Sunny Side Up: Book Review

March 19th, 2017 by

Summer vacation in Florida — what could be better? Well, you might not be so excited if you were staying with your grandpa in a senior home, without the rest of your family, away from your friends, and miles from Disney World. That’s exactly the summer facing the main character in the graphic novel Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm.

Still, Sunny Lewin tries to make the best of her summer away from home. And things start looking up when she makes a new friend — someone actually her age, as opposed to all the old folks. Together, Sunny and Buzz retrieve lost golf balls to earn some pocket change and discover they have a talent for finding lost cats. Plus, Buzz introduces Sunny to the joy of comic books!

Check out the official book trailer below:

But wait — there’s more to this book than shown here. Yes, Sunny is trying to maintain a positive attitude and she finds plenty of fun things to do. But her summer is also tinged with pain and confusion. There’s something bad going on with her family at home, and even though she’s miles away, Sunny just can’t shake it.

I don’t want to give away too much, so I won’t go into detail here. But let’s just say that Sunny, her parents, and especially her older brother are going through a hard time. I didn’t know about this aspect of the story when I first started the book, and I was happily surprised to find that Sunny Side Up is deeper than I expected. But don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom. Just like with life, there’s a balance between the sad side and the sunny side.

I highly recommend this book to fans of Raina Telgemeier’s books, like Ghosts, Sisters, and Drama. And, of course, if you’re already a fan of Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm from their Babymouse and Squish series, then you’ll definitely want to check out this book. To see a sneak preview of Sunny Side Up, go to the official website, which has a slideshow of the first few pages!

— Karen

Karen was in Florida a few months ago — but not anywhere near Disney World. Like Sunny, Karen was not too pleased about that.

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The Rock and the River: Book Review

February 19th, 2017 by

the-rock-and-the-riverLast week, we highlighted this year’s Coretta Scott King Award recipients. This week, I want to recommend a past winner: The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon. If you’re looking for a book that will give you a window into black history during this Black History Month, look no further.

The story takes place in Chicago in 1968, a time of great political turmoil and a pivotal time in the civil rights movement. Sam, the book’s protagonist, is the son of a famous civil rights leader who is aligned with Martin Luther King Jr.

But Sam’s older brother, Stick, is tired of speeches and non-violent protest. He joins the Black Panthers, another activist group that believes black people should reclaim their rights and provide for their own communities by more extreme means if necessary.

And Sam is caught in the middle. What will he do when a friend gets in trouble with the police — treated unfairly because of his race? Will Sam continue to support his father’s approach, or will he follow Stick on an exhilarating — but also scary and dangerous — new path?

I should warn you: There is some violence in this book. But more than that, there are some parts that are really, really troubling and sad. (The publisher recommends this book for ages 9-14.) But that’s part of our country’s history we need to know. And though this story is fictional, I think it provides important insight into real-life events and struggles — which in turn reminds us what we should all continue fighting for today.

Have you been reading any new books for Black History Month? Leave a comment with your own recommendations!

— Karen

Karen also really enjoyed One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. If you’re interested in learning about the Black Panthers but you’re not sure about The Rock and the River, check out One Crazy Summer!

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The Scourge: Book Review

January 22nd, 2017 by

the-scourgeQuestion: What do you get when you combine the terror of a deadly epidemic with the suspense of a government conspiracy? Answer: A pretty gripping story involving mystery, bravery, friendship, family, prejudice, corruption, and snakes. (Yes, I do mean literal snakes. On fire. Just wait for it.)

The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen takes place in a country ravaged by a highly contagious, very painful, and absolutely fatal disease. To contain the spread of sickness, the governor has come up with a program of containment: Test people before they start showing symptoms, and anyone found to be carrying the scourge is sent to an island hospital to live out the rest of their days in quarantine.

One day, Ani and her friend Weevil get taken in for testing. They should be safe because up to that point, only townspeople had tested positive for the scourge; Ani and Weevil’s families and the other River People avoided interaction with the townspeople as much as possible. (Bigotry and oppression can do that.)

