Have you ever gotten so mad at your sibling that you played a prank on them? Have you ever moved to a new house that didn’t feel quite like home? Have you ever felt singled out at a party with your classmates? Have you ever felt nervous making a big speech in public? Have you ever been teased about your name? Have you ever participated in your school’s talent show?
Maybe you haven’t had ALL of those experiences, but I bet that you’ve had some of them — and that’s why I think you’ll like Ryan Hart just as much as I did! She’s the main character in Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson, which follows Ryan and her family as they make some major changes in their lives.
After Ryan’s dad loses his job, they move to a smaller house and adjust to new routines. But fortunately, Ryan gets to stay at the same school (where she is in 4th grade). And a lot of other things also stay the same. For example, her older brother, Ray, is just as bossy and annoying as ever! Good thing Ryan has friends to hang out with and parents who support her experiments in the kitchen as an aspiring chef.
If you’re a fan of the Ramona Quimby books, the Vanderbeeker series, or Boy by Roald Dahl, then I think you’ll really enjoy Ways to Make Sunshine. This book doesn’t have one big story to it — more like lots of little stories, just like regular life. And I think that’s what makes the book so great! I could totally relate to Ryan’s experiences, and I look forward to seeing what she does next in the sequel, Ways to Grow Love.
Have YOU read any of the Ryan Hart books yet? If so, please leave a comment with your thoughts! What was your favorite part?
Karen still gets nervous making speeches in public. She likes writing a lot better. That way, she can take her time — and she doesn’t have to worry what she looks like. It’s always nice to do things in pajamas, don’t you think?
Would you believe that our world is bursting with supernatural and mythical creatures in disguise? Your next-door neighbor might be a witch, or your classmate might be a weredragon — and the bridge between the human world and this hidden world is a secret agency called the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs.
In the fantasy adventure Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston, life at the Bureau is just as enchanting as you might expect: talking elevators with their own personalities and attitude, True Sight drops for your eyes, and an initiation ceremony for trainees (involving Merlin’s Crystal Ball) — just to name a few of the fascinating delights. But despite the miraculous magic in every nook and cranny, you might be surprised to learn that for new human recruits, arriving at the Bureau with pre-existing magic is a major no-no! And unfortunately for Amari, she is one of the few people in the world to be identified as a magician. In other words, she’s in big trouble.
But it’s not Amari’s fault! For most of her life, she didn’t know anything about magic or the Bureau! She didn’t even know that her older brother, Quinton, had trained with the Bureau himself. But now that Quinton is missing, Amari is excited and relieved to learn the truth about his job as a Bureau agent — because she is determined to find Quinton and bring him home. To do that, Amari just has to ace her exams and earn her spot at the Bureau, get to the bottom of Quinton’s disappearance (although no one else has been able to do it, not even his mentors), and show the doubters that not all magicians are bad (even while an evil magician is terrorizing the world and threatening to destroy the Bureau). No big deal, right?
Fortunately, Amari is up to the challenge. Unfortunately, that’s because she has lots of experience being bullied and underestimated. As a scholarship student at a fancy private school, her classmates never let her forget that she lived in low-income housing projects. Now her fellow trainees and some of the leaders of the Bureau are also judging her unfairly. But Amari is determined to prove that she deserves a chance at the Bureau, just like everyone else. And luckily for us, she’s also going to have a very entertaining adventure while she’s at it!
You’ve probably guessed by now that I totally loved this book. I was immediately sucked in by Amari’s story, and I positively raced through the pages to see what would happen next. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fast-paced adventures with fantastical elements and strong characters. Are you a fan of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson? In other words, are you a person who reads? Then you absolutely must check out Amari and the Night Brothers!
If I haven’t convinced you by now, then maybe the dramatic book trailer will work its magic (see what I did there?). Check out the video below:
And if you want to get started right away, you can listen to the beginning of the audiobook here:
Once you read this book, I guarantee that you will want to know what the future holds for Amari, her family, her classmates, the Bureau, and the whole supernatural world. Fortunately, a second book in the series (Amari and the Great Game) comes out in February 2022. I just wish I were a magician with the power of time travel so that I could jump forward a few months and read the sequel sooner!
Have you read Amari and the Night Brothers yet? Please leave a comment with your thoughts on the book! Or share what you would choose as your supernatural power, if you had the option!
Someone recently asked Karen what she would choose as her ideal superpower, and she immediately thought about invisibility. Then she thought about mind reading. Then she thought about charmspeak (like Piper in the Heroes of Olympus books). In the end, Karen couldn’t choose, but the smart option would probably be something more physical — like mega strength — because in case you were wondering, Karen has no upper body strength.
It may be hard to believe, but school is already starting in some areas of the country. Where did the summer go?! Well, if you want to extend that seasonal feeling with one last summer story before heading back to class, look no further than The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz. The book is all about Nat’s first summer in New Jersey after being forced to move cross-country with her parents.
If you’ve ever left your best friend behind to start a new life in a new town, then you know that Nat is not super excited about the move. But she starts feeling hopeful when she learns about a local production of Wicked, her favorite musical of all time — and that’s really saying something because Nat is obsessed with musical theater.
