Review: Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee

Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee, illustrated by Dung Ho (9781534440098)

Second-grader Mindy Kim and her father moved from California to Florida where Mindy has to go to a mostly-Caucasian school. On her first day, Mindy opens her lunch of seaweed, kimchi, rolled eggs and rice. It catches the attention of the other kids at her table, who don’t recognize any of it. The second day of school, Mindy can’t ask for a different lunch because the toaster had caught fire and distracted her father. She plans though to not get laughed at again, make a new friend, and convince her father to get a puppy. When Sally asks to try some of Mindy’s seaweed at lunch, Mindy is very surprised. Soon everyone is trying them. So Mindy has a new idea and has her father buy lots more seaweed snacks. As she creates her own snack trading ring, Mindy and her friend decide to start charging money for snacks rather than trading them. She soon finds out that she’s broken a school rule!

Lee has written an early chapter book that is marvelously accessible for young readers and also grapples with being different from your classmates. Mindy is also dealing with the death of her mother, something that is poignantly shown in her time at home with her father and with her babysitter after school. The use of seaweed snacks as a gateway into an illicit snack ring is clever and delightful. 

The illustrations inside the book offer breaks in the text for new readers. They are done with a wry sense of humor that is evident in the art and work well with the story that also has a lot of funny moments. 

A diverse and delicious early chapter book. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin Books.

Review: The Iron Will of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee

The Iron Will of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee

The Iron Will of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee (9781419731457)

Fans of the first of the Genie Lo books will adore this second novel in the duology. Genie has been busy doing her job keeping the demons in the Bay Area under control and settling their disputes. Meanwhile, the Jade Emperor has disappeared just as Genie finally takes some time off to visit a college campus with her best friend. As supernatural things start happening on the campus, it is up to Genie, Guanyin and Quentin to try to keep things in line. But the disappearance of the Jade Emperor has opened up competition for his throne. Genie nominates Guanyin for the throne, but accidentally sets her friend up to take on an unstoppable force. As Genie and her friends set off into parallel worlds to battle the supernatural, they discover that their combined strength may not be enough to save the world this time. 

Impressively, three years after the first book, readers will be able to simply pick up this sequel and start reading without needing to go back to review the first. Yee doesn’t backtrack much but carefully constructs his sequel so that the names and characters fall effortlessly into place for the reader. Yee’s characters are so vividly drawn. Add in the setting of a college campus and partying and you have a great setting for this second book. 

It is great to also see growth in Genie herself as she explores what she wants to do after high school, despite being a Guardian now. Genie remains as irreverent and sarcastic as in the first book, as well as being a great friend to those around her as well. She is brave, ferocious and full of tenacity, but it may take all of her cleverness to win rather than brute strength this time.

Smart, funny and full of great fights, this novel is the second in a marvelous pair. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy provided by Amulet Books.

Review: Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua (9781534411333)

Amy can do a lot of things like brush her teeth and tie her shoes. But the one thing she can’t do is make the perfect bao, a steamed dumpling. So she sets out one day to make the perfect bao. It’s an all-day effort by her entire family. Her father makes the bao dough, and Amy helps him pound the dough and let it rise. Her mother makes the filling, and Amy helps her too. Then everyone sits down at the table to form the bao, including Amy’s grandmother. When things don’t go right for Amy, everyone offers her advice on how to do it. That’s when Amy realizes that the dough has been cut for adult hands. When her grandmother cuts the dough into smaller pieces for Amy, suddenly she too can make perfect bao! In the end though, all of the bao, perfect or not, taste delicious.

Zhang takes the universal story of a young person not being as good at something as they want to be and wraps it in a delicious bao package. Readers are invited into Amy’s Chinese-American home and she leads readers through the process of making bao. The frustrations of learning and perfecting a process are openly shared. The discovery that Amy makes that solves the problem is nicely portrayed as well and I appreciate that the child is the one who realizes her own solution.