But soon Ani and Weevil are on their way to Attic Island, where they discover that the conditions are far from the rosy picture painted by the government. Why are patients being put to work instead of resting and healing? What happens inside the separate infirmary building? How come the wardens never get sick? Ani is determined to find out.

If you’re a fan of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Ascendence Trilogy, then you will definitely enjoy The Scourge. Just like in that series, this book will keep you guessing with plenty of double crosses, hidden agendas, unexpected alliances, and political intrigue. (And even a little romance.)

This book also reminded me a bit of Icefall by Matthew Kirby and The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. All three stories feature a strong female protagonist who must unite a people and struggle against powerful forces — all in fictional countries/kingdoms far from our present day nation.

On the other hand, even though the country in The Scourge is fictional, I think Ani could be an inspiration to all of us living in America today. Ani is strong enough to stand up for her beliefs, insist that those in power be held accountable to the people, and work to bring her countrymen (and countrywomen!) together despite deep-rooted prejudice and inequality. I don’t know if the author was inspired by current events, but either way I think Ani and her courage would be a welcome addition to the real world.

Do you also have recommendations of books showcasing major girl power? Share yours in the comments below!

— Karen

One of Karen’s all-time favorite books is Because of Winn-Dixie, which features a strong female protagonist who changes lives in a way that involves no action/adventure but is still meaningful and dramatic nonetheless. Bringing together people in your own community is important too!

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Save Me a Seat: Book Review

January 8th, 2017 by

save-me-a-seatI have to admit, I judged this book by its cover. If you know anything about me by now, it’s that I loooooooooooooove food. Love it. LOVE. IT. So when I saw the lunch trays on this cover, I was like, “YES! I must read this book!” And I’m really glad that I did!

Save Me a Seat is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Joe (written by Sarah Weeks) and Ravi (written by Gita Varadarajan):

Joe is having a tough time, now that his best friends have moved away; they were the main thing helping him cope with being bullied by the most popular boy in their class. And now things are getting even worse, ever since Joe’s mom started working as a lunch monitor at his school — embarrassing him on a daily basis. Plus, Joe’s new teacher this year doesn’t seem to understand that his Auditory Processing Disorder makes him anxious about speaking in class. Why couldn’t things just be like last year?

Ravi is facing his own challenges, having just moved to the U.S. from India. At home, Ravi had tons of friends and was top of his class. Given his popularity, and with English as his first language, Ravi thought the transition to his new life in America would be easy. But boy was he wrong! His teacher and classmates have trouble understanding Ravi’s accented English, and none of them understand the culture he’s coming from — just as Ravi starts to realize he doesn’t understand the culture and expectations at his new school. Why couldn’t his family just have stayed in India, where everything was great?

Joe and Ravi are obviously very different from one another, and at first, that’s all that they can see about each other. But this book is about the importance of looking beyond surface level and getting to know other people’s many layers. At least, that’s what Miss Frost says is important when she meets with both Joe and Ravi at school. But can these two classmates move past their assumptions and come together as allies? Not until they can look deeper and understand the complex layers within themselves

I really enjoyed getting to know both Ravi and Joe. Each boy has his own unique voice and story, and I loved learning about their lives. Each character also opened up a new world to me: I was not familiar with Auditory Processing Disorder before reading Joe’s chapters, and I also appreciated the window into Ravi’s family’s background and experience as immigrants from India.

I was also really glad to discover that this book takes place over a single week. To be honest, when I read the book description, I was a bit concerned that this would be a heavy book, requiring me to follow the difficult lives of two students as they suffered through a tough school year. Instead, the short chapters and day-by-day frame of Save Me a Seat made the book a smooth, effortless read. Which is not to say that the book is simple — just like Ravi and Joe, it has layers.

And in case you were wondering, the food descriptions did not disappoint either! I perked up every time Joe mentioned his mother’s cooking, and my mouth watered as I read the descriptions of Ravi’s Indian lunches. Darn it, now I’m hungry! And I’m curious: What’s your favorite thing to eat for school lunch? Leave a comment with your answer!

