Revenge or Mercy?: A Review of The Secret Battles of Evan Pao

The Secret Battle of Evan Pao 
Wendy Wan-Long Shang 
Scholastic Press
Ages 8 to 12
June 7th, 2022 

Evan Pao and his family just want to start fresh, away from his father’s infamy and neighbors’ stares, and a small town in Virginia seems like the right place. But, Haddington, Virginia has its own Southern traditions and views that the Pao family and Evan don’t fit into, especially since Brady Griggs has it out for him as the only Chinese American boy in town. When Brady commits a hate crime against the Pao family but isn’t punished, Evan faces the choice of getting revenge or being a bigger person and having mercy.  

Told from multiple points of view from family, friends, and people around Haddington, these different perspectives reveal themes of racism, bullying, sexism, and their prevalence in the community. Shang treats grave and demeaning topics with realism and care, and a tone of hope that lends an uplifting feel to the weighty subjects. Although Evan knows he and his family don’t fit into the small town, he strives to show that some town traditions do relate to him and that Asian Americans have a legacy in the American South, just like everyone else. In the beginning, Evan struggles through many of the town’s prejudices that impact him and his family, and when it seems like he could give in to hate and subjugation, Evan overcomes these ‘secret battles’ within himself to reveal that forgiveness and mercy are vital for healing all wounds. Although the novel focuses on Evan as the main male protagonist, other characters are depicted as slowly adjusting their racially insensitive biases and worldview based on Evan’s influence. Evan proves that it only takes one brave person to break a cycle of hate and racial stereotyping in order to make a difference in the community. This deeply moving novel highlights the struggle young people have with self-identity, and how hard fitting into a new place can be, but that taking the initiative and being brave has its rewards.  

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf we are featuring recent and coming soon titles! It’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month so we are featuring some books authored by members of the AAPI community. Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend by Kaite Zhao is an epic fantasy novel based on Chinese mythology, about family, school, and embracing the power within you.

Check it out along with the other titles below!

Written by Jessica Jung
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Available Now!

Foul Lady Fortune
Written by Chloe Gong
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Available September 27th!

Her Rebel Highness
Written by Diana Ma
Published by Amulet Books
Available Now!

The Last Mapmaker
Written by Christina Soontornvat
Published by Candlewick Press
Available Now!

Maizy Chen’s Last Chance
Written by Lisa Yee
Published by Random House Children’s Books
Available Now!

Winnie Zeng: Unleashes a Legend
Written by Katie Zhoa
Published by Random House Children’s Books
Available Now!

Do Monsters Dream of Were-Sheep: A Review of Let the Monster Out

Bones is the new boy in town. With a chip on his shoulder, a hair-trigger, and a fastball that could knock you over, he’s making waves on the local baseball team. But then the adults in the sleepy small town of Langille start to act strangely. Then Bones and his new teammate Kyle save a mysterious man with a conspiracy theory-filled notebook from drowning. The duo decides it’s up to them and a group of new friends to investigate the strange happenings and free Langille from the mysterious and terrifying grip of the mega-corporation Fluxcorp. The team consists of Bones; Kyle, the neuro-atypical smart kid; Marcus, the most popular boy in town, part of the only black family besides Bones’ family, and youngest in a family of 6; and finally, Albert, the nervous one. The text alternates the point of view between primary narrators Bones and Kyle as they learn how to be each other’s best friend and how to grow out of fear. Author Chad Lucas takes on several difficult topics, like Bones’ abusive father and Kyle’s autism. Lucas presents them in an appropriate way for children without overly sanitizing. Kyle’s autism is handled particularly well, with the help of sensitivity readers, Lucas writes the condition as complex, depicting it as neutral, not good or bad.

A funny, spooky, and never subtle entry in the “kids save a small town” genre, with a few surprises along the way.

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf we are featuring recent and coming soon titles! Enter the magical world of the Salazars, firebreathing chipmunks, grumpy unicorns, and chupacabras need rescuing! This fun and funny family adventure by Zoraida Cordova pits the Salazar family versus terrible monster hunters who will stop at nothing to destroy magic.

Check it out along with the other titles below!

At the Pond
Written by David Elliot and Illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford
Published by Candlewick Press
Available May 24th!

City of Magic
Written by Avi
Published by Scholastic Press
Available June 28th!

Girls Who Green the World: Thirty-Four Rebel Women Out to Save Our Planet
Written by Diana Kapp and Illustrated by Ana Jaren
Published by Delacorte Press
Available Now!

Mako & Tiger: Two Not-So-Friendly Sharks
Written by Scott Rothman and Illustrated by Mika Song
Published by Random House Studio
Available Now!

Meet Me in Mumbai
Written by Sabina Khan
Published by Push
Available August 2nd!

Valentina Salazar is Not a Monster Hunter
Written by Zoraida Cordova
Published by Scholastic Press
Available June 28th!

