Book review: The Candle and the Flame, by Nafiza Azad

Azad, Nafiza. The Candle and the Flame. Scholastic, 2019. $18.99. 391p. ISBN 978-1-338-30640-0. Ages 13+. P8Q10

In this fantasy set in a Middle Eastern land during ancient times, Fatima and two other humans are the only survivors of a massacre by the Shayateen Djinn in the city of Noor (possibly Nur, Iran). Except Fatima isn’t quite human: at the age of four, she was rescued from dying by an Ifrit djinni who now occupies part of Fatima’s mind and body. Her home city since the devout Muslim was adopted by a Hindu family returns from ashes to become a vibrant place of cultural diversity along the Silk Road connecting traders between the East and West. At 18, she has lived there quietly with her adopted sister after their parents were killed in the attack eight years earlier. The death from Shayateen taint kills an older man who appears to be nothing more than a bookstore owner, and Fatima takes his role and power as Name-Giver among the Ifrit. With her new responsibilities, she faces danger as she is caught up in the political intrigue of enemies attempting to kill the raj (royal) family. Complicating her life is her relationship with—and growing love for—the Ifrit Emir, Zulfikar, leader of the Ifrit army, djinn sworn to protect humans from chaos.

Verdict: The glossary sometimes helps define the many Arabic, Urdu, and Hindi terms; other times, they are explained in the text. As the different Djinn tribes battle, the author describes their personalities and develops her characters, especially the women, with a strong feminist theme of opposition to society’s limitations. The initial list of characters aids in navigating the multiple names for many of the individuals. Delicious in every meaning, including the many scents and tastes used for detail and metaphor, the rich terminology and writing style of this romance roll around on the tongue. The world-building is magnificent, and the plot is a marvelous blend of friendship, family relationships, and courage. Azad’s debut novel promises further riches in her fiction.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Gold Rush Girl, by Avi

Avi. Gold Rush Girl. Candlewick, 2020. $17.99. 306p. ISBN 978-1-5362-0679-1. Ages 11-14. P6Q7

Determined to accompany her father and younger brother, Jacob, on their trip to California in 1848, Victoria (Tory) Blaisdell sneaks on board the ship to San Francisco. After a seven-month journey, the trio arrives, having left Tory’s sick mother at home in Providence (RI), and finds that their new home has only tents and mud. Tory’s father is determined to depart for the gold fields, however, and leaves the two children to make their own way, telling them to wait for their mother who is sure to arrive on another ship any day. Tory is left to rescue her kidnapped younger brother, with the help of new friends, and faces danger from a ship-owner who wants Jacob to work as cabin boy.

Verdict: Details of the living conditions are accurate, and a map at the end shows locations of ships under land in San Francisco as the city was filled in. The plot, however, can be weak as problems are glossed over with magical solutions—the seriously ill mother appearing and easily found, the children surviving mostly on their own in a violent atmosphere, the easy way that Tory makes friends she can trust, etc. This Newbery Medal winner has done better.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: War Is Over, by David Almond, illustrated by David Litchfield

Almond, David. War Is Over. Illustrated by David Litchfield. Candlewick, 2018. $16.99. 117p. ISBN 978-1-5362-0986-0. Ages 8-11. P7Q10

In 1918, John’s mother works in a munitions factory while his father is in France’s trenches. Alone much of the time, John struggles with his worries about the war and his belief that a German boy can be just like him. As in other Almond books, the story changes from reality to imagination as John actually sees the German boy in the forest and writes a letter to him.  His perception leads him to accusations of treason in a small English town where anyone who doesn’t fight the war is a traitor. Almond wrote the story on the 100th anniversary of the end of the “war to end all wars,” perhaps hoping to block glorifying killing and the pervasive feeling of “otherness” as a false strength.

Verdict: Almond’s simple characterizations—the mean school principal, the victimized conscientious objector, the school bullies—show how people can look at others during a time of crisis, yet John continues to see the world in grays through his fear and hope. In sparse prose, Almond details shells and war games in chilling detail accompanied by Litchfield’s pen, ink, and watercolors in shades of black and gray, setting moods of light and dark. A must read about the impact of war on humanity.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Color of the Sun, by David Almond

Almond, David. The Color of the Sun. Candlewick, 2018. $16.99. 218p. ISBN 9781536207859. Ages 12-14. P5Q9

One hot summer day in his English village, Davie tells the police that Zorro Craig has killed Jimmy Killen before Davie climbs a nearby hill in a quasi-fantasy. On the way, he suffers a beating from the Craig family, sees the image of his dead father, and journeys with an old man who lost his leg in a mine disaster. The meandering path symbolizes the wandering of his interactions with different townspeople.

