A Pollyanna for the 21st century

SARAI AND THE MEANING OF AWESOME

From the Sarai series , Vol. 1

Young debut author Gonzalez joins veteran co-author Brown (Lola Levine and the Halloween Scream, 2017) to kick off a semiautobiographical chapter-book series based on her life growing up with a large and loving immigrant family in New Jersey.

Fourth-grader Sarai is the oldest of three girls in a tightknit Latinx family (her mom was born in Peru, and her dad was born in Costa Rica). She is the epitome of positive thinking, with ambition to spare. When her beloved grandfather learns that the owner of the house he has been renting, and which he shares with his extended family, has decided to sell, Sarai is immediately concerned. Where will her abuelos, tíos, and primos live? What if they are no longer close by? Sarai’s optimism does not let her stay down for long, and she immediately hatches a plan to use her fledgling cupcake business to raise the money needed to buy the house. Little sisters making a mess of the kitchen cause some trouble, but basic economics presents insurmountable odds—still, the ending is undoubtedly happy all the same. Sarai’s neighborliness and strong family values may be aspirational for many in our contemporary society, but her contagious joy might just set readers on the road to remedy that. Though none of her plans ultimately succeed, she remains irrepressibly hopeful throughout; it’s an admirable hope that fuels hard work and ingenuity. Almeda’s illustrations depict Sarai and her family with brown skin and black hair.

A Pollyanna for the 21st century . (Fiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-23668-2

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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An enjoyable, endearing collection.

TOO SMALL TOLA

A young girl learns that she doesn’t have to be big to make a difference.

Tola lives in Lagos, Nigeria, with her siblings—sister Moji and brother Dapo, who call her “Too Small Tola” because she is the smallest—under the care of their grandmother. Each of the three short chapters tells of Tola’s adventures while immersing readers in Lagos daily life. In Tola’s first adventure, Grandmommy chooses Tola to take shopping, causing Tola to panic as she worries she won’t be able to carry their purchases. After collecting everything from Grandmommy’s seemingly never-ending list, they make their way home, taking plenty of breaks that leave Tola’s siblings jealous. For her second adventure, she must collect water from the well near their building and then make it to school on time, but she must conquer a mean, older kid first. Tola’s final adventure occurs during a time of celebrations when Eid falls at the same time as Easter. Readers follow along as Tola takes on the challenge of measuring clients for Mr. Abdul—a tailor who lives in Tola’s building—after he breaks his leg. This collection of stories is perfect for transitioning readers, with its manageable chapters, clear, plain language, simple sentence structures, wry sense of humor, and realistic illustrations of the diverse Nigerian cast. While some elements may be unfamiliar to readers outside Tola’s culture, readers will find anchors in Tola’s relationships.

An enjoyable, endearing collection. (Fiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-1127-6

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Italics and exclamation points may be overused, but this new humorous series is full of gently amusing magical surprises.

THE SUPER-SPOOKY FRIGHT NIGHT!

From the Hubble Bubble series , Vol. 1

Shades of Bewitched, the old TV show featuring a witch married to a regular guy.

This new chapter-book series stars Pandora, a white girl with two grandmas—the good witch, Granny Crow, in a patterned minidress, whose magical powers enliven any party or school outing, and Granny Podmore, in her cardigan and plaid skirt, a kind but stereotypical grandmother who cleans and cooks. Pandora’s friends include Nellie, a black girl, and Nellie’s mom is also depicted as black in the exuberant line drawings with gray washes. The three chapterlong adventures are rather tame, meant for readers who want fun rather than fright. In “The Super-Spooky Fright Night!” (all titles have exclamation points), the two grandmothers host a Halloween party. Granny Crow creates “bat-shaped cookies that hung around the bowls, and a custard cat (that actually meowed!).” Granny Podmore makes “the neatest swans” from napkins. Granny Crow conjures up musical broomsticks when Granny Podmore wants to introduce musical chairs. The evening ends happily when Granny Podmore uses Ollie, her vacuum cleaner, to suck up little pumpkins from Granny Crow’s pumpkin pop gone wild. Only Granny Crow appears in the other stories, making teddy bears come alive to give a “teddy bears’ picnic!” and causing a nasty teacher to accidentally cast a spell that turns a school swimming lesson into utter chaos.

Italics and exclamation points may be overused, but this new humorous series is full of gently amusing magical surprises. (Fantasy. 7-9)

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8653-6

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Nosy Crow/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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