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Book Reviews

Book Review: We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by Diane Greenseid

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"We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past" by Jacqueline Woodson (cover)
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Genre: Picture Book
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: Through Teeka’s eyes, readers will discover the humor, love, and, of course, the wonderful food that make up the quintessential family picnic.

 

REVIEW: We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past was a joy to read!

I loved how brightly colored the illustrations were. The smooth strokes of brush. The vibrant energy and from the characters’ expressions and body language. I liked how the text was displayed. There was a strong, clear voice and personality whenever someone spoke.

Teeka, her Grandma, and the family brought quite an appetizing feast to the picnic in the park. And when the book says, “We had a picnic this Sunday past. You should have been there,” I very much wished. This family gathering looked like so much fun and inviting and filled with lots of love to spread around.


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Book Reviews

Book Review: Eyes That Speak to the Stars by Joanna Ho, Illustrated by Dung Ho

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"Eyes that Speak to the Stars" by Joanna Ho (cover)
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Genre: Picture Book
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: A young Asian boy notices that his eyes look different from his peers’ after seeing his friend’s drawing of them. After talking to his father, the boy realizes that his eyes rise to the skies and speak to the stars, shine like sunlit rays, and glimpse trails of light from those who came before—in fact, his eyes are like his father’s, his agong’s, and his little brother’s, and they are visionary.

Inspired by the men in his family, he recognizes his own power and strength from within.

 

REVIEW: Eyes that Speak to the Stars is a beautiful companion story to Joanna Ho’s previous title. They’re similar in a lot of ways, but still different enough to feel new and be enjoyable.

In this story, the main character is feeling confused and sad by a drawing one of his classmates made. He asks his dad why his eyes were drawn differently.

Through lyrical descriptions and comparisons, as well as gorgeous illustrations that sweep across the pages, the main character learns what makes his features so great. He finds strength and pride within his personal and cultural histories. He also finds the power to dream big.

It warmed my heart how his family helped him see the beauty within himself. Through his eyes he envisions a bright future of his own making, which I think will inspire readers to love who they are and have a more positive outlook on life.

I really loved Eyes that Speak to the Stars, especially the illustrations that absolutely wowed me.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “Your eyes rise to the skies and speak to the stars. The comets and constellations show you their secrets, and your eyes can foresee the future. Just like mine.”
  • “Agong’s eyes that rise to the skies and speak to the stars gaze into the distance like they’re looking at the world through lenses of time.”
  • “He looks at me like I’m the world, but he is the sun, filling my days with light.”
  • “My eyes shine like sunlit rays that break through dark and doubt. They lift their sights on paths of flight that soar above the clouds. My eyes gaze into space and glimpse trails of light inviting me into possibilities.”

More by Joanna Ho

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners


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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Couch Potato by Jory John, Illustrated by Pete Oswald

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"The Cool Bean" by Jory John (cover)
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Genre: Picture Book
Series: Bad Seed #4
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: The Couch Potato has everything he needs within reach of his sunken couch cushion. But when the electricity goes out, Couch Potato is forced to peel himself away from the comforts of his living room and venture outside. And when he does, he realizes fresh air and sunshine could be just the things he needs…

 

REVIEW: The Potato loves nothing more than spending all its free time hanging out on the couch because it’s comfy, cozy, and all it needs is within reach. Oof how relatable, haha! Potato has a pretty sweet setup established, so doesn’t have to move much. Until a power outage forces Potato….OUTSIDE (gasp!).

I liked how MC rediscovers the joys of the outside world and basks in the fresh air. You could say this book is social commentary on being glued to electronics or too much time spent indoors and the importance of getting out more often so you don’t miss out on things. The MC learns that outside can be just as fun and fulfilling as inside.

And I loved when the MC said,

Yes, there’s a great big world out there and I want to be a part of it. In person.” These words stuck out to me.

This is an impactful sentiment that will stick with readers for a long time.

I liked this story. Not as much as the previous books but still relatable and fun with entertaining illustrations.


More by Jory John

Bad Seed
The Bad Seed (#1)
The Good Egg (#2)
The Cool Bean (#3)


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Book Reviews

Book Review: Falling Short by Ernesto Cisneros

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"Falling Short" by Ernesto Cisneros (cover)
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Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: A novel about two best friends who must rely on each other in unexpected ways.

Isaac and Marco already know sixth grade is going to change their lives. But it won’t change things at home–not without each other’s help.

