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Book Review: Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu

Title: Eventown

Author: Corey Ann Haydu

Publisher: Katherine Teegan Books, 2019

ISBN#: 978-0062689818

Middle grade fantasy comes in a variety of make believe; from talking cats hiding in bathtubs to space invaders from galaxies far, far away. However, in Eventown, the magic is lurking under the surface in just about everything, even if new resident twins Elodee and Naomi don’t quite know it yet. 

When the book begins, it’s clear that Elodee and Naomi, along with their parents, have been under stress for the last half-year, although readers don’t find out why until much, much later. Choosing a “fresh start” over more of the same, they leave most of their possessions, including many favorites, behind as they return to Eventown, a place they once visited before. In Eventown, everything seems better and well, perfect. Elodee’s recipes are near flawless and Naomi rarely needs to practice gymnastics in order to produce a perfect routine (which just so happens to be the same routine as all her teammates). The weather is always sunny, teachers are always kind, and the ice cream…well, it never melts. 

After Elodee’s sharing session at the Welcoming Center is interrupted, odd things begin happening. The rose bush they brought from Juniper doesn’t look like all the other rose bushes in town. Weeds begin appearing. And then…it begins to rain. 

Elodee, along with new sidekick Veena, make a risky decision to get to the bottom of not just this mystery, but a few other nagging issues that result in quite the discovery. Things aren’t what they appear to be in Eventown. 

While I greatly enjoyed the mystery lurking underneath this story, the book also serves as a vehicle in tackling some big topics, like mental illness, suicide, and grief. Concepts about identity and embracing your imperfections also heavily define this book. However, my favorite theme in this book is simple: love.

“Love, in the way we take care of each other when we’re hurting. Love, in a town covered in vines and thorns and roses and color. Love, strongest in the worst, scariest, most painful moments. Love, even better when the sky is gray and your heart is breaking.” (p. 324)

While the Lively family is portrayed as white, they become friends with an Indian family. Another secondary character has two moms. 

Although Amazon lists this book as being well-suited for kids 8-12 or grades 3-7, I think parents of kids on the younger end of this spectrum should be advised of the heavy-hitting topics. It would make a great book to read together. On the flip side, I think this book could be of high interest to lower readers in the upper grades. 

This title earned 3 starred reviews (Publishers’ Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews), but perhaps the best review of this book comes from another esteemed middle grade author, Rebecca Stead: 

“A wonderful and inventive story about being a kid in an imperfect world—beautiful, mysterious, and deeply satisfying.”

Rebecca Stead

I gave this book a 5 star review on Goodreads.

Read-alikes for this book could include Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson-Haddix. While this book would be considered historical fiction and not fantasy, the element of “things aren’t as they appear to be” is the same, a very good way to hook kids into finishing the book.

Another fantasy title that deals with grief, love, and identity, albeit in a different way, would be Newbery winner When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller. You can see our review on it here. 

Do your kids like a preview or book trailer before they commit? Try this one!

Haydu, Corey Ann. Eventown. Katherine Teegan, 2019.

Book Review: When You Trap A Tiger, 2021 Newbery Winner

Title: When You Trap A Tiger

Author: Tae Keller

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020

ISBN #978-1-5247-1570-0

When You Trap a Tiger is the newest Newbery Award Winner and along with that comes pretty high expectations! For some readers, this might be their first dip into magical realism, a type of fiction that depicts the world as it appears, but with hints or forces of magic as well. 

In this case, Lily, older sister, Sam, and her mother move in with Halmoni, (the Korean word for Grandmother), in a small town in Oregon from California. As they near Halmoni’s house, Lily sees a tiger in the middle of the road no one else sees. Lily continues to not only see the tiger, but is forced to barter with her in order to help save Halmoni from grave illness. More than just a quest to save her grandmother, Lily navigates her relationships with family members and potential new friendships, all while deciding what type of person she wants to be and dealing with a tiger! 

Outside of themes from the Korean folktales, this book captures additional themes of identity, the circle of life, adolescence (slight spoiler alert: older sister Sam will reveal a budding romance at the end), cancer, single-parent families, overcoming fear, and learning deficits. If your child tends to be an introvert in a made-for-extroverts world, Lily will be an inspiring character. 

“I accept it, and warmth spreads up my fingertips and through my body. A small part of me perks up, smiles. And I’m not sure the smiles reaches my face, but maybe this is how healing starts – small bits of happiness waking up inside you, until maybe one day it spreads through your whole self.” -Lily

Tae Keller, When You Trap a Tiger

With the introduction of Korean folktales, this book may be a gateway to discussion about similarities and differences between traditional tales from around the world. However, many children may find the folktales and tiger narrative in this book confusing, especially since the reader continues to question whether or not the tiger is real or only in Lily’s mind. The book is recommended for grades 3-7 or ages 8-12. 

This book brought to mind several other favorites. First, the unique characters and quaint town setting reminded me of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, with Halmoni’s likeness to Gloria Dump and Joe, the librarian, another perennial town fixture like Otis or Miss Franny.

“I like order. I like organization. The idea of all the information in the world, all organized, everything in its place- I like that idea. But I’ve been doing this job for a long time. And the thing I’ve learned is that stories aren’t about order and organization. They’re about feelings. And feelings don’t always make sense. See, stories are like…water. Like rain. We can hold them tight, but they always slip through our fingers. That can be scary. But remember that water gives us life. It connects continents. It connects people. And in the quiet moments, when the water’s still, sometimes we can see our own reflection.” -Joe”

Tae Keller, When You Trap a Tiger

I also thought of Circus Mirandus, another example of magical realism, by Cassie Beasley. As Grandpa Ephraim nears his last days, he shares his stories of Circus Mirandus with grandson, Micah, who comes to believe clues to unanswered questions must certainly be found in the circus. Finally, I thought of Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, the story of Jackson and the reappearance of his imaginary cat friend, when life for his family becomes increasingly difficult. 

