Rummanah Aasi

Description: Jean-Michael Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocketed to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art world had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe's vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat's own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn't always have to be neat or clean--and definitely not inside the lines--to be beautiful.

Review: Radiant Child won the prestigious Caldecott Award last year for the best picture book for children. In this vibrant, colorful, energetic picture book we learn about the biography of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist that I was not familiar with before picking up this book. We are introduced to the artist's childhood and early career. Born in Brooklyn with a mixed heritage of Puerto Rican and Haitian, Basquiat loved art at an early age and was encouraged to pursue his dream of being a famous artist by his equally artistic mother. The artwork mirror's Basquiat’s signature style of eclectic pieces that weirdly work together. At first glance the illustrations can be chaotic and too busy until you take your time and dissect the layers. The illustrations also highlight some of Basquiat's trademarks such as the golden cartoon crowns, eyeballs, and vehicles scattered everywhere. Though we do get a glimpse of his mother dealing with mental health issues, there are no mentions of the troubles with addiction and early death that I found out after doing some research after reading this book. Considering it's a book for children, I think the writer made a good decision in having the book end with Basquiat achieving his dream and quotes of people talking about his work. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is mention that Basquiat's mother was taken away to a facility in order to get treatment for her mental health issues. Recommended for Grades 1-5.

If you like this book try: A Splash of Red by Jennifer Bryant, Frida by Jonah Winter, Colors of the Wind by J.L. Powers




Description: Louis Braille was just five years old when he lost his sight. He was a clever boy, determined to live like everyone else, and what he wanted more than anything was to be able to read. Even at the school for the blind in Paris, there were no books for him. And so he invented his own alphabet—a whole new system for writing that could be read by touch. A system so ingenious that it is still used by the blind community today.

Review: Six Dots is a pictorial biography on the Louis Braille's life. As a child, Louis Braille was curious and energetic. Sadly, an accident blinded him in one eye and he lost his other due to a spread of infection. Though Louis learned to navigate daily life, he missed the knowledge gained through reading, and applied to the Royal School for the Blind, where books with raised letters provided a slow and unsatisfying alternative. When he was introduced to a French military code written in patterns of dots, Braille wondered if this would be a more suitable alternative to the raised letters and if it could be expanded into an actual language. Though I liked the way the book was written, I thought it was a bit too text heavy for young readers. I would have liked an inclusion of actual Braille in the book instead of the simple diagram of the Braille alphabet on the endpapers. Still, I think this is an important read based on the life of a very worthy inventor.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 1-3.


If you like this book try: Who was Louis Braille? by Margaret Frith



Description: Stepping Stones tells the story of Rama and her family, who are forced to flee their once-peaceful village to escape the ravages of the civil war raging ever closer to their home. With only what they can carry on their backs, Rama and her mother, father, grandfather and brother, Sami, set out to walk to freedom in Europe. Nizar Ali Badr's stunning stone images illustrate the story.

Review: Stepping Stones is a heartbreaking and timely picture book depicting the plights of Syrian refugees who are forced to leave their homes and start their life over in a new country. The text is simple yet direct, written in blank verse and in dual English and Arabic. What steals the spotlight in this book is the the artwork, stone-collage illustrations created by Syrian artist Badr, who arranges the stunning, tactile creation of people formed entirely of rocks and pebbles (enlarge the book cover to get a sense of what I'm talking about). On every spread, a round pebble hovers over the refugees, providing light, like the moon or sun, as well as hope. I would highly recommend getting this book simply for the art itself. This is a unique picture book that I hope will open eyes, create empathy and understanding.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None, but young readers will need background information about what is happening in Syria and about refugees. Recommended for Grade 3 readers and up.

If you like this book try: Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side. And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.
  Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?
  For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her. And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself. As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.


