Book review: The Hidden Witch, by Molly Knox Ostertag

Ostertag, Molly Knox. The Hidden Witch. Scholastic, 2018. $12.99. 202p. ISBN 978-1-338-25375-7. Ages 10-14. P8Q8

In the sequel to The Witch Boy, Aster joins girls in classes for witchery after his struggle to gain permission for training allocated only to females, but he needs to catch up with the lessons he has missed. His grandmother offers to tutor him but only if he helps cure his great-uncle, Mikasi, who almost destroyed the family after he was taken over by dark magic. Aster’s friend, a distrustful foster child suffering from bullying, is also beset with the dark magic by a new student at school, Ariel, who doesn’t understand that her new protector is actually a harmful shadow form. To save his friends, Aster needs to face the Mikasi’s black magic. Forced to face their fears, characters in this graphic novel make their own decisions—Aster breaks gender stereotypes, his cousin stops shapeshifting in defiance of the family pattern, and Ariel develops faith in others.

Verdict: This second novel is even stronger than the first, continuing with excitement while confronting problems of bullying and personal growth in a warm family setting depicted by rich, bright colors.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Construction Cat, by Barbara Odanaka, illustrations by Sydney Hanson

Odanaka, Barbara. Construction Cat. Illustrations by Sydney Hanson. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781481490948. Unpaged. Ages 4-6. P7 Q7

Construction Cat, a mother cat, heads out to lead a crew of cats to build while Pa cat stays home and takes care of the kittens. The cats’ tails are high as they begin to build. Large colorful equipment and cute cats complement each other as the reader wonders what the cats are building. During the lunch break, Construction Cat reads a note from her family that was in her lunch, which is a nice personal touch that children may be able to relate to. In some places, the text is larger to emphasize a point. It shows children that women can work outside the home and men can take care of things relating to the home. The rhyming text makes this book a good read aloud.

Verdict: Children who like cats and construction will enjoy this story. Using cute characters, it teaches children that they can follow their hearts and not have to be confined to the role society may assign them due to their gender.

November 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Knights vs. Dinosaurs, by Matt Phelan

Phelan, Matt. Knights vs. Dinosaurs. Greenwillow Books, 2018. 148 pages. $16.99. ISBN 9780062686237. Ages 8-12. P8Q8

When knight errant Erec exaggerates his exploits at one of King Arthur’s feasts, claiming to have killed 40 dragons, Merlin sends him, along with three knightly companions and a squire, back to the time of the dinosaurs to learn the value of telling the truth.  Doughty battles ensue and the companions learn surprising truths about themselves and each other.

Verdict: Plenty of swash and buckle make this adventure fun to read and Phelan’s loose, flowing line drawings add depth and flow to the story.  The knights face naturally armed and armored dinosaur foes that tax their fighting skills, making cooperation necessary for their survival, while personal revelations threaten long held beliefs which makes that cooperation more difficult.  This adventure tale is simply told, yet includes a satisfying questioning of social norms in a writing style that works well for younger readers.  Highly recommended for elementary school and public libraries.

December 2018 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: One Half from the East, by Nadia Hashimi

Hashimi, Nadia. One Half from the East. Harper, 2016. 256 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-0-06-242190-6. Gr. 6+. P8 Q8

The day that Obayda’s policeman father loses his leg in a Kabul car bombing is the day her life changes forever. With no money coming in, ten-year-old Obayda and her family must move to a remote village to be near her father’s family. Her father’s demeanor has changed, he never leaves his bed and he has nothing to do with his family any more. Her aunt thinks that if there were a boy in the family things would be different. Obayda is chosen to be a bacha posh, a girl who dresses as a boy, to bring honor back to her family. What a revelation this is for a Obayda, who can now do boy things! She soon overcomes any awkwardness and enjoys her new status. But, bacha posh are only free until puberty. Is there a way for Obayda–now Obayd–to remain free?  This story allows us a glimmer of what life is like for girls in a traditional Muslim home in Afghanistan.

Verdict: For those who love to read books about other cultures this is the book to read.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.