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Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves

Edited by Glory Edim. Ballantine, $20 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525-61977-2

Started in 2015 as an Instagram page, Well-Read Black Girl has grown into a nationwide book club and Brooklyn literary festival. WRBG founder Edim’s collection of brief, pithy, and original essays by 21 distinguished black women addresses the question, “When did you first see yourself in literature?” The answers include discovering “the right book at the right time,” reading a book first through one lens and later through another, and recognizing oneself in figures as seemingly far removed from one’s experience as Hans Christian Andersen’s little match girl. As expected, a pantheon of black women writers are acknowledged, with Veronica Chambers, Marita Golden, and Jamia Wilson paying tribute to, respectively, Jamaica Kincaid, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nikki Giovanni. There are thought-provoking surprises as well: Stephanie Powell Watts recalls finding inspiration in the Jehovah’s Witnesses magazine Watchtower, and N.K. Jemisin in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The book’s thematic organization—sections include “Books on Black Feminism,” “Plays by Black Women,” and “Poetry by Black Women”—makes it easy for readers to dive in based on personal preferences, though they could just as contentedly read from cover to cover. Speaking directly to black women readers, this book contains a journey from which anyone can derive enjoyment and benefit. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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She Sheds Style: Make Your Space Your Own

Erika Kotite. Cool Springs, $25 (176p) ISBN 978-0-7603-6099-6

Kotite (She Sheds) constructs a charming primer for women intent on creating their own spaces. “Get ready to roll up your sleeves, because this book offers dozens of projects,” she warns in her introduction, and she delivers with shed-decorating ideas that include creating curtains from vintage dish towels, laying down mosaic stepping stones made from broken china, and installing trendy barn doors. Even as she’s providing direction, Kotite emphasizes that each project can be tweaked or personalized to meet the creator’s preferences. Paint palettes, architecture musings, styling tips, and color theories share space with fun ideas for entertaining, such as holding a paint party to get decorating help. Want a customized built-in sewing table or a drop-down bar in one’s “she shed”? Kotite’s got that covered. Those with a sense of whimsy will delight in the instructions for the transformation of a vintage hard-sided suitcase into a mod ottoman. Though most of Kotite’s ideas are intended for freestanding sheds, many can easily be adapted for basements, spare rooms, and attics. Part practical decorating handbook and part empowerment guide for women, this book on mini-scaled spaces is full-scale fun. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Smoke and Mirrors

K.D. Halbrook. S&S/Wiseman, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5344-0504-2

In Halbrook’s first middle-grade novel (following the YA novel Every Last Promise, as Kristin Halbrook), two siblings confront a magician’s ancient curse and try to rescue their parents. Fifth grader Sasha’s performing family lives in the colorful Cirque Magnifique, a circuslike show community full of pomp and plumage. When Sasha and her younger brother, Toddy, attend school for the first time, they’re thrust into the drab, conformist world on the other side of their island. After some particularly chilling bullying from fellow students, Sasha’s outburst about it at home unwittingly invites in a mysterious smoke that transforms her parents into birds. As Sasha and Toddy struggle to survive on their own, the narrative drags a bit, but it gains speed after they embark on a quest to the Edge of the World to find their parents and “destroy the Smoke for good.” The powerful sibling bond anchors the narrative on the island and during the journey, and propels this inventive fantasy. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Max Einstein: The Genius Experiment

James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illus. by Beverly Johnson. Little, Brown/Patterson, $14.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-52396-7

Johnson’s wry sketch of the iconic photo of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue, accompanied by his observation that “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” opens a lively and astute series launch by frequent collaborators Patterson and Grabenstein. Max Einstein, a homeless 12-year-old genius, knows nothing about her parents, her past, or the origins of her treasured suitcase filled with Albert Einstein memorabilia. The feisty girl’s infatuation with the scientist guides her critical problem-solving (“What would Einstein do?”) after she is kidnapped by thugs working for a greed-driven corporation and subsequently recruited by the rival Change Makers Institute, dedicated to eradicating global warming, poverty, war, and pandemic disease. Eight other whiz kids competing to become the group’s “instrument of change,” a cunning double agent, and the good guys’ surprising benefactor add to the story’s intrigue, which illuminates present-day applications of Einstein’s scientific theories as well as the wisdom of his humanitarian tenets (“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”). Sprinting from Manhattan to Israel to the Congo, the story is an entertaining and thoughtful exploration of perseverance, friendship, creativity, and identity. Ages 9–12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Mascot

Antony John. HarperCollins, $16.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-283562-8

One year ago, a car crash killed Noah’s dad and left Noah, who was starting catcher for his Little League team, paraplegic. Noah goes through the motions of physical therapy and building a new life with just his mom, locking his feelings of anger and sadness behind his sarcasm. After new kid Dee-Dub (short for “Double Wide,” a nickname inflicted due to his stature) arrives in Noah’s seventh grade class, the two start hanging out. Then bully Logan mocks Noah in gym, and Alyssa, the one friend Noah permitted to visit him regularly after the accident, challenges Logan to a pitch-off, roping in Dee-Dub to be hitter and Noah to catch. Meanwhile, Noah’s mom has started spending time with single neighbor Mr. Dillon, something Noah plans to stop. Through the chain reaction ignited by these events, Noah learns that while part of his life is over, another chapter—one that may be better than he’d imagined—has just begun. John (Five Flavors of Dumb) blends humor and heartache in this powerful, satisfying coming-of-age story that handles Noah’s experience of paraplegia with honesty and sensitivity. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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I’m Ok