This year, star basketball player Isaac plans on finally keeping up with his schoolwork. Better grades will surely stop Isaac’s parents from arguing all the time. Meanwhile, straight-A Marco vows on finally winning his father’s approval by earning a spot on the school’s basketball team.

But will their friendship and support for each other be enough to keep the two boys from falling short?

 

REVIEW: Falling Short is the literal embodiment of friendship goals. Cisneros’ sincere writing quickly endears us to two unlikely best friends whose steadfast support for one another is tested as they learn to navigate sixth grade.

Marco is a very sweet and intelligent boy who wants to join the basketball team to gain his father’s approval. He’s so precious that it made me furious that his sports-obsessed father pretty much wanted nothing to do with Marco because Marco’s behavior and interests weren’t masculine enough. Marco is perfect the way he is.

Issac is athletic, friendly, and outgoing. He’s determined to do better in school, so that he can make his mom proud and not let her down anymore. He’s got a good heart, but his impulsiveness and absentmindedness sometimes get him into trouble. I appreciate Issac’s honest effort to do better.

The bond between Marco and Issac is beautiful and demonstrates what real friends do, say, and make you feel. Both of their parents are divorced and they both have strained relationships with their father. I loved how comfortable they feel with being open and honest with each other whenever they’re going through a tough time – whether it’s about school or home life. Opposites attract and, in this case, form a profound friendship and unwavering support system.

Falling Short exceeded my expectations. Over the course of the story, the main characters (and reader) learn a lot about themselves and what matters most to them. Traversing middle school for the first time and dealing with complicated family matters are arduous tasks to do all at once, so I was wholeheartedly rooting for Issac and Marco to overcome these obstacles. A lot of heart, humor, and realness permeate the story that make it easy for the reader to connect with the characters.

This story was nothing short of wonderful.

CW: alcoholic parent, toxic masculinity by a parent


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Book Review: Blended by Sharon M. Draper

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"Blended" by Sharon M. Draper (cover)
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Genre: Middle Grade
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?”

Eleven-year-old Isabella is used to these kinds of comments – her father is black, her mother is white – but that doesn’t mean she likes them. And now that her parents are divorced (and getting along WORSE than ever), Isabella feels more like a push-me-pull-me toy.

One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. If you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

 

REVIEW: Isabelle (Izzy) feels torn by her parents’ divorces, which in turn splits her identity. Also, for the first time, she becomes acutely aware of being biracial.

Izzy is such a sweetheart and a very relatable kid. I love how much music brings her joy. She’s a talented pianist who finds solace in playing when everything else around her doesn’t make sense.

Izzy clearly loves both her parents. It’s good that she also has a positive relationship with her dad’s girlfriend and her son. But Izzy hates when her parents fight and dreads the exchange day. She doesn’t like going back and forth between houses every Sunday because it makes her feel like a visitor. No place is home anymore.

It’s sad to see her grin and bear it when inside she’s full of chaotic and confusing emotions. Additionally, she’s starting to notice how race dictates how others may treat people like her.

Blended is an engaging story and had me deeply invested in everything Izzy was experiencing in her new normal.

One thing that left me stumped was the climax and its aftermath. The story built up to this intense moment that was incredibly painful to read. This unfortunately is something that happens to Black people and a real fear some people have. So you’ve reached the height of the story and then, instead of a gradual descent of falling action and resolution, it’s this rushed and unsatisfying ending. I thought there’d be more I guess? From a storytelling pov, things wrapped up in a way that to me lessened the impact of the climax and made me question why? There are a few silver linings that point to quite possibly a better tomorrow and change. I’m just not sure what to make of where things ended for Izzy after everything she experienced.

I really did enjoy this story, Izzy’s character, and how the author tackled children of divorce, race and society. But I have mixed feelings about the ending.

CW: racism, police brutality

Favorite Quotes:

  • (p.18-19) “Yeah, they love me and all that, but it doesn’t stop them from slicing my life in half every seven days and then acting like that’s normal or something. Every Monday I wake up in a different bed than the one I slept in the week before. I hate that! Birds make nests in trees, right? One nest. One tree. Who ever heard of a robin moving her eggs every week to a new tree? That’d be crazy, right? Yep. Crazy. Welcome to my life.”
  • (p.61) “I never say ‘I’m going home’ anymore. It’s ‘I’m going to my mom’s.’ Or ‘I’m going to my dad’s.’ Going. Not staying. Actually, it’s not funny at all.”
  • (p.63) “I’ve colored the Mom weeks with green highlighter. And Dad weeks with neon orange. Twenty-six for each one. Split exactly in half. Know what’s sad. There are no weeks for me.”

