January 10 – It’s National Hot Tea Month

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About the Holiday

I must confess that this is one of my favorite holidays. To me there’s nothing better than waking up with a well-steeped cup of tea, writing while a favorite mug brimming with hot tea sweetened with honey sits nearby, enjoying scones with clotted cream and jam and a hot cuppa…well…you get the picture. People have drunk tea since earliest times for its soothing and medicinal properties. Mellower than coffee and available in endless varieties and tastes, hot tea is just the thing for relaxing moments. Today, enjoy your favorite tea or try a new kind! There’s a world of tea to be discovered – as today’s book reveals!

Thank you to Greystone Books for sharing a copy of Teatime Around the World with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Teatime Around the World

Written by Denyse Waissbluth | Illustrated by Chelsea O’Byrne

 

Two women sit at a table with steaming cups of tea in front of them, talking. “Tea for one. Tea for two.” To the side sits a teapot, its contents still warm. At their feet a child is having a tea party with a bear, jauntily clad in a feathered hat. Cookies, strawberries, and croissants fill out this feast served from a special tea set. “Tea for me. Tea for you.” Tea time continues in Morocco, where a father and child kneel on pillows. The father pours out three cups of mint tea. Made with green tea, mint, and sugar, each cup of tea will have “a slightly different taste.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

In India a street vendor sells a cup of masala chai to a woman, who’s looking for a peaceful break during her day. The “strong tea and spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, and pepper…boiled with milk and sweetened” will hit the spot. Hot tea is relaxing, but on a hot day there’s nothing more refreshing than a glass of iced tea. In Thailand, locals and tourists enjoy cha yen, sold from street vendors’ carts. This “strongly brewed sweet tea is poured over ice and drunk from a bag through a straw. Indigenous people in North America soothe fevers, colds, sore muscles, and even sleepless nights with tea made from “berries, plants, and roots.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

Special tea times—like chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony during which matcha, a powdered green tea is served, and afternoon tea, enjoyed with trays of treats world wide—bring people together for comforting respites. You’ll be interested to discover the origins of afternoon tea too! Tea can be served quietly or dramatically, like “teh tarik, or pulled tea…the national drink of Malaysia,” is “poured from up high, or ‘pulled’ between two mugs, to make it frothy.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

Tea is as old as its discovery thousands of years ago in China and as new as bubble tea, created in Taiwan in the 1980s. In Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, yerba maté tea is served in hollowed-out gourds with a “special straw called a bombilla,” while in Jamaica sorrel, made from roselle hibiscus buds, “spiced with ginger, cloves, and sugar,” is perfect for any festive occasion. No matter where you live, what flavors of tea you enjoy, or how you serve it, you can always count on “tea for one. / Tea for two. / Loved by all / the whole world through.”

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Image copyright Chelsea O’Byrne, 2020, text copyright Denyse Waissbluth, 2020. Courtesy of Greystone Books.

With a lilting poem that flows from page to page, Denyse Waissbluth introduces unique flavors, special brew methods, and the comforting feeling a cup of hot or iced tea infuses into a day. The shared experience of tea drinking provides a fascinating touchstone for Waissbluth’s travelogue that takes kids around the world to experience the rituals, recipes, and traditions from each country that make their tea unique. Waissbluth’s conversational style will appeal to kids looking to learn how global cultures are similar to and different from their own.

Chelsea O’Byrne’s lovely matte illustrations take children to cities, the countryside, and the seaside around the globe, revealing not only diverse scenes of how tea is made, served, and enjoyed, but homes, food, and clothing as well. Children will be excited to see such homey and intimate portraits of their peers around the world.

Sure to spur readers to learn more about the countries featured and entice them to try their signature teas, Teatime Around the World would enhance geography, history, and multicultural lessons for school and homeschooling and is highly recommended for school and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Greystone Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1771646017

You can connect with Denyse Waissbluth on Instagram.

To learn more about Chelsea O’Byrne, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Hot Tea Month Activity

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Tea for You! Word Search

 

Can you find the names of eighteen delicious teas from around the world in this printable puzzle?

Tea for You! Word Search Puzzle | Tea for You! Word Search Solution

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You can find Teatime Around the World at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 20 – Get Ready to Celebrate New Year’s Eve

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About the Holiday

As we get ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve and the beginning of a new year, adults and kids often look for opportunities to reflect and grow while sharing the traditions that keep our families and friendships strong. Today’s book embraces all three of these parts of New Year’s Eve and is a reassuring and uplifting read aloud for the holiday and throughout the year.

Thanks to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

 

Ava Gabriela and her mamá and papa were visiting her grandmother’s farm for the New Years holiday. Her aunts, uncles and cousins were there too, but she had never met her tías and tíos or primas and primos before, and they “didn’t feel like familia yet.” When her mother prompted her to say hola, Ava Gabriela nervously opened her mouth, but no words came out. And when Abuelita asked if a mouse had nibbled her tongue, Ava hid behind Mamá. But then Tía Nena approached with her hand extended and asked, “‘Want to help us make buñuelos?’ Ava hesitated. But the fried cheesy fritters were her favorite.” Ava took Tía Nena’s hand and went into the kitchen.

