Just the Start of Spooky Season: A Review of The Whispering Dark

The Whispering Dark
Kelly Andrew
Scholastic Press
October 18, 2022
Ages 14 and up

Being Deaf, Delaney Meyers-Petrov has always been seen as fragile, but when she gets accepted into the mysterious Godbole School, with its history of teaching students how to roam between worlds, she jumps on the chance to prove herself. Meeting Colton Price again at the school was not part of the plan. Colton Price’s life has orbited around one person ever since he woke up from death at her feet – Delaney’s. Forced together on campus, but forbidden from interacting, Colton struggles to keep away from her. They form an uneasy alliance to discover why students are dying gruesome deaths and brace themselves for an age-old enemy that has risen from the shadows of the school’s dark history.

Described by the publisher as a romantic fantasy, it reads more as a mystery thriller, with its strange murders and supernatural entities, with only subtle themes of romance. Andrew skillfully builds tension that makes readers need to find out the cause of the deaths and the secrets of the school to be appeased. The story could have been more effectively told in the first-person, by the alternating narrators, to provide in-depth understanding of each character. Its third-person narration waters down the emotion and hinders evolving character arcs. Delaney sees herself as fragile in the beginning and doesn’t tell friends or professors that she’s Deaf, which hurts her relationships and grades. Even in the end, she doesn’t tell people around her. Elements like the frequently changing narrators and elaborate language are disorienting and add to the mystery. The puzzling secrets of the school that only Colton seems to know but are hidden outside the grasp of the reader until the rushed resolution are an additional element of suspense. This perplexing story will make young adult/new adult readers ponder what they would come back to life as after a deathly experience: a better version of themselves or something possessed by evil.

More Than “Goode” Enough: A Review of The Glass Witch

The Glass Witch cover art

The Glass Witch
Lindsay Puckett
Scholastic Press
October 18, 2022
Age 8-12

Adelaide Goode is the youngest in a family of cursed and complicated witches, doomed to feel she is not magic enough, thin enough, or “Goode enough.” About to be left with her grandma for the summer, Addie clings to her mother in a snap decision that unleashes the curse, turns her bones to glass, and makes her the target of a witch-hunting spirit. Only by accepting herself and connecting with her family’s magic, or kindred, can she save herself, her family, and her town from shattering.

Challenged by low self-esteem and fear of abandonment, Addie uses tween snark and extraordinary baking skills as a shield against her fears. Puckett weaves heavy themes of body image, bullying, and family tension with more whimsical notes of a Halloween Pageant, delicious food imagery, and brave rescue rabbits to keep the tone light and the pace lively. And the addition of a fearless and monster-obsessed new friend, Fatima, makes for the perfect foil for Addie and her ideal companion in a magical crisis. Secondary adult characters begin in a less-defined manner but shine in a conclusion that sees Addie find her self-worth while learning about her family and her place in it.

Friendship, family, and magic combine in this lighthearted story of self-discovery and acceptance.

Paving the Way For Future Generations: A Review of Bessie the Motorcycle Queen

Bessie the Motorcycle Queen
Charles R. Smith, Jr.
Illustrated by Charlot Kristensen
Scholastic Inc. / Orchard Books
September 20, 2022
Ages 6 to 8

Through rhyming verse, Bessie the Motorcycle Queen tells the story of little-known adventurer, Bessie Stringfield. A Black motorcyclist, she was known for her spontaneous, cross-country motorcycle rides, flair for the dramatic, and ability to cruise easily past her white, male competitors. Fighting against conditions in the Jim Crow-era South, Bessie was often forced to sleep under the stars when motels rejected her, was chased by Klan members, and cheated out of her race winnings. The impulsive, determined, and highly skilled Bessie gives author Charles Smith, Jr. plenty of tales for an action-packed ride. His verse maintains a quick pace and fun tone, despite some heavy content, even if some lines are a bit clunky. The sherbet-flavored color palette, laid over the modern digital paintings, immediately places the story in the 1920s. Elements like her wheat penny, which she flipped to decide her next location, add to the period details and her legend. The rough, lineless illustrations feel cartoon-like and energetic, with Bessie and her motorcycle significantly more detailed than everything else, keeping the reader’s eyes always on her. The backmatter includes an author’s note explaining his discovery of Bessie’s story, and the inspiration he found in her bravery, as well as a bibliography with books and online articles for additional reading on Bessie.