The art by Chua is wonderfully bright and vivacious. Amy is shown as an optimist throughout, even as she is trying to brush her teeth and tie her shoes at the same time. The backgrounds in the illustrations suit the mood of the moment, moving from gold to orange to blue.

A tasty treat of a book that will leave readers hungry for more. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin.

Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee (9781524740955)

As a Chinese-American living in Atlanta in 1890, Jo veers between being invisible to being openly shunned. She even lives invisibly in an underground secret room with Old Gin, the man who has raised her. Fired from her millinery job due to her race, Jo returns to her previous job as a maid for the entitled daughter of one of the wealthiest men in town. From her underground chamber, Jo discovers that the newspaper publisher who lives in the house above is having difficulty. A competing paper has a new advice column that is getting a lot of attention. So Jo sets out to anonymously fill that role as Miss Sweetie. As her column gains attention and controversy due to her distinct take on race and women’s rights, Jo finds herself caught up in a mystery that may force her to reveal all of her secrets.

Lee writes about an interesting moment in American history. After Chinese people were brought over to replace African-Americans as slaves on plantations, they also fled the hard work and disappeared into urban areas. These Chinese-Americans then had to figure out how to get by in a world that saw only black and white, not other races. Jo finds herself at the heart of these struggles as she navigates the world of the South in the late 1800’s. Laws were changing, and certainly not for the better around her. It’s a captivating look at an almost invisible group of people who should not be forgotten in the history of our nation.

Jo is a marvelous protagonist. Lee does an admirable job of making Jo’s more progressive views make sense and not be too modern. Bound by the society around her, Jo is regularly reminded of her status and that helps the reader also understand the restrictions that Jo finds herself living in. Still, Jo fights for what she needs and figures out ways to move ahead and help those she loves. She is undaunted, brave and fierce.

A superb historical novel that looks at race, gender and America. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC provided by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature

At the ALA Youth Media Awards, the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature in youth categories were announced. However, those announcements did not include the book given honor awards. Here is the full list of medal and honor recipients:

YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE WINNER

Darius the Great Is Not Okay

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

 

YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE HONOR BOOK

The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

 

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE WINNER

Front Desk

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

 

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE HONOR BOOK

The House That Lou Built

The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio

 

PICTURE BOOK WINNER

Drawn Together

Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat

 

PICTURE BOOK HONOR BOOK

Grandmother’s Visit

Grandmother’s Visit by Betty Quan, illustrated by Carmen Mok

 

Review: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman (9780062671158)

This collection of short stories is lush and beautiful. Written by fifteen female authors of Asian descent, the stories are modern twists on more traditional tales. Using the folklore of East and South Asia, the stories in this book take those tales and modernize them with clear feminist and girl-power themes. The stories are grand, mythological, stirring, and amazing. Readers will find themselves swept away, learning of myths they have never heard before and finding new ways to love tales they grew up with.

Compiled by Ellen Oh, the CEO of We Need Diverse Books, these stories are women speaking from their own diverse backgrounds. One of the most vital components of the book are the short paragraphs that follow each of the stories, tying them to that author’s upbringing, the original tales, and explaining their inspiration. Throughout the book there are themes of love and loss, death and redemption. No matter whether they are fantasy or contemporary fiction, these stories are each tantalizing and rich.

One of the best teen short story collections I have read in recent years, this one should be in every public library. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Greenwillow Books.

Review: The Shadow in the Moon by Christina Matula

The Shadow in the Moon A Tale of the Mid-Autumn Festival by Christina Matula

The Shadow in the Moon: A Tale of the Mid-Autumn Festival by Christina Matula, illustrated by Pearl Law (9781580897464)

The whole family gathers for the Mid-Autumn Festival to give thanks for the harvest. They will look at the moon and then each person makes a wish for the upcoming year. As the mooncakes are served, Ah-ma tells the story of Chang’e, the Spirit and Lady in the Moon. It was in a time when there were ten suns in the sky, baking the earth. The suns would not listen and stop shining so hard, so a young archer, Hou Yi, shot down nine of the moons. The last one he asked to share the sky with the moon. Hou Yi was given a magic potion for his courage by the Immortals. When a thief came to steal the potion, Hou Yi’s wife, Chang’e, drank it rather than have it fall into the wrong hands. The potion turned her into the Spirit and Lady in the Moon. Hou Yi discovered what had happened and would sit in the garden and look up at the moon, providing mooncakes on the anniversary of the day she transformed. After the story, the girls are ready to light their paper lanterns and make their wishes, inspired by the heroism of Hou Yi and Chang’e.

