Becoming Muhammad Ali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Darn is used once.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

 

Ty’s Travels: Lab Magic

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

A Wish in the Dark

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

Sonia and her friends are planting a garden, and each one contributes in his or her own way. Rafael has asthma and sometimes must stay calm so he can breathe, which gives him time to paint beautiful rocks for the garden. Anthony uses a wheelchair to get around and can move super-fast, directing the group. Anh has a stutter and prefers to listen, so she knows just how to plant each flower. All the friends are different, but they all have one thing in common: they like to ask questions and learn about one another!

This inclusive story is told by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and inspired by her own diagnosis of diabetes. Readers will see differently abled kids use their strengths to work together and learn about each other. The book shows that differences are wonderful and that all you have to do when you don’t understand something is ask.

Each page of the picture book focuses on nature and the children who are working in the garden. The illustrations are brightly colored and show some imaginative elements as well. For example, Jordan loves dinosaurs, and in his illustration, he is walking over a rainbow and is surrounded by dinosaur shaped plants. Readers will enjoy finding all the animals that appear throughout the book such as a squirrel, a grasshopper, and birds.

The book uses a similar format on all the pages. Each two-page spread has a paragraph about a different person who has a disability. Each page also has a question for readers to consider. For example, “I also love reading and writing. What about you?” Even though each page only has 2 to 5 sentences, parents will need to read the book to their child rather than having the child read it independently. The complex sentence structure and advanced vocabulary will be difficult for beginning readers.

Just Ask uses an extended metaphor that compares people to a garden. For example, Sonia must take insulin because “my body doesn’t make insulin naturally like other people’s.” The full-page illustration that accompanies the words shows Sonia sitting in a flower, giving herself a shot of insulin. Just Ask introduces readers to a wide range of differences such as autism, stuttering, and needing to use a wheelchair. Plus, the children who appear in the story are diverse and have many different skin tones.

Parents and educators who want to educate readers about people with different abilities should put Just Ask on their must-read list. Unlike most picture books, Just Ask isn’t necessarily entertaining, but it teaches important lessons about being inclusive and shows how everyone can contribute in different ways. While young readers may not understand the connection between people and different types of plants, Just Ask is the perfect book to use as a discussion starter. While the story encourages readers to ask about people’s differences, it does not explain how to ask in a polite and kind manner.

The beautiful and creative illustrations, the diverse characters, and the positive message make Just Ask an excellent book to read to young children. The picture book gives information about different disabilities as well as food allergies and encourages readers to be inclusive.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Hello Goodbye Dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

A Time to Dance

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.

First and foremost, Veda is a likable teenager who deals with many types of normal teenage problems including conflicts with her parents and friends, crushes, insecurities, as well as the loss of her leg. Readers will connect with Veda because she is an imperfect teen who feels an array of emotions. Throughout her journey, Veda refuses to give up. Despite the loss of her leg, she is determined to continue Bharatanatyam dance. For Veda, dance is “a sacred art, an offering of devotion to God.” When Veda wrestles with the way her disability affects her dancing, her grandmother tells her, “There are as many perfect poses as there are people. . . Shiva sees perfection in every sincere effort. He loves us despite—or maybe because of—our differences.”

When Veda is learning how to use her prosthetic limb, the story skips past the difficulties of learning how to use the prosthetic as well the other physical ailments. Instead of explaining the difficulties, Veda’s time with the doctor is spent describing her infatuation with him. To learn more about how amputation can affect an athlete, The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen is an engaging story that can give you more insight.

A Time to Dance is written in beautiful verse that magnifies emotions and conflicts but is never confusing. The inspirational story shows Veda’s courage, perseverance, and the importance of personal growth. A Time to Dance is an entertaining story that contains positive life lessons and teaches readers about Veda’s traditions, culture, and religion.

Sexual Content

  • Veda’s grandmother tells her about the history of dancers. Brahmin dancers “weren’t allowed to marry. And somehow, somewhere along the way, / society retracted / its promise to respect these women. / They were treated as prostitutes / and their sacred art degraded / into entertainment to please vile men.”
  • Govinda helps Veda overcome her leg’s phantom pain. “His fingers feel good/stroking my invisible skin./So good I want him stroking my real skin. / Want to reach out and stroke his. / My desire scares me, and I reach for the safety of my teacup.”

Violence

  • Veda is on a bus when it crashes. “Pain / sears through me / as though elephants are spearing my skin with sharp tusks and trampling over my right leg. . .” Her dance teacher covers her eyes, but “through his fingers I see / shredded skin, misshapen muscles. / Mine. Feel sticky blood pooling / below my right knee.” Veda’s leg is amputated below the knee. The bus driver “hit a tree. He died.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Veda’s Hindu religious belief is an integral part of every aspect of her life. Below are some specific examples; however, it is not a complete list of everything in the book.
  • When Veda was a child, she climbed up a ladder to touch Shiva’s feet. The priest tells her, “You don’t have to climb ladders to reach God. He dances within all He creates. . . God is everywhere. In everybody. In everything. He is born at different times, in different places, with different names.”
  • Veda believes in reincarnation, which is mentioned often. For example, Veda’s grandmother says Veda was always able to “shape thoughts” with her fingers. “It was as if you remembered the sign language of Bharatanatyam from a previous life you’d lived as a dancer before being reincarnated as my granddaughter.”
  • When Veda dances, she loves “portraying Shiva, who, through the steps of His eternal dance, creates and destroys universes.”
  • After Veda’s accident, her grandmother says, “God’s grace moves the mute to eloquence and inspires the lame to climb mountains.”
  • After the accident Veda doesn’t “feel God is anywhere nearby let alone inside of me.”
  • Veda wonders if losing her leg is a punishment from God or for “bad Karma we built up in a past life.” Her grandmother says, “I don’t believe in a punishing God. I believe in a compassionate God. To me, Karma isn’t about divine reward or retribution. Karma is about making wise choices to create a better future.”
  • Veda’s grandmother tells her a story about God. “The sight of you—poverty-stricken, overcome by age and illness—turned Buddha from a mere man into a reincarnation of God.”
  • When Veda’s grandmother is dying, Veda gives her “a drink of this water from the holiest of rivers. She believes it will help wash away her sins.” After she dies someone says, “I’m sure her soul doesn’t need to be reborn in the world. She’ll now be reunited with God.”

Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

  • None

Almost American Girl

In her graphic novel memoir, Robin Ha shares the story of her experiences leaving her home in Korea for America, and her journey trying to navigate a new world and form a new identity. Despite living with her single mother (something considered taboo in Korea), Chuna (who later chose the name Robin in America), found her place with her Korean friends. After school, Robin would eat snacks from food stands, shop for comic books, and attend after school classes. Robin was happy and content in Korea until one day, her mother told her they would be taking a trip to Alabama.

Curious by this mysterious location, Robin assumed it was just another vacation her mother had planned. However, in Alabama, Robin was introduced to Mr. Kim and his daughter, Lena. Robin also met Mr. Kim’s sister and her children, Grace, Ashley, and Daniel. Finding herself bored and lonely in Alabama, Robin was excited to return to Korea. However, her life was severely shaken when she received the news that her mother and Mr. Kim were getting married, and they would be staying in Alabama indefinitely.

Robin resented her mother for making this decision without her, but she was unable to change her fate. Soon, Robin selected her English name and was sent to a new middle school with Grace and Ashley. Initially, Robin found life in Alabama utterly miserable; she could not understand why her mother believed life in America was better than life in Korea. Robin knew little English and could not communicate with her peers well enough to make friends. In addition, Robin was the only Asian student at her school and suffered racist comments from school bullies who taunted her and made her say rude things in English.

Despite what Robin believed, her mother was not blind to her daughter’s suffering. One day, Robin’s mother took Robin to a comic-book store and enrolled her in a comic drawing class. There, Robin found herself surrounded by people who shared her love for comic books. She also met Jessica, who instantly became her best friend.

Just as Robin began to grow comfortable in Alabama, things between her mother and Mr. Kim grew rocky. Robin’s mother, who always valued her independence, refused to move to Los Angeles with Mr. Kim because she feared it was too unsafe. Her refusal to move sparked tension between her and Mr. Kim’s mother who believed she was being a bad wife to her son. Making a desperate attempt to preserve her freedom, Robin’s mother made plans to move with Robin to Virginia.

Despite her fears of moving again, Robin adjusted well because her new school was more diverse, and Robin grew very close to a group of Korean girls. In Virginia, Robin finally began to see America as her home. After graduation, Robin and her friends visited Korea, and while Robin still enjoyed certain aspects of Korean culture, her visit allowed her to appreciate American culture even more. These feelings were compounded upon witnessing Korea’s harsh treatment of single women and unmarried mothers. In the end, Robin identifies herself as neither Korean nor American, but a combination of both.

Staying true to her love of comics, Robin’s memoir is a graphic novel. For most of Robin’s story, the comic panels consist of simple and colorful drawings. Each image has a one to two sentence caption, explaining the actions or emotions of the scene. Many images also include dialogue or thought bubbles that provide a good balance of words to pictures. However, some powerful images fill the whole page with just a small amount of text to convey an emotion rather than reality. For example, an image of Robin lying in a dark forest with the caption, “cast out in a strange and hostile land,” conveys the loneliness and isolation Robin feels in her first few months in America. The images become more vibrant and colorful when Robin starts to feel more confident and comfortable. While some Korean words are used, a glossary is provided in the back of the book for an explanation. In addition, the blue-colored text is used to imply characters are speaking in Korean, while black text signifies English.

Robin’s story speaks to the experience of many immigrants trying to find their cultural identity in a new country. Through her vibrant memoir, Robin Ha shares the beauty of her home country while still being able to look back on the negative aspects through a more mature lens. Through visual flashbacks, characterized by a more neutral color palette, Robin explores how her mother endured shame and insults because she was unmarried, with a young daughter. Despite prejudices against single mothers, Robin’s mother did all she could to give Robin a better life. Robin begins to truly realize all the sacrifices her mother made for her, and she learned to appreciate the opportunities America provided.

Overall, Almost American Girl is about embracing change and learning how to value different cultures and appreciate differences. The memoir also reveals how finding your identity is not always an easy process, but it’s okay to just be authentic to yourself. Robin’s story is inspiring and heartwarming to read. It’s fast paced and engages readers by teaching about the cultural differences between Korea and America.

Sexual Content

  • Robin is surprised by American traditions during her first Halloween. When she saw her friend in a rather revealing costume she thought, “Wow, I can see the top of her boobs.”
  • Later in life, Robin becomes aware of the prejudice against single mothers in Korea. An image shows a teenage Robin watching a T.V in Korea that says, “I didn’t raise a slut! You are no child of mine . . . ” The show is referring to an unwed mother.

Violence

  • In her first week of school, Robin is shoved against a locker by two bullies. Robin is not hurt, but she is confused as to why they were being mean.
  • In a flashback sequence, Robin recalls a time her third-grade teacher called her up to the front of the class and beat Robin’s hands with a ruler because she made a slight mistake.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • When Robin was a baby, Robin’s dad would frequently come home late and drunk. Robin’s mother said, “You reek of alcohol. Don’t come closer!”

Language

  • A bully at school gets Robin to say, “I eat shit.” She is unaware of what she is saying.
  • When Robin shares that Ashley [her step-cousin] has not been helpful at school her mother cries, “What a little bitch!”
  • Frustrated with her new life in America, Robin screams she “was happy living in Korea. I had friends and I didn’t have to deal with this stepfamily bullshit!”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Elena Brown

 

Mary and the Trail of Tears: A Cherokee Removal Survival Story

Twelve-year-old Mary and her Cherokee family are forced out of their home in Georgia by U.S. soldiers in May of 1838. From the beginning of the forced move, Mary and her family are separated from her father. Facing horrors such as internment, violence, disease, and harsh weather, Mary perseveres and helps keep her family and friends together until they can reach the new Cherokee nation in Indian Territory. Will Mary and her family survive the terrible move forced upon them?