With races, car chases, and daring motorcycle stunts, this tall tale of an overlooked historical figure shines a spotlight on her bravery and spirit in a story of empowerment.

A Review of Bibbidi Bobbidy Academy: Rory and the Magical Mix-Ups

Bibbidi Bobbidi Academy: Rory and the Magical Mix-Ups
Kallie George
Illustrated by Lorena Alvarez Gómez
Disney Hyperion
October 11,2022
Ages 5-8

Living as a non-magical being her whole life, Rory Spellington enrolls in Bibbidi Bobbidi Academy so she can achieve her dream of becoming a fairy godmother. Her excitement about finally attending the Academy fades when all of her spells turn into disasters. Only with the help of her new friend, Mai, and her experience living in the non-magical world does Rory learn that having magic doesn’t make all wishes come true; listening and being there for someone is the best way to grant any wish.

This imaginative and magical tale starts by providing a map of Bibbidi Bobbidi Academy so readers can visually follow along on Rory’s adventures. Including a map of the academy encourages readers creativity as they delve into the story and adds to the adventure. Bright, vivid colors and attention to detail in the illustrations make each chapter a magical tale on its own*. Although the academy name and characters within the story have references to Disney movies, familiarity isn’t necessary to follow along. To adjust to the age-appropriate reading level, George spells out complex words, using word play to complement Rory’s magical spell-casting challenges, and normalizes learning differences for the reader. George’s tone follows Rory’s time at the academy from excited and animated in the beginning, then slowly dwindles to discouraged as Rory’s spells end in disaster, and back to festive as Rory completes her first magical assignment with flying colors, helping a child with his first wish. With an overtmoral, the author makes it clear to young readers that nobody can be a perfect fairy or non-magical person, but if you are motivated to fulfill your dream, then try your hardest, even when there might be magical disasters.

* Review based on ARC

Favorites: 2022 Back to School Picture Books

New shoes, new school supplies, and maybe new anxieties—back to school season is here! Whether you’re sending off the kids from your home, home library, or welcoming them into your classrooms, these 2022 picture books are full of reassurance (and sometimes silliness) to help with a smooth transition into the norms and routines of the school year.

KINDergarten cover art

KINDergarten: where kindness matters every day
Written by Vera Ahiyya
Illustrated by Joey Chou
Penguin/Random House Studio
June 2022
Age 4-8Leo is nervous about kindergarten, especially his new teacher’s request that the class contribute ideas to kindness pledge. Leo prefers quiet. What if he can’t figure out what to say? As Leo meets his classmates, and hears their ideas about kindness, he realizes his actions can speak just as loudly as their words. Vibrant colors and geometric illustrations lend a joyful tone to this reminder about all the ways we can show kindness to others.

Purple School cover art

The World Needs More Purple Schools
Written by Kristen Bell and Benjamin Hart
Illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
Penguin/Random House Children’s Books
June 2022
Age 3-7

Penny Purple and her friends are back and bringing their plans for a more curious, respectful, and cooperative world to their classroom—and yours. Bright and joyful illustrations combine with silliness galore to explore Penny’s school community and everything the students and teachers do as good citizens and friends. 

Everything in Its Place cover art

Everything in Its Place: A Story of Books and Belonging
Witten by Pauline David-Sax
Illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
Penguin/Doubleday
July 2022
Age 3-7

An introverted young book-lover finds solace (and an escape from recess) by volunteering in the school library. Forced to face a week of recess on her own, an all-female motorcycle group inspires her to take a risk on opening up in order to find a like-minded friend. A mix of blue pencil drawings, watercolor, and collage are brilliantly combined to bring the girl’s interests, experiences, and imagination together in one cohesive and lovely ode to books and belonging.

Hurry, Little Tortoise cover art

Hurry, Little Tortoise, Time for School!
Written by Carrie Finison
Illustrated by Erin Kraan
Penguin/Random House Studio
July 2022
Age 3-7

Little Tortoise is determined to be on time for her first day of school. Passed by classmate after classmate, her dedication turns to despair when she’s knocked on her shell. A rescue by her teacher, Mr. Sloth, gives just the pick me up she needs to build confidence and get to class right on time. A sweet tale of perseverance to illustrate that moving at your own pace doesn’t diminish your place in the crowd.

