book review: Can You See Me Now

9781558857834title: Can You See Me Now
author: Estela Bernal
date: Arte Publico; 2014
main character: Amanda “Mandy” Silva

Can You See Me Now is Estela Bernal’s first published novel. It’s the story of Mandy Silva whose father is tragically killed on her 13th birthday. Her mother blames Mandy for her husband’s death and proceeds to shuffle her daughter off to live with her grandmother. Grandmothers are good characters for books with family issues. They have the protagonist’s interests at heart but are far enough removed from the situation for their issues not with weigh down the story.

It seems Estela has always been the victim of school bullies, but a new girl, Paloma enters the school and easily becomes friends with Mandy. Rogelio, a nice enough boy with a weight problem and even more of a problem with bullies seems to become friends with Mandy and Paloma after a house fire. Does this sound like a book with too many issues, or just the way life is?

With a perception that makes her seem much wiser than her years, Mandy decides that the only way for her to heal her wounds is to begin to help others. And, so she does. Her road is a rocky one as we begin to experience the fullness of her character. With so much hurt and pain in this character’s life, Bernal manages to carry a gentle element of hope throughout the story. I almost hate to say that this book would be an excellent tool for counselors working with children who are overweight, being bullied or bullying others or for those experience grief because you’ll think this is an “issue book” filled with the author’s voice that directs young readers toward a more fulfilling life. And, that would be incorrect. Bernal let’s her character’s life play out, let’s her interact and react with other characters in ways that reflect real life situations. OK, Paloma was a bit didactic in explaining yoga to her friends, but it worked coming from this precocious young girl. Adults in the story were supporting characters who did not deliver messages on behalf of the author.

Can You See Me Now delivers a powerful message about taking control of one’s life by making good choices for ourselves, including the relationships we develop and maintain. An important, easy to miss message is how ordinary (i.e., not exotic) Latino life is.

This is a rather quick read that will leave you smiling.

Male Monday: Matt de la Pena

Matt-de-la-PenaMatt de la Peña has released a new book. Infinity Ring Book 4: Curse of the Ancients is part of an MG series where each book is written by a different author. (A librarian’s nightmare to shelf!!)

Sera has a secret. She’s seen the future, and it is terrifying. Unfortunately, she can’t do anything to prevent the Cataclysm while stranded with Dak and Riq thousands of years in the past. Their only hope 511EObkUGHL._AA160_lies with the ancient Maya, a mysterious people who claim to know a great deal about the future. Is there more to these ancients than meets the eye?

I was surprised when he announced the release on Facebook because I hadn’t seen it coming. Looking at the age, it was recommending for ages 8-12. MG???

Sure, Matt wrote A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis and it appealing to younger readers, but having heard Matt speak twice, having read his books, I’d say his passion is YA.

He speaks about his own personal coming of age experience with his dad, how he connects with his high school readers and 51F91dNLIbL._AA160_what it has been like growing up as a Latino, finding his own voice. He’s so personable that you realize storytelling comes natural to him.

And perhaps that’s how he found himself writing this book that publishers recommend for 8-12 year olds.Honestly, I’m glad to see anything Matt writes, I just can’t get over this 8-12 thing. Here’s why.

Publishers consider middle grade (MG) books written for ages 8-12. Upper middle grade books are 10-14 and young adult books are 12-18.

Educators identify elementary grades as 1-5, middle grades as 6-8 and high school as 9-12.

Depending on local laws and when birthdays fall, children can enter the first  grade at ages 5, 6 or 7.  Using, the median age, a child would be 6 in the first grade and 8 in the third grade. When a child enters middle grades (6th grade) she would be 12 and 14 in the 9th grade, a freshman in high school.

51isy-OCVHL._AA160_Essentially, they’re recommending Matt’s book for third graders. Up to my shoulders in YA books, I don’t quite have time to read Curse of the Ancients to see where I think it will fit best, but I may be able to work in The Living which releases in November. It’s a YA book, Matt’s fifth novel.