Mary and the Trail of Tears is told from Mary’s point of view, which allows the story to be told with kid-friendly descriptions. While the descriptions are not graphic, some readers will be upset by the brutality that the Cherokees faced. For example, Mary’s grandfather is killed by a man who says, he “wouldn’t be happy until every Cherokee in Georgia was dead.” The Cherokees faced the constant threat of being shot or dying from disease. However, the story ends on a positive note when Mary and most of her family are reunited in Oklahoma.

The story highlights the difference between the Cherokees and the soldiers. The Cherokees loved nature and respected all people. In contrast, the soldiers were motivated by greed and hate. “Since gold had been discovered on Cherokee land a decade earlier, many Georgians were convinced we had gold hidden away. They didn’t understand that to us the most valuable things were other Cherokees.” Throughout the story, the soldiers show cruelty or indifference to the Cherokees’ suffering.

Each chapter begins with the date and location, which makes it easy for readers to follow the events that take place between May of 1838 and March of 1839. To help readers visualize the story’s events, black and white illustrations appear every 7 to 10 pages. The book ends with nonfiction support material including a glossary, and three questions about the Indian Removal Act of 1830. These accounts will help readers learn more about the removal of the Cherokees from Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and the ten prison camps that were set up in Tennessee.

Mary and the Trail of Tears focuses on one girl’s story and the suffering that the Cherokee people faced during the Trail of Tears. Because readers will sympathize with Mary, the death of her family members will be upsetting. Despite this, Mary and the Trail of Tears should be read because of its educational value. By writing this informative story, the author—who is a member of the Cherokee tribe—sheds light on “one of this country’s darker chapters.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mary’s family and neighbors are forced out of their homes and the whites fight over the Cherokee’s belongings. “Georgians marched Raven out of his house with his hands tied in front of him. His hair was messy, and his cheek was swollen. . .They had hit Raven and bound his hands.”
  • When Mary’s grandpa runs back into his house, she “was afraid they were going to beat my grandpa or whip him when we got to the fort. Grandpa was only in the house a moment when a single rifle shot exploded.” Grandpa is killed.
  • The man who shot grandpa said that “he wouldn’t be happy until every Cherokee in Georgia was dead.” The man is not punished for his crime.
  • When Mary’s family is in the prison camp, they meet a man who had run away from the prison camp and then returned. He says, “The soldiers who were escorting us were cruel. I came back here because there is no place else for a Cherokee to go. . . There is no food or water, and many drowned falling from the overcrowded boats.” Through the man’s story, they learn many had died, including enslaved Africans.
  • While traveling, the children were slowing them down, so “the soldiers took babies from their mothers and put them in wagons with the sick and the dead.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Mary thinks about her grandma, who looked for medicinal plants found in the woods. Mary thinks, “The creator provided food and medicine we couldn’t grow in the garden.”
  • Grandpa sings a song after dinner. He explains that “It’s about us. It means the creator wants us to take care of each other. If a child is alone and crying, we need to take care of them.” Later a group sings the song.

Brown Boy Nowhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

 Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon

Every step forward is a victory.

Fauja Singh was born determined. He was also born with legs that wouldn’t allow him to play cricket with his friends or carry him to the school that was miles from his village in Punjab. But that didn’t stop him. Working on his family’s farm, Fauja grew stronger, determined to meet his full potential.

Fauja never, ever stopped striving. At the age of 81, after a lifetime of making his body, mind, and heart stronger, Fauja decided to run his first marathon. He went on to break records all around the world and to become the first person over 100 years old to complete a marathon.

The picture book begins with a forward by Fauja Singh where he writes about his disability. Despite people teasing him, he never stopped believing in himself. Fauja says, “Doctors couldn’t figure out why I had trouble walking as a child, nor could they figure out why I was able to begin walking and, eventually, running. I think of it as a reminder that all of our bodies are different—and so are our experiences with disabilities.”

Every reader can benefit from Fauja’s story, which highlights the importance of perseverance and determination. Despite his disability, his mother continued to remind him, “You know yourself, Fauja, and you know what you’re capable of. Today is a chance to do your best.” With every small step, Fauja became stronger and eventually reached each of his goals—to walk, to farm, and to run a marathon.

Fauja’s story comes to life with fun, brightly colored illustrations. For example, when Fauja is stretching, a bird perched on his arm does the same stretch alongside him. While most of the illustrations focus on Fauja and his family, illustrations that portray more people show diverse groups. Even though Fauja Singh Keeps Going 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 2 to 7 sentences, and some sentences are complex.

If you’re looking for a motivational biography, Fauja Singh Keeps Going is the book for you. Even though Fauja faced hardship and discrimination, he focused on the positive and kept working to achieve his goals. He did not let the negative comments of others bring him down. Instead, “As he ran, Fauja thought about all the things people from his village said he would never do. . . They thought he was too old to run and yet, here he was, running 26.2 miles at the age of 100.”

Fauja Singh Keeps Going is a must-read because it shows the power of positive thinking and believing in yourself. In addition, Fauja’s story will encourage readers to “try your hardest, and always choose yes when you meet a challenge.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Fauja lived in England, he “learned that some people in the United States were attacking Sikhs for how they looked.”
  • While running a marathon, “someone shouted racist and hateful words at him. Other people joined in. Fauja brushed it off. He knew he had a strong spirit.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Fauja began to walk, “his parents were so happy, they shared prayers of thanks and distributed parshad to the entire village.”
  • At the end of the book, there is a one-page section that gives more information about Fauja and how his religion, Sikhism, affected his life. “Sikhs believe in treating everyone equally, serving others, working hard, and living with honesty and integrity.”

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

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

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

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

Libba’s story comes to life in muted illustrations that show her day-to-day life. Even though Libba is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 3 to 7 sentences and some of the sentences are complex. The book repeats part of Libba’s most famous song “Freight Train.”

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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

 

Blackout

The sun beats down on the city of New York where there are places to go and people to see. As a heatwave takes over New York City, electricity goes out. This creates the infamous blackouts causing the lights to go off and the trains to stop running. No electricity also means no air conditioners, and that everyone outside is sweating through their clothes from the summer heat and humidity. Amid the blackout, six couples spark a different kind of electricity in the City that Never Sleeps as old loves, and new ones, meet and head to a massive block party in Brooklyn.

