Book Review: Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

June 19th, 2021 by

What are your plans for the summer? Maybe you’re traveling with your family, maybe you’re attending camp, maybe you’re looking forward to hanging out with your friends at the beach or by the pool or in the park… Well, whatever your plans, I bet you WON’T be spending your summer the same way as Tristan Strong: teaming up with gods to fight monsters made out of iron chains. Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a fun summer to me either! But in Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia, Tristan doesn’t have a choice. That’s because he caused part of the problem…

You see, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky isn’t just a cool title — it also literally describes an event that takes place in the book. One night, Tristan is awakened by a little creature stealing his most prized possession, the journal belonging to his best friend who recently passed away. There’s no way that Tristan is letting that journal go without a fight, and in the process, he accidentally rips a hole between his/our world and another land. 

In this other place, called Alke, the African gods and the heroes of African-American folktales are real — from John Henry to Brer Rabbit to Anansi. And unfortunately, they and all other residents are under constant attack by iron monsters called fetterlings, controlled by an evil spirit (or maybe even two). Now Tristan has made things worse by creating the hole in the sky, so it’s up to him and his new allies to find a solution, or else he’ll never get back home.

As you can tell, this book is full of fantasy, action, and adventure. If you like battle scenes, you’ll definitely find plenty in this book. But there’s also a lot to enjoy even if you don’t consider yourself a huge action fan. There are quieter moments when Tristan reflects on his grief over losing his best friend and starts working through his feelings, with the help of his new friends. And throughout the book, there are many moments when the magic of storytelling takes center stage. Plus, the book is funny! In particular, I think you’ll laugh out loud at the exploits of Gum Baby, a pint-sized “doll” who is absolutely full of energy and self-confidence — and always spoiling for a fight. 

For a taste of Gum Baby’s antics — and the beginnings of Tristan’s adventurecheck out the video below where author Kwame Mbalia reads a short passage from the book and talks about his inspiration for the story:

For more of Tristan and Gum Baby, pick up a copy of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. And once you’re done with that, you can read the sequel, Tristan Strong Destroys The World. The third book in the series, Tristan Strong Keeps Punching, comes out in October 2021.

Which characters from folktales or mythology would YOU like to meet? Which ones do you hope you never have to face? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

— Karen

Karen recently learned about Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett, a heroine from tall tales of the American West. As you can tell from her name, she is feisty and powerful and loud and brave — and Karen would love to meet her and learn more about her incredible feats of courage and strength.

Book Review: When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

May 2nd, 2021 by

When I began this book, my plan was to read just a little bit, and then go to sleep. Can you guess what happened? I finished the whole thing in one sitting and finally went to bed at 1:00 am. Once I started, I just could not stop! Well, I do not recommend staying up so late — but obviously I highly recommend reading When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed.

To be honest, I also knew nothing about the book beforehand. But that didn’t matter, because I was immediately sucked into Omar’s story. The book takes place in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya, where Omar lives with his younger brother, Hassan. The two boys were forced to leave their mother and their home in Somalia after the civil war began, and now they live in the camp. Omar spends his days taking care of their tent, doing chores like getting water, and watching over Hassan, who doesn’t speak and sometimes suffers from seizures. But Omar also hangs out with his friends and their community, including their loving foster mother, Fatuma.

Check out a couple sample pages below, from the publisher’s website. These are from the very beginning of the book, and you can see how the illustrations bring you smack dab into the middle of the camp and Omar’s life right away.

See a longer excerpt of the book here

The book takes place over multiple years. During that time Omar, Hassan, and the many others who live at Dadaab all wait to see if they’ll ever have a chance to start their lives again outside of the camp. At first, Omar hopes he’ll be able to return to Somalia, reunite with his mother, and run their family farm. But as the civil war shows no sign of ending, he starts to dream about moving to America. Unfortunately, it feels like his chance will never come.

In the meantime, Omar is given an opportunity to attend school with his friends, which he has never considered before because he has always takes care of Hassan. But now a community leader is encouraging Omar to spend a few hours in school each day while Fatuma watches over Hassan. It’s a hard decision for Omar — and not the last tough choice that he’ll have to make throughout the book.

On that note, I have to warn you all: I cried a lot as I read this book. I do tend to cry easily. Sometimes my eyes get moist at the mere mention of sappy commercials. So yes, I am prone to crying. But Omar’s story — and the experiences of his community at Dadaab — are truly difficult. His life is also full of love and generosity, good friends, caring community leaders, a brother and foster mother he cherishes… But still, there is no denying the hard realities of Omar’s situation. So if you’re like me, you may want to discuss the book with a parent, teacher, librarian, or friend, either afterwards or as you read. Or maybe even read it together!