— Karen

As a kid, Karen’s favorite school lunch was sloppy joes. Now that she no longer eats beef, Karen’s always in search of a good vegetarian version. Holla at her if you know a good place in New York! 🙂

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Cool Books for Cold-Weather Reading

December 26th, 2016 by

Happy Christmahanakwanzika! That’s Christmas + Hanukkah + Kwanzaa, in case you were wondering. This year, the three holidays are all very close to each other, which is awesome. But let’s not forget another very important December date that just passed: the winter solstice!

I know I’m at odds with popular opinion, but I much prefer winter over summer. I love stomping around in newly fallen snow. I love snuggling up with a hot seasonal beverage. I love putting a yule log YouTube video on my TV and pretending to warm myself by the fire. (Pro tip: Make sure you choose a video with “high quality crackling fire sounds.” Worth it.)

In other words, forget the holidays — winter itself deserves celebrating! So I’ve put together this list of seasonal reads so you can immerse yourself in the wonderful winter chill:

ophelia-and-the-marvelous-boyOphelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
When Ophelia’s father starts working in an expansive museum, she meets a mysterious boy who claims to live in the building as the captive of the evil Snow Queen. As Ophelia tries to learn more, she finds herself in great danger!

 

 

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Just like in Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy, this story follows the adventures of a brave girl (Hazel) who must save a boy (her friend Jack) from a malevolent Snow Queen. Although this book is much more closely connected to the original Hans Christian Andersen tale that inspired it, Breadcrumbs also folds in some relatable real-life growing-up stuff too.

 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia) by C.S. Lewis
Since we’re on the topic of royal winter villains, I obviously had to mention this epic fantasy adventure about four siblings battling the powerful White Witch. Given that Narnia has been stuck in winter for ages, I’d say this is a perfect book for reading this season!

 

time-fetchThe Time Fetch by Amy Herrick
Nancy highlighted this sci-fi/fantasy book in her recent post about “Book to Screen Adaptations We Need,” but she didn’t mention the incredible timeliness of her choice: The book takes place in the days leading up to the winter solstice, and Nancy wrote her blog post just three days before this year’s winter solstice! I wonder if the oversight had anything to do with a real-life appearance by the time gobblers from the story!

absolutely-trulyAbsolutely Truly (A Pumpkin Falls Mystery) by Heather Vogel Frederick
I absolutely truly loved this book. Yes, that’s a corny pun — but it’s also the truth! Somehow I simultaneously gobbled up and hugged this book in a tight embrace the whole time I read it. Not even metaphorically! Okay, yes, metaphorically. But seriously, I really enjoyed Absolutely Truly — a mystery involving an undelivered letter in a valuable book. Icy winter weather also plays a big role in the story, in case you couldn’t tell from the cover.

 

If you’re looking for even more winter book recommendations, check out this Kidsmomo booklist: “A Wintry Mix of Books.” Of course, if you have your own favorite read for the season, please leave a comment and share! In the meantime, stay warm!

— Karen

Karen seems to have caught a cold over the last few days. What a perfect excuse for staying inside with a good book!

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Saving Kabul Corner: Book Review

November 13th, 2016 by

saving-kabul-cornerAs you guys know from my other book reviews, I love a good mystery that doesn’t involve violence. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be kept guessing. But that doesn’t mean I need kidnappings, fights, and action on every single page.

Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai fits the bill perfectly. Even though there’s no threat of physical harm, the stakes involved in the mystery are still extremely high: Someone seems intent on putting the main character’s family store out of business, and they will lose their livelihood unless Ariana can find the culprit. Forget about the new house they were planning to move into (where Ariana could finally have her own bedroom again); if the store closes, they’ll have trouble just paying the regular bills every month.

Of course, Ariana is not about to let that happen, so she teams up with her best friend, Mariam, as well as two unlikely allies:

  • Ally #1: Her cousin, Laila, whom Ariana can’t stand. Ever since Laila and her mom came from Afghanistan to live with Ariana’s family, everyone has compared the two girls — and Ariana hates constantly being told she’s not as well-behaved or graceful as Laila.
  • Ally #2: Waleed, whose family owns the rival Afghani grocery store that just opened in the same plaza as Kabul Corner. Even though everybody believes that it’s actually this other store behind Kabul Corner’s troubles, Ariana isn’t so sure — and Waleed definitely wants to prove his family isn’t involved.