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

There she found her cousins Sarita and Javier. Together they made the dough. As Tía Nena rolled it out, Sarita and Javier laughed and talked, but Ava watched silently. Even when Tía Nena sprinkled flour in her hair, Ava couldn’t call for a food fight like she wanted to but only giggled. After the buñuelos were finished, Ava’s cousins ran outside. Ava wanted to call after them to wait, “but her voice hid like a mouse in its hole” so Ava explored the farm by herself. When she found her mamá talking with Abuelita, she quietly asked her why she was so shy. Mamá reassured her that when she was ready, her voice would “come out and play.” After a hug, Ava felt a little better.

In another part of the house, Ava found her primo Pedro blowing up balloons for “el Año Viejo,” the balloon doll they would pop when the old year turned into a new year. When Pedro asked if she’d like to help, her words stuck in her throat again, but Pedro invited her to build the Año Viejo while he blew up balloons. When the doll’s clothes were all stuffed, Pedro handed Ava the marker to add the face. In her heart she was saying thank you, and then she realized that “she could say thank you. ‘Gracias,’” she said. “The word was whispery soft but tasted sweet like dulce de leche.”

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The next morning, when Ava saw Mamá and Abuelita filling cups with twelve grapes that would bring good luck in the new year, Ava “plucked one and said a silent wish: Please let me not be shy today.” Then she ran outside. This time when her tía and Pedro talked to her, she answered back, but when Tío Mario called out, her voice disappeared again. Soon it was time to change for the celebration. Outside, lanterns twinkled and the table was spread with delicious food. While everyone else talked and played, Ava sat next to the Año Viejo. “Don’t you want to play? It seemed to ask.”

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Just then fireworks burst across the sky. Ava ran out into the yard. Her cousins came out too and asked if she’d like to play tag. Once again she knew she could and would say yes. “With her heart galloping, Ava blurted, ‘Sí.’ Her cousins cheered.” As she ran off with her primos, Ava felt feliz. When midnight came, Ava helped pop the Año Viejo and joined in as they all called out “‘¡Feliz Año Nuevo!’”

In an Author’s Note, Alexandra Alessandri reveals more about the Christmas season, which is celebrated from December 7 through January 6, in her native Columbia and across Latin America and the Caribbean. She describes the food, music, traditions, and superstitions associated with New Year’s Eve and talks about the significance of the Año Viejo. A glossary of words and phrases used in the story is also provided in the back matter.

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Alexandra Alessandri’s lovely story organically combines Spanish and English to create a smoothly flowing story that brings to life the Columbian traditions of New Years and el Año Viejo while acknowledging how big gatherings of family and friends can be intimidating for some children. Through beautiful, lyrical language that incorporates imagery from Spanish idioms, food, animals, and musical instruments, Alessandri portrays a realistic picture of the emotions shyness can cause in children – and adults. Readers will be charmed by sweet and thoughtful Ava Gabriela and empathize with her feelings as she has small successes as well as setbacks on her way to feeling comfortable and finding her voice with her family. Hesitant and shy children will recognize themselves in Ava and welcome Alessandri’s sensitive depiction of her inner conflict. The understanding Ava’s mamá gives her is full of heartfelt love and models the kind of support that helps shy children thrive.

Addy Rivera Sonda’s fresh, cheerful illustrations will captivate readers with details that paint an enchanting portrait of this loving family and Abuelita’s tidy farmhouse from the opening scene, in which Ava’s family is welcomed home, to the tiled accents, chickens in the yard, and preparations for the New Year’s celebration. Sonda does an excellent job of portraying Ava’s fluctuating emotions—giggling at silly things but then too hesitant to say the words on the tip of her tongue and wandering the farm alone when she’d like to be playing with her cousins. Children who celebrate el Año Viejo will be excited to see their fun and meaningful tradition depicted here and kids who are not familiar with it will be intrigued to learn more. As Ava’s family gets ready for New Year’s Eve, children will also enjoy seeing other parts of the celebration that are aimed at bringing good luck for the next year.

A beautiful and superbly composed book rich in Columbian and Latin American culture that can also ease discussions about shyness, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! will be a favorite on home bookshelves for all kids. The book would also spark fun and educational cross-curricular activities, making it a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807504505

Discover more about Alexandra Alessandri and her books on her website.

To learn more about Addy Rivera Sonda and view a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

Get Ready for New Year’s Eve Activity

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New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

 

Celebrate the New Year with this printable coloring page! You might even want to add some glitter to make the fireworks even more spectacular!

New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

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You can find Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

December 14 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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Review by Jakki Licare

Stand up, Yumi Chung!

By Jessica Kim | Cover Illustration by Jennifer Hom

 

Synopsis

This synopsis contains spoilers

Yumi Chung is enjoying her summer and the fact that she doesn’t have to go to her private school and deal with a bully everyday. So when her mom tells her they can no longer afford her private school because the family’s restaurant isn’t doing well, Yumi is thrilled. Unfortunately, Yumi’s mom still wants her to go to the private school because she believes it will help her get into a good university. To this end, Yumi’s mom signs her up for Hagwon – test-prep school – to help her study for the SSAT. If Yumi can pass the SSAT with a 98% or better then she can get an academic scholarship to her private school. 

