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Ban This Book by Alan Gratz (2017)
By Piranha T.
Fourth grader Amy Anne Ollinger isn’t the type to speak out. But everything changes when her favorite book--From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler—is banned from the school library, simply because one of the moms doesn’t think it’s appropriate. She’s forced to act. With the help of her friends, she devises a scheme to defy the ban, and show everyone that one person shouldn’t be able to make those decisions. But will she be able to succeed, or will her favorite book be banned from the library forever?
Ban this Book is an exceptionally funny book which at the same time makes an awesome point about banned books and the right to read. Amy Anne is a funny, realistic heroine who doesn’t always say what she thinks but realizes that sometimes, speaking out is the only way to go. I’d highly recommend Ban this Book to readers ages eight and up looking for a fun realistic fiction book, perfect for anyone who loves to read.
Note: If you like Ban this Book, check out our interview with author Alan Gratz!
By Piranha T.
Twelve-year-old Mary Hayes is ready to escape. Ever since her family died in a fire, she’s lived in an orphanage, and finally, tonight, she’s devised a way to run away. But she’s foiled by something which can only be called magic. And the next morning, a mysterious woman named Madam Z comes and adopts Mary.
Suddenly, Mary is whisked away to a warm house, where there are delicious meals and she has no obligations. It feels too good to be true, especially when Mary ventures to Iris, a nearby town filled with conjurers and magicians. For there, she meets Jacob, an illusionist’s son who can analyze nearly every ‘magic’ trick in Iris to something decidedly less interesting. For the first time in years, Mary has a friend.
But things don’t seem like they can be the happily ever after Mary hopes for. Madam Z tells her magic doesn’t exist, but there are strange things in the forest at night. One of the magicians in the village predicts Mary is about to be betrayed. And there’s a door by the staircase, a door she can’t find a way to open.
Together, Mary and Jacob begin uncovering the secrets of both Iris and Mary’s new home. But there is another, darker secret too: Who is Madam Z, and what does she want with Mary?
The Door by the Staircase is a mysterious, engaging fantasy, drawing from Russian folklore, with the feel of an original fairytale. Katherine Marsh creates a setting full of secrets, mysteries, and hidden power, which totally pulled me in. Although it seems like it could be creepy (and still may be, to younger readers), I didn’t find it so in the least; instead, it held some of that fairytale-strangeness and unpredictability, in a way which felt completely natural and part of the story. And the end held a brilliant twist which turned the entire course of the story in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Mary was an interesting, sympathetic protagonist who I grew to really like. This book made me think of several others: The Emerald Atlas, for the orphanages both the protagonists come from; for older readers, Shadow and Bone, for the undertones of Russian folklore, and Begone the Raggedy Witches, for the elements of fairytales. To readers ages eleven and up who love myth-based books written like fairytales, I would highly recommend The Door by the Staircase.
Interview by Piranha T. and Super Kitty
Jennifer Swender is the author of several picture books and early readers. Her debut novel, Solving for M, tells the story of Mika, a girl whose new math class helps her deal with her mother’s cancer diagnosis. We loved this book for its elements of realism and the unique, sympathetic characters. We were thrilled to interview Jennifer Swender about Solving for M for this month’s feature.
RapunzelReads: Who is your favorite character in Solving for M, and why?
Jennifer Swender: Hmmm. That's a tough one. My favorite character can change depending on how I'm feeling or what I'm thinking about, and I like them all for so many different reasons. I like Mika's honesty and willingness to grapple with tough ideas. I enjoy Mr. Vann's wackiness, but also his quiet understanding of how best to reach his students. I love Dee Dee's confidence and Chelsea's thoughtfulness. I like Mika's mom's quiet logic and her friend Jeannie's flair for the dramatic. I love the way illustrator Jennifer Naalchigar drew Mika's Math Journal #22 where we see how the various people in Mika's life would approach a “real life problem.” They are all different. They are all right. They are all necessary.
RR: What inspired you to write Solving for M?
As we’ve read more and more, we’ve discovered some books for older readers (ages 12-14+) which we’ve also enjoyed. So although we’ll continue to center our main blog on middle-grade (ages 8-12), we wanted to give recommendations to older readers who may be looking for books with older characters or concepts. The books we’ll feature on that page come from young adult shelves.
However, just because we’re adding a new page doesn’t mean we don’t still love middle-grade! The books we review on this homepage can be enjoyed by anyone, including teens and adults. Our ‘For Older Readers’ page simply contains a collection of older books we’ve found which we think may be enjoyed. Click here to find that page, and check out the sidebar for regular updates when we post on it.
-Piranha T. and Super Kitty
By Super Kitty and Piranha T.
Amina Khokar has never been one for raising her voice. Everyone who truly knows her--from her best friend Soojin to her Pakistani family--tells her that she’s a beautiful singer, but she’s never found the courage to perform in front of a crowd. Now less than ever, what with the visit of her strict uncle from Pakistan, who doesn’t believe music is good. And since she started middle school, Amina is less sure of herself. Her friend Soojin, who she always knew she could rely on before, wants to change her name to something more ‘American’, and is making new friends in the popular girls who have always made fun of Amina and Soojin and their cultural heritages. At least she still has her friends at the Islamic Center, who she sees on the weekends at Sunday School. But even that peace is shattered when someone breaks into it, shaking Amina to her core.
Amina’s world is changing fast. But maybe in the midst of it all, she’ll find the courage to raise her voice.
This is one of the (many!) books which have been on my reading list for years, and I'm so glad that I finally have! The story is inspiring and hopeful, and Amina is relatable and caring. I especially liked how Amina's struggle to adjust to middle school and her experiences with her family--especially Thaya Jaan--balance and contrast with each other, giving the story depth and complexity. Although I'm several years older than the main characters (and target audience), I felt a strong connection to all of the characters, especially Amina, whose dreams, fears, and growing courage feel deeply real. It's an excellent choice for book groups and fans of Grace Lin's The Year of the Dog or Meg Medina's Merci Suárez Changes Gears. I would highly recommend Amina's Voice to readers ages eight and up looking for a satisfying story about friendship, family, and growing up in a complicated world.
Book Reviews By & For Kids
Everyone knows that Rapunzel spent her early years locked up in a tower. We’d like to think she read plenty of books to while away the time, and that she’d appreciate our own favorites.
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Young Adult Reviews!
We're now featuring reviews for YA (ages 12+) books alongside our middle-grade reviews on our main page! (If you're not sure if a book is young adult, check the age range--if it's 12, 13, or 14+, it's YA.)