Mez’s Magic (The Lost Rainforest, book 1) by Eliot Schrefer

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary:  Young panther Mez knows she is different from the rest of her family.  Unable to sleep during the day, she eventually sneaks out of her cave, triggering a series of events that lead to her family’s discovery of her as a daywalker.  This revelation makes her too dangerous to stay with the family, and she is cast out.  She is rescued by Auriel, a huge boa constrictor, who tells her that her birth during an eclipse has given her unusual powers.  Auriel is traveling through the magical rainforest of Caldera, collecting other eclipse-born animals who have been giving the task of defeating the evil Ant Queen, who is about to emerge from a long period of dormancy.  The animals gather at the stone ziggurat, where billions of ants are preparing for their Queen’s arrival.  Danger and betrayal await them as they try to discover their magical powers and save Caldera.  The enemy is temporarily defeated at the end of the story, but danger still lurks.  The animals go their separate ways, agreeing to gather information and reunite in a year’s time.  Includes a lengthy Q & A with the author about his adventures in the rainforest.  357 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Packed with adventure and interesting, funny characters, this book will appeal to fans of animal fantasy like Warriors and Guardians of Ga’hoole.  This is the first book in a planned series in which each installment is from the point of view of a different eclipse-born animal.

Cons:  There were a lot of characters to keep track of, including some unusual animal species that I wasn’t familiar with.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Breadwinner: A Graphic Novel based on the original book by Deborah Ellis, adapted from the feature film directed by Nora Twomey

Published by Groundwood Books

Summary: Parvana lives in a one-room apartment with her family in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Following the takeover of the city by the Taliban, her history teacher father no longer has a job, and her mother, like all women, must stay hidden as much as possible.  Parvana helps her father as he earns money on the street reading and writing letters for people, but when he is arrested for selling books and sent to jail, she can no longer work.  As her family descends into starvation, Parvana decides to disguise herself as a boy to find jobs and try to get her father out of prison.  Danger and desperation are everywhere, and while Parvana succeeds on some level, it’s clear that many hardships lie ahead for her family beyond the last page.  80 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A compelling story that celebrates one family’s resiliency in a dark and dangerous world.  I haven’t read the original trilogy by Deborah Ellis or seen the animated film from 2017, but this graphic novel will undoubtedly inspire many readers to seek them out.

Cons:  At 80 pages, the story was a little bare bones, and I’m sure excludes a lot from the original novel.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic book 1) by Anna Meriano

Published by Walden Pond Press

Summary:  11-year-old Leonora (Leo) is tired of being left out of  the family business.  Her four older sisters get to help out at the bakery, and when they get to miss school the day before Dia de los Muertos, Leo has had enough.  She sneaks out of school and into the bakery, where she secretly witnesses the induction ceremony of her 14-year-old twin sisters.  Turns out all the females of Leo’s family are brujas, or witches, and they practice their magic through their baking.  Leo is supposed to wait a few more years for her turn, but she is too impatient.  She learns just enough about magic to get into trouble, and when her best friend Caroline turns to her for help with a boy, Leo can’t resist.  She definitely has the powers of a bruja, but learning how to use them correctly is another matter, and Leo discovers she must depend on the wisdom of her family to help her. Includes recipes for three of the baked goods from the story.  320 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This is sure to be a popular choice for middle grade readers, combining the realistic elements of a likeable but trouble-prone protagonist and loving family members with the fun of magical fantasy woven in.

Cons:  For some reason, each time I got back to reading this book, I expected it to be told in the first person; I can’t help thinking that would have made for a stronger narration.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.


Five favorite biographies

Lots of amazing women this year!


Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal.  Published by Bonnier Publishing.

“Ann thought about what she could do, not about what she couldn’t change.”  This repeating refrain provides words to live by in this gorgeously illustrated biography about the pioneering African-American dress designer who created Jackie Kennedy’s wedding gown.  Link to Amazon.


The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson.  Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Yes, kids, this nine-year-old girl spent a week in jail in 1963 for participating in the civil rights movement.  Link to Amazon.


Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin.  Published by Roaring Brook Press.

Jim Thorpe, Pop Warner, the Carlisle Indian School, Olympics controversy…so much is covered here, all of it in Sheinkin’s inimitable style.  Here’s hoping this is on the Newbery Committee’s short list, as well as those deciding on the Sibert awards.  Link to Amazon.


The World Is Not a Rectangle by Jeannette Winter.  Published by Beach Lane Books.

Whatever the fate of The Secret Project, Jeannette Winter should also be considered for this gorgeous biography of Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.  Link to Amazon.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality by Jonah Winter. Published by Harry N. Abrams.

There were  two excellent picture book biographies of Ruth Bader Ginsburg this year, but I only reviewed one on the blog.  This one just caught up with me this week.  Written as a legal argument, it lays out a compelling case for Ginsburg defeating the discrimination she has faced throughout her life.  And it’s by The Secret Project author Jonah Winter, who is Jeannette Winter’s son.  Link to Amazon.


Five favorite nonfiction books

I do love nonfiction, and this year there were so many, I’ve ended up making two lists.  Look for biographies coming tomorrow; that will be my last list and final post for the next few weeks.


Grand Canyon by Jason Chin.  Published by Roaring Brook Press.

Save yourself airfare to Arizona, and just take a long, slow look through Jason Chin’s book instead.  This could also be on my Caldecott contenders’ list.  Link to Amazon.


Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees by Mary Beth Leatherdale.  Published by Annick Press

Compelling stories from the last 60 years that will engage fans of the “I Survived” series.  The text format and collage illustrations make it visually appealing.  Link to Amazon.


How Many Guinea Pigs Can Fit on a Plane? Answers to Your Most Clever Math Questions by Laura Overdeck.  Published by Feiwel and Friends.

Kids clamoring to read a math book?  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  Link to Amazon.


The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater.  Published by Farrar Straus Giroux.

A hate crime without the hate told with compassion from both sides.  I hope this amazing book gets some award recognition from the YA world.  Link to Amazon.


The Secret Project by Jonah Winter.  Published by Beach Lane Books.

I know there’s controversy about this book.  Be sure to also look at an opposing viewpoint.  It reminds me of A Fine Dessert of a few years ago–I think the controversy will prevent it from winning any awards, but I still find it a compelling read.  Link to Amazon.