Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge: Book Review

May 28th, 2019 by

estrangedAs I ride the New York City subway every day, here’s what I’m usually thinking: “Ack! I’m going to be late!” or “OMG, I’m so hungry.” Here’s what I’m NOT thinking: “I wonder if just beyond this tunnel, there’s a whole underground world with fantastical creatures… or warring factions and generations of conflict… or wild adventure of any sort.”

Well, maybe I should be thinking about that because a bunch of books suggest all of that is happening just outside of my notice! There’s the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins, the Kiki Strike series by Kirsten Miller, The Lifters by Dave Eggers, Un Lun Dun by China Miéville, and now Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge.

In Estranged, the world below ours is inhabited by faeries — and one human child. That child (called Childe) is a changeling: a kid who was secretly exchanged with a human child when they were babies. Childe has grown up as the son of the king and queen of the faery realm, but he’s not really treated like a prince. Although he’s well cared for, he’s treated more like a pet rather than a family member.

Then comes the day when tragedy strikes the royal court — revenge served by a jealous sorceress. Now Childe must travel to the human world to reunite with the faery who took his place, bring the other changeling back underground, and hope that together they can make things right.

As you can tell, this story is a full-on fantasy adventure. It’s got:

  • Dangerous battles
  • Magic (both for good and for evil)
  • Non-human allies (a warrior candle!)
  • Rivalry within the royal family
  • A sequel! (coming October 2019)

But even with all the fantasy elements, the book also highlights a very real emotion: the loneliness that comes when you feel like you don’t belong. Out of place in their traded homes, both changelings struggle with feeling misjudged, misunderstood, and alone. In addition to saving the faery world, can these two adventurers also overcome their own feelings of resentment and distrust?

I’d recommend this book to fans of other graphic novel adventures like Amulet, Zita the Spacegirl, and Bone. Do YOU have any other graphic novels that you love? Leave a comment below!

— Karen

Karen’s been on a bit of a graphic novel binge lately. First New Kid, then Estranged, and now she’s reading All Summer Long. Maybe she’ll read graphic novels all summer long. Ha ha ha ha ha… Eyeroll?

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New Kid by Jerry Craft: Book Review

April 30th, 2019 by

new-kid-jerry-craftWhen I was in 4th grade, my family spent a few months in Los Angeles, almost 400 miles away from our home in San Francisco. Here’s what was great about that: We lived much closer to Disneyland! Here’s what wasn’t great: I had to attend a new school and make new friends.

If you’ve ever been the new kid, you know how hard it can be. Everyone already knows each other, they already know the teachers, and they know all the behind-the-scenes info that keeps you from looking like a fool as you navigate campus.

But being the new kid is even harder for Jordan in the graphic novel New Kid by Jerry Craft. That’s because he’s one of the few students of color at the fancy Riverdale Academy Day School.

Jordan is an aspiring cartoonist, so he wants to attend art school. But his parents insist on sending him to Riverdale Academy because of its focus on academics. So every day he leaves behind his family and old friends in Washington Heights and travels up to Riverdale, where he has to deal with kids who are mostly oblivious to their privilege — or worse, make racist remarks to Jordan and some of his classmates who also aren’t white or who are on financial aid. Even some of the teachers show obvious bias in their behavior towards Jordan. Then there are the teachers who mean well, but still treat Jordan differently as they try to show they’re not biased.

But it’s not all bad. Jordan makes friends, practices drawing, and gets more comfortable at Riverdale Academy. Still, as Jordan moves between his two worlds, there are plenty of challenges for him to deal with and a lot for him to figure out — not just about school, but also about himself.

I’d recommend this book to literally everyone. Okay, maybe not to little kids who can’t read yet. But everyone else should check out New Kid. Students, adults, everyone. For some readers, it will reflect their reality — capturing their feelings in both a touching and funny way. (Prime example: Jordan’s comics about dealing with his classmates and teachers offer social commentary in a package that’s sharp and hilarious.) For other readers, New Kid may be a window into a life that’s very different from their own — and yet, I bet they’ll still identify with Jordan and hopefully gain some empathy for his experience.

