Sunday, December 29, 2019

Titles for younger readers

Smith, Nikki Shannon The Amazing Life of Azaleah Lane  
Mari Lobo (Illustrations)
January 1st 2020 by Picture Window Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Third grader Azaleah lives in Washington, D.C. area, and is enthralled by the pandas when her class visits the National Zoo. When her teacher offers extra credit for constructing a diorama with the pandas, Azaleah is thrilled, because she enjoys the STEM focus of her school.Her weekend ends up being very busy, with her mother running a local restaurant, her father being a lawyer, and her sister Nia having the leading role in her school's production of The Wis. It doesn't help when her Auntie Sam babysits and her younger sister Tiana's favorite stuffed toy, Greenie, goes missing. Will Azaleah be able to touch base with her best friend Rose, get her work done, and find her sister's toy?
Strengths: This is 112 pages long with bright, happy illustrations. Azaleah is a fun, motivated character who loves her family and wants to do well in school, even if she has trouble managing her time a little bit. I would have adored this when I was in first grade, especially since MY class visited the pandas when they first came to the US. (A long, long time ago!)
Weaknesses: Too young for my students, although the format would work well for many of my lower readers.
What I really think: I would definitely buy for an elementary school, but will pass for middle school.

Darraj, Susan Muaddi. Farah Rocks Fifth Grade (Farah Rocks, #1) 
Ruaida Mannaa (Illustrator)
January 1st 2020 by Stone Arch Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Farah is a very bright fifth grader who hopes to get into Magnet Academy for middle school, along with her best friend Allie. She is concerned, though, when there is a new girl at her school, Dana, who is mean to both her and her younger brother, Samir. Going to a new school would mean leaving him behind, and Farah doesn't want to leave him with the evil Dana. She starts to fail her tests, going so far as to delete e mails from her teachers when they express concern. With her mother picking up more hours at the local supermarket, Farah is responsible for Samir after school, and she takes her responsibility seriously. Samir was born prematurely, so his medical bills have burdened the family, especially since her parents donated a window to the Orthodox church they attend when his health improved. Because her parents are so involved, they eventually notice what is going on, and let Farah know that it is her responsibility to get a good education, and they will worry about finances and Samir.
Strengths: I love the close-knit family, and Farah's concern for her brother. It's also great to see a representation of an older sibling caring for a younger one after school. There are other supportive adults in her life, like Mr. Richie, her teacher, who does express concern, even if the bus driver is not seeing Dana's behavior. There are lots of details about the family's cultural background (they speak Arabic, the father came to the country when he was 28 and has an accent, holidays, food), but that isn't the focus of the story. There is even a hummus recipe at the end of the book!
Weaknesses: Don't study Latin at Magnet Academy, Farah! Or at least, don't grow up to major in it! This is just slightly young for my readers.
What I really think: Would definitely purchase for an elementary school but will pass for middle school. I'd love to see more of this character, and would buy a story about her in 6th grade!

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