Mindfulness in Nature: A Review of Tisha and the Blossoms

Tisha and the Blossoms
Wendy Meddour
Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus
Candlewick Press
May 17, 2022
Ages 2-5

Tisha spends her day feeling rushed, as she is constantly being told to “hurry up” by those around her. She must hurry to catch the bus in the morning, hurry through her project at school, and is even told to hurry during recess so that she does not miss lunch. When Mommy comes to pick her up from school, Tisha asks if they could slow down, frustrated by the amount of hurrying she has been doing all day. Mommy agrees, and the two walk home rather than taking the bus. On their leisurely walk, Tisha and Mommy talk, connecting to each other and the nature around them, even stopping to spend some time on a bench in the park. Once they arrive home, Mommy suggests to Daddy that they have a picnic as a family rather than a typical dinner at home. This allows the whole family to slow down and genuinely enjoy each other and everything around them. 

In keeping with the story’s theme of celebrating what is around us rather than hurrying through life, the illustrations feature elaborate backgrounds with less focus on the characters themselves. Several full-page spreads highlight details that can only be appreciated through slowing down. The art style is abstract and displays a variety of visual perspectives. The text is presented in an abstract way as well, with the layout changing on each page and certain words emphasized through the use of a larger font. While the central focus is on Tisha and her parents, diversity is apparent in the background characters. The story itself, and the way it is presented alongside abstract mixed media images, truly embodies the importance of mindfulness, and of sharing small moments which become even better when surrounded by loved ones. 

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf we are featuring recent and coming soon titles! We are looking at some non-fiction books on how plants and animals shape the world! Built by Animals written by Christiane Dorion and illustrated by Yeji Yun, teaches kids about how humans are inspired in design, industry, and engineering by animals!

Check it out along with the other titles below!

Billy Loves Birds: A Fact-Filled Nature Adventure Bursting with Birds!
Written by Jess French and Illustrated by Duncan Beedie
Published by Happy Yak
Available Now!

Built by Animals: Meet the Creatures who Inspire Our Homes and Cities
Written by Christiane Dorion and Illustrated by Yeji Yun
Published by Wide Eyed Editions
Available today!

Celia Planted a Garden: The Story of Celia Thaxter and Her Island Garden
Written by Phyllis Root & Gary D. Schmidt and Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Published by Candlewick Press
Available May 17!

A Rose Named Peace: How Francis Meilland Created a Flower of Hope for a World at War
Written by Barbara Carroll Roberts and Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Published by Candlewick Press
Available May 17!

Super Gross: Going Buggy!
Written by Patty Micheals and Illustrated by Alison Hawkins
Published by Simon Spotlight
Available today!

A World Full of Nature Stories: 50 Folk Tales and Legends
Written by Angela McAllister and Illustrated by Hannah Bess Ross
Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Available today!

Growing a Reader: Garden Pictures Books for Spring 2022

Spring has sprung! Or I’m sure it will any time now. And with it comes the chance to get outside (finally!) and enjoy nature, feel the sunshine, and play in the garden. This spring the publishing world has supplied us with a bumper crop of titles to inspire gardeners of all ages. With picture books and board books, fiction and nonfiction, there is something to inspire all of us to grab our garden tools and start digging. Happy reading (and planting)!


My Garden: My World in 100 Words
Happy Yak, illustrated by Marijke Buurlage
Published April 12, 2022
Ages Birth to 3

This bright and bouncy vocab primer explores the seasons and fun to be had in nature with simple word to illustration connections. Broken into easy to interpret categories, each spread includes object, action, and emotion words, and with a nod to social emotional learning, color-coded dots indicate actions and emotions.


Behold Our Magical Garden: Poems Fresh from the School Garden
Allen Wolf, illustrated by Daniel Duncan
Published March 8, 2022
Ages 8-12

Part poetry collection, part gardening guide, and all fun. Wolf’s poetry and thoughtful end notes weave English language arts lessons, with STEM topics in verses full of curiosity, wonder, and interesting biology facts. The diverse class groups and detailed digital drawings are an engaging combination sure to inspire garden clubs to start planning.

The Fairy Garden
Georgia Buckthorn, illustrated by Isabella Mazzanti
Published April 5, 2022
Ages 4-7

Mimi dreams of a fairy garden and works diligently to plant, prune, and tidy her garden until it’s perfect—for people, not fairies. With a little encouragement from its former inhabitants, she lets go and grows a beautiful and wild garden for the fairies to thrive. Lovely, soft-focused, colored pencil illustrations evoke a magical setting for dreaming of fairy-folk. Illustrated endnotes include rules for creating a fairy-friendly garden, adorable housing included.


Little Homesteader: A Spring Treasury of Recipes, Crafts, and Wisdom
Angela Ferraro-Fanning, illustrated by AnneliesDraws
Published March 22, 2022
Ages 6-8

A fun and fact-filled celebration of spring’s natural wonders. Full of wholesome, hands-on ways to enjoy the foods, plants, and holidays that make spring so lovely, including crafts, recipes, and gardening tips. Vibrant colored pencil illustrations of veggies, bugs, and animals also include two rosy-cheeked children enjoying all the fun.