But don’t take my word for it — check out the recommendation below from Jeff Kinney, the author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid:

"Funny, sharp, and totally real! Jordan Banks is the kid everyone will be talking about!" - Jeff Kinney, author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid

The above image also gives you a taste of the artwork in the book. For more of a preview, here are a couple spreads from the publisher’s website:

Have you ever been the new kid? Leave a comment with your story! (Just be sure not to mention names, like the name of your school!)

— Karen

The first week of college, Karen’s parents sent her a birthday cake. Karen took it room to room, offering slices to her classmates. Pro tip: sharing baked goods = an excellent way to make new friends!

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Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow: Book Review

April 20th, 2019 by

drum-roll-pleaseHere are two things I always wanted to do, but never did when I was younger: 1) Go to sleep-away camp over the summer. 2) Learn to play the drums.

Well, Drum Roll, Please by Lisa Jenn Bigelow is about a girl playing the drums at a sleep-away summer camp, so obviously I was like, “Yes please gimme gimme thank you very much!”

In the book, Melly and her best friend, Olivia, head to Camp Rockaway, where they expect to play the drums (Melly) and the bass (Olivia) together like they always do at home. But they immediately get put into different bands — and if that weren’t bad enough, the counselor in charge of Melly’s band is super demanding and scary. On top of that, Olivia starts opting to hang out with her new crush instead of Melly.

At first, Melly feels abandoned by Olivia, especially because she’s still dealing with the shock of her parents’ recent decision to divorce. But soon, Melly finds herself spending more and more time with Adeline, a fellow member of her band who is a camp regular and happy to show Melly around. And as Olivia spends time with her new crush, Melly starts to wonder if perhaps she herself is crushing on Adeline — which would be the first time she’s had feelings for a girl.

I really enjoyed this book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes stories about big family changes, dealing with friend drama, and exploring new romantic feelings for any gender. I’d also recommend it to anyone who just enjoys a good camp story. If you liked Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World (which I just reviewed last month), then you’ll definitely like Drum Roll, Please. You’ll also enjoy it if you’re a fan of Sunny Side UpBe PreparedWillows Vs. Wolverines, Just Like Me, or You Go First.

If you’ve already read Drum Roll, Please, leave a comment below with your thoughts! Or leave a comment to share what you would choose if you could play any musical instrument (or if you already play one you love)!

— Karen

As you already know, Karen would pick the drums if she could choose any musical instrument. She actually just started looking into joining a Brazilian drum group in NYC, but she’s a little nervous because she has no upper body strength!

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The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin: Book Review

March 31st, 2019 by

Assassination-of-Brangwain-SpurgeI have to admit, I wasn’t excited to pick up this book. Like, literally. Because it’s a pretty hefty hardcover. I figured it would be a pain to carry around, and I thought it would take a while to read because it’s so thick.

But guess what — just like the two main characters in The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin — I incorrectly judged the book by its cover. Or in this case, by its physical size. Because once I started reading, I ripped right through the book — in this case, figuratively and not literally, thank goodness or else my library would not have been happy!

In the book, Brangwain Spurge is an elf sent from his kingdom to the land of goblins with a gift and a message of friendship and peace. The only problem is that the elves and the goblins have a long history of bloody warfare, hatred, and mistrust. And for good reason — as we quickly learn that Brangwain Spurge has orders to spy on the goblins and send secret messages back to the elves. Will he get caught? And what does this mean for his goblin host, Werfel, who is doing his best to befriend Brangwain Spurge despite pressure (not to mention death threats) from his fellow goblins?

The story of Brangwain Spurge and Werfel is full of adventure, double crosses, double double crosses, politics, war, friendship, rivalry, community, and the importance of overcoming prejudice if there’s any hope for the future. In other words, it addresses some pretty serious topics — but it never drags or feels like a textbook. There’s tons of action and suspense to keep the plot moving, it’s darn funny, and a good portion of the book’s many pages are dedicated to illustrations (a welcome surprise to me!).

You can see some of the artwork in this official book trailer from the publisher:

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It’s a no brainer for fans of humorous fantastical adventures like the Life of Zarf series and the How to Train Your Dragon books. But you’ll also enjoy it if you’re usually drawn to more serious epics about warring factions, like The Underland Chronicles and the Percy Jackson series.