This is a School cover art

This is a School
Written by John Schu
Illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison
Candlewick
March 2022
Age 3-7

Through simple text and lively art, this diverse and vibrant school community comes to life and introduces young students to the rhythms and learning within. Identifying locations, experiences, and emotions tied to the school day and beyond, Schu gently welcomes readers to the world of school. Differences in culture, ability, skill, and social-emotional experience are celebrated in vignettes exploring all the school building and school community might offer and what community members have to offer in return.

Bedtime for Creatures Great and Small: A Review of Sleep

Sleep cover art

Sleep
Barbara Herkert
Illustrated by Daniel Long
Albert Whitman & Co.
October 1, 2022
Ages 4-8

Humans require less sleep as they grow older. Grey whales float on the water’s surface to breathe while they sleep. Most mammals and birds exhibit signs of REM sleep, which means they may dream like humans. All living things with a nervous system need sleep, from dogs to insects to sharks to us; sleep specifics just depend on the type of animal and its habitat. Sleep, written by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Daniel Long, dives deep into the world of slumber with detailed facts about sleep patterns, cycles, and the differences between sleep needs and experiences in humans and animals.

Filled with a lush color scheme and vivid images, the book resonates calm, perfect for this topic of sleep and making it a relaxing bedtime read. Each image is digitally illustrated, in a similar style to mixed media collages, but shaded to bring out depth and textures, which brings each animal to life. Long’s images are vibrant, but simply detailed, keeping them from distracting from the information provided on each page. Sedate pacing prevents the fact-heavy text from overwhelming readers. With a background in biology and fine arts, Barbara Herkert provides facts in a tone filled with admiration for the natural world that complements the extraordinary details she provides. The author also includes a glossary and additional resources as backmatter for those who would like to continue researching the world of sleep. Working through interesting information on humans and animals, the book takes young readers on a mind-opening adventure into the world of sleep and the extraordinary world we live in.


Should Revenge Be Served at All?: A Review of Sweet and Sour

Sweet and Sour cover art

Sweet and Sour
Debbi Michiko Florence
Scholastic
July 26, 2022
Age: 8-12

Mai, budding birder and BTS stan, and her parents have always spent idyllic summers with family friends in small-town Mystic, Connecticut. Until two summers ago, when their son and Mai’s BFF, Zach, betrayed her and the friends suddenly moved to Japan. Now the trip is back on and Mai is unhappily headed from west coast to east with a new BFF, Lila, and years of built up anger. When Zach, so changed from two years away, wants to pick up their friendship right where he thinks they left it, Mai must decide how to handle her hurt feelings (not well), whether to hang onto a grudge she may have outgrown (not fun), and how to be a better friend to new friends and old.

Told from Mai’s point of view, Debbi Michiko Florence perfectly captures the 13-year-old voice with swings from light to moody, petulant to kind. The text is sprinkled with good and bad memory flashbacks, labeled sweet or sour, providing the backstory of Mai and Zach’s childhood and the racist incident that fractured their bond. Mai’s journey from sadness to anger to letting go is choppy and full of tween uncertainty. But her moments of introspection and insistence on standing up for yourself and your friends, whether it be from anti-Asian hate, bullying, or on matters of consent, keep her character from verging into the self-centered and vengeful. With wise words from friends, she learns to process her feelings rather than bury them and how to both forgive and ask for forgiveness. The relationships between Mai and Lila, Zach, and a new friend Celeste provide powerful examples of different types of friendships and illustrate the value of each. A secondary storyline, featuring Mai’s parents and their perceived inability to handle her big emotions, could have been better developed, but lends import to the central theme of communicating one’s feelings. Mai’s complicated emotions add both sweet and sour notes to the narrative of this summer adventure exploring the complexities of friendship, memory, growing up.

