Fact versus fiction: The Curse of the Mummy: Uncovering Tutankhamun’s Tomb

The Curse of the Mummy: Uncovering Tutankhamun’s Tomb
Candace Fleming
Scholastic
Available September 7, 2021
Ages 8-12

A pharaoh’s tomb—blessed or cursed, ransacked, then lost to sand and time. Until Lord Carnarvon, with money, enthusiasm and a gambling spirit, met Howard Carter with his meticulous methods and love of the hunt. Together they would make one of the most glorious and scientifically significant finds in Egyptian archeology—the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Chronicling the years leading up to the discovery and through Howard Carter’s death, Fleming digs into the shaky allegiances and scheming politics of archeology in Egypt, the colonialist role of the British, and the tragedies that plagued those associated with the venture. She subtly calls out the dichotomy between Carter’s painstaking scientific methodology for excavation and conservation, and his near total disregard for Tut’s human remains. The attention to photographing and labeling all the items and events, and only recording the names of the Europeans in the photos. Heavily based on source materials from those associated with the dig, including Carter’s notes, diaries, and books, the text moves from sympathy for his point of view to questioning his attention to anything other than his work, including the growing agitation for Egyptian self-rule. Interspersed through the chapters, “It was said” tales string together sensational stories attributed to the curse; including car accidents, dead pets, and fatal illnesses. And in something of an anti-climax, Fleming devotes just a few brief paragraphs to her conclusion: “There were no curses inscribed anywhere in Tutankhamun’s tomb.” (244) This recounting of the Carnarvon and Carter’s discovery, full of detailed photography, maps, and illustrations, ties a thorough timeline of actual events to a more melodramatic story of the curse.

*review based on printed ARC page numbering

Add a pinch of belly button lint: A Review of Boo Stew

Boo Stew
Donna L. Washington
Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
Peachtree
Available September 1, 2021
Ages 3-7

Curly Locks, the most disgustingly imaginative cook in Toadsuck Swamp, just hasn’t found the right audience for her culinary creations. When a group of spooky Scares (one larger than the last) make their way out of the swamp and into the mayor’s kitchen, the townsfolk are scared silly. Only Curly Locks knows what to do—cook for them! She whips up the best batch of Boo Stew east of the Mississippi and lures the Scares right back to the swamp with promises of feasts to come and satisfaction at finally finding those that appreciate her cooking.

In this twist on the Goldilocks tale, Washington’s background as a traditional storyteller shines through in the structure, repetition, and the Southern vernacular that bring the inhabitants of Toadsuck Swamp to vivid life. Her heroine breaks the mold of the most Goldilocks’, with a bolder personality, grand self-confidence, and belief in her ability to make a difference. The text is based on an oral telling from her 2006 recording Angels’ Laughter. Jeffrey Ebbeler has created a diverse cast of hilariously terrified townsfolk that help to highlight Curly Locks’ gumption and bravery, further setting her apart from the often insipid traditional Goldilocks. His sepia toned illustrations and shadowy, bear-like Scares lend a suitably spooky setting and some Southern gothic flare to this fine addition to both folktale and Halloween collections. 

How Do You Feel?: SEL Picture Books for All Ages

Managing emotions can be hard, whether you’re 4 or 44, but successful social emotional learning can help all of us learn how to identify and express our feelings, and support others in handling theirs. Fortunately, 2021 picture book authors are here to help with this roundup of titles just waiting for their chance to shine in an SEL themed story time or a lesson for older kids.

A Cat with No Name: A Story About Sadness
What a Feeling Series
Kochka, Illustrated by Marie Leghima
Parent notes by clinical psychologist Louison Neilman
Quarto/words & pictures
Ages 3-6

Olive cares for a lost kitten that she quickly comes to love. When he doesn’t return one day, a neighborhood search proves he’s been reunited with his owners. Olive’s dad helps her realize that it’s ok to be sad about missing him and how to find peace in remembering. Originally published in France, the line drawings limited color palette have a European sensibility. End notes from a psychologist provide information and tips on recognizing and supporting a child handling sadness.

