Reading Rut

Somewhere over the past few months, I got off track.  At first, reading, writing and processing were just physically too much, the casualties of my body needing to do all of its work recovering and none of its work actually working.  But then, I became an active participant.  Repeatedly, I walked past the bookshelf filled with titles I’d carefully selected and placed on hold without so much as a guilty glance.  During downtime I chose to sit mindless in front of the computer rather than take the few steps needed to find a new book and fall in.

Most of the times in my life when this has happened, I’ve wanted to go back.  As soon as time and life have allowed I have returned, refreshed and energized, excited for what lay ahead.  But this time?  I’m not so sure.  I find myself questioning whether I should be writing this blog.  Whether I should invest so much time in something that matters to only me.  I know that the answer lies somewhere in exactly how much this matters to me.  Whether it is more fun and fulfilling than the other things I could be doing.  But right now, all I do is give an unsure shrug.  I don’t know.

So I’m going to try to find my way back to loving reading. And writing about reading.  And sharing my love of reading with whomever wants to listen.  So I’m making a plan.  (Literally, right now, as I type this, MAKING A PLAN).

Plan

1. Read whatever I want! Those of you who follow this blog know that I do a theme per month. But sometimes, books call to me and they don’t fit with my current theme. So I add them to my goodreads list. Sometimes, I manage to build a future theme around them. Some of them, sit taunting me for a very long time. So this January, I’m just reading what I want. Truthwitch: A Witchlands Novel, A Snicker of Magic, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda who knows what else?

2. Write when I want Writing a blog is work. But when I’m trying to keep tightly to a posting schedule it can really feel like it. Since I’m having so much trouble getting back into things, maybe relieving a bit of pressure is the right away to handle things.

3. Snacks Don’t snacks help everything? Really, there’s no treat I like better than a cup of tea or hot cocoa, something delicious to nibble and a good book.

4. Ask? For help? What do you do when you’re stuck and can’t get back into reading (or something else you’ve always loved?) Strategies and alternate plans welcome!!

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How to Read Greenglass House, A Guide

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Step 1: Purchase Greenglass House.  Go to your local indie bookstore or click on the link and order it, but it’s best to own it.  That way you can read it at the perfect moment and not worry about library fines or hoping your hold comes in.  Also, you can then re-read it whenever the mood strikes.

Step 2: Lay in provisions.  You will absolutely need hot cocoa.  Probably some whipped cream, the real kind if you can manage it, not the spray kind in a can.  Maybe marshmallows.  Possibly a cake?  But certainly nothing with blue frosting.

Step 3: Prepare your reading nook.  Ideally, you will have stained glass windows and a high backed loveseat. But if that’s not possible, aim for a cozy chair or sofa.  Maybe near the fire, but ideally also near a large window.  You may want a candle, or better yet, an old fashioned lantern nearby just in case.

Step 4: Wait. If it is at all possible, arrange for a pre-Christmas blizzard. A snow day would be ideal. Really, any snow day.  Trust me, this would be an amazing way to spend one, either curled up alone or as family read aloud.  IF you live in a part of the world where it does not snow, arrange a vacation to a ski lodge or the like.  If that is impossible, turn up your air conditioning and bribe someone to sprinkle shredded toilet paper around you while you read.

Step 5: Read!  Greenglass House is part mystery, part scavenger hunt and thoroughly engaging.  Milo is ready for a quiet Christmas holiday with his parents when unexpected guests begin to turn out at their inn, Greenglass House.  It’s certainly curious that so many people have come at once and Milo’s definitely wondering about the mysterious map he’s found, but once they discover there’s a thief in their midst, things really get interesting.

Greenglass House is truly special.  Milo manages to have his adventures while living in his own home with two parents who love him very dearly.  In books, far too often parents are either killed off or woefully absent in order to give children the freedom to explore.  It’s great to see an example where a kid can be loved, taken care of and never really outside of his parents’ care but still manages some excitement!  Milo is also a great character.  He’s adopted, which comes up frequently, but this book is not about finding a pat solution to his adoption story (I’ll admit, I worried periodically, but Milford did not let me down).  Milo also has some issues with anxiety.  It’s clearly part of his daily life, but it doesn’t define him, it’s one of his many characteristics.