Blackout features six short stories following six couples. “The Long Walk” follows two exes named Tammi and Kareem. Kareem needs to get to a block party and Tammi needs to go back home to Brooklyn – coincidentally where the block party is being held. Together, Tammi and Kareem begin a long walk to Brooklyn during the heatwave. “The Long Walk” is also split into 6 parts and scattered throughout the novel instead of being compacted like the rest of the short stories.

“Mask Off” is a queer, MLM (Man Loving Man) love story that follows Tremaine and basketball star JJ. The two of them are riding on the subway before it is shut down by the blackout. “Made to Fit” is another queer, WLW (Woman Loving Woman) love story that follows Nella and Joss at a senior living facility. Nella’s grandfather accidentally loses a picture of his wife, Nella’s grandmother, and Joss offers to help Nella look for it in the dark.

“All the Great Love Stories…and Dust” features two characters named Lana and Tristan, who are trapped in the New York Public Library during the blackout and play a game to see who can find the best book. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” follows a love triangle on a double decker bus between Kayla, Micah, and Kayla’s boyfriend Tre’Shawn. The final story, “Seymour and Grace,” is a first meeting between Grace and her Ryde driver Seymour. Grace needs to get to the block party in Brooklyn, but the trip gets interrupted by Seymour’s car running out of gas.

All six short stories follow a prose narrative style in the first-person perspective of their respective narrators. Each writer has a different writing style and format. For example, “All the Great Love Stories…and Dust” features footnotes at the bottom of the page to convey Lana’s truth and demonstrate her character. “The truth: I [Lana] just wanted us to have our adventures together away from anyone we might run into. The people we are in Brooklyn aren’t the same people we are in Manhattan or the Bronx or Queens. Do you think you can be a totally different person in a different place? Your insides and outsides transforming into another you?”

There is a sense of consistency between all six authors, allowing the reader to easily grasp the flow of the stories and connect them to the other five. The stories feature romance, and the novel is meant to celebrate young black love. All the characters are teenagers, and most of them are in their late teens. This makes them relatable to a young adult audience as the characters deal with friendships, their identity, and college. For black young adult readers, Blackout provides them the representation they need, and the novel perfectly portrays each character in their own, individual light with their own individual stories and identity.

Blackout is a beautiful novel written by six black authors who bring to life the idea of young love. Each story celebrates young black love and the diversity that occurs in the black community. Queer black teenagers get their own love stories separate from their straight counterparts. Each story provides a small twist on the romance genre due to the authors’ distinct writing style and the story’s format. This book is for readers who are a fan of romance and for Blackout’s targeted audience of black readers. The book is extremely entertaining and will have fans wanting more.

Sexual Content

  • JJ brings up rumors about Tremaine, saying, “there are rumors he “deflowered” both the starting quarterback and his girl.”
  • JJ recounts a sexual encounter he had with a girl on his eighteenth birthday. She “danced me into a corner and started kissing my neck. And I did kiss her back—she was a great kisser, objectively speaking—and when she pushed things a bit further, I rolled with it.”
  • At the queer party, JJ kisses Tremaine without Tremaine knowing it was JJ. “When he turned back to me, I lifted the bottom of my mask, closed the space between us . . . and I kissed him right on the mouth.”
  • Nella was in love with her ex-best friend Bree, who Nella “used to dream about kissing.”
  • In a brief flashback scene, Nella relives the experience of Bree telling Nella that she only kisses other girls when she’s drunk. Nella says, “Twig saw you kissing girls at all those house parties?”
  • Joss puts on some purple lipstick and Nella thinks, “. . . her mouth is suddenly very, very distracting.”
  • In the laundry room, Nella and Joss kiss three times. The scene lasts for two pages. “When we kiss, it’s slow and warm. It’s thickly sweet, like the butterscotch candy we took from Queenie’s bedside table, but there’s something underneath the syrupy flavor that I know must be essentially Joss too.”
  • After Lana confesses her love to Tristan, the two of them make out. “Before I [Lana] could finish, his hands are on my back and his bottom lip brushes against my neck, my ear, then my cheek, before he kisses me.”
  • Tre’Shawn tries to kiss Kayla, but Kayla doesn’t let him. This happens twice.
  • Tre’Shawn tries to kiss Kayla a third time and this time Kayla lets him. “I let him kiss me this time. It’s comforting and familiar.”
  • After having a panic attack on the Brooklyn Bridge, Tammi brings Kareem close to her and kisses him. Tammi grabs “his shirt, pull[s] him close, and kiss[es] him. I kiss my messy, forgetful, silly-ass ex-boyfriend. And as we hover over the water, I forget the world as he kisses me back.”

Violence

  • While at the masquerade party for queer men, JJ gets hit on by an older man against his consent. The man says, “Oh, don’t play coy, now,” as he breathes down JJ’s ear and grabs his arm.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • The words “shit” and “ass” are used a variety of times and in a variety of ways. For example, when Tristan is talking to Lana about them going to separate colleges, he says, “I’m supposed to help you and your dads move you into your fancy-ass Columbia dorms before I bounce to Binghamton.”
  • When talking about her ex, Taylor, Joss says, “That bitch missed out too.”
  • During an argument with Kareem over Tammi not trusting him, he says “Fuck it.”
  • Tammi reminisces over a middle school memory where Kareem was bullied. She calls those bullies “assholes.”
  • Kareem says that Tammi called him “a fucking liar” because Tammi thought he lied and cheated on her.
  • Kayla confides in her best friend, Jazmyn, about her issues with her relationship with Tre’Shawn. Jazmyn says, “Is he on some fuck boy shit?”
  • Kayla calls her classmate Micah a “jackass” lightheartedly.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual

  • None

by Emma Hua

I Am Alfonso Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

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

Violence

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

Drugs and Alcohol

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

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual

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

by Emma Hua

The Knockout

Kareena Thakkar is very good at Muay Thai, a mixed-martial art. So good, in fact, that she’s been invited to the US Muay Thai Open, which might lead to her landing a spot on the first-ever Muay Thai Olympic team. The only problem? She might alienate herself from the Indian community even further by doing so. Kareena shouldn’t care– as her parents haven’t raised her within the Indian community since they became estranged from it years ago– but Kareena can’t help feeling like she’s not “Indian enough.”

