Tag Archives: music

Stargazing by Jen Wang

9781250183880by Jen Wang
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Christine Wong and her little sister live a very disciplined life. But when their parents offer their spare unit to a community member in need, Christine gains an unlikely new friend. Moon Lin is artistic and unpredictable in ways that Christine learns to appreciate, and opens her eyes up to new things like dancing and painting her toenails. Her parents don’t always approved but show themselves to be adaptable in the end. The only problem is that Christine is a little jealous of the freedoms that her friend enjoys, with an unconventional and Buddhist single mother so she anonymously sets Moon up for teasing from their other friends. But then Moon has to have surgery and Christine is ashamed of how she has hurt her and they make up in a very touching way.

Great for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale!

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood by Mister Rogers

9781683691136by Mister Rogers
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

What a lovely little collection of Mr. Rogers’ songs. Luke Flowers’ drawings are charming and reflect diversity in the world. This collection would not be nearly as delightful without the illustrations. My only real critique is that these were originally songs and they do not really work as poems, words on paper. I would have loved a CD or DVD with the songs to listen to as you read. (It apparently does exist as an e-audiobook.)

We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey


by Geoff Rodkey
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Lan and her family are the last surviving humans after Earth is destroyed. They’ve been living in a colony on Mars but finally struck a deal with the citizens of Choom, a distant planet, to allow them to settle there as refugees. But by the time they get to Choom 20 years later (in suspended animation), the government has changed hands and the new government is completely opposed to the idea because humans are violent and they don’t want any violence or conflict of any kind. They finally agree to let Lan and her family (her mother is the chief negotiator) come down on a trial basis while everyone else stays on the ship. There are three main species: the Zhuri, who are the majority and run everything; the Krik, who have the second-highest population; and the Ororo, who are the smartest. The Zhuri leaders have effectively banned all emotion, and anything that provokes emotion, such as singing, and Lan’s sister Ila won an “America’s Got Talent” type show back on Earth with singing and the humans were hoping to win the residents of Choom over with her skills.

This book raises a number of really interesting issues. One is the very real, very near future of humans destroying Earth, and then what happens? And we could be based on our history of violence as a species and denied asylum elsewhere. Then there’s the idea of asylum seekers as “us” and not “them” which is a change from how it’s generally understood, not to mention the way the humans are shown in the Choom media. Lan and her family are frustrated over and over again by the fake news. And then the Zhuri and their emotion-denying. Wow. You can only clamp down on your own nature for so long before it erupts, and in the end it was Ila’s music that won them over. It would have been a different story if the species were actually completely peaceful, but they were just pretending to be to maintain order, which rarely works.

I was also particularly struck by how the different species’ foods were described. The Zhuri drink a gray liquid that smells revolting to humans, and it is described as an efficient way to nourish them. They also do not create “body garbage” like humans do, which was entertaining. The Krik also eat something gross, but the Ororo eat varied-colored cubes of food that is tasty to humans. The Krik were the first to inhabit Choom, and they were joined by the Zhuri later and then the Ororo. It turns out that there used to be a fourth species, the Nug, but the Zhuri killed them all. So all their claims of peace were not entirely truthful. The reason I docked it a half-star is that the resolution to the conflict came right at the very end, so we didn’t really get to see the humans settling into and enjoying Choom society at all, but maybe there will be a sequel?


Blended by Sharon Draper


by Sharon Draper
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This review is going to be chock full of spoilers because it was advertised (on the front flap; Draper’s website gives the tiniest hint of what’s to come) as a book about a biracial girl in search of her identity but it does NOT say that she survives a police shooting. I think I know why they left that out (my guess is that getting shot by the police is never something you’re prepared for in real life) but for a middle grade novel I do NOT think that should be just sprung on a reader. I know Millennials are widely mocked for their trigger warnings, but there is something about it. It just seems unnecessarily cruel to not give a 10-year-old (or younger) a heads up about reading about that.

I wasn’t a huge fan of this book almost from the start, but I bumped up its star rating because in the end I do think it’s an important story to tell, even if I disagree with certain aspects of its telling. So let’s back up and start with the basics. Blended is the story of 11-year-old Isabella, whose white mother and Black father have been divorced for a few years. They share custody, with Isabella changing homes every Sunday at 3pm on the dot, which she resents. They each have a new partner who lives with them and Isabella even has a quasi-step-brother. She gets along well with each and during the story each couple gets engaged, which you might think would be the main plot, but no. Isabella’s dad at one point says that he and her mom “didn’t see color” when they started dating, which I thought was a really weird thing for a Black author to have a Black character say. I’d be curious to hear Draper’s thoughts on that.

Some racial violence appears at Isabella’s school, in the form of a noose appearing in her friend Imani’s gym locker, and a white boy gets suspended for it. (It was obvious from previous scenes who put the noose there but for some reason no one knows for sure who it was at first, which was weird.) Imani is shaken up by that for a long time, but then that plot goes underground until they are followed in a fancy store at the mall by a security guard. I was glad that Imani and Isabella had each other (as Isabella tells her mother, she knows the Black half of her is what people see, and it’s what she puts down on school forms – she says it’s “stronger” which is an interesting word choice) because their other best friend, Heather, is a white girl.

I really appreciated Draper’s inclusion of just a few of the micro-aggressions that Isabella and Imani face (like when Izzy’s crush – a white boy – tells her that she must get her good looks from her white mother) and hope that it helps non-Black kids understand what that’s like. Isabella’s teacher tries to address racial issues in class and as far as I can tell does a decent job.

And then we get to the shooting. It just comes out of absolutely nowhere, which I’m sure is how it feels to those who have experienced it. Isabella’s on her way to her piano recital when the police pull Darren over, thinking he had just robbed a bank. They handcuff him and pin him down and tell her not to move either. When they uncuff him, with no apology, Isabella reaches into her pocket to get her cell phone and call her parents to tell them they’ll be late and a jumpy policewoman shoots her. The bullet grazes Izzy’s arm; she falls and hits her head and is taken to the hospital.

This story was just all over the place, the writing was a little hokey, and frankly had too much going on for me. I’m not sure it’s a middle-grade book, though I don’t doubt that 4th and 5th graders need age-appropriate stories about racial violence and police shootings. It just didn’t feel like Draper’s best, and I do think kids deserve a heads up before entering into an intense story like this.