It’s totally absorbing to watch Ariana and her team try to figure out who is behind the sabotage and bring them to justice. Even without fast-paced action/adventure, I couldn’t wait to turn each page and see what happened next.

That’s why I’d recommend this book for fans of other mysteries grounded in real-world family and school life — like Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick, Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, and The Map Trap by Andrew Clements.

I also enjoyed reading about the characters’ lives, including their ties to Afghanistan — both cultural (like traditions Ariana is expected to follow) and physical (like Laila’s father, who is still living in Afghanistan until he can join his family in the United States).

In the coming weeks and months, you’ll probably be hearing a lot about immigration on the news and at school; if you like learning about Laila and Mariam’s stories in Saving Kabul Corner, I highly encourage you to seek out other books about immigrants in America — such as Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai and Behind the Mountain by Edwidge Danticat (both fiction) and This Land Is Our Land by Linda Barrett Osborne and Kids Like Me: Voices of the Immigrant Experience (both nonfiction).

Also, Saving Kabul Corner has a companion book called Shooting Kabul. The story in Shooting Kabul actually takes place before the story in Saving Kabul Corner, but this is not a series, so you can read the books in either order!

But back to another aspect of Saving Kabul Corner that I enjoyed, given how much I love eating… Do you shop at a grocery store that specializes in food from another country? Leave a comment and share what you like to buy!

— Karen

Karen loves buying snacks from Asian grocery stores. In particular, the sweets remind her of the treats she would get from her grandma as a kid. She’s also a sucker for all the savory crunchy snacks at the Indian grocery — they’re even better than potato chips (see this post for pics)!

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A Visit to Hogsmeade: Chesnut Hill Harry Potter Festival

October 31st, 2016 by

festival-signIf you’ve been paying any attention at all, then you know that both Nancy and I are GINORMOUS Harry Potter fans. We’ve been to LeakyCon (more than once), we’ve been to the Quidditch World Cup (again, more than once), and we’ve been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (you guessed it — more than once). So when we heard about a Harry Potter Festival not too far from our home of New York City, we said, “Blimey, let’s do it!”

The event: the 2016 Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Festival in Philadelphia, PA. They block off the street, set up booths, and invite wizards, witches, and Muggles alike to enjoy Butterbeer, browse magical artifacts, watch shows, and just generally bask in the magic.

Unfortunately, Nancy came down with spattergroit right before the festival. (Or maybe it was just the flu — but she didn’t go to St. Mungo’s for an official diagnosis, so who can say for sure?) I was obviously sad about this, but I was also determined to make it to Hogsmeade. So I grabbed a substitute friend, and off I went!

Click on my photos to see some highlights from my trip:

Unfortunately, I didn’t get photos of all the amazing costumes and sights that day. Wish I had asked Colin Creevey to share some of his pics! But you can see some additional pictures in the event’s official photo galleryHow would you dress up for a Harry Potter festival?

— Karen

Karen wore a Hogwarts shirt to the festival, but sadly it was so cold that she covered it up with her jacket the whole time. How she longed for the Hufflepuff scarf she had left at home!

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Happy (Early) Birthday, Philip Pullman!

October 16th, 2016 by

philip-pullmanGuess whose birthday is coming up in just a few days (on October 19th)! Okay, it’s probably really obvious, considering I gave it away in the title of this post. The answer is: Philip Pullman!

You probably know him as the author of the His Dark Materials books: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. The trilogy is super famous, and the first book was even adapted into a movie. But surprisingly, we’ve never featured the books on Kidsmomo. Time to remedy that — as a birthday present for Philip Pullman! I’m sure he will be delighted and love this more than all his other gifts this year.

hisdarkmaterials

Anyway… The books are about Lyra and Will, following their journey through a series of parallel universes. The first book focuses on Lyra as she investigates the disappearance of her friend and other children, leading to her discovery of the chilling plot behind their abductions and a hint of her role in battles to come. In the second book Lyra meets Will, who lives in a parallel version of Oxford, England. The rest of the trilogy follows their harrowing mission to save not just their own two worlds, but all the worlds.