This is especially a problem since Kareena likes Amit Patel, who is the definition of a perfect Indian boy. Liking Amit isn’t difficult. But navigating Amit’s parents’ disapproval of Kareena and Amit’s relationship may prove to be. Not to mention, Kareena has her own friend issues and the big Muay Thai competition coming up. Needless to say, Kareena has a lot on her plate. The breaking point might be Kareena’s father’s health issues and the family’s mounting debt. But Kareena won’t go down without a fight.

Kareena battles other Muay Thai fighters and her own insecurities in The Knockout, and her determination to come out victorious is inspiring. Most importantly, her most human moments are when she’s anxious about her father’s health and has lapses in confidence. Her ability to bounce back from those moments and have faith in herself and the doctors treating her father is remarkable. Kareena is a good example of what it means to get back up after getting knocked down.

The Knockout shows an interesting intersection between religion, culture, and sports. The expectations on Kareena’s shoulders also weigh on the other Indian American characters: Amit and Saanvi, one of Kareena’s ex-friends, compare themselves and their “Indianness” through cultural and religious expectations. Kareena finds herself isolated not only because of her parent’s refusal to participate in many traditional activities and gatherings but also because Kareena is told that Muay Thai is “too violent” for women. However, Kareena finds community in her parents, Amit, and the other female athletes at her high school who support her goals and her love for Muay Thai.

The Knockout is a smart and insightful story about resilience in social situations and in sports. The book also covers Muay Thai, a sport that is not often written about. The fight scenes are exciting and help show Kareena’s strength of character, which drives the plot. Ultimately, Kareena’s story is about self-acceptance and getting back up when you’re knocked down, which is a lesson that everyone can stand to learn.

Sexual Content

  • Kareena’s friend Lily has unruly hair. Kareena suggests that Lily go natural instead of trying to tame it, and Lily says, “My hair is a horror show of spiderwebs making awful love to twigs.”
  • Some girls gossip about Kareena, spreading rumors. Kareena overhears them saying, “First [Kareena] goes after your crush, my brother, while she was talking to Reg? Of course, Travis wants to mess around with her. He probably heard about her hooking up with guys. There’s no way she dated Reg and didn’t do stuff. She probably would fool around with Travis. Why else would he bother flirting with her? Travis is ever only after one thing, we all know that. And he only goes after girls who he thinks he can get.”
  • Amit kisses Kareena on her cheek, “on the far left corner of [her] lips.”
  • Kareena falls out of her bedroom window and lands on Amit. Kareena and Amit kiss, and Kareena describes, “Our lips touched with an explosion of senses that I didn’t even know existed. His warmth against my skin, the softness of his mouth against mine, the taste of cardamom and pasta on his tongue.”
  • Kareena explains that Travis “had gone to senior prom since he was a freshman . . . every prom he’d get that senior girl to rent a hotel room upstairs, get lucky, and then blab about it the next day to all of his buds.”
  • Kareena and Amit kiss while working on computer programming. Kareena says, “My stomach did a million flips as I kissed him back.”

Violence

  • The Knockout is about Muay Thai, a form of martial arts. Kareena and other characters spar during Muay Thai, and physical injuries do occur due to the violent nature of the sport. For instance, one of Kareena’s opponents, Jenny, sports a nosebleed when Kareena punches her during a match.
  • Kareena and Amit stare at each other awkwardly while studying for computer science. To stop this, Kareena “lightly punches [Amit’s] arm” and tells him to continue studying.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Profanity is used frequently. Profanity includes: badass, hell, crap, freaking, pissed, motha-freaking fans, slut, stupid, dick, prick, damn, and dumb.
  • When Kareena turns Travis down for prom, Travis says, “Saanvi must be right. You like girls, don’t you?” Kareena responds with, “Just because I’m not buying your trash? Get out of my face.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Kareena makes a comment about Amit being into all the “religious stuff” that comes with being Indian, but Kareena doesn’t explain further.
  • Amit invites Kareena to go to Holi at the mandir with him and his family. Kareena describes Holi: “Holi was a yearly thing that drew a butt-load of Indians to celebrate and throw brightly colored powder on each other to the rhythm of vibrant music well into the night. It was not a date thing. It was a family thing. A cultural thing. A community thing. An Indian thing.” Kareena explains throughout the book that her family does not partake in “Indian things” despite being Indian themselves.
  • Kareena and her mom sit with their feet on the coffee table, and Kareena jokingly comments, “Forgive us etiquette gods.”
  • Kareena compares her non-religious life to that of Saanvi, her former friend. Kareena says, “[Saanvi] observes all the holidays and fasts and prays every morning. We used to do sleepovers at Rayna’s, and she’d bring this portable prayer kit. You know? With a prayer towel, pictures, prayer book, and beaded necklace thing. I don’t know what that’s called. She’d wake up at dawn and face the south of the house, or something, and pray. She used to get mad when I walked in on her, even if we were quiet.”
  • Saanvi tells Kareena that according to Saanvi’s parents, Saanvi and Amit are “nakhye,” or promised to be wed to each other. Nakhye is a more religious practice. Amit denies Saanvi’s accusations.

by Alli Kestler

Written in the Stars

Naila’s fate always seems to be under her parents’ control, especially when it comes to boys. Following Pakistani tradition, Naila’s parents will choose a husband for her when the time comes. Naila, however, did not grow up in Pakistan and the idea of an arranged marriage seems very old fashioned. Besides, she has fallen in love with a boy named Saif—of whom her parents do not approve– so she must keep him a secret. However, after lying to her parents to attend her senior prom, Naila is caught with Saif and her parents ignore her apologies and explanations.

Believing their daughter has gone astray living in America, Naila’s parents take the family to Pakistan for the summer, causing Naila to miss her high school graduation. At first, Naila enjoys spending time with her family, but she still looks forward to starting college in America where she will finally be with Saif and her best friend, Carla. However, Naila soon discovers her parents are planning a much longer trip. Her cousin, Selma, informs Naila that her parents are planning an arranged marriage. To escape this fate, Naila contacts Saif and plans her escape, which is thwarted by her uncle. Afraid their daughter will try to run away again, Naila’s parents force her into a marriage with Amin without Naila’s knowledge or consent. Naila is met with a choice: accept fate and try to find happiness with her new husband or continue to fight for her true love, Saif.

