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Rise of the Jumbies - Tracey Baptiste

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A good follow up to the first book. This one starts off right where the last one ended.

I was glad to see new characters and situations in this one. It is a completely new adventure while continuing elements and themes found in the previous book. While there are some explanations of what happened in the first book, this one is definitely best read after having read the first one rather than as a standalone.

Overall, the book was good with some interesting new concepts. I really enjoyed exploring the worlds under the water with the characters. It was interesting to see the evolving relationships between humans and jumbies, travel beyond the island, and get a fuller sense of the world that Corinne lives in.

I did feel the ending was kind of rushed. It wasn't well-explained and didn't necessarily feel "realistic". Yes, I know this is a fantasy novel, but it all wrapped up so quickly and easily, which kind of pulled me out of the story. With so much buildup and drawn out scenes leading up to it, the quick resolution felt like a result of running out of time/space and needing a short ending, which made the story feel unbalanced.

Still, for the most part, I enjoyed the book and am planning to read the third one in the series.

Hearts, Keys, and Puppetry - Katherine Kellgren, Neil Gaiman

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A unique concept with interesting results.

Overall, the book was pretty good. I think its important to take into account how it came about and the way it was written. The pacing was rather fast and meandering, which is understandable given its writing process. Likewise, there isn't much character development and I didn't feel connected to the characters at all. Many of them felt flat, but again that's understandable.

The story was certainly creative, combining puppets, magic mirrors, the power of promises, magic music boxes, missing brothers, talking badgers, deadly accidents, princes, queens, trinkets, and a whole medley of other things. There is a lot going on and many elements at play. It was fun to see how all of the elements came together and played off each other.

When it comes right down to it, the book itself wasn't great in terms of writing or plot, but given its means of creation, it is pretty impressive. It makes for a unique reading experience. In the end it is what it is, a little bit of everything that isn't super developed but has some interesting results.

Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle - Charles Gilman

For more review, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A few years ago I read the third book in this series (not realizing it was a series, just so captivated by that cover). I recently saw my library had the audiobooks of the previous books so I thought I'd listen to them for some quick entertainment while driving.

Overall, this was a good book. It was interesting to get the backstory on the world I was introduced to in the third book. The world-building was well-done and made the book intriguing and mysterious. The plot was a bit slow in the beginning with all of the introduction, some of which could have been sped through a bit. You know there is going to be some weird stuff going on at the school so it gets a little tedious leading up to that. But overall the book was well-written and interesting.

While the book is not necessarily very scary, there is a bit of animal cruelty, which may not be a good fit for sensitive readers. While it is not outright gory, it's pretty gross with enough details to be upsetting and is referenced multiple times. I dislike when authors fall back on cruelty to animals in order to show how evil a character is.

A good read although I could have done without the animal stuff. Interesting set up and a nice lead in to the next book.

William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Mean Girls - Ian Doescher
For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A fantastic retelling of Mean Girls in the style of William Shakespeare. This book is clever, hilarious, and a delight to read.

This book is such a fun way to combine classic literature and popular culture. The unique blend makes Shakespeare's style of writing more understandable and approachable for modern readers as the well-known quotes from the film echo in the back of their heads while reading, serving as a sort of translation. A splendid idea that just might get young readers and teens interested in the works of Shakespeare.

I really enjoyed this book and thought the writing was amazing. Doescher modeled each of the main female characters off of Shakespearean characters such as Miranda, Kate, Juliet, and Lady Macbeth, which added another great layer to the work.

This could easily work as an introduction to Shakespearean literature as well as a fun treat for fans of Shakespeare, complete with hidden references to find along the way.

A very fun reading experience for fans of Mean Girls, Shakespeare, or both.
Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race - Margot Lee Shetterly, Laura Freeman , Winifred Conkling

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A great story to share with young readers. These women's journeys are inspiring and show what hard work can accomplish. While it is unfortunate that they were unrecognized for so long, it is wonderful to see their stories told in a variety of formats (picture books, adult non-fiction, film) in recent years.

Overall, the book was well done. Any of the issues I had with it pretty much stem from taking a full chapter book for adults and trying to reduce it down to a short read understandable to children. That's a big task and overall it was done well.

The illustrations were lovely. There was nice detail and I really enjoyed the space-themed/math-themed backgrounds. It was also cool to have other important figures from the time period come up in the illustrations such as Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., and Daisy Bates (although it might have been nice to label them somewhere since they were not explicitly mentioned in the text). These worked as a great point to branch off into discussions of the Civil Rights movements and a few important figures in African American history.

The book nicely incorporates definitions for tricky and unfamiliar works throughout the text. This is a great way to add in some extra teaching moments while still keeping the story going. There is also a glossary of terms at the end of the book.

I also thought the book did well setting the stage in describing segregation in a simple way that would be easy for children to understand. Throughout the book, it showed some of the changes made throughout time in a very simplified way. This worked well and allowed for expansion through discussion and explanation when reading with an adult.

