Books Read in March 2021

Picture Books

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight For Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything
Annette Bay Pimentel and Nabigal-Nayagam Haider Ali
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Another Jennifer, changing the world. This Jennifer climbed to the top of the capital steps to advocate for passage of the ADA.

The note from Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins about how lack of access made schooling difficult added to the story.

¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat
Raúl the Third & Elaine Bay
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Little Lobo must supply food to el Toro and a bunch of other hungry wrestlers. So we get to visit a variety of food carts and a tour of a lot of different kinds of food.

A Place Inside of Me
Zetta Elliott and Noa Denmon
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As the subtitle says, this is a poem to heal the heart. Great illustrations.

Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration
Samara Cole Doyon & Kaylani Juanita
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Gorgeous prose and winning illustrations combine into a homage to all the brown colors.

We Are Little Feminists: On-the-Go
Little Feminist
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A board book about getting from here to there that shows a variety of people and body types.

Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail
Lesléa Newman and Susan Gal
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For everyone who waits with excited anticipation to see if Elijah appears.

Danbi Leads the School Parade
Anna Kim
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Kim’s illustrations are calibrated at just my level of swoopy. Delightful!

The Catman of Aleppo
Irene Latham, Karim Shamsi-Basha, and Yuko Shimizu
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When you need a bit of insight into a war and abandoned cats, you have this book to turn to.

Middle Grade

Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen
Sarah Capit
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Vivy Cohen shares her initials with knuckleball pitcher VJ Capello and like him she excels at the knuckleball. Unlike him, she doesn’t play for a team.

Told via correspondence between the two VJCs we see Vivy’s first season playing for a baseball team and watch her navigate her parents’ worries about combining a neurotypical kid with a baseball team. She also has to deal with a bully on the team.

This does a great job capturing the sneaky othering of middle school and the frustrating feelings when parents take over.

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez
Adrianna Cuevas
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This story of a boy who feels adrift due to his family’s constant moves because his father is in the army. But when he and his mother go to live with his grandmother while his father is deployed, some weird things happen.

This book had just the right amount of magical realism.

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance
Donna Barba Higuera
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Let’s talk about what this book does well: it captures the sneaky mean and aggressive acts that middle schoolers carry out right under grownup noses.

I also feel for girls who love to play baseball and dream of being in the majors. Maybe their granddaughters will have a shot, but there’s no way in hell MLB is letting women in any time soon.

Now let’s talk about what had me sighing in annoyance and crowning this the worst book of my 2021 reading year so far.

I’m a square dancer and one of the things that square dancers think is the worst recruiting tool is to make middle school kids square dance. They hate it, they think it’s dumb, most of the time it’s not taught by a competent caller and so they think they’ve been square dancing, but they haven’t. (Though I loved the short square dancing unit we did in fourth grade. I wished there would have been another one in junior high school.)

Because I’m a square dancer, I can tell you that the hardest part of square dancing is having even multiples of eight. It’s rare to have everyone in the room dancing, and most of the time there are a handful of people sitting out because there weren’t enough people to make a full square.

Not in this book! Every single square dancing day there the exact nearly correct number of students were there. No one got sick, or had an orthodontist appointment or transferred to a different school, or showed up mid-unit having transferred from a different school. It was always the exact number to leave the squares one person short so Lupe had to dance alone. Every. Single. Time.

It’s not realistic. And this book was littered with unrealistic things happening just to stretch the story. “Since 1938 middle school students have learned to square dance in sixth grade.” No they haven’t. Because there weren’t middle schools in 1938. “The boys must ask the girls and once you choose your partner you can’t trade.” “We always dance to Cotten Eye’d Joe.” Given that the PE teacher had experienced her own trauma during her middle school square dancing unit, there’s no way she wouldn’t have mixed things up. Teachers run their classrooms how they see fit. There’s no square dancing overlord who dictates how things must be.

There are plenty of opportunities to make amusing conundrums from square dancing. But when it’s not grounded in any sort of reality the book isn’t funny, it’s just not very well written.

Granted, this book is written for kids, not adults, so a lot of these details will fly by the intended audience. But I think that shows a certain level of disrespect for the reader. Because you know who’s harder on books that don’t get things right than adults? Kids.

A Wish in the Dark
Christina Soontornvat
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Soontornvat builds an interesting world in this story that opens with two orphan children living in a prison. They were born there and must remain in the prison until they are thirteen.