Age Recommendation: Grades 3 and up.  On the surface this should be a scary story. There’s a mystery, some sabotage, smugglers and a ghost story.  At one point weapons are drawn and people are in danger. There is some violence, drama and death, but most of it takes place in the past. Despite everything the tone just isn’t dark and threatening.  It’s fun and exciting!  The hardest thing for readers will be the fact that two characters are playing a game which requires they create new names for themselves.  These sobriquets are used interchangeably with their own names sometimes within the same page.  Less experienced readers may find this to be too complicated.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A story is told about two people who fall in love with the same person.  A couple holds hands.
Profanity – “heck”,  “hell” at least twice, “darn”, “crap,” “good God”,
Death, Violence and Gore – There’s a mention of swords in a game-playing sense. Meddy speculates that a trap that decapitates you could be set, but this idea is deemed ridiculous. In a story Milo reads a cat is sacrificed.  We are told the cat is about to be killed and then later it says “when all that was left of the cat were its bones”.  A smuggler was supposedly captured and killed when Milo’s mom was little.  A man died under suspicious circumstances in the past.  A man with a knife was looking for someone (again, this happens in the past, so there’s no real worry for current characters). An illustration shows someone holding two knifes. A man was beaten, tortured for information (also something that took place in the past).  A man pulls a gun on a group of people.  A character’s mother died when that character was young.  A few people died in the past, one both by falls.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – A character smokes a pipe. Adults are offered whiskey in case they would like a hot toddy.  A woman (who is referred to as a girl, but seems to be an adult) drinks whiskey in her coffee.  Another character smokes a cigarette.
Frightening or Intense Things – Milo’s mom tells a ghost story which of course, includes ghosts, one of whom was a child. <spoiler>A character is a ghost. </spoiler>

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What’s Happening

So.  November didn’t exactly turn out to be as bookish as I’d hoped.  And that is in no way the fault of the subject I chose.  I have lots of great books about Native American characters out from the library.  That wasn’t it at all. The problem is simple.  I got sick.  There was an urgent care visit and an afternoon in the ER and lots and lots of medication.  And when I got better, I was just so overwhelmingly tired.  I’ve always had asthma and every once in awhile I get something lung-related like bronchitis or pneumonia and it just shuts me down.  And so, trusting in so many people I believe to be wise, I didn’t force myself to buckle down and blog.  Reading?  That I can do even when sick, but the structure of this blog, where I report content to you as accurately as I can, is not easy to do without my full focus.  And when I’m sick it’s also pretty near impossible for me to string coherent sentences together when trying to recommend a book.  So…I just didn’t.

So what of December?  I’m going to try.  There’s a lot on my plate this month, which I’m sure is true for many people.  And I am still not feeling 100% myself. But I hope to have some great wintery books for you, of course, in keeping with the season.

Instead of admonishing you to have a happy whatever, I’m simply going to wish you all some peace and joy as you close out 2015.

 

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In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III Illustrated by Jim Yellowhawk

Author Joseph Marshall III is an enrolled member of the Sicangu Lakota tribe.

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse is an exciting journey through history, as Jimmy McLean’s grandfather share stories about the famous warrior and hero.

Jimmy McLean’s light brown hair and fairer skin have always set him apart from his fellow Lakota.  At school, he is accepted by neither Lakota nor whites.  Smaller and younger than his bullies, Jimmy chooses to avoid confrontation rather than stand his ground.

His grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, has the perfect summer plan to help Jimmy gain confidence while learning about his heritage.  He takes Jimmy on a road trip following in the footsteps of Crazy Horse, a Lakota warrior who had lighter coloring, much like Jimmy.  At each stop, he shares stories, detailed accounts of battles, and observations about how Crazy Horse fought back against the white encroachment on tribal lands.  Jimmy soon learns about courage, struggle, facing impossible situations and what it means to be a hero.

For many readers, this will be a first opportunity to gain a non-white perspective on the settlement of the west and one that it is critical that they understand.  Too often stories of western expansion choose to omit details regarding the US government’s actions to force Indians from their own lands and the tactics that were used by white settlers to achieve their goals.  In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse provides a valuable counterpoint, showing the heart of the resistance by the Indians and the ultimate tragedy of their final decisions to surrender.

