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Amazing Women of the Middle East: 25 Stories from Ancient Times to Present Day

Wafa’ Tarnowska, illus. by Margarida Esteves et al. Crocodile, $19.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-62371-870-1

Tarnowska, a multilingual storyteller and translator, brings a brimming enthusiasm to this collection of short biographies of Middle Eastern women. With vivid illustrations by five female illustrators, the book’s profiles, arranged chronologically, present women who broke the mold, from Queen Nefertiti to Zahra Lari. The author strikes a casual tone, sprinkling her prose with “did you know?” queries and exclamation marks. Portraits of well-known ancient women such as Scheherazade and Cleopatra lack wider historical context, blending elements of fact and myth (many scholars discount the theory that Cleopatra died by cobra bite, as Tarnowska claims). However, the book introduces readers to lesser-known women rulers, such as Theodora, Empress of Byzantium, and hits its stride with narratives of modern women, including architect Zaha Hadid, astronaut Anousheh Ansari, and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. Its upbeat, empowering message assures readers that “achieving our goals might be hard sometimes, but that’s why we need positive role models to guide us.” The book includes a single uncontextualized historical map of the region. Ages 9–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Nuestra América: 30 Inspiring Latinas/Latinos Who Have Shaped the United States

Sabrina Vourvoulias, illus. by Gloria Félix. Running Press Kids, $17.99 (128p) ISBN 978-0-7624-9747-8

A project of the Smithsonian Latino Center, this collection, also released in a Spanish edition, features 30 biographies of men and women who have made their mark in entertainment, sports, education, politics, advocacy, music, science, and social justice. Skillfully rendered short portraits introduce readers to influential figures such as Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian hired by the New York Public Library, who wrote children’s books retelling Puerto Rican folktales after seeing a need for wider cultural representation. Familiar figures such as labor leader Dolores Huerta and baseball player Roberto Clemente appear alongside lesser-known subjects such as military pilot Olga Custodio and climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. Highlighted by Gloria Félix’s lush, realistic art, the book’s message, “Latino history is American history,” rings out on every page. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Immigrant Innovators: 30 Entrepreneurs Who Made a Difference

Samantha Chagollan, illus. by Calef Brown. Duopress, $14.95 (128p) ISBN 978-1-950500-27-7

In brief biographies flanked by quotations and facts, Chagollan documents the accomplishments of 30 immigrant entrepreneurs in the U.S.—men and women from 25 countries who have made an impact in the business world. Hamdi Ulukaya, a Kurdish immigrant to the U.S., fled political oppression in Turkey before founding Chobani, now the bestselling Greek yogurt in the country; he also employs refugees and offers staff shares in the company. “Before fame came knocking,” pop star and Fenty Beauty founder Rihanna was “just a little girl from Barbados.” A brief spread profiles children of immigrants, including Ruth Handler, daughter of Polish immigrants and co-inventor of the Barbie doll. Sidebars detail facts such as the definition of the “chork,” a chopstick-fork combination introduced by Panda Express founders Andrew and Peggy Cherng, immigrants from China and Myanmar. Though highly stylized illustrations by Brown, including fanciful skin tones, render many subjects almost unrecognizable, the book is consistent in its message that immigrants are powerful change-makers, “not just in terms of culture and diversity, but also in innovation, job creation, and economic growth.” Ages 8–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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100 Immigrant Women Who Changed the World (Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls)

Elena Favilli. Rebel Girls, $35 (224p) ISBN 978-1-73332-929-3

The third book in the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls series, this volume profiles 100 women who at some point immigrated to a new country, seeking freedom, safety, or success. Favilli defines a rebel girl as someone trying to make a positive difference in the world, and she includes a wide array of subjects, organized alphabetically by first name, such as financial executive Chinwe Esimai, WWII spy for England Noor Inayat Khan, and table tennis world champion Angelica Rozeanu. Stylish illustrations from a variety of female artists show figures in their milieu—Karina Cocq presents hematologist Marcela Contreras surrounded by blood cells—and accompany brief, accessible biographies about and quotations from each woman. While readers won’t come away with an in-depth view of each life, and the subjects’ adopted countries lean overwhelmingly toward the U.S. and U.K., the book successfully includes a range of subjects. A volume full of inspiring role models. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 7–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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This Is Not a Ghost Story

Andrea Portes. HarperTeen, $17.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-0624-2244-6

In need of a job the summer before her first year at Bryn Mawr, 17-year-old Nebraskan Daffodil Turner is offered a position housesitting in Scarlett Mills, Pa. Despite the homeowner’s insistence that the “rumors” are not true, Daffodil starts to experience strange occurrences—items moving on their own, animals scratching to get inside—and odd behaviors from nosy neighbor Penelope and construction worker Mike, who is overseeing a crew building something mysterious behind the house. Determined to make it through her solo summer by binge-watching alien and conspiracy theory shows, Daffodil battles growing anxiety and suicidal thoughts as reality collides with her hazy nightmares. Flashbacks of Daffodil’s life before graduation, including memories of first love Zander Haaf, and numerous hints at a moment Daffodil refuses to acknowledge may lead some readers to guess the final revelation. Portes (Anatomy of a Misfit) breaks the fourth wall in Daffodil’s first-person, stream-of-consciousness interior monologue, tempering gruesome scenes with Daffodil’s likable and chatty personality, and creating a memorable novel reminiscent of John Bellairs stories. Ages 13–up. Agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Instant Karma

