Duty, Loyalty, Love: A Review of Empress of All Seasons

 

Empress of All Seasons

Empress of All Seasons
Emiko Jean
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 2018

As per tradition, when the land of Honoku needs a new empress, a competition is held. All eligible women are invited, and the one who survives each of the four enchanted seasonal rooms is deemed worthy of the title of Empress of Honoku and position next to Taro, the prince next in line to be emperor. Mari has trained for this competition since childhood, though as yōkai she is technically ineligible to compete. Yōkai, supernatural beings, are under threat and enslaved by the current emperor. But Mari cares little about the rules or the prince – she competes for the power of being empress, and to bring change to Honoku from within. Taro himself doesn’t enjoy being a prize to be won, and cares little about his power – he would rather spend time in his lab with his mechanical inventions. Akira, another yōkai and friend of Mari, works to overthrow the Emperor from the outside while Mari keeps her true identity hidden to join the competition. Taro may just become their greatest ally, if they can learn to trust each other when their identities and motivations are revealed.

A detailed world and political structure along with multiple perspectives gives this fantasy novel depth and puts the reader at the immediacy of the action. Inspired by her Japanese heritage, Jean has created an escape for readers that questions the sacrifices made for duty and love, and challenges the notion of tradition as a value to be upheld.

Stregas & Strategy: A Review of The Brilliant Death

brilliant deathThe Brilliant Death
Amy Rose Capetta
Viking Books, October 2018

Historical fantasy and romance collide in this captivating tale set in Vinalia, a fictional land inspired by mountain villages of old Italy. Teodora di Sangro is well aware of and versed in the di Sangro way of life, which places loyalty to the family above the self, and the opinions of men above women – but she yearns for more: the power of a di Sangro son, and to use the magic she holds inside of her. With her magic, she changes her family’s enemies into trinkets that decorate her room, but Teo knows she could do more, if only her father trusted the strega way in addition to practicing and teaching political strategy to his sons.

When Teo meets Cielo, a young genderfluid strega who can teach Teo how to use her power to become the di Sangro son she longs to be, Teo realizes there may be a way to be her true self and save her family from the Capo’s plans to weaken each of the Five Families of Vinalia. With challenges to traditional gender roles, exploration of what it means to feel at home and whole in your body, and poetically descriptive language, The Brilliant Death elevates a coming-of-age story into a thoughtful consideration of who we are when we let go of society’s expectations and trust the magic inside of us.

Women and Wealth Redistribution: A Review of The Forest Queen

The Forest Queen by Betsy CornwellThe Forest Queen
Betsy Cornwell
HMH/Clarion Books, August 2018

“Steal from the rich, give to the poor” gets a fresh take in this gender-swapped retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale. Sylvie, sixteen and lady of Loughsley Abbey, begins to question her family’s treatment of the people of Loughsley – especially now that her brother, John, is the unforgiving sheriff. With her childhood friend, Bird, she runs away and lives in hiding in the nearby woods. Slowly, others from Loughsley join them in their new community, including a young woman named Little Jane, the midwife Mae Tuck, and others who feared otherwise being jailed for their inability to pay egregious taxes. Sylvie must eventually confront her brother, along with her own complicity in the evils done by her family, and she comes to realize that the changes required for economic justice mean she must take “radical action” and put herself in potential danger for the greater good.
Sylvie and her mission to redistribute wealth among the people of Loughsley are easy to root for, but the additional focus on gender roles, womanhood, and the idea of community as family are what set this retelling apart. Strong secondary characters help to challenge Sylvie and force her to take a strong stand against a system that she would otherwise benefit from, and parallels can be drawn from the injustices in the story to those of today’s world. As Little Jane, who becomes a dear friend to Sylvie says, “If someone doesn’t care whether you live or die, then living itself is rebellion” (p 241). This thoughtful narrative of what can happen when the privileged few horde wealth while the majority struggles to make do with less and less shows the power in a united band of concerned citizens.

Valuable Reminders: A Review of The Dollar Kids

dollar kids

The Dollar Kids
Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Illustrations by Ryan Andrews
Candlewick (August, 2018)
Ages 10-14

When his family wins the chance to buy a house for just $1, twelve-year-old Lowen sees it as a chance to hit the reset button — Mum can open her own restaurant, Dad can follow his dream of working in a clinic in an underserved community, his brother Clem can finally be the star athlete, and his sister Anneth — well, she’ll need convincing. And sensitive, artistic Lowen can work through his grief over the death of a friend and guilt over believing he caused it. But moving to a small town isn’t easy on any of them, leading everyone to question whether the Dollar House program was such a good idea after all. Dubbed the “Dollar Kids” by hostile new neighbors skeptical of the program and “whether it’s a help or drain on the town” (p. 328), Lowen and the other new kids in town struggle to make a place for themselves, rehab houses, and rebuild community.