Although set in the present, when Nyles shares tales about Crazy Horse, his stories draw the reader into the past. The stories capture the mood and tension surrounding some of Crazy Horse’s most important life moments, often battles.  As such, there are many highly detailed battled scenes throughout the book.  While not explicitly gory, Marshall does not minimize or skim over the absolute devastation and loss that occurred on both sides.  Because of this honest portrayal, this book will be best for readers who are mature enough to handle and discuss this.  This makes it an excellent choice for classroom use or discussion.

The choice to frame the historical tale with the modern story of Jimmy and his grandfather is an excellent way to draw in readers who might otherwise not consider themselves fans of historical fiction, which is fantastic as this book deserves a large audience.

My review was done based on an e-ARC.  As such, there may be slight discrepancies between the version I read and the hardcover publication.  I checked out the printed edition and was delighted that it comes with maps that help readers follow Jimmy and his grandfather on their journey.  The book does offer a comprehensive glossary, which from the perspective of a teacher is always a huge bonus.

Great for: All libraries should examine their holdings regarding American Indians.  If the highly problematic Indian in the Cupboard is constantly displayed and showcased, it is time to re-evaluate.  Books like this and Tim Tingle’s excellent How I Became a Ghost, written by Native American writers, should be taking the places of outdated, often racist texts.  Although it offers an invaluable look at history through the eyes of the people most affected by it, In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse will appeal to many readers for the action and battle sequences it presents.  While I personally struggle to reconcile with violence in children’s books, I believe the book does an excellent job of providing both context and honesty regarding the pain and loss involved.  There is no glorification of the violence here.

Age Recommendation: I would recommend this for Grades 5-8, primarily due to the violence, although I do believe the comprehension level would be manageable for some fourth graders as well. The flashbacks are not always in chronological order which may be confusing to some readers.  There is quite a bit of background knowledge that I drew on as an adult that younger readers may not have and In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse may raise lots of questions for them.  This is a good thing!  Be prepared to research and discuss together!

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Crazy Horse’s father had two wives at the same time.  It is explained in the book that it was just something some men did in those days.  No fuss is made about it, just a clean statement of fact.  Crazy Horse had a girlfriend but he did not marry her because her father didn’t like him.  He married someone else.
Profanity – “darn”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Crazy Horse’s mother died when he was little. People are killed in a village.  White soldiers, known as Long Knives were likely responsible for deaths and setting fire to a village.  The Lakota find bodies of people, including children, killed by the soldiers.  A woman must bury her baby.  Others are wounded.  Sicangu fight back.   People have rifles, bows and arrows.  People on the wagon trains would shoot at Indians.  There is a fight between the soldiers and Indians.  The soldiers fire a cannon at a village. In turn, warriors attack them. People die in this fight. There’s mention of how people can lose fingers, toes, even the tip of the nose to frostbite.  An ambush conducted by the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne is detailed.  Some warriors are hit by friendly fire.  Many white soldiers are hit, killed or injured.  We’re told that the fight ended with hand-to-hand comment and was gruesome, but no gory details are provided.  The white soldiers were all killed.  Many warriors were killed as well.  Crazy Horse had a close friend die in the battle, he had been shot through the chest and his blood froze in the cold.  Animals are hunted for food.  Crazy Horse’s daughter tied of cholera.  Jimmy’s uncle died.  There were concerns that white soldiers would kill or capture Crazy Horse and his people if they did not surrender. Warriors are armed with guns, bows, arrows, war clubs and lances.  In several battles there are no survivors of one side of the combatants.  Soldiers fall from their horses, shot. In some cases, the soldier’s dead bodies were stripped, robbed and mutilated (and yes, mutilated is explained).  The same thing had been done to Indians previously.  Wounded men scream and moan in pain.  Men have dried blood on their clothes and bodies. A man is stabbed with a bayonet and mortally wounded.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – a grandfather has pipe tobacco.
Frightening or Intense Things – A boy is bullied.  A village is burning.  We learn how the settlers from the east forced his people off their own lands.  White kill many buffalo, making food scarce.  Indians were sent to prisons in Florida.

