Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu and Zara's Rules for Living Your Best Life

Chan, Maisie. Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu
March 28th 2023 by Amulet Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lizzie lives in Glasgow, Scotland, with her grandfather, Wai Gong. Her grandmother passed away after battling cancer, and her grandfather, while still fairly young (late 60s) has struggled with taking care of Lizzie. She has taken on grocery shopping and cooking, and generally making sure that her grandfather is taken care of. Her teachers have noticed, but Wai Gong doesn't want to go to school to talk to her teachers. They even ask Lizzie is she needs help, but she tells them she does not. Wai Gong is becoming increasingly confused, losing things and forgetting dates, and has been unable to keep a job, so Lizzie certainly could use some help. After forgetting her birthday, Wai Gong does find a card that her grandmother left for her. In it are four tickets to the Blackpool Towers Ballroom, where she and the grandfather had always wanted to go, since they met in a ballroom. There are a lot of logistical hurdles to conquer, like getting to the venue, but Lizzie is determined that if she can get her grandfather there, he will be better. She manages to get her best friend Chi's brother to drive them, since he needs a topic for a documentary he is filming. Wai Gong is willing to go because he thinks that Chi, dressed as Princess Leia for a local Comic Con, is really the goddess Gaun Yin. He had accidentally broken a statue of the goddess, and thinks that his bad luck was caused by that. Chi's family is supportive of the trip, as are friend Tyler's fathers, so the groups sets out. The trip is full of problems, but there is help along the way, and the group makes it to the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, only to find their tickets were for the previous day. Will Lizzie be able to make her grandfather's dreams come true?
Strengths: This was an upbeat, adventurous novel that also dealt with issues of grief, and problems surrounding older people. Lizzie does a good job of keeping things together on her own, but its good to see that help is available to her. Chi's parents are a lot of fun, between their vegan birthday "cakes" and insistance on doing yoga! Wai Gong's problems are fairly noticeable, but young readers, like Lizzie, might attribute them to his grief over the grandmother's death. The trip from Glasgow to Blackpool has many problems, but is depicted in a fun way, with trips to an amusement park that delay the group a bit. There's a good dose of Chinese culture and legend that added a lot to the story. 
Weaknesses: This was particularly UK in many aspects, especially in the freedom to travel around as well as the very Jacqueline Wilson-esque problems of care that Lizzie faces. I did love the notes at the end where the author talks about young carers and her own experiences with that. 
What I really think: I would have saved up my babysitting money to buy my own copy of this when I was in middle school, and now I just really, really want to go to Blackpool. I'm not sure that my students even know what the US version of Strictly Come Dancing is, and doubt that it would hold much interest for my readers. I'm really tempted to buy it, and definitely would for an elementary library. 

Khan, Hena. Zara's Rules for Living Your Best Life (#3)
March 21st 2023 by Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zara and Zayd have spring break, and Zara is looking forward to being at home and playing with her best friend Naomi as well as the other neighborhood children. When she finds out that Naomi is going to a camp at her synagogue, Zara agitates for being allowed to go as well. Sadly, her mother has made plans for the two children to visit with their grandparents every day. This doesn't sound like fun, since Naano always wants them to do chores, and Nana Abu just stays in his pajamas all day, reading the newspaper and napping! Zara decides she will just ahve to recreate the camp experience herself, and packs a suitcase with a variety of activities, hoping especially to get her grandfather insterested in a hobby. He thinks she's joking about painting rocks, but joins in half heartedly, but her grandmother will not let her reverse tie dye colored t shirts with bleach. Zara does work with her grandmother to put together a high tea, and her uncle stops by as well. At the end of the tea, Nana Abu is ready to shuffle back to his chair, but Zara gets him to tell a story about building a fence in the back garden. Zara thinks it would be a good idea to build a bird house, and the next day is spent pleasantly engaged in building several of them. When they are admiring their handiwork, a woman walking her dog asks if it is a Little Free Library, because she volunteers at the senior center, and they are interested in having one there. Zara then schemes to have her grandparents visit the senior center, which sounds like an amazing camp that they could go to every day and meet new people. It's a struggle to get them there, but once she does, Naano meets some women who exchange baked goods and have tea, and Nana Abu is asked to help with the Little Free Library project. Zara's mother is happy that Zara worked so hard to keep everyone active and happy. 
Strengths: Oh, Zara. I feel your pain. There were never enough people around to do misguided crafts with me whent I was younger, and by the time I was ten, my grandmother was in her mid 80s, so she wasn't interested in anything but watching The Waltons and crocheting afghans. I love that Zara has her mind set on a camp and does a lot of preparation so that Zayd and her grandfather have things to do, and sympathized with her when her activities weren't as well recieved as she hoped. Of course, A previous book indicated that the grandparents were around MY age, so that was a bit disconcerting. Nana Abu hasn't been retired long, but spending the day in one's pajamas is acceptable for a veyr limited amount of time, so I was glad to see that Zara was successful in getting him motivated to leave the house and make the world a better place. This was a happy, upbeat book with cultural connections and a good message. 
Weaknesses: I would love this even more if Zara was 14, and the story appealed to 8th graders as well. Reading preference change so drastically during middle school, and this is too young for 2/3 of my students. 
What I really think: The first two books, Zara's Rules for Record Breaking Fun and Zara's Rules for Finding Hidden Treasure, have done surprisingly well with my 6th graders, so I will definitely be purchasing this book. This is a must-purchase series for elementary schools. 

Also, I may look into the quilting group at the local senior center this summer, since most of the activities take place during the day and I, unlike Nana Abu, am not retired! 

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