Matula merges a modern tale of a Chinese family with the legend that inspired this festival. The two stories are clearly separate, which works really well for a young audience. Her writing is clear, describing the mooncakes in a mouthwatering way and the inspiring actions of the legendary characters in a way that allows the melancholy yet beautiful tale to shine. The illustrations also make a clear distinction between the stories. The modern family is shown on white backgrounds that are clean and crisp. The legend is shown with primarily deep jeweled colors as the background, inviting readers into the richness of the tale.

A wonderful and warm introduction to Chinese festivals, this picture book offers a look at how festivals carry on in modern society while also telling the story behind it all. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Charlesbridge.

Review: Drawn Together by Minh Le

Drawn Together by Minh Le

A boy heads to stay with his grandfather and is clearly not excited to be there. The two of them eat different foods, the grandfather has ramen and the boy has a hotdog and fries. When they try to talk together, they don’t even speak the same language as one another. When they try to watch TV, the language barrier reappears and the grandson walks away. He gets out his sketchpad and markers and starts to draw. Quickly, his grandfather joins him with his own pad of paper, brushes and ink. Soon the two of them are drawing together, communicating and seeing one another for the first time. It’s not all perfect, sometimes the distance reappears but it can be bridged with art that combines both of them into one amazing adventure.

The story here is mostly told in images with many of the pages having no text at all. The text that is there though moves the story ahead, explains what is happening at a deep level and fills in the blanks for readers. Santat’s illustrations are phenomenal. He manages to clearly show the child’s art and the grandfather’s art as distinct and unique while then moving to create a cohesive whole between them that is more than the sum of the two. This is pure storytelling in art form and is exceptionally done.

Look for this one to be on award lists! Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney Hyperion.

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Emergency Contact by Mary Choi

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi (9781534408968)

Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, eager to leave behind her uneventful high school years, her dull boyfriend and her over-the-top mother. Her roommate Jude takes her to a coffee place where her uncle works, and Penny finds a connection with Sam immediately. Their friendship steadily grows as they communicate exclusively through texts with one another. But Sam’s life is not a simple one. His ex-girlfriend has announced she is pregnant, he is sleeping in a small room above the coffee shop he works in, and he is trying to break is alcohol habit. As Penny and Sam continue to text one another, their connection grows more serious and soon they are sharing things that they have never told anyone else. But can their friendship survive meeting in real life again?

I fell completely head-over-heels for this teen romance. Penny is a character who is rather neurotic with her bags of supplies and her need for cleanliness. Yet she is also artistic and has a thought process that is just as unique and wonderful as she is. Choi doesn’t try to fix Penny and how idiosyncratic she is, which is a wonder and a relief. Sam too is incredibly written, grappling with so many things at once. One of my favorite scenes happens early in the book when Penny rescues Sam from a panic attack, which demonstrates the amount of anxiety both of these characters have and how they live and love with it.

As the background of both characters is revealed to the reader, their reactions begin to make more and more sense. It’s as if the reader too is meeting a stranger, building a relationship and falling for both of these characters at the same time. A large part of both of the characters are their mothers from Penny’s sexy Asian mother who acts far younger than she is and is constantly getting into trouble to Sam’s mother who ran up credit card debt in Sam’s name, they are influential and painful for both characters.

Beautifully written, awkward in the best way and entirely empowering and accepting, this novel is a warm hug for readers struggling with anxiety. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.