Rummanah Aasi

Description: Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

Review: The Girl in the Tower is the second book in the enchanting historical fantasy Winternight Trilogy. While you could pick up and read The Girl in the Tower without reading Arden's delightful debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale, I would not recommend it as you might feel lost about the cast of characters and unclear on the great world building.
  The Girl in the Tower skillfully avoids the dreaded middle book syndrome. Arden expands her  world with new characters and a new setting in Moscow. Some readers have complained that the pacing was slow in this book, but I did not find it slow at all. I was completely captivated with the story and its multiple moving parts.
  Now that her fellow villagers believe she’s a witch and her protector is gone, Vasya is no longer safe in her village. She is struck with wanderlust and fully dismisses the only "accepted" roles of a woman: to be either a wife or a nun. With the help of the enigmatic frost-demon Morozko, who feels a fatally human attraction to Vasya, the young woman learns to wield a knife and make herself at home in the frozen forest. Disguised as a young man, she loads up her pack and rides her beloved magical steed, Solovey, into the winter wilderness, south toward Moscow. After rescuing several girls stolen from burned-out villages, she makes her way to Moscow, where she finds her sister Olga, now a royal matron who is very familiar with court politics, and her brother Sasha, a monk with a swashbuckling side.
   Vasya as a boy is welcomed with open arms, however, danger of her secret identity is lingering very close. Arden demonstrates society's double standards for gender very well throughout this story and the feminist themes are articulated very well without being heavy handed in the book. Despite Vasya's fervent desire to be more than just a girl is overturned in the novel, her frustrations with society's very rigid notions are highly relatable and real even in the 21st century.
  There are plenty of surprises in the book and lots of foreshadowing of what is to come in the third and final book. While this book wraps up neatly without a cliffhanger, I still have questions and I definitely want to see more of Morozko.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images and strong violence is mentioned in the book but not depicted. Recommended for older teens and adults.

If you like this book try: Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #3), The Girl With Ghost Eyes by M. H. Boroson, Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Rummanah Aasi

Description: A picture book biography of José Guadalupe (Lupe) Posada (1852–1913). In a country that was not known for freedom of speech, he first drew political cartoons, much to the amusement of the local population but not the politicians. He continued to draw cartoons throughout much of his life, but he is best known today for his calavera drawings. They have become synonymous with Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival. Juxtaposing his own art with that of Lupe’s, author Duncan Tonatiuh brings to light the remarkable life and work of a man whose art is beloved by many but whose name has remained in obscurity.

Review: I learned a lot while reading Duncan Tonatiuh's fun and informative picture-book biography on Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913). I never heard of Posada before, but I am familiar of his portrayal of calaveras, the droll skeletons prominent in Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. Posada was a very talented artist who began drawing as a child and later learned lithography, engraving, etching, and finally printmaking. All of these art forms are clearly explained and illustrated in cartoonlike panels of drawings. Posada’s images of calaveras amused the public by poking fun at politicians, but we are asked to think deeper about the art and see if there were other meanings behind the illustrations. I really liked the inclusion of Posada's real work and that of the author himself in digital collages which were vibrant and eye catching.

Curriculum Connection: World Language, Art, Social/Global Studies

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 3 and up.

If you like this book try: Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh




Description: When they piled into cars and drove through Durham, North Carolina, the members of the Duke University Medical School basketball team only knew that they were going somewhere to play basketball. They didn't know whom they would play against. But when they came face to face with their opponents, they quickly realized this secret game was going to make history.
  Discover the true story of how in 1944, Coach John McLendon orchestrated a secret game between the best players from a white college and his team from the North Carolina College of Negroes. At a time of widespread segregation and rampant racism, this illegal gathering changed the sport of basketball forever.

Review: Game Changer is a nonfiction picture book that depicts the ground breaking basketball game between a white and African American teams played in defiance of segregation in the Jim Crow South. Coach John McLendon of the North Carolina College of Negroes believed basketball could change people’s prejudices and invited players from the Duke University Medical School, an all-white team, to play a “secret game” in his college’s gym. The game opened the white players eyes to the new style of playing basketball by the McLendon’s players. Since the players on both teams enjoyed playing together, they played a “shirts and skins” game, with whites and African Americans on both teams.
  Game Changer is a lively and inspiring story. The illustrations are incredibly eye catching and look almost like real life photos. My only complaint about this book is that it is super short. I would have liked more pages, perhaps giving us background information on some of the players involved. At the back of the book there is more detail on Coach McLendon as well as a time line of integration in sports.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: None. Recommended for Grades 2 and up.

If you like this book try: Jim Thorpe's Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac,
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.
   But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.
  It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.

