Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall


Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Romance, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Set in an incarceration camp where the United States cruelly detained Japanese Americans during WWII and based on true events, this moving love story finds hope in heartbreak.

To fall in love is already a gift. But to fall in love in a place like Minidoka, a place built to make people feel like they weren’t human—that was miraculous.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Tama is sent to live in a War Relocation Center in the desert. All Japanese Americans from the West Coast—elderly people, children, babies—now live in prison camps like Minidoka. To be who she is has become a crime, it seems, and Tama doesn’t know when or if she will ever leave. Trying not to think of the life she once had, she works in the camp’s tiny library, taking solace in pages bursting with color and light, love and fairness. And she isn’t the only one. George waits each morning by the door, his arms piled with books checked out the day before. As their friendship grows, Tama wonders: Can anyone possibly read so much? Is she the reason George comes to the library every day? Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s beautifully illustrated, elegant love story features a photo of the real Tama and George—the author’s grandparents—along with an afterword and other back matter for readers to learn more about a time in our history that continues to resonate.

Hope can sprout anywhere.

One of the most valuable portions of this story for me was how it gave concrete examples of how racism affected the daily lives of the two main characters and the other people they lived with. For example, the living conditions of the camp they stayed in were poor, and the narrator went into detail about how uncomfortable everyone was who lived there. These moments drove their points home in both subtle and overt ways.

I found myself wishing that the author had provided more details about why Japanese people were sent to incarceration camps in the United States during World War II and what their lives were like there. These are things that most adults are probably already aware of but that middle grade readers may not have been taught yet. I yearned to give it a higher rating as the subject matter is such an important one, but I wasn’t sure how interested kids would be in this tale if they didn’t already know the historical context of it.

I was delightfully surprised by how much hope the characters had for the future. The circumstances they were living under were incredibly difficult, and yet both Tama and George held onto the belief that better days could be on the way. That isn’t something that’s always easy to do, but it was the perfect addition to the other themes of the storyline as well. After all, life is often filled with mixtures of emotions like these.

Love in the Library was a thought-provoking read.

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle by Nina LaCour


Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle by Nina LaCour
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A little girl stays home with Mama when Mommy goes off on a work trip in this tender, inviting story that will resonate with every child who has missed a parent.

For one little girl, there’s no place she’d rather be than sitting between Mama and Mommy. So when Mommy goes away on a work trip, it’s tricky to find a good place at the table. As the days go by, Mama brings her to the library, they watch movies, and all of them talk on the phone, but she still misses Mommy as deep as the ocean and as high as an astronaut up in the stars. As they pass by a beautiful garden, the girl gets an idea . . . but when Mommy finally comes home, it takes a minute to shake off the empty feeling she felt all week before leaning in for a kiss. Michael L. Printz Award winner Nina LaCour thoughtfully renders a familiar, touching story of a child who misses a parent, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, whose distinctive style brings charm and playfulness to this delightful family of three.

It’s never fun to be left behind.

One of my favorite scenes happened early on when the main character was in a classroom setting and mentioned missing her Mommy. The details might differ a little from one family to the next, but everyone misses someone they love at one point or another. Seeing how the teacher and her classmates responded to her was heartwarming. I couldn’t have imagined a better response to her admission that she was having a hard time.

The only thing I wish had been written differently in this tale was the ending. There were so many touching scenes earlier on in the plot that I was a bit surprised by how quickly it was all wrapped up. It would have been nice to have an extra scene or two at the end where the girl talked about her week at home with Mama and heard what Mommy had been up to during her business trip as well.

This was a gentle, honest exploration of how a young girl dealt with going through her normal daily routines while her Mommy was away. It’s hard for a little one to be separated from a parent even if it’s temporary and for a good reason. I thought it was lovely that she felt comfortable sharing her feelings with her Mama, her teacher, and the many other supportive people in her life. That is an excellent way to deal with difficult feelings, and it made me eager to recommend this.

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle was a wonderful read.

The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing


The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

It’s another Thanksgiving at Grandma’s. Gavin expects a long, boring day full of pesky toddlers, but his cousin Rhonda has a different idea: make a break for it to the swing set in the backyard! Gavin isn’t so sure, especially when they encounter vicious guard dogs (in homemade sweaters), overly affectionate aunts, and worst of all, the great wall of butts. Can they avoid all the obstacles and find some fun before turkey time?

Sometimes there is such a thing as too much family togetherness.
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This picture book had an excellent sense of humour that was displayed in both the dialogue and descriptions of what the characters were doing next. I couldn’t stop chucking as I read it, especially when it came to the parts about Gavin and Rhonda dodging well-meaning but slightly overbearing relatives who hadn’t quite caught on yet that these two kids were trying to escape the loud, festive house where everyone was gathered for Thanksgiving.

The ending felt a bit abrupt to me. I would have liked to see more details about how the adults in this family reacted not only to Gavin and Rhonda’s secret plan to sneak past everyone but also to how their mission turned out. There was so much more room here to develop the plot and sneak in a few more jokes about what Thanksgiving is really like for kids who find it overstimulating.

Speaking of being overstimulated, I really enjoyed this book’s take on why Gavin and Rhonda were the only members of their large, extended family to react this way to a day of togetherness. It left plenty of room for multiple interpretations of their motives and why they both yearned for peace and quiet so strongly. This meant that I could read this to kids who are simply a little shy, kids who have official medical reasons for disliking noise and large crowds, and to kids who simply want to learn to be more empathetic when they meet someone who is different from them in some way. There truly was something here for everyone!

The Great Thanksgiving Escape was a heartwarming read that should be read by anyone who gets a little overwhelmed by large gatherings or wonders why some folks react that way.

Dasher by Matt Tavares


Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever by Matt Tavares
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Dasher is an adventurous young reindeer with a wish in her heart. She spends her days with her family under the hot sun in a traveling circus, but she longs for a different life — one where there is snow beneath her hooves and the North Star above her head. One day, when the opportunity arises, Dasher seizes her destiny and takes off in pursuit of the life she wants to live. It’s not long before she meets a nice man in a red suit with a horse-drawn sleigh — a man named Santa. And soon, with the help of a powerful Christmas wish, nothing will be the same.

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This story handled the sad parts of its plot beautifully. In the opening scene, Dasher and family were owned by a man who did not always treat them kindly. The details of their lives were kept to an age-appropriate level while still allowing older readers to pick up on subtle clues about why that traveling circus was not a nice place for a reindeer to live.

I was thrilled to have a female protagonist in a Christmas story! Most people assume that all of Santa’s reindeer were male, so it was refreshing to have a female reindeer running the show. Dasher was a wonderful role model no matter what was happening around her. I also appreciated the fact that her gender wasn’t made a point of conflict in the plot. She simply existed and went about doing all sorts of heroic things without giving a second thought to the reader’s assumptions about the creatures who pull Santa’s sled.

Speaking of Santa, I adored the scene that showed how he and Dasher first met. Not only was it wholesome, it added so much joy to a storyline that hadn’t included a great of joy up until that point. Seeing how his mere presence made Dasher’s life better brought a smile to my face. I already loved Dasher by that scene, but all of the characters became unforgettable after it.

Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever was a heartwarming tale that I can’t recommend highly enough.