Picture Book Review: Kayla the Great and the Magic Red Dress by Stephanie Davis

Kayla the Great and The Magic Red Dress

by Stephanie Davis; Illustrated by Robert Paul, Jr.

Kayla the Great and the Magic Red Dress is about a little girl named Kayla and what happens when she loses her favorite red dress. Despite the fact that I could tell this book was self-published from first glance at the cover, I was interested to read this book because it was the first picture book I’d been asked to review that featured a biracial child.

Both my kids liked the story. Pre-K monkey specifically told me, “I love this book!” when I asked for her opinion to put on my blog. However, after the first read, she wasn’t really interested in reading it again. Likewise, toddler monkey sat quietly when I read it to her, but the book was slightly too long to hold her interest. My impression was that neither the text nor the illustrations were as polished or tightened as they could’ve been, and the book design was very poor (especially the font choice).

However, this is an okay story with a simple, easy-to-understand storyline, and I have a feeling that families with a “Kayla” in their life may very well be happy with this one. The main character looks a lot like one of my friend’s daughters, and I do love that about this book.

Disclaimer: Review based on free copy provided by the author.

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Mommy Read it Again: Apple Pip Princess by Jane Ray

The Apple-Pip Princess by  Jane Ray

Intricate illustrations combine with a gentle, earth-friendly storyline in this fairytale picture book.

I took this home from the library, figuring my Pre-K Monkey would be drawn to the pink cover and “Princess” title, and I also ended up falling in love with it myself. Sadly, this appears to be one that you’ll have to request from the library!

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YA Book Review and Giveaway: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Lies We Tell Ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Set in 1959 Virginia, this unforgettable novel tells the story of Sarah Dunbar, a member of the first group of African American students to integrate her town’s public high school. Extremely bright and ambitious, Sarah faces numerous threats, verbal abuse, and physical violence so she can further her education in one of the best schools in town. Complicating matters is the unexplainable attraction she feels for Linda Hairston, the daughter of one of the most vocal white segregationists in town, a girl who despises Sarah and her black classmates.

Told in alternating viewpoints, Sarah’s and Linda’s, the novel shows us how their romantic relationship grows despite racism and discrimination from their peers. Though the story is set in a fictional town, it feels unflinchingly true-to-life, as we see through Sarah’s eyes the fear and unreasonable hatred she faces from her fellow students. Sarah is a religious Christian, and because of this feels very confused about her sexuality and is unsure of what it all means. While the budding friendship and romance between Linda and Sarah feels realistic, I wasn’t quite sure I believed the love-at-first-glance chemistry that the two girls felt for each other. They meet on Sarah’s first day of school, and I had trouble understanding how Sarah, who was terrified for the physical well-being of herself and her sister, was even psychologically able feel attracted to anyone, much less one of the meanest girls at school. I also wished that we could’ve learned a little more about Sarah’s home life as there are so few stories about everyday life for African Americans in the 1950’s.

But those minor points aside, Lies We Tell Ourselves is an eye-opening and compelling novel. I am really in awe of Robin Talley’s bravery in telling this story.

My review is based on a free copy I received from the publisher, and now you have a chance to win your own! The winner of the Rafflecopter giveaway below will receive 1 free copy of Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley from the publisher. Click the “Terms and conditions” button on the Rafflecopter widget for more information.

Edited to add: This giveaway is open to US residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Recap #3: Quotes from the Asian American Children’s Author Series

The Asian American Children’s Author blog series has come to an end! What was originally going to be summer series went all the way through to October. I interviewed 16 Asian American kid’s authors, asked them the same 3-4 questions (the 4th one was optional), and learned so much about them and myself in the process. I hope you’ve enjoyed the series too, and like me, are now completely excited by your to-read list!

For this final recap blog post, I’ve put together a list of the authors and included my favorite quotes from their interviews. Many of these are quotes from their “advice for Asian American readers” but there are some nuggets of writerly and readerly wisdom as well. Enjoy!

1) Padma Venkatraman 

“I had a very tough childhood, one that I wouldn’t wish on anybody, so books were my saving grace. They helped me escape sometimes, but more often, they helped me empathize, and helped me remain a good and kind kid, despite all I went through.”

2) Emily Jiang

“Create art and build

bonds with people who get you.

Life without regrets.”

