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Children's Lit Middle Grade Reads Weekly Reviews

From the Desk of Zoe Washington – MG Book Review

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Title: From the Desk of Zoe Washington
Author: Janae Marks
Date Published: January 14, 2020
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
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I have two words: MOST NEEDED. This should be the book put into every single classroom curriculum this year from 4th through 8th grade. Seriously, the discussions that could be had because of this book would change the way we discuss race with our students completely.

Let me back up, Zoe Washington is the story of a girl who loves baking, her best friend, her parents, and writing letters with her two besties. Then she discovers a letter from her dad, her biological dad who has been in prison her entire life. When she hides the letter and writes back the discussion about race and wrongful imprisonment come to light and shine throughout this book which is a great conversation starter for younger kids and definitely should not be the end of that discussion with them. Thankfully Zoe has a happy ending but I won’t reveal what it is or how we got there.

Though the material presented in this book is heavy, the way it is presented is easily relatable and understandable for our middle grade kiddos. I am so glad I had an opportunity to read this book, and I know most readers will. I recommend this book to everyone, young and old, of all races, religions, etc. Everyone needs to know Zoe’s story because it is the story of thousands of Black girls throughout our country. Thank you Janae Marks for writing this story.

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Children's Lit Middle Grade Reads Weekly Reviews

Curse of the Night Witch (Emblem Island #1) by Alex Aster

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Title:Curse of the Night Witch
Author: Alex Aster
Publisher: Sourcebooks Young Readers
Publishing Date: June 9, 2020
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In the spirit of Percy Jackson, this epic fantasy adventure novel had me turning the pages as fast as I could! Emblem Island is a place of magic, but none like we have read about before. And when a young boy wishes for a future different that what he has been given, he ends up cursed along with his best friend, and a girl from his class. They must break the curse by finding the Night Witch.

What I found the most lovable about this trio is that they reminded me so much of Harry, Ron and Hermione from the Harry Potter franchise. Tor, born with the leadership emblem, is our fearless hero, his best friend, Engle, is the lovable side kick, and Melda, is witty, brave, and sometimes annoying, but overall a wonderful friend to have by Tor’s side. This type of trio is often found in epic fantasies and is one of my favorite parts of the structure of these types of middle grade literature.

The most frustrating part was the ending… WHAT A CLIFF HANGER! I cannot wait to see what happens in book 2! I highly recommend this to fans of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, For readers ages 9- 14, and for anyone who needs a little magic and a little adventure in their lives.

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Weekly Reviews YA Reviews

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

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Title: The Grace Year
Author: Kim Liggett
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publishing Date: October 8, 2019
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WOW! This was a phenomenal story and a phenomenal audio book. In a dystopian world, women are born with magic and during their grace year, are banished from the community into the wilderness to burn it all off. It becomes clear the the main character, Tierney, that this is just a way to keep the women in control and to keep them oppressed, but when she tries to point the truth out to the other girls in her grace year, they turn on her.

Tierney is a wonderful and strong character in the likeness of other strong girls coming out of dystopian literature such as Katniss and Tris. She was relatable and likeable in many ways and imperfect in many ways. I was on the edge of my seat listening to this story, wondering what was going to happen to Tierney and the women in her community.

This is a YA book recommended to ages 14 and up. I definitely recommend it to women who like feminist works, anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction, and those who are fans of The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Divergent.

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Children's Lit Weekly Reviews

Noodle Bear by Mark Graves: Picture Book Review

Title: Noodle Bear
Author: Mark Graves
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publishing Date: July 14, 2020
Ages: 3-7 Years Old
Sensitive Content: None
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Noodle Bear is a fun and entertaining book about a bear obsessed with Noodles. I enjoyed this cute story and I can see my students in early grades really enjoying this silly little bear. This is a great story to just escape into with your kids and read over and over again. I know as a child I loved pasta and would have found this little bear so silly, yet so relatable. I gave this 4 out of 5 stars and recommend to teachers and parents of 3-5 year olds.

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Children's Lit Weekly Reviews

Catkwondo by Lisl H. Detlefsen: Picture Book Review

Title: Catkwondo
Author: Lisl H. Detlefsen
Publisher: Capstone
Publishing Date: September 1, 2020
For Ages: 4-7
Sensitive Content: None
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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an E-ARC of this cute book!

I picked out Catkwondo to request because of the adorable little kitty on the cover. While I did enjoy the illustrations throughout, I found the storyline a little lacking. This isn’t a book that all children will enjoy, but it is a book that children interested in martial arts will enjoy. I did appreciate the Korean words thrown throughout the story as well as the glossary of these words in the back of the book. This type type of diversity is needed in stories. Overall I gave this book a 3/5 just because it wasn’t a story for me, or for any child that I know as well as for being a little flat in the storyline. The pictures are adorable and I know if I ever have a child in my life that loves Karate or Taekwondo that I will get this book for them.