On her way to the library to study, Yumi discovers a comedy club opening up. When she hears her favorite YouTube comedian, Jasmine Jasper, inside, she can’t resist peeking in. Jasmine sees Yumi and welcomes her to the summer comedy camp. Jasmine thinks Yumi is the no-show camper, Kay. Yumi’s so flustered, she doesn’t correct the mistake and finds herself joining in on an improv exercise. Yumi has a great time at the camp and can’t bring herself to tell Jasmine that she isn’t Kay.

Later, the Hagwon leader meets with Yumi and points out how Yumi often bubbles in the correct answer, but then second guesses herself. She encourages Yumi to be more confident in herself. Another day on her way to the library, Yumi bumps into a comedy camp friend and decides to pretend to be Kay again. After all, the Hagwon leader told her to be more confident, and Yumi has never felt more confident than when she’s pretending to be Kay. Yumi’s camp friends tell her about a new performing arts magnet school. Yumi wants to apply, but doesn’t think her parents will let her.

As Yumi continues going to the camp, she realizes that she should show her parents how important comedy is to her. She decides to trick them into going to the comedy showcase. If they can see how happy she is on stage then maybe they’ll let her apply for the Performing Arts school. But first, she has to prove to them that performing won’t interfere with her academics; so Yumi starts studying.

Yumi joins the campers at a nursing home where they’ll practice performing comedy to a real audience. Yumi’s excited, but her set is a big flop. Jasmine pulls her aside afterwards and tells her not to give up. Just because the jokes didn’t work doesn’t mean they’re failures.

Yumi’s dad builds a karaoke stage to drum up business for their restaurant. She becomes alarmed when she finds out her parents are behind on the rent and that if they don’t raise $6,000 in eight days the restaurant will have to close. Yumi talks to her big sister about the restaurant and after a little slip, her sister finds out that she’s been pretending to be Kay.  She scolds Yumi for lying and makes her promise to tell Jasmine the truth.

Yumi goes to tell Jasmine the truth in person, but she chickens out and decides to drop out of the comedy showcase instead. Yumi returns to camp to sneak an apology note into Jasmine’s bag, but before she can, the real Kay shows up. Yumi is caught in her lie and her parents discover that she’s been secretly going to the comedy camp instead of studying. They ground Yumi and take away her phone.

Her parents hold a grand reopening after renovating the restaurant, but they don’t raise enough money. Yumi’s father apologizes to her for not doing better and explains that this is why they want her to study so hard. He doesn’t want her to struggle like he has. She tells him about how important comedy is to her and surprisingly, her dad understands.  He loves the stage too. He wanted to be a gasu, a singer, when he was younger, but he couldn’t support his family with singing. He tells her he really wants what’s best for her and that going to a good school is the best thing for her. 

When Yumi gets her phone back, she FaceTimes with her camp friends and apologizes for deceiving them. Her new friends accept her apology. As they start  joking around, Yumi gets the idea to do an open mic night at the restaurant. Her friends are excited about the idea and encourage her to reach out to Jasmine so she can spread the word through the comedy club. 

Yumi goes to the comedy club and apologizes to Jasmine. They work things out and Jasmine agrees to spread the word. Yumi runs home and tells her parents about the open mic night idea. They’re skeptical, but agree to give it a chance. On the night of the show, a lot of people show up, but no one wants to be first up on stage. Yumi raises her hand.

Yumi struggles in the beginning of her set, but with the encouragement of her friends she regains her footing and continues on. She jokes about her ordinary summer of stealing another person’s identity, but at the end of her act she states that she’s learned to be happy with who she is. Everyone applauds and Yumi gets to experience her first comedian high. After they close, the family races to the computer to calculate the night’s revenue. They discover that they made over $7,000, and the restaurant is saved.

A week later, as Yumi is talking to her sister about how excited she is to start improv classes, an email pops up on her phone congratulating her on her academic scholarship. Yumi is okay with going back to her private school because she knows things won’t be the same. She’s confident about who she is now, and this time she won’t hold herself back.

Review

If you’re looking for a book that will make your middle-grade reader chuckle, Stand Up, Yumi Chung! is the perfect pick. Yumi’s funny asides about her daily struggles and her stand-up jokes make this book a laugh-out-loud read. When her mother makes snide comments about her hair and then makes her get a perm that she doesn’t want, Yumi writes out a whole comedy routine about it. Her punchline summarizes the experience perfectly: “Sometimes you just have to brush it off. The comments and the dandruff.”

Not only will Yumi’s funny jokes keep readers giggling throughout the book, but watching her attend improv classes, perform a set, and suffer as her jokes fall flat will show how hard Yumi has to work at being funny. When the punchline to Yumi’s joke about how her parents won’t pay her for every A she gets on her report card, the audience members murmur that her parents are abusive and tiger parents. Yumi is devastated that no one gets the joke, and she’s determined to throw the whole act out until Jasmine explains to her that most jokes start out as failures. When a joke fails it tells you something isn’t working and it’s a comedian’s job to try to fix it, Jasmine explains.