The idea of home, be it a building, a community, a family, or a feeling creates a strong backbone for this plot, helping to pull the reader through the slightly slow start to the one year the book covers. By mid-book, the pace picks up in both action and time (the progress noted with each new chapter). While slightly awkward, the change of pacing mirrors the changes Lowen experiences as he processes his grief and settles into life in Millville. Scenes from Lowen’s comic book drawing layer in additional elements of his grieving process, questions of faith, and ultimately his healing.

Diversity (of age, gender, and cultures) among the characters in this story provide a varied range of coping mechanisms for dealing with uncertainty, insecurity, and change by both the new families settling in and Millville residents dealing with the decline of their small, but proud town. The inclusion of parents and other community members as active players in the story is a refreshing change from books that often leave you wondering “What happened to all the adults?” and provides a subtle reminder that communities need all types of diversity to thrive.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay: A Review of Darius the Great is Not Okay

 

Darius the Great is Not Okay

Darius the Great is Not Okay
Adib Khorram
Dial Books, August 2018
Ages 14 and up

Darius Kellner, named after Darius the Great, doesn’t always feel great, and he and his family know that. Darius’s father also has Depression, and while he struggles to vocalize his love for Darius, does not shy away from tougher conversations about his own mental health and the importance of both therapy and medication. These conversations happen against the backdrop of a rough patch for Darius – he is bullied at school, not appreciated at his part time job at Tea Haven, and feels distance growing between himself and all of his family members: dad, mom, and younger sister, Lelah, who he sees as a replacement for himself.

As a narrator, Darius is not without faults – he routinely gets in his own way, and many times would rather remove himself from a situation or conversation with an “Um” and redirection towards the nearest tea kettle – but his character does learn and grow in his own way. During a family trip to Iran, where his mother grew up, Darius begins to recognize and find his place in his family as son, brother, and friend, though not without mistakes, painful conversations, and learning how to advocate for himself. This young adult novel, told from the perspective of an awkward but earnest narrator, is a testament to the importance of open and honest conversations around mental health. Aspects of daily life in Iran, from religious customs to food preparation rituals, add depth and interest to the characters and give the story a firm sense of place and nuanced secondary characters allow for a reader to see multiple facets of Darius as a protagonist.

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

If you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate Harry Potter’s birthday next week (and who isn’t?), you might check out one of these awesome local library programs taking place in the Chicago area over the next few days:

  • Naperville Public Library- July 28
  • Forest Park Public Library- July 29
  • Brookfield Public Library- July 31 (Harry’s actual birthday)
  • Oak Park Public Library- August 4

*I’d advise checking the library’s website for details, times, and residency requirements.

But if you’re not in Chicago, or your local library isn’t having a birthday bash, how about picking up a book guaranteed to bring you back to the world of wizardry, magic, adventure, and friendship that J.K. Rowling’s books created. One of these magical 2018 releases might be just like a ticket for the Hogwarts Express.

 

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (Freeform, February 2018)

the belles

The Belles

Camellia Beauregard and her sisters are the Belles of Orleans, creators of all beauty for the cursed grey citizens of their world. In competition with her sisters to become the palace favorite, Camellia must navigate the intrigues and dangers of court life, while trying to stay connected to her sisters, her magic, and her own identity.

Harry Potter fans will love:

  • the detailed world-building
  • complex relationships
  • characters struggling with the ethics of magic

 

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt, March 2018)

children of blood and bone

Children of Blood and Bone

Child of a murdered Maji Reaper, Zélie Adebola will fight against a powerful and oppressive monarchy bent on destroying her people and magic forever. With the help of her overbearing brother, a renegade princess, and the last remaining magic she can find, Zélie struggles to save herself and a society that is nearly a memory. This dark and detailed story is closer in mood to the later books in the Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter fans will love:

  • the unlikely heroes
  • magical creatures
  • community building

 

The Forgotten Book by Mechthild Gläser (Feiwel and Friends, January 2018)

the forgotten book

The Forgotten Book

Emma Morgenroth is a woman of action. When she finds a seemingly magical book in her boarding school’s all but abandoned west wing library, she decides to solve its mysteries herself. The book doesn’t reveal its secrets that easily, though, and the consequences of using its magical powers aren’t always predictable. Emma may need the help of the intriguing, yet aloof, Darcy de Winter to set things right. Jane Austen fans will recognize nods to Emma and Pride and Prejudice in this YA novel translated from German.

Harry Potter fans will love:

  • set in a boarding school complete with abandoned wings and secret passageways
  • book with magical properties that hides its more dangerous effects
  • secret student club
  • strong friendship of diverse personalities coming together to make things right.

 

The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr, illustrated by Katie Harnett (Chronicle, June 2018)

the language of spells

The Language of Spells

Grisha, a dragon who has spent his long life hiding in plain sight and Maggie, a girl who has spent her short life feeling invisible become fast friends over hot chocolate, late night conversations and the ability to truly see each other. But this ordinary girl could become a hero by giving up something she loves (the price of magic) to save a group of Grisha’s fellow dragons. This charming and graceful story is gentler than Rowling’s books, but with familiar themes of friendship and magic.

