Book Review: Family in Six Tones by Lan Cao and Harlan Margaret Van Cao

Family in Six Tones cover image

Lan Cao came to the U.S. when she was 13, a refugee from Vietnam when U.S. troops were leaving. Throughout the years she has struggled to adapt to American culture. At times she has embraced the Vietnamese culture of her early years and of her extended family, at other times she has rejected it. Her struggle carried into her parenting, as she raised a daughter also caught between two worlds.

The mother-daughter memoir, Family in Six Tones: A Refugee Mother, an American Daughter by Lan Cao and Harlan Margaret Van Cao, tells the story of how these two came to define their own identities. The mom, Lan Cao, provides most of the narrative, and her accounts provide interesting insights into her life in Saigon and her early years as a refugee. Harlan is still a teen, and her stories relate more of the universal challenges between mothers and daughters as they connect and clash on a variety of issues.

Lan Cao and Harlan Margaret Van Cao photo
Lan Cao and Harlan Margaret Van Cao

The accounts feel honest, often raw with emotion, and reveal vulnerabilities with candor. The memoir provides an interesting insight into a time in history as well as the current reverberations from that not-so-long-ago era. For teen and adult mothers and daughters, Family in Six Tones can provide a good jumping-off place for discussions about their own relationships.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Jayla Jumps In by Joy Jones

Jayla Jumps In cover image

At 11, Jayla is mostly happy with her big extended family and her life at school. But she misses her best friend who moved away, and she worries about her mom’s health. When she sees a video of people jumping Double Dutch and finds out her mom used to be a champion at the activity, she sees a possible answer to all her concerns.

Jayla Jumps In by Joy Jones is a fun story about a girl who’s active and friendly, but also just a little bit lonely. When she jumps Double Dutch, she feels confident, strong, and joyful. And she notices that other people seem to feel the same way when they jump. Over the course of several months, Jayla relies on Double Dutch to help her make new friends, spend more time with her mom, and discover new things about people important to her.

This energetic story will have readers wanting to learn Double Dutch and convince people they know to try it, too. I recommend Jayla Jumps In for readers aged 9 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The True Story of Zippy Chippy by Artie Bennett

The True Story of Zippy Chippy cover image

Zippy Chippy was a racehorse descended from other famous racehorses. But one thing set him apart from any other thoroughbred destined to run around the tracks: he lost every race he ran in. You may wonder why a horse like that would be of interest, but author Artie Bennett turns this losing story into a winning children’s picture book with lessons about perseverance and participating in a sport because of the love of doing it, win or lose.

If the reaction in my household is any indication, parents and children both will fall in love with The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t. Zippy Chippy had a cantankerous personality, sometimes standing still at the starter gate, sometimes stopping in the middle of the track, sometimes grabbing hats off people’s heads and chewing them. But his owner Felix kept racing him, and pretty soon Zippy Chippy became famous for his losses and his antics.

This line from the book sums up the positive message to take away: “It takes guts to compete—win, lose, or draw. And it takes courage to dream. Zippy showed us that you can lose and lose and lose and still be a winner.” An author’s note at the end tells Zippy’s whole story.

This is a feel-good book with illustrations by Dave Szalay that will make you laugh and smile and a story that will have you cheering along the way.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The Places We Sleep by Caroline Brooks DuBois

Twelve-year-old Abbey thinks the worst thing about starting seventh grade is being the new girl (again) when her dad is stationed at an Army base in Tennessee. But then planes fly into the World Trade Center in New York and her aunt is missing. Then she gets her period and has to navigate bullies at school. With her mom away and her dad looking at deployment, Abbey has to find her own way in a world where nothing is familiar.

The Places We Sleep by Caroline Brooks DuBois is a coming-of-age story about a girl trying to find her voice. After moving so many times in her life, Abbey wants to do nothing more than blend in. She lacks confidence in her abilities, so she is uncomfortable with compliments about the things she is good at, like art. She wants to stand up for her friends when they are targeted by bullies, but she doesn’t want the bullies to focus on her. Abbey’s parents were the most consistent people in her life, but with them absent for different reasons and to different degrees, she’s not sure where to turn for help.

Abbey’s journey is poignant and meaningful, particularly as it is set in both an uncertain time in life and in history. I recommend The Places We Sleep for readers aged 9 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Stealing Mt. Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar

Stealing Mt. Rushmore cover image

Thirteen-year-old Nellie has a lot on her shoulders. Her mother left the family, her dad sometimes gets depressed and stays in bed for days on end, and her younger brothers need someone around to be responsible. She believes if they could just make their planned family vacation from their Boston home to Mt. Rushmore everything will be okay.

Stealing Mt. Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar is touching and uplifting. Nellie knows her family is a mess, but she has a plan to fix everything. She’s extremely hard-working, responsible, and creative about ways to make money to add to the family coffers. The story setting in the 1970s  is interesting because it shows how kids could make money in those days, even by doing simple things like pushing shopping carts to cars and unloading groceries in trunks.

