Review: Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala by Meenal Patel

Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala by Meenal Patel

Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala by Meenal Patel (9781643439556)

Priya lives with her family in the United States. Her’s is the only house in her neighborhood where an Indian family lives. Priya loves to help her grandmother make rotli for dinner when she gets home. As they make the flatbread, her Babi Ba tells her about India’s spice markets, the architecture, the noises of the traffic, and the monsoon rains. Their house has marigolds strung over the door just like those in India. Priya longs to see India for herself. When winter comes, Babi Ba doesn’t hang marigolds outside any more. Priya has an idea and soon her entire class is helping her make paper marigolds as she tells them about India.

Patel, who is Indian-American, tells a story that focuses on a family’s continued connection to their heritage while living in the United States. Priya is proud of her Indian heritage, loving to hear stories about India and its sounds and sights. Still, there is a sense of distance between her own heritage and the society around her, one that can be bridged by sharing stories. The art in the book is rich will the colors of spices. Deep greens and warm pinks add to the color palette too.

A celebration of Indian heritage and the strength of family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Strange Birds by Celia C. Perez

Strange Birds A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Perez.jpg

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Perez (9780425290439)

The author of the award-winning The First Rule of Punk returns with another book about girls expressing themselves and making themselves heard. Four girls are all living their separate lives in a small Florida town. Lane, whose family is facing a divorce, has been sent to live with her very wealthy grandmother at her estate. Lane decides to create her own club, creating invitations that three girls discover. There is Ofelia who longs to be a journalist when she grows up and wants to enter an essay contest to win a trip to New York, but first she has to find her story. There is Aster, who lives with her grandfather and loves to cook. Cat is the third, a girl who loves birds and whose cause against a hat full of bird feathers leads all of the newly found friends to become activists.

Perez’s writing is just as marvelous as in her first book. There is a freshness about it, one that allows readers to quickly enter the world that Perez has created for them. The lightness of the writing belies the depths of the subjects. Perez explores privilege in this book with its cast of girls from different races and backgrounds. She does so explicitly, having the characters speak to one another about it in a natural but also vital way.

The theme of becoming an activist and taking real action to find justice is also beautifully shown in the story. From a grandfather who explains his own activism throughout his life to a woman who serves as a worthy villain in the tale, the actions the girls take are thoughtfully presented and full of good trouble.

Another winner of a read from a great author. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Kokila.

Review: Back to School by Maya Ajmera

Back to School by Maya Ajmera.jpg

Back to School by Maya Ajmera and John D. Ivanko (9781580898379)

Filled with incredible photographs, this nonfiction picture book explores the different ways that children attend school throughout the world. Some children are homeschooled, others are taught at night, still others study in crowded classrooms. Children take different transportation to school from buses to camels to boats. Some children wear uniforms to school while others wear regular clothes. In all schools though, you learn math and reading. You understand the world better; you make friends.

The text of this book is simple and straight-forward, making it just right for even the youngest children heading to school. Each photograph adds to the larger story of going to school by explaining what is happening in each vivid image and what country the children are from. The photographs are stunning, filled with children from across the globe and offering real glimpses into their lives at school.

Just right for starting a new school year, this is a smile-filled joyous look at learning. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Charlesbridge.

Review: Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali (9781534442726)

Zayneb keeps a diary with two types of things in it. There are marvels, something that is extraordinary and wonderful. Then there are oddities, which perplex, confuse or concern. Zayneb has always been someone willing to take on the world, something that gets her in trouble at times. So of course, she is the one willing to confront her racist teacher and ends up suspended and even pulling one of her classmates into trouble along with her. Zayneb ends up leaving for Doha, Qatar, to get an early start to her spring break. On the trip there, she meets Adam. Adam also does a marvels and oddities journal, but he is harboring a deep secret. He has recently been diagnosed with MS, the same disorder that took his mother’s life. Still, he is intrigued with Zayneb just as she is with him. While they are both Muslim, they don’t see life in the same way, though they are both busy putting on fronts for one another and not showing who they truly are.

Ali takes racism towards Muslims on in a very direct way. She shows microaggressions and other forms of aggression very effectively, demonstrating how each and every day as a girl wearing a hijab, Zayneb is subtly and directly attacked and questioned. But Ali doesn’t rest there, she also shows how to combat it, giving Zayneb tons of resilience and plenty of anger. Zayneb is a wonderful character because of the depth of her passion for being an activist and standing up for herself and for others. She is simply a kick-ass character. Adam on the other hand, is quieter and protective of those he loves in a different and gentler way. He too wrestles with questions and concerns, bearing the burden so as not to bother others until he can’t handle it alone any longer. He is a great foil for Zayneb’s character.

The city of Doha is also a character in the book. It comes alive with its markets and museums, public spaces and private homes. There is a beautiful sense of the city, one that none of the characters take for granted. It is not seen as a perfect place. Zayneb still has to confront overt racism there as well.

A romance that is strengthened by a focus on racism and a firm stance on being yourself. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.

Review: Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez

Where Are You From by Yamile Saied Mendez

Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez, illustrated by Jaime Kim (9780062839930)

A little girl is always asked where she is from. She tries to answer by saying “I’m from here, from today, same as everyone else,” but they simply insist that she tell them where she is really from. So the girl asks her Abuelo where she is from. He closes his eyes and gives her an unusual but important answer. He tells her of the varied places that her people come from. They come from wide open land in the Pampas, from brown rivers that give food, from high mountains where condors fly. She also comes from ocean waters, from hurricanes where rain makes tiny frogs sing. She comes from people who were enslaved for the color of their skin, from plazas filled with sadness. But most of all, she comes from love and from the dreams and hopes of her ancestors.

