At age 16, Deka is preparing for the blood ceremony in her village that will prove that she is pure and worthy of marriage. When her village is attacked by deathshrieks though, Deka’s blood flows gold rather than red. Deka is discovered and held in a cell where she is drained of her blood regularly. Now unable to die permanently, she suffers through several deaths while her blood is sold by the elite members of her village. When a strange woman arrives wielding the power of the Emperor, she takes Deka with her to join a new elite force of fighters, all of them girls with gold blood and immortality. It is there that Deka becomes a warrior, learning to fight the deathshrieks and also learning about the powers she seems to have that no one else does, including the ability to order the deathshrieks to obey her commands. But all is not what it seems in the training camp. Steadily, Deka and her friends discover what is being hidden from them all.
Written in wildly engaging style, this book is a gripping and tense look at a society that denigrates women yet has to depend on them for their very survival in war. The pacing is strong, the book moving ahead with new discoveries and new revelations nicely. The diverse characters fill the entire cast, making a rich reading experience in an interesting fantasy world with monsters who are more than they seem at first.
Deka is an engaging protagonist. She must push back on the way she was raised to be submissive, something that many girls and women in our own society must do as well. Stepping into her own power is a theme of the book, learning to wield her new weapons and then figuring out who the real enemies are. Readers will figure out the puzzle long before Deka even seems interested in wondering about it. There are a few surprises along the way though, making it worth reading even if the reader has it mostly solved.
Ferocious, feminist, fierce and great fun. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Tola lives in Lagos, Nigeria with her older brother and sister and her grandmother. Tola is the youngest and quite small, though she notices throughout these three stories that often the smallest people turn out to be the strongest too. In the first story, Tola goes with her Grandmommy to the market because she is the best at counting change. She and her grandmother carry the heavy groceries and items back on their heads, stopping along the way for treats. In the next story, the water stops working in their apartment, so Tola wakes her siblings to get water from the well early so they aren’t late for school. But her clever idea doesn’t quite work out as expected. In the last story, Tola and her brother help their neighbor the tailor after he gets into an accident and can’t ride his bike. Thanks to her way with numbers, Tola can measure the clients for their new clothes and her brother is strong enough to pedal them all over the city.
Any new book by Atinuke is a treat, but one that introduces a new character and her family is a particular delight. As always, Atinuke shows both the poverty in Nigeria but also the strength of the community. Tola works hard throughout the book, making sure that she is taking care of her grandmother, her siblings and her neighbors. She uses her own particular skills to help, including her ability to notice small things, count correct change, and measure closely. She also uses her innate kindness and love for others to motivate herself.
The illustrations are done in friendly and often funny line drawings. These drawings show vital elements of the story such as the size of the rice bag that Grandmommy carries on her head and the length of the line at the well. They also help to break up the text, making this early chapter book approachable and adding clever humor.
Another charmer from a master Nigerian storyteller. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
As a little girl growing up in Eatonville, Zora loved to listen to stories. She listened to stories of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox at the general store. Zora told her own stories too, to anyone who would listen. But her father didn’t approve of her storytelling, since he considered it telling lies. Her mother though, didn’t want her children growing up to till the land, so she encourage Zora to “jump at de sun.” When Zora’s mother died, she was sent to the Florida Baptist Academy boarding school. Zora loved the books there, but soon her school fees were not paid and she had to leave. She didn’t stay long with her family, quickly moving out and finding work though she kept getting fired or quitting. She only loved the times when she could spin stories. Zora decided to return to high school and graduate, so she lied about her age of 26, claiming she was 16. After graduating, she headed to Howard University and decided to become an author, writing her stories of Eatonville. So she moved to New York and eventually sent out some of her stories to a magazine contest. Zora made another leap after she got attention from winning the contest and got a scholarship to another college where she was assigned to collect Negro folklore, something she had been doing since she was a child!
Williams writes Hurston’s biography with such energy and appreciation. She takes the statement Hurston’s mother made and turns it not only into the title of the book but also into a sentiment woven throughout the entire story, showing the connection between Hurston’s success, her talent and her willingness to make leaps of faith to new opportunities. There is bravery and resilience on these pages, shining in the sunlight as Hurston takes risks in the most inspiring ways.
The illustrations are marvelously colorful, filling the pages with Eatonville, various colleges and the dynamic feel of New York City. All of the pages are full-page art, taking the color right to the edge of the page, glowing with streaming sunlight, peach, green, blue and reds.
A shining leap of a picture book biography that suits its subject perfectly. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Long ago, when Jerusalem was still a small town, there was a bakery. The bakery specialized in challah, and made enough for the entire community. Jacob was the bakery’s delivery boy who drove the cart that was pulled by Soosie, the owners’ horse. The two traveled in the early morning along the cobblestone streets of Jerusalem, delivering challah. As each family paid, the coins dropped into the metal bank with a clink-clang. They did the same route, day after day, month after month. But then one day, Jacob was too sick to make the deliveries. Jacob was certain that Soosie, the horse, could make the deliveries all on her own. So they put a note on the cart and sent her on her way. Soosie stopped at each place, accepted the money in the bank, and walked on. Back at the bakery, they worried about whether Soosie could do it all on her own. Three hours passed, and finally Soosie was home again with an empty wagon and a bank full of coins.