For readers curious to learn how improv comedy works, they can pull up a seat right next to Yumi and learn along with her. I thought it’s especially interesting to see how important teamwork is in improv. One skit that her friends do together flops because they each do their own thing and don’t build off of each other. When they try again, one camper makes a comment about how if he doesn’t get food soon he’ll turn “to the dark side.” One of Yumi’s other friends picks up on this comment and pretends to be Darth Vader. Then Yumi jumps in and lets out a Chewbacca roar. By working together their skit soon fills the auditorium with laughter.

But the main reason I’ll recommend this book to any middle grader is Yumi’s character transformation. In the beginning she can’t even tell her mom she doesn’t want a perm. Then, when the Hagwon leader tells her she needs to be more confident, Yumi finds her confidence not in herself but in pretending to be Kay. By the end of the book, however, she finds the strength to apologize to her friends and Jasmine for pretending to be Kay. She opens up to her father about her dreams, and she’s even able to do a comedy set in front of her parents, making jokes about her summer’s mistakes. Best of all, though, Yumi has the confidence to go back to her old school and is willing to put herself out there. 

If you’re looking for a book that will make your kids giggle while teaching them the importance of being comfortable with who they are, then Stand up, Yumi Chung! is a must read to add to your home, classroom, and school library.

Discover more about Jessica Kim and her writing on her website.

Ages 9 – 12

Kokila, Penguin Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0525554974 (Hardcover); ISBN 978-0525554998 (Paperback)

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Activity Kit

 

You can find loads of puzzles, prompts, curriculum extensions, and even a recipe for Korean Bugogi on Jessica Kim’s website here.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-stand-up-yumi-chung-cover

You can find Stand Up, Yumi Chung! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 29 – Middle Grade Monday

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Review by Jakki Licare

Dragon Legend

By Katie & Kevin Tsang

 

Synopsis

This synopsis contains spoilers

Dragon Legend continues the exciting saga begun in the first book of the series, Dragon Mountain, in which San Franciscan Billy Chan, attending a summer camp in China to improve his Mandarin language skills and learn more about his Chinese heritage, discovers that he and his friends, Charlotte, Ling-Fei, and Dylan, are destined to bond with dragons who are guarding a portal that leads to the Dragon Realm. Once they’re bonded, the dragons gain strength in ability as well as in size. Through the dragons’ mystical pearls, the kids also gain super powers. Charlotte receives super strength, Ling-Fei can sense nature, Dylan has the power of persuasion, and Billy gains super agility.

These dragons tried to keep an evil dragon, known as the Dragon of Death, out of the Human Realm, but they were unable to defeat her so they sent her through a time portal to the past. Now in the Dragon Realm, evil dragons are trying to open up a time portal and bring back the Dragon of Death. Billy and his friends are able to stop the evil dragons and close the time portal. But not before Old Gold, the owner of the summer camp, kidnaps Billy’s best friend, Dylan, and jumps through the time portal before it closes. (for a full synopsis and my review check it out here: https://celebratepicturebooks.com/tag/dragon-mountain-book-review/)

As Dragon Legend opens, Billy, Charlotte, Ling-Fei, and their dragons must create a portal to go back in time to save their friend Dylan who was kidnapped by Old Gold, the owner of the summer camp the children have been attending. The group agrees that JJ, Old Gold’s grandson, can come too so he can find his grandfather. While they all believe that JJ will be helpful in locating Dylan in the Dragon Realm, they don’t trust him and tend to exclude JJ from the group.  Billy’s dragon, Spark, swallows a star to create a portal and they are transported back in time to the Dragon Realm.

With the help of some dragon parents and a cute flying pig, Billy and his friends find Dylan entrapped in a tree by dark magic. JJ is able to open the tree because his grandfather created the spell. Billy and his friends are thrilled to have Dylan back, but JJ, who has felt like an outcast among the group, lets the tree ensnare him. He wants to wait for his grandfather.

Billy feels conflicted over JJ’s decision but ultimately decides that there isn’t anything he can do about it. Dylan tells the group that Old Gold has bonded with the Dragon of Death and together they are searching for the remaining mystical pearls. In all there are 8 pearls, inspired by the  Chinese symbols of the Eight Great Treasures. The group is determined to find the rest of the pearls before the Dragon of Death does. As they travel, Spark confesses to Billy that since she swallowed the star she craves the power that comes from dark magic and now she hungers for more. She promises BIlly that she will fight it, and Billy vows to help her.

To find the Ice pearl Billy and his friends have to travel to the Frozen Wasteland on their own. The dragons can’t cross a magical barrier that separates the dragons from their mortal enemy, the worms. While the kids negotiate with a giant hungry fish for passage and fend off giant scorpions, they discover that their powers are enhancing. Dylan can create illusions, Ling-Fei can open up the earth, and BIlly is even faster than before and can create electric shields. After Charlotte defeats the Wasteland Worm and captures the Ice pearl, the group discovers that Charlotte has been lethally bitten by the giant worm. Using their new powers and working together they are able to locate a flower to heal her. Once Charlotte is healed, they create a portal using the magic from their pearls to get back to their dragons.