It’s also interesting to see that some of the topics of the times, a presidential impeachment, Native American rights to Mt. Rushmore, female equality and more, are issues in the news today. That bit of history can give young readers context when learning about these topics now.

Stealing Mt. Rushmore highlights a family in crises, resilience, friendship, and personal empowerment in a compelling coming-of-age story. I recommend it for readers aged 9 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review and Giveaway: Dan Unmasked by Chris Negron

Today I’m reviewing a book I loved that’s great for readers aged 9 to 14. It’s called Dan Unmasked, and I have one copy to give away to someone who comments here. Just leave a note telling me if you have a favorite comic book character or series, whether it’s current or from your childhood. Be sure to comment by midnight (PDT), on Tuesday, August 31. U.S. addresses only please.

Here’s a little bit you may want to know about the author: Chris Negron grew up outside Buffalo, NY, where he spent a huge chunk of his childhood collecting comic books and loving sports. But it was the hours of playing Dungeons and Dragons in friends’ basements that first gave him the dream of one day writing his own stories. That dream kept him company through college at Yale University and years of programming computers for big companies. Dan Unmasked is his debut novel, and he now lives outside Atlanta with his wife, Mary. Visit him at Chris on Instagram or on Twitter

And here’s my review:

Dan Unmasked cover image

For Dan and his baseball teammates, Nate has always been the one they look up to, the one who keeps them steady when they get nervous about a game or something else in life. So when an accident leaves Nate in a coma, Dan is left floundering. He wants to find a way to help his best friend find his way back, but he’s not sure he can. He’s hoping that Nate’s younger brother Ollie, a new friend Courtney, and the comic book series they all love will help him find the answer.

Dan Unmasked by Chris Negron is a book about friendship, baseball, comic books, complicated family relationships, and so much more. In this debut novel for Negron, he keeps several story lines moving along seamlessly, sometimes throwing curve balls that keep readers guessing about how things will turn out. But he never loses sight of Dan’s coming of age story.

Throughout the long summer as Dan waits for Nate to wake up, he learns a lot about himself and the people around him. Without his best friend as a buffer, he can’t help but think about things that have been pushed to the side, including his relationship with his dad and how he’s always seen Ollie as an obstacle to get around.

I didn’t imagine an author could talk about comics without drawing them, but Negron describes the world of Captain Nexus vividly, and it’s easy to fall into the rhythm of his descriptions of the comic as well as how comics in general are made. It all adds up to an engrossing read that is satisfying to the end.

I highly recommend Dan Unmasked for readers of all types ages 9 and above.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen

Batman Tales Once Upon a Crime cover image

Classic children’s tales like Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland and more are retold with a twist, in the graphic novel by Derek Fridoles and Dustin Nguyen, Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime.

Each familiar story is adapted to the Batman universe. For instance, Pinocchio is Waynocchio, a young Robin who struggles with telling the truth and doing the right thing. The Princess and the Pea goes through a whole gang of Batman’s evil foes searching for the one who stole a green jewel. Alfred takes a prominent role in Alice Alfred in Wonderland, and Batman makes a daring rescue in The Snow Queen.

Graphics make whimsical connections between Batman characters and those from the original classics. It’s lots of fun and readers will be drawn back to the stories to reread again and again. I recommend Batman Tales: Once Upon a Crime for readers aged 9 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Dana Digs In by Laura Pederson

Dana Digs In cover image

When Dana is offered a salad for dinner at home, she’s not impressed by how tasteless the tomatoes are. Her dad explains that tomatoes are picked before they are ripe to make it easier to ship them to grocery stores. That gives Dana the idea to plant a garden and grow her own tomatoes. But when she realizes her own yard doesn’t get enough sunlight for a garden, she goes on a quest that will lead her to expanding her dream much further than her own back yard.

Dana Digs In by Laura Pederson shows how someone with an idea and determination can bring positive change for themselves and their communities. When Dana finds a large parcel of land she can use, she expands her idea to create a community garden. Everyone pitches in to grow things that many families will want to eat. She even finds a way to keep the garden growing and expand it to another location after the first season is over.

While Dana Digs In can inspire young gardeners to dream big about creating something beyond their own back yards, I also found it a tad unrealistic about the ease of setting up such a large enterprise and the abundance of food that could be grown the first year. Everything seems to fall into place easily for Dana and she seems to know exactly what she needs without input from others. That’s unlikely to happen in real life. It’s also unlikely that she would harvest an abundance of crops like strawberries that may need a season to become well established

Even so, I think Dana Digs In could be a great starting point and inspiration for young gardeners. Parents and their kids can talk about what Dana accomplishes and make a plan to grow something yummy for themselves. I recommend it for readers aged 8 to 11.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

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