Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Published by First Second

Summary:  Priyanka is struggling at school, where some mean girls make fun of her drawing, and at home, where her single mom refuses to tell her about her father or the family she left behind in India.  Pri discovers a pashmina, a scarf her mother brought from home, that transports her to a magical India (shown in color).  She’s guided by an elephant and peacock, who show her the beauty of the country, but won’t let her speak with a mysterious shadow who follows them.  When Priyanka wins $500 in a comics contest, she convinces her mom to let her visit India, where she stays with her long-lost aunt.  In India, the pashmina no longer has magical powers for Pri, but it does for her aunt.  The two of them set off on a journey to find out the origins of the magical scarf, and in the process, learn about themselves and their heritage.  Priyanka turns her discoveries into a comic book…entitled Pashmina.  Includes a glossary of the Indian words used in the story. 176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  An enchanting story about finding your voice, with lots of female empowerment woven in.   Although the female characters struggle with inequality, they are all optimistic about change.  Chanani embraces both the romantic beauty and gritty poverty of India.

Cons:  The story unfolded at a somewhat dizzying pace, covering a lot of ground in 176 pages.

Full of Fall by April Pulley Sayre

Published by Beach Lane Books

Summary:  “September sun is low in the sky/So long summer/Green, goodbye!” So begins this homage to autumn.  Each page has a few lines of poetry, describing the colors as leaves change from green to red and gold to brown.  Large, colorful photographs show the stages in detail, as well as animals often associated with the season, like squirrels and geese.  “Goodbye, leaf show/Winter is coming/Oh, hello, snow!”  The last page provides a perfect transition to check out a similar book by the author, Best in Snow.  Includes two pages that give more scientific information about what is happening on each page of the book.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Another gorgeous book about the seasons from April Pulley Sayre (see also Raindrops Roll).  Combine this with In the Middle of Fall by Kevin Henkes (see my 9/22 review) for a perfect autumn story hour.

Cons:  All that raking.

The Ember Stone (The Last Firehawk book 1) by Katarina Charman, illustrated by Jeremy Norton

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  Although Tag is small, he is determined to become one of the Owls of Valor, practicing fighting with a dagger and shield until he is exhausted.  When he and his friend Skyla the squirrel rescue a mysterious egg, they inadvertently get the chance to prove their courage.  The egg hatches with a fiery bang, and produces a baby firehawk, an animal thought to be extinct.  Firehawks were once the guardians of the Ember Stone, which protected the animals from the evil magic of Thorn, a vulture who controls the dark magic of the forest.  Tag, Skyla, and the firebird are sent by Grey, leader of the Owls of Valor, to try to find the missing stone.  They recover a piece of it, but their journey to find other pieces will continue in the next book.  89 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Readers too young for animal fantasy series like Warriors will enjoy this latest entry in the Scholastic Branches imprint.  It’s a surprisingly interesting, somewhat complex tale, told in 89 illustrated pages, and written at a level appropriate for primary-level reader.

Cons:  A dagger and shield seem like inefficient weapons for an animal with talons, a beak, and wings.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Charles Santoso

Published by Feiwel and Friends

Summary:  Red is an oak tree that has stood for over two centuries.  He has seen many animals come and go, and quite a few humans, too, in the two houses that he faces.  Samar and Stephen live next door to each other in those houses, and Samar wishes for Stephen to be her friend.  Like many humans have done before, she ties the wish to Red’s branches.  Red and his crow friend Bongo do what they can to help with this wish, but their plans don’t work.  And when a teenager with a screwdriver carves the word “Leave” in front of Samar’s house, it looks like her wish will never come true.  Francesca, the owner of the two houses, decides it’s time to cut down Red.  But Wishing Day is coming, and sometimes the magic of all those wishes can be enough to bring some unexpected changes.  224 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Another beautiful, thoughtful story by Katherine Applegate.  This would make a perfect classroom read-aloud.  There is plenty to discuss, the illustrations are adorable, and there’s even a good dose of tree humor.  To me, the story isn’t quite enough to warrant a Newbery, but I’m sure there will be some consideration.

Cons:  By the end of the story, I felt guilty for considering cutting down the three oak trees in my backyard.  A few days of raking leaves and acorns will most likely take care of this.

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  Yes, Humpty Dumpty got put back together again, but “there were some parts that couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue.”  Humpty is now afraid of heights–he sleeps on the floor rather than in his top bunk, and is forced to buy Bo-Rings cereal rather than the enticing Sugar Bunny and Rainbow Bites that are stocked on the top shelves.  Worst of all, though, he misses the birds he used to watch from his perch atop the high wall.  Inspired by a paper airplane, Humpty creates a flying bird, but is dismayed when it lands on top of his old wall.  Determined, the egg overcomes his fear, and slowly climbs up the ladder on the side of the wall.  At the top, he cracks again…only this time, a beautiful bird emerges and soars into the air.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Dan Santat tells a remarkable story, making a fairy tale connection and using humor that preschoolers will enjoy, but conveying a message for all ages.  The illustrations may be worthy of another Caldecott for the illustrator.

Cons:  The “Sad Clown” cereal that is one of Humpty’s options on the grocery store’s lower shelf.

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Published by Starscape

Summary:  When Amy Anne discovers her favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, has been removed from the library by the school board, she’s outraged.  Turns out her favorite is one of several books taken off the shelves at the request of a parent.  Amy Anne has always been quiet, a “good girl” who doesn’t speak up at home or at school, even when she’s angry.  Slowly, with the help of a few good friends, she begins a protest against the banned books.  It starts with the B.B.L.L., in which Amy Anne turns her locker into the Banned Book Library Locker, and encourages other kids to read the banned books.  When this is discovered, Amy Anne is suspended and her beloved school librarian loses her job.  This only increases Amy Anne’s determination.  She and her friends come up with a plan that involves the whole school, and shows the school board and the mom who initiated the ban how important books–all books–are in the lives of kids. Includes a discussion guide with questions and activities. 256 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  An inspiring manifesto in favor of the freedom to read.  Readers will cheer for Amy Anne and her transformation from shy introvert to community activist, fueled by her passion for books.  The author notes at the end that all the books banned in the book have actually been challenged or banned in the last 30 years.

Cons:  Amy Anne’s suspension and the librarian’s firing seemed overly draconian, given the offense.

Graveyard Shakes by Laura Terry

Published by Scholastic Graphix

Summary:  Katia and Victoria are two sisters struggling to fit in at their snooty new boarding school.  Little Ghost is a playful young ghost who is scared of other ghosts.  Modie is a boy who should have died in an accident, but whose father, Nikola, has found a way of keeping him alive by taking the life of a child every thirteen years.  The characters’ lives in this graphic novel all converge in the graveyard, where Katia and Victoria find refuge from school.  Nikola has his eye on Katia for his latest victim.  Modie no longer wants to be part of his father’s evil schemes, and is ready to be allowed to die in peace.  It’s up to Victoria and Little Ghost to rescue Katia, and bring about a hauntingly happy ending.  208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Beautiful artwork conveys the darkness of a ghost story that also contains plenty of light, happy moments.  Katia, Victoria, Little Ghost, and Modie all learn the lesson of being true to yourself, and find some unusual forms of happiness and friendship in the end.  Fun Halloween reading.

Cons:  Pardon the expression, but the storyline and characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been.