As soon as they reunite with their dragons, they all head off to the human realm to find the Diamond pearl. They travel into ancient China and steal the Diamond pearl from the emperor’s headdress. The Dragon of Death appears with JJ and Old Gold. JJ has bonded with Dimitrius, a noxwing they fought in Dragon Mountain. Billy tries to convince JJ to come to their side, but JJ refuses.

Dylan and his dragon, Buttons, protect the humans from the Dragon of Death’s poisonous breath. Ling-Fei and her dragon attack the Dragon of Death while Charlotte and her dragon attack the noxwings. Billy and Spark go after JJ and his pearl. Billy grabs the pearl just as JJ’s dragon tries to blast him with fire. Spark reacts just in time and blasts Dimitrius and JJ with an electrical net. Billy is stunned by the look of pain on JJ’s face, but before he can ask Spark about it, he has to help Charlotte who falls off her dragon’s back. Billy catches Charlotte and together they fight the noxwings. Spark entraps the noxwings with an electrical net and BIlly is surprised when Spark starts sucking away the noxwings’s life force. Spark then ensnares the Dragon of Death with an electrical net and starts to feed off of her life force too.

The dragons decide that the Dragon of Death must be turned into a star. Spark releases JJ and Old Gold, and they are all shocked that Spark has injured them. Spark gathers the pearls from everyone so she can turn the Dragon of Death into a star, but then she releases the Dragon of Death. Spark acknowledges that the Dragon of Death is too powerful to fight and gives her the pearls. Everyone is stunned by Spark’s betrayal, and Billy feels guilty for hiding Spark’s struggle with dark magic. The Dragon of Death uses the pearls to call forth a turtle named Destiny Bringer. Destiny Bringer shows the Dragon of Death eight different destinies and the Dragon of Death chooses one.

Billy wakes up back in the human realm, but the entire human race is enslaved by the Dragon of Death. He’s thankful that he is still with his friends and explains to them all that he has a plan. Together they will defeat the Dragon of Death.

Review

 

Dragon lovers rejoice! The second book in the Dragon Realm series is here and it’s ready to sweep you back into Dragon Realm. Like the first book, Dragon Legend is a fast-paced adventure that will keep your middle grader on the edge of their seat. Be prepared to join Billy Chan, his friends and their dragons as they face off with the Dragon of Death. Katie and Kevin Tsang’s imagination soars to new levels in Dragon Legend. The fantasy world is filled with memorable locales like the Forgotten Sea, a body of water that can only be seen by those who remember it.

The children also must cross the daunting blood strait, a river of blood that separates the dragons from the worms. Additionally, they must also traverse the Frozen Wasteland that looks like a frozen “thrashing ocean” while the ground is covered in bones. While the majority of the story takes place in the dragon realm, my favorite part was when the kids travel into the human realm. Here we get to fly over the great wall of China on a dragon’s back, protect the imperial palace and its inhabitants from the noxwings’ fiery breath, and steal the Diamond pearl from the emperor’s headdress.

One of my son’s favorite things about Dragon Mountain was when the kids discover their magic. So he was thrilled when, in Dragon Legend, the kids’ magical powers begin to evolve. Kevin and Katie cleverly string these evolutions throughout the story, adding an extra element of surprise to many of the fight scenes. For example, Dylan’s power of persuasion evolves into the power to create illusions just as the drifters, hungry soaring jellyfish-like creatures, are about to descend upon them. Dylan is able to distract the drifters from eating them with an illusion of their group in a different location. Then, when they are trying to steal the Diamond pearl from the emperor’s headdress, Dylan’s powers evolve again, allowing him to camouflage people in invisibility.

Like the first book, a major theme of Dragon Legend is the power of working together, but this time we see the negative effects of not working together in JJ’s storyline. Kevin and Katie explore the feelings of exclusion and distrust when JJ joins the group. JJ’s close relationship with his grandfather makes the kids distrust him, when the reality is that JJ is just as confused by his grandfather’s actions as they are. 

In the beginning when Dylan is missing, JJ feels as if he can’t live up to Dylan’s image and believes that everyone is disappointed that they have him instead of Dylan. The kids could have befriended JJ and potentially gained another ally, but their distrustful nature create their own enemy. To add fuel to the flames, Katie and Kevin add in  Spark’s mistreatment of JJ at the end, leaving a wonderful plot thread for us to explore through the rest of the series. I won’t lie, my middle grade-loving heart is hoping for a reconciliation.

Spark’s struggle and her craving for dark magic took this series to a whole new level. The entire first book built up BIlly’s bond with Spark, so Billy’s debate of whether to keep Spark’s struggle a secret or to tell the others about it had my son and me on the edge of our seats. Every time Spark’s eyes flickered black my son and I groaned out loud. Like Billy, we too, are rooting for Spark to overcome her craving for dark magic. I’m very interested in seeing how Billy’s and Spark’s relationship plays out in the next book.

If your child enjoyed The Land of Roar or How to Train Your Dragon, then this fast-paced, immersive adventure is a perfect fit.

