • Eleanor and Chanel go to a BBQ at Three’s house. When Eleanor and Three begin to flirt, Chanel says, “It’s a Planned Parenthood cautionary tale right before our eyes.” 
  • Before a football game, Three and Eleanor have a moment alone. Eleanor kisses him. Three “holds me to him, running that hand all the way up my back and into my hair. His lips part mine, and we kiss until we’re so tangled in each other that the stadium noises fade. . .” They are interrupted by another football player, who yells, “Three! Untangle yourself from that octopus, and let’s go.” 
  • A friend drops Three off at Eleanor’s house. Eleanor wonders, “Why did he have to get a ride to what is obviously going to look like a hook-up?” 
  • Eleanor slept with her previous boyfriend, Roman. Eleanor’s friend said, “Roman was the type to kiss and tell, and she was right. . .” Eleanor isn’t sorry that she slept with Roman, she’s “just mad everyone thought it was cool to slut-shame me for my choice while admiring him for doing the same thing.” Later, Eleanor reveals that Roman is the only person she has had sex with. 
  • Eleanor and Three are hanging out at her house. They begin kissing. Three says that he doesn’t expect her to have sex with him, but Eleanor says she wants to. “Three lies back, taking up my entire bed, leaving me no space and no option other than to press up against him and rest my cheek on his chest. . .” Before they can have sex, they get into an argument, and Three leaves. 
  • On social media, someone posts: “Looks like Chanel Irons will be the next Barack Obama. Anyone know if she’s straight? I’m here for being her Michelle. We can un-hetero that White House together.” 

Violence 

  • Before the book begins, Eleanor falls during cheerleading practice. Eleanor “came down wrong. . . I flailed, trying to save myself too. My head thwacked James’s shoulder on the way down, then hit the mat. One leg bent under me, and my ankle collapsed. . . when I came to, the throbbing in my head blinded me to all the other pain.” Months later, Eleanor is still in physical therapy. 

 Drugs and Alcohol 

  • In order to deal with stress, Chanel sneaks into the school bathroom to vape marijuana. She loads “the cartridge of Runtz, press and release the button, and take a short breath.”  
  • Chanel is suspended from school. Afterwards, she hides in the shed behind her house. “Even though I normally take only one short puff, I find myself taking extra puffs today and holding the vapor longer.”  
  • Because of the pressure of applying to colleges, Chanel is “stoned for nearly two months.” 
  • After a football game, a bunch of teens go to a player’s house. Before his parents leave the room, they padlock the liquor cabinet. 

Language 

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes ass, bitches, bullshit, crap, damn, hell, piss, and shit. 
  • Fuck is used once. 
  • Oh God and dear God are infrequently used as an exclamation. 
  • Three’s mother dislikes Eleanor and calls her “locker-room lice.” 
  • Eleanor and Chanel kneel during the national anthem at a football game. Afterwards, someone posts a picture with a caption that says, “Now we’ve got a Jew bitch on her knees with the primates.” 

 Supernatural 

  • None 

 Spiritual Content 

  • Eleanor was part of a competition squad that would pray “before every tournament—in Jesus’s name.” Because Eleanor is Jewish, she seeks out her rabi’s advice. “His guidance gave me the guts to ask the team to change the prayer to something more egalitarian.” 
  • Eleanor mentions religious holidays such as the High Holy Days and Rosh Hashanah. 
  • Eleanor goes to synagogue during the High Holidays. Her brother wears a bar mitzvah tallit (a prayer shawl), but Eleanor is upset that she forgot hers. The knots on the tallit represent “the number of commandments in the Torah.” 
  • During the service, the rabbi says, “When I look around, both at our larger world and our own community, I see enormous pain. I see injustice . . . There are those who deny the humanity of people of color. Who asks that they be silent in the face of unequal, hateful, violent treatment. . . We have a moral obligation to bear witness to injustice in society. . . it is our responsibility to protect the marginalized and to partner with other communities to confront the powerful who perpetuate injustice.” The sermon goes on for two pages. 

The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just

Ernest Everett Just was not like other scientists of his time. He saw the whole, where others saw only parts. He noticed details others failed to see. He persisted in his research despite the discrimination and limitations imposed on him as an African American. His keen observations of sea creatures revealed new insights about egg cells and the origins of life. 

Any child who loves nature will be delighted by The Vast Wonder of the World. Despite many difficulties in life—such as contracting typhoid, losing his mother at a young age, and having to work while going to college—Ernest never gave up on his dreams. He knew “he had to keep going.” Once in college, “Ernest took a biology class and his life changed forever. In that class, he discovered the microscopic world of the cell.”  

The Vast Wonder of the World book explains how Ernest used his knowledge to research and experiment. Several pages illustrate and explain what Ernest learned about cells. While not all readers will understand the importance of Ernest’s discoveries, they will understand how Ernest’s perseverance led him to become an independent researcher.  

Ernest’s world is illustrated with beautiful illustrations that showcase Ernest’s love of nature. Readers will enjoy seeing underneath the microscope, where they get a close-up look at marine worms. Many pictures also show Ernest exploring outside where fish swim, pelicans float, and starfish rest on the bottom of the ocean. The beautiful illustrations use natural tones such as light blues, greens, and browns. Even though The Vast Wonder of the World is a picture book, it is more suited to older readers because of the text-heavy pages, advanced vocabulary, and complex sentence structure. Reading about Ernest’s life and accomplishments will inspire readers. 

The book ends with a page of notable quotes by Ernest, a section titled “Author’s Notes” that explains more about Ernest’s life and the time period, as well as a timeline of Ernest’s life. Ernest believed people should “live with the true, and when you are ready to embark on life’s unknown waters, place yourself at the helm confident of but one destination—success.” While The Vast Wonder of the World will primarily appeal to readers who already love exploring nature, Ernest’s story also shows the importance of overcoming obstacles to achieve your dreams. Because of Ernest’s extraordinary life, his story should be shared with readers of all ages.  

To learn more about extraordinary people who love the ocean, swim over to the library and check out Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating and Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Several pages make a brief statement about discrimination. For example, while teaching in the United States, “The time came when Ernest refused to tolerate the segregation any longer. He decided to move to France and become an independent researcher.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way

On April 8, 1974, America watched as Hank Aaron stepped up to the plate and hit home run number 715! With that hit, he surpassed Babe Ruth’s legendary baseball record and realized a lifelong dream. This is the story of how Hank Aaron became a great ballplayer and an inspiration to us all. 

When Hank was born, his mother wanted him to “make a difference in the world.” Meanwhile, his father wanted him to “know the joy of playing baseball in open grassy fields.” While no one knew it at the time, Hank would fulfill both of his parents’ expectations. Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way begins with Hank’s early childhood. The story describes how Hank’s family was poor, but there was still plenty of love and an open field for playing baseball. When Hank was in school, he was inspired by Jackie Robinson. Like Jackie Robinson, Hank faced discrimination because of the color of his skin.  

Before blacks were allowed in the major leagues, Hank was determined to play. When Hank received hate mail, he “decided to fight the best way he could. He swore that each angry letter would add a home run to his record.” The closer Hank got to beating Babe Ruth’s record, the more fans cheered for him and Hank received “almost a million letters to offer him support.” In the end, despite facing many obstacles, Hank did something remarkable—he beat Babe Ruth’s home run record.   

Even though Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way is a picture book, the story will need to be read aloud to a child, rather than for a child to read it independently. Many of the pages are text-heavy with five to thirteen complex sentences. Each two-page spread has one page for the text and one full-page illustration. The realistic illustrations use browns and other primary colors that mostly feature Hank at baseball games. 

Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way is a motivational biography that focuses on Hank’s ability to overcome obstacles. Hank’s remarkable talent and resilience will motivate young readers to reach for their dreams. Since Hank’s story includes examples of discrimination, young readers may need help understanding why people hated Hank because he was black. Readers who want to learn more about Hank Aaron should also read Baseball’s Best: Five True Stories by Andrew Gutelle. For more motivational non-fiction baseball books, readers should also read Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard and Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • When Hank Aaron started to play on the Braves’ team, “some people resented Hank’s success because of the color of his skin. He began to get one or two unsigned letters each week filled with insults and nasty names.” 
  • One illustration shows letters in the background. The letters are all negative and one reads “Retire or die!” Another letter says, “Quit or youe [sic] dead.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Hank beat Babe Ruth’s home run record. “That night, when he was alone at last, Hank got down on his knees, closed his eyes, and thanked God for pulling him through.”  

Treasure Island: Runaway Gold

Three kids. One dog. And the island of Manhattan laid out in an old treasure map.  

Zane is itching for an adventure that will take him away from his family’s boarding house in Rockaway, Queens—and from the memory of his dad’s recent death. Some days it seems like the most exciting part of his life is listening to his favorite boarder, Captain Maddie, recount her tales of sailing the seven seas. 

But when a threatening crew of skater kids crashes the boardinghouse, a dying Captain Maddie entrusts Zane with a secret: a real treasure map, leading to a spot somewhere in Manhattan. Zane wastes no time in riding the ferry over to the city to start the search with his friends Kiko and Jack, and his dog, Hip-Hop.  

Through strange coincidence, they meet a man who is eager to help them find the treasure: John, a sailor who knows all about the buried history of Black New Yorkers of centuries past—and the gold that is hidden somewhere in those stories. But as a vicious rival skateboard crew follows them around the city, Zane and his friends begin to wonder who they can trust. And soon it becomes clear that treasure hunting is a dangerous business . . . 

Treasure Island: Runaway Gold reimagines Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic book Treasure Island. While the books have a similar plot line, many of the original story’s details are changed. Treasure Island: Runaway Gold revolves around Zane and his three friends, who are searching for a lost pirate treasure. Along the way, they meet Captain John, who claims that he wants to help the kids find the treasure but doesn’t want a share of the prize for himself. Right from the start, many red flags show that Captain John cannot be trusted, and Captain John eventually betrays Zane’s trust. However, Captain John was clearly a villain from the start, so his betrayal feels anticlimactic.  

The first chapter jumps right into action and there is never any lull. Fast-paced action scenes dominate the book. Despite this, the book finds time to shine a light on how Black slaves were used to build Wall Street and other important Manhattan buildings. In death, many were buried in a graveyard. However, “colonists didn’t care about a Black cemetery. For centuries, folks kept building over and through their graves.” This historical information blends seamlessly into the story, creating a cohesive mystery that is tied to the pirate treasure.  

Readers who want a story with plenty of action and suspense will quickly be swept away by Treasure Island: Runaway Gold. However, the story’s fast pace doesn’t leave a lot of room for character development, the ending is rushed, and readers will be left with many questions. Despite these flaws, Treasure Island: Runaway Gold uses an interesting premise to teach about Black history.  

A few black-and-white illustrations are scattered throughout the book, which helps bring the events to life. In addition, the back of the book has a glossary of Zane’s skateboarding tricks and an Afterword that explains “how the [enslaved] Black people contributed to New York becoming the economic heart of the world,” as well as how “Thomas Downing, the son of enslaved people,” used his wealth to fund the Underground Railroad. Readers who want to learn more about the Underground Railroad should also read The Underground Abductor: An Abolitionist Tale about Harriet Tubman by Nathan Hale and Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Zane has a friend named Jack, who has an abusive father. Zane explains, “Since second grade, I’ve known the pattern. Dad home, Jack had accidents. Bruises, sprains. A black eye.” Later it is revealed that his father once broke Jack’s arm. 
  • Jack shows up at the skate park with “his body tilting left while his hand holds his side. Kiko says, ‘His dad still thinks he’s a punching bag.’ ” The conversation stops there. 
  • Zane gets home and finds, “it looks like a bomb has hit the dining room. Broken plates, shattered glasses, oatmeal, soft eggs, and crushed toast are on the floor. . .” Zane runs upstairs to find Captain Maddie “passed out cold.” Zane’s mother explains that skater kids and “that nasty boy came in frightening our guests, tearing up the place. Demanding to see Captain Maddie.” 
  • When the doctor comes, Captain Maddie, “is upright, flailing a small knife, slick with blood.” Captain Maddie dies. The doctor says, “The shock was too much for her. Probably an aneurysm.”  
  • During the night, the skater kids come back to Zane’s house. “Six skaters dressed in black, canvassing the house . . . Hip-Hop dives, racing across the grass, and bites someone. A scream. Jack is right behind Hip-Hop, punching right, left. . . Zane and his friends begin throwing baseballs at them . . . Some boys try blocking with their skateboards. Others limp away. Another runs. . .” 
  • Zane, Jack, and Kiko go to Manhattan to look for treasure. The skater crew swarms them. “Brave, ready for a fight, Jack sails into the gang, his board sideswiping other boards, his hands shoving, unbalancing the skater. . . A kid pulls Jack’s arms behind his back. . . [Zane] pull[s] the kid off Jack while Jack punches back at three kids trying to get a hit.” 
  • As the fight continues, “Jack gets pinned, his face against asphalt. I tug one kid off before I’m pounded in the gut and taken down.” At the end of the fight, “bloodred bruises cover his [Jack’s] face and arms. More, I know, are hidden beneath his shirt. He took the brunt of the beating. . .” The fight is described over five pages. No one is seriously injured.   
  • Zane and his friends are on a boat driven by John when the skater boys begin to “tail our boat, edging closer and closer, gunning, then leveling the engine. Almost like he’s going to ram us.” The skater boys’ boat gets so close that “a wall of water rises, slaps, and [Zane] topple[s] overboard.” 
  • John, Zane, and his friends sneak under a restaurant that was used to hide slaves. When men hear them, the men give chase. Zane describes, “The men are closer. Close. I’m not going to make it. . . I kick. The man grunts, stumbles back. . . Jack, beside John, is furiously pitching oyster shells. With a grunt, he throws his weight against a shelf filled with dusty jars, and jugs. The shelf falls, crashing, shattering glass and ceramic.” John, Zane, and his friends slip under the restaurant and escape. 
  • Zane and Kiko sneak into the old Woolworth’s building. A guard sees them entering an elevator and the guard gives chase. Zane shouts, “startling the guard, using my skateboard to whack his hand away.”  
  • One of the skater boys, Findley, grabs Hip-Hop and puts him in a sack. Matt, another boy, grabs Zane. Zane describes how Matt “twist[s] my arm. My knees buckle. He punches, kicks me. I crumple.”  
  • Kiko tries to help Zane. She grabs a cane and “like lightening, the cane flashes down on his arm, swings sideways—whack—slamming into [Matt’s] side. . . [Matt] dashing forward and back. Hopping left, then right. Feigning a punch. . .” Kiko uses the cane to smack Matt who “gasps, drops to his knees. He’s not unconscious, but it’s still a knockout . . .” The scene is described over three pages. 
  • In a multi-chapter conclusion, Jack reveals that when his father beats him, his mother “doesn’t defend me. Never did. Even when I was little, she said, ‘A boy needs to learn how to defend himself.’ When Dad started whaling on me, she left the mobile home.” 
  • John reveals that he is the lead of the skater boys’ gang, and takes Zane and Kiko to his secret hideout. John’s “first mate” Rattler makes sure Zane and Kido can’t escape. “Taunting, Rattler faces me as two pirates pin my arms beneath my back, roping my hands together.” Kiko is also tied up. Afterwards, Zane is hit occasionally. 
  • John’s secret hideout is under the city in an old, abandoned tunnel system. To search for treasure, John has his crew begin dynamiting the ceiling of a tunnel. “Gunpowder with wicks are driven into the tunnel’s sides, its unfinished ceiling.” Petey, who is about eight years old, is tasked with lighting the dynamite. When the dynamite goes off, “Petey tumbles. The torch arcs, twirls like a giant sparkler, landing on Petey’s back. . . Jack’s on it. Kicking aside the torch, he drops, patting Petey’s shirt, smothering flames. . . Petey groans. Beneath his shirt’s jagged burnouts, his skin is red, blistering.” Petey passes out and Kiko administers first aid. 
  • As the skater crew continues to set off explosions, the bones of the people buried there begin to fall. The kids are “tossing skeletons like ordinary sticks. . . ‘Look at this.’ A kid holds a skull and happily throws it to his mate.” Zane is upset that John and his crew are “disturbing graves.” 
  • John taunts Zane by saying, “Zane, a mama’s boy. Worse, a weak, whiny boy missing his dad.” Zane goes “berserk. I’m hitting, kicking, punching John. . . I fall flat, seeing stars. John slapped, shoved me.” When Zane and Kiko refuse to join John’s crew, they make them “walk the plank.”  
  • While in an underground abandoned subway, Zane and Kiko are forced to “walk the plank” which is an old pipe that is dangerously high. Kiko goes first and the crew begin throwing bones at her. “Findley lets a rib bone fly. Others throw rocks. Kiko wabbles, tries to duck low. Arms protecting her head, she shifts forward and back, side to side.” Kiko makes it across the pipe. 
  • As Zane walks the plank, “stones, skeletons fly. Rocks sail wide, especially from younger boys. Others bruise my shoulder and arm.” Zane makes it across the pipe. 
  • Zane and Rattler, one of the skater boys, duel it out by skating. After Zane has a good run, “Rattler leaps toward me, swinging his board at my head.” Kiko jumps in, “Knocking it out of his hands.” The fight ends. 
  • While in an underground tunnel, Zane, Kiko, and Hip-Hop find “hundreds of rats. Rats squeaking, running, crawling over one another. . . In his jaws, Hip-Hop snaps rat after rat. Shaking his head, he breaks their necks. He’s an efficient, killing machine. . . Hip-Hop has made a path—but it’s gross. Limp rats, blood. . .” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Jack’s father spends his money on alcohol instead of food and bills. 
  • John tells Zane that his “best mate” was a woman who would “drink gallons of rum and never spend a day hungover.” 
  • While talking about the history of slaves being used to build Wall Street, John says, “I need a swig. . .Rum helps set the mind straight.”  
  • Jack says, “Alcohol turns my dad into a wild man. . .” 
  • At one point, John is “sauntering off-balance” because he’s drunk. He offers Zane a flask and says, “Rum cures a lot of ills.” 
  • When a young boy is burned, Kiko gives him ibuprofen. 