 

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Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month, which could not be better timing as far as I’m concerned.  I’ve been avidly following recommendations from Debbie Reese, who writes over at American Indians in Children’s Literature.  Before last month, I had reviewed only a single book on this blog that was written by, or primarily about, a Native American, at least one that was done properly.  And as I grew more aware of this exclusion, I became more determined to remedy it.  Obviously, no group deserves to only have their books featured in a special section just about them.  Ideally, books about people of color, Native people, characters belonging to religious minorities would all be featured mixed in with my usual picks every month.  And going forward, I will be making an effort to do that. But the fact is that I have a lot of catching up to do.  And honestly, so does the publishing industry.  Sometimes, it’s simply not possible to find books with the diversity I’m looking for, within the theme that I’m using.  So this month, I’m featuring books about Native American characters, in honor of Native American Heritage Month. But the important thing is, I’m going to read books that have been recommended by Dr. Reese, because if I’m going to fill a gap in my reading, and introduce you to new books, I want them to be the most appropriate, faithful representations of Native Americans I can find.  And as white reader and someone who has not devoted years of study to the topic it is critical that I rely on the guidance of an expert in the field. I am very excited for this months offerings and I hope you are too.

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A Curious Tale of the In-Between

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

Looking for your next stay-up-late, just-a-minute-mom, only-one-more-chapter-I-swear, read?  Look no further.

The circumstances of Pram’s birth have left her a bit different. As long as could remember she’s been able to see ghosts, one of whom happens to be her closest friend.  Since her mother died at her birth and her father has never been around, Pram lives with her terribly overprotective aunts who worry about her dreadfully.  In fact, they have shied away from sending her to school, worried that she won’t fit in with the other kids.

But when the schoolmarm appears at their home and insists that Pram attend school, they don’t have a choice.  Off she goes.  Soon enough, she befriends Clarence, a boy who has recently lost his mother.  Their losses and interest in the spirit world soon bonds them together. Clarence repeatedly seeks out people who might help him contact his mother and Pram is looking for a friend to help her find her father, so they become a team with Pram’s ghostly friend Felix forming a jealous third wheel.

In her effort to help Clarence, Pram meets mysterious, Lady Savant and soon things are spiraling out of her control.  What was meant to be an adventure to seek her father has taken  a dangerous turn.  Pram will learn much about her connection to the spiritual world, but it will take a lot of save her from the evil that awaits her.

With all of the ghosts and adventure, the heart of this story is about friendship, love and home.  Clarence and Pram’s friendship is almost a pre-romance in a terribly chaste age appropriate way.  Pram’s search for her family is resolved in a very heartwarming way and one that is maybe a bit less pat and traditional than you might expect.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between is terribly hard to put down.  In the early chapters, intrigue about Pram’s circumstances and abilities keep you turning the pages.  Later you long to know if Pram or Clarence will find the parental contact they are seeking.  And of course, once Pram is in danger, you just can’t rest until you have a resolution.  It’s very much a “oh, just one more chapter” read, where you find out that one more chapter somehow turned into 4 or 5 more chapters and it’s way past your bedtime.  So if you like that sort of thing, the kind of book that you can’t bear to stop reading, then this is definitely for you.

Age Recommendation: Grades 5-8. Oh certainly, many fourth graders will read and love this, but because there is a suicide (which is sort of talked around a bit, and might be just vague enough that younger readers would miss it), I would hold off until fifth, unless the reader is well known to you and you know they can handle it.  I also very much appreciated the subtle references to depression as an illness.  It isn’t often written about, especially not in books that are generally lighter in tone, but it is something lots of kids deal with in real life.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Pram’s mother fell in love with a sailor and “that was how Pram was conceived”.  She is told that she’ll have a “lovely shape” and be an “early bloomer” by an old woman. Pram is teased about a “boyfriend”. There is handholding.  A waitress makes a comment about Pram being a bit young to be looking for a sailor.  Her intent is a lewd joke, but Pram does not understand. This book also features a friend-triangle and the most itty bitty age appropriate fledgling romance.  It’s never quite clear that the people in question will become more than friends but their importance to each other is not downplayed.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – The opening scene explains how a pregnant woman was found dead, hung from a tree.  A girl can see and speak with ghosts.  She can perceive the dead’s influence all around her.  A character’s mother died in a car accident.  Old people die. A woman supposedly can communicate with the dead.  A person likely committed suicide.  A person nearly caused the death of another while taking their own life.  There’s a mention of people who do “unspeakable things” to children. Some is trapped in a container under water and left to drown. One ghost has a blackened and bloody temple and died in a fire.  An animal is hit by a car.  A girl sings a song about a poor lamb having its eyes picked out.  A woman’s skull shows through her skin. A child nearly dies.   A child falls into a ravine and drowns.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – A girl is put in a trance and controlled by someone.  Pram’s mother’s life was quite unhappy. She stopped speaking.  A baby is born silent and gray.  People are kidnapped.  A child’s perception of reality is altered. Boys are in a fire. A girl enters a memory of another person; the memory is of a surgery that was done without that person’s consent.