This book was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award, which is a big deal. But as Brangwain Spurge and Werfel realize, it’s important to avoid blindly believing higher-ups and instead to have an open mind and learn for yourself. So why don’t you check out The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge for yourself and see what you think?

If you’ve already read the book, please leave a comment below with your take. Or weigh in if you’ve also made the mistake of judging a book by its cover!

— Karen

If you’re a longtime fan of Kidsmomo, then you’ll recall plenty of times that Karen has misjudged a book before reading it, like here, here, here, here, and here. Seems like she’ll never learn her lesson!

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Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake: Book Review

March 6th, 2019 by

Ivy-Aberdeens-Letter-to-the-WorldDid I enjoy Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake? Yes yes yes! Why did I enjoy it? Let me paint you a picture…

I’m a words person. I’m definitely NOT a gifted visual artist. (If you’ve seen any of our Kidsmomo Pictionary videos, then this confession comes as no shock to you.)

On the other hand, Ivy Aberdeen is very talented at drawing — and author Ashley Herring Blake is very talented at using words to describe Ivy’s art. Somehow, without ever seeing a single drawing of Ivy’s (not even a sketch), I feel like I know the truth of her art. And not only that, I know her heart.

This is all really important because Ivy puts her soul into every drawing. And some of the scenes hold secrets she doesn’t want anyone to know. In particular, her notebook has a series of drawings of two girls in a treehouse holding hands — and one of those girls is Ivy.

Actually, it’s more accurate to say her notebook had these drawings — because after a tornado destroys Ivy’s house, her notebook goes missing and suddenly someone is leaving Ivy’s drawings in her locker, along with notes encouraging her to talk to somebody about the feelings she’s trying so hard to hide.

Could it be Ivy’s new friend, June? Could it be Drew, a classmate affected by the tornado? Or what about Ivy’s best friend, Taryn? Whoever it is, Ivy’s determined to get her notebook back — hopefully without revealing herself to the world.

As I said, I really loved this book, and I’d recommend it to pretty much everyone! It’s a great pick if you’re looking for stories about LGBTQ characters, but there’s more to the book and more to Ivy than that. So I’d especially suggest this book if you’re a fan of family dramas, particularly with characters adjusting to new siblings or other big family changes — like You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino, Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord, and The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller.

Are YOU more of a visual artist or more of a words person? Or both? Or something else, like a builder, a crafter, a scientist, an athlete? Leave a comment about how you express yourself!

— Karen

It’s been a while, but Karen used to write a lot of poetry to capture her feelings and thoughts. Maybe one day she’ll dig up some old poems and share them here on Kidsmomo — if she can find any that aren’t too embarrassing!

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Front Desk by Kelly Yang: Book Review

January 22nd, 2019 by

front-desk Last month, we shared a list of the best books of 2018 — and basically my To-Read list grew from “out of control” to “SUPER DUPER out of control.” So I decided to start the new year properly by tackling that list, starting with Front Desk by Kelly Yang. And I am SUPER DUPER glad that I chose that book because it was SUPER DUPER amazing!

Front Desk is about Mia, who lives with her parents at a motel. But they’re not guests; they work there. Mia’s parents manage the place, spending most of their time cleaning rooms and doing laundry — so when she’s not at school, Mia runs the front desk! It sounds like a cool gig, but unfortunately the motel owner is a bit of a jerk. Actually, he’s a SUPER DUPER jerk. He refuses to pay Mia’s parents a fair wage even while demanding they work until they’re absolutely exhausted, he’s rude to the regular guests who essentially live at the motel, and he doesn’t even care about Mia’s family’s safety. And that’s not even all the drama that Mia has to deal with!

