October 20, 2017

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Middle Grade: An Immigrant’s Story, Lucha Libre, and More | May 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Carey, Elizabeth Doyle. The Test. 254p. (Junior Lifeguards: Bk. 1). Dunemere. Apr. 2017. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9780998499741.

Gr 5-7 –Jenna is getting tired of no longer being the best middle school swimmer on her Cape Cod team. Some newer girls have moved in and stolen her glory, so when she sees the fliers for the Junior Lifeguard program, she gets excited. Jenna manages to convince her friends to join her in the tryouts, and her coach agrees to let her take a break from the team for the summer in order to try out for the program and go through the training. Jenna and her friends have to conquer multiple tests, and their relationships become strained in the process. Secondary characters Piper, Selena, and Ziggy all come with their own family histories and backstories. Some of these are rather clunkily inserted, such as Ziggy’s parents’ opposition to capitalism. Still, this novel is brimming with wholesome tween drama and boy crushes. It brings to mind the cheery it-all-ends-well tone of books from another era, but it also perpetuates stereotypes of middle school girls being obsessed with the cute boys surrounding them. Some scenes attempt to add more emotional heft but fall flat in the face of overwhelming fluffiness. VERDICT An additional purchase for elementary and middle school libraries, a solid option for devoted tween swimmers, and a good choice for libraries in Cape Cod.–Kate Olson, Bangor School District, WI

Freeman, Ruth. One Good Thing About America. illus. by Katherine Honesta. 160p. glossary. websites. Holiday House. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823436958.

Gr 4-6 –Spanning a school year, this touching novel in epistolary format relates the triumphs and travails of a young Congolese refugee, Anaïs, and her family. Settled in Maine, the plucky nine-year-old diligently writes letters home to Oma (her grandmother), who has requested updates in English only. Hoping to help the child acclimate to life in a foreign country, Oma asks Anaïs to include in every missive at least “one good thing about America.” Realistically portraying the writing of an English language learner, the text is peppered with grammatical errors and misspellings. As the narrative progresses, readers see marked improvement in the tween’s writing. Anaïs’s voice feels true as she shares her experiences, which include befriending other immigrant children in her class, participating in traditional American activities such as trick-or-treating and Christmas decorating, and contending with a health emergency that tests her maturity and resolve. However, the letters often simplistically refer to political unrest—Anaïs’s older brother and father are hiding from the government as they try to make their way to a refugee camp in Kenya—and young readers may struggle to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation. Freeman’s characterization of African and Middle Eastern immigrants is well done, and she deftly dispels stereotypes about these cultures. When an American classmate asks Anaïs why she doesn’t wear a hijab like another Somali classmate, the protagonist responds, “Really?… You think Africa is one small place?” Helpful back matter includes links to informational websites, an author’s note, an ELL vocabulary list, and a French glossary. VERDICT Highly recommended for libraries seeking timely stories about the immigrant experience.–Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA

Garza, Xavier. Maximilian and the Lucha Libre Club/Maximiliano y el club de lucha libre. illus. by Xavier Garza. 208p. (Max’s Lucha Libre Adventures: Bk. 3). Cinco Puntos. Nov. 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781941026403; pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781941026410. BL

Gr 3-7 –Maximilian is back in this third book in the series. Wrestling with keeping his lucha libre life and his feelings for Cecilia, the girl of his dreams, a secret, Max doesn’t think his life can get any more complicated. When Paloma, the only friend who knows that Max’s uncle is the great Guardian Angel—the greatest luchador of all time—moves away, Max doesn’t know whom he will be able to talk to about lucha libre. He receives a ticket and backstage passes to attend the Big Brawl in Los Angeles and travels with his uncles and Vampiro Velasquez. He is quickly inducted into the Lucha Libre Club—a group for kids who are related to luchadores—which Paloma is a part of. With the help of Vampiro Velasquez, who provides valuable life lessons as well as instruction on wrestling techniques, the protagonist discovers what makes the Guardian Angel more than just a man in a mask. Written in English and Spanish, this story is filled with excitement and addresses the problems and everyday worries of kids like Max. Illustrations accompany each chapter, and all readers, including reluctant ones, will find something to interest them; the addition of the female luchadoras and their young relatives is a nice touch. Readers of all ages will discover wisdom within the story, especially in the character of Vampiro Velasquez, who reminds us that time passes for everyone. VERDICT Highly recommended, particularly for bilingual collections and where the author’s books are popular.–Selenia Paz, Helen Hall Library, League City, TX

Khan, Joshua. Dream Magic. illus. by Ben Hibon. 352p. (Shadow Magic: Bk. 2). Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484737620.

