January 9th 2014 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Violet has a long summer ahead of her, and lots of thoughts in her head. Her friend Athena is heading off to Greece, she has a new cat named Hazel, and she still struggles with the fact that her mother and sister are white, while her father was black. She wants a family that all looks the same, and this longing is intensified because her father died right before she was born. Her father's mother is estranged from the family, and after doing some research, Violet confronts her mother and asks to go to an art exhibit that her grandmother is having in nearby Seattle. At first, her grandmother is a little standoffish, since she blames Violet's mother for the death of her son, but she eventually warms up and invites Violet to spend a week with her in Los Angeles. Violet is thrilled, and gets to meet her African American relatives and learn more about her "Bibi's" interest in the culture. A medical emergency brings Bibi to a reconciliation with Violet's mother, and Violet looks forward to spending more time with her "new" family.
Strengths: Great, appealing cover, and a fun story. Violet's trip to her grandmother's was enjoyable to read about, but then I am a sucker for a good grandparent story. Love that the girl on the cover looks like many of my students.
Weaknesses: I'm conflicted about Violet's preoccupation with her family "looking the same". I am not biracial (I couldn't be more Anglo-Germanic), but we have so many students who are that it seems to have become something of a non-issue. Granted, Violet is growing up in a predominately white community, where I am sure people think it is odd that she has a white mother, and the lack of her father is no doubt a factor.
I guess I still really want a book where the character is biracial but the story is not about that. The ethnicity is just one factor of the character. Books with white characters are not usually about them being white. If I were a child of color, I think I would want to see myself portrayed in literature, but I would get bored reading stories about cultural identity. I really don't mean to be offensive-- does this make sense?
September 3rd 2013 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Shortlisted for Cybils Middle Grade Speculative Fiction
Rose is slaving away at St. Bridget's Home for Abandoned Girls, trying to work her hardest and keep her friend Maisie from being too sad when a mysterious woman arrives looking for a maid. Rose is chosen quickly and whisked away to Mr. Fountain's. Mr. Fountain is a magician, and he has an apprentice, Freddie, who is not too happy that Rose seems to have some magical skills. Rose can converse with the cat, for one, and can make pictures appear when she tells stories. Working at Mr. Fountain's is better than being at the orphanage, but Rose finds herself in the middle of a mystery when several girls from St. Bridget's go missing, and other street children disappear as well. Could the suspicious Miss Sparrow be behind this, and can Rose stop her in time?
Strengths: It's set in Dickensian-ish London, has orphans, and involves magic. Since Rose gets to save the day, it doesn't get much better than that. This is the first book in a series; Rose and the Lost Princess, Rose and the Magician's Mask, and Rose and the Silver Ghost continue the story.
Weaknesses: Gets a tad more gruesome than the cover would indicate, and is also only available in paperback, which makes it something I won't buy for my library.