Inspired by the history of Angel Bakery in Jerusalem, the author created a gentle folktale about dependability, challah and Shabbat. The author explains the details of Shabbat in her author notes, including the importance of animal rights as a part of Shabbat. Her writing pays homage to folklore capturing the same repeating elements as Jacob and Soosie make their regular rounds. She also uses plenty of sounds in her writing, emphasizing them and inviting participation.
The illustrations are light-hearted and merry. From the bustling bakery to the stable next door to the many people of Jerusalem they interact with. The entire book has the same quiet humor and good-natured belief in one another.
Paying homage to folklore and Jerusalem, this Jewish picture book is full of the warmth of bread and community. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Barclay has only ever wanted to be an apprentice to the town’s mushroom farmer. He’s worked hard and followed all of the rules after his parents’ death when a Beast attacked their small town. The town has lots of rules, some small and some large. One of the biggest is not to wander into the Woods that surrounds it. Barclay wouldn’t dream of breaking the rules, until one day he finds himself a bit farther into the Woods than he meant to be. It’s when he’s there that he bonds accidentally with a Beast and becomes what his entire town fears: a Lore Keeper. Barclay tries to hide it at first, but is soon run out of town by an angry mob. With the help of another Lore Keeper, he reaches the closest town of Lore Keepers where all he hopes to do is have his bond with the Beast removed. But that isn’t as simple as he hoped and soon he is drawn into a competition to get an apprenticeship with the hopes that the masters can save him and allow him to return to a simple life of mushroom gathering.
Foody’s writing is immediately engaging. She has created a fantasy world that is a delightful mix of everyday elements, a dangerous competition and amazing magic and Beasts. Readers get to learn about Lore Masters alongside Barclay even though he does his best not to be impressed or too interested in their ways. The world in particularly well built with elements that all work to form a fascinating and unique whole. The beast-bonding element is interesting and has collectible and connection elements similar to Pokemon but much more physical and with shared abilities that the person receives too.
Barclay is one of those protagonists who has a completely different take on what he is experiencing than the reader will. Even as the reader is delighting in the elements of the Lore Keeper society, Barclay is often whining or looking for a way out. Viola is a great foil for Barclay, someone who was raised as a Lore Keeper and yet has found herself asking questions about their world too. She and the other characters bring diversity to the story, so I often found myself longing for this to be her story instead.
The first in a series, this book is a wild fantasy romp. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Northbound by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by James E. Ransome (9780763696504)
Michael has always stopped work to watch the trains go by the farm he lives on with his grandparents in Alabama. Then one day he gets his dream and takes a train trip north with his grandmother to Ohio to visit cousins. Though Michael has caught sight of a boy his age on the train, he isn’t allowed to go into the car where the boy is riding, because it’s closed to Black people. As the train leaves Atlanta, the “Whites Only” sign on the door is taken down and now Michael is allowed to enter the car. The two boys quickly start to play together and explore the train. They discover they have all sorts of things in common. But when the train reaches Chattanooga, Tennessee, Michael has to return to his own car and the sign goes up again. Luckily, his new friend knows it is fair and shares a final drawing of all people riding in the same train car together.
In a book that starts with the wonder of trains and the joy of a train ride, this picture book shows the impact of arbitrary race laws throughout the United States in the early 1960s. While consistent racism in Alabama is an everyday occurrence for Michael, it is the on-again, off-again rules that will catch readers’ attention as well as that of the train passengers. It clearly demonstrates the differences in the way racism impacts lives in different parts of our country, speaking clearly to today’s issues as well as that of our past.
The art by Ransome is a grand mix of train travel with tunnels, bridges and cities together with a diverse group of passengers and staff on the train. There is a sense of frustration and limits in the illustrations with the closed doors and signs that is replaced with a joyous freedom as the two boys explore the train together.
A critical look at our shared civil rights history and a call for us to do better. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
From two award-winning artists comes this picture book about children who are definitely not the traditional family. Merra, Locky, Roozie, Finn and Jory all live together in their “ramble shamble house.” They have chickens in the yard, a nice big mud puddle that Jory loves to play in, and a bountiful vegetable garden. Their lives are merry and busy with working in the garden together. Then one day, they discover a picture of a beautiful pristine house that is far more proper than theirs. So they set out to make their rustic house into something closer to the lovely model home. Out go the carrots to make way for rose bushes. The mud puddle is covered up. The chickens get an ornate home of their own. They even make their own chandelier. Things may be proper, but they aren’t quite right the next day. The hens refuse to use their new house, the chandelier is carried off by crows, but worst of all, Jory has disappeared. They find him in a new patch of mud, helping them all realize that they may just need to accept they are a ramble shamble family.
As the proud owner of a wild natural garden outside my front door and a house covered in vines that please me immensely, I firmly embrace being ramble shamble. With this picture book, Soontornvat proves that she can write almost anything from children’s fiction to nonfiction to picture books. Her tone here is cozy and warm, embracing the way the children live from the very first page. The hard work the children do, their closeness and care for one another, and their desire to have a proper home all speak to the importance of having a family around one.
Castillo’s illustrations show the children arriving together at the house and then show how they live together. The children are diverse and range in ages from little Jory who is close to a toddler to Merra who is an older child. The illustrations show their connection to one another, how they all help out, and the beauty of their ramshackle life they have built together.
A charmer of a picture book sure to warm the heart and ease the need for a proper life. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.