Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older: Book Review

August 17th, 2019 by

dactyl-hill-squadWhat if humans and dinosaurs coexisted? We’ve all seen a few takes on the idea of early humans and dinosaurs living alongside each other back in the day — like the movie The Good Dinosaur, for example.

But what about dinos in New York City during the Civil War? Now that’s an idea that never would have occurred to me. Thank goodness author Daniel José Older has a more imaginative mind than I do!

In his Dactyl Hill Squad series, humans use dinosaurs for everyday transportation: People ride wagons pulled by “trikes” (triceratops) instead of horses. The fire department rides on brontosauruses. Instead of ferries, people ride sauropods that wade through the water. And above the rooftops of NYC, a group of orphan spies ride on pterodactyls.

Orphan spies? Yes, you read that right. Magdalys and her friends live at the Colored Orphan Asylum — that is, until the night rioters burn it down and kidnap the residents. The only ones left are Magdalys and a few other kids who happened to be at a field trip that night, and now it’s up to them to save their friends.

On the way, they team up with the Vigilance Committee, a group of black and brown New Yorkers who have have set up their own community and who protect free blacks in the North from being captured and sold into slavery in the South. These brave, strong men and women have the experience and connections to help Magdalys and her friends. But even so, can a small group of homespun warriors and untrained kids triumph over an established contingent of savage criminals?

I’d definitely recommend that you read the book to find out! It’s full of action, humor, and heart — and don’t forget the dinos! But be warned: The battle sequences are a large part of the book, and they include lots of detail. If you don’t like any violence at all, then this probably isn’t the book for you. It’s not gory, but still, there are quite a few passages focused on the fighting.

Also, you might want to know that a black character in the book is lynched. The actual act of the hanging is not described, but I wanted to mention it because obviously, it’s still horrible. At the same time, it’s important that the book doesn’t skip over such hard realities. Yes, there are dinosaurs, but this is still historical fiction in a way, and the truth is that humans did terrible things to other humans — and somehow justified their actions by saying that white people are naturally and rightfully superior to black people. Even today, we’re still dealing with this attitude and the way that it has played out in our country. So I’m glad that the book forces the reader to face these truths.

But don’t worry — this book isn’t all doom and gloom. Like I said, it’s more of a rip-roaring action adventure. And for good measure, there are also plenty of funny bits as Magdalys and her friends interact with each other.

Fortunately, Dactyl Hill Squad is a series, and the second book is already out. So be sure to add both Book 1 (Dactyl Hill Squad) and Book 2 (Freedom Fire) to your to-read list!

And after you update your list, leave a comment below. I want to know: If you could replace vehicles and other modes of transportation with any animal or any kind of technology (or magic!), what would you choose?

— Karen

Karen hates wasting time in transit and she loves Harry Potter, so naturally she would vote for apparition as her ideal mode of travel.

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The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez: Book Review

August 5th, 2019 by

first-rule-of-punkWhat’s the first rule of punk? According to The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez, it’s “There are no rules.”

But as the protagonist’s dad points out, that’s not useful advice for a kid being forced to move to a new city where she’ll be separated from her father and she won’t know anyone. So what’s the second rule of punk? “Be yourself.”

Easier said than done, Malú (short for María Luisa) discovers when her mom drags her to their new home in Chicago. Immediately, she makes an enemy of a popular girl at school. She gets in trouble for violating the dress code. And she can’t seem to get along with her mom, who is constantly bugging her to connect with their Mexican heritage and act like a proper señorita. For Malú, it’s not a good start.

So what’s a punk rocker to do in that situation? Start a punk band, of course! Soon, Malú starts thinking maybe she’s found her crowd and her passion — but not everyone’s happy about Malú’s project. What’s a punk rocker to do when challenged and told to shut things down? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out, of course!

I totally enjoyed The First Rule of Punk from start to finish — and in fact, I was sad when it ended. I wanted to keep hanging out with Malú and her friends and family! I really identified with Malú, who wants to be seen as unique and different and bold. And I understood her desire to oppose what she sees as the restrictive expectations placed on proper, traditional girls from her mother’s culture. I loved following Malú’s journey as she faces these tensions head-on, comes to understand her mom and her heritage better, and grows into herself in pursuit of that second rule of punk.

Plus, the book includes Malú’s zines — the DIY booklets that she makes to express her feelings. I never made any zines myself, but I used to order some through the mail when I was in school, and I always loved flipping through these celebrations of new perspectives. It was awesome for me to see Malú using this empowering medium to share her point of view, putting it out there proudly with a fierce and brave energy. Check out a couple of Malú’s zine pages from the publisher’s website:

zine-pages

I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes stories about being the new kid (like the graphic novel All’s Faire in Middle School and Let’s Pretend We Never Met) or stories about exploring your family’s heritage and culture — even if you have mixed feelings about it at first (like Front Desk and Stef Soto, Taco Queen).

Have you ever wanted to stand out and make an impression on your classmates, like Malú does in the book? Leave a comment below with your story! (Just don’t share any names, including yours!)

— Karen

In high school, Karen always wanted to be seen as weird and “alternative.” This included wearing her dad’s old jeans, even though her dad was much taller and heavier than she was. At one point, she wore a pair of his pants that would fall down around her ankles if she ran — even when she wore a belt!

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All Summer Long by Hope Larson: Book Review

June 24th, 2019 by

A couple months ago, I reviewed Drum Roll, Please — a touching book about a rocker girl trying to find her place over the summer. Well, I guess I’m really into a certain type of book because I recently read All Summer Long by Hope Larson, which is also a touching book about a rocker girl trying to find her place over the summer — and I loved it!

Unlike Drum Roll, Please, this book is a graphic novel, so it’s short and sweet. But somehow, there’s still a ton packed into the story!

Bina is the rocker protagonist, and she’s really bummed that her best friend, Austin, is going away to soccer camp for a few weeks. Besides playing guitar and binge-watching streaming TV, how will Bina keep from being totally bored while Austin’s gone?

all-summer-long-interior

Sample pages from the publisher

all-summer-long-interior-2

Sample pages from the publisher

Enter Charlie, Austin’s older sister. Even though Bina has always been scared by Charlie’s strong personality, it seems like they actually have common interests and enjoy hanging out. Bina’s thrilled to find a new friend in Charlie — but is she just being used?

And if Charlie doesn’t really care about Bina, then does that mean Bina actually has no friends this summer, especially when Austin stops texting her back from camp? How’s a rocker supposed to find her groove with all of this drama???

Unsurprisingly, All Summer Long is a great summertime read. Because it’s a graphic novel, it goes quickly — but it doesn’t skimp on relatable friend issues, self-doubt, and identity exploration. This book is a good choice for taking to the pool, the park, or wherever you’re rocking out this season!

I’d especially recommend All Summer Long to fans of Roller GirlDramaReal Friends, and Awkward.

Do YOU have any favorite graphic novels or graphic memoirs for summertime reading? Leave a comment below!

— Karen

Karen’s parents were always dragging her off on trips in the summer, leaving her best friend behind. Karen hated those vacations, but now she realizes that her best friend may have hated those times even more!

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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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