Language 

  • Occasionally, there is name-calling such as brat, loser, failure, jerk, and traitor. 
  • John opens an old trunk expecting to see treasure. When the trunk is empty, he yells, “Aargh. Damnation.” 
  • John calls one of the skater boys a “gutless swine.” 

Supernatural 

  • Zane sees visions of the past. “Images like photographs. Now they seem like a silent movie. Figures move, stumble. I see a long line of shackled people, some stumbling, some wailing . . .” During the three-page vision, Captain Maddie shows Zane how slaves were used to build Wall Street.  
  • Occasionally Captain Maddie appears, but Zane is the only person who can see her ghost.  
  • Zane has a vision of Thomas Downing, a wealthy Black man who helped hide people who were escaping slavery. The vision guides Zane to the underground room where Thomas hid slaves.

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

A Soft Place to Land

Janae Marks’ novel follows twelve-year-old Joy as she and her family move from their house into a much smaller apartment building. After her dad loses his job, their family can no longer afford a lot of things that they previously were able to, and this only adds to Joy’s sadness and confusion about living somewhere new. Joy admits that she feels “sad that my family had to move.” 

One of the major themes in this book is families facing financial struggles and how children perceive it. Because of their new financial difficulties, Joy notices that her parents are arguing a lot. When Joy overhears her parents arguing, Joy becomes extremely upset and she feels she needs to reassure her younger sister, Malia, that her parents are not going to separate.  Joy’s parents continue to argue, and after her father spends the night away “to get some space,” Joy worries that they will get a divorce.  

Because of how open she is about her feelings and struggles with change, Joy is an extremely empathetic character. At first, Joy is focused on how much she misses her family’s previous home. Joy explains, “I wish we were back in our real home, where Mom and Dad got along . . . I wish I’d known that last Christmas would be our last in the house.” However, through making friends with Nora, another girl who lives in the building, Joy is able to make new memories. For instance, Joy and Nora meet up with other kids who live in the apartment complex to play board games in a place they call “the Hideout;” this time with other kids makes Joy feel included. Joy says, “I’m so glad I have the Hideout now, too, and these four friends.” 

Joy learns an important lesson about how even our closest friends can secretly be going through a rough time. For example, Nora appears to be fine on the surface, and Joy tells Nora, “I told you what was going on with me, and I thought you’d talk to me about your stuff, too.” Nora reveals, “I miss my dead mom, okay? I wish she was here, but she’s not, and she’s never going to come back.” Joy realizes after their fight that, “It was wrong of me to expect you to tell me about your problems, just because I told you about mine . . . I promise I’ll be there for you, but if you don’t want to talk about something, we won’t.” This important realization makes both girls feel more confident in their friendship. Nora and Joy’s friendship leaves readers with a positive outlook on new environments and the possibility of making friends in a new place. 

Overall, Marks’ novel excellently showcases Joy’s changing perspective on her family’s move. Initially admitting that she is frustrated with their move to the smaller apartment, Joy explains, “I hate that so much is out of my control.” This allows many readers to sympathize with Joy, even if they have not gone through a similar situation. Plus, many young readers will relate to the overwhelming feelings that come with big life changes.  

The ultimate focus of this novel is the importance of family and friendship. As Joy says, it is important to recognize that even when you are struggling, “You are not alone.” Joy’s growing friendship with Nora is central to the book and highlights how readers can find happiness and friendship in new situations. Joy’s realization at the end of the novel leaves readers with an important message: “I still miss our house, and our memories there, but what made it feel like home were my parents and sister.” Joy recognizes that friends and family are what shape her happy memories, not necessarily the specific place where she is.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • While walking her neighbor’s dog, Ziggy, Joy loses her grip on his leash, and he runs away. Ziggy is lost for several days and is ultimately found, but not in good health. “There is Ziggy, lying down on a bean bag chair next to the bookshelf. He looks weak, and like he can’t get up . . . he’s dehydrated.” Ultimately, Ziggy is brought to the vet and gets the treatment he needs to get better. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Jada Jones Sky Watcher

Jada is excited to do a school project about her hero Dr. Mae Jemison, a former NASA astronaut and the first Black woman to travel to outer space. Jada even gets to pretend to be Dr. Jemison for the presentation in front of her teacher, parents, and friends! But when Jada’s research reminds her how accomplished her hero truly is, she suddenly feels like she’s made a mistake. How can Jada portray someone who seems to have everything together when she feels like she’s falling apart? 