I must admit that I expected a book about the damage of asking that question of children of color. This book surprised and delighted me as it offers children being asked the question a positive way to see their ancestry whether it makes sense to others or not. The answer from the Abuelo in the book is pure poetry, taking readers on a journey through parts of the world and carrying self-acceptance along as an important theme. There is a sense of shared strength in all of the images of places that is embodied in that child.

The illustrations are beautifully rendered with deep colors that shine on the page. The varied landscapes carry readers forward into the story, inviting them to cool off on mountaintops and slow down to float on ocean waves. It is a book that celebrates our world, our cultures and our histories.

Powerful and poetic, this is one that belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Small World by Ishta Mercurio

Small World by Ishta Mercurio

Small World by Ishta Mercurio, illustrated by Jen Corace (9781419734076)

Nanda was born into the circle of her mother’s loving arms. As she grew, her world grew too. It grew to include more circles, branches in trees, blocks, steel, and cogs. Her world got bigger as she traveled to college where she built her own helicopter and then became a pilot. Her world continued to grow as she roared into the atmosphere aboard a space shuttle. She was bigger than she had ever been before when she stood on the moon’s surface and looked at the stars above her and Earth glowing in the sky.

Mercurio’s prose plays with perspective right from the first pages. She also includes shapes and components of engineering into Nanda’s childhood. A girl fascinated with science and engineering becomes an astronaut in this book that offers an inspiring look at a girl who grows up as her world grows around her.

The illustrations play with shapes on every page, from the patterns of trees and their branches to the quilt below plane wings made up of farmland. Even the stars above form circles at the end of the book along with Earth, guiding readers right back to the circle that the book started with.

An inspiring look at a young girl of Indian descent who reaches the stars. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

 

Review: A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele

A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele

A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele (9780062748577)

Pip is a pig who loves to make art, cook with her family and dream about what she is going to be when she grows up. But then one day, a new kid at school teases her about the lunch she brought saying that it stinks. The new pig also doesn’t like Pip’s art projects either. They even ask if her mother is her babysitter, since they aren’t the same color. Pip is furious when she goes home and she demands that they make her a normal lunch. Instead, they travel as a family into the city to explore a bit. In the city, Pip hears all sorts of different languages being spoken. The pigs are all different colors and patterns. When Pip asks for normal food, she is told that the food isn’t weird at all. Pip feels a lot better when they get home. Her parents offer a normal lunch, but Pip decides to take her same one. At school, she is teased again but this time offers tastes to everyone and they like it!

Steele explores what it means to be different in a sea of pink pigs. She also looks at what being targeted by a bully feels like when you are a small child and how it can shake your confidence in yourself and your family. Pip’s desire to be more normal is something that children will be able to relate to. The look at an urban setting as a place where people with differences are celebrated is done with a clarity that is very welcome.

Steel’s art is crisp and colorful. She has created pigs of all different stripes and patterns as well as colors. Pip is the only polka-dotted pig in her class and her mother is the only black pig in the neighborhood. The strong patterns and clear differences will help young readers understand that everyone is unique and that differences are worth celebrating.

Just right for kids who aren’t normal, this book celebrates diversity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond

Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond

Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond (9781534421851)

Welcome to Hungry Hearts Row, a neighborhood united by good food from many different cultures. Told in thirteen linked stories, this novel explores the power of food to connect, change, grow and even fall in love. There is the story of food that can give you courage and other dishes that can help you get revenge as long as it’s justified. There is the story of a food competition that unites a grandmother and her grandson. There is the quiet girl who knows just what pastry you need just then. There are haunting tales of sacrifice and pain. The stories bridge generations and cultures, they show a neighborhood brimming with new and old connections, and they fill the world with more than a little magic built on shared food.

More than a simple collection of short stories, these short stories are beautifully connected to one another. There are characters who appear across multiple stories long before they have their own tale told. There are restaurants glimpsed over the course of the entire novel, sharing their magic across many tales. Throughout the entire book, it is the neighborhood itself that is always consistent and full of details. Frankly, I’m not sure how this many authors managed to write such a cohesive and yet diverse set of stories. It is extraordinary!

One element of many of the stories is a sense of deep heritage that bridges generations. There are stories about grandparents and parents, about magic shared and taught, about food and the skill to make amazing meals together. Each story has mouthwatering descriptions of different foods, enough to make readers want to try something new and amazing immediately.

A remarkable short story collection about food and magic. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon Pulse. 

 

Review: Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz

Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz

Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova (9781534425644)

Leila isn’t sure she likes what she sees when she looks in the mirror, but her grandmother tells her how lovely the color saffron looks with her dark eyes. It makes Leila feel better, but she still sees her skinny arms and knobby knees in the mirror. As she joins her extended family for dinner, she realizes that she smiles the same as her aunt. Leila helps her grandmother make the curry. She heads out to the neighbor’s garden to ask for some cilantro. Everyone congratulates Leila on a wonderful dinner. Before Leila leaves that evening, her grandmother shows her a trunk of silk scarves. They are all the colors of the foods they just worked with, and Leila discovers a saffron one that makes her see herself clearly in the mirror.

Guidroz has created a book centered on a warm and loving Pakistani family. Leila’s concerns with her appearance are addressed by the family in a more holistic way, talking about beauty but also focusing on her skills and her talents. They never make her feel less for having concerns, instead surrounding her with options and choices to really feel more fully herself.

The illustrations are filled with oranges, yellows, reds and deep greens. They also have lots of patterns, filling the page with different textiles. Those colors pop against the simple white backgrounds.

Rich and warm, this book is just like a good curry. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.