Review: The Crown's Game was one of the most hyped books of 2016. I kept seeing it everywhere on the blogosphere and on booktuber's channels. I did a pretty good job dodging these titles, but alas curiosity got the best of me again. The Crown's Game did not wow me at all and despite its cool premise, it left me wanting more. 
 In an alternate 19th-century Russia, the tsar can call upon the abilities of an enchanter. Normally, only one exists at a time. In the rare case that two are born, they must compete, because Russia's inherent magic will allow only one to remain alive. Vika is an expert at controlling the elements and has been training her whole life to serve her country, unaware that another enchanter exists. Nikolai, best friend to the tsar's son, Pasha, has been training with his mentor explicitly for the Crown's Game. When the game begins, Vika and Nikolai take turns showing off their magical prowess for the tsar, creating wonders that get more powerful with each turn until the Crown Game finally begins.
 I didn't care for any of the characters in the Crown's Game and I found them so bland, one dimensional for my tastes. Furthermore Nikolai and Pasha seemed interchangeable to me until the author would point out their different social statuses. I expected Vika and Nikolai to have some suspicions about one another, but to my dismay they quickly became friends and starting to fall for one another. The "magic show" felt like I was watching a Disney montage instead of both enchanters displaying their strengths. Also it was so obvious that Nikolai, Vika, and Pasha would form a love triangle. Overall I felt very bored for most of the book and was further disappointed when the author seems to find a loop hole into her own premise of how only one enchanter can survive. Needless to say I will not continue this series.

Rating: 2 stars

Words of Caution: Infidelity and child born out of wedlock are mentioned in the story. There is also a scene at a bar. Recommended for strong Grade 8 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo
Rummanah Aasi
Description: Having no experience in romance, the vibrant Ninako curiously explores the meaning of what "love" really is, and is surprised to feel a colorful range of emotions as she grows closer to the school heartthrob, the quiet yet gentle Ren, who also happens to be involved in a longtime relationship. With every intention of keeping her head held high, Ninako prepares to face the mental pain of this one-sided love that she had allowed to take root, facing a series of trials that would either contribute to her growth as a headstrong woman, or break her as it did with other girls. However, is this really a one-sided love? Or had something been silently sown in the most hidden part of Ren's heart?

Review: Strobe Edge is a sweet, straight-forward shoujo manga. It is relatively short compared to standard manga series, completing at ten volumes. The focus of Strobe Edge is examining all the emotions that surround the concept of love, both familial and romantic. Readers familiar with shoujo manga will immediately recognize its familiar tropes: a budding romance between the dashing yet aloof hero, the sweet, flighty heroine who eventually wins the hero over by her quiet strength and generous heart, and large doses of unnecessary drama until the happily ever after ending. Unlike other shoujo mangas that I've read, Strobe Edge has surprisingly very little drama, but it is full of heart and emotions. 
   Ninako begins to develop a crush on Ren, one of the most popular and cutest boys in school, after he notices her when he accidentally breaks her cell-phone charm and then replaces it. This generosity from the school's otherwise silent "pop star" distracts Ninako from Daiki, the boy who's been there all along, and makes her start becoming more aware of what love should feel and look like. As the story progresses, Ninako evolves from being a stereotypical shoujo heroine into someone who gains maturity and clearly articulate her feelings with honesty and passion. Unlike her female classmates who fall for Ren because of his physical looks, Ninako falls for Ren for his acts of kindness, his quiet and shy personality that others claim is his arrogance. Of course happily ever after is a long road for Ninako, as she discovers that Ren has a girlfriend and is committed to her. Instead of finding ways to sabotage Ren's relationship, Ninako finds a way to turn her unrequited love into friendship and never wavers for her love for Ren until the opportunity presents itself. Through the secondary characters and their relationships, we see how love can be successful and disastrous as well as how they envisioned on what love is suppose to look like which I found to be interesting.
  The illustrations of Strobe Edge has the typical manga look with characters that have large eyes, crazy hair colors, and pointy hair, but the panels are filled with life and action. The best parts of the book are the closeup, wordless panels that the author creates that allow the physical features of the characters to emote and tell the story where words seem to fail them. Overall this manga is a sure winner for readers who seek a cute romance with very little drama and angst. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some crude sexual humor and minor language. Recommended for Grades 8 and up.