Despite everything she must endure in Pakistan, Naila is a strong character who never gives up on the possibility of love. While multiple aspects of Pakistani culture are represented in the book, the tradition of arranged marriage is especially prominent. The intent of the novel is to demonstrate that while some arranged marriages have been successful, others can trap men and women into loveless marriages that are more harmful than beneficial. Through Naila’s experience, the novel reveals the importance of having a choice, especially when it comes to love and marriage.

The novel, which takes place mostly in Pakistan, gives poignant depictions of Pakistani culture. Urdu words are used throughout to help capture the setting and culture, and a glossary is provided in the back of the book to aid understanding. The novel also includes mature themes of violence, inter-marital rape, and pregnancy.

Naila is an easy character to root for because, despite the situation she is in, Naila stays true to herself and her beliefs. In addition, Naila discovers that honesty, no matter how hard it can be, is always best. Naila’s conflict is relatable because she wants what anyone else would want—the freedom to have a choice. Although the limitations of her situation sometimes slow the pace of the novel, the tension consistently builds as readers anxiously wait for Naila to be freed and reunited with Saif. If you’re interested in how women are treated in the Middle East, add A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini to your must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • Amin, Naila’s husband, forces her to have sex with him. In an attempt to stop him, Naila tries “to sit up, to reach for the light on the nightstand, but his hands press against my shoulders, pushing me down. I twist my body, trying to wrench free, but I can’t move.” Amin continues to force himself onto Naila. He whispers to Naila to forgive him and “suddenly, I [Naila] scream. Pain envelops me. The world is white, illuminated with pain.” This is all that is described.
  • Naila discovers she is pregnant with Amin’s child. “I tried denying it, I made excuses for my growing fatigue, my delayed period. But when the first wave of nausea overtook me shortly after, I could deny it no more. I’m pregnant.” Later, Naila explains that she lost her baby.
  • When they are reunited in Pakistan, Saif and Naila share a passionate kiss. “Suddenly, he leans down; his lips press against mine. Pull away. But no part of me knows how. . . I run my fingers through his hair, trace the outline of his face—And then I kiss him back.”

Violence

  • When Naila tries to run away, she is caught by her uncle. Her uncle gets on the bus and Naila is “yanked from [her] seat, dragged down the aisle, down the rough metal steps.” To defend herself, Naila tries to “kick, twist [her] wrists to pry [her]self away from him. I bite his arm. He does not let go.”
  • Furious with his daughter for trying to run away, Naila’s father slaps her across the face. She describes the “metallic taste of blood in [her] mouth.”
  • After Amin’s mother, Nasim, discovers Naila is still in love with Saif, she attacks Naila. “Nasim seems possessed by a demon. I try covering myself from Nasim’s feet—she kicks me with each curse.”
  • When Saif arrives to defend Naila, “Amin shoves Saif to the ground.” Amin punches Saif until Saif’s uncle arrives.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Naila’s uncle forces water down her throat and “almost instantly, I [Naila] feel hazy. The drink. He’s drugging me, I realize.” Naila is drugged and her parents force her to sign the marriage papers.

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • In Pakistan, Naila hears a “melodic sound” she recognizes to be “the call to prayer.”

by Elena Brown

I Believe I Can

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

I Want to Be a Doctor

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

I am Sonia Sotomayor  

Sonia Sotomayor’s life will inspire children to reach for their dreams. The biography begins when Sonia was a small child, who often got into mischief. Living in the Bronx was not always easy, but Sonia found comfort in reading and learning. Sonia was inspired by Nancy Drew, who “was a master at doing puzzles, and no matter what got in her way, she could figure things out.” Sonia wanted to help others by becoming a police officer. However, because of her diabetes, she couldn’t pursue her dream of joining the force. Instead of giving up, Sonia found new inspiration by watching Perry Mason, a lawyer. After watching the show, she decided she wanted to be a judge.

Instead of focusing on the hardships of life, Sonia’s biography describes all the people who helped her along the way. She does acknowledge the fact that “there were a lot of Puerto Rican workers, but few managers or owners, and even fewer lawyers and detectives. It wasn’t that my Puerto Rican neighbors didn’t work hard. People aren’t poor because they’re lazy. . . But sometimes where you live affects the kind of opportunities you have.” But with words of encouragement from her mother, her teachers, and her friends, Sonia was able to become the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. Sonia’s story proves there is no limit to what someone can accomplish.

Colorful, full-page illustrations, show important aspects of Sonia Sotomayor’s life beginning when she was a little girl. The book’s text includes speech bubbles as well as short paragraphs. Because Sonia is Latino, some of the speech bubbles are in both Spanish and English. Throughout the book, Sonia and some of the other people are cartoonish. When groups of people appear, the people are diverse and include both male and female. The end of the book has a timeline of Sonia’s life, and four pictures of her. In the last line, Sonia says, “Remember that no one succeeds alone.”

Younger readers will enjoy I am Sonia Sotomayor’s fun format, conversational text, and positive message. The book reinforces the importance of learning, reading, and listening to those who encourage you. Sotomayor says, “The more you learn, the further you’ll go. Education is a rocket ship. It can take you anywhere. But no matter how high you fly, never forget where you started.” For more inspirational stories about successful women, read She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • One day Sonia found “my little brother surrounded by bullies, so I walked over to protect him.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Bird Boy

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

by Hannah Olsson

 

Tristan Strong Destroys the World

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

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

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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

Supernatural

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

Spiritual Content

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

by Alli Kestler

Chunky

According to the doctors, Hudi needs to lose weight. His parents have him try out for various sports, much to Hudi’s chagrin. At least Hudi’s imaginary friend, Chunky, is the best hype-man any kid could ask for. While trying out different sports and striking out each time, Chunky pushes Hudi towards comedy and encourages Hudi to embrace his unconventionality.