Review: Tanner's family moved from California to Provo, Utah, where they are one of the few non-Mormon families in town. Tanner's mother left the Mormon church in college after the church refused to acknowledge and accept her lesbian sister and Tanner's father is a nonpracticing Jew. Although Tanner's family is extremely supportive of his bisexuality, they all agree Tanner should keep his sexual identity under wraps in his ultra-conservative town. With only one semester until graduation, Tanner is prepared to coast his senior year with no drama. When his best friend Autumn dares him to sign up for a seminar where students must write a book in four months, Tanner's carefree plans come to a halt when Sebastian Brothers walks into his life.
  Sebastian is mentoring the school's legendary novel writing seminar, after having his own class novel bought for publication. Tanner is wrapped up in Sebastian, but Sebastian is the son of the Mormon bishop. Sebastian slowly opens up to Tanner and through Sebastian we get to learn about the Mormon church. Lauren does a great job in not painting members of the Mormon church as one dimensional villains but as complex people with their own individual strengths and flaws. It is very tricky to discuss the conflict between sexuality and religion, but Lauren takes a balance approach. While I can not comment on how accurate the Mormon depiction is represented in the book, I do have a little clearer understanding of the religion. 
    As Sebastian begins to return Tanner's flirtation, questions arise about how far he's willing to push his faith and how satisfied Tanner can be in the shadows. The romance between Sebastian and Tanner is incredibly sweet though I wished it was not insta-love. Regardless, all of the characters are highly relatable and the plot is thoroughly engaging. There are bittersweet moments along with the happy sighs of contentment. While sexual identity and faith are important themes in Autoboyography, the book is also about family, friendship, acceptance, and being true to yourself.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, homophobic slurs, and a fade to black sex scene. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Kamala Khan has vanished! But where has she gone, and why? Jersey City still has a need for heroes, and in the wake of Ms. Marvel's disappearance, dozens have begun stepping up to the plate. The city's newest super hero Red Dagger and even ordinary citizens attempt to carry on the brave fight in Kamala's honor. Somehow, Ms. Marvel is nowhere...but also everywhere at once! Absent but not forgotten, Ms. Marvel has forged a heroic legacy to be proud of. But when an old enemy re-emerges, will anyone be powerful enough to truly carry the Ms. Marvel legacy - except Kamala herself?

Review: Volume 9 is another enjoyable addition to the Ms. Marvel graphic novel series. In this volume Kamala is pouting and self declared unnecessary since the media has caught Red Dagger mania. Now Kamala can not be found. While Kamala is sulking, her friends have taken turns to become Ms. Marvel without the superhero abilities. The spotlight is on the secondary characters for the first half of this graphic novel and I enjoyed watching them act as a team. There is a nice discussion of what makes a hero and how we should help ourselves.
  The story moves at a quick pace. The Inventor, the old villain from the second volume returns and I didn't care much for him or his scheme to harm senior citizens. I did, however, love the comments the Wakandian student abroad makes about visiting the U.S. Bruno has returned, which stirs up old feelings for Kamala. Now that she is placed in a love triangle with the Red Dagger, we will have to see how this pans out. I hope this part of the story is not dragged out. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong violence and minor language. Suitable for middle grade readers and up.

If you like this book try: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 10 by G. Willow Wilson, The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Thor: The Goddess of Thunder by Jason Aaron, The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks
Rummanah Aasi

Description: Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you're only in the eighth grade, you're both a threat and a target. Marcus knows what classmates and teachers see when they look at him: a monster. But appearances are deceiving. At home, Marcus is a devoted brother. And he finds ways to earn cash to contribute to his family’s rainy day fund. His mom works long hours and his dad walked out ten years ago—someone has to pick up the slack.
   After a fight at school leaves him facing suspension, Marcus and his family decide to hit the reset button and regroup for a week in Puerto Rico. Marcus is more interested in finding his father, though, who is somewhere on the island. Through a series of misadventures that take Marcus all over Puerto Rico in search of the elusive Mr. Vega, Marcus meets a colorful cast of characters who show him the many faces of fatherhood. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.

Review: Pablo Cartaya delivers another compelling read about the meaning of family, identity, and culture, set in pre–Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico in Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish. Marcus is an intimidating middle schooler due to his sheer size: six feet tall and 180 pounds, but he is gentle and devoted to his mom and younger brother, Charlie, who has Down syndrome. He is aware of his mother's struggles in working long hours and being absent from home due to financial constraints. One of the ways he “helps out” is earning extra cash by charging schoolmates protection money to keep them safe from the real bullies. When one of those bullies insults Charlie, Marcus uses his immense strength to put the bully in his place. The fallout from Marcus’s violent act leads to his suspension from school and a family crisis. Marcus’s mother decides the family needs a week in Puerto Rico, where Marcus was born and where his absentee father’s relatives still live, to figure things out.
 Spending time with his extended family and traveling across the Puerto Rican countryside (pre-Hurricane Maria as noted in the author’s note) opens Marcus' eyes to his heritage. He learns about his Puerto Rican culture despite the re-occuring refrain that he doesn't speak Spanish. Eventually he learns that speaking a language does not prevent you from understanding family and familial love. As his cultural bonds tighten, Marcus gains a new understanding of his mother’s struggles and his own important roles as both son and older brother.

Rating: 4 stars


Words of Caution: There are scenes of bullying and a derogatory word is mentioned for a special needs student. Recommended for Grades 5 and up.


If you like this book try: The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez and Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
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