Hi Kid Lit friends,
Chinese New Year is this Friday, February 16th! It is the Year of the Dog, which means EVERYONE must read Grace Lin’s lovely middle grade book, The Year of the Dog! In the beginning of the book, the mother of the main character Pacy says, “…the Year of the Dog is the year for friends and family. But there’s more to it than that. The Year of the Dog is also for thinking. Since dogs are honest and sincere, it’s a good year to find yourself.” Grace Lin’s Pacy series is based on her own life and includes The Year of the Rat, and Dumpling Days. They are great windows into the lives of Chinese families living in the United States, and I personally have found so many points of connection between Grace’s life and my own. Definitely pick these books up! They are a great read aloud for younger kids and perfect for newly independent readers.
Sponsored by Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy
BASED ON A TRUE STORY: This novel is closely based on co-author Ali Fadhil’s childhood in Iraq. Less than twenty years after the Gulf War, Ali Fadhil worked as an Arabic-to-English translator for the U.S. Department of Justice where he came face-to-face with Saddam Hussein, the dictator who ruined so many lives and took away Ali’s childhood.
IMPORTANT AND TIMELY MESSAGE: The book’s focus on one family and one ordinary boy humanizes war and reminds young readers that there are people—even kids just like them!—in every country who shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of despots or dictators.
VIDEO-GAME HOOK: Ali and his brothers love to play video games and the juxtaposition of video-game villains and real-life dictators is a kid-friendly and interesting way to experience a piece of recent history.
The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Alina Chau, is one of my favorite picture books about Chinese New Year. The legendary Nian monster has returned at Chinese New Year. With horns, scales, and wide, wicked jaws, Nian is intent on devouring Shanghai, starting with Xingling! The old tricks to keep him away don’t work on Nian anymore, but Xingling is clever. Will her quick thinking be enough to save the city from the Nian Monster? My kids especially enjoy all of the food references in this book, especially sticky rice cake! (This is the recipe we use when we make it.)
Another wonderful series with Chinese New Year references for newly independent reads is the Anna Wang series by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Abigail Halpin. The Year of the Book is the first in the series, and it’s a sweet, quiet book about introvert Anna Wang who much prefers reading books to doing anything else. But books, although company in it’s own way, can’t replace the missing piece of an actual friend. The other books in this series are The Year of the Baby, The Year of the Fortune Cookie, The Year of the Three Sisters, and The Year of the Garden. All are wonderful!
For the youngest readers, definitely check out the picture book Bringing in the New Year. Grace Lin tells the tale of a Chinese American family as they prepare for the Lunar New Year. Each family member lends a hand as they sweep out the dust of the old year, hang decorations, and make dumplings. Then it’s time to celebrate. There will be fireworks and lion dancers, shining lanterns, and a great, long dragon parade at the end! This is also a great book for little ones; it’s available in board book format!
Although not specifically about Chinese New Year, The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine and illustrated by David Roberts is a new picture book based on Chinese folk tales which makes it a perfect story for the Chinese New Year. Ming Da is only nine years old when he becomes the emperor of China, and his three advisors take advantage of him by stealing his stores of rice, gold, and precious stones. But Ming Da has a plan!
Another book I had to add to this list even though it’s not specifically about Chinese New Year is Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte. The story is about Cilla, who is 50% Chinese, 50% Caucasian. Her baby sister is about to be born, which means Cilla needs to become a best selling author fast so her family doesn’t forget her when the new baby arrives. This book is filled with Chinese references and food descriptions, which makes it a great book during the Chinese New Year for younger middle grade readers. I love this sweet, hilarious, smart book!
All of these books release this Tuesday! The book descriptions are from Goodreads, but for some books I am going to add some commentary in italics and maybe a if I particularly loved a title. (I’m stealing that idea from fellow Book Rioter, book queen Liberty Hardy, who does this with her New Books newsletter, which you can subscribe to here). Let me know what you think!
Picture Book New Releases
Did You Hear What I Heard? Poems About School by Kay Winters, illustrated by Patrice Barton (Penguin Random House)
Poet Kay Winters has written a book of zippy poems centering on the triumphs and trials of those first school years. This cheery collection covers an astonishing range of activities from the anticipated–dashing to the bus and science class discoveries–to the completely unexpected–losing a permission slip and seeing a teacher outside the classroom. Patrice Barton’s sweetly smudgy watercolor illustrations show a wonderfully diverse class of young students, making this an ideal selection for every collection.
Note from Karina: I found this poetry collection to be very sweet! I laughed at the first poem, which captures the bustle of getting ready for school so perfectly. In the last stanza, the child says,
“I wave to my mother
but suddenly wonder,
what will she DO without us?”