The Gardener of Alcatraz: A True Story
Emma Bland Smith, illustrated by Jenn Ely
Published April 5, 2022
Ages 7-10

Elliott Michener, sent to Alcatraz as a convicted counterfeiter, changed both his life and the island prison when he discovered a passion for gardening. Without white-washing Michener’s crimes or intentions, Bland Smith treats his story with empathy and his transformation from criminal to landscaper with dignity. Ely’s thoughtful use of color swings from dreary to cheerful (and back) in attentive accordance to the mood of the text. Back matter includes a dual timeline for Alcatraz Island and Michener, extensive notes on both, and a bibliography and author’s note.

Planting a Garden in Room 6: From Seeds to Salad
Caroline Arnold
Published March 15, 2022
Ages 3-7

With a little help from their teacher, the students in room 6 will learn how to plant and tend a garden. Step-by-step explanations and photos cover everything from seed sprouting to planting to harvesting and taste-testing. A tool guide, Q&A, vocabulary terms, and both digital and hard copy resources complement the extremely detailed text. Planting a Garden in Room 6 is the third book in the collaborative series between Arnold and kindergarten teacher, Jennifer Best.

Which titles would you add to this list?

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf we are featuring recent and coming soon titles! With spring well underway, and Earthday just behind us, we are featuring We Have A Dream written by Dr. Mya-Rose Craig and illustrated by Sabrena Khadija. Profiling 30 young Indigenous people and people of color on how they, as members of groups most affected by climate change, fight for the future of the planet.

Check it out along with the other titles below!

All From a Walnut
Written by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Illustrated by Felicita Sala
Published by Abrams Books For Young Readers
Available Now!

The Flower Garden
Written and Illustrated by Renée Kurilla
Published by Amulet Books
Available Now!

Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods
Written by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Available Today!

The Rainbow Hunters
Written by Andrea Farotto and Illustrated by Martina Tonello
Published by Milky Way Picture Books
Available Now!

Spring Parade
Written by Camelia Kay and Illustrated by Allyn Howard
Published by Cameron Kids
Available Now!

We Have a Dream: Meet 30 Young Indigenous People and People of Color Protecting the Planet
Written by Dr. Mya-Rose Craig and Illustrated by Sabrena Khadija
Published by Magic Cat Publishing
Available Now!

Queen Quest: A Review of The Queen in the Cave

Queen in the Cave
Júlia Sardá
Candlewick Studio
May 24, 2022
Ages 5 to 9

Franca dreams of a queen in a cave. Feeling a strange need to abandon all she once enjoyed, Franca recruits her younger sisters, Carmela and Tomasina, to journey with her on her quest through the dark forest to find the queen. Although her sisters become afraid of the forest and the creatures they meet, Franca motivates them with her own blooming confidence to continue. When Franca, Carmela, and Tomasina finally reach the cave, they are given the most unexpected surprise in discovering the identity of the queen.

This imaginative picture book explores themes of overcoming one’s fears, being curious about the unknown, and being brave enough to keep going through life. Although Franca recruits her sisters in the beginning of the quest to travel with her, she learns that it’s okay to drift apart from the people and activities she once enjoyed, indicating the transition from childhood to adulthood. The illustrations and tone of the story also exhibit the shift, starting with a lighthearted tone and clean portrayal of the sisters and moving to a heavier tone and a darker color scheme focused on Franca. The fantastical illustration of the forest and the creatures fill each page with hidden objects that catch the attention of any reader and make them want to look again to see new objects that one might have missed. The fairytale-like tone of this picture book for older children, emphasizes the reality of growing up and learning to embrace your individuality, couched within a whimsical adventure. 


Ready for Día?

Known by many names like el dia de los ninos (Children’s Day), el dia de los libros (Book Day), but more commonly known as Día, April 30th is a day in celebration of all children and literacy of diverse books. Nationally recognized, Día is a day that emphasizes the importance of connecting children and their families to books supporting their culture, heritage, and language.

Some interesting resources to check out:

  • Día Bookclub Toolkit
    • This is great way to save time and energy for last minute planning! Toolkit will include recommended books for children of certain ages, added discussion questions, and sample agenda for any child, parent, or library staff member who wants to celebrate.
  • Awards for Participation
    • A serious motivation to any person who celebrates Día in their library or the community.
  • Webcasts for Assisted Planning
    • Need assistance in planning? These free webinars will help in designing a plan for Día and learn more about other multicultural programs.
  • Facebook chats, blogs, and additional websites
    • These useful resources will help in any other planning or information on multicultural children’s’ books that one might need.

For all these tools and more, visit

Celebrating Día’s 25th Anniversary, we at the Butler Children’s Literature Center at Dominican University would like you to join us in commemorating Día so that “Each Story Matters, Every Child Counts”.

(Cited from the American Library Association Día website)

Posted in ALA.