This is an adventure with a lot of (slightly heavy handed) conundrums.

The Midwife’s Apprentice
Karen Cushman

I appreciate Cushman’s commitment to all the characters being horrible to Alyce. She’s also great at weaving in period details without devolving into lecture.

Young Adult

Furia
Yamile Saied Menez
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Camila has been sneaking around playing soccer for a team in her barrio. She’s balancing her life as a student, an athlete, and the sister of a professional footballer. She’s also the daughter of an abusive father and a mother who is trying to get by.

I loved the layers of this book, and Furia was an amazing character!

Catherine Called Birdy
Karen Cushman

This Newbery honor from the 90s is packed with everyday details about a fourteen-year-old girl living in 1200s-era England. It’s amusing and gives a full picture of her life. It’s also been optioned for a film, so read it now while you still have the chance to make your own images in your head.

We Are Not From Here
Jenny Torrest Sanchez
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A tense story of three teenagers attempting to get to the US from Guatemala where they all face death due to gangs and abusive relationships. Recommended reading for people who have strong feelings about asylum seekers.

Dancing at the Pity Party
Tyler Feder
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This graphic novel about the death of the author’s mother when she was nineteen is engaging and delightful. It’s a sad situation, and the sadness resonates, but it’s also an incredibly fun read. My favorite page was the Dos and Don’ts list of things to do when interacting with someone who has lost their mother.

One Way or Another
Kara McDowell

I was irritable through the first half of this book. This was partly because indecisive people drive me batty and partly because I was rooting for neither guy. But things shaped up once the extent of Paige’s anxiety disorder came into focus and the guys rounded out.

The Code for Love and Heartbreak
Jillian Cantor

A serviceable retelling of Emma, with a high school coding club as the setting.

While I don’t mind reading retellings of Jane Austin books, I also don’t feel the need to spend a lot of time thinking about what to say when reviewing them. We know the story.

Displacement
Kiku Hughes
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Through an inventive device that handily sums up generational trauma, a modern-day Seattle teenager experiences the Japanese internment that her grandmother also experienced.

Grown
Tiffany D. Jackson

This is the third novel I’ve read by Jackson and I love how her stories make me feel uncomfortable and angry throughout my reading experience, yet I cannot put the book down.

Enchanted’s love of singing leads her on a fraught and dangerous path.

Aside from a crackling bit of fiction, this book also has an incredible cover and a great author note.

Felix Ever After
Kacen Callender
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Callender has written a roller coaster of emotion that takes place during Felix’s summer school session.

Though Felix’s world was very different than mine, I related to his confusing feelings about love. I also appreciate his calling me out during this passage:

“He kind of reminds me of a golden retriever, with his floppy blond hair and blue eyes. The first time I saw him in acrylics class, I kind of immediately hated the guy. He’s the sort of person the world adores, just based on the way he looks, a little like the way people obsess over men like Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans and Chris Pine and all the other famous Chrises, plus Ryan Gosling, claiming that they’re liberal and that they’re feminists, but not really thinking about why they’re so obsessed with white men, and why they don’t love any people of color the same way.”

Throwaway Girls
Andrea Contos

A good little adventure/suspense/thriller that was bogged down with an alternate viewpoint that confused me every single time I encountered it. There was also a switch up at the end I didn’t find successful. Overall, the book was enjoyable but flawed.

Grownup Fiction

Majesty
Katharine McGee

The continuing saga of Beatrice, Nina, Samantha, and Daphne as Queen Beatrice negotiates her first months as a ruler. McGee is great at balancing so many characters and, unlike the first book, this one comes to an end, while still leaving room for a sequel.

That Daphne!

Young Nonfiction

Sharuko: Peruvian Archeologist Julio C. Tello
Monica Brown and Elisa Chavarri
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Who is studying which cultures? Peru was lucky to have Julio C. Tello, and you can learn about him in this bilingual picture book.

Grownup Nonfiction

An Architectural Guidebook to Portland
Bart King

Bart King is funny and loves architecture. I’m on board with both of these things. Take a gander at his eco-roof definition:

Any roof that you could grow salad greens on qualifies. An eco-roof insulates the building, limits water run-off, and lasts twice as long as a conventional roof. But without a caretaker and/or good drainage, an eco-roof can turn into a dead weedroof, which isn’t as impressive.

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