Gr 4-7 –The kingdom of Gehenna is in an uproar, and the people are blaming their queen, 13-year-old Lilith Shadow. She used magic, which is forbidden to women and girls, and now the zombies are leaving their graves, a troll army is on the way, and citizens are disappearing from their houses. All the major players are present in this welcome return visit to Castle Gloom, especially Lily’s brave and resourceful friend Thorn. The two must find out the real reason for the chaos before it is too late. Unfortunately, one of their major allies, kingdom executioner (and Thorn’s mentor) Tybalt, is missing and presumed dead. Unsure whether an ancient curse or something even more sinister is at play, Thorn sets out to defend Lily and her kingdom on the back of his giant bat, Hades. Appearing as a ghost and in dreams to both Lily and Thorn, Lily’s father, Lord Shadow, provides critical guidance: “Imagination is the fuel of magic. Magic is an art like music or dancing. Sometimes the best way to learn is just by doing it.” The real villains are identified, and a battle of wits, will, and daring rescues ensues, with not only lives at stake but also the future of all the kingdoms. This book stands well on its own, but familiarity with the first installment, Shadow Magic, will enhance enjoyment. Although Thorn and Lily are young people enmeshed in a very adult struggle, their voices and emotions ring true and are age appropriate. Occasional black-and-white illustrations enhance the text. VERDICT With loads of adventure, an intriguing mystery, and socially relevant touch points, this second entry is likely to circulate well where there are fans of the previous two installments.–Sara-Jo Lupo Sites, George F. Johnson Memorial Library, Endicott, NY

Krawitz, Susan. Viva, Rose! 220p. Holiday House. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823437566.

Gr 4-6 –Rose and her family are Russian Jewish immigrants living in El Paso, TX, in the early 1900s. Rose discovers that one of her older brothers, Abraham, has lied to their parents concerning his whereabouts and has joined Pancho Villa’s army. While trying to have a letter delivered to Abe telling him to give up his outlaw ways and come home, Rose is kidnapped by some of Villa’s soldiers and taken to their camp. There she becomes the playmate/servant of a young and very spoiled girl named Dorotea. Rose finds her brother and tries to convince him to leave with her. The book is filled with danger and suspense. It also contains a lot of history about Pancho Villa and how he fought for the poor of Mexico. The characters of Rose and Dorotea are the most well developed; Rose is quite mature for a 13-year-old. Her first-person narrative is delivered in a straightforward voice with very little emotion, which often doesn’t do justice to the harrowing events in the story. VERDICT A fine supplementary purchase. Hand to fans of historical fiction.–Nancy P. Reeder, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, SC

O’Donnell, Liam. The Case of the Missing Mage. illus. by Mike Deas. 208p. (Tank & Fizz: Bk. 3). Orca. Apr. 2017. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781459812581.

Gr 3-6 –An action-packed detective story set in a land of monsters and magic. Tank and Fizz, monster detectives, are called upon to help their friend Aleetha, a wizard in training, discover the reason for the disappearance of mages from various disciplines. The villains make use of a cloaking spell, so the sleuths are the only two who can actually witness the kidnappings. Combining magic and technology, the trio sneak into the Shadow Tower to get to the bottom of the mystery. Two-tone illustrated panels interspersed between chapters add extra detail to what is already an action-oriented tale. While a quick pace moves the narrative along, characters are a bit flat and world-building is nonexistent. The plot is interesting but ultimately not compelling. Reluctant readers may be drawn to the illustrations as well as to the antics of the heroes, but those looking for richer detail will be unsatisfied. Give to fans of Ursula Vernon’s “Dragonbreath” series or Jennifer Holm’s “Squish” series. VERDICT Recommended for libraries where the other books in this series are popular; an additional purchase elsewhere.–Jenni Frencham, Columbus Public Library, WI

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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