Luckily, Nat finds out about the production right before auditions, which means that she can finally live out her dream of being in a musical! Well, that’s what she thinks. Unfortunately, Nat’s parents are not into it. Nat uses a wheelchair, so her parents are overprotective and they worry that she won’t be able to participate in the musical. Instead they encourage her to continue with wheelchair racing like she did back in California. But Nat decides to audition anyway (even though it means ditching her first practice with the racing team) — and she gets cast in the chorus!!!
Nat is overjoyed to be part of the show, and she’s even more thrilled when she becomes friends with other kids in the cast, especially the very cute and friendly and talented Malik(!). But her excitement starts to fade when the director tells her that she willbe excluded from the dance numbers because of her wheelchair. Nat is determined to prove she shouldn’t be sidelined, but soon she and her new friends face another challenge: the entire production may be canceled! Now that she’s so close to her stage debut, can Nat find a way for the show to go on?
As a fan of musicals, I loved all of the book’s references to various Broadway shows — especially Nat’s punny username in the group chat: NatThrowinAwayMyShot! (Any other Hamilton fans out there?) Obviously, I highly recommend this book if you’re into musicals and you enjoy behind-the-scenes stories about theater productions, such as Better Nate Than Ever, the Jack & Louisa series, and Short. In other words, if you’re like me and your favorite awards show is The Tonys, then it’s a good bet you’ll like this book!
But I would actually suggest this book to everyone, even if you’re not a Broadway person. On the one hand, I think most readers will relate to Nat. Lots of us have experienced being the new kid, fighting with our parents about extracurricular activities, dealing with friend drama, and/or trying to figure out if our crush likes us back. I immediately recognized parts of my own life in Nat’s story, and I’m sure you will too. On the other hand, a lot of Nat’s life is affected by the fact she uses a wheelchair. It’s not just the situation with the Wicked director cutting her out of the dance numbers — Nat also has to deal with buildings and transportation that are not accessible, wishing she had more independence instead of relying on her parents and friends more than she’d like, not always being seen as a whole person, and sometimes even dismissing her own hopes and dreams as impossible. Of course, Nat doesn’t deserve to have more limited opportunities and experiences just because she uses a wheelchair. As someone who does not use a wheelchair, I was glad for the opportunity to learn more about Nat’s experiences and perspective. (In case you were wondering, author Ali Stroker uses a wheelchair and she made history as the first actress in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway!)
Speaking of the book’s authors… After you read The Chance to Fly, if you’re still looking for more summer stories, then you can check out the Camp Rolling Hills series by Stacy Davidowitz. Below is a book trailer where you can learn more — and you Broadway fans are going to love the video because it’s kind of like a mini musical!
Do you have a favorite musical or Broadway showtune? Please leave a comment and let me know!
Karen has indeed listened to the Hamilton cast recording a million gazillion times (to be exact), but that’s really just a recent favorite. Her lifelong favorite musical has always been Into the Woods!
Take one part graphic novel, swirl in an immigrant family’s experience, mix in a cooking competition, and sprinkle in some friend drama. What do you have? The recipe for a sweet and satisfying treat — in this case, the book Measuring Up, written by Lily LaMotte and illustrated by Ann Xu!
The book begins in Taiwan, right before 12-year-old Cici and her parents immigrate to the United States. After the move, Cici makes new friends and starts getting used to her new life. But she desperately misses her grandmother (A-má) back in Taiwan. They used to visit the market together every week, and spend lots of time together cooking and chatting. But now all they have are video calls — which are obviously not the same! Fortunately, Cici soon cooks up a plan to bring A-má for a visit: she’ll enter a local kids cooking competition and use the cash prize to buy A-má a plane ticket! But will Cici have the culinary skills to take first place?
As a foodie, I loved the book’s focus on cooking. I especially enjoyed the close-up illustrations of all the mouth-watering dishes created by Cici and the other competitors. For example, check out these sample panels from the book, featuring cookies sprinkled with smoked sea salt:
Yum yum! Be right back, I gotta get a snack…
Okay, I’m back. Just eating a little cookie over here. Anyway…
Despite a feast of food scenes and images, Cici’s journey doesn’t just take place in the kitchen. She’s also dealing with her parents’ expectations, including her dad’s disappointment when her grades begin to slip after she spends so much time working on her recipes that she starts neglecting her schoolwork. Plus, Cici also faces racist remarks from some of her classmates and even the competition judges! Sometimes Cici wonders if her friends see her as too Taiwanese, too different from them.
Will Cici gain the confidence she needs to triumph in the competition and proudly be her full authentic self with her friends, family, and neighbors? I definitely suggest that you read Measuring Up and find out!
What is YOUR favorite food to cook/bake or eat? Leave a comment below!
Karen doesn’t really enjoy cooking, but she loves to bake — especially brown sugar blondies. In fact, she has some sitting right here. Hmmm, is it time for another snack? Gotta go, byeeeeeee!
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 adventure — check 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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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…
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 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!
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!
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!
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!
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 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?