Fact or Fiction: A Review of What the Fact?: Finding the Truth in All the Noise

What the Fact?: Finding the Truth in All the Noise 
Dr. Seema Yasmin 
Simon & Schuster for Young Readers
September 20, 2022 
Ages 12 and up 

In What the Fact?, Dr. Seema Yasmin reveals how people interact with trillions of bytes of data every second and, depending on if it’s fact or fiction, can spark a viral information outbreak leading to fear or hatred. By using a virus as a metaphor for the spread of false information, Yasmin states why people fall for false information and biases, how news sources have changed over decades, and how social media has become the biggest influence on minds, both young and old. From beginning to end, Yasmin encourages readers to be freethinkers and be suspicious of information received from social media, social circles, or any supposedly credible source. 

Throughout the book, the author uses a humorous but down-to-earth tone that encourages readers to keep reading and provides small sidebars that give brain breaks between the chunks of information. Using graphs, pictures, and historical references all backed up by a thorough list of sources in the appendix, the novel is helpfully organized by topic, such as COVID-19, historical events, and governmental issues. Yasmin’s vast experience in fact-based fields—she attended medical school at Cambridge University, worked as a disease detective for the US government and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—has her well-versed in sorting through the noise for the facts beneath. Technical terminology is explained in a way that educates readers on how it is being used and defined, making it easy to follow along. Yasmin, very early in the book, states that this book is just a magnifying glass into how beliefs, thoughts, ideas, actions, etc. are influenced by approximately “1,099,511,627,776,000” (pg. 2) bytes processed and stored in the brain and that this is not a book that is going to tell readers how to think. This information-rich book describes the exhaustion and confusion of being aware of all information, yet bolsters all types of readers to gain skills in critical thinking, media, and digital literacy so they can thoughtfully navigate the information-rich world we live in. 

Summer Love for All—YA Romance 2022

The Feeling of Falling in Love

The Feeling of Falling in Love
Mason Deever
Scholastic/Push
August 2, 2022

When his perfect friends with benefits situation is complicated by feelings—yikes—Neil panics. But instead of talking things out, he determines the best way to help Josh get over him is to fake a new relationship with the roommate he barely tolerates. A conscientious student and budding musician, Wyatt agrees to the plan in exchange for a potential audition with Neil’s music exec brother. But a family wedding in Beverly Hills is a long way, in every way, from their North Carolina boarding school. And if Neil thinks he’s a complicated mess, introducing sweet, sensitive Wyatt to his mother’s performative allyship and his grandparents’ transphobia only adds to it. As fake feelings turn real, Neil realizes he deserves better than he’s had and that Wyatt deserves better too. So it’s time to be better. Though not an especially sympathetic character, Deaver draws Neil as a messy and emotional jerk who is ultimately capable of change. Tenderly awkward Wyatt is an adorable foil and rounds out Neil’s found family of LGBTQ friends and support. This train wreck turned love story is full of snarky humor, complex friendships, and just the right amount of angsty YA romance.

Love from Scratch

Love from Scratch
Kaitlyn Hill
Penguin Random House/Delacorte
April 5, 2022

Landing a coveted summer marketing internship with the foodie channel Friends of Flavor is a dream come true for super-fan Reese Camden. The Seattle media company is worlds away from her Kentucky home and the social media trolling nightmare that was her high school years. Thrown into a video with fellow intern and charming cooking wiz, Benny Beneventi, turns her summer upside down. Her safely behind-the-scenes job is suddenly not so hidden when their video is a viral sensation and becomes a regular feature on the channel. And friendly competition turns serious when the two are pitted against each other for the chance to stay on with the company come fall. What’s more important, her career goals or her potential romance? Hill throws plenty of obstacles in Reese’s way (internet trolls, sleazy executives, and LOTS of self-doubt), balanced by supportive friends and goofy, but loveable Benny. Reese’s work ethic, perseverance, and her desire to make a difference for the channel, keep things from getting too saccharine. A perfect sweet and salty combo!

My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding

My Sister’s Big Fat Indian Wedding
Sajni Patel
Abrams/Amulet
April 19, 2022

Music college dreams hit family responsibility reality for hip hop violin phenom, Zuri Damani. Her college hopes seem dashed for good by a rejection letter from Juilliard, but a local competition offers a second chance if only she can fit it into a week packed with wedding prep, wedding photography, and LOTS of wedding parties. And hide it all from her very traditional, law-school-plotting parents. When her biggest competition turns out to be the heartthrob cousin of her future brother-in-law, Zuri turns challenge into inspiration. Support from a big, sneaky group of cousins and a growing rivalry/friendship with Naveen (the heartthrob) push her to get creative to follow her dreams and be there for her family. Well drawn primary characters, exhibiting all the insecurities, bravado, and creativity of teenagers, are balanced by very involved, if sometimes domineering adult family members. Full of vibrant colors, music, and smells that drift tantalizingly off the page, Patel pulls the reader right into the party and all the chaos you’d imagine from an 8-day wedding extravaganza.

