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.

Intrigue and Romance: A Review of Foul Lady Fortune

Foul Lady Fortune
Chloe Gong
Simon and Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books
September 27, 2022
Age: 14 and up

It’s 1931 Shanghai; Imperial Japan has just invaded Manchuria. Rosalind Lang, a Chinese Nationalist assassin, must investigate a string of murders through the city before the Japanese use the terrorist actions as a pretense for invasion. Fighting against her training as a killer, and instead acting as a spy in a normal-seeming office building, she must work with the wealthy playboy and Nationalist spy Orion Hong, her new fake husband. All while keeping secret her identity of Lady Fortune and her ability to heal from almost any wound hidden. The story’s core is both an excellent spy thriller and romance between Orion and Rosalind. Author Chloe Gong sets the stage for a complicated ride through the intrigue of the time. Orion and Rosalind both have a sibling in the Communist party, with whom the Nationalists are at war. Orion’s trust in the Nationalist party is in question due to his father’s connection to Imperial Japan, and Rosalind is a notorious former gangster. While not perfect, these tensions, pulling at well-written characters, create some great dramatic moments. Gong utilizes shifting points of view in occasional chapters to build tension and fill out the identities of the secondary characters. In one instance, a chapter ends on a cliffhanger, only to build back up to that same cliffhanger in the next, as a new character learns the truth, revealing the satisfying twist. While this book can be read as a stand-alone, it does assume some familiarity with the characters, using a light hand to describe their sexual preferences, gender identity, and political ideology, which may be further developed in later installments.


A well-crafted romantic spy thriller with a great lead into future stories.

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.

Down to Earth: A Review of Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story

Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story
Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, and Alexis Bunten. Illustrated by Gaary Meeches Sr.
Charlesbridge
August 2nd, 2022
Ages 3 – 7

Keepunumuk is an embedded narrative about the harvest feasts that became known as the first Thanksgiving, composed in the style of Wampanoag oral storytelling tradition. When Maple and Quill ask their grandmother to tell them a story about the three sisters, the personifications of Corn, Beans, and Squash, she tells them about Keepunumuk, the first Thanksgiving. Weeâchumun (Corn), the eldest of the three sisters, is told of the arrival of newcomers to Turtle Island (North American continent). When Fox asks if they should trust the newcomers, Weeâchumun cautions them to watch them over the winter. These newcomers, the pilgrims, are seen struggling until spring. Weeâchumun and her two sisters decide, along with Fox and the other animals, to help these new people and send the First People, the Wampanoag, to teach them how to live with the land. With the help of the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims are saved and can survive the year. With the harvest that saved their lives, they had the first Thanksgiving. Meeches’ art, based on the Plains art style, excels at the depictions of Weeâchumun and her two sisters. Her form flowing out of corn stalks reinforces this connection between the personification and the crop she represents. The choice of detailing Weeâchumun and Fox more than the various humans in the narrative also supports the idea that the flora and fauna of Turtle Island are of primary importance in this story. Compared to the simple depictions of the pilgrims, they are important to the story only as beings to be cared for and the first people as willing helpers to the other residents of the land. The front and back of the book include additional materials for the readers about the Wampanoag, the first people of Massachusetts. The backmatter contains sections on Wampanoag storytelling tradition, traditions of giving thanks, a brief historical overview of the land and its inhabitants before the Pilgrim arrival, the basics of the aftermath of that arrival, a glossary of Wampanoag language (Wôpanâak) terms, as well as a recipe for Nasamp, a cornmeal-based dish.

A reimagined indigenous folktale about giving thanks to the world that provides for us.

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.

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. 

Found Family in France: A Review of The Pear Affair

The Pear Affair 
Judith Eagle 
Illustrated by Jo Rioux 
Walker Books US 
May 24, 2022 
Ages 10-14 

Penelope “Nell” Magnificent generally avoids her parents, as they are neglectful and care more about their material possessions and wealth than her. The only genuine love she has felt in her life comes from her au pair, Perrine, who left her five years ago to return to her home city of Paris. Perrine, or Pear as Nell calls her, wrote Nell letters monthly, though six months ago those letters stopped. Nell accompanies  her parents on a trip to Paris, determined to find Pear. Nell memorized the layout of Paris, studying maps and guidebooks, as she trusted that someday Pear would free her from her parents. Nell first looks at Pear’s job and home but is unable to find her. Even worse, the adults she asks for information increasingly appear to have something to hide. Nell befriends Xavier, a young bellhop, who helps her and introduces her to a group of youngsters who are also quick to help as needed. As the group of children works to find clues about Pear’s whereabouts, they uncover a plot tied to the Thing, a mysterious outbreak of mold affecting traditional Parisian bakeries, forcing many family businesses to close. 

Nell’s exploration of her world is fully engrossing, as she pores over the information she has about Paris before embarking on the family trip. Events escalate in a way that maintains suspense, with Nell initially looking for Pear alone but eventually working with a large group to unravel a greater mystery. The secondary characters are young children who roam underground tunnels beneath Paris, resulting in a unique aspect of the city being central to the story. While there are many villainous adults throughout the story, helpful ones are also present, which keeps the story from delving too far into extremes of good and evil in its realistic setting. Occasional black and white illustrations bring key moments to life. This story is sure to appeal to readers who enjoy the journey of watching a mystery become more complex as it marches towards its conclusion, which leads to Nell finding the sense of love and belonging from a found family that now extends beyond Pear. 