Written and illustrated as a graphic memoir by Yehudi Mercado, Chunky gives a refreshing look into the world of youth sports. Hudi is not good at any of the sports that he tries, (except for maybe football), but Chunky and his sense of humor keep his spirits high, even when he gets injured or when things go terribly wrong. The book emphasizes themes about following what you love, having a good attitude, and the importance of having someone looking out for you.

Hudi’s father loses his job, which is when Hudi’s spirits drop and he temporarily loses his love for comedy. Hudi instead commits to football, where he excels because he’s bigger than all the other kids. However, Chunky has a harder time reaching Hudi during these scenes, as Hudi is concerned with winning and has lost his individuality. Hudi and Chunky do reconcile and Hudi returns to his jokester self, even though it means that he won’t play football anymore. This is fine with Hudi, as he gets his friend back and he can be himself—and pursue comedy!

Much like Hudi himself, the illustrations are playful and fun, with lots of warm reds and yellows. Chunky is a red, imaginary creature, and his design is goofy and sweet. The use of illustrations really shines when Hudi and Chunky make jokes about the various sports that Hudi attempts. At the end of each section, Chunky and Hudi sit at a table in what looks to be a mock-press conference. This hopping back and forth in Hudi’s reality creates a fun and interesting atmosphere that helps bring Hudi’s story and comedy to life.

Mercado also touches on being Mexican and Jewish, and sometimes Spanish is used within the story. This doesn’t make the story difficult to understand, but instead, it highlights more of Hudi and his family’s background. In general, there is also a strong sense of family throughout, and Hudi’s father losing his job hits the family hard. Overall, Chunky has an innate love and passion surging through the pages—a love for comedy, family, and oneself. Kids of all ages will enjoy Mercado’s comedy and colorful illustrations. Chunky shows us that we don’t have to be good at everything, but that we can do anything with enthusiasm and a good sense of humor.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • At baseball tryouts, Hudi gets hit in the face with the ball. The panel depicts him with a swollen, bruised eye as he’s lying on the mound. This happens several times, as Hudi is horribly unlucky.
  • Another baseball player named Sunny yells at Hudi, “If you ever ask me stupid questions again, I’m gonna throw a bat at you.”
  • Hudi’s father tells Hudi, “If the guys make fun of you, you have to kick them back.”
  • One of the swimmers, Burt, invites some of the other boys and Hudi over for a sleepover. Hudi notices that the boys all have toy guns, and when Hudi goes home and asks his mom if he can have one, she adamantly tells him no.
  • Hudi accidentally slices off the top part of his finger with a saw while trying to make a toy gun. The panel shows a bit of blood and the top part of Hudi’s index finger separated from the rest of the finger. The next panel shows Hudi at the emergency room.
  • Hudi’s sister, Wynnie, smacks Hudi with her drink at her bat mitzvah because Hudi is goofing around.
  • Hudi plays football and discovers that he’s bigger than all the other boys, which helps with making tackles. Football-esque violence during the game is depicted.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Hudi’s doctors are concerned about Hudi’s weight, and discussions about weight happen throughout the book. Terms like “fat” and “overweight” are frequently used, both by medical professionals and by other people, including Hudi’s parents and other sports players. Some players call Hudi “Hudi Big Booty” in a derogatory way.
  • One opponent says about Hudi, “How am I supposed to find the strike zone? [Hudi’s] so fat, he’s covering the entire plate.”
  • Light language is used somewhat frequently. Language includes: stupid, suckers, loser, and fatso.
  • Hudi’s family sometimes affectionately refers to him as Majecito, which in Spanish means, “Little Dummy.” The sportscasters who narrate some of the book explain this translation. Hudi explains to Chunky that he doesn’t want to tell the other boys because Hudi thinks the nickname is “so . . . Mexican and weird.”
  • During a football game, Hudi takes out the quarterback of the opposing team. People in the crowd can be seen in the panels chanting, “kill him.” Instead, Hudi helps the other player up.

Supernatural

  • Chunky is a red monster-esque figure and Hudi’s imaginary friend. Chunky is extremely kind and supportive of Hudi in all his endeavors.

Spiritual Content

  • Hudi is Jewish. Hudi’s sister Wynnie has her bat mitzva during the novel.
  • Hudi envisions his future on the big screen. One of the potential movies is called “Hudi and Chunky in Hanukkah Cops: 8 Nights of Danger.”

by Alli Kestler

Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light

Bear is sad. All of the other animals are afraid of him because he’s so big. But his human friend, Coco, offers to help.

Coco shares her grandmother’s advice: “When life gets dark as winter’s night, share some kindness, bring some light.” They decide to bake cookies to “share some kindness” and make lanterns to “bring some light.” But when the cookies and lanterns don’t work, they must look for other ways to win over the other animals. And while they’re hard at work on their mission of friend-making, Coco and Bear just might discover kindness is a gift that only comes from the heart.

If you want a sweet story with a positive message, then Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light is the perfect picture book to add to your child’s winter reading list. Readers will love the whimsical illustrations full of interesting details. The forest is covered in a blanket of beautiful snow and the animals are snuggled up in their winter clothes. Both Bear and Coco have a splash of red that contrasts the winter wonderland. At first, the forest animals are afraid of Bear, and their fear is clearly illustrated in their facial expressions.

Even though Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 1 to 11 sentences that include some complex sentence structure. Despite this, most pages are not text heavy and younger readers will be engaged throughout the story.

When Coco first shares her grandmother’s advice, Bear is not sure what it means. However, when Bear and Coco find a baby deer stuck in the snow, they jump in to help because it’s the right thing to do. Through this experience, the two friends discover the meaning of kindness. Bear says, “I guess kindness is giving away love instead of gifts. It’s doing something nice without expecting anything in return.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

An ambitious and fiercely independent teenager, Julia Reyes never seemed to fit in with her family’s traditional Mexican values. Her sister, Olga, was who her mother considered a “perfect Mexican daughter.” Olga was content with living at home, helped her mother cook and clean, and never got into trouble. However, after Olga’s sudden and tragic death, Julia feels pressure to fill the gap in her family, despite not being able to live up to her mother’s expectations.