Marissa Meyer. Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends, $18.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-61881-8

Before an outing with friends gives her supernatural powers, the biggest trial of perfectionist Prudence Barnett’s sophomore year has been her lab partner, Quint Erickson. He’s sloppy and runs late, and just when she should be free of him, a chance to improve their bad final presentation grade makes her volunteer at the sea animal rehabilitation center that he helps his mother run. Now, Pru is slogging through fish-gut-related chores alongside annoying Quint—but also enjoying her new power, which gives her the ability to mete out instant karmic justice upon anyone she feels is exhibiting selfish behavior, like stealing from a vending machine or defacing a sign. She finds the power satisfying until she realizes that good and bad are less clear, and less binary, than she thought. Meyer (the Lunar Chronicles) turns a rom-com trope—uptight protagonist meets free spirit and learns to have fun—into an interesting meditation on judgment and justice. Readers who push through the slow beginning will be rewarded with a book that offers a real sense of place (a touristy Southern California beach community filled with otters and sea lions) alongside a satisfying romance and an unsanctimonious lesson about the importance of changing one’s ideas about oneself and others when needed. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Stick with Me

Jennifer Blecher. Greenwillow, $16.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-274862-1

Artistic Izzy, 12, feels out of place in her rapidly shifting world. Her former best friend only wants to hang out with the class mean girl, and Izzy’s parents recently moved the family into their garage apartment so they can rent out their Boston home for a week. Figure skater Wren, also 12, plans to spend her school break on the ice; she’s dismayed to learn that her family will instead be heading to Boston. There, they’ll rent a house near the hospital where Wren’s four-year-old sister will undergo surgery for epilepsy. When the rental situation throws the girls together, and their mothers sign them up for a weeklong drama camp, Izzy and Wren become unlikely confidantes and discover the power of a supportive friendship. Each protagonist is layered and relatable: anxious Izzy uses her art to navigate her emotions, while Wren regrets her habit of speaking harshly before thinking. In chapters that alternate between the girls’ perspectives, Blecher (Out of Place) keenly illustrates the agonies and intricacies of tween friendship, as well as the familial challenges of being 12: “Too old to stomp your feet and whine. Too young to actually decide anything important.” Ages 8–12. Agent: Alexander Slater, Trident Media Group. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Smartest Kid in the Universe (The Smartest Kid in the Universe #1)

Chris Grabenstein. Random House, $16.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-64778-2

After seventh grader Jake McQuade, a dedicated slacker, gobbles a jar full of jellybeans, he discovers that they were an experiment to convey “Ingestible Knowledge.” Thanks to an unprecedented combination of ingredients, he’s now crammed full of amazing new facts, figures, and trivia. His new knowledge assists him in joining the school’s quiz bowl team, searching for a legendary lost pirate treasure, and being recruited by the U.S. government to solve top-secret cases. It may also help save dilapidated Riverview Middle School from closure as part of the principal’s shady land development scheme. With this fast-paced romp, Grabenstein (the Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series) delivers a heartfelt, tongue-in-cheek tale packed with trivia. Jake, who is white; his Kojak-quoting best friend Kojo Shelton, who is Black; and his crush, academic-minded Grace Garcia, who is Latinx, make for an entertaining trio, facing off against rival quiz bowl teams and corrupt school administrators with equal aplomb. Episodic in feel, this amusing adventure also works as a humorous love letter to public education and dedicated teachers. Ages 8–12. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Serena Says

Tanita S. Davis. HarperCollins/Tegen, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-293697-4

Eleven-year-old Serena St. John, who is Black, does not like to stand out, unlike her best friend, outgoing JC, who is Filipina and has always been “funnier and louder and more confident than everyone.” But when Serena’s untimely cold following JC’s kidney transplant puts JC in the path of a replacement best friend—Hawaiian Leilani, who is seemingly perfect and has cool older brothers—Serena has to figure who she is outside her now-former best friend’s shadow. Serena is a smart, intuitive Black girl with relatable fears and insecurities; via school projects and a vlog series that slowly improves as the book progresses, she decides she’s ready to step into the spotlight all on her own. Through Serena and her close-knit family and friends, Davis capably touches on matters of chronic illness, mental health, and friendship growing pains in this quiet but impactful slice-of-life novel. Ages 8–12. Agent: Steve Chudney, the Chudney Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Some Days

María Wernicke, trans. from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel. Amazon Crossing Kids, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2251-4

This brief, wistful exchange between a mother and her child delivers its emotion between the lines, and Schimel’s translation handles the understatement deftly. The two sit at the table after a meal, the scene and colors gray and quiet. “In our yard, there’s a passageway,” the child says, picturing the mother walking out into the garden with a basket of laundry. She pins two enormous scarlet sheets to the clothesline, and the child twists up inside one of them. Though the portal isn’t always present, “I would like it to always be there, like today.” It’s a passageway to a future full of happy endings, where the child interacts with an unknown figure in a gray hat: “On the other side,// I’ve already learned how to swim// And it’s not cold,// and there’s no danger.// And nothing, nothing at all, can happen to you.” The mother accepts her child’s anxiety and promises only what she can deliver: “Although we may not always see it,” she replies, “we can always go looking for it.” Wernicke shows the two twirled up in another set of sheets, looking for the passageway together, in this portrait of a parent who hears and honors her child’s words. Ages 6–8. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/02/2020 | Details & Permalink

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