When Jada begins researching Dr. Jemison, she struggles with the process. Because she feels imperfect, Jada is insecure about pretending to be Dr. Jemison. For example, Jada thinks, “Dr. Jemison was my hero, but it seemed like she always had everything together. How could I convince people I was her when I felt like I was falling apart?”  

As Jada struggles with her emotions, she takes her frustration out on her friend, Miles. Jada blurts something mean and immediately regrets it. Even though it’s difficult, Jada apologizes. She says, “I’m sorry. I was really mad at myself and I didn’t mean to take it out on you.” After Jada apologizes, Miles forgives her and they continue being friends.  

Throughout the story, Jada often uses positive communication strategies, which readers will be able to emulate. Even though Jada isn’t perfect, readers will learn how communication is an essential component of friendship. Jada also learns that she has something in common with Dr. Jemison — they both need to overcome fear. Dr. Jemison was afraid of heights while Jada was afraid that she wasn’t good enough.  

Jada’s struggle comes to life with black-and-white pictures that have a pop of purple. Jada Jones Star Watcher is intended for readers who are transitioning to chapter books. The story has eight short chapters, easy vocabulary, and illustrations on almost every page. However, the story has several text-only pages and has some complicated sentence structure that might challenge readers.  

The Jada Jones Series uses engaging stories to teach readers important life lessons. The books have many positive aspects, including Jada’s traditional two-parent family. Jada’s family plays a significant part in the story and her parents often give her helpful advice.  

Readers will relate to Jada’s difficulties preparing her project and her fears of presenting. Along the way, they will also learn interesting facts about astronauts and Dr. Jemison. In the end, Jada realizes that she doesn’t need to know everything and that “anything was possible one step at a time.” Because of the relatable conflicts, Jada Jones Star Watcher will appeal to many young readers, not just those who love space. Readers interested in learning more about inspirational astronauts should also read Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, and Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker. A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet by Clayton Anderson is another must-read for any space-loving bookworm. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Dang is used once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Ace of Spades

Chiamaka, one of two Black students at the elite Niveus Academy, is more than ready for her senior year. Since her freshman year, everything she’s done at Niveus has been with Yale’s pre-med program in mind – taking the hardest classes, staying on top of her grades, making connections. When she is selected to be one of the senior Prefects at the back-to-school assembly, she is pleased but not surprised. After all, this was the track she meticulously planned for since day one. 

By contrast, Devon, the only other Black student, is ready to fall back into Niveus’s monotony, finish his senior year, and get out. Quiet and shy, the only place he truly feels at ease at Niveus is in the music classroom, where he can escape into building his portfolio for Julliard’s piano performance program. So, when he is also selected to be a senior Prefect, he is taken aback: he is a good student, but not an exceptional one.  

But things never stay quiet at Niveus for long: soon after the semester begins, a mysterious entity who calls themselves Aces begins sending incriminating messages to the entire school, exposing students’ deepest, darkest secrets. After a few texts, Chiamaka and Devon realize something disturbing: Aces seems to be only targeting them. They pair up to try and take Aces down, but the more they dig, the more they uncover about their classmates, teachers, and Niveus’ dark past. It soon becomes clear that they can only trust each other – or can they do even that? 

Ace of Spades is a gripping read from the start. The pacing is a bit off-putting at times– the book starts slow, uncovering the story layer by layer, and then speeds up in the end with several plot twists that are not as developed as they could be. Nevertheless, Chiamaka and Devon are both such smart and compelling narrators that readers will quickly get hooked – the story is told from both of their perspectives, so readers get full insight into both characters’ lives and see both similarities and differences in their experiences. Both Chiamaka and Devon go through a lot of character development throughout the story. Despite their flaws, they are sympathetic characters that readers will root for and be able to relate to.  

While Ace of Spades is a deeply important read, it does handle many difficult topics, such as institutional racism, drug use, incarceration, and death. None of these issues are sugarcoated and they are all integral parts of the story, especially racism. Because these issues are given the gravity they deserve, several parts of the story are rather heavy. While readers should be aware of the heavy subject matter going into this book, it should not deter them from reading it since all of the issues are important to talk about and learn about as they are prevalent in our world today. 

Overall, Ace of Spades is a suspenseful thriller that exposes many systemic injustices prevalent in our world today, sending an important message about how to combat them. It has a multi-layer plot that is slowly and carefully peeled away to reveal a big picture that is truly shocking and thought-provoking. Although parts of this story are uncomfortable to read about, they reflect important issues in our modern society that are vital to address and discuss. Ace of Spades will hook readers from the start, and leave them thinking about it for weeks to come.  

Sexual Content 

  • Chiamaka remembers the first time she and her best friend, Jamie, hooked up at a party. “He told me to meet him in his bedroom, and while that night we only made out, it was the catalyst for what happened the rest of the year: Jamie sneaking kisses, whispering things in my ear, asking me to come over . . . ” 
  • Aces leaks a video of Devon and his ex-boyfriend having sex. Chiamaka (and the rest of the school) get a text notification from Aces, plus the video: “Just in. Porn is easy to come by these days. You either search for it online or it falls right in your lap when you least expected it to.” Chiamaka doesn’t click on it, but she “could hear the sounds of it playing from Jamie’s phone.” 
  • Aces exposes the fact that Chiamaka and Jamie hooked up last year. “Belle Robinson [Jamie’s current girlfriend], you have a problem. I’d ask your boyfriend and his bestie, Chiamaka, what they were doing this summer. Hint, it involves no clothes and a lot of heavy petting.”
  • Devon has sex with an ex-boyfriend. “Dre moves off the bed and goes over to the drawer in his desk, pulling out some condoms. I look away from him now and up at the ceiling, listening to the sound of the rain hitting the windows and the wind angrily crying out, letting it drown my thoughts. His weight tilts the bed as he leans over me and joins our lips together again . . . And then, when we are finally done and I’m in his arms, I let myself cry.” 
  • A poster of Chiamaka is circulated at a party and spreads around Niveus. “Posters of a passed-out Chiamaka in a short silver dress, black tights, black heeled boots, mascara dried on her cheeks, and her hair a tangled mess. Some of the posters have Bitch written in big black bold text, others Slut.” 
  • It’s implied that Chiamaka and her girlfriend make out, or more. “Belle nods, a sly smile on her lips as she reaches up to her shirt and starts to unbutton it. ‘Want to continue not talking?’ she asks, the yellow of her bra making everything inside tingle. ‘Not talking is my favorite thing to do,’ I tell her.” 

Violence 

  • Chiamaka has a flashback to when she was in the car with Jamie behind the wheel, and they hit a girl. “Rain pounds the road as I peer out the window at the body – her body. Through the rivulets, I see her face. Blond curls, pale skin, a dark pool forming a halo around her head. I gag, gripping on to the cold, hard dashboard, closing my eyes. I feel so sick.” This scene is described over two pages. 
  • After a picture of Devon and his ex-boyfriend kissing is leaked, Devon worries about the violence he might face from the homophobic community. “The guys in my neighborhood, the ones I used to go to school with, they’d kill me if they saw that picture. Toss my body into the garbage disposal once they were done with me. These guys watch me on my walk home, staring me down, smirking. Sometimes they yell shit. Other times they push me to the ground, then walk off laughing. The picture would make things in my neighborhood ten times worse.” 
  • Jamie physically attacks Chiamaka, and she defends herself. “I’m cut off by Jamie wrapping his hands around my neck and squeezing. He’s shaking as he strangles me and I’m wheezing, laughing and gasping for air . . . I don’t want Jamie’s face to be the last thing I see before I die, and so I summon all the remaining strength I have, and I kick him in the crotch. Jamie staggers back, releasing me. I cough, throat hurting, chest aching. I don’t give myself time to pause before I kick him again. This time he falls to the ground.” Chiamaka runs away, shaken but uninjured. 
  • The headmaster of Niveus holds a gun to Chiamaka’s forehead to stop her from exposing Niveus’ secrets but doesn’t shoot her. “Before I can do anything else, I feel a large hand grab me, dragging me away through the curtains. I glance back, trying to break out of this powerful grip, and that’s when I feel cold metal pressed to my forehead. A gun.” Chiamaka gets away by “[sticking] something in [the headmaster’s] neck. He freezes up and drops to the ground, the gun dropping with him.” 
  • A fire breaks out at Niveus. Most make it out, but a few people die, including Jamie. These deaths are only mentioned, not described.