But why don’t I let a real expert tell you more about Front Desk and the inspiration for the book — check out this video with the author:

So, as you can see, Mia’s dealing with a lot — not only is her family struggling, but she’s also learning more about the challenges faced by other immigrants and she’s witnessing the effects of racism firsthand. But don’t worry, Front Desk isn’t a dark and gloomy read. There are definitely sad parts (I cried), but there are also lots of happy parts (I cried). And I loved the character of Mia, who is full of energy and really relatable. That was my favorite part of the book — getting to know Mia and seeing things through her eyes. My childhood was completely different from Mia’s, and I had the luxury of never having to think about the kinds of difficulties that Mia and her family encounter. Front Desk is a moving and much-needed window into their experiences.

I’d recommend Front Desk to, well, everyone! But I think you’ll especially enjoy it if you’re a fan of realistic fiction about families, such as The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya and Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai (both of which also involve family businesses!). Is there another similar book that you would recommend? Leave a comment with your suggestion!

— Karen

Karen wouldn’t have been able to run the front desk of a motel when she was Mia’s age. She was SUPER DUPER bad at talking with adults. Actually, maybe that’s why she still prefers talking with young people through Kidsmomo!

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Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail: Book Review

November 11th, 2018 by

well-that-was-awkward-rachel-vailI admit it: I fully judged this book by its cover. And I was into it right away — the intriguing title, the characters on their phones, and what’s up with the turtle and the rabbit? As soon as I spotted Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail, I had to know more about it.

And then once I read the description on the back cover, I knew it was for me:

It’s all good. Well… almost.

When Gracie learns that her crush likes her best friend, Sienna, she decides to help Sienna compose perfect texts to him. And Gracie is super okay with it. Like, more than okay! In fact, it seems everyone around Gracie counts on her to be okay… all the time. But Gracie has a wonderful though complicated family, and a big nose (but cute toes!), plus she’s in middle school. What happens if sometimes she’s not fully okay?

I love a good romantic comedy, so I decided Well, That Was Awkward would be the perfect light-hearted book to take with me on vacation. But guess what — it was AND it wasn’t.

As the blurb promises, the book definitely delivers mistaken identity mishaps, witty banter, friend/crush drama, and a lot of fun.The story is told in first-person from Gracie’s point of view, and I really loved her vivacious voice. I also enjoyed Gracie’s interactions with her classmates and found all of that to be quite realistic. I pretty much ripped through the story and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

But there was also a serious side that I didn’t expect — related to the death of Gracie’s sister years ago and how that loss still shapes her relationship with her parents and even informs the very core of her personality. I didn’t know about this part of the book, and it caught me by surprise as it was introduced on the very first page. What’s going on? I wanted a fluffy romantic farce! But I actually really loved this component of the story. It made Gracie’s character more rounded and deepened the book as a whole.

So I’d absolutely recommend Well, That Was Awkward, especially if you liked other books by Rachel Vail like Unfriended and Never Mind. I also think you’ll enjoy this book if you’re a fan of Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead or books by Jordan Sonnenblick like Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie.

Have YOU ever felt like your family or friends view you one way when you actually have many sides to you? Leave a comment with your story! Or just leave a comment if you’ve already read this book or any others by Rachel Vail!

— Karen

Karen is not really a sentimental person, yet she LOVES romantic comedies and especially Hallmark Christmas movies! This often comes as a surprise to people who view Karen as a grump.

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Books to Big Screen: The House with a Clock in Its Walls

September 4th, 2018 by

The other day, I was walking down the street when I spotted an ad for the new movie The House with the Clock in its Wallsbased on the book by John Bellairs.

First, I was like: “What the what? I didn’t know about this!” because how is there a book-to-film adaptation that I wasn’t on top of? And it stars Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, two actors I love!

Then, I was like: “I gotta get a copy of that book pronto!” because I always like to read the original source material before seeing the movie.

So I got myself the book that very same day, and I was super pleased with myself. But then I watched the trailer, and that threw a big wrench into my plans — because you guys, the movie looks really scary! I mean, I knew it was a mystery involving witches and warlocks, but I didn’t know it would be so creepy. And I do not do well with creepy!

Here, check out the trailer for yourself:

Honestly, I’m not sure I can watch this movie. Seems like it was designed to induce nightmares!