Nothing Burns as Bright as You

Nothing Burns as Bright as You
Ashley Woodfolk
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Versify
April 5, 2022

This stark and beautiful novel in verse follows two unnamed queer black girls in a dual-timeline look at how they came together and how they burned it all down in the end. As their relationship moves beyond just friendship, their unhealthy and unbalanced dynamic begins to wear them both down. The neediness and desperation of the narrator and episodes of aloofness from a love interest only referred to as “You” foreshadow the moment one draws the other over the edge of self-destruction. The girls start a fire in a school dumpster, leading to the eventual destruction of their relationship. Woodfolk uses fire imagery throughout the novel, evoking volatile emotions, incredible passion, and actual acts of arson. Verses often flash back to their very different childhoods and follow a winding path exploring struggles with adultification, neglect, and the need to be seen. Spare language and many quick, yet powerful verses create a quick read that packs a powerful punch.  

Rivals

Rivals: American Royals III
Katherine McGee
Random House
May 31, 2022

In an alternate reality America, a royal family—the Washingtons—rules the country and they provide all the drama and romance one might expect of young royals. Newly crowned Queen Beatrice is learning how to rule while navigating a relationship with a disgruntled fiancé, who will always come in second place to her job. After years of being the Party Princess, Samantha has finally fallen in love with a future Duke, but with her relationship under a microscope, she might just be ready to run away from her royal duties for good. Prince Jefferson, the family heartthrob, has his pick of girls: Daphne, his on again off again girlfriend; Nina, his friend, turned lover; and Gabriella, a ruthless noble bent on becoming a princess. Three intertwined storylines follow the siblings as they deal with life, love, and friendship in the royal spotlight. McGee weaves themes of love and angst, with grief, guilt, and glamor to create an emotional connection to characters that might otherwise seem far removed from us commoners. This third installment in the series builds on their glittering world and complicated relationships, and ends on the perfect cliffhanger to leave royal-watchers on the lookout for volume four (coming 2023).


What’s on your summer romance reading list?

Three Wishes to Love: A Review of The Loophole

The Loophole
Naz Kutub
Bloomsbury Publishing
June 21, 2022
Ages 14 and up

Sayyed, “Sy”, regrets the day he let go of his ex-boyfriend, Farouk. But being from a strictly disciplined and overly protective Indian-Muslim family never gave him room to live his own life; much less travel the world with Farouk. When his life is suddenly interrupted by a mysterious girl and she offers to grant him three wishes for his help, Sy takes the opportunity to track down his ex to reconcile their relationship. Little does Sy know that his whirlwind international adventure would take him through riots, air raids, and to a refugee camp, making him take risks and be braver than he’s ever been before in the name of love.

Interspersed with flashbacks of his past with Farouk and chapters of a related story about a djinn, the novel gives off a vibe of magical realism as Sy is whisked on a journey from one side of the world to the other. The fast pace and many new twists in Sy’s unanticipated adventure make it easier to see his transition from naivete to courage, and to confront his dad about him being gay. On top of Sy experiencing LGBTQ discrimination, themes of political upheaval, and cultural sensitivity are approached as possible to overcome as long as people have hope. Kutub also infuses humor into the story and the main character, dissolving the tension of some of the serious issues approached as Sy takes on this journey. Confronted by these world issues, there are times when Sy feels he and his problems are insignificant, yet his friends fuel him to persevere, revealing that if people have a supportive network, they can accomplish anything. Sy’s family does not support him being gay, but when suddenly faced without his presence as he journeys on his own, they eventually change perspectives to keep Sy in their lives. The illustration that people can change when they love something enough adds to the feeling of hopefulness throughout the novel. This whirlwind adventure is perfect for readers looking for mystical flair and a sassy main character, who is searching for love and a place to call home.