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Chiamaka got drunk at a party with her best friend, Jamie. “We’d both gotten drunk, so drunk I don’t remember much of that night.” 
  • Chiamaka got drunk at a party with her now-ex-boyfriend. “He thrusts his hand out, this time spilling a bit of his drink, before concentrating hard on placing it down straight.” 
  • Devon has sold drugs to support his family. When he asks his mom to let him help with the bills, she “shakes her head. ‘I know what you want to do and I don’t want you doing that ever. I want you off those streets, in that classroom – making your life better, not jeopardizing it.’” 
  • Chiamaka and Devon have some wine in her basement. “I open up one of the liquor cabinets and I take out a bottle of Chardonnay, placing it on the island. I get out two wineglasses and pour some into each, before sliding one over to Devon. I don’t even like the taste of it, but I know it will help me relax a little. I only poured half a glass so that we wouldn’t be too relaxed or out of it, just enough to give us some liquid courage.” 

Language 

  • Shit and fuck are used occasionally. 
  • The n–word is used once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Devon’s mother is a devout Christian and often prays to God. For example, when the family is struggling financially, she says, “It’ll work itself out, Vonnie. God never falters.” 

On Air with Zoe Washington

Marks’ novel follows fourteen-year-old Zoe as she begins her summer job working at a local bakery, where she and her biological father, Marcus, begin to bond over their love of baking. Marcus has recently been exonerated, after being previously incarcerated for most of Zoe’s childhood. Zoe and Marcus decide to open a barbecue food truck together, but first, they have to reckon with the systemic obstacles facing Marcus as an exoneree. Though Marcus is entitled to compensation from the state as an exoneree, Zoe quickly realizes that this process often takes a very long time. Marcus explains, “My lawyer is already working on it, but he told me not to expect compensation anytime soon,” as the state can make obtaining this compensation difficult.  

Because Marcus was in prison for so long, he does not have credit in the eyes of the bank and thus he is denied a loan to open a business. After this setback, Zoe begins researching how the lives of exonerees are affected after they are released from prison. Zoe finds that for many exonerees, “the original conviction was still on [their] record, and [they] had a hard time getting a job.” Zoe believes that “it didn’t seem fair. Was it really justice if [exonerees] couldn’t get back to living a regular life?” This realization motivates Zoe to start a podcast, which she calls “On Air with Zoe Washington.” For her podcast, Zoe interviews exonerees and lawyers who frequently work with them. Zoe hopes to help amplify exonerees’ voices on how being incarcerated affects their lives.  

Zoe is a determined, hard-working, loveable character that readers will be drawn to immediately. She not only wants to help her biological father open his business, but she also wants to help raise awareness for the systemic obstacles that affect formerly incarcerated individuals. Zoe uses her podcast as a platform to bring attention to the fundraising page she and Marcus created for their food truck business, and how they intend to hire previously incarcerated people to work with them. Throughout the book, Zoe learns from the people she interviews on her podcast, as well as from Marcus, the importance of not making assumptions and judgments about individuals. Marcus reminds Zoe of the people he met in prison and the importance of second chances, especially when it comes to finding work after incarceration.  

Marcus is also an extremely empathetic character. He helps Zoe become more open-minded towards the idea of hiring previously incarcerated people. Marcus explains that he met many people in prison who “weren’t innocent of their crimes but served their time and are ready to do better.” However, prisoners struggle to find jobs after their release because “people on the outside judge. They think ‘Once a criminal, always a criminal.’ But if they were more open-minded, they’d see that’s not the case for a lot of folks.” Marcus helps Zoe realize that “previous offenders were like many of us—worthy of another chance.” Zoe learns that if she wants things to be better for Marcus, she also has to try to make things better for others.  

Overall, On Air with Zoe Washington emphasizes the importance of not being judgmental towards others. Marks maintains the familiar characters from the first book in this two-part series, From the Desk of Zoe Washington. Though this second novel could be read as a stand-alone book, Zoe’s journey in reconnecting with Marcus and helping him prove his innocence is central to From the Desk of Zoe Washington, and frequently referenced in this novel as well.  

The book also raises awareness about the stigma and systemic obstacles facing formerly incarcerated individuals. This is highlighted through Marcus as he struggles to use new technology, and he isn’t “able to get exoneree compensation from the state, or any other assistance or loans.” The key takeaway of this novel is best exemplified by what Zoe explains: “I learned so much from all of [the people Zoe interviewed], and in the end, I was happy the panel topic had shifted to include prior inmates who had committed their crimes. Because they deserved grace, support, and a better life, too.”  

Readers who are interested in social issues such as the ones discussed in On the Air with Zoe Washington, should also read A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee and Clean Getaway by Nic Stone. 

Sexual Content 

  • Zoe’s best friend, Maya, tells Zoe about how she kissed her boyfriend, Trevor, for the first time. Maya says, “Trevor and I . . . we finally kissed.Maya says the kiss was “kind of awkward the first few seconds, but it got way better after that.”  

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Zoe talks with Hannah, a girl whose mom is incarcerated. Hannah says her mom’s “crimes are all drug-related like she got caught with drugs. Usually, she ends up in prison for a while, and when she gets out, she’ll agree to go to rehab . . . But then she ends up back on drugs, gets arrested again, and it’s this whole horrible cycle.” 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Marcus leads Zoe and the rest of her family in prayer before their dinner. “Marcus closed his eyes and thanked God for the food and this opportunity to be together.” 
  • Zoe explains, “My parents and Grandma weren’t religious, so I hadn’t grown up going to church. Praying wasn’t usually something we did before eating. It felt right, though, to give thanks in that moment.” 

Little Black Boy: Oh, the Things You Will Do!

Fascinated by marine wildlife, a little Black boy dreams of one day swimming in the ocean alongside all the creatures that make it their home. It will take courage to move from the safety of the swimming pool to the vastness of the ocean, but as he begins his journey of discovery, he soon finds there’s nothing he can’t do. He realizes if he cares about the animals in the ocean, he must also care about their home and sets out to preserve the beaches he loves by picking up trash. This little boy is determined not only to reach his dream of becoming a marine biologist but also to make a difference in the world and to share his passion for environmental conservation with everyone. 

The beautiful illustrations will captivate readers as they go on a journey with the little Black boy. Along the way, the text imparts pearls of wisdom such as, “It’s okay If you laugh; it’s okay if you cry. It’s okay if you miss; what counts is you try.” The story also encourages the reader to “savor your youth” and “speak your mind freely.” Since the book has so many important life lessons, adults will want to read the book with their children again and again.  

Even though Little Black Boy 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 two to four sentences. However, the text does not always align with illustrations. For example, when the boy and his friends are cleaning trash from the beach, two boys stare at them. The text reads, “‘Toughen up,’ you may hear, or ‘Act like a man,’ things you’ll be told that you won’t understand.” Despite this, the motivational tone of the story will encourage readers to “know your own heart.”  