Verdict: The poetic descriptions of a dreamscape from an artist’s eye revel in color and detail, but perception between real and unreal and transitions from one experience to another are sometimes confusing. The leisurely pacing and feeling of discomfort from the novel’s oddness make it a better read for those with patience to unravel Davie’s directions in this introspective book about death and grief with an astonishing ending anticipated in the first sentence of the book. A fascinating book for readers who appreciate Almond’s style.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: EndGames, by Ru Xu

Xu, Ru. EndGames. (NewsPrints series). Graphix/Scholastic, 2019. $12.99. 205p. ISBN 978-0-545-80317-5. Ages 10-14. P8Q8

In this sequel to Xu’s debut graphic novel, NewsPrints, orphaned Blue continues her fight for truth and freedom first in Altalus where she searches for her friend crow and then on an adventure in a ten-year-war. No longer masquerading as a newsboy, Blue is still in danger because her blond hair from her Grimmean mother makes her an outcast in Goswing, where all the natives have black hair. Kidnapped by enemies Snow and Red, the three teenagers learn that they must work together to end the war. Jack Jingle, Crow’s inventor and fugitive at the end of the first book, has become part of the queen’s cabinet and works for his former enemies, setting up his invention Crow as leader of the war machines—a murder of crows.

Verdict: Characterizations reveal the causes of war: people’s appearances mark them as friend or enemy, the humanized flying machine Crow is considered only a terrifying tool of war, the blind new queen believes she must declare war to appear strong. Yet appearances are not what they seem. The strong facial expressions are sometimes repeated, but epic battles in this world-building move the action. With a manga influence, the steam-punk setting of post-World War I is accented by Art Deco designs inspired by the 1920s, including full-page news. As in the earlier book, Xu has strong themes of anti-war and gender issues, and primary characters, including the queen, are teenagers. The tidy ending questions whether a third NewsPrints will be written.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Go with the Flow, by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann

Williams, Lily & Karen Schneemann. Go with the Flow. First Second, 2020. $14.99. 333p. ISBN 9781250143174. Ages 12+. P8Q9

Four sophomore girls bond on the first day of high school as they face problems such as bullying from the mean girls at the school. Their connection, however, is tested as one of them, an activist, goes overboard when she tries to get the male school principal to ensure that the tampon dispenser in the girls’ bathroom is stocked and he calls it “her little problem.” The authors provide clear personalities for the girls: Sasha, a short shy Asian girl who faces the brunt of ridicule after getting her first period at school; Abby, an activist who writes a blog about menstruation; Christine, a lesbian who gets a sort-of unrequited crush on Abby; and dark-hued Brit, a romantic who loves Pride and Prejudice and suffers from endometriosis. The artwork in the graphic novel of inked pencil, digitally colored, is entirely in hues of red and brown on a white background.

Verdict: The character development through the entire school year brings out the girls’ personalities and their ways of dealing with adversities, and the information about menstruation, including its economic inequality and problems with using tampons, is slipped into the plot and funny dialog.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers, by Laura Renauld, illustrated by Brigette Barrager

Renauld, Laura. Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers. Illustrated by Brigette Barrager. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. $17.99. ISBN 9781534441224. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P6 Q7

We all need to be encouraged and told that we are loved just the way we are. As one starts to read the book, it is as if they are transported to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on TV. Mr. Rogers’ tone is calm, kind and inviting as he points out the cardigans that his mother knitted and his comfy sneakers. The author then shows Mister Rogers as a quiet boy with big feelings. The feeling words are written in italic. The illustrations show him with a sad, lonely look on his face, playing inside with puppets as other children are smiling and playing outside his window. His show started because he wanted to build a community, entertaining and educating, leaving viewers feeling welcomed, valued and special. The page where Fred is going to the Capitol Hill to make his feeling known models to children that they have a voice and can stand up for what they feel is important. After giving his testimony and explaining how he encouraged children to draw on their inner strengths to communicate anger and other feelings in meaningful ways, his program was allowed to stay on the air for years to come. The deeply colored illustrations, rendered in gouache, colored pencil, and Photoshop, match the text and draw the reader in. The books ends just like the show, with Mister Rogers feeding the fish, changing out of his sneakers, hanging up his sweater, and leaving the reader with his special message. The book includes an author’s note giving a short biography of Fred Rogers. I not only learned a lot that I didn’t previously know, I also gained a higher level of respect for Mr. Rogers.

