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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, 384 pp, RL: TEEN

I remember back in 2011 when Ready Player One by Ernest Cline hit the shelves and started selling and thinking I should read it. A fellow bookseller did and said it was great, but it took almost seven years for me (and my son) to finally read (actually, listen to) Ready Player One. I was at my son's seventh grade back-to-school night and a parent mentioned to the English teacher that her son was reading it and she was concerned about the content. I suggested she read what her son reads and then took my own advice. And, since I clearly live under a rock, I also just learned that it has been made into a movie by Steve Spielberg to be released this month. For those of you who like audio books, Ready Player One is fantastically, perfectly narrated by Wil Wheaton. Wheaton was a child actor (Stand by Me, Star Trek: The Next Generation) is a voice actor (everything from Aqualad to Grand Theft Auto) and adult actor playing a version of himself in The Big Bang Theory, among other things. I…
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Pashmina by Nidhi Channani, 176 pp, RL 5

Pashmina is the gem of a debut graphic novel by Nidhi Channani that begins as a story about the challenges of growing up the child of an immigrant in California and quickly evolves into a story of magic, mythology and the the hard choices girls and women face growing up in a patriarchal culture of oppression. Channani illustrates most of Pashmina in grey tones, reserving vibrant bursts of color for the moments of magic as the arrive in the story.
Priyanka Das is teased by mean girls at school, tentatively testing out her skills as an artist and learning to drive. She is a pretty typical American teenager. Except that her mother immigrated from India before she was born and has refused to talk about the family she left behind - or Priyanka's father. With father figure Uncle Jait about to become a father himself, Pri, as she asks to be called, is feeling sad and isolated, especially when her mother continues to refuse to talk to her about the country she left behind. When Priyanka ope…

Islandborn by Junot Díaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa

Islandborn is the debut picture book written by Junot Díazand marvelously illustrated by Leo Espinosa. Born in the Dominican Republic, Díaz is the Pulitzer prize winning author of books for adults. With his first children's book, he explores what it means to have two home countries, even when you can't remember your first home. Working in a school where the majority of my students have a first home and family they return to visit yearly, I am so excited to have a picture book that starts this conversation for us.

Everyone in Lola's school seems to have come from somewhere else and Lola and her classmates have been given the assignment to draw pictures of their first homes. But Lola can't remember her first home. Fortunately, she has family and neighbors who do remember and they help paint a picture for her of the island where she was born. Díaz does a superb job explaining the difficult reasons why Lola's family, and many others, left the unnamed island for America,…

The Book of Pearl by Timothée de Fombelle, translated by Sarah Ardizzione and Sam Gordon, 355 pp, RL 5

In 2013 I reviewed French playwright Timothée de Fombelle's book Toby Alone, an allegorical, philosophical story about a colony of miniscule people living in a tree. When Toby's father, a scientist, determines that not only is the tree that is their universe alive, but it has become endangered due to overuse, their family is sentenced to death. Suspenseful and shocking, stunning and heartbreaking, Toby Alone is unforgettable. With The Book of Pearl, de Fombelle has written yet another novel that is seared into my imagination. As with Toby Alone, images and ideas from The Book of Pearl will be with me for years to come. Three narratives woven together marvelously tell the story of a magical kingdom where fairy tales are born and the brutally vengeful prince who rules it, a family of confectioners who lose a son twice, and a boy who has a haunting experience in the French countryside that shapes his adult life.
Marshmallows. Or, guimauves, as they are known in French. It is both …

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang, 290 pp, RL 5

I fell in love with Jen Wang's work years ago when I read her adult graphic novel Koko Be Good. I was new to graphic novels and still hadn't realized that graphic novels for adults didn't have to have super heroes in them and was completely enchanted by the story of a happy drifter living in San Francisco. Again, with In Real Life written by Cory Doctorow, I was enchanted by Anda, a plump teen who lives through the massively-multiplayer role playing game she spends all her free time on. Now, with The Prince and the Dressmaker, Wang has given the world a fairy tale for any age. Prince Sebastian and Frances are two characters to be enchanted by in this "exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art and family."
Set in fin de siècle Paris, Frances is a seamstress waiting to become the brilliant dressmaker she is. Prince Sebastian is turning sixteen and his parents are determined to find him a bride. Following the client's orders, Frances creates a dress …

Pigsticks and Harold: Lost in Time by Alex Milway, 58 pp, RL 3

I adore Alex Milway's Pigsticks and Harold series and am so happy to have a fourth book to add to the shelves of my school library, where these books prove the perfect bridge from leveled readers to chapter books. With Milway's bright, boisterous illustrations and wonderfully mismatched characters, these books are hard not to love. 
With a long line of adventuring ancestors, Pigsticks is driven to explore. But, being somewhat self-involved and lacking in commonsense, he is fortunate to have his unwitting, Battenberg cake loving companion-for-hire Harold at his side. Harold's Battenberg cake that always gets these two out of a scrape, and in Lost in Time! cake has a very special role.
The Tuptown Science Fair was starting in an hour and Pigsticks, who happens to be the grand-nephew of Ada Lovepig, was still trying to get his spaceship ready to go. This comes in handy when Harold discovers him sitting on top of the Lovepig Time Machine. It takes some convincing, but talk of ca…

The Next Best Junior Chef Episode 2: The Heat is On by Charise Mericle Harper, 167 pp, RL 4

Last summer I gobbled up Next Best Junior Chef Episode 1: Lights, Camera, Cook! by Charise Mericle Harper with illustrations by Aurélie Blard-Quintard. I am a huge consumer of more than a few cooking competition shows and, with Top Chef Season 15 coming to an end and Master Chef Junior Season 6 just kicking off, this is the perfect time to review the second book in the Next Best Junior Chef trilogy, Episode 2: The Heat is On.
With three cheftestants remaining to compete for their very own food truck, the heat really is on. Caroline, Rae and Oliver have a week filled with challenges, mini-challenges, field trips and lessons ahead of them, ending with the elimination challenge that will send one of them packing. As with the first book, Harper's story reveals that she, too, is a fan of cooking competitions. There is even a moment in The Heat is On where, when being interviewed by a judge about a dish, a cheftestant speaks about a mistake made as if it was intentional, something I ofte…