Little Black Boy begins by addressing the little Black boy in the illustrations. However, the book’s message applies to all readers. The book will inspire readers to “educate yourself” and to be a role model to others. Since the book gives a lot of advice, Little Black Boy should be read to older children. The book’s message of self-affirmation makes it a must-read book for anyone who looks to the future and wonders about all the things that they will do. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

The Lost Kitten

Katie Fry may be little, but she’s got a big brain, and she uses it to solve mysteries. So when she finds a very cute, VERY lost kitten named Sherlock, she decides to take his case. Can Katie track down the clues to find Sherlock’s home? Beginning readers will love hunting for clues in the art right along with Katie and Sherlock! 

Katie Fry is a curious protagonist that readers will love. She uses her powers of observation to help the cat, Sherlock, find his home. For example, when Katie first finds Sherlock, she notices that Sherlock has “trimmed nails, coat is brushed and cared for,” and the “fur around his neck is pushed down.” From this Katie deduces that “you once had a home and a collar.” When Katie runs out of clues, a yellow bird suddenly appears and reveals what he knows about Sherlock’s past. In the end, Katie finds Sherlock’s home, but that’s not the end of their friendship. The last page shows Katie and Sherlock, ready to solve another mystery. 

The Lost Kitten is part of Scholastic’s Level 2 Reader, which is perfect for developing readers, who are ready to learn new vocabulary words. Each page has one to three sentences. While most of the vocabulary is basic, readers may need help with more advanced words such as adventures, Sherlock, and evidence. Much like a picture book, every page has a brightly colored, large illustration. The illustrations will help readers understand the plot as well as give readers a chance to look for clues. 

The Katie Fry, Private Eye Series will appeal to a wide range of readers including those who love animals, mysteries, and a compassionate protagonist. The simple plot engages readers who will try to solve the mystery alongside Katie. For more reading fun, check out the following books: Shampoodle by Joan Holub, Otters Love to Play by Jonathan London, and The Firefly with No Glow by Rebecca Smallberg.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

To Boldly Go: How Nichelle Nichols and Star Trek Helped Advance Civil Rights

As Lieutenant Uhura on the iconic prime-time television show Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols played the first Black female astronaut anyone had ever seen on screen. A smart, strong, independent Black woman aboard the starship Enterprise was revolutionary in the 1960s when only white men had traveled to outer space in real life and most Black characters on TV were servants. 

To Boldly Go will inspire readers to learn more about many Black people of importance. Nichelle not only inspired a generation to pursue their dreams, but also opened the door for the real-life, pioneering astronauts Sally Ride, Dr. Mae Jemison, and more. 

This empowering tribute to the trailblazing pop culture icon reminds us of the importance of perseverance and the power of representation in storytelling. You just might be inspired to boldly go where no one like you has ever gone before! 

Before her iconic role as Lieutenant Uhura, Nichelle Nichols knew she wanted to be a performer and she spent time learning ballet and singing for legendary bandleader Duke Ellington. Despite her talent and her role in Star Trek, Nichelle’s confidence took a beating and “Nichelle no longer felt strong and confident.” However, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. helped Nichelle understand the importance of Lieutenant Uhura’s role. Dr. King said, “You have opened a door that must not be allowed to close…Don’t you see that you’re not just a role model for Black children? You’re important for people who don’t look like us. For the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people.”  

When Nichelle became discouraged about her limited role in Star Trek, she reminded herself “what her presence meant to the lives of the people who looked like her.” Because of Nichelle’s starring role, other Black people were encouraged to reach for their dreams. However, Nichelle’s influence didn’t stop on the screen. Her role also allowed others to dream about traveling in space and eventually helped recruit potential astronauts for NASA. To Boldly Go will encourage children to learn about other amazing astronauts, which they can do by reading Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker, Apollo 13 by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, and Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Traci Sorell. 

Nichelle’s story comes to life with illustrations that use bold colors. Each page includes one to six sentences. However, because of the complexity of the sentences and the advanced vocabulary, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. To Boldly Go includes instances of racism but doesn’t describe the violence in detail, and there are no violent illustrations. Despite the hardships that Nichelle faced, To Boldly Go uses a positive and upbeat tone that will leave children feeling inspired.  

To Boldly Go is an encouraging and engaging picture book that is perfect to add to anyone’s personal library. The book will have wide appeal because of Nichelle’s role in Star Trek. Nichelle’s experiences will encourage children to follow their dreams and show them the importance of perseverance.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • The narrator watches the news and sees “real-life suffering the marchers endured because of racism. Attack dogs. Fire hoses. Jail. People watched as this happened to both children and adults, just because of the color of their skin.” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes

Ernest Barnes was never great at sports. Despite his parents’ encouragement to play football, Ernest loved art. He loved drawing pictures and painting “bright, vivid colors” with “bold, expressive brushstrokes.” However, when his school’s strength coach, Mr. Tucker, helps Ernest succeed in the weight room, Ernest finds his career shifting toward football and away from art. How will Ernest juggle his growing athletic career and his childhood love for art? Can these two elements coexist in his life? 

Ernest, also known as Ernie, is the inspiring protagonist of the story. Told from Ernest’s perspective, the story follows his life from childhood to adulthood, detailing his accomplishments, struggles, and life experiences. Ernest is a charming, lovable character whose determination to pursue his artistic dreams makes him an admirable character. His struggle to balance two prominent aspects of his life–football and art—will be relatable for readers who feel torn between multiple interests. 

Pigskins to Paintbrushes presents a heartwarming tale of the real life of Ernest Barnes, an artist and professional football player for the American Football League. Despite the contrary opinions of others, Ernest discovers that football and art aren’t separate. For him, they were “one and the same” because they reflect who he is as a person. This theme of pursuing one’s dreams and loving oneself permeates throughout the story and culminates with Ernest believing that he “could be anything he wanted to be!” The story ultimately inspires the readers to reflect on their own talents and dreams.  

Despite the encouraging message, Pigskins to Paintbrushes explores some heavier topics, like the effects of segregation and its impact on Ernest’s career. Colorful, full-page illustrations enhance the plot by providing lovely, painted pictures to accompany the story. Overall, Pigskins to Paintbrushes is a beautiful true story about Ernest Barnes discovering who he wanted to be. Although the story can be simple for experienced readers with each page having only two small paragraphs, Pigskins to Paintbrushes will appeal to artists and sports enthusiasts alike because of its use of vivid illustrations and positive themes. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • Kids bully Ernest at school. The kids “circled him. They shoved Ernest. They snatched away his trombone. Ernest fell and skinned his knee.” 
  • Kids taunt Ernest in junior high, and “one day, someone walloped him over the head with a book!”

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None

Language 

  • When Ernest tries out for the football team and doesn’t do great, the coach yells, “You never will be nothing!” and “You too pretty to play this game!” 

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • When Ernest’s mom tries to decide if her son should play football, she decides “over a prayer and a plate of fried chicken.” 
  • When Ernest was worried about his art exhibit, his mother called him and “offered a prayer.” 

Yes No Maybe So

Jamie’s summer is not turning out like he hoped it would. After his fear of public speaking cost him a spot in a highly coveted internship, he settles for volunteering on a campaign for a Georgia State Senate candidate. It’s certainly not the glamorous summer he envisioned, but he’s wanted to be involved in politics and effect change for as long as he could remember, so he’ll take what he can get. Plus, it gives him breaks from bat mitzvah planning with his younger sister, Sophie. 