Verdict: The format of starting the book and ending it in the same manner as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was brilliant. It brought back the same feelings as watching the show. I think parents who loved Mister Rogers will enjoy the book. Children who know of Mister Rogers may also gravitate towards the book, but I don’t think children who did not know him will. That being said, I learned a lot and about Mister Rogers and feel that the author did a successful job of explaining his philosophy and carrying on his legacy. The message of expressing one’s feelings and that everyone is special just the way they are is emphasized.

June 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Hello, World!, by Ethan Long

Long, Ethan. Hello, World! (Happy County series, book 1.) Henry Holt and Company, 2020. $18.99. ISBN  9781250191755. 45 pages. Ages 4-8. P7 Q7

Happy County is the place to have fun! The book starts off by introducing the cartoon characters and then advances to the county’s beautiful countryside. All the illustrations on the page are labeled, teaching children relevant vocabulary. One chapter teaches children about a variety of birds, their names and what they look like. Can you help Mr. Grizzles and Ms. Green find the birds? Children learn shapes, colors, noises, sight words from a word wall at school, sequencing, numbers, rhyming, restaurant names matching pictures of food, music, and ends the day with a county fair. One can spend several days looking through this book. It is full of vocabulary words and objects to find. This book can be read, skipping around to chapters that interest the child or it can be read straight through. The colorful artwork was created with graphite pencil on Strathmore drawing paper, then scanned and colorized digitally. Includes a table of contents, 18 chapters which are two-page spreads. Some chapters resemble a Richard Scarry format and the alternating chapter is a cartoon style. This is book one I the Happy County series.

Verdict: This graphic picture book includes everything a parent would want their children to learn! Children can spend hours looking at this book and adults can use the text to interact with the child. This is a fun book to read one on one due to the format, but would not be as successful read aloud to a large group of children. I highly recommend this book.

June 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: This or That? What Will You Choose at the British Museum?, by Pippa Goodhart

Goodhart, Pippa. This or That? What Will You Choose at the British Museum? (Early Learning at the Museum series.) Nosy Crow, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781536212235. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q8

From “Shirt or Skirt? Which clothes would you like to wear?” All the way to “Soldier or Sailor? Which of these people would you like to meet?” This picture book features hundreds of artifacts from the British Museum. Each two-page spread features a topic and contains two search and find questions pertaining to the pictures. Topics range from clothing, jewelry, shoes, houses, clocks, animals, mythical beings, transportation, toys, instruments, food, and people. The illustrations are in boxes on the page, so one can see each item individually and clearly. The index includes detailed descriptions of every artifact in the book and a QR code to find out more about the objects. This book was published in collaboration with the British Museum.

Verdict: Great for observational skills, interaction, one can spend hours looking at it. I can see many uses of this book, including “I spy,” exposure to and expanding a child’s knowledge artifacts. The pictures are just the right size, not too big to overpower the page, but not too small to see. I highly recommend this book since it is not often one is able to visit the British Museum.

June 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Imagine That!, by Tom Burlison, illustrated by Sara Sanchez

Burlison, Tom. Imagine That! Illustrated by Sara Sanchez. Tiger Tales, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781680101928. Unpaged. Ages 4-8. P7 Q8

Elliot sees ordinary objects just as they are. However, his new neighbor Ruby, has a big imagination and ordinary objects become adventures. For example; she imagines a rock is a spaceship. What kind of aliens might be on the spaceship? At first, Elliot is annoyed by her imagination. However, he soon joins in and realizes how exciting it can be to use his imagination. The colorful illustrations bring her imaginings to life. The author used various fonts and boldness to make words stand out. Burlison was seven in 2018 when he entered this story, first titled The Incredible Journey, into the Book People Bedtime Story Competition and won.

Verdict: This book is filled with imagination, color and friendship. The best part of this book is that it was written by a seven-year old. I think that other children will be inspired to write their own book once they read it. The content is so good that I would have thought it was written by an adult. The friendship between the children is realistic and reflect how friendships develop. I like that Elliot learned from Ruby and started using his imagination. I highly recommend this book.

June 2020 review by Tami Harris.