Book review: Cilla Lee-Jenkins: The Epic Story, by Susan Tan, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte

Tan, Susan. Cilla Lee-Jenkins: The Epic Story. Illus. by Dana Wulfekotte. Roaring Brook, 2019. $16.99. 264p. ISBN 9781250183637. Ages 8-11. P9Q9

Budding author Priscilla Lee-Jenkins, now headed for an “Epic Story” during her fifth grade, has matured since she wrote a “Bestseller” and a “Classic.” Facing a new teacher and middle school next year, she copes with a collection of trials—a clique of girls who think that her stories are “Silly,” her struggle to deal with toddler and infant sisters, and, worst of all, her grandfather Ye Ye’s stroke which made him forget his English and revert to speaking only Chinese. None of these problems is easy to solve, but help comes with good advice from supportive, loving people around her, including librarian Ms. Clutter. The book about mixed-race Cilla is semi-biographical as shown in Tan’s afterword and family photos.

Verdict: Black and white drawings add a valuable visual piece to the people in Cilla’s life, and her problems in life are fairly common for those of her age, making her highly relatable. Excellent pacing provides reasonable, but not immediate, solutions to her problems, making the plot and characterizations realistic. Tan indicates that the series is finished, but perhaps she’ll change her mind when Cilla faces a whole new set of worries in middle school. Highly recommended.

May 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Last of the Name, by Rosanne Parry

Parry, Rosanne. Last of the Name. CarolRhoda, 2019. $17.99. 334p. ISBN 978-1-5415-41579-7. Ages 12-14. P6Q7

Left with only Granny as their family, 12-year-old Danny O’Carolan and his older sister Kathleen leave Ireland for New York alone after Granny dies during the voyage. Prejudice hits them from all directions—blacks for taking their jobs and whites for being Irish. Kathleen persuades Danny to dress as a girl to get a job, but he hates the way that he must dress. The Civil War draft riots leaves them without a job, a home, or money, but Danny’s connections from secretly raising money by dancing on the streets give them hope.

Verdict: Parry covers the historical angst of the times—poverty, bigotry, class inequality, slave work for the Irish as well as the black—plus the way that wealthy people buy their way out of the war draft. Danny’s and Kathleen’s lives are always unsatisfactory, and the angst sometimes becomes overwhelming.

May 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Good Enough, by Jen Petro-Roy

Petro-Roy, Jen. Good Enough. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781250123510. 267 pgs. Ages 10+. P7Q8

Twelve-year old Riley has been sent by her parents to an in-patient treatment facility to deal with her eating disorder. The story is told in journal format- through 53 days of entries, we gain insight into why a girl of her age might develop a problem like anorexia. It’s full of swirling emotions- anger, guilt, resentment, boredom, shame, jealousy, fear, and sometimes hope, longing and self-acceptance. Riley tells us about her counseling sessions, what a struggle it is at the beginning to make herself eat, about how strongly she longs to go for a run and is worried about getting out of shape for track, about her interactions with the other girls, about difficult conversations with her family and friends, and memories about what led up to her being there. The author’s personal struggle with anorexia gives the book immediacy and a feeling of real honesty. I found the characters to be very believable, and I learned so much about anorexia and its treatment.  I wasn’t aware of the difficulties families face paying for treatment- insurance companies are often reluctant to pay if the patients “aren’t sick enough” even when they feel that they aren’t ready to go home, and know they will relapse into old habits. The author’s note at the end tells us a little about Petro-Roy’s struggle with anorexia, and also gives links to two organizations that can help.

VERDICT: I think this book should be in all public and middle/ high school libraries. Young people who are struggling with eating disorders might find a ray of hope in this book and learn that there are ways to get help and to get better.

June 2019 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Good Dog, McTavish, by Meg Rosoff, illustrated by Grace Easton

Rosoff, Meg. Good Dog, McTavish. (McTavish series). Illustrated by Grace Easton. Candlewick Press, 2019. First U.S. edition. 104 pages. $15.99. ISBN 9781536200584. Ages 6-9. P7 Q9

When Ma Peachey, tired of doing unending housework for an ungrateful family, resigns from her household responsibilities to focus on her job and her yoga practice, the family falls into disarray.  No one cooks, no one makes sure everyone gets up on time, no one folds laundry. Only almost-9-year-old Betty sees the pitfalls.  She addresses the problem by pushing the family to adopt a dog.  The dog, a golden haired terrier of indeterminate breed named McTavish, uses various guerrilla tactics to train the family in putting away their laundry, placing their shoes neatly by the door, and cooking simple, nutritious meals.  Tranquility is restored in short order—appropriate because McTavish is a very short dog. The first in a series.