Harry Potter Fans will love:

  • the magical creatures
  • unlikely heroes
  • complexities of good and evil

 

Saint Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures by W. Stone Cotter (Henry Holt, January 2018)

st philomenes

Saint Philomene’s Infirmary for Magical Creatures

A habitual limit-tester, and occasional hole-digger, Chance Jeopard has not only discovered an underground hospital for magical creatures, but also a plot to destroy it. Chance is followed on his quest to save St Philomene’s Infirmary by his skeptical big sister, who’s out to rescue him from his rescue mission. Together they will evade a cast of magical creatures, from the common demon to the very rare Sowlth and endangered Wreau, while they chase the man bent on threatening the infirmary and 1.8 million inhabitants.

Harry Potter fans will love:

  • the magical creatures
  • unlikely heroes
  • adversity helping the characters to mature

 

Wizardmatch by Lauren Magaziner (Dial Books, March 2018)

wizardmatch

Wizardmatch

When the Prime Wizard de Pomporromp decides it’s time to retire, all of his grandchildren are invited to compete for his title in Wizardmatch. Lennie Mercado wants nothing more than to be Prime Wizard, and to hold the unlimited magical powers that come with the job, but finds out the deck may just be stacked against her. Written for a younger crowd, Wizardmatch leans into its silliness and takes a more irreverent approach to magic and spells, though it’s not without a deeper message of acceptance and equality.

Harry Potter fans will love:

  • the wizarding families and competitions
  • a light story with an underlying message of acceptance and belonging
  • power imbalances.

 

Having fun exploring these books for the magic that drew you to Harry Potter in the first place, while you raise a butterbeer to Harry on his 38th birthday!

 

 

 

 

2018 Graphic Novels and Nonfiction

Consider this your periodic reminder that graphic novels, graphic memoirs, and other graphic nonfiction are 100% real books! We think that if you enjoy them, you should keep on reading them, and if you are a caring adult (teacher, parent, librarian), you should encourage the kids in your life to read them as well. Visual literacy is an important and valuable skill to have, and reading graphics helps foster it. Plus they’re just plain fun to read.

 

The City on the Other Side

City on the Other Side
Mairghread Scott & Robin Robinson
First Second, April 2018

Isabel learns the strength of her convictions in this human world/fairy world adventure set in early 1900s San Francisco. This was a beautiful and beautifully told tale of friendship, loyalty, and doing what’s right, even if it scares you. Full page maps and detailed and vibrant illustrations elevate the story. Ages 8 and up.

 

Be Prepared

Be Prepared
Vera Brosgol
First Second, April 2018

What happens if you beg to go to summer camp, and then you hate it (and it hates you)? Brosgol creatively remembers a summer of her youth with all its ups and downs in this funny and bittersweet graphic novel for middle grades and up.

 

Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter

Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter
Marcus Sedgwick & Thomas Taylor
First Second, April 2018

Part Sherlock Holmes-ian detective, part Lara Croft action-adventure hero, and all quippy one-liners, Scarlett Hart doesn’t shy away from danger as she follows in her late parents’ footsteps. With the help of Napoleon and Mrs. White, she tracks down and hunts various monsters – from gargoyles springing to life to zombies terrorizing the theatre – hoping to catch them before the conniving Count Stankovic catches her. Ages 10 and up.

 

All Summer Long

All Summer Long
Hope Larson
Farrar Straus Giroux, May 2018

When Bina’s best friend, Austin, goes to soccer camp for the summer, she’s left to befriend Austin’s older sister and fears growing apart from Austin. A love of listening to and creating music keeps Bina occupied, but when Austin returns, things don’t go back to normal. This middle grade story of the growing pains of friendship hits all the emotional notes without getting melodramatic, and a bright color palette and bold artwork keep it fresh and fun.

 

Animus

Animus
Antoine Revoy
First Second, May 2018

A haunted playground in Kyoto, Japan seems to hold the key to the mystery of missing schoolchildren. Sayuri and Hisao, themselves children, follow the clues they discover to find their classmates, and to hopefully return “Toothless,” the boy haunting the playground, back to where he belongs. Echoing the atmosphere of the story, Revoy’s illustrations are haunting and fantastical.

 

Making Friends

Making Friends
Kristen Gudsnuk
Graphix, July 2018

Dany is a seventh grader now, and all of her friends ended up in a different cluster – together, without her. In need of a few friends, and armed with a magic sketchbook, she literally makes new friends without worrying about the consequences. With anime and other tongue-in-cheek pop culture references on every page, Making Friends charms and delights. Ages 10 and up.

 

Hey, Kiddo

Hey, Kiddo
Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Graphix, October 2018

With stark honesty and a muted palette, Krosoczka tells the story of his upbringing through his high school years. Raised by his grandparents and never quite sure of his place in his family, or how to mix his school life with his home life, Krosoczka leans into his artistic interests and finds his place in the world. This graphic memoir for young adults echoes themes from Krosoczka’s TED Talk in 2012.