I did find some of the narration choppy because of the time stretch and multiple women highlighted. It may have worked better to incorporate chapters for each woman instead of blurring them all together. Also, because it is so simplified, most of the women are reduced to "good at math. Really good." While this was obviously an important feature, I wish they were more developed and their other characteristics highlighted. One doesn't become NASA's first African-American supervisor or first female African-American aerospace engineer solely because one is good at math. It takes drive, passion, persuasion, persistence, bravery, determination, and a willingness to fight for what you want. I wanted more of these characteristics to come out, but again the small space dedicated to each woman didn't really allow for much elaboration.

At the end of the book are some additional resources for further information about the women. Besides the glossary, there is also a timeline of events including when each woman started and ended their work at NACA/NASA and a brief bio about each woman.

Overall, the book was well done. The short space only allowed for a very simplified version of events, but it is a great introduction to the contribution these women made as well as the history of segregation and the Civil Rights Movement.

Pippi Longstocking - Florence Lamborn, Nancy Seligsohn, Astrid Lindgren

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

I am so torn in how to rate this book. While there were aspects that I absolutely loved, others things haven't aged well.

One thing I loved about this short, fun, whimsical book is that each chapter reads like a short story. There isn't necessarily a plot that goes all the way through and instead it chronicles some of Pippi's strange adventures. I enjoyed this aspect and it made for a nice reading experience. I could see this working well as a bedtime story, reading a chapter each night. The book doesn't have any sort of moral or lesson. It is just a fun read.

It was also refreshing to see a character like Pippi. She does whatever she wants and is heavily flawed, but in general tries her best. Yes, she lies, is "impolite" to others, and can be quite grating at times, but she is also brave, strong, and isn't afraid to go after what she wants even if it means offending people. She doesn't let bullies get in her way and show no fear when she has to step in and save the day. It's nice to see a female character who isn't so caught up in being nice all the time.

However, some things haven't aged well. With the various translations and versions removing certain racist words/scenes, it's difficult to determine what version contains what. In the version I read (which from what I understand had been updated to remove some obvious racism), there were still a lot of odd assertions about various cultures. It can be argued that at least most of these are lies and Pippi trying to tell interesting stories, but given that this is a children's book it can be very confusing. Some such assertions are how people in Egypt walk backwards and everyone in the Belgian Congo tells lies all day. The stories have the feel of much of old literature that talks about far away places, but these odd inclusions are just kind of cringey read in a modern context.

Also, the inclusion of the children playing around with and firing guns in the final chapter is certainly problematic.

So while I loved the book, there were still instances that made me pause. Overall, I thought it was good, but there are still some rather outdated things. Because of that I settled for 3 stars. Parts of the book were great, but there were still some areas that may not be a good fit for modern readers.

What is Given from the Heart - Patricia C. McKissack, April Harrison

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A sweet story about kindness and caring for others.

The artwork in this book is lovely. I really enjoyed the various textures used.

There are some rather dark themes in the beginning, such as the main character's father going to sleep on the porch and not waking up, which may not be a good fit for younger children. There are also issues of poverty that come up, which can be a great way to discuss the topic with older children.

Overall, it was a very lovely book. The ending was very sweet and it had a wonderful message about showing kindness to others and the beautiful idea of "what is given from the heart reaches the heart".

How to Train Your Dragon - Cressida Cowell

For more reviews check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

I really did not know what to expect going into this. I absolutely love the movies that this book inspired and wasn't sure how they would compare to the book series.

To start off, the movie is vastly different from the book. It doesn't really follow the book at all. The plot is different. The characters are slightly different. Even Toothless is different. That's not a bad thing, but for people who have seen the movie, don't expect that book to be anything like it. The movie takes the very basic elements and build upon them.

Having said that, the book is amazing. I really enjoyed it. After I got used to how different it is from the movie, I was complete absorbed in it. Fun writing style (I always love Cowell), great development. Such a pleasure to read.

There were some things I did like better about the movie. There are very few women/girls in the book so I do really like the incorporation of more females in the movie. There were also some quite graphic and gory scenes I wasn't expecting. Exploding dragons, eating sheep, cannibalism. More violent that I was expecting, but still a very entertaining and fun book.

Overall, a great read. I already have the second book and will certainly be continuing this series.

The Jumbies - Tracey Baptiste
For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

An interesting read filled with magic, adventure, and elements of Haitian folklore.

As Baptiste points out in her Author's note, in comparison to European fairy tales, there are not a lot of Haitian folklore and jumbie fairy tales in mainstream literature. It's great to see this series start to fill that gap.

The book did well introducing the various jumbie and their main characteristics. They provided an element of wonder and spookiness and it was fantastic to learn about them.