Big Feelings
Alexandra Penrose, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
Penguin Random House/Alfred A. Knopf
Ages 4-8

A diverse group of children have big plans for the day, but when things don’t go as planned, frustration, anger, and fights get in the way. As they work through their differences and work together on a new plan, respect, kindness, and excitement bring them together as a team. Bright mixed media illustrations and expressive little faces show a range of emotions and illustrate some great ways to express them in healthy and productive ways.

How to Apologize
David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
Candlewick
Ages 3+

It’s not always easy to say “I’m sorry,” but this sweet instruction manual is a specific and silly how-to guide. Whether you’ve made a mistake, been mean to a friend, or had an accident, this step-by-step guide shows the do’s and don’ts of apologies. Hilarious illustrated oops-moments help soften the instructions on how, when, and why we should all learn to apologize.

It Could Be Worse
Einat Tsarfati, translated by Annette Appe
Candlewick
Ages 4-8

Albertini and George have been shipwrecked. Albertini is upset, but George keeps looking on the bright side and after each new misadventure (storms, flying fish, ghost pirates, and a hungry whale) declares “It could always be worse!” Vibrant digital illustrations and outrageous situations provide levity in this silly series of catastrophes, proving that attitude is everything and even a bad day can feel better when you face it with a friend.

The Power of Yet
Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Abrams/Appleseed
Ages 3-6

A small piglet knows the frustration that comes with being a kid. You’re not big enough, strong enough, experienced enough—yet. But trying and growing and practicing leads to learning and success. Pen and ink drawings with pastel watercolors gently follow piglet’s persistence and celebration as yet turns to now.

The Smile Shop
Satoshi Kitamura
Peachtree
Ages 3-6

The market is an exciting place when there is pocket money just waiting to be spent. When a sudden collision sends a small boy’s change down the drain, his hopes of a treat are dashed. But in the Smile Shop, the kindness of a shopkeeper proves that money can’t buy happiness, but human connection sure can. Soft-focus line and watercolor illustrations shift palettes as the boy goes from excited to despondent to hopeful and finally cheerful as he discovers all the smiling faces that surround him.

Destination India: A Review of Word Travelers: The Mystery of the Taj Mahal Treasure

Word Travelers: The Mystery of the Taj Mahal Treasure
Raj Haldar
Illustrated by Neha Rawat
Sourcebook Kids
October 5, 2021
Ages 7-12

When best friends Eddie and MJ’s Super Saturday Sleepover goes from blanket forts and movies to magic books and teleportation, they are totally up for the adventure. At mom’s suggestion, they open Eddie’s etymologist grandfather’s Awesome Enchanted Book (AEB). Whisked away to India by the AEB, they help Dev, grandson of the maharaja of Jaipur, find a hidden treasure and rebuild the local school. Using creativity, curiosity, and the AEB, they race a comically sinister mustache-twisting villain to solve the maharaja’s clues and find the treasure before the school is replaced with a department store.

This fast-paced and adventure-packed early chapter book (first in a series) is equal parts Magic Treehouse and National Treasure. Raj Haldar (No Reading Allowed: The Worst Read Aloud Book Ever) brings his signature wordplay with a twist—exploring the derivation of some common (and not so common) words. The Mystery of the Taj Mahal Treasure focuses on Indian origins (Hindi, Sanskrit, Tamil, and Marathi), while future installments will explore other places and languages. Some holes in the plot and inconsistencies between the text and art are minor enough not to detract from the fun. Neha Rawat’s delightful and architecturally detailed illustrations, coupled with a map and full glossary of highlighted words, make for a well-rounded adventure, sure to appeal to word nerds and world travelers alike.

Review based on Advanced Reader’s Copy.

Pass or Play?: A Review of The Passing Playbook

The Passing Playbook
Isaac Fitzsimons
Dial Books, Penguin Random House
June 1, 2021
Ages 12 and up

After transitioning at his old school leads to threats, Spencer Harris gets a second chance at a progressive, private (read: expensive) school. Thinking things will be easier if he can just pass; he plans to keep his head down and make his family’s sacrifice worth it. But when his teenage temper flares, an errant kickball to the head of the soccer team captain gets the attention of the head soccer coach. Spencer gets recruited for the team and develops a relationship with rival, turned boyfriend, Justice Cortes. All his under-the-radar plans may be for naught, when paperwork reveals the F (for female) on Spencer’s birth certificate. Sharing his identity risks his status on the team, his budding romance, and possibly his safety. But maybe being true to himself, and standing up for other trans kids in the process, is worth the risk.