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GHOSTS

Ghosts by Sonia Goldie / Illustrated by Marc Boutavant

This was entirely not what I expected.  Large and slim like a picture book, Ghosts features ghosts that are arguably, adorable. Visually, they resemble balloon animals and cuddly toys, a bit transparent and puffy around the edges, but definitely zoological in appearance.

But the writing is something else entirely.  This is not meant as a read aloud for the littles, no matter what the cover and shape might indicate.  Inside are mini biographies of a wide variety of ghosts.  They are reasonably dense and complex, likely on a second or beginning of third grade reading level.  Which is just as well, because these ghosts are a bit creepy.

While the illustrations do much to add levity and diffuse fear, the ghosts will nonetheless cause some younger readers distress.  Quite frequently the book explains that ghosts are right next to you, whether it be while you watch tv, or lurking in your bathroom, sitting beside you at the dinner table, or hiding under your bed waiting to slip into your nightmares.  Goldie has also placed ghosts into your garage, your washing machine, the telephone, your basement…basically we’re looking at a situation where if your child is easily spooked, that child will never walk around your house alone again.

The writing is quite clever and some things did make me laugh, like the ghost of gray days making you grumpy unless you get up and do something.  The real question is trying to find the right target audience.  I would say this is absolutely a book that requires that you know your reader.

Age Recommendation: Grades 2-4.  I think some second and third grade readers might appreciate the clever actions of the ghosts without being too afraid of them.  Obviously, you know your reader the best, so judge accordingly.  I would caution librarians and teachers from suggesting this for readers (or listeners) in Grades 2 or lower unless they know the reader in question is comfortable with this type of material.  I actually think fourth graders might enjoy the playfulness of this and it would make a fun writing activity to have them create their own ghost and devise a bio for it.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – There are ghosts, but actually death is never mentioned in conjunction with them.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – The pictures mitigate things somewhat, but some of the ghost descriptions lean creepy rather than harmless or humorous.

Posted in Middle Grades, Primary Grades | Leave a comment

The Jumbies

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

This is an absolute must-buy for children’s librarians and elementary schools!

Forget trick-or-treating and bags full of candy, All Hallows Eve is when spirits and jumbies can mix freely with regular people. Corinne is tough to scare, but even she can’t quite shake off the creepy feeling she got when she noticed yellow eyes watching her from the forest.

In the days that follow, a fairy tale unfolds, complete with  a mysterious and dangerous beautiful stranger, a dark and foreboding forest, a witch, a helpful frog who repays a favor, and the powerful protection of a mother’s love.

But this is not your standard fairy tale.  Baptiste has blended together the jumbie stories she heard growing up on Trinidad with Haitian folklore to create an exciting, deliciously scary adventure.  Not only is it a welcome change of pace from the usual fairy tales that have been retold and retold, it’s got all the right stuff to captivate readers who don’t usually go for fairy tales.

Corinne lives close to the forest, a place rumored to be full of jumbies and evil spirits. She doesn’t share the fears of most of the villagers, but her strength will soon be tested. When a beautiful stranger appears at the market bargaining with a witch, Corinne and her friends are concerned, but when the woman later turns up in Corinne’s house, showing a marked interest in her papa, the nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach turns to full blown worry.  Soon she’ll find herself with no one to turn to except her new friends, a girl named Dru that she met at the market, and two orphaned boys who are often up to mischief.  As the stranger grows more powerful and more sinister, Corinne and her friends must act to save their island before it’s too late!

The depiction of  friendships in The Jumbies is definitely a strong point of the book. One of my favorite things is when a character lashes out in pain, fear and anger and her friends won’t listen to her defeatist talk.  For readers to learn that friends are capable of that kind of support, and that friends should be the kind of people who believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself is a powerful message.