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Book Review: Dear Librarian by Lydia M. Sigwarth, Illustrated by Romina Galotta

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“Dear Librarian” by Lydia M. Sigwarth, Illustrated by Romina Galotta (cover)
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Genre: Picture Book
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: When Lydia was five years old, she and her family had to leave their home. They hopped from Grandma’s house to Aunt Linda’s house to Cousin Alice’s house, but no place was permanent. Then one day, everything changed. Lydia’s mom took her to a new place — not a house, but a big building with stone columns, and tall, tall steps. The library.

In the library, Lydia found her special spot across from the sunny window, at a round desk. For behind that desk was her new friend, the librarian. Together, Lydia and the librarian discovered a world beyond their walls, one that sparkled with spectacular joy.

Dear Librarian is a thank you to anyone who has offered a child love and support during a difficult time.

 

REVIEW: Dear Librarian is based on a true story during a time when the author and her family were homeless and moved around a lot.

Nowhere was home. Nowhere had a special spot just for me.

Until one day, her mother takes the kids to the library and Lydia meets the librarian.

I adore how Lydia finds a special home at the library and companionship with the librarian. The librarian made her feel welcomed and special.

Every day, you gave me a hug. Every day, you made me feel safe and happy. Those days, the Library was like a home. My own special home.

What’s extra wonderful is that this inspired Lydia to become a librarian as well, so she too can give kids like her a special place to go to and belong and call home.

Dear Librarian truly shows how awesome and magical and life-changing places libraries are. They inspire us to dream big and try new things. I love that the library opened up a whole new world for Lydia to learn, play, and explore.

Dear Librarian is a beautiful letter of gratitude, the magic of friendship, and the power of empathy. There’s a nice photo of the actual librarian the author is thanking and herself at the end of the book. I highly recommend this wholesome story.


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Book Review: I Am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown, with Jason “Rachel” Brown, Illustrated by Anoosha Syed

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“I Am Perfectly Designed” by Karamo Brown, with Jason “Rachel” Brown, Illustrated by Anoosha Syed (cover)
Image via Goodreads

Genre: Picture Book
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: I Am Perfectly Designed is an exuberant celebration of loving who you are, exactly as you are. A boy and his father take a walk through the city, sharing memories, and discovering all the ways in which they are perfectly designed for each other and to be themselves.

 

REVIEW: “An ode to loving who you are, exactly as you are,” I Am Perfectly Designed an adorably heartwarming story inspired by the life lessons the author’s father taught him. This story had a beautiful, positive father-son relationship.

I love the cover art for this story. It features a diverse group of people on a lovely fall day at the part. There’s a nice contrast between the foreground – the father and son – and the background – the other park goers.

The illustrations were so well done, visually appealing, and inviting. The happy expressions on the characters’ faces were infectious.

I liked how this story was a conversation between a son and his dad. The boy is reminiscing with his dad while they hang out and go about their day. The boy is unafraid to be happy and himself because his dad has been such a good role model. He takes pride in knowing they were perfectly designed or destined to be family.

I Am Perfectly Designed is a good story to have in one’s personal library.


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Book Review: Pete the Cat and the Supercool Science Fair by Kimberly Dean and James Dean

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"Pete the Cat and the Supercool Science Fair" by Kimberly Dean and James Deam (cover)
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Genre: Picture Book
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: In Pete the Cat’s Supercool Science Fair from New York Times bestselling author-illustrator team Kimberly and James Dean, Pete the Cat and his friends are excited to build the coolest volcano ever for their school’s science fair.

After a few unexpected mishaps, the team is finally ready. Yet after seeing their other classmates’creations, they can’t help but wonder: is their volcano good enough to win first place?

Thankfully, Pete has a sparkly surprise up his sleeve!

 

REVIEW: This was a simple and pleasant read! Pete is excited for the science fair on Friday and getting the chance to be a scientist. His group – Pete, Gus, Squirrel, and Callie – decides to build a volcano.

Pete and his friends do a good job demonstrating teamwork and how good scientists conduct an experiment. The story also inspires creative thinking and makes you want to do a science experiment too. Readers are bound to enjoy this supercool story as well.


