Tuesday, April 18, 2023

A Spoonful of Time and Shinji Takahashi: Into the Heart of the Storm

Ahn, Flora. A Spoonful of Time
11 April 2023 by Quirk Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maya has lived with just her mother, work works in a busy legal office, since her father died when she was young. She has Gizmo to keep her company, and recently her mother's mother, her Halmunee, has moved in with them because she is having memory issues. While it's nice to have someone to talk to, Maya sometimes misses the quiet. When her grandmother starts cooking traditional Korean dishes and sharing them, something amazing happens; Maya and Halmunee travel back in time to events where Halmunee has good memories of when the food was served. From eating iced treats in the summer to celebratory parties and picnics, the two get glimpses of Halmunee's life. This is especially nice for Maya, who has few memories of her father, and whose mother refuses to discuss the past. At one point, Maya meets a boy her age, Jeff, who claims that he, like Maya, is from the present an dable to travel through time. They meet in an orchard that has memory trees of different people's lives, but can't locate her fathers. Back in her own time, Maya has a school project she needs to work on with Jada and Izzy, but between traveling to meet Jeff and dealing with her grandmother's worsening memory loss, she lets this slide. She eventually tells Jada what is happening when the time traveling takes several surprising turns. When Maya's mother claims that she and Halmunee are "not a typical mother-and-daughter pair", she is not exaggerating. Will Maya hone her skills at traveling and be able to solve some of the mysteries of her past while repairing her relationship with her mother?
Strengths: Maya is a great, independent middle grader who is used to taking care of herself but who also enjoys cooking with her grandmother. There are a lot of recipes, and so many food descriptions; really, it's a shame to read this and NOT be able to have Korean food for dinner! The time travel world is well developed, and I was completely surprised by some of the developments, so I don't want to say too much and spoil it. Jada and Izzy are supportive friends, and having a project that needed to be worked on was a great way to ground the story in middle grade reality. The Our Town style snapshots of Maya's family's past were rather bittersweet, and made me wish that I could have time traveled with my own grandmother since she, like Maya's mother, never discussed the past. Of course, she probably would only have made desserts!
Weaknesses: Like all really great time travel books, this made my brain hurt a little bit. 
What I really think: I will definitely purchase this for readers who like magical realism with cultural connections like Villanueva's Sugar and Spite or time travel books like Barrow's The Magic Half and Asselin and Malone's The Art of the Swap. The cover is great, and Gizmo reminds me of this author's illustrated elementray title, Pug Pals

Kagawa, Julie. Shinji Takahashi: Into the Heart of the Storm 
April 18, 2023 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Shinji has survived his initiation into the Society of Adventurers and Explorers and his magical connections in Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl, and is trying to learn to use his magic. It's not going particularly well. Lucy, whose father runs the Hightower Corporation which is at odds with S.E.A., is feeling a little homesick, since it's harder for her to meld technology and magic and create things like her robotic mouse, Tinker, while traveling the globe. When S.E.A. has to try to investigate a site of a shipwreck in the middle of the ocean and try to preserve it before Hightower gets there, the two find themselves on an adventure with Oliver Ocean, Mano, and Phoebe Mystic, who has a complicated family legacy but who is supposed to help Shinji with his magic. Right before they sail, Shinji has a run in with a local thief named Roux who steals Tinker, and who later stows away on the ship. Shinji turns him into Oliver, and the group decides to keep their eye on him. Hightower's group manages to beat S.E.A. to the site, but since they aren't very thorough, Shinji manages to uncover a map to an island Mano says doesn't exist. Despite finding it hard to harness his magic, Phoebe's meditation techniques seem helpful, and Shinji is having weird dreams about a storm boar that lead the group to an island in the mist. Once there, Shinji feels called deeper and deeper into the island, and eventually into the volcano that is there. The Natia, the native people about whome Phoebe would like to gather evidence, seem to have been destroyed during World War II, and this destruction could have angered the guardian of the island. Will the group be able to figure out how to appease this guardian in order to keep the world safe, and will Shinji be able to control his powers enough to use them to help?
Strengths: This was another well constructed fantasy adventure that I was able to remember without taking notes. This is a really good indicator of books that will be successful with my students. I again enjoyed the adult characters, who made brief but important appearances and were helpful, but also a little bumbling, like Scarlett, with her barely serviceable aircraft, and Phoebe, who is followed by a curse. I'm all for using adults for a bit of comic relief instead of killing them all off. (Shinji's aunt had to travel for work.) Lucy is a particularly well developed character, and her problematic relationship informs her actions a couple of times. It makes sense that she is a bit homesick, and Shinji even understands this a little bit. The adventure felt a little fresher than a lot of others I've read; S.E.A. is trying to preserve artifacts and fight against a rival group. Shinji's powers enable them to travel in a way they might not otherwise, and the history of the island was intriguing.
Weaknesses: This had more of a young adult feel in several respects. It's long (336 pages), and it felt (to my 12-year-old reader brain) like it took Shinji twice as long as necessary to do everything. He worried about his inability to do magic in a more angst ridden way. Roux's acceptance felt akin to the YA trope of enemies to friends, which doesn't go over quite as well in middle school, when life feels more black and white. It does help to have two sidekicks for Shinji, though, so I can see why he was added. 
What I really think: I really enjoyed the first book, but it has only circulated twice in over a year, despite being on display frequently. If this series is just three books long, I will buy this and the next, but this is a year when money is proving to be tight. For now I'm going to have to see if the public library will purchase the sequel, since they send books over to the school. While I've felt very good about my resources over the last 21 years, my budget has stayed at $10 per student per year. Prices, really for the first time, have risen sharply. Since the school population is dropping, my budget will as well, so I'm going to have to be even more careful about my purchases. Five years ago I would have bought this without hesitation. 

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