This #OWNVOICES title by debut author (and soccer fan) Isaac Fitzsimons is a fun and complex illustration of a biracial, queer, trans boy who is also a soccer star, fantastic big brother, and irrational teenager (not always in that order). And an exploration of how he balances those identities with the consequences of not being himself. Spencer knows he’s “had it pretty easy, all things considered” with supportive family and friends who try, despite not always getting it right (265*). His support system stands in grave contrast to Justice’s ultra-religious and homophobic family. Secondary characters like sweet, but closeted Justice; snarky, but supportive best friend Arden; and tough, but tender Coach Schilling add balance and complexity to the cast and layers to the plot. But Fitzsimons truly let’s Spencer shine—as a soccer star, queer advocate, and thriving teenager.

*Quote from ARC.

A Mini Mindfulness Lesson: A Review of Too Many Bubbles

Too Many Bubbles: A Story about Mindfulness
Christine Peck and Mags DeRoma,
Illustrated by Mags DeRoma
Sourcebooks
July 6, 2021
Ages 3-6

Chased through her day by one grumpy and persistent thought, Izzy isn’t bothered by it (too much). But when one grouchy thought becomes two and three and a whole cloud of the shadowy things; something must be done. This clever mouse escapes to her happy place at the beach where a polar bear with a bubble wand inspires an idea—just blow the thoughts away. A deceptively simple and strikingly perceptive illustration of how it feels for nagging and uncomfortable thoughts to take over, and one calming way to break free. Vividly colored digital illustrations and interactive text, reminiscent of Hervé Tullet’s Press Here, engage young listeners and caregivers alike in a breathing exercise that leads directly into back matter definitions of mindfulness and additional exercises. Too Many Bubbles is the first title in the Books of Great Character SEL series by Peck and DeRoma, founders of the Silly Street games and toys. A sweet and valuable addition to social emotional learning tools for the preschool to kindergarten years.

Finding Kinship: A Review of I Am a Bird

I Am a Bird
Hope Lim
Illustrated by Hyewon Yum
Candlewick Press
Available February 2, 2021
Ages 3-7

A young girl joyfully embraces her morning commute, imagining herself a bird flying to school on the back of her father’s bicycle. She waves to friends and neighbors, and sings to her fellow birds as they soar by. A stern older woman is the only thing to dim her smile, when curiosity fights with anxiety about the unknown person and her unfriendly behavior. Her stranger-danger only increases until the day they discover the woman feeding and singing to the girl’s beloved birds. Maybe they’re not so different after all. Hope Lim’s gentle tale of discovering kinship in the most unlikely place is perfect for our current moment of division. The juxtaposition of the little girl’s joy and the woman’s dejected countenance help build enough tension that the revelation of their commonality feels like a celebration. Hyewon Yum’s vibrant colored pencil and gouache illustrations blend an almost architectural precision with softer, freehand coloring and embellishments (and sweet birds). Her emotive faces amplify the story’s sentiment—the girl’s joy and anxiety, the friendliness of their South Korean community, and the woman’s transformation. A sweet reminder that we can all be happier when we focus more on our similarities than our differences.

Adventure Awaits: A review of Sydney & Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World

Sydney & Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World
Jacqueline Davies
Illustrated by Deborah Hocking
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Kids
Available February 2, 2021
Ages 6-9

Sydney the skunk and Taylor the hedgehog are roommates in a cozy burrow under an enchanting backyard garden. When Taylor yearns for excitement and adventure, Sydney grudgingly agrees to explore the Whole Wide World, despite the fact that “exciting is… exhausting.”  And exciting it is as they make their first foray out of the yard and into the unknown to explore, hunt for food, and battle foes both wild and motorized. Anxiety often overwhelms Taylor, but Sydney’s gentle encouragement and stalwart friendship see the pair through their frightening encounters and safely home to the burrow and their comfy armchairs. In this first installment of the early chapter book series, Jacqueline Davies (Lemonade Wars series) brings these lovable characters to life with sweet humor and honest emotions. Their explorations gently illustrate that fear and bravery go hand-in-hand, with both characters exhibiting courage and trepidation in turn. Deborah Hocking’s gouache illustrations add delightful detail, perfectly enhancing the text and portraying the excitement and anxiety adventure can hold. A delightful escapade that proves true friendship is worth its weight in tuna fish sandwiches!