Parental Considerations: this book does contain fantasy fighting; the most extreme moment included an innocent bystander being burned alive.

Ages 9+

Sterling Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1471193095

You can learn more about Katie & Kevin Tsang, their Dragon Realm series, and their Sam Wu Is Not Afraid series on their website.

Thanks go to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of Dragon Legend for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dragon-legend-cover

You can find Dragon Legend at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 9 – Happy Book Birthday to A Sari for Ammi

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About the Holiday

November is Picture Book Month and Family Stories Month! Taken together, I couldn’t wish for a better time to introduce today’s sweet and uplifting book about a loving family to readers! So gather ’round – today may be A Sari for Ammi‘s book birthday, but this lovely story is a gift for you!

Thanks go to Amazon Crossing Books and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of A Sari for Ammi with me for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

A Sari for Ammi

Written by Mamta Nainy | Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

 

It’s afternoon and a little girl tiptoes past her sister, Sadaf, who’s dozing on the front porch, and the buffalo, who are napping after their “good wash in the village pond.” She’s on her way to help her dad, her Abba, dye threads for the saris that her Ammi, her mom, weaves. After the threads are dyed, the girl visits Ammi at her loom. “Ammi weaves the most wonderful saris in the world, in pinks and yellows and greens, with prints of mangoes, peacocks, birds, leaves, and flowers,” she says.

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Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Making saris has been a family business going back to her great-great grandparents. Now, she and Sadaf, Abba and Ammi work on the saris – some even take months to create. Abba takes Ammi’s finished saris to the haat, the market, to sell. The little girl feels sad that Ammi never gets to wear one of the beautiful sari’s herself. Instead Ammi always wears “old, worn-out salwar-kameezes” – traditional pants and tunics.

One day, the girl asks Ammi to keep a particularly beautiful sari for herself, but Ammi says it is to sell. “‘If we keep the saris, how will we eat?'” she says. The girl doesn’t quite understand, but she wants Ammi to be able to wear a sari that she makes, but to do that, she and Sadaf would have to buy her one. Then she thinks about her and Sadaf’s bank. “‘Let’s break our gullak!'” she tells Sadaf. “‘We can use the money to buy Ammi a sari.'”

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Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Sadaf about the list of things she and her sister have been saving for, but her little sister asks “‘What matters more to you: Ammi or ‘the things’?…Sadaf makes a face and mumbles, ‘Ammi.'” But when they break the gullak and count their change, it’s only enough to buy a towel. What can they do? Sadaf has the idea to sell all of their old junk to Jhammu Kaka, who owns the scrap shop. When they do that they have more money, but only enough for a dupatta, a head scarf.

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Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

On the way home, the little girl thinks of another way to earn money. They go to their neighbor’s house and help her dye threads for the saris she makes. When she gives them money for their help, Sadaf counts it. Her sister is ready for disappointment, but instead she hears, “‘This money is… just enough to buy Ammi a sari!'” They run to the haat and look at all the saris before picking one. What, they wonder, will Ammi say when they give it to her. But they don’t have “to wait long to find out.” They rush home and with big hugs and the sari in hand, they “bring the biggest smile to Ammi’s face!”

Back matter includes a discussion about the saris of Kaithoon, where the story is set, the history of this town in India as a center for the weaving of saris made from a special fabric called “‘kota doria'” and the women of the Muslim Ansari community who create these works of art. A Glossary also defines words found throughout the story.

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Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Mamta Nainy’s heartening story charms with a close-knit family and two sisters who want their mother to enjoy the saris she works so hard to create. As they pool their resources and think up other ways to make money to buy a sari, the girls show a kind of love for family and excitement for giving that will resonate with readers. Nainy’s flowing and detailed storytelling seamlessly educates and enchants with humor, emotion, and the tender enthusiasm of the young narrator’s voice. The final spread in which the two girls give Ammi the sari they’ve chosen is sure to bring a smile – and maybe a tear – to adults and kids alike.

Sandhya Prabhat fills her pages with glorious color and warm tones that bring the beauty of the kota doria saris alive for readers. Kids and adults will see traditional methods of dyeing threads, the setup of a loom on which these treasures are created, and the intricate patterns and vibrant hues that grace these sought-after saris. Just as compelling are images of the family happily working together to make the cloth and stock their market stall as well as illustrations of the narrator and her sister selflessly giving up their money and devising ways to make more. A two-page spread showing the haat is a showstopper that will entice readers to choose their own favorite sari. 

A moving, feel-good family story with deep roots, both culturally and in the heart, A Sari for Ammi is a story that adults and kids will love sharing again and again. The book is highly recommended as a gift or an addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Amazon Crossing Kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542035071

You can connect with Mamta Nainy on Instagram.

To learn more about Sandhya Prabhat, her books, and her art, visit her website.

A Sari for Ammi Book Birthday Activity

 

You can watch one of these beautiful saris being woven and hear more about them with this video!