3) Wong Herbert Yee

“In library class we picked a book from the shelf and sat down to read. When time was up we put it back. That was where I got my reading done. I am still a regular visitor at the local library. Find a book you like and read it. If you don’t like it, put it back and pick another.”

4) Sayantani DasGupta

“There’s nothing like opening up a book and ‘seeing yourself’ — the character doesn’t have to look exactly like you or even be from your same cultural background to resonate with you, but it does feel terrific when a character reflects your family’s heritage, customs, language or experience.”

5) Nandini Bajpai

“Your life experience as an Asian American is interesting and worthy of sharing with others. Be authentic and be heard!”

6) Mitali Perkins

“If you survive growing up “between cultures” you gain a big advantage as an adult. You will always be able to cross cultural borders easily and make yourself feel at home anywhere. You are becoming proficient in two cultures, which will enable you to acquire mastery of a third or fourth culture much faster than your monocultural peers.”

7) Livia Blackburne

“If you have the opportunity to learn more about your cultural background, be it practicing the language or renewing ties with older relatives, take advantage of it.  The opportunity won’t be there forever.”

8) Varsha Bajaj

“My advice to Asian American and all kid readers would be read with a open mind and heart and to read everything you can get your hands on.”

 9) Uma Krishnaswami

“I don’t think of myself as identifying with any of my characters. When I’m writing I’m simultaneously in their skins and at their sides, taking turns almost, dancing around inside the story and trying to bring it all to the page one or two layers at a time. Sometimes I’m close to a scene. At other times I may be hovering above the story trying to see its bigger picture. I have no time to stop and think about who I love most in that story. That’s not the way I see my job. I’m looking in many mirrors at once, playing with the story’s light and shadow and trying to figure out the lives of the fictional people I’m following.”

10) Fonda Lee

“I shake my head when I hear people say things like, “oh, I don’t read fiction” or “I don’t read YA” or “I don’t read comics.” There is something worthwhile, enlightening, or enjoyable about almost everything that is well done, and if you can appreciate it, it will open your mind to being a better reader and a better writer.”

11) Kashmira Sheth

“Read as much as you can. It may be difficult to find books that reflect your experience of being Asian American but all stories hold deeper truths from which you can learn. Also, listen to the stories your parents and grandparents tell you. Those stories will keep you connected to your past.”

12) Sheela Chari

“You don’t always have to read about characters that look different from you. On the same token, you don’t have read only one kind of book about Asian-Americans either – the horizon is opening up to include fantasy, mystery, adventure and even historical fiction. In the end, an interesting book can be about anybody in any circumstance, but it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open.”

13) Grace Lin

“…you will never be Asian and you will never be American. You will always be Asian-American. Don’t try to choose a side, because it is not a dividing line.  And while there will definitely be points in your life where that hyphen between the two identities seem like it is subtracting from the other, in the end you’ll find it’s actually a wonderful bridge. Life with a hyphenated-identity is actually doubly richer.”

14) David Yoo

“…whenever an adult figure told the teen me not to sweat the small stuff, I’d always scoff/roll my eyes at them (behind their backs). That they considered the issues in my life small stuff I interpreted as proof that they were utterly clueless about what it’s like to be a teen… I still remember how pointless it was to tell a teenager to trust that things get better–no offense to the whole “It gets better” movement! Frankly, a kid doesn’t have the patience to feel happy knowing that, decades from now, things will turn around. That there will come a time when you look back on this sad or lonely or depressing moment and find humor in it, even. The only reason you appreciate things when you’re older is because you have more perspective on life, which you simply don’t have when you’re younger. So I hesitate to tell AA kid readers, hey, it’ll be all right, even though it’s true.”

15) Mike Jung

“…when I was a kid reader, I devalued my own identity as an Asian American. I lived in an overwhelmingly white community, I wanted very badly to fit in, and looking back now it’s easy to see all the little ways in which I accepted the idea that being Asian American was some kind of stain on my identity that needed to be removed or at least hidden. I hope my book, and all of my future books, will be helpful and positive to you in resisting that kind of impulse, and those pressures. Remember that your identity counts; remember that YOU count. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

16) Veera Hiranandani

“…if you ever feel different, remember we’re all different in some way. Anything that makes you feel different is usually what will make you stronger and will probably turn out to be one of your best qualities.”

 

That’s all for now, folks!