Have you already read When Stars Are Scattered or any of Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novels? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts! I really enjoyed her other books, but I have to say that this one now tops my list.

— Karen

Reading this book reminded Karen of the “Reading Without Walls” challenge issued a few years ago by author Gene Luen Yang (the National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature at the time). He challenged everyone to get out of their comfort zone and read: 1) a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you, and/or 2) a book about a topic you don’t know much about, and/or 3) a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun. For Karen, When Stars Are Scattered fits categories 1 and 2 — and now she’s thinking about what she’ll read for category 3!

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Book Review: Stargazing by Jen Wang

April 17th, 2021 by

In a recent post, I reviewed a book where a new girl arrives in town and becomes fast friends with the main character (The Only Black Girls in Town). Well, today I’m reviewing another book where the same thing happens — this time, in graphic novel form!

In Stargazing by Jen Wang, Moon and her mom move into the apartment attached to Christine’s family’s backyard. The two girls are both Asian-American, but otherwise they seem like complete opposites: Christine is on the quiet side and worries about fitting in, whereas Moon is a boisterous, confident, free spirit. But even so, Moon and Christine become best friends. Soon, they’re hanging out together all the time — until their bond is tested in a couple different ways…

For more details about the story, check out this official book trailer, which also gives a sense of the illustration style:

I also wanted to share a couple of my favorite pages, which feature a vegetarian version of dan dan mian, a delicious Chinese noodle dish that I loved as a kid. Since I stopped eating pork when I was in middle school, a long time went by before I got to enjoy dan dan mian again — until a few years ago when my friend shared a vegetarian recipe that replaces the meat with mushrooms. Imagine my surprise and delight to see Moon’s family eating their dan dan mian the same way that I do!

As a Chinese-American myself, I also identified with the characters in other ways — like dealing with the judgement of who qualifies as “Asian” enough. But you definitely don’t need to be Asian or Asian-American in order to enjoy this book. I bet every reader will relate to Christine and Moon’s experience in some way, especially some of the friend drama that happens with their classmates.

Do you have a book (graphic novel or otherwise) that you feel captures your experience in certain ways? Please share in the comments below!

— Karen

This morning, Karen woke up thinking about the yummy fried chicken drumsticks that her family used to take out from a Chinese place nearby, back when she was a kid. Maybe this book is inspiring Karen’s subconscious to revisit all her childhood culinary treats! Like dim sum, rice porridge with pickles, white sugar sponge cake, mango juice boxes… om nom nom nom…

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Book to Movie: Concrete Cowboy

April 2nd, 2021 by

You know how every time you go on Netflix, a video immediately starts playing and you have to scramble to turn off the sound or scroll down the page to get it to stop and you’re super aggravated and annoyed? Well, maybe that’s just me… But today I was actually incredibly excited by the video that greeted me: a trailer for the new movie Concrete Cowboy!

The film is based on the book Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri, which I previously reviewed for Kidsmomo. I recommended the book back then, and I still recommend it now! Here’s part of my review:


“With each turn of the page, I was drawn even more into the action and wanted to know what would happen next. And I also really enjoyed learning about this community I’d never heard of before — even without the illustrations, all the vivid descriptions brought it to life in my imagination, but the pictures by Jesse Joshua Watson are also awesome.”

To learn more, watch the movie trailer below and read my full book review!

And if you’ve already read the book or seen the movie, please leave a comment below with your thoughts!

— Karen

Karen also recently learned about cowboy poetry, which originated in the late 1800s when cowboy crews spent months on long-distance cattle drives across the West. These crews (including Black cowboys) would entertain themselves on the road by singing and playing music, telling stories, and composing their own songs and poems. Now Karen has spent literal hours reading cowboy poetry and watching their performances online!

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Book Review: The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

March 7th, 2021 by


In The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert, Alberta has things pretty good: She’s an amazing surfer, she has two actually cool artistic dads, and she has a best friend she’s grown up with — whose older brother always gives them free ice cream at his job at the local scoop shop. But being the only Black student in her grade (out of only four Black students at school), Alberta sometimes feels like she doesn’t quite fit in. Finally, though, that’s about to change! A Black family is taking over the bed and breakfast across the street from Alberta’s house, and she’s thrilled to learn that the daughter is exactly her age. Hello, instant friends for life, right? Well, not exactly…

It turns out that Edie and Alberta don’t have a ton in common. Edie dresses like a goth, she’s into Victorian novels, and she misses her old home in New York City — which she is constantly comparing to their small town. But despite their differences, Edie is nice. And she immediately understands Alberta’s experiences dealing with microaggressions from Nicolette — their classmate, neighbor, and Alberta’s biggest surfing competition. Unfortunately for Alberta, her BFF has always been quick to overlook Nicolette’s mean remarks, and now Alberta is starting to feel a distance grow between them.