Verdict: The humor in this brief, satirical book reminded me more of Betty MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle than of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, though McTavish accomplishes the task without any magic.  Grace Easton’s simple illustrations of McTavish, Ma and Pa Peachey, and the three children bring the domestic chaos of the story delightfully to the fore.  Highly recommended for readers who are ready to move from early readers to chapter books.  This will be a good addition to elementary, middle school, and public libraries.

May 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Girl with More Than One Heart, by Laura Geringer Bass

Bass, Laura Geringer. The Girl with More Than One Heart. Amulet Books, 2018. 278 pages. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1-4197-2882-2. Grades 6+. P8 Q8

Twelve-year-old Briana is devastated when her beloved father dies suddenly. Briana’s mother goes into such a deep depression that she can’t even get out of bed.  Instead of dealing with the usual changes of middle school, Briana cleans the house, shops for food, cooks, and takes care of her younger brother, a kindergartner on the autism spectrum. Sometimes, Briana feels that he requires more care than she can give.  Briana begins to hear the sound of a second heart beating in her chest and the sound of her father’s voice speaking to her.  Eventually, as her mother comes out of depression and takes over the household responsibilities, Briana learns to deal with the changes in her life and eventually stops hearing her father’s voice and heartbeat.

Verdict: The author has written a book that deals with many difficult issues that may affect those in middle school.  This book needs to be put in the hands of a school counselor, teacher, or a child who is dealing with loss.

April 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: The Button War, by Avi

Avi. The Button War. Candlewick Press, 2018. 229 pages. $16.99. ISBN: 987-0-7636-90533. Grades 7+. P8 Q8

Twelve-year-old Patryk lives in a small Polish village which is soon to become part of the war between Russia and Germany.  Patryk and his friends have lived under Russian rule since they were young, but this changes the day a German airplane bombs their village.  The Russians retreat and the Germans take over the village.  The group of boys that Patryk hangs out with begin a war of their own.  They collect the buttons from German uniforms by any means, which begins a competition leading to the war of the buttons.

Verdict: The innocent children in this story suffer the results of the war that brings change to their lives and to the group. Avi delivers a story of war that will appeal to middle school students.

April 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: You Don’t Know everything, Jilly P!

Gino, Alex. You Don’t Know everything, Jilly P! Scholastic Press, 2018. $16.99. ISBN 9780545956246. 247 pages. Ages 11+ P6 Q8

Jilly P realizes she has a lot of privileges as a White hearing girl. When her sister, Emma, is born deaf, Jilly learns sign language to communicate with her. A fantasy reader, Jilly connects online in the Young Vidalians chat room with Derek who is Deaf and Black. Jilly feels a connection with Derek because her sister is born deaf and she has Black relatives. Her Aunt Joanne is Black and has two children from a previous marriage. Aunt Alicia is White, which makes them a mix-raced couple. When Jilly notices her Uncle’s prejudice against Black people, she is bold and stands up for her Aunt and cousins, even when it causes conflict. When Derek’s friend is killed by a police officer, police brutality against Black people is brought to Jilly’s awareness. She realizes being Deaf and Black has its challenges. This well written novel shows the reader how they can be an ally and support their friends and family. With strong themes of Black rights, LGBTQ+, and Deaf culture, the author encourages people to talk and ask questions to bring awareness to prejudices. Strong proponent for Black Lives Matter and protect Black Deaf lives.

Verdict: I highly recommend this book for youth who are interested in social justice. After reading this book, it made me want to read Gino’s other book, George. It is a story about a transgender person and the challenges she goes through coming out.

Reviewer’s note: The whole book and even the cover refers to the family and friend as “black.” I was under the impression that “black” is not as socially acceptable as African American. Since the book referred to the characters as “black” I wanted the review to reflect the book. I did some research and this is what I found. “Today, some people view “black” and “African American” interchangeably. But many have strong opinions that “African American” is too restrictive for the current US population. In part, the term African American came into use to highlight that the experiences of the people here reflect both their origins in the African continent and their history on the American continent.

But recent immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean have different combinations of history and experience, so some have argued that the term “black” is more inclusive of the collective experiences of the US population.”

–Source:  Urban Wire :: Race and Ethnicity, the blog of the Urban Institute by Margaret Simms. February 8, 2018 edition.

February 2019 review by Tami Harris.