Brain Gain: A Review of Goodnight to Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

Goodnight to Your Fantastic Elastic Brain
JoAnn Deak, PhD and Terrence Deak, PhD
Illustrated by Neely Daggett
Sourcebooks
April 5th, 2022
Ages 4+

In Good Night to Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, we follow Brain, the pink walnut-looking organ in your head, starting with a brief and general explanation of what Brain does, and going through their nightly checklist, from development all the way through dreaming. With each task coming in the order they happen through a sleep cycle. As psychologists, the authors, Doctors JoAnn and Terrance Deak’s passion for the topic is evident. Using a tone of “isn’t the brain cool!” keeps the reader engaged and never talks down to them. Excelling when paired with a completely natural but potentially scary topic like REM paralysis that is part of dreaming. Illustrations by Neely Daggett are simple abstractions with implied details. For example, Brain has bumps along its edge letting the reader do the work of extrapolating the wrinkles in their mind without cluttering the illustrations. In diagrams, while not realistic, they show locations for different sections of the brain accurately, substituting the anthropomorphic brain for a clear cross-section in profile with colored highlights. The art and the writing use metaphors to explain brain processes to readers, using abstractions like stamping when creating memories and baths when Brain needs to clean themselves, to give children simple reasons to want to sleep. The journey through a sleep cycle wraps up with a reiteration that your brain is you, what happens if you don’t sleep well, and actionable advice on how to improve your sleep that is useful for everybody, not just children. One missing feature is a bibliography or a list of continued reading resources for those who want more.

An enthusiastic explainer made for kids who need a good reason to hit the hay.

Be Bold, Be Brave: A Review of Epically Earnest

Epically Earnest–cover art

Epically Earnest
Molly Horan
Clarion Books
June 21, 2022
Ages 12+

At one-year-old, Jane Worthing was abandoned in the back of the Poughkeepsie train station. Despite this unlucky start, Jane’s led a happy life thanks to the generous and supportive man who found, and later adopted her. Now eighteen-years-old and in the final months of her senior year, Jane finds herself with all the typical high school drama and more. Her best friend Algie secretly, and high-handedly, sent her DNA to Ancestry.com. Jane has always avoided searching for her birth parents out of fear of what she might uncover. But now there’s a familial match in the form of an acorn, staring at her from the computer screen. On top of this, Gwendolyn Fairfax—Algie’s cousin and the girl Jane’s been in love with since she was 13—is visiting over school break. Jane has some big decisions to make. Should she click the acorn? Profess her love to Gwen? When the final decision is made, will chaos ensue, or will she finally find what she’s longing for?

Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Epically Earnest shares character names, loves, and the protagonist’s back story—left in an oversized handbag. Horan adds a contemporary twist to these plot lines with the discovery of baby Jane becoming a viral video and Jane’s bisexual identity. Epically Earnest centers themes of acceptance, believing in yourself, and what it means to be family. Jane comes to find that searching for her birth family isn’t a betrayal to her adoptive parents. Her birth family is an addition to the family she already loves. Throughout the story, Jane becomes more confident in herself. She gains the courage to pursue Gwen, believing that she deserves to be happy and that being honest with herself and others is the best way to get what she needs. Horan includes a further nod to Wilde by prefacing each chapter with a quote from one of his plays. A sweet and romantic comedy, this coming of age novel illustrates that happiness comes to those boldly open to it.

Some things are too important to be taken seriously. — Oscar Wilde.

Sharing Nature Through Seasons: A Review of Emile and the Field

Emile and the Field 
Kevin Young 
Illustrated by Chioma Ebinama 
Make Me a World 
March 15, 2022 
Ages 4-8 

Young Emile loves the field close to his home, spending time alone in the field where he appreciates all the animals. He sees the field as a living being itself, thoughtfully wondering about things the field cannot experience that are far away from it, such as the sea. He also contemplates how the field changes during the seasons. He is upset that in the winter he must share his field with others who come to loudly play in the snow. When Emile shares this thought with his father, his father explains that no one owns the field and that sharing it ensures that it will continue to exist. The book closes with an illustration of Emile playing in the field with someone else in the spring. 

This is Young’s first book for children, though his experience with poetry and essays comes through in the lyrical writing style. The book is written in rhythmic verse, with many rhyming lines. The text on each page is sparse and appears in a variety of placements. This highlights the watercolor illustrations which bring the vibrant field to life through the usage of a wide color palette. The textured look of watercolor further brings the field to life. The initial textual description of Emile’s field even takes pause early on to allow for a full two-page illustration which depicts the lush field. The illustrations are key to storytelling as at the end of the book we see that Emile has learned to share the field only through illustration. This ending highlights the theme of thoughtfully enjoying nature while sharing it with others. The eye-catching illustrations and rhythmic writing make this book a great option for story time and new readers.