That makes it the perfect time for Alberta and Edie to dive into a mystery! They discover a box of old journals in the attic of the bed and breakfast, and they are soon sucked into investigating the identity and story behind the writer. Who was she, why did she leave the journals behind, and what became of her? Edie and Alberta are determined to find out!

But life doesn’t stop just because there’s an intriguing mystery at hand. Alberta’s also dealing with friend drama, crush drama, school drama — and on the plus side, a lovely visit from her birth mom. To me, that’s what makes this book so great: It’s got so much going on, just like in reality. This could have been a one-dimensional story — a mystery OR a realistic fiction book about friendship and family OR a book about Alberta’s experiences with race and racism. But just as there are many interconnected parts to our identities and lives, there are multiple layers to this book. My only disappointment was getting to the end and having to leave the world of Ewing Beach and Alberta’s community!

I’d recommend this book for fans of The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson, Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre, Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught, Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai, and Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick.

Have you already read The Only Black Girls in Town or any of the other books I mentioned above? Please leave a comment with your thoughts!

— Karen

In the book, Edie moves from New York City to California — which is the reverse of Karen’s life! As a proud New Yorker these days, Karen really sympathizes with Edie’s homesickness for Brooklyn. To be honest, Karen would never want to leave NYC!

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Book Review: A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

February 13th, 2021 by

In 2020, our country lost an amazing hero, Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. One of his most famous quotes is: “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” But sometimes it’s easier said than done. We may know the importance of raising our voices and fighting for racial justice, but sometimes we can doubt ourselves, especially in instances where our friends, family, teachers, or neighbors disagree. In A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée, the main character struggles with whether — and how — to speak up for what she believes in.

Shayla is already having a tough time navigating junior high to begin with. She and her BFFs, Julia and Isabella, have always been a tight trio. They even call themselves “the United Nations” because Shayla is African-American, Julia is Japanese-American, and Isabella is Puerto Rican — yet they are a united force, three besties against the world. But junior high has changed everything. All of a sudden, Julia is ditching them to hang out with another group. Plus, Isabella is catching the eye of Shayla’s crush!

On top of all that friend drama, Shayla is also upset by the police violence that she sees on the news. Her older sister is active in the Black Lives Matter movement, but Shayla has always been a stickler for following the rules and staying out of trouble. Also, she doesn’t see why race should be such a big deal. For example, why do her Black classmates judge her for hanging out with Isabella and Julia instead of spending time with them? Why do things have to be so complicated?

Soon, however, Shayla finds that she can’t ignore the racial injustice in her community. And the more she learns, the more she wants to take action. But what difference can she make — especially when her principal warns her against certain forms of protest at school? Shayla has to decide if she’s willing to get into trouble for taking a stand.

I would recommend this book for everyone, since there are so many parallels to real life and to news of police brutality that you may have discussed with your family or at school. Or this book may echo some of your own personal experiences and dilemmas. I’d especially recommend this book if you liked Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes, What Lane? by Torrey Maldonado, You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino, or Strange Birds by Celia C. Pérez.

Have you already read A Good Kind of Trouble? Or do you have another book to recommend, where the characters also advocate for their beliefs and their community? Leave a comment below!

— Karen

Karen absolutely loves the cover art for this book. Like Shayla, she used to have various pins on her backpack when she was in school. And also a rubber chicken keychain that she attached to the zipper! Why? Who knows?

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New Alex Rider Streaming Series

July 16th, 2020 by

I have to admit, it’s been a while since I’ve thought about Alex Rider, the fictional British schoolboy turned spy for MI6. The first book in the series by Anthony HorowitzStormbreaker, was published in 2000. A big screen adaptation and a graphic novel version were released in 2006. And then, you know, like 14 years went by.

Actually, additional Alex Rider books have been coming out all this time — but it can be hard for me to pick a series back up if I’ve had to wait a long time for the next installment. However, I might have to revisit the Alex Rider books, in preparation for the new streaming series!

The drama will premiere for American audiences on IMDb TV on November 13th. Based on the incredible trailer below, it looks pretty INTENSE!

Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle all the tension and violence. You may recall I’m a real scaredy-cat when it comes to action and suspense.

On the other hand, it definitely looks like an exciting update compared to the 2006 movie — check out the old trailer below:

Kinda cheesy, right? Well, then you really won’t like this book trailer that we created for Kidsmomo back in the day:

Yeah, there’s no denying the videos in this post get more and more low-fi as you go… Of course, if you want to truly go old school, you should read the original books! Check out some reviews from Kidsmomo readers!

