Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Storyteller and Heroes of the Water Monster

Hobson, Brandon. The Storyteller
May 2, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ziggy and Moon Echota live in Poisonberry, New Mexico with their father. They are Cherokee, and Ziggy often has strange dreams that he is living in the past, when Native Americans were forced from their land by Andrew Jackson. He's very anxious about everything, and it doesn't help that his mother disappeared when he was very young. Many people he knows have had relatives disappear, like his friend Sheila, who had an aunt go missing. The police don't seem to care, and give scant attention to the cases. Ziggy is in a bad with his friends Corso (who is white) and Bojack-Runt. Ziggy begins to think that his mother's disappearance might have something to do with a nearby mysterious cave, and a girl at school, Alice, is reported to have information about it. She claims that the cave is inhabitant by the Nennehi, who are spirits. When Alice shows up at Ziggy's house in her nightgown with a coyote who can talk, Ziggy gets drawn into an odd and fascinating  world of stories and legends where he meets a variety of fanastical creature who help him on his quest. Will he be able to overcome his fears and to solve the mystery of his mother's disappearance?
Strengths: This was on the shorter side for a fantasy book, and seems to be a stand alone. Most of my students are not avid fantasy readers, and they blanch visibly when I suggest books that are 400 pages long and are the first in the series. Stand alones are a great way to introduce readers to fantasy books. This was fast paced, had a lot of details about Cherokee lore and figures, and dealt with Ziggy's anxiety in a realistic way against the background of a fantasy adventure. The concern about Native women going missing and the trauma that those disappearances cause is something that is starting to finally get some attention, and I haven't seen it addressed in middle grade fiction before. Hobson is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Weaknesses: This ended a bit abruptly. I may check a finished edition to see if I missed something in the E ARC. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like James Bird's book, Young's Healer of the Water Monster , or Roanhorse's Race to the Sun

Young, Brian. Heroes of the Water Monster (Healer of the Water Monster #2)
May 23, 2023 by Heartdrum
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Edward and his father Ted move to a nicer house in Chandler, Arizona so that they can live with Janet, Ted's new girlfriend. Her son, Nathan, was taking care of Dew, a water monster, but as he gets older, is losing the ability to communicate with her. Edward is learning how to navigate this care, and the two are trying to get Yitoo, an older spirit, to mentor Dew. The local river is drying up and in danger. Yitoo feels that people are stealing water from it, but Edward is somewhat uncomfortable because Yitoo is blaming the pale people, and Edward is half white. Will The two boys be able to work with Dew and Yitoo and successfully avoid an environmental disaster?
Strengths: Edward and Nathan's relationship is such a good one, and I loved that they worked well together and embraced their cultural heritage. Surely not all middle grade step siblings fight with each other! Dew and Yitoo are interesting figures, and the powers they have are helpful to the ecological disaster unfolding in the area. The book moves quickly, and continues the story from the first book. 
Weaknesses: I need a good book with an overview of figures in various Native American folklore, since I don't know much about Navajo legends. It would help to have something like Napoli's Treasury of Norse Mythology, but with explanations of figures  and basic stories from some of the larger Native tribes. This would help when I needed some more background in modern folklore retellings like this one. 
What I really think: this is a good choice for readers who like fantasy novels that also deal with other issues, like Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls or Barron's Maya and the Rising Dark

Snyder, Laurel. The Witch of Woodland
May 16, 2023 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bea and Zippy have been friends for a long time, but recently they have been growing apart as Bea is more interested in boys, make up, and being popular, and Zippy just wants to write. Zippy's mother wants her to have a bat mitzvah and arranges with the local Rabbi to give her lessons, since the family hasn't attended religious services frequently and Zippy hasn't received religious instruction. Zippy has lots of questions for Rabbi Dan, and isn't thrilled about the process, but goes through with it to make her mother happy. The tensions with Bea increase as Bea complains that Zippy hates everyone. She also dresses in black, and thinks she has magical control over the universe. When real magic occurs and Zippy seems to summon Miriam, whom she thinks at first is a ghost but who turns out to be a dybbuk, Zippy has to reevaluate many things in her life and decide what is important.

I loved that this had Jewish representation, but that Zippy's family only practiced their religion on holidays, since that is the relationship that so many people have with religion. This is a good choice for readers who want more information on dybbuks, which also appear in Lowe's Aviva vs. the Dybbuk (where the family is on the very religious end of the spectrum), Panitch's The Two Wrong Halfs of Ruby Taylor and Markell's The Ghost in Apartment 2R.

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