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Children's Lit Weekly Reviews

The Lady with the Books by Kathy Stinson – Children’s Book Review

Title: The Lady with the Books
Author: Kathy Stinson
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publishing Date: October 6, 2020
Sensitive Content: Mention of a dead father (killed in WWII)
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The Lady with the Books is the tale of children after World War II in Germany. Their city is destroyed and they are starving. But they find solace in a book display at a nearby museum and leave inspired to perhaps change the world. I loved this little slice of history that hardly anyone talks about. After WWII, German children were the victims of so much hate, a poor economy, and lost parents. This book reminds us that there is hope out there in the world with the next generation and that we can always find hope and solace in books.

I was happy to read in the footnotes of the book who “The Lady with the Books” actually was and how she brought this exhibit to cities around Germany. I was also happy to learn about what happened to the collection and the Book Castle.

I would recommend this book to my early non fiction readers, anyone who adores children’s literature, and to students learning about the aftermath of WWII.

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Children's Lit Weekly Reviews

Through the Night Sky by DK: Children’s Book Review

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Title: Through the Night Sky
Author: DK
Publisher: DK
Publishing Date: September 8, 2020
Sensitive Content: None
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Through the Night Sky offers a non-fiction narrative of different short entries about things that happen in the night. From what animals do, to bits and pieces about space to solar eclipses, comets, and the northern lights. This is the perfect book for young readers who love little snippets of facts about different subjects, especially science.

Perhaps my favorite part of this book is the way the pictures are laid out throughout this book. They are a mix of layered media art with photographs, painted collages similar to Eric Carle’s work, and splatter paints. I was amazed by the beauty in these pages and could look through them over and over again.

A solid 4.5 stars for this non fiction children’s book. Perfect for little scientists in the making ages 6 – 10.

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Middle Grade Reads Weekly Reviews

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat: MG Book Review

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Title: A Wish in the Dark
Author: Christina Soontornvat
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publishing Date: March 24, 2020
For Ages: 9-12
Sensitive Topics: Racial injustice, prison, children born out of an affair
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This beautifully written fantasy novel weaves together a narrative about social injustice which is both timely to our current race climate as well as a good way to broach this subject with MG readers in a fun way. This book is about systemic classism taken to an extreme in a city where if a mother gives birth in a prison, that child is forced to grow up in prison. The system is set up where those who are poor can never make their way up in society.

The story focuses around three characters: Pong, who escapes prison at a young age, but still has a prison tattoo so he isn’t really free, Nok, who is the daughter of the prison warden, who find herself in a situation where she has to question what she has been taught to believe her entire life, and Somkit – who grew up alongside Pong in the prison, orchestrated his escape, and then helps him when Pong returns to the city.

I gave this story 5 out of 5 stars. I highly recommend this as a diverse read by a diverse author, for students who love fantasy novels as they will find the subtle magic fun, and for those learning about social justice. What an important book to be published this year!

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Children's Lit Weekly Reviews

Fussy Flamingo – Picture Book Review

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Fussy Flamingo by Shelly Vaughan James, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, for Grades PreK – 2

Fussy Flamingo is about a tiny child flamingo named Lola who lives in South America. Much like kids we all know and love, Lola is a PICKY eater. She does NOT want shrimp for dinner.

Throughout repetitive storytelling, Lola eats many different types of food that are not shrimp, and turns different colors that are not flamingo pink. Lola is sneaky and funny and her antics will make you giggle. There is a little spanish thrown in since this story takes place in Chile. In the back there are also some fact sheets on real flamingos which give this book more of an educational purpose as well.

I enjoyed Lola’s story and I think most kids will get a kick out of Lola and her silly story. I highly recommend this story to preschool and kindergarten students.

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eARC provided by Netgalley

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Children's Lit Weekly Reviews

Mars’ First Friends – Picture Book Review

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Mars’ First Friends, Come on Over, Rovers! by Susanna Leonard Hill, Published by Sourcebooks Wonderland, for grades PreK through 3rd

Mars’ First Friends is a super cute informative picture books perfect for all the little readers you know that love stories about space. This book not only helps recount the eight different planets in our solar system, but also introduces the Mars space rovers to children.

The back pages offer quite a bit more information to readers which is helpful, but I wish that this book was more focused on the actual rovers and what they did on Mars. Most of the book seems focused on Mars being lonely, and while I like that his journey around the solar system introduces us to all planets and a fun fact about them, this title implies that most of the story would be about the Mars rovers.

While this story is fun and adorable, I wish it had been more focused. I still recommend it for Pre-K and Kindergarten, especially if they are doing space units, but would recommend maybe having a fun video or something to supplement if you are trying to learn about Mars rovers.

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Thank you Netgalley for providing me with a review eARC