Dealing with grief and conflicting personalities, Julia and her mother “Amá” struggle to mend their relationship. Amá, who grew up in Mexico, wants an obedient and responsible daughter, while Julia, who was raised in America, wants to explore the world and dreams of being a famous writer. Eventually, the pressure from her mom becomes too much for Julia to handle. Julia struggles with her mental health and feels misunderstood by her parents and friends. To make matters worse, after exploring her sister’s room, Julia discovers that Olga may not have been a perfect daughter after all.

Julia is a very realistic and relatable protagonist. She works hard to figure out her place in the world even though she makes mistakes along the way. As the child of Mexican immigrants, Julia experiences both generational and cultural conflicts with Amá and her father “Apá” who, while physically present, is often emotionally absent from Julia’s life. Although she has her friend, Lorena, and a new attentive boyfriend, Connor, Julia realizes grief is a difficult experience and it can take a lot of time to heal.

The book has a strong theme of self-acceptance and acceptance of others. Although Amá has difficulty understanding Julia, she learns to see what makes Julia unique and different from Olga. Julia also must learn to stop comparing herself to her sister and accept who she is and what she wants to be: a writer.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter tackles mature themes of death, suicide, abortion, and rape. The novel also contains Spanish words which are used naturally in the dialogue to better represent Julia’s culture, and most words and phrases are understandable within the context of the scene.  If you want to explore another book with these themes, Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen should be on your reading list.

Overall, the poignant story explores the challenges of youth, especially the cultural and generational boundaries between first-generation immigrants and their children. Eventually, Julia and her mother must learn to see things from each other’s perspectives. Julia also begins to understand a lot about her mental health and how to heal from painful situations to become a stronger and more balanced young woman.

Sexual Content

  • After searching through Olga’s bedroom, Julia finds “five pairs of silk-and-lace thongs. Sexy lady underwear I imagine a very expensive hooker might buy.”
  • Julia describes a time Olga’s friend Angie came over and Julia “walked in on her touching Olga’s boobs.”
  • Julia feels uncomfortable around her friend Lorena’s stepdad. “Every time I know he’s going to be home, I wear my baggiest shirts and sweaters so he can’t gawk at my boobs. Sometimes it feels like he’s undressing us with his eyes.”
  • Julia falls asleep at Lorena’s house. When she wakes up, she sees Lorena’s stepdad, José Luis, crouched in front of her. “He looks like he’s doing something with his phone, but I’m not sure.” Julia is too exhausted to process what is happening. It is unclear what José Luis’ exact intentions were.
  • Julia and Lorena visit the lake with two boys. Julia wonders where Lorena has gone and assumes she and Carlos are “probably fucking somewhere, even in this cold, and most likely without a condom.”
  • Ramiro, a boy Lorena sets Julia up with, kisses Julia, but she doesn’t really enjoy it. “At first the kisses are soft and feel all right, but after a while, he spirals his tongue against mine.” Julia and Ramiro soon stop kissing. She feels uncomfortable kissing someone she barely knows.
  • Julia states that her tío Cayetano “used to stick his finger in my [Julia’s] mouth when no one was looking.”
  • During a party, Julia notices people “dancing so close they’re practically dry-humping.”
  • Julia watches a couple make out in public. “Their kisses are wet and sloppy, and you can see their tongues going in and out of each other’s mouths.”
  • Lorena’s friend, Juanga, starts to describe different penis shapes he has seen. “The craziest one, he says, was long and pointy.”
  • A man harassing Julia on the street says he has something to show her “’cause you have nice tits.” When an adult helps Julia, the harassers eventually drive away.
  • After her first kiss with Connor, her first boyfriend, Julia describes how “Connor is gentle with his tongue, and something about the way he touches me makes me feel so wanted.”
  • Lorena tells Julia she’ll have to “shave [her] pussy” before having sex with Connor.
  • Julia and Connor have sex. Julia looks away while Connor puts a condom on. She states, “it hurts more than I imagined, but I pretend it doesn’t.” This is all that is described.
  • Julia discovers Olga was “having sex with an old married dude, hoping he would one day leave his wife.”
  • After taking a pregnancy test with fuzzy results, Lorena believes she might be pregnant.

Violence

  • Julia describes the appearance of her dead sister at the funeral stating, “the top half of her face is angry—like she’s ready to stab someone—and the bottom half is almost smug.”
  • Julia explains how Olga was “hit by a semi. Not just hit, though—smashed.”
  • It is implied that Julia tried to kill herself by cutting. The scene is not described.
  • In a support group, Julia meets a boy who is “here because his stepdad beat him with cords and hangers when he was a kid.”
  • On the journey to America, it is implied El Coyote raped Amá and “held [Apá] down with a gun.”
  • While visiting Mexico, Julia hears gunshots in the street and sees “two dead bodies are lying in the middle of the street.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Julia’s uncle once teased Olga’s boyfriend, Pedro, for being innocent. Julia remembers “tío Cayetano trying to give him a shot of tequila once, and Pedro just shaking his head no.”
  • Lorena and Julia smoke weed at Lorena’s house. Julia explains she has smoked weed “a total of five times now.”
  • At a birthday party, Julia’s father, and her uncles drink tequila.
  • At a party, Lorena and Juanga take shots while Julia opens a beer, “which [Julia] regret[s] immediately.”
  • At another party, “the girls all choose Malibu rum,” while Julia drinks “Hennessy and Coke.”

Language

  • Profanity is used in the extreme. Profanity includes ass, crap, fuck, hell, shit, and bitch. For example, after Olga’s death, Julia’s mom was screaming and “telling the driver and God to fuck their mothers and themselves.”
  • Lorena calls Julia a “bitch” for underestimating her intelligence. When Julia is on a bus after skipping school, she believes “the school has already called [her] parents and [she’s] in some deep shit again.”
  • Lorena tells Julia to give papers about a college tour to her “crazy-ass mom.”
  • Pissed is used often. At Olga’s funeral, Julia decides “it’s easier to be pissed,” rather than sentimental.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Julia shares that she and her mom argue about religion often. Julia “told her that the Catholic church hates women because it wants us to be weak and ignorant. It was right after the time our priest said—I swear to God—that women should obey their husbands.”
  • Amá forces Julia to attend church meetings. Julia wonders “who in the world would want to spend their Saturday night talking about God?”

by Elena Brown

Latest Reviews