The story told across these three books is truly epic, and I’d say it falls between fantasy and dystopian fiction: There is an adventure/quest feel to Will and Lyra’s travels, and there are plenty of fantastical elements (like daemons, which are talking animal spirits that are emotionally connected to their human companions). But I feel like the trilogy goes way beyond the traditional fantasy in terms of how dark and sinister the settings, situations, institutions, and characters are.

I’m taking SUPER dark, people. So if you’re not sure whether you’re up for it, I’d suggest you stay away. Even I found the third book to be too bleak for me. And that’s even after getting past the killings in the first two books! Then again, I’d say that’s one mark of a good book — one that can have such a strong effect on you. I have no interest in reading His Dark Materials again, but I’m glad I did!

If you’re unsure, you could also start with the movie. Check out the trailer:

Given how popular these books are, maybe you’ve already read them. In that case, thanks for taking the time to read my post and get all the way down to this point on the page! Why not go the final step and submit a review for the trilogy or your favorite of the three books?

— Karen

If Karen had a daemon, maybe it would be a black mamba. According to the quiz she took on Pottermore, that’s her Patronus!

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Books to Big Screen: Fall 2016 releases

October 2nd, 2016 by

Now that the weather is cooler, I’m so excited about curling up on the couch with a good book, a warm blanket, and a hot cider. And you know another good spot for staying toasty indoors as the days get colder? The movie theater!

Of course, I’m not advocating just any old films. In true Kidsmomo style, I’m talking about movies based on children’s books:

Just released in theater’s yesterday, you can now visit Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (based on the series by Ransom Riggs). Judging from the trailer, it looks so good that you may wish for a time loop so you can see it again and again!

In less than a week, you can see MIDDLE SCHOOL: The Worst Years of My Life, based on the series by James Patterson. How will the film bring Rafe’s drawings—and crazy antics—to life? Check out the trailer:

And, of course, we here at Kidsmomo are monstrously excited about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, coming out in November. In the spring, we shared an early trailer for the movie. Now check out the very latest trailer that was just revealed by Warner Bros!

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! That looks so awesome!!!!!

Ahem. Sorry, got a little carried away there… Anyway, are you planning to see any of these movies? Leave a comment about which ones you’re going to watch!

— Karen

Karen is very excited for what J.K. Rowling has called “the dawn of the Age of Hufflepuff,” ushered in by Newt Scamander’s central role in the upcoming Fantastic Beasts movie. Go, badgers!

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Me and Miranda Mullaly: Book Review

September 18th, 2016 by

me-and-miranda-mullalyHave you ever been in a situation where you’ve known someone for a while and never really thought them to be extraordinary, but then they do some small thing that catches your attention — and suddenly you see them in a whole new light? Welcome to the world of the characters in Me and Miranda Mullaly by Jake Gerhardt.

The book is mainly divided between three narrators:
– Sam, the class clown and practical joker
– Duke, the studious one who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else
– Chollie, the popular jock

After an incident involving one of Sam’s pranks, all three boys find themselves head over heels for their classmate Miranda. Each guy makes it his mission to win her over, setting off a series of funny misunderstandings and grand gestures that go wrong. Things escalate even further once the boys realize that they are all in competition for Miranda’s affections, leading to plans of sabotage and revenge.

Meanwhile, the reader also gets more and more glimpses into Miranda’s perspective as the book progresses, adding an extra level of humor to the whole story.

I have to say that at first, I found the book to be a bit slow. But once the characters started plotting their attempts to woo Miranda, things picked up — and it wasn’t long before I was completely sucked into the shenanigans.

I’d recommend this book to fans of Crossover and Booked by Kwame Alexander, James Patterson’s Middle School series, and Gordon Korman’s school story books (like the Swindle series and No More Dead Dogs).

If you’ve already read this book, leave a comment with your thoughts. Or leave a comment about when you first noticed your current crush — if you dare to reveal the details!

— Karen

Nancy actually introduced Karen to her current crush. Thanks, Nancy!

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