Maya’s summer doesn’t look promising, either. Between her parents potentially divorcing and her best friend, Sara, focused on work and getting ready to move away to college, it feels like her life is completely falling apart. Nothing feels right anymore, and she wonders if it ever will again. 

But when Jamie and Maya’s moms reconnect, they suggest that Jamie and Maya go door to door trying to get votes for the campaign Jamie is volunteering for. At first, neither is thrilled about the idea– Jamie is a nervous wreck around strangers, and Maya has enough on her plate already. But the more time they spend knocking on doors and promoting their candidate, the more they realize just how much is at stake in this election. And the more time they spend together, the more they realize that they don’t completely hate each other’s company. Are they growing closer as friends, or something more? 

Yes No Maybe So is a fast-paced rom-com that readers will tear through. Because the chapters alternate between Jamie’s and Maya’s perspectives, both characters are well-developed. Seeing the story unfold through both of their eyes adds lots of layers and nuance. Both characters have regrets and make mistakes, but learn from them and apologize; their ability to communicate and willingness to share their feelings is refreshing. The buildup to their eventual romance is satisfying too. Since they start out as friends, their relationship is clearly based on mutual respect and genuine regard for one another.  

This book also deals with complex issues such as antisemitism and Islamophobia, and how those manifests in politics. While these issues are not sugarcoated and are given the gravity that they deserve, there is still a healthy balance between the political and the romantic subplots. The two subplots complement each other well because neither one dominates the other. Yes No Maybe So’s main message is one of love and acceptance. Although we all have differences, it is important to respect people’s choices for how they want to live their lives, provided they are not hurting those around them. 

Overall, Yes No Maybe So is a fun and engaging read, perfect for teenagers who are looking for an optimistic (but not cheesy) view on the world we live in. It is a heartwarming romance full of twists and turns, while still sending a vital message about the importance of speaking out against injustice. Readers will fall in love with Jamie and Maya, and root for them as they try to navigate their friendship, as well as the ever-changing world around them. 

Sexual Content 

  • When thinking about how he often fumbles when giving a speech in public, Jamie nervously envisions himself giving a campaign speech and makes a sexual joke. He says, “Seriously, I wouldn’t just lose my election. I would call it an erection. And then I’d lose.” 
  • Jamie’s eighth-grade sister, Sophie, discusses games that she and her friends are planning to play at a no-adults birthday party. “We’re doing Spin the Bottle, we’re doing Seven Minutes in Heaven, we’re doing Suck and Blow. . . With a playing card.” 
  • Maya’s favorite season of The Office is “season two. All that Jim and Pam sexual tension.” 
  • Maya goes to Jamie’s house. His friends leave, joking that Jamie and Maya probably want “alone time.” Jamie and Maya laugh it off, but Jamie thinks, “Alone time. With Maya. In my house, which contains my room, which contains my–okay, I’m not going to think about beds. That would be absurd. No point in thinking about beds or alone or Maya or alone with Maya in beds or–” 
  • Jamie and Maya watch an episode of The Office together. During a particularly romantic scene, Maya puts her head on Jamie’s shoulder, and Jamie gets an erection. “Her head’s still on my shoulder, even though I’m the king of awkward, with my arm just hanging down stiffly. God. Speaking of stiff– I adjust the blankets, blushing furiously. Think of Asa Newton. Think of Ian Holden, Jennifer Dickers. Fifi. Fifi’s humanoid hands—Crisis averted.” 
  • Jamie and Maya kiss for the first time in Target. Then they move into a dressing room for privacy. Maya “sinks onto the bench, and I follow—kissing her forehead, her cheeks, her lips. But then she hugs me, shifting backward, until I’m almost on top of her. I rest my hand behind her head before it hits the bench. Our legs tangle together, sneakered feet dangling off the edge. This time, when we kiss, it’s more urgent. Her hands fall to the back of my neck, gently threading my hair. My fingers trail down her bare arms, and she smiles against my lips.” 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • “Fuck” and “fucking” are sometimes used as an intensifier. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Jamie is Jewish and Maya is Muslim. They bring up their faiths, and how it affects their lives, many times throughout the story. For example, this story takes place during Ramadan, so the fact that Maya is fasting often comes up. She says, “‘I don’t do coffee on Ramadan. . .  I don’t even do water. I eat suhoor way before the sun is up and then I eat after the sun sets. That’s it.” 

Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and some courage.

But instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. Then one day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars, Jasmine Jasper. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura — and Yumi doesn’t correct them.  

As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about. 

Middle-grade readers will instantly connect to Yumi, who struggles with typical conflicts such as self-doubt, feeling inadequate, making friends, and trying to make her parents happy. Yumi’s humor and honesty make her instantly likable. Many readers will relate to Yumi’s desire to reinvent herself into a more confident and popular person. With the help of new friends and the comedian Jasmine Jasper, Yumi is encouraged to challenge herself and to do things that make her uncomfortable. Along her journey, Yumi learns the importance of being her true self instead of trying to change herself to meet others’ expectations. 

One of Yumi’s main conflicts is that her parents do not understand her desire to be a comedian. Instead, they focus on the importance of earning good grades in school. This problem is compounded by Yumi’s sister, who graduated high school two years early and is currently in medical school. This conflict is further exasperated when Yumi begins lying to her parents. At one point, Yumi wonders, “What does it mean to follow my heart, anyway? What if pleasing my parents and comedy are both pieces of my heart?” 

Yumi reveals her secret to a friend, who says, “You have to speak if you want people to hear you.” When Yumi’s secret is finally revealed, she is forced to have an honest discussion with her family. This discussion allows Yumi and her family to understand and support each other even if they don’t necessarily agree on everything. Yumi’s experiences highlight the importance of being honest as well as the importance of forgiveness. 

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! will resonate with readers because of the likable protagonist and the relatable conflicts. While there are many humorous moments, the story also teaches important life lessons about self-acceptance and open communication. In the end, the story reminds readers that making mistakes is an unavoidable part of life and that “there is no such thing as failure. Just a chance to pivot and try something different.”  

Sexual Content 

  • None

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • After her family has the grand reopening of their restaurant, Yumi finds her father in the alley smoking a cigarette. “He only smokes when he’s really stressed out.” 

Language 

  • The kids in school call Yumi “Yu-meat, Wet Poodle, and Top Ramen.” 
  • Heck and dang are used occasionally.  
  • Fricking is used twice.  
  • OMG is used once. 

Supernatural 

  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

Flirting with Fate

Ava Granados’s family has a magical secret. Ava explains, “All the women in the Granados family had this keen, odd, otherworldly ability to pass along blessings to their female descendants. But here was the catch: they could only do so from their death beds.” When her grandmother is dying, Ava and all her sisters rush to their grandmother’s bedside. Unfortunately, due to a flash flood, Ava gets into a car accident and is too late to receive her Nana’s blessing. While her sisters receive their blessings, including an extremely detailed memory and the ability to persuade others, Ava is devastated to not have received her grandmother’s parting gift.  

When Ava attends the celebration of Nana’s life, she looks up and suddenly sees her recently deceased grandmother looking at her. Ava describes, “A figure emerged from the orchard a mere thirty feet away. Wide-eyed, dimple-cheeked, perfect auburn coif. Nana?” When Nana lay dying, she accidentally gave Ava’s blessing to someone else, but because she is now a ghost, she has no memory of what happened. Nana asks Ava to help her restore the blessing to its proper recipient or Nana “will remain a ghost . . . until this is made right.”  