The Power of Invulnerability: A Review of Quincredible

Quincredible Vol. 1: Quest to be the Best
Written by Rodney Barnes, illustrated by Selina Espiritu, colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick
Published by Oni Press
Available on February 23, 2021
Ages 13+

Quinton West may have invulnerability as a superpower, but he sure doesn’t feel invulnerable—not when he’s getting picked on by Caine and his buddies, or when he finds out his crush Brittany has a new boyfriend. But like it or not, Quin has a superpower, or “enhancement,” that he has worked hard to keep hidden from everyone, especially his parents, no matter how understanding and supportive they are. Ever since his hometown of New Orleans was struck by a meteor shower, he and other everyday folks have been blessed-or cursed-with superpowers. In the aftermath of the natural disaster, many new superheroes leaned into their new powers by fighting crime. After a chance encounter with superhero Glow, Quin learns to embrace his invulnerability superpower and becomes Quincredible. With Glow as a mentor, Quin uses his powers and joins his fellow superheroes in restoring justice to the community. However, not all community members support their efforts; Quin and his “enhanced” friends are the target of a sinister plot. As a marked young man, Quin will need to confide in his friends and family; he cannot fight injustice alone. Rodney Barnes’ new graphic novel is a powerful, heartwarming, and exciting read. Barnes’ savvy investigation into the tension between superheroes and the New Orleans Police Department correlates to current events, and invites readers to consider the real aim of justice. Quin’s strong relationship with his mother and father allow for conversations about goodness and perspective; these conversations surface again as Quin and Brittany discuss new ideals offered by a local organizer. Quin’s father asks his son to consider what good is. Barnes and illustrator Selina Espiritu do not shy away from tackling the institutional racism within the justice system. Espiritu’s images run the gamut of emotions: powerful and jarring panels of police brutality following a community rally to Quin’s amusing attempts to learn Parkour. During action scenes, the panels often shift to become more dynamic and reflect the energy of the encounter. Backstory concerning villain Alexandre Zelime’s rise to power is depicted in panels superimposed on Zelime himself, making for an eerie origin story. Colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick infuses images with vibrancy; the illustrations featuring Glow’s superpower are iridescent and spectacular. This #OwnVoices graphic novel mirrors reality and “enhances” it, making for a wonderful addition to any teen library. 

When Are We? A Review of Yesterday Is History

Yesterday Is History
Kosoko Jackson
Sourcebooks
Available February 2, 2021
Ages 14-18

Angsty teenage romance plus medical drama plus time travel adventure. Uptight, African American, honor student, Andre Cobb is recovering from cancer and a life-saving liver transplant, when he passes out and wakes up standing in front of his own house—but not. It’s 1969, and the house belongs to the family of cute and charismatic Michael. Andre learns that his new liver has made him a time traveler and that his donor’s white, upper class family chose him knowing what would happen. Domineering and calculating Claire, her distant, workaholic husband Greg, and angry, heartbroken son Blake all have their own reactions to Andre and his new ability. Andre jumps through time, pushed by growing feelings for Michael and pulled back by new feelings for Blake, until he’s forced to choose between a past that doesn’t belong to him and a future that could be all he wants and needs. High personal expectations drive Andre to do what he thinks are the right things—fix Michael, support Blake, live his parents’ dream for him, and even save his donor’s life. Jackson’s primary characters are achingly complex and will have readers just as torn between love stories as Andre. The reality-based aspects of the plot and tension-filled relationships balance the intriguingly far-fetched idea of genetically driven time travel. A dramatic exploration of the things we can and can’t do. And if we can, should we?