If you’re already a fan of the Alex Rider series, leave a comment below and tell us what you think of the new streaming show!

— Karen

Karen would be extremely surprised if she learned that her family had been training her as a spy when she was growing up. Perhaps all those piano lessons were supposed to help her stop bad guys in some way?

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Summer Reading Rec: The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles

June 28th, 2020 by

last-last-day-of-summerDuring your summer vacation, I bet the last thing you’re looking for is a story about the end of summer. Maybe you even wish you could freeze time and make the summer last longer. Well, you may want to reconsider all that after you read The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles!

Here’s the official description from the publisher:

When two adventurous cousins accidentally extend the last day of summer by freezing time, they find the secrets hidden between the unmoving seconds, minutes, and hours are not the endless fun they expected. Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town — and each other — before time stops for good.

To be totally honest, I haven’t read this book yet. So why am I suggesting it to you? Because someone I really trust recently recommended it: author Jason Reynolds, the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature! PBS asked him about some good “escape reading” for the summer, and this is the #1 book that Jason Reynolds suggested. Here’s how he described it: “I think it’s a brilliant book about young kids who are spending the summer in Virginia and go on sort of a whodunit magical fantasy.”

So if this book is good enough for Jason Reynolds, well then it’s gotta be good enough for the rest of us, right? How about we all read it over the summer, and then come back here to share our thoughts with each other in the comments below? I’m looking forward to hearing your reviews!

Also, feel free to leave a comment about other summer must-reads you think everyone should check out!

— Karen

Here are some other books Karen plans to read this summer: The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert; A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée; the new Hunger Games prequel (The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins); and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by the above-mentioned Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. So many good books! Karen really wishes she could just sit and read all day every day. With ice cream.

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A New Story for Our Times: Aiden Tyler, Quaran-teen

March 29th, 2020 by

aiden-tyler-quaranteenLast week, I shared some quarantine reading by Jarrett Lerner. Little did I know that just a few days later, another author would give new meaning to the term “quarantine reading.”

Introducing Aiden Tyler, Quaran-teen by Rex Ogle (the author of Free Lunch). Here’s the official description:

Aiden Tyler is your typical middle school student. Rides the bus. Likes comic books. Tolerates his sister. But, his life is about to be turned upside down by the Coronavirus. Yes, you heard that correctly. Aiden Tyler, Quaran-teen is a new and original middle-grade serial written and read in real time by author Rex Ogle (Free Lunch). That means as YOU experience things, Aiden will be experiencing them too. Join us every Tuesday, as Rex shares Aiden’s story that’s full of laughs, facts, hearts, and farts.

Every week, Rex Ogle will release a new video of himself reading part of the story. As of today, the first three chapters are already live. The next video comes out on March 31st.

Check it out, and then come back here to leave a comment with your thoughts!

— Karen

Apparently, the character of Aiden Tyler farts when he’s nervous. Karen gets the hiccups when she’s nervous! So it’s pretty clear that this makes her a much better quarantine partner than Aiden.

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Quarantine Reading from Author Jarrett Lerner

March 22nd, 2020 by

Did you guys know that I’m a student, just like you? Well, maybe not just like you. I’m obviously a gazillion years older, so I finished whatever grade you’re in a long, long time ago. But starting in January, I started taking classes again — to become a children’s librarian! So just like you guys, I was going to school, doing homework, working on group projects with my classmates, etc. But then — Coronavirus. Now I’m attending classes, doing my assignments, and being a student at home and online. And I bet that’s true for you too, right?

knights-of-the-kids-tableWell, if you’re looking for a new book to read during all those extra hours at home, I’ve got some good news! Starting tomorrow (Monday, March 23rd), author Jarrett Lerner is going to post chapters from his new book on his blog! He plans to release a new batch of chapters every Monday and Thursday morning until he reaches the end of the book.

The new book is called Knights of the Kids’ Table, and I bet you want to know what it’s about… Well, me too! But the author hasn’t revealed any details about the story — except to say that if you like his EngiNerds books, then you’ll probably like this one too. Since EngiNerds is about farting robots, I think we’re probably in for a fun and funny tale!

After you start reading Knights of the Kids’ Table, please come back here and leave a comment with your thoughts!

Or leave a comment now and share some other books you’d recommend for all this extra time indoors. Fortunately, most libraries have lots of great e-books to borrow!

Stay safe and take care of yourself, Kidsmomo friends!

— Karen

Karen is a major packrat who hangs onto pretty much everything. Luckily for her, that also means she hoards books. And since she can’t go out to the library or her favorite bookstores right now, maybe it’s time to start one of the literally 24 unread books stacked next to her bed…

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