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📚 Library Haul!!! 📚

When was the last time you went to the library? Do you currently have any library books checked out?

Happy Sunday!

Early last week I finally got to check out books from my new library home! I talked about this weeks ago as something I’ve been meaning to do for forever. It’s been over a year, which is just plain wrong, so I’m glad to have at last rectified this travesty.

I had a good time looking for books the old-fashioned way. This new library is way bigger than my old one. I’m still learning how to navigate it and locate different sections. I traveled up and down isles alternating between crouching and standing as I searched for books (and paused to admire ones I recognized).

I left the library with a few choice children’s books that I’ve been wanting to read for a while now that were high on my tbr list.

Here’s what I checked out:

@thebookshelfcorner

BLENDED by Sharon M. Draper

@thebookshelfcorner

FALLING SHORT by Ernesto Cisneros

@thebookshelfcorner

I AM PERFECTLY DESIGNED by Karamo Brown, with Jason “Rachel” Brown, Illustrated by Anoosha Syed

@thebookshelfcorner

DEAR LIBRARIAN by Lydia M. Sigwarth, Illustrated by Romina Galotta

@thebookshelfcorner

I’m happy to be reading physical copies of picture books again. It’s the best way to read and enjoy them. And I’m glad the library had the two middle grade books available. I had a list with me and was basically going to check out whatever I could find.

It was a pleasant trip and I can’t wait to go back for more books!


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Book Review: Maya and the Return of the Godlings by Rena Barron

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"Maya and the Return of the Godlings" by Rena Barron (cover)
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Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Series: Maya and the Rising Dark
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: The threat from The Dark is far from over. Twelve-year-old Maya knows this. After crossing the veil between the two worlds, saving her father, and narrowly escaping the sinister clutches of the Lord of Shadows, tensions between the human world and The Dark are higher than ever. And even worse, Maya’s orisha powers as a godling are out of control.

Now a guardian in training, Maya spends her days patching up veils with her father and cleaning up near-disasters like baby wormholes that her erratic powers create. But when Maya and her friends discover that something went terribly wrong during their journey to bring her father back to the human world, they are forced to return to The Dark and restore what they left behind, the one thing keeping the veil from falling: her father’s soul.

The Lord of Shadows is mobilizing his forces for an all-out war against the human world. And this time, Maya and her friends will need all the help they can get. Even if that means teaming up with their greatest enemies, the darkbringers.

 

REVIEW: In Maya and the Return of the Godlings, the stakes are higher, but that doesn’t stop Maya and her friends from braving The Dark once more to find her father’s soul and prevent the Lord of Shadows from entering the human world in order to destroy it. There are a lot of problems to deal with all at once.

Maya proves once more how brave she is, but I felt in this sequel she was more reckless in a not so appealing way. I was on board with Maya wanting to go back to The Dark instead of waiting three months for backup to arrive. And I also get her wanting to prove how capable of a guardian she could be so that her father doesn’t have to work alone repairing veils anymore. But I thought she could have made better choices in how she would accomplish that. For example, there was one scene that – while not entirely her fault – resulted in (probably) million of dollars in damages and someone could have gotten seriously injured or killed.

I do like that Frankie and Eli get a chance to really shine and demonstrate how much they’ve improved with using their godling powers. I liked that we’re introduced to a few new characters with the potential to really shake up the story.

And I liked that we get more backstory of what happened before Maya’s dad created the veil and the opinions about human-darkbringer-orisha associations from all sides. Having these POVs, especially with the possibility of another war brewing – increased my investment in the story. All of the revelations throughout really brought home what could be lost if the Lord of Shadows and his army isn’t stopped.

The pacing of the story threw me off at times because something would begin and then stop, seemingly unfinished, in random places and then sometimes never fully addressed again. But I do like the potential these new storylines had/will have. Just wish certain things had a fuller end-for-now, like about Frankie and her biological mom.

The story is heading in a great direction. The author built up the story and got it to a good place for a showdown to happen in book 3, Maya and the Lord of Shadows. I can’t wait for its release!

Lastly, I am loving the cover art for this series. All three are stunning and colorful and pretty! Strength exudes from them that you can’t help but be drawn in by. This book’s jacket illustration was done by Geneva Bowers and the jacket design was done by Andrea Miller.


More by Rena Barron

Maya and the Rising Dark (#1)


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