Fortunately, this second movie trailer includes some comedy and whimsy, so maybe the film won’t be a complete creep-fest after all. Take a look:

What do you think? Based on these trailers, do you expect the movie to be a terrifying horror film or a magical adventure? Maybe some of both? And are you planning to see it when it hits theaters on September 21st? Me? I’m still trying to decide if I have the nerve!

— Karen

In addition being nervous about the movie, Karen is also now a bit anxious about reading the book! Can anyone out there tell her how scary the original book is on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 1 being “all rainbows and sunshine, nothing creepy here” and 10 being “OMG, you’ll have to sleep with the lights on for the rest of your life”? Thanks, bye!

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Breakout by Kate Messner: Book Review

August 14th, 2018 by

breakoutA few years ago, a couple inmates broke out of a prison in upstate New York. Since I live many miles and hours away in New York City, I was intrigued by the story but it never affected my daily existence. I was never afraid of being attacked by those inmates, I didn’t hear every detail about the investigation into how it happened or the urgent search, and it didn’t change how I viewed law enforcement or convicted criminals — and I never thought about what life must be like for the people living in the area where they escaped. In Breakout by Kate Messner, I got a window into what those folks might have experienced.

Although it’s fiction, the story in Breakout has obvious parallels to the real story: Two inmates somehow escape from a facility in upstate New York, and they manage to hide from authorities even as a serious manhunt ensues.

But in Breakout, residents of the prison town are at the heart of the story — which is told through a series of letters, newspaper articles, and transcripts of in-person conversations and text messages. These records are collected by middle-schooler Nora to show what happened during the period of the big breakout, and they provide an up-close view of its impact on the community:

For Nora, it’s an exciting opportunity to hone her skills as an aspiring journalist — but also a challenging time for her family, as her father is the superintendent of the prison and faces a lot of pressure. For her best friend, Lizzie, it’s a chance to write some truly hilarious satirical articles for Nora’s records — until her own family unexpectedly gets caught up in the story. And for new girl in town, Elidee, it’s a a frustrating blocker to visiting her brother, who is in the same prison. It’s also a time when all three characters learn a lot about themselves, and when Nora and Lizzie start to see some hard truths about their neighbors and the world at large.

I recommend this book for fans of stories that are about everyday school/family life and simultaneously about societal issues (like Ghost by Jason Reynolds) — and also for fans of Jacqueline Woodson’s books, because in Breakout, Elidee reads Brown Girl Dreaming and writes her own poetry inspired by it!

If you were going to write a book inspired by a real-life news story, which event would you choose? Leave a comment with your answer!

— Karen

Karen also enjoyed the references to Hamilton in this book and was inspired to listen to the Broadway cast recording for roughly the millionth time!

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You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly: Book Review

July 23rd, 2018 by

you-go-first-bookI used to really enjoy Scrabble, but now I’m more of a Bananagrams person; I prefer the quick pace. Maybe because of that, I could never really get into Words with Friends or any of the other online Scrabble options. But I love the idea of making a new friend through one of those games — and that’s what happens in You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly.

Ben and Charlotte live halfway across the country from each other, but they have two big things in common: they both excel at Scrabble (way more than anyone else they know) and they are both dealing with friend issues at school — or rather, the issue of lack of friends. And the thing is, they don’t actually know they have that second thing in common. Yet they find a way to help each other even over the great distance.

Besides the friend thing, there are also other major changes happening in Charlotte and Ben’s lives: Charlotte’s dad is sick in the hospital while Ben’s parents surprise him with a terrible announcement about their own family situation.

So as you can see, this is not a happy-go-lucky, hilarious romp of a book by any means. But things are not hopeless either, and I enjoyed seeing how Charlotte and Ben’s stories came together.

I would recommend this book to fans of serious stories about friendship and family — like Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick, Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff, and The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern.

Also, the author of You Go First won the 2018 Newbery Medal for another book, Hello, UniverseSo if you’ve already read that one and enjoyed it, definitely check this one out — and vice versa!

Have you ever had a pen pal or other long-distance friend? Leave a comment with your story!

— Karen

In high school, Karen became friends with someone from halfway across the country when they attended the same summer program. They kept in touch over the years through letters and emails, and they’re still friends today!

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