You can view a longer video, in which the women weavers talk about and demonstrate their art, here

 

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You can find A Sari for Ammi at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 5 – It’s Family Stories Month

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About the Holiday

Children benefit in many ways from close relationships to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family members. This month and next, as family gathers together for special holiday events, it’s a terrific time for adults to share family history and their own stories of growing up with the younger generation. Letting kids know how much they’re loved by everyone in the family helps them develop a sense of belonging, a good self-image, and confidence. Reading together is a perfect way to spend time together and get conversations started. 

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites

Written by Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence | Illustrated by Yuko Jones

 

This true story opens with an invitation to listen as Niki Nakayama talks about her journey to becoming a chef in thirteen bites. “Come. Sit. Taste…” Bite 1: Niki was born in California but her parents were born in Japan. “Outside of Niki’s house was Los Angeles. Inside of her house was Japan.” While the two cultures often felt disparate, in Niki’s family’s kitchen “they became one.” Niki’s mother always put a Japanese twist on American dishes, with soy sauce or rice or teriyaki.

Bite 2: Close to New Year’s Eve, Niki’s grandmother took her to the grocery store to shop for the holiday dinner. Niki was excited. She loved buying all the ingredients for the feast to come: an opportunity to share “a table of love and laughter” in addition to the food. As Niki grew older, she created her own recipes and determined that she would get away from her family’s seafood-selling business and do her own thing.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

Niki’s dreams seemed to get little attention from her parents, who doted on their son and encouraged his success. But Niki new she could be successful too. “Kuyashii! Niki thought. ‘I’ll show them!’” After high school, Niki traveled to Tokyo, Japan, tasting all the delicious food on offer. Later she took the train to where her cousins owned an inn. There she was served a meal comprised of many dishes, each “a work of art” and each with a delicious memory attached or story to tell. “Niki learned this storytelling feast had a name: kaiseki.”

When Niki returned home, she told her mother she wanted to go to school to become a chef. Her mother discouraged her, but Niki went anyway. “She began to see food as art—a carrot as a mountain.” And while her family thought her cooking was just a hobby, Niki thought “Kuyashii! ‘I’ll show them!’” Niki got a job at a sushi restaurant. “Female sushi chefs were rare,” and the head chef didn’t think she could handle the work. “‘You’re just playing chef,’ he joked.” But Niki told him she wasn’t playing.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

After working there and learning all she could, Niki decided to travel back to her cousins’ inn to study kaiseki. But there was a big obstacle. “As far as she knew, female kaiseki chefs didn’t exist. In Japan recipes and training was only handed down to males. People told Niki her dream was impossible, but she thought she could do it. Niki studied for three years and then returned to Los Angeles to open a sushi restaurant of her own.

Instead of being happy for her, her family was dismissive. At last she convinced them to give her a loan—but it came with the stipulation that “if the restaurant failed, she would have to close it and say goodbye to her dream forever.” Instead of the kaiseki dishes she wanted to serve, her mother thought sushi would be a better choice. Against her own wishes, she agreed. In a year, customers were lining up for her food. But making sushi was not what she really wanted to do.

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Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

She closed her restaurant and wondered what to do next. Then, after much thought and exploration, she had her answer. She wanted to serve kaiseki that told her story—both Japanese and Californian. “Niki called her new restaurant n/naka. Naka means ‘inside’ in Japanese. Finally, Niki was inside her dream.” Through thirteen courses she told her stories—never serving customers the same meal twice. Now, every night tables are full of love and laughter, and Niki showed everyone that she could be a master chef.

Back matter includes a timeline of Niki Nakayama’s life from her birth in Los Angeles in 1974 to the awarding of two Michelin stars for her restaurant n/naka in 2019; a discussion of the words kuyashii and kaiseki; and a recipe for wonton pizza.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-niki-nakayama-a-chef's-tale-in-13-bites-kaiseki

Image copyright Yuko Jones, 2021, text copyright Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence, 2021. Courtesy of Farrar Straus Giroux.

Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence’s biography of Niki Nakayama is an enthralling story of self-confidence, obstacles overcome, and success that will inspire readers to stay true to the voice inside themselves. Telling Nakayama’s story through thirteen bite-sized vignettes that reveal formative moments in her life that informed her journey is a captivating and effective way to show Niki’s growth as a chef as well as to explain the meaning and experience of kaiseki.

Readers will respond to Michalak’s and Florence’s straightforward text and the details of the hurdles placed in her way. One take-away for adult readers is the importance of recognizing, encouraging, and supporting their children’s dreams and talents—an awareness that can lead to ongoing discussions with kids as they grow, learn, and get involved in activities.

Yuko Jones’ lovely illustrations take readers into Niki Nakayama’s home to see her interacting with her family and the foods that so inspired her life’s work. Jones’ images of Japanese delicacies are particularly beautiful, giving kids a strong understanding of the courses served during a kaiseki meal. Niki’s self-assurance in the face of her family’s protests and her male-dominated culinary school class as well as the rarity of female sushi chefs is stirring for all readers. Jones’ final page spreads reveal the gorgeous dishes Niki serves and the inviting atmosphere at her restaurant n/naka.

A captivating and impactful biography of a contemporary chef and role model, Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites is a must for home, classroom, school, and public library collections to inspire all kids who are contemplating their place in the world now and in the future.

