Book review: Mango, Abuela, and Me, by Meg Medina, illustrated by Angela Dominguez

Medina, Meg. Mango, Abuela, and Me. Illustrated by Angela Dominguez. Candlewick Press, 2015. $7.99. ISBN 9780763695132. 31 pgs. Ages 3-8. P7/Q9

When Mia’s Grandmother comes to stay she is worried they don’t have much in common. She wants to know her Abuela but they don’t understand each other and Mia feels frustrated. A present she finds to remind her Abuela of home brings them closer as they learn each other’s language and how important family is.

Verdict: A beautiful story emphasizing the importance of family and learning from our elders this book is a wonderful addition to any home or school library. This book helps introduce the concept of immigration and also focuses on families that live with multiple generations in one home. The illustrations were engaging and the storyline flowed easily while introducing common words in Spanish in a fun way.

November 2017 review by Michelle Cottrell

[Editor’s note: This book was a 2016 honor book in both the author and illustrator categories in the Pura Belpre Awards. ]

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Book review: King of the Sky, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin

Davies, Nicola. Illustrated by Laura Carlin. King of the Sky. Candlewick Press, 2017. $17.99. Unpaged. ISBN 9780763695682. Ages 4-7. P7 Q8

Nicola Davies continues her animal focus with King of the Sky. A young boy experiences culture shock after relocating to Britain from Italy. The only constant in his life, he notes, is the presence of pigeons. After befriending an elderly pigeon trainer, the disenchanted boy begins to believe in the impossible and appreciate his life in unexpected ways. King of the Sky is a hopeful story and beautifully illustrated in Laura Carlin’s muted, smudgy style.

Verdict: I would recommend this book for thoughtful children or those who have recently relocated. It belongs in school and public libraries.

November 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: American Street, by Ibi Zoboi

Zoboi, Ibi. American Street. Balzer and Bray, 2017. ISBN 9780062473042. $17.99. 336pp. Grades 9+. P8 Q9

Ibi Zoboi’s debut novel infuses the daily life of a teenager with the timely struggles of immigration, weather-related displacement, and drug culture. Fabiola has immigrated to the United States from Port-au-Prince, Haiti; however, her mother was detained upon entry to the country. Now, Fabiola struggles to thrive within the Americanized culture of her Aunt’s house on American Street in Detroit. The flavorful Haitian food she grew up with is replaced with white bread and processed cheese; the landscape and houses lack the color of the island. Fabiola, a strong believer in her Haitian Vodou faith, stays true to her own story and begins to realize the magic of her belief exists in these new people and places. The topic of immigration and the associated risks are not addressed politically; rather, the fate of Fabiola’s mother is depicted as mysterious and hopeless. Zoboi writes in a sensual way, bringing the reader into the story with Fabiola as she makes her way through an unfamiliar new life.

Verdict: I would recommend this novel to readers who enjoy realism with the possibility of a supernatural twist. This book discusses difficult aspects of life as a teenager including sex, drugs, loyalty, and relationships. It has a place in school and public libraries.

September 2017 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: Save Me a Seat, by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Weeks, Sarah, Varadarajan, Gita. Save Me a Seat.  Scholastic Press, 2016. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-84660-8. 216 pages. Ages 8-12. P7Q8

Ravi Suryanarayanan recently immigrated to the United States from India. He is eager to make friends despite the awkward transition.  Friendship rings true in this story that alternates in first-person between Joe Sylvester and Ravi. This story moves an ordinary middle school routine into an emotional and humorous tale. Glossaries of Hindi and American words along with two recipes are provided.

Verdict: The use of the school menu as structure of alternating perspectives of the two friends makes for an enjoyable story.

May 2017 review by Penny McDermott.

Book review: Oskar and the Eight Blessings, by Richard and T.R. Simon, illustrations by Mark Siegel

Simon, Richard and T.R. Simon. Illustrations by Mark Siegel. Oskar and the Eight Blessings. Roaring Brook Press, 2015. $17.99. ISBN 9781596439498. Unp. Ages 3-8. P7Q8

simon-oskar-and-the-eight-blessingsOskar is a lucky little boy. Following Kristallnacht, his parents manage to send him alone on a ship to America where he is to find his aunt. Raised to concentrate on the blessings in life, Oskar makes his way through Manhattan on Christmas Eve to find his Aunt’s house on the Upper East Side. During his journey, he has eight encounters that prove to be blessings. In the authors’ note, they explain the historical, political, and cultural significance of the blessings as well as the personal events that lead to the creation of Oskar and the Eight Blessings. The illustrations are painted on canvas and arranged in a narrative way similar to a graphic novel. Oskar is a Holiday tale that reminds readers to choose a different perspective. If a young, Jewish refugee can find the good in people in the late 1930s, it should be easy for us to do the same. In addition to this lesson, the story is a successful primer to a discussion about the Holocaust and World War II for unfamiliar readers.

September 2016 review by Lillian Curanzy.

Book review: A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket, by Deborah Hopkinson

Hopkinson, Deborah. A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket. Knopf, 2016. $16.99. 304p. ISBN 978-0-385754-99-6. Ages 10-14. P8Q8

Hopkinson Bandits TaleThe adventures of Rocco Zacarro begin in 1887 when his Italian family sells the 11-year-old for $20 a year to a cruel padrone who takes him to New York City as a beggar. Branded by his owner’s cutting his lip, Rocco finds himself caught in the miserable slums until he works for another boy as a pickpocket and ends up in a juvenile home. Hopkinson, who showed the misery of immigrants in Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880–1924 (2003), allows the boy to escape his miserable life through influence from real life social reformers such as Henry Bergh and Jacob Riis, child and animal activists. Reading Rocco’s narration of his life is difficult in the beginning because of his horrific environment, but his adaptation and survival while he works for a better life is inspiring. In a picaresque style reminiscent of Rodman Philbrick’s The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg (Scholastic, 2009), Bandit’s Tale has enough humor and excitement to keep readers involved.

May 2016 review by Nel Ward.