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. I felt that as an adult, I was equipped to handle many of the themes and could navigate the gray area between fantasy and reality. However, I felt that many middle grade readers might be too confused or overwhelmed to appreciate all the book has to offer. The read-alike books above may be better suited to that age group. 

Keller, Tae. When You Trap A Tiger. New York, Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020.

Illustrator Review: Jason Chin

Award-winning author and illustrator, Jason Chin.

Chances are likely that if you’re reading with a child, he/she will urge you to stop and take a closer look at the illustrations. 

Chances are likely they will notice a detail you would have missed, had you not slowed down. 

Chances are likely when you slow down, you’ll begin to savor those illustrations. 

Chances are likely you’ll realize that many illustrations are of incredible artistic quality, from the smallest of brush strokes, to layers of many forms of media, to the white space that leaves room for the imaginations and draws readers in to the heart of the story. 

And this is how I fell in love with author and illustrator Jason Chin and his realistic paintings, found in both fiction and nonfiction.

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Book Review: Becoming Muhammed Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander

Becoming Muhammed Ali, by James Patterson Kwame Alexander, published by Jimmy Patterson, 2020. ISBN 978-0316498166

Yes, this book lived up to the hype (starred reviews by School Library Journal, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus Review).

Yes, even if you’re not a boxing fan, this book is incredible.

Yes, middle grade sports fans will go nuts for it.

Yes, it reads just like historical fiction instead of a biography.

Yes, the full page, graphic novel-ish illustrations by Dawud Anyabwile are a perfect addition to Ali’s biography.

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Book Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal. Published in 2018 by Candlewick Press. ISBN 978-0-7636-9355-8

Every name has a story and your kids have mostly asked to be told the story of their name. Many have asked to hear it again. And again. 

Some name stories are long, while others are simple. 

In Alma and How She Got Her Name, Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela complains that her name is too long.

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Book Review: Another by Christian Robinson

I read Another when it first came out in 2019. I read it quickly and while I thought the illustrations were, as Christian Robinson’s always are, gorgeous. However, it didn’t move me and I gave it a 3 star review on Goodreads, and never thought about it again. It wasn’t on my list of books to buy for the library. 

Another, written and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Published in 2019 by Antheneum. ISBN: 978-1-5344-2167-7

Fast forward to last Saturday. The day was wide open and my daughter suggested we head to the library and get, in her words, “a big ol’ stack of picture books and read away.” So, that’s what we did. This has long been a favorite activity of ours and we hadn’t done it in awhile. We separated and then gave ourselves 10 minutes to find 5-10 picture books that grab our attention or are by authors we love. Another was in her stack and it was the first book she picked to read when we got home. 

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Book Review: Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham

Outside, Inside, by LeUyen Pham, published in 2021 by Roaring Brook Press.
ISBN 978-1-250-79835-0

I won’t lie, to quote the Grinch, my heart might have grown three sizes after I read this book. As far as history goes, we know that processing the pandemic is going to be important for years and years to come, especially for our children. No matter your age, perhaps the first step is reading Outside, Inside. Caldecott Honor winner LeUyeun Pham delivers this heavy hitter via an incredible combination of realistic artwork meets global fantasy, where a windy lane appears to have homes from all over the world to inside a typical American bedroom, the reader looks at the outside world from inside. This view includes the myriad of ways helpers helped and nonessential workers stayed home. It shows how people stayed connected and how we continued to show love. However, it’s realistic in the sense that there is still a feeling of loneliness, reminding us all that we NEED human connection. The book includes a foldout that made me feel as though Pham wanted to enfold us in a hug. 

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Book Review: Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas. Published by Balzer + Bray, and imprint of HarperCollins, 2021. ISBN 978-0-06-284671-6

Concrete Rose, written by Angie Thomas, published in 2021. (Yep, it’s hot off the press!) This book is the prequel to The Hate U Give (2017), a Printz Honor book and Coretta Scott King Honor Book and On the Come Up (2019). This book features the story of Maverick Carter. You might remember him as the fun-loving, yet serious father of Starr Carter. The story follows Maverick’s senior year at Garden High, a year certainly full of ups and downs that includes becoming a father. One of the things I loved the most about this book is revisiting many of the characters from The Hate U Give. Having the added information about events that took place nearly 20 years before Starr was born adds depth to the characters. One of the things I disliked about this book prior to reading it was the cover. I felt the red was too bold and it didn’t draw me in, despite red being my favorite color. However, ¾ of the way through, the cover made perfect sense, in many, many ways. The book is yet another reminder that everyone is going through something and we are best not to judge. 

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Book Review: All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team

Title: All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team

Author: Christina Soontornvat

Publisher: Candlewick

Copyright date: October, 2020

Age range: grades 3-7, but I couldn’t put it down! This would be a wonderful book for teens with lower reading levels due to the high interest, short chapters, and graphics. 

Readers, there is a reason why this book has won so many awards and has 7 starred reviews. 

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Book Review: Saturdays Are for Stella

Title: Saturdays Are for Stella

Author: Candy Wellins

Illustrator: Charlie Eve Ryan

Publisher: Page Street Kids

Copyright date: August, 2020

Age range: preschool-3rd grade

This seemingly simple book about a boy named George who visits his Grandma Stella each Saturday is packed with teachable moments. George and Stella do many fun things together, both the simple (making popcorn) to the more special (like trips to museums). It is clear that both savor the traditions that Saturdays together bring.

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