Ava realizes that Nana’s blessing must have accidentally landed on the boy whose car she crashed into. For guarded Ava, befriending some random boy is the last thing she wants to do. Desperate to help Nana reach peace, Ava must find a way to connect with this mysterious boy, Rion, in order to be able to recapture her Nana’s blessing. Nana encourages Ava to open up to Rion and to look within herself. Nana says, “You can always recognize the love when it belongs to you.” Over the course of the novel, Ava learns to trust in herself and her feelings for Rion.  

Many readers will be able to relate to Ava because she is afraid of being hurt or rejected. Ava begins to spend more time with Rion, all the while trying to figure out how best to get her Nana’s blessing back. Nana encourages Ava to look within herself. Nana says, “You can always recognize the love when it belongs to you.”  

Ava and Rion end up connecting over the loss of a parent. Rion’s parents died in a car accident while Ava’s mom left. However, they both blame themselves for their parents’ absence.  Because Rion is able to share his emotions, Ava is able to truly open up about her feelings. Ava explains, “I used to blame myself for my mom leaving too. She left when I was seven, and I used to think if I had been better, nicer, more, then she would have stayed.” Ava is able to comfort Rion by sharing what she has learned. She tells Rion, “We can’t blame ourselves for things we had no control over.” Ava and Rion’s relationship is extremely impactful as it allows them both to share feelings about things that they previously kept inside.  

Overall, Ava’s journey to opening up her heart and embracing things she never thought possible is extremely compelling. Similar to Cervantes’ other work, Enchanted Hacienda, Cervantes continues exploring the theme of magic being inherited through female descendants. Though there is a romantic relationship brewing between Ava and Rion, there is also a major focus on the importance of family, as Ava’s relationship with her Nana is central. Nana encourages Ava to open her heart, saying, “I gave you the gift of an open heart . . . you keep people at arm’s length; you don’t trust. I don’t want you to go through life closed off from love.” This wonderful novel leaves readers with an important message: trust yourself and open your heart to possibilities.  

Sexual Content 

  • Ava’s sister, Carmen, sees a cute guy at a party. Carmen tells Ava, “Look, there are a lot of boys to kiss in this world.”  
  • Ava explains her negative history with relationships. “Relationships always ended badly, with a goodbye and a broken, unmendable heart . . . at least for someone. But last year [Ava] did kiss Bryce Wellington on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland just to get it over with . . . Sadly, it felt unimpressive.” 
  • Ava’s sisters are watching The Notebook in the living room, and Ava remarks, “Clothes were flying off [the characters] and the last thing Ava wanted to do was stand there with her grandmother’s ghost and a fifteenth-century saint while a monster sex scene played out ten feet away.” 
  • Ava believes she and Rion are having a romantic moment, when suddenly, she realizes she is actually kissing his twin brother, Achilles. Ava says, “His lips brushed against hers. She felt a jolt, an alarm that screamed wrong, wrong, wrong.” After realizing she is actually kissing Rion’s brother, Ava “jerked free, horrified, as she wiped her mouth on the back of her hand.” 
  • After pushing Rion out of the way of a falling tree, they kiss. “She felt her body yielding, falling deeper into Rion. And then their mouths met. And Ava was no longer falling. She was dissolving. The forest and the sky fell silent. The world evaporated. There was only this moment.” 
  • Ava kisses Rion at a party. Ava “reached up, bringing his lips to hers. Allowing herself to be swept away in his trust, his warmth, his love.” 

Violence 

  • When Achilles tricks Ava into kissing him, Rion finds out and tackles Achilles. “The brothers rolled across the dirt, all grunts and curses and years of unspent anger.” They finally stop when Ava yells at them. 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • Characters occasionally use moderate language like shit, damn, and ass.  
  • When Nana suddenly appears as a ghost, Ava exclaims, “Jesus Christ!” 
  • Nana, in her ghost form, splashes water at Ava’s sisters who exclaims, “Holy Mary, Mother of God!” 

Supernatural 

  • Ava explains an example of a blessing in her family. “Ava’s great-grandmother had graced Nana with an angel’s voice. Before that, Nana couldn’t even sing off-key . . . After the death-bed blessing? It was like listening to a Mexican Pavarotti [Opera star] when [Nana] opened her mouth to sing.” 
  • Ava’s sister, Viv, is given the blessing of persuasion by her grandmother. Viv explains, “It’s not like I can go around making people do anything I want them to. Nana said I would just be able to help others see my side of things.”  
  • Ava’s other sister, Carmen, received the blessing of memory from Nana. Carmen says, “I got the blessing of memory, which I guess means that I can recall details, read or hear or see something once and remember it verbatim . . . it’s weird—like having a camera in my head.” 
  • Ava’s Nana appears to her one last time at the end of the book. Ava explains, “And then, as if by magic, the mist parted, just enough for Ava to see Nana . . . [Nana] was young, beautiful, beaming with joy.”  

Spiritual Content 

  • As Ava drives to get to her grandmother’s bedside, Ava prays that she will make it there in time to say goodbye. Ava says, “Listen, God . . . If you get me home with enough time, I’ll go to confession for. . . I’ll go for a whole week.” 
  • Nana is guided in her ghost form by Saint Medardus. Medardus introduces himself as, “I am the patron saint of weather, vineyards, brewers, captives, prisoners, and teeth . . . I hail from the fifteenth century and am [Nana’s] guide, here to help her.” 
  • Ava attends confession, as she promised to do on the night of her Nana’s passing. Ava is nervous about it and says, “What if I see someone I know? What if the priest laughs at me? What if I get it all wrong?” But she ultimately speaks to the priest and after she confesses, the priest says, “Your penance is to say six Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.” 

The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field

Prasit Hemmin and his friends love soccer. However, because of the limited space in their fishing village of Koh Panyee, Thailand, the boys are forced to play on a temporary sandbar when the tide recedes. Yet, when the opportunity for an upcoming tournament reaches Prasit and his friends, they realize that a real soccer team needs an actual field. Determined to participate and succeed in the soccer tournament, the boys embark on a riveting adventure to build a floating field and win a championship for Koh Panyee. 

Set in Thailand in 1986, the book follows the perspective of Prasit Hemmin, a young boy who dreams of playing professional soccer. Despite the difficult circumstances of his seaside home, Prasit exudes a strong determination to accomplish what he loves. Prasit’s passion for the game influences his friends to tackle the tough task of building a field. Prasit’s joyful energy permeates throughout the book, and his fortitude in adversity makes him an admirable character. 

The story presents the heartwarming tale of the real-life floating field of Koh Panyee, where Prasit and his friends’ hard work earns them a spot in the mainland soccer tournament. From the start, the plot flourishes with positivity on every page, and the story that unravels will leave the readers empowered to tackle their next big challenge. Although the book may idealize Prasit and his friends’ journey and neglect the challenges that occurred, the story’s core rests in its lessons of hard work and determination. Because of Prasit’s persistence in accomplishing his dream, he and his friends “had their own floating field where they could play the game they loved, whenever they wanted.” This lesson can ultimately inspire readers to chase after their own dreams and work together to overcome their obstacles. 

The short story features colorful, full-page illustrations that enhance the plot and keep readers invested with a simple yet detailed art style. However, the advanced vocabulary and longer sentences may be challenging for younger readers to comprehend. At the end of the book, an “Author’s Note” also provides an in-depth look at the real-life story of Prasit Hemmin, and the inclusion of pictures helps make the story feel authentic. Overall, The Floating Field is an exciting story for all soccer fans, and its encouraging message will leave its readers reaching for the stars. For more soccer action, The Floating Field can be paired with the fiction book, The Academy by T.Z. Layton.  

Sexual Content 

  • None 

Violence 

  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • None 

Language 

  • None 

Supernatural 

  • None

Spiritual Content 

  • None 

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