Middle Grade New Releases
Next Best Junior Chef: The Heat is On by Charise Mericle Harper, illustrated by Aurélie Blard-Quintard (HMH Books for Young Readers)
With this episode’s theme of family and tradition, from a diner challenge to a quinceañera to the farmer’s market, the junior chefs will have to sauté their way through the chewiest challenges yet. They’re the best in the nation, but can they handle the twists and turnovers week two has in store, on- and off-camera? Which junior chefs can stand the heat? And which one will need to get out of the kitchen?
Note from Karina: Okay, my kids and I found this series incredibly addictive. This second installment will see another contestant off the show, setting the story up for the final book (and the announcement of the winner!), coming out on July 24th.
The Rizzlerunk Club: Best Buds Under Frogs by Leslie Patricelli (Candlewick)
For Lily, it’s the worst first day of school ever. Who would want to be friends with the new girl, whose debut act is to throw up on the playground (on somebody’s shoes!)? Fortunately, quirky Darby comes to the rescue. Darby likes frogs and candy and oddball stuff, and soon she and Lily have formed their own club — the Rizzlerunk Club. But before you can say “BFF,” Darby’s former best friend, mean-spirited Jill — who had moved to London — returns unexpectedly. Can Lily and Darby’s friendship survive the British invasion? Peppered with charming illustrations and hilarious mishaps involving “conjoined” frogs, accidentally shaved eyebrows, and school pranks gone awry, this engaging tale of fourth-grade life will have readers wishing they could join the Rizzlerunk Club for real.
Granted by John David Anderson (HarperCollins)
In a magical land called the Haven lives a young fairy named Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets. Ophela is no ordinary fairy—she is a Granter: one of the select fairies whose job it is to venture out into the world and grant the wishes of unsuspecting humans every day. It’s the work of the Granters that generates the magic that allows the fairies to do what they do, and to keep the Haven hidden and safe. But with worldwide magic levels at an all-time low, this is not as easy as it sounds. On a typical day, only a small fraction of the millions of potential wishes gets granted. Today, however, is anything but typical. Because today, Ophelia is going to get her very first wish-granting assignment.
The 11:11 Wish by Kim Tomsic (HarperCollins)
Megan Meyers has a foolproof plan to reinvent herself at her new school. Good-bye, dorky math nerd; hello, friend magnet! But her first day at Saguaro Prep starts off weird to the tenth power. When she’s dared to “make something exciting happen,” Megan is thrown into the middle of an epic power struggle between the two seventh-grade Spirit Captains. So with nothing to lose, Megan wishes for “some magic” as her classroom’s cat clock chimes 11:11—and is granted an enchanted teen magazine promising miracle makeovers and sure-fire secrets for winning friends and crushes. But magic can have dangerous side effects, and as her social life grows exponentially worse, Megan begins to wonder if wishing was ever a purrfect idea.
The Ambrose Deception by Emily Ecton (Disney-Hyperion)
Melissa is a nobody. Wilf is a slacker. Bondi is a show-off. At least that’s what their middle school teachers think. To everyone’s surprise, they are the three students chosen to compete for a ten thousand-dollar scholarship, solving clues that lead them to various locations around Chicago. At first the three contestants work independently, but it doesn’t take long before each begins to wonder whether the competition is a sham. It’s only by secretly joining forces and using their unique talents that the trio is able to uncover the truth behind the Ambrose Deception–a truth that involves a lot more than just a scholarship.
A Pup Called Trouble by Bobbie Pyron (Katherine Tegen Books)
Brimming with curiosity, Trouble can’t wait to explore the world beyond Singing Creek. So one morning the coyote pup stows away in the back of a truck and ends up lost in the heart of New York City. While Trouble misses his siblings, he quickly makes friends in Central Park’s Ramble: a prankster crow, a timid opossum, and a poetic poodle. Before long, he goes from howling for home to wondering if he could make a life in the city forever. But when word gets out that a coyote is running wild on city streets, Trouble must choose between the risks of being caught and the dangers of a long journey home.
In the news…
The prequel to The Crossover is coming this April! Rebound by Kwame Alexander (HMH Books for Young Readers) is the story of Jordan and Josh Bell’s father, Chuck “Dan Man” Bell. Told in verse and in comics, this story lives up to the buzz surrounding it. A Greyhound, A Groundhog by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Chris Appelhans, is a sweet picture book that captures play and frolic in a gorgeous and fun way. And for those of you who have been reading this newsletter, you know that I’m on a Mildred D. Taylor kick. I’m currently reading The Land, which is the story of Cassie’s father Paul. (Cassie Logan is the protagonist in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.) I am loving Paul’s story!
Until next week,
Nala is sleeping on the job again.
*If this e-mail was forwarded to you, follow this link to subscribe to “The Kids Are All Right” newsletter and other fabulous Book Riotnewsletters for your own customized e-mail delivery. Thank you!*