Matt de la Peña is the author of four critically-acclaimed young adult novels: Ball Don’t Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here and I Will Save You. He’s also the author of the award-winning picture book A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (illustrated by Kadir Nelson). Matt received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific where he attended school on a full basketball scholarship.

 de la Peña currently lives in Brooklyn NY.Matt received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific, where he attended school on a full athletic scholarship for basketball. source


Saturday Trailer: Dork Diaries

What better day for book trailers than a Saturday?author2404078_2075496634438197238092626

Rachel Renee Russell is no doubt one of the most successful African American MG authors today. She currently has 6 books in her popular Dork Diaries Series published by Simon and Schuster with a 7th book scheduled for release later this year. I’m not always good about reading  MG books, but every time I announce another Dork Diary I want to get my hands a copy and go sit in a McDonalds and read straight through.

I have two videos for you this morning.You won’t be able to sit still while you watch the first video, a lively Dork Diaries trailer. The second is a brief introduction to the talented Rachel Renee Russell who was also interviewed here on the Graphic Novel Reporter.

book review: Ain’t nothing but a man

title: Ain’t nothing but a man: my quest to find the real John Henry

author: Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson

date: National Geographic Books for Children, 2008

MG nonfiction

In Ain’t nothing but a man, Scott Reynolds walks us through his research to find out whether John Henry was a real man. His conversational tone enlivens the narrative by making both the process and the topic interesting.

Reynolds describes how he uses song lyrics, pictures and primary source documents (which are not often found on the internet) to guide his search. He uncovers not only information about John Henry, but much about life in post Civil War American that led to the song and the character we’ve come to know as John Henry.

I particularly like how Reynolds incorporated his methodology into his narrative rather than in an afterwards. I was able to see the authenticity of his work while reading and not find rather meaningful content as an aside.

Reynolds gives much value to the life of John Henry, someone most Americans get to know through a childhood song but who gave his life to build this country and yet his contributions went unmarked, as with many people of color in our history.

[This book is currently discount on Amazon selling for &7.58]

book review: The Great Wall of Lucy Wu

title: Great Wall of Lucy Wu

author: Wendy Wan-Long Shang

date: Scholastic Press;

main character: Wendy Wan


The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is Wendy Wan-Long Shang’s first novel. It is the story of sixth grader, Lucy Wu, whose life is about to be ruined not only by a long lost aunt with whom she has to share a bedroom, by Talent Chang and her new Chinese school and by Sloan. Sloan and Lucy both want to be the captain of the sixth grade basketball team, Lucy because of her basketball skills and Sloan because of her well developed bullying skills. Lucy builds a physical wall in her bedroom to keep her aunt out of her life and she builds emotional and social walls to keep Sloan and Talent out. The thing with walls is that while we think they’re keeping everyone out of our space, they’re also keeping us out of everyone else’s.

Lucy is bitter about her aunt’s visit, about being forced to give up basketball for Chinese school and she’s confused about what to do about Sloan. Lucy hasn’t given up completely on her Chinese culture, she’s just at a stage in her life where she’s about to begin self actualizing, figuring out who she really is and what she really values. She’ll probably always prefer Italian food to Chinese, but nothing will bring her more satisfaction than her aunt’s noodles. We see a lot of growth in this character who experiences many situations which are true to life and easy to identify with. Shang did an excellent job of developing Lucy’s internal struggles so that her change in attitude is believable and understandable.

What didn’t I like about this book? I didn’t like that there were no samples of the dumplings, no scratch and sniff pads and no recipes. I didn’t like how well I could identify with Lucy’s ability to shut others out.

There were many idioms used in the book which, I’ve come to understand are used throughout Chinese conversations. I liked how Shang blends them into the story and echoes their moral in Lucy’s situations. Being embarrassed by relatives, having parents rain on your parade, having that one really good friend who is always there; these are things to which any middle schooler can relate. The fact that Lucy is Chinese American adds dimension and depth to the story.

author’s website


LA Times review



Asian American Press review

The HappyNappyBookseller review