Great for: I found this to be just the exact right amount of kid-scary.  There’s plenty of suspense and things that go bump in the night, but at the same time, the children in the story are both capable, and backed by loving adults.  It does an excellent job of evoking that sort of goosebumpy feeling, hopefully without causing too many little ones to sleep with the light on.  The familiar fairy tale tropes should offer sufficient reassurance that things will turn out okay, despite the baddies. That said, for the easily scared, daytime reading might be the safest choice.

This will also be magic for readers who love fairy tales and are growing weary of the same choices.  It doesn’t just offer a twist or retelling, it introduces a world that is unfamiliar to many readers and is full of its own excitement and magic.  Readers who find themselves longing for more of Corinne’s world might enjoy moving on to Bayou Magic.

Age Recommendation: Grades 3-8.  My third graders would have adored this and it would have been continuously checked out. I think older readers who are reading below grade level would find plenty to interest them and plenty to discuss.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – There’s brief discussion by the children that adults tend to pair off.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore –  A girl alone in the woods mutters “I’m going to kill those boys” in frustration.   Corinne’s mother has passed away.  It is All Hallow’s Eve when spirits and Jumbies make mischief. Someone is told that they will suffer if they do not help.  A Jumbie pulls on children’s feet when they are in the water, trying to drown them.  A jumbie and a woman struggle and fight.  A fish is gutted for dinner. A child is cut by a rock. A jumbie kills a small animal with its bare hands and then eats it bones and fur and all. A type of jumbie lures men into the forest and kills them.  Someone is pushed into burning hot spilled food.  A child narrowly misses being hit with a rolling pin.  The jumbies drowned people at sea. A child attacks a jumbie.  The jumbie is not hurt.  Another type of jumbie sheds its skin as a child holds its hand, leaving the child holding the empty shell as it prepares to attack with its body of fire. A fisherman is bleeding where he has been clawed. A firey jumbie is used to incinerate another type of jumbie. Villager have been hit with rocks.  The children survey a battlefield after the fight.  Victims have been dragged off and you can’t tell whether or not the victims were human.  A girl has a cut that is bleeding. A creature catches fire.  It howls in agony.  A girl’s hair catches on fire.  A jumbie sings about rotting bodies.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Corinne has been told stories about strange creatures.  There is a witch with powerful magic.  Two children live alone.  There are things called douens which are spirits that steal children.  They chase a human child.  Magic is used to control someone’s thoughts.  Slaves escape slave ships. A dog-like jumbie called a Lagahoo chases children.  Several children are taken by the douens. A child’s father is incapacitated by evil magic. A live jumbie’s body is full of insects crawling in and out of it.

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Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Sierra is frustrated.  No one will tell her the whole truth. Manny asks her to paint a huge dragon mural on the side of a building and recruit a Haitian guy in her class to help her out. Her grandfather, largely incapacitated since a stroke is suddenly having lucid moments and giving her cryptic messages. And if she was expecting her mom to come through for her, this is not the time.  Sierra knows she has a role to play in the strange goings on but she just doesn’t know what it is yet.

The spirit world of Brooklyn is in turmoil.  Once art, music, and spirits were magically intertwined, but as of late, someone has been using these gifts against the old masters. People are being killed and spirits are being enslaved for nefarious purposes.  Sierra knows she must protect those she loves and will do whatever it takes to make that happen.  Luckily, the Haitian guy she’s supposed to team up with is not only artistic and gifted when it comes to spirits, he’s also incredibly cute.  And as always, Sierra’s friends are there for her. Working together, they will fight to set their part of the city to rights.

Older creates a rich picture of Sierra’s Brooklyn, sharing bits of the cultural heritage of her family and friends.  Many of them have roots in the Caribbean and Older shares how each of their distinct cultures has a relationship with the spirits and ancestors.

Her friends, even those that play a more minor role in the book have distinct personalities and interests.  When Sierra needs backup, a few of her friends choose not to come along while others refuse to leave her side.  One teen heads home with a friend while her girlfriend is determined to help Sierra.  The friends that skip out don’t stop being her friends though, which is something I really liked.  Older doesn’t decide to destroy friendships and relationships over a single moment.  In books so often, moments like that would mean the end of the connection, but in real life, friendship contain nuance and I loved seeing that here.

