13 year old Aster wants nothing more than to be a witch. He comes from a family of witches and shapeshifters and he has been secretly learning to be a witch for years. The problem? Boys aren't witches. Boys are shapeshifters and that's just the way it is. Or is it? As Aster pushes the boundaries of what is possible versus what is supposed to be he, along with his friends and family, learn about love, acceptance and the dangers of forcing someone to be who they are not.
These graphic novels were quickly devoured in our house! My kids loved them and so did I. Each book tackles deep topics like conformity, gender norms and personal identity sensitively and without judgment, even when looking at some of the darker sides of the human psyche. The characters are well developed and relatable, wanting what most teens want - acceptance, belonging and a sense of self. Supported by gorgeous illustrations that beg as many questions as they answer, these books are a great jumping off point for a whole host of conversations about identity.
Recommended for Gr 3+
I first came across The List in a bookstore a few years ago. I loved the cover and couldn't resist a book about words. Once I settled in to the book, I was rewarded with a beautiful, yet haunting, dystopian tale about the power of language, the power of fear and the power of courage.
The List is set in a time after the polar ice caps have melted and the world as we know it has been destroyed by climate change. Few survived The Melting and those that did live in (or around) a community known as Ark, led by a man named John Noa. Noa, an outspoken climate change activist before The Melting, believes that it was language that allowed politicians to convince the people that climate change was not something to be concerned about. As a result, he has decided that language in Ark must be limited to The List - 500 words that people are permitted to speak, with few exceptions. As the wordsmith's apprentice, Letta is tasked with writing out word cards to be given to schoolchildren and tradespeople so that they may learn List. Letta believes firmly in the community of Ark and the existence of List, although she secretly hopes that one day people will be deemed responsible enough to have language restored to them. When her master disappears and a young man appears on her doorstep, speaking all of the words that have been banned, Letta's confidence in Ark, and John Noa, is shaken. As the new Wordsmith, she is tasked with shortening List to fewer and fewer words, while at the same time, the young man draws her in to a world of secrets, a world in which she must choose between the life she knows and the possibility of freedom.
The Last Lie continues the story where The List left off. If you haven't read The List yet, you may want to stop reading here, as there are definitely going to be spoilers from here on out.
Letta now lives with The Creators, teaching hedge school (a secret school to ensure that young children learn more words than List) and working to secure freedom for Ark, now ruled by Noa's wife, Amelia. Amelia continues to shorten List and finds ever more brutal ways to control the people of Ark, including trying to destroy The Creators. When the Creators' safehouse is raided, Letta and Marlo flee to forest, where they meet another band of rebels and uncover a sinister plot to silence the people of Ark forever. Letta now faces another choice - flee to freedom or stand and fight for the community, and the words, she loves so much.
I loved both of these books, separately and together. Much of the world-building takes place in The List so I highly recommend starting there as the story arc and characters will make a lot more sense. Patricia Forde's writing style is gentle and beautiful, even while describing fights and kidnappings, which makes the book a great introduction to dystopian fiction for younger readers. Although The Last Lie was a bit slow to start, the action picks up quickly and continues right through to the end of the book (and I suspect that if I had read them back to back the start would not have seemed quite as slow). Letta is a wonderful young woman, full of spunk and indignation and I appreciate how Forde infuses her with a healthy dose of self-doubt, without her seeming annoying or whiny. The book's foundational ideas of climate-change, power and the importance of language are timely and provide many opportunities for rich discussion in the classroom and at home.
Thanks to @NetGalley for the The Last Lie ARC.
Suitable for Gr 4 and up.
A fitting addition to the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, Paola Santiago & the River of Tears is an adventure story for lovers of ghost stories, magic and fantasy in the vein of Rick Riordan books and Kelly Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon.
Paola and her friends, Emma and Dante, are average 12 year olds living in the small town of Silver Springs, AZ. But when Emma goes missing, Paola and Dante are determined to find her. As they venture into the unknown, Pao & Dante begin to discover that all is not quite as it seems in their sleepy town. As they slip through the barrier dividing the real world from the world of ghosts and demons, Paola is forced to admit that her mother's Latinx ghost stories, so frustrating and quaint to her scientifically-minded daughter, might just be true.
I love that this #ownvoices story brings traditional Latinx folktales and ghost stories to life. Pao is every teen with superstitious parents or grandparents, struggling to reconcile her love for the people with embarrassment at the silly stories they tell, while at the same time wondering if there might be some truth to the stories after all. (turns out, there is!).
Several subjects ripe for discussion are raised throughout the book, including systemic racism within the police force, class differences (and what that means for friendship) and Pao's changing feelings for Dante. These legitimate concerns, primarily on Pao's part, are all threads woven in to the fabric of the story, giving the reader food for thought without interrupting the flow of the story. Paola Santiago & The River of Tears could easily be included as a choice for a social justice book club or it could simply be an entertaining fantasy read for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Thanks to @NetGalley for the ARC.
Recommended for Gr 5 and up.
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