 

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: Veera Hiranandani, Author of the Phoebe G. Green series

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The next author in my Asian American Children’s Author blog series is Veera Hiranandani, author of the middle grade novel, The Whole Story of Half a Girl. She has two books coming out today (!) in her brand new Phoebe G. Green series, Lunch Will Never Be the Same and Farm Fresh Fun.

1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?1400170474

Veera Hiranandani: I definitely identify with Phoebe in my new chapter book series, Phoebe G. Green. I was a bit of a young gourmet like Phoebe discovers herself to be, so that was part of the inspiration for the series. I always loved trying new foods, even foods my friends thought were gross like chicken liver, spinach, and mushrooms. I also really liked spicy foods at a young age like lamb vindaloo.

But I identify most with Sonia from The Whole Story of Half a Girl. My mother is Jewish American and my father is from India. I also grew up in a similar place as Sonia and had to change schools like Sonia, but for different reasons. Many of the social and identity issues that Sonia struggles with are very close to what I experienced back then.

2) If you could give your Asian American kid readers one piece of advice, what would it be?

1400170532VH: Well, I think this advice could apply to any young person–if you ever feel different, remember we’re all different in some way. Anything that makes you feel different is usually what will make you stronger and will probably turn out to be one of your best qualities.

3) Who is your favorite Asian American children’s author right now (other than yourself)?

VH: I have many favorites, but Mitali Perkins is at the top of the list. I also love Sheela Chari and Uma Krishnaswami. I’m a big fan of Jhumpa Lahiri, but she’s an adult author. Something to look forward too!

About the Author:

Veera Hiranandani is the author of several works for children including the novel, The Whole Story of Half a Girl (Delacorte Press), which was named a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and a South Asian Book Award Finalist. She is also the author of the new chapter book series, Phoebe G. Green (Grosset & Dunlap). She received her MFA in fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College. A former book editor at Simon & Schuster and Montessori teacher, Veera is now focused on writing, teaching, and family life. You can learn more about Veera at www.veerahiranandani.com.

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: Mike Jung, Author of Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities

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This week, the amazing children’s author visiting the blog is Mike Jung, author of the middle grade novel Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities. Here are Mike’s answers to my three burning questions:

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1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?

Mike Jung: Vincent Wu [main character of Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities], without a doubt, mostly because he’s the character who’s most informed by my own childhood experiences. Vincent isn’t based on me – he’s very different from the 12 year old Mike Jung in several important ways – but his insecurities about friendship, girls, social standing, and self-worth were (and are) very familiar to me.

2) If you could give your Asian American kid readers one piece of advice, what would it be?

MJ: I don’t know that I can limit it to one piece of advice, but here goes: when I was a kid reader, I devalued my own identity as an Asian American. I lived in an overwhelmingly white community, I wanted very badly to fit in, and looking back now it’s easy to see all the little ways in which I accepted the idea that being Asian American was some kind of stain on my identity that needed to be removed or at least hidden. I hope my book, and all of my future books, will be helpful and positive to you in resisting that kind of impulse, and those pressures. Remember that your identity counts; remember that YOU count. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

3) Who is your favorite Asian American children’s author right now (other than yourself)?

MJ: Lisa Yee is a serious contender for my current favorite children’s author, period, regardless of race or ethnicity. I consider MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS the gold standard for middle-grade fiction, and studying the arc of Lisa’s career has been hugely inspirational to me as I’ve worked to get my own career off the ground. Gene Leun Yang is utterly masterful – AMERICAN BORN CHINESE is a work of genius – and I’m also a big fan of Ellen Oh, Cindy Pon, Kazu Kibuishi, and Debbie Ohi.

Thank you, Mike, for taking the time to answer my questions!

 

About the Author:

Mike Jung is an active blogger, parent, and SCBWI member, and lives in Oakland, California. Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities published by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic in 2012, was his first novel.

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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: David Yoo, Author of The Detention Club

David Yoo

This week’s Asian American children’s author is David Yoo. His most recent book for kids is the middle grade novel, The Detention Club.

1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?