The story itself was good, filled with twists and adventure. I loved the dark nature of the story, which was nicely balanced between spooky and fun without being too scary. I did think the ending kind of dragged a bit. I could see the author putting all of the pieces into place but it was a little dull waiting for the big finish. Still, it was a very good read.

Along with the playful Author's Note there is also a Questions for Discussion guide at the end.

I definitely would like to continue this series to learn more about the jumbies and Corinne's place in their world. Great read.
1140 Rue Royale - Serena Valentino, Crab Scrambly

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

An odd tale of darkness and revenge.

Overall, I thought the story was just okay. I didn't find it very original and much of it was very confusing. Some aspects relied too heavily on the artwork in furthering the story, making it vague and unclear at times. The "twist" at the end was very predictable, so much so that I picked up on it when first introduced to the character and thought it was supposed to be known the whole time. It was a very obvious choice and not very creative.

Also, the whole nun storyline could have been excluded. It didn't really add to the overall story and just made things more confusing. This book tried to do a little too much and was unable to execute it all well. It tried combining too many aspects of horror and scary stories (ghosts, possession, torture, creepy convent) that just resulted in a bit of a mess.

However, the artwork is splendid. The story itself was a strong 2 stars, but I bumped my rating up to 3 stars solely for the artwork. I love the eeriness and creepy feel of every page. The artwork is just fantastic. It definitely elevates the story and I really enjoyed it. But the story just wasn't strong enough to make it a very interesting read.

Two's a Crowd - Flora Ahn
For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A cute book about the difficulties of accepting a new member into the family including sharing toys, annoying questions, and constant interruptions, and learning to make adjustments.

This is a nice, quick read, great for young readers. The chapters are short and there are pictures on nearly every page to break up the text. Fun illustrations that went well with the narrative.

The story itself was simple, but adorable. Nice emphasis on new friends. 
The Night is Yours - Abdul-Razak Zachariah, Keturah A Bobo

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A sweet story with lessons about confidence and perseverance. The illustrations are absolutely phenomenal, especially the colors and textures of the night sky and moon. Absolutely beautiful.

This is a cute story, however I do feel that because it was written from the parent's perspective, children may not be as interested in it. It definitely felt like it was written for adults more than children. Still, the message of perseverance was well-done and those illustrations are phenomenal. It is a bit wordy at times so better for older children.

Overall, a good read.

Just Like Me - Vanessa Brantley Newton

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A sweet book of poetry covering a wide range of topics. Overall, the tone of the book is a positive, uplifting, and inspiring one with messages of love, acceptance, cooperation, and making the world a better place.

This is a great book for getting young children interested in poetry. It contains short, free style poetry with lyrical flow. The illustrations are beautiful and colorful. Many of the poems focus on issues girls deal with such as wind vs. dresses, body image, friendship, and assertiveness. A great mix of topics, some humorous, some inspiring, some a bit sad.

A few of my favorites in this collection were "Gumbo", "Feelings", and "Weird".

A lovely book with some wonderful messages, great for introducing poetry to young readers.

The Day You Begin - Jacqueline Woodson, Rafael López

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

An absolutely fantastic, beautiful read.

The book is quite wordy, so it is best for older children. In it, various situations are presented in which kids don't feel they fit in. From having stayed home all summer to having lunches the others are unfamiliar with, there are times you feel left out and different. However, by the end, the beauty of diverse experiences and perspectives blooms into a truly gorgeous message of acceptance and cherishing differences. I loved the reassuring tone of the book and the warmth of the ending.

The illustrations are also lovely. I really enjoyed the different colors, patterns, and textures and the magical elements worked into the every day situations. Gorgeous artwork that is fun to look at.

A wonderful read, especially for kids dealing with not fitting in and being different.

I Am Enough - Grace Byers, Keturah A Bobo

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A sweet, lyrical book with a heartfelt message. The illustrations are a nice balance of simplistic background with more detailed characters. It was fun to see the different situations play out in the pictures such as swinging, racing, reading, etc.

The narration is also simple, going through poetic statements that follow the same form such as, "Like a champ, I'm here to fight. Like the heart, I'm here to love." Throughout the book, a variety of actions and characters are presented and there is an emphasis on not letting differences define one's worth.

An important message told in a lovely way. A beautiful book.

Not Quite Snow White - Ashley Franklin, Ebony Glenn

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

A gorgeous picture book centered on body image and positivity.

The illustrations are absolutely fantastic. They wonderfully portrayed Tameika's movement and emotion. Adorable art style.

The plot of the book was also well done. It is simple and entertaining enough that children would be interested in it, while still getting across an important message. I loved the emphasis on actions and skills over appearance. While Tameika may not look like the traditional image of Snow White, she proved that she was the right fit through her talent and passion, demonstrating that appearance isn't everything.

A wonderful book with adorable illustrations and a heartfelt story. I really enjoyed it.