Ages 4 – 10

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2021 | ISBN 978-0374313876

Discover more about Jamie Michalak and her books on her website.

You can learn more about Debbi Michiko Florence and her books on her website.

To learn more about Yuko Jones and see a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

You can learn more about n/naka and view a gallery of Niki Nakayama’s spectacular dishes on the n/naka website.

Family Stories Month Activity

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Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites Activity Kit

 

Educators and families can find an extensive Activity Kit and coloring pages to accompany classroom or homeschool lessons or just for fun on Jamie Michalak’s website and Debbi Michiko Florence’s website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-niki-nakayama-a-chef's-tale-in-13-bites-cover

You can find Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 2 – It’s Historic Bridge Month

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About the Holiday

Bridges can do so much more than just take vehicles and people over waterways or highways. Many are beautiful structures that enhance the skyline or environment in which they’re found. Covered bridges, stone bridges, and soaring steel and cable bridges all have their own stories to tell and inspire awe in their own way. Unfortunately, many older bridges are slated for destruction or replacement. To honor this month’s holiday, visit a historic bridge in your area or research famous bridges of the past and present. On November 6, we also celebrate National Saxophone Day! To get in the swing of this holiday, why not listen to music by Sonny Rollins? You can find his jazz classics on YouTube. To get started, you can listen to The Bridge here.

Thanks go to Nancy Paulsen Books for sharing a copy of Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

Written by Gary Golio | Illustrated by James Ransome

 

“The Bridge / leaps / spreads its wings / joyfully / joining shore to shore”

“Steel towers / standing tall / reaching high / touching / sky” as people – walking and riding bikes – and cars and trucks move above “the River / stretched out below / a shiny / endless / song”

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Image copyright James Ransome, 2021, text copyright Gary Golio, 2021. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin.

In another part of New York City, Sonny Rollins, already a jazz great, is trying to find a place to play his saxophone – to become a better musician and a better person. The neighbors in his apartment building complain from their windows as he practices on the fire escape, so he takes to the sidewalks to find a more accommodating spot. He wanders the busy streets until he sees, towering above the tall buildings, the Williamsburg Bridge and wonders…. He listens to “that / small voice / inside / which says / you need to do this

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Image copyright James Ransome, 2021, text copyright Gary Golio, 2021. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin.

He climbs the stairs to the walkway high above the noisy, busy city and takes his saxophone from its case. Here, alone, Sonny finds the place where he can play as loud as he wants. But he’s not really alone. Around him the “clanking clanging” subway trains lend rhythm to his music, and the “tugboats / blowing bass notes / back / and forth” are answered “note-for-note / with / low moans” from Sonny’s sax while seagulls are “echoing / Sonny’s funny / squeaks / & / squawks.”

Here, this jazz great “can play / anything / EVERYTHING / that comes into his mind.” With his “mind opened wide,” Sonny finds the sound he’s been looking for and “the Bridge / leaps / spreads its wings / just like / Sonny.”

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Image copyright James Ransome, 2021, text copyright Gary Golio, 2021. Courtesy of Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin.

Back matter includes more about the life and career of Sonny Rollins; a history of the Williamsburg Bridge and The Bridge – a series of songs inspired by his experience, recorded in 1962; and Sonny’s words about how he lives his life and what he thinks is important. Sonny’s website and recommended songs found on YouTube round out these informative pages.

Gary Golio’s story floats on the jazz rhythms of his poetic verses, enveloping readers in the musicality of Sonny Rollins’s life and the sounds of the city. In addition to relaying the facts of this seminal period in Rollin’s career, Golio emphasizes Rollin’s belief in the importance of listening to your own internal voice on the road to self-discovery. Lyrical descriptions of the impromptu “band” that accompanied Rollins on the bridge are both beautifully evocative and inspirational reminders for readers that they too can shine while working with or playing off of others. 

James Ransome’s glorious watercolor and collage paintings give readers a sense of the time period as well as the scale of the bridge as it soars above the high-rise buildings, providing a practice room and stage for Sonny Rollins’ talent. Textured and patterned details along with a variety of perspectives echo Golio’s lyrical verses. Gold accents on each page mirror Rollins’ shiny saxophone and visually represent the notes that rise and float away over the city.

A gorgeous and jazz-infused snapshot of a stirring and influential time in Sonny Rollins’ life,  Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge will delight any music lover and inspire all readers to search for the best in themselves. The book is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House, 2021 | ISBN 978-1984813664

Discover more about Gary Golio and his books on his website.

To learn more about James Ransome, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Historic Bridge Awareness Month Activity

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Build a Remarkable Recycled Bridge

 

You don’t need fancy blocks and construction materials to build a bridge! Little ones will be fascinated to put together a bridge made out of items you already have at home or that may even be slated for the recycle bin. Spaghetti boxes make great roadways, and cut-up egg cartons can be used as supports.

Want to build a whole town? Cereal boxes and pasta boxes make skyscrapers, apartment buildings, fire stations, and more. Need a farm silo? Grab a peanut butter jar, oatmeal container, or aluminum can. You can use them as is or—if your kids are sticklers for a little more detail—add some paint and details! So look around, use your imagination, and get creative!

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You can find Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review