I was also impressed with Older’s ability to weave social issues throughout the book without it ever become a book with a focus of social issues.  Sierra does a lot of thinking about racism and her own comfort level with her skin.  The teens notice their neighborhood and surrounding areas being gentrified, some to the point of excluding the families that have always lived there.  In one area people refuse Sierra help because they assume she’s a “drunk Puerto Rican” and not a teen in danger and distress.  A pair of her friends experience harassment because they are lesbians.  But the main focus of the book is the damage that is done when one person, through cultural appropriation does an immense amount of harm to the people whose culture he professed to adore.  It’s an interesting and important message and one I personally haven’t read about very often.  It would make a marvelous discussion topic.

Great for: Lovers of urban fantasy and books with lots of action and adventure.  I particularly liked the amount of strength and power in the hands of a teenage girl.  If you have readers that liked Scarlett Undercover, I heartily recommend they try this as well. This will also capture the attention of readers who like books about the occult as their are plenty of spirits, bodies possessed by spirits and other types of evil about.

Age Recommendation: The book is reasonably dense, but the content is appropriate for Grades 7 and up.  It would have to be a motivated and interested seventh grade reader though. Spanish is used throughout and is not always clearly translated after.  This will be a treat for Spanish speakers and good practice for reading comprehension for those who are not.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A teen thinks another teen is cute.  Teens date, including same sex relationships.  Teens have crushes on other teens.  Sierra’s brother has pictures of half-naked zombie girls on his walls. There are cheek kisses and neck kisses.  There is provocative dancing. Paintings kiss.  A teen imagines being kissed.  A teen removes his shirt.
Profanity – “ass”, “gawd”, “damn”, “jackass”, “dang”, “coño”, “cojones”, “crap”,  a teen flips someone off, “God”, “asshole”, “effed”, “Jesus”, “hell”, “jerk”, “oh lord”, “comemierda”, “bastards”,
Death, Violence and Gore –  Ambulances on the street lead people to assume there has been (another) shooting. A teen’s brother was killed by the police.  A woman spent three weeks in the hospital due to injuries.  A man may or may not be joking about having a gun in his trunk.  A man dabbles in the occult.  People communicate with spirits.  There are some that put spirits into dead bodies to control them.  A teen’s grandmother died of liver cancer.  Two kids were injured while riding a bike.  A teen slaps someone across the face.  A teen is sexually harassed by a passing driver.  Teens discover the body of someone they knew and cared about.  Shadowshaped art shows men with axes and machetes.  People are armed with a shovel, an axe, a baseball bat. People need to fight walking corpses.  When hit, the bodies sort of collapse and flesh falls off. Someone pushes in a corpses eyes which squish. People fight chalk-dust phantoms. A man throws a teen against a wall repeatedly.  A man discusses killing people. A woman is injured in a struggle.  A demon’s claws slash a teen’s face.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Adults drink rum.  An adult has a smoke.  People drink at a club.  A musician is referred to as drunk.  We do not ever see teens drinking. A man smokes cigars. A building was a crack house.
Frightening or Intense Things – Someone answers vaguely when asked if someone is dead.  Sierra’s grandfather gives out cryptic warnings.  Sierra is pursued by someone who may not be alive.  Sierra’s grandfather has suffered a stroke; he is sometimes lucid, but more often not. There are descriptions of how it affects him and about what he was like in the hospital that may be upsetting to readers who are triggered or bothered by hospital scenes.  There are some dark shadowy things that attack.  Some of the bad guys have the ability to enslave people’s spirits.

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Ghosts in the House!

Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara

It’s possible that this is the cutest book about ghosts ever made.  If you want to send a little Halloween treat in the mail to a small child you know, this is just the thing!

A girl moves into a haunted house and is delighted to find it filled with ghosts.  With a bit of know-how and a lot of basic home-economics skills, she quickly puts those ghosts to work (but I won’t spoil the book for you…I’ll let you see how!)

Kohara’s woodblock artwork is striking and whimsical, without the faintest scary touch. The black printing on orange pages will scratch your Halloween itch and the adorable ghosts will have your little ones (and maybe you) clamoring for your own set of house haunters.

Age Recommendation: My toddler loved it and I expect this would be a big hit all the way up through Kindergarten and first grade.  It’s quite short and makes a great read aloud, possibly even before bed if it has been properly vetted as “not scary” earlier in the day.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – There’s a ghost.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

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