Patti Kim. Atheneum, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5344-1929-2

In the wake of his father’s unexpected death, sixth-grade Korean immigrant Ok Lee (“No one at school says my name right... Say “pork.” Drop the p sound. Now drop the r sound”) is determined to earn money to help his mom, who works three jobs, and “keep alive [his] father’s plan for success in the USA.” Unfortunately, Ok’s money-making schemes—braiding his classmates’ hair, tutoring the most popular kid in class, and learning how to roller skate to win the school talent contest prize—prove less profitable than he had hoped, and in addition, he is often bullied over his name, his appearance, and his traditional Korean food. As Ok and his mother are forced to move into a smaller apartment, Ok feels like he’s failing, and his desperation leads him to lie, steal, blackmail, and betray newfound friends. Debut author Kim, also a Korean immigrant, tells a moving story of family, culture, and growing up, through the eyes of a boy who struggles to fulfill his father’s American dream and maintain his own sense of pride. Ok’s anger and frustration about his father’s death and his mother’s burgeoning relationship with a deacon from their church ring particularly true, as do his ethical and emotional growth. Ages 10–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Damsel

Elana K. Arnold. Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-274232-2

This subversion of fairy tale tropes begins with familiar elements: a prince rescues a damsel from a dragon to make her his bride and prove his worth to become king, as happens with every generation in the kingdom of Harding (“I saved you,” he repeats). But the damsel, whom he names Ama, has no memory of her past, her family, or her time with the dragon. And the more time she spends around her husband-to-be, learning the ways of his culture and her intended role, the more uncomfortable she becomes. King Emory is cold, strict, sometimes violent, swift to exert his authority, and eager to have sex with Ama—whether she is interested or not. As Ama struggles to unlock her memories and find her own destiny, she discovers the dark side of the kingdom’s traditions. With haunting prose and lush descriptions, Arnold (What Girls Are Made Of) weaves a terrifying tale that explores contemporary conversations about rape culture, misogyny, male entitlement, female agency, and the need for consent. The message is as timely as it is vital, but frank discussions of self-harm, physical and emotional abuse, and descriptions of sexual violence may not be appropriate for readers at the younger end of the stated range. Ages 14–up. Agency: Rubin Pfeffer, Rubin Pfeffer Content. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Archenemies

Marissa Meyer. Feiwel and Friends, $19.99 (496p) ISBN 978-1-250-07830-8

This sequel to Renegades finds Nova, a superpowered “prodigy,” firmly embedded as a double agent among the Renegades (a powerful band of superheroes), covertly working toward destroying them and reviving the defeated Anarchists (a team of villains). Meanwhile, her Renegade teammate Adrian flounders, torn between the Renegade code and the unconstrained power he wields as the vigilante Sentinel, his secret identity. A new weapon capable of permanently removing a prodigy’s powers offers new possibilities for both Renegades and Anarchists—and for unexpected common ground between Adrian and Nova. Meyer is fantastic with superpowers, and the best moments in the book involve ingenious or breathtaking displays of ability, as well as entertaining hints of a centuries-long prodigy history. Much of the plot, however, revolves around thin quests for empowered objects, while the narrowed focus on Adrian and Nova’s deepening romance undercuts both the powers that make them interesting and the larger cast of characters. Following an exhilarating opening, the middle section treads water, never quite capturing the novelty and urgency of the first book, but the page-turner conclusion will leave readers eager for the final installment. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Words to Love By

Rick Warren, illus. by Ag Jatkowska. Zonderkidz, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-310-75282-0

Using a series of relatable, concrete examples, pastor and bestselling adult author Warren (The Purpose Driven Life) introduces young readers to the idea that the words one chooses to speak can greatly affect others. Alongside Warren’s brief passages of text (“Words can encourage.... They can bring out the best in people”), Jatkowska’s sunny mixed-media vignettes feature ethnically diverse children using language that spurs positive actions and reactions. In one spread, four spot illustrations, connected via arrows and dotted lines, demonstrate how one “can spread love and kindness.” Hurtful, angry words and phrases are also addressed, though Warren’s suggestion to be careful with one’s words feels heavy-handed: “Once you send them out into the world, you can’t get them back.” This ode to compassionate language should have broad appeal. Ages 4–8. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Mika: The Bear Who Didn’t Want to Sleep

Erik Kriek, trans. from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson. Flying Eye, $17.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-912497-01-0

In this striking offering from Dutch artist Kriek, a young bear longs to experience a natural phenomenon. After hearing about the Northern Lights from an old owl, bear cub Mika settles down to hibernate, but once his parents are asleep, he tiptoes out to see whether he can spot the dramatic sky show. In Kriek’s birch- and spruce-studded forest scenes—they have the look of midcentury national park posters—Mika’s search introduces him to a series of familiar forest animals (“Hello, wolf. Do you know where I can find the Northern Lights?”). An encounter with a wolverine is the only tense moment, though the story also includes a solemn warning for readers who might be tempted by solo expeditions (“You should never just sneak outside like that,” says Papa. “Luckily we saw your paw prints in the snow”). In a final climactic spread, the whole bear family witnesses the greenish-blue light dancing across the sky. The illustrations’ retro style and the story’s earnest tone recall classic library favorites and provide just the right amount of bedtime excitement. Ages 3–5. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/19/2018 | Details & Permalink

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