If you like this series try: L-DK series by Ayu Watanabe, Say I love You series by Kanae Hazuki


Rummanah Aasi
 Description: Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.
  As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.


Review: Star-Crossed is a sweet coming-out story and a promising, chaste romance for middle grade readers that intertwines with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Mattie annoys her friends because she is constantly thinking and unsure of her actions. She finds herself having a crush on Elijah who shares her passion for reading, but that slowly disappears after a disastrous Halloween party. Soon she is inexplicably drawn to Gemma, a new student who seems perfect in every way. As the eighth grade play, Rome and Juliet, goes underway Mattie learns more about herself and Gemma. Mattie discovers that she really like her. Is it possible to like both boys and girls?
  The incorporation of Romeo and Juliet works really well in the book. Each chapter begins with a snippet from the play and it was really fun trying to see how that line fits into the context of our story. I also appreciated how the students tried to understand what Shakespeare meant and discuss some of the issues of the play (i.e. fickleness of love, impulsive behavior, secrets, etc). Those same issues were also mirrored in Mattie's life too. At times there was a bit too much Shakespeare with large chunks of the dialogue put into the story, which might deter some young readers from picking up this book. Though ultimately the Shakespeare play is a tragedy, Star-Crossed is far from one. Mattie has a supportive family, caring friends, a teacher who understands her, and a diverse cast of classmates that may be more tolerant of her sexuality. Though romance doesn't actually bloom between Mattie and Gemma, it is possible in the book's open ending. 

Rating: 4 stars


Words of Caution: There is a scene where a homophobic slur is used by a student but the teacher quickly addresses it. Mattie's best friend likes to use Shakespearean insults instead of foul language. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

If you like this book try: George by Alex Gino, Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
Rummanah Aasi
Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine! This week I am waiting for the release of two debut books, one adult and one YA: Salt Houses by Hala Alyan and Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali.



Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
Publish date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


I first saw this book in a library journal and I knew I had to read it. I know it won't be an easy read, but I can definitely tell that it will be enlightening. 

On the eve of her daughter Alia’s wedding, Salma reads the girl’s  future in a cup of coffee dregs. She sees an unsettled life for Alia and her children; she also sees travel, and luck. While she chooses to keep her predictions to herself that day, they will all soon come to pass when the family is uprooted in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967.   Salma is forced to leave her home in Nablus; Alia’s brother gets pulled into a politically militarized world he can’t escape; and Alia and her gentle-spirited husband move to Kuwait City, where they reluctantly build a life with their three children.

When Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait in 1990, Alia and her family once again lose their home, their land, and their story as they know it, scattering to Beirut, Paris, Boston, and beyond. Soon Alia’s children begin families of their own, once again navigating the burdens (and blessings) of assimilation in foreign cities.   Lyrical and heartbreaking, Salt Houses is a remarkable debut novel that challenges and humanizes an age-old conflict we might think we understand—one that asks us to confront that most devastating of all truths: you can’t go home again.





Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
Publish Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Simon and Schuster/Salaam Reads

 This is a YA debut for the Salaam Reads imprint, which I am really looking forward to reading. This book tackles several important issues that are timely and important.


How much can you tell about a person just by looking at them?

Janna Yusuf knows a lot of people can’t figure out what to make of her…an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager who is a Flannery O’Connor obsessed book nerd, aspiring photographer, and sometime graphic novelist is not exactly easy to put into a box.

And Janna suddenly finds herself caring what people think. Or at least what a certain boy named Jeremy thinks. Not that she would ever date him—Muslim girls don’t date. Or they shouldn’t date. Or won’t? Janna is still working all this out.

While her heart might be leading her in one direction, her mind is spinning in others. She is trying to decide what kind of person she wants to be, and what it means to be a saint, a misfit, or a monster. Except she knows a monster…one who happens to be parading around as a saint…Will she be the one to call him out on it? What will people in her tight knit Muslim community think of her then?
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