David Yoo: A lot of my fiction has an autobiographical base, at least emotionally. By that I mean while most of the things that happen to my characters didn’t happen to me in “real life,” I always write about things that I fully relate to/identify with, emotionally. So Nick Park in GIRLS FOR BREAKFAST and Albert Kim in STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE are basically me, in different settings. Even Peter Lee in my middle grade novel THE DETENTION CLUB is loosely based on things I was feeling growing up. My most recent book, THE CHOKE ARTIST, was a collection of personal essays for adults, so of course I relate especially so to it because it actually was about me.

2) If you could give your Asian American kid readers one piece of advice, what would it be?

DY: Hard to say–whenever an adult figure told the teen me not to sweat the small stuff, I’d always scoff/roll my eyes at them (behind their backs). That they considered the issues in my life small stuff I interpreted as proof that they were utterly clueless about what it’s like to be a teen. I’m old enough at this point to know that they were right, but I still remember how pointless it was to tell a teenager to trust that things get better–no offense to the whole “It gets better” movement! Frankly, a kid doesn’t have the patience to feel happy knowing that, decades from now, things will turn around. That there will come a time when you look back on this sad or lonely or depressing moment and find humor in it, even. The only reason you appreciate things when you’re older is because you have more perspective on life, which you simply don’t have when you’re younger. So I hesitate to tell AA kid readers, hey, it’ll be all right, even though it’s true. That’s like telling a kid in September, hey, Christmas will be here before you know it. So basically I’m offering the very same pitiful advice I ignored when I was a kid, that today as an adult, looking back on my sometimes miserable childhood, I now appreciate the bad parts almost more than I do the good times, because it’s all part of the journey blah blah blah.

3) Who is your favorite Asian American children’s author right now (other than yourself)?

DY: Gene Luen Yang, seven days a week, twice on Sundays. A genius.

4) Were you a reader growing up? Why or why not?

I loved to read, but depending on who you compare me to I was either a voracious reader or merely an adequate one. Either way, my focus on books went in spurts. The more I got into sports and obsessing over things that I could care less about now (although I do still play my original NES on a weekly basis…sigh), I read less. I also loved movies growing up–not so much TV shows, but movies, and truth be told I watched far more movies than I read books growing up. But I had phases where I devoured books–a horror phase, a fantasy phase, etc. Favorite books growing up: DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, by Roald Dahl (for that matter, everything else by Dahl, as well). THEN AGAIN, MAYBE I WON’T, by Judy Blume. The Chronicles of Prydain series. Every book by Paul Zindel, and I probably read and re-read WATERSHIP DOWN more often than I should have.

About the Author:

David Yoo is the author of the YA novels Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before (Hyperion), a Chicago Best of the Best selection, and Girls For Breakfast (Delacorte), an NYPL Books For the Teen Age selection and a Reading Rants Top Ten Books for Teens choice, along with a middle grade novel, The Detention Club (Balzer + Bray), published in 2011.

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Preschooler Favorites: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl is a graphic novel for younger readers about a young girl named Zita who discovers an asteroid with a big red button. Despite her friend Jonah’s warnings, Zita pushes the big red button (as one does, right?) and it opens some kind of teleport gateway through which tentacles reach out and grab Joseph right before the gateway disappears. Determined to rescue her friend, Zita pushes the button again and leaps through the portal, launching herself into an adventure on an alien planet filled with funny creatures, mysterious gadgets, and a doomsday prophecy.

I love graphic novels and I love scifi. But somehow the first time I read this, a year ago maybe, I didn’t connect with it. I can’t explain why. Maybe because I’m working on my own space adventure novel and was nitpicking things that reminded me of my work-in-progress? Anyway, lately my 4 yo (formerly known as Preschooler Monkey, now Pre-K Monkey) has been into graphic novels too (she loved Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale), so I’ve been looking for more to share with her. I happened to see this one again on the library shelf and picked it up because Pre-K monkey is really into Star Wars these days.

Pre-K monkey LOVES this book. She LOVE LOVE LOVES this book. We had to read it every night for a week. We talked about it. Zita showed up in her drawings from school. Like really, she loved this book.

And now that I’ve seen the book through her eyes, I love it too!

Some picture books for Star Wars fans: I also bought these little picture books by Jeffrey Brown for my Star Wars fanatic husband. They’re fun to look at with kids but are filled with Star Wars jokes that adult fans will enjoy: Darth Vader and Son, Vader’s Little Princess, and Goodnight Darth Vader.


