Sunday, September 11, 2022

Best Wishes and Lotus Bloom and the Afro Revoluti

Mlynowski, Sarah. Best Wishes (Best Wishes #1)
September 6th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Becca and Harper have been friends since kindergarten, and go to school in New York's Uppwer West Side. They've always spent birthdays together, having sleepovers and playing their favorite games, but this year Harper backs out, saying that she has to get up early for a chess tournament the next morning. The two have become more distant since they were put in different classes, and Becca thinks that chess playing Georgette is partly to blame. She monoploizes Harper over lunch when Becca rarely gets to see her and really needs to offload about her mean teacher. When Becca confronts Harper about the lack of connection, Harper says that she doesn't want to be best friends anymore. This is devastating, since Becca doesn't have many other friends, so it is a pleasant surprise when she receives a package at home. It's a bracelet with a cryptic note about wishing, but no sender. She tries to call her father, who is recently divorced from her mother and had to move to California for work, but he doesn't answer. It's not from her mother or brother, Brahm, either. THe next day at school, Becca takes a chance and wishes that more people would be her friend. The effects are immediate, and everyone is falling all over themselves to connect with her. This even affects her teacher, who is just kind of irritated with her, as well as her mother, who starts agreeing to whatever Becca requests, and even spending time getting coffee and manicures. The fact that she starts dressing like her is a bit alarming. Everyone in class wants to come to her birthday party. This is fun for a while, but also a bit tiring. When a strange woman keeps trying to buy the bracelet from Becca, she is even more alarmed. She eventually wants the wish to stop, but she can't get the bracelet off. Her brother has some wise words about how he has so many friends without any magic. Can Becca take some of these hints to heart and solve her unusual situation?
Strengths: Having more friends definitely sounds like a good plan to most middle grade readers, because being at school by oneself is a bit... scary and isolating. (Unlike being an adult, where having to be in people's company and talk to them is always exhausting!) Becca's falling out with Harper is absolutely true to life, and there are some very astute observations about friendship underneath the glitter of magic. Harper wants to be Becca's friend again when they magic takes hold, but Becca realizes that they don't have much in common. Brahm's description of why he has friends (he pays attention and is nice to people) helps Becca move forward after the bracelet comes off. The magic is sweet and uncomplicated, and the idea of being to make a wish and change one's life is appealing to everyone. Definitely looking forward to other installations of this series. 
Weaknesses: I wish that Becca had been a tiny bit older, just because all of my students will read about 8th graders or high school freshman, but only my 6th graders will willingly pick up books with fifth graders as the main characters. 
What I really think
: This was a fun look at wishes, and I am super excited that the bracelet is being sent to Columbus, Ohio next, in Debbie Rigaud's turn at this series, The Sister Switch (March 7, 2023). Mlynowski's Whatever After is still very popular, and the readers who pick it up will often zip through a book a day, so I think they will be pleased with this new series. 

Winston, Sherri. Lotus Bloom and the Afro Revolution 
September 6th 2022 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lotus, a talented violinist, is glad to be attending the new and impressive Atlantis Arts School in Miami, Florida, but feels bad that it is so much nicer than the inner city neighborhood school that her best friend, Rebel, attends. Lotus is such a good musician that she has been accepted into the academy without an audition, and when the conductor hears her, he immediately makes her concert master. This irritates Adolfo, whom she replaces. He and his friends start giving her a hard time, making snide comments and throwing paperr airplanes into her signature Afro, which she refers to as the "wooly mammoth" and which she very carefully grooms. Her mother and grandmother think she should be quiet; they think that she should have her hair relaxed and not be as flamboyant in her style of vintage dressing, but Rebel thinks that she should take a stand... or perhaps come back to the neighborhood school and join their protests. Lotus would like to move to Paris to be with her musician father, but the school she wants to attend is very expensive. When the conductor recommends her for a special musical program in Paris, she is absolutely thrilled, but Adolfo, who is a year older and has been planning on going to this program, is not. His mother gets involved, and after Lotus complains to the principal about the bullying going on, she is sent a letter saying that SHE is in violation of the code of conduct, and that her hair do is "distracting". It threatens her with expulsion if she doesn't change her hair style. Her mother isn't happy, but wants Lotus to de-escalate the situation. She gets her hair restyled, which appeases the administration but doesn't shut down Adolfo's mother. Will Lotus, with the help of Rebel and her other friends, be able to fight the racist dress code and the inequality of treatment for Black students at both the fancy new school as well as the neighborhood ones?
Strengths: It is always good to see books about young people who have strong interests, and both Lotus' interest in music and Rebel's interest in social justice will speak to many tween readers. I enjoyed how invested Lotus was in her somewhat unusual personal style, and applauded the fact that she makes an effort with her outfits; my students pretty much wear workout clothes to school every single day, but I am a big fan of 1970s fashions! The problems with having an elite school program in a community struggling with disparity in the schools was interesting. Lotus is a strong personality who surrounds herself with people who also have interests similar to hers, and who help her when she needs it. 
Weaknesses: While I completely support Lotus' choices and think it is good that she calls out people whose actions are hurtful, it was sad to see how judgemental she was of others. She describes her grandmother as "the very picture of bitter old lady-- tight-curled hair dyed a harsh black; tiny gold-framed glasses that dangle on the tip of her nose". If Lotus is allowed to revel in her impressive Afro and vintage fashions, why can't her grandmother dress the way that she likes without Lotus being so unkind about it? Lotus has strong opinions about other people who have thoughts that don't coincide with hers, even when they don't hurt her, and I would have expected her to be more empathetic.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who want to see proactive student involvement, like Giles' Take Back the Block, Ramee's Good Kind of Trouble, or Marks' From the Desk of Zoe Washington, Firestone's Dress Coded, Farr's Margie Kelly Breaks the Dress Code, or Young's The Prettiest,or readers who want to read about students who are really interested in music. 

As with many dress code books, I found some of this hard to believe; at my school in the spring, we had girls wearing sports bras and shorts so short that their butt cheeks were exposed, and you could not have paid me money to say anything about that to anyone! I still think that our dress code should be "If you don't want to see Ms. Yingling wear it, you should rethink your outfit," but this is at odds with, well, the zeitgeist of the entire world. When I wear my running tights to school with a tube top, you'll know the current state of the world has gotten to me. (I've mentioned to some girls that maybe I will do this, and they look appalled. I then call them on their lack of flexibility!)

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