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Get to Know Asian American Children’s Authors: Grace Lin, Author of Starry River of the Sky

On the blog this week, I am very excited to have one of my favorite Asian American children’s authors, Newbery Honor receiving author and illustrator Grace Lin!  (See my review of her adorable book Dumpling Days.)

1) Which of your characters do you most identify with and why?

Grace Lin: Well, I guess that would have to be Pacy from the Year of the Dog, Year of the Rat, and Dumpling Days, since those are almost autobiographies! Those books are fictionalized, but most the events that happened as well as the characters are pretty true-to-life. So true that even the names are real. My Chinese or middle name is Pacy and my sisters are Lissy and Ki-Ki, just like in the book. I took quite a bit of inspiration from classics like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books and Little Women, books where the stories are straight from the author’s real life.

2) If you could give your Asian American kid readers one piece of advice, what would it be?

GL: Well, this would be for their parents as well as for the kids…you will never be Asian and you will never be American. You will always be Asian-American. Don’t try to choose a side, because it is not a dividing line.  And while there will definitely be points in your life where that hyphen between the two identities seem like it is subtracting from the other, in the end you’ll find it’s actually a wonderful bridge. Life with a hyphenated-identity is actually doubly richer. My hope is my books show people a glimpse of that richness.

3) Who is your favorite Asian American children’s author right now (other than yourself)?

GL: I admit I am behind on the newer Asian-American authors–I’ve heard great things about Wendy Shang and Kat Yeh, though I haven’t had the opportunity to read their books yet (I have a two-year old toddler!). But my “old” stand by favorites are Lenore Look (LOVE the Ruby Lu books), Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese is a really a masterpiece), Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard…sigh), Lisa Yee (Asian American girl? Yes!)  and I could go on and on. I think there are so many great Asian-American authors out there with amazing books,  the difficult part is making sure their books are read more widely.

About the Author:

Grace Lin is the author and illustrator of picture books, early readers and middle grade novels. Grace’s 2010 Newbery Honor book WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON was chosen for Al Roker’s Today Show Kid’s Book Club and was a NY Times Bestseller. LING & TING, Grace’s first early reader, was honored with the Theodor Geisel Honor in 2011. An Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nominee for the US, most of Grace’s books are about the Asian-American experience because she believes, “Books erase bias, they make the uncommon everyday, and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal.” Her next book, LING & TING: TWICE AS SILLY will be out this fall and she is hard at work on another novel. See more about Grace and her work at www.gracelin.com or her blog http://www.gracelinblog.com

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MG Novel: Nest by Esther Ehrlich

Nest by Esther Ehrlich

Nest by Esther Ehrlich is a literary upper middle grade to lower YA novel (read: “tween novel”) about a young girl named Naomi, or “Chirp,” living in 1970s Cape Cod and what happens to her family when her mother, Hannah, is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Chirp is obsessed with birds and copes with her family situation by birdwatching and through her growing friendship with Joey, a boy living across the street who also wants to escape his own trouble family life.

This novel does not hold anything back. Prepare to cry your heart out as I did when I read this. While it does end on a hopeful note, there are some terribly sad moments. Part of me was completely shattered for poor Chirp (and my gut reaction is always NOOOO!!!), but the realism of her situation and the author’s research into Hannah’s condition (mental and physical) made these events feel very authentic and necessary.

An additional layer to this is that Chirp and her family are Jewish. At the beginning of the novel, the Jewish information and moments felt added in–it felt like we were being told that Chirp was Jewish rather than being shown (the editor’s note at the start including Yiddish words also adds to this feeling). However, as the novel progressed and there are a few spot-on and humorous moments, her heritage begins to feel more organic. For example, Chirp isn’t sure if she’s allowed to say the word “Jesus” and feels strange seeing a bible in a motel room, things I could totally relate to having grown up Hindu in Arkansas.

However, the one issue for me in this book was the pacing. While this is a literary, character-driven novel and an action-packed plot would have been completely wrong for this book, I still felt there were times when I wasn’t quite sure where the story was going or what type of story I was reading. I loved the bird information and images (especially loved the Cape Cod setting), but these tidbits weren’t tied as closely as I’d expected to the storyline.

All in all, this is a heartfelt, thoughtful book that will speak to kids looking for a more serious read or are going through tougher issues in their own lives, but aren’t quite ready for the mature romances in many young adult novels.

Disclosure: Review of free ARC I received through NetGalley.

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